Actions

Work Header

Mirrored Hearts

Work Text:



Taehyung gets up, on a day like any other, to find a baby on his back porch. He does a  double take, certain that the potion he was experimenting with yesterday must have scrambled his brain, but no. Even after rubbing his eyes, there is still a baby on his doorstep. The tiny human appears to be asleep, bundled up in a fluffy blanket on its basket, only a chubby face poking out. Suddenly Taehyung drops to his senses. It’s six am on a November morning, the chill already starting to settle on his bones despite the door only being open for a minute. How long has the baby been out here? He crouches down, gripped by sudden panic but when he lays one of his hands on top of the blankets he feels their tiny chest moving as the baby sleeps on. He lets out a shaky breath of relief, picking up the basket, careful not to jostle it too much. He looks around his backyard before making his way inside, but the only thing looking back at him are the trees, still and silent, leaves rustling in the breeze. 

He gets back inside, shiver climbing up his back. He closes the door behind him with one of his feet and sets the baby down on the end of the kitchen table that isn’t quite as messy from the late experiments he was too lazy to clean before bed last night. And then he stares. The baby is still asleep, seemingly unbothered by the movement, and Taehyung doesn’t know what to do with them. Where did they come from? Who just drops a baby on some stranger's doorstep in the middle of the night? Does he turn them in to the authorities? Does he keep them ? That's ridiculous he can’t keep them, he doesn’t know how to raise a child. His thoughts swirl around as he continues to stand there in the kitchen, eyes fixed on the basket, breath quickening and magic sparking to life under his veins. And then actual sparks coming out of his fingertips. He startles, bringing his hands up to his chest and trying to get his breathing under control. Losing the grip on his magic right now would not... be great. After a few minutes he manages to calm himself down, magic going back to a steady thrum beneath his heartbeat, but brain still turning in circles. He wishes his grandmother was still alive, with the steady pang of longing that always accompanies the thought. She would know what to do. He always misses her most in these moments, when he’s lost and confused.

The baby stirs, little arms moving beneath the blanket and Taehyung holds his breath, waiting for this illusory peace to be shattered, but then they just settles back down, forehead wrinkling and then smoothing out again. His heart speeds up again. He has to figure something out, and standing here letting anxiety consume him is not helpful in the slightest. 

He looks towards the bedroom. He could go get his phone. Make a call. The baby moves again. Maybe leaving them on the table like this isn’t a good idea, what if they fall? For a moment he considers just summoning his phone with a spell but he left it plugged in last night and that would definitely wreck his charger. He goes to get it the good old fashioned way, moving as fast as he can. When he comes back the baby doesn’t appear to have moved and he lets out a relieved breath. 

Seokjin’s number rings for a couple minutes before directing him to voicemail, and Taehyung lets out a frustrated sigh, trying again, and again, but after the fourth call in a row where no one picks up he has to accept that it won’t work, wracking his brain looking for another solution. 

Yoongi would help, no questions asked, he knows that. But he might also bring... him, and Taehyung doesn’t know if he’s ready for that, not even after all these months. Not ever, if he’s being honest. But he can’t just sit here and wait for his brother to call him back. If he’s not picking up it’s because something serious must be happening back in the city, and those situations hardly get resolved quickly. He dials Yoongi’s number, making some of the leaves littering the table levitate in a little whirlwind for something to keep him distracted from the nerves while he waits. 

“Taehyung-ah?”

His heart pangs. He hasn’t talked to Yoongi since he left Seoul. He hasn’t talked to anyone since he left Seoul. He clears his throat, dislodging the sudden sadness clogging it. 

“Hi hyung.”

“What happened? Are you okay? Do you need me to come to you?”

The speed at which he fired off the questions betrays the forced calmness of his voice, unmasking  the worry behind it. The fact that he’s not even questioning why Taehyung called him in the middle of the night, after all this time, makes the guilt tighten its grip around his chest, making it difficult to breathe for a moment, even though that was the exact reason he called, because he knew he wouldn’t push, even if he had every right to. Taehyung opens his mouth to reassure him but the baby chooses that moment to announce its presence, letting out a whimper and wiggling around. He holds his breath, waiting to see if they will settle back down again but instead their face scrunches, mouth opening wide while they let out a scream. 

He vaguely registers Yoongi asking “What was that?” on the other end of the line but he’s already setting the phone down, hands hovering over the blankets, unsure on what to do. He remembers he helped babysit his baby cousin, one time, but that feels like several lifetimes ago, when he was barely more than a child himself. He’s intensely aware now of how big his hands look next to this small human, how breakable they seem. But they’re also getting more upset by the second, sensing that someone is there, watching and yet refusing to help, and Taehyung’s heart can’t bear how anguished they sound. 

He reaches in, hands careful, making sure he’s supporting the baby’s head like his grandmother told him to do a million times. This baby looks big enough that they should be able to hold their own head up but he’s not taking any chances. When he’s got them secure in his arms he starts bouncing a little, making a mental inventory of everything currently in his cabinets. He doesn’t know if they were crying to be held or if they need food or if they need a diaper change. He’s starting to freak out again. He could probably manage the food, there’s some fruit in the fridge he could mash up, probably, but he doesn’t have any diapers in the house, obviously, and the nearest supermarket is a thirty minute drive away and he doesn’t have a car seat and there’s no way he can drive with a baby on his lap. Luckily, the baby seems to calm down a little after a few minutes, still  whimpering from time to time and rubbing their tiny face against Taehyung’s neck but no longer outright yelling. His eyes catch on his phone, facedown on the table where he threw it. He’s going to have to call Yoongi back, but he doesn’t feel confident enough to move the baby in his arms while he’s standing up and walking around, seeing as they’re still wiggling around a little bit. He walks the couple of steps to his couch and carefully sits down, adjusting the baby so he can hold them up against his chest with only one arm. 

They seem to finally settle down completely, no longer crying and he twists his head to try and get a look at their face but can’t quite see anything at this angle so he gives up, instead muttering the words that will get his phone off the table and into his outstretched hand. It comes with a little more force than he intended and he fumbles with it, lurching forward instinctively, trying to catch it. He freezes once he wraps a hand around it, looking towards the baby, who’s  looking back at him with big wide eyes, wispy hair sticking out every which way from the crying stint earlier. It’s quiet for a couple of seconds and then their face twists again, wailing starting back up, making panic rise to his throat even though he knows nothing’s actually wrong. He rubs his hand on their back, humming under his breath and trying to stay calm, but after a few minutes the crying is still going strong and he gets up to walk around hoping that the movement will help. 

And it does seem to help for a while, until the phone rings, and the baby wails even louder, as if trying to drown it. Taehyung answers it, putting it on speaker phone and feeling his own urge to cry getting stronger by the second.

“Taehyung-ah, tell me what’s going on right now.” Taehyung can barely focus on what he’s saying with the baby sobbing in his ears. “Is that a baby? Taehyung. What the fuck is happening.”

“Hyung.” Taehyung can hear the despair in his own voice. “I woke up earlier and there was a baby on my doorstep, I don’t know what to do, I can’t take them anywhere, I don’t have a car seat, and I can’t even call anyone to come take them away because this whole house practically screams magic and I don’t have any diapers and-” He cuts himself off because the baby lets out a particularly piercing scream, his own breath coming out at a quickened pace again. He holds the baby closer, rubbing their back which seems to work for a couple seconds, crying calming down to quiet sobs before the screaming starts up again. 

“-way, we’ll be there in a few hours.”  

By the time his brain registers the words Yoongi has already hung up.

 

◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈

 

When the knock at his door comes, exactly three hours and thirty minutes later, Taehyung is beyond exhausted. The baby stopped yelling a little while after the call ended, settling down in his arms but they whimpered every time he tried to move, so he’s just been sitting on his couch, absentmindedly humming lullabies while also, quietly, losing his mind. Yoongi called again, earlier, to check on what kind of things to buy, causing Taehyung to go down a spiral trying to figure out how old this baby is. He managed to narrow it down to somewhere between six or eight months old, but he can’t be sure and it’s freaking him out. He now has all these baby development facts swimming around in his brain and making him paranoid about every noise and every movement they make. Not that they’ve been making a lot of either, at some point in the last forty minutes they must have dropped off to sleep again, nestled against him, but that doesn’t make him feel better. The baby feels warm. Maybe it’s normal. But what if they have a fever? He doesn’t know what temperature babies usually are. But he also doesn’t know how to check that, though, or what he would give them if they were sick so he just sits, and hums, and waits, for someone to come to his rescue and tell him what to do. 

He doesn’t need to get up to open the door, Yoongi just barges in as soon as he finishes knocking, looking like he jumped straight out of bed before making his way over, which, considering it was barely six am when Taehyung called, he probably did. And behind him. Jimin. He can’t help the way his heart sings out at the sight of him, trying to decide between expanding with love and contracting with heartbreak. He changed his hair. It’s black now, instead of the blond he had the last time he saw him, and cut shorter, making him look more grown up with the way it’s parted over his forehead. He’s frowning, eyes fixed on the baby, arms laden with bags. 

“Holy shit. I was hoping you were kidding.” He breaks his one sided staring contest with Jimin, so he can look at Yoongi, who’s now also frowning at the baby. He holds them closer, feeling defensive for no reason. Jimin closes the door behind him, crossing the room to leave the bags on the kitchen table, rummaging through the basket where the baby was lying earlier, making a mess of the blankets. Taehyung wants to tell him to stop, but he also doesn’t want to have his eyes on him, so he says nothing. Yoongi comes closer, sitting next to him and bending down so he can peer at the baby’s face, but they turn further into Taehyung’s chest, hiding. He guesses all the sudden noise woke them up.

“There’s a note in here.” Jimin’s voice is perfectly indifferent, as if he’s reading about the weather. Except he always used to get excited about rainy days, and none of that warmth can be found now. “But it just says ‘I can’t help her, but I hope maybe you can, I’m sorry I just don’t know how to deal with it, Iseul-ah, forgive me.’ What the fuck have you gotten yourself into?” He doesn’t wait for a response, not that Taehyung has one to give him, instead turning the note over, to see if anything’s written in the back. “So I guess her name is Iseul, huh? Pretty.” He drops it back on the table and turns his piercing gaze towards the three of them sitting on the couch. Taehyung resists the urge to look away.

“We brought you diapers, and also some baby food. I managed to reach Jin-hyung before we left and he couldn’t get away on such a short notice but he’ll be here in a couple of days if you... end up needing more things.” Yoongi’s voice is careful and even, but Taehyung reads what’s hiding between the lines. If he ends up keeping them- her. If he ends up keeping her. Iseul. He holds her away from his body, so he can get a good look at her face. Her hair is still sticking up every which way, shiny eyes looking back at him, chubby face oddly solemn, like she’s studying him as much as he’s studying her. What happened to you sweetheart. As if to answer his question, she frowns and Taehyung thinks for a second that she’s going to start crying again but instead she starts babbling, waving one of her hands around.

“Oh. “ Taehyung looks away from her at Yoongi’s exclamation, only to find his throw pillows hovering several inches off the couch. Iseul seems to sense the change in atmosphere because she quiets down, causing the pillows to fall to their rightful places. Yoongi is looking at her with barely disguised fascination. 

“Huh. I guess that’s why they left her on your door. Involuntary magic must be a pain in the ass if you’re not used to it.” Taehyung feels a pang in his heart at that. He knows the consequences of that better than most. “Or if you didn’t even know magic was a thing that existed which going  from the note, sounds like what happened. Good thing you’re as subtle as a ton of bricks when it comes to tricking the locals, huh Taehyung-ah?” 

He cuddles Iseul close again, feeling a wave of overprotectiveness, ignoring the scrutiny of the eyes he feels on him.

“Yes well, glad we solved that mystery I guess, good for us.” Yoongi looks at him, eyebrows raised at the bite in his tone. Taehyung ignores it. “I’m gonna go change her, first, and see if she’s hungry. I don’t know how long it’s been since she’s eaten. And then we can... figure everything else out.” He gets up, baby in his arms, making his way towards the kitchen table. Jimin has set one of the diapers packages aside, along with a packet of wet wipes, and Taehyung takes it, pausing when he realizes he’s not sure of where to go. He doesn’t have one of those waterproof cover things that he’s mostly sure you’re supposed to put down when changing a baby, so he doesn’t want to risk his bed, but also, he can’t set her on the table. He’s not sure when the last time that got a good scrub down was. Jimin seems to notice his hesitation because he lets out a sigh. Taehyung feels himself tense up. 

“What is it, what do you need?” Despite the words his voice is still vacant, and Taehyung has to take a deep breath, forcing his heart to keep beating steadily. 

“I don’t know where to set her down, I don’t think the table is clean.” 

Jimin looks at him in disbelief. “Just put down a towel.” 

Right. Taehyung feels himself flush in embarrassment, his magic doing a little jittery dance under his skin. If this was in the before, Taehyung would’ve snapped back about how he’s been kind of preoccupied this morning, so his brain can’t be expected to be working at full capacity. In the present, Taehyung can feel the resentment radiating off Jimin as if he’s making a conscious effort to cloak himself with it. He goes to get a towel. 

Iseul decides that this is the time to make a fuss again. She was fine for most of the actual diaper changing process but when Taehyung tries to get her dressed again she doesn’t seem too fond of that idea, waving her legs around every time he comes near her with the pants. Jimin is still just standing there, and Taehyung feels his stare on him like a physical weight. 

“Let me do it.” 

He startles when he feels Jimin close to him, body shying away on instinct before they can make contact. He catches a flash of hurt on Jimin’s face before the shutters come down again, but he doesn’t have time to say anything before Jimin plucks the clothing from his hand and nudges him out of the way, face still impassive. He sets the pants aside for a moment, holding Iseul’s hands in his and bringing his face close so he can blow a raspberry on her tummy. She giggles delightedly at that, waving her arms around and Jimin comes back up with a small smile, picking up the clothing again and getting it on her without much fuss, simply grabbing on to her legs when she tries to kick them. Once she’s all tucked in again she calms down and Jimin picks her up, holding her close to him with one of his arms and smoothing down her hair with his other hand, leaving a kiss on her head once he’s done. Taehyung suddenly notices that he’s not wearing any rings, and wonders what happened to them. When Jimin turns to look at him his face is once again perfectly composed, impassive as he steps closer to Taehyung, who resists the urge to take a step back, taking the baby when Jimin holds her out to him. 

Yoongi’s phone rings, and he goes to take the call outside, leaving him alone with Jimin, making the space suddenly feel stifling. They stand there for a few moments, staring at each other, letting the unspoken words between them take up more and more space until it feels like the whole atmosphere is saturated with them. Taehyung breaks first, because that’s what he does, looking away into the middle distance. 

Jimin doesn’t say anything, instead moving to rustle through the bags they brought, pulling out a bunch of baby food jars and a spoon, pushing them in Taehyung’s direction with barely a glance. 

He sits down, fashioning a bib for Iseul out of another clean kitchen towel and holding her in his lap while he feeds her. She cleans out the first jar in a couple of minutes, barely giving him time to dip the spoon back in before she tries to reach for it again. He feels all jittery again, unwanted thoughts about where she was before she got here surfacing up once more. 

He opens up another one, as soon as he’s done with the first, and she eats that up just as readily, twisting to give him an indignant look when he takes too long with the next spoonful. He can’t help but smile at her. 

“What am I gonna do with you hm? You’re going to have to learn some patience, I can’t always be at your beck and call you know?” 

“So you’re really doing this?” He startles at the sound of Jimin’s voice, halting his movements which causes Iseul to whine at him.

“If no one comes back for her, then… yes. I guess.”

Jimin's eyes turn sharp at that. “You can’t keep her.” 

Taehyung continues scooping the apple purée into Iseul’s mouth, trying his best to keep her from getting even messier than she already is. Considering most of the spoonful ends up dripping down her chin when she grabs for it just before it reaches her mouth, it’s not exactly an achievable goal. He sighs. At least she’s still mostly covered by the kitchen towel so her clothes should be fine.

“Taehyung.” He looks up, fixing Jimin with an annoyed look. His face is still in the same rigid stance he’s had since they arrived. “You can’t keep her.”

“Then who will Jimin? Shall I put her into the system with a little note that says don’t be alarmed! I might start making weird shit happen without any warning but I promise it’s totally cool‘? Because I’m sure that would go over great.” Iseul starts to fuss and Taehyung sets the spoon down momentarily so he can grip her tighter, making sure she doesn’t wiggle her way out of his hold. “We both know what happens, when people like us are left without a support system. I’m not doing that to her.”

