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Heart of the Matter

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“Are we out of wormwood?”

It’s the midst of a very busy day—Taehyung is on his fourth patient and his hands are growing numb—and he hopes very fervently that he’s just heard wrong, that Jungkook did not just suggest they were out of a very important, completely non-substitutable ingredient for their anesthetic draught.

“Can’t be,” says Jin, from where he’s standing right beside Taehyung, casting light onto the patient’s open chest with his wand so Taehyung can get at the slick, pulsing heart with spider-silk and his needles. “We stocked up just two nights ago. Aconite, wormwood, valerian—I remember putting the bottles away.”

“Well, they’re empty. So’s the container with the powdered unicorn horn. Tae, did we have anyone with a thrice-broken heart this last week?”

Taehyung shakes his head no. Thrice-broken hearts are hardest to mend; the scarring and the tears become extensive by then, and spells don’t work anymore. Taehyung needs potions and patience and expensive ingredients to fill all the holes. It usually takes hours.

“I swear we had powdered unicorn horn last night. I gave some to Namjoon—one of his teacup dragons is doing poorly.”

“Then we have a thief.” Jungkook makes an aggravated sound. “Did you let a pixie in, again, Jin hyung?”

“That was once,” Jin protests. “And back then I was researching the language of magical creatures. Do you know that pixies speak only in palindromes, and seventy-five percent of their vocabulary are swear words? They are brilliant swearers, very influenced by their observation of the human world. For example: Ugly Christmas Sweater is thought to be, by a large segment of the pixie population, to be one of the most potently terrible things you can call someone. Ask me why.”

Jungkook throws up his hands and walks out of the treatment room.

“Mmph,” Taehyung says, through the spool clasped between his teeth while he threads a needle. “Why?”

“Because there is nothing pixies hate more in this world than Netflix Christmas specials.”

“Ha! Jungkook likes them.”

“Of course he does,” Seokjin grins. “Aren’t you done?”

Taehyung looks at his handiwork and makes a vague noise of acknowledgment. “Just wondering if I should add in an extra something. Euphoria? Curiosity? Maybe he’s getting rejected because his heart is lonesome?”

Jin tuts and shoos Taehyung away. “Lovely thought, but as I always tell you, darling, you’re a healer. Not an Instagram filter app.”

Beneath the expert flicks of Seokjin’s wand, the neat incisions on the patient’s chest begin to knit together, bone and flesh mending. Taehyung watches it, and ignores the way his own heart gives a sudden, strange, painful flutter. It’s been doing that awhile.

Seokjin siphons all the remaining blood away. Taehyung gets up to fill up a flask of a restorative draught, something to act as a pick-me-up. It’s when he gets to the cupboard where he keeps it that he notices that the little doors to the spiders' cages are all open. They’ve all escaped.

 “Fuck,” he says, “the spiders.”

Seokjin raises an eyebrow. “For your sake, Taehyung-ah, I hope there was a period in that sentence somewhere.”

“Are the eels gone too? What about the crystal reserves? Oh shit, hyung, I can’t find any of the moonbug lace.” Taehyung gasps, searching through the cupboards, hands shaking. “Is this a sabotage?”

“Who’d gain anything by sabotaging us? We’re just…us. A not-fully qualified healer, a half-witch fresh out of school, and—well. Me. I’m awesome. But clearly not sabotage-worthy. Do we have a poltergeist?”

“Wouldn’t a poltergeist let us know it was there? That’s their whole brand, laughing and chucking shit at us. I lived with one for years. Wouldn’t stop spanking my butt.”

“I’d spank your butt, too, if I were a poltergeist,” Seokjin says, heartily. “But your butt’s not the issue at hand. Where are all our supplies? Who’s stealing from us? Are you sure it isn’t Jungkook, because if I were Jungkook, I’d totally embezzle you to pay out my student loans.”

“Nah, Jungkook is too nice.”

Jungkook walks back in just then, eyes wide and hands full of empty jars. “Just so you know, the stuff you’ve been growing in the shed for the non-invasive cures is all gone, too. Your familiar barked up a storm when he saw me. I think he’s spooked.”

“Who’s doing this?” Seokjin asks, looking from Taehyung to Jungkook and back to Tae. “You don’t have any haters I’m aware of, Tae. Who’d want to hurt you?”

Taehyung purses his lips. Crosses his arms. His client is starting to wake up, eyebrows furrowing at the pain that Taehyung can’t really sort out without his draughts, and he feels a little surge of irritation at the whole situation. “I can think of one person.”

