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this (and all that binds us)

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Jeongguk thought the words were funny.

At first, he thought he was the only one who possessed something as strange as markings on his wrist. No one bothered to explain to him what the words meant or what they symbolized. It was simply there, inerasable and permanent. He was young then, and sometimes he would forget they were even present. Those thoughts were short-lived.

He figured it out when he was seven.

It was in the flower garden Taehyung’s family owned when his perspective on his markings shifted. The garden was huge, bigger than Taehyung’s home, containing so many different types of plants that he loved so much. Often times, ever since he first established his friendship with Taehyung years back, he’d always ask to spend time together playing around in the garden. It’s his favorite place, the plants — some magical, some simply beautiful — would never fail to brighten his demeanor. Taehyung liked hanging out with him there too, because the bright and sunny smile that took over Jeongguk’s face made him feel warm as well.

The day was slowly bringing itself to an end, sun calmer, less harsh, and pretty in the afternoon. Jeongguk’s family was invited to spend dinner again at Taehyung’s home, but the two already decided to play together prior to that. Both their hands held different colored flowers, and Jeongguk gazed at the ones on his hand with a dreamy sigh. They’re always so pretty.

“This is hard,” he heard Taehyung mumble beside him.

Looking over, Jeongguk sees him focused on his own flowers, carefully putting them together by their stems. They’re seated on a patch of grass not too far from the house, and Taehyung’s actions has Jeongguk scooting closer.

“What’re you doing?”

Taehyung poked his tongue out in concentration, the action wholly adorable that had Jeongguk wanting to giggle.

“Trying to make a flower crown,” the voice is soft, and he was pouting. Jeongguk understood why. Despite how focused Taehyung had been, the stems looked like they were on the verge of falling apart, leaves stuck out awkwardly as some of the flowers began to look less pretty. Some had its petals already falling out. He watched attentively as Taehyung tried his best to tie more of the stems together without them breaking.

When Taehyung whined as two more petals fell from one of the skeleton flowers he’s tied to the crown, Jeongguk asked. “What’s it for?”

His friend didn’t look his way as he continued to fix the stems. “It’s for you, Gukkie.”

“Me?”

Taehyung nodded casually. “Wanted to make a pretty crown for you.”

He couldn’t help but giggle, and when he looked down at his own bundle of flowers, he thought he should reciprocate the action.

“I’ll make one too!”

Namjoon found them some time after, searching for Jeongguk to get him ready for dinner. The two were laughing, and as he approached he noticed the flower crown Taehyung held in his hands. It looked like it was about to break, but while Jeongguk was busy with his own crown, Taehyung carefully placed it on the latter’s head. His smile was bright, happy, the kind Namjoon noticed the two only reserved for each other.

He was only a few steps left when Jeongguk yelled excitedly, carefully holding up the crown he made himself.

“It’s done!” He exclaimed, but that’s not what Namjoon paid attention too. While the two continued to bond over the messy crown his brother made, he widened his eyes at the glow Jeongguk’s wrist gave off for a few seconds, a band of black encircling it right after like a bracelet, before melting away again to what Namjoon knew was a new objective.

Oh.

+

When Namjoon finally explained to him what the markings meant — that they were objectives to be fulfilled that lead to a specific goal — he thought he understood it immediately.

They’re objectives to make Taehyung happy.

But his brother continued to explain the concept of soulmates, of how everyone had a different objective on their wrists that evolve as they complete more until they’re finally led to the one they’re supposed to be perfectly compatible with. The thought surprised him, that somehow he’ll have an even better companion than the ones he has now, that somehow he’ll meet someone in the future that he’ll get along with even better than with Taehyung.

“Does Taehyung have his own marks?”

“Objectives? Everyone does. We’ll all meet our soulmates as we complete them.”

So Taehyung will eventually meet someone too?

He looked down at the black bunny he was petting on his lap. He wasn’t frowning, but the animal could sense something bothering him anyway. It lifted its head to look right towards him, and its gaze held something wise in it for some reason. 

And Namjoon, being every bit of the older brother that knew him like the back of his hand, knew the underlying question Jeongguk had within his words. He shifted from where he was seated on his own bed.  “Does that bother you?”

Jeongguk looked up at him, the light from the candles on their bedside table illuminating his face well enough for Namjoon to observe him. Their beds are on opposite sides of the room, but the light is enough. 

The hint of uncertainty was still seen briefly as it crossed over Jeongguk’s face.

“A little,” he replied easily, because it’s weird. “But if Taehyung will meet someone he’ll really like I should be happy for him.”

Namjoon remembered this moment thinking fondly how his younger brother is just too nice.

+

It was hard to complete objectives at first.

Growing up, they knew that the city they lived in was home to plenty of resources. Byros is a port city and a famous trade route. Different types of magic users inhabited the area, and while it can’t compare to the silver city of Spreit when it comes to the strength of the guilds based there, their hometown was still full of different types of guilds that welcomed anyone willing to lend a helping hand. It formed a solidarity within a group as they helped each other fulfill their objectives. As Jeongguk had come to learn growing up, all the objectives — while different for each person — still led to the same conclusion: finding the one you’ll call your soulmate. And everyone wants that.

It’s a piece of happiness everyone would want to have, so guilds were formed to make the achievement easier, adventures were made, and tales of so many joyful conclusions have reached Jeongguk’s ears about found soulmates and happy ever afters.

He didn’t have to worry about finding a guild as soon as he decided to start completing his objectives. Namjoon, well known in both magic and wisdom, had started a guild with some of his companions. It was automatic for Jeongguk to join them.

“What are you doing?” His brother asks as soon as he enters their shared room. Jeongguk is making one final check of his items before shoving them in his bag. He notes to carefully pack the rarest of his ingredients, only keeping those hard to find since he can simply collect more common ones during his travels. It’s easy for him as a druid to find his needed items in nature, and he’ll just need to look around better when he searches.

“Just finishing up,” Jeongguk answers, arranging the contents of his bag, making sure the honeysuckle isn’t too close to the stardrops or that the glass candy he toiled over for three days isn’t crushed by the lone spell book he’s bringing with him. Their uncle gave it to him when he decided to better himself with his magic, and it’s filled with drawings of plants and handwritten notes along the edges. Jeongguk admits some of the small notes were written by Taehyung, short phrases that he thought would make Jeongguk smile. They do.

“Try to contact me if you can,” Namjoon reminds him. “A lot of people from the guild travel too, so you might meet them along the way.”

“Like Hoseok?” Hoseok was one of those that started their guild with Namjoon. He recently had an urge for travelling, but Jeongguk doesn’t know if it’s to fulfill his objectives or his wanderlust or both.

“Last I heard he was in the wall city of Nuverus, but that was two weeks ago.”

He’s heard about that. Nuverus is the city of clockwork, guarded well by the tall walls surrounding it. Their mechanical clocks were well known even outside the continent, but it can be difficult to stay there for mere travel, since it’s usually full of scholars or apprentices coming to study the clocks and crowding the city no matter what day of the year.

The grin on Jeongguk’s face is apparent, because Nuverus is pretty far from where they were, and the idea that he’ll be travelling with Taehyung for an adventure that can take them to such a distant place brings excitement in him. He doesn’t stop grinning even when he turns to his brother, and Namjoon grins back in return.

“What’s next for you?”

It’s a question Namjoon would ask him from time to time, always asking about his next objective. He was always supportive of Jeongguk completing them to meet his soulmate, and he thinks he’d miss hearing his familiar tone as he asks the same question when he starts travelling tomorrow.

He closes the bag placed carefully over the bed, and his fingers brush over his wrist first before lifting it to check. Sure enough, words in dark ink are there ever present. “It says gather unicorn hair.”

Namjoon hums. “I’ve heard of one frequenting the forest next to Bieruth. You’re crossing the sea tomorrow aren’t you?”

