“But maybe that's what the dead do. They stay. They linger. Benign and sweet and painful. They don't need us. They echo all by themselves.”
- Sangu Mandanna
They have always been there. The dead. Ever since he was a small child and his curtains would flutter at night when there was no breeze. Flashes of figures in white in the corridors of his school after dark; a chill running across his skin in the middle of summer; a woman with unnaturally long arms standing on the edge of the sea as a storm rolled in; someone humming to him at night and playing with his hair, even though he knew that his mother was asleep downstairs. He was taught not to fear these things, by his mother and his grandmother who have the same gift as him. It passes down, they explained, through the generations - his great great grandmother was a medium, too.
In fact, his grandmother often insisted that their lineage, and that of their magical gift, could be traced all the way back to the mudang of Silla, who performed gut rites to placate the spirits of the dead and ask for the favor of the gods. There are still mudang and baksu in Korea, though most of the shrines are gone. He’s seen some of them, serving clientele in the city, but his grandmother always warned him away - too many imposters in this modern age, playing with something they don’t understand. So many of the rituals have lost meaning, diluted down over four millennia, and Jimin’s family no longer need rituals to hone their gift. The magic is strong in their blood.
Jimin could feel it humming the loudest on Chuseok, walking amongst the graves his family and performing ancestral rituals in the early morning, just as the sky was beginning to lighten with the first blush of dawn. There were no restless spirits in his bloodline, but the cemeteries were large and he could still see white clad figures roaming without legs amongst the weathered tombstones. Their wailing sounded like the winter wind and his mother took his hand and told him not to look at them for too long. He wasn't ready yet, his time hadn't come, and the spirits could still be dangerous to the unprepared soul.
When he was seven years old, he read Bleach and then about shinigami in Japan and asked his grandmother why their family couldn't have a cool sword to harvest souls. His grandmother laughed and patted him on the head and explained gently that magic doesn't work like that, Jimin-ah, you'll see.
He always hated that term: you'll see. He didn't want to wait for some distant age marker to understand this thing that slept inside of him. That made him restless on a full moon and pulled at his chest like the tides. He learned a few basic spells from his father - how to remove stains, how to recover something that has been lost, how to repair small cracks in objects - but none of it felt like enough. He wanted more, and every evening on the walk home from school a woman with hair in her face followed him through the lamplit city streets, her dirty white hanbok rustling around her bare legs as she moved.
He wished that he could help her.
When Jimin is eight years old, two things happen that change his life forever: he takes his first dance class and falls head over heels in love, and Kim Taehyung moves in next door.
Kim Taehyung is tall and spindly with big ears that stick out from the sides of his head and pretty, expressive eyes. His smile puffs up his cheeks, nearly swallowing his whole face, and he squeezes Jimin's hand hard when he shakes it, dropping low in a respectful bow. Jimin can feel the magic in him, so similar and different to his own.
When's your birthday? Taehyung asks, and lights up when Jimin replies, taking Jimin's other hand. Then we're the same age!
Taehyung's fingers are thin and slender compared to his own short, stubby ones, but it still feels like something clicking into place when Taehyung twines them through the gaps between Jimin's fingers and squeezes again, harder than before. Jimin isn't sure what it is - magic aligning, souls aligning, just his own childish excitement at having a same-age neighbor - but he smiles back at Taehyung, big and unselfconscious about the way it scrunches his eyes up small.
Taehyung starts walking to school with him, backpack bouncing precarious on his narrow shoulders and school jacket a size too big. Jimin learns that Taehyung has come to Busan to live with his grandparents, since his mother and father are busy running the family farm outside Daegu, and neither of them have magic - it skipped a generation, which happens sometimes, Taehyung explains. Taehyung likes manga, too, and wants a sword like the shinigami in Bleach. He likes to ride his bike around their neighborhood, even though he's fallen several times and scraped up his knees and elbows. He'd never seen the ocean before moving to Busan, and he's amazed by how big it is. He wants to be a musician, he thinks, when he grows up. Maybe even a rapper like Epik High, even though he worries he's not going to be good enough at rap.
He can't see the ghosts that hover around Jimin.
He asks about them, though. About the gwishin that follows Jimin home. He takes Jimin's hand as they walk, gaze darting to shadows between buildings, where the light can't reach.
Jimin nods, not having the heart to tell Taehyung that shadows don't matter. That right now, she's standing with her head bowed directly under the street light up the road - her long, unkempt hair falling like a black curtain over her face, obscuring her features. Her limbs are so pale they're almost translucent and her bare feet are stained with graveyard dirt. As they get closer, Jimin can see the same dirt under her fingernails and smeared down her hands, mixed with blood - like she clawed her way out of her grave, up from the underground world where spirits are supposed to reside.
"She won't hurt you," he tells Taehyung and hopes that's true. She's never hurt him, not in months and months. Just follows him home and disappears. He wonders, sometimes, if she was a mother. If Jimin reminds her of her own son. Did she lose him? Is that why she can't move on?
He hasn't figured out a way to ask her.
"What does she look like?" Taehyung asks, huddling a little closer.
"Like a typical gwishin," Jimin says, looping his arm through Taehyung's.
Taehyung shudders. The gwishin turns her head slowly as they pass, then starts to follow at a distance, one slow, shuffling step at a time.
The years unfold like paper: nine, ten, eleven. He learns more spells and then also learns to be careful because there are many people in the world who don't like magic, Jimin-ah, and sometimes those people will try to hurt you. Magic is for his home or his family or the designated markets where only magic users and curious tourists venture.
His father buys him a special radio there and sometimes, when he turns the dials just right, he can hear voices and music from long-gone eras. He lets old folk songs lull him to sleep at night as he curls up under the covers and watches cold mist form on his ceiling, feels the distant crash of the ocean echoing in his blood.
Him and Taehyung spend their school nights studying and their weekends roaming the city. They go to an arcade only a few blocks from their apartment building and challenge each other to Dance Dance Revolution until they're wheezing and laughing. They ride bikes down to the beach, dodging tourists in Haeundae in search of quieter spots further along the coast.
"Can you feel the ocean?" Taehyung asks him as Jimin wades into the warm water, curling his toes in the fine white sand. Old shells brush up against his ankles and he wonders if they're abandoned homes - left behind by crabs that have moved on to bigger and better abodes.
"Yeah," he says to Taehyung and taps his heart. "In my chest. My ribs."
"Me too," Taehyung says, splashing out to stand next to him - his big ears poking out the sides of his baseball cap. "But I don't think it's the same as you."
Jimin shrugs. "It's cause I was born here. That's what halmeoni says - there's ocean in all of our blood, because we were born next to the sea."
"That's cool.” Taehyung bends down and scoops up a shell, glistening bright in the summer sun, a nearly unblemished white. “You’ve got a whole ocean in you.”
An ocean and the dead.
Taehyung can’t see the ghosts, because his gift looks forward, not back. Instead of Jimin’s long-dead spirits, there is the uncharted future. His grandmother works as a fortune teller in the magic district, reading palms and predicting fortunes with her beautiful tarot cards spread across the cloth-covered table.
For Taehyung, the future mostly exists in what he calls impressions. He has trouble explaining them, but he’ll call Jimin before they’re supposed to meet up for school and tell him to pack extra food for lunch, and they’ll meet a hungry dog on the way in that Jimin gives part of his chicken to. He’ll say they shouldn’t bother with the arcade and Jimin will later learn that it closed due to technical issues with some of the machines. He’ll say they should take a different route to the beach and they’ll end up getting free snacks from a kindly street vendor who says Taehyung reminds him of his grandson.
The impressions are cool, Jimin thinks, envious. He wishes he had a gift like Taehyung’s instead of ghosts that hover constantly, making the walls creak in his apartment and whispering in the wind rattling the leaves outside his window.
But magic is always a double-edged sword and a few months after turning twelve, Taehyung calls him in the middle of the night, making him scramble to pull the phone from its cradle before the ringing wakes up his whole family.
“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says and it sounds like he’s crying, struggling to draw breath around the heavy hiccup of sobs. “Jimin-ah, I’m so sorry.”
Jimin opens his mouth to ask him what’s wrong, what’s happened, but suddenly his mother’s wail echoes through the apartment, sharp and jagged with fresh grief.
Jimin’s grandmother has died.
She passed peacefully, at least, in her sleep. They bury her on the family plot, next to Jimin’s grandfather who died when he was only four (cancer - because there are some ailments in the world that not even magic can cure). A mist rolls in as the funeral is drawing to a close and in the swirl of the gathering fog, Jimin thinks he can see various specters. He wonders if they’re helping his grandmother - guiding her on to the next world, welcoming her as one of their own.
He strains and strains but he cannot locate his grandmother among them, and that makes him cry harder. So many ghosts constantly drift in and out of his life, but the one he wants desperately to see is nowhere to be found.
That night, though, he thinks he hears her humming to him as he tries to sleep. Can feel familiar, weathered and gnarled fingers combing through his sweat-damp hair, soothing him. After a few minutes, there is a knock on the door before his mother opens it and ushers Taehyung into Jimin’s bedroom.
Taehyung climbs under the covers, curling himself around Jimin like a protective blanket, and Taehyung’s fingers take his grandmother’s place, sweeping his bangs off his forehead. Jimin presses his face to the warm skin of Taehyung’s neck and digs his fingers in Taehyung’s sides, soaking up the soothing hum of Taehyung’s magic until his tears have finally dried and sleep drags him under.
Things are different, after his grandmother is gone. His mother decides that it’s time for Jimin to learn, to help with the family business, so Jimin’s days fill up. He goes to class with Taehyung, then dance practice, then cram school, and on the weekends, he gives up the arcade to answer the phone in the apartment that only rings for business calls, taking down names and numbers and the kind of help they need: banishment of angry spirits, communing with loved ones that have passed on, laying restless ghosts to rest. He goes with his mother and older cousins to old houses where he learns the proper incantations and chants and the intricate steps of the cleansing ritual that feel almost like a dance of their own. He rides the bus into the magic district to help his mother prepare the space they occasionally rent for private sessions, sitting quietly in a corner while his mother meets with clients and conveys messages to them from their dead loved ones, watching tears roll down their cheeks and feeling his own chest pull tight in sympathy.
