terrible things happen (sometimes, they save you)
taehyung/jeongguk ≫ nc-17 ≫ 57,770 words ≫ warnings
min yoongi wakes up from a nightmare on a sunless afternoon to a reality more twisted than his dizziest daydreams.
taehyung/jeongguk ≫ nc-17 ≫ 57,770 words ≫ warnings
min yoongi wakes up from a nightmare on a sunless afternoon to a reality more twisted than his dizziest daydreams.
|author’s note: this is an american horror story coven au. absolutely no prior knowledge of american horror story is required. if there is prior knowledge of american horror story bear in mind this is very. diluted. but even so, please take the warnings seriously!!|
He dreams often. Faraway fantasies of making it big in music industries, people who will listen to his words of rebellion and anger and oppression. Chilly omens of shadowy figures in the corners of his room whispering things he doesn’t want to hear. Visions of sleeping in endless sunlit spreads of dry parched earth with nothing but his heartbeat around for miles.
“What’s your name?”
The boy sits with his back to Yoongi. He remains wordless, nearly swallowed up in the blackness that presses in around them like the sensation of being head-under blankets at night. Yoongi wants to stand up and leave, but something keeps him rooted to the spot, legs crossed. They prickle as they fall asleep. The lantern he’s holding up near his face is the only source of light, the heat of the candle flame abnormally hot and painful through the glass.
“Who are you?”
Still he offers no answer, but after a moment the boy turns his head. Yoongi recoils when he sees his face, a mess of facial features in all the wrong places. He stumbles when the blackness melts away and his back meets a wall. He’s standing now, in an abandoned structure full of people with faces he cannot distinguish. Just like that nameless boy, their eyes are not quite in the right places in their heads, blinking lazily where their lips should be, mouths brushed to the side of cheeks and noses planted on foreheads.
“Vitalum Vitalis,” says one of them, his mouth moving out of sync with his words. His voice is distorted, as though it passes through water. “The balancing of energy between life and death.”
One of the human Picasso creations strides toward Yoongi, hands of six fingers each reaching out for his neck. He can’t even run. The soles of his feet are nailed into the ground. The hands close around his neck like a cold metal vice and he chokes. He can’t believe this is how he dies. His mouth hangs open but no air goes into his lungs, it’s as if he’s forgotten how even to breathe. All it is is the warmth seeping out of his body, starting from the tips of his fingers and toes before the iciness reaches the blood in his face.
He hits the ground with a heavy thud. The concrete almost feels warm under his cheek.
“And there we have it,” says the voice. “The next Supreme of the South Korean convocation of warlocks—”
A cheerful tritone-chime screeches over the second half of the sentence. The image of the run down building around him fuzzes around the edges, then pulls away until it looks like nothing but a badly performed stage show in the distance, and Yoongi wakes up.
Jung Hunchul messaged you!
Yoongi squints hatefully at the blinking tab on his computer, wiping his cheek where it’s damp with drool, and should really somehow make it clearer to people that he is not interested in making small talk unless the sky is falling or blood is spurting everywhere. Then, maybe, are people allowed to open with “So how was your day?”
But maybe it is good that Jung Hunchul is messaging him now. Just as well, in fact, considering this—whatever that dream was—is something out of the scope of Yoongi’s expertise and frankly out of scope for the fucks he desires to give at any given time on any given day. He despises phone calls but at the same time, something like this really shouldn’t wait.
“Hello? Damn, is this Min Yoongi?”
“That’s me! Why so glum, chum? I didn’t really pit you as someone who would ever call after getting a froyo invitation on Facebook.”
“You woke me up from my nap, asshat. Listen, there are more important things than froyo right now.”
Hunchul groans into the receiver. “I beg to differ,” he says, mouth audibly full. “If you could taste this marbled taro right now—”
“I saw something.”
A pause. “You saw something, or you Saw something?”
“Capital s, Saw something.”
The silence stretches out again. Yoongi hears him talking in the background, “Yo, yo, you glue factory rejects, shut the fuck up,” and chuckles. “What did you See?” he asks.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what to make of it.”
“Do you at least have something you can put into words? You’re not helping a homie out here.”
“How old is the current Supreme, hyung?”
“Right now? Twenty.”
“And he was the youngest Supreme to ever manifest, right?”
“That I know of, yeah.” Hunchul is quiet again, the sounds of the froyo parlor soft and crackly over the receiver. “Why, did you See something about him?”
“How old are Supremes usually before new ones begin manifesting?”
The silence between Yoongi’s question and Hunchul’s reply is the longest one yet. “Yoongi,” he says, voice grave as death, “are you saying—?”
“Yes,” Yoongi says, sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose. “The next Supreme is coming. He’s coming soon.”
Living the life of a hidden warlock is not an easy one. Living the life of a hidden warlock that can hear the thoughts of everyone around him and see the future is even harder. Yoongi goes through most of his days with headphones jammed down over his ears, music cranked up to deafening volumes to drown out the voices in his head. It never completely erases the buzz of thoughts in his head that aren’t his own but the harsh, Marlboro-roughened beats of rap blanket it, sweep it under the carpet and give him something else to listen to.
“You don’t look so hot.”
“No, really.” Donghyuk nods at the way Yoongi picks at the synthesizer controls under his finger. “You’ve been distracted all day. You usually turn into a different person the second you sit down in a recording studio, what’s wrong?” He pauses, the hesitation clear in the way he wrings his hands. “What were you talking to Hunchul about yesterday?”
“He told me not to tell you,” Yoongi sighs. “Said it wasn’t worth raising a fuss until I sniffed around first.”
“Ahh,” Donghyuk says, adjusting his headphones so that one of his ears is exposed, the other still clamped under the foam earpiece. “I have to hand it to him, I didn’t think he’d be able to keep the Wixen Council together after Ikje decided to step down from the leadership position but that one’s got his priorities in the right place.”
Later, when Donghyuk isn’t watching, Yoongi slips a scrap of paper out of his pocket and reads it again—the address to the Supreme, living somewhere in Seoul right now.
“You should go speak to him,” Hunchul said yesterday, voice hushed over the phone. “This is the last address he gave me, I’m not sure if he’s still living there or not. It’s the best I can give you, I’m sorry, but if you can’t find him I’ll call up some people who can.”
“Is stalking the Supreme even legal?” Yoongi asked, smoothing a hand down the Post-It note after he finished copying down the address. Hunchul snorted into the phone.
“Do you think we’re here to tell a rowdy group of witches and warlocks what’s legal,” he said. “Please. We do what we can to help you all live, we don’t have time to worry about law.”
“Hey,” Yoongi says, crumpling the paper in his fist and shoving it back into the pocket of his sweatpants. “How long do you think we can ditch this taco stand and take a spin to the big city?”
Donghyuk eyes him. “Why? Is this part of whatever juicy little secret between you and Hunchul?”
“I don’t have time for this, Donghyuk,” Yoongi says flatly, and Donghyuk simply pouts.
“You say we,” he replies, waving an airy hand in Yoongi’s face. “We’re a bitter underground troupe of rappers by day and a council of warlocks by night. I think it’s about damn time we crashed a big city party again. It’s getting too quiet in Daegu.”
The moment Namjoon steps out of the shower, the doorbell rings.
He still has a damp towel wrapped around his waist, beads of water clinging to the ends of his hair. This is the not the picture of presentability.
“Hey, Jackson, can you get the door?”
No answer. More likely than not, Jackson is doing his fifteenth set of handstand pushups of the night, or filming an amateur striptease (Namjoon could not make this shit up, he has walked into one too many strange things Jackson did). He curses under his breath, hitches the towel tighter around himself, and reaches for the doorknob.
It hits him like a surge of electricity when he does, a bright flashing image of a boy, with a tuft of black hair peeking out from the back of a snapback with the bill turned backwards, standing with his arms crossed on the other side of the door. This boy, whoever he is, isn’t here for a business inquiry, isn’t a telemarketer that always comes around with a clipboard, isn’t a high school student looking for donations. He’s here for a matters a little more extraordinary.
This much, Namjoon knows.
For a moment the picture is burned into the backs of Namjoon’s eyelids, and he has to blink to get it to fade. With a little more caution this time he puts his hand back on the handle and turns the knob.
“Uh,” says the boy, and his name comes to Namjoon like an old memory, though he doesn’t recall ever meeting him. “Hi. Are you Kim Namjoon?”
“—Min Yoongi, right?”
“Oh,” Yoongi says, looking mildly impressed. “You remember me?”
“No, I,” Namjoon says, waving the hand he still has resting on the door handle, and smiles. “Supreme.”
Yoongi searches his face for a moment, then asks, “Can I come in? I’m sorry, you look busy, but it can’t wait.”
“No, it’s fine, come in,” Namjoon steps back to make room. “Just let me get dressed.”
Yoongi follows him into the living room, where Namjoon pulls on a t-shirt and clumsily steps into his pants. He’s expressionless at first, turning his head side to side surreptitiously as if trying to pick up noise, then wrinkles his nose when he sits down in a tattered armchair.
“Something the matter?”
“Do you live with someone else?” Yoongi asks.
“Yeah, one roommate. I think he’s in his room.”
“He’s so loud.”
“Yeah, sometimes he—” Namjoon frowns. Jackson is silent right now, or at least to his knowledge. “Wait. You’re the clairvoyant, aren’t you? Min Yoongi, the same one from five years ago, during the last test of the Seven Wonders. You were the last candidate for Supreme, until you failed concilium—you’re part of my convocation.”
“That’s me,” Yoongi says, saluting with one finger. “So, Supreme, if you know who am, tell me what I’m here for.”
Namjoon shrugs. “I’m lost.”
“Ah,” Yoongi says. “Right. Yeah, it’s not exactly great news, I advise you sit down.”
Once Namjoon has has made himself comfortable, Yoongi gives a sigh like a disappointed father facing his delinquent son. “There’s another Supreme on the horizon,” he announces with gusto.
Namjoon blinks rapidly. “What.”
“I wouldn’t be here if I were just trying to mess with you,” he continues. “I Saw it happen. The test of the Seven Wonders, not long from now. And if it happens exactly as I Saw it, someone will die during Vitalum Vitalis. It might be me.”
Yoongi says all of this with eerily collected calm, and Namjoon leans forward, resting elbows on knees with fingers laced together.
“You’re telling me that there is a new all-powerful witch or warlock that is rising in this convocation?” he repeats, trying to make sure he understands what Yoongi is telling him. It’s not that Namjoon doesn’t trust him, but clairvoyants are tricky, tricky people, and it really doesn’t get more dangerous than someone who can read minds and see the future.
Okay, so maybe it is that Namjoon doesn’t trust him.
“Are you here to call yourself off the list of suspicion?” he finally asks. “Warn me, like you’re looking out for me, then kill me when you have the chance? How can I know you don’t already know who it is?”
“I went to Hunchul with this,” Yoongi deadpans. “And while they’re a bunch of dick-brained fucks most of the time, I don’t have the nerve to lie through my teeth to the Wixen Council.”
Namjoon feels marginally bad for being so cynical.
“Don’t be,” Yoongi says intuitively. “I can’t blame you for being suspicious. If I were you I’d ask the same question because, at least to me, you don’t look like you’re dying. There’s no reason for a new Supreme to be manifesting only five years after you stepped up.”
“I am definitely not dying,” Namjoon confirms. “Well. What should I do about this information?”
“Do what you will,” Yoongi says. “I’m acting on Hunchul’s advice, I would never have been able to find you without him. And—well, you’re the Supreme. We might not be a close convocation of warlocks like the New Orleans coven of witches, but you’re still our leader.”
When Namjoon sees him off at the door later, he pauses and turns around. Namjoon thinks he has something else to warn him about but all he does is point out, “The back of your shirt is wet, by the way.”
“Oh, I know. I don’t towel off my back.”
Yoongi fixes him with a pained expression. “Why?”
“Why towel it if it’s going to dry itself anyway?”
“What the fuck kind of reasoning is that,” he hears Yoongi say to himself after he shuts the door. “Why live if you’re going to die?”
But Yoongi’s words haunt Namjoon like a dark cloud.
“Are you all right?” Jackson asks, and Namjoon has to shake himself out of his trance. “You’ve been weird since that Yoongi guy came over.”
Namjoon quirks an eyebrow. “You heard his name?”
“You guys were talking pretty loud.”
“Jackson, you didn’t even hear me shouting at you to come open the door.”
“Details,” Jackson says, waving a hand. “Did he give you a hard time? He’s not here for the diary of his dead sister, or something, right? I really don’t want to be living in a haunted apartment complex, because I could have sworn I heard shuffling around in the morning, and—”
Namjoon’s phone vibrates against the kitchen table, the grating rumble making them both jump. It’s Hunchul, and Namjoon would be lying if he said he isn’t a little relieved that he’s seeing a more familiar name from whom he can actually get answers. He steps into his room to answer.
“Yep. Could have given me a bit of a heads up before sending a Sighted clairvoyant on my tail like that, thank you.”
Hunchul laughs. “I’m not trying anything weird with you, I swear. But that Sighted clairvoyant Saw something that concerns you, and I’m trying to keep this as low profile as I can. Need to know basis. Yoongi is too much of a sloth to give a flying shit about power, but not every witch or warlock out there is like that.”
“What now?” Namjoon asks, running a hand through his hair. “I don’t even know half the convocation in South Korea, how on Earth are we going to sniff out the next Supreme?”
“Well, actually,” Hunchul says, the creak of a chair tipping back punctuating his words, “you and Yoongi are the only ones from the last test of Seven Wonders that are still alive. The other ten were killed at gunpoint just outside the North Korean border.”
“Jesus in a shit bucket.”
“Yeah, Ikje decided to step down after that,” Hunchul replies solemnly. “We call it Slaughterhouse Ten. Well, not to his face, anyway. Since then we’ve let you two stay apart, because clearly, unity was not the optimal choice for our fallen heroes.”
“So what it looks like right now is,” Hunchul continues, “there are no known witches or warlocks that could be challenging your position.”
“This does not reassure me at all.”
“I didn’t think it would,” Hunchul says. “The thing is, that means whoever it is has no idea he’s the next rising Supreme. Which means that you, my liege, need to make a lot of magical friends in the next few months.”
Namjoon cracks his knuckles. “Why?”
“If there’s someone that’s challenging your position,” Hunchul sighs, as if this is obvious, “you really don’t want to make an enemy of them.”
Hunchul has a fair point. Namjoon shuts his eyes, breathing in deep, trying to arrange his thoughts and words before he speaks again.
“Right,” he says. “How are we going to do this, then?”
“Leave that part to me,” Hunchul says with relish. “I got a distress call from down in Busan. From the looks of it, you’ve got a doozy coming your way, my friend.”
“Hey, kid, you all right? We need to ask you a couple of questions.”
The police officer’s voice is brusque yet not unkind, but Jeongguk doesn’t immediately bring his face out of his hands. The red-and-white checkered fleece blanket around his shoulders still isn’t enough to keep him warm but someone had draped it over him. In the confusion, he hadn’t seen who it was, or got a chance to thank them. It’s his favorite blanket.
“Yeah,” he says, voice hoarse. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
Even as he looks up the rotating police lights and ambulance strobes sting his eyes. The entire street is bathed in it, asphalt awash in bluish-red. The sight of it makes him want to close his eyes, scrub the image out of his mind but the picture is burned onto the insides of his eyelids.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say now can be used against you in court. Can we proceed?” says the other officer.
“Name and age?”
“Jeon Jeongguk. Seventeen.”
“Relationship to the victim?”
Jeongguk doesn’t answer right away. Then, “Acquaintance,” he grits out.
“Yes. Didn’t know his name.”
“Can you describe the events right up to the moment you called paramedics?”
Jeongguk does close his eyes this time.
It hadn’t happened so fast, but it’s still a blur. He’s done this more than once, especially after his brother made him a fake copy of his own ID—club hopping and bar hopping with people much older. In retrospect, it wasn’t his turf, he should have stayed home, done his work like the high school third-year he is, but one taste of it and Jeongguk has been addicted ever since. Letting people he knew only by face and vaguely, vaguely by name if he’s seen them around enough, drag him off the dance floor, into cabs, and between sheets.
It’s never ended like this, though.
“His nose started bleeding first,” Jeongguk says, eyes still shut. “It wasn’t obvious in the beginning, and it wasn’t that bad. He told me to get off of him because he had a nosebleed, so I did and he reached over for something to stem the flow. He turned on the light and I saw that it was true. By the time his hand actually reached the tissues box, he’d already started bleeding from both nostrils. Then from his ears, and his eyes, and his…” Jeongguk pulls the blanket tighter around himself. “Everywhere. Blood everywhere. I don’t know how it...how it happened.”
So the long, short, and dirty of it is this: Jeongguk’s first time was with someone he hardly knew, which is all well enough, if he hadn’t died virtually on the spot the second he put his dick in him.
This is like a bad, bad dream.
“Did the hemorrhage occur before or after, er. Penetration.”
The cop that hadn’t spoken gives his colleague a severe look. Jeongguk blinks dumbly at the question as though he’s not quite sure he heard correctly.
“Uhm…” Jeongguk licks his lips, the thick smell of iron in his lungs. “After.”
The officer nods, grabs the other’s elbow, and yanks them around so that they’re facing away from Jeongguk. This can’t be professional, but right now Jeongguk doesn’t even care. Still, though, he hears them easily, their voices carrying in the breeze.
“Is death by coitus possible in humans?”
“I don’t fucking know, Yongjin. Maybe that’s why they call it le petit mort, though?”
A paramedic checks Jeongguk’s vitals as they whisper to each other some more, holding a stethoscope to his chest, telling him to breathe in and out. She shines a light into his eyeballs and declares him stable for now, and the officer named Yongjin turns around and tucks his hand into his jacket, a grim look on his face.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to come down to the station with us for the time being, Jeon Jeongguk,” he says. “You’re under arrest on one count of first-degree manslaughter.”
