The town was odd.
Jaehyun chalked it up to his unfamiliarity with small towns; he had spent most of his time in the bustling city. He just figured small town folk were different, the outer suburbs were a different life. He convinced himself he was just being paranoid when he noted that people acted just a tad bit strangely or that the eeriness that would settle into the atmosphere was just natural in such locations.
Jaehyun dealt with it; after all, he knew he wouldn’t stay long. He was part of a teacher exchange program and his gig at this town was only for a semester. Then he would be back in the city, with his usual kids, with no strange fog or crowing birds or that occasional feeling in his gut that something was just a bit off.
The first week passed without incident. Jaehyun adjusted to the new environment, got used to the new building and started forming relationships with the new children under his care. His coworkers were great, hospitable. Johnny, the Vice President, was friendly and accommodating, personally walking Jaehyun through the entire complex and introducing him to others. Kun, another teacher, caught up with Jaehyun during lunch, falling into easy conversation with the new man. Taeyong, the administrator, was more than happy to show him the right way when he inevitably got lost. The children were great too, if a little – well, strange, again. But Jaehyun could understand. As a child, even he had been fascinated by things like the supernatural so when they talked about witches and demons with ease, Jaehyun brushed it aside. It was simply their childish imaginations.
Jaehyun lived as a tenant in Johnny’s house. Johnny assured him it was fine, that there was no conflict of interest in their relationship as employer and employee. Jaehyun accepted it. Small towns were like that, he assured himself. It wasn’t as though there were a lot of apartment buildings near the school or the community that surrounded it, anyway. In fact, the town was predominantly houses; villas and mansions and townhouses. It was quaint.
The first hitch, in retrospect, came a week after Jaehyun started at the elementary school. Jaehyun considered himself pretty good with faces so when he saw someone sitting in his spot beside Kun in the staff room, Jaehyun knew he had never seen this man before.
Even if Jaehyun hadn’t been good with faces, he was sure he would remember the other man’s face. It was strikingly attractive and when he threw his head back in a laugh, flashing perfect teeth, something in Jaehyun’s gut swooped. He walked closer, unable to pull away.
“Oh, hey!” Kun said brightly once he saw Jaehyun approaching. “How’re you doing?”
“I’m alright,” Jaehyun smiled, standing somewhat awkwardly. Kun smiled back before his eyes widened in realization and he hit the man beside him.
“Get up, this is Jaehyun’s desk now,” Kun reprimanded and the man startled, standing up. Jaehyun tried to say that it was fine, the man could continue sitting but he had already gotten up and went to stand behind Kun’s chair, leaning against it.
“So, you finally got Choi’s place filled?” The other man asked.
“Temporarily,” Kun snorted. “Jaehyun’s only here for the semester. He’s part of a teacher exchange program.”
“Hello, Jaehyun,” The other man said, extending his hand forward. He said Jaehyun’s name softly and it sent a discreet shiver down his spine. “I’m Yuta.”
The man’s hand was cold to the touch but his grin was warm enough to compensate. He stuck around for a few more moments, asking Jaehyun about how he liked it in their small dreary town, if the constant cloudiness ever bothered him. Jaehyun had shrugged, saying he was adaptable.
“Is he a teacher?” Jaehyun asked when the man had walked away, leaving the staff room.
“He’s the football coach,” Kun informed him. “And the P.E. teacher. He was away on leave with his husband last week, that’s probably why you weren’t introduced.”
Ah. Husband. Jaehyun tamped out his disappointment successfully, telling himself it was ridiculous to feel crestfallen over a man he’d just met. Jaehyun shook his head of all thoughts of the alluring man and got back to work, looking over his lesson plan for the day.
how’re you doing
Jaehyun dropped his chopsticks as the messages came in and winced. He had forgotten to reply to Sicheng again.
sorry i haven’t replied :(
i’ve been rly busy with school
it’s fine, i get it
i was just worried
city boy all alone in the middle of nowhere
Jaehyun laughed, tension bleeding from his shoulders.
it’s not the middle of nowhere
you have a pin to where i live
the town’s spooky though
i can deal with spooky
It was true. Jaehyun and Sicheng had done their research before Jaehyun had accepted the position and they had found out all sorts of things about the town and its bloody history. News articles about strange occurrences; disappearances and murders. There were far too many occult sites mentioning the small town. Sicheng had seemed worried, even though neither of them were superstitious. It didn’t particularly concern Jaehyun; he wasn’t a believer in the supernatural but he was interested in the stories; they were entertaining at best and comedic at worst. Most, though, we at least a decade or two old and Jaehyun knew that the town had lulled into a quiet serenity of a normal small town.
have u found the gate to hell yet
haven’t rly had much chance to explore outside the school and the grocery store tbh
“You’re cute when you smile,” A voice said and Jaehyun startled, fingers tightening around his phone in fear that he would drop it. Jaehyun looked up to find the coach, Yuta, sitting opposite him, looking at Jaehyun earnestly. Jaehyun hadn’t even heard him approach, he had been so wrapped up in his conversation with his best friend.
“Huh,” Jaehyun said eloquently. Yuta laughed, before reaching forward and pressing a cool finger against Jaehyun’s cheek. Despite the coolness of the touch, Jaehyun heated up.
“Dimples,” Yuta said. “They’re cute.”
“Ah,” Jaehyun replied. He willed himself to calm down. It wasn’t like him to get so flustered. “Thanks. I grew them myself.”
It was lame but Jaehyun felt warmth blossoming in his chest when Yuta let out a cackling laugh at the words, consuming any embarrassment he might have felt.
“Who’s got you all smiling?” Yuta asked curiously. “Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Partner? Wife? Husband? ”
“Just my best friend,” Jaehyun cut him off with a laugh before he could list on. “He’s back in the city.”
“Oh,” Yuta said, seeming oddly pleased. “Tell him I said hi.”
“Sure, I’ll tell him the football coach at the school said hi to him,” Jaehyun grinned. He knew the sentiment would bewilder Sicheng, who would send his tentative greetings back while muttering about what a weirdo the coach had to be.
“So, Jaehyun,” Again, the name came out as a purr, making Jaehyun lock eyes with the other man. “How’re you liking your stay here? Been sightseeing yet? We’re a small town but we have some nice places.”
“Funny, that’s what I was talking to Sicheng about,” Jaehyun said, shaking his phone. “I haven’t really had a chance to look around. Johnny’s said we’d go around town tomorrow, though.”
“Where are you going?” Yuta asked.
“Johnny said he’d take me to the best spots and I trust him,” Jaehyun said with a shrug. He had his own list in mind but Johnny had checked off most of those places when they’d spoken anyway.
“Johnny’s a pretty good guide, I guess,” Yuta mulled. “He grew up here.”
“What about you?” Jaehyun asked. “Have you always lived here?”
“We moved here so long ago, it feels like forever,” Yuta said easily. “I was born in Japan and then I lived in Seoul for a while. That’s where I met Doyoung.”
“Doyoung…?” Jaehyun inquired.
“Oh! My husband,” Yuta grinned widely at the mention, seeming enthusiastic to talk about his partner. The gesture made Jaehyun smile. It was endearing. “You haven’t met him yet, have you? We’ll host you at our place sometime! He’s a lawyer, so he’s busy a lot, driving up to the city’s courts but he should be finished with the case he’s working on soon.”
“Wow, a lawyer, that’s really cool,” Jaehyun said. Yuta was married to a hotshot lawyer, of course, he was.
“Yeah, I’m like a trophy wife most of the time,” Yuta sighed dreamily. “It’s great!” He shakes his head, as though shaking the thoughts away. “Anyway. You simply must come by. ”
“Um, sure,” Jaehyun said. He wasn’t sure how much he wanted to do that but he smiled politely. Soon, the polite smile faded into a genuine grin as they continued conversing, Jaehyun’s lunch going cold.
Jaehyun happened upon Doyoung the following day.
The school day ended and Jaehyun watched the last of his kids waddle over to their parents before he packed up and headed over towards the administration and Johnny’s office. Johnny was already good to go, leaning on the receptionist’s desk and talking to Taeyong when Jaehyun appeared.
“Hey, buddy,” Johnny said. Buddy. It didn’t sound weird or outdated when Johnny said it, it instead it came across as familiar and friendly. “Ready to go?”
“Yup,” Jaehyun nodded. They were going sightseeing, first heading over to lunch at a place Johnny swore by before hitting up some landmarks and monuments.
“You wanna join us for lunch?” Johnny asked Taeyong, who shook his head politely.
“No, thanks,” Taeyong smiled sweetly. Even though Jaehyun had only known the other man for a little over a week, he was already nursing a budding soft spot for him. It was hard not to. “I’ve already had a proper lunch.”
“I wish I could cook well,” Johnny said mournfully as they made their way outside the school. “My boyfriend and I are absolutely abysmal cooks.”
Jaehyun nodded. In the week that he had lived with Johnny, he had learned a lot about his boyfriend, Ten, though he’d never seen him. Johnny seemed to find a way to slip the other man into any conversation, almost as if he didn’t know how to not talk about him.
“I mean, it’s not that hard,” Jaehyun said. He wasn’t a spectacular cook but he could make his favourite dishes and comfort foods easily. “You just follow the recipe.”
“It never works out perfectly,” Johnny insisted. “We just look pleadingly at Kun or Taeyong or Doy- oh, hey, speak of the devil.” Johnny came to a sudden halt. “Not the literal devil .”
