It was raining, which felt incredibly cliche. Jeongguk barely acknowledged it as he slogged down the sidewalk, thankful that his mother had renewed the waterproofing spell on his shoes that morning.
He squinted at the closest street sign and then ducked under an awning to check the address one more time, as though it might have changed since he last checked it five minutes ago.
He'd gone through a lot to find this place, hell, to find someone willing to admit they knew about it. It wasn’t the kind of connection you bragged about. No one wanted to be linked with a Ghoul.
Not unless you were desperate.
Jeongguk shoved the smudged paper back into his pocket, checking the narrow street for cars before jogging across. He hesitated again, right outside the door, the familiar uncomfortable buzz of magic giving him pause. The wards didn't activate as he opened the door and slipped inside, but he could still feel them, like heavy plastic scraping over his skin.
With the door closed, Jeongguk took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim interior. Eventually a broad staircase appeared from the gloom and Jeongguk let out a long breath before ascending the stairs two at a time.
They ended at a heavy looking door with an ancient door knocker. Brass maybe. Jeongguk took a deep breath, then another, trying to calm his racing heart. It was partly from the stairs, and almost entirely due to whatever awaited him behind that door. Absently, he twisted the silver band on his pinky, which somehow made him feel worse.
He lifted his hand to knock and nearly jumped out of his skin as the door swung inward, revealing a young man with black hair, stark against his pale skin. His comfortable looking sweater nearly swallowed his frame and he looked vaguely disgruntled, as though he'd been woken from a nap.
"Are you going to knock or will you be standing there all afternoon?"
His voice didn't quite fit his face, but somehow suited it, low and a little raspy. Jeongguk swallowed and inched forward, willing his voice not to squeak.
“I’m looking for… for a Min Yoongi.” Somehow he couldn’t say it, not out loud. That would make it real and not a crazy idea he’d been playing over and over in his head.
I’m looking for a Ghoul.
The man stared at the air somewhere over Jeongguk’s left shoulder, a crease appearing between his dark eyebrows.
“Hm. Come in then.”
He opened the door wider, gesturing for Jeongguk to step forward.
Jeongguk took a few hesitant steps inside. What was he doing? If Chungha knew he was doing this she’d tear him a new one.
But then again, she was the whole reason he was here in the first place, so.
The man kicked the door closed, startling Jeongguk out of his thoughts, and not-so-gently shoved past him into the main room. He snapped his fingers and a dozen or so candles burst to life, filling the room with warm, buttery light. It did little to soothe Jeongguk’s anxiety.
“What can I do for you?” The man asked as he sank into a dark leather armchair, the well-worn leather making a soft creak.
Jeongguk blinked for a few moments, not quite registering the question.
“I. You’re Min Yoongi?” he finally managed to ask, not able to reconcile his expectations with the young (very handsome) man in front of him.
Yoongi gave him a close-lipped smile, sleepy eyes glittering in the candlelight.
“If I had 1000 won for every time I heard that. . .”
Jeongguk floundered a bit, fearing that he’d crossed a line and that he’d be zapped with some horrible magical curse or turned into a newt or worse.
“I mean! You just. I didn’t mean any disrespect. Sir.”
Somehow, Yoongi’s sudden laugh didn’t reassure him at all. Yoongi covered his mouth with the back of his hand, chuckling softly as he watched Jeongguk with dark eyes. They were such dark eyes, practically black, but warm somehow, like rich earth.
“You seem nervous. Here, sit down.” Yoongi gestured and a chair moved forward on its own, scraping a little over the hardwood floor. “I’m not going to curse you.”
Jeongguk swallowed hard and perched on the edge of the seat, hands curling and uncurling in his lap.
Yoongi’s eyes didn’t leave him, cheek propped on one hand, lips still curled up slightly.
Neither spoke for what seemed like hours, and Jeongguk’s hands were already so sweaty but he didn’t dare to wipe them on his thighs, because that would be gross and rude and Yoongi was still staring and why did Jeongguk think this was a good idea?
“I…” He started, without any actual idea of where the sentence was going. Yoongi raised an eyebrow, and his eyes flicked to the space behind Jeongguk’s shoulder before coming back to Jeongguk’s face.
What was he looking at? There was nothing… wait.
“Can you see her?” Jeongguk blurted out. Immediately he wished he could punch himself in the face. That was not what he wanted to start out with. But then again, if Yoongi wasn’t the person he was looking for, then that question would make no sense, and Jeongguk would know and he could leave and find someone else who didn’t turn his palms into a small lake.
Yoongi blinked at him, sleepy and slow, and then looked over Jeongguk’s shoulder again.
“Can you see her.” It wasn’t a question this time, and despite his best efforts, his voice still shook.
Jeongguk’s fingers turned to ice. He sucked in a harsh breath, fighting the urge to turn around. He wouldn’t see anything, he knew that, but just knowing she was there (she’s there, she’s there, she’s right there)? It was almost too tempting.
“You can see her. You’re a Ghoul.” Jeongguk said, finding the courage to look Yoongi in the eye. “You talk to the dead.”
“Among other things.”
Another beat of silence.
“You’re not going to ask who I am?” Jeongguk resisted the urge to pick at his fingernails, but he had to do something, so instead he found himself running his nail along the seam of his jeans. It helped. A little.
