i. this world
When Jeongguk is nineteen, he meets a human named Min Yoongi.
He’s not the first human Jeongguk has ever seen—he’s long been fascinated with humans, with their legs, with the way they glide over the waters in their wooden contraptions (boats, he’s learned they’re called boats) and the funny way they go about doing things. Sometimes Jeongguk will follow boats and ships across the ocean for miles and miles, hoping to catch sight of the sailors on board, although he always gets a scolding for it. What his parents call dangerous, he calls curious. The humans have never spotted him anyway.
The humans never spot him; they’re too busy looking to the sky, or looking at each other. Even when they’re looking at the water, Jeongguk has gotten very good at hiding. He makes himself small behind the rocks closer to shore where he can spy on anyone who spends time on the beach, and he disguises himself in schools of fish under the waves when he’s afraid someone is looking too closely.
He keeps silent, watching with wide eyes and his heart beating wildly in his chest. The other mermaids are less interested in the humans, always asking Jeongguk what he sees in them, but he can’t help it. Can’t help wanting to get closer, closer, wanting to learn more. There’s a whole other world above the sea and he wants to be part of it, sometimes, wants to know what it would be like to walk and eat their food and travel farther than in his own waters.
Jeongguk loves being a mermaid, even if he’s never known being anything else. But humans—humans are something else.
He watches them, and none of them ever watch him back. Until the day Jeongguk sees Min Yoongi.
He doesn’t know the human is named Min Yoongi at the time—at first, Jeongguk is merely lounging near the biggest rock on the shores of the city, where he likes to spend time late at night when he knows no human is around. It’s still early in the morning, the sun barely peeking above the horizon of water, and Jeongguk finds himself humming a quiet tune. His tail glitters beneath the water, blues and greens swirling together as he brushes a hand over his scales.
And then—Jeongguk hears a splash and he gasps, slipping further under the water until only his eyes and the top of his head are visible. Hiding behind the rock, he floats sideways until he can peek around it, where he sees a human pushing a little boat out from the shore. From this angle, Jeongguk can’t see very well, just a head of black hair and a white shirt, and he keeps himself low in the water as the boat begins to drift away from the shore with the help of the human rowing.
It’s a small boat, one that Jeongguk knows can’t be used for transportation or even for fishing. The mermaid watches curiously as the boat and human drift further out, eventually stopping where the water is just beginning to become less shallow. And then the boat just—sits. Jeongguk continues to watch, slowly swimming closer with only the top of his head bobbing out of the water, as he waits for—something.
One of the things he’s learned over the past few years of watching the humans is that they’re always doing something. Always moving, always talking, always working toward some goal or some task. The humans on the waters are either going somewhere or fishing for something. So he waits, expecting this human to do the same. It’s only after a few minutes of nothing that Jeongguk’s curiosity peaks even higher, realizing that the human is neither going somewhere nor fishing for something. He’s just lounging in the boat, hands cushioning his head where it’s resting against the back of the boat. Watching the sky.
It’s why Jeongguk can get close enough to see—because the humans is looking at the sky, not the water. Jeongguk is silent as he swims over, making sure not to let his tail splash over the water. It’s silent, calm.
Jeongguk reaches the side of the boat, very carefully popping his head above the water as he tries to get a look at the human. He usually never dares to go this close, but there’s something curious about this human, something that he wants to understand. He grips the side of the boat, slowly lifting himself up enough to see the human’s face—his eyes are closed, a little grin playing on his pink lips, and Jeongguk tilts his head as he studies the man’s side profile.
The first thing Jeongguk notices is that he has very long eyelashes. The second is that he has a very round nose, small and upturned at the end. The third thing is that his hair is dark, dark, half in his eyes like maybe he needs a trim, although there’s something soft about it. Jeongguk wants to run his hands through it.
The mermaid gets so distracted at staring at the human’s hair that he doesn’t notice when the human’s eyes open—not until the man gives a little, “Hello,” and Jeongguk startles, wide eyes snapping to meet the gaze of the human. He panics—doesn’t have time to wonder if the human is horrified or alarmed, just lets go of the boat and dives back into the water, swimming as far and fast as he can.
No human has ever seen him—no human has ever acknowledged him, has never spoken to him. And although Jeongguk’s heart thrums with fear, he spends the entire day looking up, up, wondering—something. Something about the human.
Jeongguk goes back to the rock the next day, because he’s curious and can never help himself. The humans he sees don’t usually come back days in row, but as he pops his head above the water and peeks out from behind the rock, he sees—the same boat from yesterday, the same human lounging in it. Jeongguk gasps, sinking lower into the water as he watches and—he knows it’s dangerous, he knows it’s wrong, but he can’t help wanting to get close again. There’s something different about this human, just from the look on his face, the way he looked at Jeongguk and spoke to him in a low, soft tone. Like he wasn’t afraid. Maybe he doesn’t know that Jeongguk is a mermaid—he could only see the top of his head, after all—but Jeongguk wants to take his chances.
Summoning all of his courage, Jeongguk begins swimming toward the boat again. This time, the human isn’t looking at the sky. Instead, he’s sitting in the boat and watching the water, which means he sees Jeongguk when the mermaid gets close enough. The mermaid keeps most of himself in the water, not wanting to show himself just yet, watching the human from ten feet away.
He’s not entirely sure how to proceed—he’s never spoken to a human before, and for good reason. His father once said that most humans would probably try to eat him or capture him and show him off in something called a museum, so maybe it’s Jeongguk’s young, naïve heart, but he doesn’t think this human would.
“Hello again,” says the human from the boat, offering Jeongguk a grin.
Jeongguk sinks a little lower in the water, feeling shy suddenly. There’s a fight or flight instinct in him that’s trying to tell him to swim away, but he ignores it, wanting to know what will happen next.
The human chuckles a little when Jeongguk doesn’t respond. “You don’t have to be afraid of me,” he says. “My name is Yoongi. What’s yours?” Yoongi. Jeongguk turns the name over in his mind, trying to decide something about it. It’s nice. Fits. It occurs to him, perhaps a little belatedly, that Yoongi is quite pretty. Looks a bit like one of those cat creatures that humans sometimes bring with them to the beach, although the cats always seem more likely to claw someone’s eyes out than this human—Yoongi.
Still, Jeongguk doesn’t respond. He’s not sure he could trust his voice, so he just continues to watch.
“You’re a mermaid, right?” asks Yoongi, and Jeongguk’s eyes widen slightly. “I saw your tail yesterday when you were swimming away. I—it’s very pretty. I like the colours.” It’s not a comment made with the intent of being lecherous, nothing that makes Jeongguk believe Yoongi means he wants the tail for himself—to eat, to hang on his wall.
After a moment, Yoongi speaks again—“Do you like clams or oysters? I know you can probably catch your own, but, ah. I’m a fisherman so that’s really all I have to offer you at the moment.” Jeongguk tilts his head a little, trying to understand it. The human wants to give him something, not the other way around—he’s so used to hearing about humans only wanting to take and take. Yoongi is a very interesting human indeed.
“Here,” says Yoongi, reaching down for something in the boat. And although he wants to trust Yoongi, that fight or flight instinct flares up within him as Jeongguk’s mind instantly goes to all of the warnings his parents have given him about—weapons, about getting hurt, and he lets out another gasp, plopping back under the water before he can see whatever Yoongi wants to give him. His tail makes a splash as he turns and takes off back under the water, heading for home, safety.
But Jeongguk comes back the next day—and the next, and the next. Yoongi is there in his boat every day, always watching the water. Always watching for Jeongguk. The mermaid never gets close enough to speak, a little too shy, but Yoongi leaves him things all the same. He makes sure Jeongguk is watching before he sets things in the water and pushes them off toward the mermaid in little paper boats. First, it’s a few clams, like he’d spoken about the first time. Then it’s a little wooden duck, one that Jeongguk brings back home and stashes carefully with his other belongings. Yoongi leaves him a few fish, even though Jeongguk can catch his own. He leaves a necklace, inexplicably. It occurs to Jeongguk after a few days that Yoongi is leaving pieces of himself, trying to teach Jeongguk who he is, trying to teach Jeongguk how to trust him.
He says things sometimes, explaining what the gift is, or asking questions Jeongguk doesn’t answer. In those days, Jeongguk learns much about the human—he’s a fisherman from the city, he lives and works with his best friend Namjoon. His father was a fisherman, which was where he learned the trade himself. He likes crabs, hates getting sand in between his toes. Jeongguk learns things that Yoongi doesn’t tell him, too, things that Jeongguk just sees—Yoongi scratches his ear when he talks about something he’s a little embarrassed to admit. He has a lot of earrings, but he only wears a few every day, always switching up where. He loves the water. He loves a lot of things, and Jeongguk knows because Yoongi talks about them like they’re the most important things he could ever talk about.
But Jeongguk never says anything back, just watches. Finds himself growing increasingly enamoured by this strange, wonderful human.
Then after the fifth day—five days of watching Yoongi from the rocks, five days of getting a little closer, five days of gifts—Yoongi isn’t there. On the morning of the sixth day, bright and early, Jeongguk assumes his customary spot near the rock as he waits for Yoongi to come with his boat. But he doesn’t. Jeongguk spends all morning by that rock, waiting for the human to return, but all he sees is a woman and a young boy playing on the beach. He spends all afternoon by that rock, but all he sees is a few fishermen getting in their boats and heading off to fish—and none of them are Yoongi.
It’s strange, being so disappointed. It’s only been five days, yet he’s found himself drawn to Yoongi in a way he’s never been drawn to any human. They’re all fascinating, but something about Yoongi makes him want to know more, makes him want to get close enough to touch.
Jeongguk lets an empty feeling fester in the pit of his stomach. He recognizes it as want.
Yoongi doesn’t come back for one, two, three days. Jeongguk spends every day by the rock, vigilant. He won’t miss it. He avoids his parents’ and Hoseok’s questions about where he goes all day, not wanting them to know about Yoongi—not wanting them to take him from Yoongi—although he grows increasingly worried. Increasingly… sad.
After three days of nothing, as Jeongguk is resting against the rock with a pout already on his lips, he spots the familiar boat. He spots the familiar head of dark hair, the upturned nose—excitement floods the mermaid’s body and he pushes off of the rock, diving under the water so that he can swim faster, faster, until he’s rushing up under the boat and pops back up out of the water near the edge of it. There’s a wide, wide smile on his lips as he grabs the edge of the boat and pulls himself up enough to cross his arms there, staring up at his human, who lets out a little yelp and tumbles backward when he’s suddenly face to face with Jeongguk.
“Yoongi!” exclaims the mermaid. “Where did you go? I was so worried, I—I thought you decided you didn’t want to talk to me anymore,” there’s a pout on his lips now, eyes wide as he stares at Yoongi, who stares back. “I know you were probably just doing other things, but I was really sad when you left but I’m very happy that you’re back and—” He stops, only then realizing it’s the very first time he’s actually spoken to Yoongi. And all he’s said is that he’s obsessed with the human.
Jeongguk’s cheeks instantly burn a shade of red and he sinks down a little, hiding most of his face behind his crossed arms as he watches Yoongi for his reaction. There’s a beat before the human’s lips curl into a bright, bright smile—gums on full display—and Yoongi laughs.
“You were worried about me?” he asks. “I thought you were scared of me and might have been getting annoyed with all the things I was leaving you.”
“No!” gasps Jeongguk, popping back up again. “I love them. I put the duck in my little treasure box in my room a-and I ate the food, obviously, but I keep everything else. I really love them.”
Yoongi leans forward a little from where he’s sitting, propping his arm up on his knees and leaning his chin against it. “That means I should give you more, then?” he asks, to which Jeongguk nods happily. “I did bring something today, but… I’ll only give it to you if you tell me your name. It’s only fair since you know mine.”
Jeongguk’s cheeks burn again, just a little, as he realizes Yoongi doesn’t even know his name. “It’s Jeongguk,” he says quietly, suddenly shy at revealing that fact. “My name is Jeongguk.”
“Jeongguk,” muses Yoongi. “Cute. How old are you, Jeongguk?”
“Nineteen,” he says.
“Ah, then I’m your hyung,” says Yoongi, lips curling into a broad smile again. “Wait, do mermaids use honorifics?”
Jeongguk finds himself nodding. “Yeah, I think we stole it from you,” he giggles. “But I can call you hyung… hyung.”
It’s odd, maybe, the way he already feels comfortable with this human. A human, who is apparently supposed to be someone who wants to hurt Jeongguk, someone who is selfish and greedy and mean. Jeongguk looks at Yoongi and he can’t find it in himself to be scared anymore.
“Do you spend a lot of time watching humans?” asks Yoongi curiously.
“Yeah,” admits Jeongguk with another giggle, resting his chin on his arms now. “Most humans don’t watch me back, though.”
