(Phase 3 of the Scarlet Night series.)
Phase Three: Crystal Confidences
When he was done with dinner, he ignored everyone and just tried to get to his room faster. He made his way to the east wing and immediately it got quiet. He breathed a little steadier and slowed his stride, falling into the relaxed pace of not bumping and shoving through the flood of students. He found that he waited for the weekends since the few staff members who did live at SJA during the week would sometimes go to their homes. It was quieter, less crowded and he had never gotten used to a busy, high-maintenance life, even when his parents had been alive.
When he reached the top floor of the east wing, he slowly made his way to his dorm room which was located at the end of the hallway and down a left corridor. It was a small hall which meant only his room was there, but it allowed him to have a corner room which looked out to the courtyard that was between both wings and also the school’s back grounds. When he turned that final corner, he paused. Sitting against the wall by his door were two people he had definitely noticed were missing from dinner.
They looked up and greeted in unison, “Sungmin.”
He watched as Kyuhyun stood and then reached down and helped Taeyeon to her feet. When they looked back at him, he raised one eyebrow, “What are you two doing here? More importantly, how do you know this is my room?”
“We’ve been here for almost an hour,” Taeyeon explained, “There’s like… five teachers and staff in total – not including Headmaster Park – that stay here during the week and this weekend only three of you didn’t go home; it was very easy to narrow down which was your room.”
Sungmin’s lips twitched, “I forgot what a scary pair you two make.” He made his way to his door and then paused, his key in the lock already, “Why are you two here? Not that I mind, but here at the academy, things are different.”
“I know after our last conversation I didn’t inspire anything close to friendship –”
Sungmin raised a hand in the air to silence Kyuhyun; “We also said we’d work on our friendship. So, why are you both here?”
Kyuhyun opened his mouth and closed it several times before sighing, a hand at his neck rubbing wearily, “Can we talk in your room?”
Sungmin blinked, “Guys… I’m a teacher here and it doesn’t help that one of you is a girl.”
“Girl?” Taeyeon snorted as she pushed past Sungmin, unlocked the door and opened it, “What am I – twelve?”
Sungmin gaped as she entered his room calmly. He looked at Kyuhyun, who only shrugged and followed her in. Shaking his head, Sungmin quickly followed them in and closed the door behind them. He leaned back against the door, arms crossed, “Okay, so we’re breaking at least five school rules, so let’s try to keep this as less incriminating as possible and make this short and sweet, hmm?”
“You… you asked what happened last year and if I’m still sick,” Kyuhyun began tentatively, awkwardly standing by the desk in Sungmin’s large room, leaning his hips back against it. “I was scared to tell you… I’m still scared to tell you, but… but I’ve realized that…”
“He needs a little help now and again,” Taeyeon prompted from her seat on the desk chair. When Kyuhyun looked over his shoulder at her, she grabbed his hand and smiled up at him.
He threw her a small, grateful smile before looking back at the other man, “If I have any hope of living a normal life, I’m going to need the help of my friends and… and that means trusting my friends.”
Sungmin nodded his silent understanding. He wanted to say more, had so much more to say and yet, knew he couldn’t say anything. He knew that Kyuhyun was having enough problems talking to him about his illness and if he interrupted, he was half-afraid that Kyuhyun wouldn’t start talking again. His gaze briefly swept over the pair’s clasped hands and he had a feeling Taeyeon had grabbed Kyuhyun’s hand in part of being supportive and in part of keeping him from running away.
“Last year I… I was…” Kyuhyun breathed heavily, deeply and steadily before continuing, “I wanted to leave SJA. I don’t even remember why I did, that’s how insignificant it is compared to what happened. Anyway, I wanted to leave and so, after curfew, I snuck out my dorm and left campus. In all honesty, I didn’t know where I was going or how I was going to get there; the last thing I wanted was money from my parents… I don’t know how far I was away from campus when I was attacked.”
“Attacked!?” Sungmin exclaimed, no longer able to keep his silence, “What do you mean attacked?”
“I was… I was…” Kyuhyun could feel his body begin to shake, despite Taeyeon’s comforting hold on his hand. He knew what he wanted to say – had to say – and yet, he couldn’t. Slipping his hand from Taeyeon’s grip, he crossed the room to one of the windows. He ripped the curtains open and looked up at the night sky; “I’m sorry Sungmin,” he sighed, leaning his forehead against the cool glass, “I still can’t say it… I want to – I really do – but I just… I’m still too… I can’t say it.”
“Kyuhyun, you know I’m here for you, you know –”
“It’s not that!” He exclaimed, his fists slamming down on the wooden sill, “I just… Damn it, Sungmin, you’re smart – think about it for a moment. I just told you what happened.”
“You were attacked.” The teacher replied readily,
“You’ve seen me at mealtimes,” Kyuhyun continued, his words seeming forced, as if just saying them required a great amount of effort.
“A few sips of water, some toast at the most,” Sungmin answered,
“I’m in one of your classes… you know… you know where I sit,” Kyuhyun said quietly, his voice losing conviction as the slight tremble in his shoulders showed his wavering courage.
