There is a world that runs parallel to ours. One that is muted grey. It has no sound, no words.
Only moments. Intentions unfulfilled. It is where all the unrequited loves live, all the budding seasons, all the failed dreams. They live side by side, stacked like big-city-apartments, waiting to see if they'll ever make it out of this silent world.
In this silent world, a million unspoken i-love-you's cradle each other with wet eyes. In this silent world, there is the hairsbreadth of space between two lips that never meet. In this silent world, a midnight flower waits, wondering if it will ever see moonlight.
"Step the fuck away from me, you nomag scum."
Seokjin barely blinked as the witch he was standing by spat on his shoes. The slur for humans, or non-magicals, bounced right off his skin, the way the witch's spittle slid off his shoe. Sending a silent thanks to his past self for wearing his worn-down sneakers instead of his brand new ones, he simply stepped away from the pile of ripe tomatoes, his pickings in a reusable grocery bag hanging off the crook of his elbow, and made his way back to his cart. He could hear the witch angrily muttering to himself, wondering how Seokjin had had the gall to step a little too close to him, apparently stinking up the entire grocery store with his human stench.
There were tiny, vulnerable parts of Seokjin that sometimes forgot just how much he was hated here. And it weathered away at him like ocean on rock, only some days he felt no stronger than sand, and it was hard to remember to keep his chin up when he was cursed out for doing nothing more than picking out tomatoes.
With a successful food blog where he uploaded recipes and videos of himself cooking, Seokjin didn't have to leave the apartment that often. But everybody needed food – him more than most, what with his occupation and a growing toddler on his hands. So weekly grocery runs were a must, no matter how unpleasant and downright threatening they could be.
"Appa!" a bundle of limbs slammed into the back of Seokjin's legs, forcing him forward a step and causing him to bang his shins on the metal part of the grocery cart in front of him.
"Jimin-ah," Seokjin groaned out in pain, dropping the tomatoes with a heavy thunk inside the cart. Jimin let out a little startled noise of acknowledgment, clambering in-between Seokjin's legs like a tiny puppy so that he could turn and place two gentle pecks on his dad's legs, one on each shin. Once his apology was out of the way, Jimin raised both his arms above his head and stared up at Seokjin, eyes shining.
"Appa, Chim get?"
Seokjin stared down at the packet of vanilla Hello Panda snacks. The little cartoon bear smiled up at him almost mockingly. Seokjin was silent for a few moments, and Jimin began vigorously shaking the packet to emphasize his desire for the treat, vibrating with want as the sweet crackers rattled inside the box.
"Okay baby," Seokjin relented. Jimin let out a crow of happiness. "But you're not eating it until after dinner. As dessert."
"Dessert, dessert," Jimin chanted, clutching his snacks to his chest happily.
Seokjin broke, then, his face relaxing into a fond grin, and his chest swelled as he bent down to pick his son up, planting a fat kiss on Jimin's chubby cheek. It was only when he fully straightened up that he caught the eyes of the male witch who had cursed and spat on him. The other's expression was twisted with disgust, his gaze flickering from Jimin, to Seokjin, then back again.
The toddler in Seokjin's arms was clearly a witch. Past the fact that his scent was that of a witch, Jimin had heterochromatic eyes – one a deep, rich brown, and the other a light amber. Witches always had a mark that showcased the magic that ran through their blood, whether it was colorful hair or shocking eyes or sometimes even tattooed patterns on their skin. It was clear to see that Jimin was a witch, and Seokjin was – not.
Though it was getting better as the younger generations grew up more liberally, discrimination and hatred between humans and witches was still rampant. There were separate human districts and witch districts for a reason, and that was to keep the animosity and hate crimes at bay. When they were separated, humans and witches could live in relative peace. When forced together, however...
Seokjin clutched Jimin a bit closer to his chest, suddenly anxious that this strange witch would try to take Jimin away. With his free hand, Seokjin grabbed their cart and made his way towards the back of the grocery store, avoiding eye contact with anybody else that he passed. He ducked into an empty aisle and maneuvered Jimin into the baby seat in the front of the cart, stroking a hand over Jimin's messy hair.
"Almost done, okay?" Seokjin said cheerily, forcing a grin onto his face, more for his sake than Jimin's. "Then we'll go home and play for a little before dinner."
"'Kay," Jimin chirped, shaking the Hello Panda in agreement.
Seokjin hastily got the rest of the things he needed before checking out with his cap pulled low over his face. The cashier was gruff and stony, which in Seokjin's books, was a relief. It was better than them being outright aggressive.
Though sometimes, it was the smaller things that hurt worse. The way some witches gave him a wide berth, refused to sit next to him on the bus, or even the uncomfortable eye contact between him and workers at the stores. The way some witches crossed the street when they saw Seokjin coming so they wouldn't have to pass by each other on the sidewalk, or the way some of them rolled their car windows up when he walked past their parked car. Because these moments – they weren't angry, attention-seeking displays to make a point, like what had happened by the tomatoes. These smaller moments were simply pure distrust, pure disdain.
It was hard, living with his head ducked low like this. Seokjin found himself becoming more and more afraid to leave his apartment, found himself withdrawing into himself in a way that he didn't like. He missed going out to bars and laughing with his friends. He missed smiling at strangers on the subway. He missed exchanging small-talk with cashiers and old vendors on the street.
But he had to keep reminding himself that it was worth it. The aggression, the discomfort, the animosity. It was all worth it, living as a human within a witch district, because Seokjin would rather die than have it the other way around. If it was Jimin living in a human district, being treated the way Seokjin was treated here – just the thought of that was unacceptable. He'd give it all up, the alcohol-warm nights and the comfort within his own skin, if it meant Jimin was somewhere safe. If it meant Jimin was happy.
That was all that mattered, to him. It was all that kept Seokjin from slowly losing his mind as he tried to offer a homeless woman on the sidewalk a spare note and she shoved it back toward him like it was poisoned.
When they made it back to their apartment, Seokjin huffing and puffing from carrying their heavy groceries, Jimin scampered inside, tripping over himself to tear the shoes off of his clumsy feet.
"Home!" Jimin announced happily.
Seokjin tried to let that soak in. Yes, they were home, they were home. Even though there were days where it didn't feel like home to him, these walls were what kept Jimin safe. And that was enough for Seokjin.
Turning after he got his own shoes off, he found Jimin plopped on his bottom on the floor, chubby fist digging inside his now-open box of Hello Panda, already munching on a vanilla-flavored cracker.
The first time Jeongguk sees his new neighbor, he is covered in dirt.
There was only so much he could do, really, living as a green witch who was surrounded by plants every second of every day. The hardest part about moving into a new apartment wasn't packing up his fragiles, or his clothes, or his furniture – no. It was figuring out how to transport all his plants in a way that would keep them cool, calm, and collected. His plants were, as much as he vehemently denied it whenever Yoongi brought it up, spoiled rotten. Jeongguk coddled them, planted kisses on their pretty petals and stroked their leaves and had an entire bullet journal dedicated to their watering and feeding routines, as well as their personal preferences and tastes.
Growing up in an environment as stable and loving as the one Jeongguk had provided, change upset them. One night when Jeongguk had come back to his old apartment two hours later than usual after a night out with his hyungs, his plants had been so out of sorts that he'd had to emergency-feed them his magic mixed with water through an eye dropper because they'd drooped in dramatic distress and had refused to straighten up. Knowing this, Jeongguk had begged Yoongi to help him move his plants over to the new apartment instead of giving them to the moving service that was helping to move the rest of his things. Yoongi, the only one in their group who had a car, only pretended to consider it for about thirty seconds before he was asking the time and date, pulling out his phone to mark it in his calendar.
So. There Jeongguk was, dirt on his – well, on his everything. Yoongi had gone to pick up the remaining plants, because yes, Jeongguk had so many that it had taken multiple trips back and forth to bring them all, and in the midst of it all while Jeongguk had been hauling a large bag of soil to the car, the universe decided to make his day even harder and the bag burst all over him, covering him from head to toe in dirt. Some had even gotten into his mouth, and when Yoongi found him spluttering next to the car a few seconds later, gagging, the older witch laughed so hard he'd had to sit down and put his head between his knees to compose himself.
So trust fate to be petty enough to confront Jeongguk with what was the most beautiful man he'd ever seen in his life while he looked like this. Jeongguk was standing a half-step outside of his apartment, mouth agape as he watched the man get off the elevator and begin walking towards him. The man was looking down at something, orbited by something loud and buzzing, but Jeongguk couldn't find it in him to drag his eyes away to check what it was. A quick sweep showed that the man was tall, perhaps even a few centimeters taller than Jeongguk, with the broadest shoulders Jeongguk's ever seen on a man outside of the romantic dramas he loved to cry over at night. His brown hair was parted in the middle, revealing a smooth forehead and dark brows. His face was somehow soft and angular at the same time, pronounced cheekbones curving into a supple jaw.
After a solid five seconds, Jeongguk forced himself to stop ogling. It was one of the harder things he's had to do in life, up there with passing his SPROUTs, and realizing that his old crush on Namjoon had, in fact, simply been an intense and all-consuming (but platonic) admiration for just about everything the other witch said and did.
Finally looking down, Jeongguk noticed that the man had been smiling down at and talking to a child.
"Don' worry, Appa, Chim's a big boy now! Don't need help taking off my shoes!"
The man's smile was so soft as he looked at the toddler bouncing around his legs, their hands connected as they made their way closer and closer. Jeongguk's heart just about burst – he'd always had a weakness for men who were good with children, and the man's love for this child was so clear to see.
Jeongguk knew at this point that his staring was a little creepy. He should head downstairs and wait at the curb for Yoongi. Or introduce himself. Or try to brush off some of the dirt coating his skin. He did none of this. He just stood there, and looked, because there was something so magnetic about the scene in front of him, something so warm that he didn't want to draw his eyes away.
"You are a big boy now, Jiminie! Soon you'll even be tying your shoes on your own!"
The toddler smiled up at the man, the most adorable little thing clad in yellow overalls and thick socks, and Jeongguk catches a flash of the chubbiest cheeks he's ever seen, a little button nose, and happy, scrunched up eyes. Jeongguk's heart raced once he realized they'd passed by all of the units except for the one right next to his. With Jeongguk's apartment being at the very end of the hall, he realized that he was currently staring at his new next door neighbor.
In that moment, the man looked up, startling a bit when he noticed Jeongguk's presence. Jeongguk didn't know what his face was doing, but embarrassment was curling hot and heavy in his gut, and he raised his hand in an awkward half-wave, only to freeze when a literal pile of soil seemed to come out of nowhere from the folds of his sleeve and fell to the floor.
The man didn't smile, simply stared at Jeongguk in what looked like fear. And he didn't blame him. If their positions had been switched, Jeongguk would be afraid of the dirty man staring at him, too.
Say something, you idiot!
"Hello," Jeongguk dipped into a hurried bow, grimacing at all the dirt that shifted off of him at the abrupt movement, but he kept his lowered position. He may be lacking in a lot of things, but manners was not one of them. Hoseok would have his head otherwise. "My name is Jeon Jeongguk. I'm...I'm your new neighbor. I hope you'll take care of me."
When he straightened again, the man's face was morphed into an expression of confusion. Nervous, Jeongguk shifted on his feet.
"Don't worry, I'll sweep the hallway up later," Jeongguk rambled, motioning with his hand vaguely in every direction. "I'm a green witch, you see, so I've been moving my plants and there's just a lot of dirt that comes along with plants so..."
The man finally let out a small, nervous laugh. Though it wasn't exactly a genuine laugh, the sound had Jeongguk relaxing a bit.
"That's...alright, Jeongguk-ssi. I'm Kim Seokjin, and this is my son, Jimin."
"Hi!" the toddler grinned at Jeongguk, seemingly unafraid of the strange soil-covered man standing a few feet in front of him. "Did ya have an oopsie?"
Jeongguk blinked at him.
"He's referring to...ah..." Seokjin motioned with his hand over his own body.
Laughing, Jeongguk nodded, widening his eyes dramatically at Jimin once he understood. "I had the biggest oopsie. A bag of dirt decided it wanted to be mean to me today and exploded all over me while I was carrying it!"
Jimin squealed in delight at the image, tossing his head back and belly laughing so hard he lost his balance, knocking into his father's knees with his body. The laugh was contagious, because within moments Jeongguk and even Seokjin were laughing along.
"I hope you'll take care of us as well, Jeongguk-ssi," Seokjin continued, voice quiet. He avoided eye contact as he said it, dipping into his own little bow, gently coaxing Jimin into doing the same. "I hope moving in goes smoothly."
"I'll try not to make too much noise, moving furniture and stuff," Jeongguk said.
Again, the man threw Jeongguk a glance full of confusion, and almost...wariness? Nodding slowly, the man bowed once more before he was punching in his passcode to the door and ushering Jimin inside.
"Bye-bye!" Jimin waved at him happily. Jeongguk barely had a chance to wave back before their door was shutting behind them.
In the newfound silence, Jeongguk realized two things.
One, that his new neighbor was so blindingly attractive that it was almost unfair. And they'd just met for the first time while he looked like this.
And two – Jeongguk hadn't sensed a magical aura surrounding Seokjin. Nothing, not even a whisper of it like there would be if the man had, for some reason, cast a masking spell. No, it was impossible to hide one's magic that well, especially with how close they had been standing. Seokjin was a human.
"Appa, is Gu hyung gonna come over to play?" Jimin was scooping tteokguk into his mouth as he bent over his warm bowl, his spoon clutched in a chubby fist.
Seokjin threw his son a confused glance, reaching out with a napkin to smear away the soup that was dripping down Jimin's chin. "Who?"
"Gu hyung! Who had an oopsie!"
"Oh," Seokjin said. He thought back to earlier that afternoon, when he and Jimin had just been returning from getting the mail downstairs and he'd looked up to find an unfamiliar witch staring at him. Jeongguk had the biggest eyes Seokjin's ever seen, and even though he was covered in dirt (which, the more Seokjin thought about it, the more amusing it got), Seokjin had still stumbled at how attractive the other was. He had a full sleeve of tattoos on his right arm, an intricate map of petals and flowers. Even through his baggy t-shirt and pants, it was clear to see that Jeongguk was muscular. He had a shock of ice-blonde hair, which was grown out long and hung into his eyes in loose waves. The contrast between the witch's bright, childish eyes contrasted with his manly body, and the more Seokjin dwelled on how well these different pieces fit together, the more he felt positively upheaved.
"He was nice, Appa! I hope he wants to play."
And – that was just the thing. Jeongguk had been nice. He'd been unfailingly polite as he'd bowed 90 degrees towards Seokjin, going on about sweeping the hallways free from dirt as if he was afraid that he'd somehow inconvenienced him.
Him, Seokjin, a human who could count on one hand the number of times a witch had ever greeted him so politely. So naturally. As if it was normal for him to be one of the only humans living within the witch district, especially without a witch as a partner. Seokjin was aware that he had been gaping at the witch, and he felt embarrassment now, knowing Jeongguk probably thought him daft. But he couldn't help it – it had been so long since he'd held a normal, friendly conversation with a witch that he'd been caught off guard.
"Appa, can you ask?"
"What, baby?" Seokjin said, shaking himself out of his thoughts and focusing back on his son.
Jimin huffed at him, sending him a look that was way too similar to the one Seokjin made when Jimin wouldn't listen to him.
"Can you ask Gu hyung to come and play?"
Seokjin, quite frankly, would rather do just about anything but that. Not after he'd made a fool of himself in the hallway by gawking and being weird.
"We'll see," Seokjin said. "Eat up, before your food gets cold."
He had kind eyes, Seokjin thought to himself. How long has it been, since I've seen those?
Seokjin knew something was wrong the moment he woke up six feet in the air. He let out a shout so loud that he startled himself, still sleep-deprived and groggy as the sun was just barely peeking out from the horizon.
"I've lost it," he said to himself as he tilted his head to the side and found the floor far, far away from him. His entire bed was in the air, floating like it was a rowboat on gentle waters. "I've completely lost it. This is what too much caffeine and no real sleep does to you, it drives you crazy. Bonkers. Completely insane. Jimin's going to have to be put up for adoption at the ripe age of 4, and nobody is going to help plan my funeral so the playlist will be trash. This apartment is haunted. Enchanted. Both. We never should have moved–"
He cut himself off with a scream when his door swung open, flailing in his sheets as he peered across his room at the sudden action. There stood Jimin, sleep-rumpled and still clad in his ducky-printed pajamas. He only had a single sock on, and he squinted at his father with a face that looked much too grumpy for a four year old. If there was anything anyone needed to know about Jimin – it was that the boy was not a morning person.
"Appa," Jimin said, hands on his hips. "Woke me up. Why're you yelling?"
"Jimin-ah," Seokjin said, trying his hardest to keep the panic from his tone. "As you can see, Appa's bed is not where it should be right now. Don't come over here, it might suddenly fall and hurt you, baby. Can you throw me my phone so I can call someone? Maybe–"
Jimin huffed audibly, cutting Seokjin's rambling off. Without even looking like he was aware of what he was doing, Jimin's little hand came up and motioned the bed towards the ground, as if correcting a naughty puppy.
The bed clattered to the floor with little grace, Seokjin teetering from the sudden movement, dizzy as he was suddenly set down. He gaped at Jimin.
Despite the dazed look on his Appa's face, Jimin simply made his way over to Seokjin's king-sized bed and crawled in, stealing the warm spot from where Seokjin had been sleeping.
"Shh," Jimin said grumpily, shutting his eyes and curling his little hands underneath his chubby cheek. "Chim and Appa sleep now. Then wake up an' eat, 'm hungry."
His breathing evened out almost immediately, and Seokjin rolled onto his side to properly look at Jimin, wrapping an arm around his son's small, curled up body.
"Oh, no," Seokjin whispered to himself, eyes closing in despair as he let his head thunk down onto the pillow. He didn't fall asleep again, counting Jimin's breaths as the sun slowly rose higher and higher in the sky.
It was a commonly known fact that toddler-hood, for any witch, was...tumultuous. Every witch was born with magic inside of them, brewing during their first few years of life. Then, all at once, that magic decided it no longer wanted to stay dormant and unleashed itself once the witch reached around 4 or 5 years. This time in their life was called Phasing. Seokjin supposed that it was akin to a human's teenager-hood – a period of time where the witch was made moody with changing hormones and growth spurts and new self discoveries. Unlike that, however, a witch's tumble into their own magic was often painful, and sometimes dangerous. There were a few horror stories of buildings set on fire, cities suffering through earthquakes, even entire homes collapsing because of a large well of magic within a Phasing child that wasn't correctly handled and introduced to the body that was harboring it.
Now, Jimin's magic was awakening, his genes from the witch Seokjin had had a one night stand with finally kicking in, and Seokjin?
Well, Seokjin was completely and utterly human, left with the responsibility of seeing Jimin through his Phasing without having any knowledge about magic.
"You. Are such little brats," Jeongguk rested his weight on his work station, eyes narrowed. He had an accusing finger pointed towards his lavenders. They were typically well-behaved, but after they'd seen him get the peace lilies new soil the other week, they'd been drooping dramatically for no good reason. He needed them to cooperate for an anti-anxiety charm he was crafting for his shop, but he wouldn't be able to harness their calming effects if they were acting like this. "Please. I know there's nothing wrong. My magic can literally feel it!"
In protest, the purple blooms drooped even lower, the top of them going as far as to graze the countertop. Jeongguk collapsed into his chair in defeat, running a hand through his messy hair.
"Alright, what is it you want? You want new soil too, is that it? A new pot?"
At the words, the lavenders straightened up, just a smidgen. Jeongguk blinked at them, deadpan.
"Yoongi hyung was right. You are spoiled. All of you!" he stood up with a huff, marching into his room to yank on his shoes and grab his keys. As he made his way towards the door, pausing only to kiss his collection of bonsais (courtesy of Namjoon) on the way out because they still got scared when left alone for too long, he saw the lavenders swaying from side to side from the corner of his eye, a little victory dance. When he whipped his head toward them to stare at them straight on, they drooped so quickly that their pot almost tipped with the sudden shift in weight. Opening the door, Jeongguk was halfway into the hallway but still twisted towards them, shaking his head in disappointment.
"I see right through you!" he hollered at them. "One day I'm going to run out of money, and when you actually need new soil and I'm too broke to get it, then you'll see!"
When Jeongguk twisted to face forward, closing his apartment door behind him, he yelped in shock when he found Seokjin staring at him nervously. Neither of them said anything, Seokjin fidgeting as the silence wore on. It looked like the other man had just gotten back from the library, as there was a large tote filled with books hoisted over his shoulder. Jeongguk could see the corner of a romance novel stacked right on top of a vividly colored picture book. His apartment door was half-open, and Jeongguk could hear the pitter-patter of Jimin's feet inside.
"Pesky roommate," Jeongguk finally said, pointing back at his door with his thumb over his shoulder. Right after he did it, he internally face-palmed, feeling like a dork. If Namjoon and Hoseok were here, they'd be laughing at him, no doubt.
"O-oh," Seokjin replied, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "I was unaware you had a roommate. They're – also a witch?"
A strange grimace crossed Seokjin's face, something that looked like regret. Jeongguk tipped his head to the side at the question. They were living in the witch district. If Jeongguk did have any roommates, they most definitely would have been another witch.
But, in that moment, Jeongguk wanted nothing more than for that nervous look on Seokjin's face to go away. So he took a tiny step closer, relaxing his frame to appear as un-intimidating as possible. Slowly, he held out his hand, palm up. There, flat in the center of it, was a tiny white daisy, growing straight from his skin. Seokjin's eyes widened, lips parting with a silent gasp.
"This is one of them," Jeongguk said softly, reaching with his other hand to pluck the flower out and then slowly moving to tucking it into Seokjin's tote, the human's body held stiff the whole time he was close. "I've told you I'm a green witch, remember? I have around 100 pesky roommates, give or take, and none of them are witches. But they're all alive, and they like to give me trouble."
Seokjin stared down at the little flower Jeongguk had left inside his bag, biting down on his plush bottom lip. When he looked up again, something rosy and effervescent was rising on his cheeks.
"So you were talking to...your plants?" Seokjin asked quietly.
Jeongguk shrugged lightheartedly. "I know it's strange. I'm sorry if you're able to hear me sometimes, through the walls. I'm never actually angry at them, even if I do scold them from time to time. They know how much I love them."
Letting out a little laugh, Seokjin reached to take the flower in-between his fingers, holding it with something akin to awe, twirling the stem from side to side. "You sound like me, when I'm talking about Jimin."
"My plants do feel like my children sometimes," Jeongguk affirmed, letting out a little laugh. "How old is Jimin?"
Seokjin's entire demeanor gentled at the mere mention of him. "He's just turned four."
Jeongguk hummed in acknowledgement, and that seemed to break Seokjin out of the little bubble they'd created.
"He's probably getting hungry," Seokjin side-stepped awkwardly, moving closer to his open door. "It was...nice. Seeing you."
"Yea," Jeongguk said a little too quickly, rocking back on his feet just to get his jitters out. "You too, Seokjin-ssi."
Seokjin cast him one last glance, then disappeared inside his apartment. The moment his door closed, Jeongguk stared down at his now-empty palm, a tiny irritated piece of skin the only evidence left from where he'd plucked out the daisy.
"I can't believe I just did that," he said to the empty hallway. Growing and plucking a flower from your own skin and giving it to somebody was, to a green witch, like buying somebody a drink. Like opening a car door. Like making your intentions, your interest, known.
"Did I just. Flirt?" Jeongguk whispered to himself, smacking his hands over his cheeks. The hallway didn't answer him. But, from the other side of his apartment door, he could have sworn he heard his plants tittering. Later, when he got back, a new bag of soil hoisted over his shoulder, the lavenders waved at him from his workstation, teasing and completely upright.
Jeongguk lived his life through sound.
It's always been the sense that's affected him the most – growing up, he remembers swaying, held in his mother's arms as she danced with him in their living room, his father sitting at the piano pressing out soft lullabies from underneath his fingertips. These songs pressed into his skin like petals between journal pages, and the love of music, the appreciation of sound, followed him for the rest of his life.
When he missed people, Jeongguk didn't look for pictures, didn't ache to see their face like most others do. Instead, he longed for their voice, the familiar cadence of it, the different lilts and dialects and intonations that was unique to each person. Jeongguk carried it all – the way Namjoon pronounced each word with intent and clarity, the way Taehyung often spoke in fragments that you had to connect, like puzzle pieces waiting to be clicked in place to reveal the full picture, the way Yoongi's laugh went silent and wheezy when something was really funny and the way Hoseok's was the complete opposite. Jeongguk took all of this and tucked these familiar sounds away like treasure.
So it wasn't surprising to him when he began to grow infatuated through sound, as well.
He was always called a hopeless romantic, growing up. It didn't take much for Jeongguk to become enamored with people, things, places, moments. And he hardly knew Seokjin, had only had two interactions with the human, but Jeongguk couldn't stop thinking about him. A few days passed and Jeongguk found himself finding comfort in the sounds that drifted through their shared walls.
