Jimin pressed his fingertips to the soft rims of the touching cornflowers and lilies and furrowed his brow, fighting against a sleepy downward tug on his lips and eyes. There was a lot of noise buzzing around him with his siblings yelling and bouncing on top of the soft petals of the springtime flowers, tossing grass and floppy leaves at one another in a game of tag. He tipped over as a cherry red petal hit the side of his face, choking on a yelp as he flopped over onto the pollen-saturated stigma of his flower.
“Stop!” His voice cracked as he attempted to fight back without harming the flower he was on, his wings buzzing ardently behind him as he lifted himself into the air and stormed towards a group of his snickering siblings. “Momma!”
“Leave him alone,” their mother called, her all-encompassing voice wafting over from the other side of the meader and sending shivers down their spines. Jimin, however, was unaffected. He giggled in success, wrapping his arms around one of his older sisters, Jiwon, and smacking a sticky kiss against his cheek. His stomach was still heavy and pleased from the lunch they had eaten an hour beforehand, sandwiches and honey and sweet breads, but it seemed as if they energy was hitting his siblings before it hit him. If anything, Jimin was ready for a long nap.
“Don’t be a baby, Jimin-ah,” Jihyun sang, flying over and bumping her hip against his. He wrinkled his nose at the grass stains on her trousers.
“I’m not a baby,” Jimin protested, a pout growing on his lips as he buried his face in Jiwon’s neck and closed his eyes at a lame attempt to block them out.
“Such a baby,” Jieun said through a sigh, running her fingers through his hair. “Our baby prince.”
Jimin rolled his eyes, tugging them towards the water where more of their siblings were congregated, their toes dipped into a crystal clear river a few meters away from the much bigger pond. It was times like these, Jimin decided as they floated down and made themselves comfortable, that he was grateful that he was the youngest. His other siblings greeted him fondly as he started to create bubbles and fun shapes within the water, and he smiled joyously. His older sisters and brothers spoiled him much more than they teased him, and he quite liked not having as many responsibilities as the eldest princes and princesses. As far as he was concerned, he could do just about anything and his siblings would still ruffle his hair and call him their baby at the end of the day.
His wings fluttered lazily behind him as Jihwan and Jihoon moved to sit next to him and took over the water sculpture he was working on, sleep tugging at his eyelids once more with the cool, suave voices of one of his sisters and his mother singing an upbeat tune to the beat of the buzzing beatles and chirping birds. Jihoon reached up to tug Jimin’s head down to his shoulder and Jimin smiled, closing his eyes as Jihwan ruffled his hair.
Yeah, he thought, he was just fine being their youngest prince.
“Don’t you ever do anything fun?” Jiyeon sighed, poking at the soft skin of Jimin’s belly. He wiggled until he was on his back, huffing as he got more comfortable in his cocoon. They were back home, Jiyeon tucked against Jimin’s side in his bed and a few of the others loitering in his room as well.
“I do fun things all the time,” Jimin mumbled, pressing his face against his pillow.
He had half a mind to use his magic to revert back to his true form and hide away from his siblings before they could chase him, but he always underestimated their speed. He would have the advantage of a smaller size for a short amount of time, but not for long. And, besides, his wings were already tucked away, wrapped around his body in a cocoon so he wouldn’t accidentally flop over on them during his sleep and hurt himself. It was much easier to sleep with his wings out when he was in his true form, but beds aren’t nearly as fun when you’re tiny. It was only comfortable to sleep with his wings out when he napped in the flowerbeds or sunbathes out on the cool stones by the rivers and ponds of the surrounding forest.
“When was the last time you did something fun?” Jieun hummed, poking his ankle. Jimin scowled, closing his eyes so he wouldn’t have to look at their grinning faces and mumbling something unintelligible against the fabric of his pillow. “Jimin-ah, family functions don’t count.”
“Where am I supposed to go?” Jimin whined, his words muffled by the pillowcase and the dense feathered pillow inside it. “Momma says we shouldn’t leave too often. She barely likes it when we travel as a group. And we gotta ask to go to the human realm but you know she won’t let me go alone since I’m the youngest.”
