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so come as you are

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Vampire children were uncommon, mainly because children rarely, if ever, survived the transformation. The stress was just too much for a child’s body, and their blood too addictive for a vampire to stop drinking from until they were dead.

 

Joshua had heard tragic tales of vampires, who were driven mad with loneliness, attempting to create vampire children of their own to no avail. Met with failure after failure, these vampires were eventually killed by their own kind to minimize the risk of discovery - a string of murdered children was bound to attract the attention of humans.

 

Personally, Joshua had never empathized with them - the drive to have children and start a family deserted him the moment he had turned. He had never felt any paternal urges - the closest he had gotten was adopting a dog, and that didn’t last very long because the dog was constantly terrified of him; it could sense that Joshua was a predator. (He adopted a snake later, and they got along much better.)

 

But staring down at the terrified child, Joshua could tell immediately that he wasn’t quite a vampire. The smell of blood gave it away - vampires didn’t bleed, and the boy’s arms were littered in small marks from which he was bleeding sluggishly. Yet, the bloodthirsty red eyes and the fangs peeking out from between his lips were characteristic of vampires. The boy’s lips were reddened with fresh blood too, which meant that he must have been fed recently. But what could it have fed on? He glanced around the closet-sized space in which the boy was kept - aside from a ladder leading to a trapdoor in the ceiling, the room was empty.

 

Joshua crouched down to the child’s level as slowly as possible. He was short, coming up to about Joshua’s thigh when standing up. Joshua wasn’t good at estimating ages, but if he had to guess, the boy was maybe five or six. The boy moved, arms coming up to shield himself from Joshua, and a glance at his arms churned Joshua’s stomach.

 

His arms were littered with bite marks. A child’s bite marks.

 

The child had been feeding off himself .

 

Joshua tamped down on his own horror, forced himself to remain calm and gentle when he said to the boy, “Hi, I’m Joshua, I’m a vampire too, see?”

 

Curious, the boy risked a quick peek at Joshua, who smiled widely, letting out his fangs, which he usually kept retracted in his mouth to appear human.

 

“What’s your name?” Joshua prompted gently.

 

“Vernon,” he whispered, “and I’m not - I’m not a vampire.”

 

“What are you then?” Joshua asked, careful to keep all traces of judgement or accusation out of his tone.

 

“I’m a halfling. Vampire and werewolf.”

 

Joshua rocked back onto his heels, surprised. While tensions between the two species had long since ceded, prejudice and discrimination against each other were still rampant in their communities. As such, Joshua didn’t even know that vampires and werewolves could even mate, let alone procreate.

 

“Okay, Vernon, I’m going to get you out of here and back to your parents. How does that sound?”

 

At the mention of his parents, the boy’s face crumpled in grief. “My mum and dad are gone,” he mumbled, and Joshua’s heart twisted in sympathy.

 

“Okay, okay,” Joshua murmured to himself, mind racing. He had, within the last minute, vaguely planned to use his glamour to pass the boy off as one of the human children upstairs, then somehow contact his parents, whisk him away from the station, and use his glamour to trick his colleagues into forgetting the boy was ever there in the first place. Not the best plan, considering it would require Joshua to remain close to the boy at all times, but he reasoned that he could have easily found the boy’s parents - after all, a werewolf and vampire couple would not be hard to track down, especially with Joshua’s network of friends.

 

But if the child’s parents were gone, Joshua couldn’t possibly carry out his plan. His glamour only affected short-term memories, and the longer the boy was exposed to his colleagues, the harder it would be for Joshua to make them forget. Eventually, he would have to leave the boy in the hands of social services, and the boy’s supernatural nature would be exposed without Joshua’s glamour protecting him.

 

As Joshua debated his next step, he heard footsteps coming down the stairs.

 

“Hong? What’s taking you so long?”

 

Thinking on his feet, Joshua immediately turned to Vernon, still crouched in the hole in the wall, muttering, “Get out of there, stand behind me, and don’t make a sound.”

 

Wide-eyed, Venon complied, clambering out of the hole in the wall and hiding behind Joshua’s legs.

 

At that moment, Matthews appeared at the doorway, a look of concern on his face. He was one of the new technicians, and was not particularly bright.

 

“Hey,” Joshua greeted, nudging Matthews’ malleable mind with his glamour. “The child that you are seeing is not here.”

 

A dazed look flashed across Matthews’ face, and his eyes slid over Vernon and to the hole in the wall. “What’s this?” he asked, genial.

 

“I spotted a dent in the wall, and decided to investigate. Turns out there was an empty storage space in there. The perps probably used it to store drugs or something,” Joshua said, shrugging.