Since Kyuhyun had moved away, Taeyeon had kept her eyes on him from her seat at the desk. She clasped her hands tightly in her lap to stop herself from wanting to cross the room and reaching out to him. She kept perfectly still, wanting to give Kyuhyun strength, support and more courage. However, she knew she had to leave him alone, had to let him face his demons alone.
“Where you sit…” Sungmin’s eyes narrowed in thought, “Where you sit… you sit near the door,” He looked at Kyuhyun, confused, “What does that have to do with… You were attacked last year; you basically don’t eat and you sit near the door, as far from the windows as possible. It can’t… you can’t… Kyuhyun, things like that don’t exist.”
Slowly, Kyuhyun turned to face him, leaning back against the window sill, “I thought the same thing up until last year, Sungmin… but what happened to me was real… what is now a part of me is real. I… I…” Kyuhyun inhaled deeply, tilting his face to the ground, eyes clenched tightly, “I am… a… I’m a vampire.”
Sungmin didn’t know how to feel. He felt confused, startled and there was a big dose of fear. However, this was Kyuhyun standing there. This was the same person who would sleep over at his house more often than sleeping at home. This was the same person who rode his bike too fast without a helmet, ended up crashing into a tree and got a permanent scar on his temple. This was the same person who got lost with him in the forest during a thunderstorm and would seek him out for years afterwards whenever there was a storm. This was Kyuhyun, despite what happened to him.
Sungmin swallowed hard; he wanted to provide Kyuhyun with the comfort and assurance that he wasn’t going to leave again, that he was still his friend and he wasn’t going to betray him as apparently others –
“You said others have betrayed you, people who were supposed to love you…” Sungmin said aloud, “Kyuhyun… how’s your family?”
Kyuhyun could feel his body shaking, and so he reached back and gripped the sill tightly, “W-what?”
“Your parents… Kyuri… how are they?” When Kyuhyun didn’t say anything, but looked away instead, Sungmin asked tentatively, “They’re the ones who betrayed you, aren’t they?”
“Kyuri’s still in Japan… I don’t think she knows,” Kyuhyun explained, “My parents, however, they… they…” He sighed heavily and opted out to just nod his head in silent affirmation.
“You said it’s hard for you to trust anyone who isn’t Taeyeon,” Sungmin said quietly, briefly looking at the silent young lady, “If you’re here to tell me this and… and it’s a big thing… and earlier you mentioned that you needed help to live normally… so, what can I do to help you?”
Kyuhyun looked at Taeyeon and she nodded simply and turned her attention to Sungmin, “Within the first month after getting attacked, Kyuhyun lost the ability to eat normal food. He can stomach water and plain bread, but that’s about it. At some point I convinced him to try animal blood since he refuses to feed from humans. He wasn’t that pleased about animal blood, too, but there are dishes that use animal blood and cook it to make soup and he tolerated that –”
“Because you lied and didn’t tell me what the soup was,” Kyuhyun interjected, a slight resentment in his tone,
“ – But,” she continued on after shooting him a glare, “A few months ago, around December, he lost the ability to tolerate animal blood. I think… we think… that his body is refusing anything that isn’t human blood.”
“I refuse… I refuse to feed,” Kyuhyun stated sternly, swinging back to look out the window. His hands fisted on the sill as he stared out into the night’s darkness, “I will not drink human blood. I will not give up the last of my humanity.”
Sungmin’s gaze was locked on Kyuhyun’s back as he asked, “So how can I help if you’re refusing to take human blood? Even if I wanted to give you my blood – I’m sorry, Kyuhyun, but this is a lot to take and I can’t just offer something like that right from the beginning – you wouldn’t take it, so what can I do?”
“Since I stopped taking animal blood, I’ve been… I’ve been…” Kyuhyun closed his eyes tightly as he leaned his forehead against the cool glass, “I’ve been craving… Especially during times when I know other people are eating and I can’t… I get… I get agitated and I go into… into a type of rage.”
“A rage? Like… from all those myths?”
“It’s called blood lust,” Taeyeon explained quietly, her eyes swinging back and forth between the two men, “He’s fighting his body’s craving for blood and now he can’t even substitute it with animal blood. His body’s craving becomes so intense that he begins to obsess over it and sometimes he can’t control himself and takes out his frustration on anyone who argues with him.”
Sungmin raised an eyebrow at her last sentence, “You got into a fight today, didn’t you?”
“They started it and it was three against one,” Kyuhyun practically spat,
“Did you win?”
“You mean did he fight back this time?” When Sungmin raised his other eyebrow, Taeyeon explained, “He didn’t fight back last time. He doesn’t like to fight, especially when he’s in a rage.”
“Well, if the blood lust thing was true, I guess it means you have super strength and all that too?” Sungmin inquired,
“I’m stronger, but I don’t have super strength… I’m not a pureblood,” Kyuhyun explained quietly, “Only purebloods get all the… perks… of being a vampire.”
“So, what can I do?” Sungmin repeated, “Do you need someone to beat up once in awhile?”
