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Plus Two, Minus One

Plus Two, Minus One
Taewoon's group is growing.
Writer's Notes: This follows My Boyfriend is a Part Time Tiger. Written to bring the last two in (SungMin and TaeHa), and to exchange DooJoon for Hakyeon. Thanks to blue_ant for help and betaing.

The close calls with Dongil had bothered Taewoon when he listened to JongKook and SeJoon explain what had happened in the pit. Dongil's certainty that he knew them had stressed JongKook, at least, more than he deserved to be. That continued to bother him as he wrote up his report - to go in his own files, and to go to LeeTeuk - and he decided to talk to Jungwoo about it. Waiting until he knew Jungwoo wasn't busy, he knocked on Jungwoo's door to ask him what had gone wrong.

"I didn't think about the scent thing," Jungwoo said, seating comfortably on a pillow on the hard-wood floor. "Worse, I couldn't find anything to mask or change it. I can't do that."

Taewoon stared at him, then closed the door and sat down on a cushion on the floor across from him. "You can't do that?" he repeated.

Jungwoo shook his head, looking embarrassed. "I can't. It's not something I have any sort of control over. I can't figure out how to do that. At least, not temporarily."

Taewoon frowned. "Huh. So... what do we do, when we need to hide someone's scent?" he asked.

Jungwoo blew out his breath. "I don't know. I've pretty much exhausted every resource I could find, and got no answer at all."

"Hm. Is it a question of power?" Taewoon asked.

"No," Jungwoo said, his brow furrowing as he thought. "It's a question of... method, maybe."

Taewoon lifted his eyebrows. "Method?"

"Method might not be the exact word for it, either," Jungwoo said, frowning. "It's a difference in... what is worked with." He shrugged. 'I'm not sure how to describe it. I think a witch might be a better fit for that than a sorcerer." Jungwoo tapped his fingers on the wood floor.

"How do we find one, and... what sort of thing do we need to do to make sure that your spells and the witch's don't... I don't know, conflict?"

Jungwoo shook his head. "I don't think that will be a problem. It'll be a case of layering, probably." He continued to tap his fingers. "At least, if we get the right one, it will."

"Is there anything I can do?" Taewoon asked.

"You can call people," Jungwoo said, apparently coming to a decision. He got up and went to his desk, pulling out a small stack of cards. " I've met these people, at least superficially. Enough that they gave me a card." He handed them to Taewoon. "Interview them like anyone else, and go from there."

Taewoon took the cards. "I guess... it's a place to start," he said. "Thanks."

Back in his own office, he lay out the twelve cards Jungwoo had given him. He set three aside immediately; if the print made him cringe, he didn't want to work with the people. He had enough experience with that. With the remaining nine, he started to call. Three of them had their numbers disconnected, one had died, and the remaining five made appointments. He was willing to work his schedule around theirs, as much as he could. Magic users in general appeared more in tune with outside forces and tried to use favorable circumstances when possible. The meetings set up, he went to talk to JongKook and SeJoon, armed with a list of the appointments. He found them outside, basking in the sunlight, both human for once.

"You want us to just... hang around?" JongKook asked, looking up at him sleepily. SeJoon didn't even open his eyes.

"Yes," Taewoon said. "I'm going to ask the same of Jungwoo and YooHwan. I want to weed out those that won't work with the variety of people we have here before they get very far."

Jungwoo sat up. "So, really, you want just SeJoon."

"No," Taewoon said. "I want him there because some people won't work with were-folk, and I want to see how each of these people react to him. I also want them to know you are a couple. If they can work with SeJoon, that's great. If they can't accept that you two come as a pair, they're out."

A curious look crossed JongKook's face. "Oh," he said, and smiled. It didn't look fake, which Taewoon had half expected. "Okay, we can do that."

SeJoon opened one eye. "The question is, how obvious do you want us to be."

Taewoon smiled. "I'll leave that up to your discretion," he said.

"You are not going to do something embarrassing and chase someone away," JongKook said, his hands braced on his hips.

"Unless we don't like him?" SeJoon asked.

"No, not even then," JongKook said.

Taewoon laughed and left them to their argument.

The first witch gave YooHwan a wary look, looked down-right freaked out when he saw Jungwoo, and fled at the sight through the back door of JongKook and SeJoon's game of dodging.

"Well, that was fast," Taewoon said, and grinned. "One down, four to go."

The second one, a woman, took YooHwan in stride, lifted an eyebrow at Jungwoo but gave him a respectful bow, and didn't blink at the white tiger in the kitchen. Or at JongKook's possessive hand on his head.

"You have a diverse group here," she said, handing Taewoon an updated card. He took it and ushered her to a seat in the living room.

"Can you work with them?" he asked.

"I think so," she said.

He continued on through his questions, about her back ground and experience, and then let her go. "Promising," he decided, setting her card to the side. Even if they didn't bring her on, she was a resource they could use.

The third witch handed Taewoon a new business card, nodded curtly at YooHwan, stuck up his nose at Jungwoo, and stopped dead in the doorway, where JongKook and SeJoon sat at the table, sharing a bowl of ice cream. JongKook looked up at him, looked at Taewoon with a terrified look in his eyes, and got up to put himself between the witch and SeJoon. "You can't touch him," he snarled.

That brought both Jungwoo and YooHwan into the kitchen. The witch didn't look away from JongKook, apparently trying to get him to back down.

Taewoon had the idea he missed something, and he took the witch's arm and pulled him around. He caught the avarice in the man's eyes before he schooled his expression. "You realized that if he goes missing, we will find you," Taewoon said.

"What can you do?" the witch asked, his voice slimy.

Taewoon smiled, a cruel look in his eyes. "You don't want to know," he said. "Aside from these men here, the police will be very interested in anything that happens to him."

The witch left, if not without one last glance back as if to see if he could find SeJoon, and Taewoon turned to Jungwoo. "What was that all about?"

"That," SeJoon said, tugging JongKook into his lap, "was one of the rare witches that preys on were-folk, insisting that some spells are more potent with elements from us." He grimaced. "Most were folk that fall in with them don't live very long."

"I'll fix that," Jungwoo said. "Can I have his card?"

Taewoon handed the updated card over to Jungwoo without hesitating. "Give me a minute," Jungwoo said, and went upstairs.

"I'm sorry about that," Taewoon said. "I didn't know. I do now, and I'll make sure something like that doesn't happen again."

