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180908

a delicate chime pervades the air as jimin finishes wiping his master’s mouth free of blood. beneath the damp cloth, jungkook frowns in confusion.

“my delivery already came this week, didn’t it?” he muses.

“yes, my prince. it came this morning,” jimin answers, just as confused.

jungkook never gets visitors. besides the driverless truck of corpses that rolls in every friday and the arrival of yoongi, hoseok, and namjoon, jimin has never seen another creature enter the mansion. he’s never been foolish enough to ask why.

but now the visitor bell chimes again, requesting permission for a vehicle to pass through the force field.

jimin waits with bated breath for a decision to be made, but by the way jungkook’s eyes sparkle with barely contained excitement—hope—that against all odds it could be his family, jimin knows the stranger will be let in.

it’s been an entire week since the prince’s birthday, and it seems that jungkook’s already chosen to forget how he was abandoned yet again. no one dares remind him of the truth, happy to let him go on believing whatever lie he’s made up this time to comfort himself.

in the meantime, they’re too occupied with obeying orders and worrying over namjoon, who’s only retreated further and further into himself as time passed. jimin’s tried his best to silently support him, to let him come to him when he’s ready, but namjoon has been steadfast about keeping them all in the dark about what rules his nightmares.

jungkook quickly snaps jimin out of his worries with strong fingers pressed tight into his arm, pulling him forcibly to the front door with him in his excitement to meet the stranger.

“entrance positions!” he orders the room, his table of slaves rising from their lunchtime seats to immediately follow as efficient as machines. save for jimin, who apparently has to be dragged by force.

then jungkook snaps: “not you, tae. stay and clean.”

jimin glances back apologetically at taehyung, left to deal with the mess of the prince’s lunch alone, but he just sends him a helpless shrug. it’s not as if either of them can help the positions they’re forced into.

as if to prove the point, when they arrive at the front door jungkook forgets his own strength and winds up shoving jimin into an end table, causing him to cry out in pain when the corner digs into his back. that’ll be a bruise dark enough to match his arm.

but jungkook giggles in amusement and pulls jimin tighter against him. “stop being so clumsy, jiminie. we have a visitor.”

“i’m sorry, hyung,” he mumbles, swallowing down a pained groan.

jungkook giggles again, eyes shining with mischief as he crowds him back into the table. “aww, is jiminie gonna cry?”

“n-no,” jimin retorts against his better judgement.

the pain is bad enough, but he still can’t handle being humiliated in front of his friends—family—who watch worriedly from their places on the floor.

“are you sure?” jungkook prods invasively at jimin’s eyelids as if hoping tears will squeeze out. “i find it hard to believe our crybaby’s all out of tears.”

“you should open the door, jungkook-hyung,” jimin tries, flinching beneath his touch but not daring to fight it.

jungkook sighs, pouting. “it’ll just be another farm agent reminding me what age laws are, as if i don’t know.” he pinches the fat of jimin’s cheeks between his thumb and forefinger. “not that you know. you only care about stuffing your fat face for my attention, huh?”

maybe jimin should just cry and be done with it. it’s what jungkook seems to want anyway; it’s all he ever seems to want from him. the memory of his threat to force taehyung to beat tears out of him surfaces suddenly, and it brings chills down his spine. maybe if jimin can summon them now, then he could keep his friend safe from having to do what he dreads most.

in the end, it’s always easier to obey.

the salty liquid floods his eyes as naturally as breathing, reddening his round cheeks and blurring his view of jungkook’s awed grin. how the sight of human tears still fascinates him after all this time, jimin will never know.

“so sensitive,” he teases, his playful pinch turning painful, “you’re lucky that you have me to protect you.”

jimin can only manage to nod in agreement through his summoned sobs. he doesn’t dare meet the eyes of his fellow slaves over jungkook’s shoulder. the sight would be too humiliating, even if it’s nothing they haven’t seen before.

finally, the prince sighs contentedly and releases jimin’s cheeks, sore from the rough treatment. “you can kneel now, jiminie.”

without a word, he sinks to his position on the floor next to seokjin, who gives his hand a supportive squeeze when jungkook’s back is turned.

on his other side, yoongi stares straight ahead with the same blank expression that he’s worn all week since giving up hope on hoseok. jimin doesn’t expect comfort from him.

namjoon kneels at the end of their line, farthest from the door, his expression similarly unreadable. but when he feels jimin’s eyes on him, he glances back to offer a weak smile of support. jimin smiles tightly back, more worried than comforted. but it’s namjoon’s choice if he wants to keep pain to himself.

with a deep sigh that betrays his hidden nerves, jungkook makes his way to the door and opens it.

there’s a man—an alien—waiting on the other side.

standing at least a foot taller than the prince himself, the stranger looms as a dark shadow against bright sunlight behind him, his only visible feature being bared teeth glinting in the light. they exchange a few clipped words in their own language, jimin’s attention transfixed by the odd shape of the creature. one he could swear he’s seen before.

the rule about eye contact completely flies over his head as jimin continues to stare, racking his brain to think of where he’s seen this figure before. but reality hits him head-on again when the creature suddenly meets his eyes, black reptilian pupils boring into him. jimin’s mouth runs dry, but he can’t look away. the man’s too familiar. he can almost put his finger on it, but then—

“hello, park,” the alien man greets in korean.

jungkook sputters in offense at the interruption, eyes shining with a mix of hurt and anger. jimin hadn’t noticed until now, but something about this man has jungkook thrown off too.

the alien holds up a placating hand and reels his attention back, away from jimin.

“kĭn-uljiea, it would be most productive to speak in their native language if we’re to properly negotiate,” he speaks plainly, emotionless.

jungkook snaps something foreign but clearly upset.

“then i’ll repeat myself,” the man replies in curt korean, “i don’t negotiate with soft, irrational children incapable of impartial decision-making. i may not be ĭkkĭ, but i have the right to withdraw.”

jungkook, face pale at the threat, swings the door the rest of the way open and roughly gestures into the grand hall. jimin can tell it’s meant to be a sign of welcome, but the prince’s rigid movement betrays his frustration.

“right. you’re not ĭkkĭ, so don’t act like it,” he growls, “we can talk, but you will not touch what’s not yours.”

“of course,” the man smiles (is that a smile?) and glides past jungkook as easily as if he were entering his own home.

he meets jimin’s eyes again, causing him to shiver but not look away. he can almost recognize him, he thinks. almost…

“park,” the man’s smile softens, “excellent decorum.”

and it hits him.

glass shatters behind them, causing the entire room’s eyes to swivel to where taehyung stands shell-shocked by the stairs, flower vase forgotten in pieces by his feet. he stares openly at their unwanted guest who stares right back, unfazed.

“mr. kang,” taehyung stutters, an emotion like betrayal hiding beneath his shock.

it’s him.

090310

his first reading quiz of middle school is next period, but taehyung can’t concentrate on formulas because of quiet sobs echoing from the next stall over.

great .

first, the soccer boys kick him out of the library because they don’t want it “diseased” with his lowborn touch, then the study rooms are full of gossiping cliques, and now not even the bathrooms are safe.

taehyung is torn between wanting to help the crying stranger and wanting to stay safely unnoticed, knowing well that simply existing in public is enough to provoke harassment and yet… the crying boy doesn’t sound menacing. maybe he just needs someone to listen to, then he’ll leave taehyung alone. in such a vulnerable position, he wouldn’t dare pose a threat, right?

finally, taehyung’s heart wins out and he decides to do something. he knocks twice on the thin partition separating their stalls, startling the sobs into silence.

“hey, you okay in there?” he asks hesitantly.

after some shaky inhales of air from the other side, no doubt the other boy trying to calm down enough to answer, taehyung hears a voice.

“fine. sorry, i’ll leave soon.” the voice is meek, apologetic.

he doesn’t sound like the kind of boy who’d laugh at someone thrown against a wall. or pushed down stairs. or stepped on for wearing shabby hand-me-downs and slipping in the low drawl that gives away his dialect.

God knows the toilet is a poor place to find friends, but after days of constant rejections paired by cruel words and at least one pair of broken glasses, taehyung’s desperate.

he’s heard whispers about the pig boy who cries alone in the bathroom—maybe he’s lonely too. maybe he’s also hurting. there’s only one way to find out.

when the boy finally emerges from his hiding place at the call of the second bell for class, taehyung is still there. he bows, introduces himself, and offers a box of tissues. warily, the boy accepts them with a mumbled “thanks.”

taehyung doesn’t know why they call him the pig boy. he’s not gross at all, just has a bit of extra fluff to his cheeks. there’s nothing wrong with that, and he seems nice enough. hopefully nice enough to consider someone like taehyung a friend, even if he clearly doesn’t belong here as so many other students have made clear.

“you don’t want to be my friend,” the boy warns quietly.

“why not?” taehyung asks. he tries to ignore the crushed feeling in his chest at facing yet another person who doesn’t want him.

“i’ll just bring trouble for you,” he mumbles, “no one’ll want to talk to someone who keeps me as a friend. i’m doing you a favor.”

“i don’t care. they’re all assholes,” taehyung blurts out.

the boy laughs out loud in surprise at the comment, and the lovely sound forces a proud smile out of taehyung too. he hasn’t had the chance to make someone laugh like this in awhile.

“park jimin,” the boy, jimin, bows in introduction.

taehyung beams and invites him to puzzle club after school, a club of his own making that now officially has two members.

180908

jungkook hurls insults and threats over taehyung’s crouched body as he scrambles to pick up the glass shards from the floor, mumbling endless apologies that do nothing to calm the prince’s anger. his four fellow slaves and mr. kang watch the scene silently, either powerless or uninterested in stopping it until jungkook’s anger escalates unexpectedly.

it happens when he demands that taehyung look at him.

taehyung obeys, of course. but something inside the prince seems to break at the contact.

jungkook lands a harsh kick to his gut, forcing him on the bed of glass, cutting deep into skin. taehyung gasps in shocked pain, but he doesn’t scream. he’s too well-conditioned for that. still, he can’t help but hold his arms over his face out of instinct, fully expecting more hits to come, but a scaled, spindly hand firmly grips jungkook’s fist before it can meet its target.

“kĭn-uljiea, i need him physically well.” it’s kang.

just hearing his voice again brings taehyung back to the world before this, and it makes his heart sick with want.

“who’s soft now?” jungkook bites back, pulling his hand away from kang’s in disgust.

“be reasonable,” the man chides in his cool, familiar tone. “the subjects of interest must be healed and prepped for proper assessment; only then can we begin negotiating.”

panting, jungkook takes a step back and surveys the room: six slaves staring resolutely at the floor waiting for an order. taehyung included. he releases a deep, shaken breath.