“I’m very perceptive, Jeonggukkie,” says Yoongi, and Jeongguk thinks—oh. Oh, he likes that. “I think you’re very interesting. I’ve always wanted to meet a mermaid.” It never occurred to Jeongguk that maybe there was someone who was just as fascinated with his world as he is with the human world, but he decides right then and there that he and Yoongi will be very, very good friends.
And they are—they become good friends over months of spending mornings on the sea together. Yoongi takes his boat out every morning at dawn, sometimes to fish, sometimes just to watch the sunrise—he claims that there’s a much better view from the sea than his little house, and Jeongguk likes to think that maybe he’s part of the reason for that. Sometimes Yoongi will leave his boat by the shore and sit on the rocks instead, dipping his feet in the water. Sometimes he’ll get in the water entirely, complaining about how cold it is as Jeongguk laughs at him for being a wimp.
Jeongguk learns much about the human world—Yoongi listens to each of his questions intently, answers as best as he can no matter how silly the questions might be. He explains about fire, shows Jeongguk technology like pocket watches. Jeongguk listens, enthralled, as Yoongi explains everything about the human world, how their government works, what he likes to do when he has free time.
The mermaid answers Yoongi’s questions as best as he can, too, although he’s nowhere near as eloquent as Yoongi. He lets Yoongi touch his tail, watches as Yoongi looks on with wonder clear in his eyes—until Jeongguk splashes him, of course. Jeongguk helps him fish sometimes, herding fish into the sailor’s net or showing him where the best catches can be found. He tells Yoongi about Hoseok; Yoongi tells him about Namjoon. Their worlds become one, at least for a time when they’re together, laughing about silly things together and sharing strange little gifts with each other.
And Jeongguk learns to trust Yoongi almost more than he trusts his own parents. He wakes each morning with something skipping in his chest, looks forward to each time he can pop his head above the water and spot Yoongi’s little boat on the shores. He wishes that they could spend more time together, wishes that he could just get up on the land and go home with Yoongi, but they do their best considering their fundamental differences. It’s not always easy being a mermaid, especially when his best friend is a human, but they make it work. They make it work because Yoongi and Jeongguk become YoongiandJeongguk, because they have to. Because they want to.
Because there’s still something different about Yoongi, and Jeongguk is going to hold onto that for as long as he can.
Then, one day, almost four months after Jeongguk first met Yoongi, he sees someone else on the shores. It’s not uncommon to see humans there, even if he knows many from the city don’t prefer to hang out there because it’s too rocky for their liking, too cold. It’s a good spot for Yoongi and Jeongguk to spend time together because they run a smaller risk of getting caught.
Yoongi has long since gone home by the time this other human turns up, and Jeongguk hides behind his rock as he watches. This human is taller than Yoongi, although has dark hair all the same. His beauty strikes Jeongguk, as well as the strange clothes he’s wearing—Jeongguk has never seen Yoongi wear something so shiny. So clean, so well-tailored. The man is accompanied by some others, some who call about Your Highness and Seokjin. The man they address walks with such grace, elegance and beauty oozing from his very being, and Jeongguk immediately feels a sort of tug at his heart.
He waits until the next morning, until Yoongi is climbing into his boat and pushing off into the water, and then Jeongguk happily pops out of the water, taking his customary spot with his arms resting against the edge of the boat.
“I saw someone yesterday,” says Jeongguk immediately, eyes wide as he remembers the other human. He’d been so… so—“I’ve never seen someone so beautiful, hyung, it was like there were stars in his eyes. And he had these lips—I don’t know much about lips, but I think they might be the best lips I’ve ever seen. And his hair was styled so nice, parted down the middle like you do sometimes, but it was different because it looked better—”
“Are you insulting me?” asks Yoongi, amusement lacing his voice.
“Oh, oh no, hyung,” Jeongguk is quick to say, blinking himself out of his starstruck thoughts so he can focus on the human. “I just meant this human was the most loveliest human in the entire world, I’m sure, and he wore these really white clothes. I was afraid he’d get them dirty on the beach, but he was very careful.”
Yoongi hums, like he’s considering something, leaning back in the boat and watching Jeongguk.
Jeongguk takes his silence as in invitation to continue. “I don’t know if he’ll come back, but I really hope so,” he sighs wistfully, tilting his head against his hands. There’s already a pout forming on his lips at the thought of never seeing the human again; he doubts he’d ever speak to him, not thinking himself worthy of it, but it would be nice just to watch.
“He might come back, Gukkie,” says Yoongi, a funny grin on his lips. “I came back.”
“Yeah, but you’re different,” says Jeongguk. “He looked like—like someone really important.”
“And I’m not important?” scoffs Yoongi.
“You’re important to me,” says Jeongguk. “He looked important to everyone. There were other people with him who looked like they were supervising him. They kept calling him Your Highness.”
Yoongi’s expression changes, then—the smile slips off of his face, eyes widening slightly. Jeongguk stares at him, a little afraid that he said something wrong, until—“They were calling him Your Highness?”
“Yes,” says Jeongguk. “Oh, and Seokjin, which I think is the most beautiful name—”
“Jeongguk,” says Yoongi, and then he starts laughing. “Jeongguk-ah, you saw the prince.”
Jeongguk knows enough about the human world to know what that means—they have royalty of sorts in the mermaid world, too, although with different names for it all—but Yoongi has spoken enough about royalty for Jeongguk to understand. He knows that the city on the shores is the very one that the royal family lives in, that their castle isn’t far from the beach itself, because the castle is built on the shores. He knows that the royal family doesn’t usually mingle with commoners. He knows, too, that Yoongi sells his fish to the castle sometimes, which always gets him more money than if he were to sell them at a market or to other shops in town.
“The prince?” asks Jeongguk, tone wistful. “Yoongi-hyung, he has to come back! I have to talk to him.”
“Jeongguk, I don’t know if that’s a good idea—”
“Hyung, he’s so pretty. Is he nice? Have you met him?”
Yoongi laughs again. “No, not personally,” he says. “But Prince Seokjin has a very nice reputation, so I suppose he’s a good person. I don’t pay much attention to the royal family, to be honest, so—”
“He’s nice!” sighs Jeongguk, letting go of the boat and slipping into the water. He turns until he’s floating on his back, staring up at the sky with a starstruck look on his face. “Hyung, I think I’m in love. A prince! A real human prince.” He’s too busy thinking about the wonder of seeing the prince and maybe seeing him again if Seokjin were to ever come back to the beaches, too busy thinking about all of the possibilities. When he lifts his head to look back at the boat, he sees Yoongi is frowning at him.
But no matter—Yoongi’s probably just a little jealous that Jeongguk wants to pay more attention to another human. He can’t blame Yoongi for feeling like that. Jeongguk has a lot of love to give, though, and he’s been friends with Yoongi for long enough that although they’re good friends now, his initial fascination with the human has waned.
Now he has a new object of his affection. And it’s a prince.
By the time Jeongguk gets home, after spending part of the day waiting on the shores in case the prince turns up again—he doesn’t—and after taking the long swim through the reefs and the village he lives in to say hello to some of the younger mermaids, he’s devised a plan. Jeongguk has wanted to go on land for ages, but never more than now. He loves Yoongi, so of course he wants to go on land to spend more time with him, but all he can think of is Prince Seokjin. His wide, wide shoulders. The way he’d looked out at the water, like it was something that he could fall in love with.
Maybe Jeongguk is one of those things, too. Jeongguk has always been someone who feels things so fully, so deeply, and his mother once told him that when he falls in love, he falls in love hard. He doesn’t know if he’s in love with Prince Seokjin, especially after only seeing him once and not even talking to him.
But—no matter. It’s the last reason he needs.
He goes to Hoseok first, considering Hoseok is a mermaid—and also his best friend. The elder is busy searching for shells to use in his jewellery-making business when Jeongguk finds him, a giggle already on his lips as he twirls in the water before popping up behind part of the reef to face the other mermaid.
“Hi, Hobi-hyung,” says Jeongguk, and Hoseok looks up from where he’s delicately searching.
“Jeongguk-ah,” he says, his signature smile already on his face. He swims back a few feet, flicking his own green tail. “Where have you been all day?”
“I was—around,” says Jeongguk, but is quick to change the conversation, because he knows that going any further with that will mean Hoseok asks about where he’s been for four months. “Anyway, I was hoping that you could help me with something.”
“And what is that?” asks Hoseok. “Give me a hand with the shells.”
Jeongguk obediently swims over the edge of the reef, taking the sack of shells from Hoseok’s arms and following along behind him as the older mermaid makes his way down the reef, occasionally picking up shells that he can use.
“You know that sea witch you’re always talking about?” he asks.
“Oh, Jimin?” asks Hoseok.
“Yeah, him,” says Jeongguk. Suddenly, he feels a little nervous. “I was just wondering if he has any spells that can let mermaids go on land.”
He watches Hoseok’s face carefully, although the other mermaid is concentrating on the reef even though his eyebrows furrow. “I don’t know,” he says. “That seems like pretty powerful magic and I dunno if Jiminie is capable of that.”
“Do you know if that kind of spell even exists?” asks Jeongguk next, chewing on his lower lip.
“I’m sure,” says Hoseok. “Some mermaid has probably wanted to go on land, although I don’t—” He stops swimming suddenly, causing Jeongguk to bump into him. The older mermaid turns to him, and Jeongguk feels small, small, shrinking away from his friend as he sees the look on his face.
“Jeongguk,” says Hoseok.
“Hyung,” says Jeongguk.
“You’re not thinking about asking Jiminie to do that spell on you, right?”
The thing is, Hoseok has long known about Jeongguk’s obsession with humans. It’s hard to hide, especially when he steals any human items that he can from things that accidentally fall in the water or from shipwrecks. He used to wax poetic about them all the time and has even mentioned Yoongi a few times, although never in depth. Hoseok doesn’t know that they’re friends, just that Yoongi is a fisherman who often fishes near Jeongguk’s favourite rock.
Still—“O-of course not, hyung,” says Jeongguk, feeling blood rush to his cheeks. He’s always been a terrible liar. “I was just wondering because I, uh—was curious. You know how curious I am.”
Hoseok’s gaze is scrutinizing, fins swishing under him. A silent Hoseok is not a good Hoseok. “If you’re thinking of going on land, don’t,” he says. “I know you, Jeonggukkie, and I know that you sometimes rush into things without thinking about them first. I’ll tell you the truth that Jimin might know a spell like that, but for the love of everything fishy, don’t ask him about it. You’re a mermaid, Jeongguk. That means you’re supposed to stay in the water.”
Jeongguk knows that Hoseok is just looking out for him—they’ve been friends since they were tiny, just learning how to use their tails properly. They’ve seen each other through a lot, but Jeongguk is nineteen, so he’s fairly sure he knows what’s good for him. Besides, Hoseok has helped him just like he wanted; now he knows it’s worth a shot to go to the sea witch, just in case.
So he drops it. “Okay, hyung,” he says. “I’ll do my best not to get ahead of myself.”
Hoseok reaches forward to ruffle Jeongguk’s hair. “I know you love humans,” he says. “But mermaids are just as cool if you ask me. How about we go rope some babies into helping us with these necklaces?”
He goes to Yoongi next. Jeongguk knows this one might be trickier, because Yoongi is even more protective of him than Hoseok is, despite knowing him for a much shorter amount of time. He knows how some of the humans feel about mermaids, because Jeongguk’s parents’ stories aren’t all fable. He always makes sure that Jeongguk is well hidden if there are any other humans around, always warns him about larger ships coming into the area or about shipwrecks so that he doesn’t get hurt if he happens to be swimming by.
It’s endearing. But Jeongguk still feels like he knows best.
“You know how I was talking about Prince Seokjin the other day,” he says as Yoongi sits on the beach, toes occasionally dipping in water, and Jeongguk half washed-up on shore, tail swishing back and forth in the shallow water.
“He’s all you’ve talked about for several days,” says Yoongi with a roll of his eyes.
“Well,” says Jeongguk, oblivious to the look on Yoongi’s face at the knowledge that the mermaid is going to continue his lovesick compliments of the prince again. “I figured out a way to meet him!”
There’s a pause, one that leaves Jeongguk pouting as he looks up at the human. “Really?” asks Yoongi eventually. He’s wary.
“Yes,” says Jeongguk. “I’m sure you know magic exists, and my Hoseokie-hyung knows a sea witch who is really nice and always wants to help mermaids out. I think he and Hobi-hyung have known each other for long as Hobi-hyung has known me, which is a really long—”
“Right, sorry,” Jeongguk’s cheeks burn red, pressing himself into the sand a little more. “Anyway, I’m gonna ask Jimin-ssi—he’s the sea witch—if he knows any magic that can help me go on land.”