And it was so easy to fall, when the lullabies coming through the walls were so reminiscent of the ones from his childhood. It was so easy to fall, when he regularly heard the croon of Seokjin's voice, always-gentle. The way Seokjin spoke was like music, expressive and rhythmic and beautiful. The first time Jeongguk had heard Seokjin's voice through the walls, he'd cocked his head to the side, smiling in genuine amusement. All the times they'd spoken, the human's voice had been quiet and contained. But that time Seokjin was speaking in a way that was almost exaggerated, some words over-emphasized and little laughs breaking up his sentences. Jeongguk realized that the man was probably playing with Jimin, maybe reading him a story or entertaining him through a made-up scenario.
It was also through this that Jeongguk realized Seokjin was single. It was always only the two of them in there. The presence of a third voice was nonexistent, and Jeongguk found himself drifting off into thought often, wondering where Jimin's mother was. Jimin had the eyes of a witch, so he was clearly magical. But Seokjin wasn't. Though it was none of his business, Jeongguk couldn't help but wonder.
Then, during the second week after he'd moved in, Jeongguk heard the cries for the first time.
Jeongguk laid awake as he listened to Jimin wail. Even through the walls, Jeongguk could hear the hitches in his breath, the frustration in his voice. And despite his fatigue the next morning at the lack of sleep, Jeongguk grew more and more infatuated as he listened to the soft rustles through the wall, the croons that were almost inaudible, the tender lullabies that Seokjin sung in the dead of night to soothe Jimin's fears. He imagined Seokjin cradling Jimin close to his chest, where the toddler could press his cheek against his Appa's heart and feel the vibrations of his voice through his skin.
You come to know a lot about a person, through their sounds.
What music they listen to, the way they vent their frustrations (it seemed like Seokjin spoke to himself a lot, often ranting about things but to himself, often referring to himself as 'Jin-ah'), the way they wind down for sleep.
Even though they hardly spoke or saw each other, Jeongguk felt as if he slowly grew to understand the little family next door more. He didn't know how to explain it, not even to himself.
But there was just something about them that was achingly beautiful, and it was within the very nature of Jeongguk's magic that pushed him to cherish lovely, blooming things.
So, when morning came the night after Jimin's cries, Jeongguk carefully stood at his work station and wrapped a ribbon around a bouquet of forget-me-nots. The sunlight was beaming through his open windows as he worked, warming up his tattooed hands. Through the walls, he heard the familiar sounds of Seokjin getting up. The click of a coffee pot. The slow shuffling of feet. The crack of a window being opened.
So, as the morning rose outside of his little apartment, Jeongguk quietly opened his front door and slipped into the hallway. It took exactly five steps for him to get to Seokjin's doormat, and he gently set the flowers down on it. As quietly as he could, he crept back to his own apartment, shutting the door slowly so it wouldn't make any noise. His empty little apartment felt just a touch warmer.
Jimin was, to say the least, an imaginative child. Part of Seokjin felt almost guilty for it – growing up, Jimin didn't have many playmates, or very many people aside from Seokjin at all. Jimin often had to entertain himself when Seokjin was busy, and so he created stories in his head. His plushies were his best friends. The furniture was a battlefield one day, a magical forest the next. Jimin was a social kid, always happy to talk to anyone who would give him the time of day, always wide-eyed and latched onto Seokjin but comfortable engaging with complete strangers, the few who looked past their discomfort from being around Seokjin to entertain the cute little witch. It worried Seokjin a bit, how trusting his son was, but he loved it, as well. Loved that to Jimin, the world was still a safe place where nothing could ever hurt him. If Seokjin could have it his way, Jimin would stay like this forever – ignorant of all the ways the world could cut into you.
So, when Jimin came knocking into his knees babbling about flowers being at their front door, Seokjin simply hummed, scrubbing vigorously at the plates in his soapy hands.
"That's a lovely story, Jiminie," Seokjin said, distracted by the crusted piece of egg that just wouldn't come off. "What happens next?"
"No!" Jimin shouted, yanking at Seokjin's slacks viciously. "Come see!"
Seokjin sighed fondly. There were times when Jimin would piece things together, little crafts made from rubber bands and scraps of paper that he would present to Seokjin proudly, introducing his "magical wand" or "dragon's nest". Seokjin, never one to discourage his son's creativity, would always nod seriously, express his admiration and awe at the appropriate moments, ask all the right questions. Bracing himself for another one of his son's creations, Seokjin took off his rubber gloves. He'd barely turned before Jimin was grabbing at his hands, marching them over to the open front door.
"Jimin-ah, what have I told you about opening the front door without me? It's not safe, baby, you shouldn't be–"
"Look!" Jimin shouted, bouncing on his socked feet excitedly, pointing at their doormat.
Because Jimin hadn't been telling stories – there really was a bouquet of flowers at their door.
"Oh," Seokjin breathed out. He couldn't remember the last time he'd gotten flowers.
Had he ever gotten flowers?
Crouching down, he gently picked the bouquet up. It was wrapped in brown kraft paper tied together with a satin ribbon. They were little forget-me-nots, with sky-blue petals and sunbeam centers.
Seokjin was barely breathing. Because – there was no way it could be a coincidence, the fact that a green witch had just moved in next door, and suddenly there were flowers on his doorstep. What did they mean? Did everyone else get flowers, too? He hadn't seen any other bouquets when he'd stepped out to pick the blooms up. Did Jeongguk just happen to have extra bouquets laying around and figured he'd give his awkward neighbor one? Or, worse, was this all some elaborate practical joke?
"Appa?" Jimin was still fidgeting excitedly, staring at the flowers the way he stared at new toys he wanted.
"Look," Seokjin tilted the bouquet down so Jimin could see them properly, smiling past the apprehension building in his stomach. "Aren't they pretty, baby?"
"They're pretty!" Jimin echoed, clapping his hands in pure delight.
Carefully, Seokjin extracted three of the stems from the bundle, and handed them to Jimin. Jimin reached out for them, holding them reverently between his hands as he brought them close to his face, staring at them cross-eyed, lips parted in awe.
Then, Jimin bunched them all up in one fist and began waving them wildly in the air.
Seokjin laughed, knowing that those flowers would be worse for wear in a few hours. He took the rest of the bouquet to the kitchen table, and pulled out a glass mason jar to fill with water as a makeshift vase.
The sight of the forget-me-nots was a bittersweet thing. Though the human and witch districts were kept quite segregated, the edges of each where the districts met and blended into one another were called the Borderlands. The Borderlands thrived off of the thrill and recklessness of teens and young adults. They were home to night clubs, bars, and restaurants that people flocked to when they wanted to have a good time – witches and humans alike. The mixing of the two species simply added a rebellious factor that was compelling. To the older, more conservative crowd, going to these establishments in the Borderlands was often seen as taboo. The careless mixing of witches and humans would have been unheard of, fifty years ago. The more liberal of both species never minded popping into the Borderlands for a fun night out, and Seokjin had been no exception.
He'd been young, freshly out of college and grabbing a few drinks with his friends. Seokjin had been drunk, and suddenly he met Haeun, a witch with two differently colored eyes and a shock of curly hair. Despite his slight reservations about witches, Seokjin had never hated them like many other humans hated witches. If anything, he'd always been curious about them, the thought of living with so much power and magic within your body was always fascinating to Seokjin.
They went home together that night, and Seokjin had noted after they were laying together, sweaty and sated, that the witch had a vase of wilted forget-me-nots on her nightstand, the surface of it littered with browning petals.
Nine months later, Haeun had texted him, demanding his address and pestering him until he'd given it to her. She showed up at his doorstep with an infant in her arms, face ice-cold as she told him that she didn't want the baby. Didn't claim him. She told him that she went through with the birth because her beliefs did not align with abortion, but despite that, she had no intention of raising this baby.
"You can have him, if you want, since he's technically yours as well," she'd said. As if she was talking about a menial object and not an entire life. "Or I'll put him up for adoption."
Seokjin's life changed in the span of that single moment. He hadn't even known Haeun had gotten pregnant. His heart was pounding, and all Seokjin knew was that he was too young to be a dad, too financially unstable, too flighty and immature and lacking.
He'd stared at Haeun, who looked so different in the daylight. Her face was colder, more angular than he remembered through his hazy memory of her surrounded by dim streetlights and silk bedsheets. His eyes had wandered down to the bundle in her arms, which she held slightly angled away from her own body, as if unwilling to let the baby nuzzle into her warmth.
And Seokjin had been so close. He'd been so close to saying, no, I don't want him.
Give him up, give him up, I'm not ready.
I don't know if I'll ever be ready.
But then – a tiny, pink fist. Raised up into the air, the smallest fingers Seokjin's ever seen unfurling like a flower blooming, reaching upwards. Jimin had probably just been stretching, or curiously exploring his limbs the way newborns did, but in that moment, it felt like he'd been reaching out for Seokjin.
So Seokjin took him into his arms, a warm precious bundle that peered up at him with two differently colored eyes and a toothless smile and pudgy, kicking feet and Seokjin was a goner. That had been the first time he met Jimin – and the last time he saw Haeun.
Sometimes, he thinks, a series of blunders might really just be fate leading you towards the light.
Seokjin had always counted himself lucky. Because despite it all, Jimin was one of the happiest and most loving children he'd ever met. He reminded Seokjin of a bumblebee most days, buzzing around the apartment with his never-ending happy hum. His baby was good at expressing his happiness, in ways that often inspired Seokjin to laugh a little louder, show his love a little harder. Jimin loved running around the apartment, energy reserves seeming to never run low, but he also often took the time to pause in his mad dash towards wherever his next destination was to stop and plant a wet smooch on Seokjin's wrist or hip or stomach (whichever place he could most easily reach) on the way. No matter how many times it happened, it always stopped Seokjin short, filling his heart with warmth like a star forming in fast-forward. And it was funny, when Seokjin thought about it, how much love he found in little hands covered in graham cracker dust, tugging at his shirt for attention. It was funny, how Seokjin's entire world was wrapped up and living within the pads of Jimin's fingers, the gaps between his teeth.
Jimin worried about him, too. Sometimes, when Seokjin was lying awake in bed, taking a little longer than normal to fall asleep, he'd hear his door creak open silently. The first time it happened, Seokjin had been on the brink of sleep, so tired that he hadn't moved at the noise, expecting Jimin to climb into bed with him or call his name. But the silence stretched on, broken only by Jimin's small footsteps padding closer to Seokjin's bed. Seokjin had laid still as he felt tiny hands smooth down the blankets next to him, as if Jimin had wanted to touch him but was afraid of waking his father up. Then, Jimin had left, going back to his own room as quickly as he'd come. The next day, Seokjin had asked Jimin over breakfast if he'd had a nightmare the night before. Jimin had pouted in confusion, eyes wide.
"No," Jimin had said. "Chim had none!"
"Oh," Seokjin had said, slightly confused at why Jimin had come into his room. "Alright."
"Appa had none," Jimin said matter-of-factly. Not asking, but stating. There was an expression of satisfaction on the toddler's face, and Seokjin had studied it for a few seconds. It was then that he realized that Jimin had come in simply to check on him, the way Seokjin often did to him when he stayed up late to work. It was habit, now, to peek his head into Jimin's room to make sure that his baby was sleeping well.
It never occurred to Seokjin that Jimin might have been awake some of those times. It never occurred to Seokjin that Jimin would come to understand this as an act of love that Seokjin did for him, and therefore twist it around and do the same for Seokjin.
So – yes. Jimin loved him. It was clear to see and Seokjin thought that if he got to wake up every day for the rest of his life with that love, then no matter what, he'd be okay. Jimin loved him, and he was happy with him, Seokjin's little buzzing bee who delivered kisses like honey and who smiled like there was nothing in the world to fear. This was what Seokjin told himself, over and over again, when the doubt started to creep in. The doubt of whether or not he'd be able to take care of Jimin properly. The questions that lingered in the back of his mind, the would he be happier with an Appa who had magic, just like him?
But Seokjin never let himself dwell on those questions for long. He already had the entire world against him raising Jimin. Disowned from his family, ostracized from all his old friends. He wasn't about to add himself to the list. In order to be a good father, he had to believe he was a good father. He'd work in order to make himself worthy of Jimin's love.
There was a saying that one of his sociology professors had said during lecture, all those years ago, that stuck with him.
If you want to experience love, you'll find it in a partner. But when you become a parent – that's when love becomes unconditional. That's when you'll understand love to a depth that is so intense that it can hardly be put into words. That's when love becomes a tide and the sea is what locks your heart into place.
So, it was the fact that Seokjin knew Jimin was a loving, happy child that made it all the more alarming when he was awoken from sleep by a sobbing Jimin crawling on top of him. This time, it wasn't small tears of frustration or minor discomfort that Seokjin could soothe away with lullabies. This time, Jimin wasn't just coming into his room just to make sure his Appa was having a good night's sleep. This time, Jimin was flushed hot and wailing with pain, limbs tangling in Seokjin's blankets as he tried to press himself as close to his father as he could.
"Jimin-ah?" Seokjin sat upright with alarm, going from unconscious to wildly alert in the span of half a second, his arms automatically coming up to wrap themselves around his son. At the knowledge that Seokjin was now awake, Jimin began to cry even louder, bringing his arms up around Seokjin's neck and hanging on, his face already soaking Seokjin's thin sleep shirt through with tears and snot.
"What's wrong, Jimin? What's the matter, baby?"
"Hu-u-urts," Jimin wailed, sounding so sad and defeated that Seokjin felt his own tears rise to his eyes in response. He clutched Jimin closer to his chest, struggling to twist out of his sheets and stand with both of his arms occupied.
"What hurts? Your tummy? Your head?"
Jimin just whimpered, rubbing his face from side to side on Seokjin's shoulder. He let out a miserable little hiccup through his tears.
And the clock on Seokjin's nightstand jumped in time with it. Startled out of his mind, Seokjin yelped, backing away from the clock with wide eyes, his pulse racing. Jimin hiccuped again, and this time it was the half-full glass of water that popped up. It didn't land directly straight, and Seokjin watched with huge eyes as it wobbled and then fell to the wooden floor, shattering into a dozen pieces. The loud noise made Jimin cry even harder, confused and overwhelmed.
"Shh, shh, I've got you," Seokjin whispered into Jimin's hair, pressing his face into to top of his son's head as he quickly made his way out of the bedroom. His mind was racing, a complete contrast to the slow and soothing rhythm he was rubbing into Jimin's back with his palm. Steps stuttering, Seokjin halted halfway to the kitchen and spun, now knowing where to go or what to do. He ended up pacing the living room, the knick knacks and appliances on their shelves moving back and forth so rapidly it was making Seokjin dizzy.
He knew what was happening, of course. Ever since Jimin's magic had shown itself by making Seokjin's bed float, he knew that Jimin was in the beginning stages of Phasing. It would only get worse, from here.
It was times like these when it was hard, being a single father. When he yearned for someone to lean on, a second set of arms to squeeze Jimin tight while he could work to find a way to make things better, to ease his son's pain. Like this, as just one man, as just a human, Seokjin was constantly drowning in the fact that there was never enough of him, and never would be. Not for Jimin. Not with how much he longed to give to Jimin, but didn't have the means to do it.
He'd spent the past few years of Jimin's life endlessly worrying about his Phasing. Always researching, always trying to find the best way he could care for his son when this new stage in his life began. However, there were no resources that were specifically catered towards a human raising a magical child. It simply just wasn't done. Rare already were human and witch couples – a human raising a magical child on their own was basically unheard of. Because of this, there were no resources that Seokjin could turn to. No online forums, no articles, no 'How-To-Be-A-Good-Dad' books that Seokjin had sworn he'd never read as a teen but would honestly kill for now.
For most magical families, when their children began growing into their magic, their parents had already gone through the same thing. They knew what to do because they'd experienced it, lived through the same overwhelming feelings that their child was now going through. But it was impossible for Seokjin to understand. Impossible for Seokjin to help.
"I know, I know," Seokjin said, feeling like crying himself. Jimin let out a pained whimper, digging his face hard into Seokjin's neck as his little body convulsed with hiccups and sobs.
"Hurts," Jimin said again, softer this time, his hands fisting Seokjin's shirt.
Seokjin pressed a lingering kiss to the side of Jimin's head, rocking him back and forth as he held him tight, squeezing him into his chest the way he knew Jimin liked. He could feel the beak of Jimin's stuffed duck prodding painfully into his collarbone, but didn't move to take it away. Pulling back a bit, Seokjin looked down at Jimin's face, his chubby cheeks flushed and wet with tears, his lashes clumped together in dark spikes. Shifting to support Jimin's weight with one arm, he moved the other to feel Jimin's forehead.
It felt warmer than usual. Was that fever, or a side effect of magical overload, or was it just because Jimin had been crying? Seokjin bit his lip, stress rising quicker than he could catch it. Typically he was good at taking a few deep breaths, talking himself down in taxing situations. But it seemed as if he lost all composure when it came to Jimin. With Jimin, it was hard for his rational brain to win over his emotional dad-brain.
"Appa," Jimin whimpered, hugging his arms around Seokjin's neck tighter. His baby seemed like he wanted to wriggle right inside of Seokjin's chest, searching for a comfort Seokjin was desperate but unable to provide.
Making up his mind, Seokjin grabbed his coat and keys, sliding only one arm into the coat and letting it dangle off his body, not wanting to shift Jimin off of his other side and distress him even more. Shoving his socked feet into a ratty pair of tennis shoes, Seokjin strode towards his door, his phone out in his free hand, already searching up the nearest 24-hour emergency room on Naver.
"Don't worry, little bee, we're gonna go to the doctor," Seokjin soothed, pressing his lips into the side of Jimin's sweaty head. "We'll go get help, okay?"
Jimin sniffled, head heavy and lolling on Seokjin's shoulder. He was silent as they walked down the hall.
"Doing alright, baby?" Seokjin whispered as they entered the elevator. Jimin grunted, having none of the usual sass and personality that he did when he was his normal self. The sight and weight of Jimin so listless in his arms filled Seokjin with a fear that choked him. It was another hour once they finally got to the hospital and were being looked over by the doctor. The doctor was a witch with healing magic, which was clear to see as he ran his hands over Jimin's body in a cursory check, his palms glowing orange. When they'd entered the room, Jimin was clinging to Seokjin, but the doctor made the two of them separate, saying that it'd be impossible to do the exam with Jimin sitting on Seokjin's lap.
Bitterness burned the back of Seokjin's throat as he had to pry Jimin's arms from around his neck, making his son sit alone on the examination bench as he sat to the side in a chair. Jimin never took his eyes off of Seokjin, whimpering every so often and reaching out for Seokjin to come back and hold him. Seokjin just kept what he hoped was a gentle smile on his face, despite the fatigue eating away at his bones, despite the burning knowledge that if Seokjin had been a witch, the doctor wouldn't have forced him to sit separately.
"I'm assuming that his mother is a witch," the doctor said, tone flat. When he'd walked into the room Seokjin and Jimin had been waiting in, Seokjin had seen the lines around his eyes harden as he detected no magical aura around Seokjin. Though he hid his distaste better than others, his voice was cold when he introduced himself.
"Yes," Seokjin answered. Obviously, you ill-mannered piece of–
"She's no longer in the picture," Seokjin said before the doctor had a chance to ask, voice tight. No matter how many times he had to say it, how many pediatricians he had to explain it to when he took Jimin in for check-ups, it never got easier. Strangely, the judgmental glances from these healthcare professionals made Seokjin feel like a fraud of a parent, though he wasn't the one who had stepped out on Jimin. No, even though Seokjin was there with Jimin since the day Haeun had left him at his doorstep, even though Seokjin was the one who searched tirelessly for daycares and fun weekend activities and online parent-toddler art classes, even though Seokjin was the parent who was there, the look the doctors gave him when he explained that he was a human raising a witch always made him feel like a failure.
As if somehow it was his fault, that he decided to stay and Haeun hadn't.
As if it was his fault, that he was human.
There was a brief moment of silence, and then the doctor stepped away from Jimin. Pressing a button on the counter, a hologram of Jimin's medical record appeared in the air between them, and the witch read over it briefly as he ran his fingers through the words, adding his own notes.
"Well," the doctor said. "Your son is at just the age where he's growing into his magic."
"I'm aware," Seokjin said, steadily losing his patience. "But is it meant to hurt this much? Why is he in so much pain? What can I do to–"
"There is nothing you can do," the man cut him off. "The only person who can help him is his mother."
Seokjin blinked. "What?"
The doctor heaved a great sigh, swiping Jimin's record away and pulling a chair over so that he could sit. Jimin made a tiny noise, and Seokjin was immediately by his side, sweeping him up into his arms again. Jimin clung like he was two years old again, wrapping himself around Seokjin's torso, burying his face into his neck.
"There's nothing you can do about Jimin's Phasing. There is always discomfort, sometimes pain, depending on the witch. The only thing we – witches – can do to help a Phasing witch is management. This is typically done by the parents, as it only works if the child has an emotional bond with them. The parent can coax their child's magic to fizzle out if it's growing too overwhelming, teach their child to understand when it's alright to let go of some of their magic reserves, educate them about the art of control and regulation that goes into being a magic wielder. However, a witch's magic is picky and selective, especially that of a Phasing witch. If it is faced with the magic of a witch it does not know or trust, it will not open itself up for help."
Sagging back to lean his weight on the examination table, a pit of fear grew within Seokjin's stomach at the doctor's words.
"So you're saying the only way for Jimin's pain to lessen is if he...gets help? From an adult witch?"
"Not just any adult witch," the doctor said, eyes grave. "But an adult witch that he trusts. Otherwise, his magic will simply reject their help, and it will be impossible for the adult to try and manage him. Might make it even worse."
Seokjin glanced down at Jimin, who was now asleep against his chest. The fear was sprouting like a tree, now, its branches blooming and growing into his throat. At the stark emotion on his face, the doctor must have felt a sudden, tiny shred of sympathy.
"Listen, Seokjin-ssi. Phasing is never an easy time for any witch. The pain and the discomfort is inevitable, and it looks like Jimin is feeling a greater deal of pain than some other Phasing witches. But, in the end, your son will be fine, even if his mother truly is not around to help him. You might have some sleepless nights, but this is not detrimental to his health in any long-term way. His magic is simply testing its boundaries, pushing him to get to know it, to begin to understand how to control it. It's not easy to do on your own, and Jimin's Phasing might run longer than normal, but...it's in our nature, in the end, to connect with our magic. Jimin will be okay."
Pressing Jimin closer, Seokjin couldn't help but squeeze his eyes shut at the semi-sympathetic tone the witch allowed to color his words.
"I understand," Seokjin whispered.
After a long pause, the doctor sighed, then stood, running a hand through his greying hair.
"Perhaps there is a reason like calls to like, Seokjin-ssi, and why we should respect that. It's clear to see, when mistakes like this happen."
With those final words, the doctor was exiting the room, leaving Seokjin to stand there, trapped in the silence of a hundred different words he wished he had the energy or courage to scream after the witch.
"You were not a mistake," Seokjin whispered into the lightening room as the sun began to rise. When he and Jimin had gotten home a mere two hours ago, Seokjin hadn't had the heart to let Jimin go. So he changed them both into their comfiest, warmest pajamas, then laid Jimin out next to him in bed, unable to sleep as the hour went from too-late to too-early.
Laying on his side, leaning on his elbow with his head propped in his hand, his other hand rubbing Jimin's tummy gently, Seokjin allowed a few silent tears to slip past his lashes and down his cheeks. They hit his sheets with quiet thumps, darkening the light blue material as they fell. "You weren't a mistake. We weren't a mistake."
Seokjin said it over and over again, hoping that somewhere in Jimin's dreams, the words were wrapping around his son like lotus petals. He hoped that when Jimin grew up, this knowledge would stick with him, protect him when Seokjin couldn't. He hoped beyond hope that in the end, Jimin would understand that he was endlessly, relentlessly loved.
Because it couldn't have been. How could it have been a mistake, Jimin coming to him, when Seokjin discovered entirely new facets of love, watching Jimin grow up? How could it have been a mistake, when Jimin hugged his legs or pressed kisses to his knees or drew him pictures, loving Seokjin with a heart that was so new to the world yet so incredibly large?
The sun rose, and rose, and still Seokjin did not sleep. His phone lay in-between them, and every few minutes Seokjin picked it up, swiping into his contacts list, thumb hovering over Haeun's contact. He didn't know if she'd changed her number, or blocked him, and Seokjin was too afraid to find out, because every time his finger came close to dialing her, his throat closed up and he'd lock his screen again, defeated.
She hadn't wanted Jimin in the first place. As a witch, she gave Jimin away knowing that he would grow up and someday Phase into his magic. If she didn't care then, what made Seokjin think that she'd care now?
When Jimin woke, he was grumpy from their strange sleep schedule, hair sticking up on either side, his lips pushed out into a pouty beak.
"Good morning, Jimin-ah," Seokjin said quietly, mindful of the fact that Jimin's head might still be hurting him.
Jimin's pout just deepened. "Don' feel good."
"I know, baby," Seokjin sighed, at that point where he was so tired that he didn't feel tired anymore. "Appa's sorry."
"Make Chim better," Jimin demanded, scooting closer to Seokjin underneath the covers to gaze pleadingly into his father's eyes. Seokjin's heart clenched, wondering how it would feel, once Jimin reached the age where he didn't believe that Seokjin had the power to do anything and everything, anymore.
