It was life’s little ironies that one of Taehyung’s jobs was wiping off the plastic-covered pictures of himself in the university’s hallways. “VAMPIRE” was plastered right under it, though he thought secretly to himself that he looked a bit more like a washed-out ghost in the cheaply-printed picture. It looked like he’d been put together with two dozen horizontal lines, and he tried to mimic the bland expression as he swiped his rag over the plastic. Sometimes he pretended they were wanted posters, like he was in some kind of heist film. Only, what was he going to heist? A white board?
It wasn’t the only job he could get, but almost. Perfect job for someone who did best at night, and couldn’t be employed around humans. Taehyung spent his nights in the local university mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms. He figured it was exercise, plus it supplemented the government stipend he got every month to pay for animal blood and other necessities. It gave him a little play money, to buy books or games, things to keep himself occupied. The beauty of the job in the government’s eyes was that it was after hours, which meant that there weren’t many humans around. Government school, government job, almost totally isolated. But it was telling that it was a university, not a high school or around children. The college students knew after-hours staff might be vampires and were alert to look out for them. Avoid them. Nothing new.
But sometimes it felt like Taehyung could absorb the movement of the students. Laughter and footsteps, deep thoughts, and shallow, just moving his mop around. He wasn’t that much older than them, not that they’d ever know that.
It was harder to get that fanciful in the bathrooms, but he tried. He wrote out messages or weird drawings sometimes when he mopped, and it wasn’t like anyone would know since he mopped right back over them.
It was usually quiet, except for the hum of the cooling and heating system, where sounds echoed. But not that night. As he moved down the corridor, mopping, cleaning door handles, and dusting door ledges, music floated from one of the practice rooms. He was in the music department building, and he wasn’t terribly surprised. When there was sound, it was from that building. It was probably a music major after hours to perfect some upcoming performance or compose. He just kept doing his job, and moving on.
He tugged his ear buds out of his ears, though, when the music proved to be consistent. His mop unconsciously started moving to the rhythm of the rise and fall of the piano’s tones, getting steadily closer, and holding his breath as the song built to a climax. A few steps more had him able to see through the glass stripe on the door, seeing a little stereo playing music, as a man sitting at a piano accompanied it. He wasn’t sure if it was the sound of the music, a soft and slow piece, or the sight of the man’s face as he played, as though the music was rapturous, right to the last second.
Taehyung nearly tripped over his rolling bucket when the student, because that was clearly what he was, looked up. Of course, that also had him picking up cleaning bottles that he knocked down, cursing himself silently, even as he realized the man had left the piano bench to come out to the hallway. Taehyung was prepared to keep right on mopping, but he set himself. His first thought was that maybe there was a question about the upkeep of the room.
“Sorry, was I keeping you from cleaning in here?”
“I don’t do the rooms every night,” Taehyung said. “I’ll get it another night.”
The kid laughed a bit. “Okay! Though, I might be in here most nights. I like the sound of this piano the best,” he said, as though Taehyung was direly in need of that information. Though Taehyung was curious, wanted to ask what it was about the tone, but he bit his tongue. “If you need in, just come in. You won’t bother me.”
Taehyung wasn’t so sure of that, since the garbage was on the other side and it required him to cross the room. Plus, the stately old upright piano usually needed dusting, and no one wanted that in their face. Maybe he’d take a five minute break, or something while Taehyung looked around and made sure there weren’t condoms stuck to the furniture, or whatever else people got up to in the rooms. Seriously, there were no limits.
Taehyung left his ear buds out until he got to the end of the corridor, even the repetition of the piano piece being worth it.
There were breaks built into his job, though sometimes Taehyung didn’t bother taking them. He didn’t really work specific hours, so much as he had a start time, and a list of tasks to do, and when he was done with them, he was done. Some days took longer, though he was fine as long as he was finished before security came around to lock up the buildings, anyway. Bathrooms were every day, because from what he could tell, the world would just twist off it’s axis if the filth and filling garbage cans were left to build on themselves. He wasn’t sure if the guys had bad aim, or maybe just found it funny. He didn’t think it was some vampire-hating thing, because there were humans who cleaned, too. It just made him take a little bit of pleasure at blasting cleaning solution at the walls.
