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Castling

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Doyoung’s never been superstitious, but as he stares at the bird that lies in front of him, ants crawling out of its open beak, eyes glassy, it feels like a bad omen creeps into the recesses of his mind and doesn’t leave. 

Doyoung steps away, attempting to put all the thoughts of dead rooks aside as he smooths out the white shirt he spent an hour choosing this morning. He inhales before he steps onto the porch, eyes fixed on the wooden door in front of him. The position of personal physician to the mayor is typically filled by an aging man with ranked seniority and at least one failed marriage and a hip operation behind him, not by a recently graduated student who feels his heartrate quicken with anxiety at the very thought of knocking. Doyoung keeps trying to remind himself he earned this position through his own merit - but it’s hard to think about that when his mind is filled with thoughts of the trail of ants on the garden path and that dead-eyed stare in the afternoon light.

It’s the knocker that he blames for bringing up the memory. A golden rook is fastened to the center of the door, ornate and shiny, and even under the overcast sky it glistens against the obscured sun. Doyoung curls his hand around the cold metal and knocks only once. 

What he says to himself is: you earned this. You applied for a job. You were accepted. You worked hard at university. You are allowed to be here.

But all he thinks is: the rush to the train station, the ache in the back of his feet from the way his suitcase kept hitting against his ankles. A man in shackles who smiled at him as he was dragged away by his keepers. A mouth a mess of a single fang stained with blood, his eyes the very same shade. Hair like raven feathers. And now - a bird, wingspread on the ground, dead before it even realized.     

There’s no reply to his knock, not from the dead rook, not from the gnarled tree, not from the ivy creeping on the windows consuming the glass. It takes what little confidence he still has left in himself to knock again.

The door opens smoothly.

“Mr. Seo,” Doyoung begins upon witnessing the tall man before him.

And Mr. Seo is a man who immediately dismisses the formality of ‘Mr. Seo’. “Johnny,” he insists, holding out his hand to shake Doyoung’s. “Call me Johnny. Nearly everyone does. And you must be Doyoung Kim, yes?”

He’s kind enough to stand outside his manor to welcome Doyoung, even offering a hand in assistance with Doyoung’s bags that he hastily dismisses, despite the ache in his shoulder. He shouldn’t have packed quite so heavy, he realizes now. It was ridiculous to bring three separate medical textbooks, but it was comforting to delicately wrap them in old newspapers, slotting them in his suitcase with careful precision. It made him feel less like his life was changing, and more like he was just going to a different kind of class, just packing a different kind of school bag.

“How was the train ride?” Johnny asks, smiling with concern. 

“Tiring,” Doyoung answers, his grip tightening on his suitcase. “I’m glad to have arrived. I was wedged between a very amorous couple and my protests only seemed to urge them on.”

Johnny laughs, a low sound, like a gentle rumble, and he pats Doyoung on the back. “Let’s not keep you outside for too long then, shall we?” He turns on his heel, striding purposefully, and Doyoung lifts his gaze from Johnny’s back to the house rising above it.

In the letters they exchanged, Johnny had given detailed instructions on where he lived- even enclosed a map- but there was hardly a point. Cerasus Manor was the house on the tallest hill, overlooking the entire town like a watchful sentinel. Doyoung noticed the manor the second he left the train station, feeling something stuck in his throat as he stared at the peaks of the roof, chimneys jutting into the air, the distance making them look as thin as pencils.

“It’s big, isn’t it?” Johnny remarks, noticing Doyoung’s gaze. “It’s always been the traditional home of the mayors of Rookswood, and I never imagined I’d actually get to live in it when I was a young boy, staring at the smoke wafting from chimneys from the comfort of my own bedroom. Took me weeks before I stopped getting lost trying to find the bathroom in this place.”

In Doyoung’s medical history lessons, they spoke of rich men, of bankers and heirs who established themselves to such a position of financial security that they were able to retire to their mansions and spend their time engaging in their hobbies: in the case of those significant to medicine, usually it was cutting up unfortunate animals.

While Doyoung doesn’t think that Johnny is the kind of person to go around practicing amateur taxidermy, he certainly has the house for it. His manor is two storeys, perhaps not the tallest, but it rises up from the rocky ground on steady pillars, framed by large grounds and iron gates and it looks every bit as imposing as it did from the train station, like a watchful custodian that can protect and attack in equal measure. Doyoung hesitates when he’s about to enter, as if fearing that a step inside would cause the house to recoil in disgust and demand his exit.

It doesn’t.

Doyoung walks in, careful to follow Johnny’s exact path as he navigates past the many closed rooms, resolute in his destination. He’s talking while he walks, casual banter about the weather and the house itself that Doyoung struggles to concentrate on, far too overwhelmed at the sheer amount of decoration that lines the corridors. It’s all old paintings hanging perfectly aligned, unchipped ceramic plates and sculptures that are objectively ugly.

“Belonged to the previous mayor,” Johnny says as Doyoung pauses at an oil painting of an impressive moustache attached to a less impressive man. “Most of the furniture is inherited, really, I’ve changed very little. I suppose I’m traditional that way. What do you think?”

Doyoung searches for the word. “It’s… big. Very big.”

Johnny seems amused at the answer. “Did you come from a small town?”

Absolutely not. The city flows through Doyoung’s veins. He’s used to the tall factories and thick smoke. He’s used to a different scale of life, one where you can walk the street and be a ghost in the mist, entirely invisible. So no, Doyoung didn’t come from a small town. That’s not why the house is big. No, the difference between Johnny’s house and where he came from is that the city is big, yes, but it’s filled. Johnny’s house is just empty, entire rooms just left there for the sake of it. The very property the house stands on could have ten flats in its place, could house half of Doyoung’s university cohort.

“I just don’t think I’m used to the countryside yet,” Doyoung says. “It’s my first time out of the city limits. I haven’t travelled a lot.”

“You’ll have time to adapt,” Johnny says kindly, motioning to enter one of the few rooms in the house that is fully furnished. “I was hoping we could have a brief chat before you settle in? Just so we’re on the same page regarding your position. I won’t take up too much of your time, I, of course, want you to settle in as well.”

Anxiety spikes in Doyoung’s veins but he maintains a somewhat fixed grin. “Absolutely.”

The desk in the center of the room is hardly inviting. The stacks of messy papers piled on top of each other are intimidating, and there’s so many uncapped pens that Doyoung wonders if his first task could be to just pack up Johnny’s stationery. Johnny, however, is unaffected, casually sweeping away a particularly tall pile of papers, letting them flutter to the ground like leaves, and gazes at Doyoung.

“Would you like some tea?”

He does but he chooses not to voice that, feeling the swirling hole in his stomach and deciding not to fill it with liquid in risk of himself being his first patient. “No need. Would you, uh, like my papers?” Doyoung doesn’t wait for an answer, and with fingers that start trembling, he unclasps his briefcase and removes the neatly binded resume he had professionally typed up for this very moment.

“Not at all,” Johnny says, face crinkling into a smile. “Actually, though, I probably do need those. But no, this isn’t about your qualifications, I knew you were qualified from the moment you applied. I wouldn’t have hired you otherwise.”

Obviously. If Doyoung had bothered to think twice, he wouldn’t have been so silly as to just assume Johnny wanted to interrogate him the moment he sat down. There had been a very thorough reviewing process via their letters, what need would Johnny have to rehash things they already knew? It’s not like Doyoung’s alma mater changed in the last day. He pauses his mental chastisement to listen when Johnny starts to speak again.

“This is about the actual finer points of this position.”

Doyoung nods, folding his arms. He tries to sit up as straight as possible to try and convey ‘charisma’ and ‘confidence’ and all the other things he doesn’t possess but he’s read are important for making a good first impression.

“Rookswood is a small town. Most people who live here have always lived here. As a result of this, we’re close knit. An extended family of sorts. I take my duty as Mayor to a very personal degree because Rookswood isn’t just my job, it’s my home. I will not hesitate to protect it by any means necessary.”

Doyoung has absolutely no idea how to respond to that. He can’t imagine feeling quite so passionate about something as abstract as where you live. 

“I want Rookswood to be everything any other town is, but more intimate, where you can love your neighbour as much as your own family. It’s a lovely place to be.” Johnny pauses, tapping his fingers across the desk. “Quite something to look at as well.”

Doyoung takes this opportunity to nod in affirmation. “From what I’ve seen on the taxi here, it is beautiful.”

Johnny smiles at this. “The birds are our most boast-worthy feature, of course. I’m sure you’ve seen the rooks? They’re everywhere really, and if you can’t see them in the sky, you’ll most certainly be able to hear them.”

And yet, the first rook he saw when he set foot in the town was one that was already dead. Doyoung isn’t superstitious but he’s starting to be.

“Now, we have a hospital, of course, but our hospital often gets overcrowded with simple complaints. Stomach bugs, sore throats, the flu, things like that. I require a multi-disciplined doctor who can attend to these smaller issues, particularly in concern to myself and the other prominent members in our community.”

“A personal physician,” Doyoung sums up.

“Exactly so. Your predecessor was a wonderful man. I’ll keep in touch with Alexander I’m certain, but this opportunity seems perfect for someone just out of university such as yourself. Gives you an experience to hone your skills in a very controlled and low-risk environment.” Johnny crosses his fingers together, leaning forward. “I think it will be a welcome change to have someone a little younger in this position.”

“It’s an incredible honour to be chosen,” Doyoung says and he speaks honestly. When he applied for the job all those months ago, it was more to do something active in the throes of post-university unemployment. He was waiting for graduation and his subsequent hospital placement, everyone was, and Doyoung could not deny that the prospect of living in a manor and treating fevers was preferable to a public hospital tainted with leprosy. He would have been satisfied had he ended up there - but he can’t deny he had more reasons than squeamishness for accepting the offer of getting away from his hometown.

 “Your duties are fairly straight forward. Patients will book; you’ll see them. There’s a wing in my house in which you can operate, but more often than not you’ll be doing home visits. You’re authorized to give medicine, of course. It will be administered by our pharmacist Sicheng, I’ll make sure you meet him soon.” Johnny pulls out a neatly stapled batch of papers from the top of the pile and slides it to Doyoung. At the top it proclaims in neat script: CONTRACT.

Doyoung carefully thumbs through the first few pages, scanning through them. It’s virtually the same one he was hand-delivered by messenger some weeks ago, and he had no adjustments then, and he doesn’t have any now. His hours are good, his pay is better - and he gets to leave the house with walls that started to close in on him.

“You work directly for me, I should note, not the town. Hence the phrase ‘personal’ physician,” Johnny says, stressing the syllables. “I am your employer. If you have any issues, you come to me directly. And, I suppose, if I have any issues, I’ll come directly to you.”

Doyoung’s nails dig into his palms. “I’m sure there’ll be none.” He says it more to reassure himself.

  “I would hope not,” Johnny says lightly, reclining back in his chair. “Any questions before you sign?”

“Ah. Yes. There is one.” Doyoung pauses, considering the phrasing. “Living arrangements? You mentioned living in the house but I should clarify everything is in order.”

Johnny claps his hands together. “Of course! I can hardly forget! As per custom of your predecessors, you are given a room of your own in my estate. Living under my roof means you are entitled to use of my household employees, my maid and my caretaker. They’ll cook for you, clean for you.” Johnny hums thoughtfully, “Of course, I can understand if you’d prefer to live off premises, but that would be at your own expense.”

“Oh! No, that won’t be necessary,” Doyoung is quick to say. “I’m really not in that sort of financial position.” He belatedly realizes that was perhaps an inappropriate thing to say to his employer but Johnny appears unconcerned.

“No problem then,” Johnny says, eyes twinkling. “I’m happy to have a guest in this house. It’s far too big for just me.”

No wife, Doyoung notes. And then figures perhaps he shouldn’t make such assumptions, and then appends his mental note with: no husband either. It must be awfully lonely having such space and nothing and no one to fill it with. 

“If that’s all,” Johnny says, taking an obvious pause. His eyes fall upon the contract in front of Doyoung pointedly.

“Oh! Right, yes, no problem,” Doyoung says, picking up one of the pens rolling on the desk and signing his full name. It feels strange, almost, making it official. He tries to tell himself it’s just a job but it also isn’t just anything. Doyoung left everything he had behind and the sum of it is this thick document. Johnny takes the contract and smiles, shoving it in one of the towers of files on his desk.

“I’m sure you’re tired from your journey. I’ll have Kun show you up to your rooms.” Johnny gets to his feet, and the height difference is intimidating. “I must thank you again for joining us. I do hope you like it here. It’s a small town, really, but it’s one that I think is very special. I always remind everyone to love their neighbours here, and I’m happy to have you as our newest.”

 

His mind feels like a train station sometimes. Not the Rookswood train station, not that small grey building with its two tracks and one coffee shop. He’s thinking of the city’s train station, the one that sprawls out like discordant notes on a piano, always loud, always noisy, always chaotic. He’s got too many thoughts in his head, too many memories demanding to be remembered. There’s always a train delayed, always thoughts that gets missed, and there’s always that noise, that noise that gets inside his head and doesn’t leave. He tosses against the freshly laundered sheets of his bed, but finds no relief even on the cool side of the pillowcase.

Perhaps reminding himself of the train station was a bad idea. He got to the station before dawn, not risking missing the most important journey of his life, and perhaps that was bad timing. The man in shackles remains fixed in Doyoung’s mind.

He was brandished by uniformed police that remained tight-lipped, a stark contrast to the way his own mouth hung open, blood dripping from the single pointed fang. Doyoung, just waiting for his train, stared at the living corpse in front of him. He turned when he felt Doyoung stare, and crimson eyes stared back. And then he smiled, he actually grinned, as if finding it so amusing to be watched - and was then kicked to the ground by the officer.

Sympathy stabbed at him as he saw the shackles slip down gaunt arms, revealing bloodied wrists, and despite himself, Doyoung quietly thought of how he would bandage those hands if given the opportunity. He wasn’t though, of course he wasn’t, and the prisoner was quickly whisked away. The only trace of his presence were the scuff marks on the train station floor. Doyoung thought he put the incident out of his mind as soon as he got onto the train and had other things to worry about, but the memory occupies his thoughts now as he lies in the unfamiliar bed, struggling against the heavy duvet. He’s unable to forget. It’s understandable, he supposes. It’s not everyday that you see a vampire.

He wonders what he did, wonders whose blood was dripping from his teeth, wonders if they’re dead and that’s why he got taken. Wonders if he deserved what punishment he gets. Doesn’t think he does. Everyone deserves to be saved, and that extends to both the drained victim and the imprisoned vampire on the train station floor.

Doyoung has been told it’s a complex of his, this desperate drive to save everyone and anyone - and Doyoung would argue it’s because it’s the sum of everything he’s had drummed in his head for six years of medical university but it’s not just that. Taeyong’s never had this problem, Taeil hasn’t either. Neither of them have ever lost sleep over strangers they never even had a chance to help, who never even set foot in their care. Empathy is a driving force in his profession, but Doyoung bleeds too deep too much, even in university.

Doyoung thinks if he didn’t get this job, he would have joined Taeil at the night hospital, coming home each morning with puffy eyes and tired hands. Would have found some semblance of purpose in selflessly serving the emergency room - or would have been too busy to worry about the purpose.

But that’s not needed. Doyoung got a job he’s by no means qualified for and gets to fall asleep on down pillows to the sound of birds outside his window. He should be happy. He should be happy but he isn’t - but it’s not like he was particularly happy back home either. 

 

  Cerasus Manor is a house on a hill, an elegant building of darkened wood adorned with ivy that creeps along the walls and wide windows that nobody looks through. It’s a sizable building, far bigger than any Doyoung has ever lived in before, possibly bigger than he’s ever seen - but the grounds are even more substantial. The gnarled tree with roots that emerge from the ground is like a watchdog over the property, keeping careful patrol over the dark grass, meticulously cut and trimmed as the result of Kun’s labour.

He’s there now, oiling the iron gates, and he throws up a cheerful wave as he sees Doyoung approach the house. Doyoung’s almost grateful for it, he feels a lot more comfortable when Kun is the one who lets him inside. He still feels like he’s trespassing even though in his pocket is the weight of the key to the front door.

“Had a good day on the job, Doctor?” Kun asks, smiling broadly. There’s a smudge of oil above his right cheekbone. “Would you mind waiting outside for a moment? The gate’s almost done, just about a minute more.”

He nods. Doyoung had woken up that morning and walked himself down the annoyingly steep hill, map in hand, till he found the small house that operated as the pharmacy. Johnny had been kind enough to not schedule any appointments until the next Monday. It was for the best, really. Doyoung worries his own constitution suffers from the abrupt changes and a weekend to adjust to his new surroundings sounds helpful.

“It’s a long walk to the town, isn’t it?” Doyoung says, wiping the sweat condensing on his forehead, moving strands of black hair out of his eyes.

“Unbearably so. Once I rolled a lemon down the hill and it didn't stop until the bottom. Took more than ten minutes. Neighbourhood children came to watch.” Kun speaks fondly. “We should do it someday if you’re ever curious.”

“Ah, that won’t be necessary,” Doyoung says, more concerned for the fate of the lemon once it’s at the bottom of the hill. No one would eat a lemon that’s travelled a mile downhill. “Thank you for the offer, though.”

“Suit yourself,” Kun says, placing the oil can on the floor. There’s not a single drop spilled. “It must have been nice to have your first look at the town, at the very least.”

Doyoung can’t really describe Rookswood. The city is easy to describe in a technical sense: it’s got big streets, it’s got big buildings. But Rookswood isn’t as simple as that. The streets are winding, like they were built with no careful consideration; the houses alternate between manors of inordinate size and matchbox buildings. There’s no consistency in Rookswood, not really; it’s a patchwork quilt of a town knitted by a thousand unknown faces. The only real constant is the birds, the birds that are everywhere, cawing at any given moment, hiding in the trees, watching with judgemental eyes.

But Doyoung can’t say that to Kun.

“I met Sicheng,” Doyoung says by way of conversation. The pharmacist is a young man, younger than Doyoung, and seems perpetually bored with his life, but works hard. His neatly trimmed nails gripped the pencil tightly as he outlined how the appointment book worked and he leaned against the shelves of boxed medication, assuring Doyoung that if he had any questions, he could always ask him for assistance. He has a special method of labelling medicine, and already ensured that chronically ill patients always got their supply - so Doyoung notes that he’s competent if not chatty.

“Oh, Sicheng is a great guy,” Kun nods. “Think he said about two words to me once when he was fourteen and never spoke to me again, but he’s a great guy I’m sure.”

Fourteen? That’s… absurd. “Don’t you ever need something from the pharmacy?” Doyoung asks to which Kun flexes his arm, showing off his firm biceps. He throws a wink.

“Do I look like I ever get sick?” Kun says, chuckling, the sound big and bold. “I eat three oranges every morning, and it’s kept me healthier than any medicine any of the doctors could have given me. It’s what has kept me in this job since the previous mayor - as well as the one before that. My impressive intake of Vitamin C.”

Doyoung’s laugh is awkward at the mention of his predecessor but he suppresses the feeling. “Have you really been here for so long?”

“Are you trying to find out my age? That's very impolite.” Kun's eyes twinkle.

“Oh, oh, no, not at all, I just wanted to know if you've had this job for a while, oh I'm sorry-”

“It's a joke, Doctor,” Kun can't contain his laughter. “Yes I've been caretaker for the estate for quite a while, but caretaker doesn’t quite cover all my duties. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, your breakfast was made by me.”

“Johnny didn’t seem like a particularly culinary versed man, so I did realize it had to be someone else.” Fluffy pancakes were plated, drizzled with maple syrup by Sua that morning, and Doyoung devoured them like he hadn’t eaten in years. 

“I don't think you've lived until you've tried my bacon, I swear you’ll be a changed person. I should try and whip up some tomorrow - you could take some to Sicheng, perhaps if he had some of it as well, he’d be less quiet. Even as a child, he hardly spoke.” 

Doyoung tries to imagine Sicheng as anything but the tall, bored youth that he currently is. His mind can’t comprehend it. “Did you really know Sicheng since he was fourteen?”

“Earlier, even. It’s perhaps cliché but in a town this small, you do really know everyone.” Kun observes the way Doyoung’s face seems to fall at this. “But you shouldn’t be intimidated by that. It means we’re all very excited to have a new friend.”

With that, Kun swings open the gate, flourishing dramatically. “Come inside. I’ve got a pie in the oven, it’s going to be amazing.”

♜ 

Doyoung’s life fit into two suitcases. It was sad, really. He built up an image of himself as a man of possessions and memories in equal measure, but he’s had headaches that lasted longer than it took to bundle the lingering remnants of his life. In just a few days, he had carefully wrapped everything of significance in newspaper and packed it, giving Taeyong the instruction that while it would be nice if he could keep the things he left behind, he could just throw it out if he needed space  There was this underlying understanding that ran between them that Doyoung would come back, really, he would - even if Doyoung himself wasn’t sure if he would.

It’s just sad. Twenty four years of existence and all he had to show for it were two suitcases. Doyoung unpacked the first one, the one with all his essentials. It had his clothes - only the nice ones of course. He had filtered through his wardrobe and begrudgingly parted with his preferred fluffy but shapeless sweaters in favour of the formal shirts and ties. It has his shaving cream, the kind that his father used and then he just started using as well, more out of convenience than any other preference. It has his eyedrops, the ones he needs when he’s been staring at his own handwritten patient files for a moment too long and his eyes feel like they’re cracking inside. Things like that were easy to unpack.

The other suitcase was more difficult. It had the other things, his favourite novels, his favoured cologne - it had all the material trappings, the things he needed to make himself feel more like himself because sometimes he forgets he’s a person and not an automated medicine machine. He’s long since developed the habit of throwing himself into his work until his eyes sag with sleep deprivation and in Rookswood, there’s no Taeyong to appear at the door with a cup of soothing tea and a gentle command to put the book away. There’s no one at all, really.  

In a brief moment of sentimentality while packing, he took one of the sculptures from the house - the dove. Doyoung’s parents gifted him with the wooden statue on his nineteenth birthday and it always had been one of his favourite presents from them, if just for its aesthetic appeal. The once rich mahogany was already starting to dim with age but there was no denying that the dove was simply beautiful, elegantly carved, and Doyoung’s vanity dictated he wanted something nice with him, even if it was just a bird. In a house as nice as Cerasus Manor, he wanted something of his own life that suited its glamour.

It’s the only thing from that suitcase that he bothered to unpack. He places it on his bedside table and the lamp beside it casts a warm glow on the wood. He knows there’s letters from Taeil, Taeyong, and his sister still resting in the case, and speaking of Gahyeon he’s got several novels that he’s meant to read and discuss with her and he had promised to write to both of them and he does have stationery in there, it’s just-

If he starts to dig in this suitcase, if he hollows out the packaged contents of his life, he’s really got nothing left to go back to. He’s got to accept that he’s here in some quiet town in the middle of nowhere, in a stranger’s house and this is where he lives now. No one knows who he is besides what they assume of his position, and Doyoung has to rebuild himself up from his own shadow. He’s not really sure how exactly to do that.

His suitcase remains shoved against the dresser, zipper facing inward, if just for one night longer. His room was finely furnished and probably twice the size of any he stayed in up to that point. Living with Taeyong was tripping over shoes in the morning rush, was wearing mismatched socks because the others have gone missing, was applying bandages to their feet weekly from trodding into furniture - Doyoung should be happy that he can actually breathe in this room, but it just makes him realize how there’s more empty space here than anything else. He knows he had to leave but it’s difficult to convince himself of that when he misses his lumpy mattress. He keeps the dove out though, as a kind of nighttime guardian - but privately thinks it looked better in the lounge of his and Taeyong’s house, or in his university dorm room, rather than on the bedside table of this lonely manor.

 

The roses in the parlour room are a stunning sheen of pink. They unfurl like silk blankets, blossoming out and light catches on the turquoise vase that they call home. The curtains are drawn, tied with golden rope, knotted with careful precision. The room itself is a dull burgundy, the same colour as the foyer, and it makes Doyoung wonder if they had bought too much of the shade and decided to cut their losses and bathe the room in its dark hues. The several paintings that hang on the wall are lifeless, just bland landscapes in fancy frames, the kind that would get looked at once, when purchased, and then never again. All of that is disregarded though, forgotten the moment Doyoung sees the roses, the sole point of beauty in this room.

Doyoung approaches them carefully. He’s not really got a reason to be here but Johnny has never bothered to forbid him from entering any room - rather he expressed he wished Doyoung to feel at home. It doesn’t feel like a home, though.

He walks down the halls of Cerasus Manor like he’s a ghost, like he’s not supposed to be there, like any minute a local priest will burst through the door, fingers pointed and exorcise him out. Nevermind the rational fact that Doyoung is literally being paid to be here; Doyoung still can’t shake the feeling that he doesn’t belong, like he’s a shade of grey in a monochrome painting.

But it’s only been his first day. He shouldn’t expect to feel like this manor is his new home, it would be ridiculous to even think so. Doyoung takes a long time to get settled, he knows this - when he moved back from university, there was a permanent suitcase littering the bedroom floor, permanently left unpacked. They weren’t of any real importance, leftover school books and supplies that he swore he’d “sort out one day”. He wonders if Taeyong will just throw it out now and get some extra space. It won’t matter really, he’s brought all the important ones with him - as well as the unnecessary ones - and Johnny did say he can make full use of the manor library but even then, did he really mean it? Doyoung is treading on a thousand eggshells everywhere in this house and he does not want to overstep any boundaries. he wonders if he should even be in this part of the house-

There’s a man in the corner. Doyoung hadn’t noticed, hadn’t expected anyone to be here at this odd hour in the day but steps back upon noticing the figure. His face is obscured  by the massive bouquet of flowers he holds in his hands. It’s a jarring image, like he belongs in some kind of museum, this Man of Roses so to speak, not bound by human features but rather by the rise and fall of petals grasped by slender fingers.

“Oh sorry, are you busy here?” the Man of Roses says, muffled. “I can come back later to set the room.”

“Not at all!” Doyoung quickly responds, taking another step back. “It’s my fault, I didn’t see you here, what with all of the… greenery.”

There’s a repressed chuckle. “I’m just setting the flowers for tonight.” It’s not Kun’s voice. This voice has a lower cadence than the warmth that spreads when Kun speaks. The Man of Roses, fittingly, has a voice that suits roses - soft and melodic.  

“Do you work for Johnny too?” Doyoung asks carefully.

“I hope not. I think I’d have already been fired.” He laughs at his own joke, a muted sound. The face of the Man of Roses is revealed when he sets the bouquet down on the table and looks up at Doyoung through his honey gold gaze. “I haven’t seen you around before. Are you new in town?”

There’s a speck of pollen resting on the slope of his sharp nose - it’s the only imperfection on his otherwise perfectly sculpted face framed by a wave of chestnut hair. Doyoung fixates his gaze on the single fleck of pollen because looking at the rest of him is like staring into the sun. He’s burningly beautiful - he seemed more human with a face full of roses than without it. 

“I am,” Doyoung replies, mouth dry. “I’m the new personal physician to the Mayor.” The words feel foreign. He’s certain he’s forgotten a syllable because it just tastes strange - but no, he spoke perfectly. The term is just unfamiliar.

“Oh, you’re replacing Alexander. It’s wonderful to meet you.” He sounds cheerful, looking at Doyoung with eyes conveying curiosity. “My name is Jaehyun. I’m certain we would have met sooner rather than later - I’m Johnny’s neighbour.” Jaehyun gestures to the window. The view from this window is just of the hill and the long way down, but it’s more a metaphorical gesture of direction than anything else. Doyoung’s eyes follow it anyway, as if he’s expecting to see his actual house. “So, I guess we’re neighbours now as well.”

Doyoung nods slowly. “It’s lovely to meet you.” It’s an automatic response more than anything else. “If I may ask... if you’re his neighbour, what are you doing here?” He regrets the words as soon as he says it, deciding that they’re far too rude.

“Setting the flowers,” Jaehyun says simply. He pulls out a rose from the bouquet and eyes it critically before plucking the petals off individually, scattering them on the table. “He’s having a function tonight, and he requested fresh flowers.”

“Ah. Yes, I remember he told me about it at breakfast.” Doyoung feels his own ignorance press upon the walls of his mind. Of course, there’s certain customs that he doesn’t know about yet, there’s a way things are done here, and Doyoung wouldn’t be aware of it. He doesn’t say anything more, for fear his stupid tongue would say something even more embarrassing, but eventually he adds: “Sorry, I’m still finding my footing.”

Jaehyun looks up from the petals, eyes wide. “No, it’s okay. You’ve only just got here, haven’t you?”

“Yesterday.”

“Have you had a chance to go around town? Been to the square yet?”

“Not really, I’ve mostly been unpacking and sorting my equipment out-” Doyoung begins, not even sure what ‘the square’ is and mentally making a note to ask Kun for its whereabouts.

“Then you have no need to apologize. You’ve only just got here. When I first arrived, it took me weeks before I’d even leave the house, so the very fact that you’re walking around, talking to people is impressive.” Jaehyun speaks softly, as if he’s comforting a startled deer, and perhaps that’s an adequate manner in which to conduct this conversation. Doyoung does feel like if he was even spoken to with a raised voice he’d just run away into the woods. He holds the petalless stem and runs his hand over its vivid green surface. “Do you like flowers?”

“I don’t know much about them, but those ones are beautiful.” It sounds like a compliment for the sake of giving one, as if he was prompted. Doyoung wishes he could convey his sincerity. The roses are beautiful, even as petals they cast a glow of elegance to an otherwise dreary room.

Jaehyun looks up at Doyoung and smiles. “You’ve met Kun, I assume? He usually sets the flowers but he’s rather busy at the moment. Johnny probably asked if he could assemble an ice sculpture of his face in time for tonight or something equally ridiculous - so he asked if I could help him out. He claims I have an eye for decor, but I think he just wanted me to bail him out.”

“Yes, I know Kun,” is all Doyoung says. He knows he’s being a conversational sinkhole but he feels as if he stepped into the room wearing his shoes on the wrong feet and he can’t seem to get them the right way. He just needs a moment to process everything but he can’t do that mid-conversation and the result is an overwhelming tangle of thoughts in his mind.

Jaehyun is undeterred. He lifts up several roses, selecting only the ones with the fullest stems. He works quickly. “The nice thing about tonight is you can meet some new people. It’s a very casual event, Johnny enjoys meeting with his friends and uses this as an excuse - but he’d never say it so bluntly. I’m sure they’re all very excited to meet the new physician,” Jaehyun says. He places the flowers in an empty vase on the wine cabinet, arranging it carefully, center in full view.

“I hope I’m to their expectation,” Doyoung replies. Jaehyun’s attempt at telling him it’s a casual event just makes his own anxiety spike. He’s not good at anything ‘casual’.

“They won’t have any expectations,” Jaehyun says dismissively. “Your predecessor used to drink so much he’d fall over. The very fact you have good posture will be impressive to them. I’m certain the fact that you’re a doctor will be a talking point of much interest.”

Doyoung feels his stomach clench. “Oh, I don’t… I don’t think they’d be interested in that. What could I say to them? I’d just bore everyone.”

“Does it matter if you do, though? You’ve got no responsibility to entertain them.” Jaehyun says. His fingers stops arranging the flowers. “I’m sorry if I’m talking too much, by the way. I just know what it’s like to be new in town.”

It’s so unfamiliar to Doyoung that it takes him a moment before he realizes a very important aspect of Jaehyun. Jaehyun is nice. Jaehyun is a rare example of a person who is genuinely nice. It’s the only explanation for the warmth that fills the air, the gentle way in which he speaks, the time he’s taking out of his duty to assuage Doyoung’s own insecurities. Jaehyun has absolutely nothing to gain by showing kindness to Doyoung, and he will gain nothing for it, and no one will ever know of his goodwill. He’s doing this with no reward and for that reason he is nice.

Doyoung’s forgotten what that’s like.

“Thank you Jaehyun,” Doyoung says.

A laugh crosses his face and Doyoung instantly assumes he’s said something stupid. “I would say it’s no problem, but you haven’t told me your name yet, I’m afraid.”

“Oh! Doyoung.”

Jaehyun holds a white rose in his hand and smiles at it. “Nice to meet you, Doyoung. I do apologize for chattering away, you must need something from here and I’ve interrupted you.”

“Need something?” Doyoung repeats.

“I mean, why else were you here?” Jaehyun says gently. “This room is just for receiving company. Not much else of interest here, unless you’d like some of the mayor’s sherry.”

“Not so early in the day,” Doyoung replies, a hint of a smile on his face. “I was lost. I was looking for the kitchen truthfully.”

“Down the hall, past the grandfather clock,” Jaehyun says kindly. “My home has a very similar floor plan. If you ever get so lost that you end up in the opposite house, I’m sure I can set you straight.”

 “Oh… thank you Jaehyun. I’m grateful for all you’ve said so far.” Words are stopped by his tongue, and he leaves it at that. He doesn’t dare say anything further.

“I’ll see you tonight, Doyoung.”

“Oh, you’ll be there?” He sounds far too excited, and forces restraint upon himself.

“I think you’ll find I have a habit of appearing at any formal function,” Jaehyun says, something like a smirk on his plush lips. “I’m sure you’ll be able to find me, I sort of stick out.”

Doyoung thinks he knows how that feels like.

 

“Doctor?” Kun’s knock is gentle. At Doyoung’s hummed affirmation, he opens the door, his head peeking through. “Mr. Seo has requested your appearance. Most of his guests have arrived.”

“Oh,” Doyoung says, gazing at himself in the mirror. The tie is still not proper. It’s uneven, the knot’s been wrong every time he’s done it, and he can’t go down until it stops looking terrible. If he embarasses himself, that’s one thing, but he can’t embarrass Johnny by going down looking the way he does. His position demands a certain level of decorum and it’s a level Doyoung does not possess, not with his sloppy tie. “I’m not ready.”

“You look like you are,” Kun says kindly, opening the door wider. “It’s a fairly informal affair, you really don’t need to worry. You look fine.”

“But everyone is there, and they’re just-” Doyoung breaks off in frustration, wrenching his tie off, letting it fall to the ground.

“It’s not that many.” Kun steps into the room, swiftly picking up the offending tie. His fingers kindly knot Doyoung’s tie for him, flattening it with his palm once it’s presentable. “It’s just some of Mr. Seo’s personal friends. It’s more of his own gettogether than anything else. The focus is most certainly not on you.”

Doyoung appreciates Kun’s attempts at placating him, but it’s pointless. Doyoung will catch the eye of every individual at this function whether there were two people in attendance or two hundred - and it’s because of the very reason that he’s heard since he arrived: it’s a small town where everyone knows each other.

His discomfort stems from the nature of it as well: Doyoung’s always felt itchy in silky shirts. Life as a middle-class university student left him with little money for such luxuries as expensive clothing - nor the time to attend such events. He wore such formal clothes perhaps a handful of times in his life. He was endlessly grateful he packed in the one well-pressed silk shirt he owned - couldn’t help but wish it wasn’t lilac though. He loved it, of course he did, but the unusual colour scheme would only draw further undesired attention to him.  

“Is there anything I should keep in mind?” Doyoung says as he leaves the comforting confines of his room. “Are there any topics I should avoid?”

“You’re an accomplished doctor,” Kun says as he leads him down the staircase. Doyoung can already hear the indistinct noise of conversation melding with a light piano melody from downstairs. “That will be enough to start any conversation.”

Doctor - yes. Accomplished - highly debatable. He thinks to ask Kun about a thousand other questions ranging from who would be in attendance to their favourite colour but he stops himself, not wanting to appear foolish in front of him. He does feel foolish though, feels like he stands out in his stupid shirt and stupid tie. Kun pauses on the landing.

“It’ll be okay, Doctor. They won’t even notice you,” he says with a reassuring smile.

 

Doyoung has heard from the stories and rumours that vampires have supernatural powers. That they can see a thousand yards into the distance even on the blackest night, that they can run faster than the bullet of a shooting rifle, that they can cause euphoria beyond human comprehension - however, what vampires cannot do, is turn invisible. Doyoung, apparently, can.

It’s the only explanation for why he’s become well acquainted with the wall since he’s walked down the staircase and into the parlour room. Johnny was kind enough to introduce him to the circle of men and women surrounding him, the air sharp with perfume - but they merely greeted him and returned to their own conversation, one that Doyoung had absolutely nothing to contribute to, lacking any knowledge of Rookswood’s school system and the criticisms thereof. Doyoung kept stepping back until he made his residence in the shadows, wedged between a wine cabinet and an end table, and he could assuredly say he felt happier in the company of the furniture than the guffawing men and women.

He properly meets Sua while she circulates the room, handing out glasses of sherry on a silver tray, balanced perfectly. Her long black hair is tied severely behind her back and on her forearm is a dish towel. “Mr. Seo’s guests have a habit of being sloppy once they get a few glasses in them,” she says, words thick with exhaustion. “Can I top you up?”

“Why not?” he shrugs, his voice cracked from disuse. It’s not like he’s doing anything else particularly interesting. “Does he often have gatherings like this?”

 “Mmm.” Sua nods, handing him another glass. “Mr. Seo is a very social man, and he likes having his company. Coincidentally, his circle of friends are all the most common ones who need to see his personal physician, so I’d recommend learning their names.”

Doyoung raises an eyebrow in surprise. He wouldn’t expect that a maid would know anything about the health of these individuals. She seems to notice and throws him a half-smile.

“I’ve been in the job a while. You start to notice the people who come to see the doctor more often than others,” Sua replies. Her voice is soft, musical. “It’s not always easy working here but-” She breaks off at the sound of a high whistle, and with a sigh, she disappears back into the crowd of people.

Doyoung instantly misses her company. Without her now, all Doyoung has is the soft piano music flowing from the next room and the sounds of conversations he’s not part of. He can’t pretend to have any semblance of friendship towards her, but at least she was a fellow employee. She didn’t want to be here either. There may not have been friendship but there was camaraderie. He downs the rest of his sherry, but he doesn’t particularly enjoy it. He’s never been much of a drinker, and it doesn’t seem like an appropriate place to pick up the habit.

He takes a look at the circle of people surrounding Johnny. He recognizes the one on the right, Mr. Huang, because he introduced himself as the principal of Rookswood High School and Doyoung had thought to himself that he would not have taken him seriously in a position of power at a school. It was his stature, probably: he was rather short.

He stares at the man next to him, blonde, and he’s desperately trying to remember his name because this was a man who definitely needed to see a doctor. It was the way he walked, with an obviously pained gait, emphasizing his right side - in Doyoung’s opinion, it must have been an injury from his youth that had never been properly treated.

Doyoung always had a fondness for physiotherapy and it was frankly incredible the way people’s bodies betrayed their health. A simple gesture or change in posture could have tremendous implications if Doyoung observed it at the right moment.

“Did you impress them yet?”

Doyoung startles, turning around. “Oh!”

A white rose protrudes from his lapel, hinting at his identity but there’s hardly a point - Doyoung would have recognized him across the room at the first sign of his tawny hair.

“Sorry, did I surprise you?” Jaehyun’s hands are clasped at his sides, and he has a soft smile on his face.

“A little, and ah, no I don’t think anyone is asking me for autographs just yet,” Doyoung says. “You came late.”

“What do you mean?” Jaehyun says, tilting his head to the side in confusion. “I’ve been here since seven.”

Doyoung sips his sherry. “That’s not possible. I would have noticed you.” He had spent many moments in the evening searching for Jaehyun among everyone else and trying to ignore the hint of disappointment he felt when he was not found.

Jaehyun stifles a laugh. “I mean, I was in the next room. Perhaps you just didn’t think to turn the corner.”

“What were you doing there?”

“The piano,” Jaehyun states like it’s obvious. “That was me.”

Doyoung pauses and realizes the dulcet tune that permeated through the evening conversation has paused. He looks to Jaehyun as if expecting the music to continue now as he stands in front of him. “You play?”

“I do.”

If you had told me that it was you playing, I would have paid more attention, Doyoung thinks to himself - and keeps it to himself. He knows that the song was nice, a vague but pleasing sound, but he can’t even recall the notes. It was entirely background noise to his own worried thoughts about fitting in with Johnny’s companions.

“I heard Mr. Na speak about you earlier,” Jaehyun says conversationally. “He said you look like a good doctor. You’ve got the ‘bone structure’ for it, in his words.”

“That’s a strange assumption to make based off my bones but I suppose I’m glad for it anyway.” Doyoung feels his skin prickle at the thought that these men are talking about him. “I feel like they’re waiting for me to impress them and I don’t know how to do that. I’m not sure what to say to them, truthfully.”

“Then don’t say anything. It’s not like you owe them a conversation. It’s not in the job description by my guess.”

Sua makes her rounds and without stopping her stride, Doyoung leans forward and takes another glass of sherry and hands it to Jaehyun. He accepts with his left arm but moves the drink to his right, an odd gesture that Doyoung makes a mental note of. “Thank you,” he says, bowing his head slightly. “If I may ask, what made you take up this position? I’ve never quite seen someone so young take up residence here.”

“I saw the advertisement and applied,” Doyoung says simply. Lying by omission isn’t lying, after all, and getting into the finer details of why Doyoung was desperate to leave quite so quickly is not pleasant after-dinner conversation. “It’s quite a change for me to be here. I’m from the city.”

He said the last part as an afterthought, a lingering ember of a dying conversation but Jaehyun grins. “I’m from the city as well! Oh, I cannot tell you how nice it is to meet someone who didn’t grow up in the countryside. I feel like I’m the only one here who knows what it’s like to not have to walk a mile just to get some firewood.”

“Oh no, is that a thing in the countryside?” Doyoung says, aghast. “I really am not a fan of all this walking.”

“I’m certain Johnny makes his handyman do it for him, but it is a reality here. The countryside is incredibly different - it’s been years and I still haven’t completely adjusted,” Jaehyun pauses, “You’ll need to get used to the cawing.”

“The cawing?” It sounds ominous. “Of the birds?”

“Of the rooks,” he confirms. “They’re loud birds, especially in the numbers that they are here. They just swarm the sky, a black cloud every evening. It’s extraordinary, if nothing else. But, yes, the cawing is quite an adjustment. You might have trouble sleeping.”

“I think I already do,” Doyoung says, thinking of the dark rings under his eyes.

“It was very difficult when I first moved here,” Jaehyun says, his eyes unfocused ever so slightly, like he’s looking into the past. “Rookswood is nothing like anywhere I’ve lived before. Everyone here knows everyone else, and they don’t take kindly to strangers. It’s like coming into the middle of someone else’s story.”

If he’s trying to cheer Doyoung up about his failed social skills, it’s not helping. “That doesn’t make me feel better.”

“It wasn’t supposed to,” Jaehyun says, laughing softly. “It’s supposed to be honest. I don’t think it’s easy to live in Rookswood, but I think it’s quite difficult to leave.” He crosses his arms and Doyoung’s eyes narrow in on the way his left arm is supported by the other.

“Pardon my intrusion, but is there something wrong with your arm?”

Jaehyun’s honey gold eyes widen. “Ah - well. I-” he breaks off. “Does it look like there’s something wrong with it?” His tone is startled, like he’s been caught out.

“I apologize if it’s a personal matter, but I might be able to help. It’s just that your entire left shoulder seems to be in tension. Did you perhaps overwork it?” He asks the question as a courtesy but Doyoung can see from the way his posture naturally favours the right side that this is a long term issue. Perhaps to do with his piano playing? It’s difficult to say without a proper consultation. “I have a tendency to notice little things like that.”

“That’s interesting.” Jaehyun’s tone isn’t unkind. “It’s just an old injury though, nothing to worry about, it hardly hurts. No need to pull out your stethoscope in the middle of the evening.” It’s a rebuke, but in the most gently worded way.

And Doyoung instantly regrets bringing it up. It was a neat trick in university, his professors found it endlessly interesting that someone could be so perceptive as to note the slightest changes in posture and infer the exact nature of the injury. It scored him a well-deserved ‘A’ in his physiotherapy module. But this wasn’t university, and for whatever reason, Jaehyun feels uncomfortable bringing it up and Doyoung probably should not have been so presumptous as to mention it in the first place.

Perhaps Jaehyun is also a perceptive person because he leans closer to Doyoung. “That’s very impressive what you did.”

“It’s just a thing I picked up at school,” Doyoung says, downing the rest of his sherry, as an excuse to not have to look into Jaehyun’s kind face.

“It really is something special. Not many people would have noticed, not so quickly, perhaps not ever.” He smiles, a dimple forming at the corner of his mouth. “But, I don’t think you’re like everyone else.” Jaehyun pauses, gazing at Doyoung. “Your hair reminds me of the rooks at sunset, you know?”

Doyoung’s used to the black of smoke unfurling from chimneys - not the kind that Jaehyun describes, of roosting birds across a twilight sky. Doyoung’s used to the sounds of screeching wheels on roads - not of the rooks calling to each other. And Doyoung’s used to the little bubble of familiarity he made for himself in his hometown, not this strange place, talking to this strangely entrancing man.

Doyoung runs a hand through his fringe. “Is that so?”

“It’s nicer than that though. Birds are fickle creatures, squabbling over worms in the dirt. You seem far more elegant than that.”

“I should certainly hope so. I would never squabble over worms, only a finely cooked steak,” Doyoung says, and the laugh that falls from his mouth is so unexpected it shocks himself.  

Jaehyun’s gaze meets Doyoung’s - and then looks past him, and his mouth curves into a grimace. “Ah. I… should get going. It is late, after all.”

“Oh, really?” Doyoung says, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice. “It’s not even after eleven yet, though.”

“Your boss is giving me a very pointed look - of course, there’s hardly a point in me being here if I’m not playing the piano. Besides, I’m certain you’ve had enough of talking to me for one night. I’m hardly that interesting.”

How laughable the notion is - Doyoung gets the impression that he would have been content to discuss the history of the entire Earth with Jaehyun. “I would disagree with that.”

He really does have a compelling smile. “Enjoy the rest of your evening. I’m certain we’ll talk again so.”

Doyoung hopes so. “I’d like that.”

“I’ll see you soon - we are neighbours, after all.” Jaehyun bows his head one final time and disperses through the crowd. No one bids him farewell, and it’s like he was never here at all, if not for the untouched glass of sherry left behind. 

Chapter Text

“There are no vampires in Rookswood,” Johnny says, buttering his toast. He sets the knife down, pointed tip facing out, and crosses his arms together expectantly.

“Right, as you’ve said twice so far,” Doyoung nods. “But that doesn’t quite answer my question.”

“I thought it did.” Johnny’s smiling as warm as the freshly baked loaf Sua placed upon the table. The aroma wafts across the table and it’s much too pleasant for the current conversation.

“Johnny, perhaps we have a misunderstanding,” Doyoung begins in a pained tone. This is never an easy conversation to have, but he was adequately reprimanded at university for avoiding conflict to know that it was still something that had to be done  - and this conversation is highly necessary. “Regardless of whether there are vampires that are actively residing in Rookswood or not, it’s quite possible that there are ones who are either visiting or passing through. If, in the event, I need to treat one I need to know what your policy is, considering I’m under your direct employment. Do I have the authority to give them a blood transfusion-”

“But there are none in Rookswood.” Johnny’s looking at him like he’s being forced to explain something very simple to a very stupid child. Doyoung prickles under the gaze, and can’t stop his mind from making the comparison to receiving lectures from his father, and then he feels his skin prickle further. “I don’t know where this vampire obsession came from, Doyoung. You should let me know if you’re a fan of these creatures, I’d have to start locking my doors at night in case you bring friends home.” Johnny laughs at his own joke.

Doyoung frowns. It’s not about ‘friends’, it’s about being a good doctor. There’s a responsibility to help anyone, not just those that you pick and choose. Perhaps it’s a random outburst to Johnny, but Doyoung’s been thinking about this ever since he’s had a dream about the train station again - about unbandaged hands, and when looks down at his own, clutching a knife and fork, he can’t help but wish they were more capable. “Mr. Seo-”

“Johnny,” he corrects.

“Right,” Doyoung says. “It’s just - this is an important matter. The ambiguity regarding their status in the law causes a lot of problems for medical professionals such as myself, and I just want to make sure that if an opportunity arises, I can give the best care that I am able to in my current position.”

Johnny’s hair is the same colour as the loaf that lays before him. Doyoung has plenty of time to view the particular shade as Johnny bends over his plate, occupied with sprinkling grated cheese on his bread. “Why do you even care?” he asks, finally, eyes glazed over as if terribly bored.

Doyoung pauses to compose himself and as he closes his eyes, inhaling deeply, and trying to sort out the threads of his thoughts, he thinks of what it means to care  - and all he remembers is standing under the harsh fluorescent lights of the mortuary, the scent of formaldehyde in the air and Taeyong’s gasp as he pulled back an eyelid and an eye of vivid red stared back at him.

 

“Oh goddamn!” Taeyong gasped, recoiling backwards, nearly tipping over the gurney behind him. The metal scraped across the tiles and he winced at the sound.

“Language,” Taeil rebuked softly.

“It’s not like he can hear us,” Taeyong had replied but calmed himself down with deep breaths. He paused: “Can he?”

“He’s dead,” Taeil said, scratching at his head.

“But is he really?”

“His brain is right there next to you,” Doyoung had pointed out helpfully and even to the present day, Doyoung can remember Taeyong’s squeak in surprise and the consequent way he nearly slipped and fell on the mortuary floor.

He was dead - properly dead, as to be expected with several organs have already been placed into jars and precise surgical incisions lining the body like pleats. Skin pale and drained matched the metal of the gurney. His fingers were curled tight and mouth ever so slightly ajar, as if he never had the opportunity to complete his final words. Up to his face, it was almost alarming how human he was. On a theoretical level, it made sense: the fibia and the tibia connected to the patella connecting to the femur connecting to the pelvis, and so it goes on. That’s just anatomy, and that’s the pattern that’s seen regardless of other circumstance. It’s a different matter to know, fundamentally, that the creature lying in front of them was once human - and now was not. And while they’re definitely not alive now, it’s a debate on whether they were alive then.

“This is rather eerie,” Taeil murmured, looming over the eyes. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Him, Doyoung corrected in his mind. Him, not it. Still, he had to agree with Taeil. The theoretical lessons had not prepared Doyoung for the actual swell of confusing emotions he felt upon viewing this vampire - nor did he expect the predominant feeling to be the same kind of curiosity that he had with every other cadaver brought in, rather than the fear or dread of his peers.

“His skin is darker than I would have thought for a vampire. Aren’t they supposed to be fully white?” Taeyong asked.

“I wouldn’t say that. Depends what colour their skin was in life, right? That’s what I heard from one of the third years anyway,” Taeil answers. His voice betrays his uncertainty.

Doyoung cautiously splayed out the cadaver’s fingers and couldn’t keep the expression on his face neutral. The hand had already been examined some days earlier by the senior students, and the skin is jaggedly cut. 

“What?” Taeyong demanded upon seeing his expression.

“It’s smooth. His skin. His skin is smooth,” Doyoung said. “I didn’t expect that.”

“Oh,” Taeil said.

Oh,” Taeyong said.       

Human bodies are fragile things, and skin is just the paint used to coat over the glass case of organs contained inside. It follows a set order: the thin epidermis lain on the surface of the oily dermis and deeper - but not deep at all - is subcutaneous tissue. For something that covers the entire breadth of the body, it’s remarkably simple. Skin is flaky, it breaks and tears. And when you die, in the absence of all the life-giving forces, it hardens to leather: thick and unmoving. He was not like that. His skin was as soft as if he was still breathing.

“What do you think happened to him?” Taeyong asked in a quiet voice, and both Taeil and Doyoung’s heads snapped up to glare at him. “Vampires don’t really die easily, do they?”

Asking what happened to your cadaver is quite possibly the worst question you could ask when brandishing a scalpel, about to meticulously cut open the inside of its flesh and peer inside at the arrangement of tissue and organs. It’s just bad ethics if nothing else - there was supposed to be a certain amount of distance between doctor and patient, and that distance should be a chasm when judged between cadaver and nervous medical student.

“It’s not like it matters,” Doyoung said softly. “What matters is that we’ll become better doctors because of this man’s sacrifice. We should take this opportunity to learn.”

“Alright, easy there, you don't get paid to preach,” Taeyong grunts but he relents.

Dissection of cadavers are by no means a jovial affair but this one in particular is grim and apart from Doyoung’s talkative cohort, there’s a silence that falls over the room. Professor Park instructs them carefully as they separate skin from clinging tissue and it’s impossible not to gasp at that macabre beauty of the cadaver’s internal organs. It was in flawless condition, still a pale red, so different from the dull, lifeless brown in other dried bodies.

“They weren’t exaggerating, were they?” Taeil said softly. “Vampires, they… preserve.”

They preserve. Excluding the blood, already drained, every part of this person looked like they had just closed their eyes for a nap and never woke up. It’s disarming. There’s that sort of black and white fact, that unobjectionable truth that eventually all bodies will decay to ruin. As much as the very thought terrifies Doyoung, he does accept that, somewhere in the back of his mind, when he dies, he will die. Eventually he’ll stop being blood and will start being bone and then he’ll be nothing at all.

But vampires? No, they’ll never decay. Time stops for them. The one they look at, all soft features and dark hair, will remain as grotesquely pristine now as it does in a thousand years. Decomposition would never set in. Mouth still vaguely open as if he had something to say.

Doyoung hears the voice of his professor in the background of his thoughts, unable to tear his eyes away from their staring contest with the pair of dead, crimson ones. “The heart is divided into four chambers, we’ll start with the left atrium-”

 

“Surgical practise in medical school,” Doyoung answers, blinking rapidly. “Anatomy studies. Vampires make excellent cadavers based on the preservation of their internal organs and are responsible for a large portion of surgical proficiency in young doctors.” Doyoung can see Johnny isn’t particularly interested but he had to explain in some measure as to why he cares.

“Well, this isn’t medical school,” Johnny says. His pipe lies next to him, alongside the wooden box of tobacco he carries with him, and he eyes it as if the conversation is so stressful towards his mental wellbeing that he might just have to smoke before even finishing breakfast. He picks up the newspaper carefully folded on the table and suppresses a snort. “Ah, I can see you’ve been reading the morning paper.”

“Not really?” Doyoung says questioningly. “I haven’t seen it.”

“Did this conversation not occur because of today’s headline?” Johnny taps the front of his paper.   The stark print is big, but it’s still a strain to see it from across the table - but Doyoung can vaguely make out the word ‘trial’.

He takes a spoonful of scrambled eggs and pauses. “What’s today’s cover story about?”

“Mmm?” Johnny responds, flipping over the page. He moves the newspaper and observes Doyoung. “It’s about that vampire that’s been terrorizing the city, the one that took over the church. They haven’t found any more of his crew but they’ve captured him.” As an afterthought, Johnny adds: “His first court appearance was today. You must have heard about this whole affair, I’m certain, this happened right when you were still in the city.”

“I hadn’t heard of that at all,” Doyoung replies, looking into his plate. Trust Doyoung to be ignorant of a marauding vampire on the loose because he was too busy walking on eggshells around his house, trying not to run into Taeyong alone in the kitchen. “I’m not very frequent at reading the newspapers.”

“I’d prefer not to as well, but unfortunately for me, I need to know what’s going on in the world,” Johnny says, flashing an apologetic smile that doesn’t quite reach the corners of his cheeks. “But I’m just glad to hear that this terrible creature will be behind bars, and the citizens of the city can sleep safer at night.”

Doyoung frowns and he’s not sure why.

“So, perhaps it didn’t answer your question but Doyoung? There’s no need to worry about such things. You’ll never see a vampire in Rookswood, not as long as I’m here.”

 

Doyoung cleans up after himself, picking up his own plate, saving Sua a trip from upstairs where she’s cleaning the bathrooms. He passes Johnny on his way to the kitchen who merely exhales from his pipe as he walks by. Doyoung tries to avoid the cloud that forms. 

Kun is positioned on his knees, gazing into the iron oven. “Acoustics in here are amazing,” Kun says, more to himself. “Something you need Doctor?” He pops his head out of the oven and beams at him.

“Just dropping off the dishes,” Doyoung says, holding the plate in his hand unsure where to place it in the pristinely organized kitchen. “Ah… where?”

“Next to the sink will be just fine,” Kun says, rubbing his hands together, soot dusting on the floor. “How did you enjoy breakfast?”

“Oh, it was lovely,” Doyoung says unconvincing and Kun raises an eyebrow.

“Did you not like the bread?” he asks. “It’s Sua’s sourdough recipe, she’s quite fond of it, but if you’d prefer rye or an alternative, you should let her know.”

“No, it’s not that. I found the bread lovely, I just…” Doyoung wonders if he’s just being oversensitive to a non-issue. “I didn’t realize Johnny was quite so… cautious about vampires.”

“Ah, you read the article?” Kun nods. “I saw it this morning when I brought the paper in. Scary stuff, isn’t it? I don’t mind if they’re out of my line of sight but the thought that they’re just out there, hunting innocent young virgins in dark corners… it’s terrifying.”

“Have you ever seen one?” Doyoung suddenly asks, getting the distinct impression that he’s speaking to someone about a topic they have no actual information on. “A vampire?”

Kun’s eyes are wide. “Never.”

Doyoung isn’t surprised, not with the way Kun speaks about them. If virginal blood was the only thing sustaining the vampire population of the world, they would have been starved into extinction with the direct increase in syphilis infections. It’s a little amusing to see that Kun has a fear that’s buried into his bones and doesn’t even quite know why.

Perhaps amusing isn’t the right word, but it’s certainly what it feels like. In the city, vampires are regarded as an unfortunate side-effect of the strain of modern living. Everyone has seen a figure with red eyes blend into the crowd on a moonless night, and everyone comes with their own story of a family member or friend that was feasted upon, knowingly or unknowingly. It’s an inconvenience, more than anything else. The city is different like that - but Doyoung can’t even imagine what it must be like to be Kun, to be the citizens of Rookswood who must have never seen a single vampire in their lives, who find the very concept shrouded in cursed mystery.

“There’s really never been a single vampire in Rookswood?” Doyoung says, unable to keep the doubt from his voice.

“Not that I can think of. I should hope not - I don’t even think they could find Rookswood. I’d have trouble sleeping otherwise,” Kun says, nudging an elbow in Doyoung’s side. “You shouldn’t dwell on such dark thoughts or you’ll be up till sunrise worrying. Perhaps the city is crawling with those creatures, but not Rookswood. You’re safe here.”

Doyoung leaves the main wing of the manor, weaving himself through the corridors and stairs until he arrives at his practice. Even all the way here, he hears the sound of Johnny talking to Kun in the distance and a frown permits itself on Doyoung’s forehead. He’s not a suspicious person, not at all, and he’s trying to distract himself by setting up his room for the day, pulling clean sheets on the examination bed and opening the shutters to let sunlight in - but there’s something inherently strange in the way that Johnny discusses the same topic that Kun did in quite such a different way. The very manner with which Johnny spoke of vampires was of someone well-versed in the topic - a clear disparity in the way Kun repeated fallacies about virgin blood, and Doyoung struggles to find a reason for this if they’ve both lived in the same town their whole lives.

It shouldn’t bother Doyoung, there’s probably some sort of explanation - but it’s an itch in the corner of his mind that he can’t quite scratch, and it’s one that sticks in among all the other thoughts he can’t get rid of.

Doyoung thinks of red eyes, thinks of sparkling ones at the train station, thinks of dull and dead crimson in a mortuary - and thinks that in a town as black as this one, it could be easy to obscure such a dark colour.

 

“Can you sign here?” Sicheng asks, sliding a form across the desk. “They want a doctor's authorization before they'll send the box to me.”

It’s steadily growing colder as Summer departs but today is one of the rare times where sun still streams in through the small window of the pharmacy, shining on Sicheng’s head of golden hair. He’s spent most of the morning filling out prescriptions, eyes glazed over but that could just be his usual expression. It’s still difficult to determine.

“Oh, must be something highly regulated,” Doyoung comments, standing up from the chair he's been sitting in, taking a moment to stretch his legs out. In the month he’s been here, he’s already growing behind on patient files and while Johnny doesn’t seem particularly strict about record-keeping, Doyoung is well aware it’s in his best interests to keep his slate clean and his notes written in clean ink. “How do you get all this medicine in, anyway? I haven’t seen any delivery trucks.”

There aren’t many cars in general on the roads - it appears the people of Rookswood are highly fond of walking everywhere. Doyoung is highly not. His calves have gotten used to the house visits of his patients, but when the sun starts to set and he has to walk up that hill back to Cerasus Manor, a part of him wonders if it would be nicer to just camp out in the basement of the pharmacy wedged between the wall and where Sicheng stores all the extra boxes of tobacco and ergoapiol.   

“That's probably because there aren't any. I pick up everything at the train station myself,” Sicheng shrugs.

“That's surely not in your job description?” Doyoung says. “You’re a qualified pharmacist, not a delivery boy.”

“I don't really mind. It's not like we get deliveries often.” Sicheng reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pen with the sides engraved. “Besides, the train station has good coffee.”

Doyoung scans the order form in front of him, squinting at Sicheng’s neat but cursive penmanship. “Salvarsan?” Doyoung reads aloud. “I've seen that before, that's arsphenamine, isn't it?”

Sicheng is devoid of any reaction. “That's correct.”

“Mm, yes I remember seeing one of my lecturers with a bottle once for personal use. What's it for again, lung infections?” Doyoung picks up the pen, signing his name.

“Syphilis.”

The pen slips. “Ah,” Doyoung says, with more knowledge of his pulmonology professor’s sex habits than he would have preferred. “I haven’t had anyone come to me with syphilis. Yet.”

“I could tell you who’s it for,” Sicheng says, “But you might not be able to look at him the same way next time he comes for the Mayor’s parties.”

“That’s quite alright, keep it to yourself, I’ll cross that bridge myself when someone shows up with genital sores in my office practice and ruins the sheets I’ve put on the examination bed,” Doyoung says with an encouraging smile, but Sicheng gives not even an exhale in amusement.

“It’s getting colder, I’ve noticed,” Doyoung says when he retreats back to his desk, to the safety of his patient files. He jots down ‘Jaemin Na’ and the physiotherapy regiment he’s set for him. When no reply comes from Sicheng, he looks up.

“We don’t have to talk,” Sicheng says after a moment of intensely awkward and prolonged eye contact. “You’re busy with work, after all.”

“Sure,” Doyoung says, staring into the page in front of him until the letters start swimming. It’s a chip in the marble of his ego and he waits for the crack to heal before he even thinks about talking - and even then he doesn’t. He carefully fills out his reports, finding particular interest in the manner in which Mr. Na is recovering.

Physiotherapy had always been one of Doyoung’s principal interests and he finds the progress he’s seeing in Mr. Na to be of particular interest. He sees the list of pain medication he’s been prescribed over the years that Sicheng provided and Doyoung pauses, the pen under his chin. He’s not thinking about Mr. Na anymore. And Jaehyun told him to disregard it but-

His shoulder is like a gear out of alignment and all Doyoung can think is that it must hurt. To have the entire deltoid muscle in such tension at all times, it must be a miracle Jaehyun is even able to play piano at all. If given the opportunity, Doyoung would just like to take a look, just to see the extent and cause of the damage because he knows he could help. He knows he can try.

“Sicheng?” Doyoung says, his voice shaking slightly. “I had a question.”

“Yes, Doctor?” he replies, face blank.

“I want to check some past records. Are there files of some sort?”

Sicheng raises a pencil-thin eyebrow. “Of course there are, but I’m certain I could probably answer your question quicker than it would take you to read through six different files. Is it a particular patient?”

Doyoung attempts to keep his voice level. “Yes. Jaehyun? Has he ever been prescribed pain medication?”

“The piano player?” There’s a noticeable pause. “No. Never.”

“Not Absorbine? Nyalgesic? A muscle relaxant of any sort?”

Sicheng doesn’t quite shake his head but does pivot his neck imperceptibly. “Absolutely not. He’s never come here for anything, not even a cough drop or some crushed tobacco. I’d barely know him if not for his reputation.” As an afterthought, he adds: “Are you treating him?”    

“No, not at all,” Doyoung says quickly. “ I was just curious about something. Doesn’t matter.” He lifts his pen. “Should get back to work, shouldn’t I?”

“That would be my recommendation, Doctor.”

 

There’s this story about two brothers that they told in university. The medical department is never known for its storytelling capability but this one, this particular story has become something of a running joke among the students, who quote it derisively at any appropriate moment as a punchline. It’s a morality lesson more than anything else, a non-denominational parable to soothe distressed doctors. It’s remained as unchanged as the building they learnt it in and even years later, Doyoung can recall it from memory, word by word, like he’s back in class, capping and uncapping his pen as he listens to his professor.

The story goes that there’s these two brothers, who on their way to a production of a Tale of Two Cities, incur a great injury on the ride home when the car crashes. The men are rushed to hospital and their lives are saved but they both lose the ability to walk. The men are assigned the same doctor and the same course of treatment. The first brother has a year of intense rehabilitation, and through much time and effort of his own volition, he’s able to walk again. He gets married and has many children, living out the rest of his life.

The second brother has no such brightness in his future. He barely takes his medication, and when he does he overdoses. He doesn’t show up for his physiotherapy sessions and as a consequence, he never leaves the confines of his wheelchair. He grows sicker and the winters make his bones shake. He’s dead in the next five years, despite having the exact same injuries as his brother.

The moral of the story - because there is actually a moral besides ‘don’t watch a Tale of Two Cities’  - was about the role that the patient has in their own fate. You can heal - but you can’t revive. You’re a doctor, not an alchemist, not a mind controller, not a miracle worker. Those in the medical profession are honoured and oath-bound to dedicate themselves to heal everyone, but they can only do so much, they can only bleed themselves so much till they run dry and some people can’t be saved.  

Doyoung disagrees. The doctor from the story should have just worked harder. Should have tried a little more. Everyone can be saved. Just try harder.

Doyoung finds himself reminded of the story as he stares at Jaehyun, seated outside his practice room, quietly staring into space. His left shoulder is like a bowstring poised to strike: in perpetual tension with the muscles that surround it. It must hurt if even sitting down, if even relaxed, he sits like that. But he’s not there for that, that much is obvious: he has his right hand wrapped up in a handkerchief. It’s spoilt now, the once white silk stained with blood.

At Jongin’s cough, Doyoung is forced to recenter his gaze back to the patient in front of him. He gives a final cursory look at Jongin and nods at him. “Take this script to the pharmacist. I’ve got you on antibiotics for the first week. You should be fit for work by next Tuesday.”

Jongin bows his head, pausing to take his hat from the desk. “Thank you Doctor. I’ve not been able to shake this cough for a week now.”

“I’ll hope for your quick recovery,” Doyoung says, watching him leave, the shape of his back retreating. The door to the office remains open, an unspoken invitation to Jaehyun’s entrance, but he doesn’t move, he simply waits, staring at his covered hand.

“Jaehyun?” Doyoung’s voice is softer than usual, reserved. “You can come in now. I’m sorry for the wait.”

“Good afternoon, Doyoung,” Jaehyun says as he walks into the office, snapping back to reality. “And it’s my fault really, I had to go and cut myself while gardening like some fool.  I can hardly blame you for being occupied.” It’s reminiscent of a child in the way he stands still, waiting for instructions obediently.

“It’s just your hand, right?” Doyoung says, wondering why he feels nervous. He’s bandaged his fair share of simple wounds in these two months, and this one seems even simpler than most of them.

“I think so - rather, I hope so. If you do happen to notice an extra ear that missed my gaze, do let me know, I should get that sorted out,” Jaehyun replies and the corners of his mouth curve upwards.

“You can just sit on the chair next to me then,” Doyoung says, dragging it forward with his foot. It squeaks across the harshly polished floor. Jaehyun sits down, laying out his hand.

“What happened?” Doyoung asks, gazing down.

“Roses have thorns,” is all what Jaehyun states as he unwraps the handkerchief. Three of his fingers have deep scratches into them. The skin flakes off and the dark angry flesh underneath glares menacingly.

“I have to wonder what kind of monstrous roses you're growing,” Doyoung hums. He runs the lightest of touches over Jaehyun's fingers and he winces soundlessly. The blood has already dried, cracking over the skin like desert sand.

“Monstrous only in the way the most beautiful ones are,” Jaehyun replies. “I think I’ve given them too much love and as a consequence, they’ve become hungry.”

He organizes his equipment meticulously, each cabinet with a particular purpose and he can instantly locate the drawer he wants, digging around for the roll of bandage and his scissors, placing them on the desk. “Quite proud of your roses,” Doyoung chuckles, “Even though they've just asked for your blood as sacrifice.”

“Judge for yourself if you’re doubtful, they are rather impressive.” Jaehyun's voice has the slightest hint of defensiveness towards it, and the look of mock outrage of Jaehyun’s porcelain face is enough to cause a smile to bury itself on Doyoung's lips.

“Are you inviting me to see your garden?” He clarifies as he lifts up the roll of bandage.

“Oh.” Jaehyun's eyes widen as if he's just caught sight of something in the distance but can't quite make it out. “Of course you can. But I was actually referring to those.” He uses his other hand to gesture to the vase of white roses that Kun had placed some days ago, the only thing in this room that isn’t hardwood or cold steel.

Doyoung resists the urge to drop the bandage and rub his fingers over the silky petals - they are a flawless white like a snow-covered street at Christmas. Truthfully, he had barely noticed the flowers when they first arrived in his practice, focusing on the scratch of his own pen on paper in between consultations, but now that he properly observes them, they're beautiful like perfectly twirled clouds.

“Those are yours?” Doyoung asks, struggling to keep the awe out of his voice. He would never have imagined the former Man of Roses grew the flowers himself. He can picture Jaehyun now, leaning down in the ground, hand over his forehead shielding his head from the sun as he works the soil, sweat dripping from his brow, of his pale skin contrasting against colour stained roses.  It must be something beautiful to witness.

Jaehyun smiles, and it’s one of modest pride. “Grew them myself. I remember those ones. They were talkative little flowers, wouldn’t stop chattering my ear off about the handsome doctor that moved in next door.”

Doyoung blinks in confusion, his voice rising in inflection. “I’m not sure I understand?”

 “It’s a joke, Doctor,” Jaehyun says, laughing. “When I’m in that fanciful kind of mood, I am not above crouching down and exchanging some words with my plants. I find flowers to be interesting conversation partners.” And then as an afterthought he adds, “Second only to handsome doctors.” 

Doyoung is quite positive he must be blushing a furious shade of red and bows his head as he wets a cotton pad with alcohol, dabbing the wound on Jaehyun’s fingers. He winces, hand flinching away and Doyoung has to use his own to keep it there. It’s clear it must hurt, and Doyoung clears his throat, attempting to figure out the safest topic to take Jaehyun’s mind off of his injury. “So, you’re a rosarian? I assumed you just had a connection with a florist of some sort.”

Jaehyun cannot resist the grin that spreads across his face at the word. “Rosarian? Doctor, you flatter me.” A dimple embeds itself in the corner of his cheek, and Doyoung’s decided that the same effect that his use of the term ‘doctor’ has on Doyoung, is the same as ‘rosarian’ has on Jaehyun.  

He seems to have forgotten his painful fingers and doesn’t stop smiling. “At the risk of sounding conceited, I would be so bold to say that any rose in this town is most likely from my garden. I’m the only one who grows them, really.”

“Must be a large garden, then,” he says. Jaehyun’s nose wrinkles at the smell as Doyoung caps the alcohol.

“Indeed,” Jaehyun nods. “So big in fact, that if I were to drop something in a rose bush, I might carelessly injure my hand attempting to wrestle it out of the tangle of stems.”

“Why didn't you wear gardening gloves?” It’s perplexing as to why Jaehyun would inflict such pain on himself when such a simple solution was right there.

“Like I said, I was acting like a fool,” Jaehyun says, looking back down at his hand. “I had something fall in one of the bushes and I was just focused on getting it out. Not quite the most rational course of action, but I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

Doyoung doesn’t press further, occupying himself with wrapping the bandage around the cuts, and he finds it morbidly fascinating the contrast the dried blood makes on Jaehyun’s pale flesh.

“It’s rather deep but should heal relatively quickly,” Doyoung remarks. “I think you’d be fine just applying some arnica oil in future.”

“Oh, but I needed my fingers bandaged.” He moves them under the cover of Doyoung’s own hand, flexing them. “I was asked to perform at Sooyoung's engagement tonight.”

“Piano?” Doyoung says, and when Jaehyun nods his affirmation, Doyoung adds: “I hear you’re quite popular around town for your playing.”

It’s an understatement. It was at a breakfast some days ago that Kun recounted watching Jaehyun perform at a funeral for the past mayor, a rapt expression on his face, lost in memory. Kun described his performance as being unparalleled, being so powerful as if there was an entire orchestra in the single man in front of him. But Doyoung decides to water down his words.

“I would not say I am famous for anything in Rookswood but I am somewhat of the resident pianist here. It wasn’t my intention at all when I started playing, ” Jaehyun says simply. “It’s just a hobby, but I enjoy it.”

It’s a curious characteristic of Jaehyun to offer information plainly, making no means to disguise it, and perhaps it betrays his city origins. Trying to extract personal information from anyone in Rookswood is an arduous task, even the people who come to Doyoung requesting healthcare are guarded in their responses, rare to simply divulge their histories, even if it comes at the detriment to their own health. Perhaps it’s just because what Jaehyun shares is interesting, he’s a person who grows more fascinating the more Doyoung learns about him, the allure of mystery replaced with the appeal of discovery.

Doyoung turns to grab his scissors and snips off the bandage, running his hands over his fingers once more.

“There we go.” Doyoung moves his chair back and surveys Jaehyun, avoiding his face in fear he might blush at the sight of his honey eyes. His posture is still slanted, his weight tilted to the right side of his body. It’s evident in the tight shirt that Jaehyun wears today and the deltoid muscle in his left shoulder must have some kind of strain that causes it to contort the entire arm in such a manner. It’s what he noticed earlier as well, and Doyoung feels that compulsion to help. “While you’re here, I could actually do a general check-up, it would take barely take longer than twenty minutes-”

“No need,” Jaehyun says, rising to his feet.

“But Jaehyun, your arm actually-” but Doyoung barely gets the words out when Jaehyun cuts him off, firmly and politely.

 “I won’t take any more of your time, Doyoung. Thank you very much.”

He just wants to help but Jaehyun won’t let him-

“You shouldn’t worry about me, but I still find it so impressive at how perceptive you are. You’re quite a good doctor.”

“I would hardly say you have the authority to make that kind of statement. All I did was wrap up your fingers, I hardly did surgery,” Doyoung replies, avoiding his gaze under lieu of packing away his equipment.

“Take the compliment Doyoung, things given freely are highly precious.” There’s a rush of air that comes with a breeze and he shivers against it. Doyoung moves to close the window, still unwilling to face Jaehyun, not with the blush he is certain paints his face.

He wishes to press the topic of his arm further but feels the topic was too neatly resolved - and he doesn’t want to make Jaehyun uncomfortable. “Good luck with your performance tonight,” Doyoung says, suddenly. He turns around.

Jaehyun lingers in the doorway, as if still deciding if he wants to leave. “Any chance you’ll be there?” There’s almost a hopeful tone to his voice.

“I wasn’t given an invite.” He wishes he was though. He finds himself fascinated by his curiosity at what kind of music this man could play, at what particular manner he bent the piano to his own will. Did he play like he spoke: simple but elegant? Or was he classically trained, each chord in perfect harmony at every stroke of the key?

“It’ll be so long. Very boring. Sooyoung has something like twelve speeches lined up for the evening. You’re lucky you can miss it.” Jaehyun replies, pulling his arms into his coat. “You can have a lovely night in.”

Doyoung suppresses a snort.

“You’ll have the bill sent to me, of course?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Doyoung says waving a hand. “It took me ten minutes to see to your hand, it’ll take longer to sit down and ask write an invoice.”

Jaehyun frowns. Something about his pronounced features, his careful elegance just fits in with the decor of the house and he looks like a lost statue that ended up in the doorway. “Oh, that’s not really fair though. I have to pay you.”

“Things given freely are highly precious,” Doyoung says, smirking despite himself.

And Jaehyun reminds Doyoung of peaches in the way his face lights up, grinning brightly and sweetly like the way the fruits hang on the trees. “I wouldn’t dare argue with such wisdom, Doctor. Have a good day ahead of you, and I won’t linger any longer, just in case my luck runs out.”

Doyoung wonders what song he’ll play tonight. He hopes his arm doesn’t hurt. He wonders if he’ll ever get to hear it.

   

“Where are my roses going?” Doyoung cries out in alarm as Kun sweeps past him, holding the offending flowers wrapped in newspaper. Kun holds up one finger as he disappears down the corridors, and Doyoung stares at the spot he left until he returns.

“Mmm? Oh, Jaehyun dropped off some fresh ones this morning,” Kun replies. In his hands are a fresh vase of roses as pink as the blush of a first kiss. Doyoung follows, trailing his finger over a single silky petal, a smile forming.

“That’s very nice of him. Did he say anything else?”

“Not a word. But you know him, he’s not much of a talker.”

All Doyoung can smell is the harsh sting of lemon disinfectant when he walks into his practice room. Sua is bent against the desk carefully scraping away the unholy mix of dried blood and pus from Mrs Lee's boil lancing that previous evening. Her nails dig into the cloth and she looks at him when he walks in.

“Oh Sua, that's so nice of you. I do apologize for the mess, next time I'll put down some tissues first,” Doyoung says, bowing his head. He flips the sign outside his door and sets the tea kettle down on the table.

Sua smiles up at him, straightening up. “Not a problem, Doctor. I've cleaned much worse things here, I can guarantee you. Alexander would often bring his female companions in here and…”

She doesn't complete the sentence. She doesn't have to. Doyoung feels a surge of sympathy - Sua is probably a year or two younger than him at most - she doesn't deserve to be responsible for disposing of the remnants of sexual conquests of middle-aged doctors. She bends down again, wiping the spray off the desk and looks pleased at her handiwork.

“Sua?” Doyoung asks carefully, wondering if he’s intruding on any boundaries. “Would you like to share my morning tea? I've made far more than enough. I have some biscuits as well, if you’d like to enjoy with me.”

Sua blinks, shoving her dust cloth into her apron. “Oh Doctor, that's very kind of you but I wouldn't dream of taking up your time.”

“Not at all. I’d like you to join me.” Doyoung is aware that he struggles to make any sort of friends and should at least force himself to initiate some social contact. And Sua is sweet and nice, and lives in the same house which is convenient - so Doyoung puts on a bright grin and gestures to the tea kettle. He opens up one of his cupboards and takes out two cups and saucers. He pours the tea that Kun had made just minutes earlier, the swirling brown liquid splashing against the porcelain rim of the cup. “And it would be nice to get to know each other.”

Sua still looks uncertain, and her eyes flit to the door as if worried someone like Johnny might see. But Doyoung keeps his expression open and the weight of the cup in his hands is like an olive branch and Sua eventually relaxes her shoulders, nodding.

“If you’re certain, Doctor.”

