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take a bite of my heart tonight

Chapter Text

Mingyu knows he’s being way too loud. Even in his wolf form, he’s clumsier than most wolves. It doesn’t help that he prefers to spend most of his time in his human body. But to accomplish the task at hand, he needs the speed, agility and endurance of his wolf, which is why he finds himself on all fours, padding through the forest in the middle of the night, hoping against all hope that gumihos are deep sleepers.

 

Crack.

 

Mingyu winces, glaring at his treacherous front paw. He’s way too close to the gumiho’s den to be making any sudden noises. Thankfully, the sound of deep, even breathing from inside the den remains uninterrupted. He breathes out a sigh of relief, taking extra care in his steps as he finally ducks into the gumiho’s den.

 

The den is actually a cavern - its entrance is cleverly disguised by a curtain of ivy. Mingyu would never have thought to look inside if it weren’t for the time he was play-wrestling with Chan and had stumbled straight through the curtain into a dark and narrow passage. In his curiosity, he had decided to venture further, and was surprised to find that the passage led to a gumiho’s den. It was uninhabited at the time, but the sharp scent of gumiho lingered in the nest, and Mingyu hastily retreated, making sure to clear his tracks in case the gumiho caught wind of him and hunted him down for violating its territory. He didn’t think much about his discovery, put it at the back of his mind and labeled it as an interesting but unimportant detail of the forest.

 

That is, until Seungcheol fell sick.

 

Seungcheol is the most robust of all of them, so at first the pack wasn’t too worried about their leader. Everyone thought that it was just the flu - Soonyoung had gotten sick the week earlier and everyone assumed that he had passed on the bug to Seungcheol. But a week passed, then several weeks, and Seungcheol got worse. The pack worried, brought in a werewolf doctor, who couldn’t tell what it was that got Seungcheol so ill. He prescribed some painkillers and generic drugs, and told them to keep him updated on Seungcheol’s condition.

 

Now Mingyu isn’t one to panic, but watching the strongest wolf he knows deteriorate before his eyes maybe made him a little desperate. He can’t stomach the idea of their pack leader leaving them. Seungcheol is the glue that holds the pack together, the one who leads them through crises, the one who houses and feeds them. Seungcheol took Mingyu in when Mingyu was just a pup who had been abandoned by his previous pack. Seungcheol put him through school and then university. Seungcheol gave him a family and a life. He owes everything to Seungcheol.

 

The idea of stealing a gumiho’s bead struck him after a long night in the manor’s library. He and the rest of the pack were combing through wolf lore and medical reports to find a cure. Mingyu stumbled across a short passage describing the wealth of knowledge stored in a gumiho’s bead - anyone who swallowed it would receive the blessed knowledge of all things natural granted to the gumiho by the gods - and thought, huh, wouldn’t it be cool if I knew a gumiho.

 

And he realised that he did.

 

Well, he knew where to find one anyway.

 

Which explains why he is now miles deep in the forest behind the pack’s estate in the middle of the night, sneaking into a gumiho’s den.

 

He’s alone - Mingyu didn’t tell anyone in the pack where he was going for fear that they would try to stop him. And if his mission goes south, at least no one else would get hurt. Mingyu has no delusions about the relative strength of a gumiho to that of a wolf. He knows that even a pack of wolves during full moon would be hard-pressed to escape a gumiho’s wrath unscathed. When the gods blessed gumihos with knowledge, they armed them to the teeth to guard that knowledge and ensure that it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands.

 

The passage he’s walking through is starting to lighten up - the glow of a candle in the gumiho’s den guides Mingyu’s steps. He cautiously approaches the mouth of the cavern, eyes falling onto the sleeping gumiho in its human form, curled up in its soft nest. Mingyu thanks the gods silently - it is much easier for him to steal a gumiho’s bead when it is in its human form. He draws nearer, transforming back into his human form as well, careful not to make a sound.

 

The gumiho has a thick book laying face-down on its chest, a pair of round glasses perched crookedly on its nose. It must have fallen asleep while reading. Its soft pink mouth is open slightly, head tipped back and slanted eyes closed as it breathes evenly in its sleep. Dark curls fan out around its face, a sharp contrast to the gumiho’s snow-white skin. Mingyu gulps - in the flickering light of the candle by its nest, the gumiho looks ethereal.

