Ghosts got you down? Dead relatives showing up in your bathroom mirror? Strange chills when you enter a room? Sounds like a paranormal problem in need of a professional!
Just call Kim Taehyung at xxxx-xxx-xxxx for all of your supernatural related needs!
There are three things Taehyung will never do. He doesn’t do business with old people (those are someone’s grandparents: he’s a con artist, he isn’t evil), he doesn’t sleep with clients (anymore), and he doesn’t get too attached (that’s the downfall of every anti-hero, isn’t it?).
Anything else, though, is fair game. So when he got a call from a couple who had recently moved to Korea from the States claiming that the ghost of Taeyang was haunting their house, he had already cleared his schedule and planned to head straight over before they’d even finished talking.
“It was the aura in here. We felt it almost immediately,” the man with the fedora was saying. “It’s incredible, Mr. Kim. The ghost of Taeyang, in our house.” He squeezed his wife’s arm excitedly.
Taehyung nodded, pretending to examine the kitchen where the couple claimed to have felt the presence. He of course didn’t mention that Taeyang is still very much alive, instead clutching his chest and turning to face them with his eyes open as wide as he could make them. “This is amazing,” he said. “This might be the strongest presence I’ve ever felt in someone’s house before.” Then, for good measure, “You two must have a strong spiritual connection.”
“That is what I’ve always thought,” the man’s wife gushed, her eyes lighting up in excitement. “How can we keep his spirit around? I think it would be so amazing to just know that such an influential person is nearby, even in the afterlife.”
Taehyung almost laughed. Sometimes this was too easy. “Well, I can perform a few rituals, but it might take a couple sessions. You’re willing to do that, right?”
“Of course! Thank you so much. We’ll definitely be in touch, Mr. Kim,” the fedora wearing man said, staring at his refrigerator with the same air of excitement as a child on Christmas morning.
Taehyung took the check that he handed him, eyeing the amount, and then carefully placed it among the others in his wallet.
Some people might call him a scammer, or a con-artist, or just an overall sleazeball, and in fact, he has been called all of these things by his roommate, who is the only person privy to the truth behind his business. Taehyung preferred to call himself an opportunist: he saw a chance to make money without really doing much of anything, so like any other human being would, he took that opportunity and ran with it.
He’d started this business partly as a joke after a series of favors to old classmates, and now here he was, with a billboard and a website advertising his paranormal consultation and extraction services, all of which were complete bullshit (just don’t tell his clients that).
Sure, maybe he wasn’t living the high life, but he was doing a lot less and making a lot more than other people his age, and that’s all that really mattered His apartment was in the heart of the city, and the rent wasn’t bad, thanks to the “exorcism” he did for the landlord of the building back when he was in college. Due to the convenience of city living, he didn’t have to worry about a car, either, and taking the bus was free thanks to the bus pass he accepted as payment for a “seance” he did to summon the bus company owner’s dead aunt. So really, he wasn’t doing all that bad in life.
Back at his apartment, the door jammed a bit when he tried to open it, probably the frame coming loose again from how many times the door had been slammed shut. His Tale of Two Sisters poster on the wall opposite the doorway seemed to be staring at him as he tossed his keys on the table and used the step to take his shoes off without untying them. He just narrowly avoided tripping over the pile of bogus EVP readers near the doorway that he’d been tinkering with, so he shoved them to the side with his foot, setting one of them off. “I...was...killed...here…” came Taehyung’s heavily edited voice from the machine he’d accidentally turned on.
His assistant and roommate, as well as his best friend of five years and certified pain in his ass, didn’t look up from his handheld game when Taehyung passed by the couch, but lifted one hand in greeting. “Hey, hyung. Did the cops catch you yet for being a dirty rotten scoundrel?”
“I will never get caught, Jungkookie. That is the beauty in this line of work,” Taehyung told him.
“How do you figure that one?”
“Take today, for example. This American couple asked for a house call, so I show up. And you know what they tell me? ‘Our house is being haunted by Taeyang, Mr. Kim. We can feel his aura every time we open the freezer.’”
Jungkook snorted. “I’m assuming you didn’t tell them Taeyang is alive?”
“Of course not. And if they ever do figure that out, I can just tell them I was communicating with his astral projection. Now tell me, Jungkook: how are they going to disprove that?”
Jungkook breathed out with an amused chuckle and aggressively pressed a few buttons on his game. “Doesn’t really sound like they could, hyung.”
“Exactly,” Taehyung said, clicking his tongue. Jungkook knew this too, which was the only reason he’d agreed to be Taehyung’s assistant back when he started the business in the first place, aside from having nothing else better to do and a shared interest in all things occult-related. (The various horror movie posters all over the walls in their apartment belonged to Jungkook, including the hand drawn portrait of Jigsaw hanging in their bathroom right across from the shower.)
An alarm went off from Jungkook’s bedroom, and he leapt up off the couch so quickly that Taehyung thought he might have sprained something. He skidded down the hallway and disappeared into his room, slamming the door shut behind him. It was probably another one of his alarms that he had synced up to a player challenge in one of his online RPGs that he was always playing. Taehyung just shook his head and sidled over to his work desk, shoved in the corner of the living room and consisting of an old desktop computer, a phone with an answering machine, and a slightly crinkled notepad.
The answering machine was blinking, indicating he had a few messages. “Jungkook!” he bellowed. “Why didn’t you answer the damn phone?”
“That’s not my job!” Jungkook called from his room.
“It’s your only job!”
Jungkook didn’t respond, so Taehyung pressed the button to listen to the messages, grumbling under his breath. The first was from his mother, reminding him about his cousin’s wedding that weekend. He deleted the message, planning to use Jungkook’s inability to answer the phone as an excuse as to why he didn’t show up.
The second message, though. It was a gold mine.
“Hi, um, my name is Park Jimin. I saw your advertisement on a billboard, and I went to your website, and I think I might need your help. I’ve already tried exorcists and everything, and no one has been able to get rid of the poltergeist in my house.”
“Jungkook!” Taehyung shrieked, jamming his finger on the volume button, making Jimin’s soft voice fill their tiny apartment. “Get your ass in here!”
“If you get this message, can you please give me a call back at this same number? I’m not sure where else to go. You’re kind of my last hope.”
Jungkook slouched into the room, still holding his game controller, and stared at the answering machine. “You gonna take his case?” he asked.
“Am I going to take his case,” Taehyung repeated on a monotone. “I would be an idiot not to,” he said, tossing a pen and paper at him and pressing the replay button. “Write down his info, I’m gonna set up a spreadsheet for how many days I can drag a poltergeist extraction out for. I’m so excited, man, I haven’t had a real exorcism case in forever.”
Jungkook scribbled down the phone number that Jimin gave in his message, along with his name, and Taehyung laughed giddily when it got to the part of the message where Jimin called them his “last hope.” Desperate people were always willing to pay more. If he played his cards right, he could milk this guy for every penny he had.
Once Taehyung planned it all out, he figured he could easily get a couple weeks’ worth of phony ghost business out of him, so it was with a triumphant grin that he dialed the number scrawled out in Jungkook’s sloppy handwriting on the notepad.
It rang a few times, and then the same slightly high-pitched voice answered. “Hello?”
“Hi, is this Park Jimin-ssi?”
“Yes, may I ask who’s calling?”
“This is Kim Taehyung. I’m sorry for missing your call just now.” He swiveled around in his chair, tossing a pen up in the air with his free hand and catching it absentmindedly. “My assistant has been a little off the ball lately; you know how it is. But enough about that. I hear you have a poltergeist situation?”
“Yes,” Jimin said. “I’ve tried everything, but it follows me no matter where I go, and I just need it gone. I don’t know what else to do.” The desperation in his voice was bringing it up to almost a whine, and Taehyung had to stop himself from laughing. This was going to be too easy.
“Yeah, this is what we professionals call a,” he quickly wracked his brain for terminology, “class four haunting. That spirit latched itself onto your soul, and it’s going to take several sessions to cleanse yourself and the house.”
“But you can do it?”
“You bet I can. That’s what I do.”
Jimin breathed out a sigh of relief. “That’s perfect. When is the soonest you can be here?”
Taehyung kicked his feet up on top of the desk, grinning. “How does tomorrow sound?”
“Sounds great,” Jimin replied, and Taehyung could hear the smile in his voice. “Thank you so much, seriously.”
After getting Jimin’s address and buttering him up a little more with some well-placed reassurances, Taehyung hung up, shaking his head. He’d been doing this kind of thing for years, but it always astounded him how gullible people could be.
And really, if Jimin was so out of his mind that he truly thought he was being haunted, then he deserved to get scammed a little.
The address Jimin gave him took Taehyung up to the nicer part of town, at least a half hour away from his humble apartment in the middle of the city. He began to pass rows and rows of suburban houses, flowers lining the porches and carefully mown grass growing a lush green in front of each one.
He came to a stop outside the last house on the street, unassuming in every way except for how neat it was. The other houses were pristine as well, but there were decorations outside, tiny clues that the houses were lived in. This one looked almost fake, like a brand new dollhouse. If not for the car parked in the driveway, Taehyung would have thought it was vacant.
It was a little eerie, but the fact that this Jimin guy lived in such a nice neighborhood meant he had money, and the more money Jimin had, the more he’d be willing to shell out for Taehyung’s bogus rituals. Most of his clients were college kids, so if this worked out, he was fully expecting to bring home double what he usually made from a house call.
He passed the perfectly trimmed hedges and knocked out a rhythm on the wooden door, glancing at the number on the house marker: 444. For someone who was trying to escape a ghost, he sure chose a hell of an unlucky house.
The door opened a crack, a tiny hand wrapped around it, and then it opened wider, revealing a small child who couldn’t have been older than six peering up at him with wide eyes.
“Oh,” Taehyung said awkwardly. “Um...is this the Park residence?”
“Yeah,” the kid said, a wary look in his eyes. “Who are you?”
Taehyung was about to say that he thought he must have come to the wrong house, that he was looking for another Park residence, when a taller figure appeared behind the child, placing a hand on top of his tiny head. That hand belonged to possibly the most gorgeous human being Taehyung had ever laid eyes on. He had thick-framed glasses, half a suit on, his tie dangling around his neck and the first few buttons on his shirt hanging open, his black hair tousled like he’d been running his hands through it, and the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Despite his salaryman-like outfit, his face was round and youthful, with eyes shaped like crescents and plush lips that made Taehyung’s heart race a little.
