Actions

Work Header

The Deadbeats Club

Chapter Text

Outline

*This fic heavily focuses on character study, complex relationships, and how their actions, directly or indirectly, impact each other.

**Sub-Plot Pairings will continue to have chapters/portions of chapters dedicated to them throughout this work.

Headway (Chapters 1-6)

  1. Summary: Changbin is neighbors with a hunter who has a penchant for harassing him.
  2. Themes: Slow Burn, Enemies to Friends to Lovers, Mutual Pinning, Overcoming Prejudice
  3. Warnings: Mildly Graphic Violence
  4. Pairings: Chris/Changbin

Neurosis (Chapters 7-?)

  1. Summary: Jisung learns what it really means to love - all by breaking hearts, having his heart broken, and having it repaired by a complete stranger.
  2. Themes: Unrequited Love, Forgiveness, Found Family, Love Triangle, Learning to Love, Pinning
  3. Warnings: Mentions of PTSD, Graphic Violence, Mentions of Sexual Situations
  4. Pairings: Jisung/Hyunjin, Jisung/Seungmin, Jisung/Felix
  5. Sub-Plot Pairings: Chris/Changbin/Woojin

Antithesis (Chapters ?-?)

  1. Summary: Hyunjin and Seungmin - the heartbroken and the heart-breaker - find love in the least likely of places.
  2. Themes: Enemies to Friends to Lovers, Found Family, Sacrifice
  3. Pairings: Seungmin/Jeongin, Hyunjin/Minho
  4. Sub-Plot Pairings: Chris/Changbin/Woojin, Jisung/Felix
  5. Notable Platonic Relationships: Jisung & Everyone, Jeongin & Minho

 ESTIMATED WORD COUNT: 200,000

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 1 - Prologue

 

“How old was I when you found me?” The 8-year-old boy asked.

Marcella, the Housemother, continued chopping the onions without responding. Changbin waited a moment before repeating himself.

“How old was-”

“I heard you the first time, dear.” She interrupted, grey eyes peering over her shoulder at the sitting boy. “Now get over here and help me dice the vegetables for the stew.”

“But what about my question?” Changbin asked, approaching the counter.

Marcella sighed, “For each vegetable you chop–” she handed him a red bell pepper, “–I will answer a question of yours.” She made sure the vegetable was in his hand before grabbing him a suitable knife, “Deal?”

Changbin nodded, “So, how old was I when-”

“Binnie,” she sighed, steering his shoulders towards the counter with her old, aged hands. The Housemother set the cutting board before him, “Dice.”

“Yes, Ms. Codreanu.”

Overeager, he chopped the vegetable speedily, nearly nicking himself more than a few times, much to Marcella’s despair. She scolded him again, a reprimand Changbin shrugged off as he slid the chopped red bell pepper across the table top for her to toss into the stock.

Steam filled the room as the stock simmered, tinting the air with fresh notes of citrus and summer vegetables. Marcella handed him an half-onion, next

“You weren’t even two years old when I found you,” she tossed her graying braid over her shoulder, “You were left on the doorstep, your name on a note.”

“Just my name?”

Marcella nodded, taking the coarsely chopped onion. Changbin’s eyes were wide and attentive as usual, the tone of his voice filled with simple the curiosity of childhood. The young boy wouldn’t reflect on the information he was learning now until much, much later.

“If my parents only wrote my name, then how do you know when my birthday is?”

Marcella glanced down at him, cutting a carrot into rounds, “We don’t.”

“Oh.”

“But,” she continued, “We do.”

Changbin frowned, “How can you know if you don’t know?

“It’s a secret,” Marcella whispered, holding a carrot to her lips, “I may not know when you were born, but what I do know is that it doesn’t matter. You came to us, face bright as the day, and warmed up this home like a ray of sun, golden and sweet; a beautiful summer child, given up in the dead of winter. So trust me: When I say I know,” she extended a carrot round towards Changbin’s small face, “I know.”

She ruffled the top of his head as he nibbled on the treat, taking in her words.

“A summer child…” he muttered, thoughtful. “But I prefer autumn!”

“What you are and what you love are not always the same things, Changbin. Now go fetch the others - it's nearly time for supper.”

 


 

Four years later, when Changbin was twelve, he knelt by the water in the canal, letting the water run over his fingertips, swirling and bubbling after the intrusion. He was in the park, just across the street from Eumann Orphanage - his home.

The young boy liked to come here when the Orphanage got too loud, Marcella conducting interview after interview with potential adoptive parents. He never stayed around, having learned long ago that no one was interested in adopting him.

So instead of waiting around for the inevitable rejection, he left the conversation entirely, spending his time in the park, alone, save for the company of the water, and, of course, Penny.

Penny was a crow. He had found her caught in a fishing line in the canal. He cut her out and helped her heal by setting up a nest for her on the windowsill of his shared bedroom, feeding her scraps from dinner that he had snuck into his hoodie pocket.

When he first realized he didn’t just have a talent for communicating with animals but actually shifting into being an animal, she had taught him how to fly. By all definitions, Changbin considered the crow his best friend, although he would never tell this to the other children.

Only Marcella knew his secret. She forbade him from using his powers, telling him it would only lead to trouble - that there were people out there who would kill him for being what he was; hunted.

He listened, trusting and fearing the Housemother's word, save for a few sneaky flights when the weather was nice.

A loud squawk rang through the air coupled with the ruffle of feathers. Changbin turned. Penny perched on the top of the park bench, staring at him with her black, beady eyes.

“Is your wing feeling better?” Changbin asked. Penny tilted her head and clicked.

So it was.

She fluttered over to him, landing on the grass just to the left of where he was kneeling. She clicked again, rocking from foot to foot in a little dance. Changbin laughed, amused. “Talkative today, huh?”

Penny grumbled, a low, strange noise, and wobbled over to him, fluffing her feathers against his knee. He smiled fondly, reaching down to scratch the top of her head with his index feather as the bird preened.

“So that’s why you smell so weird. You hang out with birds.” A voice said behind him, only twenty feet away. Changbin snapped around to face them as Penny flew off, perching on her favorite tree as she eyed the individual suspiciously.

“Stir-rang-er.” She garbled.

“It’s not a stranger,” Changbin clarified, “It’s Kevin.”

Kevin, as in Kevin Moon, the new kid who was one-year-older than the twelve-year-old with cheeks puffier than a loofa. Changbin hadn’t decided if he liked him yet, but scaring away Penny and telling him he smelled was not a good start.

The older boy tilted his nose into the air, sniffing. “Wait, no. That’s just the smell of that bird. You smell different from it.”

“Penny isn’t an “it.”” Changbin corrected, “She is a crow.”

Kevin raised his eyebrows, “Oh, sorry. My mistake.”

“Why are you smelling me?” The younger asked, staying put as Kevin approached his sitting place by the water. The elder sniffed again when he was closer. Changbin flinched away. “Dude, stop.”

“I can’t help it,” he said after a moment of thought, “It’s kinda a part of the whole werewolf thing.”

Changbin remained silent, staring at Kevin as if he had grown another head. Kevin gave him another whiff.

“I smelled it in the Orphanage a few months ago when I first arrived, but didn’t know it was you until I got closer. Still, all the scents from the city muddled it all up, so I couldn’t figure it out,” He sat down next to the younger, looking out over the water. “The park is better though. I see why you like it. Everything feels clear.”

“You don’t know anything about me,” Changbin stated.

“I do,” Kevin argued, “I know you’re an orphan, that you talk to birds, and that you somehow smell like a bird, a dog, and a cat - all at once.”

“How do you- how can you tell?”

Kevin tapped his nose and smiled, “I wasn’t kidding when I said I was a werewolf. I saw you leave and decided to follow to figure it out once and for all.”

“You’re a very curious person,” Changbin noted.

“Usually people go with annoying, so I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Do you know if anyone else knows…?” The shapeshifter asked, eyes wide. Changbin wasn’t aware his secret would be this hard to keep.

“No, and I won’t go around telling anyone about it either.” The elder reassured, “People like us need to stick together, after all.”

Changbin’s tension eased after hearing that, settling back down on the grass. Penny eventually returned to his side, although she was still giving the other boy the stink-eye. Kevin starred as the bird flitted up to Changbin’s shoulder, claws grasping his shirt in a way that looked uncomfortable.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” He asked, pointing to her feet.

Changbin glanced down, tucking his chin to see. Penny clicked in annoyance as she extended her wings to keep her balance, adjusting her footing. “You get used to it,” the young demon dismissed, petting the crow’s face in apology.

“They like being petted?!” Kevin exclaimed, positively delighted. He extended his hand towards her, “... can I?”

Penny glared at his hand and Changbin frowned, “Only if you’re in the mood to lose a segment of your finger.”

Kevin withdrew his hand immediately, curing his fingers up into his palm at the threat of being dismembered by a bitter bird. Changbin, upon seeing this,  cracked a smile for the first time since the werewolf had shown up.

“She is slow to warm up to people,” Changbin said, glancing at Kevin before looking back to the rippling water, “I’m the same. I think that’s why we get along so well.”

“I’ll have to be on my best behavior, then.” Kevin joked, “I wasn’t joking when I said people like us need to stick together. I want to be your friend, Changbin.”

Changbin looked at Kevin, their eyes meeting. The younger had never been good at judging others intentions, but the elder’s expression conveyed nothing but sincerity. He felt himself relax, the tension in his spine melting into the earth below.

“I’d like that,” he said. The sun was starting to set. “We should probably get back to the Orphanage.”

As they walked back, Penny flew above them, watching over the two of them like a hawk - pun intended. When they crossed the street, she flew to her perch on Changbin’s window, cozying up in the old t-shirt had had laid down for her, pinned in place by shutting the window on it’s corners. Kevin smiled, watching the bird from their place on the ground.

“I like Penny,” he mused, barely audible.

Changbin chuckled, “Good. If you want to be my friend, liking Penny is a requirement.”

“Glad to know I pass that test at least, then.”

They entered the Orphanage together, feet quiet as they tried to avoid the Headmother's wrath for coming back after curfew. They had forgotten how late sunset was in the summer, the grandfather clock in the foyer proudly displaying 8:07 pm upon their arrival.

Alas, nothing could escape Marcella’s impeccable hearing, even at the ripe old age of 75. She stood in the door of the dining hall, her shoe tapping in anger against the chestnut floor.

“And where do you think you’re going, boys?”

Kevin and Changbin gulped.

“Tell me, what time is your curfew?”

“8:00, Ms. Codreanu.” They spoke in sync. Despite Kevin having only been a member of Eumann Orphanage for a month, he was already well-disciplined in his manners.

“And what time is it now?”

“8:07, Ms. Codreanu.”

“So tell me,” she stepped into the foyer, “Why you are trying to sneak upstairs when you know that arriving after curfew means punishment?”

The two boys put their heads down, neither of them responding. Marcella gave a deep sigh. “Changbin, Kevin, you’ll be cleaning the library tomorrow.”

The two boys groaned, wincing.

“The whole library,” she clarified. “Now go to your rooms and go to sleep. I don’t want to hear a peep out of you until breakfast, you hear me?”

“Yes ma'am,” they ducked their heads and rushed up the staircase, ducking into their respective rooms. Kevin waved at him, mouthing something that Changbin couldn’t make out. Changbin opted to smile in response, lips barely upturning before he disappeared behind his door.

The next day, they cleaned the library together, dusting every nook and cranny (as per Mrs. Codreanu’s wishes) and exchanging facts about themselves. Changbin smiled more times during those 2 hours than he had in the last three months, and from that day on, the werewolf and shapeshifter were inseparable.

 

A year passed before Kevin brought up Changbin’s special abilities again. It was a topic they never really talked about, instead ignoring their heritage in favor of talking about things that weren’t terrifying, like music or school.

Kevin, after six months of friendship, told him how he was orphaned, his parents killed while travelling overseas in the UK in a hit-and-run. It was why he had a overwhelming fear of cars, and why, when he had been put into the system, he had requested to be in a city. Traveling by foot or metro was the prefered method of transportation here, and with so many people, hit-and-runs were unlikely. He felt safe surrounded by the bustle of Bethlehem’s life.

Changbin’s story was much less vivid. He was abandoned, and that was that. There was nothing to talk about - nothing at all, not until Kevin’s curiosity, once again, got the better of him.

“So, as far as I know, being a werewolf is hereditary.” Kevin stated. They were in the park again, as they usually were on their days off. Changbin hummed in acknowledgement as he continued to draw in his notebook.

“And well, that's a form of shapeshifting, so, like… maybe your condition is hereditary too?”

The 13-year-old set down his sketchbook, “What does it matter, anyway?”

“I mean, it’s not like it is super important, but haven’t you ever been curious about it? Or wanted to just know?”

Changbin thought back to when he was eight, when he had asked Marcella about the day she had found him. He nodded, but his lips curled into a frown, “Yes, but…”

“But what?”

“I just - I don’t know. A part of me wants to know, but the other part of me is scared of what the answer might be.” He closed his notebook as Kevin pushed himself off the grass, joining the younger on the park bench.

“But you do want to know.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, “I guess I do.”

Kevin picked at his fingernails, “I think I know someone who can help. Downtown, in Jeweler's Row. They call her the Seer of Jeweler’s Row. There is only one catch.”

“And that is?”

“She only appears at night,” Kevin said, “We’d have to sneak out.”

“Ms. Cordeanu will kill us!”

“Solution?” Kevin asked rhetorically, “We don’t get caught.”

“And how would we just not get caught? Do you have a plan?” Changbin asked. The older boy chuckled.

“Does improv count?”

“No, it doesn’t,” Changbin stood, shoving his notebook in his satchel. “I’m going home before we are late. Again.”

He stalked off, his pace fast. Kevin jogged to catch up, running backwards as he attempted to persuade his friend who insisted on ignoring him.

“You said you wanted to know,” Kevin contested, “It took you, what? Four years to figure out you could shift? What if there is more to this? What if you aren’t just a shapeshifter, what if there are more things latent, waiting to be discovered? What if you can find other people like you?”

Changbin slowed his pace, groaning, “Yeah, but what if I don’t like what I find out? What if- what if you don’t like what I find out?”

“Trust me, nothing can make you worse than you already are - hey!” Changbin hit Kevin with his bag for his smartass remark, stopping. “I mean it! Well, I don’t mean that , but - what I meant to say was that I couldn’t care less about your heritage or blood or - whatever. You’d still be yourself, regardless. I just don’t want you to be afraid of what you are. I think you deserve to know your roots.”

“And this… lady of gems, or whatever her name was, can help me find that?”

“The Seer of Jeweler’s Row,” Kevin corrected, “And yeah… I think she can help a lot.”

“How did you find out about her anyway?”

“... Word of mouth?”

“Liar,” Changbin accused, “You don’t talk to anyone but me about this kind of stuff.”

“Yeah, well, neither do you,” Kevin retorted.

“That’s because I don’t know if someone is supernatural unless they tell me! I’m not a bloodhound like you. I won’t agree to go unless you tell me exactly how you found out about her.” Changbin articulated, “Don’t bother lying.”

“Human lie detector…” he grumbled. “I found an old book in the Orphanage’s library - in the storage closet in the back.”

“And?”

“It was a diary, but it didn’t say who’s.”

“How far back is it dated?”

“I’m not sure when the earliest date was, but the one that mentioned the Seer was 1978. They described her as “in her late twenties.”” The werewolf answered, situating himself next to Changbin. The began walking again.

“It’s 2012 now, so that would make her… around 60 to 63 now. She could still be alive.”

Kevin nodded, “And with age comes wisdom, so if anybody can figure out what is in your system, it’s her.”

Changbin thought about it for a moment, “Alright, then. I’m in.”

The older boy grinned from ear to ear, “Really? I mean, awesome, I didn’t think you’d agree.” He sighed, “Now we really have to come up with a plan, though.”

“Yeah,” Changbin laughed, “Puppy eyes aren’t going to work out this time, dog boy.”

 

The shapeshifter felt excitement thrum through his body as he laid in bed, fingers twitching with barely contained nerves at the thought that he was about to sneak out. With Kevin. At night.

Marcella was so going to have their hides for this.

The plan was this: They would wait for the grandfather clock to strike 10:00 pm. Leave on the last ring. Changbin was going to sneak out the window and shift into a crow, and once he was on the ground, into a dog. Kevin was going to do his best to slink downstairs and out the side door before shifting into his dog form in the alley.

From there, they would meet in the park by the canal and then follow the canal to the downtown district of the city. They would hide in the alley by the shop and switch back to their human forms, ready to beg the Seer to let them in.

They hadn’t exactly thought about how they’d get back in , but that was a problem for later. For now, they only had one goal: get to Armilla’s Oddities.

Changbin held his breath as the clock struck ten, counting down the bells in his head before crawling out of bed, light on his toes as he pulled on a pair of jeans and a black hoodie.

It was summer, and in summer it was normal to leave the windows open to let in the cool night breeze, so he made sure to crack it before bed. His roommate grumbled when he did and complained that it let in too much humidity, but he let him do it anyway, too tired to contest after hours of pre-algebra homework.

When he approached the window, Penny was there, waiting. He waved to her and held a finger to his lips, telling her not to click. He began to morph into a crow with a swirl of black smoke, the bedroom seemingly growing around his as his vision briefly clouded over. When he came back to, he was a foot-tall crow sitting on the floor. Sweet.

Penny teetered forward, looking over the edge of the window sill at him and tilted her head. Changbin fluttered up in response, cringing internally at the noise his wings made. He turned, checking his roommate to see if he had woken up. He hadn’t. Changbin was in the clear.

He dropped off the edge of the window, opening his wings and catching the air underneath, gliding down to the bottom of the alley. As he landed, he shifted again, black smoke wrapping around his figure until it revealed his next facade - an all-black dog, medium-sized but large enough to pack a punch if he needed to. He took a moment to adjust to his new body, shaking his coat and stretching, before taking off down the alley at a trot.

He looked both ways before running across the street towards the park, knowing that this would all be over the moment someone tried to call the police on “some stray mutt” or if he got hit by a vehicle.

Penny trailed behind him, watching him from above, silently flying in the night air. She cawed when crossed the sidewalk, dropping in altitude until she stood next to him on the ground.

A dark figure appeared across the street. It was predatory and threatening, much larger than Changbin. The shapeshifter’s instincts were firing off in the back of his mind, but he knew better. He had nothing to fear. The figure crossed the street, stopping under the glow of the street light.

Changbin barked, sitting on his haunches. You’re here.

Kevin wagged his tail in response, tapping his paws on the concrete in excitement. Internally, Changbin was amused, but there was no good way of conveying that through body language or grumbles, so instead he lifted off the ground and trotted towards his friend. Lets go!

Changbin’s medium stature was dwarfed by Kevin’s large wolf-dog form. While the two of them possesed a similar magic, they had different inner-workings. Kevin had only three forms he could default to: Human, dog, and, of course, wolf. Changbin had many, many more.

At this point in his life, he only felt comfortable shifting into either a crow or a medium dog, but he also knew he had more possibilities. It was something deeper than simple thought. It was ingrained in his bones and blood - his magic was something he could always draw from, but it only went as far as his spirit would allow him. He had limits, but they weren’t as hard as Kevin’s.

They didn’t know what caused this disparity in their abilities, but then again, that was the whole point of going out and finding the Seer. Changbin wanted to know, and his want only increased with each step he took in the direction of Jeweler’s Row.

Excitement thrummed through his body, resonating through his veins and his heart, the beat of the organ audible to his own ears. It was like nothing he had ever felt before. The thought of knowing was so surreal when he had been in the dark his entire life.

The change of light from street light to street light echoed his heart, the highs and lows a visual representation of the intoxication from sneaking out and ignoring directions from his sole parental figure.

Penny flew down, her dark wings glinting in the yellow glow as she landed in the opening of an alley. At the corner stood their destination, two-stories and made of brick, the structure fading into the night sky as it reached up, seemingly swallowed by the black.

Suddenly, the excitement in Changbin’s veins transformed from excitement to terror. He had snuck out. He hadn’t told Marcella . She was going to be so mad if - no, when - she found out. He was going to be stuck cleaning the dishes for life because this was Marcella’s number one rule, you don’t just leave without telling her.

Oh god, this was such a bad decision. I need to turn around. I can’t do this. If I turn around now, I can pretend it didn’t happen. We can sneak back in. We can-

Kevin whined beside him, tilting his head in concern. Changbin whined back, taking a step back in response. The elder seemed to deflate, disappointed, before grumbling and crossing the street, leaving Changbin alone as his legs froze beneath him. Kevin wasn’t giving him much of a choice.

The wolfdog disappeared into the alley and reemerged as a 14-year-old boy, his slight figure breaking up the dark background.

“It’s too late to turn back, Changbin,” the older boy called, stretching his arms above his head to shake off the lingering magic of the shift. “If you turn back now, you’re leaving with nothing. Don’t be dumb and leave empty-handed after we came all this way.”

Changbin took a step back, breathing heavily. Panicking felt different in another body.

But Kevin had a point. If he turned back now, he risked getting caught for nothing, but if he crossed the street, he would get what he came for. Maybe.

They never did check the store’s hours, after all.

He took a deep breath. He could do this. Kevin would never let anything happen to him, and Marcella would only be angry out of love and concern - might as well make it worthwhile.

The black dog crossed the street, trotting into the alley. He came back to his humanity before he could regret it, the familiar skin smoothing over his figure, the pricking of the magic warping his figure like fabric. Changbin took a deep breath.

“You good, man?” Kevin called from the front of the alley.

Changbin tried to answer, but instead of his voice rising from his throat, it was vomit. He pitched himself over, choking up the contents of his stomach onto the side of Armilla’s Oddities. Kevin, upon realizing what was happening, sprinted to his side, a comforting hand on his back.

“Jesus Christ… Are you okay? Was it the shift?”

Changbin shuddered, saliva dripping from his mouth to the concrete in a thin trail from his bottom lip. No. He was not okay. He was freaking the fuck out.

“I’ll be okay,” he said even though it was not true. “...I’m scared.”

“My opinion of you won’t change no matter what we find out in there.”

“I was talking about what Mrs. Cordeanu, but that works too.”

Kevin laughed at that, the familiar noise warming Changbin from the inside out. Kevin was here. Changbin was going to be fine.

He wiped his mouth and grabbed the elder’s shoulder, taking a moment to gain his composure. Kevin braced him, watching over him with careful eyes like the friend he was.

“Ready?” He asked, tentative.

Changbin nodded.

“Ready.”

 

When they knocked on the door, the last they expected was for a tiny, squishy prepubescent boy to answer, puffy cheeks and sleepy eyes looking up at the pair.

“Seungmin! Bunica told you not to open the door for strangers!” Another voice called out.

Kevin and Changbin looked up, catching sight of the voice’s owner - another young boy, except he had a set of eclectic moss-green eyes. He was frowning as he quickly interjected himself between the other boy and Changbin and Kevin. He put his hand on the doorknob. The green-eyed boy frowned harder when he took in the two boy’s frazzled appearances, the orphans less than tidy after their trek across downtown Bethlehem.

“What brings you here?” He asked, brow furrowing. “You look - you look as old as me.”

Changbin opened his mouth to answer, but Kevin cut him off.

“We’re here to see the Seer of Jeweler’s Row.”

The green-eyed boy’s eyes exhibited confusion, “Are you sure this is the right place?”

“Yes,” Changbin spoke up, “We are. We were… told. Told that she would be here. S-specifically at night.”

“You look odd,” Seungmin said, brown orbs cautious as he inspected the taller boys. He turned to (what Changbin assumed) was his brother. “Hyunjin, does he seem odd to you?”

Hyunjin narrowed his eyes, the organic color mesmerizing. Changbin found it hard to break eye-contact, his breath hitching. He had a gut feeling that the boy in front of him was not quite human.

“No,” Hyunjin dismissed. “He seems honest.” He paused, stepping back and opening the door a tad wider; less defensive.

“Bunica?” He called out, “We have visitors!”

Changbin and Kevin peered around the two boys, waiting. They were eager to see if that notebook was correct, and that, yes, the Seer of Jeweler’s Row did in fact exist.

 

The floorboards creaked and Changbin let out a breath he didn't know he was holding as an old woman, probably in her 60’s, rounded the corner. She looked younger than the Headmother, maybe by ten years, although unlike Marcella her hair was completely white. It was messy, held together by two chopsticks on top of her head. Free spirited.

Her face was old and weathered, but her black eyes spoke of life and adventure - two deep pools of knowledge and experience that seemed to overflow with wisdom.

It was her. Changbin knew.

“You’re the Seer,” he said, voice so quiet it was inaudible, even by Kevin.

“Hyunjin, take them to the sitting room. Seungmin, make sure they don’t touch anything they shouldn’t.” The woman smiled, gesturing for them to come in. “I will brew up some tea. The two of you look mighty dreadful.”

“Yes ma’am,” Kevin and Changbin answered, already following the two younger boys down the worn oak hallway, the plaster on the walls peeling, the ceiling covered in decade old textured paint. The werewolf scrunched his nose.

“Are the scents overwhelming?” Changbin asked.

“A little,” Kevin cringed. “There’s a lot of - I can’t tell what the scents are.”

They turned into what Changbin assumed was the sitting room, and the 13-year-old boy was immediately taken aback.

“Oh, wow, that’s a lot of…”

The walls were covered in shelves, lined with bottle after bottle of liquid or preserved… something. Dead things.

“Bunica has special taste,” Hyunjin stated.

Kevin snorted, “No kidding.”

“I mean, we do run an Oddities shop. We’re supposed to have weird stuff,” Hyunjin, pulled up two chairs - both wooden, thankfully - and sunk into a plush, velvet one himself, the top of it lined with a taxidermy fox, beady glass eyes lifeless. Seungmin opted to sit on the floor, leaning on the petrified coffee table.

The Grandmother entered the room after a few minutes of silence, the two boys too nervous to engage in any further conversation. In her hands was a tea-tray, two teacups and a matching pot clattering as she gingerly set it down. Seungmin reached up to meet her halfway, the young boy insisting they had it.

She adjusted her dress as she sat down, the mottled blue fabric draping all the way down to her ankles. The lady sighed, settling her arms down on the arm rests.

“What brings you two to my shop in the dead of night?”

“I-”

“We-”

The two shifters spoke at them same time, glancing at each other. Kevin opened his mouth again before deciding against it, waving for Changbin to continue.

When Changbin looked back at the Grandmother, she was already staring back. For a moment, it seemed as if she already knew what he was going to ask, lips curled into a coaxing smile. The moment faded, Changbin chalking it up to wishful thinking.

“I want to learn about my heritage,” He said, taking the cup  of tea Seungmin offered him.

The lady laughed, “Yeah, right.”

Changbin coughed awkwardly, “I’m - I’m not joking. Was that a bad question to ask? Should I have phrased it differently?”

The lady raised her eyebrows, jaw dropping slightly. “You mean…?”

“I don’t know.” Changbin stumbled around his words, “I never had the opportunity to learn. No one ever told me.”

The Grandmother considered him for a moment before turning to her grandsons, “Head up to your room, boys.” She settled back into her chair, all amusement having vanished from her eyes.

The shapeshifter gulped. Maybe his fear was justified, after all.

“Am I - Is what I am really that bad?” He asked, rousing vehement protests from Kevin. The older boy sat forward in his chair.

“If it was that bad, then she wouldn’t have let you in.”

“You’re friend has a good head on his shoulders,” the Grandmother stated. “He is right. I wouldn’t have let you into my home around my grandchildren if you were dangerous. Although, I must ask…” She tilted her head, eyes sharp, “When you first arrived, you said you were looking for the Seer of Jeweler’s Row. Where did you hear that name.”

“Can I...?” Kevin glanced at Changbin before speaking, “I - we - live in the local orphanage - Eumann’s Orphanage, in the Blackwater district. I found a diary in the library and it mentioned her.”

“Eumann Orphanage?”

“Yes ma’am,” Kevin affirmed. “The diary didn’t say who it was by, and it had no names beyond vague references. I don’t think the author ever meant for it to be found.”

“Rarely do those who write diaries desire for them to be read,” the Grandmother set her hands in her lap, lacing her hands together. “How long ago was it written?”

“The late 1970’s,” Changbin said. “They said the Seer was in her late twenties, which means that if she is still alive, she would be in her early sixties.”

“Those were the days…” The Grandmother smiled, remembering the past. Changbin was reluctant to interrupt her moment, but he found it difficult to contain his restlessness.

“Are you the Seer?” Changbin blurted out.

She laughed through her nose, a single puff of air rising from her throat in amusement. “Do you even need to ask? Look around and tell me. Am I the Seer.”

Kevin and Changbin went quiet, a beat passing. The younger nodded, confidence growing as he relaxed back into the wooden chair. A deer head stared at him from over the mantle, as well as the mirror in the display cabinet that he never could seem to look at directly as if it was always in his blind spot. The air smelled of fresh incense along with the burn of something… supernatural. Yes, the 13-year-old boy did think he had the right person.

She stood, hobbling over to a display cabinet between the two street side windows. The old wooden structure rattled as she pried it open, complaining as she pushed the door along it’s aged hinges. From it, she pulled a sliver basin, splotchy from years of use, although still achingly beautiful. His hands twitched, filled with the strange desire to run his fingers around the rim.

“Blood is a finicky thing,” the Seer mused, “It is the law and reason of our bodies. It is carrier of who we are, the very thing that keeps us alive, but in some cases, it is simply an inconvenience.” She glanced up at Changbin pointedly. The young boy gulped. “It is unnecessary, but still very much a part of who you are, even if you are not human.”

She set the bowl on the petrified table with a light tink.

“The threads that make us up are not the same,” she gestured for him to hand her his teacup. The boy extended it to her carefully, “Those threads, as you live, age with you. They are worn, breaking and decaying like old clothing, and much like old clothing, you either wear it as is, or you patch it up. You grow. You change.”

She poured what was left of his tea into the silver basin, swishing it once in a circular motion, the dark tea leaves clinging to the edges. The seer extended the bowl to the shapeshifter, avoiding looking into the tea the entire time.

“Look in with a careful eye,” she warned as Changbin grabbed the bowl with bated breath, “and know that what you see is the spool your thread draws from, but not necessarily you.

Kevin held his breath as Changbin needed, leaning forward. The Seer snapped to him as he got too close, nearly gazing into the pool before his friend. “Away!” she snapped, making both boys jump. “Do not look into the hollow of another. Threads are not kind to those who do not own them.”

The lady turned back to Changbin, dark eyes urging him on. “Go on. You said you wanted to know - this is how you find out.”

Changbin nodded, taking a deep breath as he steeled himself to look into the “hollow of threads,” as the Seer had put it. He closed his eyes, taking a moment for himself, before he tilted his face down and peeked through.

The moment his senses registered that what he was looking at, his vision went black, swallowed up from the edges like ink spilling on paper. An indescribable feeling rushed over him, covering him and arresting him in his skin within half a second.

Internally, he was screaming. Externally, to Kevin and the Seer, he was still as stone, eyes fixated and hands unmoving as he looked down into the stagnant amber liquid.

“Is he okay?” Kevin asked quietly.

The Seer hushed him. “Give him time.”

Changbin, as the moment stretched from a second to a minute, began moving. It started in his finger, the appendage twitching in the inky-black darkness  as it regained feeling. Pins and needles pricked up his arm as the rest of the limb followed, eventually spreading to the rest of his body.

He fell to the floor as he finally regained control of his face and neck, gasping for breath, eyes closed in a wince. When he opened his eyes, he saw that, instead of an intangible void, his hands were resting on checkerboard tiles.

His palm twitched, the floor strangely warm, unlike the normal chill of ceramic.

“You’re awake.” A voice cut through the air. The hair on Changbin’s nape rose as he recognized it. It was his own voice.

The shapeshifter quickly stumbled to his feet, backing up into the wall behind him.

“What the fuck.” Changbin said, “I thought - I wasn’t - Where am I?”

“Language!” Other Changbin scolded, “You know Marcella doesn’t approve of that word.”

Changbin - in any other situation - would’ve laughed, but as of now he was freaked the fuck out.

The room was fully furnished, white walls pristine with the occasional blurry painting. Around the edges of his vision, the world warped, like looking through a stranger’s glasses. Other Changbin stared at him from across the room, seated at a black-stained, wooden card table. In its hands it shuffled a deck of cards, the ruffling sound deafening in the otherwise quiet room. Changbin didn’t even know how to shuffle cards.

“Take a seat,” it urged, smiling. Changbin shivered when it revealed its teeth - a set of razor like incisors peeking out from top and bottom jaw. It was everything Changbin was but… darker, somehow. The 13-year-olds eyes were dark brown, but the other had eyes like wet soot, as black and unforgiving as obsidian. They glimmered like broken glass, vicious and minacious.

The boy creeped forward, reaching out a hand to grip the crest of the chair before the other. He pulled it back, the feet sliding silently across the floor like ice. Brown eyes met black eyes, the pair locked in an undefined contest. Other Changbin snapped the deck of cards from one hand to another, lips never dropping their predacious grin.

“You look like me,” Changbin stated.

“Correct.” It laid the deck of cards face down, sliding it from one end of the table to the other in a line.

“I am you,” Changbin said, infliction suggesting he was questioning his own  assumption.

“Also correct,” Other Changbin nodded, pouting as it pulled a card from its place, “But also wrong.” It flipped the card, revealing it to the boy. A queen of clubs. “Pick a card, any card.”

The brown-eyed boy hesitated, eyes fixated on the needle-like nails of the entity across from him that held the queen like tweezers, before he reached forward, pointer finger sliding the card four from the right out of the line.

“Flip it,” he commanded.

Changbin did so, the red of a heart greeting him like a sunset, the K of the king bold in the upper left. He turned it towards his likeness.

Other Changbin’s eyebrows rose, pout turning into a delighted grin. “A king of hearts, how adorable!” It cheered, tone reeking of patronization. “You’re a hopeless romantic. How fitting.” It drawled, lips curling around the word as if it was a curse.

“What are you?” Changbin frowned, “And who gives a shit about a card game?” He pushed back from the table, looking at the line in front of him. “What game is this?”

“My favorite game, that's what.” It sighed, swiping the cards back into an organized deck, save for the two cards they had drawn. “And like I said, I am you - but I am also not you. I am what you are and what you could be.”

“Can you phase it in a way that makes sense?”

The entity pondered for a moment before shrugging, “No, I don’t think so. I personally prefer being a prick.” It stood, sitting on the table. Changbin scooted back a foot, unnerved.

“It’s bold of you to assume I’d answer if you called,” It inspected its nails, picking out grime from underneath them, “Especially with that gross black tea. If you have time, tell Armilla I prefer Earl Grey. It has a nice tang to it. ”

“... Sure.”

“Lovely,” he curled his hand under his chin, tapping his fingers on his cheek, “Any other questions? Concerns?” It reached a clawed hand forward, bopping Changbin on the nose. The boy shuddered, barely resisting the urge to slap its hand away.

“You do, don’t you?” Other Changbin grinned, revealing its full of set of teeth. Up close, to Changbin’s horror, every single tooth rose to a deadly point. The black-eyed entity ran a tongue over its canine, “Guess. Tell me what I am.”

Changbin shivered, shaking his head. The entity crawled forward, now just inches from his face. It tilted its head, “No? Oh, that's too bad. It’s not as fun without the suspense, the confusion! Oh, how I do love the confusion.”

He leaned back, holding the two cards between his thumb and forefinger.

“The king and the queen, the heart and the club, black and red,” the entity swung its legs off the table, bracketing Changbin. It leaned forward, tucking the cards into his hoodie pocket. “Two sides of the same coin.”

“Armilla gave you the blood and thread speech, didn’t she? The spiel about how you’re more than the sum of your parts? About how you’re you. ” It laughed, tossing its head back. “Oh, it gets me every time. Humans think they’re so special. So unique.

“And you are?” Changbin snarked, huffing.

Other Changbin rose its eyebrows, clapping his hands in delight. “So you do have a sense of humor!”

Changbin frowned.

“Oh, no. Did I offend you? Oh, gosh golly gee, I’m so sorry! How mean of me.” Changbin flinched away unsuccessfully as the entity’s hand shot forward, clutching his face. He hissed as it scraped its nails down its face, drawing blood. “Buckle up, buttercup. You’re in for a ride.”

It groaned, turning his head from side to side, “What a shame our parents abandoned us. We could’ve been so good. So terribly wonderful, but they had to turn us over to an Orphanage, of all places. Now we’re so… humane. Docile. It’s a tragedy, really.

“No one ever told you what you’re made of. Marcella lied to you your whole life, telling you that you were human, but that's exactly what humans do - they lie. I won’t ever lie to you. I wish I had the opportunity to talk to you sooner, but you’re heart is just so stubborn, isn’t it? All those beautiful black threads tie us together yearned for me to reach out. Each year I got closer, and I am getting closer still.”

It caressed the curve of Changbin’s jaw, and Changbin once again found himself paralyzed, unable to move from the neck down. He wanted to tear away, his throat burning as his lungs ached to scream.

“If you die, I die. If I die, you die too. I am you and I am not you. Only one aspect of us is perfectly identical.”

It tilted Changbin’s chin up, the entity leaning forward with a wicked grin split wide across its face. Changbin, if his body had allowed, would’ve been hyperventilating as the figure in front of him disintegrated into black smoke, curling violently in the air like a hurricane. The once quiet room became deafening, the roar of wind in his head ear-splitting. And then it went silent.

The black smoke was gone. Changbin stood, no longer paralyzed. He knocked the chair back and scanned the room for the frightening figure. He breathed a sigh of relief and turned around, shoulders slumped.

A hand gripped his shoulder and Changbin’s head snapped up, familiar black eyes looking into him like a mirror.

“We’re both demons, and soon we will be one demon,” Other Changbin cooed, shifting back into its demonic form. “Say hello to Marcella for me, will you?”

It closed its hand over his mouth and nose, whispering.

“Night night.”

And then it all went black.

 

The next time Changbin opened his eyes, he was back in Armilla’s Oddities, the silver bowl of tea clutched in his white-knuckled hands. His eyes were glazed over, his skin numb. He could barely hear anything around him, the rushing of wind the only noise registering in his brain.

The Seer - Armilla - covered the silver basin with a napkin, the cloth soaking what was left of the Amber liquid into its gaps, darkening the fabric. Changbin let out a shuddering breath he was all too aware he had been holding.

“Changbin? Binnie?” Kevin called from beside him, his hand reaching for the now-useless bowl. Changbin’s hands went limp, letting him take it from him without a fight. “Binnie, are you okay? What happened?”

Kevin turned to Armilla, “What did you do to him?” He accused, voice raising greatly in volume.

“I did what he asked.”

“What he asked?” Kevin bellowed, “If you knew this would harm him, why did you do it? Why didn’t you tell him? Tell me!”

Armilla looked apologetic, but she was sure of her words. “The sooner he knew the truth about himself, the better. It’s abnormal to live this long without it making itself known,” she frowned, “But then again, most demon spawn aren’t abandoned on the steps of city orphanages.”

Kevin step forward, hackles raised and teeth bared at the old woman who had sent his best friend into a traumatizing, glassy-eyed coma, “You- I swear to god, I will-”

Changbin reached forward, laying a hand on Kevin’s shoulder. The boy immediately responded, turning on a dime.

“Kevin,” the younger rasped, eyes watery. “It’s okay.”

The elder’s brow furrowed and Changbin gave him a small smile, smoothing the creases with his thumb. “She’s right. It would’ve happened sooner or later.”

“But she-”

“Stop,” Changbin pleaded, pressing his index fingers to his temple to relieve the already-imminent migraine. “Armilla let me confront… him- or, well - it… on my own terms. I’m grateful. I’m relieved.”

Kevin hesitated before speaking, voice soft. “Are you sure.”

Changbin nodded, “Yeah… I am. Just - you, can you…”

Kevin stood and pulled Changbin to his chest, holding the younger boy tight. Changbin smiled, but his eyes began to water anyway. He buried his face in the werewolf’s chest, tears soaking into the elder’s red sweater.

“I- I was so scared. It look just like me. It told me it was me. It told me I was a demon.” The young boy shuddered, shoulders folding in, “Kev, I’m a demon.

“I don’t care.”

“It told me it would be me. That it would steal my skin.”

Kevin held him tighter, “I won’t let that happen.”

“I’m afraid you don’t have a say in the matter,” Armilla interrupted, returning to the room. Neither of the boys had noticed she had left in the first place.

In her hands, she carried a book, old and worn just like everything else in the shop.

“This is for you,” she extended the book towards the 13-year-old. He took it, turning it over in his hands. The it read Daemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogue, Divided into three Books: By the High and Mighty Prince, James in gilded script.

“Prince James,” Kevin mumbled, frowning. “Prince James, as in the King James Bible.”

“You’re well read,” Armilla noted. “And yes, you’re correct. He wrote this book, along with that version of the bible,” Changbin ran his fingers over the binding. “I think it will help you where I cannot. I recommend reading it in order to better understand yourself. It will help you cope.”

“You say that like you have experience.” Kevin mused. Armilla smiled sadly. She pointed upstairs.

“I do.”

“Oh,” Kevin bit his lip, finally relenting. “I see. I’m sorry for accusing you earlier.”

“No harm no foul,” the old woman assured. “But… I’m afraid I have to call your guardian.”

Changbin and Kevin’s eyes widened comically, the two of them petrified upon hearing those dreadful words.

“But, Miss-!” Changbin protested only to be silenced by a finger.

“No buts!” Armilla scolded, already reaching for the dial-up. “I’ve been around young boys long enough to know that you certainly did not tell your guardian about this little escapade. They are probably worried sick.”

All of the boy’s worries about Changbin’s heritage were obliterated as soon as they heard the ringing on the other side of the line, followed by the familiar voice of Marcella saying, “hello?”

If there is anything more terrifying than a demon, Changbin thought to himself, it is the wrath of a panicked mother.

 

“I cannot believe you two!” Marcella screeched, shrill voice cutting through the air like a banshee as the two boys were escorted from the police car. “I called searched every room in the house, I called the police, I even called every house in a half-mile radius if they had seen you! Every! House! What do you have to say for yourselves?”

Changbin and Kevin hung their heads. They had nothing to say for themselves.

Marcella let out a strangled, frustrated noise. She took a deep breath, gaining her composure.

“Go to your rooms, now. I need to talk with the deputy.”

The two boys scurried upstairs, heads down in shame. Changbin clutched his stomach, hiding the book Armilla had given him under his hoodie. Through this sweatshirt he felt something odd, but he waited until he was in his room to inspect it.

His roomate glared at him when he opened the door to their shared space.

“I’m never letting you leave the window open again.” He hissed, pulling the covers over his curly blonde head. Changbin cringed, embarrassed for himself. Sure, he knew they were probably going to get caught, but he didn’t know the Headmother was going to freak out this bad.

He tucked into his sheets, pulling out the book from underneath his hoodie, not bothering to change into pajamas. The moonlight glinted off the cover gold lettering. He began to open the book, but stopped when he remembered the odd feeling in his hoodie pocket, reaching in to pull out whatever it was.

Goosebumps ran up and down his arms as he pulled the object - correction, objects - out of the pocket.

Two cards. He held them up to the light, jaw dropping when he saw their number and suit.

A king of hearts and a queen of clubs.

He stared down at them, frozen, before quickly throwing them aside. They paper pieces coasted down the floor, landing with a soft scuff. The king of hearts was face down. The queen of clubs was face up.

Changbin glared at it, frown sewn into his face. Quietly, he slid out of bed, and snatched them off the ground. He set the king on his nightstand, but the queen felt heavy in his hand. It was as if she, the drawing on the card holding a flower to her nose, knew something he didn’t. His eyes narrowed.

“I won’t ever be you,” he whispered, using the card as a surrogate Other Changbin. “I’d rather die before stoop to your level.”

And he tore it in half.

 


 

Kevin was adopted the following year a few months after he turned 15. Changbin was happy for him - he really was - but he was also sad. The older boy in his two years at Eumann Orphanage had quickly become what Changbin would consider his best friend. Maybe even his first love, but he had gotten over that as fast as it had started.

He told himself he wouldn’t cry the day he left. They were still going to see each other at school, after all, his adoptive parents a local couple and both of them (thanks to Marcella’s unusual screening process) understanding and accommodating of Kevin’s werewolf blood. It was happy. Changbin should be happy.

But when Kevin was holding his bags in the familiar foyer, eyes fond as he looked over the space he lived the past two years, Changbin couldn’t help but tear up.

Kevin’s heart melted when the younger boy rushed forward, looping his arms around his shoulders, straining to match his height because he had yet to have his growth spurt.

“Hey, hey… It’s okay, I’m not going anywhere.” Kevin said sweetly, ruffling Changbin’s hair. “I see you at school.”

“You need to visit,” Changbin insisted. “Every summer. On the weekends. As often as possible.”

“Okay, okay…” Kevin laughed, pulling the 14-year-old boy away from him. He looked him in the eye, lips curled into a familiar smile. Changbin started tearing up again. He was really going to miss Kevin’s smile. “I’ll come by as often as I can. I promise.”

Changbin held him to it, meeting up with the boy nearly every saturday around the city, loosely chaperoned by his adoptive dad, Lawrence. Lawrence was a cool dude, Changbin thought. He approved of him.

They still saw each other at school, too, the pair of them conspiring to have their schedules be as similar as possible in order to ensure maximum friend time, much to their teacher’s chagrin. They wreaked havoc on the chemistry lab more than once, the elder of the two nearly burning down the classroom after slapping a bunsen burner off the table.

Changbin, ever the opportunist, never let Kevin forget that, but Kevin got him back by reminding him that it was Changbin who nearly killed the human anatomy teacher by splattering him with embalming fluid during the cat dissection lab.

In addition to their dangerous misadventures, the two boys spent a lot of time together in the library, where they “studied.”

AKA, where they read up on the supernatural, abusing the school wifi in order to learn about all things 5th element and occult. Marcella may have banned him from ever returning to Armilla’s Oddities, but that didn’t stop his pursuit for knowledge.

The younger boy, now a junior in high-school, whipped out his copy of Daemonologie and slammed it on the desk. The older sat beside him, pulling out his AP Psychology textbook to catch up on some reading he was behind on in a much calmer manner.

“You will not believe what I found in this book last night.” Changbin claimed, opening up the book to page 58, the pages well-worn by his numerous reads over the years. He had dissected the book from cover to cover, but because of the old form of english it was in, it was hard to get all the information from a single read, the book demanding a great amount of attention in order to understand it in full, much less all the little nuances.

Kevin perched his chin on his shoulder as he looked for the dialogue he found the night before, letting out a tiny “aha!” when he located it. “Here it is!”

Changbin cleared his throat, “ For doubtleslie they are in effect, but all one kinde of spirites, who for abusing the more of mankinde, takes on these sundrie shapes, and vses diuerse formes of out-ward actiones, as if some were of nature better then other.

“You’re getting really good at that old english, man.” Kevin commented, impressed. Changbin hummed in acknowledgement before continuing.

“I think this line - the for abusing the more of mankinde, takes on these sundrie shapes bit - is talking about shapeshifters!” Changbin read further, “Look - They appeared in likenesse of some friends of his. I think it means that shapeshifter’s can mimic more than just animals.”

Kevin’s brow knit, “You mean like… People?”

“Exactly.” Changbin responded, “I think that’s why, when I went through the tea ritual, the demon looked like me. I’m almost positive, actually.”

“Are you sure that's not because you like, you know, share a body?”

“I mean, it might be, but the possibility is there. I don’t think I’m as limited as we think I am.”

“Limited,” Kevin scoffed. “I can only turn into a dog. If you’re limited, than what am I?”

Changbin shrugged, “Bound by genetics?”

Kevin frowned, “So, what, demons are above genes now?”

“Yeah, that's kinda how it works,” Changbin thumbed through the book, looking for another passage. “You remember Armilla talking about all those threads and shit? That’s, like, the demon version of genetics… or, well, at least I think it is.”

“Ah…” Kevin nodded, sighing. “Well, since this is above my pay grade-”

“Bro, you don’t have a pay grade.”

“-I’m going to get back to Psych homework.”

Kevin scooted away, pulling out a pair of ear buds and popping them in his ears before Changbin could protest. The younger frowned, mildly peeved he wasn’t being payed attention for his newfound (potential) discovery, replaced by the crooning voice of Britney Spears through a pair of 3 year old noise-cancelling headphones.

“Fine, be that way.” He sassed to no one, closing his copy of King James’s Daemonologie . “You’re going to learn the hard way.” He stood, leaving the library while walking backwards. Kevin looked up at him, smiling before flipping him off. Changbin returned the gesture, smirk rising to his face as he turned around, plan already brewing in his head.

This was going to be amazing.

 

Two days later, Changbin slept overnight at Kevin’s house. Three days later, Kevin was supposed to wake up next to Changbin. Instead, he woke up to…

“WHAT THE FUCK!” Kevin screeched, legs tangled in his cat-themed bed sheets. “Who the - what the - I’m - you’re-”

Laying in bed next to him, posing like Rose from Titanic, was himself. He waved to him and winked, even sticking out his tongue. The 17-year old werewolf felt like he was going to faint despite just waking up.

Kevin’s eyes were wide and panic-stricken as he came to a realization.

“Am I… a demon too?”

Other Kevin burst out laughing, nearly falling off the bed as he clutched his stomach, “No, no you’re not. You jump to conclusions too fast.”

“Then what are you?” Kevin pulled up his sheets, using the cotton as a form of feeble defense.

“You, you idiot.” Other Kevin said with a straight face. “Just kidding.” He smiled, moving to sit up.

Kevin glared, kicking out his leg out when the other moved, knocking him over the edge of the bed. The other boy hit the ground with a dull thump. He groaned, straightening himself up and facing the elder.

As he sat up, his visage flickered, short brown-dyed hair turning scruffy and black, cheeks narrowing and height lowering into a weird, half-and-half version of the two individuals. Kevin choked on his own spit, eyes widening as he realized the situation.

“Changbin?”

“You got it.”

“You…” Kevin ran a hand down his face, covering his mouth in disbelief. “Okay, so maybe you were right about that passage. Just, could you stop with the whole-” he gestured up and down the other’s body, “- not, like, do that? Please? It’s really creepy. And you’re flickering.”

“I am?” Changbin looked down at his hands, watching them flicker between his own and Kevin’s in a way that has never happened in any of his other forms. “Oh, Jesus Christ, what the fuck…?”

“Does that happen with any of your other…?” Kevin queried.

“No,” the younger answered, “this has never happened before.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, the flickering ceasing in less than a second, a mirage of smoke enveloping Changbin so fast that if you blinked, you’d miss it.

Kevin breathed a sigh of relief, glad that he no longer had to stare at a disturbingly accurate clone of himself. Changbin sighed as he returned back into himself, suddenly overcome with a wave of exhaustion.

“That… that is going to take some practice.” He laid back, the skin around his collar sticky on the cold hard-wood floor. He laughed, “I guess I leveled up.”

Kevin threw a pillow at him, cursing his friend for his shitty joke.

 

Over the next few weeks, Kevin and Changbin experimented with the younger’s newfound talent. The tested the limits and pushed boundaries, determining who Changbin could mimic and for how long, along with the general accuracy and how to increase the duration of the visage without the persistent flickering.

They made it a game, seeing how many people Changbin could mimic while people-watching, choosing strangers off the streets of the city at random. He found that he wasn’t limited by gender or race, the mimicry extending to anything breathing and organic, but it wasn’t flawless.

People were complex, and people were different. They vary between each other more than any other species, personal characteristics and behaviors specific to each individual. Sure, Changbin could mimic their appearance, but he couldn’t mimic them.

Eventually, they decided to leave it, electing to not meddle with such things any longer.

Yes, it was fun, but it was also invasive. It felt wrong to be in someone else's skin and see through their eyes, like he was stealing their identity.  It was a level of power Changbin was uncomfortable with at a fundamental level.

“It is kinda creepy, I have to say.” Kevin mused, quirking his brow as a thought occurred to him. “Have you ever, like, looked at someone else's, like, you know…?”

“No,” Changbin scrunched up his face in disgust, “God, no. Who do think I am, Kevin.”

“Sorry, I was just curious.” He held up his hands in defense, “I think it’d be hard to resist, for most people at least.”

“That's such an invasion of privacy. How would you feel if I did that when I was in your skin?”

“One, please never phrase it like that again. Two, we’ve already seen each other naked. More than once.”

“That’s different.”

Kevin sighed, “I guess so.”

“Christ, you’re gross."

 


 

Changbin’s senior year was his most lonely year yet.

Kevin was gone, busy at college with different friends and different classes, and in general, a different state of life. He lived on campus at Bethlehem National in the Redwood District, the richest district in Bethlehem, much farther from Changbin compared to his old apartment with his adoptive parents.

He used to be less than a 10 minute walk away, but now he was not even within walking distance, and the younger didn’t like public transportation, much less own a car.

Changbin was alone all lot of the time, regretting depending on Kevin for any and every thing social now that he was gone, but on the flip side, he had much more time to devote to his studies.

By graduation, he had taken every latin class the school offered, even the teachers respecting his time and dedication to the language. Whenever they asked why, he always responded with “it’s useful.” No one questioned his reasoning or suspected he was using it to dabble in occult practices. He was a natural with languages, many of his teachers encouraging him to follow a career along those line.

So when he approached his science teacher - Mr. Kemper - about what he took to become a veterinarian, he was more than surprised.

“I thought you wanted to major in Linguistics?” He asked, puzzled. He set his red pen down, paying full attention to the 17-year-old in front of him.

“I thought about it,” Changbin started, “But I’ve also always loved animals, and after your Human Anatomy class, I realized surgery wasn’t as terrifying as I thought - not that I think it’s easy or anything - but it’s not like, not a possibility, I guess?”

“I see.”

“And, after working with Ms. Abdulahi on the environmental conservation project this summer in Kankakee, I feel like there is more I could do with my life than read old books. And I read online that if you knew latin, you had a good foundation for learning anything in the medical field, so it all just kinda… fell into place. Like, this is something I can do. Does that make sense?”

Mr. Kemper nodded, “Perfect. It’s reasonable, I just never pegged you as a type to enjoy something like that, especially after that cat dissection incident.”

Changbin cringed, “Yeah… I’m still sorry about that, by the way.”

“Don’t worry,” the older man shook his head and waved. “It’s not the worst thing that’s happened to me in my 30 years of teaching. I’m glad you found something that you passionate about. Too many kids these days struggle to find their calling.”

“Yeah,” Changbin grinned, “Kevin still doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“That’s normal for a freshman.”

Changbin shrugged.

“But, I have to say,” He leaned back in his chair, the spine of it groaning as it compensated for the shift in his weight, “I’m surprised you came to me for this.”

“I guess I associate you with cats now,” Changbin joked, lips peeking up at the corners.