Yoongi hummed softly, playing with one of the numerous silver rings on his fingers.
“You’re Jeon Jeongguk. And three weeks ago, your sister died.”
Jeongguk, mouth suddenly a desert, struggled to swallow.
“You- you said died.”
Yoongi tilted his head, frowning a little, with an unvoiced question in his eyes. Jeongguk licked his lips, some part of him surging in hope.
“You said died. Not that she killed herself.”
The candles all flickered in unison and Jeongguk stared into Yoongi’s face, looking for something to cling to.
“Why are you here, Jeon Jeongguk?” Yoongi asked, those dark eyes sifting through the deepest parts of Jeongguk’s soul.
“My sister was murdered,” he finally said, quiet but sure. “And I’m the only one who seems to have realized that.”
Yoongi didn’t react at first, but then a slow, feline smile spread over his face. Jeongguk knew about them, was warned about them, but seeing a row of glittering razor sharp fangs still sent a shiver down his spine.
“Well then. Let’s see what we can do about that.”
When Jeongguk was five years old, his big sister was, honestly, the coolest person in the world (except for Iron Man, but he wasn't real so it didn't count).
Chungha could do a wheelie on her bike, count to 300, AND she knew how to beat the water castle in Legend of Zelda.
But the most extra special coolest thing about Chungha was that she could do magic. Most people had a spark of magic, they could light a candle or find lost keys, but Chungha had big magic. She could make things fly and control the water at the pool and one time she turned the cat purple because he broke her favorite mug.
Jeongguk's whole family were mages of some kind, but Chungha was the first one to get scouted by the Astra Academy, the magic school.
Chungha was excited, so Jeongguk was excited too, until he found out it was a boarding school and Chungha would have to live at the school and he was never gonna see Chungha again ever.
He threw a huge tantrum, crying so hard that he could barely breathe, and nothing his parents could say would calm him down.
Finally Chungha wrapped him up in his favorite blanket and hugged him until he cried himself out.
"Googie," she said, when he had reached the point where his sobs were more of wobbling whines. "Hey, hey, Googie, it's ok. It's gonna be ok."
"Nuh-uh," Jeongguk choked out, chubby fingers curling around Chungha's. "Yuh-you're going to- to- boarding school an', an', an' you’re gonna forget all about me an'-"
Chungha giggled, which was very rude as far as Jeongguk was concerned.
"Don't laugh!" He wailed, kicking his legs in frustration. "It's not funny, noona!"
"It's a little funny. I'm not gonna forget about you, Googie, you silly bun."
"Not silly," Jeongguk sniffled, still clinging to Chungha.
Chungha giggled again and planted a wet, smacking kiss on Jeongguk's cheek. He whined, wiping at his face.
Chungha hummed, planting another smacking kiss on Jeongguk's other cheek, then his forehead, and all over his face until he was giggling with her, squealing and squirming in her arms.
Finally Chungha relented, patting Jeongguk's soft squishy cheeks with a grin. She was missing one of her canines, and Jeongguk couldn't help but smile back.
"I'm not gonna forget about you, Googie. You're my baby brother. And I'll come home for breaks, ok? It's not goodbye forever."
Jeongguk sniffed a little, rubbing at his eyes.
"You promise?" He still felt sad, but Chungha had never lied to him before. Well, ok, there was that time she told him that gnomes stole his piggy bank, but that was only because Chungha had accidentally brought it to life and it got stuck under the couch until the spell wore off.
"I promise." She held out her pinky and Jeongguk curled his own around hers, feeling an unfamiliar little zing. It didn't hurt, but it felt weird.
Chungha didn't seem to notice, so Jeongguk quickly forgot about it.
"...What if I come to school with you?"
Chungha almost fell over from giggling so hard.
“It’s not funny, noona!”
Jeongguk watched as Yoongi puttered about in the kitchen, making two cups of tea without using magic, which was. Weird. But it somehow calmed a bit of Jeongguk’s nerves, watching Yoongi mutter to himself as he pulled mugs down from his cupboards and set the water to boil. It made him seem normal, almost human.
Until he yawned, flashing those sharp fangs again.
“Do you want earl grey or green tea?” Yoongi asked, squinting a bit at Jeongguk. “I’ve also got a bit of looseleaf somewhere, not sure exactly what it is though, since Taehyung never explains when he gives me things.”
“Oh, uh… earl grey is fine, thanks.” Jeongguk found himself fiddling with his nails again and sat on his hands. “Who’s Taehyung?”
Yoongi plunked two tea bags into the mugs just as the tea kettle went off. He cursed, softly, when he splashed a little water on his hand while pouring it into the mugs, and Jeongguk smiled despite himself.
“Taehyung,” Yoongi started, handing one mug to Jeongguk, “is one of the few mages I trust in this city. You’ll probably meet him at some point, if I take the case.”
Jeongguk frowned, curling his fingers around the mug. It was just this side of too hot, but he brought it up to his face anyway, to let the steam warm his cheeks.
“‘If’? What do you mean, ‘if’?”
Yoongi settled into his chair, and Jeongguk had the sudden and vivid image of a cat lounging in a patch of sunshine as Yoongi made himself comfortable.
“I mean,” came the reply, “that although I am intrigued by your story, I don’t drop everything for every boy with a ghost who comes through my door.”
