“So let me get this straight,” says Jeonghan, “You tried to steal a gumiho’s bead, he caught you, you nearly died, he took pity on you and lent you his bead, and with the help of the bead you figured out that Seungcheol’s been poisoned by a rare plant.”
Jeonghan sighs a long-suffering sigh. It’s a testament to how accustomed he’s become to Mingyu’s hare-brained schemes that he merely reaches for the pot of coffee Seungkwan is drinking out of and downs the entire thing.
The entire pack is congregated in the kitchen. Mingyu was dreading wrangling all ten of his packmates into a quick meeting, but found that he didn’t have to - for the nocturnals, it’s supper and for the diurnals it’s breakfast time. It’s probably the only time of the day when all of them are in the same place at once. Mingyu loves being in a large pack, but damned if sitting everyone down for a house meeting doesn’t require at least two days of logistical planning. On top of everyone’s conflicting sleep schedules, there’s also the issue of the members coming and going for various reasons, for varying durations - some of them have jobs, but even those who don’t can disappear up to days at a time, flitting about doing their respective supernatural things. The angels, Jihoon and Jeonghan, periodically have to report to their headquarters; Joshua and Vernon, vampire and half-vampire respectively, have to hunt; the witches, Chan and Seungkwan, go on long hiking trips to gather ingredients for spells, with Seokmin usually tagging along; and the wolves, Mingyu, Seungcheol and Vernon (the other half of his lineage being werewolf), leave on full moons. Mingyu doesn’t know exactly what Jun gets up to on his days off, but he knows that the Qilin occasionally volunteers in supernatural arbitration matters. Minghao, a phoenix, often goes flying to relax after a stressful day at work, and occasionally lets Soonyoung, a dokkaebi, ride on his shoulders.
Essentially, it’s nothing short of a miracle that Mingyu’s entire pack is in the same room at the same time.
“It’s way too early in the morning for this,” says Seungkwan, conjuring another pot of coffee with a snap of his fingers.
“Ditto,” says Joshua, yawning into a warm cup of blood. “I can’t wait to go to bed.”
“I’m not saying that your plan wasn’t a stroke of genius, but-” starts Soonyoung.
“It really wasn’t,” interrupts Minghao.
“ -but , that was really dangerous and I wish you’d let us know - we would’ve gone as back-up.”
“Let’s just focus on what Mingyu found out about Seungcheol’s condition,” says Vernon over the chatter, and everyone turns to look at Mingyu.
A little abashed at everyone’s eyes on him, Mingyu stutters. “Uh-”
“So what’s next?” prompts Joshua.
“Um. I don’t know?”
“You have the gumiho’s bead,” Jeonghan says slowly, like explaining a complex solution to a child. “You must know the antidote.”
“Oh!” Mingyu gasps in realization, then wracks his brain. After a minute of silence, he slumps, confused. “I don’t have anything.”
“What do you mean you don’t have anything? Aren’t you supposed to know everything?” asks Seokmin.
“I - yeah, that’s weird. Maybe I’m not thinking hard enough?” Mingyu wonders, then screws up his face in concentration.
“Don’t hurt yourself,” Jihoon says dryly. Minghao hoots, holding out a high five, which Jihoon lazily returns with a smack of his wing.
“Maybe you’re not using the bead right,” suggests Seungkwan a little snottily.
“Oh yeah? You wanna have a go, then?” Mingyu goads him, puckering his lips exaggeratedly and caging Seungkwan against the back of his chair.
“Ew!” exclaims Seungkwan, ducking under Mingyu’s arm, “I don’t want dog drool all over me first thing in the morning.”
“I’ll show you dog drool,” threatens Mingyu, with his tongue out.
“Kids,” sighs Jeonghan, “sit down and shut up. Here’s what’s going to happen. Mingyu, tell Seungkwan and Chan what poisonous plant it is that you identified. They’ll lead us in our research in the library. Joshua and Vernon, you two have the sharpest sense of smell so try to sniff out how this plant got into the manor. Go through everything in the kitchen - anything that can be ingested, and work with Seungkwan and Chan to go through their potion inventory. Soonyoung, you know the ins and outs of the manor better than anyone, try to find out if an intruder has been in here without us knowing. Minghao, you have the best vision, so go out into the grounds and check for anything suspicious: odd vegetation, tracks, whatever. Jun, I’m assuming you did your thing already?”
Jun, who has been silent the entire time, nods. The pack breathes a collective sigh of relief. Something in Mingyu loosens, relaxes, even though he didn’t actually think that any of them had deliberately poisoned Seungcheol. As a Qilin, Jun has the power to tell a person’s innocence or guilt. It’s helpful when it comes to his job - Jun is a detective at the local constabulary. It’s also helpful when trying to find out who ducked their weekly chores around the manor.
