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Night of the Eyes

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Jimin’s finger brushes over the small, pink mushroom, featureless excepting the frills at the edges. His father would cuff him so hard if he caught him touching the mushrooms instead of working, but Jimin allows himself this moment of indulgence. As the youngest of three guaranteed no inheritance once their father died, he often finds himself taken with the plants they grow. It saddens him that he will be cast to the clergy or military once Namjoon takes over the work.

“It’s a lot of work for two!” He protests more times than he can remember, “More than enough for three.”

Taehyung, the middle boy, casts him a sympathetic frown as their father shoots him down, swearing that “just because Sowon was too nice to tell him she didn’t want him living with them doesn’t mean she doesn’t mind.”

“A woman needs a house and a husband all her own,” his father snaps, tired of his youngest son’s gusto. Taehyung could be yelled at once and would drop things.

“And when the kids are little, and Sowon bedridden—”

“Then you can bother Namjoon, when I’m good and dead!” His father bellows, voice echoing through the meadow even just as a memory. “Hopefully he gets the sense to turn you out.”

Knowing he shouldn’t, Jimin’s finger glides up to the overhanging, white mushroom that half shadows the pink one. The white one is flawless; no animal dares take a bite of the avitaum mushrooms, as they’re horribly poisonous. Jimin envisions plucking it from the ground by its roots, biting into the meaty cap. Every herb farm worth its salt has at least one pair, as they only grow in excellent soil, and fairies supposedly love the bold colors. People who dare harm a household with avitaum mushrooms often die themselves within weeks.

“Excuse me?”

Jimin glances up, cheeks coloring as he rises to his full height, brushing the knees of his overalls clean as he examines the stranger:

Well-dressed. His overcoat is dyed a navy blue and the buttons are brass—all luxuries that Jimin only sees when the Baron rides through town on market days. He would stare at the man’s coat, gaze dumb with awe, if the man didn’t steal his attention, clearing his throat. And once he forces his attention to the man’s face, he realizes that the person standing in front of him isn’t much of a man at all.

“Is this the Kim’s?”

“It is,” Jimin’s cheeks flush, and he tears his attention away from the man, fighting the urge to run a dirty hand up through his sweaty hair. “What can I help you with, sir?”

“I’m,” and miraculously, the handsome man’s cheeks bloom a lovely red as he glances down in apparent shyness, allowing Jimin another beat to trace the strong lines of his face, “looking for ingredients for a tea.”

Pursing his lips, Jimin refocuses, knowing he could help this man and possibly receive an excellent tip for it. “What kind of tea, sir?”

He knows better than to touch him, so he waves for the man to follow him, hoping to conceal him in the rows. If his father spies them, he’ll pinch the man for himself.

The man’s gloved hands resettle in his pockets as he clears his throat, explaining, “It’s for a tradition. You make this…certain concoction of tea, and if you drink it on the Night of the Eyes, you see a vision of your future. I’ve heard people call it—”

“The sight.” Jimin perks up. “I’ve heard of it.”

“Excellent.” The man straightens his back, arms folding behind him, his mannerisms all so purposeful that Jimin feels like he could watch him for hours.

But instead of indulging in his silly staring once again, he begins building the recipe list, hands slipping into his pockets to draw his gloves out.

The man continues, “They say if you drink it any other night of the year, that the drinker hallucinates horribly. Some people have even died.”

Jimin casts him an odd glance. It’s rare to hear ritzy men babble like this. His father always said a loose lip is a distinctly lower-class attribute.

“I’ve…heard those rumors, too,” Jimin shakes his head, thinking of his father’s scolding for sharing that with him. “Don’t know anyone who’s ever tried it though.”

The man casts him a strange glance, and something in the thoughtful line of his brow, the purse of his lips, has Jimin swallowing thickly.

“My name is Hoseok,” the man says. “I just realized I never said so.”

He pauses, as if waiting for a certain response, and if Jimin didn’t often hear his father complaining about Baron Shim, he would wonder if Hoseok’s someone he should know.

“Sir,” he dipped his head, knowing at least enough to not address him by name.

“And I would assume you’re not Mr. Kim?”

“I am a Mr. Kim,” Jimin smiles at his joke, “but no; I’m not he. I’m his youngest.”

“Kim…?”

“Jimin.”

He stops them at a row of small, close-cropped flowers. Wire curls over them, arresting their growth and keeping them safe from a variety of animals that would eat them.

“Did you attend school?”

“I did.” Jimin kneels, fetching a pair of shears from his tool belt, slung low across his hips. “Up until I was too old to go anymore.” He swallows the jealousy as he admits, “My brothers, they’re the smart ones. The eldest wants to go to university, but dad wants the middle one to. None of us really know what Tae wants to do.” Then, all too aware of the uncouth babbling that he’d just been thinking poorly of Hoseok for, he shakes his head and stashes the flower head in the front pocket of his overalls.

Yet, Hoseok engages him despite his stupidity: “Did you want to go to school?”

Shrugging, Jimin admits, “I liked getting to spend time with the other boys, but I wasn’t the best at sitting still and listening.”

Next, they travel further back in the plots, Jimin’s eyes low on the ground to search for the tangled root he would need next.

“You’re not as stupid as you think,” Hoseok says, startling him.

Hand clenching around the shears, almost as if he’s worried Hoseok would attack him, Jimin laughs instead, trying to lighten the air. “Doesn’t really matter what I am, does it?”

It’s too heavy of a concept for a customer, so he hurries them along, a little impressed and a lot frustrated when Hoseok and his longer legs keep up effortlessly.

“It does. No matter what you do, you’re limited by what you can achieve.” Hoseok stares out over the rows of greenery, both men catching sight of Namjoon hidden amongst the tall stalks of whispervein that sweep over an entire plot of tilled ground. Whispervein is often used in teas to help ease nightmares, and Jimin knows they’ll have to go over there soon.

“Which brother is that?”

“The eldest.” Jimin clears his throat, stopping to pluck a single malt-lemon from a vine. His father would yell if he could see him proffering the whole fruit, but the conversation brewed a spiteful feeling in his stomach. They would lose a potential profit, but no money. With five fit bodies working on their farm, production kept up with the growth effortlessly.

His pocket presses to his chest with an oppressive tightness that causes Jimin to shift, not noticing anything out of the norm until Hoseok stills, falling behind him.

“Is everything—” Then he sees it, too.

The dairy farmer’s boy from down the lane, a Jeon Jungkook, sits close beside Namjoon. He would wonder if he’s imagining the proximity, but he’d caught them before, and now he seizes Hoseok’s wrist with no stipulations.

“You mustn’t say anything.”

Jimin’s eyes dip down to where he touches him, the dirty fingers of his gloves smudging against the white of Hoseok’s gloves, and he expects the man to jerk away from him in disgust, but they only stare at each other. Panic sloshes in Jimin’s stomach, but even as the seconds stretch on, Hoseok doesn’t pull away. Doesn’t even look away.

“Sir?”

“Hoseok.” His eyes, so bright when Jimin finally meets them head-on, bore into his.

“…Hoseok.”

“Please don’t be like this.” Exhaling, he nods to Jimin’s older brother. “I’m not going to say anything about him. Even if his fiancé deserves to know.”

Time stops for a moment as he wildly wonders how this rich man would know about his brother’s having a fiancé. A dark scowl crosses Jimin’s features and he yanks Hoseok closer, his dominant hand still brandishing the spears. He’s liked everything he’s seen from Hoseok so far, but he would silence him for Namjoon’s sake. There’s nothing wrong with Namjoon’s fiancé, but ever since Jungkook broke his foot the summer before and Namjoon picked up extra work at their dairy farm, Jungkook started following him around like a duckling.

Namjoon has always been too modern for his time, and Jimin still wonders how he would partner with a woman, who would have to be subservient to him.

“I’m not telling anyone,” Hoseok murmurs, unperturbed by the shears angled at him. “That’s not my business. And besides, I always liked Namjoon.”

Jimin’s eyes narrow. “What do you mean by that?”

“I was in your class back when we were younger.”

The memories flash in his mind, as if something held them back, and now Jimin releases him, as if burned.

“Jung Hoseok,” his voice comes out broken, slightly breathy. “But you—” Everyone said he was one case of a million who quit school to work more for his poor family. Not an uncommon result. Yet—

“How is it you’re this wealthy now?”

A smile tugs at the corner of Hoseok’s lips, and clarity slices through Jimin, the first taste of there he can remember. Stepping back, the breath too thick in his lungs, he guesses what Hoseok will say as he does:

“Luck, mostly. My father died almost two decades ago now, and I went away for work.”

Some memory tingles in the back of Jimin’s mind, but he can’t reach it. For a moment, he swears he feels something cushion his frustration, and then he no longer cares when he can’t reach the forgotten.

“Condolences,” he says robotically. They round a plot of edible plants, approaching the whispervein from the other side. Its purple, feathered stalks flutter in the breeze, a beautiful sight, and they fall silent as they approach them. Jimin thinks of the legends of the Fae preferring to stuff their pillows with the stalks, so the plants can relay their knowledge to them in sleep.

The rows of them bow to the pair as they approach, the light stalks at the mercy of the wind, and Jimin stretches out his hand, snagging the first that nestles into his palm. His father would swat him if he saw him behaving so superstitiously, but Jimin knows when certain methods are better safe than sorry. Now, with the captured stalk, he peels the husks back, pocketing two without touching the berries within. No fool would dare pick whisperberries without gloves to protect against the acidic juices.

“That’s all.” He glances back toward the house. “You need to stew tea with these all. Let it seep for at least ten minutes, poor a single cup, and drink it all. Even the dregs.” Jimin really doesn’t want to venture in to doublecheck the price, so he tells Hoseok how many pieces he’ll need for a fair trade.

Hoseok nods and reaches into his breast pocket within his sport coat, drawing out an embroidered coin purse that catches what watery sunlight the day offers. It twinkles, cold and taunting in its inadvertent wealth, but no envy rises in Jimin. He merely bows his head after Hoseok pays him.

“Thank you.”

“Of course.” Jimin licks over his lower lip in thought. “The next Night of the Eyes is due within the next month. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

“I hope so, too.” Then, in the most unnerving moment of all, Hoseok smiles warmly at him, and it strips him of his loftiness. Strips Jimin of his defenses.

It’s not like the horrifying beauty of the Fae that his mother and grandmother warned him about; it makes him think of Namjoon foremost and how he looked the few times Jimin glimpsed him with the dairy farmer’s boy.

His dulled heart gives a confused thump and he shakes his head to chase the confounding emotions away.

But by the time he recollects himself, Hoseok’s across the fields, no “goodbye” floating in the still air.

 

--

 

 

That night, after he reports the sales he fostered himself to his father, and the man knocks him aside, angry he wouldn’t fetch him for such an important customer, Jimin allows Taehyung to take care of him. They sit on their shared bed, knees brushing as Taehyung presses a cool rag to Jimin’s purpling cheek.

“I’m not saying he’s right,” Taehyung says, “but you had to know he would react like this. So, why?”

Like Jimin says, despite the leisurely way his middle brother conducts himself, there’s a cleverness to him that would conduct him well for school.

“I knew the man. He went to school with us.”

“Who?”

“His name is Jung Hoseok.”

Taehyung shakes his head. “I don’t remember a Jung Hoseok.”

“He left school when I was ten, I think.” That’s the last time he remembers seeing him. But no matter how much he describes him to Taehyung, his elder brother retains nothing. He could believe that Hoseok slipped under Namjoon’s radar, as there’s a decent age gap between him and his eldest brother, but Taehyung was only ever one year ahead of him in school.

They argue for another hour, until Namjoon ducks into the room, heading for his own bed.

Quieting, they settle down to sleep, Jimin taking the rag off Taehyung to cradle against his cheek. He expects the pain to keep him from slumber, but he drops off like someone knocked him out.

Their work on the farm is hard and he rarely dreams, too exhausted for his mind to bother, but that night, he rises from a field of wildflowers. He breathes deeply, the crisp notes all distinct to him, not clogging his nose like they enjoy doing in spring.

He reaches to touch one bloom, the petals dripping from the stamen like a woman’s dress. Instinctively, Jimin knows these flowers don’t really exist and laughs when they leap from the tops of their stems.

Laughter sounds from beside him and he turns, unsurprised that Hoseok sits there. Unlike that day, Hoseok is garbed in a simple tunic, rough and brown and probably a lot closer to what he looked like when they last knew each other.

Yet, he’s still older.

Hoseok takes his outstretched hand, drawing it down to rest on his own thigh, and he reminds him, “They bite.”

“I’m sorry.” He sighs, gaze sweeping over Hoseok, admiring the strange crimson of his hair. “That’s new.”

“What is?”

“Your hair.”

“Red’s your favorite color, right?”

Jimin’s hand rises to his cheek, feeling a phantom pain from his sleeping body, and he remembers that bruises show purple. “Yes. It’s kind of creepy that you know that.”

“Why? You told me.”

He wants to call him on his bullshit, but the way Hoseok says it—arms curled around his legs, leaning forward like talking to Jimin is the most engaging thing he’s done all day, eyes bright as fresh-pressed currency—has Jimin believing him.

“Alright.” He glances around, a little frustrated that he can’t see over the tops of plants. “Are we in the fields?”

“Yes.”

Somehow, he can feel Hoseok’s not really answering what he asked. “No, I mean, my fields. My family’s fields.”

“Oh, well, no.” Hoseok rolls his shoulders back, staring straight up. “We’re not there.”

“Why are we here? Where is here?”

“That’s a lot of questions.”

A hand touches his, fingers stroking a slow line down to his fingers. Jimin doesn’t know whether to yank his hand back or yell at him first, so instead he says and does nothing.

“Why can’t Taehyung remember you?”

A smile tugs at the corner of Hoseok’s mouth, though it doesn’t reach his eyes.

When he doesn’t answer, Jimin spits, “Alright. What questions will you answer?”

“Why do you have to interrogate me?” Hoseok withdraws his hand and Jimin refuses to admit that he misses the gentle warmth radiating from the touch.