“Yongsun-ah, get back inside,” the man said to the child, stepping aside so that the boy could scamper around him back into the house, and then he turned to face Taehyung. “Sorry about that. He knows he’s not supposed to answer the door. You must be Taehyung-ssi, right?”
So this was Jimin. Gullible Jimin from on the phone with a whiny voice and a belief that he was being mercilessly haunted by a poltergeist. Taehyung had been expecting a skinny, pimply college kid with too much money and time on his hands, or a paranoid twenty-something with permanent frown lines. Not someone who looked like he was an underwear model on weekends.
“Y-yeah,” Taehyung stammered, attempting to gain back his charisma. “Is that your little brother?”
Jimin laughed nervously. “No, that’s my son.”
“Oh.” Oh. Despite the purple shadows under his eyes and overall weariness that probably came coupled with being a father, Jimin didn’t look like he could have been much older than Taehyung, let alone old enough to have a child as old as the one that had just run into the house. “He’s very cute.”
“Thank you,” Jimin said, a tiny smile on his lips.
Taehyung was thrown for a loop for a split second, but quickly gathered his bearings, the gears in his head spinning lightning fast. This could be a good thing, the fact that he had a kid. He could use this as an opportunity to charge even more, and Jimin would take it, all for the sake of protecting his son.
“Well, we should get started,” Taehyung said, clapping his hands together. “You probably want this poltergeist gone as soon as possible, don’t you?”
“You have no idea,” Jimin sighed, then held the door open, his arm gesturing to the inside of his house. “Please, come in.”
Whereas the outside of the house looked as though it was too perfect, the inside was so full of clutter and scattered toys and books that it almost felt like he wasn’t even in the same house. The kitchen table had notebooks and crayons covering its surface, some crumpled pages covered entirely in red scribbles. The floor was like a minefield of toy cars and stuffed animals that Jimin maneuvered with practiced agility, gently moving them to the side of the room to create a path for Taehyung to walk.
“I’m sorry about the mess,” he said, his eyes downcast. “Yongsun has been really...restless, lately, and I haven’t had time to do much cleaning.”
Taehyung shook his head. “It’s no trouble. Poltergeists can mess with the temperament of children, after all.” According to the Wikipedia page he’d skimmed yesterday, anyway.
Despite the tornado of toys and crayons that looked like it had swept through the entryway to the house, everything past the living room looked like how Taehyung might have expected from the outside appearance. It looked like a photo out of a furniture store’s catalogue, with perfectly spaced blinds on the windows, a fake flower arrangement on the coffee table, and a couch that didn’t even have any indents on the cushions.
“Your house is beautiful,” he commented. The best way to the pockets of people with money, Taehyung knew, was through compliments. “Who chose the decor, you or your wife?”
Jimin’s face went slack for a moment, and then he stood up a bit straighter, his words clipped and emotionless. “There’s no wife. Just me and Yongsun.”
Now that he looked closer, the photos on the walls and cabinets that he’d just assumed to be family pictures, were all of Jimin and Yongsun. Just the two of them.
Luckily, he was saved from further embarrassment when Yongsun tugged on Taehyung’s sleeve and asked, “Are you the man who’s going to get rid of the ghost?”
Taehyung’s eyebrows shot up. So Jimin had his son believing in it, too? “Yep,” he said. “I’ll make sure there’s no more monsters in your closet, little guy.”
Yongsun’s eyes widened in fear and his tiny mouth formed a horrified pout. “There’s monsters in my closet?” he squeaked, looking up at his father for confirmation.
Jimin shot Taehyung a look, holding his son close and ruffling his hair. “No, there’s nothing in your closet. Taehyung-ssi was just joking. Weren’t you, Taehyung-ssi?”
“Yeah,” Taehyung said with a nervous laugh. “One hundred percent.” God, what was wrong with him today? It’s as if every ounce of charisma he had dried up immediately after setting foot in Jimin’s house.
“Why don’t you go upstairs and watch some movies, Yongsun-ah?” Jimin said, gently patting Yongsun’s back.
His son nodded and shot one last curious glance at Taehyung before responding, “Okay, dad,” and bounding up the stairs, his light-up slippers muffling his footsteps.
“He’s very well-behaved,” Taehyung said, trying to save face. There had to be a way to salvage this somehow.
Jimin smiled weakly, glancing at the mess in the kitchen. “He’s always been pretty mellow like he is right now, but… Like you said, the poltergeist, it does something to the mood in the house and sometimes he just gets so stressed. It’s not good for him, you know? He’s way too young for that.” He ran his fingers through his hair, shaking his head. “But hey. Enough about that. You’re here to help, right?” Jimin said, his face perking back up.
“I sure am,” Taehyung replied, patting his backpack full of fake ghost detecting equipment. “I’m sure you saw on the website, but the first few days of a house consultation are usually just me setting up and monitoring the equipment I’ll be setting up around your house. That might take up to a few weeks, depending on how deeply the ghost is attached to you. Once I get a good grasp on the haunting, I’ll come back for an extraction, and then one final checkup to make sure that the presence is gone. Does that sound alright to you?”
Jimin nodded fervently, his hair flopping back down onto his forehead. “Yes, yes, of course.”
Taehyung shrugged the backpack straps off his shoulders and set it on the floor next to the couch that looked as though it had never been sat on, and unzipped it, feeling Jimin’s eyes watching his every move. He buried the spreadsheet he’d printed out deeper into the bag and out of sight, pulling out the EVP readers and other gadgets, pretending to fiddle with them. “So,” he began, twisting a dummy knob on the EMF meter. “Why don’t you give me a rundown on the hauntings? When did it start? What’s the extent of the poltergeist’s involvement in the house?”
Jimin averted his eyes for a moment, tugging on his tie to loosen it even more. “Well, it’s sort of been following me since high school, so about nine years now?”
Taehyung nodded, tamping down a surprised reaction. That would put them at around the same age, then. Exactly how young had he been when he had Yongsun?
“It used to follow me everywhere, but at first it was just kind of...there, you know? Just moving stuff around and closing doors and causing weird dreams.” Taehyung kept nodding, placing the EVP reader on the nearby coffee table, propping it against the vase of fake flowers. “But after college, it started getting violent. It would start moving knives around, leaving open plugs in the bath water, that kind of thing,” he paused, looking as though he was mentally editing out parts of his story. “And now it’s affecting Yongsun, too.”
Taehyung got up to place the EMF meter on the counter in the kitchen, passing by the table with all the drawings. He pointed to the crayon box, where every crayon was practically unused except for the red ones, which had been worn down to stumps. “Like this?” he asked.
Jimin tugged on his tie again. “Yes. He’s been doing that, lately. I keep having to buy him new crayon boxes because he’ll just use up all the red ones scribbling in his notebooks.” He walked over to join Taehyung in the kitchen, flipping through the nearest notebook, where every page was covered in red, bits of wax fluttering out as he turned the pages.
“That’s normal, for a poltergeist haunting,” Taehyung said, his heart clenching a bit. He felt bad for Yongsun, truly. Clearly, Jimin was out of his mind, and that must have been why his wife was no longer around, and why Yongsun was so stressed. He was no family therapist, but having your father believe he’d been haunted by a ghost since he was a teenager can’t be good on a kid’s psyche.
Taehyung didn’t claim to be a morally sound person, though, so while he did feel bad, he definitely didn’t feel bad enough to not rob Jimin blind.
“That’s what the other exorcists said, too,” Jimin agreed. “But none of them were able to get rid of it. They all said it was too firmly attached to me, and now to Yongsun. You really are my last hope, Taehyung-ssi.”
“Well,” Taehyung said, setting up the mel meter near the staircase. “You can count on me. I’ve been doing this for a long time.”
The smile that broke out over Jimin’s face was one of utter relief, and it pushed his cheeks up to cover the dark circles under his eyes, making him even more handsome. “Thank you so much,” he said. The clock on the wall made a soft pinging sound, and Jimin glanced over at it, fiddling with what looked like a wedding band on his finger. “Hey, why don’t you stay for dinner? I was just about to get it started for me and Yongsun, anyway.”
Taehyung bit his lip, his eyes fixated on the clock as well. He’d never been invited for dinner by a client before, even on house calls. Jimin was too nice for his own good. “I couldn’t impose on you like that,” he said, waving a hand and grabbing more gadgets from his bag, the spreadsheet shoved at the bottom nearly giving him a papercut. “I’ll just set up a few more of these and be on my way.”
“No, I insist,” Jimin said. “It’s the least I can do, since you’re being so helpful.”
In all the years Taehyung had been doing this, he’d never once felt any sort of remorse for robbing people. Never in almost eight years, but now, seeing the relieved look on Jimin’s face and hearing how grateful he was to have someone helping him, he felt a tiny twinge of guilt in his chest.
“Well, I...suppose it couldn’t hurt,” Taehyung said slowly.
And so somehow, he ended up standing around the kitchen table, the mess cleared off surprisingly quickly for how big of a disaster it had been, helping Jimin and his son prepare samgyeopsal. (Taehyung noticed that the brand of pork Jimin was unwrapping was one that he could never dream of being able to afford for just a weekly dinner, and part of that guilt he’d been feeling earlier disappeared. Jimin really did have money to spare.)
“How old are you, ahjussi?” Yongsun asked, poking at the meat sizzling on the tabletop grill with his chopsticks.
“Not old enough to be called ahjussi yet,” Taehyung said with a light chuckle. “I’m twenty-seven this year, so you can call me ‘hyung.’”
“That’s the same as my dad,” Yongsun said. “He turns twenty-seven in October, and I turned six in March. When is your birthday, hyung?”
“Come on, Yongsun-ah, don’t interrogate him,” Jimin chided.
“No, it’s alright,” Taehyung said, arranging the sauces around the grill. “December 30th is my birthday.”
Yongsun added some kimchi to the grill and nodded knowingly. “You do seem like a Capricorn.”
Taehyung raised his eyebrows, making Jimin laugh lightly. “He spends a lot of time with the noona next door, and she’s really into horoscopes,” he explained. “The other day I tried to tell him it was time to stop watching TV and take a bath, and he told me that my Libra tendencies were showing through, and it was time to think about my direction in life.”
“It’s true,” Yongsun piped up, helping his father flip the meat over.
