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so come as you are

Chapter Text

When Joshua was human, he had always imagined his future like this: a homely wife, a typical family of five children, a comfortable home - neither too modest nor too extravagant, all while making an honest living as the village healer.

 

Of course, all that vanished when he was bitten at the age of 22. At the time, he had been engaged to a lovely woman picked out by his parents, to whom he was to marry at the completion of his apprenticeship with the village healer. He mourned when he was forced to leave the village or risk being burnt at stake, but he didn’t mourn her, merely the loss of his dream of a peaceful, human life.

 

It all seemed so long ago. Joshua was going on his 264th year of being alive, and he hadn’t given much thought to family, stability and settling down in at least two centuries. He was enjoying the life of a lone vampire, staying in one place for only a few years at a time, before uprooting and starting a new one hundreds of miles away. One decade he was a rich noble in the imperial chinese court, the next he was a humble fisherman on the coast of Japan. When colonialism was at its peak, he spent a decade as a travelling missionary, though he had placed a little more emphasis on travelling than actually evangelizing.

 

Joshua didn’t know what he was thinking when he decided to be a police officer. It was probably because he had spent the last decade watching crime procedural TV. They just looked so cool, and were doing such meaningful work. And Joshua reasoned that the usual barriers that would prevent humans from joining the force (personal danger, rigorous training) didn’t apply to him, so really, he’d be doing humans a favour by joining.

 

His illusions of the police force were shattered almost as soon as he left training. It was clear that the police force was corrupt, inefficient, and recruited bottom-of-the-barrel candidates. The hierarchy prioritized people who were more enthusiastic about ranks and titles than they were about genuinely helping people. It was depressing, and Joshua soon came to regret his career choice for the decade. Still, he refused to quit, only because he had already set up his new identity and home in the area, and couldn’t be bothered to go through all the paperwork and fraud required to move somewhere else.

 

The decision to stay would change his life forever.

 

/////

 

“Hong, in the briefing room in five minutes. We’re going to carry out a raid on the child-trafficking ring.”

 

Joshua hummed in acquiesce, putting the finishing touches to last week’s mission report.

 

It was his last year in the force, though he had not told anyone his plans for resignation yet. Already some colleagues were remarking on his exceptional youthfulness, complimenting him for his lack of aging. Whenever that happened, he would deflect it with a “Asian don’t raisin!” joke that would leave them chuckling. Still, it was a sign that he had to move on soon, or the compliments would soon turn into suspicion.

 

Over the years, he had risen to the rank of lieutenant. While he didn’t do as much front-line work as he used to, he still insisted on joining his colleagues on risky missions. In particular, the force had been monitoring a child-trafficking ring in their area for while now, waiting for the best time to bust it open. Joshua wasn’t directly involved in the case, but volunteered his service when he heard of the high risk of danger.

 

“Hong, don’t be dense,” his captain, Walters, had replied. “You’re a lieutenant now, you have staff to supervise, and you’re damn good at your job. You’re not directly involved with this case, so just sit out and don’t risk your neck like that.”

 

“With all due respect, captain, my field record has been spotless, and no one has even come close to breaking it. With a case of this scale and importance, shouldn’t you assign the best men - you most trustworthy men - to this mission?”

 

Walters hadn’t looked entirely convinced, but Joshua could see that he was considering his point. It was true that Joshua was perhaps the most trustworthy man, besides the captain himself, in the precinct. Walters was one of the few good ones who lasted in the precinct, and Joshua was glad - honoured, even - to serve under such a self-sacrificing, upstanding human. 

 

Joshua decided a little extra push wouldn’t hurt.

 

“Captain,” he started, hesitating slightly so as to sound as if he was disclosing something deeply personal, “if I have to be honest, this case is somewhat… personal to me,” he paused, then took a deep breath as though gathering courage, “When I was a child, my best friend was kidnapped off the streets on the way to school. No one ever saw him again, but the police at the time suspected that he was sold off to a child-trafficking ring. So, if I’m being honest, sir, part of me feels like I have to be part of this mission, to avenge him.”