Doyoung gestures to the chair next to him and moves to sit in his usual one - it would just feel too odd to sit elsewhere. “Anything sweet?”

“Just the one cube,” Sua replies. Her hair is as straight as sugar cane, and the colour of dark coal. She lets it fall around her like a curtain as she reaches for her cup, but smiles as she takes her first sip. “Kun made it?”

“He tried to push coffee on me but I had to decline. I’d rather not be buzzing around my office all day,” Doyoung says. The tea is sweet and full-bodied, the taste of peach warm on his tongue. “Have you worked here for long?”

She nods. “I suppose so. Three years now. Nothing like Kun, by any regard.”

“And you’re a native of the town?”

“Of course. Rookswood doesn’t get a lot of newcomers.” She adds: “Besides you, of course.” Her grip on the tea cup tightens, concerned she offended him, but upon confirmation she didn’t, she relaxes into the chair. “I must say, I really didn’t expect someone like you to show up when Alexander left.”

“Someone like me?” Doyoung says. “What was it about me?” Doyoung’s thought the same thing, of course, and it’s slightly disorientating that other people have as well.

Is it just perhaps his entire personality that’s the problem?

“It’s just… you’re not the typical idea when someone thinks of the mayor’s personal physician. I mean no offense, of course, I think a change was needed, and I was not sad to see Alexander go - but you do stand out among your predecessors.” Sua rubs her chin thoughtfully. “But you surely have noticed that as well.”

“I’ve never ever been somewhere where everyone just knows each other. There’s this entangling web of stories and I’ve just walked in the middle, detached from all of it. It’s a strange position to be in,” Doyoung says. He runs a hand through his hair, still damp from his morning bath.

“I still think it’s good for the town to have a new face,” Sua says, and her expression is warm. “It keeps us on our toes, reminds us to be a little friendlier. A little more open.”

“Does Rookswood really never get visitors?” Even as he asks he can’t imagine the answer will be ‘yes’. Rookswood is on a separate train line, diverting from the main by a two hour journey. It’s a patch of cramped houses, narrow streets and menacing forest in the middle of nowhere, and it’s hard to see any particular reason to visit. If it was quiet countryside a traveller craved, there were a hundred other towns with far friendlier patrons and far less birds.    

Sua shrugs. “Maybe once every now and again. If you’ve got a family member who moved away decides to visit for the holidays - maybe some unlucky traveller who missed the connection at Central Station and ends up here, but we hardly ever get tourists, if that’s what you’re asking.”

She says the word like it’s something foul and seems to notice Doyoung’s raised eyebrow because she laughs to herself and clarifies. “We - that is, the citizens of Rookswood - like our privacy. We like that this town is for us. Everything we do is to serve ourselves and our neighbours and that’s how it’s always been. We’re self-preserving people. You have to put yourself first in this life.”

As a maid, Sua has presented herself as demure. She cleans quietly and serves politely but as Doyoung sees the defiant tilt of her shoulders and her head held high, he reconsiders his opinion of her. Sua, like all the people he’s met from this town, is not quite like she seems. He thought of her like velvet, soft and elegant, easily malleable into her role but no, she’s like chenille, deceptively strong and iridescent.  

“Tourists travel to gawk at spectacles. We are no spectacle - neither the people nor our birds,” Sua says decisively, sipping her tea. “Enough of my voice though. As a consequence of our isolation, we don’t often get an outsider’s perspective. Do you like Rookswood?”

Asking if Doyoung liked Rookswood implied that Doyoung had any idea how to vocalize the strange threads of feelings and thoughts he’s had into a cohesive whole - and he doesn’t. “There’s some very nice features about this town. I like how quiet it is.”

“Besides the birds,” Sua adds.

“Besides the birds,” Doyoung agrees. “And I do enjoy my job. It’s quite nice if you ignore the blood and pus related incidents which, ultimately, only make up a fraction of my day. It’s so different from the city and perhaps that’s what I like the most.”

Sua hums under her breath, satisfied with his answer. Doyoung purses his lips as he hesitates, taking another drink of tea before he speaks. “What about people who aren’t visiting. Who move here? Does that often happen?”

“Well, there was you. And then, like what, more than a decade ago? It was Mr Jung. No one really moves here,” Sua says. “It’s not like there’s an excess of free real estate anyway.”

“Mr Jung?” Doyoung repeats.

“You know, the neighbour,” Sua says. “You got along quite well with him at the party, I saw.”

“Oh! Jaehyun,” Doyoung says. He realizes he never learnt his last name when they met. As he often seems to do nowadays, he thinks back to the party, thinks of the way his shiny golden eyes look under the evening light - and berates his mind for being unable to remember that piano medley which punctuated the evening. His mind bothered to commit the memory the curve of his smile, but not the music. “He’s lived here for so long?”

Sua nods. “I was still a girl when he moved in. It was the talk of the town when his house got filled since it was such a special property and he arrived all so suddenly. I guess we were all a bit disappointed when the stranger himself wasn’t as exciting as the circumstances that surrounded his arrival. He just stays at home most of the time- and not even in the way that children could invent stories about, because he does go outside.”

“I heard he plays piano, yes.” Doyoung wonders just how impressive he has to be to build up a reputation just based on his instrumental skill.

“Mmm, and the flowers. Those don’t really paint the picture of a scary man in his haunted house on the hill. He’s not scary, but he’s not friendly either. He’s just…” Sua pauses. “Strange.”

Sua lifts the cup to her lips, looking off into the distance. “Thirteen years this year, actually. I remember, because it was so soon after Mr. Seo took office. I’ll never quite forget that time.”

“Because of the new mayor?”

Sua shakes her head, gazing at him curiously. “No. It was the year the rooks died.”

There’s a pause. As if to contradict her point, a pair flies by Doyoung’s window, cawing loudly, their wings beating furiously against the wind. “The rooks aren’t dead,” Doyoung says simply and perhaps unnecessarily, eyebrows raised.

“They were the year Mr. Seo became mayor. All of them just started dropping from the sky, dead. There was this saying that it was the only time of year you could see the sunset.”

From his bedroom window at sunset there’s a spectacular displays as the rooks flood the skies, swirling around and around as one entity as they fly off to their tree. They obscure the heavens with masses of feathers - and Doyoung imagines looking out his window and seeing nothing but the orange sky.

 A queasiness settles in Doyoung’s stomach and he deposits his cup on the desk, pushing it away. “That sound horrifying.”

“It was sad. I never saw such empty skies in my life, and I hope to never see skies that clear again. It looked for a moment like Rookswood would become a town with no rooks.”

“Did they ever find out what caused it?” A disease, Doyoung guesses. Perhaps some sort of viral infection?

“No. But it was okay. Eventually, it stopped. Just all of a sudden. The rooks went back to their roosting trees, and the next season there were hatchlings. A happy ending, if nothing else, but a dark mark on our history.”

There’s a gentle knock on the door which startles both of them and Sua jumps up, straightening her apron. It’s just Kun, however and he smiles broadly.

“Sorry to interrupt the tea party, but I’ve got Mrs. Lee outside. She says she’s worried her boil might be infected. I think you better see her.”

Doyoung cannot stop the grimace appearing on his face and Sua giggles as she picks up the tea cups, tucking the tray under her arm.

“Have a good day further, Doctor. It was really nice chatting to you. For what it’s worth, I’m very glad you moved here.”

 

The receding Autumn leaves behind a cold front that can’t be shaken. It wrapped itself around the Cerasus Manor, choking the life out of the maple trees that dotted the property like the spotted lights of the house itself. Already, a cold breeze shattered one of the bulbs and Kun dragged out the old wooden ladder from the garden house, and pushed it against the walls, effortlessly scaling to replace it.

Doyoung watched from the window of his practise, mentally going over the medical procedure and first-aid in case of a broken leg. The fall from a second storey height would not be deadly, but would be disastrous, and Doyoung is certain that if Johnny had known the risks he wouldn’t have expected Kun to replace the bulb, especially in such wind. But Doyoung doesn’t want to bother Johnny with such things, and besides - Kun was fine. He climbed down from the ladder effortlessly, even waving when he saw Doyoung staring. And then a leaf blew into his face.

Doyoung exhaled loudly.

It’s for this reason that Doyoung avoids going outside. The absence of proper winter clothes leaves him restrained to his practise, unwilling to brave the outdoors, and waiting for the end of the month for his paycheck before he’s able to drop the necessary funds for a wardrobe suitable for the season. But Doyoung has a job before anything else, and when Sicheng phones him on Tuesday night informing him that Hana’s father has fallen ill, Doyoung doesn’t have much of a choice when asked to perform a house call. He straps on his boots, wears a pair of pants underneath his pants and sets off for the house, nose as red as cherries by the end of it. Hana’s father isn’t even dying, it’s hardly worth the effort he undertook to get there. Still, he did his job, and sighs heavily at the prospect of walking home in this weather.

He’s halfway up that hill when he sees the unmistake figure of Jaehyun walking up as well, having crossed in from an intersection, black umbrella in hand and a grin that’s far too bright for such a gloomy day. Doyoung intends to cross over to the other side of the street to avoid having to greet him. He’d rather not let the rain cloud of misery that follows him drizzle on Jaehyun as well. He’d prefer if Jaehyun’s perception of him remains amicable, rather than him finding out the truth that really, Doyoung is just an irritable, waspish man who’s too shy to knock more than once. His pace quickens but Jaehyun holds out his hand, waving widely.

“Doyoung!”

There’s no such luck that another Doyoung happened to be walking behind him, is there? He sighs, but the sigh isn’t prolonged, not when Jaehyun looks like he’s pleased to run into him.

“It’s been a while. How are you? Off work?” Jaehyun asks. His shirt is carefully ironed and when he notices Doyoung staring at his chest, he brushes off any lingering dust.

“Just finished,” Doyoung says, his nose wrinkling at the cold. “And you?”

“I was on my way from picking up some odds and ends. Incense, actually. Haechan let me know they have the most elegant citrus-scented sticks in stock,” Jaehyun replies. “Oh, but are you shivering?” His voice is thick with concern.

“No,” Doyoung says, physically planting his legs on the ground to stop his deceptive body from shaking. It was just a little cold, no need for such a dramatic response. “A little.”

Jaehyun frowns and instantly unbuttons his elegant black coat, handing it to Doyoung. “Doyoung, please. You must be freezing.”

“No, I couldn’t bear to wear your coat, you’ll get cold too,” Doyoung says, blushing.

But Jaehyun leaves his arm outstretched. “Take it. I don’t need it.” And Doyoung would argue with him for longer but they’re in the middle of the street - the idea of someone like Sicheng walking past and seeing this display is even more embarrassing than being given warm clothes.

“Ah.” Doyoung is unable to contain the sigh in relief as he wraps the warm coat around him. It smells vaguely of peaches and Doyoung immediately learns this fact and then tries to forget it. “Thank you, Jaehyun. I didn’t pack clothes that were equipped for such cold weather. Highly foolish of me.” 

Jaehyun frowns. “Doyoung, could I beg for a favour?”

He can feel the mucus membranes of his eyes tear up. His nose is bright red. His legs ache and he’s been sneezed on by both Hana’s father and Hana’s dog and he’s about ready to fall down in his bed and wake up the next season - but he supposes that it shouldn’t take too long for whatever Jaehyun’s asking. “Of course. What’s the problem?”

“Accompany me on my walk home?” he asks, carefully twisting the umbrella in his hand.

“Oh. Sure!” Doyoung replies without thinking it through - and even when he thinks it through, his answer doesn’t change. He attempts to justify it in his mind that it shouldn’t take too long and he’s just trying to be a good neighbour. And they live next door. It's just polite to accept. It’s not raining but Jaehyun walks close enough to Doyoung that the umbrella casts a shadow.

“You should take better care of yourself, Doyoung,” Jaehyun advises. “You can’t keep walking out in this kind of weather without proper clothing, you’ll get sick - and we can’t have the town doctor being ill.”

“I don’t get sick,” Doyoung protests, but huddles closer in the warmth of the coat.

“Everyone gets sick, Doyoung.”

“I got sick, once,” Doyoung concedes. “I was in university, in the midst of my exams, and I got home after assuring everyone I was fine, and then threw up all over my bedroom carpet. My best friend found me lying in the bathroom, curled into a ball. And that was the only time.”

He can still remember Taeyong’s hand against his flushed forehead, calmly listing instructions: go to bed, drink this tea, I’ll talk to the university tomorrow, and I’m booking a doctor’s appointment, if you try and study I’ll chop your fingers off, sleep well, I love you.

“And you’re not concerned the countryside air might awaken some hidden flu in you?” Jaehyun asks.

“I’m very healthy. From the amount of times I’ve walked up and down this hill, I’m reasonably certain I could go all night,” Doyoung says and he belatedly realizes that perhaps he should not have said that, and not in such an immodest tone.

But Jaehyun smirks, as if intrigued. “Personally, I find that having a strong stamina is highly compelling.”

Doyoung coughs and stares down at the road, wondering if he just died right here, they could pave over him and then still have it operational for cars. “If you ever feel sick yourself, do let me know, I can drop by for a house call and prescribe some medication.” 

“Oh, I don’t get sick.” And Jaehyun grins widely, laughing at his own joke.

“Is that so?”

Jaehyun looks at Doyoung with his innocent eyes. “Well, I’ve lived on this hill for longer than you have. I’m sure that says something about my stamina.”

Doyoung has to drop his gaze before he bursts into flames. He recognizes the path that splits his and Jaehyun’s house and he realizes, very belatedly, that it was impossible to not end up walking together unless intentionally stopping himself. It still makes Doyoung shiver than Jaehyun asked so kindly - and it doesn’t quite seem to be the cold that’s causing it.

“Ah, this is where we part ways.” Jaehyun pauses, and rests the umbrella against his legs. “Thank you for being my company. You make a tiresome walk much more bearable.”

“Thank you for the coat,” Doyoung says and begins to shrug it off but Jaehyun shakes his head.

“Keep it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, I can’t-” Doyoung begins.

“Doyoung, you surely can’t expect me to wear it again after you did,” Jaehyun says, his face in an expression of mock outrage. “You look infinitely better in it than me. I can hardly compete. To spare me the embarrassment, could you keep it?”

Doyoung absolutely loathes that Jaehyun is so charming. Doyoung himself lost his charisma skills about five years ago and has never quite been able to find them. “Jaehyun, are you sure-”

“Of course I am,” Jaehyun says, and he brushes dust off Doyoung’s shoulder, smiling at him. His golden gaze is kind. “Stay warm.”

“You should too,” Doyoung mumbles as they wave goodbye. He tightens Jaehyun’s coat around him as if trying to cocoon himself in the fleece. He tries to convince himself that this is nothing special or monumental in the slightest and that Jaehyun is just a very good neighbour. He tries very hard.

 

Living in the tallest house on the hill satisfied a secret part of Doyoung if he was to be entirely honest - it was hard not to feel impressed when he saw the pillars rising up from the dark grass when he crossed the iron gate. It’s sort of the dream of his downtrodden working class cohort, to be rich enough to live in a lavish mansion that overlooks the rest of the town under the condescending brow of the ridges of its roof. His teachers should see him now - this was something they could never achieve. Sure, it wasn’t his name on the deed but he still lived there - his sheets all smell like his aftershave. It’s official.  

The only problem with living in the tallest house on the hill is having to walk all the way up everytime he went down. He’s at the pharmacy with Sicheng and he could have left about two hours ago, but he lingers between the boxes of opium and dried arnica under the pretense of stock-taking but truthfully - he just doesn’t fancy the walk.

“Did Ahin’s father collect his prescription? His cataracts are rapidly deteriorating, I am rather concerned. I suggested surgery but neither of them were interested,” Doyoung says as an attempt to lure the pharmacist into a conversation.

Sicheng looks up from his clipboard. “He did.”

“Ah. Good to hear.” Doyoung breathes out. He moves off from the shelf and walks to the countertop, scanning the appointment book as if it wasn’t the first thing he did when he walked in.

“There’s been no new appointments,” Sicheng supplies upon seeing Doyoung’s movement. “You really are done for the day, Doctor, I don’t see much else you can do.”

“Are you sure I can’t help you with the labelling?”

“Not really. I have a special system and it would take far too long for you to learn it. I’m sure you understand, Doctor.” Sicheng is polite even when he’s calling Doyoung stupid. No one quite exemplifies the Rookswood style of speech quite like Sicheng: guarded and diplomatically vicious.

It’s small town syndrome, Doyoung thinks. Small towns always produce individuals just a little more odd than the ones from the big cities - though, Doyoung is perhaps not the best person to give weight to this theory, not when he’s struggled to fit in on both sides of the spectrum, not normal enough for the city, not strange enough for the town.

Sicheng’s script is cursive and Doyoung is always amazed at how refined it is, how much it suits the man who wrote it. Bringing his gaze down to the list of appointments, Doyoung’s got five tomorrow, all of them house visits but geographically close together, so it’s not too awful. He should remember to ask Kun to pack in more of those dried apricots, he always does forget to eat on days like those and he can always pop one of those in his mouth on the walk.

Sicheng clears his throat. He pauses to clean his circular rimmed glasses and inhales. “Doctor, could I ask why you’re still here? Is my work perhaps unsatisfactory which is why you need to monitor my stocktaking? If so, I humbly apologize and would please request that you inform me of the ways in which I can improve myself.”

“Oh, Sicheng, no, that’s not it in the slightest!” Doyoung says, slamming the appointment book shut. “You’ve been absolutely stellar.”

“If you think that I am not up to the standard of work that you are used to back in the city, I do encourage you to tell me. I know I’m only from this backwards town but I’ve been to university, I’ve learnt as best I could and I do wish to try my absolute best.” Sicheng’s eyes have the usual hollowness behind them - even when he appears to be pouring his heart out, his tone is monotonous. But Doyoung doesn’t think Sicheng is capable of such emotional blackmail just to get him out of his storeroom and he feels guilt weigh down on his brow.

“Sicheng, I apologize if that’s what you thought,” Doyoung says, raising his palms. “It’s quite the opposite truthfully, I find you to be an extremely accomplished pharmacist who goes above and beyond the constraints of his job description.”

“But then Doctor, why won’t you leave?”

And Doyoung just ends up having to confess his slothfulness. “It’s quite a long walk, isn’t it? To the Mayor’s house. Uphill, also. The wind really blows down.”

It’s always interesting to be in a position where you’re alone with someone in a room and you know without a shadow of a doubt that the person in question is currently judging you. He’s going to be working alongside Sicheng more than anyone else, if he decides he hates Doyoung, it’s better to get it out in the open earlier rather than a year from now.

“I suppose it is,” Sicheng says. He nods slowly. “I wouldn’t really know, I don’t have much reason to go up the hill. It’s just yours and the piano player’s house that’s there.”

It takes Doyoung a moment to realize ‘the piano player’ is referring to Jaehyun. It’s a thing he’s noticed about this town. They rarely call him by his name, he’s always ‘the piano player’ or ‘the rose gardener’ or even ‘the Mayor’s neighbour’. It’s odd, to say the least, it’s not as if he’s got a particularly complex name to remember and he’s been here for so long as well. Doyoung certainly hopes the people in town recall his own name and don’t call him some unflattering epithet behind his back.

“How does Jaehyun cope with the walk? It’s brutal. Especially when it rains.” Doyoung doesn’t mean to whine but it’s what it comes out as.

Sicheng shrugs. “He doesn’t exactly leave his house much.”

“I mean, sure he does. He’s the piano player.”

“How often do you think we have events of such a high decorum we need to hire a piano player?” Sicheng says, raising an eyebrow. “Sure, he comes down for that but he’s mostly in his house. It’s not like he has many friends or social events to go to.”

“He doesn’t?” Doyoung says. That’s a ridiculous notion. Jaehyun is a wonderful conversational partner, he speaks eloquently and is well-versed in many topics - who wouldn’t want to invite him over for dinner? Truthfully, Doyoung sometimes wishes Johnny would have such events more often, if just to have another conversation with him.

“Well,” Sicheng says, “He is kind of strange.”

“He’s not strange,” Doyoung instantly contradicts.

“He’s foreign,” Sicheng concedes with a sigh. “It’s nothing personal to the man but his mannerisms are highly odd. He hasn’t really made an effort to integrate with the community and he just doesn’t really fit in. Perhaps you don’t notice it because you’re also from the city.”

“We stayed in different parts of the city, I’m sure,” Doyoung says, brows furrowed. “And I don’t think he’s odd.”

Sicheng picks up his row of labels and tears off the perforation. “I apologize if I’ve said something impolite about your friend. It was, however, just a fact. He doesn’t go out a lot and he doesn’t have many companions.”

“He’s not my friend,” Doyoung says. “He’s my neighbour.”

“Oh.” Sicheng doesn’t quite shrug, his posture is too regal for that. But he does tilt his head to the side and raise his shoulders and it’s the closest expression of apathy Doyoung thinks he’ll get. “It’s just that, you’ve been here for what? Almost three months? And you’ve settled in much more comfortably than he has in the years he’s been here.”

Doyoung’s never been a stranger to gossip but a pit seems to unfurl itself in his stomach. Sicheng’s words are by no manner harsh or vindictive, rather it seems he’s just reciting known truths, but it leaves Doyoung feeling peculiar inside nonetheless.

“I’m sure he’s happy by himself,” Sicheng says after Doyoung’s extended silence. “He’s never seemed like someone who needs anyone else.”

“Mmm,” Doyoung says. “Sicheng, I think I should get going now. I’ve taken up far too much of your time. I’ll see you Thursday.”

Sicheng’s eyes widen marginally. “You’re leaving?”

Doyoung nods, “Not like there’s anymore work left to do.” He moves to the coat rack, taking off his own and wrapping it around him. “Have a good day further.”

“Same to you, Doctor. Hope I didn’t say anything to offend, by the way.”

“Not at all. I enjoyed our conversation.”

Sicheng appears as if he wants to say something else, but he decides against it. However, as soon as Doyoung closes the door behind him, he hears a sigh of relief from inside the room.

 

It takes Doyoung several minutes before he realizes why Jaehyun’s front door is different to Johnny’s. It’s the same style - mahogany wood, a large golden knocker in the center in the shape of a rook, an ornate handle that curves around. He realizes it’s odd to be standing without knocking but it’s prickling in annoyance at Doyoung’s mind now - there’s definitely something that contrasts this door with the one Doyoung walks through daily and he’s staring right at it and he can’t quite work out what it is -  and then it hits him.

It’s Kun. It’s the absence of Kun. The front door to Cerasus Manor is carefully varnished, always shiny, the golden rook eternally winking at sunlight but the front door to Jaehyun’s house is considerably less well-kept. Wood chips scatter on the floor like Autumn leaves and a delicate layer of dust settled on the knocker. The rook doesn’t glint in the sunlight like it does at the Cerasus Manor.

Now that Doyoung’s solved that mystery, he supposes he has no reason not to knock - he doesn’t really want to, he’s still not sure why he’s here, but he’s felt this magnetic pull to come here ever since he spoke with Sicheng. It’s silly though, he’s standing in front of Jaehyun’s front door, he took all the effort into diverting from his usual route to turn left at the intersection and continue along the path - but he just can’t seem to summon up the strength to lift up his arm and tap the knocker - gosh, he’s probably not even home, or if he is, he must be busy. Really, Doyoung decides, he’ll just knock once and then leave, just to say he tried.

So he does. He knocks once, dust floating as the gold handle meets the wood, and he instantly turns around and he’s barely off the porch when the door opens.

“Oh, Doyoung!” Jaehyun says, and Doyoung turns to see his bright smile illuminating his face. “It’s a lovely surprise to see you.”

“Jaehyun,” Doyoung says. “Hello.” He wonders what exactly his plan was following the plausible reality that the door was opened.

“Hello.” Jaehyun looks like he’s laughing at a private joke. “Are you keeping warm? There’s been quite a chill in the air these days.” His face is always so calming - perhaps it’s a consequence of his soft features, but Doyoung feels his anxiety ebb away.

“I’m certainly trying to. It’s rather difficult when I’m expected to constantly go outside and do things.”

“I completely agree. If I had it my way, I think I’d just cancel all the late months of the years. We can have Christmas in late June, how does that sound to you?”

“I’m entirely fine with that.” As if on cue, his body unconsciously shivers as a harsh wind whips through the air. “I never cared for November.”

“November is quite horrible,” Jaehyun nods gravely. “Still, rather than become the winter frost while we discuss the reasons we dislike periods of time, would you like to come in? It might be more beneficial to engage in discourse about your least favourite month indoors, when there’s not that dreadful wind outside.”

Jaehyun looks entirely unaffected, the drift of his toffee-like hair the only sign of the wind. He steps aside to allow Doyoung to walk in.

“Oh, I mean-” Doyoung is not entirely sure what he meant, and is grateful that Jaehyun interrupts him to encourage him inside.

 “I’d rather not waste your time, I’m sure you’ve come for an important reason, a busy doctor like you always has things to do.”

Incense burns the scent of patchouli across the room and it wafts towards the front room Doyoung enters in, giving the air a sharp but not unwelcome edge. It fits him, Doyoung decides, it has a refreshing tilt to it which suits the man himself.

“I’d offer you tea but I don’t really have any milk. Do you take black tea?” he asks, gesturing to one of the chairs in the lounge. “Please sit.”

Doyoung would not have imagined the lack of a caretaker and maid to have such an effect on an house - he lived for most of his life without either and while he would never have hosted soirees in the rectangle he shared with Taeyong, he’d hardly call it unkempt. The same cannot be said for Jaehyun’s house. It’s an organized kind of dust really, it tells the story of a person who only makes use of a single chair and never has the others occupied. It tells of someone who lives in a house far too big for his means, who has no need of two different sitting rooms, who wouldn’t straighten out the paintings of hallways he never walks in, who doesn’t unfurl the curled edges of mats that lead up to an unoccupied servant’s wing.   

Doyoung sneezes.

“Oh, sorry. It is rather dusty in here, isn’t it?” Jaehyun says, a hint of despondency in his voice. “The dust doesn’t really bother me, I’ve never even noticed, I’m so sorry, should I get you a handkerchief or something…?”

“It’s fine, don’t go to any trouble,” Doyoung says quickly.

“It’s no trouble at all, Doyoung. Let me treat you like a proper guest - I think I might have some biscuits in the kitchen. Is that alright?”

Whenever he is referred to, it’s more commonly by his profession, and perhaps it’s just one or two slips of the tongue, but it’s unfamiliar yet soothing to hear his name in Jaehyun’s pleasing voice. It’s grounding in a way, a reminder that Doyoung is more than just ‘Doctor’.

“Jaehyun, it’s not necessary-” Doyoung trails off when he appears with a tray of chocolate covered biscuits, neatly placing it on the table in the center. He takes the seat opposite Doyoung, gesturing towards it.

Unable to refuse the direct offer without appearing ungrateful, Doyoung takes one. “Are you not having?”

Jaehyun shakes his head. “I don’t really eat sweet things.”

The windows are shut and the curtains are drawn - the result of which is a room that is rather dark, despite the brightness outside. Jaehyun doesn’t really appear to notice and Doyoung doesn’t feel the need to bring it up. It’s actually kind of nice to sit in such a way, there’s a sense of tranquility to it, like this occupied room is sort of all that exists and ts just indistinct blurs. Bringing the biscuit up to his mouth, he suppresses a grimace when he bites down. It’s stale, and his teeth find difficulty in crushing it.  

 “What can I help you with?” Jaehyun asks leaning forward, crossing his fingers together.

“Ah. I thought I’d just drop by for a visit,” Doyoung says, the words coming out mildly garbled as he attempts to swallow the remnants of the biscuit.

“Oh.” Jaehyun’s eyes widen. “Doyoung.”

Doyoung instantly regrets his honesty. There’s a heaviness in the air. He should have just gone with the lie he prepared on the way here. There’s no explanation as to why Jaehyun suddenly grows quiet. He is clearly uncomfortable and is not interested in having a casual unprompted visit with no actual purpose, and Doyoung’s gone and ruin their fledgling friendship - if even that-

“That’s so kind of you, Doyoung,” Jaehyun says softly. “It’s lovely to see a friend.” He says the word like the eggshell letters could fall to the floor if not cradled in careful hands.

Doyoung stares at the saucer in front of him - ceramic with blue flowers, diligently and delicately painted. “You have a lovely home.”

“Thank you. Looks a lot like yours, doesn’t it? Silly architects cutting corners when drawing up the plans,” Jaehyun says, laughing wide and openly. “It’s little more than a mirror image of the Cerasus Manor, just with a quarter of the rooms and half of the grounds missing.” He sits with his left arm on the armrest, gesticulating with the right as he continues talking, illustrating the changes in floor plan and Doyoung stares.

“Jaehyun,” he says, unable to stop himself. “Will you let me help you?”

There’s a pause. “In what way do you possibly mean, Doctor?” Jaehyun asks. His eyes are the same warm colour as they always are - but with a calculated focus.

Words stumble out of Doyoung’s mouth but he’s given up any hopes of stopping his verbal storm. “Would you let me treat your shoulder? I can help. I know how to, I’ve studied physiotherapy, it won’t have to hurt anymore, and it must hurt, I’ve seen the way you carry it.”

Sometimes Jaehyun just doesn’t move. Sometimes he sits so still that the comparison to a statue is more befitting than previously thought. His face remains a fixed mask, eyes shining but unmoving. He looks like he has been in the same position for a century and will continue to be in for centuries more. He sits like that now, a permanent expression of curiosity in his static state.

“Why do you care, Doyoung? You’ve got dark rings under your eyes - what possible reason would you want to have more patients to treat?” Jaehyun says finally.

“It does hurt, doesn’t it?” Doyoung notes. “You never disagreed with me.”

There is a pause. “It does.”

Perhaps he does have the slightest streak of arrogance buried under his own self-doubt - but he’s not surprised to know he’s right.

“Doyoung, I think you’re too good of a doctor to be locked up in a town of birds,” Jaehyun says softly. “And I think you’re too good of a person to be concerned about me. Do not waste your time worrying about me. I don’t need help.”

Doyoung meets his gaze. “When I was at university, there was this story they used to tell about these two brothers who go watch a performance of the Tale of Two Cities-”. He stops himself before he goes further.

“Yes?” Jaehyun prompts.

“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t actually matter. I’m not going to give up on you, Jaehyun. A good doctor wouldn’t.” Doyoung crosses his arms, and the softest hint of a smile grows on Jaehyun’s face.

“Doyoung, I’ll be fine.” He speaks with a tone of finality and Doyoung lets the topic fade for now - but keeps his gaze fixed on the particular movement of his arms. Jaehyun’s eyebrows furrow, as if deep in thought. 

“Actually, there is one thing,” Jaehyun says, rising to his feet, “I have some old clothes in my study that I’ve been meaning to give to Johnny to distribute to charity. Would you mind helping me?”

And perhaps it’s not the physiotherapy regiment Doyoung would have hoped to assist in - but it’s a start and Doyoung nods, abandoning the biscuits and following Jaehyun up the creaky stairs.

 

There’s a persistent but gentle knocking sound. At first Doyoung thinks it’s perhaps the door, but no, it’s too soft to be the cause of that. Perhaps some sort of creak? He looks up, perplexed, scanning the room. Jaehyun doesn’t appear to notice it at all, staring into his closet in concentration. Doyoung ignores it, writing off as the sounds of the house, typical in buildings quite so old.

The knocking persists however, repetitive and annoying and Doyoung steps back, frowning.

“What is making that noise?” he demands, swinging the room door shut. The noise persists.

“That is curious,” Jaehyun remarks. “It sounds like it’s  hitting against glass, doesn’t it?” He folds his arms, and his eyes drift towards the window and then they light up. Doyoung follows the line of sight and - ah, the culprit is revealed.

“Oh, let me take care of it,” Doyoung says in a tone of irritation. The pigeon currently tapping at the glass of the windows looks at Doyoung with complete and utter blankness. How amazing it must be, to be such a creature capable of no thoughts whatsoever. “They’re so annoying. I see them in the town square all the time.” At least the rooks had some semblance of intelligence - pigeons were just pests.

He opens the window, ready to swing his arms violently in an attempt to scare away the bird when Jaehyun rushes forward, jerking Doyoung away. “Don’t!” he cries as Doyoung stumbles backwards, in shock more than anything else. “Sorry for raising my voice but - this isn’t a normal pigeon.”

“It certainly looks like one,” Doyoung grumbles in response, but it’s his bruised ego that’s speaking. He can see that he’s incorrect in his assumption. Even among pigeons, this bird was clearly different - dark tail-feathers with a full brown belly but not fat, rather muscular even. With the window open, the pigeon wastes no time in fluttering onto Jaehyun’s hand, cooing in appreciation.

“Can you look in the top drawer of my desk?” Jaehyun asks as he strokes the top of its head, as if this is a normal occurrence. 

Doyoung flusters. “Oh… are you-”

“Yes, just open the top drawer.”

It feels incredibly intrusive to be scratching around in his cupboards but when Doyoung looks back to confirm with Jaehyun, he’s too busy making noises back at the bird. It’s quite endearing but Doyoung tears his gaze away. He opens the drawer and it catches on the hinge but eventually pulls out, and he wasn’t sure what he expected to find in it, but it wasn’t loose birdseed.

“Seeds?” Doyoung says.

“Seeds,” Jaehyun confirms. “Bring some here, please.”

“Just in my hand?”

“I don’t think the bird cares too much,” Jaehyun says, and Doyoung can see the hint of smile that’s stretching out to his cheeks.

Huffing, Doyoung scoops up some of the seeds in the cup of his palm, placing it on the windowsill. The pigeon eagerly jumps off of Jaehyun’s hand and devours the seeds, doing that incessant head-bobbing motion that Doyoung detests.

“Do you often feed strange birds that fly in your study window?” Doyoung says, staring at the bird in question. It doesn’t stop eating.

“Just the ones that give me something in return,” Jaehyun replies, brandishing a thin metal tube, like the kind that could easily fit on the leg of the bird currently gobbling down bird seed.

“Is that a… messenger pigeon?” Doyoung says and even the words sound absurd. Messenger pigeons died out - or at least they should have. Who needs to use such fickle creatures like birds when the telephones exist? Operators work tirelessly to ensure that calls can be placed - they’re much more reliable than birds could ever be. At the very least, just post a letter like anyone else.

“Mmm,” Jaehyun hums. “She’s travelled quite a distance. I’m quite grateful that she arrived.”

“You… communicate through messenger pigeons? Do you own more pigeons?” Doyoung asks, suddenly looking around as if expecting the birds to emerge from the ceiling. Rooks are one thing, but Pigeonswood simply sounds ridiculous.

“No, not at all, but this one is from someone special.”

Doyoung wonders why the use of ‘someone special’ causes his heart to clench in such a slight way. It might have to do with the way Jaehyun’s face softens entirely at the words. Doyoung represses the feeling. “I didn’t think pigeons still carried messages. Telephones are just so much easier.” He wonders why he sounds so cantankerous and figures it’s just because it’s who he is as a person.

“This friend is a little special. Very special, actually. He can’t send me normal letters or visit my house due to certain external factors neither of us can control, so unfortunately this is all we have between us,” Jaehyun replies. He unrolls the neatly folded paper in the tube and leans against the window frame as he reads it.

Doyoung feels out of place, like perhaps he’s the one knocking on the window trying to be let in. Jaehyun reads his letter with no further words and the only sound in the room is the pigeon’s loud pecking. Then, a soft smile that grows on his face, one that Doyoung doesn’t think he’s seen before, and that strange feeling in his chest starts to burn.

“Well, I should probably go,” Doyoung says, shifting the weight between his feet. “I’ll definitely have Johnny know about these clothes.”

Jaehyun looks up in surprise as if he’s already forgotten Doyoung was there. “Oh, I’m so sorry Doyoung. I’ll answer this later, let me finish up with you.”

“No, no, it’s fine. That message is far more important,” Doyoung says quickly, tying up the sack. “Travelled a long way, I imagine.”

Jaehyun gazes between Doyoung and the pigeon and nods. “Thank you for understanding. I do apologize, again. We can continue this some other time. I wasn’t expecting a message but I’m glad to have gotten one anyway. I had been waiting for one for a very long time.”

“I hope your friend is doing well.” Doyoung doesn’t mean to place emphasis on the word, but he does anyway. He doesn’t mean to sound cold - but he does as well. Doyoung doesn’t mean to do a lot of the things he does.

“He is,” Jaehyun replies, but his expression is oddly pensive, as if he’s thinking about something that’s so painful he can’t contain all the sadness inside. “That’s all I could wish for.” He taps the sack once. “When you get home, have a look through the clothes yourself. There might be one or two items that could possibly fit you.”

“I’m sure that’s not necessary,” Doyoung begins but Jaehyun shakes his head, preemptively avoiding the polite argument that would undoubtedly begin.

“Thanks again for coming over, Doyoung. It means a lot that you’re always here for me.” The pigeon hops onto Jaehyun’s hand, looking up at him and cooing, seeds clinging to the brown feathers of its belly. 

“I’m just being a good neighbour,” Doyoung says quietly.

Doyoung walks home from this house visit rather happier than usual, Mrs. Lee was mercifully agreeable in her examination today and it took much quicker than expected. With the rest of his schedule is cleared, Doyoung is already mentally booking his evening plans for a cup of Kun’s chai tea while reclining in that fancy chair in his bedroom. He’s walking through the back path of the Cerasus Manor, thinking he’ll just go straight to the kitchen rather than waste the effort entering the front door when he notices a depression in the leaf litter.

It’s probably nothing but Doyoung’s curiosity takes over and when he leans down, he gasps and instantly wishes he didn’t see it. A bird is splayed out on the ground as if thrown there, wings crumpled under its brown belly and its neck horribly twisted the wrong way around at the most cruelest of angles. Dead, of course, obviously, why is Doyoung surprised that the poor bird is dead with the way its neck has been clearly strangled.

It’s sickening - but also strange and Doyoung can’t quite seem to tear his gaze away from the poor animal. It’s sympathy for the creature of course, but something more. Familiarity. There’s this feeling inside that Doyoung’s seen this bird before, which is objectively ridiculous, he’s seen pigeons so often, he can’t expect to recognize one out of the thousands he’s seen in his lifetime, and it’s not even like there’s that many in Rookswood, in fact the most recent one he saw was that messenger pigeon Jaehyun got-

A queasiness grows in Doyoung’s stomach and he steps back, attempting to purge the awful sight from his mind, but in the fractions of seconds as he blinks, he sees the bird’s broken neck in his mind. He turns his key into the door with quivering fingers and nods at Johnny standing in the kitchen, washing his hands.

He turns to Doyoung, smiling. “Oh, welcome Doyoung. I didn’t expect you to be home so early. Good day at work?”

Doyoung gives some inconsequential answer that he instantly forgets, distracted by the stray brown feathers clinging to Johnny’s shirt.

Chapter Text

Kun’s grin is illuminated by the glow of twinkly lights, a contrast against the Rookswood night sky. He looks down at Doyoung from where he’s sat on the balcony, waving cheerfully. His nose is cherry red and despite the wind that ruffles his hair, he is unaffected by the cold which permeates the night air.

“What do you think, Doctor? Does it match up to those fancy city lights?” Kun calls down.

It must have taken him all day. Possibly longer. Cerasus Manor from a distance is a blur of monolithic black among an even darker sky - but up close, it’s dazzling. Across every inch of the old stone, tiny lights gleam, basking the manor in an ethereal radiance. They are meticulously placed, a halo around the building, and even Kun can’t mask the pride from showing on his face.

“The city wishes it could look even a fraction as beautiful as the manor tonight,” Doyoung says, raising his voice to meet Kun. “It's incredible, Kun.”

The city can be depended upon to showcase the Christmas trees that dot the front of the houses, but that’s it, that’s about the extent of yuletide cheer that the city collectively musters - Rookswood is another matter altogether. The church bells ring every evening for mass, and the rooks reply in turn with their cawing, the ruffle of feathers as they swim across the sky - and all of these ominous symphonies are surrounded by a landscape of delicately decorated trees and fairy lights. There’s a jovial edge to the air, and even the straight-faced citizens seem to stitch their smile a little easier. Doyoung doesn't mean to,  but he gets swept up in the festivities of it, and he's never been more excited for the holiday.

“Mr. Seo is a traditional kind of man. You wouldn’t think it but he really indulges in the Christmas spirit,” Kun says, fondness in his voice. “It was only when he took office that I started decorating the house beyond just the tree in the sitting room.”      

“It looks incredible, Kun. I’d stay out here all night staring if I could,” Doyoung says. His skin betrays his intention - the hairs stand up all across his forearms. The wind at this time of evening is unforgiving, and he never put on his gloves - but it’s worth it to see Kun beaming in pride at his handiwork. Doyoung watches mutely as Kun gives one final nod of approval to the lights and then makes his way down the ladder, dusting his hands on his overalls when he gets down.

“Thanks for waiting,” Kun says, grinning. “But we best get inside, can’t spend Christmas with a cold, now can we?” He wipes his feet on the paving before he walks inside, hanging up his coat. “Not that we’re even spending the holiday together.”

“I did tell you I was sorry,” Doyoung says, stepping into the warmth. “But I promised my sister. I’ll be around a few days after – I’m certain there’ll still be leftovers.”

“It won’t be the same,” Kun proclaims, sighing into the house and Doyoung feels a flash of guilt.

“I am sorry, Kun, I know your roast would be amazing but-” he trails off upon seeing Kun explode into laughter.

“I’m just joking around, Doctor, I’m happy you’re going home,” Kun says, grinning. “If myself and Sua can go home to see our families – if our own mayor can as well, surely you should be allowed to as well. We can leave the house empty for a bit. Would do it good.” Kun pauses to turn around and observe Doyoung up and down. He leans forward, pinching one of his cheeks. “When you have your Christmas dinner, eat a lot. You’re very handsome, but you’d look much more attractive if your face was fuller.”

“I’ll make sure to remember that.” Doyoung winces.

“Get some meat on your bones, and I can arrange to have you wed by next November.” Kun wipes imaginary fluff off Doyoung’s shoulders. “And let me know about your sister as well, I have some delightful nephews that could suit her perfectly.”

“I’ll be sure to find out,” Doyoung says, privately laughing at the idea of informing Gahyeon he’s gotten her proposed without her knowledge. It would be hilarious until she gets her hands around his neck and starts throttling. “I’ll miss your breakfasts more than anything else, Kun.”

“Oh Doctor, don’t make me miss you,” Kun laughs. He walks down the hall, humming the tune of a church hymn.

 

Taeil played the violin. He picked it up in his youth, he had told Doyoung once, at the request of his mother. Even to Doyoung’s musically untrained ears, it was clear that Taeil’s virtuosity left much to be desired. It was by no means a criticism on his talent - the fact remained that medical school did not leave much by way of free time, especially to spend on playing an instrument for sheer enjoyment rather than, say, sleep.

Taeil tried though. In brief moments, like the semester breaks, he’d carry his leather case to campus and sit on the steps, flicking through his sheet music, adjusting his fingers on his violin, and asking Taeyong for his opinion on a particular section. It was Taeyong after all, that was more versed in the appreciation of music - perhaps Doyoung was just too common to recognize the impact of a well-played sonata. He could enjoy Taeil’s music from the simple part of his brain that enjoyed the pleasing arrangement of notes, but there was never any connection beyond contentment. 

It could just be an effect of the time of year, but Doyoung finds himself missing the sound of Taeil’s violin. Every Christmas, Taeil would take advantage of the brief refuge from his university education to refine his violin skills, usually playing Christmas carols, and Doyoung would sit placidly and smile and clap at the appropriate moments. Taeil was good at those, Doyoung guessed, he’d never heard someone perform Silent Night quite as spectacularly as Taeil did, after all. The first weeks of December feel empty without the appropriate music surrounding them and Doyoung doesn’t realize that he starts counting down the days until he hears them again.

 

It’s still two weeks to Christmas, a week before Doyoung leaves, and already the house seems empty - most noticeably of Johnny, despite not actually having left yet. Rather, he spends most meals locked in his study, and if he’s not there, he’s in the lower streets of Rookswood, engaged in perpetual meetings. His shoulders seem to tremble under his increased stress - it’s hard to fully comprehend exactly what has him stomping around his manor and smoking with more frequency, but it clearly has him upset. He eats his morning breakfast with a permanent frown on his brow, and more than once he’s snapped at Sua for some trivial matter like forgetting to varnish the banisters.

It’s in this brewing storm that Doyoung finds himself, and he’s never been more thrilled at the idea of going home, of getting to escape the rising tensions of the Cerasus Manor, even if it means coping with the tensions he had attempted to leave behind in the city to begin with.

“Johnny, I just wanted to confirm my Christmas leave. Seven days, if that’s alright, leaving next week Monday,” Doyoung tells Johnny over dinner.

Johnny doesn’t even look up from his plate of grilled pork and peaches. He stabs his knife into the fruit, the sweet juice trickling onto the plate. “That sounds fine.”   

Doyoung at least attempts to dispel some of the lingering hostility that radiates off Johnny like a coat of thorns. “Do you have any plans for the holiday?” he says, ignoring the fact that he already knows the answer.

Johnny looks up at Doyoung as if he’s already forgotten he’s there. “Yes. I usually stay at my family’s estate for Christmas. It’s a few streets down from the town square.”

“It should be nice to be with your family again.”

“Sure,” Johnny says, and plunges into another peach, savagely tearing off a chunk and biting into it. “It’ll be wonderful. Are you looking forward to seeing your family and friends as well?”

“I am,” Doyoung says, for simplicity’s sake.

“I think it’ll be good for you,” Johnny decides, pausing to chew. “You need to go back to the city for a bit, play around with your own friends. I do worry about who you associate yourself with in this town. There are some unsavoury people within my beloved Rookswood, and I wouldn’t want you to fall victim to them.”

Doyoung purses his lips. “I’m not sure what you mean, Johnny.”

“I mean no offense to your judge of character, of course, but do be careful, Doyoung. Roses aren’t native to Rookswood, and neither is the man who grows them.”

“We’re just neighbours,” Doyoung says, his mouth dry.

“Of course,” Johnny says, and it’s the first smile that Doyoung has seen since the start of December. “It would be best to keep it that way. But that’s just my own advice.”

 

Sound is nothing more than vibrations travelling through airwaves. The inherent physical phenomena of sound is not particularly spectacular nor is it particularly interesting. In the same manner that the unpleasant screech of wailing children can be written down as the sum of its wavelength, so can be said for each and every one of Beethoven's symphonies. Doyoung cares much more for the anatomical aspect. The human ear is an incredible organ of sound interpretation, able to pick up frequencies between 20 and 20,000 Hertz. Such a massive range is incredible, Doyoung realizes this objectively, but the second he hears Jaehyun play the piano he realizes it's not enough, he needs more.

His imperfect ears are not meant to handle such beauty as the music that drifts from the piano. Doyoung had not meant to enter when he noticed Jaehyun's door ajar, and his knock was left unanswered - but he did and once he heard the hypnotic melody, there was a magnetism drawing him towards the source of the piano.

He scaled up the stairs in a trance, unable to focus on anything other than the gentle assembly of notes. It's a melancholic tune and it chokes at Doyoung's throat with it's overpowering emotion. It brings forth an emotion in him that Doyoung cannot begin to name and he enters the room where the music stems from with utter care, so as not to disrupt Jaehyun. He’s intruding, he knows he is, but he can’t bear to tear himself away from the compelling piano music - he feels entirely captured.

The line of Jaehyun’s figure is compelling against the backdrop of his upright piano, curved over the instrument. The piano itself is wooden, with a soft melodic noise, like it’s been carefully cared for. And yet, there’s only one arm that plays notes - his right.

“You play one-handed,” Doyoung says and the song stops.

There’s a pause before Jaehyun turns around. “I do,” he says, blinking. “Good afternoon Doyoung, I didn’t hear you come in.” It’s not quite a chastisement - there’s more curiosity than anything else.

“The door was open,” Doyoung says, fixing his gaze at the ground.. “And then I heard you playing and…”

There’s something so human about the way Jaehyun’s eyes widen, that vulnerability that comes with artistic expression, and when he speaks, his words are misshapen, like he doesn’t want them to come out but they’ve forced their way up his throat. “Did you like it?”

“You’re incredible, Jaehyun,” Doyoung says, not realizing how soft his voice has gone. “You’re absolutely incredible.”

“It would sound better if I played with both hands, I realize this, but I do try and make up for it-”

Doyoung shakes his head. “No, Jaehyun, not at all, I feel like your music is something unlike I’ve ever experienced before. I wish I could explain it but…” he trails off. “I feel I could listen to you play for hours.”

Jaehyun exhales. “Thank you, Doyoung. It means a lot coming from you.” He turns his body away from the piano, facing Doyoung entirely, and he almost wishes he never came up the stairs - he would have preferred to just stay in the hallway, waiting for the song to continue.  “To what do I owe this delightful visit?”

“I do apologize for entering without permission,” Doyoung says, flushing. “Your door was open…”

“Oh, Doyoung, I don’t mind in the slightest. You’re welcome in my home at any time, whether or not I’m at the door. I’d say there’s an open invitation for you,” Jaehyun replies, gazing at him with those honey eyes. He looks up to the window for a moment, and sighs. “I was hoping for a message from my friend, but the pigeon hasn’t been around for ages. I hope she’s okay, and just taking a scenic flight.”

A sickening feeling uncurls in his gut. It spreads to all of him as he thinks of the bird’s empty eyes and snapped neck and his entire bloodstream feels toxic. But Doyoung sets his face in a mask of composure and he rehearses what he’s been taught to say, like it’s just any other patient in a hospital. 

“I have some bad news about that, Jaehyun,” Doyoung says, voice measured. “I believe that the pigeon your friend sent is dead. I saw it in the backyard of the Cerasus Manor.”

Jaehyun blinks. “Dead?”

“It was strangled,” Doyoung says carefully. “I make no claim to be any veterinarian, but that is certainly what it seemed like.”

Doyoung had braced himself for sadness, he’d even prepared himself for the possibility that Jaehyun would cry. He was however, not prepared for the look of absolute hopelessness that crosses Jaehyun’s face, the way his eyes seem to go hollow, and he leans back against the piano, causing a discordance of notes to echo around the room.

“Strangled?” he says softly.

Doyoung hesitates before he continues. “Johnny…”

And Jaehyun’s expression instantly shifts. “What about him?” he asks, sitting up straight.

“I saw feathers on his sweater,” Doyoung says carefully. “I’m not suggesting anything, but I felt the need to tell you that as well.”

“Ah,” is all Jaehyun says. He takes a moment to compose himself, gazing just past Doyoung’s head and breathing  - and then his eyes flutter back to Doyoung’s, warm. “Thank you for letting me know. I’m sure there’s an understandable explanation for everything.” He doesn’t sound like he believes himself.

“I’m sorry, Jaehyun,” Doyoung says softly.

“Don’t look so sad. It’s almost Christmas.” Jaehyun purses his lips for a moment and his hands start fiddling with the buttons of his blazer. They’re shiny and gold. “I was actually wondering if perhaps you’d like to come over for Christmas lunch. I usually spend it alone, and I know you’re new in town. If you don’t have any plans, I’d love to have you here to celebrate the day.”

“Oh… Jaehyun.” There’s a part of him, an entirely irrational and impulsive part that wants to accept the invitation, wants to plan the menu and pick the wine already - but he knows he’s already got his train ticket booked, and he knows Gahyeon is waiting for him. “I would have loved to - but I’m going home for Christmas.”

“Home?” Jaehyun repeats. “You’re going to the city?”

Doyoung nods. “There’s a tradition of sorts - my sister hosts the Christmas lunch for myself and our two closest friends. I’ve been rather poor at keeping in touch and I sent in my last letter my intentions to spend the holiday with them. I do apologize, Jaehyun, I would have accepted otherwise.”

There’s a fraction of a second where Jaehyun looks disappointed, like a single minor note played out of place in a symphony. But then it’s gone, and he smiles. “But that sounds wonderful, Doyoung. You must have missed them all terribly, and it’ll be so nice to see them again.”

“I am sorry, I would have loved to…” he trails off.

“Don’t worry about me - you deserve a lovely time with your family. Just, do come back? I think I might miss you too much if you don’t.”

It isn’t fair that Jaehyun is just so effortlessly captivating that he can just twist Doyoung’s heartstrings into knots as he pleases. It’s highly difficult to ignore such feelings when it seems likely his lungs will fracture into fields of sunflowers at any moment.

“I’ll be gone for a week,” Doyoung says, clearing his throat. “I’m leaving on Monday.”

“Would you like me to accompany you to the station? I can call for a taxi.”

“Oh, no, not at all, I was planning on walking, a taxi isn’t necessary,” Doyoung says quickly.

“You can’t walk in such cold weather, Doyoung, you know I won’t let you catch a cold.” Jaehyun pauses. “Besides, it will be the last time I see you until Christmas is over. I’d like to say goodbye to you.”

And that’s perhaps reason enough for Doyoung to agree. “If you’re sure.”

“Of course I am,” Jaehyun says. His fingers rap on his desk. “I can’t have you go all the way to the city without seeing you off myself.”

“Have you ever gone back yourself?” Doyoung asks, curious.

“To the city? No, never.” His voice leaves no room for ambiguity and he avoids looking at Doyoung in lieu of holding out the cuff of his sleeve, frowning at the loose thread that hangs from it. He picks up the letter opener from his desk and cuts it off, smoothing down the fabric.

“Might be nice to go back sometime,” Doyoung says. Together, seems to be the unintended and unspoken implication.

“Maybe,” Jaehyun says, and his answer is uncertain but his smile is sincere.

 

There’s a knock on the door and even though Doyoung does attempt to sprint down the stairs, nearly tripping over his own feet, his suitcase hammering against each individual step on the way down - he still doesn’t make it in time to open it. He would have thought it would be Kun at the entrance hall - perhaps Sua, if she was already done making up the bedrooms. Doyoung had almost forgotten that the owner could actually open the door to his own house.

“Jaehyun,” Johnny says, and he states his name like both the beginning and the end of a sentence.

“Johnny,” Jaehyun says. “How nice to see you.”

Johnny is a steeple and he gazes down at Jaehyun with distaste, as if his very presence brings a bad moon to rise. Doyoung hesitates on the stairs, sensing the tension building up like the swells before a tsunami.

“Is there a particular reason why you’re on my doorstep? I don’t recall asking anything of you,” Johnny says and Doyoung can see his shoulders are raised like sharp mountain peaks.

“I’m here to take Doyoung to the train station. I hired a taxi,” Jaehyun says. His voice is quiet, restrained.

“That’s uncharacteristically friendly of you.”

Jaehyun’s lips are pursed. Doyoung can understand why everyone else describes Jaehyun as quiet, if this is his usual conversational pattern. “We can all afford to be a bit kinder, can we not?”

“On a piano player’s salary? Your extravagance seems to betray your means.” Johnny seems to bite back a laugh at his own remark.

Doyoung’s vague impression of the relationship between Jaehyun and Johnny was one of polite neighbours; certainly Johnny must trust Jaehyun to allow him into his house, to brighten his home with the roses he grows himself and yet, there seems to be an aura of something much deeper that permeates the two of them. They talk like their words are being monitored and their undertones are not.

“While I’m apprehensive of the fact that it’s my personal physician, I must say that I’m glad you’ve made a friend,” Johnny says. “It’s certainly a much better option for you than trying to keep in contact with your old ones.”

Jaehyun falters, his mask of indifference cracking. “I… I know about the pigeon.”

From this particular angle Doyoung is obscured by the banisters, and he halts his breathing as he awaits Johnny’s response. He’s not one to fall temptation to eavesdropping, he really isn’t, but he’s trapped in this particular position - and he gets the distinct impression that this is a confrontation that needs to play out. After all, Johnny is a nice man. He wouldn’t just strangle a pigeon.

“Oh? You do?” Johnny doesn’t sound particularly apologetic. “Well, I’m certain you must have expected something would happen when you decided to do something quite so stupid to begin with. I truly expected better from you, Jaehyun.”

“It was just a letter, Johnny, it has been years,” Jaehyun protests, his voice betraying the emotion underlying it. Doyoung feels his stomach sink as he thinks back to the broken bird and before the bird, the way Jaehyun’s face had lit up at the letter he read.

“Jaehyun, I’m not about to argue with you,” he says, adjusting his glasses. “I’m the mayor of Rookswood for a reason, and you know I’m just not very fond of birds that aren’t rooks. I don’t like hawks, I don’t like parrots, and I don’t like pigeons.”

“I don’t understand why you had to-” Jaehyun’s hand curls into a fist. “You didn’t have to kill her, she was an innocent bird, she wasn’t even mine-”

“Of course I had to kill it, Jaehyun. Pigeons are pests, after all.”

Not that one.

The step squeaks under Doyoung’s footstep and they both swing their heads up at the intrusion to their discussion. He rushes down, suitcase tumbling after. He pauses at the foot of the stairs, smiling at both of them.

“Hello there, hope I’m not interrupting,” he says, and he must be grinning so broadly the sides of his lips hurt. The picture of nonchalance he projects has cracks all across it. 

“Not at all, we were done talking,” Jaehyun says through his restrained smile. “Are you ready to go, Doyoung? I wouldn’t want you to miss your train.”

There’s an hour and a half before his train departs. There’s no way they could be late at this time even if they crawled to the station.

“Why don’t you help him with his bags, Jaehyun?” Johnny asks, stepping aside, walking further into the house. Jaehyun, however, does not enter, and remains as stiff as a statue on the doorstep. His face contorts into a grimace.

“Don’t worry about it, Jaehyun,” Doyoung says quickly, pulling his suitcase to the door. “It’s not heavy.”

Jaehyun thrusts his hands into the pockets of his trenchcoat. “The taxi is outside.”

“Let me just say goodbye to Johnny. Would you like to come inside?” Doyoung asks. He wishes there was some way he could diffuse the tension that lingers in the air but Doyoung realizes he’s doomed himself to secrecy or admitting his eavesdropping - neither reality seeming particularly ideal.

Jaehyun blinks slowly. “I’m fine outside.”

“Please come inside, Jaehyun. The wind is bitterly icy,” Doyoung says and he didn’t actually expect Jaehyun to listen this time, and consequently, is shocked at the speed at which he brushes past him.

“Wouldn’t want you to catch a cold,” Johnny says placidly. 

Jaehyun doesn’t respond. He stares at one of the walls, a gilded frame currently housing a portrait of an embittered forest. Swirls of dark green and blue conspire to create a haunting image, and he deliberately seems to occupy himself with observing the painting to give Doyoung an opportunity to say his farewells.

Doyoung puts on his coat, tying each button and then sealing his hands with his thick gloves. He nods to Johnny. “Have a wonderful Christmas, Johnny. I hope you enjoy your time with your family,” Doyoung says, extending his hand.

Johnny looks more like how he usually does: friendly and warm. He pulls Doyoung into a firm handshake. “You too, Doyoung. It must feel good to go back to the city after so long.”

“We should get going,” Jaehyun says abruptly, detaching himself from staring at the painting.  

Doyoung takes a final look at the house - he’ll be back in a week, it’s hardly a dramatic parting, but the unmistakable downgrade in class and prestige when at his sister’s house would be difficult to adjust to. He’ll certainly miss the privileges that come with having a maid who makes up his sheets and an estate keeper who cooks breakfast.

He steps outside, instantly bracing himself against the cold. Jaehyun follows, pausing when he brushes past Johnny. He leans into Johnny’s ear, a hand pressing on his shoulder and whispers something indecipherable.

And Johnny laughs, full-bellied and loud - and when he whispers, there’s no doubt that Doyoung can hear every word. “Oh Jaehyun, keep this up and the neck I break next will be yours.”

 

“Thank you for the taxi,” Doyoung says softly, nails digging into the plush of the worn leather seats. There’s a partition in place and the difference between the driver and the backseats may as well be a division between worlds. “I’ll reimburse you, of course-”

Jaehyun waves his hand. “Don’t even concern yourself with that. I can’t have you walking all the way to the station with such a heavy bag.”

Said heavy bag is currently between them in the backseat. Jaehyun had originally offered to place it in the trunk but Doyoung had declined, his own anxiety preferring to have it in sight. It appears to be a stroke of genius on Doyoung’s part, because the barrier between himself and Jaehyun is welcome. Heaven forbid Doyoung do something silly like accidentally brush against his knee, he’d be so mortified he’d never come back to Rookswood.

Jaehyun is smiling now, his face glowing with its warmth. He’s different now that he’s no longer near Johnny. Or rather - he’s more like himself. Doyoung’s own curiosity rattles around his head but he restrains himself, unsure if it’s ever his place to get involved with whatever deeper history lies between Johnny and Jaehyun. There’s that all too present concern that perhaps there is a good reason as to why Johnny cautioned against him, and Doyoung doesn’t think he’d like to have Johnny proven right in that regard.

“Are you excited to go home?” Jaehyun asks, pulling Doyoung out of his spiral of thoughts.

“I missed Gahyeon tremendously,” Doyoung says after he thinks about it. He did miss her. He misses a lot of things about the city. He misses the cars hooting that keeps him awake, he misses the way dawn looms over the factories and he misses how after it rains, the road always looks like its sparkling like instead of gravel, it’s lined with tiny diamonds.

And he misses the people he left behind. After all, it’s not Christmas without Taeil’s carols as he sits by the fire. He won’t pretend that he’s too excited to see Taeyong, rather he’s keen to avoid any actual conversations with him - conversations that most likely will begin with ‘is there any particular reason why you haven’t written back to me in six months?’.

He looks to his side at Jaehyun, remaining remarkably stable despite the taxi’s jerky movements on the uneven road. While he is some sort of ‘friend’, the word doesn’t seem heavy enough to hold the gravity of what Doyoung feels for Jaehyun. There’s a thread of pity, he feels sympathy at what must be so draining to live a life so lonely. And, of course, there’s concern that any good doctor feels for his patients, and even if he isn’t one yet, he dreams of a day where he coaxes Jaehyun into accepting his help, into letting him play his instrument with both hands again.

And then there’s something else, something indistinct and rose-scented that swirls at his heart. Doyoung keeps that locked up, nice and tightly, close enough that he can always feel its lingering imprint on his skin, but obscured from any other prying eyes.

“You should make a big meal for Christmas,” Doyoung says after a while, attempting to distract himself from his own thoughts. “Like a roast.”

Jaehyun stares absolutely perplexed and Doyoung feels that the solution to this momentary desynchronization of their minds is to just keep talking.

“And carols, do you know any? On the piano?”

“I’m certain I do, perhaps if I read the sheet music to remind myself. Do you… like carols?” Jaehyun asks. “I hadn’t pictured you as the type of man to particularly enjoy something like We Three Kings.”

“Ah, not immensely, but I do associate them with the time of year and the festivities. One of my closest friends often plays carols.” Doyoung pauses. “It certainly puts me in the Christmas spirit.”

“I just am not quite sure I understand the link between cooking a roast and the songs,” Jaehyun says, as gently as possible. His eyebrows are furrowed in confusion and Doyoung forces himself to avert his gaze from how precious he looks.

“Ah, I just… it sounds ridiculous,” Doyoung says, promptly staring at his shoes.

“Tell me.” His voice is impossible to ignore - and still kind.

“I do apologize for not being able to spend the holiday with you, but I think it could still be an enjoyable time. I hope it will.” Doyoung regrets saying anything. “And perhaps it will, if you do things like that, that make it seem more like Christmas.”

“Oh.” Jaehyun says, his voice undeniably fond. “Doyoung.”

 He looks up into Jaehyun’s golden eyes.

“I tell you to stop worrying about my arm and all you do is redirect that into worrying about my loneliness.” His smile is radiant. “I don’t really care for the season at all, if I’m to be honest, and I have no qualms about spending it by myself. You, on the other hand, should go home and spend time with your sister, and all your friends - and then you should come back, because Rookswood could never survive without its new doctor.”

The thing is, when Jaehyun’s looking at him like that, Doyoung doesn’t think he wants to leave at all.

The taxi slows down and Doyoung wonders why - until he pulls his gaze away from his captivating neighbour and to the window, where the dark gravel of the train station can already be seen.

“Ah, we’re here. Let me help you with this,” Jaehyun says, and he’s out of the car with his suitcase before Doyoung can even attempt to protest. He takes a moment to breathe deeply before he exits and he instantly longs for the insulation of the car as the wind whips at the skin of his cheeks.

Jaehyun takes one look at his already-reddening nose, and his face blooms into a mix of pity and laughter. “Oh, you are freezing aren’t you?”

It’s unfair that Jaehyun looks as composed as he always does when it appears as if Doyoung might topple over at a particularly strong gust of wind. Now’s the time for farewells, he supposes. it’s alright, he thought about this on the car ride over and he’s decided to go with a traditional “Merry Christmas”, nothing too personal-

“I have something for you,” Jaehyun says, jamming the brakes on Doyoung’s train track thoughts.

What?” Doyoung says, and then collects himself. “Sorry, that was rude. I’m just… surprised. What do you have for me?”

“Your Christmas present, of course,” Jaehyun says, and he proudly pulls out a book-shaped package, bound with a white ribbon from behind his back. Doyoung stares at his hands.

“You didn’t have to get me anything, Jaehyun, oh, I didn’t think we were exchanging gifts-” Doyoung breaks off and looks up. “I can’t accept this.”

“Doyoung, take it. I guarantee you that I’ll have no use for it. It’s quite catered towards you.”

So Doyoung does, he holds it in his own hands, trying not to let them shake or shudder. He’s careful in the way he unties the ribbon and pulls the wrapping off, staring in mute amazement at the tome which is now held in his unsteady grip.

Henry Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body remains as one of the most influential publications of biology to ever be written and Doyoung can scarcely comprehend that he’s staring down at it right now. It’s immensely thick, and his gaze is reverent as he flips through the pages. He doesn’t mean for his eyes to glisten, it’s a mistake, he’d not dare spoil the pages of this masterpiece with his salty tears but he cannot control the flood of emotion as he stares down at the intricately detailed and labelled diagrams of the human body as he turns the corners. He traces his finger down the spherical curve of a skull, pausing at each label, trying to absorb the information. He could read this for hours, for days and never be done, never be tired, never be bored.

It must have cost a fortune.

Doyoung lifts his gaze to meet Jaehyun, and Doyoung is aware that his eyes are still watery and his face is still flushed and the wind messes up his hair - but the way Jaehyun looks at him, it makes him think he must look as dazzling as the sun. It’s the only explanation for that gentle smile which grows on his face, for that softness in his golden eyes.

“I love it,” Doyoung murmurs. “It must have been so expensive Jaehyun, how can I ever thank you…”

“You have nothing to thank me for,” Jaehyun says. “I was just being very selfish and wanted my present to be the first that you open. I hope you’ll forgive that sin of mine.”

Doyoung struggles to contain the smile that’s edging on his face. “There’s nothing to forgive. Jaehyun, I don’t think I’ll ever forget this.”

“Good. Don’t.” He passses the handle of the suitcase to Doyoung and beams. “Still, your train will be here soon. You should get going.”

“Oh, and the meter’s still running,” Doyoung gasps, staring at the taxi in horror. “Jaehyun, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stand dumbstruck for five minutes.”

“Forget about the taxi, the only mode of transportation you need to be concerned about is your train,” Jaehyun chastises, his amusement barely hidden. He shepherds Doyoung into the station entrance, still not chasing away the taxi.

Christmas has come to the train station as well - tinsel and mistletoe line the walls and ceiling, and in the gap between tracks is an impressive pine tree, baubles hanging from its leaves. It’s all meaningless to Doyoung, who stares down at the cover of the book he cradles in his hands, depending entirely on Jaehyun for directions. The leaf of a mistletoe brushes past Jaehyun’s face on its way down when he stops walking, at the edge of the platform. He looks at Jaehyun, attempting to express his gratitude one further time.

“Doyoung,” Jaehyun says, effectively silencing him before he even opens his mouth. “You’re welcome. Your joy is all that I wanted. Send my love to Gahyeon, and stay safe, alright?”

“Merry Christmas Jaehyun,” Doyoung says softly, and he’s not sure what he’s supposed to do next. Jaehyun does.

His hand cups Doyoung’s cheek delicately, like he’s made of the most gentle gilded glass and Doyoung feels his breathing stutter. He stands still, unwilling to move a muscle, unwilling to fracture this moment. Jaehyun’s thumb brushes across the cold-reddened skin of his cheek and Doyoung’s eyes flutter closed unconsciously when he sees Jaehyun near towards him.

It burns where Jaehyun’s lips brush against his cheek. The kiss is soft, the kiss is light, the kiss is like the first breath of air on a cold morning and the kiss is like the last vision of the moon on a warm evening. His heartbeat rushes.

“I hope you’ll forgive me,” Jaehyun says, and he sounds out of breath. “But we’re under a mistletoe, and I’ve been feeling fond of tradition lately.”

“There’s nothing to forgive.” Doyoung opens his eyes and does Jaehyun just always look so absolutely celestial? Or is it more so now, when there’s a shy smile on his face, and when he removes his hand from the curve of Doyoung’s jaw, and curls them together in front of him, fidgeting in nervousness.

“Merry Christmas Doyoung.”

Doyoung wonders why a man so charming and lovely, who makes his heart glisten and glimmer, lives a life so lonely.

 

 

Time is relative. Doyoung can account for the precise manner in which he spends every hour at the Cerasus Manor, can detail his day down to the minute - yet when he steps onto the concrete pavement of the city, it already feels like he’s out of synchronization with the world around him. He’s delayed. He begins one sentence and by the time it finishes, the conversation passes. Rookswood is out of time with the universe and Doyoung’s not sure how to get himself back to where he needs to be - and it’s difficult when all he thinks about is someone he’s left behind in the bird-infested town.

Doyoung doesn’t miss his friends, and he definitely doesn’t miss his family and that’s what he tells himself on those lonely nights in his empty bedroom - but then he sees the flash of curly black hair as she runs across the station platforms. Gahyeon grabs his arm and pushes herself up to her full height, kissing him on the cheek. She smells like cinnamon. “Welcome home, Doyoung,” she breathes, and Doyoung starts to remember that he is someone besides the personal physician to the mayor.

 

“You aren’t folding that properly,” Gahyeon scolds, flicking his hands with the wet cloth. “It needs to be a triangle.”

It needs to be a triangle,” Doyoung mimics, but unfurls the tablecloth and attempts again. “I’ve been folding all day.”

“Then I would have thought you’d be better at it by now,” Gahyeon replies, sweeping past him and opening the cutlery drawer. The preparation for Christmas lunch requires far more work than Doyoung anticipated - the sheer amount of cleaning that needs to be done is horrifying, and he envies Taeil and Taeyong who can use the excuse of ‘saving lives at the hospital’ to get out of cleaning Gahyeon’s house.

“I need four of those dessert spoons, you know the ones with the flower handle? Do you remember where Mother put them last year? I know she used them for Easter but I’m completely dumbfounded as to what she did with them afterwards. Do you think she took them home?” As she rifles through the spoons, she pauses, looking up. “Doyoung?”

“Oh come now, this is a triangle,” he protests, holding out the table cloth. “And I don’t know anything about spoons either.”

“No, it’s not that.”

“What is it then?”

“I just realized I didn’t ask you if you were okay with Taeyong coming to the Christmas lunch. Or even if you wanted him invited to tonight’s gettogether,” Gahyeon speaks very slowly, fingers still in the drawer. “I just assumed it would be the four of us like usual, but, it’s the first year since you two-”

“Yes,” Doyoung interrupts. It feels like there’s something stuck in his throat. “It’s fine. Why wouldn’t it be fine? It’s been months.”

It feels like it’s been years. The brief moment they spoke when Doyoung visited him and Taeil was entirely pleasant. There was no need to make things more awkward than they already were. Doyoung was certain that at some point, they’ll go back to normal - but until that happens, pretending that it was, was a suitable alternative.

Gahyeon gazes down with such hopelessness at the four spoons in her hand, it’s like they’ve turned into copper. “I hadn’t thought at all. I am sorry Doyoung.”

“Of all things to apologize for, this isn’t one of them,” Doyoung replies. “Besides, we’re all friends with each other. We can’t just separate our lives simply because what used to be between me and Taeyong is no longer there.”

When Doyoung first introduced his friends to Gahyeon, he had been filled with the sort of apprehension that was to be expected when merging his personal and university life. He had lectured her in great detail to not be “clingy” and “it’s only because you need somewhere to stay while our parents are on their vacation, don’t get attached to them”. It was surprising to him that Gahyeon was a natural fit in their friendship group, a band of gold among silver.

He still remembers the time he forbade her from dating either of them, to which she replied with a glint in her eye: “I really don’t think I’m Taeyong’s type.”

She’s always been too perceptive for her own good.

Even now, after the rise and fall of a relationship, Doyoung realizes he’s grateful that Gahyeon’s here. Taeil and Taeyong cast a watchful eye over her, of course, they try and make sure her house has some semblance of cleanliness, they make sure she doesn’t forget to pay her bills - but he’s also glad that Gahyeon’s there to look out for them.

Especially since Doyoung can’t anymore.

“I should have asked you first, though,” Gahyeon says, frowning.

“It really doesn’t affect me anymore,” Doyoung says, and he means it.

When they all gather around that evening, they all share wine and wish to Doyoung’s continued success. He hugs Taeyong at the door, because it’s how he greeted Taeil, and that’s the first and last physical contact he has with him for the rest of the night. Taeyong abstains from drinking and doesn’t say much of anything.They sit in the center of the room, passing around a bottle of wine, and the room feels warm. They talk for hours, and Doyoung hadn’t realized quite how lonely he was in Rookswood until he’s surrounded by his friends.

 

 It wasn’t always like this. Doyoung didn’t always feel like the days preluding to Christmas pass by in an indistinct haze of holiday cleaning and cooking, punctuated by evening conversations with his friends. It’s difficult for him to separate the hours and days from each other and he doesn’t even realize his week home is almost done until it’s December 23rd and he realizes he’s been thinking about a kiss on his cheek for four days now.

 

“So, what is the nature of your relationship to this person again?” Taeil clarifies, running his hand over the bell of a trumpet. He narrowly avoids getting bumped into the trumpet by several large children running after each other, brandishing recorders at each other like swords. The sheer cacophony of instruments being played poorly resounds over the store and Doyoung has to lean in close to make out the words he’s saying.

“He’s my neighbour,” Doyoung says.

“I can’t believe you’re putting more effort into a gift for your neighbour than for your actual sister,” Gahyeon scowls. She’s between shelves of composing books, and picks up one, glancing at the untouched staves, devoid of notes. 

“You don’t even know what I bought for you,” Doyoung mutters. He didn’t really buy her anything, to be fair. Doyoung was more practical than that when it came to his sister. He neatly tied up about half of his earnings of the past few months with a pink ribbon, knowing that despite Gahyeon’s protests, she was struggling - and he couldn’t expect Taeil to continue supporting her while she finished her studies. 

“I don’t,” Gahyeon agrees, “But I’m willing to bet that it didn’t take up this much effort.”

“Let him be, Gahyeon, you chose to come with, I was the one who was invited,” Taeil reminds her, straightening himself. “Okay, right, you said piano, correct? What’s his skill level like?”

“He’s incredible,” Doyoung says, breathlessly. “He’s the most popular piano player in the entire town. He’s often called to perform at weddings. I’ve heard him play and he’s spectacular.”

Taeil nods in thought. “Right. So skill isn’t an issue, I’ll assume. Do you have any kind of idea what music he likes? Or something you’d like to hear him play, perhaps?”

Doyoung doesn’t reply but lets Taeil escort him to the section of the music store where piano music chimes. There are several magnificent instruments on display, posing on their pedestals, enticing the music store customers to dare to approach. In the centre is a grand piano, blinking ivory and ebony keys that seem to beg to be played by capable hands. It’s a shiny obsidian, and sparkles under the harsh lighting of the store.

 Doyoung wonders what it might be like to sit beside Jaehyun while his fingers dance across keys of such an elegant nature. The very thought makes his heart rush, this idea of being close enough to Jaehyun that their legs brush together as he plays some symphony, the song playing through his head, thrumming through his veins. The thought that perhaps when he presses that final note, he could use his hands for something else, that he could press Doyoung flush against the piano and play his body like any other instrument that bends to his will, that falls apart against his talented fingers.

“I said,” Taeil repeats, with his eyebrows wrinkling into a frown, “what about a classical piece? They’re a bit more expensive, but I’m sure he’d appreciate one.”     

“Sorry,” Doyoung apologizes. He clears his throat, as if the action can be used to purge his mind of thoughts that should never see the light of day. “Ah, yes, that sounds like an excellent idea. Do you have any recommendations?”

Taeil rubs his chin thoughtfully as he strolls towards the volumes of sheet music. “Tell me what kind of person he is and I’ll pick something accordingly. I’ve been listening to far too much classical music when I’m on call at the hospital, it’s the only thing that keeps me sane. I’m certain there should be something I’ve heard that suits him.”

Doyoung falters. “I don’t know if I can do that, I’m not very good at things like that. Words. Emotions.”

“Yes, I’m very much aware of that,” Taeil says in amusement. “But this isn’t for a grade. I’m not going to critique anything. Just tell me what comes to mind when you talk to him, when you see him.”

Doyoung who tries to condense every single feeling he’s ever had and lock it in a box somewhere deep in his ribcage is not sure how to begin to describe someone as amazing and complex as Jaehyun. He doesn’t have the vocabulary to do justice to the way his honey gold eyes twinkle, nor does he have the sensitivity required to illustrate what being near him makes Doyoung feel.

And even if he did, he’d rather not tell Taeil that.

It’s for a good reason however - Jaehyun deserves a Christmas present of a magnitude equal to the one he’s given Doyoung, and if that means embarrassing himself in front of Taeil, it’s an unfortunate sacrifice. 

He hesitates, and after ensuring Gahyeon isn’t in earshot, he speaks. “He’s a quiet person. He lives in a house on a hill, and it’s a very big house and it’s a very empty house. There’s dust everywhere - he must be so lonely, I think.” Doyoung inhales. “Despite that, despite everything, he smiles. He smiles all the time, and when he smiles his eyes crinkle by the corner. His eyes are the most incredible colour I’ve ever seen, as rich as honey.”

Taeil hums under his breath, gazing at the rows of composers on the shelf. He kneels down - but briefly looks up. There’s a curious expression on his face. “Keep going.”

What more is there to say? Everything, most likely, but how can Doyoung even begin to quantify that into words. So he goes for something simple: his hobby.

“He grows roses and they’re the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen. He talks to his plants as well.” Doyoung smiles at the memory. “He’s from the city like us, but he moved to Rookswood many years ago.”

“Do you think he likes it there?” Taeil asks.

“I think…”

“You think?” Taeil prompts.

“I think he has a lot of history that weighs down on him and I think for that reason, he may not necessarily like Rookswood. I cannot begin to imagine what he’s been through in his life, but I do think that for someone who’s clearly still suffering from the lingering effects, he’s kind, he’s far too kind than he ever needs to be.” And then as an afterthought, as something that’s said before he can stop himself, Doyoung adds: “I wish he’d let me help him more.”    

