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Under the Willow Tree

Chapter Text

One moment, he's being dragged across the floor by his foot.

The next, he's running.

Jungkook is not too sure how it's come to this, or how it hasn't happened sooner, but he's about to leave his master's territory for the first time in… perhaps ever. He doesn't know. He doesn't know what year it is. A lot of time might have passed or maybe none at all.

And now he's running.

Jungkook doesn't know how time works, that's the thing, and maybe it's odd, but he only knows that not even magic can make it stop and that every day would eventually fade into night and night into day and so on and on and on– Jungkook would watch the shades of orange and red paint the walls of his tiny room as the sun slowly disappears behind the forest's silhouette and his heart would ache with an unbearable longing for something that he could never put his finger on.

And now he's running.

It always looked like the sun was burning whenever it descended to welcome the dark; Jungkook has never stopped thinking about it as the most beautiful moment of every day. But sometimes, he would feel sad and wish to burn with it. Other times, he would feel angry and imagine the mansion burning with everyone inside while he's watching from somewhere far away and safe.

Jungkook wonders where somewhere safe might be – if it really exists. Maybe that's where he's running to? He would like to think so. The only thing that hasn't been taken from him yet is his wishful thinking, after all, so that's what he does. So that's why he's running.

The sun's nowhere to be seen now. The sky is black and it's dark and cold underneath. Was the night supposed to feel cold? Jungkook doesn't know. He's never been outside (he thinks) and his magic usually feels so boiling hot underneath his skin that he's never had to deal with the cold (he thinks...). It's a rather strange sensation that he can't say he really likes, and it kind of stings, but at least he's not feeling so stuffy and suffocated anymore; like he's about to burst at any moment.

Jungkook is nearing the bordering forest that he's always been told to stay away from and has only ever seen from his window. His magic is prickling under his skin the closer he gets– but maybe that's just his scraped skin that's burning. His clothes are torn and have been left behind and his fur is covered in dirt, his wounds probably infected.

There's no turning back though.

The moment he disobeyed and denied him, the moment he dared fighting back for once and for real, Jungkook's fate was sealed and he was left with only two options: face the consequences, or get the hell out of there. He knew that he might not survive the consequences this time, so he ran; shapeshifted into his much smaller form to slip out of his master's clutches and escape on nimble paws. Jungkook knows the mansion like the back of his hand from his secret nightly explorations, knows every nook and cranny of it, and he had lost the pack of domesticated hellhounds in seconds, sent after him to bring him back, either whole or in pieces.

Jungkook used to pet and cuddle the giant dogs, had known them ever since they were little pups, but one order of their master and it was as if none of that had ever mattered. If he hadn't been so high on adrenaline and literally running for his life, maybe he would have taken a moment to feel betrayed.

The forest is right in front of him now, trees looming big and intimidating, looking like an army of guards. There are strange plants and flowers to his left and right that Jungkook has never seen before and would normally be too curious to just pass by like this, but his hazy mind is fully focused on making his way through the tall grass without stumbling. He doesn't think he's being followed anymore, but he can't risk being wrong. He can't go back anymore.

Jungkook keeps his pace, even when he crosses the border and is immediately greeted by an unnatural silence that almost feels like a warning to stop, to turn around and leave and stay away – and it suddenly dawns on Jungkook that, maybe, he was never meant to survive this night from the very beginning.

Jungkook has heard the horror stories about the forest; has heard the resident hobgoblins whisper between themselves when he wandered through the mansion at night, quietly screeching at each other about shredded flesh and shattered bones and torn off limbs, about creatures being devoured whole and suffering the cruellest of deaths while being eaten alive, other less fortunate souls dammed to walk endlessly upon being caught in an evil spell, lost forever and never seen again.

The mansion's library and its books on creatures, beasts and magic only confirmed how dangerous enchanted forests can be at night, showing him picture after picture of vile beings with sharp teeth and empty eyes. So yes, he should be terrified. He should want to turn around and run as far as he can. But Jungkook knows how it feels to lose a limb or two, or have all of his bones broken– one after the other. To him, the forest in front of him seems much less terrifying than the mansion behind him.