A pause while Yoongi looked him over for what felt like the thousandth time.
“Though the big doe eyes are definitely helping your case.”
Jeongguk felt both flattered and slightly patronized.
“Why don’t you believe your sister killed herself?” Yoongi asked, waving a hand over his tea before taking a sip.
He wondered if he’d ever be able to think of his sister’s body without wanting to cry.
“Because she wouldn’t. She would never.”
Yoongi said nothing.
“We had plans, that weekend.” Jeongguk stared into his mug, watching the tea darken. “We. She promised that we’d go to the beach.”
He still remembered the phone call.
“I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever.” He’d been on his bed, staring at the ceiling and listening to Chungha’s voice.
Her laugh still made him want to whine like a child. But he was an adult now and above such silly things. He was definitely not pouting. Shut up.
“I saw you like two weeks ago!” Her voice was a little distorted by the phone, but he knew she was teasing him. Ok fine, he was pouting. He knew he was being ridiculous, but he just… something felt wrong and he couldn’t explain it.
“I just miss you, that’s all… this house is way too big for me.” It was part of the truth, at least.
“I miss you too, Googie.” He scrunched his nose at his childhood nickname, but it still warmed his chest, hearing it after all this time. “I know I’ve been busy.”
“Important Council business?” Jeongguk knew she couldn’t see him but he still wiggled his eyebrows. She’d know.
“Oh yes,” Chungha laughed. “Ultra top secret, very hush hush, you know.”
Jeongguk laughed with her, curling around his phone a bit. It was good to hear her laugh. It almost made the buzzing under his skin go away.
Despite the jokes, he knew Chungha couldn’t actually talk about anything she did for the Council. He wasn’t even sure what her real job description was, just that it was very important and very secretive and she was sometimes out of touch for weeks or months at a time.
“Tell you what,” she said, still a little teasing. She never really stopped teasing him, but he supposed that was just how older sisters were. “I’ve got this whole weekend free, why don’t we do something? Just the two of us.”
Jeongguk sat up.
“Really? You don’t have to go spy on a demon or something?”
“Nope!” she chirped. “You’ll get me for three whole days, no demons at all.”
“Can we go to the beach?” Jeongguk didn’t even attempt to disguise his excitement. He hadn’t been to the beach in years. Who cared if it was nearly October?
“You promise?” Jeongguk pressed the phone a little closer, the buzzing picking up again, almost too loud for him to hear Chungha’s voice.
His phone gave him a little shock and he winced, pulling it away from his ear. He must’ve built up a charge from wiggling around on his bed.
Chungha yawned loudly and he glanced at his clock. It was barely eight-thirty.
“Are you tired, noona?”
“Yeah, kinda. I guess I’m getting old.” He could hear the sound of her moving around her apartment and he flopped onto his back, staring up at the ceiling again. “I dunno. It’s weird. I don’t think I’ve been sleeping well.”
“You don’t think?”
“Mm.” More background noises. “It’s weird. I go to bed early and I still wake up exhausted. And… you’re going to say it’s crazy.”
“You’ve always been crazy.”
“Brat.” But there was a smile in her voice. “I don’t know, just. I think I’ve been sleepwalking? Maybe? I feel like someone’s been moving things. But not like the furniture, just… I know I put my scissors in the top drawer but I found them in the bottom drawer the other day.”
“Wow, how strange.” He hoped the flatness of his tone conveyed exactly how interesting he found her story. Still, he couldn’t help but be a little concerned from the seriousness of Chungha’s voice.
“Just. Something’s weird. I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know. Maybe it’s nothing.” She sounded… scared? That couldn’t be right. Chungha wasn’t scared of anything.
“I’m sure it’s fine, noona.” Jeongguk tried to sound reassuring, but he wasn’t sure if he succeeded. “But if you’re really not sleeping well, then you should probably go to the doctor.”
“Yeah.” Chungha huffed out a laugh. “Yeah, you’re probably right. I’ll make an appointment tomorrow. I’ll talk to you later?”
“Mm,” Jeongguk hummed, closing his eyes. He didn’t want to hang up and leave Chungha all alone with her thoughts, but there really wasn’t any more to say. “Let me know if you need me to beat up the guy who’s been moving your scissors.”
Chungha laughed for real, almost too loud for how close Jeongguk was holding his phone.
“Will do. Goodnight, Googie.”
Chungha ended the call.
Less than an hour later, she was dead.
Jeongguk came back to Yoongi’s living room slowly, and, realizing that Yoongi was staring again, hastily took a sip of his tea. It was still scalding and he winced away. He must not have zoned out as much as he thought.
“Here.” Yoongi leaned forward and waved a hand over Jeongguk’s tea. Jeongguk felt a little tingle wash over him and he took another sip. Much better. Still hot, but not enough to burn his mouth.
Jeongguk managed to pull his eyes from the depths of his tea and focused on Yoongi again, whose face was still carefully blank.
“If it wasn’t suicide, is it possible it was an accident?”
Jeongguk shook his head, trying and failing to keep the image of Chungha’s bloodless face from his mind.
“Not unless it’s possible to accidentally slit both your wrists and your neck.”
“That is unlikely,” Yoongi said, closing his eyes. “So if it wasn’t a suicide, and it wasn’t an accident, and it’s definitely not natural, that leaves…”
“Murder. So why does everyone think it was suicide?” Yoongi opened one eye to squint at Jeongguk, who squirmed in his seat, shifting to find a less awkward position.
