Jimin meets Jungkook when he’s forty, still young in his kin’s eyes. He’s just tall enough to reach his mother’s shoulders, peering around her at the strange boy that his father brought into the room. The boy’s arms are tied tight behind his back; his clothes are in disarray, edges charred, and he glowers at anyone who so much as looks at him. He has long, dirty, messy black hair, and dark eyes of liquid coal. He’s very pretty, Jimin thinks, in a different way than elves. He’s rougher, unrefined. Jimin thinks he’s beautiful.
“Jimin,” his father says, tugging the boy forward by a rope tied to his throat. He trips, landing on his knees in front of Jimin, and Jimin watches his cheeks flush red with fury and shame. “I have a present for you. We found it in the caves behind Avelon.”
Jimin perks up in interest at this. The Avelon elves have been warring with their own family for a long time, with little hope of resolution. The most recent campaign by his father must have been successful then, if he’s bringing prizes home.
He steps away from his mother, cautiously approaching the kneeling figure, staring at him in wonder. He’s smaller than Jimin, more wiry and lean. He’s much thinner too. He’s got a thin layer of soot covering him, messing up what looks to be pretty tan skin. His fingernails are long and overgrown and he smells like smoke.
“You’re giving him to me?”
The boy tenses up at Jimin’s question to his father, and ducks his head even further.
“Yes. It’s rare, valuable. It’s a dragonboy.”
Jimin gasps, looking between the older elf and the boy. He’s heard of dragonboys. Half-human, half-dragon; creatures with the ability to shift forms, to grow wings. He grew up with stories of them, always doubtful of their existence. How can such a thing exist? It shouldn’t be possible. He inspects the boy closer.
“Is he really?”
Jimin’s father nods. “It is. Just a young one. It seems as though they were keeping it hidden until it grows and matures. It hasn’t learned how to shift yet. But now it’s yours.”
A grin grows on Jimin’s face, and he reaches out to put a hand on the dragonboy’s head, who flinches violently away, almost tipping over.
“Does he have a name?”
“We were told that it’s called Jungkook. You can choose whatever name you see fit though.”
Jimin hums, undoing a tangle in the boy’s hair. “I’ll think it over. Jungkook is fine for now.”
His father hands him the rope and steps away, his attendant following him as he leaves the room, robes swirling behind him. Jimin’s mother smiles down at him. “Take good care of it, Jimin. The dragonboy is yours now. You can’t tell anyone outside of the court about him though, for your safety. We’ll see you tomorrow at the court dinner.”
Jimin nods, and she tucks a long strand of silver hair behind his ear, kisses his forehead, and takes her leave as well. And then it’s just Jimin and Jungkook.
“Hello, dragonboy,” Jimin says, squatting next to him. The boy doesn’t look up, and Jimin frowns, tugging on the rope. “Look at me.”
A breath hisses through Jungkook’s teeth and he slowly raises his head.
Jimin grins. “That’s it. You don’t have to be scared of me.” The boy’s eyes narrow, and Jimin tugs again. “Talk to me.”
“‘M not scared of you,” he mumbles, and Jimin blinks.
Jungkook shakes his head, but doesn’t elaborate. Jimin sighs. He’ll try again later.
He stands and beckons Jungkook to get up, frustrated when the boy doesn’t comply. “Stand up.” Jungkook says something under his breath, face red, and Jimin leans closer. “What did you say? Speak up.”
“What do you mean you can’t? Do your legs not work?” Jimin giggles, and Jungkook looks away.
“I can’t use my arms. I can’t balance.”
Jimin didn’t think of that. Jungkook’s arms are bound behind his back. Jimin would be able to do it, he’s pretty sure, but maybe Jungkook isn’t as capable as him.
“Oh.” He thinks over his options. He’s not sure if he’s supposed to let Jungkook free. He’s not really sure what he’s supposed to do with him at all. He pulls on the rope again, reaching down at the same time and tugging Jungkook to his feet. The boy is just a little bit shorter than he is. “How old are you?”
“I don’t know.”
Jimin tilts his head.
“What do you mean you don’t know? How can someone not know how old they are?”
“‘S what happens when you aren’t allowed to talk to anyone or go outside your whole life.”
Jimin pauses again. “Oh.” He doesn’t know what to say. “Well. It doesn’t seem that you are that much younger than I am. How fast do you age?”
“I don’t know,” Jungkook says again. “Long enough to watch a child mature.”
Jimin nods, even though he doesn’t know exactly what that means. “Okay. I think we’re similar ages. I think we’ll get along just fine,” he says with a bright smile. Jungkook doesn’t reply except for to dip his head in an imitation of a nod. Frustrating. Jimin keeps the smile on his face as he leads Jungkook through the halls towards his quarters. The sun is shining through the leaves as they pass the balcony, and Jungkook stares with wonder at his surroundings. Jimin notices and stops. Jungkook looks up at him, and Jimin smiles. “Do you want to go look around outside?”
Jungkook nods slowly, hesitantly, and he’s really cute, big wide eyes sparkling in the evening light.
“I don’t think I can let you go,” Jimin continues, and doesn’t miss the way Jungkook’s face falls. “Just because I’m not allowed to tell anyone about you. There shouldn’t be too many people around so I think it will be okay. But just to be safe.” Jungkook glances down, and Jimin is reminded of a kicked puppy. He stamps the feeling down. Jimin’s taking him outside because of kindness. Jungkook should be grateful.
He decides on the back courtyard in front of his room. It’s smaller than the main one, but still has a nice little pond and a patch of flowers with a weeping tree above it. The pond has runes etched into the bottom that keep the water clean and clear, and two giant Siamese fish swim around lazily inside it. His uncle gifted them for his thirty-fifth birthday, and they’re very pretty, a turquoise dragon and a blue butterfly. They glitter in the light, casting sparkles across the walls. The edge of the pool is covered in gems, sapphires and diamonds set in patterns around the edge with a silver vein tracing the design.
Jimin watches Jungkook take it all in. He’s very proud of it and puffs out his chest when Jungkook looks at him.
“It’s…” Jungkook searches for words. “Ostentatious.”
Jimin frowns. “What do you mean? It’s beautiful.”
“Uh, I guess,” Jungkook says, staring at the pool. “It’s just… a lot.”
Jimin sniffs. “It’s a sign of my status. Did you know that I’m a prince? I’m going to inherit the entire house,” he says proudly, hands on his hips, unaware of the pull on the rope. Jungkook doesn’t react the way he wants him to. “It’s pretty awesome, right?”
“Sure,” Jungkook mumbles.
Jimin glares. “You should be more respectful, dragonboy. You’re mine now, so I expect you to be more mindful.”
“Princes mean nothing to me,” the other says, looking back at Jimin steadily. “Especially princes who claim to own people.”
Jimin frowns again. At this rate he’ll wrinkle prematurely. Maybe he will have to work harder to teach Jungkook better manners.
“I don’t know what kind of impression you got from the Avelon elves, but I won’t put up with you talking back to me.” He moves and Jungkook flinches. “Now, we have to get back inside. I’ll figure out somewhere for you to stay until we can get something permanent set up.” He has enough blankets, he thinks, to make a somewhat comfortable place to lay down on the floor in his bedroom.
Jungkook follows him quietly as Jimin crosses into his chambers, shutting the door behind them. He’s got a small collection of rooms, a sitting area in the front with a couple of comfortable couches and small side tables. He has a miniature library, a little room with wall-to-wall shelving and a desk. There’s a balcony off to one side, overlooking the waterfall below. A couple trees provide shade on the warm tiled floor, and there are collections of potted plants around the edges. He has glass doors leading to his bedroom, with designs etched on in the forms of flowers and leaves.
He leads Jungkook into his room, shutting the doors behind them with a click. He approaches the shorter boy and reaches for the rope around his neck, stopping when Jungkook flinches away again.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he says, tilting his head curiously. “You said you aren’t scared of me.”
“I’m not,” Jungkook says, looking at the ground. “Not of you.”
Jimin undoes the knot and slips the hemp off. “What are you scared of?”
“Nothing, yet everything,” Jungkook answers, and doesn't continue.
Jimin sighs. Jungkook gets more and more cryptic with each question. Jimin hopes that he'll learn to open up. After all, he's his. Jimin doesn't press it, just drops the rope in a pile next to the door. He turns to Jungkook and smiles.
“Well. I think as of right now you’ll just stay in my room. I’ll put some blankets down for you to sleep on.”
“On the floor?”
Jimin nods and Jungkook’s shoulders slump. He looks at Jimin as if waiting for something.
“My- uh,” Jungkook says, and he seems embarrassed again. “Arms. Please.”
Jimin gasps. “Oh! I’m sorry.” He circles Jungkook and swiftly loosens the tie until he can get free, rubbing his forearms. Jimin looks him up and down, and then back to his face. “We need to clean you up, make you respectable.”
Jungkook huffs. “Don't wanna.”
“Too bad. I’m not going to have anything of mine looking like that.” He gestures at Jungkook. “I’ll call someone to help.”
“Can't even bathe on his own,” Jungkook mutters quietly, almost too quiet for Jimin to hear. He doesn’t deign to answer.
The assistant arrives quickly, bowing slightly to Jimin as he enters.
“Your highness,” he says, and Jimin gestures to Jungkook.
“I need him cleansed, if you could.” He ignores the quiet sound of indignation Jungkook makes, and tells the other elf a list of instructions.
Hair should be shampooed and neatly trimmed. His hands and feet should be buffered until they are smooth and soft, and his skin should be cleaned, lotioned and purged of the smoky smell that accompanies the boy. His body should be shaved and scrubbed until he is hairless and without flaw. Cut down his nails until they look less like claws and clear all of the dirt out from under them. His teeth should be cleaned until they are white and sparkling. He needs to get an entire new wardrobe, so take his measurements for that.
Jungkook eyes the assistant warily as he approaches him. Jimin guesses that he hasn’t been properly groomed in a long time. He opens the door to the adjoining bathroom.
