Fic For: winterbubbletea
Rating: R in this section. NC-17 in next probably
Summary: Continuation of Starlight and Blood.
Jung Yunho settles in Paris, alone and dissolute, after his search for a companion turns out to be fruitless. The happiness shared by Dong-Wook and Changmin leaves him aching and he has fallen into a life of meaningless pleasures, hoping to bury his longings in sin. Yet, a chance encounter with a feral and exotic Jaejoong leads the vampire to wonder if something magical wasn’t within his reach…but if only it were that easy.
Disclaimer: Not SMM Universe. This is Part One. I’ll be working on Part Two but will not be posting it tomorrow. Look for Part Two in the near future. Thanks.
The smell of sweat and cigarette smoke curled through the air of the dance club. Dim lights flickered along the balcony railings, large glass bulbs sparked to life with electrical current. Music blared through the tight crowd, pouring around the flashes of thighs and peeks of bare breasts as the dancers dipped and wound about, hoping to catch the eye of a wealthy man looking for a bit of fun. Waves of crinoline and stained satin broke in a tide of rustling sound, the clack-clack-clack of heels stamping on the wooden floor in an uneven beat.
Yunho scanned the crowd from his vantage point above the main floor, his elbows resting on a thick wooden railing. He cradled a snifter of brandy, sipping at the fiery liquid with a careful purse of his lips. The alcohol would burn through his accelerated blood like a flash of gunpowder but he enjoyed the slow pursuit of a drunk, seeking to numb the edges of the gaping hole in his soul.
His jacket crinkled as he moved, its inside pocket plump with a letter from his blood brother, Se7en. Dong-Wook’s words were scrawled loosely over the pages, curving around notes from his lover, Changmin. They spoke of Venice and the need to have Yunho with them as they traversed through the city of canals. Changmin wrote of museums and the art, with a special interest in the classic masters of science that filled the city’s nearly forgotten labyrinth of libraries.
Dong-Wook told him of meals and rare wines, boasting of the shellfish creations that they’d tried on a Saturday night while dining on a barge. His words tugged on Yunho. He missed them… missed their silly and cynical banter as they prowled through the townhouse they shared with him in Paris. His heart echoed in the absence of their laughter but Yunho was determined to let them have some time alone, especially now in his melancholy state.
The search for someone that could make him whole ended in dust and he’d found himself in Paris, alone and battered by his travels. The lovers joined him as soon as he sent word of his settling down and they’d made the townhouse lively with their love.
It only made the pain in Yunho’s soul ache, sharpening the razor edges of his anguish, cutting open his heart with every beat.
A month after the lovers left Paris to visit Venice, he’d gone around to the Moulin Rouge, succumbing to the exhortations of his club’s younger members to visit the wild hall on Boulevard Clichy. The squat building was garishly embellished with lights, the bright silo with its red fake windmill blades visible from down the street.
He’d been in the Moulin Rouge before, drawn by boredom when it first opened. Se7en had come with him, giving Min some time alone to pour over a Dumas novel he’d found at an estate sale. The men dutifully climbed into the belly of the elephant bar in the garden, pretending to be scandalized and intrigued by the bare stomach of the dancer undulating in the near darkness. Other men clustered around her, stroking at her pale skin and marveling at its satiny feel.
Se7en wrinkled his nose at the thought, leaning over to whisper into Yunho’s ear. “It’s like licking at a piece of candy you’ve found on the street. How many feet have stepped on that sweet?”
The orchestra moved to take a break by the time Yunho drank half of his brandy, the instruments clanging under the loud raucous of courtesans near the stage. A slender man nervously fitted a hard wax cylinder into the talking record machine, carefully moving his fingers to avoid leaving marks on the tube. Crackling noises overrode the conversation as the flirtatious women listened to the initial announcement but the chatter rose again, drowning out any music that might have been heard.
Hunger drove him to the club this time, an unquenchable thirst for something new and exciting amid Paris’ jaded society. The hall’s courtesans were out, dripping with jewels and displaying plump breasts barely contained by their tight décolleté gowns. Feathers were the rage, bristling from towering piles of curls or sweeping down to battle with the wearer’s necklaces, a parade of frilled colours and ribbons entering the dance hall’s broad interior from its wide side entrance.
