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Blood and Peaches

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The thing is, by the time Jaehyun was born, vampires had already been out of the coffin for centuries. They officially first cropped up in historical records around the Black Death, when the first of them weren’t dying, let alone aging. At least, presumably the first of them.

Jaehyun knows the oldest living vampire in Korea is Lee Sooman, and he doesn’t talk about his, uh, creator? Jaehyun thinks that’s the right word. (Or parent, maybe? Perhaps he should have paid more attention in school.) Since then, vampires have always been around, self-governing and keeping their secrets, but generally coexisting with humans. So, it’s not like it’s weird, waking up on a Thursday morning to his best friend shaking him frantically awake, shouting about vampires.

Jaehyun and Mark go to a mixed school, live in a mixed dorm, and are at the very least on speaking terms with plenty of vampires. Jaehyun even has an unfortunate crush on a vampire—even has a first date scheduled with that vampire. He’s been trying not to fixate on that since asking the man (vampire?) out, but it still lends credence to his point: it’s not weird for Mark to be shouting about vampires. It is weird for Mark to be shouting about how he is a vampire, though. Because when Jaehyun fell asleep the night before, Mark wasn’t a vampire. He was as human as Jaehyun is.

So… weird. Really, really fucking weird.

Jaehyun rolls back over and pulls the pillow over his head, hoping that it’s all just a bad dream.

“Jaehyun-hyung!” says Mark. “Jaehyun-hyung! You’re not listening to me! I’m a vampire!”

It occurs to Jaehyun that he’s not entirely sure how Mark got into his room in the first place. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s too early to think about much of anything. It’s finals week, so no one has classes, but Jaehyun has an eight a.m. final that morning and no way is he waking up before the crack of dawn. Not even for Mark.

“Mark-yah,” Jaehyun says, mostly muffled by his pillow. “It’s too early for this.”

“I am a vampire!” Mark says again, at a considerably higher pitch, and then seems to have no trouble at all wrestling Jaehyun’s pillow from him.

Jaehyun squints into the darkness of his dorm room, then turns in the direction of all the fuss, wincing when he’s hit by a beam of light coming from his cracked door. But it’s not a beam coming from under it. No, it seems to be coming at Jaehyun’s eyes from an odd angle. “What?” Jaehyun looks at the door.

“Sorry about that, uh. I might not know my own strength,” Mark explains, sounding surprisingly perky for having been two seconds away from a nervous breakdown only moments before.

After rubbing his eyes, Jaehyun notices that his front door seems to be resting propped at an angle, no longer sitting on its hinges. “Mark,” he says, sitting up in bed and then pausing to pull a face. Jaehyun doesn’t sleep shirtless because he’s an RA, and the combination of a t-shirt and the winter comforter he’s been too lazy to swap out has left him distinctly gross; he’ll have to shower before his exam, and brush his teeth. He rubs at his eyes again, trying to stay focused. “What did you do to my door?”

Mark shifts guiltily around on Jaehyun’s bed, somehow managing to maintain eye contact. His eyes are… reflective, like a cat’s. Jaehyun is… not thinking about that. “Well, I knocked,” Mark explains. “You didn’t give me a key.”

“I’m an RA,” Jaehyun manages, still staring at his unhinged door.

“I’m not saying I don’t understand,” Mark says. “Just. I knocked.” He lifts his hand and mimes the action, as if that’s the thing that is giving Jaehyun pause. Then he repeats the sentence in English, still miming. Jaehyun knows what knocking is. He speaks Korean, and English, and so does Mark. The issue isn’t the language choice. The issue is that Mark’s knocking was apparently strong enough to knock Jaehyun’s door off its hinges.

“You knocked,” says Jaehyun.

“Yeah,” Mark says. “I’m surprised you didn’t wake up, actually. I mean I caught the door,” he adds, miming that as well, so it must not be something he’s doing consciously. “But it was very loud.”

Jaehyun pulled an almost all-nighter in prep for his second to last final, and he had been dreaming about sailing the ocean as the parrot of some sort of vampire pirate king that might have been said crush-slash-soon-to-be-first-date, but there hadn’t been any loud banging in that setting either. Of either kind. “Wow,” is all he manages.

Mark bites at his lower lip, and Jaehyun sees fangs. “Sorry—”

“Mark,” Jaehyun interrupts, staring—pointing. “Mark, what—”

Mark reaches up to touch his own mouth, finding the sharp canines and pricking a finger with a wince. “Ow—shit—I’ve been doing all morning—don’t worry—it won’t—last… ” He trails off as Jaehyun grabs his hand to put pressure on it to stop the bleeding, and both of them watch firsthand as the skin of Mark’s index finger knits itself back together, leaving absolutely no trace of a scar.

“Shit,” Jaehyun manages, still staring. He shifts his hold on Mark’s hand almost without thinking about it, sliding two fingers to rest at his pulse point. His best friend just keeps rambling on, talking about how the first thing he did when he woke up in a field on west campus was nearly bite off his own tongue. Literally, not figuratively. That should have been the weirdest thing, but it turns out the bloody clothes were weirder.

“It’s my blood,” Mark adds, as Jaehyun pauses in his desperate wait for a pulse that clearly isn’t there to look down at the shirt and pants Mark is wearing. Jeans and thankfully no shoes or socks, with a band t-shirt stained almost entirely brown with dried blood. It’s summer, the end of June, and Mark’s arms are bare and shockingly pale. Jaehyun almost wants to say they’re paler than they usually are, but he’s not sure. “Don’t ask me how I know that, but I know that,” Mark is saying. “It’s my blood. I’m not—I didn’t go out and—eat—someone.”