“I know, Johnny,” Jaehyun said in amusement. Despite the news articles about satanic rituals taking place in the town, he doubted the devil himself had shown up.
“It’s Doyoung,” Johnny said, gesturing towards the street, where a man stood with his arms crossed, leaning against a flashy car. He was wearing sunglasses, which Jaehyun thought was a little pretentious considering the sun barely ever peaked out of the clouds in this town. “We should go say hi.”
Before Jaehyun could say anything or they could move forward, Yuta came barreling out of the school, running towards the other man at an almost superhuman pace. Even from several paces away, Jaehyun could see the way the man’s face had transformed, a gummy grin taking over his face as he opened his arms, letting Yuta jump into them in pure elation. Jaehyun wanted to look away from the couple, feeling as though he was intruding on something intimate as Doyoung’s arms wrapped around his husband and pulled him close but he couldn’t, transfixed on the scene playing out in front of him.
“God, we should intervene before they start making out in front of the school,” Johnny said under his breath before bellowing. “Hey, Doyoung!”
The two pulled away as Johnny and Jaehyun approached but they didn’t let go of each other, still pressed together as Doyoung’s hand resting on Yuta’s waist.
“You saw each other two days ago,” Johnny teased as they came to a stop in front of the couple.
“And?” Yuta asked defensively, unable to keep the grin off his face. “I can’t miss my husband?”
“Just don’t start sucking on each other’s tongues in front of the school,” Johnny said drily. Jaehyun flushed at the crude wording.
“That’s not the only thing I suck on – what,” Yuta whined when Doyoung swatted his arm. Doyoung was looking at Jaehyun, seeming apologetic but there was something calculating in his eyes as he looked Jaehyun over. Yuta seemed to catch on. “Oh. This is Jaehyun. He’s the new homeroom teacher for 3C.”
“Hi,” Jaehyun said, extending his hand. Doyoung’s hand was cool to the touch as well but it was smoother than Yuta’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Doyoung said but Jaehyun wasn’t sure how true that was. Doyoung still seemed to be observing him.
“Are you two going sightseeing today?” Yuta asked, taking Jaehyun’s attention away from Doyoung. “Have fun! Don’t forget to take him to –”
“Uh-uh,” Johnny stopped Yuta. “This is my day with Jaehyun. Take him where you want to take him next time.”
“Maybe I will,” Yuta said with a glint in his eye. “What do you think, Jaehyun-ah? You want to go exploring with me?”
There was something in the tone of his voice, the look in his eyes, that arrested Jaehyun, made him unsure how to respond.
“He just came into town less than two weeks ago,” Doyoung said, sparing Jaehyun. “Don’t drive him out of town already, babe. The kids need him.”
“Are you calling me annoying?” Yuta said in mock affront but he was leaning closer to Doyoung.
“You are annoying,” Doyoung pointed out but he was smiling fondly, no maliciousness behind his words as he leaned in. Before they could connect, Johnny cleared his throat loudly.
“You guys have an entire mansion to go fuck around in,” Johnny said and Doyoung rolled his eyes but pulled away, opening the passenger seat door for Yuta. Yuta slid in elegantly, rolling down the window and waving goodbye to Jaehyun and Johnny as Doyoung walked around to the other side and got into the passenger seat.
“Crisis averted,” Johnny said cheerfully as the car rolled away. “Saved you from having to watch them swap spit.”
“Yeah,” Jaehyun replied weakly. “Thanks for that.”
Jaehyun screamed, dropping the towel he was using to wipe his face onto the floor as he stepped into the kitchen and found what seemed like a homeless person sitting on the breakfast bar.
“What?” Johnny rushed into the room. “What is it?”
“He’s a screamer,” The man on the counter said mildly. Johnny huffed at the sight, patting Jaehyun’s back soothingly, as though realizing the panic that had shot through him.
“God, Ten,” Johnny groaned. “I told you I’m having someone stay with me and not to show up like this.”
“You know that just made me want to do it more,” The man – Ten – insisted with a cheeky grin. Now that Jaehyun got a good look at him, despite his tattered and mismatched clothes, the man didn’t really look homeless. He looked clean and his face was kind, his smile friendly if mischievous. “Hey. I’m Ten.”
“Jaehyun,” Jaehyun offered.
“Oh, I know,” Ten’s smile was sly. “I’ve heard all about you.”
“Good things, I hope,” Jaehyun said, looking at Johnny, who just shrugged at him.
“Oh, the best things,” Ten grinned. “Yuta doesn’t shut up about you.”
Jaehyun blinked. He hadn’t expected that.
“You know Yuta?” Jaehyun asked. He shouldn’t be surprised. It was a small town, everyone seemed to know each other.
“Uh-huh,” Ten nodded. “He keeps going on in the group chat about you.”
“Well,” Jaehyun floundered. He wasn’t sure what to say; if it had been anyone else, Jaehyun would have smiled smugly, made a remark about how Yuta should tell him all the good things himself. But Jaehyun couldn’t do that. Yuta was married, happily so. Yuta was probably just being friendly, happy to have a new friend.
“Did everything go well?” Johnny asked as he set about taking out milk and cereal, as well as a small carton of orange juice for Jaehyun, which he gratefully took. He was breathless from his morning run, even more so after the mini heart attack Ten had given him.
“Yeah,” Ten answered vaguely before hopping off the breakfast bar and making his way to Johnny, wrapping an arm around his waist as he hugged him from the back. “I missed you.”
Jaehyun decided to grab breakfast from a bakery on the way to school as Johnny and Ten started speaking lowly to each other, not even noticing when Jaehyun slipped out of the kitchen. On his way out the door, his phone vibrated, his music’s volume lowering before picking up again.
seen any satanists yet?
didn’t one of your performers think he was the anti christ?
oh god, thank god we got rid of him
good luck for today
Despite settling into his new life, Jaehyun missed Sicheng. He missed their weekly movie nights and the times Jaehyun managed to drag Sicheng out for a morning run. Other than that, he missed his other friends; concerts with Seokmin, gym with Jungkook where they took over the television and put on anime, art galleries with Minghao. He felt like everyone in this town knew each other and they clearly talked about him and he wasn’t sure how to feel about it, not when he wasn’t looped in. It seemed like everyone he had run into had known each other for years, if not decades.
As he walked, his eyes wandered to a particularly imposing house. Dark brown wood and black panelling, and under the dreary sky, it seemed even darker. The large lawn in front of it seemed unkempt and the house seemed ominous. It wasn’t boarded up or anything of the sort but Jaehyun couldn’t shake off the feeling that maybe it should be. All the curtains in all the windows were drawn.
Jaehyun’s eyes fell on the car in the driveway and he frowned. The car seemed familiar and Jaehyun slowed down as he tried to remember where he’s seen it.
The front door of the house flung open, immediately jogging Jaehyun’s memory as he saw Doyoung, Yuta’s husband, step out of the house. Far from his put together, slick look earlier, this Doyoung was in an oversized tee-shirt and pyjama bottoms, shuffling forward and crouching down to pet the cat that was rubbing itself against his legs. Doyoung stood up straight and stretched and then, as though noticing he was being watched, locked eyes with Jaehyun.
Jaehyun looked away immediately, face flushing in embarrassment.
“Hey,” Doyoung called out and when Jaehyun looked back, Doyoung was at the front gate, waving Jaehyun over. Jaehyun crossed the street cautiously.
“Hey,” Jaehyun said. “Sorry for, like, staring. I just recognized you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Doyoung said, waving Jaehyun’s apologies aside. “On your way to work? It’s a little early.”
“Grabbing some breakfast from the bakery,” Jaehyun said, nodding his head towards the general vicinity of the bakery.
“Oh,” Doyoung shook his head. “I forgot what a shitty cook Johnny was.”
“It’s fine,” Jaehyun said with a laugh. Somehow, hearing the other man casually cuss made Jaehyun feel more at ease. “I can cook myself but Johnny and Ten were being – well. I couldn’t use the kitchen.”
“Ah, yes,” Doyoung’s face screwed in disgust, making Jaehyun grin. It was a bit rich coming from someone who was going to start making out with his husband in front of an elementary school but Jaehyun didn’t bring that up. “Well, we’re making breakfast, if you’d like to join us.”
“Oh,” Jaehyun paused. “No, thank you, I couldn’t intrude –”
“You’re not,” Doyoung interrupted firmly. “I’m inviting you.”
“Thank you,” Jaehyun repeated softly, smiling. “Maybe some other time? I really want to try out that bakery.”
“Of course,” Doyoung smiled back. He opened his mouth to continue but he was interrupted by the cat at his feet letting out a loud wail. Doyoung rolled his eyes and looked down, speaking to the ginger tabby. “What? Yuta’s inside, go, he’ll feed you.”
To Jaehyun’s surprise, the cat listened, galloping away inside the open front door and out of sight in the dark home.
“Sorry,” Doyoung said. “Don’t let me keep you. It was nice seeing you again.”
“You too,” Jaehyun replied, stepping back and crossing the street again.
He couldn’t help looking back and almost stopped in his tracks in the middle of the street when he saw Doyoung looking at him as he walked away. When their eyes locked, he saw something akin to hunger in Doyoung’s eyes before he blinked and smiled widely at Jaehyun before turning around and stepping into his dark house and closing the door behind him.
