“His name is Taehyung,” Seokjin says, smiling gently as the young boy climbs into his lap, fidgeting slightly before settling down. The boy- Taehyung laughs, loud and boisterous, especially for a kid of his age, waving around a small toy car. Little ‘vroom, vroom!’ noises leave his mouth, and he continues to play, oblivious to the two adults’ conversation, “the little menace.”
“I know,” Namjoon says, smiling despite knowing that Seokjin can’t see behind his mask, “he was much older than this when he came to me, though.”
“Was he the one who asked you to do this?” Seokjin asks, watching Taehyung wave his car in a figure-eight over and over and over again, a neverending loop. The sun is harsh and the ground too rough, but with the way Taehyung laughs and snuggles into Seokjin, warm and soft and loving, Namjoon can understand why Seokjin chose this particular scene to remember. This particular scene to reenact for the rest of his days.
“Yeah,” Namjoon replies, “he burst into the office and got on his knees, begging me to do it. I’ve been in this business for a while, but I’ve never seen anyone as desperate as him. As full of grief as him. Helping him just felt like the right thing to do.”
“Oh, Taehyungie,” Seokjin sighs, eyes shining as he ruffles the top of Taehyung’s head, “always so reckless and strong. I’m sorry for causing you so much pain.”
“Vroom, vroom!” Taehyung yells, waving his toy car in a figure-eight. It’s the only thing Namjoon hears for a while, the two of them lapsing into silence as Seokjin holds Taehyung close to him, memorizing the way the boy laughs. Seokjin needs time to think, and Namjoon will give him as long as he needs to.
The seconds tick by, and Taehyung waves his car in a figure-eight.
“I’ll go back with you.” Seokjin finally says, steel in his eyes when he tears his eyes away from Taehyung, “Partially for Taehyung, and partially for myself. It feels like I’m missing something, something important, and I need to go back and figure it out. I don’t… I don’t remember how I got here, and I’m not the kind of person who’s okay with letting that go.”
“Okay.” Namjoon says, standing up, “Are you ready to go now, or do you need a minute?”
“I’m good.” Seokjin says, smiling sadly as the young boy fades into nothingness, the background dissipating like smoke until there’s nothing but a blank emptiness left behind, as if they’re lingering between the planes of somewhere and nowhere at all.
“Welcome back to the realm of the living, Kim Seokjin-ssi,” Namjoon says, “please try your best to stay alive this time.”
“Oh, so you do have a face.” is the first thing Seokjin says when they both wake up.
(“Ew, there’s blood on my shirt.” is the second thing Seokjin says, but Namjoon doesn’t pay much attention to that.)
“Standard procedure.” Namjoon replies, finally getting to stretch after an hour of lying on the ground, unmoving, “I don’t need people making the wrong choice just because I looked at them weird or anything.”
“Understandable, I guess.” Seokjin mutters, before he’s immediately tackled by sixty two kilograms of Crying Younger Brother.
“Hyung, you’re back!” Taehyung cries out, hugging Seokjin so hard Namjoon’s mildly concerned that he might have to pay a second visit to the afterlife again, “You’re alive.”
“Of course,” Seokjin says, hugging his younger brother gently, the small tremble in his voice betraying his collected demeanor, “hyung will always come back for you, Taehyungie. Always.”
“And that’s my cue to leave.” Namjoon says, brushing the dust off his dress pants, “The revival process heals all injuries and wounds so don’t worry about the whole, uh, stabbing thing. You just need a new shirt.”
“Damn, but I liked this shirt.” Seokjin groans, still holding on tight to Taehyung, “But thank you, really. Taehyungie and I, we don’t make a lot, but name your price and we’ll pay you back.”
“It’s fine.” Namjoon says, laughing softly as he shakes his head, “I’m just glad Taehyung-ssi isn’t crying anymore.”
“You’d cry too, if your most precious person died.” Taehyung says, pouting as he reluctantly pulls away from Seokjin to go rummage in a nearby cardboard box, “But here- We can’t just let you leave empty handed, y’know. We Kims have our pride.”
Namjoon looks down at the small object Taehyung pushes into his hands, runs his fingers over the rough, worn stone, holding it up to the light. The light from the window shines through the hole in the middle of the stone, still perfectly circular and neat even though the thread it dangles from is worn and frayed. He may not be well versed in Magick lore (that’s within Hoseok’s realm of interest, not his), but he knows a proper Adder stone when he sees one.
“Family heirloom.” Taehyung says, tear tracks still visible on his cheeks, “We can’t give you money, but we can at least give you our protection. Take it.”
“I can’t possibly-” Namjoon starts, moving to give the stone back to Taehyung.
“Take it, please.” Taehyung says, pushing it back at Namjoon, “You brought my brother back to life. It’s only right for us to give you our protection in exchange for that.”
“He’s right,” Seokjin says, “take it. Neither of us know how to use it properly, anyway. You’d be a better owner.”
“I- Okay. Since you both insist.” Namjoon says, slipping the Adder stone around his neck. He’d definitely need Hoseok to take a look at it back at the office, “Thank you.”
“It’s only right.” Seokjin says, before turning to Taehyung, “I’ll see you out, Namjoon-ssi. Taehyungie, can you get me a glass of water? Oddly enough, being dead makes you really dehydrated.”
“On it, hyung!” Taehyung chirps, scrambling to the kitchen (which really was just the other side of the room. This wasn’t a big apartment, not at all).
