“Taehyung,” Hoseok’s voice may be muffled through the door, but his exasperation is clear as day. “If you’re still alive in there—I swear, open this door right now, or I’m going to break it down.”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Taehyung calls, distracted as he transcripts another line. He hears a loud thump anyway, and sighs, whipping his head back to insist. “Hey! I’m fine!”
When the sound turns into a genuine thud Taehyung curses, scrambling to hurry across the room and unlock the door. Hoseok makes a face when he sees him, and Taehyung realizes he probably isn’t looking his best. He can’t remember his last shower, and his hands are stained with ink.
“Have you at least been eating this time?” Hoseok asks pointedly. “Choi’s the third professor to ask me to check in on you. You’ve been skipping classes again.”
“Oh,” Taehyung says slyly, mustering his most innocent smile. “Have I? The time slipped away.”
Hoseok rolls his eyes, stepping in past Taehyung. He glances around, taking in the papers, spellbooks, and general disaster-zone mess spread everywhere. Taehyung’s known for getting lost in projects, and Hoseok asks knowingly, “Okay. So what is it this time?”
“It was actually in Choi’s class that I realized it,” Taehyung says excitedly, tugging at Hoseok’s shirt and leading him to his desk. Hoseok sits indulgently, looking blankly at the mess of notes. “Remember last class, when—”
“Your last class,” Hoseok says, snapping back to attention to say pointedly. “Some of us have actually attended this week.”
Taehyung ignores him. “It was the sigils that did it. You know I’ve been—well, I’ve had a lot of this old thing torn through, but—” Hoseok’s eyes light up in recognition to see Taehyung pull the book forward. His book, the one his mother had slipped to him in secrecy before he’d left home.
Taehyung had had what could be considered a traditional childhood. Average grades, good friends. His parents stood high in the community, which is part of why they’d panicked so badly at Taehyung’s ceremony.
At age sixteen, most witches manifest their dominant element. it’s a lively affair, summonings drawn and peers cheering as circles alight with flames, with mini-twisters, with surges of water or beams of light. Instead, when Taehyung had placed down his hands, there had been no pretty lights or a water show—just a shudder deep in the earth as the grass withered and died.
Suffice to say, it’d been a memorable birthday.
“Your son isn’t a traditional witch,” the headmaster had said. Taehyung remembers sitting in the office and fidgeting uncomfortably, looking everywhere but at his parents.
Headmaster Lee was a water-specialized mage with a preference for ice, and all around the shelves sit intricate, unmelting sculptures. Taehyung had imagined their empty sockets glaring down at him with judgment.
“What nonsense,” his mother had sounded scandalized. “What are you saying?”
“Of course he’s a witch,” Taehyung’s father scoffed. “It was a mistake. Some awful prank. We’ll have the ceremony redone.”
The headmaster shakes his head. “The results will be the same,” he’d said, even as Taehyung’s mother clicked her tongue. Taehyung remembers finding it impressive Lee hasn’t backed down under his parents’ withering glares. His attention had been grabbed when he’d been asked, “Taehyung, how do you feel after practicing magic?”
Both his parents turned to him. Taehyung tried not to shrink.
“Um,” he’d said, thinking, and honestly: “I enjoy it. I like learning, getting better. ...But—”
“But?” Lee’s eyebrow had spiked up, and Taehyung had felt his parents’ gazes scorching into the side of his temple.
Taehyung coughed, and quietly, “M’get a bit tired. After.”
“It’s just his constitution,” Taehyung’s father had said immediately, authoritatively. “He’s got poor lungs.”
“I’m afraid that isn’t the answer,” Lee had said firmly. “Your son feels weaker after using magic because he doesn’t draw energy from nature like we do. Well, he does. After all, life forces are natural. It’s just uncommon.”
“What are you suggesting?” Taehyung’s mother’s tone was sharp, something changed in the lines of her face.
“Your son draws upon his own life force to perform magic. It’s a limited supply, which is why he’s often tired after performing magic.” Lee’s eyes flicked to Taehyung. “Does that sound familiar?”
“Don’t talk to him,” Taehyung’s father had snapped. “You’re saying he’s—that he’s some kind of—”
“A necromancer,” Lee said easily. “Well, what people like to label necromancy, though the discipline is far more nuanced than the public would believe. Basically, Taehyung’s specialty is life itself. The manipulation of life energies, and calling to the Beyond. It’s uncommon, but not unheard of. Perhaps a family history, someone who never officially declared a specialization…?”
“Not at all,” Taehyung’s father sounded choked. But Taehyung had sat quietly, and thought of his mother’s brother. Unspecialized, an outcast in his own family. Taehyung had been warned to stay away from him, but when he’d been seven, he’d sworn his dog had died. His uncle had found him crying, pressed a finger to his lips and a hand to its head, and said our secret as the pup leapt back into Taehyung’s arms to lick away his tears.
“His marks are fine in all of the elements,” Taehyung’s mother said, though it’s lost some of its edge. Taehyung wondered if she’d thought of her brother, too. “He just needs more time to specialize.”
“He has basic control over elements like we all do,” Lee had said patiently, “Because he’s drawing from his own life energy to control them. But it’s not his gift. There is a school to the North,” he addressed Taehyung then, “For those with gifts standard curriculums are unfit to develop. You would have to leave home most of the year, but you would be with others like yourself, and learn how to develop your gift properly. A friend of mine is a professor there. You would be in excellent hands.”
“He’s not going anywhere,” Taehyung’s father exploded. “He’s staying right here, and he’ll specialize when he needs—”
Headmaster Lee gave his own look. It’d been the first time Taehyung had ever seen his father wither.
“One day,” Lee had said matter-of-factly, “Your son may overdraw his own energy trying to perform a more high-level spell. When this happens, he will die.”
Both of Taehyung’s parents sat quiet. Lee continued.
“If he trains with experts, he will learn his limits, and how to expand them,” he’d said, and glances at Taehyung. “He will thrive amongst others like him, learning the magic he is meant for. A very powerful, respectable magic. If he applies for a transfer, I will support it, and send recommendations. He’s almost certainly guaranteed entry.”
“He’ll leave us,” Taehyung’s mother had said, but sounded defeated. Again Taehyung wondered if she’d thought of his uncle, but this time of when they’d found his body, withered and drained from within. “He’ll be away, around any kind of students with this—this thing, and—he’ll leave us.”
“Mom,” Taehyung had said, the first time in that office he’d spoken of his own volition. “I want to go.”
The journey north was two days by train. That’s when Taehyung’s mother had slipped him a package before he boarded, instructing in a whisper to open only when he was alone. Once he had he’d found a sweet letter, a packed lunch, and a heavy-dust covered book he’d come to be familiar with, though its alphabet was unfamiliar, its drawings macabre.
As his studies had progressed Taehyung had confirmed it to be a grimoire, and cracked an awful lot of the code. But the deeper parts of it, older and written in a different alphabet, had remained indecipherable, the more complex pages useless to him.
Until last week, when their Conjuration Professor Choi had referenced an old, alternate form of sigils in a lecture. It’d been mildly interested, but no longer standardized, not really useful aside from archival purposes. But then the longer Taehyung looked they’d started to grow familiar, and Taehyung had realized where he’d seen them before— his grimoire.
Taehyung had scrawled down notes that day more intensely than ever in his academic career, rushed to the library after and locked himself up with an armful of books. He’s been in his dorm since, always one to become obsessed once puzzle pieces begin falling together.
Hoseok’s one of the few who knows about his grimoire. Now he looks at it interestedly as Taehyung picks it up.
“I think I’ve almost got it,” Taehyung summarizes enthusiastically. He pages through the book, showing the various annotations he’s got tacked on here and there. “I’m getting better at reading it cold, too, without needing translations. It’s a little stiff, but understandable. I think I’m ready to start trying some of the spells.”
At that, Hoseok’s beginning interest fades. “Wait, are you sure?” he asks doubtfully, leaning away from the book with renewed wariness. “That sounds… dangerous. You’ve never had any pro look at it, right?”
“Danger is my middle name, sometimes,” Taehyung winks exaggeratedly. “Hey, you don’t have to be here for it. But it’s my grimoire, you know? I want to use it.”
Hoseok frowns. “Your mom really never told you anything about it?”
“I don’t think it was hers,” Taehyung says truthfully. “But it’s probably not too dangerous, right? Here, see—” he picks back up the grimoire, leafing through it. Hoseok peeks over, eyes widening at the intimidating lettering.
“That hurts my eyes just looking at it,” he complains. A tinge of admiration in his voice, “You can read this?”
“Some of it. It gets easier the more I practice it,” Taehyung says proudly. He stops on what’s long been one of his favorite pages, even younger. It’s hypnotic to look at, words beginning at the center point and spiraling outward around each other in the shape of a spiral. Held at a distance it bears resemblance to a more complex rites circle, but even before he began to understand anything about their type of magic, the design somehow always drew him back. There’s a squiggle signed through the center, too, an angry red indented into the page like whoever had written it had pressed down extra hard with an attitude.
Today he presses his finger to the letters, scanning it along the page as he explains. “I try to look at it as like, really messy, older versions of the standard alphabet? Like, see, the strokes start the same, here—guh, ree—no, rim. Grimoire. Uh, buried voice, caught prey… something about bondage?”
“Kinky,” Hoseok says, lip twitching. Taehyung tosses him what he hopes passes for a glare even as he himself tries not to grin. “Doesn’t really rhyme, though.”
“I’m translating it roughly,” Taehyung defends, then sighs. “I don’t know. It gets overwhelming, sometimes. Thinking I could be reading through this old thing for years, and never figure out all of it. Oh, but I know this one, though.” he presses a finger to the red marking, “It’s two characters, pops up all throughout the book. Don’t know what they translate to. Ji… Min.”
Taehyung’s only spoken it aloud once. Muttered to himself as he scrawled notes, book propped up and away from him. Now he realizes he may have made a mistake, as the page below his palm heats. Instinctually he tries to yank his hand back at the stimuli, only to find with panic his hand’s stuck fast to the page.
“Taehyung?” Hoseok asks in alarm, noting the sudden shift in his posture and expression.
“I think—” in a second there’s a sensation of something, almost in the book stirring, and then the temperature burrows up the warmth of Taehyung’s palm and rockets up his arm with a sting. Taehyung yelps, recoiling. This time he’s able to jerk his hand back, stumbling away as the sensation fades. Taehyung stares, a little shaken, rubbing at his skin.
“Are you okay?” Hoseok demands, stepping close but not quite touching. Taehyung breathes, forcing himself to nod. “What even—happened? I told you, you need to be careful!”
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Taehyung assures hurriedly. “It was just—static shock. Hey, don’t worry,” he manages a laugh, spinning around to see Hoseok’s worry. “I’m fine. Nothing happened, see?”
