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Blood, Water

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San had always been a little different. Even at the orphanage, he was the only kid who didn’t know his family. All the others knew at least someone—aunts and uncles who couldn’t afford to take care of them or didn’t care enough to, grandparents too old to look after them, memories of their beloved departed parents. San didn’t have any of that. His whole life started at the orphanage. He didn’t know his parents, or his family, or anyone at all.

He didn’t even know what his name was supposed to be. He’d been left in front of the house door as an infant, he was told. The mother superior had named him.

“San, because I knew even then you’d grow up strong and dependable,” she said, smiling. “Strong enough to hold up the sky like the mountains do.”

And San did. He grew up strong and healthy, and at the orphanage, because he didn’t know anyone outside it. 

He was a very lovable child. He didn’t hit anyone, he complained and cried about food he didn’t like but still cleared his plate, he shared everything he had with everyone and never asked for anything back. Everyone at the orphanage liked San and he knew it. He liked being liked—by the kids too, of course, but especially by the adults. 

Something made San believe that, if he was very good and very loved, he would get adopted. It was probably all the movies he saw on TV, the feel-good family dramas that ended with the bright, sweet orphan kid getting adopted by the perfect, loving family. San hadn’t been the smartest kid. He thought if he was bright and sweet like the kids in the movies, he’d get the endings they got. A loving, happy family. His own version of happily ever after.

None of the other kids harbored any hope of being adopted. Their orphanage was in a tiny town, hardly bigger than a village—not the kind of place perfect, loving families went to find children for adoption. No one older than San had ever been adopted. They just stayed at the house until they were no longer underage, and then they left to live their lives as adults. But San was sure he’d be different. He would get his family. 

It was the driving belief of San’s childhood. Be loved, make people happy, and get adopted. 

When San was nine, he met Hongjoong for the first time. 

The memory was crystal clear. A kind of beat up old car drove up to the orphanage, and a young couple came out of it. The man was big and looked impossibly strong to San’s childish eyes. The woman was petite, with big eyes and pretty, delicate features, and she smiled like she had a nice little secret. 

There was a kid with them too. San stood with the few other kids at their small orphanage as he came out of the car. He looked around San’s age, but bigger than him, and his hair was cool like the kids that sometimes appeared on TV in commercials. He was wearing a red T-shirt, matching with the woman’s red dress. 

San never forgot that shade of red. 

The mother superior had tea with them while the kids tried to spy through the crack in the door and eavesdrop as much as they could, ears pressed to the worn wood. San could barely hear anything, his heart was pounding so loud it drowned everything out. 

It was happening. A family had come, and he could get adopted. The boy with the red T-shirt could become his brother. 

After what felt like hours, the doors opened. The others scattered, but San didn’t. He stood right where he was, looking up, waiting and hoping and praying he’d be chosen. 

The woman in the red dress saw him as she walked out of the room. The man—her husband—was busy talking to the mother superior, but she crouched down so that she was shorter than San. 

“Hi,” she said sweetly. “What’s your name?” 

“San,” he replied. His heart was racing in his chest. 

“That’s a wonderful name,” said the woman, smiling. “It matches mine. My name is Haneul.”

Haneul. Sky, like how San meant mountain. San murmured the name. 

“You know, I grew up here too,” said Haneul. She laughed at the surprise on San’s face, and said, “It’s true! My sister and I both grew up here. My sister still lives in this town. I came from Seoul to visit her, and thought I should check in here too, since this place was my childhood.”

“Did you get adopted?” asked San.

The smile on Haneul’s face faltered for a moment. “No,” she said, and smiled again. “But the mother superior took really good care of me. And everyone I met here became my family, kind of.”

San nodded, but he knew that wasn’t true, because she said she had a sister, and that was her family. 

“Grow up well, San,” said Haneul. “The world out there is really big but it’s amazing, and you’ll find a place just for you.”

She tucked a lock of his hair behind his ear, and with one final smile got up and rejoined her husband. 

San watched them talk to the mother superior. The kid—the one with the red T-shirt, Haneul’s son—glanced over, and caught San staring. He quietly slipped away from his parents and walked over. 

“Hey,” he said. “What’s your name?”

“San,” said San.

“I’m Kim Hongjoong,” said the other. 

He frowned, and then suddenly started rummaging in his pockets. A minute later he dug out a lollipop.

“Here,” he said, holding it out. 

San took it. “Thanks,” he said. 