Jeongguk’s parents are far more worried than they actually are angry with him. The first thing his mother does when he breaks the news to her (“Hi Mom, I’m at the police station and they’re offering me two billion in bail. I can explain.”) is not, surprisingly, to disown him. Instead, she says with a muted sadness in her voice,
“Oh, honey, did you try to sleep with someone?”
To which Jeongguk had sputtered, but admitted, in the end.
The story is, apparently, that Jeongguk’s great-great-grandmother, or someone in the family, had been one too—a black widow, a curse that is only too true to its name. More importantly, she’d been a witch as well.
Which makes Jeongguk a warlock. A teenage boy that wielded considerable magical power for someone who received a failing grade in geography and geology class last semester.
He shakes his head, trying to clear his mind as he’s led to his cell. Men on all sides hang out of their own rooms, arms slung around the bars, cigarettes dangling from lips. Even from here on the second floor Jeongguk can see the poor excuses of showers, little cubicles with shabby curtains, dirty water pooling on the floor around them. He gulps.
“There will be someone to come get you,” his mother promised him on the phone, and her voice swims back into his ears now. Her words were gentle but of little comfort. “We just don’t have that kind of money, Jeongguk-ah, but someone will be there for you. Just wait, okay?”
“This is your room,” the officer barks. “No roughhousing, got it? Or you can say hello to the corrections officer.”
The door slams shut with a metallic clang behind him. Jeongguk is still hugging his pillow and blanket to his chest, backed up against the bars. He has one roommate, who currently is slumped over in the bed across the empty one that Jeongguk supposes will be his. He’s wearing thick black sunglasses, which strikes Jeongguk as odd. Aren’t all the prisoners stripped of outside personal belongings like that?
He doesn’t move. Jeongguk shuffles cautiously forward in between the two bunks, jumping when he notices the huge black Labrador sitting with its face in its paws under the bed. It peers up at him, and he bends down to pet it, hand already outstretched over its head when he sees the label on its leash.
GUIDE DOG ON DUTY, DO NOT PET.
“Oh,” he breathes, withdrawing his hand, and suddenly the sunglasses make sense. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware you were visually impaired.”
His roommate makes no indication he’s even listening. Jeongguk, still clutching his things, bends down in very close to his face, until they’re practically nose to nose and says, “Hello, can you hear me?”
No movements. Jeongguk pulls away, shrugging to himself, before going to his own bed and dumping his things on it. He shakes out his blanket, which smells and looks like it was used to clean a horse, fluffing his doormat of a pillow best he can. The mattress screeches like an angry cat when he lies down on it, folding his hands behind his head, feeling the ill-fitting prison uniform bunch up around his torso.
“What’s a pretty little kid like you doing here?”
Jeongguk turns his head. “So you could hear me.”
“Wanted to see if you’d do anything embarrassing if you thought I couldn’t see or hear,” he says, grinning. “So. What’d you do? Underage drinking? Deal drugs? Sneak into clubs?”
That last one makes Jeongguk squirm. “Well, what are you here for?” he shoots back.
“No ask-backs. I asked first.”
Jeongguk rolls onto his side, facing away from him. “None of your business.”
A huff. “I mean, if I’m going to be living with a convicted sexual predator, I’d really rather know than not. I need to know whether I can safely bend over to get something I’ve dropped, you know?”
Jeongguk squawks with indignation. “I am not a sexual predator,” he protests.
“Well then, what is it?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“I’ve been here for a while,” the boy replies, and Jeongguk turns his head around. His head is unmoving, and even behind his sunglasses, Jeongguk somehow can tell that his gaze is trained on the floor. He can’t see Jeongguk’s face, probably. “I understand more than you. You know the guy next door is in here because he’s convicted of eating his ex-girlfriend? It really doesn’t get more fucked up than that.”
Jeongguk shivers, and his roommate smiles again.
“I’m just kidding. We tease him for it but he’s just in here for carrying coke around.” He pauses, then, “I’m Kim Taehyung.”
“Jeon Jeongguk.” He pillows his head on his hands. “It was an accident. It really was.”
Taehyung nods sagely. “They all are.”
“No, really! I had no idea it would happen…”
“What did you do?”
“I accidentally...someone died,” Jeongguk mumbles.
“Died?” Taehyung repeats incredulously. “You killed someone? Did you run over them with your car when they ran into the street or something?”
“No!” Jeongguk says. “No. It was a lot more...unexpected.”
“I’m not following.”
Jeongguk sighs. “It’s really not something you would believe.”
Taehyung props a hand up on his chin, smiling faintly. “Yeah? Try me.”
Jeongguk opens his mouth, then closes it, covering his face with his hands. The image still haunts him, the blood pooling over the bed, dripping down the edge of the mattress into the carpeting, cherry syrup pooling over the edge of an iced cake. He remembers pulling off and stumbling back, blood smeared over the insides of his thighs, washing over his skin in sticky waves.
“Someone died on me during sex. I swear I didn’t know it would happen. It just—it just did, we were just doing what people do during sex, and I was the only witness, so.”
Taehyung’s eyebrows knit together over his sunglasses. Distractedly, Jeongguk notes the little Raybans logo in the corner of the frames. “Who the fuck were you having sex with?” he asks. “Because you know, fifty-four percent of senior citizens are concerned that their partner will die during orgasm. Actual statistic.”
“Uh, what the fuck.”
“It was. Someone my age. Close to my age, anyway.”
Taehyung scoots off the bed. Even when he passes the open window, the lenses of his glasses are tinted so black that Jeongguk can’t see his eyes. The black Lab under his bed lifts its head, but he runs his hand along the rusted metal frame of Jeongguk’s bed, reaching out with the other.
“Let me see how old you look,” he says, and Jeongguk brings his face up until Taehyung’s fingertips meet his cheek. He jerks back; the iciness of Taehyung’s hand is startling.
“Sorry,” Taehyung says, before Jeongguk can open his mouth to apologize. “I know they’re cold.” He drops the hand he holds the bed frame with, cupping his hands in front of Jeongguk’s face. “I’ll be quick.”
Jeongguk closes his eyes. Taehyung is gentle, fingers skittering across Jeongguk’s nose, his cheekbones, over both his eyebrows and along the swell of his lips. His face is so close, expressionless, until he pulls away and grins. Jeongguk tips forward slightly, missing the contact—as cold as it was, no one has properly touched him since that nightmarish evening.
“I’m not sure, actually,” Taehyung says. “Are you nineteen?”
“No,” Jeongguk says, amusement creeping into his voice.
“Damn. You feel nineteen.” He frowns as he shuffles away, sitting when the backs of his knees hit his bed. “Younger or older?”
“Jesus, you look older than my best friend, then,” Taehyung murmurs. “Eighteen?”
“Is that shocking?”
“Only in the fact you don’t look or sound seventeen,” Taehyung says.
Jeongguk smiles faintly. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
“So,” Taehyung says, crossing his arms, picking at the corner of a bag of dog treats. “your DNA rifle is as deadly as an actual assault rifle, huh?”
Not that this isn’t true. Taehyung hit the nail uncomfortably close to the head, and it’s not like he could possibly understand. Or maybe it only applied to his—well. Now Jeongguk is wondering about the logistics of how this black widow curse work, does he have to get fucked or does this happen if he fucked someone else? He’s giving himself a headache.
“Don’t you know anything about gun safety,” Taehyung says disapprovingly.
“I...” Jeongguk doesn’t have a comeback. “I wish that was the only thing I had to do.”
The edge of Jeongguk’s bed sinks with a hiss when Taehyung finds his way over again and sits down. “Sorry,” he says. “I took that too far.”
Jeongguk glares at him, then remembers once more that Taehyung can’t see it, and settles on a light punch to his arm. “Yeah. Well, you’re a better roommate than I could have hoped for.” He pauses. “So, what are you in here for?”
“I shoplifted five hundred dollars worth of Chanel sunglasses from a boutique,” Taehyung replies.
A shocked silence follows.
“No you didn’t,” Jeongguk says, though he’s not sure what to believe now. “Did you?”
“I wish that was the only thing I did,” Taehyung says, mirroring Jeongguk’s words. He’s still smiling at something past Jeongguk’s head, but it’s tinged now with something Jeongguk can’t quite place. “Nah. Don’t worry. I bought these sunglasses with money.”
“Then what are you in here for?”
“Disturbing the peace,” Taehyung says.
“Well, that’s what they wrote on my profile.”
“So what was it actually?”
Taehyung turns his head, following the sound of Jeongguk’s voice, so that it appears that he’s looking into Jeongguk’s face. Jeongguk knows he’s blind, can’t see him, yet somehow Taehyung’s silence makes him even more uncomfortable.
“Maybe I’ll tell you one day,” he says finally, grinning. “It’s no fun to spoil the story before it’s even begun.”
The current dilemma is whether to go with an aloe drink or strawberry Calpico.
For Hoseok, most of his late afternoons, sliding into purple dusks, end like this—standing in the convenience store across the street from his apartment, sweat still running down his temples after meeting the underground dance crew in the afternoon. The moon, a little early for the party, is an embarrassed blue disc in the sky.
His breath is still hot in his lungs, even in the dead of winter, face mask dangling from one ear.
“Excuse me, sorry.”
Someone opens the fridge door beside him, bulky messenger bag bumping into Hoseok’s thigh. He makes a grunt of acknowledgement, glancing up with a smile ready and an it’s okay on his lips when the other person catches his gaze at the same time.
Hoseok feels his stomach drop to his feet. They stare at each other for a heartbeat, and the boy suddenly frowns.
“Do I know you?”
“Then what do you mean, ‘Oh fuck, this is Min Yoongi,’” Yoongi asks. Hoseok just blinks rapidly, very deliberately setting down the drinks he has in either hand back on their shelves as Yoongi glowers at him. Then he turns to him with a smile, bowing. Yoongi looks appropriately confused by the time he’s straightened up. Excellent. Step one, disarm your opponent with sheer confusion.
“It seems that I forgot I…” Hoseok begins, still grinning hugely, then makes a mad dash for the entrance.
The bell tinkles on the door when he crashes into it, cold wind stinging his face when he runs down the street. He’s almost made into his apartment building when Yoongi walks out of the entrance, looking more irritated than ever, messenger bag still slung over his shoulder and beanie pulled snugly over his ears. Hoseok almost trips when he stumbles backwards.
“Don’t try,” Yoongi says, when Hoseok turns to run again. “I’ve got shit to do, so if you’d please, it would make things a lot easier if you cooperated without the use of force.”
Hoseok doesn’t move, so Yoongi circles around him and comes to a stop to face him. He reaches out and rips the face mask off Hoseok’s face.
“How long were you planning to keep this up?” he asks, turning the fabric over in his hands. Hoseok shrugs. “What’s your name?”
“Oh. Hm.” He crosses his arms. “Does Hunchul know about you?”
“The Wixen Council. Ikje, Hunchul, Donghyuk, Hyosang…” Yoongi trails off. “You have no idea who I’m talking about, do you.”
Hoseok shakes his head.
“What do you know?” Yoongi asks, eyes narrowed. “You have to know something, you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.”
Hoseok picks his mask out of Yoongi’s hands and loops it around his ears again. His nose is cold, wintry air nipping at his cheeks. “There’s been a shift in magical power,” he says. “I felt it. Happened about a month ago. You must have felt it too, since you wouldn’t be here either if you hadn’t. I don’t know what it is or why it’s happening, but I wasn’t going to sit back and do nothing.”
“You have a really bizarre method of investigation,” Yoongi says, and Hoseok laughs at this.
“Well, you can’t say it’s a bad one, right?” he says, and Yoongi frowns even deeper. Somehow, he knows he’s won this argument.
“You’re lucky you haven’t stepped out of line if you don’t know the Wixen Council,” Yoongi says. “They’re going to want to know about you, Jung Hoseok. I thought your kind was extinct.”
“You’d be surprised how many of us are running around out there,” Hoseok says, winking.
Yoongi rolls his eyes. “How long do you plan to keep tricking the Supreme into believing you’re Jackson Wang?” he asks.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Hoseok says. “I could get used to walking around shirtless.”
Food at the detention center is not exactly gourmet.
Jeongguk stirs his spoon in his bowl, watching the powdery instant miso rise in plumes in the thin soup and settle back down in the dregs of the bowl. He and Taehyung sit on the ground the youngest two inmates crowded off the rickety plastic tables. The cement is frigid and damp under them.
One of the inmates at the tables comes over especially to pick up Taehyung’s hand and slap a pair of chopsticks into it. Jeongguk stares at the interaction, and looks at Taehyung for an explanation. Then he remembers he needs to say everything aloud now, and that Taehyung doesn’t depend on nonverbal cues like facial expressions.
“You’re friends with them?” Jeongguk whispers, leaning close. Taehyung shrugs, picking up bits of dry, cardboardy tempura with surprising dexterity and holding them out for his black Lab. Kkanji! Taehyung had replied when Jeongguk asked its name.
“Why not? We’re all stuck in here. Might as well be friendly with the people you have to spend your mindless days with.”
Jeongguk elects not to tell Taehyung that he is essentially guaranteed a ticket out of here before the murder case proceeds. According to his mother, anyway; he hasn’t spoken to her since the last time he’d called and asked for two billion won in bail. He still doesn’t know what the victim’s name was, a sick feeling settling in his stomach when he recalls that night.
“What are you thinking about?”
A shrug. “What are you in for?” Jeongguk prods, and Taehyung just laughs.
“You’re never going to get it out of me. Need to know basis. Right Kkanji? Right?”
Jeongguk puts up a furious pout. “You’re going to have to tell me at one point,” he says petulantly.
“Sure, when you tell me what you’re actually in here for, too,” Taehyung replies easily. “Because I know you hardly told me half the story. Probably less. I know these things.”
At this, Jeongguk clams up. Taehyung doesn’t press him further, feeding Kkanji almost everything on his food tray.
“Aren’t you going to go hungry like that?” Taehyung nibbles on the corner of a piece of tempura. “You hardly eat anything.”
“I don’t really like eating,” Taehyung says, wrinkling his nose. The mere suggestion of this is a concept that escapes Jeongguk. Food is life. Carbs are life.
They’re put on dish duty later. Everyone in the detention center works—if it’s not helping in the kitchen, it’s cleaning or laundry. Jeongguk is skeptical—the kitchen is wide and expansive, and he doesn’t know where everything goes yet. He doesn’t know if he should rely on Taehyung to tell him where everything is, but Kim Taehyung, Jeongguk learns, proves to be quite the character.
“All the metal trays go in the bottom drawer near the stove,” he says, elbow-deep in a sinkful of suds and dishwater. “Basically, if it’s anything bulky, look in compartments that could fit children.”
“Creepy,” Jeongguk mutters, stacking the trays and arranging them to capitalize the space inside the drawer. The pile of wet, clean dishes is growing on the counter, dripping water down the cupboards and onto the tile. The damp towel that Jeongguk uses to dry them is already too saturated with water to do much, but he wipes them the best he can.
That’s when he notices the water is a shade of muddy red, bubbles stained pink.
“Whoa, what is that?” he asks.
“What is what?”
“The water is—holy fuck, holy fuck. You’re bleeding like crazy.”
There’s a deep gash in the side of Taehyung’s hand, oozing thick dark blood, when he pulls his arms out of the water. Jeongguk’s head spins at the sight of it, dry heaving at the all-too-familiar smell.
“Oh, shit, I am. I guess this must have been from the santoku knife.”
“Are you okay, oh my God,” he says, managing to keep his voice steady. “How could you not feel that? Hurry, rinse it clean, we need to do something about it.”
“Are you okay?” Taehyung asks, frowning. “You sound kind of sick.”
“Do you faint at the sight of blood?”
“No, but I might at the sight of your dead body if you don’t stem the flow of it soon,” Jeongguk says, holding a hand over his nose as if this will help ward off the stench. “Hurry up! I’m going to go get the first aid.”
Asking the head corrections officer for it is nerve-wracking. He looks at Jeongguk over his mustache severely, handing it to him only after he explains in detail what had happened. He softens a little when Jeongguk throws in a little shake in his voice at the end, though, so Jeongguk takes it with many a bow and thanks before dashing out of there.
He crashes promptly into someone else in the hallway.
“Whoa, where’s the fire, kid.”
“I’m sorry!” Jeongguk says desperately. “Sorry, my friend is—he’s bleeding.”
“Oh, don’t let me keep you,” he says, stepping out of the way.
Taehyung is humming to himself, water running as he keeps washing the dishes. The entire stack of what he probably thinks is clean dishes have droplets of pink, bloodstained water and Jeongguk slams the faucet level down.
“I told you to rinse it off!” he exclaims, yanking Taehyung’s wounded hand out of the sink.
“Oh, I forgot,” Taehyung says. “Sorry.”
Jeongguk stares at him. Taehyung sounds genuinely confused, despite the fact the cut is huge and any normal person would be on the floor clutching their hand to their chest in pain. “Whatever, let’s get this cleaned up,” he says, holding Taehyung’s hand and running cold water over it until the gash is clean. It isn’t until Jeongguk is pressing a wad of balled-up paper towel to Taehyung’s hand to stop the bleeding that Taehyung speaks again.
“You’re an idiot,” Jeongguk grunts.
“You really can’t look at blood, huh,” Taehyung says tentatively. “Thanks for doing this anyway.”
Jeongguk says nothing in reply. He dabs antibiotic ointment into the exposed wound, then rips a packet of gauze open. Taehyung doesn’t even wince when Jeongguk binds it to his hand with athletic tape, giving the back of his hand a little pat when he’s done.
“Just let me finish the dishes,” he says, turning away—because though Taehyung might be sightless, the way he seems to be looking right into Jeongguk’s eyes from behind his glasses shakes Jeongguk to the very core.
“The test of the Seven Wonders has been used for centuries. Generations of Supremes have been chosen using this test and though old fashioned, it has never failed to pinpoint the most powerful witch or warlock of the age.