“namjoon, prepare jimin and tae for presentation,” jungkook orders, a slight tremor behind the usual firmness of his voice. “yoongi and jin will make our guest comfortable in the sitting room.”

a moment of surprise passes where nothing happens, but one silencing glare from jungkook and everyone rushes to their expected places. it seems that one mysterious stranger in the house doesn’t change everything.

taehyung startles out of his haze when he feels namjoon place a gentle hand on his arm, urging him to stand. he allows himself to be guided to the medical bay without complaint, jimin’s quiet presence trailing behind comforting him.

things are still tense with namjoon, but it’s not their fault really.

his newest hyung’s already apologized for his side of their fight a week ago, and taehyung’s already forgiven him. in turn, he apologized for attacking joon and accusing him of awful, untrue things—alien-fucking among them—and namjoon forgave him with an embarrassed blush.

of course, seokjin had facilitated the whole thing after-hours with the protective, threatening gaze of a hyung who hates seeing his brothers fight, but they still meant it. at least taehyung did, and namjoon seemed sincere enough.

yoongi, however, had also been invited to apologize that night, and he did not.

taehyung still remembers how crushed namjoon had looked with his arm held out, asking for forgiveness, while yoongi only gave him cold contempt. taehyung remembers his words: “we may be slaves together, but we’re not friends. you can keep your empty apologies and stay out of my way.”

no one had anything to say to that then. and a week of silence and avoidance later, they still have nothing to say. as a household, they’d made a pact to protect each other as family, a promise that should overrule any petty conflict they could have, but this fight feels serious.

it’s obvious that yoongi hurts deeply knowing hoseok may be dead—“may be” being the phrase that tears him apart. they may never know hoseok’s true fate, may never be able to stop wondering and worrying, but while everyone else finds fault in the prince that stands in the epicenter of all their suffering, yoongi’s blame has latched cruelly onto namjoon. he hasn’t said it, but he doesn’t need to.

yoongi was never fond of namjoon, not from the moment when jungkook first welcomed him into hoseok’s former bed, but certainly not now after he’s accepted his favoritism. yoongi doesn’t forgive easy, and namjoon’s too guilt-ridden to try asking for it again.

in the meantime, jungkook still coddles him close like a prized possession, refusing to touch him with anything but tenderness since his birthday. and namjoon accepts the special treatment with his head down, like the rest of them do.

“can i check your back, tae?” namjoon’s shy question catches him off-guard, and taehyung nods, pulling his shirt up to reveal his cuts.

“thanks,” namjoon mumbles, getting to work on the medical supplies under jimin’s guidance.

seokjin always stresses the importance of each of them knowing at least a little first-aid, given the precarious lives they lead and the fact that one day, they may not have their oldest hyung to rely on anymore. for now, namjoon is trusted with small, daily injuries to train his skills.

“good, you’re doing great,” jimin encourages as he applies the cold sealant across taehyung’s back, slow and meticulous over each and every cut, “but you can speed up a bit; you’re not gonna hurt him.”

“are you sure?” namjoon checks nervously.

“positive.”

taehyung can’t see behind him, but he can picture jimin beaming with his signature eye-smile, giving namjoon the confidence he needs to finish the job. somehow, imagining it brings him back to the matter at hand; the stranger in the house. who’s not a stranger at all but the man who taught them for years, revolutionized the classroom from a place of misery to one of learning and safety.

this is the same man who promised to save them when the world went to hell, but it now seems that was a lie too. and now, he’s negotiating with their captor in the next room.

when taehyung’s back is finished and namjoon shifts his focus to the forming bruise at the base of jimin’s spine, he can’t hold it in any longer.

“chim, that was kang.”

jimin sighs. “i know.”

“what do you think he wants?” taehyung wonders.

“i mean, i don’t...” jimin stutters, trailing off uncertainly.

“i know,” namjoon says quietly.

taehyung raises a surprised eyebrow. “you know? how?”

“i lived in one of their farms. they have an assessment process there too,” namjoon recalls, voice pained. “they used the same coded language: stripped and sanitized meant slaughter, healed and prepped meant slavery. he’s here to buy one or both of you as slaves in return for something jungkook wants.”

jimin and taehyung’s panicked responses overlap one another, jimin protesting jungkook’s age barrier and taehyung demanding to know if it’s hoseok they’ll be traded for. namjoon tries to interject with flustered solutions, but clearly there’s no easy answer.

“that’s illegal though—that’s illegal, right?” jimin manages to speak above them.

“if jungkook was telling the truth about that law, then yes,” namjoon admits.

“what do we do then? we can’t just let that guy take us, even if he...” jimin breaks off, seeming to rearrange his thoughts. “can’t we… report this somehow?”

“yeah, good luck explaining that one to yoongi,” taehyung scoffs.

“well, he’s been mean lately,” jimin snaps back, only half-joking.

yoongi’s been more than ‘mean lately:’ he’s a twisted shell of his former self. at this point, the house is torn between staying loyal to the hyung they once loved and staying out of his way altogether. taehyung and jimin joke, but they both privately fear the worst when it comes to him.

namjoon sighs. “i don’t think we should do anything risky. all we know for sure is that jungkook might be breaking a trade rule; we don’t know the law, the consequences, or how we’d be affected in the fallout. the best we can do for now is play along.”

“i don’t want to be separated,” jimin argues with eyes defiant, and it doesn’t matter whether he’s talking to taehyung, namjoon, or the house as a whole. they’re a family, and they stick together.

taehyung reaches to hold his hand tightly. “they’ll have to pry me away.”

namjoon chews his lip like he does when he’s in deep thought. “i’ll try to figure something out if i can, but in the meantime we need to have you both prepped.”

“what does that mean?” taehyung asks. he’s almost afraid of the answer.

and judging by the apologetic look that crosses namjoon’s face in response, he has a reason to be.

090310

“we’re officially a club now!” taehyung throws open the door and loudly announces to the mostly empty classroom.

mostly, aside from the middle-aged man hunched over his desk with a mountain of papers to grade but a warm, welcoming smile on his face. the school’s new biology teacher, intimidatingly intelligent mr. kang.

jimin can’t believe it’s him who’s sponsoring a club for puzzles and board games; he’d always imagined him to be involved in something more prestigious, an honors club maybe. but instead he’s here, reaching for a plain wooden box as taehyung excitedly ushers jimin into a chair next to his. the man chuckles in amusement at his enthusiasm, a trait he must have grown used to by now. jimin’s still adjusting.

“you sure are lucky to be here, jiminie. this is a very exclusive club.” taehyung whispers conspiratorially.

“jiminnie?” he breathes.

taehyung blushes. “um, yeah. jiminie. if that’s alright with you. you can give me a nickname too if you want.”

jimin beams. “tae tae.”

then they’re cackling like a pair of hyenas over different cutesy ways to say their names until mr. kang clears his throat.

“sorry, sir!” taehyung bows comically fast while still sitting, causing jimin to laugh harder.

“alright, alright, that’s enough.” kang stifles a smile of his own and presents them with the box. “taehyung, would you like to do the honors of initiating our newest member?”

“it would be my honor .” taehyung bows overdramatically once more before bounding out of his seat to the front of the classroom.

“welcome, puzzle initiate,” he starts. jimin hides a snort. “once, this club was open to honor students only, but thanks to our extremely rigorous review process, only i was able to pass.”

“that, and the other honor students went to join academic clubs instead,” kang mutters.

“their minds and stomachs were weak,” taehyung nods sagely, “but i sense that you, jimin, are ready. you too will have the opportunity to demonstrate your skills for us. are you prepared?”

jimin salutes with a broad smile on his face. he normally doesn’t act so bold or silly in front of others, but taehyung’s over-the-top demeanor brings out the excited child in him. someone wants to include him, wants him to belong, and for once, he’s willing to accept that.

“so it shall be,” taehyung gravely intones.

he dramatically approaches the wooden box and opens it to reveal the strangest contraption that jimin’s ever seen. this is a puzzle? he looks up to taehyung and mr. kang for guidance, but their faces are carefully guarded.

“these tangled strings hold in their knots several beads that when joined, click together to form a circle. all you have to do is form that circle. but careful—,” taehyung warns, “any bead you move will have consequences for the others, as they are all connected in a chain reaction of strings. to solve this puzzle, you’ll need to cause a reaction that works for your benefit.”

jimin bites his lip hesitantly. the frame of beads and strings below him looks far too convoluted to sort out by himself, but will taehyung not like him anymore if he’s too stupid to solve it? no wonder this was originally meant for honor students , he thinks worriedly.

at first, taehyung and mr. kang patiently wait for him to make a move, but jimin must spend so much time staring the puzzle down for a right way to untangle it that taehyung sits next to him and moves a bead on his own. the connected strings quiver, and another bead moves farther away while two more move closer.

“your turn,” taehyung encourages.

“but how will i know…” jimin’s voice trails off hesitantly, and he wants to hit himself. if taehyung didn’t already think he was stupid, he sure does now.

but taehyung smiles reassuringly. “there’s no wrong move. the more attempts you make, the more you learn about how the entire frame moves; that’s the point of the game, to learn and adapt.”

“okay,” jimin swallows and tries again.

they play the game like that, trading turns one right after another with mr. kang occasionally offering hints along the way. completely absorbed in the task, jimin doesn’t notice when minutes turn to hours, and then his phone is buzzing with frantic calls from his mom wondering where he is. but they’re only a few moves away from clicking; he can feel it.

“you should probably answer her,” taehyung suggests.

“what—why? we’re so close,” jimin argues, gaze locked into their beaded ring missing only two.

“i can finish. my parents make me study at school until 10, but if you need to go home sooner, i understand,” taehyung smiles tiredly.

“just a few more moves; i know we can make it,” jimin pleads.

in the corner of the room, kang continues to write furious notes on his clipboard, likely the class’s latest essay on environmental sustainability. or at least, jimin’s pretty sure that’s what he’s been doing this whole time. he sure is dedicated.

“okay,” taehyung concedes, “but then you have to call your mom. i don’t want her to get a bad first impression of me.”

“bad impression?” jimin laughs in surprise. “we just met today and you already want to meet my parents?”

taehyung shrugs. “never hurts to plan ahead. maybe i’m being cocky, but i see this friendship lasting a long time, like soulmates.”

it’s silly of jimin to believe him, but his heart still flutters with hope. “really?”

taehyung shrugs again, suddenly bashful. “just a guess.”

“seems plausible to me.” jimin grins.

<>

through three ruthless years of middle school, jimin and taehyung stick together arm-in-arm through tests, bullies, puzzles, and games.

jimin’s mom and kid sister adore taehyung, happy to invite the boy over for countless dinners and sleepovers which taehyung always accepts. it’s a nice break from his own parents who are always too busy for those things, too stressed over rent and test scores to laugh with.

they master higher and higher levels of puzzles and mind games, all of which are refreshingly unfamiliar. honestly, jimin doesn’t know how mr. kang comes up with them all. they grow closer together as well, to the point where they exchange gifts at christmas and kang allows them to eat lunch in his classroom while he grades papers.

when their first year of high school starts, the bullying finally eases up, bearable now that jimin and taehyung have each other to lean on.

really, the most that changes in that time is the world.

after all that goes on in the news with threats of nuclear strikes, it’s no surprise, but the shift is still drastic. barbed wire fences surround their high school now, its entrance made a security checkpoint for cameras, metal detectors, random searches.

then, they make it illegal to bring personal items to school, including food and water.

then, they instate mandatory medical exams when news of a virus run rampant.

then, their courses change from math and science to emergency drills and strict decorum.

parent petitions to the administration and government go nowhere, and soon enough the school turns full glorified prison, complete with armed guards at the doors.

then, a new student named jeon jungkook enters their lives.