Seokjin walks him to the front door, unlatching the steel gate and opening the door.
Namjoon’s one foot out the door before he turns back to look at Seokjin.
“One last thing, Seokjin-ssi,” Namjoon says, making sure Taehyung had left the room before pulling out his business card, “you were right. I’ve been doing this for years, but I’ve never met a Deceased who didn’t remember how they died. It’s probably something you’d need to figure out yourself, but feel free to contact me if you need any help.”
“Understood.” Seokjin says, quickly pocketing the card, “Thank you, Namjoon-ssi.”
“The pleasure is mine.” Namjoon replies, smiling courteously at Seokjin as he leaves the small apartment, “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of the stone.”
Namjoon checks his phone the moment he’s out of the building, the Adder stone a strange, unfamiliar weight resting against his chest. What the hell, ten new messages from Hoseok and…
“Twenty missed calls?” Namjoon asks the second Hoseok picks up when he calls the office, “Hyung, you know I was in the middle of helping Taehyung-ssi.”
“Uh, sorry man, but you might want to get back to the office ASAP.” Hoseok says. Hoseok’s tone of voice immediately gets alarm bells going off in his head- He rarely sounds that serious, not unless it really was a dire situation. This reeked of danger, and Namjoon didn’t like it one bit.
“Hyung,” Namjoon says, his grip on his phone tightening, “what’s going on?”
“The police.” Hoseok says (and Namjoon can feel his heart dropping in his chest. Christ, the Police), “They’re here, and they’re not looking for me.”
“Goddammit.” Namjoon curses, striding to the nearest road to hail a taxi, “Bring them to the meeting room, I’m on my way back.”
Fuck, Namjoon thinks as he scrambles into the backseat of the taxi, police cases are the fucking worst.
Namjoon didn’t believe in fate, but it seems too much a coincidence for the Adder Stone to have landed in his hands at a time like this.
Hopefully he’ll never need to use it.
“Alright, alright, I’m back.” Namjoon says, bursting through the door, “Where are they?”
“Meeting room, just like you asked. Only two of ‘em this time.” Hoseok replies, nervously pacing around the reception area, “I’ve gotten them coffee and tea, thrown yoghurt candy at them, but they’re antsy. It’s bad. Real bad.”
“How bad?” Namjoon asks, hoping that Hoseok doesn’t tell him what he expects to hear.
“Murder case bad.” Hoseok says, face as pale as a sheet, “The atmosphere in there… it’s not good, Namjoon-hyung. It reeks of death. Out of all the murder cases we’ve been dragged into, this one’s the worst.”
“Oh shit.” Namjoon curses, “Did they tell you anything about the case?”
“Nothing,” Hoseok says, shaking his head, “they wanted to wait till you were here.”
“So we’re going in with nothing.” Namjoon says. Fuck, he hated murder cases. The police always wanted him to give them all the answers, as if questioning or reviving one dead person would solve the whole case. It was never that easy. Never.
“Yep, nothing.” Hoseok sighs, rubbing a hand over his face, “Let’s just… get it over with, and we can panic-drink our sorrows away later, alright?”
“Tab’s on you.” Namjoon says, before striding into the meeting room.
“No fucking way, Kim Namjoon,” Hoseok mutters, trailing behind him, “you may have brought me back to life, but that doesn’t mean I’m buying you alcohol every time we panic-drink."
The first thing Namjoon notices when he walks into the meeting room isn’t a what- It’s a who.
It’s been years, but he’d recognize that face anywhere. She’d baked cookies every Wednesday, once upon a time, back when Namjoon’s voice broke every five seconds, when the worst injury he’d ever gotten was a scraped knee, when the old tree in the back hadn’t been chopped down. She was just as much of a mother to him as his own, and he’d always dreamed of meeting her again one day, of taking a well-deserved vacation and travelling to Busan to look for her. To look for all of them.
He never expected to see her again like this.
Dear god, not like this.
“Eomonim,” Namjoon says, immediately feeling like he needs to start panic-drinking right the fuck now , “it’s been a while.”
“Namjoon-ah,” she says, with an expression both equally overjoyed and confused, “what are you doing here?”
“I’m… This is my office, eomonim,” Namjoon says, voice gentle as he slips into the seat next to hers, “Hoseok-hyung and I work here.”
“Oh.” she replies, before her face scrunches up in the most heartbreaking way, tears rolling down her cheeks as she hastily wipes at her eyes, “Oh, Namjoon-ah, I’m so sorry.”
“Eomonim?” Namjoon asks, dread starting to pool at the pit of his stomach like a coiling snake. It couldn’t be. No no no no, it couldn’t. “Eomonim, why are you here today?”
She looks up at him (when did he become so tall? He still remembers looking up at Eomonim, tugging at her shirt whenever he wanted her attention), and her eyes are red, filled to the brim with tears and the inexorable pain that comes from grief. A mother’s grief. It’s sad that it’s something he can so easily identify now, that one look can tell him what he needs to know. Still, he thinks, Maybe she had another child after she left. Maybe I’m wrong.
Dear god, he thinks, Please tell me I’m wrong.
Then eomonim bursts into tears, crying so hard Namjoon has to hold onto her, rubbing her back. It’s painful, so painful, having to hear the woman who baked him pastries as a child and told him that being kind was a virtue and that feeling emotions weren’t a crime, who’d pinch their chubby cheeks and taught them how to ride a bike, cry like a broken human, shattered by grief and death. He finally looks up at the police officer accompanying eomonim, having being too distracted to really process his presence in the room, looking for answers.