 

“Makes sense,” Matthews agreed, “I’ll let the captain know about it.”

 

Joshua hummed in acknowledgement, then sprung his half-baked plan to get the child out of the building undetected. “Matthews, I feel a little unwell, might be coming down with a case of food poisoning. I’m gonna take a cab back home, okay?”

 

It was a bad excuse, but the glamour kept Matthews in an agreeable mood. “Sure. Take care, Hong.”

 

Sneaking out of a building swarming with cops with a child in tow was difficult, but not impossible. Thankfully, Joshua was able to rely on some good old-fashioned vampire glamour to smooth his exit. After giving the same excuse he gave Matthews to Walters, he walked out of the building with Vernon trailing nervously behind him.

 

He ducked into a dark alleyway next to the building, making sure to avoid any surveillance cameras. As soon as he was out of sight, he turned to Vernon and asked, “Do you have any relatives who will take you in?”

 

Vernon shook his head miserably. “My mom’s clan excommunicated her and my dad’s pack denounced him. I don’t know anyone.”

 

Joshua bit his lip in thought. There was only one immediate option, he realised, and sighed. Was he, Joshua Hong, lone vampire of 264 years, really going to take in a child halfling?

 

There wasn’t any other choice, was there? Joshua couldn’t, in good conscience, leave Vernon out on the streets alone, not when Joshua could easily house and feed him. It was clear that the boy was starving, malnourished - his cheekbones stuck out, stark over his hollow cheeks - and he made such a pitiful sight, shivering even in the warm spring evening.

 

Joshua comforted himself with the thought that the arrangement would be temporary - he’d eventually find someone else to take in the boy. Perhaps Seungcheol - when Joshua had last caught up with him, he’d been surprised to find that the werewolf had adopted a pup of his own. It was amusing seeing Seungcheol, the archetypical lone wolf who had never joined a pack, as a father. Joshua had teased him to no end, mock-bemoaning the loss of their wild bachelor days together. The thought that Joshua himself might end up in a similar situation had never crossed his mind, and no doubt Seungcheol would return his teasing tenfold when he found out.

 

“I can take care of myself,” Vernon’s small voice said, interrupting Joshua’s train of thought. The indecision must have shown on Joshua’s face, and he winced internally.

 

“Absolutely not,” he declared. “You’re coming with me.”

 

At Vernon’s nervous expression, Joshua quickly added, “If you want to. But you should. I have some fresh blood stocked up, you’d be able to feed properly. You don’t have to stay with me forever, but at least follow me home tonight.”

 

“O-okay,” Vernon stuttered, “but not forever.”

 

“That’s fine,” Joshua said with an encouraging smile. “If you climb on my back, I can run us home. I live across town, but with my speed we can get there in three minutes.”

 

Joshua crouched down so that Vernon could loop his arms around his neck. The blood on Vernon’s arms distracted Joshua momentarily, and he quickly tamped down on his thirst. Thankfully, Joshua had had the foresight to feed before the raid, and Vernon’s blood wasn’t the most tempting; it was probably the vampire lineage that protected Vernon from being food to his own kind.

 

True to his word, Joshua arrived at his apartment in three minutes. He clambered in through the fire escape, avoiding the front entrance in case someone saw him carrying a bloodied child into the building.

 

Once inside his apartment, he set Vernon down in his kitchen and rummaged through his fridge for a bag of blood. The moment the child caught sight of the blood, he whined, high and needy, fangs biting into his bottom lip.

 

Joshua cooed in sympathy, knowing the pain of thirst too well, and snipped open the narrow straw-like opening at one end of the bag, holding it up to Vernon’s mouth.

 

He latched on to the bag like a nursing pup, sucking at the opening desperately. His chubby fists came up to grasp the bag, and Joshua slowly let go, allowing Vernon to feed himself. It was almost cute, the way he looked like an ordinary human child drinking out of a juicebox. 

 

As Vernon emptied the bag, his red eyes faded into a muted red, almost brown, colour. The bite marks on his arms also began to close up, until all that was left were shallow indentations and dried blood.

 

As Joshua stared in amazement, Vernon rasped out a quiet, “Thank you.”

 

Joshua quickly rearranged his expression into a gentle smile. “Was that enough for you? Or would you like another bag?”

 

“‘m good,” mumbled Vernon.

 

“Would you like to take a shower then? Wash off the blood on your arms?”

 

He nodded hesitantly.

 

“Okay, come follow me, bathroom’s this way,” Joshua urged, beckoning towards the hallway. He opened the door to the bathroom, ushering Vernon in. “I’ll get you some clean clothes and a towel, okay?”