The thirst came slowly, creeping into the corners of his mind before clenching at his throat. It bloomed, cutting into his resolve until the edges of his fangs dimpled the inside of his lips and Yunho knew it was time to feed. Sips of brandy did nothing to ease the tightening in his blood, only slowed its heightening grip on his senses.
Yunho needed. It was that simple. The hunger of their blood drove them into the shadows, picking off the unwary or drunk. He’d fed a month ago near the Arc de Triomphe, finding a pretty faced Englishman looking for a bit of danger in Paris. Yunho’s exotic features and accented English gave the young man a thrill and he willingly sank to his knees to suckle at the Korean’s sex but the act left Yunho cold and empty. Feeding quickly, he left the Englishman dizzily caught in a sexual frenzy that Yunho felt no desire to sate.
“Never leave your prey unsatisfied,” Yunho ground the words out of his tortured throat. It was a lesson their mistress reminded them every time they’d sipped from a human. Their kind’s survival depended upon leaving no questions… on leaving nothing behind in a human’s mind except for a pleasant experience and the rush of an encounter with a dangerous beauty. Kisses were often enough or the spill of their seed into a willing mouth but Yunho was unwilling to part with even that little of himself.
There was so little of who he was that he could share openly. Even the smallest kiss seemed to be giving away a dusty piece of his heart to someone he’d never love. He’d be damned if he carved off little bits of his heart to give away to anyone who wanted a kiss. Not when it beat empty and aching.
Slowly, a trombone lolled in the dark as one of the musicians took up his instrument and blew softly into the mouthpiece, testing the wind in his lungs. Another player joined in, playing off a quick trill on a bright coronet. Bass beats soon followed, rumbling out a line for the others to follow. The Moulin Rouge’s orchestra, known for its bawdy renditions of classical pieces, assembled quickly and fell into tune, waiting for the band leader to put them through their paces.
A rolling darkness rose from the percussion section, sensual and erotic. The music reeked of sex, stained bedsheets and spilled red wine on naked skin. Yunho recognized the piece as Chaminade’s Scarf Dance, a rolling ballet that now ran sultry hot through a sinful rollick. He smiled against the rim of his snifter, amused at the music’s decadence.
Movement in the shadows across the hall caught Yunho’s attention, a subtle roll of a form lost in the black pitch under the eaves. The balconies were reserved for the elite, privacy being a premium in Paris’ adulterous society. The motion was above the upper tier, nearly hidden by the wide support beams that held up the club’s elaborate ceiling.
Despite the gift of his blood, Yunho couldn’t pierce the gloom of the eaves and he smiled, contemplating the small mystery under the Moulin Rouge’s roof. The club’s owner was strict about maintaining the wonder of the dance hall, hiding even the real names of the courtesans that danced over its wooden floors. Squinting did little good in helping Yunho see into the darkness and he debated moving closer, arguing with himself that the undulating movement was probably nothing more than a couple finding passion amid the cobwebs and dust.
Bored, Yunho rounded the balconies, avoiding the large-breasted woman calling to her lover from the far tier. She smelled of cheese, even from several yards and her coarse features and caterwauling turned Yunho’s stomach. Slinking through the velvet curtains blocking off the access walk, Yunho stopped short, his heart frozen in mid-beat.
A fallen angel danced in the shadows. Lean and enticing, the black-haired young man was lost in the music, letting it flow through his body and lifting the grace from his soul into his bones. The streets clung to the youth, drawing fatigue along his almond shaped eyes.
He danced because it freed him. Yunho saw that in every roll of his slender hips and slide of his legs. The ballet made sensual became erotic with every turn of the young Korean’s body. His eyes would be dark like a starless night or perhaps as honeyed as a sunrise, Yunho decided, but either way, they would be wary windows into a passionate soul. The pout of his mouth was made to be kissed, suckled until pink and then bitten red with soft long chews of Yunho’s teeth.
“Gods,” Yunho whispered. And the world stilled, draped in the silence of the vampire’s heart.
Yunho didn’t have to close his eyes to see the young man sprawled boneless on the bed he’d bought, its blood red velvet duvet, naked and pale. He wanted to have the man waiting for him, spread apart and panting, Yunho’s name on his tongue as the vampire crossed over to him, his hands cupping under the dancer’s rear as they became lovers for the first time.
Sex poured into flesh and bone; that’s what the young man was, Yunho decided. Sex and the heat of a Parisian night made real. When the young man turned, his eyes flew open in surprise at seeing the other standing quietly in the shadows and a soft moaning whisper escaped his parted lips, their pout full and glistening when he dipped into the sparse light.