“You’re welcome,” said Hongjoong, smiling. 

He looked like he was going to say more, but just then Haneul called for him, and he ran back to her side. The talk was over. 

Haneul’s family got back in their car and drove off. San stood on the steps of the orphanage, lollipop clutched in his hand, and watched them go. 

When San was nine, he realized he’d never get adopted. 

Haneul was the loveliest person he’d ever met, and she hadn’t been adopted. If she couldn’t get adopted, San never would. He understood what all the older kids had understood so long ago. Kids didn’t get adopted, not in reality. That was a family movie thing, something San would see only through the screen but never experience for real. 

But that was okay. Haneul hadn’t been adopted, but she still had a loving family, a family she’d made herself. San could do that too. He could make his own family, and then maybe one day he could go see Haneul and Hongjoong and show them he had grown up well after all. 

San didn’t share the lollipop with any of the others at the orphanage. 

 

Seonghwa’s mind was like a blanket. Soft, comforting, yielding. San could fall into it and know he’d be caught, he would be wrapped in his genuine love and care. 

Seonghwa taught him everything he needed to know. He taught him the word vampire, the meaning of blood bond—things San knew innately, but didn’t know the words for. He helped him understand what was happening to him and would happen to him. He was San’s maker and his guide. 

San didn’t know any of the others in the house, but he quickly learned. Jongho had dark hair and serious eyes and spoke softly. Mingi was awkward and a little shy, with soft brown hair and eyes that curled closed when he smiled. He didn’t know San well, but he said he was very close to someone who did and who cared deeply for him. San didn’t know anyone except Seonghwa. Yeosang was the beautiful one with the long blond hair, who took care of San a lot but never seemed to actually care about him, who always kept his face blank and pleasant and pretty and never approached San. 

And then there was Wooyoung. 

Wooyoung trailed after San like a lost puppy. He looked at San like San was some kind of miracle. He told San all about the world and what things were like beyond the boundary of San’s known existence and the house, he watched TV with him, showed him music he enjoyed, movies he liked. He spent as much time with San as possible, trying to make him comfortable, trying to make him laugh. 

And it worked. Wooyoung was fun, and sweet. There was something about him that drew San in. 

“We used to be close,” said Wooyoung one night. 

“Closer than me and Seonghwa-hyung?” asked San.

“You became friends because of me,” said Wooyoung proudly. 

San nodded. “I’m sorry I don’t remember you,” he said.

“Hey, it’s okay,” said Wooyoung, taking San’s hands. It felt so natural. “Don’t worry about me, you’ll get your memories back, I’m sure of it. And you’re not getting rid of me no matter what.” He smiled sheepishly. 

San’s fingers locked with Wooyoung’s, so easy, so natural. Wooyoung didn’t even notice. 

He nodded. 

Memories swam in his head, always just out of reach. He’d try to grab one and it would dart away, an inch from his fingertips, and no matter how much San reached out he could never overcome that inch. It was what happened to all vampires, Seonghwa told him. San felt his confidence through the blood bond, and it calmed him. 

He wondered what he’d remember first. Maybe it would be Seonghwa and how they first met. Maybe he’d remember the last thing first and find out how his human life had ended. Maybe he’d remember Wooyoung, Wooyoung who looked at San like he was a star, who smiled mischievously and was always looking for ways to make San smile too, who leaned against San and held San’s hands like it was the most natural thing in the world. 

In the end it turned out to be none of those things. 

 

At fifteen, San met the first member of his family. 

He was getting old. He was already the oldest boy left at the house, and he’d have to leave in three years. San’s life at the orphanage was coming to an end. He didn’t know what he’d do after. 

He had to go to Seoul. He knew that he couldn’t have his fresh start in this tiny town with the shadow of the orphanage over him. But San didn’t know how he’d get there, how he’d survive. Who he’d survive with. 

San had a lot of memories at the house, both good and bad, but he couldn’t stay there. It was temporary, a transient. A home was something permanent, like family.

In September, someone new came to the orphanage. 

He was San’s age—even older, though just by a few months. He was tall and fit, and handsome too, with soft features and dark hair and shimmering black eyes. San stood at the back of the assembled kids, watching reservedly as the mother superior introduced the new boy and told them all that he was there to stay. 

His name was Yunho. 

They were the only two older boys, so Yunho was to stay in San’s room. San didn’t mind. He liked sharing rooms, and had been lonely since Taekyu had left the year before. He hoped Yunho would be friendly. 