“It… they said that her wounds were self-inflicted. She was found with the um, the blade in her hand and there was no signs of… of a struggle or that there was anyone… anyone else in the apartment with her.”
He felt it when Yoongi opened both eyes to stare at him and it felt like he was in the police station all over again, trying to tell them, to explain, that no, no, this isn’t right, it isn’t suicide, Chungha would never, she would never—
“Hey. Hey. Breathe.”
Jeongguk realized his lungs weren’t working the moment Yoongi knelt in front of him, cupping his face and forcing Jeongguk to look at him.
“Follow me, ok? In. Out. In. Out.”
Jeongguk shakily inhaled and exhaled in sync with Yoongi, mortified at the tears flowing down his face.
Yoongi’s hands felt like anchors and Jeongguk finally got his heart back to a normal rate.
“I’m…” well, not fine, clearly, but, “better.”
Yoongi kept his hands on Jeongguk’s face for a few more moments before nodding and retreating back to his chair.
“Tell me about your sister.”
Jeongguk blinked and wiped at his face, sniffing a bit to try and control the snot that was about to leak from his nose.
“What do you want to know?” he asked, trying for a smile.
Yoongi returned it softly.
“Well, her name, for starters.”
“Chungha. Jeon Chungha.”
“A good name.”
“Yeah.” Jeongguk wiped at his face again, dabbing his nose with the sleeve of his sweater.
“Were you close?”
Jeongguk nodded, taking another sip of tea.
“She was a few years older, but yeah, we were close. For a while, she was kind of my only friend.”
“And why’s that?”
Jeongguk laughed, a short sharp thing, and wiggled his fingers.
“I can’t use magic. I was the only kid in my class who couldn’t, and well.”
He swirled his tea, smiling thinly down at it.
“Kids can be pretty shitty.”
Yoongi blinked, a little pout forming on his lips.
“You can’t use magic?”
Jeongguk shook his head. He should be used to it by now but it still made him feel raw, exposing this secret part of him. But it was easier to get it out of the way with new acquaintances, or they’d assume and expect him to keep up when they tried to waterwalk across the river or featherfall off a roof. He’d had a few dates end rather poorly that way.
“What about your sister?”
Jeongguk’s smile was real now.
“She could use magic. All kinds of magic. Astra Academy came to recruit her, she didn’t even apply, they wanted her to come. She was ranked third or higher in all her classes.”
Yoongi looked amused, the back of his hand pressed to his lips in an attempt to hide his smile, but his eyes were laughing.
“I see. Do you know what she specialized in?”
Jeongguk shook his head.
“Not really? I just know that she was good with the elements. Good enough that the Council snatched her up right after she graduated.”
Yoongi made a noise, rolling his eyes, and immediately looked as though he hadn’t meant to do it out loud.
“You don’t like the Council?” Jeongguk asked, raising his eyebrows.
“I like the concept of the Council,” Yoongi replied. “What I don’t like is the fact that it’s run by a bunch of self-important windbags who think they know best.”
“And you know better?” Jeongguk said before he could stop himself.
Yoongi squinted at him and took a long, purposeful sip of tea. Jeongguk didn't feel as scared anymore but he couldn’t lie, Yoongi’s glare was very intimidating.
“We’ve gotten off topic. So your sister worked for the Council. I assume she couldn’t tell you anything about what she did. Did she tell you anything about her coworkers, or people she knew?”
“What, like, people who might want to hurt her?”
Yoongi squinted again.
“I watch a lot of crime dramas, ok?” Jeongguk muttered. “I don’t think she had any enemies, but I know she had some coworkers she didn’t get along with. I only know their last names, though.”
Yoongi gestured for him to continue.
“Chae, Son, and Park.”
“Male? Female? Nonbinary?”
“I’m pretty sure Chae is a man, but I have no idea about the other two.”
“Do you know why they didn’t get along with your sister?”
Jeongguk shook his head, biting into his lip.
“She never really said. I just know she didn’t like them, and I don’t think they liked her very much, from what she told me.”
Yoongi grunted, letting his eyes fall half shut as he leaned back in his chair. He didn’t move for a full four minutes, letting Jeongguk stew in his anxiety and lukewarm tea.
“Alright.” Yoongi finally said, startling Jeongguk so badly he almost spilled his tea.
“What?” Jeongguk said.
“I said, alright. I’ll help you. I won’t guarantee anything, but at the very least I think I can help you find some answers.” Yoongi pushed himself to a standing position, twisting from side to side to crack his back. Jeongguk was tempted to offer his chiropractor’s card. Then Yoongi’s words registered in his mind.
“You believe me?” He all but yelped, jumping up from his chair, his thankfully empty mug clattering on the ground. Yoongi gave him a look and he quickly picked it up with an apology.
“I believe that something is strange about your sister’s death. And I believe that if I don’t help you, you’re just going to keep looking until you find someone who will, and believe me, Jeon Jeongguk,” he looked straight into Jeongguk’s eyes and bared his fangs, “not all death mages are as nice as me.”
Jeongguk, still fizzing with relief, forgot who he was talking to and threw his arms around Yoongi, hugging him tightly.