“Who?”

Taehyung opens his mouth to answer, then shuts it and nods towards the client. “He’s waking up.”

Seokjin uses the butt of his wand to knock the client out. “Who?” he demands again, even as Jungkook squeaks and steps forward to heal the bruise.

Taehyung takes a deep breath. “Min Yoongi.”

“Main street apothecary Min Yoongi?”

“Who else?”

Jungkook pats the client’s shoulder nervously. “What’s Min Yoongi’s beef with you?”

“He hates me.”

“Hate is a strong word,” Seokjin says, breezily. “But is he why you always order our supplies from shady online websites? Instead of, like, walking ten minutes down the road to the country’s best magical apothecary?”

“He’d never sell to me even if I wanted his stuff,” Taehyung fumes. “Won’t sell to you two, either. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if all three of us are on a banishment list that’ll make sure we never step foot in his shop.”

“Well.” Jin holds up the last of the spider-silk, just a string or two hanging from the edge of the spool. “In that case, darling, how prepared are you to beg?”

***

Jungkook goes first, because Jungkook is the least likely of Taehyung’s friends and employees to have pinged Min Yoongi’s radar. Jungkook is confused and half-blooded and grew up with completely clueless foster parents, who nearly imploded upon themselves when they first learned about the underbelly of magic that bubbled and stirred right in front of their eyes. Jungkook has, after school, bounced from temp job to temp job without really sticking anywhere, until Taehyung had taken him in as a receptionist and all-around helper. Not many people wanted to work in his clinic, after all.

Taehyung really hopes Jungkook has been too quiet, sitting at reception playing games all day, for Yoongi to associate his face with Taehyung’s.

That hope turns out to be in vain when Jungkook comes back fifteen minutes later, tripping over his own feet, little bubbles of champagne escaping his little mouth and popping in the air.

“Ha, hilarious!” Seokjin crows, jumping to take pictures. “What a twist on the bubble charm! Ingenious. How do you like champagne, Kook?”

“Enjoy it while it lasts,” Taehyung sighs, sitting Jungkook down. “You’re still two years away from legal drinking age.”

Jungkook blinks. “Hyung, you have big eyes," he says. "Really big. Like aliens. Or Puss in Boots. Or, or, Powerpuff Girls. You’d be Bubbles if we were the Powerpuff Girls. Jin hyung would be Blossom.”

“Are you Buttercup, then?”

“Yeah,” Jungkook says, blissfully, and offers no further explanation.

Taehyung rolls his eyes and pets Jungkook’s head. Seokjin tries to get the charm off him as well as he can. When he’s done, Jungkook smiles dopily up at him, one hand curling around Yeontan who struggles to escape, emitting tiny paw-sparks.

“I didn’t even get past the front door,” Jungkook mumbles, sounding fuzzy and bewildered. Then he looks up, happily confunded, at the phone camera in his face. “Wow, Jin hyung, you look particularly like a Dorito today.”

Jin flexes his shoulders. “Is it the shirt? It’s the shirt, right? I really do fill it out well,” Seokjin takes one last picture of Jungkook’s creepily intense smile before turning to Taehyung. “I’ll try going. Whatever that charm does to me, I need you to swear on your life that you will record photographic evidence. This is brilliant Snapchat material.”

Seokjin’s obviously more likely to be known as part of Taehyung’s little heart-mending outfit, but then again, Seokjin is so unpredictable that he might just have skipped Yoongi’s attention altogether.  Sometimes Taehyung isn’t even sure he’s human. Jin could be part fae, or demi-god, or some sort of other magical entity, perhaps with a dab of trickster blood in his blood-line somewhere. Taehyung’s known him for three years, and in that window of time Seokjin’s been a magical linguist, a window-cleaner, a highly successful investment banker, a deep-sea diver, and a diplomat with a special focus on human-goblin relations. He thinks at least one-tenth of Seokjin’s friendship with Tae is based on their mutual disinterest for the rules the world operates under.

Apparently, however, even Seokjin isn’t impervious to Min Yoongi.

“Always wanted thick facial hair,” Seokjin says, once Taehyung cuts him out of the ropes of beard tying his wrists and ankles. “Tangled is totally my favorite Disney movie and all. Perhaps I should reconsider shearing all of it off."

“How did you get here?”