Kyuhyun couldn’t help himself; he smiled; “No, I just need somewhere to escape to when it happens. Sometimes I can get back to my dorm just fine, but there are times when I’m closer to the east wing.”
Sungmin blinked, uncrossed his arms and then strode over to the desk. He reached past Taeyeon to a drawer in the desk and pulled out a key. Without moving away from her, he tossed it to Kyuhyun, who caught it instinctively.
Catching the key, Kyuhyun looked at him, startled, “That’s it? That’s… it? No… no questions? No… nothing else? Just… you just –”
Seeing such a usually-composed person begin to stammer the way Kyuhyun was, Sungmin closed the distance between them, “No questions, your explanation was all I needed.”
“If… if you’re sure?”
Sungmin closed his hand around Kyuhyun’s, securing the key in the younger man’s hand. However, Kyuhyun jerked his hand away immediately and Sungmin merely raised an eyebrow in silent questioning.
“I… I…” Kyuhyun inhaled deeply when Taeyeon cut in for him,
“He has telepathy,” she explained swiftly, no longer wanting to see him in such distress every time he was forced to explain something. She knew he was trying hard to get past his trust issues, but she also knew he had to do it a little at a time or else he was going to push himself too hard.
Sungmin blinked, “Can you control it? Are you reading my mind right now?”
It was Kyuhyun’s turn to blink and then he found himself smiling again as he gently shook his head, “No, like I said, I don’t have all the advantages as a pureblood does. So, I do have telepathy, but it’s just by touch. I… I can’t really control it when someone’s touching me, so I try to avoid crowds because it just gives me a big headache.”
Sungmin looked back and forth between Kyuhyun and Taeyeon, “You touch Taeyeon without any reservation. Can you control the telepathy when she’s involved?”
Kyuhyun shook his head again, “No, but I already know her thoughts most of the time; she doesn’t know how to hide her emotions.”
Taeyeon scowled at him, “And I tell him everything, anyway, so he doesn’t have the need to guard himself.”
Sungmin sighed and nodded, “This is a lot to take in during a short amount of time. I mean… vampires? That’s the stuff of myths and stories made to scare children… It’s… It’s a hard thing to accept, but I am.”
“It’s a hard thing to tell someone,” Kyuhyun glanced briefly at Taeyeon, “Best friend or not, it’s hard but… I can’t do this on my own, so I’m trying hard to trust people.”
Sungmin offered him a comforting smile, “Well, at least you have somewhere to escape when you begin to experience your blood lust. Whenever you feel it coming on, just come here until it passes.”
Kyuhyun swallowed hard, his gaze dropping, “What if it never passes?”
“Then you’ll repeat your senior year again,” Sungmin said dryly, simply.
Kyuhyun smiled again, fully aware that he smiled more in the short time he was with Sungmin than in the months since he had gotten bitten.
It was the middle of the third week of the school year and Zhou Mi noticed the way that Kyuhyun seemed to be avoiding him, even in class the younger man avoided his gaze. Zhou Mi knew he shouldn’t care too much, dwell on it too much and yet, he did. He couldn’t help but look for that familiar face in the corridor, or in the classroom, or in the dining hall. He couldn’t help but wait for Kyuhyun to raise his hand in class but he never did. He didn’t know when it began, all he knew was that at some point over the past two and a half weeks, he began to anticipate the younger man’s every move.
During breakfast that day, Zhou Mi noticed immediately that his gaze followed Kyuhyun’s movements across the dining hall to one of the two-seater tables. He noticed that even though the mathematics teacher sat down across from himself, he kept his attention on that elusive student of his. After almost half an hour into the meal, Zhou Mi noticed with concern that Kyuhyun hadn’t even looked at his plate.
“That must be it,” Zhou Mi muttered,
The mathematics teacher looked up from his plate, “What must be it?”
“Ah, nothing Hankyung,” Zhou Mi insisted, “I was just wondering why I’m so attentive to this person I met and I just realized it must be because of their tendency not to care for their own well-being; it calls out to my protective side.”
“You do have a stubborn protective side,” Hankyung nodded, “Who’s this person? Teacher? Student? It’s a student, isn’t it? I knew you were one to break the rules.”
Zhou Mi shot him a look, “Why I’ve stayed friends with you all these years, I’ll never know. Hey, Hankyung… do you know Jo Kyuhyun?”
“I knew it was a student,” Hankyung said with a slight shake of his head,
Zhou Mi rolled his eyes, “I was just wondering if you thought he looked familiar to you.”
Hankyung blinked, “I’ve never really thought about it. Why? You think he has connections to the Council? Imagine if he was going undercover for the Council?”
“Your imagination is too big,” Zhou Mi said with a slight smile, “And if the Council had someone going undercover, then what’s the point of me being here?”
“You’re the only one Eeteuk-sshi let into SJA,” Hankyung said, “So, if they sent someone else to pose as a student, then it’s double the coverage. But, like you said, my imagination is big.”