He goes back to trying to feed her but she starts to cry for real this time, throwing her head around and almost smacking the spoon out of Taehyung’s hand. Jimin moves to sit in front of them, face still set in stone from when he was glaring at Taehyung and then he pulls out a little bee plushie from one of the bags still littering the table, waving it at Iseul. She stops crying, intrigued by this new object, and Jimin’s face melts, cold mask falling away for a moment and uncovering the Jimin that Taehyung remembers so well, kind and caring, with enough warmth to melt even the toughest glacier. Taehyung’s heart aches, trying to rip itself into shreds, hit with a wave of longing powerful enough to knock him out of balance. When he doesn’t take advantage of Iseul’s distracted state to try and finish feeding her Jimin fixes him with a look, gentleness shuttering off as if it was never there in the first place. 

Iseul doesn’t seem to like that, whimpering starting off again, and Jimin immediately goes back to waving the plushie around, doing silly sound effects. Taehyung boards up his feelings, returning his focus to the task at hand, more grateful for the buffer than he has any right to be.

After Iseul has been cleaned of all the food that ended up on top of her instead of in her mouth Taehyung sets her down on top of one of her blankets on the living room floor and sits down next to her. Yoongi comes back in, phone in hand and a displeased frown on his face.

“Taehyung-ah I’m really sorry, but they need me back in Seoul. Jin-hyung was dealing with it but apparently things took a turn for the worse and he needs help.” 

For a moment, Taehyung wants to demand satisfactions, ask what exactly is going on, what is there to deal with, to confirm if it’s what he wants it to be, but he doesn’t know if he wants to get his hopes up or not. Seokjin didn’t say that anything was happening, last time he called, but he’s not sure he would, even if there was something to tell.  

“I’ll be back as soon as I can. I’ll send Jeonggukie over in the next couple days with some more stuff for you.” 

Iseul scooted over and is now drooling all over his pants, trying to mouth at them so he picks her up and seats her between his legs, letting her play with his fingers.

“It’s okay hyung, you coming to see me in such short notice was already more than kind enough. Especially cause we haven’t... talked in a while. I just called you out of the blue, sorry for that.”

“Just because you decide to hide away from the world doesn’t mean people stop caring about you.” Jimin’s voice is harsh and Taehyung doesn’t dare to look at him for fear of what his face looks like.

He knows it’s true, that he’s the one who left without giving anyone the chance to say goodbye, but the cowardly part of him still doesn’t want to see the look on Jimin’s face, to be confronted with just how much he broke what was once the best thing in his life. Iseul’s face scrunches up, staying stock still for a couple seconds before she sneezes, making a little paper butterfly appear on her hand. She looks baffled at it, and then curls her hand up, crushing it, opening it up again and presenting it to Taehyung. He takes it, feeling a little of the weight dislodge from his chest, injecting a little magic into it so that it flutters around Iseul, who lets out a delighted screech at that. Taehyung looks back up at Yoongi, who’s watching them with a sad look in his eyes. 

“You guys can go, hyung. I’ll be fine. Just, tell Jeongguk to get me a car seat, if he can, so I can at least go to the store.” 

Yoongi trades a look with Jimin that lasts a couple seconds and ends with him shaking his head, glancing up at the ceiling with an exasperated look on his face before turning back to Jimin.

“You sure?” 

When Taehyung doesn’t hear a response he risks a look in Jimin’s direction, but the only thing he sees is a clenched jaw. 

“Yeah, I’m staying.” For a moment, Taehyung freezes, sure he must have heard wrong, but Yoongi is already talking about how he’ll call them once he gets to Seoul, and Jimin is still just standing there, arms crossed and posture unnaturally still.

“What do you mean ‘you’re staying’?” 

Yoongi sighs but Taehyung doesn’t pay him any attention, more focused on the way Jimin turns to him, stormy eyes fixed unwaveringly on his own. 

“It means, Taehyung, that I’m not leaving you here, in the middle of the woods, alone, with a baby you have no means of carrying around until someone can get you a carseat, god knows how many days from now.” 

Taehyung knows that Jimin is right, but the thought of having him here, of being forced to face this twisted jagged thing that now lies between them, makes his anxiety rise at breakneck speed, his whole body tingling.

“I can manage.” 

Jimin laughs at him, a cold and bitter thing. “Sure you can. Have you noticed that you don’t have any clothes for her? How are you planning to fix that? The closest store is a thirty minute drive away, are you going to walk all the way over there with her strapped to your chest? What if Jeongguk gets delayed and you run out of food? How are you getting to the supermarket?” He’s still forcibly calm, his face a perfect picture of disdain and Taehyung suddenly misses the days where he would lose control of his temper and his magic at the same time, making his hair frizzy from the static energy. Taehyung misses a lot of things. “Rest assured, I’m well aware you don’t want me here. You’re just going to have to suck it up for the time being. I’m going outside, I need some air.” 

He watches helplessly as he walks past him and Yoongi and straight out the door, letting it close behind him. Yoongi’s gaze on him is steady and even. It doesn’t bear any apparent judgment, but Taehyung feels judged anyways. He drops his eyes down to Iseul, who’s been surprisingly quiet throughout all the commotion. She’s leaning against him, hiding her face in his belly, both her tiny hands gripped around his shirt, her hair all up in the air again. He smooths it down and she tips her head back, using the grip on his shirt to try to rise to her feet, whimpering when she doesn’t have enough space to move in between Taehyung’s crossed legs. He picks her up, letting her stand while holding on to her tummy but she makes grabby hands at him so he brings her closer, holding her up so she can rest her head on his shoulder. 

“I don’t know if him staying is a good idea, but I do think you could use the help. I’ll feel better knowing you’re not alone out here.” His voice is measured, the same familiar tone from when they used to spend afternoons studying spells together, what feels like a lifetime ago. “I’ll make sure Jeonggukie can get here as soon as possible. Once things are settled in Seoul, me and hyung will drop by and help with the paperwork. If you need it.” He carries on talking when Taehyung doesn’t say anything in response, simply nodding his head. “You should call over to the house sometime. At least to say hi. We miss you over there.” 

He swallows back the tears suddenly clogging up his throat. 

“I’ll stay in touch this time hyung. Tell everyone... Tell them that I miss them too.”

Yoongi’s eyes soften, sadness tinting his smile.

“I will Taehyungie.” He comes closer, crouching down so he’s level with him, running a hand over Iseul’s head where she’s still tucked away against his neck, and then looking directly into his eyes. He tends not to do direct eye contact often, remnants from before he got better at controlling his magic, but Taehyung, who was witness to the whole process, who was there for all that history, still feels like all his thoughts are on display whenever it happens, waiting to be flipped through. He knows Yoongi would never purposely read his mind, but he still has to make a conscious effort not to look away. 

“Go easy on Jimin hm? He’s been through a lot this year.” His voice is in the same deliberately careful register he’s been using all morning, like Taehyung is an easily spooked animal, fleeing at the first sign of confrontation. He wants to say, I would never hurt him, he wants to say, I would rather die than see him unhappy, but, even though they still ring as true in his heart, he cannot get the words past his lips without them tasting like a lie. He gives out some other platitude instead, watching as Yoongi finally breaks eye contact and leaves out the door, with promises to check back in once he’s home. 

He gets up. Iseul’s breathing has evened out, and he moves to the bedroom so he can set her down on his bed. He needs to tidy up his things in the kitchen, put away the less savory plants he has lying around and the various debris hiding in the corners. He hasn’t cleaned in a while and the thought of Iseul moving around the house like this makes him anxious. But he also doesn’t feel comfortable leaving her here by herself. She’s sound asleep, safely in the middle of his wide bed, but he can’t get rid of the little voice in his head that says she’ll roll over and fall the minute he turns away. He eventually caves to it, gingerly sitting down and just watching her as she sleeps, letting his mind drift without purpose until the sound of the front door opening snaps him out of it. He tenses, automatically, and then forces himself to unlock his muscles and relax again, waiting for what he knows is to come. Sure enough, barely a moment passes before Jimin shows up in the doorway. He braces himself, but Jimin isn’t looking at him, eyes fixed on Iseul’s sleeping form instead. 

“You can go, do whatever you need. I’ll watch her.” His voice is soft, lacking any of the bite from before. Now he just sounds tired. Taehyung stomps down on the urge to reach out, instead getting up and leaving the bedroom, looking back, just once, to see Jimin now in the same position he was just moments ago, perfect mirror images. 

He cleans out the kitchen first, injecting some magic into his scrubbing when the more stubborn stains don’t want to come out, then moving out onto the living room, stuffing things he doesn’t think should be lying around into cabinets he never uses. Once he deems the place more or less acceptable, he looks back into the bedroom, seeing Iseul still in the same position he left her in, asleep and Jimin projecting light shows around them, humming a soft tune to make them change colors. He steps back, magic pulsing in time with the beat of his heart. He remembers the night he taught Jimin that trick, both of them tangled in the sheets of his shitty tiny bed, giddy with laughter and love. 

It’s still early. If he got in the car now he could make it to town before the shops close for lunch. He goes, taking the excuse of getting Iseul more things as an opportunity to clear his head. When he makes it back, bags in hand, he looks towards the bedroom again to see that the two of them have changed their position, Jimin is now sprawled on the bed with Iseul on his chest, one of his hands on her back, both of them peacefully asleep. He stands there, watching them for a moment, and then he closes the door, cutting off his view but not the way it imprinted itself onto his heart.

 

◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈

 

Over the next few days they fall into an uneasy routine. Taehyung doesn’t sleep much these days so he’s usually the first one up, going out to the garden to watch the sunrise until the time Iseul usually starts waking up. Turns out you're not really supposed to have babies in the bed with you so the basket she came in has been serving as a makeshift sleeping space, in lieu of a better option. She doesn't seem to really mind, she’s a peaceful sleeper, hardly moving once she manages to drop off, and Taehyung comes back in knowing he'll find her in the same position he left her in. Once she’s up he feeds her a bottle, and changes her, and then Jimin emerges from the guest bedroom a couple hours later, dressed and composed in a way Taehyung doesn't remember him ever being in the mornings. He’s wearing his own clothes, because apparently when Taehyung called in a panic at six am, Jimin’s first instinct was to pack a bag. The thought makes a complicated tangle of emotions rise in his chest so he simply does his best not to think about it. 

Jimin always cooks breakfast, making sure to leave enough out for Taehyung and then sits at the table with Iseul on his lap, cutting up fruit for her that she mashes on the table more than she actually eats. Taehyung doesn’t sit with them, taking his food and going out to the garden again, pretending to busy himself until they relocate to the living room. He tried to get out of eating breakfast altogether, that first morning, but Jimin followed him outside, Iseul on one arm and bowl on the other, a thunderous look on his face, so he makes sure to eat now, coming back inside in time to do the dishes. 

It’s a game of careful avoidances, planets in orbit, circling the same star but never colliding. After lunch Iseul takes a nap, and they each retreat to their own corners of the house, the silence pressing down on them like a weighted presence. Taehyung tries to use the time to work. He has put a temporary halt to most of the physical parts of his potion experimenting, just until he figures out how to contain the mess in a way that makes it safe for Iseul to be in the kitchen too, but there’s still a lot of reading and theory work he could be doing. But instead of being focused on the words in his books his brain keeps drifting off, ears straining to catch even the slightest movement coming from the direction of the bedrooms. He doesn’t know if he’s listening for Iseul or Jimin. Both, he guesses. 

The rest of the afternoon goes much the same way the mornings do. Iseul wakes up, Jimin brings her out, Taehyung sits with her on the living room floor until it’s time to feed her again. She’s a quiet baby. Besides the bee plushie that Yoongi and Jimin brought, Taehyung got her a set of soft fabric building blocks and she entertains herself for hours trying to stack them on top of each other and throwing them around the room. One time she made one of them vanish by accident and then cried for forty minutes straight but, occasional tantrum aside, she hardly makes her presence known. Taehyung is quietly worried about it, in the back of his mind, but she doesn’t seem to have any problem engaging when they talk to her, and sometimes she brings something over for them to inspect and answers back in quiet babbles so he figures that, maybe, she’s just quiet. He’s just constantly worried about all the things he doesn’t know, suffering through the shitty internet connection at his house to spend hours on parenting forums, reading and worrying and reading and worrying. 

It doesn’t help that he feels like he’s constantly having to step around Jimin. He kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, that first day with both of them alone in the house, for Jimin to try to corner him to talk, but it’s been over a week and they’ve hardly spoken ten words to each other, with Jimin not seeming especially inclined to change that any time soon. 

Taehyung expected to feel relieved at this, but instead it just makes him jittery, his magic flaring up at random times which just feeds into his anxiety in some kind of vicious cycle. He finds himself craving the confrontation, even if he doesn’t know what he’d say if pressed for answers on why he left things the way he did. He used to play it out in his head, back when he first came to live in this house, daydreaming about Jimin chasing him out here and demanding explanations and apologies, the way he would say just the right words and everything would go back to the way it was, the two of them carefree and in love. They were only fantasies, of course. Reserved for when he feels particularly lonely, coming out in moments of weakness. Jimin never came after him and when Taehyung thought about it with clarity he congratulated himself on a job well done. That was why he broke his heart, after all. Mission accomplished. 

But watching the way he behaves now, so cold and unfeeling, no trace of that spark Taehyung fell in love with back when they were stupid teenagers following Seokjin and Yoongi around Seoul and causing mischief, it feels like heartbreak all over again. He could bear it, this cruel thing he’d done, if he could imagine Jimin moving on with his life, happy and content out there somewhere, even if it wasn’t with Taehyung by his side. But this Jimin hardly ever smiles. He softens around Iseul, murmuring to her in gentle tones and trying to get her to mimic simple magic, looking after her with as much tenderness as Taehyung has always known him capable of, but as soon as she’s out of his grasp he shuts down again, retreating back into himself. 

He would attribute it to him simply being here, stuck with Taehyung after all this time, but then he remembers Yoongi’s serious eyes looking into his own, a reminder to be gentle. He’s spent so long convincing himself that he’d done the right thing, even if it wasn’t kind. Now that he’s confronted with this new dimmed version of the man he loves he’s not quite sure what to think anymore.

He’ll leave soon, anyways, and Taehyung will stay here, not quite as alone now that he has Iseul to keep him company, and this constant wondering of what if won’t change that. Maybe one day, once Seokjin manages to bring the Lee family to justice, once Taehyung can go back to Seoul, back home, maybe then, they can at least be friends again. 

For now though, they live in this restless impasse, only brushing together when passing Iseul back and forth between them. 

 

◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈

 

Turns out Jeongguk did get delayed by whatever is going on in Seoul, so it’s two weeks before there is another knock at Taehyung’s door. He’s startled for a moment, looking up from his book in time to see Jimin dropping the bee plushie he was making float around the living room for Iseul to chase after. She lets out a delighted shriek at that, immediately grabbing for it and making her way back to Jimin, crawling with it grasped in one of her chubby hands. There’s another knock, more insistent this time, and Taehyung gets up. 

He opens the door to see Jeongguk on the other side, hand poised to knock again. They stare at each other for a few moments, Jeongguk’s eyes wide and startled. Taehyung takes him in, cataloging all the differences between the last time he saw him, more than a year ago. His hair is longer now, hitting him by the chin, and there’s more piercings in his ears than Taehyung remembers, as well as one on his right eyebrow that is definitely new, but the look on his face is as familiar as the one he sees in the mirror every morning

He throws himself at Taehyung , knocking the air out of him and Taehyung clings to him just as tight, letting his eyes close and shakily breathing him in. When he opens them again it’s to find Hoseok observing him with piercing eyes, face perfectly composed. He smiles when he sees him looking but it doesn’t reach his eyes. 

Jeongguk disantagles them from the hug, pulling back to look at him with one of his goofy smiles that Taehyung can’t help but return automatically.

“Hyung. I missed you.” His voice is so earnest, no hint of reproach on it, like they went a couple weeks without seeing each other instead of several months. Taehyung’s smile falters, the familiar combination of guilt and sadness rearing its head once again. 

“Missed you too, Jeongguk-ah.” Jeongguk opens his mouth to say something else but before he can Taehyung feels a presence at his back, and Jeongguk’s eyes light up from where he’s looking above his shoulder. He steps around him, approaching Jimin who’s holding Iseul in his arms.

“Iseul-ah! Oh look at you pretty lady, hello! Ah hyung she’s so cute, the photos you sent don’t do her justice at all.” Iseul doesn’t seem to know what to do with this stranger giving her attention, hiding her face in Jimin’s neck and peeking at Jeongguk distrustfully when he tries to hold her hand. Jimin is rolling his eyes at Jeongguk’s antics, looking more lively than he has ever been, these past two weeks, a fond smile playing at the corners of his mouth at Jeongguk’s increasingly silly babbling. 

“You’re not going to greet your hyung, Taehyung-ah?” Despite the fake cheer imprinted on his voice, when Taehyung turns to look at him Hoseok’s eyes are still cold. He’s suddenly unsure of how to proceed. He’s seen this look on Hoseok’s face before, but never directed at him. It hurts more than he was expecting, more than he was prepared to deal with. He doesn’t notice the unnatural cold creeping over his skin, making him shiver, until Jimin interjects with a quiet Hobi-hyung, stop it, and it suddenly falls away, leaving just the clear morning air to raise goosebumps on his arms. Hoseok doesn’t spare him another look, going over to greet Jimin with the sunny smile he’s usually known for.