Yunho wasn’t unfriendly. But misery hung around him like a cloud, so dark and dense San could almost feel it on his skin, thick enough to choke him. He wondered how Yunho breathed with it following him everywhere. Yunho smiled sometimes, usually when someone smiled at him and he was trying to return it, but it never looked right. San couldn’t see it through the cloud. 

He learned from the mother superior that Yunho’s father had died the month before. The rubber factory was the orphan maker in their backwater town, and it had gifted the orphanage another one. Yunho’s mother had died when he was eight. He had an uncle who lived in China and had no interest in taking care of his nephew. And so Yunho was abandoned here, with San and the rest of the orphans.  

Yunho was the warmest, kindest person San had ever met. All the other kids at the orphanage had become sharp at the edges, hardening over on the outside to protect themselves from more pain, but Yunho wasn’t like that. He was still soft. It was like the softness was ingrained in his DNA. He’d been run through fire and wind and he was as kind and as soft as any boy could be. 

The most amazing thing about Yunho was that he never tried to hide his softness. He didn’t cry in front of others not because he wanted to look tough but because he didn’t want them to feel burdened. But in the night, when everything was still and quiet and it seemed like light itself was asleep, San heard sobbing from the bed beside his own, the unsteady breathing of a throat choked with tears. 

Night after night, for weeks. It never stopped, going on for hours in the night. Every muffled sound cut through San’s ribs.

“Yunho,” he whispered one night, when he couldn’t take it anymore.

The crying came to an abrupt halt. Yunho swallowed, loud enough for San to hear from the bed over. “You’re awake?” His voice was soft, watery. 

“Yeah,” said San. 

“What is it?” asked Yunho.

San hesitated. He couldn’t ask if Yunho was okay because he knew he wasn’t. He couldn’t ask if he missed his father because he knew he did. There was nothing San could ask that he didn’t already know the answer to. 

“Can you tell me about your dad?” he asked.

Silence. Yunho turned in bed so that he was facing San, and San could see the outline of his features from the light outside. “You… you wanna hear about him?” he asked. 

San nodded. 

So Yunho told him. He told him about his father, and how he’d been sick but he’d always tried his best, how he’d taken care of him after his mother had died and when he’d felt like the world was trying to crush him. He went to as many dance performances as he could, even when he’d been too weak to do much else. He could never attend the parent-teacher conferences because of work, but he always called the teachers after, to make sure his son was doing well. He laughed off Yunho’s questions about his health because he didn’t want to worry him, he still tried to cook him dinner no matter what, he learned all about Yunho’s favorite artists and dance styles and music genres so that they always had something to talk about. He had been Yunho’s pillar, his unfailing support. And now he was gone.

“I miss him so much,” said Yunho, breaking down into tears. “I still can’t believe he’s—he’s gone.”

“I’m sorry,” said San. “He was a really good dad.”

Yunho didn’t say anything. He only cried, curled up in his bed, face hidden behind his blankets. He seemed so small and vulnerable. So alone. 

Without thinking San got up. He walked the few steps to Yunho’s bed and climbed in, wrapping his arms around him, pulling him tight into a hug. 

Yunho tensed for a moment, making a soft sound of surprise. And then he let go. He relaxed into San’s embrace, and San held him close while he cried. 

After that night the two were inseparable. Little by little the cloud dissipated, until Yunho was smiling more, effusive with warmth. San had other friends, at school and at the orphanage, but none came close to Yunho. Yunho had a way of piercing through to San’s inner core. San didn’t have to worry about acting happy around Yunho, smiling to make him comfortable or to receive affection. He just was happy. 

One day, when the sun was golden and warm on their skin as the two of them sat in the grass of the backyard, Yunho asked San what he was going to do after graduating high school. 

“I’m gonna go to Seoul,” said San. “I’m gonna move far away from here and have a totally new life. I’m gonna make friends, and a family, and we’ll live in a house big enough for all of us.”

It was the first time San had ever said it aloud. He always kept his secrets close to his heart, his wishes hidden deep. It felt like saying them made them light. Like if he talked about it too much it would blow away in the wind. 

But it was Yunho asking. And San knew Yunho would guard San’s wishes as fiercely as he would his own. 

Yunho listened, nodding pensively. “What are you gonna study in university?” he asked. “Do you know already?”

“No,” said San. 

