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now again

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love, lay me down under grass &
sunlight, and touch me [right here]
and here and here, where the ache
& hurt have gone to nest.
[(now again)] my fingers will find
yours, tangle & sweeten the air
and the birds will cry [for]
us alone.

– sappho, fragments

It starts, like every other story that starts with an ending, with a single regret and a single mistake.

Mark regrets accepting the job, really, but in hindsight he needed the money and it was supposed to be an easy job, a remunerative job. A dangerous job nonetheless, but danger pays the rent better than safety in Mark’s world.

“You just need to entertain him for a night,” Johnny tells him. “He hangs from your arm and look lovely, you mingle with the crowd, you tell terrible jokes and laugh if he does the same. You drink. Not too much. Wouldn’t want you to get drunk.”

“Will he drink?” Mark asks, a little sarcastic. Johnny sends him a warning glare.

“If he wants to. He’s the client. He can do whatever the fuck he wants, don’t you think?”

“I thought your friend Taeyong was the client. Isn’t this his... Brother? Son? Nephew? I don’t know how it works with these people...”

Johnny doesn’t answer immediately. He checks Mark’s bowtie, the cuff links at his sleeves, the perfectly ironed collar. Mark’s wearing three times the deposit of his apartment in tuxedo form. If he fucks this up, he’ll be indebted for the rest of his life.

“Don’t fuck this up,” Johnny says, almost as if reading his mind. “Yes, Taeyong is paying, but you don’t have to please him. You have to please Donghyuck. It’s the only way to make Taeyong happy. And it’s not difficult, from what I’ve heard. Just be yourself, okay? Be normal. The kid is a little mean, from what I’ve heard, but he’s also very lonely.”

He gives a last pull at Mark’s bowtie to make sure it’s perfect and pushes him towards the door, where a car is waiting for him. Mark shuffles out of the door, hearing his own heart squeak in his ribcage when the leather shoes smack loudly against the concrete of the parking lot. The driver comes out to open the door of the car for him and smiles politely as he holds it for Mark. It’s the most professional flash of white fangs Mark has ever seen.

The interior of the car is leather. Of course. Mark knows Lee Taeyong is rich, centuries of hoarding capital and property rich, but it’s the first time he gets to experience it first-hand. After all, Taeyong seems pretty low-key for one of his kind. He does wear super expensive sweatpants and sneakers worth six months of what Mark made when he worked at the CGV next to the train station, but he kind of looked… normal. A friendly vampire. He never looked like he owned a fucking black limo with tinted windows, leather interiors, a driver and... is that champagne inside the minibar? Oh, yes it is… Mark inspects the red bottle next to it. Champagne and blood, a terrible combination.

He shouldn’t have come. He shouldn’t fucking have come.

For a moment, he feels himself choke on the smell of citrus air freshener and wealth. Even the silk of his tux, as soft as it is, feels itchy. He wonders what he’s really doing here, but the engine comes to life before he can think about bolting out and going back to a life of poverty and safety. Maybe, at the end of the event, he’ll be able to keep the tuxedo, sell it for a significant amount of money, but for tonight he just hopes to keep his life.

The car stops abruptly and Mark bounces on the seat with a soft exhale. He looks out, through the tinted glass, immediately finding the red light that stopped them. Just beside it, the white and yellow neon of a club flashes its colors at him, intermittently, slowly, as if a little drunk.

The club is packed, simmering at the corner of the street like a kettle forgotten on the stove for too long, mumbling and grumbling and spilling hot water on the counter. Except it’s not water that leaks through the glass doors of the building, but people – swaying to the music with their eyes closed, holding their drinks and their phones up to save this moment in their memories, for tomorrow they won’t be able to remember. Just people. At some point they’ll just leave on shaky legs to collapse in some dark alley somewhere and vomit all this euphoria down the gutter. At some point, it will be dawn and it will be Monday. Game over.

“It doesn’t seem that fun.”

Donghyuck’s voice is soft, almost drowsy, and when Mark turns he finds Donghyuck too looking at the club through the tinted window, his cute button nose barely touching the cold glass. The glass stays clear, unfogged.

“It is, sometimes,” Mark answers cautiously.

Donghyuck’s eyes widen a little, his eyelashes fluttering while his lips fall open. Curiosity does look lovely on him, but almost everything looks lovely on Donghyuck.

“I’ve always wanted to go, but Taeyong doesn’t let me,” Donghyuck mutters, and Mark can almost taste the pout in his voice, sweet and thick like honey. It makes him want to give Donghyuck everything he’s asking for.

It’s a good thing that Taeyong, and not Mark, is responsible for telling Donghyuck no and making sure he actually listens to what he’s told. Mark would just cave in. It’s easy to fall for Donghyuck, you don’t even realize you did until he leaves and you find yourself sprawled on the ground, your limbs numb and your head pounding, and you have to pick yourself up.
Donghyuck doesn’t realize either. (It’s easier to think he doesn’t care, but it’s just that he doesn’t know.)