Seokjin looked at him evenly, still a little ginger-bearded, even though most of it had smoked and turned to ash under the tip of Jungkook’s wand. “Why, Taehyung-ssi. I rolled all the way, of course.”

This, of course, leaves Taehyung to face the dragon.

He ignores the little bite of anxiety that leaving the shop brings him, pulling on his cloak and sticking his hands in his pockets as he starts the trek up narrow stairs to the main street. He’s breathing a little hard by the time he gets to the top, a pinch in his chest that feels like a hard fist squeezing. He puffs out one pained breath, then another. The big-mustached man that sells cursed objects next door gives him a dark look and then continues to polish the bloody candlestick in his hands. Taehyung treks past the dingy, dirty shop-windows advertising skulls and chalices, dark moonlight rituals and supplies for vampires, and expert advice on voodoo curses. A witch with her hands full of some violently snapping flowers hisses at him with a forked tongue.

Taehyung trudges up the stairs, burrowing tighter into his cloak.

When would the world of witching e-commerce get with the program and finally start a model like Amazon Prime? Taehyung is ready to pay extra if that meant his supplies came within a matter of one day. Then he wouldn’t have had to drag himself up here, to Min Yoongi’s shop, to face whatever trials and tribulations that Yoongi’s cursed threshold had in store for him.

The trouble is, hearts break all the time.

Whether it’s unrequited love or the death of a partner, a betrayal or a rejection by a crush—hearts wither and crumple and cave. Taehyung’s family on his mother’s side has been mending them for years, and there’s not been a heart with a problem that Taehyung couldn’t learn how to mend from his grandmother’s meticulously recorded medical journals.

The second trouble is, what Taehyung does is not exactly an acceptable form of medicine. Hospitals—magical or otherwise—frown at it, oftentimes taking the stance that as the mind heals, so will the heart. While this is true most of the time, sometimes people’s magic turn on themselves when they go through heartbreak. Taehyung’s had patients who’s waited years to heal before coming to him with withered, scarred hearts that wouldn’t let them move forward.

(“Sometimes, TaeTae, they need us to help them so they can live their best lives,his grandmother had told him once, “To love freely and fully again. That’s what we can give them, that pills and doctors can’t.”)

The third trouble is, heart-mending Taehyung’s way requires extensive potions and organic ingredients. His is alternative medicine—less wand-waving, more getting bloody—and he can’t do without his reserves of aconite, or wormwood, or belladonna.

So there’s really no way but to suck it up and clomp down main street, past the sunlit square and the ice-cream shop, past the nice fashion stores and the owl emporium, Namjoon’s little Menagerie and the sparkling new bakery, until he stands in front of Min Yoongi’s apothecary.

Ready to beg.

He spots Yoongi almost immediately. The man is at the window, grim-faced above a silenced, grotesquely screaming mandrake root clutched in one hand, cheeks slightly dusted pink and round glasses perched primly on his delicate nose. He drops the mandrake root when he spots Taehyung, his eyebrows pulling together and a furious spill of color turning his ears red. A green, conical hat is perched on his head, at the tip of which blooms a magnificent moonflower even as Taehyung watches.

Yoongi’s robes are tidy and impeccable, even though he works with dirt and critters all day. His hair is neat and nicely combed beneath that hat. There’s a shining hourglass on a long chain around his neck, and he wears a little brooch that bears the crest of a crescent moon and a black cat. They’re symbols of his family. The same crest is painted on the board out front: the cat’s tail proud and standing right up like a question mark, the moon like a cheery lopsided smile. The Min family has owned this shop for centuries.

In stark contrast, Taehyung’s once-red robes have now faded all the way to a vague sandal, there’s probably some blood spatters on it, and he knows for a fact that his hair is a wild mess. That happens when you’ve spent your morning bemoaning the unexpected loss of your supplies. His boots are full of tears from the many times he’s spilled potions on them, and the only jewelry he has is the stupid plastic ring that he and Jimin wear as a token of their unlikely friendship. And as for Taehyung’s family—well.

All of this is probably why Yoongi’s mouth twists into a scowl at seeing him.

Taehyung takes a deep, grounding breath. Yoongi raises an eyebrow, one hand rising to pick the moonflower  from the tip of his hat, discarding it to the side as if it’s a piece of trash. Taehyung clenches his fists somewhere deep in the pockets of his cloak. He’s suddenly over-aware of exactly how greasy his face feels from having worked in the treatment room since the morning without a break. Yoongi probably has magically regulated air-quality and temperature in his apothecary. He’s probably really anal about it too: there’s no way those banshee-apples, growing in pots just at window-height, are that glossy without being ridiculously well-cared for.