Yoongi was as still as a statue at first, but slowly he brought his arms up and hugged back, patting Jeongguk lightly right under his shoulder blade. Then he cleared his throat and pulled away, turning to set his mug down on a table that moved to him.
“Don’t thank me yet. I just told you, I can’t guarantee that I’ll find anything. Plus, we haven’t talked about my payment.”
Jeongguk sucked on his bottom lip. He’d been expecting it, but he had no idea what the going rate was for a Ghoul’s services.
“I have some money saved.” He fumbled for his wallet. “I don’t… how much?”
Yoongi turned back to him, arms folded.
“I don’t take payments in cash.”
“I… have a credit card?”
Yoongi actually laughed, a real laugh, from deep in his chest, and Jeongguk felt himself turn violently red.
“Sorry, sorry, that was just… I was not expecting that.” Yoongi wiped at his eyes and smiled at Jeongguk. “What I meant was, you can’t buy my services with money.”
Now Jeongguk was truly confused.
“Then… how am I supposed to pay you?”
“I'll explain.” Yoongi gestured for Jeongguk to follow him, and then walked down a short hallway, into what Jeongguk assumed was a study.
“You probably don’t know this, but I work with the Magical Crimes Division occasionally.” Yoongi told him, booting up his computer.
“Mm. Detective Kim and I go way back. Sometimes, he runs into cases where people won’t talk to the cops, so he asks me to do some digging.”
“What, are you his criminal informant?”
Yoongi squinted at him again.
“I’ll have you know that I have not committed a single crime in over two thousand years.”
Jeongguk snorted, picking at a loose thread on his jeans. Yoongi may have been exaggerating, but it didn’t seem like a lie.
“So what does this have to do with me paying you?” Jeongguk asked, finally pulling the thread free.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t need your money, I made some investments in my youth that really paid off. But having someone to help me while I investigate? Infinitely more valuable.”
Jeongguk blinked, frowned, made sure he’d heard that right, and then looked at Yoongi, who was logging into his email. He typed with two fingers. Jeongguk was endeared but also confused.
“You want me to be your assistant?” He said, hesitatingly.
“If you want to call it that, sure.” Yoongi’s tongue peeked out as he double clicked on an email.
“But I can’t use magic.” There was that familiar, bitter ache right behind his tongue.
Jeongguk’s head snapped up.
Yoongi swiveled to look at him.
“So what? I don’t know if you noticed, but I’ve got the magic covered. What I need is someone who can write things down, bring me coffee, and, most importantly, talk to people without,” Yoongi wiggled his fingers, putting air quotes around his next words, “‘scaring the shit out of them’.”
Jeongguk found himself smiling despite himself.
“I think I can do that. Most people don’t find me very scary.”
Yoongi smiled at him.
“Great. Well then, I want you to take a look at this.” Yoongi swivelled back to the computer and clicked on a file attached to the email he had pulled up.
Jeongguk leaned forward to take in the photo of a young man, taken from what he assumed was a security feed, due to the grainy quality. Jeongguk was hit with the strange thought that he’d seen the man before, but he couldn’t quite place where he knew him from.
“Who is he?” Jeongguk asked, when Yoongi didn’t say anything further.
“His name is Im Changkyun. According to his family, he’s been missing for about a week.”
Jeongguk frowned, taking in Changkyun’s face.
“Why does he look so familiar?” He muttered, mostly to himself.
“Probably because his father is the headmaster of Astra Academy,” Yoongi said, clicking to another picture, this one of the family, and now Jeongguk remembered.
At Chungha’s graduation ceremony, the headmaster had given some droning speech about how it is the duty of mages to use their magic for the betterment of society, blah blah blah, honestly Jeongguk zoned out about a minute into the speech, but he remembered the headmaster’s face. He and Changkyun had the same nose, and similar enough facial shapes for it to ping his memory.
“So the police can’t find him?” Jeongguk asked without looking away from Changkyun’s face.
“Mm.” Yoongi grunted, leaning back in his chair and dislodging Jeongguk from where’d he’d been leaning on the armrest. “Apparently they’ve hit a wall, and Joon is calling me in.”
Jeongguk took in Changkyun’s soft smile as he stood with his parents, and their equally soft smiles at the camera. A sudden stab of ice went through his chest and he sucked in a breath.
“They think he’s dead.”
Yoongi said nothing, just stared at the screen with a blank expression.
“That’s why they’re calling you in, isn’t it?” Jeongguk asked softly. “They think he’s dead, and they need you to find the body.”
Yoongi sighed and rubbed a hand over his face.
Jeongguk bit his lip and took a step back, unsure of how he was supposed to react. Yoongi sighed again and exited out of his browser, pushing to his feet.
“I told Joon I’d meet with him today.”
He turned and met Jeongguk’s eyes.
“Can you do this?” He asked, and Jeongguk, after only a moment of hesitation, nodded.
“Good.” Yoongi gave him a lopsided smile and gestured for him to follow. “Then let’s get going.”
Jeongguk blinked and followed, feeling a bit like a trained pet. Yoongi shrugged on an oversized coat and hooked a face mask over his nose and mouth, then watched as Jeongguk struggled to lace his boots with a vaguely amused expression.
Once Jeongguk managed to knot his laces, face burning, Yoongi slipped on his own shoes and opened the door, murmuring a locking spell as it shut behind them.