“I think I’m gonna study business or something like that,” said Yunho. “Something that’ll help me get a good job. Then we can rent out the big house you want.”

San opened his mouth. No words came out. 

“Before that we’ll have to live in the dorms, though,” continued Yunho. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad, but I can’t imagine sharing a room with someone who isn’t you.”

He glanced at San and saw him staring. San was stunned speechless. 

“What?” said Yunho. He broke into a grin. “You think I’d just let you leave me? We’re staying together, San. Here, or in Seoul, wherever.”

San stared at Yunho, and suddenly it clicked. It was true. San would have Yunho no matter what. He was with him to the end, wherever he went and whatever happened, permanent. 

Like family. 

“I’ll—we’ll rent an apartment,” said San. His throat felt tight all of a sudden, and he tried to swallow it down. 

Yunho laughed. “If we can afford it, sure.” 

San smiled at him, and then closed his eyes and raised his face to feel the sun on his skin. 

 

The memories came back piece by piece. The most memorable ones first, the ones that had had the biggest impact on San or that he’d cherished the most. He remembered going shopping for furniture with Hongjoong and Yunho and coming back with a purple couch. He remembered going out to an amusement park with Yunho and spending a chunk of their petty savings on rides and carnival snacks, and the scolding they’d gotten when Hongjoong inevitably found out. He remembered when Yunho fell off the table while trying to fix a light and sprained his ankle, Hongjoong’s stupid jokes about how they’d have to amputate it while the two of them laughed like maniacs, and how San finally got them both to shut up. 

But it wasn’t only Yunho and Hongjoong that were in the memories San got back. Wooyoung was there too. 

Wooyoung, taking San to an arcade and losing all his coins in the claw machine trying to win him a stuffed rabbit. Wooyoung, dancing with him in a packed nightclub, with so many people and so many flashing lights, but eyes on San only. Wooyoung, who kissed him and held him close and whispered sweet things to him, lips against his neck, arms around his waist. 

The more San remembered the more he gravitated towards Wooyoung. And Wooyoung accepted him eagerly, spending nearly every waking moment with him, flooding him with genuine affection and adoration. He even tried his hardest to stay quiet when San’s memories assaulted his brain and overloaded it. It was sincere, earnest, so loving. San found himself falling in love with Wooyoung all over again.

But with the sweet memories came the bitter. He remembered nights walking home from his work and falling unconscious, waking up in secluded alleys. He remembered swiping viciously at Hongjoong with his words, hurt at having the truth hidden from him. 

San remembered things about Wooyoung. And Yeosang. 

He remembered Wooyoung going back to the machine to win something for Yeosang too. He remembered Wooyoung lighting up when Yeosang texted, and how later Yeosang did it more often during their dates and how Wooyoung never saw a problem with it. He remembered how Wooyoung talked about him. 

The blood bond. San remembered how Wooyoung thought it was all the power of the blood bond.

Soon enough San remembered that by the time of his turning he and Wooyoung weren’t together anymore. 

Wooyoung mentioned it once after San recounted one of their dates, when they’d gone to a laser tag place and Wooyoung had defended him from the rival teams the entire time. “I don’t know if you remember this,” he said, awkward and unwilling, “but we broke up. Before the—the thing. You broke up with me.” 

San blinked at him. “We did? Why?” He didn’t remember then, and he couldn’t fathom why he’d ever want to let go of Wooyoung. 

“I was an idiot,” said Wooyoung. “I kept talking about you turning. You didn’t want to. So… so we broke up.” 

“Oh,” said San. That’s all he could say. 

Later he found out Wooyoung was lying.

It wasn’t a lie as much as it was a half truth. San had ended things because he hadn’t wanted to turn. But Wooyoung hadn’t told him the reason behind it.

It was too late, anyway. San had turned, and his fear had come true. 

He approached Yeosang once, when enough of his memories had returned. Since San had started remembering Yeosang was spending less and less time with him, going out of his way to make sure they were never alone together, but San managed it. He had a way of getting what he wanted. 

“I wanted to talk to you,” he said, sat beside Yeosang on the living room couch. Their couch was milky white and pristine, definitely more expensive than the one in the apartment with Hongjoong and Yunho. San missed that one. 

“Is anything wrong?” asked Yeosang, voice mild, flat. 

San didn’t know how to answer that. So much was wrong. “I just want to talk this out with you,” he said. “I… I know you’re not happy.”