The teacher laughed at that, eyes crinkling up behind his spectacles. “Well, then, to answer your question, I’d say to start with looking at the prerequisites. Figure out what you have to do to get into a veterinary program. I know some schools offer the full program, but if you don’t want to spend all that money on 101 classes, get them over with at a cheaper college and then transfer.

Bethlehem National offers the full program, last I heard, so if that college interests you, I’d start there. It’s hard to into, but you’re more than qualified, I’d say. Kevin goes there, right?”

“He does, yeah,” Changbin adjusted the strap of his backpack. “I’m not sure if I want to stay local or if I want to go out of state.”

“Well, what can you afford?”

Changbin frowned, “Not much, if I’m honest. I’m not sure if I can even Bethlehem National. I heard it was really expensive, and...”

“Then,” Mr. Kemper opened one of the drawers of his desk, “You should apply to scholarships and financial aid. I’d start with merit based ones and then move onto essays, which you should have no problem with, judging by your grades.” He handed him a paper outlining sites to visit and local scholarship programs.

“Start early,” he advised, “and you can go wherever you want. I know you have it in you. You’re a smart kid.”

“Thanks,” Changbin looked down at the goldenrod paper clutched in his hand, “This helps a lot.”

“No problem. Good luck, now get to class. I don’t Ms. Abdulahi angry with me for holding you back again.”

 


 

“Changbin!”

The 17-year-old turned in his bed, groaning as he pulled a pillow over his head to ignore the Headmother’s calling. He heard her muffled shouts through the down and cotton, muscles aching with disdain.

His roommate, Christian, kicked the side of the mattress, shifting the block of fabric and foam over a few inches.

“Get up.”

The elder pulled the pillow down harder, muffling as much sound as he could.

“You can’t sleep forever,” Christian scolded, grabbing the covers. Changbin whined as the source of warmth was pulled from his body. The younger boy grabbed his foot, making the 17-year-old kick.

“Stop it.” He threw his pillow at the younger, the ball of fluff making a satisfying but harmless fump. “It’s a Saturday, can’t you-”

“Changbin!” Marcella called again from the foot of the stairs, “You have mail! Get down here!”

Mail?” Changbin thought, wondering what possibly could have been mailed to him.

“It’s probably college stuff,” Christian cut into his thoughts. Changbin blinked away sleep, still bleary-eyed, before the younger’s words sunk in.

“College?” He grumbled, lifting his head from the sheets.

Christian’s blue eyes glimmered as he looked back. Morning people. “Yeah, college. You know, that thing you’ve been applying to for the last few months slavishly? The thing that your entire future depends on? And how its now acceptance letter season?”

Changbin shot up at that, pulling on the sweater that he had flung on the floor the night before, busting out of his room without another word. Of course it was a college letter. What else would he be getting in the mail this time of year?

He rushed down the stairs, legs barely able to keep up with his flying body. The rumble of his feet on the wooden stairs summoned the Headmother to the foot of the stairs, the 74-year-old woman smiling as she hiked her thumb over her shoulder.

“It’s on the kitchen counter.”

The 17-year-old thanked her and brushed past her, the other orphans surrounding the table as he approached the envelope. A black, gold, and emerald insignia marked the upper-right back corner. Bethlehem National.

His nerves were firing off like fireworks, the anxiety thrumming under his skin like electricity as he lifted the envelope from the tabletop, cold fingers gentle on the stiff, starched paper, careful not to crease or tear it.

Christian followed close behind him, perching his chin on his shoulder as the circle of children and teens tightened around him, all eager to see the verdict within. Marcella watched from the doorway, arms crossed.

Changbin slid his fingers underneath the top fold, separating the glue strip and breaking the seal. He folded it back and pulled out the letter. It was folded into thirds and was made of what felt like expensive parchment, so thick he couldn’t even see the ghost of ink through the back. The letter fluttered as he opened it, the words blurry until he laid it flat on the table, static.

“Dear Changbin,

It is with great pleasure that I write to inform you that you have been accepted for admission to Bethlehem National.”

The room blew up around him, the other orphans jumping up and down as he read. He continued reading it aloud as they cheered, the rest of the room white noise to him as he delved into the paper’s words.

“In addition to your acceptance we are also offering - holy shit!” Changbin exclaimed, gripping onto Christian’s arm. “I got a full ride! They gave me a full ride! Mom!” His excitement was so intense, his judgement lapsed, but no one cared. Everyone was so happy for him they didn’t even notice his slip of the tongue. Mrs. Cordeanu didn’t even scold him for cursing.

“I’m so proud of you,” Marcella broke into the crowd, pulling the young man  into a hug and rocking him back in forth in her arms as he clutched onto the letter, stunned into silence. “I’m so, so proud of you. You worked so hard.”

Changbin smiled so wide his cheeks hurt and dropped the letter in favor of returning her hug, burying his face in her coarse, grey hair.

“I got in…” He marveled, brown eyes watering. “They accepted me…”

Marcella soothed the top of his head, stroking his hair back. The others piled in around them, arms cinching the entire group in a massive hug. The other’s cheered for him and praised him, familiar faces and eyes lit up with joy for their friend, and in a sense, brother.

They gave him happiness and they gave him light. Christian, the boy he roomed with for the last year who had a talent for getting on his last nerve. Angelina, the 12 year old who always managed to spill at least one glass at dinner a week. Scottie, the angry 15-year-old who isolated himself until he realized that being alone wasn’t the solution for grief. The orphanage was a mess, but it was their mess - their home.

So when he was surrounded by all this love and joy, for the first time in his 17 years and 7 months, all Changbin could think of was how much he was going to miss this place.

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 2 - Lacerate

 

“Changbin! Get to the back room now!”

The young man looked up from the book he had been reading - Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick - and rushed to the back, following the sound of his employer’s frustrated voice.

“What happened?” The 19-year-old asked as he entered the room, his question answered as he watched his boss - Blythe Shaw - struggle to push the door open, arms full as they carried a large, soggy, cardboard box.

“Someone dumped kittens - again.”

Changbin lunged for the door as she lost her balance, red hair wet, clinging to her neck, and getting in her eyes. He helped her steady herself, closing the door fast behind her once she was in. She set the box on the ground and swept the hair out of her face, un-tying and re-tying her hair back into a functional ponytail.

Changbin crouched down by the box and opened it. The sight inside made his heart arce, a mother cat dry-nursing eight small, mottled kittens. The mother was skinny beyond belief, and the kittens were even worse. He was fairly sure one of them may be dead, judging by it’s still body.

“She hasn’t eaten in a while,” Blythe said, worried. “We need to get some food in her, stat. And get some artificial milk for the kittens while your at it. I’m going to get them all washed up.”

“You got it, boss.” Changbin stood, immediately carrying out her orders. He rounded the corner into the store room, fingers tapping along the shelves as he looked for the proper food. He snagged a can of wet cat food for the mother and a bag of kitten formula with two bottles for the kittens before shutting the store room door tight and making his way back to the back room.

Upon entering, he remembered Blythe had said she was going to wash them up, and backed out, heading for the grooming room. He popped his head in, catching sight of the red haired lady toweling the mass of kittens as the mom watched carefully from where she rested on her own warm towel.

“I’ll set up one of the large cages for them, is that alright?”

“It's wonderful. I’ll be there in a minute, give me a second.”

“Fix your syntax first,” Changbin teased.

The older woman grumbled as he disappeared down the hallway, “Oh, hush up, you grammar-nazi!”

He set the materials down and pulled the tab on the wet cat food, turning the tin over and tapping it out into the bowl. Changbin shook it gently from side to side to loosen it up before setting it back on the table and picking up the bottles.

He left the room briefly to fill them with warm tap water before returning, mixing the formula in and giving both bottles a hearty shake. The college student handed one to his boss as she entered, the kittens and mother now safe and dry in a cat-carrier.

“Thanks,” she said, opening the cat-carrier. “Pick a kitten and get nursin’.”

Changbin chuckled, “Alright.” He reached for the foremost kitten, “Come here, little guy. It’s dinner time.”

 

Four hours and thirty minutes later, Changbin was officially attached to said kitten.

“Blythe,” he called, “I think I’m in love.”

“Stop being dramatic, you say that about every animal that comes through here.”

“Yeah, and?” Changbin responded, “I mean it!”

“Sure you do.” She rolled her eyes, but the action was fond.

“You cannot tell me you don’t find Krissy adorable,”  he asserted, cuddling the small, cream-colored kitten to his chest. He tucked his chin, looking down at her sleepy, blue eyes - the glossy orbs blinking slowly, her head dipping as she nodded off.

Adorable.

Blythe opted not to respond, instead losing herself in the daily report she had to type up each night. Changbin watched her fingers pummel the keyboard, the clacking filling the foyer of Careview Animal Shelter. He yawned, glancing at the clock as he covered his mouth with his palm.

“It’s 9pm, Changbin.” Blythe said, seemingly reading his thoughts. “Put back the cat and go home. I’ll close up tonight.”

“I can help.”

“You can, but you won’t.” Blythe stepped out from behind the counter and scooped Krissy up, “I remember you telling me you have 8am classes on Thursdays. Go home and get some sleep.”

Changbin sighed, “Yes ma’am.”

He stood, leaving over the give the small kitten a peck on the head before rounding the front desk to grab his jacket and bag. “Thanks. Tell the animals good night for me, will you?”

Blythe gave him a smile, eyes tired but fond. Changbin was a sweet kid.

“Will do, now get going. I don’t want you to miss your bus.”

“Good night, Blythe. Drive safe!”

He waved, striding to the front door. The low drumming of rain on the sidewalk warning him not to leave his umbrella. Changbin doubled back, snagging his black umbrella from the stand by the door.

“Be careful!” Blythe advised.

The young man thanked her before stepping out under the front awning and opening his umbrella with a  whoosh. The rain pelted it’s surface as his boots clicked on the concrete, the percussion of the world around him providing more than adequate background noise to submerge himself in his thoughts.

Over the past year and a half, Changbin had completed his freshman year of college, and now he was working on his second year. This was the last year he had to take general education, and normally Changbin wouldn’t be too sad or happy about that, but his Intro to Pottery class was absolutely kicking his ass at the moment. He was only two weeks into the semester and he was convinced the professor was downright sadistic when it came to grading his sad, malformed creations.

Solution? He planned to drop the class ASAP. He tried, he really did, but after two weeks of creating borderline grotesque ceramic tragedies, he was ready to throw in the towel and take another elective. Luckily, because Bethlehem National was such a large school, he had no shortage of classes to switch to.

As of now his eye was on Introduction to Composition, since he heard the professor was good, but honestly, he’d take anything that wasn’t related to any form of clay or molding.

Arriving at the bus stop, he closed his umbrella and sat down on the bench, the chilly, September air swirling around him, the young man shivering and pulling his jacket tighter around himself. He placed his bag on his lap, using it as a makeshift wind-blocker until the bus arrived.

The scene felt reminiscent of a few months ago - also on a rainy night, although that night had been warm and later in the evening after a long Saturday shift. On that night, Changbin had seen something... unsettling.

He had glanced at his watch, worrying if the bus was late. He watched the second hand tick, the quiet snapping of the inner mechanisms somehow audible over the thrum of the rain. And then he saw something out of the corner of his eye.

Across the street loomed a figure - tall and shrouded in darkness. They were wearing a long black coat, paired with pants and boots to match, the tones of their apparel making them nearly indistinguishable from their background. Their face wasn’t visible, but Changbin could tell that, whatever they were, they were staring right at him.

Changbin snapped out of it when the hiss of breaks made him turn his head, the bus having finally arrived. He quickly boarded, handing the driver his bus pass for a once-over. As he checked it, Changbin glanced out the windshield, eyes hunting for the dark figure. They were nowhere to be seen.

“Your pass, sir.” The driver extended it back towards him. Changbin took it and promptly thanked him before finding a seat. He let out a shaky exhale and leaned his head against the window, wondering if his tired eyes had conjured a nightmare out of nothing but shadow and rain.

He thought back to how the figure had stood and how it looked at him with such intent. No, Changbin knew better than that. The young man couldn’t afford to forget that, in his life, strange appearances and creatures in the night were more often real than not.

All that Changbin could do was hope that it wasn’t a hunter, but that hope was probably wishful thinking. Of course he was going to be hunted at some point in his life - he is technically a demon. He couldn’t avoid it no matter how hard he tried to fit in with the rest of humanity.

Now, Changbin was sure, no doubt in his mind that the figure stalking him after work every couple weeks was there. He was not hallucinating the tilt of its head, the confident way it walked, or the silver glint of metal at it’s hip - presumably a very, very deadly weapon that Changbin would not like to be on the business end of. The only question was: why hadn’t it attacked yet?

Changbin wondered this as he sat in the cold rain, waiting once again for his bus to arrive. He looked out across the street, wondering if his dear stalker was going to show up tonight. Much to Changbin’s relief, they did not.

He hadn’t told Kevin about the figure yet, hopeful that the figure would lose interest or that it was just Changbin being paranoid. It’d been a few weeks since he’d seen the figure. Maybe they did lose interest.

He boarded the bus with peace of mind, not noticing the black shrouded figure slouched in the last seat on the right. The only thing on his mind was getting home and sleeping, the tired man uncaring of his surroundings the entire ride. He barely remembered to open his umbrella as he got out at his stop, stumbling to the front lobby doors of LaSalle Park Apartments.

Changbin entered the elevator and punched in his floor number, the light blinking on. As the doors shut, a pale hand stuck their hand in the way, thin silver and gold rings tinkling as they grasped around the edge. The door’s sensors picked up the movement and re-opened the doors.

The young man scoffed in mild annoyance, wanting to get up to his room ASAP so he could collapse on his bed and sleep.

As the doors opened, the person attached to the hand was revealed. They were of a medium stature, just a few centimeters taller than Changbin himself, but his height was made up for by his broad shoulders confident walk. He was dressed from the neck down in black, the only skin showing providing a stark contrast to his attire. His eyes, underneath a shock of blonde hair, were narrow and sharp - as intimidating as the rest of him.

The shorter man felt immediately compelled to push himself into the corner away from the other man, but restrained himself from doing so, as that would be strange and impolite. Instead, he held his ground, diverting his eyes and looking at the railing as the man leaned over to press his own floor number. He hadn’t ever seen him around, but wasn’t in the mood to talk to a stranger, opting to shut his mouth and endure the ride in silence until one of them left.

He watched the number’s tick up on the digital display, waiting for it to reach 13 before he stepped forward, ready to leave. The young man swayed as he felt the elevator lurch. The doors opened and he exited swiftly, heels muffled on the carpeted floor as he made his way to his apartment - room 13G.

Footsteps tap out behind him - the man must’ve also gotten off on his floor. Changbin quickened his pace, his heart pumping unreasonably hard. Something was off about that guy, he just didn’t know what.

The shapeshifter pulled out his keys and hastily unlocked his door, holding his breath as the blond man passed behind him. He listened, hand frozen around the key as the other man stopped an apartment a few doors down from Changbin’s, the key jingling as he removed it from his pocket.

The hair on the back of Changbin’s neck rose, feeling the man’s eyes on him. Changbin looked up. The man made eye contact and nodded before stepping into his apartment, black coat fluttering behind him. He shut the door, the click of the lock mechanism announcing his departure from the shared space. The demon let out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding.

Something about that man felt achingly familiar.

Changbin twisted the key to his door and entered, shaking his head and ignoring the warning signals flaring in his gut.

 

That night, Changbin texted Kevin about the figure. The older boy brushed it off as him having an overactive imagination, but said he would ask Jacob to ask around the local circle of hunters anyway to see if any of them were pursuing a shapeshifter.

He also let in Penny, telling the curious crow about the figure. She tilted her head and chirped at him, slightly concerned.

“I’ll watch out for him,” Changbin interpreted.

The college student smiled and gave her a corn chip, scratching the top of the old birds head with his index finger. She crooned, snatching another corn chip straight from the bag.

Changbin really needed to make some new friends.

 


 

Thursdays for Changbin were usually a good mix of busy and not-busy. Two of his traditionally harder classes, Introductory Physics 1 at 8am and General Biology at 1pm, took up the middle chunk of his day, and, like most other days save for Sunday, the Careview Animal Shelter took up his evening from 3-9pm. Busy, but not too busy. A perfect equilibrium.

This Thursday was different, however.

Changbin woke up uncharacteristically late, sleeping through his alarm, which he hasn’t done since his first semester of college. When he arrived to his Introductory Physics 1 class, the professor assigned a two week long project, which, somehow, between 9am and 12am, he had lost both the prompt rubric and individual information form, the later of which was irreplaceable, as each student had specific questions for their assigned topic. The cherry on top, though, was the essay.

Around 12:30, thirty minutes before their next class, Changbin and Kevin were searching the Physics lecture hall for his individual information form, the elder dragged into it after the younger practically begged him, claiming “he had no free time” when Kevin knew for a fact his Sundays never had anything scheduled.

He didn’t say anything, though. He knew Changbin worked to the bone to maintain his grades in order to keep his scholarship. What kind of friend would he be if he left him all alone to scour the floor of lecture hall 2A?

“I swear it’s around here somewhere…” Changbin muttered, “At least I think it is?”

“Where else did you go today?”

“Uh, after class I went to the counselors office to drop my pottery class, and then I went to lunch.”

“Dining hall or off-campus?”

“Dining hall.” Changbin stood, sighing, “Maybe I should email him and ask him to email me a copy?”

“That’s admitting defeat,” Kevin said, “But… yeah, wait, that's a good idea. Why didn’t you do that first thing? I could’ve avoiding this whole fiasco.”

“I haven’t been exactly thinking straight today,” Changbin answered, “And it’s hard to get a hold of you because all you want to do is hang out with your boyfriend.”

Kevin squinted at him, “Uh, yeah? That’s kinda what you do with significant others - not that you would know.”

“Hey, I dated Mariana in-”

“That barely counts. It lasted four days before you dumped her,” the older man shook his head, “Poor girl.”

“I was gentle.

Kevin rolled his eyes and picked up his bag from where he had abandoned it near the entrance of the lecture hall. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter. How have your other classes been?”

Changbin cringed, following suit. “Everything is fine except that damn pottery class.” He swung the straps of his backpack over his shoulders, exiting through the door Kevin was holding open for him.

“Who thought the great intellectual behemoth Changbin Seo would be taken down by clay,”  The werewolf snorted, “I would’ve thought it would’ve been, like, organic chemistry, or something.”

“Why would I be worried about organic chemistry? That’s literally what I good at.”

“You’re more of a bio kid, though.”

“So?”

“I don’t know. I thought that essay would have you pressed, at least.”

Changbin frowned, “Essay?”

“You know, the one assigned this Monday? No?”

The younger shook his head, “No. We had an essay? Since when?”

“Monday!” Kevin exclaimed, “Dude, I take it back, chemistry is kicking your ass.”

“When is it due?” Changbin queried, stomach dropping with dread and frustration. As if this day could get worse, honestly.

“Tonight.”

Changbin’s jaw dropped, nearly tripping. “Holy fuck, um, can you send me the prompt? ASAP? How long is it?”

“Minimum word count is 7,000… R.I.P, man, you’re fucked.”

“For the love of God, shut up.” Changbin turned on his heel, racing out of the lecture building in the opposite direction of his next class as called over his shoulder, “Take notes for me!”

 

Changbin considers himself a punctual individual. He never missed a shift at the animal shelter, he never hit snooze on his morning alarm, and he never turned in a project late, but Thursday, September 13th was determined to change that. September the 13th was determined to change a lot of things.

He scaled the steps into his apartment when he saw him, reading a paper in the front lobby, back turned to the college student, but Changbin knew better. Unease rushed into his stomach.

And then it clicked.

The shapeshifter nearly tripped over his own feet as he stopped in his tracks. His neighbor wasn’t just a man out of a million, he was the figure - the figure that lingered across the street when he waited for the bus after work. The puzzle pieces fell into place.

Black coat, an opaque facade shielding him from prying eyes.

Heeled boots, spelling out deadly intentions with each morose click.

Dried ichor, the scent of long-dead demons both literal and metaphorical, clung onto him like a shroud of uncashed karma.

A wave of nausea washed over Changbin. This was bad. Really bad. He didn’t know what to do. He hated his past self for being too tired to pay attention to what was right in front him, ignoring the blatant facts in favor of catching sleep. Changbin, at this point in time, has never wanted to punch himself in the face more that moment.

He kept his eye on the man, watching him as he made his way to the elevator. He speed-walked the last leg of the distance, practically throwing himself in punching in his floor number, spamming the close door button. To his relief, the man never looked up from the paper he was reading. Changbin had escaped unseen.

He sighed in relief, shoulders sagging against the back wall of the elevator as he waited for this display to read floor 13. The elevator did not stop on a single floor, the trek to his apartment swift and uninterrupted. His shoulders tingled, the familiar urge to shift edging into his thoughts.

A chime signaled his arrival, the stainless steel doors parting in the middle, revealing the long hallway of doors, each labeled with a 13 and a number, counting all the way to 13Z, the rooms wrapping around in a square. He moved straight to his own, forgoing glancing behind himself in favor of getting in his apartment as fast as possible.

Breathing a sigh of relief, he pulled out his phone to send a quick text to Kevin.

1:20pm // Call me when you get out of class.

The college student shoved his phone into his back pocket and pulled his lanyard off from around his neck, sifting through it until he found his house key. He jammed the key in the slot and jerked it to the side, almost forgetting to pull it back out as he opened the door, reaching back out to grab before stepping back to close it.

As he did so, a hand - warm and painfully strong - grabbed his arm and the key slipped from his grip and fell to the floor with a clatter.

Changbin stumbled back, dragging the assailant along with him into his living room. The man remained sturdy, pulling the rag-dolling man up towards himself. The black haired man snapped his head up, a flash of blonde hair registering in his field of view before he was pushed back and pushed back-first into the wall, the picture frame of him with the other orphans falling and shattering on the floor with a enunciated crash.

The blonde had an arm to Changbin’s chest, pinning him to wall hard enough to knock the air out of him. Changbin gasped, eyes re-focusing on the contracted pupils of the man in front of him.

The hunter took a step forward, eyes narrowed and uncaring of the glass crackling under the thick soles of his boots. Changbin gasped when something cool touched his neck, his brain running a mile a minute before he realized the gravity of the situation.

He was being held at knife-point, a breath away from death. If he twitched a finger, he sensed the man in front of him would have no qualms shoving that shiny knife of his straight through his throat, but Changbin had a few tricks up his sleeve as well.

“Who are you?” The hunter probed, his voice level with a surprisingly high timbre.

Changbin kept his mouth shut, glaring definitely. He didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t owe him shit.

“Speak, or I’ll slit your throat right now.” Pale hands pressed the knife closer.

Changbin hissed through his teeth, “You’ve been stalking me for weeks, so why don’t you explain yourself first?”

Light blue eyes darkened, “If that’s how you’re gonna be, then-” he pressed the knife in harder, breaking the skin. Red blood dripped from the cut as Changbin held back a whimper, determined eyes maintaining his dignity although his gut curled with disquiet.

“Piss off,” Changbin spit, a spray of saliva covering the man’s face. Much to Changbin’s disappointment, it didn’t seem to anger him, just annoy him - which, in a way, was more terrifying than plain aggression and blind persecution. The man in front of him had self-control that hunter’s nowadays, according to Kevin’s boyfriend, often lacked.

Maybe it’s time to tone down the spitting.

“You have one more chance,” he said, unwavering, “before I put you down for good.”

He’ll kill me anyway, Changbin thought to himself, but I might as well give myself a fighting chance.

“Changbin Seo,” the raven-haired man acquiesced. The hunter mulled that over, watching his face carefully. Changbin wished there was more distance between them.

“Do you have another name?” He asked.

The college student furrowed his brow, “Why would I have another name?”

“Sometimes things like you go by two names,” He sighed, “You’re a black-blood, after all.”

Black blood?

The man moved the arm that had been pressed to his chest up to his neck, swapping some of the blood up on his finger tip. He held it between their faces, sliding his thumb back and forth on his index finger over the liquid. Changbin’s eyes widened as he watched it go from red, to maroon, to an ashy, charcoal black.

A voice he had long forgotten the existence of spoke up in the back of his head, cold-blooded whispering invading his ears.

“You can’t get rid of me, Binnie.”

His face blanched, horrified.

Changbin hadn’t heard that voice since he was 13.

A louder, more immediate voice cut into his panicked thoughts. Changbin had nearly forgotten he was on the verge of being stabbed.

“Changbin,” the hunter asked, “Have you ever killed someone?”

The 19-year-old’s lips curled in disgust, “No, what the fuck?”

The hunter continued, “Ever thought about it?”

“No!”

“Never?”

“Why the fuck would I think about that?” Changbin sputtered.

“It’s what demons do,” the man sighed, “and you’re no different. Things like you always give in to those urges, even if you’re raised like a human. But, you…” He turned his head to the side, regarding him, “... who raised you?” He laid his arm back across his chest, but didn’t push as hard as he had been previously. Changbin could breath better.

“I’m an orphan,” Changbin explained, “If you’re wondering if two grotesque devils raised me, you’re completely wrong. I didn’t even know I was a demon until I was in middle school.” He reached up a tan hand, grabbing the arm on top of his collarbone and shoulders. He didn’t pull it, instead simply letting his hand rest there. The vet in training was using the same strategies he had to use to calm a scared animal even if technically Changbin himself was the scared animal in this situation.

“Now if you could stop threatening to kill me, that’d be great.” Changbin cajoled, not wanting to prompt the hunter to do him in by being too hasty. The hunter’s blue eyes watched his begging brown ones - cold water debating whether or not to soak into warm soil. “We can talk without knives. I promise I won’t try anything. It’s okay.”

He slowly pulled his hand from his chest, eyes locked. The hunter sighed.

“Further conversation won’t be necessary,” he stepped back from the shapeshifter, the 19-year-old’s shoulders sagging in temporary relief before he steeled himself, uncertain what the hunter meant by his words.

He tucked his knife back into a holster at his hip, “You weren’t lying.” He stated it as a fact.

Changbin nodded, “Honors student right here, yo.”

“You have…” the hunter frowned, “... odd word choice.”

Changbin shrugged. The hunter regarded him, sucking in a deep breath through his teeth, head turning as he stepped towards the door. “I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”

“I’m not going to do anything,” the shapeshifter defended, “Have fun watching my non-existent social life. All I do if eat, sleep, and study.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

He closed the door firmly behind him.

Changbin was alone once again, brain lagging as he attempted to understand what had just gone down.

What just happened?

His phone buzzed in his pocket.

Kevin // 1:25pm // What’s up?

Changbin hit the green call icon next to his name and waited for him to pick up, dazed. Kevin picked up on the second ring. He was eerily calm up until the point where he had to speak.

I almost died, Changbin thought. If I had said the wrong thing, I would have died.

“This call better be important - I had to leave the lecture for this.” Kevin complained, oblivious of Changbin’s downward-spiraling thoughts.

If confrontation had to come anywhere, of course it was his own home. He was an idiot. He should've known sooner. He should have been more careful. He should have been more observant. He should have been more persistent with Kevin on getting Jacob to ask around.

“Binnie?”

Changbin shook his head. Now was not the time to panic.

“I-,” he took a breath, “I need you to call Jacob and tell him I need help. Now.”

“Dude, wait, hold up. What happened? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine - for now, at least - but I won’t be if you don’t call your boyfriend right now and tell him to get his skinny ass over here to help me figure this shit out.”

“Why Jacob?”

“Hunter stuff,” Changbin explained, taking a deep breath. He forced himself to get his next words out, voice lowering. “You know that stalker? The one who was following me after work?”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, well, he moved in next to me.”

“Are you serious!?” Kevin exclaimed, “ Dude, holy shit, oh my god? Fuck, I’ll call Jacob right now-”

The sound of a door opening greeting Changbin’s ear. A voice interrupted, “Mr. Moon, I will lock you out if you don’t take your phone call elsewhere or be quiet.”

“Sorry!”

The door shut.

“I hate our general biology teacher…” Kevin muttered to himself, “Anyway, sure. I’ll call Jacob. Is there anything else you need me to do? I can ditch this class if you want me too and come over. Just point out who I have to claw to death.”

“You’re not clawing anyone to death,” Changbin contested, “He was… Odd.”

“You talked to him!?”

“... We did a little more than talk.”

“That sounds so sexual.”

“Shut up, it wasn’t. It was terrifying. I nearly shit myself.”

“Was he at least hot?”

“I feel like you’re not being as serious as this situation requires,” Changbin bit sarcastically, “Just a little bit.”

“So? Was he?”

“Good God... I don’t care if you come over or not, just call Jacob.” Changbin ended the call, arm dropping to his side. On the floor was the picture frame that had fallen when the hunter had slammed him into the wall.

The photo was from the year Kevin left to live with his adoptive parents. Their faces - Marcella, Christian, Kevin, Angelina, Scottie, and the other’s - smiled (save for Scottie’s scowl) up at him from under the cracked glass. The photographer had such a difficult time making sure they didn’t blink. Changbin remembered that day fondly.

Anger bubbled up in the pit of his stomach.

Who did that man think he was to threaten to take all that away from him?

I am human in my own right, his eyes pricked with tears, I am human.

Footsteps reached his ear, and when he looked up, the grinning, black-eyed demon from six years ago stood across the room, sitting on the arm of the couch as if it owned the place.

“Get out,” he hissed, backing up into the wall.

It tilted its head and smiled, revealing its sharp teeth in a gruesome display.

“Get out!” Changbin repeated, louder this time, “You don’t belong here.”

“I belong everywhere you are,” it lilted, “Even the restricted sections.” Other Changbin picked under his nails, “Everything of yours is mine, and everything of mine is yours. It’s quiet romantic if you think about it.”

Changbin glared in silence.

“You don’t have to agree with me by any means,” he held up his hands, “but I think your new neighbor would agree with me.”

“He knows nothing about me. You know nothing about me.”

“We’ve been over this. I know everything about you.”

“You don’t,” Changbin denied.

“I do,” it pushed off the couch, stepping towards him. Changbin looked right through him. I’ve had enough.

“I need to finish my essay,” he muttered.

If I just ignore it hard enough…

“What?”

Changbin stood, “I need to clean the glass.”

… It’ll go away.

“Are you broken?”

He walked over to the hallway closet, “Jacob’s coming over. I need to talk to Jacob.”

“I don’t like being ignored,” Other Changbin growled, stalking towards Changbin and reaching out to grab him as he bent down to grab the broom and duster. It’s hands went straight through him.

“LISTEN TO ME!” He demanded.

“I need to clean the glass. After I clean the glass, I’ll start my essay. After I start my essay, I’ll talk to Jacob. I’ll talk to Jacob. I’ll talk to…” Changbin trailed off, repeating that phrase to himself until it was all that occupied his thoughts. He swept up the glass. He rested the photo safely on the counter. He retrieved his laptop from his room and curled up on the couch.

 

When Jacob walked in through the unlocked door after knocking for upwards of 5 minutes, he found the shapeshifter staring glassy-eyed at a blank word document, alone and quiet.

“Changbin Seo?”

The brunette approached the couch, circumventing it slowly, “Changbin?”

The college student flinched, blinking before registering that Other Changbin had finally disappeared from his peripheral vision and been replaced by a soft-faced, gentle-looking man.

“Jacob. Kevin’s boyfriend,” he explained. “You asked for me?”

“...Yes. Yeah, I did. Hello.”

Jacob raised an eyebrow, “I don’t mean to pry, but are you okay.”

Changbin hesitated.

Lie and say you’re fine, or tell him the truth? That you’re scared shitless?

He settled on the middle ground.

“I could be better.”

 

They went over what Changbin knew. When Kevin, arrived, they went over it again. By then, Changbin was bundled up in a blanket and warm, sipping the hot chocolate Kevin had brewed for him. The three of them sat at the kitchen counter, perched on the cheap, tall stools Changbin had bought from Ikea.

As they talked, Changbin worked on his essay, bullshitting the vast majority of it and using flowery language to boost the word count.

It was definitely not his best work, but it distracted him well enough. He was no longer panicking. The world felt at least semi-solid under his feet now.

The shapeshifter covered the past few weeks, telling the two of them about the stalker and when he had realized that his new neighbor was indeed the same person as the man watching him board the bus after work every other week. He hesitated to talk about that demon around Jacob.

“Tea?” He asked Kevin, knowing he would understand what he meant.

Kevin frowned before realization dawned on him, “Tea? It happened again.”

Changbin nodded. Kevin covered his mouth.

“With the hallucinations and all?” He whispered. Jacob looked confused.

Changbin nodded again, eyes watering. He cursed himself, wiping away the salty tears that had begun dripping down his cheeks. Kevin’s eyes were sympathetic.

“What’s… tea?”

“I’m not sure if he want you to know? No offense, but-”

Changbin shook his head, “No. Tell him.”

Kevin’s mouth hung open, flapping as he struggled to form words. He wasn’t good at dealing with emotional people. “Are you sure?”

The choked-up boy let out a quite yes and Kevin took the reigns from there.

Jacob turned to him, eyes concerned as Kevin took a deep breath.

“Take your time,” he reminded, “And you don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want me to know.” He glanced at Changbin, who was typing away on his computer while he nervously sipped his drink while he tried to stop crying. “Or what you think he wouldn’t want me to know.”

“Okay,” Kevin nodded. “So, what happened was basically…”

Changbin tuned them out with one earbud in, diving headfirst into his essay to hopefully make it less, well, shitty. He felt Jacob’s eyes on him on occasion and did his best to ignore it, tuning back in only when he finally hit the 7,000 word count. He turned to Kevin, surprised to see him slumped over on the marble, Jacob’s arm over his shoulder as he slept.

“How long was I working?” He asked in disbelief. The college student hadn’t registered that the two boys had stopped talking long ago.

“A few hours,” Jacob stated. “We didn’t want to interrupt you.”

“Oh,” Changbin said, “thanks.”

An awkward silence filled the room.

“So… Daemonologie, huh?” Jacob broke the silence, “That’s some intense stuff.”

“You’re telling me,” Changbin chuckled, standing. He went around the counter to wash his mug in the sink.

Jacob cringed, “I’m still pretty new to this stuff.”

“Yeah?”

“I’ve only known about the supernatural for, like, two years,” Jacob explained, “I, uh, walked in on my cousin after a hunt. If Kevin didn’t already tell you.”

“He did,” Changbin answered, running his fingers around the lip of the cup, hands lathering the soap against the smooth ceramic. Cleaning was soothing to him. “He said he met you through your cousin… Hwall, was it?”

Jacob snorted, “That’s what he goes by in the hunter community, yeah. His real name is Hyunjoon. Apparently it’s not intimidating enough.”

“And how old is he?”

“Around your age, -ish. He’s graduating high school this year.”

Changbin furrowed his brow, looking over his shoulder at the older man, “He’s hunting and he hasn’t even finished high school yet?”

Jacob bit his lip, sighing. “They start early. Too early.” He traced patterns out on the marble counter-top. “He’s not going to college, either, just… jumping straight in.”

The 19-year-old was shocked by that. “Wow,” he commented, “That’s… terrifying.”

“Yeah, yeah it is…” Jacob coughed, shaking his head. “But, on a side note, I think I have a way to find out who you’re mystery man is. Hyunjoon is… he’s an interesting kid with some interesting friends. I’m sure he’ll be able to figure something out. Or…”

“Or what?” Changbin toweled off the mug.

“You said he lived in room 16J, right?”

“Yeah,” Changbin answered cautiously. “Why?”

“I could walk over there right now and ask his name.”

The shapeshifter nearly dropped the mug - catching it at the last possible minute. “Jacob, are you insane? He tried to kill me, what if he-”

“He threatened to kill you because you’re technically inhuman. I’m human. He has no reason to hurt me.”

“You stink of werewolf.”

“And?” Jacob argued, “He is human, is he not?”

Changbin frowned.

Jacob’s lips curled up, speaking in singsong, “I’m going!”

“No!”

Jacob set down Kevin’s head gently and went straight to the door, speeding up when he heard Changbin chase after him, the younger man nearly falling as his sock-clad feet slid onto the tile. He hip checked the corner of the table, groaning in pain as he watched the elder open the door wide and dash down the hallway.

“Why is your boyfriend so impulsive?” He moaned to the miraculously still-sleeping Kevin.

Jacob knocked on the door. Changbin’s skin erupted in goosebumps when the tenant in that apartment opened the door and greeted him in his all-too-familiar voice.

“Hello?”

Changbin lunged for the door and quickly slammed it shut, muffling the two men in the hallway and startling Kevin awake.

“What’s going on?” He panic-mumbled, falling off the stool with a pronounced thump.

Changbin was too busy freaking out to respond, much less hear him. His chest heaved as he leaned against the door. Kevin blinked blearily at him from the floor, grimacing. “Did I fall asleep?” He looked around, “What time is it? Where’s Jacob?”

Changbin slid to the floor, clutching his knees to his chest. He put his finger to his temple and pressed, wondering why the universe hated him so much.

“Your boyfriend,” the shapeshifter pointed at his sleep-drunk friend, “Decided now would be a good time to give-”

The 19-year-old slumped backwards as the door opened behind him, eyes up.

Jacob looked directly down at him, lips curling at the corner upon seeing the wide-eyed shapeshifter tumble back like a clumsy puppy.

“What are you doing?” He asked, a note of fondness in his voice. Changbin blushed and sat up.

“Nothing…” He stood up and scurried back to the living room, already eight steps into inevitable combustion. The tips of his ears burned.

“I’m not dead, as you can see,” Jacob teased.

“What a tragedy,” the younger muttered under his breath. Jacob pretended he hadn’t heard. Changbin had his back turned to him. Kevin watched, confused and sleepy, from afar.

Jacob approached him gently and laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Look, I’m sorry for teasing you, but you need to calm down,” Jacob reasoned. Changbin refused to meet his eyes.

“I am calm, I’m just pissed that less than five hours ago that guy tried to fuckin’ stab me and you walked over there like it was nothing and held a fuckin’ civil conversation with him! Why, pray tell, can’t I receive that same common courtesy?” Changbin fumed, glaring at the elder, “I’m not… I’m not trying to hurt anyone. I just want to get my goddamn degree and pet dogs and shit - so don’t tell me to calm down.”

Jacob was silent for a moment, removing his hand. “Fine, yeah. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Changbin sighed, “It’s okay… just, try to understand where I’m coming from.”

“Yeah,” Jacob said. He checked his watch, “It’s getting late.” He glanced back at Kevin, who was rubbing his sore ass, still on the floor. “I should get him back to our apartment sooner rather than later.”

He stepped back, reaching down and picking up his sleepy boyfriend off the floor by hooking his arms, “Come on, sleepyhead. Get up.”

“Noooo!” The raven haired boy groaned, “You can’t make me.”

“Yes, I can. Now get up.” Kevin reluctantly stood. Jacob turned back to Changbin. “We’re leaving, but I can call Hyunjoon and have him shack up here if you feel unsafe. I won’t blame you if you do.”

Changbin shook his head. “I’ll be fine. Uncomfortable, but… fine.”

“You sure?”

The younger hesitated before shaking his head.

“Trust me, Changbin. I know a bad guy when I see ‘em,” Jacob reassured, “He won’t attack you again. Not unprovoked.”

“How can you be so sure?”

Jacob pursed his lips. “I call it intuition.” He led Kevin through the door with Changbin’s help, saying goodbye to his new acquaintance for the night.

The brunette halted suddenly, laying a hand on the door to stop the 19-year-old from closing it.

“Oh, and by the way?”

“Yeah?” Changbin said, tiredly.

“His name is Chris Bang.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 3 - Tolerate

 

Google was pulled up on his browser, his left hand covering his mouth as he scrolled through the search results. He chewed on his sleeve as he focused on skimming the words in front of him, looking for any scrap of useful information.

Who are you, Chris Bang?

Jacob and Kevin had left more than two hours ago, and Changbin was yet to find anything on him.

He wasn’t on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit - Changbin even looked on MySpace, of all places. He had scoured every website he could, utilizing every single background check service he could, and still, it was as if Chris Bang was a ghost.

Maybe he used a fake name?

Changbin sighed, eyes going in and out of focus on the glaring white screen in front of him. He really needed to get some sleep. The events in the last 24 hours had taken quite the toll on him.

Shutting his laptop, he shuffled down his hallway to his bedroom and sat down, head in his hands, brain empty after a day full of exertion. He lied back, too tired to situate himself properly, and stared up at the flaking, white ceiling.

 


 

Changbin navigated the streets of Bethlehem with a learned familiarity, avoiding the sidewalk tiles that were cracked or sticking up on his way to Careview shelter. It was a sunny day in mid-September, two days after the incident in his apartment. He was on the phone with Blythe, listening to her give directions.

She wasn’t going to be in when Changbin arrived, preparing to leave after she got a call about a injured dog hiding under someone’s house in the Circuit district, so Changbin was in charge of the shelter while she was gone.

“So, those kittens we got last week- three of them have already been adopted, but the other five are still available, so if anyone comes in, advertise those five. They’re the ones that don’t have collars yet.”

“Is Krissy adopted yet?”

“She was the first to go, actually.” Changbin smiled at that. “But they need to stay with the mother a few weeks longer before we finalize the adoptions. They’re still too young - not to mention underfed and weak.”

Changbin hummed in agreement.

“So… wait, where did I leave off?”

“You were talking about advertising the kittens.”

“Oh, yeah! Okay, so…” Changbin heard her grunt, sounding like she was leaning down and grabbing something heavy, “I didn’t have time to take the dogs out this morning so you’re going to have to do that first thing. Oh, and after that, do not forget to do the laundry! We are running scarrily low on fresh sheets-”

Changbin listened for the entire duration of his walk, making a mental checklist as he approached the shelter. He could see Blythe from where he was, red hair whipping about her face in it’s usual messy ponytail. She waved to him, hanging up as she boarded her ugly, pearl-green sedan, disappearing into the flow of city traffic.

She had left the back door unlocked, knowing that Changbin was going to be entering moments after her departure, allowing the young man easy access. He locked the door behind him before moving onto the rest of the shelter.

“Hello!” He called out to the animals, smiling as they yipped and whined excitedly in response, save for the few who were still new and guarded. The shapeshifter headed straight for the dog kennel room, opening the door to the back yard before letting them out one by one, watching them romp about in the brisk morning air.

He closed the door but kept his ears open to listen for any fighting as he headed to the laundry room, shoving the wet laundry from overnight into the drier, the heavy off-white sheets straining even his muscled arms. Closing the drier, he filled the washer with the next load and then returned to the dogs.

One of the smaller dogs - Milo, a Jack-Russell Terrier - was bouncing up and down, harassing an older Doberman named Jaws who looked like he had no more fucks to give.

“Milo!” Changbin called, gaining the attention of the tiny energy ball. He reached down and picked up a tug-of-war rope off the splotchy grass. Milo’s ears immediately perked up.

“Fetch!” The young man yelled, tossing the rope. He watched as three dogs chased after it, slobbering and tugging it away from each other playfully. The raven-haired man laughed, staying out there for thirty more minutes before leading them back inside the kennel.

The back door opened. Changbin peeped his head around the corner to see who Blythe had called in to fill in for her.

“Hey,” they greeted, tucking their bag in their locker. It was the person who normally worked the weekly morning shifts that Changbin could never make and who Changbin had ashamedly never learned the name of.

“‘Sup,” the 19-year-old greeted back, “In for Blythe?”

“Yeah,” they answered, “You can go on desk duty now. I’ll handle the back.”

“Okay! Call for me if you need help.”

He stepped away from the corner, following the hallway to the front lobby where he finally unlocked the front doors and flipped around the sign to open before sitting down in the spinney chair behind the desk, clipping on his name tag.

He went about his job, answering the questions of people who entered and giving people tours around the kennel who were interested in adopting, for a little over two hours before going on lunch break.

Swapping with the fill-in for Blythe, Changbin pulled out the container of chicken-risotto he had left over from a night out with friends from the fridge, sitting down at the table in the corner. He opened his phone, surprised to see a new grade notification shining up at him from the home screen.

Organic Chemistry (Walker) - New Grade added 09/15/2018, 1:07pm

“Oh, God…” Changbin muttered to himself, cringing as he opened the notification. He knew this was more likely than not the essay grade from a few days ago, and was dreading the horrific number he was probably about to read.

“Please, please, please…” he prayed aloud, reading the screen. His prayers were not answered.

Research Techniques Essay (Summative) - Points: 100.5/150, Percentage: 67%

Changbin’s jaw dropped.

“Oh my God,” he wheezed out. That was the lowest grade he has gotten in… he doesn’t even know how long. “Oh my God…” He repeated.

“I’m going to fucking kill Chris Bang.”

 


 

Much to Changbin’s loathing, the essay grade had made his overall grade in the class drop an entire letter, leading him to have a 81.03%. Now, Changbin tried not to be that guy - you know, the one who freaked out over one “shitty” grade that others would kill for - but his life depended on it.

He needed to keep his GPA up. A high GPA kept his full-ride scholarship. A high GPA kept the merit scholarships that allowed him to live as comfortably as he did. A high GPA was all that kept him where he was - in school, warm, and fed.

So when he freaked out about a 67% on a major essay, he felt he was justified.

“It’s not going to ruin your GPA, Changbin.” Kevin assured the stressed boy, “One B won’t ruin it. That’s not how GPA works.”

“Don’t patronize me, I know how GPA works.” Changbin frowned, sipping his coffee like his life depended on it, speaking around the straw. “I’m just worried, that, like, this is the beginning of something. What if I fail another assignment? What if I lose focus? What if-”

Kevin yanked the coffee away from him, the straw remaining in Changbin’s mouth. He held it out of reach.

“Hey!” Changbin dropped the straw like a dog dropping a rawhide.

“Shut up,” Kevin snapped. “I am so sick of hearing you complain about this like it was your fault. You were attacked in your own home and your stubborn ass still managed to get the essay in by the due date-”

“But the grade!”

“Forget about the stupid grade! You have plenty of time to make up for it and pull your grade back up.” Kevin held the coffee out of reach and Changbin reached across the table for it, earning them weird glances from the other patrons in the cafe. “And stop nervously binging on coffee. It’ll only make your anxiety worse.”

Changbin frowned, glaring at the elder.

“Don’t give me that face. You know I’m right.”

It was true. Changbin did know Kevin was right, but it wasn’t going to stop him. He stood up, grabbing his bag. He needed to blow off some steam.

“Changbin!” Kevin called after him as he stalked out of the cafe, “Don’t be like that!”

“Don’t tell me what to do!” Changbin retorted, already on his way home. All he wanted to do was go home, drop off his bag, and shift out of his human skin. He was done with being a college student for today. He didn’t care what he shifted into - he just wanted to get away.

After dropping off his bag at his apartment, he propped the window open and shifted into a crow, taking flight over the vast city he called home.

His problems seemed so small up here. So insignificant.

Grades were nothing to a bird. College was just another building for him to perch on. Chris Bang was just another speck in the concrete jungle, unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Changbin flew around the poorer Circuit district on the edge of the city, stretching his broad wings in the great, blue sky. He visited Penny and her mate in their nest by the Eumann Orphanage and brought them the pretty, metal cap of an antique soda bottle as a gift.

Building over building he flew, circling the rich Redwood district in search of little knick-knacks he could take home. Finding nothing but a chain of three paper clips, he flew over the water, a little black dot in the sky. He dove down, skimming the warm, glittering surface of Lake Bethlehem, beady black eyes watching the far-off horizon.

The world is a lot bigger than me, He thought to himself. Who am I to be upset over something so little? I won’t even think about that essay in a few months time. Circumstances weren’t in my favor, but it will all be fine in the end.

When Changbin returned that night, he felt lighter than he had in months - at least for a few hours.

And then the magic passed, and he had to face reality once again.

 

Monday morning - the undisputed worst time and day of the week. Changbin kicked off his day with a cup of coffee (as usual) before heading to his first class - Organic Chemistry. That wasn’t bad. He liked chemistry. Chemistry made sense.

Pottery, however, was an absolute conundrum.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God…” Changbin muttered to himself, cringing as the pot he was attempting to create on the spinning top of the pottery wheel caved into itself, depressed and misshapen. The teacher, Professor Rousseau, was over his shoulder, watching with his usual sadistic smile.

“Well done,” he mocked, pushing up his glasses farther up his nose. “You managed to make yet another monstrosity.”

The 19-year-old looked over his shoulder and glared at him.

“Got something to say, Mr. Seo?” The thin man provoked, thin lips parting.

He reminded Changbin of a praying mantis. The young man refrained from answering, turning back to his work instead. This was his last class, anyway, before he would switch out for music composition for the rest of the semester come Wednesday.

Professor Rousseau was simply to grating and… Changbin wasn’t sure how to articulate it, but it felt like he was picking him apart with his eyes - laying him flat on a steel table and prodding at his inner workings like a 1600’s mortician. His instincts wanted him to claw his face off like an angry street cat, but that may or may not be his misplaced anger about intro to pottery.

The shapeshifter ears carefully tuned in to his professor’s movement as he circled around him before directing his attention elsewhere, Professor Rousseau bending down with a smile to help another student.

Favoritism.

He sighed.

In two days time, he wouldn’t have to stick his hands in gross, overworked clay at all - instead spending his time learning how to take his hobby of writing lyrics (hopefully) to the next level.

As soon as the clock hit 3:00, Changbin was out of there, exiting the McGuire Art-Psychology building with more pep in his step than usual. Jacob, whom he hadn’t seen in person since the night of The Incident, commented on it.

“You’re happy,” he smiled, holding Kevin’s hand.

“I just finished my last pottery class,” Changbin grinned, “Professor Rousseau is a nightmare.

“Really?” Jacob’s brow furrowed, “I heard good things about him, though.”

“So did I,” Changbin walked with them, matching their pace as they walked to the other end of the campus, “And then I met the guy. I swear he has a vendetta against me, but I can’t think of what for.”

Jacob hummed, “That’s odd.”

“I don’t know,” Kevin shrugged, sending Changbin a teasing smile, “Maybe he just found you annoying.”

“I thought we established that that title belongs to you.”

They talked for a while more before they reached a cross in the sidewalk, parting ways as Changbin continued off campus to the nearest bus stop and Kevin and Jacob strolled to a late lunch.

He went to work, greeting Blythe with a smile. The young man checked up on the kittens, giving all of them, including the mother, love and affection - even sneaking the scraggly lady an extra treat before he retreated back to his post, feigning innocence to his boss who was looking at him suspiciously.

They closed on time, wrapped up the evening duties with haste, and were out the door by 9pm sharp. All in all, it was a good night.

On his way home, though, Changbin couldn’t help but look out for the familiar - although creepy - figure. It was a habit to watch out for Chris at this point.

There was no sign of the man and he found himself disappointed, somehow. Maybe part of him was seeking confrontation, still. The shapeshifter would like to give him a peace of his mind, after all.

But it was probably for the best if they didn’t see each other. Changbin would take being alive over petty revenge any day.

He kept that in mind as he boarded the bus, and later, the elevator.

Flash forward to the next night, and Changbin did it all over again. Go to work. Come home. Look for Chris. Sigh. Remember that it didn’t matter if he saw him or not.

Be calm.

Be kind.

Be human.

The world wasn’t friendly to things like Changbin Seo. He couldn’t ever let himself forget that.

He walked down the hallway to his door, hearing the faint, somber tones of a classic piece he did not know float down the hallway, soft enough that any normal human wouldn’t have been able to hear it. The raven-haired boy glanced towards apartment 13J, where the music was coming from.

Chris?

As if possessed, Changbin’s feet dragged him in the direction of his enemy’s apartment, compelled to listen to the mesmerizing tones. He leaned his ear to the door, the dulcet tones richer through the wood. It took him a bit to identify the instrument. Piano, he realized. It was beautiful.

He shook his head, realizing how creepy he was being by standing there, eavesdropping on whatever Chris was doing in there. Changbin shouldn’t have any interest in it. He shouldn’t.

But he does.

Backing away from the door, he retreated to his apartment, ignoring his strange, gut desire to linger and listen to the music. He escaped the hallway, legs taking him back to his bedroom where he promptly sat down and stared at the wood of his desk.

He couldn’t get the music out of his head.

Changbin needed to hear more.

The shapeshifter groaned, knowing that what he was doing was stupid, but he couldn’t help it. Some part of his brain was screaming for him to go back and listen to that song. There was something so compelling about it that he just couldn’t fight.

So, like a moth to a flame, Changbin propped his window open and shifted into a crow, flying out into the nightscape.

His wings glimmered with red light from the traffic below, keen eyes and ears examining the building as he flew around it, looking for the window that looked into Chris’s apartment.

 

Beady black eyes spied a tuft of blonde hair with a high-necked black collar and he knew he had found the right one. Changbin dove down, silent as a viper, and spread his wings, coming to a stop on his window sill. He perched there, looking in through the glass and waddling back and forth a bit to get rid of the glare before he settled in a good spot.

The hunter was playing with poised posture, his back to the crow as his fingers danced slowly - a light but tedious tune - playing each note with a practiced and refined expertise. The image was not what Changbin expected.

Rough, calculated Chris sitting prim and proper, letting music drip from his fingertips as a nymph would water - naturally and beautifully. It was a juxtaposition to what the shapeshifter knew. A duality not unlike the timeless tale of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde.

The songs he played spanned various emotions and tones, but the one thing that connected them was that they were all undeniably beautiful.

He watched for what felt like hours, never turning away. His only regret was that his bird ears could not hear everything a human’s could, but the songs Chris played were enthralling nonetheless. Changbin doesn’t know how long he would’ve listened if the hunter himself hadn’t ceased, standing up in the middle of a song after messing up, hands gently laying on the white, enamel keys of the house piano - touching them like one would touch an old friend.

Chris turned, icy-blue eyes looking out the window. Changbin couldn’t bring himself to fly away. After that display, one could say his opinion of Chris had changed, but the young shapeshifter would never admit it.

The hunter approached the window, his hands fogging up the glass as he undid the latch and lifted the pane. Cool air rushed in to meet him and warm, clean-scented air rushed out, coasting over Changbin.

If he were in his human form, he probably would have gasped.

“Hello,” Chris greeted, kneeling down so that he was eye level. “Did you like the music?”

Changbin tilted his head.

“Of course, you can’t answer,” Chris sighed. “You’re a bird.” He reached out a finger and laid it on Changbin’s head, ruffling the feathers there. Changbin preened instinctually, adjusting his wings and restraining from pressing up into his warm hand.

“Crows find beauty in strange things, don’t they?” He muttered to himself. Changbin watched his face carefully, watching as his lips tilted up slightly to one corner in a semblance of a smirk. Changbin could almost imagine what it would look like if he were to smile.

Yes, he thought to himself as he stared at the hunter’s minimally expressive face. I do find beauty in strange things.