180908

seokjin remembers how ĭkkĭ—no, not ĭkkĭ anymore—likes his couch pillows arranged, and as if six years of separation is nothing, his body takes over, fixing them accordingly before the man sits.

“ah, you remember,” the voice praises from behind.

seokjin’s so startled that he can’t help but flinch backwards, turning to kneel to the floor in apology, yet another action performed subconsciously. he has to feebly remind himself over and over that he’s not a clueless child anymore, and lord bĭgendalam doesn’t live here; he doesn’t own him.

but that doesn’t calm his nerves any less when the lord guides his chin up to inspect his face. seokjin wisely keeps his expression calm and unbothered.

“you haven’t changed a bit.” he smiles. “i’m glad that joo’s managed to keep you in perfect condition all this time, disfigurement aside. you’re a good one.”

scaled fingers brush against his scar tissue as seokjin fumbles for a response. he can’t recall if one is expected or not; each ĭkkĭ had a different preference on how often he should speak. but jungkook saves him from making the small decision.

“what did i say about touching.” the acidic comment is less a question than a threat.

but bĭgendalam laughs good-naturedly, turning away from seokjin to face his former son. “i see you haven’t changed a bit either, joo. you do know the invasion is over, right?”

jungkook’s false human cheeks flush in mild embarrassment, but he stands firm. “how i dress while independant is none of your concern. and don’t call me joo; i go by jungkook in this house.”

“fair enough,” bĭgendalam chuckles, sinking into the center of the couch while jungkook takes the chair across from him.

seokjin, meanwhile, gratefully accepts his cue to recede against the wall, motioning for yoongi to follow. with tight, worried eyes, yoongi does. he too has likely reached the conclusion that this meeting concerns hoseok, and he’s vested in seeing the outcome. seokjin can only hope that he doesn’t do anything else stupid to secure the life of his husband, if it’s even still on the table.

“i’m assuming this visit is about my request to the farm for your identity.” jungkook begins, straight-backed and terse. “and while i appreciate you coming here discreetly, i’m only interested in negotiation. if this your twisted way to lecture me, then—,”

bĭgendalam laughs again. “i assure you, jooqua—jungkook—that i’m not here to lecture. it’s as you said, i’m no longer your ĭkkĭ. i don’t have the right. but i’m not prepared to negotiate until i can assess your offered items for myself.”

jungkook narrows his eyes suspiciously. “if that’s true, then where’s your end of the deal?”

“safe at home but not stable enough to leave. you understand.” he shrugs.

yoongi bristles beside him, and seokjin grips his arm as both a warning and a comfort. they’d do well not to jump to conclusions.

but jungkook nods in acceptance of the excuse.

“in the meantime, may i assess this one? i understand he’s rare.” bĭgendalam gestures to yoongi, tense against the wall.

seokjin resists the urge to sheild him from those analytical eyes, praying that jungkook’s absurd possessiveness will kick in now to stop this, but instead, the prince’s chest swells with pride at the compliment.

“he is,” jungkook boasts. “min yoongi here is a former savage—came to me at a subsidy from the last pool of free koreans because his captors knew he’d be difficult to tame. but i knew i could handle it and i was right. within a few short months, he was under my heel.”

“what an accomplishment,” bĭgendalam praises.

jungkook appears to be trying very hard not to look too pleased, but a small grin sneaks its way onto his face as he shrugs. “it was nothing. obedience is what all humans secretly crave for, after all; savages simply require more of a push.”

“still, i’m proud. it couldn’t have been easy.”

jungkook is liquid in his hands as he hears the words he longs for—even if it’s not from a legitimate ĭkkĭ, and even if this is just be bĭgendalam’s way of playing him. those rationales seem to fly far above his head as jungkook orders yoongi to his side to provide the man a closer look.

seokjin rubs his back encouragingly, but it doesn’t ease the rigidity of yoongi’s shoulders in the least. stone-faced and silent, he follows jungkook’s command, lowering himself before the both of them.

“i’ve heard so much about you, min.” bĭgendalam grins, jagged teeth gleaming in the light. “is it true that you were once trained in primitive weaponry, a civilian defender of sorts?”

yoongi nods, eyes glued to the floor.

“what a fascinating concept,” he hums. “you know, your society is far from the first we’ve encountered that requires small, skilled groups to protect larger, weaker ones. i don’t often have the opportunity to study up-close, but—,”

“stop it, ĭkk—lord,” jungkook stutters unexpectedly. “none of that matters. i saved him from that horrible life, and now he’s happy here with me.”

for a moment, the lord looks as if he’s about to argue, eyes narrowed and lips drawn tight, but then his expression softens into surrender, and he nods his head agreeably.

“of course; i didn’t mean to overstep,” he acquiesces.

jungkook shifts uncomfortably, waving his hand to signal yoongi away from them.

yoongi gratefully takes the offered escape and practically embeds himself into the wall space next to seokjin as soon as he’s allowed, shaking with anger or fear or both.

seokjin absently gives his arm a supportive squeeze, but his attention remains on the strange interaction between former family members, now equal sides of a barter. the new dynamic seems almost unnatural to witness; the ĭkkĭ removed from power and the child suddenly in a place to make demands.

“oh, joo. before i forget, happy birthday,” bĭgendalam casually drops. “it was your twenty-first last week, right?”

jungkook nods slowly, wide eyes round as saucers. too shellshocked to reprimand the use of his old nickname.

“how was the celebration?” the lord continues as if he hadn’t just stepped on a conversational landmine. “i hope the uljieas are still keeping you in line without me.”

jungkook gives another nod, but no sound leaves his mouth. bĭgendalam suddenly cackles loudly, his head hitting the back of the couch with the force of it. seokjin would be frightened sitting on the other side of it, but he knows he’s safe as long as he’s tucked out of the way.

“don’t tell me that subject’s off-limits too; i’m only making conversation,” bĭgendalam chastises through laughter.

“my personal life is their concern, not yours,” jungkook quietly reprimands.

finally, the lord seems to understand that he’s tread on sensitive territory, and the black slits of his eyes slim into what could be concern. or, more likely, his analytical incline—that need to turn over every little stone until he understands everything, the very thing that damned him from seeing his son until now.

“you’ll be reaching the age of maturity soon,” he comments, slow and deliberate. “i do hope they’re preparing you for that.”

“they are,” jungkook snaps, posture defensive. “better than you ever did. why do you think they trust me to care for the house on my own? it’s because they know i’m strong enough.”

the lord’s eyes are cold and measuring, but before he can raise another dangerous question, namjoon enters the doorway with twin shadows looming behind him.

“they’re ready, my prince.”

120430

on monday, four new students stand in front of the classroom wearing crisp new uniforms and identical smiles: two girls and two boys who scan the room curiously. something about them feels off to jimin, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. he didn’t even know that the school would allow this many transfer students to start this late in the year, especially considering the state of things.

as they introduce each other one by one, jimin makes a face at taehyung sitting in the desk next to his, and he makes a face back.

their class is meant to have a decorum exam this morning; it seems rather stupid to make the transfers start their first day by sitting out of it, but before jimin can question it further, mr. kang clears his throat at the front of the room. all whispers immediately quiet.

kang may have a reputation as the school’s nicest teacher, but that doesn’t mean he’s above handing out detentions to talkers.

“please welcome them warmly,” he instructs in a firm tone. “don’t be afraid to show them around and explain how things work here so they can get acclimated.”

he turns to the transfers. “take a seat. our lesson will begin after their exam.”

the new students smoothly obey, sliding into empty seats in all corners of the classroom. surprisingly, one of the boys settles in right next to jimin, the one who looks too young to be in high school.

secretly, he’s disappointed. he and taehyung always take the back right corner where they’re least likely to be bothered, but it seems that principle doesn’t apply to new students unaware of the social hierarchy. oh, well. he’ll find out soon enough and then avoid them like the plague.

as mr. kang starts passing out the exam papers, jimin silently recites memorized facts in his head: a quiet mouth and a quiet body is the highest form of dignity, compliance to order is the mark of wisdom, wisdom is only possible through submission to

“hello. my name is jeon jungkook. what is your name?” the awkward, stilted accent of the new boy startles jimin out of his thoughts.

he turns to look at him, all round eyes of optimism and crooked teeth pulled in a big smile.

“um, i’m jimin. first-year,” jimin rushes, mind still attempting to focus on exam answers.

“thank you,” jungkook says.

why exactly is he being thanked? jimin doesn’t have time to wonder. the test is now in front of him, so he blocks out the strange encounter to focus.

1). If directly addressed by a superior, what is the proper sequence of action?

  • I. Silence, IV. Deferent posture, III. Standby posture, II. Repetition of title
  • III. Standby posture, I. Silence…

Jimin chews the end of his pencil as he reads through the answers, racking his brain for the part of the study guide that outlined “if, then” scenarios, but—

“you have a plump shape,” jungkook says. at normal volume. breaking the silence of the classroom.

snickering laughter breaks out immediately, making jimin want to crawl into a hole and die as everyone’s eyes turn back to him in familiar disgust.

“eyes on your own papers,” mr. kang admonishes, “remain silent until all exams are closed, thank you. that goes for you too, mr. jeon.”

the rest of the day, jimin wants to die.

it’s been awhile since taehyung has had to force him to eat, but he does that day like the good friend he is while the teasing keeps escalating as if it’s middle school again, all previous signs of slowing effectively dissolved.

the new jungkook kid makes friends easily after his morning comment, but jimin can still feel his eyes track his every move from class to class, lingering as if hungry to locate another weak point.

180908

the bath adjacent to the prince’s sleep chamber has not seen human eyes for as long as jimin’s been here, and now he finally knows why.

he and taehyung are herded into the otherworldly metallic room at namjoon’s urging, both surprised at the stinging pain that seizes upon their skin as soon as they step inside. it’s heat—painful, blistering heat—that closes in on them, drawing out beaded sweat and labored breath.

their complete lack of clothing doesn’t help either, uniforms discarded at the door.

“it’s standard assessment procedure,” namjoon had explained apologetically, “their species has incredibly heightened vision, able to detect microscopic blemishes on the skin surface. so, they have a heat and chemical solution to eliminate that.”

jimin self-consciously crosses his legs, but the stinging contact makes him recoil immediately. it doesn’t matter either way; taehyung ignores him, his glare trained instead into one of the several tiny nozzles that make up the pores of this heat cage. they glare back with cold, unfeeling metal, concealing more hidden horrors.

just one minute at a dry 150 degrees, and then we’re free, jimin reminds himself, almost.

after their one torturous minute ticks past, thick orange liquid rains from the ceiling and sprays from the walls, coating them both with a pungent sludge that quickly hardens into a shell. jimin’s heart pounds in his chest when he realizes that it’s constricting .