The emerald city of Bieruth is their first stop at the continent of Greyzl. Crossing the sea to get there would be no problem, and he tells Namjoon as much.

When they exit their bedroom, he doesn’t bring with him his travel bag. The trip is still tomorrow, and Taehyung was still getting ready himself. It’s the start of a journey they both decided to go through together, believing each other as the best support for completing their objectives. Honestly, Jeongguk knows their skills mixed together seem mismatched, but a lot of spells and fights have been won even in the most unconventional ways. They work well together despite the clash.

He parts with Namjoon when they pass through the town square, his brother making his way to the guild since he only wanted to check up on Jeongguk before heading there for the day. There’s no words of goodbye yet, not until he truly leaves tomorrow, so he waves in a short farewell and heads over to Yoongi’s tavern.

It’s one of the many within the city, but it’s become Taehyung’s favorite place over the past few years. Yoongi gained ownership of the tavern some time after Jeongguk turned nineteen. He remembers that night well. He remembers the bard already in the tavern when Jeongguk and Taehyung came in with their friends, remembers the man talking animatedly with the previous owner as they drank, remembers Yoongi being invited to a game of cards, remembers how initially Yoongi would win some and lose some and it was all casual fun.

He remembers it with amusement really, thinking back to when one of their friends ended up joining the game and that led to all of them watching until the end. It allowed him to see the alcohol get into their heads, allowed the players to make hasty decisions that eventually ended with Yoongi suggesting they try betting more than gold or even crystals, something more valuable.

It should’ve been funny, how Yoongi was able to coerce the owner to bet the whole tavern when the owner’s the one mostly winning. There was mild alarm at how the man agreed easily, confident and sure, Yoongi’s words making him believe nothing could go wrong. The feeling of something unexpected happening encompassed him, and Jeongguk knew it would come true when Taehyung leaned close to whisper.

“That bard’s going to win.”

And he did.

And the tavern has been Yoongi’s since.

While he didn’t chase out the previous owner and his employees, the tavern being under his name allowed him a place to stay and a steady income without doing much work. Taehyung looked inspired seeing the bard win.

It shouldn’t be a surprise when some time later, after many frequent visits back to the tavern, Taehyung decided he should learn to be a bard too. He learned most of his skills from Yoongi, and while it was strange that the latter never seemed to have left the tavern since he owned it, Taehyung was more than grateful for the opportunity. It meant Yoongi was always available to help him.

When Jeongguk finally arrives, there were still a few workers cleaning the mess from last night. Both nod in greeting when they notice him, already used to his presence that he simply pushes open the door that had the wooden sign on it labeled close.

“I really want to do the violin,” Taehyung admits to what Jeongguk sees is Yoongi behind the counter. He looks sleepy, exhausted, and Jeongguk sees his usual harmonica on the counter with a few sheets of music. Taehyung’s back is turned, seated on a bar stool and unconsciously tapping his fingers on the old wood.

“That’s too heavy to carry around everywhere,” Yoongi warns. “You’re going to travel to a lot of places, and it won’t be easy to maintain it. Just bring your ocarina.”

“I already am,” Jeongguk doesn’t have to see to know that Taehyung is pouting. He holds in a laugh as he walks toward them. “But I want to bring a violin too. I do better magic with it.”

“You’re more open to danger if you fight with that thing.”

“He used it when we fought once,” Jeongguk intervenes, standing close to Taehyung who automatically leans close to press his cheek on Jeongguk’s shoulder in greeting. “We took on some blood beetles a week ago and it worked pretty well.”

“I used it with Jimin too!” Taehyung adds quickly. “He said I would get better if I kept working on it.”

Yoongi and Jeongguk have never met Jimin, but both recognize when that time happened. The mysterious warlock was someone Taehyung grew close with when he went off on an unplanned journey a year ago. It lasted almost three weeks, and Jeongguk was on a constant state of worry. Everyone was. He left so suddenly, only a letter assuring them he’s heading somewhere to complete his current objective. He gave Jeongguk an additional letter, something private to him, promising him that he’ll be back and he simply wants to try a short travel soaked in solitude.

Taehyung told him he was still within the continent, heading inland and towards the valley of crystal lights, a sacred area where the sky changes color, ethereal and otherworldly as it mixed above the valley in stunning waves. That’s how Taehyung described it when he came back, adding to it the part where he met a warlock around his age, face handsome and eyes twinkling with amusement. Taehyung said his name is Jimin, a powerful warlock that was also too smart for his own good.

Yoongi has only heard of him in passing too, but he observes Taehyung with a raise of a brow, knowing how much Taehyung would mention the vast knowledge the man named Jimin seemed to possess. Jeongguk wonders if he’ll push for Taehyung not to bring the violin anyway given that judgment based on a stranger’s opinion is unwise, but Taehyung stares back at Yoongi resolutely. In the end, he grins.

“Just don’t complain when it gets too heavy for you.”

Taehyung smiles widely at that. “Don’t worry, I’m almost finished with it anyway! I made sure it’d be easy to carry.”

Leave it to him to already prepare everything even before informing Yoongi. Jeongguk knows that Taeyung is well aware that Yoongi would give in easily.

Taehyung’s likeable that way.

+

“Will your new violin be done before we leave tomorrow?”

Taehyung’s pulling him along to the market, having led him here as soon as they left the tavern to let Yoongi sleep. His eyes are searching for something amongst the crowd, and Jeongguk looks around with him even if he doesn’t know what it’s for. “It only needs one more thing, but I can buy that later.” He perks up when he notices something on their left, something from the direction of the magic shops, and he drags Jeongguk again.

“You’re not going to buy it now?”

He can easily see the grin Taehyung has while he tries to keep up. “After this one. I’m going to finish my objective first.”

“Right now?” They’re leaving tomorrow, so there’s really no need to work on anything at the moment, and he says as much.

“Now’s a good time,” Taehyung reassures him. “She set up shop here for a while, so we can ask for her help.”

The person Taehyung mentioned turns out to be a witch Jeongguk has heard about. She has a tent set up on the side, and the material looked expensive, as if shining. There was no one around it, and Jeongguk notices the symbol of crystals beside where the partition was. When they step inside, they see her casually twirling her finger in the air in lazy strokes, elbows on the small table at the center with her head leaning on her other hand. In front of the hand moving about in the air was a glowing circle.

“Oh,” Jeongguk breathes out, and the sound makes the witch notice them. “The portal witch.”

“Taehyung, you’re here!” The portal witch — Nayeon, Jeongguk recalls — greets. The hand stops in midair and the circle disappears.

“Yup, and I got the payment for the portal. Still the same right?”

She walks over to them to inspect the small pouch Taehyung takes out from his pocket. She’s close enough for Jeongguk to see the shine, and it’s not the color of gold.

After skimming through the contents, Nayeon nods. “Twenty crystals for the roundtrip,” she confirms, turning around to walk back to her small table and missing the way Jeongguk’s eyes widen. “Give me a minute to set it up.”

“You’re paying her twenty crystals?” It’s a hurried whisper, sounding incredulous and Jeongguk knows Nayeon heard him even if he pulled Taehyung close to ask.

“It’s the wailing beach,” Taehyung tells him as if that explains everything, and admittedly it kind of does. “Nayeon’s familiar with it, and you know portals are expensive.”

Jeongguk’s aware of that. Portal witches are always in demand for their services of easy travel, and he’s heard of Nayeon’s reputation. She’s one of the best, possessing powerful magic that can make travel easy even to the most difficult places. While portals are easy to conjure for portal witches, it’s another thing to conjure them in places that are dangerous or sacred. The wailing beach is a sacred place, a resting place to many magical creatures. The magic in that area is always high, and directing a portal to that place can be reckless if the witch lacks skill.