“It’s not that funny,” Mark says to comfort him, but it sounds empty even in his own ears so it’s not a surprise when Donghyuck snorts.

“You’re not that funny, but I bet clubs are funny. All those people…”

He doesn’t finish the sentence but Mark knows what he’s thinking. All those people, thrumming with energy, with life.

They can feel the bass pulsating over the sound of the engine, the heartbeat of the club. Donghyuck licks his lips and something zaps through Mark’s spine, a shiver that tastes like anticipation. On his neck, the bruises Donghyuck left earlier are still sore and tender.

“Don’t even think about it,” calls Kun from the driver’s seat, and Donghyuck deflates. The traffic lights turns green and the car speeds up towards the river, leaving the club and its siren call behind. Donghyuck’s head lulls on Mark’s shoulder with a soft noise. He closes his eyes. From above, it looks like he’s sleeping – not the sleep of human, but the sleep of statues and forgotten gods and dead people. He can probably hear Mark’s heart, the way he’s thundering in his chest. The way it misses a beat, sometimes, when Mark stares at him for too long. Stupid heart. Stupid, crazy heart.

The touch is soft, barely there, a light scratch on his nape. Mark mumbles his approval and nuzzles back against the fingers, sniffling a little.

“We’re here.”

The voice is soft, velvety, almost too low for Mark to hear, but then there’s another voice joining in, a bright laughter, a little choked, the fingers at the back of Mark’s head teasing him a little harder.

“Sssh, let him sleep. He must be so tired.”

Well, Mark is tired. His finals are over, he just needs to write the final report for that culture class and… Mark’s eyes shoot open and he scrambles up, and then he bumps against something and it’s not even strong enough to be painful, but he tries to get back and then he hits against the roof of the car. That, is strong enough to be painful.

He whines and opens his eyes to see Lee Donghyuck holding his chin - oh, that’s what he hit the first time, probably - and looking at him with a half-pained, half-amused expression on his pretty face. Mark feels a blush creep on his neck. Not because he almost broke the chin of the rich kid he’s paid to entertain, but because Donghyuck is on the verge of laughing at him. Also, he must have fallen asleep on his way home. Then his eyes zoom on the wet patch on Donghyuck’s shoulder, on his fucking brand t-shirt, maybe one couple hundred thousand won worth of fabric, now stained by Mark’s drool. He drooled on Donghyuck’s shirt and Donghyuck is cute and rich and out of Mark’s reach and everything is painful and…

“You’re hyperventilating, Mark.”

“ImsorryIfellasleep.”

“What?”

“I’m sorry I fell asleep,” Mark repeats, slower.

“No biggie,” Donghyuck replies. “It was kinda cute. You snored.”

Drooling and snoring. Mark wants to bury himself. Right now. Maybe he can ask Kun to run over him with the limo, multiple times, just to make sure he can’t come back even after being Turned. Then Donghyuck smiles again and Mark forgets about everything.

“I’m sorry to interrupt this idyll, but it’s time to go home, Hyuck.”

They both turn to look at Kun, who’s probably staring at them through the rearview mirror. Well, he can see them, but they can’t see him, since the mirror doesn’t reflect him. It might be a blessing, because Mark definitely doesn’t need to know what kind of face Kun is making as he witnesses Mark's ultimate demise. This wouldn’t be the first time Kun sees Mark embarrass himself in front of Donghyuck. And it probably won’t be the last, if Donghyuck’s bright excitement is anything to go by.

“You’re forgetting this,” Donghyuck says, as Mark turns to find the handle of the car door. He hands Mark one of his textbooks, and Mark prays with everything he has that Donghyuck didn’t open it because, if he remembers correctly, he doodled his pretty face all over the last two chapters.

“Thank you,” he just answers, eager to go back to his own room and bash his head against the wall. It’s not like Mark is not charming. He can be super charming and sexy and in control, he’s a freaking escort, his job is to seduce people! Donghyuck just… makes him nervous. He’s too direct and unabashed and unfiltered, in all his facets, whether he’s being shy or blunt or witty or soft, he’s always intense.

Even now, as Mark turns, again, to leave, and Donghyuck’s fingers grace his wrist to hold him back. Their eyes meet, Donghyuck’s shining with naughtiness.

“Don’t I get a goodnight kiss, at least?”

He could probably fool Mark, and he almost does, but it’s a bluff. His chest and ears are burning. Mark’s everything is burning. They’re both embarrassed, but Donghyuck is brave, so brave. He makes Mark want to be brave too.

He cradles Donghyuck’s hand, the one holding his other wrist, in his cold, nervous fingers, and raise it to his mouth, kissing the knuckles delicately and staring up at Donghyuck through his lashes in a way he knows makes all the girl in his classes swoon.