It might be relieving, on one hand, but on the other, it would hurt, knowing that Jimin had lost that childish innocence, that rosy-eyed dependency.
"There's nothing Appa can do, Jimin. Remember how I've told you that you and I are different? How Appa's human, but you're a witch? You're Phasing into your magic, baby, but...Appa doesn't have magic. He doesn't understand magic the way witches do," Seokjin said, gently carding a hand through Jimin's hair. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Jimin peered at him with confused eyes. "Does Appa want some?"
"If Appa doesn't have magic...Chim can give you some."
Seokjin laughed. "I'm afraid that's not how it works, sweet boy."
Frown deepening, Jimin nodded solemnly. "Magic hurts. Won't hurt Appa with magic."
"No, no," Seokjin shook his head. "Your magic won't hurt you forever, Jimin. It's just being a little bit mean right now, but soon it will be your best friend. It'll be part of you. And it will be beautiful."
Jimin looked at him like he'd grown three heads, not quite understanding. Despite the two of them living within the witch district, Jimin wasn't old enough to go to school yet, and most of his outdoor excursions consisted of grocery runs and the occasional walks to the park. It was no wonder why Jimin was more used to a human life, living with Seokjin in their little apartment, despite them being in the witch district. Bracing himself with a big breath, Seokjin sat up, pulling Jimin up with him and plastering a smile onto his face.
"How about some stew for lunch?"
It took about two days for Seokjin to cave.
Jimin's pain and discomfort came on and off, like the tide pushing high and then receding low. The furniture kept moving on its own, lamps overturning onto their heads, plants tipping to the side, little jars in the kitchen sliding precariously towards the edge of the counter. And Seokjin was exhausted, trying to comfort Jimin as best as he could through the pain, as well as flitting around the apartment constantly saving things from falling and shattering, or sitting on their couches just to force them to the floor again with his weight. Though he hadn't asked Haeun what type of witch she was, it was clear to see that Jimin had inherited a telekinetic type of magic. And despite himself, sometimes Seokjin wished that Jimin could have developed a magic that was less...destructive.
But throughout it all, since the first one had arrived, every day they woke up to a perfect bundle of flowers sitting on their doormat. Though it was a little sad to admit, those bouquets were the highlight of Seokjin's year. He'd been on his own for so long in the witch district that he'd forgotten what it felt like, being doted on. Those brief moments of happiness where he opened the door and saw the blooms bubbled up within him like champagne, and when he picked the flowers up he wouldn't even realize how large his grin was until he felt his cheeks aching.
It was confusing, to say the least. He knew that it must be Jeongguk leaving them there. Before the witch had moved in, nobody had ever left flowers at his door before. But the reason why was so unclear to him. Did Jeongguk pity him? Was this some kind of strange prank? When he thought about it for too long, bitterness burned in the back of his throat, so Seokjin did what he did best: he forced himself to repress his worries and not think about them.
Despite these little pockets of joy throughout the day, nothing could distract Seokjin from the fact that his son was suffering. That Jimin was in pain, and it was made even worse when something in the other room shattered as a result of Jimin's magic acting out and he'd look up at Seokjin with the most watery, guilty eyes.
So – yes.
Enough was enough.
Seokjin swallowed his pride like a bitter drink and slipped his shoes on, scooping Jimin into his arms and onto his hip. Jimin was quiet today, less active than he usually was, clingy and wanting nothing more than to just have Seokjin hold him in silence. It made pieces of Seokjin ache that he weren't even aware existed, a deep, primal part of himself that hurt only when his son did. He felt inadequate, and irresponsible, and it was only the mere fact that Jimin didn't seem to be in pain that morning that kept Seokjin from bursting into overwhelmed tears.
It only took a few steps for Seokjin to get to Jeongguk's door. He spent a few seconds standing there, staring at the peephole in front of him. Jimin let out a quiet, questioning noise. It tugged at Seokjin's heart. On a normal day, Jimin would be bursting with questions, tugging at Seokjin's sweater and hair to get his attention. Excited even at the smallest adventures. But it wasn't like that today. Today, he was subdued and tuckered out after an entire night of pain and crying, and it was that thought that had Seokjin raising his fist and rapping it against the door.
A muffled answer came from behind the door, and Seokjin heard some rustling before the door swung open. Jeongguk was dressed in a gardening apron, dusted in soil and what looked to be like tiny dandelion fluffs. His long, wavy hair was tied into a half top knot, the rest of it hanging in frames around his huge eyes. It took a second for Jeongguk to completely process their presence, because his face visibly shifted from neutral to shocked in a matter of seconds. Then, his gaze shifted towards something that looked like worry. The witch blinked at him, hands flying up to scrub at his own cheeks in a quick, aborted motion. Seokjin thought it might have been to chase away any dirt that could have been lingering on his skin, but all the motion did was spread even more onto his face, Jeongguk's hands just as dirty as the rest of him.
Despite himself, for the first time that day, Seokjin let out a tiny huff of laughter.
"Seokjin-ssi? Are you...is everything okay?"
Before Seokjin could even open his mouth, however, something behind Jeongguk caught his eye.
"Oh no," Seokjin said, staring in horror at the large pot, holding some strange orange flower surrounded by spiky palm-like leaves, floating closer and closer to them. It was wobbling, teetering precariously as it moved through the air.
Jeongguk turned around in confusion, and set his eyes on the plant just in time for it to tip and crash to the floor, all of the soil spilling out onto Jeongguk's clean rug, the pot breaking clean in half.
In his arms, Jimin burst into tears.
Seokjin was a split second away from following suit.
"I'm so sorry, Jeongguk-ssi," Seokjin couldn't get the words out of his mouth quick enough, beginning to slowly rock Jimin from side to side to get him to calm down, taking a large step backwards. "He – he didn't mean to."
Jeongguk turned back towards them, eyebrows scrunched together.
And this was it, Seokjin thought to himself. This was when Jeongguk would curse him out, spit on his shoes, shove him away from his doorway. Because witches didn't tolerate humans, especially troublesome ones that turned up on their doorstep only to cause a giant mess one second in. Perhaps Jeongguk was a nice enough witch that he didn't mind making small-talk with his human neighbor, but this crossed the line. This was troublesome in every way, and in this witch district, Seokjin was hated for merely existing. Jeongguk's been the only witch that's shown kindness to him, and he had been leaving flowers on Seokjin's doorstep for reasons the human could not fathom, but that didn't mean that Jeongguk would be willing to help him. Especially not after this.
But then Jeongguk opened his mouth, and his voice was slow and gentle when he asked, "Hey, don't worry about it. It's fine, it's completely fine. Look at me...are you two okay?"
Sucking in a deep breath, Seokjin's eyes went from the destroyed pot and spilled plant over to Jeongguk's face. The witch was looking between him and Jimin with nothing but concern. It was that look that allowed Seokjin to swallow his pride, and he only hesitated for a few moments before he shook his head no.
"It's Jimin," he croaked out, hoisting Jimin a little higher on his hip. "He's Phasing, but...but I have no idea what I'm doing. He's in pain, and I took him to the doctor, but he said that only a witch could help him, and I'm just – I'm useless, and I don't know who else to come to. Fuck, I'm sorry. I'm so..."
Jeongguk already started shaking his head halfway through Seokjin's spiel, eyes widening with concern.
"There's no reason for you to be sorry, Seokjin-ssi. To be honest...I've been a bit worried about you two. I've been hearing Jimin crying through the walls."
Seokjin shut his eyes at that, not even thinking until then about how the noise could have been keeping Jeongguk up. "I'm sorr–"
"I didn't say that to make you apologize," Jeongguk interrupted him, eyes earnest. "I truly was worried. And I...I'd love to help, but I don't know if I can."
Seokjin nodded miserably. "I know. The doctor...he said that Jimin's magic would only respond to a witch that he knows and trusts. But it's just me and him. We're alone, and we don't know anyone else, and–"
"Hey, it's alright," Jeongguk stepped forward and reached out, hand faltering in the air between them, before making up his mind and placing his palm gently against Jimin's back. Jimin peered at Jeongguk with big, wet eyes.
"Would you like me to try? Becoming...acquainted? With Jimin, and his magic? Try and teach him how to control it, so it hurts him less as he Phases?"
And the way Jeongguk offered – it was so simple. So selfless, his tone concerned and expecting nothing in return, and Seokjin felt in over his head because this was too good, too perfect to be true. Jeongguk was too perfect to be true.
"It's asking too much of you," Seokjin whispered, despite those words being everything he'd wanted to hear. Most other witches he'd encountered wouldn't have even bothered to open the door for him, and yet...Jeongguk was here, offering him so much more than mere kindness.
"It's alright to ask for help, when you need it," Jeongguk reassured him. "Let me try helping him. Even though it was a long time ago, I still remember how it felt growing into my own magic. It was...not a fun time, and that was with both my parents helping me through it."
"I can repay you in food," Seokjin said with a shy, shaky smile, offering up the one thing that he knew he was good at. "Anything you want, I'll make it for you."
Jeongguk grinned at that, and Seokjin noted the small dimple on the side of his cheek. "You cook? I've been living on takeout ever since I moved out."
Seokjin balked at him, stress momentarily forgotten. "Your arteries!"
"Oh, whatever will I do?" Jeongguk smiled, and if Seokjin didn't know any better, he'd think that Jeongguk was – teasing him. "Guess it's up to you to keep me fed and healthy, then. It'll be a trade of services."
Sucking in a shaky breath, Seokjin stared at Jeongguk.
"Do you mean it?" he allowed himself to ask. "Will you really help?"
The teasing glint fell from Jeongguk's eyes, and this time, the witch didn't hesitate when he reached out, but this time he was folding his hand over Seokjin's, squeezing it once.
"I'll do my best to ease Jimin through his Phasing," Jeongguk said earnestly. "I promise."
Jeongguk, apparently, had beef with Seokjin's plants, a fact that he thought was quite literally impossible until he came over to Seokjin's apartment for the first time. It honestly disgruntled him – he was a green witch. He was born to get along with plants! He'd never met a plant that didn't immediately gravitate towards him, seeking out his love, attention and magic. But the moment he stepped into Seokjin's apartment for the first time, he was hit with a wave of protective, fierce energy.
Coming right from Seokjin's numerous houseplants.
The ficus lyrata in the corner was especially hostile, and if it had been a cat Jeongguk was sure that it would have been hissing. Similarly, Seokjin's pothos hanging prettily by the windows were recoiling away from Jeongguk, their vines retreating into their pot and not reaching out to Jeongguk for pecks and tender touches the way his own plants (and most others) did. The calathea, despite it being noon, a time when its leaves were supposed to be at its most open and unfurled, honest to god curled its leaves inwards so quickly that there was an audible snap. Jeongguk, despite himself, gaped at them, knowing he shouldn't take it heart but indeed taking it very personally.
"Um," Seokjin said, staring at his plants in shock. "Wow."
"Wow," Jeongguk repeated, for lack of anything better to say.
Seokjin laughed nervously. "You are a green witch, aren't you? Shouldn't you...get along with them?"
"They're protective of you," Jeongguk said. "A little jealous, too, I think. They don't like all of my plants' energy that they can feel on me. You must take really good care of them."
Seokjin laughed, but this time the sound was a little shy.
"They like me that much?"
"They love you," Jeongguk said earnestly, looking around the apartment to study the plants more thoroughly. He was surprised himself at just how much the plants seemed to love not only Seokjin, but Jimin as well. Despite Seokjin being human and Jimin barely coming into his own magic, the magical energy in the plants was humming and alive. It spoke towards both Seokjin and Jimin's characters – the plants would not defend and love them this fervently if they were bad people. Or, hell, even average people. Jeongguk has never seen plants this attached to their owners unless their owner was a green witch like himself.
The fact that the plants loved the little family of two so much made the warmth in Jeongguk run even hotter. Plants were good judges of character. It meant that they were kind, good. Better than good – it meant that they were beautiful, in every sense of the word.
From the corner of his eye, Jeongguk saw the alocasia polly suddenly wilt, all of its leaves falling toward the ground, dangling outside of its pot dramatically. Seokjin made a sound of concern, making his way towards it and stroking the leaves a few times.
"Oh no," Seokjin said. "They've never moved so much around me before – your magic must be really strong."
As he continued to gently pat at the plant's leaves, Jeongguk felt it. The thing was gloating.
Jeongguk huffed, and couldn't stop himself from marching over towards Seokjin and the potted plant.
"Stop being dramatic," Jeongguk scolded, bringing a finger out and bopping the top of its biggest leaf. "You're worrying him."
At his touch, it was determined to sag even more, its pretty veined leaves practically dusting the floor.
"You're three years old," Jeongguk continued. "You are an adult. Don't act like a child throwing a fit. Seokjin-ssi's invited me in, and there's nothing you can do about it."
If plants could grumble, the alocasia would be doing it. Slowly, its stems straightened up, leaves perking up again as it stopped forcing itself to droop in a show of rebellion towards Jeongguk's presence.
Suddenly, Jeongguk noticed that Seokjin's shoulders were shaking. Alarmed, Jeongguk quickly turned towards him, cheeks burning with shame. He hadn't meant to go off on the man's houseplant like that. To him, plants felt just as sentient and real as people, but to the rest of the world, it was often overwhelming or uncomfortable to have to watch him have a full blown conversation with a plant when they couldn't hear or feel the way the plant was responding back to him. So when he saw that Seokjin's entire body seemed to be vibrating next to him, Jeongguk's heart dropped. Seokjin must be uncomfortable, at the least, possibly even horrifyingly disturbed –
But then something akin to a cackle burst from Seokjin's plush lips, and then the human was tossing his body back and leaning his weight on his hands and the long line of his neck is all Jeongguk can focus on as Seokjin threw his head back and belly laughed.
And Jeongguk – Jeongguk felt something take root in him, something that felt a little bit like the beginnings of a vining flower, an ivy that crawled deep into cracks and splayed itself over every available surface it could find.
"You can really talk to them like that?" Seokjin giggles, and Jeongguk can't help but stretch his lips up into a bashful grin at the sound, at the sight. Jeongguk's heart pounds in the best way, and he feels as if his stomach is floating as he watches Seokjin laugh for the first time.
"Yea," Jeongguk nods. "A lot of people find it strange, but...I can understand them just as easily as I understand witches and humans. Sometimes even more. Plants are always straightforward with their desires, and their emotions. The same can't be said about us."
Seokjin was looking at him with his head tilted, and it was as if a tiny wall had come down between them, in that moment. In the stillness between their words, in the fraction of air between their bodies, something was flowering.
And Jeongguk was nothing if not good at making sure buds bloomed.
The two of them settled at the kitchen table, Jeongguk trying very hard not to preen at the blooms he'd gifted Seokjin sitting prettily in little jars and vases as the table's centerpieces. Jimin wouldn't be done napping for another ten minutes, so Seokjin made them warm cinnamon drinks sweetened with honey.
"Do you like cooking?" Jeongguk asked, thinking back to how Seokjin said he'd repay him with food. He took a sip of the drink and let out a noise of appreciation, hurriedly drinking some more despite the hot liquid scalding his tongue. It was divine. Thick and sweet and rich in a way that reminded him of wintertime and thick sweaters.
"I do it as my profession," Seokjin answered. "I run a cooking blog. So you could say I've acquired some skills."
Jeongguk stared at him, jaw dropped. "So you're telling me that you're a chef and you're just going to be offering me free meals from now on?"
Seokjin sputtered. "I'm not a chef! I'm self-employed. I've never even been to culinary school, I majored in sociology, actually, but..."
Shrugging, Seokjin took a sip of his own drink, his round glasses fogging up from the steam. "Things happened, I guess."
Jeongguk nodded, knowing not to pry. They sat for a while, nursing their drinks, Jeongguk stifling his smile at how Seokjin didn't even seem to notice the way his glasses were steaming over with every sip. It was cute. Sitting with him like this, Seokjin all of a sudden seemed younger, away from the responsibility of wrangling Jimin.
"So, the flowers," Seokjin said, eyes trained on his mug.
"The flowers," Jeongguk repeated, reaching out to a bundle of peonies and gently wrapping his palm around the blooms. Sending a surge of magic, the almost-drooping blooms immediately straightened again, waving happily at him, happy to be reunited.
Seokjin stared at his hand and the revived flowers in awe. "Is there...a reason? For them?"
Jeongguk didn't answer for a while. For a few moments, he was sure that if he never said anything, Seokjin wouldn't push.
But he found himself wanting to answer. Found himself wanting to take a brave step in a way he'd never had the desire to, before.
"It's a thing humans do, isn't it?" Jeongguk asked, making sure that Seokjin was looking at him so he could see how serious he was. "You give each other flowers when you're...interested? When somebody's caught your eye?"
Seokjin gaped at him, cheeks burning a bright red.
Jeongguk ignored the heat in his own cheeks as he broke their gaze to take another sip of his drink. "There's no pressure or anything, obviously. It just...feels good. Knowing that maybe I'm a small part of your happiness, every day."
"Nobody's ever gotten me flowers before," Seokjin finally said.
"Do you want me to stop?"
"No," Seokjin responded, voice soft but sure. "Not if you don't want to."
Jeongguk smiled. "I don't want to stop."
"Okay," Seokjin said, looking anywhere but at Jeongguk. The plants in the apartment were quiet and suspicious as they listened. When he glanced over, the pothos had a single vine out, waving in the air in their direction as if to hear them better.
"I just wanted to talk to you, about Jimin's Phasing," Jeongguk changed the subject before either of their faces overheated. "A witch's magic is...extremely linked with instinct. The only way for Jimin's magic to trust mine is to have Jimin trust me. I'll have to personally bond with him in order for his magic to let mine in, like we said before. But I just wanted you to know that it might not happen. Sometimes two people's magic just don't click. Or Jimin might never open up to me, even with time. I want to help, Seokjin-ssi, but this might not be a certain fix."
Seokjin nodded along, and Jeongguk couldn't help but notice the bags under his eyes. They were barely noticeable, layered over with concealer and in no way making his face any less handsome, but there all the same. Jeongguk had to sit on his hands to resist the urge to reach out, run his thumb over the small, tired lines.
"I understand," Seokjin said, sighing. "But...I know Jimin. He warms up to people easily, trusts without hesitation. He's already asked if you were ever going to come over to play, after that first time we met in the hallway."
Jeongguk was surprised at the news. He hadn't thought he'd made that much of an impression on Jimin, but the newfound knowledge made him a little more confident.
"I really want to help, Seokjin-ssi. I'll do everything I can. The thought of Jimin being in pain breaks my heart, and knowing that there's even a slight chance that I'd be able to help ease his Phasing, I want to take it."
Every night when he heard Jimin sobbing through the walls, Jeongguk hadn't been able to fall back asleep, picturing Jimin laying limp in Seokjin's arms as the two of them paced their small apartment, hopeless and confused and hurting, fatigue weighing the both of them down like an undying current.
"You're are...different from all the other witches I've met, Jeon Jeongguk," Seokjin said, his eyes soft and intense all at once. "In the most beautiful way."
Jeongguk's entire body flushed pink, and his mouth dropped open despite the fact that there were no words running through his mind. Nothing other than an incessant, high-pitched screaming, his brain's alarm bells that always went off right before he did something stupid, like pitching himself across the tabletop and planting a firm kiss right on Seokjin's lips.
Thankfully, he was saved from saying or doing anything that would mortify him until the end of his life, because there was a tiny noise and a pitter-patter of feet and then Seokjin's lap was full of sleepy, grumpy toddler.
Jeongguk felt the entire mood of the room shift. His magic was so attuned to the plants that he physically felt them swoon, and the hairs on his neck and arms prickled with warmth. It was clear to see, to feel, that the plants were enamored with Jimin.
"Appa," Jimin mumbled into Seokjin's neck, his entire face smushed into the skin there. All Jeongguk could see was a mop of messy hair and the tag sticking out of his rumpled pajama top.
"Hi, baby," Seokjin's voice gentled into a tone that Jeongguk knew was reserved for his son. "Did you sleep well?"
"Mhmm," Jimin said, his voice cutting off into a little yawn. When his eyes blinked open, it took him a second for his peripherals to notice Jeongguk sitting across from them. A few more moments for him to process, and then – Jimin was blinking rapidly, turning his head so that his cheek rested on his father's shoulder, squished and flushed in a way that made him look like a tiny strawberry mochi.
"Gu hyung!" Jimin exclaimed, his face slowly lighting up.
"Jimin-ah, you know better," Seokjin scolded gently. "He's your hyung, can you say 'hello' politely?"
Seokjin pried Jimin's arms from around his neck and turned him on his lap so that Jimin was facing Jeongguk.
"Hello!" Jimin said, dipping forward into a little bow.
"Hello Jimin," Jeongguk said, smiling. "It's nice to see you again."
For a split second, he didn't know what to do. Jeongguk wasn't around kids very often – didn't have a natural nurture to his personality the way Taehyung did, or even just a general aura of childishness that naturally attracted toddlers, like Hoseok. Jeongguk was awkward and fumbling on the best of days, which is why he often preferred to stick to himself and his plants.
But now, here, in this little apartment, it seemed as if not even the plants were going to go easy on him. Strangely, however, while this would usually make Jeongguk uncomfortable, there was a bright determination within him to help the two sitting in front of him.
"Gu hyung," Jimin repeated. "Gu hyung here...on a playdate?"
Jeongguk had to physically dig his nails into his palms to quell the coo that he wanted to let out at the shortened version of his name. He didn't think that Jimin would appreciate his efforts at speaking being fawned over, but it was hard not to absolutely melt in front of the chubby cheeked toddler.
"That's right!" Seokjin exclaimed, moving to set Jimin down on his feet. "Jeongguk's here for a playdate! It's going to be so fun!"
Jimin let out a squeal of excitement, rounding the table and immediately latching onto Jeongguk's leg. He placed his chin on Jeongguk's thigh, peering up at him with the sweetest smile the witch has ever seen.
"Wan' meet my toys, hyung?"
Relaxing, Jeongguk beamed. "Of course I do, Jimin."
When he rose from his seat, Jimin grabbed his hand, beginning to drag him towards his bedroom. When he caught Seokjin's eyes, the human had a knowing glint in his eye, an i-told-you-so, as Jimin began babbling excitedly.
It took around fifteen minutes for Jimin to introduce all of his toys to Jeongguk, giving the witch full on backstories and histories as he showed him all his animal stuffies. His favorite was a worn little duck that he saved for last.
"Appa got him because Appa said he looks like Chim," Jimin giggled, nuzzling his cheek into the soft fur. "An' those are all my friends!"
"Thank you for showing me them!" Jeongguk said, patting the head of the bunny and sheep toy now sitting upright on Jimin's bed. "They're all very nice."
Jeongguk had to quickly excuse himself to use the bathroom, and when he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror as he was washing his hands, he found that his eyes were soft in a way he'd never seen them before. When he opened the bathroom door Jeongguk jumped when he found Jimin standing there, staring at him with big, troubled eyes, as if he'd thought that Jeongguk wouldn't come back.
"Did I take too long?" Jeongguk asked, reaching out to pet at Jimin's hair.
Jimin nodded, a little pout on his lips. They stared at each other for a few beats, Jeongguk unsure what Jimin wanted. Huffing, the toddler raised his arms up high, one fist still clutching his duck while the other opened and closed in a little grabbing motion towards Jeongguk. His mind short-circuited for a second at the display of sheer cute.
"Up!" Jimin demanded, going so far as to reach up on his tiptoes, as if the little extra height would get him closer to Jeongguk's arms.
"Oh," Jeongguk breathed out, crouching down to carefully pick Jimin up. The toddler immediately wrapped his limbs around Jeongguk, who settled him on his hip. Jimin's head burrowed curiously into Jeongguk's neck, and the witch could have sworn that Jimin even did an experimental sniff at his skin.
Seokjin was in the kitchen cooking dinner when Jeongguk made his way out of Jimin's room, the toddler still curiously sniffing at his neck and even gnawing at his shirt collar. The human cast them a fond glance, not looking surprised that his son was koala'ed onto Jeongguk's torso. Not knowing what to do now that Jimin was situated comfortably on his hip, he slowly began to bounce Jimin a little, unsure if he was too old to be rocked like a little baby. In the back of his mind, Jeongguk could feel the plants seething at his newfound closeness with Jimin. He threw the calathea a smug little smile, not even ashamed at his own pettiness.
"What would you like to do, Jimin?" Jeongguk prompted gently. He made his way over to the pile of toys sitting on the living room rug, stepping between some legos and a train set.
Before Jimin could answer, however, the table in the middle of the room began floating. Jimin stared at it and let out a distressed whine.
"Uh-oh," Jimin muttered, his entire body beginning to hum with magic.
Jeongguk could just barely remember how this felt, being a child and having so much excess magic that it came out in random, uncontrollable spurts. If the table was floating, that meant an excess of magic was flowing through Jimin now, and the pain wouldn't be far behind. Not unless Jeongguk was able to coax some of Jimin's magic out with his own.
But would it be too soon? It hadn't even been thirty minutes since they'd started playing. Would Jimin's magic trust him so easily, so quickly?
Wrapping his arms a little bit tighter around Jimin, Jeongguk allowed his own magic to experimentally brim just underneath the surface of his skin, like bubbling champagne topped off to the brim of its glass.
