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A callup from Zitao was the last thing Junghoon wanted after having to spend all day hunting down the stupidly specific ink his printer needed to be able to function, but that was what he’d gotten. Now he was standing in Zitao’s fancy-as-hell business-doing room looking down at a trembly individual that, according to Zitao, was a fledgling vampire, and Junghoon was apparently Zitao’s first – and only – port of call as one of the few adult vampires who knew how to look after a fledgling without a great deal of outside help.

 “Are you sure you want me to take this one?” He asked, looking the fledgling up and down. He squinted at Zitao, who gave no response bar a pointed incline of the head towards the young adult hunched over a plate of doughnuts on Zitao’s business-doing-room couch.

Hopefully they weren’t real doughnuts. If they were real, hopefully the fledgling wouldn’t try to eat any. He’d vomit his guts up. Fresh blood was quite literally the only thing he’d be able to keep down for at the very least the next three months. After that, his newly refurbished digestive system should have settled enough for him to be able to stomach fresh fruit and vegetables. It was really going to mess with his psyche for a while, but there was nothing anyone could do about that.

Junghoon sighed, playing along. “What’s your name, kid?”

The fledgling gave a start at being spoken to so directly, almost upending the plate balanced on his thighs. “Yoo Heedo.” He mumbled. His hands were trembling, poor guy. Terror was pouring off him in waves, so acute that Junghoon could literally taste it. The undertown wasn’t a fun place for most people, never mind people who’d been attacked by a nonhuman and were only managing to stay standing with the help of an emotional cocktail of stress, self-fear and adrenaline – all of which were wholly justified. He looked much too soft to have wandered off the beaten track down to the dark side of the city under his own steam. Not physically, so much; his face was finely boned, with a chiselled nose bridge and sharp jawline. Didn’t look like the type to get into street fights, but he probably would have been able to fight off the person who’d attacked him if the person had been. You know. A human type of person. With human reflexes. Normal human dentition. That sort of thing.

The guy was spiritually soft. Soul-ly soft. The kind of soul-softness that would lend itself to thinking too kindly of the world and getting just a little bit too close to the undertown-overtown divide. A lot of people were going to miss him. Too bad he wouldn’t be able to go back for a very, very long time, if at all.

“He looks a tad shaken up.” Junghoon gave Zitao a pained look. “Benji and Gunmin’ll probably make it worse.”

Benji and Gunmin, though they meant well, tended to be a handful. They got excited about a lot of things. They would be especially excited about having what amounted to a new baby brother to take care of. They were like year-old Labrador retrievers in twenty-something-year-old humanoid bodies.

Zitao shrugged apologetically, although his eyes held a deep well of sympathy when he looked over at the clearly nervous fledgling. The sympathy, obviously, was for the kid, not for Junghoon. “I’m aware. But nobody else can. I would’ve asked Yongguk, but Junhong’s still teething.”

“Teething.” Heedo muttered. “Fuck.” He shaped the words awkwardly, unable to properly close his lips thanks to his brand-new pair of extra-long, extra pointy vampire teeth. With practice, he’d be able to retract them until they looked as unassuming as regular canines. This new to the lifestyle, he’d be stuck with his needlepoint overbite.

Junghoon watched the play of emotions over the fledgling’s face: confusion over why he couldn’t curse with his usual fluency, pensiveness as he re-processed the fact that he had something in his mouth that wasn’t there before, and finally the return, when he remembered the whole ‘giant pointy fangs’ thing, of the ever-present fear. Of himself, of where he was, of the general unknown-ness of the situation he was in. Poor kid.

Junhong wasn’t actually teething, as a matter of interest. It was a code word that stood in place of ‘still learning how to vampire’. Useful for situations exactly like the present, where newly turned vampires might not be able to handle hearing things like ‘oh, yeah, the other baby vamps are still kind of hard to deal with, might want to keep the fresh meat away’. Not great for morale.

That being said, the last time he spoke to Yongguk, he’d been told all about the tall, skinny fledgling’s mouthy tendencies. Junhong was a chewer. None of their wooden furniture was safe.

At least he wasn’t targeting fingers any more.

That was something for Junghoon to look forward to.

He sighed again. It would have been helpful to have some advance warning that they’d be adopting a fledgling. At the very least he could’ve taken the others out into the city to burn off some of their excess energy. It was a good time of year for leisure joggers to be out and about. They might have been able to grab a snack.

Ah, well. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. That was the expression, wasn’t it?

He looked Heedo over again. His hands had stopped shaking. That was good. Acceptance was good. If not acceptance, at least he was calm. Or, well, calming down.

“How old are you?” he asked him. Not that it mattered in the grand scheme of things – vampirism, for all its moral and ethical faults, lent itself among other things to a moderate extension to one’s lifespan. But the fledgling was going to need help re-grounding himself in reality, and generic who-what-when-where-why questions would go a long way to achieving that end.

“Twenty-one.”

“College? University?”

“I was s’posed to start next year.” Heedo said miserably. “Can I still go?” He’d been staring at his own hands up to that point, just watching them twist around each other as he wrung them. Now he’d looked up, the faintest light of curiosity gleaming in the depths of his young eyes.

Junghoon smiled encouragingly. He was starting to like this kid. “That depends on you.”

“What do you mean?” The fledgling asked. He still looked anxious, but he was obviously trying. Maybe the acceptance was happening after all.

Junghoon didn’t want to punch any holes in Heedo’s confidence, but he couldn’t figure out a polite or kind way to phrase ‘You can’t go to university until we can trust you not to lose control and maul your entire peer group to death’.

Thankfully, Zitao was an old hand at Fledgling FAQ. “We’ll let you go back when we can be confident you won’t cause a scene in class.”

Zitao was a very smart man.

Heedo’s brow furrowed. “Oh.”

The fledgling was starting to look anxious again. That wouldn’t fly. Not in Junghoon’s house.

“I’ll do it.”

Zitao seemed startled by his sudden change of heart. “You what?”

“I’ll do it.” Junghoon repeated. “We’ll take him.”