He shudders at the memories and runs faster.

It's not like Jungkook wants to be eaten alive by a malevolent beast or get cursed by an evil spirit. It's just that he got no other choice right now.

As far as he can remember, it's always been like that though. Nobody ever asked him what he wants, much less what he doesn't want. Jungkook has never had a say in anything, not his wants or needs or rights, and that's just how it is. That's just how life's supposed to be when you're born an imp, it seemed like, and Jungkook never questioned it. It's probably the same everywhere. Master has said it many times before; nobody would care about the likes of him.

Imps are weak creatures and considered lesser beings; Jungkook has read it in the books, again and again, hoping the letters might have changed since last time. They never did. Imps can't do much more than follow orders, conjure and manipulate a bit of fire, or cause mischief. It always puzzled Jungkook because he's never really liked causing trouble of any kind. He doesn't exactly act like an imp, nor does he look like one; that much, he's been told. But he wouldn't know. Jungkook has never met anyone of his own kind.

One thing, however, that all imps have in common, even a not so impish imp like Jungkook, is their resilience. Imps can't be killed that easily, at least not with ordinary weapons. Only with magic.

His master had absolutely loved that about him because it meant he didn't need to hold back. It meant he didn't have to get a new servant because he's been too rough with his current one. It meant he couldn't kill him accidentally but still get rid off him if he really wanted to.

It meant absolute control over someone else's life. A sadist's wildest dream come true.

Jungkook feels nauseous just remembering.

You see, resilience doesn't mean invincibility. It doesn't mean no damage or pain. It doesn't mean not being delirious from blood loss. It doesn't mean not feeling your skin and flesh ripping apart. It doesn't mean not hearing the crunch of your bones being crushed or the ringing in your ears from your own ear-splitting screams, and it doesn't mean– it doesn't mean…

Oh, his mind is getting fuzzy.

It doesn't mean he doesn't hurt. He can't suppress pain like jinn might and he can't put protection spells like most old spirits. Unfortunately, that's exactly what his master had loved about him; the fear, the pain, the pleas and the crying. That he's tough enough to survive but fragile enough to be broken and broken and broken–

His vision is getting kind of blurry.

He had loved that about him…

And then, suddenly, that wasn't enough anymore and now he's running. Because that man wants him dead– wants him to stay dead this time. Permanently. Like, dead dead. So now he's running. Stumbling. Gasping. The world is tilting. The ground is getting closer–

He's falling. Oh.

He's actually falling. Tumbling. Rolling down a hill. There's a disgusting crack and a distressed squeak before everything just kind of stops. When Jungkook opens his eyes again, he's disoriented and his ears are ringing. He might have actually passed out for a moment there.

His head is throbbing and he's dizzy. The trees are spinning, dark shapes dancing around him where he's lying on the dirty ground again– where he belongs, his master would have said. On the ground, at his feet. Head down, mouth shut. Cowering, enduring. Only doing as told. Because that's all he's good for.

What other use does a worthless imp like him have anyway?

He's so tired of hearing it.

Maybe– maybe he could just stay here and wait for something to just... put an end to this. Make it stop. All of it. He wouldn't have to be so scared anymore. He wouln't live in constant fear anymore. It wouldn't hurt anymore.

Just...

For a second, Jungkook genuinely thinks that he might do himself a favour if he just died right here. He's starting to absent-mindedly consider it when a spine-chilling cry echoes through the eerily silent forest and startles him out of his stupor. Jungkook doesn't let himself contemplate what just went through his head and concentrates on… whatever it is he just heard.

It sounded like a woman shrieking, and it sounds even more jarring the second time, piercing through Jungkook's ears like sharp glass and he realises, when he hears it a third time, that it's getting closer. Fast.

Jungkook has heard of this, or more like, he read it in one of the books before. Some kind of bird that emits human-sounding shrieks. A warning, or rather an announcement. The last thing a creature hears before they die. An omen of death.