“Because I don’t know why a classmate who dropped off the face of the planet would suddenly come see me.” Jimin huffs, balling up his hands into fists.

Hoseok exhales, but this sounds relieved. “I came to see you because I wanted to see how you were doing. I don’t think I ever forgave you for playing with Yuna.”

The memory pings back to him and Jimin laughs. “You were so mad! I remember!” Color rises to his cheeks. “I had a crush on her.” She married a few years back and was on her third child. “We both did.”

Laughing, Hoseok shakes his head and lies back, the bright sunlight stretching over him like a lover might, dipping into the hollows of his throat and chest.

It feels like Jimin blinks and his hand is skimming over the man’s stomach, smiling when he feels the softness there. Hoseok’s well-fed, as expected of someone wealthy enough to afford dyed clothes. Somehow he knows Hoseok will be watching him before he glances at him.

“Ask me something,” he demands. “If you won’t answer questions, ask me one.”

“Alright. Why were you touching the mushrooms when I came to visit?” It’s like he’s been waiting for Jimin to prompt him.

A breeze caresses his cheeks, formless hands cradling his face, and Jimin blushes as he answers, “The reason you water some plants and keep others in shade.”

“Yes?”

“Everything needs care to grow. Even though they get everything from the soil, I can’t imagine a Fae plant growing if it’s ignored.”

Hoseok starts laughing. “I don’t know how you think you’re the stupid one. You’re perceptive, just like Taehyung.”

Jimin grumbles, but Hoseok asks another question: “You’re not afraid of hurting yourself?”

For a moment, he considers answering on the morbid end of possibility and telling Hoseok that dying couldn’t be worse than everything else, but he finds the true answer elsewhere.

“Even if it’s magic, it’s just a plant. It can’t hurt me if I’m careful.”

He thinks Hoseok might scold him, but the man only touches his shoulder, the strength in his hand making Jimin think that, perhaps, he achieved his fortune through hard work after all.

Then he wakes up.

 

--

 

The next day passes in a cloud of overcast air, his father’s yelling and his mother’s silence sliding off him like rainwater. Even when his father slams his hands on the table, angry he’s not getting the reaction he wants from Jimin, he only glances at him, feeling as if he’s floating somewhere above the event.

Namjoon derails him after Jimin answers, guiding their father to his favorite discussion: wedding plans. That snaps Jimin back to earth, concern darkening the room as he glances at Taehyung. But unlike him, his middle brother maintains a calm façade without even a flicker. Jimin strives to emulate him until their father excuses them, walking off with Namjoon to tend their patch of melons.

“What’s with you today?” Taehyung asks him as soon as they round another patch.

“I had a dream last night about Hoseok.” He answers, then rushes out, “Is Joon crazy? The more he talks about it, the faster it’ll happen.”

Taehyung sighs. “You know how he is. If it makes the majority happy, he’ll go along.”

Neither of them say Jungkook’s name. Jimin doesn’t dare.

They mutter, words darker than normal as they work. Chores are usually a balancing act between working and avoiding subjects that might upset either of them. Jimin knows the dance, loves his brother with his whole heart, yet he finds he can’t bite his tongue any longer.

“Are you ever going to university?”

Taehyung startles, eyes widening so the whites are more visible. “What?”

“You’re the only one who has a chance to go.” Jimin exhales. “You’ve never talked about it, but if Joon has to marry Sowon, he’d want you to go. You know he’d rather you have the chances.”

Shoulders tensing, Jimin continues weeding, plucking the little teal flowers that like to wedge themselves in to steal other plants’ water and light, not reacting when Taehyung stops.

“I don’t want to go.” His voice doesn’t sound like his. “I never wanted to go.”

“Well, that’s too damn bad.” Jimin doesn’t know where this extra emotion came from, but he doesn’t look at Taehyung, doesn’t let him see the pain bright in his brother’s eyes. “I have to go fight the damn rich people’s war or swear off having a family. One of those, or I get to be a beggar. You think I ever wanted that? And you have a chance to be something more, but you won’t even take it?”

Taehyung shoots up from his spot. “That’s rich. Tell me how I’m wasting my life.” Jimin anticipates barbed words, but instead, they cut in a completely different way: “So you’ve given up on me now, too?”

“Tae—” His head finally snaps up, but it’s too late; his brother is walking away. “That’s not what I meant!”

By the time he stands to chase after his brother, Taehyung is halfway to the woods dividing their property from their neighbors’.

He runs, but by the time he stumbles through the first row of undergrowth, he can’t tell where his brother went.

 

--

 

Taehyung returns for dinner, not daring to miss and turn their father’s attention to him, but every attempt Jimin makes to talk to him gets rebuffed.

When they retire for the night, Taehyung slides in beside Namjoon—a feat neither of them normally dare with their eldest brother’s violent sleep movements.

Jimin wants to call him out on it, but he can only stare at how Taehyung’s arm tightly cinches Namjoon’s waist, like he’s bracing himself for another confrontation. It hurts, so he climbs into their bed without a word, swallowing the tears that want to escape. Whatever happened to him last night, it messed with his head. He has no idea what possessed him to say those things to Taehyung, even if he meant them, and he doesn’t fall asleep for a good hour that night.

When he opens his eyes to the same field of wildflowers, he speaks without seeing Hoseok, knowing he’ll hear him: “I don’t have it in me for this tonight.”

“That’s alright.” Hoseok’s voice is a gentle whisper over his shoulder. “We don’t have to talk tonight. I actually wanted to show you something.”

He considers turning him down, but then Hoseok’s stepping past him, and his outfit draws a startled laugh from Jimin: the collar and cuffs of his sleeves are frilled. The fabric and waistcoat look luxurious again, but when he laughs a second time, Hoseok checks him.

“I wouldn’t laugh so much when you’re wearing the same kind of clothes, Jiminie.”

Drawing him up short, he raises his arms, letting out a cry of surprise at the rich, dark silk. This one shirt costs about as much as a full day of work on the farm. He could stare at the thread count for another hour, but at Hoseok’s gentle call of his name, he finds himself following. Like the prior night, this dream feels so real and the emotions are so pleasant that he can’t bring himself to part ways with Hoseok.

Pushing through the fronds of plants, it hits him with a pulse of shock when they arrive at the edge of his property. In front of them, their normal woods begin, and behind them, more woods should be, but he sees what could be ages of wildflowers all lined up. Wondering what that could mean, the words stop again as Hoseok presses a single finger to his lips, urging him forward.

Venturing into the normal foliage, the only thing that throws him is that the bushes don’t snag or stop him as they move, despite his delicate clothing. Everything else could be recreated from his own memories for accuracy.

Just when he’s about to risk talking again, he finally hears it: his brother.

“You expect me to believe that?”

Hoseok gestures for him to move slowly, and before his brother comes into view, he hears another voice:

“Explain it then.”

“I can’t!” Taehyung snaps, “But just because I don’t know doesn’t mean there isn’t a logical reason.”

Rounding a tree, he bites back a yelp when Hoseok pushes him against the trunk, showing him to peek out to see. He does, and he sees Taehyung, arms crossed in front of him petulantly, his nostrils flared.

And standing in front of him is a shorter man, his hair almost natural looking, if not for the glossy, blue tint where the sunlight plays through the strands.

“You’re thinking you’re stupid,” the man drawls, his baritone giving Taehyung’s a run for its money, “and you’re vindictive about staying that way and not going to university.”

Jimin stiffens in time with Taehyung, though his brother fires back a rebuttal faster than he could have thought of on his own, “So you heard me arguing with my brother. You’re just a creep, not some Fae.”

Energy crackles through the air, standing the little hairs on Jimin’s arms on end, and he wants to yell to Taehyung, warn him to run for it.

A hand finds his shoulder and Jimin shrugs it off, refusing to let Hoseok restrain him if Taehyung’s in trouble.

“Alright. If you don’t believe me.” The strange man spreads his arms as if he’s showing off wares to Taehyung, and suddenly, the air around them quivers, as if it superheated, and plants begin to sprout and grow around their feet.

Sucking in a horrified breath, afraid, Jimin yells for Taehyung, sprinting forward, but when he does, he thrashes awake in bed, sweaty, the sheets matted around him.

Namjoon and Taehyung shoot up in the other bed, the former grabbing for the gun he keeps stashed under the mattress, while the latter sits there, eyes wide with sleepy horror.

It was a dream, but Jimin can’t stop the horrified shivers from encompassing him, arms wrapping tight around his torso.

“Jimin?” Namjoon asks, voice hoarse as he stands from bed, his hair feathered every which way. “What’s wrong? Why did you scream?”

And instead of answering, they hold their breath to see if it woke their father. Minutes click past and they exhale, tears slipping from Jimin’s eyes.

“Tae…I’m sorry.” He finds himself blubbering, too embarrassed to try to explain the dream.

Thankfully both his brothers never could hold a grudge against him for long and they slip into bed with him, Namjoon quiet, letting his presence calm him, while Taehyung whispers apologies of his own.

“I know you care,” he murmurs. “I know you’re worried. I worry too, you know? I don’t want any of us to be separated like that.”

Namjoon, another blessing of his calm personality, doesn’t ask and instead slings an arm around either brother.

They wind up sleeping together in one bed that night, and if Jimin dreams again, he doesn’t remember it.

 

--

 

The next night, Jimin doesn’t dream of Hoseok, but Taehyung disappears halfway through the day. He’d never before believed in preemptive dreams, but he attempts to follow the path he took with Hoseok into the woods late into the day. Part of him fears the woods and the things that might find him, but his concern for his older brother eclipses that.

Yet, he gains nothing for his worries: he finds nothing in his ventures beyond scratches and bug bites.

Namjoon questions where they both went, and Jimin wonders if he imagines Taehyung’s sharp gaze on him.

“I went looking for employment.” He answers instead, the words tasting stale in his mouth. “To see if any local priests would be willing to take me on.”

His father harrumphs, cuts into his meat, and takes a jab at his youngest son, proclaiming that it’s about time that he starts looking for a version of livelihood for himself. It continues for far too long, Jimin losing his appetite, feeling like he might vomit up dinner after he forces himself to choke every last bite down. One thing his father hates more than him is wasted food.

When he falls into bed, having played cards with Namjoon to avoid Taehyung’s sharp gaze, he flinches when Taehyung slips in next to him, arms winding around him.

“Where did you really go today?” Taehyung breathes in his ear. “I was in town, and I know I would have seen you in passing.”

Jimin likes to think that he can tell when his brother lies, so he shrugs, not challenging Taehyung’s words. “I went to look for Hoseok.” He doesn’t have to say where. “I didn’t find him, though.”

Taehyung hums and mercifully lets the conversation die.

 

--

 

The dreams snare Jimin as soon as his eyes close, it seems, and it doesn’t surprise him when he finds Hoseok standing in front of him, hands in his pockets.

“Am I going crazy?” Jimin’s gaze trails over the fitted waistcoat, done in a red velvet that compliments Hoseok’s hair. He’d surely never seen such an outfit before in his life.

“No.”

Hoseok steps toward him, and Jimin blurts out, “Then what was that dream from last time?”

“I was trying to show you where your brother went that day. I know you fought with him.”

“So why did you cut it off before I could hear anything?”

Stopping right in front of him, Hoseok causes Jimin’s cheeks to color as he peers up at the man, hating when he can’t remember if Hoseok has always been taller than him.

“It cut off because you disturbed the memory. We’re not meant to interact with the past, nor are we allowed to change it.”

“That makes no sense.” He spreads his arms, a helplessness possessing him. “None of this makes any sense. I can’t remember you like I should be able to. And these dreams are too realistic. I remember every bit of them in the mornings. And I know you’re in my head, so it makes sense you know what I’m thinking, but that’s still nothing I’ve ever seen before. And how can I reason so clearly?”

Hoseok folds his arms behind his back, listening with an attentive, thoughtful purse of his lips. When Jimin finishes, feeling short of breath, he says, “I know it’s been a long time, and this is very weird for you. It’s weird for me, too, and I’m sorry we have to meet in your dreams. I’d like to think it’s because I missed you. It’s like…I’m fixated on how my life could have gone, if it had just been normal.”

He turns his back to Jimin, a tension in the set of his shoulders that causes sympathy to ping in Jimin’s chest.

After a moment, Hoseok says, “The Night of the Eyes will be soon. Do you plan on drinking the tea?”

Jimin feels as if he should be frustrated over his lack of a concrete answer, but he understands that something resides in Hoseok’s words. He doesn’t talk as if he’s ignoring Jimin.

“I hadn’t, no. I’m afraid what it will show me.”

“A life in the clergy or the military, right?” The plants around them flail in the wind, a gust lifting Jimin’s hair. “Those are the options your father has given you.” He glances at him over his shoulder. “But what if you’re both wrong?”

“How could we be?” Jimin’s arms wrap around himself, body moving as if cold, though the wind feels warm to him. “I have no relatives that might leave money to the third son, nor the inclination to rob a place that may provide me with enough wealth to expand the farm.” Which would be the only way he could rationalize staying on the farm.

“You could work for a wealthy family.” Hoseok reaches to pluck a tall, thin piece of glassweed. It refracts light only once it dies, yet the healthy piece in his hand seems to glow. “Be a stablehand, live on their land.”

“Never truly make a profit.” Jimin rebuts, voice a tad snippy, though the violence of the emotion evades him.

“Unless the lord takes a liking to you.”

His words, laden with promise, cause color to rise to his cheeks, and Jimin stuffs his hands into his armpits, staring at the ground rather than Hoseok. “Watch your mouth. If anyone heard you insinuating—”

A hand finds his chin, forces him to look up, and Jimin freezes as he stares up into Hoseok’s urgent expression.

“Insinuating that you’re queer? That your brothers are queer? Whatever is wrong with that?”

Jimin shoves him, trying to find his righteous indignancy, yet only finding bewilderment and quiet horror. “You know what happens to homosexuals! If they’re not burned at the stake, then—” An epiphany settles over him and he swallows back his shock at the possible explanation. “You—Are you here for Namjoon?”