Hoseok frowns, furrow between his brow, but looks relieved to see Taehyung is—well, not a pile of ash on the ground, or a block of salt, or turned inside out. Taehyung had imagined quite a few scenarios in the seconds he’d felt that burn.
“Just—be careful. And come back to classes!” Hoseok instructs.
Taehyung promises, and tidies up before heading out with him to the dining hall. He spares a last glance back at the grimoire before he goes, though, unable to shake the feeling that something had happened.
“As I’m sure most of you are aware, in light of our recent discussions—” Professor Choi’s gaze lingers on Taehyung, who squirms. This is his time attending class in a week. “We are now beginning our unit on basic summons. For some this will be a theoretical study, but for those of you who have met standards, this is the period in your magical development you can begin to work with summoned entities, or even bond with a familiar.”
A few hushed whispers of excitement erupt around the class. Taehyung leans forward, interested.
“Of course, as you are nowhere near the height of your magical career, they will not be very powerful,” he gives an apologetic smile, “But safety is still vital! Too many dorms have been overrun by minor beasts in past years. Today we’ll go over the first circle…”
Taehyung takes notes—not quite dutifully, because once the first circle is drawn, something itches at his memory. It’s a few minutes before he recalls a similar section in his grimoire, tugging it out of his bag and flipping through quickly. The section is similar to what’s on the board, but Taehyung’s fascinated to see scribbles over the text. An ingredient change here and there, a mention of the seasons.
It’d be easier to read, Taehyung thinks, if students around him weren’t giggling. Finally he chances a look up, an irritated glance—and sees his partners around him at the table aren’t even smiling, heads buried in their own books.
Now that he’s noticed it, the giggling’s even more distinct. A sneaking suspicion comes over Taehyung, and experimentally he touches the grimoire—and the sound is louder, almost a disembodied voice when he comes into direct contact with it. Swallowing, Taehyung picks up his quill, and hesitantly copies a line of ingredients onto the page.
Fear washes cold over him when marks appear on the page unbidden. Taehyung watches, breath caught, as his notes are modified. Snapdragon’s crossed out, and a neat scrawl of the original ingredient appears beside it, as though written by a phantom hand: hollyhock—faster reaction time.
Taehyung slams the grimoire shut.
“Do some people—hear, their familiars? Before summoning?”
In hindsight, the question could have been phrased a little more intellectually. But Taehyung hadn’t spent the end of the class planning; he’d just panicked, slowly packing everything away, barely touching his grimoire and steeling himself to confront Professor Choi when the class dismissed.
Thanatos is a school of acceptance. It’s built by and for those with abilities outside standard elemental influences, for working with energy and life and everything in between. Still, Taehyung can tell instantly the question is odd. Professor Choi is quiet, blinking a moment.
“No,” he says, finally. Taehyung’s shoulders slump. “Whether you're binding a creature from Beyond or forming your own, there's nothing like that until contact has been established by either party."
“Okay,” Taehyung says, defeated. Then— "What would contact look like?”
"You don't need to worry about that for a few more classes," Choi waves a hand. "A novice like you would never stand out, not here amongst so many other students. Besides, the school's barriers are protected."
"Cool. Thanks," Taehyung sighs, turning.
“Taehyung,” Professor Choi calls before he can leave, tilting his head. “The only possible link would be a possessed item. If you’re worried about anything, any of the staff would be happy to check up on an item for you, myself included. Especially if you may have a… questionable magical item.”
Taehyung thinks, and comes close to admittance. But something in him twists seeing Choi’s gaze, palm burning when he thinks about handing over the grimoire.
“Just a theoretical question,” Taehyung lies.
Later, in the library, he pores over books on the subject.
“It’s the same type of circle,” Taehyung mumbles aloud to himself. He’s got a bad habit of narrating his notes, but thankfully the library is literally endless, and has a curious way of redirecting people away from each other. It’s also handily enchanted to draw the seeker to the knowledge they need, provided they keep their questions in mind and walk with confidence.
What he’s found is that the ritual in his grimoire isn’t anything new. It’s more of an overhaul, and each of the ingredients and alterations have clear purposes in their placement. Taehyung frowns at the scribbles he’s made with a headache. It all works in theory, but he can’t find any exact documented replica.
He looks crossly at the grimoire. He’d dumped it onto the table. Still a little afraid of touching it. Biting his lip, he reaches, pressing a finger along the spine.
“What are you trying to tell me?”
He isn’t expecting an answer, so he jumps when the voice is clear in his mind.
stop studying so much and get to it.
Taehyung freezes. He glances around before whispering, feeling apprehensive.
“I—won’t start a circle without realizing what I’m summoning,” he shoots back. “I don’t think so.”
There’s a silence, and Taehyung feels sillier by the second. But then—
c’mon, the voice comes. i’ll play nice.
Taehyung chokes, gripping his fist. He’s really—talking to himself, or some demonic entity. Even worse, he’s responding.
“You’ll have to play nice when I get you exorcised,” he tries to sound confident. “What are you?”
There’s a longer silence, somehow more tense. What fires back is an indignant, fast-paced reply, spit so quick it manages to come across as a yell even as just an impression in his mind, so loud Taehyung nearly covers his ears.
what do you mean, what am i? the audacity of this generation. you pick up MY book, you wake ME up, just to leave me like this? am i supposed to sit in here and watch you struggle through wizarding 101 for the rest of your pitiful existence? i haven’t done anything to deserve this, seojoon!
“Seojoon?” Taehyung perks up, shoulders untensing. He’d actually flinched down like he were really being yelled at, but he reasons if— whatever is possessing his book were able to harm him, it’d have done it by now. This is the first thing he recognizes. “You knew my uncle?”
so you’re his nephew, the voice muses. past tense, huh? how’d he go?
Taehyung winces, looking down at his hands. “He… overdrew his life force on a spell. We found him drained.”
It’s a heavy confession. Yet even so, and despite the fact it’s a disembodied voice, Taehyung almost thinks he hears something like a snort.
“Hey,” Taehyung hisses, scandalized.
he was never good at gauging his abilities. he should’ve asked me to help.
“That’s not very nice,” Taehyung mutters.
well, he wasn’t very nice to me.
“Well—” Taehyung bites his lip, willing himself to focus. He still doesn’t know anything about who, or what he’s talking to, and he’s about to fight with it over an uncle he barely knew. His life really never has been normal since that first circle at sixteen, but briefly he reflects on how much odder it has gotten lately.
this really isn’t the most conducive way to have a conversation, you know. why don’t you get to summoning me, and we can debate your uncle’s merits properly? i’ll be glad to draw you up a diagram when i have hands again.
“Why should I trust you?” Taehyung says, scanning over his notes again. It should work, should, but it’s not wise to deal with anything but absolutes when it comes to manifestations.
Especially not snarky ones that come swinging for the family reunion.
why not? the voice sounds offended again.
“For one,” Taehyung asserts. “You’re a talking book. Oh, god,” he realizes aloud, “I’m talking to my book.”
YOUR book? has anyone ever told you how rude you are? what have i done to you?
“Nothing yet,” Taehyung admits, but can’t resist emphasizing, “Yet. You don’t have hands, remember?”
first you leave me trapped in here, then you rub it in my face. that’s just cruel, seojoon’s nephew.
“You don’t really have a face either,” Taehyung murmurs before he can stop himself.
oh, hilarious. i see i’ve gotten stuck with a comedian this time around.
“This time around?” Taehyung inquires. “Wait. So you—you’re really inside my book?”
what gave it away, genius?
“There’s really no need to have an attitude,” Taehyung frowns.
i have every right to an attitude. you started the process to summon me, then left me stuck in here, and for what? to question me?
Taehyung opens his mouth to reply, but nearly jumps out of his skin when a librarian rounds the corner, casually calling “Make sure to beat curfew,” and giving him a puzzled glance at his startled expression.
you think i like sitting through school? you think i even like being summoned in the first place? do you know what it's like to leave the process half-spun like this? what it's like to be stuck in a book? if you’re not going to use me, at least put me back to sleep!
“Keep it down,” Taehyung mutters. He raises his hands apologetically when the librarian’s jaw drops in indignation, and shoves the book back inside his bag before fleeing.
“It was hollyhock, right?” Taehyung ponders to himself as he sorts the ingredients, sparing a glance at the open grimoire.
He’s got a rather nice setup in his room, if he’s honest with himself. There’s space cleared for a circle, and though ingredients are strewed about it’s in a discernible order.
It’d taken a week to get everything ready, and some tricky check-out forms for ingredients, but it’s about to pay off. Taehyung’s followed the grimoire notes exactly, but what his pet voice—as he’s taken to dubbing it in his mind—doesn’t know is the layer of protection spells he’s set around everything.
The grimoire claims to be assisting him. Taehyung’s prepared to face the book’s mysterious spirit himself.
ditch the betony, too, it instructs. that’s for cowards.
“Okay, okay,” Taehyung stretches, rubbing his hands before rolling the powder between them. It soon solidifies into a solid stick of chalk, just as the book had said. The voice has been too eager to cooperate, giving him page numbers and clearer translations of certain sigils.
Taehyung stands, and draws—follows the book’s given figure dutifully, aided by the practice ones he’s been sketching. When it’s complete and checked over for any gaps, he delicately places the components at the corners.
Taehyung swallows, and closes his eyes to gather himself before focusing. He goes over the incantation once more in his head to be certain, then stirs his magic within him and awakes it, enunciating clearly and with loud intent.
There’s a decent loss when it’s complete, a medium drain of energy. Taehyung half-staggers, but recovers fast. Before him the circle’s leapt to life, lines going opalescent and offering up a light of their own.
A light runs through them, dancing around and sucking down the offerings as it goes, before reconnecting in the center. It grows too bright, and Taehyung covers his eyes and looks away at its flash!, half-knocked back by what’s like a gush of wind.
When it fades, Taehyung looks back. And his jaw drops.
There’s no way to have been certain about what the spell would manifest. His favorite scenarios to picture have been a bright form made of energy, or perhaps something clearly demonic in nature.
What he doesn’t expect to see is a boy, sat neatly inside the circle in place of the offerings.
A very beautiful boy, Taehyung can’t help but notice as he gapes. His clothes are a tad old-fashioned, and his black hair a bit disheveled. But his expression’s positively radiant, beaming down at his newly-formed body before looking up to Taehyung.
That’s when Taehyung comes to his senses, because when the boy makes eye contact, Taehyung can see slits for pupils. Unminding of Taehyung’s hesitance, he gives a wicked grin, pushing himself up and pressing forward with light dancing down his arm—
and bounces back off an invisible barrier, dropping comically. Taehyung can’t help but have a smile twitch, glancing down at the protective spells he’d drawn.
“Damn it,” the boy says mildly. He glares up at Taehyung. “I was hoping you wouldn’t be smart.”
“Hey, I go to some classes,” Taehyung says with a shrug. “But you’ve got hands now. So let’s talk!”