The police officer that’s standing behind eomonim looks suitably distressed at her outburst, only relaxing slightly when Hoseok rushes forward with a box of tissues and a glass of water, offering them to her. It’s only then when he steps forward, pulling out a folder and handing it to Namjoon.
“I’m Senior Inspector Min Yoongi, assigned to this case.” Inspector Yoongi says, keeping his voice soft in consideration of eomonim, “A few months ago, we received a call from a civilian that they had found a murder victim in a nearby cemetery. We’ve been investigating ever since, and someone on my team recently informed me of your… abilities. It’s imperative that we get as much information and evidence as we can, so we were hoping that you would be willing to get information from the deceased that we don’t already have.”
“Who died.” Namjoon says, urgent. He’s done this before, he already knows what the Police want from him and how they work. What he needs to know is- is if he’s the one who’s dead. He knows he can just open the folder, but his hands are glued to the table, like the reaper himself has pinned them down. He needs to hear it from the Senior Inspector. He doesn’t trust himself with the folder.
“The deceased was this lady’s son, Park Jimin.” Inspector Yoongi says.
(“Namjoonie-hyuuung! There you are!” Jimin yells, running towards him. He only has seconds to hide everything, but he panics- he throws himself atop his little bundle, ruining the precious work he’s done in the past hour.
“Oh, hi Jiminnie.” Namjoon squeaks out, belly flat on the ground.
“What’re you doing, hyung?” Jimin asks, puffing out his chubby cheeks, “Are you hiding something? I may be nine, but I’m not stuuuupid, ya know.”)
“Oh,” Namjoon says, his voice breaking for the first time since he was eighteen, choking back tears as the Park family moved to the other side of the country, “Jiminnie’s dead.”
Park Jimin, murdered at twenty five.
You’d cry too, if your most precious person died, Taehyung had said. He was right.
Namjoon wants to cry.
“I’ll bring him back, I swear.” Namjoon says, squeezing eomonim’s hand. There’s always a chance that Jimin might not want to come back with him but- But no. He’s going to fight harder than he ever has to bring Jimin back.
Murdered at twenty five.
Too young, Namjoon thinks, I need to bring him back. For eomonim. For me.
Eomonim smiles faintly at him, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. She squeezes back.
“I don’t know how all this works, Namjoon-ah,” Eomonim says, “but I have faith in you.”
“We have the victim’s body back at the morgue in the hospital.” Inspector Yoongi says, sipping from his cold cup of coffee, “Tell us what you need, within reason, and we’ll get it for you.”
“I just need to be in a room with him, undisturbed.” Namjoon says, knowing this is when he does the whole ‘explaining how the revival thing works’ spiel. He hates exposition, hates it in books and movies and life, but he knows it’s necessary. With Park Jimin’s life on the line, everything becomes necessary, “My ability allows me to access the afterlife of the person I’m touching, provided that they’re dead. Once physical contact is established, I’ll be mentally transported to their afterlife, which is basically an eternal loop or reenactment of the Deceased’s happiest or most beautiful moment in life. Then I’ll have to find the Deceased, which might take a while depending on where the moment is set: If it’s in a house- simple. If it’s at a large beach party- not so simple.
“After I locate the Deceased… I’ll have to talk to them and ask them if they want to come back.” Namjoon says, pausing to let the Inspector write down notes in his notebook, “If they agree, then they’ll be revived with full health. If they choose to stay, then they’ll stay dead forever. I can’t offer someone life more than once.”
“Okay, that should be easy to arrange.” Inspector Yoongi says, shutting his notebook, “The victim being fully healed if revived shouldn’t be a problem since we already have the autopsy reports. I’m… assuming that you’d want to do this as soon as possible, so I’ll get everything arranged and contact you once we’re ready to go?”
“Sounds good.” Namjoon says, scrambling from his seat to help eomonim up as the inspector packs everything back into his briefcase.
“You be good, Namjoon-ah,” Eomonim says, patting his cheek, eyes still teary and red, “I’ll come visit you every day.”
“Okay, eomonim.” Namjoon replies, giving her the most reassuring smile he can muster, “Everything will turn out alright, I promise.”
“Just promise me you’ll stay safe.” Eomonim says. I can’t lose another son, is what goes unsaid between the two of them.
“I’ll do my best, eomonim.” Namjoon says. It’s the best he can give her.
“I’ll see the two of you out.” Hoseok says, one of the first things he’s said during the entire meeting. Usually Namjoon’s the one seeing the clients out, but Hoseok knows him too well. He’s going to break down the minute eomonim and the Inspector steps out of office. He can’t do it, not this time.
The door shuts behind them. Namjoon can hear them speaking at the reception area, Hoseok jotting down both eomonim and the Inspector’s contact information as he tries to crack a joke. Then, the sound of Hoseok walking them out the office door to the elevator, bidding them goodbye.
He’s finally alone.
Namjoon buries his head in his hands and cries.
“Oh yeah,” Namjoon says, later when his eyes aren’t so red and his heart longs for a distraction, “I’ve got something to show you.”
“Hm?” Hoseok hums, stretching a palm out while playing geometry dash on his phone, “Must be something good.”
He pulls out the Adder stone hanging around his neck, gently taking it off and handing it off to Hoseok, placing it in the palm of his hand. Hoseok finishes his game (‘GAME OVER’, his screen says. He curses softly before shoving his phone back into his pocket) and turns his attention to the stone, eyes widening as he lets the string dangle from his fingers.