“Namjoon, Taehyung, you.” Hoseok shrugs. “There’s no real difference.”

Jimin wheels around to run, but Hoseok’s already in front of him, a little more distance between them again.

“That’s a lie, actually. There is a difference.” He smiles, eyes shining with emotionless consideration, like a man considering buying a new tea kettle.

“Which is?” Jimin draws back, not turning around, but he bumps into another body.

Glancing back in alarm, a pair of arms wind around him in a gentle embrace that he knows he could easily break, but when he checks behind him, Hoseok holds him. Yet, in front of him, Hoseok is also striding toward him.

It’s a dream: weird things happen in dreams all the time. Taehyung once told him he rode their chimney to the next town over in a dream. Yet, when Hoseok’s chin rests in the space where his neck meets his shoulder, he feels the warmth of his breath against his bare skin.

“The difference is that I like you.” Hoseok stops close to him again, the air charging as Jimin glares up at the man, a thunderstorm brewing.

“You don’t know shit about me,” he spits.

“That’s not true.” His hand smooths down Jimin’s arm, something flickering in his gaze before he ducks his head, hiding it from view. “I know everything you could think of.”

“That’s not normal.”

“And how far has normal gotten you, Jimin?” The Hoseok behind him whispers in his ear.

“A father that smacks you around like a whore.” The other Hoseok answers. “A future that rips you away from the two people who actually love you, to plant you amongst the clergy or soldiers that will call you damned and burn you at the stake.”

“Stop it!” He yells, thrashing away from the Hoseok holding him, but he goes nowhere.

A hand finds his cheek, thumb caressing the skin, and then Hoseok looks like he did that day that he visited. Sympathy warms in his gaze, mixing with agony, flames in the depths of his pupils.

Jimin tries to convince himself that his panic is showing him this, but then Hoseok says, “Do you really not remember what happened to me?”

The hands behind him slide down his chest, and despite his anger and confusion, the touch flushes him as the rough fingers dip beneath the hem of his shirt. Where he swears Hoseok’s fingers were unblemished, like the hands of a Lord, now they feel as if he spent his missing years on a farm.

A shaky breath leaves his lips and he tries to think, but as Hoseok’s hands slide up his taunt stomach, up his chest, his thoughts fritz unproductively.

“Try. Think.”

Jimin tries, but a whimper bubbles up in his throat, head falling back against him now as the rough pads find his nipples, circling them with taunting, slow motions.

The Hoseok in front of him ducks his head and their lips meet, the first brush of warmth shooting through him like a beam of sunlight. His hands feel so good that Jimin floats on the sensation until they shoot up, grabbing his shoulders. Then they’re shaking him and his eyes fly open with alarm.

Taehyung’s legs are on either side of him, the man’s hands shaking him, trying to restrain him as he hisses with panic, “Jiminie, please, wake up, please!”

His eyes open and he lets out a strangled sound, unsure how to deal with his brother shaking him so violently, his second brother hovering by the door.

“Taehyung?” He croaks.

“Oh.” Taehyung exhales. “Can you hear me?”

“Yes. What are you doing?”

Slinging the leg back over him, Taehyung crouches by his side instead, bobbing as Namjoon climbs up beside him, both of their eyes shining with worry in the low lighting.

“You were thrashing. Punched me in the gut.” Taehyung lets out a weak laugh. “We were worried something was happening. You wouldn’t wake up.”

Jimin shakes his head, spooked by the memory and by the real-world repercussions. “I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t feel sick.”

“What did you dream about?” Namjoon’s hand flutters to rest on his forehead, checking for a fever or perhaps perspiration.

He can’t say Hoseok. “I don’t remember.”

“If this happens again, you’ll go to a physician,” Taehyung growls out, anger sweeping in to orient his helplessness. “You understand?”

“Yes.” Jimin yawns, exhausted. Frankly, he’s tired of playing this game, too. Doesn’t know what it means for him or his future.

“Alright.” Taehyung clings to him, shuffling so his body is pinned between Namjoon’s knees and Jimin’s side.

Namjoon continues to study him, as if he saw through his lie, and Jimin closes his eyes, trying to force himself back to sleep. His eldest brother eventually shifts over him and settles on his other side, as if thinking he could protect Jimin even in his sleep.

His heart aches as he replays Hoseok’s words about his brothers over again.

 

--

 

The last dream he has before the Night of the Eyes finds him in the same field of wildflowers, the stalks of plants waving merrily, as if this place is unaware of its own purgatorial nature.

Jimin considers tearing as many plants out by their roots as he can before Hoseok shows up, but as he waits and looks around, nothing happens. Time passes at a strange rate, and Jimin grows restless fast, nothing and no one replying even as he calls out, against his better judgement.

Exhaling, kind of annoyed Hoseok would call him here then abandon him, Jimin ventures into the rows of wildflowers, unsure what to expect.

Certainly not expecting a thin layer of growth to stop after he brushes through the row.

He blinks when he finds himself in his yard, glancing around to verify that he hadn’t just spaced out while working.

The farmhouse in the distance ripples, as if the building sank beneath a vertical, crystal-clear lake, and he nods to himself, angling toward the forest. Despite the familiarity of the farmhouse, the water-like ripples unnerve him. At least he’d gone into the woods before and could predict the things he might encounter.

Like his last venture, the undergrowth doesn’t tear at his clothes, Jimin moving with an ease and quiet that tinges his movements. It reminds him of childhood, when Namjoon would convince him to sneak out so they could stargaze.

As the landscape is so familiar, Jimin daydreams, thinking of that perfect night, his big brother’s gaze alight with excitement, his dimpled smile beautiful with ignorance of what would await them in the future.

“Someday, I want to see them up close.” Namjoon sighed, “I want to touch them and see what they taste like.”

“Ew!” Little Jimin squeaked, “They probably taste like ashes.”

“So? No one knows, and I want to know.”

They shift into vaporous images before him, the scene playing out as he walks. He could have gone on forever, his memory picture-perfect as Namjoon points out shapes that the stars form.

He only snaps back to himself when a real, crisp sound alerts him that he’s no longer alone in those woods.

Images disappearing, Jimin follows a tiny, animal path through the woods, steps slowing as he attempts to identify what he’s hearing. Too far to hear clearly, he thinks that something in the intonation sounds familiar, when Taehyung’s higher cackle bounces off the trees around him. His deep voice rises, cracks, and only the ease of this sound stops Jimin from charging forward to discover him.

Mimicking his actions from the last time Taehyung frequented his dreams, he kneels behind a bush, peeking out, and when he doesn’t see him, he repeats this, creeping further and further forward each time until he does.

“—You really think so?”

Jimin spies the man Taehyung spoke to in his dream the last time, both sitting side by side. He wants to snatch his brother away, and the only thing that holds him back is the enraptured, bright expression on his brother’s face. Taehyung looks more carefree than Jimin has seen him in months, and it sends a sad pang through him.

“I know so.” The strange man folds his arms across his thin chest, a small smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. “I don’t encourage stupid ideas.”

The giggle that leaves Taehyung’s lips colors Jimin’s cheeks, the man recognizing it from their days when they go to market together and Taehyung ditches them for some pretty merchant girl.

“Namjoon, Taehyung, you,” he hears Hoseok say again in his mind. “There’s no real difference.”

“I wouldn’t scam people, either. You can train mutts just as well as the purebreds.”

The man hums, and Jimin watches in horror as Taehyung leans against his shoulder.

“And you know what else?”

“Hm?”

“I would have them right here.” He waves his arms, “So I can stay close to Joon. And Jiminie could work for me.”

Jimin represses a growl as the man reaches out to grasp a piece of Taehyung’s wild bangs, tucking it behind his ear.

“He’s lucky he has you to look out for him.”

“Everyone has someone.” Taehyung nuzzles his shoulder.

“Jimin has you, you have Namjoon?”

“We have each other.” Jimin can imagine the blush on his brother’s cheeks. “And I have you, now.”

He imagines tearing out of the bush, but it’s like his limbs are stuck in place. He sees the strange man tense up, and he mutters, sounding every bit unsure, “Taehyung…”

“Yoongi.” Taehyung sighs, leaning up to bring their lips together in a sweet kiss. The stranger doesn’t react at first, but then an arm wraps around Taehyung, and they start pawing at each other in their endeavor to pull each other closer and hold them there.

As unnerving as the dream feels, the emotion Jimin sees when this Yoongi clutches his brother to him is familiar, and so he closes his eyes and plugs his ears, not wanting to disturb them, yet also not wanting to see any more.

 

--

 

When he awakes that morning, he wakens without any screaming or thrashing, though the way his heart pounds in his chest, he wonders why this time didn’t involve unconscious panic.

He glances down at Taehyung, his brother sprawled out with a dopey grin on his sleeping face, spit crusting at the corner of his mouth, and wrinkles his nose. Part of him wants to shake him awake and ask who Yoongi is, but he feels unhinged just considering speaking the words aloud.

Instead he throws himself into his work, playing pretend that the Night of the Eyes isn’t looming on the horizon like a storm cloud. Both Taehyung and Namjoon attempt to call him on it several times throughout the next few days, but he dodges around them, promising that it’s a reaction to his worries about the future. He should calm down soon, he tells them. It scares him that he feels like the Night of the Eyes will actually change things.

The morning of the festival, his brothers scramble alongside him, and even his father considers his kids with a gentler eye as they rush through their chores, wanting a chance to clean up before the feasting begins. Taehyung and he bang into each other more than a few times, Jimin’s chest warming as his mother giggles at the sight from the chicken coops.

Around noon, the twin moons appear in the sky, both huge and even, looking every part the eyes of an ancient God that checks on them twice a year from his pedestal in the sky. Jimin loves the sight, and this year he considering asking them for protection. It sounds absurd, but as the sun rises to its apex and begins to decline, an oppressive air clings to Jimin like a second skin.

They finish their chores slightly after lunch and scramble around the washing basin, their mother yelling and laughing in turn as she attempts to help all her men bathe. It’s one of the few days of the year that she can scold their father and he swats at her playfully, rather than glowering. More than anything experienced in the past few weeks, this feels like a dream, his brothers laughing and smiling, his parents at ease. Jimin wishes for a moment that time could freeze forever on that perfect day.

But still the sun sets.

Beginning after lunch, the elders of the village set up the tables for food, eating, wares, and garlands. Jimin paid for his garland first thing, as his mother taught him years ago at his first remembered festival. Magic, both poisonous and beneficial, cares more for the natural, and on the Night of the Eyes, it paid to have its attention focused on you positively.

An old woman, grandmother to a stablehand friend of Namjoon’s, smiles at him as he chooses his, where the main flower of interest are sunflowers. They’re technically free, but not tipping for them is rude.

He slides her two coins and she inclines her head to him, not asking him any questions like she normally might, likely guessing he needs to hurry back to his own family’s table.

With all the drinking and feasting, people often run for herbs to soothe stomachs and tempers—and many, like Hoseok, will ask for the special tea that allows you to see your future when you drink it.

Unlike when they were younger, the boys don’t get a free pass to ignore manning the booth, and so they work in shifts: their father works first shift, so he can eat and drink with his friends once dinner starts, and his mother will take over once it gets late. The woman runs on very little sleep, and she never enjoyed drinking.

Meanwhile Namjoon, Taehyung, and he would fill in the gaps. This year, Taehyung somehow managed to persuade Namjoon into letting him take first shift. Jimin whines about it as they carry their supplies into town, but Namjoon, ever the peacekeeper, promises him what he wants to hear: That he’ll watch the booth when the dancing begins, before everyone’s too drunk to lose their coordination.

Part of him wonders if it’s not just an excuse to avoid dancing with Sowon, but Jimin doesn’t say anything.

Sadly, this produces the side effect of him working the booth when the food is served, so he rushes around to the booths early looking for something to drag back with him.

It’s a whirlwind of decorations and flowers—and when the perfumer’s family finally arrives, it’s all food and scent, rather than the overwhelming sweat, animal dung, hay, and other things that usually fill the air. Late summer never felt so lush, and Jimin almost feels drunk on it all, as yet another familiar face spins past him, crying out a greeting for him.

The night passes normally, excitement and anticipation buzzing along his nerves, but as much as he tries not to look, he does. And as much as he looks for Hoseok among the dark, flower-bedecked heads, he doesn’t see him.

Who he does see, not a minute too late, is Namjoon, hustling toward the table so that if Jimin sprints, he might make it in time for the first dance of the evening. He thinks he sees a single head watching Namjoon dodge through people, a lonely expression on the dairy farmer’s boy’s face. Knowing staring at his brother won’t move him any faster, he examines Jungkook’s flower crown, whistling under his breath when he spots delicate lilac buds and a few orchids. Passionate, fleeting love.

His heart aches for Namjoon, when he realizes that he probably bought it for him.

But the feeling doesn’t last long when the man halts in front of his table, neck and forehead shining with sweat.

“I’m here,” he says, unnecessarily. “You can go!”

“Thanks, hyung!” Jimin beams at him and circles the counter, pressing the key for the money box into Namjoon’s palm before sprinting past him.

Weaving, forcing himself to slow when the torches didn’t illuminate the clusters of people, he reaches the center of their village’s normal marketplace, the band of musicians waiting for the first volunteer singer to join them.

That year, it caught Jimin off guard when he meets the singer’s eyes, Namjoon’s fiancé waving at him with a shy smile as she steps up in front of the group. If she is troubled by Namjoon’s scarceness, her radiant smile doesn’t reveal anything. The daisies woven up through her dark hair glint yellow and orange from the large bonfire on the far side of the square.

She announces the name of the song that will open the dancing, people cheering at the “History of the Stars,” the traditional opener for the Night of the Eyes, and young people rush into the space, Jimin included.

There’s nothing finessed about the way people dance, but that’s part of what Jimin loves about it. He pulls a few dramatic moves occasionally, to impressed calls from the crowd, but once they start to shove him toward the band, he resumes just jumping and flailing with the rest of them.

It’s when the couple dances begin that he considers trading off with Namjoon. He knows from prior festivals that even when the faster songs begin again, that they exist more for boys to approach pretty girls and hold them close.