“Good,” says Jeonghan, relaxing a little. “Though that doesn’t rule out someone poisoning Seungcheol by mistake,” he stands, shaking out his wings. “Jihoon and I are going to headquarters today, we’ll try asking around, see if anyone knows anything about this rare poison. While I’m away, Jun is in charge, it’s his forte, after all.”
Everyone murmurs in agreement with their given role, even Chan, who was dozing over a bowl of cereal throughout the impromptu meeting.
“And you ,” Jeonghan emphasizes, turning to Mingyu, “go back to the gumiho and ask him why the hell his bead isn’t working.”
“What? But-” protested Mingyu.
“Mingyu’s scaaaaared,” teases Seungkwan in an annoying baby voice.
“Yes he is,” chimes in Chan with a shit-eating grin, “The big bad wolf is scared of the gumiho…”
“Okay, okay, I’ll go!” Mingyu growls out reluctantly. “If I end up disemboweled I’ll come back as a poltergeist and haunt you."
“Jeonghan hyung, is there anything in particular that I can do?” Seokmin asks quietly.
Jeonghan bites his lip nervously. He doesn’t meet Seokmin’s eyes when he says, “Keep an… eye out, for Seungcheol. But in the meantime, keep researching in the library.”
An uncomfortable silence falls across the kitchen. Almost as if dreading the answer, Vernon asks, “How are you feeling today, Seokmin?”
“Worse,” he says, visibly guilty, “It takes much more of an effort to keep my voice at normal pitch. Might…” At this, he hesitates. “Might need a gag soon,” he admits reluctantly.
Mingyu feels his heart sink to his feet. As a banshee, Seokmin has perhaps the most depressing ability - the ability to sense when death is near. Wailing is something Seokmin has less and less control over the closer death is to any living creature around him. When Mingyu’s old pet dog had reached its last days, Seokmin’s wailing had been uncontrollable. Every time he opened his mouth to speak, an ear-splitting shriek emerged instead. Seokmin had quickly gagged himself, even though Mingyu insisted that it wasn’t necessary - he didn’t mind the odd shriek or two when Seokmin had forgotten that he couldn’t speak for a few days. But Seokmin insisted, citing that it was the least he could do, considering that he was practically death’s messenger.
Mingyu wishes that Seokmin wouldn’t feel so guilty over his ability. It is… a little morbid - isn’t as flashy as Soonyoung’s ability to teleport, or as noble as Jun’s ability to discern innocence and guilt - but meaningful nonetheless. Because of Seokmin, Mingyu got to say goodbye to his dog before it passed. He spent the last day with his dog cooking its favourite food (steak) and giving it belly rubs. Yes, Mingyu ugly-cried the whole time, but he was glad that he had the chance to do it.
But Seungcheol’s possible passing is, of course, very different from his dog’s. Mingyu knew, when he adopted it from a shelter, that he would outlast the dog. It was a given, considering that even regular humans outlived their pets. On the other hand, before Seungcheol took ill, Mingyu had never even contemplated the idea of Seungcheol dying. Physically, Seungcheol hasn’t aged - cannot age - since the day Mingyu first met him. Sure, he caught the occasional flu during flu season, but werewolves’ immune systems are practically infallible, and he always bounced back within a day or two. Seungcheol had never been less than the stereotypical werewolf as portrayed in human entertainment: healthy and hale, muscle-bound, and strong enough to rip a tree trunk in half with his bare hands. When Mingyu was a pup, weak with malnutrition and barely able to run more than a few feet, he’d wish that he was as strong and big as Seungcheol.
To see Seungcheol now, at death’s door, barely able to keep down even medicine, makes Mingyu distinctly uncomfortable. He hasn’t really been avoiding going into Seungcheol’s room per se, but there were times where he let the other pack members take up Seungcheol’s dinner when he could easily have done it, or when he stayed out in the forest in wolf form just because he didn’t want to go home and be reminded that the first person who ever cared about him was dying. Seungcheol is supposed to be immortal , is supposed to be his pack leader and older brother forever .
Mingyu doesn’t want to be abandoned a second time; he barely survived the first.
Suddenly, Mingyu feels guilty and foolish for being reluctant to go back to the gumiho when Jeonghan asked him to. A new fire of determination lights within his gut: he’s going to squeeze some answers out of the gumiho, whether he likes it or not.
In the end, the courage Mingyu built up to visit the scary gumiho again is all for naught.
Mingyu is scarfing down his lunch (raw steak and a glass of OJ) when Minghao appears in a burst of flame next to him. “Mingyu, you have a guest,” he announces.
Mingyu startles, spilling his glass all over the countertop.
“Hao, you’ve got to stop doing that,” he complains, mopping futilely at his mess with a napkin. “Who is it? Jungkook?”
“No, it’s the gumiho,” Minghao replies casually.
“What! It hasn’t even been three days!”
Minghao looks a little concerned. “You scared of this gumiho or something?”
“Sca- Me? I’m not scared of anything,” Mingyu says confidently.
The doorbell rings. Mingyu pales.
“Can you answer it?”