“We start with the simplest, pyrokinesis, the ability to manipulate fire and flame, and end with the most difficult, Vitalum Vitalis, the balancing of the scales between two life forces. Along the way you will be tested in concilium, mind control; transmutation, teleportation without occupying the space between; divination, the the extra-sensory awareness of people and objects; telekinesis, the ability to manipulate objects with the mind; and Descensum, the conscious projection of the soul into the afterlife. Fail one and you will be disqualified. Should you die, and be returned to life trying to carry out one of the Seven Wonders, counts as a failure as well. A Supreme is exactly what the title implies—a witch or warlock of superior magical prowess, succeeding in all practices of the arts without the help of external forces. Is that clear?”
The voices are disembodied. Maybe Yoongi is one of them. He’s trapped in a murky landscape with nothing but cloudy purple darkness pressing in on him, the words echoing over his head. Far away, he hears someone shouting, rhythmically—like they are looking for someone. It’s a name.
Yoongi can’t quite make it out. Before he can strain his ears further, lean into the sound and let the voice envelop him, he feels the darkness clearing.
A face he doesn’t recognize hovers over him. A boy, on the cusp of manhood, maybe, smiles down at him.
“Hey, Min Yoongi. No sleeping on the job, dude.”
“Fuck,” Yoongi shouts blearily, sitting bolt upright in his chair and nearly toppling over backward. Donghyuk reaches out to steady him, a hand on his shoulder, face concerned at the way Yoongi is literally panting.
“Hey, are you sure you’re okay?” he asks. “What did you See?”
Yoongi shakes his head. “Hunchul’s not letting me tell anyone.”
Donghyuk frowns. “Look, I know he’s trying to look out for everyone’s well-being, but it’s no use letting us live happy, easy lives if there’s imminent danger that we should know about. You shouldn’t have to be the one carrying the entire burden of knowledge alone. Ikje made sure we didn’t do that.”
“Did he really,” Yoongi asks dryly.
“He did,” Donghyuk says. He sounds genuine. “‘Protect that Seer,’ he told us. ‘Don’t let him See and suffer alone.’”
“Damn. I wouldn’t have expected that of him.”
“Slaughterhouse Ten changed him.”
“Yeah, I’ll say,” Yoongi mutters under his breath.
“You talked to the Supreme, right?”
“I did. He took it well. I never really had a chance to get to know him better the last time we met, but then again, the last time we met we went head to head for that position.”
“Have you Seen anything else that he should know?”
Yoongi shifts in his chair uncomfortably, the headphones heavy around his neck.
“So you did.”
“I might have Seen something, it might have been a dream. I try not to worry about that shit until it starts cropping up over and over. Patterns, you know.”
“This has happened twice already.”
“And you need three points of data for anything to be considered a pattern, Donghyuk, so chill out.”
“Fine,” Donghyuk says. “Next time I catch you sleeping in the recording studio, you’re telling me everything.”
Yoongi makes a point not to cavort with strangers. He makes this pretty obvious with his body language, going nowhere without earbuds plugged and arms crossed, but there come times when it’s his turn to go buy food for the rest of the Wixen Council’s dinner.
Yoongi pretends not to have heard him.
“I’m not interested in buying your product, scram,” he grunts, taking one earbud out and letting it hang. He’s been surveying the cuts of raw meat in the deli fridge for at least ten minutes now, debating whether or not he should splurge this one time and make the rest of the Council happy. It’s already obvious what he’s going to buy but he pretends to be fascinated by a slice of pork belly until this boy leaves.
“I’m not selling anything.” The boy pulls his hood up over his head, tugging it lower so that he is hidden from the butcher’s view. Then, right before Yoongi’s eyes, his face changes: jaw squaring out, lips plumping up, eyes growing impossibly wide until he understands who this must be.
“Jesus,” Yoongi hisses, yanking him into an aisle of dish soap and tampons. “Don’t do that in public, what if someone saw you?”
Hoseok grins. He drops his hood just as his features slim down and narrow again. “You’d be surprised at how poor people are at face recognition nowaday.”
“So this is what you actually look like, huh,” Yoongi says. “Well. What do you want?”
“People usually start these things with a hello.”
“Hello, what do you want.”
Hoseok sighs. “Good enough.”
“Actually, two questions. What do you want, and how did you know where to find me?”
“I didn’t,” Hoseok says. “I saw you outside the alley where I usually hang out with my underground dance crew. I followed you here.”
“I wanted to ask you if you’ve Seen anything else,” and at this Hoseok’s face grows serious.
Yoongi glowers. “How would you know?”
“How would you know?”
“For the same reason I knew there was an imbalance in magical power,” Hoseok explains. “I have the pseudo-Sight. I’m an Underseer. I might not be able to tell the future like you can without fail, but sometimes I know when people are lying, or when people hide things from me. Unspoken things, misunderstood things, and things like shifts in magic.” He crosses his arms and Yoongi assumes he’s trying to look authoritative but Hoseok has such a natural cheery demeanor it only makes him look like a petulant child. “And right now I know you’re not telling me the whole truth.”
“Fine, then let me ask you this,” Yoongi says. “What made you come look for me?”
“I don’t know,” Hoseok says. He has the shame to look apologetic when Yoongi raises an eyebrow. “I don’t know. Something, I guess. Something is wrong. I just wanted to tell you that.”
“I know something is wrong, I wouldn’t be in Seoul if I had a choice.”
“No, something is wrong, and it’s coming our way,” Hoseok says urgently. “I just wanted to tell you to watch your back.”
Yoongi knows he doesn’t mean it as a threat, even though that’s exactly what it sounds like. He nods.
“Thanks for letting me know.” He shuffles his feet, unaccustomed to this whole friend-making-with-strangers business. “Why don’t I give you my number so the next time you want to tell me something, you can just give me a call.”
They exchange numbers. Yoongi admits that it takes a weight he hadn’t known was there off his shoulders to know that there is at least one other person in this world that understands the terrible feeling of knowing the future and knowing that there is not a single muscle nor will in his body to stop what is inevitable. Even if Hoseok is nothing more than an Underseer, suddenly, Yoongi feels a little less alone.
“I’ll give you a call if anything else sets off alarms for me,” Hoseok says. He smiles, waving, and disappears between a display of canned pineapple and toilet paper. Yoongi bites his lip, then dodges around the food to call out to him, but Hoseok is already gone, just a lone girl reading a label on a package of water chestnuts.
(It’s only later that Yoongi realizes she’d been wearing the exact same oversized black hoodie that Hoseok had, and it hadn’t been a random girl at all.)
“Come on, Jimin. Come on, follow my voice. You can do this, come on.”
Jimin. That’s what the name had been. Jimin. Yoongi has figured out where this place is now—someone else’s consciousness. This time, he has no idea whose it is, but it can’t be the same as the one before. This time, it’s a nightmare.
He’s trapped in a dark room alone, hunched in a corner by himself as something dark pools under the dresser beside the door. There is no other furniture in there but that dresser, and every time he shifts the floorboards squeak and sickeningly red bubbles rise up between the cracks of wood.
There’s something monstrous under that dresser.
“Jimin?” and this voice Yoongi does not recognize. “Jimin, where are you?”
“Jimin, follow my voice!”
“Jimin, where are you?”
The sunlight is dazzling when Yoongi opens his eyes, only to realize he’s still stuck in this dream, and this time he sees a different face—one that is older than the first had been, a little clearer around the edges, but just as strange and unfamiliar. The fear that’s in his eyes melts away and Yoongi struggles in this Jimin’s body until he’s released.
He twists his head, looking for that boy whose consciousness he must have first invaded, but when he turns he’s blinded in the face with a yellow-white halo that surrounds two figures beside him. There’s a cold, sweaty hand entangled with his and Yoongi extricates it to shield his eyes.
The next thing he knows is Hunchul’s face, tired but satisfied as he smiles down at Yoongi.
“You’re the Second Supreme.”
This time Yoongi doesn’t wake up because Donghyuk jolts him out of sleep. He wakes up, facedown in bed of his hostel room, breath rushing in and out of his lungs. He stares at the digital clock on the nightstand. It’s nearly five in the evening and he has no idea when he fell asleep but he’s in street clothes with his shoes on, still.
The first thing he does is call Hunchul.
This is bad. This is bad, if he knows who the Second Supreme is—and if there are other Seers or clairvoyants out there—
“Hi, this is Hunchul—”
“Hunchul hyung! Thank God, look, I know, I sound—”
“—can’t come to the phone right now, so please leave a message after the tone! I swear I check all my voice mails!”
Yoongi brings the phone away from his ear, staring at the silly selca that Hunchul had set of himself as the contact picture in Yoongi’s phone. It fades away when Yoongi ends the call. This is odd. Hunchul always, always answers his phone, even at 3 AM, because he keeps his ringtone on the loudest volume at all times.
He tries Donghyuk. After all, Yoongi had promised him that he would tell him if this happened for a third time. The tone goes for one, two, then three, then four rings before going to voicemail, and a bad feeling starts brewing in his belly.
Hyosang doesn’t pick up either. Yoongi hadn’t expected him to, as Hyosang is a serial texter and would let calls ring out before texting the person tf do you want, so Yoongi shoots him a quick message and waits. Twenty minutes pass and nothing comes back.
There is one more person that Yoongi can try—the self-estranged leader of the Wixen Council that he hasn’t spoken to since Slaughterhouse Ten, Choi Ikje. Maybe Ikje hadn’t had the shame to show his face around Yoongi, especially not after he had clearly warned him that there would be trouble if he let ten warlocks of their convocation run around with radical ideas. Not that he can blame him, because no one really took a then seventeen-year-old Seer seriously. But that had been then and this is now.
And now, whatever this is, is what Hoseok must have predicted.
Yoongi dials Ikje’s number. The rings stretch out, slow and lazy, like a cat, and when Yoongi is about to give up, the call goes through.
“Hello, hyung? Ikje hyung, it’s Yoongi.”
“Oh, Yoongi,” Ikje says, and right away Yoongi can tell there’s something wrong with the way he talks. It’s hushed and panicked, like he’s trying to keep his words unheard. “Yeah, what’s up?”
“What’s wrong, hyung. Don’t lie to me, what’s happening?”
“Nothing—nothing is wrong, Yoongi, you just caught me at a bad time—I’m a little busy. Could you call me back? Or I’ll call you back. Listen, Yoongi, I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you about Slaughterhouse Ten. I’m sorry, I should have, I knew I should have.”
“Hyung, what the fuck is going on?”
“Yoongi, call Hunchul, okay? Call Donghyuk and Hunchul and—”
His words cut off without warning and the call goes dead. Yoongi frowns, ending the call. That rotten sense of fear still sits like a stone in his stomach and refuses to go away as nightfall rolls around. He drags himself out of bed to go buy food, not bothering to buy helpings for the rest of them, seeing as none of them had answered their phones.
Later, when Yoongi is curled up in bed and flipping through channels, the headline of a news station catches his eye. He’d passed this news outlet several times already on his hunt for a movie rerun, but all those times they had been reporting on stocks and weather.
BREAKING: Gruesome Scene at Gwangjin Bridge, blare the white letters on the bottom of the TV screen. Yoongi straightens in his pillows, leaning forward with his chin resting in folded hands.
“The young man has of yet not been identified. Police are calling this one of the ‘most bizarre’ murders that they have ever witnessed, as Gwangjin Bridge is famous and full of tourists at the estimated time of death and have no idea how this could have happened in a time with so much pedestrian traffic. The victim is described to be a man in his mid twenties, with no signs of physical struggle, hung from the side of the bridge. There were cross wounds found slashed over his eyes with a sharp weapon. The bridge has been closed for further investigation and people have all been warned to stay out of the area.”
Yoongi jumps out of his skin when his phone bleats, and he gropes the folds of his blankets until his fingers close around the warm metal body.
“Did you see the news?”
The grimness of his voice confirms what Yoongi fears.
“I’m watching it right now.”
“I wish I could have told you what it was exactly.”
“No, it’s not your fault. You told me all you could.”
Hoseok is silent for a second. Then, “What was his name?”
Yoongi sighs heavily. “Ikje,” he says. “Choi Ikje.”
Jeongguk wakes up to crying in the middle of the night.
It sounds like it’s coming from a child. At first, he thinks he is still trapped in waking dreams until the sleep dissolves from his eyes and the pitch of the crying drops. It takes several more moments of lying stock still, staring at the brick and concrete wall to understand where it’s coming from.
“Hyung,” he says, turning in bed. “Hyung, wake up.”
Sticky yellow sodium glow from the streetlamps outside stream in from the metal-barred window. Jeongguk can barely discern the lump of Taehyung’s body in his bed, and at the foot of his bunk Kkanji is sitting up, and watching him just as silently as Jeongguk is. He listens to the whimpers a little longer before slipping out of bed, the freezing air attacking his body.
“Hyung,” Jeongguk shakes him gently. “Hyung, it’s just a drea—”
Jeongguk chokes in surprise when he feels Taehyung’s hand grab his so roughly that he’s yanked forward. His heart pounds in his ears for a few moments, sleep chased away, and then Taehyung is sitting up, hand sliding up Jeongguk’s arm and up to his face. Unsure of what to do, Jeongguk stands still until Taehyung lets out a breath.
“Oh, it’s just you.”
“Who else would it be,” Jeongguk says waspishly. “Nothing can get in here.”
Taehyung is silent, and Jeongguk shakes him off gently. “Were you dreaming?”
“By the looks of it, it wasn’t a nice dream.”
Taehyung is oddly quiet, so Jeongguk shrugs and climbs back into his own bed. He’s drifting off already, and swears that Taehyung is still sitting up in his bunk, when he hears a whisper next to his face.
“Can I sleep in your bed with you tonight?”
“What?” Jeongguk asks groggily. “You what?”
“Can I sleep with you?”
Jeongguk doesn’t have time to protest before Taehyung is already climbing under the covers with him, squeezing into the tiny bunk beside him. His body is far cooler than Jeongguk expects, almost like a damp draft in his blankets. He squirms until his back is pressed against the cold wall so that Taehyung can fit.
“God,” he grunts. “I should have just let you stay asleep.”
“Thanks for waking me up.”
The gratitude in his voice is thick with relief. Taehyung sounds physically exhausted.
“What was it about?”
“What was it about?” Taehyung repeats. “You’d think it was weird.”
“Dreams usually are.”
Taehyung wiggles closer until his body is aligned with Jeongguk’s. “I was a little kid.”
“I was a little kid, shopping for food with my mother. We were at the seafood market in Japan, the really big and famous one where you can fish for squid and they’ll prepare it for you on the spot. Hakodate Morning Market. Or Tsukiji? I’m not sure. Have you ever been there?”
Jeongguk shakes his head.
“You should go one day. If we ever get out of here, I’ll take you.”
A blush dusts Jeongguk’s cheeks, and he is glad for the darkness. Taehyung is already including him in his future plans, however unlikely they may be, and all Jeongguk wants is to just get out of this place. “Go on, what happened next,” he murmurs.
“Oh. Yeah, so there are all sorts of live fish and dead fish there, and I was looking at one of the dead ones...I was a little kid. I thought it was fascinating, I don’t know, it looked so alive still. I swore it was looking back at me and I—I don’t know how it happened. I didn’t mean to, I really didn’t. It just did—it just happened, one second it was dead and in the next it was alive, flopping out of the basket. All of them were alive. Everywhere I looked, crabs and lobsters and fish started moving where they should have been—”
“Hey,” Jeongguk says, finding Taehyung’s hand between them, holding it in both of his. “Hey, it’s okay, it was just a dream.”
Taehyung is breathing hard again, breath blowing into Jeongguk’s face in chilly puffs of air. It’s dark enough that Jeongguk can’t quite discern his distinct features, but this is the first time Taehyung has ever bared his face to him. Jeongguk shivers at the trust and fights the urge to reach out and run his fingers over his skin, look for clues as to how he lost his sight.
“A dream,” Taehyung whispers. “Just a dream.”
He doesn’t sound like he believes it. Jeongguk, still feeling a little drunk on sleep, finally does reach out, but only to can brush the hair out of Taehyung’s face. He pauses—it’s matted with cold sweat.
And this must be the strangest thing about Taehyung, Jeongguk realizes. He hasn’t been able to put his finger on it until now. Taehyung has an aura that pulses around him like a tiny sun, warm and insistent and omnipresent, but every part of his body is cold and chilly.
He is two opposites bundled up in one.
“Go to sleep, hyung,” Jeongguk says, yawning widely. “Dreams can’t hurt you.”
Jeongguk doesn’t push him away when Taehyung curls into him, icy fingers clinging to the rough fabric of Jeongguk’s pajamas. The light in the window is just beginning to turn a deep blue, sleep sprinkling stardust over his eyelids, when he hears Taehyung mumble into his chest.
“Wasn’t a dream.”
“Hmm? Sleep, hyung.”
“Wasn’t a dream,” Taehyung says. “ ’S real.”
Neither of them bring it up the next day.
Jeongguk does not see much of Taehyung at all, as he’s on yard duty and Taehyung is in charge of laundry. It’s the first time they’ve been put on different work shifts, and Jeongguk finds that he feels alone and a little scared without Taehyung beside him, chattering to Kkanji or touching Jeongguk every time he needs to find something.
“Yo, kid, that corner of the court ain’t getting any cleaner,” one of the inmates shouts across the snow-covered cement, crossing his arms over his snow shovel. “You’ve been shoveling the same fucking spot for the last five minutes.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Jeongguk yelps, scrambling forward. The inmate, the same one he had bumped into the time he was getting the first aid kit for Taehyung, frowns and straightens his ear-flap beanie.
“Hey, you’re Kim Taehyung’s cellmate, aren’t you? The little one that follows him around everywhere even more tightly than Kkanji does.”
“I’m Hakyeon.” He holds out a mittened hand. The knit of the garment looks self-taught and made right here in the detention center. “No need to look so scared of me. I’m Taehyung’s friend. He trusts me.”