But mostly, his focus is on the dead themselves.
You’re like a beacon to them, his mother explains. He thinks of it like holding birdseed in his hand and getting swarmed by pigeons that perch on his arms and peck at his skin. His curtains still rustle at night and now his belongings shift around in his room, or disappear altogether. He spends three days looking for his favorite pair of shoes before he finds them hidden in the back of the hall cupboard, buried beneath his mother’s cleaning supplies and winter coats. The gwishin still follows him home - the same one that’s been walking with him for years. But now, he’s learning how to reach out with his magic and push through the thin, tattered veil that separates his world from theirs. From hers.
So one night, a few blocks from home, he turns to her and asks what’s your name? The air around him turns frigid in a breath and he gasps at the sharp prick of the cold in his lungs, at the goosebumps that break out along his exposed arms and the cloud that hangs in front of his face when he exhales. But he holds still as she shuffles closer to him. Some of her hair falls to the side, enough for him to see one glowing, unnatural eye. He wonders how old she is, how long she’s roamed the earth while it has shifted and changed around her.
When she speaks, it feels like ice crunching and cracking on a spring river - cold and jagged and terrible. He feels the echo of her voice in his marrow as she breathes next to his ear: my son.
Most likely, she has forgotten her own name. But she remembers this: her child that she is missing. Jimin gathers his magic, pushing further past the veil and ignoring the ice he can see forming on the pavement beneath his feet.
He’s waiting for you, he says, magic laced in the words. You need to go to him.
He holds out a hand to her and shudders when her white fingers slither across his palm and curl around his wrist. She flickers, like a damaged film, and for a blink she seems more human than before - like the woman she probably once was: dressed in hanbok with her hair piled on her head. Her skin is freezing against his, but he anchors himself against the pull of death, of her.
You need to go to him, he repeats. I’m not him. He’s waiting for you. You’ve watched over me long enough.
For a moment, everything is suspended. An extended pause, static before a tape flips over, and then she sighs, long and rattling like wind through dead leaves. And then she is gone, between one blink and the next - the only evidence she was ever here the ice that has yet to melt and the chill settled deep beneath Jimin’s skin.
Strangely, he almost misses her.
The summer Jimin is fourteen, he witnesses a car accident on a busy, sun-drenched street. The crunch of metal is almost deafening, rising above the screams of onlookers as a delivery van takes a corner too sharp and smashes into a smaller Kia, totaling it on impact. Jimin staggers, clutching the handlebars of his bike as he feels the veil rent and tear.
“Oh my god,” Taehyung exclaims behind him, skidding to a stop. His voice sounds fuzzy and distorted, like Jimin’s suddenly trapped in a bubble.
Jimin moves on auto-pilot, dropping his bike to the pavement and rushing towards the wreckage of the crash. Someone tries to grab his arm to stop him, but he shrugs them off. He can feel a familiar chill creeping into his lungs and down his spine the closer he gets - it’s always freezing, beyond the veil; everything is cold in death. He barely registers the shattered glass of the windows scattered across the road, or the blood that’s staining the smoking, ruined interior. Already, there is a specter hovering near the driver’s side door: a man.
My daughter, he rasps to Jimin when Jimin approaches him, pointing to the other side of the car. There is a long cut across his face that matches the body slumped over the wheel, and red blooming from the center of his torso, dripping down his khaki pants. My daughter, please.
Jimin rounds the car, dodging pieces of smoking metal. In the distance, sirens wail, getting closer. They won’t be fast enough, Jimin can already tell. The veil is so thin and the little girl in the passenger seat has mere minutes of life left in her. Terror snaps through Jimin’s nerves as he kneels on the bloody asphalt and pries the damaged door open. He’s never witnessed a spirit cross over, even though his mother says that mediums can sometimes act as a reaper and a guide.
The girl’s chest is rising and falling, but already beginning to slow. She’s Jimin’s age, maybe a year or two younger, and Jimin wipes tears from his eyes with a trembling, bloody hand.
Come here, he says to the father, beckoning him closer. Come here, she’s gonna need you.
It’s so cold now he can feel his teeth chattering and his breath is fogging up the air around him. A whisper of air signifies the father moving, following the pull of Jimin’s magic. Jimin pictures driving a stake into the ground to keep himself anchored as his threads his fingers through the girl’s and watches her take her last mortal breath. The rest of his magic flares like a beacon, drawing her in when she crosses the veil.
Her specter is bloody and wide-eyed, radiating fear, but she calms at the sight of her father and from the soothing brush of Jimin’s magic.
There, Jimin says, watching the father reach out and take his daughter’s hand. There, take her with you. You can’t stay here.
My wife, the man says desperately.
I’ll tell her, Jimin promises. I’ll contact you and you can say whatever you need.
After a moment of hesitation, the man nods. His daughter curls into his side, clutching the phantom fabric of his shirt with bloody fingers. Jimin doesn’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse than they have each other, but either way they’re fading, moving further beyond the veil where Jimin can’t reach without a ritual to guide him.
He blinks and suddenly the rest of the world rushes back in. The sirens blare as an ambulance pulls up to the site and several people are tugging on his arms, trying to pull him away from the dead girl in the passenger seat. He staggers upright, gasping, and yanks himself free from their grip.
“I’m fine,” he says, though he feels anything but. His chest is knotted and tight and tears are already blurring his eyes. Their questions jumble together in his cloudy mind and he stumbles away from them, until he’s collapsing into Taehyung’s arms.
“It’s okay, Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says, holding him close as he cries. “You did good. You did really, really good.”
(His mother tells him that it will get easier, given time. He worries that what she means is that he’ll become numb.)
A year later, at fifteen, Jimin gets into the Busan High School of Arts. Taehyung, naturally, comes with him.
Taehyung’s ears are still a little too big and his face a little too narrow, but he grows up beautiful, Jimin thinks. All smooth skin and those expressive eyes and that smile that continues to light up his whole face. He turns heads, when he walks through the halls at school - boys and girls alike - and he seems to have friends in every class. Jimin is a little shy and a little weird: that magic kid who can see dead people, whose family runs a creepy business down in the parts of the city normal locals don’t frequent. But Taehyung does tarot readings at lunch when the teachers aren’t looking - the deck his grandmother gifted him spread out on the cafeteria table and students crowded around, wanting a glimpse of their future.
It isn’t really jealousy that sits like lead in the pit of Jimin’s stomach. Jealousy almost would have been easier. Maybe he could have pushed Taehyung away then, and wallowed in his own lonely sorrow and frustration. But no, he looks at Taehyung and he thinks he’s beautiful. He looks at Taehyung and he thinks I want to kiss him.
Those thoughts are terrifying, but they don’t surprise him like maybe they should. Something about Taehyung has always felt inevitable, even from the moment they first met and Taehyung threaded their fingers together. The red string of fate, winding around their souls. He’s too afraid to say anything, though. To risk losing Taehyung. So he goes home and laughs into his pillows in his darkened bedroom, trying to tamp down on the curl of self-hatred in his gut, twining up his ribs to strangle him.
“I’m so stupid, aren’t I?” he asks, rolling over to face the windows that look out towards the distant sea.
His curtains rustle, but the ghosts remain silent.
Two weeks later, his new cell phone rings when he’s on his way home from dance practice - a familiar number flashing on his screen.
“Hi, halmeoni,” he answers. Taehyung’s grandmother doesn’t call him that often, mostly because she’d rather talk to people face to face. Whenever Jimin goes and sees her, which is usually every other week, she’ll have gossip stored up that can cover hours of conversation. “Everything okay?”
It’s a muggy night, even though the last dredges of summer are rapidly giving way to autumn. Soon the wind off the ocean will turn frigid and he’ll be making this walk bundled up in numerous layers. Right now, though, he pauses at the top of the stone steps that will lead him down to his home street and mops sweat from his brow.
“You should talk to Taehyung,” Grandma Kim says in her deep rasp - the product of years spent smoking pipes.
“Why - is he okay?” Jimin asks, straightening in alarm. Taehyung seemed fine when they parted ways after school - Jimin to dance and Taehyung to saxophone lessons, but he knows firsthand how quickly death and tragedy can strike and turn the world on its head.
“He’s fine,” Grandma Kim assures him. “But you have something you need to tell him, don’t you?”
He sucks in a stunned breath, even as he reminds himself he shouldn’t be surprised. Taehyung’s gift comes from his grandmother, who is an even more proficient a seer than he is. Sometimes, Jimin thinks that she knows everything he’s going to do before he’s even thought about doing it - nothing seems to surprise her: not the time Taehyung tried to sneak a stray dog into the apartment or the time Jimin crashed his bike and needed stitches in his knee or the evening they got lost and didn’t get back until nearly dawn.
(I knew you’d come home, is all she said, shrugging her thin shoulders. I kept your parents from worrying. She did not keep them from grounding him, though. For the next month.)
Still, Jimin’s heart feels bruised and vulnerable so he sputters, “what would I have to tell him?”
“I don’t know.” Her tone is glib, suggesting to him that she isn’t lying. “Just that it’s very important you do. Fear is a powerful thing, Jimin-ah, but you can’t let it hold you back.”
He closes his eyes against the sudden blur of tears, leaning against the railing of the steps for support. “I’ll tell him,” he promises and doesn’t want to be lying, either.
She hums, low and soothing. “For what it’s worth, Jimin-ah, I think the outcome will be a good one.”