They’re probably crossing all sorts of lines and not at all politically correct, but Jaehyun doesn’t really care at this point, too busy giving up on finding Mark’s pulse—Mark doesn’t have one; he doesn’t have one; Jaehyun’s best friend is an undead vampire—and instead scrambling around desperately on his bed for his phone. He finds one AirPod, hopes to God he’ll find the second one later, and then closes his fingers around the well-loved bit of technology. It’s five-fifteen, just when dawn should be breaking, and it’s June twenty-fifth—a Thursday. Jaehyun has a final at eight a.m., and then another tomorrow around nine. He swallows.

“Mark,” he says. His friend’s nervous rambling cuts off. “You—what do we do?” He pauses. “How did you get in?” How did you cross the threshold, he means, but doesn’t say. Mark gets it, regardless. They’d both been there for plenty of class welcome ceremonies, where the faculty invited all their undead students past the thresholds of their offices, and the head of school welcomed them onto the campus proper. Jaehyun has a crush—has vampire students in his hall, but he doesn’t remember what the protocol is for dorms. “You can come in, Mark Lee,” he blurts anyway, just in case. He wouldn’t want Mark to be in pain, or something.

“I think it’s different, because it’s a dorm,” Mark says finally. “Like, it’s yours, obviously, but it’s… not yours. And I broke my way in anyway, so I think.” He licks nervously at his lips, almost like he wants to bite down, but seems to remember himself before doing so. “Even if it had been a proper threshold, I’d have been able to cross it after that.”

“Ah,” Jaehyun says. Normally he’d be interested in that sort of information—the impossibility of vampires has always fascinated him—but given that it’s his formerly human best friend, he’s a little too distracted for scientific study.

“Yeah.” Mark bites at his lower lip again, this time hard enough that a line of blood drips down his chin before he realizes and reaches to catch it with a hand. Jaehyun watches the skin heal up once again, and then looks away when Mark’s tongue comes out to lick the skin of his palm clean. He—Jaehyun doesn’t go around thinking about people’s fangs that often, like, not… not often. Only once or twice that first year, when he didn’t really know any vampires beyond the realization that, “Oh, my class TA is pretty and dangerous and great, I’m a cliché.”

“Jaehyun-hyung,” Mark says miserably, not meeting Jaehyun’s eyes.

The longer that Jaehyun’s been awake the better his vision has gotten but he knows it’s nothing compared to Mark’s now, especially given the way his irises keep flashing like a cat’s. He fumbles around behind himself for his glasses, and perches them on his nose.

“I need you to come with me to Johnny-hyung’s,” says Mark.

Jaehyun shut his eyes, filled with despair. “Mark.”

“I’m sorry,” Mark says, just as miserably. “I’m sorry, but I—we have to take the train, and I don’t trust myself.”

“Right,” Jaehyun says, still not opening his eyes. “Right, let me get dressed.”

Mark doesn’t appear to move as Jaehyun gets out of bed to search for clothes, but he speaks once Jaehyun’s peeled his t-shirt off and is feeling around half-blindly for something other than his pajamas. “Maybe take a shower. You—I mean—Taeyong-hyung—”

“Right,” Jaehyun says again, and stumbles for his shower caddy. “Do you mind telling Yerim—” Jaehyun can barely get through the name of the other RA on his hall before Mark moves, so quickly that Jaehyun’s head spins.

He doesn’t even really see it, only notices the inhuman displacement of air Mark leaves behind as he backs into a corner of Jaehyun’s room as far away from the door as possible. It feels like only a second has passed; maybe even less than that. “No,” Mark manages. “No, I. I don’t trust myself.”

Jaehyun swallows, trying his best to remain calm. “Right,” he says for the third time. “I’ll tell her, then.” He tightens his hold on his shower caddy then picks up his phone. “Don’t go anywhere.”

“I’ll get the door for you,” Mark says, appearing by his side again in another one of those inhumanly fast moves. Jaehyun does his best not to seem too bothered, but clearly he can no longer lie to Mark, because his best friend shifts the door out of the way with a downturn to his mouth, metaphorical puppy ears very clearly drooping. “Sorry,” Mark whispers as Jaehyun steps past.

“I’ll be back,” says Jaehyun.

 


 

Yerim stares at Jaehyun like he’s grown a second head, but she nods when he informs her that she’ll have to be the point person for all of their students while he’s gone, and she agrees to handle any issues or complaints on her own.

“It’s a family emergency. I’m really sorry,” Jaehyun explains, standing on her doorstep in only his thrown-back-on pajama shirt and boxers with his towel over one shoulder. He couldn’t bring himself to stand on her doorstep completely naked, and it wasn’t like the pajamas were that dirty, so it wasn’t like putting them on ruined the entire shower. Jaehyun hadn’t been able to do more than stand under lukewarm water and stare at shower tiles anyway, too preoccupied with the fact that his best friend was now a vampire and how he was about to take said vampire best friend on the train to visit the only other vampire they were friendly with on campus. Lee Taeyong, Johnny-hyung’s roommate, and Jaehyun’s… unfortunate crush, going on three years. There hadn’t been a lot of washing. It was more like a vaguely-sudsy rubdown, and a lot of shampoo getting in Jaehyun’s eyes.

“Okay, Oppa,” says Yerim, eyes roaming briefly around the hallway as if there might be some sort of explanation for Jaehyun’s early morning insanity. “Um, I hope everything is okay with your… family.”

“Thanks,” Jaehyun says, bowing a few more times, and then waits for her to close the door before resuming his trek back down the hallway to where he left Mark inside his dorm room. “Oh—” He turns back and knocks sheepishly on Yerim’s door.