Taehyung couldn’t help it; he started laughing, which made Jimin laugh, and before he knew it, he was actually enjoying himself. For all his foot-in-mouth screw-ups earlier that day, Jimin warmed up to him astoundingly fast, treating him like a member of the family while they sat and ate samgyeopsal. (Expensive pork did taste different, Taehyung found out, briefly seeing heaven in his first bite of sangchu-ssam.) If he kept this up, this was going to be even easier than he thought. His only problem would be the fact that while Jimin and Yongsun had warmed up to him, he had also warmed up to them, even though he did still think Jimin had a few screws loose.
By the time he’d helped them clean up, it was deep into the evening, well past the time that Taehyung had planned on leaving. He said his goodbyes to Yongsun, who had to go get ready for bed, and then lingered by the front door with Jimin.
“The machines probably won’t go off for the first few days,” Taehyung told him. “But if they do, you can give me a call and I’ll be right over.” He of course didn’t tell Jimin that he rigged the machines to only go off when he presses a button on his tiny remote, but that’s something he didn’t need to know. Let him think that the ghost is quieting down for a while, only to make all the sensors go off at once, after Taehyung has deemed it time to end this particular scam. It’s a tried and true method that he’s used even on some clients’ disbelieving friends; once the machines start going off, people tend to panic and not pay attention as much to their surroundings, allowing Taehyung to basically make up his own exorcism rituals.
“Okay, I’ll do that. Thank you so much, Taehyung-ssi.”
“I should be thanking you for dinner. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had samgyeopsal. And please, call me Taehyung.”
Jimin gave him a dazzling smile. “Okay. I’ll do that.”
Taehyung couldn’t get that smile out of his head the entire bus ride back home.
“Hyung, you're late. You’ve got like, two missed calls,” Jungkook informed him from the couch, where he was lying upside down, his legs dangling over the back cushions and his bangs hanging out of his face while he held a game controller and stared at the television.
“Who were they from?” Taehyung asked, walking over to the phone.
“I’unno,” Jungkook said, his character on the screen swinging a sword through three monsters. “I didn’t answer it.”
“I’m gonna murder you in your sleep, Jungkook,” Taehyung groaned. “Then it’ll be me hiring myself to get rid of your ghost.”
“That doesn’t even make sense, hyung,” Jungkook said. “Why were you gone so late, anyway? Weren’t you just setting up the fake equipment?”
Taehyung flushed and coughed lightly. “That Jimin guy is, um. Nice. He invited me to stay for dinner.”
A Game Over screen flashed on the TV and Jungkook sat up, his entire face beet red from hanging upside down for so long, and he stared at Taehyung with wide eyes. “You stayed for dinner? So it was like a date?”
“No! He’s just nice, that’s all. He has a kid.”
Jungkook blinked. “He’s got a kid? He’s married?”
“Nope. Single dad. I think his wife left him or something? He got all prickly when I brought it up.”
“Hmm,” Jungkook said, waggling his eyebrows. “Interesting.”
“Go back to your game, brat,” Taehyung said, waving his hand dismissively. “I need to check these messages, since you seem to be allergic to doing the only thing I pay you for.”
“You don’t pay me, hyung,” Jungkook replied, the Game Over screen still flashing when he turned back around.
“Your payment is not having to give me rent money,” was Taehyung’s retort, and Jungkook stayed silent after that, allowing him to check his voicemails. The first one was from the clients he’d had the other day, informing him that the presence in their home had never been stronger, and asking when a good time would be for him to come back and keep the spirit around. He made a note on his schedule to call them back, and pressed play on the next message, which was just another client requesting that he summon the spirit of his dead friend who owed him money.
After Jimin’s case, all of these seemed too petty to even bother with. The next few weeks were going to be great. He got to hang around an insanely hot guy and his cute kid, all while making more money than he knew what to do with. Now that he’d actually met them, he edited his spreadsheet, planning to drag this out for a month rather than just the two weeks he’d planned for originally.
For the next week, Taehyung stopped by Jimin’s house to tinker with his equipment, and it just so happened that he also stayed for lunch or dinner while he was there. By the third time that it happened, Taehyung was starting to wonder if Jimin was just waiting to make food until he showed up, but he tried not to think about it too much.
Unsurprisingly, Taehyung didn’t experience any of the odd behavior that Jimin had told him about in regard to the poltergeist. He knew that he wouldn’t, since ghosts weren’t real in the first place, but a tiny part of him had secretly been wondering if something might happen one of these days.
“Ever since you started coming over, it’s been quiet around here,” Jimin said by the end of the first week while he set the table for dinner. Taehyung was sat in the seat next to Yongsun, who had taken a liking to him fairly quickly, even going so far as to call him ‘Taetae-hyung.’ “It probably looks like I’m making it up now, doesn’t it?”
“No, not at all,” Taehyung said immediately, though that had been exactly what he was thinking. Aside from that, though, all of this was starting to dip into dangerous territory. He was staying far too late now, interacting with Jimin and Yongsun far too much. If this kept up any longer, he might even start to feel bad about scamming them. That had never happened before, and Taehyung sure as hell wasn’t about to let it happen now.
He hadn’t been expecting to click with Jimin like this, nor had he been expecting Yongsun to latch onto him. He knew he needed to tone it back a little, lay off the charisma for this particular case, and he had every intention of doing so, but for some reason the universe was just not having it.
Only a day after Taehyung decided to dial back on his steadily progressing friendship with Jimin and his son, Taehyung heard a familiar whine from the sofa.
“Hyung, will you go buy more chips?”
“You mean the ones you ate?” Taehyung grumbled, glancing over at his picked-over pantry. Having snacks in his apartment was a dangerous game of how long they could sit there before Jungkook ate all of them. He’d once polished off an entire party size bag of chips before Taehyung had even finished unpacking the groceries.
“Chips, please!” was all Jungkook responded with, so Taehyung sighed at his depressingly empty schedule, grabbed his keys, and made his way to the supermarket. He could have stopped at the convenience store, which was far closer, but if he was going to be replacing chips that he hadn’t even gotten the chance to eat, he’d much rather travel farther to spend less on them.
That was his first mistake.
He was examining the bags, deciding if he wanted to be petty and buy consomme flavor, which he knew Jungkook hated, even though he didn’t like it himself, when he heard a familiar voice a few feet down the aisle.
He turned, bag of chips in hand, and came face to face with Jimin, looking much more prim and proper than Taehyung was used to, having only ever seen him after a day at work. His hair was styled up without any loose strands falling in his face, his clothes were neatly ironed, his tie hanging from around his throat rather than dangling around his shoulders. Taehyung’s mouth went dry, but he bounced back quickly, exclaiming, “Oh, Jimin! What brings you to the city?”
“I had to meet with the CEO of a company that mine is doing business with,” he said. “And I thought I’d pick up something for Yongsun while I’m here.” He held up a box of salted soy crackers in one hand and a bag of fruit chews in the other. “I’m a cool dad, right?”
Taehyung laughed despite himself. “Cooler than my dad,” he said. “I couldn’t have anything with sugar in it until I was eighteen.”
“What? That’s crazy,” gaped Jimin. “You were deprived of sugar for eighteen years? Are your parents dentists?”
“No, they just,” get it together, this isn’t the time to be thinking about this, “were very concerned about my oral hygiene.”
If Jimin noticed his hesitation, he didn’t comment on it, instead tossing the snacks into his shopping basket and placing one hand on his hip. “Well, you’ve got all those sugarless years to make up for now, so why don’t I take you out for coffee?”
Coffee. Taehyung was trying to create a healthy, businesslike distance from Jimin, and now he was inviting him out for coffee. And god help him, as much as he knew he should have said no, that he was busy, he found himself saying, “Sure. Where do you have in mind?”
After paying for their respective snacks, Jimin took him to a quaint little cafe down the street, with a rustic interior and calming forest sounds playing in the overhead speakers. The tables were made to look like tree stumps, and there were fake vines trailing up the walls. It was adorable, and Taehyung couldn’t help but notice that it was also full of couples.
Jimin ordered a sugary drink, something with vanilla and caramel that wasn’t surprising at all, and Taehyung decided on a simple latte with cinnamon on top. When he gave his order to the barista, Jimin made a tiny noise of surprise.
“What?” Taehyung asked while the two of them sat down at one of the tree trunk tables. “Did you expect me to get an Americano with a shot of ghost ectoplasm or something?”
“No, it’s just that, um. My wife used to get the same thing,” Jimin said, though he didn’t sound as sad as Taehyung would have expected. His fingers itched toward his wedding ring, then realized what he was doing and curled his hands around his coffee cup instead. “That’s funny.”
“So there was a wife,” Taehyung said, once again displaying his complete and utter lack of tact when Jimin was involved. Before he could mentally kick himself, though, Jimin let out a laugh that sounded more like a giggle than anything that would come out of a thirty year old’s mouth.
“Of course there was,” he said. “Wasn’t Yongsun’s existence your first clue?”
“Well, you know,” Taehyung began, keeping his tone light, “I just assumed mitosis was involved.”
Jimin laughed and took a sip of his coffee, keeping his half-moon eyes on Taehyung, who felt sirens going off in his head. They were flirting, weren’t they? He was flirting with Jimin, on a coffee date in this adorable cafe surrounded by couples, doing the exact opposite of dialing back to a businesslike relationship.
By the time he was waving goodbye to Jimin at the bus stop, watching him half jog away and then slow to a power walk, he was completely convinced that the universe was indeed testing him.
For the most part, he was able to keep himself in check for the following week, only running into Jimin while at his house. Even though they did talk the entire time, discovering more and more similarities between them (they both loved rom coms, they both had pets growing up, they both had the same sense of humor, and the list just went on), Taehyung tried his very hardest to keep himself focused. He was there on business. He was there to get paid. He was not there to break two of only three rules that he’d made for himself, because dammit, Taehyung, you have one job, it’s not that hard.
But the universe just loved messing with him at every chance it got, so it was toward the end of his second week after taking Jimin’s case that he met the neighbors that lived next door.
He was walking up the path to Jimin’s front door when a woman called out to him. “Hey!” He turned, seeing that the voice belonging to Jimin’s next door neighbor. She was young, probably a couple years older than him, with short blonde hair that was shaggy in an artful way and a bright smile on her small face. She jogged the short distance over to him, then continued, “I’ve seen you around a few times, but never got the chance to introduce myself. I’m Amber.”
“Taehyung,” he said, surprised when she held out her hand to shake. “Not from around here?”