 

It was clear that Walters bought Joshua’s made-up spiel hook, line and sinker. If Joshua were a better man, he would feel bad for lying, but he felt justified in his lie - after all, he was doing it so that he could protect his colleagues. He had faster reflexes and superior senses - it was only right that he put himself in danger rather than sit back and do nothing as his human colleagues risked it all. What was that saying again? With great power comes great responsibility.

 

Who knew that a 200-something year old vampire would have something in common with Spider-Man?

 

/////

 

Joshua’s walkie-talkie crackled to life.

 

“Suspects are on the first floor with some clients, they appear to be negotiating.”

 

Joshua breathed evenly, in, out, in, out.

 

He didn’t need the oxygen, but the breathing kept him calm and centred before a mission. He was parked around the corner of the building they were about to raid, headlights and engines off, waiting in the car with his colleagues for the cue to move in.

 

“Our informant estimated around twenty kids in the basement, I repeat, twenty kids in the basement. Entrance to the basement through the ground floor, staircase at the north-west corner of the building.”

 

In his mind, Joshua pictured the building from the blueprints they were given in the briefing. He went over his role again and again in his head: of guarding the kids, getting them out of the building alive, making sure they are safe. It was a role he initially protested against, accusing the captain (in private, after the briefing) that he was given the easiest, risk-free role.

 

The captain had immediately shut down his complaint.

 

“Hong, I know you’re a daredevil, but hear me out. I put you in charge of getting the kids out because you’re the only one I can trust to do the job. Can you imagine any of the bumbling buffoons on our force carrying out your role without some collateral damage? These are kids, Hong. This mission - yes, it’s important for us to catch the perps, but it’s probably even more important that we get all of those kids out. Alive. Understood?”

 

Speechless, Joshua could only nod.

 

Another ten minutes passed before the walkie-talkie started up again, this time with the captain’s voice coming through.

 

“Suspects are in a physical altercation with the clients, move in while they’re distracted.”

 

Within seconds, Joshua was out of the car and running towards the building. He waited at the entrance, along with the rest of the force, for them to bust down the door before he was off like a shot towards the basement.

 

The ground floor was blessedly empty - there were only three perps guarding the entrance to the basement. Startled, the perps barely had the time to reach for their own firearms when Joshua and his colleagues fired off three non-fatal shots, bringing them to the ground. He kicked their firearms away from them, left his colleagues to tie them up and headed down towards the basement.

 

The stench of sweat and fear grew stronger the further down the stairs he went, and screwed up his nose, cursing his sensitive nose. He consciously blocked his sense of smell - just stopped breathing - and wrenched open the door of the basement.

 

The sight of seventeen terrified children greeted him. A quick scan told him that they were between the ages of eight to twelve, and he breathed a quick sigh of relief - it meant that they probably understood English and could follow orders.

 

“Hi,” he started, using a soothing tone. He added a bit of glamour, a hint of persuasion, just to ensure that the children would follow his commands. “I’m Lieutenant Hong, I’m with the police. I’m here to get you back home to your parents. Will you follow me?”

 

The children eagerly gathered around him. At this point, some of his colleagues came down to assist him. He encouraged the children to follow them out of the basement, saying that it was safe to do so, and using his sensitive hearing to ensure that the perps in the building were well and truly rounded up by the police already.

 

He lingered until the last child left and scanned the room quickly in case anyone was left behind. The room was bare, empty, but instinct told him to check with all his senses.

 

He took a deep breath.

 

The smell of blood hit him full-force, winding him. His eyes widened, and he took another deep drag of air.

 

It wasn’t human blood.

 

He had never smelled blood like that before. It smelled a little like werewolves’ blood, but where werewolves’ blood smelled smoky, like cooked meat, this unknown blood had a hint of spice. It tickled his nose and made his eyes water.