 

He rummaged through his closet, trying to find his smallest shirt and a pair of drawstring shorts. He eventually found something that looked like it could fit Vernon, if Vernon were half a foot taller and fifteen pounds heavier, but it would have to do. He placed the clean clothes and towel outside the bathroom, knocking on the door lightly to let Vernon know that they were there.

 

Satisfied with Vernon’s acknowledgement through the door, he collapsed on his couch in the living room, pulling up an old contact on his phone. He pressed “call” and waited.

 

“‘Lo? Shua?”

 

Joshua winced. Loud music pumped through the speaker, and Seungcheol was practically yelling into his phone.

 

“Is this urgent? I’m uh… kinda in the middle of something,” Seungcheol half-yelled.

 

“Yeah, it’s a little urgent, I need to ask you some questions about your kind.”

 

“Okay, okay, hold on one sec, I’ll leave the room.”

 

Joshua heard some shuffling sounds, a muffled “Hey man, want a puff of this joint?”, Seungcheol’s quick “Nah but thanks for the offer, bro”, and finally the sound of a sliding door opening and closing.

 

“K, I’m outside, what did you want to ask?”

 

“Cheol, are you at a college party?” Joshua asked incredulously. When he had last caught up with Seungcheol, the werewolf had decided to take a break from playing adult and instead enrol in college. He had never been the scholarly type, but with the dawn of the information age, Seungcheol seemed to have (finally) found the value in education, and was extremely committed to his studies. He collected degrees like people collected stamps. Joshua had expected him to drop out when he adopted Mingyu, but he merely went from being a full-time student to a part-timer.

 

“Er, yeah.”

 

“Where’s your kid?”

 

A huff of laughter from Seungcheol. “He hasn’t been a kid in a while.”

 

At Joshua’s puzzled silence, Seungcheol explained, “It’s been eight years, Shua, Mingyu’s an adult now. He’s at the party with me.”

 

“Eight years?” That couldn’t be right. The last time he saw Seungcheol was in the 90s… which was eight years ago.

 

Shit, had it really been that long ago? Joshua was getting old .

 

“I don’t think you called to ask about Mingyu,” Seungcheol said, “Is there something you need help with?”

 

“Yeah, actually, I need to ask about uh, werewolf kids. Um, specifically, have you ever come across werewolf-vampire halflings?”

 

“Hmm, not personally, no. But I’ve heard of them before.”

 

“Right,” said Joshua, “What do you know about them?”

 

“Well, for starters, I know they transform during full moons. And they drink blood too, but their thirst isn’t as strong as full vampires. I hear their bites hurt more, ‘cos their fangs are like canines. Uh… what else…”

 

“Do they age?”

 

“Yeah, apparently they age at a normal rate - well, the normal rate for werewolves, which is to say they age until they hit maturity and then their immortality kicks in. From what I’ve heard, they’re just werewolves that drink blood on the side.”

 

“Okay, that’s helpful, thanks, Cheol. Listen, I gotta go now, so…”

 

“Wait! You can’t just call me up after eight years and ask me about halflings and then say bye right after without explaining things. What’s going on? You met a halfling or something?”

 

“Er, kinda.”

 

“And?”

 

“So we were busting a child-trafficking ring today-”

 

Seungcheol snorts suddenly. “I forgot you’re a cop now, it’s so weird.”

 

“Do you want to hear this or not.”

 

“I’m listening.”

 

“And so we clear out the kids, got them out of the basement. But I smelled werewolf blood in the room, and I found this… hidden room behind a fake wall, and there was this halfling.”

 

“Wow. How did you get it past the other cops?”

 

“A bit of glamour. I brought him back to my apartment and fed him some blood.”

 

“Remember to feed him real food too.”

 

Joshua groaned. He knew he was forgetting something.

 

“Wait, don’t tell me. You don’t have real food.”

 

“It’s not necessary,” Joshua whined - they had had this debate over a thousand times already: Seungcheol had insisted that even if Joshua didn’t need food, he should at least enjoy the taste once in a while. “It would be such a waste of money for me to buy food that doesn’t actually feed me.”

 

Joshua could hear Seungcheol rolling his eyes. “Okay, whatever,” he said dismissively, “you don’t need to eat, but the halfling does, so go to the store and buy some raw meat - wait, how old is this kid?”

 

“I dunno, I was thinking maybe five or six? And his name is Vernon.”

 

“Right, five or six huh? Maybe not raw steak, might be a little too tough for him. I remember when I first got Mingyu, I used to have to tenderize the meat before he ate them. Maybe minced beef? Or raw hamburger patties? Then you can slowly graduate to tougher meats.”

 

Joshua smirked, “Look at you, dad material.”