Taeil stares at Doyoung for what seems like a very long time. He doesn’t say anything more. That’s the thing about Taeil that he prefers to Taeyong, he supposes. Taeil doesn’t ask too many questions; Taeil just accepts everything for what it is.

“I think I have an idea,” Taeil says, pulling out a book.

“Debussy,” Doyoung reads aloud, and the name conjures a flash of recognition. “I know him.”

“He’s very talented.  This piece is perhaps quite underrated of his, but I think it’s beautiful, and I think it suits the kind of person you described. It’s slow-moving but deceivingly detailed.”

La Demoiselle élue is bound in a beautiful book, and Doyoung pages through it, absolutely overwhelmed by the sheer structure of the notes. It’s two-handed and Doyoung wonders if he’d ever be able to play the full piece.

Of course, Doyoung would certainly try to make that to happen.

“I think it’s perfect, Taeil,” Doyoung murmurs. “I owe you for this.”

Taeil nods. “It’s no problem. You know I’m happy to help.” There’s something he’s not saying and Doyoung waits for his own words to betray him. And he does, just a moment later, as expected.

“I won’t tell Taeyong,” Taeil says. “About this. About the present. About your… neighbour.”

Doyoung’s too relieved to argue against any of those unsaid implications. He exhales. “I would appreciate that.”

“I don’t think he’d have an issue with it, but also…” Taeil swallows. “He’s been sort of having an issue with everything since you’ve come back. So, perhaps it will be best if we keep this between ourselves.”

“Thank you Taeil.”

Taeil smiles. “I missed you, you know?”

“And I missed you as well,” Doyoung says, and perhaps it’s a little bit of a white lie, because truthfully he hadn’t thought about Taeil much at all - but now, spending time with him, yes, this was enjoyable in a way he doesn’t experience with anyone else.

“Oh, you found something?” Gahyeon says, immediately divesting Doyoung’s hands of the book. “This looks intense.”

“Where did you come from?” he asks, frowning.

“I got distracted by a particularly big cello but I found you two eventually.” She flips through the pages, nodding in approval. “It’s beautiful- oh.”

“What?”

Gahyeon purses her lips. “It’s a bit pricey, is all.” She hands him back the book, cover facing downwards, and Doyoung stares at the small yellow sticker in the corner.

He can afford it. Usually, he’d be able to afford it. Except, he had portioned out half of his salary for his sister. His heart sinks.

“I didn’t realize,” Taeil says, quickly. “I’ve forgotten how expensive these can go for.”

Whatever messy crusade his heart attempts against his head, it fails. He cares for Jaehyun, of course, and he only wishes to gift him with something of some sort of comparison to that incredible anatomy book - but the fact remains that his sister needs the money more than Jaehyun needs another classical music piece.

He puts it back on the shelf. Both Gahyeon and Taeil watch him carefully, but say nothing.

“It’s fine, don’t worry about it. He’s just my neighbour,” Doyoung says, but there’s nothing about that sentence that seems true.

 

Doyoung can feel the weight of the bed shift before he sees her and consequently isn’t that surprised when he’s greeted by the sight of Gahyeon’s curls, bouncing up and down. She’s grinning brightly, holding out an apple.

“Want one?” she asks.

“It’s nearly nine,” Doyoung grumbles in response. His wrists ache from the circular motions of dish washing. He’s not sure how Gahyeon survives living on her own when she seems to be physically debilitated from the very idea of cleaning. “Why are you still awake? Go sleep. Stop bothering me.”

“So, a no on the apple?”

Doyoung extends his arm and pushes her to the side, but she remains as stubbornly obstinate as the rest of his family, himself included. “Let me sleep. We already have to get up at dawn to cook that turkey.”

“You weren’t sleeping though, were you? I saw your light was still on.”

“I was reading,” Doyoung defended. “It’s a thing people do before bed, you know.”

Gahyeon gazes bemused at the book in his hands. “Is that a medical textbook? It looks like it’s a thousand pages. Doyoung, did you bring your work home with you?”

“No!” he says. “It’s reading for pleasure.” He instantly cringes at his word choice. He carefully places Anatomy of the Human Body on the bedside table, sliding the ribbon between the pages, his makeshift bookmark. He handles it with care, not wanting to scuff the embossed cover. “I keep telling you, my job is really boring.”

She kicks off her shoes and settles into the bed, snuggling into the sheets. “If it’s so boring, why don’t you leave?”

Doyoung blinks at her. “I’m sorry?”

“I do miss you, you know?” Gahyeon says unexpectedly. She bites into the apple, and for a moment the only noise in the room is the crunching of her teeth. “I know we don’t always get along the best, but it’s been strange to have you so far away from me.”

A strangled noise emerges from Doyoung’s throat. “I mean, you have Taeil and Taeyong. They’re good enough.”

Gahyeon frowns. “I’m, of course, glad that I have them in my life but they aren’t my brother, they’re not you, Doyoung.” She sighs, biting her apple again. “I don’t think you should quit or anything, but I do feel like I should say that yes, I do miss you.”

Physical affection has always been difficult for Doyoung - his limbs have always felt like they were stretched too long and as a consequence, have a delayed response. He’s not like Taeyong who can throw his arm around anyone or even Gahyeon, who’ll kiss strangers on the cheek in greeting. Despite this though, he cautiously raises his hand and pats her hair, stroking her fringe.

She looks up at him and giggles. “You are horribly awkward, you know that?”

“I do. But I’m trying.”

“I know you are,” she sighs. “You miss me too, right?”

“Of course I do,” Doyoung says, and he does. He won’t pretend otherwise now. He misses Gahyeon’s constant phone calls and the way her voice raises an octave whenever he mentions he hasn’t eaten in the past six hours. He misses the way she cooks: while singing loudly and leaving a mess behind for some unwilling participant to clean up - who more often than not, is Doyoung himself. And he just misses his sister, simply as that, he misses having someone he grew up with to share the little things with.

“You never write back,” she says, jutting out her bottom lip and she looks like she’s fourteen again, tugging at his sleeve as he packs his suitcase for university.

“I don’t know what to say,” Doyoung says. “My days are truly boring. I see an assortment of wealthy men and women, prescribe them medicine and then I go to sleep early. Rookswood is not nearly as interesting as you think it is.”

“Then tell me what Rookswood is like,” Gahyeon says simply. “Correct my assumptions.”

So Doyoung does. He starts with the simple things. “Have you ever seen a rook?” he asks, and Gahyeon shakes her head. So he tells her. He tells her the way in which the birds leap off into the sky, a black blur as their wings beat against the crisp air. He tells her how they call to each other constantly, a never ending conversation that crosses over streets and rooftops. They peck at the ground and glare if you approach - and if you ever upset one, the townspeople look down at you with furrowed brows.

And he tells her of the tall trees he saw in the distance, the dead ash trees that give life as the nests of the rooks. How they sit in the trees and stare in wordless judgement of the town.

Gahyeon tosses the apple core into the corner and his eyebrows furrow in distaste. He’s about to rebuke her untidiness when she interrupts his thought process with: “And what about you? Are you happy there?”

“Stop worrying about me so much,” Doyoung says, and he wonders why those words seem so familiar. “Rookswood is strange, but I’ve settled in. I like the way things are there.”

“And your neighbour,” Gahyeon prompts. “You like your neighbour.”

Doyoung chokes. “Yes. And my neighbour.”

“Must be a special neighbour,” Gahyeon says, and for all the maturity she’s undergone since Doyoung left for university, she’s still his annoying little sister. “Is he handsome?”

Is Jaehyun handsome? Jaehyun is an individual who looks like he inspired Biblical depictions of saints. From his tawny hair that’s perpetually glowing, to his sharp cheekbones, he’s quite possibly the closest evidence of intelligent design that Doyoung has ever experienced. 

“Ah. I hadn’t really noticed,” Doyoung says, like a liar. “It’s so late, shouldn’t you be getting to sleep?”

But Gahyeon persists. “What does he do? For a living?”

“He grows roses.”

She claps her hands in excitement. “Oh, but that’s lovely! Has he given you flowers?”

Doyoung doesn’t immediately answer and that’s more than enough to confirm Gahyeon’s suspicions.

“Oh, he gave you roses! That’s so lovely, he sounds like a lovely man.”

Doyoung wishes to permanently remove the word from her vocabulary. His thoughts turn towards his own lack of Christmas present to give to him, after that failed first attempt. Taeil mentioned a bookstore a little out of town, perhaps he could be persuaded to accompany him again.

“I have something for you,” Gahyeon proclaims, and she sits up, pushing her hair back.

“You gave me your present already,” Doyoung says, perplexed. Gahyeon gave him an elegant scarf of sky blue, with a matching silk shirt. He won’t deny he loves the colour and that perhaps she knows his style better than he himself does - after all, it was Gahyeon who purchased his cherished lilac shirt as well.

“This isn’t technically for you,” Gahyeon says. She hops off the bed to briefly pull out a wrapped parcel leaning against the side. She slides it to Doyoung, sitting cross-legged on the sheets as she watches his reaction.

He pulls off the brown wrapping carefully. It’s of a book size, but considerably lighter and Doyoung gazes in confusion at the strange paper that is revealed. And then he realizes all the lines and squiggles: it’s music notes.

“Is this sheet music?” Doyoung gasps. It’s several pages, carefully hand-written together in a fine calligraphy, certain notes written in gold ink.

“I saw you couldn’t afford the book for your friend. Neighbour. Him,” Gahyeon says, choosing her words carefully. “And I figured that you’d probably be quite upset about it. I just sat in the store and jotted down the notes myself - no one even bothered to stop me, you know. Don’t think anyone even noticed I was there.”

“This is for me?” Doyoung says, tracing his fingers over the carefully coloured quartets.

“Can you play piano?” Gahyeon replies in an incredulous tone. “Don’t be silly. It’s for him.”

It’s for Jaehyun.

“Oh Gahyeon… I can’t begin to thank you enough, you’re amazing.” Doyoung has hugged his sister four times in one week which is far too many - but perhaps distance makes his heart grow softer. He pulls Gahyeon close and her eyes squeeze shut in contentment.

“If I’m so amazing, I’m certain you’ll volunteer to wash the dishes tomorrow,” she smirks, and Doyoung doesn’t even attempt to argue for once. Gahyeon is perhaps a saint among sisters, if just for today.

“Jaehyun’s going to love it,” Doyoung murmurs as he flips through the pages. It must have taken her hours - no wonder she was delayed for their drinks with Taeil and Taeyong yesterday.

“Jaehyun,” Gahyeon repeats, and takes his name like a triumph. “I’ll remember that name.” 

 

Christmas lunch is so much like every other Christmas that Doyoung has ever experienced that he sort of forgets that this isn’t his life anymore. He doesn’t get to sit among his friends and laugh over alcohol on a cold day anymore - and Doyoung takes his time to savour the moment, to lock it in his memory for when he returns to Rookswood, and feels the isolation creep in through the crack under his door.

Gahyeon brings out the pumpkin pie as dictated by tradition and when Taeil slices it, he takes a moment to single out Doyoung and thank him for coming.

“You’ve come a long way just to see us, and know that we do appreciate it. We’re all very happy to see you again. You look well,” Taeil declares, the wine in his glass threatening to tumble as he extends his arm. “A toast to you, Doyoung, may you continue to prosper in your town of birds.”

 Next to him, Taeyong simmers. Doyoung is too preoccupied thinking of a symphony he has yet to hear performed to notice.

 

“Gahyeon, I need to go,” Doyoung says, eyes wide and wild.

Gahyeon doesn’t respond. She snores louder at the intrusion, and Doyoung has no choice but to poke her until she moves.

“What?” she growls, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “Why are you awake? You ate so much last night, how are you still functional?”

“It’s past noon, why are you still sleeping?” Doyoung retaliates, frowning.

“Because it's Boxing Day, what else is there to do besides sleep?”

 He realizes he’s getting distracted. He inhales deeply. “Gahyeon, I need to go to Rookswood.”

“Why? What happened?” To her credit, she sits up for this, and even though her eyes are blurry and she’s yawning through her words, she seems to be trying to pay attention. “Is something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong, it’s just…”

Doyoung pauses. He’s had a lot of time to think this morning. Taeil is still passed out on the couch, and Taeyong left around 5am. Doyoung remembers hearing him open his room door and say his goodbye. Doyoung didn’t reply, of course, talking to him before dawn was an act that seemed too intimate in their current arrangement.

The fact remained that the aftermath of Christmas left Doyoung lying in his bed, thinking about what a pleasant time he’s had celebrating the holiday - and how Jaehyun must certainly be spending the day in his dusty house, rooms empty, chairs vacant. Perhaps he would play on his piano  - but the thought that no one would hear it makes Doyoung’s heart ache.

Doyoung wonders what it would have been like to be there with him, to share in an extravagant amount of good food and then drink wine until they pass out together. Doyoung just wishes to see Jaehyun beyond his perfect facade, he wants to see what Jaehyun is like when he’s not just entrapped by his house.

So, he goes to Gahyeon and looks at her and says: “I thought I’d visit Jaehyun. Before the holiday is over.”

And Gahyeon, who’s always been too perceptive for her own good, just rolls her eyes. “Let me pack you something to eat on the train.”

 

 

Doyoung curses the way his eager heart leaps at the very thought of seeing Jaehyun again. It’s been days, Doyoung can’t possibly miss him already. He hasn’t even been gone away long enough for dust to settle, it’s just ridiculous that Doyoung spends the entire train ride thinking of what awaits him when he returns, and how much he longs for the dull skies of Rookswood  - and he would die before he admits it to himself but oh, he did miss him. He misses the curve of his warm smile, he misses the soft glow of his honey eyes and he misses that breathy voice he uses whenever Doyoung makes him laugh.

Doyoung splurges on a taxi, leaving his luggage at the entrance hall of the Cerasus Manor. He’ll wheel it into his room later, he really will, but it’s growing later and later and patience doesn’t seem to be one of his virtues at this hour. He doesn't think Johnny will miss one of the bottles of red from his cellar - he'll replace it before he even notices.

Doyoung is careful in how he crosses over the street and onto Jaehyun’s property, difficult to make out the twists and turns of the path in the shallow moonlight. He approaches the door, and looks up, seeing an illuminated room on the second floor, and suppresses a smile. He’s still awake. The wine bottle in his hand hits against the handle and he adjusts himself, pushing his Christmas present further under his arm. His eagerness betrays him because he only knocks once before letting himself in.

The door is unlocked, and perhaps Doyoung once felt like he didn’t belong in Jaehyun’s house - but he doesn’t feel that way anymore. Part of the reason is certainly because of the similarities to his own home, but more than that, he associates this house with the time he spends with Jaehyun - and it’s time that he enjoys.

Doyoung doesn’t rush once he’s inside - he hangs his coat up and takes a detour into the kitchen. The gentle melody of piano music flutters through the wall and Doyoung pauses as he washes out two glasses to savour the sound. He forgoes carrying the music book, in lieu of bringing the glasses up instead. The idea of sitting side by side, sharing a bottle of wine while Jaehyun lazily presses out a tune on his piano is such a delightful way to spend the evening that Doyoung feels his cheeks redden at the possibility. He wonders what would come next, perhaps a glance sustained for too long, a hand that brushes against another, wine-drunk lips whispering something sweet and heady in his ear. Desire burns like a coal.

He’s not usually this spontaneous - but his bones have been buzzing with excitement since Gahyeon gifted him with the book, and even on the train ride here, he flipped it open, trailing his hands over the carefully transcribed musical notes in awe. It’s only while he walks up the stairs that he begins to wonder if Jaehyun would enjoy his impromptu visit - but Doyoung rationalizes that he most probably would. Jaehyun seems to enjoy Doyoung’s visits for whatever reason. Poor taste, perhaps.

It’s curious that the door to Jaehyun’s study is closed, and even more curious that there seems to be the tenor of another voice among the piano keys. And laughter. Unfamiliar laughter.

Doyoung’s eyebrows furrow. Jaehyun had expressly stated that he was spending the holidays alone, and he was not exactly known for having many visitors either - rather, Jaehyun had more or less implied that Doyoung was his only friend. Yet, there was a distinct voice on the other side of the door, and he hesitates, wondering if he’s intruding.

But there’s curiosity threading through his mind - and he’s already here. It would just be a waste to have taken the early train home to not even see the person he took it for. He holds the glasses carefully as he opens the door by jutting his hip against it. For all his mindful grip, it proves ultimately useless, because the moment the door opens, Doyoung eyes lock with a pair of crimson ones and the glasses drop.

Doyoung’s eyes close instantly, bracing for the shatter, but it never comes. He breathes, a sound that struggles to release itself from his gritted teeth. He cracks an eye open and sees the savior of the glasses grin at him, holding both of them by the slender fingers of his hand.

“Oh!” the vampire says, eyes raking over Doyoung’s form, lingering on his neck. He feels like he’s being devoured. “Is this for me?” The delight drips off his voice. He seems to grin at the fear dilated in Doyoung.

And it is fear, it’s that atavistic dread that’s born from the marrow of his bones that he currently feels because for all his understanding, for all his empathy, the self-preservation in Doyoung’s mind takes over and he’s terrified of the creature in front of him, a creature that is stronger and faster than he could ever be, with eyes the colour of its preferred meal.

“You’re pretty, aren’t you?” He shifts the glasses in his hand, revolving them in his palm.

While the rationality that still resides within him attempts to convince him that there’s an explanation for all of this - he’s still scared. He wants to run down the stairs, out of the house and all the way back to the city. Because, while this vampire is aesthetically flawless, dark hair framing an angular face, porcelain skin that sparkles, the fact remains that the only way his expression could be defined is: hungry.

Discordant notes from the piano pull Doyoung out of his reverie as the melody abruptly stops and Jaehyun jumps to his feet, eyes wide in shock. His mouth opens as he struggles to find words. “Doyoung, I…” he falters.

“Oh, is this Doyoung?”  

His name doesn’t sound right in the stranger’s mouth - it sounds familiar, like he’s a common topic of conversation. Doyoung doesn’t attempt to move but his gaze shifts to Jaehyun, uncomprehendingly. “Jaehyun?”

“Yuta, give him some space.” Doyoung has never heard such authority in Jaehyun’s voice, and it’s like his sentences are bathed in lead. “Have a seat.”

“You’ve got to introduce me properly first, Jaehyun.” There’s a mocking lilt to his voice that Doyoung doesn’t like. “Where’s your sense of hospitality?”

Jaehyun is a marble statue and his icy veneer gradually begins to crack as he accepts the realities he currently faces. He straightens himself to his full height. “Doyoung, this is Yuta. He’s a friend of mine. He’s not from here.”

Yuta extends his hand gracefully - a chained gold bracelet encircles his wrist, with connected rings wrapping around his fingers, adorning the slender bones. “It’s a pleasure, Doctor, it’s an absolute pleasure to finally meet. I’ve heard much about you.”

Doyoung stares at the outstretched arm, mind thrumming with the knowledge that this man, this vampire is aware of his profession, what else is he aware of - before his own reinforced politeness kicks in and he accepts the handshake. “I can’t say the same, unfortunately, Jaehyun has never mentioned you before.”

“Oh, that just makes me disappointed in Jaehyun. How dull your conversations must have been without mentioning me.” Yuta’s smile is blindingly bright.

Jaehyun, normally so restrained, looks like he’s ready to snap Yuta in half. The austerity of his gaze renders Yuta speechless. “Yuta. Sit down.”

Yuta obeys this time - but is unhurried about it. He brushes past Doyoung to place the wine glasses on the table next to him, and Doyoung doesn’t miss the subtle twitch of his nose as their bodies align. Jaehyun doesn’t either and clears his throat pointedly.

At this, Yuta reclines back into the armchair, legs folded up. There’s a smirk that grows on his lips. He’s wearing an overly long coat and he plays with the shiny buttons on the sleeves, his eyes never leaving Doyoung.  

Some of the tension in the air dissipates and it just seems ridiculous - the fact that Yuta is sitting down has no actual impact on how dangerous he could be, but it seems to calm Jaehyun down, as if the illusion of civility is enough for him. He exhales loudly, and lets himself examine Doyoung - and the corners of his mouth curve as if he can’t quite believe he’s there.

It’s the smile that Doyoung came for.

“What are you doing back already? It’s still your Christmas holiday,” Jaehyun says, but he doesn’t sound upset. He sounds like there’s a sunshine in the back of his mind. It’s hard to savour in the warmth of his voice when Doyoung feels Yuta’s leer all over his person.

“I wanted to come back early. You told me you’d be spending the holidays alone so I thought I’d…” Doyoung trails off, realizing the wine bottle is still tucked under his arm. It fits next to the wine glasses and Jaehyun gazes at it with an expression of despair.

“Oh, Doyoung, that’s so lovely,” Jaehyun says softly.

“I didn’t realize you would have company,” Doyoung says, trying to keep his voice measured. “I can leave, if you prefer.” He’s not eager to have Jaehyun alone in this situation, not without knowing all the facts - but he lets the option hang in the air.

“No!” Jaehyun says quickly. “Please, there’s no need. I didn’t realize you would be here but I am delighted that you are.” He pauses, searching in Doyoung’s face. “I missed you.”

Doyoung’s heart thrums too loudly.  “Oh. I missed you too.”

Jaehyun’s face looks like it does when he was standing below that mistletoe.

“This,” Yuta says, pointing to the both of them, “is absolutely adorable. I could watch you two dance around each other all day.” He laughs to himself, chin propped up on the headrest.

And perhaps it’s because of the condescending tone in his voice, or perhaps because he felt the need to insert himself in what was a tender moment with Jaehyun, but Doyoung stares into Yuta’s eyes of dull scarlet and says with more bravery than he previously thought he possessed: “Jaehyun, you know that Yuta is a vampire, right?”

There’s a pause. There’s a pause for so long that it seems like time is being stretched thin, like it might snap at the next second. Doyoung’s stare doesn’t diminish - and neither does Yuta’s amused expression.

Yuta blinks, turning to look at Jaehyun. “Oh my. That’s quite the observation.”

Jaehyun doesn’t respond.

“Well, Jaehyun, are you aware that I’m a vampire?” Yuta looks like he’s laughing again. He always looks like that, like he’s privy to some secret information that the rest of the world remains oblivious to.

Doyoung suppresses the embarrassment that swells up in his chest. He knows what he did was right. The citizens of Rookswood are woefully uneducated about vampires and he doesn’t wish for Jaehyun to enter any situation he doesn’t know everything about.

Jaehyun unfreezes. “Yes, ah, Doyoung. I’m aware.” He inhales with difficulty, as if he’s in pain. “But Yuta is my friend and he has been for a long time. I trust him.”

“And he’s a vampire,” Doyoung clarifies.

 “Is… is it a problem?” There’s a shakiness in Jaehyun’s words like they’re eggshell fragments tumbling from his fingertips. It seems personal, like it’s a question he’s dug from the recesses of his heart and placed forward, in its fragile form for Doyoung to caress or destroy at will. 

“Of course not,” Doyoung answers. He thinks of Johnny over breakfast, telling him of vampires arrested in the city. He isn’t like him, he decides, he isn’t like him at all. “I trust you.”

There’s a softness in Jaehyun’s gaze. “Thank you.” He looks like he wants to say something more, but he doesn’t. It sort of feels like the rest of the world fades to background noise, all warping around his singular point of focus in the universe: Jaehyun.

“I’m mostly harmless,” Yuta chirps. The gold piercings in his ears glimmer in the moonlight. “I come with my own leash and everything.”

Jaehyun exhales, louder than he most likely intended. “Yuta is an old friend of mine.”

“We do have quite the history,” Yuta says and Doyoung doesn’t miss the look of exchanged fondness they share. “It’s been quite a long time since I’ve had the chance to see you. Had you told me you lived in such a nice house I might have tried to come visit a few years earlier.” 

At the mention of house, Jaehyun’s eyes widen. “Ah, yes, Doyoung, is Johnny back at the Cerasus Manor?”

And ah, it’s clear Jaehyun is abundantly aware he’s violating that fundamental ordinance of Johnny with the presence of his vampire friend. For a dark moment, Doyoung wonders to himself exactly what Johnny would do if he found out - and decides that no one deserves to discover the full extent of his wrath.

“No, I don’t think he is. It’s just me,” Doyoung says. “But, Jaehyun, I’m sure you’re aware of how strict Johnny is with regards to…” He gazes at Yuta, “vampires.”

“I know,” Jaehyun says, and he seems like he’s moments away from spiralling into his own worry. “I am aware that I’m playing a very dangerous game but I thought with the Manor empty, with Johnny at his family’s house, I could chance myself with a singular meeting.”

“I just wanted you to be weary,” Doyoung says, as gently as he can. “I don’t want either of you to suffer at the hands of Johnny’s wrath.”

Yuta clears his throat. “If it’s any consolation, he didn’t ask for my company. I was, what you may call, an unexpected visitor. And trust me, he gave me the whole ‘oh you can’t be here, the man next door will burn you at the stake, and I’ll cry for the next hundred years if you die’ speech, but I thought it was rather dreary if he spent another Christmas alone. He’s so bad at making friends, you know?”

Doyoung feels a twist of sympathy in his chest. For all Yuta’s scornful remarks, Doyoung barely has to scratch the surface to realize that while Jaehyun may not have any friends in Rookswood, there’s one sitting in front of him who’s willing to risk his own demise just to alleviate the loneliness which plagues him.

“He has me,” Doyoung says, and he’s not quite sure where his own daring comes from to say something quite so bold. He avoids Jaehyun’s gaze, focusing instead on the way in which Yuta’s lips curl into a grin.

“He does, doesn’t he? He’s been talking about you quite a bit, and you’re not quite like I imagined. Jaehyun mentioned you were attractive but he never mentioned that it was to such a heart-racing degree.” Yuta’s eyelashes flutter.

Doyoung flushes, and he’s not sure if it’s because he’s just been outright flirted with, or from learning that Jaehyun finds him attractive. Quite possibly it’s both. He’s thinking that while Yuta is kind of an acquired taste, he could warm up to him. 

“Please don’t tell Johnny,” Jaehyun says abruptly. There’s a chill in the air and both Doyoung and Yuta turn to him. “I’m aware that I’m asking you to lie to your employer but-”

Doyoung shakes his head. “I would never, Jaehyun.” It’s an unsettling feeling that hangs in his heart, he doesn’t want Jaehyun to think that it was ever even a possibility, he would never do that to anyone. “Is this your friend who sent you the letter?”

Jaehyun shakes his head. “Ah, er, no. That’s… a different matter.”

“You didn’t tell me about any letter, Jaehyun,” Yuta says, sitting up straight in interest - but sinks back down at a particular glare directed straight towards him. “No, I don’t send letters, Doyoung. I prefer the allure of surprise visits - can you really picture me sitting in some dark study with a pen, after all?”

 Jaehyun runs his hand over his brow. “Oh, I had forgotten about that…” he trails off. He looks tired.

Yuta throws a decisive look Jaehyun’s way. “Allow yourself to relax, Jaehyun. It’s Boxing Day. Let’s enjoy the company we have, and let’s not dwell on what will happen tomorrow, for once?”

And when Jaehyun sighs, Doyoung can see the tension disperse from his shoulders. “Of course. You’re right. Doyoung, would you like to have a seat? I understand if you’d prefer to go home, but I think we’d both enjoy your company.”

“I know I would,” Yuta says, playing with the gold ring in his ear. “I rarely meet anybody who catches my eye quite like you.”

Doyoung does not want to go home. It’s a peculiar turn of life to find himself across from a vampire in the most humdrum of circumstances: just sitting at a mutual companion’s house at Christmastime - but it’s pleasant. The residual awkwardness dissipates and Doyoung reclines into the seat opposite Yuta. He stretches himself out on the couch, gazing up at him with curious cat-like eyes.

“You’re a doctor, correct?” he asks.

“Yuta,” Jaehyun says, warningly. There’s almost a growl in his voice.

Doyoung raises an eyebrow. He doesn’t appreciate the lack of faith that Jaehyun has in his own abilities. He’s certain he can handle a simple conversation. “I am. Personal physician to the mayor.”

“That’s impressive. I have a lot of respect for doctors, you do a lot of good in the world.”

“What do you do?” Doyoung asks, trying to be polite.

“Me?” Yuta thinks about it for a moment, resting his hand under his chin. “I don’t do anything in particular. I get around a lot. I kiss a lot of pretty boys and I run around a lot. Sometimes people try and catch me, but I run very fast.” He winks at Jaehyun. “I live that debaucherous life the mainstream piano-playing populace can only dream about.”

“I don’t miss that in the slightest, Yuta, no matter how many times you try and tempt me,” Jaehyun says, his voice thick with amusement, and Doyoung has to restrain his own shock. It’s difficult to picture Jaehyun who dresses exclusively in buttoned up trench coats and talks to flowers to ‘kiss pretty boys and run around’.  

“How did you meet Jaehyun?” Doyoung asks Yuta, filled with this desire to learn more about the man he was before he became the rosarian that he is today.

“At church,” Yuta says after a moment. “He was very different back then.”

“How so?”

Yuta looks at Jaehyun before answering, some unspoken agreement passing between them before he answers. “He used to wear an embarrassing amount of earrings. The influence of those around him at the time led him to a very interesting fashion choice.”

Doyoung tries not to giggle but the look of plain embarrassment on Jaehyun’s face is almost as funny as the mental image of Jaehyun with the assortment of metal rings that Yuta currently has in his own ears.

“Be quiet, Yuta,” Jaehyun chides, but Doyoung’s never seen him smile so much and so frequently before. Doyoung decides that he likes Yuta - he certainly likes the effect Yuta has on Jaehyun.

“Did he play piano back then?” Doyoung asks.

“I feel like church organ is the more appropriate answer to that question, but I suppose he just transposed his skills,” Yuta says thoughtfully. “Remember how you used to bore all of us with that one piece?”

Jaehyun mumbles something under his breath that sounds a lot like “Liszt is a timeless classic”.

“I hadn’t realized Jaehyun was so religious,” Doyoung says. Quite frankly, Jaehyun had never given even the slightest indication he ever set foot in a church, let alone spent enough time to play the organ.

Yuta tries and fails to suppress a snort. “He’s not religious, we just spent a lot of time in a church. It was more circumstance than anything else, I guarantee you that no actual church would want either of us.” Yuta pauses. “Ah, but, that’s the past, isn’t it? Jaehyun has his pretty house with his pretty garden and his pretty doctor, and for that reason alone, I think I should be the jealous one.”

“How did you come here, Yuta? The train?” Doyoung asks, in an attempt to force the blush off his face. If Yuta calls him pretty one more time, it might just go to his head.

“I ran,” Yuta says.

“You ran?”

He smiles with fangs. Porcelain white, sharper than knives. “I can run very fast.”

A vampire thing, Doyoung belatedly recalls. That’s the thing they do. Run fast. Drink blood. Avoid sunlight. Wear a loose-fitted leather jacket and copious amounts of rings - in Yuta’s case, anyway.

“That’s so convenient,” Doyoung says. “I hate walking in general.”

“Right? Such a waste of time,” Yuta nods knowingly. “I tell you, the increase in productivity that comes with vampirism is such an overlooked advantage of the lifestyle.”

Everything about Yuta seems to be sped up. He exists on a dimension that’s ten seconds ahead. He’s constantly in motion, curling his body, rearranging his limbs, fiddling with his jewellery and the movements are so abrupt it feels like Doyoung misses half of them.  Doyoung wonders what possible reason there is for Johnny to show his distaste for vampires so bluntly. Doyoung’s only met one, but he’s already quite fond of him.

“Why are you grinning over there?” Yuta asks, raising an eyebrow at Jaehyun.

“Oh, don’t mind me,” Jaehyun says, coughing into his hand.

“Is something wrong, Jaehyun?” Doyoung asks, voice full of concern, and he catches sight of the soft smile that grows on Yuta’s pale lips.

“Not at all,” Jaehyun says. “I’m just… happy. I did not expect this to be the way in which my Christmas ends but it’s tenfold better than I could have ever imagined.”

Doyoung can feel a bubble of emotion in his throat and he looks away before he does something foolish, like let it burst.

“I must agree as well. I was fully prepared for a highly miserable evening filled with Jaehyun playing his repertoire of sad sonatas. Thank you for rescuing me, Doctor,” Yuta says and he winks broadly. “I can only hope the evening proceeds in such a pleasant direction.”

With a sigh of contentment, he shrugs off his jacket, draping it across the back of the couch and Doyoung observes two things. The first is that Yuta is wearing a silk shirt with a neckline that plunges low into his abdomen, and leaves very little to the imagination in respect to how toned his body is. It’s hard to look away.

The second - and it really should have been the first thing he noticed - is that his chest is marred with lacerations  - short, numerous, and still raw. They curl into his skin, and even just the sight of them causes a phantom pain in Doyoung’s own chest.

“Are you alright?” Doyoung instantly asks, rushing to his feet. He’s got his first-aid kit in his suitcase, perhaps he could rush over and grab it and return to inspect the wounds. They must be caused by some sort of weapon - no animal could cut so pristine.

“Oh fuck,” Yuta groans, gazing down at his own chest in distaste, with the same attitude as one would upon discovering a drop of tea had spilled onto their jacket. “My mistake, I forgot about those, ignore that.”

“Yuta, you didn’t tell me it was that bad,” Jaehyun says, and there’s a hint of what sounds like guilt in his voice. “Why did you even come…”

“Don’t worry about it. It barely hurts. I’ll sort it out tomorrow or whatever, let’s not disturb our evening,” Yuta says quickly, attempting to button up his shirt. His fingers graze against the cut and Doyoung doesn’t miss the resulting flinch.

“Yuta,” Jaehyun murmurs, “if you would have told me, I would have-”

“No, you wouldn’t and you can’t,” Yuta snaps, his eyes burning with abrupt anger. “You have no right to even mention me when you’re walking around with that shoulder.”

Doyoung’s curiosity soars, and he wonders if he remains quiet for a moment more that he’ll find out the reason behind Jaehyun’s shoulder - but he’s a doctor before he’s anything else, and he can’t stop thinking about the dark marks across Yuta’s chest.

“Yuta, don’t vampires regenerate?” Doyoung asks carefully - and the tension dissipates as both Yuta and Jaehyun stare at him in confusion.

“Yes,” Yuta answers after a pause. “Yes, we do. But, you need to drink for that process to begin, and I haven’t had…” he lets the silence fill in the word for him, “for a while.”

“Blood?” Doyoung says.

Yuta swallows when he hears the word, as if it’s enough to summon a phantom taste on his tongue. “Yes. Vampires can only heal when they drink blood. I’ve been starving for a while. Maybe more. I was planning to make some sort of plan after I visited Jaehyun. I hadn’t realized how severe my injuries were.”

“But surely you must be in pain,” Doyoung says.

“Of course I am,” Yuta says simply.

Jaehyun’s face is ashen and he runs a hand through his hair. “Doyoung, perhaps you should leave us for a moment, I need to discuss something with him-”

“A knife?” Doyoung guesses, cutting Jaehyun off.

“Somewhat,” Yuta says, and he seems amused. “Two steel crescents that cross over each other. I doubt you’re familiar with the exact term, but they’re deer horn knives. That’s the thing about being a vampire, everyone’s always trying to kill you because they’re just so jealous of how luscious your hair becomes.”

Doyoung is not as easily distracted as these two seem to think. It’s almost demoralizing. He didn’t graduate as top of his cohort because he got distracted. An idea curls into his head like a dark fog.

“Yuta, if it’s blood that you need, perhaps… I could be of assistance?” Doyoung says softly and Yuta’s pupils widen till they’re nothing but a sea of black.

“Oh,” Yuta says, licking his lips. “Oh, I’d like that.” 

The ancestral survival instinct that’s embedded deep within screams at him, roars at him, cries at him - but Doyoung drowns it all out as his higher conscience realigns itself to his purpose, to his life’s purpose: to help people.

“Doyoung, don’t be ridiculous,” Jaehyun says, and Doyoung has never heard his voice be quite so harsh before. “You can’t offer him your blood.”

“It’s not your decision,” Doyoung replies, and his voice is soft but his tone is firm. He’d never raise his voice at Jaehyun - but he also takes the inherent responsibility that comes with his profession with the dignity and grace it requires.

Yuta’s eyes are hazy, unfocused. “I only need a little. Barely a few seconds, just a drop or two. I’m so, so thirsty, it’s been so long…” He raises his fingers to his lips, as if attempting to censor his own words.

Jaehyun rises to his feet and in the span of a blink, is standing in front of Yuta, hands pressed on either side of the couch, leaning in towards him. Yuta’s head is trapped between Jaehyun’s arms and his resultant exhale is shaky.

“What are you doing, Jaehyun?” Yuta asks, and he forces his tone to be casual. “He offered, you know I can control myself, don’t look at me like… like that.”

“Yuta, you are not one to talk to me about self-control,” Jaehyun says and his voice is a growl.

Yuta’s face curls into the first frown that Doyoung has ever seen. His teeth are bared, porcelain fangs protruding. “Not everyone carries around their pain like it’s a fucking medal, you know. Like you.”

The tension rolls out like thunderclouds.

“C-can you take from the wrist?” Doyoung asks, and he curses the falter in his voice. He sticks out his arm, rolling up his sleeve. “Or does it have to be the neck?”

They stare, wordlessly.

“Wrist is fine. Anywhere is fine,” Yuta says quickly, as if time is a limiting factor. Perhaps it is.

“He’s delirious, ignore him, but Doyoung, certainly you must realize this is a foolish idea?” Jaehyun asks, and worry is scrawled across his face. “Have you ever had a vampire bite you before?”

“Well, no-”

“Then you cannot imagine what it’s like. It’s not like drinking a glass of water, it’s an intimate process. You can’t just throw the invitation around, it’s such a personal connection…” Jaehyun trails off.

“You have virgin blood?” Yuta says, tilting his head to the side. “Oh, that’s wonderful, it’s been so long.”

“I am not a virgin!” Doyoung feels his cheeks flush. Jaehyun chokes on air.

“Not like that,” Yuta suppresses his smile. “If you’ve never been bitten before, that’s considered to be virgin blood.”

Doyoung nods. He had not considered the complexities of this part of vampirism and he finds himself incredibly interested by it, his mind slowly overcoming the inherent vulgarity of it. “Is that preferred?”

“It’s certainly tastes better.” Yuta bites his lip, eyes innocently wide.

“Doyoung, this isn’t happening, I’m not allowing this, you aren’t letting Yuta bite you, the very idea is ridiculous,” Jaehyun says, and his hands are curled into fists in anger but his eyes are wide with worry.

Doyoung risks a step closer, and drops his voice to a whisper - and perhaps Yuta can make out the words with his superhuman hearing, but it’s not meant for him, not at all, and it’s the sentiment of privacy that truly matters. “Jaehyun, why are you so against this? He’s your friend, he’s in pain and I don’t mind helping - I’d like to.”

Jaehyun searches for something in Doyoung’s eyes. “I trust Yuta, of course I do, but it’s not about him, it’s about you - you don’t understand vampires, a bite is the most sacred bond, and no one is ever the same afterwards,” Jaehyun says. And then, his voice even softer: “You would be hurting yourself.”

Doyoung looks down at his arms, running a hand over his pulse point. He can feel the shudder in his veins, the way it races now. His eyes follow the path of that blue streak, his median cubital vein, nestled in the crevice of his elbow. He looks up at Yuta, and then at Jaehyun - and then at Jaehyun’s desk, and makes a decision before he finds himself swayed any further by well-meaning eyes of honey gold.

The letter opener is not sterilized which isn’t ideal - but it is sharp, and Doyoung draws an incision down the vein in one swift movement, unable to contain the wince of pain. He exhales, shakily watching as the letter opener drops to the wooden floor, sounding with a clunk.

Blood flows slowly, gradually lurching down his arm. He reaches for the wine glass he brought up all those hours ago, and holds it, staring in macabre amazement at the way the red splashes against the crystal glass. It drips, it flows, it fills the glass.

It’s like wine, Doyoung rationalizes, it’s just wine. It’s red, it’s liquid - and it must seem delicious from the way Yuta’s eyes widen.

“Is this enough?” Doyoung says, hesitating. His arm pulses with pain.

“That’s perfect,” Yuta says softly, getting to his feet. He approaches Doyoung with hunger-panged trepidation, as if fearing that the second he goes too near, the very thing he desires most will be whisked out of sight.

Doyoung nods, and runs the rim of the glass up the rest of his arm, catching every last drop. He holds the glass of his blood aloft, and for a moment, it seems as if the entire earth revolves around that single chalice. Harsh scarlet stares back.

“Here you go,” Doyoung says softly. “I hope it helps.”

Yuta cradles the glass in both hands, like it’s worth more than gold. He doesn’t utter a prayer, he doesn’t say grace - but he stares up at Doyoung.

“Thank you,” he whispers and drinks.

The sight is viscerally discomforting, the way in which Yuta drinks, his fervor making him sloppy, trails of blood leaking out from the glass, running onto his chin, smearing across his face. Doyoung forces himself to look away, focusing on his paining arm.

“Jaehyun,” he says softly, “Do you have something I can use to bandage myself? A handkerchief, perhaps?”

Jaehyun who reciprocates every question instantly, who has never misheard a word in his life, does not reply. His eyes are fixed on the single drop of blood that still flows down his forearm, his pupils following the path as it rolls down Doyoung’s skin. And then - he licks his lips.

“Jaehyun?” Doyoung repeats, seeing something different in Jaehyun’s eyes, something dark - and it’s gone. The reverie snaps and Jaehyun blinks, like coming out of a dream.

“Of course, of course,” he says, pulling a handkerchief out of his trousers and handing it to Doyoung. It seems as if he’s holding his breath.

“Is everything okay?” Doyoung asks, as he fashions his tourniquet. “I’ll try and have Sua dry clean this but it might be difficult.”

“Yes, I just… didn’t expect that,” Jaehyun says. His voice is high and airy, as if he’s speaking from some distant location.

The sigh of relief that rips forth from Yuta sounds like it came from his core. His mouth is a smear of red - but it’s incomparable to the searing scarlet of his eyes, energized and eager.

“Are you terribly attached to this glass, Jaehyun?” Yuta asks. His voice is thicker, louder and already he seems brighter. There’s a single drop of red clinging to the bottom.

Jaehyun tries and fails to avoid looking disappointed. “Go ahead, Yuta.”

He’s stronger than I could’ve ever imagined, Doyoung thinks, as he watches Yuta effortlessly sever the stem of the glass. He digs his nails in, fracturing the rim, as if the solid glass is as malleable as honey to his fingers. The single fragment that remains in his hand has that last droplet of blood, and Yuta licks it clean.

He exhales, tossing the broken pieces onto Jaehyun’s desk. “Probably clean that up later,” he advises - and stares down at his chest.

Doyoung has seen the miracle of the body’s power of regeneration. He’s seen fire-blackened skin grow anew and he’s seen bone reconnect itself - but he’s never seen anything on a timescale like this. He can see the way in which Yuta’s skin reconnects itself, as the wounds seal themselves, as they leave nothing but scars in the span of minutes.

“That’s incredible,” Doyoung says, staring in rapture. “That’s absolutely incredible.”

“Thank you,” Yuta says softly, and Doyoung looks up at him, his eyes wide with gratitude. “Doyoung, thank you, you don’t know what you’ve done for me.”

It was just a glass. It was just a glass and Yuta seems reduced to tears. If only it was that easy to help Jaehyun, if only Doyoung could figure out what was wrong, if only he could learn, if only he could help - and, Doyoung’s under no illusions. If bleeding is what it would take to help Jaehyun, he’d fill entire bathtubs if he had to.     

 

“He’s too good for this town,” Yuta says. He pauses. “He’s too good for you.”

“You’re right.” Jaehyun sounds tired.

“You know I don’t mean that as an insult - but you also know it’s the truth.”

“You’re right.”

“Jaehyun… I don’t like seeing you like this. I don’t like seeing you here.”

Doyoung walks down the stairs faster. He doesn’t think he should be intruding on such a private conversation - even if it was unintentional. He just wanted the bottle of wine, thinking he should put it away - he did not intend to disrupt their farewell.

He lingers in Jaehyun’s sitting room as he waits for them to come down - but he’s not impatient. He wonders just how long it will be before they meet again - and thinks that no matter what the time period is, it’ would still be too long - to see Jaehyun legitimately happy for the first time was a sight so beautiful, it seemed criminal that it was so rare.

“You know you’re going to miss me,” Yuta says loudly as the door opens.

“I’m certainly going to mourn the innocent wine glass you dismantled for your theatrics.” Even when Jaehyun’s pretending to frown - there’s a smile on his face.

And it just grows when he sees Doyoung in the sitting room.

“Thank you for giving us a moment of privacy,” Jaehyun says.

“Yes, he needed some more time for me to insult his fashion choices. I can’t believe you let him walk outside wearing such long trench coats. It’s just impractical,” Yuta says, placing his hands on Jaehyun’s shoulder and looking up. “Please tell him that he won’t die if he wears a blouse every now and again.”

His skin glows. Pale, yes, but luminous. Doyoung hadn’t realized how pallid and sickly Yuta looked until he contrasts it with the version that stands before him now.

“I will,” Doyoung says, laughing to himself.

“I do hate to leave but I need to make it before sunrise,” Yuta says, surreptitiously checking the time. “And, of course, I’d rather not be on the receiving end of a conversation from your Mayor.”

“Thank you again for coming,” Jaehyun says, mumbled under his breath. “It meant a lot to me.”

“It was a pleasure to meet you,” Doyoung says, and he surprises himself with his own sincerity.

“I hope you won’t mock me and call me sentimental if I say that I wish to meet again, perhaps in some better circumstances, for a longer time. Where I can give you the attention you deserve,” Yuta says, and ends off with a wink, and Doyoung thinks it’s probably a health hazard to be blushing so profusely when he had just lost blood.

“I would like that too,” Doyoung says. “If you ever do pass through Rookswood - do let me know. I could always diagnose Johnny with a debilitating, bed-confining virus if that’s what’s necessary.”

Yuta laughs, his fangs tinted red. “Oh, now I’ll miss you and Jaehyun. What an awful combination.”

“You need to go,” Jaehyun reminds him gently, opening the door. The night air rushes in and Doyoung instantly wraps his arms around his body, willing warmth into himself.

“Alright, alright I’m leaving,” Yuta says. He’s wearing his jacket again, and his rings hit against the zipper as he pulls it up. Jaehyun watches him prepare to leave in silence.

“Stay safe, Jaehyun. You know I spend an hour of everyday worrying about you,” Yuta says, and his joking demeanour is stripped bare to raw sincerity. Doyoung wonders how many layers Yuta packs on everyday before he leaves the house.

“And you know I spend two hours worrying about you. But you need to go, before I do something silly like try and come with you,” Jaehyun says.

“I wish you would.”

And for a second, it seems like he considers it. And Doyoung feels panic rise in his chest because he isn’t ready to let Jaehyun go, not right now, he’s not prepared to just let whatever’s blooming between them, this unknown, unshapen flower wilt.

But if it makes him happy - then it doesn’t really matter, he supposes. Rather let Doyoung be the miserable man in Rookswood, than let the beautiful piano-player in his house on a hill suffer anymore than he already has.

  Jaehyun looks back towards Doyoung. “Oh Yuta, you know I can’t do that. Besides, I can’t leave my doctor behind. He’s quite a good one, you know.”

Yuta grins. “He’s the best around, I’m certain.” He looks healthy.

“I’m just glad I could help,” Doyoung says quietly.

“I must say, I am surprised that you didn’t ask me anything about… that. I very rarely have someone offer their blood, and even less so, have them not ask their questions.”

Truthfully, Doyoung’s curiosity bangs on the corners of his mind. He wishes to conduct a full physical examination and interview with Yuta, to ask him everything and anything. Had he been given the opportunity, Doyoung is certain he could ask Yuta well into the next night about the mechanisms of being a vampire because it’s fascinating, Yuta is so fascinating.

What he does end up asking is perhaps the most selfish of it all, because for all Doyoung’s notions about nobility and sacrifice, he’s not above any other human, and never thought he ever was. He hesitates.

“How did I taste?”

Yuta licks his lips. “Delicious.

Chapter Text

Doyoung, awoken by an indistinct noise, shields his eyes from the first rays of sunrise as he opens the window, staring down in disbelief at the graveyard below.

Kun.” Johnny’s voice is harsh and crisp in the morning air. His jaw is set in a harsh angle, as if trying to stop himself from grinding his own teeth into powdered enamel. With his black coat billowing behind him and the rim of his dark hat obscuring his face, he looks every part of the Grim Reaper of legend, and the image is morbidly fitting as he walks among the corpses of a dozen dead rooks.

Blinking away the sleep from his eyes, Doyoung attempts to focus his vision. His hands grip on the windowpane as he leans further outside, entirely ignored by Johnny who stalks around his front yard with a predatory glint in his eyes.

Doyoung hasn’t heard Johnny swear before and he didn’t think he ever would - his vocabulary has always been overly polite, even if his intentions are not. Johnny picks up one of the birds, reverently clutching the creature in his hands, stroking its mane of black as he stares into its dead eyes - and then flings it to the ground, whispering a whole-hearted: “Fuck.”

Doyoung is only able to blink in shock at the profanity.

Kun!”

Johnny’s scream is unanswered. Of course it is, Kun is some miles down on the lower streets, his knees aching from the church pews, his fingers bent by prayer. Sua is even further - Johnny may have dominion over this town but his voice cannot carry to the next one over and as a consequence, it’s only Doyoung who hears these words of acid. Johnny is pacing now, circling around like a vulture, but with wings of darkened leather rather than feathers.

Doyoung shoves on his overcoat over his pyjamas and rushes downstairs, but his steps decrease in speed the closer to the door he gets. It’s closed, in fact, it’s still locked from when Doyoung returned last night - and he realizes Johnny hasn’t even gone inside yet.

And Doyoung hesitates with his hand on the handle. Because Doyoung isn’t superstitious, he really isn’t, but staring out at corpses of a dozen dead rooks seems like a bad omen.

It can’t be Yuta, it can’t be, it just doesn’t make sense, he’s been gone for hours  - but it’s too close for coincidence. Well, he already has his choice made for him, Doyoung realizes.  The fact remains that even if it was Yuta, even if he personally drained all of those birds, Doyoung would never admit it, he’d keep his secret safe from Johnny in the cage of his ribs.

Doyoung opens the door, and when Johnny turns to stare at the intrusion, his gaze is devoid of any mercy.

“Doyoung,” Johnny states. “You’re home early.”

“I took an early train,” he manages to say without too much discernable fumbling. “But, when I got home last night, I never saw… this. What happened?”

There must be at least a dozen of the birds, if not more, sprawled on the ground, vacantly staring into the sky. The rooks show no physical damage, no blood streaking their beaks, no knives protruding from their breasts, no twisted necks. It’s as if they just fell from the sky, dead.

 For a moment, Doyoung cannot stop himself wondering if Johnny had something to do with this, if this was just another unfortunate pigeon but to a scale that he had not previously considered.

But he also knows this is untrue. Johnny has a heart of rook feathers, and beyond the anger in his eyes, there’s the sunken brows that accompany a grief too strong to contain.

“‘What happened’?” Johnny echoes Doyoung’s questions. He takes a step closer, and closer, until he’s barely inches away from Doyoung, gazing down at him from the slope of his nose. The height difference feels like that of a cliffside to the ocean floor. “I think you might be able to tell me that.”

Doyoung feels his pulse quicken. “I’m not sure what you mean. I didn’t see anything last night.”

Johnny’s eyes are staring at Doyoung’s neck, searching for a mark he won’t find.

“Doyoung, where were you last night?” Johnny’s voice is too cold for such a lovely morning.

“I visited Jaehyun,” Doyoung says. A lie would be too risky - and to be caught in that lie could be more dangerous than he could comprehend. Johnny is not the composed mayor he usually is, not right now, staring at his beloved birds.

“Of course you were,” Johnny snorts. His glare shifts to the house next door, as if the very existence of the building is enough to sicken him. “That doesn’t surprise me. It really doesn’t. I told you that Jaehyun was not someone you’d want to associate yourself with. And now see what we have to deal with? The corpses of a dozen rooks, lying in my estate.”

“How can you assume that Jaehyun is to blame for this? These rooks don’t look harmed by human hands at all.”

He stares at Doyoung as if he wishes to grind him under his molars. “Doyoung, what did you do when you were there?”

Doyoung pulls his coat tighter, a makeshift shield. “We had pleasant conversation. He played piano. It was all very above board, if that’s your concern.”

“Doyoung, let me tell you I have no personal interest in whoever you decide to fuck, so let’s just get that out of the way,” Johnny says, the curve of his lips showcasing poorly disguised amusement. “What were you doing?”

His voice carries in the empty streets - it’s loud and fills up the surrounding air, and it seems like surely something so powerful could rouse the rooks to awaken. But they don’t, they never would.

“Doyoung, you really shouldn’t lie to me,” Johnny says, and Doyoung feels the hairs at the back of his neck stand up.

“I didn’t do anything,” Doyoung insists. The inside of his arm burns with phantom pain.

He fixes his gaze upon him but finally steps back and Doyoung takes the opportunity to exhale, shaking internally. Johnny kneels down, and he lets his fingertips graze over the wing of one of the birds. His touch is tender, like saying goodbye to a friend.

“You know the thing about rooks is that they have this amazing sense of smell, far better than ours. It’s quite extraordinary, really. You wouldn’t think it but these birds can sense something most foul from miles away.” Johnny’s voice is stiff, restrained.

“I wasn’t aware of that,” Doyoung says neutrally.

“They avoid graveyards for that reason, the stench of rotting bodies is far too much for them to handle. They’ve been known to collapse mid-flight from the pain of this overwhelming sensation - they can even die.”

  Doyoung stares, uncomprehendingly.

“Now, Doyoung,” Johnny says, rising to his feet. “Would you mind admitting to me that you were playing with vampires, or do we need to draw this out even further?”

It doesn’t feel like a morning without the sound of the rooks as they soar over the Manor. It doesn’t feel like a morning at all. The thoughts in Doyoung’s head spin and collide with each other, all the while he tries to keep his composure. He couldn’t have known, Yuta disappeared that night, Doyoung had seen him race away, there had not even been a trace of dust by the time he walked off into the horizon.

“I… I don’t know what you mean,” Doyoung says, and he knows he sounds flustered but he can only control his outward expressions to a certain degree.

“Rooks and vampires don’t have a habit of getting along, Doyoung, and if my rooks die like this, there’s only one explanation - that they got the scent of those walking corpses, their mouths wet with blood. So I’m going to ask you again, Doyoung, what happened last night? Or should I ask Jaehyun myself?”

Doyoung isn’t sure how much longer he can maintain his facade, not when Johnny cracks at it with every well-placed word.

“You’re talking a bit loudly for so early in the morning, Mayor. I was still trying to sleep in.”

Jaehyun passes through the iron gate with such grace it’s as if it’s an event he’s attending. A frown engraves itself upon Johnny’s face, but he doesn’t stop Jaehyun from entering. He’s careful in the way he walks, cautious not to step too near to any of the dead birds, but he remains on the path as well, not wanting to disturb Kun’s gardening.

“Jaehyun,” Johnny breathes through gritted teeth. “I hadn’t imagined I’d see you here.”

“And yet I am. I see there’s been some sort of accident. I’m terribly sorry about all your rooks.” Jaehyun sounds entirely neutral.

“You are lying to me,” Johnny growls, pushing himself to his full height. “You’re a liar, Jaehyun.”

Doyoung takes a step forward, more proactive than the last time he watched the two encounter each other. “Jaehyun didn’t do anything.”

“Jaehyun knows exactly what he did,” Johnny replies, and his hand clenches into a fist, as if he wishes that it was encircled around Jaehyun’s neck. “You can’t expect that I wouldn’t know?”

Jaehyun is unaffected. He has the softest hint of a smile on his lips, as if this whole display is merely some passing amusement. He looks up at the sky. “Nice sunny day, isn’t it?” he says.

And Johnny looks like he’d tear the sun out of the sky with his bare hands if he could.

It’s still morning, barely after sunrise but it promises to be a beautiful day with the sight of the clear air and the clouds parting.

“Jaehyun-” Johnny begins, and then stops himself. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but I’d be very careful if I were you. My patience is wearing thin. I just don’t understand why you’ve been causing so much trouble lately.”

“But Johnny,” Jaehyun says, “what have I done?”

He runs a hand through his hair and his expression is set into calculated confusion and Doyoung doubts this conversation is just about dead birds.

Johnny’s gaze shifts from Doyoung and then back to Jaehyun, and it’s clear the cogs of his mind are at work. He stares down at the black bird and contorts his face into a smile.

“Nothing, I suppose. Nothing, you’ve done absolutely nothing.” And in perhaps the boldest display of friendship that Doyoung had ever seen of Johnny, he clasps his hand on Jaehyun’s left shoulder, and his grin widens to show teeth.

“You have a good day further now, Jaehyun,” Johnny says, squeezing his hand. The softest whimper escapes Jaehyun’s lips as Johnny’s nails dig further into his skin. There are indents on the fabric of his shirt.

“Same to you.” His words pass through gritted teeth.

“I must get Kun. Someone needs to clean this mess up, after all,” Johnny announces, removing his hand. “You go back to your little flowers now, shouldn’t you?”

“Oh,” Doyoung says aloud, observing the peculiar way in which Jaehyun rolls his left arm back, face wincing in pain, but losing the trail of thought in an instant, noticing Johnny’s milk-curdling expression. “Oh, Jaehyun-”    

“I’ll walk you out,” Johnny says, sparing a final look back. “Oh, and Doyoung? Before I forget - Merry Christmas. I hope you had a good time back home.”

 

 

The funeral procession does not have Doyoung in attendance. He leaves through the back door before Kun arrives, currently being personally shepherded from the church by Johnny’s vice-like grip. Doyoung has no further interest in seeing the bodies of dead birds, and he doesn’t have the stomach for it either. He did not offer his help in disposing of the rooks, and Johnny didn’t ask him either - such a task extended beyond the bounds of his job description.

Doyoung, still on leave, has very little to occupy himself with, and as he sits in his bedroom, and even though he deliberately avoids looking out of the window, he just can’t stop thinking about Yuta. It wasn’t intentional, certainly, Doyoung can’t fathom why the vampire would find it necessary to murder the birds - and he can’t imagine it would have been an accident either.

And he’s been thinking, as he does, as to how rooks just fall from the sky, as to how potent Yuta must have been after drinking his blood. Perhaps as a current resident of the town named after them, he should have more concern about the birds but truthfully, he’s filled with thoughts of Yuta, hoping he returned to safety after escaping the rays of sunrise. Yet, what form of safety could his life be if it left him those gaping scars in his chest?

Blank spaces in his mind are highlighted, and it’s difficult for someone who’s found the answers to his life questions in volumes of textbooks to be entirely ignorant of everything that goes around him, to reconcile himself to the sheer depth of his ignorance. It’s humbling, even. A gentle, silver-edged reminder to him that a man can learn from books all his life and barely scratch the surface of what lay beneath the pages.

Doyoung’s been staring at the rook in front of him for several minutes, and its golden eyes don’t blink - but it isn’t supposed to either. It’s the one kind of rook in this town that was never meant to be real. Doyoung raises his hand to the knocker and hits it against the wood.

There’s no answer. He knocks again, and still Jaehyun does not answer. He rests his ear against the door, attempting to discern any piano notes but he hears nothing. Doyoung supposes he can’t blame Jaehyun if he wished to disappear from Johnny’s line of sight for the day, although he can’t really fathom where he would have gone.

Sunshine glints off the golden rook. The house really does look so different in daylight - not that Doyoung had stopped to really examine the property when he was there last night, of course not, he had been far too occupied with rushing inside and drinking some of that delightful wine and-

Doyoung wrenches the door open. If Jaehyun found the sheet music, if he saw it before Doyoung had a chance to explain himself, it would be an embarrassment he might never recover from. He’ll be less than a minute, really, he’ll just dash into the kitchen, grab the book and if it isn’t there then he clearly is already aware of it, and Doyoung can prepare to never speak to him again and go into self-imposed exile for the second time in his life.

He doesn’t really account for finding Jaehyun in the kitchen. The sleeves of his shirt are bunched up, he’s slumped on the floor, head between his knees, tawny hair dampened. His body seems to be crumpled, as if he’s trying to fit himself in the smallest space possible, with the exception of the way in which he cradles his left arm.

He’s hurt.

He lifts his head when he hears a sharp intake of breath. “Doyoung,” he says, eyes widened. He attempts to raise himself to his feet, but collapses as he attempts to lift himself off. “Doyoung, I didn’t-”

Doyoung doesn’t remember crouching down, but he realizes he’s kneeling next to Jaehyun, carefully maintaining enough distance to avoid intruding, but close enough to observe the way his left arm must surely be paining.

“Jaehyun, are you okay?” Doyoung asks, voice calm, even if the inside of his head seems to scream in distress.

“I’m fine,” Jaehyun says through gritted teeth. “I just…”

“Is it your arm?”

There’s a flicker of something dark in Jaehyun’s eyes. “I’m fine, Doyoung, you don’t need to worry, it’s nothing.” Jaehyun pushes his back against the cupboard, gazing at him with clear weariness. He seems to carry the weight of a thousand years.

It hurts Doyoung. He’s empathetic to a fault, unable to stand suffering, and he can’t bear it when it’s Jaehyun of all people, because it’s clear he is suffering. Yet, Doyoung realizes if he’s to be of any use he needs to put aside those personal concerns, and look at this objectively, like the doctor he trained to be. Doyoung stares at the way he holds his arm against his body, as if terrified. Certainly, something must have happened to have triggered such a painful reaction; he had been fine just last night. It’s hard to fathom someone as composed as Jaehyun falling and injuring himself, yet equally as unlikely that someone else would do it either.

Really, in fact, Jaehyun had been in perfect health when he visited the Cerasus Manor this morning to look at the rooks, he showed no sign of such tension in his arm when he was speaking to Johnny. And Doyoung’s eyes widen with realization as he replays the moment in his mind, that very particular squeeze of his arm that Doyoung had passed off as a casual gesture. Johnny had very precisely - and of course, unintentionally - acted like a grindstone, crushing the injured muscle against his hand.

“It’s Johnny, isn’t it? I saw he pressed into your shoulder, but I never realized the implications. That’s why it hurts, doesn’t it?” Doyoung asks. In his mind, he sees an anatomical drawing overlaid on Jaehyun’s pale skin, outlying the amalgamation of veins and tissue and tendons.

Jaehyun makes no attempt at answering but he betrays himself with a gulp.      

“Tell me what’s wrong. Tell me what’s wrong and I can help,” Doyoung says and he means it. “Jaehyun, why won’t you let me help you?”

“You can’t!” he snarls through gritted teeth, and then catches himself, continuing in a tone of forced calm. “You can’t help me Doyoung, this is beyond you and your medical degree.”

“Let me try,” is all Doyoung says.

There’s a pause.

“Jaehyun.” Doyoung’s tone is careful, pleading even as he gets to his feet. He holds his hands open in front of him, taking each step cautiously, not wanting to tread over the slightest of boundaries. “If you’d permit me, I’d like to take a closer look at your arm.”

Physiotherapy is by no means the fanciest of specializations. It’s got none of the gory appeal of surgery or the immediate humanitarian aid of cardiology. It doesn’t make for interesting conversation - while Doyoung’s cohort can talk endlessly about the particular way the smoky air affects the bronchi in their lungs, they hardly show any care for the ways in which muscles became heavy with ache. Even Taeil, who spent an extra year of university trying to save his failing grades, was specializing in neurosurgery of all things, quickly becoming an expert on the brain. Doyoung remembers whispering to Taeyong on some alcohol-infused night that it was endlessly fascinating Taeil worked with the mind despite not having one.

Doyoung was spared from the considerations of his own specializations by his employment under Johnny and frankly, he doesn’t know if he’ll ever want to go back to university to refine his skills under a single topic - but if he did, there’s a certain fondness he holds towards physiotherapy.

It’s underwhelming to most of the world. It’s just muscle movement, ‘glorified massage’ but there’s a certain tranquility to it that Doyoung does not find in any other discipline. Physiotherapy demands commitment, rehabilitation from injuries is a slow process, and it takes time and takes work - but Doyoung’s never been good at watching people suffer, always compelled to give his own life for others, and he’s never felt it more than as he looks at Jaehyun, staring up at him, helplessly.

Doyoung’s seen the particular flex of muscles in his bicep, the tension in his deltoid, and he can see the way they restrict his movement and he knows what to do to fix it, what gentle movements of his hands he can do to soothe his pain.

“Jaehyun. Let me help.” His eyes are wide, his heart is bare.

And Jaehyun finally stops refusing.

 

“You can’t touch my shoulder,” is the unfixable constant that Jaehyun insists upon. Doyoung tries to explain to him that it won’t hurt, that he just needs to look - but he refuses. And Doyoung isn’t in a position to barter, and accepts this term.

He’s hesitant at first. He sits on one of the chairs at his kitchen, ramrod stiff, and no matter how calmly Doyoung asks him to inhale and exhale as he applies pressure on the muscle, Jaehyun does not relax.

He’s clearly uncomfortable with his own vulnerability, and Doyoung has seen this in other patients, perhaps to not such an extreme degree. So he talks. He tells Jaehyun about the time he got drunk before his clinical internship, he goes into detail of how Taeyong held his hair back as he threw up in the bathroom of his first ward, and while he assumed that it was just the alcohol, he actually contracted appendicitis.

It’s by no means a story that paints him in any sort of favourable light, and if anything, Doyoung feels his ears redden at the memory of assuring his patients that he was there to aid their recovery and then immediately disappearing into the toilet. Jaehyun looks up in amusement though, a glint of what Doyoung would dare call fondness in his eyes.

He inhales. He exhales.

“It’s not always this bad,” Jaehyun says abruptly. “My arm. It usually barely hurts. The shoulder, always, but it’s not usually the arm. But I… I didn’t expect that. Johnny’s grip was tighter than I had imagined.”

“I’m certain it wasn’t intentional,” Doyoung says, raising his arm with careful precision.

If it were anyone else, the sound Jaehyun makes could only be described as a snort of derision, but Doyoung is certain he misheard.

“You can’t play piano with that arm, can you?”

“No. That’s… too much,” Jaehyun says after a pause. “This feels better than I thought it would.”

“I’m a good doctor,” Doyoung says, and he thinks he almost manages to sound like he believes it. Doyoung cannot begin to fathom why Jaehyun insists upon the avoidance of his shoulder. Perhaps a grotesque scar of sort, but Doyoung can guarantee him that he’s seen much more gory sights in surgery, and little can faze him anymore.

“Ideally, I would like to have weekly sessions,” Doyoung says, and keeps his eyes away from Jaehyun’s face. “An hour long. I could come over here with my books and we could have it in the comfort of your home. There are certain mobility exercises that I’d like you to do as well, just to improve the range of your movement.”

Doyoung clears his throat and looks up and sees Jaehyun’s eyebrows raised in confusion.

As a doctor, Doyoung was taught to align himself to his patient’s goals. Ultimately, no matter what his textbooks said and what his own idea of progress were, they would always be secondary to that of the individual themself. Every patient has their own wish of their recovery, what they want to achieve and that is what will drive them, what will inspire them. And Doyoung has a reasonable guess as to what that could be for Jaehyun.

“You could play piano with both hands again.”

Hope flashes across his face. It’s gone in a second - that flash of inspiration in his eyes, that gentle curve of his lips, all gone - but it was unmistakably there. “That’s not possible.”

“It is,” Doyoung says softly. “Jaehyun, you could play again, you could play properly like you used to do. Just let me help you. Please. Let me try.”

There’s a disconcerting height difference with Jaehyun sitting down, and Doyoung is overwhelmed by how fragile Jaehyun looks like this, and Doyoung has to remind himself of his professionalism before he does something irrational and silly, like run a hand through Jaehyun’s hair and cradle his face in his hands.

“You gave me something,” Jaehyun says, and Doyoung’s grip on his arm freezes. “The sheet music. I saw it when I was in the kitchen earlier. Debussy.” He speaks carefully.

“It was your Christmas present,” Doyoung replies, trying to keep his breath steady. “It’s a beautiful piece of music, and I thought…”

“It’s in calligraphy, and handbound. You didn’t buy that, did you?” Jaehyun interrupts.

Doyoung cannot even attempt to lie. “No.”

“You had both hands transcribed.”

“I did.” He hears his pulse in his ears.

Jaehyun stares at him, unfathomable. “Okay. Weekly sessions, then.” 

It’s like he’s been given the task of reconstructing a skeleton with half the bones missing. He’s left with an open ribcage and he’s trying his best, he’s trying to connect sternum to clavicle to scapula but the bones underneath it have disappeared, and he can’t make out the shape, can’t figure it out just yet. He can’t begin to comprehend the strange circumstances that surround him, why Johnny paces around his office long into the night, why Jaehyun never lets him touch his shoulder even weeks after that first session.

There’s something not quite right about Rookswood, and Doyoung realizes that, and there’s something not quite right about Jaehyun either.

He waits, even if it’s one bone fragment at a time. 

“Have you ever been to the roosting trees?” Jaehyun asks in a thoughtful tone, and the shock at hearing a question causes Doyoung’s hand to slip down the muscle of his bicep. He regains himself and clears his throat, resuming the manner in which he moves his fingers into his skin.

“Nesting trees?” Doyoung repeats. The fabric of Jaehyun’s shirt is soft, curling under his nails.

“Those rows of dead ash trees in the lower town. I’m certain you’ve seen them, they’re quite the display.” Jaehyun stretches himself out further as Doyoung lets his touch travel further down his forearm. “It’s the rookery.”

“Is that where the rooks sleep?” The words that fall from his mouth seem like they come from a curious child, one who doesn’t know better, rather than a qualified medical practitioner and Doyoung curses his own ignorance. He knows the trees Jaehyun refers to, of course, the maze of gnarled branches were like a chain link fence guarding the town.

“Mmm.” Jaehyun nods his affirmation. His voice always takes on that pensive quality when he’s occupied with his physiotherapy sessions. Most of the time it seems as if he’s thinking out loud, content just to have Doyoung hum in response to the natural pauses in his monologue. It’s calming, for one. Doyoung doesn’t think he’d be able to focus on the movements he needs to do if he was maintaining a conversation of their usual kind - but it’s also so pleasing to hear Jaehyun’s calming cadence as he talks about those fluttering thoughts that pass his mind. Like those of ash trees. “It’s where they nest, all of them. Even the birds from the surrounding areas come to those trees around this season.”

“I’ve only ever seen it in the distance,” Doyoung answers. “I’ve seen how many rooks there are in the sky. Thousands at times. It’s… intimidating.”

“Very.”

Doyoung remembers the first time he saw the wave of black wings sail across the twilight sky. Staring up into the air was like watching flecks of darkened snow, suspended in perpetual animation, gliding through the air. The rooks send the entire town into shadows when they smother the skies, circling around and around, as if trying to capture those last threads of sunset before the day unravels. And of course, the noise, that cacophony of caws that haunts through the streets. He didn’t linger in town at nightfall after that.

“It’s just eerie, I think,” Doyoung says, fingers manipulating the muscle of his arm. “The way they fly.”

“I do agree with you but I also think it’s rather beautiful. Perhaps it’s because I don’t really go out to town that often, but I enjoy watching them roost for the night from my bedroom window. It’s such a fantastic display, after all.”

“I think my room faces the wrong angle,” is all Doyoung replies. “Can you flex your wrist for me?”

Jaehyun obeys, but he’s in a strange mood today. He’s even more talkative, his rich voice filling the room, but currently it seems like Doyoung’s in more of a participatory role. Jaehyun keeps asking for input and Doyoung doesn’t wish to bother him with his silly opinions.

“There’s this spot on the hill that faces the roosting trees. It’s a quiet place, really, no one ever goes there.” Jaehyun’s voice has a wistful tone, like he’s travelling there in the  corridors of his mind. His arm moves mechanically according to Doyoung’s orders but his eyes are glassy. “The grass is really nice there. Soft, unlike the kind that pops up on the pavement.”

“Sounds nice,” Doyoung says politely. “Stretch your arm out, curling your fingers into a fist. Hold it for five seconds and then release.”

“How many times?”

Doyoung gazes at his shoulder with a critical eye. “Ten repetitions.” He turns to check his notes, turning the page of his textbook, running his finger down the diagram. He needs to focus more on the forearm, he thinks, that’s the area that has the most restricted area of moment.

Jaehyun nods. “The wind doesn’t blow too strong there either, it’s blocked by the trees.”

Of course, it would be easier if he could just examine the state of his shoulder - but Doyoung will take what leniencies he can. He adjusts the position of his hands on Jaehyun’s forearm, rubbing the muscle. There’s about fifteen minutes left of the session but he’s sure he can get some good work in these last few moments. “Another ten repetitions of that same movement, please.” 

“And when the sun goes down, it’s hidden by the clocktower.”

Doyoung looks up at Jaehyun. “Sorry, what?”

Jaehyun blinks, reclining into his chair. “The spot by the hill. To watch the rooks.”

It’s been nearly ten minutes. For ten minutes, all Jaehyun has spoken about was birds. Birds in a tree, to be precise, and Doyoung stares at him, uncomprehendingly.

“Jaehyun, I never knew you possessed such an interest in the habits of the rooks,” Doyoung says, nodding slowly.

“No, it’s not about the birds, I…” Jaehyun’s voice falters. “Forget I said anything. You said ten times, right?”

“Uh, yes. Ten times.” Doyoung returns to his diagram, brows furrowed. His eyes are analyzing a detailed sketch of the deltoid muscle but his mind is attempting to figure out why Jaehyun’s demeanour shifted so rapidly. It’s difficult to focus on that while he’s busy with a session, but he does become aware that Jaehyun stops talking as much, returning to his normal reserved speaking pattern, his words sparse. He’s a professional, when it comes down to it, and he adjusts his focus to the procedures at hand.

It’s only when he taps Jaehyun, informing him that they’re done that Doyoung hears the cawing outside and is reminded of  Jaehyun’s bizarre obsession. It just doesn’t make sense, why does he care so much about a hill? He’s never shown any particular passion for the birds, not even the kind shared by all the citizens of Rookswood. Why does it matter to him that Doyoung hasn’t seen how the ash trees look when the rooks rest for the night-

“Oh Jaehyun,” Doyoung whispers, staring at Jaehyun.

He tilts his head to the side. “Is something wrong?”

Realization washes over him. “I’d like to see the roosting trees.”

 Jaehyun’s face lights up, not unlike the way the sky does when the rooks return home. “You would?”

“Yes. You’ve made quite a convincing argument for it,” Doyoung says. He feels his ears burn.

“It’s almost sunset. We’d have time to go into town if you like, I can show you the hill I mentioned?” Jaehyun’s eyes are wide with anticipation. He seems to quickly remember himself, and straightens his posture, attempting to regain his composure. Doyoung is finding it difficult to not be hopelessly endeared. “Of course, only if you’re not busy. I understand this is short notice and you most likely have other evening arrangements.”

“I don’t,” Doyoung says, and smiles when Jaehyun is already buttoning his coat.

 

“It’s a bit… chilly.” The words don’t really come out properly on account of how the moisture from Doyoung’s lips have fused together but he assumes Jaehyun got the gist of it.

“They’re a bit late tonight,” Jaehyun says, gazing up at the sky. “But they’ll come. They have to go home, after all.” It sounds like he’s assuring himself.

“I’d have brought gloves if I knew it was going to be quite so cold.” Doyoung shifts from foot to foot but it’s hard to keep up any enthusiasm when the reward for his suffering would be looking at birds, the same birds that he sees enough of just peering outside his bedroom window. Having seen a dozen of them dead little under a month ago hasn’t eased his impression of them.

The walk to the hill in itself was soothing - Jaehyun kept pace with him, pointing out the particular way in which the streets diverged and cutting through a path where the trees encroached on the road. He mentions that he doesn’t come here often, and as Doyoung wipes the sweat condensing under his neck scarf, he doesn’t think he’d come here at all.

“The rooks will come,” Jaehyun had promised him. The ideal spot that Jaehyun had promised was in fact, quite a distance away from the actual trees and Doyoung had remarked this to him, but Jaehyun had dismissed him, stating that it was better to view the full display from further away. Doyoung waits, and no change happens, no birds, no cawing, not even the glimpse of a feather - just the gradient shift in the sky from blue to orange.

The sun has dipped past the treeline now and the twilight begins to recede, nightfall taking its place. Doyoung looks down at his fingertips, edged blue from the cold. He brings them to his mouth and blows out cool air, interlocking the fingers together. Doyoung had thought this was what Jaehyun was hinting at, that he wanted to show Doyoung what the roosting trees were like and it had seemed a simple enough gesture in theory, just agreeing to watch the sunset, but the longer they waited, the more that Doyoung’s own anxiety preys upon his mind. Jaehyun had a thousand better things to be doing than to spend time in the cold with his physiotherapist of all things.

“Did we miss it?” Doyoung asks. “Maybe we should come back another day.”

Jaehyun turns to look at Doyoung, his eyebrows furrowed. “They’ll be here, I know it, they have to go to the trees. I just wanted to show you but-”

His words cut off. A shadow falls overhead like the clouds were painted black and Doyoung stares up. A mass of black wings, gliding like chariots in the air appears in the sky, circling and circling around.

He gapes in wordless amazement.

A black halo encircles him. Birds, hundreds of them, thousands he’d even dare to say - rooks, all of them singing their song as they sail through the sky, twisting and turning through the air. They move as one entity, each pounding wing a mirror image of the birds alongside. Synchronized, they dip around the ash trees, and disappear into the horizon, dotting the once bare trees with their feathery bodies.

They leave a barren sky. No evidence of the events that took place less than minutes ago. He thinks he understands now, just a little bit, why Johnny is so enamoured with these birds. They’re loud and annoying, yes, but they’re beautiful, they’re absolutely beautiful and it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the spectacle of it all.

When he finally drops his gaze, he becomes aware of Jaehyun’s eyes on him.

“What did you think?” Jaehyun asks after a beat of silence.

His voice is shaky. “I think I’ll never look at those birds the same way again.”

A smile grows on Jaehyun’s face and Doyoung curses the fading sunlight because it means it’s getting harder to see how it looks across his face. Jaehyun steps closer to Doyoung. “I’m glad I could show it to you.”

“I shouldn’t have doubted you when you said you picked the best spot,” Doyoung says softly, a twinkle of laughter in the air. “It’s so dark though, we should get back before it starts freezing.”

“Mmm,” Jaehyun nods his affirmation, though it seems slightly unfair how entirely unaffected by the cold he is. “Oh, just hold on-”

He bends down, carefully crouching, his hands lightly touching the leaf litter. For an inexplicable moment, Doyoung thinks he’s kneeling, and almost starts to bend as well - but then Jaehyun stands back up, holding a feather, the obsidian colour in stark contrast to his pale skin.

“A gift from the rooks,” Jaehyun proclaims, placing the feather in the breast pocket of Doyoung’s coat. “I’m certain if we came here everyday for a year we’d have enough feathers to make an entire pillow for you.”