It was almost as if Doyoung was checking him out.
Jaehyun shook the thoughts away as he approached the bakery Johnny had pointed out the other day when they had been too full to go in. It was his ego talking, Doyoung was a married man. To Yuta, someone Jaehyun – admired, he supposed was the word. Someone who shared an easy smile with Jaehyun, someone who challenged him on the field with his insufferable smirk, someone who was cold to the touch but so unbearably warm when he threw an arm over Jaehyun in victory in their dumb game.
There was no point being melancholy about such things. If he didn’t feel better, he was only sticking around for a few months anyway.
did you know there are vampires in your little town
apparently, there have been vampire sightings for centuries there
it’s a nice vampire spot bc of the weather
will let u know if i find any
want their autograph?
Jaehyun huffed out a laugh and put his phone away. He went back to his activity for the day; sitting in a field near the woods, snacking on fruits and occasionally actually reading the book he had brought along. For the most part though, he had put his book aside to watch nature and to share his fruits with a rabbit that had hopped out brazenly from the woods, seemingly unafraid of being killed. It made Jaehyun warm inside, to be trusted by the brown, furry animal.
He admitted he did a bit of it for the aesthetic; he had already uploaded the picturesque scene to Instagram. But mostly, it was for the experience, to be able to bask in something he knew he wouldn’t have much access to once he made it back to the city. He knew once he got back into the routine of his old life that he wouldn’t find the time to come to this secluded town four hours away without traffic just for a few hours of serenity.
It was just as well, Jaehyun tried to convince himself. He liked the city, the constant sounds of traffic, the way he was always surrounded by people and yet seemed to know none of them. He’d grown up with that, it was familiar to him. He told his thumping heart to not get used to this feeling.
There weren’t any other people in the field where he was. Understandably, since the weather was more dreary than usual and the patch that he had picked was a bit farther away from the main park. Jaehyun looked into the woods and smiled, taking out his phone and taking a picture.
that’s where all the satanic rituals took place, right?
oh god what r u doing
stop setting urself up to be the protagonist of a horror movie
The brown bunny came back to him, hopping over and looking at Jaehyun expectantly. Jaehyun smiled at the tenacity of the little creature. There were only a few pieces of strawberry left but Jaehyun left another piece of the edge of the picnic blanket for the bunny to snatch and hop off with. This time, the bunny didn’t go far, as though learning at Jaehyun wasn’t going to take his gift back.
Jaehyun picked up his book again but he found it hard to concentrate. He put it down and looked over at the woods and for a moment, it felt like the woods were looking back. Jaehyun’s breath caught in his throat as he tried to brush the feeling off but it persisted. It didn’t help that the bunny had run off, leaving Jaehyun entirely alone; yet, Jaehyun didn’t feel alone – and not in a good way.
Even if Jaehyun didn’t believe in the supernatural, he didn’t want some crazy axe murderer to come running out of the woods and slice him to death on his nice picnic sheet. That’s why, he told himself, he started packing up. Not because the hair on the back of his neck stood as he felt a primal sense of fight or flight activate in him.
“Hey, you,” A voice said and Jaehyun prided himself in not yelping. He did, however, drop his lunch box just as he was about the close it. The rest of the fruits fell out. At least the brown bunny would have dinner. Jaehyun looked up to see Ten, of all people. And yet, Jaehyun felt sure Ten wasn’t the presence he still felt. “What’re you doing out here all on your own?”
“Picnic,” Jaehyun said, aiming for nonchalant. “I was just packing up.”
“Johnny has a backyard, you know,” Ten said. It seemed like he was trying to keep his voice light but his expression was serious. “It’s not safe to be so far from civilization around these parts.”
When Jaehyun looked at Ten once he’d packed up, he saw that Ten wasn’t looking at him. Instead, he was glaring beyond Jaehyun, into the woods. Gone was the easy smile and kind features; as his eyes flashed as he looked out into the woods, he looked positively frightening.
“Let’s go,” Ten said, his expression softening when he saw Jaehyun looking at him. He linked their arms together and started walking.
When Jaehyun looked back at the woods one last time, it felt a living entity, waiting for him to come back so that it could swallow him whole.
Jaehyun was still staring at the drawing Eun Ae had given him when he felt someone sit opposite him. It was lunchtime and he was sitting on one of the tables and chairs outside so it could only be one person. When he looked up and his suspicions were confirmed, he tried to throttle the butterflies in his stomach.
“What’re you thinking so deeply about, that you’re neglecting your meal?” Yuta asked. “You need to eat.”
“Does this town ever freak you out?” Jaehyun asked conversely, going back to his meal. Yuta seemed to ponder his question before answering.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t really believe in the supernatural,” Jaehyun explained. “But there’s something about the – I guess, the atmosphere of this town that makes me suspend my belief in reality. And then there’s this.” Jaehyun gestured at the paper and Yuta picked it up, looking at it with a frown before his eyes landed on the name at the edge of the paper.
“Ah,” He said knowingly. “Eun Ae.”
“You sound like you know something,” Jaehyun said. Yuta bit his lip.
“Why does this freak you out? It’s a drawing,” Yuta said. “Not to knock on a third graders skills but it’s not a particularly realistic one either.”
“That’s me, two days ago,” Jaehyun informed Yuta. Something twisted in his stomach as he said it aloud, putting his wired thoughts out there. “This is me,” He points at the figure on a cloth. “This is the rabbit I fed.” Jaehyun pointed at a cartoonish bunny. Finally, he pointed at the figure in between the trees, watching him. “I don’t know what this is.”
Jaehyun saw Yuta’s jaw clench, saw his grip on the paper tighten before loosening again.
“Don’t let the small town quiet fool you, Jaehyun-ah,” Yuta said softly. “It can be as dangerous out here as in an alleyway in the wrong side of the city.”
“How did this girl know to draw this?” Jaehyun mused. “How did she see something I didn’t?”
When he was greeted with silence, Jaehyun shook his head with a laugh.
“I’m just being paranoid. It’s this weather,” Jaehyun looked up at the cloudy skies. “Playing tricks on my mind.”
“I don’t think so,” Yuta said slowly. Jaehyun tilted his head at him in confusion. “If your gut is telling you something is wrong, don’t dismiss that.”
“Something felt wrong for a moment before Ten showed up,” Jaehyun admitted. “I don’t know what, though.”
“There’s something in you,” Yuta said distantly. “Even if you don’t believe in something, you know when you’re in danger. Human evolution. You can feel a predator.”
“Perhaps,” Jaehyun allowed. “No more picnics, I guess.”
“Hardly,” Yuta said with a grin, easing the tension. “No more picnics alone. Certainly not that far off near the woods. I’d be happy to accompany you if you want. I go hiking a lot, I know the best trails.”
“How do I know you won’t lure me into those woods and kill me?” Jaehyun teased without any weight to his words. “Maybe you’re the predator. ”
Yuta’s smile stayed on his face but something in his eyes shifted as he looked at Jaehyun.
“Do you feel that way?” Yuta asked. Jaehyun looked back into the bright, warm eyes.
“No,” Jaehyun said resolutely. “No, I don’t.”
mingyu keeps coming to our gym dates with baked stuff
i have no self restraint
oh my god
what have u done
Jaehyun laughed at the picture that was sent, Jungkook’s cheeks stuffed with a cupcake, frosting on his nose. He showed the picture to Kun beside him, who – despite not knowing Jungkook the least bit – laughed along with Jaehyun.
“Hey,” Kun said after a few moments and Jaehyun turned to look at him. “How’re you doing? Settling in okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Jaehyun replied in mild confusion. The disconcerting picnic had been over a week ago and nothing particularly strange had happened since. Perhaps because he seemed to have a chaperone to nearly everywhere; if it wasn’t Johnny or Ten, it was Yuta or even occasionally Taeyong. Jaehyun didn’t mind. He enjoyed the company.
“Would it be weird if I gave you something?” Kun asked. Jaehyun narrowed his eyes at him.
“Is it a weird thing?” Jaehyun asked slowly. Kun seemed like a good guy, the best guy who let Jaehyun eat his food without complaint, even fondly ruffling his hair.
“Here,” Kun handed Jaehyun what looked like a regular jewellery box. When Jaehyun snapped it open, he found a delicate necklace inside, the blue pendant small and not flashy in the least.
“What’s this?” Jaehyun asked, picking it up.
“It’s – well. It’s a gift,” Kun said with a soft smile. “It’s for protection.”
“Protection?” Jaehyun asked sceptically.
“You don’t have to believe in it,” Kun said with a laugh. “Only I do.”
Jaehyun didn’t know how a pretty blue pendant would protect him but he grinned at Kun anyway, putting it on immediately.
“Thank you,” Jaehyun said genuinely. He might not believe whatever Kun seemed to believe but the gesture still meant a lot to him. Kun had known Jaehyun for barely over a month but he took care of Jaehyun. Jaehyun would be foolish to not be grateful.
“Did you put a spell on it ?” Jaehyun asked jokingly, thinking back to the card tricks Kun had shown him. Kun laughed but Jaehyun felt like the melodious laughter held more than Kun let on.
“You know,” Kimoon said mildly. It was recess and the little boy had failed to do his homework for the third time that week so he was staying in and completing as much as he could with Jaehyun’s help. “My neighbour’s a vampire.”