She opens it immediately, expression still dubious. “Oppa?”

“My, um, door is broken,” Jaehyun tells her. “Uh, I can call someone to fix it later today, but just… letting you know. It came off the hinges.”

Yerim stares.

“Thank you so much,” Jaehyun says again, and then turns and books it back to his room.

Once there, he dresses in silence, pockets his keys and his phone, and is painfully, awfully aware of his best friend’s presence, despite the lack of noise. Mark is standing in the farthest corner of Jaehyun’s room wearing his immobility like a weapon, but somehow that only draws Jaehyun’s attention to him even more. Mark has never been one for stillness, and it’s unnerving. Nevermind that Mark appears to be caught in a never-ending cycle between reflexively and automatically breathing, and then forgetting about the process entirely. It’s like his body has accepted that he doesn’t need to do that anymore, but his brain can’t quite figure out how to handle that. He keeps—well he bleeds, obviously, but seeing that paradox firsthand is different than simply reading about it. Jaehyun—if this were anyone else, Jaehyun might want to study them.

It takes him an embarrassing three tries to get his contacts in.

“I’m ready,” he tells the statue that is Mark once he’s done, and his friend turns, expression manic.

Mark doesn’t look that much different—he’s still shorter than Jaehyun with dark, boyish hair and a pretty, boyish face. Jaehyun can now see that he’s definitely less tanned than he’d been at the start of the summer and his teeth are obviously not the same—sharply pointed canines on the top and bottom of his mouth that should be something out of a fantasy film, not reality, but vampires have been out of the coffin for centuries and Jaehyun shouldn’t still be weirded out about it. Jaehyun grew up with vampire neighbors, for fuck’s sake. Jaehyun has a vampire on his floor—two of them: Chenle and Jaemin.

It’s Mark’s eyes that are definitely the most changed, even though they’re not any larger. His pupils still remind Jaehyun of a cat’s, but with his light on, they’re now a normal size. A human size. Although it isn’t the size so much as it is the way they now reflect light…

“Are you ready?” Jaehyun manages.

“Let’s go,” Mark says. “I didn’t—I couldn’t text him. Johnny-hyung.”

Jaehyun understands. Jaehyun wouldn’t know how to tell his human boyfriend that he was now a vampire over text either, even if his human boyfriend was best friends with a vampire. He pauses to reach for a stack of post-its and a pen, scrawling a painstakingly legible note about how he’s away, but Yerim is available if anyone needs help in the hours he’s gone, good luck on your exams, fighting!

“Come on,” he says, shifting so Mark can hoist the door with one hand, and then sticking the post-it-note to it once Mark has set it back down, awkwardly covering the entryway to Jaehyun’s room. He supposes he’s lucky it doesn’t seem easily movable with normal human strength, because he’d feel kind of silly taking all of his valuables. He locked his passport and his Bluetooth speakers away in his suitcase hidden under his bed, but even that was probably overkill. Nobody’s going to rob the RA, especially during finals week.

The sun is just barely starting to crest the campus buildings as he and Mark hit the sidewalk and start towards the nearest subway station, only one of them shivering in the early morning cold. Jaehyun hadn’t grabbed more than something with three quarter sleeves, but at least he’s not in shorts like Mark, who was slimmer than Jaehyun and didn’t really fit into any of Jaehyun’s clothes. They’d made do with a belt, but Mark still kind of looks like a little kid. It makes their age difference all the more jarring, and Jaehyun is struck very suddenly that Mark Lee will never be twenty-three.

“What do you remember?” he manages, as they tap their t-money cards and enter the subway. The platform is pretty sparse for this early at the tail end of final exams, but there are always a few vampires getting off from night shifts. A few of them shoot Mark curious looks as they line up beside the yellow footprints, but Mark was unassuming when he was human and seems even more so now that he’s a vampire, so no one seems too bothered. It’s striking in comparison to Taeyong, who draws eyes wherever he goes. Though that might be more due to his… family. Jaehyun really needs to brush up on his terminology. His best friend is a fucking vampire.

“Nothing,” says Mark, in a tone that is so honestly frightened that Jaehyun decides they’re better off keeping silent the full three stops it takes to get to Johnny and Taeyong’s apartment. The two of them would probably have had no problem living within walking distance of SM U like Mark, or even getting nicer dorm rooms on campus than Jaehyun, but apparently Taeyong’s owned this apartment since before there even was an SM U, and he might own the whole building. Taeyong always gets flighty when acknowledging how old he is and Jaehyun never knows when to take Johnny seriously; none of that had changed once Mark and Johnny started dating.

The place is nice: floor-to-ceiling glass windows, two bedrooms, a really nice kitchen, and even a doorman posted around the clock. Jaehyun understands why Johnny was willing to live three subway stops from the university. He still feels visibly unsettled standing beside Mark waiting for the elevator, however. It’s not helped by the fact that the doorman is definitely a vampire. Jaehyun would have known even without Mark telling him, but the nail file the man takes out to very unnecessarily file along one of his canines—all without losing eye contact with poor Jaehyun due to the fucking mirrors on the elevator doors—doesn’t help. He supposes that’s another myth: vampires not showing up in mirrors, along with turning to ash in sunlight (the most glaring falsity invented by men who had most definitely never met a vampire yet still managed to make money off of humanity’s captivation with the dangerous; Taeyong’s words, not Jaehyun’s). Mark is showing up in the mirrored elevator doors too, so Jaehyun taps him on the shoulder and points.