His eyes were cinnamon kissed anise, wide and astonished at Yunho’s presence. The young man stepped back and stumbled when his heel hit a jutting board. Dust flew into the air, dancing golden in the streams of light spanning the ceiling’s ridge. It cloaked him, settling on his torn fitted trousers and freckling his pale skin. Yunho reached for him, catching at the youth’s hand but he jerked back, fingers trembling as he drew away.
“No…” The youth’s French was horrid, guttural and street. It made Yunho wince, a coarseness at odds with the young man’s beauty. The dancer’s bones were delicate under the stretch of his skin and thin shirt, his collarbone sharp at the curve of his chest. He needed feeding and warmth, cold shivering pinpricks over his cheeks and arms.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” Yunho’s fingers brushed on the young man’s slender shoulder.
A pain gripped his upper arm and the shadows tilted, going awry. Hands took hold and picked Yunho up, flinging him away from the young man. His limbs windmilled wildly and he strained to right himself in mid air, struggling to avoid falling over the balcony. Catching his balance, Yunho twisted, changing his trajectory and slamming hard into the ceiling supports.
The wall rattled when Yunho hit it, aching bruises forming on his back where he struck a wooden beam. Plaster fell around his head, shattered off of the ceiling. He rolled, springing up to his feet and hissed, baring his fangs at the dancer.
And stared in shock at the young man’s elongated canines.
Stopped short by the man’s true nature, Yunho didn’t see the balled-up fist until it flew into his jaw. Stars burst across Yunho’s vision, a black curtain threatening to close in on him as he tumbled back. Years of conditioning took over, his instinct curling him into a ball to absorb the punch’s impact. He landed hard, striking a railing post with the middle of his back. Pain stretched down to his kidneys, promising to develop into a dazzling array of bruising. Rolling over, Yunho rose to his feet, squaring his shoulders before facing the young man.
“I’m not hunting…” Yunho stopped, turning at the panicked sounds behind him, a scrambling over the rough wood planks.
Small dust storms swirled on the floor the young man danced over, leaving streaks over the dirty planks where his knees and hands crawled over as he escaped. A trap door slammed, its rope handle flopping about with a twist. Dirt plumes filled the air, clogging Yunho’s lungs as he moved to follow the youth. Gripping the rope, he tugged, trying to lift the heavy door. It stuck and rattled, jammed shut by something on the other side.
The music drowned out his frustrated growls, shouts of the dancers rising to hit Yunho in the face as he ran to the railing, hoping to catch a glimpse of the other vampire among the crowd. Skirts twirled up over pale thighs, long sensual views of silk stockings and garters, with the briefest flash of pantaloons made transparent from sweat. The laughter bubbling up from the floor sparkled, a music ripe with desperation and want. Moulin Rouge was a sea of colour and sound, its waves cresting over Yunho’s senses until he drowned in its excesses. His prey was gone, lost in the tide and the vampire swore, catching his lip on his sharp fangs.
“Damn it.” The railing shook when Yunho hit it with his clenched fist. A drop of blood from his cut lip spread over his tongue. He unconsciously licked at the sweet taste, wondering how he’d taste spread over the dancer’s porcelain skin.
Yunho gave up searching the shadows for the young man. The vampire was gone, he thought sourly, fleeing to whatever hole he lived in. His gut whispered of places the young man might be found but the river’s many bridges were too numerous to search through given the hour and despite his strength, Paris’ alleyways were dangerous even for him. The thieves and beggars slinking in the city’s underbelly were numerous and Yunho knew from experience that a colony of rats could take down an elephant if they were hungry enough.
His key rattled when he tossed it on the alabaster and gold leaf table near the front door. Piles of letters and invitations overflowed over a basket’s edge, individual communications picked out and placed in an orderly pile nearby. His housekeeper avoided the post, claiming a gentleman was entitled to his secrets. Yunho accepted the excuse, knowing the woman had little skill in reading, a sad condition of Paris’ poor.
A light shone into the main foyer, the hall illuminated from the study’s doorway. Frowning, Yunho checked the time, wondering if his housekeeper arrived early to start her work before the sun rose. The clatter of crystal decanters froze him in mid-step. The woman barely made a sound when she cleaned and as far as he knew, never so much as let a drop of wine cross her lips, much less get into his brandy.
