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People run from rain but sit in bathtubs full of water.” - Charles Bukowski

 

People in black sit him down on a velvet sofa and Hoseok refrains from rearranging the plush pillows scattered around him. After all, they are only decoration, having no real purpose other than making the living room seem more homely. They don't need to be neatly arranged so that complementary colors are side by side; Hoseok looks away and sits straight with his legs closed. His messenger bag lays on the hardwood floor by his feet, hands are folded in his lap as he waits.

A sudden movement catches his attention and he tilts his head in the direction of the source, careful not to stare. In the corner of his eye, he notices a child hiding behind an armchair which isn't big enough to fully conceal her. Some parts are peeking out – blonde curls, black silk bows, curious eyes. Trying her hardest to stay still, she dares to look at him and eyes his bony hands, long fingers, blue veins. Hoseok doesn't spare her a glance even though he sees the corners of her frilly dress move with every breath she takes.

They play the game of hide and seek for a little longer while Hoseok gets used to his surroundings. The house is built in Victorian style with high ceilings; it smells of old parchment and wild thyme with sadness and grief stuck between the layers of the past decades. But Hoseok isn’t here to admire the architecture or hear about the history of the house. The reason for his arrival is buried six feet underground, serving as food for worms as flesh slowly decays.

The doors of the living room open with a gush of wind and the girl behind the chair squeaks, a breathy little sound, as her eyes fly from Hoseok to the person standing at the doorstep. The first one who enters is the widow. Her grey hair is hidden under a black veil that falls over her shoulders and dress. Her eyes – crystal clear and celestial blue – tell a story of their own and when she looks at Hoseok, her lips purse. Her accent – thick and heavy – speaks of pride and something akin to nostalgia, of wishing to be somewhere far, far away. She greets Hoseok in a language he doesn't understand before sitting down in the armchair, scaring the little girl who runs out of the living room, sound of her steps echoing around them. When it disappears through the cracks in the floor, the widow clears her throat.

Adults are talking now.

Hoseok stays silent and waits. By now, he's used to it. Families that ask for his services don't consider themselves American and don't think of this country as their home. It's a temporary stop until they have collected enough money to return. To the east of Europe, the center of Africa, the south of Asia. Home.

Hoseok knows their stories and their Gods, but the customs are always different.

The second ones who come and greet him are the sons of the deceased. Their faces are harsh, cruel in the way winter winds are, with deep lines on foreheads and around their mouths. They, too, are wearing black, expensive suits and silk ties over pristine white dress shirts, but their words, spoken in rushed yet perfect English without any signs of an accent showing the other side of the coin. The truth is that they have enough money to return home, have had it for years already, but home isn't home anymore. Too many years have passed since they left, too many things have changed with wars and economic crises – countries, borders, people. A new generation has come. One that neither knows them nor remembers them and if they did return to the town they were born in, they'd be nothing but strangers. Just like they are in America.

Hoseok bows his head, introduces himself with a select few words.

The widow nods and with a flick of her wrist beckons her daughter to come. She enters carrying a silver platter with a high crystal glass filled with water, a cup of coffee and Turkish delight on a saucer. It smells divine, like fresh roses.

“Nije slatko od dunja, ali je najbolje što možemo. Neka mu je pokoj duši,” the widow says and the sons echo “In his honor.”

These three words can't possibly be all that she said, but Hoseok doesn't ask for translation, just follows the customs. Eats the sweet first, swallows it down with water and takes a sip of bitter coffee. They can get to business now that he has paid his honor.

 

+

 

Hoseok steps over the line between the worlds and as he does so, an old man smiles at him. His thin lips move, forming words that Hoseok can’t hear. But he can feel the tender hand on his shoulder and gratefulness seeps into bones with the squeeze of cold fingers. They might be cold, but the man's eyes are warm and full of hope. He's thankful. His family is, too.

The session ends when the widow murmurs “Amen” and puts the black veil on her head again. One of her sons licks the tips of his index finger and thumb and puts out a yellow candle burning brightly on the coffee table. The house smells like candle wax, smoke and death. But it will clear out. Prayers have been said. Wishes, too.

As always, Hoseok returns to the world of the living with a headache. His hands shake as he collects the payment from a glass table in the hallway and slips on his shoes. It takes him more time than normal, but he does it without asking for help. He feels dizzy, but staying over until he feels better is out of the question for he is not welcome in this house anymore. Not a guest once his job is done and the family has found their peace knowing that their loved one forgave them for all their sins.

When Hoseok looks up from his hastily tied shoelaces, he sees a woman standing by the door, waiting for him to take his things and leave.

“Thank you,” she says, opening the door for him.

I hope we won't need your services in the near future, she doesn't say but Hoseok reads it from her posture and careful steps. The door is open wide with her standing close to the wall.

He nods on his way out. When he reaches the corner, he looks back. Their house stands alone and sad but proud like so many others he has visited over the years. There's some dignity in it, in the pain and melancholy that have taken over it.

 

+

 

Over the years, headaches have become normal. Hoseok has learnt to swallow painkillers and sleeping pills like they were candy, bitter tic-tacs. More often than not he takes them without water. They slide down his throat, every pill one step closer to choking. But that is welcome. In his world, every feeling is. What isn’t normal is the dosage and while Hoseok counts white pills on his palm, a cat circling around his feet mews. It's a desperate cry for attention, a plead for him to look at her.

Please, please, don’t take so many, she wants to say, rubbing her head against Hoseok's bare ankles, stepping over his toes, demanding his full attention with sharp claws and blood they draw. If she succeeds, Hoseok's determination will falter for the length of time it will take for the pills to fall from his palm and into the sink where the drain will swallow them. But she rarely does.

Hoseok glances at the creature sitting on the tiles, a hint of a smile on his thin lips. “You're such a menace,” he says before bringing his hand to his mouth. He throws his head back, pills falling on his tongue, and swallows them without any water. A shudder racks through his body and Hoseok grabs the sink for support, weak fingers digging into cold ceramic.

The cat mews again. It sounds a lot like crying.

“I'm okay,” he says, lifting his eyes and staring in the mirror.

“I'm okay,” he repeats trying to convince himself but his reflection doesn't lie. Messy hair, hollow cheeks, black circles under bloodshot eyes. A clinical image of an addict, except no matter how much he wants to become one, he can't, for he is not fully human.

Witches can't get addicted to human drugs and Hoseok is one of them. Also, witches aren't supposed to be weak, but Hoseok is, terribly so. His soul is slipping through his fingers every time he uses his powers. In some twisted way, that's a good thing, he thinks. It means he's still got a soul left to lose.

The cat sinks her claws deep into Hoseok's skin, leaving bloody scratches on his shins, and as the scent of copper fills the bathroom, Hoseok snaps back to reality.

He bends down and picks the feline in his arms. “I'm okay,” he says, petting her head until she has calmed down, become blissfully content, almost purring against his chest. “Stop worrying. You're worse than my mother was when she was alive.”

Hoseok doesn't want to think about his family, but sometimes the memories sneak up on him. He can't help but slip. He remembers the home he left in Korea once there was nobody to tie him down, no-one to anchor him to tradition and family values. Silk dresses with floral patterns his mother used to wear regardless of the season come dancing through his mind, followed by hanboks his grandmother stubbornly stuck with, the same ones he used to hide behind when he was in trouble, just a kid completely unaware of the magic holding their family together.

That was a long time ago, it is buried in the past. He has a new life now, the one in which he earns money by exploiting his gifts and burrowing his body to lost souls if their families are willing to pay enough. But “gifts” probably isn't even the right word. Even in the world of magic he is supposed to consider home, he is a freak. Bringing back the dead to life and communicating with them is never something to brag about. Dark magic is dangerous, people have always whispered loud enough for everybody to hear. But then again, all unfamiliar things are dangerous. When Hoseok was younger, he wanted to change it, to trade everything he had for a normal life. There wasn't a time he thought his powers were useful, but then he started using them in ways they were meant to. Without them, he wouldn't have the creature in his arms.

The cat presses herself closer, burrowing her head in his t-shirt and Hoseok feels life in her, life that he inhaled in her frail bones. He is reminded once again why he doesn't despise his power. If he were honest, he never really hated it.

Hoseok just never liked the things that came with necromancy. The baggage that was often too heavy for his shoulders to carry.

 

+

 

Two days after the last session, Hoseok gets another phonecall from the same family.

It's an unusually sunny morning of yet another work day, silent and long, unforgiving with its endless demand for caffeine and sugary sweets. Hoseok picks up the phone while rubbing sleep from his eyes and clears his throat before greeting the person at the other end of the line. Static cracks in his ear as the man explains that they want to have another session because more relatives have gathered. And with relatives more tears and remorse came. In a voice more suited for a television reporter, too cold to be grieving, he tells Hoseok that the priest can't help them, not in this moment. Praises spill from his lips as he tries to appease Hoseok with the amount of money they're offering. The sum is more zeros than any other numbers, big enough to pay the rent and all the bills for a few months if not years.

Hoseok leans on the wall for support as he listens to the man drone on and on. His energy is low, body heavy and tired. But he can't say no even though he should. He is aware of his limits and how much damage can occur if he accepts the offer. Of course he knows, he's not a fool. But the bills are piling up on his night stand, a stack of paper that could topple over any second. His fridge is empty save for a half-empty carton of milk and some eggs. So are his shelves.

Hoseok straightens his back, swallows down the lump in his throat. His three cats can feel the change of emotion, the fluctuation in power crackling in the air. They come to him, mewling, pushing at his legs. If they were human, they would be begging. Crying even.

“I'll do it,” Hoseok says, cutting off the man half-sentence. “See you tomorrow.”

With these words, he hangs up the phone and goes down the hallway to his bedroom. After shutting the door, Hoseok approaches the large windows ready to close the curtains, block the sun. It’s almost autumn and he lets his gaze linger on the garden, the pool covered with fallen leaves in all shades of red and brown. A sigh escapes his lips. With one last glance at the still water, Hoseok draws the curtains. He needs to rest, catch some sleep and prepare for tomorrow. He falls on the bed and drifts to sleep with the sound of cats clawing at the bedroom door.

 

+

 

The same people in black sit him down on the same velvet sofa but the pillows have been removed, making room for more people. This time there is nothing to distract Hoseok. Everything is pristine, clean and silent, like the house itself is expecting a funeral. The same woman brings him bitter coffee in a cup with delicate flowers painted over the porcelain and sweet dried figs on a saucer. As the coffee cools, Hoseok waits for the family to gather.

Different people of different ages pour into the living room through the wide open double doors. They all wear the same exhausted expression. The widow comes in last. Like an old friend, she greets Hoseok with the same words as the previous time, but compared to then, now there's a soft smile hiding in the corner of her mouth. She doesn't sit in the armchair opposite him but beside him and takes his cold hands in her warm ones.

“Thank you” is all she says, opening Hoseok's hand so that his palm is facing upwards, and gingerly puts seven golden coins in a silk handkerchief on it. She closes his hand with tender fingers and slowly gets up, straightening her dress and removing invisible specks of dust from black satin. When she's ready and everybody in the room has quietened down, she nods at Hoseok, signalling the start of the session.

The setting is fairly simple, streamlined for efficiency. After all, necromancy isn't magic based on herbs or spells or sigils. The only thing Hoseok really needs is his soul and the bare minimum of energy taken from the people who are, in this lifetime, related by blood to the soul he's trying to reach. While waiting for the furniture to be pushed aside and space to be cleared in the middle of the room, Hoseok tries not to think about the toll this will take on him, tries to ignore the muffled cry of his mind telling him that this might be too much regardless of the money he'll get for it.

Having no interest in the people surrounding him until the time to begin the session comes, Hoseok picks at the corners of the handkerchief and wraps the coins in silk. Puts them in his pocket. They are not the payment for his services, but a gift from a soul waiting to be reconnected with her loved one.

Once everything is settled, the people gather, standing in a circle around the coffee table where a yellow candle is lit. It burns in a high glass filled with corn and wheat grains. Hoseok doesn't question it.

After all, Hoseok is familiar with the stories of these people and the Gods they celebrate, but no matter how many times he practices them, he would never really learn their traditions and customs. They stand still and pray slowly, chant silently following a rhythm unknown. The words that echo in the room are foreign to him, but they bring them peace and Hoseok doesn't mind. He's not a priest and not a believer. He is a witch but they don't need to know that. They do not want to know that. They hold hands and pray as Hoseok slips under.