Isn't that what he wanted?

The next cry he hears sounds too close for comfort and when Jungkook looks up, he sees it sitting on a branch above him. An owl-like looking thing with empty black holes instead of eyes, just staring down at him. Watching. Waiting. It tilts its head ninety degrees to the side and shrieks loudly, and Jungkook feels it in his bones – if he stays here, he's going to die.

He's actually going to die.

And then he smells it. A smell so vile, so foul, he feels bile rising up his throat. Like rotting corpses. Like rotting flesh. It's painfully familiar, the smell of death.

This might be it, this is how it ends; the realisation settles heavily in Jungkook's chest. He doesn't actually want to die like this. Alone and scared and with nobody to miss or remember him. He doesn't want to die such a lonely death. What if he comes back to haunt this place? He doesn't want to turn into an evil spirit and be stuck here forever.

Jungkook scrambles up on all fours and it takes all of his strength and willpower to not pass out again. He takes a few steps, swaying dangerously and tripping over roots, and then he's scampering through the dark forest as quick as his wounded body allows him. It's not the first time he's grateful for his high pain tolerance.

Under any other circumstances, Jungkook would have minded getting his soft paws muddy (he's never liked getting his fur dirty), but he's too distracted by the fact that he has no fucking idea where he's going, if he's running from the horrid cries and smell of decay or towards them. He can't tell. The growing panic doesn't help, only makes his head spin faster.

His breath keeps getting stuck in his throat. It feels like something's crushing his heart and lungs. It might be fear. It might be his broken rips. It might be the fact that he's never had a goddamn chance, or choice, and it's not fucking fair. But Jungkook doesn't slow down, the adrenaline coursing through his veins mixing with his restless magic and numbing the pain to a bearable amount.

He just has to– has to keep going. Forwards, forwards, he keeps telling himself. Don't stop and don't look back. Keep going, just keep going, please–

The bird's shriek echoes through the forest and it doesn't take long for the foul smell to follow. It's getting closer.

He won't make it…

A painful sob is making its way up his sore throat, eyes filling with tears when he thinks, that's it. It's over. He's done for. Jungkook is holding his breath and waitng for the blow, ready for sharp claws or teeth to dig into his skin, or something to take him away into the night, when he smells something. Again. But this time it's… sweet.

Jungkook concentrates on sniffing the air, sensitive nose twitching, and yeah– it's faint, but it's there, and sugary sweet. Like candy, or honey. Nothing like the other smell. Unlike anything he ever smelled before, really. He takes another deep breath, lungs filling with the sweet scent, and… maybe Jungkook is losing his mind? He's definitely hit his little head when he fell.

The thought passes his mind fleetingly, but the possibility of this being a trap to lure him right into a beast's open arms doesn't linger. Jungkook simply starts to follow the soft scent.

It feels like he's being gently pulled by something, stumbling after it in a trance-like state, like he's under a spell – and that really should set some alarm bells ringing, but his head is starting to feel foggy, body starting to feel numb. His magic's restlessness and the panic slowly dissipate, leaving him strangely calm.

This might really be a bad bad mistake yet Jungkook can't seem to care. He's actively trying but it's futile, and when he stops to resist, it feels so good, like his mind is being wrapped in soft cotton, all of his concern and fear dissolving into thin air.

There's not only fog inside his head but also right in front of him. It's slowly thickening the longer he follows the sweet scent until he can barely see. It doesn't matter. He doesn't need to see to know the way, so Jungkook just closes his eyes and sniffs the air, lets himself be pulled forwards by an invisible string.

The shrieks are getting quieter, sounding further and further away, and the smell of decay is getting weaker while the pull is only getting stronger, tugging at him almost eagerly. Jungkook feels a spark of warmth burst inside his chest at each tug, and he thinks he can hear something saying, this way, little creature, come here

It's less of an actual voice and sounds more like the soft rustling of leaves. Jungkook has no idea how he understands but he does, feels the words more than he hears them, and they're so welcoming and kind, it makes the unshed tears turn into silent streams.

