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a curse at the heart of the forest

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He was there for as long as they remembered, his cabin a constant in the heart of the woods.

His existence was a given to them, even before they knew their purpose. He was there when Jimin and Taehyung first rose from the trees that held their slumbering forms, and he was there when Jungkook followed after. His cabin, for all that it was human-made, fit perfectly in the heart of the forest; like a shrine to a long-forgotten god of the woods, warm with worship and the divine. In the evenings, the fire inside the cabin would be lit, his silhouette soft behind the blinds. In the daylight, he would be out in the sun, murmuring to himself as he wrote word upon word upon word on paper and coffee-stained corners of books.

He never called to them.

Neither did they, for him.

But he was vigilant, they knew. There was something to his walk, the way he would still at times, that told them he could feel their presence. For all that they were invisible to any other human (for they knew his kind was human, and they were fae), he spoke softly like he feared being overheard, moved as though his every move were being watched.

And he was.

They watched him, day and night. They watched him yell to the sky, watched him cry, watched him laugh, watched him comfort himself as he spoke that this too, the earth and his every breath, will pass.

They did not know what love was, not like humans did, but they could feel it here. Something like this, their three hearts as one, beating a rhythm of "here, here, here" in a silent reminder that he is not alone. They are here, for all that he never acknowledged them, and they would stay.

He never spoke to them.

They wished he would.

"Namjoon-ah, you fool," he spoke one day, loud enough that they could hear.

There was no one for him to speak to, and he was alone as he stepped out of his cabin, muttering to himself.

"Namjoon."

Jimin shared a look with Taehyung, whose eyes were clear even in the darkness of twilight. Jungkook had murmured the name to himself, mouth shaping the syllables with a gentleness that spoke of awe, spoke of Knowledge. It was a common tale, they’d heard from the birds, that humans thought names to hold power, that it shouldn’t be so easily shared with strangers. “You might be stolen by the fae,” they would warn children- and while it wasn’t true that they would (for what use would they for a child?), it wasn’t any less true that names held more than just one’s identity.

A name is all anyone would ever need, be they fae or human, to begin to Know someone. 

And that was what they got, just from that small murmur. What once was only the shape of a man, looming in his height yet soft in his smiles, an unknown to them in the heart of the forest, now had something with which they would Know him by.

Namjoon.                                                                                                                                                                         

Jungkook became more eager, as the days went. He’d liked Namjoon at first sight, said there was something to him that resonated in his core, and Jimin couldn’t deny him that. He’d felt the same when he woke, Taehyung beside him, to the view of Namjoon lying flat on the ground before his cabin, watching the stars.

Knowing Namjoon’s name made Jungkook a little less careful, made him slip closer and closer, sliding further out of the safety of the trees’ shadows. He’d watch Namjoon write poems to the moon, to the sun, and to the woods that housed him, and it was never mundane, not quite like the routine nature set for her predators and prey. Eat, be eaten, survive.

(Namjoon had called it a prison once, this forest that made him seem ever-bright, though they didn't understand why.)

It came to a head eventually, when Jungkook stepped too far, overeager as he was, and his eyes met Namjoon's own through the shade.

Namjoon left as soon as he'd come out, legs clumsy as he scrambled to a stand, leaving Jungkook in his wake and staring after him like a deer caught in headlights.

"His eyes," Jungkook would say when he returned, as though his heart was caught somewhere in his throat, "they were so dark. It felt so lonely, hyung."

Loneliness.

Perhaps...

Perhaps.

Jimin took to wandering further, after that. Where he would once take to hiding, waiting in the shade, he stepped closer. He'd listen a little more closely to Namjoon's voice, hear the things that before were only vague notions:

his loneliness. His yearning. A subdued, desperate frustration, as though he were forced here to be on his lonesome by a cruel, unjust god.

But why?

Why this man in particular, gentle as he went? When the frogs would wander from their swamps to his cabin, croak "friend" in their own tongue, let Namjoon cradle them in his long, graceful fingers. When the crabs, in their migration, would find him somehow- deep as the woods were, far into the core as he was, as though they knew.

A giant in body, but lovely at his core when he hummed, when he touched life outside of himself. For all that he broke his things at times, for all that his knees had seen more scrapes than skin, he was far more careful with these smaller lives he knew to be frailer than himself.