Chris sighed, removing his hand from where it had been stroking Changbin’s feathers.

“Go home,” he urged, stepping away. “Tomorrow is going to be a big day.”

Is he talking to himself or me?

It didn’t matter who he was talking to, as the hunter shut the window and closed the latch with a gentle but decisive click, giving him but a short glance before retreating back into his apartment and heading back to what Changbin presumed was the bedroom.

The shapeshifter took that in, unable to categorize the new information about the hunter tonight in his head, much less how he felt about it. He flew back to his apartment, shifting back into his human form and shutting the window behind him.

He didn’t know what to do. In the span six days his world had become so… weird. And that was saying something. Changbin dealt with it the only way he knew how, retrieving his lyric notebook and scratching out the feelings running about his mind, staying up longer than he intended with his poetry. It was the most he had written in a long while.

Glancing at the bedside clock, he saw that much time had passed, the late hour of 12 O’clock glimmering proudly in neon green. He sighed, closing his lyric book and setting it on his nightstand.

Changbin stripped down to his boxers and turned off the lamp, the room cast in darkness as he laid flat waiting for his eyes to adjust. The 19-year-old stared up at the ceiling, all to aware that less than four rooms away, a very complicated, very confusing man was living his life completely unaware of Changbin’s inner turmoil. It made him angry, almost. But not quite.

He thought of the lyrics he had just written - fragments of several different poems, none of them perfect nor complete. At least Chris had given him something to write about.

Changbin glanced at the clock again.

12:24 am

He took a deep breath before giving in to his twitching hands, flicking the lamp back on and opening his notebook in his lap, pen already scratching out new thoughts.

It was going to be a long night.

 


 

Now that he really thought about it, Changbin was actually quite excited for music composition. Sure, he may be more into biology and health than writing, but it didn’t mean it didn’t interest him. In fact, it interested him a lot, he just never had the time to pursue it, but now that he was being graded on it, he had the perfect excuse to pour over lyrics for hours and lament over things he couldn’t change.

It was totally healthy. Totally.

He marched his way to the McGuire Art-Psychology building after eating lunch with Kevin and Jacob, as well as Hwall, who he had finally got to meet. The raven-haired boy was pleasantly sarcastic and witty, as well as sharing many interests of Changbin’s, the two of them making very fast friends of each other.

That encounter was on the back burner now, though, as he strode past Professor Rousseau, the lanky man giving him a saccharine smile and a sardonic wave of the hand. Changbin shifted his path farther to the right, nodding politely back, and hastened his step.

He arrived on the second floor not long after, checking his phone for the room number one last time before entering - L240, his screen read. He stopped at the room in front of him, checking the plaque next to the door.

Room L240

Music Composition

W. B. Richardson

“Sweet,” he commented to himself, entering without further ado.

The room was bigger than he imagined, although still not quite as large as a chorus room. The ceiling was higher than average, and the back was was peppered with tall windows with blinds that had been drawn up, bathing the room in natural light. In the thick of the classroom there were about fourteen double-desks with two chairs each, and in the front of the room, a desk that presumably belonged to the professor stood.

The most odd thing, though, was the vast amount of beanbags scattered around the edges of the room, along with a full-blown ugly floral couch in the back, too. He went over and inspected it since he was the only one in the room, early as usual.

He heard the door open  as he pressed his hand into the arm of the couch, snatching his hand away and acting as if he wasn’t just fondling the furniture, and quickly found a seat. The other student, some tall girl with a beanie, made brief and awkward eye contact with him before sitting a few seats away. They waited in silence as more students filtered in.

The professor entered five minutes before the class began, a kind-looking, middle-aged man taking his place behind his desk, but that wasn’t what caught Changbin’s eye.

A guy entered right after the professor, dressed like any other college student - T-shirt, jacket, and dark wash jeans - and to any other person but Changbin, they would be unremarkable. Just another college student.

But to Changbin they weren’t just another college student. They were his neighbor. His enemy. The cause of the complex and unpleasant emotions that swirled in his chest for the past six nights straight.

Chris.

Chris Bang.

Changbin was going to have a fucking aneurysm.

Please don’t let him sit down. Don’t sit. Don’t sit. The shapeshifter chanted to himself, slouching down in his seat. He didn’t care how stupid he looked, cringing as Chris turned around and crossed the classroom. Changbin breathed out a heavy sigh of relief as he made his way to the door, reaching his hand out for the handle-

-and closing it shut.

Oh fuck. Changbin’s brain went into overdrive. Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh FUCK.

Chris returned to Professor Richardson’s side, taking a stack of papers from him and jogging them in his hands to straighten them. The flipped up the corner on the top copy and began distributing them to the students as the teacher prepared the ceiling projector for whatever he had in store for the 28 of them.

Changbin straightened up, not wanting to make a bad impression on the first day in the new class. He watched as others received the paper and read over it, immediately standing and grabbing what looked like laptops from a charging cart in the front of the room next to the whiteboard.

He waited, hands twitching in his lap, avoiding looking at Chris who he could practically feel staring at him from a row over. The shapeshifter felt like a deer in the headlights, unable to move and unsure of what to do.

His breath hitched as the TA stopped beside him, laying a hand on his shoulder and sliding the paper across the black desktop. The shapeshifter felt like his skin was on fire from the contact, the instinct to shift and flee nagging at the back of his mind.

“I didn’t know you were into music, Changbin,” he said, voice dripping with something. For a moment, Changbin felt he knew that he had listened in on his piano session, and that he knew he was the bird on his sill, but he knew better than that.

There was no way for Chris to know it was him, right?

Changbin made a weird noise in his throat and squirmed away from his hand, looking up at the taller man. The hunter’s lips were quirked in amusement.

“Don’t touch me,” Changbin spat. Luckily, his table mate had just gotten up for a laptop, so no one was close enough to overhear. Chris removed his hand, but otherwise ignored him. He pointed to the title of the paper he had given him.

“Tone and Direction,” He read. “As you have probably guessed, you’ve missed more than a few lessons considering how late you transfered. Mr. Richardson has put me in charge of catching you up.”

Changbin kept his eyes on the paper and nodded, letting out a small sigh of relief when Chris took a step back. Changbin felt some of his instinctual fight-or-flight urges diminish, his shoulders relaxing slightly.

“Let’s be civil, yeah?” Chris appealed, moving to the other side of the desk. Changbin glanced at him and involuntarily ended up holding eye contact. “I won’t do anything to you here, so you can relax.”

“... alright,” Changbin answered warily, “Truce?”

Chris bit his lip and sucked in a breath, debating it with a tilt of his head. He nodded, “Truce.”

“Mr. Seo?” The professor interrupted, waving for the college student to come over. “Let’s talk for a minute.”

Changbin stood swiftly. He was less skittish after that brief conversation with the other man, but still did not want to be near him if he could help it. The college student met him at his desk, gladly taking the stack of papers the professor handed to him.

Professor Richardson explained to the 19-year-old how this class was going to go, considering he missed the first two weeks. He gave him a synopsis of the syllabus and what he has to cover before getting to the point in the course his classmates were at, advising he take some time outside of class to work with Chris on the curriculum in order to get up to speed, much to Changbin’s dread.

He returned to his seat, listening to the beginning portion of the lecture before Chris pulled him aside to one of the recording rooms.

The taller held open the door for him, the raven-haired boy thanking him quietly.  Changbin watched his face for any hints of emotion or character, but as usual, his facial expressions were neutral and well-schooled.

Chris took a seat at the piano and gestured for Changbin to sit down as well. The shapeshifter took a seat a few feet away, pulling up one of the practice chairs. He crossed his legs on top and used his notebook - closed, but with his pen tabbed on the page to start on - as a prop for his papers.

The TA twirled his pen in his hand, eyeing Changbin casually.

“So what makes a thing like you want to make music?”

Changbin rose his eyebrows, “E-excuse me?”

“I said, what makes a thing like you want to make music? Didn’t you hear me the first time?

“Yeah, I heard you! What the fuck ever happened to not doing anything to each other while we’re here?”

“I said “here,” as in reference to the classroom,” Chris articulated, “And as you can see, we aren’t in the classroom anymore, so therefore our truce is nullified - at least until we step back in that room. I can tear into you all I want.” He kicked back on the piano bench, getting comfortable. “Not physically, of course.”

Changbin watched him in stunned silence. Technically, he is right. And this room is soundproof. And it has no windows.

I am just continually fucking myself over, aren’t I?

“Well that’s…” Changbin hesitated, “... Dandy.”

“Again, with the weird word choice,” Chris hissed, “I swear, things like you…”

“Alright, no need to be fucking racist!”

“How am I being racist?”

Changbin felt a growl rise in his throat. As if he doesn’t know what he’s doing. What a dick!

“You keep calling me a thing. I’m not a thing. I’m a person. My pronouns are he/him, use them.”

“It’s just a word. Get over it.”

“Don’t tell me to fuckin’ get over it. I was fully prepared to go about this lesson with the utmost maturity and to treat you with respect, but since you’re being a bitch and not giving me a single ounce back, I don’t think I’m going to fucking roll over and get over it. ” Changbin punctuated with air quotes.

“Lord, why do you curse so much?” Chris groaned, “Can you not resist saying it for a single minute?”

“Say what?” Changbin felt his face grow red. He was so fucking sick of his discriminatory shit. “Fuck?”

Chris cringed, “Really, again? Stop it.”

“No, I fuckin’ won’t stop it,” the shapeshifter provoked. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck-”

The hunter put a finger to his temple, “Will you-”

“-fuck, fuck,  - you’re the one who started this, Chris Bang - fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck-”

Chris glared, his blue eyes like icy daggers, while Changbin continued ignoring him. He couldn’t ever believe he had found him charming, that bastard.

“-fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck-”

The TA took a deep breath, “Changbin, for the love of God-”

“Thank you!” Changbin ceased (for the most part) his excessive cursing. “You finally fuckin’ used my name.”

“Is that what you wanted? If I call you by your name, would that end your little,” the irritated blonde gestured with his hand, “tirade?”

“It’d be a good start,” Changbin answered. “Stop being racist towards me, and we’ll have a grand old time.”

Chris narrowed his eyes, “You’re a very angry little thing, aren’t you?”

“Only when I’m dealing with people who hate me for no reason.”

“Believe me, I have my reasons for hating things like you.”

“Again, I have a name. Stop calling me a thing. Also, stop projecting whatever feelings you have onto me. I did nothing wrong.”

“But you might,” Chris argued.

“But I won’t,” the shapeshifter assured, “because I am not what you make me out to be. I haven’t lived for 19-years just to have some uptown hunter tell me I’m not fit to live because of what my parents were. I am as human as they come. I love people. I love music. I love coffee, cat videos, and all the other things normal people love - so back off and chose your next words very carefully because I am very close to losing it.”

Chris stared at him a moment longer, examining the younger’s flushed, angry face and pointed finger. His jaw was clenched tight; angry. Changbin could tell the blonde man was also close to breaking.

“Fine, then, Changbin. What would you do to me if you lost it?” He pressed, “Bite me?”

“No, I’d probably go with something more tasteless - like pinning you to a wall in your own home, pressing a knife to your neck, and shattering every semblance of security to have in the place you should feel safest.” Changbin pouted, mocking. “Sound familiar?”

“If you’re trying to make me feel guilty, it’s not working.”

“Yeah, because something like you has never felt guilt in their life.” Chris’s brow furrowed, as he watched Changbin stand up, gathering his things. “You asked me all those demeaning questions in my own home while you slowly cut my throat. I’ve never felt so fucking violated in my life.

I don’t owe you shit. I’ve never killed. I never will kill. I don’t want anything from life but peace and quiet and getting my damn degree so I can help animals and save lives. There is so much out their that you can’t see, and you’re scared of it. You’re scared that things aren’t as black and white as you’ve made them out to be.” Changbin paused, “You’re scared that you’re worse than me.”

And like boiling water on frozen marble, he cracked.

Chris lunged at him, grabbing him by the collar and slamming him into the recording-room wall with a muffled thump. Changbin dropped his papers, hearing them scatter across the floor with his pen following them soon after. For the second time that week, he found himself at the hunter’s mercy.

Changbin wondered what he expected at this point.

Face close to his, Chris’s eyes darkened. Changbin could practically feel the anger in the air, and, for a moment, wondered if he had gone too far - for his own sake.

The hunter’s hand tightened on his collar. “I will never be-”

“Hey, Chris, Mr. Richardson wanted to- oh,” surprised voice cut through the tense atmosphere, “you’re… uh… feel free to take a minute.”

The two boys stared at her, another student with long black hair and shocked eyes, before looking at each other and realizing what their position looked like to an outside perspective. Changbin’s eyes were wide and he looked at Chris, not knowing what to say.

“Do something!” The younger hissed under his breath. Chris turned back to the professor, anger forgotten and replaced with mortification.

“I-I, we-” Chris stammered, “This isn’t what it looks like.”

“Sure, it isn’t. And, Changbin,” the girl teased, slowly shutting the door, “Just make sure you do the notes before you do your boyfriend. Mr. Richardson said you needed to get him through the environment and silence notes at minimum.”

Changbin choked at that, face flushing fifty different shades of red. I think I just vomited a bit in my mouth.

She gave Chris a wink before closing the door behind herself, leaving them alone in the room once again. Chris looked like he was dying inside, his eyes closed in a wince as he groaned. Changbin looked at him uncomfortably, turning his head up and away.

“Hey, can you, uh…” Changbin grabbed the hand at his collar. Chris snapped his away as if he was burned.

“Yeah, um… God, why?” Chris cringed in on himself, “I’m never going be able get over this…”

“Second that,” Changbin muttered. He stepped away from Chris, gathering the materials he had dropped. “Look, let’s just, um, never talk about this, like, ever again. At all.”

“I’m okay with that,” Chris put his hands to his eyes, dragging them over his face in anguish. “So,” He removed his hands away from his eyes, moving away from the shapeshifter and sitting back down on the piano bench, “let's start with… visualizing music.”

 


 

Agree to disagree.

That was the #1 rule of Changbin and Chris’s relationship.

From that Wednesday on, they avoiding touching the topics that made them tick. Chris got out of the habit of caller the younger a thing , instead addressing him like a normal human. They worked efficiently, utilizing as much in-class time as possible to catch Changbin up to limit how much outside class time they had to use, but it wasn’t entirely avoidable.

Since Changbin still had to attend the classes that were lectures, they had to spend some time working outside of class. Both their homes were a hard pass, neither wanting to allow the other in their space even though that would’ve been the most time savvy decision.

They learned to tolerate each other - and, although they would never admit it - maybe they even learned to like each other.

 


 

“Who’s your favorite composer?” Chris asked him next Thursday during one of their morning sessions completely out of the blue.

“Why?”

Chris hummed, “Just curious. You look like the type to like classical.”

“You’re pretty good at profiling, then,” Changbin smiled, “I really love Mozart.”

“Mozart? Really?”

Changbin raised an eyebrow, “You got a problem with him?”

“No, no, I love Mozart, I just pegged you as more of an, oh, I don’t know, a Vivaldi or Debussy fan?”

“Both of which are great, but you have to admit Rondo alla Turca really stole the show,” Changbin joked, only half serious. “What about you?”

Chris thought for a moment, “Satie or Shostakovitch.”

“I’ve never heard of Shostakovitch.”

Chris’s eyes widened, “Oh, we have to change that.” He pulled out his phone and gave Changbin his earbuds, “So, his Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor is my absolute favorite-”

 


 

Kevin pulled a single corn chip out of his bag, extending it to the black bird in front of him. The crow happily took it, making sure not to nip his friends fingers as he ate it.

“How’s music composition going?” the elder queried, watching as crow-Changbin tilted his head. He tapped out w-h-y in Morse Code.

“Just because,” Kevin popped a corn chip in his own mouth. “You’ve been acting a little weird lately. Not, like, a bad weird, just… weird. You talk about Chris a lot.”

Changbin tilted his head, black eyes curious as to what his friend meant.

“You didn’t notice? Dude, you mention him nearly every time I see you. At first it was complaints, but then you started talking about the things he taught you or how he was so thorough or how, he like, thinks. And you haven’t stopped playing that song he recommended to you. Little things, almost like you have a crush on him.”

Changbin squawked indignantly, feathers ruffling.

“Denial is very incriminating, you know?”

In place of a mean glare and sarcastic remark, Changbin pecked Kevin’s hand sharply as he reached for another chip, taking the whole bag in his mouth and flying to the other side of the room with it.

“Oh, don’t be petty.” The brunette rolled his eyes, “It’s been weeks and he’s all you ever talk about.”

If Changbin could frown, he would’ve. Instead, he nudged the corn chips of the counter with his beak, staring at Kevin as the chips all spilled to the floor - Kevin’s gross, unmopped, dog-hair covered floor.

“Asshole!” the werewolf cursed, getting up and chasing after his bird friend. Changbin squawked as he swatted at him, retreating to the open window. He flew out, landing on the power line outside Kevin’s home.

Kevin glared out his window, “Wreck my corn chips all you want. You’re still a scared, glorified furry who is obsessed with his TA!” He slammed the window shut, leaving Changbin out in the cold. He pouted internally, disliking how he found portions of truth within his friends rant.

The shapeshifter flew home that night, enjoying the feeling of the cooling autumn wind under his wings. A sense of deja-vu washed over him as he flew, reflecting on the past few weeks. He had the sudden craving to listen to classical piano music.

Maybe Chris really isn’t that bad.

Just Maybe.

 


 

Chris stared up at his ceiling that night, looking at how the plain white walls met the corners and formed the edges of the space. It seemed so boring. So void of character.

Changbin’s voice echoed in his head.

You’re scared that things aren’t as black and white as you’ve made them out to be.

He was right. He was scared. Terrified, even. The younger’s words had struck a chord so deeply buried with in him; a chord that Chris had avoided very passionately in the last five years that he had practically blacked it out. It was something he resented even entertaining the thought of.

And yet, while it frustrated him that Changbin was the one to say it, he was right.

Chris needed to sort his shit out.

 


 

It was late. Changbin had left a late night study session with Chris from the Bethlehem National Library less than 20 minutes ago. While on the bus, it had started raining, and by the time his stop came, it was pouring. Changbin held his bag over his head, regretting not bringing his umbrella when he was quickly soaked through.

He passed an alleyway on his short walk to the apartment building when he heard a small whimper come from a storm drain. The raven haired man, despite the fact that staying out in the cold, October rain would detrimental to his health, backtracked and began to investigate.

Changbin set his backpack down under an overhang to an adjacent building to the alleyway before crouching down. Since it was late, the sky had gone dark and cast the streets in black, making it hard for him to see - at least for now.

He retreated further back into the alley and hid behind the dumpster at the end, checking to the left and right for any sign of someone who might witness him shift. Upon determining his surrounding clear, the shapeshifter ducked down and swiftly changed his form into that of a small, black cat with striking green eyes.

Stalking back to the storm drain, he peered into the darkness, and at the very bottom, in a tide of rushing water, he could see a petite, quivering puppy, it’s head barely above the water line as it whimpered pitifully.

I have to do something.

He slipped into the drain, his small feline body easily squashing down to size. As he fell towards the water, he reverted back into his human form, knees scraping the bottom painfully. The 19-year-old nearly vomited, forgetting that it was rain water and not sewage, but refrained from pitching up his late lunch upon remembering that the faster he did this, the better.

His hands prodded the darkness, searching for the scrawny little thing. It took a few minutes, the puppy’s whining muffled by the rushing water, but eventually his hand came into contact with it’s wet coat.

“There you are,” he muttered to himself. He groped around, trying to get a good hold on it’s scruff. “I got you, come on.”

He lifted the little creature up and brought it to the opening in the storm drain, pushing it through and away until it was at a safe distance. He followed after it, bumping his head more than a few times as he struggled to pull himself up and out onto the pavement. By the end of his endeavor, he was covered in more than a few cuts and bruises, but it was worth it, the innocent creature safe in his arms.

Changbin retrieved his bag and hurried back to his apartment, smuggling the small creature in his backpack, removing his books and carrying them instead so that the puppy would have enough room. He opened the top of his bag once he reached floor 13 and checked that the puppy was okay before bee-lining for his apartment.

As he walked down the hallway, he heard a door open and looked up, the sight of blonde hair and stunned blue eyes greeting him.

“What happened?” Chris asked, closing the door to his apartment behind him. The older man looked concerned, jogging over and looking ridiculous in mismatching, red plaid pajama pants and a old, tie-dye The Grateful Dead t-shirt. “Is - do you have dog in your backpack?”

“Yeah,” Changbin answered, struggling to grab his keys with his arms full. “Hey, can you-”

“Of course.”

Chris took his books for him, holding them so that Changbin could get a grip on his lanyard.

“Thanks.” Changbin put the key in the door, “How did you know I was in the hall?”

“Normally we get home at the same time. You were late, so I was concerned.”

“Really? You’re starting to sound like you care, Chris.” He jested, opening the door and letting the elder in. “You can put the books wherever.”

“Alright,” Chris answered, “How else can I help?”

Changbin paused, running a hand through his wet hair as he thought. “Start getting some warm water running in the sink,” he stooped down and lifted the soaked, dirty animal from his bag, “or this little guy is going to freeze.”

Chris nodded wordlessly, immediately setting out to do as he was told. Changbin followed him soon after, setting the dog on the counter top and inspecting it for any injuries. Luckily, he was unharmed and looked to be surprisingly healthy despite the shivers, and appeared to be recently abandoned.

Upon closer inspection, as well, he realized the dog wasn’t a common breed - at least not in the uptown districts. Its jaw was stocky and firm, with a mottled blue and white fur pattern. A pit bull, most likely.

Changbin felt a kinship with it almost immediately, understanding the feeling of abandonment. People thought pit bulls were dangerous and evil. People thought creatures like Changbin were dangerous and evil.

“It’s gonna be okay,” he told it, holding to his chest. He held it until it stopped shivering, the blonde tapping him on the shoulder to tell him the water was ready.

“Help me hold him. He might thrash,” Changbin warned the hunter beside him - lingering, but unsure of what to do. “Can you go to my bathroom and grab a few towels? It’s at the end of the hallway across from my bedroom.”

Chris clarified what exactly he was supposed to look for before doing what he was told, leaving Changbin alone with the dog. The bath was short, the college student trying to make the bath as quick as possible since the dog had already been in the water for so long. He shampooed him (with the baby soap he kept under the sink) and got off all the dirt and grime before setting him on the counter.

“No, no, no!” Changbin cried when the puppy shook it’s coat, spraying water everywhere. “Dammit… You’re lucky you’re cute.”

Someone chuckled behind him and the shapeshifter whipped around. Chris was behind him holding at least four towels, his eyes curled up into two crescents and paired with a smile as he laughed at the younger’s predicament.

“He wanted to give you a shower too,” he jested, handing Changbin a towel. The younger looked at him in shock.

“Changbin?”

“That’s…” He took the towel, “That’s the first joke I’ve heard you tell. And the first time I’ve heard you laugh.”

Chris raised his eyebrows, “I tell jokes.” He sounded mildly offended. Changbin snorted.

“Not around me, you don’t.”

The elder opened his mouth to argue but shut it quickly after he gave the statement some thought. He’d been so on edge around the younger that his usual personality fell through the cracks and left him like a humorless plank of wood.

“I normally tell jokes,” he mumbled to himself, handing the other towel over and placing the rest on the counter top. “I guess, around you, I was… I don’t know.”

Changbin snorted, “You can say it like it is. I won’t be offended.”

“And how is “it?””

“You don’t tell jokes around me because you don’t like me,” Changbin said, voice surprisingly carefree despite the words coming out of his mouth. “We are polite because we need things from each other - not because we like each other.”

Chris frowned, “And does that not bother you?”

“I’m used to it,” the younger answered, drying off the puppy as he spoke, back turned. “I’ve always been the odd one out. I have tougher skin than you think.”

He scooped the puppy up in his arms, wrapping it like a little burrito with the towels. He brushed past Chris, walking into the living room and sitting down on the floor, the puppy in his lap in a heap of towels. Chris followed after, standing in front of Changbin as he dried the puppy.

Changbin reached for the elder’s hand, “You can help me dry him, if you want.”

“Are you sure?” Chris hesitated, pulling his hand back slightly. “Isn’t he injured? What if I hurt him and press on a bruise?”

“Don’t be silly, you won’t hurt him.” The raven-haired boy grabbed his hand and gently pulled him down to his level, “He had no injuries when I washed him, as far as I saw. He just wants warmth, the poor thing.”

“Okay,” Chris answered cautiously, sitting. They dried the dog together for about 15 minutes,  Changbin cleared his throat.

“You should probably go back,” he said, “It’s late, and you look like you’re about to pass out.”

“What about you, though?”

“What do you mean?”

“You need to shower, still.” Changbin looked down at himself.

Huh. I do.

“I’ll do that after you leave.”

“What about the dog?”

“He will be fine if I leave him be for ten minutes. I won’t take a long shower.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” The shapeshifter answered. Chris frowned. “You want to keep petting the dog, don’t you?”

“... Yes.”

“I know the feeling,” Changbin chuckled, standing up, “But I don’t want you in my house while I’m showering, considering our track record.”

Chris clicked his cheek, nodding.

“I don’t blame you. Sorry about that, by the way.” He handed the dog to the younger, Changbin escorting him to the door.

Changbin snorted, “ Sorry is not gonna cut it, beefcake. I’d need a handwritten apology in full detail with 1,000 words in order to forgive that.”

Chris cringed, “I’ll add that to my to-do list.” He turned around, blue eyes looking over Changbin one last time before he disappeared to his own apartment. “Get some sleep, okay? I’m not sure what you went through to get that dog, but it looks like it was a lot.”

Changbin was shocked by the sincerity in his voice. It always caught him of-guard when the older man was kind to him, especially since he showed how well he could pretend after the recording room incident. Changbin gave him a soft smile, pushing down the uncomfortable feeling rising in his gut.

“It was,” he sighed. “I’ll try. See you Monday.”

“See you Monday,” Chris echoed, turning away. Changbin gently shut the door.

Suddenly, the feeling in his gut hit him like a train.

Chris had joked. Chris had smiled at him. Chris had checked that he was okay.

What the fuck?

He had ignored, for the past four weeks, the signs that Chris was warming up to him. He kept dismissing them, telling himself that he was just being polite, but was he? Changbin has studied people his whole life and knew when their expressions were genuine.

When the puppy shook and sent water flying everywhere, Changbin had complained in the cute voice he normally uses with animals, and Chris had heard him. Oh God, Chris saw all of it. It made him feel so vulnerable and he hated it. Chris had smiled, his eyes crinkling as he watched the younger.

Those crinkles only appeared when someone was truly happy, and his smile had been directed at him.

Changbin rushed to the shower, yelling at himself to get these thoughts out of his head. He was being foolish. Why would Chris be genuine with him? Chris was a hunter. Chris hated Changbin. He had no reason to like him at all.

Changbin sighed, closing his eyes as warm water fell on his shoulders and willing back the panicked, conflicted tears. The shapeshifter lifted his head and took deep breaths, reminding himself that it was okay.

I have no reason to like him at all.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 4 - Contemplate

 

The next morning, when Changbin got up to take the dog to the shelter, he found a envelope in front of his apartment door. It was crisp, but unsealed, the sender opting to fold the top flap down rather than lick the glue strip. He flipped it over in his hands.

“To Changbin,” it read.

The young man frowned, brow furrowing as he opened the letter. The dog, who he had taken to calling Apollo, slept in a puppy carrier at his feet, still tired from yesterday’s endeavors. He unfolded the paper inside, hearing the animal shift in it’s cage with a sleepy curiosity.

“Changbin,

You have no reason to believe me, but I wanted to let you know that I am truly and deeply sorry for how I treated you. You were not deserving of the abuse I dealt you, and while-”

Changbin folded the paper back up as he realized what the letter was about, recalling his words from the night before about his conditions on receiving forgiveness. He opened the letter again, taking a deep breath and willing himself to continue reading despite the embarrassment he felt coursing through his body.

Chris had taken the 1,000 word handwritten apology letter comment seriously, much to Changbin’s regret. He hadn’t meant it. He was joking, for Christ's sake!

But, as he went through, he couldn’t help but smile at the words Chris had put down, his narrow handwriting messy and familiar from what Changbin had seen on his music composition notes. It was endearing, almost. He wrote exactly like he spoke - overly formal with an odd sense of humor and too many religious references - but it was so Chris that it didn’t bother him anymore. He even wrote the word count at the bottom: 1,019 words.

Crazy bastard.

He slid the letter under the crack of his door as he departed, pulling out his cell phone to send a text to the elder. Their text history consisted of only a few brief time negotiations for meeting up; no personal or polite conversation in the slightest.

7:43 am // Christopher Bang, please tell me why you gave me a goddamn essay to read at seven in the morning?

He tucked the phone back in his pocket, picking up Apollo’s carrier by the handle and heading out to the bus stop. As fit as Changbin was from all his near-daily gym visits (part of the college campus, god bless) he wasn’t exactly keen on walking all the way to Careview on a early, cold, October morning.

His phone went off as he sat down, holding the carrier in his lap to prevent any accidents.

Chris // 7:50 am // I wanted you to know I was serious.

Chris // 7:51 am // Also, what did I say about cursing around me?

Changbin ignored his complaint about the cursing, rolling his eyes.

7:51 am // I didn’t think you would actually do it. (unsent).

The shapeshifter pursed his lips, thinking before adding on.

7:51 am // I didn’t think you would actually do it, but I really appreciate that you did.

7:52 am // Thank you.

Chris // 7:52 am // I should be the one saying thank you.

Changbin smiled to himself. He petted Apollo’s side through the grate at the front of the carrier, sighing. The little dappled creature pressed up against the warmth of his hand and whined. The 19-year-old cooed at him, “Did you like Chris?” He asked it, knowing the dog wouldn’t respond.

“I think I’m starting to,” he answered his own question, looking back to his phone as it lit up.

Chris // 7:55 am // How is the dog?

7:55 am // He’s doing well.

Changbin quickly snapped and attached a photo of the dog nibbling on his fingers.

7:57 am // I named him Apollo because I found him in the rain and I like irony.

Chris // 7:58 am // That’s… oddly fitting. You really love animals, don’t you?

7:59 am // More than anything.

The bus lurched to a stop. Changbin pouted.

7:59 am // At the shelter. Talk to you later :)

He shut off his phone and exited the bus, walking the short distance to the shelter. Blythe looked at him odd when he entered.

“Is there something on my face?” He asked, concerned as he wiped around his mouth.

“No,” she answered, pushing her glasses up, “You’re… more smiley than usual. Did something happen?”

“I guess you could say that,” Changbin answered vaguely. Blythe gave him a knowing smile.

“... Alright,” She pointed to the carrier, “I see you’ve brought a new guest?”

“Yeah,” he turned the open face of the carrier towards her. Apollo’s ears perked up, barking.

Blythe sighed, “Put him in the puppy kennel and I’ll add him to the registry.”

 


 

Chris returned to his apartment that night with hands that smelled of wet dog and a disposition that reeked of regret.

“I’d need a handwritten apology in full detail with 1,000 words in order to forgive that,” Changbin had said, voice high and light like it was a joke, but the elder knew better. Chris didn’t deserve forgiveness unless he put in the effort and stopped excusing his past behavior with outdated reasoning.

He sat down at his work desk, laying a neat piece of stationary in front of himself and plucking a pen - any pen - from the mug that balanced precariously on the edge near the trash can. He bent over, writing utensil tapping on the desk as he thought. Chris took a deep breath and threw then pen down.

Where could he even start? There was too much to cover.

His stomach churned as he thought about saying sorry to him. On one hand, he knew that it was unfair of him to cast his prejudice on the younger, and the 19-year-old had done more than enough to prove Chris’ assumptions wrong, but… what if? What if Chris was a fool who let some devil take advantage of him with a few charming smiles and periodic spouts of humanistic rhetoric? Either way, there was a chance Chris was making a massive mistake.

But then again, no mistake could be worse than the one that lied buried in his past.

He groaned, dragging his hands over his face as he looked down at the blank page staring up at him, taunting. His hands twitched, the voice in the back of his head urging him to crumple the paper up and tear it into a thousand pieces. But that wasn’t a solution. There were new rules in his life, now, and he had to abide by them. He picked up the pen from where it had landed and set it to the paper.

Chris wrote six drafts that night, begrudgingly settling on the latest version as his eyes began to shut; exhausted. He re-typed it into word and wrote the word count at the foot of the paper and tucked it in the envelope, scrawling the younger’s name on the back and tucking the top fold into the front.

He slipped out of his apartment, bare feet shuffling along the cold floor, the 20-something feet to Changbin’s door seeming to unbearingly far. The blonde set it on the ground, staring at it from above. Chris didn’t know why he was doing this. He blamed it on the sleep-deprivation.

For a second, he felt the urge to reach out and knock on Changbin’s door. It wasn’t for any particular reason, but nonetheless, the urge was there, his hand twitching at his side. If he just reached out and knocked, the younger would be at the door in minutes, dark eyes blinking away sleep, his deep voice gravelly.

He’d be irritated but would still say, “What’s going on, Chris? Are you okay?” Changbin was kind like that.

Chris sighed, heading back to his room. He closed the door behind him, the lock’s click barely registering in his head as he shuffled off to his bed, collapsing with an emotionally drained huff.

The linen was rough on his skin, but he didn’t care. He buried his face deeper, hoping the fabric would somehow help him pass out and stop thinking so much. Chris wasn’t used to thinking. He was used to routine.

Hunt a demon, kill it. Attend class, do his work. Hunt a demon, kill it. Teach with Mr. Richardson, help the underclassmen. Hunt a demon, kill it. Pray to God, carry out his sentence. Hunt a demon, kill it.

Cut and paste. Chris did as he was told. He had always done as he was told - gone above and beyond it, even.

And killing Changbin was something he had to do. Or, at least, something he was supposed to do. But he didn’t. Chris, instead, had become attached.

Changbin practically deserved an award for that, since Chris’ list stable relationships was able to be counted on less than one hand. His prowess with people was insincere. A social fraud, he liked to call himself. Fake.

But Changbin made him feel real. Sincere, even. He made him laugh, something Chris rarely did genuinely, as well as smile. Even if he cursed far too much for Chris’ liking, he couldn’t bring himself to find that as a reason to dislike him. The young man was too pleasant. Too sweet. Too charming.

Chris groaned, hating the feeling of breathing in his own breath through the bed sheets. It was too warm and muggy and gross. Disgusting, if you thought about it too much.

Focus on that, he thought to himself,   focus on anything but him.

 


 

After work that Sunday - the same day he had received the apology letter from Chris - Changbin went to lunch with Hwall.

Way back in late August, Changbin had asked Kevin if he could ask his boyfriend about any hunters in the area. Jacob hadn’t known anyone, but he had passed the word onto his cousin. For a couple weeks, Hwall had found nothing, but after Jacob had learned Chris’ name, he began to make a lot more progress.

It was mid-October, a month and a half since Hwall had started digging. Changbin got a text from the barely-adult male just as he was leaving the shelter after dropping off the puppy, Apollo crying as he left. He had two unread messages from Chris, as well.

Chris // 8:00 am // It’s very endearing, how you talk about them. The animals at the shelter are very lucky you are there.

Chris // 8:00 am // Talk to you later, as well.

Changbin smiled, restraining himself from responding. If he got caught up in another conversation with Chris, that would end up being his entire day. He exited out of the chat with him, switching to the rookie hunter’s.

Hwall // 8:42 am // i got some info on ur hunter boy. talk over breakfast?

8:47 am // Sure, where? I just left work so I’m near uptown.

Hwall // 8:50 am // you know that piece near campus?

Hwall // 8:50 am // *place

8:51 am // Yeah. Nook’s, right?

Hwall // 8:51 am // yeah

Hwall // 8:51 am // meet me in 30?

8:52 am // omw

Changbin queued up at the bus stop, taking the first ride towards campus. He got off at the stop he knew, to the best of his knowledge, that was closest to Nook’s and walked the last few legs himself. He pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head, bracing himself as the wind picked up.

When he arrived at the cafe, he was ten minutes early with a red nose, slightly chaffed from the wind. He ordered an iced blonde coffee with one pump of caramel and a savory breakfast bagel before parking himself in a window-side booth.

He waved to Hwall through the glass when he saw him, the 18-year-old boy bundled up head to toe in defense against the wind. Hwall pulled down his face mask as he entered.

“You didn’t order for me? I see how it is,” the raven haired boy jested.

“I don’t know what you like to drink,” Changbin grumbled.

“I’m joking,” Hwall set down his bag on the bench opposite of Changbin, “I’ll be right back.”

He returned soon, steaming coffee in hand, and sat down across from the elder. The hunter opened the main compartment of his bag and pulled out a ragged-looking, unlabeled composition notebook.

“I thought leather notebooks were in style,” Changbin teased, “That’s all they use in Supernatural, right?”

“Supernatural is a load of bullshit,” Hwall scoffed. “I have one important question, though… Sam or Dean?”

“Dean.”

“Oof, really?” Hwall chuckled, “I’m more of a Sam fan, personally. I pegged you as one, too. You got the whole moody-silent type thing going for you.”

“To each their own,” Changbin shrugged, “You drink your Americanos' hot?”

“Yeah,” Hwall took a sip as he flipped through the notebook, searching for the right page. He peered at Changbin’s drink, quirking a brow, “You one of those people who insists on putting ice in everything?”

“No,” Changbin answered, “I just like knowing what my friends like.”

“Oh,” Hwall frowned, “That’s… nice.”

“You got a problem with me considering you a friend?” Changbin took a bite of his bagel.

“I’m don’t. I’m just tired and can’t entertain social interaction appropriately quite yet.”

Changbin snorted, “You and me both.”

Hwall split a grin at that, settling on a page. He sipped his coffee again, clearing his throat roughly before he pointed to a place on the paper.

“Come closer.” Changbin leaned forward to see. “So, blondie, right? I asked around about him a few times when I visited the underground and no one knew about him, that is, until Jacob filled me in on his name. This right here -” he pointed to a chart that had been taped into his journal. It was old and water stained, but legible nonetheless. “-This is the tab chart they keep at the bar. I cashed in a favor with the barkeep and she let me take a look through it. This was the earliest he was mentioned.”

“December 13th, 2012… thats almost five years ago. Are you sure he didn’t come around before then?”

“No one had ever seen him before that day - I’m sure of it. The barkeep said that the first time she met him, he walked in bloody and dirty and all he ordered was a glass of ice water. He wouldn’t answer her when she asked him where he was from and wouldn’t take the whiskey she offered him - whiskey he looked like he very much needed.”

“That's… odd.”

“You’re telling me,” Hwall snorted, “From what I’ve gathered, he is an incredibly skilled hunter. Renowned, even. He goes mostly after demons and fiends and never loses a single one.”

Changbin hummed, “And this... ‘underground,’ you said… What is it?”

“It’s the system we got, although the name is a little misleading. None of it is actually underground. It’s a agreement between establishments - select bars, taverns, etc… -  to allow hunters to mingle and exchange information. We have a few code words we toss around - symbols, and all that. Very low-key. You can’t find anything if you don’t know what you’re looking or listening for.”

“I assume you’re not gonna tell me more than that?”

Hwall shook his head, “Not until you have a kill under your belt.”

“Yeah, no,” Changbin chuckled, clicking his tongue, “I’m a pacifist.”

“Tree hugger, I believe you mean.”

“You’re just jealous because Smokey the Bear is my best friend.”

“You got me there,” The hunter snorted, “But at least I’m not making moves on a guy who tried to stab me.”

“That’s a low blow.”

“He’s gonna be getting a low blow, if you know what I-” Changbin stole his notebook and whacked the younger over the head with it. “Shut up right now if you want to live.”

“I thought you were a pacifist? Hey, ow!” Changbin hit him again, earning a few looks from the other patrons.

The shapeshifter sat back down, preferring to not get kicked out, and returned the book to Hwall. The younger snatched it back, moving it out of Changbin’s reach.

“Did you find out anything else about Chris? Anything at all?”

Hwall shook his head, “Nothing besides that he has a high kill rate and is somehow still solo, despite being in the game for almost five years. Most people get a partner, but he passed up on every offer that came his way. He never joined any coalitions, either.”

“And that's weird?”

“Incredibly.” Hwall sounded impressed, “I’m surprised he isn’t dead.”

Changbin recalled the night he first met Chris, remembering the calculated, cold look in his eyes. He shuddered.

“I’m not.”

 


 

The following Monday, Chris and Changbin had concluded their last study session together. Changbin had caught up completely, totally up to speed with music composition and in a good place for midterms. The two boys lingered awkwardly as they packed up their books and laptops, neither wanting to leave the library quite yet, but neither knowing what to say. This was weird, they both thought, they should want to leave.

But they don’t.

Chris cleared his throat.

“So… this is it, huh?”

“Yeah… this is it.” Changbin bit his lip, “This feels like it went by faster than it did, now that I look back on it. I can’t believe it's October already.”

“Me neither,” Chris smiled. He shifted from foot to foot, nervous.

“Listen,” the two of them said in sync, both quickly shutting their respective mouths and gesturing for the other to go first. Changbin won, and Chris started with a nod and a sigh.

“I just wanted to say I’m sorry,” Chris began. He ignored the younger’s protests that he had already apologized and continued on, “No, really. I need to say this. I’m sorry for what I said and did to you. I can’t express how much I regret my actions. You’re a really kind person and you didn’t deserve any of it. I know I already said this in the letter, but you deserve to hear it from me, face to face, and I didn’t know when I was going to be able to see you again - alone. I didn’t want to drop by your apartment because, well… my track record isn’t great. I’m sorry.”

“I’ve already forgiven you,” Changbin answered. “You don’t need to apologize anymore. You had a bad experience and it changed your perspective. I understand. You’re fine.”

“Changbin, still, I-”

“Shut up,” Changbin frowned, “I swear, if you apologize one more time, I will slap you.”

Chris laughed, “Fine… alright.” He opened the door for him, letting the shorter man through first. “What were you going to say before we cut each other off?”

The raven-haired boy walked alongside him to the exit, “Well… I was going to ask you if you would like to keep meeting up.”

“But you’re caught up with music composition?”

“I’m aware,” Changbin clarified, rubbing the back of his neck, “I… uh, meant as friends.”

Chris stopped in his tracks, “As friends?”

“Yeah,” Changbin answered, “Believe it or not, I like being around you, Chris.”

It took a moment for that to sink in. “I like being around you, too.”

“I’m glad,” Changbin smiled, ignoring the bundle of social anxiety rising in his throat. “How does Sunday sound?”

“Sunday sounds great,” he responded, moving out of the way of the door to make room for a couple, “Any place in mind?”

“We’re neighbors,” the younger laughed, “I’m free all day. Come over around 12 and we can go wherever - I’m not picky.”

“Great. Yeah, that sounds great. I’ll see you then.” Chris waved. Changbin returned the gesture, watching the older man unlock his car and drive away. He smiled to himself, the expression never falling from his face, even when the bus was late to pick him up for work.

 


 

“Kevin, pick up your fucking phone…” Changbin muttered to himself as he paced around his room, closet torn apart and strewn across the room.

“It’s 9:30 in the goddamn morning,” Kevin’s tired voice droned through the speakers, “This better be important.”

“It is!” Changbin switched the phone to speaker mode and set it down on his nightstand, “I’m going out with Chris today and I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.”

“Oh…” Kevin mumbled, “OH! Oh my god, you’re going out with him.”

“As friends,” Changbin clarified, “Don’t misunderstand.”

“... Right, sure, ‘friends.’” Kevin mocked, “You’re lucky I love you and that I understand you anxieties, you dumbass, or I would so be teasing you so hard right now.”

“I love you too,” Changbin nearly wheezed, “Now tell me what to do because I am ten minutes from turning into an bald eagle and living in Yellowstone the rest of my life in order to avoid this.”

“Do I have permission to come over or do we have to do this over the phone?”

“Phone.”

“Fine. I’ll facetime you, then,” Kevin compromised. “Fair warning - I look like shit. Jacob and I went out last night.” The call ended and was replaced by a facetime request from the elder, which Changbin promptly slammed the answer button to.

Kevin stared at him, hair tossed a million ways and eyes at least eight different shades of hung-over. “Now what are you freaking out about?”

“Everything,” Changbin answered, “and I don’t know why I’m freaking out. I didn’t care before, at all. Like, not in the slightest. I mean it. But now my stomach is turning like a goddamn Amish butter churn.”

Kevin sighed, “You have so much to learn, Binnie.”

 

Two hours and twenty-eight minutes, one shower, three clothing changes, and one near-disaster with the toaster later, Changbin was laying down on his couch taking his last two minutes of peace before Chris arrived and sent him into another social-panic frenzy. Kevin had managed to mellow him out, soothing the normally rational boy back down until he was as calm as he normally was.

I’ll be fine, he reminded himself, closing his eyes.

And then the doorbell rang.

Changbin looked through the peephole before opening the door, stepping out to meet the older man. He raised his eyebrow at his attire - a Bethlehem National hoodie with a pair of worn, black jeans and tennys.

“You’re… casual,” Changbin commented, looking him up and down.

Chris frowned, “Is it too plain? I wasn’t sure where we were going.”

“No, no it’s fine. I’m wearing a sweatshirt too,” he fiddled with the edge of his baseball cap, “I haven’t seen you in anything but chic formal wear, is all. It looks good. You look my age for once.”

“What do I normally look like?” Chris asked, amused.

“Like you live in the closet of a fashion designer with an affinity for the grey scale.”

“I’ll pretend that's a compliment.” Changbin shut the door behind himself and the two of them boarded the elevator. Chris punched the ground floor button. “So, where to?”

“Anywhere you want.”

“Putting the decision making on me, I see.” Chris jested. Changbin glared lightly at him out of the corner of his eye, “How about you take me to meet the shelter animals?”

Changbin’s eyes widened. He wants to go where?

“I know that it’s not the most orthodox place to hang out, but you talk about them so fondly I can’t help but be curious.” Chris shrugged, “Plus… I may or may not want to see Apollo again.”

The shapeshifter snorted, “You’re using me to see cute dogs. How could you?”

“To be fair, I would do anything for a cute dog.”

“Good.” They stepped out of the elevator on the ground floor exited the building, crossing the street to the car lot. “Have you ever thought about volunteering?” Changbin asked as he put on his seat belt, looking around the cabin of Chris’ modest, mid-size sedan.

“I haven’t,” the blonde admitted, “But between getting my master’s degree, teaching, and, well, family - I don’t think I’d be able to make time for it.” He glanced at Changbin, turning the ignition. “How do you have time to volunteer, or all people? Last time I checked you were a full-time student.”

“Last time you checked?”

Chris grimaced, “Well, I was hunting you, once upon a time. I know a lot of random things about you - which, now that I think about it, is kinda awkward.”

“What do you know?” Changbin asked cautiously, “Please tell me you haven’t seen my high school yearbook photos.”

“Nothing like that,” he smiled, “Mainly your schedule. I don’t know how you keep so busy and still get everything done.”

“Says the workaholic,” Changbin needled, eyeing him. “I don’t want to sound cocky, but I’ve always had a good work ethic. If I ever wanted or needed something, I had to get it on my own, most of the time, so I’m used to being busy. It keeps me sane, having a full schedule.”

“But you need time to rest, too.”

“I do rest - my Sundays and Saturday mornings are always free.”

“And you’re spending your one free day with me?” Chris turned to look at him, stuck at the red light.

“Yeah, I am.”

The hunter nodded, sucking in his lip. “I’m flattered.”

“Don’t be, it’s not a big deal,” Changbin excused, waving his hand. He pulled out his cell. “I’ll call Blythe to tell her we’re coming.”

 

Blythe was confused as to why Changbin was coming in on his one day off, but her tone quickly changed after she learned he was bringing a friend. When they walked in, she gave Changbin a knowing look, opening her mouth to speak.

“He is just a friend,” Changbin cut her off before she could start, “Nothing more.” Chris gave him a confused look that he ignored.

“If you say so,” she sang, tossing him the keys. “Do me a favor and take the dogs out on a walk, will you? They could use some fresh air.”

“Are you okay with that?” Changbin looked to Chris, only to not see him. He turned around a fully, catching the blonde man kneeling by the kittens in the display kennel. They kept them in the front so that people would see them and (hopefully, more often than not) adopt them - and it worked. The litter of kittens Blythe and him had rescued over a month ago were all adopted and had just recently been allowed to separate from their mother. Now, there was a new litter, given to them by a pregnant stray they had picked up three weeks prior.

Changbin crouched down next to the hunter, tutting his lips to get the kittens attention. They perked their ears, wobbling over to the raven haired boy.

“They like me more than you,” Chris stated, fingers poking through the bars to pet their soft fur. He looked a little somber. The younger felt a strange urge to change that.

Changbin shook his head, lowering his voice so Blythe (who was eagerly observing the two) wouldn’t overheard, “I speak their language,” He winked. “And I’m sure they will like you. Here, give me your hand.” Changbin reached out, grabbing Chris’ pale wrist and extending it to one of the kittens - the runt of the litter.

“You have to let them smell you - and while yes, it’s fun to mess with and annoy them, you want to establish trust first.” Chris looked at the little black kitten with curiosity in his eyes. It came forward and sniffed his hand before rubbing its face against his fingers. He pursed his lips, eyes softening.

“Animals are amazing,” Changbin mused, “They’re pure of heart and want nothing but freedom and love. They trust so easily, and when that trust is broken, you can see it. It’s visible on their faces what they’ve been through and what people have done to them. Abuse is no joke.” Changbin sighed, “I’m bringing down the mood, aren’t I?”

“No, you aren’t.” The shapeshifter looked up to see the elder looking at him intently. He felt his hands prickle under the attention - Chris’ eyes could be very unnerving sometimes. Changbin bit his lip, fighting the turning sensation in his stomach.

“Blythe wants us to walk the dogs,” the 19-year-old blurted out, standing. “Come on.”

Chris chuckled behind him, low and genuine, and Changbin pretended like that didn’t make his stomach turn even worse.

The younger handed him a bundle of three leads, taking five for himself. “There is a park a few blocks from here - are you okay with going there and hanging out?”

“Hell yeah,” Chris was, once again, putting his hand through a kennel towards an animal. Changbin looked at him like he had grown a third head.

“Who are you and what have you done with Chris Bang?” Changbin accused, pointing. Chris looked confused, blue eyes wide like a deer in the headlights.

“What?”

“You said hell ,” Changbin gaped, “You never curse.”

“I did?” Chris looked down at the floor, trying to recall when it had slipped out. He winced, “God dammit, you’re rubbing off on me...”

“Ah!” Changbin exclaimed, “You said the lord’s name in vain! You said damn!”

“That- That barely counts !”

“No, no, no, it totally counts,” Changbin grinned, wiping away a fake tear. “Oh, this is beautiful. My baby said his first curse words!”

“Oh, shut up.” Chris stood, “Let's walk the dogs already.”

“I’m never letting this go. This is glorious. The good Christian boy finally let his mouth go.”

Chris glared at Changbin, the younger looking up at him with a cheeky smile as he hooked up the leash to one of the smaller dogs. Changbin eased up on the teasing (temporarily) and leashed the other seven dogs, all well-behaved and cleared for public walks. The elder held the back door open for him as they left, Changbin leading the way.

Since Apollo was still young, he couldn’t be taken on long walks and had to be left at the shelter, much to Chris’ sadness. Changbin was leading the larger dogs that had been at the shelter, since he was more experienced, and Chris was leading the smaller dogs. Before they even got out of the shelter, all of the dogs insisted on giving Chris a through sniff before deeming him okay, trotting on and drooling happily.

“So…” Chris started, semi-awkwardly, “I-I’m not great at making conversation.”

“You’ve done fine so far,” Changbin assured.

“That is because you’re friendly. You’re a people person.”

“But you teach so well - you can’t be that bad. All the students love you!”

Chris sighed, pausing a moment. He twisted the leashes in his hand. “That’s because there is something to talk about - a goal. I’m fine when I have an objective, but not when it’s just me.”

Changbin hummed, determined to prove him wrong. “Ask me something then.”

“What?”

“Ask me something.” Changbin led the dogs around a corner. “We’ll go from there.”

“Okay, um, well, then…” Chris fumbled, thinking, “What’s your favorite type of music?”

“Everything,” the 19-year-old contemplated for a minute, “But I probably like rap the most. I grew up loving literature and English and the way someone can turn words into a powerful narrative and then put it to music is amazing to me. I probably would have pursued it in another life, given the time or money. What about you?”

“I didn’t grow up listening to music, really.” Chris shrugged nonchalantly. “All I was exposed to was classical.”

“Really?” Changbin frowned. How did he become a TA for music composition if he never listened to contemporary music? That’s all they did, after all. “Why?”

“I guess you could say I had strict parents,” he chuckled.

“But you teach modern.”

“I am quick on the uptake. I understand modern music, but between studying and work, I don’t exactly make time for listening to it. I’m great at faking it, if you couldn’t tell.”

“Fake it ‘till you make it.”

“Ain’t that the truth.”

They crossed the street, looking both ways before dashing across. Changbin whistled to the dogs, making sure they followed him and didn’t wander off the path and pull in another direction. Changbin glanced at Chris.

“You said you had strict parents. Are you… are you still in contact with them? I’ve never heard you mention family before.”

“We, um, don’t talk anymore.”

“I… I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. He knows what’s best.”

Odd phrasing , Changbin noted, but didn’t press the topic further. They steered their way into the park, the yellowing grass welcome despite its sallow tone.

“You grew up in, Eumann’s, right?”

“Yeah.”

“What was it like? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“It was… it was good. A lot better than movies make orphanages out to be. Marcella cared about all of us deeply - I’ve accidentally called her mom more than a few times, I’ll admit.” He chuckled, “She made sure I learned my manners and knew how to take care of myself, even if she couldn’t get rid of my cursing habit.” Changbin joked, “It’s in my blood, I guess.”

Chris snorted, “That’s one way to put it.”

“But, yeah. I met Kevin there. I learned about my heritage during my time there, too - although Marcella damn near killed us when she found out Kevin and I had snuck out. It’s a good place. I don’t think I would’ve turned out the way I did without it.” Changbin thought about the other side of him. The dark side. He shivered, “Yeah, I think I would have turned out a lot worse without it.” He glanced at Chris, “I owe Marcella my life.”

Chris frowned, “How so?”

“If Marcella didn’t raise me the way she did, I probably would’ve been something you wouldn’t even converse with before you killed me.”

“You say that with such surety.”

“Because I know what is inside me isn’t friendly, and you’re too good a hunter to let something like that keep walking,” Changbin stated, “Don’t you wonder why I never shift into other humans?”

“... It’s crossed my mind.”

“That’s because, every time I do, I feel like I become less me and more what I was meant to be.”

“And you don’t want that.”