Other things, his list of duties skipped. Practice rooms were every other day, and there were spot checks. He could pencil in that a student was using the room, as explanation to his supervisor, and he had the night before. But that wasn’t why he stopped at the corner little sitting area where students normally lounged between classes or waiting for practice rooms to open up. He’d already wiped down the tables, and swept under the chairs, so he sat in one of the ugly plastic seats and listened to the piano that was being played down the hall. He half wanted to press the keys on the other pianos and see what was so special. But pretending like he was dusting wasn’t going to produce any sounds like the student was making.
It was silence that had him hopping to his feet, grabbing his cart and motoring down the hall until he got to the door of the practice room. Taehyung blew out a breath, tapping on the door with two knuckles. The student again was right there, talking before Taehyung could get a word out.
“Hey, did you need to clean in here?”
“Yeah, sorry. If you want to take a quick break?”
“I should anyway. I’ll be back, but take your time.”
Polite, anyway. Taehyung waited until the kid was started down the hall, and then moved into motion. He emptied the trash first, swiping down the piano quicker than he ever had before, and gently cleaning down the keys, wiping them back to front and trying not to leave much moisture behind. He wiped it down with a second, dry cloth, and moved to other flat surfaces not covered by music and notes. He chased down some wrappers on the floor, and wiped up a couple of foot marks and scuffs, but the room was otherwise pretty clean. No raves in the music building that day, anyway.
But he felt like a rat in a cage, when the student came back.
“Did you need me to stay out longer?”
“No, it’s fine. I’m done now.”
Even if he hadn’t been, he would’ve said he was.
“You’re… Taehyung, right?” At his widened eyes, the student shrugged a shoulder. “Everyone knows there’s a vampire working after hours.”
Of course everyone knew. In addition to the walls, his face was on the university’s website as a matter of record, and he wore a shirt with a patch on it that said so, too. Just in case. In case something.
“Yeah, I am. I’m sorry if I disturbed you.”
“Hey, it’s no problem. I realized after you were listening. I’m glad someone enjoys it? I’m Jeon Jungkook,” he said, and they did some kind of weird half-bow thing at each other from across the room as Taehyung backed up, because Taehyung refused to get any closer or else be reprimanded if Jungkook complained. Taehyung already had a complaint on file, a kid who thought Taehyung had gotten too close while mopping. Another, and he’d be close to being fired for being in the same breathing space as a human. Though Jungkook looked behind him at the piano, licking his lips before looking back to Taehyung. “I’ll be here tomorrow night, too. Stop by and listen if you have a moment?”
His response was noncommittal, but Jungkook had smiled as Taehyung closed the door on his way out. He started rolling everything away, so Jungkook wouldn’t think he was hovering. But he stopped for a moment when Jungkook began to play again, before continuing toward the exit, and home.
The invitation still stuck, though, even though half the practice rooms were full. He didn’t bother knocking on any of them, and the muffled sounds from them just served to muddy the sound of the piano Jungkook was playing. It would’ve been rude not to pause after he’d been extra slow in mopping toward the door, just to listen to Jungkook practicing. They hadn’t talked, Jungkook nodding at him through the open door. Still, he wasn’t sure why it had pleased him. Kind of like a shiny spot that wasn’t washing fingerprints and ink mustaches off his face on the wall and humming about being a wanted man.
Taehyung had been in over the weekend for cleaning, too, but not for the practice rooms. The cleaning of the concert hall explained why almost all the rooms were full, and with all that sound, he had no chance picking out Jungkook’s music out of it. Still, when he was a door away, he could start to pick out the strains and he only moved on when he knew Jungkook was playing. He didn’t want to interrupt, and there were too many people really even for a quick chat. All he spared was a glance, as he nudged his cart by, and still Jungkook had caught him not long after he’d moved past.
“Hey,” Jungkook said. “How’d it sound?”
“Great,” Taehyung said, and waved around them at the muddled cacophony. “Even with all this going on. You play really well.”
Jungkook laughed. “My parents really drilled it into me. But I kept with it this long because I love it. The exhibition in a few days has everyone really worked up. Are you going?”