And then she hangs up. Jimin wipes a sleeve across his face and shoves his cell phone into one of his jean pockets, sucking in heavy air to ground himself before he continues the journey home - thoughts bouncing around in his head like miniature wrecking balls.
It’s still three days before he works up the courage to pull Taehyung aside after school and say that they need to talk. They have an hour before they have to be back for yaja , so Taehyung nods and lets Jimin lead him through twisting streets until they get to one of their favorite cafes. It always caters to sleep-deprived high school students, offering a discount after 5pm and a free refill, usually poured with understanding sympathy.
It’s not as private as Jimin would like, but there are a few chairs in a quiet corner available and the bustle at the counter means that no one is paying attention as he leans forward and takes Taehyung’s hand. As he scrapes together every quivering ounce of courage he has and blurts out, “I like you.”
Taehyung blinks. “I like you, too, Chim.”
God, he’s infuriating.
“No,” Jimin says, leaning in a little closer. “I like you, Tae. I … I want to date you.”
Now, Taehyung’s mouth drops open and he immediately shifts closer, too. An excited expression steals across his face as he takes Jimin’s other hand. “Oh my god, is it happening?”
“Is what happening?” Jimin asks, lost completely.
“You want to date me?” Taehyung squeezes both of Jimin’s hands. “For real?”
“Yes … why would I joke about this?”
Taehyung huffs. “Fuck, you took so long.”
None of this is going how Jimin envisioned it. “What?”
“I got an impression,” Taehyung finally explains. “Like … a long time ago? Maybe six months? Of you saying that you wanted to date me. But I didn’t know when it would happen and I didn’t want to rush you or force anything, so I’ve been trying to be patient … but Jimin-ah you took so long.”
“Oh,” Jimin whispers in shock. “I’m sorry. I was afraid.”
Taehyung’s face floods with tender sympathy. He lets go of Jimin’s hands so that he can cup his cheeks instead, scooting to the precarious edge of his chair to rest his forehead against Jimin’s. “I know,” he says softly. “But it’s okay. I like you, too. It’s always been you. Was always gonna be you. I’ve known that.”
Jimin struggles to wrap his head around this. The present and the future and the knotted, tangled nature of Taehyung’s gift. “So … you wanna date me?”
Taehyung laughs, deep and low, and Jimin suddenly gets the impression that if they weren’t in a crowded cafe, Taehyung would be kissing him right now. The image of that makes warmth flood his cheeks and he feels Taehyung run fingers over the bone of them, heating up Jimin’s face even further. He looks giddy, though, so Jimin can’t be angry at him. Not when Taehyung’s magic is sparking and buzzing in response to Jimin’s own, making him feel like he’s made of helium, drifting up towards the ceiling.
There is a reservoir not too far from his apartment building - only fifteen minutes or so by bike - and sometimes he finds himself going there in the evenings to think. He should be studying, always, always studying or practicing, but every now and then he needs to get away from the frenetic pulse of the city and center himself. There’s a lot of magic around Hoedong, which might be due to the Buddhist temple that sits near its banks. Or maybe it’s the water itself - Jimin’s grandmother always used to say that magic gets carried in the currents and if you want a power source, go wade into the nearest river.
Either way, he finds the reservoir calming. He’ll rest his bike on the ground and sit on the shore, watching the black water and the distant city lights and go through the breathing exercises he looked up on his phone. Sometimes Taehyung comes with him and pretends that he can see the stars through the light pollution, pointing out imaginary constellations.
Tonight, though, Jimin is alone, and there is a dark head bobbing in the water only a few meters away from him. Peering closer, he can make out the top of a face - unnatural white in the weak moonlight - and two glowing eyes glaring at him. The veil seethes, agitated, and Jimin surges to his feet.
A mul gwishin - he’s never seen one before. This one seems angry - the magic around it dark like a gathering storm, lightning about to strike. Jimin holds himself very still, trying to think back on his mother’s teachings. Anchor yourself, is always the number one rule. Around ghosts, the pull from beyond the veil is strong and compelling and mediums have been known to succumb to it, dying in a mere breath - all of their magic and life force stolen. So Jimin pictures himself driving a magical stake into the ground, same as he did with the car accident several years ago, and cinching an invisible rope around his waist, knotted tight and complex.
He has no idea if it will hold, but he doesn’t want to just leave when the ghost could end up causing harm to an innocent passerby. So he takes a deep breath and pictures the rope holding and extending as he takes off his socks and sneakers and rolls up his pants to his knees. Then he carefully wades into the water.
This is a really stupid, Park Jimin, he thinks to himself as he watches the mul gwishin bob closer - still only the top part of its white face visible.
“Hey,” Jimin says, trying to keep his voice steady as he holds out his hand. “Are you trapped here? I can help you.”
An arm rises out of the water, as pale as the face except for the fingertips which are mottled blue and bruised - river dirt under the nails like black ink. They touch Jimin’s hand and Jimin gets a flash of memory: hands on his shoulders, holding him under, water closing in on all sides can’t get up can’t free no stop why stop stop stop help me help me HELP ME-
He gasps and wrenches back to the present, realizing with a terrified jolt that he’s been submerged. That the mul gwishin is dragging him down towards the shadowed depths of the reservoir. A boy, his scattered intuition tells him, piecing together the various images. Drowned by school bullies who hadn’t meant to hold him under as long as they did.
Jimin is wearing a school uniform.
So, so stupid.
He kicks his feet hard, grateful for all the strength and muscle that dancing has given him. But ragged nails dig into his ankle and scratch and pull and he sinks lower, lower, lower. His lungs are burning in his chest and his mouth is full of frigid water, but he still has his magic. He pictures the rope again, still cinched to his waist, glowing and vibrant. He winds an arm around it, siphoning some power to store up in his hand. He can’t say any incantations for a spell, but magical energy is natural - no spells needed to use it.
And use it he does: shoving it outward in a shockwave that ripples violently through the water and shakes the mul gwishin loose. It hisses at him - a dark and vicious sound - and vanishes into the reeds growing along the lakebed, repulsed by his magic. All he catches is a flash of glowing eyes and a blur of shadow, still unable to make out the full shape of the phantom. A part of him - the bleeding, aching heart - still wants to reach out to what is probably a terrified and broken spirit, trapped in the water he died in.
But practicality kicks in and his body reminds him, urgently, that he’s drowning. He forces himself to move, rushing for the surface with a combination of physical power and magic. His vision is blurring when he finally breaks free of the water, gasping and gulping in frantic lungfuls of air. He’s a good distance from the shore - at least a dozen meters - and by the time he’s crawling back onto the sand his legs feel boneless and weak, and he spits up a mouthful of water as his body trembles.
Then, distantly, he registers someone screaming his name.
It’s Taehyung, running down the shore from the road at a full sprint, his uniform jacket flapping almost comically behind him.
“Jimin!” he shouts, skidding to a stop in a spray of sand and dropping to his knees by Jimin’s side. “Oh my god, Jimin.”
How did you know? Jimin wants to ask him, but it’s Taehyung. Of course he knew.
“I’m … okay…” he croaks out, letting Taehyung maneuver him into a sitting position and wrap protective arms around him. “I’m okay.”
Taehyung whispers an incantation and Jimin’s clothes dry in seconds, leaving behind only the uncomfortable grit of sand and the ache in his throat from the water coming back up.
“You idiot,” Taehyung says, voice wet. He sniffs and Jimin panics, desperate to keep him from crying.
“Yeah,” he says, twisting around so he can press his forehead to Taehyung’s temple. “Yeah, I was a moron, Taehyungie, but I’m okay. I lived. I won’t do it again.”
“I’ll kill you if you do,” Taehyung says and wipes his face with his sleeve, then kisses Jimin on the mouth - fear and relief and love all mixed into the movement of his warm lips against Jimin’s still-cold ones. It feels almost like Taehyung is breathing more life back into him.
Jimin hugs Taehyung closer, hooking his chin on Taehyung’s shoulder, and they sit there in the sand for a long time.
He goes back to the reservoir numerous times, but he never sees the mul gwishin again.
You can’t save everyone, Jimin-ah, his mother says and he tries not to let the disappointment linger.
There is something wrong with him.
There has to be.
He should like this: the press of Taehyung’s naked body to his; the heat of Taehyung’s mouth trailing down his stomach, sinking around him; the rub of Taehyung’s hands on his inner thighs as Taehyung gently pushes his legs apart. He loves Taehyung and Taehyung is beautiful. Jimin should want him, so why is his skin crawling? Why does he feel like he wants to peel it off and leave his body behind entirely? Why does he actually want to push Taehyung away and curl up in a protective ball?
It doesn’t make sense, and he tries so hard to tamp down on the bubbling anxiety. Maybe these things just take time. This is only their second time doing anything beyond making out and cuddling, so maybe his body will adjust and everything will be fine soon. He just has to keep going.
So he puts his hands in Taehyung’s hair and keeps his legs spread and tries to focus on something else besides the bob of Taehyung’s head and the weirdness he’s still feeling. It’ll be good in a minute, he’s sure of it. So many boys like this - talk about it all the time at school - and he’s no different, right? He shouldn’t be different, he doesn’t want to be different he-
Taehyung pulls off and crawls up Jimin’s body, mouth pinched in a frown. “What’s wrong?”
Panic knots in Jimin’s stomach. “Nothing,” he insists. “I’m fine. Why’d you stop?”
“Because you weren’t enjoying it,” Taehyung says and Jimin fights down a flinch. “Was I doing something wrong?”
“No,” Jimin says, hating that he can feel the itch of tears at the backs of his eyes - a familiar lump forming in his throat. Great, what kind of idiot cries in the middle of what should be good sex with their very lovely boyfriend? “No, it wasn’t you, I promise.”
The concern doesn’t lift from Taehyung’s face. “Then…?”