"Jimin," Jeongguk said softly. "Put the table down."
Jimin reached up and patted Jeongguk on the cheek softly, as if in apology. "Chim dunno how, Gu hyung."
The toddler wasn't reacting negatively towards Jeongguk's magic, so the green witch let it build a little more. Walking over to the table, Jeongguk raised his free arm and slowly, slowly pressed his palm flat to the top of the wood. The moment his palm was laid flat, Jeongguk was let in. Jimin's magic opened up to him like a sunflower greeting summer, and Jeongguk let out an awed laugh. Jimin's magic let him in, tentatively at first, and then all at once. It was young and curious and hyperactive, fitting for the magic of a young witch.
How beautiful, Jeongguk thought. How beautiful, that Jimin's little heart can open up so quickly, like this.
Now that he was touching the table, he could feel Jimin's magic swarming inside of the wood, buzzing like aggravated bees in a hive. It was ready to burst, Jimin's magic, and Jeongguk was afraid of that 'burst' suddenly hurting Jimin, if not taken care of properly.
"Can you feel me?" Jeongguk whispered, knowing that Jimin could by the way the toddler stilled in his arms, reeling back to stare at Jeongguk with wide eyes. "Can you feel my magic?"
The awe on Jimin's face made Jeongguk's heart ache. He realized, with a soft smile, that this was the first time in his life that Jimin's ever felt another witch's magic this closely. Suddenly, Jimin's face split into a huge grin, and he let out a high-pitched squeal, kicking his feet excitedly at the newfound feeling. Jimin was a witch, but he hadn't experienced much magic the way other Phasing witches already had. It must feel like coming home to a place you never knew you belonged.
"We're going to set the table down together, Jiminie," Jeongguk said, his magic coaxing the table to the floor, but only using half of its strength in order to give Jimin's magic room to help, as well. "Go on."
Jimin's face scrunched up in concentration, newly determined now that he's felt Jeongguk's magic pushing the table to the ground, wanting to copy his hyung. Jeongguk didn't expect much from Jimin's magic right then – it was still young, and the toddler had never once been taught how to control it. But, there was a tiny tug that Jeongguk could feel in Jimin's magic. It was an inkling of desire, a push of will that came directly from Jimin, not his magic. The little witch was putting in the effort, wrapping metaphorical hands around his powers and trying to wrangle it to his will.
And that was enough for Jeongguk to know that Jimin was truly trying. So he let his magic fill in the gaps and lead the table to the ground. Once all four legs hit the rugged floor, Jimin let out another happy little noise and did a wiggle in the safety of Jeongguk's arms.
"Chim did good?" Jimin questioned, leaning back to look Jeongguk in the eye. One of his feet was planted on Jeongguk's thigh from all his wriggling, and the green witch could feel Jimin's small toes wiggling with joy.
"You did so good, Jiminie," Jeongguk said softly, his smile beaming and proud.
Behind Jimin, a candle resting on one of the windowsills suddenly jumped and then fell to the ground with a loud crack. A laugh startled the two witches from their little bubble, and they turned to see Seokjin resting against the kitchen entryway, with full view of the living room.
"One step at a time," Seokjin said, motioning towards the now-cracked candle.
Despite the mess of glass on the floor, Seokjin beamed at them, pride evident in his eyes. He smiled back, breathless, and in that moment, cradling something soft and fragile in his arms, Jeongguk felt invincible.
Jeongguk began coming over every day. Opposite to how the plants were still averse to him, Seokjin slowly began loosening up more and more. Even when Jeongguk came over during a time where Jimin was napping, Seokjin would insist that he stay so that he could cook Jeongguk a meal 'in return'. Despite Jeongguk insisting that he would be happily helping Jimin Phase without Seokjin's cooking as an incentive, he couldn't deny that he looked forward to tasting Seokjin's food every time he came over. Today, when he took his first bite of Seokjin's kimchi fried rice, it was so good Jeongguk had to stop himself from doing something stupid, like getting down on one knee and proposing on the spot.
"So, I have to ask..." Seokjin began as Jeongguk ate.
Jeongguk blinked up at him, clenching up at the hesitant tone of Seokjin's voice. Seokjin didn't often ask him questions, so whatever it was must be important. Did Jeongguk make strange sounds in the night that Seokjin could hear through the walls, or something? Had Seokjin noticed that there was a small patch of Jeongguk's hair that was shorter than the others, after a Very Unfortunate Incident with a tea candle at Namjoon's dinner party the other week?
"Yes?" Jeongguk responded, voice faint, absentmindedly batting away the hoya that was tugging at his hair viciously.
"I don't know if it's against the rules, to ask a green witch this, but...what's your favorite plant?"
Jeongguk blinked at him, then a laugh erupted out of him, loud enough that some of the plants jumped in shock. "Seokjin-ssi, you scared me. You made it sound so serious..."
"It is serious," Seokjin said, his features schooled into something grave and intense, eyes burning. Jeongguk was floored by it, going a weak-kneed at just how attractive the other was, and he made a mental note to smack some sense into himself once he was alone in his apartment again. "I'm sure it's like choosing between your favorite children, which I could never do."
"You only have one child...?"
Seokjin stared at him for a beat. "Careful. If Jimin hears you saying that, he'll sit you down for an hour long lecture on how his stuffies are his siblings, too."
"Ah," Jeongguk said, unable to help the grin lifting his lips. "Well, I have an answer, but it's kind of..."
"What? Boring? Scandalous? Is it a plant shaped like a dick, or something, because–"
"No!" Jeongguk exclaimed, cheeks burning. "It's not...! It's just."
Jeongguk fidgeted, rubbing the back of his head as he kept his eyes trained on the expanse of Seokjin's broad shoulder, just so he wouldn't have to look him in the eye.
"It's kind of embarrassing."
"Oh, now I'm intrigued. Tell me everything."
Jeongguk grinned shyly, then, glancing up at Seokjin to find the other man's entire attention on him, a teasing but soft smile on his plush lips.
"It's been my favorite since I was a kid," Jeongguk indulged. "It's called the midnight flower."
Seokjin tilted his head to the side, gesturing his hand in a 'go-on' motion, eyes intrigued.
"It's a very spoiled thing," Jeongguk said, unable to help the fondness that leaked into his voice as he spoke. "Very particular about its conditions. It hates the sun, doesn't like to be watered too much, or too little, and, like its name suggests, only blooms precisely at midnight, if it's happy and taken care of well. I've known some of them to simply not bloom out of pure spite, the little brats. The flower lives up until sunrise, then droops once day breaks."
Seokjin's lips were pursed into a pout. "Sounds like a handful, for such a temporary thing."
Jeongguk laughed, nodding. "They are, they definitely are. But...there's something about them that I can't help but love. They're finnicky, and picky, but...they just need a little bit of extra attention, extra love. A little more care than other plants do. And if that's something I can give them, then..." Jeongguk shrugs bashfully. "It makes it all worth it, finally getting to see them blossom. Their lifespan is short, but a new bud will always replace the old one. They bloom over and over again for me, if I love them well enough."
There's something burning in Seokjin's eyes, then, something that Jeongguk couldn't place. Silence falls between them, just long enough to mean something. As a child, Jeongguk was told that there was an entire world that was made just to hold all the words everybody never said. Sitting across Seokjin at his kitchen table, Jeongguk thinks that this moment might be living there.
"You're something else, Jeongguk-ah," Seokjin finally said, calling Jeongguk casually for the first time, smile dipping into something more genuine. "I hope you never stop."
Seokjin blinked slowly, his gaze never leaving the witch's face. It made Jeongguk's feel warm, like he was staring into a dozen sunsets stacked on top of each other like oil paintings.
And the world spins, again, that world filled with unsaid things, and for a moment Jeongguk lives there too, a hundred questions burrowed underneath his tongue, questions much more curious than 'What's your favorite plant'. But he holds them back, knowing that it wasn't his place to ask yet, and just smiles.
Seokjin smiles back, and it feels like fresh rain.
Weeks passed, and Jeongguk found himself fitting into Seokjin's life better than he'd ever fit anywhere before. He ended his work day by going over to Seokjin's after conjuring charms and taking care of his plants, and strangely, walking into the unit next door felt like coming home. He'd gained a little weight, with how much Seokjin had been feeding him, but he didn't mind. Jeongguk just dedicated an extra thirty minutes to his gym routine every other day, and fell asleep every night with a smile as he listened to Seokjin and Jimin wind down, as well. The nights where Jimin cried out in pain were coming less and less, and Jeongguk found himself blooming more and more.
When Jeongguk let himself into Seokjin's apartment, he was met with screaming. Jimin was barreling straight towards him, and Jeongguk quickly shut the door behind him when he realized Jimin had nothing on but a pair of underwear.
"Kim Jimin!" Seokjin was shouting. "This day cannot move forward until you have some clothes on!"
Jimin ignored his father, opting instead to climb Jeongguk like a jungle gym, hands clasping onto one of Jeongguk's as he physically walked himself up the side of Jeongguk's leg. Jeongguk gripped his hands tighter, nervous at how Jimin was horizontal with the floor.
Babies' heads are really fragile, you know, a voice that sounded suspiciously like Namjoon's rung throughout his mind. One fall and bam – their skull is dented forever. You have to be really careful in case they fall and–
Jeongguk shook his head to clear the thoughts. Jimin wasn't even a baby. He was a fully formed toddler with a perfectly in-tact skull. Despite this, Jeongguk was still careful as he swung Jimin up with his grip, delighting in the way the little witch squealed at suddenly being airborne. He caught Jimin in a firm grasp and began walking back towards Jimin's room, where Seokjin was clearly waiting with a set of Jimin's clothing.
"Caught a little bee buzzing around," Jeongguk shouted down the hallway, using his fingers to gently dig into Jimin's ribs as he tickled him.
"Bzzz, bzzz!" Jimin screeched with laughter, lips stretched wide over–
"Jimin-ah! Your teeth!"
Jimin grinned up at him, his two front teeth missing. Gone. Just like that. Without even giving Jeongguk a chance to say goodbye.
"Oh no," Jeongguk said quietly as he made it into Jimin's room. "Oh no, oh no."
"What?" Seokjin asked, making his way over to them and shoving a sweater over Jimin's head while Jeongguk still had him immobile in his arms.
"Hyung," Jeongguk whispered in despair. "His teeth!"
Seokjin stared at him in confusion and bewilderment.
"They'll grow back, Jeongguk," Seokjin laughed nervously as he walked towards the bed, where he'd set down a cute pair of corduroy overalls with little fish embroidered on the pocket. "Unless...are witch teeth different, or something? Oh my god, do you only have one set of teeth...?"
"No, we have two," Jeongguk said. "But what are we going to do? Jimin's gotten even cuter? I didn't think it was possible but look at him?!"
He grasped Jimin from under his arms and held him out towards Seokjin, wiggling him the tiniest bit for added emphasis. Jimin laughed, delighted as he was gently dangled in the air.
"Lookit me!" Jimin parroted, grinning at his father.
"How are we ever going to say no to him again?"
For some reason, Seokjin faltered at the sentence, body suddenly moving in a way that showed he was trying his best to act naturally. He grabbed one of Jimin's feet and pulled it through the overalls.
"You'll get used to it," Seokjin finally muttered, still not meeting Jeongguk's eyes as he dressed his son. "It's cute at first, but then he wakes you up at 4 in the morning covered in dirt because he was digging for worms again."
Jeongguk blinked at them. "There shouldn't be any worms in your houseplants."
"Saw in a book that dirts has worms," Jimin corrected the witch. "All dirts."
Seokjin threw Jeongguk a long-suffering glance as he clipped the overalls into place. He glanced at the socks on the bed and Jeongguk could physically see him realize that it wasn't worth the effort trying to wrestle them onto his son, because he turned back toward them planted a messy kiss in the center of Jimin's forehead, signaling that he was finished dressing.
"Not our dirt, honey," Seokjin kindly explained, beginning to lead them out of the room.
Jimin frowned, wriggling. Jeongguk set him down and watched as Jimin looked between the two of them. "But...Chim love worms."
"If you love them as much as you claim to, next time you see one your first instinct should not be to put it into your mouth."
Jeongguk silently pressed his hand over his mouth in horror. Seokjin caught his eye and nodded slowly, painfully.
Jimin's face twisted into a scowl, cheeks puffing up. "Love them."
"Tell you what, Jimin," Jeongguk said. "The next time it rains, I'll take you and your Appa out for worm-hunting. I'm good at it. The plants always let me know where they are."
Letting out a scream of pure joy, Jimin launched himself at Jeongguk and hugged him around the legs, leaning back all his weight so he could peer up at Jeongguk.
"Yes!" Jimin shouted. "Yes yes yes!"
He twisted towards Seokjin to see his father's reaction. Seokjin merely lifted a brow. Jimin turned back towards Jeongguk. "Yes please!" he corrected himself.
Jeongguk laughed, feeling so, so fond. "Alright. The next rainy day, the three of us will go. It's a date."
From the corner of his eye, Jeongguk saw Seokjin stiffen, and only had a moment to feel embarrassed at his wording before Jimin was beaming up at him from ear to ear, vibrating with excitement.
"Alright, little bee," Seokjin said, laughing the moment off. "You and Jeongguk go have fun in the living room. I'm gonna get some work done."
Jeongguk noticed the open laptop and planners spread across the kitchen table, and caught a glimpse of handwritten recipes, marked over with pastel highlighters and cute stickers. Waddling to the living room, because Jimin was now latched onto his legs and refusing to move, Jeongguk caught Seokjin's eye and smiled. Seokjin blew out a deep breath and smiled back, but there was something in his eyes that told Jeongguk he was holding something back.
As time passed, it became easier and easier for Jeongguk to see. The fact that no matter what, Seokjin was always...hesitating. Perhaps he didn't even know that he was doing it, but the older man was never completely open. It was almost as if he had to think of every single thing he did and said before he acted – and while most people did that to a certain extent, it typically faded away when you were alone or with those you trusted most. With Seokjin, however, it seemed like he was always in control.
Jeongguk wondered if the man ever let himself breathe. If Seokjin ever gave himself a moment to just be. And if he was this beautiful with a mask over his face, Jeongguk wondered just how iridescent he'd be once Seokjin finally beamed in his own skin.
Settling Jimin down on the rug, Jeongguk took his usual position in front of him. They sat with their legs crossed apple-sauce style, knees touching.
"You're off the walls today," Jeongguk said, laughing lightly as he reached out to ruffle Jimin's hair. "What's got you so excited, huh?"
Jimin just shrugged, swaying side to side, his smile never leaving his face. He was the happiest little thing, when his magic wasn't overwhelming or paining him. Jeongguk had never met a happier kid. Granted, he didn't know many children, but the ones he'd associated with before or seen on the street always seemed to be crying. But Jimin – Jimin was just a little light. Always buzzing around his father like the bee Seokjin claimed him to be, always reaching up with tiny hands to help Seokjin carry things, wanting to be helpful. Even at four years old, Jeongguk could see a selflessness in Jimin that both worried him and made him proud.
Not for the first time, Jeongguk wondered if he'd get to stick around long enough, to get to see Jimin grow up, to see how that selflessness evolved.
"Alright, you know the drill," Jeongguk said, gentling his voice to try and push Jimin towards a calmer mindset so they could begin their management session. "Close your eyes, and take a deep breath."
Jimin did as he was told, though his right foot was still wiggling with energy.
"Search inside, and imagine your magic as a ball that's living within your chest."
The toddler's brows scrunched together, lips pursing into a pout as he tried to follow the older witch's instructions. As Jimin concentrated, Jeongguk took hold of his own magic, the life force that was constantly brimming within him, and let a small tendril of it slip towards Jimin. Nothing major, just a constant, comforting presence that Jimin's magic was now used to.
"Now reach out, and imagine taking a part of that ball and holding a small piece of your magic in your hands. And let that magic go, let it out."
Jimin's hands physically clenched as he tried to do what Jeongguk instructed internally, trying to hold control of his magic for long enough to grasp some of it and release it. These were simple exercises in control and stamina that all witches taught their Phasing kids. Jeongguk remembered doing this with his parents, remembered how frustrating and difficult it was for him at first. Their home had been filled with overgrown weeds and broken plant pots for almost an entire year as Jeongguk Phased.
And then, for a split second, the piece of Jeongguk's magic that he was letting hover near Jimin felt something brush against it. Jeongguk startled. Because all this time, for the past few weeks, it had always been Jeongguk's magic initiating, not the other way around. Jimin would try and try to release some of his magic, but in the end, Jeongguk would always be the one to use his magic and coax some of Jimin's excess magic out. Jimin's magic allowed Jeongguk to touch it, to handle it, but it had never reached out for him. Until now.
Now, the touch of their magic felt like a little cat nuzzling its face against Jeongguk, trusting and young and calm, and he couldn't be more thrilled.
"Yes!" Jeongguk couldn't help but exclaim, pride swelling in his chest. "Jimin-ah, you're doing it!"
At the sound of Jeongguk's voice, Jimin's magic startled, and Jeongguk felt the younger witch release it, Jimin physically relaxing as some of his excess magic faded away. Jeongguk didn't care, however, so proud that he couldn't stop beaming, reaching forward and hauling Jimin up, pulling him into a hug. "That was beautiful, Jimin!"
What he didn't say was how lucky he felt. Because for Jimin's magic to reach out to his like that meant that Jimin trusted him, wholly. Jimin believed that Jeongguk would never hurt him, cared for him, wanted the best for him. A Phasing witch didn't allow their magic to seek another witch's out casually. Jeongguk wondered if this was how Seokjin felt every day, watching Jimin grow up. He wondered how the human had done it alone, without anybody to share moments like these with. Because even just from this, Jeongguk's chest was swelling with sheer pride, so much so that he felt like flowers would burst from his ribs like spring's clock was in a never-ending circuit.
"Chim did it?"
"You did it, baby!" Jeongguk exclaimed, laughing. "Now, the next time you feel like your magic is out of control or too much, try doing exactly what you just did. Pull some of the magic away from yourself and release it."
"Chim try again!"
Jimin gave Jeongguk a brief, distracted hug around the neck before he was pulling back, determined to do it again. Jeongguk smiled at him, letting him go sit on the floor again. There was movement in the corner of his eye, and Jeongguk was turning his head to find Seokjin staring at them, pure relief and something akin to adoration in his eyes.
Hesitantly, Jeongguk offered the other man a smile, suddenly shy under the gaze that he knew was probably meant for Jimin. Seokjin let his gaze linger on the both of them, biting down on his bottom lip. Finally, after a few long moments, Seokjin smiled back.
Jeongguk wondered to himself why it felt like he was seeing Seokjin for the very first time, with every smile the human gifted him.
"Come on," Jeongguk coaxed as he used a dropped to feed his midnight flowers some of his magic. "I want to see you."
Jeongguk was beginning to grow more and more frustrated. Despite knowing that these were among some of the more difficult to grow, it's never been this difficult for him. Lately, strangely, he felt like he'd hit a block with his favorite blooms, like they were no longer on the same wavelength. And despite Jeongguk pouring so much of his attention and love towards them, they stubbornly refused to unfurl.
Letting out a long sigh, Jeongguk leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his knotted hair. He let himself relax like that for a split second, closing his eyes until a knock at the door startled him upright.
On the days that Jeongguk was too busy to come over, Seokjin often brought food to him. Sometimes, when his online shop for plants and magical charms was low in stock, Jeongguk would get so caught up with work that the hours would zoom by without him noticing that he hadn't eaten or drank anything all day. So when Jeongguk glanced out the window, he was surprised to see that the sun was already setting.
"What happened?" Seokjin exclaimed the moment Jeongguk opened the door, staring at him in horror.
Tipping his head to the side, Jeongguk looked down at himself. He wasn't covered in dirt today – he hadn't been working with the messier plants. Before he'd taken a break to tend to his midnight flowers, he had just been collecting seeds and small saplings and blooms that were needed for the anti-nausea charms he'd been making.
"You look unwell."
Jeongguk blinked. "I feel perfectly fine."
And, okay, maybe his hair was a little greasy, but he'd pulled it up into a bun! And maybe he hadn't gotten the most sleep the night before, staying up late to work on the charms and waking up early to continue, but he'd dabbed some concealer under his eyes! There was no reason for Seokjin to look at him like that!
The human squinted at him. "I am a father. Things like this do not get past me. You haven't eaten at all today, have you?"
Jeongguk hesitated for a brief moment, wondering if he should lie.
Letting out a loud sigh, Seokjin shouldered past him into his apartment, carrying a big pot of something in his arms and moving towards Jeongguk's kitchen.
"That wasn't even an assumption – I can hear when you turn your microwave on. You haven't heated anything up all day."
"Oh," Jeongguk said sheepishly.
"I made jjigae," Seokjin announced, bringing the pot over to the stove. "It's still warm, but when it cools down you can ladle it into containers and save it in the fridge. I'm gonna need the pot back later."
As he spoke, Seokjin went through Jeongguk's cabinets and pulled out a big bowl, immediately spooning the steaming soup into it. At the scent of homemade food, Jeongguk couldn't help but perk up. This was so much better than ordering delivery and eating it by himself in front of the TV.
They sat down together and Seokjin watched as Jeongguk ate, having already eaten dinner earlier with Jimin. It made the witch slightly self conscious, knowing that he was a bit of a messy eater sometimes, especially when he really liked the food (and he always liked Seokjin's food). Jeongguk carefully spooned the jjigae into his mouth, wiggling in delight at the warm savory soup slipping down his throat. He could tell that Seokjin had spooned extra meat into his bowl, because it was overflowing with it.
Seokjin was wearing a t-shirt that day, which was a change from his usual long-sleeves and hoodies. Jeongguk couldn't stop sneaking glances at his hyung's arms. They were smooth except for the slight veins that lined them. Sitting like this, Seokjin looked so broad, his shoulders completely blocking out the few plants that Jeongguk knew were behind him. Jeongguk kept peeking up at Seokjin as he ate, unable to stop himself from looking. Seokjin was just so handsome, and kind, and Jeongguk wanted to know what it'd feel like, to have those arms around him, to lay his head on those broad shoulders, to be part of the quiet, domestic sounds that came from Seokjin's apartment at night.
In the midst of his gazing, however, Jeongguk proceeded to be the most embarrassing witch on earth and missed his mouth with the spoon. He spluttered, letting his spoon fall into the bowl as a trickle of soup ran down his chin.
Cheeks burning, Jeongguk reached for a napkin, but then Seokjin was extending an arm across the table, and his broad hand was cupping Jeongguk's cheek as he thumbed the small bit of soup off the corner of the witch's lips. Jeongguk's breath caught, lashes fluttering as he looked up at Seokjin, shocked. Seokjin seemed to freeze, as well, thumb pressing lightly right into the corner of Jeongguk's slightly parted lips. And somewhere, in a universe where Jeongguk was braver and flirtier and less awkward, he would have taken Seokjin's thumb into his mouth, let his tongue swirl around the digit to suck the soup off of Seokjin's skin. But in this world, all he did was stay completely still, trying to convey with his eyes that he was more than okay with what was happening.
Pulling back, Seokjin let out a nervous laugh. He wiped his thumb on a spare napkin, his other hand rubbing the back of his neck. "Sorry."
"S'okay, hyung," Jeongguk whispered, not trusting his voice to be steady after that. The lingering heat from Seokjin's hand was left on his cheek, and he had to refrain himself from reaching a hand up to touch it.
Seokjin shoved the napkin over to Jeongguk, who nodded gratefully. "It's really good, hyung. I was really hungry."
"You need to take better care of yourself," Seokjin chided, though Jeongguk could tell that he was preening from the praise on his food. "I already have to chase after Jimin to make him eat, I don't want to add you to the list, too."
Jeongguk scrunched his nose at the other, making a show of slurping the next spoonful of soup. The two of them didn't mention it, when Jeongguk slid his socked foot over and let it lightly rest against Seokjin's. The older just pressed a little closer, and watched as Jeongguk drained his bowl.
"Before I forget, I made something for you," Jeongguk said once he was finished. He was clearing his bowl and spoon to the sink, nudging Seokjin aside when the human tried to reach for them.
Jeongguk dumped the dirty dishes in the sink, ignoring Seokjin's wince at the careless action as he whirled towards his work station. Sorting through his assortment of charms, some half-completed, some too old now to be put to good use, Jeongguk fished out one that was tied together with a golden ribbon. He'd meant to give it to Seokjin a while ago, but it kept slipping his mind until then.
It was a bundle of sage with cinnamon he'd magically infused into the leaves, held together by the ribbon and tendrils of Jeongguk's magic. Once the charm was no longer useful, the bundle would naturally decompose and fall apart, signifying that there was no more magic left.
"What is it?" Seokjin asked curiously as Jeongguk shyly held it out to him.
"It's a charm," Jeongguk said. "I noticed how Jimin's magic kept knocking things over, and I hear things breaking through the walls sometimes, so this charm prevents that. If you hang this in one of your doorways, when something falls, the charm will slow its descent so that it doesn't shatter when it hits the ground."
Seokjin blinked at him, and then slowly reached for the charm, cradling it in-between both his hands like it was something fragile and precious.
"That's...amazing. Did it take you a long time to make?"