Mark turns to look at him with those same huge, frighteningly dilated eyes, but then grins when he sees where Jaehyun’s pointing. He has fangs and hasn’t realized he stopped breathing sometime around the time they stepped onto the train to Taeyong and Johnny’s, but he’s still Jaehyun’s best friend, and Jaehyun feels his tension ease. “That’s a relief,” Mark says, as the doors finally ding open and they step in. When they turn around, the doorman no longer has the nail file. Instead, he blows a bubble of gum and pops it as the doors close, making Mark roll his eyes. “I was worried that from now on you’d have to style my hair.”

Jaehyun snorts. “I think if vampires couldn’t see themselves in mirrors there would be far less of them on the cover of Vogue Magazine,” he points out, thinking about Eugene’s latest two page spread. Eugene is also Lee Sooman’s daughter, so that more than explains that, but Jaehyun doesn’t think he’s ever met a vampire that wasn’t well dressed. At least not in Seoul. They were a little less stylish in Connecticut.

“Yeah,” Mark says. “Uh, ‘of you,’ probably.”

Jaehyun looks at him, confused.

“You said there would be far less ‘of them.’ It should be ‘of you,’ probably.” Mark’s expression is unreadable, but he’s holding his head high. “Now.”

“Right,” Jaehyun says again. The doors swing open on Taeyong and Johnny’s floor, and Jaehyun waits for Mark to get out of the elevator first. “You—” He searches for good humor and manages not to come up completely short. “Well, you probably won’t end up on the cover of Vogue Magazine,” he says as they make their way to stand awkwardly outside Taeyong and Johnny’s door. “You’re not that hot.”

“Hey,” Mark says. “I’m a catch.”

“You are,” Jaehyun agrees, reaching out to ring the bell on the door, then regretting it the moment the intercom buzzes to life.

“Coming!” calls a voice, low and musical and making Jaehyun’s toes curl.

“Wow,” Mark seems to breathe, totally not thinking before speaking. “You really like him—”

“Mark!” Jaehyun manages as the intercom lights up again and Taeyong clearly takes in the sight darkening his door. Mark’s hidden behind Jaehyun so Taeyong can’t see him, but Jaehyun doesn’t really mind—he’s more bothered by the line of conversation.

“Sorry, you just smell—” Mark stops talking again and exhales, clearly picking up on Jaehyun’s distress on top of his default desire for Lee Taeyong. “Sorry.”

“Jaehyunnie?” Taeyong’s voice sounds surprised. Not unpleasantly so, but it does seem to be a little less warm. Jaehyun still doesn’t get that—he’s never been anything but kind to Taeyong since they met when Jaehyun and Mark were freshmen three years ago—but he does his best not to let it bother him. Mark still picks up on it.

“As your body is no doubt rapidly becoming aware, you don’t actually need to breathe,” Jaehyun tells his friend in barely more than a whisper, hoping Taeyong is too distracted by whatever is going on inside his apartment to be eavesdropping. “So maybe don’t.”

“Sorry,” Mark says again, then shifts like he wants to say more. He probably can’t help but want to comment on how Jaehyun’s gone fucking depressed over Taeyong’s lukewarm welcome.

“Taeyong-hyung, hi,” Jaehyun says, before Mark can do so. “Sorry to bother you this”—late? Early? Vampires are nocturnal, right? Or crepuscular? Jaehyun suddenly can’t fucking remember, so he’ll just fake it and then scour the internet for the information afterwards. “Sorry to bother you,” he settles for.

Taeyong’s voice warms back up again. “You’re not bothering me. Wait a moment?” He clicks off the intercom, but then his door is swinging open to reveal his bright, smiling face, and Jaehyun feels it like a physical blow.

He tries to save face by taking a step back, but Mark is there, and Jaehyun ends up trapped, powerless in the face of Taeyong’s smile.

Taeyong is also shorter than Jaehyun, with unfairly beautiful eyes and a jaw that humans have been willingly going under the knife for probably since the first time technology permitted body alterations. He’s dressed in an oversized white t-shirt with a splash of English on it (“I want to cry in your arms for a hundred years”) and dark skinny jeans; nothing Jaehyun associates with vampires. His eyebrows are frankly unfair, his mouth is the type of thing Jaehyun used to have wet dreams about kissing well before he realized he could have the real thing plus fangs, and over the course of the three years Jaehyun and Mark have known him, he’s had more hair colors than Jaehyun thought possible. Whatever it is that keeps Taeyong from aging seems to also keep Taeyong from balding, because they can’t all have been temporary. Today he’s natural black, and it does nothing to help Jaehyun’s head stop spinning.

“Jaehyunnie,” he breathes, in that deep, airy way that makes Jaehyun’s toes curl again, and Mark makes an involuntary little noise in response. That noise is enough to catch Taeyong’s attention, because his eyes leave Jaehyun’s face immediately. Almost instantly a change comes over him, the warmth leaving him for winter, entirely bypassing autumn. He goes stiller, colder, and stands somehow taller and with infinitely more power.

Jaehyun is no less affected by any of it, and he hates that Mark knows that now. “Um, hi, Taeyongie-hyung,” he says again finally, since no one else is talking. “Sorry to bother you so early.” And there goes faking it and then scouring the internet afterwards.

“Jaehyun-ah.” Taeyong’s black eyes are still fixed on a point over Jaehyun’s shoulder—on Mark, Jaehyun thinks.

Jaehyun steps pointedly to the side, in time for Johnny to cross out of the kitchen area holding a dish towel and drying a plate.

“Jaehyun!” Johnny says when he sees him. “What are you doing here—” His voice breaks off when he spots Mark, standing to Jaehyun’s side with his hand raised awkwardly in a wave.