Jeongguk comes back to his side, tugging him along towards the truck haphazardly parked on the driveway. 

“Come on hyung. They went a little crazy with the baby stuff, the truck is absolutely loaded. It's gonna take us a week at least just to get all of it inside the house.” Taehyung lets himself be dragged by Jeongguk’s arm around his shoulders, listening to his inane chatter and letting it distract him from some of the new edges in his heart. 

It doesn’t take them a week to unload it all, but it does take them the better part of the morning, boxes piling up in his living room and making him wonder how he’s going to fit all of it inside the house and still live in it. Taehyung sends a slightly panicked text to Seokjin, asking where he got all this stuff, and gets a call back five minutes later. 

“Taehyung-ah, what’s up?”

“What’s up? Hyung, I could open my own baby store with the amount of boxes in my living room right now, where did you get all this?” 

“Chill Taehyungie. I bought some things but most of it came from Yoongi. His nephew just turned three a couple weeks ago, they still had all his baby things lying around and were happy to get rid of some of them.” Taehyung breathes out, relieved. That does make him feel better, the thought of Seokjin spending all this money was making his head spin, debts of gratitude he could never repay, piling on and on. 

“I’m guessing everything made it there okay, then? I found a blanket and some of the plushies you brought, back when you came to live with us so I sent you those too, I thought you might like to share them with her.” Taehyung swallows the sudden lump in his throat. When he went to live with Jin and his dad in Seoul he was already fifteen, all gangly limbs and a stubborn streak a mile long, resentful that he had to leave his grandmother behind to live with what were essentially strangers at the time and not afraid to let anyone know it. The plushies were the first thing his grandma ever bought him and he carted them around every time he had to move house. He can’t help but feel a little choked up at the fact that Seokjin remembered that.

“Yeah, I would, thanks hyung.”

“Don’t mention it, anything for the most handsome of my little brothers.”

Taehyung smiles, despite the fact that Seokjin has been using this same joke for the past ten years. Still, he knows his part of the script.

“Hyung, I’m your only brother.” 

“Well that just means you wiped the competition, well done.” His voice turns more serious. “How are you doing, really, Taehyung-ah? I haven’t had much time to check in lately.”

And in some weird way, Taehyung is glad for it. For all that he’s had all his thoughts and anxieties going at double speed these last two weeks, the fact that he hasn’t had to speak them out loud makes them feel less real, makes it easier to pretend like it will all just go away if he just tries hard enough. But on the other hand, Seokjin has been his rock this past year, the only connection he’s managed to keep in the middle of all the turmoil, and having him go off the grid now, when everything seems suddenly so uncertain and scary makes him feel like he’s been tossed out at sea in the middle of a storm. 

He looks around, buying himself time to figure out what to answer. Iseul has at last conceded to let Jeongguk hold her, but she keeps throwing deeply disdainful looks to everything he tries to hold up to her, twisting around to keep Jimin in her line of sight every time she feels like they’re drifting too far. Jimin and Hoseok are pulling things out of boxes and appear to be in the middle of an intense discussion, if Jimin’s furrowed eyebrows are to be believed. Taehyung steps outside, through the kitchen door, past his garden, going all the way to the edge of the trees. Seokjin hasn’t tried to get him to talk again but Taehyung can hear him breathing on the other side of the line, deep and steady. 

“Hyung. I don’t know if I can do this.” He can’t help the way his voice shakes, just the tiniest bit. 

“Oh Taehyungie... We can find some place for Iseul, we’ll make sure she’s well cared for, you don’t have to-”

“No.” His whole body recoils at the idea, rejection automatic even before Seokjin has even finished talking. “No, hyung, that’s not. That’s not what I’m worried about. I mean, it is, kind of, being responsible for her is terrifying but... Iseul’s fine. That’s not the problem.”

Seokjin waits, presumably for him to say what is the problem but suddenly all the words evade him. 

Finally, he prompts, voice gentle. “What is it Taehyung-ah? Tell hyung about it. I’ll fix it.” Taehyung lets out a strangled laugh at that, eyes starting to tear up against his will. That’s what Jin has always said, even when Taehyung was too prideful and too focused on holding a grudge to come to him with his problems. He remembers coming home one day, back in the early days when the home in his heart was not Seoul but a little town thousands of miles away, with his clothes drenched and school supplies gone, because he butted heads with some of the kids in magic lessons and that was their way of getting back at him. Seokjin had cornered him in the hallway, before anyone could catch sight of him and extracted the whole story from him with a remarkable amount of patience. That was Taehyung’s fourth fight in less than a month and Jin sneaked him to the bathroom, got him a new change of clothes and redirected all the conversations at dinner so that no one even looked in his direction. Taehyung never found out what he did exactly but when he showed up for magic lessons again a couple days later those kids made sure to sit all the way across the room, not even glancing in his direction. And then Jimin moved into town and suddenly Taehyung had to learn to be the level headed one. His temper had a notoriously short trigger that made Taehyung look like a saint in comparison. He'd had to defuse more fights in that first month of friendship alone than he’d managed get himself into throughout his whole life up to that point. 

He’s snapped out of his reminiscing by a particularly chilly breeze, making him shiver. He takes a deep breath, letting the cold make its way down to his lungs.

“I just. It’s so hard hyung, having him here.” He doesn’t need to specify who. There’s only one him that’s never referred to by name in their conversations, as if the mere mention of it might shatter the illusion of peace that Taehyung has struggled so hard to maintain. “I wasn’t ready. I know it’s for the best that I left but hyung... he looks so sad sometimes.”

“Was it really, Taehyung-ah?”

“What was?”

“For the best that you left, like that?” And this is a discussion that they’ve had countless times before too. It was always a vicious argument in the beginning, but it mellowed out as more and more time went by. There’s only so many times you can have the same conversation without reaching any conclusions before it starts to become routine.

He sighs. “Hyung, please. You know why I did it.”

“Yes and if you recall, I thought it was stupid back then too.”

“I left because you told me to, because that Lee Daeseong asshole thinks the best way to come for your seat on the Council is to go around threatening to kill people but I wasn’t going to let Jimin follow me out here to the middle of nowhere when he had just gotten his dream job. You know how hard he worked for that hyung. I wasn’t going to be the reason he threw it away.”

It’s silent for a little while, Seokjin’s voice quiet and sad when he speaks again. 

“No, you just broke his heart instead, Taehyungie.” 

The words land like a stab to the heart, making it hard to breathe for a moment. He knows them to be true, of course. Repeated them like a mantra for the first few months, a constant loop going through his mind, nothing more than his brain’s way of putting salt on the wounds. Jimin JiminJiminJimin. You broke his heart you broke his heartyoubrokehisheart . But that doesn’t stop the knife from twisting, every time it’s mentioned. No amount of time would desensitize him to this kind of pain.

He forces himself to breathe in, then out, ignoring the mangled remains of his own heart, still beating, despite it all. 

“Is the situation with the Lee’s handled, hyung?”

Jin sighs. “No. I thought I had them this time but they’re slippery little bastards.” 

“That means I can’t come back yet, right? And you don’t know when I’ll be able to.” It’s silent on the other end of line but over the years Taehyung has learned to interpret Seokjin’s silences. This one means he’s right but Seokjin doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction of hearing it out loud. “That means it was the right choice. I can make potions anywhere. Jimin can’t be a curse breaker if there’s no curses around to be broken. He talked about the internship with Choi Seongho-ssi for years. It’s the whole reason he moved to Seoul in the first place.” Another pause sets in, but Taehyung is not interested in what the silence has to say anymore. “He’ll go back now, with Jeonggukie and Hoseok-hyung, and I’ll stay here with Iseul, and everything will be alright again. Eventually.” 

“I’m not going to tell you I agree with you, because I don’t. But I haven’t been able to change your mind this whole time and I don’t think my luck will change now. I hope Iseul gets your stubborn streak, then you’ll see what you put me through.” 

Taehyung cracks a smile at that, even though it’s short lived.

“Will you keep an eye on him, hyung? Once he’s back in Seoul. Make sure he’s really doing okay.”

Jin sighs again. “Of course I will Taehyungie. I have been, this whole time. He’s still family, even if you guys aren’t dating anymore. You’re not the only one who loves him.” 

“I know.” He just needed to ask for that extra reassurance, to hear out loud that someone will look out for Jimin when he can’t do it himself. 

“Alright. I have to go Taehyung-ah. I’ll call you in a few days so we can catch up better hmm? Send me more pictures of my niece, I sent you some outfits and I want to see if she looks as adorable in them as I pictured when I bought them.”

“She looks adorable in everything.”

“I know, she must get her genes from my side of the family.”

Taehyung can’t help but laugh, heart just a little lighter, which is exactly what Seokjin was going for. Taehyung misses him terribly.

“Bye hyung.” 

“Goodbye sweetheart. I’ll talk to you soon.” 

He sits outside for a little longer, letting the wind swirl around him, calming his thoughts. When he gets back inside, hands slightly shivering from the cold, Iseul is back in Jimin’s lap, still awake but just barely. She perks up a little when she sees him, reaching out her arms towards him, so he moves over to take her, cuddling her close. Jimin lets him, barely sparing him a glance before going to stand over Jeongguk who’s trying to put together what looks like a crib, giving him directions but not actually moving a finger to help assemble it. 

Iseul fusses and Taehyung bounces her a little. 

“Has she eaten yet?” 

Jimin looks up just enough to shake his head at him, so Taehyung goes to see if he can get her to eat some soup before she naps. Otherwise she’ll just wake up after twenty minutes and then be cranky and hungry and that’s never a good combination for anyone involved. There's a high chair waiting for him that wasn’t there when he left for the garden earlier and Taehyung sets her down there, marvelling about the fact that he no longer has to figure out how to navigate the feeding routine one handed. Iseul doesn’t seem terribly happy about being left  in the chair by herself but Taehyung manages to get back to her with her food without any major drama happening. She also doesn’t seem that interested in the soup so Taehyung gives up once he’s managed to get her to eat half of it. He’s not in the mood to argue with her about it today. He peels a couple tangerines checking for seeds before he sets the pieces down in front of her and she seems to eat that up just fine so he leaves her to it while he does the dishes.

There’s a sudden shiver down his back and he looks behind him to find Hoseok leaning against the kitchen table, watching him. He turns back to the sink, trying to buy time even if the only thing left to wash is a spoon. 

“How are you liking your self imposed isolation, Taehyungie? Are you having fun, playing hermit out here in the woods?” He closes the tap, taking a deep breath before he turns around. Hoseok’s eyes are trained on him, predatory glint fixing him in place. “Do you know how much of a mess you left behind when you walked away, Taehyung-ah? Hmm?”

This was the confrontation he was expecting, when Jimin decided he would stay, but he was never prepared for it like this. He can practically feel the cold radiating from Hoseok in waves, all of him poised as if to strike at a moment's notice, coiled up tight with barely contained fury. 

“You see, I don’t think you do. Do you know how long it took Jimin to get back on his feet? How worried we all were, those first few months? No, of course you don’t. You just disappeared one day. Jimin comes crying on my doorstep, couldn’t even tell me what was going on from how hard he was sobbing and then the next day poof no more Taehyung, he just vanished into thin air.” Iseul whimpers from her high chair and only then does Taehyung notice he wasn’t breathing, sucking in some air, hands gripping tight at the counter behind his back and magic running wild beneath his skin. Iseul is reaching her arms in his direction but he doesn’t trust himself enough to pick her up right now. 

“And now here we are again. One call from you and we all came running. Like nothing ever happened. Have you even apologized to him? Or are you waiting for him to leave again so you don’t have to?” 

Iseul has started crying in earnest now, and it feels like his heart is exploding in his chest, magic shooting off by itself and making some of the plates he had just stacked up fall to the ground.

He flinches away from the noise and looks up to see Jimin, picking up Iseul and shushing her. He looks murderous and Taehyung tenses, bracing himself for whatever’s to come, but Jimin doesn’t even look at him, turning to Hoseok instead.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” His voice is quiet but there’s so much anger packed into it that Taehyung recoils, even though it doesn’t appear to be directed at him. 

Hoseok doesn’t back down and Taehyung wasn’t expecting him to. He’s an easy going person, most of the time, but he’s always had a core of steel. 

“Just asking Taehyungie what he’s been up to. We haven’t heard from him in so long, there’s a lot to catch up on, don’t you think?” 

Iseul calmed down some once Jimin picked her up but she hasn’t stopped crying completely, still whimpering from time to time, making Taehyung want to reach out and comfort her.

“Hyung. I told you not to do this. Just leave it alone.” Jimin’s voice is still strained, his gaze no less stony.

“Yes, because that strategy has worked so well until now, hasn’t it Jimin-ah?” 

Taehyung can see Jimin gearing up to say something, hair fluttering up in that way he was once so intimately familiar with, remember half hysterically missing the sight just a couple weeks back, and rushes now to intervene. He doesn’t want them to be fighting. He doesn’t know why Jimin seems to be defending him. Hoseok is right, after all, every one of his accusations hitting the mark dead center.

“Jimin.” He turns to look at him, fire still lit in his eyes, and Taehyung feels his breath catch in his throat. He doesn’t know what to say, mind blank all of a sudden. He ends up just subtly shaking his head, not knowing how else to get his message across, but Jimin seems to understand the gist of it, deflating slightly at the sight of it, most of the fight leaving him. Hoseok lets out a snort at that, managing to get out a sound that is a mix between incredulity and disdain. Jimin glares at him, and then moves in Taehyung’s direction where he’s still pressed against the kitchen counter, handing him Iseul once he’s close enough. She clings to him and he buries his nose in her hair, taking the opportunity to calm himself down too. Jimin is looking at them, less guarded than he has been this whole time and Taehyung doesn’t know what to do with it. He’s saved from having to come up with an answer because Jimin speaks again, voice quiet between them, creating a sense of intimacy that he’s no longer equipped to deal with, but that he craves all the same.

“Me and Jeonggukie finished setting up the crib in your room. You should try putting her down for a nap.” 

It’s clearly an out, considering the way Iseul was upset earlier there’s no way she’ll fall asleep any time soon, and the way the air seems to shimmer with tension betrays the calm Jimin is trying so hard to portray. If Taehyung were a stronger man he would refuse to take it. He would stand here in his kitchen and let Hoseok continue tearing into him, as he knows he deserves. But he’s not, and so he goes, leaving the eerie silence that sets in his absence behind.

Jeongguk is still in the bedroom when he enters, fussing with the arrangement of the plushies in the crib, and he looks up with a smile when he sees him in the doorway.

“Hyung!” He straightens up, waving his hands in  a ta-da motion. “Look! Pretty sweet huh?” 

Taehyung looks. Pretty sweet doesn’t begin to cover it. The sheets have little forest animals on them and Jeongguk arranged everything neat and tidy, the whole tableau looking straight out of a photoshoot. There’s a rabbit plushie that’s new and next to it, Taehyung’s little purple elephant. It doesn’t have a tail anymore, because he pulled it out accidentally when he was eight and his grandma never got around to sewing it back on, and one of its ears is slightly smaller than the other due to a magical mishap, but it looks... just how he remembers it. 

“I washed everything before we left Seoul, you can just put her down, it’s fine. I also washed all of the outfits and everything, so you can take them out of the bags and put them straight in the closet.”

Taehyung stops for a minute, thunderstruck. 

“Jeongguk-ah... you didn’t have to do that.”

“Oh it was no problem hyung, you know I like doing laundry.”

If it came from anyone else Taehyung would doubt the innocence of the words. But it’s not anyone else, it’s Jeongguk, and the way sincerity shines in his eyes could never be faked. He sighs. “That’s not what I mean. You didn’t have to do... any of this. I already made you come all the way out here completely out of the blue, you could’ve just dropped off the boxes, and that would have been enough. It would already be more than I had any right to ask you.” 

Jeongguk sobers up. “Hyung. You didn’t make us do anything. We’re here because we care about you. Hobi-hyung too, even if he’s super angry at you right now. But I don’t think we can fault him for that.” He looks at him defiantly, as if daring Taehyung to contradict his statement, but he doesn’t. He wouldn’t, could never. “We were all mad at you at some point, but Hobi-hyung is the one who had to deal with Jimin-hyung so it hit him a little harder.” He pauses, pressing his lips together for a moment. “Honestly, Yoongi-hyung might also be a little mad at you still, it’s hard to tell with him sometimes. Whatever, the point is, even when you’re being a dumbass, we still care about you." He pauses again, big eyes fixed on Taehyung's, seemingly hesitating about something. Finally he seems to make up his mind But also, you should really stop doing that and apologize so we can also stop being mad at you.” 

He nods at him decisively, as if to punctuate his statement and then turns back to the bed, rummaging through the mess of things piled up there.