“But that makes sense,” Zhou Mi said, startled,
Hankyung shook his head, “If someone from the Council was here – even going undercover – Eeteuk would know. Also, Jo Kyuhyun’s been here since he was 15, there’s no way he’s an employee of the Council since then.”
“Are you sure? There are some young people these days,” Zhou Mi said as his eyes naturally went back to Kyuhyun, “In the other branches like back home in China and Japan, they hire younger people simply because they can do more undercover work.”
“Well, if you talked to Jo-sshi, even for a minute, you’d know he’s incapable of working for the Council,” Hankyung said, “He’s too nice; not a devious bone in that kid’s body.” After a moment’s silence, Hankyung swallowed the food he was chewing and then looked up at Zhou Mi again, “Are you sure your interest in Jo-sshi is just that he reminds you of someone? He’s not the one you want to protect?”
Zhou Mi blinked and then offered a big smile, “No, no. He’s just a student, after all.”
It was that weekend when Zhou Mi was able to get closer to Kyuhyun, to see how he was doing, but it was not in the way he had anticipated. Zhou Mi was running late to go down to breakfast. His room was located at the end of the hall where the other teachers’ dorms were, but instead of turning a left at the end, his room was down a small corridor to the right and was the only room located there. As he was heading to the common hallway, he noticed something ahead down the other small hallway. On the ground was a lumpy form which could only be a human.
There were only a few staff members that lived at SJA during the week and fewer still that stayed on campus during the weekends. He also knew who lived in that solo room and, without thought, called out,
As he quickly sprinted over, the closer he got, the slower he got. He paused, towering over the collapsed person, “Jo Kyuhyun?”
He knelt down on one knee and tentatively checked his carotid pulse, a sigh of relief escaping his lips when he found it, but it was weak. He looked around,
“Why are you by Sungmin’s room?” He wondered out loud as he gently rolled the younger man onto his back.
His eyes swept over Kyuhyun’s face, noting that his skin was paler than he last remembered. Quickly, he gently palpated the student’s limbs, assuring that nothing was out of place. Then, assured that Kyuhyun hadn’t any external injuries, he carefully swept the younger man into his arms and stood to his full height.
As he made his way to the common hallway, Zhou Mi had so many questions floating around his head. Why was Kyuhyun, a student, by Sungmin’s room, a teacher? Why was he collapsed outside? As his eyes briefly glanced down at Kyuhyun’s relaxed face, he couldn’t help but wonder if Kyuhyun and Sungmin had that kind of relationship. When his heart constricted painfully, he pushed away the thought and his emotional reaction to it; he didn’t want to examine himself when it was Kyuhyun he should be worrying about.
Zhou Mi paused, what if someone saw them like that? Would they assume things too? It could cause problems for Kyuhyun. More importantly, it could jeopardize the reason he was there if he got into trouble. Quickly, Zhou Mi traced back his steps to the T where the hallway split and turned to his right. Without hesitance, he went to his room and brought Kyuhyun with him.
Kyuhyun wasn’t sure how he woke up, but when he did, his body was immediately aware of how light it was in the room he was in. The sheets beneath him were warm and smelled wonderfully clean. What worried him was the fact that he could see everything in the room; what time was it? He suddenly scrambled to the head of the bed, realizing the bed was warm because of the sun heating it up.
Pressing his back against the headboard, he curled his knees against his torso as he tried to make himself smaller. Whatever room he was in, one of the windows was still catching a full dose of sunlight; could he be in Sungmin’s room? His room had lots of windows, but no, this room was different and didn’t look familiar at all. The room was furnished just like Sungmin’s, but subtle things like the sheets and small items around the room indicated a different owner.
Kyuhyun wanted to leave, but because of the sun flooding in through one of the windows, he saw immediately that the only way to the door, was through a wide patch of sunlight. He sighed heavily and closed his eyes, bringing his forehead to his knees; what was he going to do? In his mind, he tried to orientate himself in the school. Where the hell was he?
“How ironic,” he murmured as he began to mentally calculate his location in the school by the position of the sun. He knew he could, potentially, be in the west wing where the student dorms were, but he’d be in one of the end rooms that faced the back courtyard and east wing’s appendage. He also knew, it would have taken a lot of effort for him to have been brought there, because he definitely remembered blacking out by Sungmin’s room. He blinked, looked around the room, “I’m not in a student’s room… I’m in a teacher’s room.” The problem was, which teacher?
His question was soon answered when the bedroom door opened and Zhou Mi entered, completely drenched in the sunlight Kyuhyun was avoiding. His eyes locked with Kyuhyun’s immediately and he smiled brightly. He had with him a paper bag which he brought over to his desk and opened up,
“I was hoping you’d be awake, so I brought you food since I found you during breakfast and you certainly didn’t eat that… and since it’s lunch and you certainly aren’t eating that either,” Zhou Mi explained, “Unfortunately, all I have are sandwiches since this school serves such rich food and that tends to be hard to pack and sneak away in a paper bag.”
Kyuhyun fought his urge to smile just as he fought his rapidly beating heart. Instead, he wrapped his arms around his raised knees and watched the literature teacher.