“I don’t know if I trust Taehyung,” Jeongguk says, but he shakes Hakyeon’s hand anyway. “I’m Jeongguk.”
“Yeah, I know, Taehyung talks about you,” Hakyeon says. “A lot. Why don’t you trust him?”
“He does?” This is new information. Taehyung is barely ever out of his sight.
“Hey, I asked you a question first. No ask-backs.”
Jeongguk wrinkles his nose. “Yeah, you’re his friend, all right.”
“Well, why don’t you? Trust him, that is?”
“I guess it’s not that, or I don’t mean to make it sound that bad,” Jeongguk says, forcing the shovel into tight-packed snow with his boot. It’s too big for him but the detention center didn’t have any smaller sizes. “He’s just...he seems like he puts everything he has on the table, but even then there seems to be something else he’s not telling me.”
Hakyeon frowns. “Really? What makes you think that?”
“Well. When I asked him what he was in here for, he said it was for ‘disturbing the peace.’”
“‘At least, that’s what they put on my profile’?” Hakyeon finishes. He nods in understanding. “He told me the same thing. Me being me though, I was nosy, and I’ve been here long enough that they let me work in the corrections officer’s office. They keep all our files in there.”
Jeongguks eyes are huge. “You read his profile?”
“Well, like he said, the only thing in there really is just the words disturbing the peace. No description, no notes, no nothing. Almost as if they didn’t know what to say about it.”
“And it doesn’t bother you, not knowing?”
“Prisoners are in for a thousand different reasons,” Hakyeon says. “You, for one, could be the next mass murderer, and I could have just shoplifted a box of popcorn, but here we both are, shoveling snow off the ground and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“No, no, I’m not saying I’m judging his character for what he did to get in here,” Jeongguk says. “I mean there’s something about the way he lives his life, it’s a little odd...he’s not scared of anything. Like he has no regrets.”
“That’s just how he is.”
Jeongguk sucks his lip between his teeth and worries it until it’s raw and red. “I guess.”
He hangs around Hakyeon for the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening, learning things that Taehyung never taught him—mostly things that are banned in the detention center. The most ridiculous of these is the hidden phone up in the ventilator shaft right over the corrections officer’s room, one of the only places in the building that gets Wifi reception.
“Impossible,” Jeongguk whispers, scrolling through his Facebook feed for the first time in weeks. There are hundreds of posts on his wall asking him where he is, if he’s okay, how he’s doing. “How on Earth do you manage to pull this off?’
“It’s not the first time I’ve been in here,” Hakyeon says with a wink. “Not the first time and not the worst place.”
Jeongguk becomes acutely aware that he’s stuck in a dark, narrow tube with someone who’s committed unlawful crime—and while it can’t have been that bad if Hakyeon is in a mere detention center now, he suddenly feels afraid. He’s not quite sure why. Hakyeon is smiling pleasantly, but the glitter of his teeth, or something about it, puts him on edge. He bows out quickly and thanks him for his time, slipping out of the air vent alone and making his way hastily back to the mess hall.
“Whoa, I haven’t talked to you all day.”
Jeongguk jumps. He almost walked right past Taehyung, sunglasses perched on his nose as usual.
“Oh, hyung. Yeah, I was with Hakyeon hyung.”
“You were with Hakyeon hyung?” Surprise colors Taehyung’s voice and Jeongguk realizes how bizarre it sounds even to his own ears. “All day?”
“I know, I know. Sorry.”
“What, did he teach you how to roll blunts? Is that why you sound so shameful?”
“What? No, what the hell, we were shoveling snow. And…messing around.”
“Messing around? Careful there, son. You don’t want anyone else keeling over on you.”
“What the fuck, we were not—!”
“Hey, you’re awfully mean to your protege, aren’t you?” Hakyeon slings an arm around Jeongguk’s shoulders. “What do you think, Jeongguk? We had a good day, right?”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, shaking Hakyeon’s arm off, trying not to be too obvious about it. “I’m tired though, I’m going to go lie down before dinner.”
“All right, kid.”
Jeongguk doesn’t move until Hakyeon is gone, glancing at Taehyung and stalking off. He’s nearly made it inside their cell, too, when Taehyung’s voice from behind stops him.
The word is sharper and more forceful than he’s used to, the tone alone stopping Jeongguk in his tracks.
“Why did you hang out with Hakyeon?”
“I—who’s stopping me?” Jeongguk snaps, tired of the questions—tired of being in this place, tired of Taehyung’s antics that he can never understand, tired of trying but failing to crack the invisible shell around him that Jeongguk knows is there. “You said it yourself, we live with these people, there’s nothing wrong with making friends with them.”
“I did,” Taehyung says slowly, following Kkanji into the cell and closing the door behind them. “I did. But there’s a reason I’m not friends with Hakyeon.”
Jeongguk scowls. “What do you mean, you’re not friends with Hakyeon, he says you guys talk all the time. He even knows the things you say.”
There isn’t a trace of laughter in Taehyung’s face, his expression darkening to match the black tint of his sunglasses. “Are you sure he said that?” he asks.
“He—yeah, he did. When we were shoveling snow. He said he was your friend and I could trust him.”
Taehyung doesn’t reply right away, bending down silently to unhook the clasp from Kkanji’s leash and detach the stiff leather lead. Three pats to the head and she settles herself under his bed, face in her paws, and Taehyung begins looping the nylon strap around his hand.
“Why, what’s wrong with Hakyeon?” Jeongguk prompts, not sure if he really wants to hear the answer.
“There’s nothing expressly wrong with Hakyeon,” Taehyung begins. The metal clasp of the leash clinks as he throws it over a rung on the ladder of the bunk bed. “I don’t know what he’s in here for, but he’s been an old hand since before I got in. That’s a pretty long time. I try not to judge people—I try to never judge people until I know them, but there’s something about Cha Hakyeon that tells me to stay away. Far, far away.”
So Jeongguk isn’t the only one that felt it, the eerie demeanor about him. “How long have you been in here?” he asks.
He doesn’t expect a direct answer, but for once, Taehyung doesn’t beat around the bush. “A year, give or take a few weeks. Lost count after the sixth month. But good news is I might be released on probation soon if I keep my record up for good behavior.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk frowns. If Taehyung is released soon then he really might be alone. “He did say he’s been in worse places.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it for a second.” Taehyung climbs into his bed. “What other things did he tell you?”
“Uhm,” Jeongguk shifts. “Well, apparently, he’s read your profile.”
Taehyung takes this well. “Damn. He’s got nerve, I’ll give him that much.”
“He says there’s nothing interesting in it.”
“I know. I could have told you this. I did tell you this.”
“Disturbing the peace, huh?”
“That’s right. Disturbing the peace.”
And it’s not that Jeongguk’s doesn’t believe Taehyung, but.
But Jeongguk would be a hypocrite to accuse him of not telling the whole truth, because neither is Jeongguk. Because while it’s true that he had sex with someone who happened to die in the middle of it, he has never told Taehyung exactly what had transpired that night, for obvious reasons—for fear of being ridiculed and laughed at or seen as some kind of monster. Yet the more the he’s around Taehyung, the more he feels that there is some secret that Taehyung is hiding that would make his black widow curse look puny and laughable in comparison.
He also might just be overthinking things, and Taehyung might just be a completely bizarre individual that Jeongguk has had the extreme misfortune of meeting. This latter option seems like a better explanation sometimes, when Jeongguk wakes up to the morning bell and Taehyung is already up, attempting to teach Kkanji to play patty-cake, or when he suggests folding all the dinner napkins into swans to mimic the ones in big Chinese restaurants, or now, when he’s sitting beside the boy who always comes over and sets up his food tray, placing chopsticks in his fingers.
“What are you doing?” Jeongguk asks, flinching at the sound of snapping plastic, and Taehyung smiles right away when he hears Jeongguk’s voice over him—like he’s been waiting for the sound of it all day.
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Snapping perfectly good pens in half,” Jeongguk says.
“Correct, padawan,” Taehyung says. “Sungjae, this is Jeongguk. Jeongguk, Sungjae.”
“Oh, your cellmate, right?” Sungjae nods at Jeongguk, who is at present watching as he lets the deep blue pen ink drip into shallow juice carton lid. “The spastic GD hamster?”
“What—how do you even know that I like—?”
“You sing in your sleep, Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung answers. “You sing. And you dance.”
“Oh. Oh, God.”
“No, you’re good,” Taehyung says. “Quite good, in fact, it would just be nice if you showed off your talents at three PM rather than AM.”
“I had no idea I even did anything at all in my sleep.”
Taehyung scoffs and waves a hand. “It’s fine, if it actually bothered me I would have told you earlier. Help me break these pens, my fingers hurt.”
“What is this for?” Jeongguk asks. Every pen that Taehyung snaps in two, he hands to Sungjae, who extracts the ink into three wells that consist of the aforementioned juice lid, a soap dish, and a cap of a Tyenol bottle.
“I do inking in my free time,” Sungjae explains. “We’re not allowed to carry pocket money around but the guys here transfer me a little something from their bank accounts for some work here and there. We get bored.” He glances up at Jeongguk as he taps the last few drops of black ink out of a Bic. “Want one? I’ll give it to you for free,” and he winks.
“Uh,” Jeongguk says.
“I don’t know if I’m a good enough artist to do GD’s face, though,” Sungjae warns. “I have limits.”
“I don’t know,” Jeongguk says. He’s wanted one for a while, actually. The problem was that he never knew what to get, or if his parents would even let him, but parental approval seems like such a non-issue at this point. Tattoos were a lifelong investment, and there wasn’t something he could imagine carrying around on his body for so long.
“Well, what’s something that means a great deal to you?” Taehyung asks. “It’s easiest to start there.”
Jeongguk considers this. He’s never had something that he couldn’t live without, and now that he thinks about it, this scares him—nothing is really keeping him here, nothing is really making him stand out. For a moment, he looks into Taehyung’s face and almost says something ridiculous like haha, how about a pair of Raybans sunglasses, right on my shoulder blade? but swallows the words before he can blurt them out.
He’s not even sure where they came from.
“Or something that you feel like is a part of you, meaningful or not,” Sungjae suggests. “Something that makes you more—you, so to speak.”
Well. There is one thing, Jeongguk supposes.
“Can I get an hourglass,” he says softly.
“An hourglass. A red one.”
Sungjae raises his eyebrows. “Like the ones on black widows?”
“Exactly like those.”
An hour later, Jeongguk has a tattoo the size of Taehyung’s hand on the small of his back, sitting benignly between the dimples of his waist. The skin there burns and tingles from the tattoo gun that Sungjae had fashioned himself using nothing but sewing needles and bits and pieces of broken metal contraptions—eyeglasses, box hinges, bottlecaps.
“Pen ink is not the safest ink to use,” he said as he heated it over a battered sheet of titanium that he chipped off one of the oil drums tossed to the side near the basketball courts. “This is the best way I can sterilize it, I’m going to tell you that now.”
“I can keep it clean,” Taehyung offered. “I’ve done it before for others, and a damn good job of it too. Remember Byun Baekhyun, Sungjae? That one that was in here for grand larceny?”
“No, remind me.”
“Ah, of course.”
“Remember that giant thigh piece he wanted? Man, keeping that clean was a fucking nightmare.”
Jeongguk was quiet as the needle pricked his skin rhythmically, the sting fading as the pain grew monotonous and numb. From where he lay, stomach down on the floor, he could see the space between Taehyung’s eyes and the lenses of his glasses, his eyes staring straight ahead.
“Hyung,” he said.
And Jeongguk could have sworn in that split second he saw Taehyung’s eyes move to look at him. But perhaps Jeongguk saw what he wanted to see, wishing childishly that for once Taehyung could see him.
Jeongguk didn’t answer, and the both of them have been quiet around each other, even after Sungjae finished with a satisfied pat to Jeongguk’s back and told him not to scrub the area when he showered. The cell door bangs shut with a clang as the corrections officers come around to lock up for the night, and Jeongguk is climbing into his blankets, wincing at the dull ache, when Taehyung stops him.
“I’ve got something for that,” he says. “Kkanji, aloe.”
“How on earth do you have that?” Jeongguk asks as Taehyung takes it from her mouth, giving her a scratch behind the ears.
“They passed it around after they made us do hard labor in the sun this past summer,” Taehyung says. “Everyone was peeling like a fucking reptile, it was gross. Get over here, you.”
Jeongguk walks over to Taehyung’s side of the room, then stops in front of him when he realizes he’s going to have to pull his pants down in front of him. This is not a position he wants to be in.
“Where is it,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk makes a strange noise in his throat when his hands come up to roam over Jeongguk’s torso, palms sliding over his abdomen and down his sides to rest on the crests of his waist. “Your back, right?”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, body responding far more reactively to Taehyung’s touch than he expected. “Sorry, I’ll turn around.”
Even the sandpapery texture of the detention center clothing is painful over his skin. Jeongguk pulverize the inside of his cheek with his teeth as Taehyung’s fingernail scrapes over the tattoo, still raw around the edges.
“Oh, there it is,” Taehyung says. “Sorry, I must have hurt you.”
“It’s okay,” Jeongguk spits out through gritted teeth.
But the pain could not have prepared him for Taehyung swooping forward and dropping a dry peck right on the most narrow part of the hourglass, lips nothing more than a candy-soft puff of warm air on Jeongguk’s skin. It makes him yelp all the same, leaping out of Taehyung’s reach, hands jumping to his back.
“Shut the fuck up, will you?” shouts a gruff voice from the next room over.
“Sorry,” Jeongguk calls back, heart pounding in his chest, and Taehyung is laughing. “What the fuck, hyung?”
“Don’t you know that kisses make everything better?” he chides, waving his miniature bottle of aloe lotion. “Get back here, do you want to feel better or not?”
The thing is, Jeongguk thinks, is that he hadn’t disliked the feel of Taehyung’s lips on his back, half-wishes that he hadn’t been so quick to scramble away from the touch. He shuffles back, letting Taehyung pull the elastic band of his pants down, his fingers spreading cool aloe over his skin. The heated throb of pain dies down immediately and Jeongguk can’t hold back the sigh of relief.
“There, see,” Taehyung says, patting the lotion into the skin with his fingertips. “I know what I’m doing here.”
“Thanks, hyung,” Jeongguk grumbles unintelligibly. “You’re always picking up after my messes.”
“Consider it a favor repaid,” Taehyung says. “You wrapped me up when I near sliced my hand off in the sink, remember?”
“I try not to.”
Taehyung smooths more aloe over the tattoo, breath steady and calm, cooling the aloe to an icy chill on Jeongguk’s skin. For a while Jeongguk just listens to it, counts it like the seconds of a clock because there is none in their own cell. Sixty-eight breaths later, Taehyung’s fingers still fluttering over Jeongguk’s back like the hands of a piano player, he speaks.
“It was an accident. Like yours.”
“The reason you’re in here. It was an accident, wasn’t it?”
Jeongguk feels his insides shrivel. “What do you mean?”
“You said someone died when you had sex, and you asked for a red hourglass as a tattoo.”
There’s a light snap as Jeongguk pulls away from Taehyung’s touch for a second time, the elastic waistband of his pants springing back into place. “How are those things at all related?” he says, heat rising in his face. The nervous shake in his words gives him away instantaneously.
“You’re a black widow, aren’t you?” Taehyung asks. “I’ve heard of people like you. Whoever sleeps with you hemorrhages violently, bleeding from every orifice in their body, until they die, right?”
“I—I never said—”
“Before you call the corrections officers on me, I’ll tell you what I’m in here for,” Taehyung says, cutting Jeongguk off. “My profile says I am charged with one count of disturbing the peace. That’s exactly what I did. I ran past the back door of a butchery plant, getting in a new shipment of whole pigs and cows in giant trucks. It’s not something you wanted to see.”
Jeongguk sits down heavily on his bunk, the springs screeching.
“I was chasing Kkanji, you see, who’d been spooked after some knucklehead honked at us on the street when we were crossing. Back then I’d just gotten her and she always had a nervous predisposition. The school she came out of told me about it but it had never been a problem until then.”
“So you ran after her?”
“I ran after her. She took off like a bullet, and it was all I could do not to lose her. Black dog on black streets, it’s not an easy feat. I didn’t really look where I was going, and that’s where I ended up—behind the unloading dock of a butchery plant. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Jeongguk sees a gaping hole in Taehyung’s story, but he doesn’t point it out yet. “And then?”
“I am a little like your opposite, Jeon Jeongguk,” Taehyung says with a sad smile, screwing the cap of the aloe tube back on. “If you are black widow, he who can kill by coitus, I am a necromancer. Someone that can bring the dead back to life.”
Nausea roils in Jeongguk’s belly. “Please,” he says faintly.
“All it takes is a little lost control and a look into their face. Animal or human, I don't discriminate. So imagine me, a necromancer, throwing his gaze left and right freely around a truckload of dead livestock,” Taehyung says. “Imagine the chaos that ensued. There were at least two dozen cows and three dozen sow pigs in that shipment of meat, God, maybe more. By the time the police arrived on the scene, a truck driver was trampled unconscious and two of the cows had run into the street and caused a major traffic accident.” He slumps, as though the weight of the memory is still heavy on his shoulders. It must be. “That, Jeongguk, is what I’m in here for.”
“A necromancer,” Jeongguk repeats. “A necromancer. I think. I think I’m going to pass out.”
“If you aren’t a black widow, then just forget I told you anything,” Taehyung says. “You can just pass it off as a terrible story I made up to get you off my back for what I’m here for, because you wouldn’t be the first one to hear one of my made-up arrest stories.”
“But it’s real, isn’t it,” Jeongguk asks. “Your story.”
“I…” Jeongguk can’t answer. He was thrown into all of this—this, whatever this is, the idea that the existence of magic is real, without a choice. He was thrown into all of this because someone had to die, and he doesn’t know if he can just up and accept the reality that Taehyung had the supernatural ability to bring people back to life. “I don’t want it to be.”