Turning, considering a flagon of mead, he bumps into a taller, solo figure whose hands grasp his arms to steady him.

“Woah there,” Hoseok laughs. “Sorry, I didn’t expect you to turn around so fast.”

Jimin might stare for a moment too long, unfairly perturbed that Hoseok’s hair is black. “It’s fine.”

Hoseok brushes his arms off and offers him a warm smile. That night, likely in an attempt to blend in with the villagers, he wears a lower-cut shirt that reveals portions of his chest, the sleeves cinched at the wrists, like a worker’s would be.

He checks the flowers in his garland and he recoils at the morning glories over his temples, a hiss of disbelief that wants to become words.

Seeing his reaction, Hoseok snatches his hands back, expression turning bewildered. “What’s wrong?”

This man should not be blamed for Jimin’s rogue dreams. “Your garland…was it your choice?”

Glancing up, as if he could see them, Hoseok’s voice wavers as he says, “No?”

“Here.” Jimin, against his better instincts, grabs for it, lifting it from Hoseok’s brow with a grimace. “These flowers only bloom once. They die once the sun rises.” He refused to tell him about the connotation of unrequited love. “Bad luck.”

“Oh.” Hoseok slumps, expression wary as Jimin plucks the beautiful blue and white buds from his garland. “Are the rest of them okay?”

“Lilac, baby’s breath…” his cheeks color at the second. “They’re both fine.”

Hoseok bends over, asking, “Could you put it back on for me?”

“Sure.”

Jimin ignores the way his heart gives a nervous thump when his thumbs brush against Hoseok’s soft hair, the waves luxurious, a mark of the lifestyle he found after leaving their humble village.

When he backs up, Jimin thinks that will be the end, but Hoseok offers him a hand.

“Would you care to dance?”

There are a million reasons to say no, but the open, kind face of his companion touches his fuzzy memories more than the dreams that haunted his subconscious the past two weeks.

“Sure.”

And it’s nothing improper: they dance for what feels like two heartbeats with their bodies swaying together, before the tempo kicks up and Hoseok spins him.

It feels as if Jimin’s forgetting something important, but he laughs instead, bowing and dancing, the pair of them a whirlwind, so that when they stop to catch their breath, it feels as if their first reunion had also been a bad dream and this is their true reunion.

Hoseok offers to fetch them flagons of mead, and when they rest on the outskirts of the fire, he reminds Jimin of their awful teacher.

“I’ve never seen a woman so hunchbacked in my life,” Hoseok snorts into his cup, “supposedly she threw it out—”

“Trying to swat Kibum?” Jimin giggles, the memory at his fingertips. “I forgot he liked to run. Poor bastard.”

Jimin stretches his legs out in front of him, back arched slightly, and his hair clings to his face in sweaty strands. As every year, the flowers last through the worst of it, woven too well together to come undone from a little dancing. Hoseok’s hasn’t fared as well, as Jimin popped off the morning glories’ heads, but despite having to remove it when they paused, it doesn’t seem like a loss.

At one point, Hoseok fetches them more mead, and asks, “Are your brothers doing well?”

“Mm. As well as can be considered.” Jimin wants to blurt out his frustrations with Taehyung and his sadness with Namjoon, but instead he downs his drink and shoots to his feet. “And I’ll be better the moment we’re back out there.”

Hoseok laughs, but to his credit, he mimics Jimin, a rivulet of brown tracing his jaw, dripping down his neck, before he wipes the spill away, Jimin yanking his gaze away with guilt.

“Sounds good to me.”

He takes Jimin’s hand and now most of the dancers have a messiness to their movements that speaks to alcohol running freely from hand to hand. Jimin still tries to dance as he normally would, but when he spins, the stop doesn’t stop the world from spinning. Hoseok steadies him and they drift closer to the band, someone with a beautifully deep voice singing a kiddy classic about the summer bugs.

After another failed move, Hoseok laces his fingers through Jimin’s and they dance without skill, though still moving passionately to the music. Couples whirl around them, and someone swats Jimin’s ass, causing both of them to break into laughter after a cursory glance around reveals no culprit.

“Girls are vicious when they drink,” Jimin sputters.

Hoseok hums an agreement, before adding, “I’m sorry I touched your nipples the other night without asking. I get all turned around sometimes in there, with what’s in my head and what’s not.”

Something pings in the back of Jimin’s mind, but the hazy happiness swaddles it for the moment and he waves Hoseok off. “It’s fine. It felt good, honestly.”

“But you’d never thought of me like that before, right?”

Memory shows him how the sunlight passed so lovingly through Hoseok’s red hair and he swallows. “I…not that specific.” He doesn’t want to lie. “You are very beautiful.”

“You liked the red hair?”

“I did.” Jimin shakes his head. “But red or black, it doesn’t really matter.”

“Not true. It can be anything you want.”

“Alright, then change it.”

They rotate in steps as they dance, Hoseok’s expression earnest and unbothered. “I can’t do that here.”

“Then where?”

“I can show you.”

Hoseok releases one of his hands and guides him around the gaggles of dancers, everyone too drunk to even look upon them for more than a few seconds. Everything seems hazy, as if the colors from the people bleed into the world—as if the eyes suck bits of their life from them on this evening.

He tightens his grip on Hoseok’s hand, fearful of losing him, eyes wild as the fire distorts the faces of the revelers to lipless, eyeless faces that still somehow sneer at him.

“Do you remember yet?”

Hoseok’s words drift to him as if through a barrier.

“What?”

“What happened to me.”

“I—”

“Think now.”

Chills race through Jimin, the first indicator to him that something is wrong. Hoseok answered a statement he never spoke aloud.

As the forest looms up in pieces through the lines of buildings, Jimin stumbles over the uneven ground, Hoseok jerking them along the least-travelled route, sometimes immediately around couples who had stolen off to be together.

In the snatches of darkness, Jimin sees bruises blooming across the features of memory-Hoseok. An arm hanging in a sling, a horrible limp that he swore came from a horse despite his family being too poor to own a horse.

The whispers of an alcoholic father.

“Your dad…”

He expects a noise of approval, but Hoseok says nothing. If anything, his steps slow, as if the memory weighs him down.

“What happened to you?”

The peel away from the cottages and Hoseok turns, his face dappled with purple, horrible. It looks like the last time he witnessed a drunken brawl, with no one strong enough to stop the winner from beating the loser into a pulp.

“Da went too far one day.” His voice sounds eerie, deadened, but not inhuman. Unlike his dreams, he can feel Hoseok’s hand tremble where it holds his, the man’s father still holding power over him even after being dead for nearly two decades.

“You disappeared around the same time he died,” Jimin says, fear flickering through him.

“Yes.”

They don’t move, yet the village seems further away than ever. Mist rolls across the plain of grass, the two, fat eyes of the moons hovering over them. The silvery light bleeds the color out of Hoseok’s hair until it’s wine red again.

Jimin thinks he should feel afraid, but the fear that grips him isn’t of Hoseok.

“What happened?”

He exhales, a quick push of air, and Jimin swears he can see his heart beat through his chest. “I tried to leave. He almost killed me and shattered one of my ankles.”

The vision unfolds in front of them, Jimin pressing a horrified hand to his mouth as he watches a small Hoseok drag himself across the floor of his cottage by his arms. His foot hangs at an unnatural angle, purple and twice its normal size. Tears of pain drip down Hoseok’s filthy cheeks.

Jimin expects his father to step up behind him, but he doesn’t. Instead, he watches as Hoseok crawls outside, resting beside his house’s avitaum mushrooms, his tall one white with a red cap, the short one pink, like Jimin’s.

Then he moves to grab them.

Yelling, the instinct to stop him so strong that it displaces Jimin, the only thing that stops him from lunging forward is the appearance of a brilliant figure, too beautiful. Too unnatural.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?” The man asks, voice mild, almost concerned.

“I—” Baby Hoseok gapes, and then it’s as if the wind stole their voices from them.

Grown Hoseok fills in the blanks. “That’s Seokjin. He’s the protector of a lot of this area.” Jimin waits as Hoseok seems to orient himself, throat bobbing with suppressed emotion. “When I tried to rip up the mushrooms, he stopped me.” His eyes rise to meet Jimin’s, and the way the moonlight causes his skin to glow produces an ache in Jimin. “He offered me a deal.”

“What kind of deal?”

Hoseok seems huge, like a monolith to some strange God, and Jimin understands, connects all of the pieces together finally, as he says, “He would spirit me away, and I could live in fairyland. They’re always looking for new humans to wed them and dance with them. But, the condition was that I would have to try to recruit people myself.”

Jimin would scold him, but he can see the shame on Hoseok’s brow, the way his arms fold and he can no longer meet Jimin’s eyes.

“So that’s why you were in my dreams. You want to snatch me away from my home.”

Yet both of them can hear the lack of heat in Jimin’s voice. There is no unspoken threat—no anger at the thought at being asked to abandon his home.

“Would it really be so bad?” Hoseok spreads his arms. “Look at me. I’m whole. I can do whatever I want and no one can hurt me.”

“What about other humans?” Jimin fires back, “What about finding a wife and having a family?” He doesn’t mention his father.

Hoseok meets his eyes again then, a deep sadness lingering in the depths that almost distracts Jimin from hearing, “I don’t want a wife. I’m…like your brother, I suppose. And the fairies don’t care about that.” Knowing where Jimin’s mind wanders, he adds, “Fairies try to steal away humans convicted for homosexuality. They save people like Namjoon. They think it’s stupid that humanity abhors us.”

“So why me, then? Why not ask Namjoon?”

No answer meets his questions right away, and Jimin traces the way color blooms across Hoseok’s cheeks, different than the flush from their mead.

“Because you were my friend.” He finally replies, “You might have been the one thing I really missed about leaving with Jin.”

Again, Jimin thinks of their memories playing outside, how Hoseok used to pout when Jimin would play with others over him. He wonders how anyone could maintain feelings from that age.

“You were the only good part of people I saw. You were my friend.”

Jimin closes his eyes, already shaking his head as Hoseok says, “And I know you’re like me. Like your brothers.”

“Shut up.”

“It’s not like…coming with me means having to be with me.” Hoseok turns so that he’s facing the woods. “But if you can come with me, you can convince Namjoon and his boy. You know they’d follow you, if you said it was safe. Then your dad couldn’t break them up.”

He waits to hear something about Taehyung, but nothing comes. Wondering why Hoseok’s making him ask, he verbalizes, “Taehyung, too?”

“No.” Hoseok points to something vaguely to the right, though Jimin doesn’t see anything. “I didn’t have to talk to him. Yoongi found him.”

The name slices through him and he blurts out, “Who is Yoongi?”

“He’s…like me. They were gonna burn him, and Jin saved him.”

“Taehyung wouldn’t follow him, though. He wouldn’t leave us.”

Hoseok hesitates. “When’s the last time you saw him tonight?”

Jimin racks his brain, thinks of the giddy smile on Taehyung’s lips after he finished his shift at the table, and states, “He wouldn’t.”

 “Love does goofy things to people.”

“Love? Love? He’s known him for all of two weeks. What does he know about love?” The pain feels like alcohol being poured on an open wound, and he turns back toward the village, ignoring the creeping mist. “He’s back there, dancing. He probably took Namjoon some sugar bread.”

“He loves you,” Hoseok frowns. “And if you’re in a hopeless situation, anything that can save you looks like a miracle.” Jimin bristles, so he adds, voice softer, “It’s not like the fairies eat humans. They like guests. But they’re not human, and it gets lonely. Maybe Yoongi was looking for someone, maybe he wasn’t, but they’re there, now.”

“He can’t be there.”

“He’s no longer among the humans, Jimin. What reason would I have to lie about this?”

For a moment, Jimin considers accusing him of abduction by using his brother, but those memories from his dream poke at him. The sight of Taehyung clutching a stranger so desperately to him refuses to go away.

And maybe Hoseok planted it all to get him where he wanted, but Jimin refuses to lose one of his brothers now.

There is no choice. “Alright. Let’s go.”

Hoseok doesn’t speak again as they pick their way into the tree line.

 

--

 

When looking back, Jimin could never pinpoint the moment they’d crossed. All he knew was after a moment, stepping through the endless line of trees, the air changed. Instead of sweat, campfire smoke and alcohol, it all smelled like flowers and spices. Natural, beautiful stuff. The kind of thing that would unnerve him in a dream, but not once Hoseok explains their reality.

They find Taehyung first, naked in some bushes with the stupid bastard from his dreams, and Jimin didn’t even let them clothe themselves before he started screaming at them, his face red and voice hoarse.

Later, after Hoseok drags him away into a little burrow beneath the Earth that opened up into a house, the man told him that he removed him only because he’d started screaming, “traitor!” over and over again at his brother.

It’s rough; a game of cards he lost, and though he’s aware the soft nest that he sleeps on has to be Hoseok’s bed, he doesn’t relinquish it for many nights.

Every day, uncaring about the beauty or magnificence of the food, landscape, and people, he finds his brother and argues with him for going back. The first day, Taehyung confesses that he followed Yoongi not just for a chance to be happy, but because that would make Jimin the second son. Would allow him to go to university in Taehyung’s stead.

Jimin only yells more, reminding him how much pain he would put Namjoon in, condemning him to behaving a certain way. Their mother will be heartbroken, and who knows how their father will react?

“But,” Taehyung murmured, “you’re here now, too.”

And it is that guilty line, as well as the quiet confirmation from Hoseok that he couldn’t just go back, now. A deal is a deal.

So, after a week’s worth of anger, any will to continue fizzles within Jimin, replaced by guilt. He left. His poor mother would mourn them both, and Namjoon…he would not imagine it, or it would drive him insane.

Days filled with screaming turn to days filled with sobbing, Jimin hiding himself in the cubby of Hoseok’s bedroom, barely eating.

Hoseok does him the favor of not speaking. He places trays of food in front of him periodically—delicacies that boggle his mind in the snatches of lucidity that seize him. Little cakes with swaying tendrils that caress his cheeks when he picks them up, strips of meat still sizzling even hours after they’re left for him. Part of him wants to explore and learn about this world, but he’s struck dumb with grief.