“And you actually listen to her,” Jiyeon cooed, running her fingers through his hair. “Our cute little baby.”
“Of course I listen to her,” Jimin huffed.
“I bet Jiminnie wouldn’t even try to go to the human realm by himself even if we offered to get Hoseok off his back,” Jihyun said, the grin evident in her voice. Jimin wrinkled his nose.
“Hey, don’t be mean! If he doesn’t want to be a rebel, don’t make him.”
“No one’s making him, it’s just an incentive.”
“Jimin-ah’s our baby, I don’t think it’s possible for him to rebel like we do.”
“You’re right, and there’s no way momma would let him go. He’d definitely have to sneak out.”
Jimin jerked up, lips tucked into a pout, and his wings unravelled as he wiggled out of Jiyeon’s grip. He sat up against the wall his bed was pressed against, fringe falling into his eyes, and crossed his arms over his chest while glaring at his siblings. “Fine,” he huffed. “I’ll do it. I’m not a baby, I can do it.”
He had heard millions of stories of his older siblings venturing to the human realm in secret, sneaking out of the palace after nightfall and finding adventure in unknown places. When he was younger it scared him, but as he grew older the curiosity festered and festered in his heart with each story he heard. The humans had a lot of things that the fae did not, things the fae held no use for. The differences in their realms always intrigued Jimin during their lessons on human culture, leading him to take extra pamphlets and books describing the evolution of electronics and communication and medicine in an effort to compare it to fae magic.
Maybe he was still a little scared.
Some of his siblings started to grin, a few raising their brows at his sudden change of attitude. “Jimin, you don’t have to,” Jiyoung said, reaching forward to pat his head and brush the hair away from his eyes. “Don’t let them bully you.”
“No one’s bullying--”
“Shut up,” Jihoon said. “If he wants to do it, let him do it.”
A soft murmur of protest arose from a few of his siblings, although it died down as the determination slowly works its way onto Jimin’s face. “Now look at him,” Jiyeon laughed. “There’s no fighting it, he’s already made up his mind.”
“I refuse to take responsibility for any he trouble he gets in,” Jieun warned.
“Who said I’m going to get in trouble? I’ve never been to the human realm before, there can’t be that much for me to get caught up in. I just wanna go for a little bit and explore?” Jimin sighed, the nerves making him tug his bottom lip between his teeth. “We’ve had lessons on their realm for as long as I can remember, I’ll be fine.”
“It sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself, not us.”
Jimin huffed, bringing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms underneath his thighs. He rested his cheek on top of his knees and faced away from his siblings’ careful gazes, staring at the wall.
“You’re the ones who wanted me to go in the first place,” he mumbled. “Besides, you’re right. I don’t do anything fun. I’m going.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t,” Jiyeon fretted, a songbird changing her tune at the possibility of their youngest getting hurt. “I don’t think it’s safe. The human realm is a lot more different than what we read in the books and what momma and the teachers have told us.”
“We eat the same food and drink the same water,” Jimin said, raising his head again and meeting their eyes with determination blazing behind him. He would not be swayed, not now. “That’s reason enough for me to think I’ll be okay. We know and use their language more than the ancient once, the only difference is that we have magic and they don’t.”
“Jimin, sweetheart,” Jiyoung started, worrying at her bottom lip. She glanced at the rest of their siblings, but they all shrugged at her or refused to meet her eyes.
“He’s an adult in their eyes,” Jihoon said, crossing his arms over his chest and smiling down at Jimin with a fondness laced with trust. “I think he’s more than capable of going. You won’t go for more than a few hours, right?”
“Right,” Jimin breathed, excitement making his blood hot as it rushed through his veins. A smile was beginning to replace the frown from earlier as he looked at his siblings, their eyes sparkling with a mixture of mischief and uncertainty. “I won’t even play any tricks! I don’t think I’d be able to handle it.”
They laughed at that, some of them ruffling his hair and bending forward to kiss his cheeks, leaving sparkling residue on his glowing skin. “We just don’t want you getting hurt,” Jiyeon explained, as if Jimin didn’t already know.