“Is that an offer?” Doyoung replies, wondering why his heart is beating faster, as if it can feel the imperceptible weight of the feather. It’s difficult to discern in the darkening sky - but he swears he can see the faint etchings of a smile.   

“I’ll walk you home,” Jaehyun says and without waiting for a reply, he clasps Doyoung’s hand and steps down the hill. His feet are steady and he navigates the route through the trees like he’s walked it a thousand times, the grip of his hand never slipping.

His hand is even colder than Doyoung’s, but he seems impervious to the chill of the cooling air. Even when they’re back on the road, Jaehyun doesn’t release Doyoung’s hand, rather now on even terrain, he interlocks his fingers tighter and slows their pace, so they’re walking alongside each other.

Doyoung finds that the night gets a little warmer now. 

“Does our Mayor have a curfew?” Jaehyun asks after a moment, unable to keep the laugh out of his voice.

“If he does, I’ve already broken it,” Doyoung replies. “So I should hope not.”

“He would be ridiculous to enforce any rules on his treasured doctor.”

“You’re the only person who thinks that’s impressive,” Doyoung rolls his eyes. “It’s a good thing you don’t live in the city anymore, you’d have no reason to talk to me when so many other physicians are about.”

“I don’t think there’s anyone at all like you,” Jaehyun says, and then pauses. “I think about it sometimes. The city. You can’t quite forget where you came from. Not really.”

“And your friends,” Doyoung says.

“I see Yuta still crosses your mind.” Jaehyun’s amusement is evident. “He’d be honoured, I’m certain. Myself and Ten always used to remark that Yuta’s somewhat of a magnet for the studious type. He loves nothing more than someone who reads a lot, which is amazing in itself; I’m not sure he’s picked up a book in decades.”

“Ten?”

The grip on Doyoung’s hand tightens. “Ah. Yes. I said that, didn’t I?” Jaehyun’s tone is strained. “Ten was a friend of mine - a friend of ours both. For a long time it was just us three, really. We were close.”

“Did you also meet him at church?” Doyoung asks.

Jaehyun seems to suppress a snort. “Yes, you could say that. It was Ten who encouraged me to play that organ to begin with. Said the room was too dreary and silent and that if I didn’t fix it, he would, and I’m certain his solution would have been to bring in entire orchestras.”

“He sounds like quite the character,” Doyoung remarks.

“He is.” Jaehyun’s voice is distant, like he’s remembering something he’d rather forget and he’s travelled back in time to capture the exact essence. “I miss him sometimes. It’s been years since I’ve even heard his name.”

“Ten,” Doyoung says aloud, and it’s curious really, he’s certain he’s heard that name before. It’s distinctive - perhaps heard is the wrong word, he can’t recall the cadence of a voice that says that. But he knows it. He knows he knows it - he has a mind that memorizes details, a survival skill when differentiating between hundreds of different bones and muscles on demand.

“Mmm. It’s strange for me, sometimes. When it was what it was like before, Yuta, Ten and I would never be apart. Now I can’t even remember the last time we were in the same room together.”

He doesn’t talk about Ten like he’s a friend. There’s that fondness that lies underneath his words, the intimacy of the way his lips move around his name. There’s history behind it. Doyoung’s familiar with it - it’s the way he talks about Taeyong.    

“What made you want to move here, then?” Doyoung asks, before he does something ridiculous like grow jealous. “What called you to Rookswood of all places?”

There’s a pause. There’s a long pause. There’s such a long pause that Doyoung thinks he’s asked something to offend - but then Jaehyun answers like the words are coals on his tongue.

“It wasn’t really a choice. Back then I needed to leave. And you know what the city’s like. When the city decides it’s done with you, there’s not much room for argument.”

That was a familiar scar. The city had a habit of siphoning joy, draining it to the grey colour that matched the skies. He thinks of the way Taeyong used to ruffle his hair in the mornings before class, and how that smile grew so hollow, Doyoung couldn’t stand to look at it any longer. Thinks that yes, the city takes things that shine and reduces it to ash. “Do you think you’ll go back?”

He holds Doyoung’s hand like an anchor. “I don’t think the city wants me anymore.” His laugh is empty.

Doyoung wonders why the city doesn’t want him. He wonders why Ten is not with him - what could have ever prompted him to leave Jaehyun? How could anything or anyone not want him? He wants to ask the city himself why they don’t appreciate his soft smiles and gentle eyes.

“Would you go back?” Jaehyun asks after sometime. They’ve approached the incline to their houses now, and Doyoung braces himself for an unpleasant hike. “Permanently, I mean. Do you think you’d move back for good?”

“I’ve grown somewhat fond of the countryside,” Doyoung says without actually answering. “But perhaps that’s just because I needed to leave the city. I felt like I was choking on the air. And I can breathe here. Rookswood has a certain kind of freedom that I don’t think exists anywhere else.”

Jaehyun exhales, heavier than intended. “I can see why you’d say that.”

“Do you feel the same?” Doyoung says carefully, not wanting to step on anymore boundaries.

“My opinion hardly matters - but I won’t deny that I’m pleased you won’t disappear back home. I just think that… Rookswood is a nicer place with you in it,” Jaehyun finishes.

Doyoung really wishes he could see Jaehyun’s expression - but he’s grateful that the darkness obscures any pinkness that grows on his cheeks. He is about to question why they’ve stopped walking - and looks up to see the familiar spiked gates.

“I hope you sleep well, Doyoung,” Jaehyun says softly and finally lets his hand go with one final squeeze.  

 

The bacon that Kun cooked was probably the best Doyoung has ever tasted. While Taeyong no doubt attempted to make do in the paraffin stove of their university building, he could have only dreamed of what Kun was capable of. He digs into his food with fervour, knowing that Kun keeps periodically making comments about his lean frame, and hopes he can reduce the frequency of the comments with uncontested proof that he does eat. Johnny sits on the opposite side of the table, glasses hanging low on his nose as he browses through the newspaper, humming under his breath as he turns the pages.

“Good morning, Doctor,” Sua says, holding the post in her hands. Her hair is as glossy as silk. “A letter came for you today.”

“Oh?” Doyoung says, looking up from his plate. Most probably Gahyeon informing Doyoung about the latest installment in her quest of finding Taeil a suitable girlfriend, her newest ambition.

He takes the letter from Sua, but it’s not Gahyeon’s messy scrawl at all. Rather, it’s in that fine penmanship that Taeyong possesses - one that Doyoung is incredibly familiar with, having often studied from his notes.

“Do you have a letter opener?” He asks Sua, and attempts not to flinch when she hands it to him. He steals a glance at Johnny, who doesn’t even look up from his newspaper.

“Good to see you eating, Doctor. I’ll pass the word along to Kun,” Sua says with a wry smile as Doyoung cuts open the seal and he reads. And he’s never realized how incredibly difficult it is to read something when crying until tears well up in his eyes, obscuring his vision, staining the page.

Doyoung’s fingers press into the letter with such force that it crumples in his hand, folding in itself. “Shit.”

Johnny tilts the newspaper he’s reading so his eyes framed by the circular glasses look over the top. “Everything okay, Doyoung?”

The deep breaths he takes aren’t enough, he may as well be breathing in clouds of toxic ash. He places the letter flat on the table, smoothing it. No matter how aggressively he runs his hand over the paper, it doesn’t make Taeyong’s words any less bleak. The page is that faint tint of yellow that comes with age; Taeyong probably dragged it out of some forgotten drawer rather than use his personalized stationery  - and as of right now, it just reminds Doyoung of the bile rising in his throat.

“Not quite,” Doyoung answers after a pause. His voice is shaky, unsteady, like it’s still being built. “I’ve just received some terrible news.”

Johnny folds the newspaper and places it facedown, gazing at Doyoung with his full attention. “What’s wrong?”  

“My…” he hesitates, attempting to find the exact word. “My best friend. I’ve known him since I started university. He’s just written me with horrible news. He’s incredibly sick. He’s going in for surgery. He hasn’t given specifics, but I know he’s had some problems with asthma in the past and he’s been under so much stress at the hospital lately - oh god.”

“Oh, Doyoung…”  Johnny’s eyes are wide with sincerity.  “I’m so sorry to hear that. That’s awful. How recent is the letter?”

 

I hope this letter isn’t too inconvenient or causes any distress, but I felt you did need to know - I’d rather you find it out from me than from Taeil or Gahyeon. It was just a dying man’s wish that he sends one final message to the person that has always been there for him, indeed, even in sickness and health.

 

It was just so quintessentially Taeyong to write what is essentially his final farewell and mention that he hoped the letter wouldn’t be inconvenient. He shifts his gaze from the letter and stares up at the ceiling, as if hoping some divine intervention might give him a window to talk to Taeyong, to see if he’s still okay, he has to be okay.

“From a week ago. Maybe less.” Doyoung runs a hand through his hair and it seems almost mocking that the strand that falls out is grey in colour. “I need to go Johnny, I need to see him, I’ve known Taeyong for years, he’s like an extension of my own body, I can’t just let him go through that, oh god, I don’t even know what hospital he’s at-”

He rises to his feet, worry clogging his throat as he attempts to remember the train schedule in his mind. It’s barely after eight now, if he rushes to pack and sprints to the station he could maybe make it for the half past nine train but even that’s putting a lot to possibilities. If he takes too long tying his shoelaces, he would miss it - but if he misses that train, he could take the one that’s an hour later, but that would affect his connection and he doesn’t think his anxiety could last sitting through several hours of idle waiting.

And while Doyoung runs through his itinerary in his mind, he becomes abundantly aware he’s perhaps forgotten the man who’s house he currently resides in. He looks up at Johnny and blanches. “Oh Johnny, I realize this is short notice but I wouldn’t ask unless it was absolutely urgent, I know I have no leave accumulated yet, but, but it’s him-” Doyoung trails off.

Johnny mercifully stands up as well, holding out his palms. “Doyoung, please, relax. It’s okay. I understand. Of course, I understand. It’s an emergency.”

“It is,” Doyoung says, eyes drifting to the letter.

 

My health has declined dramatically. I will not lie to you - it has become difficult to do much of anything. I write this in my hospital room, thinking about past memories.

He suppresses a shudder. “It’s Thursday, right? I’ll take the train this morning and I’ll make sure to be back next week before my appointments on Tuesday. I can try and get home earlier, but the trains don’t always run on weekends-”

“Doyoung,” Johnny says in a soothing tone, “It’s okay. You should focus on your friend. And that sounds fine, Doyoung. Would you like me to drive you to the station?”

“I couldn’t expect you to do that,” Doyoung is quick to reply - but he’s also abundantly aware that walking with his luggage would take up precious minutes, and could be the reason he misses that train. If there’s ever a moment to take up the kindness of his employer, perhaps it is now. 

“I’ve got most of the morning cleared, my first meeting is only at ten. I really don’t mind,” Johnny says. “Kun! Can you get Doyoung his coat and boots?”

Amidst the scuffling as Kun rushes from the kitchen and to the foyer, Doyoung exhales, looking up at Johnny with gratitude. “Johnny, I can’t thank you enough.”

“You’re needed at home,” Johnny says, resting a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Go take care of your friend.”

 

“What do you mean… delayed?” Doyoung asks, hands clenched into a fist. If he had less luggage, he’d have demanded to speak to the station manager, but in his current condition, trailing behind a large suitcase and two coats, he’s not in the position to be getting into confrontations. Overpacking is a physical representation of his anxiety and he’s carrying around nearly double the amount of clothes he took with last time.

“Only by half an hour,” the woman replies. “There was an issue a few stations up, someone walked on the rails.”

It feels like a bad omen. “Is it only going to be half an hour? I have to catch a connecting train in a few hours, and if I miss that one, I’ll be delayed for half a day.”

“Forty minutes at most. You’re welcome to sample a drink at our coffeeshop-”

Doyoung turns around so violently, effectively cutting off the woman’s sales pitch and starts walking furiously in the opposite direction. He hears someone call his name, but the noise is distorted when a train passes by. It’s probably just more offers to purchase coffee. His resting heart rate is already like a rabbit racing - adding caffeine to the cocktail of emotions inside of him just seems like a terrible idea.  If he knew there would be a delay he would have just asked if Johnny could drop him at the next station - perhaps he would have had time to pack a little more efficiently. But, neither happened, and now Doyoung aggressively paces to a bench, nails digging so hard into the handle of his suitcase that it leaves an imprint on his palm.

“Doyoung!”

He turns around and finds himself staring into a pair of honey dipped eyes.

“Doyoung,” Jaehyun says, eyes crinkling. “I thought it was you. I’m surprised to see you sitting here.”

“The trains are delayed,” Doyoung says by way of explanation, gesturing vaguely at the suitcase.

“I assume so from the distinct lack of noise. What are you doing here? Is something wrong?” Concern rings in his voice.

There’s something inherently wrong about seeing Jaehyun at the train station. Jaehyun, carefully carved marble Jaehyun, was meant to remain in his mansion, meant to be a work of art that occasionally graced visitors with his melodious voice and gentle smile. He’s not supposed to leave his house to come to the filthy and loud train station and he’s not supposed to see Doyoung when his hair is uncombed and he feels as if he might burst into tears in the next minute.

Not when the last time they were at a train station was a moment so perfect it may as well have been carved in crystal.

“One of my friends from home is sick. Taeyong. I need to see him, I can’t let him be without me right now.” The pit of anxiety in Doyoung’s stomach ripples outwards. It’s as if every person he tells it to makes the situation more real, makes Taeyong even more doomed.

“You must be so worried,” Jaehyun murmurs, voice tender. “I remember you spoke about him before. Are you close to him?”

Doyoung’s mouth is dry when he looks up at Jaehyun. “The closest,” is all he can manage. His hands are shaking and he doesn’t know how to stop them. He stares down, and Jaehyun follows the path of his eyes and carefully places his own hands on top of his.

“Have you booked your ticket?” Jaehyun asks, his voice calm and measured. His hand is a comforting presense.

“I did, but the train has been delayed and it’s taking so long and I’m going to miss the connection and that’s just going to set me back several hours more-”

“Hold on. One thing at a time.”

He sticks out. The sleek black coat he wears is worth more than the cracked paving Doyoung stands on, and he’s more groomed than anyone else present at this odd hour of the morning. Even standing still, Doyoung can feel curious eyes on him - but Jaehyun is entirely focused on Doyoung, caressing his hands in his gentle hold.

“He’s been in surgery, what if something happened-”

“Doyoung.” Jaehyun’s tone is firm enough that the tangle of Doyoung’s thoughts are aligned. “Concentrate on the present. The trains, the connecting station… that’s out of your control. Just focus on what you can control.”

“I can’t control anything, Jaehyun, if I could I wouldn’t be here-” Doyoung says, and the corners of his eyes are beginning to glisten and he’s not sure if he can survive the resulting embarrassment if he starts crying in front of Jaehyun for the second time.

“Doyoung…” he says, and his thumb traces circles on the skin of his wrist. Doyoung’s breath hitches.

“What are you doing here?” Doyoung asks, attempting to regain stability.

“I had come to inquire about messenger pigeons.”

“Oh,” Doyoung says, and his stomach curls.

“The post office was very kind, the entrance is right there next to the coffee shop,” Jaehyun says, gesturing in the distance. Doyoung doesn’t bother looking. “They politely told me that even if they could arrange for a messenger pigeon, there’s no way in which to train it to fly to its destination, not without repetition, and I don’t have that luxury. I unfortunately will not be able to contact my friend.”

“I am sorry about your friend,” Doyoung says, and he’s even more empathetic than he usually could be. He hesitates: “Is it Ten?”

Jaehyun blinks, distancing their hands as he coughs into the crook of his elbow. “No. No, no, absolutely not. I don’t talk to Ten, I…”

Doyoung doesn’t think he’s ever seen Jaehyun quite so stunned before. He takes a minute to regain his composure.

“It’s not Ten,” Jaehyun finishes.

And perhaps because Doyoung is searching for some kind of distraction, or because he’s always been curious about it and was never brave enough to ask, he inhales. “Who is it?”

He’s better at keeping face this time. “I’ve never mentioned him before,” Jaehyun says.

Doyoung waits expectantly.

“It’s amusing to me. You’ll say something and it’ll just remind me that if you and Jungwoo ever met, you’d get along rather well I think.”

“Jungwoo,” Doyoung says, testing the name in his mouth.

“Mmm,” Jaehyun hums. “But it’s nothing, really, I know he’s fine where he is. It’s unfortunate that I can’t speak to him, but it’s something I’ll learn to live with. But enough about my friends, tell me more about Taeyong. I remember you mentioned him before.”

Doyoung would generally prefer not to.

“Did he mention what his affliction is?” Jaehyun prompts, when no further information is forthcoming.

“No. He just mentioned surgery.  His lungs, I imagine, he’s had asthma as long as I’ve known him, and he’s been known to smoke on occasions. He obviously knows what’s going on, he’s a doctor of course he does, but I think he doesn’t want me to worry.” Doyoung pauses to laugh at the absurdity of it. “As if I could ever stop worrying.”

“You studied together?”

“Yes.” That wasn’t enough. Doyoung would not have survived university if not for Taeyong, if not for his kind eyes and gentle hands, for those endless nights that blurred into days, punctuated by his arrival with ginger tea and homemade chocolate chip biscuits.

“It’s endlessly interesting to me that you studied to become a doctor. To me, it feels like you just appeared one day with a comprehensive knowledge of human anatomy, like you were born with it.”

Doyoung feels himself warm under the glow of his praise. “Oh. Thank you, Jaehyun. I assure you, I was a student, and I think you’d be quite unimpressed with who I was then.”

“I’d beg to disagree.”

It’s too strange to have his thoughts split between Jaehyun and Taeyong. The past and the future should not mix in such a manner, and Doyoung wishes he could separate them out, like how it used to be. Yet, he also knows if he was alone at this train station now, he’d be bordering a state of catatonia. “I’m sorry, I’m just wasting your time. You have no reason to wait here, you should go home,” Doyoung says, already feeling the shame of having taken up so much of his day coil in his stomach.

“I think you could use the distraction,” Jaehyun says softly.

And Doyoung would protest but he finds himself silenced by the soft glow that made a home in Jaehyun’s eyes.

 

Jaehyun is an anchor. His presence grounds Doyoung, pulls him into the present and stops his mind from torturing itself with visions of empty operating rooms. They sit next to each other, not quite touching, not quite apart. Time begins to pass. The conversation is comparatively lighter, just gentle chatter about how awful trains are. Every now and then Jaehyun slips in a question about Taeyong, clearly intrigued, and perhaps Doyoung is adopting the characteristics of his new home, because he finds himself avoiding direct answers, offering only the barest bones of information about him. Jaehyun is an anchor, and Doyoung’s never been more grateful to sink into him.

He barely notices the train coming, only really knowing by the reflection of light in Jaehyun’s eyes and Doyoung jumps to his feet, grabbing his suitcase.

“Oh, finally. I’ve got to go-” Doyoung mumbles, attempting to walk and say goodbye at the same time but is halted by Jaehyun pulling his hand back.

“Good luck with Taeyong, I hope all turns out to be well,” Jaehyun says, rising to his feet.

And Doyoung becomes abundantly aware the last time he was in this train station, Jaehyun had leaned in and kissed his cheek, and his insides burn at the very thought of it. He pauses, staring at Jaehyun and wonders if he’s thinking the same thing. And if he’s planning on doing it again.

Or perhaps - and Doyoung’s heart might implode in its rib cage - he plans on actually kissing him. It would explain the way Jaehyun nears towards him, and the way in which his hands pull Doyoung flush to his chest - but he doesn’t lean in, makes no movement towards his face. He just holds him in his arms, embracing him tightly, as if he has the power to protect Doyoung from every single dark thought he has, from every evil in the world.

“It’ll be okay,” Jaehyun whispers into the crook of Doyoung’s neck.

Doyoung thinks there’s a certain comfort to be found in the way Jaehyun cradles him, their bodies flush together. He could stay there for minutes - maybe hours or days, and learn how to breathe again.

“You need to go,” Jaehyun whispers, and his voice is warm against Doyoung’s ear. “I’ll be here when you get back.”

 It’s the most reassuring thing he’s ever heard - and it’s precisely what Doyoung needed. It is with regret that he lets go but takes a moment to hold onto Jaehyun’s hand before he retreats into the train, and by the time Doyoung’s settled in his seat, looking out of the window, Jaehyun is gone, as if he was never there to begin with.

Doyoung had just dotted his final punctuation mark on his pathology exam. It was a three hour paper and his hand pained from the blue marks embedded in his palm from where his pen was pressed into it - and despite that he was euphoric. It was that evening night in between seasons, when it’s not cold enough to barricade in their dorm rooms, but not warm enough to sit outside, waiting. Taeyong did anyway, sitting with his textbook in his hand on the lecture hall steps, and looked up at Doyoung, smiling.

“You didn’t have to come,” Doyoung said and it came out as a chastisement. “You should be sleeping, you had your anatomy final yesterday and I know you stayed up all night-”

“Doyoung, exhale,” Taeyong said, reaching up and ruffling Doyoung’s hair. “You know I’ve missed you. Feel like I haven’t seen you in a month.”

“We had breakfast together this morning, Taeyong,” Doyoung said, unable to contain the grin that spreads across his face.

“That hardly counts, you spent the entire time reading your flashcards. Now come on, no more work. We’ll take the night off. It’s been so long since we’ve just sat in our room and just talked to each other.”

Doyoung could not contain the swell of joy in his heart. “That sounds amazing.”

Taeyong stood up, slinging his bag over his shoulder, seemingly enjoying the advantage in height that the stairs gave. For a few moments, Taeyong occupied the conversation with updates on their classmates, expressing his joy at the upcoming and much-needed rest.

“Now I can spend all my time on you,” he ended up saying and Taeyong’s mouth clamped shut, as if he said something that he shouldn’t have.

“Oh, you shouldn’t flirt like that with me, I’ll do something silly like take it seriously.” Doyoung heard his heartbeat in his ears. He fiddled with the zipper of his jacket, unwilling to look at Taeyong in the eye.

“What if I am serious though?” Taeyong’s voice was as light as the wind in the night.

“I don’t think I’d believe you,” Doyoung said. He forced out laughter, a lifeline for Taeyong, to stop himself from going further into this conversation, to stop himself saying something he’d regret.

Taeyong shifted closer, and traced a hand under Doyoung’s jaw, gazing at him with eyes that seemed to burn. “Would you let me convince you?”

“I would.”

 

Doyoung’s hand hovers above the familiar pinewood, and he makes the movement to connect skin to door. He’s interrupted when it swings open and Taeil barrels out, frantically stuffing his stethoscope into his briefcase, all while having his whole shirt unbuttoned. The only reason he even looks up from his personal whirlwind is because he collides with Doyoung’s suitcase, almost tripping down the steps, barely regaining his balance by digging his nails rather painfully into Doyoung’s shoulder.

Doyoung winces, throwing out a hand to stabilize Taeil as well as edge away from his talon grip. “Are you okay?”

“I’m ridiculously late for emergency surgery but-” Taeil breaks off, and takes a step back, analyzing each inch of the man in front of him, eyes wide in disbelief. “Doyoung? Is that you? What are you…” He pauses. “Doyoung?”

“Hello Taeil,” Doyoung says.

It shouldn’t surprise him to find Taeil here, of course, this is where he lives now  - but there’s that soft nagging feeling at the back of his mind that makes him feel that he should be here as well. It isn’t a feeling he’s had in a while.

“Where’s Taeyong?” Doyoung asks, attempting to skip past Taeil’s unnecessary shock.

Taeil blinks rapidly, and it’s increasingly difficult to take him seriously with his bare chest exposed in the moonlight. “Hello. Uh, he’s inside? It’s late, he’s probably in his room I guess, uh but Doyoung, why are you here, shouldn’t you be in Rookswood-”

“Have a good day at work,” Doyoung says decisively and picks up his suitcase, wheeling it into the house, sparing Taeil with no further glances. It’s perhaps impolite, but he’ll catch up with him tomorrow when the urgency of the situation is diminished. And, as he rationalizes it to himself, Taeil is late for emergency surgery anyway - and he’s half-naked. Both are much more pressing concerns.

The confused mumblings fade in the distance the further away from Taeil he walks. Doyoung avoided visiting this house over Christmas, not wanting to overstep any boundaries and he hadn’t realized how much he missed it until he walks into the living room and sees the empty space on the cabinet where his wooden dove would have been.

The house is small, cramped even - Doyoung’s office in Rookswood is larger than the living room, but it’s so comforting to see a house that has evidence of being lived in. Taeil’s violin stand is positioned in the center of the room, sheet music strewn around and Doyoung can make out tins of imported tea that Taeyong developed a fondness for after graduation. Doyoung lingers a moment, allowing his eyes to pass over the familiarity of the room - but also the differences. It’s clear that he doesn’t live here anymore. The distinct absence of his own artifacts is noticeable and Doyoung is already in a state of emotional vulnerability - he doesn’t need any further reasons to cry. He had spent the train ride sleeping, and ended up replaying through tens of memories of Taeyong and their shared past and woke up with soaked eyelids. 

He walks up the stairs before he drowns in his own memories. It’s reflex that guides him to Taeyong’s room. It’s entirely plausible that he swapped rooms in the time and yet, Doyoung doesn’t think that he does, not when he sees the stream of light from under the door. Doyoung hesitates.

His last actual conversation with Taeyong was in this very house and it had gone so overwhelmingly awful that Doyoung woke up before dawn to head to the train station, not even willing to stare into his disappointed face for another second longer. Doyoung knows, as he always knew, that there would come a moment he would have to confront Taeyong, where he’d have to bend down on his knees and apologize - but he also didn’t think it would come at quite this moment.

But Taeyong is sick, as he reminds himself, as he steels himself. Doyoung isn’t prepared to let him die. Despite everything, he is Doyoung’s best friend and while the other embers of their relationship may have sparked out, that particular one would burn as long as Doyoung breathes.

He knocks on the door, and opens it with great care, bracing himself for the possible condition he may find him in. Doyoung spent hours imagining bloodstained sheets, an emaciated figure drooling bile and eyes wide and unblinking, the room stench musty and sickly. His mind had bested him with what are exhaustive fantasies as what he actually finds instead is Taeyong on his bed currently chewing on a carrot stick, legs crossed, reading a Sherlock Holmes novel - and not even one of the good ones.

Doyoung stares.

Doyoung?” Taeyong does not so much gasp, as he does scream in a most reserved way. Taeyong drops the book, and jumps off the bed, rising to his feet. He approaches Doyoung cautiously, as if concerned it was an illusion of the mind. “Doyoung, is that really you?”

He holds out a hand that Doyoung immediately grips, and then he tightens it, leaning in closer. “Taeyong. Don’t you look in rather splendid health?”

Taeyong’s answering squeak is the final and most damning piece of evidence. “Doyoung, oh my God, I had no idea you were coming, you didn’t write-”

His fingers are pressing so deep into Taeyong’s wrist that he can feel his narrow bones rub against his flesh. It’s the only physical manifestation of his anger he can allow. “Taeyong, what is going on?”

“Can you let my hand go?” Taeyong’s eyes flicker like the flames of a candle.

“You led me to believe you were on your deathbed. You composed a letter to me saying farewell, and wishing me a prosperous future. You said…” Doyoung’s voice cracks, “You said goodbye.”

Doyoung lets his hand drop and Taeyong takes a step back, smoothing over the reddening skin. “I can explain.”

“I don’t know if I want to hear. Taeyong, you lied to me, didn’t you?”

Taeyong was never one to fabricate excuses. Which is why when he says nothing, when he doesn’t even try to deny or explain further, Doyoung realizes he was correct.

“Doyoung…” Taeyong inhales. “Can we talk?”

“I don’t know what you plan to tell me. Taeyong, I have a job, I have responsibilities, you made me lie to my boss-” Doyoung trails off, panic flooding his mind.

“I didn’t lie about it all. I was sick. I did have surgery.”

“You’ve recovered incredibly fast then, haven’t you?” Doyoung’s tone is so harsh, it doesn’t feel like his own voice. It’s as artificial as the tall buildings that have surrounded him since he’s set foot in the city.

Taeyong lifts up his shirt, and Doyoung curses his body’s natural reflex to blush at the sight of his exposed skin. He narrows his eyes on the bruised flesh, and it is a rather nasty scar over his stomach, running deep and dark. It’s also an extremely familiar scar, a pattern he knows from both his books and his own body.

“Did you have an appendectomy?” he asks, observing the particular curve of the incision.

Taeyong swallows, dropping his sleep shirt down. “Yes. Less than a week ago.”

It should soothe Doyoung’s mind that Taeyong wasn’t lying about everything but the fact remained that an appendectomy did not justify the emotional blackmail contained in that single letter. “Taeyong, I’m attempting to understand your thought process but I cannot even begin to. You’re a doctor, these procedures are routine, both of us can do it in our sleep, you know the recovery time is barely more than a few weeks, why would you…”

“Doyoung…”

“I had mine a week into into our clinical internships, I was fine by then, you know this, you were there, even if you were worried, you had literally seen it was such a simple operation.”

Taeyong glares. “Doyoung, I’d like to remind you that I held you when you cried for hours straight in the hospital room.”

He flushes. “If you had the time to write a letter, you could have specified what was wrong!” Doyoung tries not to shout. He really does. He’s not someone who’s good with anger, he doesn’t know what to do with the spiky tendrils of rage that cling around his neck. Yet, Doyoung only restrains himself now out of consideration for the nice neighbours next door who don’t deserve to have their sleep interrupted because of Taeyong’s duplicity.

There’s not much Taeyong can really say to justify his actions any further, Doyoung realizes. There’s no point in continuing this conversation. “I need to go back. I need to go back to Rookswood, I left my job, I had appointments and house visits and prescriptions to write up, and I left it all because I was worried about you.” His voice cracks. “I need to go.”

“Doyoung, don’t, please, let’s just talk-”

He wishes he was back in Rookswood. He wishes the familiar walls of Taeyong’s rooms were ash trees, he wishes the floor was the grass of the Cerasus Manor gardens. This house feels claustrophobic, like it’s squeezing the life out of his lungs. He doesn’t want to be here anymore.

He turns around and Taeyong must be feeling rather brave to pull Doyoung back. He cowers under the glare but doesn’t let go. “There’s no trains running at this hour. You know this. Taeil will be working till hours after dawn. At least stay the night and we can talk in the morning.”

“We have nothing to talk about, Taeyong. We’ve just cleared up everything. You led me to believe you were dying and you weren’t, and now I need to catch my third train in twenty four hours and apologize at the feet of my employer for being so kind as to allow me to go.”

Taeyong runs a hand through his soft chestnut hair, gazing in despair. “Doyoung…”

Doyoung lets out some sort of indistinct groan and leaves Taeyong’s room, slamming the door behind him. He hopes the neighbours didn’t hear, and then decides he doesn’t care. It isn’t like they’re his neighbours anymore - and his actual neighbour would never.

 

 

The presence of someone else in the room is what causes Doyoung’s eyes to fling open, and reflexively he sits bolt upright. His sleep had been fitful and restless, and it seemed as if the night would never pass.

“God Doyoung, that was terrifying,” Taeil whispers, stepping back from where he’s grabbing his glasses from the bedside table. “You were sleeping. Are you still? Your eyes are closed.”

Doyoung’s eyes aren’t closed, he’s motionless. His vision focuses as he concentrates on the shape next to him, and his eyes make out Taeil’s distinct figure. “Taeil. I’m sorry. I’ve disrupted your sleeping arrangements, haven’t I?”

“Forget it,” he says dismissively. “I can stay on the couch. Just got back from work, I just wanted to grab some stuff, go back to sleep.” He takes another step back.

“No, no, I’m in your bed, let me just get up, I should probably get going anyway, I have a train to catch…” Doyoung’s abnormally awake, and while it means his mind is as sharp as it would be at noon, he feels as if he’s barely slept at all. Exhaustion weighs down on his mind.

“Ah, right, Taeyong told me about the… miscommunication,” he says tactfully. “I do apologize as well for any confusion.”

“Taeil, it’s hardly your responsibility to screen Taeyong’s letters to make sure he isn’t trapped in his own solo performance.”

“It isn’t,” Taeil agrees. “But I still feel bad. I’m told your conversation didn’t go very well.”

“Did Taeyong say that?”

“No, the neighbours did.”

To Taeil’s credit, he really does try and sound gentle but it does little to soothe Doyoung’s ruffled feathers. He swings his legs off the side of the bed and buries his head in his hands. “I just feel like such a fool, Taeil.”

“Doyoung, I don’t really think it’s my place to get in the middle of this. But I do think you need to hear Taeyong’s explanation.”

“I did!”

“Properly. I agree that he acted irrationally, and he did lie to you, but you’ve just got your perspective. You’ll feel better if you talk to him too - and I must say, I don’t enjoy the idea of having my two closest friends in the same house but refusing to acknowledge each other’s existence.” Taeil gives a wan smile.

“Looking at it now, the letter seems far too dramatic to be serious. I know that Taeyong can be overly emotional at times, and yet I treated that letter like it was a death certificate.” Doyoung’s sigh resounds around the room. “I’m out of practise in dealing with him.”

“You’re taking this too personally,” Taeil says, sliding his glasses onto his face. He looks older with them on, and they do little to hide the dark circles under his eyes. “Both of you had good intentions that didn’t necessarily work out. But again, it’s really not my place. Still, it’s really sweet that you came all this way for Taeyong.”

“Of course I did,” Doyoung says softly. “He’s my best friend.”

“And yet, you said perhaps ten sentences to him when you were here at Christmas.” It’s the most gentle chastisement but it crawls under Doyoung’s skin. He’d buried that guilt so deep he forgot it pulsed through his veins. “You didn’t even say goodbye to us.”

Taeil pauses at the mirror and rearranges his hair. A pencil sticks out from behind his ear that he removes, nods at, and then pushes back in. “Still, besides that, I’m happy to see you of course. How are you?”

“I’m fine.”

Taeil raises an eyebrow.

“I’ve been better,” Doyoung concedes. “Rookswood has become more stressful of late.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Has a cold been spreading around?”

Doyoung stares for a moment and then it clicks in his head. Of course, Taeil assumes that the cause of his stress is an increased workload, rather than masses of dead birds and injured vampires. He gazes at Taeil with fondness.

“Something like that,” Doyoung answers. “I shouldn’t take up more of your time, you must be exhausted after surgery.”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Taeil says, but he notices that he’s tilting to the side, and leans against the wall to support himself. “Though I did actually wonder, I would have written to you but it’s not like you ever reply. Your neighbour - did you…”

Doyoung coughs. “Oh yes. I don’t know, did Gahyeon mention what she did?”

Taeil nods carefully. “Did he like the song?”

“He hasn’t had a chance to play it yet,” Doyoung says. Jaehyun had not even brought up the topic of the sheet music ever since the day he agreed to his physiotherapy sessions. Truthfully, Doyoung had not heard him play at all in the weeks that followed, and he would never be so bold as to outright request a performance. So it became that was not spoken about, and Doyoung does wonder if he did something to offend with the gift. Perhaps the piece is too difficult, perhaps he didn’t like it, or maybe he just didn’t like Doyoung that much at all. Doyoung had plenty of time to obsess over it in the seven days in between each session.

“It takes time to learn a new piece,” Taeil says kindly, “I’m still trying to perfect Joy to the World.”

Doyoung nods. He’d really prefer not to think about Jaehyun at this particular time, not when his mind is occupied with how enraged he is at Taeyong.

“I should say, I have mentioned it to Taeyong,” Taeil says quickly, then immediately clears his throat. “Surgery went so well today, I really think I’ve got the hang of it. I’m hardly squeamish at all!”

“You told Taeyong?”

He thought he had been betrayed by only one of his friends - it turned out to be two. He stares at Taeil and wonders precisely how two men who spent six years of their life in medical school could both be so stupid at times. But, Doyoung supposes, he shouldn’t get too cocky about it either, it takes a specific kind of specialized fool to be in the position that he is in.

“It’s been months, Doyoung,” Taeil says, sheepishness evident in his voice. “We went to a music store together - it wasn’t anything particularly scandalous.”

“What possible reason did you have for telling him?”

“He asked,” Taeil states simply. “He asked about you. He hadn’t heard from you since Christmas and he was worried.”

“Why would he be worried? It’s not like I’m in any danger in Rookswood.”

Taeil purses his lips and stares at Doyoung for a long time before he answers. “I don’t think he’s concerned about you incurring physical harm. Rather, I think he just wants to know that you’re sleeping well. That you use your eyedrops when you work late. That you’re eating enough, and you’re not forgetting to drink enough water.”

Oh.

“I didn’t think of it like that.”

Taeil shrugs. “I need to get some sleep. I’ve been up for about twenty-one hours. You’re starting to look like a scalpel to me. I’ll see you later today, hopefully? I understand if you need to leave but I would prefer if you say goodbye this time.”

Doyoung nods stiffly. “I’m sorry for bothering you, Taeil.”

“You’re not bothering us, Doyoung, you never do. We want you to live your life and if that involves moving on beyond us, that’s fine, but don’t think that you’re a burden to us.” Taeil throws him one final smile and a gentle wave before closing the door behind him.

Yet, he does feel like a burden - he feels like he doesn’t belong here anymore. Doyoung always knew there was a life beyond Rookswood, but the more he goes back to the city, the more he realizes that Rookswood is the only one he could ever have now.

 

 

 There’s a prickling sensation which overcomes Doyoung when he slides into the plush cushion of the seat. It takes him a few minutes before it sinks in but when it does, it feels like his skin crawls with ants. It’s familiarity, worrying familiarity. Everything about this place is exactly what it was like more than two years ago, from the olive green curtains which drape over the windows to that faint ashy smell of the woodfire ovens. If Taeyong really wanted to apologize, Doyoung can’t help but wonder why he chose to do it at the restaurant they went to on their first date.

“Sorry if you were waiting long,” Taeyong says, pulling off his jacket and hanging it on the side of the chair. He’s dressed in that dotted black shirt of his; he’s had it since third year. “I was just at the doctor’s.”

“I’m certain you were,” Doyoung replies, and while he did promise himself to show restraint, his words are laced with acid and Taeyong flinches. He doesn’t immediately say anything else, taking advantage of the waiter who approaches their table and orders.

“Wine?” Taeyong offers.

Doyoung initially thinks about refusing, and then remembers he is about to be in complete solitude with his former lover for the first time since they parted ways, and he nods profusely. “Yes.” 

He drinks his first glass in full before the waiter is even done pouring Taeyong’s.

 

The night progresses in a way that can be summed up by one particular moment that occurs when the food arrived: Doyoung reaches for the salt, Taeyong notices this and attempts to pass the shaker to him, his elbow knocks a sideplate to the floor which Doyoung catches, barely, straining his arm in the process, and startling the elderly woman seated next to them.

In short: very close to a disaster but not quite. They exchanged meaningless conversation, mostly about Taeil and other classmates, unwilling to dig into the argument that is the unseen and unbeing third person at their table. 

“Taeyong,” Doyoung says, placing his knife and fork over each other and stacking them to the side of the plate, bracing himself. “I need to ask you something.”

Taeyong downs the rest of his wine glass. “Go ahead.”

“Why did you? Was it entirely necessary? What could you possibly have to gain by sending me into a spiral of my own anxiety? I genuinely thought something terrible happened to you.” Doyoung tried not to sound personally affected but is aware that he’s failing miserably.

“It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t actually think you’d take it seriously and come all this way. You never took any of my other letters seriously, why did I expect that you’d even bother writing back?” Taeyong replies, and then erases the sour expression from his face to stare adoringly at the waiter who tops up his wine.

“Regardless of how I interpreted it and what I chose to do, you clearly wrote it with the intention to worry me. And I’d like to know why.” Doyoung pauses. “You owe me that much.”

Perhaps that’s the wrong thing to say because Taeyong’s grip tightens on his wineglass that he’s in danger of snapping the stem. “I owe you that much? You know what you owe me? You owe me a moment of your damn day. Do you know ever since you took that job you haven’t even spoken to me in close to a year?”

Doyoung flushes. “I mean, it’s hours away, it’s not like I can meet up with you for coffee-”

“That’s not what I mean, Doyoung, and you know that!” Taeyong doesn’t yell. He’s never been good at it. His voice is too silvery to spit words of copper. Yet, it seems he is barely restraining himself now, bubbling over with resentment. “You haven’t sent me a single letter back after I’ve written to you for eight months. You wouldn’t even look me in the eye during Christmas and I still don’t think I’ve forgiven you for walking out without saying goodbye when you moved to Rookswood. You left in the dead of the night like some criminal.”

The guilt that Doyoung had so carefully masked is scraped off with the knife in Taeyong’s voice, and the wound hurts. “I didn’t have much to say.”

“For months?” Taeyong sighs, pushing his plate away from him. “Doyoung, I know I acted irrationally when I sent that letter, but truthfully? I just wanted to see if you still even cared about me in the slightest, that if you thought I was actually dying, you’d care enough to spare the time to write back or perhaps order a bouquet of flowers for the funeral.”

“Taeyong…”

“Don’t look at me like that. I know it’s pathetic, but so is the way you’ve treated me. Doyoung, we’ve been friends for years, you can’t just cut me out of your life like this.” He sounds tired. “Or if you want to, I’d like you to do it outright.”

 

 

Breaking up with Taeyong was like steering a sinking ship. They were both aware of the situation, their boots had been waterlogged for months already and there’s only so many times they can take turns with buckets, bailing out the water collecting around them. Awareness didn’t make it any easier. Doyoung had never been more vulnerable with anyone in his life, and the idea of detaching himself from Taeyong in any capacity was terrifying - it would leave an open wound. His sweet Taeyong would not say anything out of turn, would kiss him every morning and continuously look at him with his adoring doe-like eyes. And it sort of seemed like things could be okay, if only looked at from a certain angle.

But a sinking ship does not stop sinking just because it’s a sunny day outside, and Doyoung remembers sitting outside and realizing he needs to leave. He and Taeyong live together, they study together, soon they’ll work together, they’re in an unravelable union. He can’t continue along like this and when the boat’s broken, when the sail’s torn and when the wood splinters and cracks there’s no point staying, no point walking on broken planks. 

So when Doyoung reads the advertisement in the newspaper of personal physician in some town he’s never even heard of, he looks up at Taeyong and says: “I’ve been thinking about leaving.”

And Taeyong smiles sadly because he’s always known. “Sounds like a good idea.”  

 

 

“I was there for your appendectomy, remember?” Taeyong says, avoiding Doyoung’s eyes. “I took you to the hospital and everything.”

“Of course I remember that.”

“I didn’t have anyone with me when I went. Taeil was in surgery, Gahyeon was in her exams, and there’s no one else I would have wanted with me. I was just alone in that room, and I couldn’t help but think how different it was. How much I missed you, and how I wasn’t even sure if you missed me back.” Taeyong’s voice is unsteady. “So I wrote a very miserable letter because I felt very miserable and I didn’t actually think the nurse would mail it, but I didn’t necessarily regret it when she did.” He takes a sip of his glass and finally looks up at Doyoung. “I am sorry, despite everything.”   

Doyoung stares at the shining porcelain of his plates, and feels a lot like the day he left. “Taeyong, I could never want you out of my life and if I ever made you feel that way, then I’m so sorry. It wasn’t you, it’s never been you. I’m just not sure how to go back to how we were.”

The air is gentle. “Then, let’s try going forward. We were friends before we were anything else, Doyoung.”

And that’s the naked truth of it all.

Taeyong is quiet, collecting his thoughts. When he speaks, it’s soft. “I’m sorry we didn’t work out, you know? I wish we did. I really wish that we would have.”

“Me too.” Doyoung’s voice is hoarse. He doesn’t say anything further.

“It was for the best, I realize that but I’m not content to lose our friendship. I promise not to send scary letters but then you have to promise to send me actual letters, tell me how you are, how you really are, and let me be a part of your life.” Taeyong looks up at Doyoung with wide eyes. “Can we do that?”

“We can do that.”

Taeyong relaxes, letting his hand leave its grip on the glass. “Okay. Then let’s begin. Tell me. How’s work?”

 

It’s not as easy as that, of course. Words don’t come out like they used to, they’re all bent and crooked, like they’ve been packed away in a locked cupboard. But Doyoung’s been talking to Taeyong for longer than he hasn’t, and as they drink more of the wine, eat more of the spaghetti, they relax and it starts feeling more and more like how it used to be. It’s different now, but it’s better.

“Is there anyone special in your life?” Taeyong asks when the moon hangs full in the sky.

Doyoung stares at his own glass of red. If this was what normal was going to be like, he needed to get used to it, and needed to stop lying, stop avoiding. “I enjoy the company of my neighbour very much.”

“I’ve heard something like that,” Taeyong says, a hint of amusement in his voice. “Taeil certainly painted an interesting picture.”

Doyoung flushes. He searches for something innocuous in his mind, some piece of information he can divulge about Jaehyun without embarrassing himself any further. “He’s from the city like us. I must say, though, he travels in such different circles than we ever did.”

Taeyong crosses his hands in interest. “What do you mean?”

And perhaps it’s because he’s had a few too many glasses of wine, and perhaps because carrying around this particular secret had weighed down on his mind for too long, but Doyoung leans forward, lowering his voice. “His best friend is a vampire.”

Taeyong’s eyes widen considerably. “Oh. I would not have expected that.”

“Neither did I,” Doyoung says. “It’s a shock, to say the least. Yuta is a wonderful person, though, I must say. I met him briefly, and he was very charming.”

“Yuta,” Taeyong repeats. “What a distinct name.”

“Mmm. They’ve all got such interesting names, really,” Doyoung says. They’re one of the last people in the restaurant now. In perhaps several minutes they’ll be politely requested to leave - but until then, they lean back in their chairs and continue drinking their wine. “There’s Jaehyun, of course, and Yuta, and he referred to this other friend of theirs. He calls himself Ten.”

Taeyong puts down his wine glass. “Ten?”

Doyoung nods.

“Is he a vampire too?”

He racks his brain for the encounter but finds himself unable to find the answer. All he recalls is how much he enjoyed holding Jaehyun’s hand, and how beautiful the rooks looked at sunset. “I can’t say for sure, honestly.”

“It’s just a little odd,” Taeyong says, “but it’s probably a coincidence.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s just, he was in the news lately, wasn’t he?” Taeyong says, face scrunched in concentration. “This vampire called Ten was arrested. He was in charge of a coven operating out of an abandoned church, near the old water tower. It was so dramatic, it was all the city could talk about for months. I remember reading about it in the papers.”

It clicks in that second. A memory of Doyoung, frustrated beyond belief at Johnny’s apathy, over a breakfast of homemade bread. Johnny, reading a newspaper article, flashing the headline at him, warning him about the dangers of vampires, informing him of the imprisonment of one of them. It’s why he never heard the name, he read it.

“It can’t be the same person, right?” Doyoung says, trying to reassure himself.

“Of course not,” Taeyong scoffs, waving his arm. “It’s just circumstantial, I’m certain.”

“Right. Yes. Definitely.” Of course, there’s probably tens of Ten’s in the world, and there’s no evidence that the one Jaehyun and Yuta knew is the one that was currently in prison.

“You know, though, it’s so funny,” Taeyong says, drawling slightly from the alcohol. “Hypothetically, if it was the same Ten. It’s not like vampires typically befriend humans, you know? And imagine that, Jaehyun’s best friend is one. And possibly his other best friend as well.”

“That is quite funny,” Doyoung says, but his blood is running cold.

“To be entirely honest, it seems impossible. Highly unlikely, if nothing else. They’re all from the same part of the city, at least one is a vampire, potentially two, and Jaehyun isn’t?”

“I…”

“It would make quite a lot of sense if he was a vampire too, wouldn’t it?” Taeyong says.

Doyoung stares.

“Of course, I’m certain he isn’t. What vampire would act like that? Playing piano and growing roses? He must just be a very interesting individual,” Taeyong barrels on. “You would have noticed if he had red eyes or couldn’t walk in sunlight, after all.”

Taeyong pauses. “And besides, it’s not like there are any vampires in Rookswood.”

“That’s right,” Doyoung says, his mouth dry. He doesn’t know why his heart is racing under his ribs. It’s true, all that Taeyong says is true, Jaehyun has been in sunlight numerous times, and his eyes are honey gold, Doyoung knows this, he’s been spent far too many nights just thinking about them.

Then why does he doubt himself?

“Still, if his friend is as nice as you say he is, then there’s no point in worrying about it. And if Jaehyun is as nice as you say that he is, then I’m nothing but happy for you, Doyoung,” Taeyong says and his eyes are sincere, if a bit dazed. He reaches for his glass, holding it up, sloshing what little remains of his wine. “To your lovely neighbour, and to the finest doctor in Rookswood.”

“Where’s Kun?”

Doyoung is drowning in the spiral of paperwork of his own creation, which is an unfortunate side-effect of taking several days off to visit a dying friend in perfect health. He looks up at Johnny, currently leaning in the doorframe, as if still deciding if it’s worth the effort of entering. His circular glasses hang low on his face and he seems to be frowning.

“Shopping, if I recall correctly,” Doyoung says, dropping his pen, wincing when ink stains the page. He turns to face Johnny.

“How long ago did he leave? An hour? Two?” Johnny presses.

“I wouldn’t be able to say for sure. I’ve been… busy.” Doyoung gazes at the stacks of patient files which don’t seem to diminish as completed, rather they defy the laws of mathematics, and continue to multiply at will. “Is something wrong?”

“It’s not something you can really help with,” Johnny says, sighing under the force of his own exhaustion. He turns to leave but pauses when Doyoung clears his throat.

“I’m sure I’ll be able to assist in some capacity,” he says, trying for a friendly smile. “What’s wrong?”

Johnny’s gaze lingers for a moment, as if weighing whether that alleviation of his troubles is worth exchanging the information - these Rookswood citizens are far too secretive about even the simplest of things, it’s just maddening at times.

“I need flowers,” he states. “Roses. I’m expecting Principal Huang along with half of his staff as my guests, and I can’t entertain them in the drawing room without roses. The place looks like it suffered a death most burgundy in colour.”

Doyoung eyes his own white rose, perched on his desk. Kun had delivered it about a week earlier, and the browned edges hint at the decay. “You could have that one - but it is only the one.”

“Kind of you to offer,” Johnny says. “But I don’t think that’s quite to the standard I’m searching for. I’ll just have to hope Kun returns soon. I’ll leave you to your work, Doctor.”

Doyoung hesitates. “I could ask Jaehyun, perhaps?”

There’s a pause. It’s just a logical solution, it’s where Kun would have gotten the flowers anyway, Doyoung’s just solving the problem with less people and in less time. Johnny would realize that, of course - but then, why does he stare at Doyoung with eyes as sharp as fragmented glass?

“I’m sure he’s home,” Doyoung says, as if Jaehyun ever leaves the house to begin with. “I could just go around and ask him.”

Johnny raises an eyebrow. “Are you quite sure? It’s nowhere near in your job description to pick flowers.”

“I don’t mind,” Doyoung says quickly, rushing to his feet. Doyoung’s been attempting to claw his way back into Johnny’s favour, and any possibility that presents itself must be held with both hands. There’s also that eternal struggle of his, of wanting to see Jaehyun and needing an excuse to show up at his door. He had not seen him since he returned from the city, and found himself unsure of when to visit him and it seems as if by providence that an opportunity comes before him. “How many bouquets do you need?”

Johnny raises a finger to his temple and nods contemplatively. “Four. Three for the cabinets and one for centerpiece. Jaehyun knows the style I prefer.” He seems to reconsider himself. “Are you absolutely sure, Doyoung? I know you must be busy with work, you really don’t need to-”

“I’d like to,” Doyoung says and wonders if he says the wrong thing by the way Johnny’s lips purse.

“Ah, well of course. You two are friends, right?” Johnny seems as if he’s holding back the rest of his sentence behind the gate of his gritted teeth.

“Oh,” Doyoung says in what he hopes is a tone that displays dismissiveness. “We’re just neighbours.”

“Yes, you’ve said that before,” Johnny notes. “Yet…” And he seems to think better of it. He nods his head. “My guests will enjoy the flowers.”

“I’m certain they will,” Doyoung says, standing up, his knees aching from the change in position.  

Johnny doesn’t seem to be talking to Doyoung anymore, not from the way he’s already gazing out of the window, planning his dinner party in his mind. “We should always try and get along with our neighbours, that’s what I always say after all. Didn’t quite mean it so literally, but we take what we get, I suppose.”

 

Doyoung has always been drawn to the effortless way in which Jaehyun speaks. Unashamed. Just his raw unembellished feelings. It’s so very unlike the Rookswood style of talking, where Doyoung has to beg for the barest of details. Jaehyun had always seemed to be honest with him as well, little need to lie to someone who believed everything at face value. Doyoung wonders if perhaps he shouldn’t have been quite so instantly believing. He can’t imagine that Jaehyun would ever intentionally lie to him - but he’s also aware of the danger of omission.

Jaehyun had always been this perfect rose of a man, and Doyoung had admired him from the very first moment he saw him. It was impossible not to find him endlessly charming - magnetic, even. Since he spoke with Taeyong, though, he’s wondered if he had been enchanted to look past everything, to ignore the thorns and vines that crept underneath.     

“Johnny wanted bouquets?” Jaehyun says, blinking in confusion. “Of course I can, I just didn’t expect to see you here. Usually he just asks Kun to deliver a letter.”

“Yes, if that’s okay,” Doyoung says. His hands are dug into the fabric of his shirt. “He asked for four bouquets and said you knew his preferred style.”

Jaehyun walks into his house, beckoning Doyoung to follow him and like an obedient dog, he does. It’s only been perhaps a week since the last time he’s been in here, but it seems like years. He’s never realized just how dark it always was in his house, how the curtains are always drawn even in the shining afternoon. It’s always so dusty as well, and Doyoung’s noticed that ever since he set foot in the house, but it’s just so strange, so many things about this house arestrange, so many things about Jaehyun arejust strange.

“Doyoung?” Jaehyun says, dimples protruding from his smile. “Are you alright? You look distracted.”

“It’s nothing,” he replies. “I’ve just been a bit… off since I came back from the city.”

Jaehyun shakes his head sympathetically. “Oh, Doyoung, I’m so sorry. Was everything okay with your friend?”

“Oh,” Doyoung says, momentarily forgetting that as far as Jaehyun knew, Taeyong was either in the grave or getting there. “He was fine, he was absolutely fine, he sent me there on a fool’s errand but… it’s fine, we worked some important things out.”

“I’m glad to hear that Taeyong is fine, but that sounds burdensome.”

“Really, it’s in the past already, it’s nothing to worry about. It was good to see him again,” Doyoung says.

“If you’d like, you could come around later after dinner. I could put on a fire. You could tell me what’s bothering you,” Jaehyun says kindly. “And I’ve been practising the piece you gave me. I’d love for you to hear it.”

“Oh,” Doyoung says, his heart hammering. “I would love to hear you play.”

“It’s a beautiful song. Perhaps it will make you feel more at home now that you’re back in Rookswood.”

He’s so perceptive, he’s so perceptive. All those innocuous traits that Doyoung had been so enraptured with are just lending itself to these thoughts that have been festering at his mind since he set foot on the train home.

Jaehyun is pale, certainly, but in no meaning of the word could his eyes ever be described as red. They’re as golden as honey, and while yes, it’s not a shade that he’d ever seen before, that’s hardly any sort of evidence for a man of rationality like Doyoung himself.

He’s being ridiculous, he knows he is, but everytime he looks at Jaehyun, he can’t help but think of Taeyong, leaning back in his chair, fingers running through his chestnut hair, and slurring in that wine-drunk voice of his: “It would make quite a lot of sense if he was a vampire too, wouldn’t it?” 

“Why is your best friend a vampire?” Doyoung asks before he can stop himself, and Jaehyun’s stare burns a hole through his mind. “Yuta.”

“Should I not befriend someone like that?” he replies after a measured moment.

“But you know what Rookswood is like.”

“I met him in the city, there’s nothing insidious about it, he’s a good person. We’ve been friends for years, it’s not…” Jaehyun falters. “You haven’t mentioned him for weeks. Is something wrong? Did Johnny ask you something about the rooks again?”

“No, it’s nothing like that.”

And then Jaehyun’s eyes widen. “Did you see him in the city?”

“Not at all!” Doyoung says, having not even considered the possibility. “Jaehyun, it’s nothing like that. I’ve just been thinking. It’s just sort of odd how you just casually befriended one. Vampires aren’t known for forming attachments to humans.”

“No,” Jaehyun says, an unreadable expression on his face. “They aren’t.”

Doyoung presses on, most likely because he’s come this far and he doubts he’ll ever summon up the nerve to ask him again. “How did you… how did you end up meeting him?”

“I told you, Doyoung, I met him years ago - at church. I wasn’t lying to you.” Jaehyun pauses. “You know I wouldn’t.”

His gaze meets Doyoung’s, and Doyoung realizes that Jaehyun is giving him permission. Jaehyun was giving him permission to ask him anything, to ask him everything and he’d answer honestly.

“Doyoung, if there’s something you need to say to me, perhaps you should,” Jaehyun says, and his tone is light and airy which sinks under the weight of his leaden words. “Now would be better I think. Before it gets any further.”

Doyoung wonders just how deep those words go. It feels like he could drown in them.

“Are you…”

The words catch in his throat, and Doyoung isn’t certain why. Well, he is, of course he is. It’s because there’s that possibility the answer will be yes. If this was all just some silly implausible rambling of his drunk friend, it wouldn’t even be considered, Doyoung would have dismissed it so long ago. There have always been things he did not know about Jaehyun, there’s always been bones he could never reconstruct. But if he was, if he was what he thought, that would change everything, Doyoung couldn’t be near him anymore could he, he’d have to painstakingly readjust his entire worldview and Jaehyun, oh his sweet honey-eyed Jaehyun who played the piano and sent him flowers every week, the only bright light in a dark, sombre town. Doyoung wasn’t prepared to give him up yet.

“Are you going to show me your rose garden?” Doyoung says, swallowing heavily. “You said you would. You never did yet.”

Jaehyun’s face glows like a sunset. “Of course. Of course I will, Doyoung I'd love to show you. It’s not as breathtaking as it is in the summer but it’s always special.”

Jaehyun takes his hand, and it’s cold but it fits so perfectly in the palm of his. He leads him through the back door, carelessly pulling it open.

His parents’ house never had room for plants. It was just this narrow rectangle of a property, walls slanted and thin, that if Doyoung pressed too hard against the sides, plaster would powder his fingers. There was no garden so to speak, barely a pot plant could survive in their home, not with Gahyeon. And Doyoung had found himself fascinated at the greenery that borders the Cerasus Manor as a consequence, but that was nothing, that was grass reaching up through the cracks in sidewalks compared to the rose garden he walked into.

It’s perhaps not the Garden of Eden, but oh, it’s close. Roses bloom like faces in a crowd. Bushes curl around and into themselves, twisting endlessly, roots and stems merging together. The colours are bathed in the softest glow of afternoon sunlight, and Doyoung understands why even though Johnny loathes breathing in the same room as him, he still asks for roses.

Jaehyun’s roses are like the man himself: endlessly beautiful, as if carved by angels themselves - and dangerous.

He lets go, reaching up into the tendrils of bushes, curling his hand around a stem, his fingers running over the plush petal of a rose the exact shade of crimson as blood. He plucks it, carefully holding it out to Doyoung, a gift.

Jaehyun’s smile is bathed in sunshine, dripping off his skin like he’s free of sin.

And Doyoung exhales.    

 

13 years ago

Jaehyun knocks twenty times in rapid succession and when his calls remain unanswered, he kicks his foot against the door, the aging cedar bending to the force, splintering. Wood flakes to the ground where he’s currently slumped against the wall for support.

He hears frantic scuffling from inside the church, footsteps skidding on tiles, and the door is wrenched open. Jaehyun doesn’t think he’s ever been more relieved to see Ten’s face, even if it’s contorted in horror.

Jaehyun,” he whispers. The words come out as a breath of shock and he stands still, unable to move another step forward. His eyes are stretched wide as if to use all available potential vision to analyze the situation in front of him. The door swings shut with the force of the wind and Ten has to jut his arm out to stop it from slamming into Jaehyun’s face.

“Help me,” Jaehyun says. He breathes out, searching for any sign of movement in the reflection of Ten’s scarlet eyes. “Ten, you have to help me.”

Ten stares in uncomprehending blankness. “What happened?” He seems to think better of his question, and pulls Jaehyun inside - and instantly halts his movement at the howl of pain that Jaehyun screams out, dropping all points of contact from Jaehyun’s body. “Sorry, sorry, sorry!”

‘Sorry’ doesn’t quite make up for the agony that surges through Jaehyun’s arm. He collapses on one of the pews, breathing heavily. Inhale, exhale, it has no purpose, but it grounds him, it’s just a habit but it allows his mind to focus on anything other than the fractures that line up and down his left arm like a network of rivers. It hangs limply at his side, and he does not even dare attempt to move it to a more comfortable position, not strong enough to withstand the pain again.

“Let me light the candles,” Ten says. Jaehyun quickly realizes why: it’s a stalling tactic. It’s giving Ten the precious time needed to process the reality that his most treasured companion lies a bruised and battered husk, and attempt to figure out what exactly he’s supposed to do with him now. Jaehyun’s grateful for the delay  - he needs a moment to center himself, to block out the images of tumultuous dark oceans in his mind, of silver blades glinting in the moonlight, to remind himself that even though it doesn’t seem like it, he’s safe now. He’s safe.

Fifteen candles are ignited by the time Ten is satisfied with the illumination of the church  - and every one of them are pointless. They both can see in the dark.

Ten crouches next to Jaehyun and his eyes are filled with raw pity. “Oh Jaehyun… what happened to you?” Cautiously, Ten reaches up and lifts Jaehyun’s chin, in a gesture that’s so familiar to them, the prelude to a hundred kisses they’ve shared. Ten tries not to recoil at the sticky sheen of sweat and blood that clings to his face.

It’s embarrassment that flushes over him. He doesn’t want to tell him, he doesn’t want to appear weak, even now - and how truly silly he must be to care about his dignity when he can feel the exact places in his arm where the bones have fractured. Ten lets his hand trace to Jaehyun’s neck, rubbing the hair along his nape and he shakes his head. “Ten, it hurts.”

“It looks like it does,” Ten says. He drops his hand. The church is quiet this time of night - everybody must be taking advantage of their freedom under the full moon, gone till sunrise. Ten is his only company here, the only witness.

“Tell me what happened, Jaehyun.”

“He… he just…” Jaehyun trails off.

“Lucas?” Ten says softly and Jaehyun’s silence is all the confirmation he needs. He wipes his hands on his pants and gulps. “What did he do? How bad is it?”

Jaehyun gazes down at his shirt. It’s a macabre mess of red. He watched it spill down with his own eyes.“My arm.”

Ten is no doctor, Jaehyun knows this, and Ten isn’t particularly compassionate to the situation either. His face is clearly trying to disguise his disgust at the mangled state of Jaehyun’s fingers and every now and then, his legs shudder, a physical manifestation of his state of discomfort. But to his credit, he’s trying.

And it is a grotesque sight, his pale flesh seared with deep lacerations of pouring crimson.

“Can I…?” Ten motions.

Jaehyun nods.

It’s not like how they usually undress each other, when it’s just their hands roaming over each other, ripping off buttons in their greedy lust, Jaehyun’s lips hooking under Ten’s jaw, where fabric is just an unnecessary additional barrier between their skin and removing it carefully is just wasting time that could be spent touching and tasting. This is a far more wary affair with Ten unbuttoning his shirt carefully, taking his time as he undoes the ties. Jaehyun doesn’t attempt to move - just restrains the scream that threatens to burst out whenever the cloth touches his skin.

“That’s all yours, isn’t it?” Ten asks. His voice echoes in the empty room.

Jaehyun looks down at his exposed chest, painted with red, a macabre sunset. “Yes. That’s all mine.”

He tries his best manoeuvring it around his arm but appears to give up, ripping it in his hands like it was paper. The shirt is thrown to the ground and Ten manages to restrain the screech in reaction to some sort of squeak when his eyes drift up to his shoulder.

“Jaehyun…” he whispers, unable to move his gaze. “You must be in so much pain.”

Agony, actually. It’s strange, really. Jaehyun can compartmentalize the pain, he’s got it in the corner of his mind and he’s keeping it there. It breaks out of its cage every few seconds but he locks it back up - it’s that thing he’s good at after all, he’s the one with the incredible self-control, right? It’s how he ended up here. But then Ten says something like that, and the dam breaks and he feels himself suppress a scream. It hurts, everything about him hurts, pain is embedded deeper than his bones and it feels like it’s all he’s ever felt.

 Ten shifts so he’s sitting more comfortably. He clears his throat. “Your shoulder-”

Forget the shoulder,” Jaehyun all but growls.

“Jaehyun, he-”

“I know what he did. But every single one of my fingers are fractured. I can’t even move my wrist. Priorities.”

“Priorities,” Ten repeats, nodding. He bares his wrist. “Go ahead.”

Jaehyun doesn’t wait for a second invitation. He clutches Ten’s wrist with his right hand, and cradles it for a moment - and then he tears the skin apart, ripping the pale flesh till shredded. His fangs extend outwards, piercing through the vein and the second Ten’s blood rushes into his mouth, Jaehyun sighs in relief. He pauses, and looks up, allowing a moment for the liquid to circulate through his body.

Ten’s face is set in a mask of absolute repulsion as he glares at the mangled ruins of his wrist - far messier than ever before, but Jaehyun cannot begin to care. He’s certain that Ten can survive this minor abrasion. He brings his wrist back to his lips and he doesn’t even try and be gentle - he sinks his teeth in and drinks.

Ten’s blood tastes different every time - this is to be expected, after all, it’s not really his blood. It’s whoever he drank before and Ten has fed from prostitutes and opium-addicts as well as nuns and ministers. In this case, Jaehyun vaguely remembers he went out with Yuta and some of the others and Ten broke apart some poor woman last night and licked her until she was dry. It doesn’t matter to him - right now, the blood that he laps up is intoxicatingly rich. His mind devolves into meaningless noise, drowning out that searing agony. Jaehyun would drain him if he could.

“I’ve never seen anyone this… broken before, Jaehyun,” Ten says. “How did you make it out of there alive?”

Jaehyun doesn’t think it’s worth answering. Every moment he keeps drinking is another moment he can feel his arm heal. The broken bones of his fingers start to reconnect, he can feel them join together, sealing themselves.  His tendons and muscles knit together, and he flexes his fingers with trepidation and savours the sensation of the movement. It’s relief, sweet relief. Ten has always been delectable.

“What did you do with Lucas’s body?” Ten asks. “We need to be careful not to leave it lying around. I wouldn’t want the authorities to find out.”

The hairs on the back of Jaehyun’s neck stand up. He adjusts his position, pulling Ten’s wrist closer, licking deeper. It’s so overwhelmingly intimate and that pain he carries around with him diminishes. Ten is noticeably resistant. 

“Jaehyun?” Ten says. “Jaehyun, what did you do with Lucas’s body? You did kill him, right?”

And this time, he pulls his arm away, cutting Jaehyun off. Through the haze of bloodlust, Jaehyun represses the atavistic urge to jump on him and rip him apart. He breathes in and out, licking his lips, cleaning his mouth. He doesn’t want to hurt Ten, of course he doesn’t, but he doesn’t seem to realize the agony he’s in, he’s too preoccupied with his questions.

“Let’s talk. Let’s just talk, and then we can go forward. There’s no point in you draining me dry right now,” Ten says. It’s more like he suggests, though. He’s aware that Jaehyun has nothing to lose at this present moment - except Ten himself. If it came down to it, if they succumbed to their own monstrous urges, Jaehyun could tear Ten to ribbons. He never would though, not even now, not when he’s aware there’s no one in this world he cares for more.

“Fine,” Jaehyun says. He takes his pain and blocks it to the back of his consciousness.

“Good. Now, can I assume this has to do with-?”

“Yes,” Jaehyun answers.

Ten frowns. “I won’t say my judgements aloud, not now, but rest assured, they are there and they are plentiful.”  He pauses in his interrogation to gaze at his wrist in contempt, at the mess of blood and exposed bone, and licks a long line up the expanse of the wound. The saliva begins to reunite the severed skin. “You could stand to be a little bit neater.” He turns back to Jaehyun. “So Lucas.”

“What about him?”

“Where is he?” Ten asks. There’s something unfamiliar in Ten’s eyes.

There’s a glass inside Jaehyun’s ribcage, there’s this glass that contains every hope and every dream and every vision for the future that he pins on Ten - and it starts to crack. “Ten, can we not do this now, I’m in agony, my shoulder-”

“Where is he?”

The glass shatters.

“He’s not dead.” Jaehyun keeps his voice steady, even if the rest of him is not.

Ten stares. “What do you mean he’s not dead?”

“I couldn’t, he broke my entire arm, how was I supposed to-”

The candles seem to flicker all at once. “He’s still out there?” Ten says, and there’s fear vivid in his eyes. The church is too empty, every sound resounds. He jumps up, stepping back as if Jaehyun is contagious. “He’s just… out there?”

“No, well - yes,” Jaehyun says, rising on unsteady feet. “He’s occupied at the moment, it’s fine, he doesn’t know where I went-”

“He’s going to come back for you, isn’t he?” Ten says and the accusatory tone in his voice hurts far more than Jaehyun could have thought possible. He can see exactly where this is going, he can see the future and it’s as cold as this church.

The physical pain he can compartmentalize, but this? This? It’s going to hurt forever, Jaehyun thinks distantly, this is going to hurt forever.

“He’s going to come back and finish you off. He’ll leave you broken and bloodied on this floor, I know he will, you know he will, he doesn’t just give up, and you… you brought this upon yourself. You chose to do this, you knew Lucas would come after you, and you did it anyway and now you’re here? Asking me for help?”

“Ten…”

“You’ve doomed yourself.”

Ten.”

“What am I supposed to do, Jaehyun?”

It’s a question that remains unanswered in his home - but now it seems less like his home, and more like the church that it was before.

For so long, for so very long it’s always been him and Ten, and it’s only been him and Ten. Others have come and gone, disappeared into the night and never came back, and sometimes they did but the only one they could count on was each other. There’s Yuta, certainly, but when it comes down to it, it’s only Ten that Jaehyun sees. They’ve entangled their lives together, built up their coven and each other, he can’t just let it go  - but as Jaehyun looks into Ten’s fearful eyes, he realizes he’s watching the end of his everything.

“Ten, please, you know I had to, he was on his knees, he begged me to…” Jaehyun whispers, and he hasn’t felt a change in temperature in unnumbered years - and now he suddenly feels very cold.

Ten straightens himself. “Jaehyun, you can’t be here.” He shakes his head and repeats it again, gaze distant.

Ten.” Jaehyun’s voice doesn’t sound like it’s supposed to. It’s high and screechy, like the words are forced out of the back of his throat. He stumbles forward, shaking on his unsteady legs.

“Every second that you are here, you are putting everyone else at risk, you’re putting Yuta at risk, you’re putting me at risk. Jaehyun, you can’t expect me to help you. You know what Lucas is like, he’s relentless, he’s cruel and if he’s already taken the time to snap every bone in your arm, I would not put it past him to do the same for everyone else here.” Ten paces around the pews, and hesitates at the doors. “I’m sorry, Jaehyun. You need to leave.”

“Ten, where am I supposed to go?” Jaehyun whispers.

“Jaehyun, I don’t know but you can’t be here.” He gazes at Jaehyun for a moment that doesn’t end - and then he opens the doors.    

   “Where am I supposed to go?” Jaehyun repeats, and no one answers him.

A gentle tune drifts, something light and dainty, like snowflakes settling on rooftops. It has no clear pattern to it, no precise melody - rather it’s music played for the sake of being played, to fill up the empty spaces in time, and Doyoung lingers outside for a moment, letting the sound wash over him. 

“Doyoung, I’m glad you came!” Jaehyun says when he finally walks in. His smile could make the stars jealous. He stops playing. “Would you like something to drink? Tea, perhaps?

Doyoung shakes his head. “No need. No need at all, I feel fine.”

He didn’t feel fine. His stomach felt like it had been trampled on by several horses and as he settled into the couch, he tried to contain his own anxiety. He feels out of place in this room - it’s bigger than the others, and the piano in the center demands attention, and the piano player moreso. He had given Johnny the bouquets as requested and had slipped out of the house with only a quick word to Kun to leave the gate unlocked. All silly thoughts about vampires had been proven incorrect, and he has no need to find himself haunted by his own thoughts.

Despite this, he feels the sweat under his collar. He had not visited Jaehyun for any reason besides his physiotherapy sessions these past few weeks - and he had never had such an intimate encounter like this, to watch him play piano at night, alone. His pulse quickens just at the sight of his pale figure contrasted with the dark wood of the piano. The sheets Gahyeon had so lovingly transcribed lay on the music rack, being paged by Jaehyun’s slender fingers.

“It’s quite a complex piece. I’m still practising,” Jaehyun says, and his hesitant words betray his nervousness. “I apologize if it’s not quite perfect yet.”

“I’m sure it will be,” Doyoung automatically says. He straightens his posture, as if it will have some effect on his hearing.

Jaehyun flashes him a smile - and then his face smooths out to a facade of concentration. He raises his right hand and presses the first note, the tender keys tinkling under the pressure. Then, he lifts his left hand to join it, unsteadily at first but then firmer. He inhales - and then begins to play.

Something indistinct and rose-scented uncurls in his chest, and he doesn’t think he can breathe.

The song is soft at first and builds up, descending and ascending down the notes and Doyoung wishes to close his eyes and let the music wash over him like standing among the rays of sunshine - but that would mean depriving himself of the image of Jaehyun, poised and delicate in front of his instrument, eyes fixed on the sheet music in front of him, occasionally fluttering closed in concentration.

He’s profound. He plays like it’s effortless, like it’s all he needs to do in the world, like it’s all he wants to do and it’s bewitching to watch. Each note bends to his will, each key is just an extension of his hand. The song is flawless, not a moment’s hesitation as each second flows into the next.

La Damoiselle élue tells the story of a maiden in paradise overcome with longing for her lover, stranded on earth. Doyoung can’t help but think that if her lover was even a fraction as beautiful as Jaehyun is, he’d abandon heaven too, he’d descend on golden staircases for one moment more with the one he left behind, and he wouldn’t even doubt the choice he made, not when he finds eden in his honey eyes.

His eyes dart upwards in nervousness, to look at Doyoung, to check if he’s still listening, to check if he’s still there - and as a smile grows on his lips, he misses the first and only note and grins at his own mistake, never disrupting the flow of the keys.

Doyoung vows that the next time he sees Taeil, he’ll shower him in a thousand praises. He was right, he had somehow chosen a piece of music which so exemplified Jaehyun, a piece of music that sounded like the sum of a thousand symphonies, that fit this shy yet charming rosarian.

Doyoung allows himself to lean back into the couch, to let his body relax against the plush of the cushion and let himself be engulfed by the music, anxiety dissipating as his breathing matches the rhythm. If a sigh of contentment passes his lips, it’s inconsequential. It’s just a lovely evening after all. If Doyoung cared enough to look outside the window, he’d see the gorgeous glow of a full moon illuminating the night - but he didn’t.

His eyes are fixed on Jaehyun - and then Jaehyun’s eyes are on his. Doyoung forces his own heart rate to slow down. It defies him, continuing to race. He’s unreasonably beautiful and Doyoung doesn’t quite think he deserves to have the honour of bearing witness to Jaehyun in such an intimate manner. He’s in his own home, devoid of any of the trappings of the outdoors and he’s playing a song, and it’s a song Doyoung chose and it’s a song he’s playing unequivocally for Doyoung.

And he’s looking at Doyoung now, and his gaze is sustaining, it’s lingering. He continues playing, but the song fades into indistinct harmony, irrelevant in this moment of connection. His eyes are enchanting. It’s that honey gold, like sunlight catching on a glass of  whisky, like the shade of autumn leaves, like everything else that colour but nothing at all, because Jaehyun has declared eternal dominion over that particular shade and nothing could ever hope to come close to it without being a poor imitation.

And then, Jaehyun’s looking back at him.

“You don’t know this piece, do you?” he says, a laugh in his voice.

“I can’t say that I’m too familiar,” Doyoung replies, his voice breathy.

“I know,” Jaehyun says. “I haven’t looked at the sheet music for about two minutes now, and you haven’t noticed.”

Doyoung reddens. “Oh. Oh. But… what are you playing then?”

The smile that passes across Jaehyun’s face is brighter than the moon. “No idea. I’ve just been pressing random notes ever since you started looking at me.”

“Should I stop looking at you?” Doyoung says. The air is so thin. He’s struggling to inhale.

“Please don’t ever stop,” Jaehyun says softly. He searches for the words, letting the music notes fill in for each hesitant pause. “I don’t indulge myself often - or ever, really. I can’t, I won’t let myself. But sometimes, when I’m with you…”

Jaehyun’s song still hasn’t stopped.

“When I’m with you, I feel like I could want something. I’d forgotten what it’s like to want something.”

“Something?” Doyoung repeats. How is he supposed to inhale when the air gets lighter and Jaehyun’s words are just heavier? They’re an anchor and they’re pulling Doyoung down from his empire in eden.

“Someone.” The correction is soft and Jaehyun’s head dips in shame, as if he’s said something unforgivable, and he lets his confession ring in time with his tune.

“You’re playing with both of your hands,” Doyoung says carefully. His heart plays a song of its own.

“It’s difficult - but I can do it. I hadn’t thought I’d ever be able to play again like this, not with my arm, but…” Jaehyun trails off. His words are raw. “I can. I can now, it’s getting better.”

“Jaehyun,” Doyoung says, his voice unsteady. “I could look at you better if you were closer.”

One last note is played, reverberating off those burgundy walls and its clear melody still resounds around the room in the time it takes Jaehyun to move off the piano and kneel at Doyoung’s feet as if in supplication to a god. The same hand that had just caressed the final key now cups Doyoung’s jaw and his eyes flutter shut. He can feel Jaehyun’s face is a breadth away from his own - and he doesn’t shift an inch further.

“Jaehyun?” Doyoung whispers, and his hot breath fans over Jaehyun’s face. He waits, and he's aware he'd wait for the next hundred years in this very position.

“I can’t stop thinking about how much I want you. I shouldn’t do this.”

“Please do.” Doyoung’s voice falters. Jaehyun is just so close, he’s so unbearably close, and all he wants to do is touch him.

“I don’t deserve this,” is all Jaehyun says and then closes the space between their lips. His kiss is like his song, it’s all true and tender, it’s soft and sensual and it makes Doyoung feel like he’s being made into a symphony with those restrained melodies of moans that Jaehyun coaxes out of him. It shouldn’t be possible to be kissed like this, to be touched like he’s so delicate.

