Sehun is used to dinners alone. Even when his parents were alive, it was difficult to arrange a time for everyone to meet at the dinner table, and when they got there it was even more difficult not to lapse into silence since neither Sehun's father nor his mother really knew their son. He'd grown up under the tutelage of governesses, played with servants' children, and when he was fifteen, Sehun was a stranger to them in all but the most basic ways. To say that matter made casual dinner conversation hard was a bit of an understatement, and by the time Sehun was seventeen, his family had steadily phased out family dinners altogether. Sehun is used to eating alone.
But, he supposes, almost dying changes some things about you.
Lu Han forces him to eat at the dining table, even when it's just the two of them. Especially when it's just the two of them. It's the only time—outside of sleeping—Lu Han can drop the butler act. Sehun sits and eats, and Lu Han pulls up a chair next to Sehun's seat and fills the silence with chatter. He doesn't eat. The first time Sehun had asked if Lu Han wanted to join him—not out of etiquette, but because Lu Han standing at his shoulder made him nervous for reasons he could not explain—Lu Han had just smiled prettily and said, "You wouldn't like it much if I did."
Sehun had blanched, remembering too late that it was his soul Lu Han desired, hungered for. He didn't ask again.
At first, the noise is too much. Sehun is used to cold silence in the dining room, nothing but the scrape of his spoon against the bowl filling the too-large room. He's not used to Lu Han, and even after nearly three years, Sehun doesn't think he'll ever be.
He doesn't mind now, though; Sehun absorbs all the information Lu Han gives him like a dry ground soaking in water, eager for a glimpse into Lu Han's history, long, tangled and bloody as it may be. He asks questions, gives dry quips, glows under Lu Han's attention, and when he's rewarded with Lu Han's big, ugly smile—the kind that means his guard is down, that he's genuinely charmed by Sehun, of all people—warmth trickles down from his cheeks to his fingertips down to even his toes.
Sehun is perfectly aware of how twisted it all is; Lu Han is a demon first and foremost, one who hasn't eaten in years, and Sehun is the sitting duck of a meal, waiting placidly like a lamb for slaughter. He shouldn't trust Lu Han's affection, should deny Lu Han's careful touches and fond smiles, but it's so easy—so easy for Sehun to forget. People have an amazing capacity to equilibrate themselves under duress; all pain fades with time, and so does all happiness. The weight on your shoulders becomes bearable. In the same way, Sehun adjusts to the fact that he is to die at twenty-one; it hangs above him so much that Sehun compartmentalizes it away, shoves it to some corner of his mind for a better time, an easier time, to deal with it. Sehun adjusts, because he is human, and Lu Han is too good at pretending that he's not waiting to rip out Sehun's heart and his soul along with it.
No, Sehun does more than that; if Lu Han asked him to, Sehun might reach in and rip out his heart himself.
"What do you want for your birthday?" Lu Han asks, kicking his feet against the legs of his chair. As per usual, Lu Han's plate is empty, his share scraped into Sehun's plate so as to avoid Kyungsoo's suspicion and ire. He'd be offended if Lu Han passed on his cooking.
The food Sehun's just put in his mouth turns suddenly to sawdust. Sehun swallows with some difficulty. He's turning twenty one in less than a week, and that signals the end of their bargain. In a week's time, Sehun will give up his soul to Lu Han, and he'll die. His time is nearly up, and there are still so many things Sehun still wants to do, wants to say. There are a lot more dinners he wants to have with Lu Han.
"I haven't decided yet," Sehun says, with a lightness he doesn't feel. There's a particular weight in his chest; it feels like his heart suddenly too big for his ribcage, and every pulse throbs under his skin. "A mansion? An island? Jongin to stop pining over Kyungsoo and actually do something about it?"
Lu Han covers his mouth when he smiles. His hand is delicate, wrist thin. He looks breakable, but Sehun has learned to trust in Lu Han's strength. "You can have only one thing," Lu Han says. "And if I were you, I'd go with something more possible than those three."