Still, “Twenty crystals though, Tae? That’s too much.” One crystal is already worth five thousand gold coins when traded. 

Taehyung snorts. “Yeah, she ripped me off.”

That results in Nayeon hitting him on the back of the head, and Jeongguk couldn’t help but let out a breath that was the start of a chuckle. He didn’t laugh completely though, because Taehyung still lost twenty crystals that easily.

“The wailing beach is pure magic,” she counters. “It’s not easy bringing two people there, especially ones with magic.”

He supposes their magic — even his, he guesses, despite it being nature — can affect the constant thrum of magic in that area. They’ve never been there, the location too far away but too famous to not be known even to them.

He pats Taehyung’s head in consolation while Nayeon positions herself in front of them. She continues her explanation.

“Since it’s full of magic, it might mess with your own if you try to cast something. You also have to leave before it gets too dark.”

She’s holding out one hand again, fingers twirling in a circular motion. It takes a few seconds for a glow to appear in front of her, brighter and brighter until it forms a circle. The portal in front of her is bigger than earlier, big enough for people to walk through it. It looks so easy, but Jeongguk knows it takes a lot to even make a portal as big as that, more so when it’s to the wailing beach.

Nayeon turns to them, face serious as she lowers her hand. “That place is sacred. If you try to stay there for longer than half a day the beings residing there will become hostile. They don’t recognize your magic as something like theirs, and if you stay there for too long it’ll seep into the area’s magic and anger them.”

“Basically, we’re polluting the place,” Jeongguk deadpans, making the portal witch grin.

“Exactly.”

+

It’s easy to pass through the portal. There’s no feeling of displacement or discomfort.

“What do you need to find here anyway?” Jeongguk asks, watching Taehyung sift through his small bag as they walk along the sand.

“A phoenix.” Taehyung pulls out a piece of indigo paper before looking through his bag again. “My objective is five phoenix feathers.”

That’s easy enough. That’s a common creature mentioned when the wailing beach is brought up. Unlike some magical creatures that use the beach for brief stays, they’ve heard that the phoenix has made it a home for as long as they’ve known about it.

They continue walking along the shore, thankful the waves aren’t strong. It’s not them getting wet that’s the issue, it’s the soft cries they hear as the waves hit the strange blue sand. They don’t want the waves hitting hard enough that they confirm for themselves how bad the wailing of the beach can be. Jeongguk looks ahead, carefully pulling Taehyung along as the other is still busy rummaging through his bag. The sand covers most of the area, and it takes a while for them to see soil. However, when he finally notices that they’re close enough, sees the area ahead of the beach, he tries to stifle a laugh.

“Doesn’t the phoenix look like a rooster?”

Taehyung makes a sound of agreement. “Looks like an average one they said, but chickens don’t live in these parts so I think it’ll be easy to find.”

“Are you sure?” Jeongguk’s grinning when Taehyung finally looks at him, confused. He brings his hand over to Taehyung’s chin and turns it to look at the view in front of him. “Are you sure?”

It takes a moment for Taehyung to respond.

“Shit.”

They’re everywhere, more than a dozen just walking around making the usual chicken noises. They both can’t count how many there are, and as they look around they notice that all of them look exactly the same. Too many fucking chickens.

“A phoenix is warmer than normal and it likes the sun.” Jeongguk’s walking around them, trying to see if he can spot any that would look out of place. “Maybe it’ll be nearer the beach cause of the hot sand? I can pick them up too to check the temperature.”

There’s a shocked kind of sound coming from Taehyung, and when he looks away from the chickens to check he sees him taking out a red piece of cloth.

“Tae?”

“No need,” Taehyung tells him, grin all mischievous and looking sure of himself. It’s cute. “We can find it with this.”

When Jeongguk walks back to him, Taehyung unfolds the cloth to show him a small black stick. It looks like charcoal. He would think it was ordinary charcoal if it weren’t for the piece of paper Taehyung’s showing him as well. It’s the indigo paper from earlier and the side turned to him has a sigil drawn onto it. It was circular in shape and looked rather intricate. The center of it is empty, making room for a single symbol.

He knows what it is though he’s never made one before. “Calling paper?” The black stick is definitely the infused with magic too.

Taehyung nods excitedly, carefully holding the small paper on his palm. “Jeonghan taught me a really simple one. He said it’ll call all nearby magical creatures, since it’s too much to call a specific one.”

Trust Taehyung to get the only paper witch in the city to make something like this for him so easily. Jeongguk suspects it’s the eyes. No one can resist them.

“I just have to write their symbol in the middle and then I burn it,” Taehyung explains, already writing down an unfamiliar symbol in the middle. Before Jeongguk can question this even further, Taehyung swiftly pulls out a match to burn it.

And when it burns, nothing happens.

Nothing noticeable anyway.

Except maybe for a few of the chickens coming up to approach them.

“I’m pretty sure it worked.” They’re both staring at the chickens below them, clucking and moving about. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to do it when they were so close to all the chickens.

Jeongguk puts a hand on Taehyung’s shoulder, trying his best to not look too amused at the frown Taehyung is making. “Let’s just look through the roosters. You can fight Jeonghan when we come back.”

If anything, the other simply frowns even more. “He made it so well though. It should’ve worked.”

“Maybe your symbol was off?” Jeongguk’s looking through the chickens again, walking slowly to the center of the huge group, checking and wondering which one he should pick up first.

“No, I drew it perfectly. I made sure it — ah!

Surprised at the sudden yelp, Jeongguk turns to see Taehyung pointing frantically at something. He’s pointing towards land, the direction of the forest, and when he looks carefully he sees something glowing. Specks of light seem to float in the air, the breeze carefully bringing them closer.

“Sprites!” 

Sure enough, they’re sprites, small balls of light that flickered at Taehyung’s shouting. A sign of amusement. When they both turn to each other, Jeongguk sees the wide eyes and a quick bite of the lip. Pretty.

“You can check them,” Jeongguk tells him. “I’ll stay here with the chickens.”

Taehyung simply beams before sprinting off to the sprites for a closer look.

That leaves Jeongguk alone for a while with the huge bunch of chickens. They’re moving about around him, some sticking close to him while others try to peck at the ground near his feet. He truly hopes he doesn’t end up stepping on one accidentally and finding out it’s the phoenix. While it may not be enough to kill the bird, he would really not want to offend it.

Tentatively, he picks one up to check for its body heat. It’s warm, but Jeongguk’s not sure if it’s warmer than normal for a chicken. It doesn’t look any different either, so he sighs as he brings it back down. He picks up three more chickens to inspect them when he hears Taehyung’s voice again.

“So I didn’t find the phoenix.”

When he looks toward the direction of his voice, Jeongguk does a double take at the creature behind Taehyung.

A unicorn.

A fucking unicorn.

“Tae, wha — “

“It heard the calling paper!” Taehyung explains. He’s not standing close to the unicorn, its glow making him wary to approach. “And it followed me back here.”

“That’s,” a pause. The unicorn approaches the chickens. Jeongguk swallows. “Convenient.”

A unicorn isn’t one of a kind like the phoenix. There are many roaming around, traveling to so many places that some have claimed to have even seen a unicorn in the desert. It’s not the rarity that intimidates Jeongguk. It’s the glow, the aura. It’s the feeling where he thinks if he touches it everything dirty within him from the very root of his soul would disappear. 

It’s unnerving.

The chickens, as if sensing the same type of intimidation as Jeongguk and Taehyung, move away easily to give the unicorn space to move closer. It continues moving until it’s right in front of Jeongguk, head dangerously close to touching him.

It lets out a breath, long and calm. Taehyung flinches from where he stood, but Jeongguk gets it.

He understands.

“Ah,” he starts, not really knowing what to say. The situation is still rather intimidating. “Taehyung needs phoenix feathers.”

Taehyung, immediately reminded that Jeongguk is in fact a druid, stage whispers. “Will it help us?”