“How far is it?” Jeongguk asked, trotting behind Yoongi as they stepped out onto the street. It was still raining, and Jeongguk pulled up his hood, once again mentally thanking his mother for waterproofing his shoes.
Yoongi squinted up at the sky and drew a circle in the air with his pinky finger. Immediately, the rain stopped. Jeongguk had the sudden, crazed idea that Yoongi could control the weather, but upon further inspection, Yoongi had just created some sort of invisible umbrella above their heads.
“That’s pretty convenient,” Jeongguk said, smiling and sticking a hand out from the edge of the dry zone.
Yoongi hummed, jerking his head to the left.
“I don’t like getting wet. Come on, it’s this way.”
He took off down the sidewalk and Jeongguk had to jog to keep up. Yoongi was a bit shorter than him, but walked a lot faster than Jeongguk.
After five minutes of walking, and no sign of their destination in sight, Jeongguk debated whether or not he should say anything. What if he asked one too many stupid questions and Yoongi decided he wasn’t going to help anymore?
“What’s on your mind?”
Yoongi’s voice was just loud enough to be heard over the rain and Jeongguk shot a quick glance at him. Was his internal monologue that loud? Wait. Could Yoongi read minds?
Jeongguk screamed really loud in his mind to check, but Yoongi didn’t react at all. Good, so his private panicking was safe.
“Are we walking all the way there?” He finally answered, and Yoongi laughed.
“Nah. But we need to get on the 1 train and that station is a bit further up this street.”
Jeongguk felt himself turn pink.
“Ghouls ride the subway?”
Yoongi was probably grinning under the face mask, but Jeongguk couldn’t tell for sure.
“This one does.”
The subway ride was relatively uneventful, except for the warlock sitting next to Jeongguk shooting Yoongi dirty looks until he finally got off the train. The rest of the travellers didn’t seem to recognize Yoongi for what he was, which Jeongguk was grateful for. He immediately felt guilty after he had the thought. Yoongi was helping him and Jeongguk shouldn’t be so close-minded.
Jeongguk almost lost Yoongi in the sudden tide of passengers as they all rushed off the train at once, but Yoongi grabbed onto his hand and tugged him in the right direction, not letting go until they were standing outside the subway station. The rain had stopped, at least.
“This way,” Yoongi jerked his head again, and again Jeongguk followed like a puppy, keeping a step behind him.
Jeongguk liked to think he knew the city fairly well, but he had never had a reason to visit the Magical Crimes Division office. After all, they dealt with fae abductions, mage on mage crime, and regulating demonic summoning. All things that Jeongguk had never and would never experience.
The outside didn’t look all that different from the police station he’d visited after they first discovered Chungha’s body, but the wards were amped up far beyond anything Jeongguk had experienced before. He really wasn’t looking forward to the headache he could already feel forming.
He shuddered as Yoongi led him through the front door, the wards sticking to his skin like thick cobwebs.
Yoongi glanced at him and tugged down his mask.
“Cold?” he asked, eyebrows pulled together a little bit.
Jeongguk shook his head.
“It’s just… I haven’t been in a place like this since… well since I tried to convince the police my sister was murdered.”
He wasn’t sure why he was lying, but Yoongi seemed to accept it, giving him an awkward pat on the arm and a sympathetic grimace. Then he turned and walked to a desk manned by a creature with green skin and multi-colored flowers growing from their hair.
“I’m here for Detective Kim Namjoon,” he told them, and the dryad nodded and plucked a flower from their head, flicking it into the air where it zoomed off towards the back of the station. Yoongi waddled a few steps away, sat in one of the stiff plastic chairs, and, to all outward appearances, fell asleep immediately.
Jeongguk tried not to stare at the receptionist, but he knew he failed when the dryad gave him a little smirk and raised their eyebrows.
“Never seen a dryad before?” They asked him, beckoning him closer with an elegant hand. As Jeongguk approached, he noticed more details about their appearance, like the delicate vein-like pattern on their skin and the stiff, vine texture of their hair, and the large golden-brown eyes fixed on his.
“Ah…no, I haven’t. I’m sorry for staring.” He said, bowing slightly in apology. The dryad laughed lightly and waved their hand.
“It’s fine, it’s fine, it happens far more often than you think. It’s not very often you see one of us in the city, right?” They paused and held out a hand, smiling gently. “You can call me Birch.”
“Jeongguk.” He smiled back. Birch’s hand felt a bit too smooth, and slightly cooler than a human’s hand, but their touch was gentle and buzzed with kind magic. “I suppose I always thought dryads couldn’t live in a city. It’s… not exactly pristine nature.”
Birch laughed, pulling their hand back.
“That’s one way of putting it. But I like it here. Human cities are so busy, there’s always something happening. If I was in the forest, I’d be lucky to see three squirrels a day.”
“And here in the city, you see four.” Jeongguk had no idea where this confidence was coming from, but it was worth it when Birch laughed again.
“Exactly.” Birch glanced at Yoongi and leaned in closer, beckoning Jeongguk to do the same before continuing in a whisper. “So tell me. Does he really bathe in the blood of virgins?”
Jeongguk blinked, completely taken off guard.
“Um… no, I don’t think he does.”
“I don’t think he’s aged at all since I started working here. Maybe he’s a vampire.”