JongKook nodded and relaxed, leaning against SeJoon. "I didn't know, either," he said. "I just... he looked like... I mean, he had that same expression I saw with Dongil way too many times."

"Oh," YooHwan said. "That's telling."

"Yeah," JongKook said, and sighed. "But he's gone, and Jungwoo is taking care of it."

The fourth witch was a small man who looked much younger than the age he'd given. He greeted YooHwan with respect, blinked in some surprise at Jungwoo, and glanced at JongKook and SeJoon with appraisal in his eyes, but nothing that set JongKook or SeJoon off. He sat across from Taewoon and answered his questions, and then, surprisingly, asked one of his own. "If you have such a powerful sorcerer, what do you need me for?"

Taewoon half smiled. "We've run across something he can't do," he said. "He suggested a witch might be able to."

The man blinked. "He... can't?"

"He said it's not a question of power, but something he couldn't define to me."

The witch didn't look any more enlightened, but he let it go. "You are looking for someone who can work with all of these people?" he asked.

"Yes. Can you?"

The witch hesitated. "The people look interesting, and working with them would be an educational experience," he said guardedly. "I'm just... not sure I can do something your sorcerer can't do. I'll give it a shot, though."

"If you can't, I'd rather know up front than find out on a case and put someone in danger," Taewoon said.

The witch nodded. "I can work with that," he said. "And these people."

Promising. Taewoon let the man go, and turned to the others. "He wasn't freaked out, and he didn't try to make off with anyone," he said. "That gives us two."

The fifth witch barely made it through the door, shaking at the sight of YooHwan, and Jungwoo unnerved him completely. He made his excuses and escaped.

"Well, that leaves us with two," Taewoon said, looking over the table at YooHwan. "Do you have a preference?"

"No," YooHwan said. "I suggest asking them here to see if one of them can or knows how to do what we need at the moment. And if they can work with Jungwoo's magic."

Taewoon nodded. "That's a good idea."

The doorbell rang around midnight that night, startling everyone awake, if SeJoon's aborted roar had anything to do with it. Taewoon rolled out of bed and headed down the stairs. People usually didn't ring the bell at midnight, and it usually meant an emergency when they did. YooHwan followed him, pausing about halfway down the stairs, his weapon hidden.

Taewoon opened the door and frowned. "SungMin?"

SungMin stood outside, shivering in thin pajama pants and a t-shirt, his feet bare. He looked exhausted and ready to fall over. "Hi," he said, his voice shaking. "Can I come in... Can I stay here tonight?"

"Yes," Taewoon said, pulled him in, and shut the door, locking it. "Is everything okay?"

"No," SungMin said and, to Taewoon's surprise, burst into tears.

It took a fair amount of hot tea and a blanket for his story to spill out. "I don't really understand," SungMin said, his hands clasped around his third cup of tea. "I don't know what they thought we had. Some men broke the door down and just... ripped everything apart. I didn't have... I mean. Mom made me go out the window."

Taewoon patted his arm. "I'm going to call a friend on the police force, and he'll help figure things out," he said. "Do you think you can sleep?"

"I'll try," SungMin said.

"Come on, then," Taewoon said, and stood up. "Anything is better than nothing, and as soon as I wake up in the morning, I'll call Hakyeon about checking out your place."

SungMin followed him upstairs, curled up on the bed next to Taewoon, and slept almost immediately. Taewoon smiled, not surprised, and went to sleep as well.

The doorbell rang while they were at breakfast that morning, before Taewoon had time to call Hakyeon. SungMin still slept, and he'd wanted to wait to have SungMin's input before calling. SeJoon, half awake and looking stormy, went to answer the door. He came back a short time later, Hakyeon behind him. Taewoon waved him to a seat. "You're up early," he said.

"There was an attack in the projects," Hakyeon said. "I wouldn't have bothered you except the woman had your card in her things."

Taewoon stiffened, a foreboding washing over him. "The woman?"

"A Choi SonJi," Hakyeon said. "She has a son named SungMin. He's probably sixteen or something. We couldn't find any sign of him, other than he'd been there recently."

Taewoon nodded slowly. "What condition is she in?" he asked.

"She... didn't make it, I'm sorry."

Taewoon winced. "Do you know why she was attacked?" he asked. He didn't relish the idea of telling SungMin this news.

Hakyeon sighed. "Preliminary theory is drugs, considering how they ransacked the place," he said.

"She was clean," Taewoon said. "At least, she had me convinced." SungMin had never mentioned drugs or drinking, even when Taewoon had asked. He trusted SungMin.

"We're trying to find her son," Hakyeon said. "Do you know where he is?"

Taewoon frowned. "Why?" he asked.

"We just want to make sure he's okay. He's not a suspect."

"I know SungMin better than his mother," Taewoon said. "He came here last night. I was going to call you when he woke up."

Hakyeon let out his breath. "Good. Keep him here. I don't know yet what exactly is going on, but he's better off here than anywhere else."

Taewoon nodded. "I'll keep him here as long as I can."

"Let me know if he goes to stay somewhere else," Hakyeon said.

"I will," Taewoon said. "Anything about your boss?" he asked.

Hakyeon shook his head. "Nothing, yet," he said. "I'm still hoping."

"Good luck," Taewoon said.


Oh TaeHa, the young man who had interviewed with Taewoon and passed, showed up two hours after the second call, looking nervous and a little bit excited. He looked like he didn't know exactly what he wanted to do, but he definitely wanted to be involved.

"What I need you to do," Taewoon said as he ushered TaeHa into the front room, "is design a spell or something that can temporarily alter someone's scent."

TaeHa looked at him in confusion. "Change someone's scent?" he asked.

"Yes." Taewoon took a breath to try to explain. "We had a problem earlier, with a couple of my people going in undercover, and we didn't realize until too late to do anything about that Jungwoo can't alter or cover a scent."

TaeHa nodded. "I don't really understand," he said.

"They were in with were-tigers," Taewoon said.

TaeHa blinked at him, then comprehension crossed his face. "The underground tiger ring bust," he said.


"Will there be layering involved?"

Taewoon thought a moment. "I can't answer that," he said. "Let me get Jungwoo in here to talk to you." He went into the kitchen and found JongKook just finishing cleaning up. "Can you get Jungwoo for me?" he asked.

"Sure." JongKook ran up the stairs, and Taewoon returned to the living room.