“Come, Jungkook.” The dragonboy stiffens, and then glances around him. Jimin frowns. “Jungkook.”
After a moment of silence, Jungkook lunges towards the exit doors, reaching for it. He almost makes it to the handle before Jimin pins him to the ground.
“Stop,” he grits, forcing Jungkook down and pressing a knee into his back. “You clearly lack any sort of discipline.” He beckons the assistant over, and grabs Jungkook’s arms, pulling him to standing without letting go of him. He wrestles against him, but Jungkook is small and skinny and Jimin is healthy and strong. He doesn’t let go as he pushes Jungkook towards the bathroom door. “You’ll have to be punished for that.” Jungkook resists until they pass the threshold, and then sags, going limp when the assistant closes the door behind them.
Jimin drops Jungkook, letting him sink to the ground, and then backs up to the door. He nods at the older elf.
“Go ahead. I’ll make sure he doesn’t try anything.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
Jungkook doesn’t struggle anymore. He doesn’t do anything, in fact, but sit in the middle of the huge bathtub set into the floor as the assistant works. The water turns gray with dirt.
The sun is set by the time the elf steps away, bows to Jimin, and leaves him alone with Jungkook, who watches the assistant leave with something like jealousy. Jimin approaches him, and Jungkook watches, motionless as he gets closer. Jimin reaches for his jaw, holding it firmly in one hand and inspecting him. Jungkook casts his gaze down.
His hair is sleek and shiny now, straight and raven black. Now that he can see clearly he can tell that he’s tan, darker than Jimin. Cleaned and stripped of hair, his skin is smooth and soft when Jimin touches his arm. Jungkook’s hands are bigger than Jimin’s, long fingers that twitch when Jimin holds them. The dragonboy doesn’t move as Jimin continues.
He’s skinny. Jimin frowns at the protruding of his ribs, at the slight concave of his stomach. His frame is built for muscle, but it looks like he hasn’t been fed properly. Jimin makes a note to give him plenty of food, hopefully get him healthier, and maybe introduce exercising. Jungkook would look good with some more weight on him.
“Up,” he says, stepping back, and waits for Jungkook to stand. He almost has to repeat himself before Jungkook slowly rises to his feet. He still isn’t looking at Jimin, eyes fixed on the floor. “You look much better now. You’re very pretty.” Jungkook is silent. “What do you have to say?”
Jungkook hesitantly raises his head, but he isn’t smiling. Or happy at all. In fact, he’s got a look that Jimin can’t pin down. His pretty eyes are shiny but not sparkling, and his jaw is tight. He looks… hurt. And humiliated. And not grateful at all. Jimin puts his hand up to his cheek and Jungkook flinches away.
He looks over Jimin’s shoulder, not making eye contact. A single tear breaks from his lashes and trails over his cheek, and Jimin brings his other hand up.
“Is something wrong? Why? Jungkook, you look so nice,” he says, alarmed. “Look,” he continues, turning them slightly so that they’re facing the mirrors. “Your skin is so nice, and your hair is clean. You don’t look messy any more. We got rid of all the ugly things.”
Jungkook doesn’t respond, still steadfastly staring away, and not at his reflection. Jimin chews on his lip, and then steps back with a quiet sigh.
“Fine. I’ll get you some clothes to wear, and then set up a place for you to sleep. Maybe you’ll feel better in the morning.” He pulls a soft set of pants from his closet, and a loose shirt with a wide neckline. Jungkook doesn’t take them when he offers the clothes out in one hand, and Jimin has to do it, moving Jungkook around without any cooperation. He leads him back into the bedroom, leaving Jungkook in the middle of the room as he gets ready himself, locking the doors and the windows and pretending Jungkook isn’t following his movements. He pulls all the extra blankets from the closet and lays them out, and it seems to be pretty comfortable.
“Uh,” Jimin starts, “here. If it’s not enough, if you can’t sleep, you can let me know. I’ll find something else.” The atmosphere has gone from Jimin’s excitement at having a dragonboy to awkward and tense. Hopefully things will get better. Jungkook stiffly nods, and then gracelessly lies down, pulling the blankets around him and curling up underneath them. Jimin hovers for another moment and then goes to his own bed, glancing at Jungkook one more time before closing his eyes.
Jimin wakes up early like he always does, rising with the sun. It casts a golden glow across his room, making rainbows through the crystal glass. He yawns, sits up, and stretches his arms above his head. He suddenly remembers Jungkook, and quickly looks towards the pile of blankets, only to slide out of bed when he realizes that there’s no one there.
“Jungkook?” He turns in a circle, and jumps when he sees Jungkook up and sitting on the windowsill, knees drawn up to his chest, chin resting on his arms. His hair makes a curtain over his shoulder that blocks out his face. The only acknowledgement Jimin gets is a slight shift of his head.
“Good morning,” he offers, and Jungkook moves, dropping one leg off and swinging it back and forth.
“You elves really think you can do whatever you want, don't you,” Jungkook says, and it's not a question.
Jimin furrows his brows, walking towards him. “What are you talking about?”
Jungkook is quiet for a moment, and then turns his head, facing Jimin.
“I’m just another thing of yours, right? A possession whose feelings don't matter. Something you can do whatever you want with.” Jimin frowns and opens his mouth to argue but Jungkook continues. “I was happy with my rough skin and calluses. I like smelling like smoke because it reminds me of who I am, even if I'm trapped and alone. And you didn't, and don't, care. Didn't ask. You want me to look pretty, because you thought I was ugly.” He sighs, and looks back out the window. “I guess it doesn't matter. Out of one cage and into another one. They thought it was fine to kill my family and steal me away. You think it's okay to change me into something I'm not and make me sleep on the floor. Elves are all the same.” He slides off his seat and stands. “What are you making me do today?”
Jimin didn’t think about it that way. He takes a step back.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jungkook interrupts. “It doesn’t matter. You don’t care. It’s fine. It’s nicer here than Avelon anyways. You have windows.”
Jimin is silent, staring at the ground. He’s ashamed of himself. He was foolish to think that he could just treat Jungkook however he likes. He crouches down into a squat, and drops his head into his hands.
Jungkook isn’t a thing. He’s not an object. He’s alive. Jimin’s been treating him like something less than a person. He can’t imagine how that feels. He’s lived his whole life knowing that he has a higher status than the other elves, that he’s more important. He’s lived comfortably, safe and content, used to getting anything he wants.
And Jungkook said… his family. His life. He’s had everything taken from him. Suddenly Jimin feels awful. He hadn’t considered Jungkook’s feelings, too excited with the idea of owning a dragonboy. Owning.
He’s vaguely aware of Jungkook standing awkwardly nearby. He rubs his palms against his eyes harshly, tears of shame welling up in the corners. He takes a deep breath, recollecting himself, and then straightens up, looking at the other boy.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and Jungkook shakes his head.
“Like I said. Doesn’t matter. You can’t undo any of it.” He glances at the window again, and he looks like he wants nothing more than to break out and disappear.
Jimin bites on his lip. “No. I- I don’t want to make you feel like you’re just a… like a prize. I’m sorry. I didn’t think-”
“I know,” Jungkook says again. “Elves never do. You never think past your own goals and desires.”
Jimin frowns and crosses his arms.
“You can’t just say all elves are like that. We aren’t all the same.”
“Sure. Tell me that again after the rest of your court meets me.”
He doesn’t know if he still feels bad for Jungkook or if he’s now irritated. He takes a deep breath again.
“We need to find you clothes. I think you should fit in some of mine.” He turns his back on Jungkook, rubs his face again, and crosses the room to the doors leading to his closet. “Come here.”
Jungkook’s expression twists up and then falls back into tired acceptance. Jimin busies himself sorting through the hanging shirts. The dragonboy follows him shortly after, head down, and stops in the entryway, eyes widening as he takes in the amount of clothes. Jimin reaches for a red tunic, silk, with gold threaded through the bottom. He faces Jungkook, and holds it out.
“Here.” He can tell the boy isn’t happy about it. “What now? I mean,” he hurriedly adds, “can you tell me what’s wrong?” The words feel awkward in his mouth, but he struggles past it.
“It’s- it’s just… I don’t know,” Jungkook mumbles, and hesitantly takes it, as well as the black trousers that Jimin hands him. “Never mind.”
“You’re going to have to learn how to open up to me if this is going to work,” Jimin says, trying to be placating. “What is it?”
“It’s too much. Too fancy. I’m not used to it.”
Jimin pinches the bridge of his nose and ignores the face Jungkook makes.
“It is, and I know you aren’t. But the court is holding a celebratory meal today because of our success in Avelon and I can’t take you in without…” he pauses, thinking over how to say it. “Without making sure that they won’t look down on you because of how you look.”
A look of scorn crosses through Jungkook’s eyes, but he nods silently anyway. They wait in an awkward silence for a second before Jungkook coughs and glances away.
“Uh, I need to get dressed.”
“I know. Go ahead. Please,” he adds as an afterthought, realizing how demanding he sounds.
Jimin waits for an explanation. When none comes, he rolls his eyes.
“Get dressed. You shouldn’t be embarrassed.”
Jungkook turns a cute shade of red and turns away, awkwardly shuffling out of his sleep clothes and into the new ones. Jimin almost laughs, but thinks better of it. It might not be a good idea with how tense their relationship is already.
The dragonboy faces him again when he’s done, and looks comically uncomfortable. Jimin stifles another giggle, and then points in the direction of the chair by his dresser.
“Go sit down. I’ll do your hair. If that’s okay,” Jimin says awkwardly.
Jimin’s entire family has soft silver-blonde hair, and he doesn’t know of any elves with hair that looks like Jungkook’s. It’s thick and blacker than ink, and doesn’t flow through his fingers as easily as his own hair does. It doesn’t shine as much in the light; it’s a solid smooth color. It definitely looks like it hasn’t been properly taken care of in a long time, and Jimin resolves to fix that, only to be reminded of Jungkook’s earlier words about changing him. Jimin’s hands pause where he’s looping two braids together. He’s doing it again. Jungkook shifts when Jimin doesn’t continue. He mumbles an apology and gets back to his work.