Yunho recognized him, even from behind, his brother was distinctive. Especially from behind.
“Kim Junsu,” He said, entering the study. The younger vampire turned just enough to give Yunho a nod, pouring a glass of brandy first for his older brother and then one for himself. “What are you doing in Paris?”
Junsu took his time answering, sipping at the smoky liquid with a murmur of appreciation for Yunho’s taste in liquors. Innocence warred with the haughty arrogance of his face, a curious blend that drew their maker to Junsu. He was the ninth of her children, and in Yunho’s eyes, the most favoured of her Korean get. Quick to smile and tease, Junsu was also the most disciplined of spirit, choosing to spend his life in acts of benevolence.
“I think I’ve lost my way, hyung,” Junsu said, nearly draining the brandy snifter in a single gulp. “I keep traveling to look for something but I don’t know what it is.”
Yunho frowned and set his glass down. Their younger brother was not one for drinking, usually a small sip of wine with a meal or a pint of beer. Taking Junsu’s hand, he led the other vampire to the lounge, settling him down into a casual embrace. Sighing, Junsu turned, resting his back against Yunho’s shoulder, letting the older man loop an arm around him.
“Are you staying long?” Yunho brushed a gentle kiss over the other’s brush of hair, inhaling Junsu’s sweet scent into his lungs. Their mistress took the youngest because of his innocence and bubbly nature. In the passing years, the younger vampire’s laughter only grew sweeter and his nature sunnier. Yunho smiled as he held a piece of the sun against him.
“Not long,” He replied. “I’ll be leaving tomorrow morning.”
“So short?” A frown creased Yunho’s forehead, his eyes narrowed in annoyance. “Why so short? Where are you going?”
“I want to see New York. I hear it’s become very cosmopolitan.” Junsu sighed, his romantic nature putting stars in his eyes. “I want to get lost in the crowd and hear new music as it’s being played for the first time. It would be nice to sit among the many and just listen to the world beat its heart around me.”
“You’ll still stand out with your ugly face,” Yunho teased. “Nothing can change that.”
“Hah! You are just jealous because people like me more than they like you.” Junsu bit lightly down on Yunho’s arm, his teeth bared in mock battle. “I can’t help it if I’m prettier and nicer than you. It comes naturally.”
“So now you’ve gone insane as well as ugly,” Yunho sighed. “We will have to confine you in a tower soon, sealing you behind a mask so none can see your hideous nature.”
“It was a mask of black velvet,” The younger man corrected. “And he wasn’t sealed away because he was ugly. It was because he knew too much. Like I know too much about you. Your threats are empty. Who else would listen to you bully the stars besides me?”
“I think that’s the problem,” He muttered. “I have no one to listen to me coax the universe into turning.”
“I saw Dong-Wook and his lover in Valencia,” Junsu changed the subject as he rested his chin on Yunho’s forearm. Slouched, he was a slight weight against Yunho’s broader body. “They look happy.”
“They are,” Yunho agreed, reluctantly. His joy for his older brother fought with the jealousy of their love, the elation narrowly winning out each time. “Did he tell you that I fell for Changmin first?”
“He did.” Junsu’s laugh was thick with irony. “He also told me you didn’t even know Min’s name; just worshipped him from afar. Not the proper way to have a love affair, hyung.”
“No, it’s not,” Yunho sheepishly rubbed at the back of his head, embarrassed at his foolishness. The jealousy died a quick death, burned away by the brilliance of Junsu’s smile. “But it seems to be the way that I do things.”
They sat there, listening to one another breathe. Junsu sighed, calming his heartbeat until it fell into the soft rhythm of his brother’s pulse. There was a lie somewhere in Yunho’s words, Junsu could hear it but he waited, letting the other vampire take his time, even if it took forever.
Yunho swore he would leave the Moulin Rouge alone. The other vampire was nothing but trouble, he’d told himself in the coldness of his bed. Life would be much easier without the complications of pretty faced boys and their sweet mouths and supple bodies. Or at least without the ones that Yunho wanted to wrestle up against a wall and taste until he hungered only for the touch of skin and hands on his own body.
“No,” He said to himself as he walked past the Arc de Triomphe. “I would be better off finding some catamite in the lower docks to suckle me than chase after a feral street thief.”