For a second—just one—Yeosang’s mask slipped. And then it was back again like nothing had happened, blank and pretty and unfeeling. “That has nothing to do with you, San,” he said. 

He got up and left. San wanted to stop him, but the words stuck in his throat, and all he could do was watch him go. It was so hard trying to talk to a porcelain mask. There was a real Yeosang under there, San knew, but he was hidden under so many layers of hard scale and armor, delicate parts carefully tucked away where they couldn’t be reached. He was a soul hardened through fire and wind. Like the children at the orphanage. 

It would be okay, San told himself. He had broken through the defenses of all his fellow orphans, he could get through to Yeosang too. They just needed time. And as vampires, that was the one thing they both had no end of. 

But San was wrong. 

Things came to a point quicker than he expected. He woke up in Seonghwa’s bed to the sound of doors slamming. Wooyoung wanted San to sleep with him, but San couldn’t, not before they untangled their situation. So when San woke up and saw Seonghwa just as bewildered as him, his first instinct was to check on Wooyoung. 

San didn’t know how right he was.

And now here he was, holding Wooyoung on the floor of his messy room, wiping the tears from his cheeks with a gentle hand. 

“He just left,” said Wooyoung, voice hollow.

San thought of the way Jongho had looked at him when Seonghwa had asked why Yeosang left. He swallowed the rising guilt in his throat. 

It wasn’t his fault. He knew that. He didn’t ask to be turned—he’d been against it exactly for this reason. But he couldn’t stop himself from feeling guilty.

The coven had broken apart. Wooyoung was hurting. And it was because San was here. 

“He’ll come back,” said San. “Seonghwa-hyung will bring him back.”

“He won’t,” said Wooyoung. “He left because of me. He—he’s all alone now because of me.”

San didn’t know what to say to that. Wooyoung wasn’t wrong. Yeosang had left because of Wooyoung and San both.

“He’s not alone,” he said instead. “I’m sure he’s with friends of his, or other people he knows.”

“He doesn’t have me,” said Wooyoung. “He’s alone.”

San bit his bottom lip. 

“I don’t know what to do now,” said Wooyoung. “I don’t know how to bring him back to me.”

“You do,” said San quietly. 

Wooyoung went rigid in his arms, and then straightened to look him in the eyes. “What?” His voice was barely more than a whisper.

“Nothing,” said San. It would be too cruel to hit him with this now, when he was so vulnerable. “Nothing, baby, I’m sorry.” 

Wooyoung stared at San, and then slumped, falling back into  his arms. San held him close, running his fingers through his hair soothingly. 

Wooyoung needed to realize some things by himself. San had tried to get him to see, gently, directly, any way he could. But you couldn’t wrench someone’s eyes open if they didn’t want them opened. 

All San could do now was help, and comfort him. 

The door opened with a click. San craned his neck to see Mingi in the doorway. Is he okay? he mouthed. San returned a tight lipped smile. Mingi got the hint and awkwardly, clumsily, edged into the room, picked up his phone, and edged right out. 

San watched him go in silence. He wondered what Mingi thought of him. He had been kind and genuine all this time, but he had to resent San now. San had been thrust into his life, and now Mingi’s coven, his family—the only family he’d ever known—had fallen apart. 

Wooyoung shifted in San’s arms, and San held him even tighter. 

 

When he was seventeen, San met the second member of his family for the second time. 

He recognized him the second he saw him. Slender and petite, like his mother had been. His hair was longer than the mother superior allowed at the orphanage, his ears lined with piercings—he was still cooler than all the other kids. He wasn’t wearing red, and he didn’t have a lollipop to offer. 

It was Hongjoong. 

San watched, wide-eyed, as he walked through the front gate and up to the door. The last time he’d seen him he’d been nine, but he had no doubt. It was him.

“Who’s that?” asked Yunho. “Do you know him?”

“Kind of,” said San, and it felt like both the truth and a lie. 

He and Yunho lingered by the front door. Hongjoong had come alone, which both calmed and stoked San’s fears. If he was joining the orphanage someone would’ve come with him—an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, a lawyer or a social worker. But why would he come here without his parents? Where was Haneul and her husband? 

Hongjoong walked out of the building sooner than San expected, within minutes. San was content with letting him go, finding out from the mother superior why he’d come and where Haneul was. But Yunho strode right up to Hongjoong and said, “Hey.”

Hongjoong stopped, turned around. “Hey,” he said. “Do we know each other?” 