“Oh, really?” Jaehyun indulged the boy, who was probably bored out of his mind working on those math equations.
“Yeah,” Kimoon said enthusiastically, putting down his pencil. “You know the old lookin’ house on 18th street?”
“I can’t say I do,” Jaehyun said, nudging the pencil to make Kimoon pick it up again, which the child did.
“You do!” Kimoon insisted. “I saw you talkin’ to Mr Kim at his house one day!”
“Kim?” Jaehyun was confused. He didn’t know any Kim’s here in this town, certainly not any whose house had visited.
“Dark hair,” Kimoon said, ruffling his own hair. “Has a really cool car! The coach’s husband!”
“Doyoung?” Jaehyun asked and Kimoon huffed overdramatically.
“Well, I can’t call him that,” Kimoon said. “But yeah. He’s a vampire. So is Coach-nim, probably.”
“Is he now?” Jaehyun grinned at the boy who had dropped his pencil again. “Did they tell you this or was this something you figured out all on your own?”
“Everyone knows,” Kimoon told Jaehyun, sighing deeply when Jaehyun handed him his pencil again. “You can ask anyone. I wonder if vampires have to do math.”
“For longer than humans do,” Jaehyun said gently and Kimoon’s eyes widened.
“You’re right,” Kimoon said fervently. Jaehyun laughed and went back to correcting a recent quiz.
Yuta, a vampire. Jaehyun had to laugh. Yuta was the opposite of every image of a vampire Jaehyun had in his head, bright and bubbly, emotional as he wore his heart on his sleeve. Bleached blonde hair and clothes without zippers. Doyoung, Jaehyun could entertain that idea. But the Yuta that had run around the field chasing after a cat? Utterly ridiculous.
“You will not believe what this kid told me today,” Jaehyun told Taeyong as he signed out for the day.
“Do tell,” Taeyong said, amused.
“Apparently, Doyoung and Yuta are vampires,” Jaehyun said with a roll of his eyes. Taeyong laughed along with him, though he seemed slightly hysterical.
“Yuta, a vampire?” Taeyong said. “Hilarious.”
“I know, right?” Jaehyun nodded. “I don’t know what it is with the people of this town and the occult but that’s just ridiculous, right?”
“Right,” Taeyong said but his voice was soft and when Jaehyun looked at him, he seemed to be staring off into the distance.
“Anyway,” Jaehyun said. “I’m heading home.”
“Oh,” Taeyong sat up, looking back. “I think Johnny already left.”
“I know,” Jaehyun assured Taeyong. “I know the way back. I’m hoping Johnny and Ten are done when I get back.”
“Are you sure?” Taeyong asked, frowning. “I can drop you home if you want to wait half an hour.”
“Nah,” Jaehyun smiled. “I’m beat. Thanks, though.”
“Alright,” Taeyong still seemed hesitant but he waved Jaehyun away.
Jaehyun did know the way. He had been living there for over a month and a half at that point and while he didn’t know everything down to a T, he knew the way home. Johnny didn’t live far from the school, which was one of the reasons Jaehyun was put up as a tenant there.
As he made his way to the street, he saw a familiar car with a familiar figure leaning against it.
He supposed, if anyone he knew would be a vampire, it would be Doyoung. Well, and Minghao. But right then, it would be Doyoung, with his dark hair and pale skin, the aloof way he held himself, the way he seemed so in tune with the world around him that he turned to look at Jaehyun mere moments after Jaehyun laid his eyes on him. Jaehyun’s feet took him to Doyoung before his brain even registered it.
“Hey,” Doyoung’s voice was soft, sounding tired. He had his sunglasses pushed up into his hair and even his eyes seemed red. “How’re you doing?”
“I’m good,” Jaehyun said. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” Doyoung said with a fake smile. Jaehyun didn’t know when he learned to decipher Doyoung’s fake smiles from his real ones, he only knew that it made him unhappy to have them directed at him.
“Liar,” Jaehyun blurted out, his ears heating up when he saw Doyoung look at him in alarm at the call out. Jaehyun decided to commit to it. “You look exhausted.”
“I look immaculate,” Doyoung said primly.
“You look like if you close your eyes, you’re going to fall asleep,” Jaehyun pointed out.
“I –” Doyoung rubbed his eyes, sighing. “I’ve been away for a couple of days. I just got back from a five hour drive after finishing a really big case. Yeah, I’m exhausted.”
Jaehyun couldn’t respond because Yuta arrived but he didn’t look any better either.
“Hey, you,” Yuta grinned but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Waiting on Johnny?”
“Johnny’s left,” Jaehyun said. “I’m walking home.”
“Alone?” Yuta said with a frown. Jaehyun laughed.
“Why does everyone say that?” Jaehyun wondered. “I’m a grown ass man.”
“We can drop you off,” Doyoung said. “Hop in.”
Jaehyun looked at the two dubiously.
“No offence,” Jaehyun said. “But I don’t think either of you is in any position to be driving.”
Doyoung opened his mouth to argue but closed it and looked back at the car.
“You want to take the wheel?” Doyoung asked Jaehyun. Jaehyun froze, blinking at Doyoung. The wheel was that of a Cadillac, black and sleek. Jaehyun had never driven anything beyond a Nissan Patrol.
“Are you sure?” Jaehyun asked but he was itching to get behind the luxurious wheel. Doyoung nodded, opening the passenger seat for Yuta and closing it before letting himself into the back.
Jaehyun couldn’t help the boyish grin that took over his face when he sat at the driver’s seat with his hand on the wheel, childlike excitement taking over as he felt the purr of the engine under his foot.
“I don’t know you were a car person,” Yuta said, turning to look at Jaehyun fondly.
“I’m not, really,” Jaehyun said, running a revenant hand over the gear stick. “Some cars are just really cool, no matter what.”
“I’m glad you approve of my choice,” Doyoung called out from the backseat. When Jaehyun looked back, Doyoung had sprawled himself all over the back, laying down easily. “Yuta gave me hell for it. He wanted a Porsche.”
“I am a tiny man who wants a tiny car,” Yuta said simply.
“That’s not what you were saying last week in the backseat,” Doyoung shot back before realizing what he said. “It’s, uh. Very spacious.”
“I’m sure,” Jaehyun said with a grin and pulled out of the parking spot with ease.
The ride back was filled with light conversation. Doyoung’s responses were short but that was mainly because he seemingly kept dozing off. Jaehyun drove carefully, making sure the car didn’t jostle too much. Before long, he was pulling up in front of the dark house. As he got out of the car, he saw the cat laying on a pillar beside the gate, watching them lazily.
“Do you need help?” Jaehyun asked Yuta, who had pulled Doyoung onto his back.
“Nope,” Yuta said cheerfully and in truth, he didn’t seem particularly bothered by the weight. “Could you get the doors, though?”
Jaehyun took the keys from Yuta, opening the front gate and then the front door. He didn’t have much time to look around as he followed Yuta up the stairs and opened the door of the room Yuta gestured to.
As Yuta flopped Doyoung on the bed, Jaehyun looked around. The room was dark, even the electric lighting set to dim as dark curtains kept the meagre sunlight out. The room itself was spacious and airy, though, high walls and elegant but minimal furniture. Jaehyun could see the vanity, where Yuta’s accessories sparkled as they caught Jaehyun’s eye.
“Thanks for driving,” Doyoung said softly and Jaehyun looked at him and smiled.
“Get some rest,” Jaehyun said, turning to leave.
“Hey,” Doyoung called out and Jaehyun turned. “Take the car.”
“What?” Jaehyun asked.
“Take the car back home,” Yuta picked up, walking over to him. “We’ll come to pick it up later.”
“Are you sure?” Jaehyun asked. In all honesty, he didn’t feel like walking all the way back to Johnny’s place.
“Of course,” Yuta smiled, placing a hand on the small of Jaehyun’s back and guiding him out, outside the room and outside the house as the cat walked inside like it owned the place. Yuta stopped at the door, grinning when Jaehyun turned to look at him.
“Thanks, really.” Yuta’s eyes fell to Jaehyun’s neck and then in between his clavicle where Kun’s pendant lay. Yuta reached out a hand, fingers grazing the pendant and lighting up Jaehyun’s skin when his cool fingers brushed against it. Yuta smiled contently. “Take care.”
Jaehyun had gotten used to Ten’s presence alarmingly quickly for someone he didn’t see on a regular basis. He wasn’t entirely sure what Ten’s job was; when asked, Ten had simply stated that he danced, that he was in between gigs. Yet, he didn’t seem like a struggling artist, comfortable in his skin in a way Jaehyun envied a little bit. Jaehyun no longer screamed when he walked into rooms in the house and found Ten lounging there.
He did, however, let out a surprised hum when he saw Kun and another stranger with Ten in the living room one Friday. Johnny looked with Jaehyun walked in.
“Hey, dude,” Johnny said sheepishly. “They kinda just showed up.”
“It’s fine,” Jaehyun said with a small laugh. Despite Jaehyun only being Johnny guest, Johnny treated him like a proper housemate, informing him when he had friends over and asked him for his groceries list. “It’s your house.”
“Don’t say that,” Ten said. “You’ll wound him.”
Johnny’s puppy eyes at the statement told Jaehyun he already had.
“Come, sit with us,” Ten said, patting his lap. Jaehyun raised at eyebrow at that and Ten gave him a grin. “Both my sides are taken.”