Taehyung swallows back some bitterness. He’s always known that Yoongi is really good at what he does. That one fact has never been contested, even in his most biased, irritable thoughts about the man: he’s always admired Yoongi for how hard he worked, how he’s spent years and years learning all the names and characteristics of all the plants, how he would only accept the best sort of magical talent for his shop. He’s admired Yoongi for the mergers and agreements he’s made to get rare medicinal supplies in his shop in return for exporting their more local produce. He’s admired Yoongi for going on expeditions to Guyana, to Galapagos, to Kiribati and Socotra, to understand and gather their local witch community’s healing plants.

Yoongi does everything so perfectly, with such devilish attention to details. Taehyung thinks he deserves his place in the Wired Wizard’s 25 Under 25 list every year.

But Yoongi also plays by the rules. And while Taehyung hates the rules of this world, they perhaps hate him even more.

He and Yoongi don’t get along. Period.

Think of the hearts, Taehyung thinks, forcing himself to take one step closer to Yoongi’s shop. The poor, sad hearts. The faces of the poor, sad people carrying them around.

But then Yoongi plucks the second moonflower blooming on his hat and comes barreling out the door.

You!” he says, and Taehyung jumps back bodily. “You—why have you been sending people all morning? Isn’t everything you’ve done enough already?”

Taehyung gapes, head not working, all of a sudden at a complete loss for words. He’d thought he would beg a little, yell from outside about his situation if that was what it took, try to scrounge just enough of the most vital stuff from Yoongi so he could wait for his delivery in peace without it affecting his patients.

“What did I do?” he asks, instead, old hurt flaring up in him again, uninvited.

“What did you do?” Yoongi asks, in a dark voice. “My hellebore, my emeralds, my chalcanthite—there isn’t another shop in the entire tangled mess of these alleys that need these ingredients. Only you. How are you stealing them, Taehyung? Why?”

Taehyung tries not to sound as gobsmacked as he feels. “You’re…missing ingredients? And, what, you think it’s me?”

Yoongi’s gaze is steady and intense. “Is that not why your people have been trying to walk into my shop all morning?”

“That’s not how stealing works,Taehyung puffs up a little, righteously indignant. “If I was stealing your stuff, I’d have done it discreetly. You know, without getting publicly hexed by your banishment charm. Why would I steal from you, anyway? I have my own business. I make my own money. And by the way, I came here because I thought you might have been stealing from me.

Yoongi laughs out loud at this. “Hecate Be Blessed, why would I want to steal from you? You’re barely keeping that place afloat as it is.”

Taehyung feels his insides shrivel up a little. “Hey. I do decent business.”

“Sure you do,” Yoongi sings, condescending. “But seriously, Taehyung-ssi, why would I want to steal from you?”

“Because you fucking hate me.”

For a moment, something quiet and surprised flickers across Yoongi’s face. Then he says, plucking another moonflower from the hat, “I do?”

Taehyung clenches his fists in his pockets. “Of course you do. Everybody—everybody knows that.”

Yoongi looks at the flower, his mouth open in a little, pink O. “They do?”

What an odd conversation. Taehyung closes his eyes and shakes his fists a little. Opens his mouth and shuts it. Purses his lips and puffs his cheeks out. His heart pings again, painfully.  “Yeah. They do.”

Yoongi just looks. Taehyung squirms, everything in his head slip-sliding under Yoongi’s confused, considering gaze.

“Anyway,” he says, hating the roughness in his voice, “I came to ask if you’d have some ingredients to lend me. Y’know. Because someone stole all of my stuff. But I guess you don’t.”

“Yeah,” Yoongi says, a little too aggressively. Another moonflower grows in his hat. “I guess I don’t.”

“Your hat’s out of control.”

Yoongi’s ears go furiously red again. “Yeah, I guess—I guess it is.”

“I’ll be going now.”

“Sure.”

Taehyung rubs lightly at his chest and stares. Yoongi glares back.

“I didn’t steal your shit,” Taehyung announces again, loud as he backtracks from Yoongi. “I really didn’t, hyung.”

Yoongi startles. “What did you—”

Taehyung kicks himself mentally for the slip. “Sorry. Sorry, Yoongi-ssi, I’ll be going now.”