The unicorn doesn’t turn to Taehyung, doesn’t look away from Jeongguk’s direction. It keeps staring, as if trying to understand something clearer. After a beat, Jeongguk realizes.

“Well, for my objective, it’s to collect — uh — unicorn hair.”

It’s only then that the unicorn lowers its head. Both Jeongguk and Taehyung suck in a breath, watching it cautiously as it pokes the one chicken beside Jeongguk’s right leg. When it raises its head again, the chicken doesn’t move away, and it allows him to crouch down to feel it.

It’s burning.

He grins. “Found you.”

+

The unicorn doesn’t leave even when Taehyung gently pats the phoenix, performing the usual sign of respect before he asks to take its feathers. Jeongguk watches as Taehyung pets the phoenix gently, his personal ode of respect in the form of a song.

Taehyung’s voice has always been deep. It’s clear and radiant and smooth and captivating. Jeongguk’s listened to him since childhood, heard him practice and train his voice, heard all the awkwardness of puberty that let him develop into something utterly breathtaking. He smiles, because the longer he stares at Taehyung singing to the rooster phoenix the more he notes that the beauty is beyond the bard’s voice.

He hears the unicorn sigh beside him.

When he looks over, the unicorn leans down again as if it’s bowing.

Jeongguk starts. “Oh, right. The hair.”

When Taehyung is finished and the phoenix runs off with the chickens, he walks over to Jeongguk and sees that the unicorn is no longer present. The latter’s back is turned, looking over towards the forest beyond.

“It just left,” Jeongguk explains. “It let me take its hair and it left.”

Taehyung smiled.

“Of course, Guk. You’re good, so of course it would let you touch it.”

There’s a bashful smile, and Taehyung grins back.

The marks on their wrists glow, and black encircles the wrists briefly before melting into something new.

+

“I can’t wait to leave tomorrow.”

“Will you be alright though?”

“Of course? Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You’re broke aren’t you? You paid twenty crystals.”

“. . . You’re still stuck on that.”

“I think I’ll never get over you losing money even before we left the city.”

“They’re private savings! I’ve had them since I was a kid, it’s okay!”

“Not when they’re twenty fucking crystals, Tae!”

+

It’s later that night when Jeongguk curls in on himself on his bed that Namjoon asks him. He won’t be back for a while, he doesn’t even know when he’ll be back, so Namjoon and him talk for as long as they like, savoring the moment of speaking to each other face to face.

“Where’s the unicorn hair though?” Namjoon scans the table and the chair where his travel bag is placed, angling his head in small movements as he laid down on the bed near Jeongguk’s.

His younger brother yawns, holding the blanket even tighter. “I gave them to Tae.”

“You — what?”

“He needed horse hair for his bow. It’s the last thing he needed.”

The silence that followed it lasted for quite some time, the only sound Jeongguk could hear is the wind blowing through the silvertree outside. A light sound of a tinkling bell could be heard, and he knows it’s the bell blossoms Taehyung planted long ago on the flowerpots near his window.

It’s a comforting silence, one that’s about to lull him to sleep, and he’s about to really, until he hears his brother chuckle.

“How convenient.”

+

Jeongguk is in the middle of preparing the flowers, hands concentrated on opening the small pouch containing them while at his prepared study table, when he feels cold air brushing past his arm.

It was chilly, a type of dread that he was already used to feeling. Sure enough, when he looks to his right, a haze of some sort is beside him. It takes up space like a shadow, something definitely there but looking as if it doesn’t really exist. It looked like the absence of light in a speck of space.

Jeongguk smiles, “Waffles?”

He sees the mist move, flinch, and the shadow becomes darker. For a moment, Jeongguk stares in awe at how it looks, how it’s as if the spot slowly getting darker is collapsing within itself, the cold air in its place slowly heating, slowly building up to show itself fully to Jeongguk. As the space takes form, he sees the appearance of long ears, and the form it takes only gets darker.

The shift from a mere haze to something somewhat material is actually rather quick, and when it’s done, Jeongguk pats at the black bunny now beside him.

It thumps its foot as soon as Jeongguk lifts his hand, but it doesn’t say anything. Its ears twitch, rising high as it looks right at him.

The silence is evident, but Jeongguk gets it. “Sure, build a mirror.”

The bunny wrinkles its nose, and when Jeongguk moves his hands back to ready the flowers, his familiar’s ears stand high on its head, a familiar circle forming from the tip. He lets the bunny concentrate while he takes out the other ingredients.

When he starts boiling liquid, he hears a familiar voice. “Jeongguk?”

“Hey,” he greets, knowing the small circle of air on top of his familiar has opened a mirror for his brother to communicate. He continues watching the liquid.

“Wanted to check up on you,” Jeongguk doesn’t have to turn to know Namjoon’s smiling. “And to see if Waffles can do the mirror spell with no problems.”

The liquid begins to bubble up. He adds the flowers. “We’re doing okay. The mirror’s still pretty small on my end sometimes, but Waffles is getting better.”

His brother chuckles. “Still can’t believe you summoned your deceased childhood pet to be your new familiar. Waffles really loves you, huh?”

Jeongguk nods. Until it died of old age when Jeongguk was fourteen, Waffles had been a constant companion to him, and he cared for it immensely. It had always been a strange rabbit, looking wise and aloof but becomes extremely affectionate at the strangest of times. Taehyung loved Waffles too. So when Jeongguk mastered the spell to summon a familiar last month and took the immediate opportunity to perform it, Taehyung cried when the ghost of his childhood pet showed up on the summoning circle.

It only knows a few skills at the moment, and Taehyung suggested it should learn the mirror spell first to make communication easier with people. Given that Waffles already knew Namjoon, it was easy to build the two way mirror spell with him and his own familiar, a wild coconut crab that Namjoon allows to wander around their port city. Jeongguk usually found it by the beach or within the guild if it’s willing enough to head all the way there when Namjoon calls it. It’s understandable that his brother’s fierce reputation not only stems from how powerful he is with his magic, but also because his familiar is downright terrifying.

The bunny thumps twice on its feet, and Jeongguk smiles. “Waffles likes you too.” 

While he continues to inspect the boiling solution, he hears Namjoon being greeted by people, and his brother kindly greets them back. He glances towards the mirror, and he sees Yeonjun behind his brother, a guild member Jeongguk remembers joining a few months prior to him leaving the city. 

He looks back to the boiling liquid and is pleased that the color of the red flower petals are mixing in with the concoction. 

“Have you arrived in Feium?” Namjoon asks him right after Yeonjun leaves. “It sounds really quiet there.”

Jeongguk nods, not taking his eyes off the liquid as he mixes it over the small fire. “We got here last week.” He communicated with his brother prior to their arrival as a practice for the mirror spell, and Namjoon was happy to hear about what they’ve been doing over the past three months they’ve been gone.

Namjoon was most excited to hear about their visit to the scholar city. He studied there briefly some years ago, and Jeongguk wasn’t surprised that when he and Taehyung arrived and he confirmed that he was indeed Namjoon’s brother to a few of the scholars present in the temple, their eyes lit up in recognition.

His brother truly is a smart man.

“I’m at the temple,” Jeongguk continues. “Trying to make this drink.”

Namjoon hums. “For your objective?”

As the liquid continues to boil, the petals weep its colors, and the concoction becomes blood red. “Already finished. I fought a griffin.”

Before he could hear his brother’s scolding, Jeongguk reassures him that he only had to subdue one for his objective, and it wasn’t necessary to kill it. Namjoon was relieved to hear that, but immediately began to question the need for the drink.

“I need new healing potions,” he explains. “Tae said the last ones tasted too sour, so I’m trying to mix one that’s sweeter.”