Sehun looks at Lu Han. His face is open and relaxed and so, so beautiful, and he feels so familiar at Sehun's side, in Sehun's life, that it aches. "I'll think about it," Sehun says, "and I'll get back to you."
It's hard to remember, sometimes, that Lu Han is a centuries-old demon who'd walked into Sehun's life with fire licking at his heels, especially when he looks the way he does, all delicate angles. Lu Han seems fragile, ethereal almost—but that's the trick, Sehun thinks. Lu Han doesn't look like a threat, and that makes him even more dangerous. The other demons that come after Sehun are always taken off-guard, and underestimating Lu Han is often a deadly mistake.
Sehun's soul, it seems, is in high demand in several circles of Hell. Lu Han tells him so when Sehun is eighteen and he first asks, still in the hospital bed and recovering from smoke inhalation, why he'd saved him. "Your soul is right next to your heart," Lu Han tells him, and Sehun blinks.
"What? What's that got to do with anything?"
"There are a lot of theories about where a person's soul is in their body," Lu Han says. "The head, the heart." He leans over Sehun's bed and points to each of these as he says them, his fingers cold against Sehun's burning skin. Lu Han's hand lingers on Sehun's chest for a brief moment before he pulls it away again.
"The truth is, it's all of them," Lu Han says. "But the closer to the heart, the stronger your soul is. The more energy it gives." He licks his lips, and Sehun's eyes are immediately drawn to them before he catches himself and looks up. Lu Han's eyes look very big and very black.
"The more delicious," Lu Han says. Close up, Sehun can see the wrinkles at the edges of Lu Han's eyes. Laugh lines. It's an unsettling feature on a demon's face. "Having a soul right next to your heart means there are a lot of demons after you, Oh Sehun."
Sehun tries to calm his pounding heart and find his tongue. "So why save me, then?" he asks a little hollowly. He feels a little bit like he might throw up. "Why not just save yourself the trouble and kill me when I was already dying?" Something hot pricks at the backs of his eyes. The image of his parents' bodies, charred black by the flame that consumed his manor, flash past his eyes, and Sehun feels his throat close. So he's all alone, again.
Lu Han smiles oddly. "Are you that eager to die? Your soul isn't mature enough, not as good as it could be." Lu Han holds up three fingers. "Three years. Most souls mature by twenty-one, so three years from now. That's how long you have until I take your soul for good."
Sehun swallows past the lump in his throat. It's strange looking down the precipice knowing how long it'll be until you fall over. Sehun closes his eyes, willing his tears not to fall. "Is this some sort of mercy?" he asks, trying to quell the quaver in his voice. He has to be brave. Sehun opens his eyes to stare levelly at Lu Han. "To let me know exactly when you plan on killing me?"
"Yes," Lu Han says. "Without me, you'll die within the next few days. Demons are nasty creatures, and you're on a shrinking hit list. Three years is an eternity compared to what could happen otherwise. Of course, after those three years are over—" The implication is heavy in the air, and Sehun scrambles to weigh his options.
"How do I know I can trust you?" Sehun asks, like he's not bargaining for his life.
Lu Han shrugs. "You don't," he says. "But you'll have to anyway." He smiles, cocks his head, and extends a hand across the bed to Sehun. "Do we have a deal?"
Sehun looks at the hand, then at Lu Han's open, friendly face. Demon, his mind screams at him, but some traitorous part in his chest—perhaps his soul, even—prompts him to take it. "Deal," Sehun says.
"She isn't dead," Lu Han says when Sehun stares, shocked into silence, at him. "Just weakened." He points at the floorboards, where the demon's blood has burned holes straight through. "We'll have to get those replaced with something hardier," Lu Han says calmly, wiping his dirtied hand with a handkerchief.