Donghyuck doesn’t swoon. He opens his mouth in a mute sound of wonder, looking impossibly pretty and impossibly smitten. Mark leaves the car with a quick goodnight, runs inside the building and lets himself collapse against the mirror in the elevator, his own heartbeat booming in his ears, the feeling of Donghyuck’s silky skin clinging to his lips.

Donghyuck’s mouth is too tiny for his fangs, but mostly for his words. He talks too much, and of things he shouldn’t talk about.

“Is this what everyone is excited about?” he asks, smacking his lips together. They’re all shiny and wet and soft, too soft for a vampire, and a little darker from the way he kissed Mark. (Hungrily, hastily, in Mark’s mind also lovely.) “I don’t get it.”

“It’s because you’re not doing this right,” Mark says, with a frown. He captures Donghyuck’s wrist in his hand, pulling him closer, cups Donghyuck’s face in his palms – hot feverish against ice cold – pressing down on Donghyuck’s jaw with his thumbs in a weak attempt to transfer some of his body warmth to him. Donghyuck purses his lips, waiting. He pretends to be bored but his eyes are shining and his mouth is barely hanging open, and it’s heart shaped, and every single molecule in Mark is screaming at him to get the fuck away from this kid, to save himself.

(And Mark thinks he’s brave but in reality he’s just reckless and a little stupid, like most boys his age are, like most boys in love are, so he leans down, his breath soft against Donghyuck’s parted lips.)

“It’s not about the act itself,” he says. “It’s about the closeness.”

“I thought the act itself was pleasurable,” Donghyuck murmurs, pursing his lips. (They touch Mark’s as they move.) His brow is furrowed and he’s staring focusedly at Mark’s mouth like it’s hiding all the secrets in the universe. Mark smiles and Donghyuck follows the way his lips stretch at the edges with hungry eyes.

“The act itself?” Mark asks, his voice low, and every word is close enough to Donghyuck’s lips to almost be a kiss. “Nothing exists by itself, not even a kiss.”

He leans back to put some distance between them, traces the shape of Donghyuck’s lips with his finger.

Me, you, here, now, everything that happened between us before this kiss and everything that will happen after it. A kiss is also made of all of that. Mark thinks about it, but he doesn’t say anything. He waits. Donghyuck scrunches his nose, narrows his eyes.

“I feel like this should be easier,” he says.

“You are making it complicated,” retorts Mark. Donghyuck scoffs and pulls away from Mark’s hands, turning his face towards the window, where the lights of the city have taken over the duty of the stars. He pouts.

“I’m bored, let’s do something else,” he whines, and Mark cannot tell whether he’s really just bored or if he’s feeling flustered instead. No, flustered is not the right word. Aggravated. Frustrated. Lost. Donghyuck doesn’t like not knowing things. He doesn’t like to be clueless. And maybe he’s really just feeling bored, maybe he lost interest in kissing anyway, despite all the whining he did to convince Mark to let him practice, Mark doesn’t know. What he knows is that Donghyuck might not remember how to kiss, but he still understands enough to realize he is supposed to. And he doesn’t. And he hates it, he hates it so much. It’s pitiful to see, and a little painful, like seeing a little bird drown and knowing you’re not supposed to help it. (And doing it anyway).

“It’s not the act that makes it pleasurable,” Mark explains, slowly, coming closer again, so that Donghyuck can feel every syllable against his lips. “It’s the fact that you’re kissing someone you like.”

Donghyuck’s face freezes as his mind tries to process this new information, but Mark doesn’t leave him enough time to do that because he kisses him, soft and firm. He does it for himself first, and then for Donghyuck and for all the things he has lost, and he revels in the way Donghyuck’s eyes widen in surprise at the first kiss and flutter close at the second.

“Slow,” Mark murmurs against Donghyuck’s lips, cupping his face to tilt it up, feeling Donghyuck melt under him. The mind might not remember, but the body sure does. “Good, like this.”

It’s not the right kiss to explain Donghyuck what a kiss means. It’s focused and delicate and quietly intimate. It’s Mark kissing Donghyuck like they’re lovers, like they’ve been lovers for a long time. Donghyuck’s lips part easily for him, but Mark is not daring enough to go for that, so he just tugs at Donghyuck’s bottom lip for a moment before licking it slowly one last time.

When he lets go, Donghyuck chases him to kiss him again. Like a predator, like a tiny fluffy raptor with cold skin and glass eyes and a heart-shaped smile, Donghyuck learns fast and takes and takes and Mark lets him take – Mark would give everything to him anyway, but Donghyuck has always wanted to take. He takes a kiss, and then another, and then another, and it’s slow like Mark told him, and he’s focused and intense the way Mark kissed him first. Donghyuck kisses Mark’s throat, down to shoulder, and Mark can feel the tip of his pointy little teeth pressing there, asking for permission this time. (He says yes, of course he does. It’s his job. Pleasing Donghyuck. Making him happy. Mark is so good at it, Mark is the best. It hurts.)

Donghyuck tries to steal another kiss after that, but Mark stops him before he can taste his own blood.