“Holy shit,” Hoseok says, before looking up at Namjoon like an excited puppy, “is this for real?”
“I think so?” Namjoon replies, shrugging, “I don’t know a lot about the lore behind it but the Kims didn’t seem like they were lying. Said it was a family heirloom.”
“Woah.” Hoseok whistles, holding the stone up to his face, eye peering through the hole, “They must come from mad money then. These kinda stones are usually found in the west, like Germany and England and stuff. It’s easy to get nowadays because etsy exists but if it’s an old family heirloom it must’ve been hell to get back then.”
“I dunno man.” Namjoon says, “They live in a small, shabby apartment on the edge of town. Doesn’t really spell ‘mad money’ to me.”
“Just because they’re not doing well now doesn’t mean that their ancestors weren’t.” Hoseok says.
“True.” Namjoon replies.
“Anyway, let’s put the rock donut to the test.” Hoseok says, passing the stone back to Namjoon. He bounces over to the pantry, filling up a clear plastic glass with distilled water before quickly scuttling back, putting the glass on the table.
“So one way you can tell if an Adder stone’s the real deal or not is to see if it floats in water. If it floats, it’s real.” Hoseok says, eyes wide as he peers at the glass of water, before looking up at Namjoon and gesturing frantically at him, “Go on, dump the stone in the glass!”
He does just that, gently lowering the stone into the glass of water, watching as it sinks straight down to the bottom of the glass before slowly, slowly rising upwards, only stopping to rest at the surface. It floats.
“Man, it’s the real deal.” Hoseok breathes out, staring at the rock bobbing up and down at the top of the glass, “It doesn’t seem like it’s the most stable- someone in the family probably added something to it or took something away, but it should still work.”
“You seem way more excited about it than I do.” Namjoon says, “You want it?”
“Nah man.” Hoseok replies, fishing the stone out and letting it dry on a tissue, “It was clearly meant to be payment for your work- interfering in the balance of that exchange results in major bad juju. You keep it. Besides, I already have like, twenty wards on me at all times, I don’t really need another one. You seem like you’d need it, anyway.”
“It’s just basic protection, right?” Namjoon asks. He really doesn’t know anything about Adder stones beyond the first paragraph on Wikipedia.
“There’s a whole list of stuff it can do in one of my books -I’ll go look it up for you when I get back home- but basically it’s protection against evil shit, faerie traps, snakes, all that good stuff. If you look through the hole, you’re supposed to be able to see through disguises and traps.” Hoseok says, “Since this one has been altered a little, it probably also does some extra things. I wouldn’t know what though.”
“I’m not sure when I’ll ever have to go up against faeries, but I guess it’ll come in handy.” Namjoon says.
“Hey, you never know when you might need it.” Hoseok says, snapping a photo of the stone with his phone, “Besides, it prevents against nightmares too.”
“Oh.” Namjoon says.
“Yeah,” Hoseok says, eyes soft and filled with worry, “you should keep it.”
They wait some more.
A week later, they get a call.
“Hello, Jung’s Rare Books: Bringing you Literary Hope since 1962! How can I help you?” Hoseok recites, having the damn speech memorized ever since he was fifteen and an intern at his family’s business, “Oh, Yoongi-ssi! Ah, you’ve made the arrangements? Okay, we’ll be there promptly. See you there!”
He hangs up only to find Namjoon already shutting down his laptop, ready to leave the office. The Adder stone hangs around his neck. Hoseok hopes it’s actually helped him.
“Yoongi-ssi’s booked a villa for a few days in Yongsan-gu, they’re setting everything up right now.” Hoseok says, quickly locking all his files back in the proper cabinets- he does have an actual business to run. “He’s texting me the address now from his personal number, so we should get a move on.”
“A villa? Sounds kinda sketchy.” Namjoon says, fiddling with the stone resting on his chest, “And when did you have time to get a Senior Inspector’s personal phone number?”
“Something tells me this whole thing isn’t exactly stamped and approved by the Korean government, hyung.” Hoseok says, shrugging his backpack on before heading towards the door, “Besides, it never hurts to have a Senior Inspector on speed dial.”
“Gross.” Namjoon says, striding out of the office with him, “But you do you, I guess.”
“Trust me, there are many things I want to do.” Hoseok says, leering in the most dramatic way possible.
He may be exaggerating just a little to get Namjoon laughing (or disgusted at him, same thing), but there’s still truth behind it. There are many things he wants to do to the Senior Inspector, like interrogate the shit outta him once the ahjumma’s left and his hyung’s gone under. He’s had time. He’s done his research. He knows that things aren’t what they seem with Senior Inspector Min Yoongi, and he’s getting to the bottom of it tonight.
Then maybe they can make out afterwards or something, no biggie.
“There are things I don’t actually need to know about you, Hoseok-ah.” Namjoon deadpans, waiting as Hoseok locks up the office.
“Says the one who watches porn on my work computer.” Hoseok teases.
“Yeah, yeah, that was once.” Namjoon says, crossing his arms before nodding at the office, “We good?”
“Yeap.” Hoseok says, pocketing his keys, “Now, let’s make our way to Yongsan-gu: We’ve got an ahjumma to comfort, her son to revive, and an Inspector for me to interrogate.”
Namjoon almost smacks him when he starts waggling his eyebrows.