“Jeonggukie, I’m-” Jeongguke straightens up, giving him a disbelieving look, interrupting him before he can finish the sentence. 

“Aish, hyung don’t do it now. I don’t want you to do it because I nagged at you, apologize when you really mean it. Anyway,” Before Taehyung has time to interject that he does mean it, that he’s always meant it even if he couldn’t get the words out, Jeongguk opens up his hand, revealing a little glass star nestled in it. “Look at this.” He taps at it with one of his fingers in a seemingly random pattern and the little star floats up, light irradiating from it and creating little colorful shapes on the walls. The effect looks just like the light charm Taehyung came up with when he was a kid, the one he taught Jimin. Iseul stirs in his hold, lazily waving her hand at the shapes floating around her and Jeongguk erupts in a delighted smile. 

“Pretty cool, huh, Iseul-ah?” He turns his smile to Taehyung. “Jimin-hyung said you guys do this sometimes to help her fall asleep and I thought it would be a neat gift. I charmed the glass so it won’t break even if you drop it, but that’s not really my area of expertise so I wouldn’t put it to the test if I were you. I wanted to make it do some more cool patterns, and colors and stuff, but I ran out of time to work on it so the basic package is all you get. But I’ll workshop it and bring you the new and improved version next time I come visit.” 

Taehyung can’t help himself at that, throwing himself forward to wrap his free arm around Jeongguk’s waist, hugging him tight and slightly squishing Iseul between them, who doesn’t seem to take too kindly to it judging by the shriek she lets out. Jeongguk wraps his arms around the both of them, carefully, trying not to crowd Iseul too much, and just rubs his hand across Taehyung’s back. Taehyung hooks his head over his shoulder and doesn’t move it before he speaks, words barely louder than a whisper.

“Jeongguk-ah, I’m so sorry. I know you said to meant it, but I’ve never meant anything more in my life. I’m sorry.” 

“Ah hyung... it’s okay, I know you were going through a lot too. Jin-hyung read me your texts sometimes so I knew you were doing alright.” He pauses. “You should apologize to Jimin-hyung, though. Before you do anything else.” 

Taehyung disentangles himself from Jeongguk. “I know. I will, just. Let me put Iseul down, try to get her to sleep.” Jeongguk’s eyes say he sees through Taehyung’s attempts to buy himself some time, but he lets him have it, leaving him alone with Iseul, who seems just as fidgety as he feels when he sets her down in the crib. She starts crying after a few minutes so he picks her up again, walking around the room and humming lullabies, Jeongguk’s little star still drawing shapes in the walls, until she finally drops off, holding on to his shirt. He pries her off gently, keeping watch for a moment to see if she’ll wake up but when she doesn’t he finds himself forced to move, out of excuses at last. 

The three of them are camped out in the living room, Jimin and Jeongguk sitting on the floor, taking the last things out of the boxes and folding them up, and Hoseok perched on the arm of the couch, seemingly doing nothing but watching them. He spares a glance in Taehyung’s direction when he feels him come up behind him but otherwise gives no indication that he’s noticed his presence. Taehyung takes a fortifying breath before speaking.

“Jimin.” His head snaps up to look at him. “Can I talk to you?” 

Hoseok huffs from his place on the couch, still not looking in his direction. Jimin’s  face is kept carefully neutral, and Taehyung feels his palms start to sweat. Jeongguk shoots him a thumbs up from behind Jimin’s back and Taehyung feels his lips twitch at the sight. When Jimin finally speaks his voice sounds vaguely confused, like he’s not sure what to make of that question.

“Yes?” He makes no move to get up though, and there’s no way Taehyung is having this conversation with Jeongguk’s eager eyes and Hoseok’s disdainful silence hanging over them.

“Alone? Please.” Jimin’s mask falls for a split second, vulnerability flashing in his eyes but it’s gone before Taehyung knows it, and he gets up without another word. Hoseok sighs but Jimin ignores him, simply looking expectantly at Taehyung. 

He walks them outside. It’s cold out, the wind picking up, but the open floor plan ensures that there was no place for a private conversation in the house unless they wanted to hide in the bathroom. Or in the guest room. But that’s Jimin’s space, now, and Taehyung already feels off centre enough. Out here, in the garden, surrounded by the familiar open space and all his plants, at least he feels a little grounded. 

Jimin tucks his hands under his armpits, face wrinkling in distaste at the chilly breeze and Taehyung feels his heart squeeze. There’s so many things he wants to say that he finds himself inexplicably speechless, the words tumbling all over each other and ending up in a tangle he can’t make sense of. Jimin doesn’t say anything, while Taehyung tries to collect himself. He’s not even looking in his direction at all, instead gazing out into the trees at the edge of the garden, and Taehyung takes the opportunity to watch him. The wind has messed up his hair, breaking the neat style he always keeps it in these days, making him look younger, softer. They both had to stop wearing earrings - dangly things and babies are not a good combination -  but the bare curve of his ear strikes Taehyung as something unbearably intimate all the same. While Taehyung wears his jewelry for aesthetic purposes, for the little thrill of watching things glint in the sunlight, Jimin has always worn his as armor. Or even weaponry, in some cases. There’s some nasty spells you can imbue those things with if you know what you’re doing, and Jimin always did. He doesn’t wear them around the house, he didn’t back when they lived together, and certainly not now, with Iseul around, and Taehyung can’t help but fixate on the sight of his bare fingers, his bare neck, his bare ears, holding it in contrast with his new stony expressions and the immaculate press of his clothes, the juxtaposition between what was once the familiar and this new hardened exterior that he can’t help but resent a little, even if knows he’s the reason the for it.

“You said you wanted to talk?” Jimin hasn’t turned to look at him, instead speaking out facing the trees, but Taehyung feels caught in his staring anyways, dropping his eyes to the ground. 

“I wanted to apologize. I shouldn’t have left things the way I did. And I shouldn’t have waited this long to apologize either. Just... I’m sorry.” 

Jimin doesn’t say anything and Taehyung lifts his head to gauge his reaction, only to find him already staring back, unreadable look in his eyes. 

“You know, that week after you left, I thought I would die of heartbreak.” The words cut deep into Taehyung, worming their way into his heart and nestling there, little ice cold daggers. “I used to think that was just a thing people said to be dramatic, right? It must be, no one dies of a broken heart after all.” He looks away again, leaving Taehyung staring at his profile. “And neither did I, of course.” His lips tip up in a sardonic smile. “But I did feel it, not in a metaphorical sense, but like a physical pain. Like you had reached your hand into my chest and ripped my heart out, left a hole in there that I couldn't patch up.” Taehyung's own heart aches in recognition, remembers the first few months out here, how it felt like he would bleed out at the slightest movement. “And now you want to say sorry. You haven’t tried to get in touch even once. It’s been over a year Taehyung. If I hadn’t tagged along with Yoongi-hyung and then refused to leave, it would have been even longer.” 

Jimin is back to staring at him now, face a mixture of defiant and hurt, mask of calm finally broken. Taehyung has nothing to say to that, lets the guilt and the shame flow uninhibited  through his veins, because Jimin is right. He had no plans to contact him - or any of them - any time soon, and if they hadn’t all but forced his hand he doesn’t know if he would have ever gathered the courage to do it. 

“I know I’ve been... I’ve been really stupid. I’m not asking you to forgive me, I know I don’t deserve that, I don’t expect it, I know an apology is the least I could do, after everything. If I could make it up to you I would, but Jimin-ah. Jimin. From the bottom of my heart, I really am sorry.” 

It feels insufficient to his own ears, but he still hasn’t managed to figure out how to reach the words that would get what he really wants to say across, that could convey the depth of his remorse. Jimin is looking at him the way he used to look at his curse breaking materials, like he’s doing mental calculations on how to take him apart and see what makes him tick. 

“You’re right, it is the least you could do.” Jimin’s voice is biting and Taehyung does his best not to recoil back from it, but the fight seems to drain out of him as soon as it starts, shoulders deflating. “But better late than never, I guess.” He sounds so bitter and Taehyung wishes he could turn back time, put a stop to the whole chain of events so that he could keep him from sounding like this ever again. It’s quiet for a moment, just the wind rushing around them and Taehyung’s thoughts rushing with it, trying to figure out what else to say. Jimin beats him to it, grinding his thoughts to a halt as he lets out a little humourless laugh.

“Hoseok-hyung is right, I am a fool. Even now, I’m not really mad at you. Even though I should be, even though I want to. It would make my life so much easier, if I could be angry, if I could hate you for putting me through this. I should be furious, Taehyung, but instead I’m just so fucking sad, all the time.” His voice breaks in the last words and Taehyung watches in horror, heart sinking, as he takes a moment to pull himself back together, eyes shiny. “I thought we had- I thought I meant more to you, but you just tossed me aside like I was nothing and my stupid heart won’t even let me be mad at you like a normal person, instead I just came running back at the first chance I got and you still wouldn’t have talked to me if Hobi-hyung hadn’t tried to flay you alive earlier. Fuck this is pathetic.” 

There are tears running down his face now and Taehyung feels himself moving, reaching forward to pull him into his arms before he can consider whether or not that would be a good idea. Jimin doesn’t fight him though, instead holding on so tight that Taehyung struggles to breathe, hiding his face in his shoulder and soaking through his shirt. Taehyung wraps his arms tight around his shoulders and mumbles an incoherent string of sorrysorrysorryJiminiesorryi’msosorry into his hair, not realizing he’s crying too until the wind catches the tear tracks on his face, making him shiver in the cold. 

After a few minutes Jimin pulls away, wiping at his face angrily with his shirt sleeves, and Taehyung lets him, reluctantly stepping back to give him some breathing space. Jimin tucks his arms back around himself, making himself smaller, and Taehyung’s hands itch with the urge to grab on to him again. 

“The worst of it all is that I can’t even trust the things I thought I knew. Like, I thought I had a boyfriend, and that we loved each other enough to make it through anything, but then I wake up one day and he breaks up with me, and then he disappears in the middle of the night, without a word, without a note, and I have to go, begging and crying, knocking at his brother’s door because I don’t even know if he’s still alive, or if the people who were threatening to kill him managed to do the job, if I would have to live knowing I never got to say a proper goodbye.” He’s crying again, tears rolling down his face, but this time Taehyung doesn’t dare to try to touch him, because even through the tears his gaze is piercing, chin lifted up defiantly. “But no, he’s alive and well. Just doesn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore, enough so that he cut ties with all of our friends, too. So you have to start to wonder. Maybe I’ve been deluding myself, all these years. Maybe he’s just a really really good actor and none of it meant anything. Maybe I’m an idiot pining away for someone who doesn’t care about me at all.”

Taehyung’s heart feels like it’s going to beat out of his chest, every word sinking into him and delivering another stab of pain, words tumbling out of his mouth before he can contain them. 

“No that’s not- I love- I loved you so much , more than I can ever put into words, you were- you are, the most important person to me, always, Jimin you- you were my happiness. Always. Always.” He sounds desperate to his own ears, desperate to have him listen, to have him believe these words, to hear the sincerity behind them even if he doesn’t know how to choose the right ones. Jimin is just staring at him, pinning him in place, eyes still watery but no longer giving anything away, mask firmly placed once again and Taehyung aches with the urge to tear it away so he can see what he’s thinking, so he can know what to do. 

“I wish I could believe you, I just... I don’t know how to fix this.”

Taehyung’s heart skips a beat. “You want to fix it?”

Jimin gives a self deprecating smile. “I shouldn't, right? It’s probably stupid of me. I know some of the hyungs will beat me over the head for even suggesting it but, I miss you.” It’s said so softly that Taehyung has trouble catching it, at first. “Still. Even now. So, I don’t know if we can but... I would like to at least try.” 

And this is something Taehyung has trouble wrapping his head around, simply because he never thought it would happen. He dreamt, and fantasized, but deep down, he always thought he had ruined this forever, and now it feels like his knees might buckle from gratitude, an overwhelming sense of relief pouring over him. Jimin’s eyes are fixed on his, looking more and more shuttered as time goes by, and that’s when Taehyung realizes he was probably expecting an answer, and he opens his mouth to let words come spilling out, tripping over themselves in a rush to agree, to reassure him.

“Yes, of course, if you- me too, thank you, I’m sorry. I’ll do anything.” He cringes at how eager he sounds, but Jimin’s face thaws a little so he can’t feel too bad about it. 

“Okay.” A particularly strong gust of wind blows at that moment and Jimin shivers, distaste showing on his face again. “We can talk more later, try to figure it out? But I don’t think I want to keep talking about this right now and also, it’s really cold out here, so I’m going back inside.” 

Taehyung watches him go, heart stuck in his throat, and lets the wind whip around him for a couple minutes more, making his eyes sting. He lets himself cry, just for a little while, and then he wipes his face and goes back inside as well. 

He had vague plans to apologize to Hoseok too, but the icy look he throws at him as soon as he enters the room quickly dissuades him from that idea. Jeongguk is at the stove, making them lunch, showing off by making the vegetables hover from the cutting board directly into the frying pan, which just makes a mess and causes Jimin to scold him. But the nagging can’t hide his fond amusement and judging by Jeongguk’s pleased smile while he resists Jimin’s attempts to shove him aside, that was exactly the point.

All things considered, it ends up being a pretty peaceful meal. Taehyung doesn’t say much, content to let Jimin and Jeongguk’s bickering wash over him, bask in how much he missed just being a part of a group. He never realized how deep his loneliness ran, left unchecked for so long, until this precise moment, watching  Jeongguk laugh across the table, leaning on Hoseok’s shoulder who forgets to be angry for a moment and lets a smile take over his face while running a hand through Jeongguk’s hair. He’ll miss them, once they’re gone and he’s left with only Iseul, but maybe this time they can stay in touch and he won’t have to miss them so much. He looks at Jimin, who’s pointing his chopsticks at Jeongguk and talking through his mouthful of noodles, lips pushed out into a pout. Maybe they can come to visit again, sometimes. If things go well. 

Their new spanking baby monitor crackles to life with a whimper when they’re putting the dishes away so Taehyung goes to check on Iseul. She’s gearing up to start crying in full when he makes it into the bedroom, and for a few seconds she seems startled to see him so soon, before she’s even had the time to properly open her mouth, but then she reaches for the bunny plushie at her side and tries to throw it at him in greeting and he gives in to the urge of laughing at her. He brings her out to the living room after a diaper change, setting her down on her new activity mat, toys scattered around her. He doesn’t know where everyone went, but the kitchen is now empty, dishes stacked to dry and table wiped clean. Iseul doesn’t seem to know what to do with her newfound bounty at first, batting at things with her hands and then looking back at Taehyung as if waiting for his reaction, so he sits down next to her, showing her how these shiny new things work. She mashes her hand on a little toy keyboard and her eyes light up when it plays a little tune, turning to Taehyung with a delighted shriek and then immediately reaching to do it again, this time bringing both her hands down on it and banging them repeatedly, never letting the melody go past the initial two notes before starting over again. She doesn’t seem to care though, looking as pleased with her new activity as Taehyung has ever seen her. 

Jeongguk emerges from the front door, immediately coming over to sit with them, causing Iseul to stop her symphony and look at him distrustfully. He pouts at her. 

“Iseul-ah, you’ll seriously hurt my feelings if you keep being like this. Don’t you wanna be my friend? I promise I’m super fun.”

He reaches over to press one of the keys on her keyboard and she follows the movement with her head, not looking amused in the slightest, going back to staring at him as soon as his hand retreats, little face oddly serious. Taehyung laughs at them, taking pity on Jeongguk and reaching for a ball to try and entice Iseul into interacting with him. 

By the time Jimin and Hoseok emerge from the guest bedroom where they were apparently sequestered, she’s happily letting Jeongguk stack towers of blocks in front of her and then gleefully tearing them down, giggling as he pretends to be upset about it. They’ve been at it for at least fifteen minutes and show no signs of stopping but far be it from Taehyung to spoil their fun. Jimin crashes on the couch behind them with a sigh and Hoseok stands next to it, body tense and unwieldy as he watches him for a couple of seconds before speaking up.

“Jeongguk-ah, we should get going.” 

Jeongguk looks up at him with a pout, absentmindedly taking the block that Iseul tries to press on his hands when he doesn’t immediately start to rebuild his tower.

“Already?”

“Come on Ggukie,” he sighs, “it’s still a long drive back and I have to get up early tomorrow, don’t give me the puppy eyes, you knew we weren’t going to stay late.” 

“Fine.” Jeongguks sighs and bends down to drop a kiss on top of Iseul’s head before he gets up. “Thank you for playing with me Iseul-ah, I’ll be back to see you soon.” He looks to Taehyung, a note of uncertainty creeping in his voice. “I can come back and visit, right?”

“Yeah. Of course, Jeongguk-ah. Come visit whenever you want.” 

“Sweet.” His smile is shy but it lights up his whole face and Taehyung can’t help but return it with one of his own. He turns to Jimin next, going over and patting his head. “Alright, see you hyung, I’ll call you in a couple days so you can walk me through the theory part for that spell I was telling you about.” 