That’s how Jaehyun kisses - delicate. His lips curve over Doyoung’s own, his hand is positioned under his chin to tip his face towards his own and it’s all so gentle it’s impossible to bear. Jaehyun pulls back for a moment and stares down at himself, kneeled on his own floor, dust coating his knees. He looks back up at Doyoung and for a moment, he sees the vivid regret masking his face - and then he seems to realize Doyoung’s looking back at him.

“More,” Doyoung begs softly, unashamed. “Kiss me more.”

Jaehyun’s laugh cracks. “Are you sure?”

The question is absurd. Is he sure? Doyoung has felt his own desire pulse from the moment he saw Jaehyun, from the moment he saw a man bathed in the glow of roses and it’s grown, it’s grown until it consumes Doyoung, until right now, all he can think about is letting himself be kissed, is kissing him again, is wasting away the entire night just kissing because oh - Jaehyun is so good at kissing.

And Doyoung burns inside.

“Please,” Doyoung says and he leans forward and connects their lips. The hesitation is there, it’s present in the way that Jaehyun has his mouth clamped down firmly, no possibility of entering, but that hardly matters, it’s enough just to brush their lips together, to have Doyoung intertwine his fingers in Jaehyun’s mane of tawny hair. He’s kneeling between Doyoung’s legs now, and the intimacy of the position is making itself known in the tangle of arousal that’s flooding through his body.

“Kiss me,” Doyoung whispers, pressing his lips against Jaehyun’s closed ones, begging to be let inside. He wants to feel what it’s like to be let into him, to feel the heat of his mouth.

“I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t,” Jaehyun murmurs, but his words do not equate with his actions, not with the way his hands loop around Doyoung’s neck, pulling him nearer, not with the way he keeps lifting his head up to chase after his lips.

“Why not?” Doyoung asks, and he parts just enough to look down at Jaehyun in confusion. Why should he not? Doyoung might never get this chance again, at any moment Jaehyun would realize he’s too extraordinary and talented for this town and for him, and he’d leave and disappear and Doyoung can’t let him leave, not without feeling the inside of his mouth against his, not without kissing him.

“I won’t stop,” Jaehyun says. He’s staring at Doyoung again, like he’s memorizing the curves of his face. His fingers trace over his jaw and Doyoung would love to do the same, he’d love to touch every facet of Jaehyun’s jaw but he doesn’t know if he’s allowed to, he’s just too beautiful to be held. “It’s all I’ve been thinking, what if I don’t stop?”

It would be ecstasy, first and foremost, but Doyoung doesn’t have the words or the patience for that, and he puts his forehead against Jaehyun’s and just whispers, his voice husky: “Jaehyun. Please.”

And that’s all it takes because when Jaehyun kisses him now, he isn’t treating Doyoung like he’s glass about to fracture. There’s nothing delicate about this. His tongue pushes past the barriers of his lips and this, this is what it’s like to be kissed, this is that burn Doyoung desired from the first touch. His kiss is sharp and dark, like minor keys on his piano, and it’s all-consuming. He touches Doyoung like he's a symphony, his burning skin like the notes on a page. All he can hear is the sound of their mouths interlocking with each other, and the increasing force of the union of their lips.

Perhaps a moan escapes Doyoung, some half-whispered whimper and perhaps Jaehyun hears it - that might be why he stands up, to bend over Doyoung’s body, and gain the control he craves, their bodies pushing against each other. He kisses harsher now, deeper and deeper, his restraint disappearing as he gives himself over to Doyoung’s will and Doyoung wants to bury himself in the cradle of the kiss.

And then, Jaehyun bites.

His eyes fling open and he steps back, he takes ten steps back, he steps back until he’s at the door of his room. His hands are clamped over his mouth, but the terror is unmistakable. Doyoung stares in confusion.

He wonders why his lips feel so wet, wet for the wrong reasons and he raises his hand to his mouth, and feels two perfectly spaced punctures. He looks down at his fingers - and the blood that drips from them.

Chapter Text

“I never meant to hurt you.” Jaehyun’s voice is muffled by the hand that covers his mouth. It lacks the assurance and quiet confidence that he made so characteristic. It doesn’t sound like him at all. “Doyoung, I…”

“You didn’t hurt me,” Doyoung says, unthinkingly. The blood that drips down his chin is of little consequence, the wetness on his fingers would dry, and the pin-pricking sensation on his lips would be gone in moments. His memories, however, carve in stone.

Doyoung had always found that Jaehyun suited a statue in more than just his sculptured beauty. He was doing it again, when he would just become still, an unmoving point in time as the world revolved around him. The look of horror in his eyes never diminished - if anything, they grew darker - as ageless and ancient as gold itself.

Doyoung takes one step forward, and Jaehyun backs away, visibly swallowing. They are planets in orbit, destined to be distanced.

“I don’t think you should come closer,” Jaehyun says, his voice bending like iron beneath steel. “I don’t think you should be here at all.”

“Jaehyun, you don’t need to hide from me.”

Doyoung knew. He knew already. The specifics, no, of course not, it had been impossible to unravel who or what Jaehyun was, but Doyoung knew in the marrow of his bones, that uncomfortable reality he had so painstakingly sidestepped. Everything has to change, now when the truth is just there, vivid and red and staining the floor. Doyoung had avoided his intuition, ignored the own lingering doubts in his mind because everything would have to change but he can’t let that happen anymore, not now, not when he can still feel what it’s like to feel Jaehyun’s mouth against his own.

“Doyoung, I don’t think you understand.”

“What is there not to understand, Jaehyun, you’re still-”

“I’m sorry I hurt you.” Jaehyun’s voice cuts through the air. “I’m so sorry.”

The air is thick. Perhaps he should be scared. Perhaps the atavistic dread which lingers under his skin should spark. It doesn’t. He only feels his own heartbeat. Doyoung moves closer, hesitant.

“Jaehyun-”

“Doyoung-”

The knock is so loud, disrupting both their unsaid words. Their heads both turn to the source of the noise. Jaehyun stares, perplexed, at Doyoung. His bewilderment is reasonable, of course, the only person who’d ever visit him is currently looking back at him with the same confusion. The noise is discernable to be from the front door and Doyoung hesitates before saying anything.

“Should I?” Doyoung questions, his arm on the doorframe.

Jaehyun finally lowers his hand like unveiling a curtain and for a moment, Doyoung doesn’t understand what he was hiding. There’s not a trace of blood on his perfect lips, lips that up until moments ago, Doyoung had been kissing. And then, he brushes his finger across his mouth, and Doyoung sees a flash of sharpened ivory. Jaehyun’s face falls at the first touch.

“Doyoung.” Jaehyun sounds like his words are weighted with lead. “Could you answer the door? I’m sorry to ask you, but I can’t. I am indisposed.”

The knocking increases in speed.

“Of course,” Doyoung says.

Those are fangs. Those were fangs that pierced through his lips, and there were fangs that Jaehyun hides now. Those were fangs and Doyoung saw them, saw the sharp curve of the tooth. He can’t stop the thought unravelling in his mind of how they would taste in his own mouth.

When he pulls the front door open, he shivers at the night air which passes through, the moon hanging low in the sky like the ripest fruit on a branch.

“Doctor,” Sua says, her voice in a rush, “I was hoping you’d be here.”

“Sua,” Doyoung says, blinking. Her hair is tied back, and her eyes are wide. He can’t begin to fathom what the time is, having been lost in the melody of a piano for a large part of the evening, but it certainly must be too late for Sua to still be working.

“There’s been an accident,” Sua says. “Mr Huang. He fell down the stairs.”

It seems too coincidental, the timing, and Doyoung stiffens at the potential of a trap. He doesn’t know everything, but he knows enough, and if this is some iron fist of Johnny, Doyoung stands in front of Jaehyun before anything else.

It takes a moment for the dots to connect. Of course, Mr Huang, the principal, currently attending a dinner party at Johnny’s house had fallen down the stairs, and requires medical attention - and Doyoung himself is a medical professional. This is quite literally his job.

 “I’m so sorry for interrupting your evening,” Sua apologizes and Doyoung attempts not to blush, “but please, you need to come immediately.”

“Of course,” he says, nodding. “Of  course.” He gazes back at the staircase. He didn’t expect Jaehyun to come downstairs - and he doesn’t. He doesn’t say goodbye, not wanting to embarrass himself any further in front of Sua.

She leads the way out, her fingers clenched into her palms with such force that it must hurt. They’re always calloused, the nails cracked and bent.

“Is it serious?” Doyoung asks as they pass the gate.

“I don’t think so,” Sua says, “But Mr. Seo made it quite clear that if I didn’t find you, I may as well not bother coming home.”

Displeasure buries itself in Doyoung’s brow. “How did you know where I was?”

Sua looks back for a moment, and the full moon reflects in her blue-eyed gaze. “It was the first place I thought to look. I was correct, wasn’t I?”

She was. Doyoung makes no attempts at denial, and just resolutely walking forward, planning out his journey to the first aid kit in his office. He realizes Sua has stopped walking in front of the door of the Cerasus Manor  - and she turns around.

“Is something wrong?” Doyoung asks. Her face is illuminated by the yellow glow of the manor lights. She looks tired, more than usual, as if the world is taking its strain on her.

“I am sorry for interrupting you, Doctor,” she says, and pulls out a flower-patterned handkerchief from her apron. She hands it to him before opening the door. “You may want to clean yourself up before going inside. You’ve got blood on your mouth.”

“Sicheng,” Doyoung says abruptly. “What’s the longest a person can survive without food?”

Sicheng glances up from his Abkhazian-English dictionary, raising a perfectly arched eyebrow. He doesn’t allow himself to sigh, rather the air seems to catch in his throat, consciously forced down. “That’s a strange question, Doctor.”

“You studied anatomy in university, correct?”

A flash of annoyance crosses over his face, but it’s gone in the span of a blink. “Of course. It’s not a constant, as I’m sure you know, but the general consensus is that once a person loses thirty percent of their body weight, death is imminent.”

Doyoung nods. It’s what he thought he remembered as well. His patient files lay neglected in front of him, still mid-sentence - but he doesn’t recall what he’s been doing for the past several hours. His hand has marks from where he’s smudged ink, but in half a day, he’s barely gone through ten files. “And water?”

Sicheng puts down the dictionary with a sigh, as if giving up hope for continuing his study any further. “Days. Less than a week at most, and even that pushes the limitations of the human body.”

“Yes,” Doyoung says. “I thought so too.” His eyes drift towards the patient file at the top, that he had kept putting others on top of. It would take less than a few minutes to write his one. No pharmacy prescriptions to attach, no dietary plans. It’s just physiotherapy, after all, weekly sessions. “It must hurt.”

“Starvation?” Sicheng repeats. “Yes, I think that’s a widely accepted fact.”

“I’d imagine it would,” Doyoung says. His own throat aches with phantom pain.

Sicheng wraps his slender fingers across the counter. “It must be unbearable to have your body decay even as you still live.”

Something twists in Doyoung’s stomach.

“What has prompted these questions, Doctor?” Sicheng asks, blinking innocently. “Are you perhaps thinking of dieting?”

“No, not at all, that’s not-” he trails off. “No.” Doyoung has no way to even begin to explain the course of his thoughts, nor any explanation of the raw sympathy igniting under his skin. Sicheng wouldn’t understand. No one in Rookswood would understand.

Doyoung thinks of Yuta, dull and pallid. Of how his eyes glowed like the moon after just several drops of his blood. Of how grateful he was, how he looked like he would sink to his knees and lick the dirt from Doyoung’s boots if that’s what he asked. Of how unbearably hungry he was, how he shattered the glass if just to drink the remnants.

“You’ve knocked over your ink,” Sicheng comments mildly.

Doyoung curses indistinctly under his breath at the black that stains his pages and fingertips. He attempts to sweep it to the side, succeeding in only darkening the rest of his palm. The ink spreads out like the wings of rooks.

“You seem distracted,” Sicheng says, in a tone of voice that accurately conveys how little he cares.

“I’m fine,” Doyoung replies, perhaps too firmly than necessary. He picks up the files and stacks them on the counter, abandoning both the pen and the inkpot, unable to look at it any further.

“How is Mr Huang? I heard from my mother that there was an incident last night,” Sicheng asks.

He’s gotten used to the way the Rookswood citizens gossip among themselves - that doesn’t make it any more tolerable. “A sprained wrist,” Doyoung says, perhaps more dismissively than intended. It was by no means any personal umbrage towards Mr Huang - but it was not worth going home early. “He had too much to drink and tripped on his way from the bathroom. He’ll recover shortly, I’m certain.”

Doyoung stares at his own wrist. He can see the perfect assemblage of eight bones that make up the fundamental joint at the base of his hand. The veins which antamose, joining together, forming such a concentration of blood shining blue on his pale skin.

He flexes his hand, entranced by the the way his blood vessels move underneath and looks up at Sicheng, his mind heavy. “Sorry for bothering, I just had one more question. What about blood loss? Remind me again how much blood someone could lose.” 

      

 

Doyoung knocks on the door, and this time he waits for permission to enter. He hadn’t realized that was a privilege. He’s very much aware that Jaehyun knows he’s outside, expecting to be let in, but he hesitates before opening the door, as if giving Doyoung the opportunity to run away if he changed his mind.

Guilt shines on Jaehyun’s face brighter than the golden rook on the door. He takes a step back, welcoming Doyoung inside.

“I hadn’t thought I’d see you again,” Jaehyun says. There’s a distinct vacancy to the laugh he emits.

“Of course you’d see me again,” Doyoung says, dropping his bag in the lounge. “We still have our session scheduled.”

Jaehyun blinks. “Our what?”

“Our physiotherapy session. You’ve made such good progress, we should keep that going.” He unclips his briefcase and takes out his patient files. He managed to fill it in eventually, in candlelight in his bedroom. There’s a distinct lack of notes on the final page, just a simple: He can play with both hands.

Doyoung sneaks a glance at Jaehyun’s hands now, curled up in anxiety, hanging at his sides. He tries to connect this image to the one of Jaehyun perched over a piano - which effortlessly fades into the way he held Doyoung’s face in his hands as he kissed him.

“Doyoung, you don’t need to be here. You can leave, you don’t need to see me again if you don’t want to, don’t come here out of a sense of obligation to your profession.”

It isn’t fair, Doyoung thinks, it isn’t fair that someone like him lives like this. Like each ribbon of affection handed to him must immediately be severed, for he deserves nothing but his own naked shell.  

“You know.” Jaehyun’s tone is a bludgeon wrapped in silk. “I saw the realization. You know.”

“I do,” Doyoung says. He knows.

“Why are you still here then?”

“You have a physiotherapy appointment,” Doyoung repeats. “As I said before, I want to help you. That never changed.”

“Doyoung-”

Doyoung inhales. “Jaehyun, if you’d permit me, I’d like to take a look at your shoulder.”

He stares, his jaw already set in defiance but Doyoung raises his hands. “Jaehyun, what more secrets do you have to keep? I know you’re a vampire. That doesn’t change this. Let me see. Let me help.” If Doyoung’s voice hitches on the word, Jaehyun doesn’t notice it.

Jaehyun’s breath is unsteady. “How can you just say that, how can you just be okay with this?”

“It’s still you, isn’t it?”

There’s no trace of emotion in Jaehyun’s face - and then it cracks and it floods across him like ink staining a painting. “Aren’t you scared of me? I hurt you. I could hurt you more.”

Doyoung thinks of the flash of ivory, of his bloodstained fingers. “I’m not. I don’t care if I get hurt.”

“You should,” Jaehyun says, faintly. “You should care, Doyoung, I don’t want to hurt you, and I will not let anyone else either.”

“It doesn’t matter to me, not if it’s for the greater good, if it’s helping you.” Doyoung gazes at him. “And I’m not scared, I could never be scared of you.”

Doyoung has to wonder exactly how much disappointment Jaehyun had gone through in his life, if his honey gold eyes glisten at this alone. Doyoung wants nothing more than to pull him into his arms and soak up the sadness that weighs him down.

“Will you show me your shoulder?” Doyoung repeats, and this time, Jaehyun nods.

He turns around, unbuttoning his shirt, and perhaps for a moment Doyoung wishes he’d show himself, as he’s endlessly intrigued by the plains of his abdomen and these thoughts plague him in the depths of the night  - but finds these cut short as Jaehyun hesitates, the shirt hanging at the planes of his neck.

 “Are you sure, Doyoung, it’s-”

“Please show me,” Doyoung says. Before Jaehyun changes his mind.

He sheds the shirt, and it’s only years of medical professionalism that stop Doyoung from gasping.

His shoulder is burnt. The wound looks like it’s been set alight, repeatedly, cauterized by its own agony. The flesh that surrounds it is of an angry red, and all Doyoung can think is how much it must hurt, to walk around with a dagger inside of him at all times.

“Is that a…”

It’s small, a curved blade, and it must be a shining silver from the way it gleams as it catches the fading rays of sunset.

“Yes. It’s a deer horn knife. Half of one. The other half came out. This one… didn’t,” Jaehyun has difficulty speaking, and Doyoung doesn’t think that it’s physical pain that stutters his words. “It’s silver. It’s pure silver, and I can’t even touch it without my fingers burning to the bone.”

Doyoung takes a step closer. “How did this… how did this happen?”

Jaehyun chooses his words carefully. “There was a hunter. There is a hunter. He came after me.”

Doyoung pauses, digesting the information. Hunters were uncommon, and often die early, as was the risk in their strange self-imposed band of justice.

“Because you’re a vampire?”

Jaehyun visibly swallows. “Ah. Not exactly. Not entirely. I did something that he expressly requested not be done. He was… understandably upset.” He shifts uncomfortably, rucking the shirt up to his shoulders.

“Why did you do it?” Doyoung asks. What could possibly be worth a blade in his shoulder for the rest of his life?

“It was the right thing to do,” Jaehyun says. There is no room for argument. He turns around, tying each button, locking himself in his shirt again. His hands no longer shake, no longer curl into themselves.  

It would be difficult without the decoration of a surgical theatre, but Doyoung supposes it would be fairly low risk. Perhaps just a scalpel, he has one in his practice. It would hurt, certainly, and Doyoung isn’t certain if morphine works on vampires, but it would be better than living like this.

Carrying his pain around.

Jaehyun has already pulled out the chair they always use for his sessions, already doing his warm-ups, and he’s so immersed he startles at Doyoung’s voice, cutting through the room.

“I can touch it.”

Jaehyun blinks. “What?”

“It’s silver, you said. I can touch silver,” Doyoung says. The air is thin. “I could take it out. And you heal, don’t you, like Yuta did-”

“Stop what you’re saying,” Jaehyun interrupts. His eyes are wide. “Doyoung, that’s not an option, I’m not like Yuta, I don’t heal.”

The disparity between Yuta and Jaehyun was obvious, from the sunlight to the eyes, and Doyoung gazes in curiosity, wanting to confirm the theory he’s been suspecting for a certain amount of time now. “Why not?”

“I don’t drink.”

He doesn’t drink. His eyes are not the colour of blood - because he does not drink it at all.

“But…”

“I can’t drink,” Jaehyun says, and his voice begins to shake. “I have to starve because if I don’t, he’ll kill me.”

 Doyoung with his thin, spindly hands and stammering, beating heart realizes that he’s not willing to let anyone hurt Jaehyun ever again.

 

Moonlight illuminates Jaehyun like he’s ethereal. His skin glows, each curve and bend suspended in the pure white light. A misplaced strand of hair hovers over his eyes. Doyoung had asked, quietly, his heart hammering against his chest, if he wanted to continue their session somewhere more comfortable, it was Jaehyun who led him up the stairs into his bedroom.

Jaehyun’s bedroom window is open and air passes through, but it doesn’t take away the tension that lingers behind. It’s almost laughable how they deliberately avoid even looking at the bed, despite it’s position in the center. Doyoung sits at the vanity table while Jaehyun stands next to the window, as if ready to fling himself out of it at the first opportunity.

And perhaps Jaehyun doesn’t realize it, but when Doyoung turns to face the mirror, he sees his own reflection staring back at him - and he doesn’t think he expected to see another either. It’s not normal. Doyoung finds that he doesn’t mind.

“Jaehyun, you can trust me,” Doyoung says. He can’t take the silence, not for a fragment of a second more. Ever since he moved the last muscle, and the two parted ever so slightly, deliberately ignoring each other, but unable to leave.

Jaehyun’s exhale is loud. “I trust you too much, I think. You could lead me into a pool of liquid silver and I’d follow.”

He always looks so sad, even when he says the loveliest things. “You need to let me help you.”

“Doyoung, I’m sorry. I should have told you sooner. More than that, I shouldn’t have let this get quite so far. You’re not meant to be with someone like me.” Jaehyun says. The expression in his voice is inexorably sad, like he’s watching his dream dissolve.

Jaehyun’s eyes stare into Doyoung’s and he feels a fire incinerate him before he even knew he was burning.

“Why don’t you drink, Jaehyun? It must hurt to live like this, surely it must.”

“Of course it does.” Jaehyun’s voice cracks, and Doyoung wishes the space between them was breaths instead of inches. “It hurts so much, but I have to. I know how to starve. It’s why Johnny lets me stay here, why he keeps me locked up in this house, defanged and domesticated.” 

“But why does he let you…” The words trail off.

Jaehyun swallows. “As long as I’m here, no other vampire will ever come here. It’s my personal curse. The hunter can’t find me, and no one else will ever come here, not when there’s such a distinct lack of our presence here. I’m a warning. Really.” Jaehyun moves off from the window, and hesitates before running his hand through a tuft of Doyoung’s black hair. “I’m trapped here, and that’s the price I pay for just wanting to be alive.”   

 “Jaehyun, it doesn’t make sense, why are you still suffering, you can have me-” Doyoung trails off and he stares down at his hands.

Cold fingers lifts Doyoung’s chin higher and Jaehyun stares down. “I don’t think I quite deserve you, Doctor.”

The shiver that runs through Doyoung is involuntary, just a physiological effect of temperature, a synapse in his brain, but the hurt vivid in Jaehyun’s eyes when he notices, pains physically. He takes a step back.

“That’s why Yuta couldn’t come for all this time. Because of Johnny - but also because you’re here to hide,” Doyoung says, and sees the acceptance in Jaehyun’s eyes.

“I’m used to being alone,” Jaehyun says. “Or I was.”

Doyoung observes the way Jaehyun’s hands keep crossing, and shifting position, brushing against his shoulder, curling in his hair. He raises himself to his feet, entwining their fingers together, and makes a careful note of the smile that displays on Jaehyun’s face at the first touch.

This is better. Closer is better.

“It’s unbearably difficult to be alive,” Jaehyun says, and he seems to be looking through Doyoung. “It just always hurts.”

“If you let me remove that blade, it would hurt less,” and Doyoung is almost proud of how rational he sounds, how clinical it seems. He tries to mask his words, doesn’t want them to reveal that naked truth. He just wishes to lay Jaehyun out on his bed and lock him from the rest of the cruel world that surrounds him.

“I don’t heal, Doyoung, it won’t work.”

Doyoung inhales. “Drink from me.”

His pupils dilate, blown with hunger. “No. Doyoung, I can’t, you know I can’t hurt you.”

“Jaehyun, I don’t care,” Doyoung insists, pulling their interlocked hands and letting it trace the column of his neck. His breath hitches. He knows Jaehyun can feel it, can feel the blood pumping through his veins, just a layer of thinnest skin separating it. “Drink from me, please, please let me help you, I’ll let you take as much as you need, I just can’t let you suffer anymore.”

“Doyoung, I can’t.” Jaehyun’s voice is fractured, but his eyes flit wildly from Doyoung’s face to his neck. His gaze is hungry. “I can’t, I can’t, I haven’t in thirteen years, I can’t now.”

“Are you scared you'll hurt me?”

Jaehyun’s fingers trace circles over his pulse point. His flesh shivers. “Doyoung, you don’t understand, I can’t. If I bite you, you'd feel my venom and it would interrupt your mind, it would confuse your senses, you'd think that you wanted me.”

“What if I already want you?”

His eyes widen. “Oh, Doyoung.”

Doyoung throws salt among the grounds of his own life. He purges all that could grow, all those future prospects, all those indistinct possibilities, he burns them all. It’s Jaehyun. That’s the endpoint, that’s the true north.

 “When a vampire bites and drinks the blood of someone else, it's the most intimate union possible,” Jaehyun says softly. “You're letting me inside your body, you're trusting me with your life. And I've wanted you for a long time, Doyoung, but if I bit into you, I don't think I'd ever be the same.”

His words are like honey. “You want me?”

“So badly it hurts.” Jaehyun halts in his ministrations along Doyoung's neck, licking his lips. “I know you'd be delicious.”

Doyoung’s single step closer is salt-tinged and such has been the case since the last time he was here, when his lips are scarlet-singed.

“Then taste me.”

Jaehyun’s fingertips continue their dance caressing the path of his jawline, his heavy-lidded gaze remains fixed on Doyoung’s lips. Doyoung is poised at the edge of a precipice, entirely unafraid. Desire burns through his veins. He came here with a clear understanding. He came here to give.  

Jaehyun’s lips replace his fingers, kissing their way up his neck towards the corners of Doyoung’s mouth. Doyoung exhales, wrapping his arms to pull him closer, and that’s better, he fits like this. Jaehyun’s mouth is firm and wet against his, and there’s an urgency being written on his tongue.

Jaehyun is inescapable this close, he’s the entire universe and as the kiss deepens, there's a moan that coils itself out of Doyoung’s chest, and Jaehyun loses a thread of his self-control. His hand digs into Doyoung’s hair, the other sliding on his neck, adjusting his throat to be that perfect angle, to allow him to devour his mouth in the most effective manner. Doyoung whimpers in response and Jaehyun holds him tighter, firmer, and Jaehyun kisses like he’s starving.

“You taste so sweet, why do you taste so sweet?” He’s whispering this against Doyoung’s mouth and Doyoung doesn’t think he can listen to anymore of it.

He slips back a moment, foreheads pressed together and Doyoung can perceive the barest hint of fangs. They’re just there, curved ivory, and how hollow they must be, how it must hurt to have been deprived of nourishment for so long. It’s curiosity that prompts him, the mind of a medicine man, endlessly fascinated by these teeth. Before he can stop himself, he cups the side of his face, pushing his index finger up into the fang. The skin bursts open, trickling with pain.

“Sharp,” Doyoung comments, staring at the blood dripping from his finger. He traces a path down the side of his neck in red, visible permission if none of his words go through. His blood is warm against his skin.

“Oh.” It’s all Jaehyun says. He swallows. He stares.

Jaehyun takes Doyoung’s hand. It’s with absolute reverence that he stares at the drop of blood which condenses at the tip. With the way he looks at him now, Doyoung can now believe that Jaehyun used to live in a church. He would put holy men to shame.

His tongue wets his lips. And he looks back at Doyoung for the final permission and Doyoung wordlessly nods, and slowly, Jaehyun takes his finger into his mouth and licks the blood off.

Jaehyun’s eyes flash from the warmest honey to the darkest crimson.

He steps forward, and he takes. He grips Doyoung by his jaw forcing his mouth open and there's nothing gentle about the way he kisses now, there's just the carnal need that drives him forward. Against his tongue, Doyoung can feel the curvature of his fangs. Jaehyun’s mouth travels lower, and he licks the line of red that Doyoung had so lovingly marked out for him. His heartbeat rushes, and surely Jaehyun can feel it, as he hesitates above his pulse point. A moment more, the slightest fraction of hesitation - and his fangs penetrate through his skin.

It hurts, at first. Doyoung cannot suppress his gasp. Pain surges through his body and there’s a fraction of a second where all he feels is his own fear, trapped in a prison of his own skin. And then it hits him.

     It’s not codeine or opium or morphine, it’s a thousand times better. Medically, opioids work on the simple basis of being chemical compounds that attach themselves to receptors in the brain and it is this particular interaction which provides that pleasing feeling cascading through his mind, smothering any pain in a blanket of indistinct happiness.

This isn’t anything like morphine. The more Jaehyun drinks, the deeper his fangs sink into his neck, the more overwhelming pleasure shoots through Doyoung’s body. Every cell in every tissue of his body succumbs to the sensation. There’s nothing indistinct about this - this is euphoria.

A moan slips through Doyoung’s mouth, followed by what is certainly a squeak when Jaehyun pulls his body closer, a hand snaking up his side. His legs feel unsteady, and Doyoung exhales, reaching his fingers into Jaehyun’s hair, pulling him back.

His eyes are red, his mouth is a mess of blood, lips swollen and skin pale - and he’s still angelic, every part of him.

“Not just there,” Doyoung murmurs, his voice cracking. “Spread out each bite. You could have more that way.”

Jaehyun exhales. His desire is written on his bloodied lips. “More?”

Doyoung unbuttons his collar, lets the path of his hand run down his Adam’s apple and then the slope of his clavicle. His head thrums with what feels like liquid pleasure. He gulps under Jaehyun’s hungry gaze.

“I told you,” Doyoung says, his voice shaking. “You can have whatever you want. You can have everything.”

Jaehyun stares at him for so long that Doyoung wonders if he said something wrong, if he did something he shouldn’t. It’s jarring to see red eyes - it’s even more so that he finds them even more entrancing. “I have starved myself everyday for thirteen years. I haven’t even touched someone in this way since then and I was fine.”

“And now?” Doyoung doesn’t breathe.

“I’ll die if I don’t taste you in the next second.”

He sprawls Doyoung out on his bed this time, climbing on top of him in the span of breaths, using every opportunity to hook their mouths together and draw another moan out of him. His hands loosen the buttons on his shirt, but he doesn’t bother pulling Doyoung out of it, just rips it open. He gazes down and Doyoung feels his face flush as Jaehyun rakes his hand up and down the expanse of his muscle, unable to control his body’s own visceral reactions.

“I don’t indulge myself,” Jaehyun murmurs, his fingers running up and down his ribs. “I don’t eat, I don’t drink, I don’t fuck. I sit here in this house that isn’t even mine, and I burn.”

Desire pools in his chest. Surely Jaehyun can feel it, he’s manipulating it like he can see the strings himself. He leans forward, pressing his forehead against Doyoung’s, his breath ghosting over his face. “You’ll tell me if I hurt you?”

“You won’t hurt me,” Doyoung says.

“How can you possibly be sure of that?” Jaehyun asks, a hint of amusement in a voice that was otherwise husky with lust.

“Because it’s you.”

Jaehyun doesn’t answer, not with his words. He pulls Doyoung into an open-mouthed kiss, and his lips taste of copper. He moves down the path of his mouth, to his neck, to collar bones, and he licks before he bites, and Doyoung had thought he’d be more prepared for the flood of chemicals into his bloodstream. His moans sound off the walls of Jaehyun’s bedroom, as Jaehyun laps at the wound like it’s the most holiest of water. 

His shirt is pushed back, torn open now, and Doyoung would have untied Jaehyun’s own if he felt like he could move his arms. There’s an unfamiliar but enticing pleasure that comes from the utter submission. Doyoung is certain if there was even the subtlest change in his demeanour, Jaehyun would disconnect himself and stare down, questioning if he was okay, a hand gracing his jaw.

Doyoung can’t stop his own rhythmic moans as Jaehyun marks every section of his chest with his fangs, licking and kissing each time, as if an apology. The unbearable heat which burns from inside that threatens to consume him as he digs his nails in Jaehyun’s shoulder unthinkingly.

Jaehyun pulls back, gasping in pain.

“Sorry! Sorry,” Doyoung whispers, pulling his face closer and laying an apologetic kiss on his lips. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Jaehyun breathes, “It’s okay.” He stays there hovering, staring down at Doyoung. It should not be possible for a mouth drenched in red to smile so sweetly. “Are you okay?”

“Of course,” Doyoung says, his voice barely audible. “I’m sorry.”

He takes one of Doyoung’s hands and presses kisses all over - and then stares at the bloodstained digits with naked hunger. He leans in, suckling two fingers in his mouth and Doyoung is unsure how long he’s going to be able to last, now when Jaehyun straddles him like this, and gouges down his fingers like they belong down his throat permanently. His cock presses against the confines of his underwear and everytime Jaehyun grinds against it, he can’t control the moan that liberates itself from him.

Doyoung had spent his life in books. He’d spent it in those confining walls of the library, forcing each and every fragment of the human body in his mind, to be named and categorized in the appropriate manner. He was aware that when he committed to his chosen career path, he would be saving lives at the sacrifice of much of his own personal development. It never felt like a loss, not really, because he was dedicated, because he knew where his place was.

Right now, he thinks his own place in the universe is sprawled out on the bloodstained sheets of this bed, Jaehyun’s mouth digging into the flesh of his neck, his hands running up and down the train tracks of his body. 

Jaehyun passes by his arousal several times, never halting neither the motion nor the way he drinks, marking each inch of his body with his mouth. Sweat intermingles with blood, and every second Jaehyun isn’t tasting him, is a second Doyoung is hungry for the sensation.  Doyoung realizes how uncharacteristic it is of him, how he’s never devoted himself to pleasure, never even intentionally seeked it out. He can never go back to that now, he’ll never be able to survive without this, without Jaehyun’s wet and hot kisses against his skin that preludes the tear of his flesh. It hurts, undoubtedly, but it’s that second, barely even, and after that it’s like descending from Heaven. Because Doyoung realizes this is an unholy pleasure, nothing should ever feel this good, this is the kind of addiction that would send church-going men to their doom.

Jaehyun’s faster now, and he goes lower and lower, taking ownership of Doyoung’s entire upper body. His hands travel indiscriminately over Doyoung, his hips grinding against his cock and his own groans of pleasure fill the room. Perhaps it’s the opioids, perhaps it’s the endorphins, perhaps it’s the bloodloss, perhaps it’s just Jaehyun’s effect, but Doyoung’s head feels light and he’s too near to the end to do anything more. He chases after that desire like a thief, carrying this most precious and prized possession.

He lets a hand rest in Jaehyun’s hair, fingers interlocking in the tawny locks and he gazes up, eyes blown with pleasure. His head turns to the side in wordless question.

“Neck,” is all Doyoung can manage to say, and he sighs in relief at Jaehyun’s instant comprehension. Where it all begins, Jaehyun sinks his fangs again, and the rush hits Doyoung instantly, entirely and completely. Jaehyun’s hands grip the sides of his hips, and he grinds down, the friction a welcome relief to his untouched cock. The more Jaehyun drinks, the feel of his tongue inside of him electrifies every nerve in his body and he hears Jaehyun murmur something into his skin, something with passion, something with huskiness, something with reverence-

“Delicious.”

 He calls out Jaehyun’s name and his vision tints white.  

 

“Doyoung,” Jaehyun murmurs, “My Doctor? Are you okay?”

He feels hands brushing through his hair, a warm presence on his chest, and the scent of roses in the air. His head throbs, each pulsation in time with his breathing. Doyoung exhales and opens his eyes. The corners of his vision blurs and then refines, and at first he gasps upon seeing the pair of crimson eyes staring at him - and then he softens, realizing who they belong to.

Doyoung reaches a hand out to brush Jaehyun’s cheek and Jaehyun holds it there.

“I was worried.” He whispers the confession to his palm. “I thought I hurt you.”

“I think it was just the blood loss,” Doyoung says, laughing a little even as he shudders at his own headache. He gradually becomes aware of his physical body, paining, bloodied and cum drying on himself. His neck aches, his chest aches, all of him aches.

“I was listening for your heartbeat. I knew you were fine but I was so, so worried.” Jaehyun bows his head. “I’m sorry.”

“Jaehyun, it’s fine, I’ll be fine,” Doyoung murmurs. He struggles to raise his other hand, lifting him off the sheets. Jaehyun moves off him and Doyoung realizes at some point his shirt was torn, exposing the lines of his toned abdomen. He would feel desire stir in him, if he wasn’t buried under the force of his own head.

“Is there anything I can do?” His eyes are wide.

“Could you draw me a bath, by any chance?”

Jaehyun nods and rises to his feet but Doyoung weakly reaches to him, pulling him back by his arm. “How do you feel?” Doyoung asks.

Jaehyun’s lips are as red as blood. “I feel alive.”

He has to go home, he realizes that. More than ever, he has to maintain his usual schedule if he ever hopes to bypass Johnny's careful sight. Sleep dims from his eyes as he feels the warm presence beside him, arm wrapped around his waist possessively, pulling Doyoung closer.

Carefully, Doyoung shifts his head and stares at Jaehyun’s sleeping form. He’s always so pale, so pale, and Doyoung thinks of what it must be like to walk around with snow-kissed cheeks. His bronze hair is unforgivably mussed, a result of having spent most of its time entangled in Doyoung’s fingers.

It’s hard not to admire Jaehyun constantly, and for once he’s able to without being noticed. His face is always a picture of timeless perfection, and while Doyoung now knows it’s an effect of his condition, it doesn’t change how beautiful he is. He’s so unfairly beautiful, and Doyoung doesn’t deserve to get to witness such beauty so close.

The only noticeable imperfection is on his lips, a darkened spot over his Cupid’s bow.

It’s my blood, Doyoung realizes. He holds down a brief bubble of revulsion in his throat. He reminds himself of the hope he saw in Jaehyun’s eyes, how happy and whole he looked after drinking - and it overcomes any reservations he had. He raises his hand, gently brushing Jaehyun’s lips, and he barely stirs.

Vampires don’t sleep. They don’t get that privilege after turning. Of course, Jaehyun isn’t a normal vampire, as Doyoung begins to realize. He wonders how much it must have hurt, what it must have been like to drink for the first time in so long. Tries to imagine. It’s nauseating at first, but he passes through it. He has to desensitize himself if he’s to continue - and he can’t stop now, not when he knows there’s still silver in his shoulder.

The shirt he’s wearing is Jaehyun’s, his own soaked in blood and sweat. He savoured the bath he took, scrubbing away the stained remnants of their coupling. Jaehyun had told him that saliva healed, and it seemed true. Already most of the bitemarks painted across his body had faded.

Doyoung’s memories are fragmented if he tries to reimagine them sequentially, just barely half-formed thoughts in the haze of euphoria, his only need being that Jaehyun doesn’t stop touching him - and he didn’t. The rush of venom through his body is one his cells remember, even if his mind doesn’t.

“Doyoung, you’re thinking so loud, you’re waking me up,” Jaehyun murmurs. His voice is syrup thick with sleep and his arm around Doyoung’s waist tightens. His eyes don’t open, rather he just moves closer, breath heavy.

“I’m not-”

“Mmm. You are, though.” Jaehyun noses against the side of Doyoung’s neck.

Guilt courses through Doyoung because he hadn’t intended to wake Jaehyun up, not at all, but his own fidgeting probably was detected. “Go to sleep.”

“What are you thinking?”

“Nothing.”

Jaehyun’s lips move against Doyoung’s neck, and he shivers. They don’t bite, they don’t kiss - they remain there, a subtle reminder of possession. “Tell me.”

“What did I taste like?” Doyoung instantly curses himself for saying the words out loud. They’re horrible, they feel dirty, they feel like they aren’t meant to be spoken. He wants to take them back and pretend they never left.

Jaehyun’s breath hitches against his neck, but when he speaks, he speaks into the skin. “I don’t think I realized how much I was starving until you reminded me.”

“Oh, Jaehyun…”

“And now I can’t forget. I can sense it flowing through me, and for the first time in thirteen years I can feel again.” Jaehyun pauses, retreating his head back. “It’s like I lived my life smothered. The pain was something I could compartmentalize, but I can’t express how it felt to be muzzled in my own body. I’m weak, even compared to humans. I can’t run, I can’t hide, and I know what I used to be like - and now I’m like this. For the first time in my life I needed to sleep.”  

“You can walk in sunlight, can’t you?” Doyoung says. “Was that also because you fasted?”

He nods. “Yes. Yes, I’ve fasted before, I know what it’s like and I know that walking in sunlight is perhaps the only advantage of it. Still, I never anticipated being forced to live a life of this, I’d trade every hour of sunshine for another drop of you.”

Doyoung’s heart thrums.

“It’ll take a while before the effects sink in, before I’ll be able to run, before I’ll be restricted to the night again.” Jaehyun yawns, despite himself and Doyoung’s face cracks into a smile.

“Go back to sleep,” Doyoung says softly.

“But I like looking at you.” 

Dawn light filters in and it passes over Jaehyun with no effect and Doyoung realizes that this is perhaps the last moment he’ll see the way Jaehyun’s hair glows in the sunlight. Jaehyun was not one of those vampires - but he is now. Doyoung’s planning and preparation had not considered the finer details, and when Jaehyun finally opens his eyes, Doyoung is aware it’s going to take him some time to grow accustomed to this.

“Is something wrong?” Jaehyun asks, and his smile hasn’t changed.

“No.”

He’s the same, he’s the same, Doyoung repeats to himself, but oh, he doesn’t look like himself, does he?

He looks better.    

“Doctor,” Sicheng begins, brow wrinkling in confusion, “Are you singing?”

“Oh.” Doyoung pauses. “I wouldn’t say that.”

“What would you say that noise was, then?”

He considers. “Humming.”

Sicheng’s stare is sustained long enough that Doyoung is the one who looks away first, furiously reddening as he turns to face his order forms. He hadn’t actually been consciously aware of the fact that that he was making any sort of noise - unintentionally recalling the song that Jaehyun had played for him just last night before pulling him to his room and coaxing his own melody of moans. After, he kissed the bloodied skin on his neck clean and wiped the sweat from Doyoung’s forehead, smiling as he buried himself deeper in the sheets.

“I’ve never heard you ‘hum’ before, Doctor,” Sicheng says.

Doyoung rolls up his collar further. “I suppose it’s just that time of year. Must be the good weather.”

“Of course.” Sicheng sounds exhausted. It’s barely after one.

Doyoung clears his throat, attempting to regain the brief loss of dignity. “What do you recommend for swelling?” Doyoung asks. Sicheng, seated behind the counter, flipping through what seems to be a Portuguese dictionary that he’s reading cover-to-cover, looks up. 

“Oh, I thought that was just your skin’s natural puffiness,” Sicheng says, “Perhaps makeup is more necessary in your case?”

Doyoung cautiously pats the sides of his face. “I wasn’t referring to myself.”

Sicheng is expressionless. “Oh.”

“Is there… something wrong? With my face?”

“You just blush a lot. I assumed that’s what you were referring to.” He turns a page of his dictionary. He doesn’t apologize, and Doyoung doesn’t think he expected an apology either. “At least it’s not swelling.”

He folds the corner of his page over and places the dictionary on the desk next to him, regarding Doyoung with as much of his attention as he’s willing to give.

Doyoung opens the appointment book and waits for the redness that he knows is present in his face to recede before he speaks again. “I’m just unsure if we should stock this brand again. I don’t recall it being particularly effective.”

It’s truly emasculating to Doyoung’s ego that he’s surrounded by such tall individuals, particularly those younger than him. Sicheng is long and slender, pencilike limbs which dangle from his body with a sort of refined dignity. He rises, unwillingly, from his chair and walks to the rows of neatly packed shelves. He lifts up a box and shakes it.

“I ordered a different brand a few days ago. It’s already been delivered.”

Doyoung stares. “But I have the order form here?”

“And it’s already been filled in. And delivered. As evidenced by its presence here.” The contents rattle in the box.

On the form, in Sicheng’s impeccable script, is his signature. Doyoung berates himself and the constant distraction of Jaehyun that’s perpetually circling his mind.

“We do need a refill of penicillin. Would you like me to order that as well?”

  “No, no, it’s fine I’ll do that right now.” Doyoung would prefer at least some sort of semblance of control over his job. “I'm sorry I never got a chance to sign those off until now.”

Sicheng's gaze is critical. “I can only hope that the vigorous sex you seem to be having is worth the consequent drop in work performance.”

Doyoung chokes so hard the ink almost spills. “What?”

“It’s not my business what you do in your private life, Doctor, but you really should be more careful with your responsibilities.” Why does it seem as if Sicheng is enjoying this? His lips are curved in what could perhaps be described as a smile - if a person did not already know Sicheng never smiled.

The awkwardness curls around the room like vines.

“I’m not… I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Doyoung stammers. He pulls his collar up further.

“Again, it’s not my business at all. But you have been rather obvious about it. The limping and the state of your neck are one thing, but you’ve consistently been coming into work late, and you seem incredibly tired. You’re perpetually yawning.”   

Panic floods Doyoung’s mind. If Sicheng even mentions a word of this to Johnny, Doyoung cannot even begin to imagine the fallout.

“Sicheng…”

“By all means, continue your dalliance with whoever it is. Just do try and be on time?” Sicheng is too dignified to sigh - but he does allow the most restrained of exhales to pass through his lips.

With that, he picks up the dictionary, sits back down and flips to a seemingly random page and begins to read it as if it’s the newest Faulkner.

Doyoung attempts to force his breathing back to normal. Sicheng doesn’t know anything. He doesn’t know about Jaehyun’s condition, he doesn’t even know about Jaehyun at all. His nature as a recluse has been to his own advantage - no one has noticed that he hasn’t left his house in daylight in a week.

Truthfully, Jaehyun does seem to be having a difficult time adjusting to his new schedule and he’d suggested just that morning about going after dark to watch the rooks, and Doyoung didn’t have the strength to deny his request - not when he whispered it so sweetly, one hand wrapped around his waist, the other caressing his jaw.

 

“You’re beautiful.”

Jaehyun says it so unexpectedly that Doyoung is certain he forgets to breathe. He would stand frozen in place, if not for Jaehyun’s hand guiding their pace through down the winding Rookswood roads.

“I’m sorry?” Doyoung says. “What?”

“My mistake - was that too abrupt?” Jaehyun laughs, and the sound is crisp and clear in the night air.

“I didn’t expect that,” Doyoung coughs, thankful for the night to obscure his growing blush.

“I can see clearly again. I hadn’t realized all the finer details of your face I had missed. I never even knew you had a scar there,” Jaehyun says, gesturing to the side of his mouth. “And the angle the bones of your cheek make… you’re absolutely dazzling, Doyoung.”

Doyoung doesn’t even attempt to reply. He squeezes Jaehyun’s hand tighter, and hopes that’s all that needs to be said. It is. Perhaps his desires are too simple, but walking hand-in-hand with Jaehyun underneath that twinkling sky might be as close to heaven on earth as he’d ever get.

“We can’t go too close,” Jaehyun advises. “I’ve already had to dispose of a few dead rooks before Johnny sees.”

“I never noticed you do that,” Doyoung says, frowning.

“You need to sleep more than I do, and I’m rather quiet when I need to be.” Jaehyun knocks his shoulder against Doyoung’s until he smiles back.

Jaehyun should surely be able to hear the way Doyoung’s heart races, and this must be some sort of enjoyment for him now, attempting to coax these unforgivably human reactions out of him.

Doyoung gazes at him, and looks away, because sometimes the look of absolute fondness on Jaehyun’s face is too much to bear. Across the sky, there’s a distinct shape of a bird, soaring against the clouds, and then out of sight.

“What do you think that was?” Doyoung asks. 

“What did you see?”

“Oh, it was just a bird. Did you notice it?”

“I can’t say I did,” Jaehyun says, and then pulls Doyoung closer. “I was preoccupied looking at you.”

That’s perhaps the biggest shift of all. He’s faster, he’s healthier, he’s stronger - but all of that matters little compared to how much happier he is. More often than not, he’s playing a song at his piano, he surprises Doyoung with kisses at the most impromptu of moments, he babbles every thought that comes to his mind.

And that’s worth everything else, that’s the center of Doyoung’s universe.

Jaehyun trails his hand up Doyoung’s arm, resting on the curve of his jaw - and then Doyoung sees it, in the distance, a figure, so pale and statuesque Doyoung would have missed it had he not grown accustomed to his own pale statue.

“Jaehyun, what’s that?” Doyoung asks, pointing, and Jaehyun carefully follows his line of sight - and his hand drops.

“Jungwoo,” Jaehyun says, his voice hollow.

The air around him moves and Jungwoo is in front of them before the leaves have even finished ruffling. He disrupts the night, the grass bending to his footsteps.

Jungwoo could quite possibly be the most beautiful entity in the universe. His alabaster skin radiates moonlight in a way no human ever could. His head is tilted to the side, carefully exposing the slender tendons of his neck. His features are soft and circular but there’s an inherent harshness to the curve of his cheekbones. His eyes are a violent red but his lids are soft and heavy, and it dispels some of the intensity of his gaze. He’s beautiful, unquestionably so, but in a way that makes Doyoung feel like he has to look away.

He does, towards Jaehyun, whose face is cracked into the ghost of a smile.

“Jungwoo,” Jaehyun repeats. “It’s really you.”

“Mmm.” Jungwoo is a ship in a storm, unsure whether to anchor down and step off the hill or if he should just sail on. His feet are pointed in the other direction but he seems fixed to the ground. “Hello Jaehyun. I’m sorry if I’m interrupting.”

“Jungwoo,” Jaehyun says for the third time. “How did you get here?”

Jungwoo opens his mouth to answer and a single trickle of blood spills out. His fangs are stained crimson. Doyoung can’t stop staring at the bead of red at the corner of his lips, and as if sensing eyes on him, Jungwoo wipes it off with his fingertips.

“I ran.”

“That… that doesn’t explain anything,” Jaehyun stammers, but his smile threatens to overtake his entire face. “Jungwoo…”

Jaehyun steps forward, and Doyoung almost reaches out to hold him back. Jaehyun approaches Jungwoo with careful reverence and when he’s close enough to touch, he runs a hand through his head of dark blonde locks, ruffling through the hair affectionately.

Jungwoo preens under this. “Jaehyun, I missed you.”

“Oh Jungwoo, I’ve missed you too,” is all he says before enveloping him in an embrace. Jungwoo is distinctly taller than Jaehyun, but shrinks down in his hold, firm and secure. Doyoung attempts to ignore the prickling of jealousy under his eyelids.

And then. It seems to rush over him like a wave and he steps back from Jungwoo so fast, he nearly trips over his own feet. “You can’t be here, you can’t be here, why are you here?”

Jaehyun’s distress is evident, moments away from hyperventilating. His eyes are wide with fear. Doyoung inhales, moving in front of Jaehyun. “I don’t believe we know each other. I’m Doctor Doyoung Kim.”

Jungwoo’s gaze is fixed on him. “You’re human.”

“I am.”

He cocks his head to the side. “Why?”

Doyoung isn’t sure how to answer that question. Jungwoo, if he’s Jaehyun’s friend, if he’s the one who sent that pigeon - that poor, ill-fated pigeon, is so different to Yuta, is so distinctly different to anyone he’s ever encountered. Odd, seems to come to mind.

“I’ve never known Jaehyun to play with humans,” he remarks, taking a step closer. His voice is as melodious as windchimes. “What is Jaehyun to you?”

The question bristles his skin. “What is Jaehyun to you?”

And Jungwoo just blinks. “He’s my maker.”

It takes a quarter of a second for sound to travel from the ear, along the auditory canal to the brain. Doyoung uses the rest of the three quarters of that second to begin to comprehend what Jungwoo just said.

“I turned him,” Jaehyun says, voice shaky. “That’s what he means. I turned him into a vampire.”

Doyoung says the first thing that comes to his mind. “Why?”

It’s Jungwoo who answers. “I asked him to. That’s why I knew he was here, I felt my maker’s blood singing in my veins. I sent my birds out and they didn’t see you, but I had a feeling I could not ignore.”

“You shouldn’t have come.”

“But I missed you.”

Jaehyun’s face softens. “Jungwoo.”

It’s not the way he ever looked at Yuta - or even Doyoung himself. It was so much more gentle around the edges, the closest thing to innocence he’s ever seen. 

Doyoung's fingers tickle and he looks down to see his hand being enclosed by Jaehyun's, his palm cool against his skin.

“Where's Lucas?” Jaehyun asks, and his grip tightens. “If you’re here, he must certainly be close as well.”

“He’s where I left him.” Jungwoo’s face falls. “Jaehyun, you know I wouldn’t bring him here, I wouldn’t let him. He doesn’t know where I’ve gone.”

“It’s still a risk that you came,” Jaehyun says. “Jungwoo, I am immeasurably happy to see you, but why, what possible reason did you have to come here?”

“I wanted to see if you’re okay,” Jungwoo says simply. “Jaehyun, it’s been a long time and our letters gloss over so much. You always told me nothing changes, but yet, I find you pulse in my veins for the first time since you came here. I am confused, Jaehyun. I don’t understand, your eyes are red and I feel you under my skin.”

Jungwoo’s sincerity is vivid, that much becomes clear. His voice shakes, as he looks at Jaehyun with a kind of gentle reverence. Doyoung feels himself relax. Jungwoo is not a threat, not at all.

Jaehyun’s hand is harsh around Doyoung’s, an anchor. “Will Lucas come?”

“I won’t let him. Jaehyun, I just wanted to know that you’re okay.” Jungwoo’s hair reflects in the moonlight.

“He is,” Doyoung finds himself answering. “He is. I take care of him.”

Jungwoo’s eyes sparkle in the moonlight. “You must be a very good doctor. I think Jaehyun will be in safe hands with you.”

Doyoung’s eyes are drawn to Jaehyun, at his shoulder. “Who is Lucas?”

“He’s the hunter,” Jaehyun says after a long pause. “He’s the hunter who came after me.”

It fits together. Doyoung gazes at Jungwoo, surveying him, and wonders if he was worth it, if he was worth walking around with a dagger in his back for the past thirteen years.

“I’ve told the birds to keep a watch over you - and I told the rooks to stay away. I hope that makes it easier for you,” Jungwoo says softly. “I wish I could do more - you know I try.”

Jaehyun’s face lightens. “Now Jungwoo, I’ve told you not to worry about me. You can’t be here. It’s too dangerous for you. You need to go back home, and feed your birds, okay?” The way Jaehyun speaks to Jungwoo is so unlike anything Doyoung has ever heard before, it’s so compassionate.

“Okay,” Jungwoo says softly. “I will.”

“I don’t mind it here, Jungwoo,” Jaehyun says and even though his eyes are burning red, his gaze still has that quality of being as soft and sweet as honey. “I have my Doctor.”

 

Doyoung was under the impression that he was done with his patients for the day, but the bird currently sitting on his examination bed dares to challenge him. The hawk’s yellow eyed gaze follows his own, and Doyoung didn’t think he’d be the kind of person to be intimidated by a bird, particularly as he’s surrounded by them all the time - but this one is clearly different, setting itself apart from the sharp curve of its beak to its talons, currently clawed into the plush of the bed.

Doyoung stares for a moment, glancing at the open window. He’s hardly ever closed it since the weather started warming up, and that’s been for months - and he’s never encountered any birds flying into the house. He opens his mouth to call for Kun. He’ll probably know what to do with it.

The whole situation is baffling, Doyoung doesn’t think he’s ever seen a hawk this close before, and for that he’s grateful. It looks like it could kill.  Rooks may be annoying with their constant squawking  - but they are not nearly as lethal.

Doyoung’s eyes drift down to the distinct scrap of white paper tied to the bird’s back, enclosed in a casing, and his mind places it in a similar position as a pigeon he’d seen, so many months ago. But that was a pigeon, dumb and small. This beast looks as if it could claw his eyes out if given the opportunity.

The hawk doesn’t look like it wants to, though, it merely continues to regard Doyoung with absolute apathy.

Doyoung takes single, small steps forward, ready to retreat at the first sign of aggression but none comes. His fingers brush against its soft feathered neck, and he tries to control his breathing. There’s something undeniably dignified about the way this hawk presents itself - nothing like the wild and petty squabbling rooks. He doesn’t like birds - but he could see the merit in a creature like this. He unclips the casing from the hawk’s back and it ruffles its feathers, but doesn’t move.

“Is this for me?” Doyoung asks, before realizing the absurdity of asking the question to a mute bird. He unfurls the letter inside, and it’s a short message written in a neat but rushed manner.

 

My fondest greetings, Doctor. This is Jungwoo. I would like to speak with you, if given the opportunity. I’m currently hiding in the chimney, and would appreciate if you could open your balcony door and grant me verbal permission to enter. Thank you kindly.

 

Doyoung flips over the note, pale.

 

You can pet my bird if you like. She’s very tame.

 

Doyoung stares up at the ceiling, as if expecting to hear Jungwoo fall through the roof. It’s blazing sunlight, he can’t be hiding in a chimney in Johnny’s house of all places. But if he is there, he’s in danger, and Doyoung needs to make him aware of that. With trepidation, he opens the balcony doors, and calls out in the most muted of tones: “Jungwoo, you can come in.”

He feels the air brush past him before he sees Jungwoo enter, accompanied by the faint but disconcerting smell of burning flesh. 

“Close the curtains.”

The voice emits from underneath his desk and Doyoung stares at the figure now underneath it, attempting to repress his long limbs into complete darkness. It’s a moment before Doyoung’s mind catches up, and he instantly closes all the curtains and windows, bathing the room in a most eerie glow. 

“Can I come out?” Jungwoo’s voice is distinct in its gentle tone. The lingering smell makes Doyoung feel like gagging.

“A moment more,” Doyoung says, and locks his practice door. He runs a hand through his hair as he watches Jungwoo emerge from underneath his desk, exhaling deeply.

His clothes are ashen, soot streaking across his pale face, running all the way into his hair. Where he walks, he leaves grey footprints and Doyoung raises his eyebrows in concern.

“Jungwoo, were you actually in the chimney? Why?”

Jungwoo blinks, adjusting his coat. “I needed to talk to you.”

“It’s daylight, this was an unnecessary risk.” It comes out as a chastisement and Doyoung forces himself to lighten his tone. “Are you okay?”

Jungwoo looks down at the back of his hands, the skin blotchy and burnt, peeling off in places. “Yes. This is minor.”

“Oh Jungwoo,” Doyoung sighs, pulling out out his drawer and cotton swabs. Evidently he was not done for the day. “Sit down please.”

“Why?” His eyes are wide with curiosity.

“Let me clean your hands up. Your face too, you have cinders on your eyelashes.” He dabs the cotton under the dripping faucet, tapping his foot impatiently as Jungwoo still doesn’t sit down.

“You don’t need to help me,” he says. He sounds confused. 

“I suppose I don’t, but I want to. It’s why I’m a doctor. I like helping people.” Doyoung purses his lips. “Can you please sit down?”

Jungwoo obeys this time, and lets Doyoung swab his face. Doyoung recoils at the black soot that comes off on the cotton as he pats it over his cheek, but attempts to keep his expression neutral as Jungwoo stares up at him, unblinking.

“Why were you in the chimney?” he asks as he wipes off a streak of soot from his eyebrow.

“I needed somewhere to hide where I could still hear your voice,” Jungwoo says simply. “It was dark enough too, and I could still talk to Fortune.”

He knocks Doyoung’s hand back with the speed in which he turns to gaze at the hawk, his eyes twinkling. Doyoung carefully maneuvers his jaw back, continuing to clean Jungwoo’s face.

“Ah, so the bird is yours?”

“She’s beautiful, isn’t she? Her name is Fortune. She’s my favourite girl. She’s very well-behaved, isn’t she? I raised her myself,” Jungwoo says, pride evident in his voice. “Lucas caught her for me as a birthday gift a few years ago and she’s grown into such an angel.”

Doyoung looks back towards the hawk. It - she - preens at Jungwoo’s praise as if understanding him.

“She is very pretty,” Doyoung says politely. “Do birds just listen to you?”

Jungwoo thinks for a moment. “The polite ones do.”

Doyoung stares, unable to begin to fathom whether or not Jungwoo is being serious. “But to what do I owe this visit? Do you perhaps need to talk to Jaehyun? His house is next door.”

“I know that.”

“Then… why are you here?”

“I needed to talk to you.” Jungwoo’s knees knock together. Despite his height, he seems small. “About Jaehyun.”

Doyoung's eyes are weary. “What about Jaehyun?”

Jungwoo pauses, choosing his words carefully. “I just wanted to express my gratitude to you for taking care of Jaehyun when no one else could. It means a lot to me.”

Inherently, Doyoung trusts Jungwoo. It could be any combination of factors, perhaps that gentle innocence that washes over his face, the cadence of his voice so sweet that it sounds like honey or even his choice of words, the way he speaks both childlike and infinitely old.

But it might just be Jungwoo himself. Doyoung can't deny his inherent fondness towards him and the idea that someone who Jaehyun made was pleased at him was overwhelming to consider.

“He needs someone. I’m happy I can be that for him.”

“I did not only come with good news, however,” Jungwoo says and Doyoung’s hand hesitates over Jungwoo’s cheekbone. He picks up another cotton pad and continues the path along his face.

“I must warn you that if Jaehyun will continue drinking your blood, certain things are going to happen.” The air stiffens. “You need to be made aware of this.”

“What exactly do you mean?”

Jungwoo hesitates. “Lucas,” he says after a time.

Doyoung knew very little about Lucas besides the singular fact that he’s the reason for the knife in Jaehyun’s shoulder - and that reason alone was enough to embed a deep-seated distrust. “I can’t say I know much about him.”

            “He’s mine,” Jungwoo says simply. He ruffles his hand into his hair, pushing his fringe aside to allow Doyoung to clean his forehead of ash. “Lucas is mine. And if he finds Jaehyun, if he picks up his trail, he’ll come here and hunt him.”

 Doyoung struggles to control his emotions. “Hunt him?”

“Yes.”

“Jungwoo, you can’t just…”

“You can’t let him drink like this, indefinitely and continuously. I could already feel him in my veins - but I suppose that could be accounted for how much I adore my maker.” Jungwoo’s face shines.

Doyoung thinks of the naked joy on Jaehyun’s face at seeing Jungwoo again. Evidently, Jaehyun was just as fond of Jungwoo, clearly to the degree that even with his close association with Lucas.

“If his scent spreads, if Lucas finds it, or his hawks do, he won’t leave until he’s killed Jaehyun.” Doyoung’s grip on the cotton pad tightens. “You have to be careful, Doyoung. He doesn’t deserve to starve, but you can’t let him get comfortable.”

“It’s just baffling to me,” Doyoung begins, trying to keep his voice measured, “that you claim to love Jaehyun, yet you can’t control the hunter you proudly proclaim as yours.”

The hurt is vivid in Jungwoo’s eyes and Doyoung starts to regret his words, perfectly chosen to destroy.

“I’ve tried,” Jungwoo whispers. “I’ve always tried, but this is something beyond me. I do my best, I hide the letters, I distract him, I make the birds lie, I do everything I can to protect Jaehyun. I know I’m weak, I know I ruined everything for him but I try.”

Doyoung exhales, slumping into the chair opposite Jungwoo.

 “He swore a blood oath, Doctor and I don’t expect you to know the significance of that, but among us, it’s more binding than the law.” The reminder hurts more than Doyoung thought it would, for reasons he isn’t sure.

“Lucas isn’t a bad person, Doctor,” Jungwoo says, softly. “I know you may not believe me, but he really isn’t.”

Doyoung doesn’t believe him at all.

“Before, when it was just the two of us, and I was… I was uncontrollable. I was the prize of the hunt.” Jungwoo’s eyes shift from side to side. “I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t walk outside, they were everywhere, hunters and vampires standing side by side.”

Jungwoo pauses. “I felt like a pawn. With my death at their hands, someone could advance their social standing, could win affection, could get paid. And I only had Lucas and he wasn’t born a hunter, you know? He became one.”

Something like revulsion sinks in Doyoung’s stomach. It’s easy to picture Jungwoo with a set of chocolate brown eyes and rosy skin, to imagine Jungwoo as human is not difficult at all - and Doyoung cannot fathom how anyone could look at him and want to hurt him.

And yet, he had multiple people, attempting to murder him, and Doyoung cannot ask him why, not when he looks like his heart is already stripped bare.

Protectiveness rushes over Doyoung. “I’m so sorry that happened to you, Jungwoo.”

“I am not one to talk about Jaehyun and Lucas’s shared history - but I can say the Lucas I know is not heartless, not when the only thing he ever showed me was himself, raw.”

Jungwoo’s hands tremble and it’s only now Doyoung can see the extent of the damage, the flesh burnt off by the searing sunlight. It’s grotesque.

“Does it hurt?” Doyoung asks carefully.

Jungwoo nods. “Of course. But I’ll be okay, I’m sure.”

Doyoung hesitates. He’s got three different types of burn ointment in his drawers, and yet, he knows the effect will be minimal, not when the most ideal medication is the one that pulses underneath his skin. He looks up at Jungwoo, currently absorbed in smiling at his bird, waving at her.

He clears his throat. “Do you… want to drink?”

It’s like a switch flips, and Jungwoo’s gaze snaps back. His pupils dilate. “I… Of course I do, but I cannot. Jaehyun wouldn’t allow me to bite from you.”

“I wouldn’t let you bite me either,” Doyoung says carefully, reaching into his drawer and pulling out his scalpel. He balances a teacup on his desk and frowns at the idea of staining it. “But I can help.”

“You don’t have to,” Jungwoo says, even as his eyes betray his appetite. “Are you sure Jaehyun wouldn’t mind?”

Doyoung blushes. “If I have even the barest hint of how deep Jaehyun’s adoration of you lies, I’m certain he’d have no objections in the slightest.”

He cuts him off, and digs the blade into his arm before any further doubts cloud his mind. The second blood wells from the laceration, Jungwoo’s jaw hangs open in naked hunger. Doyoung longs for the pain-relieving chemicals of the bite, feeling himself wince under the wake of the full extent of how it feels to have his skin cut open.

He reaches for the cup and the blood is a bright red contrast to the white porcelain. Jungwoo sits on the edge of his seat, licking his lips and upon being presented the cup, can’t seem to stop himself from shoving it into his face. Doyoung can hear the sounds of his fangs as they scrape across the cup, can hear the soft whimpers of enjoyment.

Jungwoo’s eyes have fluttered close, and his appearance doesn’t even seem deceivingly angelic. He is radiant, even when his mouth is a mess of blood. He seems unsure where to put the cup down, holding it by its handle, gazing in confusion, even as drops fall onto his shirt. 

“I’ll take that,” Doyoung says, relieving him of the cup.

Jungwoo lifts up his hands and Doyoung can only stare as impossibly so, the skin begins to regenerate in front of him, the flesh reconnecting. The epidermis threads itself closed, and Jungwoo flexes underneath it, a sigh of relief escaping his throat. “Oh, Doctor. My hands.”

“How do you feel?” Doyoung asks, resisting the urge to write it down.

Jungwoo’s eyes are wide with gratitude. “Thank you. Thank you, Doctor, you don’t know how… how much this means to me.”

Doyoung nods, carefully placing the cup out of sight, making a mental reminder to wash it out as soon as he leaves. “I’m just glad to help. Thank you for coming to see me, I know it must have been a risk.”

“It was,” Jungwoo says bluntly. “But Jaehyun’s done a thousand things for me, and I need to start paying him back. I don’t want him to suffer, but you need to be careful. I don’t know what the world is like in here, but I think I know what it’s like in the city, and it’s not nice.”

Doyoung nods carefully. “ I’ll take what you said about Jaehyun into consideration. And for what it’s worth, I hope that you leave Rookswood safe. You don’t have to worry about him as long as I’m here.”

That’s the fact of it all. That Doyoung would allow himself to be more aware of how much Jaehyun drinks, but that the warning is ultimately useless, because Doyoung won’t let him be hurt anymore.

“He drinks from you, doesn’t he? He bites?” Jungwoo asks, wiping his mouth, staring down at the crimson stain on his fingers before licking them. His childish appearance is exemplified as he sucks on the pad of his thumb, at odds with the ancient edge in his gaze.

“He does,” Doyoung says simply.    

“The bite is the ultimate act of intimacy among vampires,” Jungwoo says with reverence. “It’s something that connects the people you belong to.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Doyoung says. “Because he’s mine.”

 

He finds him in the rose garden, knees brushing the dirt. Garden shears lie next to him, blades pointed out, leaves still stuck to the handle. His gloves are grey, patterned with polka dots. He looks up at Doyoung’s intrusion, smiling like the moon.

“Doyoung,” Jaehyun says, “I didn’t expect to see you tonight.”

“I wasn’t in the mood for paperwork,” Doyoung shrugs, pulling his jacket tighter. “Am I bothering you?”

“Of course not. I don’t know if you’ll be particularly interested in what I’m doing, though, it’s just garden maintenance. I’ve left my roses to their own devices for too long - but it’s difficult adjusting to a new schedule.” Jaehyun pauses, gazing up at the sky with something like wistfulness. “Though I suppose it’s just back to an old schedule, really.”

Jaehyun pauses, studying Doyoung’s posture and pats the ground next to him. “Sit beside me, Doctor?”

“You don’t have to call me that,” Doyoung mutters to himself, folding his limbs that feel too long as he attempts to sit cross-legged. He lacks the poise that Jaehyun possesses, so natural as if sprung from the ground like any other flower here.

“But I like calling you that,” Jaehyun says simply. His dimples protrude, and Doyoung forces himself to look away, focusing on the bush in front of him. It’s young, by his estimate, the leaves small and immature, and the rosehips dangle precariously off the stem.

Jaehyun hums a soft tune under his breath as he removes each of the leaves, letting them cascade to the ground. He works precisely, with speed that’s the result of years of experience. Doyoung stares, transfixed at the confidence at which his hands move.

“Could you pass my pruning shears?” Jaehyun asks, despite it being clearly within reach. Doyoung obliges and Jaehyun is merciless as he cuts off each bent stem, gazing at them with a critical eye.

“Are these new?” Doyoung asks, voice restrained, not wanting to disturb. He gestures towards the dark brown soil, disturbed and redistributed, several rose hips lying next to the ground.

“They are,” Jaehyun says, pausing to smile. “They’re not ready yet, I’m still seeing if they’ll survive this period of neglect. I hope they will, I’m already rather fond of these ones.” He curls a finger around a bud, rolling around the curled petals. They’re a dark, dark red - burgundy, even.

“What are they called?” Doyoung asks. He’s getting better, slowly. It’s taking him a long time to learn the names, and he doesn’t want to embarass himself by asking Jaehyun to repeat anything, but he’s got the basics down. The white ones Jaehyun favours for Doyoung’s practice are iceberg roses, the ones that Johnny likes on his tables are Penelope.

Jaehyun’s hand halts. “Ah.”

Doyoung blinks, waiting.

“They don’t have a name yet,” he finally says. “They’re new. They’re mine.”

“You’re growing your own type of rose?” Doyoung murmurs, unable to contain his amazement. He cranes himself forward, attempting to look deeper into the bush. It’s incredible to him, the very idea that he’s the first person in the world to see this rose besides its creator. Jaehyun fashioned these himself from nothing but seeds.

“I am,” Jaehyun says. He looks down as if finding something interesting in the ground beneath them. Tentatively, Doyoung lays his hand upon his knee, rubbing soothing circles until Jaehyun’s eyes find his own again.

He’s getting accustomed to the red.

“I think that sounds beautiful, Jaehyun,” Doyoung says, savouring the smile that spreads across his face. “It’s something so special to make something never seen before. I’m sure those flowers will be of envy to anyone who looks at them.”

The night sky fills the silence. Jaehyun slips off his glove and lets his hand rest upon Doyoung’s.

“Do you need any help?” Doyoung asks. “I don’t think I’d be of any particular value but perhaps I could do something.”

Jaehyun brings a stem forward, guiding the path of his hand. “You start by pulling off all the leaves.”

Doyoung breathes in, and pulls off the first of several, gazing at Jaehyun for approval. “All of them?” He’s got a basic understanding of pruning, but this seems excessive.

 “Roses thrive under these conditions. I know it seems so contrary to medicine, but this is what you should do,” Jaehyun says, and his laugh is not unkind. Rather it fills the garden with a sound like bells.

Jaehyun assesses his handiwork with a decisive nod. “Do you want to trim that stem over there? It’s bent, it’ll just grow the wrong way.” He hands him the shears and Doyoung stares down at it for a moment, feeling like the first time he picked up a scalpel. He cuts into the cane and watches it fall to the ground, looking up at Jaehyun, waiting for further instructions. He points out each improper stem, each misangled bud and adjusts his hand as necessary, watching in quiet patience as Doyoung prunes the bush.

“Was… was that okay?”

“It was perfect,” Jaehyun answers, gazing in fondness at his flowers. “It’s going to be beautiful, I think.”

“Of course it will,” Doyoung decides. “You’re a gifted rosarian. I’m just honoured that you even allowed me to help with your creation.” He pauses, hesitant and Jaehyun waits for him to continue. “It has a little bit of me in it now too, doesn’t it? I think that’s a nice thought. That it’s something that’s ours.”

Jaehyun stares at him, wordlessly. Something soft shines in his scarlet eyes, and he throws off his other glove, rises to his feet. He holds out a hand to Doyoung, who accepts and as he pulls him up, he closes the distance between them, cupping Doyoung’s face, leaning in and kissing him. Doyoung gasps into his mouth, hands running up along Jaehyun’s waist to steady them both. He finds himself hopelessly fluttered, and helplessly endeared.

There’s no bloodlust in this kiss. There’s no familiar taste of ivory fangs, there’s no subtle positioning of his neck, there’s just Jaehyun kissing him because he wants to. It’s the tenderness that sears through him, the way Jaehyun holds his cheek, his other curling around his ear, as if wanting to whisper secrets to him.

Doyoung thinks perhaps this is what paradise is, the one described in that song Jaehyun played for him. The moonlight shining above them, rose petals below them, and entirely alone with nothing but the devotion that unfurls between them.

Jaehyun parts, but not immediately, leaving intermittent chaste pecks as if any moment that their lips aren’t connected is wasted. He doesn’t let his hand drop from where it strokes Doyoung’s cheek. His eyes are warm, but not like the burn of desire, but like the gentle sunrise.

“And what was that for?” Doyoung asks, breathless. He tries to commit every part of this to memory, from the breeze that cloaks his skin to the scent of rose petals in the air to the way his skin tingles under Jaehyun’s cold touch. There’s an air of futility to it though, because Doyoung is human and his mind will decay and his memories with it, and even the idea that one day he won’t be able to remember this moment is almost too painful to bear.

“You're the only temporary thing in my life that will leave a permanent scar,” Jaehyun says.

Doyoung’s beating heart hangs heavy in his chest.

   

 

“Could I have a conversation with the Mayor’s personal physician?”

Doyoung freezes. The door slams shut behind him. Johnny’s voice is sharp and inescapable. His title is a weight in his mouth, like he’s swallowed copper coins left for the ferryman on the way to the Underworld.

“I’m coming,” Doyoung calls, hanging up his coat. He wraps his scarf tighter as if it could shield his own neck.

Doyoung’s plate is already dished, strands of pasta drenched in thick mushroom gravy, creamed spinach seated beside it. His knife and fork are neatly placed together, awaited their use. Johnny gestures for him to sit down.

“Kun mentioned you looked pale recently. He made this especially for you,” Johnny says, twirling the spinach on his fork.

“That’s kind of him,” Doyoung says carefully. He buries his head into his plate, considering any potential miscalculations he could have made in the past weeks. Jungwoo was already far away. Any and all dead rooks had been hidden already, and Jaehyun had been so careful, keeping to his usual order of bouquets.

“You know, Doyoung, I mentioned when you took this position that you work for me personally, before anyone else.”

“I’m aware,” Doyoung says. The mushrooms are delicious but swallowing is difficult.

“It’s just so strange to me that even despite this knowledge, you continue to openly defy me and my wishes.”

It’s the anticipation that makes it worse, he decides. It’s that Johnny’s brought himself into this conversation on a position of power and Doyoung could not reach it, not while smothering the truth in pleasantries. He clears his throat, and bares his own bravery. “Is this about vampires?”

“There are no vampires in Rookswood.” Johnny’s smiling slightly. It’s an unfinished smile, like a house without a roof - it’s got everything it should have but it’s missing that core element that makes it whole.

“What about Jaehyun, then?” His name is an anchor on Doyoung’s tongue.

Johnny doesn’t stop smiling. “Why, he’s our neighbour, of course.”

The cruel glint in Johnny’s eyes reminds Doyoung of the sky on rainy days. All obscured clouds, all dark lines, an endless unforgiving sheet of grey. He sits at his same spot at the head of the table, his knife and fork positioned on top of each other in the center of his now spotless plate. His hand is curled around his wine - red. He always prefers red with his meals, and sherry in public. He didn’t offer Doyoung a glass.

“Doyoung, let me ask you a question,” Johnny clears his throat. There’s a light fused in the chandelier and it casts half of his face in an unfathomable shadow. “What do you think vampires do when they’re done with their bloodwhores?”

The word sets off a visceral reaction in the pit of his stomach. He shifts his plate aside, revulsion setting in. The sound of the ceramic moving is the only one in the room besides his own breathing. “I’m… I’m not a-”

“What?” Johnny says. “A bloodwhore?”

“That.” Doyoung averts his gaze. The scars on his neck burn so bright they must be on fire.

“It’s a question, Doyoung. I implied nothing.”

He abruptly looks up, locking glances with Johnny. He’s just given away his hand and now is forced to play the rest of a game he knows he’s about to lose. Doyoung doesn’t attempt to answer Johnny.

“The human body is incredible, as you know I’m certain, you are a doctor, after all,” Johnny says, sipping his wine. “It’s certainly incredible that it can just continuously provide blood at a most rapid rate  - but, Doctor, surely you cannot expect to ride to the city on a train with a fuel tank that leaks across the tracks and in a similar manner you cannot expect a vampire to continuously siphon away at its source indefinitely.” Johnny sips his wine.

“Ah,” is all Doyoung says. He glances at the clock on the wall - the eighth hour of night has barely begun.

“It’s incredibly tragic, really. These creatures just seduce whatever takes their fancy and they keep them around on little more than a leash, drinking and drinking and poisoning their mind with that toxicity that exists in their fangs- and when they’ve outlived their use or become more trouble than they’re worth, they drain them. They leave behind corpses as white as snow.” The cadence of Johnny’s voice is as chilly as the breeze that flutters from the windows. Kun should have closed them. Doyoung wonders why he didn’t. 

“Where’s Kun?”

“I let him have the night off.”

Johnny planned this. The extent of his knowledge is not yet known to Doyoung - but it’s clear he has his suspicions. And it’s clear he’s knows about Jaehyun, he’s always known about Jaehyun.

Johnny pushes his plate aside as well. “Doyoung, I only wish for your wellbeing. I gave you this job, I gave you residence and to an extent, yes I see myself as having a responsibility to ensure your health. And let me assure you, nothing good can come from any further contact with Jaehyun.”

“Why?” Doyoung asks plainly. “Why shouldn’t I?”

“The reasons are very clear.”

There’s nothing ‘clear’ about Jaehyun. He’s an individual with so many layers that everytime Doyoung peels one off, there’s just more secrets, more of his history that he never learnt, another scar. “You can’t stop me from seeing him.”

To this, Johnny snorts. “Do I look like your fucking father? I’m trying to help you stay alive, not keep your virtue intact.”

Doyoung keeps his voice measured. “I’m in no danger.”

“You’re a fool if you think that.” It sounds like Johnny’s suppressing his laughter. “You could doom this entire town because of your selfish, selfish actions.”

“I’ve done nothing.” Doyoung’s done more for the town of Rookswood, than Rookswood has ever done for him.

“Then let me ask you - what have you been doing with Jaehyun?”