Obviously, the first thing Namjoon does when the ahjumma answers the door is hug her. Hoseok still has no goddamn clue what the story behind him and Park Jimin is, but he infers enough to know that it’s important and close to Namjoon’s heart. Maybe they grew up together, maybe they dated before- who knows? He’ll wait till Park Jimin is alive again to get the full story.
“Good afternoon, ahjumma!” He chirps, bowing as he slips his shoes off. Namjoon does the same, and the ahjumma leads them to the room her son’s currently residing in.
If he were Namjoon, he would probably start going on about choice and how Park Jimin might very well choose to stay dead, forever doomed to repeat the same boring scene over and over and over again. There’s always a chance he’d want to stay, Namjoon would say, I told eomonim that I’d bring him back but he might still stay.
That may be true, if Park Jimin was an elderly man who died in his sleep, or if he was someone who’d made peace with themselves and the other people around them before they died, but he’s pretty sure that’s not Park Jimin. Dying prematurely sucks, especially when you have so much more to do, so much more to see and experience, so many more people to know and love, that no Deceased would give up the opportunity to come back again. It leaves this empty feeling inside of you, like there’s something important that you’re missing, and once you’ve been made aware of it you enter a spiral of absolute suckage. And not the good kind of suckage either.
Hoseok would know.
It’s why Namjoon and the ahjumma aren’t his top concern right now: he knows Park Jimin will choose to come back. He has faith in Namjoon, and he has faith in Park Jimin.
Who he doesn’t have faith in though, is Senior Inspector Min Yoongi.
“You still gonna do the whole mask thing up there?” Hoseok asks, breaking Namjoon out of his weird ‘staring sadly at Park Jimin’s dead body’ reverie.
“It’s standard procedure,” Namjoon says, sitting in the chair deliberately placed next to the bed Jimin’s lying in, “I don’t want to guilt him into coming back.”
“Hyung, he’ll want to come back whether you have the mask on or not.” Hoseok says wryly, “Trust me.”
“Still, we can’t risk it.” Namjoon says. Hoseok drops it, if only because they’ve been arguing about the mask thing for the past three years they’ve been in this business. It’s probably something they’ll never agree on.
“Where’s the inspector, ahjumma?” Hoseok asks instead, turning back to give her his best smile. Park Jimin’s ahjumma is a good mother: she gives out all the good maternal vibes that makes Hoseok immediately want a hug from a maternal figure. He always makes sure to be nice to her.
Namjoon shoots him a look that screams ‘Seriously, now?’, and Hoseok sticks his tongue out at him in response.
“He’s in the guest room upstairs,” the ahjumma says, shooting him a watery smile, “said he didn’t want to intrude. I can go get him, if you want.”
“Oh no, I don’t want to be any trouble,” Hoseok says, pulling up a chair for the ahjumma to sit in, “I’ll go find him later. Do you want to stay in the room, ahjumma? Once hyung starts the process he’ll be knocked out until he’s done, but I’d imagine you’d want to be there when Jimin-ssi wakes up.”
“I don’t want to intrude-” the ahjumma starts to say, before Namjoon speaks up.
“You wouldn’t be intruding, eomonim,” Namjoon says, clasping the ahjumma’s hands in his, “I’m sure you’d be the first person Jiminnie would want to see.”
“I really wouldn’t be intruding?” the ahjumma asks, unsure.
“Really.” Namjoon says. He helps the ahjumma into her chair, making sure she’s comfortable before moving back towards the bed. “I don’t know how long this will take, but I’ll be back as soon as possible, okay?”
“I believe in you, Namjoon-ah.” the ahjumma says, smiling. Hoseok feels all warm and fuzzy inside.
“I’ll do my best, eomonim.” Namjoon says. Then, he sits back down in his chair and slips his hand into Park Jimin’s cold and unmoving one, their fingers intertwined. Hoseok watches as Namjoon’s eyes slip shut, head slowly drooping forward. To anyone else, it would look like Namjoon was a worried boyfriend, falling asleep at his hospitalized boyfriend’s bedside, waiting for him to wake up.
Hoseok supposes that, this time, that’s not very far from the truth.
“Ahjumma,” Hoseok says softly, “I have to go discuss a few case details with the Inspector, but I’ll be right back with tea and snacks after I’m done, okay?”
“Okay.” the ahjumma says, a softness and a fragility in her eyes that makes Hoseok wish he didn’t need to leave, “Thank you for taking care of Namjoon-ah all these years, Hoseok-ah. You’re a good friend.”
“I do my best, ahjumma.” He replies, smiling as he shakes his head, “Hyung is a difficult man to look after.”
“He’s always been trouble, that one.” The ahjumma says, chuckling fondly.
“He broke all my silverware on the first day of work.” Hoseok recalls, snorting. “Now we only have plastic glasses, a water dispenser and an espresso machine he’s not allowed to touch.”
“I tried to teach him how to bake, once.” the ahjumma sighs, “Never again.”
“I mourn for your kitchenware.” Hoseok jokes, before heading towards the door, “I’ll be back in a bit, ahjumma.”
He shuts the door behind him gently, making sure it’s closed properly before he pads up the stairs. It’s time to get down to business.
There’s only one room with a closed door upstairs, and he knows Senior Inspector Min Yoongi is in the room behind it. He takes a moment to collect his thoughts, pulling his questions and arguments together into a linear thread in his head, before stretching out his hand and knocking on the wooden door.