Taehyung chose to leave them. It doesn’t matter if his intentions were to help Jimin: Namjoon and their parents would never believe him if he told them the truth. Who knew how they might behave with their middle child gone, disappeared into the night?

He resurfaces in bits, warm hands on his forehead and cheeks, worried eyes hovering over him. Jimin thinks the moons themselves descended to check on him and then laughs at himself.

Hoseok tends to him, as when Taehyung attempts to, Jimin throws things at him, screaming at him to leave. Missing his brother consumes him like a second sickness, but his mourning overwhelms even that.

He wakes one day to a gentle hand carding through his hair. Finding that the grief has loosened its brutal grip, Jimin considers Hoseok, who sits beside his nest, gaze somewhere far away.

“What are you thinking about?” Jimin winces at how raspy his voice comes out.

Startling, his host stares down at him. “What?”

“You look so sad.”

“Because you’re sad.” He smiles, broken edges sending the corners of his mouth askew. “I thought when I would bring you here it would be a happy thing, because you could live your life happily.”

When he searches for anger, he finds only resignation. “I feel guilty for leaving Namjoon behind.”

Hoseok hums and withdraws his hand. “Remember what I said? You can bring him here. I think he would listen to you, especially since Taehyung is here, too.”

“I don’t know if he’d listen.”

Exhausted by that little bit of talking, Jimin drops off to sleep again, not even able to ask Hoseok to start playing with his hair again first.

 

--

 

The day he first ventures into fairyland, he does so with a hand knotted into the back of Hoseok’s shirt. His little food intake left him weakened, but he no longer feels any residual fear when they touch. Hoseok is Hoseok, and Jimin knows in his gut that the man is done with fairy tricks.

Climbing out into the light, Jimin squints, eyes unused to the daylight, and leans heavily against Hoseok when he ascends as well. A strong arm wraps around him and he gazes around, unable to repress the delight when he spies houses built straight into trees, panels of colored glass stretching over knob holes, glistening like candies.

And the smells. Oh, Gods, his stomach growls seconds before he registers them properly.

Hoseok guides him through the trees to a grand staircase, winding up the largest tree Jimin ever saw, and they climb it until they reach a hollow in the tree. It feels like they’d only been walking for a few minutes, but when Jimin looks down, he can no longer distinguish the individual plants on the ground.

They sit in the hollow and a little woman with green-striped cheeks sets a bowl down in front of either of them.

“Eat.”

Jimin doesn’t note who says it, his mind falling blank when the scent of the contents reaches him. It smells savory and hot; like spiced pudding for the winter feast, and the steam brushes against his cheeks like a lover’s touch.

He inhales it, pretends he doesn’t see the relief in the lines of Hoseok’s limbs.

 

--

 

After that, Hoseok shows him the little wonders around their burrow, including the lever set into a tall pine that flipped the world upside down, revealing the houses amongst the clouds. They ate their way through everything that served to others, Hoseok introducing him to so many names that Jimin felt bad, knowing he couldn’t possibly remember them all.

He also meets Seokjin, who nearly cracks a rib the first time he hugs him.

“Are you doing alright?”

Jimin can’t answer; he suddenly understands how humans could identify a fairy on their own. Seokjin’s too perfect looking, each position of each strand of hair purposeful, his teeth straight and white, his skin unblemished from sickness or scars, like a baby’s. He’s marvelous to look at, but what wins his heart is his confident, absurd personality.

Seokjin harasses Hoseok, telling him awful jokes, complaining that he gets no appreciation from “this kid,” yet Jimin finds out that Seokjin taught Hoseok how to pass into the human world. Humans that are spirited away aren’t supposed to know the secret, but Seokjin trusts him.

He tries to ignore the strange emotions that bubble in his stomach when Seokjin touches Hoseok.

And it is Seokjin, likewise, who teaches him how to return to the human world. Jimin knows neither man trusts him like Seokjin trusts Hoseok, but with Taehyung there, who he checks on secretively every few days, there’s no debate if he’ll come back.

They walk up to a massive mushroom garden, Seokjin’s hand brushing over the caps that are at waist level, and Jimin squints when he sees scenes of what must be humans.

“This one.” Seokjin stops them at a shorter mushroom, the soft pink shade familiar, and then traces a line down the cap, nail cutting a line down it. “Stick your hand into it.”

Nervous, Jimin obeys only when a light begins trickling from the cut, and he thrusts both hands into the abrasion, gasping when he finds himself falling forward until all he sees is the light.

He rubs his eyes, trying to ground himself, and he finds himself staring at the front of his house.

Jimin inhales, then chokes at the ripe, smoky scent in the air, as if the human world’s air is harder to breathe, rubbing his arms as if the summer air is also colder there.

The light of the day is watery, and what frightens Jimin indiscriminately is that the crispness to the air does not belong to summer. It does not belong to a creeping fall.

Slinking around the house like an ashamed dog, returned home after running off, he sees the fields shorn down to the dirt, harvested, with only the few winter plants flourishing in the little sections cordoned for them.

A frigid wind whips around him and he wraps his arms around himself, thoughts frozen solid, repeating as he thinks that this can’t be possible, he’d only been gone for a month, tops. Perhaps two, if he lost his mind temporarily in his grief, but not so long that the harvest passed.

Shame sweeps over him, more biting than any wind, and a horrified part of him wonders if Namjoon already married Sowon, if he’s too late.

Judging the point of the sun in the sky, Jimin hustles over to the barn, moving as fast as possible as the harshness of the human world buffets him, each crunch of dead grass under his feet accusing. Taehyung acted without thinking, but so had he.

Reaching the peeling doors into their barn, he hears the contented lowing of their cows, eating inside, the spoiled creatures.

The sound of a pitchfork scraping against packed dirt has Jimin swallowing, and he ventures in, too afraid to speak, lest it be his father.

When the figure straightens up, no aged bow to his back, Jimin’s breath hitches in his throat, so close to a sob that he can taste his disappointment. He frolicked with the fucking fairies, leaving his brother and parents to their farm. Gods know how they harvested everything with just three of them, when the crops had been planted with five bodies in mind to reap them.

Namjoon coughs, throat thick with mucus, and the knowledge about his brother’s yearly congestion falls into his lap, no Taehyung there to brew the spiced tea that soothes his ragged throat.

Unable to take anymore speculation, Jimin clears his throat and calls his brother’s name.

It’s as if he separated from his body, a dull ringing in his ears, like when his father boxed them, as he watches Namjoon’s shoulders tense, back straightening as if he’s replaying his own name in his mind. They would recognize each other’s voices anywhere; he must be wondering if it’s a trick.

Then he whips around, and Jimin’s heart breaks at the confused hope painted across his brother’s face, logic warring with his ears.

“Jimin?” He whispers. “Is that really you?”

Taking another step into the barn, shifting so the doors block the worst of the wind from cutting in, he nods, licking his lips. “It is.”

Namjoon throws the pitchfork down and runs at him, sweeping him into his arms with a little noise of grief, like a kicked puppy. No; like a duckling that thought it would never see its mother again.

Jimin clings to his oldest brother, the grief that buried him swamping him again, and tears that he thought he cried out bud at the corners of his eyes, falling when Namjoon whispers, “Where did you go?”

“I—”

“We thought you were dead. You and Taehyung.”

Rather than pull back, Namjoon clings to him more fiercely, and Jimin forces himself to reign in his own emotions.

“You’re probably not going to believe me, but Taehyung made a deal with a fairy and went off with him.” He tampers the disgust in his voice, as he did the same thing.

Namjoon doesn’t reply, so he finishes, “And I followed him. We’ve been in fairyland for the past…however many months it’s been. I’ve been…” He cuts himself off, unable to say that he cannot stay.

Both quiet, Jimin uses the still moment to breathe deeply, hating himself when he winces at the sharp smell of manure and Namjoon’s sweat, mixed together. Fairyland desensitized him to the roughness of his home world, and though it shames Jimin, this more than anything allows him to accept that he’s truly been gone for months.

Exhaling, sounding as if he’s trying to recollect himself, Namjoon peels his face from the side of Jimin’s, though his arms stay around him, and he studies him, gaze intense. Jimin isn’t sure if he believes him or not, so he stays still, letting his brother think.

Finally, Namjoon says, “Either you’re covering up something horrible or you’re telling the truth.” A watery smile breaks across his face. “But you’re here. You’re alive. We thought the worst. Dad was sure there was a fight and your body was—” Bless his gentle heart, Namjoon couldn’t say “dumped in a pig pen.”

Jimin reaches to brush the tears from his brother’s cheeks, knowing he only has a small window of time before Namjoon devotes his efforts to bringing them back. He hates himself, wondering when Hoseok’s words poisoned his judgement so much. As much as he loves his family’s farm, he wants Namjoon to join them more than he wants to find a way to drag Taehyung and himself back.

“How’s Jungkook?” He keeps his tone gentle, unsure where this might lead.

And as anticipated, tension laces through Namjoon, his eyes shifting to the far wall, mouth opening and the beginnings of a denial slipping out, before he answers.

“He’s…alright, I guess. Things have been strained.” Namjoon’s eyes slide to him, apologetic. “Dad’s been pushing for my marriage to be moved up, due to recent circumstances.” At the guilt and panic he must see in his brother’s eyes, he amends, “It was always coming, Jiminie. We were always going to have to get married.”

Then suddenly Jimin can see the summer months again, Namjoon sobbing into Jungkook’s arms, wasting what little time he has left with his lover mourning for his brothers. He cannot cry like that to his mother without his father admonishing him, not after the first few weeks. Men don’t cry like that for that long. And he can’t cry to Sowon; they’re not married yet, it wouldn’t be proper—

And Jungkook deserves so much better—

Jimin lurches back into his own head, a hand pressing to his mouth like he might vomit, and he finds himself shaking his head. “You can’t. You can’t marry her.”

“Jimin…”

“No. I mean it, Joon.” Jimin clenches his fists at his sides. “I know you’re not going to want to hear this, but I didn’t come back to tell you me and Tae are alive. I came back to bring you and Jungkook with me.” He didn’t know when he told Hoseok if he would have the guts to do it, but now he finds he must.

Namjoon’s mouth falls open, and Jimin is tempted to tell him to close it before he collects flies.

“You’re going to be stuck in this life. Stuck with Sowon, and then she gets pregnant, and then you’ll have to watch Jungkook be married off to someone else, and then you’re a parent and you have to perform and love them with the wrong person.” Jimin’s lips pinch with sympathy when Namjoon winces at the mention of Jungkook marrying.

The first thing out of his mouth doesn’t surprise him: “If I leave, then our parents will have no one left.”

Jimin exhales. “I know.”

“Villagers might drive them out, if they think our family is cursed—they already wonder. Sowon’s parents already spoke to ours about if the pairing is truly beneficial for their daughter.” Namjoon gestures to the side, as if the points materialized beside him. “Then when they get old and can no longer turn a profit, they will starve or freeze to death, when dad can no longer chop the wood for their fire.”

Any attempts to interrupt him fail, and when Namjoon finally stops, he ends it with a final, “I can’t leave.”

“But—”

“No ‘but’s, Jimin. What kind of life could I live knowing mom and dad are suffering?”

Bitterness wells up in him, a resentfulness that he tries not to give into. “Joon—”

“Can you two visit? At all?” His voice cracks, the fear bright in his eyes as he anticipates the answer that Jimin isn’t even sure about.

“If we could, I don’t know how often we could.” He wraps his arms around himself, cold even in the swaddling warmth of the barn. “I thought I was gone for a month, tops, and it’s the middle of winter. And besides, what happens if the village finds out me and Taehyung visit you twice a year, yet no one ever sees us coming or going? We could put you in danger.”

He can see Namjoon’s desire to protest, but he’d always been cursed with being the smartest, and while he would throw himself in harm’s way in a heartbeat, he wouldn’t do it for their father, couldn’t for their mother, Sowon, or Jungkook.

“I won’t let this be goodbye for good.”

“Then come with us,” Jimin says, feeling desperate. “You always said you had my back, right? Even when father called me worthless, even when he threatened to kick me out, you never would have let him, right?” It’s cold, unfair, but Jimin won’t lose his eldest brother. He loves Namjoon for who he is, not what he is to him, like their father does.

“Jimin—”

“No!” He doesn’t know where this emotion is welling up from, but it swamps Jimin, overwhelming the placid apathy that colored the majority of his life. “He has hated me since my seventeenth birthday, when he realized I wasn’t getting any taller. Mom just goes along with it. I won’t let him take you, too.”

He grabs for the front of Namjoon’s overalls, clinging with all of the immovable skill of the youngest of three boys.

Yet, Namjoon doesn’t move. He wraps his arms around Jimin again, holding him with enough force that Jimin wonders if the shaking is from that or emotion.

“What about mom?”

Jimin nearly balks at the quiver in Namjoon’s voice. “She would never be happy without dad. And we couldn’t take dad.”

Namjoon doesn’t dispute this. They stand there for what feels like hours, just holding each other, before Namjoon says, “I can’t make this decision now. Even—with what I’m feeling now, Jungkook deserves the right to consider if he’d even want to do it. Can you come back in a week or so?”

“I…I don’t know.” He tastes fear in his empty promise. “I can try. But you have to swear, no matter how long it takes, that you won’t marry Sowon before you see me again.” When Namjoon tries to cut him off, he says, “Jungkook doesn’t deserve that.”

His weak spot, as always.

Namjoon presses a kiss to the top of his head, promising in a weak voice that he would try.

They part reluctantly, Namjoon asking if he can follow Jimin to where he will cross back over, but Seokjin warned him that should anything go wrong, it would be better for Namjoon to know less.

Jimin turns him down, holding back his tears until he reaches the woods, where he collapses into a little ball, bawling like his heart shattered anew.

He doesn’t come to even as Hoseok finds him, kneels beside him, and scoops him up into his arms to carry them back through the portal.