If Hoseok’s reaction was one of surprise and suspicion, Jeongguk supposes he’d have to classify Yoongi’s reaction as—disappointed. He sees the way the human’s expression changes, eyebrows furrowing a little before his lips turn downward and he just. Stares at Jeongguk. There’s something in his eyes that tells Jeongguk he has a lot to say on the matter, but he’s trying to find the right way to say it that won’t hurt Jeongguk.
There’s a long, long bout of silence. And then Yoongi finally says—“I don’t think that’s a very good idea, Jeongguk.”
“Why not?” says Jeongguk quietly, hating the way it comes out like a whine. “I don’t think it would be for very long, and then I could just go talk to him once and I would come back.”
“It’s not very easy to just talk to the prince,” says Yoongi, and Jeongguk can tell he’s trying to find the logic in it, trying to convince Jeongguk to let go of his hopes through rational thought rather than just getting angry about it. “He has a lot of guards and he’s usually in the castle, which is just as hard to get into it. And if they caught you trying to talk to him just as a friend, they’d throw you out or maybe even arrest you.”
Jeongguk frowns. “I don’t care,” he says.
“What do you mean, you don’t care?”
“I don’t care! I want to talk to the prince and I’m going to.”
“Jeongguk, don’t be stupid.”
“I’m not stupid,” snaps Jeongguk, angry now and he—doesn’t even know why. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting Yoongi to say, but this wasn’t it. “I’m not a child, hyung. I can make my own decisions. And my decision is to find a way to come on land so that I can meet the prince. I at least want to try.”
Yoongi sighs, but before he can argue even more, Jeongguk adds, “Besides, I thought you would be happy that I could see you more, too, but I guess you don’t care that much about me after all.”
He knows it’s childish—he knows that’s not what Yoongi meant at all. But he’s upset, angry that all of his friends are disproving of something that he wants so badly, and it seems like the best way to cut Yoongi just a little, to get him back for the way he’s hurt Jeongguk by indirectly calling him stupid.
So Jeongguk shimmies back down into the water, ignoring the way Yoongi calls after him, getting to his feet and telling him to come back. Jeongguk doesn’t care. He doesn’t. He’s going to go on land and meet Prince Seokjin and prove everyone wrong. He’s going to get what he wants, no matter what anyone says. And if he gets arrested—then he gets arrested. It’ll be worth it, no matter what happens.
Jeongguk has never met a sea witch before, but he’d wager a guess that Jimin is the nicest of all of them. Despite the bad reputation they tend to have for being evil and antisocial, he finds rather quickly that Jimin is neither of those things; he laughs a lot, eyes turning into little crescent moons as he does, and he has plenty of friends in the form of other fish creatures. Most mermaids stay away, but mentioning Hoseok instantly appears to make Jimin less suspicious that Jeongguk is there for a nefarious purpose.
And while he lives in a dark cave not far the Jeongguk’s reef, there’s something very… bright about it all. Maybe it’s just Jimin. Either way, Jeongguk is confident in his choices after speaking to the sea witch for an hour, always going off on tangents about different things. They spend a whole ten minutes complaining about the way Hoseok chooses to wake people up in the morning, but it just warms Jeongguk up to what he needs to ask.
Finally, after warding off Jimin’s attempts at feeding him homemade clam cookies for the third time, Jeongguk brings up his original intent for visiting in the first place.
“I know you can do a lot of cool magic,” says Jeongguk, hoping that compliments will make Jimin more likely to help him out. “But I was wondering if you’re able to cast a spell that could… maybe let me go on land?”
He’s already wincing, preparing himself for yet another bad reaction. But Jimin just frowns a little as he appears to be thinking. “I guess it depends how you want to go on land,” he says. “I have spells that can help you breathe on land for long periods of time, and maybe some transformation spells that might be useful.”
Jeongguk supposes he didn’t ever decide how he wanted to get on land. But he thinks about what will let him speak to the prince the easiest—he can’t be a mermaid when he meets the prince, because what if the prince doesn’t like mermaids? He can’t swim to the castle on land anyway. The only way he can meet a human the right way is if… he’s a human too.
“Can you give me legs?” asks Jeongguk suddenly, eyes wide as he watches Jimin. “Can I have legs?”
“Oh!” exclaims Jimin. “Now that’s an idea. Let me check my books.” He swims over to some of the shelves on one end of the cave, grabbing a few and bringing them back to where he and Jeongguk have been lounging for the better part of the hour. Jimin leafs through them quickly, searching for something, and Jeongguk waits with bated breath.
“Here,” says Jimin finally, pointing to a page that has Mermaid Transformation scrawled on the top of it. “It says here that this spell can give you legs instead of a tail and allow you to breathe on land for up to… seven days.”
Jeongguk gasps. “That’s plenty of time!” he says. Surely it’ll only take him a day or two to find his way into the castle and get the prince to speak to him. He’s hardly worried.
“It says that in order for the spell to work, the one which the spell will be performed on must sacrifice something of importance,” says Jimin.
“What is it?” asks Jeongguk.
Jimin’s eyebrows furrow as his finger moves down the page, and then he flips it, trying to read on the other side. “It doesn’t say,” he admits. “I don’t know if you’re allowed to choose. I think it just… happens when I perform the spell. That sounds kind of dangerous, though.”
“Okay, yeah,” says Jeongguk, waving his hand to cut Jimin off. He doesn’t care much about what he might have to sacrifice— it’ll be worth it anyway. “Can you please do it, Jimin-ssi? It would mean so much. I’ll give you anything you want for it.”
“Oh, Jeonggukkie, you don’t have to pay me,” laughs Jimin. “Just as long as this is what you want. I don’t want you to make a decision you’ll regret.”
Jeongguk nods. “I really want this,” he says. “I know you just don’t want to see me get hurt, but I know what I want and I know what I’m doing. Besides, it’s not your fault if something goes wrong.”
“If you say so,” sighs Jimin. “You have to understand that there’s also a condition with this spell, Jeongguk. It sounds really cliché, but if you don’t receive true love’s kiss by the end of the seven days, you’ll turn into sea foam. Are you sure you want to do this?”
Jeongguk’s eyes widen. He’d only been planning on talking to the prince, not kissing him, but he supposes if that’s what needs to happen, he’ll just double his efforts. He’s sure it won’t be hard—he’s pretty and young and very good at making people like him, so it likely won’t be any different with the prince. Although Jimin seems to be growing a little more apprehensive with the condition, Jeongguk isn’t worried.
“I want to do it,” he says. “It’s like—a fairy tale! I’ll get my legs and go on land and make the prince fall in love with me. That can’t be hard, right?”
Jimin sighs. “If you’re sure—”
“I am,” says Jeongguk firmly. “Cast the spell, Jimin-ssi, please.”
For a moment, it looks as though Jimin might call the whole thing off. But Jeongguk gives him the best pleading look he can, hoping that it’ll do the trick, and when Jimin gives a sigh and picks up the book, he knows he’s won. There’s a funny little grin on his lips as Jeongguk closes his eyes, spreading his arms a little as he waits for Jimin to begin casting the spell. For a moment, he swishes his tail back and forth, trying to think of what it’ll be like to be rid of it, to be able to walk with two feet, like a human.
He thinks of Yoongi, then, as Jimin begins casting the spell, chanting the right words from the book. Thinks of the look on Yoongi’s face when Jeongguk told him that he wanted to go on land, thinks of the last thing he said to Yoongi. He hasn’t had a chance to apologize since then, but maybe now that he’ll be on land, he’ll be able to surprise Yoongi by finding where he lives, visiting him. He can only imagine how happy Yoongi will be, how excited he’ll be that they don’t have to spend all of their time on the beach, in the water, only together for an hour or two at a time.
Jeongguk is doing this to be with the prince, of course, but maybe part of him is doing this to be with Yoongi, too.
It has to be the right decision. And as Jimin finishes the spell and Jeongguk gasps as he feels a sudden pressure on his chest, squeezing and squeezing, something hot and hot gliding down his tail, he thinks—he doesn’t have time worry about being wrong.
And then Jeon Jeongguk becomes human.
When he opens his eyes, he finds himself washed up on shore—the same shore that he’s been visiting every day for months and months, the same shore he first saw Yoongi on. He’s been on the shore before, of course, the sand wet and warm beneath his body, and for a moment, he looks up at the bright sky and wonders how he got there. Tries to wiggle a little back into the water, only to find that… there’s nothing to wiggle.
He doesn’t have a tail.
With a gasp, Jeongguk turns over and looks down at where his beautiful blue tail usually is. Instead of scales and one long tail, what he sees are two legs. A little hairier than he might have liked, if he’s being honest, but they’re legs nonetheless—with knees and ankles and feet, feet with five toes each, just like Yoongi.
Jeongguk tries wiggling those first—it’s a strange feeling, watching the fat little toes move back and forth. He’s not quite sure how to do the rest of it, frowning when his feet sort of flop around as he tries to get a handle on them. He tries to bend his knees, imagining it’s not much different from bending his tail, but there are two legs to control instead of just one long tail and he can’t figure out how to do it all at the same time.
Eventually, he manages to push himself into something of a standing position, although he falls over almost immediately. Legs are… strange. Hard to control. He doesn’t know much about balance from the waist down, although he’s determined to walk properly because he can’t make Prince Seokjin fall in love with him if he can’t walk. But Jeongguk soon learns that walking isn’t nearly as easy as grown humans make it look. He stumbles around a little, falling over when he hits uneven sand, huffing with frustration when he feels how weak his legs are, what little control he has over them. It’s ridiculous trying to use two legs when he’s been so used to using just one tail.
After half an hour of trying (and failing) to walk, Jeongguk gives up. He knows it’ll come with time, but he’s never been a patient person, and now that he thinks about it, seven days isn’t a very long time. Now that he thinks about it—now that he’s on the beach, cold because he’s naked, unsure how to travel anywhere because he can’t use his fucking legs, alone because no one knew he was doing this beyond him telling Hoseok and Yoongi in throw-away conversations… now that it’s happened, he can’t stop thinking about the condition.
True love’s kiss. Suddenly, he’s not so confident in his ability to make the prince fall in love with him. Suddenly, he’s not so sure about how he’s even going to get in contact with the prince. How will he walk into the castle and demand to see the prince, talk to him long enough to make him decide to kiss Jeongguk? As naïve as he is, he knows that that isn’t the likely outcome of this whole thing.
It had all seemed like such a good idea when he had been under the sea, when it had all been magical and fun. When he’d had this idea of the prince in his head, when he’d been hopelessly in love with—an idea, maybe. Now that it’s all a reality, everything’s beginning to bleed out. But he has to press on, because the alternative is turning into sea foam.
Still—Jeongguk pouts as he sits on the sand, knees pulled into the chest because he’s at least got a handle on that. He doesn’t have any clothes. He doesn’t have any food. If only he could walk, he could find Yoongi, but he can’t even do that, and how silly, how silly—
As if on cue, there’s the sound of someone walking down the path toward the beach.
Jeongguk’s first instinct is to panic—sounds from the human world have always meant that he needs to hide, and he looks for any cover before he remembers that now he is human. He peers over his shoulder instead, staring out at the brush where the path comes out of, cringing a little in anticipation. He can’t imagine anyone wants to find a stranger naked on the beach, especially one who is dripping wet and doesn’t know how to walk.
Except when the brush parts, a long, pale hand holding it back, and a human steps onto the beach, it’s not just anyone. It’s Yoongi.
Jeongguk’s eyes widen as he sees the human, scared for a moment because they’d left everything in such a terrible spot the last time they’d seen each other. And then the fear is just as quickly replaced with excitement when he realizes what all of this means—he can be with Yoongi as a human, he can talk to him for hours and hours, go with him to fish and come home and meet his friends.
Before he can make a sound, Yoongi spots him. The human stops moving, staring wide-eyed at him as he seems to realize that Jeongguk is sitting on the beach, not as a mermaid, but as a being much more like himself. With two legs.
“Jeongguk?” he asks, bewildered.
Jeongguk opens his mouth, tries to say hyung! but—nothing comes out. He tries again. Nothing. His eyes widen, hand flying to his throat as he tries to make any sound, to ask for help as Yoongi continues to stare at him, but he can’t speak. He can’t even make a sound.
It’s only then that he remembers Jimin’s words—in order for the spell to work, the one which the spell will be performed on must sacrifice something of importance.
The spell worked. Jeongguk got his legs.
And in exchange for giving him legs, the magic took Jeongguk’s voice.
ii. that world
“So you’re telling me… he’s a mermaid?”
“But he has legs.”
“I am aware that he has legs, Joon-ah.”
“Then how can he be a mermaid?”