“Come in.” the Inspector says, voice muffled.
Hoseok opens the door, the metal of the doorknob cold on his skin as he walks in. In front of him, sitting on the edge of a naked bed, bedsheets, bedspreads and pillows neatly folded and placed in a corner of the room, is Senior Inspector Min Yoongi, dressed in a simple white t-shirt, skinny jeans and a pair of red Air Jordans. Like this, he looks almost harmless.
“Yoongi-ssi,” Hoseok says, a cheeky smile on his face, “nice to see you alive and well.”
“Jung Hoseok-ssi,” the Inspector says, raising an eyebrow, “I thought you’d be down there, making sure nothing fucks up.”
“They’ll be fine.” Hoseok says, shrugging, “I thought I’d use my free time to get to know you better, Yoongi-ssi.”
“Huh.” the Inspector says. His eyebrows are furrowed, cogs and gears obviously turning in his head. Min Yoongi knows something’s up, but it’s not like Hoseok’s the type to be subtle, anyway.
“Let’s talk, inspector.” Hoseok says, the smile never leaving his face. He shuts the door behind him, clicks the lock into place.
He wants answers, and Min Yoongi is going to give them to him.
He knows this place.
The familiar oak flooring, the fluffy white welcome mat beneath his feet, the DIY shoe rack that’s a little too tall on one end- he doesn’t remember the details, but he knows this place.
It’s the house next door. Jiminnie’s house.
Namjoon takes a deep breath, making sure that he has his usual mask and robe on (Hoseok says that it makes him look more like a grim reaper than someone who can bring people back to life, but he likes the anonymity that it gives him) before venturing further into the house. He doesn’t know which specific memory Jimin’s chosen, but he knows it’ll send little pangs of hurt and nostalgia to his heart anyway.
He’s padding down the corridor, about to turn the corner when suddenly-
Holy shit, Namjoon thinks, what the fuck.
Did something blow up in the villa while he was down under? An explosion doesn’t really seem like it’d be part of Jimin’s most beautiful memory. Jimin likes the feeling of sunshine hitting skin, the way earphones fit perfectly in his ears, stealing his friends’ clothes because he likes the way the fabric looks on him. Domestic explosions? Not so much.
It’s only when he hears a high-pitched laugh that he relaxes, squinting as he walks forward.
No. It couldn’t be.
“Oh my god, Joonie,” Jimin laughs, “what did you do?”
“I don’t- I don’t know!” Namjoon (himself, jesus christ. He must’ve been, what, sixteen back then?) exclaims, eyes wide as he flails around uselessly in the kitchen, eomonim hurriedly scraping the remains of… whatever they were making off the tray while abeonim tapes a plastic container over the smoke detector, “The aluminium- and the flour, I’m. I don’t-”
“Deep breaths, Joonie,” Jimin says, giggling as he wraps his arms around Namjoon, calming his flailing limbs, “it’s okay.”
“I’m so, so, so, so sorry abeonim, eomonim! I- I have a job! I’ll pay you back!” Namjoon panic-stutters out, “I’ll help clean up! I’ll do anything!”
“It’s fine, Namjoon-ah.” Eomonim says, shooting him a reassuring smile before gently pushing him and Jimin in the direction of the living room, “Let us take care of this. Just stay in the living room, okay?”
Namjoon remembers this, remembers how truly mortified he was at the time. Here he was, an awkward sixteen year old boy over at his boyfriend’s house, trying to help eomonim bake when suddenly everything just went horribly wrong. He doesn’t even know what happened- something exploded, there was smoke, abeonim had to tamper with the smoke detector, Jimin had to cuddle him for what felt like twenty hours until he stopped feeling like a horrible boyfriend and neighbour. It was horrible.
And yet, it was Jiminnie’s beautiful moment.
Eight years of separation, of radio silence and physical distance, and Jimin still chose to come back to Namjoon after death.
“Come on, Joonie,” Jimin says, leaving a big wet smooch on Namjoon’s cheek as he waddles over to the couch, younger-him still trapped in his arms, “we’ll watch a movie on the telly or something.”
Namjoon watches, moving to sit down on a chair next to the couch as Jimin and younger-him collapse onto it, squirming for a bit as they trying to arrange themselves into a comfortable position. Younger-him is still freaking out, of course, mumbling about killing the cookies and wishing he could revive them again (oh, if only he knew), while Jimin is stroking his hair, trying to smooch him into calmness. Younger-him clings to Jimin, willing himself to disappear in Jimin’s arms so he doesn’t have to face eomonim and abeonim ever again.
It’s only then that he lets himself be seen. Watching any more would be torture.
“Park Jimin.” he says, trying his best to keep his voice from wavering.
Jimin looks up from younger-him, eyes widening with fear and shock when he lays eyes on his mask. Namjoon’s mask is a plain porcelain white, crafted so that it obscures every centimetre of his face. Paired with his black cloak, it really does make him look like the grim reaper. It’s intimidating, but it’s better than seeing a 181cm dude in a graphic tee and cargo pants randomly turn up in your afterlife and going, “So I just met you, and this is crazy, but you’re dead and I can bring you back to life.”
“W-who,” Jimin stutters out, looking around frantically. Younger-him continues to mumble and snuggle against Jimin, oblivious to Namjoon’s presence, “what-”
“Do you know where you are, Park Jimin?” Namjoon asks.