Jimin shakes his head, unsure of how to explain it. Where does he even start? Sex makes him feel weird? Makes him uncomfortable and uncertain in his skin, like his body suddenly isn’t his anymore? That the thought of doing more with Taehyung actually makes his stomach flip in fear rather than excitement, even though the idea of sex didn’t bother him before they actually started? How he’s never talked about it, but he stumbled across some porn last year and tried watching it and it did nothing for him? No matter what kind of video he clicked on? He’d thought that it was because he was only interested in sex if someone he cared about was involved, but that was clearly wrong.
“I should go,” he says, choking on the sob that’s coalescing in the back of his throat.
“Jimin.” Taehyung tries to grab his hand, but Jimin scrambles out of his reach and off the bed, frantically collecting his clothes and tugging them on.
“Jimin, please,” Taehyung says, sounding lost. Jimin doesn’t look at him as he yanks his shirt over his head. “We need to talk about-”
“I’ll see you later.”
He shuts the door to Taehyung’s bedroom and crosses the empty apartment as fast as he can, chased by the sounds of Taehyung getting up and also struggling to dress. They’d been so excited to have the place to themselves for a whole afternoon - both of Taehyung’s grandparents out with friends - but now the quietness mocks Jimin as he tugs on his shoes and hurries out the door without bothering to lace them up.
In the elevator, he realizes that he’s put his shirt on backwards and inside out and promptly bursts into loud, messy tears.
He avoids Taehyung for a whole week. Fortunately, it’s summer so Jimin doesn’t have to navigate shared classes. He takes a different route home from dance practice and rejects all of Taehyung’s calls. Refuses to read his texts. Taehyung is probably going to break up with him, anyway. Who wants a boyfriend that cries and runs away when you try to have sex? That freaks out over something as simple as a blowjob?
No, Taehyung is going to dump him - Jimin is going to lose him - and he can’t face that. He just can’t , not after having Taehyung as a constant anchor for so long. So he keeps his head down. He gets up and goes to dance practice, then comes home, eats, and goes to bed, also dodging the worried looks from his parents. The questions if he’s alright. His little brother knocks on his door and he just pulls his covers over his head.
Even the ghosts leave him alone, as though they can sense his sadness. Or maybe they just think he’s too pathetic to talk to.
He tries watching more porn when he has the apartment to himself one evening, but just like before nothing. No flicker of interest. No excitement. No arousal. Even touching himself doesn’t help. There is just a vague discomfort and that itchy feeling creeping back, getting more prevalent with each stroke of his hand - until he clicks out of the site and slams his laptop closed.
He types why don’t I like sex in the Naver search bar, but lacks the courage to press enter. What if there is something seriously wrong with him? So he looks up potions and remedies for heightening libido and desire instead. Most of them come with long lists of warning labels about potential side effects and consent. A lot of them are actually illegal.
In spite of his desperation, he’s not going to buy potions off the black market. So he goes to dance practice, comes home, eats, and goes to bed. Right up until he finds Taehyung sitting outside his door.
He should have known that Taehyung was only going to give him so much time.
The grim set of Taehyung’s mouth and sickly pallor of his skin indicate that it’s been a rough week for him, too. That he probably hasn’t slept, either. Jimin feels a stab of guilt and struggles to ignore it.
“Are you ready to talk now?” Taehyung asks quietly.
“Are you going to break up with me?”
Taehyung blinks. “Why would I do that?”
Jimin nervously adjusts the strap of his duffle bag. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“Jimin-ah, I’m not going to break up with you because sex went bad once or twice.”
Jimin flinches. Curls in on himself. “But … what if … what if I don’t want sex? Ever? What if I never start liking it? Will you … will you break up with me then?”
Taehyung climbs to his feet with a groan, shaking the stiffness out of his limbs. “Will you let me inside?” He still sounds so gentle, like he’s talking to the skittish alley cats he sometimes tries to feed on their way home from school. “There’s something I want to show you.”
No, Jimin wants to say, but he can’t drag this out forever. And he wouldn’t put it past Taehyung to just sit in front of his apartment door until Jimin caved.
“Okay,” he murmurs and shuffles past Taehyung to punch the code into the pad. They toe off their shoes and set them on the rack, every movement loud in the quiet emptiness of the apartment. The rattle of the rack and the shuffle of Taehyung’s bare feet against the floorboards echo in Jimin’s head as he sets his bag down by the couch. Taehyung sits down and pats the cushion next to him. Still cautious, as if he’s afraid Jimin is going to bolt at any moment.
It’s probably not an unfounded fear. If Jimin thought running would solve anything, he’d already be out the door and halfway down the street to the closest bus stop.
“What do you want to show me?” he asks as he takes a seat next to Taehyung, leaving space where he would have once pressed against Taehyung’s side. Draped an arm across Taehyung’s shoulders.
Taehyung pulls out his cell phone and taps the screen a few times. “Hold on, I bookmarked some articles. And I could be completely wrong about this, I’m sorry, but I did some research and this is what was coming up so I thought I’d share. Does, um, does any of this feel like it fits?”
Jimin stares down at the article on display behind Taehyung’s cracked screen. Possible Signs of Asexuality reads the headline, followed by a list that Jimin slowly scrolls through - what feels like a deep-sea abyss yawning wider and wider inside of him with each bullet point.
- You don’t think about sex
- You realize that everyone else thinks about sex in a completely different manner than you do
- You don’t have a problem going without sex for longs periods at a time
- Your sex dreams don’t really have sex
- You don’t really fantasize
- You don’t like sex
- You like sex but it doesn’t feel “right”
- “If I try, then maybe I’ll like it”
- You don’t like masturbating
- You just pretended to be interested in sex
- You thought that everyone else was just pretending to be interested in sex
- You pretended to like sex so that your partner wouldn’t think you didn’t love them
He actually gasps at that last one, wrenching his gaze up to Taehyung. He finds only empathy on Taehyung’s face.
“Yeah,” he whispers, hunching his shoulders, unconsciously trying to make himself smaller. “A lot … a lot of it does.”
Taehyung nods. Bites his lip. Scoots forward a centimeter, then another and another until his leg is pressed hot against Jimin’s and he can tangle their fingers together. “Jimin-ah,” he says, soft, soft, soft. “I love you very much. That isn’t going to change. And I’m not breaking up with you. But I think we should stop having sex, shouldn’t we?”
Jimin swallows. “You’d … you’d be okay with that?”
Taehyung’s forehead rests against his. “It’s you,” Taehyung says. “Of course I would.”
Jimin starts crying again, just as messy and loud as last week, but this time Taehyung reels him in and holds him close, rubbing soothing circles across his back.
He writes down a list for Taehyung, of everything he’s okay with. Kissing (lips, face, neck, and shoulders, maybe some chest) cuddling (fully clothed and stripped down to underwear), touching as long as it isn’t anywhere too intimate, maybe some light grinding if underwear stays on and it doesn’t escalate.
It feels too short. Too inadequate. He’s still half-sure Taehyung is going to get tired of him, even as Taehyung thanks him for it and kisses him on the cheek.
“What about you?” he asks.
Taehyung shrugs. “We’ll figure it out. And I like masturbating, so.”
Jimin breaks into giggles, trying to ignore the lead that’s lingering in the lining of his stomach. All the ways he feels uncertain and broken. They’ll be okay, he tries to tell himself. They’re soulmates.
They’ll be okay.
He’s eighteen and graduation is creeping closer when his contemporary dance teacher asks him what he’d like to do for college. The question gives him more pause than he thought it would. Because the logical answer has always seemed to be Seoul. A performing arts university (because he knows his test scores aren’t high enough for SKY). He loves Busan, but he’s never wanted to stay here. He needs space to breathe - away from his parents and their business that still swallows so many of his weekends and evenings, away from the dead that linger here and have become so familiar.
But in this moment, actually thinking about the future, he realizes that Seoul doesn’t particularly interest him, either. He wants to go further. He wants adventure - someplace he’s never been before, where he can really start anew and his family isn’t just a relatively short train ride away.
“I … I think I want to go to America?” he says. It feels like a question, but as it leaves his mouth, he means it. He’s always wanted to visit New York, especially, so why not go there for college?
His teacher takes this in stride.
“Well,” he says, and adjusts his glasses on the bridge of his large nose, “have you thought about Julliard?”
Jimin’s mouth drops open. “You … you think I’d be good enough for that, teacher-nim?” Julliard is … it’s in the stratosphere. He’s heard that they only accept twenty-four students a year. Twenty-four in the whole world.
“Of course I do, you’re my best student.” There isn’t any doubt in his teacher’s voice and that confidence and praise gives Jimin the sudden burst of courage he needs to say that yes. Okay.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Quickly, the process swallows him whole. He studies English every spare moment he can so that he’ll be able to pass the required proficiency test. He gathers letters of recommendation from his classroom teachers and his dance instructors. He writes and rewrites and rewrites his introduction for his three-part prescreening, then agonizes over choosing a song for his routine.
His evenings become even more dedicated to practice - going through ballet techniques over and over and over until he can barely feel his legs. He stumbles home in the small hours of the morning to a sleeping apartment, ignoring the whispers of phantoms in darkened corners as he flops face first into bed only to rise a few hours later to start all over again.
(He wants this, more than he thinks he’s ever wanted everything, and the force of it - of his yearning - is both exciting and terrifying.)
“You’ll make it,” Taehyung says, forcing food into him at lunch. He speaks with the certainty that only Taehyung ever seems to possess.
“Is that one of your impressions?” Jimin asks.
Taehyung shakes his head. “No, just faith in you.”
Jimin flushes. A quick glance around the cafeteria shows that no one is currently watching, not even the teacher, so Jimin risks leaning forward and planting a quick, grateful kiss on Taehyung’s cheek. Taehyung’s answering smile bunches up his cheeks all wide and boxy.
Things don’t get easier, after that, but Taehyung’s faith keeps his going. And Taehyung’s grandmother puts a necklace over his head when he comes to visit a few days later, a multicolored stone dangling from the end of the chain.