“No, but you know my friend,” said Yunho. 

San, who was half behind Yunho and still holding his sleeve in an attempt to pull him away, shrunk in on himself. Hongjoong peered at him for a long while. “Sorry,” he said finally. “I can’t recognize you. Where do we know each other from?” 

“We… we met once,” said San quietly. He wished he could disappear. He didn’t want to talk to Hongjoong. He was stuck exactly where Hongjoong had left him, and he didn’t want to face that truth. He wasn’t surprised Hongjoong didn’t remember him—he’d never expected that—but meeting here again felt like a crushing failure. 

“Oh.” Hongjoong looked genuinely apologetic, but there was none of that pity San got from so many others, heavy and sticky on his skin. “Sorry.” 

He turned, all ready to leave, when San blurted out, “Where’s your mom?”

Hongjoong fell still. He didn’t turn around.

“I—she talked to me,” said San. “She—she grew up here, didn’t she? She told me so. She came here once to visit and we talked. She…” 

Hongjoong didn’t move, and terrible, choking dread climbed up San’s chest and throat to fill his mouth. Yunho silently took San’s hand and squeezed it. 

And then, after what felt like an age, Hongjoong turned around. His face was blank, almost lifeless. He looked so much older than he was. 

“She died,” he said. 

San’s heart stopped in his chest. 

“She was in an accident,” said Hongjoong, still blank, lifeless. “Her and my dad. Neither of them survived.” 

“I’m so sorry,” said Yunho. San couldn’t say anything. 

Hongjoong shrugged. “I moved here to live with my aunt,” he said. “It’s been almost a year now. I don’t know why I decided to come here today.” His gaze traveled up the front of the house. “I just thought I should see where she grew up.”

A heavy silence fell. They were all orphans, San realized, all three of them. Hongjoong had lost his family too. 

San looked down at his hand, still tucked warmly into Yunho’s bigger one. He’d desperately wanted to join Hongjoong’s family once. Now he wouldn’t give up his own for anything. 

“I’m San,” he said. 

Hongjoong’s features softened, warmed. “I’m Hongjoong,” he said. 

San knew. He just nodded and smiled. 

“Yunho,” said Yunho, smiling. It brought something like a smile to Hongjoong’s face. San wasn’t surprised. It was Yunho’s subtle magic. 

Something suddenly jumped to the front of San’s mind. “Wait one second,” he said. 

He darted into the house. He went to his and Yunho’s room and pulled open his drawer and rooted through it until he found what he was looking for, something he’d gotten a few days ago and had been saving for later. He clutched it tight in his hand and ran back. 

Hongjoong was still in the front yard, talking with Yunho. He looked over at San as he ran up to him. 

“This,” said San, panting, “is for you.”

He held it out. It was a lollipop. 

Hongjoong frowned, confused. “Why?”

San just beamed. 

Slowly, Hongjoong took the lollipop. And then, for the first time since San had seen him in eight years, he smiled. 

Hongjoong was like buried treasure. It was deep underneath, under so much stone and dirt, but the glint of gold and gems was there. He had it locked inside a sturdy chest but slowly, little by little, he lifted the lid and let the light catch the precious metal and stones inside. 

Hongjoong was like a firework. There were sparks in him that wouldn’t be put out, and the longer he spent with San and Yunho the more they showed themselves. Soon Hongjoong was visiting the house every afternoon, every evening, every moment he could spare. 

He was eighteen and working, seemingly more and more jobs every time. He didn’t have any dreams of going to university like San and Yunho. He just worked and saved money. 

“What are you gonna do with all that money?” asked Yunho one night. He and San had snuck out of the house after dinner, and now the three of them were laid out on their backs on the bank of the river that ran through the town, away from the streetlights and storefronts. The stars overhead mapped out a thousand constellations, and San couldn’t track all of them. 

“We’re gonna move to Seoul, Yunho,” said Hongjoong. 

“Yeah, I know,” said Yunho. “But you don’t need to work so hard. We’ll figure it out after me and San graduate high school and we all move there together.”

“I don’t want you to worry about money and shit like that,” said Hongjoong. “You guys should live, I’ll worry about surviving.”

“We’ll all live, hyung,” said San. “Together.” He turned his head to look at Hongjoong. The older boy was still looking up, facing the stars. 

“I want you guys to have the best life possible,” said Hongjoong, eyes fixed on the endless constellations. “I can’t rest until I know you guys are comfortable and happy.” 