“How was it?” he asks. “Did you like it this time?”

And Donghyuck, no, Haechan, exhales, his eyes glazed, his lips red and shiny with blood. He wipes it on the back of his wrist, against the immaculate sleeve of his shirt, and looks up at Mark.

“Can we do it again?”

“Taeyong got super angry at me,” Donghyuck says, lips pursed in displeasure, letting the door close at his back. He storms inside Mark’s one-room apartment without even knocking, like he owns the place. (He might as well own the place, since that time he guessed Mark’s secret number in less than three attempts and started showing up unannounced and just letting himself in whenever he wants.) The left side of his face is still a little swollen, the bruise he got three days ago on the bumper cars with Mark now an ugly shade of yellow. “He should’ve gotten angry at you, you’re the one who suggested going to the amusement park in the first place.”

“Did you tell him that?” Mark replies, not even bothering to raise his eyes from the Chemistry book. “Don’t answer, I know you did, you traitor.”

“I did,” Donghyuck admits, sheepishly, only to frown immediately after. “But he didn’t believe me! He says you’re a good boy and I’m the naughty one! He said I probably convinced you because you’re too nice to say no to me.”

That is true, but Mark would never admit it, not even under torture. Donghyuck is already too smug as he is, Mark can’t give him this kind of power.

“But he let you come here, didn’t he?” he says with a smirk. Taeyong might not trust Donghyuck, but he trusts Mark. He trusts him to be a good influence on Donghyuck, to make him happy, and Mark is really good at making Donghyuck happy (especially when it involves taking him to the amusement park for the first time in his life).

Donghyuck snorts, sitting down cross-legged next to Mark and leaning his head on the crook of his neck. His breath is humid against Mark’s neck when he talks. It should be gross, but it isn’t. “He let me come, sure, but Kun came with me.”

Mark can’t help but to steal a look outside the window, to the dark, sleek car parked in the middle of the road in front of his house. If it was anyone else, he’d be worried for such an expensive car in such a rowdy neighborhood, but Donghyuck’s driver is a vampire after all, and none of the wannabe thugs pretending to be cool shots and smoking in the back alley behind Mark’s condo could ever steal something from him.

Donghyuck flops on the messy bed, next to the dirty shirt Mark used to play basketball at the sport event last week, and for a moment something akin to panic flashes in Mark’s gut. Donghyuck is, well, Donghyuck… He’s the human baby heir of one of the wealthiest vampire covens in the country. His body must have never touched anything other than pure silk or linen or some other super expensive fabric since the day he was born, and now he’s sprawled on Mark’s flimsy duvet, his cheek sinking in Mark’s sweaty shirt. It seems almost like a crime, and Mark wants to hide the mess in his room from Donghyuck and then hide himself too. The only thing he does is to raise an eyebrow, shake his head and go back to Chemistry. Donghyuck sighs loudly.

“Aren’t you worried about Kun? He’s gonna be super annoying... He’ll sit next behind us in the cinema and cockblock me every time I try to flirt with you. I’m sad.”

There’s the thing about Donghyuck. He’s brutally honest, unfiltered. And brave. Mark cannot even imagine being this brave. But Donghyuck ism and Mark doesn’t want to be outdone by this brat, so he bluffs, he shrugs and closes his book and he turns to Donghyuck again, the ghost of a smile flirting on his lips.

“I really don’t mind if Kun is a pervy voyeur. Please feel free to flirt with me to your heart’s content.”

Donghyuck’s eyes light up at that, his lips parting in a smile as he bumps his head against Mark’s in excitement. They both groan, but Donghyuck is beaming and Mark... This was supposed to be a job, but Donghyuck is cute and soft and clearly too smitten with Mark for Mark not to fall back. They’re both idiots and he’ll have to tell Johnny he doesn’t need Taeyong’s money anymore, that he just wants his permission to... he doesn’t know, date Hyuck? Maybe, maybe. For now, he just links his fingers with Donghyuck’s and leads him towards the door, catching his jacket on his way out.

“You choose the movie.”

Taeyong’s beauty is terrible when he’s angry. It’s always impossible to forget he’s a vampire – he’s too ethereal, too fucking unreal for that – but most of the times he just looks like a pretty porcelain boy wearing an expensive hoodie. Today, though, today Mark takes a look at his face and takes a step backwards, bumping against the wall. Maybe he lets out some kind of squeak. Taeyong looks like a demon coming for his soul.

“You know how this works,” Taeyong says, his voice like a hiss. “You know what you need to do.”

You know what you don’t need to do. What you can’t do.

Things Mark can’t do. Donghyuck is the first on the list. And maybe the pang of sadness sprouting in his chest blossoms in his face too and maybe Taeyong catches it because his face softens, anger tempered by regret.

“He wanted to go out,” he says, only. “You can’t keep him home all the time. You can’t protect him forever.”

Taeyong’s eyes narrow. Try me, they seems to say.