“Fluorite,” she explains. “To calm you.”
He wears the necklace under his school uniform every day from then on - all the way through the English test and up until the day of his prescreening. It dawns rainy and cold and windy and Jimin does battle with his umbrella all the way to school, arriving half-drenched and tired. Taehyung had to come in early to help set up something for the photography club he joined last year, but he greets Jimin with a hug and a soft, “it’ll be alright” as Jimin takes his seat in their first class.
The rest of the day passes in a stressed blur. He barely tastes anything he eats for lunch, or processes a single word any of his teachers say. He’s been granted exemption from dance practice in order to record so he changes into a unitard after his last class and says goodbye to Taehyung, who offered to film for him. But Jimin has to do this alone.
He feels small under the bright lights of the practice room he booked for this. He’s filming with the camera Taehyung’s loaned him, set up on a tripod near the door. He has to record his introduction five times before he gets through it without stuttering or tripping over unfamiliar English words. He hopes, desperately, that his accent isn’t too thick - won’t be enough to disqualify him.
Then, he dances.
He goes through each technique (Grand Adagio, Petit Allegro, Grand Allegro, and a tour en l’air) before transitioning into his two-minute solo: a modern dance routine that he’s been choreographing with the help of an instructor for the last two months. He has no idea how many times he goes through it - five, six, eleven, twenty? - but by the time he’s finished, he’s drenched in sweat and struggling to breathe through heaving lungs. He plays back the routine on Taehyung’s camera and it’s not perfect, not nearly, but it just might be good enough. It’s definitely the best he can do.
A glance at his phone informs him that it’s past midnight and there are several missed text messages from his worried parents. He replies, assuring them that he’s on his way home, and exits the practice room -
-only to almost immediately trip over Taehyung, who is curled up on the floor, napping with his jacket balled up under his head.
“Tae? I thought you went home hours ago.”
Taehyung’s eyes blink open and he yawns, covering his mouth with the back of his hand. “Of course I didn’t,” he says, sitting up. “Someone needed to give you a hug after.” He holds up his arms and laughing, Jimin drops into a crouch so Taehyung can embrace him. “Did it go okay? Did you nail it?”
“I think the final take is okay,” Jimin hedges.
“So you nailed it. Good.” Taehyung kisses him, gentle and lingering, one hand up drifting up to tangle in his sweaty hair. “‘M so proud of you.”
They haven’t talked about what Taehyung is going to do, if Jimin gets in. Jimin keeps meaning to bring it up, but the application has consumed everything. Soon, he vows. He’ll ask Taehyung soon. For now, he kisses Taehyung again and says, “c’mon, love, lemme buy you dinner.”
He gets called in for a live audition.
Which means flying to New York - by himself, because no one else in the family can afford the cost of the plane ticket and hotel - and spending a grueling day performing in front of an intimidating panel of judges.
He’s so sick with nerves that he nearly throws up twice on the flight, then again in the taxi from the airport to his hotel. He barely registers the city around him beyond brief glimpses of skyscrapers and traffic - so like Seoul and yet not. His driver is a middle-aged Pakistani man who introduces himself as Rashid and asks a slew of friendly, but rapid-fire questions. Is this Jimin’s first time here? Where is he coming from? Ah, Korea, he’s never been, but he likes the food. Or the kind you can find here, anyway. He’s been here nearly fifteen years himself and these are his kids. One’s getting ready to apply for college, too. She wants to be a director - make movies.
Thirty whirlwind minutes later, he drops Jimin off in front of his hotel with an equally friendly wave and a “good luck.”
It’s the middle of the night in Korea, but Jimin still sends a KT message to his family and Taehyung, assuring them all that he arrived at his hotel safely. Then he checks in and passes out on his bed at three in the afternoon.
He arrives an hour early for the audition the next morning, terror that he was going to get lost pushing him out of the hotel much sooner than necessary. So he lingers outside as unobtrusively as possible.
Messages Taehyung: I don’t think I can do this.
You can! Fighting! ^ㅇ^
Someone summons him before he can read Taehyung’s response. It’s time.
Later, looking back, he won’t be able to give Taehyung much detail, everything is a nerve-ridden jumble. It starts with a ballet class, then a modern dance class, then a solo performance - with less and less students being called back each time. Somehow, Jimin makes it to round 4, which is coaching and improvisation, meant to show how quickly he picks up choreography.
And then, by some miracle or trick of fate, he’s sitting down for the final interview. He’s not sure how many students are left and he’s so nervous that his hands are trembling where he has them resting respectfully in his lap. He doesn’t remember what he tells the interviewers in response to their questions. Perhaps that he wants this more than he’s ever wanted anything, that dancing is all he’s wanted to do, all he’s felt like he’s good at. That he’s been training so hard and he’ll keep working, keep improving, no matter how long the hours of practice are. That no, he promises that his magic won’t be a problem, it’s never been the violent or unstable kind.
They thank him, at the end, he does remember that.
They thank him and tell him that they’re going to recommend him to the Admissions Committee, who will review his transcripts and make a final decision. They shake his head, accept his grateful bows, and say that they hope he makes it through. He’ll be a good fit for the school, they believe that.
“I told you,” Taehyung says when Jimin calls him crying so hard he can barely get the news out. Taehyung’s voice is fond and teasing, full of love that Jimin can practically feel leaching through the phone into his hand, traveling through his body to his frantic heart. “I had a feeling.”
When he gets back to Korea, Taehyung is waiting at the airport with Jimin’s father and both of them wrap him up in a warm hug.
“My lovely son,” his father says, kissing the top of his head, “I’m so proud of you.”
“Ditto,” Taehyung says. “Except for the son part.”
Everyone laughs and Jimin feels like he can breathe for the first time in months. He’s still not sure if he’ll be good enough, but Taehyung has a feeling and those feelings are almost never wrong. Jimin will trust in that where he can’t trust in himself.
And it takes three weeks for the final decision, but his acceptance letter arrives in the mail on a Tuesday afternoon. His mother yells in giddy joy when he translates it for her and his little brother swings him around in a hug, annoyingly taller than Jimin even though he’s two years younger. His father buys him flowers and they celebrate with a small feast, inviting Taehyung and his grandparents over to join in.
Taehyung pulls him aside after dinner and presses a letter into Jimin’s hands - not the one that’s been passed around all night. This one is from the New York Fashion Institute of Technology and it has Taehyung’s name at the top of it, styled the Western Way.
Dear Taehyung Kim,
Congratulations! On behalf of the Admissions Committee it is my pleasure to inform you that you have been admitted to…
“Oh my god,” Jimin whispers, gaping up at Taehyung. “Oh my god, Taehyungie.”
He hadn’t said anything. Only that he applied to a few schools in New York, because he wasn’t going to let Jimin go alone.
“Surprise,” Taehyung says, waving his hands theatrically.
Jimin laughs, incredulous, and swings up on his tiptoes to hug Taehyung. “We should be celebrating you, too, what the fuck?”
“We can do that later,” Taehyung says, resting his chin on Jimin’s shoulder. “I’ve already been affectionately smothered by my grandparents for the last two days, I don’t want to make another scene.”
“Fine, later. We’ll go up to the roof.”
“Deal.” Taehyung squeezes his side and leads him back to the party.
The day before him and Taehyung are set to leave for New York, he goes to the beach to say goodbye to ocean. There is a summer storm slowly rolling in and the waves are slate gray and choppy instead of their normally brighter, calmer blue. He lets the water tug at his pant legs like an insistent child and drinks in the tang of salt on his tongue.
A few meters down the shore, a woman in all black is standing in the waves. It’s just the two of them on this quiet strip of sand - everyone else chased away by the encroaching rain. He can feel the veil weakening the longer she stands there with the wind whipping through her long hair.
He calls out to her, infusing his voice with soothing magic, and slowly, she turns her head.
He realizes, with a jolt of terror, that she has no face.
Run, his magic breathes and he does, leaving her behind in the water. The cold chases him all the way home and lingers late into the evening, keeping him from peaceful sleep.
He never tells his parents or Taehyung about the woman. By the time they reach the airport, he’s forgotten her - too caught up in tearful goodbyes and promises to keep in touch and well wishes.
Taehyung takes his hand as they make their way towards their gate, gripping tight.
Jimin wonders what the ghosts in America will be like.
NEW YORK CITY (THEN)
He wishes he could say that their first year of college goes smoothly but really it unfolds in a series of soaring highs and tumbling lows, punched through by homesickness, loneliness, and growing uncertainty - about his place at Julliard, about his relationship with Taehyung, about his sexuality, about everything.
Here are some highs:
- Getting personal praise from one of his professors regarding a solo piece a month into the semester.
- Realizing that no one bats an eye if he kisses Taehyung in the middle of a busy city street.
- Finding a Korean restaurant close to campus at the height of his homesickness, run by a man with a kind smile and Busan satoori accenting his speech who doesn’t comment on Jimin eating alone and offers a meal on the house when he catches Jimin crying into a bowl of kimchi fried rice.
- Doing well in his classes, in spite of the language barrier that he’s still struggling to fully overcome, and making a handful of friends from all over the world, each of them suffering from the same homesickness and alienation he is.
- The peacefulness of Central Park, once you get off the main thoroughfares. He lies in the grass and forgets he’s in a foreign city. Just listens to the trees sway in the wind and the birds sing and the ghosts whisper.
And some lows:
- Missing his parents so much that it feels like a physical ache sometimes, low in his chest.
- Missing his high school friends and the familiar streets of Busan and the ocean. Even the ghosts that would speak to him in his own language instead of Spanish or Russian or Urdu or English.