It’ll be useful if it was something they could stomach anyway. Jeongguk’s next objective already had them planning their departure, and the travels and the dangers mean they’ll need a lot of things to revitalize them. Since they’ll have to ingest it whenever necessary, Jeongguk — the potion maker of the two — decided he might as well make it tastier.

When he thinks the mix is seeped in with the color of the petals, he extinguishes the small fire and picks up the small bottle placed at the corner of his table. It allows Namjoon to see it more clearly, and when Jeongguk uncorks it, he squints his eyes.

“Is that — ?”

Jeongguk grins. “Honey tears,” he confirms, carefully pouring a small amount onto a spoon. Once it’s filled enough, he puts down the small bottle and dips the spoon into the cooling red liquid. It does nothing to change the color, but Jeongguk notes that the smell became sweeter.

“That’s rare,” a pause. “Jeongguk, that’s really rare. Don’t they only show up in sunshowers?”

They do, and it’s not even at every sunshower that the honey tears show up. He couldn’t believe he has it too, but he supposes it was because Taehyung is just very lucky.

“Taehyung got it from his last objective, so he said I could use it to make the drink.”

Another pause, one that has Jeongguk turning to the mirror this time right above Waffles. He continues mixing the drink slowly, watching Namjoon’s expression shift. He looked like he wanted to laugh, to smile, but he also looks exasperated. It’s weird.

“How convenient,” he comments, and Jeongguk raises a brow.

“What?”

This time, Namjoon really does laugh. “Nothing.”

He rolls his eyes at his brother, finally lifting the spoon with a bit of the liquid to give it a taste. 

It’s like candy.

“What’s next for you?”

“Collect blue fire,” Jeongguk answers, satisfied with the potion. He readies a few small bottles on the side to transfer the liquid once it’s cooled well enough.

“Blue? Like a dragon’s?”

Now that he’s done with the drink, he turns fully to his brother, looking right at him through the mirror. Waffles is right below it, unable to move or the mirror will disappear. It’s looking at him calmly, nose simply twitching, but its ears are still raised high to keep the mirror spell steady.

“I’ll collect it in a bag. I soaked it in a solution with some burned phoenix feathers. That works, right?”

Namjoon nods. Anything soaked in phoenix ash, no matter what part of the phoenix is used for that powder, will always be immune to flame. “Where did you get the feathers?”

He tilts his head. “Tae had them remember? He got phoenix feathers before we left.”

There it is again, that strange expression of uncertainty and amusement and exasperation crossing Namjoon’s face. Jeongguk frowns.

When he does, Namjoon smirks. “Your objectives really compliment each other don’t they?”

“What about it?”

“Don’t you think that can mean something?”

At the confused look Jeongguk gives him, Namjoon sighs.

“It’s nothing,” he looks behind him for a second before looking back at Jeongguk. “Anyway, try to practice the mirror spell more when you have free time after.”

Jeongguk still looks confused, already on the verge of bringing up the previous topic, but Namjoon continues. “You should try contacting Yoongi through Waffles too. He won’t admit it, but he misses Taehyung sometimes.”

He chuckles despite knowing clearly that Namjoon is trying to change the topic. He allows it for now, thinking he’ll have time later anyway to get Namjoon to tell him what he’s hiding.

After a few more minutes of talking and catching up on what’s happening with the guild base while Jeongguk tells his brother that Taehyung’s busy maintaining his violin back in their room, Namjoon informs him that he’ll need to walk back his familiar to the beach. At being told that the large coconut crab is looking hungry and might not want to stay any longer in the building, Jeongguk laughs.

“One more thing,” Namjoon starts while Jeongguk is about to pet down Waffles’ ears. “You’ll be heading to dragon territory for the fire right?”

Dragon territory is not far off from Feium, and it can feel rather exclusive given how proud most dragons and even half dragons are with their origins. They rarely interact outside of their territory, and Jeongguk and Taehyung are well aware that the objective is a tad more difficult than the others given how blue dragon flame is known to be rather uncommon. From what he knows, only onyx dragons have them.

“Yeah, we’ll find some way to look for it,” Jeongguk assures his brother, and it makes Namjoon smile.

“If you’re having trouble, try looking for Jin.”

At his brother’s suggestion, he widens his eyes. “Who?”

“Knew him as a glittered dragon, although he never really showed me what type he was. He just called himself that a lot.”

That helps. Even if they don’t know what type the dragon is, knowing Namjoon is acquaintances with someone there already can be useful to ease the search. “Will he help?”

The look on Namjoon’s face is concerning, like he’s trying very hard not to laugh.

“Probably.”

+

Jeongguk figured he should’ve gotten more information about Jin prior to arriving.

“It’s warm,” Taehyung comments, lifting his thin scarf to cover his mouth. “It’s like we’re on a beach, but it’s cloudy here.”

It is cloudy. The sun is barely showing and Jeongguk thinks if they separate themselves from the crowd there’d actually be wind. Dragon auras, especially when surrounded by so many of them, is really too hot for comfort.

They stick close together, not wanting to separate on their first day in town. Despite the stereotypes most outsiders have with dragons, Taehyung was never one to base his opinion on people through gossip. Jeongguk tagged along as Taehyung greeted people, asking questions and directions to those that could probably give them better answers. The people there were kind to him, initial surprise at his boldness gone when Taehyung smiles kindly at them.

Jeongguk smiles from behind him, fond of the outgoing demeanor Taehyung naturally had for anyone welcoming them.

Still, despite Taehyung exuberance and skill with talking his way into getting the information he wants, it’s still difficult to find what they’re looking for.

Initially, people looked more than happy with answering Taehyung, but when it boils down to the main thing he’s looking for, they look at him with uncertainty.

“I don’t think it’d be easy to meet them.”

“Sorry, but you shouldn’t bother.”

And Jeongguk’s favorite. “I don’t think they’d want to meet you.”

From how he sees it, they don’t seem to hold malice, but the two of them are aware that the people think they’re too ordinary of some sort to meet with an onyx dragon.

Most of the citizens they asked would clam up when the topic changes to onyx dragons, and the tone they used, how it changed when they cut the conversation short, sounded almost in awe and full of reverence.

Walking to the inn they planned to stay for the next few days, they both sighed. Most of the day was spent asking around, hoping someone would be different and give them a better answer, and it left them asking until the sun had set. 

“From what I’m getting,” Taehyung begins as they walk slowly to their destination. “Onyx dragons sound really special to them, so they don’t want normal humans to meet them easily.”

He’s got the face he usually makes when he’s thinking too deeply about something, and it makes him less wary of his surroundings. Knowing the chance of him tripping or getting lost is higher when Taehyung’s trying to figure something out, Jeongguk pulls him closer, hands intertwining to make sure he leads them to their inn. Taehyung only holds him tighter, taking the opportunity to lean close, their faces inches apart.

“But you know what?” He whispers, and Jeongguk grins.

“What?”

“I think it’s cause they don’t know where they are either.” They continue walking through the small road, far from the wide pathways near the markets and central square where they spent their day asking around. “If it’s really cause we’re not worthy or something they wouldn’t have looked so unsure. They would’ve looked like they were judging us.”

That’s true. Jeongguk remembers how most of them would look away when the question was brought up, thinking hard before finally letting them down with the lack of good information.

The inn they chose for their stay looked cozy. It was simple, not too overly decorated, but Jeongguk could feel the wood brimming with life and comfort. It felt like home, which meant it was well cared for. It’s a bit far from where most of the people congregated like in the central square, which housed multiple inns nearby already. The scholars back at Feium had recommended this place, saying it was less expensive than the ones in the middle of the town. Apparently, it was the inn they used whenever they visited. Jeongguk wonders if Namjoon — having studied in Feium for some time — was given the chance to stay here too.

The receptionist is an old woman who welcomes them with a soft voice, and she informs them of their room’s location before wishing them a good night.