“Hyung,” said San softly. 

“I didn’t have anything before I met you two,” said Hongjoong. “After… after my parents died, I didn’t know what to do with my life. I didn’t know why they died and I didn’t. I was just surviving because I was supposed to, but I didn’t know why.” He took a deep breath, still looking up at the night sky. “But I get it now. I’m still here for you guys. You guys need me. And I… I need you.”

San wrapped his arms around Hongjoong and hugged him tight. Hongjoong stiffened, and then relaxed, loose in San’s embrace. A second later the warm, heavy weight of Yunho draped over both of them. 

“You’re crushing me,” said Hongjoong, squirming. “You’re trying to turn me into paste. Yuck, enough mushiness, get off.” 

“No way,” said Yunho, not moving an inch. “Family hug, hyung. You just gotta lie there and take it.” 

Hongjoong protested, half laughing, but his words were wet, tasting of tears. Yunho just laughed, light and free. 

San squeezed his eyes shut. Family. It was such a familiar but foreign word, but it was the truth. That was what they were, the three of them. 

Family. 

 

At twenty-one, San learned what it felt like to be adopted. 

Big house. Loving family. It was exactly like it was in the movies, the feel-good family dramas, except it was real. San was adored enough to be taken in, chosen, and everyone was sweet, attentive, caring. It was a fantasy come true. 

But something was wrong, and San knew it. 

Memories returned to San in pieces. Seonghwa had explained to San why he couldn’t meet Hongjoong and Yunho, and San understood, but it didn’t make him miss them any less. He adored his coven, but he missed his family. San had been eager to see Yunho and Hongjoong as soon as he remembered them and who they were to him. Eventually he remembered who they were to his new family.

And Yunho talked to Mingi all the time, texting or on the phone. Mingi talked about Yunho, letting San know what he was doing, showing him pictures Yunho had sent in the past, pictures of him smiling and happy and looking at the camera with intent adoration. 

But Seonghwa never mentioned Hongjoong.

There was a disconnect between the Seonghwa of San’s human memories and the Seonghwa that San lived with now. That Seonghwa had smiled often, been warm and effusive. This Seonghwa’s smiles were stiff and forced. 

“What happened with Seonghwa-hyung?” asked San. 

Mingi and Wooyoung exchanged looks. Jongho, who was sitting in the single seat, raised his head from his phone. Yeosang was out on a walk. 

“He’s miserable almost all the time,” said San. The only time Seonghwa genuinely smiled was when San or the others in the coven distracted him. 

“He’s just going through some stuff,” said Wooyoung, holding San’s hand. “It’s not because of you, baby, don’t worry.”

San looked down at Wooyoung’s fingers interlaced with his own. “It’s Hongjoong-hyung, isn’t it?” he asked quietly. 

Another look was exchanged, and then Wooyoung said, very carefully, “Kinda.”

“They broke up,” said Mingi. 

Wooyoung shot him a look, and Mingi gestured as if to say he didn’t know it was off-limits. Jongho watched the entire exchange silently. 

San was thankful for the honest answer. He needed another one. “Because of me?” he asked. “Because I… I turned?”

“No,” said Wooyoung immediately. “No, baby, not because of you. They—I dunno if you remember but they had some issues and stuff before. It kind of blew up.” 

San remembered accusing Hongjoong of being a hypocrite, of being ashamed, and the memory hurt. He swallowed and nodded, and was glad to see Wooyoung relax and smile reassuringly in return. 

But the thought lingered. And the more San’s memories returned to him, the more San suspected Wooyoung had told him another half truth, half lie. 

Memories pieced themselves together in San’s mind. He knew what Hongjoong was like, he knew how he’d been with Seonghwa, secretive and unwilling to reveal the truth. Wooyoung was right, they’d had issues. But San couldn’t believe that his turning wasn’t one of them.

“Hyung, are you okay?” he asked, quietly, standing beside Seonghwa as they sprayed water on the plants in the kitchen windowsill. 

Seonghwa faltered only for a moment. “I’m fine, Sannie,” he said, smiling, but it was hollow, far from his eyes. 

San wanted to push, but Seonghwa wouldn’t give, he knew that. He could feel Seonghwa accepting his emotions through the blood bond, but he never let slip any of his own to San. “I’m sorry,” he said instead.