His mother taught him all of the hair designs he knows. Some of them are fancy and complicated, some more simple. Jungkook is just getting a set of braids that combine to hang down the center of his back between his shoulders. It’s a lot longer than Jimin previously thought it had been. Maybe they should cut...
No. Maybe he should ask Jungkook if he can cut it shorter. Jimin nods to himself, and then steps away once he’s finished pulling all the shorter strands in.
“What do you think?”
Jungkook looks up at himself in the mirror, turning his head slightly to see the sides.
Jimin stops himself from demanding more. Jungkook doesn’t hate it. That’s about as much as he can hope for right now. The hair is only the first step in trying to get along.
“Uh,” Jimin says, looking towards the door, attention flickering down to the pile of rope still on the floor.
Jungkook huffs out a laugh. “I’m not going to run away.”
Jimin nods, grateful. He dresses in a pair of soft white pants, cinched around his ankles, and a silver tunic that falls at his upper thigh with beading along the hem and sleeves. He opens his drawer of jewelry and pulls out a set of necklaces, glittering with stones and pearls, sliding a couple of rings onto his fingers. Jungkook watches quietly nearby. Jimin sorts through his shoes until he catches onto a pair of plain flat shoes. The last thing that he does is twist his hair around his temples until it forms a crown around his head, clipping it at the back with a silver crusted flower. He checks himself in the mirror, satisfied.
Jungkook follows him out the door, sticking close to Jimin as he maneuvers through the halls. It’s early afternoon, and Jimin figures that they’ll get to the dining hall before most of the other elves. It might give Jungkook a chance to relax more. They don’t pass anyone on their way, but Jungkook still looks apprehensive. He is staring at their surroundings though, leaning around Jimin to see through the windows, out at the city below. They walk slow enough for him to take everything in.
“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Jimin says, glancing sideways at Jungkook.
Jimin purses his lips. “You don’t sound very impressed.”
Jungkook shrugs. “It’s not what I like. I like caves and cold weather. It’s pretty here, but I don’t like it.”
Jimin pauses, looking back at him, trying to encourage him to continue. Jungkook makes eye contact, and then turns to look outside.
“I was born in a cave, and lived there with my family. We had a big one, high up in the mountains, way, waaaaay west of here. No humans or elves around. Just the dragons, the bears, and the rock trolls that occasionally wandered nearby. It snowed most of the year, and my mom made sure that my brother and I always had thick enough furs and big enough fires to keep us warm.” He’s quiet for a moment and Jimin holds his breath, not wanting him to stop. “So it reminds me of home. And my childhood. This,” he says, gesturing to the scenery, “is the opposite of home.” He doesn’t say anything else.
“Oh.” Jimin doesn’t really know what to say. “Thank you for telling me. I’ll do what I can to make-” he stops. “To make this something you might be able to like.”
Jungkook tilts his head in an imitation of a nod.
They don’t speak again until they reach the grand doors to the dining hall. Jimin stands in front of them.
“I think we’re early,” he says, pulling one of the doors open. “I can tell you more when we get settled.” Jungkook follows him in, blinking to get adjusted to the different light.
It’s darker inside, lights flickering on the walls behind glass, and lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Jimin closes the door behind them, and then gestures to Jungkook to go ahead and look around. The sound of his footsteps echo off the hard stone and the wooden beams crossing the ceiling. Jimin belatedly realises that Jungkook isn’t wearing shoes, but Jungkook doesn’t seem to care, almost seems pleased at the texture under his feet. He walks by the long tables, and stops in front of one of the candles set in the middle. Jungkook hesitates, glancing over at Jimin before stepping closer to the table, reaching out.
“Jungkook- wait,” Jimin says nervously, starting towards him as Jungkook gets closer and closer to the flame. Jungkook ignores him, fingers passing through the fire and Jimin gasps, waiting for him to recoil or shout in pain. But he doesn’t. Jungkook cups the fire with both hands, and Jimin stares as he pulls back, holding the little light gingerly. Jimin stops in his tracks and then takes a step away, realizing that maybe he shouldn’t disturb him.
The fire casts a reflection in Jungkook’s eyes. He looks enraptured and it seems like the rest of the room falls away from him, as if Jimin doesn’t even exist anymore. When he looks closer, it looks like there are tears gathering in the dragonboy’s eyes. He clutches the flame and draws it closer, bringing it towards his chest.
“Jungkook?” Jimin hesitantly asks, testing the atmosphere. Jungkook doesn’t look up, just gazing down. “Uh, what are you…”
“Fire,” the other says quietly. “They wouldn’t- they didn’t let me anywhere near it in Avelon. They thought it would be dangerous to let a dragon near fire, even though I can’t do anything with it.” He glances at Jimin. “It’s what I’m made of, you know? Fire. It’s at the core of all dragons. I haven’t been able to see or touch it for years.” He’s actually crying now, and Jimin feels his chest clench up.
“Okay,” he says softly. “Okay. Go ahead. I’ll… I’ll ask for some.”
Jungkook peeks up at him through his eyelashes, confused.
“For my room,” Jimin clarifies. “I’ll get some candles or something. So… so you can have it. Fire.”
Jungkook’s jaw drops, and he clamps it shut with a quiet gasp. “You’ll do that? Really?”
Jimin nods. “Yeah. If it means that much to you. As long as you promise not to burn anything.”
Jungkook makes a funny sound that sounds almost like a laugh, and Jimin smiles.
They stand like that for a couple of minutes, Jungkook gently stroking the flickering flame in his hand. He looks happier already, just touching it.
Jimin picks up the sound of footsteps in the halls and briefly panics.
“Put it back, put it back, Jungkook,” he says.
Jungkook sighs, closes his hands around the fire, and then it vanishes between his fingers just as the doors open. Jimin tugs him away from the table, hoping no one mentions the one dark candle out of all of them. Jungkook stumbles as Jimin pulls, but regains his footing and stands slightly behind him. The first elf to enter is Jimin’s mom, tall and graceful in her pale blue robes. She has an attendant following her close behind. His father brings up the rear with a guard.
Jimin shifts on his feet as his family approaches. He hopes this goes well. He really wants to prove to Jungkook that not all elves are the same. The promise of the fire seemed to bring them closer together, and he thinks that maybe he’s made some progress.
He dips his head to his father when he reaches them, and glances sideways at Jungkook. They briefly make eye contact and Jungkook copies his movements, bending at the waist. Jimin almost audibly sighs in relief.
“Good morning, Jimin.”
“Good morning, father,” Jimin replies, straightening up. Jungkook does as well, slowly and just a second behind him.
“Did you sleep well? How is it behaving?” His father gestures to Jungkook, and Jimin can see his jaw tighten.
“Uh, Jungkook has been well. Haven’t you, Jungkook?” He addresses Jungkook directly, trying to keep him involved. Jungkook only nods.
“I see that you cleaned him up,” his mother says with a smile, stepping closer to Jungkook, whose eyes flick back to Jimin. “He looks much better.”
“Yes,” Jimin awkwardly answers. “Last night.”
“Are you still calling him Jungkook?”
“Yes,” Jimin repeats. “It’s his name.” The queen reaches out a hand to touch the top of Jungkook’s head, and the dragonboy flinches away. She pauses and looks at Jimin curiously. He racks his brain for an explanation. “He’s- uh, sensitive. Don’t worry. Jungkook is just getting adjusted.”
She nods and withdraws. “I see. Hopefully he will settle in easily.” She looks at Jimin. “I expect you to treat him well.”
"Of course." Jimin sees Jungkook relax just slightly. His father passes them on his way to the big table at the front of the room, and Jimin dutifully follows, Jungkook close behind. He sits at the second seat in from the end, and Jungkook hesitantly takes the place next to him. Their table is separated from the others by several feet, the rest arranged on the sides, leaving the center of the room empty. Jimin's mom and dad sit in the middle, with space for Jimin's younger brother when he gets older on the other side, the seat currently filled by the closest aide to the king.
Jungkook eyes the candle in the middle of the table, and Jimin furiously shakes his head, making sure that no one is looking. The other boy frowns, but leans back in his chair without saying anything. Jimin really, really hopes this goes well.
The other court members arrive shortly after, each bowing to the royal family when they enter. Every elf's eyes flicker over to Jungkook where he slowly sinks further and further into his chair with each stare. Jimin doesn't know how to comfort him.
It takes twenty minutes for all of the court to enter and settle, some having a short conversation with Jimin's parents, occasionally glancing down at Jimin. He knows that he- Jungkook- is the topic of attention today.
As soon as everyone is seated, the king gestures towards a guard, indicating that he should start to bring the food.
"Congratulations are in order," one of the elves, Daehyun, says on their right, "for a successful victory against our enemies." Jimin's father nods courteously, and the other continues, "I see that you've brought back a trophy. Is that truly a dragonboy?"
The king nods proudly. "It is. They were keeping it in the caves behind their castle. It was easy to get them to confess to where they were hiding it. Apparently they captured it as a child, in the mountains of Eldorn. The father was the full-blood dragon, and its mother was a half, like this one," he says, gesturing in Jungkook's direction, who is staring down at his clenched fists. "It's still young, and hasn't learned how to shift forms yet. I've given it to my son so that he can have a companion when he gets older."
Jimin glances between the court and Jungkook nervously. His plan to show Jungkook that he won't always be treated poorly is failing fast. On their left, another elf speaks up.
"Will it mature into a fully capable dragon? It looks weak and small," she says, examining Jungkook.
Jimin's father laughs. "Yes, it will. It wasn't treated well in Avelon. I trust that Jimin will be able to help," he says, smiling at Jimin. "It needs to be taught better manners as well. No dragonboy in my house will be allowed to misbehave." Jimin winces at the same time Jungkook stifles a hurt gasp.
Nayeon nods, understanding. "Does it have any family? It could be a valuable thing to pursue."