“One thing,” Taehyung tells the old lady who was organizing the box full of room keys. “Do you mind if I ask a question?”

It’s a new voice that answers him. “And what might that be?”

It startles them enough to turn around. There was no one else but the old lady when they entered, and neither of them heard footsteps approaching. Their surprised faces make the man smirk, and they both hold in their breaths.

He’s beautiful.

Superbly beautiful that it throws them off for a second, and when Taehyung realizes that he should answer the man he flinches comically as if coming out of a trance.

“Oh, well — “ It takes a while for Taehyung to ease his nerves, and Jeongguk gets it. “We wanted to ask — uh — we wanted to ask about onyx dragons.”

That has the man raising a brow. “Why?”

“For my objective,” Jeongguk answers. “I need blue fire.”

The man does nothing but stare. He doesn’t even twitch, and his face only shows mild curiosity.

“You could have checked the Dioscuri,” he tells the two. “The thunderstorms in that area emit blue flames. There’s no need to bother an onyx dragon.”

They considered that, but Dioscuri is a whole continent away from where they were, and while the thunderstorms above the large lake at the center of that area did emit blue fire, it wasn’t exactly easy to be at that place while it happened.

Taehyung knows that too. They both read up on all the ways they could collect blue fire, and dragon’s flames seemed like the better option when compared to the Dioscuri.

“That’s dangerous,” Taehyung counters. “People aren’t allowed near the center when the thunderstorms happen.”

Somehow, Taehyung’s answer makes the man grin. “You can always sneak in.”

It’s Jeongguk who steps in this time. “That place is sacred. We might insult the inhabitants if we don’t follow their customs.”

“So bothering an onyx dragon isn’t insulting?” The man cuts in. His words sound harsh, but he’s still smirking. Taehyung frowns at him, but he looks more confused than irritated.

“Wha — “

“Seokjin,” the old lady cuts in, and the three fall silent. “Don’t bully the guests.”

Both are still turned to the man, so they see his face morph into a frown, but Jeongguk widens his eyes at the woman’s words anyway.

“I wasn’t bullying — “ the man, Seokjin, tries to explain at the same time Jeongguk blurts out.

“Are you Jin?”

Narrowed eyes direct towards him, but Jeongguk doesn’t back down.

“You’re Jin, right? The — uh — the glittered dragon?”

The title has the old lady from behind them chuckling, and Seokjin widens his eyes. A brief wave of panic settles in Jeongguk, and he glances at Taehyung who looks confused above everything. His eyes are wide, and his eyebrows are furrowed. Still cute.

When Seokjin begins to laugh, Jeongguk turns back to him.

“Glittered,” he snickers, wholly amused at everything. He looked amused the moment he started talking to them, so neither are too surprised.

They let Seokjin come down from his laughter before Jeongguk tilts his head, ready to ask again if he really is the man his brother mentioned to him.

Seokjin beats him to it. “Are you friends with Namjoon? He’s the only one who knows that title.”

“I’m his brother,” Jeongguk answers. “He told me I could try asking for your help.”

A grin. “Did he say I would?”

Oh, so that’s why Namjoon looked amused when he asked him. “He said probably.”

“Probably,” Seokjin hums, mulling over the words. From the corner of his eye, Jeongguk can see Taehyung observing the dragon keenly, eyes wide and looking completely innocent while doing it.

“You guys still completing objectives?” Seokjin is also observing them with interest. When the two nod, he again raises a brow. He’s very expressive. “You’re not soulmates?”

Well.

“We don’t know that,” Taehyung answers, because it’s true and they don’t like saying no. The dragon looked like he wanted to ask something else, but a cough from behind them has him pausing. 

“Seokjin,” the old lady begins. “Stop intimidating them and help. You look like you want to.”

It’s only then that Jeongguk turns back to her, and he sees her smile. It’s fond and serene, and somehow it makes him smile back.

He hears a sigh from Seokjin. “Fine,” a pause. “But stay for a few days. The inn needs customers.”

Taehyung snorts at that.

+

The inn, in fact, didn’t need that many customers. 

While it was in a rather secluded area, there was still a steady stream of people. Only some of them actually stayed in the inn, but everyone who visited chose that place because of the restaurant inside the building. Both Jeongguk and Taehyung would come to understand why when they first sit down for breakfast and the taste of the egg sandwiches explodes into their mouth amazingly.

According to the old lady who was actually Jin’s grandmother, Jin was the assigned cook, and he took great care in making the food.

“There are others that help him,” she told them after their third meal, whispered and hushed with a twinkle of amusement in her eyes. “But he personally makes your food. He likes you.”

Jeongguk would come to know that Jin knew Namjoon when his brother briefly visited the dragon territory with his fellow scholars. Their personalities clashed in the beginning, but he sees the way Jin talks about his brother fondly, and he assures himself that they’re good friends.

When Jin asked why Jeongguk has never heard of him from Namjoon, his answer is easy.

“My brother doesn’t really talk much about places he’s been to. He’s been to a lot, so he just tells me when I ask.”

Knowing Namjoon from their brief encounter, Jin understands his actions.

“Does he still have that terrifying giant crab?”

“His familiar? Yeah.”

That seems to amuse Jin immensely.

Jin agreed to help them find the onyx dragon with the condition that they stay for a few days. They didn’t mind, but they still spent some time asking around during their stay in case the dragon wouldn’t hold his end of the deal. It wasn’t that they think he would scam them, but Taehyung had pointed out he might be vague with his answers and it’ll prolong the search to only rely on one source of information.

However, that didn’t mean that the search was easier. Most dragons still couldn’t answer their questions, and Jeongguk sees their uncertainty. Taehyung was right. They probably don’t know where the onyx dragons are.

“They’re rare,” one person told them, words actually making more sense than the answers they’ve gotten previously. “And since we’re all in human form here in the city, most of us can’t tell what type everyone else is.”

It wasn’t helpful with the search, but it did give confirm their suspicions that most people really did not know where that specific dragon was.

It’s three days after their first day that Jin asks them how they’ll collect the fire, and when Jeongguk tells him about the bag he looked genuinely impressed.

“Where are you guys heading after?” He asks them as they eat their dinner.

“We’ll do Taehyung’s objective after. We’re going to Pig Island.”

It’s the island most cartographers have fondly named due it’s distinct shape of a pig lying down. With the port being near dragon territory, it was an easy decision to make it their next stop.

Jin observes them curiously. “Do you always help each other with your objectives?”

Taehyung takes a spoonful of the soup and hums at the taste. “Our objectives are sometimes similar, and we like travelling together.”

“You’re helping each other find your soulmates?”

The question has been directed at them multiple times already, but something about the way Jin looks at them, his tone when he asks the same question they’ve heard over and over again, has Taehyung smiling. He’s looking at them with a questioning look, as if wondering if that’s something they really want to do. Underneath the table, Jeongguk brushes his hand faintly over Taehyung’s thigh.

“We want to help,” Jeongguk answers instead. “It’s a soulmate. We’d want to meet them.”

Ah , Jin though, looking at how the two glanced at each other with wide grins, holding no hidden meaning besides being happy for each other. How kind.

+

After a week has passed and Taehyung finally asked when Jin would help them, the latter laughed and asked for the bag.

“I saw this coming,” Taehyung muttered as they both watched Jin blow blue fire into the bag while still in his human form. “I really saw this coming.”

Jeongguk simply laughed and pulled him close by the waist. “Yeah, but we had fun here anyway.”

+

It was some months later that Jeongguk was finally able to meet Jimin.

They were in Poldiv, a huge city by the sea that housed impressive shipping ports. The two had planned to visit the cliff near the area that had the shrine of a dancing lady. After Taehyung completed his objective of obtaining dusk candles, he wanted to offer one to the shrine that was said to grant wishes. While potentially dangerous given that the dusk candles themselves are magic enough and it can possibly cause unnecessary magical resonance, Jeongguk thought it’d be cool to try it. At the very least, they decided to offer a candle during noon when the dusk candle isn’t that effective with its magic.