Yoongi sighs, and Jeongguk wishes he could giggle. He’s giggling in his head, anyway, at the exasperated look on Yoongi’s face as he pinches at the bridge of his nose. In reality, Jeongguk knows there’s nothing funny about the situation and Yoongi would lecture him again if he knew that Jeongguk was finding any sort of amusement in this, but. Despite the fact that he’s washed up on shore with two legs and no voice, and despite the fact that Yoongi has spent the last two hours lecturing him about it before Yoongi’s housemate and best friend showed up, Jeongguk is feeling—content. More than content.
Yoongi gave him clothes, a little small for him because (much to Yoongi’s chagrin, if his grumbling about it reveals anything) Jeongguk is taller than him. Yoongi gave him food, letting him try things other than the mermaid diet that consists mostly of fish and seaweed. Yoongi wrapped him up in a big, fluffy blanket and gave him hot tea to drink because Jeongguk’s body is trying to get used to being out of the water. He’s sitting on Yoongi’s bed, sipping at his tea as he watches Namjoon and Yoongi on the other side of the room, having the strangest argument Jeongguk has ever heard.
“Look, we all know magic exists,” says Yoongi with a sigh, dropping his hand.
“Debatable,” says Namjoon.
“It’s evidently real because Jeongguk is a fucking mermaid and now he has legs and he just washed up on shore like a half-drowned, naked mole rat!”
Jeongguk snorts, because he can at least do that even if he can’t laugh. Both of the humans turn to look at him and he blushes, quickly hiding himself behind the cup of tea. It’s been strange, he thinks, being introduced to this new world, although it hasn’t quite been under the circumstances that he would have liked.
Before Jimin cast the spell on him, Jeongguk imagined that Yoongi would take him around the village, show him all of the things he’s only been talking about for months—the church and the castle and the pubs, where they sing a lot and drink beer and there are fires in fireplaces. He imagined Yoongi would show him around his house and they would laugh and talk and have a wonderful time.
Instead, Yoongi panicked when he saw Jeongguk on the beach, asking him countless questions before Jeongguk was finally able to get it across that he couldn’t answer them properly. Couldn’t make a single sound, no matter how hard he tried. From there, it was just—more panic and worry and anger, too, even though Jeongguk could tell that Yoongi was trying to hide it. He was quick about taking off his coat and wrapping it around Jeongguk’s waist before hurrying him across the village to his house, having to support Jeongguk because he still hadn’t gotten a hold on how to use his legs.
Then it was just. Lectures. Yoongi, of course, put two and two together and figured out that Jeongguk did go to Jimin for the spell so that he could meet Seokjin, although Jeongguk has no way of communicating the other half of the story. Not about the sacrifice or the deadline or the part that dictates he must kiss Seokjin before seven days are over or he’ll turn into sea foam.
And then Namjoon turned up, which resulted in even more panic from Yoongi as he tried to explain to the other man why there was a strange boy in their house, one who couldn’t speak and was apparently the very same boy that Yoongi had been telling him about for months. (And Jeongguk, despite it all, couldn’t help but feel all sorts of warm at knowing Yoongi had been talking about him.) Namjoon was surprisingly accepting of the situation, even if he kept looking at Jeongguk weird, like he was trying to find the mermaid’s missing tail.
And as much as that sucked, Jeongguk is still here. He’s still in Yoongi’s house, in his bed, as a human. In a way, he’s gotten what he wanted after all, and he’s not afraid to be a little smug about it.
“How do you know it was magic if he can’t talk?” asks Namjoon.
“He told me a few days ago,” grumbles Yoongi, turning a careful look on Jeongguk for a moment. “He—he saw the prince and got it into his thick head that he had to turn into a human and come on land to talk to him, and then he did it. And now he can’t speak for some stupid reason and there is no way I’m letting him go near the castle.”
It’s the first time Jeongguk has heard this—he pouts, wishing he could make a petulant sound before he realizes he can, just without a voice. He unfolds his legs from where he’s sitting and stamps his foot on the edge of Yoongi’s bed, glad when it catches the man’s attention.
From there, Jeongguk frowns something fierce, trying to let Yoongi know that he does not approve.
“Jeongguk, now is not the time,” says Yoongi with a frown of his own. Jeongguk decides he doesn’t like when Yoongi is mad at him. “I already told you once that it was dangerous, and the fact that you can’t speak just makes it an even worse idea. Not only will the guards arrest you since you can’t explain yourself, but there’s literally no point. You wanted to talk to the prince, right? How can you do that if you can’t actually talk?”
The thing is—Yoongi has a point. He can’t talk to the prince if he has no voice, but then he remembers that he has to get Seokjin to kiss him whether or not he can speak. But there’s no possible way he can communicate that to Yoongi, so he just pouts. He’ll have to figure out a way to get to the castle on his own, maybe once he’s got full control of his legs. It can’t be hard to sneak around and into the castle. Jeongguk is sure he can figure it out.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” says Yoongi after a moment, looking worse for wear. Jeongguk feels a little awful, suddenly, all of the amusement of the situation bleeding out. The thing is, Yoongi is his best friend and he never wants to upset the human, but he has and he has no way of apologizing, at least with words. He has no way of trying to explain himself properly, and no way of telling Yoongi the truth about the spell. He always wants to spend time with Yoongi, but he’s only now realizing that imposing on him like this, especially against Yoongi’s wishes and when he can’t even talk or walk properly yet, is probably not an ideal situation.
Not that there’s anything he can do about it. Jeongguk feels like he’ll be pouting a lot.
With a sigh, Yoongi continues. “The spell can only last so long, right?” he asks, turning to look at Jeongguk. Unable to communicate the kiss part of it, he just holds up seven fingers. “Seven… days?” A nod. “Alright. We’re going to wait seven days, until the spell wears off and Jeongguk gets his tail back, and hopefully his voice, too. Then you,” he points at Jeongguk, “are going to go back to the sea where you belong and we,” he points at Namjoon, and then himself, “are going to forget this ever happened. Jeongguk-ah, I know you love humans and you’re fascinated with the prince, but I just want to keep you safe. While you’re here, you have to listen to me, okay?”
It’s the first time he’s gotten sort of soft since this whole thing started. Jeongguk is still pouting, although he can’t help but nod, knowing that it’s for the best. Yoongi does care about him—that’s why he’s angry in the first place. And although he’s trying to go against all of Jeongguk’s plans, the mermaid can at least recognize that it’s for a reason.
Even if it’s a stupid one.
“Good,” says Yoongi, nodding. He doesn’t look any more relieved, but he’s still pretty, Jeongguk thinks. He’s always pretty. “Now, I need a drink.”
Jeongguk spends the next day locked in Yoongi and Namjoon’s little house, under strict orders not to leave or try to make friends with anyone. Which, for a curious creature like Jeongguk, is nothing short of torture. He spends the morning mastering how to use his legs, walking up and down the hall and around the kitchen until he’s sure that he’s not going to fall over every time he tries to stand up. It’s not as easy using legs as he had imagined, but once he’s got basic walking under his belt, he figures it can’t be hard to learn how to run and dance and do all of the other things he’s only dreamed about.
He explores the house, too, while Yoongi and Namjoon are out doing their own things—Yoongi is fishing and Namjoon is working at the shoe repair shop he runs with his father, and although Jeongguk had begged with folded hands and batting eyelashes, Namjoon wouldn’t take him with him, citing something about not wanting to upset Yoongi. So Jeongguk goes through all of their belongings instead, finding increasingly fascinating objects and pieces of clothing. He dresses himself up like Yoongi, how he knows the sailor has looked like for the four months that they’ve known each other.
It doesn’t take long for Jeongguk to get bored, though. Once he’s finished exploring the house, he finds himself wistfully staring out of the window at the sunny sky, at the grass, at the flowers that grow on the windowsills of nearby houses. The world is so much bigger than he imagined, and he wants to understand it, but he doesn’t want to upset Yoongi—not more than he has already, anyway.
Jeongguk weighs his options, trying to decide if it would be worth it to sneak out only for an hour or two. Yoongi said he would be gone most of the morning and afternoon, and Namjoon will be gone until dinner, at least, which realistically would give him some time to go exploring and then come back. Besides, he has to figure out how to get to the castle if he wants to sneak off and make the prince fall in love with him…
He’s just beginning to reason if he can go out into the world when the world comes to him instead.
The door opens so suddenly that Jeongguk jumps, automatically trying to shriek even though no sound comes out and he turns to see Yoongi coming into the house with a line between his brows. Jeongguk wishes he could ask what’s wrong, but he doesn’t have to wait long to find out.
“Come with me,” says Yoongi, stalking forward and grabbing Jeongguk’s wrist before tugging him out of the house. Jeongguk has no choice but to go with him, eyes wide and panicked as Yoongi leads him out of the house and down the stone path that leads to the beach. He can’t even ask what’s going on, forced to be the passive companion as Yoongi marches them all the way down to the water without saying a word about what they’re actually doing.
They make it through the line of bushes and onto the pebbly beach, where Yoongi finally stops at the edge of the water. It’s the first time Jeongguk has been back, eyes staring out at the sea that he’s lived in for his entire life; it looks so different from above the water, and for the first time, he feels a pang of homesickness. What will his parents be thinking now that he’s gone? What about Hoseok?
Speaking of Hoseok—
“That’s your friend, right?” asks Yoongi, pointing out to the big rock that Jeongguk was fond of hanging out by when he was a mermaid. With a gasp, he spots Hoseok peering around it, red hair unmistakable. Jeongguk feels a surge of excitement at seeing his best friend, but then—just as quickly, he feels the shame at knowing that both of his best friends are here, aware that he disobeyed both of them.
And then he has to wonder what on earth Hoseok is doing.
Yoongi seems to understand that’s his first question, because he tugs on Jeongguk’s wrist to get his attention. “I was out fishing when he came to me, asking if I was ‘the strange human named Yoongi’,” he says. Jeongguk flushes, just a little; he’s spoken about Yoongi several times to Hoseok, but there’s no way the mermaid could have known the true extent of their relationship. Unless, of course, Jeongguk is a lot more obvious than he thinks he is, and considering how well Hoseok knows him… that might not be out of the question. “When he realized you were missing, he put the pieces together like I did and figured out that you’d gone to that sea witch. So he went to the sea witch and asked exactly what that spell did.”
Jeongguk feels small, suddenly, as he looks first at the hard expression on Yoongi’s face and then over to the rock, where Hoseok is still waiting. The same look on his face.
“You have some explaining to do, Jeon Jeongguk!” calls Hoseok.
“I told you he can’t talk!” Yoongi calls back. Hoseok sinks a little further under the water.
“Is it true?” asks Yoongi, then, voice a little softer. “The sea witch couldn’t reveal all of the details, something about magical confidentiality, but he—and Hoseok—said you have to complete the task you set out to do before seven days are up or something disastrous will happen?”
Jeongguk nods, just a little. He doesn’t want Yoongi getting angry at him again, feels like—like all of this would be so much easier if they were just acting like best friends again.
Yoongi sighs. “Fine,” he says. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to you and we’re already in this shitty situation, so…” He scratches at the back of his neck and Jeongguk takes the opportunity to look out at Hoseok again. He’s frowning. Jeongguk wishes, for a moment, that he could just—make Hoseok ruffle his hair like he always does, just to prove that he’s not going to never speak to him again once Jeongguk returns to being a mermaid.
If he returns to being a mermaid.
“New plan,” says Yoongi. “I’m due to bring a small shipment of fish to the castle four days from now. That’ll be… the sixth day of your timeline, right? I’ll take you with me and I’ll try to find a way to get you to at least see the prince. I think it’s a suicide mission, but I guess it’s the only thing that’s actually going to work.”
Jeongguk gasps again, eyes going wide. He knows that he has to get to the prince, to kiss the prince, but—Yoongi is going to help him. Yoongi is going to help him. If he could, he’d be babbling his thank yous, but in lieu of being able to speak, he just throws himself at the human, wrapping his arms around Yoongi in a tight hug.
Yoongi stumbles back at the force of it, snorting a little before he returns the hug and Jeongguk snuggles into his embrace, more than grateful. The hug says, thank you. It says, I know I messed up in the first place but I never want you to leave me helpless. It says, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
When he pulls back, Jeongguk is all bright eyes and wide smiles, bouncing on the balls of his feet before he turns to look at Hoseok—but the rock and water surrounding it are empty, the mermaid having disappeared. It feels a bit like… a punch to the gut, although he doesn’t know if Hoseok is just upset or if he’s worried or if he’s jealous. His two worlds colliding, just like that. Casualties are bound to occur.
From then on, things go a little easier. Jeongguk knows that he’ll have his chance to get to the castle, and he can only hope that he’ll figure out how to kiss the prince before the seven days are over, but there’s an easiness and a calmness to his life while he waits. Yoongi seems to be in a better mood, too, perhaps spurred on by the fact that he knows he can’t actually do anything about the spell, now that he knows a little more about the conditions.