The grand performance hall was already sparkling and almost ready for guests. There was such naïveté in the question, that Taehyung couldn’t just answer curt and move on, even while he looked up and down the hall to be sure no one was watching them talk.
“I can’t. If I’m on university grounds, I have to wear this patch that says I’m a vampire, and I can’t— Events aren’t allowed.”
Cleaning before and after them, yes, attending or enjoying in the venue was out of the question. The student body or invited guests didn’t have to worry about vampire employees being among them. Part of the issue was that he knew that without his emblazoned patch and pictures everywhere, no one really would’ve been able to tell what he was unless it was daylight.
But Taehyung had twisted surprise shoot through him that Jungkook actually looked a little disappointed.
“I didn’t know. I mean, you probably wouldn’t want to hear this thing again anyway.”
That wasn’t strictly true. He bet the sound of it really soared in a room meant to amplify it, but the sound of a door opening in the distance had Taehyung jerking.
“Sorry, I have to keep going.”
“Oh yeah, sorry. I— Sorry. Have a good night!”
“Thanks,” Taehyung said to his broom handle, a full minute after the door had closed behind Jungkook, and he was the only one in the hallway. “Good luck.”
He didn’t know if he was going to see Jungkook again before the exhibition, and he was playing with fire as it was.
Taehyung thought about it. He’d had hours of cleaning to think about it, and the prep work that kept him from doing much at all the days before so that his assumption held true - he didn’t see Jungkook before the night of the exhibition. Taehyung’s clearance had been lifted that night only, getting there early for any last minute work. He snagged one of the programs left scattered, scanning until he got to Jungkook’s name. Fifth on the program, and Taehyung was supposed to exit the area. There were small TVs set up in the service corridors, sound piped in and sometimes thudding through the walls as well.
He snagged a chair near one of the TVs, trying to make himself look as small as possible as the exhibition started. And he nearly shrieked when his arm was snagged halfway through some kind of quartet that was third on the program.
“We don’t need you now, and regulations say you need to go,” his supervisor told him. “Go home, and if I need you after this is over, I’ll text you.”
“I’m sorry, I’ll— I— This is my favorite song, the fifth one,” Taehyung said said. “Can I please stay through that and then go? It’s one away.”
There was a no starting all over the supervisor’s face, and Taehyung let his face sink into misery. It wasn’t entirely feigned, either. He just wanted to be able to say yeah, he’d seen Jungkook perform, even if it was on a tiny TV when Jungkook was just on the other side of a few walls. It was something.
Though that was deluding himself that he was going to see Jungkook again to tell him.
There was a sigh, and a singer took the stage, starting the fourth number on the program. Maybe it was that, and not Taehyung’s face, but Taehyung got a nod. “Stay right here, then. As soon as that song is over, I’ll be back to see you out.”
“Okay!” Taehyung said happily. If he thought he could’ve brought in some kind of food in thanks that wouldn’t have been suspect, he might’ve considered it. All he could do then was sit in the chair and try not to fidget too much as he wondered how anyone could sing a song that was that long. How was she even breathing? And his eyes went wide at a high note, huffing out a laugh as he put his hands on his jiggling knees.
But as the soprano walked off the stage, Taehyung scooted forward, shoving his face at the TV. The sound of the announcer was clearer, Jeon Jungkook, playing—
Jungkook was in a suit, Taehyung could tell that much, and he sat down at a grand piano that was whole leaps nicer than the piano in the practice room. Maybe the tones were similar, and that was why Jungkook liked it. And he shut up his thoughts as Jungkook began to play. He could hardly hear, the beginning was so soft, but he could see the drift and flow of Jungkook’s hands on the keys.
“Oh,” Taehyung murmured, as the music got louder, free and almost burbling out of the instrument. Jungkook had to have been so nervous, and there he was, playing, fingers on the keys, feet working the pedals, hundreds and hundreds of people in the audience watching.
It grew lazy and romantic again, settling, taking the rush and pounding pulse back down, until Jungkook’s fingers stilled, and all was quiet.