Sehun throws up a moment later, but Lu Han is there with reassuring hands, rubbing small circles into his back, right between his shoulder blades, and even though Sehun should recoil, he doesn't. He lets Lu Han clean him up, exhausted from the ordeal, and put him to bed. Sehun is already dozing off when Lu Han clumsily tucks Sehun in—too tightly, so that Sehun can't even move—but he's conscious enough to feel the tentative touch of Lu Han's cold hand on his forehead, his fingers brushing away the hair sticking damply to Sehun's skin.
"Be more careful next time," Lu Han murmurs. "You can't trust everyone you meet anymore."
(The next day, Sehun wakes up and orders Lu Han to put in orders for stone and tiled floors, rather than wood. Lu Han obeys dutifully.)
There are more attacks, as Lu Han had predicted. They sneak in through the windows, through the basement, through the very cracks in the walls. Sehun starts to have night terrors that have Lu Han throwing open the door only to find Sehun frozen still in his bed, eyes wide open, tears streaming down his face, but no apparent danger. The lack of sleep makes Lu Han angry, tetchy and snappy, so Lu Han moves into Sehun's room. It's easier for them both to cope with the two-front attacks that way—the first from actual demons, and the second from the demons that live in Sehun's nightmares.
Sometimes, the demons know Lu Han. One of them, Zitao, calls him Lu-ge before Lu Han drives a knife into his chest, and he disappears with a screech and a spray of black ichor. It's a grim reminder that Lu Han is one of them, and the only reason he's even bothering to protect Sehun is for the prize of his heart in three years. Sehun wonders if Lu Han ever feels guilt or remorse over killing them, but Lu Han tells him that there's no such thing in a demon's vocabulary.
"We don't die, unless we don't feed," Lu Han says dismissively. "I'll see Zitao again."
(Still, Sehun finds Lu Han a little more pensive at the dinner table than usual that night, staring blankly at his empty dinner plate instead of engaging a reluctant Sehun into conversation.)
The frequency of demon attacks dies down as time goes on and rumors of Lu Han's protection presumably spread, and slowly, Sehun's attention to moves to other pressing matters. He takes over his father's manor and realizes what it means to be the head of the house. He's been groomed for this day since he could speak, but Sehun still finds it difficult to manage everything, from the finances to the servants to the sly businessmen looking to take over his father's empire. Sehun is too trusting, too green, thrown into his inheritance too early, and Lu Han becomes an invaluable advisor. Together, they patch up the fragments of Sehun's manor, rebuild it into something to be proud of.
The nightmares don't stop, but with Lu Han so close by, Sehun manages to fall asleep more quickly after them. They find out that if Lu Han sleeps in the same bed, Sehun sleeps soundly through the night, and eventually, Lu Han's cot in the corner of the room slowly becomes less and less useful. Sehun finds that his bed—too big for just him—is the perfect fit for two people.
Sehun falls in love with Lu Han slowly, in the bits and pieces of Lu Han that Sehun can find. It's not a perfect portrait of who Lu Han is, but the mosaic is enough for Sehun. The realization doesn't come quickly, like stepping out of the shade into the sunlight, but gradually, like the sun rising over the horizon, each part of Sehun's heart unfolding quietly and without fanfare. It happens between Lu Han helping Sehun navigate difficult conversations and Lu Han laughing, charmed, at Sehun over dinner, and by the time Sehun thinks I'm in love with you, it feels like giving a name to something that has already taken root in his chest.
"A party," Sehun says. "I want a party." Lu Han must still be half-asleep, because the smile that stretches on his face is too fond for guarded, wary, awake Lu Han.
"Man of simple desires. Your wish is my command," Lu Han says, his voice curling sardonically at the end before he rolls over, away from Sehun, and presumably falls back asleep.
(Lu Han has the party outlined by the afternoon and the invitations sent out by the time they sit down for dinner. Sehun is smug, and Lu Han throws a bread roll at his head. It's one of the more fun dinners Sehun's had in a long time, and he can't help but wonder if it could be the last.)
They're in the gardens, behind the manor, where the tall oaks shield them from the windows in the manor, and Lu Han is teaching Sehun how to properly fight off a demon. Being that Lu Han is the only one around, he's the one Sehun's fighting, and Sehun's pride is getting almost as injured as the rest of him.