The plate hits the floor and shatters into tiny pieces.

Johnny’s mouth falls slack and open.

So much for the change not being all that obvious, Jaehyun thinks faintly.

“Hi, Taeyong-hyung. Johnny-hyung,” Mark manages. “Um. Surprise?”

 


 

Taeyong cleans up the plate, and makes Mark, Jaehyun, and Johnny sit with their feet up at the three bar stools in their kitchen. They’re the humans, and Taeyong is far less breakable. Mark tries to point out that he should be excluded from both of those categories, but the glares Taeyong and Johnny level at him are enough to silence him. Jaehyun is content to let Taeyong handle the cleaning—Taeyong likes cleaning regardless and Jaehyun knows that about him—and Johnny seems too enraptured by the changes to Mark’s physique to be too bothered. He’s been petting over Mark’s hands for the entire twenty minutes it’s taken Taeyong to be satisfied with the sweep and the vacuum he gave the tile floor, turning both of them this way and that so that he can look at his palms, and for some reason, pick at his nail beds.

“Taeyong-ah,” Johnny says after he’s done that more than a few times. “Put the vamp sight away and let it go. Just because you can see the micro splinters of glass doesn’t mean my human foot is going to notice them or split open on them.”

Taeyong scowls at Johnny but puts the broom and vacuum away anyway. He does it in one of those too quick to notice little gestures, and both Mark and Jaehyun visibly flinch. Jaehyun saves face by making like he was just resettling his hands in his lap, and Mark guiltily shoves his hands back at Johnny.

“Sorry,” Taeyong says, coming to stand in front of the kitchen island and facing the three of them with deliberate slowness. “I’m home, and I forget when it’s just me and Youngho.” That’s Johnny’s Korean name, and Jaehyun still hasn’t figured out when and why Taeyong uses it instead of his English one.

“It’s fine,” Jaehyun says, since evidently Mark isn’t going to say anything. “I’m just a little jumpy, given.” He gestures with a hand at Mark, who somehow manages to smile a little, and lets go of Johnny with one hand to scratch at an itch on his jaw. Jaehyun leans his elbows onto the counter. “He broke my door off the hinges.”

Taeyong blinks at him, honest surprise and human reaction on his perfect face. He turns almost accusingly towards Mark.

“I don’t know my own strength!” Mark says, though it comes out as more of a shout, and Johnny very gently sets Mark’s hand down on the table.

“And your own volume,” he says.

Mark winces. “Sorry.” Now he’s so quiet Jaehyun can’t really hear him, but Taeyong clearly can.

“Mark—”

“I’m not—good at this,” Mark says. “And I don’t—trust myself,” he continues. “It’s why I made Jaehyun-hyung take me here.”

“You’re the only vampire we know,” Jaehyun explains.

Johnny’s mouth opens to no doubt ramble off a list.

“Who’s our friend,” Jaehyun continues. “And Mark—” He swallows, exchanging a look with his friend.

“I don’t remember what happened to make me like this,” Mark says, gesturing at his face. “I woke up in a field covered in my own blood, with fangs.” He swallows. “There were kids there, making out under the bleachers. I wanted… them.” His jaw is tense, but he’s holding Taeyong’s suddenly much more dangerous gaze. “I didn’t,” Mark finishes, looking at Johnny this time. “I came straight to Jaehyun-hyung.”

“Where you took my door off the hinges.”

“Where I took your door off the hinges, yes,” Mark says. “I said I was sorry.”

“I put my speakers in my suitcase, Mark-yah,” Jaehyun says. “I left my speakers unguarded for you, Mark-yah.”

Mark grins. “Thanks, soulmate,” he says, that nickname they’ve been using since they were paired together as roommates for their freshman year.

Jaehyun grins back, but Taeyong doesn’t look amused. Come to think of it neither does Johnny. They’re both looking at Mark with worried, unreadable eyes.

“Hyung?” Jaehyun says.

Taeyong’s gaze snaps to his instantly, but Johnny keeps staring at Mark. “You don’t remember,” Taeyong says. He’s addressing Mark while still looking at Jaehyun, and Jaehyun feels like he’s under an x-ray.

“No,” Mark says. “I mean, I remember bits of the day before. It was raining? And I—I think I was leaving one of the dorms, for some reason, but that’s kind of fuzzy, and then I was waking up in the field with blood all the way down my front and these.” He reaches up to pull his lips back and show his fangs, which are just as shiny and sharp as Jaehyun had remembered.

Johnny reaches out to poke his right incisor, but nicks the canine and bleeds, instantly, and suddenly the entire atmosphere changes. Taeyong goes so still that Jaehyun kind of can’t look away, but Johnny only seems to have eyes for Mark, who is equally rigid, and unnecessarily panting, almost like he can't help himself. Very slowly, Johnny pulls his hand away, and gets off the stool to pad over to stand behind Taeyong. “Sorry, Mark,” he says quietly. “You’re brand new.”

Mark shuts his mouth around his fangs and doesn’t speak, but nods. It’s staccato and a little clumsy, but it gets his point across. Jaehyun can practically see the tension coming off him in waves. The counter groans a little under his fingers, and Mark abruptly lets go of it. “I don’t remember anything else,” he says quickly. “I don’t even remember getting bitten.”

Jaehyun wants to hold his hand or touch him in some way, but he thinks that wouldn’t help. “Yeah, so we came to you,” he takes over for Mark. “I mean obviously because you know more than I do.” He tries to laugh and fails, then keeps going, stumbling through the tension until he manages to resume something resembling grace. “But also because Mark needs, uh, teaching, I guess.”