Zhou Mi looked at him, holding out half a sandwich, “I know you’re probably used to better food, but it’s still good.”
Kyuhyun shook his head slightly, “I’m not hungry.” He almost laughed bitterly at the thought: it was because he was hungry that he had gone to Sungmin’s room that morning; deathly hungry.
Zhou Mi raised a suspicious eyebrow, but said nothing as he dropped the sandwich back into the bag, “Well, it’s here if you want it.” He plopped down gracefully – was that even possible? It must be since that was the only way Kyuhyun could’ve described the movement – onto his desk chair, crossing one knee over the other, “So, Jo-sshi, want to tell me why I found you collapsed? I could ask more, such as why you were collapsed by the teachers’ dorms or, specifically, why you were collapsed outside of Lee Sungmin-sshi’s dorm, but I thought I’d take this one step at a time. So! Why did I find you collapsed?”
Kyuhyun blinked. Every time he had spoken to this teacher on a one-to-one basis, he had been so calm and serious. In the classroom, the teacher spoke passionately about literature and a smile was no stranger during class. But, this was the first time Kyuhyun saw such lightness in the teacher’s attitude. He spoke fluidly, his thoughts bouncing around easily and all the while, a smile was stretched on his face. He didn’t know which side of the teacher was his real side, but this one made him think fondly of Taeyeon.
“I… was tired?” Kyuhyun ventured. He knew this teacher knew things about health and whatnot, so he didn’t know how far he could lie.
“Are you sure? Because you don’t have bags under your eyes; rather, your face is really pale and when I picked you up, you seemed thinner than I last remembered.”
He couldn’t lie at all, apparently.
“It’s nothing,” Kyuhyun finally insisted, his chant that had become so ingrained into his head that it was almost instinctively his response when he was asked about his general health. What no one seemed to realize, except for perhaps Taeyeon, was that he was really saying he wanted it to be nothing.
Zhou Mi’s eyes narrowed slightly and his smile faded into a slight frown, “Look Jo-sshi, when a student of mine is so obviously unwell, it is my natural instinct to worry.”
Kyuhyun was silent for a moment. His heart had slowed down, but it had begun to beat painfully. What was worse was that he didn’t know what caused it to hurt so much: when Zhou Mi stopped smiling or when he was referred to, by him, as just a student. He slammed a mental door on his thoughts, knowing that he was having to do so more times than he’d like around this particular person. Since that first day he saw his literature teacher, his body always reacted a particular way to Zhou Mi and Kyuhyun never knew what to do. He realized that he had to suffer through the motions – was he really suffering, though? – until either his body calmed down on its own, or he was away from Zhou Mi; the former never happened.
Zhou Mi’s heavy sigh pulled Kyuhyun out of his musings, “Have I don’t anything to make you distrust me? As much as I can remember from our three weeks of acquaintanceship, I haven’t done anything to offend you or hurt you, have I?”
“No,” Kyuhyun replied before he even thought about it; he just already knew the answer.
“Then why can’t you trust me in this one thing? You know I know about health and I could help you if you don’t want to talk to the school nurse about it,” Zhou Mi insisted gently,
“I don’t… I don’t readily trust anyone who isn’t Taeyeon,” Kyuhyun admitted. When Zhou Mi didn’t reply, he added, “I’ve known Sungmin since I was born and even then I can’t easily tell him things.”
Zhou Mi acknowledged immediately when his entire body seemed to tighten when Kyuhyun said Taeyeon’s name. He wasn’t sure what it was, but whenever he saw them together, he reacted like a jealous schoolboy to them… Was he jealous?
He cleared his throat and made a show of adjusting the thick, black frames on his face as he asked casually, “Do you trust Kim-sshi so easily because she’s your girlfriend?”
Kyuhyun blinked and smiled slightly and Zhou Mi felt his heart physically lurch in response to such a beautiful sight.
“Taeyeon isn’t my girlfriend; she’s my best friend –”
“That doesn’t mean it can’t develop into a more serious relationship,” Zhou Mi stated, feeling as if he was cutting off his nose to spite his face,
“She’s also my cousin,” Kyuhyun couldn’t help but laugh lightly, “Our mothers are sisters and that’s why we have different last names.”
“But you two seem so… close,” Zhou Mi argued, knowing he was revealing the fact that he paid attention to the two,
“That’s because Taeyeon gets a lot of suitors here at SJA. She realized during her first year that they generally stayed away when I was around. No one knew we were related and, apparently, they couldn’t conceive just a platonic relationship between us. So, the other students just assumed we were together in that way and we never corrected them,” Kyuhyun shrugged, “It keeps her happy and it means I’m not alone this year.”
“So you trust Taeyeon easier than Sungmin because she’s your cousin?” Zhou Mi inquired,
Kyuhyun shook his head, “I’ve known Sungmin since I was born, but I only met Taeyeon when I was six… I guess that was when my parents realized having me around was a bit too annoying, so they began throwing me together with my cousin. I’ve always been closer to Taeyeon because, I think even at the age of six, I believed that since she was family – unlike Sungmin – she could never leave me. Even now, however, I don’t trust Taeyeon easier because she’s my cousin.”