“Correct,” Changbin answered, “I want to be the man Marcella raised me to become. Nothing else.” He looked at Chris, catching the older man staring right back. Changbin coughed, “Sorry, that got really deep.”

Chris shook his head lightly. “It’s fine. Thanks for telling me that.”

“I was worried you would-”

“I won’t,” Chris assured. “Whatever you’re worried about, don’t. I trust you.”

Changbin raised his eyebrows, “You do?”

“Yeah,” Chris grinned, “You wore me down, what can I say?”

Changbin wiggled the leash, his smile returning to his face, “You sure it wasn’t the dogs?”

Chris clicked his tongue and tilted his head, faking an internal debate. He brushed past the younger, walking backwards and mimicking Changbin’s wink from earlier. “Yeah… I’m sure.” The hunter turned on his heal, leaving Changbin pouting in the dust, the dogs tugging the blonde along.

“Cheeky bastard,” the younger muttered to himself, picking up the pace.

“I heard that,” Chris sang.

“Good.”

“I’m gonna start a swear jar for you if you keep this up.”

“Well, you’re gonna be starting a swear jar for the both of us, then, since you can’t-”

Chris reached over and smacked the younger in the stomach, too light to hurt. Changbin yelped, scandalized. “Resulting to violence, Chris? How petty.”

“Oh, shut up, hypocrite,” the blonde scoffed, “You hit me all the time.”

“When have I hit you?”

Chris starting counting off the incidents, starting off with the time Changbin threw a book at him after he said Chopin was better than Mozart. Changbin quickly begged him to stop, admitting he was wrong and that, “Goddammit, you’ve proved your point.”

They talked about other things on the way back, carefully avoiding select topics that were too deep for 1:00 pm on a Sunday, and before they knew it, they were back at the shelter, dogs unleashed and back in their correspondent kennels. Blythe bid them goodbye as they left, Chris giving Apollo one last hug before they departed.

Chris unlocked his car, driving the two of them back to their apartment building. Changbin had declined his offer to take him out for coffee, explaining that he had a pile of homework to finish, which was a complete lie. He had already finished his work, but he wanted to avoid this outing feeling even more like a date than it already did. He couldn’t take much more of Chris’ glittering blue eyes and adorable laugh before he keeled over and died.

Chris may not have stabbed him, but with how Changbin’s chest was writhing, it seemed like he was going to kill him one way or another.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 5 - Immolate

 

Midterms were over and done, the residual stress fading away with each passing day, slowly being replaced with stress over finals. That, paired with the confusing and conflicting thoughts running through his head, made Changbin’s shoulders feel heavier than ever, but he knew just the cure.

One week after Changbin and Chris’s outing, the young demon found himself at the foot of the entrance to Eumann’s Orphanage. The familiar cast iron fence, which he never touched - iron burned creatures like Changbin - was a welcome sight. The Gable roof with the three Dormer windows, the far left one blocked off due to renovating the central heating system. The yellowing grass becoming dormant as winter dug its claws into the deciduous city of Bethlehem. Each little imperfection spelled out “home” in their own language, known only to the Orphanage’s residents.

He opened the front gate, carefully using his gloved hands to make sure he didn’t burn himself on the iron. As he approached, a curtain parted in the sitting room, a young girl looking through the curtains.

Changbin waved and the young girl’s face lit up, overjoyed. She rushed to the front door, calling out into the house, “Changbin’s home!” It was muffled to the 19 year old, but he heard the rushing of large and small feet alike, bodies passing windows and running down the stairs two at a time.

The door opened, the young girl - Angelina, 12 years old when he left for college - smiling up at him.

“Binnie!” she squealed, grabbing his hand and yanking him into the Orphanage. He stumbled, shocked by the strength in her little arms. One of the older kids shut the door behind him and they all piled in, wrapping the 19-year-old in their arms. They exchanged greetings, socializing before mostly everyone dispersed, returning to their previous activity.

“It’s been so long!” Angelina whined, “Where have you been?”

“I’ve been at college, you know that,” Changbin laughed. He rubbed his knuckles on her head, earning himself a scrunched up, I’m-angry-but-I’m - not-really-angry expression from the brunette.

“I’m not a kid anymore, stop it!” She shook out of his grasp. Changbin play-growled, scoping her up by the legs and holding her over his shoulder. “Hey!”

“I don’t know, Angi, you’re pretty light still,” He teased, “Are you sure you’re older?”

“Shut up, I’m 13 now!”

“Hm, seems fake.” He wobbled back in forth, the young girl swinging like a pendulum. She groaned. “Changbin!”

The raven-haired man chuckled, “Fine, fine. I’ll put you down.” He swung her back over his shoulder, gently placing her back on the floor. Her hair was in disarray, her box-braids falling all over her face. She pouted, flicking them out her her eyes with a toss of her head.

“Are you finished tossing my children around?”

Changbin’s head snapped to the side. In the doorway to the kitchen was Marcella, her long grey hair tied behind her head in a neat stick-bun and her (normally) critical eyes curling at the edge with fondness.

“It’s good to see you,” the headmother continued, smiling. “Would you care to entertain a lonely old woman over brunch?”

“I’d love to.” The young man answered, following her to the tea room - the room Angelina had first spied him from. It looked just as he remembered it from his last visit a few months ago, before school had started.

Marcella sat down slowly, old bones creaking as she lowered herself into the stiff wooden seat. Changbin never understood how she prefered those old, hard seats rather than the soft ones.

On the table was a tea tray, the too-familiar scent of jasmine pricking Changbin’s nose. Marcella poured herself a cup of evening tea and prepared to pour the young man a cup before stopping, remembering his distaste for the beverage. The boy settled instead for a handful of biscuits, plain but satisfactory.

“How is school?” Marcella asked, sipping her tea quietly. Changbin hesitated to answer, unsure if he should be truthful about how this past semester had gone - hunters and all.

“It’s been… good.” And answered, only partially a lie. Marcella, ever a keen individual, saw through his lie immediately.

“Is that all?” She probed, setting her cup down on the saucer. Changbin cringed, realizing he had been found out.

“I may have been a bit vague,” He admitted. “This semester has been… turbulent, to say the least. I had to switch out of pottery into music composition and found out my neighbor was the TA, which was awkward. The shelter has been getting less strays, though, which is good.  I met a lot of new people, too.”

“What kind of new people?”

“Well, my neighbor for one.”

“And?”

Changbin frowned, “What do you mean and ?”

Marcella smiled knowingly around the lip of the cup, “I think you know. You’re being coy. You wouldn’t have mentioned him if you didn’t want to talk about him.”

The young man’s face flushed red. He heard a snort from the corner, his head whipping over to Angi. He hadn’t noticed that she had followed them to the tea room.

“Binnie has a crush,” she teased, getting her revenge for his antics earlier. Changbin’s face flushed a deeper red, dropping his face into his hands covering his mouth.

“Angelina,” Marcella interjected, “Respect Changbin’s privacy and go to your room.”

“But-”

“Angelina,” Marcella said in warning. Angelina frowned but retreated, knowing she had no room to argue. Marcella sighed, “Do you like this neighbor of yours?”

Changbin hesitated, “To a degree. Our history is a little checkered.”

“I don’t have to hit him with a broom, do I?”

“Please don’t hit anyone with a broom, Marcella.” Changbin pleaded, “That’s hardly necessary. We’ve already made up and… well, just please don’t hit him with a broom.”

“Then what do you want me to do?”

Changbin bit his lip. “Lending an ear would be nice.”

Marcella smiled gently, “That I can do. Spill the tea.”

Changbin raised his eyebrows, “Good God, who taught you that?”

“One of the 8th graders,” Marcella explained. “It’s the new slang, apparently. I’m trying to relate to the kiddos,” She joked.

“Don’t,” Changbin grumbled, “You saying slang is even worse than the broom threat. Let me vent my angst with minimum secondhand embarrassment.”

Marcella nodded, “Go on then.”

“Well,” Changbin sighed, “It’s a bit of a long story, and one I’m not sure any of the kiddos’ should overhear.” He leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. Marcella leaned in as well, mirroring him, her creased face dreadfully serious.

“I have a good set of ears, for an old crone,” she jested. Changbin breathed out a laugh, knowing (from experience) how much this woman could hear, even from two rooms away.

He filled her in on the details - how he was hunted, how Chris changed his mind, and how they developed their unlikely friendship - all while leaving out Chris’s name. He asked her what he should do and, more specifically, if he should pursue Chris or not, or to leave there relationship where it was: friends and nothing more.

Sure, Chris made his stomach turn and flutter with butterflies he hadn’t felt since the 7th grade when he had a massive crush on Lamar Wilson, the 2nd seat trombonist in the middle school band whom he sat next to for a full quarter before he dropped band in favor of chorus. At least, now, Changbin wasn’t a bumbling middle-schooler and had a decent amount of self-confidence, and could confidently say that, hey, if he wanted to, he could totally ask out Chris. But that wasn’t the problem.

The problem was less emotional and more moral. Could Changbin really date a guy who had held him at knife point? Was that healthy? Maybe he had a undocumented type of Stockholm syndrome that wasn’t in the DSM yet - it’s plausible.

But maybe it was fine. Maybe it was healthy to like Chris. Changbin was a firm believer in giving people second chances, and Chris, although an odd individual, had more than proved that he had a good heart and good intentions.

“I don’t know what to do,” he whispered, exasperated. “I can’t wrap my head around this.”

“I don’t expect you to,” Marcella soothed, sitting back. “But, if you want my opinion, I think you should go for it.”

“You do?” Changbin was more than surprised.

“Of course I do. I’d never say something if I didn’t mean it,” Marcella set down her tea cup, long empty. “I believe he is the best chance you have for love - or at least the one with the least risk.”

Changbin frowned, “He tried to kill me. I don’t know if I’d call that the least risk.”

“Yes, but he knows what you are.”

“And that’s important how?”

“Have you ever thought about how difficult it would be to be in a relationship with someone while hiding such a significant part of yourself? He knows what you are, and he has made efforts to accept you. You’ve already gotten over the hard part.”

“Yes, but what if he is secretly, like, I don’t know - disgusted? Sure, he tolerates me, but what if that’s the full extent of his feelings? He is very religious, from what I can tell, since he has never actually said he is, but with how he speaks, it’s obvious. And, like, I respect his religion, but it also scares me. Religion has such a strong bias against things like me - for good reason, I know I’m an outlier - but what if he still thinks horribly about me but swallows his hate for the sake of getting along and fitting into society?”

Marcella frowned, “You’ve thought a lot about this.”

“It’s practically all I can think about. I can’t not think about him.”

“Oh, Binne…” Marcella shook her head, “You’ve got a good head on your shoulders. You have instincts that normal people dream of having. You need to have more faith in yourself - I didn’t raise you to discount all the wonderful things about yourself because of a love interest. If you think he is genuine with you, don’t doubt that. If it turns out he isn’t genuine with you… well, the offer for me to hit him with a broom still stands.”

Changbin chuckled at that. Marcella sat forward, gently taking Changbin’s hands into her own. His black eyes met her silver ones, giving his maternal figure the utmost attention.

“Trust yourself, Changbin,” she urged. “If he is as good of a man as you say, he can learn to love even the most different of creatures. What you are and what you love are often different things.” She reached out, smoothing his hair. The 19-year-old bowed his head, closing his eyes. “You’re lovely. You’re a brilliant man who is loving and caring towards everyone he meets, regardless of who they are. You’re the hardest worker I know and you never give up, no matter the odds. This boy would be a fool to dislike you.”

Changbin pulled in a shuddering breath, steeling himself against crying. The urge to tear up came out of left field as Marcella praised him, but he bit his lip and held back the rush of emotions clouding his brain. He took a deep breath and sat back, his chin up and closed his eyes, willing himself to hold it together. He’d never been one to talk about his emotions, after all. He prefered to keep them to himself.

Marcella squeezed his hands, “Are you okay, honey?”

“Yeah,” Changbin assured, “Yeah, I’m good. I’m just… freaking out internally. I’ve been freaking out a lot these past few weeks.” Marcella frowned in concern, prompting Changbin to double back and adjust his wording. “Don’t worry. I’m not freaking out in a bad way - I’m just overwhelmed. This conversation helped a lot.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

Changbin sighed, “Thank you for being here. I know you’re not responsible for me anymore and don’t have any real reason to talk to me, but you are anyway, so… thanks.”

“I will always want to talk to you. I think of you as my own child - just like the other orphans,” Marcella cupped his cheek briefly before letting her hand drop. “You may not be my own, but everyone who lives in this house is family. You will always have a place here, remember that.”

“I do,” Changbin assured. He knew that - he really did. The 19-year-old lifted his head and opened his eyes, looking his maternal figure in the eye. “Thank you,” he repeated, smiling softly. Marcella returned the expression, standing.

“Now that we’ve gotten therapy out of the way,” she winked, “would you care to stay for lunch - on the condition that you help prepare it.”

Changbin scrunched up his nose, “As long as I don’t have to peel the potatoes.”

 


 

After talking with Marcella, Changbin felt a new confidence rush through his body. He was more sure of himself, more sure of his feelings, and more sure of what he wanted. He felt less like a deer in the headlights in front of Chris and more like they were on equal ground - but despite that new feeling of reassurance, the 19-year-old had yet to push the bounds of their friendship.

They went out together to a local concert after Changbin found out Chris had never gone to one. It was a local band with mediocre but passionate covers of popular artists. Good, but not mind blowing - at least to Changbin.

Chris, however, couldn’t get enough.

The bass was intoxicating, the air filled with a fervor he had never felt. Chris couldn’t fall asleep, his body thrumming with a sensation he had never experienced in his many years of living. He understood why Changbin loved music so much, now.

It became habit for the two of them to go to underground and local concerts whenever they could, popping out of their apartment nearly every weekend to visit a new indie band in some hole-in-the-wall bar or concert hall. It was a nice change of pace, and the beginning of a new chapter of life for the both of them.

One night, after witnessing a particularly terrible gig that left them both unsatisfied, Chris offered Changbin to come to his place.

“Sounds scandalous. I’m in.”

“Don’t be gross…” Chris scolded, although he was smiling, “I just want to play some music for you.”

And that’s how Changbin ended up on Chris’ sofa at 12:22 am, listening to Chris play Rondo Alla Turca. The older man had remembered it was his favorite.

He was laying there, enjoying the upbeat song flowing from the chest of the wood and enamel upright piano. The shapeshifter was reminded on the night he had flown by Chris’ apartment, listening in on the unfamiliar music that had drawn him in.

Chris’ hands, graceful and sinewy as usual (not that Changbin stared), danced across the keys with the agility of a professional. He played every note true, the rich sound ringing out and reverberating gently around the apartment. The hunter played it softer than it was meant to be played, not wanting to disturb the other tenants who were trying to sleep. It was gentle. Dreamlike, even.

The blonde tapered off towards the end of the song, the notes softening until the low hum of the AC drowned it out entirely. Changbin opened his eyes, having began to nod off, and found that Chris was looking over his shoulder at him, a small smile on his face.

If Changbin could bottle this moment up and keep it forever, he would.

Chris stood, pushing off the bench with a sight wince, his leg muscles cold from the lack of movement over the last hour combined with the soreness of a rough week.

“Well?” he prodded, picking up the glass of water he had yet to drink from the coffee table. “How was it?” He took a sip, Changbin’s eyes lazily following the movement.

Changbin stared at him a moment longer, taking in how the older man held himself - calm and relaxed, less sharp-edged and stiff than his first impression all those months ago. He found himself mentally comparing how he had played tonight versus how he had played the night he had spied on him, but he couldn’t find a single difference. He was amazing both times, in all regards, although Changbin may be a little biased.

“Magnificent,” he responded eventually. He didn’t have the energy to lie and tease, at the moment.

“Really?” Chris’ eyes lit up in surprise, “Normally you poke fun at me a bit before you roll in the compliments. You’re losing your edge,” he teased.

“I’m vulnerable when I’m sleepy,” Changbin whined, turning over and reaching out for the other glass of water, his arm too short to reach it. The blonde chuckled, knowing what he wanted, and bent down to pick the glass up and hand it to his tired junior.

Changbin muttered his thanks around the lip of the glass, sitting up. Chris sat down on the coffee table in front of him, clashing with his normal good manners. It was nice to see him loosen up, although it might be because he is in his own home.

The elder looked down at him, his normally sharp eyes dull as his vision went out of focus, thinking deeply. The shapeshifter felt self-conscious, the unnerving stare throwing him through a loop. He cleared his throat and the hunter’s eyes widened, his mind snapping back into the moment at hand.

“You good?” Changbin asked, “You zoned out for a moment there.”

Chris hesitated, “Yeah, just… thinking.”

Changbin hummed, taking another sip to clear his dry throat before letting the glass settle in his lap, held straight by his crossed legs. “Penny for your thoughts?” Chris blew a slow breath out of his lips before responding, crossing his legs at the ankle.

“I… its complicated,” he avoided Changbin’s gaze, who was very much awake now. “It would sound strange to say aloud.”

“Understandable,” Changbin nodded. “I can think of plenty of things that would sound strange if said aloud,” he chuckled.

Chris’ lips upturned slightly, but not enough to be considered a smile. The air felt stiffer, like a fog had rolled in, and Changbin realized that Chris was serious. He dropped the goofy attitude as soon as he picked up on the mood and sat straight.

“Chris,” he began, “I won’t think you are strange, no matter what you tell me. I’m hardly in a place to judge.”

“I know.”

“Then what’s bothering you?” Changbin sat forward. The elder looked up from the spot he’d been glaring at on the floor and leveled his eyes with the younger’s. He sighed, swallowing his apprehension.

“I haven’t been entirely truthful with you,” Chris explained. He watched the younger frown in confusion.

“I never expected you to. I haven’t been either,” Changbin sympathized, “It’s okay to have secrets. I have plenty, myself.”

“Oh, yeah?” Chris asked, tone verging on sardonic, “Like what?”

“Well, keeping the whole I’m a demon thing under wraps is pretty vital,” Changbin deadpanned, “But besides that… I can think of a few. You’re smart, but you don’t know everything about me.”

Like my massive crush on your dumb ass.

“Humor me,” Chris provoked. Changbin narrowed his eyes, glaring at him for his insistence, but it was fair. If Changbin needled him for his secrets, Chris was more than fine to do the same.

He thought for a moment, trying to come up with something that wasn’t emotionally incriminating. When he remembered one, the raven-haired boy sat back and let him arm go lip on the armrest, relieved he had found a secret safe enough to divulge. “This isn’t the first time I’ve heard you play piano,” he smirked, eager to see Chris’ (hopefully) bashful surprise - but that wasn’t the case.

Instead, Chris smirked right back and looked at the window -  the same one Changbin had watched him from on that cold, September night. Changbin flushed red, understanding what that look meant immediately.

“How?” Changbin whined, “Literally, how did you know that was me? It could have been any bird.”

Chris laughed, “It could have been, but it wasn’t. I knew it the moment I saw you.”

“How?” Changbin asked, confused.

“I, well…” Chris smiled, taking a moment. Changbin held his breath, knowing that whatever the hunter wa about to say, it was important. Chris stumbled over his words, smacking with anxiety, “I’m not… I’m not human.”

Changbin froze, staring at the blonde who had closed his eyes, dreading the younger’s reaction. It was so silent you could hear a pin drop.

“You… what?” Changbin sputtered, “But you don’t smell inhuman? You’re not a fiend nor a demon, so how are you…?”

The 19-year-old trailed off as he came to a realization. The first night he came into contact with him, he had smelled… off, somehow. Like metal and blood - the scent he had read of once, in one of his old books, that was a tell-tale sign of the supernatural. Chris had smelled of dried ichor.

The scent of a angel.

“I thought you weren’t real,” Changbin whispered. “My whole life, I was convinced you weren’t real.”

“Shadow can’t exist without light,” Chris explained, “But I’m afraid my light has gone out. I’m not… I lost my light. I fell from grace a long time ago.”

“... five years ago, to be exact?” The younger realized. Chris tilted his head.

“How did you know?”

“My friend is cousins with a hunter. He filled me in,” Changbin clarified, getting over his shock. Changbin patted the couch next to him, “Sit with me.”

“What are you, my therapist?”

“No, I’m just cold and want to be next to you,” Changbin expressed boldly. It was Chris’ turn to flush. “Don’t worry, the whole fallen angel thing is fine with me. In fact, it explains a lot.”

“You’re too trusting,” Chris muttered, but he sat down anyway. He grabbed the blanket on the back of the couch and settled it over his lap. Changbin adjusted himself so that he was facing him, leaning his back against the arm rest. He rubbed his hands over his arms, goosebumps raising on his skin.

Damn drafts.

“Should I not?” Changbin asked, snagging the corner of the blanket and dragging it over his lap as well. Chris helped him adjust it, unfolding it one more time so that it was totally unfurled. “I like to think I’m a good judge of character. If I thought you were a shitty person, I wouldn’t talk to you.”

Chris hummed, “Just make sure you’re cautious. There are nasty people out there.”

“But there’s also a lot of good ones,” Changbin smiled, “I’m a glass half full kind of guy.”

“And I’m a glass half empty.”

“We can work on that.” Chris laughed.

“We’ll see,” the hunter mused. He fiddled with the edge of the blanket in his hands, the red patterned knit soft and pliable. “I…” Chris paused, “You know what? Never mind. It’s not important.”

“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to,” the younger reassured,  unconsciously extending his left leg under the blanket, brushing past Chris’ own and resting next to his thigh. He only noticed he had done so when he felt the elder’s hand rest on his shin over the blanket, his thumb rubbing back and forth absentmindedly.

“I know,” his thumb stopped its ministrations, “Did you… did you ever know someone named Angelina at the orphanage?”

Changbin perked up immediately, “Yeah. I saw her a few weeks ago, actually.” His brow furrowed, “How do you know her?”

Chris sighed, “She’s the reason I fell.” His hand tightened on his leg, “When I was an angel, I was in charge of protecting her dad as his Guardian, but I… fucked up. I fucked up big time.

“They weren’t well off. They lived in the circuit district on the bad side of town in an building that I could barely consider an apartment complex. Because they couldn’t afford to have her mother give birth in the hospital, they had a home birth instead, but she got sick. Angelina was barely two months old when she died.

“Scott - her dad - tried so hard for her. He worked three jobs and he coped as best as he could, and it was enough. It was going to be enough, they were going to live a happy life together - but Scott was worried. He didn’t think he was going to be able to provide, so he found a crossroads, and he made a deal.”

Changbin reached for his hand, currently wearing a hole through his shin with how hard he was nervously fidgeting, and squeezed it. They made eye contact.

I’m here, Changbin said with his eyes, It’ll be okay.

Chris continued his story, squeezing the younger’s hand back.

“Against popular belief, angels have limitations. Guardian angels can’t interfere with human lives other than the person we are charged with protecting, and we can’t show ourselves to anyone, no matter how important. I tried to stop him - I whispered words in his ear for months, trying to convince him that he was enough, but it wasn’t enough. He made a deal with the devil, and naturally, the devil had a loophole.

“I’m not sure how or when, but Scott ended up possessed. It was a low-ranking demon but he had a grip on him like a damn snake. I couldn’t force it out. I couldn’t do anything. I’ve never felt so powerless in my whole life.

“Demons love small children, and when I realized it was planning to steal Angelina, I knew that I had to do something. I couldn’t let it kill her. I did the only thing I knew would work and I drove my knife straight through Scott’s chest. Angelina was asleep the whole time.”

Chris dropped his head, tears leaking from the corner of his eyes and dripping down his cheeks and neck. “It’s unheard of to kill your guardianee, so the Archangels were going to put me death, but when I explained why I killed him, they reduced my sentence, especially since my having to protect her meant another angel hadn’t done their job. I was allowed to live, but I still had to pay for my crime. I fell from grace. I was kicked out of Heaven.

“Falling from grace… it knocks you out for a while. By the time I regained my memories, I had been wondering around for four or five days, basically on autopilot. It’s like sleep walking, almost. When I awoke I could only think of one thing - Angelina. I found the where she was staying, eventually, but it took a few weeks, and by then, she was being transferred to the Blackwater district to live at Eumann’s.”

“Were you able to visit her?” Changbin asked, curious. Chris smiled sadly.

“If I was, you would have met me a lot sooner.” Chris tilted his head back, breathing deep with his eyes closed. He opened them only when the tears stopped flowing, “Besides, she would have no idea who I am.”

Changbin nodded, realizing the flaw in his question. “I see.”

They sat in silence, the sound of the city filling the air with a low, soothing hum as a strange sort of calm fell over the room. Through the walls, a laughing track from an old sitcom was barely audible, offering an ironic contrast to their current situation. The younger watched the older as he dried his tears, Changbin reaching for one of the glasses of water (he forgot whose was whose) and handing it to Chris.

Chris took the glass gratefully, “Thank you.”

“No problem.” He waited for Chris to finish drinking before taking the empty glass from him and setting it on the coffee table. Changbin kneeled in front of him on the couch, his legs folded underneath him, the two of them pressed knee to knee.

He reached out, arms hovering around the older man as his brown eyes asked for permission. Chris gave him a slight nod and Changbin let his arms fall around him.

“You did the right thing,” the raven-haired boy assured, “You had no choice.”

Chris shrugged in response, taking a rough, haggard breath. He sighed, letting his head drop onto Changbin’s shoulder. The man slumped forward and loosely draped his arms around him, reciprocating his embrace even if it was weak. Changbin adjusted his left arm, reaching up to run a hand through his hair. He realized how vulnerable the man had made himself and wanted to make sure that he knew Changbin loved him; that he thought no differently of him despite his past.

“You did what you had to do,” He mused, “You saved Angelina’s life when no one else would. I would have never be able to meet that wonderful, bright girl if it wasn’t for you. Without you, she would be dead - or worse.”

“But what if I didn’t have to kill him? What if I could have prevented it?” Chris shuddered in his arms. Changbin shushed him, cradling him like he would cradle a hurt animal.

“You couldn’t,” he assured, “You did the right thing.”

“But-”

“Chris,” the younger cut him off, taking his face in his hands, “Listen to me.” Blue eyes met brown ones, and Chris found himself captured by them, unable to resist. “Repeat after me.”

Chris nodded, ready.

“I did the right thing.”

“I did the right thing,” he whispered, hesitant.

“I saved a life.”

Chris tried to look away, but Changbin grabbed him gently by the chin. “Chris,” He entreated, soft and serene, “You can say it. It’s okay.”

Chris swallowed. “I saved a life.”

“Last one,” Changbin whispered, “I am a good man.”

“I-” Chris’ voice cracked, “I-I am a good man.”

“Good,” the younger cupped his face, his thumbs tracing where Chris’ dimples normally appeared. “I’ll remind you of who you are no matter how much you deprecate yourself.”

“You’re too good to me,” Chris muttered, his lips curling into a small smile. “Do friends always try this hard to cheer each other up?”

Changbin shrugged with a cheeky smirk, “Depends on how good of friends you are.”

“Mm,” the blonde clicked his tongue, “You’re the only friend I’ve had in a long time.”

“Then I’m pleased to make your acquaintance,” Changbin chuckled, eyes dropping to Chris’ lips. His heart felt like it was in his throat, his lungs screaming for him to take a breath. They were so close, the moment felt so right, all he had to do was lean forward and kiss him-

But he couldn’t. Chris was too vulnerable. He couldn’t.

Changbin leaned back, each inch he leaned further away seemingly dropping a degree in temperature. He willed the emotions in his stomach down, for both Chris’ and his own sanity. It was then, as he was taking in the image of Chris back-lit by the city behind him through the apartment window, that a thought occurred to him.

“Thanksgiving,” Changbin said, excited, “You should come over for Thanksgiving. To Eumann’s.”

Chris frowned, but there was hope in his voice. “Would they allow that?”

“Marcella always has been a bit of a rule-breaker, believe it or not,” Changbin jested, “And… they sort-of know you already. I’ve talked about you a lot.”

“You talk about me?” He smiled, his left dimple showing. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Changbin rubbed the back of his neck. “I was just thinking, maybe, if you came by for thanksgiving, I could, like… introduce you to each other. Start over, I guess.”

Chris thought for a moment, a content smile settling on his face. “I’d like that,” he said, and then he suddenly leaned forward and dragged Changbin back by the waist. He pulled him down beside him, falling back on the couch with a thump. Changbin, not expecting it, flailed a little, resulting in him accidentally, kinda-sorta slapping the blonde. Chris was not as smooth as he’d hoped.

“Dammit, fuck…” he cursed, turning his face to the side so Changbin’s hand was no longer smothering his mouth and nose, “You’re so… limb-y.”

“That’s the closest anyone's ever gotten to calling me tall.”

“Limb-y and tall aren’t the same thing.”

“Shut up, let me dream,” Changbin grumbled, trying his best to ignore the stifling heat clawing up his throat. It was weird having this conversation not facing him, instead being loosely glued front to back. Changbin was grateful he couldn’t see the red flush crawling up his neck.

Sure, they had become quite close in the past few months, but a majority of the affection was initiated by Changbin - not Chris. Although, Chris had mentioned he’d never had an actual friend before, so maybe he thought this was just what… friends did.

I guess.

Changbin pulled the blanket up from where it had become pinned between them with a grunt. “... I didn’t know we’d graduated to the level of friendship where it was normal to cuddle.” Chris refrained from responding, thinking. When he answered, the 19-year-old felt the fallen angel’s hands drape around his side.

“I didn’t want to let you go.” He muttered, just loud enough to hear. There was a pause. “Is that okay?”

Changbin laid there for a moment, contemplating what his words might mean. Chris was so strange - he was so mature, but he had a… childish aspect to him. Like he was constantly unsure if what he was doing was acceptable. Changbin wanted to give him the reassurance that he was okay, that he was acceptable.

Screw bottling a single moment - he wanted to bottle this entire evening, even the tears. The raven-haired boy curled his hands up to his chest and allowed Chris to wrap his arms around him from behind, sighing comfortably.

“Yeah, it’s okay.”

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 6 - VENERATE

 

 

The following Monday, Changbin found himself standing outside Jacob’s apartment with a bag of smart-food white cheddar popcorn in his arms like a large baby. He rang the doorbell, hearing Kevin romp through the apartment before he opened the apartment to him, allowing his younger friend to step inside.

“Oh, fuck yeah, white cheddar popcorn,” Kevin moaned, already stealing the bag from his arms, “That’s it, I’m dating Changbin. Sorry, Jacob. He has better taste in corn.”

Jacob’s voice called from the living room, “Jokes on you - I already broke up with you because you’re a cracker-jack hating heathen.”

“Break up? I was implying polyamory,” Kevin gasped, defensive. He settled down next to his boyfriend on the couch, dragging the shapeshifter behind him. Changbin gagged, face scrunching up at the thought of dating the sickly sweet couple.

“This is the dumbest lovers spat I’ve ever had the misfortune of hearing,” He cringed, “Leave me out of your corn discourse.” He leaned forward, grabbing a few pieces of each type of popcorn and tossing them into his mouth all at once. Kevin and Jacob stared at him in horror as he chewed.

“What?” The raven haired boy shrugged, “It tastes good. Sweet and savory.”

Kevin shook his head, “Never mind about the polyamory.” He grabbed the remote when Jacob reached his hand out for it, fingers wiggling in a grabby motion, and handed it to the brunet. “Is Great British Baking Show okay with you guys?”

“Fine with me,” Changbin answered, “I’m stressed and its soothing. A match made in heaven.”

The two boyfriends curled up on the couch, Kevin resting his head on Jacob’s side while Changbin settled back into side sofa, legs folded underneath himself. Changbin began lulling off, exhausted from staying up late the night before to catch up on studying for organic chemistry. He normally broke up his studying over multiple days, but he had spent nearly all of Saturday and Sunday morning with Chris.

It was uncharacteristic of him to make such choices, normally having enough self-discipline to determine when he could stay out late or if he had to stay in to study, but Changbin figured, “Hey, it’s fall break. I can take some time for myself.” Except, in this case, that “me” time was with the blonde who had recently consumed his thoughts.

Besides, any sleep he did get was plagued with images of the elder. How he always tilted his head just slightly to the right when he smiled, how he held him like he was afraid he would leave at any moment, how he insisted Changbin stayed the night with some bullshit excuse of “It’ll wake up the neighbors if you leave.”

They slept until ten the next morning, curled back to front on Chris’ old leather sofa. When they woke up, the two kept coming up with unspoken reasons for the younger to stay. Changbin ended up lingering until two o’clock, when he finally departed with a hug initiated by the blonde.

“Don’t overwork yourself,” the hunter muttered into his shoulder, keeping at least one hand on him at all times. Changbin realized how tactile he was - always holding onto things.

“I won’t,” Changbin flicked his neck, prompting Chris to let out a startled yelp. “See you later, loser,” the raven haired boy teased, parting before the older man could retaliate.

Kevin caught him nodding off and checked a piece of popcorn at his face, waking up the sleepy shapeshifter.

“What?” Changbin glared at his friend.

“Why are you so tired?”

Changbin knew the older boy would tease him if he knew the reason, so he opted to lie. “... no reason.”

“There’s always a reason with you,” Kevin probed. “And besides, you’re a shit liar.”

The younger man pouted in response, prompting Kevin to sigh. Kevin turned to his boyfriend. “Jacob, help me interrogate him. He’s being vague again.”

“When is Changbin not vague?” Jacob sat up, turning to the raven haired boy. He spoke in a gentler tone than Kevin, his wording more careful. “Binnie?”

“Yes?”

“Why do you look like you’re about to pass out?” Jacob paused the show right as one of the baker’s started freaking out over their failed baked alaska, “... is it Chris?”

Changbin’s neck flushed red against his will, his throat closing up. That was evidence enough for Kevin.

“You little shit,” Kevin stood up, nearly sending the popcorn flying to the carpet if it wasn’t for Jacob’s deft hands. He sounded delighted. “What happened? I cannot believe something happened and you didn’t tell me.”

“Nothing happened. Besides, my relationships are none of your business.”

“None of my-” Kevin paused, eyes narrowing, “What do you mean relationships? You didn’t start dating, did you? Oh my god, you did, didn’t you?”

Changbin bristled, the blush crawling further up his face. “We aren’t dating. Stop assuming things.”

“But something did happen?”

“Nothing happened!” Changbin grabbed a small, decorative pillow and chucked it at Kevin’s head with a dramatic fling. The werewolf narrowly dodged the flying object, the fluffy item hitting the wall with an underwhelming poof. “I’m tired from studying.”

“Likely story,” Kevin spat.

“Please refrain from fighting in my home,” Jacob sighed, tugging on Kevin’s shirt. Kevin ignored him, completely focused on the embarrassed boy.

Changbin’s frustration only grew. Maybe he should just tell him. “If I tell you will you stop screeching like a fuckin’ banshee?”

“Yes,” the older boy answered immediately.

“Cool,” Changbin bit, “Then sit down.”

He filled him (reluctantly) on the details of his and Chris’ ambiguous relationship, purposefully leaving out Chris’ confession about his true nature. Kevin looked scandalized after hearing that he had slept over at the hunter’s house the night before, but Changbin quickly dismissed his assumptions of them doing anything more than sleeping.

“So you’re taking it slow?” Kevin asked.

“There’s nothing to take slow,” Changbin sighed, “We’re not dating. I’m… I’m not sure he even knows what dating is.”

“How would he not know what dating is?” The werewolf frowned, perplexed. “Was he really that sheltered?”

“I guess you could say that,” Changbin answered, “I mean, he knows what dating is, but I’m not sure if he’s into me like I’m into him? What if he thinks I like him as just a, I don’t know, a really good friend?”

Kevin snorted, “Yeah, because saying “I don’t want to let you go” screams platonic.”

“Don’t get so hung up on the what if’s, ” Jacob advised, “But I have to agree with Kevin - I wouldn’t discount how flirty he is with you.”

“When did I ever say he flirted with me?”

“Literally everything you described sounded flirtatious,” Jacob deadpanned. Changbin thought about it for a moment.

“... Fuck, you’re right.”

Kevin laughed, “I knew you’d see the light eventually.” He stood up, rolling up the bag of popcorn and turning off the TV with a click of the remote. “Anyway, onto a much more important topic - what the hell are you bringing to Thanksgiving?”

“Chris.”

“Good choice. I was thinking of bringing in this weird bread-pudding thing I found on Pintrest, but I haven’t tried it out yet, and - wait, what?”

Changbin cursed himself for his nervous habit of speaking before thinking. “... I’m bringing Chris?” His voice lilted up.

Kevin let out a positively terrific screech, “Changbin Seo, I am so done with your shit!” He pointed his finger at him, “You complained about not knowing if he was gay for you for, what, 30 minutes? And now you’re telling me he agreed to come with you for Thanksgiving? How fucking dense are you!? You’re already practically dating, I swear to god!”

“But we’re not, which is the problem,” Changbin groaned, “I invited him because he knows one of the orphans.”

Kevin frowned at that, “How? Is he planning on adopting?”

“No,” Changbin said, proceeding to lie through his teeth. “He was… a friend of the family. He said Angelina probably doesn’t remember him, but he knew her when she was young and wanted to see how she was doing. So I invited him...”

Kevin motioned for him to continue.

“... as a friend.”

Kevin tossed his head back, groaning. “God, you’re hopeless.”

 


 

Changbin was, once again, in the passenger seat of Chris’ modest mid-size sedan. Neither of them brought up Saturday night, carefully dancing around the topic with their mutually flawed and self-conscious hindsight. Instead, the hunter drummed his fingers nervously on the steering wheel while the shapeshifter ignored the urge to shift into a bird and fly away by fiddling with the seat belt strap.

The blonde cleared his throat, “So…”

“Yeah?”

“How is this…” Chris paused, brow furrowing, “Are you sure I’m dressed okay? Is this too much? I know you said to wear some color, but my closet is a black hole-”

“Not this again,” Changbin moaned, “For the last time, you look fine.” This was the blonde’s fourth nervous panic about his attire. He was wearing a black button down and black jeans, and - surprise surprise - black leather shoes. Changbin was styled similarly, except for the colors (or lack thereof) and the off-brand timberland's, dressed comfortably in a charcoal grey dress shirt and his sole pair of unripped jeans.

“I’ve never gone to a Thanksgiving before, and I know that normally people are, I guess, some sort of pseudo casual, but most my clothes are either for work or from the thrift store. There’s very little in between.”

“You’re fine.”

Chris grunted in response, “I just feel… out my element, I guess. Unprepared.”

“You really like being in control, don’t you?” Changbin commented.

“Yeah,” the older man confirmed. “I like to know what’s happening. I don’t like feeling out of the loop.”

“No one does,” Changbin assured, “And don’t worry. If you feel out of the loop, you can always ask me. You’re better with people than you think.”

“I’m glad you at least think that,” Chris muttered.

“It’s true!” Changbin defended. “You’re a little rough around the edges, but you’re not unpalatable. Like dry wine.”

Chris looked at Changbin, offended. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Changbin grinned cheekily, “It means you’re an acquired taste.”

Chris stared at him a moment before returning his eyes to the road, the younger man taking delight in the red splotching crawling up his neck and the smile pulling at the corner of his lips. The blonde chuckled quietly to himself, piquing the shapeshifter’s curiosity.

“What?”

Chris shook his head, but with how he was biting his lip, he was clearly holding back more laughter. Changbin whined, “Chris, you can’t just laugh and not tell me why!” The elder shook his head, “It’s not even funny, I don’t know why I’m laughing.”

“Tell meeeee.”

“No,” Chris chuckled, “I’ll tell you later.” The car slowed as the blonde adjusted the car to parallel park.

“It won’t be funny later,” the raven haired boy insisted.

“It wasn’t funny in the first place.” Chris pulled the key from the ignition. He sighed, looking at the younger with a wince. “... Are you sure I’m dressed okay?”

Changbin tossed his head back, groaning. “Yes. You look okay. More than okay, except-” He unbuckled his seat belt and leaned over the center console. Chris breathed in suddenly, startled by the sudden presence of the younger’s hands near his neck.

“-Your collar is crooked.”

Changbin sat back calmly, his facade peaceful despite the electricity running under his skin. The act of simply fixing his friends collar was nerve wracking - it was ironic, considering the fact that they had literally slept on a couch together within the same week. He unbuckled the seatbelt and unlocked the side door, Chris doing the same after getting over his Changbin-induced stupor.

 

Chris’ mind was reeling, on autopilot as he unbuckled and stepped out of his car, locking the doors with a press of his keys. Their faces had been so close, but not close enough to be able to lean in. It threw him through a loop, his eyes having taken on a mind of their own, watching as Changbin’s lips had parted just slightly as he fixed his shirt. He shook his head, willing the thoughts out of his mind.

It was odd, thinking about someone that way. Wanting to hold them and be by them and listen to their voice, soothing after a long day. Even being in the same room calmed him down, the fallen angel loving the little rants the younger would go on, sometimes using a cute, pouty voice that made Chris want to scrunch up his face and pull him closer.

He knew what it meant - Chris wasn’t dumb - but it was just so… foreign, liking someone. His skin crawled. He was too aware of his body and was somehow ten times clumsier around the little demon. He felt protective, even if he knew Changbin was more than capable of protecting himself.

Angels don’t fall in love, but I guess I’m an exception.

As soon as the blonde stepped out of the car, he saw two young men walking towards him, a tall brunette man and his shorter companion. One’s nature practically screamed werewolf, the red-blooded fiend making the hair on the back of his neck raise. The other boy - the shorter one - was clearly human, lacking the sharp, keen eyes of his wolf friend. Or lover, more accurately. They were walking close, the hunter noted.

Changbin walked around the car, spotting the duo at the same time they saw him. They exchanged greetings, the raven-haired boy hugging the two of them while they juggled a ceramic casserole dish filled with god-knows-what. Changbin could practically feel Chris glaring a hole through Kevin, the brunette's hand having remained on his shoulder.

Changbin looked back at the older man, extending his hand and gesturing for him to come forward and greet his friends. “They’re friendly, I promise. I grew up with Kevin. He’s practically my brother.”

Kevin could feel the icy-blue eyes on him, tossing the hunter one of his signature wolfish-grins. “Don’t worry,” he winked, removing his hand from Changbin’s shoulder, “I’m domesticated.”

The blonde eyed him for a moment, forming an opinion on the brunet. He knew it was unfair, but he couldn’t help it. It was hard for him to relax around unfamiliar demons or fiends.

Old habits die hard.

Changbin was the only demon he had ever known and, well, not killed. Fiends were different, though. While demons were more often raised or conjured (accepting a the rare cases of birth between succubus and incubus, a feat on it’s own) fiends were always born. They had souls, and although they were to some degree warped and unnatural, they were souls nonetheless, giving them an aspect of humanity.

Werewolves, by far, were the most human of all fiends. Chris willed himself to relax, reminding himself that if Changbin trusted him, he could trust him too. He stepped forward, wrapping an arm around the younger’s waist. The raven haired boy leaned into just slightly, but it was enough to ground the hunter and soothe his anxieties.

He extended his right hand, “It’s good to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Kevin said, meeting his hand and shaking it firmly. Chris respected that. “Changbin told us all about you.”

Chris’ eyebrows rose, “He did?” Changbin made an uncomfortable noise in the back of his throat, dreading the tangent he knew Kevin was going to go on. Wolves protected their own, after all.

“Of course he did. I mean, you did try to kill him at one point,” Kevin’s eyes darkened. He continued speaking with an unsettling smile, “Jacob and I comforted him after the incident. Needless to say, I was pissed. I do not get mad easily, and I hate showing anger, but in all honesty, I was the angriest I’ve ever been on that day.”

Chris leveled his gaze. He had the sense not to make a mockery of the words the werewolf was laying on the table. “If I had known Changbin then like I know him now, I would have felt the same.”

“I’m glad were on the same page, then.” Kevin dropped the handshake. The defensive atmosphere began to slowly dissolve, but the tense electricity was still there like salt on one’s tongue. Jacob, nearing his last nerve, grabbed his boyfriend’s arm and motioned towards the door.

“As much as this pissing contest is amusing,” Jacob interjected, “it is November in the northern United States and I would like to be out of the cold, thank you very much.”

“We’ll follow in a second,” Changbin answered, pitching his thumb over his shoulder. “I need to get something out of the car.”

“I’ll tell Marcella you’re here,” Kevin called back helpfully.

“Thanks!” Changbin answered, looking to Chris. His voice was softer and Chris found himself, once again, looking at his lips. Fuck. “Can you pop the trunk?”

“Yeah, just give me a sec,” the blonde gulped, letting his arm drop from his waist. The raven-haired boy smiled and Chris fumbled with his keys, nearly dropping them. Changbin gave a peal of laughter as he watched him, the hunter pretending to throw his keys at him in response, but opening the trunk nonetheless.

They grabbed their dishes, both of them in a cooler they had set up in the trunk. Chris’ was a vegetable platter (as per Marcella’s request, the message via Changbin) and Changbin’s was three separate tubs of ice cream (Vanilla, Caramel, and Rocky Road, the Rocky Road being Angelina’s favorite). Yin and Yang, healthy and unhealthy, the approached the front door with their respective offerings.

 

They knocked on the door, not having to wait long until the door was answered. One of the older kids opened the door, greeting Changbin familiarly and waving to Chris before stepping aside, letting them in. They could hear Marcella buzzing away in the kitchen, Kevin’s loud voice ringing out as they conversed, the housemother constantly defending the roasted carrots from him. Children, unfamiliar and familiar, peeked into the foyer. In total, there was around fifteen.

Changbin glanced into the sitting room, spying Christian and his familiar blonde hair (which thankfully was no longer a bowl-cut) talking with one of the older orphan’s. He waved before gesturing to Chris to follow him, guiding the college student to the kitchen.

“Busy place,” Chris commented under his breath.

Changbin grinned fondly, “Yeah.” They entered the kitchen through the open doorway, “Your favorite veterinarian is here!”

Marcella looked over her shoulder, her long, grey hair braided and bundled into a bun, laughed. “You haven’t even finished sophomore year - stop wagging your tongue.” She sighed into the pot of cream she was stirring, “I’d come hug you if the roux wouldn’t scald.”

“I can stir it,” Jacob volunteered. Marcella sighed in relief. “Bless you, child.” She looked at Kevin, wiping the sweat from her brow and giving him a pointed look. “You’re boyfriend is better than you.” Kevin gaped in response, laughing in disbelief.

“I mean, you’re not wrong.”

As Jacob and Kevin busied them self over the stove, Marcella grabbed a dish towel and wiped her hands down before stepping forward and grabbing Changbin by the face, bending his head down so she could kiss his forehead. He smiled fondly, returning the kiss on her cheek and hugging her. It had only been a month, but he missed her.

When the embrace broke, Marcella turned to look at who he brought. A knowing smile rose to her face as she looked at the sharp blue eyed blonde, “So you’re the one I have to hit with a broom.”

Great, Marcella is already trying to embarrass me, Changbin thought.

“You’re not hitting him with a broom, good God...” the college student groaned. Chris laughed at his anguish, the bastard.

“It’s good to finally meet you,” Chris said, smiling. God, why is his smile so fucking bright? “Changbin talks about you and the others a lot.”

“All good things, I hope?” Marcella narrowed her eyes at the onyx-eyed shapeshifter teasingly.

“Nothing but,” Chris assured.  Marcella hummed, looking the blonde up and down like a Monarch scrutinizing one of their subjects. The hunter felt his skin prick under her sharp eyes, feeling as if this was the moment he would make it or break it.

“How old are you?” She asked.

“24.” Changbin realized he never knew how old Chris was until that point. It didn’t occur to him that he could be that much older, considering how young he looked.

Marcella whistled, looking at Binnie. “Five years… you’re really pushing it, Changbin.”

Changbin shrugged nonchalantly. “If you’re going to make fun of me, then I guess you don’t want help on dinner after all. Pity.”

“Don’t sass me,” Marcella scolded lightly, “I’m just watching out for you.”

“I know,” Changbin smiled, looking to Chris. “You any good with knives?” He joked.

Chris smiled, “I think you know the answer to that already.”

 

Fast forward thirty minutes, and Chris, Changbin, and Marcella were whirling around the kitchen and working up a storm. Not many orphans returned to the Eumann’s each year due to most adoptions being non-local and the limited intake of the home resulting in few children aging out of the system, so the help was much appreciated by the housemother.

Marcella, in her old age, had recently hired new help around the home, but they were busy wrangling the children. Ben - a tall, dark man with earrings that the children loved to ogle at - entertained them in the sitting room, the younger ones sitting in his lap as they played an intense game of Uno. Chris almost got wrapped up into the game after they learned he had never played it before, but he was too invaluable in the kitchen to let go.

Jacob and Changbin teamed up to prevent Kevin and his sticky fingers from getting into food before hand while Chris chopped up vegetables for Marcella, the old woman quickly growing to appreciate the blonde haired man. She could see why Changbin was so taken with him.

By the end of it, when all the hard work was done and everything was either finished or cooking in the oven, the motley crew of cooks allowed themself some rest before the big meal. Chris, exhausted from the social interaction, gave Changbin a look that screamed “take me somewhere quiet,” and take him somewhere quite, he did.

The library had always been one of his favorite places in the Orphanage. It was the one room that was (almost) always quiet, the wind on the old tempered glass window panes serving as a soothing backtrack for any book.

Chris collapsed into one of the sofas, closing his eyes for a moment. Changbin joined him soon after, but not before grabbing a book off the shelf. He set it on the blonde’s lap and settled down in his own chair.

The fallen angel looked down at the book in confusion. “What’s this?” He asked, reading the title aloud, “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief…?”

“It’s one of Angelina’s favorite books,” Changbin explained, “I thought you’d like to read it. Ya know, to get to know her a little?”

Chris’s lips twitched up despite how tired he was, “That’s a good idea.”

Changbin shrugged. “Sometimes I’m brilliant, what can I say?”

“Don’t give yourself too much credit,” the hunter teased. He grabbed the book, examining the cover before paging through it with his thumb. “I’ll read it later,” he said, “I don’t think I have enough to read at the moment.”

“I don’t blame you,” Changbin chuckled, resting his head on his palm. They fell into a comfortable silence, the both of them closing their eyes and dozing off.

Changbin woke up to a dark, little hand tasering him in the gut, Angelina’s signature laugh ringing out throughout the quiet library. Changbin made a gross noise, choking on the drool that (totally wasn’t) dripping down his hand. He opened his eyes, lethargically glaring at the 13-year-old.

“Brat,” he muttered with no bite, “Taking advantage of me while I’m sleeping. I’d never let you get away with that if I was awake, you know.”

“Exactly,” Angi stuck out her tongue. She pointed at Chris who was still sleeping. “Is that your boyfriend?”

“He is not my boyfriend.”

“But you like him.”

“I don’t. You’re 13, what do you even know about liking someone?”

“Plenty,” she smirked, “A lot of people date in middle school.”

Changbin rolled his eyes, changing the subject. “Did you wake me up for something?”

“Oh, yeah.” Angelina remembered her purpose for bothering him in the first place. “Dinner is almost ready. Marcella wants your help setting the table.”

Changbin nodded his head, turning to Chris and reaching forward to poke him in the knee. The blonde startled awake, grabbing Changbin’s hand and twisting it, making the younger wince in pain.

“Fucking hell, Chris, it’s me-”

“Oh shit,” Chris let go, not seeing Angelina. “I’m so sorry, fuck, I didn’t know it was you.”

Changbin held his wrist to his chest, breathing fast. That was the first time Chris had ever had the reaction to him. He laughed it off, “Sorry. I’ll poke you with a stick to wake you up next time.”  He shook his hand out, showing him he was fine. “You didn’t hurt me.” The hunter frowned, his brow knitting.

“You’re boyfriend is high-strung,” Angi rose her eyebrows. Changbin and Chris looked at her in sync, the shapeshifter glaring and the hunter’s eyes wide, startled by the interruption. Chris turned to Changbin, “Boyfriend?”

“Oh,” Angi clicked her tongue awkwardly, “He doesn’t know?”

“Doesn’t know what?” Chris asked.

Angi laughed, dodging the book (R.I.P Percy Jackson) that Changbin tossed at her as his face flushed bright red. “I take back every good thing I’ve ever said about you!”

“Tell that to your boyfriend!” Angi fled the library, her feet pattering down the hall.

Marcella called out from the dining room. “Changbin, stop fighting children and help me set the table.” Meanwhile, Changbin was curling into himself in embarrassment, arms covering his flaming cheeks.

“I’m so sorry about Angi, sometimes she just says stuff, and I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, and I just-” The raven-haired boy sighed, “I’m sorry.”

“Changbin, it’s okay. I get it,” Changbin could feel him lay a hand on his arm, cold. “She’s a kid,” he laughed, “She’s just as bold as I remember… I’m glad she didn’t lose that. I’ve seen people change for less in all my years of living.” The hunter pulled the shapeshifter’s arms away from his face, revealing the pouting boy underneath. He grabbed his hands pulled him to his feet.

Changbin moved as Chris manipulated, albeit reluctantly. The 19-year-old frowned. “How old are you anyway?”

“Not sure,” Chris answered, “I used to be immortal, so I never bothered with counting. I’ve been living as a fallen for five years, though, so I guess, by human standards, I’m around… a thousand? Give or take a hundred?”

“Good lord,” Changbin muttered, “You’re crusty as hell.”

“Oh, shut up,” Chris rolled his eyes. “I moisturize every day, you know.”

Changbin laughed at that. Marcella, from the dining room, rolled her eyes.

“The table isn’t going to set itself, you know!” She called out.

“I’ll be right there!” Changbin called back, nudging Chris in the elbow. Chris, by now, had a sense of the house’s layout and had no issues finding the room without Changbin leading. He followed the sound of fine china clinking, arriving in a long room adjacent to kitchen with an old antique chandelier lighting the walls and furniture with a dim, yellow glow.

“Do you know how to set a table, Chris?” Changbin asked, watching as realization dawned on his face. Living on earth for only five years of your adult life really limited his basic knowledge.

“I haven’t the slightest clue.”

 

Setting the table was interesting. Dinner? Now that was even more interesting.

Changbin sat next to Chris, preventing the simultaneously socially-adept and socially-inept angel from fucking up too bad. Conversation with many strangers seemed to make him anxious, but that was nothing a reassuring hand under the table couldn’t solve.

Changbin did it instinctively, feeling Chris bounce his leg. He laid a hand on his thigh softly, so as not to startle him. Chris stilled, smart enough to not show any indication of what was happening below the table on his face as he made conversation with Christian and Ben.

He glanced at Changbin, wondering how the hell he was eating if he was right handed, only to see the shapeshifter eating with his left hand haphazardly. He laughed, earning a glare from the raven-haired boy.

Chris dropped his left hand under the table, laying it on top of Changbin’s smaller hand, and laced their fingers together. He liked the way his warm hand burned against him. It grounded him, instantly making him feel more confident.