“No, me ‘n my wife moved here from California a couple years ago,” she said. “Around the same time Jimin moved in, actually.” She grinned. “It’s nice to see him getting back out there. And I can say this since I’m married, but damn. Jimin knows how to pick ‘em.”
Realization settled over him and he opened his mouth immediately. “Oh. Oh, no, we’re not-- I’m just--”
“Oh!” Amber’s eyebrows shot up on her forehead. “Sorry, I just thought you two were together, from how Yongsun talks about you.”
“Oh, yeah. Me and Soojung watch him on the weekends sometimes, when Jiminnie has to work late, and lately all he can talk about is ‘Taetae-hyung.’” She gave him a warm smile. “I’m guessing that’s you.”
Taehyung nodded, his shirt suddenly feeling too tight. This was treading into dangerous territory. It was bad enough that he was over here all the time now, having dinner with Jimin and his son, it was bad enough that they’d gone out for coffee even when it wasn’t a scheduled appointment, and now Jimin’s overly energetic neighbor was telling him that she was under the impression they were together?
He was about to set the record straight and tell Amber that she had it all wrong, that they had a purely businesslike relationship, when her front door opened and a taller woman with long red hair that hung like curtains around her thin, perfectly proportioned face poked her head out. “Amber,” she called, her sharp eyes glancing at Taehyung for only a second. “Your friend is calling. She says it’s important.”
“Coming, Princess!” Amber called back, then turned to Taehyung again. “Sorry, I’ve gotta run. It was nice meeting you, though!” She jogged back to her own home, pinching her wife’s waist before disappearing behind the door with her, leaving Taehyung speechless in Jimin’s front yard.
Yongsun’s tiny face appeared in the window, his eyes lighting up when he saw Taehyung, and then less than ten seconds later, the door was being thrown open and Yongsun was saying, “Taetae-hyung! You’re here! Come in, I gotta show you the new toy my dad got me!”
Just like that, all reservations he’d had evaporated from one look at Yongsun’s excited grin and outstretched hand.
Taehyung was still taking other cases while he was drawing out Jimin’s, just little ones here and there, but one afternoon while he was getting ready to head over to Jimin’s house, knowing that he got off work soon (when exactly had he memorized his work schedule?), Jungkook caught him grinning to himself while slipping his shoes on at the front door.
“Off to the hot dad’s house again?” Jungkook said, giving him a perverted look.
“I’m robbing him blind, Jungkook,” Taehyung said. “I’m not there to romance him.”
“He’s got a kid, right?”
“Yeah. Little six year old named Yongsun.”
“And he’s really hot?”
“He’s six, you nasty--”
“Him, not his kid, jesus christ.”
“Oh. Then yeah, you have no idea.”
“And he likes you?”
Jungkook snorted. “I’ll bet you fifty thousand won you try to sleep with him before you’re done with the scam.”
Taehyung held his hand against his chest in offense. “Hey! I don’t sleep with my clients. That’s unprofessional.”
Jungkook raised his eyebrows. “Remember that guy who thought he had a ghoul in his attic but it turned out to be a squatter? Didn’t he make you, and I quote, ‘come so many times that you thought you’d never be able to again’? And then he left that message on the answering machine the next day complimenting you on your ‘monster dick’?”
“That was different,” Taehyung insisted, blushing furiously at the memory. “We were both in college, he was a very flexible yoga instructor, and I made an unprofessional decision to take that knowledge and run with it.”
“And by the end of this, I’ll be hearing, ‘We were both in our late twenties, he was a hot single dad, and I made an unprofessional decision to--’” Jungkook yelped and ducked when Taehyung tossed a slipper at his head.
Jimin was very attractive, sure. Taehyung had known that from day one. As a matter of fact, on Taehyung’s internal List of Turn-ons, Jimin checked off just about every single one. But he was a client, and Taehyung had made a promise to himself that he’d never get involved with a client like that again; he didn’t do well with guilt, and didn’t feel like inviting that particular emotion into his head at the moment. He was there to collect a check and move on. That was all. All of this that was happening that made it seem otherwise was just circumstance.
But when he knocked on the door to Jimin’s house and was met with a very frazzled Jimin, his briefcase in one hand and his glasses slightly askew, he had a very strong feeling that if Jimin were to ask him to get horizontal right in that instant, he would not have said ‘no.’
“I’m so sorry,” Jimin said. “I can’t stay today, they just called me into work on some accounting emergency, but you can still do your monitoring stuff.”
Taehyung peered inside, noticing that Yongsun was still there, sitting at the kitchen table putting together a puzzle. Jimin saw him looking and waved his hand while he slipped into his jacket. “Don’t worry about him. He’s used to staying home alone, he can entertain himself.”
“Are you sure? I can always come back another day,” Taehyung said, suddenly not so sure about being in Jimin’s house while he wasn’t there, especially not when it would just be him and Yongsun. If anything happened to him, Taehyung was not ready to assume responsibility.
“It’s okay,” Jimin assured him. “I trust you.” While that sentence slowly registered in Taehyung’s head, making his chest feel tight, Jimin crossed the room, kissed the top of his son’s head, and then was halfway out the door before Taehyung could protest. “I might be gone for a while, so you don’t have to wait up. See you later, Yongsun-ah!”
And then the door closed, leaving Taehyung alone with Yongsun and the weight of Jimin’s trust on his shoulders.
He supposed he could have just left. The only reason he was coming over was to pretend like he was monitoring the ghost activity and his bogus equipment, after all. If Jimin wasn’t here there was no point in him staying.
But Yongsun was here, now looking up at Taehyung with the same eyes as Jimin, curved and dark and with long eyelashes, and god help him, he couldn’t leave. It broke his heart to think of Yongsun having to be here all alone while his father was working late.
“Wanna do a puzzle with me, Taetae-hyung?” Yongsun asked, scooting his chair over to make room for him. “I’ll let you put the last piece in, even though that’s my favorite part.”
Taehyung’s shoulders sagged a bit, and he gave Yongsun a tiny smile. “Sure, buddy,” he said, taking a seat next to him. “Thanks for letting me do the last piece.” For the next fifteen minutes, he and Yongsun pieced together a puzzle, the picture slowly forming into Gudetama lying on a slice of toast. The last piece was Gudetama’s face, and Taehyung pretended as though he couldn’t find it, allowing Yongsun to pop it into place, feeling his heart swell when Yongsun looked at him with a proud grin.
“You’re so good at puzzles, Yongsun-ah!” Taehyung said, giving him a high-five. “Why don’t we leave this out so your dad can see what a great job you did when he comes home?”
Yongsun nodded eagerly, carefully pushing the puzzle toward the center of the table so that it wouldn’t get ruined, using his small hand to push the other clutter out of the way, including his red scribbles. Some of them looked newer, the wax dust still clinging to the page and the crayons still rolling on top of the notebook.
Taehyung glanced at them for a second, uneasiness settling in the pit of his stomach, but that was quickly forgotten when Yongsun grabbed his hand and tugged him into the living room, where he proceeded to show him that he could do a somersault.
Yongsun had a lot of energy, but there were only so many somersaults he could do before he tired himself out, and the two of them ended up huddled on the sofa, watching some new children’s show on the flat screen television.
“Taetae-hyung,” Yongsun said suddenly, tugging on his sleeve. “I gotta ask you something.”
“What is it, buddy?”
“Do you have a mom?”
Taehyung peered down at those doleful little eyes that were so much like his father’s and felt his heart break a little. Poor kid. “Yeah, I do,” he said. “But not everyone does.”
“Yeah. Some people don’t have a mom, and some people don’t have a dad, and some people don’t have either one.”
Yongsun’s eyes widened. “So I’m not weird?”
“No, of course not,” Taehyung told him, ruffling his hair. “You and your dad are totally normal.” That wasn’t entirely true, but he wasn’t going to tell a six year old whose mother left him that.
That seemed to be enough for Yongsun, who perked back up immediately and got up to grab a picture book, bringing it back to Taehyung and proclaiming that he was learning how to read.
Taehyung glanced at the clock, showing that it was well into the late afternoon now, but Yongsun’s head was nestled against his arm, holding his book and carefully sounding out words, looking up at Taehyung every few minutes for confirmation. He couldn’t leave now. Jimin said it was fine, that Yongsun was used to staying home alone, but he just couldn’t bring himself to actually do it.
Gently, he reached in his pocket, trying to do so without disturbing Yongsun too much, and fired off a quick text to Jungkook.
i’m gonna be late today
can u cancel the other appts i had
want me to update ur planner then
ghost appointment: cancelled
dick appointment: 7pm
i’m babysitting, u menace
ok sure hyung
Taehyung chose to ignore him, instead focusing on helping Yongsun to read his book. When they finished one, Yongsun got up and grabbed another stack of them, though he only made it through a few more before he began nodding off.
Taehyung gently took the book out of his hands and placed it on the armrest of the couch, allowing him to curl up more comfortably.
“You should just live here, Taetae-hyung,” Yongsun mumbled into his shoulder, his words breaking off into a yawn. “I asked Soojung-noona, and she said Libras and Capricorns aren’t a good match, but I don’t think that’s true for you and Dad. I think you’d be happy here.”
“That’s sweet of you to say,” Taehyung said, “But I don’t think your dad would be too happy if I moved in.”
“Nuh-uh,” Yongsun murmured, his eyelashes fluttering. He said something else, too, but Taehyung didn’t hear him, and his breathing evened out as he fell asleep. Taehyung didn’t move, Yongsun’s words tumbling around in his head, making him dizzy.
It was late by the time Jimin got back. So late, in fact, that Taehyung began to wonder if there would be a bus that would take him back to his apartment complex, or if he’d have to take the train instead.
The key turned in the lock and the door swung open, Jimin starting a little when he saw there was someone sitting on his couch. “Oh, Taehyung,” he said. “You scared me. What are you still doing here?”
“I’m sorry for staying so late,” Taehyung said, carefully getting up, supporting Yongsun’s head and gently settling him back down on the pillow. “I felt so bad leaving Yongsun on his own, I just…”
Jimin took his shoes off and padded across the carpet, leaning in a bit too close for comfort to look at his son, the smell of his cologne tickling Taehyung’s nose and his suit jacket brushing against Taehyung’s shoulder. “Oh, you got him to sleep. Thank you so much, but you really didn’t have to wait for me. Like I said, he’s fine on his own.”