But that can't be right, part of him thinks; the part that can still think through the fog. How can he be welcomed if there's nobody to welcome him? When there's nothing to be welcomed to? It doesn't make sense.

Do not be afraid, little creature. You're returning home now. There's no reason to be scared

But there's no home to return to, Jungkook wants to say, and plenty of reasons to be scared. But he can't seem to put the words into any proper order, tongue too heavy and mind too hazy. His thoughts keep slipping him, he can't grasp a single one of them.

This way, little creature, this way. Almost there

Jungkook doesn't know where that is but he trusts the gentle voice, even though he probably shouldn't. If he was thinking clearly, he wouldn't. But thinking is hard right now. He'd rather not think at all.

The sweet scent is getting thicker with each of his hurried little steps, the fog inside and outside his head slowly clearing. When he comes back to himself enough to feel his thoughts return, he's standing in front of a giant tree with long hanging branches reaching the ground, making it look like a big leafy dome.

The tree must be very old. Jungkook can see the centuries it has seen pass in its size and powerful presence, overflowing with magic that smells syrupy.

That's what he smelt. No doubt. Was it this tree that called him? Pulled him here? Talked to him? Why? Jungkook didn't even know that trees could communicate like that, or at all. He doesn't know a lot of things though. Maybe this is normal. It might be a normal thing that trees do?

Jungkook hesitates at first, but then he carefully approaches, looks at the tree with big uncertain eyes as if to ask for permission before nudging the curtain-like branches aside with his little head to step inside.

He's not sure what he expected. Another creature, maybe, or an evil spirit in case this had been a trap after all, or for this to be a wild beast's den that he just trespassed. Something like that. But the sight in front of him is nothing like that and much like a drawing straight out of a fairytale.

There's no muddy ground but soft grass underneath his paws, patches of glowing flowers here and there, illuminating the tree in a dim purple light. Swarms of golden moths and other curious little bugs are whizzing around, buzzing and humming gently. And in the middle of it all stands the thick trunk of the tree. Like, Jungkook reckons you'd need a dozen creatures to form a circle around it. He feels tiny standing in front of it.

The tree almost rivals the burning sunsets he loves so much in its beauty.

Jungkook steps closer, cautiously approaching the tree as if still afraid something might jump out and attack him. Nothing happens. He places a paw on the trunk, focusing on the tree's presence – and inhales, slowly exhales. Inhales, exhales. Just breathes for a while.

The tree's presence feels so soothing, so calming. Peaceful. Reassuring. There's no word to perfectly describe the feeling. Jungkook can feel his eyelids getting heavier, exhaustion clinging onto his consciousness and asking him to rest, the tree's leaves rustling in the wind sounding like a sweet lullaby in his ears. He doesn't even notice that there's no wind at all.

It's okay now. You're safe now. Rest, little creature

Jungkook doesn't understand why but he believes it. He tries not to think about the things lurking outside the tree's branches, just presses his little forehead against the tree's rough bark in silent gratitude and closes his eyes. He stays like that for a long moment, allows a few more tears to slip out as he inhales the tree's sweet scent, bathing in its soothing presence. Eventually, he curls up in a tiny ball, back pressed against the trunk and nose nuzzled in his dirty fur.

He really needs a bath, and some food maybe. That would be nice. He's actually quite hungry now that he's able to think more clearly and notice as much, but he's always hungry.

What he really needs is sleep. He will heal faster, the more rest he gets. Jungkook has never felt safe enough to sleep as long and deeply as he needs to while his body puts itself back together again, but would always sleep fitfully, prolonging the whole entire process and his suffering. He would wake up in excruciating pain and pass out, wake up from the pain and pass out from it until his body's too exausted to feel at all and he'd just lie there, feeling a bit more numb and empty than last time – just one step closer to the edge.

Jungkook wonders how many more times he can go through that before there's nothing of him left; how much more he can take before it's too much and he'll fall. But the rustling leaves tell him not to worry anymore.