Within a short time, Jungwoo came down and joined them. "How can I help?" he asked.

"I asked TaeHa to come up with a way to temporarily alter scents, and he had a question," Taewoon said.

TaeHa smiled uncertainly. "I just wanted to know about layering of spells," he said.

"Yes, that's the idea," Jungwoo said. "Either you cast your spell and I'd cast mine over yours, or the opposite. Why?"

"It might make a difference," TaeHa said. "I guess I'll be doing most of my work with you?"

"Probably," Jungwoo said. "I'm attached, for better or worse." Taewoon stifled a snicker, and Jungwoo glared at him.

"Can I see an example of your work? I mean, something like what you'll need me to work with you on?"

Jungwoo smiled. "Of course. Human or Tiger?"

TaeHa thought for a moment. "Human to start with, please," he said. "I've never worked with were-folk before."

"Come with me," Jungwoo said, and got to his feet. Taewoon trailed behind the two as they walked to the backyard, stopping on the porch. JongKook and SeJoon lay on the grass in the sunlight, SeJoon's fur nearly blinding. JongKook looked asleep, SeJoon's head on his shoulder and one paw on his chest. "JongKook!" Jungwoo called.

JongKook looked up leisurely, eyes barely open. "Yeah?"

"Do you mind if I put that disguise spell on you again?"

JongKook shifted to the side, one hand soothing SeJoon when he whined in protest. "No, I guess not," he said.

Jungwoo nodded and looked at TaeHa. "Are you ready?"

"Yes," TaeHa said, focused intently on him.

Jungwoo took a breath and sang a short sequence of notes. TaeHa's head whipped around to look at JongKook. Taewoon wondered what TaeHa saw, if he could see anything. All he saw was a blur and JongKook didn't look like himself any more. "Hm," TaeHa said, glancing back at Jungwoo. "And that wasn't enough?"

"No," Jungwoo said. "He needed to be completely someone else. It might have worked if he'd been among humans, but one of the people he was trying to fool was a were-tiger. All I could do was add a sort of avoidance spell, a "don't look, nothing familiar here" nudge that worked, but that guy was certain he knew them, even if he didn't know why. Given a less chaotic time, he might have broken through that nudge. I don't want to leave it up to that sort of chance again."

"I can understand that," TaeHa said, rubbing his hands together. "And you can take that nudge out without hurting the spell?"

"Easily. It was sort of cobbled onto the original spell because we didn't think about it until the spell was almost ready to use. Layering yours on top or underneath will be pretty easy."

"Will it be for him?" TaeHa asked.

"We don't know for sure," Taewoon said from behind them. "I'm not sure who it will be for. We may want to disguise SeJoon as completely human, or YooHwan as an elf that's not him."

TaeHa nodded. "Okay," he said. "I might have an idea, but it'll take me a while - maybe a couple of days - to figure it out and see what I need. Is that acceptable?"

"Absolutely," Taewoon said. "I don't see any need for it right now, and I don't want you to feel rushed."

"That sounds good," TaeHa said. "Some to hide the scent of a non- human as human, or to change the scent from one example of any species to a different one of the same species."

"Yes, I think so," Taewoon said.

"I'll see what I can do," TaeHa said, and grinned at Jungwoo. "I'm glad you sing," he said. "It's a huge part of my spells, too."

Jungwoo smiled, looking pleased, and turned to go inside. "That's a good thing to know," he said. "We'll just have to make the harmonies right."

"Hey, Jungwoo?" JongKook called. "Can I be me again, please?"

Jungwoo laughed and sang the same notes backwards. The spell ended, turning JongKook back to himself.

SeJoon snorted his approval and inched closer, one paw knocking JongKook onto his back again. "Thanks!" JongKook called breathlessly.

Taewoon showed TaeHa to the door, making sure he had a way to contact them. When he returned to the kitchen, he found them all - even SeJoon in human form and JongKook - waiting for him. "What?"

"What did he say?" Jungwoo asked.

"He said he'd look into it, and let us know," Taewoon said. "Why so interested?"

"I like him," YooHwan said.

"He asked questions," YooHwan said. "Even at the initial interview. And he didn't make you jump through hoops."

"I like him, too," JongKook said.

"Why?" Taewoon asked, hiding his amusement at YooHwan's comment. Although from the look YooHwan shot him, he didn't hide it well enough.

"He didn't try to make a move on my boyfriend or look like he wanted to take him apart and use him for components."

SeJoon shrugged. "I don't have an opinion," he said. "Are you going to talk to the woman?"

"I did," Taewoon said, sinking down at the kitchen chair. "She's already got something she's doing, so she didn't know when she could get back to me."

"Freelance isn't a bad thing," Jungwoo said. "It's what a lot of witches do. In fact, I've done it. It just..." He frowned. "I guess it depends on who they're willing to work with. Some don't care, and some care very much. I'd prefer the second."

"Well, if he gets this, then we won't have to worry too much about that," Taewoon said. "If he wants to work with us."

YooHwan laughed. "He'd be insane to want to, you know that, right?"

"So you think we're all insane?" SeJoon asked.

"Absolutely," YooHwan said, grinning at him.

"As long as you realize that you being here also qualifies you as not too sane yourself," Jungwoo said.

YooHwan stared at him, then grinned. "Oh, yeah, I know. I'm probably less sane than the rest of you."

"And proud of it," Taewoon said.

JongKook looked at Taewoon. "How is SungMin?"

Taewoon sighed. "He's... holding things together," he said. "I don't know how well, but he knows he can talk to me. I just don't know if he wants to."

"That makes it rough," SeJoon said. "I don't know who else he would talk to, though."

Taewoon shrugged. "I don't know either. But maybe he does. He seems happy to stay here, though, so maybe he will."

"Would you let him join us, if he wanted to?" YooHwan asked.

Taewoon stared at him, then took a deep breath and let it out. "I... probably would, if I have the choice. I know Hakyeon is okay with leaving him with us, but I'm not sure how much the courts will have to say about it."

"Good to know," JongKook said. "I mean, he's a good kid, and he helped us out a lot."

"He did," Taewoon agreed. "Right now, he's just... managing."

"It's sometimes all we can do," SeJoon said.

"Yeah," JongKook said, and leaned against him.

They looked so much happier, so much recovered that it gave Taewoon hope about SungMin. Maybe he, too, would be okay.