Taehyung gave him the remaining two for safe keeping, and they planned to hike up the cliff after gathering some hydrating supplies from the shop of a selkie.

When they entered, the first thing Jeongguk noticed was the hair. It was black, deeply black, but it twinkled in some places as if he was looking at the night sky. And he realized with a beat that he was. Constellations and blinking stars drifted like a projection over the man’s hair. His back was turned as he spoke with a soft voice to the person behind the counter, and beside Jeongguk he heard Taehyung gasp.

“Jiminie?”

The man, Jimin , barely had enough time to turn around before Taehyung flung himself at him.

+

Jimin was nice, welcoming even, despite the cold air that seemed to emanate from him.

He greeted Taehyung with the same enthusiasm, hands hugging Taehyung tightly as they laughed together. His voice was soft, and he looked genuinely beautiful. Jeongguk likes the way he smiles at Taehyung.

“This is Jeongguk,” Taehyung tells Jimin while pointing at Jeongguk. “I told you about him, remember?”

“I remember,” Jimin laughs, and when he nods towards Jeongguk the latter smiles shyly in greeting.

“What are you doing here?”

“Gathering dark energy,” Jimin says it easily that it surprises Jeongguk. “I just finished my objective, and I needed a power up.”

Taehyung simply nods at him. “We’re going to the shrine on the cliff. You want to come with us?”

It has Jimin pausing, staring right at Taehyung blankly.

“. . . What?”

As it turns out, the dark energy Jimin was planning to collect for himself was from the shrine, and the shrine — according to some reports — was radiating dangerous magic due to the number of wishes it’s been getting lately.

“And you two wanted to use a dusk candle?” Jimin shrieked as Taehyung held his arms in a gesture of surrender.

“We didn’t know! We just wanted to know if the wishing would work!”

Jimin whacked him on the head playfully at that answer.

He refused to let them accompany him to the shrine afterwards, telling Taehyung to keep his dusk candle and to use it when it was actually necessary. After promising that he’d meet them later, he left them in a restaurant serving huge amounts of seafood.

“He sounds older than he looks,” Jeongguk comments while taking a bite of the shrimp. He offers the rest to Taehyung who eats it off his fork.

“Jiminie’s my age though,” Taehyung tells him. He moves the bowl on his side to carefully put it in front of him. The clam chowder inside it smells heavenly. “He’s just smart.”

It didn’t sound like sarcasm — Taehyung never sounded like he was mocking whenever he mentioned Jimin, so Jeongguk supposes he really is just smart. “Why does he need dark energy?”

Taehyung keeps eating the clam chowder, and Jeongguk grabs another shrimp. “He’s a warlock. His contract needs dark energy.”

“Who did he make a contract with?”

“The god of death.”

When he thinks of how Jimin sounds a lot older than he should, how he seems wise for his age, how the air around him reminds him of his deceased familiar, Jeongguk thinks that makes sense.

They continue with their meal, and it’s only when they finish a stack full of plates that Jimin comes back with the air surrounding him being colder than ever.

+

“I met Jimin,” Jeongguk tells Namjoon. He’s seated on his bed, eating a few glass candies before Taehyung comes back from Jimin’s room and eats the rest. “Tae’s with him.”

The mirror spell is bigger now, and he sees easily how Namjoon is seated on his own bed too, back in their home far away from where he is. Waffles thumps one foot.

“You’re not with them?” His brother asks, not looking away from the tome he has on his lap.

“I left them to talk. Tae really missed him.” He takes another glass candy and observes its shine from the candle light before popping it into his mouth.

Namjoon hums absently, eyes not looking up. Jeongguk continues. “He’s really cool, but he sounds old sometimes.”

“Does he talk like an old man?”

“Not cryptic like an old man, but he sounds like he went through a lot already.” Another candy is eaten. “He sounds really smart too. Tae wasn’t exaggerating when he talked about him.”

When the candy is chewed thoroughly, Jeongguk takes the time to count the remaining sweets. He hears a page flip when finishes counting the remaining ten.

He eats another one, watching as Namjoon flips another few pages. He’s looking for a spell, and the silence is comfortable. Jeongguk likes the feeling of having his brother close by even if it’s through the mirror spell. He bites the candy in his mouth and the glass cracks.

“What’s next for you?”

“Azaleas,” he responds. “I need a bundle of Azaleas. It’s Taehyung’s favorite actually.”

That causes Namjoon to pause, midway through flipping the next page. He looks directly at the mirror now, right at his brother. Jeongguk picks up one more candy, deciding to leave the eight other pieces to Taehyung.

“Your objective is something Taehyung likes?”

When he nods, his brother doesn’t say anything. He watches as Jeongguk chews the last candy and carefully bundles up the others for later. Jeongguk lets the silence happen.

When he finishes cleaning up the space where the candies had been, Namjoon sighs. “Don’t you think,” he hesitates, only for a second. “Don’t you think it’s convenient how your objectives always matched?”

“I guess? It’s pretty useful.”

“Don’t you think it means something?”

Jeongguk tries to not look away from his brother’s gaze, he really does, but Namjoon has a strange look on him that makes him want to avoid something he doesn’t know.

Eventually, he does answer. “I try not to.”

“Oh gods,” there’s an immediate reaction. “So you were aware. I should’ve said something sooner.”

He can’t help but laugh. “Taehyung told me he liked me before we left home.”

Namjoon drops the book.

It took a while for damage control to set in. Namjoon looked tired, exhausted, but he yelled in indignation anyway for how much everyone thought they were both unaware of their own relationship. He emphasized the word clearly. Everyone was waiting for the day they’d get it together.

“But you already did that months ago,” Namjoon grumbles. “Behind our backs too. Why didn’t you tell me?”

Jeongguk is still laughing even when Namjoon is glaring at him with fake menace. He’s smiling widely at how drained Namjoon looks that it takes a while for him to respond, trying his best to calm down.

In the meantime, Namjoon adds a follow up. “Is it because of the soulmate objectives?”

When he sobers up, eyes a little teary when he rubs his hands on it. He nods multiple times to answer, but he looks away before Namjoon could react to his confirmation.

He doesn’t even let his brother ask anything else. He simply explains. “We knew our objectives matched, but we didn’t want to think too much about it. I mean, we’ll meet our soulmates when we’re done with everything. We didn’t want to do anything before we meet them.”

“But what if it’s you, Guk?” Namjoon asks, a whisper of a question he tries really hard not to dwell on. Jeongguk smiles.

“Then I’d be happy! I don’t like thinking about it too much, but I think,” he bites his lip. “I think I’d be happy for Taehyung too even if it isn’t me.”

“I don’t think you would,” his brother tells him honestly, because he knows for sure that he wouldn’t like that outcome. He knows, because he remembers the look his younger brother gave him a long time ago. He remembers a young Jeongguk admitting that it felt weird for him knowing Taehyung will possibly have someone else.

“I’d be bothered by it, but I want to think I’ll be okay.” He lightly touches the pouch with the candy, poking at its side. “I don’t want to get in the way if Taehyung ends up happy with his soulmate.”

“Gods, you’re too kind,” his brother sighs. “You’re really going to sacrifice yourself like that?”

“I said if , didn’t I?” Jeongguk glares. “We wanted to at least meet our soulmates first, but if it’s okay, maybe we don’t have to stay with them. Well, maybe we can stay with each other? If it’s okay.”

There’s no immediate response to that until, “You guys really thought it through.”

He rolls his eyes. “We wanted to be prepared before we left.”

“And you guys are,” Namjoon admits. “You really discussed this and everything. That’s some commitment.”