Jungkook watches the bugs dance in the purple light with half-open eyes and he thinks that, if he wasn't so injured and tired and sad, he would have loved to run around in the grass and chase after them. How fun that would have been...

Maybe in another lifetime, he's luckier and can play as much as he wants.

Just when he's about to drift off, Jungkook thinks he can hear the soft murmur of an actual voice, but he doesn't have the strength to keep his eyes open for much longer. He lets himself believe that he's safe for once, and then he's dreaming of a strange place with strange creatures, of warmth and tears and laughter – and there's that unbearable longing again.

The thing his heart is aching for…

What could it be?

Chapter Text

“Taehyung, darling, are the waffles ready yet?”

Seokjin comes hurriedly around the counter, an impossibly high stack of dirty dishes piled on his tray. It looks dangerously close to collapsing and shattering on the ground, but he seems unthreatened by the bowing stack. The tray itself is balanced on the very tip of his finger, effortlessly, the balance and gravity defying spell doing all the work.

Except, it's still Seokjin who's doing almost all the work around here.

“Not yet,” Taehyung mutters as he patiently waits in front of the hot waffle iron. There is a bored expression on his pretty face, but Seokjin knows that it doesn't necessarily mean that he's bored.

Suffering from something that Seokjin lovingly calls “resting-bitch-face-syndrome”, creatures are easily mistaken and tend to misinterpret his mate's mood. Some think that the frozen facial expressions must be a by-product of his magic, being a winter fairy and all, or that he's one of those haughty fairies who think they're better than everyone else – but it's really just Taehyung being Taehyung, not really caring how he comes across or what others think.

Or maybe caring only a little bit. It's hard to tell sometimes.

Seokjin sighs dramatically, demanding attention. “They got their coffee like ten minutes ago. Tae. Waffles.”

“The waffle iron can't make waffles any faster than this. It's not its fault hyung already served them their drinks,” Taehyung says matter-of-factly, patting the waffle iron as if to soothe it. It is things like this that make Seokjin feel like the fairy loves that damn kitchen appliance more than him.

The waffle iron isn't made out of actual iron, by the way. They've made sure those nineteen years ago when Taehyung joined them – double-checked and triple-checked and quadruple-checked – that nothing inside the café (and their home) was made out of iron to avoid the fairy's pretty skin from getting burnt.

Better safe than sorry.

But Seokjin kind of wants him to be sorry right now, he's not going to lie.

“Should I have waited until they've turned cold? I'm stressed and tired, Tae, it's kind of difficult to control my magic right now, so I can't keep them warm like I normally would in case I'll just fucking burn everything to ashes.” Seokjin remembers to pause and breathe. He needs to calm down or he'll just further agitate his magic.

Seokjin inhales deeply, and exhales slowly. Deep, then slow... and okay, yeah, fuck it. He's had a rough day– a rough couple of days. He has the right to complain.

“Hoseok ran off this morning, just disappeared without further notice again and left me with his shift again, and Namjoon's fucking useless and busy Namjooning or whatever. You know, the usual.” Seokjin sighs exasperatedly, demanding empathy this time. “I'm literally a walking fire hazard right now. Tae, darling, please don't test my patience.”

Seokjin is basically running this business by himself, is what he's doing right now. He has done so before, has had to do as much before, and he doesn't mind it, actually. Normally. But this is getting ridiculous. He's currently running on three hours of sleep only and three bottles of energy potion, balancing trays all day, covering two-third of the café's tables and doing the work of three people while trying to keep his magic under control...

He's about to burn this place down.

Taehyung keeps his cool face, seemingly unimpressed, and as much as Seokjin usually loves his stupidly gorgeous face, it's only making him feel more irritated right now.

“Just tell Yoongi-hyung to wait 'till the waffles are nearly done next time,” the fairy tells earnestly and nods to the other counter where Yoongi is standing with his back turned to them, pressing buttons on the coffee machine with swift hand movements. He must have heard Taehyung, yet he doesn't acknowledge either of them as he continues his work.