The day after TaeHa's second visit, the doorbell rand. Taewoon opened it to see Detective Cha Hakyeon, a stormy look on his face. Taewoon frowned. "Bad news?" he asked, too aware of the many ways things could go wrong now.

"Yes," Hakyeon said. "I'm... transferred. I can't even stay long now."

"Where to?" Taewoon asked.

"Busan," Hakyeon spat. "I gave them all my evidence, everything from you guys and everyone else I could find, and they... just looked at me like I'd lost my mind. Maybe I have."

Taewoon frowned. "Who's taking your place?" he asked.

"Yoon DooJoon. A good enough guy, and he won't over use you or underuse you. He'll keep you up to date on things. Just... be careful. I don't know what relationship he has with my sup... former superior."

Taewoon nodded. "Keep in touch," he said. "We'll miss you."

Hakyeon tried a smile, but it failed. "The only good news I have is that they found SungMin's mother's will, and she named you primary guardian for him. Unless someone contests that, he's your ward."

"That is good news," Taewoon said. "Thanks. Be safe. Raise hell out there, too."

Hakyeon nodded and turned to leave. "Watch your back," he said over his shoulder. "My former superior holds a grudge."

Taewoon nodded and watched him leave, carefully shutting the door when he'd gotten to the street. "Well, that's unexpected," he muttered, and went to find SungMin to see how he'd take the news.

SungMin's reaction surprised him. "She did?" he asked, and his whole face, his whole body seemed to lighten. "I was afraid they'd make me go live with my dad or something, but this... I don't mind this."

Taewoon peered at him. "You don't mind it? You'll still have to go to school."

"I know that," SungMin said. "But I know...." He stopped and blushed. "I know you care," he said, quieter. I don't know that about anyone else around here. It's just... I just don't know."

Taewoon nodded and patted his knee. "I know. That means we need to get some of the paperwork done, then. Change of address at school, change of guardian, all that stuff."

SungMin nodded. He already looked better, and Taewoon wondered if half the problem was that he hadn't know what would happen to him. That could throw anyone off. "I wondered," SungMin said slowly. "I mean, I know you guys are doing something here. Can I be part of it?"

"I'd like that," Taewoon said. "I want you to understand exactly what that means first, though."

SungMin nodded. "Okay. I guess that's fair."

Taewoon tousled his hair. "I'm glad you think so," he said.

No one was happy about the news that Hakyeon had gone to Busan, although an exchanged look between JongKook and SeJoon had both of them smile, if wryly.

When the other witch finally got back to him, she'd gotten another offer and had a job currently. "I'd still like to work with you, if you need someone," she said.

"We will definitely keep you in mind," Taewoon said. "Thank you."

"Thank you, and good luck," she said, and hung up.

Now, they just needed to wait until TaeHa got back to them.

He did, a couple of days later, restrained excitement in his voice. "I think I have an answer," he said. "I need to try it."

"When can you come by?" Taewoon asked.

"I'm pretty open," TaeHa said. "I just need JongKook and your elf - YooHwan? - and someone who can check on the results for me."

"This afternoon?" Taewoon said.

"Sure, what time?"

"As soon as you get here," Taewoon said. "I'll let the others know."

"Thank you."

Taewoon hung up and went to tell YooHwan, JongKook, and SeJoon what was going on this afternoon, and then stopped in to tell Jungwoo.

"He's coming back this afternoon?" Jungwoo asked. "Excellent."

Taewoon grinned, "Want to stay for dinner?"

"If it gets that late, sure, thank you," Jungwoo said.

Taewoon grinned and went to see what they had to feed everyone with.

TaeHa looked stunned at their expectant faces when Taewoon showed him into the family room. He looked at Taewoon in a bit of panic. "I didn't expect an audience," he said.

Taewoon smiled and patted his shoulder. "Think of it as the next step in the hiring process," he said.

TaeHa took a deep breath. "Right. Okay," he said.

"Just... order us around as you'd like," Taewoon said, and then hit his head. "I don't know if you've met everyone, and even if you have, you need a refresher on names." He went around the room, introducing them all again, and he watched TaeHa visibly relax.

It was, possibly, the most interesting thing Taewoon had ever seen. Having seen some of what Jungwoo could do, that said a lot.

Not needing any better space, TaeHa put his spell on JongKook, and another on YooHwan. "Do you mind changing to tiger?" he asked SeJoon.

SeJoon smiled and shifted. He investigated JongKook first, and then YooHwan, and then shook his head and sneezed.

"Jungwoo, can you put your spell on JongKook?" TaeHa asked.

Jungwoo nodded at him and sang the notes again. The disguise settled over JongKook easily, lightly, and TaeHa smiled. "Oh, that's nice," Jungwoo said. "No friction at all."

"I tried to use the notes you did. It's easy enough to adjust them, I think. Or, not the same, but so that they create a harmony."

Jungwoo nodded. "Good thinking," he said. "SeJoon?"

SeJoon growled and shifted back. "I would never have guessed that was JongKook if I hadn't seen it," he said. "YooHwan smells like an elf, and one I've never met before."

"I can't tell anything," JongKook said, sounding very unlike himself. "I feel like I did while we were in the pit."

"You look like it," SeJoon said. "But you don't smell like it. Even now I could swear it wasn't you."

Jungwoo looked at TaeHa. "Is it a specific smell?" he asked.

TaeHa shook his head. "No," he said. "It's... I tried to make it so that for each spell, it's a different smell. I don't know how well I did. But he should smell like the same person every time you use that disguise. Hopefully. If not, then... I'll have to try something else."

"This is really disturbing," SeJoon said, shifting his feet. "Can you remove all of the spells?"

Jungwoo gestured again, and then TaeHa did the same. SeJoon sighed his relief and hugged JongKook.

"Is there a way to connect the spells?" Taewoon asked.

"Probably not a good idea," Jungwoo said. "Having them apart makes for more flexibility. At least, for right now."

"Okay," Taewoon said, and Jungwoo grinned at him. "I'm just asking," Taewoon said in defense. "I know nothing about what you guys are doing."

TaeHa stared at him. "You don't know anything?" he asked.

"No," Taewoon said. "I'm not even a little bit magical. I have friends that are, but for the most part, I'm just... human."

"Just human," YooHwan said, rolling his eyes fondly.

"I don't know about the just," SeJoon said. "Just humans don't notice were-tigers disappearing."