At the border between the worlds he encounters the same man, but he looks younger now, full of strength. His cheerful eyes look at Hoseok asking for permission and Hoseok shakes hands with the man's soul, cold fingers wrapping gently around the boundless energy. He pulls the man over the line as he steps on the other side.

“Thank you,” the man says and his voice is Hoseok's and his face is Hoseok's and he is the one inhabiting Hoseok's body while Hoseok stands in the shadow of death and watches as the man's relatives cry and confess and pray and worship because Hoseok's eyes have become his too, changed color from brown to blue and this man – this man in Hoseok's body is their brother, their father, their uncle. He is theirs. Soul but not body.

Death laughs as Hoseok shakes hands with it, exchanging pieces of his own soul for a chance to bring somebody back for a few hours. It would be easier to resurrect them in their own body, but nobody robs graves anymore.

It doesn't last long. It can't. And when Hoseok opens his eyes again, really opens them, he's lying on that same velvet sofa, a plush pillow under his head. The widow holds his hand as he regains consciousness.

“Are you okay?” the woman holding a silver platter with two cups of coffee asks.

“I am,” Hoseok replies, his voice barely above a whisper.

“I'm glad. Thank you for everything. Would you like to stay for a cup of coffee?”

It's a polite way to tell him that the time has come for him to go so Hoseok shakes his head and tries to get up. The room is spinning around him, all edges sharp and blurred at the same time. His heart is pounding in his ears as nausea bubbles in his stomach. Inhaling deeply, he manages to steady his heartbeat.

“I have to go. It's late,” he says, looking around for his bag. It's left on the coffee table in front of him. On it, a white envelope with money. It's thick, a stack of hundred dollar bills inside. It's for damage control, bills and rent. For life.

When he stands on shaky feet, Hoseok notices that the living room is empty save for the two women and him. It's better this way, without polite goodbyes. He's not a guest in their house anymore and once he steps outside, there will be no coming back. He excuses himself and the woman escorts him to the front door.

He leaves without a goodbye. At the corner of the street, he doesn't turn around like he did the last time. As he heads to the bus stop, he looks up and notices the dark clouds rolling on the horizon, coming to the city. It will rain soon.

 

+

 

Wind starts to blow while he’s on the bus and through the window, Hoseok watches as it twists tree branches and shakes leaves covered with dust. It hasn't rained in months and now a storm is coming. Violent and brutal and spectacular in a way all natural disasters are; bringing despair with its acid rains.

Something unpleasant twists in Hoseok's stomach as he walks to his house. He stops at the front lawn, stares at the clouds overhead and then at the neighbors running inside, carrying chairs and parasols with them. An elderly woman frowns at him when she sees him stepping over the dried grass and passing around the front porch, but she tells herself not to care and inwardly curses whoever sold the house beside hers to some freak. The wind is picking up, getting stronger by the second, shaking wooden fences and opening metal gates. It carries flower petals and empty candy wrappers down the streets, knocking over trash cans and alarming dogs. Their barking rises over the roofs and mixes with the howling of wind. Hoseok walks by the side of the house, one hand against the brick wall for support. The nauseous feeling won't last long once he reaches the pool. The rusty fence is already open and he enters the backyard.

Looking around, he laughs, a smile splitting his face in half. Nature seems to be on his side or maybe that's just Taehyung's doing. Sweet, caring Taehyung with his hands of gold and deep brown eyes. Little Taehyung with the ability to control weather and bring despair to humankind if he only wishes so. Gentle Taehyung who is miles away but still thinks of Hoseok as his brother even though they aren't blood related, magic being the only thing connecting them.

Hoseok's eyes shift from the stormy sky to the still surface of a swimming pool in his backyard and he's reminded once again to thank Taehyung for the change of weather. Or, to be more precise, to thank Namjoon because if it weren't for him, Taehyung would be clueless when it comes to Hoseok's well-being. He looks at the back windows of his house, at curtains that ripple and presses his lips together. Through the glass, he can see a cat's head and Hoseok is thankful that the back door always stays locked. The feline mews when she spots him, but the sound is too soft to be heard. The howling of wind has swallowed it. Without a second thought, Hoseok turns his back to the house and all three cats clawing at the window panes, sharp claws leaving long traces on the glass.

He drops his bag by the edge of the pool. His jacket, too. A heavy silver pendant dangles on the chain around his neck and Hoseok takes it off. He wraps it in the sleeve of his jacket before stepping on the diving board. It creaks under his weight but doesn't give in. The water in the pool is dirty, fallen leaves floating on its surface. Green and brown and red. Flower petals and twigs and bird feathers. Everything the wind carried in. Hoseok looks at the murky water, but he can't see the bottom of the pool covered with blue ceramic tiles. He doesn't use this pool for swimming. Never has. Dirty water doesn't bother nor scare him as he takes a few steps down the board.

Thunder rumbles overhead, the earth shakes around him. From the wind and the decrease in temperature, but it won't rain. Yet. Hoseok will have no use of the storm if it starts pouring now. When he's standing at the very edge of the board, Hoseok throws his head back and closes his eyes, letting the wind tangle its fingers in his hair. It's pushing at his back, pushing him closer to the water that could be holy if Hoseok were a believer. His hands shake as he spreads them and begins the ritual.

It is an ancient tradition, almost as old as the magic itself, passed down the generations of necromancers, down the long lineage of priestesses serving in the temple of the goddess of the underworld, every morning bringing pomegranate seeds to the altar as a gift to her highness. Many civilizations have known her by many names, but Hoseok, just like the others of his kind, knows her as Mother for they are her flesh, her beloved children and they shall return to her gentle embrace once their mortal life comes to an end.

Words fall from his lips like the prettiest poem humankind has ever heard and the howling of the wind follows almost reverently the rise and fall of Hoseok's chest with every uttered word. The water beneath his feet comes to life with violent but muffled screams of demons just under its surface. In the moment right before the storms of biblical proportions, the lines between the worlds are the thinnest and just like in ancient times when the God of Death laid eyes on his bride through a water mirror, Hoseok can look into the underworld and restore his energy. But just like in that old time, he can’t do it without giving something in return – a piece of his memories. The ritual and chants are some of the things that remained after the temple built in the honor of his Mother has been destroyed. That has been a long, long time ago and Hoseok only knows the stories of it. The stories that the priestess had told him while she was teaching him how to accept his true nature and never seek an easy way out.

“You have to endure,” she said. “You have to endure pain and not gamble with your memories. The demon world won’t bargain with you about the price of energy or your soul.”

Hoseok feels demonic energy licking at his fingertips, curling around the digits like venomous snakes and disappearing inside his veins. It mixes with his blood, burning down oxygen, turning the warm scarlet to cold black, and surging up his arms and legs until it reaches his heart and warmth spreads through his body at the same moment when his heart stops beating. Influx of energy feels overwhelming and Hoseok has trouble breathing as the cold claws of his Mother's servant fold around his throat, pressing down on his arteries. The imprint burns deliciously and Hoseok leans into the phantom touch, taking a step forward. He could get drunk on the feeling alone. The feeling of his body being swallowed by something greater than life and death. It would be so easy to just let go of human life, but doomed souls are the ones lost for eternity and tortured in the depths of the underworld.

“Be careful,” his teacher had said. “The ritual is the last option. When everything stops working, when your lungs collapse on themselves and you feel like dying, then and only then surrender to the demons.”

When Hoseok opens his eyes, the sky is indigo blue. Howling wind fills the air with crackling power as it bends trees and shakes houses, electricity going off as cables twist and snap in half. The storm is approaching. A hurricane even with how heavy the clouds seem to be, made of lead.

Hoseok's vision swims with sparks of black and white. They dance before his eyes as Hoseok gets used to the feeling of being so close to demons. Never before has he felt so in tune with the world he rightfully belongs to.

The pressure on his neck has become a permanent fixture, claws turning to gentle fingers pressed to his veins. He shivers when a tongue licks along his pulse line, sucking on it. It feels divine and Hoseok has given up the control the moment he stepped on the jumping board. His eyes close as the wind pushes at his back, guiding him over the edge. He falls into the black water and sinks down, down, down while a deep voice whispers soothing words to him.

“Come to me,” it says. “We're meant to be.”

 

+

 

The hand in his is cold in a way that makes goosebumps rise on Hoseok's skin. The fingers skimming the skin on his neck make blood rush to his cheeks and with it comes the pounding in his ears. His heart frantically beats in his chest, threatening to leap into his throat. His nerves are on fire. Every fiber of his being, too. He is alive if the steady rise and fall of his chest is anything to go by.

“He's waking up,” somebody says somewhere behind him. “He's alive, Tae.”

Intimidated by the deep voice, the hands disappear from Hoseok’s skin, leaving behind invisible imprints, and he feels cold again. So cold.

“Thank heavens!” Taehyung shouts in Hoseok’s ear, grasping at his shoulders.

Hoseok jerks awake, phantom fingers slipping from his. He yearns for the touch to come back. It was stupid of him to get used to it so easily. Hoseok opens his eyes to the sight of Taehyung hovering over him with a bright blue sky as a background. His red hair is windswept, his doe eyes filled to the brim with tears. He envelopes Hoseok in a bone-crushing hug without asking permission first. He's a warm presence against Hoseok's cold body, but the warmth he provides isn't something Hoseok craves so he pushes at Taehyung's shoulders with weak hands. Taehyung doesn't bulge. Not even the slightest.

“Tae, let go. You're choking him,” the voice from earlier says and Hoseok spots Namjoon standing at the side, hands shoved in the pockets of his long black coat. Dressed in all black, he only needs a hat to be the witch from children's fairy-tales. There's a small amused smile on his face, the one he wears when he's pitying somebody. Hoseok knows it well. Hates the fact that it is directed at him this time around. The more Hoseok frowns, the bigger Namjoon smiles. To the point of his dimples showing. Hoseok looks away and focuses on Taehyung again.

Taehyung sniffs and holds back tears, locking his arms around Hoseok's skinny shoulders tighter before letting go in favor of holding Hoseok's hand.

“You're an idiot,” Taehyung says through unshed tears. “Joon saw you falling in. I thought you'd die!”

“Namjoon should mind his own business,” Hoseok scowls, trying to escape Taehyung's grip and get up. The grass underneath him is dump from rain, his clothes are wet, his hair is caked with mud. He must look awful because he sure feels like it.

Namjoon grins at him. “You are a part of my business whether you like it or not. Tae asked me to keep an eye on you.”

Hoseok raises his hand effectively stopping Namjoon from getting into that long-winded speech about unity and being there in times of great despair. He needs no more explanations because Namjoon is a lovestruck fool who will do anything Taehyung asks of him. Hoseok pushes himself up off the ground and stands on shaky feet. The world is spinning and Taehyung catches him before he falls.

“Careful there,” Taehyung says as he helps steady Hoseok.

“Let go. I'm not a child, Taehyung,” Hoseok retorts, venom slipping into his voice against his will. His limbs feel heavy but not from exhaustion; energy coursing in his veins is all but a relief because dark magic and nice weather have never gone hand in hand. Hoseok blames his foul mood on the sun shining down on him. Squinting to see his surroundings, Hoseok wants nothing more than to go back inside and lock himself in his house never to go out again.

“But you're acting like one,” Namjoon quips as he grabs Hoseok’s things and leads the way to the back porch. With ease, he pushes the door open and steps aside to let them in. Hoseok swears it was locked before as he steps over the threshold with Taehyung by his side. The door slams shut as Namjoon trails in behind them.

“Joon is right,” Taehyung says as he spreads the blanket over the sofa in the living room and helps Hoseok sit down, careful not to smear mud on anything but the blanket. Once Hoseok has settled, Taehyung disappears down the hallway leading to the kitchen.

Namjoon takes a seat opposite Hoseok, but his eyes stay locked to where Taehyung has gone to. Hoseok can see Namjoon's lips move as he counts down to the impending doom.

“You fucker!” Taehyung yells just as Namjoon’s mouth rounds to form a zero. “Why didn't you warn me? God, I hate you sometimes.”

Scared of Taehyung's yelling, the cats scatter from the kitchen and straight to Hoseok. One of them jumps in his lap, while the other two hide behind his legs. He runs his fingers along the ridges of the cat's spine. Slowly forgetting fear, she starts to purr in satisfaction.

Namjoon just shrugs when Taehyung comes back not a minute later balancing a tray with three cups of tea. “You don’t. Besides, you needed something to cheer you up. You seemed stressed, my love.”

Taehyung nearly gags at the nickname. He might be disgusted, but the glare he directs at Namjoon is anything but fierce. Still, he sits beside his boyfriend, leaving Hoseok alone to deal with his cats. Taehyung wants nothing to do with them.