Taehyung frowns in confusion, barely registering Jimin’s exasperated Sure thing, Gguk-ah . Why would Jeongguk need to call him? Surely it would be easier for them to meet up somewhere if they were going to be doing spell work. Hoseok’s sigh cuts through his thoughts and he looks up from the floor to see him giving Jimin a disapproving look.

“I think you are completely out of your mind, but if you want to stay here I can’t stop you. Call me if you need anything, hm? I’ll come pick you up if I have to, just say the word.” 

Jimin is halfway through a response when the words register in Taehyung’s mind, pieces finally connecting into place.

“You’re not going back to Seoul?” The words are out of his mouth before he can catch them, everything suddenly standing stock-still, while they all turn to look at him.

Jimin sits up on the couch, face creased with confusion. “No?” He says it like he isn’t sure why this is being brought into question, like it was a foregone conclusion.

Something resembling panic crawls up Taehyung’s throat, clouding his thoughts. 

“But- you have to go. You have to- You can’t stay.” 

A chill sets over the quiet of the room, temperature dropping as Jimin’s face smooths out into an icy expression, flat and impenetrable.

“And why not?”

“You just- you, you can’t . You have to go.” He can feel the weight of everyone’s eyes on him, the way even Jeongguk is radiating something very close to disapproval, but he can’t- it is imperative that Jimin goes back to Seoul, to his internship, to the good and happy life that he deserves to have, that has always been the goal, that has always been the point of all this.

Jimin’s voice, when he speaks again, is deadly calm, loaded with poisonous intent. 

“So everything you said earlier, was that all bullshit? Pretty words about remorse and making amends, just so you could get me out of your sight?”

“No! That’s not-” Iseul whimpers where she’s still seated and Taehyung runs a hand across her back, trying to keep the anxiety clawing at his chest in check. “I meant everything I said, I just, you don’t belong here, so you can’t, you have to go back.”

Jimin recoils as if the words were a physical blow and Iseul chooses that moment to start crying in earnest, big wailing sobs, making his panic spike back up, magic buzzing and making his whole body shake.

Hoseok takes a step forward, face absolutely livid, but Jeongguk holds his arm tightly, instead moving forward himself and bending down to pick up Iseul, jaw clenched and movements stiff. She fights him on it, restless in his hold, but Taehyung doesn’t try to reach for her, everything in him uneasy and unsettled and feeling like it might implode if he makes the wrong move.

Jeongguk walks out with her through the front door, and the sudden quiet feels even more stifling than before, Hoseok radiating cold fury from his every pore and Jimin unnaturally still, gaze unfocused on some point above Taehyung’s head.

“I just, that was why I left in the first place, so you could stay and, and be happy, and do your internship and-” It’s like once he starts talking the words just come pouring out, like a dam breaking, leaving him with no awareness of what he’s really saying or if it makes any sense. “- you wouldn’t have to worry about me, I know I shouldn’t have said those things, that night, I know I shouldn’t have- I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but that’s why you have to go, you have to be in Seoul not here.” He kept his eyes fixed on Jimin’s face throughout it all, watching it progress through disbelief, incredulity, and finally settle on rage, eyes burning into his by the time he’s done talking. 

“That’s what you were apologizing for, when we were out in the garden? What you said that night?” The words are said softly but his voice shakes with anger, his hair starting to fluff around his face.

“I- yes, of course.” 

Jimin keeps his eyes fixed on his, pinning him in place, but when he speaks the words aren’t directed to him.

“Hobi-hyung. Can you take one of the blankets and go check on Iseul? It’s cold out there and Jeongguk didn’t take a jacket.” Taehyung barely registers him leaving, not daring to break eye contact and look away. The silence that sets between them when the door clicks after him is akin to the ones that exist after lighting strikes, where one sits quietly, waiting for thunder to roll over.

“I don’t give a single fuck about that night Taehyung. I don’t care, I have never cared, because I knew what you were trying to do by arguing with me.” His voice is quiet but every word is said with the intention to hurt, pointed like daggers. “We’d been having that argument for weeks, I knew you were trying to get me to stay in Seoul by playing every dirty trick in the book. What I did care about, was that you went behind my back, and instead of listening to what I was telling you, you left me. Instead of trusting me, the person you supposedly loved, to make decisions about my own life, you disappeared in the middle of the night. That is what broke my heart. That is why I didn’t come after you, that is why I’ve spent the past year questioning whether we ever really knew each other at all.” 

Taehyung’s throat is dry, his body alternating between feeling too hot and too cold, shivering from the magic sizzling in the air and the dizzying spin of his own thoughts. Jimin’s anger is hypnotizing, after so many days of watching him keep himself in check, everything about him bright and crackling and alive. 

“I didn’t want you to give up your dream. I didn’t want you to regret it.”

“I’m not a child, Taehyung, I understand the consequences of my own actions. I didn’t need to be protected. The internship was my dream, yes, at some point, but it wasn’t what I cared about the most in life. Making sure you were safe, that you weren’t alone in the middle of nowhere while your brother tried to solve this whole shitshow with the Lee’s and the Council, that is what was more important to me. I’m good at curse breaking. I’m one of the best. But you are not the one who gets to decide what my priorities should be, or how I should live my life. That’s not what I signed up for when we got into a relationship, and I would never do that to you.”

The full weight of his actions is finally crashing down on Taehyung, leaving him numb and frozen in place, horror dawning in the back of his mind. 

“I’m sorry, fuck- Jimin- I’m so, so sorry.”

Jimin speaks over him, eyes still blazing. “You were supposed to love me, and to trust me, and to respect me enough to take me seriously, and instead, you betrayed all the love and trust and faith I had in you by leaving the way you did. You didn’t even realize. We were having two completely separate conversations earlier.” He pauses, anger fading, a haunted look taking over his face. “I don’t even know how to get to where you are. I don’t know how to reach you, if this is how far we’ve drifted apart.”

Taehyung feels like he can’t breathe. His mind is covered in a dense fog and he can’t find his way out of it, past events replaying in his mind, Jimin’s words burying themselves beneath his skin. 

“It’s not, you can- I’m still here. I’m sorry I didn’t realize earlier, I never meant- I don’t want to dictate your life. I want you to do what you want. I’m just. Jiminie, I was so scared. Those last months in Seoul, I was terrified, all the time. Jin-hyung was stressed out of his mind, and he kept telling me he would fix it, that I shouldn’t worry because he was taking care of it, but then I kept feeling watched while I was going to work and I just kept thinking what if they follow me home one day, and Jimin is there and something bad happens. I just felt, so... powerless, I didn’t want you to feel like that too, I wanted you to be free, and live your life and be happy.”

“I didn’t used to deck myself in silver from head to toe by mistake, Taehyung-ah. I’m good at fights. I could’ve taken those guys.” Ironically, all the combat seems to have drained from Jimin’s voice, leaving something soft and tired in its place. 

“I know you are. But still I wasn’t... I was still worried. I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

Jimin sighs. “Yeah I know.” He gazes off into the middle distance again, eyes landing on Iseul’s toys still scattered around Taehyung. “You failed, anyway. If anything this year has been the direct opposite of ‘happy’ and ‘free’. God, I never want to be this miserable ever again.”

Taehyung doesn’t know what to say to that, has no reassurances to give, no words that could help solve this situation. He feels like an emptied out husk, everything of him spilled out in the rug at Jimin’s feet. 

“Do you want me to stay?” His eyes find Taehyung’s again, his voice tiny and small, barely managing to breach the distance between them. 

“I don't think that would be fair to you.”

“That’s not what I asked.” Jimin slides down to the floor, putting himself at Taehyung’s eye level for the first time since this conversation started. “I can’t- I don’t want to think about what’s fair, right now. Do you want me here? Do you miss me?” His eyes lock onto Taehyung’s, insecurity and uncertainty shining clear as day. “Because I miss you. Every day. And I think I must have reached my breaking point, because I don’t care about much else right now. I said, earlier, that we could try fixing this. I’ll stand by it, now. I just need you to tell me if you want me to stay.” 

And it’s such a ridiculous question, because of course, of course, Taehyung wants him to stay. His heart sings at the idea, yearning for the closeness, for the love they once shared. And yet.

“I don’t think you should.” Jimin’s eyes flash with hurt, lips pressing together. “Jiminie. All I do is hurt you. I don’t want you to be hurt anymore.” 

“Then just don’t hurt me. What good does it do, if I go back to Seoul and we both continue being miserable? Just because I’d stay doesn’t mean I’m just going to roll over and let you walk all over me. This is not a free pass at forgiveness. But I would rather get my feelings hurt again and say I did all I could do, than having to spend the rest of my life with this hanging over my head. Now. Let’s try this again. It’s a yes or no question. Do you want me to stay or not?” 

Taehyung lets his heart speak for him, making sure to imbue it with as much sincerity as he possibly can. 

“Yes. Yes. Always.” 

Jimin slumps against the couch, letting his head fall back to rest on the cushion, and then the front door bangs open, Jeongguk and Hoseok rushing inside.

“Shit, I’m sorry hyungs. It just started raining and we didn’t have the keys to the truck.” Iseul is still crying in Jeongguk’s arms, sobs reduced to tired little hiccups, wrapped up in a blanket with only her head peeking out. Jimin rushes to get up, reaching to take her. She starts crying with renowned vigor as soon he gets close, almost throwing herself out of Jeongguk’s hold before Jimin manages to hold her, and staying inconsolable even as he cuddles her close, pressing kisses against her head. Jimin looks at Taehyung, eyes wide with alarm, and so he gets up too, brushing a hand on her back. Her arms flail around until he catches one of her hands with his fingers, and then she holds on tight, finally seeming to calm down a little. Jimin gives her another kiss, rocking her slightly, and Taehyung caresses her tiny hand with his thumb, doing his best to soothe her even through the minimal point of contact. 

Jeongguk and Hoseok haven’t moved, still huddled close to the front door, and in the sudden silence Taehyung becomes aware that Hoseok is no longer the only one radiating disapproval. He glances up and meets Jeongguk’s eyes, which are boring into his own with a level of intensity Taehyung is not used to experiencing from him, especially not directed at himself. 

“Everything okay in here Jimin-ah?” Hoseok’s voice interrupts their staring contest, forcing Taehyung to direct his gaze back to Jimin. He looks… tired, face weary and eyebrows starting to knit together slightly, but Taehyung feels breathless at the sight of it all the same. For once, there’s no attempt to school his expression, emotions floating at the surface and Taehyung feels suddenly so grateful for it that he could cry. Jimin meets his eyes briefly, one of the corners of his mouth tipping up into what might be considered a smile before turning his attention back to Hoseok.

“Yeah, hyung, everything’s alright. Do you guys want to wait for the rain to stop before leaving?” 

He takes his time to answer, assessing gaze scanning them until it finally lands on Taehyung, who does his best to bear it, opening his face up to be read, pouring everything out for them to see. In the end Jeongguk is the one to break the silence, clapping a hand on Hoseok’s shoulder and giving Jimin a soft smile. 

“Nah, we’ll get going, Hobi-hyung has to be up early tomorrow. Right hyungie?” Hoseok rolls his eyes at him but steps forward to press a kiss on Jimin’s cheek in goodbye all the same, murmuring into his ear before he pulls away. Iseul still has a hold of his hand so Taehyung can’t properly give them space, but he does his best all the same. Jeongguk comes closer to him, and for a moment Taehyung tenses but he just wraps one of his arms around Taehyung’s shoulders in a hug, his cheek soft where it brushes his own. 

“No more doing stupid things, hmm hyung? Otherwise I’ll be upset.” The words are said softly into his ear, the light tone contrasting with how serious Jeongguk’s eyes look when he pulls away. Taehyung nods and his eyes soften, face breaking out into a smile. Hoseok steps away and Jeongguk reaches to pull Jimin towards him with his other arm huddling all three of them and Iseul into a makeshift group hug. Jimin huffs at him but doesn’t resist otherwise, resting his head on his shoulder and squeezing tight. 

“Alright!” The makeshift cheer of his voice makes Taehyung startle. “I’ll be back to see you in a couple weeks, hyungs, so try not to miss me too much until then.” He then pulls back from Taehyung’s side, keeping his arm around Jimin and bending down slightly so he can look Iseul in the face. “Iseulie, I’m sorry you were upset earlier. And just when we were getting along, huh? Maybe next time we can be friends again.” He reaches over to tug on one of her feet and she kicks it slightly, babbling softly at him, not moving her head from where it’s buried in Jimin’s neck. 

Finally Jeongguk and Hoseok walk out the door again, this time jackets on and car keys in hand, and then they’re gone, letting the silence settle around them, the sound of the rain outside cushioning everything.

Jimin sighs, bouncing Iseul a little bit. “Well I don’t know about you, princess, but I need several naps after this afternoon.”

He starts to move in the direction of the bedrooms and Taehyung let's Iseul’s hand drop from his own. She wiggles a little at that and Jimin turns back to look at him, raising his eyebrows. Taehyung doesn’t know what that means, brain too tired to decipher signals, so he simply lifts his in return. Jimin sighs again, giving him an exasperated look.

“Come on, you look like you could use a nap too.” Taehyung freezes in place, heart suddenly hammering, and Jimin seems to lose his confidence at seeing him hesitate, uncertainty creeping in his voice. “Just... she’ll sleep better if we’re both there.” 

He glances down at her. She’s still curled up in Jimin’s embrace, eyes droopy and tired but fixed unwaveringly on him. He steps forward, letting Jimin lead the way. He hasn’t been in this room since Jimin started sleeping here, but besides a couple of clothes strewn about, there doesn’t seem to be much change. Jimin sets Iseul down in the middle of the bed and Taehyung lays down next to her after some insistent gesturing, trying not to stare as Jimin moves around the room putting things away. At some point he leaves, and Taehyung tries to relax. Iseul is staring at him with serious eyes, and he reaches to grab one of her hands and pretend to eat it. He shouldn’t be riling her up right before they’re trying to get her to sleep, but the solemn look on her face was making his heart heavy and he can’t deal with that. She bats at him with her other hand, kicking her legs a little and then Jimin walks into the bedroom, making Taehyung’s breath catch. He changed his clothes, trading the tight pants and neat shirt he was wearing earlier for some sweatpants and a t-shirt. He yawns, getting into bed on Iseul’s other side, and Taehyung’s heart aches from how much he wishes he could reach out and run a hand through his hair like he used to. It’s strange, lying there, so close to each other after everything. There’s an odd sort of calmness that blankets the room, allowing Taehyung to run his eyes over Jimin’s face shamelessly, knowing that Jimin is looking back. None of them say anything, content to let the quiet warm atmosphere linger, and it’s not long before Iseul is asleep between them, with Jimin following closely behind. Taehyung wasn’t actually tired, but now, with all the tension sapped from his body, and both of them breathing deeply next to him he can’t help but feel sleepy, fighting to keep his eyes on them for just a few more seconds until sleep pulls him under too. 

 

◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈

 

It’s surprisingly easy, once the air has been cleared, to get along with Jimin again. Which is to say, they fight all the time, now that they can, bickering about little and big things just for the joy of it. At first it was hard for Taehyung to join in, to let himself enjoy it, still wrapped up in guilt and sadness and focused on trying to make amends, making him reluctant to rise to the teasing, but Jimin was relentless and in the end, Taehyung could never deny him anything. They talk too, taking advantage of the fact that the baby monitor let’s them keep an eye on Iseul remotely now to make the most of nap times. The hardest part is not repairing his friendship with Jimin, who keeps giving him more chances than Taehyung thinks he has ever deserved, but to reconnect with everyone else he has left behind without a thought. It’s not until he’s witness to Jimin’s steady stream of contact with everyone, phone calls, and texts and video calls - once Jeongguk comes over and beefs up their internet connection somehow - that he realizes just how much he missed them all, how much he almost threw away for no good reason. Seokjin is too kind to say I told you so, when he brings this up in one of their conversations, but Taehyung knows he wants to anyway.  Jeongguk keeps his promise and continues showing up at their door once every couple of weeks, much to Jimin’s exasperation, which he cheerfully ignores. It’s mostly faked, anyways. Jeongguk coming over always imbues the house with a silly and cheerful mood, carefree like it often isn’t and Taehyung knows Jimin looks forward to it as much as he does, even if he tries to hide it. Occasionally one of the others tags along with him, but mostly they keep their distance, which Taehyung doesn’t begrudge them. Hoseok seems to have made his peace with Taehyung’s return, accepting his apologies but still watching him like a hawk whenever his back is turned. Iseul likes him, infatuated with all the sound effects he’s capable of, so when he comes over it usually results in Jeongguk sulking whenever she gives him attention. Jimin seems frustrated by the consistent distrust but Taehyung doesn’t try to push it. Feels somewhat reassured by it, even.