“So it's my fault?” Seokjin puts his hand on his hip in a threatening move, ready to argue, when a smaller waiter with pitch-black hair and full cheeks joins them, mimicking the hand-on-hip posture, as if ready to sass back.

“Chill, hyung,” he says distractedly as he writes down his tables' orders. “I know your fiery temperament is partially your magic's fault, but maybe don't attempt to pick fights all the time?”

“I'm not doing that?” Seokjin exclaims as if falsely accused, sparks crackling from the tips of his auburn hair and dissolving into thin smoke.

“Uh-huh.” The other rolls his eyes, running his fingers through his hair. “I didn't want to say anything, but you're having awful mood swings lately. I think you need an anti-stress potion– oh.” His eyes suddenly widen comically. “Oh, hyung, I've got just the right thing for you.” He points a stubby finger at Seokjin as he shuffles backwards towards the kitchen, grinning excitedly. “Wait right there.”

“Jimin, hold on–”

Jimin doesn't hold on but throws the kitchen door wide open as he continues to talk over him.

“I've made this new potion. You see, I've been exchanging recipes with another gnome I met online and she recommended me–“ The kitchen door falls closed behind his back, cutting him off.

“He never fucking listens,” Seokjin grumbles to himself.

“Hyung.” Taehyung slides two plates with waffles over the counter, one plain with just icing sugar, hot cherries and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the other. He holds his hand over the ice cream to cool down the air around it and keep the ice from melting. “Done.”

“Fucking finally,” Seokjin mutters under his breath as he places the stack of dirty plates on the counter to take the waffles instead, and walks off to serve the table in the far back of the small forest café, a faun and a goblin already awaiting him with hungry eyes.

Sometimes, he wishes that they could just let magic do all the work, but food that's made by magic just doesn't taste as nice. There's a reason creatures come here instead of putting spells on flour and eggs and etcetera to turn into pancakes – magic leaves a weird aftertaste to everything. That's why most potions taste… interesting. No matter how much of a genius at potion making Jimin may be, they will always taste a bit like his magic; like dew and earth and nature. Might not sound so bad, but tastes pretty bad since you're not supposed to eat soil.

Which is why Seokjin doesn't want another potion. The ones he had were bad enough and pretty strong, and he's getting the feeling that they might have been expired as well. Jimin warned him about taking his stuff without asking, but did he listen? Anyway, he's got a stomachache coming in one, two, three…

“Ugh…”

This is all Namjoon's fault.

Namjoon might be the official owner of the café and the manager on paper, but it's basically Seokjin who runs the place because Namjoon simply does not know how to… do things; how to deal with suppliers or guests; how to socialise; how to coordinate his limbs properly or control his strength. They all love him dearly, obviously, unconditionally, but he's a bit of a handicap when it comes to business.

Seokjin doesn't want to sound mean, but he means it when he says that Namjoon very much poses a threat in the kitchen, or that he would very likely scare away their guests. Therefore, he's banned from trying to help and only does paperwork that doesn't require any communication skills or fine motor skills back in the small room connected to the kitchen.

It used to be a storage room, but they put a desk with a computer and a chair in it, bought some cute stationary, added some shelves too and filled them with books and files and plants, then put some more plants in every corner, or any free space really (because the absence of nature does make Namjoon anxious), and turned it into a makeshift office that would help make Namjoon feel more involved and useful.

Still doesn't change the fact that Seokjin's left with most of the work though – and then there's also Hoseok who seems to be out to try his patience on top of that.

Hoseok and Namjoon fight so much, it's laughable. Most of the time, it's because of their obvious differences of opinion and them not being able to find common ground. Sometimes, it's due to simple miscommunication. Other times, it's because things have slowly accumulated and Hoseok has had enough and decided to say a few things.

Regardless of the reason, their arguments are always very one-sided – because Namjoon just doesn't get angry. It's not like Hoseok doesn't try though. He does test him, says things that would be likely to provoke him on purpose, but Namjoon never takes the bait.