“I think I can bear to be away from you,” Jaehyun said drily as he came to sit on an armchair.
“You don’t have to sit with us,” Johnny said earnestly and Ten swatted him.
“Yes, he does,” Ten insisted. “He needs to stop being antisocial.”
“I’m not antisocial,” Jaehyun protested. He had friends.
“Name one person you actually hang out with that aren’t the vampires on 18th street,” Ten challenged, whining when Kun elbowed him. “Doyoung is my sworn enemy, you know.”
“Your sworn enemy is a vampire?” Jaehyun teased, playing along. Ever since Jaehyun had mentioned it to Taeyong, the news seemed to spread amongst the group like wildfire and they seemed to be happy to constantly bring it up. “That can be dangerous.”
“I’m dangerous too!” Ten proclaimed. The man whose name Jaehyun didn’t know snorted and Jaehyun’s gaze fell on him.
“You’re just a little kitty, Ten,” The man said in amusement.
“Don’t make me claw your eyes out, old man,” Ten shot back, muttering something about hags under his breath.
“I’m Taeil,” The man told Jaehyun, waving with both hands.
“Jaehyun,” Jaehyun said. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“I’m not an old hag,” Taeil informed Jaehyun seriously. “Just a bit older than this lot.”
“Do you live around here?” Jaehyun asked curiously. He had never seen Taeil around before and Jaehyun was sure he’d seen at least Johnny entire friend circle in town.
“I have a house here,” Taeil said. “But I travel a lot so I’m never really there.”
“Oh? What do you do?”
“I’m a doctor,” Taeil said.
“Of medicine?” Jaehyun asked automatically before wincing.
“Yes,” Taeil’s voice was dripping mirth. “Of medicine.”
“Sorry,” Jaehyun rushed to say. “My friend’s got a PhD in dramaturgy and keeps telling people he’s a doctor.”
“He’s not wrong,” Kun said. “He does have a doctorate.”
“Yeah,” Jaehyun trailed off.
“So, you do have friends,” Ten said.
“Of course, I have friends,” Jaehyun replied. Sure, he didn’t have the same kind of friendliness that seemed innate in the people of this small town but that was just his nurture, he’d grown up in the city, it wasn’t his instinct to smile at people. He brushed against hundreds of people on the daily and he knew about four of them.
“You never talk about them,” Kun said and Jaehyun paused, biting his lip. That much was true.
“He speaks about them sometimes,” Johnny intercepts. “You guys just don’t spend a lot of time with him. He’s talked about Sicheng and Seokmin.”
“The bunny,” Kun mused.
“Jungkook,” Jaehyun offered. “I guess I don’t but – yeah, I don’t know.”
“It’s fine,” Johnny reassured him. “Stop ganging up on him, you guys.”
Despite the scrunching of Ten’s nose, they seemed to comply and they fell into easier conversation. It was nice once Jaehyun got comfortable and it wasn’t long before he felt content in their presence. Kun and Taeil weren’t as loud as Yuta and Taeyong were but they were just as lively and friendly, never making Jaehyun feel out of place, always willing to pause and give Jaehyun context for something they were talking about that would have flown over his head otherwise. It was something he deeply appreciated and once they left with Ten in tow, Jaehyun still felt warm and fuzzy.
The feeling reminded him that he was, in essence, a social animal and even as he had gotten used to not having his usual friends around physically, he had reserved himself from finding people to replace them. It wasn’t always easy for Jaehyun to make friends; sure, he was friendly and he could be charming. But to him, friendship required more than that and having gone to highschool, university and embarked on his young adult and adult life with pretty much the same core people, Jaehyun knew he didn’t make as much of an effort to befriend people as others did.
It wasn’t that he was antisocial, he was just content with the people that he had. He had gone to the same high school as Seokmin, Mingyu and Jihyo, met Minghao, Sicheng and Jungkook in university, buddied up to Yugeom and Lisa at his part time job and made BamBam his work friend when he worked at a tutoring centre for a bit. He was comfortable with the people he had, had always felt making new friendships – especially in adulthood – too much effort.
But friendship with Johnny and his friends, Yuta, Doyoung, they didn’t seem to require much effort. They waltzed into his life and made themselves a home there easily, knowingly.
“Hey,” Johnny said, drawing Jaehyun out of his thoughts. “I’m sorry about them. Ten doesn’t know when to let something go.”
“It’s fine,” Jaehyun said in surprise. In his experience, Ten was observant – he seemed to know exactly how far he could push someone and knew when to back away. “It’s not like I have this secret life back in the city.”
“We’ve all known each other for a long time,” Johnny explained as he started clearing up their plates and cups. “You seem to fit into the friend group so easily, they don’t seem to realize you’re still getting used to this life.”
“It’s alright,” Jaehyun laughed. “I like being challenged.”
“Is that why you like Yuta so much ?” Johnny teased and Jaehyun’s words caught in his throat as he fruitlessly tried to deny it. Johnny didn’t seem particularly offended at the notion that Jaehyun might have a crush on the coach, instead snickering at Jahyun. “I’m not blind.”
“I – it’s not like that,” Jaehyun said weakly but he knew he was turning red. “He’s married.”
“Yeah, but he’s married to Doyoung,” Johnny said.
“What does that mean?” Jaehyun said with a frown. He wasn’t sure he liked Johnny’s tone. Doyoung seemed like a great guy, someone Yuta adored, someone kind and caring. “Doyoung’s – he seems cool.”
“No, he is,” Johnny nodded. “I didn’t mean it like that, I just mean – you know what, I don’t think it’s my place to say.”
“What does that mean?” Jaehyun repeated.
“Just – I don’t think Doyoung would mind, you know,” Johnny said mildly. “If you were into Yuta.”
Jaehyun couldn’t entirely process the words, at least not instantly. He was still thinking about it when Johnny patted his back comfortingly and told him he was going to go shower.
Doyoung wouldn’t mind? Who in their right mind would have Yuta and wouldn’t mind if someone – no. It was fine. Johnny probably meant that Doyoung knew other people were into Yuta, he wasn’t blind, after all. And it was Yuta. Jaehyun imagined it was hard to not find the smaller man endearing, to not have his smile make someone’s heart race. Johnny probably meant that Doyoung was used to it, used to having people get dumb crushes on his ridiculously beautiful husband.
Yes, Jaehyun convinced himself. That was probably it.
Something was slid to him across the table. Jaehyun looked up to see Yuta beaming down at him.
“What’s this?” Jaehyun asked, picking up the thick envelope. It was hefty like it was made of good quality paper, with a red ribbon tying the front closed.
“An invitation,” Yuta said, settling opposite Jaehyun. “Doyoung insisted on the stationary.”
Jaehyun opened the envelope to reveal a thick, textured paper with fancy font on it.
You are invited to the home of
Nakamoto Yuta & Kim Dongyoung
for dinner on
Thursday, the 28th
Please contact the following number to discuss dietary restrictions:
051 – 127 – 1995
“You could have just told me,” Jaehyun said but he was grinning.
“That’s what I told him but I think this was his sneaky way of giving you his number,” Yuta said nonchalantly.
“Dongyoung, huh?” Jaehyun said instead of addressing whatever the fuck Yuta was implying. It was nothing.
“Huh? Oh, yeah,” Yuta smiled affectionately. “Kim Dongyoung. He sounds like a fucking nerd.”
“Isn’t he?” Jaehyun asked. He didn’t know Doyoung as well as Yuta.
“Absolutely,” Yuta said. “I mean, he bought expensive stationery just to invite someone over and calligraphed it himself.”
“He did?” Jaehyun took a closer look at the letter, fingertips brushing against the neat letters written in stunning stokes, an involuntary smile blooming on his lips.
“Don’t forget to text him,” Yuta said, getting up. “Not only would he be wounded, but he’ll also panic while cooking everything under the blue sky.”
Jaehyun nodded, already taking out his phone and dialling the number in, saving it. It was only then that Jaehyun realized he didn’t have Yuta’s number. But by the time he looked up, Yuta was gone.
“You’re going into the vampire's lair?” Sicheng’s voice was muffled with mirth and Jaehyun sighed, rolling his cart to a stop in front of some cereal. He’d stolen the grocery list from Johnny and added a whole bunch of new ingredients and took on the chore of grocery shopping for the week.
“I regret telling you that,” Jaehyun said, rolling his eyes. “It’s just a rumour. Like a town’s inside joke.”
“What if they’re using the whole ‘inside joke’ thing as a façade and they’re actually vampires and the towns people are playing along because they’re going to sacrifice you, an outsider, to them so they don’t prey on the actual townspeople?” Sicheng mused. “Minghao agrees with me.”
“You and Minghao need to stop watching so many fantasy dramas,” Jaehyun complained. “I didn’t call you for you to tell me I’m going to die at the hands of a couple of vampires in two days.”
“Why did you call us then?” Minghao’s voice could be heard and Jaehyun was sure he was on speaker.
“Can’t a guy miss his friends?” Jaehyun said lightly. There was a beat of silence then the sound of the phone dropping and distant hysterical laughter. Jaehyun huffed, crossing his arms but unable to stop his own smile from spreading. Throwing Johnny’s proclaimed favourite brand of cereal into the cart, Jaehyun moved forward.
“Good one, Jae,” Minghao said breathlessly. “Mr Ghosts Us In The Group Chat misses us.”