 

Not for the first time, Mingyu feels doubt and guilt eat away at his conscience. The gumiho looks so naive and peaceful - and here Mingyu is about to violate it and steal its bead. Mingyu almost turns around and leaves, but the image of the gumiho lying in its nest is superimposed in his mind’s eye by an image of Seungcheol, lying pale and shivering on his own sheets back in the manor. Mingyu steels himself. He refuses to let Seungcheol die. If he has to commit a heinous crime to cure his pack leader, he will do it and face the consequences himself. He has come this far into the gumiho’s den. He has to try.

 

Slowly, Mingyu leans down to hover over the gumiho’s face. He uses his fingertips to lightly nudge the gumiho’s jaw towards him. The gumiho stirs, but doesn’t wake. Heart thudding loudly in his chest, he leans in and his lips brush against the gumiho’s - 

 

Within a second, Mingyu is flipped over onto his back, wrists wrapped in one of the gumiho’s large hands and pinned. The other hand is tight around his neck, grinding the back of his skull into the hard floor of the cavern. The gumiho sits itself on Mingyu’s thighs, and something like thick ropes wrap around them. Mingyu can’t move. He looks up to see the gumiho, very much awake and angry; its previously beautiful face is hardened into a cold expression, eyes glinting behind the glasses. At first, Mingyu thinks that he hit his head a little too hard on the cavern floor because a halo surrounds the gumiho. But he blinks, and realises that the halo is really the nine white tails fanning out behind the gumiho, two of which are pinning his legs to the floor.

 

“Why are you here?” the gumiho hisses.

 

“I-” Mingyu tries to answer, but the hand around his throat is suffocating him. He sputters and coughs, and the hand loosens slightly.

 

“Well?”

 

“I need a gumiho’s bead,” Mingyu replies shamefully.

 

“Hm,” the gumiho hums, the corner of its mouth ticking up into a mean smile. The hand around his neck digs harder, and Mingyu shivers as he feels the pin-prick of the gumiho’s claws. “So you decide to steal mine. Haven’t your pack elders taught you not to steal, pup?”

 

Mingyu whimpers, feeling small rivulets of blood trickling from the pin pricks on his neck. “No matter,” the gumiho says coolly, before Mingyu can ask to spare his life. “I’ll teach you a lesson in stealing, pup, and rest assured it’ll be a permanent one,” the gumiho smiles at that, revealing its razor-sharp canines.

 

“I didn’t want to steal it! I just wanted to borrow it!” Mingyu splutters frantically, “My pack leader’s sick, and we don’t know why. I need the bead to find a cure soon or he’ll die! Please! I’ll promise you anything to borrow your bead for a few days!”

 

At this, the gumiho pauses. It loosens the hand around his neck, so its claws aren’t digging into it anymore. Mingyu holds his breath - is the gumiho going to take pity on him and let him go?

 

Suddenly, the gumiho leans in, and Mingyu squeaks, thinking, this is it, this is how I’m going to die, the gumiho is going to tear my throat out of my neck with its teeth and feast on my liver, bye bye world, I’m sorry Seungcheol - 

 

The cold tip of the gumiho’s nose touches Mingyu’s neck and he shivers, but holds still as it sniffs Mingyu. It pulls back, a look of consideration on its face.

 

“Your pack leader,” the gumiho says slowly, as if trying to remember something, “Is his name Choi Seungcheol, by any chance?”

 

“Yes!” Mingyu blurts out, eyes wide. Did this gumiho know who Seungcheol was? Did Seungcheol know about the gumiho living only a few miles behind their territory? And if so, why didn’t he ask for the gumiho’s help himself?

 

“Huh,” the gumiho says casually, “small world.”

 

Then, like a flip of a switch, the gumiho stands up and walks towards the kettle on its nightstand, as if it wasn’t seconds away from disemboweling Mingyu. “Tea?” the gumiho asks him, setting the kettle on a small gas stove. Mingyu stares as the gumiho’s tails fade from sight, like an illusion.

 

“Uh,” he mumbles from his position on the floor. “What kind?” he asks dazedly.

 

“Oolong.”

 

“Okay, sure.”

 

Mingyu stares at the ceiling of the cavern, unsure if he should get up or not. Is the gumiho playing with him? Mingyu has heard horror stories of gumihos taunting their food before killing them. The tale of Hansel and Gretel, for example - humans think of it as a precautionary tale about stranger danger and not wandering too far into the woods, but every supernatural being knows that the witch in the story is really a gumiho. 

 

“Get up,” the gumiho tells him, nudging his hip with its foot. “And tell me everything about Seungcheol. When did he get sick? What were the symptoms? Has he been taking any medicine?”

 

Mingyu sits up and stares at the gumiho.

 

“Are you still going to kill me?”