"Not at all," Jeongguk lied, internally grimacing at the memories of the entire week he'd spent laboring over it, breathing his magic into the cinnamon, since it was easier to get the fine powder to accept his powers than the dense leaves. Every plant had a different essence that he could draw from them. Jeongguk had drawn out protection from his achilleas, gentility from his hoyas, healing from his sweet-briars, and had infused it all into the cinnamon, which had then gone into the sage leaves. Making a charm this effective and complex usually took months for a typical green witch, but Jeongguk had always been an over-achiever, and he had created the charm for Seokjin within six days.
"Hang it in your kitchen doorway," Jeongguk instructed. "It's close to the kitchen and the living room, where most of your breakables are. I can make you another for your bedrooms, if you'd like, but it would take me some ti–"
Seokjin cut him off by stepping forward and pressing him into his arms. Jeongguk jumped, startled at the sudden act of affection, but after a split second of processing he melted into the embrace, heart leaping. He could feel the charm held snug in Seokjin's fist, which was pressing into his back. Jeongguk allowed his arms to wind around Seokjin's broad shoulders, and if he subtly shifted his face to take a close-up whiff of the human's cologne, no one had to know.
"You're too kind to me," Seokjin whispered, voice earnest. "Over and over again, all you do is help me. Thank you, Jeongguk."
"It's nothing, hyung," Jeongguk replied, meaning every word. "Truly."
Seokjin pulled back, the tips of his ears completely red.
"I'm gonna – I'll go put it up right now."
"Okay," Jeongguk said gently, smiling at the thought of something that he and his magic made protecting Seokjin and Jimin within their apartment. "I'll have another ready for you by the time this one expires."
Seokjin raised his eyes to meet Jeongguk's, his gaze vulnerable, and he opened his mouth as if to say something more. But after a few beats of silence, he just nodded, biting down on his bottom lip and taking a step toward the door.
"See you soon?"
"Of course," Jeongguk said. "Thank you for the food, hyung. I'll return your pot tomorrow."
As Seokjin made his way back to his apartment, Jeongguk stood in silence to make sure that Seokjin safely made it back (as he always did). He heard the human's front door slam shut, and then there was a noise that sounded suspiciously like a muffled scream.
Jeongguk cocked his head to the side, confused at the noise, but when nothing else came after that, he shrugged to himself and made his way towards the kitchen, pulling on a pair of rubber dish washing gloves.
Seokjin must have just stubbed his toe or something.
In Jeongguk's room, sitting on his desk, his midnight flowers slowly, silently perked up.
Jeongguk slammed his way into Yoongi and Namjoon's apartment, feeling like he was a Phasing witch with the amount of energy and magic thrumming through him. It was his and his hyungs' weekly dinner, and they'd decided to stay in and go over to Yoongi's that night. Jeongguk had texted the older witch asking if he would make his favorite, and Yoongi had responded back with three eye rolling emojis, but then an hour later had sent Jeongguk a picture of his grocery cart, stuffed to the brim with lamb skewer ingredients and spicy ramen.
Yoongi and Namjoon had a magical lock on their door, which would open at the presence of permitted magic. Jeongguk's was on the list, so he let himself in, stumbling as he kicked off his black platform boots and skidding on his socks towards the dining room, where he could hear chatter and the low clinking of ambrosia glasses.
"Hyung!" Jeongguk hollered, calling out for all of them all at once. He made it to the doorway of the room and didn't stop half-running until he was at the head of the older witches' ornate, wooden dining table. Jeongguk stopped there, panting and slamming his palms down flat onto the table, making the cutlery jump.
"Jeongguk?" Namjoon asked, eyes wary as he took in the heavily panting maknae, his blonde hair wind-swept and eyes wild. "Is everything okay?"
"No!" Jeongguk exclaimed. "Things are, in fact, the opposite of okay."
"What's wrong?" Yoongi asked, sitting up straighter in his seat, eyes sharpening to something protective and dangerous. "What happened?"
"Oh, hyung, it's horrible," Jeongguk said dramatically. "I..."
"You...?" Taehyung urged as Jeongguk cut himself off, swallowing around his own realization and heightened emotions.
"I'm in big trouble," Jeongguk finally whispered. The plants behind him were reacting wildly to his magic, Namjoon's bonsais growing taller and fuller. "I have a crush! A real, honest to god crush!"
"Luna help me," Yoongi deflated, his eyes rolling towards the ceiling in a silent prayer.
"Jeonggukie," Hoseok scolded. "You scared us. I thought it was something serious."
Jeongguk gaped at his hyung. "This is serious! This is...this is uncanny! Unheard of! Untreatable!"
"Oh my god," Taehyung muttered, pouring Jeongguk a glass of ambrosia and sliding it across the table towards him. "You need to sit down, and stop yelling. You're scaring the plants."
"Also, it's not unheard of, you had a crush on Namjoon for–"
"We said we'd never mention that again!" Jeongguk whined, plunking down into the seat and downing the alcohol all in one go. "But...this time it's different. It feels...it feels...different."
"Different how?" Namjoon spoke, voice gentle. When Jeongguk looked up at his hyung, Namjoon's eyes were fond, and soft in a way that felt like the most soothing hug.
Jeongguk slumped into his seat, a defeated little sigh making its way from his mouth.
"Different like...like I want this. Different like, I was attracted to him from the moment I saw him, and I thought my feelings would lessen the more I got to know him, and stopped romanticizing him in my head, but...it's the opposite. I realized last night that the more I know him, the more time I spend with him, the stronger my feelings grow. And it makes me ache inside, all the time, for no reason. I can't stop thinking about him and I can't stop wanting more of his time and – and I really just...I think I want him to...like me back."
A hand was suddenly carding through his hair, and he opened his eyes to Taehyung's face, the other witch's lips pursed in a fond expression he usually only made towards Yeontan or very small children.
"Baby," Taehyung said. "Anyone would be an idiot not to like you back. Especially when faced with your affections head-on."
Jeongguk pouted petulantly. "Joonie hyung didn't like me back."
Not that he wanted Namjoon to, in hindsight. His crush had been a silly puppy crush towards somebody he idolized, and he knew now that he and Namjoon could never be anything more than friends. Still, it was funny to bring it up sometimes, no matter how much he wailed and argued whenever anyone but he mentioned it.
"That's because he was too whipped for me," Yoongi said, only half-joking. "But I'm sure if I didn't exist, he would've been all over those Bambi eyes."
"It's true," Namjoon nodded solemnly. "If it weren't for Yoongi hyung cock-blocking, we could have had a long, happy future ahead of us, Kook."
"Who is he?" Hoseok asked, the room finally getting over the exasperation from Jeongguk's dramatic outburst and moving towards excitement that their shy youngest was harboring feelings for somebody. "What's his name?"
"He's my new neighbor," Jeongguk explained.
"The boy next door!" Taehyung squealed. "Oh my god, this is amazing."
"He's...he's not a boy," Jeongguk blushed, slapping his hands over his cheeks so hard that his skin stung. "He's older than Yoongi hyung, by a few months."
Brows raised at that.
"Oh, so he's a DILF," Taehyung joked, probably expecting Jeongguk to fly out of his seat in a storm of embarrassment the way he usually did at their teasing.
Instead, Jeongguk simply blinked at the accuracy. "Yea, actually."
"He has a son, named Jimin. He's four, and he's the most precious little angel I've ever seen, and–"
"Wait wait wait, he has a kid?"
"Yes," Jeongguk sniffed defensively. "Jimin's part of the reason that we've been spending time together."
Hoseok squinted at him. "I'm thinking we're gonna need the full story, Kook."
So Jeongguk told them. He told them about how they ran into each other as Jeongguk was moving in, covered in dirt. He told them about how thin the walls were, about how he could hear Jimin crying occasionally, but only one voice soothing him. He told them about how Seokjin sang lullabies, voice sweet and high and lovely and sometimes Jeongguk himself would be soothed to sleep from the muffled melody. He told them about how Seokjin was wary, and obviously hurt from past experiences, but he never opened up about them. He told them about how kind Seokjin was, always making sure he ate well. He told them about how Jimin was a Phasing witch, and how Jeongguk has been helping him regulate his magic, as best as he could.
What he didn't talk about was how beautiful Seokjin was. How lovely he looked when he smiled, how the muscles in his back shifted as he stood in the kitchen to cook, how even the sound of his laughter through the walls was enough to make Jeongguk smile. He didn't talk about how his heart fluttered like a newborn butterfly seeing the expanse of sky for the first time, every time Seokjin was around. He didn't talk about how he'd never felt this strongly for anybody before, and how much these emotions swelling up like a wave against an untouched cliff scared him.
Drowned him, in something unspoken and unnamed and undiscovered.
"But, wait," Namjoon said, rubbing his jawline with his fingers the way he did when he was pondering something. "Why are you helping his son with Phasing? Shouldn't he be the one who does it?"
"Oh," Jeongguk said, blinking at the fact that he'd forgotten to tell them. "He can't. Seokjin hyung's human."
Four sets of eyebrows shot up as his hyungs took a moment to process.
"He's human? Living in the witch district? Isn't that...kind of dangerous?" Hoseok asked warily. They all knew how many witches thought of humans as lesser. Though there were many like them, who were aware that there was no difference between magical and non-magical beings other than the obvious, who believed that everybody was to be treated the same despite their species, there were also far too many witches who thought themselves superior. Who looked at humans like they were no better than the dust lining their floorboards, something dirty that they could step over and eventually clear away.
Jeongguk's lips twisted with discomfort. "When we first met, he was extremely wary. He acted almost...scared of me. It's taken him a long time to warm up, and even now, I feel like he's holding pieces of himself back."
"He's guarded," Yoongi said. "If he's been treated badly by witches in the past, then it would make sense."
Stomach roiling with unease, Jeongguk became quiet, suddenly wondering just how badly Seokjin has been treated since he moved to the witch district for Jimin. He didn't think that Seokjin would take it well if Jeongguk asked him about it out of the blue, especially as a witch himself, but the more he pondered the more he became almost itchy with the curiosity. He was also now heavy with dread, for the first time truly thinking about the fact that Seokjin probably had been treated badly, living here as a single human.
"I haven't...thought of that as much as I should've," Jeongguk whispered, expression suddenly somber. "I haven't thought much of how he must be treated here at all."
Taehyung reached out, placing a hand over his. "It's because you have a big heart, Kookie, and you see the best in everyone. Your mind doesn't automatically jump to worst-case scenarios."
Jeongguk just nodded, but for the rest of dinner, he couldn't stop thinking about it. The way Seokjin was never completely comfortable, the way he was so careful and meticulous with the lock at his door, the way he found it hard to meet Jeongguk's eyes at times. He could sense his hyungs exchanging glances all throughout the meal, but they let him stew in silence as they ate, Yoongi refilling his plate whenever it emptied.
"I made your favorite, brat, so you have to eat a lot," Yoongi said, replacing the worry in his tone for fond annoyance.
When they were all getting ready to go home, slipping on their coats and lacing their shoes up, Namjoon came over to Jeongguk and gave him a firm hug. The older witch wasn't one who initiated skinship very often, so the gesture almost made Jeongguk's eyes well up with emotion.
"It'd be nice if we could meet him," Namjoon said kindly, pressing a little kiss onto Jeongguk's pierced earlobe. "Your Seokjin sounds lovely."
Jeongguk walked home with those words playing through his head.
Your Seokjin. Your Seokjin.
He wished that they could materialize into the air the way his breath did, vaporizing in the cold night. He wished that he could press those words into his palms and tuck them close, make them true. Jeongguk wondered if they'd ever be true, or if they'd begin collecting dust, in some parallel world.
A few days later, Jeongguk picked up his phone and choked at Seokjin's contact name. Taehyung must have gotten into his phone that night at Yoongi's and changed it, and Jeongguk didn't know if he wanted to laugh or scream. Doing neither, he just took a deep breath and opened up his text message thread with Seokjin, quickly typing out a message.
DILF next door
my hyungs and i
are going out
for dinner tonight!
they asked if you'd come along
you and jimin
DILF next door
The way your texts randomly run onto new
lines for no reason reminds me of bad
don't call out rupi kaur like that
also don't avoid the question!!
DILF next door
There was no question?
oh my god
will you go out
with my hyungs and i tonight
DILF next door
I really don't know, Jeongguk.
Jimin and I don't really go out to restaurants.
that is no way to live???
be ready at 6pm, ok?
i'll even go out of my way and pick you up 😌
DILF next door
I sometimes speak to you and wish I had a camera
to stare into, The Office style.
don't forget to bring your baby!
DILF next door
HOW would I...
OK. See you at 6.
Jeongguk knocked on his door at 5:58. Seokjin was trying to pretend that he wasn't overthinking something as inconsequential as his outfit when he was, his oversized knit sweater half-tucked into casual black slacks. He'd already packed and re-packed his bag three separate times, filling it with some of Jimin's toys, a blanket if he got cold, and extra snacks in case Jimin didn't like any of the food on the menu.
He heard Jimin spring out of his room and down the hallway, hurtling straight to the door.
"Kim Jimin, what have I told you about opening the door without me there?" Seokjin shouted from inside his room as he heard the locks unbolt.
"'S Gu hyung!" Jimin shouted back, already knowing about their evening plans. When Seokjin had told him, Jimin had looked so excited it made Seokjin's heart ache with guilt. Going out to dinner on a Friday night should be a normal thing for Jimin, but in reality it was akin to Christmas Day. Upon hearing the news, the little witch had immediately jumped to his feet, sprinting to his room to gather up all the drawings he'd made for Jeongguk since the last time he'd seen the other man (one and a half days ago).
"Jimin-ah," Seokjin heard Jeongguk's voice filtering through the apartment as his son let him in. Seokjin heaved a great sigh, hating the nerves that were building up in his stomach. It was ridiculous, how uncomfortable the thought of going out to dinner made him now. Jeongguk's texts earlier that day had been so enthusiastic and casual that Seokjin had forgotten how it felt – how he felt – every time he had to leave the safety of his apartment.
"Are you ready, hyung?"
Seokjin whirled away from the mirror to find Jeongguk standing at his bedroom doorway, Jimin already planted on his hip. Jeongguk seemed to stutter at the sight of him, and Seokjin ran a nervous hand down his abdomen, towards where the front of his sweater was tucked into his pants.
"Do I look weird?"
"No!" Jeongguk exclaimed quickly, shaking his head quickly. "You don't. You look really good tonight, hyung."
Seokjin covered up his growing embarrassment with a forced laugh. "I don't always?"
Jeongguk responded to the jest with one of his own, rolling his eyes. "It's just nice to see that you have a real corporeal body underneath all those baggy shirts and hoodies you usually wear."
Picking up his large bag filled with Jimin's things and his wallet, Seokjin cast Jeongguk's oversized jacket a deadpan look. "You are one to speak."
Jeongguk grinned. "Let's go, hyung. It's gonna be a fun night."
The restaurant they'd chosen wasn't too far away from their apartment complex, so the three of them decided to walk. Or, rather, the two adults decided to walk, and Jimin demanded to sit up on Jeongguk's shoulders. Jeongguk didn't mind, despite Seokjin's quiet protests, swinging the toddler up on his shoulders and instructing him to hold on tight, bringing his tattooed hands up to curve around each of Jimin's legs, steadying him.
"You spoil him," Seokjin sighed as they began to walk, Jimin crowing happily from his new vantage point.
"So do you," Jeongguk retaliated, taking his next few steps a little bouncier just to make Jimin squeal with laughter.
They spent a few minutes in silence, and it wasn't until Jeongguk was gently wrapping his hand around Seokjin's wrist and tugging him out of the way of a streetlight that Seokjin realized he'd zoned out.
"Hyung," Jeongguk's voice went serious. "I didn't mean to pressure you to come tonight. I just...really wanted you to meet my hyungs. And for them to meet you, and Jimin. But if you're uncomfortable, we can just go home. I'll – I'll even order takeout, so you don't have to cook."
Seokjin blinked at Jeongguk. Sometimes, when he looked at Jeongguk, Seokjin felt like he was the edges of a galaxy. An always-expanding thing, filled to the brim with things that might never be found, might never be named. He still didn't know if this was a good feeling, or not.
But what he did know was that Jeongguk was standing there, with his big earnest eyes, Jimin happily perched on his shoulders, swaying from side to side like a little flower in the wind. What he did know was that Jeongguk was the first witch, the first person in a long time who's looked at Seokjin with something other than disdain. What he did know was that Jeongguk sang to his flowers and ate his cooking like it was the last thing he'd ever eat and said yes when Seokjin needed help.
So Seokjin plastered on his biggest, brightest smile, and let some of his nervousness wash away. Things went easy with Jeongguk by his side, like the tide reaching up for the moon. With that assurance in mind, Seokjin began walking again.
"Let's go," he said. "I'm hungry."
"Okay," Jeongguk said, falling back to let Seokjin lead the way in that brief, vulnerable moment – simple as that.
So maybe it would be.
As Seokjin rose and rose and Jeongguk was pulled along after him, maybe it would be okay.
Or – maybe it wouldn't.
Seokjin should have known that the night had been going suspiciously smoothly. When they'd arrived at the restaurant, Jeongguk had immediately spotted his hyungs, waving brightly and leading Seokjin to their table, Jimin still sitting high on his shoulders. Seokjin ignored the disgruntled look that the hostess had sent them, staring at Seokjin's clearly-human form, and the way Jeongguk waited for Seokjin to begin walking first, a hand raised in the air behind Seokjin's back in an absentminded, guiding gesture.
Upon first glance, the table full of witches was – intimidating. Seokjin clearly wasn't someone who innately hated witches, seeing as his own son was one. But it wasn't as if Seokjin was used to walking up to a group of them, either. It was so different from what he'd usually do, which was to steer clear from them, body subconsciously bracing for a slew of harsh words and hateful glances.
His steps must have faltered, or he must have been pulling a face, because Jeongguk's hand was pressing against his back suddenly, warm and large and reassuring as he urged them closer. The moment they were within hearing distance, there was a sound scarily akin to a screech.
"Oh heavenly moon," a deep voice crooned. "Where did you find them, Kook?"
Seokjin glanced up in surprise at the tone. Four sets of eyes were plastered on either him or Jimin. The deep voiced witch who'd spoken was looking back and forth between the father and son, unsure of who to keep his gaze on.
"You didn't tell me your Seokjin hyung was this beautiful."
Seokjin let out a noise of surprise at the sudden compliment.
"Though you do have him saved in your phone as DIL–"
"Tae-hyung!" Jeongguk interrupted frantically, shaking his head with wide eyes.
"And you!" the witch kept talking as if he hadn't been interrupted, standing to be able to look Jimin in the eye. "Aren't you the most darling little thing I've ever seen!"
Jimin squealed at the attention, hugging his arms around Jeongguk's head tightly even as he stared at the other witch, as if trying to contain the happiness surging through his body. Jeongguk sputtered as Jimin's arm covered his nose.
"Can I hold him?" the witch directed the question to Seokjin, who still had yet to say anything, or even move.
"Oh," Seokjin said, voice coming out unsure. The other witch seemed to dim a bit, at the hesitation in Seokjin's voice. And it made him feel guilty, meeting the witch's exuberance with such a stiff exterior.
"Taehyungie hyung, can we at least sit first?" Jeongguk joked, but the way he stepped a bit closer to Seokjin was a silent message for the other witch to drop the question. The little show of protection made Seokjin feel even worse, not wanting Jeongguk to have to feel like he had to be a barrier between him and his friends. So Seokjin allowed himself to smile at Taehyung, who perked up at the sight of it.
"If Jimin lets you, then of course you can hold him. He's an attention hog on the best of days, so..."
Seokjin trailed off when Taehyung let out another noise of excitement, clapping his hands together twice and then extending them towards the toddler like Jimin was an infant. "C'mere, baby!"
And sweet, kind, open, trusting Jimin, unlike Seokjin, had no reservations as he leaned forward and tipped into Taehyung's arms with a little "Hi 'm Chim!"
Taehyung laughed, settling back into his seat with Jimin standing on his lap. The two of them faced each other, grinning, Jimin curiously running his hand over Taehyung's bright blue hair and dangling earrings.
"Come sit," another witch with a serious face contrasted with a gentle voice said, gesturing towards the open chairs. Seokjin and Jeongguk settled into them, and almost immediately Jeongguk's foot was pressing into the side of Seokjin's, a steady, reassuring pressure. Jeongguk made brief introductions: the one who'd just spoken had been Yoongi, a dream witch with silver eyes and hair, skin as pale as moonlight. Next to him was Hoseok, a sun witch with vibrant red hair looped through with tiny metal hoops. Then, there was Namjoon, the hyung Jeongguk spoke most about, as the older had mentored Jeongguk for some time, being another green witch himself.
"Jeongguk did mention you were older than all of us," Yoongi said. "Thank Luna. It's your turn to try and wrangle these brats into line, now. I pass the baton to you."
Seokjin blinked at the casual way Yoongi spoke to him, laughing nervously at the implication that they'd all be spending a regular amount of time together, even after tonight.
"Call me hyung, then," Seokjin said, trying to shake off his anxiety by plastering a smile onto his face. With the way the witches beamed at him, he knew it'd been the right thing to say. Dinner passed like that, with Seokjin slowly realizing that perhaps half of the problem was himself.
He went out into the world simply expecting every witch he encountered to be cruel, to look down on him, when...maybe he'd been projecting. Just a little bit. And that didn't mean that the discrimination against humans wasn't there – because it was. But perhaps Seokjin had been part of the discrimination as well, never taking the time to fully realize that witches could love and empathize and connect, the same way humans did. He'd spent all this time thinking that Jeongguk, kind, lovely, earnest Jeongguk, was a strange anomaly, but...maybe he wasn't. Maybe there was more kindness waiting for him within this world than Seokjin had originally thought.
Jeongguk's friends were open-minded and sincere and funny. Seokjin couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed so hard and so often, all in one night. They bantered in a way that only old friends could, all teasing remarks and overly dramatic monologues. Though Jeongguk and his group of friends were surely not the majority of witches in regards to how openly and quickly they'd allowed Seokjin into their circle, it dawned on him that this meant that there were more. There had to be more witches out there that laughed like Hoseok did, open and full-bodied. Witches that reached across the table to hold Jimin's hand in his own, fingers gentle and warm, the way Namjoon did. Witches that didn't, not even for a single moment, treat Seokjin differently just because he was human.
"Hyung, your cooking is better," Jeongguk nudged Seokjin with his elbow, all while shoveling a stolen piece of chicken from Seokjin's plate into his mouth, eyes already peering over to see what else he could nab, his own plate already clean. Seokjin hurriedly stabbed his chopsticks into the last piece of chicken before Jeongguk could lunge for it, smiling victoriously as he popped it in his mouth.
"You cook, hyung?" Hoseok asked, eyes alight with curiosity.
"Hyung's the best cook," Jeongguk said solemnly. "The. Best."
"Let him speak, Jeonggukie, gods," Namjoon laughed at Jeongguk's enthusiasm. The entire night, Jeongguk had practically been vibrating by his side, so excited that his 'two worlds were finally colliding' – his exact words. But despite the way he was shifting restlessly, his foot remained pressed against Seokjin's, a constant reassurance that he was there, and that there was nothing for Seokjin to worry about.
"I do cook," Seokjin smiled, always happy to talk about food. "I run a cooking blog as my main source of income, so I've had practice."
"Ooh!" Taehyung crowed out in surprise. "I want to try your cooking someday!"
"Next week!" Namjoon suggested. "Can we come over next week?"
"They sincerely have no manners," Yoongi said seriously, fond exasperation making his eyes roll up towards the sky. "Please excuse them, hyung, and don't be afraid to tell them no."
"I don't mind," Seokjin replied, thinking of how excited Jimin would be, seeing new people in their home. The thought actually had him perking up, and when he caught Jeongguk's eye, he found that the witch was beaming, a sunrise perched on his brow.
Suddenly, the waiter, who had been neither kind nor cold throughout their dinner, approached their table and leaned in close to them. The seven of them faltered at the sudden move, the happy little bubble they'd been in for the whole night suddenly popped.
"I'm very sorry," the waiter said in a tone that implied that he was not. "But if you are finished eating, I'm afraid I must ask you to leave."
The witches blinked up at him in surprise, but Seokjin felt dread building in his gut, all too familiar with what was happening.
"We're not quite finished," Namjoon said politely, smile strained as he motioned towards their plates, most of which were still half full.
"I can offer you some boxes," the waiter said smoothly, beginning to bend down to collect their plates. Yoongi smacked a hand over the edge of his, preventing the waiter from taking it away.
"He said that we weren't done," Yoongi said, eyes darkening.
Jimin glanced over Yoongi's tone of voice, cocking his head to the side in confusion.
"Appa?" he called, reaching out for Seokjin nervously, able to sense the growing tension between the adults at the table. Taehyung passed him over easily, and Seokjin held Jimin to his chest, grateful for something to hold close to stop the building trembling in his limbs.
"Listen," the waiter stepped in closer, voice lowering, still trying to keep a professional air for anybody that might be watching them. "It was kind enough that we let the human dine in here in the first place. But now, someone's complained, and–"
"Complained?" Taehyung exclaimed, leaning forward in his seat to glower at the waiter. "Complained about what? All we've done was sit here and eat, there was nothing to complain about."