Jeongguk spends the next four days glued to Yoongi’s side, silently demanding to know everything about the way he lives his life, about the village, about this human world he’s been so fascinated with. Yoongi tells him that as long as he doesn’t wander off on his own or get into trouble, he’s allowed a little more freedom—to run around or pet dogs or bring objects to Yoongi in a way that asks what it does and how it works. They make a sort of language of their own, a system, so that Yoongi knows what Jeongguk is trying to say and is able to tend to his needs.
It goes like this: every morning when Yoongi goes fishing, he brings Jeongguk with him. At first, he’s too scared to get in the boat, even though he’s been watching boats for year—afraid it’ll sink or tip over, but Yoongi holds his hand tight, tight, tight and makes sure that he’s feeling safe before they move any further into the water. Then he’s too afraid to help with casting the nets or bringing them in, not wanting to fall out of the boat. And besides, the fish always struggle too much when they reach air and even if Jeongguk’s entire diet consists of different kinds of fish, it’s—different. He doesn’t like seeing them struggle.
It goes like this: Yoongi lights the fire in his fireplace every day and watches Jeongguk watch it with fascination, always daring to get a little closer each time. He tells Jeongguk not to touch it because it’ll hurt but Jeongguk is unsure how that’s even possible—so he sticks his entire hand in the fire one evening when Yoongi is busy speaking with Namjoon, and then spends the next hour crying silent tears when he inevitably burns his hand and Yoongi has to soak it in water and even gives the burns careful kisses. Jeongguk ignores the flip flip flip of his heart.
It goes like this: Jeongguk learns that sometimes Yoongi doesn’t have a lot to say. As a mermaid, Jeongguk did so much of the talking in their relationship, constantly rambling about this and that or asking questions or telling Yoongi all sorts of stories. But now that he can’t speak, he’s forced to listen. Forced to observe, forced to think. Sometimes Yoongi says more things in his actions than in words. Sometimes he doesn’t have the words. Sometimes the two of them just sit in silence as they float in Yoongi’s boat, watching the sunset. Sometimes they just sit in silence as they sip tea on Yoongi and Namjoon’s front porch, watching the people that walk by.
Sometimes Jeongguk just watches him, admiring everything about Yoongi that he used to be too busy talking to see: the slight upturn of his lips, something that makes him look like he’s always got a secret he won’t tell. The way his hair curls into his eyes after he’s been on the water all day and how he always huffs in annoyance when he has to move it out of his sight, even if he could just cut his hair and not have to worry about it. The way he does everything with care—cooking and cleaning and fishing, like each action is one that he loves, loves, loves.
The way he takes care of Jeongguk, too—making sure he has enough to eat, or is warm enough at night. Sometimes Jeongguk forgets how to use his legs or he’ll find something new he doesn’t know how to do, and Yoongi is patient and kind and so, so lovely. Takes his time explaining everything to Jeongguk, giggling when confusion passes over the mermaid’s face. All of the human things that probably seem so simple to Yoongi, all of the things he takes for granted—he takes his time making Jeongguk feel like a real human by showing rather than telling. Makes him feel safe and warm and loved.
Jeongguk is forced to look. And he finds that he likes what he sees—likes it a lot more than he intended to.
It goes like this: the house only has two beds. Jeongguk claims the floor near the fireplace on the first night, batting Yoongi away when the man tries to offer him his bed, and just grabs as many pillows and blankets as he possibly can. Makes a nest of sorts, and watches the dying embers of the fire as he drifts off to sleep. He’s used to sleeping on rocks and beds of seaweed, anyway.
It’s fine for the first few nights. Jeongguk is still so mesmerized by everything in the house and by the human world that he’s exhausted from exploring and learning and feeling everything and he falls asleep the moment his head hits the pillow. And then—one night, the last night before they’re meant to go to the castle, he can’t sleep. He stares at the ceiling, pout forming on his lips as he tries to figure out what’s keeping him awake. They’d gone fishing that morning, and then Yoongi let Namjoon take him into the shoe repair shop to learn how he did that, and they went to the market and let Jeongguk pick out the food for their evening meal and he pet a real dog on the street and Yoongi and Namjoon let him try some alcohol, too, which had resulted in him getting far too tipsy and he’d tried dancing, which had been awful, but. It had been nice.
And now he’s awake awake awake as he thinks about the way Yoongi’s cheeks had flushed in the candlelight over dinner, the result of having a few drinks of his own, and how he’d looked so pretty like that. Laughing at Jeongguk trying to dance even though he doesn’t know how. The way Yoongi had gotten up and tried to help him, taking his hands and twirling him around and laughing, laughing, all gummy smiles and bright eyes.
It hits him then, like a quiet pang in his chest—he’s lonely. He misses Yoongi, even though Yoongi is right there, and before he can second-guess it, Jeongguk clambers out of his makeshift bed and heads for Yoongi’s bedroom.
The house is dark and silent as he carefully pushes the bedroom door open, peering inside. He hears Yoongi’s gentle breathing from across the room and tries to remember the layout of it all so that he doesn’t run into anything on the way over—which he does anyway, banging his toe on the edge of Yoongi’s desk. He can’t let out a yelp but the noise must startle Yoongi anyway, because there’s the sound of rustling sheets as Jeongguk hops around in hopes of getting rid of the pain.
Jeongguk winces, putting his foot down as he snaps once for yes. Yoongi makes a little noise—one of the surprise, maybe, or something else—and there’s more rustling. “Do you need something?”
Jeongguk can’t explain it without words. Sometimes actions speak louder than words, anyway, and he hopes Yoongi will understand. He feels his way over to the bed, carefully patting at it with his hands until he feels something warm and solid—Yoongi’s arm, which he holds onto as he climbs onto the bed, too.
He slides his hand up Yoongi’s arm until he finds the man’s shoulder, then his collarbone, then his chest. Once he’s oriented like that, knowing where they both are (physically, at least), Jeongguk tucks himself very carefully into Yoongi’s body. He’s cuddled with Hoseok before, but this is different—more limbs, less water. He slots his legs through Yoongi’s until he’s comfortable with it, curling his arms into his own chest and tucking his head between the bed and Yoongi’s neck, and then—sighs with content.
Yoongi lets out a quiet, “Oh.” He gets it, Jeongguk thinks. And Jeongguk wants to say—the nest was comfortable, but this is different. He wants to say, you are the warmest thing I have ever felt. He wants to say, I didn’t expect this, but here, here. I want you to feel what I feel.
There’s only a moment before Yoongi curls his arms around Jeongguk’s smaller frame and brings him even closer, grabbing the blanket at the end of the bed and throwing it over the both of them. It’s still dark—too dark to see anything, but Jeongguk doesn’t need to see. He knows what’s there anyway: Yoongi’s dark hair, getting into his eyes. Yoongi’s soft face, all open and wanting. And Yoongi’s hands, here, holding him tight. Yoongi feels nothing like Hoseok, and he doesn’t think it has anything to do with the fact that Yoongi doesn’t have a tail.
“Just wanted to cuddle, huh?” asks Yoongi with a teasing lilt to his voice, and in his embarrassment, Jeongguk pinches Yoongi’s side. The human chuckles. “I’m good at cuddling, don’t worry. Just don’t tell Namjoonie or he might get jealous.”
Jeongguk responds by pressing himself even closer. Already, he feels better—has nothing to do with the fact that a bed is so much more comfortable than a pile of blankets on the floor. Has everything to do with the rise and fall of Yoongi’s chest against him, the way he presses his cheek into the top of Jeongguk’s head. They fit so well. Would they fit if Jeongguk didn’t have legs?
There’s so much he wants to say, suddenly—he wants to tell Yoongi how much this means to him, how much Yoongi means to him. Wants to say thank you and sorry all at once, for all of the trouble that he’s causing. Wants to ask if his heart is the only one beating like this, wants to ask if it’s a human thing to feel like he’s going to burst at the seams with all of this want.
It’s not how he feels about Seokjin, he realizes. Seokjin is just—some pretty prince he saw once, someone he’s a little infatuated with. But Yoongi is here and Yoongi is holding him and Yoongi is so much more.
Jeongguk doesn’t understand love. But if he did, he might just call it this.
“I’m sorry I got so mad at you,” says Yoongi suddenly, breaking the stillness. “When you first washed up on shore. I—I didn’t mean to yell at you or lecture you so much. I was just really worried about you.”
Jeongguk frowns, bumping his head against Yoongi’s collarbone. Means: I know. I forgive you. I worry about you, too.
“I still don’t think you should have gone to the sea witch in the first place,” continues Yoongi. “But I will admit that… it’s been really nice having you here. You fit here. You’ve been my best friend for only a few months, but there’s something about you, Jeongguk. Something really special.”
The mermaid feels his heart seize in his chest, wondering if—if this is going in the direction he thinks he might. He tugs a little on the shirt Yoongi is wearing, means: go on, I’m listening.
“You deserve to be happy,” says Yoongi. “And I don’t want anything bad to happen to you, because—I don’t know what I would do. I’d blame myself, I think. You mean a lot to me, Jeongguk-ah. More than I know how to put into words. Tomorrow is the day I bring my fish to the castle, so you can come with me and I—I hope you meet the prince. And I hope you get to do whatever you need to do so that you can go back home.”
And—that’s not what he wants. All at once, Jeongguk realizes that’s not what he wants. He doesn’t want to go to the castle, doesn’t want to meet the prince. He doesn’t care about the prince anymore, not like he cares about Yoongi. He loves Yoongi with something far beyond friendship, and it’s taken him this week of having to keep his mouth shut to realize it.
But—Yoongi is right. Tomorrow is the sixth day, tomorrow is his chance to go to the castle and meet the prince, if all goes right. And he has to go, because that was what he set out to do. And he has to kiss the prince, because Jimin told him he has to, and he’ll leave Yoongi here—he’ll go back to the sea and they’ll always remain friends, two different worlds colliding for just a few moments every morning.
Jeongguk doesn’t realize he’s crying until Yoongi pulls back, all worry and worry as he says, “Gukkie? Baby, what’s wrong?” And doesn’t that just make it worse, and he shakes his head, desperately wiping at his eyes because he doesn’t even know why he’s crying. Maybe it’s because he’s confused, maybe it’s because he has all of these feelings that he doesn’t know what to do with and—Yoongi doesn’t like him back. Maybe Jeongguk doesn’t actually like Yoongi in the first place, maybe this is just another case of infatuation like his mother says he runs into every few months.
This was all such a terrible idea.
“It’s okay,” says Yoongi, sitting up a little and pulling Jeongguk into him, holding him carefully. “Whatever it is, I promise it’s okay. I’ve got you, baby. I’ve got you.”
Jeongguk falls asleep like that, cradled against Yoongi’s chest after he’s cried himself out. He wishes he could just talk to Yoongi, tell him what he wants to say, ask him what he needs to ask. He’s so unsure of himself, teetering on the edge of something that he doesn’t understand, but the rules are the rules. He has to finish what he started.
In the morning, he avoids Yoongi’s curious glances. Eats his breakfast in a sort of silence that is more than the fact that he can’t talk.
And then he and Yoongi pack up their fish and head to the castle.
Despite the slight dip of his mood the previous night, Jeongguk is thrumming with excitement. He doesn’t want to leave Yoongi, is already regretting it even as they walk side by side and haul the fish through the village, but his fascination with all things human awakens within him again. He’s always liked the idea of human royalty, and now he’ll get to see the castle, see the guards and how things work inside, even just a little bit. And he’ll meet the prince—hopefully. Jeongguk has no idea what he’ll do if it doesn’t work out, if he ends up turning into sea foam.
The thought makes him shiver, but he tries to put it out of his mind. There’s no point worrying about it now when he has a mission to complete.
He and Yoongi haul the fish out of the village and up the little path that leads to the castle, situated right on the shores. Jeongguk is in awe as they get closer, the towers and spirals of the castle looming over him as Yoongi explains to him how things work around here—and how things will work when they actually get inside. He doesn’t sound too happy about it, but the mermaid isn’t paying attention as his stares, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, at everything the castle has to offer.
Once they get inside (delayed only slightly by Jeongguk insisting on stopping every few steps to examine something new, like the lanterns and a guard standing stony-faced outside of one of the doors and how everything is sort of golden), a guard leads the both of them down to the kitchens. Here, everything is less extravagant but Jeongguk finds it even more interesting than the outside; the kitchen is bustling with life, cooks and other servants running around as they prepare for the midday meal. He cares less about the social position of any of the people in the castle, more about the fact that they’re in a castle.