 

Where was the smell coming from? There were no obvious stains of blood in the basement.

 

He stilled his breathing and listened.

 

He could hear everything within a one-mile radius, but quickly blocked off white noise, the ruckus the force was making upstairs, trying to concentrate on the basement.

 

Then he heard it.

 

The sound of a wolf’s whine.

 

It came from beyond the basement’s walls.

 

Joshua scanned the room. There didn’t seem to be any obvious fake doors, no shelves that were disguising secret entrances. His eyes fell on a heavy wooden chair in the corner of the room. Without much thought, he picked it up and threw it against a wall of the basement, where the smell was the strongest.

 

The chair made a small hole in the wall. Joshua squinted - it was plaster, not a real wall. There seemed to be a hidden room beyond the wall. The whimpering stopped, suddenly. A hitched breath.

 

Joshua knew he had found the source of the blood. He didn’t bother with the chair; with his bare hands, he tore down the wall and found himself face-to-face with a pair of wet, red eyes. 

 

The eyes of a young vampire.

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

As one of Heaven’s many ambassadors on earth, Jeonghan was a busy angel. The job was a thankless one, often requiring him to travel between realms, and was only half as prestigious as the cushy jobs up in the headquarters.

Still, Jeonghan found his job rewarding.

For one, he thought that earth was fascinating. There was just so much colour, and scent and noise on earth - a welcome break from the monotonous, sterile environment in Heaven. Every time he beamed down to earth, he found his senses inundated. It was like breaking through the surface of the water - everything was muted, muffled, smothered under a blanket, and then suddenly he could seesmelltastehearfeel tenfold of what he could before. It was jarring at first - the first time he beamed to earth as a fledgling, he threw up - but he learned to welcome the overwhelming feeling.

Over time, he also came to appreciate earthlings. Humans, animals, supernaturals, heck, even the plants on earth. Of course, as an angel, interacting with humans was a strict no-no, unless he received orders from Up There. But he was free to mingle with supernaturals, as long as it didn’t affect his work ethic. It wasn’t overtly encouraged, but angels working on earth often developed a network of contacts they could trust and call upon for favours. It made fact-finding missions easier, and, frankly, alleviated some of the loneliness and boredom he felt when he was on earth for long stretches at a time. Jeonghan has long collected a list of connections during his time on earth, and they ranged from the common werewolves and vampires to the odd gumiho or leprechaun. He also, guiltily, had a few earth-bound demons that he kept in touch with occasionally, but was not very close to, for fear that he would be tempted.

Some of his “connections” he could consider friends. Seungcheol was one of them. He was a werewolf that Jeonghan had first met when he was still a fledgling, shadowing his mentor on earth. Jeonghan was old by earth standards, but Seungcheol was older, albeit slightly. Despite his age, Seungcheol’s face and spirit retained a bright and youthful charm. He was a young soul trapped in an immortal’s body - constantly delving into the newest causes no matter the century, and always chasing the newest fads. In the Middle Ages, Seungcheol was found amongst the art snobs in renaissance Italy, then he was in the thick of the American revolution, then the French revolution, then the overthrowing of the Qing dynasty, then he was in the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Every time Jeonghan popped by to visit him, he was neck-deep in another cause.

Which was why Jeonghan was only slightly surprised when he found out that Seungcheol had adopted an orphaned pup. Of course Seungcheol had adopted the next helpless cause he stumbled upon. Of course Seungcheol had taken him in and fed him and clothed him and put him through school. It was exactly the sort of thing he had been doing all those centuries ago, just on a smaller scale. And of course he did all that while obtaining his 3847475th university degree. Jeonghan just wished that Seungcheol had warned him before he beamed into his flat and was immediately attacked by a tiny 20-pound pup. He and Mingyu didn’t get off on the right foot, but over time, he came to adore the bubbly young wolf, whom he secretly loved to spoil.