Taewoon blushed. "Anyway, I wanted to do something, so I gathered people around that can actually do things, and here they are."

TaeHa nodded, looking contemplative. "I'd like to be part of this," he said. "I just... I think I really want to be part of your group."

Taewoon glanced around at the others,

Before they could say anything, the front door slammed, and they heard someone coming in. "I'm home!" SungMin called.

"We're in the front room," Taewoon called back.

SungMin came in, shedding his backpack and getting ready to shed his uniform jacket. "Hey," he said, and plopped down.

"And this is SungMin, currently staying with us," Taewoon said. "SungMin, this is Oh TaeHa. He's possibly going to join us as well."

"Do you all live here?" TaeHa asked.

"I don't," Jungwoo said. "This is just my work space." He frowned. "What sort of work space do you need?" he asked.

TaeHa shrugged. "I can share a workroom, but it's better if I don't. Usually ground floor is better, but it's not necessary. I've never really thought about it."

"Basement?" SungMin asked.

"Possibly," TaeHa said. "I've never tried there."

Taewoon looked at SungMin, but didn't send him to do his homework as he originally thought to. He might as well know what was going on in his home. "It's something to think about," he said, and stood up. He started to say something, then stopped and changed his mind. "TaeHa, would you like to stay for dinner?"

TaeHa looked at him, startled. "Um. Sure," he said.

Jungwoo grinned. "Excellent. I want to pick your brain." He stood as well. "Come on up and let's talk."

Taewoon watched them go, and turned to YooHwan. "What do you think?" he asked.

YooHwan nodded slowly. "I like him," he said. "He fits well with Jungwoo, which isn't always the case."

"What do you mean?" JongKook asked.

"Sorcerers have a... superiority complex sometimes," YooHwan said. "Usually, in fact. Witches don't have the power they do, for whatever reason. So most of the time, they are looked down on."

"Huh," JongKook said. "I guess that makes a twisted sort of sense. But Jungwoo doesn't do that?"

"Not that I could tell," Taewoon said. "It was his idea to try to find someone who could do what TaeHa did. He also said it wasn't a question of power."

"That explains it, then," YooHwan said. "He doesn't see it as more power or less. He sees it as... skill set. Knowledge. Which is pretty forward thinking, for a human."

JongKook laughed. "Says the Elf."

"Who sees things from the outside, and therefore has the understanding to say it," YooHwan said, and grinned at him.

Taewoon rolled his eyes. "SungMin, what homework do you have today?" he asked, looking away from the others.

"Same as always," SungMin said.

"Come keep me company while I made dinner," Taewoon said, and SungMin nodded, not even looking like he wanted to be somewhere else.

Taewoon liked this bit of routine. Dinner, homework, it made him think of his own teen years, sitting in the kitchen with his mother and younger brother, doing homework while his mother made dinner. Those were some of his best memories. He might not be SungMin's father, but he did want his friend to have some of those kind of memories, too. So many of his seemed to be not too good.

Dinner went well, the kind of well that made Taewoon think that TaeHa would be a good addition to the group. He fit in, didn't discriminate, and got caught up in a discussion with Jungwoo about different kinds of spells and components. They were actually discussing, not arguing, and widened their discussion to include SungMin when he asked something about what they were talking about.

Taewoon was glad to hear the "oh, maybe I won't get into that sort of thing, then," from him, too. He didn't know if he wanted that for SungMin, but then... well, why not? It would be something for him to do. Not that he'd say no. He was just glad he didn't have to argue that with someone that might come and ask about SungMin and his mental development. Which he expected at some point.

The expected visit came a couple of days later, in the form of a policeman in plain clothes, after they'd offered TaeHa the job and he'd accepted it. JongKook let the officer in and brought him to Taewoon, who sat in his office working on a possibility for their next case. Next door, he could hear Jungwoo working on something as well. "Taewoon? This is Detective Yoon DooJoon," JongKook said. "He said he needed to talk to you about something."

Taewoon looked up. "Ah... just a minute, please," he said, and took the time to bookmark the site before he lost it. Then he turned away from the computer and stood up. "Thanks, JongKook," he said. "Come on in, officer."

"You knew I was coming?" DooJoon asked.

"No, but I figured you'd show up at some point, and let us know who you are. Not to mention find out who we are," Taewoon said, offering his hand.

DooJoon shook it. "That is part of it," he said, and sat down in the chair Taewoon gestured him to. "The other part is to check up on Choi SungMin, and see how he's doing."

Taewoon sat down next to him, instead of on the other side of his desk. "He seems to be doing fine. His school work has picked up and he seems happy. I'd let you talk to him, but he's at school."

"Seems happy?" DooJoon asked.

"Yeah. I know he's not exactly...." Taewoon stopped and thought about it. "He's definitely mourning his mother, but he has people to talk to, and as far as I know, he's using them. I know he's talked to me, and YooHwan has said they've talked some, too."


"My business partner. He's an elf, so there's some different perspective there that I seriously doubt will hurt SungMin at all."

DooJoon nodded. "I thought I'd meet you when he wasn't here, to see what sort of place he's in."

"Why?" Taewoon asked. "I don't mind, but I know it's not part of your regular duties."

"Hakyeon asked," DooJoon said. "He'd like to know that SungMin is doing well. I think he wants news on you guys."

"He was a good friend," Taewoon said. "Is a good friend. He was one of the best liaisons we've had with the police department."

"That gives me something to strive for," DooJoon said. "Can I meet the rest of you?"

Taewoon stood. "You bet," he said. "I'll have to check to see if TaeHa is available, but it sounds like there's a lull right now in Jungwoo's work."

DooJoon stood as well and followed him next door. The introduction went well, as far as Taewoon could tell, and Jungwoo's subtle nod as they left again made him feel better. If Jungwoo got good vibes off him, all the better.

YooHwan sat on the back porch, watching SeJoon and JongKook play dodge. Taewoon ushered DooJoon into the other chair. "We're still fixing this place up," he said. "The back porch is probably last on the list." He introduced DooJoon to YooHwan, who nodded at him, looking distant. He might take a while to warm up to DooJoon, but he often played the aloof elf when meeting new people.

DooJoon tensed up when SeJoon caught JongKook - which he inevitably did - crouching down over him and licking his face. He generally only got one lick in before JongKook covered his face. He hadn't yet figured out how to keep JongKook's hands pinned down. "It's okay," YooHwan said, thawing a little. "They're lovers. SeJoon won't hurt him."