Or so Yunho thought until he found himself staring up at a blood red monstrosity of a windmill and hearing the bawdy roll of dance music coming from the dance hall. Laughter poured from the open doors, nearly drowning out the orchestra’s rendition of an American tune.
A woman hurried past, her hand clutched tightly on her son’s fingers, the boy dragging his heels as he craned his neck to see the sins of Moulin Rouge through its open doors. Yunho’s mouth quirked into a smile, watching the young boy tug at his mother’s imprisoning hand. Within a few years, he would swagger into dance halls to catch a glimpse of temptation then roll back home on drunken fumes, hoping that his mother couldn’t smell the alcohol on his breath.
The café nearby bustled with activity, couples leaning over tiny tables with a small candle to light their faces. Paris was very romantic, Yunho thought with a sneer. All the more reason to leave any thought of seduction behind. It was the city, he decided, the city was to blame for his lust. It was the only thing he could think of that would explain his desire to chase after a half-wild Asian boy, and one that probably smelled at that. No, he’d never lacked for companionship before, Yunho nodded to himself, he wasn’t going to lack for any now.
“I like the elephant best.” The young man’s voice was soft, a sultry velvet along Yunho’s shoulders. “They said the Arc was supposed to be an elephant instead with rooms that you walked through but they never built it. Can you imagine an elephant that big?”
“No, I couldn’t,” Yunho jerked around, catching a glimpse of the Arc rising above the squat buildings around it. “Damn you, you are quiet on your feet. Where did you come from?”
“The dark,” The young man’s smile was thin, satisfaction at having surprised Yunho clear in the sparkle of his eyes. “Even now. Scared me yesterday.”
“I am sorry about that.” Yunho found himself apologizing and cursed himself but the softening of the vampire’s face warmed him. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
The other vampire circled, his eyes fixed on Yunho as he walked through the shadows of the side alley. Around them, people faded away, lost in the fog softly rolling in. Yunho stood stock still, letting the younger man get comfortable. The cant of the his head and the looseness of his limbs was misleading. There was power in the tightness of the young man’s muscled thighs and broad shoulders, hidden by his slender frame and oversized clothes worn smooth at the elbows and torn at the knees.
The grace of the vampire’s stalking movements reminded Yunho of a tiger he’d seen in India. Their mistress took them deep into India in search of a reprieve from the sweltering dry heat of China’s lower reaches. The humidity often drove them into the jungle, bathing in cool ponds, naked and uncaring of the insects buzzing in the air.
Coming out of the shadowy coolness of the green lush forest, the massive black-striped feline startled them into stillness. Its curious snuffle made Se7en laugh, a deep chuckle that pricked the giant cat’s ears up. The three predators stood in silent companionship, soothed by the cool rain dripping from the tall overhead forest canopy. After a minute, the tiger paced away, powerful and beautiful in its sleek strength, hidden by the shadows as it continued on its way.
The young vampire stalked the shadows as easily as the tiger prowled the rain forests of India.
“You’re like me,” He said finally, stopping just short of sniffing at Yunho’s neck. The vampire’s warm breath left a kiss of heat on Yunho’s skin, igniting a trail of fire down his chest and curling around his sex.
“Yes, like you,” Yunho agreed with a nod. “I’m called Yunho…Yunho Jung here.”
“Juin?” He slurred the word, dropping the Korean pronunciation for a more familiar French. “Like the month? That’s an odd name.”
Yunho laughed, startling the vampire. He retreated a foot, edging back slowly as Yunho motioned him forward. “No, Jung.” He enunciated. “You can just call me Yunho. What do they call you?”
“Jae…Jaejoong.” He looked at the other man from under his lashes, listening to himself pronounce his own name. “We are both Juin.”
“That we are,” Yunho returned Jae’s shy grin with an easy smile. “Where did you hear they were going to build an elephant instead of the Arc?”
“Men were talking about it when they were putting in the bottom part,” He said, the light catching his eyes as the vampire tilted his head back. “I don’t remember when. I was shorter…younger. I didn’t know what they were talking about…until later. Now, I wonder how it would have looked; an elephant that big. Then there was the dead man they brought through but there weren’t any elephants then. That is when they should have had an elephant.”
Distance grew in the young man’s eyes, time filming over memories. Yunho nearly touched Jae’s face, wanting to shake him from the dreaming he seemed to fall into. Goosebumps rippled over the other vampire’s neck, pale pinpricks disappearing as his brown eyes widened, focusing on Yunho’s face.