 

“Ew gross, don’t call me a dad. Even Mingyu doesn’t call me dad.”

 

“Oh yeah? What does he call you then?”

 

“Hyung!” Seungcheol said proudly, and Joshua pictured him puffing up his chest. As much as Joshua wanted to make fun of Seungcheol for being wrapped around Mingyu’s finger, he couldn’t bring himself to. Mingyu could call Seungcheol anything, and the older werewolf would come running over in an instant.

 

“That’s sweet,” Joshua said, slightly amused.

 

The sound of running water in the bathroom suddenly stopped, and Joshua quickly wrapped up his call with Seungcheol.

 

“Hey man, thanks again, but I really have to go now. I’ll call you again when I have more questions?”

 

“Yeah, sure! And we gotta catch up soon, okay? It’s been too long.”

 

“Of course. Bye, Cheol!”

 

“Bye!”

 

/////

 

“I’m going to the store real quick, okay? I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

 

Vernon nodded mutely, wrapped up in a warm blanket on Joshua’s couch. The television was blaring some children’s show that Joshua found while channel-surfing.

 

Joshua threw on his coat, patted his pockets to make sure his keys and wallet were in there, and ducked out.

 

It was late, but thankfully the supermarket down the road was still open. Once inside, Joshua stood, confused, in front of the meat section. Why were there so many options? Surely there couldn’t be more than five different cuts of the same meat. Memories from his human life, eating human food, were hazy, but he was pretty sure he didn’t have that many options back then.

 

Granted, that was 264 years ago, and global capitalism had changed a lot of things.

 

There were packaged minced beef from three different brands, so Joshua just threw all three of them into his basket. Remembering Seungcheol’s advice, he bought a pack of frozen hamburger patties too.

 

On the way back to his apartment, his ears pricked at a soft, but fierce, conversation filtering through a fire escape window. Joshua usually tried not to eavesdrop on others - a difficult feat considering that his hearing was extremely sensitive, even for a vampire. But living in a rough part of town where people often got mugged meant that he always kept his wits about him when he was out on the streets at night. Sure, he was practically invincible against drugged-up thugs, but exposing that fact if the thugs stabbed him and their blade broke instead of his skin wouldn’t do his human cover any favours.

 

“They’ve lost the welp.”

 

“What do you mean they’ve lost it? How could the human police have found the boy?”

 

“I don’t know! I was only on the scene after all the cops left, and I found the fake wall in the basement busted open! Maybe it broke out on its own.”

 

If Joshua’s heart was still beating, it would have stopped in an instant. He stilled even his breathing, ears straining to hear every word of the conversation.

 

“That’s impossible. We’ve been starving it for days now, it’s strength should be comparable to that of a human child.”

 

“What do you think we should tell our… er ‘special’ client?”

 

The other voice growled in frustration, and Joshua heard the loud crash of furniture against a wall. “The sale was supposed to happen tonight. The client will probably be on site any minute now. The welp can’t have gotten far on its own, maybe we can ask our client’s ah… ‘sniffer dog’ to hunt it down.”

 

Fuck. Fuck.

 

In the supernatural world, “sniffer dog” was a euphemism vampires used for werewolf trackers - they were precise, accurate, had the endurance to go for weeks on end, and were often bought by the highest bidder. If what Joshua had heard was true, that the ‘special’ client, likely a supernatural themselves, had a tracker at their disposal, then he didn’t have time to waste.

 

He sprinted home, not caring if anyone saw his supernatural speed. He clambered in through the fire escape again, startling Vernon, who was still parked in front of the television.

 

“We have to go,” Joshua said urgently. He rummaged through his closet, throwing a few t-shirts and jeans into a rucksack. He dashed to the kitchen, emptying his fridge - not a difficult task, as all he had were a few blood bags. He dumped the blood bags and the packaged meat that he bought for Vernon into the rucksack, and hitched it over his shoulders.

 

Vernon was still on the sofa, a look of confusion on his young face. “Go where?”

 

“The people who locked you up in the basement, they’re coming for you soon. We need to go somewhere safe.”

 

A terrified look crossed his features.

 

“Don’t worry,” Joshua was quick to assure him. “I have some friends who can help us. I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”

 

“You promise?” It was said in such a small voice that, had Joshua not been a vampire, he wouldn’t have heard it.

 

“I promise,” he said, as solemnly as possible.

 

The seconds were ticking, and Joshua had no time to waste. He pulled out his phone, dialled a number he knew by heart, and prayed (heh) that its owner would answer.

 

(That its owner was even on earth. )

 

“Hello?”

 

Thank fuck.

 

“Angel, it’s me. I need your help.”