"You're still not hitting hard enough," Lu Han says unimpressed as he pushes Sehun to the ground again.
"Not all of us can be as strong as demon spawn," Sehun says, staring up at the sky. Lu Han laughs somewhere outside Sehun's line of sight. Every part of his body is in pain, namely his back, but Lu Han's standing over him, extending a hand, and Sehun reaches out to take it.
With a swift jerk, Sehun pulls Lu Han down with the intention of pinning Lu Han down and giving him a taste of his own medicine. It doesn't quite go as planned, since Sehun's somehow forgotten that Lu Han is a demon and no matter how human like Lu Han is, he'll always be a demon; as soon as Sehun moves, Lu Han's moving in counterattack, catching Sehun's wrists and pinning them above his head, his knees straddling either side of Sehun's torso and keeping him pinned to the ground. An inhuman snarl rips its way out of Lu Han's throat, and Sehun's body submits, locks up his muscles so Sehun is motionless beneath Lu Han. Only his eyes are moving, flicking all over Lu Han's face.
It's reminiscent of all Sehun's nightmares: the pulled back upper lip; the fangs protruding out of Lu Han's pretty, pink mouth; the completely black eyes. Sehun can't look away for an entirely different reason he can't normally tear his gaze away from Lu Han. Sehun's terror seizes him suddenly and overwhelmingly. His heart takes off in his chest, banging frantically against his ribcage like an animal, and Sehun tries to buck Lu Han off, but Lu Han presses him even more deeply into the ground, his grip like steel.
"Don't," Lu Han says, but it's not really Lu Han's voice (or maybe it is, and Sehun hasn't known it all this time). It's darker, deeper, and more guttural. It sounds like a demon's voice, and somehow, it freezes Sehun's body into place, even without Lu Han holding onto his wrists. It still feels like he is, though, even though Sehun can clearly see and feel that Lu Han's hands are propped on Sehun's chest. Sehun swallows back the sour fear lingering at the back of his throat.
Somehow, Lu Han's eyes get even bigger as he stares at Sehun hungrily, his mouth a slit of teeth on his face. It's disconcerting, seeing Lu Han's face but feeling as if Sehun doesn't know him at all, and more than a little terrifying.
Lu Han rumbles something, low in his throat, but Sehun doesn't understand it. It's not until Lu Han leans in closer, closer, and closer still—Sehun can count each individual lash fringing Lu Han's dark, dark eyes—that Sehun realizes what he's saying.
"I'm starving," Lu Han murmurs in a sing-song voice, in his sing-song voice, and Sehun doesn't know what thought scares him more: if Lu Han's out of control, or if he's in control. Lu Han noses along Sehun's jaw, ignoring it when Sehun flinches away from his touch, and he settles at the hollow of Sehun's throat where he breathes in deeply, his exhales warm gusts of air against Sehun's sweat-slick skin. It's intimate, the kind of intimate Sehun had wished for when he couldn't sleep, Lu Han so close in his bed but so far out of reach, but it's all wrong. In his daydream, Sehun imagines reaching out to touch Lu Han, to drag his fingers through Lu Han's hair, tap them on each individual bone in Lu Han's spine. In the dream, Lu Han shivers when Sehun touches him, like Sehun's shaking him apart from the inside out.
In the dream, though, Lu Han's eyes are their normal, dark brown, the whites of his eyes obvious when he widens at how far Sehun can take him down his throat—not completely, arrestingly black like this.
"Lu Han," Sehun says, his voice wobbling and breaking with the two syllables. "Please."
Lu Han freezes over him, his hands hovering just over Sehun's chest, right above his heart. He blinks once, twice, and the blackness of his eyes recedes, the reverse of ink spreading across a droplet of water. Lu Han snatches his hands away from Sehun's body, vaulting off him quicker than Sehun can breathe out Lu Han's name again. The power over Sehun's body fades away as soon as he does, and Sehun can pull his arms down, trembling with the sudden rush of blood through them.