“Vampires aren’t real.” A voice came from behind Birch, making them jump.
Jeongguk reeled back, overbalanced, and fell on his ass. Someone, presumably the person who’d just spoken, offered him their hand and he took it.
As they helped him to his feet, he took in their impressively long legs, torso, and then finally, a kind, smiling face with the most impressive set of dimples he’d ever seen.
Jeongguk’s brain short circuited.
Was this a gay panic moment? He was totally having a gay panic moment, which was weird because he was definitely asexual and yet he wanted to climb this man like a tree.
He realized he was still holding this gorgeous man’s hand when Yoongi coughed behind him. He let go like his hand was on fire and shoved it into his pocket, face burning.
“Good to see you, Joon.” Yoongi was saying, moving forward to greet the gorgeous man. Kim Namjoon, Jeongguk’s brain finally pieced together.
“Yoongi hyung!” Namjoon wrapped Yoongi in a bear hug. Yoongi made a token protest but it was blatantly obvious that he was enjoying it. “Glad you could make it.”
Namjoon finally let go of Yoongi and smiled at Jeongguk.
“Sorry, I haven’t introduced myself. Kim Namjoon.”
“Jeon Jeongguk.” Jeongguk said, his tongue feeling like lead.
“My new pack mule,” Yoongi said, giving Namjoon that lazy grin. Namjoon chuckled and started walking, Yoongi and Jeongguk behind him. They passed several desks and got onto an elevator, which Namjoon had to activate with a scan of his eye.
“Thanks for coming on such short notice,” he said, mood turning sober. “Hopefully you can get something where we can’t.”
Yoongi grunted, tugging the mask back up over his face and staring ahead.
“Heard you got a new partner, Joon.”
Namjoon sighed, smiling a little despite the somber mood in the elevator. Jeongguk wondered just how far down they were going just as the doors slid open with a soft ding!
“Yeah. He’s in autopsy.”
That made Yoongi pause, frowning.
“Autopsy? If you’ve got a body, then why didn’t you just tell me? I would've brought my tools.”
Namjoon rubbed a hand over his face.
“Then uncomplicate it Joon.” Yoongi told him flatly, dark eyes hard as flint.
Namjoon sighed and kept walking.
“It’ll be a lot faster to show you, hyung.”
Yoongi huffed and followed. Jeongguk felt completely lost, unable to quell the rising nausea about whatever was in autopsy that made things “complicated”.
The autopsy lab was freezing. It was the first thing Jeongguk noticed when he stepped inside. The second thing was the man standing at one of the tables, frowning down at something on it.
He looked up as the trio entered and a bright, heart-shaped smile bloomed across his face. Jeongguk wondered if everyone who worked at the MCD was just unfairly attractive.
“You must be Min Yoongi-ssi,” the heart-shape smile man was saying, his orange hair bouncing as he made a beeline for Yoongi. “Jung Hoseok. I’m Joon’s new partner.”
Yoongi looked vaguely stunned as he shook Hoseok’s hand.
“Nice to meet you.” Then he shook himself slightly and stepped towards the examination table, tugging down his mask. “Joon said it was complicated? How complicated?”
“Well,” Hoseok grimaced and followed Yoongi to the table, trailed by Namjoon and Jeongguk. “We… can he be here?”
The question was in reference to Jeongguk, who was hovering over Yoongi’s shoulder and probably looked as out of place as he felt.
Yoongi fixed Hoseok with a look.
“He’s my assistant.”
Hoseok’s mouth made a triangle shape and then he nodded, going back to his explanation.
“Im Changkyun has reportedly been missing for a week. His family thought that he was visiting a friend in Busan, but according to the friend, he never showed up. We have security footage of him boarding the train, but somewhere between here and Busan, he vanished. Our working theory is that he was taken at one of the stops along the way. There are several with broken cameras or no surveillance whatsoever."
Namjoon spoke up.
“Usually, kidnappers contact the family with a ransom demand within 24 hours. But the Ims received no demands, no notes, nothing. Until yesterday morning.”
“This was left in front of the Ims house.” Hoseok lifted the fabric covering the table, revealing a single, bloodied finger with a heavy silver ring tied to it with some sort of silky material.
Jeongguk remembered Changkyun’s face again and had to swallow a wave of nausea. Yoongi’s face betrayed none of his thoughts.
“Is it Im Changkyun’s?” he asked, leaning forward to examine it.
“According to our preliminary scans, yes.” Namjoon crossed his arms, looking grim. “I contacted you as soon as they came up positive.”
Yoongi sighed and shrugged off his jacket, rolling up his sleeves.
“Well then. Let’s get started.”
Jeongguk felt the buzz as Yoongi gathered his magic, and found himself leaning back a bit, not sure what to expect.
Yoongi closed his eyes, picked up the finger and…
Well, nothing that Jeongguk could see, besides Yoongi’s eyes flickering back and forth behind his closed eyelids.
After a few minutes, Jeongguk found himself fidgeting again and he glanced from Yoongi’s motionless frame to Namjoon and then back again.
“How long does it usually take?” Jeongguk asked, frowning a little.
“Hard to say. Sometimes it takes a few minutes, sometimes an hour. One time he was down here all night trying to talk to a ghost.” His eyes glazed over slightly, the lines on his face deepening. “That was a rough case.”