Taewoon looked at DooJoon, waiting for a reaction. It startled him a little that he didn't have one. "SeJoon? Park SeJoon? So that's Kim JongKook?"

"Yes," Taewoon said.

"I've read through Hakyeon and LeeTeuk's reports on them. They look a lot better than some of the pictures I've seen."

"They're doing much better," Taewoon said. "They've officially become part of the company."

DooJoon nodded, his shoulders easing as SeJoon got off JongKook and JongKook got to his feet. "You, YooHwan - elf, if I remember correctly - JongKook is also human, a were-tiger, a sorcerer, and you mentioned one other name?"

"Oh TaeHa," Taewoon said. "He's a witch, and I'm not inclined to interrupt him. We haven't been working together long, and I have no idea when is a good time. I've got Jungwoo's rhythms down pretty well, just because we've been working together longer and his workroom is next door. TaeHa's is downstairs."

DooJoon nodded, standing up as JongKook came up the stairs, SeJoon padding next to him, his head under JongKook's hand. Taewoon nodded at them. "This is Yoon DooJoon, who's taken up Hakyeon's position of liaison between us and the police department."

JongKook nodded at him, and SeJoon stepped closer, smelling him. DooJoon stood still without flinching, even when SeJoon reared up and placed his paws on DooJoon's shoulders, shoving his nose in DooJoon's face.

"Hey, SeJoon, that's just rude," JongKook said, smacking the tiger on the shoulder. "Come on."

SeJoon went back down, snorted softly, and turned away.

"Sorry," JongKook said.

"Thank you," DooJoon said. "He's... big. And gorgeous."

JongKook smiled, relaxing. "He is," he said.

SeJoon snorted again and went inside. JongKook followed, leaving a "nice to meet you," behind.

"Does he do that a lot?" DooJoon asked.

Taewoon shrugged. "I don't know. They're an interesting pair."

"I can imagine," DooJoon said.

"I have a question," Taewoon asked, gesturing for DooJoon to sit down again. He did, and Taewoon leaned against the wall. "Is it just Hakyeon you're asking about SungMin for?"

DooJoon smiled, and it turned into a smirk. "I didn't think you'd let that stand. No, his mother's family asked. They aren't exactly contesting the will, but they do want to investigate where he's living."

"And you'll tell them that."

"I'll tell them what I have discovered," DooJoon said evenly. "There is also a question of... to put it less than ideally, visitation rights. I think his grandparents would like to see him regularly."

Taewoon frowned, and looked at YooHwan. "I haven't heard him mention anything about his grandparents," he said.

"Nor have I," YooHwan said. "But I also didn't ask."

"I didn't think of it," Taewoon said. "I'll ask tonight, if you'd like. I can call you tomorrow with his answer and maybe discuss it further."

DooJoon nodded. "That sounds fair," he said. "He's old enough to make his own decisions and the court will back him up." He stood. "I should go and let you get back to what you were doing. If I run across anything that you might be interested in, I'll send it your way."

"Do you mind if we send you anything we think you might be interested in?"

DooJoon frowned briefly. "I don't mind at all, with the caveat that I may not be able act on it. I will pass anything I get on to someone who CAN do something about it if I can't."

"Fair enough," Taewoon said, and walked him back to the front door. "Thank you for coming out here."

"Thank you for seeing me," DooJoon said, shook his hand, and left.

Taewoon watched him go, and then closed the door and turned around. It didn't surprise him to find them all - even TaeHa - watching him with undisguised interest. He laughed. "He's just getting to know us," he said.

"He's not going to take SungMin away, is he?" JongKook asked.

"Nope. He's just checking in on him for Hakyeon," Taewoon said.

"He seems okay," SeJoon said warily.

"Only because he didn't back down when you shoved your big whiskers in his face," JongKook told him.

"It's a fair way to figure out if they're friend or foe," SeJoon defended himself.

"For a tiger," JongKook said.

"I am a tiger," SeJoon pointed out, and then kissed JongKook when he would have continued the argument.

Taewoon grimaced. "He did want to know about visiting rights, so to speak. As in, SungMin's grandparents wanted to know about maybe seeing him occasionally."

"Will they make him if he doesn't want to go?" TaeHa asked.

That question surprised Taewoon. Not so much the question, but who asked it. "No," he said. "He's old enough to make his own decisions. DooJoon thought the court would back SungMin's decision, whatever it might be."

TaeHa didn't answer, but he did look satisfied, and he went back to the basement door. "Thanks," he said, and went downstairs.

The rest of them dispersed, and Taewoon followed YooHwan out to the porch again. "What do you think?" he asked, sitting down in the chair DooJoon had used earlier.

"I think he'll be okay," YooHwan said. "Despite JongKook's protests, DooJoon's reaction to SeJoon sticking his whiskers in his face is pretty telling. His reaction to SeJoon catching JongKook is pretty telling, too. And he didn't even blink at the news of their relationship."

"Jungwoo got no bad vibes off him," Taewoon added. "He didn't make my skin crawl."

YooHwan snorted. "That's pretty telling, too," he said. "I'd say he'll be okay."

"Yes," Taewoon said. "But we'll see how it goes the first time he needs us for something."

"Yeah," YooHwan said.

SungMin stared at Taewoon for a long time. "My grandparents?" he asked.

"He didn't say which set," Taewoon told him.

"There's only one set," SungMin said. "I've never met my father."

"So your maternal grandparents," Taewoon said. "What are they like?"

SungMin bit his lip. "I don't know," he said slowly. "I've never met them. Mom doesn't... didn't talk about them much." He looked down at his hands. "I know she went to see them, or at least talked to them, when she lost her job a couple years ago. She was really unhappy for a while. I don't think they helped, either, because when you hired me, she was so relieved, and I could see it. And she never stopped being worried about money." He looked up again. "Why do they want to see me?"

Taewoon leaned forward and took his hands. "Something about being able to make sure you're okay, I think," he said.

"I don't believe it," SungMin said bitterly. "I don't. Or they would have helped. They have another reason they didn't tell the detective."

"Do you want to see them at least once?" Taewoon asked.

SungMin thought about it for a minute, then a truly vicious smile crossed his face. "Here. I want them to come here. They can see where I'm living, and they can see that they can't touch me, for whatever reason they might want to."