They remained like that as long as they could, only letting go when Changbin’s use of his left hand began to become suspicious. Angelina looked at Binnie, sharp eyes analyzing his every movement. Changbin raised an eyebrow at her, challenging her to say something.

The brunette girl simply smiled and winked, knowing better than to disrupt dinner with a bout of teasing. Changbin smiled back - Angelina always knew when to lay off. The shapeshifter moved his hand back to his own lap and switched his fork back into his dominant hand. Angelina laughed, their silent conversation over the humor of the situation drawing Chris’ eye.

Angelina turned to the blonde, her wide brown eyes curious. “How did you meet?” She asked.

Chris let out a strained laugh, glancing at Changbin.

“We live in the same apartment building,” Chris explained, glossing over the true circumstances for obvious reasons. “I’m working on my master’s degree, and part of that requires me to be an assistant teacher. I met him while working.”

“So you teach Binnie?”

“In a way,” he shrugged.

“I transferred in late because my pottery teacher was actually Satan,” Changbin joked, “Chris helped me catch up.”

Angelina guffawed at the metaphor, “Satan?”

“He was horrible,” Changbin proclaimed, dragging out the word horrible for emphasis. “He was like a praying mantis, all limb and anger. I swear, he hated me.”

“I have a teacher who looks like an owl,” Angelina added, “She wears these old bottle cap glasses that make her eyes look huge.” She raised her hands, making her fingers into two circles and holding them to her eyes. “She yelled at me for using chap stick the other day. Mrs. Wharton… man, she is mean. She said that “history had no time for makeup” but it was just Burt's Bees.”

“You know what owls like?” Chris interjected.

“What?” Angi tilted her head.

“Mice,” he smiled mischievously, twirling his fork in some stuffing. “Trap one in a shoe box and let it loose in her room. Maybe if you do that, she’ll forgive you for using chap stick.”

“Oh my god,” Angi grinned, “That’s brilliant!” She looked to Changbin, “I like him.”

Changbin winked back, “I knew you would.” He could feel Chris beaming next to him, glad the child he spent his earlier years protecting liked him. He was never one to need approval, but it felt good, nonetheless.

Marcella looked at the giggling brunette. “You will not trap a poor mouse to scare your teacher, young lady.” Marcella scolded. “I don’t want to get a angry call from the principal. I already got enough of those for Changbin, I don’t need more.”

“I was a great student!” He defended, gesturing with his hand dramatically.

“You’re too smart for your own good,” she needled, “And far too accident prone. Speaking of-” she pointing to his hand, precariously close to taking out the pitcher of cranberry cider. Changbin retracted his arm with a pout, garnering a laugh from the whole table.

The rest of dinner went smoothly, Changbin watching as Chris became more comfortable with the people and the conversations. After dinner was over, they waved goodbye to Jacob and Kevin, who were going to spend the rest of the day with their families together. Changbin, wanting to show Chris his childhood home, grabbed his friend by the elbow and led him away from the mass in the sitting room.

The floorboards clicked under their feet as they made their way to his old room, the hollow noise familiar and nostalgic. Everything was the same, just with new additions. The notches on the door frame for when Changbin would measure his height were still there, along with the dent in the wall from when Christian had thrown the door open too hard and the doorknob had broken the drywall.

He wondered of the two cards he had gotten from his Other Self were still under the nightstand, where he had hidden them long ago.

“So this is where you grew up, huh?” Chris mused, his hands tucked in his pockets as if he was afraid to touch anything; to change anything. “It looks… humbling. Well loved.”

“It is,” Changbin touched the edge of the bed frame, feeling the soft grain. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Chris approach the window, looking at the old worn t-shirt that was pinned underneath it - Penny’s old nest. Changbin was unsurprising to see it was still there, the window having jammed after becoming water-damaged long ago.

“You grew up as a human,” Chris stated. “How did you find out what you were?”

Changbin thought for a moment, standing next to him at the window. “Time? I always knew I was different, but I didn’t know why. I just knew I could speak and change into animals. Kevin was the first one who ever gave me any solid answers. That damn nose of his…” he smiled fondly, “He was always getting us into trouble.”

Chris’ blue eyes looked up, focusing on the fond, glossed-over expression that had taken over the raven-haired man’s face. He clenched his hand, his nails digging into his palm as he struggled to push a word - any word at all - from his throat. If he thought his breath was taken away then, than that was nothing compared to when Changbin turned, his dark eyes looking at him with that same sweet, fond expression.

“You’re staring,” Changbin’s lip twitched up, “What are you thinking about?”

Chris shook himself out of his stupor, looking down at his hands. He relaxed them, brushing them down on his slacks. He shook his head, a nervous chuckle rising from his throat.

Was he really about to do this? Was he really about to throw away everything he knows for a boy who was everything he shouldn’t want, but did? For a boy who was brilliant, kind, and sweet? For a boy who could kill him so easily if he wanted, not knowing the power he held over his very heart?

Chris bit his lip. Yes, yes he was.

“You,” the blonde whispered, “I’m thinking about you.” He looked up, speaking with conviction. “I’ve never liked someone as much as I like you. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t seem to look anywhere but you. It’s always you.”

Changbin was at a loss for words, his extensive vocabulary reduced down to a single utterance of, “Oh…” as his face flushed a deep red. He wasn’t expecting this, his brain short circuiting. Did he imagine Chris saying that? Was he dreaming?

The shapeshifter watched the fallen angel’s eye drop, his hands twisting and turning, nervously drumming on the window sill. No, he hasn’t imagined the confession. Changbin sucked in a deep breath.

“I’ve never been great at relationships,” the 19-year-old began, “But I like being around you. I love being around you,” he paused, “I can’t imagine the last three months without you.” The raven-haired boy shook his head. “God, I sound so cheesy...”

Chris laughed at that, making Changbin’s lips quirk up. “What? What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, it’s just the joke in the car…” Chris chuckled, “If I’m dry wine, then you’re cheese - because you’re cheesy.”

Changbin snorted, Chris groaned. “I told you it wasn’t funny.”

“No, no, it’s hilarious,” Changbin teased, “Your sense of humor is so dumb. I love it.”

“Is that the only thing you love about me?”

“Oh, I love a lot about you,” Changbin smirked, looping his arms around his neck. He felt confident knowing that his affections were returned and enjoyed the banter they had running between them. “The only thing I don’t love is how long we danced around each other. If I’d known sooner…”

“What would you have done?” Chris asked, lips barely a breath away. Changbin flustered, the red on his skin blooming as he lost his words. The only thing he could focus on was how close he was, if he just leaned in…

“Can I kiss you?” Chris asked, hands resting on the peaks of the younger’s hips.

“I was going to ask the same thing,” Changbin whispered.

And then he leaned in.

Changbin closed his eyes almost immediately, catching a glimpse of Chris’ crystal blue one’s. From that single look, he knew he was in safe hands. Blue to him was no longer icy and frozen - it was home. He let himself relax, his lips connecting with the elder’s, the blonde only needing to dip his head down a bit due to their similar heights.

Kissing Chris felt like grabbing onto a live wire without the pain, the electricity running through him and pricking under his skin wherever the blonde touched him. The hunter’s grip on his hips tightened as he stepped forward, his lips remaining pressed firmly to the demon’s even as he tilted his head for a better angle. Changbin gasped, pulling away to take a breath.

It felt dangerous. His skin burned, his nature telling him that Chris was the last person in the world he should want to kiss. His lips pricked with traces of the blonde’s angelic spark, metallic and vinous.

“Someone’s eager,” he breathed, already leaning back in. His lips ghosted the elder’s, feeling the blue-eyed beauty smile against the caress.

“Can you blame me?” Chris brushed the hair back from his forehead before lowering his hand to cup his cheek.

“No.” Changbin smiled, “I’ve wanted to kiss you ever since you played Mozart for me at Midnight.”

The hunter bit his lip, shaking his head. “You’re going to be the death of me.” Changbin hummed in response, letting his head rest on his shoulder. Chris pulled him closer, feeling his affection for the younger grow with each passing second - something he thought was impossible, but apparently wasn’t.

In that moment, Chris decided he wasn’t going to let anything ruin what they had.

The night resolved quietly, the raven-haired shapeshifter and the blonde hunter leaving the Orphanage hand in hand. Marcella watched as they went, Angi still munching happily on her bowl of rocky road ice cream.

“I hope Changbin brings Chris over again,” Angi mused, the metal spoon still in her mouth. “I like him.”

Marcella smiled sadly, her face hidden from the young girl as she watched their car disappear into the night. The boy she had raised like her own child was maturing right in front of her eyes.

“I do too.”

 


 

One day ago, if you had asked Changbin what the worst day of his life was, he would have answered with “It’s tied between when my neighbor tried to stab me and when I found out I was a literal demon.”

January 2nd, 2018 changed that.

Changbin was on his way home from a concert with Chris, his boyfriend of a month and eleven days holding his hand as they walked under the yellow glow of the streetlights. They were walking to a place where they knew they could easily hail a cab, moving in from the outskirts of the city.

They passed by a park, dark and dim. Changbin, being the mischief-inclined boy he was, took a detour down the path, letting go of his boyfriend’s hand. Chris chased after him, laughing. He caught up with him easily, catching him by the waist and walking him backwards into an oak tree.

“Why are you so fucking fast?” Changbin huffed, pushing against his shoulder lightly.

Chris shrugged, smirking. “Must be the lack of wings. Those created a lot of drag, you know.”

They continued bantering, nearly nose to nose under the old tree, their lips meeting on occasion between exchanged. They were just about to leave when they heard a piercing shriek.

“What the fuck?” Changbin whispered, wiggling out of Chris’ grasp. “Did you hear that?”

“Yeah,” Chris breathed, eyes wide. “I did.”

Changbin was going to suggest seeking it out, the animal curiosity to know burning inside of him. What was it? Who made that noise? It sounded like a cornered animal, almost.

It almost sounded inhuman.

Before Changbin could move a muscle, Chris was already ahead of him, long legs impacting the concrete with the confidence of an experienced, deadly hunter. Changbin followed behind him, catching up to walk at his side, cautious. The shapeshifter was the eyes, and the hunter was the blade.

The duo slowed as they began to hear noises, approaching a bridge. The noise seemed to be coming from underneath, beside the canal. Chris hopped the edge, landing silently and low to the ground. Changbin followed suit, hanging back a few feet.

Changbin let himself shift partially, his nails and teeth elongating into sharp fangs and claws, his pupils narrowing to slits. He peered through the dark and his stomach turned at the sight under the bridge.

A figure - seemingly male, crumpled and quivering - was curled up on the ground, his hands covering his neck. He shook violently like a sinner in church, his whimpers cutting into air like a whip, mortifying and tragic.

A man stood over him, a long silver blade not dissimilar to Chris’ dagger clutched in his hand. Glasses glinted low on his nose, reflecting the pale moonlight. His stature was tall and spindly, his long neck looking down at the shaking body beneath him, apathetic. Changbin felt a shiver run down his spine, recognizing the man.

“Mr. Rousseau,” he whispered under his breath. Chris nodded, his face grim.

The pottery teacher squatted down beside the body, the tip of his blade dragging along the concrete with a dreadful scream. He tilted his head, a sadistic smile rising on his lips. He lifted the blade-

“Stop!” Changbin stood and yelled, hoping to startle the man. Instead, Mr. Rousseau turned towards him with a frown, disgruntled at the interruption. Chris stood beside him, posture steeled. “Don’t touch him!”

“Mr. Seo, Mr. Bang,” the college professor greeted, surprisingly calm, considering he appeared to be committing murder. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“Shut up and get away from the boy.” Chris growled.

The professor laughed, nearly crumpling with laughter at a joke only he seemed to get. He glanced between the duo and the crumpled figure, “That thing? A boy? Oh, Mr. Bang, you’ve gone soft,” he chided, looking between the two men, “But that’s to be expected when you’re screwing the enemy. I’m sad to see how you’ve let yourself go.”

“I haven’t let anything go,” Chris stated calmly, “I simply see from a different point of view, now.”

“Same difference.” The professor took a step forward, twirling the silver blade in one hand. Changbin wondered how they knew each other - it seemed to be on a deeper level than teacher and student. “If you were wise, you never would have-”

Suddenly, as if possessed, the cowering boy lunged for the knife, aiming to rip it from the middle-aged man’s grasp. Changbin could tell he wasn’t going to make it - Mr. Rousseau was sharper than the boy thought. The shapeshifter did the only thing he knew to do and shifted.

His humanoid body fizzled out in a cloud of black smoke and reformed, the lace-like twirls in the air coalescing to form a crow in mid-flight. His wings cut through the air like a hot knife, above the fight in a split-second - and then he shifted back.

Changbin fell through the air less gracefully than he intended, but the improvised attack still served its purpose. He fell on Mr. Rousseau feet first, knocking him to the ground, but in the process, falling on his arm. A gruesome snap announced the worst, Changbin’s left arm bending unnaturally underneath him. Luckily, there was enough adrenaline running through his system to mute the pain, and he kicked the knife away.

He turned to the side, attempting to push himself off the ground. Shifting partially and then two times in less than a minute had exhausted him, and he collapsed back to the ground.

Beside him was the boy he had dove in to protect. Up close, Changbin could make out his features better - his obsidian hair and puffy cheeks messed up and bleeding. The hand on his neck, covering a large gash, has long nails unlike anything Changbin had ever seen, and his mouth had a wicked set of fangs that looked like they could do a real number on someone if they got too close.

“Thanks,” the boy whispered, wide eyes panicked.

Changbin winced as he moved his injured arm, “No problem.”

From behind him, Changbin could feel his boyfriend approaching the prone man rapidly, the familiar hiss of him unsheathing his knife from under his coat announcing his deadly intentions.

“Don’t you fucking touch him!” Chris yelled, startling the shapeshifter. Suddenly, a pair of hands grabbed his shoulders, pulling him roughly to his feet and against a thin, wiry chest. Changbin cried out, his injured left arm limply hanging at his side, jerking about like a pendulum. “Fuck!” He cursed, trying to break away from the man’s grip.

He was turned around rapidly, the world blurring around him in a flurry of adrenaline and emotions. In front of him was his boyfriend, the anger and fear on his face like nothing he had seen before. Changbin’s heart broke as his face fell, the long silver blade of his former pottery teacher poised just under his Adam's apple.

“Let him go,” Chris whispered. Changbin could feel the man behind him breath out a laugh, damp and insidious.

“The only way this thing will leave my grip is if it’s cold and dead,” Mr. Rousseau spat. “Checkmate, Christopher.”

Chris glared at him coldly, his jaw clenching with a determination and a foolishness no one could recognize without knowing the fallen angel intimately. Changbin felt stomach turn, knowing his boyfriend was about to do something very, very dumb.

Changbin willed himself to smile despite the pain, “Chris, babe, listen to me. Walk away. Walk away, please. Don’t hurt yourself for me.”

“I’m not going to abandon you,” Chris’ voice cracked, “I’m not going to fuck up again. I can’t lose you. I can’t, don’t do this to me.”

“Babe, babe please,” Changbin’s voice choked up as the knife was pressed harder to his throat, the hunter behind him growling at him to shut up. Changbin’s chest pumped air, his shoulder’s pricking with the need to shift, to escape, but he was drained. Changbin couldn’t do anything but pray to a god that probably hated him. “Leave, for the love of God. Leave, please. Go to Angi. Stay alive for her, please, Chris, don’t leave her alone-”

Many things happened at once in the following three seconds.

One.

The injured boy laying on the ground lunged. Chris took a step forward.

Two.

Mr. Rousseau lifted the knife into the air in reaction. The boy wrapped his hands over the hunter’s face, blinding him with his claws like a feral tiger. Chris yelled something as he sprinted forward, Changbin couldn’t tell what.

Three.

The boy struggled with the man, trying to pull him away from the shapeshifter who had tried so hard to save him. They stumbled back a step and Changbin fell to the side, Mr. Rousseau’s arm jerking out in reaction. Chris reached out, grabbing the hunter by the throat. He drove his dagger straight into his heart, up underneath the ribs ruthlessly.

Changbin fell to the ground first, then Rousseau. Chris huffed out a sigh of relief as he watched the body collapse to the ground, grateful that his lover was safe.

Except he wasn’t. In a pool of black blood, Changbin laid twitching, his hands quivering around the long, silver blade that had been driven straight through his gut. He coughed, black ichor dribbling down his chin. Chris felt his world freeze.

“Binnie…” he breathed.“Fuck… FUCK!” He fell to his knees, turning the 19-year-old onto his back. His hands darkened with the onyx liquid as he attempted to evaluate the wound, hoping with every shard of his being that it wasn’t as bad as he thought, that he would be okay, that…

Changbin smiled at him, his lips curling into one last beautiful smile, and then his head went limp, eyes rolling back into his head. Chris brushed his fringe back, begging for him to open his eyes, to come back to him.

The boy they had saved crawled over to the fallen demon, eyes wide with panic. He reached out, hands unsure. Chris glared at him, his anger misplaced.

“Get the fuck away from him,” he growled, looking at his outstretched arms. “You’ll only hurt him.”

“I can help him,” the boy whimpered, voice soft and higher than Chris expected. “Please, I can’t let someone die for me.”

Chris glared at him a moment longer before his eyes softened. If the boy could truly help, then he had to let him. He couldn’t let Changbin die without at least trying.

The boy laid his hands on Changbin’s stomach, shaking violently. Chris’ body screamed for him to rip his hands away, fearing the boy was only causing him more pain, but he forced his protective instincts into the backseat for the time being.

“Fuck,” the boy whispered, “This isn’t enough, I…” He lifted his claws away, black dripping like ink onto the concrete. He looked at Chris, “Please don’t hurt me for this.” He pleaded, leaning down.

He dragged his talon over his tongue, spilling dark-burgundy blood into his mouth, and sealed his lips over the unconscious man’s. It was obscene, watching the crimson liquid fall into his lover’s mouth and smear all over his skin like a nightmarish painting, but it was something. Chris prayed it was something.

The obsidian-haired boy pulled away, his lips dripping, and then he slumped to the side, unconscious. Chris was alone. Chris, for the second time in his life, was completely alone, but this was first time he had ever hated it. He wanted to scream, to yell, to cry.

Why me? Why does this always happen to me?

That night, three bodies lied at Chris’ feet, and only one was breathing.

 

END OF HEADWAY // BEGINNING OF NEUROSIS

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 7 - Jisung's Prologue

 

As far back as he could remember, Jisung had known there was something wrong with him.

His first memory was dreary and dark even though the setting was a bright spring day. Jisung was three at the time. He could see his hand in front of his face, tiny and pale, the great, wide, blue sky making it look all the more delicate.

Jisung watched his hand, clenching and unclenching his small fist before dropping it in the lush green grass. He felt it, soft and young under his fingertips, and plucked a single piece. He rolled the plant cutting between his fingers until in was dark and worn, completely distracted from everything around him.

After the grass had lost its entertainment value, he let it fall to the earth onto the same spot he had plucked it from - but something was different.

In the spot he had laid his hand was a print - a print the size of this small small hand. The grass was yellow and dried all the way to the root, dead.

 


 

“Jisung,” the social worker shuffled the paper’s in their lap, “We talked about this. You can’t keep isolating yourself. You’re not even giving them a chance.”

Jisung nodded dully, “I don’t like getting to know people.”

“I know,” the blonde woman acknowledged, “But getting to know people helps. If you want to stay somewhere for more than 10 months, you need to put in effort.”

The onyx-haired boy refrained from answering. He had heard this all before, countless times. He didn’t have it in him to argue back, anymore.

“Jisung, are you even listening to me?” The woman asked, the familiar disappointed tone rising in her voice. Jisung nodded, wanting to get the interaction over with, but the action didn’t reach his eyes. The woman sighed, tired. “Do you want to try to get to know the Smiths, or do you want to move again? Jisung, I need an answer.”

“I don’t care,” Jisung responded truthfully. The social worker bit her cheek, knowing the tirade she wanted to drop on him would be of no use at this point. The 13-year-old was set in his ways.

“If you move,” she said, “It’ll be your, what, 7th home?”

Jisung shrugged. He’d lost count.

The social worker frowned at him, looking down at the stack of files in her lap. Her expression turned into a scowl before she closed her eyes, schooling her facade into an impersonal mask.

“Fine,” the social worker stood, opening the door for the young boy. “Have it your way.”

 


 

Tap, tap, tap.

Jisung glared down at the test on his desk, the multiple choice bubbles for “a” through “e” glaring right back up at him. The student next to him glowered, annoyed at the onyx-haired boy’s pencil tapping.

Tap, tap, tap.

Jisung decided he didn’t like history anyway. All he liked was ancient history, but they didn’t really care about that in his high school academic U.S History class. He didn’t want to be there - and besides, it was a cold day. Jisung loved cold days, and, therefore, he shouldn’t be inside taking this bullshit test.

The 17-year old grabbed his book bag off the ground and slung it over his shoulder, his chair screeching on the floor unpleasantly as he stood up. The whole class watched him as the dropped his test on the teacher’s desk nonchalantly, only filled out to question 35 and most of them filled out with “b”.

“I’m going to the nurse,” Jisung said.

Mrs. Kovatch raised her eyebrow, “And why should I believe that?”

“Because it is illegal to hold a student when they have a medical concern,” Jisung snarked, “Headaches are a bitch.”

Mrs. Kovatch snorted, but wrote him a hall pass regardless. “I hope you feel better soon, Mr. Han.”

“Thank,” he snagged the note, giving her a slight wave, backpedaling out the door. “The sentiment is appreciated.”

As soon as the door to his history class closed, Jisung walked down the hallway at a leisurely pace. He didn’t go to the nurse, of course, but he also wasn’t lying about having a headache. The damn ailment had become a regular occurrence is Jisung’s life, tragically.

The 17-year old had recently undergone some… changes - and he wasn’t talking about puberty. His nails had grown considerably harder a few month ago. So hard, in fact, that it felt like trying to chew steel when he bit them. Nail clippers were no match for them, the young man having to invest in a diamond-dusted nail file to keep his nails from becoming full-blown talons.

His teeth had become sharper, as well. Not all at once, no, but slowly. It wasn’t obviously unless he bared them, but he had to more careful with them, now. Lip biting wasn’t okay unless he wanted to get a new lip piercing.

Needless to say, Jisung was a little freaked out, but Jisung was also a great actor - had been his whole life.

He exited out the back of the school, the rush of cold air making his headache disappear nearly instantly. The 17-year hiked across the campus of his suburban high school, throwing his backpack and jumping over the fence on the south side. He pulled out his cell - a shitty flip phone, the only thing he could afford - and called one of his foster parents.

Jisung was on his 16th foster home, this time in the northern United States. He’d been with them - a white, Christian couple with good but annoying intentions - for about six months. They were nice, but Jisung refused to open up to them as usual. Jisung preferred the friendless lifestyle, after all.

He let it ring, counting as the digital chiming ringed on. They didn’t pick up, as expected, so Jisung left them a message.

“I ditched school, so don’t freak out when you get a call,” he crossed the street as soon as it was clear. “I’ll be at the house at 10:00, give or take.” Jisung shut his phone with a click, sliding it into his back pocket as he disappeared into the city.

Jisung, after a few hours of fucking around, found himself in the public library, researching the shit that was happening to him out of pure curiosity. Few people go through the sheer, soul-bending force of fuck it at such an early age, those emotions normally reserved for 40-year-olds' going through a midlife crisis, but Jisung had decided that his circumstances were special.

After all, how many orphans bodies’ randomly decided to go through a hardcore second puberty that gave them claws, fangs, and occasional telekinesis? Jisung doubted there were very many.

Whenever Jisung was particularly pissed, things tended to… move on their own. Completely unprompted. It was starting to become scary, and although Jisung had mastered the art of not giving a single fuck, it was beginning to mess with him. If Jisung wasn’t so sure of his sanity, he would have worried he was going through some sort of psychotic break.

He typed his symptoms into google, hoping that there would be results that would help him identify what was happening to him, but all that came up were blogs from the 2000’s talking about cryptids and scamming people into online future readings that were incredibly overpriced.

Jisung frowned at the screen, pulling up another tab. He tried for hours and hours, but it was no use. He got nothing, sitting back in the chair, his neck flopping back onto the top-arch of the chair to look at the ceiling.

Suddenly, a face appeared above him, long blonde hair dripping down like smooth threads of white-gold, a charming pair of green eyes looking down at him. Jisung startled, nearly falling out of the chair as he jerked forward. The girl smiled, her face vaguely familiar.

Jisung’s jaw was lax, not used to people approaching him out of free will, especially when they knew who he was.

“Jisung, right?” The girl asked, who he now recognized as Riley from his Mod 4 Chemistry class. She continued when Jisung nodded that that was indeed his name. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startled you.” She pointed to her name tag, “We’re closing soon, I think you were too zoned-into your work to notice the announcements.”

“Oh…” Jisung said dumbly, “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Riley excused. “Are you okay, though? I didn’t see you in chem today.”

Jisung gulped, “I got sick.”

Riley smiled, “You skipped, didn’t you?” Jisung’s cheeks flushed, caught. Normally he didn’t feel so awkward about being caught, but he had always thought Riley was pretty cool, and had a strange need to not scare her away.

“Yeah,” Jisung answered, collecting himself. He stood, brushing off his lap and logging out of the public computer. “I hate history, so…”

The blonde girl laughed at that, “You’re telling me! I hate history, too.”

“Yeah,” Jisung held back the urge to smile, determined to keep whatever scraps of his cool and collected image he had left. He nodded, grabbing his bag and closing himself off to the girl by turning away slightly. “I’ll… see you in Chem, I guess.”

Smooth, Jisung.

“You too,” Riley smiled, “If you don’t skip for once.”

 

For the next week, Jisung held in the urge to skip as hard as he could. He told himself it was to prevent himself from being held back due to low-attendance, but it was really because he liked seeing Riley at the end of the day.

He had started talking to her more, the need for social interaction finally catching up to him. She was the only person he had wanted to get to know in a long time, and she didn’t touch him, which he liked. Jisung hated it when people touched him.

“Here again,” Riley joked, winking at him. “I didn’t know you liked Chem this much.”

“I don’t,” Jisung defended himself, annoyed. He realized he had incriminated himself when Riley’s smile widened, pulling out her notes from the night before and passing them to the 17-year-old.

Jisung groaned. “I’m not staying for you,” he grumbled, “I’m staying so I can graduate and get out of this hell hole.”

“Sure,” Riley grinned to herself, pleased. “Keep telling yourself that.”

 


 

If Jisung could go back in time and change one moment about his life, it would be the moment he had met Riley.

The two became close as the year went on, spending their free time together when they could. Jisung was happy. He loved being around the girl. She was the first person who had managed to break through the defense mechanisms Jisung had set up over years of isolation and fear over what his touch could do to the people he loved. Riley made him forget.

Now, on the 5th of April, Jisung was regretting ever letting Riley make him forget.

It was her birthday - her 17th. Jisung wanted to be there for her, of course, but he had denied the invitation to her party. Riley reached out to him through text, asking him if he would like to hang out with her on the weekend instead, alone.

Her friends teased her for this of course, saying she wanted “alone time with her boyfriend”, but she ignored this, brushing off their light-hearted words even if they had truth to them. Sure, she wasn’t dating him, but she wanted to. Jisung, being Jisung, was completely oblivious.

They went out late, Jisung’s foster parents thrilled he was socializing for once. For the first time in his life, his future seemed hopeful. His life wasn’t dull and dark anymore. With Riley, he had the sun.

Riley dressed nice, a comical contrast to Jisung’s worn out jeans and hoodie. They went down to the bowling alley, playing a few games before walking down to the ice cream parlor. It was all vaguely romantic, but Jisung brushed it off as them being good friends. He had a crush on her at one point, sure, but it had faded just as quickly as it rose, forgotten. He didn’t like Riley like that, loving her as a friend but nothing more.

Riley sat back, her green skater skirt riding up her thigh as she propped her leg up and sipped her strawberry milkshake casually, her eyebrow quirked at whatever Jisung was saying. The onyx-haired boy kicked her other leg under the table, making the teen nearly choke on her drink in response.

“Put your leg down,” Jisung scolded, handing her a napkin for the splatter of pink now marrying the table top.

“What, too much skin?” The blonde teased, kicking him back. “I thought you had more stomach than that.”

“I have a ton of stomach,” Jisung snarked back. “In fact,” he reached forward and snagged a few french fries from her plate, “I think it’s still a little empty.”

“Get your grimy hands away from my plate, leech!” Riley squawked, jumping forward to swat at his hand. “Do you do this on all your dates?”

“Considering I’ve never dated anyone before, I have to say no.”

“Ah, so I’m the only victim?”

“Tragically,” Jisung stole another fry. He avoided the part of his brain that said Riley was fishing for him to comment on how she had called this putting a date. She knew he wasn’t interested, right? Right?

Riley pouted at him, “What, you got your eye on another person, mister?”

Jisung let her steal a fry from his plate in return, dipping it in his vanilla milkshake. “I don’t have my eyes on anyone.”

“Anyone?” Riley prodded, smirking. “You sure?” Jisung wasn’t sure what she was going for.

“Yeah…” he gave her a puzzled look, “... I’m pretty sure.” The 17-year-old boy could practically see her deflate.

“Oh,” she answered, “That’s… cool. Okay.” She tried to regain her usual pep, Jisung noticed, but for the rest of the night she wasn’t really there, her normal glamour lost like smoke in the night.

 


 

For a few weeks, Riley had been increasingly distant. She stopped texting him unless she had to, and when she did, it was very impersonal but never vindictive. She ghosted him all of spring break, too, but she didn’t say anything that went beyond “I need some space.” Riley, even when she was upset, didn’t have a single bone in her that could ever come to make the older boy sad or angry. That wasn’t who she was.

Jisung had a feeling he knew why she was avoiding him. Riley had wanted to say he liked her and he didn’t. At first, he was pissed because of this, but then he was moderately angry, and then he was sad. Jisung knew that, once again, he had fucked up.

Of course, he knew that lying to her and saying he liked her would have been worse, but it still didn’t help him feel better, knowing that. He wondered if he had told Riley he liked her, if their relationship could have worked out, but then he remembered how disastrous that would be.

He had learned to control his strange, life-sapping ability as the years went by, allowing him to participate in gym class and other tasks necessary for life as a normal person, but that didn’t mean he wanted to push those boundaries, especially when it came to someone he cared about.

Maybe it wasn’t a bad thing Riley was avoiding him. Maybe this was punishment for thinking he deserved happiness. Maybe it was-

PING!

A pebble ricocheted off of Jisung’s window, knocking him out of his downward-spiraling thoughts. He checked the digital clock on his nightstand - 1:00 am.

Pushing the covers of his bed off his body, he shuffled over to the window, peering out onto the side lawn of his foster parent’s home. In between his house and the neighbor’s fence was Riley, her glasses on in place of her contacts and her normal attire traded for an off-brand sweatshirt and sweatpants pair.

He lifted up his window, completely forgetting he was in nothing but boxers until the cold night air met his (regretfully) naked chest. He grabbed a random tank top off the floor and yanked it over his head.

“Jiji!” Riley whisper-yelled, “Get your ass down here, ASAP!”

“What the fuck are you doing at my house? It’s 1:00 am!” Jisung whisper-yelled back. He didn’t get a real response, the girl instead repeating her gesture for him to come down.

Jisung cursed under his breath, grumbling as he pulled on a pair of sweatpants and carefully traipsed down the stairs. Jisung was glad his foster parents had a strange love for shag carpet, the fabric cushioning his steps and making him as silent as a cat.

He opened the side door slowly, lifting up on the handle in a way that stopped the hinges from squeaking, slipping out into the suburban nightscape like a ghost. Riley was waiting for him there, standing in the grass at the foot of the short concrete stairs.

“Hey,” Riley greeted, frowning at his bare arms, “I will never understand your love for the cold.”

“It’s nature’s ice pack, fuck off.” Jisung grumbled. “Now please explain why you’re here so goddamn late at night.”

Riley sucked in a breath, playing with the end of her braid as she steeled herself, green eyes nearly black in the night. “I wanted to apologize.” Jisung stayed silent, crossing his arms and letting her continue. “I shouldn’t have ghosted you so hard… You deserve better than that.”

“You were upset,” Jisung justified for her. Riley grimaced, “Still-”

“I’m not mad,” the boy asserted, “I was mad, but I’m not anymore.”

“You’re not?” Riley looked at him, eyes hopeful. Jisung shook his head, a fond smile rising to his lips. The blonde girl’s eyes broke out into full crescents, stepping forward to hug him.

Jisung held his arms away from her, letting her hug him but refusing to touch her back out of conditioned fear. She stayed there, her breath growing ragged, and Jisung realized she was crying.

“I missed you so much,” Riley whimpered out between sobs, her hands gripping into the thin fabric of his top as if the boy was going to push her away at any moment. “I never want to fight with you again.”

“I wouldn’t exactly call this a fight,” Jisung murmured, “It was more of a misunderstanding.”

“Still,” Riley muttered into his shoulder, “I don’t want to ever go through something like this again.” She pulled away, looking at his face. Jisung’s face mirrored her expression - regretful, pained, and grateful.

“You’re the best friend I’ve ever had,” Jisung said, willing himself to rest his hand on her clothed arm, his finger’s quivering. “I really didn’t want to lose you, but I knew how selfish it would be for me to pretend to like you back. I just… I don’t feel that was, and I know you know that and there isn’t much point in me saying this, but… it sucked. No matter what I did you were in pain and I hated it. I’m… I’m glad you’re okay, now.”

Riley shrugged, wiping away her tears, “For the most part.”

“To make up for it, I’ll be the best wing-man I can be,” Jisung joked. “I’ve seen the way you look at Carly in Chem.”

“Oh, shut up!” Riley swatted at him, her sweatshirt falling over her hands like paws. “I do not!”

Jisung grabbed her wrists as she tried to whack him, holding them up. Riley flailed in response and the two’s voice level rose to a level that was probably too loud for one in the morning. The blonde girl jumped forward and kicked at him as he teased her about Carly, making them stumble.

Suddenly, they heard a creak from inside the house, startling them. Jisung dropped her wrists, Riley losing her balance due to their weird positioning. Her hand flailed out as she stumbled backwards, snagging Jisung by the back on the neck and pulling him down with her. He fell on her, failing to catch himself, his hand slipping on the wet grass.

A sickening crack reverberated through the air as their head’s collided, Jisung’s mouth wide in a yelp. His mouth awkwardly skimmed her cheek, the force of the fall enough to break the thin skin below her eye on the top of her cheek as his sharp teeth skimmed her. Jisung could feel the liquid on his lips but he was unsure if the blood was her’s or his own.

Jisung’s jaw seized, his muscles cramping like he had taken a bit of something incredibly unpleasant. A rush of endorphins, however, quickly cancelled that out.

His jaw went slack, a hunger rising in his stomach like nothing he had ever felt before. Riley suddenly didn’t look like the girl he had known for a year, and began to look like a wounded animal waiting, quite literally, to be devoured. The onyx haired boy dipped his head down, jaw wide and ready to consume.

Eat her, his mind whispered, animal and hungry. Eat her, eat her, eat her!

His teeth skimmed the cut on her cheek, his tongue flicking out to lick up the blood. Jisung’s body jerked like a flag in the wind, the taste of the sanguine liquid shocking his system like a shot of morphine. The boy’s eyes dropped to the shaking girl’s lips, his hand reaching up to cover her eyes as he sealed his over her’s.

On any other day, Riley and Jisung were friends.

In that moment, she was they prey and he was the hunter, going in for the kill.

His stomach swirled with a glee unlike anything he had ever felt, his lips curling up in mirth as he drank in the life that remained in his best friend. His mind screamed, conflicting thoughts destroying him from the inside out as he began to gag, knowing that this was wrong. He shouldn’t be enjoying this, he shouldn’t be kissing Riley, he shouldn't be killing her.

Jisung’s violent stream of consciousness came to an abrupt end, the overwhelming hunger in his gut overcome by the rush of emotions storming his head like soldiers in the Invasion of Normandy. He choked on the blood in his mouth, the crimson liquid splattering and covering Riley’s barely breathing body in gore.

“Fuck!” Jisung cursed, his head aching. As he tried to regain coherent thought, he felt Riley stiffen underneath him, barely registering the sharp breaths pulling from her chest, staccato and unnatural, beginning to convulse.

The door to the house opened behind him, Jisung’s foster father peeking out, his hair messed up from sleep.

“What is going on out here?” He asked, met with the confusing sight of Jisung knelt over the seizing body of Riley, the 17-year-old’s hands shaking violently. “Jisung?” His foster father was suddenly awake, alarmed by the scene in front of him. “What happened?”

“I- I- The noise, it startled us…” Jisung pushed himself away from Riley’s shaking body, “She’s - She’s hurt. Call 911. Please, fuck... Riley…”

His foster father wasted no time on questioning what had happened or why Riley was unconscious on their side lawn, bolting inside before Jisung even finishing choking out “911.” He grabbed the landline off the counter, dialing and requesting an ambulance. Meanwhile, Jisung was fighting the urge reverberating throughout his whole body to dive back in and finish the job.

Eat her, eat her, eat her!

Jisung stood, legs tremoring underneath him. He had no shoes, no wallet, no phone - just himself and his racing thoughts. He looked over his shoulder, catching the sight of his foster father speaking into the receiver on the landline.

“Fuck…” Jisung whispered to himself, wiping his chin with his tank top. “God.. fuck.”

The 17-year-old bounded up the steps into the house, knowing what he had to do in order to protect the people around him. He opened the door to his room, no longer caring about his noise levels, and stripped off his bloody clothes, tossing them into the corner. In a hurry, he changed into clothes that could stand up to the winter and shoved a spare set into a bag, along with his phone in wallet.

Jisung was on autopilot, the years of fear, panic, and self-hatred amounting to an abrupt episode of dissociation with fugue, his body taking him where he needed to go when his mind could no longer cope. The only thing on his brain was escape, escape, escape.

Get out!

I need to leave.

I can’t stay.

If I get arrested, I’ll end up hurting the police officer.

How do I explain myself?

I need to run away.

Jisung rushed down the steps, brushing past his foster father. The older man yelled after him, questioning where he was going and what had happened, but his words were landing on deaf ears. Jisung could care less about what he had to say.

Cheap tennis shoes slapped concrete, his steps muffled once he hit the grass. The teenager looked down at the body of his friend - thankfully still alive - and took a moment to think. To really think.

I hurt her, Jisung thought, I hurt her against my will.

The teenager took a deep breath, barely registering the warm tears sliding down his face as he dropped his backpack and knelt beside his dying friend. Her normally pale skin looked deathly, all the color drained from her cheeks and neck like a piece of bleached paper. Her eyes winked open.

“Jisung?” Her voice cracked as she tried to sit up, stupefied. “What’s going on?”

Jisung  didn’t know what to say.

“You got hurt,” Jisung whispered, “We fell and you got hurt.”

“We?” Riley touched her face, her fingertips grazing the blood coagulating on her cheek. Jisung felt the pull again, the aching hunger in his gut begging him to lean forward and finish her off. He barely resisted, covering his nose.

Riley’s head slumped to the side, catching sight of his bag. Her eyes narrowed drowsily, “Where are you going, Ji?” The boy’s breath hitched. He hadn’t been expecting confrontation, but then again, when did Riley not speak her mind? Even when she was tethering on unconscious, she still called him out on his bullshit. The tears in his eyes began to fall faster and the blonde’s brow pent up in concern. “Jisung, what are you doing?”

Jisung shuddered, holding back an ugly sob. Riley shook her head, knowing.

“Jisung, don’t…” she begged, “We just started talking again. Please, I don’t want to lose you again. You’re my best friend.”

“That’s why I have to go,” Jisung rubbed away the tears from his eyes, the not giving a single fuck about the snot dripping grossly down his wrist. Riley shook her head, speaking as loud as she could. “No.”

“I have to.” Jisung stood up, grabbing his bag off the ground. He could hear his foster father wrapping up the call inside. “I want - I want you to remember me as who I was, not what I am.”

“What does that mean?”

Jisung didn’t respond to her, instead taking one last glance at his only friend’s barely-lucid eyes in a last ditch effort to remember her face. He wasn’t planning on ever seeing her again. He regretted not taking more photos with her, afraid he was going to forget her smile.

Jisung turned on his heel, breaking out into a run as soon as his feet met the concrete sidewalk. He ran until his lungs screamed and then some more, never turning around, not even once. If he looked back, it would be the end for him.

Jisung descended the steps into the underground, sliding his metro-card into the scanner. He approached the ticket booth, selecting them 3:00 am train to the farthest place available. His bag was light but his heart was heavy, the custodian in the metro sending him a distrustful look as he walked past them with red eyes and splotchy skin, some blood probably still clinging to his lips, dry and black.

Jisung tapped his feet, eerily calm despite his recent trauma. He couldn’t bring himself to care anymore. Without Riley, he felt like a ghost. She was the only one who was able to break through to his heart and all it resulted in was pain. Jisung decided he was never going to let anyone into his heart again, desiring anything but the searing pain that accompanied friendship.

He pulled out his flip-phone, checking the time. The metro train was due to appear any second. By the time he put his phone back in his pocket, in fact, the distant hum of the train could be heard. The hiss of the breaks announcing it’s arrival along with the PA system crackling to life.

“3:00 am Departure to Bethlehem, Illinois boarding now,” an effeminate, robotic voice informed the onyx-haired boy. “Please do not leave your luggage unattended on the station. Luggage left unattended may be removed without warning or destroyed or damaged by the security services.”

Jisung stood, gathered his limited belongings, and boarded the train. A blanket of neutrality covered his features, sapping any and all emotion from his body as he fell victim to a desperate sense self-preservation. Jisung was done with grieving. He was done with caring about others, done with giving his heart out to people who asked for it and gave nothing in return, and done with old people who wanted to reform him into a perfect son and a model student. Especially, he was done with people who loved him.

Jisung was never going to love again, he decided. He would push whoever tried to worm their way into his heart no matter the cost. He didn’t care if people hated him or thought he was a dick - he wasn’t putting his sanity on the line because of something as dumb as friendship. Jisung was done. Completely and totally done. Jisung began his life alone and he was going to be alone when it ended.

And that was perfectly fine with him.

Chapter Text

 CHAPTER 8 - Be (As You've Always Been)

Jisung arrived in Bethlehem, Illinois with nothing but his bag and the clothes on his back. He stepped out of the Metro and looked up, the skyscrapers touching the low morning clouds. The air was brisk and chilled - around 45 - but Jisung loved it. His took a deep breath, the scent of rainwater and stone filling his lungs as he inhaled and exhaled. This was the scent of his new home.

Deep in his bones, Jisung knew he was where he was supposed to be. The city called to him for reasons unknown, the concrete jungle catching him like a fly in a spider’s web.

Little did Jisung know, he was but a frog in pot of slowly heating water.

 

Jisung had never worked before. Neighborhood jobs were the extent of his work experience, having moved around too much to ever get a stable job while he was in the foster care system. Now that he wasn’t planning on moving anytime soon, he decided it was time to find something steady.

Jisung wasn’t too keen on service jobs, especially food service, due to the high-concentration of people, but he knew he would probably have to make due. Snagging a map of the city from the Metro, he marked out a route. He passed by all sorts of joints, hitting up both food service and retail jobs and grabbing their respective contact sheets.

He paged through them as he walked, making his way down to the docks in the downtown district to enjoy the rare, clear weather that was borderline unheard of in spring, especially by a lake as big as Lake Michigan. As he walked, he neglected watching the placement of his feet.

Jisung felt his foot catch first, the crook of his ankle snagging on what felt like cloth. Soon enough, the young man was face down on the concrete, a loud crash that sounded a lot like glass emanating from behind him.

“My squid!” Screamed one voice.

“Are you okay?” Yelled another.

Jisung groaned into the grey pavement, feeling blood drip from his face. Fuck, he already thought he was concussed from the incident with Riley, and now this? His brain had been jostled for sure. Jisung didn’t have the motivation to move anymore.

He watched an ant crawl on the concrete to the side of his busted face, the arguing and fussing of the two people behind him white noise. This is my life now, I guess.

A hand grabbed his shoulder gently and Jisung flinched away, rolling onto his back to face whoever had touched him. In front of him was a crouching boy who looked about his age with soft green eyes and black hair. Behind him, standing, was another boy. The 17-year-old scooted back a couple of feet despite his blooded elbows and dampened spirits, putting some distance between them.

“Whoa, there,” the crouching boy held his hands up, bright eyes widening. “I just wanted to check if you’re okay.”

Jisung pushed himself up to his feet, the crouching boy standing with him. He brushed off his jeans, wincing as he bent his skinned elbows, the “hiring now!” flyers scattered at his feet. “I’m fine,” Jisung informed him curtly, a lie. Whatever healing energy that he had stolen from his bestfriend clearly wasn’t working anymore.

“My squid isn’t,” piped up the other boy, a ruddy brunette with dark brown eyes narrowed in anger. “You pulled the cloth and it fell of the table. Do you know how much a two-eyed squid costs?” He pointed to the smashed remains of glass, squid with indeed two eyes, cardboard, packing peanuts, and preserving fluid. To the side was a prop-up table - like the ones they have at school picnics - and a torn tablecloth too big for the surface it was on.

“Too much?” Jisung said, “Why do you have a squid in the first place?”

The brunette scowled. “Look to your right.”

Jisung glanced in the indicated direction. There, in his line of sight, was a humble, two-storey brick building labeled Armilla’s Oddities. In it’s display windows was a myriad of strange objects, although none of them were overly graphic. Jisung guessed they kept the truly disturbing items out of public view.

A two-headed taxidermy kitten stared back at him through the window, although that very well could be the double-vision playing tricks on him.

“Huh,” Jisung clicked his tongue. His first day in the city and he had already met some weirdos - not that he could criticize them. The onyx-haired boy highly doubted either of the boys in front of him have given the kiss of death to a loved one. “So y’all sell weird shit?” His speech was coming out a bit slurred.

“We sell specialty items." 

“Ah,” Jisung nodded in faux wonder, “So… weird shit.”

The brunette sighed. “You’re insufferable, aren’t you?”

“Hit the nail on the head,” the onyx-haired boy looked around. “So, you got a mop?”

“What do you need a mop for?” The green-eyed one asked. He could tell that there was no way the teen in front of him could participate in any physical activity, not matter how menial.

“To help you clean, of course,” Jisung waved off his concerned look, “I’m not a monster.”

“Figuratively,” the brunette muttered. Jisung didn’t hear him, the ringing in his head too strong. The green-eyed boy looked at him warily, watching him as he stumbled forward.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Jisung answered, “Just a little concussed, no biggie.”

“Goddess help me…” The shorter of the pair sighed, “Where the hell are your parents? We can’t just let you walk around like this.”

Jisung gulped, shrugging.

“You don’t know?” The brunette scrutinized him, realizing dawning on his face. “You don’t have parents.”

Jisung shrugged again, extending his arm to lean on the painted, chipping railing that lined the steps to Armilla’s Oddities. His hand missed the first time and he stumbled to the side, barely catching himself at the last second. The brunette sighed.

“Hyunjin?” He looked at the green-eyed boy. “Take him inside and lie him down - and make sure not to touch him.”

The onyx-haired boy shook his head, waving away the notion of help. “I’m fine. You don’t have to help me.”

“Of course we do,” a voice called from the shop. Jisung hadn’t noticed their arrival - a tall woman with eyes as dark as obsidian and hair as white as snow. She smiled, her very presence demanding the utmost attention. “I didn’t raise my grandchildren to shun strangers - Seungmin and Hyunjin know better than that. We may be odd, but we are not cruel.” She stepped forward, letting the door shut behind her as she leaned on the railing, looking down at him. She looked at the papers scattered at his feet, her eyes lighting up with an idea. “You’re looking for a job?”

“I am,” Jisung admitted after a moment.

The woman’s smile widened, “Would you like one?”

“Here?” Jisung frowned, “You’re offering a bloody, concussed, teenanger a job. At an oddities store.”

The woman shrugged. “You’ll fit right in. I don’t know quite what you are-”

“-some type of fiend,” Seungmin cut in. Jisung had no idea what that meant.

“-but I am a good judge of character.” She walked down the stairs and reached out to lay a hand on his shoulder. Both Seungmin and Jisung flinched, the dazed and tired teen feeling the fear from the previous night rush back into his system.

The woman retracted her hand. “Do you not like being touched?” She asked gently, but with no patronizing undertone. She felt… safe.

“I don’t,” Jisung said. “It never goes well.”
“I see.” She nodded, “I won’t touch you. Are you okay to walk up the stairs with just the railing?”

“I don’t see why you need to help me.”

“So we don’t get sued,” Seungmin muttered. Jisung turned around to look at him, confounded.

“Why would I sue you?”

“You tripped on our shit,” Seungmin shrugged, brushing past them as the old lady guided him up the stairs without touching him.

“Language, Seungminnie!” The old woman scolded.

He held the door open. “People sue for all kinds of weird sh- things. It’s America.”

Jisung listened to the three of them bicker back and forth, a banter foreign to him but familiar to them. They laid him down on the couch in the sitting room, Jisung eyeing the cracking ceiling above his head as Seungmin and the old woman disappeared into another portion of the shop under the excuse of making tea, their voices becoming hushed as they conversed.

Jisung knew better than to think they were just making tea. They were discussing him, and Jisung wasn’t sure how he felt about it.

 

The green-eyed boy - Hyunjin, he had learned - sat next to him, kneeling on the antique carpet. He was in charge of keeping Jisung awake, not letting the boy sleep for four hours in case his symptoms suddenly worsened. Jisung shook his head, his brow furrowing as his brain went from fuzzy, to dizzy, to the worst headache of his life.

“You want some Tylenol?” Hyunjin offered softly.

“I’m fine,” Jisung muttered somnolently, closing his eyes. He shivered as a hand was placed on his shoulders, shrinking away from the touch and glaring at the green-eyed boy. The boy’s brow knit, concerned, but all Jisung saw was pity.

It was a familiar look - one he had seen far too many times in his life to count. He hated it. He didn’t want anyone's pity.

“I don’t need your pity,” Jisung hissed, his lucidity returning to him. He glared at the hand still hovering near him. Hyunjin, catching his line of sight, snapped his hand back to his side.

“I’m not pitying you,” Hyunjin frowned.

“That’s what they all say.”

“I’m really not, though. I understand what it is like to be different.”

“What, with you’re pretty fucking face and eyes?” Jisung scoffed, “As if. You don’t know anything about me.”

The onyx-haired teen watched as the taller boy’s face shifted, his sympathetic cover dripping off and revealing a bitter, old anger. His jaw clenched, trying his best to hold back a cutting reply. Jisung continued spilling his words despite his stomach twisting with a building regret.

“You have a home. You have a family. You have stability. I’ve never had any of that, and the one time I did, I fucked it up. I fucked it up so badly.” Jisung could see someone arrive in the doorway - probably Seungmin, back from making “tea” - but he didn’t care. He didn’t care what people thought of him, anymore. “You don’t know shit about being different, so don’t you dare fucking tell me you know what it’s like. Fuck off with that bullshit.”

There was a heavy moment of silence between them. Hyunjin took a deep breath, letting the air out slowly through his nose.

“You are an asshole.” He said, looking aside. Jisung could see tears pricking in his eyes.

How soft.

“I know.”

“Jinnie,” Seungmin called from the doorway, tentative. “Bunica wants you in the kitchen.” Hyunjin stood up without a question, holding his head up to prevent the tears from dripping. Jisung watched him leave, Seungmin taking his place.

The ruddy brunette stood above him, his eyes hardened. Jisung mentally acknowledged  that he deserved whatever he was going to do. He had made his brother cry, after all.

What he hadn’t expected was kindness.

“Hold out your hand,” Seungmin commanded. Jisung squinted at him and the brunette rolled his eyes. “If you’re worried about hurting me, stop. You won’t hurt me.” He grabbed the shorter’s hand, dropping two tablets of Tylenol into his hand and curling his fingers around it. “Take it. You’ll feel better soon.”

Jisung drew back his hand, eyeing him suspiciously. First, he had called him a fiend when they were outside, and now he seemed to know enough about him to be confident in his claims of avoiding harm. Jisung doubted that. Either this guy was a fool, or he was an idiot.

“How do you know what I am?” Jisung asked, “I won’t take the medicine until you tell me.”

Seungmin shrugged. “I’m not the one with the concussion,” he moved to turn around, Jisung feeling his stomach boil in reaction. He wanted to know, snatching up the brunette boy’s wrist before he was out of reach. His wrist burned hot in his grasp, unnaturally warm. Seungmin looked down at where their limbs connected, smirking and amused.

“For someone who claims they hate touching others, you sure are handsy.”

“Oh, fuck off,” Jisung scoffed. “Stop being cryptic and tell me why you’re acting like you know my whole life story.”

The wrist in Jisung’s hand seemed to drop twenty degrees, Seungmin’s teasing expression morphing into a glower. His touch felt unlike anyone else - where Riley’s skin had thrummed with energy, Seungmin’s was radio silent. It was like his body was telling Jisung, “There is nothing for you here.”

“Let’s get this straight,” Seungmin whispered, “We owe you nothing.”

“I’m all too aware.”

“Be quiet,” Seungmin commanded. Jisung felt his mouth shut against his will, his throat unable to move, save for swallowing and breathing. Seungmin settled back, pleased his charm had worked. English was always difficult to control in spells, after all. The brunet grabbed Jisung’s chin, forcing the onyx-haired boy to make continued eye contact.

“We owe you nothing, but we took you in anyway out of good conscious. I am not as kind as my brother and you clearly aren’t as well, so I have no issue being blunt with you.

“It’s my job to help people like you, and believe me, you will want the help. I don’t know what damage you have, and frankly, I couldn’t care less, but what I do care about is the lives you might ruin if we let you go off the hinges.” Seungmin sighed, “You can’t be much older than me, and you already look ready to die. Giving up is dangerous - and I can tell you that it is not what you’re expecting,” the brunette dropped his chin and Jisung let out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. “You may speak.”

Feeling rushed back into his mouth, the control he had lost over his own body regained. He turned to the side, coughing. “What are you?” Jisung rasped, looking up at the brunette through his lashes as he dissolved into a coughing fit, head tucked in the crook of his elbow.

“I’m a witch, that’s what,” Seungmin answered matter-of-factly, “and I’m the only one willing to help you.”

Jisung shook his head, “I don’t need help.”

“Yes, you do,” Seungmin looked him over, eyeing him from head to toe. “You’re battered and bruised and I can smell blood on your breath. I may not be sure what exactly you are, but I know your breed. I know what you are capable of.”

“And what's that?” Jisung asked.

Seungmin bit his lip, “I think you know.”