“Trust me, neither do I. I never asked for this,” Taehyung replies. “Maybe I wouldn’t be in, I don’t know, prison if I didn’t have this. Neither would you. Do we ever ask for it?”
“But,” Jeongguk says, standing up and walking to Taehyung again. There’s still something vastly wrong with Taehyung’s story. “You said—you said you ran after Kkanji. You chased her through across streets and over sidewalks. You knew there was a butchery. You couldn’t possibly have been able to follow her by sound alone over all that traffic.”
At this, Taehyung says nothing, as if he’s waiting for Jeongguk to finish his thoughts. But Jeongguk says no more, reaching up instead, sliding the sunglasses off of Taehyung’s face with shaking hands. It’s the first time he’s ever seen all of his face in the light, and for a moment Taehyung stays as still as a wax figure.
Then he looks up, eyes bright and animated, right into Jeongguk’s face as if he’s seeing the sun for the first time.
“I always did want to tell you,” he murmurs, as Jeongguk gapes down at him, “that you look adorable when you’re asleep.”
“Wow, nice of you to join us. What took you?”
“Sorry, sorry,” Namjoon says, dropping his bag on the floor of the coffee shop with a thump. He grimaces. His laptop is in there. “I got held up. Group project.”
“Not even I’m late,” Yoongi says. “And since you’re not aware, sometimes I’m so late I don’t even show up.”
“That’s called bailing,” says Donghyuk.
“The Supreme is never late,” Hyosang says loftily as Namjoon raises his eyebrows in Yoongi’s direction. “Everyone else is simply early.”
“I’m the Supreme, not the Queen of Genovia,” Namjoon says. “What did you all call me here for? Where’s Hunchul?”
“Hunchul is on a mission,” Donghyuk says, and Namjoon rolls his eyes when he bleats the Mission Impossible theme through pursed lips. “Remember the distress call he mentioned in Busan? It’s turning out to be a little more difficult than we expected to extract our...wanteds, so to speak.”
“Wanteds, plural?” Namjoon asks. “Why?”
“They’re guarded quite heavily by surveillance and police officers and metal bars,” Hyosang says, holding his phone over his head and swiveling back and forth like a satellite dish, trying to find the best angle and lighting for his selca. “We got two delinquents on our hands, it seems.”
“Oh, lovely. Just what we need. Criminals capable of magical power.”
“One of them is apparently somewhat of a loose cannon,” Donghyuk says, grinning. “But then again, he’d have to be to land himself in a detention center.”
“So who else are we waiting for?”
“This guy called Jung Hoseok?” Donghyuk looks to Yoongi, who grunts. “He’s another warlock that Yoongi met here in Seoul, and he knows some things we should. Claims to be an Underseer. He and Yoongi have Seen things, and there are pressing matters we need to discuss.”
“So Ikje hyung’s not coming?”
“Like that,” Hyosang mutters as he types on his phone, and Donghyuk elbows him in the arm.
“There seems to be a lot I need to know,” Namjoon says.
“Things are changing, Supreme,” Hyosang says solemnly. “Up until now you’ve lived a life of a mostly normal dude, but I’m afraid there’s a storm coming.”
“Hey! Sorry I’m so late, I got stuck in traffic.”
Namjoon looks up to see his one and only roomate Jackson “J-Swang” Wang smiling and waving at them, walking towards their table. One earbud dangles merrily from the collar of his oversized black tee and Namjoon feels his jaw drop.
“You’re the Underseer?” he asks in disbelief.
“Yeah!” Jackson says, bewildered by Namjoon’s shock. Yoongi, however, looks extremely displeased, wearing the most horrendous expression that Namjoon has ever seen upon a human face. The smile on Jackson’s face falters then, and transforms into a look of horror when Yoongi makes a motion with his hand like a clean chop to the neck.
“Oh, fuck,” Jackson says out loud, and a table of two girls glance in his direction.
“Good job, Jung Hoseok,” Yoongi says, almost to himself. “You fucked up. You fucked right up.”
“What’s going on,” Namjoon asks. “No, really, Jackson. What is going on?”
“I’d like to know this as well,” Donghyuk says, raising a finger and leaning out from behind Namjoon. “Because from what I understood, Namjoon doesn’t know know a Jung Hoseok, but he seems to know you quite well. Who are you?”
“This is my roommate,” Namjoon says, turning around. “I’ve known him for a few years now, and we’re good friends, but never did I see this com—where did he go?”
“Bathroom,” Yoongi says, still leaning back in his chair, phone and hand resting on his stomach. He is the picture of disinterest. “You’ll see.”
Namjoon lets his back hit the backrest of the padded coffee shop bar stool. “What else don’t I know?” he says, throwing his hands up in the air.
“A fair amount, considering the Seer here tells us everything he Sees,” Hyosang says, nodding at Yoongi. “And recently, he’s been Seeing way too much.”
Before Namjoon can inquire further, a thin, red-haired boy approaches their table, and it’s only then does he put two and two together.
“You’re a shapeshifter,” he says, taking in the clothes that now hang even more loosely off his slim frame. “I thought there were no such things as shifting warlocks anymore.” Hoseok nods, still looking embarrassed. “Wait. If you’re not the real Jackson, then where the hell is he?”
“He’s fine! He’s fine,” Hoseok says, holding his hands up by his head. “He’s in Hong Kong where he’s supposed to be.”
Namjoon just stares open mouthed at him.
“You can deal with him later,” Hyosang says. “Hunchul said he was going to call me this afternoon with updates, so let’s get this out of the way first.”
Namjoon shoots Hoseok a glare, to which he answers with a brilliant, sheepish smile. “What’s the first thing on the agenda?”
“I know who the next Supreme is,” Yoongi says bluntly.
Reactions to this dropped bomb are multifarious. Hoseok looks unimpressed and somewhat confused, Namjoon crosses his arms and feels his eyebrows draw together in concern, Hyosang makes a noise like a squeezed chicken and Donghyuk chokes on his cappuccino, snorting milk foam and espresso powder up his nose. Hyosang has to thump him hard on the back and press cardboardy tissues to his face.
“What do you mean?” Namjoon asks, speaking for all of them. “How on Earth did you See something like that?”
Yoongi slow blinks at him and Namjoon shuts up.
“That is a bit of a problem,” Hyosang says. “And something needs to be done about it. No one is supposed to know. Not even the future Supreme himself can know until he passes the test of the Seven Wonders. It could be Yoongi himself. It could be you, Hoseok. It could be one of the those two delinquents down in Busan.”
“Or it could be the others in Incheon.”
Four heads turn to Hoseok, who looks suddenly uncomfortable amidst all the attention. “I Saw it,” he continues. “Two of them. I’m not fully sure what they can do, or if they even know what they’re capable of. But that’s our convocation—seven of us.”
“Seven, huh,” Namjoon muses out loud. “You two and four others like us?”
“I haven’t Seen jack shit of that, but don’t doubt what he says,” Yoongi says. “He might not be able to give you the sordid details like I can, but he knows things that I don’t. Like the murder of Ikje hyung, for one.”
“Murder?” Namjoon says, and everyone at at their table sans Yoongi shushes him.
“Quite a production of one, too,” Hyosang says.
“What the hell happened?” Namjoon demands. They’re throwing so much information at him that he can hardly keep up and now, apparently, one of the Wixen Council is six feet under. “Murdered? By who?”
“We don’t know. He was lynched on the Gwangjin Bridge,” Donghyun says grimly. “We haven’t heard from him in a while, and then one night without warning he showed up at our apartment and asked us out to dinner. It was out of the blue, a little weird. But we didn’t think much of it and we went out together like it was old times. It was fun, until we found that all our phones were missing. Guess where they had gone.”
“He had them, didn’t he? He took them from you,” Yoongi says. Namjoon slants his gaze over to him. “I tried calling all of four of members of the council the night I figured out who the next Supreme is. I tried Hunchul first, then you two pea brains, and none of you answered. Ikje was the only one who did, but I only managed to get a few lines of conversation in before the line went dead.”
“He knew something,” Donghyuk says with a dark scowl. “He knew something, and he knew that knowing it put his life in danger and would put all of ours in danger if we knew it too.”
“Who would want anything to do with Ikje?” Hyosang asks. “After Slaughterhouse Ten, he faded from recognition and the families of all the warlocks involved all thought him dead. We let them believe what they wanted. He was a ghost.”
“He was found with X slashes over his eyes,” Yoongi murmurs, and Namjoon feels the pieces coming together, the cogs turning in his head.
“X slashes,” he repeats under his breath, and Yoongi looks to him. “Witches and warlocks have one rival faction of magical practitioners that we have gone head to head with for centuries. Their trademark is X’s over the eyes.”
“Close, but no cigar,” Namjoon says. “No, I’m talking about the voodoo masters.”
“So you’re suggesting that Ikje’s extremely public death is a message from a clan of voodoo masters?” asks Hyosang. “A message to us?”
“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting.”
“I thought voodoo had died out more than two decades ago,” Donghyuk says.
“Not necessarily.” It’s Hyosang who speaks. “It’s been simmering and recovering all this time. It isn’t likely that they’re back in full power this soon, but not impossible either.”
“You sound like you know a lot about this,” Hoseok comments.
“I know some,” Hyosang admits. “Because if this really is voodoo we’re dealing with here, I know just who to call.”
At its very busiest, the Jung Sik Dang restaurant seats approximately two hundred people.
Today, more than a hundred and fifty of that clientele is composed of government officials, their juniors, and dozens of other big business leaders that have come to meet and speak with them, exchange plaques and rewards, shake hands. A whole line of media outlets and news reporters armed with cameras wait outside, with only a select few being let in.
In other words, something important is happening and there is no better way to do it than over expensive, Michelin-starred food.
“When they said, ‘prepare for a large crowd,’ they did not tell me there were going to be over a hundred damn people stampeding through those doors,” Gukjoo says. “Mochi needs time to freeze! I can’t pull five dozen extra orders of them out of my ass by the end of this evening.”
“You stop worrying about that and let our glacier cry over the mochi, there are a whole twelve courses before you have to bring the mochi out there,” Seokjin suggests as he peels shrimp into the sink with lightning fast dexterity. “And tell Nana to get in here, I don’t have time to be doing this when I have to serve everyone that’s not part of the event. Other customers still exist, if that’s slipped her mind.”
“Yeah, where is that girl,” Gukjoo says, dropping the ball of mochi dough with a slap on the counter, bustling through the back doors. Seokjin sighs, drying his hands on the towel tucked into his waist and abandoning the station of shrimp for the sizzling chicken patty. At this point, he doubts that any other customers are going to be able to make it through the war lines outside, but until then he has to impress the rest of the diners that are just looking for a decent meal.
Just as the meat is about done, Seokjin slices some bread extra thick, toasts it in the oil right alongside the chicken. The sizzle is quiet, calming, and in the time before regular shift has started, Seokjin is alone in the kitchen.
“Is that brat here again?” Gukjoo asks as she storms back in with loudly complaining Nana in tow, breaking the warm spell of silence. It was nice while it lasted, all fourteen seconds of it. “You’re making those godforsaken sandwiches.”
“Yep,” Seokjin says pleasantly. “And he’s not a brat, noona, he pays for everything he eats.”
Gukjoo answers this with a grunt and Nana shoots him a look that says help me, but she doesn’t gripe any further and goes to the station beside the pantry. By the time he’s done plating everything, she’s started work, knife a silver flash on the cutting board.
“One chicken vincenzo,” he says with a flourish, sliding the plate onto the bar. It’s empty save for one lone figure, bent over a tattered binder with a pen in hand.
Jimin is about the size of a lima bean but the weight of a cinder block, if cinder blocks were animate and human. It’s winter now, so it’s a lot less obvious under three layers of fleece and wool, but Park “English isn’t a problem if you’re as cute as me” Jimin can probably pack a punch as mean as a professional boxer’s and eats enough to match.
“Wow, don’t sound too excited, will you,” Seokjin says. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing that’s a big deal,” Jimin says, stuffing the sandwich into his face. “I just didn’t do too hot on my midterm.” He flicks his head back towards the dining area that’s now been roped off. “You seem to have your hands full.”
“Yeah,” Seokjin says, leaning onto the bar on his elbows. “They said a hundred people would come at most, so we’re a little overwhelmed.”
Jimin nods. He’s usually bright and loud and bouncy, whining for Seokjin to sit and talk with him longer like he used to, when he was only a sauté chef and had time between dishes to spend with Jimin and dote on him. It was him who sat through Jimin’s college application woes, his girlfriend woes, his sexuality crisis woes, all over food. A quiet Jimin worries Seokjin.
“Hey, tell you what, if you stick around long enough I’ll make you a mochi. No charge,” he says, and Jimin stares at him.
“No, you can’t,” Jimin hisses. “You’re sous chef now, you’ll get demoted!”
Seokjin waves a careless hand. “Gukjoo has literally given me a shiner for burning the bread before, I am the only one in the kitchen who’s not afraid of her. It’ll be fine.”
Well, it’s fine for about an hour, until the government and big business meeting is about three courses in and the kitchen have to start in on the actual entrées. Seokjin feels sweat beginning to bead at his temples as he rushes back and forth, listening to the bark of Gukjoo’s orders and trying to translate them to the rest of the kitchen without inducing any nervous breakdowns. Sunny tends to have a lot of those, especially when she first started, and she’s gotten much better as time has passed. The thing is is that Gukjoo under high stress is at least 37% why Seokjin believes that women overlords and the eventual female domination of the known planet are real.
“Seokjin, can you give me a hand with the fish,” someone shouts across the bubbling broths of the kitchen and Seokjin groans. These tortellini are not going to wrap themselves, but he wipes his hands down on his towel and steps around Nana, who’s shredding cucumbers now with deadly accuracy.
“Chanyeol, do your own work,” Gukjoo says, and Chanyeol just smiles and reddens up to the tips of his ears.
“What do you need?” Seokjin asks. “Make it quick, I need to finish the pasta.”
“I just need these fileted,” Chanyeol says, gesturing to the three whole salmon lying on the counter. He already has a knife in hand, working on the first. “Actually, it would even work if you just scaled them, that’s the fastest part but it would save me a bunch of time.”
“On it,” Seokjin says, reaching for the scaler. He’s one of the only people in the kitchen that doesn’t complain about Chanyeol hanging tools too high on the overhanging rack.
Seokjin moves fast so he can get back to his own station before Gukjoo actually comes over to clout Chanyeol around the ears. Salmon scales fly as he drags the blade in lightning fast strokes over the skin. Every time Chanyeol gets ready to work the knife into the orange flesh he taps the work surface with his blade, adjusting his grip, the sound bringing Seokjin’s focus back just as it begins to wander.
But then, just as Seokjin is on his last few scrapes, he reaches too high and draws the razor-sharp blade over his knuckles, effectively shaving off several layers of skin.
“Shit!” he shouts, dropping the fish, holding his hand away. “Shit.”
“Holy fuck, are you okay?” Chanyeol asks, setting down his knife as Seokjin grits his teeth and runs his hands under a stream of running water, the bottom of the sink turning bright red. “Fuck, that’s so much blood.”
“Seokjin, you’re bleeding?” Gukjoo asks. “Get that shit out the kitchen until you wrap it up, blood is a biohazard.”
“You’re going to have to use this fish for cooked purposes only,” Seokjin says, grimacing. “I’m so sorry. I made your job harder.”
Chanyeol shakes his head. “I shouldn’t have been lazy, it’s my fault. Go bandage that before Gukjoo comes over here and throws you out on your ass.”
Seokjin has to pass the bar that looks into the serving area of the kitchen where Jimin is sitting, still nursing his hand. When he’s out of sight of the other chefs, though, he brings his good hand away from the wound momentarily just in time to see the deep, clean-cut scrape seal back up, healing back into a perfect uninjured expanse of skin.
“Out here again? I thought you said you were busy.”
Seokjin looks up at the sound of Jimin’s voice, and closes his fingers around where the wound should have been. “Hurt myself. Can’t have blood in the kitchen, so I’m letting the bleeding stop until I go back in.”
“You’re not the only one,” Jimin says, nodding to the scene behind him.
At least three dozen people are on their feet, huddled around one of the government officials. He’s mirroring Seokjin’s pose exactly, though he is far more vocal about the pain—screaming and shouting, and Seokjin feels his stomach drop when he sees the bloodstains all over the white linen tables outside.
Shit. He hadn’t kept himself in check and this happened. Again. He’s gone a whole five months without accidents like this.
“Are you okay, hyung?” Jimin asks. “You look pale. Are you really hurt?”
“I,” Seokjin begins lamely. “Uh. Just. A little fazed by the pain, I guess. I don’t get injured in the kitchen that often.”
Jimin stares at him, then back at the official, who’s now letting someone wrap a napkin around his hand as someone else has the hospital on the line. God, Seokjin thinks to himself. It hurt, sure, but the hospital? Seriously?
“Bring me the first aid kit,” Jimin says. “I’ll do it for you.”
“No!” Seokjin says too quickly, backing away. “I can do it myself.” Jimin’s frown deepens at this.
“Well, if you’re not going to bandage up now, help me with my essay while you’re waiting for the bleeding to stop,” he says, pushing his binder around so that Seokjin can see it. “My arguments feel lackluster and you always have great mic-dropping one liners, hyung.”
This is true, so Seokjin smiles slightly and moves to read the prompt scrawled across the top of the page. The moment he steps up to the counter, though, Jimin’s hand darts out and snatches Seokjin’s forward.
Jimin comes face to hand with Seokjin’s knuckles—intact and showing absolutely no signs of injury. He glances up slowly, narrowing his eyes.
“Hyung?” he asks. He doesn’t sound disapproving, because now it just looks like Seokjin is a major slacker on his job, so much as he sounds confused. “What is this?”