“Well, you know,” Taehyung wracked his brain for a decent excuse beyond ‘I’m becoming dangerously attached to your little family and I feel partially responsible for your son’s condition, considering I’m enabling you to believe that this is all ghost activity. Also I might have a little crush on you, all things considered.’ What he settled on was, “We started doing puzzles, and he asked if I’d keep playing with him. Turns out he can play for a long time.” It wasn’t a lie, really. He just left out all the other stuff.
Jimin’s lips pressed together, the corners of his mouth quirking up. “He really likes you, you know.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“He tends to latch onto adults that he knows, maybe because he only has one parent?” Jimin said thoughtfully. “But it’s a little different with you. I can’t explain it. He treats you like you’re family.”
That sent off those panicked warning sirens in Taehyung’s head almost immediately. “Yongsun was actually, um. Asking me about mothers today,” Taehyung said, hesitantly checking Jimin’s reaction as he tried to change the subject.
Jimin closed his eyes for a second, pressing his lips together. “I thought that might happen. I’m so sorry, Taehyung, I feel like I’m always getting you involved in my business.”
“No,” Taehyung said, surprising even himself. “I want to hear about it. Did something happen?”
Jimin sighed. “Jungmi, my wife, she… She hasn’t contacted us since she left, but the other day she mailed me divorce papers, with her signature on them. There was no return address, just a note telling me to drop them off at her lawyer’s office.” He shook his head. “Yongsun saw them, and I had to explain to him what was happening.”
“Jimin, I’m so sorry,” Taehyung said as gently as he could, reaching out to rub Jimin’s back, then thinking better of it and gripping his shoulder instead.
“Don’t be. I’m glad it happened, the more I think about it. I finally have some closure.”
“Jungmi...did she know about the poltergeist?” Taehyung braced himself for Jimin to shut down, to say that he didn’t want to talk about it, but to his surprise, Jimin nodded.
“Yeah,” he said softly. “That’s why she left, actually. We had Yongsun when we were only twenty-one, and we had to keep moving, thinking we could outrun the poltergeist. This house was our ninth move. One morning, she woke up early to go to work, and she found all the knives in the kitchen stabbed through the wall, and I guess it was too much.” He stared up at the ceiling, tugging on his ring again, then turned his gaze downward. “We had just moved here, thinking it might finally be over, and when it wasn’t, she just. Left.”
Taehyung imagined Jimin waking up to an empty bed, to an empty house, and waiting for his wife to return, only to find out that she wasn’t coming back. He imagined having to tell Yongsun that his mother was gone, and his heart broke in two. Jimin didn’t deserve that. No one did.
“She didn’t leave a note or anything?”
Jimin shook his head. “Nothing. And her parents never liked me, and they don’t acknowledge Yongsun, so they wouldn’t tell us where she went. After a while they started blocking my calls.”
“So it really is just you and Yongsun, then, huh?” Taehyung mused. Maybe Jimin was a little out of his mind for thinking he was being haunted like this, but Taehyung couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. “You’re amazing.” The words slipped out without him thinking, but he didn’t regret saying them at all. For Jimin to be raising Yongsun in an environment like this all on his own really was nothing short of amazing.
Jimin blushed and shook his head. “I-I mean he’s a great kid, so that makes it easier on me,” he said quickly. “It’s just that with everything going on, I’m so scared for him. What if the poltergeist gets violent with him or something?”
An uneasy feeling settled over Taehyung again, a feeling that was suspiciously something like guilt. It seemed to be gnawing at his insides while he replied, “Well, that’s...what I’m here for.”
Jimin touched his fingers against the back of Taehyung’s hand, which was still resting on Jimin’s shoulder. “Thank you,” he said. “I mean that. If you can really get rid of this thing, then I’d be in debt to you for the rest of my life.”
There was no getting around it, now. Taehyung felt guilty. He was an awful person, and Jimin didn’t deserve this. His spreadsheet that he’d been so excited to make back when he’d first gotten Jimin’s phone call had laid out another two weeks of this, but Taehyung had to end it. He had to end it now.
“I’ll stop by again tomorrow night,” Taehyung said. “I’ll do the exorcism, and then it’ll be over.”
Jimin’s grateful smile haunted him the entire bus ride back to his apartment.
“Wow, I’m surprised you can walk straight,” came Jungkook’s voice, peering over the top of the couch and waggling his eyebrows. “Since you spent the whole day at your dick appointment.”
Taehyung didn’t respond, kicking off his shoes and setting his keys on the table.
“Hyung? Why do you look so upset?” Jungkook asked, the smarmy grin on his face melting into one of concern. “I was just joking, honestly.”
“No, it’s not that,” Taehyung mumbled. “It’s nothing at all, actually. I’m just tired.”
Jungkook raised his eyebrows and bit his lips together, but didn’t try to press him further, for which Taehyung was infinitely grateful. He wasn’t sure of a lot of things right now, but what he was sure of was that he did not want to talk about any of it.
The next morning, he had another meeting with the American couple and their Taeyang refrigerator, but his heart just wasn’t in it. The entire time he was there, all he could think about was Jimin and Yongsun, and it was severely interfering with his ability to smooth talk his clients. Before, he was always so excited to get a case, to see his persuasive skills and charisma charm his clients into believing anything he told them. Before, he was proud of the fact that he was scamming these people, but now the thought of it made him feel ill.
“I’m sorry,” he found himself saying. “It looks like Taeyang’s presence left.”
The couple weren’t very quiet about their disappointment, but Taehyung was too distracted to care very much. By the time he’d left their house, apologizing half-heartedly, and made it to the bus stop, the uncomfortable feeling that he was a bad person began to poke at him incessantly.
It was with a heavy heart and a turbulent mind that he arrived at Jimin’s house for hopefully the last time. He couldn’t take much more of this guilt; if it got any worse, he’d end up having to shut down his entire business, his entire livelihood, altogether.
Jimin opened the door with a relieved smile, stepping aside and ushering Taehyung inside. “I’m glad you’re here. One of your machines started beeping, and I was just about to call you.”
Taehyung had to beat down the surprised expression from appearing on his face. The gadgets he had were all duds, set to not go off unless he pressed a button on a remote that was currently sitting on his kitchen table. He might’ve thought Jungkook had pressed it on accident, but the remote definitely did not have a far enough range to make that possible. Thinking it must be busted, he nodded and played it off like it was normal. When he walked inside, sure enough, the gadget he’d set by the stairs was beeping about every thirty seconds.
“Did Yongsun by any chance touch it?” Taehyung asked, trying to find out what was making it go off like this.
“No, he’s been asleep for a while, and it started only five minutes before you showed up.”
“Oh.” Taehyung was at a complete loss. “Well, it’s okay. Sometimes these things just go off for no reason--”
Suddenly the EMF meter began beeping too, the number on the tiny screen flashing a reading of 4.2. Taehyung looked at it with furrowed eyebrows, starting to think that maybe Jungkook had done something to them after all. He wouldn’t put it past him to do something like that. “I think the poltergeist is getting a bit restless,” Taehyung said, the excuse coming to him quickly. “Nothing to worry about. It’s still a low reading, so I’ll just get this to turn off for you, and then we can get this ghost out of your house.” 4.2 was not a low reading at all, but he wasn’t about to get Jimin scared. He was trying to make this as quick and painless as possible, if he could just get this damn thing to turn off.
“So, how was work today?” Taehyung asked, still fiddling with the EMF meter but finding himself paying more attention to Jimin’s response than the machine itself.
“Oh, it was alright,” Jimin said, his eyes lighting up. “I had to go run a few errands in the next town over for my boss, and I found this cute little bakery that had the best donuts.”
Taehyung felt his cheeks grow warm at the delighted look on Jimin’s face. “Doesn’t sound like work to me,” he teased, turning back to the EMF meter to hide his burning cheeks.
“I guess you’re right,” Jimin laughed. “Next time I’m out there, I’ll bring one back for you. We can have a donut lunch.”
“Well, yeah. My house is going to be a lot less awful to be in once this poltergeist is gone, so I’ll be able to have guests over again.” Jimin toed at the carpet with his socked feet. “I mean, if you’d want to--”
They were interrupted by a loud crash from the second floor, and Jimin’s face went white as a sheet, his eyes widening and his lips parting in horror. “Oh, god,” he gasped, and ran up the stairs. Taehyung followed close behind, his heart thundering in his chest.
Jimin threw open the door to Yongsun’s bedroom, and breathed out a sigh of relief when he saw that he was still sleeping soundly in his bed. The noise had come from a toy firetruck that had fallen off the shelf on the opposite end of the room, lying on its side with one of the wheels spinning slowly.
“Oh, it’s just the toy,” Taehyung sighed, his heart rate slowing. For a moment there, it had been difficult to breathe with how worried he’d been; Jimin’s reaction to the noise had been enough to make Taehyung into a nervous wreck.
“Yeah,” Jimin said, though he still looked a bit reluctant to leave the room.
Yongsun yawned in his sleep, and at the same time the temperature in the room took a spike downward, and both Jimin and Taehyung shivered at the same time. Then, a sound began to fill the room. It was so quiet at first that Taehyung thought it might be traffic from outside, but then it grew louder, like a low rattle gaining speed, and it was then that he realized it was the shelf that the firetruck had fallen from. It was rattling like someone was shaking it, the tremors becoming more and more violent, the toys and books falling and clanging against the wooden floors, jolting Yongsun awake.
Taehyung’s first thought was that it was an earthquake, but nothing else in the room was moving. Jimin reacted more quickly than he did, darting forward and scooping his son up out of the bed, holding him close and retreating back toward the door. Taehyung could only watch in horror as the tremors became so violent that the entire shelf was teetering like it might fall over, and the door to the bedroom slammed shut behind them, closing them in. The machine in the corner of the room, which had been beeping throughout the entire ordeal, was now practically screaming, the light blaring a harsh red.
“Dad!” Yongsun cried, burying his face in Jimin’s neck while Jimin hugged him tighter, and then everything came to a stop all at once. The shelves stilled, the door slowly creaked back open, the machine quieted, and silence fell over the room.
“It’s okay, baby,” Jimin cooed, rubbing his son’s back gently and rocking him back and forth. “It’s okay, it’s over. Taehyung is going to get rid of the ghost, remember?”
While Jimin and Yongsun were calming down beside him, Taehyung was slowly becoming hysterical.