The audience clapped, the sound of that so much louder, and Jungkook stood and bowed. Taehyung fought not to clap himself at the sound of footsteps, and he tore his eyes away from Jungkook still bowing. His supervisor waved him along, and Taehyung was let out the back with explicit directions. Go to the train, and then go home. No lingering. So he didn’t, knowing he was likely being watched. He went to the train, hands deep in his pockets and humming the piano melody under his breath, and patting his hands against his belly in an imitation of clapping as he imagined the song ending again.
All he’d done was clean the piano that Jungkook had practiced on, but he felt as proud as if he had made it.
Taehyung downloaded a version of the song Jungkook had played onto his phone, though he didn’t listen to it while he was working. He had all of his normal duties to do, and nothing to break it up. The classrooms were dark save for one or two late classes. It let him move with his upbeat music and get through the worst of it. Extra trips to the dumpster, from the bathrooms, when his garbage cart got full. And getting to the music building had him full of imagination, though not much expectation. The exhibition over, people would be resting, and the practice rooms would likely be empty. The lobby was quiet and easily set to rights, and he wandered down the west corridor first making sure doors were locked and things were swept.
The other side, it started into the practice rooms, and he was so focused on trying not to overset the bucket with the sticky wheel, that he missed the dark form in the one of the sitting area chairs until it moved.
So yeah, he was right. The rooms were empty, but Jungkook was there, walking toward him.
“I saw you perform!” Taehyung blurted. “It sounded even better than here. I mean, I wasn’t in the hall, but I got to watch on a TV before I had to go. You were really great.”
“Oh!” Jungkook seemed flustered by the praise, stopping only a few feet away and seeming bigger somehow than Taehyung’s memory. “I was hoping they’d put it on DVD or something so you could see, so I’m glad you did. There were a couple of rough spots, but I worked through it.”
“I couldn’t tell,” Taehyung said. Probably no one could, unless they were staring at the sheet music or knew the song like the back of their hand.
“I actually brought you a program. Though you might have one already?” Jungkook said, his hand hovering over his messenger bag.
“I took one home,” Taehyung confirmed. Or he wouldn’t have remembered the name of the piano piece at all.
“Good! I— Good.” Jungkook looked at him, really looked at him. Or at the dust mop in his hands anyway. “Do you clean here every night?”
“Just on school days usually,” Taehyung said. Though, it reminded him of where he was, what he was doing. It wasn’t just in a hall, and couldn’t be explained away. It was the last thing he wanted as he looked around as though someone was going to see him, and he knew it was probably the end, until maybe Jungkook began practicing for something else, and they’d nod at each other maybe then. “Look, I’m sorry. The school has regulations. I’m not supposed to talk to students here.”
That had Jungkook frowning. “I guess that makes sense if you’re working, but that’s not why, is it? Are there regulations against talking to you away from school?”
Taehyung was stumped, trying not to meet Jungkook’s querying eyes for too long. “No, I don’t think there’s regulations like that.”
Fraternization off school grounds? He was going to have to read through his handbook again. Not meeting anyone at the school made it hard to meet away from it.
“Maybe we can meet up after your shift. Will you be too tired? We could meet outside the front gates. Or, at the subway station if that’s better?”
“I won’t be tired. I’ll be done here in… In an hour or so?” Taehyung said, his mouth moving faster than his brain. “I’ll be going to the subway, then?”
“I’ll study here for a while then, and go over in about an hour, then,” Jungkook said. And he held a finger up to his lips as he picked his way back to one of the chairs.
It gave Taehyung an hour to mop and wipe down surfaces in confusion. The solitary piano, Jungkook looking up to smile at him through the door days before, standing there asking to meet with him. Maybe to talk with someone who’d seen the exhibition. Maybe curious, because he was a vampire.
Taehyung brushed his hand over the patch on his chest, over the badge there. Even if his face wasn’t on the walls, he was wearing proof that declared him as a vampire. For a moment anyway, amidst the confusion, he was glad that at least Jungkook knew. So it had to be despite that, at least.
But that Jungkook knew made him a little afraid.
Taehyung hadn’t told anyone, not that he had many people to tell. Normally it would’ve been something he immediately texted Jimin about, but he hadn’t. Not about listening to Jungkook’s music, or the times they’d talked, or the exhibition. He figured Jimin would’ve reached through the phone line and smacked him on the head, and then showed up at his doorstep to do it again. He half wanted to call Jimin to talk him out of it, tell him to run away and not risk his job at the very least. He could’ve just kept walking past the subway, gone home another away.