“remember what hyung said,” taehyung somehow speaks through it, “don’t panic.”

don’t panic. don’t panic.

another powerful current eventually dissolves their shells, bringing with it every inch of their body hair as it drains away through the floor.

jimin’s hands reflexively fly to the top of his head, grateful they were allowed to cover it with a cap before entering. he doesn’t have much reason to look good these days, but it still would’ve felt like a slap to the face to have his hair stolen, on top of everything else.

for one blessed second, jimin thinks it’s over before a final stinging mist coats his skin, left an exposed and vulnerable pink without his familiar body hair protecting it. it’s an entirely new level of nakedness that he wasn’t prepared for.

by the time the mist cools from stinging needles to cooling lotion, jimin feels like a properly plucked chicken.

he and tae stand silent in the dark after everything stops, too shaken to form words that would make real all that’s just happened.

they’re saved from having to speak of it when light floods the bathroom to illuminate namjoon’s masked, apologetic face waiting with a pen in hand. jimin’s heart sinks when he remembers what it’s for.

cuts. lines on their bodies where cuts for cooking would be made.

jimin’s been through a lot, but by the time namjoon finishes with him, now carving along the curves of taehyung’s muscles with his black pen as easily as if it were a chef’s knife, jimin heaves his lunch onto the floor, hyperventilating when his stomach has no more to give. he has just enough sense to pull his mask back up as tears stream from his eyes unprovoked.

“sorry,” jimin rasps through empty lungfuls of air, “sorry, sorry…”

“we’re almost done,” taehyung whispers in his ear.

jimin realizes that his arms are around him, holding him close and protective against his chest. they’re both still naked, but it’s not uncomfortable—nothing’s ever uncomfortable with tae. jimin sobs harder and clings back tight, glancing over his shoulder at where namjoon stands aside with wet eyes.

unhesitating, jimin beckons him closer, not wanting him to feel a shred of guilt over this. it must be painful for him too, having to inflict on them the very traumas he’d experienced himself at the farm. namjoon hesitates but accepts the hug gratefully.

for awhile, none of them move, unwilling to separate when they know what lies ahead, but responsibility looms.

“let’s finish this please,” taehyung begs in a whisper.

namjoon nods against his shoulder, wiping his eyes and getting to work.

120501

tuesday is worse.

one of the new girls approaches jimin’s desk before class starts, sinking a manicured nail deep into the roundness of his cheek before he can speak a word.

“you should be proud,” she smirks, “where i come from, a little extra fat on the muscle is desirable.”

“back off,” taehyung warns, eyes hard.

the girl actually laughs out loud, joined by her eavesdroppers settled in nearby desks.

she doesn’t bother acknowledging taehyung’s response, attention still trained relentlessly on jimin. “fine. i can wait a few more days. enjoy your friend’s protection while it lasts.”

long after the girl returns to her own desk, jimin’s left wondering if her threat is genuine.

180908

when they find themselves at the doorway of the sitting room, they hold hands behind namjoon’s back as he introduces them.

“they’re ready, my prince.”

taehyung’s ready for this. he squeezes jimin’s small fingers cobra-tight to make sure he’s ready too, only reassured when he squeezes back desperately. namjoon’s told them what the expectations are for an assessment like this: head down, body still, silent unless spoken to, quick to answer questions but above all, obedient. they can surely manage that by now.

every member of the household, save for jimin and taehyung, is briskly ushered out of the room to let the visitor assess them alone. privacy being yet another tradition of assessment.

despite knowing it’s coming, taehyung’s blood still runs cold when the door slams shut with finality, closing off the possibility of help.

the tall figure standing in front of them is undoubtedly of the alien race, shiny black armor and sickly scaled complexion to prove it—but his stance, his posture, the way he’s walking towards them right now… it’s all mr. kang, the human man they once trusted.

this alien imitation of their former teacher looks them up and down, calculating.

jimin’s hand cuts off the circulation in taehyung’s. he wishes he could say something to comfort him, but they must remain silent.

taehyung watches as the shape of what looks like kang removes a small device from his suit, emitting a foreign command in jungkook’s voice.

the ai responds something terse, and the room plunges into darkness.

a clawed hand blocks the scream that nearly escapes taehyung’s throat, and he suddenly finds himself wrapped in a warm blanket, no longer nude. clinging tighter to jimin, taehyung backs away fearfully, forgetting protocol and nearly tripping over the blanket as he does. scaled fingers break his fall, gripping his shoulders steady.

“shhh, tae. it’s me. i said i would save you, didn’t i?” kang’s voice envelopes them as securely as the darkness, but it’s too good to be true.

there’s no way he’s here for any reason other than to buy them as slaves, assess their meat or use them as pawns in a bargain for another cruel scheme. he lied about being human, so he could just as easily be lying about this. but of all the questions and doubts that run through taehyung’s head, the one that escapes his mouth is—“then where were you five years ago?”

a disappointed sigh.

“i apologize for that. once he claimed you in blood, there was nothing i could do,” kang answers in a low voice, one tier above whispering. “we don’t have time for questions. i disabled the security in this room so we can talk freely, but it won’t last long. i need your full cooperation.”

it’s a lot to take in. but taehyung can hear the urgency in the man’s voice, and some old, stupid loyalty of his wants to respect it.

“convince us,” jimin demands instead, tone firm. taehyung’s a little bit proud.

kang wastes no time.

“i used my assimilated role as a teacher to gather research of my own,” he starts, “it’s a lifelong project of mine, proving the potential of human intelligence. we know the seed is there, but eons of biased research on the part of my own species has been used to prove otherwise, to justify your subjugation.”

there’s a brief pause as if kang wait for either of them to ask a question, but when they remain silent, he continues.

“i tried lobbying for scientific sanction of the school, but my efforts failed. they had new farms they wanted filled, as always.” he releases a frustrated breath. “still, i haven’t given up. this is a crucial pocket of time when your generation, the first of earth to encounter ours, will be young enough to remember life before us. your brains are still natural, untouched by the effects of breeding and birth-training. i need your help to secure this population’s future.”

“uh,” jimin starts but doesn’t finish.

“i know it’s a lot,” mr. kang apologizes again.

taehyung wishes that he could see the man’s face right now, receive some sign whether he’s sincere or not. then again, those reptilian faces hardly ever show emotion like humans do. this could all be an elaborate trick. but he sounds so genuine, argues a traitorous thought. taehyung doesn’t have much time to wonder before kang’s rattling off more insane facts.

“the uljieas, your master’s family, is a very powerful clan. they hold sway in the colonial industry, hence why i chose to align myself with them for so long, but i no longer have that support,” mr. kang mutters. “the only way i can contest their claims over earth is by proving misuse of property, and, well…”

for the first time, he sounds hesitant. “i know my son. jooquavĭgsenam or jungkook as you call him. he’s never had the most… normal relationship with inferiors. but i can’t prove anything.”

kang sighs apologetically. “you two would know that better than i ever could, which is why i must ask you to expose his transgressions, if you suspect any.”

taehyung feels his hand gripped and opened by rough scales, feels something like a small marble placed in his palm.

“this is a disruptor of my own invention,” he explains. “it will activate or deactivate the security of whichever room it’s in for only a handful of minutes before it reverts to avoid alarm. i’m afraid that external barriers are beyond its ability, but if your master is doing something illegal, then he’ll want internal security off. all you have to do is turn it back on at the right time.”

“with all due respect,” taehyung finally finds his courage to say, “jungkook does all kinds of fucked up things in full view of the ai. how do we know what’s considered illegal?”

“you’ll know when it’s disabled,” mr. kang replies easily. “all you have to do is twist the device in half, and it will do the rest.”

“why?” jimin stutters.

“be specific,” kang orders, brisk but not unkind.

“why are you helping us?” jimin demands in disbelief. “you have nothing to gain from this.”

filtered daylight from the far window illuminates their mentor’s teeth once more, but this time taehyung’s sure it’s meant to be a smile, not a threat.

“on the contrary, i have everything to gain,” he answers. “if my hypothesis proves correct—that given enough time to evolve, your species could become just as advanced as ours, then i’ll have brought an end to an era of reckless expansion that could save my kind as well as yours.”

“how?” jimin asks.

“i’m sorry, but i don’t have more time to explain. you’ll have to trust me,” kang says.

he wordlessly snatches the device back from taehyung and hides it behind a portrait on the wall.

“the security should reactivate any second now,” he speaks urgently, “you need to remove your blankets and reassume proper slave conduct. whether our plan works or not, this is the last time we will speak.”

“but kang—,” taehyung starts, suddenly desperate to know everything: if he has hoseok, if this plan could really work, if they’ll even live to see it, but he’s quickly interrupted:

“blankets.”

jimin throws the man his blanket back, and taehyung hesitantly follows behind, feeling uncomfortable once more to be exposed. but mr. kang hardly seems to care as he hastily rearranges them into their original positions on the couch. in this kind of rush, he moves so humanlike, making taehyung wish more than anything that this isn’t a trick.

it doesn’t feel like a trick. for the first time, it feels like having hope.

soon enough, the lights click back on and jungkook herds their fellow slaves back into the room for negotiations, thankfully with clean uniforms ready for them to wear.

seokjin and namjoon secretly fuss over them as the man they’d just spoken to slips back into his role, refusing every offer proposed by jungkook.

taehyung feels a little sick to see yoongi actually look disappointed that neither of them will be traded away for hoseok, but he tries to be understanding. taehyung doesn’t know how he’d cope if he were in the same situation, forced away from jimin.

eventually, their visitor leaves, leaving the entire house shaken in one way or another.

they’re all grateful when jungkook calls for a quiet evening spent playing his more low-stakes games until dinner.

taehyung can’t wait to bring him down.

120502

on wednesday, jimin can’t reach the decorum classroom for lunch fast enough, and the boys from the soccer team corner him on top of the stairs.

“stuffing your face in private now, piggie?” the captain grins cruelly as his friends laugh behind him. he has his fist balled into jimin’s uniform sweater.

“that’s not my name,” jimin fights.

even though he’s been through this before and he knows that every one of them is stronger than he is, jimin struggles to get away. the boys only laugh more at his fruitless attempts escape, jimin wanting to scream in frustration. but, finally, the captain has enough and shoves him to the ground where he only has time to scramble to his knees before the first shoe makes contact with his face.

after that, it’s a familiar flurry of kicks that jimin brings his arms up to try shielding, but really the only thing he can do is endure the assault until they get bored. this is an old game, and he knows the rules.

with one last brutal kick to his gut, the ringleader spits down at him, “of course piggie’s your name. even the fucking transfers can see it.”

he shakes his head in disgust as they finally retreat, one of the other boys muttering something like “disgusting” under his breath, purposefully loud enough for jimin to hear.

even though he shouldn’t care what they think anymore, and he should know by now that they only act so cruel to cover up their own insecurities, unwanted tears still spring to jimin’s eyes once he’s alone. instead of getting up to continue to the classroom where taehyung no doubt waits for him, likely getting more worried by the second, jimin curls into a ball where he they left him and cries.

jimin thinks this is going to be a time like any other, that he’ll take a few minutes to let his pain and messy emotions pass and then run to taehyung’s arms for comfort. but today, it seems his tormentors haven’t had enough.

jimin flinches when he feels the firm contact of another palm on his back, bracing himself for another hit that never comes.

instead, the hand moves, travels from spine to neck to chin and then forces his head up.

and for a moment, jimin can set aside his hurt for anger. because the face staring back at him is none other than jeon fucking jungkook, the sole reason why the bullying started up again.

jimin takes relish in slapping his offending hand away, jungkook’s eyes widening in surprise as his supposed victim stands to tower above him.