 

--

 

Days melt together again as the grief overwhelms him. At one point, his hunger grows so bad that he surfaces from the agony, confused when he got so comfortable with Hoseok for them to sit with their sides almost pressed together, a hand carding through his own hair.

“Fairyland is wonderful, but it has a way of overwhelming your emotions,” Hoseok tells him, his voice soft with sympathy. “Something you hate in the human would might disgust you into vomiting here.”

Jimin’s head snaps up from his bowl. “And something you might like could consume you.”

He’s thinking of Taehyung and Yoongi, how his brother only visited him a few times, and every time he’s glimpsed them, they’ve appeared so absorbed in each other that it’s no wonder Taehyung has no time for him.

He doesn’t think that his overwhelming anger might be keeping Taehyung away, just like he doesn’t notice the red that flames in Hoseok’s cheeks, not thinking at all of the love that guided Hoseok to him nearly two decades after Seokjin spirited him away.

 

--

 

They wait. There’s nothing else to be done at that point, and Hoseok promises he’ll try to get them back within a week. Seokjin trusts him, and as Hoseok watched their house, Seokjin knows plenty about Jimin, too.

“I’m not worried about you running away,” the fairy laughs, in that cold way of his, when the human emotions don’t register. “I know there’s nothing left for you in that world beyond that boy and your parents.”

Hoseok takes his hands after they speak to Seokjin, reassuring him that Jin doesn’t mean it that way. He’s just too logical sometimes. Fae emotions revolve around pleasure, happiness the ever-lingering pinnacle that can be found, even in anger. Sadness is a strange animal that can never touch them to be observed behind a screen.

In that way, as much as the fairies are welcoming, Jimin comes to understand why they’re so dangerous. A fairy burns him a day or so later, just to see how a human would blister in comparison to fairies, who begin healing near instantly after the injury.

Jimin screams through the pain, his emotions heightening to where he thinks he can’t bear it, until the fairy touches his arm, heals him, and then Hoseok is there, scolding the fairy even as the creature pouts, unsure why it’s in trouble.

As soon as the fairy promises it won’t do that again, Hoseok drags Jimin away and seats him beneath a tree with low-hanging branches, the ever-shining sun fletching their skin through the delicate leaves.

“Let me see.”

He touches Jimin’s wrist, but the man doesn’t reply. Staring at Hoseok, Jimin notes how the blend of shadows and light paints daydreams onto the man’s skin. The pain fades from his attention as Hoseok rummages in his pack for an ointment that he will treat the burn with. Apparently, fairies do this a lot with humans. Seokjin taught Hoseok to be prepared, his logic the bridge that protects them from him physically.

“Do you like your hair red?”

Hoseok startles, fumbling the container of ointment, and it rolls in between them.

They stare at it for a moment before Hoseok answers, “I do, but I keep forgetting it’s red. There aren’t any mirrors here. The fairies never get anything done if they can stare at themselves all day.”

Jimin laughs, the answer so strange that the mirth rises before he can even register the absurdity.

Then Hoseok laughs as well, uncertainty in his humor, and asks, “Do you like your hair?”

“I’ve never thought about it before.”

“Well, if you could change it, what color would you like it?”

Assuming he’d have to think about it for a while, it astonishes him as the smaller of the two avitaum mushrooms pops into mind, and he answers, “Pink. A soft, blush kind of pink.”

He allows Hoseok to draw his arm to him, one hand uncorking the ointment, and he rubs the soothing tincture into the raw skin, the pain nothing compared to the heat flooding through him.

They stare at each other for a beat, Jimin feeling like he’s holding his breath, and then Hoseok leans in, his greasy hand still on the man’s arm.

The world holds its breath for a second and Jimin considers turning his head, shoving the man away, but he finds he wants this. Hoseok as he saw him in the dreams was a fairytale image, something Fae and emotionless, but the delicate way Hoseok handled him since the Night of the Eyes tells him a different story.

Jimin kissed people in the past, both fine, nothing to brag about beyond girls liking him enough to want to kiss him, but when their lips meet, it’s as if all the pent-up expectation compounds.

He inhales, nervous and surprised and expectant all in one, and Hoseok’s mouth is soft, tentative. It’s not what Jimin wants from him; perhaps the Fae world corrupted him already, but he is done with walking on eggshells and putting off the things he wants to fit with society’s standards.

Grabbing for the threadbare front of Hoseok’s shirt, he yanks him closer, pain blooming in their kiss as their mouths bump together, but Jimin adjusts, soothing the hurt with his tongue.

Hoseok lets out a choked sound, but his lips part willingly beneath Jimin’s touch, and he licks into the man’s mouth, an arrested moan reverberating in his throat when Hoseok’s tongue rises to meet his own. He had risen onto his knees to reach Jimin, but now Jimin presses him back, so he’s sitting.

Breaking the kiss with a smack of his lips, as if savoring the taste, Jimin slings a leg over Hoseok’s lap, unsure what he’s doing, but he wants to be closer.

“Jimin…” Hoseok stares up at him, his expression dazed until it fades into one of shock. “Your hair.”

“Hm?” He settles on Hoseok’s lap, a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth when Hoseok moans.

“Would you believe me if I said it’s pink?”

“I’ve learned not to be so skeptical.” He leans down, nips at Hoseok’s neck, laughing when it causes the man’s hips to jerk. “But if you kissed my hair pink, I’m not sure I believe you’re fully human anymore.”

“Who knows?” Hoseok’s hands hover in the air for a moment, before settling on Jimin’s waist. “I’ve been here for years and things still surprise me.”

Jimin reaches behind him with a shy smile, grasps Hoseok’s hands, and lowers them to his butt, following his instinct with what Hoseok actually wanted to touch. The man’s face glows with a blush, but he squeezes instantly, and Jimin laughs as he leans in to kiss him again. He leads the kiss, Hoseok distracted as his hands grab and spread him over his pants, a motion so specific, even with his hardening dick pressing against his thigh, that Jimin breaks their kiss to whimper.

He feels vulgar, but wonderful, as he takes in how Hoseok gazes up at him like he’s been looking for him for years, only to find him in his lap.

They kiss again, tongues lazy as they tangle together, the rush ebbing and flowing like currents of a river.

This time Hoseok breaks the contact, teeth finding his lower lip, and he asks, “What are you comfortable doing?”

Jimin blushes so hard he feels faint. “I—” But Hoseok waits, a fondness deep in his eyes, like he would wait forever. This warmth coaxes the next words out: “Anything. Everything.”

“We should probably get some oil, then.” Hoseok quickly adds, “Even if we don’t do—you know.”

“Sex?” Jimin laughs at his reluctance to say it. “C’mon, every man knows how homosexuals have sex. How else would we know what to shun?”

Hoseok shoves his chest lightly, and Jimin climbs to his feet, wobbling when he tries to walk with his own half-chub.

Adjusting himself in his pants as he waits for Hoseok to stand, he asks, “Why do you dress this way now? I can’t imagine you miss dressing like a peasant.”

“It seemed to make you feel more comfortable.” Hoseok won’t meet his eyes as he tugs his tunic lower, hiding his own bulge.

An arm wraps around his waist as Hoseok joins him, both ducking out from under the tree, and Jimin admits, “Those clothes are really handsome on you. You can dress however you want.”

Humming, a little smile on his lips, Hoseok guides them back toward their little burrow, and for the first time since he arrived, Jimin finds himself glancing around, tracing the path. He’s finally begun to accept this as his new home, and thus that he’d better figure out how to get around on his own.

The path they wander down is well-worn, and they pass a few fairies he knows the names of, one or two glancing down at his and Hoseok’s crotches with knowing smirks.

After they pass, Hoseok mutters how much he hates that some fairies can smell arousal.

When they reach the little door in the ground, Jimin mentions that he wouldn’t mind living in a treehouse.

Hoseok chuckles, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

They descend, the house opening and seeming even bigger than normal. The tapestries hung on the dirt walls show scenes of the outdoors, the images rippling, a fantasy breeze ruffling the leaves on the trees. Eternal summer soothes something deep within him, the scent of ripe fruit gluing together something jagged in his chest.

When he turns back to face Hoseok, he seems to feel the change in the air, too.

Jimin doesn’t know if he wants to move fast or slow, so while he moves like he’s reaching through molasses, Hoseok grabs for him, his hands bruising on his hips. A laugh leaves his lips at Hoseok’s enthusiasm.

“Shush,” he silences Jimin with a kiss, licking past his lips with confidence now that he knows Jimin wants this, too.

His hands pick over Hoseok’s upper back, marveling at his thinness, as if his body maintains the muscles, but he has no tasks that would strain and strengthen them. It’s a body fit for a different world, something that should frighten Jimin, but doesn’t.

Hoseok presses him against one of the tapestries, the warmth tickling over his back, as if he’s lying on a bed of grass, the scent crisp and wonderful. His hands slide up the back of Jimin’s shirt, pressing it up until he’s coaxing Jimin to throw it off, the pair falling into another kiss.

Distracted, Jimin lets out a louder moan than normal when Hoseok’s hand slips into his pants to cup his cock, drawing him up over the drawstring. It’s a vulnerable feeling; having your cock out with your pants still on, and a hiccup of pleasure leaves Jimin’s lips as Hoseok’s hand glides over him.

But it’s a bit too rough and Hoseok seems to realize this, too.

“I’ll be back in a second.”

Jimin’s head falls back against the tapestry when Hoseok dips away. He considers following after him so they can do this on their pillows, but the thought of crawling back into his little cave turns his stomach. It had been the perfect hideaway when he needed to feel protected, but now he doesn’t want to hide. Not anymore.

When Hoseok returns, he freezes at the sight of Jimin standing nude, one hand around his cock, pumping himself in slow drags, so the roughness doesn’t hurt.

“What?” He giggles, color rising to his cheeks. “Never seen someone jerk themselves at you before?”

“No one I’ve wanted to see.” Hoseok replies, blushing himself. “Until now, I mean.”

“Good save.”

Hoseok closes the distance between them, flinging his own shirt off and stepping out of his trousers, though he catches one foot and stumbles a bit. Jimin steps forward to right him, hands on the man’s shoulders, and they smile at each other, a nervous exchange. But they’re in this together and Jimin can’t find it in himself to mind.

Pressing him back against the tapestry again, Hoseok unscrews a glass jar, the scent of lilacs filling the air once he dabs his fingers in it.

It’s cool when he wraps his hand around Jimin’s dick, and he moans at the sensation, head resting back against the wall at the smooth glide. He’d never used anything beyond spit and water, so the oil feels heavenly. He knows he could cum from just that, so he urges Hoseok, “Do you want to fuck?”

“I do if you do.” At Jimin’s unimpressed look, he amends, “I do.”

“Good.”

Jimin reaches for the oil, bending to scoop some out with two fingers, and he reaches under himself, rehearsing where to aim. He’d never done this before, and when he goes to press two fingers in at once, Hoseok grabs his wrist with a panicked, “What are you doing?”

“Uh, trying to stretch myself?”

“Okay, no. Let me.”

Huffing, wondering what he could possibly have done wrong, it hits Jimin within a few minutes, when Hoseok works one finger into him and just that feels tight. When he presses in a second, he understands—that probably would have hurt like a bitch if he just shoved two in with no preparation.

“But you’re a lot bigger than your fingers,” he notes with a suspicious frown.

“Yeah, but this helps. You also have to try to stay relaxed.”

Jimin sucks in a slow breath, remembering, stupidly, Namjoon’s similar instructions about removing a splinter. “Okay. Yeah.”

“Breathe, Jimin.”

“Am.”

“Okay.” Hoseok frowns at the position and says, “I think we need to move into the bedroom. I can’t lift you like this.”

“Oh,” Jimin groans when Hoseok withdraws his fingers, feeling weirdly empty and wanting to rectify it.

Hoseok takes a step back, but when Jimin attempts to follow, something tightens around his shoulders and biceps. He can only see Hoseok’s horrified expression and he glances down, yelping when the things, which also wrapped around his legs, lift him into the air.

Vines had grown from the tapestry while Hoseok stretched him, and now they lift Jimin into the air, spreading his legs, to his mortification.

Neither knows what to make of it, but at the way Hoseok stares at him, Jimin’s hole exposed in a way he’d never experienced before, Jimin finds arousal licking at his gut.

“Well. This is a solution,” he tries to joke, voice slightly strangled.

“Is this okay?” Hoseok’s tone matches his.

A vine slides over the wet hole, the tip undulating with increasing pressure, and Jimin moans despite himself.

Hoseok startles, staring, and Jimin begs, voice tense, “Can you please come here?” At this point, he wouldn’t mind if the vine fucked him, the slick, velvety texture lovely, but he can’t stand the thought of Hoseok hanging back, watching rather than playing. “I want you.”

Those words, more than the others, snaps Hoseok back into his body, and he scoops another handful of oil from his jar, teeth worrying his lower lip as he slicks himself up.

“Hoseok, please—” the tip of the vine slips into him and his words are interrupted by a moan, his head slumping forward.

The vines bend him back, one appearing beneath his head to cradle his neck, and then there are hands on his thighs, in between the vines, to steady him.

Hoseok positions himself between Jimin’s thighs and Jimin stares up at him—how his bangs hand loose over his forehead, his eyes dark with disbelief and a delight so whole that Jimin feels it in his gut.

Even before Hoseok slides into him, he feels so full.

But then he does and Jimin moans, teeth grazing his lower lip as Hoseok fills him in a way he’d never before experienced. The vine sneaks out, unnoticed as Hoseok bottoms out, a hoarse moan leaving his lips.

They hold position for a moment, Hoseok reaching up to brush Jimin’s hair off his face, smiling with a teasing glint to his grin.

Jimin understands why in a split second; Hoseok starts to fuck him, hips jolting almost all of the way back, then in, the slapping of flesh so vulgar that Jimin whimpers. It morphs into a moan as Hoseok assesses his face, then one thrust becomes two, becomes a steady pace.

His hands dig into Jimin’s thighs, the vines working as if they can read Hoseok’s intentions, thrusting Jimin back to meet each drag of Hoseok’s cock.