And then he turns and runs away, as fast as he can.

***

The heart of the matter is, once upon a time Taehyung and Yoongi used to be friends.

Back at the academy, where Yoongi was two years his senior, he’d perhaps been Taehyung’s only friend. They met over a mutual love for long hours spent in the poisonous greenhouses, faces covered up in masks, digging out roots, grinding pods, mixing concoctions so potent the tips of their fingers were always burnt. Under the canopies of murderous, toxic trees, they kept finding each other picking lush poppies, extracting dittany, measuring crystals and wicked salts. In that hallowed, ancient school, with its changing corridors and charmed bridges, its sweet river and bright gardens, Taehyung and Yoongi only ever saw each other in glass houses full of beautiful murder.

They were strange together.

The bark of trees above them like pale ribs, beautiful death in the air and water and leaves. Even now the memory sits in him, like pale, sweet venom.

Taehyung liked watching Yoongi work. He went about it methodically, snipping and cutting, slender eyes focused on their thick, needlessly obscure textbook. He looked somewhat like a cross between a pixie and a fencing champion in his over-large school robes and hazard mask. Every time Yoongi turned to look at him, Taehyung would get flustered and look away. It was the differences between them: No matter what he tried, Taehyung’s hair wouldn’t lie flat, his frayed robes wouldn’t stay clean, his hands wouldn’t stop being forever muddy. Next to him, Yoongi made an untouchable porcelain figure. He was all clean lines, even back then; small and sturdy, compact yet surprisingly strong. Taehyung enjoyed that, a bit: the Min family heritage made Taehyung think of Yoongi as something coddled, a glass-box specimen. And he was, but he was also curious of shiny things, of the dark jewels of the earth, of Taehyung. 

“How are you doing that to the moonflower?” he’d ask, eyebrows furrowed and lips in a thin line, somehow appearing behind Taehyung with not so much as a whisper of sound.

“My grandmother taught it to me,” Taehyung would mumble. “Rubbing villaumite on the stalks makes them more potent. They bloom blue.”

Yoongi would look at his own (very white) moonflower. “Can I have some?”

Taehyung thought he was the most interesting thing. Sometimes he curled up and slept in the sun, on one of the old benches in the greenhouse, only to wake up stretching like a cat. Sometimes he stayed working in the greenhouses the whole day, and Taehyung would know this by the giant dark circles beneath his eyes. Taehyung made sure to sneak him some food those days, especially any spicy meats, because he knew Yoongi liked that. Yoongi never said thanks, just looked at him a bit funny, but he ate all of it every single time.

Despite the burning sun turning Taehyung’s skin a never-fading caramel, Yoongi somehow remained only a shade or two above a ghost. Pale as an egg except for all the bits of him that was pink. (Taehyung has a whole catalogue. His knuckles. His elbows. The tip of his nose, on colder nights. His lips.)

“Maybe you can guess what else about him is pink, Taehyungie,” Jimin cackled, every time Taehyung brought this up. (Which was a lot.) “His little nips, I bet those are pink. And also—”

“Shush,” Taehyung hissed, feeling his cheeks flame. Scratch the aforementioned: Yoongi had perhaps been Taehyung’s only human friend. Unluckily, he also had Park Jimin. “You’ve got such a dirty mind.”

Jimin, upside down with his fingers resting on Taehyung’s windowsills, gave a long-suffering sigh. “It’s boredom, TaeTae,” he sighed, bright blue hair brushing the tops of Taehyung’s line of vicious Venus flytraps. “You try being a century-old poltergeist having to entertain himself with stuttering, stumbling virginal little boy-witches.”

“I don’t stutter.”

“But you stumble. It’s bad enough that I’ve considered submitting an application to exorcise myself. Y’know. Get a preacher in here, scare their socks off, have a last little hooray before getting myself banished to hell.”

“You said hell doesn’t exist.”

Jimin pouted. “See? Everything is fucking boring. Even exorcisms don’t really have a zing anymore. Hollywood took it all away. Everything is so dullsville.”

Taehyung looked intently at his cuticles. They were a little dirt-stained from all the mud he kept sticking his hands in. It was probably a lost cause trying to get them fully clean. He asked, throat full and tight, “Am I boring?”

“Ah, no, no, no,” Jimin crowed, swooping to rub the top of Taehyung’s head. “You’re my baby. You’re my clumsy little poison prince. You’re the shining example of intersectionality in this very elitist, very cloistered university. A wandless witch! How unique.”