“if you came back for more, you’re a little late.” the anger in jimin’s tone is unfortunately softened by a tear-clogged throat, but jungkook seems startled nonetheless.

the boy even cocks his head in apparent wonder, taking a cautious step forwards to peer closer into jimin’s water-rimmed eyes.

jimin takes an uncomfortable step back. “get the hell away from me. i mean it. mr. kang is right down the hall and—,”

“those are a lot of tears,” jungkook says plainly. “you must be guilty about something.”

“what?” jimin stutters. “guilty? no, you idiot; i’m,” he takes a deep breath. “it’s none of your business. i’m going to leave now and if you try to stop me, i’ll scream.”

“oh,” jungkook breathes in sudden realization. “the soccer boys hit you.”

jimin flushes in shame, silence admitting the truth.

but to his surprise, jungkook frowns sadly at this realization, seeming truly concerned.

“that’s not right,” he protests, “they don’t have that right. they will face consequences.”

for the first time, jimin considers the possibility that jungkook has good intentions.

he is new, after all. there’s no way he could’ve known how bad the bullying gets here, or that the “plumpness” of jimin’s features is to blame. jungkook may have pointed it out that day to be friendly, if a little misguided. now, he appears to be genuinely upset at jimin crying and bruising in the hallway because of a few awful kids.

maybe by avoiding jungkook since the incident, jimin’s become a bully himself. with a sigh, he forces himself to step back into jungkook’s space with an apologetic smile.

“you don’t have to worry about me,” he reassures, “this kind of thing happens here. the captain’s dad is on the school disciplinary committee, so he and his friends can pretty much do whatever they want to anyone. the rest of us just deal with it.”

jungkook shakes his head indignantly. “no. no, they will be punished. this school about to change for the better. i promise.”

jimin can’t help but laugh at his optimism. “right. well, i’ll happily sacrifice my firstborn child to whoever can make that happen.”

jungkook giggles in surprised delight, bringing a pleasant feeling to jimin’s chest. it’s been awhile since he’s made someone at school other than taehyung laugh.

“hey,” jimin laughs along nervously, “um, i usually eat lunch with my friend in mr. kang’s classroom. he’s the biology—er, decorum teacher if you remember. we have extra seats if…”

“yes, i would love to,” jungkook answers quickly, throwing jimin off-guard.

the kid’s enthusiasm is nothing short of endearing. he must be lonely, starting at a new high school so late in the first year. now jimin feels guilty for purposefully excluding him so far. it’s clear that he’s just a sweet, awkward but well-intentioned kid looking for friends. he may be the perfect addition to a club for puzzles and mind games.

180908

“what do you mean you’re not sure?” taehyung whispers.

jimin shushes him, casting a worried glance towards seokjin’s bed, but the older’s out cold.

their poor hyung’s exhausted: a full day of flashbacks and tremors had him unable to help anyone today, barely able to pull himself together enough to follow his own orders.

they’d always had the impression that jungkook’s family belonged in nightmares, but something about seeing seokjin so shaken up after just seeing one of them… well, it’s sobering. and to think that he and taehyung’s former science teacher is also jungkook’s former ĭkkĭ—whatever the hell that means—is beyond belief. and yet, it makes sense.

kang’s instatement at the school was just one piece of a complete staff turnover, and when everything changed was when jungkook first arrived as a student. really, they should have seen the connection sooner. but it’s still strange, and jimin’s still skeptical.

“i mean that maybe we shouldn’t trust the first alien who comes to save us out of the goodness of his heart,” jimin argues.

“but it’s not a stranger; it’s kang . he said he’d save us a long time ago, didn’t he?” taehyung whispers back, eyes shining with hope. “why shouldn’t we believe him? this could be our only chance.”

“i know, i know. but that doesn’t make it a good one,” jimin warns.

taehyung sighs, chewing his lip raw with worry. “then what should we do?”

“let me investigate first,” jimin proposes, “i already have suspicions on what jungkook could be doing to violate the law, but i don’t want to be wrong.”

“really? what is it?” taehyung asks in surprise.

“i… well, i’m honestly not sure. it’s just a hunch,” jimin admits. “but i’ll find out the truth tomorrow, and then we’ll decide what to do. deal?”

taehyung smiles, wide and trusting, and grips his hand with tight reassurance. “deal.”

120502

jungkook fits well into their little club.

of course, taehyung’s suspicious at first, seeing jimin walk in with familiar bruises and being the overprotective friend he is, but once he learns that jungkook was there to help him after the incident—not hurt—he’s more than welcoming.

after all, taehyung knows firsthand what it feels like to be excluded based on a harsh first impression, and he doesn’t want anyone else to feel that way. giving the new boy another chance is an easy choice to make.

and it seems that jungkook is already a natural at their games, completing the first few challenges within the same hour it takes them to eat. it took jimin nearly a whole day to solve the string board, but jungkook’s fingers fly across the knots as though he’d done it for years.

“wow,” jimin gasps in awe as jungkook steps back from another success. “have you played these before? mr. kang said they were specially made to test intellect; i didn’t know they were widely available.”

jungkook practically glows at the praise, opening his mouth to respond but—

“his results aren’t that impressive,” kang says, surprisingly cold.

he stands with his arms crossed at the front of the classroom, missing his clipboard which he normally keeps at close hand to record results. he hasn’t touched it since jungkook entered the room. taehyung hadn’t wanted to point it out, not wanting their new initiate to feel pressured to do well, but it’s clear that kang’s sudden neglect is more excluding than welcoming.

embarrassed anger floods jungkook’s cheeks with red, but jimin is quick to speak up for him.

“how can you say that?” jimin says in shock. “jungkook’s done amazing so far.”

“only because he must have seen the solutions,” kang answers smoothly. “he’s playing at an unfair advantage when he should be at the normal skill level.”

he targets jungkook with an unreadable look to which the boy responds with an innocent shrug.

“just because i’m smart doesn’t mean i’m cheating,” jungkook grins. “we should play a skill game next, like hunter-hider.”

“what’s that?” taehyung asks, curious and excited at the prospect of a new challenge.

“a bit biased, wouldn’t you say?” mr. kang criticizes.

“wait, how do you know all of his games already?” jimin asks jungkook.

“easy,” he boasts, “i was taught at my last school.”

both jimin and taehyung react loudly, asking with excited questions what their teacher was like back then, how many more games there are that they’ve never heard of, until finally the bell rings and other students start pouring into the room. disappointed, taehyung passes a note to jungkook once class starts, inviting him to study with him and jimin after school so they can talk more.

he may have imagined it, but jungkook looks so happy after reading it that he chokes up, sending him a smile so bright it’s blinding.

180909

soft fingers comb gently through taehyung’s hair, back and forth in a soothing motion that stirs him from sleep.

he sighs into it, grateful as always to have a hyung as caring as seokjin to wake him up like this. but his body still sags with exhaustion, too tired to greet the day yet, so he groans in protest and attempts to roll onto his other side to get more sleep.

but the fingers clamp into a harsh grip that he knows too well, forcing his head still.

taehyung tries not to panic. it’s hard when he knows who’s on top of him now, who could do anything he wants to him or jimin or seokjin with no consequence. while his heart pounds and his breathing quickens, he hears jungkook giggle above him.

“calm down, tae tae,” he hums directly into his ear, lips brushing the shell. “i’m only here to say hi to you and jiminie. think you can wake him up for me?”

taehyung nods, too scared to disobey.

he opens his eyes to a room still draped in darkness, the shadow of jungkook’s face looming over him. he has no idea why he’s here in the middle of the night; the kid sleeps like the dead as soon as he’s out, but now he’s here and taehyung is at a loss of what to do. except follow orders. that’s usually safe.

taehyung obediently rolls over to meet jimin’s sleeping face beside him, innocently unaware of the danger they’re in right now. taehyung’s hand hesitates on his shoulder, wishing he didn’t have to disturb him, but at jungkook’s warning bite at his earlobe, he knows what he has to do.

jimin groans unhappily awake at the third rough shake of his shoulder, mumbling five more minutes until taehyung hisses jungkook’s here.

jimin’s eyes fly open, staring wide and fearful at the prince grinning back at him with a few teeth still caught on taehyung’s ear.

“hi, jiminie,” he greets fondly. one of his hands reach to cradle the boy’s cheek in a show of possession, jimin letting him without a fight.

when his eyes flick back to taehyung’s, they silently beg for an explanation, but taehyung has none to give. they’re both trapped beneath jungkook’s limbs spread evenly over both of them, the prince sighing with a calmness that’s lost to them.

“i just wanted to visit my two favorite twins,” jungkook plants a kiss on both of their cheeks and hugs their bodies close. “and let them know how much i love them. how much do they love me?”

jimin and taehyung’s scared declarations of love overlap one another, each more ridiculous than the last, but it still brings a pleased smile to jungkook’s face. he pulls them tighter against himself.

“that has to be my favorite sound in the world,” jungkook hums contently, “you know i wouldn’t trade it for anything. you’re far too precious.”

taehyung can’t help the frown that crosses his face at the obvious lie. were they not up for sale earlier that day, just merchandise of his to be discarded?

“tae tae, you don’t believe me?” jungkook pouts.

taehyung quickly corrects his expression into one of reassurance. “no, no that’s not it. i was just… scared to leave you.”

jungkook’s pout deepens into alarm, and he takes a bruising grip of taehyung’s wrist. “you will never leave me.”

“the negotiation scared him,” jimin quickly jumps in, “we want to stay with hyung forever.”

“oh, sweethearts,” jungkook looks pained, “i would never trade you away. i only wanted to bait hoseok’s new owner for information… not that it worked anyway,” he mutters bitterly, then shakes his head to recollect himself. “i thought you two would realize that.”

“sorry, jungkook-hyung,” taehyung apologizes, head lowered.

jungkook gently takes hold of his chin to lift it back up, forcing eye contact. “no, tae tae. this is my fault. i should never have expected your little brains to reach that conclusion all on your own. it’s the master’s burden to think, not the slave’s.”

taehyung thinks again of mr. kang’s plan, allowing himself to wonder what it’d be like to see the look on jungkook’s face as he’s punished for a crime that his own slaves reported. he wonders what it would feel like to be treated as intelligent again, someone worth taking seriously. he wants to live to see that day, so taehyung quietly accepts jungkook’s apology and leans into his touch as if starved for it.

“you’ll never leave me, never. i promise,” jungkook whispers desperately.

“we believe you, hyung.” taehyung hears jimin’s voice shake through nausea at the thought of staying here forever.

but they endure, as they always do. and, eventually, jungkook leaves with the promise of playing games all day tomorrow—a day like any other—but they still act excited.

long after the door slams shut and the prince’s footsteps fade away, jimin and taehyung cling tight to each other, unable to fall back asleep.

120503

“more strawberries?” jimin’s mom practically shoves the box in jungkook’s face, causing jimin to groan in overexaggerated embarrassment, forehead dramatically squished in the table.