Indignance flashes in the boy’s eyes, and he presses forward again, palm alight. Taehyung stiffens a little, but relaxes when the defenses hold, and the boy drops back, groaning.
“Fine,” he says, jaw setting. “You win, witch. For now.”
“First off, you can call me Taehyung,” Taehyung says. He takes a seat, neatly crossing his legs below him—safely outside the circle. The previously-potentially-demonic-voice-in-his-book and now potentially-demonic-being-in-his-dorm looks irritated, but complies.
“Jimin, at your service,” he says sarcastically. “Quite literally. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m tied to my book, which you are the current owner of. Lucky me.”
Taehyung’s eyes dart to the grimoire. “Your book?” he prompts, though the being— Jimin— had said so before.
“You doubt me?” Jimin raises an eyebrow, then puffs himself up proudly. “A living grimoire, capable of adapting and expanding its text as it’s passed down. Never runs out of pages, easily amended over decades. And I’m the one who wrote it! Has it been helping you? Don’t answer that. Of course it has. I’m a genius.”
“Sooo,” Taehyung elects to ignore the brag, “Why have you been, uh. Living in it?”
It looks like a touchy subject. Jimin’s eye twitches.
“It’s free real estate,” he manages smoothly, and leans forward. “Say, Taehyung, was it? How about you let me out of this circle now, hm? We can talk properly. I mean, this is a little awkward. I don’t feel very welcome.”
Taehyung folds his arms across his chest and stares, raising an eyebrow. Jimin doesn’t look, or even feel, quite like a demon. But he’s tried to attack Taehyung twice from inside the circle, and besides—not letting any summon out of its runes until it’s entered into an agreement or rendered harmless is drilled into any witch’s head.
Jimin sees his refusal and sighs. “Okay, so you’re cautious. I can work with that,” he purses his lips, leaning back on his hands. “What do you want, huh? Riches? Power? The familiar you thought you were summoning? A hot date? I can manage it. Probably.”
“I want to know about you, obviously,” Taehyung returns. “Who are you? What are you? Why are you in my—sorry,” he amends hastily, seeing Jimin open his mouth defiantly. “Your book? How have you been contacting me?”
Jimin taps a finger to his chin for a second.
“I’m Jimin,” he repeats. “I’m a Libra, thanks for asking. As for my book, well—long story short? If you stash your soul in your grimoire to become immortal, don’t wager said grimoire on a drinking game.” He shrugs, sitting up. “Not my proudest moment. I think it was Seojoon’s… great-great? Grandfather, who wagered for my book, and bound it to him. And me along with it.” Jimin gives a little-half bow, saying mockingly, “So here I am. In my grimoire, passed down to you, the latest member of the Kim family to inherit me.”
“Wait, why would someone…” Taehyung uncrosses his arms and furrows his brow, taken aback by the story. It’s all hard to process, but one part sticks out to him. “Try to do that? Try to win you?”
Jimin looks amused. “Because—well, you'll learn eventually. But summoning? Hard work to convince, or force, powerful entities to work with you. Harder still to contract one as a familiar. Following me?”
“Yes…” Taehyung says slowly.
“And even then, it’s just a, let’s say, law you can only borrow as much of their magic as is in your own pool. Creating a familiar? They've got as much magic as you do. But binding a witch to your service? Now that's just basic economics,” he shrugs, and gestures at himself, “I’ve got my own source of magic, no limits on channeling me to avoid draining your own. Powerful and always ready for a drink to cope with my depressing reality.”
“So…” Taehyung says slowly, “You’re trapped in a grimoire… and have to serve whoever owns it.”
“I mean, it’s a little more complicated than that,” Jimin shrugs. “They have to convince me, or be able to force me. But in essence, you’re correct.”
“That sounds…” Taehyung runs his eyes over Jimin.
“Immoral,” Taehyung objects, horrified. “Illegal.”
“Immoral? Oh, that’s cute. You’re a lot nicer than your great-great… great? Grandfather,” Jimin laughs. “Of course it’s illegal. But it happened. Still does, I’m sure. I pretty much walked into it, honestly, binding myself to my grimoire. Practically asked to be snatched up. Anyway,” Jimin emphasizes, stretching. “It’s clear you have no idea what you did, but you activated my seal, like every generation of your family has before you. So what do you say we get bargaining?”
“How—how can you speak so calmly about this? It sounds awful,” Taehyung insists. Jimin just looks at him.
“I’m used to it,” Jimin shrugs. “I mean, I kinda hoped you weren’t smart enough to set up defenses. But even if I killed you for fun, I’d just be locked away again until someone realized what my book was. Since we’re here now.” he leans forward, eyebrow raised. The slit pupils are still hard to focus on. “What will you do with me, Kim Taehyung? Will you contract with me, like your predecessors? Or will you seal me away again? Personally, I’m willing to bargain this time around. It’s been long enough that I’m ready to see the world again. Even if it is just to watch you do homework. Go ahead and scuff out the circle.”
It’s a convincing story. But old lessons die hard, and Jimin’s fangs and attitude certainly don’t help his case. Taehyung bites his lip, and asks, “What’s your catch?”
“What do you mean?” Jimin looks a little annoyed. “You, me. Witch, familiar? Tale almost as old as time?”
“You said bargaining. There has to be a catch,” Taehyung considers. “Your terms, or whatever. I’ll hear them.”
“Questioning me again?” Jimin flares. “Might I remind you’re the one who summoned me.”
“Exactly, I only summoned you,” Taehyung points out. “You said it yourself. You’re bound to your book, not me. There’s nothing in the spell to hold you.”
“You think you can be certain of that, novice?” Jimin challenges.
Taehyung feels a flicker of doubt, but knows his theory. He holds Jimin’s gaze evenly.
They hold eyes for another moment, before Jimin breaks it. “You are smart,” he mutters. “Well, like I said, I suppose killing you does nothing for me. I mean, it’d be satisfying for a little bit, but I’m ready for some real fun.” Acquiescing, he tilts his head. “Okay, Taehyung. I do have terms, if you’ll hear them. If you agree, we can be the best of partners.”
“And if not?” Taehyung asks.
Jimin shrugs. “You’re not powerful enough to submit me to your will,” he tosses him a grin. “You don’t agree to my terms, go ahead and shut the grimoire. You can try me again in a few years.”
Taehyung hesitates a second before nodding to continue. Jimin smiles, raising a finger.
“First,” he says, “No direct orders. Unfortunately,” he grumbles, “as your familiar, I have to obey you. I can resist, but it’s painful. It’s not up for debate when I’m bonded to you, and I’m sure they’ll slip out, but consider how shit it is to snap to whatever you say like a good servant. Try to hold them back.”
“Wait, really?” Taehyung’s eyes widen. “Everything?”
“We don’t worry about that,” Jimin says smoothly, eyes lidding and voice dropping low, “Because you won’t be giving me any direct orders, Taehyung. Isn’t that right?”
Taehyung thinks about it from Jimin’s perspective, and makes up his mind quickly.
“That’s fair,” he agrees, and something stirring in him, he manages to stumble out a promise, “I don’t—want to, anyway, Jimin. Not just because it’s your terms, I’m—not like that. I won’t order you on purpose.”
Jimin blinks at him, and looks mollified. “Well,” he waves his finger, “That’s good to hear. My second term—I want to be able to break our contract.”
Taehyung decides to pry. “Normally…?”
“It’s up to the witch to let their summon go,” Jimin says. “Normally, if I want to leave your service, I need your agreement. Seojoon locked me away for years without ever ending it. Of course, he ended up draining himself, so I ultimately win, but…” Jimin perks briefly, but sobers again. “I want to be able to cut off our contract if I like. Even if it’s just to go back and pout in my book for a few decades. If we don’t get along, if you force me to do anything I don’t want…” and Taehyung thinks he would never, but he can tell from Jimin’s expression he’s thinking of something, and stays quiet. “I want to be able to break our contract.”
It’s another fair request. Taehyung’s starting to—feel something, really. He may not be keen on judgment, but Jimin’s existence sounds pretty damn depressing. He nods to the term, not speaking.
“Good,” Jimin sounds pleased. “If you had disagreed… I wouldn’t sign with you.”
“You’d be able to choose that?” Taehyung asks, feeling a little better.
“Sure,” Jimin uncrosses his legs, tucking his knees to his chest. “As you so rightly clarified, you’ve summoned me, but we haven’t completed any sort of contract or bond yet. Of course,” Jimin tilts his head, smile wry, “You could always force me to work for you, but as I said, you’re not strong enough to subjugate me on your own. No offense. You need me to sign with you willingly. Hence my terms.”
“No, no,” Taehyung shakes his head before Jimin’s even finished speaking. “I… don’t know how it’s been for you before, Jimin, but I wouldn’t want you to be anything but willing. These terms, they’re things I’d want, too. Things I take for granted! And you...”
When Taehyung looks up, Jimin almost looks taken aback. The look’s gone quickly, masked again by his grin.
“Don’t worry about me. That’s how it is, you know, when you get summoned to this bitch of an earth,” his voice turns a little dry. “I mean, don’t think too hard about it. Lots of witches manifest their own, yeah? From their own magic. So it’s just natural, coming from each others’ mind, being close, agreeing with things…” Jimin rests his chin in his hand, lips pouting a little. “I’m pickier because, lucky for me, I was a witch, once. I’m my own, sentient being that made a pretty dumb set of mistakes. More powerful, but… my own person.” He spreads his arms, “So here I am! Forever aiding whoever claims ownership of my book.”
“I’m sorry,” is what Taehyung responds. It’s all he can think to say, flooded with empathy.
Briefly that look’s back on Jimin’s face, a little slower to be hidden this time. Confusion. Taehyung wonders if the concept of his rights has ever occurred to another witch.
“I said not to worry about it,” Jimin says finally. “Live and learn, hm? Don’t go wagering your soul, or objects that contain your soul. There are some pretty awful witches out there,” Jimin claps his hands, “Luckily, you seem to be okay. Even if your circle drawing is abysmal.”
“Wh—I did my best,” Taehyung defends. Jimin makes a face before laughing, but Taehyung sighs. “Can I ask you something?”
Jimin blinks at him.
“Do you—want this?” Taehyung blurts out. “Even with your terms. I can live without a familiar, I don’t… want this, if you don’t. I don’t care about extra power. Not if you don’t want to contract with me.” Taehyung shakes his head.
When he looks up, Jimin is stiff. Carefully, he says, “No one’s ever asked me that.”
Another pang goes through Taehyung. “They should have,” he says. “I’m—sorry for what my family’s done to you. I couldn’t live with myself, forcing you—or anyone, into something. Especially not what you’ve described.”
Jimin looks down, brow furrowed. “You’re—not like a lot of witches, are you?” he says, more to himself than Taehyung. Before Taehyung can respond, he lifts his head, eyes the most genuine Taehyung has seen them. “Look, you didn’t know what you were doing when you activated my seal. You weren’t looking to subjugate anything. You’ve given me the freedom to break the contract, and asked if I wanted this,” for the first time his smile holds no sarcasm. “That’s already more than any witch has ever given me.”