He was soft, and sweet. And fae like them-

They have always been the kind to stick to whatever it was they wanted the moment they found it. It was never a question of "should I? should I not?" as it was always the question of,

"How do I keep it?" 

And Namjoon never left, for all that they've seen him try to traverse further than the woods encircling his cabin. He would leave, hopeful, and always come back downtrodden, or angry, or despairing. Fae were not meant to feel such things, but somehow, they knew. They heard the call of his spirit, felt it in their bones as they would feel nature's voice, and they liked it. He was so much more than anything they knew, and as the crab and frog and deer would find themselves drawn to him, so were they.

Taehyung had been the first to call out, brave despite their initial cautiousness, within their group of three.

"Namjoon-hyung?"

Testing out the name on his tongue, finding comfort in the shape and warmth of it. Using hyung because it was a human concept they adopted, liked, because it was something of Namjoon's they could use too, being human as he was.

Namjoon felt no such warmth at the sound of his voice, when they found him. He'd heard the sound- as all names can be felt when spoken, even from a distance- and turned to it like a wild deer, startled by the crackling footstep of the hunter beyond.

"No."

They all turned to each other, curious.

"No?" Jimin spoke this time.

"Leave me alone," Namjoon spoke aloud, voice more tremor than sound. "Please, leave me alone. This is punishment enough."

"Punishment?"

"Enough!"

They watched from their place in the trees, behind the shrubbery, as Namjoon stood from his place outside to return to the cabin.

What was it, really?

What had been done to him?

"Was he punished for something?" Jungkook would murmur later, a kind of softness to his expression that spoke of hurt, of sadness they've only ever seen crossing Namjoon's face. It was a sign of change, something fae weren’t intended for as they were more forest than human, but it was Namjoon’s, and they wanted it.

And so, instead of disregarding it as something human to be unconcerned about, Jungkook said, "I don't understand, Jimin-hyung." I want to understand.

"I'll send someone out," Taehyung answered, two birds perched on his arm as though waiting for instructions. He said, "Surely, the humans will know? He's human too, isn't he?"

"We'll wait for any whispers," Jimin agreed, a cat at his feet, circling him. "We'll figure it out then, Taehyung-ah, Jungkook-ah."

And so, the wait.

They watched Namjoon still, but never made a move to talk to him again. It was too much of a risk, going by how he'd reacted when Taehyung last spoke to him. They'd been...

Scared. Scared?

This shaky feeling in their chest, this space within their core that felt empty yet full of something, a quiet agreement between them that there was something to Namjoon's absence that didn't feel good. That it was something they'd done themselves that would have caused Namjoon to stay inside his cabin to never appear again, for fear of seeing- or hearing- them.

They didn't like that feeling.

It was one of their first few feelings they didn't like, coming into these emotions that Namjoon gave them. It made them feel small, frustrated, full at their core of a buzzing anxiety that made them feel wary of their every move in a way they never were before.

Would Namjoon hate it if they did this?

Would Namjoon never come out if they spoke again?

Would Namjoon hate them for who they were?

And the whispers of the birds, the trees, the cats and frogs and flowers, didn’t help. They whispered of abandonment, of Namjoon’s loneliness, of how they’d seen him cry and run and stumble on bleeding knees as he despaired of whatever it was that kept him in the woods.

It took two months of those whispers, of staying deep into the shadows, for Namjoon to talk to them again. Of his own volition, without their pushing, he’d said, “Hello.”

They were more alert than they had been in the earlier years of their existence, when humanity still thought they had the freedom to make use of this land that had them as guardians.

"I know you're there," Namjoon continued. "You've always been there, haven't you?"

They turned to each other, unsure.

Would he run away again if they replied?

"I won't run away, this time," Namjoon said, as though reading their thoughts. There was a beat, then a sigh, and they watched as he covered his face with both hands, sliding them down slowly to settle on his mouth. "Not like there's anywhere else for me to go, other than this cabin. I'm stuck, either way."

"You won't run away?"

Namjoon flinched at Jimin's voice, though he didn't run. He answered, "No, I won't. There isn't anywhere else for me to go."

"The cabin," Taehyung spoke. "There is the cabin, hyung."

"The cabin," Namjoon croaked, voice small. "It's just a cabin. It won't take me far."

"It would hide you from us," Jungkook spoke this time, his own voice equally soft. "It's your home, and not our place to intrude."

Namjoon laughed.

It didn't sound particularly happy, unlike his other laughter.