Namjoon doesn’t show up until nearly the end of December, all by himself and arms laden with expensive baby clothes that he’s devastated to discover won’t fit Iseul unless she suddenly shrinks a good four inches. Taehyung had been trading emails with him back and forth for the last couple of weeks and seeing him in person was like releasing a breath he didn’t know he was holding. Iseul doesn’t seem to know what to do with him, and he doesn’t seem to know what to do with her, which is quite frankly hilarious to watch, but once she goes down for a nap the three of them sit on the couch and talk for hours, catching each other up on what has been happening with their lives. At one point he and Taehyung get so caught up discussing the use of elderberry in the potion he’s been trying to develop - they don’t have it natively here in Korea, so Taehyung hadn’t considered using it, but Namjoon has an american friend who is currently working on something similar and swears by it - that he only notices Jimin has left them to their own devices when he comes back with Iseul perched on his hip, still sleepily rubbing her eyes.

He comes back a few more times after that, by himself or with Jeongguk, but mostly they stick to their emails. 

Yoongi and Jin they don’t see much of. They’re busy, which Taehyung understands, can only imagine from what Seokjin tells him when they talk, but he still wishes they could have more than phone calls. 

It’s a dizzying process, getting used to having people around again. It wasn’t that long, in the grand scheme of things, the amount of time he spent by himself  but it felt like an eternity.  He feels almost as clueless as Iseul sometimes, having to learn how to navigate the world again. He looks down to where she’s crouched in front of one of their cabinets, throwing things out onto the floor just for the fun of it. There’s not much in there, she figured out how to get doors to open -  by physical and magical means - a couple weeks ago and this has been her favorite game since, so they cleared out the various knick knacks Taehyung used to have in there and now the only things for her to get her hands on are her toys and her little picture books. She grabs hold of one of them now, and straightens herself back up on wobbly legs turning to flap it at him with a piercing yell. He smiles down at her, sitting down on the edge of the playmat with his legs splayed out and opening his arms. 

“You want a story baby? Come here Iseulie, I’ll read it to you.” She comes wobbling over until she crashes into his chest and he hugs her tightly for a moment. The walking is a recent development and he still feels his heart race whenever it happens. Even through all that’s happened in the last four months, seeing Iseul change and grow might just be the most nerve wracking part of it all. It seems like every time Taehyung looks away she’s doing something new, and it’s both exciting and terrifying. He takes the book from her but instead of staying to point at the animals on it she drops down, crawling to the cabinet, pulling herself up, picking up another book and then walking back with it in hand. Taehyung laughs at her as she keeps pilling books on him, alternating between walking and crawling to make her way around. She only walks if she has something to hold on to, even if that something is not tethered to anything. Eventually there are no more books to pull out  and she  sits herself down between his legs, picking up one of them at random to flip through it. She holds it up to Taehyung and he sees it's the one about farm animals. 

“That’s a cow Iseul-ah. What noise do cows make?” She makes a drawn out ooooooooo and then goes back to turning pages. Most of the cardboard is chewed up in the corners because she had a phase where she liked to carry things around in her mouth. Taehyung hopes they’ve seen the last of that.

The front door opens and Jimin steps in, bags in hand and snow settling in his hair. They’re halfway through February now and it’s been snowing almost everyday for the best part of a month, so it’s not an unusual sight, but it still hits Taehyung like a punch to the stomach every time. Iseul looks up at the sound, loudly babbling at him as soon as he comes into sight and Jimin’s whole face lights up when he sees her, smile bright and radiant.

“Well hello to you too princess! Did you miss me when I went to the store?” He sets the bags down on the floor and makes his way over, making sure to stick his ice cold hands down Taehyung’s neck before he warms them up so he can pick up Iseul, still laughing from Taehyung’s attempts to squirm away. He smacks over exaggerated kisses on Iseul’s cheeks, making her laugh too, and Taehyung stays on the floor, just looking at them as Jimin twirls them around the room, going back to the entryway and picking up one of the bags, making his way towards the kitchen with Iseul still jabbering at him from where she’s perched on his arm. Taehyung lays down on the ground, letting their voices wash over him, Iseul’s chatter and Jimin’s answering gasps and interjections, as if the story she’s telling him is as convoluted as the dramas he likes to watch. The voices come closer and suddenly he finds himself with an armful of baby, Iseul wiggling as soon as Jimin drops her off and nearly hitting him in the face as she tries to turn around. He holds her, back against his chest and legs kicking him in the stomach, and sits back up. Jimin is already disappearing into the kitchen, second bag in hand, so Taehyung gets up and follows him. 

“They didn’t have rice cakes, can you believe this? Rice cakes!” 

Jimin is still putting things away in the fridge so Taehyung doesn’t feel the need to hide his smile. “No, it’s totally unbelievable.”

“I know!” He turns around and glares at Taehyung when he sees his face. “Don’t laugh at me, I really wanted tteokbokki for dinner.” Iseul kicks her legs again as soon as he turns around and Jimin smiles at her. “See? Iseulie wants tteokbokki too.” 

“Well it looks like the two babies will have to wait until the supermarket ahjumma gets more supplies.” Jimin’s eyes lock onto his and for a moment Taehyung regrets the word choice. For all the progress made in the last few months he’s still not sure where the line lies between them when it comes to anything less than platonic. Jimin never brings it up, but, sometimes, Taehyung can see him pull away instead of reaching out and he’s not sure what to make of it. He doesn’t know if when Jimin said they should try to fix things if he meant all of it or just this, them able to be in the same room together and laugh at each other, without that oppressive weight hanging over them. He doesn’t know how to ask. He doesn't know how to draw the line for himself. Jimin breaks eye contact after a few seconds, instead speaking to Iseul in a high pitched tone.

“Or I can just tell Jeonggukie-oppa to bring us some, isn’t that right gorgeous? Since he wants to come bother us so much, might as well make himself useful, isn’t that right sweetest? Hmm? What do you think, my pretty pretty baby?” What Iseul thinks is that the faces Jimin is pulling are just about the funniest thing in the universe, giggling as she imitates the way his head is moving side to side, letting out a shriek when he comes close enough to kiss her cheeks again. He pulls her from Taehyung’s arms and he lets him, leaving them to it as he puts the rest of the groceries away. 

“Leave Jeongguk alone, he already does your bidding enough as it is.” Jimin gives him a look of exaggerated betrayal and Taehyung can’t help but to smile at him. “I’m sure they’ll have your rice cakes in a day or two, you’ll survive.” 

“But will I even want tteokbokki in a day or two Taehyung? That is the question.” He doesn’t wait for a response, dramatically strutting back into the living room, letting out a gasp at the state of the living room and playfully scolding Iseul into putting her toys back into place, making a game of it. It’s scary, thinking of how quickly this has started feeling normal, thinking of how much he wants to keep living like this forever, while constantly having a voice in the back of his head that tells him how quickly it could all vanish into thin air. He knows that he was the one who wrecked things last time and he doesn’t plan on ever doing something like that again, likes to think that he’s learned his lesson, but still, his mind plays him nightmare scenarios every time he lets himself drift too far. What if he can never go back to Seoul? Seokjin becomes less and less willing to disclose information as time goes by and Taehyung doesn’t know if it’s because he’s getting close to a solution or if the whole thing is a hopeless situation and he doesn’t want to tell him. He tries not to worry about it, knows he could press the others for answers if he really wants to, but it’s hard, living in limbo like this. 

He knows Jimin would swat him over the head for thinking it, but he can’t help but feel that the longer this goes on, the more likely he is to get bored. To leave, go back to the city, where all their friends are, where they’re not reliant on a single modest sized supermarket and a handful of stores a thirty minute drive away, where the plumbing is not cobbled together by a mixture of magic and good faith. The house was in a passable state when Taehyung moved in, and he’s done some work on it over time, to varying degrees of success. He managed to magically insulate most of the house, ensuring it stays nice and cozy even though there’s no heating, but his attempts to boost up the spotty work of the old oven had nearly blown up half the kitchen. He’d never been good at house spells and Jin’s over the phone coaching can only do so much. 

Even though it makes for a shabby way of living sometimes, he’s grown fond of the little excentrencies of the house, making friends with it during his isolation, learning its nooks and crannies. It reminds him of his grandma's house, where they always had to whack the water heater to get it work but which radiated love from every corner. In comparison his father’s apartment in Seoul had seemed ice cold, full of things he didn’t understand and didn’t dare to touch. He’d grown used to the city eventually, allowed people to soothe his heart, learned what to do about the magic coursing through him. His grandmother had tried her best but that was the one thing she could never help him with. She wasn’t magic, had never heard of anyone that was, and the first time little Taehyung - five years old and dropped at her door by his mother - had made something fly off the shelves without touching it, she nearly had a heart attack. His mother never took him back. She’d left his father and wanted nothing to do with magic anymore. She came to visit sometimes, filling the house with her perfume and carrying a trinket or other, out the door again before Taehyung had time to cling to her. Taehyung tried his best to deal with the unknown entity living under his skin by himself but he was never good at self control, magic exploding from his every pore every time he got excited. It ensured he never had many friends, always too aware of how odd they thought him, even when they weren’t brave enough to say it to his face, but when he looks back on those years now what he remembers best is following his grandmother around while she tended to the vegetable garden, covering himself in dirt and basking in the sunlight, going for long walks in the fields as he got older and returning at sunset to her clicking her tongue at him while plucking grass from his hair, scolding him and then sending him out the next day with an indulgent smile on her face. 

Being out here reminded him of her, and even when he had nothing else to hold on to that helped to keep him together. 

Even if he misses being close to the others, he likes it out here, with his plants and his shabby house. He thinks it suits him. 

But Jimin was a city boy through and through. He liked to go off exploring, diving into unknown streets with careless abandon, stopping at every store so he could window shop, coercing anyone he could get his hands on into going out and making the rounds through the various street vendors with him, wandering until they got too tired and had to return home. He thrived in the bustle of Seoul, impetuous enthusiasm contagious enough to make Taehyung love it too, back when he was still determined not to. He won’t say anything. If Jimin wants to stay then that’s his decision and there’s nothing he can do about it, but he can’t help but look around this little house and compare it with their apartment back in Seoul, seeing all the ways in which it lacks. Knowing that this was never Jimin’s idea of a dream life, that this was never what he wanted for himself. Wondering if there will come a tipping point, and how long it will take to reach it. 

For now, he basks in it, Jimin and Iseul’s playful yelling coming from the living room, her toys scattered over the house, their favorite snacks mixed together in the cabinets again, laughter and warmth seeping into him, coating everything with a new layer of love. 

 

◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈

 

The more time goes by, the more the gaps in their knowledge when it comes to Iseul bother Taehyung. He wakes up one day and watches her toddle all over the living room, babbling into one of her toy bricks like it’s a phone, coming over to them making brrrrr sounds so they can pretend to answer it, blowing spit everywhere, and realizes that they don’t even know when her birthday is. 

They’re halfway through April, almost six months since she was dropped on his doorstep, and looking at her now, how much she’s grown since then, it dawns on him with horror that maybe it has already passed and they didn’t do anything about it. First birthdays are a big deal, in general, sure, but even more so in the magic community. He remembers Yoongi grousing about the whole tradition back when it was his nephew’s turn, about the myriad of rituals and customs involved. They’re important and it makes something heavy settle in his chest, thinking of Iseul not getting to have that. She’s already missing so much, so many things about her history that they will never know. Usually he tries not to dwell on it, the only way to get to that kind of information is if whoever left her came back for her, but Taehyung has asked around the village, whenever he makes his way there and no one seems to know anything. The ahjumma that runs the supermarket has enough gossip to fill a well, but nothing about someone suddenly being short of a baby. For all he knows she might as well have appeared by magic, spun out of thin air. If it wasn’t for the note he still has saved in one of his drawers he might even feel inclined to believe that explanation. 

Jimin notices his subdued mood, because of course he does, the two of them back to being uncannily attuned to each other’s moods, but he doesn’t bring it up. He knows Jimin noticed from the way he practically radiates concern whenever he thinks Taehyung has his back turned, but he still finds himself grateful of the fact that he doesn’t make him talk about it. His thoughts and feelings swirl around him in a complicated mix, and he doesn’t know how he would begin to put it into words. He also didn’t have a magical doljanchi, can’t even be sure if he had a regular one, his grandmother had a handful of his baby pictures but no more than that, and it never occurred to him to ask. Why would it? There was never any need. But it hits him sometimes, the chunks of his life that he’s missing. When his grandmother died, two years after his move to Seoul, he tried to get back in touch with his mother, inform her of the funeral arrangements at least, but the number in his grandmother’s contacts was disconnected. 

He doesn’t want that for Iseul, this dark mass of feelings. He knows some of it is inevitable, tries to resign himself to it, but he can’t help the thought that this was something he was supposed to provide for her, and it never even occurred to him until it was too late, failure sticking to the back of his throat no matter how much he tries to wash it down. 

Iseul seems to sense his mood, clinging to him all throughout the day, so he ends up sitting in the shade of the trees with her for most of the afternoon. Now that spring is well on its way, and the weather is warming up, he’s been bringing her out with him to run around in the fresh air instead of being stuck in the house all the time. There’s no running today though, Iseul sitting quietly in between his legs and pulling out weeds and dirt by the fistful. She’s going to be filthy by the time they get back inside but Taehyung can’t bring himself to care. A little dirt does wonders for the soul, his grandmother used to say. It’s been a while since he’s missed her this fiercely, when just thinking of her is enough to make the breath catch in his chest.

Jimin comes looking for them after a while, sitting down quietly  in front of Taehyung, joining Iseul in playing in the dirt, making blades of dried up grass float up in gentle whirlwinds for her to try to grab at. Eventually the sun starts setting, and Jimin picks her up, extending a hand to Taehyung once he gets up. He takes it, pulling himself up, and makes to pull away but Jimin interlocks their fingers and holds on tight, so he lets himself enjoy the contact for the couple of minutes it takes to get back to the house. Jimin gives him a squeeze before letting go, murmuring to Iseul about bath time and leaving Taehyung by himself, still standing at the door. 

He snaps out of it once he hears Iseul shrieking from the bathroom’s direction, washing his hands and getting started on dinner with his body on autopilot, mind still floating a million miles away.

Before he knows it, dinner is done, Jimin is putting Iseul to bed and Taehyung is staring blankly at the dishes in the sink. Jimin comes back when he’s washing the last of the glasses. Taehyung knows because he feels his eyes on him like a physical weight, pressing down between his shoulder blades. 

“Taehyung-ah.” He hums, to show he’s listening, but doesn’t turn around, washing the glass for a second time. One of Jimin’s hands lands on his lower back, the warmth from it making him break out into goosebumps. “Sweetheart.” Taehyung drops the glass, sucking in a breath, and Jimin lets his hand drop too. “Taehyungie. Are you okay?” 

He shuts the water off, brain half heartedly registering the way his hands are shaking. 

“Iseul didn’t get a doljanchi.” Jimin doesn’t say anything but Taehyung can feel the confusion radiating off him in waves. “She didn’t get any of the blessings, we don’t know when her birthday is, and now she’ll never have that, it’s just gone forever.” 

“Hey.” Jimin’s voice is firm, and when Taehyung doesn’t respond to it he reaches for his arm and turns him around, softening when he sees the look on Taehyung’s face, thumb gently caressing his skin. “Taehyungie. It’s an important tradition, sure, but it’s just that, a tradition. She’ll be fine without it.” 

“I don’t want her to miss out on things. She should get to be a part of these traditions, I don’t want her to be…” like me . I don’t want her to be like me, lost and confused and feeling like she doesn’t know who she is. He doesn’t say the words but he knows Jimin reads them in his eyes, feels his grip tightening for just a second, before he forces himself to relax. 

“Sweetheart.” Watching Jimin’s lips shape around the word knocks something loose in his chest, sending it cascading down like an avalanche. “That’s not going to happen. She’s already surrounded by magic, everyday. We’re both here. That’s all she needs, right now. Eventually she’ll need more things and we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but for now, we love her, and we take care of her, and that’s enough. It’s more than enough. We can figure out what to do about her birthday later. Namjoon-hyung knows some fortune telling people, maybe they can give us an approximate date. And if not, we’ll just have to pick a random day and go with it, but I promise you, next year we’ll make sure to celebrate it. We can throw her a big party, and by then she’ll be able to have some cake, she’ll love it.” 

All Taehyung hears is we we we , mind spinning trying to wrap around that concept. Jimin makes it sound like a given, the fact that they’ll both still be taking care of Iseul years down the road, but Taehyung doesn’t know how to feel that level of conviction. His whole being is uncertainty. He doesn’t know how to articulate what he’s feeling, but Jimin is just standing there, rubbing his thumb back and forth on the bare skin of his arm and watching him gently and Taehyung feels the words being pulled out of him before he manages to organise them properly.