"I'm sorry," Lu Han says. The words are tumbling out of his mouth uncharacteristically quickly, Lu Han's silver tongue caught in a snag. The only thing that comes out is Lu Han's apologies, pouring over each other like water over rocks, pooling into Sehun and trying to fill him up, to cover the injury Lu Han thinks he's left.
Sehun forgives him because of course he does. Lu Han is a star, and Sehun is caught in his gravity, but even though Sehun insists he's fine, that it's nothing, Lu Han is still distant for the night. He maintains a respectable space between them, but the absence of Lu Han's presence like a shadow is worse than the fear Sehun had felt earlier.
When Lu Han makes noises about sleeping in his own bed for the night, Sehun adamantly refuses. "Don't be ridiculous," he says. "I already said it was nothing." Sehun gestures to the open side of his bed, Lu Han's side, and Lu Han hesitantly walks forward, slipping into the bed gingerly, like he's afraid he might dirty the pristine white sheets by being there.
("Don't forgive me," Lu Han murmurs later when he thinks Sehun is asleep. Sehun keeps his breathing even and measured, his eyes closed, even as Lu Han carefully brushes a lock of hair out of his face. Every nerve ending is screaming at him to move, to reach out and grab Lu Han's hand before it leaves, but he stays still, afraid that he'll upset whatever precarious balance they've established. "Please don't forgive me.")
Lu Han puts everyone to bed at around three. Baekhyun and Jongdae are practically comatose anyway, leaning against each other, adorable and quiet in their sleep. They're easy to move, since Lu Han can utilize his powers in putting them into the guest rooms, leaving water and aspirin tablets on the nightstands. Normally, Sehun would feel bad about that, since it's not really Lu Han's job, but it also sort of is, so he just Sehun has another flute of champagne in his hand, but he's not really drunk, not in the way that Jongin is, stumbling around, trying to find the bathroom. At least he has Kyungsoo at his side, stone cold sober, guiding him along. There are only two Lu Han's wavering in front of him and looking amused.
"Come on birthday boy," Lu Han says, grabbing Sehun by the arm. "Let's get you to bed."
Sehun pouts, but lets Lu Han take the flute of champagne away. Sehun probably can walk on his own—albeit with some wavering and wobbling—but he uses the opportunity to lean heavily into Lu Han's side, smashing his cheek into Lu Han's neck.
Lu Han makes a soft sound and pushes Sehun away half-heartedly. "You smell like alcohol and a little of vomit," he complains. They toddle down the hall together, Sehun wrapping his arms around Lu Han's waist to keep his balance but holding on tighter than he needs to.
"Jongin was sick," Sehun murmurs into Lu Han's skin as Lu Han pushes the door to the bedroom open and carefully guides Sehun into it. "Draw me a bath."
"Demanding," Lu Han says, but there's no reason for him to disobey. He leaves Sehun sitting on the bed to flit into the bathroom. It's easier to sober up when no one else is around, and Sehun feels the exuberance of the alcohol slowly draining away from his bloodstream. The rush of water hitting the porcelain tub wakes Sehun up a little, as does the chill from Lu Han's absence, and he clumsily works at the buttons on his shirt. His tie is already half-askew, hanging off his neck from where Jongdae had tugged on it, so that's the easiest to remove, and Sehun's shirt is half-off when the noise from the bathroom stops and Lu Han reappears.
Sehun's expecting something from Lu Han, maybe a snarky remark, but Lu Han just helps Sehun into the bathroom, his shirt half-opened. The warmth of the bathroom hits Sehun first, right in the chest, and Sehun has to struggle to breathe for half a second before his lungs adjust. The mirror is already on its way to being fogged up when Lu Han turns Sehun around, his hands cold and clinical when they push off Sehun's shirt, work at Sehun's pants. It's his job to do this, as a butler, but Sehun can't help but catch his bottom lip between his teeth at the sight of Lu Han knelt between his knees, his hands on Sehun's hips and pushing down Sehun's pants.