Jeongguk doesn’t stop poking the pouch of candy, can feel the round glass sweets inside moving about as he pressed around the small bag.

His brother asks. “Honestly, I’m surprised you’re finally telling me these things.”

He shrugs. “I just think it’s soon.”

“What is?”

“The moment we find out.”

+

Jimin left a day before they did, telling them that he has to head east. Taehyung pulled him in for a hug outside the inn, and when Jimin glanced towards Jeongguk the latter found himself engulfed in an embrace as well.

Jimin held him tight, and the cold air he had around him surrounded Jeongguk too.

“Good luck to both of you,” he whispered, and Jeongguk had a feeling he knew what he meant.

It’s only a few hours later while they’re engrossed in lunch does Taehyung remember something, jolting as Jeongguk holds onto his cup placed precariously at the edge.

“I forgot to ask Jimin!” He’s frantic, looking extremely disappointed.

“Ask him what?”

“He knows the god of death right? I wanted to ask him something for Yoongi!”

Oh, right. That could’ve been helpful.

He recalls the man who hasn’t done his objective in the years he’s stayed at their hometown. He remembers Yoongi rarely leaving the tavern since he owned it.

Open the door of death , his wrist said.

Taehyung wails in disappointment for having missed his chance.

Jeongguk? He just laughs at his misery.

+

He wasn’t wrong when he told his brother it felt like the time was nearing. 

The objectives they’ve accomplished have become far too many, and while they have always been close by heart, it was another thing to see how their objectives were becoming more and more tailored for each other.

They hoped. They really did.

+

They find Hoseok in Alevlo, the city of elevated waterways.

It was a loud and happy reunion, especially for Taehyung. Upon seeing him exit the bakery with a bag full of the city’s famous chestnut bread, Taehyung ran immediately, letting go of Jeongguk’s hand to take off in a sprint. It took a second for Jeongguk to realize why, and when he did, he immediately yelled Hoseok’s name.

Hoseok was thankful that even when Taehyung tackled him to the ground, the chestnut bread remained unharmed.

He was laughing even when Taehyung refused to let go, too engrossed in the fact that his brother is here in his arms after not having seen him for more than a year. Jeongguk joined the hug even if people were starting to stare at the commotion the three of them were making. It eventually led to the baker coming out to check, and she laughed while playfully hitting Hoseok at the back when she found out who they were.

“That was Chungha,” Hoseok tells them, pointing towards the door where the baker exited. She let them use one of the spare rooms by the kitchen to talk. “She’s a friend of mine. I visit her whenever I come here.”

Taehyung’s still sniffling and wiping away his tears when he starts. “Is she your — “

“Ah, yeah,” Hoseok laughs at the question. When he shows them his wrists sure enough there’s nothing marking them. Unlike the two of them with a phrase still engraved on the skin, Hoseok’s is clear with no trace of the familiar black marks.

“We’re close, but we weren’t really interested in pursuing a relationship.” He pulls back his hands to place them on his lap, smiling brightly to Taehyung. “I’m sure you know soulmates don’t necessarily mean you end up with them.”

Taehyung chuckles. “You told me that so many times I lost count.” From beside him, Jeongguk puts a hand on Taehyung thigh. Hoseok doesn’t comment on it.

Instead, he asks them on where they’ve been, how they are. Taehyung is excited to recount most of what they’ve experienced after they left their hometown, and Hoseok is more than willing to listen as his younger brother talks about their journey.

Midway through the conversation, Chungha comes in with a few of the chestnut bread Hoseok bought earlier. When the latter asks why the two of them don’t have to pay like he did, she points out that he should at least support her business as her soulmate.

“You don’t even need to charge me. You earn so much already!”

Taehyung pokes fun at his brother while Jeongguk breaks one to share with him. While surrounded by the boisterous laughter of his companions, Jeongguk sees why Hoseok’s soulmate would be earning so much from the bakery. The bread is to die for.

Hoseok invites them to stay at the bakery for a while. Since he’s Chungha’s soulmate, he does have a room of his own on the second floor, which is always available when he visits. There’s also a spare room, which Chungha didn’t mind them using. 

When he asks them if they needed to hurry off somewhere to do their next objective, they tell him it’s fine. Taehyung holds Jeongguk’s hand while he tells his brother they can stay a few days before leaving.

Maybe it’s because they know the next destination, and maybe it’s because they want to savor the time it takes to get there.

+

“Do you really think this is the last?”

The wailing is stronger than the last time he was here. The waves hit the shore harder than his last visit, but Jeongguk is still amused that the chickens are still as many as ever.

“I feel like it is,” Taehyung answers from beside him. He’s holding a bottle of mad honey that Jeongguk made himself. “Yours is here too right?”

He nods. Hopefully it won’t take long and they can leave before it gets dark. The afternoon light isn’t too harsh on them, and it’ll be easy to fulfill their objective with what they’ve prepared.

Before Taehyung could set out to complete his, Jeongguk takes his hand. He debates on whether he should say something, but he stops himself. Their smiles are more than enough.

Taehyung moves to the direction of the forest. He doesn’t go back to where they came from, instead taking off towards the opposite path. Hopefully the nymphs will be willing to assist him quickly.

Jeongguk sets out in his own path towards the shore. The waves make the wailing a bit stronger, but he puts up with it. He leans down, carefully touching the blue sand, and he sighs.

“Waffles?” He whispers, and his familiar takes form right beside him.

The bunny twitches its nose, and Jeongguk nods. “Yeah, let’s get this over with.”

Make glass out of blue fragments , his wrist said.

He was familiar with the idea of using sand to make glass, but he wasn’t sure if something as common as beach sand would work for something like that. It was when Taehyung’s objective of offering mad honey showed up in his wrist that they considered coming back here. It’s where the nymphs of Taehyung’s objective are, and it’s the only place where blue sand existed. For good measure, he uses Jin’s flame to burn it, elevating the sand with his magic and surrounding it completely with the dragon’s flame.

He doesn’t know how long he stands there with the levitating flame, making sure it would be encased in a protective sphere of his magic, preventing it from going out so easily. Jeongguk is also making sure he doesn’t go beyond using the levitation and encasing spell, letting Jin’s fire do most of the process for making the glass. He’s careful to make sure the magic he’s using doesn’t leak out into the area. He can’t afford having some magical creature showing up to fight him. He’s never tried making glass this way, but the heat of the onyx dragon’s flame tells him this can possibly work.

Only when he sees something glow on his wrist does he control the direction of the flames to let him peer into the center. He inhales sharply, a circular glowing object gleaming right in the middle. The glow on his wrist dissolves into a familiar black band of ink, but he tries to finish the glass first and cools it before he checks what had happened.

When he’s finished, the weirdly shaped glass cooling under the watchful eye of his familiar, he lifts his wrist to check for any changes. He frowns, because there’s still something there.

Look behind you , it said.

Before he could think anything of it, he hears a voice from behind him.

“Jeongguk!” 

He doesn’t even hesitate, immediately turning with a wide toothy grin. He wants to laugh, so he does.

Taehyung does one better and runs up to embrace him.

They laugh together.

Basking in each other’s warmth, their wrists glow one more time before the black ink finally dissipates. It seems anticlimactic, really, how everything was a wild ride that eventually ended at this beach. The moment was so simple, so easy, and Jeongguk is still laughing, pulling Taehyung closer and closer. He doesn’t care about the lack of fireworks or applause or chorus of whatever singing to them. He’s just happy and so, so, so relieved. He nuzzles against Taehyung’s neck and presses his lips to the side, simply positioning himself there in comfort. He thanks the voice ringing in his ear.

Your goal has been achieved, it said. Soulmate found.

 

+

 

“Maybe we shouldn’t have doubted that we were soulmates.”

“I would still have chosen you even if you weren’t.” There’s a kiss, slow and sweet and full of promise. “Everything was worth it.”