“I keep thinking you’ll leave.” Jimin’s hand drops, brows furrowing, but that’s not what Taehyung wants, and he immediately makes a grab for it, tangling their fingers together. “No, that’s not. That’s not what I mean. You said you’d stay and I believe you. I want you here, as long as you want to be here. But I know this isn’t what you pictured, when you thought about your dreams. Living in a house that’s falling apart with your ex boyfriend and a baby can’t have been part of the life plan.” He tries to joke, but Jimin’s eyebrows are still furrowed, eyes serious and scrutinizing. 

“Taehyung-ah, why do you think I’m here?” The words are said softly, gaze never wavering, like he’s trying to coax the right answer out of him. But Taehyung doesn’t know what that is, so he just shrugs, causing Jimin’s eyes to flash at him, promising danger. Taehyung just squeezes his hand, trying to convey without words that he’s not being dismissive on purpose, that he simply doesn’t know what to say, and Jimin seems to understand it because he doesn’t try to make him give a proper answer, instead barreling on. “I’m here because I love you.” Taehyung’s breath stutters, getting caught on his chest. “Because you make me happy. My ‘life plan’, as you so call it, has had you in it since we were both teenagers. Young and stupid, as Jin-hyung would say.” He cracks a smile, one of the corners of his mouth lifting up. Taehyung wants to return it but he doesn’t know how to regain control of his muscles, all of his energy focused on staring at Jimin, taking in the way light bounces off his skin, the way his hair is ruffled on one side but not on the other, the way his fingers twitch where they’re intertwined with his, committing every detail to memory as faithfully as he can.

“Admittedly, the road it took to get here is not quite what I had in mind. But I also could never have imagined Iseul, and now I wouldn’t know how to live without her so... some things change, and others don’t, Taehyungie.” He swings their hands together, just a little. “This is different now too. But it’s also the same in many ways, the ones that matter the most. Change doesn’t always have to be a scary thing.” 

Taehyung breathes out, then in, feeling like he’s relearning how to do it all over again, Jimin’s hand in his tethering him to reality, reassuring him this is not all just part of an elaborate dream.

“I didn’t know if when you said you wanted to fix things, you meant... this too.” A squeeze at Jimin’s fingers, so he knows what he means. He’ll find it funny later, how they could do all this and still sidestep the words ‘our relationship’ but there was no reason behind it, the touch was just comforting, a way to remind each other that the other was still there.

Jimin laughs at him, amusement mixed with disbelief. “What else would I mean? If I wanted to be just friends with you I wouldn’t have been living in your house.” He starts giggling then, eyes crinkling into little half moons. “Taehyung-ah, we’ve been raising a baby together, does that sound like something bros would do?” 

Taehyung can’t help the smile that breaks out on his face at the sight of him.

“It could be, you never know. It’s bad to make assumptions.” 

Jimin gapes at him for a second before laughing again. “You’re unbelievable.” He softens after a couple seconds, taking in the way  Taehyung is looking at him. “Do you feel better now? You worry me when you’re this quiet.” 

“Yeah, I was just having a sad day. Missing my grandma.” Jimin’s face immediately twists into sadness, and he reaches for Taehyung’s other hand with a whispered oh baby, pulling his hands towards him as if he’s debating pulling him into a hug. Taehyung’s heart suddenly feels full to the point of bursting.

“Jimin-ah. I love you.”

Jimin’s whole face melts, hands still petting at him, thumbs rubbing back and forward on his knuckles. “I know baby. It’s good to hear you say it though. I missed hearing it.”  

Taehyung had missed saying it, has had the words trapped in his throat for what feels like entirely too much time. Hopes he never has to go that long without saying them again. He pulls Jimin towards him, leaning forward so he can rest their foreheads together. Jimin closes his eyes, rubbing their noses together. Taehyung smiles, tightening his grip on their hands.

“Can I kiss you?” The words are barely louder than a whisper, breathed quietly into the air between them, but he knows Jimin hears him because his eyes pop back open. He leans back slightly, just looking at Taehyung for a moment. Taehyung thinks distantly that maybe he should be nervous that his question wasn’t met with immediate enthusiasm, but Jimin’s eyes on him make him feel nothing but warmth and love. His patience is rewarded by Jimin’s hand carding through his hair, pulling his head down so he can press a lingering kiss on his cheek. Taehyung feels the way his breath trembles, and puts his now free arm around Jimin’s waist, splaying his hand in the small of his back, pressing him closer. He turns his head slightly, and this time Jimin doesn’t hesitate in pressing their lips together, letting go of Taehyung’s other hand so he can wrap both arms around his neck. Taehyung runs his hands up his back, nibbling at his bottom lip when he lightly drags them back down and Jimin shivers in his arms. Jimin bites him back with slightly more force than necessary, mean, and Taehyung pulls back slightly to laugh at him. He was always so ticklish. Jimin kisses him again, licking into his mouth, and Taehyung melts against him, molten heat running through his veins. Everything about it is familiar, the drag of Jimin’s lips, his hands pulling at his hair, the way he moans into it when Taehyung sneaks a hand under his shirt, letting it rest just over his waistband, and yet Taehyung still feels a little like he’s experiencing it for the first time, heart threatening to jump straight out of his chest with how hard it’s beating. He doesn’t notice his emotions aren’t the only thing out of control until Jimin jolts against him, at which point he becomes aware of the sparks shooting out of his hands.

Jimin laughs into his mouth. “Will you ever learn how to control that?”

The last time it happened was when they were both nineteen and fumbling their way through touching each other for the first time, but Taehyung doesn’t point that out. Instead he deliberately focuses the buzzing under his skin on the tip of his finger, dragging it up Jimin’s spine, laughing when he tries to squirm away. “Never.” 

Jimin zaps him back, fingers tingling at the back of his neck and Taehyung dips forward to kiss him again. 

Finally, they pull away, Jimin pressing a kiss on his nose before walking off in the direction of the bedrooms, coming back to press one last kiss on his cheek, just for good measure, before he disappears down the hallway, leaving Taehyung by himself in the kitchen. He finishes tidying up, stopping in the living room to place the throw pillows back on the couch and Iseul’s toys back in their containers, and when he gets to his bedroom he’s disappointed to find that Jimin is not there waiting for him. He checks on Iseul, who’s sleeping peacefully, the soft light of Jeongguk’s little star charm floating up next to her crib, and then changes into sleep clothes, going off to brush his teeth and wash his face before getting into bed. The day’s tiredness catches up to him quickly, but just before he drifts off to sleep the bedroom door opens.

“Are you asleep already?” Jimin’s hushed voice is sheepish. “Can I stay here tonight?” Taehyung doesn’t have the energy to lift his head up so he just pulls  down the covers behind him. Jimin makes his way over,  lying down at Taehyung’s back and throwing an arm around his waist. Taehyung takes his hand and holds it, bringing it up to rest against his heart and Jimin takes that as an excuse to move even closer, plastering himself over Taehyung’s back until there’s not a single inch of space between them. 

When they wake up the next morning they are still in the same position, and the rightness of it strikes Taehyung down to his bones, the feeling familiar, like he’s returned home at last. 

 

◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈

 

A few weeks later, Taehyung comes in from the garden and finds Jeongguk sprawled in Iseul’s playmat, head propped against a pile of pillows on the floor with her resting on his chest. It’s still early so she’s not quite awake yet, blinking sleepily at Taehyung when he comes over, thumb stuck firmly in her mouth. Jimin’s laptop is set on top of one of the boxes they use to organise her toys, playing some sort of animated movie. It’s a studio Ghibli one, he recognizes it from having watched it once, a couple years ago, but can’t remember what it’s called. Jeongguk blinks sleepily at him too, giving him a lazy wave and yawning right after. 

“Jeongguk-ah? What are you doing here so early?” Jeongguk does a mixture of shrugging, hand flapping and mumbling, not producing anything actually discernable as an answer. Taehyung waits, looking at him expectantly, but Jeongguk just stares back blankly, so he decides to try a different approach. “Where’s Jimin?” That gets him vague hand waving in the direction of the bedrooms, and causes Iseul to lift her head up, frowning at all the movement. Jeongguk mumbles an apology and pats her back and she settles back down. Taehyung takes that as his cue to leave and sets off down the hallway. 

He finds Jimin in his room, sitting at his desk surrounded by various tools and books, fiddling with something Taehyung can’t make out from this angle. He raps his knuckles on the door and Jimin’s head snaps up, eyes molten gold for a moment until he takes off one of his bracelets.

“You scared me.” 

“Sorry.” 

Jimin flaps a hand at him, dismissing the apology. “Did you need something?”

“Yeah, why is Jeongguk in our living room? It’s barely nine in the morning, he looked like he was going to fall asleep at any moment when I talked to him just now. Did he drive here?”

“No, Yoongi-hyung dropped him off earlier.” That makes Taehyung pause in his tracks, trying to make sense of it. “Don’t ask me why, he wouldn’t say. Jeongguk also didn’t say anything but, like you said, he’s still half-asleep, so. Maybe he’ll talk later.” 

“Something has to be going on though. Right? I know he likes to come over whenever, but this isn’t normal.” 

Jimin's face takes on an exasperated air. “Oh definitely not, Yoongi-hyung was all jumpy, he barely stopped to say hi before driving off again.” 

A sense of foreboding comes over Taehyung, pressure building in his chest. He takes off towards where he left his phone charging in the kitchen, dialing Jin’s number with shaky fingers. It rings, and rings, and rings, until he’s directed to voicemail. He doesn’t try again, simply stands there, shaking, until he feels arms wrapping around his waist. Jimin presses a kiss on his neck, holding him tightly. 

“Baby. It’s gonna be alright. Whatever is happening, they know what they’re doing.” 

“But why send Jeongguk over here? Why wouldn’t they have said something? I talked to Jin-hyung just two days ago.” 

Jimin pulls away, coming to stand in front of him instead.

“Hey.” He brings his hand up to run through Taehyung’s hair, tucking it behind his ear. “We can talk to Jeongguk and find out what happened, okay? But he wouldn’t be taking a nap in our living room right now if he thought any of the hyungs were in danger. If he thought they needed help Yoongi-hyung dropping him at our doorstep wouldn’t stop him from turning around and going right back to Seoul. You know that.” 

Taehyung huffs at that. Jeongguk’s headstrong tendencies are well known by everyone.

“Even if he had to walk the whole back. Stubborn idiot.” 

Jimin cracks a smile at that, dropping his hand to rest at his neck, giving it a little squeeze. 

“I’m sure there’s no need to be worried. Come on, let’s go sit out on the couch and wait for Jeongguk to join the world of the living.” 

He isn’t actually asleep, nodding his head at them as they step around him to sit down, but he still looks like he might at any second, blinks long and careful, face blank in that way he gets when he’s really tired. After a couple minutes Iseul starts shifting around, eventually trying to balance on her feet on top of Jeongguk’s chest to try to get to the couch, so Taehyung reaches over and plucks her up, sitting her down on his lap. She drops her head against his chest, curling up in his arms and reaching a hand to tug at Jimin’s hair, who has his head resting on Taehyung’s thigh, lying down on the couch to keep his eyes on the laptop in the ground. Maybe they should think about getting a television. Iseul tugs too hard, causing Jimin to flinch, and Taehyung reaches for her hand, pulling it away until she lets go. 

“Iseul-ah, no hurting.” He takes their joined hands and runs them through Jimin’s hair again. “Like this. Gentle.” He lets her go and she continues to pat at Jimin’s head by herself, bringing her hand down on it slowly. He kisses her head and then sinks down further into the couch, settling down to watch the movie too. 

Eventually the credits start rolling without Taehyung having absorbed any of the storyline, and Jeongguk sits up with a yawn and immediately queues up another one, but instead of laying back down he turns around to face them, eyes still tired but looking marginally more awake now. They stare at each other for a moment, the only sound the twinkling piano coming from the laptop speakers until Taehyung breaks the silence. 

“Jeongguk-ah, why are you here?” 

He sighs, hands coming up to mess with the couch cushions. “You’re not allowed to be mad at me. Hoseok-hyung already tore me a new one.”

“What did you do?” Jimin's voice already sounds exasperated and Jeongguk is staunchly avoiding eye contact. 

“I may or may not…. have snuck into Lee Daeseong’s house and implied we had more info on him than we do in the hopes he would slip up.”

It’s quiet for a couple seconds and then Jimin explodes, sitting up so fast that Iseul flinches back.

“You did what ?”

“It was fine! I had a plan! If that Chungho dude hadn’t returned early it would’ve worked.” 

“But why would you do that? Are you completely out of your mind? In what world is that a good idea?” 

Jeongguk’s face sets in a mullish expression. “Look, Jimin-hyung, you’re not there anymore, you don’t know. Jin-hyung has been at a dead end for months now, he needed the Lee’s to do something stupid so he could catch them in the act and finally get them thrown out of the Council but no one was doing anything. If I left them to it it would’ve been another two years before anything happened.” 

Jimin groans, rubbing his hands over his face. 

“What happened with Chungho?” Taehyung barely recognizes his own voice, vaguely registering that he was the one who spoke after the words are already hanging in the air, feeling numb all over. Jeongguk’s wide eyes turn to him.

“I- It was nothing, they just roughed me up a little.” His face must do something at that because Jeongguk looks panicked now, getting words out in a rush. “The hyungs tracked me down straight away, I’m fine, I promise, it was nothing serious.” 

Jimin’s hand makes its way onto his knee, the pressure comforting, helping to ground him a little. He registers the weight of Iseul leaning against him and holds her a little closer. She doesn’t protest, little hands holding on to two of his fingers.

“So, what, they sent you out here on time out?” 

Jeongguk turns back to Jimin, the beginnings of a pout forming on his lips. “Yeah, I guess.” 

Good. You’re grounded until further notice, no more baby cuddles for you.” 

“Oh my god, you can’t ground me, you’re not my dad.” Despite his grumbling Jeongguk doesn’t try to argue further, instead sinking down to the ground again.  

“Taehyung-ah.” Jimin’s face looks concerned and Taehyung does his best to keep his breathing steady. Jimin slides his hand up, squeezing at his thigh instead of at his knee. “Hey, it’s gonna be okay. Someone should learn how to think before they act,” Jeongguk responds to the pointed remark with a mumble that Taehyung doesn’t catch, Jimin immediately speaking over him. “but all things considered, it could have gone a lot worse. They’ll call us with news in a day or two, you’ll see.” 

Taehyung nods at him, trying to believe the conviction in his words, to borrow enough of it to soothe his anxiety. Part of him wants to go running back to the city, to do something, but he knows that for now there is nothing for him to do. All they can do is wait. 

 

◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈◈

 

It takes two weeks before Jin gets back in touch, Jeongguk growing progressively restless as the days go by. It hasn’t been complete radio silence, Namjoon had texted Jimin a couple days ago, but the details had been scarce and they were all reaching their wits end waiting for more information.

Seokjin’s phone call doesn’t answer any questions either. He says that the situation has been handled, and that he’ll be coming to see them tomorrow and then hangs up quickly after. Taehyung wants to bash his head against a wall, but he also hears the tiredness beneath Jin’s voice so he resigns himself to being patient for just a little longer.

The baby ban ended up being short-lived, Iseul planting herself at Jeongguk’s feet on the afternoon of the third day and absolutely refusing to move until he picked her up. Jimin gracefully ignored Jeongguk’s smug look and instead put him on shopping and cooking duty for the rest of his stay, but judging from the way Taehyung can hear quiet humming coming from the kitchen now, he doesn’t think Jeongguk minded that all that much.

It’s nearing the end of the day and Taehyung is about to pull his phone out to call Seokjin again when there’s a knock on the door. He’s up and running before he can register his body moving, throwing the door open with more force than  strictly necessary. Jin smiles when he sees him, close mouthed and eyes tired and gentle. Taehyung throws himself at him, wrapping his arms around his shoulders and squeezing tight. He feels him sigh into his hold and makes sure to tighten his hold even more. On a normal day Seokjin would be sputtering about how Taehyung is trying to kill him by constriction at this point, but as it is he just lets himself sink a little more, wrapping his arms around Taehyung’s waist with just as much force. Eventually they break apart, and if Seokjin notices Taehyung’s suddenly misty eyes he doesn’t say anything, instead turning to look behind him in the direction of the car, muttering to himself.

“What is he doing, YOONGI-YAH! ” Taehyung flinches away from the sudden shout, watching as Yoongi pokes his head out the passenger side window, where he apparently has been sitting for the past five minutes. "ARE YOU GONNA GET OUT OF THE CAR OR WHAT? WE DON’T HAVE ALL NIGHT.

“Hyung, why are you yelling, the car is right there, he can hear you just fine.” Seokjin turns to look at him, familiar mirth in his eyes.

“What, worried I’m going to scare off the neighbours?” He laughs at Taehyung’s flat eyed stare, and Yoongi finally comes up behind him, looking mildly bemused. 

“I’m sure the squirrels appreciated your yelling hyung. Hey Taehyungie, how have you been?” 