Feeling like a doll caught between two children, Jimin can do nothing but vocalize his pleasure, his cock drooling precum up against his stomach, smearing over his abs. He wants to pump himself to completion, but when he tenses as if to move, the vines hold him in place.

Whining, not pleased with the lack of control, his complaint fades as Hoseok closes a hand around his erection, thumb stroking up the frenulum, tugging the foreskin down. It’s nothing Jimin ever expected to be sensitive, and he whimpers, tears budding at the corners of his eyes, unable to deal with the assault of pleasure from so many sides. There’s a burn from the stretch, too, but he loves even that.

“Hoseok, I’m—I think I’m gonna cum.” He slurs, trying to verbalize, and nearly fails when Hoseok stops pulling out so far, snapping his hips forward viciously in short bursts.

Jimin assumes Hoseok can’t keep up the pace for long, so he begs him for more, wishing he could, wanting to feel more around his cock, and then the vines shift.

They tighten; drawing his knees to his chest in a position he’d never dreamed he could bend himself into, and then Hoseok’s fucking in at an even deeper angle.

Crying out, almost sobbing at the unbelievable fullness, he feels when Hoseok’s rhythm stutters, and then warmth is filling him, the realization that Hoseok’s cumming inside him blotting out anything else of importance.

Thrusts slowing, Jimin whines at the lack of stimulation, but when Hoseok pulls out, his efforts with his hand redouble, and the vines snake back down to take his place.

Two vines, a little smaller than Hoseok’s cock, fuck inside him before more than a little cum can escape, and Jimin sobs out then, tears escaping as they fuck him with Hoseok’s cum. It’s all dirty, way more than he ever could have dreamed even fucking a guy would be, but as Hoseok jerks him off, the vines twisting inside him, the pleasure overwhelms every other emotion.

Jimin cums with a cry of Hoseok’s name that tapers off with a needy whine, the vines not slowing as the aftershocks break over him.

Finally, they withdraw—first from his ass, and then as Hoseok wraps his arms about Jimin so he won’t topple to the floor.

They’re both panting and sweaty, pressed together with Jimin’s cum slick between their chests, and they take a moment to steady themselves.

“So,” Jimin says after a moment, pleased at how comfortable this feels, “did you know your tapestries could do that?”

Hoseok pauses. “Nope.”

Then they’re both laughing, clutching at each other when Jimin tries to move and pain shoots up his spine, nearly knocking them both over.

 

--

 

It’s like a floodgate opened when they fucked; they fall into each other so often that Jimin finds himself forgetting meals. Negative emotion could consume your life swallow you, but you could drown in pleasure just as much. When he resurfaces, too hungry to keep kissing Hoseok, he thinks of Taehyung with a sense of irony. No wonder he rarely left Yoongi to visit.

Yet, as he forgives his brother, he feels as if he forgot something important.

Weeks pass in his arms, Hoseok murmuring embarrassing secrets that only make Jimin want to kiss him more:

His hair is red because the protector mushroom that he almost destroyed was that shade of red, and he wanted to honor it, since Seokjin saved him.

He probably loved Jimin so much because he was the one thing that kept drawing his mind back to the human realm.

Seokjin only allowed him to visit when Hoseok reminded him of their deal that he would draw new humans in.

That’s the secret that awakens Jimin from his glazed, post-coital state, and he shoots up in bed. “Namjoon! Oh, Gods, Gods, he asked me to come back in a week…”

He leaps from bed, dressing with a speed that amazes even him, and he wheels around, glaring at Hoseok when he sees him lying in bed, naked beneath the wine-red duvet. Lust curls around him for a moment, but he waves it off, impatient.

“Get dressed. I need to go.”

Understanding clicks in Hoseok’s gaze and he dresses, both climbing back to the surface with a panic that grows until it’s yawning in front of Jimin like a cavern. He clenches his hands into fists, recognizing the overwhelming power of his own emotion, wielded by this stupid dimension like a weapon.

Forcing himself to calm down, Hoseok guides him to the portal, asking if he wants him to come with.

“No. It has to be just me.”

Jimin takes a deep breath, then watches as Hoseok removes his necklace, the raw chunk of some blue mineral twinkling dully beneath the thick forest canopy.

He drops it to the ground and they both watch it melt into the dirt, Jimin shuffling from foot to foot impatiently, until a swirling vortex forms. It will stay open until he returns, but Hoseok will have to watch over it to ensure nothing slips through that they might not want. This method is more dangerous than using the mushrooms, but there is no time.

Hoseok plants a kiss on his cheek and wishes him a tight “good luck,” neither willing to say what mistake they might have made, letting their emotions take them at such an inopportune time.

Stepping into the portal, he opens his eyes to the woods from his family’s farmhouse and swears violently when the world is bursting with life.

The sky is dark and he sees two moons in the sky, as if the great Gods themselves want to scold him for forgetting his duty to his brother.

Scrambling through the woods, cursing and being forced to slow when he nearly twists his ankle on a tangle of roots, it takes him twice as long to reach the fields.

Unlike the last harvest he remembers, the fields have shrunk: there’s probably about half as much space used, adapted to the number of able workers.

Shame burns through him, and he runs as fast as he can now, with both bright moons illuminating the fields, revealing the notch holes that might grab him.

When he arrives at the house, knowing no one will be home on a festival night, he sneaks inside and steals an unfamiliar hat to pull low over his forehead, hoping that will disguise him from the wizened elders who might recognize him.

The walk to the village is over in what feels like seconds and he stays on the outskirts, where the torches’ light doesn’t touch, using crowds to conceal him when he has to venture closer to them to examine the booths. This time of night, Namjoon would have to man the booth himself, as per tradition. Jimin doesn’t know if his father keeps to that with only a third of his sons still around, but all he can do is hope.

What first grabs him isn’t his father or mother, though—or even Namjoon. Across the fire, a familiar silhouette dances with a girl, and Jimin’s heart breaks as Jungkook turns, the fire catching his handsome features. The woman is not familiar to him, but she could be faceless for what that must mean.

Stealing through the crowd, dull desperation stabs through him, as if everything is swaddled in cotton. He’s used to the intensity of fairyland emotions, so these that belong only to him, as horrible as they are, feel like so much less.

Jimin hates himself a little for only being able to mourn so much on his own.

Then he spies his brother’s familiar figure, his teeth flashing in the torchlight as he shakes hands with an elder man, handing him a small, cloth pouch of something.

Hanging back to ensure no one else lurks behind the booth, he steps up to the table and winces when the happiness fades from Namjoon’s features, slipping from him like water down the eaves of a house.

He looks older; there is no gray hair, but there are worry lines on his forehead that weren’t there the last time Jimin saw him, and he seems weighed down in a way he hadn’t, even after months of his brothers being gone. This isn’t the wear of grief: it’s the wear of life and hard work, in addition to the grief.

“Jimin.”

It feels like a repeat of their last reunion, only with tragedy in his voice instead of awe.

“How long?” Jimin’s voice quavers.

“A year from when you two disappeared.” Namjoon’s eyes close, like he’s saying a prayer to someone.

“Are you and Sowon…?”

“Yes.”

“And Jungkook?”

Agony passes over Namjoon’s expression like a shadow. How it must have hurt to have no one to say it, no one left in his life that really knows him.

“He’s engaged to a girl named Yerim. Her family is new to town, but they’re fairly wealthy.”

His eyes shut, too. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Namjoon doesn’t say anything for a moment. Then, “You said it was hard to tell time.”

“We can still fix this,” Jimin hisses, unwilling to admit defeat. “You can still come with me. Was Jungkook willing to go with you?”

A shrug. Namjoon looks like he’s blinking back tears. “He was. But he’s engaged now. We—It got hard to see each other once my wedding date was set.”

Jimin presses a hand to his mouth, trying to think, trying to calm himself from an emotional reaction his body isn’t having. “We can still go. All of us.”

“It’s over, Jimin.” Namjoon sounds so weary, so defeated, that Jimin finally feels the blade of agony in this world. “Besides, I think he likes Yerim.”

“Not more than he loved you.” And maybe if this had been a year before, Namjoon would recognize the glint in Jimin’s eyes, giving away his intentions to meddle, but time away and new pains wiped away his memory of certain ticks.

Jimin darts into the crowd, his brother yelling after him, though still too smart to call his name, and he knows he has a limited amount of time to get this right. If the wrong people recognize him, he might ruin so much more than his chance to make his brother happy.

Slipping through the crowd, he weaves with greater grace than he thought he possessed, as the drunken patrons of the festival move slower. He locates Jungkook again and taps him on the shoulder, nearly having the girl, Yerim, launched into him when they spin.

She yelps and all three apologize to each other, before he calls over the music, “Sorry to cut in, ma’am! I need to speak to your partner for a moment!”

Jungkook freezes, it taking a moment for recognition to dawn on him, but as Yerim is new to their village, she doesn’t recognize one of the missing Kim boys.

“Sure thing. I’ll fetch us drinks.” She pecks Jungkook’s cheek, her face ruddy with pleasure as she slips into the crowd.

“Jimin?” He can see in that moment that as much as he might have believed Namjoon, it never truly clicked until that moment. “You’re alive. Truly.”

“Thank the Gods for that.” Grasping Jungkook’s hands, a mad fire in his actions, he professes, “That offer Namjoon gave you last year, about coming with me. Would you still do it?”

Like Namjoon, there’s a weariness to Jungkook’s movements that he doesn’t remember, but unlike his big brother, Jungkook had more to grow back then, and now he truly towers over Jimin, his arms and back thick with muscles. It takes a little bit of willpower not to ogle him, but when the man answers him, it snaps him back to the matter at hand:

“I…don’t know. I said yes then, but now, I would hate to hurt Yerim and my parents like that.”

“Don’t you have an elder brother?”

“I—well, yes—”

“And wouldn’t it be better to break it off with Yerim now, before you’re married?”

Collecting his shock, understanding now isn’t the time to marvel over the learned truth about Jimin and Taehyung being spirited away, Jungkook rebuts, voice timid still, “But Namjoon is married. If Sowon is pregnant, he would never want to leave her. He’s…too good of a man for that.”

“But you don’t know.”

“No,” he exhales, crossing his arms across his chest. From anyone else, it would look threatening, but on Jungkook, it’s more like he’s trying to hold himself together.

“Do you still love my brother?”

Pain sparks in Jungkook’s gaze, but before he can answer, yelling crops up from across the fire, the timbre of the voice so familiar that it freezes Jimin in place for a moment, harassing him with flashbacks of before he left.

“My boy! I saw my boy!”

Jungkook grabs his hand, moving where Jimin stopped thinking. “We need to hide you.”

They dart into the crowd, away from the yelling, his father causing a ruckus that no one could ignore. He doesn’t know how his father, likely drunken at this time in the night, could have spied him from across the fire.

“We need somewhere to take you.”

Jimin considers the portal, but he refuses to leave and lose what might be his last chance to save his brother and his brother’s lover.

“Do you have a crop of whispervein?”

“No…”

That’s how he finds himself being stashed amongst the Jeons’ cows, Jimin grimacing at the scent of manure so close. Just a year of human time away, barely two months in the fairy realm, and he’s already vulnerable to awful smells again. He doesn’t know how that makes him feel.

At Jungkook’s instruction, he stays hidden until the next night, ignoring his grumbling stomach with less skill than he used to have at weathering hunger. Gods, the Fae spoiled him.

When the sun begins to sink, he slinks out to the farmhouse, needing to confer with Namjoon or Jungkook, but he barely takes a few steps before he barrels into Jungkook.

“You’re still here.” He sighs with relief.

“Yeah, I knew this would be the better way to do this.”

Jungkook doesn’t seem to hear him. “Your brother’s in the woods. He caused a bit of a scene last night.”

“Namjoon did?” His heart leaps as he trails after Jungkook, tripping into an almost run, the taller man’s pace too fast for him.

“What?” Jungkook cocks his head, nearly trips over a notch hole he missed. “No. Taehyung.”

Displeasure churns in his stomach as Jimin scoffs. “Taehyung’s here?”

“Didn’t he come with you?”

“No.” He hates how cold his voice sounds for a moment, but the anger and betrayal ices over when he manages to get a handle on the pain. “I haven’t seen him since we first crossed over.”

Hearing the change in tone, Jungkook drops the conversation, and they flounder around in the dark until they catch sight of a covered light in the distance.

Jimin isn’t ready for this, but he follows Jungkook, features schooled into mild disinterest by the time he picks out two bodies. He expects to see Yoongi’s shorter height beside Taehyung, but instead, Seokjin leans against a tree, lips pursed in a bored expression.

Both their heads whip around when Jungkook tramps into the clearing, leaves and twigs cracking like gunshots, but when Jimin mirrors him, Taehyung’s gaze sticks to him and doesn’t budge.

“Jiminie.”

“Don’t call me that,” he snaps.

Taehyung winces. “You’re still mad.”

“Why are you here?” He almost calls his brother “Tae,” but bites it back.

Seokjin swings back to his feet, saying, “Hoseokie waited for you all night. When you weren’t back, he had a feeling you could use some help.”

“So you brought Taehyung?” He spits, ignoring how his brother flinches.

“I assumed if one brother could persuade Namjoon, that two would do a lot more.” He shrugs. “Until your father caught sight of Taehyung last night.”

Jimin’s mouth falls open, remembering that his father hadn’t actually called his name: he’d just said his son.

“Yeah, it was stupid.” Taehyung lets out a short laugh. “I had to hide and go looking for Namjoon today in the fields.”

“An even stupider move,” Seokjin adds. “Thank the Gods for me.”

On impulse, he glances at Jungkook, who had wrapped his arms protectively around himself. It must be a lot—so frightening—to be around Seokjin. Exposure lessened his own nerves around the too-perfect man, but to a newcomer, it could still prickle the hairs along your arms.

“Did you have any luck?” Jimin addresses Seokjin.

“Nope. But he said he’d meet us tonight.” A bright, unreadable smile spreads across the Fae’s lips, and Jimin feels his own crawling sense of unease.