He half expected Jungkook not to be there at all, but it put a stutter in his step to see Jungkook lazed in a corner with his nose half hidden in a scarf and his hands bare as he played with his phone. When he saw Taehyung, he was on his feet, and Taehyung gestured.
“They make gloves so you don’t get cold using your phone, you know?”
Even with half his face hidden, Taehyung could tell Jungkook grinned.
“Yeah. I could only find one on my way out the door, so.”
One glove or no gloves. Still, Jungkook looked behind him at the escalators leading down to the platforms.
“I figured you wouldn’t want to go anywhere really nearby. I checked and there’s a cafe a couple stops away that’s still open, though?” Jungkook said. “I know you can’t eat but…It’d be warmer anyway.”
Taehyung almost couldn’t catch the last of it, how mumbled it was, like Jungkook was embarrassed to be saying it somehow. Taehyung blew out a slow breath, and shrugged.
“Yeah, that’s fine. You know the way.”
An invitation to lead. Jungkook’s head ducked, and he went first through, scanning his card. Taehyung had him do that on purpose, not wanting Jungkook to see his government-issued transportation card, and all the garish VAMPIRE ONLY emblazons on it. He sniffed at his arm, and didn’t think he smelled too much like cleaning solution or urinal cake. Jungkook was leaning side to side as they waited on the train, chattering about reading plans for how they were going to update the station one day and add more turnstiles so that there wasn’t a crush every time students descended. They did have something to talk about too, as they walked the block and a half to the cafe: the exhibition. He’d been careful not to stand too close on the train, careful not to walk too close on the street, like Jungkook was living flame.
“How much excruciating detail do you want?” Jungkook groaned.
All of it, it seemed. Every little tidbit from Jungkook having to go back to get his dress clothes, to playing passages on the wall while he was waiting was fascinating.
“Was it really good?” Jungkook insisted.
“I know you heard it from other people, too,” Taehyung scoffed. He wanted to swat, wondered if Jungkook would laugh, but Jungkook laughed anyway, his arm flapping cutely.
“There it is,” Jungkook said.
It was a small place, cream walls, dark tables. A few couples were scattered around, and a sign instructed them to sit.
“Are you cold still?” Jungkook asked, when Taehyung sat down and didn’t take off his coat.
“I don’t have another shirt,” Taehyung said, touching the spot on his chest above where the Vampire patch was on the work shirt he was wearing. “If I take off my coat, they might throw us out. Or me. Probably just me.”
Jungkook stared at him for a long moment, blinking. “They’d throw you out? Is this like the rules at the university?”
“No. It’s just… They can, so sometimes they do.”
The look Jungkook sent at the room at large seemed somewhere between offended and murderous before he dug into his book bag. A crumpled gray sweatshirt appeared a moment later.
“You can wear this if you want?”
It froze him for a moment but when Taehyung nodded, Jungkook stood up, becoming a human wall so that no one could see while Taehyung slipped out of his coat and pulled the sweatshirt over his head. It smelled faintly of leather, and something softer, cologne maybe. He wouldn’t have been cold without it, but it sat around him like a question made of cloth, seated across from a student whose smile was almost shy at the waitress who took their order and came back in less than a minute with their cups.
None of the patrons stood up in the meantime, or was staring at him, so he relaxed as Jungkook tested his coffee. Taehyung had gotten tea, about the only thing he could take in that wasn’t blood.
“Most— Most people are afraid of people me.”
It wasn’t like he was expecting Jungkook to stand up and conclude that he should be, too, but Taehyung wasn’t really expecting such nonchalance.
Jungkook’s shoulder jerked. “Maybe it’s because I’m not from around here. My family never thought vam— Uh. People like you were scary. Most of the ones I saw had a bond, though? I never knew anyone really well, but it’s just weird to think you’re treated like you’re contagious.”
The thing was, at that point, Jungkook wasn’t playing to impress him. It was confusion, like Jungkook didn’t quite get why the world Taehyung lived in was different than the one he was used to. But the way Jungkook’s brows lowered at the injustice had Taehyung swallowing back disbelief, and a little hope. He knew there were humans out there like Jungkook. A full spectrum of people. But he hadn’t really known one before, not one he could just sit and talk with, anyway.