“No,” Taehyung said, his mind reeling and his stomach churning. “No, no, this isn’t right. This wasn’t supposed to be real. This wasn’t…”
Jimin stared at him, his eyebrows furrowed together. “What are you talking about?”
“I...I have to go,” Taehyung gaped, his bugged out eyes still fixated on the shelves, slowly backing out of the room. “This wasn’t… oh my god.”
“I thought you’ve done this before?” Jimin said, even Yongsun turning his head to stare at Taehyung now. “You were going to cleanse the house, and detach the poltergeist from me and Yongsun--”
“I lied, okay? I was scamming you. None of this was supposed to be real and I--”
“What?” Jimin was angry now, his face contorting. “Are you fucking with me right now?” Yongsun gasped a little at hearing his father curse, so Jimin set him down and covered his ears while he glared at Taehyung.
“So you were just going to take advantage of me?” Taehyung was wrong; Jimin wasn’t angry, he was furious. “Is that what you do? You go around to people who need help and take their money without actually doing anything?”
Taehyung couldn’t even find the words to respond, so he just kept staring, his mouth hanging open uselessly. Yongsun couldn’t take his eyes off him, a mix of fear and distrust.
When it became clear that Taehyung wasn’t even going to attempt to defend himself, Jimin drew himself up to his fullest height, his shoulders squared and his jaw set. “Get out,” Jimin said, pointing toward the stairs. “Get the hell out of my house, now. I can’t believe I trusted you. God!”
“I’m so sorry,” Taehyung whispered, finally regaining use of his vocal cords, but it was too late for apologies now. He’d messed up, badly.
“Get out!” Jimin cried, his ears red and his eyes glassy, one arm still pointed out of the room and the other shielding Yongsun from him.
Taehyung didn’t hesitate; he ran down the stairs, abandoning all his equipment in the house, and bolted out the front door, his racing heart rising in his chest, feeling like it would choke him out at any moment. He closed the front door behind him, the dark sky dotted with what stars were visible through the clouds and the neighborhood quiet, oblivious to what had just happened inside this house.
Ghosts were real. The poltergeist was real. All of it had been real. Ghosts and poltergeists and everything that Taehyung had been counting on as fake and a scam had been real and he was probably the shittiest person on the planet. The look of betrayal and anger on Jimin’s face, on Yongsun’s face stung worse than any injury he’s ever had, and that was almost affecting him more so than the paranormal revelation. Ghosts were real, and Jimin hated him.
His entire bus ride back to his own house was spent in a daze, thinking about all the past cases he’d done. Most of them he knew had been fake all around, but there had been a few that could have been like Jimin’s. A few people that thought they’d been helped, thought they could trust Kim Taehyung, paranormal consultant and extractor, when all they got was Kim Taehyung, con artist and grade-A asshole.
Most of all, though, he thought about Jimin. If everything he’d said was true, and it sure as hell looked like it was, then that meant he and Yongsun were still in danger at that house. Jimin had been so relieved to hear that Taehyung was almost ready to get rid of the poltergeist, even prepared to invite him over again in the future that it made Taehyung sick to think about now.
When he arrived home, he barely remembered to stop and take his shoes off before he was storming up to Jungkook, ripping the headset off his ears and hitting the power button on the TV remote.
“Hey! What the shit--”
“Jungkook. Cancel all my appointments and clear your schedule. We’re pulling an all-nighter.”
Jungkook squinted at him. “What’s going on? You look like you just saw a ghost.”
“I did.” Taehyung left the couch, walking immediately to his computer and pulling up Naver, holding his pen and the notepad at the ready while he clicked on the search bar.
“What?” Jungkook got up, sidling over next to him and peeking at his planner, one hand on the phone. “Are you joking?”
“No,” Taehyung said, scrolling through endless occult websites and odd search results. “Jimin’s poltergeist is real. I saw it.”
Jungkook’s arm dropped to his side and he rolled his eyes. “Okay, hyung, this is hilarious and all, but you did not just stop me in the middle of a battle royale match to prank me.”
“I’m not pranking you. Now hurry up and cancel my appointments. I’m not taking any more clients.” He reached over and picked up the phone, thrusting it in Jungkook’s hand and leaning in closer to the computer screen, jotting down notes as he read through the results.
Jungkook hesitated, then took the receiver, dialing out the numbers in Taehyung’s planner and cancelling appointments with each one. “I’ve never seen you this riled up, hyung,” he said once he’d finished, bending down to read the screen over Taehyung’s shoulder. “Did you really see the poltergeist?”
“Yeah. And I’m gonna get rid of it. For real, this time.”
“Need some help?”
Taehyung sighed in relief and spared one hand to grip Jungkook’s forearm with a tight grin. “You’re the best. Just look up anything that has to do with hauntings and poltergeists, especially how to get rid of them. Use your phone, books, anything.”
He and Jungkook stayed up for hours, scouring website after website, Jungkook even contacting some of his friends who were into the occult for advice, and Taehyung diligently wrote down every detail in his notepad.
By the time the first rays of sunlight began to filter through the curtains over the window, Jungkook was passed out with his cheek crushed against the page of an open book, one hand curled around a half-empty mug of coffee and the other still pinching the corner of the page like he was about to turn it.
Taehyung yawned so violently that it forced his eyes shut and he shook his head to try and dispel the exhaustion clouding his mind.
His notepad was filled, every page, front to back, with countless methods and rituals and tips for getting rid of poltergeists. He’d looked into online forums of people who were discussing how to end a poltergeist haunting, he’d looked at sketchy sites made by people claiming to be ghost hunters, and had even listened to Jungkook’s friend explain the psychological theories about poltergeists over speakerphone.
He still didn’t think he was actually ready to perform a real exorcism, but Jimin’s stormy eyes and Yongsun’s disappointed face were seared into the back of his eyelids. This was as good as it was going to get, and he was going to try everything to detach that poltergeist from the two of them.
“Kook, wake up,” he said, shaking Jungkook’s shoulder.
“I’m up!” Jungkook said, jerking upright with his eyes still closed, turning his head back and forth like he was looking around. “So much ghost research, wow.” His head lolled forward, so Taehyung snapped his fingers in front of his face, making him squint his eyes open. “Huh?”
“Kook, I need you to do something for me, okay?”
“What is it?”
“I need you to stay awake tonight. I’m going to go to Jimin’s house after he gets off work--”
“--you know his schedule?”
“Not important. Anyway, I’m going to his house later, and we’re going to get rid of the poltergeist together.” He pointed to the information he’d scrawled on the first page, stating that poltergeists feed off a person’s psyche. “He has to be there for it to work.” Jungkook nodded to show he was listening, even though his face was still puffy from sleep, so Taehyung continued. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, or what I’m getting myself into, but if I’m not able to finish, I need you to head down and pick up where I left off.”
Jungkook was quiet for a second, and Taehyung thought maybe he’d fallen asleep again, but then he spoke. “Hyung, don’t be so dramatic. All you have to do is go in there, throw some salt at this thing, make Jimin accept himself or whatever, and then come back. I mean, who else is gonna restock the pantry?”
“You’re such a brat. I’m being serious, though.”
“Yeah, me too. You got this, hyung. And don’t forget to bone him after you get rid of the ghost. I still want that fifty thousand won.”
Taehyung whacked him on the back of the head, but it was with a smile tugging on the corners of his lips. Somehow, that did make him feel a bit better about what he was doing, and by the time he was set to leave the apartment and head over to Jimin’s, he’d reached a state of peaceful acceptance. Ghosts were real. Ghosts were real, and he just had to get rid of one. No big deal.
Of course, that all changed when he walked through Jimin’s neighborhood, seeing the lights on through the curtains on his house. At that moment, though, he was more scared of what Jimin’s reaction would be to seeing Taehyung than the ghost itself.
Taehyung hesitated on Jimin’s front lawn for long enough that he started to worry that Amber and Soojung might tip Jimin off that he was there, and he’d refuse to answer the door. With that in mind, he tried his best to tamp down his nervousness and stepped up onto the front porch, knocking while biting his lip and preparing for whatever might happen.
When Jimin opened the door, his face was frazzled for only a moment before darkening, his lips pressed together in a straight line. “You’ve got some nerve coming back here,” he said, his voice lower than Taehyung had ever heard it.
“Listen, I know I fucked up,” Taehyung said, holding out his hands in an apology.
“You think? Get the hell off my porch.”
“No, please, wait. I’m not trying to scam you again. I want to help you.”
Jimin just stared at him, eyes narrowing.
“I haven’t been able to sleep at night knowing you and Yongsun are going through all this shit. I’m not even asking for money, or anything, I just want to help.”
“How am I supposed to trust you?”
“Didn’t you hear me? I’m not charging you. What other reason could I possibly have for coming back here other than to help you out?”
Jimin crossed his arms. “I can think of a few.”
“You can keep an eye on me the entire time,” Taehyung pleaded, too desperate to be offended that Jimin would insinuate that he might steal from the house. “I promise I looked everything up. I did my research, for real this time, and I think I can get rid of this thing.”
“Dad? Who are you talking to?” Yongsun’s voice cut in before Jimin could say anything else, and his tiny head appeared behind Jimin’s leg, his wide eyes growing even wider when he spotted Taehyung. “Oh.”
Taehyung bent down a bit, smiling at him. “Hey, buddy!”
Yongsun didn’t smile, instead giving Taehyung a wary look similar to the one he’d had back when Taehyung first arrived at their house. “My dad said you were a bad man.”
Taehyung didn’t know how to respond. He deserved that one, for sure, but it still broke his heart to know that Yongsun didn’t trust him anymore, either. Luckily, he was saved from having to answer that when Jimin ruffled his son’s hair and told him, “Shh. Go back inside.” Yongsun nodded, shooting Taehyung one last curious glance before disappearing back in the house. Jimin looked up at the top of the doorframe and sighed, running a hand through his hair, appearing to be deep in thought.
“I guess I don’t really have anything else to lose,” he said finally, opening his eyes and leveling his gaze with Taehyung’s again, the anger leaving his expression. He just looked tired, now. “But if you try anything, I won’t hesitate to kick you out.”
Taehyung nodded, relieved. “I won’t, I promise. You have my word, I’ll do everything I can to get this bastard out of your house and away from you and Yongsun.”