- Fighting with Taehyung. All the time. Over stupid things like whose turn it is to clean their tiny apartment or who it was that forgot to collect the laundry from across the street or who used up all the hot water in their ancient shower. Over big things like how little time they have for each other and the friends that Taehyung’s made and Jimin hasn’t and the nights Jimin doesn’t come home from practice until 1am and the afternoons Taehyung vanishes to hang out with other people.
- Going to a club with Taehyung and dancing with him, then watching him dance with another guy - flirty and fun and bright-eyed and thinking I can never measure up to that.
- Feeling the thought morph into I’m holding him back and sticking in his brain, refusing to be dislodged.
- The date nights that Jimin is late to again and again again, and the anniversary Taehyung forgets to buy a card for.
- The weary, never-ending stretch of winter when the heating in their apartment doesn’t work properly and they huddle together awkwardly in their shared bed, clothed in what feels like a million layers and uncertain of how to hold each other like they used to.
- I’m holding him back, holding him back, holding him back…
By the time they make it to summer, they’re both exhausted. Jimin sees ghosts everywhere - a man with a caved in face on the subway; a woman with a bleeding chest lurking in the back of a convenience store; a child with ribbons in her hair and eyes as black as pitch, sitting by the mirror in his practice room and humming along to the music filtering from the speakers. Taehyung has barely spoken to him in a week, even though they’re still living in the same 400 sq ft apartment. It’s like he’s become a ghost, too - books on their little table and dishes in the sink the only echoes of his presence.
They’re both staying here for the summer (Jimin for a dance apprenticeship and Taehyung for an internship with a small, local fashion brand) and Jimin doesn’t know how they’re going to survive. What happens if they don’t? If they break up? He was granted off campus housing due to his magical status, but he could probably find a place in the dorms next year, if need be. Taehyung would move closer to his own college. They wouldn’t speak, probably. They’d go home separately and pretend their families don’t reside in the same apartment complex. Taehyung would truly become a phantom, haunting Jimin forever.
No, he has to do something. Something drastic.
Taehyung is always accommodating him. For years, he’s been Jimin’s biggest cheerleader and support and what does Jimin give back to him? Some advice now and then? A shoulder to cry on once in awhile? Jimin can’t even give him sex - something that’s considered fundamental to a romantic relationship.
Maybe that’s it. Sex. What if he offered sex? What if he found a way so they both could enjoy it?
He still doesn’t want to buy a potion from a dodgy black market website, but as if the Universe is on his side he happens to spot a flyer in the window of crystal shop not far from campus. It’s for a different shop, down in the East Village, and an apothecary service.
Specialized, made-to-order potions and remedies, the minimalist font declares.
Jimin saves the address to his phone, buzzing with hope and excitement. He’s got a little money that he’s set aside, or perhaps he’ll be able to bargain with his own services a medium. Either way, he’ll get a potion that will finally fix his broken brain and body - line everything up so that he wants sex like a normal person. So that he can finally give Taehyung something he deserves, and Taehyung won’t leave him.
The shop is open on the weekends, which is even better. Jimin makes a note next to the address to visit this Saturday.
He doesn’t tell Taehyung he’s going - just leaves a post-it on the fridge stating that he’s going to be out for the day and hops on the 1 train headed south. The shop is on a quiet side street in the heart of East Village, not far from NYU. It’s the kind of street you wouldn’t notice if you were walking past in a hurry, unless you felt the telltale hook/pull of magic in your chest. The kind of street where the buildings are older and overgrown with ivy and the traffic seems to fade as soon as you take a few steps along the cracked asphalt of the narrow road.
A sign reads The Magic Shop in curling font, and beneath it: Enchanted Items, Artifacts and More. There is smaller lettering on the glass of the large front window: Apothecary. This definitely seems to be the place.
Jimin takes a deep breath and hurries up the stone steps to the recessed door, pulling it open. He’s immediately engulfed with familiar warmth - the entire place is laced with inviting magic, soothing away some of the nervous tangle around his heart. The walls are painted a gentle green, and the interior extends much further back than he anticipated. To his left an assortment of books rest on what looks like built-in shelves. He recognizes a few on mythology and spirits that his grandmother used to own, and even one on the mudang. On his right the shelves are lined with various bottles and jars, filled with everything from dried herbs to liquid potions. He spots what he thinks is a sleeping draught and one shelf down a tonic meant to help with headaches - similar in color to the ones his father used to buy when the winter cold wreaked havoc on his sinuses.
As he wanders further in he sees a section of healing crystals, some enchanted artifacts, a handful of tarot decks, and even specialized candles for seances. When he was young, his grandmother used to make her own, infusing them with her magic as she went.
“Can I help you?” a pleasant voice asks as Jimin reaches out to touch one of the candles.
He spins around to find a boy a few centimeters taller than him with dark hair and a pleasant face. Korean, Jimin registers first, then dancer. It’s in the way the boy holds himself, the lithe muscle that Jimin sees in his arms and chest beneath the thin layer of his multi-colored t-shirt in spite of the fact that he kind of seems built like a bird - all thin-boned and delicate.
“I…” he starts, thrown. For some reason, he was expecting a grandmother to work here, not someone his own age with such a stunning smile and pretty face. “Do you speak Korean?”
The boy somehow lights up even more. “I do!” he declares, switching languages to match Jimin. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Jung Hoseok.” He’s from Jeolla, Jimin realizes. Probably Gwangju.
“Park Jimin,” he says, bowing to Hoseok.
Hoseok returns the bow. “What can I help you with, Jimin-ssi?”
“I … you make specialized potions?”
Hoseok nods. “We do. Well, I do. By apothecary, I mostly mean me. My magic is plant based and a lot of potions are also plant based, so.” He shrugs. “You need a potion?”
“Yes. I need….” Shit, he isn’t sure how to word this. “An aphrodisiac? Something that will help with sex. Will make someone want sex.” His face heats immediately after he manages to blurt the request out and he ducks his head when he sees Hoseok’s eyes widen slightly.
“Oh,” Hoseok says. His expressive mouth turns down in a little triangle frown. “I … um, I normally don’t make those? There are a lot of issues involved with them … they can have bad side effects and then there’s the consent factor-”
“It would be for me,” Jimin cuts in. “I wouldn’t use it on anyone else. I can … I can sign a contract promising that or something. It would only be for me.”
The frown stays. “I know it’s none of my business,” Hoseok says slowly. “But, um, can I ask why you need it, Jimin-ssi?”
Jimin doesn’t really have much dignity left, he figures, so he takes a deep breath and says, “I need to like sex so my boyfriend won’t break up with me.”
Now Hoseok’s eyes nearly bug out of his head. “What?” he barks, straightening. His hands clench into fists at his sides. “Did someone tell you that? Did he give you that kind of ultimatum? Because I can also do hexes and I’d be more than happy to-”
“No!” Jimin shakes his head. “Oh god, no. It’s … it’s nothing like that. I’m the problem. He’s … he’s wonderful. But I’m broken and I can’t give him sex. I mean, he gives me everything and he’s so patient with me, and I can’t even give him something as simple as sex.” He really needs to stop talking, probably, but he can’t. It’s all spilling out of him now, like an unfettered river. “I can’t even do that for him. And we’ve been fighting so much and I’ve been neglecting him because I’ve been so busy, or he’s off with other friends, and I don’t know how to fix this, I don’t want to lose him, I can’t lose him - he’s the best thing in my life. So maybe if I can give him this, we can work everything out.”
He sniffs, feeling absolutely pathetic. This is probably not how Hoseok expected to spend his Saturday afternoon, confronted with a random stranger weeping in the middle of his place of work. He’s definitely looking uncomfortable, and kind of backing away one small step at a time.
“Hold on,” he says. “I’m gonna get Yoongi.”
Who Yoongi is, Jimin has no idea, but he can’t seem to stop crying. He’s just here, blubbering his eyes out like an absolute idiot, because he’s broken and him and Taehyung are broken and everything is fucking broken and he doesn’t know how to fix it.
Hurried footsteps herald Hoseok’s return and this time he has someone else with him - Jimin’s height, or a little shorter. Also Korean and also with a pleasant face, though much more cat-like than Hoseok. His cheeks are round and silver hair brushes his forehead, poking out from beneath a black beanie. The sleeves of his black sweater rest near his knobby knuckles and the hem is almost at his knees.
His magic is. Wow. Jimin nearly recoils from the force of it, suddenly terrified that Yoongi is here to throw him out of the shop.
But Yoongi doesn’t do that. The magic tempers, suddenly, like Yoongi’s put a protective cover over it and then he’s shuffling hesitantly forward and coaxing Jimin into a hug. He’s a little bony, but his broad shoulder accommodates Jimin’s chin well, and he feels … solid. Steady. Like a mountain, but more inviting.
Jimin hiccups out a wet breath, trying to form words. “I’m so sorry. I’m not usually this much of a mess, I just....”
Yoongi doesn’t say anything, just shushes Jimin with a low hum. Jimin abandons the last shreds of his dignity and burrows deeper into Yoongi’s arms. He can’t remember the last time someone touched him - even Taehyung - and it’s just so nice. Yoongi is so nice and Hoseok is so nice and this shop is so nice, even if they won’t make a potion for him.
“Thank you,” he says when Yoongi finally steps back. “Thank you, I’m so sorry.”
Yoongi shakes his head and dabs the sleeve of his sweater under Jimin’s eyes. He still hasn’t said anything and Hoseok is hovering nearby, wringing his hands. “Should I make tea or something?” he asks.
Yoongi shakes his head again and then … signs something in reply. Oh. Oh.
“Ah, yeah, that’s a much better idea,” Hoseok agrees. His focus shifts to Jimin. “Would you like to come for dinner? No bad intentions, I promise. You just look like you could use someone to talk to and some good food.”
It’s only two in the afternoon and Hoseok and Yoongi could be luring him somewhere to perform black magic on him, but Jimin doesn’t care. He can’t face Taehyung until he’s sorted himself out. “Yes,” he croaks. “Yes that would be … thank you.”