“They were assholes,” Taehyung mutters. “Uh, may they rest in peace, and all. But I won’t be a witch like that.”
“You’re so weird,” Jimin chuckles. “For a human. I think I’ll like you. Yes, I’m fine with this. Let’s contract, Taehyung,” he offers. He opens his hand, and to the side the grimoire flips to a blank page; Taehyung watches the terms scroll across it, and reads them over before signing. Jimin’s signature appears below, the same red scribble Taehyung had seen so often throughout the book. Jimin stands, stretching, “I promise you, you wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if I didn’t want it. I’m ready to see the world for a bit. Even if I’ve got to repeat school with you.”
“I’ll remember that,” Taehyung promises. A kind of emotion swells in him—he’s got no way of knowing what it is, if maybe every witch feels the same forging a connection with a familiar. But after hearing everything he’s determined to earn Jimin’s respect, to make him want to keep the contract, to continue being the best witch Jimin’s met, glow in his stomach starting again to recall the words. “Ready?”
“Ready,” Jimin agrees. “C’mon, step inside.” Taehyung glances at him a little suspiciously, and Jimin rolls his eyes. “No tricks, we need to touch. Trust me, even if I could hurt you after signing, it wouldn’t do any good to kill you and be stuck sitting in here.”
“You could possess me,” Taehyung considers.
“I’m not a ghost. And even if I could, what would I do? Sit stuck in here but in your body? Sounds like a blast.” Jimin shakes his head. “Have some respect for your familiar.”
“Not my familiar yet,” Taehyung teases, but steadies himself before carefully stepping in, one foot and then the other.
“A-ha,” Jimin says, deepening his voice, “You’ve fallen into my trap, mortal.”
Taehyung squints at him, preparing to go into a defensive stance with his palms raised.
“Kidding!” Jimin insists. “Now. Where would you like our mark?”
“I forgot you skip class,” Jimin sighs. “The mark of our bond. It’ll be on us both, so try to be mindful of my angles.”
Taehyung thinks, looking down at himself. He doesn’t want it impossible to see, but able to be hidden. Finally he settles on his collarbone, tugging aside his shirt collar. Jimin nods approvingly, then closes his eyes a second. Taehyung feels the stir of magic around them, and shivers.
Jimin’s magic—it feels different. It’s different from anyone’s he’s felt, amongst peers and professors alike. There’s the peculiar tinge to it of a familiar’s magic, but it feels vast enough to have Taehyung’s heart skip a beat, his own magic shying away. He understands now what Jimin had meant when he’d said Taehyung could not have forced him.
“I’ll claim you now,” Jimin says. If he notices Taehyung’s awe, he does not comment. Instead, he presses two fingers to his lips in almost a kiss, then reaches out.
Taehyung’s breath catches a little. “Will it hurt?”
“You’re so cute,” Jimin murmurs. “You’ll barely notice it.”
Taehyung notices it. But it’s not painful; Jimin’s fingers just lightly brush his skin. There’s almost a sparking sensation, like a static shock, but it settles quickly, and then almost to a pleasant warmth before fading, not unlike when Taehyung had activated Jimin’s seal. It lasts only a few seconds, and when Taehyung looks there’s a new shape against his skin. A golden outline like ink, and he recognizes the symbol from the book.
“Min,” he reads aloud.
“That’s my name, don’t wear it out,” Jimin says cheerfully. “Now seal the deal, darling. As I did.”
Taehyung feels a little awkward, unsure of his movements. But he mirrors Jimin, pressing two fingers to his lips and pressing them to Jimin’s collarbone. Under his fingers the magic etches a symbol like Taehyung’s, fading gold. It takes a moment to read, but Taehyung recognizes the sigil to spell Te.
As it forms, the grimoire glows, and something new surges through him—again like when he’d claimed the book, but this time instead of being shocked back, Taehyung feels the expanse of power. Feels Jimin’s magic , and Taehyung’s eyes widen, looking to the seal on Jimin’s collarbone and reaching tentatively for the energy pool. It welcomes him.
It’s surreal. Taehyung can’t help but smile giddily.
“You’re… wow.” Taehyung breathes.
“Yes, I know, I’m amazing. Take your time,” Jimin says patiently. “But be careful.”
Dizzily, Taehyung wonders what could be accomplished with the latent power Jimin’s carrying. By now he’s already concluded Jimin was a powerful witch in his life, a master of the theory he whispered to Taehyung, having bound his soul to his book for immortality—and now realizes, too, that Jimin’s just been growing stronger year by year, since Taehyung’s ancestor locked him away.
But it’s one thing to know this factually, and another thing to feel it. He understands what Jimin means with the warning. One touch, and Taehyung’s certain that trying to channel Jimin’s power without his guidance could actually kill him, and that’s when it hits him fully.
He’s just bonded to a familiar. One that, in theory, is more powerful than any other summon could be.
“I look forward to working with you, Kim Taehyung,” Jimin offers a dip of his head, smile sly as though he’s guessed Taehyung’s train of thought. He probably has. “Now can we please get out of this circle? I haven’t eaten in eleven years.”
For being a terrifyingly powerful magical entity with every right to hate Taehyung’s family, life with Jimin gets normal alarmingly fast.
His marks have raised, certainly. Jimin’s got an attitude, but he’s usually happy to help when it comes to magic, especially if Taehyung praises his talents. His knowledge pool seems to have no ends, which Taehyung guesses is a byproduct of living multiple lifetimes, but annoyingly enough Jimin’s a stickler when it comes to Taehyung doing things himself.
It’s what’s happening now, Taehyung up hours too late, struggling with a wand-creation assignment. Granted, he’d had a week to finish, but he’s never been the best with time allocation.
“You needed to braid the unicorn hair core,” Jimin comments, leaning over Taehyung’s shoulder. after the wand Taehyung had been carving had caught fire. Taehyung coughs and looks up at him reproachfully, hands dark with soot.
“You couldn’t have told me that before I set my homework project on fire?”
“You didn’t ask, my dear witch,” Jimin says innocently, flopping onto Taehyung’s bed. “Figured I’d let you have a go at it.”
“This is my third try,” Taehyung pouts, spinning to look at him. “Jimin, please.”
“Familiar hours closed,” Jimin says, eyes closed. “You should get to sleep. You’ve got early classes tomorrow.”
“Yeah, with this wand due!” Taehyung pleads, poking the remnant of the now-singed branch into Jimin’s leg. “Jimin, please. You know it’ll take you, like, one minute."
“One minute I’ll never get back,” Jimin snorts, rolling over. “And where will you be next week, when you’ve got to weave heartstring and still haven’t mastered a simple unicorn hair? Wands may be outdated, but they’ve got some uses, Taehyung.”
“I’ve been trying for an hour,” Taehyung groans, slumping back in his chair. “Since when did you turn into such a—professor?” There’s no answer, and Taehyung cracks open an eye. Jimin’s gone, the cover of the grimoire glowing softly across the room.
Taehyung sighs. They’ve fallen easily into a rapport, and Jimin does give him helpful pointers and advice. But they’re still figuring out where to draw lines, if any will be drawn at all.
There’s only been a couple times, and all accidental, that Taehyung’s given Jimin a direct order. Jimin’s body had twitched, and he’d asked pointedly with a raised eyebrow if it was truly an order. Taehyung has always retracted it, but noticed with a warm heart Jimin usually ends up doing as he asks, anyway. He grabs ingredients, he helps translate text, he’ll explain theory. The only limit, of all things, is directly doing Taehyung’s work for him.
With another sigh, Taehyung turns back to his desk and resigns himself, flipping open his notes to read over again for another attempt.
It takes another hour, and it’s not his finest work, but finally, there’s a twisted bit of engraved branch in his hands. He’s able to make his notes float with it, and decides it’s good enough for a demonstration, tugging them toward himself to write up a report for turning in.
Somewhere halfway down the page, his eyes fall shut. Taehyung’s alarm wakes him up a prompt four hours later, and he sits straight up, bleary eyed and startled. Once shut off, his settings take a second to register. When they do, he has another reminder of how he and Jimin are getting along.
Jimin may be authoritarian with Taehyung’s education, but Taehyung has noticed he’s got a soft side, one Taehyung wonders if any other witch has seen. He gets shy if Taehyung points it out, indignant, even; but there’s a blanket draped over Taehyung, and the report he’d dozed off halfway through is neatly finished, similar enough handwriting continuing past the ink smudge Taehyung had dropped off at. There’s a mug of hot chocolate sitting before him, too, and Taehyung smiles to himself, picking it up and heading out of the room.
“Good morning,” Jimin hums without turning around. Taehyung glances around the dorm kitchen, but knows his fears are unfounded; Jimin would likely sense anyone coming before Taehyung did, and besides, no one on their floor takes a first class as late as Taehyung does. He prefers to start and finish later.
“Morning,” Taehyung replies absently, snuggling the mug closer to himself and taking a sip. Jimin’s got some setup with their grimoire out, a pot bubbling on the stove and a floating quill scratching notes. From his place in the doorway, Taehyung can see the liquid’s a deep magenta. Taehyung’s long guessed he’d been studious in life, a prodigy, even; he’s got a master’s understanding of subjects, and often goes through Taehyung’s notes and corrects instructions given by professors.
It’s valuable, certainly, and Taehyung always thinks with a pang how valuable it must have made Jimin as a familiar, too. He cares more about how they get along, and never pries when Jimin takes up projects, but it feels awful to think about.
“Whatcha working on?” Taehyung asks to distract from the train of thought.
“Stuff. You won’t understand until a few more years of Alchemy,” Jimin replies, grinning to see Taehyung’s grimace. “Get going. You’re going to be late.”
“I will,” Taehyung yawns, stretching. “S’just Divination.”
“In that case, skip. Shit’s worthless.”
“You’re an amazing influence,” Taehyung laughs, then straightens up. “By the way. Um. Thank you for helping me. Finishing the report. I don’t know what happened.”
“You fell asleep,” Jimin replies matter-of-factly, raising an eyebrow. “Probably should start your projects earlier than the night before they’re due.”
“Well, I know that,” Taehyung sighs, “I meant—thank you for the help.”
“Yet you never learn,” Jimin replies, glancing back to the brew. He doesn’t acknowledge the thanks, but Taehyung can see him smile slightly; it’s another thing that hurts, wondering how Jimin has been treated by past witches. He never seems to know how to respond when Taehyung’s grateful, of all things, but it doesn’t stop Taehyung from praising him where it’s due.
“Hey, since I have time, though—” Taehyung gulps down the rest of the cocoa, “I’ve been meaning to ask you something.” Jimin nods, focusing his attention back to Taehyung. “I always think about you, when I’m going to classes—”
“Sweet of you,” Jimin interrupts. Taehyung makes a face at him.