“no thank you, mrs. park,” jungkook replies politely, both cheeks already stuffed full with the fruit.

it’s thursday, the second day in a row that jungkook’s joined them for after-school study, and jimin and taehyung already consider him a friend. sure, he’s a bit strange sometimes with the way he phrases things or gets too close in personal space, but he’s a good kid at heart. jimin can tell that he just wants to be liked.

“i’ll take some more, please,” taehyung holds out his snack plate with a sugary sweet smile that absolutely melts jimin’s mom every time she sees it.

“anything for my long lost son,” she croons, making jimin groan louder. his mom playfully swats him on the head. “jiminie, honestly. why can’t you be more grateful like your friends?”

the room laughs loudly at his expense, even junghee who giggles in her highchair with no idea what they’re laughing about. jimin’s mom leaves them to return to her own work in corporate finance while junghee excitedly kicks jungkook’s textbook.

jungkook regards the toddler strangely. “do you love your brother?”

“kook, she can’t talk yet,” jimin snickers. “how do you keep forgetting that?”

“sorry,” jungkook flushes in embarrassment. “i haven’t spent much time around… little ones before.” he shakes his head. “but do you love your sister?”

“of course i do,” jimin snorts. “biological or not, we’re still family even if it’s annoying that i can’t get a full night of rest anymore.” he leans in, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “it’s worse for mom. she wasn’t planning on fostering again so soon after her promotion, but she can never say no to a kid in need.”

“ugh, your mom’s an angel,” taehyung groans through a strawberry. “i wish my parents understood why i want to adopt so bad—the only concept of parenthood that they can wrap their heads around is giving birth to bragging rights.”

“oh, come on,” jimin chastises, “i’m sure that’s not the only—,”

junghee’s foot catches on a sharp corner of jungkook’s textbook and she wails.

everyone winces, and jimin’s mom comes rushing in to take her away with apologetic eyes while jungkook watches with rapt attention. his eyes seem to linger on the shining wetness of her chubby cheeks, just as he did with jimin’s tears at school, but then jimin shakes his head in rejection of the idea. it’s like he said; jungkook just hasn’t been around kids a lot. nothing strange about that.

after junghee’s cries silence behind a closed door, jimin apologizes. “honestly, i don’t how i’ll manage the college entrance exams with the apartment like this.”

“relax, chim,” taehyung reassures with a warm hand on his arm. “that’s two whole years away, and we still have the study rooms at school.”

“yeah, but they don’t have couches ,” jimin whines, earning sympathetic laughter.

“what if you had an older brother instead?” jungkook asks suddenly.

he’s always asking things suddenly, mind ever off-topic, but they answer his questions kindly.

“hm, that might be cool,” jimin considers. “i’ve always wanted a built-in protector.”

taehyung squawks, pretending offense. “uh, one: you have me, and two: what if he bullies you instead? you know, not all older brothers are nice or your best-friend-slash-soulmate like i am.”

“true,” jimin plays along, “and not all of them are world-class karaoke stars.”

taehyung gives finger guns.

“you can sing?” jungkook perks up immediately.

“ah, no. i wouldn’t say that,” taehyung laughs sheepishly, scratching the back of his head.

“he’s being modest .” jimin shoves him in punishment. “tae tae here gets the highest score every time we go out.”

jungkook’s eyes gleam with interest. “that’s a valuable asset. you should sing right now.”

“what? no way,” taehyung gawks. “we’re here to study. no more distractions.”

jungkook’s expression darkens into irritation, a fast and frightening change from his bubbly self a few seconds ago, but the emotion clears up just as fast. fast enough that jimin can almost convince himself he imagined it.

almost.

after a few minutes of actual study, jungkook unexpectedly speaks up again, innocent crooked smile on full display.

“you know, i have the nicest big brother in the world at home,” he says, absently twirling his pencil. “his name is seokjin. i told him all about you, and he says he can’t wait to meet you. i’ve been meaning to get him a few friends.”

“oh, really? what’s he like?” taehyung asks politely.

jungkook grins, this smile a bit less innocent. “the nicest . there’s an important business event happening tomorrow that most of my family moved away for, but seokjin stayed behind to take care of me until they get back. he’s loyal like that. you’d like him.”

“aww, well maybe we should visit sometime—help you guys settle into the town,” taehyung suggests.

“maybe then you’ll sing for me,” jungkook teases through another bite of strawberry.

180909

it takes hours, but jimin finally manages to free namjoon from jungkook’s grasp while taehyung distracts the prince with game after competitive game. until now, jimin hadn’t realized how difficult the task actually was to separate the two, how suffocatingly possessive jungkook can be over namjoon’s time. he has no idea how their newest slave deals with it.

but, regardless, jimin still manages to get him alone for the task of tending the vegetable garden. there, they pull up green sprouts that’ll soon be their meals and stare longingly out at the sky and streets barred from access.

the only hint of their imprisonment from the rest of the world is the occasional wavy distortion that warps their view for a few seconds, a reminder of the invisible force field closing them in. external barriers, jimin recalls, feeling more trapped than ever.

“i’m sorry about yesterday. i’ve been meaning to tell you,” namjoon speaks as soon as they’re safely alone, surprising him.

the apology is desperate, like he couldn’t wait a second longer to say it, and it twists jimin’s heart to think of how long namjoon must have been sitting on this guilt. really, he’s too compassionate for his own good.

at jimin’s surprise, namjoon continues, “and i know we’re not supposed to apologize for anything we were ordered to do, but what happened is—,”

“right, you shouldn’t apologize,” jimin insists, placing a firm hand on his hyung’s shoulder to let him know he’s serious.

namjoon sighs, still visibly tense. “but i should. no one should ever have to endure that. least of all you and tae, who’ve been nothing but kind to me despite everything.”

“you’re not a burden to us, joon,” jimin smiles sadly. “we’re not nice to you in the hopes that you’ll pay us back with some big favor—you’re our friend, and we want you to be happy because we care about you.”

namjoon’s lips quirk up into a bittersweet smile of his own. “i know that. i’m sorry.” he winces. “and i’m sorry that i keep saying sorry.”

jimin chuckles, “baby steps.”

it’s only when each of their baskets are full, straw seams bursting with a variety of greens and oranges, that jimin works up the courage to confront namjoon with his own secret.

ever since their almost-fight the day after jungkook’s birthday, jimin has carefully avoided the subject of the prince’s special treatment of him, not wanting to further isolate him from help as seokjin admitted he had concerns about. but now, jimin fears that giving namjoon space is only making matters worse.

yoongi continues to avoid him, jungkook continues to dote on him, and through it all, namjoon’s kept his true feelings under tight lock and key. sometimes, like now, jimin feels like he’s a little closer to understanding him, but there’s still that wall of things unknown that keeps them from growing too close.

but jimin wants to save him. whether namjoon believes it or not, he deserves to be saved, and jimin needs his trust now to make sure that happens.

sighing, namjoon rises to stand, but jimin’s arm stops him. he gives him pleading eyes when namjoon looks back inquisitively, causing the older to sigh and sit back down.

“i have a secret i want to tell you. can you keep it?” jimin begins.

“is it dangerous?” namjoon asks.

“maybe,” jimin replies honestly, “but i’m hopeful. i want you to trust me.”

namjoon pauses, hesitant, but nods anyway.

jimin smiles gratefully. “the alien who came by our house yesterday to assess me and taehyung—he wasn’t here to make a purchase. he needed our help for something big, a chance to reclaim earth for ourselves.”

“what?” namjoon breathes, disbelieving.

“i know it sounds unbelievable. i didn’t believe it at first either, but namjoon—we know this man,” jimin presses on, “he tried to save my life once, and he promised to do it again. i think he really wants to make a change.”

“but why does he need you?” namjoon asks warily.

“he gave us this.” jimin digs out the tiny, unassuming metal ball from his tunic, taken from the painting last night when he wasn’t supervised.

namjoon observes the object skeptically but waits before asking more questions.

“it’s a security disruptor,” jimin explains. “if jungkook disables a room’s security for whatever reason, this will turn it back on long enough to catch him if he’s doing something illegal.”

jimin waits for a response, but all namjoon says is a quiet, fearful “oh.”

“kang, the visitor, suspects that jungkook may be breaking a property law, given his history.” jimin sighs, considering his next words. “the only problem is, i can’t think of a time when the ai’s inactive. can you?”

“no, sorry,” namjoon answers to the ground.

jimin eyes him closely. he knows what he has to do; they’ve been skirting around this for too long. but that doesn’t make it any easier.

“i know you’re lying, joon-hyung.”

namjoon screws his eyes shut, digs his fingers into the dirt. but he can’t seem to bring himself to lie again.

“i’m not mad.” jimin reaches for his hand and counts it as a success when namjoon doesn’t pull away. “i don’t blame you for being scared, but i need you to be honest now. if you let us, we can protect you. jungkook will never lay his hands on you again.”

“you can’t promise that,” namjoon argues, “you don’t even know this man.”

“yes, i do,” jimin insists, burying his own doubts for the time being. “hyung, if you know something important that jungkook wants hidden, this is the time to come clean.”

“i-i can’t; i don’t know anything,” namjoon tries.

“yes, you do,” jimin repeats himself. his words are harsh, but he keeps his tone gentle, hopefully comforting enough to convince him.

“please don’t ask me to do this. you don’t know what h-he’ll...” namjoon’s breaths shorten, too panicked to finish, but jimin understands.

“we won’t let him hurt you,” he swears. “and you won’t have to do anything if you don’t want to; we just need a time and place.”

“you shouldn’t be doing this either. you don’t know what’ll happen.”

“well, i know what will happen if we do nothing,” jimin argues. “we’ll die here as jungkook’s slaves, nothing more than his things to use even after death because then we’ll be his food. is that the life you want?”

namjoon’s face is drawn with indecision, silent.

jimin scoots closer to wrap his arms around his shoulders, allowing his hyung time to think it over. but jimin won’t let him escape without an answer this time. now, he knows for sure that he’s being hurt by jungkook, personally hurt in a way the rest of them aren’t. if namjoon still refuses to cooperate, then jimin will find out for himself the hard way.

finally, namjoon speaks. “you want honesty?”

“yes,” jimin answers without hesitation.

“fine, then here it is.” namjoon’s expression is distant, unreadable. “jungkook does have secrets that only i know about. and if they ever get out, he’ll send me back to the farm.”

jimin sighs, frustrated. “but hyung, we could stop him from—,”

“the fact is, you don’t know that,” namjoon says with so much conviction that jimin feels compelled to let him speak. “yesterday, you and taehyung had only a taste of what life is like in those places, but i’ve been there. for five years, that was my life. do you want to know exactly what i’d return to?”

jimin’s mouth runs dry with speechlessness, arguments dissolved on the tip of his tongue.

namjoon takes a deep breath and shares his secrets.

“i shared a six by nine foot concrete slab with nine other men, closed on all sides by thick metal bars that stretched to a ceiling half my height. they kept us in total darkness; no lights, no windows to the outside world. there wasn’t room to sit . we piled on top of each other to sleep.”

it seems that once namjoon’s started opening up, he can’t stop himself, so he continues, “the gaps in the bars were just big enough to stick our arms through if we wanted to touch the men in neighboring stalls, and we often did just to be able to stretch.” namjoon huddles further into himself. “we shared a hole in the floor for a bathroom. i think it opened up to a lower level in the building, but i’m still not sure.