Taewoon smiled, surprised. "What sort of things do you want to show them?" he asked.

"Oh, I'll have something," SungMin said. "I just have to set the scene."

Whatever he'd been learning, Taewoon thought, it wasn't just YooHwan's point of view on death. He wondered who else SungMin had been talking to. He'd have to ask SeJoon and JongKook and see what they'd been telling SungMin.

Taewoon stayed out of it. He wanted to see what SungMin put together, and he wanted to see it from his grandparents' view point. So he kept himself out of it, even when he could hear them laughing, could hear them planning. It made him smile.

He did as instructed, and opened the door to the two obviously upper class people, who sneered at him in his jeans and t-shirt. If they thought he was going to dress up in his own home....

He would have, if SungMin had wanted him to, but SungMin wanted them to be perfectly normal.

Which included SeJoon and JongKook playing dodge in the back yard, YooHwan practicing archery - who knew he could actually do that? - in another part of it, and Jungwoo in the formal living room, in actual wizard robes. Taewoon had no idea what he was doing in there, but it looked pretty... wild. He had no idea if TaeHa was going to show up. Or what he'd look like if he did.

It took all his strength not to grin in sheer enjoyment at the surprise on the faces of his visitors. Still, he controlled it. "SungMin! Your grandparents are here!" he called up the stairs.

"He's downstairs," Jungwoo said, in a tone Taewoon had never heard from him. He sounded... drugged? It took a lot of Taewoon's self control not to stare at him. He wanted to act like this was perfectly normal.

"Downstairs?" Taewoon repeated, stunned.

"Is that unusual?" SungMin's grandmother asked.

"Marginally," Taewoon said, and led the way to the basement door. He opened it and nearly choked at the stench that came up the stairs. He could hear someone retching behind him. When he could breathe again, he flipped the light on, blinking in surprise at the bare bulb instead of the fixture that usually covered it. Glancing at his guests, he had to stifle a smile at the way their lips curled up in derision. He didn't apologize for the smell, even though it got stronger as they walked down the stairs and into the only finished room in the basement. He could have followed the stench. They found SungMin and TaeHa crouched on either side of a small brazier, staring avidly into it at whatever thing burned there.


"Ssh," TaeHa said without looking up. "We're almost done."

SungMin's grandmother looked utterly shocked at being interrupted, and looked at Taewoon. "Who is this?" she demanded softly.

"He's our witch," Taewoon said.

"Why is SungMin down here?" her husband asked.

"I suppose he had a question about whatever TaeHa is doing," Taewoon said. "I don't have a problem with him following what interests him, as long as he's got his homework done."

Eventually, the ritual, whatever it was, finished, and TaeHa put out the fire. SungMin grinned at him. "That was fun. Thanks!" He got up and turned around to smile at his grandparents. "Hi. Sorry about that, things got interesting, and I couldn't interrupt him."

"Come on up," Taewoon said. "Are you coming up, too?" he asked TaeHa.

"I'll be up in a minute," TaeHa said.

They met in the kitchen, where JongKook and SeJoon had come in and were standing very close together at the sink, getting water. "Why do you insist on licking my face?" JongKook asked.

SeJoon squeezed him. "Because it makes you squirm," he said.

SungMin's grandmother made a short noise of disgust. SeJoon turned to look at her and winked, brazenly.

"Come on," JongKook said, grinning. With a casual shrug, SeJoon shifted and followed JongKook out of the kitchen. As one, SungMin's grandparents stepped backwards and watched them go.

"You have a were-tiger here?" SungMin's grandfather demanded.

"Yes," Taewoon said. "He's part of the team. Both he and his partner are experienced and add much needed spirit."

"And SungMin?"

"I'm still in school," SungMin said. "He hasn't said I could yet."

Jungwoo joined them, and then so did TaeHa, both of them looking so odd - he couldn't even explain why - that it made Taewoon want to laugh.

"Are you going to let him join you?" the grandmother asked.

"I don't know. Probably," Taewoon said. "I don't have a reason not to."

The grandfather scowled. "You think this is a healthy place to raise a child?"

SungMin flinched. Taewoon looked at him, and noted the haunted look on his face. He turned his attention back to the man. "I think it's one of the healthiest," he said firmly. "SungMin knows his school work comes first. He has options open to him, and he knows that we will accept whatever he decides to do or become. Well, maybe not whatever," he added, patting SungMin's shoulder. "He knows that we don't look well on people who use others, who are more interested in their selfish agendas than being a decent human being - whether they are human or not. If SeJoon weren't a good man, he wouldn't be allowed to stay, no matter that we would miss his talents as a tiger."

"I don't think JongKook would stay with him, either," SungMin said. "I'm glad they're so good. I'd be less without them."

Which probably meant that he had talked to them about his mother missing, and how to deal with the loss. Taewoon was glad.

SungMin's grandparents looked... disturbed. Maybe. Only more malevolent. YooHwan came in then, bow strung over his back, hair showing his up-swept ears easily.

SungMin's grandmother's eyes hardened. "You have a dearth of humans," she said.

"Actually, we only have one non-human, and one half human," Taewoon said. "The rest of us are totally human. I find it's very... enlightening, to have the point of view of someone different from me. They can often see solutions I can't."

"And they've all helped," SungMin said. He leaned against TaeHa, who put an arm around his shoulders. "I miss mom less with them around."

"Yes, your mother," his grandfather said, his lip curling just a bit. Taewoon's hackles went up. "I wonder that she wanted you here instead of with us."

"Do you?" SungMin asked, straightening up. TaeHa's arm slid off his shoulders, and TaeHa stepped back just a little to let him face his grandparents, staying quiet in support behind him. "Why would she? You wouldn't help when she needed it, and he did." He gestured to Taewoon. "More than once we had dinner because of his help, more than once he allowed me to stay here when she had a possible job lead and needed a place for me to go. You were even closer, and you never once even asked if she needed help. You never once even acknowledged her. I don't want to ever see you again."

His grandparents stared at him. "You'd rather stay here in this... place than come home to..." his grandfather started.

"What, come and live in your stuffy home and become like you, give up my friendships with these guys that actually care, who take the time to answer my questions, listen to my worries...." SungMin trailed off, looking like he had too much in his head to let it all out in any sort of even stream. "They won't care if I never become anything but an accountant. Or if I decide to become a drag queen."

"A drag...." his grandmother gasped.