“And you thought that skeletal cats would cheer me up? Really, Joon?”

“They're cute” is all Namjoon says in his defense. Hoseok nods.

His cats are cute even though they're nothing but bones connected by threads of soul. They are the first creatures Hoseok brought back to life. He was only sixteen, still learning about his powers and how to use them. He didn't think he had succeeded, but the kittens had dug their way out their graves, shedding fur, skin and layers of rotten muscle in the process. When they came to him – the three of them – they were nothing but white bones with a soul and a sigil engraved on their forehead. The sigil connected them to Hoseok for he was their owner.

“They're creepy. No offence, Hoseok,” Taehyung mumbles as he blows at the steam rising from the cup in his hand. When he deems that it cool enough, he takes a small sip of the tea. After swallowing it, Taehyung looks at Hoseok. He's serious again, Hoseok can tell from his posture and he unconsciously straightens in his own seat. The cat in his lap yawns, making herself comfortable. Hoseok's hand rests on her head, fingers caressing the sigil on her skull.

“You can't keep on living like this,” Taehyung says. Hoseok snorts. “I'm serious, Seok. You could've died earlier today if Namjoon didn't warn me, and then you almost drowned because you weren't careful.”

Hoseok bites his lips. The storm was Taehyung's doing. His way of making sure Hoseok wouldn't die, but the rest – the rest never should have happened. Hoseok rubs at his neck, fingertips brushing against purple marks shaped like a lover's fingers. They shouldn't be there. Hoseok shouldn't feel them and yet there they are, engraved in his skin and curling around his veins like rose vines. Hoseok pulls the collar of his shirt higher, hiding the marks from curious eyes.

“I didn't die” is all Hoseok says, his mind more occupied with the marks adorning his neck than anything else.

Taehyung's expression shifts from worry to anger, the lines of his face harden. “You could have because you're stubborn. Because you locked yourself inside these four walls with these stupid cats!”

Hoseok laughs. He doesn't know where it comes from, but laughter spills from his lips and fills the space around them. Even to his ears, it sounds like a cry for help. “It's not like that, you know it.”

Taehyung moves closer, sitting at the edge of the sofa. Namjoon shifts too, wrapping an arm around Taehyung's waist. He whispers “Don't” in his ear, but Taehyung isn't having it. Not when the person who was there for him when the world turned against him could end up dead because of some stupid prophecy.

“Oh yeah?” Taehyung prompts. “Why won't you let us help you, Seok?”

“Because you can't,” Hoseok snaps at him. “You fucking can't!”

“A familiar could,” Taehyung says. Namjoon's arm around him tightens while his sharp eyes stay locked on Hoseok. Necromancers are the most unpredictable of all witches and Namjoon can't risk it. Not with Taehyung on the line. But precaution is useless because all Hoseok does is narrow his eyes. There are no explosions, just a silent battle going on.

“We're not talking about that,” Hoseok says. Marks on his neck burn, a silent reminder of pleasure and ecstasy, hot white and alluring. Hoseok shakes his head. His voice sounds broken when he says “That's not possible for me. You know that, Tae.” He looks down at his lap, at the feline sleeping there while the other two are curled around his feet. They bring him peace just like Taehyung's calm presence used to.

“You should try again. This time it could work,” Taehyung says.

His words don't make much sense, not to Hoseok, but he finds himself nodding. Going along with whatever Taehyung says is the easiest way to convince the younger that everything's good, that Hoseok is okay. It's also the only way to get Taehyung to leave and that's what Hoseok wants, even needs, right now.

“I'll think about it,” Hoseok lies and Taehyung beams at him, his smile warm and pleasant. Namjoon's reaction is everything but optimistic. He knows that Hoseok is masking the truth, but he won't say anything to ruin Taehyung's happiness. Besides, white lies never hurt anyone.

It takes a little bit of convincing and a lot of assuring Taehyung that he really is okay before they say goodbye. When they're at the door, Taehyung hugs Hoseok tightly and pulls back with an “If you need any help with the summoning procession, just call us” on his lips.

With these words, Taehyung and Namjoon are gone and Hoseok is once again left alone. He locks the front door twice and heads to the bathroom with a shower on his mind.

His clothes are still wet, his hair is caked with mud. He is a mess.

 

+

 

Hot water falls on cold ceramic in streams of heat under high pressure. Steam rises from the floor, clouding the window and fogging the mirror. Hoseok takes off his clothes, leaving it in a pile next to the laundry bin, and wipes the condensation from the vanity with his hand. Staccato rhythm of running water echoes in the bathroom, bouncing off the tiles like distorted music notes.

His reflection isn’t pretty, but Hoseok doesn’t care as he cranes his neck to get a better view of the bruises scattered across his skin. They vary in color, the entire palette of red and blue painted across the expanse of his neck in the unmistakable shape of fingertips. Imprints form a pattern that follows his arteries likes vines and Hoseok moves his head from one side to the other. His eyes stay locked on the intricate motif. He presses his fingers against the bruises, but he feels no pain. They don't hurt. They just are. An emblem. A mark. Something closer to love bites than battle scars. Hoseok doesn't mind them, he just needs an explanation.

His fingers don't feel as nice as those others did, but the cold air ghosting over his neck makes him shiver.

“Remember,” a deep voice says.

Hoseok whips his head around, searching for the source of the voice. But the bathroom is empty. Steam is still rising from the shower, curling around everything like snake tongues. Water is still running, filling the closed space with a cacophony of sounds. Hoseok shakes off negative thoughts with the only reason he can muster. His mind must be playing tricks on him, fucking him over thanks to sleep-deprivation in combination with exhaustion. Nothing more and nothing less.

It's that simple, really. He just needs to shower and sleep. So he does.

He enters the shower and lets the warm water wash over him.

 

+

 

But he doesn't sleep that night.

He dreams in monochrome with splashes of vivid red.

There's violence, fire and so much death. In the middle of it all, there is his mother. His family, too. Burning at stakes just like Salem witches did. Hoseok is there too. Small, barely fifteen years old, watching as the world he has known all his life burns to ashes. Smoke curls around him, filling his mouth and lungs with the stench of burning flesh. Nothing he can do, but watch as skin and muscles melt leaving behind alabaster bones and scattered pieces of soul.

A cat comes to him then. With fur white as snow and eyes green like emeralds. She sits by his feet and looks up at him with those big eyes. Her pink tongue swipes over her red paw, licking off blood. Boring holes into Hoseok, she purrs at the sweet taste in her mouth.

Hoseok feels disgusted. He wants to puke, to scream, to move, but his limbs aren't obeying him and all he can do is watch as everything burns down, as people with rifles run around the place, barking out commands. He hears “Burn the witches” and “Slaughter them” but also his mother's panicked voice screaming at him to run, to hide. Somebody will come for him. Somebody will save him. Love him as one of their own. Somebody—

Hoseok wakes up in cold sweat in the middle of the night.

Curtains are pushed aside. Moonlight pours into the room, painting everything in cold shades of blue. Hoseok crawls out of bed, sheets falling onto the floor as he does so. He pulls the drawer of his nightstand open and with numb fingers rummages through empty plastic bottles of various pills until he finds the one in which some pills are left. He shakes the bottle and the pills make a melodious sound that calms his nerves. Hoseok pops it open and shakes out five Xanax pills on his palm. He eagerly swallows then before falling back on the bed. His head spins with the images of violence and Hoseok doesn't want to remember it all. Not again. Not after he's been doing so well for several years.

The moon shines through the window and Hoseok cranes his neck to look at it. He spends the rest of the night pondering about whether rabbits live on its surface or not.

 

+

 

A glass of pear juice, one piece of toast and two hard boiled eggs are all Hoseok eats for breakfast. His stomach grumbles in protest with every bite he swallows, but he pushes the nauseous feeling down. He needs to eat to live. It's as simple as that.

The cats don't approach him the whole morning, sensing the demonic energy that still inhabits Hoseok's body. His heartbeat is steady, but his blood is still black and his hands are cold. He couldn't bear to look in the bathroom mirror earlier, even though he can still feel the marks on his neck. They're warm, pleasant in a twisted way, grounding Hoseok to something that could just be a figment of his imagination. In contrast with that, Taehyung's words were real. Judging by the dirty cups in the sink, his visit was too. Long even because Taehyung always felt at home in Hoseok's house.

A familiar could help you, Taehyung had said and Hoseok wanted to laugh, maybe he really did. The words were the truth even though Hoseok didn't want to admit it. Still doesn't.

The words Taehyung had strung together replay in his head throughout the day. Over and over again like a broken record. And it's only when Hoseok catches himself opening a drawer and taking a package of chalk does he realize that he has been considering summoning. He slams the drawer shut.

“No,” he says. “Not again.”

Like all witches, Hoseok had summoned a familiar when his powers manifested. She had been a Persian cat, elegant and shallow like the demon inhabiting her small body. She followed Hoseok everywhere but never talked to him. To be a constant support was her role, but that wasn't what Hoseok needed. What necromancers need. And when Hoseok's training begun, away from burned home, somewhere in the mountains around the Lake Erie, she came with him.

They were the only two members of the Jung coven left – a teenage boy with long limbs and nightmares haunting him and his familiar.

The high priestess that took Hoseok in healed the wounds on his soul and locked away all memories about the massacre of his family before starting the training. He was a diligent student, one of the best the Mother's priestess had ever had, but his familiar was weak and unable to provide the amount of energy Hoseok required. Her death Hoseok remembers well. Those emerald eyes that looked at him with pity bordering on disdain for reasons Hoseok never found out before closing for eternity.

But Hoseok wasn't allowed to mourn the loss of his familiar. That wasn't who necromancers were. Death was their company, something well-known and constant. An old friend they had to get used to. So Hoseok did. He forgot about his family's death and the familiar that left his side and focused on his soul, on using it to practice his gifts.

The sound of broken plates comes from the kitchen, shaking Hoseok out of his reverie. He puts the chalk aside before heading to deal with the mess his cats must have made.

 

+

 

Dreams continue for the nights that come. Color palette shifts from monochrome to violent red and cold blue, dips into cold tones one night only to be reborn as warm shades of yellow the following one. Hoseok is older in them, more experienced but still naive.

His teacher chants ancient spells, burning sandalwood and covering every word with smoke and melancholy. She tells him stories about their Mother and legends float over his head, interlaced with sweet aroma of wild herbs and honey. He feels closer to her, incredibly close, certain that he'd reach her kingdom if only he put his hand through the water mirror separating the worlds.

The mirror calls to him with seductive words and Hoseok spends hours upon hours sitting at its edge, waiting for something to happen.

Nothing ever does, but Hoseok still wakes up in a cold sweat. When he looks at his hands, they're white from chalk and black from charcoal.

 

+

 

On the sixth day after Taehyung's visit, Hoseok downs a bottle of Xanax and sits in a tub filled with cold water for hours. His fingers are pruned, but his skin still burns with a feverish need to move and cut and draw invisible lines on the water surface. The marks on his neck have faded to violet and yellow and Hoseok has learnt how to look in the mirror without seeing them.

He lifts his hand from the rosy water and counts pink scars on his wrist, each one a consequence of a different thought. The blood clinging to the edges of the cuts is black – demonic. As expected.

Ghost fingers run over his skin, over the cuts, soothing the pain. It feels nice and Hoseok guesses that the pills are starting to work. He closes his eyes and slips under water.

On the seventh night, Hoseok dreams in technicolor even though the palette is reduced to only three colors – red, white and black. He dreams of a lover folding his slender hand around Hoseok's neck. As fingers press down, a breath catches in his throat, his breathing becomes ragged, but Hoseok's lungs don't burn from the lack of oxygen. They welcome it.

Hoseok's back presses against his lover's front and the touch is electrifying, setting every fiber of his body on fire. He throws his head back against a firm shoulder, baring his neck even more, but the fingers splayed over his skin don't dig deeper into soft flesh and a whine escapes Hoseok's lips. The being behind him chuckles and kisses just under Hoseok's ear.

“Aren't you eager, my love?” a deep voice says, the same one that's been haunting Hoseok's reality for days. Probably even longer if Hoseok didn't dismiss it every time as a hallucination and swallowed more colorful pills to fight it.