Minghao gives him a deadpan stare. “You said you weren’t scared.”
“I’m not! Just a little nervous. Look, we’ll answer the door together.”
Minghao rolls his eyes and acquiesces. Mingyu gives him his best “thank you, I love you” smile and surreptitiously keeps Minghao between the door and himself. In all fairness, Minghao can literally disappear into thin air the moment the gumiho decides to kill him, so it’s only fair that Mingyu uses him as a shield while he can.
“Hi, is this Choi Seungcheol’s pack?” Wonwoo says as soon as the door opens. Then he spots Mingyu cowering behind Minghao and raises his eyebrow.
“Yes,” Minghao says neutrally, “How can I help you?”
“I think I can help you ,” Wonwoo says, smiling reassuringly. It’s a very nice smile. Wonwoo’s nose scrunches up, and his eyes squint a little. Mingyu can feel himself trusting him already. Why was he afraid of Wonwoo in the first place? It’s clear that he means no harm. He looks so innocent, so pure, so kind -
Minghao snorts, “I’m a phoenix, your charms won’t work on me.”
Wonwoo sighs, and it’s like all the good vibes he was emanating disappears. Instantly, Mingyu can feel his previous apprehension crawling up his spine. He blinks, confused.
“Worth a try,” Wonwoo says ruefully, “But I meant it. I lent this one,” at this, he jerks his head towards Mingyu, “my bead last night. Seungcheol’s an old friend of mine. I became a little… concerned when I realised that his condition may be worse than I thought.”
At Mingyu’s puzzled look, Wonwoo explains, “I could hear you thinking about poison through the bead.”
“And how can you help us?” Minghao interjects, though not unkindly.
“Gumihos are great at searching for answers, and I kinda figured from Mingyu’s thoughts that you guys were a little desperate. Let’s just say that I owe Seungcheol big time for helping me out in the past. I want to return the favour,” Wonwoo says determinedly, tone serious and sincere.
“You can hear my thoughts?” Mingyu squawks.
Minghao steps on his foot deliberately, a signal he usually uses for "shut up and let me do the talking". He turns to smile at Wonwoo, “Normally I would let you in, but you have to understand that our manor is in lockdown at the moment, considering our pack leader has been poisoned. I’m not saying I don’t believe you, but I’m going to have to check with Seungcheol. What did you say your name was?”
“Wonwoo. And if Seungcheol needs his memory jogged, tell him “Russia 1959”, I think he’ll remember who I am.”
Minghao disappears in a flash of fire, leaving Mingyu alone with Wonwoo in the doorway. An awkward silence ensues.
Wonwoo merely waits placidly, taking the time to glance about their gardens. Mingyu shifts his weight restlessly from side to side, palms sweating.
“So,” Mingyu starts, then stops. He doesn’t know what to say.
Thankfully, Wonwoo strikes up a conversation.
“I can’t hear your thoughts,” he says, in reply to Mingyu’s indignant question earlier. “I only get vague impressions, but they become clearer when you’re using the bead.”
“Ah,” Mingyu says, relieved. “So you know which poison’s been affecting Seungcheol? ‘Cos like, I don’t even know the name of the plant, all I could come up with was “that purple flower”. Which made it kinda difficult for me to describe to Seungkwan. And I don’t know the antidote either, which is weird, ‘cos like, aren’t I supposed to know everything now that I have the bead?”
Wonwoo squints at him suspiciously. “Just how much research did you do before trying to steal my bead?”
“Well,” stalls Mingyu, “A book I was reading mentioned that anyone who possessed a gumiho’s bead would have, quote, ‘the blessed knowledge of all things natural granted by the gods’ end quote.”
A long-suffering sigh escaped Wonwoo. “That’s mythology bullshit; stuff that’s been passed down from the old legends. Gumihos don’t receive knowledge from gods, we just amass them over our lifetime. Though I suppose if one were to live for over a thousand years, our knowledge and wisdom would appear to be god-like.”
Mingyu’s jaw dropped. “You’re over a thousand years old?”
“No, I’m just saying that some gumihos are. Do I seem that old to you?”
“I dunno. How old are you?”
“152, I’m pretty young for a gumiho,” Wonwoo says, shrugging. “Which is probably why you don’t know the name of the plant, or its antidote. Because I don’t, either.”
“I thought gumihos were supposed to know everything."
“I’ve just never come across it. I only saw the poison in action once, which was why you could even identify it in the first place. Hey,” Wonwoo interjects suddenly, tone defensive, “152 years is very little time to learn about everything. Even the millennial gumihos don’t know everything.”
At Mingyu's fallen expression, Wonwoo rolls his eyes. "Chin up, Mingyu. I'm sure we'll be able to find a cure in no time. There's nothing I love more than fact-finding. It's literally my purpose in life."
Then, as suddenly as he disappeared, Minghao reappears, a smirk on his face. “Seungcheol remembers,” is all he says, and tilts his head towards the inside of the manor. “Come on in.”