The memories come to him before he can stop them, jagged crystal fragments of Jaehyun's fangs penetrating his skin, the glow in his crimson eyes as he came, the way he kissed Doyoung through his pleasure.

The food has long since gone cold and his appetite before that but Doyoung can’t summon the will to leave the chair. He always knew his friendship with Johnny was fragile at best, that he could never truly call someone who employed him his ally, but it seems whatever bond they had was set to fray.

“Shall we speak plainly, Doyoung? I see no reason not to. We’re both aware of what’s going on. Let’s talk as adults.” Johnny’s palms are open.

“Okay,” Doyoung says. The truth lies so evident among them it’s ridiculous to prolong it for any longer. 

“That’s great.” Johnny smiles even as he twists the knife. “Jaehyun is going to suck you dry and leave you a vacant husk and you’re too delusional to realize it.”

Anger is spiky at the back of Doyoung’s eyelids. “That is a bold assumption.”

“Doyoung, I’m considerably older and smarter than you. I know vampires and I know Jaehyun. Whatever you think you have with him, whatever you think you know about him, remember I’m the one who let him stay here, and I know exactly what he’s capable of.”

“Jaehyun hasn’t done anything to incur your suspicion since he’s been here,” Doyoung replies.

“Yes,” Johnny says, sipping his wine. “But he also used to turn people for money, so, I wouldn’t put him forth for sainthood just yet.”

Every single modicum of self-control in Doyoung’s body is being used to control his reactions. He’s lying, Doyoung rationalizes, he’s lying in order to justify his hatred of Jaehyun.

“I’m trying to help you,” Johnny says, sighing. “I get it, okay, for whatever reason you’ve taken pity on him but you need to realize he’s not human. How long until he snaps?”

Doyoung feels like he’s about to snap. He feels that fragile bond between Johnny bend backwards, tension tearing against the connections. “It’s our private business.”

“For now. You realize your actions will have consequences that extend beyond you.” Johnny runs a hand through his hair, and for a moment he looks burdened, less like his jovial appearance and more like a man with the weight of an entire town on his shoulders. “Just answer me if he’s tasted blood again. If he has, it’s already hopeless. He’s doomed himself and you.”

“Mr. Seo, I suggest you stop talking. You don’t know anything.”

 He snorts. “I don’t know anything? I, unfortunately, know far too much about Jaehyun. You’ve been here less than a year - I’ve been here for all thirteen that Jaehyun has lived here, I’m the one who opened the damn gate.” Johnny’s fist clenches around the table. “Do not forget that I am the person who rehomed his bleeding and broken half-corpse. Do not forget that if it wasn’t for my mercy you would never have even met Jaehyun because he would not have been alive.”

Doyoung forgot. He feels off-center, like the breeze pushed him off his chair and then off a cliff. Johnny is a storm cloud, relentless and unyielding - but it’s all because of him that Jaehyun even lives. There’s still gaps in his story, still layers to unpeel and Doyoung gazes up at Johnny and he hesitates.

He’s not ready to burn a bridge just yet.

“What would you want me to do?” Doyoung asks softly.

“What I’d want is for you to never speak to him again, to be quite honest,” Johnny says, “But I’m not unreasonable. It’s clear that he’s done something to you. What I’m asking if for you to change nothing. Doyoung, you cannot let him have blood.”

The bite mark on his neck sears.

“The thing about Jaehyun, the very reason why I let him into my town and didn’t just burn his house to the ground while he’s sleeping, is that he has exceptional self-control. He’s proven that numerous times. He can walk among everyone else and that’s just because he has complete mastery over himself. If he’s drinking, it means he’s lost that, and if he’s lost that, what’s to stop him from draining you and everyone else dry?”

Doyoung’s fingers clench on the table.

“I’m not saying it will be intentional. I don’t believe Jaehyun to be a murderer of no remorse, he grows far too many pretty flowers for that to be the case  - but I also don’t believe him to be infallible. I don’t think he’ll even realize he’s killed until they’re lying motionless in his arms.”

Doyoung thinks of a bird, eyes glassy and wingspread. He feels a sickness inside him, feels his neck seize up. “I need to go.”

Johnny dismisses him with a wave of his hand. “Doyoung, you should just remember, Jaehyun’s lied to me in the past. I would not be too presumptuous to consider yourself an exception.”

 

He turns the handle to his room, a headache presenting itself at the crest of his brow as Johnny’s words circulate around his thoughts like a whirlpool. He runs a hand through his hair, and for a brief moment, makes eye contact with the wooden dove. His stomach fills with sickness and he turns away. Doyoung knows he’s doing the right thing, he knows that if he doesn’t take care of Jaehyun, no one will - but that doesn’t make him forget the vivid hatred in Johnny’s eyes.

Doyoung undoes the first string on his shirt as he opens his drawer, so preoccupied with finding his pyjamas he doesn’t notice the figure at the balcony until it starts to tap against the glass. Doyoung stares in complete incomprehension at Jaehyun.

Faintly, he says: “Come in.” 

Doyoung is allowed a brief moment to stare at crimson eyes before he gets pushed into the door, the wood cracking underneath the force, Jaehyun’s arm absorbing the shock. He chokes out a gasp - and then stops breathing altogether as Jaehyun claims his mouth in a bruising kiss, stealing whatever remnant of air he had left in his lungs. It’s different, it’s so different from the last time, in the rose garden. That was careful, restrained, like a bowstring daring not to snap. This is everything but careful, this is open-mouthed, messy, sharp-bladed lust.

“Were you just outside the balcony?” Doyoung says, shifting his face away for a moment. He shivers at the feel of Jaehyun’s lips against the column of his throat, tickling the skin.

“I climbed up,” he mutters in between precise licks up and down his neck.

“You climbed up?” Doyoung repeats. Trying to keep his mind clear is like trying to navigate through a cloud of mist.

“I did. I did, it wasn’t hard,” and Jaehyun briefly detaches himself, just to stare down at him. “Doyoung, you don’t understand how new I feel, I feel like I’m reborn.”

He looks different. It had only been days since Doyoung had last seen him but there’s a change that’s beyond the encompassing blood red of his eyes, casting his face in a haunting glow. His alabaster skin glows, and his gaunt cheeks seem filled in, Jaehyun seems alive.

“Is it because of…” Doyoung trails off. He draws his fingers over the curve of Jaehyun’s jawline, and Jaehyun’s hand covers his own. 

“You?” he completes. “Of course, what else? Who else? You’re the only one who could ever make me feel like this.” Jaehyun kisses his palm all the way up to the tips of his fingers, before sucking down, tongue swirling along two of the digits, eyes fluttering shut in bliss.  

Blood rushes to his cock and despite his best attempts at trying to remain level-headed, he feels his own resistance begin to crumble. Anything that isn’t Jaehyun and his mouth is not worth focusing on but he has to-

“Jaehyun, why are you here?” Doyoung asks as gentle as he can and Jaehyun begrudgingly raises his head, letting Doyoung’s fingers drop out of his mouth.

“I missed you,” Jaehyun says in that honest way of his that always causes his heart to shatter.

“Oh,” Doyoung says, struggling to inhale.

“I haven’t seen you in so many days, and I didn’t want to wait another one.” Jaehyun pauses, toying with Doyoung’s unbuttoned collar. His shirt is white, and he pulls on the strings, exposing the lines of his collarbone. “You were at dinner for such a long time. I was wondering why. Is everything okay?”

The concern in his voice is palpible.

“Yes, everything’s fine. Johnny was just going on some tangent.”

Jaehyun leans forward, nosing the side of Doyoung’s neck, inhaling his scent. “I missed you, Doctor.”

“I missed you too,” Doyoung says, unable to stop himself smiling. He has to reconcile the Jaehyun with the potential to drain him dry and leave him for dead with the one currently nuzzling his throat, hands pawing at his chest. It would be easier to convince him the sky wasn’t blue.

“I’m so happy to see you, but Johnny can’t know you’re here,” Doyoung says softly, gently lifting Jaehyun’s gaze to his own.

“Come with me, then,” Jaehyun says simply. “Let’s go to my home. We can be alone.”

“Ah, but I can’t go through the window, Jaehyun,” Doyoung says, unable to keep the fondness out of his voice. “I mean, you shouldn’t either, it’s two storeys, how did you manage to get here?”

“You can leave through the front door,” Jaehyun says, ignoring him.

“I can’t, Jaehyun, it’s already locked. I don’t want anyone to know I’ve left,” Doyoung says, and he hopes the finality of his tone ends any further arguments. But Jaehyun does not, and nears closer to Doyoung, pressing him against the grain of the wood, kissing the shell of his ear. “Don’t leave me alone. I can keep quiet, I promise.”

Doyoung is human. Doyoung is horribly, pathetically and irrevocably human and he can’t say no to the way Jaehyun stares at him, eyes heavy-lidded, voice hoarse.

Doyoung loops his arms around his neck, and before he leans in, he savours the look on Jaehyun’s face, that expression of pure unabashed joy.

They kiss again, in that way that lovers do, languidly, longingly, and Jaehyun’s hands find their way into Doyoung’s hair and he smiles against the kiss. There’s the feeling that they could do this for hours, and Doyoung realizes they could, oh they could, he could just stay here against the door and feel Jaehyun against him until his legs collapse, and then afterwards, when Jaehyun will inevitably carry him to bed.

Doyoung realizes the danger of the situation, aware of the proximity to Johnny’s room just down the hall - but he also realizes he’s entirely powerless to stop himself. He wants this, he wants Jaehyun - he always does.

Jaehyun’s hand skates up underneath his shirt, rubbing against the planes of his stomach, the cold touch electrifying his flesh. “Doyoung,” Jaehyun begins, talking into the crook of his neck. “I don’t want to interrupt this, of course, but, Doyoung…”

“Yes?” he says, breathlessly.

“Can I…” Jaehyun trails off, licking softly at his neck and - oh. Oh. Doyoung quickly realizes.

“You want to drink?” 

“I’m just… very thirsty, and Doyoung, you’re so, so delicious,” Jaehyun murmurs. He’s whispering it to his pulse point now, and he can feel that unsteady flutter of heartbeat. “Only if you’ll permit me, I wouldn’t touch you otherwise.”

He does consider it for a moment. Jungwoo had warned against it and he thinks about how he expressly defies Johnny’s orders that was repeated merely minutes ago in his own house - and that just seems to add to the illicit thrill in the corner of his mind. The intimacy of feeding is one that Doyoung craves, both from the natural high that comes from it, but also the closeness he feels to Jaehyun in that moment.

“Of course,” he says. “Please do. Do you want me to-”

Jaehyun already holds Doyoung’s hand, leading him towards his bed, gesturing for him to sit down. It’s such a strange role reversal - Doyoung thinks of the way he asks Jaehyun to sit on his therapy bed.

All thoughts leave his mind when he sees the predatory look in Jaehyun’s eyes - and for a moment, for a fraction of a second, Doyoung is scared. Jaehyun fastens himself on Doyoung’s lap and his fangs dig into his neck with no further warning and it burns, it always burns. 

And then it doesn’t, and then it’s just pleasure.

Jaehyun shifts in his lap, adjusting his position, grinding down on him and drinks deeper. It feels like molten gold flows through Doyoung’s veins, it’s painful and heavy and his head burns. And then - it’s none of that. Then it’s nothing but euphoria, that bead of lust he’s carried since Jaehyun pushed him against the door threatens to burst.

“Quieter,” Jaehyun whispers. His mouth is cherry red. “You need to be quiet.”

Doyoung didn’t think he was making any noise. “Kiss me,” he says. He gives up trying to sit upright, collapsing on the bed and Jaehyun follows him, not willing to let go of the grip he has on him, settling on top of him.

He doesn’t immediately. He bites into the wound again, and sucks alongside it. Doyoung whimpers and this time he knows he’s the one making the sound. Jaehyun licks it clean and he gazes down at Doyoung with the same hunger. His lips are overflowing red, eyes flaming.

“Kiss me,” Doyoung insists.

Jaehyun lifts his hand to wipe his mouth - but Doyoung grabs it instead and pulls him closer, the coppery taste of his own blood lingering in his kiss. He hears Jaehyun gasp something in surprise - but then he doesn’t say anything else, mouth occupied by other means.

His hands divest Doyoung of his shirt, undoing the meticulous ties, but he can’t even finish pulling it off before Doyoung wraps his arms around his neck, pulling his lips back. Any moment that Jaehyun does not touch him is a moment wasted, and under such limited time, such frivolity cannot be accepted.

Doyoung grinds against Jaehyun’s thigh, relieving some of the pressure that builds up in his arousal and mercifully, Jaehyun’s hand moves into Doyoung’s pants, cupping him there, taking a second to savour the moan of pleasure.

His strokes increase in speed, interspersed with periodic kisses that all taste of his own blood - and then he pauses, sitting up for a moment.

“What?” Doyoung says, and it comes out as a whine. Why would he stop, why would he ever even consider stopping? Jaehyun is staring at him, but there’s nothing but fondness written in his face.

“I love the way you look like this,” he says. “When your chest is flushed and your forehead is soaked with sweat. When you’re so warm against me. I love that, I love how human it is.”

Doyoung’s heart pounds, and Jaehyun hears it. He places one hand over the spot on his chest and smiles, eyes never leaving Doyoung’s. His gaze is undeniably fond - and when Doyoung speaks, his voice cracks.

“Touch me,” he whispers, trying to ignore the tears glistening in his eyes. Jaehyun sees them, of course he does, and he wipes them away, leaving a kiss at the corner of his eyes. His hands travel down the plains of his body at a speed that is tortuous, and when they finally find his cock, he stutters at the sensation.

“Neck,” Doyoung whispers when he feels himself growing close, when he feels Jaehyun’s own hardness pressing against him. 

Jaehyun’s hands pull Doyoung closer and he devours him, mouthing inside him. And Doyoung can’t help but wonder if this is how it feels to have Jaehyun inside him, what would it be like to have him inside him, and the thought alone has Doyoung gasping and grasping at Jaehyun’s sides, trying to center himself.

It’s pointless. His center has realigned.

He comes into Jaehyun’s hand as he grinds against him. Jaehyun drinks until Doyoung can feel himself spill as well, and the second he detaches himself from his neck, Doyoung pulls him in for a loose kiss, that’s more tongue than lips, that’s more sentiment than passion. His chest is coated red, blood dripping down his neck and sweat clings to his face, and despite that, when Jaehyun opens his scarlet eyes, he stills looks at Doyoung with absolute and complete adoration.  

 

It’s later when Doyoung rises from his bed. Jaehyun, gorged on blood, has his eyes snapped shut. He barely notices when the sheets are stripped from the bed, the only sign of life being a muted groan. Doyoung doesn’t switch the light on, but he doesn’t need it either, easily navigating the empty space of his room. Jaehyun is all but catatonic to the world, and still, he’s quiet when he opens the door.

It’s difficult to make out the crevices and corners of the Manor in such darkness. Unassuming ornaments and imperfect portraits that are bypassed by his sight in the day seem like sentinels now, staring at him from the corner of his eye.

Doyoung suppresses a shiver. Far past the stroke of midnight, Doyoung doesn’t think he’s ever walked around the Manor so late before, and certainly not all the way to the serving wing. His footsteps are clumsy as he descends down the stairs and he thinks that when he wakes up he’ll ask Jaehyun to lick his wounds again. It’s a dampening sort of pain that Doyoung feels. He thought he’d be used to the blood loss by now - but he never is. 

It’s when he walks past the empty window that he notices the figure at the end of the corridor. His scream suppresses itself in his throat.

“Doctor?”

Sua steps forward, concerned blue eyes illuminated by the light of moon. Her raven hair is loose, falling upon her shoulders and her nightgown is light in comparison. In her hold is a glass of water. It ripples where her hand shivers.

“Doctor?” Sua repeats.

The once-whitened bed sheets weigh like metal in Doyoung’s hands. He tries to manoeuvre them, but every thread is stained some shade of red, a gradient of blood and passion. And even if the sheets deconstructed themselves into the flax they came from, even if they disappeared from memory and matter - there’s nothing more damning that the imprints all over the expanse of his neck and chest. 

“Sua,” Doyoung says, fingers digging into the bundle of sheets. “It’s from my practice, I had a patient, very ill-”

“Oh, Doctor,” Sua says, her melodic voice a sigh. “What have you done to yourself?”

Doyoung doesn’t think he knows how to answer her. She’s worth more than his petty excuses. He remains quiet.

“Please be careful,” she says. “I trust you and your judgement, I think, but Doctor, I worry about you.”

Doyoung cannot begin to discern what Sua does or does not know. He doesn’t know whether it’s better to lie, to threaten her, or perhaps just to wake Jaehyun. Sua is always disarmingly quiet - and clever.

“I won’t tell,” she says, eyes fixed on those bruises that pattern his abdomen. Doyoung resists the urge to cover himself with his hands. “I won’t tell but Doctor, please be careful.”

“I am,” Doyoung finally says. The water in her glass stops rippling.

She exhales. “The Mayor wakes up two hours after dawn.”

“I understand.”

Sua nods. She surveys him one last time, as if committing the image to memory, and brushes past him. She pauses, leaning into his ear and whispers: “Blood stains wash out in cold water.”

 

The Mayor wakes up two hours after dawn, and Jaehyun is gone two hours before that, brushing strands of hair out of Doyoung’s eyes, letting his fingers linger as he massages his skull.

“I need to go,” Jaehyun had whispered into the tangle of black locks. “Sun is rising.”

And Doyoung had sleepily murmured some indistinct noise in reply. Jaehyun’s laugh was muffled as he pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth. The balcony doors opened - and he was gone, disappeared in the time it took Doyoung to open his eyes.

Doyoung, awake, cutting his bacon into segments, remembers thinking perhaps the only unfortunate effect of Jaehyun’s renewed life was the loss of daylight, of those sunlight hours forever lost. Doyoung thinks of how Jaehyun looked in those times they saw each other, how the sunshine would sparkle through his hair, how his dimples seem to trap a pocket of the light just for themselves.  

Doyoung had asked Jaehyun some nights ago, curved in the crevice of his form, arms wrapped tightly around him. Doyoung remembers feeling distinctly sticky but unwilling to leave his grip.

“Do you miss walking around in the day?”

And Jaehyun had interlinked their hands together and brushed the side of his cheek, and replied, “I’d make my home in darkness, I’d trade away every single hour of sunlight if it means I get to be with you.”

Doyoung’s heart stammers under the memory, and he’s grateful that Johnny has not come down to breakfast yet to witness the flush on his cheeks. To be so admired, to be so adored does not something like a gift worthy of Doyoung, not when it’s Jaehyun who’s the one looking at him with wide eyes and broad smiles. It’s worth everything, he’s worth everything Doyoung has to give up. The blood in his veins might as well be his now.

Kun grins as he brushes past Doyoung, opening the windows wider, letting the morning light fill the dining room. “Shall I serve you up some potatoes? Freshly fried, of course, they smell delicious.”

“I wouldn’t mind a portion at all,” Doyoung answers, and Kun is pleased at the answer, navigating behind him and grabbing a spare plate, but not before peaking down at  Doyoung’s own meal and nodding his approval. From the kitchen, the aroma of baked breads wafts, and Sua is humming a measured tune, and Kun appears pleased, joining in with his rumbly voice.

Doyoung gazes enraptured, lips curling in delight. He smiles into his breakfast to the sounds of Kun and Sua breaking out into a quarrel over whether or not there were more raisins in the pantry, their bickering extending throughout the Manor.

Doyoung is just about to mention that he was in there a few days ago, and remembers seeing a box right above the flour-

There’s an abrupt crash of black feathers on his plate and Doyoung recoils instantly. Johnny stands above him, face dark. His gaze drops back down to the rook sprawled in front of him, glassy-eyed, beak open.

“Doyoung,” Johnny says, devoid of mercy.  “You’re fired.”

Chapter Text

Doyoung’s eyes flutter closed before the train departs the station. His ticket is on the table, protectively enclosed in his hands. Empty seats outnumber the occupied and Doyoung stretches his legs, grateful for the privacy, grateful for the quiet that shields him like a blanket from the outside world. It seems like it’s been too long since he’s had a moment of thinking to himself, uninterrupted by the punctuated caws of rooks.

The train starts to move, slow to start, like a lurching giant being rudely awakened. With his eyes shut, it’s soothing. He allows time to pass him by, makes no effort to do anything, or talk to anyone. The sound of the train fades to background noise. His suitcase is tucked in the overhead, and for the next few hours, there’s nothing that requires his attention, nothing that can be done about his present situation, and it’s after digging his nails into his knuckles so hard they leave crescent imprints along the ridges, that he finally allows himself this luxury of sleep. The atmosphere that surrounds him is filled with the sounds of people pacing up and down the carriageway, the wheels of their luggage squeaking against the train floor.

He tries not to think about anything, or anyone. He’s done enough thinking on the way here, and that never accomplished anything, just left him with a tightness in his chest that made it difficult to breathe.

Really, it’s not all that bad. It would be nice to see Gahyeon again. Get out of the countryside. A change of scenery, switching the black feathers of rooks for smoke billowing from chimneys. He was getting tired of those fucking birds

There’s an individual in particular who steps to his compartment - and their footsteps never fade, they do not walk away. Instead, the seat next to him shifts and Doyoung cannot suppress the grimace that finds it way on his face. The train is empty, there’s no reason to share seats right now, why do they feel the need to interrupt his peace. He wouldn’t confront the person, doesn’t think he has the necessary fortitude at present to have even the most polite of discussions  - but opens his eyes to see the face of the intruder, attempt to figure the reason why he sits so close, and stares into eyes of scarlet.

“Hello Doctor,” Jungwoo says. “I’m Jungwoo.”

Doyoung often felt he didn’t fit in, felt somewhat on the fringes of the traditional young adult social experiences. That was because, mostly, he was far too serious for most of his peers, and more often than not, had trouble maintaining any sort of human relationship. Despite this, Doyoung did at least try and assimilate himself as best he could. The same could not be said for Jungwoo, who didn’t fit in for a whole host of other reasons.

The mere fact was no human ever looked as beautiful as Jungwoo did. From the perfectly dark lashes which beat down on his heavy-lidded eyes to his plush pink lips, Jungwoo looks like a vision of the divine. His dark blonde hair trails out, ever shining. And, of course, there was the matter of his eyes.

“I remember you,” Doyoung says faintly, sitting up straight. He stares straight through him as he struggles to comprehend. Jungwoo, Jungwoo who was last seen under in his office, is here, on the last train of the day, wrapped in a thick plaid scarf. 

“Oh, that’s good. I remember you too, of course. You’re Jaehyun’s…” Jungwoo trails off, unsure of the word. “You’re Jaehyun’s.”

“Mm.” It wasn’t necessarily wrong but it was still strange to be told that. “Jungwoo, what are you… doing here?” He turns to look at the rest of the carriage: about nine people spread out in groups of two and three. “Can you be here?”

“Oh, definitely! I ate before I came,” Jungwoo says, nodding assuredly.

 Doyoung blinks. “That’s… good to hear.” It’s not. It’s really not, and not what Doyoung meant in the slightest, not having even considered the potential risks of having a vampire in front of him. Still, Doyoung has far more pressing questions than the origins of Jungwoo’s last meal.

His eyes snap open to the window and he jumps out of his seat, closing the curtains and Jungwoo’s posture instantly relaxes.

“It’s sunlight, why do you keep doing this?” Doyoung hisses.

“It’s fine, I’ve got this to protect me,” Jungwoo says, holding up the scarf like it’s some sort of shield. Doyoung counts to ten in his mind before reaching for his suitcase.

“A moment,” he says, rifling through the hastily packed contents. He vaguely remembers throwing the hat in, a silly choice really, but he didn’t exactly have time to pack. It’s a dark green, a feather hanging out, and it does seem ridiculous - one of Gahyeon’s purchases, of course. It serves the purpose nevertheless, and Doyoung slots it on Jungwoo’s head.

Jungwoo manoeuvres the brim till it casts his face in a shaded glow. “Oh, that’s a thousand times better. Thank you Doctor.”

“You’re welcome,” he sighs, sinking back into his seat. It’s even harder to take him seriously now, he looks like he’s come from some sort of fairytale about a beautiful but mischievous soul-stealing stranger. “Jungwoo, what are you doing here?”

“I came to talk to you,” Jungwoo says like it’s the simplest thing in the world.

Doyoung stares at him in absolute perplexment. He’s not equipped to handle Jungwoo, he doesn’t know him, and he certainly can’t begin to fathom how he keeps worming his way into these strange locations. “Do you even know where this train is going?”

Jungwoo pauses for a moment, thinking intently. “South?”

“That’s not a destination. That’s a direction.” Doyoung’s fingers scratch the surface of the ticket stub. “Jungwoo, I just… how did you even find me?”

“I followed you. You smell, you know?” Jungwoo barrels on despite Doyoung’s look of disgust. “Not like everyone else. Jaehyun’s been so all over you that you’ve got this weird scent to you.”

“Scent?” Doyoung is uncomfortable at the idea that he smells.

Jungwoo taps his nose. “I know what my maker’s mark is - and I would know him through storms and seas.” As an afterthought he adds, “Your blood smells like roses.”  

Doyoung shifts from side to side. “Jungwoo, do control yourself. You can’t do anything. We’re in public.”

“It’s just what I’m smelling,” Jungwoo pouts.

He remembers something - and perhaps it’s just his own history of giving bad news, but he clears his throat. “Your pigeon. The one you sent Jaehyun. She’s no longer with us.”

Jungwoo’s face falls and Doyoung finds he instantly regrets it. “I thought as much. Jaehyun always tried to keep in contact with me. He always wanted to make sure I was okay, especially in the beginning - but I still wanted to hope she was out there, flying among the rooks.”

Doyoung feels guilty, which is ridiculous. He wasn’t the one that killed the pigeon. He becomes aware of the stares on him - and the stares on Jungwoo. “You’re attracting attention,” he mutters under his breath.

Jungwoo turns to his side and Doyoung sticks out a hand to prevent the movement. “Your eyes. They’ll see. There’s so many witnesses. You can’t just massacre the whole train.”

“I can,” Jungwoo says, and there’s no defiance in his tone, just fact. “You haven’t seen my appetite. But like I said, I ate before I got here. I’m fine. And I’m not here to hurt you. I just wanted to talk.”

His stomach starts to sink. Jungwoo had warned him about the dangers associated with feeding Jaehyun - and very clearly, consequences were already a result of that. Doyoung did not want to sit here with his suitcase half packed, lips lingering with the phantom memory of a missed goodbye kiss.

“What do we have to talk about?” Doyoung says.

“Jaehyun. What else?” Jungwoo tilts his head to the side, eyes wide. “Is there anything else we should talk about?” There’s no sarcasm to be found.

Doyoung gets the impression that Jungwoo doesn’t have a lot of conversations with many other people. “What do you want, Jungwoo? As you can see, I’m on a train. I’m going away, back to where I came from, and I won’t bother Jaehyun, at least for a little while. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“That’s the opposite of what I wanted. I came to warn you and Jaehyun, not to get you to leave.” Guilt is heavy in Jungwoo’s voice. “I would have sent my hawk but she doesn’t like trains.”

“I don’t expect her to.” Doyoung rubs his hands over his brow. And then because he really did want to know, just to adequately accept the absurdity of his situation, he looks up at Jungwoo: “Can you talk to birds?”

“Well,” Jungwoo says, “They don’t always talk back.”

“Right.”

“The hawks though, they’re very good. I talk to Fortune and her brother all day, they’re very good conversational partners.” Jungwoo gazes up at the ceiling of the train. “She’s probably flying above us now.”

Doyoung sighs, preemptively at the words he’s about to say. “Jungwoo, did you use your bird to spy on me?”

“Yes,” he says, shameless. “I just wanted to make sure Jaehyun would be okay - she was meant to see if Lucas was coming after him, but she flew to me and told me that you… you were leaving.”

Doyoung had done a frankly excellent job up to this point of compartmentalizing his emotions. He’d packed in absolute silence, written a letter to Jaehyun and even had time to stamp it before sneaking out the back door like some thief. And he’d kept everything under a careful mask, did not have his face crack, but then he looks at Jungwoo, and all he thinks of is a pair of equally red eyes that he wishes he could see right now.

“It’s not a choice,” Doyoung says softly. “I have to go.”

“But, don’t you like it there? Why would you leave?” Jungwoo asks and if that doesn’t bruise Doyoung right in the confines of his ribcage.

“Of course I do, I…” Doyoung stops, and catches his breath, forcing everything back down his throat, every unwritten word and every unsaid goodbye. “I had to. You were right. I was being reckless and Jaehyun is going to end up paying a far harsher price. So I’m going back to the city for a while, just to let things settle in Rookswood.”

Doyoung pauses, and looks at the curtain, wishing that he could stare out at the view instead, even if it was just the dull countryside. It would be something to look at, something for his brain to focus on besides that ache in his heart that grows heavier with each beat.

“I think I caused too much trouble while I was there,” Doyoung says, voice as quiet as the vampire next to him.

“I do that too,” Jungwoo replies, equally as soft. “I know how it feels.”

“I just wanted to help him, Jungwoo, he was suffering so much, and I think I’ve ruined everything for him. If Johnny makes him leave Rookswood, where is he supposed to go, I never considered…”

There’s a pressure on his hand, and he stares at Jungwoo, his eyes wide with innocence. His grip is cold, icy even, but his skin is soft and Doyoung cannot deny the calming effect it has.

“Doctor,” Jungwoo says. “It will be okay. If it turned out okay for me, it will turn out okay for you.”

Doyoung gazes at the place where their hands connect, contrasting in colour. “Jungwoo, if you have Lucas, if you love Lucas, why can’t you get him to stop? Why can’t you just tell him to stop? Why does he have to come for Jaehyun, what could Jaehyun have possibly done to him?”

“He turned me,” Jungwoo says. It’s as simple a statement as that. Jungwoo offers no embellishments, no garnishing. 

“And why did Jaehyun turn you? He must have had some reason, it must have been worth the risk.”

Jungwoo pauses for a moment. "I asked him to."

Doyoung pulls his hands away, and stares. “You asked him to be a vampire?” It surely could not have been so simple, he couldn’t have just asked him, in the same way someone asks for a breath mint. But there’s something frantic in Jungwoo’s eyes.

I had to. I had to, Doyoung, you don't understand how awful it was to be alive, everyone wanted to kill me. They named me the prize of the hunt, there were a hundred bounties out for my head - I couldn’t sleep at night without Lucas watching me because vampires and hunters alike would try and slaughter me.”

They must have passed the countryside now. Here is where the hills blur into the valleys, the greenery overtaking the concrete landscape. But Doyoung does not see that through the curtain, all he sees is Jungwoo, a tuft of hair peeking out from his ridiculously oversized hat, and his eyes wide with fear.

“Jungwoo, why did they want to kill you?” Doyoung asks, as delicately as he can.

“I'm a killer.” Jungwoo’s voice is faint, lost in a distant memory. “They toss a lot of terms around, like killer. Binge-eater is a common one. It doesn’t quite matter, the fact is: I'm a problem. I used to be uncontrollable.” Jungwoo’s hands shake from where they lay on the table. “I'd leave mountains of drained corpses. The easiest way to find me was just to follow the trail of blood.”

There's a chill in Doyoung's veins. There’s no metaphors in his speech, no jokes or euphemisms - when he says he’s killed people, Doyoung has no doubts that he’s telling the cruel truth. “What... what do you mean? Why would you kill people?”

He sounds like he gave up on defending himself a long time ago. “How else would I feed?”

“But you said Jaehyun turned you-”

“Oh, Doyoung,” Jungwoo says, eyes flashing with realization, “You think I was born human, don't you?”

“There isn't an alternative, surely,” Doyoung replies. He thinks of blushing cheeks, light-coloured eyes and beating hearts. He thinks of how Jungwoo must have looked like, when he had his own blood flowing through his veins, a lightness in his step and an indistinct but promising future.

“I'm a halfling.” And then Jungwoo pauses, briefly looking up. “Or, I was.” He seems lost in memories when he speaks, voice taking on an airy quality. “A mortal mother and a vampire father. A bit of the two. Not quite either - the worst characteristics of both, really.”

“You were never human?” Doyoung is unable to stop staring at him.

Jungwoo shakes his head. “No. No, I wasn't. I was close, kind of. I had a beating heart, I could walk in the sun but oh, I've always been hungry and there was never enough.”

“You still needed blood?” Doyoung asks. He had to feed, and oh-. That’s why he killed.

“Yes. I couldn't control myself, and I couldn't hide either, I wasn’t fast or strong or anything like that.” Despair is vivid in his voice. “I didn't have those kind of gifts that real vampires did.”

It all comes down to blood, doesn’t it? That precious liquid which flows through Doyoung’s veins effortlessly and continuously, is one that the people of Jungwoo’s world brutalize each other over. And Doyoung just always has it.

“I needed it. I can't imagine how Jaehyun lasted thirteen years without it - I can barely handle days.” Jungwoo pauses. “But then again, I've always been weak.”

“Don't say that,” Doyoung automatically defends, refusing to see the way his face drops. “Jungwoo, no, it's not your fault for how you were born.”

Unexpectedly, Jungwoo's eyes glisten when they meet Doyoung’s. “Doyoung, you don't understand, I used to butcher entire families and drain them all. I couldn't stop myself. Lucas tried to help me, kept helping me, but he's just one person.” He stares down at his hands. “They all wanted me dead. All of them. The vampires wanted me gone for drawing too much attention, the authorities wanted me gone for the murders I've committed, and everyone else in between just wanted a cut of the bounties that started to emerge for my demise.” A teardrop spills down on his skin. “I must have been so selfish for wanting to be alive.”

Doyoung holds his hands out over the tabletop and takes Jungwoo’s hand back into his own, stopping him from shuddering. “Jungwoo, no, you deserve to live,” Doyoung says, voice mollifying, like he’s humming a lullaby. “Jungwoo, you always deserve to live, you can't say that.”

It’s a long moment before Jungwoo speaks. “No one has ever told me that before.”

“Well, I’m telling you. And you can trust me. I’m a doctor.” Doyoung tries to smile, tries to soothe, like he does when his patients make themselves ill with their own worries.

Jungwoo’s hand stills.

"That's how Jaehyun found me," Jungwoo says after a moment. "I knew of Jaehyun - who didn't know of Jaehyun? I knew what he did - but I also knew Lucas had made it very clear that anyone who even touched me would die. I didn't think Jaehyun would take the risk. I wouldn't have blamed him if he didn't. But he found me, in a barn, surrounded by fifteen drained corpses. And still hungry."

"A barn?"

Doyoung was still in school, he remembers that much. It's hard to determine his exact age, but he remembers he still had that awful bald spot, the result of a failed hairdressing experiment at the incapable hands of Gahyeon. But he remembers hearing about the massacre at the barn, just a few roads down, of an entire farm absolutely slaughtered. There were fifteen dead. No survivors.

Doyoung doesn't remember anything more than that, but he doesn't think he needs to, not when he's looking at the cause of it in front of him.

“It was you,” Doyoung states.

“It was me. Would have been me a hundred more times more if Jaehyun hadn’t made me.”

“Jaehyun made you?” Doyoung tries the words out in his mouth but they sound unfamiliar, like they don’t belong. They never fit right.

“Yes,” Jungwoo says.

Doyoung stares at Jungwoo for a long time. “Why?” Doyoung finally says. “Why did he?” If the risks were so high, why were you worth it, Doyoung wants to know.

“I was just so hungry, Doyoung,” Jungwoo says softly. “I was so, so hungry, no one understands how hungry I was. It was the only feeling I ever had, this constant bloodlust, this overpowering desire.”

“Jaehyun understood, didn’t he?” Doyoung finally says, thinking of his hollow gaze the moment blood prickled on his finger.

“I guess he did. I don’t know how he found me. Smell, probably.” Jungwoo pauses. “It’s a kind of lust that takes over, when you need blood, it clouds your senses and your vision and you just have this singular focus. Have you ever wanted something so bad it hurts?”

“I… yes, I guess so,” Doyoung says, and tries not to think of a moment of his hands entwined with Jaehyun’s, when he looked up into honey gold eyes that burned with desire.

“Not enough to kill someone, I think.” Jungwoo’s voice is thick with remorse. “He just walked in and saw me, and Doyoung, he wasn’t scared, he didn’t run away. Everyone’s scared of me, because they’re scared of Lucas, but not him. He just knelt down next to me and took my face in his hands and wiped the blood off my mouth and told me to stop crying. I was shaking.”

Doyoung can picture it with perfect clarity. Crimson streaking Jungwoo’s face, eyes wide with fear, tears spilling out and staining the wooden floors. The scent of death in the air as bodies piled around him. And blood, blood everywhere, staining the walls and floors and his hands and his lips.

“Jungwoo,” Doyoung whispers.

“I was on my knees, Doyoung. I begged him to turn me, I didn’t know if it would work, I didn’t know if it would make it better, but it had to be better than this, I couldn’t live like this anymore.” Jungwoo stares at his hands like he can see the blood still on them. “How many more people would I have killed?”

“And so he turned you.” It’s not a question. It’s a statement of fact. Jaehyun turned him.

“He did,” Jungwoo says softly. “He turned me even though he knew it was as much of a death wish as the one that I had.”

“Jaehyun knew Lucas would come after him,” Doyoung finally says. “Jaehyun knew, and he still...”

“He still did it.” Jungwoo’s eyes flutter closed for a moment. “I didn’t think about the implications at the time, I didn’t know what was happening. How could I? I was turning.”

Doyoung pulls on that thread, leaning forward, unable to stop his own curiosity. “What does it feel like?”

“Like dying,” Jungwoo says simply. “But it’s better. It’s better now. I’m still hungry all the time, but I can control it better, I can hide better. I’m weak, but I can still try and defend myself.”

This is Jungwoo. Red-eyed, perpetually thirsty - and to Jaehyun, worth risking his life saving. Doyoung cannot find it in himself to begrudge Jungwoo his life, not when he knows he would have done the same thing, had he been in the position. Someone like Jungwoo doesn’t deserve to die, to be hunted like some prized animal for the sake of coins.

He pulls down the neckline of his top. Doyoung almost chastises him for exposing himself in the middle of a train, in sunlight, but becomes distracted. At the corner of his neck, on the left side, is the clear impression of a bite mark. Doyoung feels a similar spot on his own body, frowning.

“Right there,” Jungwoo points. “He’s the only one who can, you know? Can turn.”

“The only one?” There’s an uneasiness that lingers in Doyoung’s mind, unable to forget Johnny’s accusation.

“Well, maybe not the only one but it’s very difficult. To pour enough venom, means drinking a lot - and then stopping, right at the edge. The self-control needed is… inhuman,” Jungwoo says, and laughs at his own joke. “Oh I made a pun.”

“Jaehyun has good self-control,” Doyoung says. “That’s what I’ve heard.”

“The best. Except when it comes to you, apparently.”

Doyoung tastes acid in his words. “It’s not good self-control to live each day in the agony that he did. He deprived himself of every single thing that kept him alive just because your keeper wants to kill him.”

“I’ve tried to stop him and I can’t,” Jungwoo says, and his voice cracks. “It took him years before Lucas would even look at me. He left me alone, and I didn’t even know if he would ever come back. The very fact that he did, is something I don’t think I even deserve. Jaehyun is something else entirely. If I could convince him, believe me, I would. I care about my maker greatly.”

Doyoung thinks of his dusty chairs in his house, of the way Jaehyun had first called him ‘friend’. “Do you know how lonely he is, Jungwoo? Do you know how often he stops and thinks to himself, dreaming about the old days?”

Jungwoo falters. “It must have been hard for him, I realize. And I’m here, because I can see that you make him happy - and I think he does the same for you. I just don’t want you to leave forever. You have to go back. I’ll keep Lucas occupied everyday of my life if I have to, but it’s the first time I saw him happy in thirteen years.”

“I need to go, I need to just let the dust settle. I’ll just cause more problems for him if I was there.” Doyoung says despairingly.

“I know what it’s like when you live without the person you love the most. I wouldn’t want either of you to live through that.” There’s pain behind Jungwoo’s eyes.

Doyoung’s throat closes. “I’m on a train leaving Rookswood.”

“Well,” Jungwoo says. “The train goes back, doesn’t it?”

It does.

“Jungwoo, all I want is the best for Jaehyun. I just want to help,” Doyoung says, and he lays his heart bare, lets Jungwoo cradle it in his cold fingers, and trusts him not to shatter it even more. 

“I think we have a lot in common,” Jungwoo says softly. “We both love Jaehyun.”

 

They don’t say much after that. Peeking behind the curtains, Rookswood gets left further and further behind him, and the weight in Doyoung’s chest grows until it’s enough to sink him. But Jungwoo remains.

“Don’t you need to go back to Lucas?” The silence isn’t awkward when it’s broken. Jungwoo’s eyes snap up to Doyoung’s, and he lifts the brim of his ridiculous hat up, blinking.

“I will.”

“Then… why are you still on the train?”

“For you, of course. I’m keeping you company.” His smile is warm.

It would be easier to hate him if Jungwoo was unlikable, if he was vapid, if he was unkind, if he was ugly. But he’s none of those things. He’s bright, so bright, and his eyes are always wide and curious. He’s sweet, Doyoung accepts, Jungwoo is sweet like icing sugar and it’s impossible to summon any ill feelings towards him. Objectively, Doyoung realizes that if Jungwoo wasn’t around, if he had just died, Jaehyun would not have been in this predicament - but all that logic dissipates into the ether when their gazes meet. Doyoung can understand Jaehyun’s reasons. He wouldn’t have let Jungwoo suffer either. 

 “That’s very kind of you, Jungwoo,” Doyoung says, unable to stop his own grin from spreading across his face. “You don’t have to though. It’s sunlight. I understand if you’d prefer hiding somewhere, or going home.”

Jungwoo shakes his head. “You look tired, Doctor. I know what that feels like. Well, I remember, anyway.” He seems to recoil at the memory. “You can sleep now. I’ll watch over you.”

“You’re going to keep me safe on a train ride?” Doyoung says, torn between amusement and adoration.

“Of course. Now go sleep. Your eyes are so heavy.” Jungwoo pauses. He stands up for a moment and grabs Doyoung’s suitcase, placing it upon the table. “Can I look through your stuff? I’m so interested in the kind of clothes you wear. This hat is amazing.”

“I guess, I don’t know what you expect to find-”

Jungwoo doesn’t respond and unzips the suitcase, already preoccupied. “You have such nice shirts,” he says, pulling out and unpacking whatever piece of clothing takes his fancy.

Doyoung watches fondly and lets his eyes flutter closed, falling asleep to the sound of Jungwoo’s humming.

13 years ago

“Your very presence stains my town. You have surely heard of my reputation. And yet, despite this, you show up at my door?  You must be a very, very stupid vampire.” Johnny is in his doorway, a physical barrier to entry in height and body - not that it matters to Jaehyun, what stops him from entering is entirely intangible in nature. 

“I didn’t come here to cause trouble,” Jaehyun says, raising his hands in surrender. The movement hurts, the muscles in his left shoulder snapping like rubber bands against his bones. “But you said I could be here. It was in the notice.”

“Are you, perhaps, delusional?” Johnny’s face is painted with mirth. “I’ve seen more than fifty dead rooks since you’ve arrived - your reputation precedes you. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t just call a hunter and have you taken care of in moments.”

A dark feeling uncurls in Jaehyun’s chest, and if he had a heart that could beat, it would be racing, skyrocketing under his own anxiety. “Don’t.”

This just causes further pleasure to Johnny, and he leans more comfortably in the doorway now, as if to better savour the conversation like it’s his preferred vintage of wine. “Mmm, I was right, wasn’t I? You vampires really are terrified of Lucas, aren’t you? He is rather bloodthirsty, I can understand. If I was also as unholy as you are, I’m sure he’d be the stuff of my nightmares.”

Jaehyun has to force himself not to start shaking.

“Jungwoo,” Jaehyun says, and the second he says it, it feels like betrayal. The guilt coils around his neck like a noose, and he finds it difficult to breathe. “I know about the recompense you promised. You wanted Jungwoo taken care of. I did. And now I get the payment.”

And now, Johnny’s eyes widen in interest. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“You wanted him gone. Now he is.”

Jaehyun inhales. Consistent breathing is key when dealing with humans. They notice, when you don’t, after all. It’s important to pretend.

“Neutralized was the exact word I used, and I’m curious as to how you accomplished that when Lucas watches over him like the righteous hand of God himself.” Johnny pauses. “I don’t mean to be rude but someone like you doesn’t really seem like the type to do much of anything besides sit in a tower, dining on blood.”

The overwhelming feeling of being entirely and completely unknown is one that Jaehyun is unfamiliar with. In the city, the people Jaehyun surrounds himself with know him, some despise him, some revere him, but they know him. They know he isn’t the type to while away in his own idleness. They know his careful cleaning of the church, fondness of playing the organ, of his devotion to Ten - and the very thought of Ten makes him swallow glass.

Jaehyun turns around, breath coming out in shaky spurts as he undoes the top of his shirt, and the second the fabric brushes against his flesh, it nearly causes him to buckle over in pain.

“You claim to know Lucas. Then you’d know this.”

He can hear Johnny humming in interest. He moves a step closer, tracing the silver blade in the air with his fingers. “Oh, I’ve only heard of these. It’s his thing, isn’t it? These special knives.”

“Yes.” Jaehyun’s voice sounds like it’s pulled out from the ground. It burns, it burns, his shoulder is just always burning. The flesh is raw, struggling to heal over the knife itself and in the absence of sufficient blood. It must look grotesque. Oddly, that seems to give him a sense of satisfaction. He deserves that. He deserves to be absolutely and entirely repulsive.

“You can come inside, I think we have something worth talking about, after all,” Johnny says decisively as Jaehyun buttons his shirt. “Wipe your feet first, and don’t get too comfortable.”

The first question that Johnny asks as Jaehyun tries to settle into the chair in his office, mildly perturbed by all the bird paraphernalia that decorates the room, is: “Does it hurt?”

“I don’t think that matters,” Jaehyun says, and he’s proud of the way he said that, like he isn’t about to unravel at the pain that he carries around with him like an anchor. “You have the proof that Lucas was after me - it was because I disposed of his companion. You said that if anyone could neutralize Jungwoo, you’d reward them. I’ve come for that reward.”

Johnny takes his time to reply. He sits back in his chair, crossing his fingers and seems to consider himself for a moment. “I did say that, didn’t I? I suppose I can give you money if it’s that important to you. You could buy some better clothes, maybe.”

“I don’t want your money,” Jaehyun says. “I want to live here.”

A rook caws, passing by the window, and drops dead from the sky in the time that it takes Johnny to remember to blink. He stares for so long, unflinchingly, that even Jaehyun starts to grow uncomfortable.

“Sorry, I never caught your name,” Johnny says, finally.

“Jaehyun.”

“Thank you. Jaehyun, right? Jaehyun, are you, perhaps, genuinely insane?” Johnny asks, eyes wide with concern.

“I want to live here,” Jaehyun repeats, his insides churning.

“Just because I came to your unholy church for help in the matter of Jungwoo does not mean I am in any capacity an ally of your kind. I required vampires to kill a rogue, bloodthirsty halfling. It was a business transaction. I am amicable to giving you the monetary equivalent of whatever you feel is worth the deal, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go.” The corners of Johnny’s mouth curve up in amusement. “‘Live here’,” he chuckles to himself, “I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous.”

“It could benefit you.”

“How so? Do I look like I want a pet vampire snapping at my ankles whenever I walk around town?”

It’s desperation that runs through Jaehyun’s vacant veins. The knowledge that this is his last hope, that if Johnny declines, that Jaehyun may as well go back to the city, back to the bridge and wait for Lucas to snap the rest of his bones. He’s lived so long, but Jaehyun isn’t prepared to die.

“Lucas is after me,” Jaehyun says, and the words tumble over themselves in their rush to come out. “Lucas is after me, and everyone knows it. No one will help me, no one will even come near me because they’re aware I’m doomed.”

“Are you expecting sympathy from me, perhaps? Because that’s not what you’re getting,” Johnny snorts. He twirls a pen in his hand, the tip as sharp as the grin on his face. He’s enjoying this.

“You don’t understand. No one will come near me, I’m a warning flag. As long as I’m here, you’ll never have any vampires in Rookswood again.”

The pen continues to flex along Johnny’s fingers, but slower now, as he contemplates this. “You mean to tell me that you’re a repellent of sorts? I deal with you, this one vampire, domesticated and defanged, and I never have to deal with any others?”

“Yes,” Jaehyun says. He remembers he needs to breathe.

Johnny considers for a moment. “Well, that does sound promising. I won’t deny I don’t have the resources to have a hunter on retainer, nor do I have the capability to protect everyone at all times from your kind.” 

He says ‘your kind’ as if Jaehyun is already beginning to be excluded from the division, as if he’s already erasing his identity and taking on his chains.

“I’m highly aware of your appetite, and I can assure you, I don’t care if you don’t kill, you are not feeding in my town, not when my rooks can’t stand the scent of you.” Johnny raises an eyebrow. “And that’s where the real issue in this arrangement comes in, isn’t it?”

“No,” Jaehyun says carefully. He gazes down at his hands. “I know how to starve.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. If any of your kind knew how to starve, I wouldn’t have just seen the need to exterminate a problem that wasn’t even in my city limits.”

Jaehyun thinks of his maker, radiant and golden-eyed with age she never shows. “Johnny, I know. I’ve done it before and I can do it again. There’s no way I’d be able to lie to you either - your rooks would know if I ever drank from someone.”

Johnny surveys Jaehyun with distaste. “I’m just supposed to take this on your honour?”

And perhaps this is the most risky of all moves he can make - but this is his last pawn, this is his last chance. “I turn people.”

A pause.

“Into vampires?” Johnny’s disgust is vivid.

“Yes,” Jaehyun says. “I turn people because I’m one of the few vampires with the required self-control not to drain till death. It’s not a job I enjoy doing, but it’s one that is necessary.”  

It hurts. His shoulder hurts. It will always hurt now, won't it? His old titles hardly matter anymore, he's named by the blade wedged in his flesh now. All that he'll become is a walking vessel of his own pain. Even now, still under the residual effects of Ten's blood, he can feel the silver burn.

“If I ever were to slip up, you'd instantly know by way of the rooks. I'd be an easy target if I'm starving. I'd be weak. You wouldn't even need a hunter.”

To starve, to be so deprived of the only thing he needs to survive, Jaehyun could be dispatched by the quickest means. Or, considering the preferences of his present company, the most slow and painful execution.

“You have nothing to lose,” Jaehyun says. He knows this, because he also has nothing to lose - but that's only because he's already lost everything.

“Perhaps we can reach an agreement,” Johnny says after a moment of consideration. “I won't deny that I'm rather pleased that Jungwoo has been dealt with. Furthermore, the thought that I might purge my town of vampires altogether with you here…”

Domesticated and defanged. Those were the words Johnny used. That was what he thought of Jaehyun, as little more than a house animal. What was once a vicious predator with its back broken is now made to be a beast of burden.

Johnny rises from his desk and moves towards the cabinets in his office. He digs around in several, loud shuffling noises resounding, until he finds what he's looking for - and places the key into Jaehyun's outstretched hand.

“This is for the manor opposite mine. We'll be neighbours, you see,” Johnny says, his face a sickly sweet smile. “So I'll always be able to check up on you. Don't try anything, Jaehyun, because without this town, without me, you'll have nothing.”

Jaehyun stares at the key in his hand. His own house. It might be nice, living alone. For so long, the coven has always been noisy, someone was always coming or going, Yuta dragging him out onto his nighttime adventures, and Jaehyun spending the daytime in the cellars, entwined with Ten. It's unfair that these memories preserve themselves with crystalline clarity - it just makes it easier for him to remember how much it hurts.

“You'll need something to do,” Johnny says, and his voice is just noise to Jaehyun now. “Can't expect you to just stay locked up in that house all day, you'll make the other citizens so curious. Do you have any talents?”

The key is strange in Jaehyun's palm. It's small, slightly rusty. He can't feel the change in temperature but he imagines it's cold.

Johnny clears his throat and Jaehyun looks up. “I said, do you have any skills?”

He remembers his maker, blonde hair glistening as she runs her slender fingers over the stems. “You have to take off each leaf. It must seem so harsh but trust me, Jaehyun, it helps the flower.” Her gaze was as golden as the sun.

And Jaehyun gazes in despair, past Johnny at the empty vase on his cabinet shelf and feels like he betrays the last of everything and everyone he had left. “I can grow roses.”

 

 

“When do you think you’ll go back to work?” Gahyeon had asked over dinner last night. She pokes at her peas with her fork, tone careful, as if she’s trying to coax a frightened rabbit out of hiding. 

“I can’t be sure. I haven’t exactly been welcomed back. I’m sure Johnny will send me a letter any day now.” Doyoung’s gaze is fixed on his plate.

Jaehyun’s absence is glass in his veins. It should not be possible to miss someone so much, to have a gaping hole in his chest where there should be the warmth that fills him everytime he sees his soft smile. Doyoung is well aware that leaving was his only option - but, oh, it hurts to have Jaehyun so far away from him.

He won’t deny that it’s doing his body good to rest, to no longer be fed from constantly and so entirely, his strength slowly returning - but if the price of that is missing Jaehyun, Doyoung doesn’t think it’s worth it. 

“If that’s the case, you should get in contact with Taeyong. Get a spot at the hospital with him. Pick up where you left off.” It’s annoying. When did Gahyeon get so responsible? That was his job.

“Yeah, probably,” Doyoung says.

The prospect of ‘picking up where he left off’ is one that sends Doyoung’s insides spiralling. He hated where he ‘left off’, it’s why he left to begin with. He was trapped in a decaying relationship and had no career prospects for the future and felt disillusioned with the world around him.

It’s why he went to Rookswood to begin with, why he took that stupid job, why he even met Jaehyun.

“Speaking of Taeyong,” Gahyeon continues, curling a strand of raven hair behind her ear. “Have you let him and Taeil know you’re back in the city?”

Doyoung finally looks up. “No. And you can’t tell them either. I’m just here temporarily, I’ll be back in Rookswood soon.”

Kun would have made this meal a thousand times better. Sua would have served it on china. They would have had tea later, laughing at a story she recounts about Mr Huang. “But don’t you think your friends would want to know you’re here? I’m sure they could give you some advice on your work problems.”

Doyoung would prefer to eat glass.

“Doyoung, you can’t live like this!” Gahyeon slams her fist on the table so hard, the cutlery rattles and Doyoung abruptly stops picking at his food, the fork clattering to the plate. “You won’t even tell me what happened! All you did was show up at midnight with a suitcase in your hand telling me you were on indefinite sabbatical.”

It stings Doyoung’s pride to be yelled at by his younger sister of all people. She’s been on the receiving end of all his lectures for years now. He used to pull her pigtails when she would retort him as a child - but there’s no pigtails to pull now, not when she’s right.

Gahyeon sips her water and inhales deeply, like this conversation is emotionally and physically taxing. “Doyoung, why are you here?”

He can’t tell her that he got fired. The embarrassment is the first reason of course, but more than that, Gahyeon would worry. Even when she’s being unbearable, even right now, Doyoung refuses to put the slightest amount of stress upon his sister.

“It’s complicated,” Doyoung finally says. “It’s a complicated situation.”

“Then explain it simply, give me the summary,” Gahyeon says. She’s just as stubborn as he is. He forgets that sometimes.

Even subtracting the issue of vampires, Doyoung realizes he’s been tied in the spider’s web of Rookswood. He thinks of telling her about the feud between the mayor and his neighbour, but doesn’t know enough about that for the full story anyway. He doesn’t know if he ever will. So he tells her the one fact that needs no embellishments. 

“I miss Jaehyun,” Doyoung says, and he hadn’t realized how relieving it would feel to say his name out loud, but the second he does, some of the knots in his stomach unfurl. “I miss him so much.”

“Oh, oh Doyoung, please don’t cry in front of me. This is going to be horribly awkward,” Gahyeon frowns. She passes him the glass of water, and even though he downs it instantly, it doesn’t stop his eyes from glistening.

“Gahyeon, I’m sorry, I just…” Doyoung pauses, voice cracking. “Do you ever just feel so useless? That you’re competing in a game that everyone else is so much better at? That you don’t know why you’re even trying anymore?”

            He looks up at Gahyeon and sees her eyes wide, filled with pity. His vision is blurry.

“Doyoung, if you miss him so much, why are you here? Just go back,” she says, blinking at him in confusion.

“I can’t. Not yet. I just…” Doyoung stares down at his hands, capable of the most intricate of surgical incisions, but unable to protect the one he cares about most. “Whenever I’m there, I just make it worse. I need to be away, I need to let him try and sort out what happened.”

“But then, Doyoung, if you’re here willingly, why are you still so miserable?”

Doyoung struggles to name those feelings inside of him even as they are visible as the tear stains on his face. “Gahyeon, the feelings I have for Jaehyun, I just can’t push down and ignore. I worry about him.”

“Yet, you said if you were with him there, he’d be in more trouble?” Gahyeon clarifies, picking up her fork. She sighs. “Doyoung, you don’t want to hear this, but you need to. You can’t help him there, so you need to accept that. You can’t just stay here, sulking in the corner.”

“What if he’s not okay?” Doyoung voices that concern that’s been running through his mind since the beginning.

“Well, Doyoung,” Gahyeon says, as gently as possible. “I don’t mean to be rude, but if Jaehyun’s lived in Rookswood for as long as you said he has, he’s lived that long without you.”

Something catches on its way down Doyoung’s throat. That’s the thing though, it isn’t just the thirteen years in Rookswood - it’s those years and decades before Rookswood in the city, and it’ll be the years after Rookswood until the end of time.

Jaehyun would live longer without Doyoung by his side than he’d ever live with Doyoung.

Of course, he’d grow to live without him. He could drink blood from anyone, he could go to any doctor in the world for his arm, he could play piano for a hundred different men who’d all appreciate the music more than him.

Doyoung is entirely replaceable.

“Doyoung?” Gahyeon’s voice is as soft as the silk she weaves. “Doyoung, it’s okay. I don’t mean to claim that his feelings for you are any less - just that there’s no point worrying about him. He’ll be there for you when you go back.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Doyoung says quietly. He misses the smell of rose petals in the air.

Gahyeon breathes out and hands Doyoung a napkin, tactfully looking away as he dabs the corners of his eyes. “Right, now that all those awful discussions about feelings are over, did you read the latest Zhang novel? I’ve been wanting to talk to you about it for ages, wasn’t it absolutely saucy? Come on, I’ll make tea and we can sit in my room.”      

 

 

Jaehyun had lived here. Jaehyun had walked up and down these streets, just as Doyoung had walked up and down the very same path. It seems odd to consider that for so long, they inhabited the same place but their paths never crossed.

Doyoung wonders if Jaehyun ever walked down this street. If he had Ten or Yuta at his side, perhaps both, or perhaps neither. The city must seem different to him, only seeing the passing buildings illuminated by the light of the moon.

It’s not like Rookswood, where the streets naturally sprawl out the further down the hill you get - the city is just identical blocks of concrete, spaced in equal intervals, neat roads intersecting them. He had thought before about how Rookswood had fundamentally changed him, and how he was unable to return to traditional citylife - he had not realized just how true that statement was until he finds himself entirely isolated.

“You really do want to die, don’t you?”

Yuta’s voice is distant. Doyoung cranes his neck up, attempting to pinpoint the source of the sound. His eyes may as well be closed. Night casts dark shadows over the alley, and it’s near impossible to discern building from endless sky. Doyoung walks a few steps closer, footsteps sloshing on unidentified but foul-smelling liquid and he cups his ear, attempting to hear any sign of him.

It was Yuta, absolutely. No one else had such a distinctive voice, as if every sentence he said was laced with mockery.

“Yuta?” Doyoung says, his voice unsteady. “It’s you, isn’t it?”

He wishes he brought something to defend himself. He had snuck out while Gahyeon was bathing, leaving a note about taking a walk, and hardly had any time to rationalize what he was about to do, nor work out where he was going. Of course, he was born here, he should know the city and he should know which paths are ones to be walked on and which should be avoided - but the fact is he doesn’t. In his mind’s map he was certain this was going down the path to the old high school, but no he isn’t there at all, he isn’t entirely sure where he is.

He wasn’t entirely foolish when he set out on this path - granted, he could have planned this better, a thousand times better but he had sat in the confines of Gahyeon’s home, craving the isolation of Rookswood. He missed the birds, he missed the trees and oh, he didn’t even need to consider how much he missed Jaehyun. And in the time he spent alone, thoughts consumed with how Jaehyun looks and touches him, he remembers something he’d said, in passing, at Christmas.

Yuta was from the city. Yuta, sparkly, witty and charming Yuta was from the city. Yuta was most likely in the city, right now. And so was Doyoung.

Rationally, it was perhaps more likely to get struck by lightning than to randomly walk around in alleyways and run into him - but Doyoung had to try, he had to find some trace of the life he used to live, now that the bitemarks seared into his neck had faded.

“It really is you, isn’t it?” Yuta says, and breaks off to laugh, the sound bouncing off the buildings.

Doyoung stares ahead into the abandoned alley. “Yuta, where are you?” he calls, taking a step forward. Perhaps he was just out of sight, this couldn’t be a hallucination, it was far too vivid, from the stench of the ground to the reverberations of the sound.

“Look up.”

Yuta is perched on the top of the apartment block with all the ease of an eagle. His body is positioned at the corner, and he gazes down. It’s hard to make out his facial features in such a dark night, but Doyoung is certain he must be grinning, deducing so from the tone in which he speaks.

“My favourite doctor,” Yuta says. “I cannot believe I actually got the chance to see you again.”

“Yuta.” Doyoung breathes out a sigh of relief. “It’s really you.”

“Were you hoping for someone else?” Yuta says, voice thick with amusement. “You’re rather far from home, aren’t you Doctor?”

“No. I mean yes, but-” Doyoung swallows. “I wanted to see you.”

There’s a pause. “You shouldn’t make such bold statements. You’ll make flowers grow in my heart.” There’s the rough sound of metal grating against itself, and Doyoung assumes Yuta jumped onto the fire escape. “Don’t tell me you’ve fallen in love with me and tried to seek me out, because I should say, I would like to be taken out to dinner before I’m bedded.”

Heat floods his cheeks. “That’s not…” It’s hard trying to talk to him when he has no idea where he is. “Yuta, can you come down?”

The words are scarcely out of his mouth when Yuta lands in front of him. The height must have been two storeys high - yet Yuta lands as gracefully as stepping off a cloud. He’s in good health, if his eyes are anything to go by: startling red in the darkness, illuminating his perpetual smirk.

Doyoung never thought he’d be so happy to see that shade of scarlet again. “Yuta,” Doyoung exhales. “You look well.”

“I’ve been doing a lot better since you’ve last seen me, Doctor,” Yuta says, grinning. “You helped greatly. I owe you for that - ah, is that perhaps why you’ve come to seek me out? You want to collect your favour?”

Doyoung blinks.

“I’ll do whatever you want,” Yuta says, lowering his eyelashes, fingers curled around the chains of his gold necklace. Doyoung has always loved gold, and it suits a man as beautiful as Yuta.

“No, no, Yuta,” Doyoung says hastily. If he has to correct Yuta’s assumptions, it would be best to do it as soon as possible. “It wasn’t done expecting some kind of reward. You needed my help, and I could offer it to you. That’s all that mattered to me.”

Yuta stiffens. His mouth opens to say something, but then closes, stunned. “Doyoung, what are you doing here? You’re far from home.” It might be one of the first times he’s ever heard him use his actual name.   

“The mayor fired me.”

There is a noticeable pause. “He fired you?” Yuta echoes, his voice bouncing off the walls. “Why did he fire you?”

Doyoung hesitates, attempting to formulate his thoughts. “I know everything.”

Yuta’s expression doesn’t change. “I doubt that.”

What a fool, he must have seemed to Yuta at Christmas. He runs a hand through his hair and attempts to find the courage buried in his bones. “I know that Jaehyun is a vampire.”

A single eyebrow is raised. “Ah,” Yuta says. “Yes, that’s certainly something that you know. He told you?”

The void in his chest widens at the thought of his Jaehyun, alone. “Yes. I know.”

Yuta leans against the wall of the alleyway, sighing. He seems older like this, like the weight of his years collapses the breath from his lungs. “At Christmas, he was talking about you before you walked through the door. I’m certain you ascertained as much. I told him you’d find out eventually, and he insisted that he’d have let you go by then, that you would have found your interest in someone else, and his secret would be safe. I just don’t think he wanted to listen to me.”

“He wanted me to find someone else?” Doyoung says. Something strange coils around him.

“Of course he did,” Yuta says, like it’s something obvious. “He’s a debilitated vampire with a warrant out for his life, and you’re an accomplished, young and beautiful human doctor. Why wouldn’t he want you to find someone better, to find someone who isn’t so completely and utterly doomed?”

He wants to correct Yuta, to argue with him about everything stated - but is spared from reaction as Yuta continues talking.

“It was a shock, certainly, I didn’t necessarily expect to return to Rookswood and find that he’d become enraptured with the doctor next door. The Jaehyun I left had his heart so sufficiently broken, I don’t think the pieces would ever reconnect.” 

“Ten,” Doyoung says, and it’s a guess really, based off individual puzzle pieces, but the look of shock in Yuta’s eyes is all the confirmation he needs.

“You do know quite a lot, don’t you.” Yuta pauses. His piercings shine in the moonlight. “I kept trying to tell Jaehyun this would happen. You’re an intelligent man, and Jaehyun is confusing, certainly, with his honey eyes and daywalking but I knew you’d either find out - or he’d tell you.”

“I wouldn’t have told the mayor or anyone else,” Doyoung says.

“Would you have expected him to put you in a position where you possessed such knowledge, however?” Yuta asks carefully. His age shows. “Jaehyun is quite aware that those closest to him are at a considerable threat. And, of course, you’d draw attention to him as well. Rookswood may be his cage, but be assured that if I can pass through, so could anyone else.”

Like Jungwoo, Doyoung effortlessly realizes. Johnny’s beloved town may possess more vampires than rooks at this rate. 

“I came to you for help,” Doyoung says after a moment.

“Yes, I was wondering about that. How did you even find me? Were you just wandering around the city streets like a dog without a leash?” There’s a hint of genuine concern in Yuta’s eyes.

Doyoung doesn’t immediately answer. Yes, the city was dangerous - but it surely couldn’t have been more dangerous than anything else he’s endured in the past month. “I found you, didn’t I?”

At this, Yuta snorts. “Do not think so highly of yourself, my darling Doctor. I found you.”

Doyoung’s skin shivers at the thought that perhaps it isn’t just Yuta who could find him - it’s every single vampire stalking just out of sight. “Could you hear me?”

“I could smell you,” Yuta says simply. “I should not be surprised that you know the truth about Jaehyun, when you have the clear signs of feeding. You smell just like him, and it’s an aroma I have not detected in a very long time. That rose petal scent.”

Doyoung pales. “You know?”

Yuta's jaw is set. “I had only a guess. Now confirmed.”

He rubs his neck, fingers lingering over the fading scars. “I could help. He was suffering.” It’s logical.

“I know he was,” Yuta says, eyes narrowing. “And he knew he was suffering as well. He was quite aware that his pain was the price of being alive.”

Doyoung doesn’t appreciate the accusatory tone that creeps into his voice. “You knew where he was, and you didn’t even try and help him for thirteen years?”

Yuta grimaces. “It’s not as simple as you’re making it seem. Had I known what to do, I would have, but I didn’t. No one did. Lucas is relentless, he swore a blood oath. What were we supposed to do?”

“You could have helped.”

“Like you? Like you’re helping, getting kicked out of your job and putting a target on his back and thirst in his mouth?”

 Doyoung doesn’t respond, suppressing the anger bristling under his eyelids.

“I admire your profession and I respect you as a person, but Doyoung,” Yuta says, his voice steady, “I don’t think I’ll ever forgive you for giving my best friend hope when none exists.”

It must hurt to watch your best friend die in front of you. It must hurt even more when it’s slow, and a honey golden gaze betrays health that doesn’t exist.

“Of course, there’s hope-”

Yuta shakes his head. “Jaehyun has been doomed from the start. He knows this. Lucas knows this. I know this. Yet, despite this, you’ve made your way into his heart, and made him believe there’s a chance. Doyoung, there isn’t. You made him believe there is, and that’s going to be his end.”

Yuta looks at Doyoung. “I sort of wish he never met you at all.”

And perhaps what hurts most of all is that Doyoung knows that this doesn’t come from a place of animosity in the slightest. It comes from a place of pain.

“Yuta, help me.” Doyoung’s voice is soft in the echoes of the alley.

“Doctor, with all due respect, I have my own problems. I’m not exactly in a position where I can sort out yours.” Yuta doesn’t sound unkind. 

“What are your problems?” Doyoung asks, because if he can help, he will. He always would.

Yuta seems to find this amusing, but answers him regardless. “I’m homeless and Ten is due for execution any day now, and with his death, we lose the church that all three of us - yes, including your Jaehyun - lived in. Pardon me for being sentimental, but I’d like one last fucking vestige of the life I used to live to be preserved and if that’s a building with leaky plumbing and a rickety spire, then so be it.”

Doyoung blinks. “You need the church?”

“Believe it or not, all-powerful vampires crumble before the ever mighty force of bureaucracy. The church was owned by my friend Jiu, who gave it to Ten - but this was all through the concept of permission. Legally, it belongs to the city. It’s for sale - and Ten has rescinded access for everyone else when he was arrested.”

“It’s for sale?” Doyoung says.

“I doubt anyone is interested in purchasing that crumbling building - but even so, it hardly matters. As long as Ten lives, I can’t enter, and neither can any other vampire.” Yuta pauses. “He’s always been a bit of a dramatic bitch in that way.”

He considers it for a moment. Of course, the problem is that Yuta doesn’t have the means of identification necessary to purchase the church, perhaps he doesn’t even have a last name. Doyoung, however, did. “What if I bought it?”

Yuta groans. “You can’t buy it, Doyoung. That’s a horrible business decision. People like you should not have financial independence.”

“But if I bought it, I could let you in. You could have it, and then you could live in it again, like you used to,” Doyoung says like it’s the simplest thing in the world.

It’s perhaps a crime that someone as beautiful as Yuta is restricted to night. His features are gorgeous, his jaw cleanly cut - but it’s when he smiles now, when the corners of his mouth curve and his grin shines, that Doyoung laments everyone who is unable to ever witness this for themselves.

“That church is everything to me,” Yuta says softly. “It’s where I met Jiu, it’s where I lived for all those years, it was everything. I just… I don’t want it to be torn apart.”

“If you can help me… if you can tell me what I need to know to help Jaehyun, I can get you the church,” Doyoung says, heart hammering against his chest.

“We’d have to see Ten.” Yuta hesitates on the name, something like guilt passing over his face. “I don’t know if you’d want that. I know he won’t like you.”

Doyoung can’t entirely mask his interest. The picture of Ten in his mind is a blank outline, and Doyoung itches to fill it in, perplexed by the uniting link between Yuta and Jaehyun’s past. “Yuta, it doesn’t matter to me. If I can help you, and I can help Jaehyun, that’s enough for me. You know him, you know Lucas, you know the world. I need guidance. ”

“What makes you think I can help you at all?” Yuta says, gazing at Doyoung hopelessly. “You overestimate me.”

“I don’t think I do, though,” Doyoung says. “Because it’s thirteen years later and you’re the only one who’s still free.”

 

 

There’s weight behind his title. ‘Doctor’ means something, it means something to everyone he encounters. People hear the word and they listen to him, they trust him, they believe him. It’s a stereotype of sorts, there’s no factual basis or prior understanding to their assumptions but the title has weight, and Doyoung had never considered just how powerful it was until he sees cell doors part for him.

They didn’t even check. Doyoung introduced himself as the personal physician to the Mayor of Rookswood and the constable behind the desk nodded gravely. He listed out the warnings, informed him in a stable tone that the vampire in question was exceptionally dangerous and not to be viewed for the faint hearted. The irony of the whole situation is almost too much to bear.

“I’ve heard that your Mayor is rather strict on vampires,” the constable dares to say after a moment, watching Doyoung sign the necessary papers. “Is that why you’re here?”

Doyoung looks up, blinking. “Precisely so,” Doyoung decides. “He sent me here for observation. It’s not often we encounter vampires in such close proximity.”

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen one,” the constable says as he glances at Doyoung’s form. “I wish you all the best with your research, Doctor. If you feel even remotely unsafe, please just call out and we’ll come instantly. Are you sure you wouldn’t like an escort with you?”

Doyoung wonders what he’d think if he knew Yuta was just outside. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary. I won’t be long at all.”

It shouldn’t be so easy, to just walk in and request a meeting with the infamous vampire - but there’s weight behind that title, and Doyoung knows it. He felt that same weight choke down on him as he proudly proclaimed the job he no longer has.

 

Ten takes his time running his hand through his hair. His nails are sharp but chipped, and the jagged edges suggest that they’ve been filed using his teeth. His midnight black hair is choppy in places, shaggy in others and his overall appearance is pallid, as if he’d been left out to bleach in the sun.

All of this is irrelevant to Doyoung, who sits down and takes one look at him and says: “I know who you are.”

And Ten looks back at him, head tilted to the side. “And I know who you are, don’t I?”

Yuta, cleanly having slipped in the brief seconds between the door opening and Doyoung entered, stares at them both. “That’s not. That’s not possible.”

“I know who he is.” Doyoung leans closer. The glass that separates them is thick and sticky with dust - but it’s undoubtedly him. Doyoung’s memory is crystal clear.

There is concern in Yuta’s brow. “Doyoung, you must be mistaken, you can’t know Ten. Humans don’t know Ten, they die because of Ten.”

Ten leans closer in his seat, and he props his head up on his arms. The way he moves so comfortably in handcuffs must surely mean he’s been wearing them for a long time. He gazes at Doyoung in a way that could only be interpreted as predatory, from the glint in his eye to the way his tongue licks over his lips.

“You were at the train station, weren’t you?” Ten asks, a smirk growing on his face. “I remember you. How could I forget? You were the only person there, it was so fucking early. The sky was still black. I don’t even know how you saw me, humans have such awful eyesight.”

In Doyoung’s mind, he puts himself back to who he was almost a year ago. Half of his heart empty, and the other half broken, clutching his suitcase as he sets off on a train ride to a town whose name he keeps forgetting. He had to go early in the morning, he had to go before Taeyong woke up, before Taeyong tried to stop him - or worse, before Taeyong just let him go without even caring. The gravel kept catching in the wheels of his suitcase - Doyoung didn’t stop moving. Wouldn’t.

And he remembers the vampire in chains, dragged by its keepers, and he remembers startling red eyes and he remembers: a single fang.

Ten’s grin is lopsided. “Call it serendipity, but I always thought we’d meet again. It was so strange, you know, I never thought I’d see someone look at me with such pity before. I was the one getting dragged around and yet you looked like you were the one suffering - and from a human no less.” Ten pauses, humming out loud. “You remember me too, of course?”

Doyoung’s gaze is fixed on his wrists. The shackles chafe into his skin. “I do. I had never seen a vampire with…” He trails off.

His misshapen smile sparkles. The imperfection is glaring, the hollow space in the left side of his teeth where a mirrored fang is supposed to exist. “Unfortunately, I don’t have a very good dentist.”

He’s unreal. The asymmetry of his smirk basks his whole face in something sinister. Doyoung had thought he had grown used to vampires - but then, he had never quite met a vampire like Ten, one who seemed so content in his own distance from ordinary humans.   

Doyoung is grateful for Yuta’s presence. The constable had suggested a guard, but what use could a guard have been? Yet, the joyous reunion between friends that Doyoung had expected was not to be realized. Ten had exchanged one long look with Yuta when he stepped inside - and then never said a word further, focusing all his attention on Doyoung.

“It’s rather nice talking to someone. I don’t get a lot of visitors,” Ten says after a moment, his tone conversational. “For example, not to name names, but certain individuals in this room have never visited me once.”

Yuta clicks his tongue. “Don’t be ridiculous, Ten. You can’t have honestly expected me to… visit you. You’re in prison, not a goddamn holiday home.”

He doesn’t acknowledge Yuta. “And a human! Most of the humans I see nowadays are all horribly afraid but,” Ten beams, You’re not.”

Doyoung is doing a better job of hiding his emotions than he thinks, then. Because he is afraid, at least slightly, there’s that thread of atavistic dread that lingers underneath the concrete floor. Ten is behind glass, yes, but Doyoung has seen his kind tear through ceramic with a flick of their fingers. 

“I think I’d enjoy eating you.” His eyes twinkle.

Perhaps that’s what the most unsettling thing is: his eyes. Not red, no, but not Jaehyun’s warm honey gold, not that beautiful colour that soothes Doyoung’s mind when nothing else does. No, Ten’s eyes are absolutely amber, a darkened orange, a fading brilliant sunset - they are warning.

“Ten,” Yuta growls.

And Ten doesn’t even recognize that he spoke, just runs his gaze up and down Doyoung. “You smell like my former lover.” He visibly sniffs the air and Doyoung flushes.

“Now, either I’m feeling particularly nostalgic on this April night, or dare I say, I think you’ve been fucking Jaehyun,” Ten says, and then pauses, surveying Doyoung critically. “Correction, getting fucked by Jaehyun.”

“Ten!” Yuta chastises.

It’s saddening to watch actually as Yuta desperately tries to assert whatever dominance he has remaining but there’s none, he has no hold over Ten, not when Ten won’t even look at him.

“I must say, you’re not what I expected at all. You’re not his type,” Ten decides. “Jaehyun’s always been a little too fond of those with beating hearts, but never like this, never enough to reek like you do.”

“You’re making a lot of assumptions about my relationship with a person you haven’t seen in thirteen years,” Doyoung says, with more boldness than he thinks he possesses. He would never call it jealousy, this prickly feeling, but surely a man as sweet as Jaehyun could not have found any sort of affection out of someone like him. 

Ten’s eyes flash. Doyoung thinks it must have hurt to hear that. “What are you doing all the way here then? If you’re having such a joyful time with him, should you not currently be occupied?”

Yuta slams his hand down. “Can we stop talking about who’s currently fucking Jaehyun?”

Doyoung resists the urge to remind everyone that it would only be him. Yuta sighs and reaches into his pocket, pulling out the form he showed Doyoung on the way to the police station.

“Ten, I know you’re not talking to me, but this is important. This is about more than just me or you. It’s about everyone.” He slides the paper under the glass and Ten casts a single cursory glance before fanning it to the floor. He leans back in his chair, and rests his legs on the desk, making himself as comfortable as one can be in shackles.

“So, Doyoung, right?” Ten says. “How is Jaehyun? I’m incredibly curious.”

“He’s doing fine,” Doyoung says through gritted teeth, the prickliness extending to his throat. “He lives in the second biggest house in Rookswood.”