“I’m really hungry,” Mark admits, not looking at any of them. “And I’m scared.”

Taeyong and Johnny remain frozen in their kitchen, seemingly communicating without words. Then Johnny breaks away, going for their fridge. He pulls it open and takes out a bag of blood, packaged in plastic with a biohazard label like something right out of a movie. He tosses it at Mark without even a warning, and Mark catches it without so much as moving, it seems. Jaehyun is never going to get used to this.

“That’s cow’s blood,” Johnny explains. “It should hold you over long enough for Taeyongie to explain.”

Taeyong’s pulling a face, mouth rounding around Johnny’s Korean name and something of a whine. “Youngho.”

“And he will explain,” Johnny continues. “Because we have a baby vampire sitting at our kitchen table.”

Mark’s gotten the bag open and is practically inhaling the cow’s blood, and Jaehyun kind of can’t look away. The bags under Mark’s eyes and the hollowness of Mark’s cheeks seem to disappear, but Jaehyun hadn’t even noticed either of those things prior. It’s startling. It’s distracting. It’s utterly unnatural and bizzare. Jaehyun puts his gaze forward.

Johnny and Taeyong are having another silent conversation that seems more of an argument. Taeyong loses, clearly, because Johnny huffs, and rolls his eyes, and crosses pointedly to stand beside Mark as he drinks. Mark smiles and lets Johnny take hold of his left hand, but doesn’t stop gulping for a second. He’d clearly been hungrier than he let on. Jaehyun wonders if that should scare him. He’d been alone in a dorm room with Mark, then almost alone on a train for three subway stops. Jaehyun doesn’t feel afraid.

The change in Mark is more striking the next few sips of blood. Color seems to come back into his cheeks, which fill out even more—When had they become that gaunt? Jaehyun wonders idly—and the tension in the room almost visibly lifts. Johnny seems to wobble, and then he sinks into the chair next to Mark without pause. He’s got his eyes fixed on Taeyong, almost daring him to say something.

“First of all,” Taeyong says finally, tone betraying just how cross he actually is with Johnny, before he gets it under control. “You can’t become a vampire by getting bitten.”

Jaehyun blinks. Technically, nobody knows how anyone becomes a vampire, because it’s a secret no vampire is telling. Sure, plenty of people have become vampires since Lee Sooman and his children came out of the coffin, but since it hasn’t been to the extent that the more zealous and religious seemed quick to spread terror propaganda about, there hasn’t been any reason for people to demand to know how. Or maybe it was a different sort of terror propaganda. It’s not like vampires spend their time turning people’s children.

Although… Jaehyun has two twenty-one-year-old kids on his hall, one who wasn’t a vampire at the start of the year, and even he hadn’t wondered. Both Chenle and Jaemin transferred to SM U already having fangs, but Jaehyun had access to their records, and he knew neither of them had died too far in advance. Jaehyun just hadn’t thought too hard about it, because “how to become a vampire” was one of those things he just assumed people got right. Not like the mirrors or the sunlight—why else would people have written all those books about it, or made all those movies? Surely someone had to have gotten it right.

“But I had blood all down my chest,” Mark says, having finished his blood bag and setting the empty bit of plastic on the table almost sadly. He really does look much better, although he still has not breathed once since he was inhaling all of Jaehyun’s feelings about Taeyong’s jawline. “And on my”—he gestures—“neck.”

Taeyong’s eyes follow Mark’s fingers with ease. “Yes, well, I mean there’s… I guess there’s some biting involved.” He’s starting to look distinctly uncomfortable, and Johnny finally seems to take pity.

“Taeyong-hyung has never made another vampire before,” he says helpfully. “So he’s not speaking from experience.”

“Yes, thank you, Youngho-yah,” says Taeyong, looking even less comfortable.

“He’s just mad that next birthday I’m going to be older than him,” Johnny says quietly, like he’s sharing a secret with Jaehyun and Mark. “It’s okay, Taeyong-hyung,” he says at normal volume again. “You’ll always be my big brother to me.”

Taeyong shakes his head at him, but does seem a little pleased by that change in subject. “You’re the one who’s upset you’re going to be older than me, Hyung,” he says.

Johnny just grins. Then he abruptly sobers. “You have to die to become a vampire,” he says.

Jaehyun nods. “Oh.” That’s not—he supposes that makes sense, given vampires are undead, but seeing how Taeyong and Johnny were going on about it, he thought it was something much worse. “So—”

“We should call Ten,” continues Johnny, as if Jaehyun hasn’t spoken. “Right? I’ll call Ten.” It’s probably good that Taeyong is standing across the kitchen and not holding anything, because the look he gives Johnny is so murderous that Jaehyun is relatively certain that even if he’d been holding a fucking diamond, he’d have crushed the thing to dust.

The kitchen feels significantly cooler. Jaehyun not so subtly shifts closer to Mark, like that’ll help. “Who’s Ten?”

“Nobody,” snaps Taeyong.

“Taeyong’s brother,” says Johnny, at almost the same time.

“Don’t tell him that,” says Taeyong. “We’re not calling Ten.”

“Well then Yuta,” Johnny says. “Taeil?” At each name, Taeyong seems to flinch. “I don’t think you want to call Yun—”

“We’re not calling—any of them,” interrupts Taeyong, two spots of color high on both cheekbones. Jaehyun is again fascinated, leaning in because he can’t help himself. Vampires blush, even though they definitely don’t have pulses. They bleed too—Mark bled. Jaehyun reaches for Mark’s wrist and holds two fingers to the vein there just to be certain, sticking his tongue out when Mark has the audacity to laugh silently at him. Still no pulse. But blushing. Taeyong’s blushing. It’s adorable.