“I’m just saying,” Taehyung continues. “I feel bad. Are you bored here?”
Jimin laughs at something to himself, and washes his hands, turning fully to face Taehyung. He leans on the counter, resting his chin in his hands.
“Oh, Taehyung,” he teases. “Watching you go to class is the highlight of my day.”
“I just mean—” Taehyung grumbles when Jimin laughs. “What do you do? While I’m gone.”
“Hm,” Jimin considers slowly. Taehyung watches his eyes flick sideways, like he’s recalling something, and realizes.
“Oh, god,” Taehyung covers his face. “Do I even want to know?”
“Don’t look so panicked, I haven’t done anything too bad,” It’s Jimin’s turn to roll his eyes. “I’ve been exploring the academy, actually. It’s been a while, after all.”
“Wait, you’ve gone out?” Taehyung asks, brow furrowing. There’s strict rules about visitors to their closed academy, and strangers usually stick out, are the gossip of the halls. He hasn’t heard or seen anything. “Has anyone, like… questioned you? Talked to you?”
Jimin looks amused. His smile twitches.
“In a way.”
“Okay, what am I missing?” Jimin smirks at Taehyung’s tone. “Don’t make that face at me! I’m seriously worried. You never mean anything good when you smile like that.”
“Tell you what,” Jimin cuts across. “You get to class, and I’ll meet up with you before Conjuration. Deal?”
“What do you mean?” Taehyung frowns at him. “You can’t just… show up. You don’t even have a uniform. Someone’s going to report you!”
“Don’t worry about it,” Jimin scolds, “Now hurry up. You’re going to miss Divining, or whatever.”
“Divination,” Taehyung sighs, Jimin’s attention already turned back to his book.
By the end of his second class and barely-successful wand demonstration, Taehyung’s already forgotten the ominous discussion with Jimin. He’s walking to Conjuration when his mark tingles, and he gets the distinct feeling of eyes upon him. Raising a hand to his collarbone, he stops mid-stride to look around, glasses slipping down his nose.
you’re looking the wrong way.
“Jimin?” Taehyung mumbles incredulously, glancing around. There’s only a few people in this hall, and he doesn’t spy Jimin anywhere, nor anyone suspicious. It’s pretty much the same faces he sees every day.
taehyung, as sensitive as i can be about my height, you’ve got to look down.
Unnerved, Taehyung sweeps the halls again, this time with his line of vision lowered. His search stops when he does a double-take, because padding serenely toward him, with an all-too-knowing look in its eyes, is a cat.
“Jimin?” Taehyung whispers disbelievingly. “Oh, no.”
oh, yes, Taehyung hears in his head. He groans, but squats down. Endearingly, the calico strolls right to him, and presses its nose to Taehyung’s. Taehyung pouts at the cat—no, Jimin— and scoops him into his arms.
“So this is how you’ve been wandering around, huh?” Taehyung murmurs.
don’t look so surprised, Jimin says, squirming in his grip and clawing his way up Taehyung’s arm to sit on his shoulder. do you have any idea how fun it is to be a cat?
“Uh,” Taehyung shrugs his bag up, taking a cautious step. Somehow Jimin balances perfectly, and Taehyung resumes walking to class. “Can’t say I do.”
hm, Jimin sounds aloof. your loss.
It’s still early when Taehyung arrives, the lecture hall sparsely seated. Taehyung’s startled, though, when halfway to his desk Jimin leaps off his shoulder, darting up the stairs—and right into the arms of an elated Jeongguk, who laughs and coos at the cat now in his lap.
Jeongguk’s slotted into quite a few classes with Taehyung, and has one of the beds in his dorm. He’s a good friend, but Taehyung can’t help blinking hard as he drops his back into the seat beside him.
“Oh, Taehyung. You didn’t tell me you summoned a familiar!” Jeongguk says, scratching behind Jimin’s ears. It’s an odd sight, knowing who Jimin is, and Taehyung levels an accusing glance at him while Jeongguk turns to rummage in his bag. Jimin flattens his ears at him before resuming a purr when Jeongguk sits back up with treats in hand, Taehyung watching disbelievingly.
“I haven’t told anyone, really. I’ve just been, uh, stressed, with exams,” Taehyung says dumbly. “You’ve… met?”
“I’ve been seeing him around campus,” Jeongguk says, and Jimin tosses Taehyung a look that somehow manages to be smug even with a feline face. “He’s sweet.”
“Um, thank... you,” Taehyung says, settling into his seat. Jimin bumps his head against Jeongguk’s once more before settling into his lap. It’s still odd, but seeing Jeongguk so delighted warms his heart, even now that he realizes Jimin is running a con game on campus, and one of his friends is the victim. “What about you?”
Jeongguk tilts his head, looking remorseful. “Professor Choi recommended I wait to try for a familiar, based on my summoning scores,” he sighs. “But it’s fine. I’ll get there,” he says brightly. The two of them turn attention to the front of the classroom as more seats fill up.
i like him, Jimin tells Taehyung afterward, when they’re packing up their notes and he leaps back onto Taehyung’s lap. he’s got a good energy about him. talented, too. bonded to a pretty powerful familiar.
“What?” Taehyung murmurs distractedly. “He said he wasn’t allowed to—oh.”
Looking up, Taehyung just catches the end of a rat’s tail disappearing into Jeongguk’s shirt as he stands. He snorts to himself, shaking his head with a smile, but goes still when he realizes he’s being watched from the front of the classroom as it empties.
“Taehyung,” Professor Choi calls, heading slowly up the stairs. “I see you successfully summoned a familiar. Congratulations.”
Taehyung opens his mouth to reply, but it twists into a soft yelp when Jimin suddenly digs claws into his legs.
i don’t like him.
Taehyung covers it, plastering on a smile.
if you let him touch me, i will destroy everything in your room.
“Please cooperate,” Taehyung whispers. Choi steps to Taehyung’s desk, and leans closer—Jimin hisses, darting off Taehyung’s lap and under the seat, giving the professor a wide berth.
“Must be skittish,” Choi laughs. Taehyung tries to a well, but his heart sinks to glance down—Jimin can be odd, but he’s never shown any reaction that strong. “I’ve been seeing him around. He feels fairly powerful, but you give him quite a bit of free rein, hm? Maybe you should get him a collar.”
ooh, kinky. but not happening.
“He’s still learning to play nice,” Taehyung jokes weakly.
“Of course,” the professor agrees. He touches his chin, eyes narrowing. “By the by, Taehyung. I meant to ask—did you ever get that little problem sorted out?” his head tilts. “The item you were concerned with.”
Taehyung blinks before remembering. Before he can think of an answer, Jimin’s voice is clear:
It’s more urgent than Taehyung’s ever heard. He swallows, nodding.
“A lingering hex,” he says, stomach twisting. Their bond may not be especially strong, yet, but Jimin’s animosity is dark enough to seep through into Taehyung. “All sorted now.”
“I’m glad,” Choi says. His eyes flick to where Jimin’s disappeared to, then to Taehyung’s shoulder. “Because you know, it’s easy for a novice like yourself to be manipulated by a demon and not even realize.”
Taehyung glances down at his front, and realizes with a chill that the corner of Jimin’s mark is visible past the neck of his shirt. He adjusts it with a shrug, looking back up, and sees a knowing look in the professor’s eye before he pats Taehyung’s shoulder and turns on his heel. “Take care, Taehyung.”
Once well away from the hall, Taehyung slips into a side corridor, Jimin in his arms.
“What was that about?” Taehyung mumbles.
i don’t like him, is Jimin’s vague answer, again. when he looked at us, he feels like—the type of witch who—well. there’s no polite way to say this, but he feels like your great-great grandfather.
“I don’t think he’s done anything bad,” Taehyung frowns. “He couldn’t teach here, right?”
maybe not yet, is Jimin’s suspicious answer. but i know his type. i’ve killed men who look at me like that.
“Please don’t get me kicked out of school,” Taehyung whispers, leaning against the wall. “But…” he bites his lip, glancing either way. It’s oddly pure how fast he’s adjusted to Jimin shifting into a cat, looking at him seriously. “I saw him looking at our mark,” Taehyung says nervously.
i don’t like him, Jimin repeats, but it’s got more venom this time. taehyung, i think it’s time you learned to channel me.
“I’m not sure this is the best idea,” Taehyung says.
They’re seated across from each other in Taehyung’s room, almost squarely within the faded marks on the floor from Jimin’s summoning. Jimin hasn’t been the best at reassuring Taehyung.
“Don’t worry,” Jimin cheerily repeats his advice from earlier, “The worst that can happen is that you’ll die.”
“Great, thank you,” Taehyung mutters. “Absolutely inspiring.”
“It could be worse,” Jimin says, raising an eyebrow. “You could be tied to an artifact and be subjugated into a witch’s service for lifetimes.” Taehyung can’t fight that, looking away. Jimin laughs. “Ah, cheer up. It’s fine. Now, first I want you to feel your own mana pool.”
Taehyung closes his eyes and takes a breath, reaching for his magic. It’s a basic exercise, taught to children and kept as a meditation technique; it’s good to be aware of limits. Taehyung can feel his, and nods.
“Now you’re going to reach for mine.”
Taehyung’s only channeled other witches once or twice. It’s really only to be used in desperate circumstances, for massive spells. He holds out his hands, but when there’s no response, cracks open his eye. Jimin’s staring at his open hands, and giggles.
“We don’t have to physically link, Taehyung,” he snickers. Taehyung blushes, looking away. “We’re already linked by our bond. You can channel me without a physical link.” He winks, “But you can hold my hand if you really want to.”
“I’ll try it alone,” Taehyung mutters, heat rising in his cheeks. He raises a hand to his mark, trying to reach for Jimin. It takes a second, but then he can feel the edge of Jimin’s magic. He’d forgotten how much he had since they’d contracted, stifling a gasp to sink into it, finding no limit to it.
“Be careful,” Jimin warns like he had before. “Draw from my magic. Something simple. A light.”
“Okay,” Taehyung mumbles, concentrating. He takes a breath, and Jimin’s magic fills him, powerful and all-encompassing. He holds out his free palm, and it glows.
And then glows brighter. And brighter.
His voice cuts off as a beam jets out of Taehyung’s palm, hitting the ceiling. Jimin’s magic rips through him, too powerful for Taehyung to put a gate on, and Jimin shouts something before Taehyung can feel him close off, shuttering his power away.
The light dims and dies. Where it’d hit the ceiling is a hole, the edges still crumbling. Taehyung falls backward, clutching his hand.
“Taehyung? Taehyung!” Jimin’s face enters his vision, hovering over him. Something like fear is in his eyes, hands on Taehyung’s shoulders. Taehyung blinks at him. “Oh, thank gods. I thought I’d killed you.”
“Regretfully still alive,” Taehyung croaks. He accepts Jimin’s hand helping him to sit up.