Jisung felt anger flare in his chest. “No,” he sat up, pointing a finger to Seungmin’s chest. “I don’t know. I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with me or what I am and you keep acting like I should know, but I fucking don’t, okay? All I know is that I’m dangerous and apparently too volatile to-” Jisung’s voice cracked, “I’m too volatile. That’s all I know.”

The brunette looked down on him, expressionless. Jisung huffed, “What, you gave me a speech, and now you’re mute? Say something.” The teen demanded. “Say something,” he repeated.

Seungmin bit his lip again. Jisung guessed it was a bad habit, judging by how worn the skin was. He looked up at Jisung, eyes level with the other boy’s. Jisung felt like his head was going to split between the stress and the injury.

Say something.

I need to know. What am I?

“If you,” Seungmin paused, thinking. “If you stay here, with us, I can teach you what you are, and in return, I will learn about your species. I will tell you everything I learn, and you will work to earn your keep,” Seungmin nodded, introspective. “No one will owe anyone anything.”

Jisung took that in, nodding slowly as he thought about it. “And if I want to leave?”

“No one will stop you.” Seungmin answered, observing as the shoulders of the boy in front of him relaxed. Jisung licked his lips, dry.

“You said my breath smelled of blood,” Jisung stated, “Is there anything else you can tell me?”

“No,” the brunette said, “Nothing but that.”

Jisung sighed. Seungmin tilted his head back.

“Do you want me to get water to help you swallow the pills?” Jisung looked up at Seungmin, processing the question. He shook his head.

“I can take it dry.”

 


 

“Jisung, I swear-”

“Armilla, I’m fine. The ladder isn’t that high.”

“You’re still not fully recovered from your concussion and I am not taking care of you if you get another one.” The spindly woman asserted, “Get down this instant.”

“I will, I will, fine…” Jisung grumbled, “I just hate feeling useless.”

It had been a month since the three - the Borkowskis’, as he had learned - had taken him in. The month had started slow, almost unbearingly so, but Jisung found himself falling into routine quite quickly.

In the morning, he ate breakfast in the backroom, making sure to eat earlier than the Borkowskis to avoid invading their family time. After that, he sat in the front room and waited to hear Armilla’s light feet pad down the hall, flipping the Closed sign to Open at 8:00 am sharp.

He learned, as time went on, that Armilla and her family had immigrated to the U.S from Romania following the tail end of World War 2. Seungmin was her biological grandson, no one telling Jisung what happened to his parents, just that they “decided not to be in his life anymore.” Jisung could relate to that.

Hyunjin, however, wasn’t her biological grandson. He was given to her just before Seungmin was born, the Romanian woman having her hands full with two baby boys at age 51.

As grim as the story was, it wasn’t all bad. The three had formed a bond that even a complete stranger could see - the young boys would give anything for their grandmother, and the grandmother would do the same for them. She taught them everything she knew, the old witch raising up the two talented boys to become as strong and hardworking as she was.

Watching them, Jisung was jealous, but he was also glad. It was a strange feeling; bittersweet.

Jisung helped clean, normally, as he was still incredibly unaware of the works and wares held within the family’s humble shop. He spent much of his time keeping the books in the sitting room and the main shop area in order, since patrons had a terrible habit of filing them back anachronistically. It was a habit he had picked up from Riley, he guessed.

Riley. God, Jisung missed her. When he dusted the shelves, he thought of what she would say if she saw him now. It would be something aggressive but sensical, like “Stop moping, I’m fine” or “If you don’t stop feeling guilty, I’ll sock the guilt out of you.”

And the truth was, Jisung knew she was right. Riley was always right - she knew the older boy like the back of her hand, despite knowing him for only a year. Jisung began thinking, “Maybe if I learn how to control myself, I can go back. I can see her again.” But he knew that wasn’t in his cards.

He couldn’t go back, no matter how badly he wanted to.

Jisung only realized he was crying when he saw his tears disturbing the layer of dust on the antique wooden shelf, the salty water clearing little circles of space. The dust particles floated on top of each individual drop, like miniature snow globes - except depressing.  He wiped the tears off his cheeks and shook his head, clearing his mind of the distressing thoughts. He resumed the dull task of cleaning.

And if Armilla, double-checking the catalog of month’s inventory, saw, then she didn’t say anything.

 

When night came, he often spent 15 or so minutes with Seungmin, the younger boy taking notes on his behavior that day, along with his current physical status. They couldn’t start any real experimenting until Jisung was back in his “normal, uninjured state,” apparently.

Jisung sitting in a chair beside the younger boy, fiddling with an old paperclip as he watched the boy write. Seungmin wrote in cursive, which Jisung had never learned, so it was difficult to keep up with his fast, messy script. He gave up on trying to read it, zoning out with blank eyes as he bent the paper clip back and forth. He barely noticed when Seungmin finally lifted his nose from his work and addressed him.

“You’re nails are so long…” Seungmin noted, frowning. “Are you sure you don’t want to borrow a pair of clippers?”

Jisung looked at his nails, clicking his cheek. “Umm… My nails will break the clippers, so...” He bent the paper clip in half one more time. It split down the middle.

Seungmin shrugged. “I can charm them,” he said, jogging his notes on the hickory desk. “If you go to Hyunjin’s room, he can lend you a pair.”

Jisung looked at the door, hesitant. Seungmin noticed his reluctance and sighed.

“He doesn’t hate you, you know?” The brunette said, “He just has a weak heart.”

Jisung gave him a look. “A weak heart?”

“I always forget you didn’t grew up with wiccan nomenclature…” Seungmin mused to himself, clearing his throat. He set his stack of papers down. “What I mean is, Hyunjin is sensitive. He takes what people say to him very seriously, although that is part of what makes him such a good witch.”

Jisung winced, thinking about what he had said to Hyunjin his first night in Armilla’s Oddities.

What, with you’re pretty fucking face and eyes? You don’t know shit about being different, so don’t you dare fucking tell me you know what it’s like.

In retrospect, maybe Jisung was a bit harsh in his anger.

Seungmin continued, “You think he is weak, don’t you? That’s why you’ve been avoiding him. You’re scared to see how you’ve hurt him.”

“Don’t psychoanalyze me. I haven’t-” Jisung began to argue, before he cut himself off. Seungmin had hit the mark right on the nose. “Okay, so maybe I have. Is that bad?”

“I mean, it’s cowardly, but that seems to be your style.”

“I’m not a coward!” Jisung defended himself, “I just didn’t want to say anything else I would regret. I’m not - I’m not good with words. Or people.”

“You’re better than you think, you just need practice.” Seungmin said impassively, as if he knew it for sure, “And, by the way, you are a coward - unless you get off your ass and get those nail clippers from Hyunjin.”

“Fine,” Jisung huffed out, “I will.”

“Good,” Seungmin responded, pleased. “You might want to apologize to him while you’re at it.”

Jisung knocked on Hyunjin bedroom door, asking if he had a pair of nail clippers meekly, holding up his hand to show off his nails (read: talons) as if Hyunjin needed motivation to help him. Hyunjin let out a little giggle at the sight of his long nails, making the onyx-haired boy’s cheeks flush a light tea rose.

“Here,” Hyunjin said, his giggle gone, disappearing into his normal calm and demure disposition. “Don’t break them.”

Jisung nodded, not trusting his mouth to not spew a potentially biting comment. He held out his hand, letting the green-eyed boy drop the clippers into his waiting palm. His throat was dry as he willed himself to speak.

“Thanks,” his voice cracked.

Hyunjin nodded sleepily, “No problem.”

He took the pair of nail clippers to Seungmin, the younger boy looking at his red cheeks. He raised an eyebrow, asking what happened. Jisung responding with a quick and cutting “Nothing.” Jisung grabbed another paperclip and began to mangle that one, too.

“You’ve been more quiet, lately.” Seungmin noted. Jisung hummed absentmindedly in response, true to the brunette’s observation.

He may not have apologized that night, but his mind had begun to make headway towards the possibility.

 


 

The rest of the month passed by in a blur, June coming faster than the 17-year-old would have liked.he mourned the disappearance of the cold weather, spending much of his time in the cellar of the house, where it was damp and cool. Hyunjin, the ever active Borkowski sibling, had the job of dragging him out onto the warm ground floor, insisting he stop hiding from the sun.

“It’s nice out!” Hyunjin claimed. Jisung scoffed.

“It’s hellish.”

With the warm weather came more patrons, and Jisung was able to begin activities that were greater than organizing books or dusting the shelves. His concussion had reached a point where the symptoms were either non-existent or minimal, Jisung no longer experiencing the overwhelming dizziness or headaches. He had learned the shop well enough to direct customers, although he still had to redirect them to Seungmin or Armilla if they had any questions beyond books or general locations.

Although he was busier now, Jisung couldn’t deny that the two months had done him a favor emotions-wise. He spent much of his time alone, enjoying staying in the sitting room until late at night reading books about topics he didn’t understand, but enjoyed anyway. He understood now that how he treated Hyunjin was not okay, and now he was trying to figure out how to face it.

He couldn’t get over his grief of losing Riley by being a dick to people, nor would it do him any good. All that would do would make Jisung into a resentful, angry person, and that’s not who Riley would want him to be.

Jisung, despite the anxiety clawing in his stomach, began to open up. Hyunjin wasn’t that bad - he was really fun to be around, actually - and Seungmin had a charm of his own, even if he was blunt (and still a little mad at Jisung for insulting his brother). He had grown accustomed to them, his walls dropping, even if just slightly. The 17-year-old even found himself making jokes on occasion, even if they weren’t the most appropriate.

While he was concussed, Seungmin was only focusing on Jisung’s recovery. Jisung was a little suspicious that the “experiments” the brunette had talked about back in April were just a ploy to get Jisung to stay, but he gave him the benefit of the doubt. Jisung knew that, although help wasn’t always deserved, he’d be a fool not to take it.

The young witch, after he had recovered from a majority of his symptoms, claimed he was monitoring Jisung for signs of “thirst.” Jisung had laughed at that, leaving Seungmin confused.

“Thirst?” Jisung wheezed, “What, you think I’ll suddenly want to jump your bones, or something?”

Seungmin flushed a violent shade of red. “No, I don’t think you’ll suddenly want to jump my bones. What the hell are you talking about?”

“Home schooled kids…” Jisung chuckled to himself, shaking his head. Seungmin narrowed his eyes, “Tell me what it means.”

“No,” Jisung teased. “I like knowing something you don’t.”

“I can force it out of you.”

“You wouldn’t,” the onyx-haired boy smirked, leaning back in his chair. Seungmin’s jaw clenched, and then he opened his mouth. Jisung already regretted doubting Seungmin’s lack of morality.

“No, no, Seungmin, don’t-”

“Verum.”

Jisung screamed internally, but his mouth made a different set of sounds. “I laughed because thirst is slang for wanting to bone someone!” Jisung rushed out, coughing when Seungmin dropped the spell.

“Bone?” Seungmin asked, confused. Hyunjin opened the door to Seungmin’s bedroom, popping his head in.

“It means you wanna fuck,” Hyunjin clarified, his lips drawing up into his signature, full-bodied laugh. Seungmin’s face scrunched up, dropping his head into his hands as his brother entered the room, closing the door behind himself. Hyunjin sat on the bed, one of his legs propped up.

“So, why were you two talking about fucking?”

“We weren’t!” Seungmin hissed.

Jisung held up his hands in innocence, “Hey, you were the one talking about thirst first.” Hyunjin chuckled at that, tossing his head back as his eyes curled into crescents. Seungmin deadpanned at Jisung, unamused.

“I’m trying to help you, dipshit.” He said, “When did you become so buddy-buddy with my brother, anyway?”

“When we decided to antagonize you together,” Hyunjin jested.

“You’re more similar than I thought, then.” Seungmin rolled his eyes. “Anyway, open your mouth, Jisung?”

“Excuse me?”

“I just want to check something really quick,” Seungmin explained, holding up a book that had been resting on his desk just seconds before. “I found some stuff, but I need qualitative data to back it up.”

“Qualitative data…” Jisung muttered, “and that involves sticking your hand down my throat?” Hyunjin laughed and Jisung felt the corner of his lip curl up.

“No, it doesn’t,” Seungmin stood up, approaching the older boy, “but it will if you don’t obey.”

“Kinky,” Jisung joked, although he was quite nervous, and, honestly? Scared.

“For the love of god…” Seungmin sighed, rolling his eyes. “Quies,” he commanded, Jisung finding his body immobile. Seungmin tilted Jisung’s chin up from where he was standing above him. He wiggled his jaw back and forth gently between his thumb and forefinger.

“You know, you could always just be, you know, nicer?” Hyunjin suggested, “He might be more inclined to listen to you, then.”

“I am nice,” Seungmin insisted, glancing at his green-eyed brother. “He’s just stupidly stubborn for someone asking for help.” Jisung grunted indignantly in response, whining. “Anyway, open up - Suadeo, ” he asked, and when that didn’t work, he added on, “ Solvo.

Jisung’s jaw fell open, exposing two pearly rows of teeth. They were mostly normal save for eight teeth - his lateral incisors and canines. Those eight teeth were sharper than average, just tipping past the point of normal and into concerning. Seungmin, cautiously, reached forward, meaning to touch one with his finger.

Jisung was immediately alarmed, his breath quickening and his vision tunneling. The last time anyone had come near his teeth, he had hurt them badly, almost to the point of death. He didn’t want to go through that again, he couldn’t go through that again-

And then Seungmin touched the tooth, just soft enough to not cause damage to himself. Hyunjin noticed how frightened Jisung was and gently touched his brother’s shoulder, pulling away the younger witch.

“You’re scaring him,” Hyunjin said, separating them. “Drop the charm.”

“I-”

“Seungmin.”

The brunette looked at his brother, reluctant, and then he waved his hand through the air, dispelling the hold charm he had cast on the onyx-haired boy.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think-” Seungmin began, “I didn’t know it would frighten you.”

Jisung took a deep breath, looking to the side. Hyunjin came to his side, his hand hovering over his shoulder without actually touching him. Jisung leaned away from his touch, and Hyunjin took back his hand. He remained close.

Jisung closed his mouth, running his tongue over his teeth. “It’s - It’s fine. I shouldn’t use jokes as a coping mechanism, anyway… it made you think it was fine to do…  that. Whatever that is.”

He looked at Seungmin, the brunette boy’s face marred with regret. Jisung covered his mouth with his hand, fighting back the memory of blood, blood in his mouth, skin between his teeth, Riley laying there twitching like a sick dog, the cold grass-

Jisung hadn’t even noticed that he had begun panicking, his breathing hastening until it was drumming in his chest like a racehorse. Not thinking made him think even more, and now he couldn’t think about anything else but that horrible night, the images on loop like a VHS tape with jammed film.

“Jisung,” Hyunjin called softly, unsure if he should touch him. “Jisung, it’s okay-” He reached out to touch him, but Jisung lashed his arm out, hitting Hyunjin across the face. The older boy stumbled back, stunned.

Hyunjin, knowing how volatile a scared person could be, knew he couldn’t leave Jisung alone, but he also knew he wasn’t the person to take of him. “Seungmin?” He asked, “Get Bunica.”

Seungmin left immediately, giving Jisung a wide berth as he left the room to fetch their grandmother. Hyunjin, holding his throbbing cheek, kneeled in front of Jisung, the boy’s glossy eyes focused on a distant point, seeing something only he could see.

“Jisung,” Hyunjin said, “It’ll be okay.”

Jisung shook his head, his hand digging into the skin around his mouth as tears leaked from his eyes. Hyunjin stayed there with him, whispering calming words until Seungmin returned - no Bunica in two.

“She isn’t home,” Seungmin mouthed. Hyunjin cursed their luck internally, looking at the crying boy.

“Jisung,” Hyunjin asked, “You mentioned you were trying to cope.” Jisung shut his eyes. “What are you trying to cope with?”

The onyx-haired boy shook his head no, not wanting to talk. Hyunjin took a deep breath. He was good with emotions, sure, but he had only dealt with so many crying people. Theater club helped - having chosen to go to public, unlike his brother, who was home-schooled - sure, but even then, all his peers were human and crying over very human problems. Whatever Jisung was panicking over, Hyunjin highly doubted it was common.

He could see it on Jisung’s skin, an electric red clinging to his skin like a snake, slowly constricting him. Hyunjin, not exactly 100% human, had a knack for seeing things that most people couldn’t see - namely, auras. And Jisung’s was on fire.

Jisung blinked the tears away, trying to take deep breaths as he listened to Hyunjin gentle voice, soft and cajoling. He didn’t want to hurt him. He didn’t hurt anyone, he just wanted the memories to go away.

Hyunjin took a deep breath.

“Whatever you’re afraid of, Jisung, it won’t happen,” he began. “Breathe. In and out, in and out, in and out… There you go, that's it!” Jisung’s breathing began to level, “Everything is going to be okay. You’re going to be fine. Everything is going to be fine.”

Jisung closed his eyes again, nodding. He cleared his throat.

“Keep talking,” Jisung requested, “Please.”

And Hyunjin did. He kept talking to him until Jisung’s breath evened out, his red eyes opening and dripping tears slowly. He talked to him as he handed him tissues, telling little jokes and telling stories from school, like when he had fallen off stage during bows for their production of Little Shop of Horrors and when his 4th grade teacher accidently dropped the f-bomb on parent-visitation day.

Jisung laughed, patting his cheeks dry with the tissues. He listened to the older boy until he found himself nodding off, the gentle brush of a hand on his knee rousing him from his sleep. Hyunjin walked him to his room, Seungmin slinking back into his own room, ashamed and unseen.

“Are you okay alone?” Hyunjin asked, tilting his head. Jisung nodded, biting his lip.

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll be okay.” Jisung answered, giving the taller boy a smile, although it wasn’t too believable. Hyunjin could still see the electric red clinging to his skin, although curls of blue had begun to drown the other color out. “You don’t have to worry about me.”

“It’s my job to worry about people,” Hyunjin smiled, “and… well, I consider you a friend, so I’ll worry about you whether you want me to or not.”

Jisung’s face cinched up, “A friend?”

“Yeah, a friend.” Hyunjin stepped back from the door frame, “Goodnight, Jisung.”

The younger boy nodded, shutting the door. “You too.”

 

Jisung woke up the next day to a knock on the guest room door. When he opened the door, Seungmin was standing two paces ahead, eyes exhausted, spectacles low on his nose.

“Jesus Christ, you look like shit.” Jisung said, his filter not operational this early in the morning. Seungmin snorted.

“Thanks, I’m aware.” He entered Jisung’s room without invitation. In his arms was the same book he had been holding yesterday, before he had charmed Jisung and caused him to have a panic attack. Jisung looked down at the book with a conditioned disdain.

Seungmin patted the bed, motioning for Jisung to sit down. Jisung did so carefully, keeping a safe distance between he and the witch. Seungmin set the book between them, flipping it open to page 344 - Cambions.

“I think I know what you are,” Seungmin said. “I spent all of last night trying to figure it out. Lots of cross-referencing and comparisons, so I’m pretty sure I’m right, but there is still some room for error. I need to confirm it with you.”

Jisung’s eyebrows shot up, surprised. Seungmin continued, “I felt bad about scaring you. I know I’m not the best with people, and my personality is kind of an acquired taste, but I never meant to- to-” Seungmin’s voice cut out. Jisung’s brows drew together as Seungmin gathered himself. “I never meant to hurt you, so I guess you could call this my apology.”

Jisung looked down at the book laid in front of him, pulling it into his lap. The header of the paper was labeled “Cambions” in a bold script, the definition of the creature marked below it, indented.

“The offspring of an incubus, succubus, or other demon with a human, or of an incubus and succubus,” Jisung read aloud. “So my parents were…?”

“One of the above combinations, yeah,” Seungmin answered, not making eye contact with Jisung. “Although, you’re probably not the child of both a succubus and incubus. You’re too gentle, kind.”

Jisung looked back down at the book, reading further to himself. “Cambions are born normally and appear fully human, save for the fact that they have no pulse or breath. They continue to appear human until about the age of 16 years, after which they begin showing their demonic origins more overtly, usually in the form of elongated, tough nails, the development of fangs, and sometimes changes in facial structure and/or coloration.

“The typical cambion is cunning and evil, with a beautiful, alluring appearance and ability to control other people. Cambions are sometimes referred to as sexual vampires due to the way they entice their victims into sexual activity for an evil purpose, stealing their life through their lips and blood.”

“This book is really old, and it is heavily influenced by Christianity, so it goes a little hard condemnation-wise,” Seungmin explained. “Don’t believe everything it says. Cambions aren’t inherently evil - just like people.”

“How are you so sure?” Jisung asked, setting the book down in between them.

Seungmin’s face twisted in  hesitation. It was a weird expression for him, Jisung used to his bold self-confidence.

“My brother,” the brunette started, looking down at his hands twisting nervously in his lap. “He is one as well.”

“Hyunjin?” Jisung asked, eyes wide. In retrospect, it all adds up - how he felt nothing when he touched him. But then that raised the question, was Seungmin one too? He hadn’t felt anything when he touch him, either. “What about you?”

“What about me?” Seungmin asked, confused. “We’re not biologically related, you know that, right?”

“I know,” Jisung explained, “I just - when I touch people, I feel this… pull. Like something in me is telling me to get closer, almost impossibly so. I didn’t feel it with either of you when you touched me.”

“The thirst?”

Jisung chuckled at that. “Yeah, the thirst.”

“Oh,” Seungmin frowned, trying to think of an explanation. “No, I’m not a cambion. I guess I never got over the habit of casting masking charms on myself. You can’t be too careful, you know? Especially when half your patrons aren’t human.”

“They aren’t?” Jisung raised his eyebrows in shock. Seungmin shrugged, “Maybe 45%?” Jisung took in that information with wide eyes, his whole perspective on the world flipped like a dime. “45%,” he muttered to himself.

“When did you find out Hyunjin was a cambion?” Jisung asked, “Was it something you’ve always know, or did he have an awakening like me? Where I suddenly started growing claws and shit?”

“Well, for starters-” Seungmin explained how Hyunjin wasn’t technically a cambion, and was rather the result of a cambion and a human, a combination virtually unheard of, since cambions are supposed to be infertile. The only reason they knew what Hyunjin was was because whoever gave Hyunjin to Armilla apparently knew the father, who vouched for the child’s heritage. He had green eyes since his birth, and his abilities were more latent than Jisung’s due to his low concentration of demonic blood. He had the advantage of knowing, unlike Jisung.

“Seungmin?” Hyunjin’s sleepy voice called down the hallway, “Where are you?”

“Ji’s room,” Seungmin called back, Jisung’s stomach turning at the familiar nickname.

Riley used to call me that.

Hyunjin poked his head into the room after knocking, his bed head flopping over his eyes. Seungmin pushed up his glasses, squinting at his brother. “What do you want?”

“Just checking up on Jisung,” Hyunjin answered, giving a soft smile to the younger boy. “Sleep okay?”

“Yeah,” Jisung’s lips lilted, “Thanks.”

“Anytime,” Hyunjin answered, stepping back from the door. “Bunica is making breakfast. You can come down whenever, but I recommend you do when you smell the bacon, or I’ll eat all of it.” He winked conspiratorially at his brother, who scowled.

“I will disown you if you eat all the bacon,” Seungmin threatened. Hyunjin chuckled in response. “Likely story.”

Jisung gathered the book in his hands, paging through it. He waited until the door was closed behind Hyunjin before he asked, “Is it okay if I keep this for a bit? To read?”

“What else you do to a book?” Seungmin joked.

“I mean, I could violently deface it-”

“I will murder you.”

Jisung laughed as Seungmin lunged for the book, holding it out of reach, but Seungmin was taller. He easily reached up and snagged the book from his hands, clutching it to his chest protectively. When Jisung realized he was smiling, and therefore baring his teeth, he quickly covered his smile. Seungmin frowned.

“You don’t have to hide your teeth around us, you know?” Seungmin said, “You’re fine as you are.”

“What about other people, then?” Jisung countered, “Won’t they think my teeth are strange?”

“Nah,” Seungmin smirked, “They’ll just think you’re an edgy teen who idolizes vampires, or something.”

Jisung knocked his head back in laughter. All the weight between the two 17-year-olds seemed to melt away, slipping through their hands like fine sand. It made Jisung wonder what he was so worried about, now that he was well-rested and rational.

He wanted to tell Seungmin about Riley. Jisung didn’t know where the urge came from, but he was practically itching to. Maybe it was how Seungmin was looking at him through his bedhead, his messy hair and wire glasses hitting him like a punch to the gut. He reminded Jisung of her - of her blunt, witty humor, her smiles, her mannerisms - but Seungmin was still different. Different enough for him to want.

Jisung swallowed the emotions rising in his throat, breathing through his nose low and calm.

He couldn’t talk about Riley. Not yet. If he started talking about Riley, it would be like yesterday all over again. He’d cry, sobbing over his unmanageable regrets and vicious remorse like he had both before and after Hyunjin had left him alone.

“Remind me,” Jisung told Seungmin, “to tell you about Pittsburgh.”

“Is that your hometown?”

“It might as well be,” Jisung answered vaguely, “It’s the only one important to me.”

Seungmin hummed in understanding, “I will.” He handed the book to Jisung, pulling it away at the last second when he extended his hands to receive it. “Promise you won’t violently deface it?”

Jisung smiled disarmingly. Seungmin’s face softened. “I promise.” He took the book from the younger boy, circumventing the bed and setting it on the nightstand. Seungmin stood, mimicking the older boy. “Let's head down before your brother eats all the bacon.”

“Yeah,” Seungmin agreed, “Let’s.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 9 - As It Was

It was a hot summer day in the middle of August when Jisung leaned over the book Seungmin had given him, paging through it with a dull interest. The upper floors where the bedrooms are were hot as hell, the only AC unit in the entire space in the shop below, making it made it hard to do anything besides lay there.

Jisung laid back, his feet resting on the bed and his legs making an arch over Hyunjin’s legs. Hyunjin had a book of his own in his hands as they read silently, enjoying each other’s company and relaxing. Jisung glanced at him occasionally, watching as he bit his lip and the inside of his cheek as he read.

In the 4 ½ months he had been around Hyunjin and Seungmin, Jisung had had more than his fair share of crises. First was the obvious: his poor adaptation to his new environment and bad coping mechanisms over trauma. After his panic attack, though, Jisung found a new sense of clarity. He no longer felt guilty accepting help from the Borkowskis' and instead welcomed it, aiming to help them as best as he could in return.

After learning that being a Cambion wasn’t actually all that uncommon, he had felt a lot better in the sense of simply knowing that he wasn’t alone. He was no longer the “weird one.” Hyunjin was a “weird one.” 45% of their patrons were some sort of “weird one.”

It changed how he viewed himself, watching Hyunjin - bright, sweet Hyunjin. He was popular at school but modest and was basically everything that made a person perfect wrapped up into one human. Sure, maybe Jisung was idealizing him a little bit, but it made Jisung realize that he needed to let go of the bitterness holding him back. Hyunjin, in a way, was an inspiration to Jisung.

Now that school was long over and it was summer, they had begun to hang out a lot more. The Borkowskis' weren’t particularly affluent, so they made do with what they could, finding fun in the city and in each other. Jisung and the black haired boy often found themselves wandering the city together, people watching and goofing off while talking about everything and nothing. Seungmin joined them occasionally, but he was more often than not busy, so mostly it was just Jisung and Hyunjin.

He had also learned many things about the two boys:

  1. Seungmin was quiet most of the time, but when he was hyper - a semi-rare occurrence, he was the goofiest and funniest bitch in the world. Jisung adored that side of him.
  2. After a late night conversation, he had found out that Seungmin indeed liked boys. Interesting.
  3. Hyunjin was touchy as hell, and Jisung was more than happy to indulge him. Seungmin was the opposite, though. He shied away from most skinship unless he was tired and calm.

That led Jisung to where he was now, laying perpendicular to Hyunjin, watching the black haired boy read his book - something about a dystopian future, or something. Jisung sighed. He could only watch him for so long before he felt creepy.

Jisung set down his book and sat up. “Jinnie,” he said. Hyunjin stopped biting his lip and looked up at him with expectant eyes.

“Yes?”

“Do you want to go somewhere?” Jisung leaned on his palm. “I want to get out of the house.”

 

Two hours later, the three boys were on the boardwalk looking out onto the seemingly endless expanse that was Lake Michigan. In the distance, the island that housed the ever affluent and haughty Cloud District stretched high into the sky, it’s skyscrapers vanishing into the low clouds. Jisung was leaning on the railing between Hyunjin and Seungmin, enjoying the cool breeze rolling off the water.

Hyunjin was messing with the finger’s on Jisung’s left hand, pressing his nails lightly and watching the skin go white before letting out and watching the red color flow back into the area. It was soothing.

“I can’t believe high school is over… I’m not sure if I miss it or if I’m glad to be rid of it.” Hyunjin said, breaking the silence. Jisung felt a pang of misplaced irritation spike in his throat.

“At least you graduated,” Jisung muttered sharply. Hyunjin’s hand stilled.

“I-” The black haired boy began to apologize.

“Don’t apologize, Jin,” Seungmin cut in, flicking Jisung’s cheek. “Jisung’s just being moody again.”

“I’m not moody!” Jisung whined. “I’m just bitter I never got to graduate high school because- just… because.”

He still hadn’t told them about Riley. Every time he tried his throat closed up. He wasn’t sure if he even wanted to tell them. He was scared he would mess up his relationship with them somehow, even though he knew they would never discriminate against him for what he was. The gravity of what he’d done weighed on him like ten thousand tons.

“Yes, you are.” Seungmin rolled his eyes. “What would you have done if you had graduated high school? You dropped out in Junior year, right?”

“More like dropped off the face of the Earth…” Jisung muttered to himself. On the sandy bank of the lake was a little freshwater crayfish. The raven-haired boy watched it dig into the silt. He sighed, shrugging. “I’m not sure what I would have done with my life. I wasn’t that good at school. I didn’t have a lot going for me, if I’m honest.”

“There must have been something you liked,” Hyunjin frowned. Jisung thought of all the lyrics he had written in the margins of his old school notebooks, of the amount of times he ended up in a YouTube downward spiral of digital composition tutorials, of looking at the guitar through the window on the way home from school.

Jisung shook his head, “I was never talented at anything and never tried hard enough to become good at anything so now I’m just left with… nothing, I guess.”

“Bullshit,” Seungmin said. His brow furrowed, lips curling down at Jisung’s pessimistic words. “No one is bad at everything. There must be something you want to pursue or something you want do.”

“Just because I want to do something doesn’t mean I can.”

“Well, aren’t you just a ray of sunshine.”

“Thanks, it’s the clinical depression.” Jisung pushed off the railing, changing the topic. He began walking back in the direction of Armilla’s Oddities.  “Do you think Bunica is home yet?”

“Give it another hour,” Seungmin said. “Her Thursday bookings in the Redwood District normally go to 3:00 PM, but this client insisted on pushing it back an hour. Something about school.”

“What does she do on those trips anyway?” Jisung asked. Hyunjin had grabbed his hand and was occupying himself with his fingers again, swinging their hands between them as they walked.

“House trips, counselling, guidance, the occasional diagnosis, some dabbling in warding…” Seungmin shrugged, “It’s really specific per customer. She has a few regulars, but most of the time they are one-time cases.”

“Cases…” Jisung muttered, “Your life sound like it’s straight out of one of the TV shows on the sci-fi channel.”

“You watch the sci-fi channel?” Hyunjin smiled teasingly, dropping his hand. “Oh, I’m judging you so hard right now.”

“At least my favorite book genre isn’t pre-teen dystopian,” Jisung quipped before scowling, “And I only watch the sci-fi channel sometimes and only because it’s fun to make fun of the movies. Mostly.

“Just admit that you like them,” the taller boy snickered. “I’ll tell you what - If you can find one you think I’ll like, I’ll watch it with you. No promises I’ll actually like it, though.”

“Challenge accepted,” Jisung looked up at him, smirking.

“Will you please not flirt in front of me,” Seungmin sighed, exasperated.

Jisung turned to him, still smirking. “We’re not flirting.”

“You literally planned a date in front of me.” Seungmin rolled his eyes.

“Correction,” Jisung put an arm over Seungmin’s shoulders, “We planned a date beside you.”

Seungmin rolled his eyes and pushed Jisung’s arm away, making the shorter boy pout. He continued walking, leaving Jisung and Hyunjin behind him. Jisung and Hyunjin jogged to catch up, fearing the younger boy was upset.

Hyunjin ruffled his younger brother’s hair and Seungmin relaxed under the touch. He glanced at his brother and sighed, eyes softening. “You okay, Minnie?”

“Yeah…” Seungmin sighed, “Just stressed.”

“Anything we can help with?”

Jisung watched as Seungmin’s shoulders fell, and unreadable expression covering his face. “No,” he answered wearily, “I’ll deal with it on my own. It’s nothing you can help with.”

 

Armilla came home much later than they expected - around 6:00 PM. The old woman groaned and rubbed her back as the front door shut behind her, the door alerting the rest of the home with a thunk and ring, the little bell that hung on the door jingling. Armilla winced as she removed her coat, tired and sore. She looked worse for wear.

Jisung, seeing her struggle, immediately came to her aid, abandoning the notebook he had been writing in. He could hear Hyunjin and Seungmin stirring upstairs, having heard the chime of the store bell.

“Bunica,” Jisung said, having begun to use the Romanian word for grandma upon her instance, “I thought you were supposed to be back at four.”

“The client had more problems than expected,” she chuckled, wincing lightly in between her words. Jisung was about to ask her what that meant when Seungmin pattered down the stairs, still in the clothes he had worn on their walk on the boardwalk, minus the shoes and plus the reading glasses.

“Bunica!” Seungmin said, repeating Jisung’s words. “What happened?”

Armilla’s face crinkled, “Extraction gone wrong. I messed with some modern spells that I shouldn’t have. Nasty things, they are.”

“Extraction?” Jisung questioned. They had never mentioned something like that before. Seungmin and Armilla continued on like they hadn’t heard his question.

“I thought you said you weren’t going to take those kinds of jobs anymore.” Seungmin’s brow furrowed, his eyes filled with a combination of worry and betrayal. Jisung’s eyes darted between the now-sitting witch and his concerned friend. The anger rose in his voice, “Bunica, you said-”

“Minnie!” Armilla snapped, her eyes stealing in a way Jisung had never seen from her - harsh and unbreaking. Jisung was starting to really feel like he was intruding. She took a breath and closed her eyes, calming down. When she next spoke, her voice had returned to it’s normal warm, aged tone. “I know what I said. I took this job because someone needed to. It was urgent and couldn’t wait. I wouldn’t have taken it if I didn’t need to.”

“You need to prioritize your own health!”

“Personal health is not the priority of a witch,” Armilla lectured, “We have abilities that very few do and have to use them for the greater good. We have a job in this world and I will be damned if I let a little  English spell-craft  thwart that. Seungmin, you should know this by now.”

“I do!” Seungmin said fervently, glancing back at Jisung. Jisung gulped, uncomfortable under the brunette’s eyes - especially when a look of discovery passed across them. Seungmin raised an eyebrow and tilted his head, appraising Jisung. “Huh,” Seungmin wondered to himself.

“Is there something on my face or something…?” Jisung gestured, shifting from foot to foot. He had the feeling that he should have left the room a long time ago.

A smile spread across the taller boy’s face, looking all too pleased with himself. Jisung knew that look - Seungmin only made an expression like than after he figured out a difficult problem or found a solution to one his sprawling magical hypotheticals. Suddenly, Jisung felt significantly less like a human (humanoid?) and more like a mathematical equation.

“Seungmin?” Jisung asked again. Seungmin just smiled wider, turning back to his grandmother.

“What if I took those jobs instead?”

“So?” Armilla sighed, “Who would take care of the shop, then? Hyunjin is leaving for college soon, and Jisung is-”

Jisung raised his eyebrows in shock. Hyunjin was leaving for college? Why had no one told him?

Jisung tuned back in when he realized he was being looked at, Armilla glancing at the cambion and hesitating, “-He isn’t in any condition to take on that kind of responsibility.”

Jisung wouldn’t argue with that, but apparently Seungmin would.

“I call bullshit,” Seungmin effused, even as Armilla scolded him for cursing. “He is way smarter than he looks-”

“Hey!”

“-And if he didn’t like this place, he wouldn’t have stuck around. It took him a bit, but he is great with customers now and knows where and what everything is. Whatever he doesn’t know I can… I can teach him or write him notes.”

Jisung was taken aback by the sincerity in his words. The younger boy was rarely this animated and forthcoming, speaking with a passion and fervor that he had never seen in him before. It amazed him. Seungmin was full of surprises, wasn’t he?

He must really love his Grandmother.

A stifling feeling crawled up his throat, abating his breath and slowing the world around him. He wanted so badly to speak, but after years of being silent and letting things go, it was like trying to dislodge a boulder. He pressed his shoulder to the boulder and dug his feet into the earth, pushing with all his might until he felt a shift. It goes slowly, creeping over the cliff, and then, just when the world seems still-

It falls, all at once.

“I’m willing to learn,” Jisung said, stepping up to Armilla. She looked up at him with unsure black eyes. “I owe you that much, at least.”

Armilla’s eyes softened, “Jisung, you never owed me anything.”

“I do, though,” Jisung said. “You took me in even though I was an angry, bloody stranger with more than their fair share of sketchy vibes. Most people would have turned me away or called the cops, so, yeah… I owe you.” He looked at Seungmin, spying Hyunjin behind him at the foot of the stairs from his new angle. “I owe all of you.”

Ten minutes later, after a shit ton of convincing and arguing on the three boy’s part, Jisung found himself in the sitting room working out the semantics of the issue. They had gotten Armilla to agree eventually, although it took an embarrassing amount of begging on Seungmin’s part. Armilla was a proud woman, but she wasn’t invincible, and Seungmin just wanted his Bunica to be okay.

One thing Jisung didn’t understand though was why they couldn’t just like, phone a friend, or something. The two brothers couldn’t be the only witches in the city, right?

“We’re the only skilled witches in the city,” Hyunjin clarified, their legs mingled together on the couch as they leaned against opposite arm rests. He took a swig from his bottled water, “Do you really think every magically inclined person has the time to actually study? Most people don’t even know they’re able to do it, much less have family who can do it as well.”

Jisung had a hard time focusing on his words when they were pressed so close together, Hyunjin’s socked foot poking a little bit into Jisung’s hip. He watched as he drank from the bottle, the black-haired boy’s Adam's apple bobbing attractively. Jisung took a deep breath.

Now is not the time for horny thoughts. He’s leaving for college soon, anyway.

Jisung cleared his throat and asked, “Okay, but isn’t it a hereditary thing?”

“Eh, it’s more of a the universe does what it wants thing.” Hyunjin looked at his brother. Seungmin shifted in his chair, bringing up his legs and crossing them. He was so lanky.

Like a baby giraffe.

“We’re a special case,” Seungmin said, “Two in one home is rare, three even more so, and soon… maybe even four?”

Jisung raised an eyebrow, “Is someone pregnant?”

Hyunjin laughed around a mouthful of water, nearly spitting it out. Seungmin’s lips curled up at the edges, shaking his head. “No one is pregnant, dumbass.”

“Hey, it was a reasonable assumption,” Seungmin rolled his shoulders, cracking them. Jisung shivered. He had always hated that noise. “I was talking about you.”

“I thought you were just going to teach me how to run and take care of the place?”

“Yeah, well… might as well teach you some other things, right?”

“And what made you want to do that?” Jisung asked, prying even as Seungmin shrugged and looked away, staring at some random point in the shop. Jisung’s brow furrowed, “Seungmin?”

The younger boy shrugged again and brought his legs closer to his chest, his hands fiddling with the cuffs of his jeans. Hyunjin looked at his brother, green eyes observant and attentive. Seungmin huffed a sigh, looking up at his older brother. Hyunjin raised an eyebrow and Seungmin nodded, silently communicating. Jisung watched their exchange, unused to this level of hesitance from the young witch.

“It’s his way of showing you that he cares,” Hyunjin sighed. “He gets choked up when he gets touchy-feely.”

“I don’t get choked up...” Seungmin muttered defensively, rolling the cuff of his left leg up and down.

“Yes, you do.” Hyunjin asserted. “You’re level headed. It’s what makes you so good at magic.” He smirked,“You know, along with nearly two decades of practice.”

“You’re good too.”

“Yeah, but I’ll never be as good as you are.”

Seungmin pouted and Jisung found himself frowning, realizing he has never actually seen Hyunjin practice magic. He’d only ever seen Seungmin and Armilla’s summoning and rune magic, the two of them throwing around Latin and Greek like it was nothing on a daily a basis. But never Hyunjin. Hyunjin was quiet.

“What’s your magic like?” Jisung asked, the question popping out of him before he could gain the sense to hold it back. “I just realized I’ve never seen you use it.”

Hyunjin frowned, “You’ve seen me use it before.”

“Um, I’m pretty sure I haven’t?” Jisung leaned forward, snagging Hyunjin’s water bottle, hesitating briefly for permission. He sat back and took a sip, trying to recall any instance of the supernatural that could have stemmed from the black-haired boy in front of him. He handed the water bottle back to him, still thinking. “Yeah, I’ve never heard you say anything, now that I really think about it.”

Realization dawned on Hyunjin’s face. Seungmin snickered to the side, “Jisung, I take back what I said earlier, you are a grade A idiot,” he uncrossed his legs and sat them on the floor, standing. He brushed past the coffee table and entered the kitchen.

“What did I do this time?” Jisung held his hands out in exasperation. From the kitchen, Jisung could hear the sound of paper ripping. By the time Seungmin re-entered the room, he had a ball of paper in his hands, crumpled.

“Head’s up!”

He chucked it at his brother’s face, startling the green-eyed boy. Jisung ducked even though the ball wouldn’t have hit him anyway, Hyunjin flinching across from him. As they boy shut his eyes, Jisung watched the paper ball incinerate mid-air in quick flash. No words were said.

“What the fuck, Seungmin?” Hyunjin whined, “You startled me!”

“Exactly, don’t be dramatic.” Seungmin took his seat again. Hyunjin muttered dick under his breath. “Do you get it now, Jisung?”

“... Hyunjin is a pyromaniac?” His voice went up in pitch, not fully understanding what was apparently supposed to be so obvious. Hyunjin laughed, his shaking chuckles traveling into Jisung’s body though their connected legs.

“The proper term is evocationist, but that works too, I guess.” Hyunjin said, “Most of my magic is wordless. It’s a perk of being part-demon.”

Jisung’s eyes widened, “Does that mean I could?”

“Cast magic like that?”

“No, like, casting magic at all.”

Seungmin bit his cheek, sitting back. He thought for a moment, clicking his tongue. “Maybe. I wouldn’t have mentioned it if I didn’t think you were capable. I think you’ll be good at it, if I’m honest. That’s why I want to teach you.”

Jisung’s eyes widened in shock. The young cambion felt oddly… flattered, for some reason. Hearing someone express confidence in him hit differently, striking a chord somewhere in him.

Jisung sat back, stunned. “Yeah… I’d like that.”

 

That night, Jisung woke up to a gentle knock on his door.

“Jinnie?” He said tiredly, squinting at the taller boy as he brushed past him and collapsed on his bed in a heap of sheets. The comforter puffed around him like a cloud, absorbing all his sharp edges. “You okay?” Jisung asked, more awake.

Hyunjin only grunted in response, leaving Jisung to stare in confusion. The onyx-haired boy padded across the hardwood floor, standing by the bed that he now felt comfortable calling his rather than the guest’s. Looking down, Jisung’s brow furrowed as Hyunjin sighed heavily into the sheets before rolling over, looking up at Jisung with a pout.

“What’s got you so-” Jisung gestured to his mouth, talking about Hyunjin’s expression. The older boy laughed in response and Jisung realized he was playing, adopting a mock-offended facade. “You bitch, I was worried, you walked in here all moody…”

“Jisung? Worried about me?” Hyunjin teased with a smirk, “I’m flattered.” He patted the space next to him, inviting the other cambion.

As if I need to be invited to my own bed, Jisung thought to himself.

“Shut up,” he said, climbing in regardless of the invite. He flopped down into the sheets, fighting the urge to fall asleep as soon as his head hit the pillows. “For real, though. Why are you here?”

“I can’t just want to spend time with you?”

“You’re in my bed.”

Hyunjin rolled over, facing Jisung. The older boy’s eyes were as bright as ever, two moss-green gems that seemed to almost glow in the shaded darkness of Jisung’s room, the only source of light being the shitty lamp Jisung had turned on before opening the door. It was the room in a dim yellow tone - haunting and sallow, but beautiful in it’s own right. “Is that a problem?”

Jisung thought for a moment, knowing these were dangerous waters. He was so confused around Hyunjin, sometimes. It was like his thoughts would short circuit. “No,” Jisung answered carefully, voice low. “I don’t mind.”

Hyunjin smiled at that, “Sweet.” He fiddled with the collar of his sleeping shirt, the old worn out, stretched collar pulling along easily. Jisung held his breath. His gut was telling him to grab his hand in his own and to lean in, to push the limits. A moment passed, Jisung successfully resisting his intrusive thoughts.

“What are you going to do in college? Or, like, where?” Jisung asked softly. Seungmin was just one room over, probably sleeping. “You never told me.”

“I, uh…” Hyunjin faltered, “I didn’t know how to. The plan has always been pretty solid, so I never really thought I would… I don’t know.”

“Thought you would…?”

Hyunjin thought for a moment, bringing the hand from his collar up to his mouth. He was looking just to the side of Jisung, not making eye contact as he fiddled with his lower lip. Sighing, Hyunjin laid on his back. Jisung got the hint - he didn’t want to talk about it.

“You’re really cool, you know?” Jisung broke the silence. He reached a hand out and let his fingers run through Hyunjin’s hair, partially for him and partially for Hyunjin. Jisung, after finding out he could touch Hyunjin without fear of hurting him, had become quite touch-greedy. “There is so much going on in your head all the time and you manage it so well. I’m kinda jealous.”

“How do you know what’s going on inside my head?” Hyunjin said, teasingly challenging him. “You’re not secretly a psychic, are you?”

“Nah, just observant.”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

Jisung slapped him on the chest and the taller boy grabbed his hand, stopping him from whacking him again. When Jisung tried to pull his arm away, Hyunjin just laughed and held his hand harder, dogging Jisung’s other hand as it came towards his face, aiming to slap him lightly. The younger cambion let out a loud, garish laugh-yelp, resulting in Hyunjin slapping his other hand over his mouth and pushing him down onto the bed, laying half on top of him.

“Get off me, you tall ass-!” Jisung said, muffled by the hand over his mouth.

“Nope,” Hyunjin teased, looping his leg over top of Jisung’s. “I’m quite comfortable, actually.”

Jisung struggled for a another minute, cursing the other boy creatively, albeit most of his fire was lost into his hand. He eventually gave up, frowning bitterly and mourning over his lack of strength. Hyunjin let his hand drop from his mouth but didn’t let him go, clinging to Jisung like the oversized koala he was.

“I’m gonna start working out and then you’ll be no match for me, mark my words.” Jisung warned. Hyunjin chuckled, “Still gonna be a shorty.”

“You’re only three inches taller than me!”

“Still a shorty.”

“I will bite your hand,” Jisung threatened. Hyunjin, knowing Jisung was an impulsive person, jerked his hand out of biting distance. The shorter boy laughed, settling in comfortably. He didn’t know where to go from there.

“Can I stay in here?” Hyunjin asked, “For tonight?”

Jisung bit his lip. He knew he should say no, he knew a majority of his attraction to Hyunjin was physical and out of convenience, but, well… the attention was nice, and Jisung never was a perfect person. Maybe if he tried hard enough, he could fall for Hyunjin instead of his confusing brother.

“Yeah,” Jisung answered, trying his best to keep the guilt out of his voice. “Turn off the light?”

Hyunjin only hummed in response, pulling away the arm that had draped over Jisung’s side. He reached out, turning the little dial on the lamp.

Click click.

The room was cast into darkness, the only light coming from the small window that faced the alley on the far wall, a few stray rays of street-light creeping through the curtains. He knew it was fucked up, indulging Hyunjin in such behavior instead of shutting it down, but he couldn’t help it.

Jisung would take what he could get, no matter how badly it made his gut twist.

 


 

“FUCK!” Jisung yelled, yanking his hand back from Seungmin’s and stumbling away. The ruddy brunette was looking down at him, eyebrow raised and unamused. “Why the hell is your hand so hot? Literally what?”

“I told you,” Seungmin sighed, “I’m not going to teach you any magic until you know how it feels. I don’t want you to freak out on me when you cast a basic transfiguration spell, or something.”

“You said it would feel warm not on fucking fire, ” Jisung spat as he shook his hand out, examining his skin for burns. Surprisingly, he found none, but he was still very annoyed. “Is that seriously your definition of warm?”

Seungmin shrugged, “I guess I’m used to it? I’ve been casting since I babbled as a baby.”

“Flex much?” Jisung muttered to himself.

“Flex?” Seungmin frowned.

“Just more teen slang you missed out on, Mr. Baby Magician.”

“... It doesn’t meant anything like thirsty, right?”

Jisung laughed at that, “No, it doesn’t. It means to casually brag.”

“I wasn’t bragging, though.” Seungmin pouted, sitting down at his desk chair. Jisung smirked in response.

“I know,” the cambion said, sitting on the end headboard of the younger boy’s bed. Seungmin looked at him for a moment, once again taken by silence before he let out a slow breath, the hiss of air through his teeth drawing Jisung’s rapt attention.

He had been teaching Jisung about the shop and inventory since the last half of August. The seasons had shifted since then, the hot summer haze fading into the brisk air of September. The amount of time he was spending with the ruddy brunette had increased exponentially in Hyunjin’s absence, the older boy busy with earning his associates degree at the local community college just outside of the city, although he still visited every weekend.

One thing he had learned, though, was that his attraction to Hyunjin was indeed based off convenience and just how touchy and naturally affectionate he was. It was easy to mix up that level of physical contact and attention with romantic love, especially when Jisung was exposed to almost no parental affection as a child.

The contrast between what he felt for Hyunjin and what he felt for Seungmin was a little numbing, in actuality. Jisung was pissed at himself for crushing on the tough nut - the snappy, witty, sensible one - rather than the soft and understanding one who Jisung was already 99% sure he’d led on. It would have been so much easier to fall for Hyunjin, but no, Jisung had to go and pine for his fucking magic tutor.

He couldn’t talk about it with anyone, either, because he still had a goddamn flip phone and his only confidants were the two people directly involved in his issue - not to mention Armilla would probably flay him alive if she found out he was messing around with her grandchildren.

Jisung shuddered. Now that was a scary thought.

Lets not think about it, then, because that's obviously the best way for me to deal with my problems! Jisung thought to himself sarcastically, Think about like, books or that one weird cat they have preserved in a jar downstairs, or something.

Back to a safe train of thought, Jisung looked away from the brunette and back towards Seungmin’s uncharacteristically messy desk. It showed just how frantic and worried Seungmin was about his Bunica, the amount of a mess he made. It scaled with his anxiety, but Jisung did his best to help him by being the best student he could be.

He was surprisingly good at paying attention now that he, well, actually tried.

And, sure, it was a little mind numbing - memorizing pile upon pile of facts and obscure knowledge that was common to none - but that was just what Jisung signed up for, he guessed: time with Seungmin and a shit ton of book work.

Recently, though, they had strayed from the books, Jisung learning everything he needed to know besides the occasional stray fact that would occur to Seungmin every once in a while. They had built up Jisung’s Latin vocabulary, teaching him the fundamental structures and theories behind basic spells, and now he was ready to begin to really put all that technical knowledge to use.

Seungmin leaned forward, propping his elbows up on his legs and resting his chin in his hands. His keen brown eyes dissected Jisung from head to toe, and once again, Jisung was reminded of Riley. He felt the hair rise on the back of neck, compelled to get closer, but also unnerved.

“Here-” Seungmin began, standing up with a start. Jisung leaned back naturally as Seungmin reached his hands out towards him, fearing the scalding heat of his palms like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

“No…” Jisung whined. Seungmin frowned, his eyes softening into that damn expression that always got Jisung to melt. He looked like a fucking puppy, goddammit. How was Jisung supposed to resist that?

“I’m sorry for hurting you,” Seungmin said, “I’ll go slower this time, alright?”

Jisung eyed him warily even though he would inevitably give in. “Alright,” he answered him reluctantly, taking his larger hands in his own and looking up at the boy standing above him. “Your ass better keep its word.”

“My ass is very credible, thank you very much,” Seungmin snickered. “I’m gonna start now, okay?”

Jisung nodded, watching as Seungmin closed his eyes, focusing on being gentle. Jisung felt the hairs on his arm stand on end, their joined hands gradually rising in temperature even if they technically weren’t and it was just an side effect of the magic.

Being honest, his hair probably would have risen even if there was no “magic current” or whatever the hell it was called. Seungmin by himself was enough to send Jisung’s brain and body into panic mode.

“No matter how hot it gets, it can’t hurt you. Not unless you tell it to,” Seungmin said, adjusting his hands in Jisung’s. “The stronger spell, the more energy you expend. The more energy you expend, the more heat you release - and the colder you feel after. You have to be very careful to not overextend yourself. You could hurt yourself - or worse.”

Jisung cursed as their hands heated up the point where it felt like he was holding his hand but an centimeter off a hot plate, so close to making him flinch away. He held in his pain, taking a deep breath, and surprisingly, the screaming of his nerves faded away like a forgotten dream.

He could still feel the energy coursing through him, flowing from Seungmin like water, but it no longer hurt. It felt… natural, almost. Like a newly discovered talent.

“See?” Seungmin said, “It doesn’t hurt at all once you get used to it.”

Jisung nodded, his hands tightening the slightest bit as Seungmin pulled his hands away, not wanting to let go. His hands dropped to his side reluctantly, “It felt kinda nice, actually.”

Seungmin smiled at that - real and genuine. “It’s awesome, isn’t it?”

Jisung felt his lips curl up at the ends, adoration finding its way into his voice no matter how hard he tried to hold it back. “Yeah, it is.”

They ended up messing around a little bit, taking a reprieve from their work, Seungmin saying Jisung’s persistence deserved an small reward. They tossed on their overcoats, Jisung borrowing Hyunjin’s old charcoal grey, hooded jacket with sleeves that drowned his smaller body. A few weeks ago it had been even looser, but Jisung had kept his promise of working out, already making headway towards his goal of a fitter body.

The exercise - early morning runs and a healthy mix of lifting and strength exercises - helped clear his head. He breathed in the crisp morning air and ran along the boardwalks, crossing paths with strangers few and decently far in between. It was the only true only time he had, most of his time taken up by one of the Borkowskis in some way or another at any given moment. Whether it was learning to manage the books with Armilla, learning spell-craft from Seungmin, or playing checkers with Hyunjin, Jisung was always busy.