“I, uh,” Seokjin says, grasping at straws, scratching the back of his neck. “It was just a little nick. I cleaned up all the blood, so you can’t really see much of it now.”
Jimin tugs at every inch of skin around Seokjin’s fingers and knuckles, searching for a wound, only letting go when Seokjin pushes him, very gently, away. The expression on his face doesn’t turn sour and childlike, like Seokjin expects it to be, but into a muted kind of wonder, one of someone that wants to believe something but can’t quite allow himself to.
“Let me go wrap it up,” Seokjin murmurs. It feels so wrong to pull away from Jimin like this, but he must. The commotion in the dining area grows ever louder and Seokjin should tell Gukjoo now. No one else in the kitchen is going to be brave enough to break bad news to her. “I have work to do.”
The next time Seokjin passes by the bar, Jimin is gone. The corner of his sandwich sits unfinished on his plate, still a little warm.
Seokjin first found out when he was five and his older brother was eight.
He had been short then, small and easily stepped on, hardly showing any indication that he’d grow up to be the broad-shouldered man he is now. It was an innocent accident—his brother accidentally bumped his face with the corner of a baking sheet taking it out of the oven when they were trying to make cupcakes for their mother for Parents Day.
The burning pain had exploded across Seokjin’s face, and he screamed, hand jumping up to his cheek, but then his brother, Ryujin, had cried out and dropped the tin on the cupcake with a clatter. There on his face, in the exact same spot, had been a furious red welt that blistered around the edges. But where he had burnt his brother, there was nothing. Seokjin’s face was spotless.
That was the first time.
The second time was a far more unjust occurrence, but only then did Seokjin understand the true extent of what this power entailed. It was a month after the cupcake incident, and a couple of the primary school grade students were bullying him outside the school for spilling water over their chalk creations on the sidewalk.
Their voices are still fresh in Seokjin’s mind, the ghosts of their then-big hands still big and rough on his shoulders. When he closes his eyes and thinks hard enough he can still hear the anger in their words, shouting in his face and caging him in, making him feel tiny and helpless. Then the biggest of them had shoved him hard, then again, again, again until Seokjin had fallen back, hands reaching back to break his fall.
Gritty pain had erupted over his palms, then promptly faded away. The first grader that had pushed him yelped seconds later, backing away and holding his bloodied palms up to his face in terror, staring at Seokjin with sudden fear in his eyes.
Then they had run away, far away, and never bothered Seokjin again.
But such is the fate of a living human voodoo doll. As the years passed Seokjin has gotten better at keeping this ability in check; considering that he never needed to use it, or sought to exploit it, he’d often forget that something as monstrous and bizarre as this slept inside of him. And every time he did, something like this happened to remind him, Hey, you’re not like the rest of us. Don’t try to be.
“You should live in a plastic bubble,” Ryujin had joked once when they were both in high school. “Save us a bit of trouble.”
But Seokjin didn’t want to live in a plastic bubble. Goddammit, he just wanted to live.
“Where’s your little puppydog?”
Seokjin looks up from the salmon flowers he’s constructing for a sashimi platter to see Nana leaning against the counter of her station, arms crossed with one hand holding wire mesh ladle. It drips with oil from the deep fryer where she’s just finished frying with some tempura for later. Her hair is loose around her shoulders. Gukjoo is going to chew her out for that. Then she’s going to chew Seokjin out for not telling her to tie it back.
Today is not a spectacular day.
“Oh, please. You know, that kid that always sits at the bar and orders a sandwich and sometimes a Pellegrino. The one you like.”
“Oh,” Seokjin says, not even bothering to shoot down that last part. “He’s not here?”
“Did you get an order for a sandwich?”
“Then there you go. There is literally one diner who comes at the start of dinner and orders a sandwich, and I didn’t start working here yesterday. I know these things.”
Seokjin grunts noncommittally. Of course he knows Jimin isn’t here; he checked. He hasn’t been here for three whole days now. Jimin always comes in a few minutes before he should, before the restaurant opens for dinner. Gukjoo used to complain, saying that they needed to maintain some semblance of quality control here. Jimin had just smiled widely, flashing his irresistible eyesmile, and offered to do his own dishes in their kitchen every time until she softened.
“What’s the deal with you, anyway?” Nana asks. “I heard you injured your hand yesterday so I went to go look for you when you didn’t come back, and I saw him holding your hand. Gukjoo is going to kill you if she knew you were doing that with a customer during work hours.”
“What? No! You don’t understand.”
“I just told him,” Seokjin mumbles, fucking up a flower and unraveling the fish in frustration, “that I got injured.”
“Oh,” Nana says. “And—what, he demanded to see it?”
“But your hand was fine.”
“No—no, it was definitely not fine.”
“I know, I saw you skin yourself scaling the salmon,” Nana says. “It was very not fine, you left the kitchen, and the next time I saw you, you were very fine. Like, in terms of physical well-being.”
“Gee, thanks,” Seokjin says dryly. “Flattering of you to say, noona. You just saw wrong. My hand practically bled out on me before it stopped, okay?”
She watches him one more moment before shrugging and going back to her pot of stew.
“Well, I hope you’re better now,” Nana says, in the way people do when they know they’re being lied to, but don’t care enough to get to the bottom of it. “We wouldn’t want you bleeding on any more food.”
Business is exceptionally slow today. Not that this is particularly surprising after that fiasco with the government official a few days ago, but Seokjin feels so jittery and nervous that he’s here arranging sashimi, needlessly fancy, for a client that ordered just a standard platter for takeout. Nana lets her ladle sit in the simmering soup, ducking out back for a smoke break with everyone else.
Cooking helps Seokjin bring his focus all his attention on one task. It had begun as a passion but now he does it so he doesn’t accidentally injure anyone in the process if he hurts himself.
He’s tucking in the ends of his last salmon rose when the door opens and he straightens up, ready to reassure that everything is under control, dinner hasn’t started yet, and that he’s just finding busywork for himself, until he sees that it’s Jimin.
“Hey,” Seokjin says. “What happened? You can’t be in here, Jimin, let’s go talk outside.”
Jimin takes his wrist as he walks toward him, and Seokjin glances down at it, then back up at Jimin’s face—where it’s usually so bright and happy, there’s a dark frown in his eyes.
“Hey. What’s wrong?”
“Is your hand okay?”
Seokjin brings it up between them, Jimin’s finger stroking the end of the gauze that Seokjin had wrapped around his hand. For show, of course. He nods slowly, his free hand coming up to wrap around Jimin’s smaller one. “It’s fine.”
“Is it really?”
“Then I hope you don’t mind if I try something.”
Seokjin lets himself be led across the vacant kitchen, around counters and stationary knives, until they stand together in front of the deep fryer and Jimin’s hand is still curled insistently around Seokjin’s wrist. For a moment he doesn’t understand what’s going on, until the resolve hardens in Jimin’s face, and.
Jimin takes his hand and plunges it into the hot oil, the thick yellow liquid surging to life with bubbles. Seokjin shouts in pain, yanking his hand out of the fryer, watching as the blisters burn on his skin for a moment before they traitorously fade away right before Jimin’s eyes. He doesn’t flinch, doesn’t speak, doesn’t do anything to indicate that this freaks him out. Seokjin flattens his mouth into a straight line, dropping his hand back down to his side.
“Park Jimin, who are you?”
But there’s someone else screaming outside, from the back. Footsteps come running towards the kitchen and Seokjin grabs the collar of Jimin’s shirt and yanks them both down so that they’re obscured from sight.
“What the hell?” Sunny comes stumbling in with Chanyeol following closely behind, tears streaming down her face. She’s sobbing, cradling her hand, and when they run past for the first aid, Seokjin can see the horrific second-degree burns on her skin. “What the hell is this, how did this—how the hell did this happen?”
He feels Jimin turn his face very slowly toward him in the cramped space. He’s so close that Seokjin can smell the cologne on his clothes.
“You’re a voodoo master too,” Jimin whispers, breath ghosting over Seokjin’s cheek. “Why did you never tell me?”
“I—what?” Seokjin isn’t even sure he heard the words right. “What the hell do you know about that?”
“What the fuck happened here?” Gukjoo’s voice booms across the kitchen, and Seokjin stands up hurriedly, shoving Jimin farther under the counter and out of sight. She turns to him when he appears, looking him up and down with a poisonous glower. “You. What the hell happened?”
“Uh,” Seokjin says. “I don’t know, I just saw Sunny run through here with some bad burns while I was making this.”
“Well, is she okay?”
“I think so. Chanyeol is helping her.”
Gukjoo walks up to Seokjin with slow, measured steps, and if he’s honest, he feels his blood turn cold the closer she gets, shuffling around the deep frying station so that his legs block Jimin from view. She comes to a stop, jabbing a finger in his face, and Seokjin leans backwards.
“You’re being awfully fishy, Kim Seokjin,” she says. “You’re the sous chef, if I need to remind you. If I find you hiding something you shouldn’t, you’re going to be hot, hot water. Understood?”
She squints again, then drops down and yanks Seokjin’s apron to the side so that he steps out of the way of the space under the deep fry counter. He makes a strangled noise, pushing her hands off, cursing and readying himself for the inevitable shout-down he’s going to get for having Jimin in the kitchen.
But she straightens up, clapping her hands together as if ridding dust. Seokjin stares at her as she jabs two fingers at her own eyes, then at him, bustling away and shouting for someone to report on Sunny’s condition. Momentarily, Seokjin is frozen, unable to unglue his back from the side of the counter. Then he bends, afraid of what he’s going to see, only to find that Park Jimin has disappeared without a trace.
His hand tingles.
“Yo, sandwich order from the bar, same old,” Nana says, sticking her head into the kitchen. “Puppydog found his way home.”
“Right,” Seokjin says, trying not to sway where he stands, raising a hand in acknowledgement. “I’m on it.”
Seokjin makes Nana serve Jimin. She gives him a long, hard look, but doesn’t question it when he offers to chop all her garlic. She hates chopping garlic. He also hates chopping garlic. It’s a fair trade-off, kind of.
“Are you sure there’s nothing between you two,” she asks conversationally. “You’re acting bizarre today.”
Which is true, if fine entails being lost in your own hazy thoughts the entire evening, Jimin’s words voodoo master and why didn’t you tell me? bouncing off the insides of Seokjin’s skull like hyperactive children. And the word too, the indirect confession that he is the same. If Jimin knew anything about his affliction, as he so fondly calls it, that would imply that he himself is affected. Or knows something about where it comes from.
Voodoo. To Seokjin’s knowledge, it’s a magical practice dating far, far back in human history. It uses dolls and potions and curses.
“There’s a customer out there that requests you serve him especially,” Chanyeol says, startling Seokjin out of his trance. “And I think you should just let me do the sautéing for now. You’re already overcooking the onions.”
“Oh—oh, shit,” Seokjin says, taking the skillet off the heat in a hurry. Chanyeol hands him a plate of lobster newburg, nudging him out of the way. “Sorry. Sorry, I don’t—”
“I owe you one,” Chanyeol says, winking. “Now hurry up, don’t keep our clients waiting.”
“Did he say who he was?” Seokjin ask, hefting the platter over his shoulder.
“Well, he’s not your puppydog,” Chanyeol says, and Seokjin groans at the nickname. Goddamn Nana. “I don’t recognize him. He’s tall, tall as us, maybe.”
This doesn’t ring any bells until Seokjin reaches the table where the diner sits alone, reading the screen of his phone intently. The moment he looks up, Seokjin feels a grin of disbelief stretch across his mouth.
“How’s my better half?” Hyosang says as Seokjin sets the food down in front of him. “Why the hell am I not the least bit surprised to find you here?”
“Yeah, how did you?”
“Do you think it’s hard to track down a sous chef of a two Michelin star restaurant with the Internet at my fingertips?” Hyosang picks up his fork and knife, sinking the blade into the bread and sighing as he takes a bite. “Did you make this?”
“God, no. Our pastry chef did.”
“My compliments to him,” Hyosang says, eating another mouthful.
“Her,” Seokjin corrects. “But why do I have a feeling you’re not here to compliment my cooking?”
Hyosang pretends to be offended. “The last time you cooked for me was junior year of university before you left for culinary school. Have a little faith in me.”
“I made you a Hot Pocket when you had a hangover.”
“Man. Was that really the last thing you made for me?” Hyosang asks. “Damn. I must have been really hungover.” He sighs, setting down his silverware with a clatter, and the serious look on his face tells Seokjin that whatever this is going to be, it’s not good news. “But you’re right. There’s something we need you for.”
Seokjin crosses his arms on the table. “We?” he says.
“We, yes.” Hyosang shifts in his seat, rummaging for the right words. “There are a few other people in this world besides you and me, shockingly.”
“Please.” Seokjin catches the knife where it’s about to tip off the plate.
Hyosang sighs. “I don’t know how to put this, Seokjin.”
“We’re best friends, aren’t we?”
“Yeah,” Hyosang says. “Okay. Well, I know you’re...I know you have an uncommon supernatural power. You’re aware of it too, I’m sure.”
Seokjin blinks at Hyosang, who’s watching him with tentative eyes. This makes two people in one day that have brought this—whatever this is—up to him.
“And what if I do?” Seokjin retorts, voice hostile.
“I promise you that it has never made me view you as less of a person,” Hyosang says immediately. “I knew since the first year of college with you, Seokjin, when you gave yourself a papercut and it appeared on me in the exact same place.”
“Look, Hyosang,” Seokjin says, dropping his forehead into his hands, “I don’t know how you know this. But I need you to be completely truthful with me, because you are the second damn person today who’s come to me about this, and—”
“Whoa, whoa. Second? Who was the first?”
Seokjin glances up through his fingers. He has hardly ever seen Hyosang this concerned.
“My friend, Park Jimin,” Seokjin says. “If he’s still here, he’s sitting at the bar right now to the very right.”
“Oh yeah,” Hyosang says, looking up. “Yep. Yeah, and he’s looking this way, too.”
“Goddammit,” Seokjin mutters under his breath.
“What did he say to you?”
“Something like, ‘you’re a voodoo master, too,’” Seokjin says. “Too. As if he has any idea what this is—”
“Wait,” Hyosang says abruptly, cutting him off. “This restaurant, Jung Sik Dang. Are we in Incheon or Anyang?”
“Well,” Seokjin says, “We’re on the outskirts of Incheon, very close to Anyang?”
Hyosang’s eyes flit to Jimin, then to Seokjin’s face, to Jimin—back and forth a few more times as a slow smile stretches across his face.
“Bingo,” he says. “Oh, Hunchul’s going to be pissed to find out I beat him.”
When Jeongguk turns his head, Taehyung is there.
It’s too dark for him to see much more than the outline of Taehyung’s body in his blankets, rising and falling. The tick of the clock at the front of the mess hall is loud, echoing through vast empty space, as Jeongguk listens to the symphony of things that go bump in the night. Listens to the prison breathe. Listens to Taehyung beside him.
Sleep is elusive. Sleep has been hard to come by since the night Jeongguk had slipped the glasses from Taehyung’s face only to see himself—someone just as haunted by his past and someone just as hunted by the future. Taehyung acts, day in and day out, like nothing happened between them, and Jeongguk is more than happy to go along with this. Pretending like nothing has changed is so much easier, so much more painless than admitting something has.
(Even if something has, Jeongguk can't find it in himself to admit what it is.)
Every day Taehyung pushes the sunglasses onto his face and lets Kkanji lead him to breakfast. Sungjae still comes over and threads chopsticks through his fingers for him, moving his plates around his tray and telling Taehyung where everything is, and when Jeongguk doesn’t say anything, he asks him what’s wrong.
“Nothing,” is always the answer. It’s the best one Jeongguk has.
A week tiptoes by on eggshells. Jeongguk asks the corrections officers to put him on different work shifts every time he sees that he’s paired up with Taehyung for anything, and they frown at the sheer nerve he has to be asking for favors around here, but do it anyway. They’d rather bend to requests than deal with two inmates fighting with each other otherwise.
“You have a spat with your cellmate?”
Jeongguk looks up from the dishes he’s drying. He’s been shafted to work with Hakyeon again, and even now, Taehyung’s words ring in his ears. Stay far, far away from Cha Hakyeon.
“You used to follow him like a sunflower follows the sun,” Hakyeon says, sponging off another plate in an endless pile of them. “And it’s like night has fallen for you, a lost little blossom that doesn’t know where to look now. So now you’re closed up. Shut off.”
Jeongguk wrinkles his nose.
“Do I lie, though,” Hakyeon says, taking in his expression. “Do I lie.”
“Well,” Jeongguk says. “We just needed to be away from each other for a while.”
“Oh my God, you say that like you were together to begin with,” drawls Hakyeon. “Want me to help you get him back? I’d need you to work with me, though.”
Jeongguk is ready to decline forcefully, disdain sour on his tongue, when he sees the soft smile on Hakyeon’s face. There it is again—that eerie charm about him that Jeongguk can’t pin, crawling under his skin and tickling his ribs.
“No, I’m fine,” he says. “Thanks for offering, hyung.”
The rest of his kitchen shift is wordless. Hakyeon doesn’t press him any further, giving him a curt nod when they hang up their aprons and turn off the lights to the kitchen. There are a few minutes between lights out and lock up so Jeongguk leaps into the showers and lets the freezing water shake out his sore muscles. The snow, falling in earnest now, needs to be shoveled from the driveways at least three times a day, and Jeongguk signed himself up for all three of them every day, just to guarantee that he doesn’t get put on a shift with Taehyung.
The water hits his face in a bullet-hard spray and he squeezes his eyes shut. The more Jeongguk thinks about it, dragging his hands up and down his cheeks, too tired for proper face wash, there is no good reason for him to be avoiding Taehyung. Not now, when he’s finally found someone who’s a little like him. Someone who understands what it’s like, unable to be yourself entirely with others. But the circumstances of Taehyung’s birth doesn’t really seem to be why he’s pulling away—if that were the case, Jeongguk wouldn’t be here, asking himself over and over why he feels so lost and alone.