Jeongguk hands his basket of fish off to a gruff-looking woman with a stained apron, and she thanks him as she hustles off to bring it—somewhere. He hopes that they make the fish for their meal today, and he hopes that the prince likes it.
He’s distracted from watching the cooking and cleaning and other commotion in the room by a hand on his wrist, and he turns to see Yoongi steering him back toward the stairs. Before they get up, though, he stops and takes a deep breath, glancing back at the servants in the kitchen—who are all too busy to notice either of them loitering—before he speaks.
“I don’t feel very comfortable just leaving you here,” says Yoongi, “but I can’t stay with you, because all of these people know my face and will recognize that I’m an imposter. But they don’t know you. So… make friends with someone, okay? And try to explain to them as best as you can what you want, and hopefully they can help you.” He isn’t looking at Jeongguk, busy fiddling with the boy’s collar to make it smooth and flat, then moving onto the rest of his clothes, like Jeongguk’s appearance suddenly matters that much. “I really hope you get to do what you need,” he says. “You better come back to me in one piece. Don’t stay too long, okay? And—come visit me before you go back to the water. Maybe you’ll be able to talk then.”
There’s something so sorrowful about the way Yoongi is speaking, like he’s saying goodbye. All at once, Jeongguk is even more terrified about messing this up, missing his chance. He doesn’t want to turn into sea foam, not only because that would mean he dies, but because then he’d never get to see Yoongi again. And Yoongi would never get to see him.
Unable to speak any of those sentiments, though, Jeongguk just surges into Yoongi’s body and throws his arms around the human, hugging him tightly. He hopes it says everything he wants—he’ll be okay, if only for Yoongi. He’ll come back, if only for Yoongi. He’ll do anything and everything, if only for Yoongi.
And then Yoongi is gone, leaving him standing there in the kitchen with absolutely no idea what to do or where to go next. Jeongguk feels a little like crying, but that’s not going to help him find the prince.
And then—“Hey, you! Boy!” Jeongguk’s eyes snap toward a burly man in the middle of the kitchen, all frown and muscle and some sort of grease on his apron. The man stalks forward a few steps and Jeongguk panics, terrified that he’s going to be thrown out just like that, and how is he supposed to explain himself—“Get to work! We don’t pay you to stand around and look pretty.”
Jeongguk is frozen for another moment, still convinced he’s going to be thrown into a dungeon or boiled alive (what if they know that he’s actually a mermaid, and what if humans really do eat mermaids like his parents say) and then he realizes that the man has already turned another direction, chastising someone else. And he’s—fine. The prince might be far, far away from the kitchen, but at least he’s here.
At a loss for what he’s supposed to be doing, Jeongguk creeps through the kitchen and heads for a group of boys who might be around his age, hoping that he can just pretend he’s always been a part of their crew and he can work on whatever they’re doing. When he gets closer, he sees that they’re washing dishes in massive barrels of water, scrubbing away and occasionally smacking each other, laughing and joking.
Jeongguk stands near them for a moment, glancing back at the rest of the bustle of the kitchen, and then someone shoves a dirty pot into his hands and. That’s that. He turns toward the barrel of water, where one boy is currently scrubbing a different pot, and he pretends he knows what he’s doing when he adds the pot to the water, grabbing one of the other scrub brushes and getting to work. Yoongi taught him how to wash dishes a few days ago—jokingly said Jeongguk had to earn his keep if he was going to be hanging around for a whole week—and he does his best to remember what Yoongi told him. He wants to make Yoongi proud, even if Yoongi isn’t here.
Once he’s done cleaning the pot, he adds it to the little table of wet dishes, where a few other boys are wiping them dry with cloths. He notices another dirty pot on a different table and grabs that too, quickly getting to work on it, too. Before long, he finds he’s rather enjoying washing the dishes, even as the other boys give him strange looks when it appears he’s actually working more than they are.
Jeongguk almost forgets that he isn’t actually here to wash the dishes, at least until he hears someone whisper, “Hey, new guy.”
Jeongguk turns around to see one of the dish-washing boys, one who can’t be much older than him, practically hiding in the corner of the kitchen. He’s got a pot in his hands and he’s wiping it, but it looks more than dry, like maybe the boy is just… pretending that he’s working because he doesn’t actually want to. Jeongguk stares at him with confusion before the boy beckons him closer, and Jeongguk leaves the others washing and drying to join him.
“You’re new here?” asks the boy, and Jeongguk panics—shakes his head, although that’s just bound to cause confusion. Still, the boy narrows his eyes, just slightly, like he’s trying to figure Jeongguk out—and then he smiles, all wide and box-like. “I knew it. You’re a stowaway.”
Jeongguk’s eyes widen, already frantically trying to gesture and plead not to be thrown out of the kitchen, but the boy is saying, “Relax, I’m not going to tell anyone. You’re the most interesting thing I’ve seen here in a while.” He puts down the pot and cloth, holding out his hand in greeting. “I’m Taehyung. You are?”
The mermaid takes the boy’s hand, shaking it lightly (Yoongi taught him about that, too) before pointing at his throat and shaking his head.
“Oh, you can’t speak?” asks Taehyung. “Sucks. Talking is one of my favourite things to do, but maybe that’s why none of the other boys like me that much.” He nods toward the other boys washing and drying—although at the moment, they’re just trying to whip each other with their wet cloths. Jeongguk wants to say that it doesn’t seem like Taehyung is missing much, but he’s sure that sentiment has already gotten across.
“So what are you doing here anyway?” asks Taehyung, drawing Jeongguk’s attention back to him. “Do you actually want a job and thought that sneaking into the kitchen would be the best way? Were you abandoned by your family? Or—oh, are you going to assassinate the king?”
Jeongguk’s eyes widen again and he shakes his head rapidly, not wanting anyone to think that he’s here for a nefarious purpose. Taehyung’s utter fascination with him might actually be a good thing, though, because although he doubts that a boy washing dishes can do much for him, maybe he can get Jeongguk to the right people.
He’s determined to be able to tell Taehyung what he wants, so he lets out a sigh, turning and peering around the kitchen in hopes of finding something he can use to communicate. And there—at the head of the kitchen, high above the servants and food and tables, is a large painting of the royal family. Jeongguk recognizes Seokjin easily, even though he looks younger in the painting than the last time he saw the prince, and he excitedly turns back to Taehyung.
Jeongguk points at himself, then uses his fingers to indicate walking, then flaps his fingers a little to indicate talking, then points at the painting.
Taehyung cocks his head. “You want to… talk to the royal family?”
He holds up a finger.
“One member of the royal family?”
Jeongguk nods happily.
“Let me guess… Prince Seokjin?” Taehyung asks, and then laughs, probably at the look on Jeongguk’s face when he realizes he’s been found out so easily. “It’s fine, I think most of the country is in love with Prince Seokjin. He’s certainly very dreamy… And you know, I think I know just the way to make it happen.”
Taehyung’s plan goes like this: every meal, different members of the kitchen staff are allowed to help serve the food. The higher-up servants apparently think of it as a reward for those who spend their days stuck in the hot kitchen, as though just getting a glimpse of the royal family is equal to a regular wage. It’s also an incentive, Taehyung explains, for good behaviour—the best servants are allowed to personally serve the royal family more often, although that doesn’t stop most of the dish-washing boys from stepping out of line.
Taehyung keeps to himself, though, and does his work as best as he can—at least when someone is watching. As soon as he finds out that Jeongguk wants to see the prince, Taehyung hurries off to his supervisor and begs to be the one to help serve the meal. Maybe the woman has a soft spot for him, too, because it doesn’t take her long to agree, and Taehyung comes back with a positively triumphant look on his face. Jeongguk claps happily in lieu of being able to express his gratitude and excitement.
They spend the next hour before the meal tucked away in the corner of the kitchen, hidden from the eyes of those in charge as Taehyung explains everything Jeongguk needs to know—because Jeongguk is going to go up to help serve the meal instead. Yoongi didn’t teach Jeongguk anything about royal etiquette, about how to talk to or act around royalty, but Jeongguk is determined to get it right as Taehyung explains rule after rule after rule.
Don’t speak to a member of the royal family unless spoken to. Always address them with the correct titles and honorifics. Don’t even look them in the eye if you can help it. Bow after you set anything down on the table. If they let you serve a member of the royal family directly, always set things down from their right side.
It’s—a lot. But Jeongguk is hungry for it, nodding along in understanding as Taehyung outlines the duties and pauses once in a while to ask if he’s getting all of it. It’s a lot, but Jeongguk is less worried about doing everything right and more worried about actually getting to see the prince.
Finally, it’s time. As the first part of their plan, Taehyung stands in line behind the others who are meant to help serve, already holding a bowl of sauce or something—Jeongguk hides near the stairs, waiting for his time to swap out. No one will pay attention to who is actually serving, after all.
Taehyung watches him carefully as the line begins moving, walking up the stairs and off toward the dining hall to serve to the royal family. Heart pounding, Jeongguk tries to remember that he’s doing this for a reason—and maybe he’s not just nervous, but excited to actually see the prince up close, like he wanted all along. At the last second, he hurries over and switches places with Taehyung, who hands him the bowl and gives him a pat on the back, whispering luck into his ear before Jeongguk is forced to continue with the line of servants.
Every step closer to the dining hall sends spikes of nerves and excitement through him. The whole reason he sacrificed his voice for legs was for this—so that he could see the prince, find out if his love is just infatuation. And to kiss the prince, too, which he knows is probably crossing so many boundaries, but maybe it’ll be like in some of those fairy tales that Yoongi has told him about (albeit with a roll of his eyes). He can just see—he’ll enter the hall and the prince will look at him and be so mesmerized by his beauty that he’ll demand Jeongguk stay and eat with them and they’ll laugh and talk and have a wonderful time.
The only problem is—when the dining hall doors open and the servants enter, bringing the food with them, the prince is missing.
Jeongguk nearly drops his bowl when he steps into the room and surveys the table. The king is at one end, the queen at the other, and an assortment of other people in between. He notes the young boy and girl from the painting he saw in the kitchen, but—no Seokjin. No Seokjin. How is he supposed to kiss the prince if the prince isn’t even here?
He panics—doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, suddenly realizes his reality of turning into sea foam is so close at hand—and then there’s a pinch on his arm and he startles, turning to see one of the other servants giving him a harsh glare and he remembers. He’s here to serve the meal, and he must, no matter what crisis he’s in the middle of.
Serving the meal goes as well as he could have hoped considering he has no idea what he’s doing. Jeongguk almost forgets about not looking anyone in the eye until the young girl stares up at him and he flinches, looking down to his feet. He doesn’t spill anything, though, and once all of the servants have placed their food on the table, the cook begins ushering them back out of the doors.
But—Jeongguk can’t leave. He can’t leave because this is his only chance to see the prince, but the prince isn’t here, and he stalls a little, hanging back even though all of the other servants are already filing out of the door. He stares at the table, at the empty seats where Seokjin should be sitting, and keeps his feet planted, hands curling into fists before there’s a psst from near the door and he turns to see the cook glaring daggers at him.
He can’t leave. He’s desperate, feeling tears prick the backs of his eyes and he can’t explain anything because he can’t speak and now the cook is making his way over, anger evident on his face as he beckons Jeongguk to leave the room, and then the young girl—the princess—is staring at him, about to say something about the awful servant who doesn’t know what he’s doing, but Jeongguk feels like he’s going to throw up or suffocate or something, the cook is right there, hand almost on his arm—
The door at the end of the hall opens.
“My apologies for being late,” says Prince Seokjin as he hurries into the hall, hair a little messy in the front but otherwise looking as gorgeous and perfect as the first time Jeongguk saw him.
But Jeongguk pays no attention to that—he could stare at the prince all day, surely, at his wide shoulders and pink lips, at the swirl of his hair and the delicate colour to his skin, but he doesn’t have all day. In an instant, his mind is made up, and he darts out of the way of the cook, taking off for the prince.
Everyone seems to realize that something very wrong is happening at the same time—the cook yells for him, the queen gasping, the sound of chairs scraping on the floor as people stand up. Seokjin stops walking as he notices Jeongguk running toward him, frozen in place as Jeongguk takes a deep breath and, when he’s close enough, throws himself at the man.
Seokjin catches him—instinct, probably—and there’s more yelling and gasping from behind him but Jeongguk tries to say sorry with his eyes before he gets his hands on Seokjin’s face, angles it downward, and presses their lips together.
And—nothing happens. Nothing happens. Jeongguk feels no pressure on his chest like when he became a human, feels nothing change within him. He tries to make a sound, even just a groan or a hum, but—he can’t. He still can’t talk.