Zhou Mi felt enthralled by Kyuhyun’s story. He didn’t say a lot, but from what he did say, Zhou Mi felt pulled in and knew his emotions were becoming engaged with the story as well. He knew he should stop and turn away, but he couldn’t help himself; his body was reacting before he could control it. And so, he asked tentatively, “Then, why?”
“You’re new, but I’m sure you’ve heard that I’m repeating my third year,” Zhou Mi nodded and so, Kyuhyun continued, “Well, I got sick last year… very sick…” His gaze pulled away from Zhou Mi’s and slowly, they drifted to the window which was filled with the most sunlight. He stared at it, transfixed at something that had become so forbidden to him; “During that time, Taeyeon was the only one to stay with me… Even… Even…”
His heart was beating painfully now, but for a completely different reason. He could feel with each beat, his heart crashing against his ribs either trying to escape, or attempting self-mutilation; he was inclined to the latter. He gripped his arms tighter around his raised knees and tried to swallow hard the lump that was quickly forming in his throat, threatening to suffocate him.
“Even my parents left me,” Kyuhyun managed, distantly horrified at how quiet and weak his voice sounded to his ears; “They’ve even moved out of our house and… they’ve left Seoul.”
Zhou Mi instinctively wanted to cross the room and envelope Kyuhyun in his arms, but the last of his control was telling him no and he obeyed it reluctantly. Kyuhyun always seemed like a calm, composed young man. From the fact that he was only ever with Taeyeon, he seemed like one to prefer his independence, his freedom. He realized now that Kyuhyun was forced to have those things and while all other students may crave such gifts, Kyuhyun was struggling with them.
“You asked before about my parents being rich and paying for my innocence, well, now you know why they wouldn’t even if I wanted them to,” Kyuhyun laughed bitterly, forcing the jagged melody from his mouth because if he didn’t laugh, he knew he would surely cry; “They completely abandoned me after what happened last year, so why should they offer to pay anything for me? Damn, if it wasn’t for Headmaster Park, I wouldn’t have even been allowed back.”
“The headmaster? What did he do?” Zhou Mi asked, startled and completely intrigued; how did the headmaster play into this twisted drama between Kyuhyun and his horrible parents?
“I’m here on free tuition. He’s allowing me to repeat my year without paying for tuition,” Kyuhyun explained.
Zhou Mi was even more startled. Free tuition? The school boasted one of the most exclusive of entrance fees and acceptances and Jo Kyuhyun had received the chance to repeat his year AND free tuition? Despite their differences, Zhou Mi knew that Eeteuk cared deeply for his school and his students. However, even with his kind heart, he knew that tuition was a lot for the school and for Eeteuk to allow Kyuhyun back without having to pay, the school lost the chance for even more money. Even though he was surprised, Zhou Mi hid it well and decided not to comment on it.
At his silence, Kyuhyun felt – knew – that he had said too much. Pulling his gaze away from the window, he looked around, silently trying to figure out how he could escape, “I… I should go.”
Zhou Mi stood up and shook his head, “Despite your reluctance to tell me, something is wrong and it is NOT just ‘nothing’. So just… stay here and rest. Later, I’ll show you the back staircase so you can go without other staff seeing you.”
Kyuhyun watched as he walked to the door, opened it and then paused. Zhou Mi looked over his shoulder at him and Kyuhyun would bet his life that he wanted to say something. Instead, however, Zhou Mi turned and left, closing the door gently, but securely behind him.
Kyuhyun sighed, “Even if I wanted to, I can’t leave,” he murmured, noting that the sunlight was still acting like a barrier between him and the door.
However, the sun had moved enough that it was no longer hitting the bed and so, he slowly slipped back under the sheets and laid his cheek against the pillow. He inhaled deeply, closing his eyes. The last thought he pushed away was him wondering if what he smelled in the sheets was Zhou Mi.
Before the dinner hour, Zhou Mi felt restless. He knew the headmaster was busy and the only time to catch him was right before meals because by then he would be stopping his work to get ready to eat. Zhou Mi had been in his classroom all afternoon, so as to give Kyuhyun some alone time to rest. So, he put away his lesson plan for the coming week and left the central wing and headed to the east wing’s second floor where the headmaster’s office was located along with the staff room and the nurse’s office.
As he reached the end of the long hallway, he came face-to-face with a set of double doors which he knew opened up to the headmaster’s office. Taking a deep, steadying breath, he raised a hand and knocked on the solid, wooden door. He waited patiently before he heard a muffled invitation to enter. He opened the door to find the headmaster seated behind a giant oak desk. Eeteuk waved him to one of the wooden, leather-upholstered chairs before the desk and Zhou Mi obliged immediately, closing the door firmly behind him.