"No, the Avelon elves recklessly decided to kill the rest of the dragons living nearby, including this one's parents and older brother. Quite the shame." He shakes his head like it's a personal loss. The other elf makes a sound of agreement.
Jungkook's fingernails are digging into his skin and Jimin sees a tear hit the back of his hand where he's staring down at it. He hesitates before turning back to the court.
"Jungkook is already proving himself to be intellectually capable of adjusting," he says, "and I think that with time he will be a valuable asset to myself as well as the house." Jungkook tips his head minutely to the side, barely acknowledging Jimin's effort.
"I would hope so," another court member says. "If it isn't much use, we might as well get rid of it now."
"We were told that the father was strong and impressive, and the Avelon elves hoped that they could raise and control it until it was able to be used in combat. Dragons are becoming more rare and are in high demand." Jimin's father looks back at Jungkook. "If we don't see rapid improvement I'm sure we could come to some sort of beneficial deal."
Jungkook silently shakes next to Jimin, who aches to help him. But there's nothing he can do at the moment, just pray that it doesn't get any worse.The topic moves on to other matters, to discussions of what to do now that they've been able to end the conflict with Avelon. The food is brought out and laid on the table, plates full of fruits and vegetables alongside platters of steaming meats.
When the servants bring the dishes up to the main table, Jimin smiles and thanks them as they lay out several courses in front of him. He notices, however, that Jungkook gets only a bowl of stew as well as a half of a loaf of bread next to a cup of water, compared to the intricate plates that Jimin has and his mug of steaming tea. The dragonboy doesn't say anything but Jimin can tell that he noticed the difference. He hasn't reached for his utensils and just blankly looks at the wood in front of him. Jimin frowns, and looks to the servant.
"Excuse me," he says, and she turns around.
"Yes? Is something not to your standards, young prince?"
"I'm curious as to why Jungkook got such a sparse meal when we clearly have the resources to give him plenty more." The elf looks between Jimin and his father.
"I was instructed to bring i- him a sufficient amount of food to feed him, but nothing extraneous. Is it displeasing to you?"
Jimin nods, frowning. "Yes. I want you to bring him more. Match his plate with mine."
She blinks in almost shock, and looks to the king for approval.
He raises his eyebrows at Jimin. "Jimin? What do you mean? It doesn't need anything more than this."
"He's not an it," Jimin argues, and nods at the servant anyways. “Go ahead.”
“You don’t need to treat him as equal,” Jimin’s mother says from the side. “It’s alright; I’m sure he understands his place. Don’t you, ah… Jungkook?” Jungkook almost seems to shrink further into himself, wrapping his arms around his torso. Jimin doesn’t know what he wants Jungkook to do, whether he wants him to speak and stand up for himself and risk being punished, or if he wants him to not disrupt anything and sacrifice his pride. He sees Jungkook jerkily and slowly nod, hears his mother’s quiet sound of approval, and then watches Jungkook’s face crumple, skin splotchy and tears slipping down his cheeks.
“Get more food for him,” Jimin repeats, hoping he doesn't sound as choked up as he is. “He needs it.” The servant hesitates another second until Jimin’s father nods.
“Go ahead. It is weak, and needs some more weight. Bring food.” The elf bows and retreats, exiting a door to the right to the kitchens. The king goes back to the group discussion after giving Jimin a slight smile.
He turns to look at Jungkook, who’s still hiding behind his hands.
“Jungkook,” Jimin whispers, trying to catch a glimpse of the dragonboy’s face. He makes sure that no one is watching and leans closer. “Jungkook?”
“Leave me alone.” Jungkook says it so quietly that Jimin almost thinks he hasn’t spoken at all except for the slight movement of his mouth.
Jimin almost tries again, but Jungkook shakes his head.
Jimin sits back, upset, but nods. They’ll talk later.
He didn’t realize it was this bad. He knew that elves didn’t treat outsiders well but he didn’t think that they would go so far as to reduce Jungkook to less than an animal.
The servant returns soon after with a new, fuller plate, and sets it down in front of Jungkook with a bow to Jimin. He hopes that his tight smile doesn’t come off as pained. Jungkook hesitates another minute before reaching for his food, pulling it closer to himself and slowly beginning to finally eat. Jimin belatedly realizes that Jungkook has probably never learned table manners and it’s painful obvious when he goes for the meat with his hands, attracting a stare from the nearest court elves.
“Jungkook,” he says urgently, leaning closer, and the other pauses, glancing at him.
“What?” Jimin subtly motions to his food.
“Um, you need to eat more neatly,” he says. “It’s uh, considered rude to eat with your hands. And messily.” Jungkook stops, looks back down at his food, and sets it back down on the plate.
“Okay,” he says, just as quiet as before and Jimin feels oddly terrible. Jungkook picks up the fork beside his plate, stares at it for a moment, and then awkwardly tries to fit his hand around it. He figures out a way to make it work and stabs it into another piece of meat, looking at Jimin for approval and Jimin shakes his head, nudging the knife closer with his elbow. Jungkook frowns, frustrated. Jimin hears a snicker from an elf nearby, and snaps his head up to glare at her. Jungkook hears it too, and his face is red and his knuckles are white from where he’s holding onto the fork.
He carefully reaches for the knife, and attempts to cut into the food, slipping. There’s another stifled laugh, and Jungkook freezes. Jimin’s aware that they’ve got the attention of several members of the court, bemused eyes watching them. He reaches for Jungkook’s hands, ignoring the flinch away, and gently readjusts his fingers until he’s holding the utensils properly. He tries not to pay attention to the wet streaks on the dragonboy’s face and the quivering of his lip.
Jungkook tries again. He succeeds at cutting a piece of pork off, getting it on his fork and then brings it up to his mouth. Jimin lets out a relieved breath when he chews and swallows.
The next bite isn’t as easy, and Jimin can feel the sneers on faces. His mother looks briefly over at them, and Jimin shakes his head with a smile as if nothing is wrong. She goes back to her meal.
Jungkook makes it through half of the plate before the stares become too much, and he drops the silverware, pushes the food away, and sits back, head down.
“Jungkook?” Jungkook’s shoulders tremble, and Jimin sighs, glaring at another giggling elf.
“I’m sorry,” he mutters. He doesn’t sound very apologetic.
Jimin inhales sharply. “No, no,” he says. “It’s okay. Don’t worry about them. Keep eating.” Jungkook shakes his head and falls silent. Jimin grimaces. “Please. You need to eat.” The dragonboy doesn’t respond.
“Is everything okay, Jimin?”
Jimin looks up at his father.
“Everything is fine. Jungkook is just… just getting used to proper food,” he explains weakly. “I’ll make sure he finishes.”
The king nods. “Please do. I wouldn’t want the food to go to waste.”
“Of course,” Jimin says, and his father goes back to the group. “Jungkook, please,” he whispers, turning back. “I’ll cut it for you.” He takes the knife and leans closer.
“Prince Jimin, are you having a hard time with your dragonboy?”
Jimin whips around to face the now-silent room, eyes landing on a smug face across the tables. The elf smirks. “Does it need to be trained? Should you make it eat like a dog?”
Time seems to slow down as Jimin stares at the other elf. Jungkook’s hands curl even tighter, and he rises, getting out of his seat. Jungkook moves almost too fast for Jimin to stop him, jumping over the table and hitting the stone ground hard. Jimin swears and catches his wrist, jerking Jungkook back.
“Fuck you,” the dragonboy snarls, fighting against Jimin’s hold and trying to break free. Half of the elves in the room stand up, alarmed, including Jimin’s father. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, you bastard.”
“Jungkook!” Jimin hisses, panicked. “Stop!” The room breaks into worried murmuring. “Calm down!”
“No!” Jungkook yells, struggling. “Let go of me! Fucking elves, all the goddamn same, think you’re so much better than everyone else, think you can say whatever the hell you want.”
“Jimin?” The king’s voice cuts through the rest of the noise. “What-”
“It’s fine! I’m sorry!” Jimin says, pulling on Jungkook. “I need- I’m going to take him to my rooms, I’m sorry for the disruption.”
“I’m not a fucking dog,” Jungkook almost roars, thrashing in Jimin’s arms. The elf’s eyes are wide and fearful. Jimin tightens his grip, forcing Jungkook to step back with him, dragging him toward the exit. “Let go of me!”
Jimin repeats his apologies until the door shuts. He pulls Jungkook through the halls to his room despite Jungkook trying to wrestle away, still shouting.
“What the fuck was that?” Jimin slams the door behind them, throwing Jungkook onto the floor in the middle of the room. “I get that you’re mad, but you shouldn’t have just exploded like that.”
“Mad? You think I’m mad?” Jungkook laughs. “Go fuck yourself. I told you this would happen.”
“Do you see now? Do you get it? This is how your people see me,” he says bitterly. “So much for that. Elves are heartless and cruel.”
Jimin recoils. “I don’t-”
“Of course you don’t!” Jungkook says, sitting up. “You don’t think. None of you think past your own fucking little world. As long as something doesn’t happen to you, it isn’t happening, right?”
“That’s unfair,” Jimin interrupts. “You can’t-”
“Unfair? How is that unfair? Have you ever been hungry and known that you won’t be able to eat? Have you?”
“Let me guess. You haven’t. You’ve always had someone to bring you food. Or you’ve always been able to walk out your door and go find some. You never go cold without being able to warm back up.” Jimin frowns and opens his mouth to argue but Jungkook continues. “You’ve never had anything you care about ripped away from you and slaughtered in front of your eyes just because someone had an self-invested agenda. You’ve never been uprooted and stripped of everything that you care about, everything that makes you you, and been made to wonder if you were even yourself any more, or some empty, lifeless thing for anyone to use however they want if they fucking want to!” Jungkook pushes off the ground and Jimin instinctively steps back, hands raised. Jungkook laughs again. “Look at you. You’re scared of me. Why? I can’t do anything to you. You already proved that. I’m small and weak and powerless. But you’re still scared.”
Jimin is at a loss. He wants to yell back at Jungkook, tell him he’s wrong and that not all elves are like that; that he’s not like that. But.