Seungcheol was one of the first earthlings Jeonghan befriended, so it followed that Jeonghan met other earthlings through him. Seungcheol had friends from all over the world, of various species. Seungcheol was a lone wolf - he never involved himself in territorial disputes, and rarely made enemies. As such, he introduced Joshua to Jeonghan at the height of the Werewolf-Vampiric War in the most nonchalant way possible.

Jeonghan beamed into Seungcheol’s manor, where he was hiding out to avoid the blitzing and occupation and general chaos of the human’s world war and the werewolf-vampiric war. The manor was a hidden island of peace in the maelstrom of the world, hidden from human and supernatural eyes alike by charms and spells. He breathed a sigh of relief as he took in the quiet - as much as he liked earth for its chaos, the simultaneous wars and increasing death tolls on earth had kept him busy and made him long for some rest.

“Jeonghannie?” Seungcheol called out from somewhere within the manor, ears sharp as ever, “Is that you?”

Jeonghan hummed in acknowledgement, knowing that Seungcheol would hear it.

“Come on into the drawing room. We’re ah - having some drinks.”

Jeonghan’s wings shifted in curiosity - Seungcheol had other guests over? Well, Jeonghan could certainly use the company and the alcohol he was offering to forget about the violence and death for a little while.

He stopped outside the drawing room, mouth agape. Seungcheol was sprawled out on one of the lounges, head tilted back and neck bared. On his lap was a vampire, fangs latched onto his jugular, drinking leisurely. Jeonghan’s hand flew to the hilt of his sword, and he was halfway to unsheathing it when he realised that it was no attack - there was no struggling, no pained grunts and whines.

The ring of his sword attracted the attention of the vampire. Blood-red eyes flickered up to meet his. Jeonghan held both hands up, empty, as a sign of peace. The eyes closed again in pleasure, and the vampire continued feeding. As Jeonghan watched, a trickle of blood leaked out of the corner of its lips. Jeonghan felt queasy.

“Um.”

“Come in,” Seungcheol said invitingly, casually, as though this was a normal occurrence.

Jeonghan sat stiffly on the armchair furthest away from them.

“Jeonghan, meet Joshua, Joshua, meet Jeonghan,” Seungcheol introduced cheerily. The vampire - Joshua - grunted in greeting, while Jeonghan mumbled a quick ‘hi’.

“Feel free to pour yourself a drink,” Seungcheol added, gesturing vaguely to the decanters set out on the coffee table. Jeonghan set out to do exactly that. Seungcheol always had good taste in alcohol.

“So,” Seungcheol said, voice slurring a little, “how’re things doin’ on your end, Hannie?”

“It’s been tiring,” started Jeonghan hesitantly, still wary of Joshua, who was still feeding on Seungcheol, “The war’s keeping me busy. Been going back and forth a lot. Spending a lot of time in Europe.”

“Mm,” acknowledged Seungcheol. There was a long pause before he spoke again, voice gone thick and syrupy, barely coherent. “Are you - Have you, um, seen, um, Jihoon lately?”

“No,” Jeonghan frowned, “I suppose he’s pretty busy too. Last I heard, he was assigned to East Asia,” he stopped suddenly when Seungcheol let out a particularly shivery exhale. “Hey,” he snapped, addressing the vampire, “stop, Seungcheol’s barely conscious.”

A growl erupted from the vampire, and his bloodthirsty eyes flickered towards Jeonghan and held his gaze challengingly. Too late Jeonghan remembered that interrupting a vampire’s feeding was probably not the best idea.

“No, no, it’s fine, Shua, you can continue,” Seungcheol mumbled soothingly, running a light hand up Joshua’s flank. “Think I’ve got half a pint left in me.”

To Jeonghan, Seungcheol said, “I’m letting Shua take more than usual. He’s been starved for weeks.”

At Jeonghan’s skeptical glance, he explained, “Stuck in werewolf territory. I snuck him out.”