And Mark used to be so afraid of Taeyong, it seemed to him like the man had everything under control in his life, like being some immortal timeless vampire made him omnipotent as well. But where is his control now? Where is his power? Donghyuck is slipping through his fingers, and Mark’s as well. There’s no victory when it comes to them now. They have both already lost, a long time ago. (They have lost Donghyuck, and he’s not coming back. Just keeps falling and falling.)

Taeyong leaves, without saying goodbye. He doesn’t make Mark leave, so Mark doesn’t. He walks down the white corridor, among contemporary art paintings and sleek windows chosen by an overpaid architect, stopping in front of a white door. He doesn’t know for how long he hesitates, his fingers barely touching the handle, his brow furrowed and his mouth dry.

“You can enter, you know. I can hear you breathe outside.”

The voice sounds dull, almost unrecognizable, different from both the vibrant, colorful Donghyuck of Mark’s past and the little, lovely predator of his present. It’s like an omen for the future, a future Mark doesn’t want to see.

He lets himself in, and it’s his first time entering Donghyuck’s new room – he wonders what happened to the old one, but knowing Taeyong he probably dismantled it, just like he did with everything that could remind Donghyuck of before.

The new room is bare in a way that’s almost painful. It’s not just empty, it’s freezing. Despite the cold spell outside, the heater must have not been turned on in weeks. It doesn’t make a difference for vampires, they probably don’t even realize, but Mark has to suppress a shiver as he closes the door.

Donghyuck is perched on a little stool in front of the window. He’s watching the moon, his chin resting in the heart of his hands. He looks soft from here, but it’s a softness sculpted in the stone. He doesn’t move when Mark enters, doesn’t breathe. He doesn’t need to breathe anymore.

“Hey,” Mark says, as he sits on the pristine bed. Silk. As if Donghyuck’s vampire body can feel it. He could sleep on the floor and he still wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. Mark lets his fingers linger on the softness, the smoothness. He remembers Donghyuck, spread on Mark’s cheap Daiso sheets, all crumpled from the way he held on them a little too strong, chest heaving and cheeks stained scarlet.

“There’s something wrong with me,” Donghyuck says, slowly. It’s not a question. Somehow, it makes Mark feels hopeful, that Donghyuck can be lucid enough to realize this. Somehow, it makes Mark frightened. “Taeyong is angry,” Donghyuck adds, after a beat.

“I’m sorry,” Mark says.

“Why would you be? It’s not your fault.”

It is, but as long as Donghyuck doesn’t realize it, Mark can stay. Just a little more.

“I’m still sorry. I want you to be okay,” he says, taking a step closer, hoping for Haechan to turn towards him and to be Donghyuck again. But, of course, when the boy turns, it’s not a boy anymore. It’s a vampire, and his eyes are glassy and unfocused, his nostrils flaring as he inhales Mark’s scent, the scent of his blood.

“I think I’m okay,” Donghyuck, Haechan – Mark doesn’t know who’s who anymore – says. “Can you come here?”

Mark lowers the collar of his shirt for him and closes his eyes.

Mark first kisses Donghyuck at the park, inside one of those giant plastic cubes where little kids hide to tell each other their little secrets. He and Donghyuck are hiding, too, and making a terrible job of it.

“If you don’t stop sneezing Kun will find us,” hisses Donghyuck, and Mark wants to tell him that Kun probably already knows where they are, (Kun has probably heard Donghyuck’s love confession all the way from the car, and has rolled both his eyes and the car window up to give them a little more privacy – not completely though, he needs to keep an eye on Donghyuck all the time, that’s his job). He just sneezes again instead, the sound lost in the pitter patter of the rain against the plastic cube.

It’s too small for them, so cramped, and when Mark tries to extend his legs he almost knees Donghyuck, and Donghyuck yelps, and his shirt is drenched and sticking to his stomach, his shoulders, his chest. Mark can see his nipples through the thin fabric and he can see the blush on Donghyuck’s face when Donghyuck catches him looking.

“Stop staring, you-”

Mark pulls Donghyuck on his lap before he can finish. Donghyuck lets himself be pulled. To be quite honest, Mark wants this. He’s wanted this since the beginning, that itchy tuxedo, the way it chafed against Donghyuck’s as they walked side to side.

(“So, you’re the guy Yongie is paying to entertain me?”

A flash of dark, bright eyes. The curve of his mouth. A strand of hair sticking messily against his neck, from where he had probably pulled on it. He must have been nervous.

“More or less,” says Mark, and it doesn’t take too long for him to realize how tiny Donghyuck can be behind that bravado, how big his flame can burn when you know how to kindle it.)

Right now, Donghyuck is burning in his thin cotton shirt, letting out a moan when Mark pulls him close, biting his lip as he looks down at Mark.

“Sssh, Kun will hear you,” Mark whispers, the shadow of a smile on his lips.