“Oh, I’ve heard of Rookswood,” Ten says, thinking aloud. “That’s where that bounty notice came from, the one that started all this mess. I’d heard rumours that’s where Jaehyun had taken refuge, but I could never be sure. I’ve never been though, personally. Don’t think I’d want to. My friends tell me the Mayor is insane.”   

            Doyoung exhales at the mention of Johnny. There’s been no word from him since he was fired, and it is difficult not to be concerned at what he’s doing or where he is - and if Jaehyun is safe. “Ten, could you look at the form?”

“I hate reading, though,” he sighs but he picks it up, holding it by the corner as if the page reeks. He scans it and sighs dismissively. “Really? You want me to sell my church? To you?”

“It’s not your church,” Yuta snaps. His gaze is narrowed. “It never was anyone’s.”

Ten makes no eye contact with Yuta but he slams the paper against the glass, facing outwards. Doyoung recoils, and leans back far enough to make sense of the words.

“Well, then why bring it to me?” Ten demands.

Yuta exhales. “Ten, it’s not your church. The city seized ownership of it the minute they arrested you. It’s been locked up since.”

Ten doesn’t appear to care.

“I can buy the church,” Doyoung says after a moment. “But Yuta wants you to transfer the ownership to me, personally. So that I can let everyone in.”

Doyoung expects a variety of negative reactions from Ten, from disbelief to outrage - but is met with raucous laughter instead, as Ten wheezes out his mirth. “This is insane. You’re aware that you’re human right? You don’t need my permission to walk in? Why are you helping them?”

Doyoung blinks. “I-”

“What possible advantage is it to you if these vampires have their most favourite building? We’re like rats, you know, we’ll inhabit any dark alley if we have to. We’re not picky.”

            And Doyoung says his truth. “Not everything that you do has to be to your own benefit. Sometimes it’s reward enough just to help someone else.”

Ten stares at Doyoung for a long time, for such a long time that Doyoung begins to wonder if this silent treatment of Yuta is extending to himself as well. His amber eyes are always a warning. “You want the church so badly? You can have it. I relinquish ownership of it.” He pauses, his eyes flashing towards Yuta. “I’d be wary of running around with vampires though, Doctor, you never know when they might just get a little too hungry and take a bite.”

Ten slides the paper back to Doyoung who folds it neatly. There’s nothing left to do, nothing left to say and it’s not as if Ten even speaks to Yuta to begin with - but as Doyoung stands, Yuta clears his throat.

“Ten, I know you’re upset with me but you must surely understand, you can’t expect me to be able to break you out of here. This is a jail, they’d catch me certainly - and even if they don’t, your face is everywhere, you’d never be safe again-”

Doyoung has never seen Yuta be interrupted before - and he doesn’t think that he’d ever see it from anyone other than Ten. His face curls into a snarl, his single fang illuminating. “Yuta - no. This isn’t how this is going.” Ten shakes his head, in some sad amusement. “I’m not going to give you this closure that you want. We both know I’m going to die any day now. And you want to make amends before that happens - but no, you’re not getting that Yuta. You’re not getting my forgiveness.”

“Ten-” Yuta begins, his voice cracking.

Ten isn’t done. “I’ll die and you’ll just live on with the knowledge that I never forgave you for letting me rot in here.”

Yuta stares, his mouth ajar as if there’s a thousand unsaid words passing through the air he breathes.

“Leave me, Yuta. I know you think I deserve this.”

Doyoung gazes at Yuta, and wonders how much this must hurt him - considerably, from the way he seems so unlike his usual demeanour of confidence.

“Ten, I wish there had been another way… you know I care about you, you and Jaehyun-”

But Ten turns his head away, defiant, and it’s clear that he’s stopped listening - and Yuta doesn’t try any further. There’s a restrained exhalation. He gazes at Doyoung, helplessness vivid.

“We should go,” he says quietly. “Keep the door open and I’ll run out behind you.”

Doyoung nods, about to call for the guard - when he hears his own name instead, and turns around. Ten’s voice is as sharp as his shackles.

“You are something to pass the time. You are to him what a sundowner is to an alcoholic: something nice, something sweet and something brief, that is forgotten before night falls. You are a human and you are going to die, and you know what? Jaehyun is going to live without you. And he’ll move on and he’ll forget about you.”

His amber eyes say warning. “Just like he did with me.”

 

 

Doyoung has never been a churchgoing man - he went when he was younger, when he was forced to, when his mother’s fingers tied Gahyeon’s hair in the most austere of plaits and exerted the equal force on his own bow ties. He’s been - that doesn’t mean he enjoyed it. The church he went to in his youth was one of warm wooden seats and small pews and an even smaller congregation. He remembers the inherent discomfort from sitting in those stiff boxes, of the itchiness of his skin under the collar, of Gahyeon’s relentlessly tapping of her knees as boredom set in like a rot.

The church that Yuta brings Doyoung to is nothing like the one from his childhood. This church is sharp angles, blackened iron gates, and sharp glass windows. It’s so artificial, industrial even, more factory than house of worship. Abandoned, clearly, judging from the obvious scattering sounds of rats running through the gaps in the bushes. The door is barred shut, and there’s a notice pinned to the gate, mentioning the building is under ownership of the city until further notice. The deed hangs heavy in Doyoung’s grip.

Yuta’s pace had quickened the closer they came - and now, as he approaches the gates, he slows down. “This is it,” Yuta says simply. “This is our church.”

Surely, it doesn’t suit someone as dignified as Yuta, with his gold earrings and his sharp laughter. He deserves a room filled with the trappings of civilization, with chandeliers and wine, he deserves a throne in gold, not this hovel. And yet, he gazes upon the church with absolute reverence, fingers gracing over the iron bars.

“Well, it’s your church,” Yuta corrects and laughs to himself, and he seems unashamed at his joy.

It’s the first property Doyoung had ever purchased in his life and its total cost came to less than one month of wages as Johnny’s personal physician. The clerk who assisted him had said, in passing, if no one purchased it by the end of the year, they most likely would have demolished the building and perhaps have built a cotton factory.

“Should I go inside?” Doyoung asks. He takes a step forward and winces when he steps in a puddle - more so when a rat rushes out at the noise.

“It’s your choice. You own the place after all,” Yuta says, and laughs again at Doyoung’s complete lack of movement. Taking initiative, he shoves him towards the entrance. “Yes, you should go inside, why else are we here?”

Doyoung swallows. There are iron chains that keep the gates closed. “Ten didn’t give us a key,” he says.

“Oh, Doyoung, we don’t use keys,” Yuta beams, and grips the chains in his hand before ripping the iron apart like it’s the threads of a handkerchief. The links spill out on the floor like raindrops and the gates swing open, creaking.

When he’s closer he sees it now - flowers, hundreds of them, tucked in the corners and crevices of the building as if shy. All of them are deep amber in colour, like warning signs. Like Ten’s eyes.

Doyoung has been so used to roses, he’s forgotten how beautiful other flowers could be. These orange flowers are gorgeous, really, they are, their petals profound and pointed. He wonders how long they’ve been here, wonders who planted them, wonders if they know what happened to their caretakers. He’ll ask Jaehyun about it one day, he decides. He sees Yuta stare at them for a long time, something breaking behind his eyes, but then he looks back up, and it disappears as he puts on a smile, pointing to the door.

The door is cedar wood, and flaking off in places but it isn’t locked. Doyoung doesn’t knock, knowing there isn’t anyone in there, and that it isn’t worth the risk of splinters. So he opens it, and there’s no resistance against the hinge, the door swings open, and it’s nothing but endless darkness that welcomes Doyoung. He takes several brave steps forward, but upon hearing squeaking, doesn’t think he can summon anymore.

Yuta remains behind him, and Doyoung gazes at him, confused. Yuta’s face is silhouetted against the moon that hangs behind him. His crimson eyes sparkle.

“Let me in, Doyoung!” he says, excitement vivid in his face. “Let me in!”

“Oh, of course, ah, yes, come right ins-” Doyoung is interrupted as Yuta rushes in, unflinchingly into the darkness. From the sound of rushing footsteps, it seems that Yuta is doing a lap of the place - and then, after hearing crumbling plaster, can assume he’s started climbing the walls as well. Dust flakes around him, and Doyoung coughs.

“Yuta,” Doyoung says timidly. “Could you light a candle?”

There’s an abrupt pause. Yuta’s voice sounds from right above him. “Oh, that’s right, humans can’t see in the dark, can you?” He jumps off, and further indistinct scuffling is heard until the first candle is lit. Then, another few, until the room is bathed in light, and Doyoung looks up at the church. And Doyoung realizes, awe overwhelming him, this is the sight Jaehyun saw everyday.

“This is it, isn’t it? This is your church,” Doyoung whispers. It’s not because it’s particularly elegant - it’s not. There’s more dust than anything else, coating every pew, but that’s it’s so clearly Jaehyun at its core, from the organ he mentioned he learnt to play on, to the dried rose petals stuffed in the bookshelves. That this place was every much Jaehyun’s home as the one in Rookswood.

And it makes Doyoung feel less alone to see this, to see evidence of Jaehyun’s life.

“There’s massive underground area, and the rooftop is amazing as well - but here it is,” Yuta stands at the altar, proudly gesturing. “That’s where Jaehyun would play those songs of his, Lizst or Bach or whatever took his fancy that day, and Ten would always be lurking around nearby, he loved to paint you know, and I wasn’t often home, you know, I was with Jiu and Mingyu, but I’d always bring them around after a long night out and we’d sit around and have a drink.”

It’s hard for Doyoung not to notice the cracks that line Yuta’s memory, those vacant gaps, that Jaehyun could never come back here, that Ten would die in prison, that those dreams of drinking was the blood of humans who most likely had no idea what happened to them, who never returned home to their waiting families.

And yet, despite that all, Doyoung smiles, and shares in his joy. “It must have been beautiful.”

“It was,” Yuta grins. “Oh, it was. It really was, God, it was the best times of my life and...”

And then it seems to hit him, slowly at first - and then all at once, the tide crashes. “And now this is it. This is all I’ve got left. We’ve been here for decades, and now it’s just… nothing.” His voice is higher than normal, screechy even.

It takes a moment for Yuta to compose himself, and Doyoung lets him have it. “It’s just an empty building. But that’s enough, that’s something I didn’t have yesterday, that I didn’t have this morning, and for that I owe you my life. Yet again, Doctor, you seem to save me.”

“You don’t need to thank me, Yuta,” Doyoung says quietly. He walks closer, crossing the lines of pews. “I want you to be happy, just as I want Jaehyun to be as well.”

Yuta exhales.

“What do you want to know?” Yuta asks, carefully. His fingers run through his dark hair. “What information can I possibly give you?”

“I just want to help Jaehyun,” Doyoung says and it’s unfair how simple it sounds when said like that. Like it isn’t a problem with an unfathomable solution, that it doesn’t seem like it’s even possible to save him.

“I’ll tell you everything I can,” Yuta says, inhaling. “If you can do this, if you can get my church back, perhaps you can do anything.”

“Blood oaths,” Doyoung says quietly and Yuta’s eyes instantly shift.

“It’s not something that’s spoken about to humans,” he says, and swallows his own discomfort. But Doyoung is patient, and he lets Yuta take his time. “It’s a promise, more than anything else. It’s the mixing of blood, and a commitment being stated. It’s hardly ever done, it’s just a bit too permanent for most people, but I suppose Lucas isn’t most people.”

It was on the way here that Doyoung told him about Jungwoo, spoke about their time on the train and Yuta had listened quietly, not saying much of anything, and Doyoung did not read too much into it, suspecting he was too preoccupied with his thoughts of the church.

“Jungwoo said that he couldn’t speak about Lucas’s blood oath with Jaehyun. That it was between them.”

Now was the first time Yuta even spoke his name. “It is,” Yuta instantly says. “No one wants to get their hands dirty, so to speak. Even I don’t know the exact extent of their oath, but I’ll tell you it’s a very personally worded one. I can only assume that he swore that he’d kill Jaehyun but…”

He hesitates. “I don’t know if that’s simple. If Lucas just wanted to kill him, I think he could have done it a lot quicker.”

Doyoung would have to ask Jaehyun himself, then.   

“Lucas is the best hunter I’ve ever seen,” Yuta says, and his hand seems to unconsciously flutter to his chest. “He’s impeccable. He can walk in daylight, of course, but he can also blend in. He speaks to the people around us, the ones who see things out of the corner of their eyes, who tell stories of friends of friends who went walking in alleys and never come back. He’s a meticulous kind of hunter, and,” Yuta pauses, struggling to force the words out. “He’s fair.”

“Fair?”

“He only kills the ones that kill humans,” Yuta says carefully. “He kills the rogue vampires, the ones that turn feral. He doesn’t bother the vast majority of us, not anymore anyway, after Jungwoo turned we all seemed to cool off, and so did he. He never used to bother Jiu, or Mingyu, or anyone else of our coven.”

“But your chest-” It matches the span of the weapon in Jaehyun’s shoulder, and he certainly can’t imagine many people with such a specialized blade.

Yuta sets his face in a smirk. “Well, that’s not because of his job. That’s personal, we have our own shared history together. But, see, Jaehyun doesn’t realize that when he turned Jungwoo, he kind of made life difficult for all of us.”

Of course, Jaehyun wasn’t the only target. 

“Lucas started taking out his anger on anyone else who even breathed near Jaehyun. Ten didn’t always have that lopsided smile, you know? I’m told that Lucas pressed his face to the ground and had his fang grind against the concrete until it broke off.”

Doyoung stares, his skin shivering.

“But then again, Ten always was a little bit more troublesome than everyone else.” Yuta says it in what probably was meant to placate Doyoung. It did not. It’s impossible not to feel so out of depth among these vampires, with their intelligence, their speed and their strength and their all-consuming bloodlust.

And all Doyoung is, is weak, and horribly human. 

“Your scars were recent, weren’t they?” Doyoung asks, fearing the answer.

“I ran into him by coincidence. He heard about Ten, see, so he decided to come back into town and see what remained of us, what remained of that coven that he always harboured a particular dislike towards. And he found me, and fair enough, I wasn’t exactly civil to him.” Yuta gazes away.

“You… insulted him?” Doyoung clarifies.

“You don’t understand,” Yuta says. He moves towards the organ, running a hand over the pipes that jut out of it, like it had been impaled ten times. “I thought I’d accepted that Jaehyun was gone. I did accept it.”

Doyoung notices that Yuta’s fists are clenched now.

“But I just saw Lucas staring at me, standing in front of me and it just didn’t seem fair that I lost the person in the world I trusted the most, while Lucas still got to stomp around in those ridiculous boots.”

Doyoung erases any doubt in his mind. For all of Yuta’s inaction, for all his years of silence - he still loved Jaehyun.

What a wonderful man he must be to inspire such persistent devotion.

For a moment it looks like he wants to press down on a note of the organ, his fingers dancing over the keys, but he thinks better of it in the last moment. “And that’s just the problem, isn’t it?” Yuta says. “He told me himself, if he ever found Jaehyun, he’d come for him. And if he’s been drinking blood, he’ll be able to find him.”

Perhaps it is hopeless. Yuta sees this on his face.

“I know you care about him. But his own destiny was written a long time before you were involved. There’s nothing that can be done, not really. Jaehyun was always going to live on borrowed time.”

“I’m not going to let Jaehyun die, and I’m not going to give up on him,” Doyoung says, even if every rational thought in his mind is aware this is an objective that can never come true, can never be fulfilled and - that more likely than not, will end up with Doyoung’s death in someway. Perhaps it will be his own, at the hands and knives of a hunter - or living the rest of his life alone, knowing his beloved is gone from this world forever, a sort of half-death, even worse than the alternative.

 Yuta stares at him for a long time, as if mentally disassembling and reassembling the man in front of him. “If none of us could do anything to help him, what makes you different?”

And Doyoung says the truth, pointed and blank, despairing even. “I’m human.”

“I guess you are, aren’t you?” Yuta gazes at him, curiously. “I forget that sometimes, you know? I can feel your heartbeat, I can smell the blood that rushes through you, but then you look at me, you ask these intelligent questions, you sit here, unafraid and selfless, and you seem as timeless as me.”

Doyoung doesn’t mean to - but he flushes under the praise. “You think I’d make a good vampire?”

“I think you’d make a fantastic one,” Yuta says. “Perhaps that’s something to consider, isn’t it? Everyone out here is begging for your blood. And Doyoung, surely you must realize, you will die someday. Perhaps it’ll be in eighty years, surrounded by your children, or perhaps it will be tomorrow, after getting driven into by a bus. But Ten was right about that, you’re going to die. Unless you don’t.”

Doyoung’s heartbeat is so loud he can hear it in his ears. He wonders how he can even distinguish Yuta’s words at all, when all he can make out is the rush of his own blood pounding through his veins. “What are you suggesting?”

Yuta shrugs, leaning against the wall. “I’m not suggesting anything, Doctor. I’m just stating certain facts. Your blood is more valuable than gold to us. Many people would delight at the idea of turning you.”

“Would you?” Doyoung asks, carefully. His throat is parched, his words are cracked like desert sand.

“Oh, absolutely. I’d do it right now if you ask me,” Yuta says, and he grins. “But I don’t think you want me to be the one to turn you. I think that’s a particular honour you’d reserve.”

Doyoung stares, wordlessly at the vampire in front of him who speaks of his own death so casually.

“I’m not telling you to do anything,” Yuta says. “You wanted the full story? I can give you that. I can give you the honest truth. The rest is up to you.”

His heart struggles against his chest, as if it’s already preparing to stop beating.

 

 

They cut through alleys and sideroads on the way back to Gahyeon’s, but Doyoung feels safer with Yuta at his side than without him. It’s perhaps just indicative of how his life has progressed that he feels safer with vampires than without them.

“Jaehyun hasn’t told me everything,” Doyoung says, unexpectedly. It bursts from him before he can stop himself.

It’s kindness that stops Yuta from containing his laughter. “I thought as much. It’s not that I don’t believe that Jaehyun trusts you unconditionally, as I know he does, but it’s more the matter of time. Jaehyun is old, and he has a lot to tell.”

He does have a lot to tell. That’s just how it always is, isn’t it. He’s always one step behind these vampires that always live at twice the speed he ever could. He struggles to catch up everytime.

“Johnny told me something,” Doyoung begins, and his stomach clenches at the very memory of it. “I just need to know if it’s true, because I don’t know if I can ask Jaehyun this.”

Yuta stops walking. “Doyoung…”

He says it before he can stop himself. “Did Jaehyun used to turn people for money?”

“Yes,” Yuta says instantly, and he winces at himself, at his own honesty. “I should probably have thought that through before saying it. But… yes. Yes, that’s true.”

Jaehyun had mentioned his self-control before, and Doyoung knew enough of vampires to assume the process of turning was a difficult one - but surely, surely Jaehyun would not go so far, would not accept payment for the act. But Yuta doesn’t lie - he never has, and he wouldn’t start now.

“Jiu owned the church, you know?” Yuta says. His voice is measured. Doyoung has come to learn that when he sounds so toneless, it’s because if he doesn’t, he can’t control the emotion that displays itself so vividly on his face. “Her husband did, anyway.”

“She’s your friend, isn’t she?” Doyoung says, perplexed. “But about Jaehyun-”

“Yes. Soulmate, I’d say. You know, Doctor, I mentioned about choosing when you die earlier. That’s someone who didn’t have that opportunity. She didn’t get to choose. I chose for her,” Yuta says. His brow twitches, cracking his mask of indifference. “I couldn’t turn her. I knew that much, I couldn’t risk it, because when you turn someone, you drink so much, you nearly drain, it’s so easy to lose that thread of self-control for a second - and have consequences that last forever.”

Yuta raises his hand. “There’s a number. The kill ratio, it’s something Jiu herself coined actually, she’s a genius, you know? It’s the amount of people you can feed from without draining them entirely. Jungwoo is a 1. He has never left a single human alive in his entire history. And back then, I was possibly just over zero. But I wasn’t zero. And that meant there would always be a risk. I couldn’t have that.”

It’s going to be morning soon. Gahyeon will not be happy that he stayed out so late again. He keeps trying not to worry her, and just ends up doing it anyway.

“So I went to Jaehyun. I had heard of him, you see, they said he had this kind of restraint they’ve never seen before. They said he’s one of the only vampires who could ever fast, even if it was temporary.” 

Yuta’s footsteps are harsher than before. He tramps on puddles indiscriminately, water splashing. “I was on my knees, begging this man I had never even met to save her. And he did. He saved her. And he asked for a fee? You know why? Because if he didn’t, it meant it was a favour.

“You met Jaehyun when he turned your friend?” Doyoung says, blinking.

“It was a service. It was just something that had to be done. It’s never been about the money for Jaehyun, and please don’t ever think it was. It’s always been about him trying to save someone, because there are always cases like this - and to live with the death of someone you love on your hands must be a pain I don’t think I could ever recover from.”

Doyoung pictures it in his mind. Yuta, sobbing, wrecked, gazing up at Jaehyun. Pleading with him. Cursing his own weakness. It doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t fit with the Yuta that Doyoung knows.

“If he told me no, I would have turned her myself, and you know what? I wasn’t that strong back then. I’d have killed her, and I’d have had to live with that till the end of time. Jaehyun has flaws, Jaehyun has many, but do not dispute that above everything else, I believe he is a good person. Just like I believe you are.” Yuta stops walking, staring up at the house in front of him. The lights are on.

“She smells like you,” Yuta says after a moment. “This is your sister’s place, right?”

“Yes,” Doyoung exhales. He looks from the house back towards Yuta. His gold earrings reflect in the gleam. “Thank you, Yuta.”

“Doctor, thank you,” he says. “It seems the more time I spend with you, the more you amaze me. Perhaps you can do the impossible, perhaps you can save Jaehyun - and perhaps you can save yourself too, in the same move. I’d say that would be impossible, but that’s just castling, isn’t it?”

Yuta’s eyes sparkle, like they always do. “I hope to see you around again, Doctor. Thank you for taking care of Jaehyun when no one else could.”

And he disappears, blurring into the air. In a moment, he’s gone, as if he’d never been there to begin with, not a single remnant of his journey. Doyoung stares ahead, vacantly. It’s starting to drizzle again. He can feel the water permeate through his skin, and he’s aware he should go inside, but he stares at his own wrist, fingers running over the pulse point. His blood flows through, but it’s never just felt like his blood for a while now. It’s just as much Jaehyun’s as it is his.

He hopes his Jaehyun misses him.

He knows that he does, his heart tells him so, tells him that Jaehyun aches for him as much as Doyoung suffers.

The door swings open and Gahyeon peers out, still in her nightgown, her hair a tangle of raven locks. “Doyoung, I thought it was you.”

Doyoung wipes the rain from his hair. Droplets fall on the tiles. “Gahyeon, what are you doing awake, it’s so late-”

“Doyoung, what were you doing out so late, and you’re in the rain? Come inside, please.” Gahyeon’s voice is a mixture of concern and annoyance. Doyoung makes no further protests, rubbing his feet on the mat.

“I was awake because I needed to talk to you.”

Sirens ring in his head. “If this is about Taeyong and Taeil-”

“It’s from Rookswood,” Gahyeon interjects. “A letter came earlier, and I opened it, I do apologize, but I hadn’t expected mail to come for you, I didn’t know you were that comfortable here. It’s from the Mayor. It said your suspension was over. You can go back to work.”

Doyoung stops. “I can go back?”

“They attached a train ticket for this morning. It’s why I stayed up waiting for you,” Gahyeon grumbles as she leads Doyoung into the kitchen, pointing out the letter on the table. Johnny’s handwriting is instantly recognizable. “I know how much you want to go back, I couldn’t have you not see this.” She switches on the light. “Also, suspension, really? You told me you were on sabbatical, Doyoung, you can’t lie to me like that. What did you even do?”

Doyoung is aware that he’s dripping, he’s aware that his skin is cold and wet and he’s aware that his sister’s tolerance for his behaviour has reached an all-time low - but he reaches for her, and pulls her to his chest, burying his face in her hair.

“Gahyeon, I… thank you,” he murmurs, unsure if it’s rain or tears running down his cheeks.

“All you ever want is to help everyone, and it’s terribly noble but Doyoung, you really do worry me sometimes,” Gahyeon murmurs, curling her arms around him.  “All I’ve ever wanted for you is to be happy, Doyoung. And I hope one day you can want that for yourself.”

 

 

The rose on his desk has died. It's an iceberg rose, Doyoung knows this. Jaehyun had taught it to him ages ago. In the rosarian's opinion, the white suited his medical practice. Symbolized purity. A sign of healing. Something beautiful to inspire his patients’ recovery. 

It didn't look that way now, brown edged tips encroaching on the once pristine ivory. Petals hang limply.

Doyoung had never seen his rose wilted before and knows that Jaehyun isn't here anymore. If he was here, he would have replaced it, would have brought him a new one, would have beamed at him when he knocked on the door, holding it in his hands. Doyoung shrugs off his coat, hanging it on the door and moves closer to the vase, running his fingers over the dried petal.

There's an ache that takes residence in the corners of his heart.

He inhales, and takes out his briefcase, attempting to reorganize himself. It’s fine, this is fine. This was always a possibility Doyoung had considered. That even if he went away, that tender thread of trust between Johnny and Jaehyun may have snapped, and that there would be nothing left for him here, that he’d leave.

He’d come back, though. Doyoung had no doubt. The dead rose would remain for days more, maybe weeks, but Jaehyun would return.

He tries to calm himself down, inhaling deeply. The squawks of the rooks were once annoying, once made it impossible for him to sleep - but that’s changed. It’s calming now. His door is open and he can hear Sua and Kun talking among themselves.

Kun had squeezed his arm the minute Doyoung walked through the doors, complaining that he looked even skinnier, and told Sua to take his suitcase up while he fries up some bacon to attempt to remedy Doyoung’s nutrition deficit. He can smell it cooking from here, and smiles. He’s home.

Doyoung hears the knock on the front door, but doesn’t bother opening up. Kun is downstairs and regardless, he doesn’t have any patients scheduled. He unclips his briefcase and lays out his patient files. He needs to check if anyone needs their prescription updated, and then he’ll visit Sicheng at the pharmacist, he hopes that he hasn’t missed him too much-

“Are you sure?” Kun is saying.

Something strange uncurls in Doyoung’s chest and he pauses his task. He leaves his practice, waiting at the start of the stairs, careful to catch a glimpse of the stranger in the hallway - and it certainly is a stranger, Doyoung has never seen anyone like him in his life.

The man is tall and built, a thick leather coat flows out and his jaw is carefully edged. He wears heavy boots, even in this warm weather. His eyes are a warm brown, but his gaze is cruel, as if it’s seen the fall of a hundred empires. He looks like diamonds - beautiful, but sharp. Unbreakable.

“The Doctor has only returned this morning, you can’t have an appointment already, he just got back-” Kun says, confusion evident in his voice.

“I understand, absolutely, and I wouldn’t want to inconvenience the good doctor in the slightest,” the stranger says, smiling brightly. “But I’m sure that he’d want to see me. He knows who I am. Just tell the doctor that Lucas is here for him.”

Chapter Text

Doyoung always loved gold.

He remembers the necklace adorned around his mother’s neck, the way it used to sparkle in the sunlight, as radiant as if it was enchanted by the very sun itself. It was too precious to be taken out very often. She’d only wear the necklace for church, only for the most glamorous of occasions. It was bestowed to Gahyeon two Christmases past, a most tender gift passed from mother to daughter - but Gahyeon hardly unearthed it out of the drawer. It was too expensive, she said, and she felt unsafe wearing it. Perhaps those reasons were true, but where it comes down to it: Gahyeon doesn’t really like gold.

Doyoung is fascinated by gold. He’s struck by its natural purity, always has been, from the first moment his fingers traced over that necklace and felt the smooth metal beneath. Doyoung doesn’t consider himself to be a man of vanity, and hardly wears jewellery himself, but this devotion extends beyond the passing trends of fashion. Gold is different, and surely something so perfect should be admired and revered.

He’s always loved gold, and perhaps, had he been born a few hundred years earlier, and was a little more reckless, a little more daring, he would have been driven to the allure of alchemy rather than medicine. He would have challenged himself in the dungeons and dark rooms of the world, tried to find how to turn even dust into the purest form of matter.

Alchemy and its origins have possessed much of Doyoung’s time lately, perhaps as a result of his continued alliance with the supernatural - because what is alchemy if not the bridge between what is real and what could be? And what is medicine if not just refined alchemy? Subtracting the mysticism from it, alchemy is about the fundamental human goal of creation and repair, and medicine is just that with the accompaniment of a white coat and a stethoscope.

Still, Doyoung isn’t a fool. Alchemy, was of course, fantastical. No matter how skilled a man, he couldn’t transmute lead into anything other than what it already is. What is, is what will always be. And lead would always be as grey as storm clouds, it would always be heavy as the tide rushing in, it would always just be lead. Alchemists of a hundred years ago were lost in their own idealistic dreams to believe that they could one day harness such power to turn what they believed to be evil into the epitome of purity and regeneration. Yet, Doyoung doesn’t think he’d blame them for their faith, not when he himself gazes upon the pale, bruised flesh of vampires and has visions of of healing.

Vampires in every religion and faith are unholy and damned in all senses of the word and yet possess a regeneration ability unseen by any mortal, to have their flesh heal and their bones reconnect in a matter of seconds, returning to perfection, returning to purity. Could they really be so condemned if they were better suited to the ideals of alchemy than humans themselves? Doyoung, and his natural love of the picturesque, admires gold for that very reason - how could he not admire vampires even more?    

Doyoung won’t resent Jaehyun for succumbing to his hunger. It’s what he wanted from the beginning. His primary goal as his physician had been that Jaehyun was to be healthy and to be happy. If eyes as red as blood was a consequence of that, it was one that would be understood, and accepted, of course, because no matter the colour, he was still his Jaehyun, he was still beautiful with his gentle hands and kind smiles.

But Doyoung can’t deny that the man he had fallen in love with had eyes as gold as honey. 

 

Lucas is not gold. Lucas is sharp-edged silver. Doyoung notices the blades, of course he does, they rattle around the inside of his leather coat like a set of keys as he walks into the office, demanding attention. All curved, all deer-horn knives, the same one stabbed in Jaehyun’s back. All silver. More than just the knives, however, is the cross that dangles from his neck, glinting silver in the sunlight. He’s tall, taller than Doyoung but that wouldn’t be a problem. Surrounded by individuals like Johnny and Sicheng has steadily chipped away at that particular insecurity - but the problem lies in that Lucas is just built differently. An aura of power radiates with every step. His footsteps are so heavy the vase on his desk rattles.

It shouldn’t be like this. This is Doyoung’s home, this is his practice, it’s his name on the door, it’s his life - but Lucas strides in, and sees the neatly stacked shelves of Doyoung’s life and knocks them all down, like he already owns the place. Doyoung has no reason to feel threatened, and yet he does, because all he sees when he stares into his hazel eyes, is Jaehyun’s arm breaking underneath him.

“I do apologize for coming to see you like this. I hope I’m not interrupting,” Lucas says smoothly. He closes the door behind him, and looks back. “Should I lock?”

Doyoung’s voice is as shrill as the rooks. “Please do.”

“May I have a seat?” Lucas asks, and he stands behind the chair, a picture of politeness until Doyoung finally commands the muscles in his face to nod. “I see you have a teapot. Shall I pour us a cup?”

Based on his reputation, Doyoung had built up a sharp-edged image of Lucas in his mind, one of a violent and sadistic killer with little mercy and even less patience. After all, it was Yuta who had recounted, so casually, of Ten’s face being planted into the concrete until his entire fang shattered. Jaehyun had a knife inside of him to this day. But yet, here Lucas was, the cause of all of this, using those same hands to pour tea into two cups, even asking Doyoung his preference for sugar and stirring for him. Doyoung would wonder if it was even the same man, if not for the flash of silver underneath his jacket every time he shifts.

“Thank you for taking the time to see me. I’m aware you must be busy, but it seems we have several overlapping interests without ever actually having met, and I felt like I should remedy that. I hope we can have a productive discussion,” Lucas says. He speaks so carefully, so dignified. “Now, I was hop-”

“How do you know who I am?” Doyoung blurts out, nails digging into the sides of his thighs. He’s sitting on the chair he always sits in, and there’s power to be associated with this chair, it’s where he gives diagnosis, draws blood, administers medicine - but there’s none that exists now.

Lucas blinks, and it’s so reminiscent of Jungwoo, that innocent confusion. “Sorry?”

“How do you know who I am?” Doyoung repeats, enunciating each word clearly. His voice is higher than usual.

“Jungwoo told me,” Lucas says, as if it’s simple. “Jungwoo told me all about you.” His face changes, as he seems to settle deep into thought, tea cup pressed to his lips. “Jungwoo doesn’t make a lot of friends, as I’m sure you can imagine. Most people want to kill him, and those that don’t are terrified that he’ll kill them. But you? You seem to be an exception.”

Lucas is defensive, like he’s unsure if he dares lower the drawbridge for Doyoung.

“I like Jungwoo,” Doyoung says. “I like him a lot. He’s a good person with a kind heart. His circumstances are less than desirable, but the very fact that he’s alive and still as soft speaks volumes about his character. Any lesser person would have grown bitter with the world around them, but he remains sweet.”

Lucas considers him carefully. “You’ve left quite an impression on him, you know? You’re probably his first friend in years.”       

Loneliness seems to smother Doyoung’s life. Wherever he goes, he carries it around with him, from the cramped corners of his university dorm to the claustrophobic house with Taeyong and it even weaseled its way in his suitcase all the way to Rookswood. It’s become such a constant in his life that it may as well be appended to his title. Yet his isolation was always internal in nature, he always knew that the cause of his own turmoil was himself and his own wretched weaknesses - and what a contrast that is to Jungwoo, who should never have felt so alone, not when he radiated such purity, not when he deserved so much better.

“Jungwoo deserves better,” Doyoung says. “He shouldn’t have to live like that. Shouldn’t have to be so afraid of himself and what’s around him.”

“I didn’t believe him, you know.” Lucas sips his tea, leaning back in his chair. He crosses one of his legs over the other, making himself more comfortable. “It sounds insane, you realize that, right? This human doctor from this bird-infested town meets the most volatile vampire in the world and instead of running away screaming, befriends him? Cleans up his wounds, washes his face, gives him blood?”

“Where’s the problem in that?”

“No problem at all,” Lucas says, almost smiling. Not quite, though, not quite. It doesn’t reach the corner of his mouth. “Pleasantly surprised, actually. Jungwoo doesn’t get out often, as a consequence of his nature, so I am rather pleased that he’s made a friend, particularly one as selfless as you seem to be.”

Doyoung’s tea stands neglected.

Lucas’s eyes fall on the cup with distaste. “But we’re not here to talk about Jungwoo though, are we?”

“No, I don’t think we are,” Doyoung says. The rose on his desk has died, and he wishes it hadn’t. Decay creeps in on the petals, the edges brown and limp.

“You know, it’s been thirteen years,” Lucas drawls out. “That’s a long time for people like you and me. How old were you thirteen years ago? You were probably still in school, weren’t you?”

Thirteen years ago, Doyoung was so young and unassuming,  and vampires were just those stories spoken about in hushed whispers.

Lucas stretches out his arms and starts cracking his knuckles. The joints pop loudly. “Thirteen years pass, and now, suddenly Jungwoo’s talking about him again. Saying I should ‘forgive’ Jaehyun. He’s stopped that tirade for ages, had given up on it completely.” Lucas says Jaehyun’s name like it’s a sour taste in his mouth. 

“You should listen to him, Jaehyun doesn’t deserve to die, he just wanted to help Jungwoo, Jungwoo asked him-” Doyoung begins to babble, unable to stop himself, but cuts himself off upon noticing Lucas’s glare.

“Well, you’re quite a clever little doctor, aren’t you?”

The rooks caw outside the window, punctuating each silence with their own screeches.

 “Don’t mistake yourself for thinking that you know the full story because you’ve had half a conversation. This is far beyond you. What Jaehyun did to me was unforgivable, and he knows that. Why do you think he’s run? He knows that I’m coming - and he knows he deserves it.”

Doyoung knew Jaehyun wasn’t in Rookswood. There were numerous reasons to suggest that, of course, why else would Johnny have hired him back? Yet all rationality fell in favour of the one truth: if Jaehyun had been here, his rose would have been replaced. He knew this, and yet Doyoung still didn’t expect it to hurt quite so much to hear it spoken aloud.

“You don’t have to look so solemn. It’s not like my intention is to stop here for tea before I crack his skull on my way home. I don’t know where he is. I just know he isn’t here.” Lucas sighs. It’s disorientating how easily he talks of violence.

The realization that those were the same hands that stabbed that knife in Jaehyun’s shoulder is ice running through his veins. “Hasn’t Jaehyun suffered enough?” Doyoung asks, trying not to beg.

“No,” Lucas says. “No, he hasn’t.”

His heart threatens to collapse.

“You haven’t seen what his life is like,” Doyoung tries even if his own chest pains so much he can’t breathe, “He’s so lonely, he’s injured, he has your knife inside of him-”

Lucas’s eyes snap up at that. “That’s not possible, surely.”

“I’ve seen it myself,” Doyoung says.

He has seen the most grotesque of bodily trauma in his studies, bones broken and splintered glowing white like the moon, blood gushing like waterfalls, and yet it is that dagger that haunts him the most, curved in his shoulder, surrounded by cauterized flesh, somehow burnt and still burning.

“That’s…” Lucas falters for a moment. His fingers drift to his own belt, at the knives that hang from it, and he almost seems to reconsider - and then regains himself. “That’s hardly my concern. I’ve made an oath in blood and I intend to follow it.”

“And what was the oath?” Doyoung asks. There has to be something, something in those spindly letters. “Why can’t you just stop?”

“I swore I’d never let Jaehyun hurt Jungwoo again,” Lucas says, so simply and so casually, like it’s nothing, like it’s not Jaehyun’s life that’s contained in those shallow breaths.

“He wouldn’t.”

Lucas snorts in derision. “You need to understand, back then, there was no one I could trust. And even knowing this, I considered Jaehyun to be one of the good ones. All vampires are a cancer to themselves and the people around them, but Jaehyun…” Lucas trails off, critically surveying Doyoung, “Well, he has good self-control, doesn’t he?”

It’s the strangest thing, really. Among human society, it’s wealth that puts people above the rest. It’s the material trappings of cars and houses and gold that’s as equally enviable as it is admirable. Even Doyoung falls victim to this, having been enamoured by the size of the manor he now lives in, the tallest house on the hill just like he dreamt about. It’s nothing like that for vampires.

What use do immortal beings have for money? Restraint is the value that sets someone above the rest, and Jaehyun must truly have been a beacon of indomitable will if his reputation survives throughout all this time.

And yet, despite that, despite even the hunter himself acknowledging his self-control, Jaehyun still drank when Doyoung beckoned him to. Perhaps he would have been better off if he had never met Doyoung at all. And if that isn’t a thought that pierces itself in Doyoung’s mind.

“Jaehyun was someone I trusted. I knew who he was, he knew who I was, we kept out of each other’s way and that’s all that it needed to be. We could co-exist like that. And then he made it personal, then he… he turned Jungwoo.” His grip on the cup tightens. “All I ever tried to do was protect Jungwoo. I’d never sleep, never eat, I’d just keep watch over him. And what was the point, if he just fucking died anyway?”

His voice rattles.

“But you know this, I’m certain,” Lucas continues. “He said that he told you his history?”

“They wanted to kill him,” Doyoung says. He tries to sound diplomatic but there’s no way to phrase it that doesn’t seem damning. 

“‘They’,” Lucas repeats, spitting out the syllable. He jerks back, hands shaking and puts down the teacup before the liquid splashes over the sides. “It would be more appropriate to say ‘everyone’. I’ve never seen such a display of fucking unity between vampires and humans in my life.”

Trauma manifests in different manners physically. Doyoung is no psychologist, and never pretends to be either, but physicians are expected to know the basic signs, enough to get by. And Doyoung can’t stop himself observing the way in which Lucas’s posture is as bolt upright as an arched bow, or how his eyes constantly scan the room, the way every now and again his fingers linger on one of the cruel knives that hang around his belt.

Perhaps he wasn’t the one who was being hunted, perhaps it was never his life on the line - but Doyoung doesn’t think that stopped the paranoia from creeping in his mind and never leaving. It doesn’t excuse the things he’s done -  but Doyoung keeps it in the background of his thoughts, that Lucas might just be another patient in need of help. 

“I didn’t think that of all people I had to worry about Jaehyun. He was always wrapped up in the business of his own coven. I knew what he could do, but why would he ever anger me? And here he came, out of nowhere and just-” Lucas grits his teeth so hard, the muscles of his jaw spasm. “He took my Jungwoo away from me. I trusted him, Doyoung, I trusted him and he turned him. How am I supposed to forgive that?”

“Jungwoo asked him to,” Doyoung says, can’t stop himself, but he barely finishes talking before Lucas snaps.

“Jungwoo made an impulsive decision that cost him the rest of his life!” Lucas slams his fist on the table. The teacup rattles, and for a moment the only sound in the room is the shaking ceramic. “He wasn’t thinking clearly, obviously he wasn’t. I found him drenched in blood, surrounded by corpses, he was in not the correct frame of mind to just throw away his life like that, his humanity.”

Lucas inhales. He takes a moment to calm himself down. He picks up the cup and sips, and when he speaks, it’s calmer. “It’s why I never killed Jaehyun then and there. The sun was set to rise soon, and I hadn’t… I hadn’t realized that Jungwoo would no longer be able to…” The words are uneasy, unformed. “I had to get to him before the sun. Jaehyun told me where he was - but he also waited until the last possible moment. Self-preservation clearly is another one of his strong suits, isn’t it? I didn’t want to leave, I knew I might never find him again but I couldn’t lose Jungwoo.”

In his mind, Doyoung can see the black city sky, and the blood running on the pavements. “So you swore a blood oath?”

Lucas holds up his hand. “It was here.” He rubs the meeting point of his palm and wrist. “Nice thing about blood oaths, I suppose, is how convenient they are, doesn’t matter where it is, it’s just the blood that matters. I wasn’t happy about losing a knife, but, I was in a rush. Didn’t really have the time to pull it out.”

His skin is unblemished. Healed. He’s tracing a phantom laceration.

“If I couldn’t even trust Jaehyun, who can I trust? No one. And yet again Jungwoo and I are alone in the world. I never wanted to be a hunter, Doyoung, I was never born a hunter but when you live to see everyone trying to tear apart the person you love the most in the pursuit of who gets the most money, you can’t just let that happen and not do anything about it.”

Doyoung doesn’t want to feel compassion for him, doesn’t think he deserves to - but can’t stop himself. It must have been so difficult. For Jungwoo, certainly, but for Lucas as well, ultimately helpless against the rest of the world. It affects him to this day. “Why was he so hungry all the time?”

“I don’t know,” Lucas says, running his hands through his copper hair. “I could never figure it out. He’s been like that since we were young, and it’s gotten worse as he grew older. Suddenly feeding just once a day wasn’t enough, he needed more, and he always, always killed when he was by himself. I tried to go with him whenever possible, and I’d stop him from going near the edge, but… he started slipping away from me. Feeding while I would sleep. I should have been more careful, I realize that now, but it was so difficult, I was just so exhausted all the time.”

Lucas has a youthful face, a full head of healthy hair - but his eyes carry a burden within them that make him seem as ancient as the rest.

“Jungwoo never deserved any of that. I know you know this, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Jungwoo is more than just a hunt,” Doyoung says, heart swelling with sympathy. 

Lucas gazes down at his hands. “I’ve loved him since I was twelve years old. We had these plans for the future. Places we wanted to go to, the life we wanted to build. I wanted to grow old with him, and I lost that. Well, no. I didn’t lose that. Jaehyun took that away from me.”

Plans for the future. Doyoung wondered what that felt like, to be able to fathom a tomorrow with Jaehyun. He can’t even do it now, can’t imagine a reality outside of Rookswood and it’s tall trees and cawing birds. Rookswood, which consumes his conscious and unconscious mind.

“I don’t need a blood oath to affirm that I was always going to protect Jungwoo. But how am I supposed to do that if I’m going to die? Jungwoo is going to live and he’s going to outlive me. How do you expect me to forgive someone who took that away from me?”

“Lucas, you can’t hold Jaehyun accountable for that, Jungwoo asked him-” Doyoung protests, trying to ignore that feeling in his blood, like it’s being weighted with lead. This has become too personal. It’s stopped being about Lucas, and started being about his own mortality.

Lucas surveys Doyoung. “You really love him, don’t you? You’re still defending him to my face.” There’s an unspoken implication at the end of that, there’s the reality that Lucas could snap Doyoung’s neck in the time it would take him to breathe, and even then, he still dares to argue.

“I do,” Doyoung says, raw. Saying it out loud just makes it hurt more.

There’s pity in Lucas’s eyes. “Jaehyun doesn’t deserve this. He doesn’t deserve you. You have your whole life ahead of you, you’re a doctor, why are you just throwing everything away…” Lucas trails off. “I’m not happy about the fact that a human has been involved in this whole affair.” 

“That’s a bit hypocritical, wouldn’t you say?” Doyoung says and can’t stop himself from snorting.

And Lucas stares at him for a long time.

“Oh,” he finally says. “You don’t know. Not many people know, actually, it shouldn’t surprise me, but for all your knowledge about vampires, clearly they don’t trust you with everything.”

“What do you mean?” Doyoung asks, and there’s a sinking feeling that’s overcoming him.

Lucas unfastens one of his deer-horn knives. The blades makes the cruellest of angles, and he does not hesitate, barely blinks as he lets the edge pierce a jagged line down his palm, over his wrist. Blood gushes down like a river, and now Lucas lets himself feel the pain, face twisting in agony. His exhale is as sharp as the knife itself. He shoves the blade back in the holster and slumps back in the chair, pressing the wound to his lips with his other hand, the blood trickling onto his tongue drop by drop. His mouth curves upwards.

Ivory fangs smile at him.

“You can’t be a vampire,” is all Doyoung can murmur because it’s not possible, it isn’t, it’s daylight, his eyes are the deepest and softest shade of brown, not red, but-

“Halfling. Just like Jungwoo.” He pauses. “Just like Jungwoo was.”

Blood still flows. The contortion of pain on his face is so human, it’s so unlike the injuries he’s seen on the vampires, the careless way they ignore wounds. 

“When it comes down to it, I’m almost as human as you are,” Lucas says simply. “I don’t heal. We don’t heal, Doyoung. We die.”

Doyoung has all the necessary equipment in this room. He has the alcohol to sterilize the wound, the bandages to wrap around his palm, the morphine to make the ache more bearable. But he doesn’t. For the first time, he just sits back and watches his patient bleed. 

He’s uncomfortable with his own apathy. He’s spent too much time with vampires, become too familiar with blood - he doesn’t react, it doesn’t affect him. Blood is blood, and if gold is the purest thing in the universe, blood claws its way to a close and messy second.

“Jungwoo said halflings get the worst of both sides of humanity and vampirism,” Doyoung says.

“A lust for blood - but with the mortality that we both face. You get it now?” Lucas asks, teeth gritted. 

Doyoung realizes, to his own dread, that he and Lucas have more in common than he could have ever imagined. They share that unique pain of being devoted yet hopelessly mortal towards someone who would live forever. Who would outlive them.

“Jungwoo would have grown old with you,” Doyoung realizes and he can’t stop himself from saying it outloud.

“He would have.” It hurts Lucas to say it, it’s vivid in his face. He presses down on the laceration over his palm, grimacing. “You know, Doyoung, I’m a man of faith before anything else, even before I’m a hunter. And, as I’m sure you know, vampires don’t have a soul. There’s no afterlife for them, there’s no reincarnation. There’s just an end. When a vampire dies, if a vampire dies, there’s nothing more.”

Lucas looks up at him. He looks disarmingly human. “I have a soul. I have a heartbeat, I have breath in my lungs and I have a soul. If you have a soul, you have the capability of redemption. Maybe I’ve already accepted there was going to be no future for myself and Jungwoo in this life, but Doyoung, I believed in the next.” His voice threatens to crack. “Or the one after that. Or after that. I believed that there’d be one existence in space and time where I’d have him and he’d have me and we’d be together. And I… I’m not going to get that anymore, am I?”

The concept of a soul is so wholly abstract that it barely penetrates the thinnest of layers of Doyoung’s worldview. He’s a man who studies the body, who studies the tangible maze of veins and arteries through skin, organs and bone. Something as non-specific and shapeless as a soul can’t even be considered as something to be lost - but to Lucas, it’s everything.

“I’m going to die and I’ll be reborn, and I’ll be reborn alone. And this cycle will continue. And Jungwoo’s just going to be here. Alone. Forever.”

Doyoung doesn’t know what to say to him. Doesn’t think there’s a single word in any language which can comfort him, which can make this any less painful than it is.

“Doyoung, I came here to tell you that I have no intention of hurting you, and I never will. I don’t kill humans.”

There’s conviction in that voice. There’s indomitable will behind that.

“How did you even come here?” Doyoung says, and his voice is soft.

“Your mayor called me. Apparently vampires are as common as rooks here,” he snorts. “He told me he knew where Jaehyun was, and well, I’ve always been very persistent. But again, I’m not here to scare you. It’s the very opposite.”

Doyoung knows that a part of him is afraid of Lucas, absolutely. But there’s a part that pities him, that knows the hatred that consumes him is just overcompensating for his own insecurities about his mortality. And then there it is, the empathy of it all, that Doyoung knows exactly how that feels, to be one step behind.

“I came here to give you advice, mortal to mortal, to tell you to let Jaehyun go.”

Doyoung thinks he would have preferred if Lucas just started breaking his bones. This is what it feels like.

“He took away my eternity, don’t let him take away yours. He’s lived a long time, his hands are stained with so much blood, they can never be scrubbed clean. You have the chance to live, to be reborn, to be human. Don’t throw it away. You’ll be better off without him, and I’m certain he’d know I’m right.”

“You can’t just say something like that and expect me to agree.”

“You’re human,” Lucas shrugs. “Your memory is fragile and fragmented. You’ll get over him, you’ll forget him and you’ll be better off for it.”

Lucas downs the last of his tea and stands up, after he places the cup delicately in the saucer. “And thank you for taking care of Jungwoo. You didn’t have to - but you did, and I’ll always remember that.”

“Where are you going?” Doyoung asks, fearful of the answer.

“Oh, I’ll be around. Just going for a hunt.”

 

 

He stays. He hears the townspeople talk about him. He’s not quite staying, but he keeps visiting, keeps walking around town, stalking and listening like he’s one of the rooks. What Doyoung manages to gather from his patients is that they think Lucas is a visitor from the city conducting private business. He attracts attention, as any foreigner does, but his demeanor is polite and he makes casual conversation when spoken to - so, it’s hardly a matter of discussion at all.

They don’t even notice Jaehyun is gone.

Mr. Huang is the first one who does. Doyoung is inspecting his wrist, pleased with his progress after his sprain when he looks up at him, and says in his clear voice: “Do you know where Jaehyun went?”

Doyoung almost drops the hand he’s holding. He hadn’t heard someone use his name in so long - even longer from the Rookswood residents themselves. “Oh,” he swallows. “I think he has business in the city?”

He doesn’t even sound convincing to himself.

Mr. Huang nods. “Ah, that makes sense. I do recall he’s from there, after all. Perhaps some family troubles - or a visit, if a more pleasing possibility.”

“I didn’t think anyone would notice he was gone,” Doyoung says, flexing the muscles of Mr. Huang’s hand. He winces, ever so slightly, and then it passes.

“I did. I also noticed when you were gone,” he says simply. “I asked our Mayor and had a brief discussion about it. I’m glad he decided to take my advice to heart and call you back. You’re a much needed breath of fresh air in Rookswood, I think.”

Doyoung had treated Mr. Huang since he first arrived in Rookswood - met him on the first or second day, wasn’t it, at that party Johnny threw. He had been short, unassuming, and Doyoung had never thought much of him then, besides that of his future patient. He had no idea that Mr. Huang had any sort of opinion towards Doyoung.

“Thank you,” Doyoung says, unsure. He sits back in his chair, and busies himself by writing up the necessary prescriptions. His eyes can’t focus on the ink and he misspells the same word three times. Concentration eludes him. “I’m sorry, did you say you spoke to John-, ah, the Mayor?”

“Yes,” Mr. Huang says, fastening the cuffs on his blazer. “I was highly upset to show up for my weekly appointment and find that you weren’t here. The Mayor mentioned something silly about a disagreement, but I’m older than he is, and let him know that no disagreement can be worth letting you go. I can decisively tell him that you’re the best physician Rookswood has ever had.”

Doyoung blanches under the praise, feeling very much like a plant with leaves curling away from the light. “Mr. Huang, I hardly think I deserve such commendation, I’m just trying to be the best doctor I can.” And he doesn’t even think he’s really done that very well either.

Mr. Huang steps off the therapy bed and picks up his hat from where it sits on Doyoung’s desk. “You’re nothing like any other doctor I’ve seen. The raw empathy and humanity I see from you is so unlike so many in your field. The fact that you are so young and already so responsible? The Mayor would be a fool to let you go, and I made that clear to him.”

It’s a thankless job, really. He knows that people like Taeyong and Taeil who save actual lives, they get the gratitude they deserve. They get flowers, they get tear-stained letters, they get the warmth in the eyes of children who are not left orphans - and they deserve it. They do actual good in the world.

What Doyoung does is prescribe headache pills and bandage the injuries incurred by a cooking knife. No one really thanks him, and it would be foolish to expect anyone to either. They pay him, after all, and it’s not like it’s anything difficult. He studied six years - and all he does on a regular basis can be summarized in two chapters of a textbook. But to hear that someone, that such a well-respected member of the community, of the Rookswood elite, favours Doyoung, thought that he was so essential that he stood up to Johnny for him - it’s almost unbelievable.

The reason why Doyoung is here, why Doyoung is back where he belongs, is because of this man who barely reaches up to his shoulders.

“Thank you Mr. Huang. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this,” Doyoung says, bowing his head.

“Good. For what it’s worth, I think you do belong in Rookswood. In the beginning you were odd, certainly, but now you fit in. I do hope you think of Rookswood fondly, because I’m certain Rookswood thinks of you in that way.”

Doyoung scribbles out his prescription and bids his goodbyes all the while attempting to comprehend that somehow in this entangled web of this town, he’s fit in, assimilated among the silky strands. He can’t even argue against it. It’s true, undoubtedly so, he’s become hopelessly interweaved in the strings and stories of this town and despite everything, it’s his home.

He doesn’t even realize he’s started doodling on his prescription pad until there’s a knock on his door and he startles. Mr. Choi was only due to show up at noon, it surely can’t be him yet - but Doyoung calls out, “coming!” and opens his door.

“Doctor,” Sua says, her blue-eyed gaze bearing down at him. “Am I interrupting?”

Doyoung breathes out a sigh of relief. “No, not at all. It’s good to see you again, Sua.” He gestures to the seat, tempted to have Kun whip up a pot of tea for them, but she shakes her head.

“I would love to, but I really can’t. Mr. Seo has left me with so much work to do, he wants the sheets of the guest rooms stripped and laundered and it’s already getting late in the day.” Sua’s eyes all but drip with exhaustion.

Doyoung frowns. “Are you sleeping enough?”

“That’s neither here nor there,” Sua is quick to reply. Her smile is sincere. “Are you?”

It’s sweet of her to ask. “It’s good to be back,” Doyoung says, and both of them realize that’s not an answer at all. 

“Myself and Kun missed you terribly. We hadn’t realized how quiet this manor is without you,” Sua says, still lingering in the hallway. “But where is Mr. Jung? His house has been empty for ages.”

It’s the first time Jaehyun’s been such a popular topic. It would have hurt less if she had just spat acid in his face. “He’s away for some time. Family problems. He should be back soon.” Doyoung does try his best to smile.

Sua’s brows lift. “You don’t know where he is?” 

“I…”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Doctor. I know he means a lot to you,” Sua says, and alarm bells start ringing in Doyoung’s head and they are so loud they drown out every other thought. Sua must surely hear as well, it’s thunderous. She’s visited his house, she’s seen the bloodstained sheets-

“Doctor, I’ve tried my best to help where I can,” Sua says and her voice is as calming as the ocean. “Kun as well. We’ve taken care of any dead rooks where possible. And, for what it’s worth, we both hope he’ll return soon.”

“You know,” is all Doyoung can manage to stammer out.

Sua purses her lips. “I was there the year the rooks died. I was so young when he moved next door, and he’s never aged a day since. Everyone else forgot, but I didn’t. And there always were the legends that persisted throughout time. The ones about how rooks can’t withstand the smell of fresh blood in the mouths of the undead.”

Doyoung gazes at her in something akin to desperation. “Did you tell…”

“No. Never. I would never tell Mr. Seo. But,” she hesitates, fiddling with a strand of her hair. “I’m actually here on behalf of him. He’s requested to speak with you.”

He tries to keep his expression neutral. “Did he give a reason?”

“Said he required a meeting with you,” she says. “Said you never spoke since you returned from the city.”

They hadn’t. And Doyoung wasn’t foolish enough to think that Johnny would just forgive the blatant disobedience without a slap on the wrist It’s not really up for a discussion, it never was.

“I’ll be on my way then,” Doyoung says with false enthusiasm. He rises from his feet and meets Sua in the doorway, where he pauses. “Sua, thank you. For not… telling anyone.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Doctor, I would never,” she says, and her eyes sparkle. “It’s all just silly legends, regardless. We all know there are no vampires in Rookswood,”

 

The neatness is austere. Doyoung’s memory of Johnny’s desk is one where papers tower, high and plentiful, and pens scatter around the desk. A forgotten tea set lies on a cabinet shelf, and there’s always an umbrella in the corner, just in case it ever rains. Spring cleaning has come, evidently, as his desk is polished, varnish shining off the corners of the dark wood.

“Have a seat,” Johnny says with forced politeness.

They haven’t spoken since Doyoung returned, not properly. The letter was signed in his name but upon seeing Doyoung at the table for lunch, he resolutely ignored him, focusing on reading the newspaper. He had been skipping meals since, dining at friends or privately, and the few moments that he does come into contact with Doyoung, it’s mere pleasantries that are exchanged .

  “It’s good to see you’ve settled in,” Johnny says, and to his credit, he only sounds slightly like he wants to strangle Doyoung. His hair is neatly combed and the top button of his shirt is undone - it is rather hot today, after all.

“Thank you for giving me my job back,” Doyoung says. It’s sincere. He didn’t know what he’d end up doing if he had to spend another day in Gahyeon’s house, how much longer he’d be able to avoid Taeyong and Taeil for much longer either.

“There was a surprising amount of requests,” Johnny says, teeth gritted. “I hadn’t thought you’d make quite such an impression upon the citizens of Rookswood. Clearly, I was wrong.”

Doyoung nods, not daring to reply.

“As I’m sure you’re aware, our neighbour has left. A day after you, actually. He doesn’t seem to be returning anytime soon. At first I had wondered if you two had run off into the sunset together, but he came to speak to me himself, with more bravery and stupidity I thought he possessed. Jaehyun always does seem to surprise me.”

“He spoke to you?” Doyoung struggles to keep his voice measured. It’s difficult, though. It’s the first piece of concrete information he’s heard of Jaehyun in weeks, and his chest fills.

“He did,” Johnny says and shrugs. “It was by no means a heart to heart, but he told me you’d be at your sister’s and that I should hire you back. I told him to go to hell. Highly productive discussion.” He snorts. “He disappeared shortly afterwards, and I cannot begin to imagine where he’d go. No one wants him.”

Doyoung hadn’t even told Jaehyun he’d be at Gahyeon’s. He must have just assumed. Jaehyun was always perceptive like that.

“And, for what it’s worth, my problem was never really with you. It was with your relationship with him,” Johnny spits.  “So, now that he’s gone, I see no need why we cannot work towards a point of mutual understanding.”

He speaks with such finality, as if he already has the confirmation that Jaehyun will never return to Rookswood, which is ridiculous, of course he will, he would never leave Doyoung here. It’s just a matter of time - and Doyoung knows how to be patient.

“That sounds gracious,” Doyoung says, senses dullened.

“It is,” Johnny agrees. “But I’ve always been the kind to give second chances, that’s always been a flaw of mine. Even when Jaehyun looks me in the eye and lies to my face, I still let him live here.”

Johnny’s face contorts in an expression of disgust and his voice takes on a higher tone. “‘Oh Johnny, of course Jungwoo is dead, I killed him myself, why else would I have a knife in my back, I don’t want your money but please let me stay here, I’m so scared that the big mean vampire hunter is coming after me’.”

His Jaehyun impression leaves much to be desired. Johnny seems entertained, and laughs at his own joke. “Then, of course, I find he’s been secretly sending letters to that abomination and he confesses everything, babbling that ‘it was close enough’. But, even then, I forgave him, lended him a second chance, because he did keep all his other promises. That’s just the kind of person I am, I can’t help my own compassion.”

He regards Doyoung with interest. “Still, even if he betrayed me, I trust you.”

Doyoung blinks. “You know Jungwoo?”

“Of course I know Jungwoo. He should have been dead some thirteen years ago, but that’s what you get when vampires do a job that hunters should have done.” Johnny seems to find Doyoung’s shock amusing.

There’s something odd. There’s something odd about how Johnny called Lucas in the town himself, but also speaks of Jungwoo and the money placed upon his head for his demise. There’s something odd but Doyoung can’t begin to place it, not now, not when Johnny is currently looking over him from the steeple of his hands. 

“Still, shouldn’t bring up the past, should we? We should move on.”

Doyoung nods, even as he disagrees vehemently.

“There’s a hunter here,” Johnny says, more to himself, eyes drifting to the open window. “I’m sure you’ve noticed Lucas around.”

Doyoung halts, unsure if he should admit his own connection to Lucas. “You’ve seen him?”

Johnny seems to repress a laugh. “I know him by name. I assume he’s waiting for Jaehyun. A rather futile errand in my opinion, it’s quite clear Jaehyun never intends to come back here - and if he does, he won’t be here for very long, not while the hunter stalks around the shadows. Still, I sleep more comfortably at night knowing my town is safe.”

He wonders why Johnny is pretending like he didn’t call Lucas here himself. If that just wasn’t the Rookswood style of speaking though, holding back half of the sentence, disguising everything in pleasantries, even as the spindle fibres under the skin of their story begin to show. 

“Do you think he’ll be here long?” Doyoung asks, voice squeakier than he intended.

Johnny gazes out of the window, and a smile crosses his face as he watches a pair of rooks fly past. “Oh, I wouldn’t be able to say. Still, nice to know people like him are still around, isn’t it?”

Johnny always finds the way to crush Doyoung’s heart in the most precise manner, his fingers bending into cracks that were already there.

 

 

He dreams of Jaehyun. The first night he dreams of him, it hurts to wake up. There’s a vacancy of roses in the manor and the lack of colour creeps into his unconscious mind. Decay claims the remaining few and Kun tactfully disposes of them before Doyoung notices. He sees them anyway.

In his dream, the rose garden again is luminous, and the flowers are in full bloom, and this time his mind conjures a phantom Jaehyun to tell him how much he loves him. His skin is sparkling and his eyes are golden, and Doyoung’s heart doesn’t stop aching when he wakes up and knows he’s still alone.

Some nights he dreams of piano music. He dreams of his slender fingers on gentle keys playing a familiar tune, playing their song, and then it progresses further the deeper into his mind he goes, as Jaehyun beckons Doyoung towards him and pins him to his piano, his mouth on his skin, teeth ripping into his neck and his hand between his thighs. He remembers wishing for Jaehyun to go harder, and he always does, and he always holds Doyoung close to him. Some nights it’s not the piano that gets manifested, sometimes they make it to the bed, and Jaehyun takes his time in pulling Doyoung apart, savours every taste - and sometimes they don’t, sometimes Doyoung begs for his touch wherever they are, with little regard for the world around. His throat hurts with phantom pain. He has to clean his sheets in the morning, but he’s gotten rather good at that. 

And other nights, he doesn’t dream of roses or piano music. He dreams of rooks, of black wings against a sunset sky, and a pale hand entwined with his own. That hurts the most because that’s not even a dream. That’s just his memories playing back in the absence of new ones being created, a film stuck on perpetual loop.

It shouldn’t be possible to miss someone so much - but Doyoung does. As the days pass by, the marks on his neck fade, and he looks into his mirror, pressing his nails against those disappearing pinpricks. The resulting crescent imprints are nothing like fangs.

He wonders when Jaehyun will come back - because he will.

Doyoung always knows he will.

 

 

It’s warmer. The days are longer, and the sun sets later, and as a consequence even when his days are filled with drifting from house to house, swabbing cheeks and pressing muscles and his brow grows weary - the sun still hangs in the sky, almost mockingly. He’s in the lower town, and it’s almost impossible to believe it’s just after six, not with the way the city brightens around him. The birds aren’t even roosted yet. He can see them, crawling around, cawing whenever they feel so inclined. They aren’t feeding, aren’t doing much of anything, almost as if waiting for the sun to recede. The rooks demonstrate an overwhelming sense of needing to leave, but not yet going yet.

Sympathy for birds is a new low for Doyoung.

It’s difficult to convince himself to go home. Yes, Sua must be almost done with dinner now, and since he and Johnny are on speaking terms, the evening meals are much more pleasant in nature - but that doesn’t change the fact that everytime Doyoung gazes at the empty house next door, his blood grows so heavy it’s difficult to move.

He remembers his dream from last night. Watching the rooks at sunset, with Jaehyun at his side. How the world around them blurred into the gradient orange, because nothing else mattered besides him and the same sky they stood under. He doesn’t even consciously realize he’s walking down the familiar path until he almost trips over the undergrowth. He hadn’t even thought he could find this spot from his own memory, but his muscles remembered what his mind has forgotten.

He had wondered then why Jaehyun kept such a distance from the rooks - now, of course, it makes sense. Doyoung follows the path closely, eyes fixed to the ground, avoiding the rambling branches, and it’s so much nicer to be here now that the icy winter wind doesn’t permeate the air. It would be so much more pleasant to do this again now, to lie on the grass and stare up at the pastel sky and watch as the charcoal birds fly by.

He really has grown more found of rooks, he realizes to his own dismay. Awful. If he ever moves back to the city, he’d have to take a pair of the wretched things as pets just to get to sleep at night. The visual of this black bird terrorizing Taeyong’s house is an amusing one, and it prompts the first smile on his face in what seems like a long time.

All he can really hear right now is the flap of wings as the rooks begin to fly into sky, punctuated by periodic cawing - and Doyoung doesn’t consider himself an eavesdropper, but he’s just surprised to hear something muted voices in the distance. 

After all, this was Jaehyun’s personal spot. Why else would anyone want to view the display of the roosting rooks from so far away? There’s hardly a point.

Perhaps at the back of his mind, a fantasy unfurls that perhaps he’s hearing Jaehyun all along, and that he’s just out of sight, and if Doyoung nears towards the voices carefully he’d see him-

And it is a vampire. But it’s not his vampire.

Lucas’s head is buried in Jungwoo’s lap and with his eyes fluttered close and his hands meaninglessly twisting in the soft grass, he doesn’t look like the vicious hunter of legend. Rather, he seems another harmless lover, spending time with his other half. Peaceful washes over his face. Jungwoo, carefully covered in a thick coat and hood, doesn’t notice Doyoung’s presence, gaze entirely focused on the man lying in front of him.

“You should sleep,” Jungwoo says, stroking Lucas’s hair like it’s rain running down a window, tangling in the copper strands. “I know you’re tired.”

“I can’t sleep while you’re here, I won’t risk it,” Lucas says, and the tone in which he speaks to Jungwoo is as gentle as a morning snowfall. “You know what it’s like here.”

“I’ll be okay, Lucas, you know I will,” Jungwoo says, almost amusement in his voice. It switches to concern effortlessly. “Please? I don’t like seeing you struggle like this.”

Lucas takes the hand that cards his hair and pulls it to his mouth, kissing his knuckles. “Jungwoo.” There’s tenderness in the way he says Jungwoo’s name, whispering it like its the name of his deity.

It’s hypnotizing. Doyoung does not wish to intrude on such a private moment but finds himself unable to look away, entranced by this display of unabashed affection.

“Go sleep,” Jungwoo laughs, and then leans in. It’s not quite a kiss - their mouths are mismatched because of the angle and Lucas still keeps his eyes closed, but when Jungwoo raises his head, they both smile wide.

And then Jungwoo turns and sees Doyoung.

His eyes widen, blown crimson, and it seems as if he wants to say something, but the words don’t leave him.

“Those damn birds are so loud, I don’t think I could sleep even if I tried,” Lucas mutters, crossing his arms over himself and settling in deeper into Jungwoo’s lap. “Valour has been having a wonderful time terrorizing them across town. Have you seen? He enjoys riling them up.”

“Jungwoo?” Lucas questions, when he does not reply.

“We could always leave Rookswood,” Jungwoo says, not breaking eye contact. His breathing is stuttered. “You know I want to.”

A sigh crosses Lucas’s face. “Just give me a few more days. I... I can’t leave just yet, I don’t feel like I should.”

“Lucas...” Jungwoo pleads.

“A little bit longer, Jungwoo. Please. I know it’s hard for you. I promise when this is over we can go home and I’ll take you to the lakeside and we can spend the night there? Just like old times? Is that okay?”

Lucas’s eyes open, asking for an answer, and Doyoung is instantly fearful, dares not even move - but Lucas only looks above him, at Jungwoo. Any part of the world that does not contain Jungwoo is irrelevant to him, negative space on a canvas.

“I’d like that,” Jungwoo says, and finally breaks hold of the locked glance, and leans down to kiss him again, softly and sweetly. “Go sleep, Lucas.”

His eyelids flutter closed and he grasps for one of Jungwoo’s hands, tucking it under his chin.

The sky is orange, yet it may as well have been purple. The world doesn’t seem right anymore, not at all, and if this was the reality he lived in, then it should look as absurd as it felt. He had wondered perhaps, if Lucas was to be removed from the picture, if it meant that Jaehyun could have a future. It would not be something Doyoung would have the capacity to do himself - he’s a healer, after all, not a murderer.

But the thought had occurred to him, though and he could not pretend otherwise. And, perfectly bluntly, it would be the simplest solution. Lucas was mortal, as he emphasized so clearly. If he died, any matter of blood oath or not would disappear. It would be too easy to set a trap really, and now that Doyoung knew where Yuta would be, at the church… Yuta, with his personal vendetta and his sharp teeth. Who owed him a favour regardless.

It is not his proudest moment - but it is something he considered.

He now realizes he could never do it, could never allow it to happen. He could never hurt Jungwoo like that, could never take the love of Jungwoo’s life away from him. There’s such a childlike innocence to the way Jungwoo looks down at Lucas, like he’s endlessly enraptured by everything that he’s ever done. And Lucas, violent and murderous, would tear out the sun out of the sky for Jungwoo, if just to make his nights longer.

He would not disturb this, not when he chokes on his own envy, not when he wishes that in some day and some future that it would be him and Jaehyun, soft grass cushioning them as they stare up at the rooks.

Jungwoo looks up at him again, transfixed and torn. 

The sun has dipped behind the trees, and all that remains are the final and brief residual rays, that last unification between the world of humans and the world of vampires. Jungwoo pulls down the hood of his coat and watches him with something akin to fear.

Doyoung had wondered where Jungwoo was while Lucas was stalking around town and the answer seemed to be: just out of sight.

He smiles at him, waving ever so slightly - and he sees Jungwoo visibly exhale. Nodding, Doyoung turns around, leaving him be, and as he navigates his way through the undergrowth, a caw pierces the air.

Doyoung is face to face with Fortune. It has to be her, of course, her eyes are as yellow as daffodils. She blinks at him, as if assessing him, surveying him, judging him. Doyoung raises his hand up to her beak - and she nips into his finger. Not enough to draw blood, but it’s hard not to take it as a warning.

Wherever Jungwoo is, Fortune seems to follow.

 

 

Without the guidance of their caretaker, the roses have succumbed to their own hunger. Masses of stems curl and entwine around themselves, choking the life out of their siblings. Sharp thorns prick him as he enters, ravenous and thirsty for blood, a feature they seem to have in common with their guardian himself. Neglected as they are, they have not destroyed themselves. There are flowers still, unbelievably so, but rather than blooming with their face to the sunshine, they’re tall and decayed, a grotesque rot setting into the pure petals.

Jaehyun would never have allowed this to happen.

Doyoung stares at the overgrown roses in absolute despair. Gardening gloves are tight against his hands, and he holds the pruning shears like a weapon. He realizes he’s outmatched. What Doyoung knows is just what Jaehyun taught him: cut off the crooked canes, pull off the leaves, repeat the process.

This is beyond his skill set. The deeper he goes into the garden, the worse it gets. Different breeds strangle each other and in an attempt to disentangle his foot from the old wood, he ends up with scratches all over his forearm.

He’s wholly unequipped to deal with this. He’s a doctor, not a rosarian, and he never claimed to be one either - but he had been in his office, staring mournfully at that dead rose and had realized that the entire family was suffering the same fate. Doyoung could not bear to imagine Jaehyun’s distress upon seeing his garden, his pride and joy, in absolute ruins.

Doyoung starts small. He makes himself comfortable at the edge of the garden, at a small rosebush with petals the colour of sunrise and begins to disentangle the entwining branches, snapping off those canes that are already dying. It’s tiring work, and sweat condenses at the back of his neck - but there’s also a certain amount of serenity to be derived from such a lonely activity. For every prickling against his skin, and the ache of his muscles as he reaches into the bush, he gets to look back at the end of it and bask in pride at the sight of these gorgeous flowers.

And Doyoung did love roses, absolutely so.

Sunset arrives and departs in a rush - and Doyoung is aware that he’ll have to go back to the Cerasus Manor soon, but not just yet, not while he can squint against the fading light and make out the stems.

It’s their rose, that burgundy bud that grows and blooms despite the neglect. Doyoung is painstaking in the care that he takes to preserve this flower, pulling each leaf off individually, rehashing Jaehyun’s advice in his mind over and over till his voice fills his thoughts.

He ditches the glove for a moment, just to adjust the positioning of the rose, and he shouldn’t be surprised when a thorn tears through his skin - what did he expect would happen? Doyoung ignores the drop of blood that wells from the cut and only bothers to give the wound any attention after he’s pried those gnarled thorns away from the flower.

“You’re going to put me out of a job at this rate, Doyoung.”

Jaehyun’s voice is crystal clear, but Doyoung hesitates before he turns around, unsure if this isn’t just his mind playing a cruel trick on him. He wouldn’t be able to handle it if it was just an illusion, he wouldn’t be able to at all. He counts to ten before he looks back - and, oh, oh.

His Jaehyun always belonged surrounded in roses.

“Jaehyun,” Doyoung breathes because it is him, it’s him, from his tawny hair to his marble features to that curved smile he has, that special smile that he reserves for Doyoung. Jaehyun steps closer, his strides wide and fast and he takes Doyoung by his hand - and then pulls him into an embrace.

“Doyoung.” He whispers his name like it’s something fragile. “Oh, Doctor, I missed you so much.”

Doyoung knew he did. He lets himself be completely enveloped in Jaehyun’s hold and he exhales. Jaehyun has always been a statue after all, but he’s not one now, no, he melts himself to match the curves of Doyoung’s body, to fit better together, like they belong as a set.

“Jaehyun, oh Jaehyun, you’re actually here.” His eyes are shut, not daring to open them. “You came back.”

“Of course I came back, I’d never leave you. I care about you too much for that,” Jaehyun mutters into his nape, nuzzling into his neck, pressing kisses to the skin. It’s been too long. The last time he even touched Jaehyun was weeks past, and even then, it was a parting farewell in the morning that Doyoung was barely conscious for. He’s awake now, and he just wants to soak up all that Jaehyun is, his rose-petal scent drifting in the air between them.

He looks beautiful. He always does.

And then, reality hits and Doyoung jumps back, several spaces. “You can’t be here. Lucas is here, I literally saw him yesterday, Jaehyun you need to leave, he’ll find you, he’s going to find you and-”

“Doyoung, wait-”

Surely he must realize the risk of him being here? He can’t have come all this way, survived so long to be within a stone’s throw of Lucas’s icy blades. “Jaehyun, you have to go, you can’t be here-”

Jaehyun crosses the distance and takes Doyoung’s hands in his own and pulls him closer, letting their foreheads touch, distilling his panic into a single drop. “I know.”

“You know?” 

“I know,” Jaehyun repeats, and Doyoung’s breathing slows down with the cadence of Jaehyun’s voice. “I know Lucas is here. I’ve known for a while - he… he isn’t trying to hide.”

Doyoung sounds hoarse, because if it wasn’t, he might scream. “If you know, why are you here then?”

“I sent a message to Jungwoo. Lucas is gone for now, both of them. They’ll be back, as I’m sure they will - but this time is ours.” Jaehyun tightens his grip on his hand. “Believe me.”

“You contacted Jungwoo?” Doyoung says, blinking in confusion.

“His hawk,” Jaehyun says simply. “I recognize her markings. She was always a clever bird.” That doesn’t make it any better, it’s still far too dangerous.

“Jaehyun, it’s still such a risk, why would you come back?” Doyoung whispers, and he thinks he knows the answer deep inside - but he wants to hear it, wants the words to manifest as a sheet he can wrap around himself.

“I wanted to see you,” Jaehyun admits.

The night sky is hot around them - but Jaehyun has always been pleasantly cool to the touch.

“I missed you,” is all Doyoung can say, is all that can be vocalized of the rush of emotions that passes through his whole body like an electric current. “Jaehyun, I missed you.”

            “I missed you too, Doctor,” and Jaehyun takes a step back, and kneels down and places the most chaste of kisses on the back of Doyoung’s hand.

Doyoung wants to be upset at Jaehyun’s recklessness but it’s very difficult when he can hardly contain his unadulterated joy at having him right here. In the weeks that passed, more and more doubts started rooting in his mind, the rationality of it all sunk in, and he had worried, he had wondered what if Jaehyun didn’t come back - or worse, what if he did come back and things changed? Through it all, all he did was stay true to that feeling in his chest that spread out through his ribcage with every pulse, that he loved Jaehyun, and the knowledge that Jaehyun loved him too.

“Get up off the ground so I can kiss you,” Doyoung murmurs and he sees those dimples that Doyoung can’t stop himself adoring.

He holds his arm out. Jaehyun obeys with a smirk on his lips and he grabs ahold of the outstretched hand, and drags himself up and then uses the momentum to pull Doyoung towards him, silencing his squeak of protest with his lips.

Kissing Jaehyun feels like coming home. His lips are familiar, even after all this time, and Doyoung had imagined that their reunion would be charged with uncontrollable tension, but it’s nothing like that, not really. It’s more soothing river than rushing tidal wave, it’s more ember than wildfire - it’s more home than far away.

Jaehyun traces his thumb over Doyoung’s bottom lip, and the corners of his eyes fold upwards. “Would you believe me if I said that you’re the most beautiful thing here?”