“I won’t get hurt!” Jimin said, eager to show them that he wasn’t just their baby. He was completely capable of travelling to the human realm and exploring for a few hours without getting hurt. If he landed in a sticky situation, he could just use his magic to protect himself. He was only one hundred and nine years old, but that didn’t mean he was useless. His oldest sibling was only three hundred and ninety four years old, so he didn’t know why they treated him like such a baby when the rest weren’t too far off. Even Jieun was only ten years older than he was!
Their mother, the territory’s matriarch, was seven hundred and eleven years old, so they were by no means an old family. The neighboring kingdom’s patriarch was a little over nine hundred years old, so weren’t they all technically babies?
“But, um--” Jimin fidgeted, looking over his siblings with a sheepish smile. Jiyoung sighed, long and exasperated. “I’ll need some money when I go. Just in case. And I’ll need help to sneak out, too. You’ll keep me covered from Hobi, right?”
Jieun seemed ready for the question, patting his calf with a predatory grin as Jimin hid his smile against his knees. “Don’t worry about anything, we’ve got you covered.”
“This is a bad idea,” Jimin stuttered out, biting his bottom lip when a few of his siblings threw their index fingers over their lips, a silent signal for him to hush. He lowered his voice and tangled his fingers together in front of him, eyes flitting over to the corner of the room. “Sorry.”
“You’ll be fine. Even if you get caught, momma won’t get mad at you. She never stays mad at you for long.”
Jimin knew that was true-- their matriarch did have a soft spot for him since he was her youngest-- but still. He didn’t like seeing the disappointment in her eyes. Or, worse, the worry. He could probably try to pin the blame on his older siblings and play the peer pressure card, but that stopped working after he turned one hundred. Something about having to accept more responsibilities, his siblings explained to him, even though Jimin much preferred being babied than having to deal with stuffy things like that.
Jimin slid the sleeves of his sweater over his palms, digging his fingertips into the soft cotton and taking in shallow breaths as he looked over the crack in the wall of their old play room. It wasn’t used much lately, since they all grew out of the children oriented toys, but they were known to frequent the room if they wanted to destress. Jimin understood more now, they had never told him the location they used to sneak out since they hadn’t deemed him ‘old enough’ in the past.
All of his siblings, apparently, had been using that crack to sneak out of the palace for decades, finding their way out without having to ask for permission to go to the human realm so they could play without a guard nearby. Their matriarch was rather strict on her rules about venturing to the human realm, but spoiled children will do as they please. Especially princesses and princes with a knack for adventure like Jimin’s siblings.
He couldn’t even venture out into the forest without letting Hoseok know, the matriarch being extra protective over her youngest, and while he enjoyed the company, sometimes he just wanted to be alone without the risk of a guard popping up to check on him. Hoseok was rather lenient, allowing Jimin to venture in alone and staying on the perimeter or a few hundred yards away, but he was still there. It wasn’t the same as getting true alone time.
“You have the stuff, right? I don’t want you getting stuck somewhere you can’t get out of.”
“I’m okay,” Jimin said, remembering the satchel they left in the forest for him to grab before travelling through the portal with necessities such as emergency money his siblings had gathered over their various trips to the human realm. They had helped him prepare for the trip for a few days, wanting to give him as much advice they could to navigate Seoul and its people. He also had to practice using his magic to his his wings, something he did not like very much at all, but his human culture teacher told him that unless it was a human holiday called ‘Halloween’ or another similar costume festival, Jimin was not allowed to show off his wings under any circumstances. “I won’t forget to grab the bag before I leave.”
“Good boy,” Jinah cooed, fixing his hair even though it would be tousled by the wing once he was travelling in his true form. “You remember the distress signal, right?”
“I know, noona. I’ll be okay, I promise.”
“If you’re not back by midnight I’m coming to find you with Hoseok in tow,” Jiseok muttered, worry creasing at his brow. “There’s a lot of humans we can’t trust, you know that.”
“I know,” Jimin repeated, fidgeting in his place. The black shorts they stuffed him in were pulled taut over his thighs-- he was much more used to flowy tunics and apparel of that nature rather than the form fitting style that seemed to be popular in the human realm. He did look nice, at least, considering the fluffy pale yellow sweatshirt he had on that made his skin look radiant.