The waiter blinked at Taehyung slowly, as if the other witch was dim-witted for not understanding.
"I don't think I have to spell it out for you," the waiter said slowly, eyes moving to land on Seokjin. Because to some, Seokjin's mere existence within their establishment was reason enough to complain. The air was so still after those words that Seokjin jolted in his seat when Jeongguk rose out of his seat abruptly.
"Please do," Jeongguk hissed, leaning forward with his palms flat on the table, his face an inch away from the waiter's, a muscle popping in his jaw as he clenched his teeth. "Spell it out for us."
The waiter's eyes widened at the show of aggression, clearly not expecting the witches to protest. It seemed like the longer he met Jeongguk's angry stare, the angrier he himself got. He puffed up like a posturing bird, face twisting into an ugly scowl.
"What I mean, is that you're here with a nomag," the waiter spat, the slur slipping easily from his tongue. "And a respectable establishment doesn't let trash build up for long before we take it out. Is that clear enough, or should I–"
Jeongguk's chair clattered to the ground when he lunged forward. The table rattled as the green witch's hip caught against the edge in his frenzy to get to the waiter, eyes blazing.
"Shut your fucking mouth," Jeongguk was spitting, angry, angrier than Seokjin's ever remotely seen him, and suddenly everyone was standing, including him. Jimin was whimpering, confused and quiet tucked in the base of Seokjin's neck, limbs wrapped around his father tightly, pressing closer.
"Jeongguk!" Yoongi was shouting, lunging for the younger as Jeongguk hurtled towards the waiter like a meteor, fist pulled back behind his head.
"Come on," Taehyung was suddenly there, stepping in front of Seokjin to block both his and Jimin's view of the commotion, and then he was wrapping an arm around Seokjin's shoulders, steering them out of the restaurant and into the cold night air. Seokjin didn't even know his breathing was quick and panicked until Taehyung was cupping his hands on either side of his cheeks and exaggerating his own breathing for him to copy.
"It's okay," Taehyung soothed both of them, placing a hand on Jimin's head and carding it through his black hair. "Jeonggukkie's a sweetheart until someone he loves is threatened or hurt. It's okay. He has a bit of a temper with things like this, but he's gonna be fine. Yoongi hyung and Namjoon hyung have had to drag him away from his fair share of fights. We'll all be fine."
And despite his guilt and anxiety over ruining their nice dinner, Seokjin coudn't help but latch onto the fact that Taehyung had just assumed that Seokjin was someone Jeongguk loved.
"I'm sorry," Seokjin said once he got his breathing under control, shutting his eyes and falling back against the wall behind him, leaning his weight against it. His knees felt weak, the way they often did after an encounter with an aggressive witch, and if he had a little less dignity (and if Taehyung wasn't staring at him with those huge, concerned eyes) he would have crouched down into a squat, right there on the sidewalk.
"What?" Hoseok and Namjoon caught the tail end of what Seokjin said as they exited the restaurant, everybody's coats piled high in their arms. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Seokjin hyung."
Seokjin shook his head, ducking down to press his lips to Jimin's head to steady himself. "This always happens," he muttered. "This always happens, and I should've known that–"
"That's bullshit," Namjoon growled.
"Hyung!" Taehyung scolded, motioning passionately towards Jimin, who was peeking out at them curiously, his eyes wide but tear-free, bouncing back from the situation much quicker than Seokjin was.
"Oh, shit," Namjoon slapped a hand over his mouth. "Oh my god, again, f–!"
"What Namjoon means," Hoseok jumped in before Namjoon could make even more of a fool of himself. "Is that this shouldn't be happening. Not always, not sometimes, not...not ever. That's just...blatant discrimination! That's bigotry! There must be a law against this, or something!"
Seokjin stared at the three witches who had formed a little half-circle around him. Taehyung and Namjoon were nodding along passionately with what Hoseok said, eyes angry on...on his behalf. Despite himself, Seokjin felt his lips pulling up into a smile.
"Most witches don't think like you do," Seokjin said quietly.
The three of them blinked at him, sad smiles tugging at their lips. "I think there are more witches that think like us than you're aware of, hyung," Taehyung said gently. "Hatred and cruelty are loud, so I don't blame you for covering your ears. But acceptance, and love, and tolerance...they're a steady rumble. If you listen closely, it'll always be there. Maybe so soft that it's just background noise, and easily tuned out, but there nonetheless."
Those words made Seokjin's throat go tight, but he was distracted when the door to the restaurant opened once again, and Yoongi was pulling Jeongguk out by the ear.
"–an idiot! You're lucky that you're not going to get sued, Jeon Jeongguk, we've told you about going all macho-witch before! I thought you'd gotten a handle on that temper of yours, but–"
"I don't regret it," it seemed like Jeongguk was still fuming, swatting Yoongi's hand away from his death-grip on his earlobe as he straightened up with a wince. "The guy was being a complete and utter asswitch, how could I just let that slide? After what he said to Jin hyung?"
"We could have pulled a Karen and asked to talk to the manager, or something, I don't know, Jeongguk," Yoongi said, exasperated. "The last thing we should've done was punch the guy!"
Jeongguk shrugged his shoulders, face still set into a petulant scowl, beelining straight away from Yoongi and towards Seokjin and Jimin the moment he caught sight of them against the wall.
"Are you okay, hyung? Jimin-ah?" he asked, concerned. His blond hair was in complete disarray, a few buttons of his shirt undone, and if Seokjin looked closely he could see a bruise forming on Jeongguk's jaw underneath the streetlights.
"Shouldn't I be the one asking you that?" Seokjin fretted, stepping closer to peer at the bruises. Jimin shuffled, holding his arms out for Jeongguk.
"Gu hyung," he said softly. "Gu hyung mad?"
At the sight of Jimin reaching for him, Jeongguk's face softened. "Of course not. Hyung's not mad, Jiminie, I just had to take care of something. There's nothing for you to worry about."
Seokjin let go of Jimin easily, silent as he reached for Jeongguk's bruised fist. Tracing his fingers lightly over the purple now shadowing into the witch's tattoos, Seokjin let out a harsh breath.
"Hey, I'm fine," Jeongguk said quietly, taking his fist out of Seokjin's grasp only to run the back of his knuckles ever-so-gently against Seokjin's cheek. Seokjin shivered at the action, aching to tip his face into the tender gesture. "Let's go home, okay?"
They said goodbye to other witches, Seokjin saving four new numbers into his phone, a group text already created with the six of them so that they could plan the next dinner. The thought that maybe...just maybe this group of witches would become people that Seokjin would later be able to rely on, maybe even grow to love...it had him walking home with something light in his step. Despite his hopeful mood however, as the three of them made their way silently down the sidewalks, Seokjin could feel that something was growing in Jeongguk's mind. He allowed the other to stew in silence, Jimin walking in-between them, hands raised and clasped in the theirs, his left hand in Seokjin's and his right in Jeongguk's. Occasionally, Jimin would bend his knees, silently asking to be swung up into the air, and they would swing him up in sync, smiling softly at the sound of Jimin's giggles as his legs flailed above the sidewalks.
When they finally made it back, Jeongguk waited as Seokjin opened his door, punching the passcode into his keypad and listening to the little tune that played when the door unlocked.
"Go pick out your jammies, Jimin," Jeongguk instructed gently. "Your Appa will be in in a bit."
Seokjin glanced behind him, surprised. Jimin just nodded, darting around Seokjin's legs to press a kiss to Jeongguk's leg goodnight, then scrambling into their apartment, calling out a Chim's back!!! to his stuffed toys as he ran for his room.
"Jin hyung," Jeongguk said, voice low. When Seokjin turned to fully face him, concerned, Jeongguk hesitated for a split second before he was stepping closer, the tips of their shoes almost touching.
One thing Seokjin always noticed and appreciated about Jeongguk was that he wore his emotions on his sleeve. Whatever he was feeling was always clear across his features, his soulful eyes and expressive brows always painting his heart's intentions. It was an innocent quality that Seokjin had long grown out of, and with every day that he got to understand Jeongguk, the more Seokjin loved the fact that the other hadn't yet found a way to disguise his feelings.
So when they met eyes, Seokjin's breath caught.
Because there was something burning in Jeongguk's gaze that Seokjin hadn't seen before. It was heavy and intent and Jeongguk wasn't allowing him to look away, instead pressing even closer. Out of pure instinct, Seokjin moved to step back, but realized that his heels were already flat against the hallway wall. Jeongguk was slowly caging him in, body large and warm in his oversized leather jacket, a dark lock of hair falling in front of his eyes. With his platform boots that he had on, Jeongguk had some height on Seokjin, and the human belatedly realized that he had to glance up to meet Jeongguk's eyes. Jeongguk opened his mouth, looking ready to say something important, the crease between his brow deepening. After a few moments of silence, however, his shoulders seemed to sag, and he let out a low sigh.
"Are you really okay, hyung?" Jeongguk finally asked, voice almost a whisper. He shifted a bit so his face wasn't so close to Seokjin's, but they still stayed tucked together. Seokjin could feel the body heat emanating from his frame, and he had to stop himself from fully leaning in.
"Of course," Seokjin nodded, suddenly feeling shy at the intimacy of their position, at just the mere fact that Jeongguk was crowding him in the best way after taking him out to dinner to meet his friends. "You shouldn't have...done that. You didn't have to stick up for me like that."
Jeongguk's expression darkened even more. "Of course I did, hyung. I don't regret a second of it. Well – I regret doing it in front of Jimin, but there was no way I was going to let him talk about you as if – as if–"
"As if I'm nothing more than scum on the bottom of his shoe," Seokjin finished for him with a bitter smile. "It's nothing I'm not used to, Jeongguk."
"You shouldn't be used to it, though!" Jeongguk exclaimed, shaking his head vigorously, hair falling into his eyes. "I hate that. I hate it."
Behind them, they could hear Jimin knocking around inside the apartment, most likely digging through his mesh basket of toys. He was murmuring to himself in there, tiny words that couldn't quite make it through the walls.
"It's better I deal with it here than have Jimin deal with it in the human districts," Seokjin said gently. "When I remember that, there's nothing that I can't face."
The tendons on Jeongguk's arms flexed as his hands became fists. "You won't have to deal with it anymore."
It was said in such a sure tone that Seokjin's head tipped to the side in confusion.
"Not while you have me, hyung," Jeongguk said. "That will never happen again. Not while I'm by your side. I'll make sure of it."
And if Seokjin were a glass of water balancing on a counter's edge, he allowed himself to tip, in that moment. Just for a precious, precarious second. The whole of him stumbled, and something must have shown in his expression, something dangerously close to cracking, before he regained his balance and composed his face once more. But it was enough. That split second where Seokjin had almost let himself shatter was enough, because Jeongguk was surging forward and squeezing him in his arms.
Silently, slowly, Seokjin brought his arms up around the witch's neck and squeezed back.
You have me.
Later that night, once Jeongguk had retired to his own apartment and Jimin was safely tucked away into bed, Seokjin's knees wobbled before he could get into his, so he kneeled at the side of his mattress, pressing his heated face into his bunched-up duvet, overwhelmed and just needing a moment to breathe.
You have me, you have me.
But even in the face of a lovely, selfless, beautiful witch, Seokjin didn't know if he'd ever be brave enough to reach out.
Jeongguk came in right when he said he would – at 4:30 on the dot. Seokjin took a split second to appreciate that. He's always found punctuality attractive, liked a man who had his shit together and showed up to his own life on time. Before he could dwell on the strange warmth digging into his belly that always seemed to grow whenever Jeongguk was around, he was distracted by a wild nuzzling at the back of his thigh.
Jimin was clinging to his legs like a monkey, arms wrapped around them so tightly Seokjin couldn't walk. He was standing at the fridge filling a glass of water for Jimin, and his son had taken the time to latch on and passionately rub his cheek against the coarse material of his father's slacks.
"Jimin-ah, let go of me please. You're going to make me fall and squash you."
"Wanna be squashed," Jimin mumbled into Seokjin's thighs. "Then you won't leave."
Seokjin looked over at Jeongguk with wide, begging eyes.
"Chimchim, I'm hurt!" Jeongguk said theatrically, pouting his lips and scrunching his eyebrows together in fake despair. "I was so excited for our playdate, but we won't have time to play if you don't let your Appa go."
Jimin turned his head to level Jeongguk with his most deadpan expression. It was one that Seokjin recognized, one that Jimin had picked up from him. Seokjin didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He was raising a little monster.
"We still play even with Appa," Jimin said, lisping around his words even as he tried his best to sound calm and practical. "Wan' Appa to play too."
"Appa has to go, sweetheart. I have to go back to the human district for a meeting about my blog, remember? Some very important men are trying to do business with me, so I have to go." Seokjin said gently, finally stretching to place the glass down on the counter and then reaching behind him to grab the back of Jimin's shirt to pry him off. When there was enough distance between them, Seokjin turned and crouched down to look his son in the eye. As if attracted by a magnet, Jimin immediately latched onto him again, this time with his arms around Seokjin's neck.
He sighed. Despite the strong front that Jimin put up, he knew that his son often had a lot of nerves that had nowhere to go in his small body. And it was very rare that Jimin would be separated from Seokjin for an extended period of time. He was unsurprised that Jimin was antsy, because as much as he hated to admit it, he was feeling pretty nervous himself.
"I'll be back before you know it," Seokjin soothed the both of them. "Besides, just the other day you were saying how much you missed your Gu hyung! Now you two get to play for the whole evening!"
Jimin did not look impressed, simply pressed closer to Seokjin and whimpered, lifting his leg to hook it over one of Seokjin's thighs in a valiant attempt to climb into his father's lap. Heart breaking a little bit, Seokjin stood before Jimin could get the chance.
"Dinner's in the fridge," Seokjin said to Jeongguk, who was watching the two of them with warmth in his gaze.
"I could have cooked for us," Jeongguk said. "I'm sure you were busy preparing for the meeting."
Seokjin waved him off. "Jimin's a bit picky," he said. "Plus, I didn't want to trouble you anymore than we already have."
Jeongguk's face tightened, mouth firming into a line that was so different from its typical easy, relaxed grin. "We've been over this, hyung, nothing about you or Jimin is ever a burden."
The witch moved to pick Jimin up then, so that Seokjin could leave more easily. Jimin was beginning to get teary-eyed, squirming in Jeongguk's grip as his toes wriggled in distress.
"Don't go, Appa," Jimin said, bottom lip wobbling. "Chim don't want you to go."
"I'll be back soon, my little bee," Seokjin knew that he had to get Jimin used to leaving his side. What was he going to do when Jimin had to enroll in kindergarten next year? Being apart sometimes was necessary. Healthy, even. So he had to swallow down the guilt as he turned his back on Jeongguk and Jimin to grab his bag, crouching down by the door to put on his shoes.
"No!" Jimin was full-on crying now, his little feet thudding against Jeongguk's thighs as he kicked in frustration. "No, Appa, no! Don't go!"
Seokjin rose and twisted towards them, moving in to press a quick kiss to Jimin's flushed cheek. Jimin reached out for him, but Seokjin stepped away before he could latch onto his neck. Jeongguk was bouncing Jimin comfortingly, mouthing a go to Seokjin when he hesitated by the door.
"I love you," Seokjin said. "Have a fun night with Jeongguk. I'll be back in a few hours, okay?"
With that, he let himself slip into the hallway, the door slipping shut behind him, the plants waving him goodbye. Jimin's wails could still be heard through the walls, and Seokjin let out a shaky breath as he made for the elevators. And for the first time since he'd had Jimin, Seokjin made his way out into the world on his own, finally knowing that his son would be in safe hands while he was gone.
It took a while for Jimin to calm down. It was clear to see that the little witch was unused to being away from Seokjin, which didn't surprise Jeongguk. He was sure that it had been hard for Seokjin to find babysitters for Jimin while he'd been growing up, so the two of them were always attached at the hip, especially since Seokjin worked from home. Jimin had collapsed into his chest the second the door closed behind his father, crying earnestly. Jeongguk crooned at him, stroking his back rhythmically and subtly drawing out the toddler's excess magic, feeling it build along with his heightened stress levels.
"It's okay, Jiminie, it's okay. He'll be back, I promise."
Jimin's cries petered out into little hiccups, and he finally peered up at Jeongguk with his fingers in his mouth, eyes watery and wide and sad.
"Chim have snack?" Jimin asked, voice croaky from overuse.
Jeongguk didn't even hesitate before he nodded yes, walking over to the kitchen to rifle through the cabinets for a little treat. Jimin deserved it, after such a stressful evening.
Now, an hour later, Jimin was back to his happy, bubbly self. They'd played a bit before Jeongguk sat them down for another management session. He studied the little boy sitting in front of him. They were sitting with their knees pressed up against each other's, Jimin's face scrunched up in concentration as he tried to reach his magic. And Jeongguk felt like a rolling golden hill, summer-warmed and illuminated, as he observed all the features that Jimin inherited from Seokjin. They had the same plump lips, the same high cheekbones, the same straight and small nose. It was cute, seeing parts of Seokjin within Jimin. It had Jeongguk wondering what Seokjin had been like when he was younger, back when he wasn't weighed down with so much.
"Jimin-ah," Jeongguk called softly, suddenly overrun with curiosity. When Jimin's two-toned eyes snapped open, Jeongguk smiled at him, tipping his head to the side. "You understand why we do this, right? Why I come over to help you with your magic? Did your Appa ever explain it to you?"
Jimin nodded enthusiastically, a look of determination growing across his face.
"Gu hyung's gonna teach Chim magic!"
Jeongguk laughed. "You already have magic, silly. It's inside of you already. It's part of you. I'm just trying to help you grow into it. To control it, so you don't accidentally make your Appa's bed float off the ground again."
Nodding his head solemnly, Jimin moved even closer, getting on his knees so that he could fully plop into Jeongguk's lap. The green witch barely blinked at the blatant show of affection, used to the way Jimin constantly wanted to be held. "Appa no like that."
"No, he did not," Jeongguk tried to stifle a laugh. "So we have to practice, and become really good for him, okay?"
"Kay," Jimin said. He opened his mouth again, as if to say something, but then he hesitated, glancing shyly up at Jeongguk's face. He fiddled for a few moments, reaching out to scratch a little fingernail over the tattoos on Jeongguk's arm.
"When...when Chim becomes good...will Appa stop bein' sad?"
Jeongguk's heart dropped. He floundered, torn between pressing Jimin for more information and rushing to comfort him. Jimin's face was twisted in something like concentration, eyes still downcast as he spoke.
"Chim's magic makes Appa sad. So – so Chim will...grow into magic and can hide it? So Appa'll be happy again?"
"No, Jimin," Jeongguk breathed out, shaking his head. He ran a hand over the soft of Jimin's hair. "No, look at me. Your Appa loves you and your magic, Jimin. Your magic is part of you, and there's not a part of you that your father doesn't love, do you understand? What makes him sad is the fact that your magic is sometimes hurting you right now. Sometimes pushing things off counters that might cut your little feet."
Jimin's lips pouted out into a beak. "It's mean," he whispered, referring to his magic. "Makes me and Appa sad."
"That's why I'm here, baby," Jeongguk crooned, tugging Jimin closer to his chest. "What will make your Appa the happiest is knowing that you are happy and safe, with your magic."
"And Gu hyung," Jimin said sincerely. "Appa's happiness needs Gu hyung, too."
Jimin ran his finger over the hollow heart tattoo at the fleshy part of Jeongguk's hand, stroking from side to side as if he was coloring the heart in.
Warmth is funny, like that. It has a way of seeping between invisible cracks.
"You deserve none of my kindness," Jeongguk sniffed haughtily as he snuck Seokjin's calathea a few drops of his specially-made magic-infused plant food. He typically only fed it to his own plants and sometimes would gift some to Namjoon during the winter, when plants found it harder to grow. With enough of this stuff, some of them would grow inches within the span of a few days. It was a special treat for them, and a few weeks ago Jeongguk had snuck some in for Seokjin's houseplants as a blatant bribe to get them to warm up to him.
Now, though, they stuck their noses (leaves?) up at him until he was either pulling the little dropper out of his pocket, or until he was promising under his breath to bring some next time.
"I'm serious. You can't grow dependent on my food, it's not good for you," Jeongguk continued as he moved over to the Chinese evergreen, feeding it a few drops as well. "And Jin hyung doesn't know that I've been giving it to you, so he thinks that he's suddenly got a crazy green thumb, and I don't wanna ruin that dream for him."
Amusement drifted off of the plants, and Jeongguk finally cracked and let out a little smile when the pothos curled around the back of his neck in a tiny, thankful hug. Pressing a kiss to one of its golden leaves, Jeongguk sighed as he stood, slipping the dropper back into his pocket.
"No more for a while," Jeongguk sniffed out. "If you accept my food, you have to accept me too! When I walk in next time with no dropper, I better not hear a single one of you complaining."
"Stop scolding my houseplants," Seokjin laughed as he made his way into the living room, having successfully tucked Jimin into bed. "You're a menace."
Jeongguk spluttered. "Me? Me? I'm the menace? How dare you, hyung. After all that they've put me through? You've just crossed a line."
Seokjin laughed merrily at Jeongguk's indignation, plopping down onto the couch with a small, tired groan. "They're nothing but innocent angels and you yell at them every time you come over. No wonder they don't like you."
Jeongguk could feel the plants laughing at him, smug. When the ficus lyrata swayed towards him, mocking, he didn't feel an ounce of guilt as he harshly flicked one of its thick leaves.
"You encourage them," Jeongguk muttered, sitting down beside the human. "This is why they're as bad as they are."
Seokjin didn't respond, just leaned over so that his head could rest against Jeongguk's shoulder. They sat like that for a while, the television playing some drama that they'd already finished but were absentmindedly rewatching. And Jeongguk couldn't stop sneaking glances down at Seokjin, like he was some cheesy protagonist in a romance film.
It just astounded Jeongguk over and over again – how beautiful Seokjin was.
It wasn't only when Seokjin was bright-eyed and put together first thing in the morning, coffee mug in hand and Jimin on hip. It wasn't only when he was stirring dinner in a large pot on the stove in a way that made the muscles in his arms shift and flex, face scrunched in concentration. It wasn't only when he was laughing at something Jeongguk said, easy-going and gentle-natured and so willing to burn like the sun that helps Jeongguk's plants grow.
It was when he was vulnerable, too, cracking along the edges like a sidewalk well-loved, a person well-lived. It was when he was curled up on the couch by Jeongguk's side with Jimin's drool drying on his shirt and the glow of the TV over his skin.
In this still moment, tucked closely together on Seokjin's couch, sharing warmth like twin flames, Jeongguk plucked at a brave string within himself and reached over. He took one of Seokjin's hands in his, slowly so that the other could pull away if he wanted to, then laced their fingers together when Seokjin didn't protest. After a few beats, Seokjin let out a breath that shook a bit, squeezing Jeongguk's hand. The pads of his fingers covered the tattoos on Jeongguk's knuckles, and Jeongguk watched as Seokjin fiddled with the skin there, running his fingers gently over the ink.
"It's different, you know. When you have a kid," Seokjin suddenly spoke over the low hum of the TV. "I don't know. I've just been thinking about it lately. How it changes you, in a way so profound and cliche that it's hard to talk about without sounding stupid."
"Nothing you say could ever be stupid," Jeongguk said, the words flying from his mouth without hesitation. Nobody would be talking down on Seokjin on his watch, not even Seokjin himself.
To the green witch's surprise, Seokjin let out a little laugh.
"My Jeonggukkie, always so quick to defend me."
Jeongguk sputtered, trying to squirm away to cast Seokjin his most affronted look, but Seokjin just held onto his hand tighter.
"When you're young, you don't look for anything in love, not in the way adults do. We go into relationships thinking, is this person's morals going to align with mine? Will we have the same sense of humor? Do we listen to the same music, have the same taste in food? But for kids, for Jimin – he just loves me because I'm me. He loves me when I spoon-feed him avocado, when I wake him up in the mornings, when I help him take off his socks. He loves me when I'm stressed or annoyed or grumpy. He loves with no expectations, no check boxes that he's waiting for me to fulfill. And it's the same way back. He could do anything, be anything, and I would love him."
Jeongguk stared down at Seokjin as he spoke. The way his eyes glossed over showed just how much this affected him – the great big knowledge that he was loved. That he was given something to love, with his entire heart. Something so simple, so mundane, yet to Seokjin, it was everything.
"That's not stupid," Jeongguk whispered. "It's not stupid at all."
I could love you like that, too, Jeongguk wanted to say, clenching his free hand into a fist on his thigh. If you let me, I could love you like that, too.
Seokjin fell asleep like that, tucked into Jeongguk like a clinging vine. Jeongguk allowed himself to sit there for a while before sleep tugged at his own eyelids, and he carefully extracted himself from Seokjin's body heat, not wanting to fall asleep there and impose when he hadn't explicitly been invited to stay the night. He gently laid Seokjin's body down on the couch, tossing the throw blanket over him and tucking the human in. A strong part of him wanted to carry Seokjin to bed, wanted to prolong the heated contact they'd had just a little bit more, his hand now empty and cold. But he refrained, settled for checking in on Jimin instead, peeking his head in to find the toddler sound asleep, his nightlight casting his room in a calm blue. Jimin was sprawled out and sleeping with his belly showing and his mouth wide open, comfortable and careless in the way children should be. It had Jeongguk smiling, fondness growing in his heart like a golden sunflower.