Donghyuck’s face lights up, like it always does when he’s thought of something particularly cheeky or naughty or outrageous to say and he can’t wait to share with the class, and Mark waits for him to elaborate, looks at him like he’s the only thing in the world.

What he doesn’t expect is Donghyuck leaning over, grinding down against Mark’s thigh in a way that makes Mark shiver and arc up into him, smiling like a sly cat, all teeth and cheeks and triumph.

“Make me,” he whispers, eyes shining, and Mark doesn’t care if he’s the only living heir of a powerful vampire and if his bodyguard is parked at less than twenty meters from them, he doesn’t care if this was supposed to be a job. Taeyong has stopped paying him to hang out with his little great-grandnephew weeks ago, Donghyuck’s toothbrush keeps Mark’s company in a glass by the sink in Mark’s one-room apartment and Mark is sure Donghyuck is wearing his socks now, the cute ones his high school friends gave him for his birthday and he never used, the print of a cute yellow chick with a pink ribbon now gracing Donghyuck’s ankles.

Donghyuck is beautiful and wet and waiting for Mark to do something, so Mark pulls him down, one hand on the small of his back, one hand curled around his jaw, their wet shirts bunched up between them. Donghyuck’s mouth is already parted for him when they meet halfway.

Mark licks into his mouth and sucks on his tongue, maybe too aggressive for a first kiss, but he’s wanted this, he’s wanted this for so long. He only slows down when he feels the way Donghyuck’s mouth struggles to keep up, his body going tense on top of Mark’s, hands clenching nervously on his shoulders to steady himself up. Right, first kiss, first kiss.

Mark wiggles to find a more comfortable position, then he takes his sweet time to suck Donghyuck’s lips between his own and run a reassuring hand on his back, pulling him closer, letting him taste friction at the back of his head, just a little, not too much, before he delves into him again. Donghyuck smells like rain and like rich boy and like the watermelon ice cream he bought for Mark at the convenience store, biting more than half of it in a go with the excuse that he paid for it anyway. They kiss until the rain stops and a rainbow appear on top of the Health Center at the end of the street.

Donghyuck is rough today, sloppy. He bites a little too deep, ignores Mark’s deep whine of discomfort and rumbles quietly when Mark pushes him away. For a moment, Mark is afraid that he will try to bite him again. Then, he’s afraid of this thought. He’s afraid this will cost him Donghyuck, this fear, this irrational fear.

Taeyong had said it. There’s no way to know how his mind will react. Becoming a vampire requires a long, complicated procedure, months of preparation. Becoming a vampire requires willingness. Consent. Donghyuck did not consent to this, Donghyuck would’ve never consented to this. He told Mark, as they lied in bed, legs intertwined, fingers intertwined, breaths intertwined. He told Mark he would’ve rather died, than letting himself become a vampire.

“It’s not that I hate Yongie’s kind,” he had whispered, voice rough and used in the worst way, in the way that made Mark want to kiss him all over. “It’s just… too much. It messes with your mind, with your heart… I want to belong only to myself, I don’t want to be lost.”

This Donghyuck, Mark can see it clearly, this Donghyuck is lost. Haechan is everything Donghyuck would’ve never wanted to become, his mere existence hanging from a thin thread that Mark wants to cut so many times.

He takes a step closer, wonders if it’s worth it, if he should just tell him everything, undress Donghyuck of this Haechan mask Taeyong, Kun, even Mark, have created just for him, and see if there’s anything left underneath, anything worth saving. It wouldn’t take much, in the end. Maybe just his name.

Donghyuck had been turned on the verge of death, right before his last breath, too young to die, too young to survive. His brain, his beautiful, bright brain, his quick thoughts, almost quicker than his mean tongue, the colors in his mind, the music, the beauty, everything, had collapsed, crumpling up on itself with a crackling of fire in winter and dead, shriveled leaves on the ground.

“His mind refuses the Turning,” had said Taeyong, as they waited. It was a sunny day, but all Mark can remember was darkness – Taeyong’s house was always dark, everywhere except Donghyuck’s rooms, and those were dark too that day. “If he lives, he won’t probably even remember his name.”

How much can you lose before you can officially be considered lost? Mark has wondered so many times, since that day. He wasn’t ready to let Donghyuck go, none of them were, but they weren't ready for the emptiness either, for this hollow shell of a boy who wanted only blood and blood and more blood and didn’t remember his name, didn’t remember the color of the sky at dawn.

Mark takes a step forward, wonders about the possibilities, dreams of a world in which Donghyuck’s mind is not so fickle, not so volatile, a world in which Donghyuck can be a vampire and be Donghyuck at the same time, no matter how impossible it sounds, like the sun shining at midnight.

But Mark has no right. He’s not Donghyuck’s caretaker, Taeyong is. And Taeyong would never forgive him.

“You have to behave,” he says, trying to keep his voice steady and strong. “If you don’t behave, I will have to leave.”