A quick calculation in Yunho’s mind put the other man at eighty, maybe a little more. He’d watched Napoleon’s procession carry his exhumed remains under the Arc before beginning the somber journey to Les Invalides where they laid him into his tomb. If the other vampire had been there for the construction of the arc, he would have preceded the emperor’s return by nearly by at least thirty years.
“When was the last time you fed?” Yunho risked a touch, alarmed at the icy cold feel of the other’s skin. The vampire let Yunho take his hand, turning chilled fingers over and clasping them tight. A weak pulse beat at the juncture of his wrist, the vampire’s veins long blue lines disappearing as they wrapped under his corded muscles.
“I had bread this morning.” Another tilt of his head and the line in his throat beat erratically, a fluttering blue butterfly under his pale skin. The skip-beat-step of his pulse alarmed Yunho but not as much as the haze clouding his honeyed eyes. “It should have been this morning. The sun was up, rising up over the city. There was a gold caught in the orange clouds, and candy floss pink. I was drinking coffee, I think. Or tea. Something hot.”
“It rained this morning,” Yunho said, stroking at the vampire’s palm, bringing out a flush to his cheeks. “And the morning before that. When was the last time you had… blood? Human blood.”
“No!” Jae jerked his hand out of Yunho’s grasp as if the man’s touched burned him. His lips trembled and the vampire brushed the tips of his fingers across his full pout, catching on the chapped peels marbling the tender skin. “Not from people. It turns black in your mouth and the beat-beat-beat of their heart slows down too much. I don’t do that.”
“It only does that if you take too much,” He stressed, wondering how the younger vampire survived the thirst of their kind. He’d heard of others denying themselves blood only to be driven mad by their cravings. “You need…human blood. No, don’t shake your head. You do, or you get too weak. What do you feed from? Cats? Rodents?”
“Poulet,” Jae replied, nodding. “Easier to catch than rats. They sleep at night. Turn them over and bite at the legs.”
“The farmers must think there’s a fox prowling their hen houses,” Yunho chuckled then he grew somber. He was beginning to rethink his assessment of the young vampire’s sanity. “Chicken blood will barely keep you alive. Where’s your…” He struggled for the right word. “Your creator?”
“God?” The vampire’s eyes glistened, going pitch as his pupils dilated and his attention drifted, seeming to settle in the direction of the old Palais du Louvre and the cathedral beyond it. “Heaven, yes? The priests say that.”
“No, not God,” Yunho thought fondly of the woman who took his death from him. “Well, sometimes it feels that way but no, the person who made you… like me.” He bared his fangs, carefully hiding his face to passer-bys. “The person who changed you.”
“I don’t know.” His shoulders jerked up, a casual Gaelic shrug incongruent with Jae’s Asian features. “He… bit me, tore my skin. I bit him back, many times and fought him then he left me there. I woke up with some of his arm in my mouth and…like this…changed into this. I don’t know where he went.”
“He didn’t stay? The one who… made you didn’t stay?” Yunho reeled back, his breath tight in his lungs. “No, why would he? He attacked you. He was a monster. He’d have no reason to stay behind.”
Their mistress was so careful with all of them, choosing each of her children with a discerning eye. Once in her bloodline, she nurtured them, teaching and guiding them along until they were comfortable with their change. There were rules; Yunho could still hear her say; rules that we must follow lest we become nothing more than raging beasts, massacring the very people that they came from. Drink carefully, and give back comfort when doing so; he’d learned.
“Is that why you look like me? Because someone changed you?” The vampire returned Yunho’s prodding with a delicate touch of his fingers along the almond curve of Yunho’s eyes. “What did you look like before? Did you have yellow hair? Or brown? Does everyone who looks like us need to drink blood? Is that why Miss Jade at the Red Lantern Inn has those sharp sticks in her hair? I don’t think her teeth are sharp enough to cut skin.”
There were times in Yunho’s life when his mind stopped working and the rush of blood cresting into his forehead was a subtle warning that soon, all thought would escape him. The conversation he was having was rapidly turning into one of those moments.
“No, we’re…not… Oh, Dong-Wook would be laughing if he heard me right now. We look different because we’re from the Orient, not because someone made us this way,” Yunho stumbled, trying to straighten out the tangle of this thoughts. “Let me start over. Let us start over.”