He watches as Jimin blinks in confusion, brows furrowing as he peers at younger-Namjoon in his embrace, at his parents continuously cleaning in the kitchen, never seeming to make any progress. Jimin’s always been bright, top of his class and quick on his feet. He’ll figure it out quickly.
“I’m in my house in Seoul, spending an afternoon with my boyfriend,” Jimin starts, fear and confusion steadily creeping into his eyes as he speaks, “except I’m… not fifteen anymore. I’m twenty-five. I live in Busan with my- my parents and grandparents. I- Where am I?”
“Where do you think you are, Jimin?” Namjoon asks.
“I- I don’t know,” Jimin says, clutching at his head, “I live in Busan, but I travelled to Seoul to visit… to visit someone? To see someone dear. I bought… I bought flowers. White chrysanthemums. Laid them down on a- Oh. Oh.”
“Oh,” Jimin says, slowly lifting his head from his shaking hands, “I’m dead, aren’t I.”
“Yeah,” Namjoon says, “you are. But you don’t have to be.”
“What do you mean?” Jimin asks, “I’m dead. Buried six feet under. A little black and white photo stuck on a tombstone, my favourite quote engraved on it. In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing.”
“And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night.” Namjoon says. He remembers reading the book with Jimin, reverently flipping through the pages of the book as he translated the english on the page, correcting Jimin’s pronunciation as he fumbled with the words. Jimin would look at the illustrations and marvel, eyes rapt with wonder. He was beautiful. Still is.
“You’ve read the book too?” Jimin asks, something unreadable clicking into place in his eyes.
“I like reading,” Namjoon says, “but that’s besides the point. I can bring you back to life, Park Jimin. Just say yes, and I can bring you back, no strings attached. You’ll wake up with a fully healed body, and you’ll get to go back to your everyday life again.”
“There’s no catch?” Jimin says, voice hesitant, “I can just… be alive again?”
“The only catch is that you’ll only get this chance once.” Namjoon says, “If you say no, I won’t be able to give you the same offer next time. If you come back to life and die, I won’t be able to bring you back again.”
“But- I’m already dead. Everyone knows I’m dead.” Jimin says, “If I agree… how am I going to explain it to eomoni? To halmeoni?”
“That’s something we can work through afterwards.” Namjoon says, trying his best to eradicate the pleading tone from his voice, trying his best to be neutral in the most un-neutral situation, “What’s important now is whether you want to come back or not, Jimin.”
From behind his mask, he watches Jimin. Watches as he looks down at the Namjoon still cradled in his arms, at the way he tightens his grip around him, like he doesn’t want to let go. He watches the way Jimin’s eyes dart to abeonim, still taping the plastic container over the smoke detector, eyes shining as he lays eyes on a man who’s been buried six feet under for the past eight years. Hoseok has said repeatedly that Jimin would want to come back, that his premature death would guarantee it, but Namjoon isn’t so sure.
For all Jimin knows, this is his only chance to see Namjoon and his father. He might not give it up so easily.
“Take as much time as you need.” Namjoon says, “This is an important decision.”
“Okay, just… just give me a bit.” Jimin says, stroking younger-him’s hair, “Tell me about you, instead.”
“Uh,” Namjoon says, “pardon?”
“I’m not going to let you sit there in silence while I think, mister.” Jimin says, “Tell me what you do, what you like, what you don’t like. Whatever you want to tell me.”
Namjoon stares. He’s told himself he wouldn’t reveal his identity to Jimin but… it’s tempting. Real tempting. If Jimin chose to stay… he’d want him to know how twenty-six year old Namjoon is doing right now. To tell him that he’s doing okay. That he’s happy.
“I… I work at an office.” Namjoon hears himself saying, “A few years ago, I discovered I could bring people back to life, and now it’s my job. I work with my best friend, who does his best to take care of me. Most of the time, rich people pay me to bring back their dead grandfathers or whatever, but every now and then I help those who need it and can’t afford it. And every now and then, the police come knocking on my door.”
“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” Jimin asks, “Because I was murdered.”
“They want to know details about how you were murdered, what you remember before you died.” Namjoon says, shaking his head, “It’s never that easy, though. These sorts of things always bring more questions than answers.”
“If I come back, they’ll interrogate me, but if I choose to stay, you can still get me to tell you what I remember.” Jimin realizes, huffing with sardonic amusement, “Genius. The police are great.”
“Those ones are never a good experience,” Namjoon says, “too much pressure and expectation and inevitable disappointment.”
“Even if they want to get evidence from me, they can’t.” Jimin sighs. Younger-him continues to mumble on about aluminium foil and cookies. God, how the fuck did his parents stand him when he was younger? “I was literally stabbed in the back. All I remember is that I was visiting dad’s grave when I was killed. It hurt like fuck. The grave next to his had white lilies on it. I bled to death. That’s it.”
“I- I’m sorry you had to go through that.” Namjoon says. In some ways, the dead are lucky: Their deaths are in the past, something abstract and near-forgotten. The living still have to deal with its consequences.
“It’s fine, I’m over it.” Jimin says, but the way he clutches at younger-him suggests otherwise. “You know, I’ve lived a great life. I grew up with a loving family, great friends, an amazing boyfriend, and even when dad died and I had to move back to Busan, things turned out okay in the end. I studied hard, majored in mathematics, graduated Summa cum laude. Worked even harder, tried to make mom proud, and now that I’m dead I get to come back here. I get to see dad again, get to see Joonie again. I’m… I’m happy.”