He hasn’t actually seen Yoongi in almost four months, and he’s not quite sure how to even begin to sum them up into a digestible sentence, so he just doesn’t try. “I’m... good?” 

Yoongi nods his head. “Good, that’s good.” And then he pats him on the shoulder and steps around him to get inside the house.

Seokjin snorts out a laugh. “Alright, enough standing around, take me to my niece, it’s time she got reacquainted with my beautiful face.”

Iseul is sitting on her highchair chewing on a piece of kimchi, bits of tofu crumbled all over her face. She waves when she sees them enter the kitchen, dropping the half chewed piece on the floor and looking exceedingly confused when she brings her hand back to her mouth and there’s no food on it. Jimin sighs from his place next to her, bending down to pick it up and set it on the edge of his napkin.

“Hey hyung, how are you?” 

“Oh you know me, Jimin-ah, can’t complain.” Seokjin’s tone is overly cheerful, none of the tiredness from earlier making its way through and Taehyung wants to shake him a little bit, tell him that’s it’s okay to not be put together sometimes, but he knows what it’s like to need the illusion, so he doesn’t say anything. Seokjin makes his way over to Iseul, who looks less and less pleased with this turn of events the closer he gets. “Hello pumpkin! Look at you, eating on your own like a big girl.” She doesn’t seem inclined to respond to that, staring with big unblinking eyes and Taehyung can see Seokjin’s smile dropping slightly. 

“She’s just not used to strangers hyung. Give her a little while and she’ll warm up to you.” 

“Well, of course she will. We’ll be partners in crime in no time, huh Iseulie?” He gives a flick of his wrist and a little butterfly of light takes form, fluttering around Iseul’s plate before landing on one of her hands. She examines it for a few seconds and then tries to smack it with her other hand but it dissolves into sparks before she can touch it. Her little head turns to Jimin with a surprised na?  and Seokjin straightens back up with a smile.

“Jeongguk-ah. You can turn around, I won’t eat you.”  Jeongguk had been busy with their own tofu stir fry, but now that Taehyung is paying attention he notices that the flame has been turned off, the stirring being more to buy time than to serve any actual cooking purpose. He brings the pot over to the table, turning to face Seokjin with a sheepish look on his face.

“Hi, hyung.” 

Seokjin examines him closely for a few moments, eyes scanning his face before he speaks. 

“If you ever even think about pulling something like that again, I swear to god Jeongguk-ah, I will throw your Playstation in the river.”

“It worked though, didn’t it?” Jeongguk grumbles under his breath as he sits down.

“I will personally break into your house and throw your fancy rainbow keyboard out the window. I’ll spell your manga collection so that it explodes into glitter every time you open one of them.”

Jeongguk groans. “Alright, alright I get it.” He starts piling food onto everyone’s plates, pouting all the while. “It won’t happen again, or whatever.”

Yoongi makes his reappearance then, sitting himself quietly at the head of the table and immediately digging into his food without another word, the rest of them eventually following his lead.

Just as Taehyung predicted, by the time they’re done eating Iseul seems to have gotten over her initial distrust, shrieking happily as she tries to catch Seokjin’s chopsticks when he leans over to pretend to steal from her plate. She’s so focused on their little game that she barely touched her food but Taehyung can’t bring himself to scold them and end their fun. 

They don’t all fit on the couch so they end up scattered on the floor when they move to the living room after dinner. Yoongi is explaining to Iseul the rules of football, passing the ball that seems to have prompted the discussion between them, her eyes watching his every move with fascination, and Taehyung takes this as an opportunity to finally ask for answers, feeling himself bursting at the seams with impatience. 

“Jin-hyung.” He turns his head to face him. “What happened?” 

Seokjin takes a deep breath. “It’s over. Jeongguk’s little visit must’ve really rattled him because he was stupid enough to try to mess with one of Joohyun-noona’s girls. You know how she is. I passed on every bit of information I had managed to collect about that slimy asshole and his so-called ‘plans’ and she went on the warpath.” Taehyung shivers. He only met her once or twice, when he accompanied Seokjin to some of the Council’s gatherings and she seemed perfectly pleasant, in the way a marble sculpture brought to life might be, polished and untouchable. Auras were never Taehyung’s forte but the power radiating from her could be felt from across the room. “The Council banned Daeseong and his bunch of cronies and Joohyun-noona strongly suggested they should leave the city. Last I heard they had packed their bags and gone.”

It feels unreal, two years of unrest and uncertainty, resolved in the span of two sentences. He feels Jimin’s hand sliding into his own, interlocking their fingers together and he gives it a squeeze, letting the weight of it ground him. 

“And that’s it? We’re done with them for good?” 

Seokjin’s face softens, and he scoots over so he can take Taehyung’s other hand.

“Yeah Taehyungie. You can come home now.” 

Iseul shrieks and Taehyung looks over to see her throwing one of her felt blocks at Yoongi and Jeongguk, who pretend to be fatally wounded, causing her to break down in peals of laughter and do it again. He looks around the living room, with her boxes of toys scattered around, ugly lace curtains on the window. Thinks of his bedroom, thinks of the way the light streams in through kitchen windows first thing in the morning. Thinks of his garden, his plants and his trees, the little patch of grass where Iseul likes to roll around. A sudden and deep sadness comes over him, at the thought of leaving it all behind. But his brother’s hand is warm on his, and he’s sporting one of his more genuine smiles, lips barely tipped up but warmth dripping from it, and Taehyung doesn’t have it in him to be selfish right now. He smiles back, happiness genuine once he forces himself to dig a little deeper, and let’s them talk moving plans over his head, eventually sneaking away so he can join Iseul in burying Jeongguk with the pillows littering the floor. 

Later, once sleeping arrangements have been made for their guests and Iseul’s little star is bathing their walls in ever changing shapes, all three of them tucked under the covers, Iseul in her crib and the two of them wrapped around each other, Jimin holds his face in his hands, presses a kiss on his forehead and then pulls back to look at him with gentle eyes.

“My Taehyungie. Will you tell me what’s wrong sweetheart?”

His first instinct is to deny it, say that there’s nothing wrong, but the way Jimin is looking at him makes a lump rise to his throat, his earlier sadness returning to crash on him like a wave, leaving him drenched and cold, despite the warmth of the hands on his face. He brings his hand up to wrap around one of Jimin’s wrists, caressing the soft skin with his thumb. 

“I’m sad, I guess. At having to pack everything up and move. Leave the house empty.”

Jimin’s eyebrows knit together a little. “Do you not want to leave?”

“No, that’s not it, I want to go back, and be close to everyone again, I just. I like it here.” It feels shameful for some reason, to admit it, even though there’s no rational reason why it should. “I know it’s a bit of a mess, this house, but it feels-” He cuts himself off, trying to organise his thoughts. “It’s nice, having the garden, and the trees. It reminds me of my grandma. Seeing Iseul running around, picking up the leaves and the dirt. She’s littler than I was, but, I did those things too, when I was a kid. I know we weren’t exactly here by choice, at least not completely, but it’s been nice all the same. I’m sad about leaving.”

“Taehyung-ah.” He pulls his eyes away from the wall, where he had fixed them halfway through talking, so he can look back at Jimin. “Baby.” His hands slides from Taehyung’s cheek to brush through his hair, his hand still wrapped around Jimin's wrist. “If it means this much to you we should keep it.”

Taehyung’s brow crinkles in confusion. “What?”

“The house is Seokjin-hyung’s right? From one of his aunts, on your father’s side?” Taehyung nods. “Then there’s no reason to leave it behind.” The confusion must still show on his face because Jimin sighs at him, gentle as can be. “Taehyungie, we don’t have to always live in Seoul. We can keep the house, and we’ll come back in the summers, or during winter vacations, or for a weekend or whenever you feel like it. You know Jin-hyung wouldn’t mind.” 

His mind is dizzy at the prospect, some tender part of his heart coming back to life.

“Would you mind?” 

Jimin looks at him like he has lost his mind, but Taehyung needs the reassurance, before he can let himself embrace the possibility, rearranging the idea of the future he has spent the last couple hours resigning himself to.

“Why would you ask me that? Of course I wouldn’t. I like it here too, you know? Not as much as you but, it’s not like it would be some great hardship, to return here once in a while.” 

Taehyung finally allows the relief and euphoria to fill him up, surging forward to kiss Jimin as soon as he’s done talking.

“Thank you. I love you.” He breathes the words against his mouth and Jimin pulls away with faked exasperation, his eyes sparkling even as he talks through a pout.

“What are you thanking me for, yo-” Taehyung doesn’t let him finish the sentence, pressing their lips together again, weak at the way Jimin smiles into it, body curling perfectly into his, warm and soft and perfect where he fits in Taehyung’s arms. 

They separate eventually, Jimin more than half-asleep but still stubbornly puckering his lips for one last kiss, which Taehyung gives him before tucking Jimin’s head against his neck, arm thrown over his shoulders and Jimin’s leg over his own, settling in for the rest of their lives.

 

▹▹▹▹▹▹▹▹▹▹

 

It’s a ridiculously hot day in Seoul. Taehyung feels another drip of sweat make its way down his back and curses every deity in existence for putting him through this. He finally makes his way through the apartment’s door and breathes a sigh of relief at the cool air washing over him, setting down the box he was carrying on the nearest available surface, which, considering the mess that is currently their living room, is no easy task. He hears Hoseok’s loud laugh ring out from the end of the corridor and then Iseul’s tiny stomps walking around. Seokjin had gotten her some ridiculous light up shoes and she had been stomping everywhere ever since. 

“Alright hyung, I think this is the last box.” He turns around at Jeongguk’s voice, seeing him go through the same process of trying to find somewhere to put it, ponytail practically sliding off his head at this point, letting more than half his hair fall out of it and making him look like Iseul when she wakes up from one of her naps. He finally sets the box on top of another box and looks blankly around him. “I want to pass out from the heat, but there’s no room on your floor.” 

Taehyung snorts at him, patting him on the back, and then immediately regretting that decision seeing as he’s drenched in sweat, shirt almost completely soaked through. He pulls a face at him, and Jeongguk pulls one right back. 

Yoongi’s voice rings out from the kitchen. “If any of you knuckleheads want lemonade, I just made some, come get it.”

Jeongguk bounces off immediately at the word lemonade, not needing to hear anything else and Taehyung is about to follow when Iseul’s stomping starts coming towards the living room. He peeks towards the hallway and sees her making her way down, eyes glued to her shoes, not noticing he’s there until she practically collides with his legs. He puts out a hand to steady her and she looks up at him, smile at the ready. 

“Appa. Whoosh. ” She sticks her arms up, ready to be carried off, and he obliges, picking her up and pretending like she’s flying above the mess of boxes until they get to the kitchen, Iseul giggling all the way through. He tries to set her on his hip but she squirms to be let down so he lets her go, accepting the glass Yoongi holds out in his direction, and watching her go off towards the living room again. 

“Thanks hyung.”

“No problem. Still don’t know why you two decided to move in the middle of August, like crazy people, instead of waiting for a sensible time of year where we wouldn’t all be melting our faces off every time we step outside the door, but the least I can do is make sure you don’t die of dehydration I guess.” 

Jeongguk takes the opportunity to insert himself in the conversation. “Funny you should say that, hyung, because I asked you for a glass of lemonade just now and you said, and I quote ‘the tap is right there’.”

“Stop trying to make me look bad Jeon Jeongguk, you drained your two, yes Taehyung you heard right, two glasses of lemonade thirty seconds after I put them in your hands, I’m not making more of it until everyone has had some too, stop whining and drink your water.”

“But hyung-”

Taehyung leaves them to their bickering, going off to find the others, stacking up some of the boxes labelled Bedroom in Jimin’s neat script and carting them down the hallway. He leaves them on the floor of the master bedroom, keeping their bed frame and bare mattress company. They’re not in there, but Taehyung wasn’t expecting them to be, can hear their voices floating up from the direction of what is in the process of becoming Iseul’s room. 

They had agreed that was the room they were going to do first, so that they could put her down for a nap later and continue unpacking in peace and when Taehyung sticks his head in he’s overwhelmed by how much it looks like a real room. The rest of the apartment has those too straight edges that come from too much open space and not enough furniture, but in here the bed is assembled and made, bedspread a gradient of blue and pink, little stars dotted all over it and some of Iseul’s plushies already hanging out on top of it. The curtains have been hung up, the dresser rests against the wall and there’s clothes and other baby parafernalia making its way inside the closet, courtesy of Seokjin and Hoseok, who are carefully hanging jackets in their tiny hangers and shoving them to the end of the rail. Jimin is trying to figure out the best configuration of the little drawings they have to hang on her walls, back turned towards the door, head cocked in a way that Taehyung knows means he’s not quite happy with it. Sure enough, he twitches his fingers and the frames rearrange their positions. He cocks his head to the other side. 

Iseul is rummaging around in one of her toy bins, which thankfully was one area of their life that was easy to pack seeing as it was already all in boxes. She pulls out her felt duck, a floppy little thing that Namjoon had gotten for her a couple months back, raising it at him when she sees him in the doorway. “Appa! Duck!”

“Yes baby, Mr. Duck is very cute.” Jimin’s voice is distracted, still focused on the frames and then he turns and meets Taehyung’s eyes, huffing out a laugh when he sees that Iseul isn’t even looking in his direction. “Oh, you didn’t want me to look at the duck. I see how it is.” 

Taehyung steps into the room fully, going over to press a kiss on his cheek, as a hello. Jimin leans into him, turning his head after to press their lips together, ignoring Hoseok’s cheerful Oh look Iseul-ah they’re kissing again. Eeww! to which Iseul responds with her own drawn out Eeeeeww ! even though, when Taehyung pulls back, she’s not even remotely interested in what they’re doing, instead running a toy car all over the walls. 

Jimin sighs. “Hyung, stop teaching her that, I can’t have her booing us every time I want to kiss my boyfriend.”

“Making out in front of your child Park Jimin? You should be ashamed of yourself.” Seokjin’s scandalized tone makes Hoseok cackle, swatting at his arm. 

“I’m going to change the code on the door as soon as you two leave. You’re never stepping foot in my house again.” 

“And deprive poor Iseul from her favorite uncles? She would bring the house down with her screaming. Wouldn’t you Iseul-ah? Tell your mean appa how you’ll avenge my honor.” Iseul’s only answer is another eeeeeewwwww and then she’s off down the corridor, walking on all fours, toy car still in her hands, rolling in front of her. Seokjin doesn’t let that deter him, barely missing a beat. “See? Already going on preemptive strike. That’s my girl.”

Jimin turns to lock eyes with Taehyung, looking weary down to the bone. He smiles at him, leaning forward to kiss his nose. 

“Yoongi-hyung was unpacking the kitchen, if you want to go do that instead. He has lemonade and everything.” The look of relief that takes over Jimin’s face is overwhelming and instantaneous, and it makes Taehyung laugh again because he can see that only about forty percent of it is faked. 

He turns to the other two once Jimin leaves, setting his hands on his hips. They’re still giggling to each other like a pair of schoolchildren. 

“You guys are terrible. Iseul’s favorite uncle is Jeongguk by the way.” And with that he takes off, leaving their offended squawks behind. 

True to form, Jeongguk is carrying Iseul on his shoulders around the living room, holding on to her legs, her little hands entrenched firmly in his hair. He’s her favorite because he lets her act like he’s her personal jungle gym.

“Hyung! Cool, you’re here. Do you know where the box with the plates ended up? I’ve been trying to find it and I can’t.”

After ten minutes of rooting around they manage to get to it, and then the front door opens and Namjoon steps in, arms laden with bags, signaling the arrival of a very welcome lunchtime break. Fortunately Iseul crashes after some food, leaving the seven of them to finish putting the house together. By the time Iseul wakes back up they managed to set up the bedroom, bathrooms and office, leaving only the living room, boxes pushed up against the walls so that walking around doesn’t feel like figuring out a maze every time. Most of it is books and knick knacks, photo albums and various things accumulated over their years together, and him and Jimin agree to leave that for another day, opting instead to set up the tv so that they can all crash for the rest of the day. Yoongi and Jeongguk set up all the electronics, the rest of them sprawling across couches and armchairs in various states of laziness. Taehyung ends up sideways in one of the armchairs, legs dangling off the armrest and Iseul curled up on his chest, still trying to dispel her sleepiness, and he looks around, at his friends, at the half unpackaged living room, at Jimin, radiant on the other side of room, passion radiating off him as he argues with Namjoon about something or other. 

He thinks, about the life they can build here, about the ways this space might change over the years, and the ways it might stay the same, stretching and growing as they do too. Thinks about his little garden, still up in the mountains, waiting for their return. In many ways, it’s a familiar feeling, heart divided between two different poles, but this time, in place of a break there is a stretch, his heart being pulled in two alternate directions, yes, but expanding to accommodate that distance, knowing he can cross it with ease.

For the first time in a long time, Taehyung looks around and it feels like home.