"Are you a vampire?" he asked.

They glanced at each other, similar frowns settling on their faces. They were confused- what was the relation of vampires to them?

"Vampire?" Jimin parroted.

"A supposedly evil being that cannot enter a house until invited in."

"We're fae," Taehyung answered, frown deepening at the comparison to an evil being. "But we're not...evil."

"Aren't you? You've lurked in the shadows for long enough that I'd assumed you were."

They tensed at the truth spoken. It was true, wasn't it? They'd been waiting in the shadows as well, watching him in plain sight. It had not seemed at all wrong in the beginning, what with human morality not being fixed into what they were, but. But it was wrong, it seemed, because Namjoon did not look pleased with them, not one bit.

"Why have you been watching me?" he asked.

Jungkook answered, hands fidgeting when they looked to him, "Because you're here, hyung."

"Hyung?"

"Humans call people older than them that, don't they?" Jimin asked. "And you've been here far longer than we have."

"Oh."

There was silence.

They looked to each other, then looked to Namjoon, who suddenly seemed and felt distressed for no particular reason they could discern.

What had they said?

"I've been in this forest longer than you?" Namjoon asked weakly, voice cracking as he moved his fingers idly, as though trying to distract himself from something. "Is that true?"

Taehyung frowned, doubly hesitant on how to answer, not wanting to say anything that could make his condition any worse. Eventually, hesitantly, he said, "Yes. You were here long before we came into being, Jiminie and Jungkookie and I."

"Jimin...Jungkook?"

"My name is Taehyung," said Taehyung, more excitedly this time. Jimin understood the feelings he emanated for what they were; he, too, would be eager to have his own name, his true name, spoken by this being they've poured so much of their own attention to.

It was one thing, to be guardians of the forest, and intrinsically connected to Her every creation in the woods.

It was another, to have found a being that was not in their purview to watch over and keep safe.

(The first was a rule, and a given. It was something tied to their existence, which they couldn't help.

The latter was a Choice, and entirely theirs.)

"Taehyung," Namjoon repeated, sounding lost. "Human names?"

"Names we adopted from humanity too, but they are as true as yours, Namjoon-hyung," said Jungkook. "Our true names as fae aren't something humans can enunciate with their tongues, so we took those for our own."

"Hah," Namjoon said, voice cracking in a way that made their cores hurt. "What for? Are there other humans in the forest that would need to call your names?"

"Only you, hyung," Jimin answered.

"Ah," Namjoon spoke, covering his face. His breath hitched in a way that they felt, his entirety dimmed with the feeling of sadness, and it hurt. Even if they were of another kind, even if their cores weren’t the same as Namjoon’s, they could feel for him still, his spirit a siren call to their entirety. He said, more to himself in the softness of his voice, "Ah, I should've known. I should..."

They watched as he rubbed his eyes with the base of his palms, wiping away the hint of tears from brown eyes. He breathed out heavily, quickly, as though freeing himself from his earlier sadness with that one exhale.

"Why do you sound so sad?" Taehyung asked.

"Because I am."

They frowned at the way he tried for a shaky smile, even after admitting to his sadness. He added, "It's lonely, is all. But I guess I'm glad, too, that no one has suffered the same fate as me."

"What kind of fate?" Jungkook asked.

"You probably don't know, huh," Namjoon hummed, smile softening into something true, something a little wry. "You came into being after I was already sent away here?"

"You were sent away?"

"I'll answer that," Namjoon said, "if you reveal yourselves."

They turned to each other, looking into each other’s' expressions to find agreement. For all that they were separate beings, they were created with one purpose, and what one wanted always needed the tacit agreement of the others. It ensured they wouldn’t part, wouldn’t fight.

They all nodded.

Jungkook seemed nervous despite it, while Taehyung looked eager. Jimin felt for both, understood the anxiety of being judged for how he looked, knew the eagerness to finally be able to reveal his existence to this one being they've watched for as long as they could remember.

Still.

They stepped out of the shadows, Taehyung to his left and Jungkook to his right, and watched under afternoon sunlight as Namjoon's gaze took them in, slowly, carefully.

He cracked a smile.

"For beings who like to be in the shadows, you're peculiarly beautiful."

Jungkook made a noise of embarrassment, something like a squeak or a yelp, and gripped Jimin's shirt blouse hard enough that he stumbled back. For all that he's their youngest, following Jimin and Taehyung's creation after a few years, he was still the strongest- which was occasionally a point of contention between the three of them.