The door of their cell clangs shut when he just barely makes it inside for lock up, shivering from his shower. The officer rattles the door to make sure it’s locked properly, ring of keys jangling from his fingers, and glides out of sight. The bark of his voice in the next room over grates at Jeongguk ears as he gropes blindly in the darkness for his towel to dry his hair off better.
“Let me take a look at your tattoo,” Taehyung murmurs. Jeongguk hesitates, lets the towel drop to his shoulders, and goes to stand beside Taehyung’s bed, eyes adjusting to the dim light. “Is it feeling better?”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, just as quietly. “It’s feeling a lot better.”
“Kkanji,” Taehyung prompts his Lab, as he does every night, “aloe.”
Jeongguk looks over his shoulder just in time to see Taehyung reach up, fingertips around the right frame of his sunglasses. His eyes are closed as he turns his head, slipping them off his face, and drops them onto the bed beside him. Just as he begins to look up, sensing Jeongguk’s gaze on him, Jeongguk turns away hastily, eyes boring holes into the opposite wall.
“Most of the swelling is gone,” Taehyung says. A dollop of aloe slides down Jeongguk’s skin and Taehyung spreads it out before it drips into the hem of his pants. “Which is good, because I’m almost out.”
“That’s okay. It doesn’t even hurt anymore.”
Like all the other nights, Taehyung silently works the aloe into the skin around the tattoo until it’s dry, fingers chilly, but gentle. Jeongguk closes his eyes, dares to let himself revel in the feeling.
Maybe it’s this that has him running as far from Taehyung as he can manage in a place of locks and keys.
Taehyung pats the space between the crests of Jeongguk’s hips the same way he does every night, and Jeongguk tries not to sigh as Taehyung lets go of the band of his pants, his shirt falling back down to cover his skin. He’s about to walk away, hang his towel back up, when Taehyung’s hands snake between the spaces of his arms. Jeongguk can't help the gurgle of surprise in the back of his throat as Taehyung pulls him in close until his face is pressed into Jeongguk’s back.
“Hyung,” Jeongguk says, voice choked up by the sudden contact. “Hey, hyung—”
But Taehyung’s grip simply tightens, hands locking together insistently over Jeongguk’s belly, hugging him to his body. Against his better judgment, Jeongguk reaches up until one of his own hands rests over both of Taehyung’s.
“Did I do something wrong?” Taehyung asks, voice muffled in the fabric of Jeongguk’s clothes. “I did, didn’t I? I’m sorry. Just tell me what I did, I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“You won’t even look at me,” Taehyung says. “You work every shift I don’t, and you used to hate working alone.” He pauses. “It’s because of what I said last week, right? I messed up, Jeongguk. I shouldn’t have said anything, I knew it. I knew it and I still—”
“No,” Jeongguk says, trying to pull away so that he can look Taehyung in the face, but Taehyung refuses to let him budge. “No, it wasn’t that.”
“Is it because I lied to you about my sight? There’s only one other person in this world that knows I can see. You know what could happen if I—”
“No, I know. It isn’t that, either.”
“Then why are you avoiding me?”
The words tear at Jeongguk’s skin even later, teeth and nails against his face, slumbering like a monster under his bed. It’s another sleepless night of staring at the dark mountain of Taehyung’s body in his bed, letting the sound of his breath wreathe around him like the soft circle of his arms that time he had crawled into bed beside Jeongguk, skin icy through his clothes.
He closes his eyes. The next time he opens them, there are corrections officers in his face, arms folded across their chests. Jeongguk blinks in confusion, before realizing that he’s sleeping with his head in his arms, temple pillowed on the backs of his hands.
“Jeon Jeongguk,” one of them barks, and Jeongguk sits up, squinting in the bright light. It’s not even dawn, but all the mess hall lights are on, fluorescence buzzing over their heads. “Would you like to explain what you’re doing outside of your cell at four in the morning?”
“I,” Jeongguk begins, looking back and forth. He hasn’t the slightest clue how he got out here. The last thing he remembers looking at was the shape of Taehyung in the bed beside his. “I don’t know?”
“Your cell is locked and impossible to pick,” another one says. “We didn’t know you wanted solitary confinement so badly that you were going to sleep out in the cold alone to ask for it.”
“No,” Jeongguk says wildly. “No, you don’t understand, I didn’t come out here myself.”
“Oh, so you’re saying someone helped you?” one of them asks. “Who, your cellmate?”
“Taehyung?” Jeongguk shakes his head. “No, he didn’t do anything.”
“Then, young man,” and two officers grab him on either side by his arms, “come with us.”
Jeongguk looks over his shoulder at where his cell is, the door still secured shut, to see Taehyung awake and standing with Kkanji, hands gripping the bars like he wants to break through them. He isn’t wearing his sunglasses, isn’t attempting to hide his face, a stricken expression in his eyes.
Solitary confinement drives Jeongguk out of his mind.
For up to twenty-three hours a day he sits on the hard pleather-covered bed with a sheet draped over crossed legs for a blanket and stares at the blankness of the off-white of the opposite wall. Right now, or maybe an hour ago, someone had pushed a tray of food through the slot in the bottom of the door, undercooked rice and kimchi that’s been left out for too long. The longer Jeongguk stares at it, the more he swears he hallucinates the bowls floating in the air, dropping back down with a clatter, chopsticks rolling across the concrete floor as the thin gochujang from the vegetables oozes across the floor.
The sight makes Jeongguk’s stomach churn.
As the hours snail by, too slow and timeless at all once, he wonders if there really is anyone coming for him. If there’s anyone at all out there for him. Maybe there isn’t. This is probably some higher cosmic form of punishment. Maybe his mother had told him to wait for someone that will never come, glad to be rid of the shame of a son that he was when he fell into this circle of sleeping around that ultimately landed him here. Jeongguk closes his eyes, feels acid and bile rising in his throat.
When he opens his eyes, grains of rice are still scattered across the floor, and he’s still alone, and in this space he finds himself wishing for nothing more than Taehyung’s presence. Taehyung next to him, brushing Kkanji down. Taehyung’s body in the same space, taking up too much of it with his loud voice and incessant chatter. The skin of Jeongguk’s back burns as if in agreement that it too misses him and his touch. Some nights he thinks he can feel Taehyung climbing into bed beside him, face nuzzling into Jeongguk’s neck, until he wakes up in a cold sweat.
Jeongguk turns his head, eyes lifeless, when the window shutter on the door opens to show an officer’s face. Then the lock is clicking open, and he’s faced with one of the corrections officers holding up two pairs of cuffs, one with bigger cuffs and a longer chain than the other—ankles and wrists, he surmises. Can’t have a prisoner poofing off into places he shouldn’t be again.
“Someone wants to talk to you. In exchange, you’re not being let out later at rec hour, or tomorrow at all.”
Silently, Jeongguk lets himself be chained up and led outside. He perks up when he notices that he’s being led to the visiting area for regular security prisoners and guests, and thinks that this must be someone very special.
They chain him a rung right beside the telephone when Jeongguk sits down, facing a window made of scratched, graffitied plastic. The chair opposite him is still empty, but right as the officers leave, someone appears.
“Hyung,” Jeongguk says, sitting up in alarm. Kkanji wags her tail when she sees him, and sits down out of sight near Taehyung’s feet as he settles into the chair.
“Is anyone with you?” he asks.
“No. No one is with me.”
So Taehyung reaches up, pulling the sunglasses off his face, and Jeongguk drinks the sight of him in, eyes flooding against his will with unshed tears. Taehyung reaches up and unhooks the phone from its stand.
“Don’t cry,” he says, smiling gently as Jeongguk chokes the tears back. “I can’t do anything to help you.”
“No, it’s okay,” Jeongguk says, throat tight, voice wobbling traitorously. “It’s okay, I just. Don’t say anything and just let me look at you.”
Taehyung falls silent for one, two, three seconds before he has to speak again.
“You scare me when you get emotional like this. It makes me feel like something bad is going to happen.”
“I don’t know how it can get worse than this,” Jeongguk says.
“Hey. You don’t want to go and jinx yourself, Jeongguk-ah.”
The endearment has a fresh wave of tears pressing on the corners of his eyes, but Jeongguk forces it back. They don’t have a lot of time, and he refuses to spend half of it crying. “Hyung, you have no idea what it’s like in there,” Jeongguk says. “It’s terrible. It’s nothingness. I’m going mad.”
“I know a little bit about that, actually,” Taehyung says blandly.
“How? Have you’ve been in solitary too?”
Taehyung shakes his head. “Listen, we don’t have that much time,” he says quickly, quietly, and Jeongguk strains to hear him. “I know how you got out there that night, Jeongguk.”
“You are a warlock,” Taehyung says. “You have to trust me. You are a black widow, and you are a warlock. That night you woke up in the mess hall, you teleported yourself out of our cell. I was awake to see it.”
Jeongguk feels his head swim, but he swallows thickly and nods. “Okay.” He has to trust Taehyung.
“It’s called transmutation. The ability to travel to two different points of position without occupying the space between. Some warlocks are able to do it, some can’t. You happen to be in the former group. It’s happened to me before, but Kkanji barked until I woke and before the officers could find me.”
“What am I going to do?”
“Once you’re aware of it, you can control it,” Taehyung says. “And don’t try using it to escape this place, because I have, and it does not end well.”
“I can’t believe this,” Jeongguk groans. “What else can I do?”
“It appears over time,” Taehyung says. “Magical abilities. Most warlocks have them. Descensum, telekinesis, divination, concilium. Transmutation is one of them.” He pauses. “Are you with me? You have to trust me, Jeongguk. I’m not here to play games with you.”
“Where did you learn all of this?”
Taehyung smiles at this, still sadly, but it reaches his eyes. “An old, old friend,” he says. “The best. I don’t know where he is now, but he’s the only person in this world besides you that knows what I can do.” He laughs. “And that I can see, for that matter.”
“Five minutes,” comes a police officer’s gruff shout. Taehyung winces, then turns back to Jeongguk.
“I need to tell you this so that you know,” Taehyung says, so fast that Jeongguk has to struggle to keep up with his words. “I got a letter today telling me that in a week I’m going to be released on probation. I’m free to go.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk says, heart skipping a beat. There it is, the reality he’s been fearing deep down since the day Taehyung told him what he is. “Hyung, that’s grea—”
“But I am not leaving this place without getting you out of here,” he continues, cutting Jeongguk off. “At least out of solitary. I can come back later for you if I have to, but I’m not letting you waste away alone in there. I’m not.”
There’s a manic glint in Taehyung’s eyes. “It was a tiny offense. They have no reason to keep you in there for so long.”
“Hyung, you know they will never let me out of here.”
Taehyung stares. “Why?”
“Hyung, I—” Jeongguk exhales. “I killed someone. Even I wouldn’t let myself out.”
Taehyung puts a hand up to the plastic between them. He says nothing, and Jeongguk slants his gaze over his palm, pale and ghostly, and reaches up to press his hand to it.
“I’m going to try.”
Jeongguk quirks the side of his mouth in a half-hearted smile. He looks back up into Taehyung’s face, and his eyes are dark and full of something Jeongguk can’t pin. They sit like that, separated by half an inch of flimsy transparent plastic, in silence—two lost souls in a land of gods and monsters.
Then an idea slips to the forefront of his mind.
“Hyung, you’re a necromancer, aren’t you?”
The gentle smile on Taehyung’s face falters slightly.
“Yeah,” he says, a little wary. “I am.”
“You can bring people back to life?”
“What would it take for you to bring back the person that I accidentally...that I accidentally killed?”
Taehyung sighs, as if he’s been asked this question one too many times. “I can’t do that, Jeongguk,” he says.
“Why?” Jeongguk asks. “You said you could, right?”
“I did,” Taehyung says, dropping his hand, pulling away. “And I can. But that doesn’t mean I should.”
“I can pay you back somehow,” Jeongguk says. “Somehow, some day. But this is, this would mean the world to me. It means I could live with myself again.”
Taehyung’s face is growing colder and colder with every word Jeongguk says, and by the time he’s finished, Taehyung is leaning back in his chair, expression shut off.
“I know, Jeongguk,” he says. “And I can’t imagine what it’s like to live with that kind of guilt on your shoulders, but I can’t bring that person back to life. I won’t do it.”
“Why?” Jeongguk asks, frustration creeping into his voice now. “You’re the only chance I have.”
“Is that what I am?” Taehyung asks, anger flaring in his face, and Jeongguk actually feels a shard of fear in his heart. He would be more afraid if he wasn’t so exasperated with Taehyung’s staunch refusal. “Is that what I am, redemption?”
“No—hyung, no, you don’t understand,” Jeongguk protests. “I know that you’re trying to teach me a lesson, to live with the mistakes I’ve made. But I—it wasn’t on purpose! You don’t know what it’s like to live with this guilt, it’s true. Do you have any idea what it’s like, knowing that you took someone’s life away and you could have stopped it from happening if only you knew a little more about yourself?”
“Teach you a lesson?” Taehyung asks with disbelief. “Is that what you think I’m doing, Jeon Jeongguk? Do you really think that?”
“No, listen to me. Do you have any idea what it’s like to live after death? Do you know what it’s like to come back from that side, back into the living world where you don’t even belong anymore?”
“And you do?”
But Taehyung is already slamming the phone down on the receiver. Jeongguk is frozen in his position, the line going dead in his ear, and Taehyung has swept away with Kkanji long before Jeongguk hangs the phone back up. His hand is still pressed to the plastic, even when the officers come to get him, pulling him to his feet and pushing him to walk.
Jeongguk looks over his shoulder as the visiting room disappears around the corner. Taehyung had said nothing—he hadn’t quite said it, at least, and yet Jeongguk feels like he had been so close to finally, finally understanding who Taehyung is.
You probably think I’m an asshole for not doing something that was completely within my ability to make Jeongguk happy.
And honestly, the more I think about it, the more I think you might be right, but as much as Jeongguk means to me, and as much as I always want to see him smile even in a place as bad as this, I couldn’t say yes to him when he asked that of me. I wanted to. I still want to, because maybe—maybe, okay, don’t quote me on this, because I have no cited sources—maybe I love him. At least, he’s the best thing that’s happened to me since I can remember. Is that love? I’m not sure. I think that’s what it means to me.
But I couldn’t. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I can show you. And maybe then you will understand why.
It happens first, like Seokjin, when he is young and magic diffuses untimed from his body like sunflares. Unlike Seokjin, he is even younger—three, four at most, young enough to not quite remember the memory now without the help of his parents’ stories. It’s the kind of memory that you can’t recall the details of, but comes back like an uninvited guest in the form of a lingering, inexplicable fear.
“Taehyung-ah, don’t go too far, okay? If you can’t see me, you’re too far.”
“Okay. Okay, Mom. I’m not going anywhere!”
This is a rare moment in which he stays put. Taehyung is far too fascinated with the barrels crowded with live fish, the tanks full of skittering crawfish, and the tubs of quiet little clams sitting under the surface of the water.
And then there are the dead fish. They lie in messy piles, one on top of the other, some of them so freshly killed that their fins are still twitching with the last tinges of life. Fish as small as sardines and as big as sturgeons and four-hundred-pound tunas, flesh still stained crimson with blood.
Taehyung’s fingers grip the edge of the counter where a fishmonger is gutting a tuna with knife the size of his arm. The fish’s eyeball is nearly as big as Taehyung’s fist and he stares into the deep, endless black of the pupil, strangely entranced. It’s dead, even this young Taehyung knows that things have to die for others to live, but something about it is still so alive.
The tuna jerks on the cutting board, and Taehyung gasps, jumping away as the table rattles. The fish jumps again, falling to the wet cement. The knife is knocked from the man’s hand and its giant jaws gape as it struggles for water.
“Mom,” Taehyung says, voice high and scared. “Mom—?”
Taehyung still has nightmares of this day. One of them happened to fall on a night where Jeongguk was awake to shake him out of it. Taehyung has never told him that half the reason why he had to climb into his bed was that Jeongguk’s body was the only thing that could chase away the ghost of the cold, slimy sensation of hundreds of fish Resurging, coming to life, suffocating his tiny three-year-old body under their desperation for water.
That night, lying wrapped up in Jeongguk’s scent, was the first night Taehyung could fall asleep again after having that dream.
Before you ask, yeah. I abused the power of a necromancer and I thought I was saving lives. I played God.
Have you ever read the first Harry Potter book? It’s the one about the stone, I think. When I was old enough to read it, I didn’t think about the words that much. I think back then I couldn’t have understood what they really meant. It’s not that I really think about the words now—just this one part that really stands out to me today.
The centaur says them in the forest the first time Harry faces that figure in the black cloak. ‘The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something pure and defenseless to save yourself, and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips,’ he says.
I didn’t know what a half-life was back then.
I worked in a hospital some days after class all three years of high school. My mother was a nurse there and she said it would look good on my college applications, so I did as she recommended. Too many days I wandered the ICU, staring in through the windows in doors. Too many times I’ve seen a family crying over someone motionless in bed. Too many times did I bring all those people back to life for another chance, walking away alone in those gloomy hallways and hearing gasps of delight behind me, thinking that I brought happiness into their lives again.
What could I possibly say to them now? That I’m sorry?
That’s life, though. It’s a funny thing. I hear it all the time. ‘Learn to appreciate it when you can,’ that sentence is always thrown around too much after any disaster. But the thing is that you never learn to appreciate it until you've seen the other side. There is nothing over there. However bad life might seem, anything this side has is better than what’s over there. Because there really is nothing. After a while you wish you could feel pain.
You die once, you lose a little bit of yourself. A lot of it if you’re dealt a bad hand, but I got lucky. That’s how zombies happen, I suppose. But it’s an unwavering rule, that the person who returns from death isn’t ever quite the same as the one who walked into it.
At least for me, before death, I could actually taste what I was eating.
“Oppa, who was he exactly?”