Jimin nodded, opening the door all the way and stepping inside so that Taehyung could come in. The house hadn’t changed at all, save for the drawings on the table. Whereas before they’d just been mindless red scribbles, now they were harsh and almost violent in the way they took up the pages, the press of the crayon so hard against the paper that it had torn in some places. Taehyung felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up as he passed them, wondering what Jimin’s reaction had been to seeing his son be affected to that extent. It only made him all the more determined to help the two of them.
“Well?” Jimin said. “What are you going to do?”
Taehyung dug out his notepad from his bag, “I researched a lot, so I have a few ideas. But you said the other exorcists failed, right?”
“Yeah,” Jimin said.
“What methods did they use? Do you remember?”
Jimin folded his arms, screwing up his face in thought, and then shrugged. “I don’t really know. I think they used salt, put some sigils up, read some Latin. I trusted that they knew what they were doing, so I didn’t pay much attention.” He said that last bit with a noticeable harshness in his tone, making Taehyung wince slightly, even though he deserved it.
“Okay,” Taehyung said, trying to keep things light. “We can just try everything, then. I meant it when I said I wasn’t leaving until this ghost is out of your lives.”
“We’ll see,” Jimin said, but he joined Taehyung in going through the list of exorcism methods that he’d researched and written in his notepad.
“We have to put salt down on all the windows and exits to the house,” Taehyung explained. “That way it can’t escape. We can trap it inside and destroy it for good.”
Jimin nodded. “I have plenty of salt.”
“We should also make a circle of salt around us when we try and summon it, so it can’t, you know, kill us or something.”
Jimin blanched but nodded again. “Got it.”
“And then I’ll just read out this exorcism chant that I got from one of my assistant’s occult friends,” Taehyung finished. “The only thing is that you have to really want this thing gone. It feeds off your insecurities, so you just have to show it who’s boss.”
“You’re the boss, dad!” Yongsun exclaimed, patting Jimin’s stomach, which was as far up as he could reach.
Jimin smiled down at his son and ruffled his hair. “That’s right, Yongsun-ah.”
Armed with a box of salt each, they set to work. It was silent for the most part, especially when Yongsun bounded off down the hall to get the windows in the rooms down there, but then finally Jimin spoke.
“So how long have you been doing this, really?” Jimin asked. “Was all of it a lie?”
“No, not everything. I really did start this up back in college, but, well. None of it was real.”
Jimin shook his head. “And no one ever called you out on it until now?”
Taehyung shrugged. “If people already believe in ghosts to the point of calling someone like me, then they wouldn’t even have a reason to doubt me. I’ve just never…” He trailed off. I’ve just never gotten attached to anyone like this, was what he wanted to say, but this is the wrong time, wrong place, wrong everything. He’s already screwed up enough with Jimin, he didn’t need to add this on top of that.
If Jimin noticed his hesitation, he didn’t comment on it, instead pausing in the middle of dumping the salt along the windowsills. “Why did you start? Was it just for the money?”
“No,” Taehyung said, figuring it best to be honest with him. There was no point in lying about anything, now. “No, it’s honestly a bit of a pathetic story.”
“Well, I’m mad at you, so I want to hear it.”
Taehyung smiled despite himself. Jimin was so cute. “Okay.” He shook his head, unable to believe that he was actually telling someone this story after all these years. “Back when I was in high school, I saw a ghost.”
Jimin raised his eyebrows, going back to salting the windows.
“Yeah, I know. It was the ghost of my great-uncle who had died a few weeks before. I came home one night from cram school, and he was just standing there in the living room, staring at me.” The memory crept into his mind while he spoke, the look of those dead eyes still as clear to him now as they had been back then. “I sort of became obsessed with the occult after that, and started watching nothing but horror movies and researching ghost sightings.”
Taehyung caught Jimin holding back a smile, biting down his lips to keep them from turning up, and it made him smile too.
“But you know high school. I was different, I was a weirdo, so people started calling me ‘alien’ and saying I was a devil worshipper. A teacher told my parents, and they started putting me on these meds for my brain, thinking there was something wrong with me. That’s why I couldn’t have sugar,” he said, his smile not reaching his eyes. “It messed with the meds too much. No caffeine, sugar, anything. There wasn’t a better motivator for me to stop doing all that stuff, I can tell you that.”
Jimin’s smile faded, his eyes softening and his eyebrows raising. He stopped salting the windows again and just turned to face Taehyung, giving him his full attention.
“So I forced myself to stop believing in all of it. I convinced myself that I’d just been seeing things, that it was a trick of the light, that I hadn’t really seen it.” He shrugged. “It worked. I graduated, and for all I was concerned, ghosts were as fake as Santa Claus.” He caught himself right as he said that, eyeing the room frantically for any signs of Yongsun, but luckily he was still in the other room with his own salt for the windows and hadn’t heard.
“Go on,” Jimin urged him, completely enraptured now.
“There’s not much else to tell. I got to college, and met an old classmate from high school, one of the assholes who teased me, and he was really stressed. He asked if I was still ‘obsessed with all that ghost shit,’ because he needed an exorcism done on his house.” Taehyung bit his lip, suddenly ashamed of how everything turned out. “I said yeah, because I thought I could make a quick buck off him, since he’d been such a jerk in high school. But then word got out, and it just sort of spiraled into a whole business.”
Jimin nodded, setting the salt down on the edge of the couch and crossing the room. “I’m sorry,” he said, patting Taehyung’s upper arm. “I had no idea.”
“Hey, don’t be too quick to forgive me,” Taehyung said, half-laughing to lighten the mood. “Me getting bullied for believing in ghouls in high school doesn’t excuse what I did to you.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Jimin agreed, “But it does help me be less angry with you. I’m sorry that your childhood wasn’t the best. And I’m sorry for trying to turn you away when you came back to help. I appreciate what you’re doing.”
“Yeah, well, I’m just sorry that I couldn’t do this for you from the beginning. This thing should never have been allowed to hang around you for this long.”
Yongsun darted back in the room before Jimin could respond, brandishing his empty box of salt. “All done!” he declared proudly. “What next?”
Taehyung glanced at Jimin, who got the hint and bent down to tell him gently, “Why don’t you go throw this away, okay? Remember to break the box down before you put it in the recycling bag, like I showed you.”
Yongsun nodded dutifully and ran off to the kitchen, and Jimin turned to Taehyung expectantly.
“Are Amber and Soojung home?” Taehyung asked, once Yongsun was out of earshot.
“I think so, why?”
“I would just feel a lot better if Yongsun didn’t have to be in the house for this,” Taehyung said. “From what I researched, the spirit might get agitated while we’re trying to get rid of it.”
Jimin looked at him with a curious expression, tilting his head a bit, looking very much like he wanted to say something. He settled on, “That’s a good idea,” but something in his eyes told Taehyung that he was still holding something in.
That wasn’t important, though. While Jimin was taking Yongsun outside to leave him with the couple next door, Taehyung was mentally preparing himself for whatever might happen tonight. He knew that this was out of his depth, that he was nowhere near as prepared as he should be to deal with something that he’d spent a good portion of his life convinced did not exist.
But when Jimin came back inside, his eyes meeting Taehyung’s, determination seized him and thrust him back into focus. He had to do this. He’d made a promise, and he wasn’t going to walk out of this house until he knew Jimin and Yongsun were safe.
“I’m ready,” Jimin said. “Are you?”
Jimin took his place next to Taehyung, who used the last of the salt to pour out a circle around them. “Okay,” he said, tossing the empty box aside. “Now we wait, I guess.”
It took a few moments, but the poltergeist showed itself. The temperature dropped so rapidly that the lenses in Jimin’s glasses fogged up, forcing him to take them off and move closer to Taehyung, shivering. Goosebumps were prickling down both of their arms, and when Taehyung breathed, it was with a puff of vapor.
“It’s angry,” whispered Jimin. “This has never happened before.”
“That’s okay,” said Taehyung, trying to console him even though his own heart was pounding so hard that it was drowning out any other noise. “We’ve got this.”
As if to show him otherwise, all the lights in the house went out at once, and the drawers in the kitchen began to open and then slam shut repeatedly. Jimin clung to Taehyung’s arm so tightly that Taehyung thought it might leave a bruise, but he was too scared to worry much about that.
The glass on a picture frame shattered in the hallway, the one of Jimin holding Yongsun up on his shoulders at the park, both of them smiling with their identical half-moon eyes. The drawers continued to slam shut while a crayon that had been lying on Yongsun’s sketchbook floated up as if an invisible hand were holding it, drifting over to the wall beneath the photo and scrawling something out in big blocky letters.
Taehyung heard Jimin’s sharp intake of breath beside him and held him closer, reminding him where he was. The poltergeist was trying to get to him, now, pick at his insecurities and keep him vulnerable.
“It’s right,” Jimin said, as the crayon raised up to the photo, writing out the same thing over Jimin’s smiling face. failure, failure, failure
“No, it isn’t,” Taehyung told him firmly. “Don’t pay any attention to it, okay? Remember, you have to tell it that it’s no longer welcome in your h--”
Just then one of Yongsun’s toy cars rolled over by itself, careening right through their circle of salt and breaking it. Before either of them could react, Taehyung had the wind knocked out of him by what felt like an invisible hand socking him in the stomach, throwing him backwards against the nearby wall. It took him several moments to calm his breathing and get back to his feet, his temples and the back of his head throbbing in pain.
Jimin was frozen in place, his eyes open so wide that his scleras were more prominent than his irises, his lips drawn back in a horrified grimace. Taehyung tried to get back over to him, to keep him focused, but the poltergeist wasn’t having it. A chair from the kitchen careened over at him, forcing him to jump backward as it hit the couch so hard that he was surprised it didn’t break.
He tried again to get over to Jimin, but that was when the poltergeist decided it would try and get rid of Taehyung altogether, and the kitchen knives from one of the drawers hung in the air, pointing directly at him. Panic coursed through him; he had to get Jimin back on track, get whatever thoughts the poltergeist was making him feel out of his head. All those insecurities about raising Yongsun on his own, about his wife leaving, about having to work all the time, the poltergeist was feeding on that and growing stronger the more Jimin dwelled on it.
“Jimin!” Taehyung yelled, ducking as a knife flew over his head and sunk into the drywall up to the handle. “You’re an amazing father! Yongsun is so lucky to h--fuck!” Another knife whizzed past his head, just barely missing his ear. “Yongsun is lucky to have you!”
Jimin shook his head, his hands trembling and his eyes squeezed shut.