Jimin liked to make the excuse that it was because he was younger and needed more protection, so She had granted him better strength to protect himself.

(He'd be lying to himself, but better that than have any rifts between the three of them.)

"Is this what fae usually look like?" Namjoon asked.

Jimin shrugged. "We wouldn't know- we've never seen any others."

Namjoon frowned.

"Never?"

Taehyung nodded, patting one hand over Jungkook's over-tense back. "We only have each other, no one else. We know that we're fae, but we don't know if there were any others created outside of these woods."

Namjoon paused.

"These woods?" he parroted, before giving them all a sharp look. "Have you never left these woods either?"

"Well, yes," Jungkook managed to say. "We were created here, and we were made to stay here to protect the forest."

"Hah," Namjoon barked out a laugh, making Jungkook jerk in surprise. "That's surprising. I'd have thought they'd want the forest to die with me."

What?

Like a well-timed piece of machinery, they all simultaneously shared an alarmed look with each other, the sensation of anxiety passing through all of them in a harsh, chilling wave.

"What do you mean, hyung?" Jimin asked, looking back to Namjoon, who was watching them with an odd expression.

"I was cursed to remain here," Namjoon admitted, shrugging at the wide-eyed looks it got him. "I figure, since you were born after my curse, that you wouldn't have known that."

"But why?" Taehyung said, voice soft, brows furrowed in an attempt to understand. "I don't understand...what could you be cursed for?"

Namjoon held his open hands out, palms up in response, smile frail in a way that spoke of resignation to his circumstances. "Being given a reason would have made it better, to be honest. Instead of agonizing over what I could've possibly done wrong, I'd be suffering with- with- I don't know, more anger at the injustice, at how they're wrong instead of me, or how I'm wrong, but..."

"I don't see how you could be wrong," Jungkook said, clearly this time, a lot more confident than earlier. He’d always been the type to be nervous at things he could get wrong, the type to get frustrated when he couldn’t understand something, but he was determined when he knew something to be right, or true. "Wrong is humanity taking our land away bit by bit without recompense or apologies. Wrong is unjust murder."

Namjoon raised an eyebrow. "And is there just murder?"

"Yes," Jimin answered.

Namjoon gave him a furrow-browed look, as though scrutinizing him for his easy response. It's not like he was wrong, was he? There was such a thing as murder for the sake of protecting something, or someone, which they were familiar with.

Though, given that Namjoon was limited to meeting only the occasional prey or predator in the years they’ve guarded him, perhaps it made sense that it wasn't something he'd considered humanity to do.

If he were cursed to remain at the heart of the forest with only the plants and animals for company, then...

perhaps his world had already become too small, much smaller than it initially was, and even smaller for all three of its guardians.

"I have a question, hyung," Taehyung spoke up abruptly.

Namjoon nodded to him, his pressed-thin lips and slightly furrowed brows telling of his wariness. "Yeah?"

"If you weren't certain that we weren't involved in the curse placed on you, why did you call us out?"

Namjoon tensed.

Jimin and Jungkook stilled too, looking to Taehyung with confused frowns. There was something to his question, something off, but what was it..?

"Bravery, maybe?" Namjoon answered vaguely, looking away from them, hands rising to tuck themselves under his folded arms. "Recklessness, too. I'm not sure."

Ah.

Jimin blanched at the possibility, and Taehyung bit his lip, seeming to have understood the implications. Jungkook looked somewhat confused still, looking to the three of them, but Jimin didn't want to be the one to say it and break his heart in the process.

"Again,” Namjoon said, looking back to them, expression firmer, less questioning as it was demanding. He asked, “Why have you been watching me, besides my being here?"

"You're interesting," Taehyung said, a kind of hopefulness to his tone that Jimin could feel- going by Namjoon’s mien- was misplaced.

Namjoon clicked his tongue, the firm press of his lips telling of his dissatisfaction. "Am I supposed to consider that a compliment?"

Taehyung frowned. "I'm not sure."

"You've been watching me all this time from the shadows, occasionally scaring the fuck out of me, just generally being around, merely because I'm interesting?" Namjoon said, voice calm despite the bite to his words. Jungkook and Taehyung visibly flinched at the truth of it, clutching at each other’s hands, and Jimin clenched his fists because-

because he understood, and yet, he didn't. Not quite, not on the same level as Namjoon did as a human.