It’s the only real thought Jeongguk has before there are hands on him, ripping him away from the prince, and Seokjin is still standing there, shell-shocked as the queen screams for someone to arrest him. It’s not a guard who has grabbed hold of him, but the cook, who drags him back out of the room while apologizing profusely. The last thing Jeongguk sees before the doors close is the royal family in an uproar, guards hurrying across the room toward him, and Seokjin standing in the middle of it all, one hand on his lips where Jeongguk kissed him.
Everything seems to happen in slow motion for him—the cook physically dragging him across the castle, guards bursting out of the dining hall to chase after him, the realization that he’s gotten it wrong. The realization that kissing Seokjin has done nothing to save him, that he’s still under the spell and now—now Jeongguk is going to turn into sea foam.
There are tears in his eyes by the time they reach the kitchen, and then the cook lets go of him, already yelling and—Jeongguk can’t hear it. He waits until the right moment to duck around the cook, racing up the stairs and out the way he remembers he and Yoongi came; he dodges guards, too, tears already spilling over onto his cheeks as he finds the side door that he and Yoongi entered and bursts out of it, into open air as he realizes he was wrong all along.
Kissing Seokjin didn’t reverse the spell.
Because Jimin told him that he must receive true love’s kiss before the seven days are over.
And Seokjin isn’t his true love. Seokjin has never been his true love, just some pretty man he was infatuated with. He’s so stupid, he thinks, as he stumbles away from the castle and down the path toward the village, toward—Yoongi.
All at once, Jeongguk gasps in a breath as everything comes together in his mind, the last piece of the puzzle pressing into place. Of course, he thinks—of course. Seokjin can’t be his true love.
Because Yoongi is.
He thinks about last night, thinks about the way his heart had beat, beat, beat against Yoongi’s chest and how he had felt safe, how he had felt home. How he hadn’t wanted to go, because for once, he realized he knew there he belonged. He thinks about the way Yoongi has been taking care of him for a week—for much longer than that, even before they were both human. Thinks about what Yoongi told him last night, about blaming himself if something ever happened to Jeongguk. And he thinks about the way Yoongi hugged him this morning in the kitchen, like he didn’t want to let go.
Jeongguk stumbles to a stop in the middle of the road, gasping in a breath through his tears as he thinks about how stupid he’s been—how misguided and childish and focused on all of the wrong things. He was so certain that Seokjin was the one he needed to be with, but now he sees that he’s been looking in the wrong direction all this time, trying to find the prince when the thing he’s really needed has been right under his nose the whole time.
Under a darkening sky, a storm already brewing on the water, Jeongguk takes off for the little house he came to call home in the past week. He gets it now—gets what maybe he should have gotten long ago, and he has to know. Has to know if Yoongi knows it, too, if Jeongguk is the only one feeling so silly about all of this, like he can finally breathe before he’s figured it out.
He feels the first drop of rain hit his cheek as he’s stumbling up the path to the familiar house, sparing a moment to look out at the sea—he can see it from here, eyebrows furrowed when he sees how dark the sky is, how tumultuous the waves. But he pays no mind, bursting through the door in hopes of finding Yoongi sitting there at the table, waiting for him.
He said he’d wait.
But the kitchen is empty. Yoongi’s shoes aren’t by the door either, and he panics before he hears movement and turns to see Namjoon at the doorway. “Jeongguk?” he asks with furrowed brows. “I thought you were at the castle.”
Jeongguk shakes his head, means I don’t have time to explain. He makes the gesture they’d come up with for Yoongi—stacking his fists on top of each other and making a downward arch as though he’s casting a fishing line—in a silent question of where the fisherman is, and Namjoon looks toward the door.
“He’s not here,” says the human. “He came back after you two took the fish to the castle and he said he was going to go out sailing or something. I don’t know if he’s still—” Jeongguk doesn’t bother hearing the rest of it, just turns and runs back out.
Into the storm.
Namjoon said he was taking out his boat, and although Jeongguk hopes that Yoongi wouldn’t be so silly as to stay out with the storm moving closer and closer to their little village, rain already beginning to pitter patter around them, he doesn’t have a choice but to check. Jeongguk takes off for the beach, a well-worn path by now as he silently prays to anyone who might be listening that Yoongi will be there. He’s running out of time.
Breathing hard, Jeongguk makes it to the beach and battles through the bush that hides the dock and Yoongi’s boat from the rest of the village. With dread, he sees that the boat is gone from its usual spot, which means Yoongi did take it out—and now the wind is whipping around him, vicious, rain beginning to fall harder and harder as Jeongguk takes a few steps out onto the rocky shore. He has to find Yoongi. Suddenly, it’s less about admitting his feelings, more about—this panic, this fear that curls inside of him, ugly and cold.
Last night, Yoongi said that he would blame himself if something happened to Jeongguk, that he wouldn’t know what to do without the mermaid.
Suddenly, as he sees how big the waves are on the water, sees the missing boat, Jeongguk thinks—what would he do without Yoongi?
The idea of Yoongi being out there on the water, trying to deal with the storm is terrifying. It makes him sick to his stomach, worry suffocating him when he thinks that it’s the wrong timing; he’s just realized that he loves Yoongi, loves him as more than just a friend or an interesting human he befriended months ago. There’s something more and Yoongi has been taking care of him for so long—he has to take care of Yoongi, too.
By the time Jeongguk sees the boat, he’s worked himself in a frenzied panic—tears in his eyes, mixing with the rain that falls onto his face. It’s almost hard to see out on the water, waves and wind and rain all mingling together to create something far more treacherous than he’s used to under the water but—he sees it. He sees it.
Only a few hundred feet out from the dock is Yoongi’s boat.
The wrong way up.
The panic bursts in Jeongguk’s chest as he realizes that Yoongi has capsized, tears blurring his vision as his body acts before his mind. He’s running before he even realizes it, shoes slipping off of his feet as he heads out on the dock and then dives into the water when he reaches the end.
The only problem—Jeongguk didn’t learn how to swim with legs.
The other problem—even with a tail, it would be impossible to do this. The waves instantly take him, pulling him under and sending him spiralling through the water, but he needs to find Yoongi, needs to save him—he pops his head back up from the water, gasping as some of it gets in his throat, but he can’t call for Yoongi, has no way of finding him. He tries to swim toward the boat, desperately using his legs as he would a mermaid tail, but it’s not working; he keeps sinking, another frantic wave sending him under the water without enough air to keep him from suffocating.
He thrashes under the water, trying to use his arms to bring him back to the surface. He pops up again, gasping for breath and desperate when he sees the boat, the boat—but he can’t see Yoongi anywhere in the water, and if he could, he would let out a shriek as a massive wave sends him under again, spiralling and spiralling.
Jeongguk doesn’t see the rock until its too late, anyway. And then he doesn’t see anything at all.
When he wakes, it’s in bits and pieces. He feels the hard ground beneath him first, then something warmer draped over him—soft. He can’t feel the water or the rain or the wind, just pain in his head—the rest of his body, too, but it’s worse in the head. It’s only after he realizes that he’s not in the water anymore that he hears it—someone calling his name.
There are hands on his face, careful and gentle, then a hand moving his hair away from his eyes. He shifts a little, the pain sharp on the back of his head especially, and then—
“Jeongguk,” he hears, and the voice is panicked, panicked—“Jeongguk! Please, fuck—wake up, Jeongguk-ah, please—”
Jeongguk opens his eyes. What he sees is—Yoongi kneeling over him, face wet with water. Tears? He can’t tell. Yoongi’s hair is still dripping wet, hands cradling Jeongguk’s face, and he looks so—sad. So terrified, so worried, and Jeongguk forgets about the pain when he realizes that Yoongi is hurt, too, just in a different way.
Their eyes connect, then, and Yoongi lets out a sob.
“Jeongguk, oh my fucking God,” he says, and oh, he is crying. He scoops Jeongguk up into his arms, hauling him halfway into his own lap and hugging him fiercely, like he’s never going to let go, and Jeongguk doesn’t think he minds it. Just lifts his own arms, the blanket covering him falling off as he hugs Yoongi back; they’re in Yoongi’s house. Yoongi carried him all the way back to his house. He’s still in pain, but it isn’t so bad now, not when he can hear Yoongi sobbing into his neck and—that’s his fault, Jeongguk thinks. He has to fix it.
“I was so scared,” Yoongi mumbles into his neck. “I thought I lost you. Don’t ever do that to me again.” He lets go of Jeongguk enough for the boy to lean back and look Yoongi in the eye—see all that worry, all that pain. All that love.
It’s only now, looking Yoongi in the eye after trying to save him and being saved in return, that Jeongguk knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that this has never been about the prince. It’s never been about anyone else. Everything he felt before he crashed into the water comes back again, harder and stronger and clearer, and he gets it. This is how Yoongi is looking at him now, but it’s how Yoongi has been looking at him this whole fucking time.
Yoongi sniffs. “You’re such a fucking idiot, Jeongguk,” he mutters. “You can’t swim. I thought you were—were dead and I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t get to tell you that I love you so if you ever pull some shit like that again, I’ll—”
Jeongguk cuts Yoongi off the only way he can think of: by kissing him.
It’s different, he thinks, from when he kissed Seokjin, not only because Yoongi is cold and wet and Seokjin was warm and dry, and not only because Seokjin just stood there and didn’t do anything. It’s different because it feels right, like this is what he was meant to do all along. Jeongguk doesn’t know much about kissing, just presses his lips against Yoongi’s and squeezes his eyes shut and—there’s a surprised sound in the back of Yoongi’s throat, but he doesn’t pull away.
Instead, he kisses Jeongguk back. One of his hands is on Jeongguk’s cheek just like that, and then the pressure is being returned, just lightly, tentative—like Yoongi is a little unsure about it, about what to do. It’s nothing more than that, just the both of them testing some sort of water, and then Jeongguk pulls back, breathless.
He stares at Yoongi, at his lips, at the wideness of his eyes. Yoongi is still holding his face, staring back at him, and. Jeongguk realizes that, just like when he kissed Seokjin, nothing happened. Nothing other than—that warmth in his chest that has nothing to do with magic, everything to do with Yoongi. Other than the way his head is spinning, maybe from the fact that he dashed it against a rock, maybe because of Yoongi. Probably because of Yoongi.
And still—it didn’t work. Jeongguk blinks, staring hard at Yoongi’s lips because that doesn’t make sense—how could he have gotten it wrong again? When he loves Yoongi and Yoongi loves him back and that’s not—that’s not fair.
“What—” begins Yoongi, but Jeongguk cuts him off again, impatient—he takes hold of Yoongi’s face, desperate as he kisses him again, a little harder this time, except he judges it wrong, opening his mouth at the wrong time as their teeth painfully clash together and Jeongguk lets out a little, “Ow.”
They both freeze.
Slowly, Yoongi pulls back from him, eyes even wider than before. “What did you say?” he asks.
Jeongguk is trembling, hands still holding Yoongi’s face when he opens his mouth and—speaks. “I said ow,” says Jeongguk, and then gasps, one hand flying to his mouth. “I said ow! Hyung, I can speak!” Despite the soreness of his body and the pain still throbbing in his head, he throws himself at the man, toppling the both of them over onto the floor as he laughs—Jeongguk laughs for the first time in almost a week, giddy with having his voice back, because that means—
He stops, laughter cutting off abruptly as he lets go of Yoongi and sits up a little. He stares down at Yoongi, who stares back up at him. Jeongguk’s voice returning means the kiss worked. Means—
“It was you,” says Jeongguk quietly. “It was always you.”
“What?” asks Yoongi, impossibly confused.
“Hyung,” says Jeongguk. “Hyung, the spell—the reason I had to see the prince was because I had to receive true love’s kiss within seven days or I’d turn into sea foam. And I thought I was supposed to kiss him, but I tried and—and it didn’t work. But…” He pauses again, the feeling of Yoongi’s lips against his still warm and fresh in his memory. “It was never about the prince. It was about you.”
Yoongi is still staring at him like he doesn’t understand, his face all scrunched up and it makes Jeongguk giggle, just a little. “Yoongi-hyung,” whispers Jeongguk, leaning down again until their noses are practically brushing together. “I love you, too.”
He hears Yoongi sigh—a content sort of sigh, a finally sort of sigh, and now that he can speak, Jeongguk suddenly doesn’t know what to say next. What to tell Yoongi next, how to sort through all of these thoughts that have been crowding on his tongue for a week. So he doesn’t say anything. He’s learned, maybe, that sometimes actions speak louder than words, and so he lifts his head enough to see Yoongi’s face properly. He wipes Yoongi’s wet fringe off of his forehead, and takes a moment to admire the other man’s face.
Then he leans down again, grinning just to himself, and presses another delicate kiss on Yoongi’s lips—first his top lip, then his bottom, then the corner of his mouth. Then the mole on his cheek, then his nose, until Yoongi is letting out a rough laugh, pushing at Jeongguk’s chin to make him stop.