“I don’t want you to leave,” murmurs Donghyuck, his lips still red from Mark’s blood. “I like you.”

I don’t like you, Mark wants to say out loud. I don’t like you at all.

But he likes Donghyuck too much to back out now.

They do it against the door once, Mark covering Donghyuck’s mouth because the walls are thin and the entire floor might hear him wail. There’s no way to cover for the way the bed hits the wall every time he thrusts into Donghyuck, no way to keep Donghyuck from panting like he’s about to die. He’s just naturally loud, naturally warm and tight and responsive and Mark wants to keep him in his bed forever, on his cheap discount sheets, his chest bursting with the need to scream.

Light trickles through the window, sweat pools on Donghyuck’s collarbones and shines at his hairline, makes his skin stick to Mark when they press closer. Donghyuck laughs when they have sex, and when Mark asks him why he just says that he’s happy.

“I’ve dreamed about this,” he says, “having someone to love, someone who holds me.”

It’s such a silly, mundane dream. Donghyuck has a private jet somewhere, diamonds on his neck, still not as bright as he is. There’s probably a list of greasy social climbers ready to fuck their way into the fortune of the only living heir of the Lees, and Mark is sure most of them are nicer, better at fucking and probably more handsome than him. People with Harvard and Princeton and CEO for that big tech company in their resumè. Mark’s resumè experience is, in the order, baby sitter, convenience store cashier and helper at the local cinema. Oh, and high level escort who never put out in his six months of career before he met Donghyuck and decided that it was time to fall in love.

Donghyuck doesn’t seem to mind though. He likes it here, in Mark’s small rooftop room, too hot during summer and too cold during winter. He drags himself on the floor and spreads his legs and makes Mark’s blood pressure explode as he pinches his nipples and beckon Mark to come over, take all his firsts, one after another until there’s nothing left to take from him, only the choice to keep on giving.

“Why did you like me?” Mark asks, as they curl into each other in the small bed.

Donghyuck laughs. “You weren’t really convincing as an escort, I don’t know what your previous clients saw in you. You kept picking at a loose thread on the cuff.”

“You fell in love with me because I looked awkward in a tux?”

Donghyuck turns so that he’s facing Mark and steals a hug from him. Mark lets him, even if he’s too hot and they’re both sweaty and sticky. Sometimes, you just can’t say no to Donghyuck, especially as he licks a stripe up your throat and smiles against your jaw.

“You were nice, though your jokes were so lame. And you poured me Fanta in a crystal flute.”

“You looked way too young to drink,” Mark says, stern, feeling his voice tremble under the pressure of another kiss.

“I’m only one year younger than you.”

“Well, I didn’t know, you looked younger.”

Mark has no strength to bicker, so he pokes Donghyuck in the ribs.

“You didn’t answer my question, you know. What made you fall in love?”

“Oh my god, I’m getting there, try to be patient for once…” Donghyuck clicks his tongue. “I think it was the third, maybe the fourth date… I don’t remember… It’s when we went to that light show at the art gallery…”

“Ah,” exclaims Mark. Yeah, he does remember. Donghyuck’s shorts were not short, but really tight and really thin. They shared ice cream and talked about the geography of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the pilot episode of a new survival show and their favorite early evening family drama. Donghyuck had called Mark lame at some point, and Mark had realized that Donghyuck was very bored and very lonely most of the time, enough not to feel any shame in the fact that his very rich sugar cousin had to pay lame strangers to hang out with him.

It had been nice, but nothing to write home about. There’s nothing that Mark remembers in that date that could’ve made Donghyuck fall in love with him.

“You fell asleep during the limo ride home,” Donghyuck says, his voice lost. He must be a little sleepy, or maybe Mark is the sleepy one, the world spinning a little around him. “I checked your bag for the address, because I didn’t remember – it was dumb because I’m sure Kun remembered so I could’ve just asked him but…” Maybe they wouldn’t have ended up together, like this, if Donghyuck had asked. “But I forgot and I opened the bag and saw all your books, and there was a doodle of me in the book, and…”

“Wait, what?”

Mark flushes scarlet and tries to unpeel Donghyuck from himself, but the boy clams up on him, not letting him go, clinging onto Mark like a warm, spoiled, little koala.

“You liked me even before I liked you, didn’t you?” Donghyuck asks, and he’s too smug about this. Mark will never tell him he fell for him since their first meeting.

Mark wakes up to the soft jingle of the door. It’s the middle of the night and his mind can only process that something is wrong, horribly wrong, before he’s up on his feet, his legs still tangled in the blanket, the phone brandished in his arms like a weapon.

Then he hears the cry, a small cry, like a wounded animal, and the door closing. He hears the way it locks itself automatically with another jingle.

“Hyuck?”

The name slips from his lips before he can realize what he’s saying and he curses himself. It’s Haechan, not Donghyuck, Haechan. Haechan who doesn’t know he’s Donghyuck, Haechan who doesn’t cry and doesn’t know the password to Mark’s room. Donghyuck, Donghyuck, it’s Donghyuck, and Mark drops his phone and stumbles towards the light switch.