"M’sorry," murmured Taehyung, head lowered in shame. Because that was another thing they could feel now, having gravitated towards Namjoon, who was human and able to feel so much.

"I don't know how else we can explain it to you, hyung," Jimin spoke, frowning when Namjoon raised an eyebrow. "We watched you because you're at the heart of the forest, where we were born."

"And did you think of how that happened?"

Jungkook made a sound of confusion. "What?"

"How is it that I came to be cursed to stay in this place until my death," here, they froze, "and you came to exist exactly after that?"

"I don't-"

"Oh," Namjoon laughed, sounding hysterical as he stepped back, hands covering his face. "Oh, I get it now."

"What?" Jimin asked, feeling an odd, heavy sensation settling in his chest, something that felt similar to those nights when they'd find Namjoon running away to the edges of the forest, seeming desperate to go somewhere.

"You don't understand because you had nothing to do with this, but the one who created you- they know. They know. I was sent here to be your plaything, wasn't I?"

Taehyung made a wounded, whimper of a sound at the accusation. Jimin felt for him, reaching out to clasp his free hand in his own. He said, "That's not true, you're- you’re nothing like that, hyung."

“And what am I?” Namjoon asked, standing his ground now, full of a different kind of heat from his usual warmth. He was angry, and they could feel it. “If not your plaything, what other purpose was the watching, the waiting, the following? Am I supposed to be understanding, to be kind, because you’re not human and I should consider that you don’t have my morals? Am I supposed to find friendship in you, when I’ve felt your eyes on me since years ago, because they intended to make me so desperate that I’d allow it?”

Jimin didn’t have to look over to know; they were all equally stricken at the barbs in his words, feeling the ache of his misery. It was true, it was true, is the thing- and they couldn’t even say anything to deny it.

“Namjoon-hyung,” Jungkook whispered, voice tremulous. “I...I don’t…”

Namjoon groaned, hiding his face in his hands, stepping away from them and turning around as though to hide himself. “Fuck,” he hissed under his breath, shoulders shaking, the lines of his neck drawn with tension. “I hate this. I hate this.”

What could they do?

What was there that could even be done?

“I’m sorry,” Namjoon spoke eventually, heaving out a breath and turning to them, eyes dark, his previous fire lost. There was something to the look of him- the slump of his shoulders and slight jut of his chin- that made them feel worse, a feeling of resignation, surrender, submission, radiating from him that stirred wrongly at their insides. He said, “It’s not your fault. I know it’s not your fault, but I…I’m tired.”

“We could help,” Jimin offered, swallowing the lump of hope sitting heavy at his throat when Namjoon’s eyes met his. “I- we could find a way.”

Namjoon was silent for a moment, considering.

Then,

“You don’t know what that would do to you,” he said, the wary tone to his voice making it sound like he was testing them. “If the curse on me has any connection with your existence-”

“We’ll help still,” Taehyung insisted, a renewed fire in his own eyes. “We- we like you, hyung. If this would make you happy-”

Like,” Namjoon chuckled, a hint of despair, of exhaustion, in his voice. “You don’t know me. No amount of following me from the shadows would let you know me, if I don’t let you in.”

Taehyung quieted at that. There were tears in his eyes when Jimin dared to look, a barely stifled sob that he managed to hold back by biting his lip.

Jimin wanted to cry too, and he didn’t even fully understand why.

And yet, Jungkook pushed. Young as he was, determined as he was, he didn’t let the ache or the tears brimming in his eyes stop him. He asked, “Would you ever, hyung..? If there’s a chance, to let us in...”

Namjoon smiled.

He said,

“When the curse on me has ended, whichever way it may be…I’ll consider it.”

Jungkook perked up at the possibility, and Taehyung blinked his tears way, a little brighter. It was something that was intrinsic to fae, Jimin had come to understand from his cats’ stories- the easy shift from one emotion to another, unlike the complexity of human emotions.

Jimin heard what was unspoken, the implications in Namjoon’s words.

He swallowed that knowledge back.

(What good would it do, telling Taehyung and Jungkook the truth?)

“We’ll help anyway,” he said. He took in Namjoon’s flat stare, the way he was clenching his own fists in held-back frustration, and promised,

“We’ll break your curse, hyung. Whatever it may be.”