“So we’re waiting for him?”

“Not exactly.”

Now Taehyung bites his lip, looks away, and Jimin follows his gaze with a frown. Jungkook doesn’t seem to understand any more than he does, so he steps forward, until his vision focuses enough that he can see the bound, unconscious figure slumped against the base of a tree.

“What did you do?” His voice raises, angry. “Why did you knock him out?”

Jungkook jolts forward, running up to Jimin, then past him when he sees Namjoon. Falling onto his knees beside him, he shakes the man’s shoulder, murmuring to him too quietly for Jimin to make out the words.

Trusting him to free his brother, he demands, now unafraid to glare at Taehyung anew, “Why is he tied up?”

“He didn’t want to come.” Seokjin raises a hand to his eye level, examining the nails. “So we grabbed him.”

“It has to be his choice!” Anger races through him. “It was barely a choice for me, and I was miserable for months.” He directs his next accusation at Taehyung, “You know what that would do to him. Even if Jungkook was there, even if we were there, he’s not like us. Not like you and your damn fairy.”

But it seems Taehyung is done taking Jimin’s abuse. “You never once let me explain myself! I got to talk once, and you decided that was enough. I thought we were family!” He exhales, voice shaky, “I thought you were my best friend. But you could just up and decide I ruined your life.

“I know none of us were happy. I thought if I could leave, then you could take my spot. I didn’t think as far ahead as you, but I never thought about leaving mom and dad with no kids left.” The accusation in his voice, something Namjoon would never be overt about with him, cuts deeply. “I didn’t know how to help them, so I thought I could help you. I’m sorry I did a shit job.”

Stunned into silence, Jimin is given more time to collect his thoughts when Namjoon rasps, “Kook? Where am I?”

They all turn, witnessing the gentleness that Jungkook exudes when he rubs the back of the elder’s neck.

“You’re in the woods behind your house. Taehyung knocked you out.”

“Tae? Tae’s here?” The hope, sheer and disbelieving, overwhelms everything else, and the fight leaves both younger brothers.

“I’m here, Joonie.” Taehyung walks over, hands clasped in front of him. Jimin thinks they’re shaking.

“God, Tae, Jimin told me you were okay, but it’s so good to see you.” His smile is slow to spread, but warm like a summer afternoon.

“I missed you, too.” There’s a wobble in his voice. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. You have all the right in the world to be happy.” He glances back at his bound wrists. “Now, does someone want to tell me why I’m tied up?”

“You can ask your favorite brother,” Jimin kicks himself for the venom in his voice. “He was going to kidnap you. Probably assumed if they dragged you there, Jungkook would follow after, no problem.”

Taehyung shoots him a frown, and he knows he has it right.

Now the two of them stare at Taehyung, and his brother backtracks. “You can’t tell me you’re happier like this than you would be together, somewhere else.”

“That’s removing the responsibility.” Namjoon frowns when Seokjin kneels next to him. “Who are you?”

“The one who knocked you out, gorgeous.” Jungkook tenses, traces the muscle in his arms, very aware of the fact that Jungkook could probably hurt the fairy before Seokjin murdered him. Probably. “I’m normally content to let people make their mistakes, but he’s got a point.”

He snaps his fingers and Namjoon’s wrists appear from behind his back, freed from their binds. Fear flickers in his eyes, but he stands with his normal care, lips tight.

“With all due respect, I don’t think you understand the situation.”

Seokjin shakes his head. “No; I don’t think you do.” He waves his hand and Sowon appears, everyone recoiling, even Taehyung and Jimin.

She brushes her bangs from her face with a shy smile, the mannerism familiar, but when she looks up at Namjoon, there’s a dark pleasure in her eyes. Jimin feels as if he’s intruding, despite knowing that Sowon’s not really there, and he glances at Taehyung and Jungkook out of panicked instinct. Taehyung looks fascinated, and Jungkook’s anger has morphed to something he could only describe as heartbreak.

Approaching Namjoon, she presses a hand to his arm and slides it up, her head craning back to look at him. She says something. He recoils.

“You don’t like girls,” Seokjin says. “She will realize that.”

The fake-Sowon disappears in a cloud of smoke, and within the depths, they can see what appears to be a big bonfire.

“Stop,” Jimin demands, but Seokjin deemed they need his help, and he is not one to half-ass anything.

“She has two options. Misery, fucking someone who lies there like a dead body, and bearing children to a man who will never love her, or turning you in. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t know about you and Jungkook.” Seokjin waves his hand, dispersing the horrible fire before any of them could see the body in greater detail. “Only homosexuals wouldn’t want to sleep with their wives.”

His attention turns to Jungkook and a cold, amused smile tugs at his lips. “But that’s not a problem with you, is it?”

Jungkook’s hands fall to his sides. Jimin thinks he sees his lower lip tremble.

“You like your pretty fiancé. You would live a perfectly normal life with Kim Yerim.” Before he can speak, Seokjin continues, “She’s nice. Her family is fond of you, she thinks you’re handsome, and she’s shier than you.” He shrugs. “It’s no wonder you don’t want to go. Namjoon’s disillusioned, but you’ve got a normal life in front of you.”

He glances at Namjoon, his grin fading. “Don’t worry. I’ll keep him safe.” The subtle emphasis on I tells them just what Seokjin thinks. Only Jimin’s knowledge of the man, gained from Hoseok, keeps him from yelling, from calling the Fae evil. Hoseok’s stories about Seokjin’s guidance, his gentleness, hover in contention with what Jimin’s seeing. He can only hope something good comes of this pain.

“I never said I was going,” Namjoon protests, but his conviction has wavered. The fire Seokjin showed them, perhaps, or the image of Sowon miserable. Jimin would bet it’s everything. “Our parents don’t deserve to lose all their kids.”

“Our parents didn’t deserve the kids they had,” Jimin finally says. “If they knew anything about us at all, they would have left the farm to me, sent you to school, and let Taehyung start breeding dogs. If we started breeding more chickens, we could have made the money to do it. You would have been happier in school, and I never wanted to leave. But dad never cared, not even about what you wanted.”

Taehyung chimes in, “And mom never spoke up against him.” He bites his lower lip, but still adds, “He wouldn’t have hurt her. You know him. But she still backed him up.”

“That doesn’t mean they deserve to think all their kids have died.”

“Well, maybe we should tell them goodbye. For good.”

Jimin opens his mouth to protest, but shuts it when he sees Namjoon considering it. This way they would know their kids are alive and fine.

No one glances at Jungkook. Namjoon exhales, a quick, panicked thing, and he agrees.

Taehyung and he put aside their differences for a second to move in and embrace him.

 

--

 

They decide to do it that night. Hoseok still waits beside the portal, and while Jimin no longer fears the portal closing on them with Seokjin there, he misses him. The emotional weight will hit him twice as hard when he returns, and the sooner he finds Hoseok’s arms again, the faster his world will once again contain all the components he needs.

Jungkook stays in the woods and Jimin pretends to forget about him, half not wanting to abandon Namjoon to Seokjin, half agreeing that Jungkook’s presence does not belong at a goodbye to their parents. Neither does Seokjin, but no one would tell him to wait behind. Aside from his random temperament, if things go wrong, he’s their only chance.

Taehyung lets out a hiss of a breath when he sees their house’s lights still on. Their parents used to sleep even if their boys weren’t all home, but it registers to Jimin that after losing two children, it must be their biggest fear to wake up to an empty house.

He thought he had no pity left for them, but his stomach tightens now. This reunion is one he never wanted or expected to have.

When Taehyung reaches for his hand, he lets him take it. Tonight, he can accept a temporary truce. But only a temporary one.

Namjoon climbs the steps first, opens the door, and a burst of “where have you been, your mother has been so worried!” greets him. He keeps the door open, the group hears the confusion, and Taehyung takes a deep breath before stepping through the doorway.

A horrible silence falls and Jimin follows after him, knowing it’s better to hit them with both at once.

His mother is in his father’s arms, her eyes rolled back, as if she’s just fainted, and his father’s face is dangerously pale, as if he’s due to pass out himself.

“Taehyung?” His voice trembles. “Jimin?”

“Yes.” Jimin wants to shoot Taehyung a frown for agreeing, but stays quiet.

“How are you here? Am I dreaming?”

“No.” Taehyung glances at their mother as she resurfaces. “We’re really here, dad.”

She shrieks for them, then, and launches herself at them, one arm going around each’s neck, drawing them down against her shoulder, as she wails with grief. It’s the most horrible sound Jimin has ever heard and it pierces through him like an arrow, her sobs caught in the worst edge between grief, disbelief, and relief. A year-long nightmare, shattering.

Their father, who looks so much more hunched than Jimin remembers, staggers over to their cabinet and draws out a bottle. He swigs directly from it, smacking his lips, and the strength of the liquor appears to knock some sense back into him.

“Where have you two been this entire time?”

Patting his mother’s back, Jimin answers, “I knew you wanted to disown me, so I left to look for work. I was mad.” He glances down, guilt sharp in his gut. “Taehyung came after me. He wanted to tell you guys, but he was worried if he did, he wouldn’t be able to find me again.”

Rage flickers in his father’s eyes, and Taehyung adds, “He found a really great job, dad, but it’s far. And a girl he fancies.” His eyes twinkle, shocking Jimin as he lies, “Her name is Hosook. A blacksmith’s girl.”

Their father examines Taehyung with a speculative eye, but as their mother resurfaces, she examines Jimin, her eyes dancing across his face, before she smacks him, hard.

“You don’t even send word to your poor mother that you’re alive?” She blubbers, though it’s followed by a laugh. “Oh, Jiminie, I can’t believe you’re here.” Releasing Taehyung, she hugs him even tighter, believing Taehyung, thrilled. It’s the lies she whispered to herself on the nights that the loss grew too big to swallow. Her boys, happy. Far from her, but happy.

“And you?” Their father asks.

“I’m…seeing someone,” Taehyung mutters, his ears tinging with red.

Then the reunion is a happier one, Jimin telling stories about their imaginary village, aided by Taehyung who could add more realistic details. They ate it up, happiness coloring their complexions like nothing else. Jimin finally understands the responsibility that plagues Namjoon—whatever their leaving did to their father, it softened him. Knocked a vital, cruel part of him out of place.

When they would slip out in the morning, Jimin would even feel regret.

Ushering them off to bed, Jimin ignoring the sadness that lurks in his brother’s words as their mother promises a huge breakfast before they journey back, they wait in their old bedroom.

For a moment, it’s as if nothing’s changed at all, and Jimin’s tears join his brothers’ in puddles on the floor. It will take time and conversation to fix things with Taehyung, and this night might be the catalyst, but the pain of leaving home like this must come first.

In the early, early morning, they leave their parents a note that explains Namjoon’s cold feet and that he would rather live with them as a bachelor for now. They promise to try to visit, explain this is why they didn’t give their parents an exact location, and hope, though that isn’t in words, that some good will befall their parents so they won’t languish in their old age.

At their next visit, they will learn that Sowon was pregnant the night Namjoon left—a painful point for him, as no correspondence could reach them in the Fae realm—and that the farm is to be left to that baby. It’s something, and Sowon loves his parents still, so Namjoon takes the pain he caused, and writes a note to the boy every Fae day.

Someday, the boy will question why he gets so many letters from a father that visits twice a year, but those questions do not matter now.

What does matter is that when they retrace their steps into the woods, Jungkook surprises them, his eyes red-rimmed. Like Namjoon, abandoning his duty haunts him, but not like abandoning Namjoon would. He explains that his feelings for Yerim, as much as he cares for her, were born out of Namjoon’s apparent inaction. This, if he stays behind, would be his own inaction.

“I never stopped loving you,” he mutters, all too aware of his audience, and they kiss.

Jimin tries not to coo when Seokjin’s obnoxious whistle causes Jungkook’s nose to wrinkle up and for him to reach for Namjoon’s hand. That game between the three of them would continue for decades, but that’s also beyond this tale.

As they travel back into the realm of the Fae, there’s only one thing left for Jimin to worry about, and he’s standing where Jimin left him.

He looks tired, his clothes different from what Jimin last saw, and when Jimin questions him later, he learns that Hoseok asked the Fae to run him clothes and food, so he could hold his post. Forgetting Jimin and the portal was impossible.

They tramp back to the village, Taehyung pretending he’s not annoyed that Yoongi only checked on the portal instead of waiting like Hoseok, and Jimin tries to tamp down the rising, familiar happiness that compounds in his chest as Hoseok takes his hand.

“Do you remember my brothers?” He asks as they walk.

“Of course,” Hoseok smiles, his grin only growing when he spies Jungkook. “And Jungkook. Everything went well, I take it?”

“As well as could be expected.” Jimin frowns after a moment. “Though I’m not sure where Namjoon and Jungkook will stay.”

“They can stay with me,” Seokjin calls, laughter in his voice.

“That’s really not a good idea,” Jimin whispers to Hoseok, but the man seems unbothered.

“That’s okay.”

After they wave goodbye to Taehyung, the man already scolding Yoongi as he clings to him, Hoseok guides them in a new direction. Jimin assumes to an empty bush or something that holds a house.

Then they halt in front of a large tree, stairs spiraling up the massive fixture of the Fae woods—so far up that Jimin has to crane his head.

“They’ll stay here?”

“Better.” Hoseok kisses his forehead, and Jimin tries to ignore the butterflies that kick up in his stomach at the touch. The issue with living in the Fae world, where time runs instead of walks, is that that one long day away from Hoseok felt like a week. “We have plenty of room for them to stay with us.”

Jimin stares, understands, then asks, “How long was I gone, that you put this together?”

“Only about a week.” Hoseok looks proud of himself. “But I’ve been planning this for a while.”

Jimin answers him with a kiss, arms wrapping up around his neck, and it almost escalates, the startled squeak from Jungkook being the only thing that brings him back to earth.

They part reluctantly, but Jimin consoles himself with one truth: They’ll have eternity for this. Kissing can wait until they get inside.

And as they venture into the house, the view of them from above shows a tall, red-capped figure, leaning protectively over a small, pink-haired man.