The mere fact that as soon as Doyoung’s cheeks redden, Jaehyun begins to laugh, is proof that he does this just to rile Doyoung up, and he buries his face in the layers of Jaehyun’s coat.

 “How did you find me?” Doyoung asks, and upon hearing how muffled his words are, he looks up. He doesn’t quite let go of Jaehyun though, fingers playing with the cuffs of his shirt, unwilling to let go. “This is the first time I’ve been here, how did you know where I was?”

Jaehyun shifts, almost uncomfortable. He stares down at their hands. “Something has changed in me,” he says. “Ever since I started feeding from you, I can feel you. I sense where you are, and I don’t know how it happened and I don’t know how to stop it.”

“You sense me?” Doyoung asks, tilting his head to the side.

“Inside of me.”

Doyoung’s breath is dry.

“Even when you were in the city, I knew where you were. I could always feel you there, and even now, it’s the same. I still feel you inside of me. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.” Jaehyun’s eyes are crimson - but dull crimson, like cracked clay.

“That’s how you knew I was at my sister’s house, isn’t it?” Doyoung says, as it clicks in his mind.

“I knew you were safe, and I knew you were okay - and that made it bearable for me,” Jaehyun says. He pauses, clearly hesitating.

“Yes, Jaehyun?” Doyoung prompts as gently as possible.

“You went to the church, didn’t you?” He tries to look like he isn’t desperate for an answer, but the glimmer in his eye betrays him.

“I did. With Yuta.”

Doyoung has so many questions about Ten he wants to ask Jaehyun, wants to ask if he even knows, if he even cares - but doesn’t bring that up, not now, not when he’s finally alone with him after so long. Ten doesn’t matter, the rest of the world doesn’t matter.

“You met Yuta again?” Jaehyun’s eyebrows are raised.

“I rather like him,” Doyoung says, reminded of Yuta’s blindingly bright smile with fondness.

“You plan on stealing my garden and my friends?” Jaehyun says, and immediately placates Doyoung with a rushed kiss. “I’m joking, please don’t look at me like that.”

“I think Yuta is lovely, excuse me, and-”

Jaehyun pecks him again, and continues to do so until the frown dissipates from Doyoung’s face. “What could you possibly have needed Yuta for?”

Doyoung inhales, taking a step back, centering himself. It’s an illusion of the mind, most likely, but the roses already look happier with the return of their master, petals smiling out.

“Jaehyun, I want to help you. I know Lucas is relentless but I’ve asked Yuta for his advice, and I’ve been reading and I’ve been thinking, and there has to be some way, something that can be done to convince Lucas. You shouldn’t have to live like this.” He had an inkling that Jaehyun might be mad - Doyoung doesn’t expect him to regard Doyoung with with such pity.

“Doyoung, why are you doing this to yourself?” he says, and it’s such a strange question, such a vague question that it flusters him.

“I… I don’t think I understand?” he says, faltering under Jaehyun’s gaze, so piercing it could penetrate armour.

“Doyoung, surely you know I’m doomed,” Jaehyun says in a voice devoid of embellishments. “Even I’m aware of that, and so is Lucas. There’s nothing to be done about it. Nothing even you can do. Your concern is touching but ultimately pointless. I know that he’s going to persist, and one day he’ll win.”

“Jaehyun,” Doyoung says, his voice cracking. “No, there is a way, I know there is, I know I can convince him not to, I can fix this-”

Jaehyun takes Doyoung’s hand in his own - and Doyoung is distracted by this, he’s forgotten how much Jaehyun just loves to intertwine their fingers together like it’s the most natural thing in the world. “Doyoung, it’s not worth it. I don’t want Lucas to hurt you. We have limited time together - can we just enjoy it without worrying for the future?”

It’s words spoken by an immortal, an existence where the present becomes eternal, where the future is indefinite and continuous. But Doyoung has known Jaehyun, Doyoung has seen threads of fear in Jaehyun’s eyes, flickering like a flame. He doesn’t want to die. He doesn’t want to - and he’s pretending like he’d accept his own abrupt end to his eternity to soothe Doyoung’s own feelings.

“Jaehyun, I’m a part of this world as much as you are,” Doyoung says hopelessly, tightening their hands together. “The vampires know who I am, and I know them. Lucas won’t hurt me, I know he won’t - but he’ll hurt you, and I know if there’s something I can do, I’ll find it out, but I just can’t figure out what yet-”

“Doyoung.” It looks like it hurts. It looks like Doyoung is hurting him. “What could you possibly hope to do to change any of this, a chain of events that were already set in place thirteen years ago?”

And Doyoung inhales. “You could turn me.”

Jaehyun drops Doyoung’s hands like they are cast in silver. His eyes are wide, wide and horrified. “Doyoung, where did you-”

“Yuta told me, he told me about what you used to do,” Doyoung says, speaking as quickly as possible, attempting to soothe Jaehyun’s aghast expression, “Jaehyun, please, just think about it, I know you can.”

“Regardless if I can, why would I want to do this to you, Doyoung, why would you want to live like this?” Jaehyun’s hands clutch uselessly at his sides, as if they already miss holding Doyoung’s.

“Jaehyun, I’m living in your world whether or not you decide to acknowledge it - and I live in it a step behind everyone else, entirely unsynchronized.” Doyoung professes what he’s felt for so long - that he belongs in a different side of life, and that he’s never fit in this one. “Why not just turn me?”

“Lucas wouldn’t stop looking for me,” Jaehyun says, avoiding Doyoung’s gaze.

“Jaehyun, we could start again.”

Jaehyun’s exhale is hesitant, and he steps closer, letting his hand rest on the column of his neck, following the path of his Adam’s apple as Doyoung gulps. “I’d miss this,” Jaehyun says, and his fingers trace up to his cheeks, summoning a blush. “And this,” he continues. His hand lingers on the skin - and then travels down, ceaselessly, down his throat where his breath quickens, down his collarbones, over his chest and then to his heart, where even now it races. “And this, I’d miss this most of all.”

His head is heavy against his chest, and Doyoung’s arms lift to surround him, to enclose him. Even now, being so physically close, doubt enters his mind and overgrows like roses. “Jaehyun, would you not want an eternity with me?”  

“It’s all I could ever want, Doyoung,” Jaehyun murmurs into the fabric of his shirt, “but I don’t think I can give it to you.”

He raises his head, and his eyes are glassy. “I won’t turn you, because what if I can’t? What if I drink too much, what if I lose control, what if my judgement lapses for a fraction of a second and I lose you forever?”

Doyoung’s heartbeat hammers. “But you can do this, you’ve done this so many times before, you know what to do-”

Jaehyun silences him with a look. “Yuta told you about the kill ratio, I’m sure?”

“The number of people you feed without draining them to death,” Doyoung says, uncertain. “Jungwoo is a one. He kills. Constantly.”

“That’s exactly it. I’m almost a zero on that.”

Isn’t that perfect, then? “But Jaehyun, that’s exactly why I’m asking you, only you can-”

Almost,” Jaehyun says, and lets his hand caress Doyoung’s cheek. “Almost a zero. Not quite. Doyoung, I’ve made mistakes before. I can’t have you be one of them.”

‘Mistakes’ is a very diplomatic way of saying that Jaehyun has killed people. Doyoung suspected as much, always, he wasn’t naive, but - it was another thing at all to hear it from his own lips. Doyoung was a doctor, he dedicated his life to helping people, to healing, and Jaehyun. Jaehyun has killed people.

“Doyoung?” Jaehyun says, uncertain. Such soft words could get lost in a garden this big. “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I care about you too much to dare try. All I could ever want is us together till the end, but if I lost you, there’d be no point.”

Doyoung remembers what’s been drilled into his head since he started university. You can’t save everyone. You can’t will a dead heart to beat again. Sometimes, the point of no return has already been passed. You can’t save everyone.

“If you want to leave, I understand,” Jaehyun continues. “I would never hold it against you. It would be better for you, Doyoung, you have so much left to live for and you’re so bright and kind and intelligent and beautiful-” Jaehyun’s voice breaks, and he pauses, to stare at Doyoung. “You’re so beautiful. There’s so much better for you than me.”

“Jaehyun, would you want a forever with me?” Doyoung asks and Jaehyun’s face washes with honeyed anticipation.

“Oh, Doctor,” Jaehyun breathes. “Of course I do. I love you so much it hurts.”

Some people can’t be saved. He’s a doctor not an alchemist. The power he has in his hands is the kind that came from textbooks, not from dungeons. He can’t make gold out of lead, and he can’t make life out of death.

And he ‘can’t save everyone’.

“Jaehyun, I love you,” Doyoung says, and his memory is flawed like every other mortal, his mind will decay and it will take everything with it. Every other page in his life will have its ink washed away with time and age because nothing about him is colourfast, but this, this he’ll remember, seeing Jaehyun’s eyes light up, light up so much, it’s almost honey gold.

Doyoung has been so careful his whole life, walled up his emotions, letting only a stream trickle through, just enough for the bare minimum to pass through, enough to pass through his own walled existence. He’s felt isolated in his own self for as long as he can remember, what limited connections he makes are always fragile, breakable.

Doyoung has been lonely for a long time.

And then there’s Jaehyun, who’s lived a life as rich as the sunset skies, who is adored and admired by so many - and that fact ultimately remains pointless, because he’s been trapped in this house for so long, he’s become his own ghost. The isolation he faces is
physically tangible and becomes clear in the way even now, Jaehyun gazes at Doyoung with such care in his eyes.  Jaehyun who has lived a long time, has met a hundred and thousand more people than Doyoung ever did, and out of all of them, out of every single possibility, he’s here, standing in his rose garden, face illuminated by a moon that hangs low in the sky – he’s here.

“I love you,” Doyoung says again, “Jaehyun, I love you.” He slings his arms around Jaehyun’s neck, and whispers his devotion into the pulseless flesh. “I love you, please, please don’t forget that.”

It’s ironic, he’s aware, begging for his memory to stay, when it’s Doyoung’s own that would fade first. Perhaps that’s it. He’s not telling Jaehyun not to forget, he’s telling himself.

Jaehyun pulls him tighter, kissing the top of his head like it’s a crown. “And you ask me if I wouldn’t want to live an eternity with you? As if I could ever give this up? As if I could ever give you up? Doyoung, you’re my everything.”

Words aren’t enough. Words are silly, fragile things that crumble when spoken, and stutter when sworn, and Doyoung knows now that words aren’t enough. Doyoung lifts his head up, gazing imploringly at Jaehyun, desire replicated in their eyes. He makes a movement closer, but doesn’t connect their lips, waiting for Jaehyun to take the necessary next step.

He doesn’t – instead pulling Doyoung’s wrist up to his ear, kissing the skin. He lets his hold linger, eyes fixed on Doyoung. “I can hear your heartbeat racing,” Jaehyun comments. “Is that how much you want me?”

His heart skips a beat.

“Kiss me,” Doyoung demands.

“Absolutely,” Jaehyun replies, and closes the gap between them.

It feels like the force of stars colliding. Doyoung can't begin to fathom how he's survived this long without Jaehyun kissing him so deep, it’s like he wants to steal the breath from his lungs. Doyoung would let him. Doyoung would let him take everything. Jaehyun's teeth grazes over his bottom lip and the whine that pushes forth from Doyoung is pleading. Their kisses get longer, messier, their lips slick and the slide into each other is easier.

Jaehyun's arms ride up Doyoung's back, fingers dancing along the curves of his spine and that's something Doyoung has realized about kissing Jaehyun. He likes to pull Doyoung as close as possible to him, savour every breath and every sigh that emanates from him, not wanting to miss a single reaction.

“Jaehyun,” Doyoung whispers, so softly that he doesn't even think it would be heard - but it's Jaehyun. He always hears. His supernatural senses give him alleviated hearing, but it's always been like this, Jaehyun always listens to everything Doyoung says, even those fragile half-syllables that stumble out of his lips before he's even ready.

“Yes, Doyoung?” Jaehyun asks, and he parts from the kiss and uses this interlude to stroke back the strands of hair that fall into his forehead. The action is so pleasing, so thoughtful that Doyoung's eyes flutter closed, preening like a bird.

“Doyoung?” Jaehyun sounds amused, but the brushing of his hand diminishes. Every pulsation of Jaehyun's gentle fingers on his scalp sends waves of muted ecstasy through his body.  

It sounds silly now, unnecessary, but Doyoung can’t stop himself from exhaling out the words. “I'm just glad you're back.”

“I never want to leave your side, but knowing that I could feel you inside made it bearable,” he says like a confession.

Jaehyun, this sculpture of a man with his unbeating heart, is becoming more pleasing to touch, as his flesh starts to warm up from where Doyoung pours himself into his mouth, kissing him with such fervor, as if any moment they could be wrenched apart. He’s becoming a source of heat, and the very idea that Doyoung himself is the reason for it sends a new wave of arousal through him. It’s his blood and it’s his blood alone that pleases this vampire. It’s desperation, more than anything else, and Doyoung’s hands move of their own accord, wrestling with the buttons of Jaehyun’s shirt, demanding to see more of him.

Jaehyun pauses, breathless, and gazes down at where Doyoung’s hands attempt to loosen the string tie at the top – and Doyoung pauses.

“Should I not?” Doyoung asks, reddening.

“You should,” Jaehyun laughs, “but it unhooks from the other side.” He takes Doyoung’s fingers ever so gently and lets them trace the path down his throat and then underneath his collar, letting loose the shirt, and it flutters open.

But Jaehyun doesn’t let his hand go, and instead directs it up to his mouth, kissing the pads of his fingers. His breath is hotter than the sun. Jaehyun bends his head and sucks down on two of his Doyoung’s fingers - and Doyoung burns.

His legs buckle underneath him and Jaehyun stops those languid licks to scoop Doyoung into his hold, laying him on the plush grass beneath. He reaches up for Jaehyun’s discarded shirt and shoves it under his head, and enjoys the comfort that this view offers him - Jaehyun, shirtless, illuminated by moonlight, straddling Doyoung’s thighs. He takes ownership of Doyoung’s hand again, kissing and mouthing at his fingers, warm and wet. His eyes are blissed out.

Doyoung uses his other hand to caress Jaehyun’s chest, mindlessly circling in shapes and unsaid words into the skin. He feels his own hunger rush over him, faster than he can control it. He stares at Jaehyun’s unmarred skin and wants to change that, wants to disobey every part of the oath he took as he graduated. He was bound by his honour to harm none but he looks at Jaehyun and just wants to possess every part of him, mark him as his own, let every mortal and immortal alive know that this one, this one is mine.

His teeth aren’t strong enough to bruise his flesh, the grips of his fingers as they curl in pleasure won’t cause white marks, his chest won’t grow red with a flush that spreads through him like a fever. But his chest is so pale, so blank, and it begs for a colour, it begs to be painted - to be a red as deep as his desire.  

“Jaehyun,” Doyoung whispers, and he looks up, letting the fingers drop out of his mouth, sticking on his lip. “Don’t you want to drink from me?”

Jaehyun licks his lips. “Doyoung, what are you…”

“He’s not here,” Doyoung reminds him, pulling him closer until he can reunite in a single kiss. “Have you fed since the last time?”

“No. No, of course not.” Jaehyun’s so close that Doyoung can see the intensity in his dull crimson eyes. “I have no desire to drink from anyone but you. You’re the only one I want to touch like that.”

The pressure between his legs builds, his cock struggling against the confines of his pants. Jaehyun can feel it, sitting on top of him, and his gaze travels downward, and he presses a hand against him there - Doyoung almost cries in relief, but it’s not enough, nowhere near enough.

“But then you must be hungry,” Doyoung says, attempting to control his breathing, even as his legs begin to shift of their own accord, rutting against Jaehyun’s hand. “And I’m right here.”

It should be evident how much Doyoung wants this. Does Jaehyun need him to explicitly state that he can’t bear another moment without feeling Jaehyun closer, without touching him, without having those fangs inside his blood?

The desire is written in Jaehyun’s eyes, the way they graze over Doyoung’s neck, fixing on his pulse point. But he shakes his head, and takes his other hand and caresses the curve of Doyoung’s jaw. “Doyoung, this means more to me than just blood. You’re delicious - but this is more than that.”

He kisses Doyoung so tenderly it hurts.

He shifts Doyoung’s pants down and the heat of actual physical contact has him writhing, and it feels so good he can’t begin to comprehend how Jaehyun can have such control over him, how he could make him feel so much - but Doyoung exhales and taps at Jaehyun’s chest.

“Jaehyun, wait.” His voice is hoarse. Jaehyun gazes down at him, confused and radiant.

“Yes?” he asks, as pretty as a rose.

“Not like this. Could we… could you…” Doyoung trails off. He can feel the flush that spreads over his face and he shuts his eyes, in an attempt to block out the reality of the situation.

“Is something wrong?” Jaehyun’s voice sounds concerned. “Do you want me to stop?” He removes his hand from where it’s wrapped around his arousal and that’s even worse, and Doyoung barely suppress his whine.

“Jaehyun, I want to be with you,” Doyoung manages to stutter out, and he opens his eyes and sees that Jaehyun is still as perplexed.

Jaehyun threads his fingers through Doyoung’s hair, curling and curling the strands. He doesn’t know when Jaehyun figured out how calming that was - but he’s always been too perceptive for his own good. “Doyoung?”

Doyoung’s eyes are scrunched closed.

“Jaehyun,” Doyoung breathes out. “I want you inside me.”

“Oh,” Jaehyun says. “Oh, Doyoung.”

The next thing he feels is Jaehyun’s mouth against his, viciously pulling into him, while his hands tear off his own shirt like it’s paper. Doyoung can’t stop himself from moaning into his lips. His body is hot against his, and a welcome relief against the cool evening air.

“Shall I take you upstairs, my Doctor?” Jaehyun says, and it’s clear he’s trying so hard to hold onto his own sense of poise but his own desire slips out from underneath. “Shall I take you to my bed?”

Doyoung looks at his Jaehyun, silhouetted by moonlight and the roses he grows himself and it’s just so picturesque - and shakes his head. “Right here.”

Jaehyun licks his lips like he’s about to devour, and shifts down to Doyoung’s neck - and his pulse quickens in anticipation. “This will hurt.” The ambiguity is intentional.

“But I don’t mind if it’s you,” Doyoung replies.

It’s been too long. It’s been too long since he’s felt ivory fangs penetrate through his skin, and he’s not used to the way his flesh tears apart and he almost screams, the primal part of his mind taking over, trying to escape - and then it hits, and then it’s euphoric. Doyoung is unashamed of the way he writhes and begs Jaehyun for more, and he wonders why Jaehyun refused when this is just so good for both of them.

He’s hot against him. Arousal pulses through him as the venom courses through his veins. It’s so much, and not enough.

It stops too soon, though - Jaehyun usually takes his time when he drinks, licking up and down for what feels like hours, bearing his fangs until they feel like part of his body, until Doyoung feels faint with pleasure. But now, he raises himself, and his mouth is a smear of blood and his toothy smile is as white as the moon.

And then he dips his fingers in the wound that he’s made and when Doyoung feels him against his entrance, slipping inside, he gasps.

It’s so slow, such a painfully sweet stretch that Doyoung can discern every single synapse to his limbic system. The hypothalamus cradles itself above the pituitary gland and logically, Doyoung can map out why this feels so good, why having Jaehyun’s fingers thrusting in and out of him makes him feel like his entire body is illuminated, and it’s because of that. And Doyoung can explain it, how his optic nerve is currently processing the way Jaehyun gazes at him, desire vivid, savouring each and every breath and sigh he elicits out of Doyoung. From the reticular formation in the stem of his brain, he can feel the way Jaehyun’s body heats up as his fingers bathe in the blood collecting at his neck. From his olfactory nerves, he smells the copper of blood mixed with that sweet satin scent of roses in full bloom. It’s all logical.

But explaining it doesn’t make it any less incandescent when Jaehyun enters him.

Most of what happens passes by in blurs in Doyoung’s vision, like indistinct colours at twilight. He’s aware of the blood that trickles down his neck, intermittently a tongue rolls over the wound instead, licking up the beaded drops. Jaehyun, speech normally restrained, is vocal, moaning and whimpering at each thrust. He’s like a canvas, and each rivulet of crimson liquid across his pale skin is just another brushstroke. Jaehyun is meticulous, Jaehyun is marvellous, the cadence at which he is breathing is like a symphony in Doyoung’s ears.

Jaehyun ducks down and presses their lips together, once, twice, three times and his face is like the dark side of the moon. Hiding something.

“What’s wrong?” Doyoung murmurs, bringing Jaehyun’s fingers to his mouth, kissing them.

“It’s nothing, I just…” Jaehyun pauses, searching for something in Doyoung’s expression. “I never imagined I’d ever get to experience this again. With anyone.” There’s a brightness behind his eyes, scarlet and shining. “Not with someone like you.”

“There’s absolutely nothing special about me in the slightest,” Doyoung murmurs and as if overcompensating for the own inadequacy as a person he possesses, he tightens his thighs, pulling Jaehyun closer. Jaehyun is his, even if he isn’t worthy of it.

“You’re so incredibly wrong about that,” Jaehyun says, and then kisses Doyoung again, tasting coppery and sweet. He can feel everything even more, the venom making him sensitive to everything, especially the meticulous way in which Jaehyun drags himself in and out. He moans, and Jaehyun enjoys that, a smile curling on his lips. He picks up the pace, relentless, thrusting deeper and then-

Doyoung can’t stop himself. “Fuck.”

Jaehyun ceases instantly, eyebrows furrowing in concern. “Doyoung, what’s wrong-”

“Don’t stop,” Doyoung all but cries, “Oh god, don’t stop, please, right there.” Jaehyun’s eyes widen in realization and he hits that tangle of nerves again, pressing Doyoung deeper into the red and wet grass, and the residual cocktail of chemicals are soaring through his veins, and Jaehyun just looks so handsome, so radiant, even as his own blood paints his chest. That’s his blood on him, and that’s his blood inside of him, crawling its way through Jaehyun. He lives, he thrives because of him, Doyoung is inside him just as he is inside Doyoung, and the thought is so much, the rush hits him before he realizes it. His entire body bursts.

Collapsed on the ground, his breathing is uneven, but his view, his view is beautiful, because it’s Jaehyun. His heart pounds in his ears as the aftershocks soar through him, and he feels fingers run through his hair, and he whimpers at the tender touch.

It takes him a moment to realign himself, to ground himself back to reality. He fixes his gaze on the roses that trail behind Jaehyun, framing him like a portrait. Then, he looks at Jaehyun, gazing at him in absolute rapture. His stomach is splattered with the remnants of his come, and still, he smiles at him.

“Drink from me,” Doyoung says softly, his voice almost lost in the garden.

The hesitation betrays his want. “Are you sure?”

Doyoung bares the other side of his neck, enticingly angling himself, and Jaehyun is too far gone in his own desires to protest any further, he’s been so fixated on Doyoung’s own pleasure, he’s neglected himself this entire time. He’s slower now, taking his time, pressing soft kisses, mouthing at the skin before he sinks his fangs in - and he drinks languidly, like he’s sipping the finest wine.   

The fog of his own pleasure clears and Doyoung takes careful note of the way Jaehyun arches over him, pinned down, so thoroughly enjoying his blood and there, in his shoulder, that knife shines. How much it must hurt, to live like that, and how easy it would be to just…

Jaehyun’s close, Doyoung can tell from the way his nails dig into Doyoung’s sides, the way he ruts himself against his body, whimpering, and the way he drinks with utter abandon. Doyoung threads his hands into Jaehyun’s hair, tugging and twisting his fingers in his tawny hair.

Jaehyun shudders - and exhales.

His release is warm on his thighs. He gazes up at Doyoung, and leans over him to connect their lips, and Doyoung’s long since lost any reflex against the taste of his own blood - when it comes from Jaehyun’s mouth, it’s as sweet as honey.

“Jaehyun,” Doyoung whispers between their kisses, as his hand drifts to his shoulder. “I’m so sorry but this will hurt.” There’s no ambiguity.

“What do you-”

Doyoung curls his hand around that cruellest of all knives and pulls it out of Jaehyun’s shoulder. It tears his skin as it passes through - and it must be so sharp, so strong that it cauterizes the flesh. An acrid odour stain the air. But Doyoung stares at Jaehyun instead, his expression frozen.

Doyoung brings his arms in front of him, and he holds the knife in his shaking hands, and Jaehyun’s gaze drops towards it. There are not enough words, perhaps.

“Jaehyun?” Doyoung says carefully. “Jaehyun, are you okay?”

He whispers something indistinct.

“Jaehyun?”

“It’s healing.”

“It’s healing?” Doyoung repeats.

Jaehyun moves off Doyoung and turns around, his breathing laboured. In the path of his shoulder, there’s a gaping laceration, grotesque and messy - and yet, even now, Doyoung can see the skin begin to reconnect, the burns beginning to heal.

“Doyoung, it’s healing.” He’s unable to say anything else. When he looks back, his eyes fill with tears. Jaehyun exhales, and the sound he makes is somewhere between a laugh and a cry. He holds Doyoung’s face in both his hands, teardrops spilling over his cheeks. “It’s healing, Doyoung, it’s healing.”

When he kisses him, it’s salty. He presses little kisses all over Doyoung’s face, on his cheeks, on his nose, on his jaw and rests his forehead against Doyoung’s, washing Doyoung with his affection and he’s never seemed more human than this moment.

“Doyoung,” Jaehyun whispers. “It’s healing.”

Doyoung is not giving this up. He’s not giving up the look in Jaehyun’s eyes, the way he holds his jaw as he kisses him, or the way his fingers rake through his hair as they lie against the grass together, Jaehyun’s head curling in the crook of Doyoung’s arm.

They warned him before, told him that a doctor can only bleed themselves for their patients so much until they themselves run dry, but Doyoung is more than prepared to run dry, if that’s what it takes.

Doyoung can’t save everyone, but he’s going to save Jaehyun.

 

 

“You never actually told me,” Sicheng says, briefly looking up from his Polish dictionary, “where you went for that week.”

Doyoung freezes. He had been mid-sentence in a very in-depth reading of the newest Cheracol manufacturer and was mentally weighing up the contrast in side effects. He hadn’t actually expected a conversation, least of all from Sicheng. It can’t even be said that Sicheng seems particularly interested, gazing up as if the thought had just occurred to him, as if Doyoung hadn’t been coming to work for at least two weeks already.

“Hmm.” He decides for a moment. “I was in the city. Family problems.” He doesn’t mention that he was the family having the problem.

“Oh, alright,” Sicheng says and bows his head. He flips one page, and then looks up again. “Did you get hurt?”

“Hurt?” Doyoung repeats. “In the city? No.”

“Ah,” Sicheng says. “I was just wondering if perhaps you injured yourself. I just noticed you’re limping, is all.”

Doyoung attempts to hide his blush by obscuring his face, lifting up the product information. “I’m fine,” he says.

This was, of course, not entirely true. Watching Jaehyun leave had been worse than when Doyoung had left himself. It wasn’t even dawn when Jaehyun had run his hands through Doyoung’s hair, waking him up, telling him how he needed to leave. They kept kissing, insistent and feverish, because Doyoung knew that the moment it stopped, the moment their lips parted, they won’t reconnect. Jaehyun has said he’d come back, he said he’d return, and that he’d be fine - but it’s so hard to believe that, not when Doyoung has no idea what to do.

“If you say so, Doctor,” Sicheng says, shrugging. “Are you coming in tomorrow?”

“Probably not, I’m booked back to back with appointments,” Doyoung recalls. “I’ll be in the area for house visits if you need me for anything.”

“I doubt it,” Sicheng says. “It’s been rather quiet here. You didn’t miss that much.” He pauses. “The piano player’s gone though. I think he went back to the city.”

“I’ve heard something like that, yes,” Doyoung says through gritted teeth. He tries to be unaffected. 

“But I’m sure you knew. You’re friends, or something aren’t you?”

“Neighbours.” The lie falls easy from his lips.

The bell rings and Sicheng reluctantly puts down his dictionary and plasters on an unconvincing smile. Doyoung has to wonder how Sicheng ended up with this job when he seems to loathe any and all human contact. “How can I help?”

“I’m looking for something to help with my headache. Think it might be the country air.” It’s a voice Doyoung has become familiar with to his own detriment, and he stares down at his desk, frozen.  

“How frequent are these headaches? Daily?” Sicheng asks.

“I’d say about four to five times a week. They last for a few hours.”

“Do you find that it’s aggravated by light?”

They continue their conversation, question and answers batting back and forth, and Doyoung inhales deeply - and stands up. “Lucas, what are you doing here?”

His coat is tightly closed, obscuring the belt of knives that Doyoung knows dangles around his waist. Lucas’s eyes widen. “Doyoung?” It’s genuine confusion on his face.  

“What are you doing here?” he repeats.

“I have a headache. This is the pharmacy, isn’t it?” Lucas challenges. He walks to the front of the counter, resting his arm on it, as if daring Doyoung to tell him to leave.

Sicheng pauses from where he’s taking tablets off the shelf and raises his eyebrow. “Doctor? Is something wrong?”

Doyoung gazes back at Sicheng. “No, nothing. He’s a… friend of mine.”

Lucas grins at this. “Something like that.”

Doyoung considers his options carefully. He had spent the entire morning sitting in his bedroom in the Cerasus Manor, contemplating the knife now in his possession. He was hesitant to throw it away, aware of the value it possesses both on a material and a sentimental level. And it remained there now, in his bedside drawer - and here was Lucas, walking in with its twin at his side.

“Lucas, could I have a moment?” Doyoung asks, ignoring Sicheng’s pointed interest.

Lucas blinks. “Do we really have anything left to discuss?”

“I think we do.” He leaves no room for argument.

“Let’s talk a walk then, Doctor,” Lucas says. “But I still need the headache tablets.”

Doyoung grabs the box from Sicheng and doesn’t look back.

 

“These rooks are so loud,” Lucas says, staring up at the trees. It’s pair of them, a couple, and they currently seem to be squabbling at each other, increasing in volume at every response. They fly from branch to branch at periodic intervals, but never stop talking.

“They are,” Doyoung nods. Higher than the rooks, is a most menacing hawk. Not Fortune, not at all, this bird is bigger, talons even thicker. The hawk doesn’t do much, merely stares down, observing Lucas and the rooks. 

The rooks seem to be uncomfortable with the hawk, fluttering away, and Lucas frowns. “Valour,” he orders, clicking his fingers. He points forward, and the bird blinks his yellow-eyed gaze, before obeying, flying to several trees away.

“He’s well-behaved,” Doyoung comments.

“I’ve trained him well.” There’s no pride, only fact. “I’ve had him for a long time. Jungwoo calls them siblings, but they’re not really. I caught him a world away from Fortune, and Fortune was easy. But Valour was difficult, he wouldn’t fall into my trap for so long, and when he did, he used to rip my hands to shreds.”

Lucas looks at him now with fondness. “But that’s changed with time, after all. Now we’re on the same page. He’s a good hunting partner.”

The rooks are so much smaller, just specks of black in comparison to this creature of indisputable nobility.    

“Jungwoo told me about a legend,” Lucas says, after gazing at them a while. “That rooks can’t stand the smell of vampires, of feeding vampires - that they die because of it.”

“It’s true,” Doyoung says. The male rook flies further away and his mate follows quickly after, black feathers fanning out like storm clouds. “They die. I’ve seen it happen.”

“Jungwoo tells me that he’s spoken to the birds, told them to stay away. Not all of them listen.” Lucas quickens his pace in an attempt to catch up with the male but when he senses him coming, he soars up in the skies, out of sight.

“Distance seems the only way in which they co-exist.”

“I don’t think co-existence is always an option,” Lucas replies. He spots the female in a tree overhead and tries to move closer - but she too, flies away. There’s something so uncanny about the way he moves, the way he talks. He’s dangerous, undoubtedly so, and yet, underneath it all, there’s something so childish about watching him play with the rooks.

Doyoung has constructed a picture in his mind from what Lucas has said. Since he was young, he’s always been on the run, always hunting the vampires that threatened Jungwoo. He must have never had a childhood at all, never experienced an infantile joy like chasing after silly birds that squawk in irritation. 

“Have you ever seen rooks before?” he asks and Lucas shakes his head.

Lucas kneels to the ground, scratching through the grass until he finds an abandoned feather, running his fingers over the soft spindly fibres. “No. I’ve only ever been in the city. Well, there was Japan. But there were no rooks there either. There’s so many of them, I can’t believe it.” He pauses and looks up at the sky. “I saw it the other day. The rooks at sunset. There’s thousands of them, and they all go to the trees? It’s incredible. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

“I do think it’s beautiful,” Doyoung says, heart burning.

“It’s a nice place to live, I think,” Lucas says, almost wistfully. 

That thread of patience snaps.

“Why are you still here?” Doyoung asks, unable to contain himself any longer. Lucas abruptly looks back at Doyoung, almost upset that their pleasant walk has been disrupted with the reality between them.

“Doyoung, you know why I’m here,” Lucas says, rising to his feet. He shoves the feather in his pocket.

“Lucas, do you want me to beg? Do you want me to go down on my knees and ask you with tears in my eyes to spare him? Because I will if that’s what you want,” Doyoung says. His throat closes up.

“Doyoung, I’m sorry that you’ve been involved in this. It was never meant to be like this,” Lucas says, and Doyoung hates that he sounds sincere. “But this has been written before you even met him. It was always going to end this way. When this is over, we all get to move on. You included.”

Lucas’s eyes are such a warm shade of brown - it masks his cruelty too well. “You’re young, Doyoung. You’ve got the chance to meet anybody else.”

“And if I don’t want anyone else?” The truth falls simply.

Lucas gestures, and they keep walking. They’re looping around the town square, taking the time to twist and turn between the trees, seeing the town like they were the birds themselves.

“You could have me if you let Jaehyun go,” Doyoung says quietly.

“I don’t kill humans,” Lucas states, blunt. “Certainly, it would hurt Jaehyun enough that I’d be satisfied, but I don’t want to hurt you Doyoung. You’re not a bad person.”

“Neither is Jaehyun. Neither is Jungwoo.”

The mention of Jungwoo causes something in Lucas’s demeanour to stiffen.

“It’s hard loving Jungwoo,” Lucas says. “Jungwoo himself is someone that I am devoted to till the end, but sometimes…”  Lucas’s voice falters. “No one knows better than myself just how many people are dead because of him.”

Doyoung hesitates. “How can you hunt vampires when Jungwoo…”

“When Jungwoo is a killer?” Lucas completes, almost laughing to himself. “Well, Doyoung, I’ve always been a hypocrite.”

It’s unfairly simple for Lucas to just live with his own faults. “You say that so proudly.”

“I’m aware of what I am,” Lucas shrugs. “I claim to only kill feral vampires, and God knows that Jaehyun’s maker was the tamest vampire around. Eyes so gold they called her Solar. And when I came for her, I ripped her apart. She wasn’t a threat, but this was thirteen years ago, and I was very, very angry. I had to find someone. Someone had to pay.”

Doyoung’s stomach twists.

“Doyoung, it’s not easy. For both of us. It’s not easy knowing that everyday we grow older, closer to our deaths and they don’t.”

“That’s our reality.”

 Lucas regards Doyoung with empathy, a hand running through copper coloured hair. “You know exactly what it feels like. To be in love with someone and know that inevitably and inescapably you will die and you will have to leave them behind.”

His throat closes up.

“Jaehyun is a distraction for me. Just like I'm a distraction for you. It’s something to focus on that isn’t our own mortality, that isn’t the future where we lie in coffins and they’re alone.”

Lucas gazes at Doyoung. “He took away his soul, Doyoung. He took away my eternity with him. I can’t forgive that. Who will be left for Jungwoo when I’m gone in a few years? Who will keep him safe?”

Lucas almost laughs to himself. “You’ll outlive me, you know? The venom that flows through me, that I need to survive is killing me.”

“You drink blood,” Doyoung states.

“Jungwoo’s, usually. I don’t- I can’t kill anyone. I told you, I don’t hurt humans. It wouldn’t matter where, though, I produce venom and it burns through my body like acid. You don’t hear of halflings often, and that’s because most of them leave messy and young corpses.” Lucas looks up at the rooks. “My entire life will end up as just a fraction of his entire existence.”

“I know how that feels,” Doyoung says softly.

“I know you do,” Lucas gazes at him. “It’s why, despite everything, despite that we are on opposite sides of this, I don’t hate you, Doyoung, because I see us as equals with the same burden. One day we'll die and we'll leave the ones we cherish most behind and that - that's our cross to bear.”

Doyoung doesn’t see Lucas as an equal. It might be easy from Lucas’s perspective to just see Doyoung as what he is, a fellow mortal in love with someone who would outlive time itself if left uninterrupted. But no, Lucas has always been one move ahead of him since the beginning. There was nothing equal about their positions.

“Jungwoo wouldn’t want you to kill Jaehyun.”

“He wouldn’t,” Lucas agrees without any argument. “He doesn’t. He tries to stop me everyday. But I’m very, very stubborn.” Lucas sighs as he surveys Doyoung. “You’re human. You break easily. You should leave. You shouldn’t be involved in this.”

“I am,” Doyoung states and it’s hard not to grow frustrated at how his own humanity keeps holding him back, anchoring him down.

“Are you not afraid of Jaehyun? He could drain you without even realizing it. He’s polite, yes, but you know he’s killed before? You’re a doctor, you surely can’t condone that.”

“I guess I’m a hypocrite too, then,” Doyoung challenges. Lucas pauses, eyes narrowing.

“Jaehyun picked a boy so pretty and young and teeming with life, and I’m just curious as to when he plans on eating the heart he’s already stolen.”

Doyoung pauses to remind himself of his goal here. Of why he’s talking to him to begin with.

“Johnny called you, didn’t he?” Doyoung says.

“Sent me a letter. Stamped with the town seal. I was here within a day,” Lucas shrugs. “But you know this, Doyoung, why are you asking me?”

And Doyoung suspected much. Johnny is a liar. And about more than just a letter. And perhaps the pieces begin to align. 

Doyoung inhales. “I’m tired of this. I’m tired of your presence in my town.”

An eyeroll is the only visible reaction from Lucas. “I would leave as soon as I can.”

“You want to know where Jaehyun is?”

“You don’t know where he is, don’t be ridiculous,” Lucas scoffs. “Don’t embarrass yourself, Doyoung. You’re better than this.”

He pulls down the collar of his shirt, exposing the defined bite marks on his neck, a red and purple floral arrangement of bruises. His heart races. “I saw him just yesterday. I know where he is, Lucas.”

Lucas’s eyes widen but there’s suspicion in there, and rightfully so. “And why would you tell me this? What do you have to gain?”

“Because I want this to end. This has gone on too long. You want to know where Jaehyun is? I’ll tell you.”

 

 

Doyoung knows that his mind is imperfect. He’s not without his vanity, and he’s aware that objectively, he’s intelligent. He graduated at the top of his cohort, to say anything less of his own intellect would be undermining himself. He applies his learning equally well. He strives to be a good doctor, he’s memorized every bone and muscle of the human body - and yet, that knowledge seems so insignificant, pales in comparison to the memories he’s lost.

He struggles to recall details. What colour of rose was Jaehyun’s favourite? How many rings adorned Yuta’s fingers when they met at Christmas? How tall was Jungwoo? Already he’s starting to forget these decorations to the moments he treasures most, and the very prospect is terrifying.

Doyoung doesn’t want to lose these memories, doesn’t want to lose what he knows of Jaehyun, what he knows of this life - but it’s not a choice. His heart betrays his humanity in every beat.

His mind is endless blank pages, awaiting the ink of the time that passes but it’s not colourfast, it’s never been and soon the pages are going to smudge and stain, until they’re indecipherable. And what then? What about the day he wakes up and realizes he can’t quite recall that shade of honey gold Jaehyun’s eyes were the day they met? 

Doyoung can’t fathom losing that. He’s never been creative, never been an artist. He can’t paint or write symphonies - even the lives he saves are temporary in nature, precious hours snatched away from Death’s hands. Nothing he does will ever be immortalized. When he dies, he takes everything he was and ever will be with him.

And he would leave Jaehyun behind.

Leave his Jaehyun alone, with his soft smile, with his caring heart and tender kisses, who talks to roses like they’re his friends. Just like he used to be.

Doyoung is not willing to lose that.

“Fortune,” Doyoung says quietly. “It’s you, isn’t it?”

She’s still terrifying. Her yellow eyes bore into Doyoung’s, and even though he approaches her, she makes no attempt at flying away, not even viewing him as a threat. Her talons are firmly gripped on the tree branch - but she seems to acknowledge her name.

“Fortune, if you’re here, that means Jungwoo is too,” Doyoung surmises. “Where is he?”

Out of the treetops, another hawk flies down, and it dwarfs Fortune with the span of its wings, uncurling like a cape. Perhaps it isn’t logical to assume that a bird is capable of glaring at him, but Doyoung feels discomfort prickling at his skin.

“You must be Valour,” Doyoung says carefully.

The bird cocks its head to the side and Doyoung may have dismissed it as just a natural gesture, but he’s come to understand these birds are more intelligent than they appear, personally doted upon by Jungwoo.    

“He must be near. I need to see him,” Doyoung says - but neither of the birds fly away to their master. They merely regard him with muted interest.

He makes a mental note of where they are, and continues walking till he reaches the riverbank. The water is calm at this hour, the rays of the sun having faded from view, rooks already roosted. There’s lanterns lit, and it bathes the water in an orange glow. He’s heard of this place, Sua had mentioned it before. It’s a small lake, hardly anything worth mentioning, what it is called has all but faded from memory, merely considered to be named after the town. It’s frequented by lovers, wishing to escape the confines of the community - but there are no tender hearts here tonight. Doyoung’s accompaniment is the air alone.

He gazes around, and from here, from this point, he can see Rookswood so clearly, the dead ash trees that protect it like a fence, the hills that Cerasus Manor claims - and it’s so strange to see it from here, to view it as an outsider. He wonders if Jaehyun ever looked at the town like this, wondered what secrets lay beneath those rook feathers.

The blade is cold in Doyoung’s grip. It’s uncanny that even after years, the silver still seems to shine. Perhaps not as sharp as it once was - but still as cruel. He looks around for a moment, if there’s a witness to his deeds and holds out his hand, cutting into the same vein he’s incised twice previously, watching the blood trickle to the ground like raindrops.

He slips the knife in the pocket of his jacket, attempting to ignore the way in which his arm stings, blood warm and wet as it drops. He turns around, pressing into his wound, sticky against his hand as he walks closer to the edge of the lake. He needs to find Jungwoo, everything that he had so painstakingly arranged hangs on the fact that he’d find him, and if his birds were here, surely he would be too-

It’s a sound like licking.

Doyoung turns around and it’s Jungwoo, knelt down, face to the floor as his tongue sweeps across the wooden planks, sucking up every drop of blood that crawls through the crevices.

Doyoung stares.

Jungwoo is like an animal, savage, hungry, fangs screeching as they scrape against the wood. The tips of his hair drip crimson as he leans down. His nails dig into the sides, sawdust collecting around, smears of his own blood that start to stain. 

He’s like a monster.

“Jungwoo.” His voice is as shaky as the leaves. He is ignored, and Jungwoo crouches further, licking again and again. The blood has long since disappeared. “Jungwoo.”

And Jungwoo looks up, and his eyes are scarlet, as expected, but more than that, they are iridescent, shining in the lamplight. Childish innocence has been wiped off his face and all that remains is the fixed gaze of a predator, watching Doyoung with renewed interest, pupils dilated.

“Jungwoo,” Doyoung repeats, calmly and assuredly. “I’m glad to see you. I was waiting for you.”

“You-”

“Are you okay?”

And the bloodlust lifts and Jungwoo blinks. He gains awareness of his surroundings, looking down at the mess of his fingertips, raw and red. He rises to his feet, shaking. Dust clings to his clothes.

“I’m so sorry,” he says, and he sounds softer than usual. “Doyoung, I’m sorry. Did I scare you?”

“That’s what it’s like?” Doyoung asks, not bothering to answer, not bothering to tell him the truth that yes. Jungwoo scared him. Jungwoo stared at him, and all Doyoung thought was of fifteen people dead in a barn, and Jungwoo was still hungry. “Bloodlust?”

“Yes,” Jungwoo says. Red smears across his face like a portrait of a dying star. “Kind of. It’s worse sometimes. Sometimes I don’t overcome it.” He pauses. “But this time I did. So it’s fine.”

He smiles, that broad and shining smile of his - and it would be beautiful if not for his stained teeth. Doyoung exhales. Reminds himself it’s just Jungwoo. He’s the same as he’s always been. He won’t hurt Doyoung.

“What are you doing here, what happened, did you hurt yourself…” Jungwoo’s eyes travel from the ground to Doyoung’s arm, the laceration as neat as a surgeon. And hurt flashes across his face. “Doyoung, did you do that deliberately?”

“I’m sorry,” Doyoung says, and he means it. “But I needed to see you and I had no idea how else I’d find you. I saw your hawk nearby but I couldn’t find you.”

“I’m not supposed to be found,” Jungwoo says, and takes a step back, ready to run. “I know how dangerous Rookswood is. Lucas told me to stay hidden and I’m supposed to, I need to go back - but you just smelled so good, I couldn’t stop myself, your blood tastes like roses...”

Jungwoo’s face is filled with fear and betrayal. 

“Jungwoo, it’s okay, no one will come here. I just needed to talk to you,” Doyoung soothes.

But he looks unconvinced, gazing from side to side. “I need to go. It’s very dangerous here. I’ve seen what the Mayor looks like, and I don’t trust him at all.”

“But you trust me?”

Jungwoo looks up, his eyes wide. Considering. “I trust you,” he says after a pause. “I do trust you.”

Doyoung nods. “Jungwoo, I’ve been trying to think of how to save Jaehyun.”

And then Jungwoo crumples. “Doyoung, please, don’t involve me in this, I can’t take much more, I can’t handle Lucas trampling through the town, and I can’t handle you looking at me like that. If I could do something I would, but I can’t-”

“Jungwoo,” Doyoung interrupts. “You can. Jungwoo you can.” His eyes are wide. “Jungwoo, I’ve been thinking so much about this, and I’m just not going to let him die, Jungwoo-”

“If I could do something, I would! But I’ve never been good at anything, I’m weak and I know this.” Jungwoo’s eyes glisten with tears. “Jaehyun has written me so many letters and he says it’s fine, he says he doesn’t blame me, he says he’s lived a fulfilling life and he doesn’t mind if he dies. Maybe that was the truth… but now he’s met you, and I know everything has changed.”

Doyoung steps closer. The planks creak beneath him. “Lucas is going to die. Someday he’s going to die. And that’s why he’s so obsessed with Jaehyun. It’s to distract him from the reality that he’s going to leave you alone.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Jungwoo looks like he might cry. “I know, I know, I ruined everything, and I’m going to be alone, and I know they’ll find me, and vampires hold grudges, it could be a hundred years from now and they’ll still see me as the prize of the hunt and they’ll butcher me-”

Doyoung steps forward. His heartbeat races. He tries to memorize everything around him, the ripples in the water, the breeze in the air, the scent of copper on the ground. “Jungwoo, I won’t let anyone hurt you. As long as I live, I hope you realize I won’t let anyone hurt you anymore.”

There’s a softness in Jungwoo’s gaze. “Doyoung…”

“Regardless of what happens next, Jungwoo, I want you to know I won’t let that happen. You’re not the prize of the hunt anymore. You’re Jungwoo, and you like big hats and you like birds, and you won’t be hurt anymore.”

There’s a prolonged pause.

“I trust you,” Jungwoo says, and that feels more binding than any blood oath. “I trust you, Doyoung.”

And then he says it: “But you’re human, you’re going to die too, everyone around me is going to die.”

Doyoung has a choice.

“Jungwoo, turn me.”

The world freezes, and Doyoung understands what it means to be timeless. To have everything around stop, and freeze, while he alone continues forward.

“Doyoung, I can’t turn you, I can’t even drink from you without killing you,” Jungwoo says, blunt. “How could I do something like turn you?”

“Your venom isn’t normal,” Doyoung says, and he runs through everything he’s discovered since he crossed the borders into this world. “It’s something I’ve been theorizing for a while, and it made sense when I spoke to Lucas. You kill because your venom is more potent. It’s why you feed more.”

Jungwoo swallows. “Even if that’s true, Doyoung, I don’t see how that could change anything.”

“It would be a minute. A minute, would be enough. You wouldn’t need to drain - you’d just need to bite.” Doyoung inhales. His heart beats faster, as if it knows it might stop. “Lucas wants a distraction. He wants you to be safe. I can give him both. If you turn me.”

His life is fragile in Jungwoo’s hands.

“Doyoung, I can’t do that, I can’t last for a minute, you don’t understand how weak I am. I keep trying to tell you but I’ve always been this way, I’ve always been so weak-” Tears splash down his face and Doyoung rushes forward, clutching his hands in his own.

“Jungwoo, I don’t think you’re weak at all,” Doyoung says. There’s never been anything weak about Jungwoo, not when Doyoung admires him and his resolve. “You survived your own hunt, you spent years taking care of yourself, and even now, you’re here, when so many others have died. I think you’ve always been so much stronger than you’ve ever realized.”

“You think I’m strong?” Jungwoo’s voice cracks, and Doyoung realizes this must be the first time he ever heard this.

“I know you are.”

Jungwoo looks down at where their hands connect, and raises Doyoung’s palm, and moves his fingers down, till they enclose over his wrist. “Doyoung, you can’t go back from this. You’ll give up your mortality. You’ll give up your soul. A life of blood awaits you. You’ll never be the same.”

“I know.”

“You’ll never be the same,” Jungwoo repeats. “And. And it will hurt. It will hurt a lot.”

And Doyoung replies: “Losing Jaehyun would hurt more.”

Jungwoo opens his mouth - and Doyoung has never seen his fangs so closely before, how sharp they are, unforgivably sharp. “And you want this? You know the risks? You know that if you die, Jaehyun will never forgive me and I won’t either?”

“Then do this as a favour to me,” Doyoung says quietly. “Because if I die, Lucas has very little need to hunt Jaehyun. He would be broken over my death.”

Broken, but he’d be free - and that’s enough for Doyoung.

“You’re very clever,” Jungwoo says, softly. “But if you were a little more, you’d know better than to trust me.”

Doyoung looks up at Jungwoo. He’s found a comfort in crimson eyes. Once, he feared them and all they represented - and now he begs for the colour in his own. He trusts Jungwoo, he does. And he trusts in Jaehyun. He nods, silently.

“This will hurt,” Jungwoo says, bringing Doyoung’s wrist up to his lips. There’s a vacant smile there - and then it’s gone.

The skin tears apart like ribbons underneath his fangs. They cut into the veins, carelessly, and his scream is locked between his teeth. The second the venom hits is the beginning of the end. He can feel the path it travels, clawing its way up and up his blood vessels till he can feel it choke him.

To say it burns, isn’t enough. It incinerates him. It’s nothing like the venom of Jaehyun, painful but euphoric. This venom heightens every synapse in his brain to the moment where it overwhelms itself, feels like they’re about to burst, each nerve ripping apart in agony.

His eyes slam shut and he feels his own knees buckle to the floor, barely able to support himself on Jungwoo’s frame. He does not stop drinking, cradling his arm, his tongue licking up and down the blood that gushes from the pinprick holes.

This has to be enough. This has to be enough, surely it has to be enough, everything inside of him burns, and burns, and burns. He can’t differentiate between his senses, everything molding into one.

“Jungwoo,” Doyoung murmurs. His voice is hoarse, like he’s been screaming. Maybe he has.

Doyoung has built his life out of helping people. It’s the one thing he can do in his own existence. His own relationships suffer under his many shortcomings, and he’s never been a perfect son nor a perfect brother. He realized this very early in his life, and if he couldn’t exist in the correct way, he would do his best for those around him, with the potential to lead fulfilling lives.

He’s given up most of his youth for this, and truthfully, most of the life that follows too. He’s dedicated himself and his future for this. He knows he’ll never have a family of his own, knows that before everything else his duty comes. And yet he minds none of this, none of this is a burden to him.

But then there’s Jaehyun. A singular individual with starving honey gold eyes and a kind smile that hides razor sharp fangs - and for the first time, Doyoung wants to be selfish. He wants his eternity with Jaehyun, he wants to be with him, and he doesn’t care about what he’s sacrificing for it.

And if this, this fire that burns through him now, is the price of selfishness, that’s fine by him.

“Jungwoo,” Doyoung whispers, trying again. He’s trapped in a cage of his own paralysis, limp and vulnerable at Jungwoo’s mercy - but it seems like Jungwoo is already gone, and all that remains is the hunter’s envy, the binge-eater of a hundred tales. “Please, you need to stop.”

Dizziness passes over him like a haze. It’s almost a relief from the pain, and unconsciousness lines the edges of his mind. He feels so light, like there’s nothing left inside of him.

There was always this possibility. He knew that. Jungwoo may end up killing him - but on a numerated list of sacrifice, that was fine. That was something Doyoung could do. And perhaps if this was where he dies, maybe it isn’t so bad. It’s for the good of someone he loves more than anything else, and he’s giving his life to someone who deserved so much better than the cards they were dealt.

He may have died a million ways a million times so far in his life. But doesn’t it feel special if it’s now, in Rookswood, a dark town with dark clouds, but with beauty rippling forth like the motions in the lake now. And it’s a beautiful night, isn’t it?

Doyoung opens his eyes. The sky is piano black.

“Jungwoo,” he says, dreamily, almost like a goodbye, “It’s so bright, and the moon. The moon looks gold as honey.”

And then it stops. Not entirely, of course, no the venom continues its path through his blood, poisoning him from the inside, igniting every cell in his body - but his wrist no longer bleeds, is no longer fed upon, and he feels a warm presence over him.

Jungwoo is as warm as the sun. “Doyoung? Doyoung, are you okay? Doyoung, please, stop bleeding?” A hand across his neck, clumsily searching for a pulse. “Doyoung?”

Doyoung can hear him, but can summon no muscle in his body to move. He can hear his own heartbeat in his ears, thrumming and humming like a drum, but he prefers piano.

He doesn’t know if this is death or not. Perhaps it’s both. He can count each individual breath, and it’s what he does, the only distraction from the agony which flames through him. He realizes that it’s a moonless night.

He wonders where his Jaehyun is. He wonders if he’s looking at the same piano black sky.

 

 

“A human doctor?” Yuta says, inflection higher and higher.

“Yes,” Jaehyun says. He can’t deny what is plainly the truth.

“When I came here to tell you about the unfortunate reality of Ten’s imprisonment, I didn’t expect your reply was to inform me how much you adore your neighbour,” Yuta says, trying very hard not to frown.

The room is so much nicer when it’s filled with the presence of his friend. It seems less empty. Jaehyun likes that. Yuta and all his jewellery look beautiful perched upon his sofa. 

“You can’t be serious, Jaehyun, you’re not like this. You’re not the kind of person who gets caught up in passing infatuations.”

“You’re right,” Jaehyun says, keeping his eyes fixed on the piano keys. There’s a noticeable pause as Yuta so elegantly plucks out the spaces between Jaehyun’s words, as he always does.

“It’s not a passing infatuation, is it?”

It’s the pity that hurts. The way Yuta looks at him and knows that this will not end well.

“Look at me, Jaehyun,” Yuta clicks his fingers, and Jaehyun tries to stop acting like the coward he is. Yuta plays with the golden rings, and the furrow of his brows suggest he is deep in thought.

“He’s going to find out,” Yuta says after a moment. “If he’s as smart as you say he is, he’ll find out. Then what? Will you tell him? Will you tell him everything?”

“He won’t find out,” Jaehyun says decisively, and this much he has confidence in. “He won’t love me, Yuta. I’m not worthy of that. You should see him. He’s so, so intelligent and accomplished, and I’ve seen the way he cares about people. Such selflessness is nothing I’ve encountered before.” His voice takes on a dreamlike quality. “And Yuta, he’s beautiful.”

Even now, he thinks of his raven-haired doctor with his gentle hands. He wonders, as he often does, how it would feel to hold them, interlink his fingers with his own, caress him like he deserves. And then he shakes his head of his own illusions, and looks back up at Yuta, whose stare is kind but concerned.

“Jaehyun, I say this with nothing but love in my heart, but are you not just starved? It’s been so long. Are you not concerned you’re mistaking your own bloodlust for affection, projecting it on this person?”

That’s the thing about Yuta. Even when he’s so blunt it hurts, he means well, his intentions are soaked in love.

“I want to drink his blood,” Jaehyun admits, voice shaking. “I’ll be honest about that. He smells delicious and I know he’d taste even moreso. I would never indulge myself like that, obviously, but I am very much aware of the part of me that desires him in that capacity.”

Yuta nods. “Then, is it not possible that you just want to drain him? He’s virgin blood, too. Enticing. Fresh. The very thought is intoxicating. It’s nothing to be ashamed of Jaehyun. It’s our nature, after all. You’re still as much a vampire as me, regardless of your current situation.”

He hasn’t felt that way in a long, long time, but it’s nice of Yuta to even suggest it, as false as it may be.

Jaehyun shakes his head. “Yuta, I could never drink his blood, ever, and that would be fine with me. It’s not about blood, I know that. I crave more than that. I want his company, I want to hear about his life and his past and his day, I just-”

Jaehyun.” It’s the pity. Yuta sits with his knees pressed to his chest, and his sigh is muffled.

“Yuta, you asked.”

“I didn’t know-” Yuta breaks off. “You have to understand this from my perspective. I didn’t expect in the time you’re imprisoned here you’d fall in love.”

The silence is deafening.

Recognition flashes across Yuta’s face.

“You’re not correcting me,” he states.

“It doesn’t matter,” Jaehyun says, rushing to mask his own honesty. “I can assure you that whatever affection he has for me, if any, is of little consequence and will quickly pass.”

“And if it doesn’t?” Yuta challenges. “And if he reciprocates, and if he loves you too? What then? To what end is this?”

Jaehyun’s face is like storm clouds. “He won’t. He’s got his whole life ahead of him. It’ll never get that far. He deserves someone better. Someone not completely and utterly doomed.” 

Yuta rises off the couch and lets his hand rub over Jaehyun’s shoulder, and to just have a tender touch for the first time in so long soothes the worries that plague his mind. He avoids the left shoulder. Yuta is tactful like that.

“Jaehyun, you know I’m sorry for what’s happened, and I’d do something if I could, but I can’t. You can’t escape fate. We’re all just stuck in the positions we’re in.”

Jaehyun knows this. Jaehyun has learnt and accepted this in thirteen long years - but if there isn’t a sweet-voiced neighbour who makes him wish that he could, by some extraordinary means, change the game. 

 

 

“My Doctor? Are you okay?”

His voice is melodious, as always. His hands are cold on his cheeks but that’s just relieving. He caresses his face like he always does: with absolute reverence. Even if he’s given up his soul, he doesn’t think he minds, not if he gets touched like this.

“Doyoung?”

And even as he burns, even as he knows it’ll hurt more, he opens his eyes, because he just loves to look at Jaehyun, he always has. The edges of his vision are blurred by venom and he can barely make out the shapes and the colours are obscured, but it’s him, it was always him.

“There you are,” Jaehyun says, and his voice is as soft as the first snow. “Oh, my love, you’re too good to me.”

Doyoung’s fingers struggle, unable to move the way they’re supposed to. They’re numb against him. It’s frustrating - and then he feels a hand grip over his own, interlocking their fingers.

“Are you okay?” Jaehyun whispers.

Doyoung's voice is cut up and fractured like it's been placed on a wheel and set to drive across the gravel road. He's bleeding, he knows he's bleeding, he can feel the overwhelming warmth of gushing blood spill over his wrist and down his arm - but he can't see it.

“Are you?” he says, the words garbled - but understandable.

“Yes. Yes, Doyoung, I’m fine. I’ve been fine ever since I met you.” He disconnects their hands, and feels himself be lifted into his hold.

“Jaehyun, I’m…” It’s Jungwoo. Nervous.

“Thank you for taking care of him,” Jaehyun says. He’s saying something else now, something about the sky, something about the sun, but a thought passes through Doyoung’s dizzied mind and he tries to speak.

“How did you know where I was?”

Not even venom can distort the image of Jaehyun gazing down at him like he’s the deity of a religion of his own formation. “I told you, Doyoung. I feel you in my blood. I know wherever you are.”       

Doyoung’s eyes flutter closed, unable to fight the way the fire burning inside takes him under, and he lets the world disappear into white noise - with the exception of the sound he treasures most.

“Let’s go home.”

Piano is what he hears first. He doesn’t know music, doesn’t know chords or keys, but he knows Jaehyun, he knows the patterns he favours when he plays. And this is him. This is a composition of his own creation.

It’s slow, but with many notes. Doyoung is grateful for the sound. It’s a distraction. He lets himself float along with each and every inflection. He remembers the song Jaehyun played for him first, that beautiful one, the one about the star-crossed lovers calling out for each other, separated by heaven and Earth.

Doyoung doesn’t know if he’s died or not, and he’s aware how silly that sounds. But to him, having spent untold hours trapped with his eyes shut in his own burning body, it’s impossible to tell, his most recent memories are too painful to sift through, all tinged by venom. He’s studied cases of patients who hallucinate the voices of their loved ones, who claim in those seconds before their eternal rest, they saw a light. If Doyoung ever saw one, he’d think it would be golden.

When Doyoung opens his eyes, he doesn’t see any light. Rather, he’s in darkness. He doesn’t know where he is. His skin is so heavy, his eyes hurt, and his throat, his throat feels like he swallowed glass - but the fire’s stopped.

And Doyoung exhales.

He sits up, and gazes around - and his eyes lock with Lucas, sitting so comfortably, he must have been there for so long.

“You’re awake,” Lucas says. His voice is soft.

“Am I dead?” Doyoung says, before he can stop himself.

“Depends on your definition,” Lucas snorts, and steps off the chair, and moves closer to Doyoung, studying him carefully as if he’s a patient to be examined. “You’re not dead yet. Close, though. You can feel it, can’t you?”

He can. It’s his heartbeat that’s the tell. It’s slow, a steady thump. Just a——.

“There’s a window of time,” Lucas says, eyes fluttering closed for a moment, “in the transformation. Where you’re not a vampire but you’re not human either. Where you’re conscious enough to know what’s happening. Conscious enough to stop it.”

He turns away, facing the window. “I know from Jungwoo. It was the first time he spoke to me since I found him there. He told me something. Told me that if I wanted to, if I had to, I could kill him then. He wouldn’t be a vampire, he’d have his soul - and I’m a hunter. I know how to dispatch vampires. It’s the only thing I’m good at.”

“You didn’t kill him,” Doyoung says simply.

“Of course not. How could I? It’s him.” Lucas sounds hollow. “I’m telling you this if you have any second thoughts. I doubt you do, though.”

“I don’t.” Doyoung doesn’t hesitate.

“Funnily enough, neither did Jungwoo,” Lucas sighs. “Doyoung, I don’t know what to do. I had a very, very simple existence and you just made everything complicated.”

It hurts to speak with the way his throat aches. “Where’s Jaehyun?”

“He’s downstairs playing piano. I mean who else would?” Lucas says. “He’s fine, if that’s what you’re concerned about. Whatever fool’s errand you sent me on, I never found him, and by the time I arrived back, Jungwoo told me a very interesting story. And I needed to speak to you alone, before I do anything else. Jaehyun agreed to my terms. There was no alternative.”

He looks suitably angry at being lied to. Doyoung doesn’t really feel remorseful, having sent Lucas in the complete opposite direction.

“What are you going to do to me?” Doyoung sounds scared. He doesn’t think he is. He doesn’t have much to lose anymore.

“I don’t know,” Lucas says, and he looks so much less like the hunter of legend, and more and more human, like those patients who can’t carry themselves through the door because the weight of the world rests on unsteady shoulders. “Doyoung, what am I supposed to do? Jungwoo is your maker, I can’t hurt you and I don’t want to and I know you won’t want to live without Jaehyun, but-”

Lucas gazes up at Doyoung. “I swore an oath,” he says.

Doyoung stands up. His legs are unsteady, but he walks to where Lucas is, and he holds his hand out, palm facing up. Lucas’s stare is cutting. “The epidermis of the hand is the fastest healing of the entire body. It’s incredible in that aspect. It leaves very little scarring. Or none.” He runs his finger down the lines of Lucas’s hand. “Even the one you cut just two weeks ago, is already gone. I don’t see any scars. I’ve never seen any scars.”

Lucas looks down at his own hand as if it’s new.

“And you know vampires heal, they heal flawlessly and perfectly,” Doyoung says and he reaches for that cold knife that he knows is in his jacket. It already starts to burn him, faintly, like touching a stove that’s warming up.

“That’s my knife,” Lucas murmurs, eyes lighting up with recognition.

“Jaehyun has no traces of this oath. Neither do you. His blood has been gone thirteen years ago, and so has yours. Your body has rebuilt itself from tissue to bone, cycled through an entirely new self. You are not the same person, and neither is he.” Doyoung winces, as he feels the skin of his palm start to blister. “Take your knife back, and write this debt off like it never happened.”

“It isn’t that simple, Doyoung,” Lucas says, but snatches his knife back. “It’s about Jungwoo-”

“And know that when you’re gone, I’ll be here. And I’ll look after Jungwoo, no matter what. You know I care about him, and I wouldn’t let anyone hurt him.” Doyoung’s heartbeat struggles. It’s slower now. It’s just a—— every few moments. The pauses are discernable.

Lucas’s eyes fill with tears.

“If you want a blood oath so badly, make one with me, then. I’m prepared to swear on my life that I’ll be there for Jungwoo when you can’t.”

“No,” Lucas says, and abruptly throws the dagger on the floor. It sounds against the wardrobe as it hits, silver glinting. “No, no more blood.”

He surges forward and grabs Doyoung by his bloodstained shirt, eyes wild. “I want you to promise me with every last remaining vestige of humanity you have left in you. Make me a promise.”

“I can do that,” Doyoung inhales.

“Do you promise?” Lucas insists, teardrops wet against his cheek. “Do you promise you’ll take care of him when I can’t? Do you promise you won’t let them hurt him?”

“I promise.” His words feel more binding than blood.

Lucas sustains his stare with him, even as tears continue to pour down his face. “I trust you, Doyoung. I trust you. Don’t- Don’t let anyone hurt him. Doyoung, I’m trusting you.”

Doyoung sees the tension begin to relieve itself from Lucas’s body, the weight off his shoulders begin to lift, and you can’t save everyone, but he might have just saved Lucas too. That’s just what a doctor is supposed to do. Every patient deserves the chance at recovery.

Doyoung pauses. “Lucas? I have a name. Of the person who set the first bounty on Jungwoo’s head all those years ago. Do you want it?”

 

 

“Mayor Seo, I’ve heard some very interesting things about you.”

Johnny’s fork clatters onto the plate, and he stares up, eyes as dark as the rooks. “I didn’t say you could come inside.”

“I don’t need an invitation,” Lucas says smoothly. Kun barely had time to open the door before Lucas had stormed inside, leather coat billowing behind him. Doyoung had trailed afterwards, head down, all but ignoring everything around him.

“What is the meaning of this? You can’t just barge into my house.” Johnny’s voice is high.

“How much did you pay me to take care of Jaehyun?” Lucas demands. “I don’t think it was enough. I think you’re holding back. It certainly wasn’t enough if I compare it to the bounty you set on Jungwoo’s head.”

Johnny grows pale. He pushes his plate away. The web of Rookswood threatens to eat himself. “Now, Lucas, I don’t know-”

“Don’t lie to me, please. I really don’t like lying.” Lucas’s teeth are bared. And there are fangs.

“Everyone knew Jungwoo was a threat-” Johnny attempts.

“But that bounty was what caught everyone’s attention, wasn’t it?” Lucas says, and his eyes have taken on a luminescent quality. “Most people had no idea who Jungwoo was, but suddenly now they had a name, they had a description, they knew everything.”

“That’s hard to say, really, I mean there were numerous factors in play at the time,” Johnny begins. “When you consider the political climate at the time, it’s hardly-”

Lucas jumps onto the dining table, the weight of his boots thundering down on the wood, staining the pristine tablecloth. “Don’t fucking lie to me. I was there.” His height at this level is terrifying and Johnny is fastened in his chair, looking as if he might disintegrate into atoms on the spot.

“I was there, I was always there.” Lucas walks slowly, ignoring the porcelain plates that crack underneath him. “Jungwoo was so young. He couldn’t do anything about his hunger. He was defenseless and scared, and what he needed was help. And you brought money into it.”

“I just wanted what was best for everyone-”

“Then you would have offered to help him, not pay the highest bidder to mount his head on your fucking mantelpiece.”

The air is thick, and Doyoung steps closer to the table, intervening. Doyoung notices Lucas’s hand reaching for the deerhorn knives that line his belt, and calls out: “Lucas, don’t.”

Lucas doesn’t listen to him - but Johnny does, shifting his glare to Doyoung. “Doyoung, what happened to you? Why are you with him? Why are you covered in blood, what’s wrong with your eyes-”

“That’s not of a consequence to you, Mayor Seo,” Lucas snarls. “If I were you, I would much rather focus on yourself right now. You’ve put the love of my life in mortal danger, you are the reason any of this began, you are what tore down my eternity.”

He approaches the edge of the table and kneels down, effortlessly tugging out one of his knives and presses it to Johnny’s throat in a single swift movement. Johnny gulps, nails clenching the chair so hard that wood flakes off. “Are you intending to kill me in my own home?”

“Believe me, I want to,” Lucas growls. “The temptation is immense.”

“The rumours of your bloodthirsty nature have proven to be true,” Johnny says. It could be considered brave, if not for the way he shakes under the blade.

“I wouldn’t say such impolite words right now,” Lucas says through gritted teeth. “I suggest you leave, Mayor Seo. Or there will be consequences.”

“I don’t kill humans.” Lucas pulls the knife down, back into his belt. “But there are creatures that do, and they are right here.”  

Johnny turns to Doyoung, eyes blown with fear, desperation vivid. “Doyoung, you can’t let this happen. Doyoung, you won’t let him give me over to the vampires, would you?”

And Doyoung, with his scarlet eyes, and heart that struggles to beat, says: “I wouldn’t know. There’s no vampires in Rookswood, are there?”

 

 

“Doctor?”

Kun’s voice is muted, could easily be lost if there was not anything other than cold silence in the room ever since both Lucas and Johnny left. When Doyoung doesn’t respond, he tries again. “Doctor?”

Doyoung runs a hand through his hair and turns around, exhaling. His lungs don’t feel like they need the air. “Hello Kun.”

“Doctor,” Kun repeats, and walks closer. Kun, who’s so terrified of vampires, who believes in tales of virgin blood in dark alleys, takes a step forward. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Kun.” Doyoung wonders what he can say to ease Kun’s mind. He runs through a million possibilities in his mind, rapidly trying to think of something, anything but there’s just vacant sentiment. There’s nothing that can be said. This is who he is now. “Kun, I’m sorry.”

He doesn’t know what he apologizes for. Possibly everything.

“Doctor, your eyes…”

Doyoung’s fingers twitch. “It’s okay. I know.”

“You look so hurt,” Kun continues. “Do you need me to get your bandages?”

Even now, he dotes on Doyoung. “No, no, Kun, it’s fine. This is who I am now. This is… this is me. I understand if you would prefer if I leave.”

Kun is quiet. He lets his gaze run up and down, staring at Doyoung intensely, expression unfathomable. “I know who you are, Doctor,” Kun says. “That doesn’t change.”

And even though his hands are shaking, he leans over and pinches Doyoung’s cheek. “You’ve gotten so skinny. If you keep this up, I’ll never get you married.”

 

 

He stands at Jaehyun’s door, and he’s never been superstitious, but the golden rook seems to shine, even in a moonless night - and that seems like a good omen. His hand rests on his wrist. Silence. Silence——. Silence. Silence——.

Perhaps twenty beats a minute. Perhaps less. His throat burns. He wonders if this is how it will always feel.

He’s been standing at Jaehyun’s door for so long, unable to enter. He tries, but there’s an impassable barrier that stops him. It’s almost amusing. He could knock, of course, but-

Doyoung is scared. Doyoung is scared that Jaehyun will look at him and recoil in disgust, would stare at that marked wrist of his and tell him to leave and never come back. That perhaps, Jaehyun had only loved him for his blood, that there’d be nothing left the second his heart stops. And if that’s so, his poor heart has only minutes left as the venom continues its path of poison.

The door opens.

“You can come in, Doyoung. You can always come in. This house has always been as much as yours as it is mine,” Jaehyun says. His eyes sparkle, and Doyoung exhales.

Jaehyun fusses over him at first, wiping the blood, sweat and dirt off his brow with a cloth, his touch gentle. He peels off those layers of clothing that cling to his skin, replaces it with a shirt of his own. He treats him like he’s hurt, and maybe he is. He feels like he’s hurting.

Every nerve in his body prickles, and his mouth goes dry. He can hear it so clearly. Silence. Silence. Silence——. Silence. Silence. Silence——.

“Jaehyun,” Doyoung whispers, unable to take anymore. “I’m scared.”

In the span of a breath, Jaehyun rushes towards him, kneeling in front of him as if in prayer, taking his hands in his. “There’s not much left, is there? I could hear your heartbeat.”

Doyoung shakes his head. “Jaehyun, I’m so scared.” Fangs are heavy in his mouth. It’s atavistic, this fear inside of him, the knowledge that he’s watching himself die is a burden difficult to bear. 

“I’m here,” Jaehyun says, and he keeps repeating it, until it drowns out the noise in Doyoung’s head. “Doyoung, my beautiful, beautiful Doctor, you’ve saved me. I won’t leave you.”

Their foreheads press together, and Doyoung inhales the air that passes from Jaehyun’s breath, from lungs that don’t need to breathe. Their fingers are entwined, and he stares down at them.

Silence——.

“Will you miss it?” Doyoung says. His voice is as hollow as the wind——. “Will you miss…”

“Did you hear me play earlier?” Jaehyun asks.

“It was the first thing I heard when I woke.”

Jaehyun’s so close that Doyoung can’t make out the smile - but he knows it exists. “It’s you. That song, it’s the beat of your heart as it started to fade. I could hear it so clearly. Doyoung, I don’t need anything else. All I’ve ever needed was you.”

Silence——.

The end comes sooner rather than later. There’s no celebration, there’s no burst of confetti, there’s no candles and there’s no fireworks. It’s just a period of extended silence, a final——, that final heartbeat that resounds out.

And then there’s nothing.

Nothing, but Jaehyun, gazing at him. Death has never seemed quite so beautiful.

 

 

The rooks spin and circle the air, sunset bathing the city in an ethereal orange glow, like the hearth of a fireplace. It’s nicer in summer. Each individual rook strikes out to him. He can determine the precise manner in which their wings curve and dip, the way they settle in their nests.  

“I’ll never get tired of this,” Jaehyun exhales. The sun is already down and the fading rays catch in his tawny hair. He sparkles. Doyoung could never properly appreciate those subtle nuances to his face, the angle at which his jaw juts out, the slant of his brows.

He looks forward to an eternity of discovering them.

“What do you feel?” Jaehyun asks, carefully. 

“Everything,” Doyoung answers, and almost laughs at himself, because it’s just true. “I feel everything, Jaehyun, it’s indescribable.”

Doyoung stares at Jaehyun, crimson eyes interlocking with crimson. He brings his fingers to his lips and holds them there, and when he speaks, he speaks against them. “I can feel your unsteady breath as air passes down from your trachea into your bronchial tubes. I can hear the flow of blood that passes through every artery and every vein in your body.” Doyoung pauses. “Oh Jaehyun, you’re so alive.”

Jaehyun looks at him like a rose in full bloom.

“Jaehyun, is this what it’s like?” Doyoung murmurs. Up to this point he’s lived life trapped behind a veil, where he could only make out the obscured figures of what awaited him outside but now he’s there, he’s free, and oh the breeze, the feel of clean air on his skin, the sight of the world around him. “Everything is more.”

Indulgence has taken a liking to Doyoung. He’s spent hours and hours tangled up in Jaehyun, drinking in his sighs and his moans, and it was only at his pertinent encouragement they left the Rose Manor to begin with. After all, this was his spot - and they had time, they had so much time.

“I thought you’d change, you know. I think I did when I…” Jaehyun breaks off, unsure of himself.

“Have I not changed?” Doyoung asks, carefully wrapping his hand around Jaehyun’s. It fits. “And here I thought the eye colour was evident.”

“Don’t tease,” Jaehyun replies and his laugh is like bells. “I thought you’d be quieter, I thought you’d be reserved but no, you’re just as you were, you’re just… happier.”

“Of course I’m happier, Jaehyun, I get to have forever with you.”

His honesty is as raw as the sunset.

“You won’t stop touching me,” Jaehyun says, a hint of amusement in his voice.

“You feel incredible.” The words are simple but undeniable. Doyoung cannot describe it in any other manner. Jaehyun’s skin is electric, each individual hair follicle is a sensation on Doyoung’s skin that ignites his own. It’s a wonder they ever left the house when even touching him sends sparks running through his skin.

“You have to stop flattering me like this, my dear Doctor, I’ll develop an ego,” Jaehyun says, even as he steals a kiss. With no need for air between them, their kisses have become long and languid, entire hours passing by with just the swipes of their tongues and the heat between them. Doyoung tilts Jaehyun’s head back, demanding deeper and Jaehyun lets out the sweetest sound, even as they part.

“You’re so strong, now,” Jaehyun murmurs against his lips. “You could take me. You could have me on my back and begging for it.”

“Perhaps that’s exactly my plans for the evening,” Doyoung’s eyes twinkle as he slides his hand down, cupping the curve of Jaehyun’s ass.

“Raising my expectations already?”

“Only because I know I’ll meet them,” Doyoung responds, pressing a kiss against the side of his throat. “We should go home quickly then, shouldn’t we?”

Jaehyun’s smile is all that matters to him. He takes his hand, and leads him forth, and they’re gone in a breath, in a moment, and all that remains is the aroma of rose petals in the air.

 

 

As far as towns go, Rookswood is an anomaly. Nestled in the outskirts of the countryside, there’s a singular train line that connects it to the city - besides that, it’s something of an outcast among similar towns. Very few travellers ever visit and it appears the citizens of Rookswood favour it like that. Notoriously close knit, the community favours the bonds it already has and only the most persistent of outsiders can ever consider Rookswood to become their home. Most noticeable, of course, are the birds the town is named after, the rooks, and of that the town has thousands. They spill across the sky like ink across a page, and it’s a most magnificent sight to behold.

Rooks, like many other blackbirds, are subject to a number of superstitions. Originating from the town itself, there does appear to be a strange phenomena where the birds will simply drop dead from the sky. Many experts have attempted to discover the cause for this, but it is as of present, unknown. This mass death has occurred throughout history, and even is reported today. The reason for their demise are not clear to us one day. The citizens of Rookswood do have an explanation for this, an absolutely fanciful superstition, that it is supposedly due to the presence of vampires in the area. It’s an explanation but certainly untrue. After all, there are no vampires in Rookswood.