Jungkook is right. Everything that he said. Again, Jimin is struck by how absolutely unimaginable Jungkook’s life is compared to his. He looks up to see Jungkook facing the windows.
“I just…” Jungkook stops, chest heaving, and Jimin can see that he’s crying again. “I just want someone to care. Not about what fucking animal I am, or what I can be used for. To treat me like I matter.” He glances back at Jimin. “I want to choose what I look like. I want to eat what and how I want to. I want to be able to go outside without a rope around my neck. I want to be called by my name.” He sighs. “I want a lot. I thought maybe it would be better here. You let me hold fire, and almost treated me like a person. But like I said, elves are all the same in the end. You want to think you're better than the Avelon elves because you look down on them too. I heard the things your people said about them. I don't feel compassion for elves, but senseless murder…” He falls silent and then takes a breath that sounds like a struggle. “Does it mean that you are superior? How much does that differ from killing the dragons?”
Jimin feels like he’s been punched in the chest.
“We’re- it’s nothing like that,” he says weakly, and it sounds pathetic even to his own ears. “It’s different.”
Jimin squirms, uncomfortable. “I- it’s just… they…” he trails off. He doesn’t have an answer. Not really. Why had they attacked the Avelon elves? Jimin remembers his father saying something about how it would be better for everyone, but doesn’t remember why. “I don’t know,” he finally says quietly, avoiding Jungkook’s stare.
Jungkook nods. “I know you don’t. You don’t look outside of your own walls.” Jungkook goes to the window, placing a hand on the glass. “As far as you’re concerned, your people are always in the right, and everyone that you dislike is wrong.” He looks out across the balcony and out to the waterfall outside, and doesn’t say anything else even though Jimin waits. The sun crawls across the sky and the heat of mid-afternoon builds.
“Um.” Jimin finally breaks the silence. “I don’t know… what to say. I can’t- I can’t make this better on my own. You’re right.” He swallows. “Everything you said.” It hurts to admit it. Jimin grew up with pride in his people and his family, trusting that what they have done was right. He’s never worried for anything in his life aside from the weather and maybe what he should wear the next day. He takes a deep breath and hopes that the tears don’t break from his eyes. “I’m… sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” Jungkook mutters without looking at him and Jimin frowns, taking a step closer.
“I… I know. But I haven’t done anything to help you,” Jimin says, keeping a careful distance. “I should have done something. I know you’ve only just gotten here. But the way that they- I’ve been treating you isn’t fair.” Jungkook raises his head, staring at Jimin with surprise. Jimin fidgets. “So I’m sorry,” he finishes.
“Thank you,” Jungkook eventually says, casting his gaze down.
Jimin twists his fingers and shifts his weight. “Do you think… would you be willing to tell me about your past?” Jungkook eyes him, hesitant. Jimin tries to look as open as he can. “I just want to know. So I can understand.”
The dragonboy nods slowly.
“Okay. I was born in the mountains.”
Jungkook was born in the fall, just before the first snow of the year, in a pile of blankets in front of a fire with his older brother nearby and his father pacing in the entryway to the cave. His mother always told him that the wind howled, but that it stopped and everything was peaceful as soon as he took his first breath. She told him that he cried loud enough to shake the walls, and that the fire burned brighter when he opened his eyes.
He didn't cry when he first saw his father. His mother always proudly claimed that he wasn't scared and that she just knew he would grow up to be strong and brave. His brother said that Jungkook reached for his father’s nose, tiny hands grasping at the scales, uncaring of the heat.
“Your father was a dragon? A full one?” Jungkook nods, settling on the floor across from Jimin.
“It’s not very common for a full dragon to fall in love with a half human. He met my mom when she was going out on a trek to the mountains, a tradition that her family had each of our kind do when they came of age. It was during that trip when you were supposed to learn how to shift for the first time. Mom had just figured it out when Dad found her. Apparently he thought that her attempts at flying were cute.”
Jimin leans forward on his hands, curious.
“Could you talk to him?”
Jungkook’s dad was huge, dark gray scales and towering horns that Jungkook and his brother used to climb over and swing from. His belly was always warm, and Jungkook liked to crawl under his wing at night when he got cold. The dragon would pretend to be put out, huffing smoke from his nostrils and flicking his tail, but would always curl up around Jungkook to keep him close.
He learned to speak dragon before he could speak in human tongues. It frustrated his older brother to no end, who struggled to mimic the strange sounds. He would pout and frown when Jungkook mocked him in Dragontongue until their mother intervened and chided Jungkook for being mean.
She was significantly smaller when she shifted, lean and agile with indigo scales and ridges along her spine. She was the one who took Jungkook into the air for the first time, telling him very strictly to hold on tight and stay close. Jungkook fell in love with the sky immediately, blinking against the wind tugging at his hair.
His brother was only a few seasons older than Jungkook. They didn’t know many other humans aside from the ones that occasionally hiked through the mountains, so it was up to the two of them to learn together. They sparred and fought, chasing each other through the cave system until they heard the roar of their mother calling them back for dinner.
“Do you still speak it? Dragontongue?”
Jungkook chews on his cheek for a moment before hesitantly nodding.
“I think so. I haven’t tried in a long time. I used to talk to myself when I was alone in Avelon, so I could feel like…” He looks down at his hands. “Like I hadn’t lost everything. That I had something that no one could take away from me.”
Jimin almost reaches a hand out to touch him but thinks better of it.
“Something that reminds you of your family,” he says quietly, and Jungkook glances at him.
Jimin hopes that someday, Jungkook will trust him enough to show him.
It was winter when the elves came.
Avelon was set at the foot of the biggest peak in the Eldorn mountains, and Jungkook had seen the huge castle from overhead during trips on his father’s back. It always interested him; the thought of meeting someone other than his brother. He wondered what the elves were like, if they were quiet or loud, happy or melancholic. Jungkook didn’t know what they looked like other than the tiny blurry forms he could make out from the sky.
The first warning was the sound. Loud clacking of metal armor and spears, the thud of horse’s hooves on packed snow. Jungkook’s mother was in the middle of making dinner, skinning a deer and laying the meat out on hot stones over a fire. Jungkook and his brother were wrestling on the ground; Jungkook’s brother pinning him down with a triumphant shout. She put the knife down when she heard the noise, and beckoned to Jungkook and his brother.
“Boys, come here.” They both obeyed, glancing towards the mouth of the cave. Jungkook held onto her waist, hands grasping the bottom of her shirt.
Then they heard the roar of a dragon. His mother gasped, starting to move before Jungkook tugged on her clothes again.
“Mom? What’s going on? Is that Dad?” The sound echoed through the mountains again, and she gently pried him off.
“Junghyun,” she said to his brother, “I want you to make sure that you and Jungkook stay here, okay? Don’t leave until I come and get you.” He nodded and pulled Jungkook away from her. She bent down and smiled at him. “Good. Be careful. I’ll be back soon.” She moved back, ruffling his hair even though another terrible roar sounded even closer than before. There was a loud cry, and she whipped her head around to look.
She didn’t make it more than a step before an arrow pierced through her sternum, silver arrowhead lodged between her ribs. Blood dripped from her mouth when she grasped the shaft with a hand, struggling for breath. Jungkook gasped, stumbling backwards into his brother.
“Go,” she said to them weakly, turning to face the entrance. Jungkook reached for her before his brother pulled him back. A second shot whirred through the air and thudded into the meat of her shoulder. “Go!”
“Mom! Wait-” Jungkook fought against Junghyun, struggling. “No, we can’t leave, no!”
“Come on, Jungkook!” The older boy pulled harder, and threw his hand over Jungkook’s eyes when his mother finally collapsed, landing hard on her knees. Jungkook thrashed until he could see again. The front of the cave was blocked by ten figures, armed to the teeth and headed by a single archer.
Two of them spoke to each other quietly, and Junghyun forced Jungkook to look away again when one approached the body in front of them, grabbing the arrow by the fletching and ripping it out with a disgusting sound.
“Don’t move,” his brother whispered to him, voice shaking. “When I say so, run. Promise me.”
Jungkook shook his head vehemently, but Junghyun didn’t let go.
“Jungkook. You have to. Please.”
Jungkook kept wrestling until his brother growled and he fell still, eyes wide. He’d never heard him sound like that, and it was scary. When he glanced up past Junghyun’s fingers he could see his face. His expression was stony, but the calm was betrayed by the tears streaming down his cheeks.
The elves were still talking, and Jungkook heard the words “ dragons ” and “ dead .” The archer gestured at the two of them, and apparently an agreement was reached. Another elf pointed at Jungkook and spoke louder, not quite enough for him to catch everything that they were saying. Whatever was said had the others nodding.
“Ru-” Junghyun shoved Jungkook in the direction of the back of the cave where there were tunnels to different areas. Before he could finish the single word or even let go of Jungkook there was another sickening thud, and Jungkook whirled around to see his brother fall, a similar arrow straight through his chest.
“Jung- Junghyun?” Jungkook said, staring between his brother and the elf lowering his bow and slowly approaching him. “Get up, please, stand up.” He hesitated between going towards him or running like he had promised. “I- please stand up, please, you have to. I can’t leave you.”
“It would be best for you not to resist, little dragon.”
Jungkook looked up, backing away when the elf stopped just in front of him.
“You don’t have to make this any harder than it already is.”
Jungkook tripped, landing on his hands. His mother. His brother. Probably, he guessed, his father as well. Gone. He stared at the bodies, blood seeping through the pretty green fabric of his mother’s shirt and pooling on the rock underneath. The elf drew an arrow, pointed it right between Jungkook’s eyes, and notched it.
Finally Jungkook closed his eyes. At that point, death was unavoidable. He resigned himself to dying, holding onto memories of his family and waiting to take a final breath.
Nothing came. No arrows, no pain.
Someone moved behind him and then yanked on his arms, pulling him up to standing and twisting them uncomfortably. Jungkook stumbled to his feet, eyes shooting open.