Jeonghan’s heart twisted in pity - lone vampires and werewolves were probably the biggest casualty in the raging werewolf-vampire war. As humans died by the thousands, werewolves and vampires jumped on the opportunity to expand their territory - clashing violently when interests collided. The war was fought by covens and clans, but loners got caught in the crossfire, too, often tortured and held captive and bearing the brunt of the hatred against their kind. Jeonghan often worried for Seungcheol, the only lone werewolf he knew, but reassured himself with the fact that Seungcheol always seemed to have connections that got him out of trouble. No doubt when Seungcheol “snuck out” Joshua his connections came in handy.

Joshua surfaced moments later, gasping. He licked his lips clean of blood, then proceeded to do the same to Seungcheol’s neck, chasing every last drop of blood and sealing the fang wound. Jeonghan squirmed watching him. It was so… animalistic, so primal, the way Joshua was so desperate for blood. It was something he would never see in Heaven - angels had no need for food or water, or anything, really, besides the grace of God. Witnessing something so carnal almost felt like a sin, but Jeonghan was fascinated and could not look away.

Joshua gentled as soon as the wound healed - thanks to Seungcheol’s quick healing abilities. He pressed a light kiss against the new skin, before moving up and pressing another onto Seungcheol’s bloodless cheek.

“Thank you,” he murmured. “Did it hurt at all?”

“No, it felt good,” replied Seungcheol, a slightly dazed smile on his face. He moved to get up, but Joshua stopped him.

“I’ll go get you dinner. Raw steak?”

“Two pieces of them. They should be defrosting on the kitchen counter.”

Joshua nodded and slipped away.

“He’s an old friend,” said Seungcheol abruptly, in the silence left in Joshua’s wake. “Met him a few decades ago, when we were both in China. Great guy. Really nice. He’s really gentle, gentler than most vampires I’ve let feed on me. He’s funny too, and he -”

“Are you chatting your friend up?” Jeonghan asked, confused.

“Uh, yeah. I mean, you don’t seem to like him, so I thought -”

“Oh, no, not at all! I was just a little wary. When I first walked in I thought you were being attacked, and, um, you know carnal activities make me uncomfortable, so…”

“Oh! Oh… I see,” Seungcheol stuttered, looking mildly embarrassed.

An awkward silence ensued, though thankfully not for long - Joshua had returned from the kitchen with Seungcheol’s dinner. And Jeonghan found Joshua to be exactly as Seungcheol described him, and more. He was funny, gentle, and considerate of others - asking polite questions about Jeonghan’s job and nature, and when Jeonghan couldn’t reveal too much, graciously steered the topic away to a safer one. Throughout the evening, Jeonghan didn’t feel like the odd one out, or the third wheel, as he so often did amongst supernaturals on earth. As much as he loved spending time on earth, there were still so many things he didn’t “get” - from the lingo to the references to earth culture - he was still a foreigner to the world he was serving. But Joshua somehow navigated conversation in a way that was inclusive and smooth - there wasn’t a single awkward moment for the rest of the evening.

If Jeonghan weren’t immune to glamour, he would have thought that he was being induced by the vampire. But as it was, Jeonghan found himself charmed anyway, adding Joshua (with his consent) to the list of contacts he had on earth.

/////

Half a century later, Jeonghan thought nothing of it when Joshua called. Perhaps Joshua was calling to ask if Jeonghan wanted to meet and catch up. It had been a few years since they last saw each other, though they texted often. It was just that Jeonghan was so busy. Some angels in his department had been transferred to another almost a decade ago, and Jeonghan had to pick up the slack.

“Hello?” he answered his phone distractedly. The excuse of sorry, it’s been a busy decade for me, call me back in a few years was on the tip of his tongue already.

“Angel, it’s me. I need your help.”

The urgency in Joshua’s tone froze Jeonghan in his tracks. Immediately, he was on alert. “What’s wrong?”