“Be safe, love you,” Jieun said, pecking his cheek as he looked towards the crack again. The rest of his siblings offered similar farewells before he transformed, weaving around their heads and leaving small pecks against the tips of their noses or the apples of their cheeks.
They giggled and waved, music to his ears and helping to ease his nerves, and he started towards the crack.
It wasn’t too tight of a fit, luckily, and he slipped through smoothly, doing his best to steady his breathing as he started towards the forest. The birds were chirping incessantly even though it was nearing nightfall, as if they knew that their youngest prince was rebelling against the matriarch for a rendezvous in the human realm. Jimin idly wondered if he should have let Hoseok know where he was going, just to be safe. But, rationally, he knew that Hoseok would be forced to tell the matriarch or risk getting exiled for treason if she found out. He didn’t want Hoseok to get in trouble in case he got caught.
Jimin waved away the thought, switching back to his regular form and whining as he focused on separating a portion of his magic towards hiding his wings. It was getting easier to conceal them the more he practiced, and he was sure he could tolerate it for five to six hours if he really needed to.
Jimin wiggled around in an attempt to look at his back, making sure that his wings were completely concealed, before looking around for his satchel. He made a soft sound at the back of his throat when he spotted it, the brown leather catching his eye from where it was stuffed behind a bush. The birds seemed to chirp louder as he shuffled through the underbrush, a relieved sigh leaving him at the sound of water a few yards away.
The portal was a lot different from what Jimin remembered.
It wasn’t often he got to see it, since the matriarch preferred for her children to play on the eastern side of the territory due to the stronger alliances they held with the kingdoms near those borders, and the pond which hosted the portal (the only portal Jimin was allowed to know the location of) was in the western area. The last time he had been near it must have been around twenty years ago, when his siblings decided to play an elaborate game of hide and seek in the forest with the visiting Kims, forcing him to seek out hiding spots further and further away from the palace. Even then he had only seen it in passing, too afraid of getting caught up in something to risk getting close.
The pond was much more beautiful than his memory served. Cool, gray stones a foot tall jutted out from the ground around the shore, curving into each other and forming an oculus above the water. A few of the rocks nearest him were shorter than the rest, riddled with cracks sparkling every now and then with what Jimin knew to be magic residue. There were a few flowers here and there, mostly blue and green with the occasional purple and yellow, but Jimin knew they were mostly surviving from the magic energy than the actual nutrients in the forest ground.
Jimin took a deep breath as he kneeled down, grazing his fingertips over the soft, dense moss that clung to the rocks by his feet. The rocks served as a barrier to the portal, the water lapping at the edges but never surpassing them as the magic repelled it. He glanced at his reflection in the water and smiled, delighted by the sight of his mop of silver hair and the way it sparkled in the whirls of the portal. The water looked as if it had been dumped with gallons of glitter, sparkling at every tilt of Jimin’s head as he observed his reflection and flicked his fingers upwards to urge the water to make bubbles.
He risked dipping his fingers in, gasping as the jolt of magic energy moving through his veins. The magic coursing through him felt like something akin to adrenaline, speeding up his heartbeat and forcing a few beads of sweat to form on his brow. He had never travelled through a portal before, but his siblings told him that it was nothing to be afraid of. He was starting to question that.
Jimin repeated their words in his mind as he stood up, biting his bottom lip as he glanced around, anxiety tugging at his mind to double check that no one was around to see him. He had to be careful-- he knew a few of the magic bearing creatures knew exactly who he was and would use that against him for a reward. Especially the mushrooms. His siblings had told him the exact route to follow to avoid the big mouthed creatures, but he could never be too careful.
Shaking his head, Jimin returned to his gaze to the portal, taking a deep breath. He would be fine. There was absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Not at all.
He would be fine. It would be his first time venturing into the human realm, and his first time venturing somewhere unknown without his siblings or the matriarch or Hoseok by his side, but he would be fine. He practiced for this. He would go to the human realm for a few hours, maybe have a little adventure by himself, and then he would come back and his siblings wouldn’t be able to make fun of him (as much) for at least a decade.
Jimin closed his eyes, tightened his grip on the leather strap of his satchel, and stepped over the rock barrier.