A hand slides down Hoseok's side, over his ribs and stomach, and settles on his hipbone, just above his throbbing dick where he wants it the most. He's hard, can feel it. His cock is fat and leaking against his stomach, but the hands of his lover stay where they are and Hoseok wants more, wants some type of release, be it hot white pleasure or just a bit more pain. He opens his eyes to look at the person holding him, supporting him. Before he moves, fingers around his throat tighten. The burn that follows is delicious and Hoseok leans into the touch.

“Not yet, love,” the same dark voice says, tapping his fingers against Hoseok's hipbone in a familiar staccato rhythm.

Hoseok can't reply, not with fingers held firmly against his arteries. They both know it. But that doesn't stop him from flushing and a deep red blush spreads from his cheeks and down his neck and chest. The petname makes something warm and pleasant curl in his belly and Hoseok wants to hear more. Feel more.

His eyes flutter shut again as plush lips kiss along his jaw, the pressure on his neck unwavering.

“Such a good boy,” the demon nearly purrs. “Such a good boy for me.”

The hand moves from Hoseok's hip, down his pelvis, until long fingers wrap around his dick, stroking the length with practiced ease, smearing precome over the head and down the shaft. The touch feels divine and after a few more strokes, Hoseok can't help but buck up, searching sweet release. But it only brings him disappointment because the kisses along his jaw stop. The stroking, too. Hoseok whines at the loss of friction.

“Don't come yet, love. Not here.”

With the words, the pressure around his neck disappears, leaving behind a new set of bruises. Hoseok wakes up, gasping for air.

He rubs at his temples, trying to get rid of the vibrant images from his dream only to realize that it wasn’t really a dream. The memory in his mind is bright and burning, waiting to be released. Hoseok stumbles out of bed and into the hallway, his shoulder hitting the wall a couple of times when he loses his balance in the dark. He switches the light on in the kitchen, but can’t see the things he is looking for. Ceramic tiles under his feet cool him down as he pulls out drawers and opens cabinets. Pots and pans crash against the floor and walls, plates break. The noise attracts the cats and they come to Hoseok, mewling and hissing. He barely spares them a glance as a drawer with silverware comes crashing down, forks and spoons and knives spilling over the tiles. The cats sit on the kitchen doorstep as their master feverishly searches for something.

He needs to remember. He can't live like this, in this agony of pain, this apathy and addiction. He needs to know where his soul ends.

The demon from his dream wasn't one of the low-lives serving his Mother and her children, wasn't like demonic pets his teacher used to collect energy needed for her sessions. He was something stronger and yet something incredibly gentle at the same time. Hoseok deserves to know.

Xanax and all other pills he used to swallow so easily no longer help. The lock his teacher put on his memories is wearing thinner as Hoseok grows older. The hallucinations are coming back even though Hoseok has tried so fucking hard to ignore them.

He opens another cabinet, its contents flying out and scattering on the floor. A metal handle of one of the pans hits his cat and she hisses in pain as her bones fracture.

“I'm sorry,” Hoseok says. “I'll fix you up later.”

The feline looks at him, the empty sockets of her once blue eyes staring right at Hoseok, seeing the turmoil in his soul. He attempts to smile. The look the three of them are giving him is familiar, he has seen it many times before, but he doesn't like it. He's okay. He's fine. He just needs to remember.

He yanks open another drawer and it's the right one. Finally.

Long blades of knives shine in the moonlight coming through the window. Their sharp edges are inviting and Hoseok grabs one without looking. He storms out the kitchen with the cats following him.

His bedroom is a mess, but he easily finds what he's looking for. The heavy silver pendant lies on the night stand. It's not a family value because nothing like that was left when his home burned down. It's a charm his teacher gifted to him, locking all his memories inside the purple jewel on the pendant. The crystal is heavy, silver twisting around it like vines, interlaced in a way that creates intricate patterns.

Hoseok sits cross-legged on the floor and takes the pendant from the night stand. Cats watch from the doorstep as he shakes the hair out of his eyes and presses the blade against his right forefinger. Taking a deep breath, Hoseok draws the tip of the blade against his skin. It's a clean cut. After all, he has done this a thousand times before but never this unprepared. He waits a moment for the drops of blood to start dripping onto the thick white carpet before he starts drawing.

Sigil after sigil after sigil, in an even circle they go. Blood smears against white turning it to light red at the edges and scarlet where Hoseok drew the same lines over and over again. When he's done, the floor is covered in charms and sigils and his fingers are red from dried blood. Hoseok smiles, a wicked little thing sharp at the edges of his mouth.

Demonic energy has mixed with his own, his blood is no longer black but warm red again. With great care, he places the pendant in the center of the circle, his lips forming inaudible words as he does so. The spell is simple but then again, everything seems to be to. Necromancers' magic is based on soul and blood, they don't need fancy words.

Hoseok follows the blade of the knife with his finger, covering it in sticky red. The last word of the spell falls from his lips and Hoseok draws the blade into the purple crystal. Cracks run through it, changing its color from purple to black. It shatters to pieces which Hoseok collects in his palms. He holds them tight until they're completely covered in blood. His memories rush to him through his blue veins.

 

+

 

Like in a silent movie, Hoseok's memories unveil to him. Through a series of still monochrome frames with occasional splashes of color his past returns. It starts out peacefully and pretty, like all movies do. He sees his family in their old house, all the happy memories they made over the first thirteen years of his life. Smiles are on every face. They are everywhere he looks. Hugs are, too. They were a normal family and Hoseok's chest contracts with something between fondness and pain as images of his grandmother taking care of him flash before his eyes.

The timing shifts then, pace speeds up and the color palette dips into darker tones as the drumming of rain against the hot tin roof fills Hoseok's ears and he remembers the spring after his thirteenth birthday, the rain that lasted for weeks and the way his mother's shoulders dropped when he brought home a bird he revived even though she tried to hide it, mask it with joy. Afterwards the house was filled to the brim with old scriptures and the stench of potions filled the air as his grandmother made them, everything in the hopes that they'd be able to invert his power. It wasn't unheard of but as Hoseok caressed the feathers of the small black bird in his hand, he realized that he didn't want that.

Hoseok squeezes his eyes, willing his heart to calm down because by now he knows what is next. It's not his family being murdered in front of him and definitely not them burning at a stake. That was a false memory, a washed-out photograph that served its purpose. Just like the talk about a silly prophecy. That was just another way to make the departure easier. His family is alive and well, living somewhere in Korea. They're safe because they gave him away just like many other families did with their children once they manifested their powers. It was an ancient tradition, old as the magic itself. Necromancers were always deemed dangerous for their families, not only because of their power. Hoseok's family did what was expected of them. He can't find it in himself to blame them but he also can't stop his heart from beating faster and blood rushing through his body as the most precious memory he has reveals itself.

Red and blue replace black and white. A hand finds Hoseok's and holds it tight. It's cold but Hoseok doesn't mind. Just like he doesn't mind fingers running through his hair or words whispered in his ear. Nor the presence of a demon sitting beside him. He feels safe, protected, like there is a place for him in the world that keeps on spinning but not changing. Hoseok wants to say something but he can't. He is living a memory, seeing it all again after so long. The demon in front of him smiles and Hoseok's heart stammers in his chest even though he can't really see him. The edges are blurred, soft. This is where the memory ends.

There are more to come, Hoseok knows that much. They'll return to him one by one until he can remember everything, glue his past together, one piece at a time. He just wants to cling to this one a little longer. His hands are shaking and broken pieces of crystal fall from his fingers and hit the carpet soaked with blood. With each piece, the memory dissolves until all that's left is darkness. Hoseok opens his eyes to a sight of his cats sleeping on the doorstep of his room and dawn peering inside through the curtains. His hands are bloody and his palms sting, but what catches Hoseok's attention is a red string tied around his finger. Bright red, it pulses with energy and Hoseok finds it easier to breathe as he leans on his bed and waits for morning to come.

 

+

 

A reincarnated soul isn't young, it only resides inside a young body, and even though Hoseok neither remembers his previous lives nor the people he met, he doesn't fight the urge to walk deep into the forest behind his family house when something pulls at him, picking the strings and turning him into a puppet. His steps are careful as he walks down a path covered with fallen leaves. They crunch under the soles of his winter boots, the sound scaring small animals passing nearby. It's late autumn, tree branches bare and swaying in the wind. The sky above his head is dark gray, heavy clouds rolling over it. It could rain, but Hoseok isn't worried, his windbreaker would protect him or he could run and find shelter in one of the numerous caves scattered across the mountains. The longer he walks, the more lost he becomes because all paths in the forest look the same. The cacophony of birds' songs is broken by the sound of running water and Hoseok stands still for a moment to figure out which direction to go next. Since the time he learned to walk, Hoseok has always been fascinated by water. His grandmother's water mirror was a thing that captivated him for as long as he could remember. Even though he wasn't allowed to touch it, Hoseok still stayed by his grandmother's side whenever she used it.

The sound of a river guides Hoseok through the forest, off all known paths. He doesn't notice when the birds stop singing or when the thunder rumbles overhead, too entranced by the idea of a river being so close to his home. When Hoseok reaches the river bank, he walks down a steep path running down the side of a hill. It’s only when he reaches the sandy soil just a meter away from the water, does he see that he is not alone.

There's a boy sitting on the bank with the pant legs of his dark jeans rolled up and his heavy boots by his side. Hoseok takes a step back not wanting to bother him and leaves crunch under his soles. The boy tilts his head to the side to look at the intruder. His eyebrows shoot up in genuine surprise, disappearing under his bangs and beanie, but only for a second before he schools his expression into something sharper, interest sparking in his dark eyes. Hoseok gulps and raises his arms, trying to apologize for – he's not sure what for. A sheepish smile takes over his face as he says, “Sorry.”

The boy's eyes narrow. “What for?”

“Umm... disturbing you?” Hoseok tries, explaining with his hands more than words. He's not sure if it's working but the boy shakes his head before things become awkward if they weren't already.

“I was walking and heard the water and I didn't know this was your place and I'm sorry, really,” Hoseok says. Too much, too fast. He looks down at his shoes, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jacket, and then up, waiting for the boy's reaction. But all the boy does is look at Hoseok. The emotion in his eyes shifts from interest to annoyance to something akin to endearment. The change is too quick for Hoseok to follow so he moves closer to the boy. Water, too. Sound swells in his ears and he almost misses what the boy says.

“You haven't changed.”

“What?” Hoseok quips.

The boy shakes his head. “Nothing.”

“Okay. Then I guess I'll go?” Hoseok says, makes it sound like a question.

The corners of the boy's mouth quirk up and the sight is familiar but Hoseok doesn't know where he's seen that expression before. Maybe in his dreams. They do say that people dream about who they'd meet in the future.

“You don't have to go,” the boy says the exact moment Hoseok is ready to turn away. “I don't own this place. You’re free to stay.”

Hoseok bites the insides of his cheeks. Looks at the boy sitting on the river bank with his feet in the water, then at the sky above his head. Rainy clouds hang low, almost touching trees. It could start raining any moment. Hoseok should head back home before his family gets worried.

“Okay,” he exhales. “I'll stay for a bit.”

The boy nods and moves to make room for Hoseok to sit beside him.

 

+

 

It doesn't rain that day, neither does it on the days that follow. Gray clouds hang over the city, lightnings ripping them every so often. Hoseok's grandmother closes the blinds and the curtains on every window mumbling something about instability in nature and open gates. Hoseok doesn't understand it nor does he ask about it. He doesn't care about anything as long as he's allowed to go out.

The past few days were all it took to make a friend and every time he comes to the river and sees the boy – Yoongi, he has to correct himself; the boy’s name is Yoongi – there, Hoseok can't help feeling giddy. Ever since his thirteenth birthday, he wasn't allowed to attend school or call any of his human friends, his family deeming him dangerous to humans, at least until his powers reveal themselves fully and they know what they’re dealing with. More than a year has passed since then. The injured bird he healed and brought home a few months ago was a clear sign that his gifts were awakening and the satisfied expression on his mother's face was a good sign. For weeks, she talked about how wonderful it'd be if he's a healer. They haven't had many of them in the family. But there was something else that Hoseok didn't tell them about the crow he brought home. The bird was dead when Hoseok found it.

 

+

 

It became colder in the last month, autumn shifting to winter with frost over the flowers in his garden and morning fogs hiding the town from view. Something invisible pulls Hoseok closer to Yoongi until they're sitting so close his arm touches Yoongi's every time he breathes. Their proximity is a consequence of bad weather and cold seeping into Hoseok's body. Yoongi doesn't seem to mind it even though he notices.

After spending so many afternoons together, there are many things Hoseok doesn't know about Yoongi; starting from his family name to where he lives. He has asked those questions many times, hiding them among other things he talked about, but Yoongi has always found a way to distract Hoseok for long enough to make him talk about himself and his family.

Wind blows, carrying the last of the leaves down the water, and Hoseok shivers. Acting on an impulse, Yoongi takes Hoseok’s hands in his.

"You're cold. You shouldn't be out here," he says before Hoseok has a chance to protest.

"The same could be said for you," Hoseok huffs, petulant like a child.

Yoongi laughs, rubbing Hoseok’s knuckles with his thumb. "We're not the same."

"Winter applies to everything. Animals, humans, witches, you name it," Hoseok blurts out. He bites his tongue when he realizes what he just said. He always talked too much but not like this. Never like this and definitely not with humans. He blames it on Yoongi, on the way he feels comfortable around the other boy, forgetting rules his family spent years teaching him until they were engraved in his heart and mind. He can't gauge Yoongi’s expression but he has to fix things before Yoongi labels him crazy.

"Not that any of those things exist. Witches, I mean." Hoseok tries to laugh it off as a bad joke.

Except the joke falls flat because Yoongi is looking at him with an expression caught between surprise and fondness. He's still drawing patterns on Hoseok’s wrist except they aren't mindless anymore. They're intricate and delicate and Hoseok has a fleeting feeling about what they could mean. He purses his lips and waits for Yoongi to say something. When that doesn't happen, Hoseok sighs and extracts his hand from Yoongi’s hold.

"I am a witch, Yoongi."

"I know" comes the reply Hoseok never expected to hear.

 

+

 

Hoseok flips Yoongi’s hand over so that his palm is facing upwards before he pulls a sharpie from his pocket. Uncapping it with his teeth, Hoseok bends down and begins tracing a rune over the lines of Yoongi’s palm. The soft tip of the pen tickles but Yoongi doesn't laugh. Instead he throws his head back and looks at the sky, clouds reflecting in his eyes. A flock of birds flies over the trees. If they were crows, they'd be a murder. It matches the color of their feathers. Perhaps they used to predict death. They disappear on the horizon and all that is left is the vast infinity of the off-white sky.

Hoseok clicks his tongue, concentration locking his slender fingers around Yoongi's wrist. If he makes a mistake, everything will be ruined. When the last of the lines are connected, snow starts to fall from the white clouds and a smile stretches across Yoongi’s face. Hoseok observes his reaction for a fraction of a second before relief washes over him. His lips pull up in a smile.

"Merry Christmas," Hoseok says, leaning his head on Yoongi’s shoulder and staring at the snowflakes falling into the river, melting as soon as they touch the water's surface.

There is no wind so the snow falls steadily, covering the forest like a sheet of fine asbestos. It falls on dry leaves, bare tree branches, on the rocks on the river bank and the two of them sitting on the edge.

"Merry Christmas, Hobi," Yoongi replies. Fondness in his voice that can't be hidden and Hoseok snuggles closer, slipping his hand in the pocket of Yoongi's jacket to warm his frozen fingertips.

Neither of them are sure yet where they stand, but it's very close to being something special. The last two months were full of surprises and sudden discoveries. Hoseok is a witch, his soul unstable and wavering like the flame of a candle, often too bright and too dim at the same time. He's hard to read, emotions hidden behind smiling masks, but Yoongi has managed just like he did so many times before and like he will do in the future as well.

The forest is their place. Quiet and protected, sheltered from the world. Once Hoseok crosses the invisible line dividing it and his backyard, he leaves everything behind – his mother's nagging and his grandmother's worries because at this point, it is clear as day that he won’t be a potion maker or a healer but something more powerful, terrifying even. Overnight, their house has transformed from a warm home to a sterile laboratory with the smell of potions in the air and ancient books covering every flat surface. The two women are looking for a cure – something to reverse his powers before they become a vital part of him or something even more powerful, capable of completely erasing them and making him mundane. In their eyes, being mundane is far better than whatever Hoseok is supposed to become.

"Your hands are cold," Hoseok notices, blinking snowflakes from his eyes.

Everything is cold and not just Yoongi's hands. Snow is falling peacefully over the forest, piling under the trees and covering paw prints of animals living there. It resembles a snow globe. But Hoseok can endure it. It is far better than what his world has turned into. He despises it and if the only way to stay away from it is to be out in the cold, he’ll gladly do it.

Yoongi chuckles. “Is that so?”

“Yeah. Really cold.”

“So is the underworld,” Yoongi says, clasping Hoseok’s hand in his. The warm blood that is rushing through Hoseok’s veins comforts him. Hoseok is well, worried, but well. “How’s home?”

Hoseok pulls his knees up and rests his forehead against them. His fingers slide between Yoongi’s seeking comfort the other boy usually provides. They’re an odd fit, but they match. In some part of his soul, Hoseok knows why, he just has trouble remembering. Every moment he spends with Yoongi has a bittersweet feeling of déjà vu to it. Anxiety curls inside Hoseok’s belly and he releases a shaky breath. He doesn’t answer Yoongi’s question, instead he asks his own.

“Do you think I’m weird?”

“Well, you are a witch—”

“Other than that,” Hoseok mumbles, the fabric of his jeans making his voice muffled and far away.

Yoongi sees his shoulders drop and he can hear the pout in Hoseok's words even though he can’t see it. He counts to five before answering, giving Hoseok time to change his mind or ask another question.

“It doesn’t matter what I think. As long as you’re comfortable with yourself, I’ll—”

“You'll what?” Hoseok interrupts him, impatient as ever, and Yoongi fights the urge to reach out and run his fingers through Hoseok’s hair and down his neck.

“I’ll be your friend” is what he settles on, but it seems that isn’t what Hoseok had in mind because he shakes his head. He curls into himself, a tight ball. His hand is gripping Yoongi’s for support and when Yoongi looks at him, he sees the tips of Hoseok’s ears turning red. From embarrassment or something else, he isn’t sure.

“Just that?” Hoseok asks and his voice is so small Yoongi has to move closer to hear him. Snow starts falling harder, fog rises above the water enveloping them in a thin veil of silence and maybe they aren’t meant to be in this lifetime. Maybe the deities have had enough of this cruel joke and Hoseok’s talents don’t revolve around death anymore but around making people happy. Maybe control over one of the elements, like water, is his gift.

“Whatever you want,” Yoongi says, swallowing around the lump in his throat. He shouldn't be saying this but he's always been weak when it came to Hoseok. That hasn't changed.

“Okay,” Hoseok mumbles. “Okay.”

 

+

 

Everything happens for a reason, Hoseok tries to convince himself as his eyes fly over the yellowed pages of one of the books his grandmother acquired over the years. Bound in black leather with an engraved full moon on its cover, the book laid on the last step of their staircase as if waiting for him. Hoseok nearly tripped over it on the way to his room. It toppled over and landed on the step below, opening on one of the middle pages. When he bent to pick it up, Hoseok let his gaze linger on the letters. It was an old sturdy thing, seemingly heavy but it was light as a feather in his hands. At first, things he read made no sense, but every following sentence was a puzzle piece he was missing.

He took the book to his room and locked the door before flopping on top of the unmade bed. Going back to the very beginning, Hoseok found himself reading about a world he was born into and yet a world he hardly knew anything about.

Page after page after page, one story leading to the other, legends coming to life before his eyes and soon enough Hoseok couldn’t look away from the book. History unveiled itself and all the nonsense his grandmother talked about – thin lines between worlds, open portals, disbalance in energy – made perfect sense.

Hoseok traces his fingers over the words “demon” and “soulmate” and “bound to each other”. They’re warm to the touch, burning into his skin with an odd familiarity and he can’t shake off the feeling that they’re about him.

With shaky fingers and short breath, he reaches the last page as the world outside his window sinks into the darkness of early winter nights. There he finds a spell with nothing but a few lines and a list of ingredients needed for it to work. “Remember” is written in the corner in neat cursive letters dating from past centuries. Lines swirling around the letters shift until old gothic letters are hangul and Hoseok has to blink a couple of times to make sure that the transformation really did occur.

The spell starts with the same words and as letters shift, Hoseok has trouble believing that it's really happening. He bites his bottom lip as he pulls up the sleeve of his hoodie. Veins bulge when he snaps his wrist and Hoseok follows blue lines with his fingers. Sensing his pulse, he pinches his skin and the pain that follows it is a quick reminder that he isn’t dreaming. A ghost of a bruise lingers on his wrist and Hoseok returns his attention to the book once more. The words – prophecies and legends and myths – are still there, but he can’t look at them with the same bright curiosity as before.

Instead, there is fire bubbling under his skin which he needs to act on. Pushing himself up and off the bed, Hoseok rushes to the door and then runs down the stairs, knocking a stack of books on his way out. One of them lands before his mother. When Hoseok passes by her, she says something, but his ears are deaf to her words. He storms out of the house without his jacket or a goodbye. The night is cold but without wind or clouds blocking the full moon. Snow has everything in its frosty embrace and light reflecting off it is all Hoseok needs to find the way leading to the forest. To Yoongi.

He prays that Yoongi is there, waiting at the river bank, like many times before. His heart is a rabbit's, beating frantically inside his ribcage. The only thing Hoseok can hear as he trudges through the snow is his laboured breathing. The world around him is standing still, the nature holding its breath waiting for a disaster to happen. His heart ticks in his chest like a bomb seconds away from detonation and Hoseok has to brace himself for the impact when he reaches the frozen water.

Yoongi is there, throwing pebbles in the river, breaking ice. Moon shines on his back, casting his face in shadows. Hoseok stops at the end of the path and holds his breath, waiting for the detonation. It seems like Yoongi is doing the same because the only thing Hoseok notices is the slight shake of his shoulders.

“The lines are thin during long winter nights,” Hoseok’s grandmother has said countless of times while he was growing up, but never before has Hoseok really understood her words as clear as he does now. Only a few steps are separating them, but they seem like miles. Frozen in place, he waits for Yoongi to make the first move, just like he did all those months ago. Hoseok can barely remember how they started, but he has a fleeting knowledge of how they will end.

Yoongi turns his head to look at Hoseok and the moon reflects in his eyes dark as onyx. He opens his mouth to say something, but Hoseok beats him to it.

“I’m sorry,” Hoseok blurts out. And he is sorry. For being oblivious, naive, absolutely clueless. For living in a body too young to remember.

Yoongi’s eyes narrow. “For what?”

“I’m sorry,” Hoseok repeats and this time the apology isn’t for either of them, but his family.

“I still don’t understand.”

Hoseok takes a step closer to Yoongi, makes the first move as shivers rack through his body. Soil is frozen under his feet, covered with a thin sheet of ice and snow. Hoseok’s knees shake. His whole being, too.

Yoongi watches his every move, the moon dancing in his eyes, light painting his features pale as the snow surrounding them. He has a vague idea why Hoseok is here, still awake at this ungodly hour of the night, standing in the middle of a forest with nothing to protect him from the cold except a thin hoodie. Yoongi wants to warm him up, but he can’t. Not until Hoseok allows it.

It's easy to forget that a soul of a witch is a fragile, unstable thing easily broken by disappointments and emotions if it’s young and confused. Hoseok’s might not be young, but it is confused, terribly so. Yoongi doesn't want to shake him up even more so he waits for Hoseok to collect himself and for his fingers to stop trembling. The next time he speaks, Hoseok’s voice is careful but not fragile.

“I think I figured it out?”

Uncertainty weaves between Hoseok’s words, turns them into a question. He isn't sure if he wants an answer. Things made sense in his head when he left the house. They were crystal clear when he walked through the forest. But standing face to face with Yoongi, they're just a bunch of syllables connected together. He swallows and tries again.

“I found this book my grandmother brought home. And read it. According to it, I will become a necromancer and you are here for me.”

Yoongi cocks his head, a ghost of a smile on his lips, but doesn’t say a word. Even if he tried, he is sure Hoseok would find a way to shut him up. After all, Hoseok is the one who needs to figure things out. Yoongi has known all along.

“It says that necromancers are the only witches with a real soulmate, but the problem is, or so they claim, that their soulmate is a demon. That’s the reason why necromancers can’t have a familiar. Their soul is already connected to somebody else out of this world,” Hoseok stops there, letting the words float suspended in the air between them. And then he laughs, a pitiful little thing. “No wonder I couldn’t summon anything no matter how hard I tried. The gods have already given me you, haven’t they?”

“Yes.”

The reply is short and bittersweet, filled with longing and something Hoseok can’t place but can understand. The invisible energy pulling him to Yoongi wasn’t an impulse, but a yearning of his soul. His body is young. Yoongi’s is too. But their souls are old, connected in the most beautiful and delicate of ways.

Yoongi crosses the short distance between him and Hoseok in a few quick steps. When they’re standing so close that he can feel Hoseok’s breath on his cheek, Yoongi takes Hoseok’s hands in his and says, “Let me show you.”

 

+

 

Hoseok wakes up to a baby blue sky and sun shining down on him in the middle of January. He’s out in the open, but he doesn’t feel the cold. His head is resting on Yoongi’s thigh and Hoseok reaches out his hand to run his fingers along Yoongi’s jaw. The touch is intimate but not foreign. Nothing is foreign anymore. He knows every crevice of Yoongi’s soul and body, every flaw and virtue. But above all, he knows that Yoongi is home. More than the house Hoseok spent his entire childhood in and the people he calls family. Yoongi covers Hoseok’s hand with his own, pressing Hoseok’s cold fingers against his cheek and looks down.

“Hey,” he says. “Slept well?”

“Divine,” Hoseok replies, cheeky and happy. At peace with the world. “It’s nice knowing. Makes me less scared.”

Yoongi frowns. “Less scared? About what?”

“The future. The world. Us.”

Disconnected words fall from Hoseok’s lips as he fights to explain and Yoongi wants to ease his worries. But he doesn't know how. It won’t be easy. Never was. People don’t want to understand no matter how much they try to explain. It has always been that way, but they managed somehow. They’ll do it now, too.

Yoongi presses a kiss to the inner side of Hoseok’s wrist where his veins branch and says “Don’t be scared. You’re not alone.”

Hoseok smiles, content. “I know.”

 

+

 

The book has said they’re bound to each other, body and soul. The memories Yoongi has shown him told the same story, but Hoseok is almost fifteen and helplessly in love. He wants something tangible. A proof he can touch when he’s lonely or feeling like the whole world has turned against him.

Every room in the house, including his, reeks of potions bubbling in cauldrons and rotten herbs. His mother’s familiar spies on Hoseok all the time, dark eyes of the crow watching his every move. It crows everytime he tries to sneak out of the house without telling anybody. Blinds and curtains have been closed for months as his grandmother walks around the house mumbling something about prophecies and the doom that awaits them all. In the mess their lives have become, the only certain thing is that Hoseok will be a necromancer. There’s no doubt about it as death trails after him, sinister and silent as the snow falling over their town. He still meets with Yoongi in the forest, but his visits are short and rushed. When they have more time, they talk. There are so many things Hoseok has yet to remember. But usually they spend the couple of minutes they have in silence as Hoseok follows the lines on Yoongi’s palm with his fingers and tries to predict the future. It’s not always bright, but they always make it out alive.

During one of the afternoons Hoseok has managed to sneak out but not without great difficulty, he takes a seat on the bare tree trunk and pulls a piece of red thread from his pocket. Yoongi sits opposite him and eyes curiously the object in Hoseok’s hand. When he realizes what it is and what Hoseok’s intentions must be, Yoongi laughs.

“I can’t believe you.”

Hoseok looks up from the tangled thread, his fingers working through the knots. “Why not?”

“You really want to physically tie us together?”

Hoseok shrugs, pulling the strings apart until they lay in his lap. It’s shorter than he expected, but it’ll have to do. After all, he is a witch. With a little magic, he'll make it work.

“No,” he says, reaching for Yoongi’s hand. “It’s a spell.”

“That much I know.”

“And it’s Valentine’s today. I wanted to do something nice,” Hoseok says, the last part barely above a whisper. His cheeks are pink from the cold. So are the tips of his ears.

Yoongi never thought that he’d witness a day when Hoseok would be shy or embarrassed, but every lifetime they spent together was different and this shouldn’t be such a big thing.

But it is. Everything Hoseok does is a miracle in itself.

He has lived so many lives, been so many different people and yet, every time, he found a way to remember who he really was. And if he wants to seal their bond with a red thread, Yoongi can’t say no because. After all, what connects them through time is nothing but a string of fate.

Hoseok ties the thread around Yoongi’s ring finger, making a pretty little bow on top and then tries to do the same on his hand. For a few moments, Yoongi watches him struggle, annoyance visible in the way Hoseok's eyebrows knit together every time he fails, before he takes the string from Hoseok.

“What now?” he asks once there's an identical bow on Hoseok's finger.

Hoseok is too busy admiring the makeshift ring to hear him and Yoongi lifts Hoseok’s chin up with his fingers. Their eyes meet and it’s not the first time but Hoseok still wants to drown in the depths of Yoongi’s black eyes.

“I—we proceed.”

“How?”

“I memorized the spell and the thread will turn invisible for everybody but us and it could be like before.” There's a small hesitant smile on his face when Hoseok says it.

“Like before?” Yoongi asks. He remembers that crystal clear even though Hoseok has forgotten. Hoseok’s touches still burn on his skin, the imprint of a kiss is still hidden in the corner of his mouth, and the feeling of Hoseok ever so pliant in his hands is haunting him. Like before sounds a lot like a promise and Yoongi has to remind himself that this Hoseok, although his, is nothing but an inexperienced child compared to the Hoseok Yoongi has spent lifetimes with. But then again, the human body Yoongi is inhabiting is just as young.

“I remembered,” Hoseok says and his voice is shaking, both from fear and how vivid everything in his dreams was. “I just want us to go slow this time. Can you give me that?”

“Yes, I'll wait for you.”

Yoongi will wait. Always has.

Hoseok is right, this time is different but Yoongi wanted to see him before the gifts came to him. With them, memories would come too but the times have changed, everything moved forward, tipped off the usual axis. Yoongi was so scared for Hoseok to let him deal with everything alone. Nobody knew what would happen once his powers started blossoming. Balance in the human world has always been fragile, beings living in it are easily influenced. With the advancement in technology, the world of magic changed as well. Religion dug its sharp claws into their realm, planting seeds of superstitions inside the weak hearts of witches and before they knew it, a divide happened. Being a necromancer was no longer something positive, but rather something both the individual and their family were equally terrified and ashamed of. When it was time for Hoseok’s soul to be reborn again, Yoongi made a promise that he would find Hoseok before his gifts entirely revealed themselves.

Now they are here, holding hands as the last words of the spell fall from Hoseok’s lips and the thread connecting them burns into their skin never to be broken again.

Once the ritual is over, Yoongi cups Hoseok's cheek, leans forward and kisses him on the mouth.

“Happy Valentine’s,” he murmurs against Hoseok’s lips and Hoseok laughs into the kiss.

 

+

 

There’s a warm feeling bubbling inside his chest and Hoseok can’t help but smile as he opens the front door of his house and tip-toes in. It’s past midnight already but he never noticed how fast time flew when he was with Yoongi. The thread around his finger glows in the dark hallway and Hoseok can feel Yoongi’s energy in it, anchoring him to reality, the current moment in life. Having the knowledge of the past has comforted him more than all the stories he read. It made him ready for whatever the future is preparing for them. With Yoongi by his side, Hoseok almost feels invincible.

“I’m fifteen now,” Hoseok blurted to Yoongi earlier, hiding his words behind a pretty smile with an even prettier blush on his cheeks.

“Oh yeah?” Yoongi responded, a teasing quality to his voice as he pulled Hoseok closer. Threading their fingers together, he asked, “What do you want to do?”

Hoseok has shrugged, looking at the still surface of the river. He remembered his grandmother’s water mirror and before he realized what he was doing, he submerged his hand in the cold water. He moved his fingers and energy ran through his body as the water turned black. Yoongi laughed at Hoseok’s shocked expression when the demon world opened, greeting him.

Snaking a hand around Hoseok’s waist, Yoongi leaned closer and whispered “Welcome home” in Hoseok’s ear.

Hoseok’s hands are still cold when he reaches the light switch in his room. Dirty water drips from his sleeves on the thick carpet.

“Such a messy boy,” a foreign voice says when Hoseok flicks on the lights. “Your mother warned me.”

Hoseok’s gaze lands on the old lady sitting on his bed. Her purple eyes stare at him with disgust as she purses her lips and taps her manicured fingers against the cover of the black book in her lap. He opens his mouth to say something, but no words come out. His lips are moving, throat contracting uselessly until his lungs start to burn from the lack of oxygen. The old witch snaps her fingers and Hoseok’s back slams against the wall. Photoframes shake with the force of the impact, glass on them breaks. But so does Hoseok.

“Such a pity for such a pretty boy. Haven’t they told you that demons are there to serve you and not to be your little fling?”

Her footsteps echo in Hoseok's ears, but when he tries to lift his head to glare at her, he feels the weight of the world crushing him down, making him bow in submission. Rustling of pages follows her steps as she flips through the book. She stops at some sections, runs through the others. She rips some pages out and then to pieces, letting them fall around her like confetti.

Snickering, she says, “Isn’t this romantic? How cute to think that you have a soulmate and not a slave. But honey, things don’t work that way.”

There’s no pity in her voice. Acid and sarcasm run through her words. Hoseok grits his teeth, hands balling into fists, so tight his knuckles turn white.

“Your mother should have called me sooner, as soon as you brought back to life that little bird. But she has a weak heart, just like all mothers do. Now we have to deal with this mess you caused. Do you know what I’m talking about, Hoseok?”

She lifts his chin up, forcing him to meet her eyes. Hatred flickers in her amethyst irises as she turns his head from one side to the other, sharp nails like claws digging into the soft flesh of his cheeks. Pulling him to his feet, the witch steps back, scoffing in disdain as she really looks at him. An adolescent boy whose skin is marred with acne scars, long limbs, bad posture. Pitiful and lovesick, an easy prey for demons regardless of their level. Necromancers have really fallen this low.

“Don’t stay silent now. Come on, talk boy!” she demands when Hoseok refuses to talk.

He has nothing to tell her. He doesn’t even know who she is. Something uncomfortable twists in his chest when the witch grabs his hand and lifts it to her eye-level. Cackling, she twists the thread around her fingers until searing pain runs up his arm and through his body. The smile on her face is sinister yet amused as she tugs at the thread every so often to see Hoseok squirm.

“How cute. Utterly cute and romantic, but we can’t play like this, boy,” she snarls. “Bonding with demons is a no-no, child. Hasn’t your family taught you anything?”

“That’s none of your business!” Hoseok snaps, pulling away from her grasp. The string still shines a bright red, even though it's a little subdued.

“And so he talks! How wonderful!”

The witch clasps her hands, her face twisting into a grimace of pained joy. Her eyes narrow, turning a darker color, purple shifting to indigo as she pulls up the sleeves of her dress revealing runes curling around her wrists like rose vines, delicate yet fierce. She steps forward, closing the door of Hoseok’s room. Lock falls into place, turns two times, and she smiles.

Before Hoseok knows it, her palms are pressed on his cheeks, words of a spell filling his ears. The melody is familiar and his soul yearns to hear more as his world sinks into darkness.

 

+

 

His mother’s voice comes through the haze of deep slumber, piercing the veil of smoke clouding his senses. There's panic in it, but is hidden behind shock.

“What now?” she says. “Can he hear us? Are you sure this is—”

“There wasn’t another way,” his grandmother cuts her daughter off, voice shaking with fear and Hoseok briefly wonders what she is so afraid of, but then he remembers that he is the cause of her fear. He is a freak, a child that betrayed his family, turned away from the art of making potions to chose a different path for himself.

“This seems cruel, mother.”

“It is not” comes the voice of another witch. “If you had called me earlier, you wouldn’t be this hurt and he wouldn’t have become a disgrace to the community of necromancers.”

“Can it be fixed?”

Hoseok hears laughter then. Soulless and hollow, but still laughter.

“Of course, my child,” the old witch says. “Everything can be fixed for the right price. But I can’t promise that it will be pretty to watch. For him, at least.”

“What are you going to do?” his mother asks.

“Show him how you would die if he stays here.”

 

+

 

Hoseok feels the scorching heat of the fire before he sees it.

He runs the distance from the edge of the forest to his back porch, eyes glued to the house. The first floor is in flames. Long, orange flames lick into the night sky, bringing sparks flying in the air like light bugs. Smoke is suffocating, nothing like the scent of melted wax and herbs burned for ceremonies. With it, comes the screaming, deep, guttural roars echoing in the night. Panic rises in Hoseok’s throat, choking him, as he looks for his family. His father is in the other part of the country, attending meetings and securing the future of witches. But his mother and grandmother are home. He left them in the kitchen. Kissed their cheek instead of saying goodbye before going out to meet—

Hoseok shakes his head. He wasn’t going to meet anybody. He was going for a walk. The last one before his birthday and before his powers truly reveal themselves.