Taehyung snorted. “You do know I am a wandless witch because my magic isn’t enough for a wand. Because I’m not enough.”

An empty can of cola came zooming to smack Taehyung in the head. “Idiot. You’re very talented. Has anyone else charmed all the familiars in this school? Has anyone else managed to make friends with the ghosts and the poltergeists? Does anyone else get extra cakes delivered to their room from the kitchens? You’re different.”

“That’s what my grandma says.”

“She’s right. And different is good.”

Different is good, Jimin kept telling him, even if that was also Jimin’s motto for switching up Friday’s chocolate mud-cake to actual mud, or replacing all of the professors’ wardrobes with nothing but Hooters uniforms. Taehyung didn’t necessarily believe Jimin. He was hopelessly behind in all his classes, because wand-magic just didn’t work for him. He was terrible at committing things to memory, because all the letters in textbooks danced when he looked at them. Maybe he was a little naturally gifted in healing and potion-making, but that meant he barely scraped by in the other classes. He had a suspicion that the only reason he wasn’t being failed was because the school was trying to be more inclusive of students with varying backgrounds.

Inclusivity, however, didn’t come with automatic kindness.

Kids were cruel. Taehyung didn’t mind that much: he’d always been good at finding his own place in the oddest of surroundings. If he were a toxic plant, he’d be a desert xerophyte, flowering in the harshest conditions. (That’s also something his grandma said.) He was never friendless. He had Jimin who not only hung out and helped him with homework, but also chucked rotten tomatoes at anyone trying to bully him. He had Hoseok, the happiest ghost he’s ever met. Hoseok liked yellow and house music and Jimin, so Taehyung’s dorm room at least was never boring. He’d charmed most of the professors into helping him out, and the librarian always let him into the restricted sections to look up more potions.

And then, oddly enough, there was Min Yoongi.

Everyone in Taehyung’s class called Min Yoongi cold. He was that unreachable, impeccable senior that all the kids admired from afar, whispering stories when he passed them in the corridors (Did you hear he interned with Professor Soo? Legendary Professor Soo?  All the way in Hungary, I heard. They studied dragons. He rode one.) He was that kid who could break curfew or stagger into class half an hour late with not a wink or reprimand from his teachers. He never picked fights or showed off, preferring to sleep through conversations he wasn’t interested in. Sometimes he seemed to just sit still and do nothing at all.

But he was also Taehyung’s friend. Yoongi told him so. Granted it was after a whole row of Taehyung’s bloodsucking roses died from an aphid attack, and granted Taehyung had been very upset that day, but he remembers vividly that Min Yoongi had come up to him in the greenhouse, face nearly invisible behind the glass and copper mask, and held out two bloody hands full of dark, spurting rose-stalks.

“I can’t take them,” Taehyung had said, morosely. “You’ll need them for the antidote to Professor Kim’s poisons.”

“It’s just a few,” Yoongi insisted. “What’s a few bloody roses between friends?”

 Friends, Taehyung thought, a little happy bell ringing clear in his head. Min Yoongi, genius, school favorite: friends with him, little Kim Taehyung, who couldn’t even hold a wand.

He felt dizzy from adoration. Bent beneath the weight of it.

But then he thought of Professor Kim, and how in senior year she literally poisoned the entire class, and you’d need to create your own antidote to save yourself and pass the class. With Taehyung’s sort of luck, these few bloody roses might as well make the difference between life and death for Yoongi. The thought was terrifying.

“I really can’t be responsible for you dying,” he said, pushing Yoongi’s hand away. “They’ll all hate me forever. I’ll be a social pariah. Even Jimin would abandon me.”

Yoongi gave him a puzzled look, blinking slow. The mask somehow magnified this, so he looked a lot like a very pale, rather small bug. “Why would I die?”

Taehyung waved his hands, a little frantic. “Because Professor Kim.

“You really think she’d try to kill us all?”

“The seniors always say students have died…”

“This is a school, Taehyung-ah. Not a slaughterhouse.”

And when Yoongi said it like that, with a little bit of snark in his tone, Taehyung felt like an idiot. Like a big, dumb baby, believing everything the other kids told him. They probably all laughed at him behind his back for it.

Yoongi looked at his red face and gave a little snort. “Just. Take the fucking roses, kid.”

His fingers left a smear of blood on Taehyung’s arm. Dark red against his skin, a sliver of slick warmth.