“Wait- wait, no, what are you doing,” he said, struggling against the hold as the elf dragged him across the room. “Stop! Let me go- you can't do this.” He slipped in a puddle of slick blood, but the elf didn’t let him go, holding him up by his forearms. Jungkook’s feet left bloody trails behind him.
They made it outside the cave, and Jungkook fully slumped at the sight awaiting him, eyes wide. He felt the first tears well up and drop down his cheeks. In front of them, the mountains were covered in crimson snow, bodies of slain dragons unceremoniously strewn over the slopes. Jungkook tried to count them but couldn't make it higher than seven before his vision blurred over with tears. Directly in front of the cave, a group of elves brandishing weapons surrounded a huge dark gray body, smoke rising from the skin.
Dragons are born from fire, and will always return to it in the end.
Jungkook pauses and takes a deep breath. It’s steadily growing darker, and Jimin rubs the tears off of his face. Jungkook looks up at his sniffle, surprised.
“Jimin? Why are you crying?”
“I-” His voice cracks. “I’m so, so sorry, Jungkook.”
Jungkook jerks back, eyes wide. “What?”
“I’m-” Jimin says brokenly. “You- your family, they- you, didn’t deserve that. I don’t- I’m sorry. I had no idea.”
Jungkook’s face screws up, and he blinks rapidly, looking away. “There’s nothing you could have done. It was a long time ago.”
“I know that, I know, but… but you’ve been here, and I just keep making you feel shitty.”
“It’s not entirely your fault,” Jungkook mutters, repeating what he said earlier. “It’s not like you’re the one who decided the dragons aren’t to be seen as equals. You just grew up with it.”
Jimin shakes his head. “I still should have… I don’t know. I’m just so sorry.”
Jungkook looks like he’s torn between moving closer to Jimin or backing away, and ends up reaching a hand out to lightly touch Jimin’s leg.
“You have the chance to prove that you are sorry to me, Jimin,” he says. “You can change it.”
Jungkook felt sick, and even though the elves had looped a blindfold around his eyes and bound his hands together, he could still see the bodies littering the mountains. The vision of his family falling to the ground in front of him, dead, lingered. He wasn’t wearing his coat and it was cold outside. He started to shiver and one of the elves behind shoved him.
“What’s wrong with you, little dragon?” Jungkook didn’t say anything, just clenched his clattering teeth harder. “Are you cold? You’re a dragon.”
Jungkook considered answering, telling him that he hadn’t grown enough to support his own fire and keep himself warm, but decided against saying anything. The elf scoffed and pushed him again, unforgiving when he stumbled.
There was a lot of noise as they continued, heading down the slope, rocks rough beneath Jungkook’s bare feet. He couldn’t see anything through the black fabric but he could hear the din get louder as they neared what he figured was the bottom of the mountain. There were more voices around them, elves talking loudly, and Jungkook heard them mention dragons and eradicated and captured. He could almost feel the stares directed at him.
The elf forced Jungkook forward until he tripped, landing hard on his knees onto something that felt like rough, unsanded wood, and rolled to his side.
“Make sure to watch him,” a voice said to someone nearby. “He’s valuable.” There was a heavy thunk, and what little light that he could see beneath the blindfold disappeared. The rope around his wrists chafed against his skin. He carefully stretched out his legs, only able to shift so much before his feet hit a solid surface. He tested every side, only to meet the same in each direction.
Jungkook dropped his head to the ground, thunking against the wood beneath him. It hurt but he didn’t care, too cold and tired for it to matter. He was trapped and alone. It didn’t take more than a couple of moments for him to lose consciousness entirely.
When he woke, the cage that he was in was rocking and shifting. The movement made him sick and he twisted to the side to throw up what little he could, gasping and coughing. The last thing he had eaten was a bowl of stew that his mother had made that morning. The bile burned his throat.
An elf banged on the side of the box, loud and startling. “Be quiet.”
Jungkook gagged again, and there was a responding sigh. “Do we really have to cart this thing all the way back to the city? It’ll take hours.”
There was a smack and a shout.
“Shut up,” another voice said. “It’s a dragon. They’re highly valuable. Imagine the possibilities of controlling a dragon. Stop complaining.” The first one groaned but didn’t say anything else, and the rocking of whatever Jungkook was trapped in continued.
The time blurred together entirely and Jungkook had no idea of how much had passed, if it was day or night. At some point the box moved and then thunked onto the ground, jostling Jungkook. There was a loud noise, and then the front ripped off, revealing the lower halves of three elves.
“Come on then,” one said, bending down to look at Jungkook. “Get up.”
Jungkook struggled to stand, and the elf groaned, reaching towards him and grabbing him by the hair. He slapped Jungkook when he cried out at the pain, mercilessly dragging him out of the cage.
The city was loud and dirty and the air clogged up Jungkook's lungs with his first breath in. He was standing in a stone courtyard next to a huge stone castle, slits for windows and tall towering spires splitting the clouds. Elves were bustling around them, carrying bags and boxes on their hips and shoulders. That was all Jungkook ever saw of the city of Avelon.
He was shoved across the street, followed by the eyes of every elf they passed. The guard on his right tangled his thin fingers in Jungkook's hair and forced him to keep his head upright, unable to hide or shirk away from all of the stares.The elves whispered behind hands, pausing their work just to watch him pass. The massive wooden doors of the castle swung open, and then shut behind them with a resounding boom.
"It was more symbolic than I realized that the time," Jungkook says, staring at the window. "Two big heavy doors trapping me in a stone building I never wanted to see. They kept me in a dark room at the back of the castle, I think behind the royal quarters. There was one little window near the ceiling, and there was a light just outside the door that was almost bright enough for my whole room. I had a little bed in the corner with a couple blankets, and they shoved food through the door twice a day."
"How long were you there?" Jimin asks softly.
"From then until when your people came to kill the Avelon elves," Jungkook answers. "I don't know how many years that was. There's so little sunlight already that far north, and it's not like anyone there told me what day it was, or what time it was. There was one guard who was pretty nice to me; she was young, I think, and sometimes would sit and talk to me for awhile. It got really lonely." He pauses, and glances back at Jimin. "She was the one who was protecting me when your people came, and the first one I saw die."
Jimin bites his lip and looks down. "I'm sorry," he mutters.
Jungkook shakes his head. "It's... in the past. There's nothing you can do about it now. It's not like we were close or anything. She just didn't treat me as if I was just a battle advantage."
A loud bell breaks the silence between them, sounding from deep within the castle. Jungkook jumps in surprise, eyes wide with what Jimin really hopes isn't panic.
"What was that?"
"It's uh, it's dinner time. The kitchen is letting everyone know. Do you want-"
Jimin doesn't press it. "Okay. Um. I'm-"
"You can go eat," Jungkook says. "I won't go anywhere. I'm tired. I want to sleep. Lock the doors or whatever."
He doesn't want to leave Jungkook alone. Jimin doesn't really know what his family will think, or what the court will think, when he shows up to dinner without Jungkook. He shakes his head. It doesn't matter. Jungkook doesn't want to go out there, and Jimin isn't going to make him. He can handle some judgmental stares and pointed questions with thinly veiled contempt. It's nothing compared to what Jungkook has been dealing with. So he stands.
"Are you sure? I can bring you something if you want."
"It's fine. Don't worry."
Jimin decides not to say that he will worry no matter what. "I'm gonna go then. If you need anything uh, I dunno. I won't be gone for long. You can change clothes if you want, or take a bath. I'll- see you soon."
Jungkook doesn't look up but he nods, eyes going back to the window.
The entire dining room is quiet when he walks in, court elves bowing their heads as he passes. He ignores the whispers and murmured questions, taking his seat at the table and taking a deep breath. His mother looks terribly curious next to him, but she doesn't ask, not at the table. Jimin figures that he'll get lots of questions later when she manages to get him alone.
He successfully eats in silence and then makes it out of the dining hall without being stopped and questioned by anyone. He barely remembers to grab a roll of bread for Jungkook from the table before he leaves, tucking it into his robes.
The dragon is asleep, or seems to be, curled up on his side under the blankets. Jimin quietly leaves the bread on the side table and goes to the balcony, opening the doors and stepping outside into the cool evening air. There are a few stars just starting to show on the horizon, and Jimin sits down on the bench next to the edge.
He has learned a lot today. More about what happens outside of the castle than any rumors or gossip he's ever heard from any of the other elves. Jungkook keeps telling him it's not his fault and that Jungkook doesn't expect anything from him, but he still feels like he's done something wrong; he's never worried about the outside world.
The sun slowly sets while Jimin sits there, staring at the rolling hills next to his rooms. He's going to make this better, he resolves. Jungkook isn't an object. Jungkook is a living creature who feels and thinks just like he does. If they are going to get along, which Jimin really, really hopes that they can, he's going to need to change.
With that, he calls a servant to his room and hands him a note to deliver to his father. Things will be different.
He wakes up to a quiet room and a note on the door that reads, "at the study at your convenience." Jimin grins and folds the paper up before turning to look for Jungkook. The dragon is still on the floor, hidden under a mound of blankets, and doesn't move until Jimin touches his shoulder, gently shaking to wake him.
The dragon mumbles something and turns over, burying his face in his pillows. Jimin laughs.
"Jungkook, you have to wake up now. We have to- we have things to do today."
The blankets shift as Jungkook sits up, blinking and rubbing his eyes. He groans, squinting against the sun. "What do you mean?"
"Um," Jimin says, squatting next to him. "We're gonna go meet my- our tutor."
Jungkook frowns. “I don't want to meet him.”
Jimin sighs. “I know. But I need to have a tutor, and you can't just stay in my rooms alone all day. It’ll be good for you,” he says. “Just give it a chance, please?”
The frown stays, but Jungkook finally nods. “Fine.”
Jimin's known of the scholar for a long time, but this is the first time that they’ll be sincerely meeting. Jimin really hopes it goes well. Jungkook still barely trusts him.