He left their apartment and made his way back to his own.
Jeongguk listened for their sounds through the walls, finally settling down when he heard none, assured that the two were safe and sound asleep. He listened until he was falling asleep, as well, wondering how it'd feel to have a place within Seokjin's life where he'd be allowed to listen to those sounds without a wall separating them.
Wondering how it'd feel if he took a step, and found spring at his feet.
Before starting his food blog, and before he majored in sociology in college, for a short period of time in his life – Seokjin had wanted to become an actor. He'd always had a knack for it. As a child, he'd been able to tell lies without even a twitch of his eye. It came naturally to him, slipping on a mask that shielded him from the rest of the world. Acting as if he was always happy and unfazed was much easier than letting others see his vulnerabilities, his fears.
So as he sat in the lobby of his apartment building with Jimin, waiting for Jeongguk to come meet them, it was second nature to him to school his face into something relaxed and calm, even as two women beside him began whispering to each other, unaware that he could hear them.
Jimin had kicked his shoes off, and his socked feet were wobbling from their perch on each of Seokjin's thighs. He had each of Jimin's small fists clenched in his own as he helped his son balance, wincing when Jimin's weight dug into awkward parts of his thigh bone. Jimin was a little too big to be doing this now, but it was a position that put his face right in front of Seokjin's, and he couldn't resist when Jimin was looking at him and giggling as if Seokjin was his favorite person in the world.
"There's that human with his little witch kid," one of the women said to the other.
Seokjin stiffened when he felt their eyes on him, but his face didn't change.
"Isn't that, like, neglect? Or some type of abuse? There's no way that a human could give a witch the life he deserves. The poor thing."
Jimin cocked his head to the side, no doubt hearing them as well. Seokjin could see his little brain taking the words and trying to process them. He was at the age where he was beginning to understand things more, no longer sweetly oblivious to the uglier parts of the world.
"He's going to grow up and resent his human father," they continued on, something akin to a spiteful amusement in their tone. "I don't envy either of them."
"They have nothing to offer each other. That'll become clear as the witch grows up. There's no way a human can raise a magical child."
Jimin was frowning now, feeling the way that Seokjin had tensed underneath his feet and catching onto the nasty tone that the women were using. His bottom lip jutted out and he scowled, his cheeks puffing up the way they only did when he was angry.
"No!" Jimin shouted, his voice echoing through the lobby. He whipped his head to stare right at the women, who jumped at the sudden interruption.
"Jimin-ah," Seokjin said quietly, beginning to bounce his legs up and down to distract him. He grew more and more uncomfortable, knowing that Jimin was even more emotionally volatile because of his Phasing, despite the lessons with Jeongguk being a big help.
"Bad!" Jimin ignored Seokjin, going as far as to stomp one little foot down on his father's thigh where he was still perched as he glared. "You're both bad!"
"Oh my," one of them said, offense clear in her tone. She shared a glance with her friend, a 'see? this just proves us right' type of glance that had Seokjin's blood boiling. Still, he didn't let his mask crack. He just moved to stand, scooping Jimin's shoes up in one hand, ignoring the way the dirty soles dug into his clenched fist. He hitched Jimin up onto a hip, pressing his lips to his hair in a soothing peck.
Overwhelmed, Jimin let out a loud screech. Seokjin sighed. He had just gotten Jimin to calm down that morning from his last emotional outburst, and he hated the fact that he'd allowed two random women to trigger another one. Jimin's body began to vibrate in the way it did when his magic was building up.
"What's going on?" suddenly, a warm hand was on his waist, and Seokjin looked up to find Jeongguk there, standing so close the toes of their shoes were touching. Jimin's back was now pressed to Jeongguk's chest, and the toddler calmed at the familiar, magical presence. The green witch's eyes were trained on the women, face stormy with distaste.
"It's fine," Seokjin said, his voice cheery. "Let's go, Chim's hungry."
Jeongguk didn't move. Instead, the hand that he had resting against Seokjin's waist gripped, his fingers digging into the softness there.
"What did they do to you?"
"Nothing," Seokjin said immediately – because it was true. They hadn't done anything. And, if he really thought about it, they hadn't said anything that he hadn't heard a million times before. It wasn't their fault that he reacted to it poorly, every single time.
"I can tell when you're lying," Jeongguk snapped.
Seokjin's mind blanked at that. He blinked at Jeongguk, a bit dumbfounded. For his entire life, nobody had ever said that to him before. If anything, it was always the opposite – sometimes, he'd wish that people could see past his mask and ask why he was hurting, but nobody could ever see through the façade he was so good at putting up. Chuckling nervously, Seokjin made to move away, suddenly feeling a little bit too seen.
"You think you know me that well already, hmm, Jeonggukkie? " he asked, voice light. Jeongguk let him go, his arm dropping back to his side, and his angry posturing suddenly deflated with a loud breath.
"I didn't mean to snap," Jeongguk said, voice still tinged with upset. "I just came down here, and the two of you felt...wrong."
"Sad," Jeongguk said.
Seokjin didn't say anything, just moved towards the large glass doors to exit the lobby. He felt hands taking Jimin's shoes from his, and he let the green witch grab them, using his now-free hand to adjust Jimin more comfortably.
"Gu hyung," Jimin greeted, blinking at Jeongguk from where his cheek rested on Seokjin's shoulder. Jeongguk walked a pace behind the two of them – both to be able to talk to Jimin, and, Seokjin suspected, to block them from view of the two women who were still staring after them, as if they were a spectacle on display.
"Hey, little bee," Jeongguk said, tone gentling considerably as he ran his hand through Jimin's hair, no doubt drawing some of the toddler's magic out. "Feeling okay?"
Jimin just blinked at Jeongguk, content to stare at the green witch as they exited their apartment building and began walking up the street towards the cafe with Seokjin's favorite toasted paninis.
"He was so happy before they started talking," Seokjin huffed. Jeongguk was opening the door to the cafe before he could even begin to shift Jimin in his arms to grab ahold of the handle, and a solid warmth was pressing against the small of his back again as Jeongguk lead them towards a table by the windows.
Seokjin tried not to think about the way it made him feel. All of it – the way he'd fallen asleep on the couch with Jeongguk the other night, the way Jeongguk had stood so close to him in the lobby, the way he gently guided Seokjin to the inside of the sidewalk as they made their way down the street, the way he nonchalantly pulled his chair out for him before moving across the table to sit in his own. It made him feel taken care of in a way that wasn't domineering or possessive, but gentle.
It's been so many years putting all of Jimin's needs before his own that Seokjin couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this secure, this safe.
Maybe he never had.
When Jeongguk ordered Seokjin's favorite panini and Jimin's favorite juice without needing prompting, Seokjin finally let himself fully relax.
It felt like greeting sun after a thousand frozen midnights.
are you and jimin home?
DILF next door
No, we're at the mall. It's crowded and Jiminie's getting a bit anxious.
DILF next door
No, you don't have to!
I didn't say that to try and make you come.
Ignoring the three dots indicating that Jin was still typing, Jeongguk simply responded with a 'wait for me' and stuffed his phone into his pocket, ignoring the resounding dings that immediately vibrated against his butt. He hurriedly tugged on a long coat and a scarf, making sure he had his keys before he was heading over to the mall. Since it was the holiday season, Jeongguk wasn't surprised that it was crowded. It was the time of year where everybody was getting their Christmas shopping done, and Jeongguk reminded himself that that was something he needed to get done, as well.
He found Seokjin and Jimin before he even had the chance to pull out his phone and text – it wasn't easy to miss Seokjin, what with his height and broad shoulders. They were standing by a food stand, with Seokjin grabbing an abundance of napkins off the counter in true dad fashion as Jimin bit into a soft pretzel as large as his torso, his little hands gripping onto the greasy bread tightly.
What really caught Jeongguk's eye, however, was the yellow ducky backpack that Jimin had on. Jeongguk had never seen it before – Jimin's usual backpack was a baby blue, patterned with white fluffy baby sheep. But this ducky one was essentially a baby leash, a yellow strap going from the pack that Seokjin had looped around his left wrist. Jeongguk tilted his head in confusion at the sight.
Jimin was a relatively obedient kid, but outweighing that, he was attached to Seokjin by the hip. He'd never run off from his father, even if something especially appealing caught his eye. He'd much rather tug Seokjin by the hand to go wherever it was he wanted to go with him, endearingly clingy and overly eager to share everything on his mind.
Jeongguk began making his way over to them, his expression confused. However, his questions were soon answered before he could even reach them. He watched, as Jimin chewed his pretzel, crumbs sticking to his puffed-out cheeks. He was wriggling happily in what Seokjin dubbed his 'happy-food-dance', and Jeongguk couldn't help the fond smile at the sight, because he wasn't sure if Seokjin was aware that Jimin had gotten the happy food dance from his father.
Then, Jimin was floating, humungous pretzel and all – and Jeongguk gaped.
He suddenly understood why Seokjin decided to strap him into the leash today. Seokjin simply sighed and looked up at Jimin, something exasperated and utterly fond crossing his features as Jimin squealed and kicked his legs, taking another bite of his pretzel.
"Hyung!" Jeongguk called out, eyes large with bewilderment.
Seokjin spotted him and immediately began walking towards him. With the yellow leash attaching them, Jimin floated alongside Seokjin in the air, essentially being pulled along like a balloon. At the sight, Jeongguk lost it, and doubled over in hysterical laughter.
It was the most adorable thing he'd ever seen, and the closer Seokjin and Jimin got, the harder he laughed.
"Oh my god," Jeongguk said breathlessly, tears clumping along his lower lash line from his mirth.
"This isn't funny," Seokjin sniffed primly. "Based off the floating furniture, I figured his magic was somewhere along the lines of telekinesis, but I never realized that he'd be able to make himself float as well."
Jeongguk could hardly hear Seokjin through his own laughter.
"I'm serious, Jeongguk! His magic is out of control today! He wouldn't stop crying until I bought him that blasted pretzel."
Jimin giggled from his perch in the air, moving about in a way that had crumbs spilling right onto Seokjin's perfectly styled hair. Sighing deeply, Seokjin grabbed a napkin from the large pile he was still clutching in his hand and brushed them off.
"People have been giving me dirty looks all day," Seokjin continued. "He's been on this floating business since last night – I woke up this morning and he was attached to my ceiling! Like a pesky spider, peering down at me with his little eyes!"
Jeongguk laughed even harder at the image, stomach seriously beginning to cramp, and tugged gently on the yellow leash.
"Jimin-ah," he called up to the toddler. "Come down here."
Jimin peered down at him, eyes wide.
"Gu hyung! Dunno how," Jimin said.
"That's alright," Jeongguk said softly, slowly pulling Jimin down by the backpack's leash until he was close enough for the green witch to wrap up in his arms, ignoring the half-eaten pretzel that was now smushed between their chests. "It's been a day, hasn't it?"
"Mhm," Jimin said, voice muffled as he rubbed his nose into Jeongguk's neck. "Felt lots."
"Mmm," Jeongguk soothed, running a hand down Jimin's back. He made eye contact with Seokjin, his son's head tucked tenderly underneath Jeongguk's chin.
"I'll draw some magic out," Jeongguk said to both of them. "You'll feel better, don't worry."
He focused on the little beating heart that was pressed against his, filled to the brim with energy and magic. Jeongguk coaxed his magic alongside it, the way family members sit pressed together, shoulder to shoulder. A natural closeness, one that is warm and familiar and kind. He waited for Jimin's magic to open up to his, waited a few beats for Jimin's magic to reach for him, and once it did, he gently soothed it, easing some of it out from Jimin's body the way steam rolls out of a bathroom after a hot shower – slowly, delicately.
Jeongguk withdrew his hand from Jimin's back, and with that, Jimin went completely limp in his hold, asleep. Jeongguk reached out to catch his pretzel before it could drop to the floor.
"Poor thing," Seokjin said. "He's been going wild all day. He must've been so tired."
"This is a good thing, hyung," Jeongguk reassured him, handing Seokjin the pretzel so that he could rearrange Jimin into a more comfortable position. "It means he's gonna be strong, when he's older. His magic...it's alive. It's blooming. It's beautiful."
Seokjin smiled. "Yea?"
"Yea," Jeongguk said softly. "And even though it's hurting him now, even though Phasing sometimes feels like it'll last forever, soon...soon his magic will be his. Completely under his control. And Jimin will make a powerful, kind witch."
They went home, after that, Seokjin finishing off the rest of Jimin's pretzel.
"I have to eat it while I have the chance," he explained. "Jimin's obsessed with these things. Won't even give me one bite."
"He's going to be upset that it's gone when he wakes up."
"I'll tell him you ate it."
"You're not the one who has to live with him, Jeongguk. You don't have to face the brunt of his wrath. Do me this one favor."
Later, when Jimin woke up, he slipped out from the blanket they'd tucked him under on the couch. Jeongguk was chopping green onions at the kitchen island, Seokjin standing at the stove, pouring broth into a large pot.
"My pretzel?" Jimin immediately asked, rubbing his tired eyes with a closed fist.
Jeongguk stared at Seokjin, eyes wide and pleading.
Seokjin had no mercy.
"I'm sorry, baby," he said. "Your Gu hyung got hungry, so he ate it."
Jimin's eyes widened in horror. His fist dropped from his eyes, and his mouth opened in shock. Jeongguk went weak with guilt, despite not having taken a single bite of the pretzel.
"Jimin-ah, I'm sorry," he said. "I'll buy you another. I promise."
After a few moments of silence, Jimin sighed heavily, then nodded and padded over to Jeongguk, leaning in to give him a kiss in the rip of his jeans, pouting lips pressing to the exposed skin.
"Isokay, Gu hyung," Jimin said solemnly. "You can have the pretzel, because – because Chim loves you."
Seokjin's jaw dropped as he whirled towards them in disbelief. Jeongguk, on the other hand, had to physically refrain from placing his head in his hands and screaming and then physically munching on Jimin's cheeks.
"Sweetheart," Jeongguk gushed, leaning down to pick Jimin up and hugging him tight, pecking the toddler's hair. "You are so kind! You're not mad at Gu hyung even though he ate your favorite snack!"
Through his tears of sheer joy, Jeongguk saw Seokjin slowly shaking his head at the scene, mouthing 'traitor' to Jimin's back. In the middle of the kitchen island, the coffee machine began floating towards the ceiling.
"Uh-oh," Jeongguk muttered, turning Jimin in his arms so that the toddler could see it. "We need to bring it down, Chim!"
"Uh-oh," Jimin parroted.
Jeongguk readied his magic, slowly steadying it against Jimin's, fully prepared to help the witch with the coffee machine's descent. But then, casual as ever, Jimin pointed at the coffee machine with a finger and said, "Go down."
And it went.
Jimin's magic released it slowly, with no help from Jeongguk's at all, and it floated back down onto the marble counter.
Both Jeongguk and Seokjin's jaws were on the floor. There were a few moments of pure silence, and then shouting. Jeongguk didn't know who shouted first, but suddenly he and Seokjin were both whooping, cheering, laughing as Seokjin knocked into them both, joyously pressing kisses to Jimin's cheeks.
"Jimin, that was amazing! Appa is so proud of you!"
"You did it, Chim!" Jeongguk said, so happy and proud that he couldn't stop laughing. "You're finally getting your magic to listen to you!"
Jimin was giggling with pride as he was adorned with attention and love. "Chim did good?"
"The best," Seokjin was quick to say, smiling so hard that there were little lines fanning out from his eyes. "You're going to be the most talented witch the world has ever seen."
The words made Jimin so happy he floated right out of Jeongguk's arms.
That night after dinner, the three of them piled onto the couch and watched 101 Dalmations. It was Jimin's favorite movie at the moment, the toddler mouthing most of the lines to himself as he watched on, enraptured. Originally, he'd been cuddled up to Seokjin, but then the human had needed to go to the restroom, so he passed Jimin over to Jeongguk instead. Jimin went without complaint, eyes never even leaving the screen as he clambered over Jeongguk's torso, laying himself down flat, their bellies touching as Jimin koala'ed against him, head turned so that he could still see the screen.
And then Jimin fell asleep like that, laid completely flat on Jeongguk, trusting the witch enough to shut his eyes and dream on top of him. Jeongguk ran a gentle hand up and down Jimin's back as the toddler's breathing evened out. His dead weight was sure to make Jeongguk uncomfortable soon, as well as the puddle of drool that was already beginning to pool onto the fabric of his shirt, but Jeongguk didn't move. There was this heart, lying right on his chest, completely open and trusting and good, and Jeongguk realized in a darkened living room playing an old Disney movie that he would stop at nothing to keep that heart safe.
Jeongguk realized, in that little world carved out within Seokjin's apartment, that there were so many different types of love. And he'd just been lucky enough to discover another one, wrapped up in a tiny, four year old body.
When Jeongguk made his way over to Seokjin's that evening, having kissed his plants goodnight in case he stayed over late watching movies or talking the way he often did, he immediately knew something was wrong. Seokjin was being shiftier than usual, avoiding eye contact and not even saying anything when Jimin broke into the snack cabinet and ate two packets of corn chips before dinner.
Jeongguk hoisted Jimin onto his hip, snatching away the third packet and giving the kid a scolding tap on the nose (he was weak, okay, sue him). Following Seokjin into the kitchen, Jeongguk hovered awkwardly underneath the charm that he'd given Seokjin a few weeks ago.
"Is everything okay, hyung?" he asked, reaching down to squeeze one of Jimin's socked feet in his hand. He liked the little pudgy limb, and he also liked the way it made Jimin giggle every time he did it.
"Everything's fine," Seokjin said, voice purposely lighthearted. He still didn't look at Jeongguk as he stood at the cutting board, expertly julienning some carrots. "You and Jimin probably have time to do a session before dinner."
Jeongguk shifted on his feet. "It's just...you seem a little bit..."
"Jeongguk," Seokjin's voice sharpened. "I said I'm fine."
Almost immediately after he said it, Seokjin's face twisted in guilt, and he put the knife down, turning to face them. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap."
"You're clearly not fine, hyung," Jeongguk said, voice almost a whisper. "What happened?"
Seokjin only allowed his expression to crumple for a split second before he was fixing it, masking it with one that was emotionless and cold.
"Nothing out of the ordinary," he responded. "Jimin and I just went to grab the mail and take out the trash earlier, and...we just passed by a group of not-so-nice witches outside of the building. It wasn't...it wasn't a big deal."
"I hate it when you say that," Jeongguk said, tone gentle despite his words. "It is a big deal, hyung. Anything that hurts you is a big deal to me."
"I don't know why I let it hurt me, still," Seokjin said desperately, picking up the knife and beginning to chop again. "I should be used to it. I am used to it. So why does it still..."
"Of course it hurts, hyung," Jeongguk moved over to him, setting Jimin down and standing close, settling his arms around Seokjin's waist. Jimin seemed a bit confused at what was happening, but could sense the somber tone the two adults were using, and wrapped his arms around both their legs. "Being treated like that...it's not something that you can just ignore. It cuts deeper every time."
Seokjin's body shuddered, but he didn't let himself cry. He didn't respond, stubbornly continuing to cut and trying to remain unaffected.
"I don't like seeing you this way," Jeongguk whispered. "I don't like that you're treated this way."
"There's nothing you can do, Jeongguk," Seokjin said, voice quiet and defeated. "It's just the way things are. You know that."
"...What if there was something I could do?"
Seokjin hesitated. "What do you mean?"
Jimin seemed to get bored of their conversation, scampering off towards the living room where his toys were strewn about.
"You know how every witch has their own aura? One that others can feel?" Jeongguk began.
"I think it's different for humans – what you feel of it. To you, it's just...a presence, right?"
Seokjin nodded warily. "I can feel it in the sense that I know when somebody next to me is magic. I assume that it's their aura that I'm feeling. But that's about it."
"To witches, that aura is a lot more complex. We can tell what kind of magic the other has through their aura, how strong their magic is. Sometimes if emotions are strong enough, we can even empathize with them through their aura."
"Okay," Seokjin absorbed the information, brows still scrunched in confusion. Jeongguk reached up and smoothed the crease with his thumb.
"We can also tell, through a witch's aura, if they're taken or not."
Seokjin blinked. "What?"
"When two witches are together, and they're ready to commit to each other, they merge auras. Their individual auras then become mixed, you see, like two souls meshing and then latching onto both bodies."
"Like...like if one aura was blue and the other red, if those witches got together their auras would turn purple?"
Jeongguk laughed softly at the analogy. "Yea, that's actually pretty accurate."
"It sounds like a big deal."
"I guess it'd be similar to humans' marriage," Jeongguk said.
Seokjin stared at Jeongguk, huffing out a breath through his nose. "I still don't understand what this has to do with...me."
"Hyung," Jeongguk probed gently. "If I did this with you, since you obviously don't have a magical aura, you would just gain some of mine. Do you understand? Then, whenever you went outside, others would feel my aura and assume that it's yours! Nobody would bother you anymore! Though it would be weaker than a typical aura, I feel like many wouldn't pay enough attention to give it much thought. And if they did, then they'd just realize that you have a witch who cares for you, who wants to protect you, which is true, so I–"
Jeongguk's face dropped. "What?"
"I – I can't let you do that!"
"Why not? I want to, Jin hyung. It – it would protect you! Keep you and Jimin safe!"
"Jeongguk, you just–! You just said that this was like marriage!"
Jimin was suddenly standing in the kitchen doorway, face pulled into a pouty frown. "Shhh! Ducky's sleeping!"
"Sorry, Chim," Seokjin and Jeongguk said at the same time. Jimin accepted their apology with only a suspicious glance, then he was making his way back toward the living room, presumably where he was tucking all his stuffed animals in for a quick nap.
"It doesn't matter what I said, hyung," Jeongguk urged. "It's the perfect solution! You would be able to go out without getting harassed, and I wouldn't worry all the time about you and Jimin getting hurt!"
Seokjin's face went stony, then, and he lightly shoved at Jeongguk's chest to make the witch step away. Jeongguk went, taking a few steps back, his arms dropping from around Seokjin in defeat.
"Well, I'm sorry that Jimin and I are a cause of constant stress for you," Seokjin said icily. "And I'm sorry that you think that I'm so pitiful and weak that you'd – you'd fake a witch's marriage with me just to make yourself feel better."
Jeongguk's face fell. "That's not what I meant, hyung. I don't think you're pitiful, I just–"
"That's what it sounded like," Seokjin interrupted him. His face and tone were colder than Jeongguk's ever seen, and it frustrated him. He tried to breathe through his emotions, the way Namjoon had taught him when he was younger and more volatile, but it was difficult. Why couldn't Seokjin just see that Jeongguk cared? That he wanted to do this because the the thought of Seokjin or Jimin getting hurt was something that Jeongguk couldn't live with? That every single waking moment he thought about them, wondering if they'd eaten, if they were warm enough, if they were happy?
"Hyung," Jeongguk pleaded, stepping forward. "Please just listen."
"My answer is no, Jeongguk."
And Jeongguk had so many words he wanted to say, so many that might make all the difference. But Seokjin was already turning back around, effectively putting an end to the conversation, and Jeongguk was suddenly just – tired. So he spun on his heel and made for the front door.
"Gu hyung?" Jimin's little voice came from the couch. Jeongguk veered toward him at the last second, leaning down to press a firm kiss to the top of the toddler's head.
"Good night, Jiminie. Hyung's going home for tonight."
Jimin peered up at him, bottom lip sticking out. "Gu hyung didn't play with me."
"I'm sorry, baby," Jeongguk whispered, running a hand over Jimin's cheek. "We'll play soon, okay? I promise."
Without waiting for a response, Jeongguk made his way back to his apartment, kicking the door shut behind him. His legs automatically took him over to his work station, and he collapsed into a stool, slumping over the desk. His eyes immediately went to the pot holding his midnight flowers, which he'd moved out from his room because they weren't blooming in there, no matter how hard he tried to get them to open up to him. Resting his head on one arm, he reached out with the other and silently brought the pot closer to his face. There was currently only two buds left, but Jeongguk knew it wouldn't bloom tonight, not with the way the leaves were beginning to curl in yellow at the edges. Frustrated, Jeongguk slammed his hand down on the table, having to restrain himself from shoving the entire pot off of the table altogether. Anger burned in his veins, quick and poisonous, and he hated it when he got like this. Hated it when his emotions got the better of him, when he felt like he was suffocating within his own body.
"Why won't you just work with me?" Jeongguk asked the flower, which had yet to speak a single word to him. "I'm trying so hard. I'm trying..."
Jeongguk didn't realize he was crying until the sleeve underneath his cheek grew wet. He'd never been one for confrontation, always shying away from arguments or even just firm words. But he felt like things had gotten so mixed up between him and Seokjin, felt as if the other didn't know how much Jeongguk simply wanted to be there for him.
Before he could think about it too long and leave himself to wallow in self pity for the rest of the night, Jeongguk fished his phone out from his pocket and dialed a number, holding it up to his ear.
"Hyung," Jeongguk said quietly, voice cracking as he wiped his wet eyes with his damp sleeve. "Hyung, I...I think I'm in love."
Silence on the other end, and then a low crooning noise, one that Yoongi only ever made when one of them was especially upset.