Namjoon freezes. He knows where this is going. He’s been in the business for three years. These kinds of speeches always lead to one conclusion: Jimin is going to stay.
Hoseok was wrong. Jimin was going to stay.
“When I think about all that, all I’ve accomplished and set out to do, my mind tells me that I should stay. I deserve to rest.” Jimin says, laughing soft and sad, “But… my heart tells me no.”
“… No?” Namjoon asks. He’s afraid to hope.
“In any other circumstance, I would stay.” Jimin says, looking up at him, “But this time… something feels wrong. Like there’s something missing, something important, and I can’t just pretend that I’m okay with that. You know me, never satisfied until I finish solving the puzzle.”
“So, your decision is?” Namjoon asks. He needs to be sure- not just for the job, but for himself. He needs to hear it, loud and clear.
“I’m not staying.” Jimin says, smiling at him like soft cotton candy, like the type Namjoon used to buy him at nearby carnivals, “Bring me back with you, Joonie."
“You knew.” Namjoon says, laughing in disbelief, “You knew it was me.”
“I knew something was up when you quoted The Little Prince at me.” Jimin says, running a hand through his hair as he chuckles, “Not necessarily in the words itself, but in the way you said it. You have a really distinctive way of reading things, you know that?”
He smiles at Namjoon, eyes crinkling in a way that makes him want to go over and squish him in the face. Even after so many years, Park Jiminnie still has that kind of effect on him.
“Afterwards, when I asked about how I would explain my sudden revival, you said that it would be something we could deal with together.” Jimin continues, “If this was a normal business transaction, trying to figure out what comes next would be an individual effort, not a collaborative one. Clearly, you cared enough about me to want to help me.
“And lastly… it just felt right. I kept telling myself that there was no way you were here. A lot of people have read The Little Prince, and just because you were invested in me doesn’t automatically mean you were Joonie.” Jimin says, “But the more I thought about it, the more it just made sense. And in the end, I was right.”
“I’m impressed, Jiminnie.” Namjoon laughs, butterflies fluttering in his stomach, “You’ve grown smarter.”
“It’s what university does to you, Joonie.” Jimin deadpans, “But really, I’ve always been good at solving puzzles, and honestly, yours really wasn’t that hard to solve.”
“I am extremely offended.” Namjoon replies, “I didn’t spend three years in the business just to have a math major insult my entire business model.”
Jimin throws his head back and laughs, and Namjoon feels like he’s sixteen again. They’re not in love- how could they be after eight years of complete separation? The Jimin he knows is not the one sitting next to him, and the Namjoon Jimin knows is not the one behind the mask. Still, there’s something about the way Jimin looks at him, at how comfortable it is talking to him, that makes Namjoon want to try again. They’re not in love, but Namjoon wouldn’t mind falling for him a second time.
“I think that says more about you than it does about me.” Jimin replies, eyes softening as he looks down at the younger-Namjoon, “I’m sorry, by the way. For dropping off the grid like that. It took a long time for me to be okay after dad died, and between taking care of mom and throwing myself into work I just… couldn’t. Every now and then I would think about reaching out to you but… so much time had passed. I didn’t think you would even remember me anymore. I’m sorry, Joonie.”
“How could I ever forget you?” Namjoon says. “I’ll always want to be your friend, Jiminnie. Always.”
“And now… now that I’m coming back,” Jimin replies, eyes hopeful, “we can start over again?”
“Consider it done.” Namjoon says, smiling cheekily behind that mask of his. “You ready to leave?”
“Yeah, let me just- let me just look at my dad one last time.” Jimin says. He gets up, passing through younger-Namjoon like he was made out of air, striding towards the kitchen. Namjoon trails behind him, quiet.
He watches Jimin look at abeonim with a sorrow that could fill oceans, watches abeonim eternally taping a plastic container to a smoke detector, partially concealed by the black smoke that hangs around the kitchen like fog, watches as Jimin subtly wipes at the corner of his eyes. It’s times like this that he wishes he could bring people like abeonim back to life, but too many years have gone by, and the living deserve to move on. He can only stand back and watch.
“I’m ready.” Jimin says after a while, when his tears no longer flow and his sad smile less sad.
Namjoon holds his palm out, little electric shocks running down his hands when Jimin takes it, twining their fingers together like they used to do back in high school. Jimin smiles up at him, confident and trusting, and Namjoon smiles back. Even with a mask on, he has a feeling Jimin knows.
The background fades away, Jimin’s parents and his younger self disintegrating into dust, the house evaporating like the steam of a tea kettle.
“Welcome to the realm of the living,” Namjoon says, squeezing Jimin’s hand, “please try your best to stay alive this time.”
It’s absolute chaos when Namjoon finally wakes up. He can hear Hoseok yelling in the background, waking up eomonim before rushing out to get the inspector. Eomonim is crying, walking towards the both of them. Senior Inspector Min Yoongi rushes into the room, hair messy and shirt ruffled, Hoseok trailing right behind him.
Namjoon tunes it all out.
He looks up from where he’s slumped over, hands intertwined. Jimin is looking down at him, lips quirking upwards and eyes soft with wonder. He’s struck with a horrible urge to kiss him.
“Hey.” Jimin rasps out, throat hoarse with months of disuse.
“Hey.” Namjoon replies, the dopiest smile on his face.
Namjoon can already feel himself falling.
“You alone will have stars as no one else has them… In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night… You, only you, will have stars that can laugh! And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me… You will always be my friend.”
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry