There are so many things I’m not allowed to tell you.
— Richard Siken, “Dirty Valentine”
It’s not that Jimin enjoys hurting people.
When he’s on the defense, hurling shockwaves of light and electricity down a busy street to keep Seagull off his back; when he’s burning the breath out of the worst kinds of people he knows; when he’s sending flames licking through the wiring of a billion-dollar complex, he isn’t doing it because he enjoys causing pain.
Pain is a consequence, yes, and that’s something Jimin is happy to live with. But it’s not a reason.
The news anchors like to speculate about Jimin’s motives. They plaster low-quality pictures and high-quality reconstructions of his masked face on the air, talk over themselves as they shoot out rapid-fire questions. They argue, constantly, about why Calico would choose to target this building, that company’s warehouse, the low-profile heir to a big-name empire. By now, at least, they know that he has a motive. They’ve picked up on his consistencies, his broader grudges, though Jimin always manages to take them by surprise.
Senseless chaos isn’t Jimin’s style. He leaves that for those better suited to it, and indulges in violence only when cornered, when backed into a tight spot by a hero almost more reckless than Jimin himself.
When pressed, and that’s most often in those tight spots with Seagull crowding close into him, Jimin only laughs. He’s as much a mystery to the city’s golden hero as Seagull is to him, with his high-tech gadgets and wide eyes, the only feature that sticks in Jimin’s mind even as the rest of his face blurs in memory like quicksand. A neat trick, one Jimin still hasn’t figured out.
But he refuses to give an answer. If Seagull hasn’t figured him out, then it’s hardly Jimin’s place to enlighten him. That’s less straightforward than Jimin knows Seagull wants it to be, and he isn’t sure if his laughter is more infuriating than a villain whose answers make no sense.
It’s fun, V explained once, his voice smiling even through the magic warping the pitch of it. His eyes glittered under the sweep of his hood, above the dark swath of fabric that covers everything under the bridge of his nose.
It was the first time Jimin stumbled into a fight that hadn’t started with him. He’d been in the area for a hit, young and low-profile enough that few people were paranoid enough to caution their security against him, and wormholes started opening back up on his way back to his safehouse. They sucked in businessmen and expensive cars and entire streetcorners of the financial district Jimin was crawling through; out of some morbid curiosity, Jimin tossed a chunk of concrete into the first one he found and watched it sizzle and spark and disintegrate into violet ash.
He could have made it home without incident, if Seagull hadn’t crashed into one of the back alleys Jimin knew intimately. If Seagull had just let him slip away, instead of being brash enough to fling a bolt of force at his back. It sent Jimin sprawling, and hurt his ribs enough that breathing hurt for days.
So he let himself be caught up in the fight. It’s always exhilarating, the crack of electricity under his skin as he shifts into stances honed by years of training, of practicing for moments just like these. Seagull, half-distracted by V, putting himself between Jimin and the poor, innocent public.
They worked well as a team, in that fight. Even so, Seagull had gotten close enough, once, to ask V the same question he asks Jimin every chance he gets. The same old predictable why, like he’ll ever be able to understand how Jimin lets himself rationalize the things he does. V had laughed too, but gave an answer without needing to be forced.
It’s fun, he said, on that wicked invisible smile, and Jimin respects it.
His answers vary, too. Jimin has fought with him more than once, a handful of blowout battles with whole districts ruined in their wake, and during each one a different quip, tossed out on that smile. I like it was one, and I’m bored another. They never quite seem like the whole truth, with the single-minded determination V brings to his art, but again—it’s not Jimin’s place.
Jimin’s place is in the shadows, until Seagull drags him out. V delights in chaos, with little reason or rhyme behind his destruction. He treats his powers like a game, Jimin thinks, and Seagull as a particularly obstinate piece in it. Jimin prefers to think things through, to lay traps and guard secrets and wait for reason and providence to leave a building burning in his wake. When he gets caught in a battle, he’s prepared for it, even if he doesn’t seek it out.
So it’s not that Jimin enjoys hurting people, not like V. It’s just that he can’t say that he ever regrets it when he does.
“You look stressed,” Taehyung comments as Jimin walks in, in the fond drawl Jimin knows so well, and rolls his eyes at every time.
It’s made worse by the fact that Taehyung can’t actually see him; he’s lying down on their couch in the living room, knees hooked over the arm of the couch and bare feet swinging in the air. His pants, a years-old pair with leg holes wide enough to fit four limbs in each, are pushed up comfortably around his knees. If Jimin’s stress is told through the particular way he shuts the door and hangs his coat, then Taehyung’s comfort is broadcast through the whole apartment.
“You look relaxed,” Jimin says, and tastes the last fading sparks of electricity that shiver along his tongue as he speaks. He tugs his tie off, the knot sloppy where he’d tied it in a rush to get home, and only stops himself from ripping it by breathing carefully and remembering the amount of zeroes on its price tag.
“I am,” Taehyung agrees, cheerful and kicking his feet a little higher. “How was kendo? I left dinner in the microwave for you, by the way.”
Jimin drops his tie on the table. Idly drags the newspaper on it close, to skim the headlines that don’t mention anything he really cares about. Taehyung has circled a few things, some of the inside pages scattered on the other side of the table, but he never marks down anything comprehensible. He shuffles the pages into a stack, folds it sloppily, and pops open the microwave.
“It was good. Jungwoo says hi.” He does go to kendo, most nights. Jungwoo does like Taehyung, enough that Jimin discourages him from dropping by the studio more than strictly necessary. “Is this what I cooked last night?”
“That’s right.” Taehyung doesn’t sound too bothered. Jimin can hear the scribble of a marker, cranes his neck to see a stack of construction-paper project. “It’s good, too.”
The microwave hums. Jimin doesn’t bother to fight his smile as he watches Taehyung’s feet kick, watches another project get tossed lovingly onto the stack. It’s littered with bright purple smileys and hearts and spelling corrections, some glitter shaking off to make a new forever home in the carpet under the couch and coffee table. Jimin twists his wedding band, watches his dinner turn as it heats, thinks about the man gurgling as he died not two hours ago, with Jimin’s hand pressed to his forehead.
Sometimes, it’s hard to come home to Taehyung with blood on his hands. Sometimes Jimin lies awake at night and hates himself, or cleans up in his safehouse with electricity rattling in his teeth, and has to practice long-familiar breathing techniques to calm himself down.
Jimin knows he’s a bad person. That he probably deserves all the punishments the news anchors and government officials like to talk about; that he doesn’t deserve a good job and a warm home and a husband who loves him. He knows that if he were even a little better, he would leave Taehyung. If he had one scrap of decency in him, Jimin would never have married him in the first place.
But Jimin is selfish, and he isn’t a good person, and he comes home every day to his warmly lit Hapjeong apartment and his beautiful husband and he enjoys it, cherishes it, luxuriates in it like he might savor a hot, sweet dessert.
Jimin eats alone at the kitchen table, because he paid for the couch and isn’t willing to do it twice. They trade lazy workday conversation between rooms, the cadence of it soft and familiar. Taehyung chatters aimlessly about his class, about the crafts the kids are working on and how Eunho hadn’t cried at recess for the first time all year; Jimin in turn catches Taehyung up on the latest workplace gossip, about his intern Soobin who’s finally stopped blushing scarlet every time Jimin breathes at him and paralegal Jeongguk who’s turned down three dinner invitations from coworkers or clients just this week.
It’s domestic, and sweet, and Jimin tells Taehyung about a made-up kendo session and smooths down the soft wool blend of his slacks to suppress the sparks that itch around his fingertips.
“Oh, Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says, sweetly casual, as Jimin stands at the sink and washes the last of the dishes. “I have a surprise, for when you get over here.”
“Really?” A smile tugs at Jimin’s lips. Not that it had ever really fallen, but—Jimin knows what Taehyung sounds like, when he’s needy. When he’s trying to cloak himself in laid-back nonchalance, and only almost succeeding.
“Really,” Taehyung breathes, and Jimin leaves him hanging just like that. He doesn’t take the bait, doesn’t press further; he only finishes his dishes, and the ones Taehyung left out on the counter, and takes his time wiping down the counter and prepping his coffee and breakfast for the morning. No matter how tempting Taehyung’s squirming on the couch behind him gets, Jimin steadfastly doesn’t turn. If Taehyung is going to make Jimin come to him, then he can handle a little tease.
But eventually, Jimin runs out of things to do, and has nothing else to distract from the itch growing under his skin. Eventually, Jimin dries his hands and hangs up his towel, and walks with measured footsteps over to the couch.
Taehyung isn’t even pretending to grade anymore. The rest of the projects have been discarded, his shirt tucked up to expose where he’s tracing the tips of his fingers along the soft, tan expanse of his stomach. Just on his hip, Jimin can see a fading bruise from the weekend.
“Are you my surprise?” Jimin asks, as he fits himself against the arm of the couch, between Taehyung’s spreading knees. He knows the glassy sheen over Taehyung’s eyes, knows the shape and weight of the bulge in his terrible pants. The atrocities are pushed up to his thighs, now, baring the smooth skin just between them, above the bend of his knee. Jimin touches, because he wants to and because he can and because he absolutely doesn’t deserve it.
“No,” Taehyung manages, as Jimin pushes fabric up, and up, fingers pressing along half-faded hickeys and bruises that mark him so prettily. “Go—higher.”
So Jimin does. He slips his fingers under cloth, and narrows his eyes when Taehyung arches his back up, letting Jimin grope mean at the curve of his ass, no underwear in his way.
And then he steps away, and pulls his arms out, and ignores Taehyung’s high-pitched petulant whine as he grips the waistband and tugs.
“Yeah,” Taehyung gasps, when Jimin manhandles his legs to pull the awful pants off of him, tossing them somewhere to the side to drink in the long beauty of Taehyung’s legs, the softness of his thighs, the way his cock presses wet and flushed against his hip.
And then Jimin leans down, and slides careful arms under Taehyung’s back, and pulls him up to sit on the armrest so that Jimin has to look up at him. His back aches; Taehyung’s too-long hair falls into his face, but the surprise on Taehyung’s face that melts back into arousal is worth it, as Jimin smooths his hands down slowly, sweetly. Taking his time.
“You still haven’t found your surprise,” Taehyung gasps, as Jimin sucks another mark into his shoulder, just below where Taehyung’s work shirts usually fall. This one, something Jimin thinks he remembers from college, is huge, and soft, the neckline cut wide enough that it just barely stays on him, grey fabric staining at the hem where it falls to cover his cock.
“Oh?” Jimin asks, pressed against warm skin. Stretches his hand down, to press the base of a familiar plug into Taehyung, hard enough that he jolts and whines and squirms on his precarious perch. “This surprise, Taeng-ah?”
“Fuck you,” Taehyung gasps, and fits his fingers into Jimin’s hair to pull. It sends a different kind of spark down him, the kind he loves just as much as the life he keeps firmly out of this home. The pulse of his heart is starting to pick up again, the rush of a kill melting into the intoxication of Taehyung, seven years later and still just as good at worming under Jimin’s skin, working him up until his self control drops like every other facade.
“You aren’t subtle,” Jimin whispers, and bites down hard, and fucks the plug into Taehyung at a comfortable pace until Taehyung pushes him back, two hands against Jimin’s chest and eyes wide and almost as wild as his hair.
“Wait,” Taehyung says, half-breathless. Jimin hums, presses forward to thumb at Taehyung’s rim, testing the stretch of it and idly trying to push inside. It’s so wet, just like Taehyung likes it; Jimin goes in easy enough that it hardly feels like a transgression. “I was—Jimin, I was going through the toy box.”
“It’s Thursday,” Jimin says, as flat as he can manage. Taehyung rolls his eyes, smacks gently at Jimin’s chest over his shirt. It feels powerful, Jimin still in a pressed button-down and leather belt and expensive slacks, and Taehyung falling apart in nothing but a years-old shirt.
“Got bored,” he whines. “And found that really nice silk rope—you remember, from Japan?”
Jimin remembers, vividly. Three days in a hotel suite for their anniversary, and Taehyung tied up and testing the limits of the hotel’s promised discretion policy for a good portion of it. All the ways Jimin knows how to make him scream and beg and thrash put to good use, and a few souvenirs brought home to keep the memory fresh.
He hums out his agreement, already mapping out knots and patterns and designs in his mind. Maybe he’ll make Taehyung keep the shirt on, just for a twist of humiliation and chafing on his nipples.
“So,” Taehyung says, drawn-out and lazy. Looks down at Jimin, as he fiddles with the first few buttons of his work shirt. Pauses, and smiles. A wicked thing.
Sometimes, Taehyung reminds Jimin of a predator. He’s soft around his edges, sure, with his untoned stomach and long permed hair drifting around his eyes; he’s goofy, with his students, and a little strange in a way Jimin adores. But when he narrows his focus like this, like Jimin is the only person in the world, Taehyung is almost frightening.
They don’t always play like this. Sometimes Jimin is the one crawling, begging, nursing rope burn with relish for days at a time. He can’t deny that the rush of a challenge is just as good as Taehyung’s easy submission, and for a long moment Jimin thinks that’s what he’ll get.
But then the smile drips off of Taehyung’s face, replaced by something wide-eyed and sheltered. His hands pull back, one of them dipping to delicately cover the bulge of his cock, the stain of its mess, the other drawn up against his own chest. A mockery of innocence; a playact that gets Jimin’s cock hard enough to ache.
“You want to tie me up, Jiminie?” Taehyung asks, high and panting and exaggerated enough that Jimin can hear in it just how much he likes to see Jimin worked up like this. “You wanna—ah—make me beg you? Make me cry?”
He leans back, just a little, and Jimin forces his way closer and fucks his fingers in next to the plug, and delights in the way Taehyung whines and protests and struggles, a pretty blush staining his cheeks. The picture of innocence, convincing enough that Jimin can taste his own heartbeat, the eager anticipation of it pounding against his teeth.
“Min,” Taehyung whimpers, clinging to Jimin’s back where bruises from a fight are already starting to heal, and—he can’t take it anymore.
Jimin pulls his fingers out harshly enough that Taehyung cries out at it, and wipes the mess on Taehyung’s thigh to a delighted, humiliated whine, and hauls his husband into his arms. Taehyung clutches him the whole time, rutting timid against his slacks as Jimin carries him away, tosses him onto their bed splayed and shy and viciously turned on, picks up the coil of rope left neatly on the dresser with a few other choice toys.
Jimin is a bad person. Jimin is a criminal, and a killer, and he never feels like one quite as much as when he has Taehyung like this, crying and sniffling as Jimin ties him with an intricate pattern he knows from memory. Taehyung cries so pretty, begs like he was made for it, and Jimin tortures and fucks him with the desperation of a chase, and a kill, and sparks of electricity burning in every part of him he doesn’t have to keep safe for Taehyung to touch.
Jimin is a bad person, and Taehyung’s put-on persona of innocence and uncertainty makes him feel like the worst kind of villain.
But that night, Taehyung presses his smile into Jimin’s neck, and slings his bare thigh over Jimin’s hips to trap him in an embrace while they sleep, and Jimin decides that even if he doesn’t deserve a shred of this, even if he’s the worst kind of person on the planet—
He sleeps easy with his husband beside him, Taehyung’s wicked, knowing smile hovering in the corners of his dreams.
Two weeks later, Jimin is stuck inside as tremors rattle the ground beneath the city. Even worse, he’s stuck in a meeting with the entire accounting department, all of them crowded around a conference table and doing their best to ignore the sound of a battle rampaging somewhere through Mapo-gu.
It’s close enough to the high-end school where Taehyung works that if Jimin didn’t have meetings scheduled back to back, he might pull an excuse of working from home and slip on his mask, just to make sure nothing gets too close. Instead, he has to grit his teeth as he speaks as politely as he can to his department about monthly projections and invoices and everything he can recite in his sleep.
“MBC just tweeted that V opened a portal just south of Hongdae,” comments Jisoo, Jimin’s favorite junior accountant, about halfway through the meeting. She’s tapping through her phone, hands half-hidden below the table, and the concentration of each person in the room snaps away from spreadsheets and back to the battle rocking the high-rise.
“Why are you on your phone?” Jimin tries not to glare, and settles for pushing the bridge of his glasses up his nose as aggressively as he can. Her thumbs pause in their incessant tapping, and she looks up, wide-eyed and harmless.
“Sorry, bujangnim,” she says, and doesn’t sound sorry at all. “But there’s a super fight.”
There’s a brief moment of assent murmured around the room, before they all seem to catch whatever thundercloud is brewing over Jimin’s face. He’s been with this law firm since the month after he graduated from university, and he has not only a higher position than everyone in this room, but the seniority and aura to back him up.
“Sorry,” Jisoo gulps. She slides her phone very deliberately back into her briefcase. “It was just—something strange happened with V, you know. It was weird.”
“Gossip later,” Jimin says, and sighs. Adjusts his glasses again, because now they’re digging too sharply into his nose. “Come on, back to work.”
The senior accountant standing in front of the projector screen shakes himself, and goes back to his presentation, and Jimin has to repress the urge to pull out his cell phone, to check the news and livestreams for news of Taehyung’s school, or maybe news of V, who Jimin doesn’t exactly want plucked off the streets forever. Seagull distracted by two of them is a mutually beneficial arrangement; they aren’t friends, but it’s not as if Jimin doesn’t care.
The tremors stop almost immediately after, and Jimin’s day doesn’t give him time to breathe until he’s on the hideously delayed subway back home, and by then he’s almost forgotten about the fight, about whatever might have happened with V.
Jimin forgets, until he taps in the code to their apartment and opens the door to darkness.
“Taehyung?” He calls, as he steps out of his shoes. And again as he hangs his coat, and again as he flips on the lights, illuminating the empty kitchen and living room, and no lights on in their bedroom down the hall.
No one answers. Jimin feels, suddenly, very cold.
Taehyung stays out late a lot, after super attacks. Jimin has stumbled home from his safehouse more than once to an empty apartment, and woken hours later to Taehyung crawling into bed, half in tears about a student whose parent never showed up to pick them up, whose emergency contacts weren’t replying because Calico fried the power lines and satellites in a particular neighborhood, or because V sent an entire district stumbling into chaos.
It’s not strange for Taehyung to not be home, but that fight today—Jimin pulls up the news on his laptop as soon as he can fumble it out of his briefcase, sets it up on the kitchen table before he even takes off his tie.
The battle was close to Taehyung’s school. That wormhole Jisoo mentioned was just a few blocks away, and the flighting was spread out more than that. He doesn’t read anything about a primary school, in descriptions of the wreckage, but—it doesn’t mean that Taehyung was safe.
Jimin breathes in, and out, and forces himself to calm down. He takes his hands off of his computer to be safe, too expensive to fry so carelessly; he talks himself down on his way to the bedroom, unknotting his tie and unbuttoning his shirt and very very tightly controlling his breathing. In all likelihood, Taehyung will be home in an hour, or maybe two. Jimin will draw him a bath, and massage the tension out of his shoulders, and hold him just a little tighter than usual when they curl up in bed.
He tries calling him, though, just to check, and the line rings out in hollow silence into the empty air of the bedroom.
Jimin goes slowly through the motions of the evening. He makes dinner with the last of their produce for the week, enough stir-fry for Taehyung to eat later and to pack up in their lunches, and cleans the kitchen, and preps everything for breakfast as well as he can with their fridge so badly stocked. He pulls out an apron he bought Taehyung as a joke before their wedding, something cute with a flower pattern that Jimin’s the only one who actually wears, and makes a batch of yagkwa to soothe his nerves.
Taehyung doesn’t come home.
Jimin does the laundry and folds it, and watches the clock tick to nine, and ten. He calls again, and again, and always hangs up at the message tone, too scared to say anything and too angry to hold onto his phone for a long minute after each try. He burns pulses of electricity into a chunk of magnesium that Taehyung thinks is a particularly pretty ornament on their dresser, and breathes out the urge to fry the wiring of the whole building.
Taehyung doesn’t come home. Jimin’s calls start going straight to voicemail, and he tries again and again as he changes into pajamas, and lies down in their cold bed, and settles his head on Taehyung’s pillow.
Finally, finally, he manages to leave a message.
“Tae?” he says, after the dial tone. “If you’re listening to this, or if someone else is—please call me. I’m worried about you.”
He stops, and swallows down something hard and sticky in his throat, something much more ominous than honey pastry.
“Please come home,” he begs. He doesn’t know what else to say, tonight, when fear has settled heavy over this place Jimin calls home, this place warm with memory and happiness. He twists his wedding ring around his finger until it chafes, until he has to let go because he can’t stop himself from heating it until it burns.
He only notices that he’s crying when he ends the call.
Jimin gets a few fitful hours of sleep, and wakes up at three with a pounding head and no body sleeping next to him.
He gives up on trying, and instead stumbles into the bathroom to brush his teeth and wet his hair and scrub at his face with expensive cleanser until it feels raw, his eyes bloodshot and exhausted-looking in the mirror.
“Snap out of it,” Jimin says to himself, and tries Taehyung’s cell phone again.
The anger builds, as he gets dressed and makes his way back to his laptop, still set up on the kitchen counter. As he pours himself a cup of coffee, and settles down, and pulls up a dozen tabs of news on the fight that marked the early afternoon.
He’s never felt hatred like this before. By the time he has the first newsfeed pulled up, V and Seagull blurry figures in drone footage, Jimin is measuring his breaths and flexing his hands and trying not to think of Taehyung’s name buried in a list of the dead, released each morning after a super fight at six.
If Taehyung is dead—crushed by a building unstabilized by Seagull’s bolts of invisible force, or sucked into one of V’s black holes, Jimin doesn’t know what he’ll do. Or—he knows what he’ll do first, which would be finding whoever might be responsible and killing them slowly, violently, with as much cruelty as he can. But after that, after the revenge he might be owed—
This is his life. This is his home, that he’s shared with Taehyung for years. There are pictures of them hung on every wall, old university relics and the professional shoots for their engagement and wedding, and a crude portrait made by one of Taehyung’s students, after Jimin came in one day to talk about his career to a gaggle of deeply uninterested six-year-olds.
If Taehyung is dead, V or Seagull or whoever might have done it won’t ever get the luxury of hearing Jimin’s voice. If Taehyung is dead, then Jimin won’t ever hear his voice again.
“Come home,” he says, when the message tone sounds again. “Taehyung-ah, please come home.”
And he puts his phone down, and presses play on the first video.
All of the news alerts and drone footage and shaky smartphone livestreams start to blur into one, as the hours tick past. It’s hard to concentrate, because Jimin has seen and been in enough battles like this one to know how they go. But he keeps his eyes open, as aching as they are, to scour the edges of the frames for familiar faces, voices, anything. Proof that Taehyung’s school was evacuated, or that he got caught in the destruction.
Sometimes, Jimin finds himself distracted by V. Seagull is boring, a classic hero in every sense of the word, but V—the chaos drips off him so elegantly, even in the grainiest of videos. It never acts the same, less of a power and more a living thing.
Jimin gets the impression that V’s abilities aren’t anything like Jimin’s control of electricity. He opens wormholes with a twitch of his fingers, hovers in the air with black and violet silhouetting him and eating at the air. He says humans like he isn’t one, on the front end of a sneer.
Jimin pulls himself away from a ten-second clip of V stepping over a pile of ash that once was a person, and goes back to scouring the margins.
The beginning of the battle is routine. V starts it, as he always does; Seagull rises to the bait, after a long half hour of senseless destruction. Seagull pulls his tricks, aided by tech he always seems to have more of; and V coos and throws insults and opens wormholes in the ground to swallow up parked cars and fleeing civilians and scraps of debris indiscriminately.
Not once does Jimin see Taehyung. Not a flash of the green floral print he wore out of the house, not a glimpse of the leather satchel Jimin had commissioned for him a few birthdays back. Just—faceless masses, and muddled panic, and V and Seagull like gods risen above it.
But then—close to the end of the news footage, something strange happens. Something that draws Jimin’s attention from scanning the crowds, his interest piqued despite his better judgement.
V opens a portal. He does it often, snaps open swirling vortexes to somewhere Jimin doesn’t know or understand. Sometimes, anything that touches one of them crumbles into ash. Sometimes, people get swallowed up, and spat out weeks later with their minds—and often their bodies—shattered beyond repair. This portal goes under a streetcorner, and a quarter of a building crumbles into it as the last of its evacuating inhabitants shriek.
And instantly, strangely, V’s attention is caught. He waves a hand and Seagull crashes into the pavement, clawing at dark tendrils of energy creeping along his limbs, as V refocuses toward the wormhole. It’s hard to look at, even on video, but Jimin sees—something creeping out of it, something he doesn’t quite know how to understand.
Slowly, as whatever it is emerges, the background noise goes quiet. But for the wailing sirens and shift of rubble, no one speaks. Even Jimin leans forward in his chair, breath caught in his throat, as something crawls out of V’s portal.
It looks like—a vine. Sickly green, more like rot than vegetation, and moving like a worm as it feels its way across concrete, wraps tight around a streetlamp. At its base is a blade, as long as Jimin’s legs and as wide across as his chest, that he just barely gets a glimpse of before it buries itself in what’s left of the sidewalk like it’s made from putty.
The vine reminds Jimin of a snake more than anything, with its coiled undulations, but it’s not anything he can make himself think of as an animal. He’s not sure if it’s even truly alive, or conscious; no one has answers, not even the person who’d summoned it.
Under his hood, above his mask, V’s eyes glitter dark and wondrous. The thing seems to be facing him, one tendril of it reaching out as V edges closer. The portal wavers dangerously, but nothing else emerges.
Slowly, V reaches out one gloved hand. Slowly, the plant or creature reaches out in return. Brushes the coiled tip of its appendage against the fingers of V’s glove.
And V collapses.
The portal snaps shut with a vibrating groan. The wisps of black-and-violet chaos dissolve into nothing, and Seagull leaps to his feet, and the noise behind the camera raises to a commotion, shock and fear and confusion as the vine creeps farther along V’s arm, curling up to his shoulder. His hood has fallen over his face; he looks vulnerable, and it scares Jimin almost as much as the ever-constant reminder in the back of his mind that Taehyung is still missing.
V has always seemed—invincible. Even when he took blows, even when Seagull managed to claw his way to the upper hand, he always laughed in that strangely toned voice, distorted and warped by whatever magic he was setting on it, and pulled off an escape Jimin never could have managed.
There was a part of him, Jimin thinks, that thought it might always be like this. Uneven stalemates, battles just for the show of it.
But now Seagull stands over V, unconscious and strangely small on the ground, and looks with strange contemplation at the creature buried in the ground, and slowly creeping up V’s body. It seems satisfied, no longer curling along its length, content to savor whatever it might be taking from its host. It turns Jimin’s stomach.
The news clip cuts off just as Seagull starts to kneel, and Jimin stares at the black screen for a long moment before clicking through his other tabs, checking to see which ones might show him the end of it.
Finally, he finds a livestream. Shaky and low-definition, but enough to see Seagull gather V in his arms, careful not to touch the vine, and press the tips of his fingers to an exposed sliver of metal on the streetlamp, looking around one last time at the destruction left behind in their wake.
And then they vanish, Seagull and V and the streetlamp all together, and the livestream cuts out, and Jimin is left with confusion and fear helpless at the back of his throat.
He doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know where to start, even as he goes back to comb through the other videos, the few articles written on areas affected by the battle. A few gossip columns pop up in the search, fans and civilians wondering what might have happened to V, whether Seagull will come forward with his identity.
The clock at the top of his screen strikes six. Jimin pulls up the city’s website, and navigates to a familiar page, and holds his breath.
The lists aren’t new, but they’re still reassuring. A gift from Seagull, ostensibly, to Seoul’s government. Whoever is behind his tech had built it after too many unaccounted deaths, the list of missing people stretching longer than anyone ever wanted. So there was a press conference, the pictures of Seagull artfully blurred where his face should be no matter how hard the photographers tried for an angle. A gift given, a small chrome box to ease a burden off the city’s shoulders.
Whatever it is generates the lists each morning after a super battle. They’re posted at six sharp, a comprehensive guide to each life lost. Jimin uses them frequently to make sure he’s gotten who he was targeting, to look up names idly if he has the free time and energy to care.
Now, he’s looking for a name and hoping against hope that he won’t find it. He scrolls down, and down, until he hits Kim and looks. Reads and rereads the half dozen names, Kim Ara and Kim Beomjin and not one single Kim Taehyung among them.
Something tight and sharp releases in his chest, a spring pulled to taut that hurts as it fits back into place.
Just as the sun begins to rise, light filtering in through the living room window, Jimin calls into work. He leaves a message for his boss, stays professional and firm, doesn’t let his voice waver when he says my husband is missing. It might buy him the rest of the week, through Monday if he needs it.
Taehyung isn’t dead. Taehyung isn’t dead, which means that Jimin can find him.
He’s combed through all the video footage he can find by the time Taehyung’s school opens; he’s made lists of names and numbers to call, and stares down at the scrawl of it as he picks up his phone. There’s dread gnawing in Jimin’s chest, fear lying cold underneath it, but there’s no time for any of it now.
Jimin is going to bring Taehyung home, if he has to kill half the city do do it.
“Taehyung-ssi called in sick yesterday,” the secretary says. She looks up from her computer, the picture of polite decorum. Jimin blinks at her, and tries not to curl his hands into fists.
The office of the school Taehyung teaches at is small and perfectly organized, clean enough that Jimin feels out of place, though he knows he doesn’t look it. The coat Taehyung bought him for his last birthday is more expensive than a few of Jimin’s work suits; he’d forced himself to take the time to look presentable.
Jimin has Taehyung’s phone in his pocket, and skin itching with the urge to make something explode.
“What do you mean, he called in sick.” He sounds blank, even to himself. He’d bundled Taehyung out of the apartment himself, a cup of over-sweetened coffee pressed into his hands, a kiss smacked against his lips before the door closed behind him. Taehyung is never the most aware person in the mornings, and so Jimin has gotten very efficient in the art of deciphering his moaning and prodding him into the shower. Not once had Taehyung mentioned so much as an upset stomach.
“Around seven,” the secretary says, like she’s talking to someone fifty years Jimin’s senior. Politely concerned, but desperate to move on to other work. “Taehyung-ssi called in to request a substitute. I’m sorry, Mr. Park, but he was never on campus.”
And it’s as if she’s given his mind permission to jump to the worst conclusions. Jimin thinks of violence, of coercion, of Taehyung forced to dial the school’s number and offer an innocuous excuse.
“Did he sound sick on the phone?” He knows he’s starting to sound desperate, but—panic is starting to eat away at his resolve. There are too many things he doesn’t know, this is too broad a scope to narrow down anything specific. This could have nothing to do with him, or everything to do with the traditional wooden mask Jimin keeps inside a false drawer at his safehouse.
The secretary raises a perfectly-threaded eyebrow. “He sounded a little rushed. Nothing too unusual for our Taehyung-ssi.”
Jimin knows Taehyung. Knows that he can be scattered at the best of times, that their apartment always tends towards messy stacks of things. Jimin knows that Taehyung will sometimes forget plans until five minutes after they began; that he’s spontaneous to a fault, and that it was part of what drew Jimin to him in the first place. But he also knows that Taehyung is as loyal as he is excitable, and cares so much about his students that it hurts him to lose a day of time with them.
“Okay,” he says, more quietly than he wants to. “Thank you for your time.”
Jimin makes it almost all the way across campus without stopping. It’s still early enough that most students haven’t yet arrived, teachers still unlocking their doors and downing reusable cups of coffee. A few of them recognize him, from the deeply rare social event. One tells him to ask Taehyung to get better soon, because she doesn’t know what to do without him.
The panic in his chest mounts as he walks. The heels of his boots click against the walkway, the jolting harsh and still slower than his heartbeat rapid in his ears.
He’s so preoccupied that he almost misses it. Thinking of the phone calls he has to make, and the contacts in the burner phone he keeps powered off in the apartment he keeps empty, and all the ways he knows how to make people tell him what he wants to hear. He almost misses the staff parking garage, until he passes the sign for it, and even then he only turns in on a hunch.
Jimin goes cold when he sees it. Tastes vomit in the back of his throat.
Taehyung’s car is a little old, a little beat-up. He got it secondhand, from a friend of a friend, when he landed the position at this school and heard it came with a parking spot. Jimin doesn’t bother with a car, takes the subway wherever he needs to go, but he’d recognize this one anywhere. The spots from tree sap on the windows, the dent from where he got rear-ended last spring.
Jimin doesn’t bother holding himself back. He runs to the car, fumbles with the spare key on the ring in his pocket. Tries three times, hands trembling and sparking where no one can see, until he fits it into the lock.
It feels wrong to slide behind the wheel. Everything is adjusted to Taehyung’s height, his horrible long legs and long torso and smug comfort behind the wheel. Jimin just barely passed his driver’s test; he doesn’t like to drive, and likes the thought of it even less when this space is so obviously not his.
The coffee mug Jimin sent him off with yesterday is half-full in the cupholder. There are papers scattered all over the passenger seat, the latest stack of construction paper projects pinned under a few pens. Taehyung’s bag is sitting on the floor in front of it, the leather soft and rich and so familiar.
Jimin’s chest hurts. He pulls the satchel onto his lap, inhales the smell of it, and tries not to gag.
The largest pocket is stuffed with Taehyung’s lesson plans, and half-completed progress reports, and a pad of paper scribbled all over with notes from faculty meetings. There are receipts and post-its and a postcard Jimin sent him once from a company retreat, and that alone is enough to make tears sting at Jimin’s eyes. He forces them down, and shuffles again through the papers, looking for—anything, really. There are lesson plans for today, and yesterday; nothing that might offer an explanation.
He finds Taehyung’s phone in a smaller pouch. It’s dead weight in his hand when he pulls it out, cold and dark even when he presses on the power button. Dead.
Jimin fumbles for the charger in his own bag, and tries not to think about his calls ringing out in the empty silence of the parking garage, over and over again until late into the night. He fails, miserably, and grits his teeth against that awful threat of heat in his cheeks, against his eyes.
It’s the only proof he needs, that this isn’t one of Taehyung’s whims. That even if there aren’t signs of force, Taehyung hadn’t left willingly, and there are only so many motivations someone might have to take him in the first place.
Taehyung is gone, and the only thing Jimin can think is that it must be his fault.
Jimin runs through every scenario he can, as he drives Taehyung’s car back to their building, and then jumps on the next subway to the neighborhood he knows just as well as his own.
It could be Seagull, using Taehyung as leverage. But Seagull seems busy, and Jimin doesn’t think that would be his style; if anyone Seagull has on his team had found out Jimin’s name, and his husband’s name, and his husband’s work address, he’s sure he’d be facing a lot more right now than just Taehyung’s disappearance.
Jimin has a fair handful of enemies, enough that he has to work to count them all off. There are people from Busan, powered and non-powered alike; there are the dozens of companies and powerful figures who Jimin knows have the money and resources to pull off a hostage situation well. But in the absence of any clues, he doesn’t want to waste time trying to track anyone down himself, not when it might waste valuable time.
If a ransom note comes, then Jimin will deal with it. But until then, he has Suga.
Jimin’s safehouse is in a seedier part of the city than their apartment, the buildings crammed tighter together and often less well maintained. It’s a busy place, busy enough to be anonymous now that he’s shed his expensive coat. Jimin takes the stairs up to the third floor, and taps in the code that he changes every week, and steps into the one-room studio after a brief glimpse around the hall, just to check.
The room is small. It came unfurnished and Jimin never bothered installing a bed; there’s a couch, for the rare occasion he needs rest or a wound tended, but the rest of the space is taken up by a large table, and papers scattered in boxes and mismatched filing cabinets, and a web of pictures and string spanning the entire free wall.
The one thing out of place is a snow globe, glittering in the morning light. Jimin picks it up as he wanders in, shakes it to watch the glitter swirl around the polar bear on the inside, the concept rustic and sweet even as looking at it forces Jimin to swallow a lump heavy in his throat.
He’d told Taehyung that he took it to work. Snapped a picture, even, the most risky thing he’s done, of the globe on top of a few unmarked folders.
It’s the only bit of Jimin’s unmasked life in the room, down to the fake name on the lease.
Jimin sits on the floor, in front of the cabinet he’s dedicated to one of the country’s leading pharmaceutical companies, and digs to the back of the bottom drawer to pull out his burner.
It gets replaced once a month, no numbers or texts or calls ever saved, but Jimin doesn’t need to go through a book to remember this number. Suga’s contact is seared into him from a long year of necessity, back when he had fewer connections and more time on his hands. They aren’t friends by any means, but Jimin counts himself lucky that he can rely on Suga for his services. There are plenty in Seoul who call him an enemy, and plenty more he's left in unmarked graves.
“I need your help,” Jimin says when Suga finally picks up. He always lets the phone ring out once, just to make sure, and though Jimin doesn’t blame him he’s buzzing with impatience, itching with it under his skin.
“Not even a hello?” Suga asks. Jimin can hardly hear him over what sounds like wind, but he knows the dry cadence of it, the way Suga never sounds surprised. “You know I’ll charge.”
“I know.” Jimin stares down at the hundreds of papers in this drawer alone, thinks of the separate accounts he’s made for himself, always with just a little more money in them than he thinks he’ll need. He steals for practical reasons, because Suga and Jin and the other handful of contractors floating around Seoul always charge, but also because he’s always favored a little luxury. He has the money to spare. “Anything you want.”
“Thirty minutes,” Suga says, and hangs up the phone.
Jimin breathes, and tries not to resent the delay, even as natural as it is.
He takes the time to tie up a few loose ends. Makes calls to Taehyung’s friends, the few he has the numbers of; checks in with his student teacher; ignores the texts from his accounting team. When the hour turns over, he unearths his mask and slips on the long, dark windbreaker he uses on days like today, and crawls out his apartment window.
In the alley below, no one even looks up as Jimin scales the side of the building.
He’s done this a hundred times before. Knows exactly where to fit his fingers, knows which bricks are loose, knows how to keep his balance against the gust of wind. Jimin emerges onto the rooftop with five minutes to spare before Suga’s deadline, and isn’t entirely surprised to find him already waiting.
“You’re early,” Suga says. His eyes are narrowed as he looks Jimin up and down; he doesn’t seem satisfied until Jimin unties the back of his mask and slips it off, hooks his fingers in the eyeholes to hold it at his side.
The collar of Suga’s coat is turned up, his hair flies dark in the wind. The scar along his eye has faded since Jimin saw him last. Suga doesn’t wear a mask, and so Jimin knows his face well; he knows also that this is a privilege. He knows that if anyone is allowed close enough to see him, they’re either trusted or dead already.
It’s part of the reason Jimin discards his mask so easily here. He’s sure Suga knew his name, his entire background, long before they ever laid eyes on each other.
If he wanted Jimin dead, if he wanted him outed, it would have happened years ago.
“It’s urgent,” Jimin replies, as blandly as he can force himself. Suga’s lips quirk, just slightly; he steps off the ledge he’d been teetering on, and approaches Jimin like a predator, his gait graceful yet jumbled, somehow. Almost lopsided, like he doesn’t care enough to keep himself upright.
“You’re looking for Taehyung.” He says it quietly, and it’s not a question.
Jimin flinches at it, Taehyung’s name leaving the lips of someone Jimin knows well for the body count under his belt. Someone who has at least three weapons on him now, hidden under the bulk of his coat. But Suga knows more about this city than even Jimin, and there’s something like a sympathetic crease to his eyes, and he fishes a folded piece of paper out of his pocket and hands it over with a hand wrapped in stained bandages.
He unfolds it, and sees a low-quality map of the city. A permanent marker circle in red along the south bend of the Han, a few scribbled instructions in the margin.
“What is this?” Jimin looks up, watches Suga shrug. One of his shoulders lifts higher than the other; there’s a bruise yellowing on his collarbone, where his shirt slips down. He flicks at a lighter by his side, shaking it out just to light it again.
“Seagull’s base,” he finally answers. “Start there.”
Jimin blinks. Looks down at the mark on the page, the map perfectly innocuous—and yet. There’s something incredulous about it, that Suga can hand him access to a hero Jimin’s spent years and years fighting all over the city, just like that.
“How did you—”
“Don’t ask,” Suga cuts him off. “Look. I could have gotten in myself, but you have to do this.”
“He has Taehyung?” Jimin feels thrown off, wrong-footed. He’d expected anything but Seagull, really, with his preachy speeches and large eyes and seeming devotion to the moral high ground. He could have killed Jimin a dozen times over, by now, but it’s sweet that he hasn’t. “I thought—what about V?”
It just doesn’t seem like him, but—heroes. Jimin’s never quite been able to wrap his mind around them.
“V’s there,” he says, but he doesn’t sound amused. Just dark, angry. “Get him out, and you’ll get your answer.”
It’s vague enough that Jimin wants to shout, to demand answers, but he knows it won’t work. Suga’s good graces are a delicate thing, and his face has worked itself up into disgust, and he flicks at the lighter more violently with every turn.
“Go on,” he finally spits, and shoves the lighter in his pocket. Fixes Jimin with a stare, heavy and certain. “We’ll talk payment later. You have more important things to be doing.”
And so Jimin scrambles back down the building with lighting burning under his hands and into the air around him, like it’s just waiting for a target.
Jimin takes the subway down to the Han. He likes public transit, likes that it makes him feel just as anonymous as his mask. He dresses plainly, comfortably, and all in black; everything he needs is in his backpack, a baseball cap tucked over his head and a face mask covering him up, as innocuous as any other passenger.
He tugs it away from his face when he reaches one of the parks dotting the river, the weekday brisk and sharp enough that he’s one of the only people around. It makes him think of V, of the dark cloth that covers his face under his hood, of the way he looked so small, sprawled on the ground.
Maybe Suga meant that V is the one who has Taehyung, that Jimin can’t get Taehyung back without him. Maybe Suga was wrong, and Jimin is wasting valuable time, and Taehyung is screaming somewhere for Jimin to help him and he’ll never know. Maybe Jimin is already too late.
He shakes the thoughts from his head, as he crouches in the slivered alley behind convenience stores, and tugs off his cap. Ties his mask tight around his face, the wood of it molded to his contours from years and years of wear. Jimin bought it on a road trip, just before college, from a jumbled antique store run by an ahjumma who patted his cheeks and marked the mask off sixty percent because he reminded her of her nephew.
The store closed a long time ago. Jimin doesn’t know if she remembers him, and the old wooden mask he brought to the checkout counter, but he doesn’t suppose it really matters anymore.
His backpack gets left in a crevice between two walls, shrouded enough in shadow that no one should find him. Jimin isn’t amateur enough to bring his phone, his wallet; he’s traded out everything except the baseball cap and mask, innocuous and anonymous. His overcoat is back on, the many pockets crammed with all sorts of useful items; there are knives strapped to both of his thighs, well-used to the conduit of electricity through their metal.
When he leaves, Jimin sticks to shadows and rooftops. Seoul is hard to travel through without being seen, but Jimin isn’t going far; he follows the map to a construction site, fenced off like that could stop him, and then tucks it into an interior pocket before vaulting the gate.
Unsurprisingly, there’s no construction that Jimin can see when he lands. There is a small building, one old two-story apartment building, but the walls are half-crumbed and Jimin counts a dozen birds’ nests on just one of the exposed ledges, and so he starts his search by looking down.
The first thing he does is fry the security cameras. He knows that there are more he probably can’t see; he lights up the building with a burst of electricity just to be safe, breathing in and out as he presses his hands to brick and feels somewhere inside his bones the sizzle and fry of technology. It doesn’t mean he hasn’t been seen, but it’s nice to know that whoever might be looking at the footage won’t be able to track him.
Jimin fits himself through the partially-open door, shattered glass crunching under his feet, and breathes in fine dust through the cloth covering his mouth under the mask.
The place is filthy. Sunlight filters through the cloudy air, catching on each particle that swirls with the gusting through shattered windows and gaps in the foundation. There are remnants of what might have been a lobby, once; a decrepit desk, couches rotted through with only scraps of wood and fabric left behind. Jimin amends his assessment from apartment to hotel, and smiles to no one but himself when he catches a curl of smoke rising in the corner of the room.
Carefully, Jimin explores. He’s wary of traps, knows that something could be sprung on him at any moment, but it doesn’t seem like Seagull’s style. There’s tagging everywhere; it would be wiser, Jimin knows, to let the public think the building abandoned, condemned, rather than build up urban legends and intrigue. He makes it behind the desk, through the hallway, before he finds anything interesting.
Elevator doors, and a sign pointing to a stairwell.
The surge Jimin sent through the building wasn’t enough to knock out an entire elevator, but—he hadn’t felt resistance that it might have put up either. And elevators are tricky, are a sure-fire way to let the doors slide open on a trap, and so part of Jimin itches to take the stairs, and see where they might lead him.
But despite the doe eyes and the purity of his heroic soul, Seagull is smart. Smart enough to understand his advantages, and press them, and leave Jimin with bruises less easily explained than the ones he can wave off under the guise of martial arts. Despite the sweetness he plays up for news anchors, Seagull knows how to hurt people, and how to manipulate them.
So Jimin pulls out the compact tool set from one of his pockets, and wedges what he can through the tightly-shut doors, and pries them open with effort that leaves him gasping.
And there, tucked inside and shrouded in darkness, he sees a staircase. It’s compact, tightly wound, spiralling down and down until Jimin gets dizzy just thinking about it. He presses a hand against the wall, to feel for any kind of lighting system, and finds nothing.
Jimin takes a breath. Thinks about Taehyung, trapped in darkness underground, hurt and alone and waiting for someone—for Jimin—to find him, and bring him home.
He takes his weight off of the doors, and lets them close behind him, the heavy sound of it echoing up and down the shaft.
For a sickening, terrible moment, Jimin can’t see. He’s so close to lighting his hands, to letting electricity arc through the air without a real target, no matter how liable it is to turn back on its master at the slightest provocation. It’s just dark, black and stifled, and it makes Jimin remember long nights of fear, of anger and hurt and struggling to keep from lashing out, from hurting himself.
But before he can light his hands, something begins to glow. It lights up slowly; something turquoise and glowing in the walls, chips of it following the spiral of the staircase down, casting everything in a strange light.
Jimin looks down at his hands, half-covered by gloves that cut off at the knuckle. He can see the shape of them, the blur of movement and darkness. It’s not much, but it’s better than the risk of electrocution. It’s natural, whatever it is, because Jimin can’t feel the spark of electricity. He wonders, vaguely, if that was intentional.
Slowly, Jimin starts to walk. He’s not sure how many levels there are, how far down he’ll have to walk, but he’d rather start slow than take too many leaps and blow through a trap, a defense mechanism. He keeps two fingertips trailing against the wall as he climbs down, and down, searching for anything electric he might get the chance to burn.
He doesn’t know what he’ll find when he reaches the bottom. He doesn’t know if Taehyung will be waiting for him, with Seagull standing guard to offer ransom. If V will be alive, if V will know where to look, if V will admit to throwing Taehyung into a wormhole himself, just for fun.
Get him out, Suga had told him, and Jimin trusts that. He descends into darkness, and clings on to the memory of sunlight, and Taehyung’s last goodbye kiss, like a lifeline.
At the bottom of the staircase, a hallway stretches out. The light is still the same pale aqua, but Jimin can feel these light fixtures through their wiring, all of them mounted on the wall between doors. It reflects off of metal, everything utilitarian and cramped, not quite the luxury of the underground bunker Jimin had in mind.
It looks old, too. Repurposed, from something, and teeming with electricity. Jimin steps up to the first door and lays his hand against it, concentrates—he’s not quite as good at this as he used to be, with how much of his extracurricular hours are spent burning from his fingertips rather than honing the craft of his powers.
This first room is mostly empty. Lighting, some cables dormant, some active. Nothing large, nothing in use or changing. The next door is similar; the one after that is almost empty, from what Jimin can tell. Maybe a personal room, if Seagull has the space to indulge in it.
It’s not a long hall. The last three doors are strange, the rooms connected. It’s buzzing with life, with technology, with power flowing through it in every direction.
Jimin breathes in the taste of it under his skin. Feels the crackling in his throat before he can tamp it down, the urge to electrocute the bunker and everyone in it persistent in the back of his mind, simmering in the same place he’s put his rage and fear and agony in favor of the cool composure of the mask.
It’s not hard to blow through the keypad. Jimin’s well used to the design of most of them by now, since destruction is much easier than hacking, or any other kind of manipulation.
The door slides open almost silently, and Jimin gets a good, long look at what must be Seagull’s lab.
It’s huge. The blue of the light makes him feel like he’s looking into an aquarium; the glow of lights and screens could be spots of bioluminescence, but for the way Jimin can feel them when he breathes. Everything is humming, everything is flickering, everything is distracting and impressive in different ways that make Jimin’s head spin. He almost loses his focus to the distraction, everything restless under his skin begging for release. He almost loses his focus, and then—
Something clicks. A weapon cocked.
Jimin turns, very slowly, to the side. There’s a man, standing at a huge and cluttered desk, with something in his hands too sleek to be a gun, too misshapen to be a taser. Jimin blinks, and feels his face fall into neutrality under the mask, despite how little it matters.
“Why are you here?” The man asks. Jimin thinks it’s a better question than how did you find us, but just barely.
The man is tall. He’s in an olive sweatshirt, a heavy coat discarded on the back of the elaborately comfortable desk chair. There are ink stains on his hands—or maybe oil stains, Jimin thinks, from the state of the tinkering in the lab. He doesn’t look upset, or surprised; there are lines creased along his forehead, bags sunk under his eyes.
Jimin doesn’t answer. He doesn’t have anything to disguise his voice, not like V’s magic or Seagull’s tech. The tech designed by this man, apparently. Jimin isn’t sure if he wants to kill him or steal him.
Tense silence. There’s something humming behind Jimin’s back, louder than all the rest; there’s some dark or violet light flickering over the turquoise. The stranger’s eyes flicker over to it, and back to Jimin. His finger twitches at the trigger of his strange weapon.
“Are you here for him?” A jerk of his chin, stubbornly jutted out. Electricity crackles between Jimin’s fingers as he takes it for permission to turn, slowly. He twists, mostly just his torso, until he catches a glimpse of it.
There’s a holding cell tucked away in another corner, as large as Jimin’s smallest college dorm. It’s where the strange light is coming from, the walls glass and screens around it flickering. It’s where that thing from the news footage is, that streetlamp severed jagged halfway up and its spike buried again into the metal of the floor like soft butter. And—crumpled on the floor, covered in vines that snake along his robe, around his limbs, V is lying on his side.
He’s curled into himself. He’s not moving. Even as Jimin stares, slack-jawed in horror, a vine creeps further along his spine.
V’s hood is down. There are tendrils in his hair. His back is to them, but Jimin can still see the strange swirling around his head. That’s the violet light, that black hole where his face should be; it hurts Jimin to look at for longer than a heartbeat, sucks him in and turns him away at the same time. Even if he’s dying, he’s still protecting himself the only way he can.
“I didn’t want to keep him,” the man says.
Jimin turns back, and sees the weapon lowered. He should strike now, should kill Seagull’s tech expert and take V and be done with it, but—the moment passes before he can make himself lift his hands. And the man is moving, sitting back down, bracing his head in his hands; the weapon lies discarded on the desk, among the rest of the clutter.
“It’s not what we do.” He sounds tired. Jimin glances back, watches the vines crawling along the bare inches of V’s exposed skin. The small of his back, the nape of his neck, the tan stretch of his temple. “It’s wrong, to let him be hurt like this.”
“You don’t care.”
The man’s head snaps up. The sound of his own voice surprises Jimin, the anger behind it low but growing stronger. It’s something about—the way this man was ready to shoot him, the way Jimin saw his finger on the trigger, the way V is lying crumpled on the floor, his robe strewn out in a torn mess around him.
“You don’t care,” Jimin says again, and steps closer. “Whether we get hurt or not. That’s what you do, isn’t it? You make weapons for him, and he hurts us, and that’s fine.”
The man blinks. He sets his jaw in a strange way, like he wants to be stubborn but still wants to think about the words.
“That’s different,” he says, and Jimin almost interrupts him to argue. He has so many scars from Seagull, so many hours of aching from bruises knocked into him by the blunt, invisible force Seagull can command with a wave of his hand. For all they know, he could limp home one day to die, bleeding internally or gasping breaths through a punctured lung. He’s had bruised ribs often enough that the threat lingers heavy in his mind every time he bandages himself, every time he brushes it off to Taehyung with an excuse about a kendo match gone wrong.
But he doesn’t interrupt, besides a heavy scoff, and the man keeps speaking. He isn’t even looking at Jimin; he’s still watching V, drumming his fingers in agitation against the rich-looking wood of the desk.
“It is,” he insists. “This is killing him. And it’s not right, but—he wouldn’t let me separate them.”
He almost slips, and says a name. Jimin hears it on the tip of his tongue, and thinks about pressing further. Right now, though, he doesn’t care that much. He cares about V, crumpled and dying; he cares about Taehyung. There’s nothing at all indicating that this stranger knows his name, or his husband, and so the danger now is a familiar one.
It doesn’t surprise Jimin, that Seagull wants V dead. With V’s body count, with the way he laughs as the city spirals into terror, Jimin would be surprised if he didn’t. But it’s one thing to wish it privately, and keep the lethal force to a minimum, and another thing entirely to watch this. The way V shudders as the vines wrap around him, and the way his skin is slowly losing its color.
“You’re here to rescue him?” The man asks again. And Jimin tears his eyes away from the unsettling security of the cage in the corner, and nods just slightly. Swallows down on the anger, by thinking of Taehyung. Of how he would feel if it were Taehyung lying there, dying.
And then the man tugs open a drawer—a console, really, full of dials and switches and lights Jimin can’t understand without reaching out to touch—and presses a button. A door appears in the cell, the shape of it melting out of the glass; it unlocks with a thunk that Jimin can feel in his bones. The man brushes off his pants, and grabs a water bottle from the mess, and steps close.
He pauses, when they’re shoulder to shoulder. Jimin has to look up to meet his eyes.
“I’m Namjoon,” he says, and holds out a card. Small and white and nicely weighted, with a phone number printed underneath the name. “If you want—call me, and we can get coffee?”
Jimin blinks at him, and watches his cheeks color.
“I don’t fight. No strings attached, just—I want to think about what you said.” He offers out the card again, and Jimin takes it. Tucks it into one of his empty pockets, unsure if he’ll ever take up the offer but willing to accept it, at least to get Namjoon to step away. And it works; Namjoon walks to the door, and braces one hand on the frame, and looks between the cell and Jimin, who’s so tight with tension it feels like he can’t breathe.
And then he’s gone. The door closes. Jimin is left under cold light with nothing but the hum of electricity and the curl of the creature wrapping tight around the man Suga sent him here to save.
The vine or creature or whatever it is shifts, when Jimin pushes on the hard glass of the door. It doesn’t have eyes, not that he can see, but he watches it adjust. The great mass of it settling, as it takes in his presence.
Up close, Jimin can see how little of his life V is clinging onto. His chest is still rising with breath, just barely, almost every inch of him playing host to the vein-like possessive grip of the tendrils. Jimin steps over the shreds of his coat, the rich violet silk lining the inside of it torn jagged, the stitch of the seams unraveling on the floor.
He reaches out, to roll V onto his back, and flinches away when a vine covers the spot he was reaching for. He walks around in a circle, inspecting the vine as close as he dares. This close, he can see the skin of it—almost reptilian, yet somehow smoother. More flexible. Like both a vine and a muscle at the same time. The sickly green isn’t appealing in this light, or really in any light; there are small slits, by where the blade of it is sunk into the floor, where something soft and purple is pulsing, like gills exposing flesh.
It looks bigger than it had in the videos. Jimin doesn’t know if it’s perspective, or if it’s the energy the thing has been draining from V. There’s something deeply unsettling about it, deeply uncomfortable; Jimin doesn’t want to look at it for too long, just like he can’t look at the mess of space and nothingness swirling like a thunderstorm over V’s face.
But even that is fading now too. Jimin can see the fall of his hair, the top of it tied back into a small tail. The curve of his ear. Something familiar about it, even as his eyes sting and he has to look away, blinking the spots away from his vision as he readjusts.
First, he tries a small shock. Nothing more than static from a carpet, zapped out with one finger to touch at the largest tendril wrapping around V’s torso.
It hits the skin, and bounces back. Jimin absorbs it easily, sends it back into the small magnesium cube he keeps in his pocket to die. But he tries again, and again, carefully watching the thing as he sends more and more electricity into it and catches it again in his palms, until he has lightning cracking white and yellow and blue in his hands that he has to force down, compressed into a tingling in his fingers, waiting to be released.
The skin seems impenetrable. Jimin can’t cut it with a knife, can’t burn it with the lighter in his pocket. He won’t touch it, won’t go that far, but he can guess that if he tried and wasn’t taken over like V, the skin would feel smooth, and firm, and maybe cold.
V keeps getting weaker. Jimin is trying not to look at him, not to use the last of his magic as an indicator of just how much life he has left in him. It’s hard, when Jimin hasn’t ever faced anything like this. All of his victims have been pathetically human, pathetically weak in their last moments. Normally, when they see him—when Jimin has disarmed them, and is standing above where he’s forced them to kneel—they start begging for mercy.
It’s amusing, sometimes. Enraging, more often. But this creature isn’t asking for mercy, and doesn’t seem to think of him as a threat. The longer Jimin tries, and fails, the more arrogant it seems. He might be projecting, might be letting his worry get the better of him, but—it’s hard to keep himself neutral. When Taehyung is on the line, it’s hard to stay calm enough to see straight.
Finally, Jimin sits back on his heels. Watches the wavering warp of V’s magic, the violet traces of it, and remembers: those slits, by the blade. The pulsing violet flesh underneath, something like a heartbeat fluttering through them.
The risk is that V is covered in tendrils by now, and any stray shocks might gravitate to him. The risk is there, and Jimin considers it, but—he has no other ideas, no other options. He can’t communicate with this thing, or ask it what it wants, so he has to use the bare minimum of his understanding of it to get V free before—
V’s defense wavers again, and it makes Jimin’s mind up for him.
Slowly, carefully, he crouches over to the base of the vine. Watches the strange fluttering of the flaps of skin, the armor in between them thin and slivered. For a moment, it’s almost like they breathe in tandem. Jimin watching, and feeling the pulse of his heart in his chest.
And then the thing seems to catch on. A few curls of it shift, move as quickly as they seem to be able to as they reach for him, to shield itself. But by then, it’s already too late.
The lightning, curled into a storm in between Jimin’s palms, finds its target. The flesh under the armor, exposed and helpless, lights up with the burn of it.
And it screams. High and inhuman and piercing like a dog whistle, this undoubtedly alive thing screams as Jimin shocks it, the electricity trapped under its own armor. The tendrils around V retreat, all of its branch-like limbs retreating into its core; the metal of the streetlamp arcs with everything Jimin doesn’t manage to aim.
When V is free, lying small and curled and helpless with nothing else latched onto him, Jimin eases the onslaught. Lets the electricity go, and watches the lights in the lab flicker back to normal, where he might have been drawing on them without even noticing. A wisp of smoke escapes the slits; a dying thing.
Jimin doesn’t give himself time to linger. He flings himself over to V, hands checking quickly and frantically for a pulse.
V likes to present himself as a god, to enjoy the cast of his image as inhuman, but his skin is soft and cold and as human as anything Jimin has ever felt. He strains to look past the pain of it, and sees the fall of dark hair, just slightly too long. The splay of hands, broad palms and fine-boned fingers, and a ring on the third finger of his left hand.
For a moment, Jimin is on the cusp of something. Can feel the confusion welling up with something underneath it, a realization about to burst like a bubble. For a moment, he can taste it on the tip of his tongue, as sharp and metallic as lightning.
And then V gasps in his arms, and heaves, and the black hole flickers. The black hole vanishes.
Jimin stares down at his husband, and feels the realization curdle rotten in his mouth.
He can’t breathe. Taehyung’s face is slack, his eyes shut and lashes falling delicate across his cheeks, and Jimin can’t breathe. Taehyung isn’t moving and Jimin can’t breathe, can’t think or feel or understand anything beyond the bare horror of it, the sick knowledge of what he’s been sent here to find.
Jimin doesn’t feel the lighting around him until it’s too late. Until it wreathes the two of them like a crown, cracking through shattering glass and reaching out to destroy anything it touches. Jimin can feel it, the violence and the anger underneath his skin just as powerful as his heartbeat. His mouth full of copper, his hands shaking where they’re pressed against Taehyung’s neck. He can’t feel a pulse.
Suddenly, desperately, Jimin claws at the ties of his mask. It’s suffocating him, it’s pushing down on him like the weight of a mountain; it clatters to the floor with the loudest sound Jimin has ever heard.
The whole cell sparks around them. Jimin presses his thumbs against Taehyung’s cheek, the storm in his chest kept safe, as far from his skin as Jimin can keep it.
And like it was just waiting for the touch, waiting for permission, lightning explodes out in a flash so white Jimin’s eyes burn from it, and then—everything in the room burns. The computers and screen and gadgets go up in bursts of miniature explosions, the sparks caught up in the whirlwind of it and turned to his bidding. The room burns, rage burst out of his chest that’s been mounting for a day, now. Everything burns, but for the shield Jimin wills around them.
Jimin doesn’t register the scream—the wail, almost, like the human version of that creature dying—until he closes his mouth and feels the burn in his throat.
Jimin doesn’t tear his eyes from Taehyung’s face, until the doors open. Until someone is shouting, hyung stay back, and Jimin looks up, and he sees Seagull in the doorway, lit by the dozens of scattered fires, Namjoon’s face hovering over his shoulders.
But of course it’s not just that. Of course, with Jimin’s husband dying in his arms, he hasn’t had enough reason for shock today.
The man standing in the doorway is Jeongguk. He’s in loose sweatpants and a baggy shirt, and his hair is hanging in front of his face, and Jimin has seen him at work every day now for two years. Jimin passes by him in the break room, and calls him in to deliver paperwork the lawyers ask him for, and smiles at him because—Jeongguk is a good kid, a nice coworker.
A little flaky, Jimin has always heard. Never answers his phone on time.
“You,” Jeongguk says.
And Jimin isn’t out of power, not yet. Because Taehyung is cold in his arms, and he remembers Namjoon’s words, he wouldn’t let me separate them. Remembers the way Seagull had stared at the creature in those videos, before he took Taehyung away.
Seagull dodges the first bolt. The second he deflects, a burst of force that makes Jimin growl in anger, low in his throat. His eyes are wide; his feet are bare. He steps on red-hot scraps of metal and doesn’t even flinch at it, and gets closer, and closer, until he looks down for the briefest of moments and sees Taehyung, lying pale and small.
Jimin has brought him to company events a few times. There’s a yearly party, coming up in just a few weeks now, that Taehyung always uses as an excuse to buy a new suit, and another reason to make Jimin buy him a nice silk tie or two. Jeongguk knows who he is, who they are.
For a moment, Jimin thinks that will stop him. Masks off, identities revealed, a ceasefire that might let Jimin walk out safe with Taehyung in his arms.
He watches Jeongguk falter. Watches his face pull in sympathy, or sadness, or anger. And then he watches the resolve settle in, moments before Jeongguk punches out.
The force of it sends the debris on the floor flying at them. Jimin covers his face on instinct, hunches over Taehyung to protect him as he weathers the blow, feels the impact heavy and bruising against his forearms. There’s something unmistakably cruel about it, how the both of them are vulnerable, how Taehyung is hurt and dying and Jimin still can’t breathe—and still he has to force the energy to fight.
The door closest to them is open. Jimin can see a shadow through it, long and lean, and thinks—if he can just get out, Namjoon might help him. If he can throw Seagull off just long enough, they might make it out.
So Jimin pulls every scrap of electricity he can. From the walls themselves, and the sparking piles of technology around them. He holds it at a distance, behind Seagull’s back. He’s so focused on the two of them that he isn’t paying attention; there’s nothing left of the Jeongguk Jimin knows in his expression.
It’s not the only reason Jimin strikes, but it does strip him of any last dregs of kindness.
The strike hits Seagull in the back. Sends him flying across the room, just on the other side of the cell than the doors, in a smoking pile of metal and wiring, and Jimin doesn’t wait long enough to see how much it hurt him. He just gathers Taehyung in his arms, hooks one finger in the eye of his mask, and staggers to his feet.
He’s not moving quickly, but he doesn’t hear Seagull stand as he makes it to the doorway. There’s a low groan as Jimin fits them through, and the sound sparks more anger, more rage, but—it’s not what Jimin needs, right now.
Namjoon is waiting in the hallway. His face is more pinched than Jimin remembers, anger pulling at his mouth. He studies Jimin carefully, though, and must see something on his face that Jimin can’t register broadcasting, because he presses his hand to a spot against the wall capping off the hallway, and a door slides open.
“An elevator,” he says, with no flourish. Practically shoves Jimin in, and watches him stagger under Taehyung’s weight. “Go.”
Jimin thinks of the card sitting heavy in his pocket. Makes a resolution to call, to offer a bland apology for destroying so much of Namjoon’s work, and to talk out the anger on his face.
Jimin nods, and the door slides shut. The ground beneath them shifts, up and up and up, the terror fades into the low thrum of adrenaline, and Jimin finally lets himself think.
Taehyung is V. Taehyung has been V for as long as Jimin has been Calico.
“Wake up,” Jimin whispers, like he’d whispered into his phone last night. “Come on, Taehyung-ah. Wake up.”
Getting Taehyung home is agony. Jimin calls a taxi on a public phone, after shoving Taehyung’s cloak and his own mask into his recovered bag; he plays off Taehyung’s state as a sleep condition, and pays entirely in cash.
The whole way back, Taehyung doesn’t stir. Jimin keeps a thumb pressed to his wrist, feeling for the slow pulse of his heartbeat. It’s so weak, it’s barely there, Jimin is so afraid that it’s going to stop in between shallow breaths. The fear is cold in his throat, hot in his eyes. He wants to scream again, just to let loose the panic churning in his stomach.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go to a hospital?” The driver asks, as he pulls to a stop a block away from their real address, as close as Jimin is willing to risk.
“Ah, no thank you,” Jimin says, on a polite smile. “He’s fine, really. We’ve gone through this before.”
The lie stings. It tastes sour when it leaves his tongue, but the driver simply nods, and accepts the payment, and merges back into the street when Jimin successfully manhandles Taehyung out of the car, cradles his lanky body close to his chest. His arms ache at the renewed strain, people on the sidewalk stare strangely, but Jimin pays them no mind. He looks only at the path ahead of him, and Taehyung’s trembling form, and forces himself to walk.
And as soon as Taehyung is safe, sprawled haphazard on their bed, Jimin dives for his cell phone.
He knows this number by heart too. Has never called it from this phone, from this apartment, but—he’s too scared to leave for his burner, is too terrified that the second he takes his eyes off of Taehyung, the shallow rise of his chest will fail. His hands shake enough that he almost misdials twice, before he hits call.
“Miracle Jin, how may I help you?” Cheers the voice over the line, and Jimin feels vomit creeping up his throat.
“This is Calico,” he breathes, and hears a quiet curse. “Please—as quickly as you can. I’ll pay anything.”
And he rattles off the address, even as he hears the commotion of quiet voices and rustling supplies in the background, and ends the call before Jin gets the chance to respond. Puts his phone face-down on the bed, and kneels there with his hand tight around Taehyung’s, his thumb skimming the smooth skin on the back of it. He traces the bones of it, fine and delicate and full of power he never once caught a glimpse of, in seven years of knowing him.
They met in a bar. Jimin cleaned himself up for college, learned how to hide pills in the hollows behind his teeth when orderlies demanded to check under his tongue until they released him to one last foster family; presented himself into the picture of reform until the moment he turned nineteen, and moved out of that home and the system, and channeled every inch of the rage in him into late-night excursions, hidden under the facade of a mild-mannered, straight-laced mathematics student.
So of course, he met Taehyung in a bar. The one time he let himself get dragged out by the other students he tutored with, twenty-one and smiling wry as he nursed his single drink, still too wary of his own powers to let himself get out of control.
And then someone sidled up to him, someone in a half-unbuttoned silk shirt and hazy eyeliner and dark gloss smudged over his lips, artfully intentional. Took in Jimin with a long look up and down, and flirted his way into his lap, and murmured you look like you need someone to mess you up.
The next morning, Taehyung caught Jimin by the wrist before he could sneak out, and lured him back into bed with the promise of breakfast, after. It was the only class Jimin ever skipped in college; it was the start of something he didn’t ever think he would last.
Seven years later, Taehyung only wears eyeliner when they don’t have anywhere to be for a good twelve hours. He leaves his dishes in the sink, and speaks more to kindergarteners than he does adults most days, and never forgets to kiss Jimin on his way out the door. Seven years later, Taehyung is V, who kills for fun and laughs in Seagull’s face, and Jimin isn’t sure if he should be angry. If he’ll even be capable of it, once all the fear has melted away.
Taehyung’s eyes shift beneath their lids. His lips are chapped, like Jimin knows he hates.
He doesn’t get the chance to reach for the chapstick, before there’s frantic pounding against his door.
Jimin doesn’t bother with the mask. Jin is another one of the city’s ghosts, a healer powerful enough to set and fix broken bones in an hour or less; Jimin calls him only when he thinks he might die—most recently, when Seagull knocked his head hard enough that he could barely stagger back to his safehouse without passing out. So he flings open the door, ready to usher Jin in, and—
“Out of my way,” Jin snaps, and shoulders past Jimin, and Jimin barely has time to gape at him before—Suga nudges his way into the apartment, and kicks the door shut, and raises a delicate eyebrow in Jimin’s direction.
“You found him?” He asks, though it doesn’t sound like much of a question.
Jimin doesn’t know what to say. Suga looks like he’s trying to be smug, but there are bags under his eyes, and concerned lines drawn tight around his mouth. His arms are tucked in close to his body; he’s in a hoodie, instead of his signature coat.
Instead of responding, Jimin just nods, and gives in to the frantic desire to flee back into the bedroom. Suga follows him, footsteps quiet but distinct, and hangs back in the doorway as Jimin takes his place back at Taehyung’s side.
“I didn’t know you two were married,” Jin comments, voice light like his hands aren’t pressed to Taehyung’s temples. “I guess I always figured V was a loner.”
“Right,” Jimin says. It comes out flat, and hoarse, all his pretending spent on the taxi driver. “I guess I didn’t know either.”
And Jin seems too distracted to reply to it. His hands move down from Taehyung’s temples to his throat, the top of his shoulders, where Jimin can see something strange against his skin. It looks almost like ink, just a few shades darker than he is, the irregular markings like tree roots crawling along his veins.
“Strange,” Jin murmurs, and slips his hand under Taehyung’s shirt to press against his heart.
For a long moment, they breathe. Jin’s eyes slip shut, though Jimin knows the way they flash dark when he uses his power. The tension is agonizing, as Jimin watches Jin’s breaths slow down to match Taehyung’s, watches his pulse flutter heavy against his throat. It’s horrible, to know that there’s nothing he can do. That he might not have done enough.
And then Jin’s face clears, the depth of concentration gone like a cloud passing over the sun. He sinks down onto his heels, and shakes out his hands, and breathes in deep and satisfied before he opens his eyes.
“He’s alive,” Jin says, like Jimin couldn’t have guessed it on his own. “He’ll pull through.”
“What’s wrong with him?” Jimin sounds angrier than he means, but Jin glances down on the ring he’s been twisting on his own finger and takes pity on him, with his shoulders sagging and his face softening. He reaches out, and brushes crooked fingers over Jimin’s arm. His forearms still ache from the impact of Seagull’s blow; it fades, when Jin draws his hand away, like he’s pulling the pain out with it.
“It’s his energy, or—whatever makes him what he is. I can barely feel it, but it’s still there.” He’s frowning, again, looking past Jimin up toward Suga, who hasn’t yet moved. “Come on, let’s get some tea.”
Jimin doesn’t want to ask how Suga knows their kitchen. He pulls out mugs like he’s done it dozens of times, pushes Jimin down by the shoulders when he tries to stand to help, slides a cup of ramen over to Jimin seconds before he manages to acknowledge how hungry he is, his stomach starting to eat at its own lining.
“So,” Suga finally says, when he’s settled at the table with a mug neither Jimin nor Taehyung ever actually use cradled in his hands. “I’m sure you have questions.”
Fuck you, Jimin wants to say. For barging into his home and walking around like he knows it, for sending Jimin on that chase without ever telling him what it meant. What would be at stake if he failed. But Suga’s face is as placid as a lake; there are depths to him Jimin will never know.
“Who are you,” Jimin finally starts. “And how do you know Taehyung.”
“Oh,” Suga says, not surprised in the slightest. Sticks his hand out to shake, plastering a sardonic smile over his face. “That one’s easy. Min Yoongi, nice to finally meet you.”
And—that one is easy. Jimin recognizes the name even as it falls off his tongue; the childhood friend Taehyung has always mentioned, sporadically in Seoul and flighty enough to miss their wedding, even with the invitation Taehyung claimed to have hand-delivered. It clicks, as Jimin looks at him. He rearranges the picture from Suga, who Jimin only knows through the worst part of Seoul’s underbelly, to Yoongi, who Taehyung speaks of like a particularly grumpy toy poodle.
It helps that Jimin can’t see any weapons on him, his whole body shrunk into the black hoodie.
“Okay,” he replies, as easy as he can manage. “And you know Jin...?”
He lets the question trail off. Suga knows everyone, and Jin knows everyone, and Jimin isn’t surprised that they know each other as well. He’s surprised that they showed up together, and that Yoongi has his foot hooked around Jin’s ankle under the table. They share a look, one Jimin’s sure they think is impossible to read yet manages to somehow be totally transparent. The challenge, and smugness, and tightness of it is something Jimin knows how to look for.
“Seokjin-hyung and I are.” A pause. Jin raises his eyebrow. “Acquainted.”
A snort. Seokjin sips delicately at his tea, and smiles tightly at Jimin.
“Yoongichi means to say that we’re having a passionate affair,” he clarifies. Wiggles his hand to show off a platinum ring. “My wife likes that joke almost as much as I do.”
Jimin’s eyes flick back to the bedroom door. He doesn’t like that Taehyung has been so long out of his sight, but he knows the fear is irrational; for all that he doesn’t know these men, beyond the shadow of himself as Calico, he trusts Seokjin not to lie to him.
“And you both knew. That Taehyung is—” He can’t finish the sentence. It gets caught in his throat, the lodge of it sticky and nauseating.
“Of course I knew,” Yoongi says. He leans forward in his seat, his hands still wrapped around the steaming mug. “I know everything. I knew about you the day after he told me your name, but he asked me not to tell you, and I thought you both should have the right to your secrets.”
He stresses it, you both like Jimin needs any more reminding that he has so little ground to stand on when it comes to anger. He doesn’t know if he even wants to be angry, and knows also that it would be unfair to start now, after years of his own lies. He just doesn’t know what to do with himself, the nervous energy sitting in his spine and his stomach even as he shoves Taehyung’s favorite cheap ramen into his mouth, just to keep it occupied.
“I work with everyone.” Seokjin shrugs, like it doesn’t matter. “Hero, villain, everyone trusts me with who they are. But you know I don’t pry, as long as I’m getting paid.”
And at that, Jimin remembers the card heavy in his pocket. He pulls it out, and sets it down onto the table, and slides it over to watch Seokjin’s eyebrows raise at it.
“Wow,” he comments, as he slides his finger across the edge of the textured cardstock. “You got Kim Namjoon’s phone number.”
“You know him,” Jimin confirms, and gets only a distracted nod as Seokjin taps the number into his phone. “He’s the one who let me get Taehyung out. I just want to know what you think.”
Yoongi hums low in his throat, and takes a long drink of his tea. He’s looking at Jimin, instead of at the card; glances between him and the bedroom door, like he knows that Jimin keeps thinking about bolting, and going back to holding Taehyung’s hand until he blinks his eyes open.
“It sounds like Joonie,” Yoongi finally says. He breaks his gaze to stare at the table, the soft grain of the wood. “He doesn’t fight, you know. He and Seagull connected because they share a lot of values, but I know he’s not good with the violence of it all. There are things he and Seagull butt heads over, and this might have been one of them.”
Jimin remembers Namjoon’s finger shaking on the trigger of his weapon. The way he looked at Taehyung, crumpled on the floor.
“And Seagull,” Jimin says. “Jeongguk. He was letting Taehyung die.”
Yoongi’s lips tighten.
“He’s an interesting kid,” he says, not quite an answer to not quite a question. “We’ll be having some words. But—you don’t want to ask me about Taehyung? Really.”
Jimin breathes in. Feels the cold of it in his lungs, like he knows the burn of his own lightning. He shrugs, as casually as he can manage, and drains the last of his ramen. Savors the salt of it, the taste like another homecoming for its familiarity.
“We’re married.” He keeps it slow, measured. “If I want to know, I’ll ask him myself.”
He’s not sure, but Jimin can’t help but think that it’s approval that lights Yoongi’s eyes; a smile that lingers at the corner of his mouth.
Seokjin and Yoongi leave with the promise of another visit in the morning, to make sure Taehyung’s healing is on track. Seokjin comments on the state of their fridge, and rolls his eyes when Jimin flatly tells him that he won’t be grocery shopping before they return.
The first thing he does, when the door closes behind them, is make his way back to the bed. He settles onto it, this time, with Taehyung’s head rolling on the pillow toward him as he gets comfortable, the half-empty cup of tea placed on the nightstand beside him, his hand burying itself on instinct in Taehyung’s hair. It’s as soft as always, the tiny ponytail slipped out somewhere in transit. Jimin looks at the planes of his face, the slack of his mouth, and tries to come to terms with it.
Jimin can’t quite name the thing in his chest. It’s thrashing, a beast just barely contained; it’s heavy and sour and complicated, and he only has the energy now to pluck at a few strands of it.
The frustration comes first, at Yoongi, or maybe Taehyung, or maybe Jimin himself, twisting back through his trip to the Han or the endless streams of news footage. And then the anger, at not knowing. At Taehyung lying to him, and Taehyung risking his life so recklessly, and Taehyung vanishing with Jimin not even knowing he’d called out sick to work. And layered on top of that, wound so tightly around it Jimin doesn’t even know where to begin separating them, is fear. Fear that if Jimin had been who Taehyung thought he was, an accountant with a passion for kendo and a past that failed to radicalize him, Taehyung would be dead. Right now, he would be dead, unless Suga somehow managed to get him out himself.
And that’s the worst part. Jimin knows his anger is unfounded, knows that he has no ground to stand on to be worked up over lies, but he can’t stand the thought of Taehyung in danger, with no backup. He keeps seeing the way he fell when the vine touched him, over and over the collapse of his body like a doll cut off from its strings.
The last dregs of Jimin’s electricity crackles around his hand, barely as strong as static from a carpet. It responds to his emotions, if they’re strong; Taehyung’s hair has puffed up ridiculously, half of it still smushed into the pillow.
Jimin breathes in, and does his best to settle the energy. The static fades, all of him too exhausted to keep it up for long, and Taehyung’s hair falls limply back over his face. There are more productive things he should be doing, as the sun makes its way down the dip of the Seoul skyline; he’ll have time to talk it out with Taehyung, because Taehyung is going to wake up.
So Jimin keeps his nails scratching along his husband’s scalp, and makes a few calls.
The first are to their bosses. Jimin lets both of them know politely that Taehyung had been injured in the super fight, that he’ll be home with him for the next week. Jimin gets polite sympathy from the school’s receptionist, and a request to fit in a few hours of work at home from his own boss, and keeps the smile on his face as well as he can manage as he speaks.
He’s not sure he wants to go back into work. He’s not sure he’ll be able to look Jeongguk in the eye ever again, now that he knows what lives under the facade of the sweet but scatterbrained paralegal.
More deep breathing. Jimin learned the patience of meditation to keep himself sane when every professional he spoke to tried to convince him he wasn’t. When they dosed him on drugs he didn’t want and strapped down his wrists at night because they found his blankets burned to ash when they let him sleep unrestrained.
He grits his teeth, and pulls out that nicely-weighted card, and makes his last call of the evening.
“Kim Namjoon,” is the brusque greeting. Jimin can hear the tinker of metal, the background zapping of what might be someone actually welding. Namjoon doesn’t sound particularly stressed about it.
“Hi,” he says, for lack of any other greeting on his tongue. “This is Jimin. We met earlier today.”
A clang, loud and abrupt. The welding sounds fade away, behind the click of a closing door. Jimin tries to muster remorse for destroying the lab, and fails utterly.
“Hi,” Namjoon says. It’s all excruciating; Jimin doesn’t want to speak first, and Namjoon sounds stilted enough that Jimin can picture his posture, shifting and too-stiff. “I didn’t expect you to call.”
“I wasn’t going to,” Jimin replies. He thinks he owes Namjoon that, at least. The honesty of knowing that if Suga hadn’t vouched for him, as implicitly as it might have been, Jimin would have put his card through a paper shredder without a second thought.
“Right.” A short, humorless laugh. “I guess this means that V...?”
Jimin looks down. His fingers are moving without conscious thought, now; he’s tracing along the curve of Taehyung’s neck, behind his ear. It’s somewhere that might make Taehyung laugh, if he were awake, but in this coma-like sleep he only scrunches his nose slightly, the skin between his brows wrinkling. It’s more responsive than he’d been an hour ago, when Seokjin came in for one last look at him, and that eases something else in that tangled knot in Jimin’s chest.
“Healing,” Jimin finally says. “I got him out in time.”
From what he can guess, Taehyung was trapped with that thing for just over a day. He’s not sure if ten minutes more might have killed him, or if he could have held out longer. Jimin doesn’t want to guess, and doesn’t ever want to test the question again.
“Good. Good, I was—worried.”
“And your boss?” Jimin tips his head back against the wall, feels the hard press of it into his skull. He’s exhausted, suddenly, with a night of terrible sleep and a day wracked with adrenaline finally catching up to him. He wants to hang up and pace the room, or pour a drink, or change into something that doesn’t smell like burning.
“He’s upset,” Namjoon admits, and there’s something in his voice that Jimin doesn’t know him well enough yet to decipher. “I’m—it’s good you burned that thing as deeply as you did. There’s almost nothing left to salvage from it, even though he wants me to.”
That forces Jimin to picture it. A weapon, made from whatever it was that drained Taehyung’s energy so thoroughly, at Seagull’s disposal. All the ways he’d justify it, to use on the two of them to the public’s applause. It’s as sickening as it always is, when Seagull rescues someone on Jimin’s list or puts out a fire Jimin started to free the people trapped in a system worse than whatever lived inside their minds.
There’s not much difference between them, Jimin thinks, except that Jimin at least has a drive to accomplish something that isn’t a reaction. And Jimin is the one crucified, where when Seagull knocks down a building, the rationalizations for it hit the papers before the death count.
“Oh,” Jimin says, because he’s so tired. “That’s good.”
A pause, where Jimin gets the sense that neither of them know what to say. Finally, when he can’t take it anymore—
“Do you want to get coffee?” Jimin finally asks. “Next week, maybe.”
He wants to talk to someone about it. Wants to rage, maybe, or debate. It might still be too early to talk to Taehyung.
“Sure, Jimin-ssi,” Namjoon says. Maybe on a smile, Jimin can’t quite tell. “I’ll text you, okay?”
It’s that easy. Jimin throws his phone down just a few minutes later, and slouches lower into the pillows, curling as close as he can around Taehyung’s torso. His hand slips under Taehyung’s neck, just to feel the heat of him; his eyes are heavy with the weight of relief.
Taehyung’s face is placid, almost serene. His shirt is high-necked, long-sleeved. His ring rests familiar on his finger, the one tanned with the outline of it after so many years of wear.
The sun is still bright on the horizon, just barely dipping below the jut of skyscrapers. They’re both on top of the blankets. Jimin itches in his own clothes, covered thinly in sweat and ash and dirt.
He tangles his fingers with Taehyung’s, and falls asleep anyway.
The next day is hard.
Jimin wakes up before dawn, his stomach snarling with hunger and his mouth tacky with thirst. Taehyung has shifted in his sleep, on his side now with Jimin’s knee trapped in between his thighs, his head tucked into Jimin’s shoulder. It’s almost like any other morning; for a moment, Jimin tries to believe that when he shifts, Taehyung will open his eyes, and smile, and everything can go back to normal.
Of course, it’s not that easy. Jimin untangles himself slowly, and winces when Taehyung’s hand flops lifeless against the mattress. He checks, uselessly, for a temperature, his hand pressed gentle against Taehyung’s forehead.
There’s nothing. Just the warmth of him, Taehyung sleeping normally in almost every sense, except that he won’t wake up. Jimin forces himself to step away. To pull back the curtains enough that he can see the lights of the buildings around them, the sun on the other side of the horizon not yet bright enough to reach its fingers across the sky.
For a moment, as he pushes open the window, Jimin savors it. The frigid nip of the early winter cold, the way the wind finds its way under his dirty clothes and soothes the sweat that gathered in his sleep.
Just for that moment, Jimin enjoys it. And then he slides the window back shut, and sheds his clothes on his way to the bathroom to leave a trail of them in his wake, and steps into the shower without waiting for the water to heat up. This cold is less welcome, but it shocks him awake; he lets it heat until the spray is hot enough to scald, his skin burning red as he scrubs himself until he aches.
That morning, Jimin moves with a disconnected sort of brutalism. He brushes his teeth viciously, throws on his most comfortable clothing, shoves a load into the washing machine that’s just everything he and Taehyung had worn yesterday, Taehyung stripped carefully down, and wiped off with a cloth, and bundled up in sweatpants and warm socks and a shirt Jimin remembers from an airport store in Tokyo.
Taehyung had spilled coffee all over his shirt, and whined about it until Jimin vanished into the nearest overpriced tourist shop and ducked back out with the tacky, cheap thing draped over his arm. Jimin remembers kissing his forehead, when Taehyung hooked his fingers in Jimin’s belt to pout up at him.
Jimin shakes the memory out of his head, and forces himself through the motions of cooking, and settles down with his breakfast and his laptop beside the bed, just next to where Taehyung’s hand dangles over the edge.
The day is mostly quiet. There isn’t much Jimin has to do, other than make a few calls and finish up a few things for work. It’s Thursday, anyway, and Jimin fends off questions from the accountants by claiming a long weekend, met with a few fond groans and allusions he doesn’t bother dismissing.
Seokjin lets himself in just after noon. Jimin doesn’t bother asking how he got the code to their door, and instead meets him in the kitchen after a long moment spent gathering himself.
“What if I had been a burglar?” Seokjin scolds, as he chatters away about nothing in particular.
Jimin raises his eyebrows, and one hand, and wiggles his fingers to the crack of electricity. Seokjin regards him for a moment, and continues unloading grocery bags full of meat and eggs and fruits Jimin doesn’t think are even in season.
“Good point,” Seokjin says, and then goes back to telling Jimin about the nightmare the street market was that morning, all the tourists clogging up the walkways and holding up the lines. Jimin hums along where he thinks he’s supposed to, and puts away everything that needs to go in the admittedly understocked fridge, and tries to forcibly quell the tremor in his hands before Seokjin can notice.
“Where’s Yoongi?” He asks, without really caring about the answer. Seokjin wrinkles his nose, and reaches for their kettle.
“With Kim Namjoon,” he says, finally, after flipping the switch to set it to boil. “They’re old university friends, or something. He never even told me.”
“Shocking,” Jimin says, and gets an unamused glare for it.
“No more small talk,” Seokjin finally says, when he’s cradling a cup of Jimin’s favorite oolong between both hands. “Come on, Jimin-ah, show me to my patient.”
Jimin doesn’t remember letting him speak so informally, but it’s not worth putting up a fight about. He can feel the exhaustion weighing heavy in his bones, no worse than last night but different, more settled. Like it won’t be lifting for a while, after such a horrible day.
One day. Taehyung was only gone for one day, and yet Jimin doesn’t know if he’s ever felt worse. His body still remembers the thrill of panic when he saw Taehyung’s car, when he found his phone in his bag, when he thought that someone was using him or hurting him to get to Jimin. The truth is different, and horrible in different ways, but Jimin still feels just as helpless with Taehyung lying unresponsive in their bed.
Seokjin is quiet, when he steps into the bedroom. He takes a draught of too-hot tea and then sets the cup down on the nightstand, pushing his hair back from his forehead as he kneels on the mattress.
Jimin lets him work. He stands in the doorway like Yoongi had, watching Seokjin move gentle hands over Taehyung’s chest, his jaw, his temples. He always expects something more from Seokjin’s healing—a glow, or shimmer, or something, but instead it’s just his hands, moving careful, pressing tender against places that might be sore underneath.
The marks on Taehyung’s neck haven’t faded. If anything, they’ve gotten darker, enough now that each line is distinct, that Jimin doesn’t have to strain to see the intricacy of the pattern. Roots or vines or branches, inked into Taehyung’s skin by the same thing that had almost killed him.
It’s beautiful, in one sense, and horrible in another. Jimin thinks—it can be up to Taehyung, to decide if he wants to hate it.
“So?” He asks, when Seokjin climbs off the bed. It’s been long enough that his tea has gone cold; he makes a face, after he takes another long drink.
“The same,” he finally says. Shrugs his shoulders, as if he senses Jimin’s bubbling frustration. “Seriously. I can’t find much wrong with him, and I healed what I could find yesterday. It seems like he’s just… resting.”
“So you don’t know when he’ll wake up,” Jimin says, perfectly flat. Seokjin shrugs again, more muted this time, and sighs.
“I’m sorry,” he offers. “I know it doesn’t seem good. But really, Jimin-ah, I think he’ll be fine.”
It sounds impossible. Jimin wants to believe it so badly, after what feels like so long of everything he knew about his life collapsing around him.
He spends the afternoon cleaning, doing all the little things around the apartment that neither of them ever really want to make the time for, and then the evening curled next to Taehyung in bed, scrolling alternatively through streaming sites and listings for local animal rescues.
They’ve been thinking about adopting a cat. Jimin doesn’t know why they’ve been putting it off for so long, really, and thinks—it would be nice, right now, to have another living thing in the apartment with him. It would be nice to have something to comfort or distract himself with. But maybe they were both worried about having something else to love, that could be used against them.
Jimin won’t deny that he’s had nightmares about it. About an old enemy or a new one stumbling across them, and taking Taehyung, and killing him before Jimin could do anything to stop them.
The reality was worse. He’s not sure he’ll ever dream about anything but that plant thing again, about the vortex disappearing from Taehyung’s face, to reveal him and show Jimin the one thing he’d never considered, in all those nightmares that shadowed their marriage bed.
“Come on,” he whispers, when he closes his laptop for the day. Strokes Taehyung’s hair back from his face, adds another layer of chapstick to his lips. “I know you can do it, Taehyung-ah.”
Taehyung doesn’t reply. His face doesn’t twitch, aside from the shift of his hair from Jimin’s breath. Jimin sighs, and leans down to kiss his forehead, and swings his legs over the side of the bed. He can’t stay here any longer, can’t watch Taehyung breathe any more than he already has, and so Jimin sheds his sweatpants and glasses, and slings his gym bag over his shoulder.
Just for good measure, he jogs to the studio. By the time he reaches the building, familiar enough with the owners that he knows the code to the door during off hours, he’s sticky with a cold sweat and relishing the burn of his muscles.
“Jimin-ah!” Jungwoo calls, when Jimin slips into the studio through the locker room. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
It’s late enough that classes for the day are over, but not late enough that Jimin is intruding. The kendo class he usually takes is the last of the day, late enough that he can step in after work, and late enough to give him some deniability when Taehyung asks where he’s been. He almost flinches at the thought, wonders—what parts of Taehyung’s life might be a lie, a routine faked to keep Jimin from asking questions.
“Sorry for not calling,” Jimin says, and makes sure his voice is light as he drops his bag. “I just needed to work out some tension.”
Jungwoo’s face softens in sympathy. He’s married himself, with a few children in primary school, and Jimin leaves enough unsaid that Jungwoo will pick up on whatever implications he wants to.
“I understand,” he says, sage even with sweat plastering his shirt to his skin. “Feel like sparring?”
Kendo isn’t the only class Jimin has taken here. It’s his most recent, and most consistent because of the time slot, but Jimin has been dabbling in martial arts since he was a teenager. He knows the rules and the forms and the etiquette, and knows how to translate those forms into something more dangerous when pressed. Jimin knows how to fight, not just spar, but—he doesn’t want to fight, right now.
“Please,” he says, and forces a smile. “Let me finish warming up, first.”
The exercise is good. Jimin stretches, and slicks his sweat-damp hair back, and spars with Jungwoo until his whole body aches from it, the tension and the impacts of taekwondo familiar and exhausting. They practice until Jungwoo calls a stop, and then Jimin lies on the floor and drains his whole water bottle and laughs in all the right places when Jungwoo tells him stories about his kids.
“Hey, what about you guys?” Jungwoo asks, as Jimin starts packing up to leave. It’s late enough that the lights in the studio are about to go out, Jimin knows from experience, and he doesn’t want to leave Taehyung for much longer than he already has. “Any kids in your future?”
Jimin thinks about the stress of looking through a shelter’s listings, and the smile this time is wry but unforced.
“I don’t think so,” he says, and leaves it at that. There’s so much he and Taehyung have to talk about, that bringing up some vague question of adoption that they’ve never tried to pursue seems almost laughable.
He takes the train back home, and douses himself in another scalding shower. He picks at the food Seokjin left, and holds Taehyung up to tip water carefully into his mouth, and does his best to stop thinking. His head feels cluttered and empty all at the same time; his chest hurts, if he thinks about it for too long. Jimin hates the inaction of it, the stagnancy, the helplessness of only being able to cradle Taehyung to his chest and whisper nothingness into his ear.
That night, Jimin hardly sleeps. He tries, goes through his whole routine feeling like he’s missing a limb without Taehyung next to him, and stays restless until the sun comes up. His head hurts; his eyes feel sore and heavy.
He lies in bed, with Taehyung’s warmth pressed against his back, and stares at the lights in each window on the skyline.
And then, an hour or so after dawn, Taehyung starts to thrash.
Jimin jerks up so quickly that his whole body aches at the force of it. He tries to reach for his phone and his husband at the same time, and gets a long look at the panic on Taehyung’s face, the expression so clear even with his eyes closed that Jimin feels sick.
“It’s okay,” he murmurs, over and over as the violence of Taehyung’s first movements settle into discontented writhing. His neck strains, flexing the new ink-dark pattern of his brand; his hands clench and unclench in the sheets. He doesn’t seem to be reacting to anything Jimin is saying, or anything Jimin can see, but he keeps up a steady chant of reassurance as he dials with shaking hands.
“Hyung,” Jimin says over the phone, without waiting for Seokjin to answer. “He’s moving.”
Seokjin hangs up before Jimin can say anything else. It’s a heavy-sounding click in his ear, weighing heavy on his heart as he shifts his weight to keep Taehyung’s thighs down, to stop him from kicking.
Wake up, Jimin thinks, and doesn’t dare to wish it out loud. Taehyung doesn’t, no matter what Jimin says into almost-empty air, and instead makes soft gasping sounds in his throat that terrify Jimin until he lets himself press his head to Taehyung’s chest, to hear the reassuring thump of his heart.
Seokjin arrives sooner than Jimin anticipated, or maybe he’s just lost track of time. The door bursts open and he’s there, and Yoongi is easing Jimin away with careful touches, and settling them both down to sit on the floor as Seokjin works. Jimin doesn’t realize how hard he’s clutching Yoongi’s hands until he looks down and sees his own knuckles white with the force of it, trembling with the power of his grip.
He’s surprised that he’s not spitting sparks yet; he thinks it, and almost immediately sees the waver of electricity start crackling against the surface of his skin.
Yoongi doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t seem bothered by it, when by all of Jimin’s years of experience he should be screaming in pain, a lightning-pattern scar webbing out from his hands. When Jimin opens his mouth, almost ready to ask, he just shakes his head and juts his chin at the bed. Unwilling to answer, maybe, and using the redirection he knows will work.
So Jimin turns his attention away. Back to Seokjin, who sits with careful hands pressed to the root pattern of Taehyung’s brand and a frown furrowing at his forehead.
Well? Jimin wants to ask. It’s on the top of his tongue, just waiting to spill out, but fear keeps him silent.
“Come on,” Seokjin whispers, his whole face screwed up with it.
And then Taehyung arches, and wails, and Jimin doesn’t realize that he’s lunged forward until he jerks back, Yoongi’s arms around his chest holding him in place as Taehyung thrashes and curls in on himself, the cry petering out to a choked kind of whimper.
“Let me go,” Jimin says, low and urgent, but Yoongi keeps holding him back.
Slowly, Seokjin shifts. He settles by Taehyung’s side, where he’s heaving with breaths that punch out of him in those noises Jimin wants to reach out and soothe away. Seokjin’s hand reaches for Taehyung’s shoulder, and even from this angle, just out of Taehyung’s line of sight, Jimin can see his eyes slit open.
Taehyung’s eyes—for a moment they’re violet, otherworldly and terrifying. But as quickly as Jimin can blink it’s gone, his irises back to the almost-black Jimin knows so well. Half-lidded and droopy, and yet still fixed on Seokjin with an intensity that’s breathtaking, as Seokjin pulls his hand away. Jimin can’t breathe. His chest feels tight, his head is heavy and throbbing.
Taehyung is awake.
“Hyung,” he rasps, and reaches out slowly to clutch at Seokjin’s shirt. “What—”
“Take it easy,” Seokjin says, kinder and softer than Jimin’s ever heard him. He reaches for the water Jimin had left on the nightstand, and lifts it to Taehyung’s lips, and Taehyung drinks like he’s dying. He was, Jimin reminds himself, the pressure of it as certain as Yoongi’s slowly-loosening grip on his chest.
“What do you remember?” Seokjin asks. Still that gentle kindness. Jimin can see the confusion on Taehyung’s face; the wariness that’s starting to settle in as he regains his bearings, if not his strength.
“Falling,” Taehyung says. Frowns. “My—father, I think. But mostly falling.”
Jimin can count on one hand the number of times he’s heard Taehyung mention his father. Once, staggering drunk in university, slurring thick into Jimin’s shoulder something mostly incomprehensible; once addressing their wedding invitations, with a scoff and a look Jimin picked apart as maybe wistfulness, or regret, or anger. He knows better than to press; he knows Taehyung would tell him if it were important.
Or at least, he thought he knew. There have always been rumors flying about V, inhuman and half-god that Jimin always dismissed as fantasy.
“Okay,” Seokjin murmurs, and smooths Taehyung’s hair back from his face, and—Jimin can’t help himself anymore.
He inches forward, Yoongi no longer holding him back, and keeps his breath caught in his throat as Taehyung’s eyes flick down to him. Once, and then away, like he doesn’t register it. And then again, and they widen in panic, and as Jimin gets closer he can see the hand in Seokjin’s shirt tightening, dragging him in just barely.
“What—” Taehyung rasps. Eyes still wide, still scared. He shrinks back, his whole body still slow and stiff, and Jimin pauses where he is.
“It’s okay.” Seokjin sounds more calm than Jimin thinks he could make himself, right now. He can feel his own heartbeat, his pulse angry against the delicate skin of his wrist. “Calm down, hey, you’re okay. Jimin called me.”
Jimin is close enough to touch. Taehyung doesn’t relax, the suspicion on his face doesn’t ease, but Jimin scoots forward anyway. His shoulder presses against Seokjin’s, his hand reaches out gentle.
“Hey,” Jimin says, and surprises himself at the roughness of it. At the sudden stinging at his eyes, the sticky thing crawling up his throat to lodge just behind his mouth. His voice breaks, even, and Taehyung blinks. Surprised, maybe, and still wary. “Taeng-ah. I was—baby, I was really worried.”
It feels so small to say, when Jimin remembers so clearly the panic of thinking he was dead. Of thinking he was dead, and discovering him missing instead, and then almost being too late. He doesn’t know how to say it, and he’s nowhere close to angry except for the frigid thing in his chest when he thinks of Jeongguk, and so he brushes the back of two fingers against Taehyung’s cheeks, and shoves down on tears again when Taehyung relaxes into the touch.
“Sorry,” Taehyung whispers. His eyes are closing again, his body losing its tension. Jimin almost reaches out to catch him on instinct, but this time when Taehyung falls he only hits the mattress, his head lolling as he sinks back into unconsciousness.
Seokjin sits back on his heels, and wipes his hands against his pants with self-satisfied smugness that Jimin doesn’t think is entirely warranted.
“Now what?” He asks, through the thing still stuck in his throat.
“Now,” Seokjin says, very importantly, “We make him soup.”
By that, Seokjin mostly means that Jimin sits around the apartment while the two of them cook. Yoongi seems mostly in charge, giving quiet instructions and supervising with a generally displeased air about him, and Seokjin peppers the air with inane chatter that Jimin does his best to ignore.
It’s too early for soup, really, so Jimin cracks himself an egg and fries it over rice for breakfast, and refuses to be bullied out of his own kitchen when Seokjin tries to do it for him. He needs something to do with his hands, and so when he’s done eating he goes back to the bedroom, half to check on Taehyung and half to pull out his well-used chunk of magnesium.
The shape is uneven and artful enough that Taehyung has never questioned it; Yoongi raises an eyebrow when Jimin brings it out into the kitchen and settles at the table.
Slowly, Jimin warms himself up. Starts with static, really, just small zaps to work out some of his nervous energy. He can feel the eyes on him, but he focuses instead on building up his strength, on building up until he can hold a shock strong enough to crack through the air, white-hot and untouchable, for the slow count of twenty.
“Relaxing?” Yoongi guesses, as he comes up behind him. Jimin shrugs, and wraps his hand around the magnesium.
“If I did that to you, what would happen?” It’s sweet enough that it’s almost a threat; Yoongi comes around to sit in front of him, and looks supremely unimpressed.
“Probably nothing,” he says, and sighs. Some of the tension leaks out of him with it, his elbows braced on the table as he looks over at Jimin. “I guess you could say that I’m—immune. To a lot of things.”
“It’s what makes him so fun to stab,” Seokjin calls from the counter behind them, and from the long-suffering expression on Yoongi’s face, Jimin doesn’t want to know what kind of lewd look or gesture Seokjin must have paired the comment with.
There are a lot of people in this city who don’t fight. Suga and Jin are known for discretion, and Jimin thinks Namjoon might be similar; there are a few dozen people like them scattered across Seoul, most of whom have decided to make their lives easier by not donning a mask to fight in the streets. Jimin does it because Seagull won’t get off his back; if he were left alone, he wouldn’t care about terrorizing the city.
He can’t help but think back to V’s response. Taehyung’s response.
It’s fun, Taehyung has said, over and over again. The thought sends something like a thrill through him, the hair at the back of Jimin’s neck raising to remember the warped laughter, the carelessness of his hands as he flicked a wrist and brought down a building.
This isn’t anger, or anything like it. Jimin shoves a too-large spoonful of fried rice into his mouth, and ignores Yoongi’s pointed look, and stares instead out the window in the living room, at the glinting sun reflecting off the windows of high-rises around them. The day is bright, and crisp, and Jimin takes a moment to step over and open a window just to feel the wind against his cheek, to air out some of the claustrophobic tightness in his chest.
He’s nervous. Jimin tries to shrug it off, as Seokjin nags him into relaxing on the couch, as Yoongi hovers ominously around the apartment like he owns it. It makes the time go faster, the way he can’t quite make his shoulders sit flat, the way he can’t go more than five minutes without glancing at the bedroom door, waiting for—something.
And in fact, he doesn’t wait long.
Early in the afternoon, as the soup bubbles away on the stove, the door creaks open. Jimin sits upright as soon as he hears it, only stopping himself from leaping up because Yoongi is already there, a gentle arm wrapped around Taehyung’s waist as he eases out into the apartment.
For a moment, Jimin is breathless all over again with the familiarity of it. Taehyung’s bedhead, the last lingering waves of a perm making him look fluffy and soft, his cheeks and eyes puffy with the remnants of sleep, the way he shuffles, careful with his body that’s been knocked out for days. Jimin holds his breath, and listens to Yoongi whisper reassurances as Taehyung sways, and makes careful room when Yoongi steers him gently toward the couch.
“Taehyung-ah,” Jimin says, as he settles. Taehyung blinks at him, lips pouted out and eyes blinking slowly into awareness; he reaches for the cup Yoongi hands him, and cradles the water close to his chest.
This time, Jimin doesn’t hesitate to reach out and touch. Just Taehyung’s knee, the two of them facing each other cross-legged on the couch they’ve had for so long that it’s been worn into the shape of their bodies pressed together. Taehyung doesn’t flinch, but he does look, slowly, as if to catalogue the movement.
“What happened?” He asks, almost a croak, and winces. Lifts the glass with shaky arms to chug half of it in one go, wipes his mouth with the back of one broad palm. Jimin watches, unable to stop himself from paying as much attention as he can to every twitch, every tremor. “Why are they here?”
What’s going on, he doesn’t ask, but Jimin can hear the plea of it in every word. Yoongi kneels down, next to them on the floor, and reaches out to press his hand against Taehyung’s other knee. Taehyung looks between the two of them, confused or hurt or frightened, and Jimin breathes in deep, and steels himself for everything to change.
“I called them,” Jimin says, as gentle as he can manage. “You were really hurt, so I called Jin. You’ve been asleep for more than a day.”
He doesn’t know how much detail to go into. He doesn’t know if Taehyung remembers the creature, or Seagull’s lab, or the first time he woke up.
“But how,” Taehyung asks, slow and small. In his too-large clothing he’s every inch the husband Jimin knows, rumpled and sweet and slow to wake. “How did you know—?”
Jimin wants desperately to kiss the confusion off his face, wants to curl Taehyung into himself and whisper explanations and stroke his hair through it. But this isn’t the time, and so Jimin sucks in a cold breath tinged with the wind curling in from outside, and holds it tight in his chest.
“Taehyung-ah,” Jimin says again. So gentle. Taehyung blinks, and reaches out one hand to curl around Jimin’s. The grip is loose, and so Jimin takes the chance to turn his own hand palm-up between them. “I have something to tell you.”
And then Jimin closes his eyes, because he needs to let himself be a coward for this. He doesn’t want to see whatever might cross Taehyung’s face, as he breathes in and out and forces electricity to his fingers, barely-there cracks of lightning that he reabsorbs as quickly as they leave his skin. He knows the control of his own powers so well by now, and knows the shape of Taehyung’s hand underneath his and the apartment around them and this life that he built with someone he loves, someone he’s been lying to.
But Taehyung has been lying to him, this whole time. Taehyung is something Jimin doesn’t have words for, and he doesn’t shove Jimin away as the sparks die and his hand curls back into himself, his fingers tucked back against his palm, his electricity shoved back down along the curve of his spine.
And then—silence. Jimin breathes, the pound of his heart so loud in his ears it’s overwhelming in the dark. He allows himself one, two, three seconds, before he peels his eyes open to face whatever reaction he might get.
Taehyung is looking at him. More awake and alert than Jimin has seen him yet, eyes narrowed and head tilted. There’s a blankness on his face that Jimin has never seen directed at himself, and that more than anything is as terrifying as anger. The mask that Taehyung has perfected, put on when he’s trying first and foremost to protect himself.
“Seagull took you, when you collapsed.” Jimin keeps his voice at that same low volume. Like speaking too loudly will shatter that mask, and reveal the sentence that lies underneath. “I got you out.”
He can still feel that burst of energy, ripped out of him at the sight of Taehyung’s face. He remembers the feel of it against his skin, the horror that built up like a wave and crashed over him until he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, could only react and destroy and fear whatever might come next.
Finally, Taehyung breathes. Heavy in, trembling, his shoulders rising with the tension of it. And then the mask cracks, and something like sadness spills out from behind it, and he twists his hand to lock their fingers together again.
Something inside Jimin cracks. Something in that knot in his chest loosens, and he can feel himself sag with relief, because—it’s not a rejection. It’s not anger. It’s just Taehyung, looking small and sad and sleep-rumpled, and Jimin again has to stop himself from leaning forward, from bundling him into an embrace and never letting him go again. He settles for squeezing Taehyung’s hand, and stroking his thumb gentle over the back of it, feeling the familiar landscape of bone and tendon.
“I was dying,” Taehyung says, and his voice is so small. He looks up, meets Jimin’s eyes, and there’s a resolve in them that Jimin understands.
“I know.” Careful; just enough that it doesn’t reveal how awful it had been.
“It hurt.” Taehyung is pacing his own breaths, clutching onto Jimin like their hands gripped tight together are the only things keeping him from drowning. “It hurt so much—”
His face crumples, then, and he falls forward, and Jimin catches him like he’s been wanting to for so long, catches him and holds him and buries Taehyung’s face in his neck, one hand tangled in his hair to pull him close. And Taehyung heaves in a breath, and wraps his arms around Jimin so tight Jimin almost can’t breathe, and it’s so relieving that Jimin has to hold in a gasping laugh at it. Has to blink tears out of his eyes, so that they don’t overflow.
“I’m here,” Jimin says, over and over until it starts feeling real. “I’ve got you, it’s okay, it’s okay. Taehyung.”
Yoongi has vanished, and so Jimin uses the space given to pull Taehyung even closer, arranging him in his lap like they’ve done so many times. Scratches his nails lightly down Taehyung’s spine, just comforting the way he likes, rubs circles into his back until his breaths start to even out.
“You’re not angry?” Taehyung finally asks, when all they’re doing is breathing. In and out, back in tandem, slow and heavy and reassuring.
Jimin closes his eyes, and tries to will himself to feel anything other than relieved. Grateful, that he made it in time, that Taehyung has come back to him. He’s not angry that Taehyung lied to him, because they’ve been lying in equal measure for years. There are things he wants to talk about, questions he needs to ask and answers he needs to share, but he doesn’t resent Taehyung for any of it.
“Only if you’re not angry with me,” Jimin promises, and Taehyung laughs wetly into his neck, and holds him tighter.
Later, after they disentangle themselves, Seokjin does one last checkup. Prods Taehyung’s chest and head and brand, makes Jimin hold up a phone camera to show Taehyung his new marks. Says show me some magic, Tae-yah, and Jimin gets to see it for the first time up close, a tiny little vortex of violet and black and glittering nothingness that Taehyung holds above his hand for just a few seconds before it snaps shut.
Later, Taehyung slams back three bowls of Yoongi’s soup, and drinks maybe a gallon of water, and drags Jimin back into bed with a pout before the sun has even begun to set.
So Jimin lies with him, foreheads pressed together and Taehyung’s eyes glittering in the sunlight, still exhausted but alert, aware, as he starts to slip back down into sleep. Their hands are clasped tight between them, wedding rings warm and worn, their breaths mixing together.
Jimin can’t help but stare. This is Taehyung, who’s held Jimin as he screamed his way through nightmare memories of the hospital; this is Taehyung, who proposed recklessly on the roof of their first shabby apartment building with rings he’d spent hours working odd jobs to save up for. This is Taehyung who he loves, and V who he barely knows, and a man he gets to start relearning, carefully, kindly.
“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says, just moments before he drops back into sleep. “Promise me we’ll make him pay.”
And then he’s gone, eyes fluttered shut and breaths evening as he sleeps, and Jimin is left with a name sour on his tongue, a face he knows well burned into the backs of his eyes.
He doesn’t promise, but Jimin kisses Taehyung’s forehead, and lets his lips linger.
Three days later, after a weekend spent helping Taehyung build up his strength, Jimin goes back into work. He has an expertly forged doctors’ note from Seokjin to prove Taehyung’s illness, and the sympathy of his coworkers is sweet and fleeting. Jimin smiles through it, and accepts sympathies with a nod, and paces quietly through a morning full of phone calls, and emails, and catching up on tasks his team could have easily done right while he was away.
This isn’t a fake part of his life. He’d tried to explain it to Taehyung, the way it feels separate from who he’s made himself in the shadows, but not less.
Taehyung had shut him up with a pointed eye roll, over the breakfast Jimin slid over to him just after two in the afternoon, and a laugh.
You think I don’t care about my kids? He’d asked. Not a challenge, or a snap, but fond. Thought-provoking, to pull Jimin out of his own head and his own life, like Taehyung has always been good with. They can both be so selfish, so caught up in themselves, and it relaxed something to know that they could still unwind each other from it.
So maybe Jimin’s job isn’t as fulfilling in some ways as Taehyung’s, but he thinks it’s important. Every small piece in the machine is important; in this job, Jimin’s role is just smaller than the one he’s crafted outside of work.
He’s glad to be back, really. Taehyung is still at home, likely lounging on the couch or the bed or the floor somewhere; Jimin has given him the task of narrowing down shelter cats, and making a shortlist of places to visit when they both have the time and energy for it. He’d seen Taehyung looking at dogs, last night, but he hasn’t said anything yet.
Just before lunch, when Jimin is settling down into his desk chair, he takes a moment to breathe. To meditate, really, for just under ten minutes. It’s partly to clear his mind, but partly to make sure he has himself under control. He needs control, because—
“Soobin,” Jimin calls, and gestures to their intern with one hand through the half-window wall of his office. “Can you send in Jeon Jeongguk for me?”
Soobin flushes bright red and spins on the spot, and Jimin holds back a laugh at the face he’d made at being caught off guard. And then he settles back into his seat, and checks the time, and begins preparing to leave for lunch.
Jeongguk approaches the office slowly. Jimin sees him through the glass and pretends that he doesn’t, bending down to flick needlessly through a few files in one of his drawers; Jimin hears his footsteps, quiet on the dark office carpeting. He almost laughs, again, and holds it back, again.
Finally, after a long minute of Jimin thinking he’ll run, Jeongguk knocks on the door.
“You wanted to see me, bujangnim?” He says. Perfectly professional, but for the waver in his voice that Jimin is listening for.
“Come in, Jeongguk-ssi.” Jimin gestures, keeps his eyes wide and his face pleasant. He watches Jeongguk’s eyes dart toward the windows, the office quietly bustling in the normal Monday routine. He has nothing to be afraid of, not here, but—Jimin can’t deny he likes to watch him squirm.
He remembers Jeongguk’s wide eyes, the way they settled from shock into resolve. The cruelty of it, in that moment.
Jeongguk looks down at Jimin’s wedding ring. Hesitates on it, for long enough that he knows Jimin has noticed, when he finally pries his gaze away.
Carefully, Jimin stands. He checks his cufflinks, steps over to the coat rack. Shoulder to shoulder with Jeongguk, as he shrugs into his suit jacket and overcoat, careful to keep himself loose-limbed and relaxed. He sees Jeongguk tense, sees the careful control of his breathing.
And then Jimin returns to his desk. Picks up the only folder on it, all his accumulated clutter of the day cleared off, and offers it out with a smile.
“Here’s the file you requested, for the meeting with Lee byeonhosa-nim.” A smile, a friendly tilt of his head. Jimin feels more like a shark than a person, every inch of him straining with electricity that ripples so close to the surface of his skin that he can almost smell it. Jeongguk reaches out, and takes the other end of the folder, and tucks it close to his chest, just under his arm.
“Thank you,” he says, and offers a tight bow.
This time, Jimin sees him almost relax when Jimin walks to the door. Until Jimin closes it, one hand firm on the handle, and turns.
“No,” he snaps, when Jeongguk opens his mouth. Maybe to scream, maybe to speak, but there’s something wild in them that Jimin had never seen before the lab, something panicked and angry and strong. “No, don’t say anything. This does not come between us here, do you understand?”
“But we—” Jeongguk starts, and stops when Jimin steps in closer. His mouth hangs open, silent, for a single moment before he snaps it shut.
“You can kill me when I have a mask on. Or I can kill you, or maybe I’ll let my husband do it,” Jimin murmurs, close enough to Jeongguk’s ear that he knows he can feel the warmth of Jimin’s breath against his skin. “But here, we’re coworkers. We look each other in the eye, and play pretend, and move on.”
And then again. Slowly.
“Do you understand?”
Jimin closes his eyes, just for a heartbeat. Lets himself breathe again, when Jeongguk sighs like the fight is leaching out of him.
“Fine,” Jeongguk says, bitter and short. “I understand.”
And Jimin smiles, all teeth. Sees Jeongguk react to it, still that instinctive jerk, before he schools himself back into office etiquette. Agreeing to Jimin’s terms, for his sake or Jimin’s or maybe both, since they both have so much to lose.
“Great,” Jimin says, through his grin. “I guess I’m off for lunch, then.”
He sweeps out of his office, and rolls the tension out of his shoulders, and lets it feel like a victory.
Some things stay the same. Jimin still bundles Taehyung out the door for work in the morning, coffee pressed into his hands and a kiss lingering on his lips. Jimin still goes to kendo, some nights, and lets Taehyung work out the soreness in his limbs afterward. Jimin still holds him at night, and slips into his showers, and bickers miserably with him over what to watch on lazy evenings.
Fundamentally, almost nothing changes. They’ve been together for a long time, and know how to live together, and know how to talk. Jimin doesn’t want to fight with Taehyung, and Taehyung doesn’t want to fight with him, and so—they don’t. They adapt, slowly, to the small things.
The first time Jimin said I’m going out, and Taehyung asked where, he almost lied. It was on the tip of his tongue, and he knew it, and Taehyung knew it. Taehyung, still just barely back to work, easily fatigued and still not as powerful as he’d been before he fell, peered over at him from the top of the couch and narrowed his eyes. Beckoned Jimin closer, and closer, until Jimin was straddling his lap, hands pressed gentle against Taehyung’s shoulders to hold his balance.
Taehyung examined him, eyes still sharp and fingers bruising Jimin’s thighs.
Don’t lie, Taehyung finally said. Shoved Jimin off him gently, and swatted at his ass when he turned. But tell me about it when you come home.
And Jimin did. In the shower, washing electricity and the smell of viscera away, Taehyung’s face pressed into his neck, their hands gliding smooth over soap-slick skin.
So that changes. Sometimes, Jimin warns Taehyung when he’s going out. Sometimes he tells him only after he’s returned, and Taehyung always pouts when he hears he’s missing out on the fun. He whined, during the slow weeks of his recovery, and wheedled anything he wanted out of Jimin in the meantime, and Jimin couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by him every time.
Now, though, things have settled. Things have changed.
“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung pants, where Jimin has him pressed against the wall of the entryway. He’s in that outfit, all black with a high collar and a cloth Jimin had the pleasure of yanking down from his face, cloak discarded somewhere Jimin doesn’t care enough to ask about. His eyes are dark; he’s letting Jimin hold him, because he wants to.
Jimin hadn’t known he’d be walking into a fight. He was climbing down from the penthouse of a high-rise when he felt the tremors, and saw the violet swirls of magic from just a few blocks away, and heard the screams echoing down the streets.
The fight was fun, was challenging and exhilarating and took everything Jimin had to give just to keep himself alive, but—now Taehyung is asking for more, and Jimin is finding that he can give it to him.
“Warn me next time,” he growls, with his teeth pressed against Taehyung’s neck. His hips rutting forward, grinding into where he has Taehyung pinned, his mask discarded so careless on the floor behind them. “You—menace.”
“Your menace,” Taehyung corrects, breathless. And then he starts struggling, twisting until Jimin has to drop him and step away.
He kicks out once, sharp, and it’s sloppy enough that Jimin grabs his leg. Has him pinned in moments, Taehyung whining on the floor when Jimin presses a knee into his dick and grinds it in, his fists banging against Jimin’s back until he remembers he has nails to drag underneath cloth, and—
Taehyung snaps his fingers, and violet eats away at their shirts. Jimin blinks, thrown off, hopes absently that Taehyung can get those back. But the moment passes, and he rips Taehyung’s arms away to pin his wrists against the floor, above his head, snarling at the open glee painted on Taehyung’s face as he struggles helplessly, uselessly. Exactly where he wants to be, whether or not he’s letting Jimin think he’s the one in charge.
“No magic,” Jimin says, as pleasant as he can.
And then he trails one hand down Taehyung’s collar, pinches a sensitive nipple between two fingers, and—
Taehyung howls, when Jimin shocks him. Jerks his hips up against the painful pressure of Jimin’s knee, writhes as he rides it out, his abs and arms flexing as he tries to escape, his muscles jerking involuntarily as Jimin keeps up the voltage. It’s a delight to watch, makes Jimin wish Taehyung had vanished their pants too just so he could watch the blot of precome he can feel seeping into his leg as Taehyung chokes out garbled nonsense-sounds, his eyes rolling back in pain and pleasure both.
“Jimin,” Taehyung wails, when Jimin lets up. Trembles, when Jimin ghosts a hand down his chest, pats lovingly at his stomach. “Okay, okay, no magic.”
“Good boy,” Jimin says, and grins to see Taehyung’s eyes darken further at it.
“No fair,” Taehyung says back, almost a whimper. Wraps his arms around Jimin’s neck, when Jimin lets him up, in a silent plea to be carried.
So Jimin obliges. Taehyung isn’t light, but Jimin has years of practice in this; in carting him to their bedroom, groaning when Taehyung bites hard into his neck, and tossing him down like a doll. His limbs splay out, after he’s done wiggling out of his pants, and Jimin takes the time to appreciate them, the pretty picture Taehyung makes with his cheeks flushed and his thighs parted.
“Come on,” Taehyung urges, with a dark kind of smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Take it, Jimin-ah.”
Now, Jimin knows what that smile means. He knows the man who wears it, wicked and unashamed, knows how powerful he is even as Jimin crawls over him, forces his legs farther apart, fists a hand in his hair to jerk his head back.
“Again,” Taehyung says, when Jimin busies himself with fisting his cock, every inch of him so sensitive that it’s always a pleasure to watch him jerk through it.
“Hm?” Jimin teases, light and careless. Drags his thumb against the head of it, pinches mean with two fingers.
Taehyung hits a fist against the bed, and clenches all over like he’s bracing himself for something. And Jimin knows what he wants, knows exactly what Taehyung is bracing himself for, but it’s always delightful to tease him. To make him beg for it, to know that Taehyung is willing to beg him for anything.
“Shock me!” Taehyung forces it out, a stream of please falling in whimpers when Jimin uses his palm to drag against the tip of his cock, presses it down mean against his abdomen.
“Aw, baby,” Jimin says, and pulls a smile like the relentless grin of his mask, still lying on the floor of the hallway.
And he thinks, even as he breathes and tightens his grip and listens to the pitch of Taehyung’s shriek rise as Jimin shocks him where it hurts, that this is why they fit. They push and pull and fight over the most inconsequential things, but they always fall back into each other just as hard; they always know how to talk through the things that really hurt. Jimin married him because he loved him, and has spent years learning him because he loves him, and will spend years more figuring out this new part of Taehyung, this new part of their lives, because he loves him so fully it takes up all the space in his chest.
“You only needed to ask,” Jimin whispers, and grins down at the challenge in Taehyung’s eyes, and leans down to kiss the smile off of his husband’s face.
Jimin wears violet to the firm’s holiday party. The tie is new, bought at the expense of a pharmaceutical company Jimin deprived of its heir just a few weeks back, and Taehyung ties it for him before they leave with his tongue caught between his teeth, his own tie discarded in favor of leaving his shirt unbuttoned at the top, to show off the garnet necklace that rests in the dip between his collarbones. The branching edges of his new mark creep along his skin, just visible enough to tease.
Tonight, Taehyung at least has the luxury of being Jimin’s arm candy. He’s doing admirably already, enough that Jimin wants to pin him down before they leave and bite a souvenir just next to the fall of the jewel, but—they’re almost late already, and Jimin still hasn’t fixed his hair.
“You look fine,” Taehyung grumbles, when he decides he’s had enough and pushes Jimin bodily toward the door. “Come on, I want fancy champagne.”
“You hate champagne,” Jimin says mournfully, with one last look back at the mirror.
“That doesn’t mean I can’t want it.” Another pointed shove, and Jimin scowls until Taehyung kisses it away, and he finally lets himself be tugged down to the parking garage, where Taehyung’s car is waiting for them.
It’s not that he doesn’t want to go. Jimin usually enjoys this party, for that admittedly fancy champagne if nothing else, but—he and Jeongguk have been at a comfortable stalemate for weeks, no hint of animosity shown in the office even as they fight more brutally than they ever have on the streets.
But the peace is fragile, and Taehyung has never asked who Seagull is, and has no reason to think Jimin might know. So Jimin hasn’t told him. Has made the choice not to, over and over again when he sees the violent resolve on Taehyung’s face every time he’s mentioned; every time he comes back home buzzing with magic and simmering off the high of working out his frustration on the city around them.
I like it, Taehyung has told him, in his own voice this time. He’s explained as well as he can the urges that come with his heritage, something multidimensional and strong. The way he boils in his own skin if he doesn’t use the chaos his father left him in this world with, and the way it isn’t enough for him to survive whatever might be through the portals he can create with a blink of his eye. So he takes it out on the city, usually, and now he takes out his restlessness on Seagull specifically, and the two of them stay locked in their stalemates while Jimin takes the opportunity to further his own agendas.
So maybe Jimin is nervous. He knows he has little reason to be, really, but he can’t help it.
“Baby,” he says, before they get out of the car. Taehyung turns, eyes wide and lashes pretty, and Jimin lets himself melt into the sight. “Kiss?”
Taehyung laughs at him, sweetly mocking, but leans in anyway. Kisses Jimin gentle and chaste, and leans back out with a cursory eye to tweak at his tie one last time.
“Acceptable,” Taehyung deems him, and clambers out of the driver’s seat.
The party is—nice. It’s just Jimin’s coworkers and all their spouses mingling, taking any excuse to not talk about work, looking forward to almost a full week off for almost everyone; the decorations are gold and sparkling, the lighting warm, and Taehyung glows in it like he always does as he charms Jimin’s superiors and department staff alike.
So Jimin relaxes, just slightly, and snags enough champagne that he feels pleasantly light. He keeps one arm tucked around Taehyung’s waist, and smiles sweetly at everyone who looks at them with admiration or jealously or both.
Taehyung is talking to someone, one of the partners who Jimin has known for long enough that he can check out of the conversation, when he feels a tap on his shoulder. Someone clearing their throat, somehow familiar, and Jimin unhooks his arm from Taehyung’s waist and turns, just barely on guard. He turns, and almost chokes on the air in his throat, and stares blankly at a face he hasn’t seen in more than a decade.
“Jimin-ah!” Jung Hoseok says, loud and unmistakable, and Jimin spares himself the time to be grateful that his glass is empty, for the force of the embrace Hoseok pulls him into.
“Hyung?” He asks, so familiar even after this long, and blinks in shock or happiness or both when Hoseok finally lets him pull away.
And—he’s grown, obviously, since they were both scared, skinny teenagers trapped in a system that more often than not seemed to be trying to hurt them. Hoseok’s face has grown into its angles, all of him sharply handsome and well-proportioned and beaming, just as obviously looking Jimin over in the same way Jimin has been inspecting him.
They were roommates, for some of the longest months of Jimin’s life. They saw each other at their worst, and at their most dangerous, and it had been Hoseok who lit up the room after lights out with a fistful of flame—who taught Jimin how to control himself, enough that the hospital let him out when staff stopped finding piles of ash in his room. That was weeks after Hoseok left, picked up by a distant sister who took him before he had the chance to give Jimin any way to find him.
He’d slipped out of Jimin’s life quickly, but Jimin owes him enough that the short span of it hardly matters.
“What are you doing here?” Hoseok’s muscles are lean and firm under the neat cut of his suit. His tie is gold; his hair is neatly combed. He looks every inch the adult Jimin has spent so long wondering about, and Jimin can’t help but wonder now if Hoseok is thinking the same.
“I just moved to Seoul. Actually—Jeongguk-ah!” And then Hoseok lifts one hand and waves, and Jeon Jeongguk stares at them all from across the room, Hoseok and Jimin and Taehyung who’s finally catching up to all the commotion.
Jimin’s stomach sinks. Even as Taehyung plasters himself to Jimin like it’s second nature, his chin hooked over Jimin’s shoulder as he peers curiously at Hoseok, Jimin can’t tear his eyes away from Jeongguk, who’s approaching like he’s about to be sacrificed at some wicked altar. He’s clutching his own glass firmly, knuckles tight, and Jimin puts on a winning smile and hope it doesn’t fall as flat as it feels.
“Taehyung-ah, this is Hoseok,” Jimin says, to distract himself, and turns his head to watch Taehyung’s eyes light up.
“Oh! Hoseok-ssi, I’ve heard so much about you.” He doesn’t untangle himself from Jimin, but he does reach out a hand. Hoseok beams at that—and it’s not a lie, now that they’ve had so much time to talk. Now that Taehyung has coaxed out the full truth from Jimin. The truths about the fire that sparked in his parents’ house in Busan when he was barely walking, about the system he was passed through with sparks left in his wake, about the hospital his case worker finally resorted to, when he burned too many people who reached out hands to hurt him.
“Hyung,” Jeongguk says, almost breathless, when he arrives. He looks down at Jimin’s tie, face blank for just a split second, and then turns back to Hoseok. “What’s this?”
“This is Jiminie!” Hoseok sounds so excited, and Jeongguk’s face gives away more understanding at that than Jimin really wants. “And his—husband?”
“That’s right,” Jimin says, all teeth. Kisses Taehyung’s cheek, just for the show of it, and tangles their fingers tight together. “How do you two know each other?”
Jeongguk smiles, perfectly polite, but doesn’t relax his grip.
“Hyung and I are thinking about working together on a project,” Jeongguk says. “He’s been staying with my partner and I for a few weeks, and Namjoon didn’t feel like coming out tonight.”
Jimin knows Namjoon, now. Has gotten coffee with him a few times, has gone on walks by the river with him a few times more. They get along well, strangely enough; it’s easy to talk to him, about things Jimin doesn’t often get the chance to talk about with anyone. Even Yoongi and Seokjin, who have slowly been making more appearances, don’t think about things the way Namjoon does, and Taehyung thinks about morality so differently than anyone Jimin has ever met.
So Namjoon is nice to talk to. He’s funny and stumbles over his words and sometimes finishes Jimin’s thoughts for him, and sometimes gets them completely wrong. They don’t agree on anything, but he’s kind. Understanding, even when they argue. Jimin knows that he and Jeongguk rarely agree on things like force and fighting, but knows also that Namjoon loves him anyway.
The conversation moves like a river. The surface is calm, polite and engaging and friendly, but Jimin can see the discomfort in Jeongguk’s posture when he and Taehyung start talking about art. Taehyung is enthusiastic, latching onto Jeongguk as he slowly sheds what might be caution and starts engaging. Hoseok is watching all of them, just as sharp and cataloguing as Jimin remembers, as Jimin himself is trying to be.
“Hyung,” he says, when the four of them are alone enough in this corner that he’s willing to risk it. “Will I be seeing you and Jeongguk outside work?”
Hoseok’s eyes narrow. His smile brightens, after a long moment, and he shrugs with a kind of looseness that comes from the new glass of champagne he’d taken from a server’s tray.
“Maybe,” he says. Pats Jimin’s cheek reassuringly. “But I’m not very committed, Jimin-ah. I just think it’s fun.”
It’s enough to relax him on that front, but—Jimin can’t help but wonder how it might change things. How Hoseok might throw off the balance Jimin has been working for, almost behind Taehyung’s back.
Eventually, it’s just him and Hoseok leaning against the wall, talking slow and quiet about life, about the ways they’ve changed since the last time they spoke. Watching Taehyung and Jeongguk talk, about Taehyung’s kids and video games and the cameras they both like for photography. Jimin hates it. Hates the way Jeongguk slips easily into conversation, stews in it until the anger is thick in his stomach. That Jeongguk would have let Taehyung die, would have killed him then and still would now. That he would take Taehyung away, and see it as a service to the world.
The night goes on. Hoseok gives Jimin his number, and tells him very firmly to call, and Taehyung lets Jeongguk go with another handshake and a see you later? that Jeongguk chokes out an answer to that Jimin doesn’t hear.
Taehyung is plenty sober, after downing just one glass of champagne at the beginning of the party. He drives with Jimin’s hand on his thigh, laughs until Jimin grips harder. Bites his lip, when Jimin starts stroking his thumb at a light.
There’s something possessive and dark yawning in Jimin’s chest. He gives into it, when they’ve both showered away their cologne and traded suits for pajamas; he pulls Taehyung into him and murmurs endearments as Taehyung ruts, sloppy and uncoordinated and overwhelmed like he gets every time Jimin teases him like this.
Perfect, Jimin praises, just to fluster him. Just to make his breath hitch, and his hips stutter.
It’s true, though. Jimin keeps whispering it, even after the cleanup and the grumbling that comes with it; even after Taehyung pins him under the blankets and plasters his sweaty torso against Jimin’s back. It feels good to be held, after everything, even when Jimin feels like he should be the one wrapped around Taehyung, desperate to protect him even as they sleep.
Jimin isn’t a good person. He knows it now as well as ever, with so much of his life coming together like this—strings gathered and twisted and knotted together, impossible to work out by tugging at them in the dark. He isn’t a good person, and part of him thinks he should have killed Jeongguk when he had the chance, and part of him wonders what might have happened if he had. If Taehyung might be happier; if the nightmares that sometimes jerk him awake at night now would stop under the assurance of something like safety.
But it’s not worth wondering. He’s here, now, with Taehyung. He’s a villain, and a bad person, and he has a husband who loves him and laughs when Jimin comes home with burnt blood caked under his fingernails. Who kisses him in the aftermath of fights, and moans at the shock of electricity that cuts through his body.
“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung mumbles, long after they’ve turned out the lights. “I can feel you thinking.”
“Sorry,” Jimin whispers. Strokes his fingers along the back of Taehyung’s hand, where it’s slung over to rest against his stomach. Taehyung laughs, and pokes gently, and rubs his nose into the back of Jimin’s head.
“Sleep,” he orders, quiet and calm and sure of himself.
Jimin is a bad person. Jimin hurts people, and destroys things, and likes it.
Jimin falls asleep with his husband wrapped around him, and dreams of violets pushing up through the dirty Seoul snow, and spreading their petals in the sun.