“It’s fine,” Hoseok says and squeezes Yoongi’s shoulder - a gesture well-worn with affection and history. “I’ll text Jin and Namjoon.”
Yoongi signs something back, then beckons Jimin towards the counter. Jimin watches as he pulls out a piece of paper and scribbles a note on it in English:
Due to personal circumstances, we’re closing the shop early today. Apologies for the inconvenience. We will reopen tomorrow at the usual time.
“Oh, you don’t have to-” Jimin starts - horrified at the thought of them losing business because of him.
Yoongi reaches up and puts a finger to Jimin’s lips - a universal shush gesture. On a separate piece of paper he writes: lost puppies take priority.
“I’m not a puppy,” Jimin says, indignant.
Yoongi arches an eyebrow at him, but the expression still feels gentle. Affectionate teasing, like the way Taehyung so often does. Jimin’s outrage crumbles away immediately and he has to blink several times to keep his eyes from welling up again. He is not going to continue crying.
Yoongi tapes the sign to the front door while Hoseok closes up the register. Once they’re out on the street, he locks up and beckons Jimin away from the front of the shop while Yoongi puts up a ward.
“We’re not far from here,” Hoseok says. “Only a couple blocks.”
Jimin nods and lets them guide him through more quiet, twisting streets until they’re on one lined with townhouses and towering, leafy trees. The one they stop at is in the middle of the row: four stories, with an ivy-covered front and a bright red door that creaks slightly when Hoseok opens it.
“Right, Namjoon's out,” Hoseok says as he ushers Jimin inside. “But Seokjin’s around here somewhere - might be in cat form. He’s a shapeshifter. Oh, and please don’t mind the ghost.”
Jimin pauses in the middle of taking off his shoes. “Ghost?”
Hoseok grimaces. “Yeah a poltergeist. Not like … malevolent or anything. It hasn’t tried to actually harm us. But it likes to move stuff around and leave the water running and turn electronics on and flicker the lights. Things like that. We haven’t been able to get rid of it. We’ve been meaning to get a medium out here, but we haven’t had time to schedule something…”
“I’m a medium,” Jimin says, hardly able to believe this … luck? Is it luck? Well, at least it will mean that he won’t be in their debt for free food and their kindness. “I can get rid of it for you.”
“Really?” Hoseok brightens, putting a hand over his chest. “Thank god, I hate ghosts. I mean - I understand their plight and all and I feel sorry for them, but they’re creepy as fuck. ”
“They are,” Jimin agrees, thinking back to the mul gwishin in the reservoir and dalgyal gwishin by the beach and suppressing a shudder. “But I’m used to them.”
Yoongi types something on his phone and holds it out for Jimin to see. You really don’t have to.
“I want to,” Jimin insists, managing a weak smile for Yoongi. “It’s the least I can do. Please, Yoongi-ssi.”
Yoongi huffs and relents, patting Jimin’s shoulder in silent thanks.
So Hoseok goes in search of the mysterious Seokjin and Jimin goes looking for a mischievous ghost, Yoongi trailing cautiously behind him. The townhouse feels old, but welcoming - the same warm magic as the shop permeating the air. It makes it easier to pick out the trail of cold and follow it up one flight of stairs and then another, past several closed doors to a blue one at the end of a small hallway.
“It’s in here,” Jimin says, pointing.
Yoongi opens the door, stepping back to let Jimin through first. It’s a bedroom. Neat, with almost no decoration on the walls but plants perched in the windowsill and books piled up in a corner, next to a half-assembled bookshelf. Jimin blows out a long, centering breath and reaches out with his magic, stretching towards the center of the cold, towards the tear in the veil.
Come on, he coaxes the spirit as it shies away from him. Come out, I’m a friend.
Gradually, it coalesces into something vaguely human. It’s been worn by time - frayed and tattered to the point where he doesn’t think it can speak. He gets a vague impression of youth, that it might have once been a child. Maybe it didn’t die as a child, but some phantoms grow more childlike the longer they’re trapped between one realm and the next - either that or they grow twisted and furious and malevolent.
A touch of cold to his palm - the spirit reaching for him.
Hi, he projects, layering it with soothing magic. You’ve been stuck here for a long time, haven’t you?
The lights flicker in affirmation. Behind him, Yoongi tenses.
Would you like to rest? Jimin asks. He can’t tell what’s keeping the ghost here - most likely because it’s forgotten, too, and now it is aimless, unmoored from the desires that anchored it to the world of the living but unable to pass by itself into the world of the dead.
The lights flicker again.
Jimin takes another steadying breath, securing his magical anchor that’s over the years evolved into a length of chain instead of a mental rope. Then, he reaches for the veil and wrenches it open. A blast of cold air slams into his face like a speeding train and he gasps from the force of it. Yoongi flinches, eyeing the ice that’s starting to form on the bedroom walls with growing fear.
It’s okay, Jimin urges the ghost, pushing it gently towards the tear. You don’t need to stay here, anymore. Go find peace.
It sighs, heavy with what feels like relief, and then it is slipping through, disappearing from the mortal realm. Jimin hurries to close the veil before anything else can get out, and the cold dissipates.
“The ice will vanish in a little bit,” Jimin explains, steadying himself with one hand on the foot of the bed. Encounters like that one always take a lot out of him. “But it’s gone.”
Yoongi nods and reaches over to squeeze his shoulder in silent thanks, then pulls out his phone. Jimin closes his eyes, listening to Yoongi’s fingers tap against the screen.
A touch to his arm.
You’ve more than earned food, Yoongi’s written and Jimin laughs weekly.
“I come from a family of mediums, that was nothing.”
Busan? Yoongi writes next.
Jimin nods - he’s never been able to fully drop the satoori.
“Ha, a Gyeongsang friend,” Jimin says and Yoongi smiles at him. “I guess we’re both a long way from home.”
We are, Yoongi agrees. He sits down on the bed and pats the spot next to him until Jimin sits, as well. There’s another pause while he types. Do you want to talk about what happened at the shop?
Jimin winces. A part of him wants to assure Yoongi that he’s fine, it’s just been a bad day, but something tells him that Yoongi might understand … at least a little.
And he needs someone to understand.
“I’m asexual,” he says, and realizes this is probably the first time he’s said that out loud, even as he’s gotten better at accepting it internally. For the most part. “And Taehyung - my boyfriend - has always been very supportive of that, but I don’t … I feel like I’m not contributing enough. In our relationship. And now we’re both so busy and we’ve started fighting all the time. I want to be able to give him something back, for everything he’s given me, and sex seems … seemed like the best thing. I - he goes out sometimes. With other people, and nothing happens, but I keep thinking that I’m holding him back. That he could have a nice, normal relationship with someone if it wasn’t for me.”
Yoongi turns his phone over in his hands for a long moment, a contemplative expression on his face. Then he types and types and types while Jimin waits with his heart in his throat. Finally, he passes his phone over for Jimin to read.
I understand, feeling like you’re constantly not enough. Or you don’t measure up. I had a relationship like that and it ended very, very badly. It sounds like your Taehyung is a lot better than him, though. In every way. If he’s stuck with you this far, I don’t think you offering sex would change anything. It might even offend him - you thinking you’re not good enough for him. Or that you have to change yourself to make him stay. You shouldn’t have to do that, not in a fundamental way like this - that would hurt you.
You shouldn’t ever have to hurt yourself to make someone stay.
Jimin swallows around the sudden tightness in his throat. His eyes burn, threatening more tears, and he forgets that he’s only known Yoongi for under an hour, shifting closer so he can rest his forehead on Yoongi’s shoulder.
“You’re really nice,” he croaks when he feels like he can speak without crying.
Yoongi gently takes the phone from his lax grip. Types some more.
Don’t tell anyone.
Jimin laughs, though it comes out mixed with a sob and sounds mostly like he’s dying. Yoongi hums at him: a low, soothing rumble. For a few minutes, they sit in comfortable silence - Yoongi’s big hand pressed to Jimin’s back and Jimin half-curled around Yoongi like a sad limpet. Then the buzz of Yoongi’s phone startles them both out of their peaceful calm.
The Handsomest One
did casper kill the guest u brought home?
Jimin sits up with a loud sniff as Yoongi texts back.
“Thank you. I needed to hear that, I think.”
Yoongi smiles at him.
“Please don’t tell anyone I cried so much in public.”
Would it surprise them if I did?
“Yah,” Jimin smacks him lightly on the arm. “It would!”
Yoongi looks dubious, but his phone buzzes again before he can type up a response.
The Handsomest One
if he’s alive does he want food???
pls respond hobi is worrying even though i told him casper’s friendly
if the worry reaches critical levels you’re on vine clean up duty
we’re coming down now and casper is gone.
tell hobi he can shower in peace now
A pause as Yoongi rises to his feet and Jimin follows. Then the phone buzzes again. Jimin shamelessly reads over Yoongi’s shoulder.
The Handsomest One
i did and he’s about to start crying
come down asap
i don’t do emotions
we’ve talked about this
Yoongi rolls his eyes and gives Jimin a grimace that’s clearly meant to say: I’m sorry about them.
Jimin giggles and shakes his head. He hasn’t been around other magic users besides Taehyung in so long, and sure they’re a little strange but so are ghosts and Jimin likes them. He feels a thousand times better as he and Yoongi traipse down two flights of stairs and then a hallway to reach the main living room and kitchen area.
When he steps through the door, he’s immediately engulfed in an enthusiastic hug, accompanied by loud screeching.
“Oh my god, thank you !” Hoseok shouts. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jimin-ssi, we’re finally free!”
“Ah, it was nothing,” Jimin says in embarrassment, face flushing, cheek smushed against Hoseok’s shoulder. It doesn’t feel like what he did should warrant this much thanks. It definitely was not the most difficult ghost he’s ever dealt with. Or even the scariest.
But the attention is admittedly nice.