It was his solace, and if he felt more confident because of it, that was only a bonus.

“Where do you want to go?” Seungmin asked him, checking the notifications on his phone quickly before tucking it in his pocket.

“You pick,” Jisung responded. He still didn’t know the city that well despite living in Bethlehem for what, almost six months? He knew the Downtown district and the boardwalk well enough, but anything past that was a mystery to him.

“How about uptown?” Seungmin said after thinking a moment, “I’m pretty sure I saw an advertisement for a walk-in art exhibit, if you want to go to that.”

“Ooh, art?” Jisung raised an eyebrow, smirking. “Sounds fancy.”

Seungmin rolled his eyes, playfully annoyed. “If you’re going to make fun of it, then we can do something else. Feel free to suggest something for yourself.”

“No, no,” Jisung bent down to lace up his boots, looking up at the brunette through his hair. He needed a haircut soon - his hair was verging on becoming like Hyunjin’s “totally not a mullet” mullet. “I hope they have like, a graffiti wall, or something. That shit is cool as fuck.”

“I like it when it’s tasteful,” Seungmin shrugged, holding the door open for Jisung as he stood. “Personally, I’m more into acrylic pours.”

“I didn’t know you were so into art,” Jisung commented, brushing past the taller boy into the chilly night air.

“I’m not,” Seungmin said. “I just appreciate people who are able to do it. I only know what acrylic pours are through Hyunjin, since he did them in his senior year art class. Or art club? I don’t know.”

“Same difference,” Jisung looked left and right across the street, flagging down a cab. When they sat in the car, Seungmin read off the address after googling the event on his phone. They watched the city lights pass by in near silence, both quietly anticipating the sights and sounds of the uptown district, exchanging little anecdotes about their lives, recent and old.

The streets became busier the closer they got to the Redwood district, people flooding for the usual Friday night events. They turned a corner, the driver dropping them off at a corner less than half a block off from their driver. Seungmin paid, catching Jisung’s hand just before they exited the car.

“Wait-” Seungmin started, sitting Jisung back down. Jisung frowned, confused before he felt the familiar electric feeling of magic course up his arm, Seungmin’s lips parting to mutter a quiet, “Tranquillum,” followed by an even softer, “Repugno.”

Quiet, fight and resist. Seungmin had said through both his words and his touch. You will not give in.

It felt like taking a deep inhale after you hadn’t realized you’d been holding in your breath, sobering and soothing.

“The crowd,” Seungmin began. “I wanted to make sure.”

“Thank you,” Jisung breathed, their hands still connected. It felt like if even moved even a millimeter, the moment would pass, the tranquility Seungmin had cast over him feeling fleeting and fragile. They snapped apart when the driver cleared his throat, jerking his chin towards the door and asking them to leave before he made them pay for making him wait.

Seungmin apologized quickly, dropping Jisung’s hand and exiting the cab, the onyx-haired boy following suit as soon as he snapped of his stupor. The younger boy rounded the cab, joining the cambion on the sidewalk. Jisung flinched when someone brushed past him, stumbling into the taller boy.

He felt no urge to rip out the stranger’s throat, but the fear of suddenly losing himself to the blood-lust was ever present still, even if it was currently in hibernation. Jisung doubted he would ever be completely comfortable with crowds, but as long as he stuck close to Seungmin, he was calm enough to enjoy the evening.

Seungmin, knowing him well enough to know when Jisung was uncomfortable, led him quickly to the location of the event - a tall building with Rowan Exports written on the side in shiny, aluminum lettering glaring down at Jisung.

“Looks snobby,” Jisung said aloud, his filter remaining unused at the ripe age of 17 years and 359 days. A woman, short and blonde, glared at him from the door, holding out a pamphlet with a strained smile. “Sir?”

“Oh, um… thanks.” Jisung took the pamphlet awkwardly, elbowing Seungmin in the side when he saw him laughed at him out of the corner of his eye. Seungmin took one from the woman as well, apologizing for Jisung’s rudeness, the onyx-haired boy looking away sheepishly as his friend led him into the building.

It was significantly less damp and tepid inside the building, surprisingly comfortable for a space with so many bodies packed into it. Jisung took a deep breath, following after Seungmin closely, grabbing onto the back of his jacket at one point out of fear of losing him. Jisung felt like a kid in a supermarket, clinging onto the edge of his mother’s skirt because he didn’t want to be alone in a space where he was surrounded by no one but strangers.

Seungmin, sensing his discomfort, hooked elbows with him and stood close, taking care not to lose Jisung in the crowd. They found a less crowded nook, standing in front of a ostentatious painting of… yeah, Jisung had no idea what it was supposed to be.

“I feel like this belongs in the abstract section, not gonna lie…” The cambion tilted his head, wondering if changing his perspective would help him figure out what the fuck it was supposed to be. “Can you tell what it is?”

“Uh… maybe a cat...?” Seungmin frowned, tilting his head as well. They looked like a pair of confused parakeets, eyes wide and perplexed.

“I don’t see it.”

“I don’t know if I can, either.” Seungmin chuckled, righting his head. He smirked, looking at Jisung who was still tilting his head like a bird. “You were right. This place is snobby.”

Jisung smiled a little at that, looking away from the painting. “I don’t know… maybe we just don’t have the eyes for this stuff. I’m sure someone out there likes it.”

“Wise words from a unlikely man,” Seungmin jested, following after the older boy as he moved up to the next floor. Seungmin walked slowly, hands in his pockets. The stairwells were fairly empty, the echoing of their feet on the cold, white tiles a welcome sound after enduring the chatter of a hundred strangers for at least a half hour.

Hands extended to the push bar on the door, Jisung hesitated. His fingertips danced on the smooth metal, the tapping of nails (read: talons, he forgot to file them that morning) reverberating throughout the stairwell. He had a strange feeling in his gut, telling him not to open the door. He frowned, not understanding the warning signals flaring up his spine and rattling around in his head.

“You good, Ji?” Seungmin said, coming up behind him. Jisung’s eyes widened, snapping out of the weird trance he had been locked in.

“Yeah,” Jisung smiled, ignoring the stirring in his gut. “Just got a weird feeling.” Seungmin hummed in acknowledgement and the cambion continued. “It’s probably, nothing, though,” he laughed it off, pushing open the door.

As it opened, it revealed a level of the building that was almost entirely windows. Jisung could see the roof of the shorter, adjacent buildings and the sides of the taller (probably corporate) concrete hives. It was stunning, the glow of the city on the small metal sculptures propped up, hung, or freestanding around the floor. Too bad Jisung was seeing none of it.

Across from him, in front of what looked like an abstract sculpture made entirely out of used wire coat hangers, stood a woman. Her blonde hair was shorter now, but it was still that shade of unmistakably unique white-gold. Her face was still beautiful, but now it was scarred from where his teeth had rended her mouth and upper cheek. She was looking down, so he couldn’t make out her features perfectly, but he knew, without a single doubt in his mind, who it was.

“Ji?” Seungmin asked softly, touching the frozen boy’s shoulder gently. He shook him, a small jostle, but Jisung remained stone still, not a breath leaving his body. His skin had paled, resembling marble more than living tissue.

Jisung knew he should run. He knew that and yet he couldn’t move a muscle. In front of him was the girl he had run away from all those months ago, smiling and joking with whoever she was with - some person Jisung barely recognized from high school. He didn’t know why the hell she was there - maybe a school trip, or something - but it didn’t change the fact that he needed to get away.

“Jisung!” Seungmin said again, voice filled with worry, his voice rising above the general chatter of the room. Riley’s head snapped up, looking around in confusion before her eyes landed on the stunned boy in front of her, a copper and obsidian statue.

Long time no see.

“Jisung?” Riley said, shocked. “Is that you?”

Jisung’s mouth opened and closed, but no words came out. A strangled noise parted with his throat, a few passer-bys giving the him a strange look. Seungmin looked between the two of them, unsure of what was passing between them. All that he could gather was that that girl seemed to know who Jisung was, and that she was probably a highschooler. Jisung had never mentioned a befriending a girl, much less anyone, so he assumed she was someone from his past.

Seungmin grabbed Jisung’s hand, gripping his chin and tilting his head up with his other hand so that he could draw his focus away from the blonde girl. Jisung looked up at Seungmin, but his eyes were vacant and fast-blinking, drowning in a flashing haze of memories.

“Pittsburgh,” Jisung muttered, finally snapping out of it. His lips curled around the city’s name like it made him sick, eyes darting from Seungmin to Riley. She was approaching, circumventing the abstract art and jogging over to them. The witch felt the cambion’s hand twitch in his grip, warning him of the moment Jisung would bolt.

He let his hand go, watching the onyx-haired boy lunge for the door, pulling it open swiftly and pushing past a few poor people partaking in the exhibit. They stumbled back with a yelp, watching as the boy and his charcoal grey coat flew with alarming speed down the staircase.

Riley stepped right as if to avoid Seungmin, but the tall boy matched her movements to match her. She looked up, green eyes wide. Seungmin hadn’t intended to confront her, but she looked like a decent runner and he wanted to give Jisung time to either hide or get away. He could find him easily enough with magic, but the emotional damage Seungmin sensed the girl was likely to inflict was not as easily fixable.

“Get out of the way, that was my friend-!”

“I can’t,” Seungmin held out his arms when she tried to side-step him again. Be began counting down from thirty in his head, planning his exit. As easy as it would be to cast a temporary glamour on her, they were in public, and Seungmin couldn’t risk exposing himself or his family as magic practitioners. For all that the average citizens of Bethlehem knew, he was just the grandson of the local, crazy medium.

25, 24, 23...

“You- JISUNG!” The girl yelled out. A pang of guilt struck Seungmin, the grief in the girl’s voice making him doubt if he was doing the right thing. Maybe he should have- no. Jisung must’ve been panicking for a reason. Seungmin was right to stop her.

15, 14, 13...

The girl let out a frustrated noise, grabbing onto Seungmin’s arm and attempting to push him away. Her friend watched from a distance, unsure of what to do. He heard her ask for security, a self-conscious murmur at first before her voice rose, becoming a brilliant shout.

5, 4, 3...

One of the gallery volunteers found one of the maintenance staff and the word began to spread. Seungmin looked around uneasily. He knew what this looked like - restraining a screaming girl in a public place. They were going to apprehend the both of them and Seungmin couldn’t afford that - not when he had to find Jisung.

Seungmin took a deep breath, 2, 1… 0.

He let go of the girl, muttering a quick stun jinx under his breath. The girl’s body seized, freezing up like Jisung’s had the moment he had seen her. She stumbled to the side as Seungmin back peddled, bumping into a stranger as he backed through the door, turning around only so he could descend the stairs without dying.

“Dissimulo,” Seungmin whispered, mask. The glamour charm flicked over him, a shimmering cloak of magic that veiled him from recognition. It allowed him to disappear into the crowd, any of his pursuers glancing around in confusion because suddenly there was no ruddy brunette - an apparent stranger in his place, unrecognizable and unremarkable.

The spell wouldn’t hold long. Seungmin had to move fast. Quickly, with no time to lose, he cast a tracking spell, the traces of the champion's energy fluttering in the air like shards of broken glass. It was hard to trace an inhuman being and it was even harder when he was running on fumes.

Breath rushed in out him rapidly, his skin chilling with the amount of energy he was expelling. He was barely out of the building his glamour fell, dissolving in sheets. To the people around him, he probably looked like a an old video glitching out, all static and blurred lines. He focused all the magic he had on the tracing spell, heaving breath after breath when he stumbled into an alley a few blocks away.

On the ground in front of, crouching over a storm drain, was Jisung. He was shivering, the remains of what looked like vomit dripped from his chin. The smell of acid and maybe a dead animal emanated from sewer system below, the acrid scent nearly making the witch toss his guts as well.

Seungmin’s shoulders slumped, his chest pumping in exertion. “We- we lost them,” the brunette rasped, his throat dry. “You’re safe.” He approached Jisung, laying a hand on his shoulder. Jisung lifted one of his hands off the concrete, placing it on top of Seungmin’s and gripping onto it like it was his life line. In a way, it was.

Jisung let out a long, shuddering breath. Seungmin wanted to cry. Just what had happened to this boy before he had met him? What could that blonde girl have done? What could Jisung have done?

Seungmin shook his head. That wasn’t important right now. What was important was that they were safe, although they wouldn’t be for long if they decided to call the police in case the girl reported it as an assault or if one of the workers would report the three of them as a public disturbance.

“Ji, come on. We need to get home,” He bent down, looping his arm over his shoulder and lifting him from the ground. The cambion stood, legs shaking underneath himself. His nails were practically digging into the witches shoulder - he’d have to apologize for that, later.

“Let’s get you home.”

An hour later, Jisung was curled up on Seungmin’s bed with a cup of hot chocolate between his hands. Seungmin had one as well, his legs crossed underneath himself. Jisung had stopped shaking and was now focused on getting rid of the sharp taste in his throat, both literally and metaphorically.

They sat in silence, barely exhanging any words when they had first arrived home. Jisung didn’t like having nothing to say. It was weird.

“Explain.” Seungmin was the first to break the silence, setting his cup down in his lap. “What happened in Pittsburgh, Jisung?” With how he was looking at him, the cambion knew there was no getting away this time.  

And so, he told him everything.

 

Things got… easier, after that. After explaining. There were no more holes for Seungmin to fill, no questions left unanswered. Jisung was, quite frankly, dealing with PTSD, and now Seungmin felt more at ease knowing what was going on because then he could better help him.

“Do you ever want to back? To Pittsburgh, I mean?”

Jisung had thought for a moment. “I… no. I think that place is more suited to stay far, far away in my past. Maybe eventually, but definitely not now?”

“And what about Riley?” Seungmin had asked, “Would you ever want to go back to her?”

Jisung shook his head, “I love her, but I can’t. I just… can’t.”

Seungmin, not wanting to encroach on Jisung’s sensitivity to being helped, figured out how to make things easier for him in a subtle way. He moved all the objects that contained or displayed blood (one of Jisung’s bigger triggers) and put them in less commonly visible places under the pretense of reorganizing, left a technical and experimental guide to glamouring (to help conceal his fangs) on his bed, and other little things.

Just enough to help, but not enough to be overbearing.

Jisung, obviously, isn’t dumb, though, and knew what Seungmin was doing and he very much appreciated it. In fact, he had become quite adept at glamouring - it turned out he had a knack for illusion magic, after all.

He began experimenting with it more, messing around with the magic and feeling how it moved through his body. It felt alive and mischievous, misbehaving when he was too forceful with it. Unlike Hyunjin’s magic, where his self and his spells were one and the same, Jisung had to treat the magic like a person and a friend. It was nicer that way.

The one thing that Seungmin wasn’t helping, although not intentionally, was Jisung’s heart.

He was just so nice but sarcastic and beautifully sweet and had the cutest laugh and the most endearing embarrassed expression and just- God, Jisung needed to stop. His crush had surpassed being a crush and had begun to encroach on the truly romantic. It was a little nauseating, really.

God, Jisung had never wanted to kiss someone more than on his 18th birthday, just a few days after the second Riley incident, when Seungmin had come into his room at midnight just to wish him happy birthday. It was the first time someone had stayed up for him. Even just thinking about it made him happy and giggly, and Jisung was not a giggler.

He had wanted to pull him down by the collar and kiss him right then and there, but he couldn’t. Instead, his hands twitched and he laughed and cracked jokes and blushed and thought about how great it would be if his heart just… stopped. If it just stopped making him feel and stopped letting him entertain his dumb dreams of falling in love.

It was the most heart racing, panic-inducing thing he had ever thought about.

What if I ask him out and he hates me? What if this changes things? What if I ruin what I have now? What if he never talks to me again? What if, what if, what if-

Needless to say, Jisung was beginning to see just how much fucking courage it must’ve taken Riley to ask him out.

 


 

January 1st, 2018 was a very, very special day for many, many reasons.

It was New Year’s day. Jisung woke up in the late evening with a mild hangover, his body trying to recuperate from the alcohol he had ingested the night before when the clock hit midnight. He had drunk a little more than he should, but not enough to blackout or have any serious regrets, besides maybe the obvious.

Last night, he had planned to ask out Seungmin whatever the consequences may be. Last night, Jisung drank to cope with the anxiety. Drunk Jisung is forgetful. Drunk Jisung got a little handsy with Hyunjin. Drunk Jisung forgot to ask out Seungmin.

“Fuckin’ hell…” Jisung muttered to himself, startling when he felt a body shift next to him. He looked around bleary eyed and realized he was not in his room, but in fact Hyunjin’s. He felt a chill run down his spine.

Jisung stood up, tossing the covers off his body and stumbling over to the wall mirror. To his horror, he was naked, his neck and collarbone covered in smattering of hickies and borderline puncture wounds from Hyunjin’s sharper than average canines. He looked back at Hyunjin, the older boy sporting more than his fair share hickies and holy shit, a few actual puncture wounds.

Jisung touched the tip of his index finger to one of his fangs. Apparently he had drunk enough to blackout.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck…” Jisung whispered, tugging on the pair of jeans that he had flung to the foot of the bed the night before. He was as quiet as possible, too emotionally volatile to risk waking Hyunjin up and having to face the consequences of his actions.

Stepping out into the hallway and shutting Hyunjin’s bedroom door quietly behind himself, Jisung turned to walk to his room and was met with the sight of Seungmin. Perfect, beautiful Seungmin.

“You good, Ji?” Seungmin asked, raising a concerned brow and stopping him with a hand on his shoulder. He took his hand away quickly when he realized he was touching a bunch of love bites, his face screwing up. “Jesus, at least put on a shirt…”

God, he wanted to cry. The boy he loved was right in fucking front of him and he couldn’t say shit because he had slept with his brother. He knew Hyunjin liked him but he didn’t like him back, and he had tried so fucking hard to stay away and to not lead him on but he just kept fucking up.

The worst part? Seungmin didn’t look the least bit upset. He couldn’t be less bothered by the fact that Jisung had slept with his brother. He literally gave zero shits, and that shattered every hope and dream Jisung had of his feelings being reciprocated.

Perfect, beautiful Seungmin had, in one single night, turned into perfect, beautiful, unattainable Seungmin.

“Yeah,” Jisung rasped out, looking away. “I’m good.”

He brushed past him, raising a glamour spell around his body as he passed to mask the tears falling down his face. Seungmin watched him go, confused as to why Jisung was raising a glamour.

He shrugged, chalking it up to embarrassment.

Jisung kept the glamour up as he got dressed in case anyone came in uninvited. The city of Bethlehem was historical, especially in the downtown district, and it was required by law to maintain the historical appearance. This meant that all the doors in the house, besides the front door, lacked lock, and Jisung was nowhere near the point with his magic to use both a glamour spell and a hold spell at once, and it was easier to maintain a pre-existing spell than to cast a new one, so… glamour it was.

He changed into a new pair of jeans, shimmying into the material and tossing on a shirt. When he looked out the window, he saw the frost on edge near the frame, and decided that a walk would be nice. Or a run. A run would help him put some distance between him and his problems - except Hyunjin wasn’t his problem, his self was.

Jisung wore an overcoat only so that Armilla wouldn’t stop him on his way out. He couldn’t look at her right now. Not in his current state.

Stepping out into the cold, evening air, his breath fogged up and curled in the air. If there was something he could go to in his moments of panic, it was always the cold. The cold took him in, chilling him to his bones and reminding him that he was, at least, some portion human.

Human. Maybe if Jisung was just a demon, he wouldn’t be such a wreck. He could fuck around and never feel guilty, never feel sad, never feel the pain of falling in love with someone he couldn’t have.

But I am human, so that’s just something I have to deal with, I guess.

He glanced back at Armilla’s Oddities. The guilt rushed over and pulled him in like a riptide. The cambion bit his lip, holding back the urge to cry and/or vomit. Whichever came first, really.

His feet were moving under him unconsciously, guiding him along a route he had never walked before. Normally, Jisung didn’t like not knowing where he was going, but honestly? The idea of getting lost was pretty appealing right then. He didn’t mind losing himself in the concrete jungle that was Bethlehem, Illinois.

Jisung walked, and walked, and walked until he had absolutely no idea of where he was physically. It looked like he was nearing the Circuit District, which was not the best place for him to be, so he took a left and began walking along the canal.

The canal led him to a park where he rested for a bit. He had no idea how much time had passed since he ran away from his lodgings, but it must’ve been quite a while, because the sun had set long ago. With the dark came the quiet, the buzzing of the stoneflies soothing Jisung and his racing thoughts.

He sat there until he was sure it was midnight, the reasonable voice in the back of his mind telling him to go back. Armilla and her grandsons were probably worried sick and Hyunjin… God, Jisung didn’t even to imagine what he was feeling right now.

As Jisung saw it, he only had two options, and they both fucking sucked. One: go back and apologize. Two: leave and never turn back.

Either way, Jisung got hurt, and it was his fault. If he went back, he would either have to lie and tell Hyunjin he liked him or he would have to tell the truth and admit he was a trashcan of a human being who fucked the brother of the guy he actually liked. If he left, he would lose everything.

Jisung sighed. Maybe he should go back. After all, if he went back, he would still have something. He would still have a family, people who loved him no matter what, people who didn’t deserve what he put them through but still took care of him regardless, people who…

Great, Jisung thought, hanging his head. Now I’m crying again.

He looked back in the direction he came from. He had forgotten his flip phone, but he hadn’t forgotten his wallet. Maybe if he just turned around and headed back to that one busy-ish road he had crossed, he could flag down a taxi and be home in less than an hour.

The cambion took a deep breath and stood, walking in the direction he came. He passed under a bridge, the moonlight fading as the concrete above him blocked it out.

I can’t let them worry about me any longer.

“Late night, huh?” A voice called out behind him. Jisung startled, turning around.

Under the bridge he had just walked under was the silhouette of a man. His limbs were thin and angular, reminding Jisung of a spider. The was nothing notable about him, but for some reason, he made the 18 year old nauseous with fear.

“Yeah, late night.” Jisung answered cautiously. He didn’t know what he was doing talking to this guy. “You need something?”

“I do,” The man chuckled, stepping into the light. Jisung relaxed a bit, but still kept his distance. “Directions, actually. I’m visiting family over my winter leave, you see, and my nieces cat ran away. I followed it here only for it to vanish on me, and I would quite like to get back to my house. These temperatures can kill you, you know?”

“Yeah,” Jisung answered. No, the cold could not in fact kill him. His cambion biology made him a tough son of a bitch. He let the man walk a little closer. He looked like a frail, middle-aged dad who ate too little food and drank too much whiskey. What damage could he possibly do? “I’m afraid I’m lost as well, but if you head just past the end of this park, you hit a main road. You could catch a taxi there.”

“Is that what you’re gonna do?” The man asked curiously, dark eyes glinting. Jisung felt uneasy. “Walk to the main road?”

“... Yeah?” His statement came out more as a question. The man hummed.

“I see.” He was next to him now. Jisung opened his mouth to respond, wanting to get away from this guy as fast as possible, but this his eyes dropped down to his waist.

At his side, where his shirt met his pants, he caught a glimpse of silver. A gun or a knife, maybe. Jisung gulped, terrified as his eyes darted between the man and his potential weapon. The man followed his eye movements, stoic and self-assured.

“Look, I need to get going, I-”

“You’re not going anywhere, Jisung Han.”

Before Jisung could make a break for it, the man’s arms caught him around the waist and neck. He was stronger than the cambion had anticipated, dragging him back on his heels with a fast pace. The light darkened, and Jisung realized than man had drug him under the bridge, his arm still looped tight around Jisung’s neck, choking him.

As much as he struggled, Jisung was not match for him. He couldn’t cast any spells without his voice - he wasn’t a natural like Hyunjin - and he hadn’t been working out long enough to have any real strength. The man hand the upper hand by far.

“You caused a lot of trouble back in Pittsburgh, didn’t you, huh?” The man rasped, “Mauling that teenage girl?”

Jisung shook his head, straining around his grip, but it was no use. The man continued to jeer at him, throwing him to the ground and beating him to a pulp. Jisung his his best to shield himself, curling up into a ball and covering his neck after he received a nasty gash. Jisung was a quivering and sobbing mess, his cries only becoming worse when he realized he couldn’t move, a hand pinning him down.

The man squatted down beside him, the tip of his blade dragging along the concrete with a dreadful scream. Jisung tried to block it out, tried to pretend he wasn’t going to die this way, but he couldn’t. All he could hear was that dreadful scrape and the sound of a blade slicing through the air-

“Stop!” A low voice yelled, “Don’t touch him!” The blade never came down. Jisung remained afraid to move.

“Mr. Seo, Mr. Bang.” Jisung heard the man greet, surprisingly calm considering he had been committing murder. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“Shut up and get away from the boy.” Another voice growled, slightly higher in pitch. Either Mr. Bang or Mr. Seo, Jisung guessed. He hadn’t uncurled from his fetal position enough to catch a glimpse.

The man laughed, nearly crumpling with laughter at a joke only he seemed to get. “That thing? A boy? Oh, Mr. Bang, you’ve gone soft,” the man chided, “But that’s to be expected when you’re screwing the enemy. I’m sad to see how you’ve let yourself go.”

This was Jisung’s chance. He had to move, to do anything but fucking sit there, but he… he couldn’t. Fuck, his ribs hurt so bad.

“I haven’t let anything go,” the higher voice stated calmly, “I simply see from a different point of view, now.”

“Same difference.” Jisung heard the man take a step away from him, the woosh of his blade through the air petrifying him. He needed to do something, he needed to get up, to do anything , for fuck’s sake. “If you were wise, you never would have-”

Jisung to a deep, labored breath. He felt his teeth elongate, his claws fully unsheathe. The cambion was done being pushed around.

Get. Up.

Suddenly, as if possessed, the Jisung lunged for the knife, aiming to rip it from the middle-aged man’s grasp. He had tunnel vision, the glinting silver the only thing he could see. If he could just get that away, the cambion had a good chance of living. He reached out, his finger’s grazing the hilt-

And then he was back on the ground.

He heard a grunt, the wheeze of the air being knocked out of someone’s chest, and a gruesome snap. When he lifted his head from the concrete, he saw a body beside him and another body farther away. Luckily, the man further was his assailant, and not the one closer.

The body next to him, Jisung realized, was a boy who looked similar in age. He was laying on top of his arm at an unnatural angle and his raven hair fell over his face, getting into his wide eyes. He was still moving, his leg jerking out and kicking the knife, making it slide out of his assailant's reach.

The raven-haired man turned to the side, attempting to push himself off the ground. Jisung watched as his good arm wavered, his body crashing painfully back into the pavement. The raven-haired man, helpless and exhausted, looked at Jisung for the first time, taking in the appearance of the person he had saved.

“Thanks,” Jisung whispered, wide eyes panicked.

The raven-haired man winced as he moved his injured arm, “No problem.”

Over the raven-haired man’s shoulder, Jisung could see a blonde man approaching the cambion’s assailant rapidly. The man unsheathed his knife, and expression of unspeakable anger and fear covering his face and filling his eyes. It made Jisung wonder, just briefly, what the two men who were helping him were to each other. The cambion had never seen an expression like that on someone’s face. Never.

“Don’t you fucking touch him!” The blonde yelled, startling the boy next to Jisung. Suddenly, Jisung watched as his assailant scrambled over to the raven-haired man, a pair of hands grabbed his shoulders, pulling him roughly to his feet and against a thin, wiry chest. The raven-haired man cried out, his injured left arm limply hanging at his side, jerking about like a pendulum. “Fuck!” He cursed, trying to break away from the man’s grip.

The raven-haired man was turned around rapidly, Jisung watching in horror as he was held hostage. In front of him was the blonde - who, by now, Jisung had realized was his lover, -the anger and fear on his face both beautiful and tragic like a Grecian painting. Jisung held his breath, the long silver blade that had cut through his own body now poised just under the raven-haired man’s Adam's apple.

“Let him go,” the blonde whispered. The man breathed out a laugh, damp and insidious.

“The only way this thing will leave my grip is if it’s cold and dead,” The spidery man spat like venom. “Checkmate, Christopher.”

Christopher glared at him coldly, his jaw clenching. Jisung watched on, dreading the worst. He wanted to look away so bad, sick and delirious, but he couldn’t.

The raven-haired man shook his head, remaining as calm as one could be in a situation as terrible as this.  “Chris, babe, listen to me. Walk away. Walk away, please. Don’t hurt yourself for me.”

“I’m not going to abandon you,” Christopher's voice cracked, “I’m not going to fuck up again. I can’t lose you. I can’t, don’t do this to me.”

“Babe, babe please,” the raven-haired man voice choked up as the knife was pressed harder to his throat, the man behind him growling at him to shut up. The raven-haired man’s chest pumped air, his shoulders twitching back like he wanted to thrash. Jisung gulped. He had to move. If he did it once, he could do it again.

“Leave, for the love of God. Leave, please. Go to Angi. Stay alive for her, please, Chris, don’t leave her alone-”

Jisung lunged almost simultaneously with Christopher, the blonde stepping forward. As they moved the man jerked in reaction, the assailant lifting the knife into the air in a deadly arc. The cambion wrapped his hands over the hunter’s face, blinding him with his claws like a feral tiger, snarling and bloody and desperate to live. Chris yelled something as he sprinted forward, but to Jisung, it was lost to the cacophony of an overwhelming rush of white noise.

Jisung struggled with the man, trying to pull him away from the raven-haired man who had tried so hard to save him. They stumbled back a step and the blonde’s lover fell to the side, the assailant’s arm jerking out in reaction. Chris reached out, grabbing the assailant by the throat.

Jisung shivered as he watched the dagger enter his assailant’s heart, the blonde dragging the knife up underneath the ribs ruthlessly.

The raven-haired man was on ground first, then the assailant. Chris huffed out a sigh, looking to his lover. His face was relieved for but a moment before his expression changed to that of pure, unadulterated horror.

In a pool of black blood, the raven-haired man laid twitching, his hands quivering around the long, silver blade that had been driven straight through his gut. He coughed, black ichor dribbling down his chin.

“Binnie…” Jisung watched him as he fell to his knees, “Fuck… FUCK!” He turned the raven-haired man onto his back. His hands darkened with the onyx liquid as he attempted to evaluate the wound.

Black blood? Jisung noticed, So he’s also a demon?

Jisung didn’t know what to do. He hoped this was a fluke, that the man would somehow magically not be impaled, that Armilla would show up at any moment and cast some spell that would let them man in front of him live somehow.

Jisung watched, an unwelcome voyeur, as the raven-haired man smiled up at his lover, his lips curling into smile that Jisung imagined would be stunning if he wasn’t battered and bloody. The cambion watched in still horror as his head went limp, dark eyes rolling back, his lover cradling him gently.

“Binnie, please, fuck…” Christopher begged, “Please, you gotta come back to me. You gotta come back…”

Jisung couldn’t watch this any longer. He thought, fuck it, third time's the charm, right? And decided that if he couldn’t help, then he’d rather die trying than not do anything at all.

He crawled over to the fallen demon, eyes wide with panic. As he reached out, hands unsure, the blonde glared at him with a seething, misplaced anger.

“Get the fuck away from him,” he growled, looking at Jisung’s outstretched arms. “You’ll only hurt him.”

“I can help him,” Jisung whimpered around his words. His ribs were definitely broken, but that didn’t matter. He had to help. He already almost killed Riley. He could kill a man. He couldn’t.  “Please, I can’t let someone die for me.” His eyes practically begged the blonde man to just let him help.

Christopher glared at him a moment longer before his anger melted away like ice. Jisung sighed in relief, realizing what that look meant, and scooted forward on his bloody knees despite the pain.

It was only when he was kneeling over the unbreathing body that he realized he had no idea what the fuck he was doing. His hands shook, moving on their own as he followed his instincts. He placed them on Changbin’s stomach and closed his eyes, waiting for that familiar, warm feeling to arc through his hands into the still-warm body below. He had read somewhere that cambion’s were able to take and give energy via touch, just like their succubus and incubus parents.

That feeling never came.

“Fuck,” Jisung whispered, “This isn’t enough, I…” He lifted his claws away, black blood dripping like ink onto the concrete. He tried to remember anything - anything at all - that could aid him in saving this man.

His mind flashed back to Riley. How he had bent over her, licking over her blood and biting her and taking her energy as his own. He remembered the rush, the exhilaration, the life.

Jisung looked at Chris. “Please don’t hurt me for this,” He pleaded, leaning down before his pleas were answered.

Dragging his talon over his tongue and spilling dark-burgundy blood into his mouth, he sealed his lips over the unconscious man’s. It was obscene and far beyond uncomfortable, feeling the crimson liquid fall into the raven-haired man’s mouth and feeling it smear all over his lips and chin.

Slowly, as the blood continued to drip from Jisung’s mouth and into Changbin’s, he felt his eyes grow heavy, an irresistible tiredness rising in his bones. It felt like how Seungmin had described casting too many spells - a complete deficit of magic. A deficit of life.

When Jisung pulled away, he did so with hooded eyes. He couldn’t feel his lips, his face, his hands. It felt cold - so, so unbearably cold. His eyelids fluttered, body waving back in forth in the night air like meadow grass. The last thing he saw before he slumped over unconscious was the fear in Christopher’s eyes. He recognized it.

The fear of being alone.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10 - Truth

When Changbin woke up, his boyfriends head was on his chest, the blonde’s body shaking with sobs and guttural screaming. The raven-haired man blinked drowsily, his hand twitching at his side.

“C-Chris?” He said, coughing around the blood in his mouth. The heady taste made him want to vomit, but he had so little energy that he couldn’t do even that.

The blonde’s shaking stop, but he did not lift his head. He was afraid his ears were playing tricks on him and that he hadn’t just heard his boyfriend utter his name. He was dead. He hadn’t moved for the last ten minutes and was cold as ice. There was no way.

Changbin tried to push himself up, letting out a cry when his left arm buckled underneath him. He fell to one side, the blonde snapping out of his daze and catching him before he could slump back onto the pavement. “Chris, fuck…”

“Changbin!” The fallen angel reached one hand up to brace his head, clutching him like his life depended on it.

“What…” Changbin looked to the side, seeing the body laying beside him, blood slowly bleeding from its mouth and dripping onto the pavement. He looked to his other side, a lump of man he vaguely recognized lying crumpled in a lake of blood. “... What happened?

 


 

Jisung shot up in bed, his eyelids wide open. His world spun around him, a blur of white and black as his body tried to force him to fall back into the bed, his muscles aching and heavy. He fought it, focusing on some ambiguous point on the wall in front of himself, his mouth wide and dry. He winced, closing and opening his mouth to try to produce spit, but none came. His eyes were dry too - crusting at the corners.

Reaching up, he rubbed it away. It felt like dried salt. Tear tracks, maybe.

Gross.

“What is… where...” He blinked, closing his eyes and opening them again, trying to blink away the lingering drowsiness. The room he was in was… impersonal, to say the least. No photos, no posters, just plain walls. They had a digital clock on the nightstand, the faint blue light giving the white walls a soft glow.

Jisung had no idea how he got to this place. The last thing he remembered was darkness and yelling - a whole fucking lot of it. At this point, Jisung was probably as desisitized as he could possibly be to this shit.

He looked to his left. The closet had been left open a bit, but inside it looked almost pitch-black. Whoever lived here had a taste for black clothing, he guessed. Straight forward was a door, plain white like the rest of the room, except there seemed to be a dent in it, like someone had been pushed into it - hard.

Alright, I guess. Jisung frowned, that could mean multiple things.

Done with examining the rest of the room, he finally he looked to his right. As soon as he turned, he realized that he wasn’t alone, and that a man - one with raven hair, brown eyes, and damn, a killer chin! - was staring right at him. Jisung remained completely still, frozen like a deer in the headlights.

“You’re awake,” the man said. He sounded relieved, “I was beginning to think you wouldn’t ever wake up.”

“Why -” Jisung tried to ask, but his throat was so dry it reduced him to a coughing fit. From the one word he had spoken, his voice sounded less like a voice and more like a garbage disposal with how rough it was. The man handed him a glass of water.

Jisung, coughing into his elbow, eyed the glass wearily. He did not recognize the stranger, and although some part of him found him somewhat familiar, it didn’t seem wise to drink anything he gave him. But then again, he was really fucking thirsty.

The raven-haired man turned to the side, attempting to push himself off the ground. Jisung watched as his good arm wavered, his body crashing painfully back into the pavement.

He took the water, eyeing it for a moment. The cambion extended it back out to the man.

“No, it’s for you-”

“No,” Jisung rasped. “Not until you sip it first.”

The man’s brow furrowed. He looked hurt, as if Jisung refusing to drink had offended him personally, but then he shook his head. The raven-haired man sighed, taking the glass back and bringing his mouth to the rim. His Adam’s apple bobbed as the water level lowered slightly, and Jisung felt his shoulders slump in relief.

When the man returned the water, Jisung gulped it greedily, accidentally spilling some down his front. He sighed, taking brief breaks between gulps before drinking more. Soon enough, he had downed the entire glass.

I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed water more in my life, he thought as the last drop fell onto his tongue.

The whole time, the man watched him, his brow furrowed. When Jisung gave the glass back to him to set aside, he saw his concerned look and wondered what the hell could have gone down in the past twenty four hours that would make someone look at him like that.

“So,” Jisung began, wiping his lips. His voice still sounded like trash, but at least now it sounded like mediocre trash. “Who are you, were the fuck am I, and why do I feel like ass?”

“Cutting to the chase, huh?” The man gave him a small smile. “My name’s Changbin.”

Changbin , Jisung frowned. Sounds familiar.

“You’re in my boyfriend’s apartment and-” Changbin paused. He bit his lip, thinking about the most delicate way to introduce the information to the newly awaken teenager. “You, um, you feel like ass because, well, you kinda-sorta saved my life a few nights ago.”

“I- I what?” Jisung sputtered, taken aback. “How many nights? How long have I been here. I left Armilla’s on New Year’s…”

“Just two,” Changbin clarified. “You saved me two nights ago.”

Jisung held his breath, the long silver blade that had cut through his own body now poised just under the raven-haired man’s Adam’s apple.

Jisung stared at him, narrowing his eyes. He couldn’t clearly remember what had happened. “What do you mean saved you?”

 


 

The blonde stared down at him, stunned. “You don’t remember?”

“I remember parts of it, but fuck…” Changbin, “Did I get knocked out?”

“... Something like that.”

“You’re not telling me something,” The demon tried to sit up again but the angel held him back. Changbin glanced at the dead body. “I… I didn’t kill him, did I?”

Chris shook his head, “No.” I did. “We need to get out of here. I’ll tell you everything later, but we can’t be here when the police show up.”

The shapeshifter looked at the boy who was barely breathing. He looked so small, crumpled up on the ground on his side. “What about him?”

“We’ll take him with us.”

 


 

Changbin paused. He was wringing his hands together. Talking about his clearly made him uncomfortable, and in his hesitation, the bedroom door opened. A blonde man, about the same height as Jisung himself, entered, carrying a tray of food in one hand.

“You poured your blood in his mouth,” he said, closing the door behind him. Jisung narrowed his eyes, thinking what he said was a joke. He would never pour blood out of himself voluntarily. Something about the blonde man felt… strange. It made Jisung’s breath quicken and his eyes widen, the cambion scooting back away from him on the bed as he was overwhelmed with the instinct to escape.

“Whoa, whoa, it’s okay!” The blonde man said, setting down the food at the food of the bed and holding his hands up. “Our biology doesn’t agree, is all.”

“Our biology?” Jisung asked, incredulous. “What the fuck are you?”

“It doesn’t matter-”

“Yes, it does and I deserve to know. Who and what the fuck are you?” He yelled.

The room was silent before the blond man spoke.

“I’m an angel - a fallen one to be specific. My name is Chris Bang and you don’t need to worry about me hurting you,” he nodded to Changbin. “Binnie is a demon. We’re dating. Stop freaking out.”

Jisung winced as some of his memories began to creep back in.

“I’m not going to abandon you,” Christophers’ voice cracked, “I’m not going to fuck up again. I can’t lose you. I can’t. Don’t do this to me.”

The cambion looked at the demon as he spoke.

“You know, telling someone to not freak out usually doesn’t work,” Changbin critiqued.

Chris rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well what should I have said?”

“I don’t know, but leading with I’m an angel isn’t a-”

 


 

“Who’s he?” Changbin said as a man appeared behind Chris. He was tall and tanned, an expensive jacket hanging off of his shoulders and leather shoes as shiny as a diamond clacking on the concrete. For some reason he had on shades as well even though it was pitch black. Chris didn’t even bother looking behind himself.

“Help,” Chris answered, “in the form of an old friend.”

“I thought you said you didn’t make friends,” Changbin laughed, the laugh turning into a cough halfway through. The man behind Chris laughed.

“Azazel’s always been a bit of a loner, hasn’t he?” The man said, removing his shades and hooking them on the pocket of his jacket. He was handsome, almost intimidatingly so. Changbin had no doubt in his mind that this man was also an angel. “Makes me wonder how he ever landed a pretty little thing like you,” he winked.

“Cassiel,” Chris growled, “I asked you to help, not flirt with my dying boyfriend.”

“Correction, I’m flirting with your not-dying boyfriend.” Cassiel pointed out, crouching down next to the bloodied, passed out boy next to them. He sighed, “The Order really did a number of this one, didn’t they?” He snapped his fingers. “Micah!”

“Yes?” The sound of wings startled Changbin. He couldn’t see whoever had appeared, but he could hear their footsteps behind him. As the mystery individual walked, he eventually came into Changbin’s field of view and… wow.

He was the prettiest person Changbin had seen in his fucking life. His hair was an ashen shade of brown, his cat-like eyes reflecting a smokey-violet in the night. On his back were a pair of white wings, so long they were but an inch off the ground, the top crests of them almost hitting the bottom of the bridge above them.

“Take this one to Azazel’s apartment. You know where it is?”

“I do,” the man said. His voice was soft, his large eyes sharp and analytical. “The bed?”

“Anywhere comfortable will do, but make sure he is on his side.” The well-dressed man clicked his tongue. “It would be a shame if he asphyxiated in his sleep.”

“Noted,” Micah said. He bent down, lifting the boy up bridal style in his arms. He took a few steps back, and with a flap of his entrancing wings, disappeared into the night sky. Cassiel watched him go before standing.

“You better fix his shoulder, Azazel. Go home,” he said, bending down to lift up the dead body of Changbin’s old pottery teacher. Chris opened his mouth to protest, but the man cut him off. “Don’t worry - I’ll take care of the scene. Your perfectionist self can rest easy.”

Chris frowned, “Fine.” He looked down at Changbin, sitting him up straight. The hand from behind his head moved to his shoulder, bracing him. “Ready?”

“For what- FUCK!” The angel pushed, popping the back into place before Changbin could tense up or protest. He yelled so loud he was sure Armilla could hear it all they way in the Blackwater district. He gritted his teeth, the demon’s shoulder practically vibrating from the pain. “Fuck you...” he grumbled.

“Later,” Chris said. “Let’s get you home.”

 


 

Jisung sighed. Would they ever shut up!?

“Jesus Chris, quit with the married bickering!” The cambion begged. He closed his eyes, flopping back against the pillows wedged behind him.  “You’re gonna give me a headache. Just answer my damn questions and move on, please and thank you.”

The two men went quiet, their fight paused. Eventually, Chris sighed, taking a seat on the edge of the bed.

“Fire away,” the angel said. “Give me what you got.”

“What happened?” Jisung asked. “Don’t feed me vague bullshit. I want to know everything.”

“I’m really not sure you want to know everything.

Jisung shook his head. “I do. Besides,” he laughed bitterly, “It can’t be much worse than what I’ve already been through.”

Chris bit his lip, glancing at Changbin. Jisung watched as they silently communicated, the blonde raising an eyebrow in question as Changbin nodded solemnly. The angel frowned and the demon gave him a pointed look.

“I’ll be fine.”

“I know,” Chris sighed, “I’m not sure if I-”

“I can tell him if you want,” Changbin said. “We could split the difference.”

“No, I…” Chris shook his head. He patted the space next to him, “Sit with me?”

“Of course,” Changbin answered, getting up immediately. It felt like Jisung was intruding, watching the raven-haired man sit on the bed. He circled around the bed, sitting down next to Chris where the blonde could let his arm hook around his waist, secure.

They tell him everything that happened, although they clearly left out a few details about the who and the where. They whole time they were attached to each other, Chris squeezing Changbin’s hand during the emotional parts, the demon leaning his head on the angel’s shoulder like a little black cat.

As Jisung listened, his memories began to come back to him. He clapped a hand over his mouth when Chris described how he had given his blood to Changbin. He almost vomited, tasting the bile in his throat, but he held it back.

“Are you remembering?” Changbin asked, his deep voice gentle. Jisung nodded, biting the inside of his cheek. He wanted to retch every time he thought about blood. He couldn’t believe Chris was serious.

I actually did that. I fed someone my blood.

He looked up at Changbin, the demon’s eyes soft and sympathetic.

I saved his life.

“Thank you,” Jisung said. He took a deep breath, swallowing his nausea.

“No problem,” Changbin said. “I’m glad you’re alive.”

“You don’t even know me.”

“I know you a little bit,” the raven-haired man shrugged. “I know you enough to say that I think you’re a good person. A shitty person wouldn’t have risked their life for a stranger’s.”

Jisung laughed at that, shaking his head as he recalled the reason he ran away in the first place. “I sure as hell can do other shitty things, though.” He clicked his tongue, changing the topic before they could ask what he meant. “So… I’m aware we’re in your-” the cambion pointed at Chris, “- apartment, but where is your apartment? Are we even in Bethlehem?”

“Oh!” Changbin exclaimed, sliding out of bed and pulling up the curtains on the bedroom window. “Yeah, sorry. You’re still in Bethlehem, just in the Redwood District.”

“Redwood?” Jisung asked, “Jesus fuck, we were on the edge of the city. How did you get me here without getting arrested? And what the fuck happened to the body?”

Chris shrugged nonchalantly. “I know a guy.”

“And the body?”

Chris shrugged again. “I know another guy.”

Jisung stared at him in shock. How the hell does someone have friends who are willing to get rid of a body for him? Sure, he was an angel, and that was a whole box he had yet to really dig into, and he’d honestly had enough for now. He just wanted to go back to sleep.

Changbin saw his shock, giving him a sympathetic look. “He used to be a hunter.”

If Jisung wasn’t completely floored before, he was now. The blonde bastard was a hunter.

“Key words: used to.” Chris shook his head, “I don’t fuck with that anymore.”

The cambion watched as Changbin chuckled, seemingly at nothing, but then he noticed how done Chris looked, and then he realized he was missing an inside joke.

“Oh, fuck you,” Chris said. “It’s not funny.”

Changbin laughed harder, surprisingly healthy for someone who almost died (or, technically did die) two days ago. “Sorry, sorry… Ignore me.”

“It’s your fault I speak like this,” the angel grumbled.

“No, no - you said fuck out of your own volition. I did not make you say it.”

“But-” Chris began to complain. They continued teasing each other. It reminded him of how he would tease Riley, Hyunjin, or Seungmin and then he just became… sad. Watching them made him remember what he had run away from and how much he missed them.

God, I fucking miss them.

Before he knew it, he was crying. He tried to be quiet and tried to hide his tears, but the two men in front of him heard anyway. Changbin saddled up next to him, an arm around his shoulder as he asked him what was wrong. Chris scooted closer, but did not touch the cambion.

“Hey, hey… it’s okay,” Changbin rubbed his arm up and down soothingly. Jisung shook his head.

“No, it’s not. I fucked up,” he cursed. Jisung wasn’t sure why he was telling them this. He didn’t even know them, but then again, maybe that was why he felt he could. He could disappear and never see them again without consequence and that would be that. “I- If I hadn’t fucked up in the first place, none of this would have happened. You wouldn’t have come to save me, you wouldn't have died, I wouldn’t have spit my fucking blood in your mouth, and Hyunjin- Hyunjin, he wouldn’t…”

“Hyunjin?” Chris asked. Jisung shook his head.

“You don’t have to tell us anything you don’t want to. Like you said, we barely know you,” Changbin said. He hesitated, “We could take you home, if you wanted.”

Chris shook his head at the same time Jisung did, but Jisung, with his head down, didn’t see the blonde’s minor freak out.

“We can’t do that,” the angel mouthed. “Hunters.”

“Fuck, sorry.” Changbin mouthed back.

Jisung sniffed again, gaining control of himself. He’d gotten better at that, recently. His crying possessions had been getting shorter and shorter. “I don’t want to face him…” He laughed, bitter. “I’m too scared.”

“Scared of what?”

“Them hating me.”

Changbin nodded. He noticed it was no longer just Hyunjin , the singular pronoun turning into a plural. Them. Who was them? His thoughts were quickly drawn back to the boy when he felt a hand grip his tightly, the onyx-haired boy holding onto Changbin like a life line.

It was then that Changbin decided he wanted to watch out for him. He didn’t know what he had gone through and he doubted he would ever know, but he wanted to protect him. The boy made the shapeshifter think of the other orphans back at Eumann’s.

“Can I… can I stay here?” Jisung asked, “Just for a bit?”

Changbin looked up at Chris, the blonde man nodding fervently.

“Yes,” Changbin said. “You can stay as long as you need.”

 

A few nights passed, Jisung losing all sense of time as the week went on. They had moved him from Chris’ apartment to Changbin’s, the cambion surprised to find out that they weren’t actually living together. With how domestic they acted, it seemed like it was obvious. Given, the demon’s apartment was only a few doors down and Chris and Changbin were attached to each other or near each other 85%, so to be fair, they kind of already are living together.

He got to know them decently enough. He bonded with Changbin sooner than Chris, but he had a feeling Chris was just not the best at forming relationships. The angel came around eventually, smiling more at the cambion and ruffling his hair on occasion when he said something particularly stupid, but he never became… personal. Jisung took what he could get, though. He doubted that the angel would be treating him so fondly if Changbin hadn’t basically adopted him as his little brother first.

The first night, Jisung could hardly sleep. He was constantly lolling in and out of consciousness but his constant anxiety kept him from becoming well rested. His neck hurt too, since he had apparently cut his neck pretty bad during the fight with the hunter - Mr. Rousseau, Changbin had called him. The injury made it uncomfortable no matter what position he was in.

His anxiety never went away, but after a few days passed, he had learned how to better cope. Jisung didn’t let himself lay in bed all day, instead deciding to get up and explore Changbin’s apartment and Chris’ on occasion as well, if they happened to be over there.

Occasionally, the two men would disappear into the angel’s apartment. At first, Jisung isn’t going to lie, he thought it was to get privacy so they could, like, fuck or something. That’s probably what the dent in Chris’ bedroom door way from, he thought. But then he realized that they were probably dealing with as much worry as he was and noticed how stiff their shoulder’s were.

So, no. They weren’t disappearing so they could fuck. They were disappearing for something else and Jisung couldn’t figure out what. He tried to keep his nose out of their business as much as he could, but… curiosity was a bitch, so… he may or may not have listened at the door a few times.

He wasn’t dumb about it, at least, although one of their neighbors caught him one night after coming back from a evening of drinking and Jisung had to pretend to be a freelance wall integrity inspector . Not his finest lie, sure, but the neighbor was drunk and seemed to buy it.

The cambion cast a few illusions on himself, silencing his movements and asking the air to help him hear. He caught a few words on occasion. Words like: The Order, red-blood, witch, dilettantes, and side effects. It was hard for Jisung to know what any of it meant without context, only serving to make him more curious and more frustrated.

It made him feel a little sick - sneaking around the two of them - but he didn’t want to be in the dark. The fear of not knowing was stronger than the fear of violating their trust if they found out Jisung was spying on them.

To put it simply, Jisung’s feelings were… complex.

They didn’t care about the weird shit that came out of his mouth most of the time and actually found that he and Changbin had similar senses of humor, laughing at the same stuff and feeding off of their dynamic. He felt welcome, and even if he sometimes felt a little out of place, it seemed like the pair of lovers couldn’t give less of a fuck. It was that attitude that helped him fit in - he was just another oddball among their motley crew of fuck-ups and freaks.

“Do you always get attached to people this fast?” Jisung asked, raising an eyebrow at the raven-haired man. He was currently removing the stitches from his neck, a surprisingly painless process.

Changbin shrugged. “Sometimes. I’m used to constantly meeting new people. Although,” he glanced back into the living room where Chris was writing on his laptop, “It took me forever to get used to that fucker.”

“I heard that!” The blonde called back, not even raising his eyes from the screen. Changbin chuckled, taking pleasure from annoying his boyfriend. Jisung frowned, watching the older man type away.

“What’s he doing?”

“Work and school,” the demon answered. “With, uh, this whole… accident, he can’t really go in right now, so he is doing as much as he can at home under the pretense of being sick.”

“Is that what you’re doing too?”

“Nah,” Changbin said. “I’m just a college student.”

“Oh, cool.” This type of banter felt strange to Jisung. It made him feel like a normal person, almost - talking about school. “What’s your major?”

“Veterinary Sciences,” he smiled.

Oddly suiting, Jisung thought as the last bit of thread was pulled from his neck. He cupped his hand to where his neck wound used to be, feeling a thin scar there, smooth and puffy. It was weird how fast the wound had sealed, but then again, maybe that was just another perk of being inhuman.

He thanked Changbin, hopping off of the counter where he had been sitting and heading into the living room to check out what Chris was doing. Changbin didn’t follow him, the raven haired-man disappearing back into his bedroom instead to work on god-knows-what.

When he sat down beside Chris, the blonde let him lean on his side, ruffling his hair. Jisung smiled a little at that - once the angel became physically affectionate, it was hard for him not to be.

“Hey,” Jisung greeted. “Work going well?”

“As good as it can be,” Chris muttered. “Why do colleges insist on forcing students to take these pointless electives? I could’ve finished my Master’s degree by now...”

“Because colleges are greedy and force you to abide by their rules because of capitalism, or some shit. But then again, what do I know? I’m a fucking high school drop out, so,” Jisung snorted, sounding a little more self-deprecating that what was healthy.

“You’re not dumb, though.” Chris said nonchalantly, like it was a fact. “Believe me, I’ve met a shit ton of idiots in college. Education level doesn’t determine someone’s worth.”

“Sure, Jan.” Jisung rolled his eyes, “Tell that to my future career options.”

“You could always get a GED,” he suggested. Jisung just twisted his mouth and shrugged, sighing. He really didn’t want to have this conversation.

“I’ll be fine,” he dismissed, standing up. Chris looked at him briefly and Jisung expected to see worry or judgement, but his face was just… neutral. He supposed the angel had more important things to worry about than his boyfriend’s newest pet project.