“Before my time,” Hoseok quipped, his mouth still half smiling despite the heavy atmosphere. Namjoon nodded, giving Hoseok a soft look before turning sharp eyes to Jeongguk.
“So Jeongguk. What business does a boy like you have with a Ghoul?” The words sent a wave of uncomfortable itching anxiety over Jeongguk’s skin.
First of all, Jeongguk was not a “boy”. He was twenty-three. He paid taxes. Second of all, while he appreciated Namjoon’s concern for Yoongi, he didn’t really feel like revealing his life’s story to a man he’d just met.
“I’d prefer not to talk about it. It’s personal.” He couldn’t quite hold Namjoon’s eye, instead staring at his nose.
Namjoon blinked, confusion flickering over his face. Hoseok glanced at him and then narrowed his eyes, elbowing Namjoon in the ribs.
“Ow! What the hell?” Namjoon hissed, rubbing at his side.
“You know exactly what that was for,” Hoseok hissed back. “You can’t cast a truth spell without consent.”
Jeongguk blinked, feeling lost. Truth spell?
“Did… did you just try to spell me?” He felt itchy all over again and he rubbed at his arms, taking a step back from the two detectives.
To his credit, Namjoon looked chastened.
“I… yes.” Namjoon’s cheeks turned pink and he coughed awkwardly into his fist. “Sorry. That was… sorry. I wanted to make sure you weren’t going to hurt Yoongi hyung.”
“How could I possibly hurt him?” Jeongguk snapped, fighting the urge to run. He hated this, he hated magic, hated how the people who could use it acted like they had the right to fling it everywhere, with no thought about how it affected others.
“Hyung trusts people a little too easily,” Namjoon said, less embarrassed now, looking Jeongguk in the eyes. “There’s been more than one reporter trying to write awful things about him.”
“Well I’m not a reporter, so you don’t have to worry about that,” Jeongguk muttered, still feeling betrayed. The dimples had deceived him. “He promised to help me if I became his assistant.”
“Like, forever?” Hoseok asked, tilting his head to the side.
Jeongguk opened his mouth and then closed it, frowning. Come to think of it, he and Yoongi had never discussed how long it would take him to pay for Yoongi’s services.
“I don’t think so. Just until…” Until Yoongi found his sister’s murderer.
“Until?” Namjoon prodded, and Jeongguk had to stop himself from outright glaring.
“Until he finishes what I hired him for,” he said, petulantly.
Namjoon’s eyes narrowed, clearly unhappy with that answer, but Hoseok elbowed him again before he could pry further.
Jeongguk felt the buzz on the back of his neck and turned without thinking, just in time to see Yoongi’s body shaking.
“Is that normal?” He asked, interrupting Namjoon and Hoseok’s quiet bickering.
Yoongi’s eyes flew open. They were solid black. Ice shot down Jeongguk's spine.
“Shield!” Namjoon yelled, yanking Jeongguk backwards as Hoseok thrust his interlocked fingers forward, a bubble of golden light erupting to life around them.
A split second later, darkness engulfed the room, and then lit up in an explosion of red magic, filling Jeongguk’s head with a deafening roar. The golden bubble shuddered, but held firm.
Then, as quickly as it had happened, the whole spectacle vanished, leaving Yoongi standing in the exact same spot, looking pissed off and staring at the finger in his hand.
Or, well, what was left of it.
Whatever spell had been on it had burned the flesh completely away, leaving the bones and a few traces of sinew. The ring was untouched. In fact, it looked shinier than it had when they’d first seen it.
“You can take that down now, I’ve dispelled it.” Yoongi spoke without looking up. Hoseok glanced over his shoulder at Namjoon, who nodded.
The golden shield dissolved into a shower of what looked like flower petals. Jeongguk would have appreciated the view if he wasn’t so freaked out.
“What the fuck was that?” He breathed out.
Yoongi finally looked up. His eyes were back to normal, thank fuck.
“Nasty curse. Not sure what set it off, exactly, but I just undid the whole thing to be safe.”
Namjoon let out a laugh, but his face was still tense.
“You say that like it’s such an easy thing, hyung.”
“Well, when you’ve been around as long as I have, Namjoon, you pick up a few tricks.”
Hoseok stepped forward, peering at the finger and frowning that triangle frown.
“So? Did you find his ghost?”
“Ah.” Yoongi plucked the ring from the bones and held it up to the light, squinting at it. “Well, I’ve got good news and bad news.”
He didn’t ask which one they wanted first, and just plowed on.
“The good news is: Im Changkyun is not dead.”
Namjoon and Hoseok looked at each other and then Hoseok strode to the other end of the room, frantically typing on his phone while Namjoon began casting several silver-runed spells at once.
Jeongguk felt a strange wave of relief wash through him. He didn’t even know Changkyun, but hearing that he was alive still felt like someone had put a candle inside of his chest. That little candle of hope sputtered as he remembered the rest of what Yoongi had said.
“What’s the bad news?” He asked, taking a step forward and freezing as Yoongi turned to him. Namjoon, who had apparently forgotten that part, blinked and faltered mid-spell, the rune he was tracing coming out lopsided.
“The bad news is…” Yoongi paused and held up the skeletal finger. “Whoever has him is really pissed off that I destroyed this.”