At ten years old Hyerim barely comes up to Taehyung’s shoulder at full height and in her high heels that she’s only ever worn once to a class performance in her grade school. It’s been five years since she last deigned to let him hold her hand (“I’m not a child anymore,” was her declaration, and it was at that moment that Taehyung knew she was going to be a handful as a teenager), but today she is gripping him tight.
“Husband of our mom’s oldest cousin,” Taehyung whispers. The funeral procession is slow and somber. His youngest brother is asleep on his mother’s shoulder in front of them as they file into the church. “You met him when you were a baby.”
“Oh,” Hyerim frowns. “Okay. Did he pass easily?”
“I don’t know. I hope so.”
The pews rumble as they move to sit down, and Hyerim sits much closer to him than she needs to. A priest steps up to the podium after everyone has settled into their seats, and when Taehyung fixes his attention on the stage, and his heart clenches when it comes to his realization that this is an open-casket service.
His face. Taehyung can see his face.
“Don’t fidget,” his mother chastises as Taehyung shifts around.
The eulogies and speeches fly by far too fast. Taehyung is not typically a patient person, or someone whose attention can be held consistently for extended periods of time, but he’s dreading the approach to the stage where everyone will have a chance to pay their respects. His cousins are the first to go, supporting his aunt on either side, followed by the man’s own frail mother and father.
“Our turn,” Taehyung’s mother murmurs, standing up. Hyerim follows suit and then tugs on Taehyung’s sleeve when he doesn’t move.
“Oppa,” she says, holding out her hand. “Come on.”
“Kim Taehyung,” and he jumps out of his seat at the sternness of his mother’s voice, “you are seventeen. Do not make a scene.”
And it’s not really an option for Taehyung to explain here and now why he’d rather not be in close proximity with a corpse. Frankly, it’s a secret he’d vowed to take to his own grave, so he slips his hand into his sister’s and stands up on shaky legs.
Someone hands them white carnations to place inside the casket as they take the stairs up to the stage, though Taehyung feels more like he’s stepping up to the noose for his own neck. Hyerim gives him one, and Taehyung waits, dread filling his stomach as the line moves.
If Hyerim notices how tightly he’s gripping her hand, she doesn’t comment on it. The man’s face is so peaceful, preserved to look as though he really is just sleeping. He doesn’t budge as Taehyung sets the flower down beside him to frame his face in a halo of white blossoms. It’s only when Hyerim follows behind him does she scream in alarm, jumping away from the casket and into Taehyung’s back.
“He’s awake!” Hyerim says, clutching Taehyung, who freezes where he is. “He—he opened his eyes—”
“Kim Hyerim, another word and I—oh, oh my God.”
There are more yelps of shock all around the church and Taehyung squeezes his eyes shut when he hears the rustling of flowers and fabric behind him.
“What’s going on?” and the voice is hoarse from disuse. “What the hell’s everyone—hey! You!”
Taehyung feels the eyes of an entire funeral service turn to him. He looks behind his shoulder to meet the eyes of a man who, only a few moments ago, had been still and closed.
“You,” the man says, pointing at Taehyung, flowers falling from the sleeve of the suit he was laid to rest in. “It was you.”
A commotion breaks out as his wife faints in the pews, and Taehyung gulps.
“I don’t know what you’re saying, Uncle—”
“Taehyung-ah,” his mother asks, eyes full of terror, “what’s he talking about?”
“You saved me, just now,” his uncle says. “It was you, I saw you! It’s black on the other side. There’s nothing, and then you appeared out of that nothing and took my hand, told me to follow you. And here I am! I swear it was you, you look exactly the same—exactly the same as the boy that appeared in death—”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Taehyung denies vehemently, and in that moment Hyerim pulls her hand out of his. He stares at her, though she refuses to meet his eyes.
“Our mom told me that you’re a little different from us,” she says, looking at the ground. Tears are swimming in her eyes and Taehyung takes a step forward, but she only shrinks away and into their mother’s side. “Is this what it is? What are you?”
Even if I had the damn answer to that question back then, it wouldn’t have made things any easier.
I can’t say I was surprised my mother told my siblings there was something a little off about her oldest son. I couldn’t blame her, either. She didn’t know what she was dealing with and the best way she knew how to protect the younger two was to teach them that I was a little different. But growing up, I don’t think any of us were taught to love different, either.
Love difference, my friends. It keeps us alive.
My uncle was committed to a mental hospital shortly after that. Eventually, so was my aunt. Not a week later, my cousins showed up at my high school. I had stayed late to study, because I thought that if I was going to be different, then it was the least I could do to get good grades. I thought wrong.
They knocked me out, threw me in the trunk, tied me up and gagged me. It was some real Bourne Identity shit and if it hadn’t been a drive to my inevitable slow-roast over the flames, it would have been kind of exciting.
But joking aside, dying by fire really is the worst way to go. Like, they couldn’t have done something quick and easy, such as shooting me in the face, for example. Or run me over with a car. Nope. My cousins tied me up to a fucking stake. Which was flattering and all, the whole Jesus parallelism shebang. I can say at least they didn’t attempt to nail my hands into the wood. That would have been pretty rude, I think.
They’d clearly done their research. Or maybe they knew this already, they were devout Catholics or Protestants or whatever. They said I was the work of evil, the work of Satan, the work of witchcraft. All of which is true, so I guess at least that wasn’t a false accusation. And then they dumped oil on my head, lit a match, and threw it into the brush at my feet.
I swear. They could have started a forest fire.
Anyway, I don’t remember much after that. It fucking hurt, being burned alive. That’s not something you can really forget, but death afterwards is easy. Painless. But like I said, death is nothing. There is no afterlife. Maybe that’s sacrilegious and saying that to anyone who practices religion would be asking for a beating but I’ve been there.
There’s nothing for us on the other side.
But I have the power of Resurgence, and other people and animal aren’t the only things I can bring back to life. My cousins didn’t count on me being able to do it for myself, too. To be honest, I didn't count on it either. It took a while, but I think around sunrise, I woke up to someone who happened to find me in the remote part of the hiking woods I’d been burned in.
His name was Park Jimin.
Jimin dreams of hammering in his skull.
The more he tries to push it away the harder it persists, until he blinks his eyes open and the hammering turns into the persistent knocking of someone at door. Jimin flails, trying to untangle himself from his cocoon of blankets, and succeeds in only tumbling off the bed and onto the floor.
“Who is it?” he shouts blearily, groping for his glasses on the nightstand. He doesn’t actually need them but his face resembles a puffer fish right now. He almost jabs himself in the eye with one of legs as he shoves them on, stumbling to his feet. “Who is it?”
A boy Jimin doesn’t recognize doesn’t stop knocking until he opens the door, fist held aloft in the air until he realizes he’s punching air and looks up from his phone. He smiles briliantly, and Jimin feels blinded.
“You must be Park Jimin!” he says, grabbing Jimin’s sweaty palm and shaking it. “The voodoo master from Incheon, right?”
“I’m Jung Hoseok. Seokjin told me you know quite a lot about magic, so I don’t need to get your toes wet and ease you in slowly or anything. I’m an Underseer!”
Oh. That’s right. Jimin is living in a cheap, homey little family-run hostel, rooming with Kim Seokjin, at the persuasion of his best friend Jin Hyosang. He had walked up to Jimin in Jung Sik Dang, Seokjin still unable to meet his eyes, and said, “We’ve been waiting for you.”
(He was sorely disappointed in the lack of spinny office chairs that he could turn around in, fingers steepled, but Seokjin had just patiently explained that Jung Sik Dang is a Michelin star restaurant and not a corporation with polished cherrywood desks, and that he’s dealing with two practitioners of voodoo. There is no need for spinny office chairs.)
But it’s true. Jimin considers himself blessed. Born to a warlock of a father and a voodoo queen of a mother, he’s been expected since he could walk to know magic back to front, front to back, taught only to conceal it outside of his family.
“Hi,” Jimin says, shaking Hoseok’s hand a little more slowly and pensively. “Can I help you?”
“Sorry, I woke you, didn’t I,” Hoseok asks. “It’s quite early, I know, but Hunchul wanted all of us to meet in the dining area for brunch together, and you were the only one still asleep.”
Jimin gathers his toothbrush and washcloth. “All of us?” he repeats, blinking sleep from his eyes. “Who else is there?”
“There’s me, you, and Seokjin,” Hoseok ticks off on his fingers, “A guy called Yoongi. He’s a dark cloud when you first meet him, but he’s actually a really sweet guy. A little weird at first. You’ll see. Oh, and Namjoon. He’s the Supreme and a complete klutz. In the time I’ve known him he’s broken his phone twice. Lucky for him, he’s also a genius.”
“A Supreme, huh?” Jimin asks. “Damn.” His father, a nomadic warlock, has told him of Supremes, of how the convocations of warlocks and covens of witches that come together to elect superior practitioners of magic to be the leader of their circles. Too often this has led to corruption and greed for power, Jimin knows. That’s when his mother would always sniff and say that voodoo never had this problem. All their women were queens and their men masters.
“There are two more,” Hoseok says when Jimin is bent over the sink with a mouthful of spearminty foam. “They haven’t joined us yet. I have a feeling Hunchul is getting us all together to talk about what we’re going to do about them, actually.”
“Why, do we have to go capture them in bear traps or something?”
“Oh, the government’s done that for us already,” Hoseok says, picking at his nail. “It’s the getting them out of the bear traps that’s the problem right now.”
Hoseok is an easy person to be around. Jimin has decided he likes him by the time they make it downstairs, and Hoseok leads him to a table of other guys who, at present, seem to be talking about something serious, while Seokjin simply looks like he’s trying to keep up in a physics class three levels too difficult.
“Yo,” Hoseok says, dropping into a seat and elbowing a boy with ash blond hair in the ribs. “What’s happening? This is Jimin, by the way.”
He extends his hand. “I’m Namjoon,” he says, and Jimin shakes.
“That’s me. And to answer your question, Hoseok, you didn’t need to jab me—Yoongi is saying here that he Saw something else last night.”
“Again?” Hoseok frowns. “You’re Seeing something every time you go to sleep, aren’t you?”
Yoongi is thin, even a little sickly, and from what Jimin can tell, deprived of sleep. He drags his hand down his face and groans, burying it in his hands so that all Jimin can really see of him is his russet, bedheaded mop of hair.
“I don’t let myself sleep that much or that long,” Yoongi says. “So I’m attacked with information every time I do.”
“What’s he talking about?” Jimin whispers to Seokjin, who shrugs. “Do you not know or do you not understand?”
“The latter,” Seokjin says. “I’m still not a hundred percent sure what a Supreme is.”
Yoongi looks up then, right into Jimin’s face, and his expression darkens even further. For a moment, Jimin has a wild thought that he’s encountered him before, until Yoongi says, “I don’t think we’ve met. Park Jimin, is it? The voodoo master?”
“Yes,” Jimin says. “How—?”
“Min Yoongi, clairvoyant and Seer. Try not to think about food too hard will you, we’re all hungry,” he replies without taking a breath, and Jimin recoils slightly. Hoseok laughs, patting his shoulder.
“You’ll get used to him hearing everything that crosses your mind,” he says. “It takes some time.”
“Yoongi was saying that he Saw two Supremes,” says another one of them. He looks just as exhausted and sallow as Yoongi. “I’m Hunchul, by the way, Jimin. I’m part of the Wixen Council with Donghyuk and Hyosang.”
“Two Supremes, ruling together,” Yoongi repeats. “It’s unheard of. Almost a ridiculous suggestion, in fact. Supreme means the top, the best, the first. There is only space for one person in that position. For the last five years, it’s been uncontested, Namjoon’s space and his space alone.”
“How is work with the two in Busan?” Hyosang asks, and Hunchul grunts.
“They’re powerful. Which is a problem, because they’re locked up in that tiny space together. One of them somehow managed to get himself stuck in solitary confinement. The officers told me that he was misbehaving but I have a feeling his powers are manifesting. Trapped in there with nothing to do? I’m fucking worried I’m not going to get them out on time before something bad happens.”
“Why don’t we help you?” Seokjin asks, speaking up for the first time. “You’re doing this all alone?”
“It’s a better idea not to attract too much attention to them,” Hunchul explains. “They’re already suspicious inmates as it is. One of them is blind and needs the service of a guide dog, but the corrections facilities told me that he doesn’t act completely like someone of the visually impaired should.”
Jimin frowns. “Wait, say that again?”
“It’s a better idea not to attract too much—?”
“No. What did you say about—he doesn’t act like someone of the blind should, or something?”
“Yeah,” Hunchul says. “They were cellmates. Like, Goddamn, as if they weren’t ticking time bombs alone, they just happened to be placed in the same cell.”
“What did you say his name was? The blind one,” Jimin says, voice shaking, and Hoseok looks at him in concern. He lays a tentative hand on Jimin’s bare arm, and then lets it settle when Jimin doesn’t reject his touch.
“I didn’t,” Hunchul says. “Why, do you know him?”
“I—I might have known someone that fits that description.”
Hunchul props his chin in his hand. “Kim Taehyung,” he enunciates. “Ring any bells?”
Jimin feels the world swim beneath him.
“Too many,” he replies. “Oh, my God. How did he end up in prison?”
Hunchul shrugs, but Yoongi looks from him to Jimin.
“It seems like you already know the answer to that question.”
“No use trying to hide it from him,” Namjoon says. “If you have information that could be helpful to us and he overhears it, he’s going to tell us even if you don’t.”
Jimin pouts. “That is an invasion of privacy.”
“I don’t seek it out myself,” Yoongi says, like he’s made this point too many times before. “It is always in the background for me. In my life there’s never been a moment of silence. I don’t know what silence is.”
“Oh,” Jimin says, feeling immediately guilty. “I didn’t know.”
“Tell us what you do know,” Hoseok prompts.
“Uh,” Jimin begins. “Are you guys sure you won’t hurt him?”
“We’re warlocks,” Namjoon says. “Why would we hurt someone that we’ve been trying to protect?”
“It’s just that he’s been,” Jimin says, then shakes his head. “Never mind. Fine, okay. Okay. He’s—he’s a necromancer.”
Hunchul raises his eyebrows and exchanges looks with the council.
“A necromancer? Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” says Jimin. “I know.”
“How do you know?”
Yoongi holds up a hand, interrupting the exchange, and points at Hoseok. “You. Spit it out.”
Hoseok laughs in defeat. “Damn, and I thought I could keep this to myself. I didn’t want to offend anyone.” At this, Yoongi looks murderous.
“Offend anyone? Lives are at stake and you’re worried about offending people?”
“I don’t like it!” Hoseok insists. “And I don’t know as many details as you do. But whoever killed Ikje is going to go for the two Busan kids next, and soon. Kim Taehyung and…?”
“Jeon Jeongguk, that’s his name,” Hunchul says. “Why would this offend anyone?”
Hoseok sighs. “If what I feel is right,” he says. “And it never has been wrong, the people we’re up against are a voodoo clan. A radical, angry, bloodthirsty voodoo clan that think they can do unity better than we can.”
Hunchul laughs humorlessly in the silence that follows.
“What’s he talking about?” Seokjin asks Yoongi, who whispers into his ear.
“They think they can recreate Slaughterhouse Ten, but do it right,” Hoseok explains. “Ten voodoos, against a convocation of five warlocks and two voodoos. Eight and two if we count the council.” He glances at Jimin and Seokjin. “Now you see why Hyosang wanted you guys here?”
“You didn’t think to tell us of this in the restaurant?” Jimin asks incredulously.
“Well, unless you want to go against what has been already ultimately decided for you,” Yoongi says. “Because Hoseok knew from the very beginning that you two would be part of us regardless of what magic you are capable of, and if I’m correct, you both can control all the forces we do. In time, anyway.”
“I mean,” Hoseok says, eyes sad, “if you really wanted to join them, it’s not like any of us can stop you.”
“Are you kidding?” Jimin says. “Why the hell would I join people that are trying to kill my best friend?”
“So you’re agreeing to go against them for us? Blood is thicker than water.”
Jimin shakes his head. “I am a half blood. Half voodoo, half warlock. My parents are nomads and belong to no associations. And you have it wrong, hyung. Blood of the covenant,” he corrects, “is thicker than the water of the womb.”
It is determined that there are only four people who are actually able to both fight in combat and stay inconspicuous on the odyssey to Busan.
“Ten voodoo masters are a force to be reckoned with,” Namjoon says. “They’re going to feel us if they’re in the area, and they’re especially going to pick up on two their kind among us. Be ready to go head to head with them.”
“But I don’t know anything about hand to hand combat,” Seokjin protests in the back of Hunchul’s car. “Seriously, I don’t know anything about transportation or telekinesis.”
“Transmutation,” Jimin says. “And that’s not a problem, hyung! All you need to do is stand in place and stab yourself to incapacitate anyone and anything you want. If you ask me that’s a lot more effective than telekinesis.”
Seokjin casts him a withering look. “Thank you, that is so very reassuring, puppydog.”
Seokjin blushes. “That’s what they called you in the kitchen. It was Nana’s idea, I swear.”
Jimin is speechless for a moment, caught between embarrassment and happiness. Then, “What did you tell the kitchen, anyway?”
“Family emergency,” Seokjin sighs. “Though I don’t know if Gukjoo will let me return to my position after this. I have to start as a busboy from scratch again.”
“We’re getting close, children,” Hunchul says, and Jimin peers out the window. In the far distance is a severe, geometric grey building that juts out from the landscape like a sore thumb. Namjoon looks up from his phone, stowing it away in his pocket. “Namjoon, can you run down the plan with them again?”
“There’s a plan?” Seokjin demands. “And you’re telling us now?”
“Hunchul is not amazing with planning ahead,” Namjoon says, turning around in his seat. “None of the Wixen Council are.”
“I have noticed,” Jimin says.
“With any luck we can get them out without trouble. Without any luck, well,” Hunchul’s hands whiten on the wheel, “it’s showtime.”