While Hoseok continues to squeeze the life out of him, another figure drifts into view and Jimin’s mouth goes dry because whoa. The first thing he registers is: shoulders. Then: holy shit who has skin this perfect? Then: wow, mouth. And finally: face, holy shit FACE.
This man should be an idol or something. A celebrity. A model. If Taehyung were here, he’d be having a heart attack.
“Don’t mind Hoseok,” Handsome-Guy-Who-Must-Be-Seokjin says. “He’s very attached to showers. And a scaredy-cat. It’s been a rough six months for him.”
Yoongi snorts and signs something that makes Seokjin flush and look caught somewhere between embarrassment and outrage. He makes a flailing motion at Yoongi and then signs something back with great force and insistence. Yoongi responds with an arched eyebrow and a dubious expression.
“Stop slandering me, Yoongi-yah,” Seokjin says out loud.
“I don’t care, it still counts!”
Jimin swallows back more laughter at their ridiculousness as Hoseok finally releases him. “Ignore them. Thank you again. And we’ll pay you back with food, of course. Do you like pasta? We can have an early dinner. Or a super late lunch.”
Jimin does like pasta and he likes the company even better: all of them gathered around the dining room table with what look like store receipts shoved to one end in a messy jumble. He learns that Yoongi is an elemental and Seokjin is a shapeshifter and four of them live in this house together - moved in six months ago, not long after they opened the shop. The former owner sold it to them for cheap because she wanted it to keep being loved and she said it was a good place for healing.
Jimin doesn’t ask what it is they’re healing from. He sees glimpses of the wreckage: the sadness that creeps into their smiles here and there; the tender way that Hoseok looks at Yoongi - like he once thought he’d never have the chance to look again; how Seokjin subtly observes them both, as though constantly searching for faultlines to mend. There has been so much wreckage in his life, mostly wrought by death, but this makes his heart ache.
The three of them seem good and kind and he wants them to be okay, in the same way he wants himself and Taehyung to find their way back to whole.
Hoseok apologizes that Namjoon can’t be here, but from them Jimin discovers that Namjoon is tall and a “god of destruction” and a clairvoyant and very smart and very stupid, all at once. Jimin thinks that he’d probably like Namjoon and silently hopes they’ll get to meet someday. That this won’t be a one time thing and he’s found some new friends.
“This was amazing,” he says when the plates have been washed and he realizes that it’s after six o’clock and he should be getting back to Taehyung. If Taehyung’s even home. “Thank you so much.”
“Yah, don’t talk like this is the last time we’ll see you,” Seokjin says, frowning at him.
“You have to come back,” Hoseok agrees. “And bring Taehyung.” Yoongi nods in agreement.
(Jimin told them a little about Taehyung, during the meal. All the bright and wonderful parts of him.)
“Okay,” Jimin agrees shyly and lets them put their numbers in his phone. Lets them take turns hugging him after he’s put his shoes on - each of them warm and solid. “Thank you.”
Yoongi holds up his phone. It’s nothing, Jimin-ah.
It isn’t nothing, but Jimin doesn’t know how to say that, so he just bows one last time and leaves the red-doored townhouse behind - the journey back to the subway slow, his head full of scattered thoughts and warmth lingering in his bones.
Taehyung is home when he gets back, and the worry on his face is startling. He grabs Jimin’s bag before Jimin’s even closed the front door, ignoring Jimin’s startled sound.
“Did you buy it?” he asks, flipping the bag open to peer inside.
Jimin freezes, shocked. “Buy … buy what?”
“I don’t know.” Taehyung’s jaw clenches in brief frustration, then releases. “But you were sad. And it was a bad thing, whatever it was. Tell me you didn’t buy it, Jimin-ah.”
“I didn’t buy it,” Jimin breathes and then gasps as Taehyung yanks him into a hug tight with desperation. “Taehyung. Tae, I didn’t buy it, I promise.”
And they’re going to have to talk about a lot of things. It’s going to take time to mend from this broken place they’ve found themselves in. But right now, Jimin just pulls Taehyung closer, until it feels like every part of their bodies are touching, and holds on.
A week later, he’s back in front of the townhouse, knocking on the red door. His fingers are laced tight with Taehyung’s and he squeezes, comforting.
“You’re going to like them, I promise.”
“I believe you,” Taehyung murmurs.
The door swings open, revealing Hoseok’s smiling face. “Jimin-ssi! Welcome back.” His gaze shifts and his smile widens. “And you must be Taehyung.”
“Nice to meet you,” Taehyung says with a small bow. Hoseok beckons them both inside and they cross over the threshold, together, into the warmth of the house.
NEW YORK CITY (NOW)
Jimin shuts the door behind him and sighs at the rush of cool air that washes over his sweaty skin. He normally likes summer - the sun and the heat and having more of an excuse to go down to the beach and throw himself into the ocean - but today has been brutal. Temperatures at a record high, and his train stuck between stations for over twenty minutes, nearly suffocating him and all the other passengers.
But he’s home now, and Jungkook must be also, because he feels the mental brush of the others along the bond. Various murmured welcome backs. Yoongi - the one responsible for the blissful cold - is somewhere on the top floor, Hoseok is out in the greenhouse, Namjoon’s in his bedroom, and Jungkook’s in the kitchen. He drifts there first so that he can wrap his arms around Jungkook’s waist and plant a messy kiss on his neck, making him squawk.
“You’re gross, Jimin-ssi,” he gripes, trying to squirm out of Jimin’s sweaty embrace. Go take a shower.
“In a minute,” Jimin says, stubbornly holding on. “I wanted to say hi first.”
It’s strange, how much he misses all of them when he’s gone. Sometimes it’s nice to have the breathing room, to be alone in his own head, but they feel like six extensions of his soul now and he doesn’t know how to change that.
So he just misses them, and looks forward to coming back to them at the end of every day.
“You said hi.” Jungkook finally manages to break free and his nose wrinkles in disgust as he looks Jimin over. He’s adorable, but Jimin has thought that ever since he first stumbled into the shop - teary and uncertain in a way that reminded Jimin so much of himself two years before. “Now please go shower.”
“I’m going, I’m going,” he promises. He has a date with Taehyung tonight - just the two of them and some fancy restaurant that Taehyung thought it would be fun to try - and he’s already behind schedule because of the damn train. Taehyung should be home in twenty minutes and he gets ready much faster than Jimin.
Still, when he meets Namjoon on the way up the stairs, he pauses to say hi.
“Jimin-ah,” Namjoon says with a bright smile and a rush of warmth down the bond.
(This is another reason he misses them - they welcome him home so lovingly, in a way that always lets him know they miss him, too. That there is a piece of him in each of them, as well.)
“Hyung.” Jimin pats Namjoon’s arm.
“Date night?” Namjoon asks.
“Date night,” Jimin confirms and continues on, smiling to himself as he hears Namjoon start humming a quiet, aimless tune on his way to the kitchen to talk to Jungkook.
He showers with cold water, sighing in relief as the last of the heat and the sweat is washed away. He’s in the middle of styling his hair when he feels Seokjin enter the house and sends a mental greeting to him along with the others. Then he shrugs on a pale blue button up that was a gift from Seokjin and Taehyung said looks nice with his pink hair; adjusts the necklace that Taehyung gave him for their anniversary last year - a pendant with enchanted opal, his birthstone; rolls up his sleeves so that he’s showing off the tattoos he’s been trying to stop concealing, all of them collected over the last several years.
And here is Taehyung, pushing open the front door. His presence always burns a little brighter in Jimin’s mind than all the others - like the North Star.
Hey, love, Jimin says through the bond.
Hey, love, Taehyung answers right back, sparking a little brighter in happiness. Almost ready?
You have to change, too, don’t you?
You take longer than me, though.
Jimin rolls his eyes at Taehyung’s innocent tone. Well, I’m almost ready so hurry up.
He gets the equivalent of a mental salute back and snorts, snagging his wallet off the dresser and heading downstairs so Taehyung can have the room to change in. Seokjin is sitting on the sofa with a spoon in his mouth and what looks like a bowl of soup practically forgotten on one knee as he concentrates on a game on his phone. Jimin eyes the precarious sit of the bowl and decides he doesn’t care enough to intervene. They can easily get the stain out of the couch later.
“Have fun, kids,” Seokjin says without looking up. “Be home by ten.”
“Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do?” Jimin asks as the stairs creak and Taehyung joins him.
“Well I know you won’t, so I’m not bothering to add that. You’re boring and married.”
“And you’re ancient,” Jimin says.
“I’m immortal,” Seokjin counters, and sometimes Jimin wonders if he isn’t lying about that.
“See you later, hyung,” Taehyung says, pulling Jimin towards the door.
Jungkook and Yoongi mentally wave goodbye to them from upstairs and they get a distracted have fun from Hoseok and Namjoon, who seem to be engaged in a debate about shop prices out in the greenhouse. Gradually, all of them fade away as Jimin and Taehyung leave the radius and catch the train uptown.
“Ah, just the two of us,” Taehyung sighs when the bond goes completely dormant, kissing Jimin on the temple.
Jimin laughs and loops their arms together. “Like you don’t whine about getting lonely.”
Taehyung shrugs. “Yeah, my head feels too empty sometimes, when it’s just me in there. But not when I’m with you.”
Jimin’s chest compresses, the way it sometimes does around Taehyung - when all the love he feels presses down on his ribcage, threatening to break him. It’s been hard and long, but he can trace their red string back through the years, to that first meeting in Busan, and he doesn’t regret a moment of their time together.
In the corner of his eye, he sees a man reflected in the window of the train and where his face would have been, there is only black void. But it’s easier to look away than it once was - to remind himself of all the life he still has left - because next to him, Taehyung radiates.
“No,” Jimin agrees quietly, dropping a kiss onto Taehyung’s clothed shoulder. “Not when I’m with you.”