“So I think it’s safe to say,” Jimin says, glancing up with a wry smile at the hole in his ceiling. Taehyung groans to look and be reminded of it. “You aren’t ready to channel me. We almost blew ourselves up.”
“I’m sorry,” Taehyung puts his head in his hands. “It was going well, but—I couldn’t figure out when to cut it off.”
“I have to stop forgetting how early you are in your education before I really do kill you,” Jimin says to himself. Taehyung stares at him, not at all reassured. Jimin waves a hand. “Oh, don’t worry about it. You’ll learn more about controlling a channel in a year or so. And in the meantime, if we ever need a glowing ray of death, I’m your familiar. Literally.”
Taehyung doesn’t think Jimin is a demon. After feeling the breadth of his power, he wonders if it hurts to test it anyway.
The opportunity presents itself. They’re going to make lunch when Taehyung points at the bag of rice on the table.
“Jimin,” Taehyung calls. Jimin turns back, inquisitive, and Taehyung nods at the bag. “How do you feel about this?”
“Um,” Jimin stares at the rice, then back up at Taehyung. “What?”
“Isn’t it kind of tempting?” Taehyung asks. Jimin furrows his brow, making a face at Taehyung.
“Sure?” he makes a face, turning back to the stove. “I take it you want rice, then—”
He’s cut off by the distinct sound of a thud and hundreds of rice grains spilling out across the floor, as Taehyung purposefully knocks the bag to the ground. Jimin spins back around, startled, and gapes at the mess.
“Merlin’s whorehole, Taehyung,” Jimin swears, toeing at the mess with a grimace.
“Watch your fucking mouth, Jimin,” Taehyung replies mildly. Impatient, he waits a moment. “So… are you gonna… you know…count them?”
“Excuse me?” Jimin looks offended. “You’re the one who—no way,” he full-stops. Realization crosses his face, and too late Taehyung wonders if this maybe has not been his brightest idea. “You think I’m some lesser demon? Is that what this is about? Taehyung!”
“At least it proved me wrong!” Taehyung darts around to the other side of the table, suddenly feeling a very basic self-preservation instinct screaming at him to make distance between them.
“Kim Taehyung,” Jimin hisses, “Clean this now or I’ll curse your descendants.”
“Every single one?” Taehyung questions. He’s unsure himself whether he’s asking about rice or his family line, but has to duck to avoid the kitchen knife Jimin seizes and levitates to throw at him either way.
Fifteen minutes later, Taehyung perfects a spell to sweep up every grain. For the most part Jimin is pacified by then, setting down two plates for them. He hasn’t let it go though, frowning at Taehyung.
“Why would you think I was a demon?”
“I don’t,” Taehyung says quickly, feeling bad. Jimin looks moderately hurt. “I don’t know, I just—the professor got into my head a bit, I guess. And then, you were so powerful—I just wanted to be sure,” he finishes lamely, slumping in his seat.
Jimin nods slowly, though the corners of his mouth are still turned down. “I can understand that,” he says slowly. “I’m not angry, Taehyung. Well, not that angry. Just—” he purses his mouth, looking away.
“Jimin?” Taehyung inquires gently. Gives him a few minutes before Jimin sighs.
“I wonder, sometimes,” Jimin admits. “After years of living like this. If I’m not—more demon than witch, now.”
Taehyung hesitates, and shakes his head. All he can offer is an apology. “I’m sorry, Jimin,” he tries, reaching forward. “You’re not—you’re still you. No matter what’s happened, I believe that. And I shouldn’t have tested you.”
Jimin’s quiet another minute. Then, “I’ll get over it,” Jimin sighs dramatically, and he reaches over to flick at Taehyung’s forehead. “And there’s a lot better ways to test for demons, you know. Just ask me next time.”
“I’ll be sure to consult you the next time I’m suspicious you’re a demonic entity,” Taehyung agrees dryly, rubbing at his forehead with a smile. “I really am sorry. You’re the best familiar ever.”
“It’s fine,” Jimin manages a smile, a real one. “Decent witch ever.”
“Thank you for contracting with me. And for not being a demon—because you’re not.”
“Okay, Taehyung,” Jimin finally takes his outstretched hand, giving it a squeeze. “Okay.”
Despite being unable to channel Jimin proper, and despite the Demon Incident, Taehyung finds their bond as familiar and witch growing each day. Taehyung’s always enjoyed his classes, but Jimin awakes in him a new appreciation for the arts, teaching him tricks and workarounds. Several professors even comment on his sudden, rapid improvement, though Taehyung often uneasily feels the too-knowing eyes of one in particular.
“Do you go home on the holidays?”
It’s a question out of the blue. Taehyung glances, and sees Jimin’s picked up a frame to thumb at. Inside sits a picture of Taehyung and his family a year or two before he’d specialized his magic and left for the North.
“Oh,” Taehyung swallows, heart sinking a bit. He thinks, mentally adding up the semesters. It’s been longer than he’s thought. Thanatos is immersive, isolated. ”It’s been… a year or two. Why?”
Jimin shrugs with a faint smile. “Do you like them?” he asks, tilting his head. “Or is it a typical story for us necromancers?”
So Taehyung tells him. It’s one of the first times he’s opened up about it—about his father’s standing in the community, about how Taehyung had felt like a disappointment, a shame. He’d leapt at the chance to go away for school, to focus on the magic he enjoyed studying. In the process he finds himself opening up more than he has before, either, and realizes:
“I miss them,” Taehyung admits quietly. “But I’ve never visited. I haven’t written in a semester, at least. I’m almost… scared, at this point.”
“I think you should go,” Jimin says gently. Taehyung worries his lip between his teeth and glances at him. “You’ve got a month before your finals. Get away from here for a bit.”
The more Taehyung thinks about it, the more possible it seems, even if it remains intimidating.
“I’d like to see how things are getting on, too,” Jimin muses aloud. Sometimes it’s easier than others to forget what Jimin is. “Now that everyone I hate is dead.”
“Jimin,” Taehyung protests jokingly, but thinks he can understand. He stares at the ceiling another moment, and makes up his mind, sitting up and swinging his legs over the bed. “Okay,” he decides, maybe on a whim but Jimin’s authenticity’s convinced him. “I’ll… write. I’ll see what they say.”
how long has it been, again?
Taehyung scratches behind Jimin’s ears absently, looking out the window.
“Two years,” he answers. The landscape outside the train window flies by, from mountains to forest to plains.
a regular reunion, Jimin muses. Taehyung hums, and looks down at where Jimin is stretched across his lap—and the book he’d been reading—in his cat-form. Jimin makes an annoyed noise when Taehyung tries to tug at the book.
“You know that just because you can turn into a cat doesn’t mean you have to act like one, right?”
Jimin blinks up at him lazily. He swipes his tongue out, and Taehyung sticks his out in return.
meow, Jimin sends exaggeratedly.
“You didn’t even try for that one,” Taehyung accuses. “C’mon. We have the car to ourselves.”
Cats can’t roll their eyes, but Taehyung often gets the distinct feeling across the bond that Jimin would if he could. With another pout from him Jimin leaps toward the opposite seat—before he lands he’s back in his own body, sitting neatly at the edge.
“You really should have more respect for cats,” Jimin sighs. “I understand that you find my human form appealing, but I rather like the breed.”
Taehyung stiffens. “Excuse me?”
“Yeah,” Jimin muses, “I can leap anywhere. And it’s so easy to fall asleep, you have no idea—”
“No, no, I mean—” Taehyung swallows, “the… first half of that sentence.”
“Oh, did you not know?” Jimin tosses his hair with a grin. “When you summoned me. I take the form most attractive to my summoner, Taehyung. Basically, I look like your ideal type.”
Taehyung coughs, feeling heat rise in his cheeks. Something stirs in him. “Oh.” is all he can manage.
“Yep,” Jimin sighs, popping the word. “Hope you knew you like boys, Tae. Surprise.”
“Yeah, I—anyway,” Taehyung emphasizes, scrabbling desperately for a topic change. But Jimin starts snickering.
“Just kidding,” he says, a playful gleam in his eye. “Oh, but you really did buy that right away. Thanks for confirming I’m beautiful. And your ideal type.”
“You know what? I take it back. I like you better as a cat,” Taehyung declares over Jimin’s laughter, picking up his book and blocking his face with it, newly determined to focus on the text.
Despite the jab, Jimin doesn’t shift back immediately. It’s only later when they’re pulling into the station that he hops into Taehyung’s arms. There’s no teasing; Taehyung wonders if Jimin can tell how nervous he is, and appreciates the chance to hold something close as a defense mechanism. Even if he knows Jimin isn’t really a cat, it feels nice, and he’s grateful for it.
Taehyung sees his parents before they spot him. He feels awkward, really, standing on the platform with a huge bag and a cat in his arms. Obviously different, standing out like a sore thumb. He hasn’t seen his family since being shipped off quietly.
But there’s only smiles for him.
Taehyung’s mother pulls him into a hug, and his siblings crowd him excitedly. Even Taehyung’s father looks choked up as he pats him on the back and takes Taehyung’s bag from him.
“You’ve grown so much,” Taehyung’s mother smiles tearfully, pressing a kiss to his cheek. She blinks at the cat nestled in Taehyung’s arms. “And who’s this? A familiar? I—oh,” her eyes widen.
oh, thank god. the only person i like, Jimin crows enthusiastically. He leaps into her arms immediately with a loud purr. Taehyung blinks.
“Min-min?” Taehyung’s mother says disbelievingly, catching Jimin easily. “No, it couldn’t be. I haven’t seen him since—” she swallows, glancing to Taehyung, then shrugs and accepts it as she pets Jimin.
Taehyung’s happy that his fears turn out to be unfounded. In his absence his family seems to have missed him enough to forget the oddity of his magic; his siblings even delight in demonstrations as Taehyung idly summons small lesser shades to put on a show and dance.
“I’d hoped to keep you from... that side of the family’s magic,” his mother confesses to him quietly. They’re sat on the porch at sunset, taking respite after dinner. Jimin’s curled in her lap. “But I should’ve known it’d catch up with you anyway. I hope everything’s been okay.”
“It has,” Taehyung promises, throat swelling oddly. He smiles to catch Jimin crack open an eye and watch him, and again when his mother pulls him in for a hug.
Later, Taehyung almost can’t believe how well the day went. He remarks on it as he makes his old bed, Jimin sitting at his desk and kicking his legs as he flips through Taehyung’s old books.
“This was nicer than I thought it’d be,” Taehyung admits. “I’m glad I gave myself time to come down before finals. My family, they… like I said, they weren’t exactly happy when I specialized.”
Jimin hums. “People never are, with our kind of magic,” he says. “Personally, I never cared when I was alive. Kept to myself.”
“I cared,” Taehyung whispers. “But… it looks like they’re okay, now. I’m glad. I was prepared to catch a train back.”