After that, Taehyung made sure to share some of his more interesting harvests with Yoongi. The lacewings—those were useful. Yoongi didn’t have any, so Taehyung left him some. He watched to see what Yoongi would do with the little gift—a glass jar with little larvae crawling all over the sides—and was pleased to see Yoongi look it up, label it neatly, and set it on his desk. He did the same with the half of a bat wing (damned useful for healing; Tae had Yeontan to thank for that one), and with the gooseberries, and with the atropine. Soon enough, Yoongi had a whole shelf of Taehyung’s gifts, a fact that rested warm somewhere inside Taehyung, bright as a swallowed star.

Theirs wasn’t a very verbal friendship. Taehyung watched Yoongi work a lot, admired how sure he was. Yoongi never seemed to need validation or friends, he was comfortable enough in his garden, doing what he liked. Sometimes he came up with important, news-worthy medicines. In his fifth year, Taehyung watched him smile, big and gummy, at some clear pink liquid that he’d later learn was a cure for the Hopping Foot condition that affected young male witches. Yoongi was in the papers for that. He looked disagreeable in the photos, covering his eyes from the flash of the camera, scowling and half-shy, but Taehyung cut the picture out carefully and stuck it between the pages of his wand-magic books. (He used them the least; they made great preservers.)

They didn’t interact outside of the greenhouses. The academy was lush and sprawling, and Taehyung watched other kids hang out in alcoves, under the delicate bridges, by the riverside. On sunny days, a lot of them ended up in the hedge maze, coming out of it with bright cheeks and irrepressible giggles. Jimin sometimes chucked apples at them. Taehyung helped him, and tried to think if it made him sad, that Yoongi’s biggest acknowledgment of him outside of the greenhouses was a smile that was nearly a half-wince.

But then Yoongi was like water hemlock. The flashy, lacy parts of him were what was outside, visible to others. Only Taehyung saw the better, secret part of him, the darker half so full of love for murderous blooms.

Did that make Taehyung special?

Maybe he told himself it did. Maybe he believed it.

Yoongi passed Professor Kim’s class with flying colors. He passed the other classes as well. He passed classes and classes until there were no more classes to pass, no more potions to make or spells to cast, no more dreary witching history to recite back.

And then, all of a sudden, Min Yoongi had his big shiny certificate in hand, a large toad-shaped trophy for some award, and a packed trunk full of belongings that included thirty-two of Taehyung’s apothecary jars.

“See you around,” Yoongi said, that last day. “Don’t burn the greenhouse down in the next two years. I’m not around to put your fires out, remember that.”

Yoongi looked at him like he expected Taehyung to stick his tongue out at him. To protest and whine that Yoongi had only ever put out one fire, that too a small one, that too caused mostly by an over-excitable Jimin who wanted to see how flammable fertilizer was. (Taehyung had wanted to know, too, but that was a small detail.)

But Taehyung said nothing. There was a knot in his chest, thick and hot. If he opened his mouth it would—by some alchemy—dissolve in his eyes as tears.

Yoongi stopped looking at him after a few seconds. Then he gulped a couple of times and pushed a bunch of ampules in Taehyung’s general direction. “Uh…maybe these will be useful,” he said, gruff and indifferent, as if Taehyung didn’t matter at all. “You know. Some essences I made and shit. For your classes.”

“These are…”

Yoongi cleared his throat, gaze anchored to some coordinate that definitely did not include Taehyung. “Just. I know you can’t…you know? Wand magic. The curriculum isn’t fair. You’re a great potion maker, but there’s some shit you’re going to struggle with, just because… And that’s not fair. I asked Professor Kim if she could set you something else, a different syllabus, maybe something you could do with spoken incantations, but you know how they are.”

“Hoity.”

“Toity,” Yoongi said, with a roll of his eyes. “So, uh. Just…cheat a bit. Okay?”

Taehyung licked his lips. “Thank you,” he said, and then, on a hard swallow, “hyung.”

Yoongi’s cheeks went a little pink. Taehyung wondered if he’d made him mad, and then decided that it didn’t matter. He was probably never going to see Yoongi ever again. Their worlds were too different. Yoongi was going to go be some world-renowned potioneer, with patents and newspaper articles written about him. He was going to take over his family’s business. Taehyung was going to be…Taehyung.

Whatever they were, in the quiet of the greenhouses, they weren’t going to be that anymore.