“I could make up not texting back to actually meeting you guys,” Jaehyun defended himself. “Now I can’t.”
“Awww,” Sicheng’s voice was exaggerated like he was talking to an infant. “Does Jaehyunie want us to come down next weekend because he misses us so?”
“That would be nice,” Jaehyun admitted. “You could meet my new friends.”
“I’m so proud of you,” Minghao said completely seriously. “Of course, we’ll come down to meet your new friends.”
“Speaking of your new friends,” Sicheng said slyly and Jaehyun braced himself. “How are things going with your crush?”
“I do not have a crush, Sicheng,” Jaehyun said feebly.
“He does,” Sicheng told Minghao conspiratorially. “It’s always Yuta this and Yuta that and did you know Yuta has a really pretty smile and that –”
“Yuta is married,” Jaehyun spoke over Sicheng loudly.
“He’s married to a vampire,” Sicheng said dismissively. “I’m sure they’re chill with this kind of thing. Just give them a pint of your blood.”
“Doyoung isn’t – you know what, fuck you, this isn’t even what I called you assholes for,” Jaehyun complained. “I don’t miss you.”
“Uh-uh,” Minghao sang. “No take backsies. I’ve already told everyone in the group chat. Lisa called me a bold-faced liar; I’m fighting her right now.”
Jaehyun had no doubt he’d receive a blizzard of calls and texts from all the members of his friend group once the news reached them all. Why hadn’t they been called? Didn’t he miss them? Rude. Hurtful. They would be absolutely wounded.
“I gotta go,” Jaehyun said. “I need to have a moment with vegetables and fruits.”
“Ah, yes,” Sicheng snorted. “Are you really going to do your weird ritual of making sure each product is nice and ripe in a new town? You want to be seen as a weirdo?”
“I’m diligent,” Jaehyun said loftily, knowing Sicheng didn’t know the difference between ripe and unripe on a cucumber. “You know checking your veggies before you buying them instead of just throwing a bunch into a bag is normal, right?”
“My boyfriend can afford prepackaged produce where the market makes sure it’s ripe for me,” Sicheng shot back.
“He’s only in it for your money, Hao,” Jaehyun warned the other man on the line.
“I know,” Minghao said far too fondly for someone who was enamoured with someone who couldn’t even make eggs properly. Jaehyun understood, though. Sicheng was endlessly endearing; he tried, had asked Jaehyun to teach him how to cook at least a basic breakfast when he started staying over at Minghao’s place. It was just mutually agreed that Sicheng should just trust his instincts and not handle the creation of edible food.
“Hello, Jaehyun,” A voice, not from the airpod in his ear, said and Jaehyun nearly dropped the melon he was holding. When he whipped around, he saw Doyoung looking at him in amusement.
“Oh, hey,” Jaehyun said, voice high pitched.
“What?” Sicheng replied in confusion in his ear.
“Nothing, gotta go, love you, bye,” Jaehyun said quickly, ending the call before looking at Doyoung. “Um, I was on the phone.”
“I know,” Doyoung said, the mirth not leaving his voice. “You didn’t have to hang up.”
“I was going to anyway,” Jaehyun said, holding up his melon. “I need to focus and make sure the produce is good to go.”
“That one isn’t,” Doyoung said, just as Jaehyun sniffed it. Jaehyun frowned. It smelled fine.
“It smells fine,” He told Doyoung, who rolled his eyes at him.
“It’s overly ripe,” Doyoung told him. “It won’t last long enough.”
Jaehyun blinked at the other man, unsure of how to respond. Sure, he could put aside the melon, smile and pick another one. He could ask Doyoung for advice for which melon he thought was ripe; after all, Jaehyun was not the master of knowing when fruits were ripe, he was just very good at it.
Except Jaehyun did know when fruits were ripe and he didn’t know Doyoung’s produce ripeness detection credentials and it was very, very hard for him to back down.
“I’m sure it’s fine,” Jaehyun said, putting the melon into a bag and then into his cart.
“Have fun eating melon for a night before it goes bad,” Doyoung shot back. Jaehyun scrunched his nose at him, tamping down the urge to stick out his tongue as well. He was an adult, thank you very much. “You never called regarding your dietary restrictions so I’m getting everything.”
Only then did Jaehyun look down properly at Doyoung’s cart, which was only half filled but with a diversity of items that Jaehyun had assumed Doyoung for doing his monthly groceries.
“I was going to text tomorrow,” Jaehyun said. “Please tell me that’s, like, your usual haul.”
“Nope,” Doyoung said, leaning on the cart and popping the P. “This is special for you. Yuta and I follow a very specific diet.”
“Which is?” Jaehyun asked curiously.
“Obscure,” Doyoung said vaguely. “There’s no real name for it. Now that I happened upon you on the produce aisle of our local grocery store, maybe you can tell me your dietary restrictions.”
“Happened upon you,” Jaehyun repeated. “You make it sound so devious.”
“Occupational hazards,” Doyoung explained. “You start speaking like that, I suppose.”
“Hm, vampire lawyer,” Jaehyun said under his breath. But Doyoung seemed to have heard it anyway and looked at him oddly.
“What did you say?” Doyoung asked but he didn’t seem offended, only mildly surprised.
“Um,” Heat flushed to Jaehyun’s ears and neck without permission. “It’s just this – Your neighbour’s kid is my student and he told me you’re a vampire.”
A beat of silence, and then –
Doyoung’s laughter was hitched and high pitched but incredibly infectious, making Jaehyun grin before he could really stop himself at Doyoung doubled over his cart, trying to catch his breath. When he looked up, trying to find his breath as he grinned at Jaehyun, eye’s bright, Jaehyun understood why Yuta married him. It was an odd thought to have so Jaehyun tried to ignore it but he couldn’t stop himself from looking at Doyoung.
“Do you think I’m a vampire?” Doyoung asked breathlessly.
“I don’t believe in vampires,” Jaehyun said automatically, as he did anything his beliefs in the supernatural were questioned. But Jaehyun paused for a moment, thinking about it. “But I suppose if vampires moved anywhere, it would be a town like this.”
“Twilight got some things right,” Doyoung nodded.
“Do you sparkle?” Jaehyun asked with his flimsy attempt at a straight face.
“I guess that’s for you to find out,” Doyoung replied and it almost sounded flirtatious. “I’ll let you in on some vampiric lore if you help me eliminate some stuff from this cart.”
Jaehyun looked at the cart and he immediately catalogued things that weren’t to his liking and also that just completely baffled him. He looked back up with a grin.
“Sure,” He said. “What exactly were you planning on making with pomegranates and canned tuna?”
He ended up getting back home later than expected, leaving Johnny worried. Johnny’s frown cleared up when Jaehyun told him he was with Doyoung and he grinned knowingly at Jaehyun. Jaehyun didn’t know what Johnny knew so he ignored him, letting Johnny and Ten walk around the kitchen and pantry and put away the groceries, taking out the melon.
Cutting it open and seeing its state from the inside should have been a crushing blow to Jaehyun. Doyoung was right. It was infuriating. And yet, for some odd reason, it made Jaehyun laugh.
“I’m not wearing that,” Jaehyun said firmly. Johnny pouted at him, looking up at him with puppy eyes until Jaehyun had to look away before he gave in. “Johnny, no.”
“Ten agrees!” Johnny pointed out.
“Ten has the fashion sense of a five year old jock and I admire that,” Jaehyun said. “But he is also your boyfriend and will agree to most things you say if you pout at him enough.”
“I, from the bottom of my heart, think you should wear the skimpy shirt,” Ten said from his perch on top of the bookshelf. Jaehyun wasn’t entirely sure how Ten got up there and he thought it best not to ask.
The shirt in question was something Jaehyun would never wear, at least on its own like Johnny was insisting. It was a deep wine colour with a plunging neckline, a light sweater like material that hugged it body. It also exposed too much of him and he quickly shucked it off, opting for a simple black button down, leaving two buttons open and tucking it into slim, dark washed jeans.
It wasn’t the sleekest look, Jaehyun knew, but he was comfortable in it and that was important. He was going on a house visit anyway so it was unlikely he would be underdressed. If he was, well – that was a problem for future Jaehyun.
“Are you sure you don’t want us to drive you?” Johnny asked at the door as Jaehyun put on his shoes. He was tugging his bottom lip worriedly in between his teeth.
“It’s just a 20 minute walk away,” Jaehyun said.
“It’s going to be dark out,” Johnny pointed out and Jaehyun looked at him, unimpressed.
“I’m a grown man,” Jaehyun reminded him. “You lot are real worried for residents of a town with a minimal crime rate.”
“Just being cautious,” Johnny said vaguely. Jaehyun let it go as he put on a jacket and walked out the door, bidding Johnny and Ten goodbye.
“Bye,” Ten waved dramatically. “Be safe! Use condoms!”
Jaehyun turned and Johnny quickly ushered his boyfriend into the house and closed the door. Jaehyun shook his head and continued on his way.
He had originally planned on just listening to music or a podcast on the walk but the music fell into the background as Ten’s words came back to him, as well as Johnny’s earlier. He wasn’t sure why they were teasing him about his crush, why they were using such phrasing as to suggest he actually had a chance. He didn’t take them for malicious people, knew they wouldn’t encourage homewrecking. It was hard, though, to get all his thoughts to focus and lead him to a single epiphany. Johnny and Ten had known Doyoung and Yuta for longer than Jaehyun did, way longer.