“They seem kind,” Jimin says, leaning back in the chair. “Not the type to hold prejudice. In any case, I’m glad your mother is doing well.”
“She knew you,” Taehyung recalls, smile tugging at his lips. “Min-min?”
Jimin makes a gesture at him, but smiles. “I’m touched she remembered. She was young when I was bound to her father. He was an awful witch, but—he ordered me to watch her. She was always nice to me.”
“She thinks you’re a cat,” Taehyung raises an eyebrow as he slips into bed.
“It was still nice. Even the forced tea parties,” Jimin recalls idly. But as he glances to the bed he hesitates as he’s realized something. Taehyung waits patiently. “You’re… going to sleep, already?”
“Soon,” Taehyung shrugs. He realizes what’s off—Jimin hasn’t made any move to go back into the grimoire. He almost looks uncomfortable to lose Taehyung to talk to. “Uh, you don’t have to sleep yet, though. I don’t mind.”
“Yeah,” Jimin echoes absently. He glances to Taehyung’s bag, where the book’s hidden. “I might stay up a bit, then. Feels… different, here.”
“But you’re going to sleep, right?” Taehyung isn’t sure why he has the sudden doubt, but Jimin doesn’t confirm the statement. Going out on a limb, Taehyung bites his lip— “You know you don’t—have to sleep inside the grimoire. You could stay outside. If you wanted?”
Jimin starts, looking at Taehyung with wide eyes. Embarrassed, Taehyung opens his mouth to take it back, but then Jimin stands and steps toward the bed.
Usually Jimin wears an air of confidence, always has a biting comment. He looks smaller, now, than Taehyung’s ever seen him, almost vulnerable. His eyes are wide from something realized, or remembered.
“Jimin?” Taehyung asks quietly, almost afraid of breaking the silence. Jimin looks like he’s struggling with himself, expression ashamed.
“I don’t… have good memories here,” he words carefully, “of being… trapped in my book. It was never voluntary. I didn’t realize until now, but… I don’t want to go back in when I’m here.”
“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says instantly, feeling a pang. He sits up. “You don’t have to. You don’t have to, ever. You know that, right?”
“Right,” Jimin echoes, but he doesn’t look convinced. “Sorry—it just hit all at once, Taehyung. I’m fine.” he musters his usual smile, but it’s weak.
Jimin doesn’t talk about himself often. Not really, not about things that matter. Everything Taehyung’s learned, he’s observed, and what he sees now is Jimin frustrated for realizing a weakness, for exposing it.
Torn, Taehyung tries to think of a way to remedy it. To take Jimin’s mind off the issue. Before he can overthink it, he offers, “You can… if it’s okay with you. The bed’s got room, you know?”
Jimin almost never looks uncertain of anything. He does when he starts at Taehyung’s offer, and as he hesitates, and then as he gingerly climbs onto the bed beside Taehyung, seemingly afraid to take up too much space. Taehyung slides over to give him plenty of room, lifting up the blanket for him.
And then they’re lying together, face to face in the semidarkness. While offering, Taehyung had only thought of Jimin. It’s only now he realizes how close they are.
“I can shift, to be smaller, if you’re uncomfortable,” Jimin offers softly. Taehyung shakes his head. Jimin looks assuaged, and curls in on himself.
“Jimin?” Taehyung asks before drifting off. In the light of the moon slanting in through the window, he can see Jimin open his eyes and blink at him. He’s on the verge of unconsciousness, but Jimin’s confession has him feeling the need for Jimin to know.
“Since contracting with you… you’re so nice, Jimin. Maybe a bit sarcastic sometimes—” Jimin huffs a laugh— “But you’re good. You help me so much. And… I never know how to say it. But you didn’t deserve anything you’ve had. I’m sorry for it.”
“Taehyung,” Jimin whispers. With his expression, Taehyung wonders if he’s ever heard words like this before.
“You’re not just my familiar,” Taehyung says. “You’re—a friend.”
Jimin’s eyes go wide. He looks speechless, finally swallowing and dropping his gaze.
“A friend, huh,” he echoes. “You’d be my first.”
Sleepily, Taehyung finds his hand and holds it. Jimin doesn’t lift his gaze, but squeezes back shyly.
“You’re different from all the humans I’ve known, Kim Taehyung,” Jimin says softly. He leans in, and Taehyung’s eyes flutter shut on reflex. Jimin’s breath buffets his face lightly, so close—Taehyung feels silly for expecting a kiss, but after a second Jimin only whispers, “Thank you,” and Taehyung’s drifting asleep.
They stay a week, but it seems to go by faster. Taehyung’s just as choked up as his family, promising to visit again soon.
The last person he bids farewell to is his mother. Jimin’s scarcely left her side since they arrived, and Taehyung doesn’t tease for it. He wonders if she’s one of the only witches to have treated him kindly, and hopes for Jimin’s sake that guess is wrong.
He wonders, too, if she’s as naive to Jimin’s nature as she lets on. When Taehyung goes to her she’s crouching down, talking to Jimin, who’s sitting attentively, tail curled around himself.
“Take care of him for me,” is all Taehyung catches. She stands when she sees him, holding out her arms for Taehyung to step into.
“I’ll miss you,” Taehyung mumbles. He realizes then just how happy he is—this is the departure he and his family should have had two years ago.
“And we’ll miss you,” she promises, flicking at his chin. “I know things weren’t—the best when you left. But we’re proud of you.”
“I’m glad,” Taehyung whispers. “Maybe… after finals—?”
“You’re always welcome to visit.”
Taehyung gives everyone another last hug, and boards with Jimin in one arm, and waving with the other.
“Taehyung, wake up.”
Taehyung burrows away from the voice, deep in both dreams and blankets. Since arriving back he’s spent nearly every waking minute studying, so sue him if he wants to sleep a little longer.
“Tae, I mean it. You have to get up.” he recognizes Jimin’s voice now. “Today’s the final.”
“Five more minutes,” Taehyung mumbles. He swats an arm out when a hand comes to tug away the quilt, hitting something. Or someone.
“Did you just—? Oh, that’s it,” Jimin hisses. There’s a second more of peace, and then Taehyung’s being yanked out of bed, blankets wrapping around him to twist over and then dump him over the edge of the bed. Taehyung yelps as he hits the floor, sitting up to see Jimin directing the blankets back onto the bed with a wave of his hand.
“You could’ve given me five more minutes!” Taehyung grumbles, awake now, but at what cost as he rubs at his eyes. Jimin rolls his.
“I did give you five more minutes. And then another five minutes. And then another. About a half-hour ago,” Jimin says pointedly. “Unless you’re planning on skipping your exams, you need to get up.”
“Wait, what time is—” Taehyung’s eyes widen to glance to the clock. “I should have woken up a half hour ago!”
“You don’t say,” Jimin says wryly. “C’mon, you can still make it. I packed your bag for you.”
Taehyung scrambles to his feet, rushing for a change of clothes and to pat down his hair. True to his word, Jimin’s packed Taehyung’s bag with everything off the exam list, something Taehyung had meant to do by waking up early.
“What would I do without you,” Taehyung gushes as he shrugs it up on his shoulder. Jimin’s even got a lunch for him on the table to grab, on top of helping him study the last week. Gratitude washes over him.
“Die, probably,” Jimin muses. “Definitely fail. But you’ve worked hard. Go prove it.”
“I will,” Taehyung promises. He shrugs his back up on his shoulder and heads to the door, but before he gets far, something pulls at him to turn around. Jimin looks after him, startled by his stop, and even more so when Taehyung hurries back to him to pull him into a hug.
“Thank you,” Taehyung says. “For everything. You’re amazing, Jimin.”
Jimin’s stiff, but manages to relax, even bringing his arms back up around Taehyung. It’s a little awkward, and he shows clear unfamiliarity with the embrace, but when Taehyung steps back, there’s a light pink to his cheeks and a smile.
“You, too,” Jimin manages back. Then he shakes himself, urging him on. “Now go make me proud, yeah? I can’t be bonded to a witch that fails third-level courses.”
“I’ll be back in a few hours,” Taehyung promises, beaming. Chest feeling light, he turns back to the door and heads out.
The exams go well, even beyond Taehyung’s highest hopes. He’s worked hard, and it shows. At the end of the testing, tired but grinning ear to ear, Taehyung practically runs to his dorm to tell Jimin.
Who isn’t there.
Taehyung stands alone in the room for several minutes, the silence ringing oddly throughout it. He hadn’t noticed how used he was becoming to Jimin’s near-constant presence, but the combination of his absence and not knowing the reason for it make for a bad feeling in the back of Taehyung’s mind.
He waits, for a while, anyway. Jimin isn’t tethered to him, after all. But with each passing second, Taehyung finds himself growing more and more restless. Finally giving up, Taehyung goes to his book bag, throwing open the clasp to confront Jimin, and realizes with a chill the grimoire’s gone.
“That’s not—no,” Taehyung mutters to himself. And maybe Jimin hadn’t packed it this morning when he’d handled Taehyung’s bag, but Taehyung’s looked everywhere else. He double, and triple, checks again anyway, searching anywhere it could possibly be.
Before long he finds himself running down the hall, asking everyone he bumps into if they’ve seen his familiar, seen a calico anywhere. No one has, and each time the panic rising in Taehyung increases.
By the time he reaches Hoseok’s door, he’s scared enough to knock almost furiously. Hoseok answers looking alarmed enough, and his eyes widen even more to see Taehyung, presumably looking a mess.
“What’s wrong?” he asks instantly. Catching his breath, Taehyung blurts, “Have you seen my familiar?”
Hoseok frowns in recognition, eyes going up. “I… not in a while, no.” he turns back, inside. “Jeongguk, have you seen Taehyung’s familiar?”
Taehyung steps in. They look to be studying, and it’s a relief because Jeongguk had been his next stop, a floor down.
“Not in a day or so,” Jeongguk says. Taehyung sags, a last hope extinguished. “He usually hangs in the courtyard, for treats. Have you—?”
“I’ve looked everywhere,” Taehyung says. He glances between them, a more meaningful one to Hoseok, and bites his lip. “And I can’t find my grimoire, either.”
Hoseok’s eyebrows shoot up as he makes the connection. “Taehyung—”
“You can try a locator spell,” Jeongguk suggests. He tilts his head, as though listening. Taehyung sees a rat poke up out of his shirt, head tilted intelligently. “Actually, Joonie says you don’t even need to. You’ve got a bond, right?”
“That’s true,” Taehyung breathes. He hadn’t even thought— but he hasn’t had a need to master any of the perks of having formed a familiar, not with Jimin his own person. He hasn’t even asked, giving Jimin privacy to explore as he liked. “I just—?”
“Whatever binds you two. Even just a name,” Hoseok says. “Focus on it and follow it. God, when will you start attending classes?”
“Thank you,” Taehyung doesn’t stick around long enough to absorb the barb, darting out and calling over his shoulder. “Thank you!”