As he walked to one of the chairs, Zhou Mi couldn’t help but look around the vast office. On one end of the office were three, black-leather couches surrounding an oak coffee table; all set before a large, marble fireplace. Three walls had floor-to-ceiling bookcases: the bookcases lining the wall behind Eeteuk’s desk were interjected in equal intervals with large windows; the wall containing the door Zhou Mi had just walked through had more bookcases and also a ladder on wheels was pushed near the door; the third wall which was adjacent between the parallel walls, opposite the fire place, was broken in one place by a single door. Zhou Mi knew, just from Hankyung telling him, that the headmaster had a private staircase which led to his own chambers.
Eeteuk closed the leather-bound folder he had before him. Linking his fingers together atop it, he cocked his head slightly, “To what do I owe this pleasure? Since our… acquaintance began I do believe this is the first time you’ve sought me out.”
“All biases aside, I need to know something,” Zhou Mi said, crossing his arms loosely about his torso, “Jo Kyuhyun… I know you have 300 students, but considering his special treatment, I have no doubt you know him specifically.”
“Special treatment? I try my best not to treat any of my students differently; their parents fill them with hot air as it is,” Eeteuk said dryly,
“So you allow more than one student to attend Shim Jang Academy with free tuition?” Zhou Mi challenged, “I know about that when Jo-sshi got sick last year, he was abandoned for some reason by his parents. I also know that to allow him to finish his education here at SJA, you allowed him to return without having to pay for the year’s tuition.”
Visibly surprised, Eeteuk raised both eyebrows. He leaned back in his leather office chair and regarded Zhou Mi for a silent moment. Zhou Mi watched him, silently questioning him. Finally, Eeteuk rose from his desk and walked towards one of the many bookcases that were behind his desk.
“I’m an old-fashioned man,” Eeteuk said simply, “Student records, even the school’s accounting, I do it all by hand. I believe that technology has made things easier, but it has also made us arrogant.” His finger ran along several leather-bound folders until he pulled one out, “So, I prefer to stick with the basics.” He held up the folder so Zhou Mi could see, “This, is Jo Kyuhyun’s student records.” He leaned a shoulder against the nearest window as he opened the folder in his hand, his free hand flipping through the papers within, “Quiet kid, had a few friends, but they never stuck around after last year… Smart. It doesn’t show in his grades, but I think that’s because he’s had no motivation to apply himself. If you talk to him, you’d know how smart he is. I truly believe that he, above all others, deserves to be at this school…”
“And that’s why you let him back without paying tuition?” Zhou Mi asked,
Eeteuk shook his head as he closed the folder and glanced out the window, “You want to know why he’s here on a free tuition and I’ll tell you the truth. Mind you, you are the only other person in this entire school who knows about his tuition.” He closed the folder and walked back to the desk, dropping the folder over the first, “Jo Kyuhyun wasn’t sick last year; he was bitten by a pureblood vampire.”
“Is that some kind of joke!?” Zhou Mi demanded, jumping to his feet.
Eeteuk simply crossed his arms loosely once more and said quietly, “Take his folder.”
Zhou Mi stared at the dark blue leather. He looked back at Eeteuk and finally grabbed the leather-bound folder and stormed out of the office, one of the double doors slamming behind him. Eeteuk watched him leave and watched the door close after him. Sighing heavily, Eeteuk retreated to one of the windows and looked up at the night sky,
“Please Kangin,” he prayed, “Tell me I did the right thing.”
Without even looking at the folder gripped tightly in his hand, Zhou Mi went to the nearest staircase, taking the steps three at a time as he ascended them at a steady pace. He reached the east wing’s fourth floor quickly and immediately headed towards his room. For once, he didn’t jumble with his keys as he unlocked the door, but when he entered his dark room, he found it empty.
He knew it was idealistic, but some part of him expected Kyuhyun to still be there and… what? Wait for him? Zhou Mi leaned a shoulder against the doorframe and sighed heavily; what was going on with him? He closed and locked his door and headed down to the dining hall.
Zhou Mi wasn’t sure what he was doing, all that he knew was that he needed to see Kyuhyun, needed to make sure he was okay. Some part of him knew he shouldn’t be feeling such a way, acting in such a way and yet, he couldn’t help himself. He knew he was paying more attention to Kyuhyun than he should and after that morning, when he saw Kyuhyun collapsed on the ground, his heart had literally stopped.
Zhou Mi was constantly reminding himself: ‘he’s a student; he’s a student; he’s a student’ but then a part of him kept reminding ‘it’s just two years; just two years; just two years’. He had become protective of Kyuhyun and even though he tried justifying it when he was with Hankyung, that morning, he realized it wasn’t just because of the younger man’s tendency to getting hurt. No, he was protective of Kyuhyun because of so much more.
When he reached the dining hall, his eyes instinctively went to the two-seat tables along the perimeter of the room, knowing well that Kyuhyun and Taeyeon always sat together at one of the smaller tables. He didn’t see either of them and knew a moment of complete loss. He turned away from the dining hall, dodging the stream of students and barely resisted looking back.