The door to the study room swings open with a light push, and Jungkook hangs back until Jimin enters first. The room is mostly bare, a couple of shelves lining one wall and desks against the windows. There's someone sitting at one of them, and he looks up as Jimin approaches with Jungkook close behind. The elf breaks into a wide, dimpled smile and Jimin can't help but return it.
“Hello, Prince Jimin. I’m Kim Namjoon, and I will be your teacher.” He turns to Jungkook, who shies away from his gaze. “It’s nice to meet you, Jungkook. Can I call you that?”
Jungkook looks briefly startled before nodding slowly.
“Um, it’s… it’s nice to meet you, too. And Jungkook is fine. Uh, thanks.”
Namjoon dips his head and Jungkook glances at Jimin with wide eyes. Jimin grins.
Namjoon leads them back over to the table, gesturing for them both to sit down. He hands Jimin a bound stack of papers, and offers another to Jungkook, who stares at it, hesitantly taking it with both hands.
The tutor takes his seat across from Jimin, and pulls out his own book.
“We’ll start with history, how does that sound?”
They quickly discover that Jungkook is clever, incredibly so, but he doesn’t know how to read or write. He also gets very frustrated, very easily. Namjoon suggests that he have an extra one-on-one session, and Jimin waits with bated breath for Jungkook’s response. He answers surprisingly fast.
Jimin departs first, almost reluctant to leave Jungkook alone; Namjoon reassures him that it will only be a short lesson. The dragon seems slightly nervous, but doesn’t say anything as Jimin leaves. He hopes it goes well.
His mother asks where Jungkook is when Jimin gets to lunch and he scrambles for an excuse.
“He- uh, wasn’t feeling very well. I’ll take him food.”
She nods, and conversation resumes.
Jimin gathers up a tray before he leaves, piling on meats and sweet bread. He’s not sure exactly what Jungkook likes to eat. His parents watch the whole time, so Jimin grabs a set of utensils purely for appearances; he doesn’t think Jungkook will use them. A servant offers to help him carry it and he politely declines, hurrying out of the hall. Hopefully he can get back to his rooms before Jungkook does, or before he gets too hungry.
The room is empty when he gets there. Jimin sets the tray down on a table and plops onto the couch. He sighs, tipping his head back. It’s been a long couple of days, and he’s exhausted. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to take a nap. He’s pretty sure Jungkook isn’t done yet anyway.
He wakes up to the quiet sound of someone eating. When he blearily sits up, rubbing his eyes, Jungkook is sitting cross-legged on the floor nearby, tray of food in front of him. He’s ripping into a piece of bread with his fingers, shoving it into his mouth. Jimin watches in silence for a moment until Jungkook happens to glance up, meeting his gaze.
“How was the lesson?” Jimin asks.
“I ‘os figne,” Jungkook mumbles through his mouthful. He swallows and then clears his throat. “It was fine. Namjoon is really nice.”
Jimin smiles. “Good. I’m glad.”
Jungkook picks up another bite of food, tearing into it with his teeth. Jimin rests his head in his hands, leaning on his knees while Jungkook eats. He’s not messy like Jimin thought he would be. Instead the dragon only takes bits that he can eat at once, only going for another piece when he finishes. He doesn’t get food all over his face and licks his fingers clean after each portion. There aren’t any crumbs on his lap or the floor. It’s interesting.
“You… How is it?”
“It’s good. Thank you.” He looks down at his lap. “For um, not making me eat, out there. With,” he gestures to the knife and fork, “those.”
Jimin shakes his head. “You don’t need to thank me.” He hesitates and then slides onto the floor next to Jungkook. “Um, but… if you wouldn’t mind, will you let me teach you how to use them? The utensils? You don’t have to, of course,” he backtracks, “but I think that it would make being here just a little bit easier.”
Jungkook frowns at his food and sighs, but it doesn’t sound terribly upset. “Stupid,” he mutters. “Elves are stupid.”
It’s the closest to a joke Jungkook has made so far, and Jimin smiles.
“Yeah. We are. Here’s how to hold the knife.”
As soon as Jungkook finishes his food it’s time for their next schedule. Jimin waits until the dragon is done neatly cleaning up his meal.
“Uh, I think I’m- we’re- supposed to go out for training.”
“Why haven’t you started doing this earlier?”
Jimin shrugs. “I dunno. My father said I could decide to do it when I choose. And I… now that you’re here, I figured now isn’t a bad time. Give us something to do.” He goes over to his closet. “Uh, we should dress in more suitable clothes. Is that okay? I think you’ll have to wear some of mine again.”
Jungkook looks less than pleased, but follows Jimin, hovering in the doorway. The elf sorts through the shelves, pulling out a plain black shirt and loose trousers to give Jungkook, and picks out a beige set for himself that has aquamarine thread woven through the hems. He ties his hair up in a bun, and glances at Jungkook. “Uh, do you… do you want your hair up? So that it doesn’t get in the way.”
Jungkook considers this, and then nods, holding up a finger when Jimin comes closer. “I want to do it.” The dragon takes the band that Jimin is holding. He plays with it for a second before putting it between his teeth and sweeping his hair up and back. The end result is messy and disorganized but Jimin doesn’t say anything. It doesn’t matter that much, he tells himself. Plus, Jungkook looks good with the loose strands framing his face.
He hopes Jungkook doesn't catch him staring when he turns back around. Jimin also hopes that his cheeks aren't red. "O- okay. Let's go." He faces the door and takes a deep breath. The walk to the training area is short, but Jimin's thoughts race ahead of him.
Jungkook has been at the Payrke house for less than a week. He's only just started to warm up to Jimin (or so he hopes) and really, that's more than Jimin could have hoped for. He still keeps his head down and doesn't look up at Jimin while they walk. Jimin realizes Jungkook still doesn’t wear shoes, which may or may not be a problem. They'll have to see what Hoseok says.
"Uh, Hoseok?" Jimin calls when they step into the open space. Jungkook immediately makes a quiet surprised sound, and Jimin looks over to see him wiggling his toes in the dirt, squatting down to run his fingers through it. Jimin almost asks what's he's doing, but the door across the yard bangs open.
Hoseok's voice is always so loud and Jungkook flinches. Jimin frowns and then looks over to the red-haired elf now making his way towards them. "Uh-"
"It's good to see you! Who's this? I don't think you mentioned you'd have someone with you. I've never seen you before," he says to Jungkook, leaning around Jimin. "You don't look like you're from here."
"Uh..." Jimin says, trying to figure out an excuse. "He's, uh, visiting. From... the mountains. Wait, not visiting. He moved here. Um. Was brought here. He's staying with me."
Hoseok raises his eyebrows and then squats to Jungkook's level. "Hmm. Jiminie, why aren't you telling me the truth?" He doesn't sound angry, and Jimin flushes.
"He's clearly not an elf," Hoseok continues, offering his hand to Jungkook. "So what are you? Nice to meet you. I'm Hoseok. I'm gonna be Jimin's, and I guess your, hand-to-hand combat teacher. Hopefully you will never need anything that I'll teach you, but who knows."
Jungkook looks up and stares at the elf's hand. Jimin nudges him with his foot, which prompts Jungkook to tentatively accept the gesture, yelping when Hoseok pulls him to his feet in a sudden move.
"There you go! No use hiding," Hoseok says, grinning. "What's your name?"
"I'm," Jungkook begins, trying to pull his hand back. Hoseok doesn't let go. "Uh, Jungkook."
"Nice to meet you then, Jungkook."
Jimin really, really hopes that Hoseok isn't going to scare Jungkook too much. The older elf isn't as versed in the art of subtlety, not like Namjoon.
Hoseok and Jungkook get along excellently. Hoseok is delighted to have someone as untrained as Jungkook to work with. They scuffle more than Jimin has in his life; Jungkook's hair comes free from the tie and his clothes are more brown than black by the time they finish.
"We made a lot of progress today," Hoseok says, out of breath and grinning. "I'll see you guys again next week. Jimin, do you mind hanging around so I can talk to you?"
Jimin pauses from where he's turning away. "Uh, sure," he says. "Jungkook, do you mind... um, just waiting? It shouldn't take long."
Jungkook nods. "I think so."
Jimin isn't sure how much he's supposed to trust Jungkook and if it's enough to leave him alone, but figures that Jungkook won't run. The dragon dips his head at Hoseok, eyes Jimin one more time, and then sits down, pushing the dirt around with his hands. Jimin sighs and thinks of the lecture he'll get once someone notices the mess. Jimin follows Hoseok into his quarters, a single room just to the side of the yard.
"What do you need?" he asks Hoseok, who is brushing his legs clean and shaking his hair free, long and wavy and auburn.
"Ah," the trainer says, stretching. "Who's that boy?"
Jimin tenses. "I told you. He's staying with me."
"That's not an answer," Hoseok says amiably. "You know you can trust me, Jiminie, right? Come on, let's have some snacks. Sit down." Jimin drops into one of the wooden chairs in the middle of the single room. Hoseok pours him a cup of water and sets it in front of him. "So."
"So?" Jimin says, fidgeting. "So what?"
"Who is he? He's not an elf, and he has black hair, which means he's not from here. I've never seen him before, and no one mentioned to me that someone else would be training with you. Explain. And," he says, before Jimin can start, "tell me the truth. You know you can trust me. If you say not to and as long as it's not vital to anyone's safety, I won't tell anyone."
Jimin sighs, and runs a finger around the rim of his cup. "I know. It's... complicated."
"Jungkook is a... he's a dragonboy," Jimin says quietly, and Hoseok gasps, leaning forward. "He- the Avelon elves had killed his family and captured him from the mountains. Our people took him from them when they were clearing the castle, and brought him here. My father gave him to me. We had a, uh, rough start. You can't tell anyone; he's supposed to be a secret. I dunno what will happen when others start finding out, but that's more of a problem for my father than it is for me."
"He's... really? A dragon?" Hoseok whispers, sitting back in his chair. "Wow. That's quite a secret, Jiminie."