Taewoon had a hard time not laughing at the twin looks of horror on their faces. Both of them stared at SungMin, jaws dropped and eyes wide. A vein pulsed in his grandfather's temple.

TaeHa brightened. "I'd totally make your clothes if you did," he said. A stifled laugh came from someone around them. Taewoon didn't know who.

SungMin choked, caught between indignation and laughter. "See? That's what I mean. Support for whatever I want to become. I know that if they say no, they have a good reason - even if it's "I can't talk to you right now, I'm in the middle of something that can't be stopped, I'll come find you when it's over" or "you can't join us because I'm not sure I can keep me safe, never mind you" - and not for some stupid thing like "It's just not done that way." If it's not done that way, maybe it should be. You'd be a lot happier. You know what?" He stopped, gasping for breath, and Taewoon turned his head slightly at movement behind the visitors. JongKook and SeJoon stood in the doorway, listening, and SeJoon looked furious.

"You know what?" SungMin demanded again. "My mom was happier than I've ever seen her in the last couple of years. When she gave up and decided that you weren't going to let her be herself if she came back. It was hard for both of us, but she had friends, and I have friends, and we made it through. She was happy. We laughed all the time. It was... the times she had gone to see you, I could tell even when she didn't tell me, because she was so unhappy. You tried to ruin her." He stood there, halfway between them and TaeHa, with YooHwan and Jungwoo right behind. "I don't ever want to see you again. No 'visitation', no nothing. I'll file a formal injunction or whatever I need to. It's an important point that mom didn't want me with you, that she chose someone completely unrelated to care for me after she died. Key word there," he spat. "They care. You don't."

His grandparents grew more and more straight as he attacked them, backs going ramrod stiff, eyes hardening. "You wouldn't understand," his grandmother said, her words cold.

"I don't want to understand," SungMin shot back.

Taewoon stepped forward, his hand resting on SungMin's shoulder. He didn't think SungMin would hit them, but he couldn't be sure, not right now. He didn't want to give them a chance to take SungMin away from them. "I think that was pretty clear," he said softly. "I will ask that you not come back here. As you have seen, we are able to defend him."

"And we will," SeJoon said behind them, his deep voice sounding more threatening than usual. "SungMin's help kept us from getting killed. I won't let you make him do something he doesn't want to."

"Neither will I," JongKook said, looking no less threatening.

"If you try to take him, I will be able to find him," Jungwoo said, sounding more like himself.

"So will I," TaeHa said, his dark eyes glittering with malice. "With the two of us working together, you wouldn't sleep well for a week."

"Or longer," Jungwoo said, nodded at TaeHa. TaeHa nodded back.

Taewoon smiled. "And I'd let them do what they wanted," he said. "Not that I could stop them, but I wouldn't even try."

"You have made yourselves clear," SungMin's grandfather said stiffly. "We'll leave now."

SeJoon and JongKook stepped out of their way and they walked toward the door. Taewoon followed them, waiting politely - and stiffly - for them to get their shoes on and leave. They did, without a backwards glance.

Taewoon shut the door and turned to find himself alone, and went back to the kitchen. SungMin still stood there, looking furious and ready to kill someone. The others stood around him, exactly as he'd left them. "Hey," he said, touching SungMin's shoulder again. "Are you okay?"

For the second time since he'd known him, SungMin burst into tears. Taewoon hugged him, and SungMin held onto him like a drowning man. Each of the others touched SungMin's shoulders and left again. Taewoon took SungMin to the couch, sat down with him, and let him cry.

YooHwan came in awhile later. "How is he?" he asked.

SungMin leaned still on Taewoon's shoulder, eyes pressed into the side of his neck. "He's... better. I hope," Taewoon said. "I don't know. But he hasn't tried to kill me yet."

"Not gonna," SungMin slurred.

Taewoon laughed softly. "Sleep, Minnie. You need it, and I'll make sure you get up for school tomorrow."

"I hate them," SungMin said.

"I know," Taewoon said.

YooHwan sat next to him. "Use that," he said. "And show them they're wrong."

"Yeah," SungMin said, and let his breath out slowly. "Or, I just ignore them and do what I want."

"I think if you don't become a drag queen you'll break TaeHa's heart," Taewoon said.

SungMin gulped, and then laughed. "The looks," he gasped after a moment.

Taewoon chuckled. "I know. I don't think you could have come up with something that would have horrified them more."

"TaeHa's response was perfect," YooHwan agreed, laughing as well. "That couldn't have come better."

The laughter wore SungMin out as much as the crying had, and took shorter. Finally, he sighed, and nestled closer. "I'm not gonna go anywhere," he mumbled. "You're stuck here, too."

Taewoon laughed softly. "Will you grab a blanket?" he asked YooHwan, and by the time YooHwan came back, SungMin had fallen completely asleep. "He's going to be bear to wake up in the morning," Taewoon said, slipping free of him and carefully laying him down on the couch.

"Probably," YooHwan said, covering SungMin with the blanket. "I think it was all necessary,"

"Yes," Taewoon agreed. "He got a lot of that venom out, and he'll have a better chance to heal."

YooHwan nodded. "I thought about taking him to visit her grave tomorrow."

"Suggest it. It can't hurt."

YooHwan nodded. "TaeHa is back downstairs, and Jungwoo's with him. I think JongKook is working on dinner."

Taewoon sighed. "You know, I keep forgetting those two don't live here. I wish they did. They're part of this bizarre little family, especially since they helped SungMin so much."

"We have room," YooHwan said.

"Only if they want to share a room, or you do," Taewoon said.

"I don't mind," YooHwan said. "Maybe you should ask."

"Maybe I will," Taewoon said. "At least find out about their housing."

It would be nice to have them all there. It would keep down the possibilities of them getting caught by someone on the way in to work, and if things kept going the way they seemed to, they would make some powerful enemies.

Using the basement and maybe a shed outside for workspaces would help, and maybe.... Taewoon shrugged. He didn't understand the whole urge to have them all in one place, but he would at least talk to them about it. It might make sense. Especially when talking about something like what had happened with the tiger fight ring. Having them all right there could really help.

Well, as YooHwan said, it couldn't hurt. Taewoon decided to invite Jungwoo and TaeHa to dinner and see what they thought of the idea. He headed into the kitchen to check to make sure JongKook would have enough to feed them all, feeling like maybe this whole thing would work out okay.

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