“No, don’t! Please don’t!” comes his mother’s voice through the flames and Hoseok follows it through the smoke to the front yard. Mud clings to the soles of his boots, making his feet heavy, holding him back. With each step he takes, the screaming is louder, bordering on hysterical. But he can also hear laughing and snickering. Hoseok spots two men dragging his mother by her forearms. She’s kicking and screaming, the flowers on her pretty floral dress getting ruined with mud and grass. And then he sees it.

Their front yard is full of armed men shouting orders and lighting new fires except these fires aren’t there to warm up frozen fingers during long cold nights. Their purpose is to burn bodies until all that is left are white bones. They tie his mother to a stake and shut her mouth with a cloth before throwing more dry wood under her feet. She’s frantically looking around, eyes wide with panic. Her face twists into a mask of pain when she turns her head around and Hoseok follows her gaze. All he sees is the calm, stoic face of his grandmother as flames begin to lick at her feet and then higher and higher, hungrily devouring her silk hanbok and her flesh. Hoseok’s mother thrashes around as much as her constraints let her, but that isn't enough to set her free. A man comes to her then and slaps her on the face. Curses fall from his lips as he pours gasoline over her head. It runs down her cheeks like tears, soaking the cloth in her mouth and her dress. And then a match is lit, bright orange flame burning against the night sky.

Hoseok attempts to scream, but nothing comes out of his mouth.

“They can’t hear you, my child,” a soft voice says. Hoseok turns around and comes face to face with an elderly witch. Her gray hair is combed back in a neat bun and her purple eyes sparkle with something akin to grief.

“They can’t see you either but don’t worry. This is their sacrifice,” the woman says, approaching Hosok with long steps. A white Persian cat walks in front of her and sits by Hoseok’s feet, burning holes into his soul with emerald eyes. She lifts her paw to lick it and Hoseok sees scarlet red on her fur.

“Who are you?” he stammers.

The old witch puts a hand on his shoulder, squeezing lightly. “Somebody just like you, my child. Our families bear the sacrifices for us to prosper. We are necromancers and this,” she points to the whirlwind of emotions and events around them, “is the way our loved ones have to end once our powers manifest. But don’t worry, they are happy to die for us.”

Hoseok has heard her every word, but he refuses to believe any of them. He turns around and realizes that everything has fallen silent. Movements are calculated. It appears that everything has slowed down, like in a black and white movie. His mother’s scared eyes look through him, the men’s shouts he can’t hear even though their mouths are open wide like jaws of wild beasts.

This isn’t happening. It can’t be. Hoseok tries to move closer to the fires burning brightly but he can't make a single step, smoke dissipates before his eyes taking the night with it. A bleary winter morning with a gray sky and piles of white bones underneath it is all that's left.

Hoseok stands in the middle of the field where his house once was. He stares long and hard at the remains of his home. His family, too.

A woman with gray hair takes his hand and tugs him in the direction of the town. “Come, my child. There’s nothing holding you here. It is time to begin anew, in a world in which neither you nor your family will suffer anymore.”

Hoseok nods, wiping the tears from his eyes with his sleeves. He didn't even notice when he started crying.

As they leave, he glances at the forest behind his home, feeling like he’s burying a piece of his soul with all his memories.

 

+

 

“Tae doesn't know that I'm here and we'll keep it that way” is the first thing Namjoon says when Hoseok opens the door. He shoulders his way into the house, leaving Hoseok behind. It's still morning and Hoseok only managed to take a shower before there was a knock at the front door. He didn't expect to find Namjoon standing on his porch, but he wasn't surprised either. Namjoon has always been a little odd in his own way.

Namjoon drops his duffel bag on the coffee table, picks up a stack of magazines from the sofa. After he shifts them to the ground, he sits down. “This place looks awful,” he comments.

Hoseok leans on the wall of his living room and crosses his arms over his chest. He tries to ignore the thread around his finger in favor of glaring at Namjoon. “Why are you here?”

They aren't really friends. Namjoon is Taehyung's boyfriend who just happens to see the future and tag along with Taehyung whenever the younger decides to visit Hoseok. Or do anything, really. They never went past obligatory small talk so having Namjoon come alone must mean something.

“The future changed,” Namjoon hums and bends down to pick up one of Hoseok's cats that has come to him. Unlike Taehyung, Namjoon loves them and finds them cute if his cooing is anything to go by. “It shifted when you broke the lock. I'm here to help.” Namjoon smiles, bright and sunny, like he's a fairy godmother and not something closer to a grim reaper.

“Again, why are you here, Namjoon?” Hoseok asks, not convinced in what Namjoon is saying. The longer they waste time staring at each other, the more his patience thins. He has plans that don't revolve around entertaining guests.

“What else than to help you summon your lover boy. Or did you think summoning a high level demon would be easy?”

Namjoon's words could be a question but they aren't and Hoseok sighs.

“How did you know?”

Namjoon points at himself. “Can see the future. Remember?”

 

+

 

They spend the rest of the morning in silence, Namjoon texting while Hoseok prepares breakfast and then sits down at the kitchen table to eat it. He invites Namjoon to join him, but Namjoon shakes his head and returns to whatever he had been doing.

When the clock strikes twelve, Namjoon shoves the phone in the pocket of his pants, rises to his feet and stretches. His joints crack and a smile spreads over his face.

“Let's start,” he says. Hoseok nods.

They move to the living room and push furniture to the walls, creating open space in the middle. Namjoon is crouching down, trying to roll up the carpet when Hoseok asks “Why are you doing this?”

Namjoon looks up, something akin to a smile crossing his features. His lips quirk up for just a moment and Hoseok isn't sure if he really saw it because Namjoon ducks his head and returns to work. After he has put the carpet away, he sits on the floor and pulls a package of chalk from his duffel bag. He doesn't open it. It's just something to keep his hands busy.

“My aunt was like you,” Namjoon says and Hoseok focuses all his attention to the words. “I only ever saw her in photos. She was really pretty but that didn't matter to the others, y'know?” Hoseok knows. Everything stops mattering once powers manifest. He nods when Namjoon looks up, his face solemn. “She—my grandmother didn't want to give her up when your Mother's priestess came for her. My family never really got the memo of necromancers posing a threat to other witches. They always thought that every power was a gift. Besides, you can do some really cool stuff.” At this both of them smile. “So I can't really blame them.”

“What happened to your aunt?” Hoseok asks after a few moments of silence.

“She fell in love. Just like you. That's a necromancer thing, right? Falling in love with demons?”

“I—”

“It's okay,” Namjoon says. “I know the legends. You're bound to each other in every lifetime. Even when one of you forgets.”

The story is simple. Something straight out of a fairy-tale. But like all things magical, it's considered an anomaly. Even in a community based on magic. It would be ironic, if it wasn't tragic.

Necromancers are one step above a medium, their souls tied tightly to the goddess of the underworld and demons residing there. They aren't demonic, but their soulmates are.

“I always thought it was romantic, y'know?” Namjoon asks, voice hopeful.

“No,” Hoseok says simply. “We aren't allowed. It's a threat to the rest of you.”

Namjoon snickers. “Bullshit. That's just what narrow-minded people think. Always have. That's why my aunt couldn't be happy in this world so they burned her.”

Hoseok jerks his head up. “They burned her?”

“My family burned her and her lover together. It was their wish and the only way for them to be together forever. You know that a soul can't be reincarnated if the witch is burned. I guess my grandmother loved her too much to see her suffer in the mortal world. All mothers would do impossible things for their children regardless of how much pain that brings them.”

“Not mine,” Hoseok says. His mother had called the priestess herself once she found out about Hoseok's power and the bond he shared with a demon. She was afraid enough to pay a good amount of money to the priestess to take him in and replace all his memories with lies. He's too tired of living a wasted life to hate her. He just wants things to be right. As Namjoon starts talking again, Hoseok picks at the thread around his finger and tries to pay attention to Namjoon's words.

“I'm sorry. Taehyung told me bits and—”

“He doesn't know the whole story. Neither did I before the pool accident,” Hoseok interrupts him.

Namjoon smiles. “I figured out that much. That's why I'm here.”

“Self-entitled, aren't you?” Hoseok asks, but there is no malice in his words.

“Summoning is my forte. You don't know shit about it considering your little pool accident,” Namjoon grins. Maybe the reason why they aren't friends is because they would be always bickering. Hoseok leans back on the wall and levels Namjoon with a glare.

“You knew how that would end, didn't you?”

“Maybe,” Namjoon replies with a sheepish smile, his dimples showing.

 

+

 

Chalk for light magic, charcoal for dark. Lavender for cleansing, thyme for summoning. Charms for spells, sigils for protection and a thousand other signs for prosperity.

Hoseok's hands are black from his fingertips all the way up to his elbows, black dust is floating in the air, making him cough. Namjoon claps and a white cloud of chalk floats around him.

“We—” Hoseok starts.

Namjoon rolls his eyes and finishes his sentence with “—only use our souls and blood in our magic. We're the special snowflakes of the witch world.”

Hoseok winces. “I didn't mean it that way.”

“I know. Chill, Seok,” Namjoon says as he stands up and wipes his hands on his pants, leaving behind long white lines on black fabric. “This isn't about communication, but crossing between realms. You can't use your body in a way you're used to unless you want to be sucked in there. Which don't even think about because Tae would seriously freak out and be pissed at me for eternity. Neither of us wants that so you have to promise me that you won't act like an idiot. Promise?”

Namjoon is looking at him expectantly.

“Fine,” Hoseok sighs.

The act of summoning is pretty straightforward and Namjoon explains it as he shoves his things in the duffel bag. He pets Hoseok's cats one last time before leaving. When they're at the door, Hoseok grabs the handle but doesn't twist it open.

Uncertainty bleeds over his words when he says “Why don't you stay?”

Namjoon slips on his shoes, sidesteps Hoseok in the narrow hallway and opens the door himself. “Because I know that you'll do good.”

With those words, Namjoon is gone and Hoseok is left alone standing at the doorstep. There's chalk and charcoal all over him, a summoning circle drawn on the floor of his living room. Everything is ready. Everything but Hoseok.

He closes the door and slides his back down the cold surface until he's sitting on the floor and hugging his knees. The red string around his finger pulses with every shallow breath he takes, serving as a silent reminder that things will be okay even though anxiety is eating him inside out.

 

+

 

The sun sets behind the blinds in Hoseok’s living room, shadows stretch on the floor, reaching from wall to wall. The cats are sleeping in a basket near the balcony door, moving every so often. Day slips through the cracks in the pavement and street lamps light up the side of the road.

Hoseok walks barefoot through the hallway with a porcelain plate in hand. On it, an apple sliced thin and a few strawberries. His oversized t-shirt rides down his shoulder, revealing a patch of skin littered with faded hickeys or bruises resembling love bites, when he bends down to pick the remote. Turning the TV on low volume, Hoseok settles on the sofa. His eyes stray from the smiley faces on the screen to the runes drawn on the hardwood floor. They swirl around his toes and stretch in front of him creating an almost perfect circle. He doesn’t know the meaning of all symbols he sees, Namjoon’s explanations not sticking around long enough for Hoseok to memorize them. Still, they’re breathtaking in the way his moments with Yoongi are. His memories are bright and happy, the image of the two of them sitting at a river bank, talking, their fingers interlaced. The moment shifts and it’s evening, wind blowing and Yoongi telling him about their past lives, all of them. There have always been so many things Hoseok couldn’t remember, but Yoongi never lost patience when it came to explaining. Hoseok misses it. All the time they had and could have spent together. If only things were different. If only he was stronger.

But kids are kids. Always have been. And looking back, Hoseok realizes just how young they really were. Tracing a rune with his toe, Hoseok pops a piece of apple in his mouth. He needs energy, not the demonic kind.

Tonight he won’t be a medium.

Tonight he will cross no lines.

Tonight Hoseok will find peace.

 

+

 

At one in the morning, all lights in Hoseok’s street go off. Darkness settles over the houses and backyards and drained pools. Hoseok takes the candles out and puts them in their right places, then he lights up a match and walks in a circle until everything is bathed in soft orange light. Through the windows, moonlight pours inside the room. It’s a clear night, without clouds or wind. The lines between the worlds are thinner when the moon is high in the sky and Hoseok murmurs a prayer before pulling the curtains.