“Maybe,” The wariness was gone, replaced by curiosity but Yunho saw the tiger in Jae shift, eager to be back into the shadows. “Tomorrow, maybe.”
The black swallowed Jaejoong whole, embracing him into its depths before Yunho could even react. Yunho’s hand tingled, still burning from the touch of Jae’s skin beneath his fingertips. Lifting his hand, Yunho brushed the edge of his thumb over his lip, tasting the brightness of the other vampire on him. A promise laid in the sweetness of Jae’s scent, suspicious and wary but still holding a whisper of trust that would have to be earned.
“Tomorrow then, chaton,” Yunho whispered into the shadows. “Tomorrow.”
Yunho’s tomorrow came and went with no sign of the other vampire. The night was filled with cold empty walks, long strolls down by the canals, and brief forays into cathedrals in case Jae went looking for a slice of God. By the second week, Yunho’s insouciance turned to worry then finally panic; sharp pains jabbing into his guts whenever he heard a sultry laugh on the wind or the hint of velvet in someone else’s voice.
Combing Paris for Jaejoong became an obsession, turning Yunho into a driven, ghost of a man. His exotic face brought looks at first then as the nights passed, the denizens of Paris’ underbelly grew used to the Korean stalking the shadows. He offered money for information on the Asian young man and while some knew of Jaejoong’s presence, no one could tell Yunho where he lived or where he could be found.
Rats scrambled in a mewling slurry as Yunho trod under one of Paris’ many walking bridges. The smell of unwashed human skin forced him to breathe through his mouth, the flat crackle sour permeating his nostrils. A Romany friend pointed him towards the lower canals, giving him the name of a street he might found Jaejoong.
“Watch where you walk, jaune,” The gypsy warned him. “There are bigger predators down there than you.”
Les Halles at night ripened with scents, spoiled fruit and food left to rot in the cold rain. A woman called out to him, her sing-song chant accented with a heavy dose of North London. The curtains over the door were meant to mimic a silk noren but it hung badly, draped over a dowel. A hint of opium hung in the air, the breeze carrying a faint smoky sweetness. He ignored her then turned around, looking at the address again.
“I’m looking for a man,” Yunho said. “He looks a little like me. Slanted eyes but with a fuller mouth.”
“We don’t sell that kind here, love,” She laughed, dropping any pretense of the Orient. “You’ll have to go down the street for that kind of bit. This here’s where you chase dragons.”
“I know,” He replied. “And I’m not looking for a whore. A friend of mine said I could find him here.”
“You’re welcome to come in and look.” She tilted her head to the side, holding out her hand. “For a price.”
“Of course.” He’d come with small bills, wadded up for handing over. A few made their way past her fingers which snapped closed as soon as he let go. Yunho pushed past the woman, ducking under the curtain when she moved from the door. The dark swallowed him whole and he left her behind as she began cajoling a passerby to come inside and lose himself.
A long passage cut into the depths of the den, its thick walls built up to mask any sounds. At the end of the hall, a faint light peeked around another soiled curtain, promising succor. Burnt oolong tea fought the sweet toxic scent of the burning opium but it surrendered after a few feet past the front door. Its earthly perfume dominated the tight hallway and Yunho sighed, knowing he’d come out of the den with a headache.
He’d visited dens before, dragged through one in China to look for one of their brothers. The broken down inn with its bare cots and filthy linens were a far cry from the extravagant luxuries of the Asian dynasty. Dirt caked the floorboards, a few spots shiny where booted feet trod. He stepped over a limp arm hanging over the edge of a rack and headed to the door at the back of the room.
No one moved to stop him. Yunho wasn’t expecting any of the drugged men to leap up from their dreaming to block his way. They were lucky if their bodies continued breathing, considering the depth of the smoke in the small chamber.
The air past the doorway was cleaner, and a slight wind carried a muddied water scent through the hallway beyond. Rank from the canals, the odor was still better than the soiled sweetness of opium smoke. Yunho coughed, clearing the rasp from his throat.
“Go past the first room and into the hall,” Yunho heard the Romany’s words in his mind. “Head back towards the canals and go up the stairs. There’s a loft at the top. You’ll find a mangeur-sang there.”