"Why are you crying about it, Jeonggukie? That shouldn't be something to cry over."
"Because," Jeongguk sobbed out. "Because I don't think he'll ever love me back."
While Jeongguk's eyes were squeezed shut, being roughly rubbed dry from the cotton of his shirt, one of the midnight flower's buds browned, curled inward and fell.
The next day, Seokjin woke up to his bed floating again. Though this had been happening far less frequently ever since Jeongguk and Jimin had started their management sessions, it was now strangely a Thing that he'd more or less gotten used to. Thankfully, this time it was floating low enough for him to safely jump off, and the moment he was on the ground the bed floated down, too.
Dinner last night had been quiet once Jeongguk left. Seokjin had laid awake for half the night, shame making it hard for him to shut his eyes. Firstly for reacting the way he did – despite the absurdity of Jeongguk's idea, Seokjin regretted being so cold towards him. The memory of the look on Jeongguk's face made guilt pierce through his gut, and every time he thought about it for too long he felt like he couldn't breathe. But there was the embarrassment, too, with the newfound knowledge that Jeongguk pitied him. And, maybe deep down he'd known that, but what Jeongguk had suggested last night just showed it.
Despite their occasional flirty touches, the long hugs and lingering stares, Seokjin was sure that Jeongguk didn't see him like that. Like someone worth marrying. Jeongguk didn't want to give him part of his aura because he loved Seokjin, he simply wanted to do it because he felt bad for Seokjin.
And where would that leave them once Jeongguk found somebody who he actually cared for, who he really wanted to marry? It would hurt, if Seokjin was able to feel that protection, that safety, that mimicry of love, only to have it taken away. It would hurt, to get that beautiful piece of Jeongguk, knowing that it wasn't going to be his forever.
Later, when Seokjin was helping Jimin get dressed for the day, Jimin's head popped up from the hole of his sweater before he was peering sweetly up at Seokjin.
"When're you and Gu hyung gon' get married?"
Seokjin whirled towards Jimin, the socks previously in his hands dropping to the floor.
"What? Did – did Jeongguk say something to you last night before he left?"
Jimin tipped his head to the side in confusion, a habit he picked up from Jeongguk. "Gu hyung said night-night. Then he went home. Chim thinks Gu hyung was sleepy, maybe."
Squatting down so he could be eye level with his son, Seokjin brought a hand out, beckoning Jimin to come closer. "Why would you think Jeongguk and I are gonna get married, Jimin?"
Jimin's brows squeezed together in confusion as he grabbed onto Seokjin's hand and held it with both of his. "'Cause...'cause that's what adults do. When adults love each other...they get married. Chim sees it in...in all the shows on TV."
Seokjin stared at Jimin. Jimin seemed aggravated by the lingering silence, because he reached over to fiddle with Ducky, pulling his stuffed animal into his arms and squeezing it to his chest. "And Appa hugs Gu hyung like Appa hugs Chim. Appa feeds Gu hyung like Appa feeds Chim. And Appa loves Chim, so...so Appa loves Gu hyung too!"
Jimin stared up at him with shining eyes, Ducky pressed to his chest.
When Seokjin was in elementary school, one of his teachers had told him to look up at the sky every now and again. She'd told him that the sky got lonely, up there, with nobody to speak to. It was such a constant and steady presence in everybody's life that nobody paid it any mind, knowing that it would always be above them, from the day they were born until the day they died. But sometimes, that consistency made them blind. It caused them to miss purple-pink skies, clouds shaped like miracles, new stars blinking into existence.
Since Jeongguk had become a constant in their lives, Seokjin had stopped looking up. Perhaps part of him had been afraid to, but a bigger part of him had just been so comfortable with the hesitant, safe relationship they had that he hadn't searched for anything more.
And Seokjin wondered when it changed.
When he had gone from, I have my entire life ahead of me to I am too afraid, too old, too stuck to even allow myself to want for more.
Having Jimin helped – let him rise from the ashes of monotonous, cloudy adulthood and be reborn. Seokjin learned how to laugh again, how to find awe in things such as shadows and sidewalk cracks and funnily-shaped tree trunks.
And now, again, he hadn't seen what his own son had seen.
Seokjin hadn't taken the time to realize that he was in love.
"Jimin-ah," he breathed out, yanking Jimin into his arms and giving him a tight hug. "You're the smartest person I know, do you know that?"
Jimin pulled back and nodded solemnly, patting at Seokjin's cheek with a sticky hand. "What would Appa do without Chim?"
Pressing his lips to Jimin's forehead, Seokjin huffed out a laugh. "I'd be lost without you, baby. I'd be completely and utterly lost."
Setting Jimin up in the living room with the TV on and a few snacks on the table, Seokjin moved before he could think better of it. He didn't even bother putting on real shoes as he opened his front door, clad in pink house slippers and his oldest frayed sweater. He left the door open so he could hear if Jimin needed anything, surging towards Jeongguk's unit with urgency.
His heart was pounding, because there were a million words, a million feelings that Seokjin had been repressing that wanted to come out, now, right at this very moment, and he felt as if he would combust if he didn't say them to Jeongguk within the next 10 seconds, he needed Jeongguk to know how he felt, he needed–
Jeongguk's door flew open and, as if spurred on by the same flame as Seokjin, he rushed out of his apartment, his own door slamming shut behind him. They both paused in surprise at the sight of each other, and then they were meeting in the middle, right in the hallway that connected their two homes, their two hearts, and when Seokjin grabbed Jeongguk's face in his hands and leaned in, stopping an inch away from the witch's soft lips, it was Jeongguk who breathed out, "Finally" and closed the distance.
"I'm an idiot," Seokjin got out in-between frantic kisses, Jeongguk's hands wrapping around his waist and tugging him in closer, squeezing him as if he thought the human would float away and disappear if he didn't hold on tight enough. Seokjin pulled back, panting, "I've been pushing you away this whole time, and–"
Jeongguk cut him off with another kiss, his thumbs rubbing gentle circles into the warmth of Seokjin's stomach. It was addicting, the feel of their mouths moving on each other, the drag of their lips making something in Seokjin's gut burn.
"You've nothing to be sorry for," Jeongguk said, ending the kiss only to plant one on Seokjin's jaw. "We both could have been a little bit more communicative. I shouldn't have left like that last night."
"I shouldn't have snapped at you last night," Seokjin retaliated, voice guilty. Jeongguk's head was dipped low, now, and Seokjin felt teeth gently nip into the skin of his neck. He shivered, breath coming out shaky. "It just...hurt. Thinking that you were offering me part of your aura because you felt bad for me, and not because you..."
"Because I care about you."
"Yea," Seokjin whispered, swallowing down the sudden lump in his throat. "I wanted you to care."
"I do, I do," Jeongguk responded, voice urgent. "I offered because I can't bear the thought of you or Jimin getting hurt. I offered because you're important to me. More important to me than anyone."
"I think I see that now," Seokjin said, voice aching. "I've been blind this whole time, Jeongguk. I can't believe how blind I've been."
"It's okay. I understand why you have your reservations, hyung. The way other witches treat you is...scarring."
"Still, I regret how I was to you last night."
"I shouldn't have pushed."
"Are we going to go back and forth all day?"
Jeongguk's teeth bit down one more time on Seokjin's neck, his tongue immediately soothing over the irritated skin after, chuckling as Seokjin jumped. "If you'd like to."
But the witch straightened to look Seokjin in the eye, and when they caught gazes, his brown eyes turned warm. Jeongguk brought a hand up to cup Seokjin's cheek, tender. He opened his mouth, as if to say something, but then–
"Chim's hungry, Chim's very hungry!" a voice interrupted them. Seokjin, ever-easy to startle, flinched violently in Jeongguk's arms. Jeongguk looked over Seokjin's shoulder to find Jimin sticking his head out of their open apartment door, staring at them both. "Chim wants to eat now, please!"
Jeongguk tossed his head back and laughed.
"Why cuddling without Chim? S'not fair."
Jimin pattered over to them, the couch's throw blanket wrapped around his shoulders. His bare feet smacked against the ground as he ran, and Jeongguk scooped him up seconds before he could crash into their legs. Pressing a kiss into Jimin's chubby, rosy cheek, Jeongguk beamed at the little witch. Seokjin pulled them both in, the three of them taking a moment to just be close.
And outside, the sky continued to shine, the bravest thing it's ever done.
When it happened, Seokjin's first thought was that it was only a matter of time.
It was only a matter of time, for ignorance to turn to disgust.
For disgust to stem into hatred.
For hatred to bleed into violence.
It was only a matter of time, for ugly slurs to turn into hands that grabbed and grabbed and did not let go. Jeongguk was tending to a particularly troublesome shipment of primroses that evening (Seokjin learned that they were little perfectionists – if they found that their blooms would not be flawless, they often refused to bloom at all) so Seokjin had taken Jimin out to the park so he could run off some of his energy. Jimin was getting better and better at wielding his magic, and Seokjin was in the middle of clapping as Jimin made a small pile of wood chips float when someone was grabbing him, hard.
The hand that clamped around his shoulder was unyielding and strong and he stumbled back as he was shoved so hard he lost his balance. But there was a park bench right below him, so his ass met metal and then there was a witch in his face, snarling. Seokjin moved to stand, wanting to take himself out of the defenseless position, but then there were hands clamped around his arms, rough and painful. But it was more than just the harsh grip that was hurting.
Though it was illegal to use offensive magic on others, especially on a more physically-fragile human, Seokjin could feel the witch's magic zapping along his skin, tiny shoots of electricity. He cried out in pain but through gritted teeth, something stupid and prideful within him not wanting to make a scene, despite the fear pouring heavy like concrete through his veins.
"Appa?" Jimin's voice was coming closer, meaning he was coming towards them. Coming towards this witch that was full of hatred and violence and pain–
"Jimin, stay there," Seokjin gritted out, tone sharper than how he usually spoke to his son. His sentence ended on a gasp as an especially painful zap of magic had him physically jerking on the bench. His heart was pounding fast and frantic, and he didn't know if it was from the pain or the fear.
And he was an idiot, he was the biggest idiot to ever walk this dumb earth, because he should have just accepted Jeongguk's offer to take some of his aura, because it might have prevented this, might have kept that fear from bleeding into Jimin's voice as he called for Seokjin. But even after they'd kissed in the hallway the week before, Seokjin had still wanted to wait a bit, before Jeongguk performed the spell. He felt as if they were moving so fast, especially since Jeongguk had likened it to a marriage, and a small part of Seokjin had just yearned for them to get to date and take things slow like normal couples.
"You don't belong here," the witch said. His voice was almost emotionless as he ran his magic along Seokjin's body, knowing it was hurting him. Intending to hurt him. "You and your half-breed son."
And Seokjin was tired of it. He was done sitting back and letting what felt like the entire world disrespect him. Disrespect Jimin. Seokjin wanted to hold the earth in his hands and crush it like a clementine, wanted to do something that would rattle, that would make everybody see just how angry he was.
"Fuck. Off," Seokjin spat, finding the strength to move his arms and shove the witch away from him, despite the witch's magic still coursing through him in painful waves. "Where my son and I reside is none of your damn business."
"It is if it means that humans start to get the idea that they're welcome here," the witch pushed him back, his magic intensifying. "It is if it means that one day my own kids would have to grow up surrounded by nomags like you, or your abomination of a kid."
"My child," Seokjin hissed. "Will be ten times the man you are. A hundred times, even. You are filled with nothing but idiocy and blind hatred. You're a sheep who thinks himself a god damn wolf, you fuc–"
The witch roared in anger, his face going so red that it matched his hair. Seokjin's scream was sounded out by the witch's noise as the pain coursing through him intensified and his knees buckled. Then, something flew right at the witch's head, colliding with a sharp smack. The pain abruptly stopped, so sudden that it left Seokjin dizzy. He gaped as the soccer ball that had hit the man didn't fall to the ground as the witch staggered away, shouting in pain. Instead, it was hurtling towards the witch again with a vengeance.
Whipping his head to the side, Seokjin found Jimin standing there, his little face twisted in pure fury.
"Get away from my Appa!" Jimin screamed, his voice high and shaking and angry. His eyes were blazing, the amber one flaring to an orange so bright that it looked like a trapped flame. Though Seokjin was human, even he could tell that Jimin's magic was brimming just underneath the surface, ready to completely combust.
Seokjin realized two things.
First, that in an emotional fit of rage, Jimin had somehow managed to gain enough control over his magic to telekinetically move the soccer ball from the field dozens of feet away and slam it into the witch's head. Repeatedly. Before this, Jimin had struggled even moving objects that were within reaching distance.
Second – that he'd said what he'd had to say. It was time for them to run.
So he wasted no time, simply stood despite the residual shocks of pain still pumping through his body, scooped Jimin up like a football, and booked it. He ran harder than he had in his life, no doubt looking like a lunatic to everyone he passed, so scared that the witch would be hot on his heels. Seokjin circled, made strange twists and turns, afraid to lead the witch to their home on the off chance that he was silently following them. Jimin was muttering to himself, or maybe to Seokjin, angry little words that he was pressing into the skin of Seokjin's neck as he squeezed himself there, his arms so tight around his father's neck that it was hard to gasp for air through the grip.
Once he was in their building, he didn't have the patience to wait for the elevator. He ran up all the flights of stairs, still clutching Jimin as if he would disappear at any moment. Seokjin didn't stop until his apartment door was slammed shut behind them and he heard the mechanical tone that let them know the door was locked.
Before he was aware of what he was doing, Seokjin fished his phone out of his pocket with a shaking hand, and pressed down on Jeongguk's contact, still gasping for breath.
The sound of Jeongguk's familiar, bright voice brought forth a relief so stark that Seokjin felt his throat get tight.
"Kook-ah," Seokjin said, voice wavering. "Are you home?"
"What's the matter? What happened?" there was rustling on the other end, a bell and then the sudden sound of traffic, as if Jeongguk had just stepped out of a coffeeshop.
"Nothing," Seokjin answered as a reflex, but then he corrected himself. "Just. Someone just came up to Jimin and I, and he was...less than kind. But we're fine. We're home now."
There was a few beats of silence, and Seokjin's brows furrowed, wondering if he had cut out.
"I'm coming," Jeongguk finally said, voice dark. "Don't go anywhere, I'm coming, hyung."
"Okay," Seokjin agreed, his voice a whisper. Hanging up, Seokjin occupied himself in the kitchen, pouring water for himself and then getting Jimin's cup and pouring him his favorite juice. His hands didn't stop shaking, no matter how hard he clenched them, digging his nails into the meat of his palms.
Time passed. The ringing in Seokjin's ears faded, as did some of the initial panic and adrenaline. He couldn't stop shivering, and even though Jimin was wriggling Seokjin didn't set him down. He just spent the time sipping his water with one hand, trying to even out his breathing.
Then, there was a knock on the door and Seokjin was opening it and stepping back, and Jeongguk came charging in like a wild thing, eyes hard with anger. The expression on his face made him look older, and it made something ugly twist in Seokjin's gut. Jeongguk opened his mouth, as if to say something, but his legs were quicker, taking him over to where Seokjin was standing, Jimin still held firmly against his chest.
The toddler made a noise of happiness when he felt Jeongguk's aura, and a split second later the green witch was engulfing both of them in his arms, squeezing them to him tightly. He nosed into Seokjin's hair, one hand running down Seokjin's side, the other moving to Jimin, cupping completely around one of his legs.
"We're alright," Seokjin spoke first. He knew, from the way his heart was still pounding, from the way his voice trembled, that Jeongguk wouldn't believe him.
"You should have called me right away," Jeongguk gritted out, pulling back to look at them. His eyes moved in hurried, frantic lines down their bodies, checking for any harm. Seokjin tried to shift Jimin in his arms, tried to subtly force his sleeves down past his wrists, but the movement just drew Jeongguk's attention even faster. In a second, Jeongguk was taking Jimin into his own arms, the toddler mumbling out a tiny "Gu hyung" and latching his arms tightly around Jeongguk's neck, his legs around his torso. Jeongguk pressed a kiss to Jimin's temple, holding him up with one arm while his other reached for Seokjin again, circling around his left wrist.
"It's nothing," Seokjin tried again, trying to tug away, not liking the line that was forming between Jeongguk's brows, not liking the anger that he could feel vibrating off of the witch in front of him. It made him feel troublesome, like something that had to constantly be watched over, and he wasn't. He wasn't.
When Jeongguk lifted his arm, his loose sleeve fell back, and ugly splotches of red and purple were imprinted into his skin from where the witch had grabbed him.
"Jin hyung," Jeongguk finally said, voice hard.
"Stop it," Seokjin said, voice tired. "Jeongguk, it's okay. We're fine. I just – I don't know. I shouldn't have called you. It's not a big deal, and–"
"It's not a big deal?" Jeongguk repeated, voice incredulous. "You always say that, but – hyung, look at your arm! It's a big deal! And I can feel his magic all over you, he was touching you with it? This isn't okay!"
Then, Seokjin started to laugh. He laughed so hard that he doubled over.
"I screamed at him, Jeongguk," Seokjin got out between his laughter. "Oh my god, I really screamed at him. His magic was hurting me so badly and Jimin was scared and I just exploded. I yelled back. For the first time ever, I finally said what I wanted to say to those entitled pieces of shit that bother me for no good reason. And Jimin – he lifted a soccer ball from feet away and smashed it into the guy's head and–"
His hysterical laughter petered out into tiny sobs. "What is wrong with me."
"Okay," Jeongguk interrupted, voice soft. "Hyung, it's okay. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell. Please breathe."
Tears were streaming down Seokjin's cheeks in steady streams, dripping off his chin as his breath hitched. Embarrassed, he turned his back to Jeongguk, covering his face with his hands. Now that he was aware of it, the emotion, the tears, they came even faster, and his entire body shook with sobs.
"No, hyung. Sweetheart, baby, no, don't cry," Jeongguk stepped forward, wrapping his free arm around Seokjin, squeezing him in as tight as he could. Seokjin was shuffled back into Jeongguk's chest, and he could feel the witch curving his shoulders over, as if to block Seokjin out from the rest of the world. Seokjin was broader than Jeongguk, and around the same height, so he let out a wet laugh at the thought of Jeongguk trying to squeeze him into a little ball to try and shield him.
"Appa?" Jimin sounded confused and teary, and Seokjin felt his arms wrap around his neck. His pudgy fingers came around on top of Seokjin's, and when he took them away from his face, Jimin began clumsily wiping at his tears. "Appa sad?"
And he'd never been able to lie, not to Jimin, so Seokjin let out another embarrassed, teary laugh. "A little," he confessed, voice cracking. "Appa's a little sad."
Jeongguk pressed his lips to Seokjin's head and kept them there, beginning to rock all three of them from side to side. It was uncomfortable, standing like this, with Jeongguk pressing into him, all warmth and muscle and care, and Jimin squashed awkwardly in-between them, but it was exactly what Seokjin had needed.
"I'm proud of you, for fighting back," Jeongguk said quietly. "I'm proud of both of you."
In the silence after his words, all Seokjin could do in response was cry, relieved and overwhelmed and triumphant all at once.
"I've got you," Jeongguk said, and then he repeated it, again and again. "I've got you, I've got you both."
They let the sun set, like that. Outside the windows the world spun on, a relentless, unforgiving thing. But inside the safety of Seokjin's apartment, they were still, unmoving. The very center of a ripple.
Later that night, after they'd eaten dinner and Jeongguk had helped give Jimin a bath and tucked him into bed with Ducky, Jeongguk asked if he could stay over. Seokjin said yes a little too quickly, the thought of falling asleep alone in his room even more unpleasant than usual. The two of them laid on their sides in Seokjin's bed, facing each other. Jeongguk's hand rested on Seokjin's cheek, his thumb stroking at the soft skin underneath Seokjin's eye. When he blinked, he could feel his lashes catch the tip of Jeongguk's thumb in tiny butterfly kisses. Seokjin wondered if it was greedy of him, to want to lay like this every night. Was it too much, to want to shuffle into the warmth of Jeongguk's chest when the nights got cold? If he burrowed underneath Jeongguk's skin and they pressed together like rose petals, would something fragrant bloom?
"I'm going to deal with it," Jeongguk broke the silence, voice determined.
Seokjin furrowed his brows. "What?"
"His aura. I could feel it on you, when I first came in. I could find him. I will find him. Tomorrow."
"No," Seokjin shook his head, dislodging Jeongguk's hand. "You shouldn't."
"Why shouldn't I? He hurt you, Jin hyung, he scared you and Jimin. I – when I heard your voice on the phone, when I came into your apartment today...I never want to see that look on your face again. You wouldn't stop shaking, hyung."
Jeongguk tugged him closer, tattooed arm around Seokjin's waist, his voice growing louder and more vehement the more he spoke.
"It's just the way things are, Jeongguk," Seokjin sighed. "A lot of witches will just never accept a human into their fold."
"It doesn't have to be like that, though!" Jeongguk urged. "We can – we can–"
"We can what, Guk?" Seokjin sounded tired, small. "Change the world?"
Jeongguk paused, then, at the defeat in Seokjin's voice.
"Well, why can't we?" he demanded. "Change has to start somewhere. Why can't it start with us?"
Jeongguk wanted to sound determined, angry, but there was a hint of petulance in his voice, because suddenly Seokjin laughed.
"I'm being serious!" Jeongguk defended himself, though his lips tugged up at the corners at the sound of Seokjin's happiness.
"Jeongguk-ah," Seokjin's voice was so, so fond, and Jeongguk wanted to swallow it, that warmth in his hyung's eyes, wanted it to flower in his stomach like something well-cherished. "You're something else."
The words were reminiscent of the words that he'd said, all those months ago, when Jeongguk had first began helping Jimin with his Phasing. Back then, Jeongguk had to swallow down all his questions, all his curiosities about why a human was living in the witch's sector, or why he was raising a witch toddler alone. Now, now, Jeongguk didn't hold back, didn't bite his tongue, just opened his mouth and said, "Hyung. All I want to be is yours."
Seokjin stared at him. The apartment was quiet, calm in the peace of the night. And in the middle of it, the two of them laid rooted together, and all Seokjin could think about was how Jeongguk came running. He came running after the phone call, dropped everything he was doing just to make sure Seokjin and Jimin were okay.
And after so long of holding back, after months of biting his tongue in fear of saying the wrong thing, or of exposing pieces of himself that he'd wanted to keep hidden – Seokjin stopped curbing his desires. He let himself want, and yearn, so badly that he ached with it. Because the feeling that's been steadily building within his chest like overgrown roses wasn't fear. No, it wasn't fear at all.
"Jeongguk-ah," Seokjin said.
Jeongguk was shifting nervously beside him, eyes huge. Seokjin thought that he could see the sky within them. He shifted forward, rising onto his knees, leaning down so that he could reach out and take Jeongguk's face in-between his palms. Seokjin brought their foreheads together, a smile pulling at his lips. In that moment, he felt like he was sprinting straight towards ocean waves, running right into the sun, going forward and forward into something so much bigger than he was.
And he was all too happy to be consumed.
"Jeongguk-ah. Will you share your aura with me?"
And Seokjin had a front-row seat as Jeongguk's face brightened with realization, got to feel the witch's awed exhale, got to laugh as Jeongguk's hands shot out and wrapped around his waist and hauled him into his lap, closing the distance between them and pressing their lips together. They couldn't kiss properly through their smiles, through their laughter, but it didn't matter to them. Nothing mattered but this feeling that had been growing and growing that was finally seeing light.
"All I want is to be yours, too," Seokjin confessed against Jeongguk's lips. The younger swallowed the words down with a groan, arms wrapped tight around Seokjin's waist. "I love you. I love you."
"I've loved you from the start," Jeongguk whispered, eyes so open and honest, as they always were. "You and Jimin. I loved you both from the beginning. I never stopped."
Seokjin managed a teasing smile, though it was ruined by the flush that spread across his cheeks all the way to the tips of his ears. "My face has that effect on people."
Jeongguk let his head tip back as he laughed, his adam's apple bobbing. Seokjin let out a tiny huff of amusement as his own expense, but tipped forward and allowed himself to lightly kiss at the skin of Jeongguk's throat. He let himself press closer, let himself have this. Let himself toss his fears to the curb and bottle up joy, instead.
Next to them, something shattered loudly. Seokjin let out a yelp, limbs flailing with surprise. Jeongguk tensed, dragging Seokjin that much closer, whipping his head toward the noise to see what it was.
As it turns out, Jeongguk's magic had been so alive and joyous and everywhere that Seokjin's plants grew to two times their size, and the roots of the dracaena in the corner of Seokjin's bedroom had gotten so large that they'd burst out of their pot.
Turning back to Seokjin with a grin, Jeongguk couldn't help but surge forward and kiss him again, their front teeth clacking with his enthusiasm.
"I think your plants finally like me, now."
There is a world that runs parallel to ours. Sometimes, when the stars align, when springtime comes at just the right moment, when something beautiful and impossible sees light, this world that is made up of unspoken words and hesitation and should've-beens loses a piece of itself. And as it waves that piece away, it cries, all too happy to let it go.
That night, at exactly midnight, a flower bloomed.
In silent worlds, sometimes there is nothing braver than simply stepping forward, and tipping your face up to catch the sky.