“We have to call someone,” says Johnny, jaw jutting out. “We have a baby vampire sitting at our kitchen table.”

Taeyong’s expression goes petulant and he mumbles out something that sounds remarkably like, “it’s your boyfriend,” but can’t be something that childish, because Jaehyun knows he’s at least a hundred. Johnny has teased him for predating all number of things, for example, the twenty-first century.

“We’re not calling Ten,” says Taeyong. “Or Yuta. Or Taeil—we’ll call—” He stops talking abruptly, because his words crack, and Johnny just looks at him, suddenly very kind. “Doyoung,” Taeyong blurts finally. “I’ll call Doyoung.”

Jaehyun raises his hand to ask who Doyoung is.

“Taeyong’s brother,” Johnny says again, without looking. “Are you sure? When was the last time you spoke to Doyoung?”

Taeyong’s expression is unreadable. “March,” he says finally. “When he—Renjun.”

Jaehyun’s ears perk up. “Renjun? He’s in our year. We had art together last year—”

“He’s my—nephew,” Taeyong says, pulling a face, before addressing Johnny again. “I’m calling Doyoung,” he says. “You—watch them.” And then he disappears into the bedroom, moving unnaturally swift.

Jaehyun pulls his hand away from Mark’s wrist and stares after him, confused, until the low rumble of Taeyong’s voice is audible even to his human ears, and Mark winces at whatever is said on the other line. “Nephew?” Jaehyun manages, looking at Johnny for confirmation.

Johnny winces. “It’s complicated,” he says. “Vampire families are weird.”

There’s a pause from the bedroom, and then Taeyong says, “I heard that!” and Mark winces again.

“Oh, that’s weird,” he says. “They both said it,” he explains, at Johnny’s look. “He’s—Doyoung-hyung is… angry?”

“Doyoungie and Taeyong haven’t spoken since March,” Johnny explains, clearly unconcerned with the fact that both parties in the bedroom can hear everything. “That’s also complicated. But most of the vampires at SM U are related to Taeyong, actually. Most of the vampires in Seoul.” He looks at Mark, who’s gone back to eyeing the empty blood bag sadly. “Hey.” Johnny goes to the fridge and pulls out another bag, and tosses it to Mark without warning again. “You should be taking notes, or something.”

Mark’s ripping into the bag and already drinking, this time with eyes closed; Jaehyun still can’t look away.

“You’re going to need to know all of this, since you’re one of them now.”

Mark keeps his eyes shut and his expression blissful.

Johnny snaps loudly a few times. “Mark Lee,” he says. “Are you listening?”

Mark’s eyes come open, the brown of his irises pretty much gone. He nods, unwilling to let go of his prize.

Johnny shakes his head, bemused. “Anyway, contrary to pop culture, they’re not actually solitary creatures. Vampires, I mean.”

Mark shoots a look toward the bedrooms, but he doesn’t update the human part of the room on what’s going on there. Most likely because that would involve taking his mouth off his meal.

“But they are territorial,” Johnny explains. “And Taeyongie is…”

“Taeyongie is what, Youngho?” says Taeyong, coming back out of the bedroom with his phone in his hand and his expression pinched. “He says he’s not coming before seven p.m.—sunset,” he says, when they all look at him. “And he wants to talk to you.”

Johnny visibly brightens, abandoning his pretend lecture podium to skip his way to Taeyong and Taeyong’s phone. “Doyoungie-hyung,” he says, before he’s even picked up the phone. “Doyoungie-hyung. Hi.” He starts heading for the bedrooms without a backwards glance. “How are you?” He’s much quieter once he’s gone, which must be a side effect of living with vampires. Jaehyun makes a note to pick his brain for tips and tricks.

Mark finally stops gulping down blood. “That must have been some argument in March,” he says, after a few involuntary-seeming gasps of air.

Taeyong just quirks his mouth, still unimpressed. “Do either of you have exams today?” he asks instead, changing the subject.

“No,” Mark says immediately, before going for the last dregs of blood.

“Yes,” Jaehyun says. “At eight.”

Taeyong’s eyes dart to the clock on their microwave, showing that it’s just tipping past six in the morning now. “Johnny can walk you there,” he says, looking at Mark. “You’re going to be—”

Mark finishes his blood and burps, so loudly and suddenly that Jaehyun almost laughs at the absurdity, and the surprise on Mark’s face immediately after. Then Mark yawns.

“—tired,” Taeyong finishes. “If Doyoungie says he won’t be here until after seven, he won’t be here until after seven.”

Jaehyun understands.

“Sorry, Jaehyun-hyung,” says Mark. He looks subdued, and guilty, and sad.

“Mark, it’s fine,” Jaehyun says. “You should—go to sleep,” he ends up with, since saying ‘nap’ feels wrong. He might be imagining it, but he thinks Taeyong’s eyes are significantly more approving thanks to his word choice. “I’ll come back later when Doyoung-hyung is here?” He puts emphasis on the honorific uncertainly; surely this Doyoung is older than Jaehyun given he’s a vampire, but Jaehyun has no way to know for sure.

Taeyong’s eyes are practically sparkling, and Jaehyun is reminded just why he asked him out in the first place. “Doyoungie is older than I am,” he says. The first day Jaehyun met him, he stumbled through some frankly embarrassing bullshit trying to figure out the proper terms of respect for someone who might have been old enough to speak non-modern Korean. It seems Taeyong hasn’t forgotten.