Jeongguk does, if only so he can sit back and tug Yoongi into a sitting position with him, half wrapped up in each other.
And Yoongi looks at him—really looks, with that same stupidly fond expression he’s been wearing for four months. Jeongguk can’t believe it took him this long to understand what it meant.
“I love you so much,” says Yoongi quietly. “It feels like I’ve loved you for so long and I thought it was stupid because you—you’re a mermaid and I’m a human and it couldn’t work. And then you turned up on my shore with legs and I was so scared. I just wanted to take care of you.”
“You did,” says Jeongguk, leaning their foreheads together. “You took such good care of me, hyung.”
“And then you had to go off to see that fucking prince.”
“He’s actually very nice.”
“I didn’t want you to go,” says Yoongi. “Just wanted you here with me.”
“I am,” says Jeongguk. “I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”
Yoongi pulls back, and Jeongguk sees the concern in his eyes again. “You have to go back to the sea,” he says. “That—doesn’t the spell only last for seven days? How does this even work?”
“I don’t know,” admits Jeongguk. “Jimin-ssi said it would last for seven days, but I had to kiss my true love by then or I’d turn into sea foam, so I guess I’ve—got that part down, at least.” He flushes a little, embarrassed at calling Yoongi his true love even though he can’t be anything else. He sees Yoongi’s lips twitch upward into a grin anyway. “But I’m here right now. Isn’t that what matters?”
“I really thought you were going to fall in love with him,” says Yoongi.
“I think I’ve been in love with you the whole time,” says Jeongguk. “It just took me trying to love the wrong person for me to realize it.”
This time, it’s Yoongi who kisses him—just a mere press of his lips, but it sends something warm down Jeongguk’s spine, and he thinks he could get used to it. Doesn’t want to stop doing it, just wants to wrap himself up in Yoongi even though he’s still cold and wet and might be bleeding from the back of his head, but—he can’t help thinking this is more important. For now, at least.
After a moment, Jeongguk mutters, “I’m sorry,” against Yoongi’s lips.
The human pauses, rubbing at Jeongguk’s cheek as he asks, “For what?”
“Putting you in that position in the first place,” says Jeongguk. “I know you wanted to take care of me, but I made you do it. And I didn’t think about how I would be hurting you or—or my other friends by making Jimin do the spell on me, and that wasn’t fair. I was too blinded by… infatuation with the prince, I guess, and I put you in a difficult situation. And Namjoon-hyung, too. And then you had to save my life, too.”
“Hey,” says Yoongi. “Hey, I don’t mind. I was upset at first, but I—Jeongguk, the whole point of loving you is being willing to make sacrifices and be patient and understand that sometimes, you’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes you’re going to try to do stupid shit like make a prince fall in love with you.”
Jeongguk giggles a little, realizing just how stupid it sounds now that it’s over with and he’s realized the truth. So maybe it’s true that he doesn’t always think about the things he does.
“At least you figured it out,” adds Yoongi. “And you’re not going to turn into a sea foam, so that’s a plus.”
Jeongguk giggles again. “That would have sucked.”
“Just a little.”
And it’s strange, how this whole thing had been about meeting the prince, talking to the prince, kissing the prince. But in the end, Jeongguk can only feel happy here—because it hasn’t been about falling in love with the prince, but falling in love with Yoongi, realizing that he didn’t need to go so far to find what he needed. Yoongi’s still a human and Jeongguk’s still a mermaid, but all it took was a little magic to push him in the right direction.
That, and a big, dumb rock.
“My head hurts,” says Jeongguk then, with a pout.
“Oh, shit,” says Yoongi. “I forgot you hit it. Are you okay?”
“Kiss it better?” suggests Jeongguk, eyes big and wanting and a little mischievous, maybe. Yoongi looks at him like he’s exasperated, like Jeongguk’s just the brat mermaid he’s always been, and that’s how he’s always looked at Jeongguk, too. But now, Jeongguk can see something else in it, something like love.
Yoongi kisses him anyway, even if he complains about it and reminds Jeongguk that they actually have to tend to his wounds, because kissing is not going to do anything for it. Jeongguk doesn’t mind. He really, really doesn’t mind.
“How is this supposed to work?” Yoongi asks, staring at the water with a doubtful expression. Jeongguk stands beside him, their hands clasped tightly together, as he stares at the water too.
“I don’t know,” says Jeongguk. “I’ve never done this before.”
“How did it work when you got your legs?”
“I don’t really know,” he admits. “I sort of just… woke up naked on the beach and then you turned up.”
Now that Jeongguk knows he won’t turn into sea foam, he has to worry about how he’s going to turn back into a mermaid. It’s time, now—the seven days have passed, and although he wishes he didn’t have to go, he knows that there’s a problem with trying to be a mermaid on land. Even if Yoongi is on land—Yoongi, whom he loves. Yoongi, who loves him back.
The idea still makes him giddy, a day later, and he squeezes Yoongi’s hand as he slips his shoes off and tentatively reaches out with a toe until he can touch the water. Maybe he’ll just magically turn back into a fish if he touches it, but as he dips his toe into the water, nothing happens.
“Maybe I don’t have to turn back into a mermaid,” suggests Jeongguk.
“As much as I would like to keep you here,” says Yoongi, “I think you have some explaining to do to your family. And Hoseok.” Unfortunately, Yoongi is right; Jeongguk just left for a whole week without a word, and even if Hoseok figured out the truth and likely told Jeongguk’s parents, he’ll have to answer for what happened. And maybe try to explain to all of them that he’s in love with a human.
Still, Jeongguk pouts.
“Oh, don’t give me that,” says Yoongi. “It’s not like we’re never going to see each other again. As long as your parents don’t try to ground you.”
“Hyung, don’t say that.”
Yoongi chuckles, tugging Jeongguk close by their linked hands and giving him a gentle kiss. Jeongguk imagines he says something—maybe that he’s joking, or a reminder that he loves Jeongguk—but the moment their lips touch, everything freezes. He gasps, feeling pressure on his chest that he only felt once before: when he was getting his legs.
He stumbles away from Yoongi, letting go of the other’s hand as the pressure worsens, his chest beginning to bloom with warmth and he lets out a shriek as he falls into the water, just like that.
(Jeongguk’s parents do ground him, but only for a few days, and only until Hoseok takes the time to explain that Yoongi is not going to eat Jeongguk, or any mermaid, for that matter.)
For two weeks, Jeongguk sulks. The thing is, a few hours with Yoongi a day is no longer enough, not when he’s learned what it’s like to live with him, to be with him, to be taken care of by him. And maybe it has something to do with new love or infatuation or wanting to kiss Yoongi more than just a few pecks here and there when they’re hiding behind the rocks by the shore. They continue the same routine they had before Jeongguk became human—Yoongi comes early in the morning, when the sun is rising, and they talk out on the still water until Yoongi has to go home or actually do his job and Jeongguk has to report back to his parents to prove to them that Yoongi hasn’t tried to kill him.
But it’s not the same. They hold hands over the side of Yoongi’s boat, but it’s not the same. The fact that they’re so different now, in two different worlds, doesn’t work anymore. And Jeongguk can’t help complaining, dragging his tail when Hoseok tries to take him out to different reefs for exploring to cheer him up. Even giving him strange human items stolen from shipwrecks doesn’t interest him anymore—he’s been in the human world and he already knows what all of those things are now, anyway.
Then one morning, when he’s about to head to the surface to see Yoongi, Hoseok catches him by surprise.
“Jeonggukkie!” the other mermaid beams where he pops up out of seemingly nowhere. “Where are you going?”
“Um—Yoongi-hyung,” says Jeongguk, relieved that he no longer has to hide where he goes every day.
“You’ve been hanging out with Yoongi-hyung so much these days,” says Hoseok with an exaggerated roll of his eyes.
Jeongguk frowns. “That’s ‘cause he’s my boyfriend.”
“Even though he’s human and you’re a mermaid?”
“We’ve been over this,” Jeongguk sighs, trying to swim around Hoseok, although the other mermaid is quick in blocking his path. “It’s not my fault that I—”
“Fell in love with a human, yeah, I know. Come on, you should hang out with your other hyung today.” Hoseok doesn’t give him much of a choice in the matter, grabbing hold of Jeongguk’s wrist and taking off in the other direction. He protests for a few moments, looking up at where he can see the top of the water, where Yoongi’s boat will probably be waiting for him.
He huffs, swimming along with Hoseok. The other mermaid kind of has a point, anyway—Jeongguk has been spending a lot of time with Yoongi, and when he’s not with Yoongi, he’s sulking about the fact that he’s not with Yoongi. He’s been neglecting his other friends and the longer they swim—the path seems somewhat familiar—the guiltier he feels about it.
It’s only once they reach a cave that he’s been to once before that Jeongguk begins to question Hoseok’s intentions.
“Isn’t this Jimin-ssi’s place?” asks Jeongguk, eyebrows furrowing as he looks at the markings over the mouth of the cave. They’re definitely the ones that he saw when he came here last, but Hoseok just throws him a wink and swims inside, leaving Jeongguk no option but to follow.
“Jiminie!” calls Hoseok as they swim inside, and there’s a surprised oh! from further inside the cave.
Hoseok turns to him then, with a bright, bright grin on his lips. “I’m not actually mad about you spending time with Yoongi,” says Hoseok. “I just had to get you to come with me.”
“What are you talking about?” asks Jeongguk, attention caught by Jimin making his way out of some back part of the cave toward them.
“Jiminie here feels kind of bad about the spell,” explains Hoseok. “I mean, you figured it all out in the end, but—”
“It was really irresponsible of me to just perform it on you like that,” says Jimin. “And more than that, Hobi-hyung has been telling me all about you and Yoongi and how cute you are.”
Jeongguk flushes. “Thanks,” he mutters.
“So!” continues Jimin. “I wanted to do something to make up for the spell and also to help you because you’re nice and Hoseok loves you and called in a favour.”
“What did you do?” he asks, turning his attention to Hoseok with something accusatory in his tone—Hoseok doesn’t always have the best ideas either, even though he does care about Jeongguk. The mermaid just laughs, nudging him forward as Jimin turns and leads the way back the way he came. “I’m serious, Hoseok, if you did something stupid and are about to make me turn into sea foam for real—”
“Just shut up and swim.”
Jeongguk does as he’s told, reluctantly following after Jimin, who leads them through the cave until they reach what appears to be a smaller room. It’s curtained off with seaweed hanging from the doorway, and Jimin gives him a look, complete with wiggling eyebrows, as he pulls back the curtain and gestures for Jeongguk to enter. He’s confused and a bit terrified, but goes anyway, swimming into the smaller room to see—
Jeongguk freezes, staring at—Yoongi. Yoongi… with a mermaid tail.
“I found a spell to transform humans into mermaids!” Jimin crows from behind him, clapping his hands together, but Jeongguk isn’t really paying attention. He can’t stop staring at Yoongi—his Yoongi, the same Yoongi who was human only yesterday, and his sheepish expression. His green, green tail, so perfectly complimentary to Jeongguk’s own shimmering blue.
“It only works for a week at a time,” Jimin is saying, “but there are no strings attached. He just has to eat some seaweed that I’ve infused with magic and then he has a tail and he can breathe down here and everything! Oh, and I found a way to modify the original spell I used on you so that you can have legs for a week and you don’t have to worry about kissing anyone or turning into sea foam.”
Jeongguk is still staring at Yoongi, wide-eyed, disbelieving. Like maybe this is all some magical illusion and that’s not actually Yoongi—at least until Yoongi looks down at his tail, flipping his bottom fins a little, and asks, “What do you think?”
He responds by turning to Hoseok, who has been floating beside him, and socking the other mermaid as hard as he possibly can in the arm. As Hoseok shouts in pain, he turns to Jimin and throws himself forward, giving the sea witch a massive hug.
And then he turns to Yoongi, the brightest smile on his face, and says, “I think you’re the prettiest mermaid I’ve ever seen.”
It’s funny, he thinks later—Yoongi has spent his entire life on the water, yet he’s an awful mermaid. Jeongguk is sure he looked somewhat similar as he tried to get a hold of using his legs, giggling as Yoongi repeatedly rams into things as he tries to learn how to swim with a tail or tries to remember that he doesn’t have to go up for air.
It’s funny, he thinks later—Yoongi has spent his entire life on the water, and Jeongguk has spent his entire life in the water and now there’s something in between. Two worlds becoming one with magic erasing all of the borders.
And when Yoongi kisses him soft and slow, still hiding behind rocks—this time to keep Jeongguk’s parents from seeing—Jeongguk thinks he’s found his prince after all. Maybe, like in all of those fairy tales Yoongi likes to tell him, they’ll live happily ever after, too.