Alone again, he pulls down his shirt and presses a hand to Jimin’s mark. He closes his eyes, focusing, following, thinking Jimin, Jimin, Jimin—
The connection spikes through him like a golden link. He can feel Jimin’s presence, and feel Jimin’s surprise, too.
Taehyung? he hears, and when Taehyung opens his eyes it’s like the path’s made clear for him, his body moving to follow the direction he can sense Jimin’s in.
Taehyung furrows his brow, confused. Before he can ask, though, a flash of pain ricochets across the bond, emanating from Jimin. Taehyung’s running before he realizes, hand pressed to his temple and other to his mark, desperate to find Jimin and whatever’s hurting him.
He moves mechanically, footsteps echoing through the halls and heart pounding. It’s when he pushes through a heavy set of doors into an open hall that he understands.
Jimin’s not quite on his knees, but looks as though he’d fall to them if he weren’t being held. His arms are strung out to either side in a way that has Taehyung wincing in pain just looking, sparks of lightning dancing around his wrists and a cable tugged between his teeth. The scene's so awful Taehyung's mind slows, but taking longer to process that he only knows of one witch with magic like this.
Jimin jerks his head up when the door clangs shut behind Taehyung. He looks scared to see Taehyung, and that’s when Taehyung realizes he isn’t alone.
“Taehyung,” Professor Choi greets. “How kind of you to join us.”
Taehyung skids to a halt. He doesn’t even straighten, kept in a defensive pose because something about the scene is very, very wrong.
“I was just convincing Jimin here of the benefits of bonding with me,” Choi continues, ignoring Taehyung’s silence. He twirls his finger, and lightning dances down Jimin’s arms, his face twisting in pain. Taehyung starts helplessly. “As soon as you release him from his current contract, of course.”
Taehyung swallows. There’s a clear warning in Jimin’s eyes, but still, “He’s mine,” he says, voice unsteady but the refusal plain. “He’s my familiar, so… we’ll be leaving now.”
“It’ll be fine, Taehyung,” Choi assures. The kindness is clearly staged. Jimin twists as another shock runs down the cables, unable to stifle a gasp. Taehyung looks at him helplessly. “He’s far too powerful for a novice like you. Dangerous, even. He’ll be put to much better use under a more advanced mage.”
“It’ll be fine, Taehyung,” Choi says. Jimin twists, gasping as another shock runs down the cable. “He’s far too powerful for you. It’s dangerous. He’ll be put to much better use under a more advanced mage.”
“He doesn’t want to work for you,” Taehyung whispers, nails digging into his palm. “Let him go.”
Choi raises an eyebrow. “Why do you care? It’s no skin off your back.”
“I said no,” Taehyung makes it as firm as possible. His hands tremble but he straightens. “He doesn’t want to be yours.”
“Since when does that matter—” Choi scoffs, but then realizes slowly. “I see… so he is able to leave his contract without your permission, hm?” he turns, peering at Jimin and waves his hand. The gag withdraws. “You lied, felidae.”
There’s a bruise swelling on his cheek, but Jimin spits. “Sue it, ugly.”
“Let’s see, then,” Choi looks back. Taehyung recognizes the glint in his eye, but doesn’t move fast enough. Electricity sparking between his wrists, Taehyung’s hands are slammed together, and he’s shoved to his knees by an unseen force.
Taehyung looks up frantically. Behind Choi the cocky expression has fallen off Jimin’s face, and he understands the panic in Jimin’s eyes when the lightning runs through him. Taehyung screams, body twisting in invisible restraints, the volts increasing before tapering off.
“Stop,” Jimin whispers. Taehyung glances up, shaking his head—and then shudders and falls back with a cry as Choi’s lightning runs through his body again, vision going white. “Stop!” Jimin yells, and Taehyung sags when the electricity fades.
“Stop,” Jimin says again, voice broken. “I surrender. I’ll—I’ll break the contract. I’ll sign with you. Just—leave him alone.”
“No,” Taehyung tries weakly, “Jimin, no, you don’t want this.”
Jimin looks away, lip trembling. The bonds release, and he drops down, head hanging. Choi smiles pleasantly.
“You know, you really should have attended class, Taehyung,” he muses. “We talked about how dangerous it is to give familiars such free rein.”
“You old—” Jimin hisses, but it’s cut off when Choi snaps his fingers. Taehyung gasps seeing a chain manifest around Jimin’s neck, collar-and-leash and sparking electric against Jimin’s throat.
“You never even bothered to train him,” Choi finishes, taking the end of the chain.
“He’s not just—a familiar,” Taehyung shakes his head fiercely. “He’s my—” he chokes, swallowing back a painful lump in his throat.
“Well. You won’t have to worry about him much longer,” Choi promises. “He’s far too powerful to go unused. I’ll keep him on a much tighter leash,” he laughs, tugging the chain. “Unfortunately, you won’t live to see it.”
Jimin’s eyes fly open. “You said you would—” his words die in his throat, strangled as the collar shocks him, forcing him to his knees. He glares up, but Taehyung can see he’s shaking.
“I said I’d stop hurting him, dear,” Choi tsks. Taehyung slumps as his chains release, looking up in dumb shock. “Taehyung, you really should have spent less time in your books, Everyone knows you’ve got a tendency to experiment.” Lightning dances across his palm. “No one will be surprised you finally went and blew yourself up.”
Taehyung looks into Jimin’s desperate eyes. His voice echoes in his mind— you’re different from all the humans i’ve known, and then to when they’d tested their connection, we almost blew ourselves up—
“Jimin,” Taehyung rasps, dragging his hand to his chest.
Jimin looks confused, but then his eyes widen with understanding. He yanks his hand to his collarbone where his mark sits. Taehyung feels the stir of Jimin’s magic, and raises his free hand, squinting his eyes shut as Choi’s hand sparks, lightning striking out—
and is hit back with a beam of golden light emanating from Taehyung’s palm, colliding and ricocheting back. Choi’s eyes flare once before he’s blasted and gone, the blinding light fading fast. Dust remains, and Jimin standing beside as the chains crumble, his eyes on Taehyung lighting up to see him standing.
“Jimin,” Taehyung murmurs, sagging to his knees. Jimin runs, and falls beside him, pulling Taehyung into his arms.
“Tae,” Jimin whispers, and they fall into each other. Jimin’s lips find Taehyung’s forehead, and then Taehyung surges upward. Jimin’s mouth parts in surprise, and then he’s lifting his hands to cup Taehyung’s face. Taehyung doesn’t know which of them cry first, their cheeks wet, finally breaking the kiss to press their foreheads together and just breathe.
“I’m so sorry,” Taehyung mumbles. Jimin grips fingers tight in his hair, shaking his head. “He tried to take—I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Jimin soothes, shaking his head and pressing a kiss to Taehyung’s nose. “Because—you didn’t let me go. Thank you, Taehyung. Thank you.”
Explaining to the school board is, in every sense of the word, awkward. It’s difficult enough explaining Jimin’s origins as his familiar, let alone relating the story of blasting one of the staff members into dust. It’s all understood in the end, though, even though Taehyung has to groan to hear he’ll be placed in more advanced classes next year to better study their connection.
“So your secret’s out,” Taehyung says when they walk free, hands entwined. “You’ve been registered with the school and everything.”
“Like that’ll stop me from doing as I like,” Jimin scoffs. “I was studying advanced theory while most of the council was in diapers.”
“I do know one thing to strike fear into your heart, though,” Taehyung muses, squeezing Jimin’s hand and bumping their shoulders together. “I’ll have to introduce you to my family.”
Jimin stops. “Oh, no,” he groans. “They’re going to learn I’m not a cat. And that I knew exactly what I was doing when I stole the whole turkey out of the fridge.”
Jeongguk runs up, but stops in his tracks, eyes widening to see Jimin. He looks between them nervously. “I just… heard the… news….”
“Gukkie!” Jimin sounds delighted, eyes slitting. “What do you have for me?”
“You... weren’t really a cat,” Jeongguk sounds betrayed. Jimin pouts at him.
“I can be whatever gets me fed. It’s still me. Meow?”
“That’s concerning,” Hoseok remarks, catching up and glancing at Jimin like he’s waiting for the ears and tail to return. “I’m glad you’re both okay. Also, our final’s canceled since Professor Choi was like, evil. That’s good news, right?”
“It is,” Taehyung agrees good naturedly, looking fondly to Jimin. Jimin leans up and presses a kiss to his cheek. “We’ll catch you two later. We're gonna talk for a bit."
The school's beautiful in the snow, emptying now exams for this semester are over.
"I have something I want to say," Taehyung takes a deep breath, "I've been thinking for a while. Jimin, I want to release you from your contract."
Jimin's eyes widen. "Taehyung, that's—"
"I know I'm not powerful enough yet, and I need to study more, but..." Taehyung shakes his head. "I can't think of anything you deserve more. I don't—I don't want you to just be my familiar, Jimin. I kind of want you—us, to be—well—"
Jimin laughs, leaning in to kiss him. Taehyung's easily distracted, leaning into it until he remembers his mission, mumbling best he can.
"It's not just to—well, d.. da..."
"Date?" Jimin supplies humorously, entwining their fingers. "Is that what you're really asking here? Would you like to date me, Taehyung?"
Taehyung flushes, and blurts out before he can overthink, "Yes." Jimin kisses him again, and it's all Taehyung can do not to be lost in it. "If you would... if you would want that, too?"
"Do you think I'm kissing you for my health?" Jimin asks. "Taehyung, I'm practically in your lap."
"You've sat in my lap a lot."
"As a cat," Jimin says pointedly. "That doesn't count. So, yes, I would like our relationship to go beyond that."
"Oh," The admission knocks the wind out of Taehyung. He grins, and sees it reflected in Jimin's own. "Wow. Okay. Cool."
"Yes, cool," Jimin agrees. "Then I'm your boyfriend?"
"Wow," Taehyung exhales, shaking his head dizzily. "Yeah. And I'm yours? Wow."
Jimin flicks affectionately at his forehead. "Mm. But, you were saying...?"
"Oh! That I—want to release you from your contract," Taehyung insists. "And it's not just to date you! Even though that's kind of making it hard to think about anything else right now. Because you deserve it."
Jimin hesitates. "I hadn't... even thought about that possibility, in so long," he admits. "Taehyung... I don't know how."
Taehyung considers, taken aback but still determined. "Then we'll figure out a way," he declares. "We have my whole life to do it."
"And in the meantime, we date," Jimin affirms. "And if you can't figure it out, I'll just tie your soul to my grimoire and keep you forever."
Taehyung laughs nervously, but Jimin just blinks at him, smile innocent. Taehyung coughs.
"Well, like I said, we've got a while to figure it out," Taehyung says. "First, though, you've got to meet my parents."
Jimin groans. Hopefully, he looks up at Taehyung. "Let's just make out for now?"
Taehyung grins. "No complaints here."