Cracked glass from high windows let the canal air into the hall and Yunho spotted the narrow stairwell leading up. Uneven planks were hammered into supports that looked as if they were stolen from a boat, the door frame around the stairs’ entrance leading Yunho to believe that the area started off as a closet at one point. There was no railing but the walls were close enough to provide stability.
Taking a deep breath, Yunho climbed up, preparing himself for the worst.
He smelled the blood before he reached the top of the stairs. Its copper taint stank of black and rot, curling Yunho’s lip back from his fangs. His stomach churned in loud rebellion, threatening to spill up the luncheon he’d hastily eaten before heading into Les Halles. Breathing in with shallow pants, he climbed the rest of the way up, afraid of what he might find.
His eyes adjusted to the dim light, a wisp of light from the street lamp outside working through the cracks in the wall. The heel of his boot caught on a nail, twisting Yunho’s foot about. He steadied himself with a hand to the wall and peered into the darkness.
A hiss came from the corner of the attic space, small flashes of pointed white warning Yunho against coming any closer. Sighing with relief, the older vampire ducked under a beam, and half-crawled to the source of the hissing, carefully keeping his head down. As he drew closer, he heard Jae’s laboured breathing and the shush-shush sound of a punctured lung. The gloom faded from his eyesight as his senses adjusted to his surrounding and Yunho gasped, when he saw Jaejoong lying on a pile of used potatoe sacks.
Dried husks of rat bodies lay scattered near Jae’s hand. Exsanguinated, they’d drawn too close to him, hoping his still body was food and fell victim to the injured vampire’s hunger. The smell of rotted blood came from their remains and the spread of dried ichors along Jaejoong’s nearly naked, bruised body.
“Jaejoong,” Yunho said, releasing the breath he’d held in his lungs since climbing the stairs. He’d feared the worst for the young vampire, given the tales he’d heard from the Romany. “What happened?”
The vampire turned his head, his eyes nearly white with pain, and tried to focus on Yunho’s face. His pupils were pale, the colour leeched from their depths as his body struggled to maintain its functions. The full pout that Yunho dreamed about was cracked, dotted with black spots, splashes of dried rodent blood marbling his jaw and face. A thicker line of black cut across Jae’s throat, the edges of a deep gash peeling back from the healing wound. The cut was raw, flapping loose and red with infection.
“Juin?” The sound was rough, broken gravel against tin.
With Jae’s throat moving, the gash opened up, tearing along the too-thin skin, spilling bright red onto his pale flesh. His body strained to close the wound, knitting the jagged rip as Yunho watched. Jaejoong gulped for air and it tore again, beading drops of blood on the floor. They pearled in the dry dirt, glistening bits of life Jaejoong desperately needed.
“Don’t move,” Yunho whispered, the young vampire’s condition leaving trails of panic in his stomach.
Pulling his shirt free from his waist, Yunho tore off long strips from the tails, wrapping the bandages around Jaejoong’s torn open throat. Jae murmured in protest, weakly pushing at Yunho’s hands as he lifted the other’s head. His struggles stained the shirt cloth deep crimson and Yunho shushed Jae with an impatient hiss, ordering him to stay put.
“You worked so hard to stay alive, chaton. Don’t fight the one trying to help you with that,” Yunho admonished, tying the bandages off into a small knot. Satisfied it would hold until he got Jaejoong someplace safe, he slid his arms under the young man’s too-thin body, lifting him from the dirty floor.
Jae arched his back, fighting the rescue then sighed when Yunho murmured in Korean, hoping the comforting words would soothe the fevered vampire. Nestling into the crook of Yunho’s arms, Jaejoong rubbed his cheek against the other’s chest, relaxing in the embrace.
“Why did …looking for me, Juin?” Jae’s lips cracked as he spoke, his mouth unused to speaking. “Nothing to you.”
Jaejoong wasn’t awake long enough to hear Yunho’s answer, falling into a deep, safe sleep as the older vampire descended the stairs. His eyelashes were dark on the bruised circles under his closed eyes, fluttering as he dreamed of things Yunho couldn’t even begin to imagine. The stink of the canals and street were heavy on Jae’s body, scrapes of dirt and things Yunho didn’t want to think about muddied the surface of his skin.
“Why did I come looking for you?” Yunho repeated as he walked past the North Weezy woman standing in the doorway. She slithered out of the way, pressing herself against the wall as the fierce eyed Asian carried his burden into the foggy night. “And I think you’re wrong, Jaejoong. I think you could be everything to me.”