“He is,” Taehyung insisted.
A rush of cold air hit them as the front door opened, Yongsun’s short figure highlighted by the streetlamps outside. “Dad!” he cried, rushing inside, his socked feet pushing through the line of salt and breaking it as he ran toward his father. Everything in the room stopped all at once. The knives froze mid-air, the drawers stopped with a clank of utensils rattling together, and the ringing in Taehyung’s ears quieted to a dull hum.
“Yongsun?” Jimin said, turning wide-eyed toward his son. He bent down and hugged him tightly, one hand on the back of his head and the other wrapped around him. “Yongsun, I told you to stay at noona’s house! Go back, right now! It’s too dangerous--”
“Dad,” Yongsun began slowly, looking more serious than any six year old had any right to be. “The ghost isn’t leaving because you’re keeping it here.” One of the knives fell out of the air onto the carpet. “You keep saying you’re a bad father to me, and the ghost likes when you say that.” Another knife fell, this time near Taehyung’s feet. “But I don’t.”
“You’re my dad. And you’re doing your best.”
And maybe that’s exactly what Jimin needed to hear, because at that moment all of the knives fell, and the temperature in the room began steadily increasing. Yongsun wrapped his arms around Jimin’s neck and hugged him as tightly as he could. Taehyung was so enraptured by the scene in front of him that he’d almost forgotten about the exorcism. Clearing his head, he looked down at the slightly torn notebook and began reading out the Latin phrases, and though the foreign words got caught on his tongue, when he finished, the dark cloud that seemed to be perpetually hanging over the house was gone. It was something that Taehyung hadn’t even noticed until he couldn’t feel it anymore, and it made such a tremendous difference that he was a bit disoriented for a moment.
Jimin got to his feet slowly, looking around at the fallen kitchen knives, the smashed photographs, the scattered broken crayons, and breathed out a short gasp.
“It’s gone,” Jimin said. “It’s gone. You did it.” He ran his fingers up into his hair, his eyes bugging and his mouth hanging open in utter disbelief. “You did it.” He lowered his hands, his hair still ruffled up, and then Taehyung let out a tiny noise of surprise as Jimin walked over, reached up, and kissed him. It was short and sweet and probably born out of more sheer adrenaline than anything else, but it made Taehyung feel warm from his lips down to the ends of his fingertips. “Sorry,” Jimin said quickly when he pulled away, his arms folding over his chest as if to punish them.
Taehyung didn’t think; he just grabbed Jimin’s shoulders and leaned down to press their lips together again, seeking out that warmth and melting into Jimin’s touch when he found it. Jimin’s lips were a little chapped but soft all the same, and tasted like some kind of chapstick, though he never really was very good at pinpointing taste. All he knew was that he’d do this exorcism thing all over again if it meant getting to kiss Jimin like this.
“Actually, you did it,” Taehyung told him when they finally broke apart, still holding onto each other. “That was all you.”
“Ew,” came Yongsun’s tiny voice, scrunching up his nose and sticking out his tongue.
Jimin’s eyes widened as if he’d forgotten that Yongsun was still standing there, his lips turning up in a sheepish grin. He took a step back and scratched at the back of his neck. “Well. Thank you for everything, Taehyung.”
“It was no trouble,” Taehyung said, still a bit breathless. “I’ll just,” he gestured toward the door, “go, I guess. To tell my assistant that I didn’t die.”
“Right. Yeah. And I should go tell Amber and Soojung that Yongsun’s back here.”
Taehyung lingered by the door, turning back to look at the house, salt covering the floors and crayon marks on the walls, but for once seeing a smiling Jimin and an energetic Yongsun standing there. His heart stuttered and he couldn’t help but grin back, his lips stretching out into a rectangular smile. “I’ll see you around,” he said, and closed the door behind him.
Two months passed, the yellow and brown leaves turning brittle on the damp ground and crumbling, the air filled with the smell of pumpkin and cinnamon. Taehyung shut down his website, and picked up a part-time job at the corner store selling Halloween costumes for the season instead. Jungkook insisted on staying with him, saying that he was his assistant for life, which was Jungkook-speak for ‘I want to keep living with you and stealing the snacks out of your fridge and pantry.’
Taehyung didn’t hear from Jimin again. Jimin never called him, and he never called either, so he figured that was just something that had happened in his life; a learning experience thrust upon him from the universe. Sure, maybe he was a better person now, no longer scamming people for money, but he was also a part-time seasonal employee at a corner store with the terrifying knowledge that ghosts and ghouls and poltergeists were, in fact, real. So, thanks, universe.
One night, the day before Halloween, Taehyung returned home early from work, moving immediately to the couch to take a nap, ignoring Jungkook’s complaints that they were out of honey butter chips. He lied there for a while, his black and orange uniform smelling like plastic and cardboard from unpacking boxes, and his legs exhausted from running around all day. Really, all he needed was a quick nap.
Then someone knocked at his door. “Kook-ah, answer it,” he grumbled into the couch cushion.
Jungkook sighed dramatically, setting his phone down and dragging himself to the front door, squinting through the peep hole. “It’s a hot guy,” he said. “Should I let him in?”
Taehyung made a noncommittal grunt and waved his hand, figuring it was probably just one of their neighbors complaining about Jungkook’s very loud horror movie watching sessions again. It was the same story every time: a neighbor would come prepared to yell, Jungkook would turn up the charm to five thousand, and then they’d end up boning in the laundry room. Normally Taehyung might have teased him to get him flustered and more prone to bad pick-up lines, but at this point he was too tired to care.
Jungkook opened the door, brushing his unwashed hair away from his forehead and doing what Taehyung called his douche nod. “Hey, there,” he said in a flirtatious tone.
“Hi,” said a familiar voice. “Does Kim Taehyung still live here?”
Taehyung shot up so fast that he cricked his neck, scrambling off the couch and standing frozen in place, every ounce of drowsiness evaporating when he made eye contact with a pair of dark eyes over Jungkook’s shoulder. “Move, brat,” he said to Jungkook, shoving him out of the way and holding the door open instead, blinking down at Jimin with a stunned expression on his face.
Jimin still looked just as amazing, though significantly less frazzled than before. His eyes looked much brighter, his hair shinier, and even the way he was standing straight up, looking Taehyung head-on conveyed how much better he was doing now. Taehyung was glad to see it; before, he’d looked so sad and a bit empty inside, it had been difficult to look at.
“Jimin, what are you doing here?” Taehyung asked once he got over the initial shock.
“I’m sorry for barging in on you like this,” Jimin said, tugging on his finger where his wedding ring used to be. He must have stopped wearing it recently. “I was in the area, and thought I’d stop by and see how you’ve been.”
“Oh. Well, uh. I’ve been okay,” Taehyung said, fully aware of the judgmental looks Jungkook was giving him. He never had been able to keep up his charismatic demeanor around Jimin; something about him always made Taehyung turn into a soft, stuttering mess. “What about you? I mean, you look great.”
“Really? I do feel a lot better. It’s all thanks to you,” Jimin said with a nervous smile. There was something else, another reason why he’d come here, Taehyung could tell in the way he kept glancing off to the side and biting his lip. “Actually… there’s another reason why I came here.” There it is.
“What’s up?” Taehyung asked, his heart racing.
Jimin let his hands fall to his sides. “I just...I can’t stop thinking about the poltergeist. What if there are other people going through the same thing I did?”
Taehyung nodded, not really sure what he expected. “I’m sure there are,” he said truthfully. He had been thinking the same thing, forlorn that there was really nothing he could do about it, even with his newfound knowledge.
“I was also thinking,” Jimin began slowly. “What if we kept your business up and running, but for real this time? We could actually help people, Taehyung.”
Jimin opened his mouth, his eyebrows shooting up, and then he closed it, his cheeks flushing. “Well, I...I want to help. Plus, Yongsun really misses having you around.”
Yongsun. Taehyung missed the kid like crazy, so it made his heart swell to hear that he’d been asking about him. And Jimin… Taehyung had missed him just as much, and embarrassing as it was, he couldn’t stop thinking about the way it had felt when Jimin kissed him for that brief moment the day they got rid of his poltergeist.
“I...yeah. Yeah, let’s do it,” he found himself saying. “I’m kind of out of a job right now,” or at least he would be, once he called the corner store and told them he was quitting, effective immediately, “and...yeah. I missed you too.”
Jimin’s eyes practically sparkled, his smile so bright that it melted Taehyung’s heart.
“Okay, before you two start making out in the doorway, I’m gonna bounce,” Jungkook said, scooting past them while tossing his keys up and catching them midair. Once he was out of Jimin’s line of vision in the hallway, he made an over-exaggerated expression while pointing at Jimin’s ass, then gave Taehyung the thumbs-up and made a series of obscene gestures, mouthing ”Get it, hyung,” before disappearing down the stairwell.
“Sorry about him,” Taehyung laughed nervously. “He’s obnoxious, but he’s my friend.”
“No, it’s fine,” Jimin said, his smile not leaving his face. “I actually have to go, Amber and Soojung are waiting for me to pick up Yongsun. I just had to come by and tell you.”
“Wait,” Taehyung said before Jimin could leave. They’d already had a moment like this, one that they’d squandered, and he wasn’t about to let it slip through his fingers again. “You kissed me last time we saw each other.”
Jimin’s eyes widened and a blush spread across his cheeks. “Y-yeah. I did.”
“Can you do it again?”
Jimin stared at him for a second as though he couldn’t believe what was happening, but then he nodded, standing on his tiptoes and pressing a kiss to Taehyung’s lips, once, twice, three times. Taehyung felt his eyes flutter shut, holding Jimin close.
“You kissed me back, last time,” Jimin said, his face still barely an inch from Taehyung’s.
Before he could even finish, Taehyung’s arm slipped behind Jimin’s back, holding him at the waist and pulling him in for a real kiss, lips slotting together and their bodies pressed close. It didn’t last that long before they pulled away, staring at each other for a couple seconds before Jimin stepped backward, a smitten smile on his face, pointing halfheartedly over his shoulder with his thumb. “I should, um. Go. To get Yongsun, I mean. But I’ll call you.”
“Right. I’ll answer,” Taehyung said, his lips still tingling with the memory of kissing Jimin. He didn’t close the door until long after Jimin left, shoving his small hands in the oversized pockets on his puffy jacket and half-jogging down the hallway toward the elevator.
(Jimin did call. And Taehyung did answer.)
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