“Why would you say sorry?” asked Seonghwa. He sighed, and when he looked at San his features were fond. “I know things didn’t turn out the way any of us expected, but I’m happy you’re here with me, San. If I were asked a hundred times over, I would choose you to be my blood child every time.” 

He meant it. San could feel his sincerity, and it warmed his heart. He smiled at Seonghwa, and Seonghwa smiled back. 

They watered the plants until Jongho came and took over. San smiled at him before going up to Seonghwa’s room. He was sleeping there until they got the downstairs one ready for him; Yeosang had already brought a bunch of his clothes over from the apartment. Sunrise was still a few hours away, but San was tired and lay in bed. His brain felt overloaded a lot of the times, catching the memories that jumped at it, trying to fit them in where they belonged. Recently they’d been inundating him, coming more often, more vividly, and it was exhausting. 

Living as a vampire was very different to living as a human. The one cure to every ill for a vampire was blood. The hunger lay low for the moment, but San could feel it there if he searched for it, ever present, like an animal he hadn’t tamed yet. He wished he could tame it soon. Then he could leave the house, get back into society, see and hug Hongjoong and Yunho again. 

He rolled around in bed for a while, watching the flickers of memories run across his inner eye. Yunho and Hongjoong, and Wooyoung, and the people he knew from the orphanage, his classes, his work. All of the things that had made San himself.

An hour or two before sunrise, the door opened.

San turned in bed, expecting Seonghwa or Wooyoung. It wasn’t. 

“Hi, Jongho,” he said, smiling. “What’s up?”

Jongho didn’t answer. He just stood in the doorway, watching San with an expression he couldn’t parse. To someone less perceptive it might have looked empty, but San knew better. One thing Jongho always had enough of was emotion.

So San waited. He lay in bed, and Jongho stood by the door, and they just waited for each other.

And then, finally, Jongho said, “They did break up because of you.”

San stared at him. He knew who Jongho was talking about.

“Hyung turned you and brought you back here,” said Jongho, no hint of emotion in his tone. “He called Hongjoong here and told him what happened. Hongjoong wasn’t happy.” 

San said nothing, only bit his lower lip. He knew Hongjoong wouldn’t be. His memories and what he knew about Hongjoong told him that much.

“He said hyung turned you into a monster,” said Jongho.

No. The word was ready on San’s lips, but it wouldn’t come out. He wasn’t breathing. He suddenly realized he wasn’t breathing, and panic spiked up his veins, and he took in a deep, heavy breath. It did nothing. It took a moment before he realized—he didn’t need it. He didn’t need air to breathe. 

San wasn’t human anymore. 

“I’m sorry,” said Jongho. “I’m sorry but I had to tell you. After she left, all I wished was that someone would’ve told me, even if I wouldn’t have believed it then. That someone cared enough to tell me what she really thought about me.”

And that was what Jongho assumed Hongjoong thought about San now? That he was a monster? San wanted to laugh in disbelief, but he couldn’t. No air, no breath, no laughter.

“I’m sorry,” said Jongho again, and the worst thing was San believed him. Jongho was sorry. “But you’ll always have Seonghwa-hyung. He cares about you more than anything.” 

San knew he should respond, say something instead of just lying there mute. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t think of a single thing to say. 

Jongho gave San another look, layered over with a thousand emotions all muddying each other, and then he left without another word. San didn’t speak. 

 

Jongho was wrong, San told himself. He didn’t know Hongjoong. Maybe he’d heard wrong, or misunderstood. San and Hongjoong were family. They’d known each other for years, they’d been through so much together, from the tiny town with the massive orphanage to their cramped apartment in this sprawling city, all the bad times and the hard-earned smiles and the memories that burned bright like stars. San was a vampire now, but he was still San. And San and Hongjoong were family.

But then the night of the video call came, and San finally realized just how much had changed.

Hongjoong couldn’t even look at him without looking like he was in pain. He wouldn’t look San in the eyes, and he seemed so uncomfortable, struggling to escape his skin. To escape having to see San. Yunho was the same as he’d always been, he looked at San like he was the same, but to Hongjoong it was like San wasn’t his San anymore. 

And maybe Hongjoong thought he wasn’t. 

 

San had always been a little different. Most humans didn’t draw vampires like a walking drug. They didn’t fall in love with vampires, get killed by one and saved by another. Most people didn’t find themselves in two families, both crumbling before their eyes. 

At twenty-one, San died. At twenty-one, San came alive again. 

At twenty-one, San didn’t know what to do.