“It’s hard sometimes,” Taehyung admitted. A lot of times. He couldn’t walk outside in the daytime without someone gawking at the special cloth he had to wear to cover his skin. At night, he looked the part of a human, if he wasn’t wearing badges, or patches. And he wanted to ask Jungkook why, why he’d wanted to meet up, why he’d talked with Taehyung to start with, but the words didn’t make it out.
Jungkook didn’t pry, and he was sensitive to prying. They shared information. Where Jungkook was from, what he was studying - music and composition. How Taehyung had gotten the job - through the Vampire Affairs office. Jungkook felt like he didn’t fit in, still trying to find his place as a transfer student.
Taehyung had never had the chance to have a place. Not in school, the years he’d been allowed to go before his blood teeth had come in in his late teens, and not after.
Taehyung didn’t forget about the sweatshirt when he put his coat on, but it was a shield at least to get him outside where people were fewer and there wouldn’t be embarrassment for Taehyung if he was spotted.
Jungkook stared at him like he was going to start bump and grinding on the light pole when he started unzipping his coat outside though.
“Your sweatshirt,” Taehyung said.
“Oh. Oh! Don’t worry about it. I’ll get it back from you some other time.”
What other time, though? Perhaps Jungkook would be back and practicing. He could always leave it in a bag on the piano with Jungkook’s name on it. When they parted at the train station, Jungkook again obscured in his scarf, Taehyung had questions that were growing questions of their own. What— Why?
Jungkook hadn’t screamed, hadn’t asked for anything, hadn’t treated him like a sideshow, or put up a bubble of distance between them. Just vague acquaintances getting together. When Taehyung got to his apartment, he was dialing before he could think better of it.
“What can I do for you?” Jimin answered the phone with, really laying it on thick with the sexy voice and making Taehyung laugh.
“The usual,” he purred back.
“Great, one cup of pig blood to go. What’s up? Did you just get out of work?”
“No, I’ve been free a while. I just had something to tell you. You can’t freak out about it!”
“I started freaking out about 30 seconds ago, Kim Taehyung! Are you okay??”
“I…” And he didn’t even know what to say. How to? And Jimin was sounding more like a teakettle. “I met someone for tea after work.”
“Someone?” Jimin probed. “A human someone? Are you going to bond before me? I’ll be alone forever. Who is it? How did you meet? Why didn’t you tell me!”
Taehyung’s grimace grew deeper and deeper with each successive question because he knew what was coming. He knew it.
“No, it wasn’t like that. It was friendly. There’s just— There’s something about him. Remember you promised not to freak out,” Taehyung tried again.
He could hear Jimin breathing for several long moments, and Jimin finally said, “Okay, I’m sitting down. Fuck. Does he have three eyes? Does he want you to move away? I swear—“
“No. I told you, it wasn’t— He’s a university student.”
The silence was even longer and more ominous. “At where you work?? Taehyung!!”
Jimin’s neighbors were going to start stomping on the floor any second from the yelling.
“It wasn’t a date, okay! He was just being polite, or. I don’t know! He plays the piano and practices in the music building, and we talked a few times while I was cleaning - for a few seconds! - And he got mad we couldn’t just talk there, so we just. We met up tonight when I was done, and he loaned me his sweatshirt to cover up the patch on my shirt so I wouldn’t get harassed. It was just? Talking! I think. I’m not going to lose my job!”
“Oh my fuck,” Jimin said. “You’ve gone— Did you accidentally put your brain down the garbage disposal? Do you even have one? A brain or a garbage disposal, I don’t care! He loaned you his sweatshirt?!”
“Yeah. And I watched part of his exhibition performance.”
Jimin hissed. “But you can’t stay for events?”
“I… I kind of got my supervisor to let me stay until he finished playing.”
“You— Invite me to your bonding ceremony.”
Taehyung froze, pulling his phone away from his face to show that yes, Jimin had just hung up on him. And two second later, Jimin sticking his tongue out at him was plastered across the screen with an incoming call notification.
Taehyung braced himself for the barrage of loving concern, and answered.