“all hours, it was loud. people screaming and shouting songs to just hear anything besides the sound of slaughter upstairs that would echo through the ceiling.” namjoon covers his ears as if he can still hear it.

“we couldn’t bathe ,” he gasps, “i couldn’t eat most days because whenever they’d feed us, it came as a giant package meant for the whole stall to share, except my stallmates didn’t like that. i fought them tooth and nail for every scrap i got.”

jimin waits for more horrific details, but it seems that namjoon’s finally had enough. his head stays buried in his knees, crying silently. jimin wants to say something, but what can be said? he lets him cry until he can no longer take it.

“i won’t do it if you don’t want me to,” jimin whispers.

namjoon lifts his head in surprise. “what?”

“really, i promise.” jimin squeezes his hand. “but can i ask why you don’t want anyone’s help to stop jungkook from hurting you?”

“i can handle him,” namjoon says. he sounds sincere, but jimin still can’t believe him.

“you’re getting worse every day,” he pleads, “whatever he’s doing is tearing you apart, piece by piece. how can you expect us to look the other way?”

namjoon grips jimin’s shoulder and looks him in the eye, voice painfully resolute. “by knowing in your heart that there is no better life out there, no matter what that man said to you.”

jimin doesn’t realize he’s crying until he feels namjoon’s thumb gently brush his tears away, and then they’re both a mess in the garden dirt.

<>

ten minutes later, a scowling yoongi has to physically drag them back inside to face a pouting jungkook and a worried seokjin and taehyung who wait with darts in their hands.

jimin misses his target as usual, their prince snickering in amusement at every failed throw, but today the game is harder than usual with taehyung’s eyes boring through the back of his head every time he looks over. jimin knows that he’s waiting for a signal: a safe , unsure , or horrible to assure them they’ll escape one day.

because he can’t bear letting his soulmate down, jimin procrastinates until the game’s final round to give him the slightest head shake. not enough for jungkook to catch on, but enough to have taehyung’s face fall into devastation.

jimin knows he hasn’t heard the last of it.

120504

on friday, the transfer students march into school as a unit, just like monday. jungkook walks perfectly in line with them, two steps behind the girl who threatened jimin and two steps beside the other boy.

when jimin calls out his name in greeting, jungkook spares him a tiny smirk but continues past without stopping. jimin’s smile fades as he lowers his hand in confusion. looking to taehyung for answers only gets him an equally confused shrug.

the strangeness doesn’t stop there.

kang pulls jimin and tae out of their first class before it even starts, students “ooh-ing” behind their backs as they leave, an action that jimin resiliently ignores. kang refuses to speak until the three of them stand alone in the hallway, safe from prying eyes.

“you’re suspended.”

“what?” taehyung gasps. “but we didn’t do anything!”

“i believe you,” mr. kang says, “but the entrance security found contrabands hidden in both of your bags this morning. they didn’t pull you aside then to avoid making a scene, but you need to leave the school immediately.”

“th-that’s not fair,” jimin protests weakly, running a stressed hand through his hair. “they must have been planted. we know the rules.”

“i know. i believe you,” kang repeats, “and i’ll do everything i can to fight on your behalf, but for now, there’s a bus waiting outside for me to drive you home in.”

jimin shakes his head as taehyung insists “we can walk” but the man cannot be swayed.

“please, i insist. the situation is unfair enough as it is,” he stresses.

“don’t you have a class to teach?” taehyung asks.

kang laughs. “hardly. come on, follow quickly.”

confused, they follow anyway, kang’s hands clamped firmly on either of their shoulders as they make a beeline for the back entrance. jimin has no idea why they’re walking so fast or why kang insists on maintaining such a tight grip to pull them along, but he guesses that he wants to return to teaching as soon as possible. that’s reasonable.

jimin still can’t believe that he and taehyung are being framed—being suspended—for such a petty new rule. he wonders how he’s going to break the news to his mom when they reach the exit. kang pulls on the handle: locked. he shouts a curse, shocking the boys beside him.

“it’s okay. we can just leave through the front doors,” taehyung shakily reassures. they’ve never seen their teacher so angry.

“no, no,” the man mutters darkly, “it’s too late for that.”

“right you are,” comes a voice behind them.

jimin and taehyung flinch in surprise, but kang remains still. maybe pulling them even tighter against himself. the voice has come from one of the security guards, standing smugly in the hallway behind them, arms crossed.

“come on, bĭgendalam. you know the rules. if you want a premium on the juvenile meat, then you’ve gotta pay up like the rest of us. no freebies.” the guard stalks closer as he speaks.

eyebrows pinched in confusion, jimin takes a step back, away from kang. “what’s he talking about?”

his question’s ignored, both men speaking as if neither kid exists.

“you know very well the uljieas have bought out most of the stock here already,” kang replies evenly. “i’m simply taking the share that was promised to me.”

the guard’s eyes narrow. “if that’s true, then you can wait for assessment time with the other buyers.”

“that won’t be necessary. excuse us.” kang attempts to shove past the guard with both boys locked in a now-painful grip, but the other man manages to wrench jimin free.

finally starting to panic, jimin struggles in the guard’s arms but receives a harsh slap to the face for it. the impact echoes in the open space. jimin goes limp, stunned, as his captor laughs.

“jiminie,” taehyung cries, attempting to lunge to his rescue but held back by kang. “let me go .”

“tell you what,” the guard sighs, as if massively inconvenienced. “if you hand the other one over now, then i’ll make sure you get a prime spot in the choosing. deal?”

kang looks conflicted, but after a moment, nods reluctantly. “deal.”

he tosses taehyung to the guard like a trash bag and leaves, leaving them alone under his mercy until the nuclear alarm sounds.

<>

less than a minute later.

all at once, panicked students swarm the hallway, guided by calm teachers and staff to the auditorium just like every drill they’ve ever had, and jimin finds himself pulled along as well by the security guard’s bruising grip. he holds a tender hand to the cheek that was struck, wondering if it’ll leave a mark. wondering if they’ll make it out of this bombing alive.

it’s so much to worry about in such little time that jimin can hardly be bothered when the guard rudely shoves him to the floor with the other students. grudgingly, he assumes the emergency position next to taehyung, who’s equally frightened. every student in the school crouches with their foreheads pressed into tile, waiting for the worst.

the adults form a protective ring around them. all except four. four transfer students look down from at their peers from the stage as if sizing them up. this wasn’t in the drills.

they’re speaking something, but it’s not korean. it’s not like anything jimin’s ever heard before.

taehyung’s hand slides reassuringly into his as jimin scans the room for kang’s face, finally finding it in the back by the door. he’s looking right at him. when the stare becomes too much, jimin directs his attention back to the stage where another pair of eyes bores right into his: jungkook’s. what the hell is this?

first, the two transfer girls descend from the stage eerily in step with one another, each handed an old, ornate knife at the bottom by two elderly women standing on either side. together, they weave their way through the hunched crowd of students, attentively focused, until that asshole, otherwise known as the captain of the soccer team, yells “what the fucking hell is this?”

for once, jimin agrees.

the girl who’d once threatened him smiles wide, digs her fingers into the captain’s hair, and drags him like that all the way to the stage, kicking and screaming. behind her, the other transfer girl does the same to the female class president, and no adult steps in to stop them. any student that tries is quickly dealt with.

no one keeps their foreheads to the floor now, all eyes trained on the stage where the boy and girl are dumped, given the knives.

“i-i don’t understand,” their president stutters, holding the weapon like it’ll burn her, “w-we need to be—we need to be taking cover—,”

“you stay the hell away from me, freak!” the soccer captain waves his knife haphazardly in front of him, each swipe missing the girl who keeps stalking closer and laughing.

some adults are laughing too, taking video from the sidelines while jungkook and the other boy wait patiently at the back of the stage. the purpose soon becomes clear.

the class president screams as her attacker dives right for her stomach, bloodsoaked intestines torn out by bare, jagged teeth. the chosen boy throws up on stage when he turns to look, leaving his back defenseless for the other girl to step on, resonating a sickly crack to the room. by the time his throat is slit open by the same knife he’d been given to protect himself, the crowd of students is screaming, attempting to run only to be held back by the ring of adults.

in the chaos, taehyung pulls jimin to run to mr. kang, the man appearing to wait for them by the stage where no one else is running. jimin tries to pull away to make for the door like everyone else, but taehyung insists, eyes begging for trust. with a shaky sigh, jimin allows it.

“are you going to get us out of here?” taehyung demands, voice hardened by fear.

“i’ll do all i can. join your classmates for now.” kang urges desperately.

they don’t want to listen, but they do.

just as the other students are forced back in their previous positions, jimin notices the transfer girls onstage posing in front of their kills, wreaths of elaborate bones now encircling their heads. they’re having their pictures taken. jimin fights the urge to vomit like the dead boy onstage.

a foreign announcement chimes around them and the bodies are dragged away.

jungkook and his male counterpart descend the cursed steps. jimin feels betrayed in the worst way when jungkook faces their direction first, striding with purpose to where they sit, vulnerable and surrounded by crying, panicking students.

he brandishes his knife with a smiling face. and then he’s carving into taehyung’s.

jimin screams in horror but taehyung only gasps, meaning at least the cut isn’t deep, but he keeps twisting it. when jungkook pulls away, jimin realizes that it’s a symbol he’s carved into his forehead: a slashed star.

“mine,” jungkook whispers gleefully.

he targets jimin next, carving the same shallow symbol into his skin and pulling away with another whispered “mine.”

and he leaves.

it’s another unsuspecting boy from the soccer team who he pulls onstage, spitting and fighting with all he’s got, but it’s not enough to stop jungkook from tearing a massive bite out of his neck in front of hundreds of screaming kids. taehyung can’t bear to look, but jimin does. he can’t look away.

jungkook enjoys the same photoshoot and ceremonial crown with his victim, not a sign of remorse in him.

it’s then that jimin realizes his teeth are different. the other transfers too. hell, the teachers, the staff… they’re predatory now, sharklike. gone are the straight white dentures of humans—no, these are demons. this has to be a nightmare. the pained screams and begs for mercy erupting from every direction are proof of this, students falling one by one to those teeth.

“are you ready to come home now, lovelies?” jungkook’s voice brings him back to reality, towering over them. “i told you things were about to change for the better.”

thoughtlessly, jimin agrees. “i want to go home.”

“jimin, no,” taehyung hisses under his breath, “that’s not what he—,”

“we’re all going home. i promise.” jungkook pulls them both into a suffocating embrace, the cloth of his uniform sweater temporarily covering the smell of death in the air. jimin wants to hide in it. “seokjinnie can’t wait to meet you. i told him all about my two best friends coming home with me today, and he said he’d make a surprise for you.”

jungkook looks up, eyes hopeful. “are you excited?”

jimin sees taehyung’s mouth open, ready with an infuriated rejection, but before he can speak a word of it, jimin shushes him. when taehyung startles, betrayed, jimin turns his head to take in the horror around them.

left and right, kids are dying. they’re slain, beaten, butchered for waiting customers with currency in hand, each one leaving with their own pile of death. taehyung chokes as he finally grasps it.

that could be them—their blood on the floor if they don’t get out in time. mr. kang is nowhere to be found in the carnage; jimin can only assume that means they’ve gotten to him already. this is their last chance.