“Long story, I need to go somewhere safe, now. I have a halfling child with me who’s in danger of being trafficked. He’s going to be Tracked soon.”

Jeonghan didn’t even bother answering; he beamed himself to Joshua’s side in an instant. He heard Joshua’s sigh of relief as he flickered into his flat. The first thing Jeonghan did was to look Joshua over for injuries - thankfully, there was none. But the child clinging onto Joshua’s legs looked malnourished, and had a sickly pallor to his skin. He also had a terrified expression on his face. Jeonghan wanted to drop everything and coddle him and protect him from the world, but the threat of being Tracked still hung over him.

“Hold onto my hands, both of you,” he commanded.

Joshua nudged the halfling to hold onto Jeonghan’s left hand while he held the right. The halfling seemed to trust Joshua, because he reluctantly let go of Joshua and obeyed. Within a blink of an eye, Jeonghan beamed back into his own apartment.

“You can lay low here,” Jeonghan assured Joshua. “The apartment has wards crafted in Heaven, so rest assured you’ll be safe while you’re here.”

“Thanks, Hannie,” Joshua murmured, before sweeping him into a hug.

Jeonghan sighed, sinking into the hug and relishing it. It had been so long since he last saw Joshua. It had been so long since Jeonghan had company that weren't other angels.

He caught sight of the halfling trying to stifle a yawn. “Hey, um,” he started, unsure of how to address the child. He looked at Joshua quizzically.

“Vernon,” Joshua said softly to the child. “This is my friend, Jeonghan. He’s an angel.”

Vernon’s mouth dropped into an ‘o’ of surprise. Jeonghan suppressed a squeal at his cuteness. “Wow. A real angel?”

“Yes, a real angel,” Jeonghan said, smiling, puffing his wings for effect. Vernon looked at them in awe. “Well, Vernon, I can see you look a little tired, and it’s almost midnight. I’m going to get my spare mattress out so you can sleep, okay?”

“He needs to eat first,” Joshua interrupted, digging through his backpack and producing some raw minced beef.

They left Vernon perched on Jeonghan’s kitchen counter, eating the minced beef with a dessert spoon (it was the only clean utensil in his kitchen). With Joshua’s help, Jeonghan managed to maneuver the spare mattress - a futon, really - from underneath his bed to the living room. It was a considerable feat, considering the relatively tight confines of his small apartment.

“Sleep well, Vernon,” Jeonghan overheard Joshua say as he tucked Vernon in.

/////

“We need a plan.”

Joshua sighed, flopping onto Jeonghan’s bed. He was exhausted from relaying the evening’s series of events to Jeonghan. “I know. God, today’s been such a mess.”

Jeonghan grabbed a scrap of paper on his desk and started a rudimentary list. “Tell me what you need to get done.”

“If Vernon’s captors really set a sniffer dog on him, it won’t be hard for them to track Vernon’s scent to my apartment. I guess one way of knowing for sure that they’re tracking him is to go back to my apartment and check if there are any new scents. But I can’t go back too soon - they might have staked out the apartment. I can’t go back too late either - the scents would fade after a week.”

“Do you have anyone who could drop by your apartment and check in for you?”

“No.”

“Your co-workers? Neighbours?”

“Ugh!” exclaimed Joshua, facepalming. “I have to find a way to resign. I mean, I was already planning to, but not this soon.”

“Family emergency,” Jeonghan suggested.

“But I can’t just up and leave without collecting my stuff from the office.”

“Extended family emergency. You can go back in a few months and properly resign then.”

Joshua exhaled a long breath. That was how long it took for a sniffer dog to give up a hunt. A few months. Sure, he was 246 years old, a few months was nothing, but it was still a long time to be on the run. His blood supply wouldn’t last more than a few weeks, at most. And what about the kid? No child, let alone a werewolf pup, could stand being cooped up in the small space of Jeonghan’s apartment for a few months.

“What have I gotten myself into?” he groaned, pressing his palms against his eyes.