Namjoon’s words echo in his ears as Hoseok fulfills every task that was discussed. They fade as Hoseok moves around and white smoke with the scent of herbs cleanses the air until all he can feel is the immense energy in the room. Following the instructions turns out to be the easiest part, but after that is done, panic rises from the pit of Hoseok’s stomach and floods his system with unwavering anxiety. There are so many things that could go absolutely wrong, so many mistakes that can occur, so many—Hoseok closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Namjoon said that things will be alright and who can Hoseok trust if not the one person who can see the future?

Grabbing a crystal bowl with ice cold water, Hoseok kneels on the floor, careful not to smudge any of the sigils drawn with white chalk. He puts the bowl in the center and then takes a small dagger Namjoon left him. The handle is worn thin and the blade cuts into Hoseok’s palm. He hisses but grips the knife tighter. Cutting along the destiny and life lines on his other palm, Hoseok murmurs the soft words of a summoning spell. It’s not Korean and nothing like English. The words are unknown but tangible, he can feel them crackling in the air. He reaches out his hand, palm facing the floor and lets blood drip into the bowl of water, coloring it a deep, rich red.

With the last word of the spell, the glass shatters, shards scattering on the floor and water covering the runes, painting them red. What happens next, Hoseok isn’t quite sure. Summoning is different from looking into the demonic world through a water mirror, collecting energy of creatures lurking near the surface. Hoseok has never practiced much nor seen the act of summoning in its entirety, but even the curiosity can't keep his eyes open.

Symbols on the floor light up one by one, feeding off the blood in the water. White and red lights fill the room as water boils around Hoseok’s feet. Screams of despair echo around him, pained cries for mercy and freedom. Screeching follows it, high-pitched and overwhelming. The last thing Hoseok hears before everything goes silent is a soft-spoken plead. It sinks into his bones, pulls him down, down until water reaches his throat, spills inside his mouth. He tastes copper and iron. He tastes blood.

His throat contracts as Hoseok struggles to breathe, to stand up except that he is standing up, solid in a circle of pulsing energy taking his all and returning it tenfold. It feels a lot like dying and wishing to live at the same time, but it only lasts for a couple of moments. The water pools around Hoseok's feet, freezing as the temperature in the room drops, and with it comes the feeling of calmness. It washes over Hoseok, soothing his soul and wounds on his palms. Blood is still dripping from the cuts but the pain has subdued, pushed back to make room for serenity. It spreads through Hoseok body, starting at his fingertips and ending in his heart. With it, comes something else. There's another presence in the room and before Hoseok has the chance to open his eyes, cold hands cup his face. Hoseok shivers. From proximity and because it's been so long.

Hands move down his face, fingertips dancing on his skin, along the faded handprints around his throat. Down his arms and to his palms, tracing the cuts there. They wipe the blood, run along pink scars until bony fingers slot themselves between Hoseok’s.

With a shuddering breath, Hoseok opens his eyes. In front of him, there's a demon. Nothing like the low-level demons Hoseok has encountered before or the ones lurking just below the surface of water mirrors, shapeless and spineless. The demon's pale skin shines under the moonlight piercing through the curtains, but all light gets lost in his eyes, dark like onyx. There are no irises, just endless abyss staring right at Hoseok, sucking him in. But that doesn't scare Hoseok. Nothing can scare him anymore. Tilting his head, Hoseok slips his hands from the demon's and cups his face. The demon continues to look at him, not really seeing him, as Hoseok holds his face, gentle fingers against paper thin skin, his warm skin against the cold of the creature in front of him.

Hoseok opens his mouth to say something. Stops and stares. And then smiles, tender like when looking at the loved ones. That is so close to truth that Hoseok can't help but smile brighter.

"Yoongi," he whispers, afraid that any sound could shutter the silence, the bubble of peace they're wrapped in.

"Yoongi," he repeats, more to convince himself that this isn't a dream than anything else.

The demon – Yoongi – leans into the touch, closing his eyes. Hoseok breathes out, Yoongi breathes in. He breathes in life, air, Hoseok's presence and his smiles. His smiles which Yoongi has missed so much for so long. It's been too long. Years bordering on eons. Time slipping through their fingers like grains of sand in the hourglass, with nothing to stop it.

"Yoongi," Hoseok says again. It's half a prayer, half a chant, half a plea. It's "do you remember me" and "I'm sorry I'm so sorry I'm so fucking sorry for forgetting you" and "I'm sorry it took me so long" all at once. A wordless apology and a silent promise. A whirlwind of emotion contained in that one word. One name that Hoseok can't stop repeating, and every time he says it Yoongi feels it – love, loneliness, happiness bordering on hysteria – and so he cries. Even though demons aren't supposed to. Even though his tears are acid running down his face like two streams of ink. Hoseok holds his face, rubbing soothing circles into his skin, wiping tint with his fingertips. He doesn't care that it burns him too and it doesn't matter. Tears mix with blood and hearts break only to be put together again but this time the pieces come from two different people, two souls inevitably joined together as one.

"Yoongi."

It's the same word but the tone in which Hoseok says it isn't remorseful or sad. It's bright and happy, and when Yoongi opens his eyes, really opens them, he finally sees Hoseok. The veil covering his eyes is gone, turned to ink smudged on Hoseok palms. Hoseok is standing in front of him, beautiful as ever. Ethereal but solid. His smile is breathtaking and Yoongi wants to follow every line of Hoseok's face with his fingertips. But Yoongi isn't the only one caught off guard. Hoseok is, too. Shaken to the core, trembling with emotion and unspoken words. All he manages to say before falling into Yoongi is "Welcome home".

They don't talk for the rest of the night. Fatigue stitches itself into Hoseok's muscles, lulling him into a state between sleeping and being awake. With his head resting on Yoongi's shoulder, Hoseok watches as the ice over the summoning circle melts, taking the runes with it. The water evaporates and all that is left are scratches on the floor boards easily mistaken for traces of animal claws and not demon's. Yoongi sits on the floor with him, an arm around Hoseok’s waist. There's ink and blood on their hands but it is clearing, will clear, one day.

For now, they will enjoy the time they get to spend together.

Yoongi traces the cuts on Hoseok's palm and the pink scars on his wrist. Hoseok’s breath hitches, but Yoongi pays it no mind as he lifts Hoseok’s hand to his mouth and kisses every inch of marred skin. The touch is electrifying and intimate. Hoseok stops staring at the melting ice and focuses his attention on Yoongi. The smile on his face is still there and Hoseok briefly wonders if this is how his life will be from now on – always smiling. Then he remembers that Yoongi could leave, return to his world. These thoughts make him squirm against Yoongi’s side and Yoongi catches his gaze.

"I'm not leaving you," he says matter-of-factly. "Never again."

 

+

 

Morning comes with rain drumming against window panes and thunder rumbling overhead. It's a gray, lifeless beginning of a day, but Hoseok wakes up in a warm embrace, protected and loved.

"Morning," he mumbles, trying to twist his neck enough to see Yoongi. All of this – Yoongi’s presence, the thread around Hoseok’s finger burning brightly with their energy – feels surreal, like a beautiful dream, a bubble ready to pop at any moment if they aren't careful enough.

"Good morning" comes the reply followed by a kiss on the crown of Hoseok’s head. It's feather light, but still makes him giggle. He raises his hands to cover his face and notices dried blood on his palms. Last night's events come to him as a cruel reminder and Hoseok stares at ink and blood and cuts. His stomach twists and he scrambles on his feet and to the bathroom.

Hands clenching the toilet bowl, he heaves on empty, gags around the lump in his throat.

Yoongi comes barely seconds after him, stumbles inside.

"You okay?"

"Yeah," Hoseok answers, pushing Yoongi’s hands away when he reaches out to him. "Just—give me a moment, okay?"

"Sure," Yoongi says, but doesn't move away. With a hand on the small of Hoseok’s back, he watches Hoseok push long fingers down his throat, and then bend over the basin, stomach acid falling past his lips. The sight is far from pretty and with acid come tears too. Hoseok huffs and wipes his mouth with the towel Yoongi offers him.

"I'm sorry. This is all new. It's too much. I don't—"

"—ever see yourself in this state?" Yoongi finishes his sentence.

Hoseok nods. "They always say that suffering is a one-man job."

Yoongi doesn't seem to agree because he helps Hoseok stand up and then sit at the edge of the bathtub before pouring warm water over the cloth and wiping Hoseok's face from tears and hands from blood. Once the towel turns red, Yoongi picks up a new clean one from the cabinet under the sink. Gently dabbing at the cuts, Yoongi feels Hoseok’s gaze on him, unapologetic and unwavering. He looks up, meeting Hoseok's eyes.

"You're really here, aren't you?" Hoseok asks.

Yoongi nods, his fingers squeezing around Hoseok’s.

"This isn't just a hallucination? Not like all the fucked up things I saw?"

"No," Yoongi says. "It's not like that. Those were just side effects."

"Side effects," Hoseok echoes, voice weak and not really present. "Just side effects."

"H—"

Hoseok sniffs, looking away. His fingers grip Yoongi's as he talks.

"I thought—I wanted to kill myself. I wanted to overdose because nothing I ever did felt good or right. And my family—God, I saw them burn at a stake. I saw them burn because they didn't want me and it was easier for them to pay for my false memories than stay with me. How fucked up is that?"

Tears come down like rain on the window panes, they fall on the ceramic tiles as Hoseok bows his head. His shoulders shake with sobs, his hands tremble. Everything falls apart between the four walls of his small bathroom. It crushes down like a tower made of cards, foundations unstable and made of lies. Yoongi embraces him, lets Hoseok bury his face in the crook of his neck and cry. His tears burn like acid on Yoongi’s skin and he swallows down all the words he has to offer in favor of holding him. Threading his fingers through Hoseok’s hair, Yoongi feels him slowly relax. Sobs subdue with the wind outside.

"They didn't know," Yoongi says. "They never tried to understand. It's not your fault."

 

+

 

Time is a tricky thing. It heals wounds, fixes broken memories by turning them into soft and gentle reminders of the past. But time also keeps some things fresh and Hoseok feels like it was only yesterday when he met Yoongi by the river. Except it wasn't. It was in another lifetime when Hoseok wasn't weighed down by reality.

Days pass with rain and heavy clouds. There is more silence than words between them because what can they offer each other? What can two souls do when everything has been decided for them already? The dreams in which they are living have slowly turned sour. They're full of cracks and reality is seeping in with small gestures and unspoken wishes.

Hoseok tugs at the string around his finger. Yoongi looks at him with a mixture of happiness and melancholy in his eyes. They know each other but even so they feel like strangers. Too much time has passed. They aren't children anymore, they can't simply let go of things and be free. Things don't work like that. Never have even though they loved to pretend that everything was easy.

Staring at each other, they wonder if it is worth it – being apart then together then apart, lifetime after lifetime while Yoongi keeps on remembering all the things Hoseok has forgotten. It isn't really a relationship. Not even love when Yoongi has to constantly remind Hoseok what they were. Looking back, it is a curse, a twisted joke of faith.

Yoongi says, "This isn't how you pictured it, is it?"

A smile plays on his lips. Stretches then shrinks. Fake and modest, all at once. He understands. And how could he not when every emotion reverberates through the string connecting their souls. There is no use in lying.

"No, it's not. It's not magical. Not a happy ever after."

"You wanted that?"

"For once. It seemed possible." Hoseok fumbles with his fingers as he talks. "I remembered things. Pretty things. I wanted that for us."

Words are hushed and honest. They sound incredibly small to Yoongi. Hoseok always wanted nice things. Hoped for happy endings, straight out of a fairy-tale. But life is different, boring and dull. Never as vibrant or beautiful as Hoseok’s soul. He tilts Hoseok’s head up, fingers under his chin. Their eyes meet and Yoongi has missed the way Hoseok looked at him.

"We'll work for it. We'll try. We have time, Hoseok."

"And a whole lot to catch up with," Hoseok adds, but it's neither bitter nor accusing. Simply a fact.

"Why don't we start now?" Yoongi asks and he's bending down. He kisses Hoseok’s temple, moves to his cheek. Peppers Hoseok’s face with kisses and by the time he reaches Hoseok’s lips, Hoseok has gripped the hem of Yoongi’s shirt and pulled him closer. The kisses they share are sweet and chaste and Hoseok is once again reminded of the winter they spent together as teenagers. When he pulls back, it's with a smile, soft and honest.

"You're right. We have time. All the time in the world." Hoseok says. "So let's start from the beginning."

Yoongi doesn't reply, just holds his hand and kisses him again.