“are you going to kill us?” he asks, just in case.

jungkook’s smile falters with surprise. “no, of course not. you two are mine now. you belong to me. it’s time you come home to fulfill that purpose.”

“great, okay. take us home then. please,” jimin begs, focused more on the hungry eyes of the other transfer students than his words. maybe after they’re safe, he can convince jungkook to save others too, like his mom and sister. taehyung’s parents. but right now, escaping is all he can think about.

jungkook keeps his word.

with one last bone-crushing hug, he takes their hands and leads them away.

180909

the metal rests cold in taehyung’s palm. a contrast to the searing warmth of his skin, kept damp with paranoid sweat. he clenches his fist tighter around the device and tries to calm himself with reassurances that this is the right thing to do.

to his left, jimin sleeps soundly in seokjin’s arms, clinging tightly to the older with eyebrows still drawn in distress. taehyung feels guilty for the dried tear tracks he sees illuminated by moonlight, but it doesn’t lessen his resolve in the least. no matter what empty promises he’d made to jimin that night to get him to sleep, he still has to do this.

heavy, dragging footsteps past the door stop taehyung’s fluttering heart for a moment.

he forces down a nervous swallow before allowing the sound to lead him, knowing it’s namjoon’s shuffling gait.

somehow, after over a month of living here, namjoon’s path to the prince’s chambers is still slow and uncertain in the dark, hesitating at every corner. either his sense of direction is that poor or he isn’t rushing to perform his nighttime duties. taehyung wouldn’t blame him for that.

but namjoon walks on bravely while tae keeps to the shadows behind him, hugging walls and tables until they reach the chamber’s security checkpoint.

namjoon submits his thumbprint and disappears.

taehyung waits a moment, then two, before he gathers the courage to face the tiny weapon in his hands. a little black marble with the ability to free them all, maybe. shit . he’d lied right to jimin’s face with the promise that he wouldn’t do this, and jimin had believed him because they’re soulmates and soulmates don’t lie except taehyung did this time and—he takes a breath.

taehyung knows why he’s doing this: he’s protecting them.

yes, namjoon’s story was horrific and taehyung would sooner die than see jimin face that because of him, but this… the alien device in his hand is their key to a life free of suffering. even if it’s only a cruel trick, isn’t it worth it to try?

the fight he had with jimin that night was the worst they’ve ever had. it’s painful even to think about. but when they’re free and all this shit’s behind them, surely jimin will have to forgive this.

all taehyung does is gently push the chamber doors, and they swing wide open as if to invite him in. the ai doesn’t even ask for identification. so kang and jimin’s suspicions were true—jungkook does have his security disabled at night.

emboldened, taehyung creeps past the second set of doors after donning a protective mask, revealing the prince’s vast, eerie cavern of a room. thankfully dark enough to stay hidden.

hearing namjoon’s hushed voice nearby, taehyung quickly crouches behind some steel containers by the entrance, using their cover to ease closer to the source. he doesn’t have to—all he has to do is give his marble a twist and this place will probably light up red with alarms like bloody christmas—but first, he wants to know what namjoon’s secret is. what he couldn’t even trust jimin with.

so taehyung advances, trying not to think of namjoon’s eyes gushing out or his face scratched off. surely, it can’t be that horrible.

“—where they’re going, but it must be better,” namjoon’s voice filters in.

“but why?” taehyung hears jungkook respond. he doesn’t dare lift his head to see, staying safely ducked out of sight and trusting his ears.

“they didn’t want to live in a city built off the suffering of an innocent creature, no matter how happy they were,” namjoon explains softly.

“but you said it was the happiest place in the whole universe.”

“not for that child,” namjoon hums, “all it knew was suffering.”

taehyung could hear the pout in jungkook’s voice. “well, what if… they took the sad child away and put a new one there? a bad child.”

“do you think there’s a child bad enough to deserve that?”

silence.

“jungkook-hyung, the city prospers because the one who suffers is innocent,” namjoon says. “but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

a pause. “it doesn’t?”

“no,” namjoon smiles, or at least it sounds like he’s smiling. “the people could rescue the child and find a different way to happiness, one that includes everyone.”

“wouldn’t it be harder?” jungkook demands.

“maybe,” namjoon responds vaguely, “but the child would be free. if you lived there, which way would you choose?”

jungkook hums, shuffles in the dark.

the chamber is silent for a few moments.

before it’s interrupted by a wet, sickly smacking sound.

“jungk—,” namjoon gasps, pained, and taehyung tenses. “can you please answer me first?”

“open up and maybe i will,” jungkook snarls, tone completely altered from a few seconds ago, now cold and demanding.

“would you let the child suffer?” namjoon asks again, relentless.

his only response is the sound of his own choking, throat struggling to close through something. chokes escalate into panicked gargles as seconds pass. device still clasped tightly in taehyung’s hand, he almost turns it, but then namjoon’s finally allowed a large intake of air, accompanied by jungkook’s impatient sigh.

“in my opinion, the child should be grateful for the chance to make omelas happy,” he claims, although he doesn’t seem certain. “now, don’t you want to make your own hyung happy? isn’t there something you’ve been wanting to tell me?”

faint shudders echo to the walls.

“don’t be shy,” jungkook coos, tone shifting again into one of gentleness. “it’s only me, and i won’t tell. promise.”

through a sniffle, namjoon responds, “i’m in love with you.”

taehyung nearly gasps. he has to clamp a hand over his own mouth to stop the sound from escaping.

“aww, now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” jungkook croons, “you’re so needy , sneaking down here just get more attention from me while the others sleep. how do you think they’d feel about that?”

“i don’t care about them, hyung,” namjoon stutters fearfully, “only you. please...”

“please what?” jungkook encourages. he sounds breathless from anticipation.

“please use me.”

taehyung’s stomach twists with nausea.

jungkook gives a dramatic sigh as if to act inconvenienced, but the tremor in his voice betrays his excitement: “if you insist.”

the sound that echoes next is difficult to comprehend. at first, it sounds like kissing—deep, salivating, tongue-fucking kissing that in all honesty makes taehyung want to activate the security and be done with it—but then something unusual permeates the unbreathable air.

jungkook releases a kind of retching sound, namjoon chokes, and then all that echoes is breathing.

moments pass and the breathing quickens, heightening to a state that convinces taehyung he could take a peek over the container without being seen. something strange is happening, likely the very thing outlawed by jungkook’s people, and he can’t die not knowing the truth. so he takes the risk, peering over, and he freezes.

there’s namjoon, pinned beneath jungkook’s limbs with the prince’s face enveloping his: hovering, mouth stretched wide with rowed teeth on full display, jungkook has a spit-coated tubed appendage reaching from the back of his throat to bury into namjoon’s, digging deep like a feeding serpent. red blood pours where it enters, streaming from namjoon’s nose, lips, eyes. God, his eyes stretch wide in unseeing horror, body seizing uncontrollably through the treatment but confined by his smothering embrace.

taehyung twists the device.

<>

the chamber immediately dissolves into a flood of red light, double doors clicking locked behind them as a babble of foreign operatives resonate over the loudspeakers and jungkook wails in fury—maybe fear—but taehyung’s too petrified to care. he keeps his body hunched into as small a space as he can fit it, eyes squeezed shut and hands over his ears as a few tears escape.

“kang will come save us,” he mumbles, “kang will come save us.

“you stupid slut. did you do this?!” jungkook screams, and taehyung flinches before realizing that it must be namjoon he’s talking to.

he feels guilty for the relief that washes over him.

“fucking answer me, slut!” taehyung winces at the sound of a brutal kick meeting its target. “how about this? when ĭmmĭ arrives here in less than five minutes, you’ll have her to answer to. her and every other fucking… f-fucking… fuck...”

jungkook releases a high-pitched scream and kicks at a container next, launching it across the chamber. taehyung hears his heavy breathing, the terrified in-out-in-out of a coming tantrum, and he wonders if he should protect namjoon or remain hidden: if the prince is scared enough to respond to comfort or only be interested in violence. then there’s the matter of his parents coming. fuck.

“come back to me, joonie,” jungkook sobs unexpectedly, small and helpless, “please, tell me what to do. i don’t want to face them alone, please…”

taehyung’s torn.

after all this, he shouldn’t want to help jungkook prepare for his parents’ arrival, but after five years of hearing the horror stories, he can’t help but be afraid too. what if jungkook’s family arrives before the police does? what if the aliens have no police force and the “law” that kang referred to is familial? he did say that he wouldn’t return to the mansion himself, but if that’s true then…

feeling sick, taehyung imagines the creatures from seokjin’s nightmares returning home to find their son sobbing over a human—dressed like a human no less—after receiving that signal. maybe kang doesn’t give a fuck what happens to them, only interested in gaining their property.

shaken and confused, taehyung drags himself towards the two crying bodies on the floor, neither noticing until he lays a hand on jungkook’s shoulder. the prince turns back fearfully, calming when he sees it’s only taehyung.

without hesitation, he pulls him close to cry into his shoulder, thick black ink bleeding through white cotton, but taehyung can hardly care. at least he’s not being blamed for what he caused. yet.

“tae tae, they’re coming. they’re gonna—,”

taehyung shushes him, rocking him gently like how he knows jungkook likes when he’s weak.

“they’re gonna take him away from me,” jungkook gasps hysterically, “they’re gonna take away all my humans and—a-and ruin them right in front of me.”

taehyung’s blood runs cold. he swallows. “not if you protect us. but you need to take this disguise off, stop crying, and get ready to lie.”

“w-what?” it’s possibly the first time that taehyung’s ever heard jungkook stutter. he’d laugh if he wasn’t terrified.

“make yourself presentable and i’ll hide namjoon,” taehyung hisses, surprised to hear a note of command in his own voice.

jungkook just blinks at him with his wide bambi eyes, confusion finally clearing. then he leans forward and kisses him.

their lips only meet for a second before jungkook pulls away wiping spit from his mouth, but it’s long enough for taehyung to feel the bone-deep sense of violation. namjoon’s had this forced on him for weeks . he should be angry, but he’s only numb.

“i’m sorry,” jungkook mumbles.

taehyung stares at him in open shock. it’s the first time he’s ever apologized for something.

“i wanted to try it with everyone, at least once.” jungkook says. “i’m disgusting.”

“get dressed,” taehyung snaps.

ashamed and more than a little dazed, jungkook stumbles away to do just that, leaving taehyung reeling at the absurdity of their situation. the prince just took an order from him . and now they’re trapped here, waiting for his parents to come break down the door and namjoon to start seizing or collapsing or… 

where he lies trembling below him, namjoon’s eyes are still lost to the world, leaving taehyung behind feeling like a failure with no idea what to do for him.

but seokjin would know what to do. he will. they just have to wait this out.

taehyung squeezes namjoon’s hand and waits.