The room was dark, save a single light of a lamp that was located on the corner of a desk at the front of the classroom and aimed to light just the surface of the desk. He entered quietly, walking a bee-line to the front of the classroom, heading to the front-most window and leaning his hips back against the sill. He shoved his hands into his slacks’ pockets and just regarded the teacher sitting at the desk,
“Zhou Mi, I didn’t see you at dinner.”
Zhou Mi swiftly closed the leather-bound folder on his desk, but refused to look at his long-time friend, “I came here to think.” Silence fell between them and, finally, he asked, “Do you hate vampires, Hankyung?”
The older man raised an eyebrow, surprised, “I don’t… hate them, but I hate what they can do once their blood lust takes over.” Hankyung searched his mind for his answer, trying to be true to himself while still being true to his past; “Because of their weakness to their own nature, because of how that weakness led to my grandfather’s murder… that is why I side with the Council and why I am their advocate.”
Zhou Mi knew what his answer would be; knew it wouldn’t help him sort out the thoughts that were clashing constantly in his mind since he read Kyuhyun’s student records and, most importantly, the nurse’s report on when Kyuhyun was brought in the night he was attacked. Zhou Mi, for once, found a great appreciation for Kyuhyun’s close relationship with his cousin; it was Taeyeon who found him that night.
“So, in a situation between the Council and a vampire –”
“I’d side with the Council,” Hankyung replied swiftly, “In… In all honesty that is my immediate response. However, I have seen both sides, Zhou Mi. I know you don’t get along with Eeteuk-sshi, but before the Council went after him, I knew his boyfriend… I knew Kangin. When the Council went after him…” He swallowed hard as he turned his back to Zhou Mi and looked out unseeingly at the school grounds, “I found out after it had happened and it took some time before Eeteuk spoke to me again.”
“So in that situation, where the vampire never hurt anyone and had yet to succumb to their blood lust… If the vampire was fighting their nature – who would you have sided win? What would you have done if you knew what the Council was planning?” Zhou Mi questioned,
“I honestly don’t know,” Hankyung said quietly, “In my heart, I know that it was a vampire that killed my grandfather. Not just a pureblood, but one who had been bitten and transformed. But… but in my head, I know that Kangin had never hurt anyone… that he was very innocent when the Council sent Hunters after him. I hope I never have to find out where my loyalties truly lie.”
A silence fell between them as Zhou Mi’s eyes drifted back to Kyuhyun’s file and Hankyung sorted through emotions he thought he had put behind him.
It was Hankyung to break the silence first; “Why all these questions? You’ve always been adamantly against vampires. Have you finally found the vampire from last year? The one who had made an attack in this area?”
“No, I haven’t had any luck hunting that one down,” Zhou Mi replied quietly; “I just had a… a conversation with Eeteuk.”
“Eeteuk hates Hunters… no, all Council members in a way stronger than I ever hated vampires in the past,” Hankyung said, finally able to turn back and meet Zhou Mi’s eyes, “He has more conviction in his beliefs and, despite our often opposing views, I applaud that he’s fighting a losing battle. He’s siding for a population that’s rare and hardly any one believes in… He will always side for those who have been bitten and will always hope they fight their natures.”
“If he’s so against Council members, then why hire you? Better yet, why did he even let me come here too?” Zhou Mi inquired,
“Eeteuk hired me before Kangin was killed and he let me stay afterwards, despite not speaking to me, because he knew that I understood both sides,” Hankyung replied, “He allowed you to come here because, even if he wanted to fight against it, the Council is still part of the government. He allowed you to come here because he’s not so biased that he denies the threat of vampires; especially since his school is so secluded here.”
“But he doesn’t know I’m a Hunter; he just thinks I’m just another dull Council member,” Zhou Mi stated, “I mean… if he knew that I was a Hunter… worse, if he found out that I was even more than that, that I’m the head Hunter of the Seoul district...” Zhou Mi sighed, propping his elbows on his desk, pushing his fingers through his thick hair as his eyes laid guiltily on Kyuhyun’s student records, “If Eeteuk-sshi knew all of that, he would never have let me within ten feet of the campus gates.”
“I think you’d be surprised what Eeteuk would allow,” Hankyung said,
“You’d be surprised at how surprised he’s already made me,” Zhou Mi muttered before saying loudly, “Why do you say that?”
“Eeteuk isn’t stupid. He has his pride, but after the attack last year, he’s not going to easily just kick you out of SJA.” Hankyung explained, “Besides, he hates Council members more than Hunters; they’re the ones who tell the Hunters what to do. He’d much rather deal with the devil’s advocate than have to deal with the devil himself.”
“Since he told me a secret, maybe I should tell him mine,” Zhou Mi said quietly, knowing that his words were still able to reach his friend’s ears; “If I tell Eeteuk I’m Head Hunter of Seoul, do you think we’ll become great friends?”
Hankyung laughed, “That’s stretching it, but he may like you a little bit more.”
Zhou Mi offered him a smile, a ghost of what he usually exuded. Then, his gaze dropped down to the dark blue, leather-bound folder on his desk. His was a secret he couldn’t allow anyone to find out.
One person in particular.
(Phase 4: Sympathy for the Devil)