Jaehyun shook the thoughts out of his head as he approached the house. In the twilight, it looked far more imposing than it had in daylight, the gate creaking slightly as Jaehyun pushed it open. Something in him was cautious but another force was gravitating towards the challenge, the unknown. He wasn’t sure what it was but something told him this wasn’t the usual dinner get together but the prospect thrilled him.
The door swung open and Yuta grinned at him, brightening everything up immediately.
“Hello,” Yuta said. “Come in! Doyoung sent me to get you while he freaks out over the food.”
“Why is he still freaking out?” Jaehyun asked, stepping in. “We talked about this.”
“You get used to it,” Yuta shrugged, leading the way.
The house wasn’t dimly lit but the lightning wasn’t harsh, illuminating their surroundings without throwing things into stark contrast. There were soft shadows but no dark corners. It was comfortable – almost intimate.
“You guys really don’t like the light, huh,” Jaehyun said as he stepped into the living room. “Moving to a town like this and keeping your house like this on top of that.”
“Ah,” Yuta smiled. “Things are so much more fun in the dark, though.” It was accompanied by a wink that Jaehyun wasn’t sure how to respond to but it still tugged a smile out of him.
“Stop flirting with our guest and help me,” Doyoung’s voice came as he entered the room with a steaming dish in hand. Yuta didn’t refute Doyoung’s statement, only laughing and going over to his husband to take the dish from his hands and placing it on the table. “Come, Jaehyun. Sit.”
Jaehyun followed, sitting on the chair Yuta had taken out for him. The table seated more than half a dozen people but Jaehyun wasn’t surprised by that. He knew the rest of his friends here visited often and the table seemed well used. The candles were lit and they cast a flickering shadow over Doyoung’s face as he turned to Yuta and told him to bring the rest of the things from the kitchen. Yuta scrunched his nose but nodded, leaning in for a peck of a kiss before leaving Doyoung and Jaehyun alone.
“You have a nice house,” Jaehyun said, partially because it was true and mainly because it was polite.
“Does the overgrown hedge charm you?” Doyoung asked drily. “The antique furniture?”
“They’re certainly,” Jaehyun tried to find the nicest word. “Stylistic choices.”
“It’s our fault,” Yuta admitted as he entered the room with a bigger dish, as though he had been part of the conversation all along. “We left it unmaintained for a few years in between and when we came back and decided to redo it, we got stuck on the logistics.”
“We’re not stuck on the logistics,” Doyoung countered. “It’s just someone can’t decide and we always end up giving up.”
“You’re guilty of that too, baby,” Yuta shot back, sitting beside them both at the head of the table. He turned to Jaehyun. “We can both be so stubborn sometimes.”
“I fight for what I believe in,” Doyoung responded.
“He doesn’t believe in shaped hedges,” Yuta told Jaehyun. “It goes against his morality, apparently.”
“It won’t be maintained and it’ll grow out weird,” Doyoung insisted. He pushed the main dish towards Jaehyun. “Eat.”
“Doyoung hasn’t cooked in forever,” Yuta said as he took Jaehyun’s plate and heaped on food to it. It was flavoured rice and roasted chicken and it smelled amazing. “Feel free to spit it out. I have the delivery app open and ready to go.”
“I followed the recipe to the T,” Doyoung said. There was a pause as they both looked at Jaehyun expectantly and Jaehyun looked back.
“Aren’t you going to eat?” Jaehyun finally asked when both made no motion for the food themselves. They seemed momentarily surprised at his question before leaping into action.
“Right,” Yuta nodded. “Food.”
“We eat,” Doyoung assured Jaehyun helpfully. Their portion was nowhere near Jaehyun’s size but Jaehyun felt like he couldn’t particularly call them out on it. They continued to look at him after they’d put food on their plates, seemingly waiting for him to take the first bite. Jaehyun obliged, popping chicken into his mouth. Yuta followed but Doyoung made no move to eat, instead choosing to watch them both expectantly.
It was good. The chicken was a little overcooked but it wasn’t inedible, well seasoned with crispy skin.
“Wah, Doyoung-ah,” Yuta said after he swallowed his first bite. “This is actually good.”
“Yeah?” Doyoung finally took a bite of his own food and smiled contently. “Nice.”
“I’m proud of you,” Yuta said, patting Doyoung’s arm and Doyoung beamed back. “Jaehyun, what do you think?”
“It’s great,” Jaehyun smiled. “You paid attention.”
“Ah, yes,” Doyoung rolled his eyes. “He gives me a few tips in the grocery store and suddenly thinks it’s because of him that the food turned out good.”
“Of course,” Jaehyun grinned cheekily. “You forgot rice cookers existed.”
“It was a momentary lapse in memory!” Doyoung protested.
The food may have been great but the company was better. The trio stitch several topics into their constant conversation, easy teasing and jokes making their way into the banter as though they’d known each other for aeons. It was nice, friendly; except when Jaehyun would pick up on something.
Jaehyun was neither naïve nor dumb; he would sometimes pretend to be because it was easier to deal with certain people that way and spending so much time around children, it was natural for him to be more childlike in some respects. He wanted the children to feel comfortable while still realizing he was their teacher. He was observant, he just chose not to act upon his observations immediately.
He noticed Yuta’s fingers brushing against his before retracting, Yuta looking momentarily surprised before smiling the expression away. He saw the way Doyoung’s gaze fell to his lips, saw the way his eyes darkened when Jaehyun felt something splatter on his collar and he pulled his shirt away to wipe it away. In any other situation, he would have known what the lingering touches and the implicating smiles meant.
When dinner was over, they moved to the lounge.
“Do you two need this many rooms?” Jaehyun asked. “Have you thought of maybe moving to something smaller?”
“The rooms were for the kids,” Doyoung said before pausing. Jaehyun raised his eyebrows curiously.
“We fostered kids,” Yuta interrupted. “For a few years.”
“Oh,” Jaehyun said, surprised. “Where are they now?”
“We took them in at 15,” Yuta explained. “We all left when they hit 18 and vacationed around Europe. The kids stayed and we came back. We still keep in touch.”
“That’s really nice of you,” Jaehyun said earnestly.
“They’re good kids,” Doyoung said with a shrug. “Annoying fucks but good.”
“He has a favourite,” Yuta mock whispered. “He’s so mean.”
“Who’s the favourite?” Jaehyun asked and Doyoung didn’t even try to defend himself.
“Jeno,” He said immediately. “He’s never done anything wrong in his life ever. He’s in veterinary school right now. An absolute angel.”
“There’s also Jaemin and Jisung,” Yuta said fondly. “Wait, I’ll show you.”
“Jaemin’s really kind,” Doyoung told Jaehyun while Yuta searched for something on the bookshelves. His voice held the same fondness as when he spoke about Jeno and Jaehyun knew he truly cared for all the kids. “Jisung’s eccentric but it’s interesting to watch him grow.”
“How old are they now?” Jaehyun asked. Doyoung looked at him in silence, frozen as though he wasn’t expecting the question.
“Isn’t Doyoung a terrible parent?” Yuta asked and Jaehyun looked up to see him sitting back down on the armchair. “Can’t even remember his foster kids' age.”
“I know how old they are,” Doyoung said. Jaehyun waited but nothing followed.
“Is it a guarded secret?” Jaehyun joked and he got a smile in return.
“Something of the sort,” Yuta said easily, putting a photo album on his lap. “Look.”
The album was open to two pictures. Yuta had darker hair in the picture, a warm brown but Doyoung’s was still ebony. Jaehyun tore his eyes away from the subjects of his interest and looked at the other three.
“This one’s Jaemin, this is Jeno and this is Jisung,” Yuta said, pointing at the respective people.
Jaemin and Jeno seemed like they were young adults, though Jaehyun couldn’t pinpoint an age. If he had to guess, it would be around the ballpark of 18 – 21. Jisung seemed younger, like a teenager, no more than 17 with his still adolescent face.
“So, Yuta’s the shortest,” Jaehyun said. Yuta scowled while Doyoung snickered.
Spending time alone with Yuta and Doyoung wasn’t as awkward as he’d imagined. He knew his fears were unsubstantiated; he got along with Yuta well on a near daily basis and the times he and Doyoung had spent together were good but he’d never spent elongated periods of time with them together and he had a gnawing fear that he would spend the night being the third wheel, since the couple hadn’t invited any of their other mutual friends to the dinner.
He lost track of time in their dimly lit lounge, listening to Doyoung’s rants about his clients or talking to Yuta about the kids in Jaehyun’s class that took soccer or arguing with Doyoung over the superior adaption of Star Trek. His eyes only flickered to the time on his phone when it lit up with a call from Johnny, asking if he was coming home. If he was coming home – the presumption of the man.
“Well, I should get going,” Jaehyun said after he assured Johnny he was and had hung up. “I’ve probably overstayed my welcome.”
“Not at all,” Yuta said earnestly. “I hadn’t even realized it had gotten so late.”
“It is quite late,” Doyoung said, biting into his lip. “How are you getting back?”
“Walking,” Jaehyun said easily. He wasn’t tired as of yet – in fact, he felt electrified and buzzed, borderline restless from the way he’d been looked at for many parts of the night. Physical activity would do him some good.