“And how old are you again?” says Jaehyun. That’s an old argument too; Taeyong refuses to drop his birthdate, and Johnny is absolutely no help, having been the one to point out that Jaehyun looking Taeyong up on the internet was probably cheating in the first place.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” says Taeyong. “Youngho-yah!”

Johnny emerges from the bedroom without the cellphone, practically vibrating with joy. For some reason he looks like he might have been crying, but Jaehyun thinks he’s probably imagining it. Johnny’s emotional, but Johnny’s a goofball, and he’s not the sort of person Jaehyun thinks would cry over a phone call. And why would Taeyong and this Doyoung being estranged mean Johnny had to cut all contact, too? Johnny and Taeyong are roommates who have known each other for what Jaehyun thinks has to have been at least a decade, but it’s not like they’re family. Johnny’s human, for one.

“Jaehyunnie has an exam at eight. You should get breakfast with him.”

Johnny gives Taeyong the middle finger. “I’m not seven and having trouble making friends, Taeyong-ah,” he says, all tease. Jaehyun feels second for a second smug; that’s the youngest Johnny’s ever been in a Taeyong story, and Taeyong’s almost more secretive about his history with Johnny than he is with his history period. Then Johnny looks at his boyfriend, sitting sleepily at the kitchen table. “Look who’s nocturnal.”

Mark levels Johnny a glare and his own middle finger.

“Come on,” Johnny says to Jaehyun. “Breakfast first, yeah? Taeyongie cooked.”

Jaehyun shoots a glance towards Taeyong and Mark, who’s letting Taeyong haul him towards their bedrooms without complaining.

“Taeyongie is an amazing cook for someone who can’t eat food,” Johnny continues, unbothered. “And he always makes way too much for one, so you shouldn’t feel like you’re intruding.”

Taeyong gets Mark to the hallway, but then Mark’s head comes up.

“Wait,” Mark says, and Taeyong halts. “I can’t eat?”

What follows is more information than Jaehyun ever wanted to know about vampire digestive systems, before Taeyong seems to grow tired of Mark’s (justifiable; food is great) despair, and heaves him over his shoulder like Jaehyun imagines you’d do with a child. “Come on,” Taeyong says. “You’re tired. You’ll be less upset about this once you’ve slept for a couple hours.”

“Or the rest of the day,” Johnny says, unloading several cartons of what looks like sujebi from their freezer and flicking a switch on their stove. “Bye, Mark-yah! Sleep well!”

“I can’t eat?” shouts Mark, before he and Taeyong vanish into the depths of the apartment.

Jaehyun settles back into the seat at the bar, and gets ready to dig in, only a little apologetic. Johnny’s right. Taeyong’s cooking looks and smells amazing. “Why haven’t I ever eaten his food before?” he wonders a few minutes later, in between scrumptious bites.

Johnny slurps particularly loudly at a bit of broth and chews on a perfectly cooked noodle. “Because he was being an idiot and pining,” he explains. “Also, don’t think this whole murder debacle is getting you out of taking him out this weekend, by the way.”

Jaehyun stares.

Johnny feeds him a mouthful of food, wiping at his jaw with a napkin and grinning. “I like you, Jaehyunnie. I’ve always liked you. I’m glad you asked him out.”

Jaehyun closes his mouth, chews, and swallows.

 


 

It’s not until he’s walking with Johnny to his exam that he thinks about it some more, their discussion over breakfast coming back to him in a haze. “Hey, what did you mean when you said ‘don’t think this murder debacle is getting you out of—of dating Taeyongie-hyung’?” he asks, during a lull in conversation. It’s not hard; he and Johnny always slip into silence so naturally that it’s like they’ve always been friends, and it’s one of Jaehyun’s favorite things about their friendship. They got closer the second year they knew each other, when Mark’s pining hit an all time high, and they were both TA-ing for different sections of Bio lab. Johnny is probably one of Jaehyun’s closest friends, after Mark.

Johnny is also distracted, his gaze fixed on the sky. “Hmm?”

“This murder debacle,” Jaehyun says. “Why did you call it a murder debacle?”

Johnny turns to look at him very sharply then turns suddenly and pulls them both to a halt. “Because it is,” he says finally. “Shit, he didn’t explain it at all, did he.”

Jaehyun tilts his head. “Explain what—”

Johnny takes Jaehyun by the wrist and tugs, pulling him further off the path so that they’re standing nearly nose to nose in the shade of a tree. Jaehyun stares up at him, feeling small for once in his life and also kind of like he’s about to get kissed. He tries to take a step back.

“You don’t become a vampire if you’re just bitten,” says Johnny, before he can. “You become a vampire if you die.”

Jaehyun closes his mouth and stops trying to step away. “Well, yeah, I mean, aren’t they… undead—”

“But it’s not just any dying,” Johnny continues, as if Jaehyun hadn’t even interjected. “You have to—you have to die unnaturally. Violently.”

Jaehyun is aware he’s staring with his mouth still open around the end of his sentence, but he thinks he’s justified in doing that. “What?”

“They’re not exactly ‘natural,’ Jaehyun-ah,” says Johnny. “They’re like walking, talking, bleeding… corpses.”

Even Jaehyun winces, and he’s not the one who’s been friends with a vampire since he was at least seven. “Johnny-hyung—”

Johnny doesn’t seem to care, brushing aside Jaehyun’s protests without pausing. “You have to be killed to become a vampire,” he says. “You have to be murdered. A vampire has to murder you to turn you into a vampire.” Johnny’s eyes are serious and fervent and sort of scaring Jaehyun. “Somebody murdered Mark, Jaehyun-ah,” Johnny says. “A vampire murdered Mark.”

“Oh,” Jaehyun says faintly. “I can see how that would be a problem.”