You’re not his pet project. Don’t say that. Jisung’s brain reminded him. His harsh self-criticism never did fail him, didn’t it? Be grateful for once, asshole. They could have let you die.

Jisung sighed. He almost wished they had.

 


 

“Fuck you...” Changbin grumbled.

“Later,” Chris said. “Let’s get you home.”

Chris was nothing if not a man of his word, so he made good on his promise as soon as Changbin was feeling better. A few days into Jisung staying with them, Chris was beginning to feel antsy. He didn’t like sharing a space for so long with someone he didn’t know, and as much as he felt for the kid and for his situation… he needed escape.

That’s how they got to where they were now - Chris grabbing Changbin’s hand as soon as Jisung fell asleep and dragging him into his apartment. He shut the door behind them, locking it as his boyfriend looked at him, tired and confused.

“Babe, what’s this all about- mmph!”

The angel grabbed him by the shoulders, steering him back into the wall. It was a harsh movement, but he let up at the last second, the slightly shorter boy hitting the wall with a soft bump as he blonde sealed his mouth over his.

Chris let his hands tangled in the shorter boy’s smooth hair, kissing him deeply like he was afraid he was going to lose him. And he was - afraid to lose him, I mean. He’d already lost him once, and now that he was standing there in front of him all clueless and bright? He vowed to never lose him again.

Changbin returned the kiss, his eyes slipping shut as the older man brought his thigh between Changbin’s own and grinded up.

“I missed you,” Changbin said, looking up with hooded eyes. Chris smirked, knowing what he meant. “I missed you too,” he whispered, grinding into him again. The raven-haired man gasped, his mouth dropping open.

Chris took advantage of his open mouth, dropping one of his hands to Binnie’s waist and pulling his hips forward into his. The kiss became more open, slowing down as they exchanged breaths and felt each other’s rhythms, easy and sensual. It had taken them a while to get to the point where they could hold each other like this, but once they did, it was hard to let go.

They both had a weird relationship with intimacy, but after a lot of talking, watching porn together, and self-exploration, they had learned how to be together without crossing any lines. The angel had gotten over his initial disgust of sex, edging into it slowly like it was cold water, letting his body and mind adjust with each step. They’d never actually had full-blown sex yet, but after almost losing the younger man, Chris was done with waiting. Life was only so long and he wanted to be with Changbin through all of it, high and low.

Changbin tapped him on the chest, Chris taking it as a sign for him to back up. He took one step back before the younger man grabbed him by the hand, pulling him back to the couch. It seemed like they had the same idea in mind.

“Jesus-!” The blonde exclaimed when Changbin pushed him back, falling onto the couch with a thump , one leg on the cushions and one on the floor. Changbin laughed, “Sorry.”

“You’re so eager you had to push me, huh?” Chris smirked, snatching his wrist and pulling him down on top of him. They adjusted as they teased each other until they were chest to chest, Changbin’s forearms planted on either side of the angel’s head.

“Can you blame me?” Changbin whispered, “You’re the one who started this.”

“Can’t say I’m sorry about that.” He adjusted himself, pecking the shapeshifter on the lips with a smile. Changbin rolled his eyes at him before dipping back down and kissing him back as Chris wrapped his arms around his waist. He pulled their hips together, Changbin’s back bowing up and down as they grinded on each other.

He was everything he shouldn’t want but did, and each day, Chris found himself caring less and less about what God and the rest of heaven would think. A single day with Changbin meant more to him than the possibility of redeeming himself.

“I love you,” Chris said, gasping in between kisses. Changbin smiled, biting his lip. “I love you too,” he whispered, bending down to kiss at Chris’ neck, “so much.”

Chris shivered, the validation and reciprocation warming him to his core. There was no greater feeling than being loved, he decided. Who needed heaven when they had a handsome boyfriend biting their neck and proclaiming their affections like they were all that mattered? The angel sure didn’t.

He moaned, mouth open and head to the side as Changbin dragged his lips and tongue up and down his neck, biting and leaving mark after mark on his pale skin, “Fuck…” He knit his hands in his hair, about to pull the younger’s head back so he could return the favor, but then the younger froze, all tensed up.

“Changbin?” Chris asked, trying to sit up with a jerk. He felt Changbin shudder, an uncomfortable noise rising from the raven-haired boy’s throat. “Binnie, what’s wrong?” He grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him back, heel to thigh.

The shapeshifter clapped a hand over his mouth, his stomach convulsing. Chris watched, shocked as his boyfriend bolted for the bathroom, slamming the door open. He laid there, stunned and half-hard, unsure of what had just happened before he chased after his boyfriend.

“Bin,” he gasped, seeing him crouched over the toilet, hand on his thighs and tears dripping down his face. “Bin, what’s wrong?”

“I-” Changbin started, gasping around the syllable as his throat and stomach convulsed again. He bent over the toilet, emptying the contents of his stomach into the toilet as Chris crouched beside him. When he tried to touch him, Changbin convulsed again, more vomit pouring from his lips. It looked strangely… red.

“Bin…” Chris asked. “What the hell did you eat?”

“I don’t know. Nothing nearly that red.” Changbin shook his head. He wiped his lips, looking at the residue on the back of hand. “It tastes like blood.”

 


 

On Sunday night, Chris and Changbin made the mistake of not moving their midnight conversation to Chris’ apartment. They decided that Jisung was a heavy enough sleeper and, because of that, that they could talk without worry. Their mistake. Jisung’s ability to sleep and stay asleep was iffy at best.

The cambion woke up around 1:30 AM, getting out of bed because he was thirsty. He shuffled quietly to his bedroom door, pulling on a shirt he had borrowed from Chris that hung off his shoulders like a curtain. The cambion didn’t want to wake them up.

Opening the door that led to the hallway, he padded silently - and then he noticed voices. Two of them.

“We need to tell him,” Changbin whispered, his disembodied voice floating down the hallway, barely loud enough for Jisung to understand.

“We can’t,” Chris disagreed. “Jisung, he’s-” His voice became too soft for him to understand, Jisung only catching his last word. “-Ignorant.”

The cambion’s jaw clenched. So they thought he was ignorant, huh? All this time? How could he fucking help that, when they wouldn’t tell him jack shit? He had tried to be a gracious guest, asking as few questions as he could in hopes of them deciding to tell him eventually, but that seemed to hold no value, apparently.

He scowled, feeling justified for all of his spying sessions. They were holding things back - things that pertained to Jisung himself. He deserved to know what happened. He deserved to know everything .

“So,” Jisung walked down the hallway. His hand twirled the drawstrings of his borrowed sweatpants, desperate to be occupied as his hands shook with restrained anger. He wasn’t sure if he was pissed at them for hiding shit from him, or himself for trusting them. Especially Changbin. “I’m ignorant, huh?”

The two men froze. Changbin spoke first.

“Jisung, how long have you been there?”

“Long enough,” the cambion replied. “And before you ask,” he looked at Chris, who was already opening his mouth to speak, “I heard more than enough.”

Changbin bit his lips, brow furrowing. He looked at the floor. Chris’ gaze was leveled, his eyes examining Jisung thoroughly.

“No,” Chris said, watching as Jisung’s hands shook. “You didn’t hear enough.”

Changbin’s head whipped over to the fallen angel, “You just said-”

“Yeah, well, I’m taking it back.” Chris said, never taking his eyes off the fiend. “Jisung, sit down.”

Jisung did as he said, sitting down across from the two men on the coffee table. His legs were spread, wide and confident and angry, as he leaned his elbows on his knee. The cambion was eager to hear whatever bullshit the angel was about to whip out to cover up their lying, silent as he stared straight at Chris.

“What did you hear?” The angel asked. Jisung knew exactly what game he was playing - he was trying to know what Jisung heard so that he could make up a story around it under the pretense of telling him the “truth.”

“I don’t know,” Jisung answered mockingly. “What was I supposed to hear?”

The angel sighed. “I’m not trying to trick you, Jisung.”

“Yeah, well I don’t have the best history with people telling me the truth. The foster system’s a bitch.”

Changbin raised an eyebrow, shocked. “You were in the foster system?” Jisung didn’t answer. “Are you an orphan, Jisung?”

The cambion bit the inside of his cheek. It hurt to receive this much sympathy from someone. Even if he knew what it was like to be a freak like him, he didn’t know what it was like to grow up in the foster system. The group home - what Changbin technically grew up in, since it technically was only an orphanage in name - wasn’t anything like what Jisung had to go through.

“Yeah,” Jisung answered, sarcastic. “How’d you guess?”

“Do not speak to him like that,” Chris growled, standing. “He’s the one who stitched you up and kept you from bleeding to death. I can easily undo what he did.” Jisung smirked up at him, self-destruction immolating any scrap of self-preservation he still had left like a raging wildfire. Chris didn’t hesitate, his hand reaching out for Jisung’s throat as soon as the fiend smirked and slamming him flat on the coffee stable. He stood over him, face but a breath away.

Jisung fully expected him to crush his windpipe right then and there. He knew the fallen angel could do it, too, and that he was thinking about it - he felt his hands tense and un-tense around his neck. His blue eyes were stormy, dark even in the light that was flooding in from the kitchen. Chris took a slow, deep breath and Jisung closed his eyes.

And then the hand loosened.

“Do you want to know the truth,” the angel asked, “or are you going to keep poking the bear?”

Jisung hesitated, looking up at Chris. “I want to know the truth,” his voice cracked, “but I doubt you’re going to give it to me.”

“That’s alright,” Changbin interjected. “We have proof.”

“Proof?” Jisung asked, sitting up as Chris backed off, although the angel remained standing. Changbin looked up at Chris and the blonde looked back, his expression neutral. The angel sighed, “Fine,” and walked straight out of the apartment.

A few moments of silence passed as they waited for Chris to return, Jisung bringing up a hand to his neck to feel if he had been bruised. He hadn’t, luckily. The cambion looked at the demon sitting on the couch, Changbin’s hands folded in his lap.

“Sorry,” Changbin said, “that he hurt you. He’s sensitive about... certain topics. Me, for one.”

“You technically died a few days ago,” Jisung gulped, “I don’t blame him.”

Their short conversation ended when Chris reentered, the door closing behind him with a thump that was bordering on slamming territory. In his hands was a shoe box, the lid lopsided from whatever was in it. He sat down on the couch.

“Basic facts: I’ve been on earth for about five years and I used to be a hunter until a little over two months ago. That’s all you need to know about me. I’m not exactly a fan of divulging personal information,” Chris sighed. “Any questions?”

“Many, but I’ll wait.”

“Good,” the angel sighed. “Do you know anything about hunters?”

Jisung thought back to what Seungmin and Hyunjin had told him about them, but he couldn’t actually recall much. They had been vague at best, so: “No, I’m afraid I don’t. All I know is that one wanted to kill me.”

“Correct, but,” Chris held up a finger, “It wasn’t just one who wanted to kill you. It’s an organization.”

“I- a what?” Jisung frowned, “I thought most were solo?”

Changbin snorted, “You learn that from Supernatural?”

Jisung’s cheeks flushed red, pouting. “Maybe. What of it?”

“I’m not making fun of you,” Changbin said, punctuated with a single laugh. “I watch it too.”

Chris rolled his eyes, “You know, I still don’t know what you see in that-”

“-it’s a guilty pleasure!”

“It’s inaccurate!”

“I hate to interrupt, but can we please talk about how there wasn’t just one guy trying to kill me?” Jisung asked.

Chris and Changbin turned to him in sync, Chris having the decency to at least show shame over getting into an argument over a silly TV show. Changbin, however, was completely shameless, raising an eyebrow.

“Right, um…” Chris opened the shoe box. He talked as he sorted through it. “Rundown on hunters: most are part of the underground system, but there is an organization dating back to 1231 in Italy that has become somewhat of a governing force in the world of hunters during their 800 years of existence. They established most of the laws and norms that red-bloods and hunters follow today.”

“Please tell me they’re not called the Organization like a shitty YA book,” Jisung muttered. Changbin snorted.

“They’re not,” the demon answered as the angel finally found what he was looking for. “They’re called the Order of Saint Anthony.”

Chris held up a silver coin in his hand, turning it over in the light. Changbin got up to turn on the lights, finally lighting up the room and making Jisung wince. He had gotten used to the dark, but at least he could see the coin clearly, now.

The angel handed the coin to Jisung, who took it carefully. “They tried to recruit me multiple times, but I disagreed with their methods and didn’t join. This coin is a calling card for them. Every member has one. Here-” he leaned forward, pointing at the Latin around the bottom edge of the coin, “ -Tueri lux, bonum et sanctum. To protect the light, good and holy.”

Jisung examined the coin, and while he didn’t exactly know Latin, he knew enough to know that the angel wasn’t lying about what the coin said. But some of his story didn’t add up.

“If you aren’t a member,” the cambion asked, “Then why do you have a coin?”

“I took it off of Mr. Rousseau’s body after I killed him,” Chris answered. “I thought it might come in handy. You never know, with our given situation.”

Jisung frowned. “Just… just how fucked am I?”

The angel winced, a hissing breath leaving his mouth between his teeth. He looked away from the boy in front of him, debating if it was really worth telling him. Would it even help him if he knew? Or would it just put him in more danger? “How much of the truth do you want?” Chris decided on saying.

“I want to know what’s going to happen to me if I leave. You two haven’t let me leave for a reason, and I doubt it was because you wanted a new roommate,” Jisung said. “There are people I love very much and I want to know what I’d risk by visiting them.”

“I see. Well, the Order has your scent...” Chris answered, “But only yours. They’re… lawful, to a degree. They won’t hurt people who haven’t infringed on their laws - arbitrary and flexible laws.”

“Such as?”

“Harboring a felon , for one, although their definition of a felon is quite lax.” Changbin said, “You’re… they consider you one, now, if they were hunting you specifically. I’m not sure what you did, but it was enough to get them hungry for your blood. If anyone is knowingly keeping you from them, they aren’t afraid to persecute them as well - especially if they aren’t human.”

Jisung winced. Hyunjin wasn’t human, and Armilla and Seungmin could very well be seen as harboring him.

Changbin continued Chris’ speech. “And… by persecute, he means kill.”

“What?” Jisung frowned, “Are saying I can’t- I can’t visit them at all?”

“Well, visiting them isn’t exactly recommended. ” Chris said. “The Order doesn’t fuck around. They’ll kill you for being a single toe out of line, but if they already knew you were staying with whoever you’re talking about and they put in the effort to kill you while you were away, then that means they’re probably fine. If they wanted to kill all of you, they would’ve done it all at once.”

“So they’re okay?” Jisung asked, gulping when Chris hesitated. “... Probably, but unless you have a way to contact them, you won’t know for sure,” he admitted.

“I-” The cambion perked up, reaching for his flip phone before recalling that he’d lost it in the fight at some point. His memory had lapsed again. He kept thinking that this wasn’t as bad as it was in reality. Chris and Changbin were good at helping him maintain a semblance of normalcy. “Never mind.”

“You don’t use social media at all?” Changbin asked. Jisung shook his head. “Neither do Hyunjin and Seungmin.”

“Seungmin?” The shapeshifter’s face lit up with recognition, “Seungmin Borkowski?”

“You know him!?”

“I met him when I was a kid. I couldn’t remember Hyunjin’s name, so it didn’t ring a bell, but…” Changbin nodded, “Yeah… I know them. Somewhat. Is the grandmother still alive?”

Jisung snorted. “She’s practically unkillable.”

“I had no idea you knew them…” Changbin mused. “This makes so much more sense, now…”

“What makes more sense?” Chris asked, confused. Jisung made a face, “Second that.”

“The smell of magic. It never seems to leave you,” Changbin leaned on his hand, pointing at Jisung as he came to yet another realization. “You’re able to glamour yourself, aren’t you?”

Jisung’s brow furrowed, “Yes, how did you…?”

The shapeshifter tapped his nose. “Grew up with a werewolf - I picked up some of his habits.”

“I’m not sure that’s called a habit…” The onyx-haired boy muttered. Changbin shrugged, “Picking up physical traits from other people practically is my habit. It comes with the whole shapeshifter gig.”

“... Sure,” Jisung said, giving him a weird look. When he realized the expression he was making, he shook his head. “Sorry, I’m still getting used to the whole supernatural thing. It’s been a few months but its still just so… god, they did not teach me this in health class.”

“I’d be a little scared if they did,” Changbin joked, his teeth showing as he smiled. Jisung felt himself relax a bit. Maybe it was time to stop assuming everyone out there was trying to hurt him. Maybe it was time to learn to trust.

They weren’t trying to keep shit from him to harm him, they were trying to protect him. The thought was appreciated, even if Jisung knew the last thing he needed was being sheltered from the truth. He had to learn how to take it and chase it, like whiskey and ginger ale.

“I think you should go back,” Chris said, “at least for a visit.”

“I thought you said going back was a bad idea?”

“It was,” the angel admitted, “But not if you can glamour yourself like Changbin said. We can work something out,” the man blinked. Jisung wondered what he was thinking about behind those impassive eyes. “It sucks, to be separated from family.”

Jisung’s eyes widened in wonder. “Angel’s have family?”

“Of a sort,” he took a slow breath. The cambion didn’t miss how his fingers twitched, his hand placed gently over Changbin’s. “I… I miss them, from time to time.”

“I’m sorry,” the 18-year-old said softly.

“It’s okay,” Chris said, lacing his fingers with the demons and squeezing. “I have a new family now, anyway.” For once, Jisung wasn’t disgusted by their PDA. Instead, he understood it. They’ve all been through a lot and they’ve all lost their families, but they all learned to rebuild. Somewhat, at least.

“The world is so fucked up…” The young man said, his soft voice filling the quiet apartment. Chris shrugged, “So are we.”

Jisung laughed at that, glad that the thick of the conversation had passed. He had learned what he needed.

“Cheers to being fuck-ups,” he said, handing back the coin. “Deadbeats, if you’re even more pessimistic.”

Changbin laughed along with him and Jisung continued, loving the irony of their absurd situation. Jisung had never been one to take shitty things and make them positive, but maybe today was a good day to start. “Look at us, the products of abandonment and neglect, just sitting in an apartment at some unholy hour talking about how people want to kill us like it’s a fucking book club.”

Chris leaned back and smiled, slow and amused. “The Deadbeats Club?”

“Yeah!” Jisung cheered, standing up in his growing sleepy delirium. “Cheers to childhood abandonment!”

“You are so sleep deprived,” Changbin remarked. “But, eh. Fuck it.” He stood up as well, popping in and out of the kitchen and returning with a bottle of… champaign and red solo cups?

“When did you buy that?” Chris asked, sputtering. “You never drink!”

“It was a gift,” Changbin explained with a shrug. “Besides, it seems like a fitting occasion.”

“And the solo cups?”

“... I forgot to do the dishes.”

Chris looked at him for a few moments, raising an eyebrow before his hard resolve cracked. “Fine,” he threw up his hands, grabbing a cup and popping the champaign, “Fuck it.” Jisung and Changbin cheered as he filled their cups, the blonde’s lips cracking a smile. The young cambion decided he liked that look on him.

Chris was the first to raise his cup, declaring “To the Deadbeats Club,” with a fond roll of his eyes.

Changbin and Jisung grinned, out of their wits and out of their minds.

“To the Deadbeats Club!”

 

Jisung woke up the next day, sunlight peeking through the curtain and drool dripping down onto his pillow. He groaned, rolling over and adjusting his head so it didn’t rest in the wet spot from his open mouth.

He laid there, staring up at the ceiling and wondering if last night had been some weird fever dream. He smacked his lips, tasting the shitty after taste of the alcohol, and realized that no, it wasn’t a dream. Jisung could go home, if he wanted to.

The cambion thought about it - about getting up right then and there and heading straight to Armilla’s, to go home - but he decided no, maybe that wasn’t the best thing. It was best if he rested and made peace with his thoughts rather than throwing himself into another inevitably emotional situation.

Jisung decided to take mercy on himself, pulling the curtains down and casting the room into darkness before throwing himself back into bed. He groaned, rolling back onto his side, falling asleep in record time, and for once? He didn’t have a single nightmare.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11 - Flawed and Free

Dark as night - a new game is afoot.

It was five in the morning when Jisung snuck out - early enough for Chris and Changbin to be asleep, but late enough for the early morning crowd to begin filling the streets of Bethlehem. He wanted to go to Armilla’s alone for the sake of both himself and his friends.

He dressed silently, pulling an over-sized hoodie up and over his head and drawing it around his face as he sneaked out of the apartment building, closing the door to Changbin’s apartment as silently as he could. Before he turned from the door, he made sure his hood was adequately shielding his face, and then he turned around.

In the elevator he could see his reflection in the silver-shining walls. His glamours were improving by the minute, his newly-manifested appearances growing more and more convincing with each try. This time he appeared as a teenage girl with dark skin and dark eyes and long, kinky brown hair that puffed around his shoulders. He looked a bit like a socialite with his new red lips and high heels and chic clothes, but inside, he was simply Jisung.

His reflection smiled back at him, satisfied. 

Chris had warned him of the Order. They had eyes everywhere and friends in both high and low places - caution was required for every movement, and Jisung wasn’t going to risk a camera glancing through his glamour.

 

After Jisung was gone, Changbin and Chris got out of bed, the younger man looking all around the apartment for the cambion.

“Where’s Jisung?” Changbin asked, confused. He opened the pantry, wondering if the boy was hiding in the cheerios or with the snack mix. 

“Jisung?” Chris said, processing his question. “Oh, yeah - he snuck out.”

“He what?”

Chris frowned as he cracked an egg over a pan, “Snuck out…?”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Changbin asked, already reaching for his cell phone. “God, he’s going to get in so much trouble. I’m gonna call Hwall-”

A hand grabbed his wrist and turned off the phone. Changbin looked at his boyfriend in confusion, “Chris, seriously, of all people, you should know -”

“He’ll be okay,” Chris reassured. “I asked Minho and Woojin to watch over him.”

Changbin stared at him for a moment, lowering his proverbial shackles. “Oh.”

“I’ll know if something happens. Us angels have that whole… um, how do I say this…” Chris struggled to find the word, making a proud noise when he came up with something, “Spidey-sense?”

Changbin sighed, “I should’ve never let you watch Spiderman.”

 

While Changbin and Chris began to argue about who played the best version of Spiderman (Chris, for some unknown reason, loved Toby Maguire), Jisung mingled with the morning crowd. He dropped by the Metro, grabbing a map of the city and trying to figure out the safest, not the fastest, route to Armilla’s.

He leaned up against the wall, running his finger along the paths from the Redwood district to the Downtown district. He had no money on him, so a taxi was out of the question, but if he kept to the streets, he could make it there in about two hours if he walked fast. Nine miles… not too bad.

Jisung tucked the map into his hoodie pocket, earning a strange look from a stranger. Jisung was confused as to why he was giving him a weird look before he remembered he was glamoured and that his body-mirage did not have a front hoodie pocket. To the man, his map was seemingly absorbed into his abdomen.

Oops.

He kept his head down, avoiding bumping into people as best he could as he made his way out of the metro and onto the streets above. He pulled out his map again, deciding to just keep it in his hand out of fear of freaking out another poor stranger with his imperfect glamour.

Jisung probably looked a little ridiculous running around in red pumps and a mini skirt (especially when he ran over storm drains, the arch-enemy of high heels), but oh well, he didn’t want to risk or waste energy on recasting his glamour. For all anyone knew, he was just a busy, busy woman.

“I’ve never missed this much school in my life,” Changbin mused, leaning with his elbow on the counter. “Much less for… reasons like this.” He sighed, standing up and sitting down next to Chris, although with a larger distance than normal. Being near him made the shapeshifter queasy.

The angel looked up from the computer in his lap, noticing the distance. “Still can’t come near me?” Chris shut the laptop when Changbin frowned. “... I’m not mad at you, you know? It’s not your fault you’re getting sick around me all of a sudden.”

Changbin grimaced, looking away. Chris could sense the change in his mood from grim to something more dreadful.

“Is everything okay?” He asked tentatively, “Binnie, are you alright?”

The younger man contemplated lying, but once he glanced up at his boyfriend and his concerned eyes, everything spilled out regardless.

“I’ve been having nightmares,” he explained, gulping down his apprehension. “Really, really realistic nightmares. They’re the same too - I always see this figure and I see you and you’re bloody and crying and I can’t do anything to fix it and-” He hesitated, “It feels… it feels less like a dream and more like an omen.”

Chris’ brow furrowed, “I see.”

“It’s only been a week since the incident, but the dreams, they won’t go away. I keep expecting them to fade but they just keep repeating and it’s starting to become the only thing I can think about, even when I’m awake,” Changbin shivered. “I can’t stop thinking about how Jisung’s blood tasted, Chris. I can’t. You said that all demons give into their urges eventually, and because of all these intrusive thoughts, I’m just scared.

The angel’s face fell, “Changbin, you’re not going to go dark side on me. It’ll be okay.”

“How can you be sure? How do we know that the blood he gave me wasn’t a jump-start steroid for the demon in the back of my head?”

“You wouldn’t be sitting here telling me about this if it was,” Chris reasoned. “The fact that you can say this without short-circuiting is proof. Sure, Jisung’s blood may have… fed your demon, but it wasn’t enough. You’re stronger than him, okay?”

Changbin looked away, apprehensive. “I’m not sure-”

“I am.” Chris stood, standing in front of Changbin. He knelt down, careful not to touch him. “Changbin, look at me. Look at me.”

The younger man complied.

“You were there for me when no one else was. You have more than proven yourself to be a strong, loyal, and good person. I have no doubt that you will overcome this, and when it feels like you can’t, you can lean on me. I’ll always be there for you,” Chris vowed, “No matter what.”

Changbin cracked a smile, “Be careful, if you keep being so sweet, I might just ask you to marry me.”

Chris smiled back, “Perish the thought.”

 

Jisung was sweating bullets by the time he reached the boardwalk, and it wasn’t from all the running.He was scared about how Armilla was going to receive him, or worse - Seungmin. He wasn’t sure what Hyunjin had told them about the night prior to his disappearance, but no matter what, Armilla and Seungmin we’re sure to know something was up. The only bright side was that it had at least it started snowing in the latter portion of his walk, though. The cold always made him feel better, both emotionally and physically. 

The cambion wondered how worried they were, suddenly regretting staying in for the past couple mornings instead of going to visit them immediately. Armilla called him her third grandson, for God’s sake! She was probably freaking out, and according to Hyunjin, when Armilla freaked out, her worry didn’t always manifest in the nicest ways, usually resulting in more than one spontaneous flying book or tea cup. That reaction seemed to be genetic as well, both Seungmin and Hyunjin vulnerable to extreme reactions when something went terribly wrong.

God, if Hyunjin was the first person he saw when he walked through that door, he didn’t know what he’d do. Internally cry, probably, since Jisung couldn’t bring tears to his eyes anymore after all he had been through, or maybe he would just grovel for forgiveness right then and there. Maybe both.

His fear mounted when he stood outside of the shop, staring up at the familiar, cursive lettering on the shop’s front window. Jisung gulped as he scaled the concrete steps, holding onto the railing as he walked up to the door tentatively. He let his hand rest on the handle, but didn’t push down.

As soon as he opened this door, he was condemning himself to the fate that lies within. There was no room for half-assed apologies or excuses, just the truth. He had to let them know he was okay and hopefully… hopefully things would go back to the way they were.

He pushed the handle down and opened the door, dropping his glamour in a silent, cascading wave.

The first thing he saw was the old hallway rug, too scared to lift his eyes to see if anyone was standing before him. He heard footsteps as someone rounded the counter and behind one of the bookcases, recognizing them by the weight of their feet instantly.

“Jisung?” Armilla’s voice lilted hopefully. Her tone softened when he lifted his head, understanding immediately that now was the time for comforting, not lecturing. “Oh, Jisung, come here...”

She walked over, taking him into her arms and holding the boy close. Jisung’s thoughts ran wild as she did so, his brain trying to sabotage any happiness he could possibly gain from this reunion. The whole time Armilla told him how worried she was, Jisung’s brain was telling himself he was undeserving of her love.

“Where in all God’s names have you been?” She chastised, pulling away to hold him by his shoulders and glare down at him. Jisung grimaced. “Long story?”

“It better be if it warranted you disappearing for a week,” she scoffed, “But I’m glad you’re back. Oh, Jisung, we we’re all so worried! We thought you had vanished for good!”

“I’m sorry,” Jisung apologized. He shook his head, “You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”

Armilla smoothed back his hair, getting a good look at his face. The poor boy looked like he’d aged a year in the single week he was gone. “Why don’t we make some tea, huh? To warm you up?”
Jisung did his best to smile genuinely. “I’d love that.”

He soon found himself at the kitchen counter talking softly with Armilla. Barely a minute had passed before he broached the topic of her grandsons. Seungmin, apparently, was away on one of the jobs that Armilla could no longer do, but Hyunjin-

“Oh,” Armilla perked up. “He’s upstairs.”

Jisung felt his blood freeze.

“Would you like me to call him down?” Armilla asked, already circumventing the counter to stand at the base of the stairs. “He’s been dying to see you. I can’t believe I didn’t tell him sooner, he’s been absolutely-”

She froze, staring out the front window like a deer in the headlights. Jisung followed her gaze, his blood running colder than ever before.

Outside as a duo - one man, one woman. The man was tall and dressed in a long brown jacket, his hands in his pockets and his eyes sharp. Next to him was the woman, nearly the same height as him with a long, angular haircut and a set of thin-pressed red lips. They were clean cut and average looking, but on the woman’s hand was a coin and it looked exactly like the one Chris had shown him.

Fuck.

The Order was here. Jisung didn’t know why or how but they we’re fucking here, and Chris and Changbin had no fucking idea where he was. He hadn’t told them and he hadn’t even had the foresight to grab a fucking knife.

“Son,” Armilla started, “You need to hide. Now.

Jisung didn’t need to be told twice - he was already ducking behind the nearest shelf, his face right next to the preserved two-headed pig jar. He listened closely, hearing the bell ring on the front door as the duo entered, the heavy clunk of their boots sending shivers down his spine.

“Evening!” Armilla greeted them, already putting on a mask of elderly hospitality. “How may I help you?”

Jisung watched the exchange through a tiny gap in the shelf, eyeing their every move. He wondered how Armilla had known that they were dangerous, but then again she’d been in this game far longer than Jisung had. But maybe… maybe she knew more about Jisung than she was letting on. Seungmin could have very well told her about his checkered past.

“Just a quick sweep of the neighborhood. You know how it is,” The man smiled. He was far too charming for someone Jisung knew was capable of terrible deeds. “Have you seen any suspicious individuals lately?”

“My clientele is well behaved - I haven’t noticed anything odd.”

The woman hummed. “Yes, yes… and what of the felon you were harboring?”

Jisung’s breath hitched, mentally begging the universe for Armilla to lie, no matter the cost. He didn’t care what she said - as long as it let her escape free of charge.

Armilla’s pleasant grin faltered. “A felon? Harboring?” The woman nodded. “He simply needed a home. I’ve done no harboring, or at least I wasn’t aware of it. If you’re looking for him, he left about a week ago without saying a word. Damn boy couldn’t even thank me for what I’d done.”

Jisung let out a slow breath. She was safe.

“I see,” the man said. “Do you have any idea where he could’ve gone?”

“He didn’t say much at all about his past. I asked my grandson’s if they knew but both of them couldn’t give me an answer, besides that he hailed from Pittsburgh. I’m sorry I can’t be of more use,” Armilla sighed. The woman was an astounding actress, to Jisung’s surprise. “Is that all?”

The woman nodded, “That’ll be all, miss. Have a nice night!” The duo began to turn around, Jisung shifting his footing. His toe tipped a glass, cursing himself silently as it rolled past the bookshelves and into the hall, coming to a top when it impacted the lip of the rug.

She froze, her red lips pursed and no longer fiddling with the coin in her hand. She turned around, looking at the glass bottle. She looked in the direction it had rolled, Jisung laying as flat as he could against the shelf. He cursed himself for not finding a better hiding spot.

“What was that?” The woman asked, not taking her eyes away from when Jisung was hiding. Armilla waved her hand. “I run an oddities store - sometimes objects take on a mind of their own.”

“Ah,” the woman mused, “So you wouldn’t mind me taking a look, then.”

Armilla hesitated. “If you must. I’m warning you, though - you won’t find much.”

“We’ll be the judge of that,” the man asserted. “Now if you don’t mind-” he said, moving to push past Armilla. “-I’m going to take a peek.”

Jisung panicked. They we’re coming closer. He could hear their footsteps as they walked past Armilla, closing his eyes. He tried to conjure a glamor, a mask, anything that could hide him, but after his three hour stint earlier, he was all tapped out. Jisung didn’t have the magic to cast anything so complex.

The footsteps stopped. The woman and man were looking straight at him, except… they seemed confused? Jisung remained frozen, wondering if they both just had really shitty vision, or something.

But then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hyunjin. He leaning just past the blind spot of the stairs and was holding up a hand, his fingers extended out in front of himself as if he was gripping something in his hand, his knuckles white with strain. He held up a finger to his lips, telling Jisung to remain silent. Even if the duo couldn’t see him, they could still hear him.

Jisung realized that Hyunjin had cast a mask spell - a spell in the illusionary school, which wasn’t exactly Hyunjin’s forte, but apparently he was good enough to cast it when he really needed to. The cambion let out a slow, silent breath. He was safe.

And then the mask spell glitched.

It was like staring through a thread-bare sheet. To woman and man, Jisung looked like a ghost, almost, or a mirage. His appearance rippled like fabric in the wind, his silhouette rippling on the floor in front of him. The woman reached in her pocket.

And Jisung ran.

He bolted around them, breaking through the fading mask spell and using what little surprise he had on them to escape. He pushed the man aside, the tall bloke stumbling back and landing on his ass. The woman startled out of his way, unable to draw her dagger in time to stab him as he passed.

Jisung didn’t have time to check if he was being followed. He was out the door and on the streets as fast as his feet could carry him. He was less than half a block away before he heard a shout.

Hyunjin.

He glanced over his shoulder, spying the woman on the front steps as she pursued Jisung, but the man was nowhere to be seen. The woman looked left and right, startling into a sprint as soon as she realized Jisung was in front of her just tens of paces away, and then he heard another shout.

But this time, it came from… up?

Jisung tilted his head back, more than surprised to see Hyunjin on the roof with the man. How the fuck did they even get up there? Jisung thought before he spied the open window, Oh.

Hyunjin had the height disadvantage, but he had the advantage of being young and agile, easily dodging the man as his hands dove for his throat. Instead, Hyunjin stuck out a leg, making the man fall. He fell onto his ass for the second time that day, rolling down and off the sloped surface of the tiled roof.

The man hit the ground with a muffled thump, but he was still moving. Jisung made eye contact with Hyunjin, barely processing his words.

“Run!” Hyunjin shouted. “Jisung, you fucking dumbass, RUN!”

Jisung’s legs moved before he could think, turning heel and dashing away. He heard another thumb behind him, but this time he didn’t turn around, realizing that staying would only make the situation more dangerous for both himself, Hyunjin, and Armilla. He wanted the duo to follow him, not use his loved one’s as situational leverage.

The woman’s footsteps we’re close behind him. She was younger than the man she had been with and Jisung regretted underestimating her athleticism, since the slam of her feet seemed to grow closer and closer with every step. He turned a corner, hoping to lose her in the small alleys of the city.

Jisung wasn’t watching where he was going, though, and he quickly found himself heading down streets that steadily became less and less populated - ever more so due to the snow, since everyone was boarding themselves up inside. He was no longer in the Downtown district, but bordering the Circuit district - the most dangerous part of Bethlehem.

He turned another corner, hoping that he could bring them back into town, but instead, he was met with a brick wall and a dumpster.

Fuck.

“You should learn your routes better,” the woman mocked, brushing the sweat off her brow as she stood at the end of the alley, effectively closing the cambion in. “I’ve got you in my corner now.”

“I’d stay back if I were you,” Jisung warned with fake confidence. The woman scoffed, drawing her knife. “You would've fought back by now if you were capable. Drop the bravado and this can be quick and easy for everyone.

“I don’t like killing, you know? It’s unpleasant, but someone has to do it. You’re dangerous, as I’m sure you’re aware. After all, you mauled your friend.”

“I didn’t mean to.”

“Whether you meant it or not doesn’t change what happened.” She said, but Jisung had stopped paying attention. Behind her and around the corner, Jisung could hear what sounded like dragging and familiar screaming, the rough hiss of skin and clothing whispering through the alleys accompanied by loud footfalls.

His dread increased with each passing moment, wanting nothing more than to turn around and go back to Chris and Changbin and wishing he had never left their apartment in the first place the second he saw the man who had attacked Hyunjin round the corner, dragging the kicking and screaming half-cambion behind him like a sack of potatoes.

He must’ve followed their footprints in the snow.

“Caught ‘em,” the man breathed out, spitting a glob of blood onto the pavement. “What ‘chu want me to do with ‘em?”

The woman tilted her head, never taking her eyes off of Jisung. She shined her knife on her coat, the silver glinting the evening sunlight into the cambion’s eyes. 

“Make him watch,” she said. “He needs to see what will happen to him and his family if he misbehaves.”

 


 

Hyunjin hadn’t always loved Jisung. The first day he met him, he thought he was an asshole who didn’t know how to be thankful or polite. He thought he was no better than a bully, taking advantage of others and using their kindness for granted. Frankly, he hated him.

“You have a home. You have a family. You have stability. I’ve never had any of that, and the one time I did, I fucked it up. I fucked it up so badly.” Hyunjin’s eyes hardened with each new word Jisung threw at him. “You don’t know shit about being different, so don’t you dare fucking tell me you know what it’s like. Fuck off with that bullshit.”

He hadn’t forgotten what his words felt like, but then he also learned why Jisung said those things, and then his perspective changed, Jisung was no longer just an asshole, he was someone who was just as complex as anyone else in the half-cambion’s life. 

He had finally decided to relent his cold treatment of the younger boy when he overheard Jisung’s conversation with his brother late at night. Well, technically he hadn’t overheard it, but had purposefully eavesdropped with the help of an amplifying charm.

What could he say? Jisung hadn’t exactly proved himself to be trustworthy yet, and Hyunjin wanted to make sure he wasn’t going to hurt his brother. He felt a little guilty, sure, but Seungmin? Hyunjin would always feel the desire to protect him, regardless of morality.

“You’re nails are so long…” Hyunjin could hear Seungmin’s voice through the wall. “Are you sure you don’t want to borrow a pair of clippers?” 

Jisung responded softly, but just loud enough for Hyunjin to hear. “Umm… My nails will break the clippers, so...”

“I can charm them. If you go to Hyunjin’s room, he can lend you a pair.”

Hyunjin raised an eyebrow. Was Seungmin trying to play therapist with them?

“He doesn’t hate you, you know?” His brother said, “He just has a weak heart.”

Hyunjin scowled. Of course Seungmin would say that. Of fucking course. He hated it when people called him weak.

Jisung’s voice was curious. “A weak heart?”

“I always forget you didn’t grow up with wiccan nomenclature… What I mean is, Hyunjin is sensitive. He takes what people say to him very seriously, although that is part of what makes him such a good witch.” There was a long pause before Seungmin spoke again. “You think he is weak, don’t you? That’s why you’ve been avoiding him. You’re scared to see how you’ve hurt him.”

Hyunjin rolled his eyes. Yep, Seungmin was definitely trying to play therapist, but hey, at least he was complimenting Hyunjin as well. Damn straight he was a good witch.

“Don’t psychoanalyze me. I haven’t-” Jisung began to argue before he cut himself off. Hyunjin smiled - Seungmin had hit the mark right on the nose. “Okay, so maybe I have. Is that bad?”

“I mean, it’s cowardly, but that seems to be your style.”

“I’m not a coward! I just didn’t want to say anything else I would regret. I’m not - I’m not good with words. Or people.”

“You’re better than you think, you just need to practice. And, by the way, you are a coward - unless you get off your ass and get those nail clippers from Hyunjin.”

“Fine,” Jisung huffed, “I will.”

Hyunjin sat up in bed quickly with that news, waving his hand through the air as he panickedly tried to get rid of the amplify charm. He heard Seungmin begin to speak, but the charm had already begun fading, Seungmin’s voice fading with it. The last thing he heard was a soft “Good” before there was a knock on his door.

When he opened the door, Jisung was standing in front of him in the same white T-shirt he had been wearing earlier that day, except now he was wearing sweats instead of jeans. Hyunjin looked down at him as he held up his hands, asking meekly: “Can I borrow a pair of nail clippers?”

Hyunjin, against his own will, let out a little giggle at the sight of his long nails, making the onyx-haired boy’s cheeks flush a light tea rose. The shorter boy’s expression only made him smile more, enjoying embarrassing him a little. His nails were long, damn… 

“Or course,” the half-cambion answered. “One sec.”

As he retrieved the nail clippers, a few thoughts suddenly came to mind. Thoughts like he’s actually kinda cute and since when was he so quiet? Hyunjin was beginning to see him in an entirely different light.

“Here,” Hyunjin said, his giggle gone, disappearing into his normal calm and demure disposition as he handed the clippers to Jisung.  “Don’t break them.”

Jisung nodded, his voice cracking as he spoke. “Thanks.”

Hyunjin nodded, yawning sleepily, “No problem.” He closed the door when Jisung walked away with a duck of his head, disappearing back into Seungmin’s room. Huh.

He didn’t bother recasting the charm, and that was the start of Hyunjin’s stupid, painful crush on Jisung Han.

 


 

Hyunjin stared forward, gasping as the man pulled his hair painfully, making the half-cambion stumble forward. He grabbed his arms, restraining the black-haired boy. Hyunjin couldn’t believe what she had said.

Make him watch? Was she insane?

“No!” Hyunjin exploded. “Don’t you dare touch- mph!”

He hushed up as a hand clapped over his mouth, the man cinching the arm around his chest even tighter until it became difficult to breath. He watched Jisung’s eyes widen in fear, the boy holding up his hands as he looked straight at Hyunjin.

“Don’t hurt him,” Jisung begged. “Please.”

 


 

“Cases…” Jisung muttered, “Your life sounds like it’s straight out of one of the TV shows on the sci-fi channel.”

“You watch the sci-fi channel?” Hyunjin smiled teasingly, dropping his hand. He found it cute, secretly. Why did everything about Jisung have to be cute? “Oh, I’m judging you so hard right now.”

“At least my favorite book genre isn’t pre-teen dystopian,” Jisung quipped before scowling. “And I only watch the sci-fi channel sometimes and only because it’s fun to make fun of the movies. Mostly .

Hyunjin rolled his eyes - at least he read books. 

“Just admit that you like them,” the taller boy snickered. A short, barely noticeable moment of hesitation passed before he continued, “I’ll tell you what - If you can find one you think I’ll like, I’ll watch it with you. No promises I’ll actually like it, though.”

Please say yes...

“Challenge accepted,” Jisung looked up at him, smirking.

YES! 

Hyunjin smiled. Sure, he hadn’t phrased it as if he was asking him out on a date, but it counted… right? And Jisung had said yes. He had said yes to spending time with him alone. It counted. It totally counted.

His attention was drawn away from the object of his affection when his brother spoke, interrupting his inner, tumultuous monologue.

“Will you please not flirt in front of me,” Seungmin sighed, exasperated.

Jisung turned to him, still smirking. “We’re not flirting.”

Hyunjin’s heart fell. We’re not?

“You literally planned a date in front of me.” Seungmin rolled his eyes. 

“Correction,” Jisung put an arm over Seungmin’s shoulders. Hyunjin watched the gesture jealousy, “We planned a date beside you.”

nice.

 

Hyunjin had always thought he was going to go away for college. And then he realized they didn’t have the money and that he wasn’t smart enough to get scholarships like some of his friends could. He was a theater kid - he acted, put on heavy makeup, and put his life and soul into his craft, which, tragically, also meant neglecting his grades. He tried enough to maintain academic eligibility, but otherwise, all his time and attention went towards theater.

And he was happy with that. He loved acting. He lived for it! Hyunjin was more than happy to go to the local community college for his associates and then transfer to the in-state school where he could finish his education and theater degree and teach Drama and English at a local high school. It was perfect. Hyunjin would make a living, and he would also get to pass down his love for theater to the next generation. Literally nothing was wrong with that plan.

Except that it meant seeing Jisung less.

One night, when Hyunjin was feeling particularly shitty about his future, he decided to visit Jisung. He entered his room and flopped face-down on his bed with a huff. He turned over only when Jisung asked, eventually persuading the younger boy to join him on the bed. They bantered a bit, Hyunjin more than happy to entertain his words, at least until he asked the question.

“What are you going to do in college? Or, like, where?” Jisung asked softly. Seungmin was just one room over, probably sleeping. “You never told me.”

“I, uh…” Hyunjin faltered, “I didn’t know how to. The plan has always been pretty solid, so I never really thought I would… I don’t know.”

“Thought you would…?”

Hyunjin gulped. I never thought I wouldn’t want to go because of a boy. But instead of saying that, Hyunjin opted to nervously fiddle with his lips and shrug, planning to pretend like Jisung had never asked that question. Luckily, Jisung took the hint and moved on - a prime example of why Hyunjin liked him.

But maybe like wasn’t the right word. Maybe Hyunjin adored how Jisung always knew how to make him laugh. Maybe he thought his smile was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, and maybe it made his stomach toss and turn with simultaneous excitement and anxiety when Jisung let him stay in his room for the night, their arms wrapped around each other’s torsos.

Maybe, just maybe, Hyunjin was a little bit in love.

 


 

With a hand over his mouth, an arm around his body restraining him, and a woman walking towards Jisung with the intent to kill, Hyunjin’s instincts knew what he had to do. 

Before he could physically react, his mind was already screaming at him to do something. So, with a whisper of his mind, the pale concrete became covered in a thin layer of window-like ice, deadly and slick.

Glacio.

The impulsive thought was a god-send, Hyunjin and Jisung watching as the woman who had been walking so confidently slipped, sliding along the ground like a baby deer. The man behind him jerked in shock and that was when Hyunjin realized his targeted area for the spell wasn’t exactly precise .

The ground under his feet felt almost like it shifted as he was manhandled, the older man clinging to Hyunjin as he attempted to regain his footing unsuccessfully. Hyunjin, not wanting to crack his head on the concrete, thought of a counter-spell - Origo uro, fire at the origin.

The ice underneath him melted, giving way to wet concrete. He stumbled away from the man, tearing his hands off him, but his freedom wouldn’t last long. 

The woman on the ground howled in anger, lunging for Hyunjin’s ankle in an attempt to bring him top the ground. But before she had a chance to grab him, Jisung lunged.

The cambion grabbed her arms, pinning her to the ground as she struggled beneath him. He wouldn’t be able to hold her for long, already feeling the strain as she twisted and turned, threatening to flip them over.

“Hyunjin!” Jisung growled, “Get out of here!”

Hyunjin, of course, didn’t listen. Instead he floundered, looking for a weapon.

Come on, Hyunjin! You’re a theater kid. IMPROVISE!

As the man struggled to get up, Hyunjin slid over to the dumpster. The ground was becoming slick for him again with the ever falling snow and his fading heat spell, making it difficult to remain upright as he riffled through the trash looking for something he could defend himself with.

The man was nearly upon him when he turned around, Hyunjin panicking. Come on, come on, come on! 

His hand touched something thick and plastic - a board? He pulled it out. Oh, a cutting board. Nice! This could make a decent shield! 

He grabbed the handle and yanked it out of the dumpster, shimmying it to break it free from the trash bags that were catching on it. Eventually, it came free with a pop , Hyunjin turning around just in time to stop a downward plunging knife.

The tip dug through the green, plastic cutting board, nearly jabbing him in the nose as Hyunjin went cross-eyed to look at it, letting out a heavy breath of relief. That blow would have gone straight through the back of his skull.

When the man tried to pull the knife free, Hyunjin pushing the board towards him, making the man lose balance again. At this point, it was beginning to feel like Hyunjin was in a shitty adult version of Home Alone with how many times the poor man had busted his ass.

To his relief, when he had pushed the man to the ground, he had lost his grip on the knife, leaving the sharp object lodged in the plastic. Hyunjin, knowing that he had no chance of getting a hit in with the blade, yanked the knife out of the board and threw it. It clattered to the ground some thirty feet away, disappearing into the slowly building snow.

When he looked back at the man on the ground after looking away to throw the knife, Hyunjin realized they had gained more company.

A man with ashen-brown hair stood in front of him, glaring down at the man Hyunjin had pushed to the ground.

“Who-” Hyunjin began, but before he could finish his sentence, the brunet drew a long, silver knife. He glanced at the stunned half-cambion. “Help your friend.”

To his right was Jisung, struggling with the woman. She had flipped them over and was currently grabbing for her knife which had clatter just a few feet away, barely within her reach. Hyunjin  definitely  didn’t want her to have that.

He slid, over, kicking the knife to the end of the alley. He heard the woman yell, reaching for her hands as they clasped desperately around Jisung’s neck in a last-ditch effort to kill him. Hyunjin scrambled over, attempting to pry her hands off of Jisung as Jisung clawed at her face, mangling her facial features and drawing more blood that Hyunjin had ever seen in his eighteen years of life.

He watched in terror as the blood dripped onto Jisung’s face, the cambion’s eyes darkening as the blood fell into his open, silently screaming mouth. Hyunjin saw him change, his expression becoming wild and feral.

Jisung wasn’t Jisung anymore.

Hyunjin’s hands shook. He’d never seen Jisung like this before. Sure, he knew cambions went feral in theory, but he had never seen it. It was terrifying .

The half-cambion, yelled, trying even harder to push the woman off of his friend. His nails sunk into her wrists as she yelled back, trying so hard to kill Jisung. It made Hyunjin wonder just how much she must hate them to risk her own life to end theirs.

Just as Hyunjin bent back with the intent of kicking her in the face, a pair of large, tan hands appeared on the woman’s shoulders. The hands yanked the woman back, and when even that didn’t make her let go of Jisung, the hands landed around her neck, and then the hands twisted.

The woman collapsed on Jisung, lifeless. It was the first time Hyunjin had seen someone die in front of him, but by god, he was just glad they were safe.

He scrambled over to his friend, ignoring the man who had snapped the woman’s neck, and began to comfort the twitching boy. Jisung’s hands were shaking as he bent to the side, trying to spit as much blood as he could out of his mouth. Now that the woman was dead, Jisung had no apparent drive to… eat her, Hyunjin guessed.

The half-cambion, realizing it would be bad to linger around a dead body, looped Jisung’s arm around his shoulders and pulled him to his feet. He looked at the two men in front of him, watching as the taller of the two (the one that had snapped the woman’s neck) borrowed the knife from the other man who had been holding the woman’s male friend down.

The man struggled, begging for mercy, by the tan man had none. Hyunjin looked away as he put the knife to the prone man’s throat, a cut off gurgle announcing the slice of his skin. A moment of silence passed before Hyunjin looked back, seeing the tan man wipe the bloody knife with a handful of snow.

“Messy, messy…” the tan man muttered to himself. “Sorry we were late, boys.”

Hyunjin eyed the two of them cautiously, squaring his shoulders as best he could under his friend’s weight. “Who are you?”

“No one you need to know,” the brunet answered softly. The tan man looked at his companion, “Micah, be polite.”

“I am,” the brunet - Micah, apparently - frowned. “Chris said we had to watch Jisung, not him.”

“He’s a friend of Jisung’s,” the tan man stated. “I don’t think Chrissy would be happy if we left his friend’s friend to die, so we’re going to take him with us.”

“I see,” Micah looked at Hyunjin, “He’s like Jisung.” 

Hyunjin gulped, “I’m half-cambion, if that’s what you mean.” He put a bit more force behind his words, “Now, do you mind telling me who you are?”

The pretty brunet sized him up for a moment, watching Hyunjin with careful eyes. “Micah - or Minho.” He paused, “Cassiel told me to use a more human name because it’s apparently friendlier.”

“Didn’t I tell you to call me Woojin?”

“At some point, perhaps.”

“Feel free to drop the sass any day now, Minho.”

“That’s hypocritical for you to say.”

Hyunjin nodded slowly. Human name? What the fuck is he? 

The black-haired boy tightened his arms around Jisung, pulling him closer as Jisung stirred, slowly coming to consciousness as he recovered from his bought of shock. The cambion looked around, noticing the bodies on the ground and then men in front of them.

“Did I do that?” He asked, fear in his voice.

The tan man (Cassiel? Woojin?) shrugged. “Eh… It was more of a group effort,” he said as he approached the battered pair of teens. “We need to get you two home.”

“Armilla’s?” Hyunjin asked.

Woojin shook his head. “We’ll be going wherever Chris tells us to. Jisung’s his kid, not mine.”

Jisung tiredly muttered, “I’m not his kid,” at the same time Hyunjin argued, “I don’t want to leave my grandmother.”

“You grandmother will be fine,” Woojin interrupted. “She’s more than capable of taking care of herself. You, however, could really use some self-defense lessons.”

“I can-”

“No,” Woojin said, his voice suddenly cold, “You can’t. The sooner you get it in your head that you aren’t invincible, the less likely you are to die. If it wasn’t for Minho and I, you would be dead. Got it?”

Hyunjin bit his lip, holding back the slew of words he wanted to deliver. “Yeah,” he said, voice strained. “Got it.”

“Good,” Woojin said. “Let's not waste anymore time then. The taxi will be here in five.” 

“Taxi?” Hyunjin asked only for his question to be met with deaf ears. He watched as the eclectic man pulled out a cell phone and called someone, exiting the conversation with Hyunjin. Either he was busy, or he was just a straight up asshole, Hyunjin thought. But then again, he had saved them, so he couldn't be a complete asshole.

Grain of salt, Hyunjin thought. Grain of salt.

The half-cambion refocused on the form approaching him, making almost uncomfortably long eye contact with Minho as he walked up to him, the strange brunet looking at his hands. “You’re bloody,” He observed.

“I am," Hyunjin sighed. "Not much I can do about that, though."

Minho thought for a moment. “I can hold the boy while you clean off,” he said, “If you’d like.”

The half-cambion stared at him before nodding, thanking him as he passed Jisung into his arms. He gave him a quick glance - making sure he wasn't going to drop Jisung, or something - before he crouched down and buried his hands in the snow, rubbing the appendages around until the ground was red, but his skin was not. He stood back up again, thanking Minho for a second time as he let Jisung lean on him, the younger boy now much more conscious.

A moment of silence passed between them as Minho returned to Woojin's side. They watched them curiously and cautiously, exchanging a look between themselves as they shared a nonverbal thought.

"You got any idea who they are?" Hyunjin asked.

Jisung shook his head. "Not a fuckin' clue."

Another moment of silence passed. Jisung took a deep breath. “I have a lot to tell you,” he said.

“Yeah,” Hyunjin said, unknowing of the full breadth of Jisung’s words. “You do.”