"I know," Jimin says, resting his chin on the table. "I don't know how I'm going to hide it from everyone. But that's him. He used to wrestle with his brother in the caves of Eldorn, and that's why he's probably better at fighting than me. But you probably noticed he's skinny and not very strong. The Avelon elves kept him locked up in a little room in their castle." Jimin glances through the window and can just barely see Jungkook still in the same place, lying on his back, eyes closed.
"Well," Hoseok says, smiling, "I can definitely help with that."
They’re both exhausted when they finish training with Hoseok, and Jimin yawns when they finally make it back to his rooms.
There’s a barely noticeable glow emanating through the glass door, and he suddenly remembers the other instruction he put on the note. He turns, startling Jungkook, and spreads his arms, blocking the other’s view.
Jungkook frowns. “What’re you doing?”
“I have a surprise,” Jimin says, smiling wide. Jungkook still looks apprehensive, and Jimin amends, “A really good surprise. You’ll like it.” He turns and takes a deep breath. At least, he hopes Jungkook will like it.
The candles flicker in the light breeze coming from the open window, flames dancing on their wicks. There aren't quite enough to light up the whole room; the shadows look even harsher with the faint glow. Jimin steps to the side, lacing his fingers together in front of himself, anxiously waiting for Jungkook to follow him in. The dragon stops in the doorway, staring into the room.
"What- there are..." He pauses, glancing at Jimin, and then walks towards the little cluster of candles on the table. "You really did it."
"Of course I did," Jimin says, grinning. "I said I would, didn't I?"
Jungkook laughs quietly. "You did. I'm just not used to..." He squats in front of the table. "Not used to people following through on promises."
It seems as if the fire reacts to Jungkook getting closer, twisting higher and leaning towards him. Jimin watches Jungkook reach out carefully, and still gets unreasonably nervous when his fingers touch the flames. But like the time before, Jungkook doesn't flinch, just draws his hand back with the fire cupped in his palm. He drops backwards, crossing his legs one over the other.
"Uh," Jimin says, feeling as if he's interrupting something. "Do you... want to be alone?"
Jungkook looks up at him, eyebrows raised. "What?"
"Like," Jimin mumbles, "if you want me to leave for a little bit. Or give you some space."
The dragon seems to think it over before shaking his head. "No, it's okay if you're here. I don't mind."
Jimin nods, settling on his bed. Jungkook smiles at him and it's the first time Jungkook has really, really smiled since he has arrived. Jimin blinks, surprised, and hopes that Jungkook doesn't notice the flush on his cheeks.
They sit in silence, Jungkook grabbing another and then another flame from different candles, joining them in his hands until there's a sizable fire. Jimin is surprised to not be more worried; it would make sense to be nervous if a volatile boy he has only known for a short time is holding a bunch of fire in Jimin's bedroom. He doesn't think Jungkook would dare let it get out of control though, because he looks enthralled by it, captivated and focused.
"Aren't you worried I might burn down your house?" Jungkook asks quietly, twisting his fingers so that the fire dances between them, as if reading Jimin's mind.
"No," he says truthfully, "I don't think you would. Firstly because you said you wouldn't, and secondly because I don't think you would do it anyway. You look..." He pauses, gathering his thoughts. "I think that you respect the fire too much to do that."
Jungkook finally glances up at him, meeting Jimin's eyes. He huffs what might be a laugh, and closes his hands, extinguishing the fire. There are still two candles lit, and he idly brushes one. "You're right. I wouldn't." He withdraws his arm, smiling at Jimin again. "Thank you. It means more to me than you might think."
The room is dark; maybe it's later than Jimin thought it was. He nods, stretching. "I- if there's ever anything else I can do for you," he says, "tell me, please?"
"I will," Jungkook says after a pause. "I don't know what to ask for. You've done a lot already."
"A lot," Jimin echoes, scoffing. "All I did was teach you how to use a fork and knife and ask for some candles. That's not very much." He doesn't mean to sound as dismissive as he probably does, but decides not to correct himself. Jungkook stands, wiping his hands on his pants.
"That's a lot, to me. More than anyone else has in a long time."
Jimin clears his throat, unsure of how exactly to respond. "Uh, yeah. You're welcome, I guess. We should get ready for bed. There are some more people I want you to meet tomorrow. If you're okay with that. We don't have to if you don't want to."
"It's fine," Jungkook says. "I don't mind meeting them too much. As long as you trust them and they don't judge me on sight and just by the fact that I'm part dragon. Namjoon and Hoseok today were really nice."
"I'm glad," Jimin says, smiling. "They're all good elves, I promise. I trust them." Jungkook fidgets before following him over to the closet. He looks like he has something else to say, and Jimin looks back at him. "Is there something else?"
"Um," Jungkook starts. "Is it okay if we, uh, don't eat breakfast out there? With all those fu- um, other elves."
Jimin laughs. "Yeah. That's fine. We're going to go meet the head cook, so we can eat in the kitchen."
"Really?" Jungkook perks up at that and Jimin grins.
"Yeah, really. I think you'll like him."
Jungkook does end up liking Seokjin, maybe a little bit too much. But, Jimin thinks, watching Jungkook steal pastries off a plate even though the older elf is watching, maybe that's not a bad thing.
The dragon has a voracious appetite, inhaling all of the food that Seokjin puts in front of him.
"You never try my foods, Jimin," Seokjin whines, patting Jungkook on the head while he shoves fresh bread into his mouth. "I'm glad that there's at least someone who appreciates my cooking."
"I appreciate your cooking! I just don't eat that much and you always give me too much food," Jimin says, pouting.
Seokjin shakes his head dramatically. "Excuses excuses, Jiminie." He scoops some stew out of a huge pan and sets a full bowl on the table. Jungkook immediately slides it closer, stabbing his fork into a vegetable. He's not holding it right but Jimin doesn't correct him. The cook smiles proudly when Jungkook moans, scooping more out of the bowl.
"'s so good," the dragon says through a mouthful. "Holy shit. I didn't know vegetables could taste this good."
"Of course it tastes good," Seokjin says, pushing his chest out. "I made it." Jimin snickers, and the cook shoots him a glare. "It's true. When you were younger, Jiminie, I was the only one who could get you to eat anything healthy. You were always going after the sweets."
"Really?" Jungkook asks, breaking away from his food to look at Seokjin.
"Of course! I've known him since he was just a child. He used to be such a pesky brat. Always getting in trouble."
Jungkook giggles, and Jimin's pout deepens. "I didn't come here so you could make fun of me," he says, scooping a jelly-filled donut off the counter and dancing away from Seokjin's swat. "Come on Jungkook, let's get out of here."
"But," Jungkook says, looking between his bowl, Jimin, and Seokjin. "I like it here."
Seokjin grins, and Jimin sighs.
“What’s next?” Jungkook asks, licking his lips. Jimin smiles, glad that Jungkook seems happy.
“We’re gonna go meet one of my friends, an archery trainer,” Jimin says, leading them through the halls. “Taehyung. He’s really nice. A little crazy, but one of the best archers we have.”
“Is he your age? That’s pretty young to be an expert at something,” Jungkook muses, shuffling his feet against the tan stone. Jimin finally convinced him to wear shoes, just thin-soled fabric flats.
“Yeah,” Jimin says, stopping in front of a wide doorway, its wood covered in gold leaves. “We’re about the same age. He’s been doing archery since he was really young though, and he told me once that his grandma cast a charm on him when he was born that gifted him with greater skill. I’m not sure if that’s true or not but he’s certainly really good at it. I’ve never seen him miss a target, and these days, never misses dead center unless on purpose.”
“Wow.” Jungkook hesitantly follows him through the door, looking wide-eyed at the shooting gallery around him. “Wow.”
The archery range is covered in a huge stone hall with a sloped roof and torches lining the walls, enough to keep the whole space well-lit. It’s long, stretching some hundred meters back. There are targets scattered through the whole area, placed at different heights and distances away. There’s a series of loud thuds, and four arrows fly into two boards, each one splitting the second. Jungkook gasps and Jimin laughs.
“Taehyung,” he yells, shutting the door behind him. An arrow flies right past him to land in the dirt floor just in front of Jungkook, who jumps back. “Tae!”
An elf drops down from above them, swinging off of a ledge to land backwards in front of them, and tosses his bow over to a hook on the wall. Jimin laughs, leaping onto his back. Taehyung grabs both of his wrists and in a single move hauls him up and over, dropping him in the dirt on his ass.
Jimin sits up, grinning at his friend, who helps him stand. “Hey.”
“I didn’t expect you today,” Taehyung says, bumping shoulders with Jimin. “You finally here to learn how to use a bow?”
“I’m not incompetent,” Jimin huffs. “I know how to use a bow. Just, like, the basics. Easy stuff. Jungkook doesn’t know at all.”
“Jungkook?” Taehyung asks, eyebrows raised. “Who--” He pushes past Jimin, stopping directly in front of Jungkook, who looks back at him warily. “You?”
“That’s Jungkook,” Jimin says, watching. He doesn’t think Taehyung will do anything stupid, but it’s best to keep an eye on him. “He’s, uh, new.”
“Is he a dragon?” Taehyung leans closer, examining Jungkook curiously, who is now tense, skittish and Jimin intervenes, laughing nervously.
“What? What do you mean? Of- no, that’s- no,” he says, plastering on a hopefully convincing smile. Taehyung straightens, crossing his arms over his chest.
“You can’t fool me. My grandma told me stories about dragon shifters. You aren’t an elf, you have black hair, which, as far as I know, only elves from the far north have. He smells like smoke, I’ve never met him before, so he’s not from around here. And,” he says, “I can just tell. Tell me I’m wrong.”
Jimin looks at Jungkook nervously, who’s still on guard, taking little steps away from Taehyung, back towards the door. “He’s- um, Jungkook?”
“So what if I am?” Jungkook asks, defensive, fists clenched. “So what if I’m a dragon? What’s it matter to you?”
Taehyung grins. “Doesn’t. Just didn’t want Jiminie to try to come up with any silly lies. Hi, I’m Taehyung, and I’m gonna be teaching you archery.”