The water is the perfect temperature as Sehun slides in, his muscles unknotting at the warmth. The water is already hazy, presumably from the soaps and fragrances that Lu Han had added beforehand, and Sehun sinks lower and lower until only his head is above the water, resting along the bathtub's edge.
"Dunk," Lu Han says, taking his usually position behind Sehun, his hands delicately cupping Sehun's face. Sehun obediently holds a breath and slides under, the water muting all the other sounds except for the reliable thud of Sehun's heart. When he resurfaces, Lu Han has soapy fingers and pushes them slowly through Sehun's hair.
The routine is familiar, Lu Han washing Sehun's hair for him first, but it feels strangely more intimate than usual. Sehun's skin is ten times more sensitive than usual, and every drag of Lu Han's fingers along his neck feels like a lightning bolt zipping through his body. Sehun is suddenly glad for the murky water, his body responding to Lu Han's touches easily. Sehun watches unabashedly, his head perched on the edge of the tub, as Lu Han sucks his lower lip into his mouth in concentration. His own hair is deflating at the humidity in the bathroom, and his eyeliner, usually so precise and neat, is smudging at the edges. The sleeves of Lu Han's nice dress shirt are rolled up at the elbows, and one of the straps of his braces is on the verge of falling off his shoulders, and he looks like something out of a dream so much that Sehun can't help it. He lifts an arm out of the water, water sluicing down his forearm, to grab Lu Han's hand as it's about to draw away.
"What is it?" Lu Han asks, sounding bemused.
"I'm in love with you," Sehun says, resting his cheek against Lu Han's wrist. He feels flushed, and he can't tell if it's the steam in the room, the alcohol, or the words coming out of his mouth.
Lu Han's fingers tense slightly, the muscles shifting under Sehun's cheek. "Sehun," Lu Han says, his voice barely above a whisper.
"I'm sorry, I know it's not really—I'm not supposed to," Sehun mumbles. "But the end of the deal is tomorrow, isn't it?" Now, the change in Lu Han's posture is palpable, the tension siphoning into the room with every line that tenses along Lu Han's body. "I wanted you to know, beforehand." And then, because why the hell not, Sehun lifts his head, straightening up, and twists to look at Lu Han straight on. It's difficult to tell what sort of emotions are running through Lu Han's mind like that, but Sehun doesn't think he imagines the way Lu Han's eyes darken a little as Sehun darts out a tongue to lick his lips, a nervous habit.
"It's still my birthday today," Sehun says. "Will you kiss me?"
"Sehun," Lu Han says again, this time a little helplessly.
"Dying man's wish?" Sehun asks, trying for levity, and Lu Han's brows furrow just slightly, like he's displeased at the way Sehun's talking, and Sehun is ready for the rejection when Lu Han leans in, his still-soapy hand cupped along Sehun's jawline, and kisses him, hard.
The sudden warmth that floods through Sehun's chest feels almost like a brand, burning its way through his flesh, and it contrasts so perfectly with how cold Lu Han's fingers are that Sehun makes a pathetic whining sound into Lu Han's mouth. Lu Han's solution to that is only to kiss Sehun harder, to coax open Sehun's mouth, and Sehun tries to give as good as he gets, tries to pour everything he's accumulated in the past three years toward Lu Han into the kiss. It breaks only when Sehun needs to breathe, his human lungs burning like the rest of him. Lu Han's mouth is very pink, and his eyes are dark, but not in the way they'd be once; Sehun feels light headed.
"Bed," Lu Han says, his voice smooth and low, and Sehun almost slips in his haste to comply. Lu Han catches him before he cracks his head open on the tiled floor, but he doesn't let Sehun go, which is just as well for Sehun. He'd had no plans of leaving anyway.
None of this really matters, really. The paperwork can and will wait for another day. Room clean-up can be put off for as long as possible. All that matters is the here and now: here, Lu Han's with him, and now—now, Sehun is alive.