“We can drive you back,” Yuta said, jumping up with Jaehyun did. Doyoung started to agree but Jaehyun shook his head.
“No, it’s alright, really,” Jaehyun insisted.
“It’s really late,” Doyoung said as he followed them towards the front door. “It’s not safe.”
“This is the sleepiest small town,” Jaehyun said with a laugh. “Even Johnny was being weird.”
“Then maybe you should listen?” Doyoung was unyieldingly firm as he looked at Jaehyun but that only solidified Jaehyun’s need to walk home, get some fresh air. Doyoung with conviction in eyes was a sight to behold. Jaehyun swallowed and shook his head resolutely, turning to Yuta.
“I’d hate to be a bother, making you drive all the way to Johnny’s and back,” Jaehyun said sincerely. “I’ll take my leave now.”
“Take the car then,” Yuta said, reaching for the keys on the hooks behind the door. Jaehyun laughs, shaking his head yet again.
“Please,” Jaehyun said. “It’s fine. I’ll text when I get home, alright?”
They finally conceded, letting him put on his coat and shoes without any further insistences.
“Thanks for having me,” Jaehyun grinned when he was ready to leave. “I had a great time.”
“It was great to have you,” Doyoung replied.
“I’m sorry for oversta–,” When Jaehyun turned to Yuta, he was stopped by an armful of the smaller man as he pulled Jaehyun into a parting hug. This shouldn’t phase Jaehyun, he knew Yuta was a naturally physically affectionate man with all their friends but suddenly having Yuta so close, pressing against him rendered Jaehyun speechless for a moment. Yuta wasn’t warm but the coolness was electrifying, making Jaehyun’s breath hitch. There was an irrational urge to pull Yuta closer, to share his own warmth with him but Yuta pulled away before Jaehyun gave in to his suddenly overwhelming instincts.
The action didn’t help clear his head since Yuta didn’t step away, instead smiling up at Jaehyun. It was hard to look away; the close distance made Jaehyun realize fully how pretty Yuta was. His big bright eyes, the sly smile playing on his lips as he realized Jaehyun was distracted.
“Come back again,” It would have been a perfectly normal thing to say had Yuta not practically purred it while trailing his hand down Jaehyun’s arm. Jaehyun swallowed, nodding and Yuta grinned, stepping back. It was only then Jaehyun turned blazing red, realizing Yuta’s husband was standing right there while Jaehyun was getting flustered over Yuta.
Jaehyun barely looked at Doyoung, bidding him goodbye and thanking him before bolting out the door before he did something stupid. He thought he heard Yuta huff a laugh but he didn’t dare look back.
His escape was foiled, however, when he was halfway to the gate and Doyoung called out to him, making him freeze. Jaehyun hadn’t done anything, that was true, but he knew the way his heart was racing wasn’t right. It wasn’t what he should be feeling towards a married man. Married men.
When Jaehyun turned, he automatically took a surprised step back when he realized Doyoung was right in front of him. Jaehyun hadn’t heard him come up to him. Yuta was still standing by the door, leaning against it and watching the two in amusement.
“You forgot this,” Doyoung said, holding out his hand which had Jaehyun’s house keys dangling from them. Jaehyun frowned, sure he had them in his pocket but decided not to think too deeply into it, taking the keys quickly.
“Thanks,” Jaehyun mumbled. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before meeting Doyoung’s eyes and smiling. Nothing seemed amiss about Doyoung but he held something in eyes that told Jaehyun he wasn’t as oblivious as Jaehyun hoped, that he knew full well the way Jaehyun’s heart was erratically pumping blood. Despite his scrutinizing eyes, his smile was soft.
“Stay safe,” Doyoung reminded Jaehyun softly. “Call us when you get back.”
“I will,” Jaehyun promised, taking another step back and raising his arm in a wave. “Thanks for the keys. Bye.”
“Bye,” Yuta called out from the door and Jaehyun laughed, giving the two a salute before stepping into the street. When he turned the corner, he looked back to their house still open, evident by the light still emitting from inside. The couple weren’t visible though and Jaehyun finally turned the corner and the house slipped out of sight.
The streets were empty; it was quite late and unlike the city, this small town definitely slept on curfew and took several naps throughout the day. Most of the houses he passed were dark and Jaehyun only had street lamps and the moon for company. Initially, it didn’t bother Jaehyun; he had soft music on and despite the guilt, the lyrics of love made him feel bubbly – the moonlit road felt romantic as the butterflies in his stomach held a rave remembering Yuta’s eyes and the way Doyoung looked at him.
It wasn’t until he was halfway through his journey that Jaehyun felt something odd. He turned his music low and then off completely, suddenly realizing that he wouldn’t notice anyone come up to him if he had music on. He paused and turned, looking around but finding nothing out of the ordinary. He shook himself; the atmosphere of the night was probably getting to him.
But still, something in him was unnerved and it harkened the feeling he had had near the woods the other day; that gut-wrenching feeling of being watched. Only now, he felt followed as well. He still had another 10 minutes to Johnny’s place. He pulled out his phone, contemplating calling someone to occupy himself and make himself feel better but he reconsidered, realizing how he late it was and how everyone was probably asleep, even his friends back in the city. Of course, he knew he could just wake Sicheng up and his presence would be tolerated when Jaehyun told Sicheng of his troubled intuition.
Jaehyun’s heart leapt to his throat when he saw a figure a few feet in front of him. He slowed down, wondering what to do when the figure stepped into the light. Jaehyun felt relief flood his veins.
“Hey, you,” Taeil said, seeming surprised to see Jaehyun. “What’re you doing outside so late?”
“Hey,” Jaehyun replied, his voice low. The night was so quiet, it felt odd to speak up. “I was just walking home from Doyoung and Yuta’s.”
“This late? Alone?” Taeil raised an eyebrow. “Let me walk you. It’s not safe, you know.”
Jaehyun would have disagreed but he remembered the feeling of being watched. He still felt it but he felt better with Taeil around and he wanted to latch on to the comfort the older man was bestowing upon him so he nodded, letting Taeil fall into step with him.
“Taeil hyung,” Jaehyun said after a moment. Taeil hummed, letting Jaehyun know he was listening. “Is there someone out there?”
“What do you mean?” Taeil asked but his voice was measured.
“It’s like –” Jaehyun paused, struggling to find the words to explain. There were instances but there was also an inexplicable feeling. “I looked up this town before I accepted the offer. It has such a low crime rate, mostly stuff like domestic violence and stuff like that – the murder rate is minimal.”
“That’s true,” Taeil nodded. “It’s a quiet town.”
“Then why does everyone seem to get so worried when I leave after dark?” Jaehyun wondered. He wondered if he should mention it but continued anyway. “And I wonder why I sometimes feel like I’m being watched.”
Jaehyun had to look beside him to make sure Taeil was still there, a testament to how quiet Taeil had gotten. When their eyes met, Jaehyun knew Taeil might give him a real answer.
“Let me put it this way,” Taeil said thoughtfully. “This town is safe because it’s a small town; everyone is in everyone’s business, everyone knows each other. It’s pretty tight knit and that prevents – certain things. People are just concerned for you because – well, honestly, you’re the outsider.”
“What does that mean?” Jaehyun frowned.
“I mean no offence,” Taeil replied. “I just mean that you’re not part of that tight knit group – yet, of course. It’s understandable that some might think you are fair game.”
Jaehyun had never thought of it like that and the implications chilled him to the bone. He understood and it was all the horrors of a small town his friends had warned him about.
“That’s terrifying,” Jaehyun said honestly. To his surprise, Taeil laughed and patted him in the back.
“Don’t worry about it too much, kid,” Taeil said fondly. “We’ll make sure nothing happens to you. Just don’t let the small town calm lull you into a false sense of security.”
“Besides,” Taeil continues as they fast approached the only house on the street with the porch lights still on. Jaehyun hoped Johnny hadn’t waited up for him. “You’ve got Doyoung and Yuta.”
“Huh?” Jaehyun turned to look at Taeil in confusion. “What does – wait, I don’t ‘got’ them.”
“Sure,” Taeil’s tone was disbelieving and dismissive. Jaehyun wanted to argue and probe, understand what Taeil meant but they were finally at the brightly lit porch. Taeil followed Jaehyun to the door. Jaehyun slotted the key into the lock but turned to Taeil before he unlocked the door, smiling gratefully at the older man.
“Thanks for walking with me,” Jaehyun said sincerely. Taeil grinned back. “I hope I didn’t detour you from your path too much.”
“Not at all,” Taeil shrugged and Jaehyun realized he didn’t know what Taeil was even doing out at the ridiculous hour. “I was just taking a walk anyway.”
“Did you feel something strange?” Jaehyun asked because he had to know. The smile slipped off of Taeil’s face as he regarded Jaehyun.
“Be careful, Jaehyun,” He finally said, voice serious. “You don’t know what’s out there.”
“Do you?” Jaehyun inquired but he already knew the answer from the look of Taeil’s face. “You do. What’s out there, Taeil hyung?”
“Aren’t you a sceptic, Jaehyun?” Taeil asked with a small laugh. “Go on in, Johnny’s waiting up for you.”
Jaehyun wanted to argue but he could see that Taeil had given him everything he would that night and he didn’t want to keep Johnny up any longer. He smiled again before unlocking the door and slipping inside. When he turned to close the door and say a final goodbye to Taeil, the shorter man was gone.