Donghyuck is sitting on the floor, hiding his face between his knees, breathing harshly. He doesn’t even need to breathe, but the body remembers fear, the body remembers how to process fear, and panic, and anguish.

Mark hugs him before he can stop himself and he feels Donghyuck make himself small in his arms, like a little bird finding solace from a storm. Trembling, shaking, almost crying.

“How did you get here?” Mark asks, his voice low, arms tightening around Donghyuck.

“Who’s Hyuck?”

His voice is so tiny, so shrill. He knows, he already knows. He must know. Mark has to do something, now, before things get ruined beyond control.

“I need to call Taeyong, he’s probably worried to death and…”

Donghyuck pulls on his arm, and his hold is deadly strong even though he looks so tiny.

“Mark…” he says, and his eyes are dry because vampires don’t cry, but he still looks like he’s crying, he looks like he looked the night he died. Mark wants to play rewind somewhere, go back to that night, do something, anything, to keep Donghyuck in his arms, safe from harm.

“Mark,” Donghyuck repeats, and his voice shakes with panic, “we knew each other, didn’t we? We knew each other from before?”

It’s not the first time Haechan asks Mark this question. It’s not the second, or the third. Mark only answered this question once, and Donghyuck almost died, again. His mind was still too weak to process the truth, his will too horrified by the thought of being a vampire, his entire being rejected reality. Mark promised Taeyong it would never happen again and it never happened again, but… But…

“Haechan, you need to go home now… You know how it works, you shouldn’t be here. At all. Taeyong will be…”

“Don’t lie to me! I don’t want you to treat me like a child, I’m not a child!”

He is, in some ways, and Mark knows what he should do. Tell him the truth, let him face it. If he’s not strong enough, let him go. Let him rest. Donghyuck would have never wanted this.

Mark kneels down, next to him. He kisses his wrist, his brow, lets his heartbeat be this lost boy’s compass. Donghyuck’s skin is cold, his lips are pale. His eyes are bright, for once, but his nostrils are flaring due to Mark’s proximity, to the smell of his blood. Soon enough, the thirst will take him away, again, and another piece of him will be gone, and another piece of Mark, as well. Already Mark can feel the growth of Donghyuck’s fangs under his pouty lips, his eyes fogging, an addicted finally getting his dose of oblivion.

“You will have forgotten about this tomorrow,” Mark says, “or maybe in five minutes, or in ten, or maybe you will remember, no one knows how it works, but I really, really love you Donghyuck.”

Donghyuck – he’s Haechan again – doesn’t ask him who Donghyuck is, he probably doesn’t even hear him. It hurts, when he bites down, but what hurts the most is knowing that Mark is going to stay anyway, until everything is gone, until Donghyuck will stop asking, until Donghyuck will forget about him, for good or for bad. Forever. Stupid heart. Stupid, crazy heart.

They ditch the party to chill in one of the balconies. Donghyuck asks Mark if he smokes and Mark makes this panickey little sound, like he doesn’t know if he’s supposed to say yes and look cool or not and look responsible, like it was a trick question at all. Donghyuck laughs, he has a nice laugh.

“You’re the lamest escort I’ve ever met!”

“And how many escorts have you met?” Mark asks, in a surge of courage. He wasn’t anticipating the way Donghyuck squirms and looks a little like he’s just been caught red-handed.

“Okay, not many. Maybe only one,” he says, a little sheepish.

Mark splutters, eyes widening.

“Really?”

Donghyuck shrugs in his expensive clothes. It looks nonchalant and shy at the same time. The light of the pool makes him look ethereal, a fae boy holding a champagne glass full of Fanta.

“I’m not really into greasy men trying to flirt with me. You’re only here because Johnny is trying to help you pay your student loans.”

Oh. Mark looks down, wishing hell on his cousin. Johnny even threatened him not to fuck this up, when in reality everyone involved knew the charity case was him, not the kid without a date for the party.

“It doesn’t really matter,” Donghyuck says, hastily, probably reading Mark’s discomfort. “I’m glad you’re here! I’m having fun! You poured me Fanta!”

He looks so eager to please, so cute. He’s a rich boy affiliated with vampires and his entire existence screams danger, danger, danger, but he’s cute. In another life, another universe, Mark would try to seduce him. In this universe, he does so without even trying.

“Well,” Mark says, with a shrug. “I’m glad you’re at least having fun, you know?”

“Mmh, maybe I am. Maybe I’ll call you again, who knows…”

Mark scoffs.

“Please, you’ll have forgotten about me in three days.”

Donghyuck’s smile opens, and it’s like a veil has been lifted. He looks mischievous and happy and fucking cute. Not cute, scratch that, beautiful.

“Oh, Mark Lee, I don’t think I’d be able to forget you that easily.”

Mark’s single mistake is to believe him.