 

“No,” the gumiho says, rolling its eyes. “I think I made that pretty clear when I asked if you wanted tea. Usually when someone comes into my den without permission, I kill them and eat their liver instead of make them tea.”

 

At Mingyu’s look of utter fright, the gumiho snorts. “Chill, I was joking, pup. I actually knock out intruders, erase their memories with a charm and dump them outside my territory and hope they don’t come back. I haven’t gone feral since the 19th century.”

 

The kettle whistles, and the gumiho turns to busy himself with the tea. “What’s your name, pup?”

 

“Mingyu.”

 

“Okay, Mingyu,” the gumiho says, turning back to him and shoving a mug of tea into his hands, “Tell me about Seungcheol.”

 

And Mingyu does. He tells the gumiho how no one had thought much of Seungcheol’s illness at first, convinced that it was a bug that would go away soon, then how everyone had started worrying when Seungcheol only got worse - to the point where he could barely transform into his wolf form. He tells the gumiho about the doctor’s failure to diagnose him, and how the pack had decided to look for answers themselves, which led to Mingyu attempting to steal the gumiho’s bead. And if Mingyu had gotten a little emotional telling the gumiho about how much Seungcheol meant to him, well… no one has to know.

 

At the end of Mingyu’s spiel, the gumiho sighs, patting Mingyu awkwardly on shoulder as he sniffles into a handkerchief the gumiho produced for him. “There, there,” the gumiho says, with no inflection. It has a look of constipation on its face. It waits until Mingyu is done blowing his nose into the cloth.

 

Then, in a low voice, it mutters, “Dear gods, I hope I don’t regret this…”

 

The gumiho tilts Mingyu’s chin up, nudges him to face it, then leans in to press a deep kiss into Mingyu’s lips. Mingyu’s surprised yelp is drowned out when the gumiho slips its tongue into his mouth. Mingyu is so shocked that he barely responds. He moans a little when the gumiho nips his bottom lip before swiping its tongue over it to soothe the bite. The gumiho pulls back a little to grunt out, “Kiss me, you dumbass. Isn’t this what you came here for?”

 

Still a little confused, Mingyu obeys. He lets the gumiho lick into his mouth, and sucks on the tip of the gumiho’s tongue. It moans softly, grazing Mingyu’s lip with its fangs, and Mingyu shudders at the sensation, skin crawling with heat. The gumiho pulls back slightly, then presses its lips to Mingyu’s again, but this time, its seams are closed. Mingyu feels a hardness behind the gumiho’s lips and slips his tongue in between them, feeling the smooth, glass-like surface of the bead. The gumiho nudges the bead into Mingyu’s mouth and pulls back properly, a string of saliva still connecting them.

 

“Swallow,” the gumiho orders him. Its pupils are blown out, cheeks flushed. Mingyu obeys.

 

It’s an odd sensation; like swallowing a too-large lychee seed. Mingyu makes a face, and the gumiho snorts, wiping at its mouth with its sleeve.

 

“Go home,” the gumiho tells him. “And tell Seungcheol that Wonwoo sent you. Tell him that this is thanks for what he did for me in Russia in 1959. And remember, you’re borrowing my bead. I want it back in three days. Now, shoo.”

 

Mingyu nods, and barely remembers to thank the gumiho - or, Wonwoo. He stumbles out of the cavern in a daze, and makes his way back to the manor in his wolf form.

Chapter Text

Running through the forest with the gumiho bead is different. His senses are sharpened - Mingyu is aware of everything. He hears every rustle, every creak around him; he even hears the slow breathing of slumbering creatures in their dens.

 

The route he takes back to the manor is overlaid with the gumiho’s impressions. It is a little distracting, like reading a book with the previous reader’s notes all over the pages. Mingyu passes through a clearing and is bombarded with the urge to roll through a bed of catnip. He ignores it, of course, though it amuses him to imagine the cold-faced gumiho getting high on catnip.

 

His footsteps are lighter, surer - he knows, somehow, to avoid certain spots where entrances to dens and holes are disguised. It makes his journey back to the manor much smoother - usually, Mingyu would be tripping over his big paws, tumbling around like a pup that has just learned how to walk. There’s a reason why Mingyu prefers to keep to the manor’s compound and its large expanse of flat ground when he’s in the mood for some rough housing. 

 

After nearly an hour, the forest begins to thin out and he sees the manor in the horizon. It’s almost sunrise, and Mingyu takes a moment to admire it in the weak sunlight. The large window panels glint, overlooking a pretty garden. The bone-white exterior of the manor is cast in pink hues. Neatly trimmed hedges border the property. He’s lived there for more than a decade, and he’s still unused to its sheer size and grandeur. He and Seungcheol moved around a lot when he was a pup, back when it was just the two of them, when Seungcheol was cycling through universities like they were going out of fashion. When Mingyu finally graduated and Seungcheol decided that he’d had enough of learning for the next century, he uprooted them from their dingy city apartment and moved them back into his ancestral home.

 

Mingyu remembers the first time he stepped into the halls of the manor - he was gobsmacked. “Seungcheol hyung,” he stuttered, mouth open, “are you like… rich, or something?”

 

“Or something,” Seungcheol agreed, unloading the moving crates from the back of their pick up truck. It was a testament to how much they moved around that the two of them only had a few boxes of belongings between them.

 

“Wha- Bu- All those years! Living in student accommodations! In our run-down flat… when we could have been living here!”

 

Seungcheol paused in his unloading. “Well, kid, I don’t know how if you’d noticed, but I wasn’t working, and I was raising a child,” at this, he raised a playful eyebrow at Mingyu, making it clear that he was joking, that Mingyu wasn’t a burden, had never been a burden. “Excuse me if I wasn’t living a life of luxury then.”

 

“Besides,” he added, “it’s too far out here to commute to university every day, which was why I waited for you to finish your degree before we moved here.”

 

The memory makes Mingyu’s heart squeeze in his chest. It took him years to fully appreciate everything Seungcheol had done for him. He’d taken Mingyu in at the age of seven, after finding him curled up in a shivering ball of fur next to him the morning after a full moon. Mingyu had been abandoned by his parents - he never knew or found out why - and had been wandering around the woods alone for months, surviving off small game. He’d been a wolf for so long that coaxing him back into his human form was a painful and difficult process. Even now, when Mingyu gets anxious or scared, the urge to transform can be overwhelming.

 

Seungcheol was halfway through his degree in biology then, but still clothed him, fed him, took the time to painstakingly coach Mingyu through basic English and Korean, until he was good enough that Seungcheol enrolled him in primary school. At that point, Seungcheol legally adopted him, despite being (on paper, at least) a full-time university student.

 

Their relationship over the years gradually evolved. Mingyu never called Seungcheol his father, even though he did everything a father would do for their child. At first it was because Mingyu was adamant that he didn’t want a parent. Parents were bad, he’d thought when he was a pup. Parents left and abandoned you without a word. Mingyu had a feeling that Seungcheol didn’t want to be called a father either; despite being centuries old, Seungcheol had the heart of a child, and big responsibilities tended to scare him. When he taught Mingyu to speak, he taught him to call him by his name, instead of “appa” or “dad”. To Mingyu, Seungcheol was just “Cheollie”. They knew what they were to each other, or at least Mingyu thinks that they did. 

 

Then Mingyu grew up, became a teenager, and suddenly he wanted to make his own decisions, hang out with his friends more. Seungcheol was more than happy to step back from his role as a father-figure, and become more of an older brother. It was then when Mingyu started calling him hyung. The first time he did, Seungcheol looked surprised, and Mingyu thought he saw a glimmer of happy tears in his eyes.

 

They maintained that relationship until Mingyu went to college, enrolling in the same university where Seungcheol was pursuing his nth degree (Mingyu lost count after the second). It was strange at first, going to college and seeing Seungcheol around campus, in the library, in lectures. It was even stranger when Mingyu turned up to his first college party only to find Seungcheol in the thick of it, downing shot after shot to the delight of the other party-goers. Mingyu had known, intellectually, that Seungcheol participated in all aspects of college life (he especially started to let loose when Mingyu got old enough to take care of himself), but it was still odd seeing someone who had been a father-figure to him dance on tabletops, drunk out of his mind, grinding against anyone within a 5-foot radius.

 

By the end of college, Mingyu felt like his relationship with Seungcheol had settled into more of a friendship. And it’s been the same way since. Mingyu drops all formalities when speaking to him. He still calls Seungcheol “hyung”, though, even though they now look more or less the same age, because he wants Seungcheol to know that Mingyu still respects him, still defers to him. And now that they have a pack, it’s a way of acknowledging that Seungcheol is the pack leader.

 

And Seungcheol is a great leader. He kept their motley, rag-tag pack together in the early days, when everyone was uncertain of each other. It’s because of his leadership that their pack of twelve, spanning eight different species of supernaturals, is still going strong.

 

Which is why Mingyu risked everything to get the gumiho’s bead. The warm flush of success settles over him, and he allows himself a moment to preen. Seungcheol is going to heal, once Mingyu finds out what’s wrong with him, he’s sure of it.

 

/////

 

The gumiho’s bead warns him of Jeonghan’s presence before his ears pick up the sound of rustling feathers.

 

“Kim Mingyu, where were you?”

 

Mingyu freezes, hand hovering over the doorknob outside Seungcheol’s room. He turns slowly to face an annoyed Jeonghan, who must have woken up at the creaking floorboards in the hallway. Mingyu momentarily curses his luck and the fact that they live in such an old house. The normally put-together angel looks rumpled - his silky blonde hair is mussed, the feathers on his wings ruffled. 

 

“I was out… hunting,” says Mingyu lamely.

 

Jeonghan doesn’t even deign to respond to the obvious lie.

 

“I’ll tell you later,” Mingyu promises when Jeonghan looks like he’s about to press further, slipping into Seungcheol’s room and locking it behind him. He feels bad, using Seungcheol’s condition to avoid Jeonghan’s nagging, but he really doesn’t want to face the (most likely loud) consequences of telling his packmates that he went into a gumiho’s den alone to steal its bead. It’s too early in the morning for drama.

 

Mingyu sinks into the armchair next to Seungcheol’s bed, taking in his leader’s haggard appearance. It’s almost sunrise, a weak light streaming in through the massive French windows next to Seungcheol’s four-poster bed. The grandeur of the master bedroom only makes Seungcheol seem smaller and weaker than he normally is. Mingyu feels a twinge of sadness as he looks around the room. It’s filled with memories with the pack - Seungcheol’s room is where they normally get together for “sleepovers” despite the fact that they all live in the manor. His bedroom is the biggest - fitting for the leader of a large pack - and has enough space for its own sitting room and bathroom. It’s custom for the pack to come looking for company in Seungcheol’s room whenever they’re feeling bored or lonely. Even when Seungcheol isn’t around, there’s always another pack member lounging in Seungcheol’s cozy sitting room. While the manor has, in fact, two other living rooms which are common areas, none of them exude the warmth and comfort present in Seungcheol’s room. Maybe it’s because Seungcheol never bothered to remodel the living rooms since moving in years ago; the decor remains like that of the late 19th century. Or maybe it’s that Seungcheol’s scent makes his sitting room feel much more like home.

 

Either way, Seungcheol never seemed to mind that his room had turned into the pack’s favourite lounging spot. He never complained or kicked out any of the members, even when they stayed in there past his usual bedtime. And when Seungcheol left the country for business, or stayed at the office sometimes because of his intense workload, he always left the door unlocked for them.

 

Of course, ever since Seungcheol had gotten sick, the members stopped coming into his room. At first, when they had thought it was contagious, it was to avoid getting sick themselves. But as time went by and it was clear Seungcheol wasn’t suffering from the garden-variety flu, the others stayed away to let Seungcheol rest as much as possible. The pack’s favourite gathering spot is now the manor’s library, where they spend hours every day poring over dusty manuscripts in hopes that they would find something related to the mysterious illness that plagues their leader.

 

Mingyu sighs as he scans Seungcheol’s appearance. The dark circles under his eyes are stark against his pale skin and even in his sleep, his handsome features are marred by a pained frown. Mingyu reaches out to smooth the furrow between Seungcheol’s brows, letting his hand linger when Seungcheol snuffles in his sleep and presses against Mingyu’s cool hand. He takes note of the temperature, the clamminess of his skin. There’s a prompting he can only assume is from to gumiho’s bead to check Seungcheol’s pulse (erratic), and take note of his breathing (shallow). He feels like a child playing make-believe, pretending to be a doctor. He’s going through the motions but he doesn’t understand why or how they’re important.

 

Before he knows what he’s doing, he’s leaning in to sniff at Seungcheol’s lips, which are pale and cracked, the skin peeling excessively. An odd scent registers. It’s so faint that he would never have noticed it if it weren’t for the bead. It’s flowery, with an underlying bitterness. Mingyu has never come across it before, chalks it up to one of Seungkwan’s potions, maybe. But the bead recognizes it. Within seconds, alarm bells are ringing in his head, and Mingyu knows what’s been ailing Seungcheol. His heart sinks.

 

Seungcheol’s been poisoned.

Chapter Text

“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.”

 

“Basically, yeah.”

 

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.

 

Seungkwan scowls.

 

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.

 

“I’m not!”

 

“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?”

 

“Um.”

 

“None?”

 

“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.”