It's been a decade and they are still arguing over the same things. What always happens afterwards hasn't changed either; Hoseok says some pretty malicious things and then storms off, angered because Namjoon only ever tries to be understanding and keep things as peaceful as possible instead of reacting the way Hoseok wants him to. Namjoon's way too much at peace with the world to get riled up. Seokjin has only ever seen him get angry once and never again ever since.

Namjoon tries to be understanding, he does, but most of the time he doesn't understand at all, and Seokjin has to admit that it can be a little infuriating at times, especially when he tries too hard without even knowing what it is he's trying to understand. Namjoon is an old wise soul with endless knowledge that he loves to share, yet he has trouble communicating and understanding other creatures. They seem like little mysteries to him and, while he might be fascinated with them and eager to learn, he tends to hurt their feelings or offend them without noticing.

He doesn't mean to, it's not on purpose, it's just that he's a bit disconnected from society since he rarely ever leaves the forest. He struggles with new concepts and complex emotions and creatures that talk in riddles – like, for example, elves.

So it's not entirely Hoseok's fault that they always end up fighting. Namjoon doesn't notice the small signs; the way Hoseok's eyes would change and his mouth would twitch when he's starting to feel seriously irritated. They are both at fault.

And Seokjin's stressed because it happened again yesterday; they fought and then left all responsibilities to him when he's already having a rough time.

And he thinks it's fucking annoying that they both always just leave; one to who knows where to do who knows what, and the other to sulk to his tree. Fucking children he's working with. Immature idiots that he fell in love with. And fuck– he does love them to death, but this is unacceptable irresponsible selfish behaviour that he can no longer tolerate. Shouldn't.

And yet he knows he will.

It's his fault too for letting them off easy every time. He's spoiled them.

Seokjin pinches the bridge of his nose between two fingers and lets ripples of magic flow through his fingertips to ease his migraine. “I need a vacation.”

“You need a waffle,” Taehyung mutters, pushing a plate into Seokjin's hands, twirling him around and shoving him towards the kitchen. Seokjn silently complies for once. “It's your lunch break by the way. Don't worry, I'll help serve the guests.”

“That's very sweet of you, but please don't. You can't multitask to save your life. Leave it to Yoongi,” Seokjin quickly responds while stumbling into the kitchen.

Ah yes, the kitchen; Seokjin's natural habitat and actual workplace when he doesn't have to fill in for unreliable waiters that don't care about work or their mates' stress levels. Hoseok should be fucking grateful that Seokjin can suppress pain and doesn't get sick because without him, he's convinced, this place wouldn't operate. They'd still have Yoongi and Jimin, but those two both grew up kind of sheltered and they both aren't the best at dealing with problematic guests – that too is Seokjin's task.

Seokjin rounds the corner and sees Jimin standing on his tiptoes, rummaging in one of the cabinets that he claimed to store the potions he made to sell to their guests. To increase sales, he had said, as if they don't make more than enough with what they had once thought would barely help them get by.

Seems like good food and a rather unique location made the word spread and got many interested, and kept them interested. Their forest café is pretty well-known now after almost two decades of being in business and well-patronised. Creatures all over the country come to visit – courtesy of Taehyung and Namjoon's portals.

“I told you to wait, hyung– geez, I think it's in the far back, I can't reach,” he mutters with a strained voice, stretching and making a long arm for one of the glass bottles in the cabinet, t-shirt riding up and exposing the smooth honey skin that Seokjin loves so much to tease and leave trails of kisses on. Instead, he takes a moment to simply appreciate the sight.

“Sorry, Jimin, sweetheart, but I already took three of your potions today,” the older says and sighs as he places a hand on his stomach to get rid of the last remains of his stomachache. “I think they were expired though. My stomach wasn't very pleased.”

“Hyung, potions don't expire. It's because your stomach can't digest so much magic at once. That's why I always remind you guys not to drink more than two potions a day unless it can't be helped. Potion overdose is dangerous, I told you.” Jimin freezes and turns around, frowning like he just realised something. “I think I also told you not to take them without permission. Some of the ingredients might be poisonous for certain creatures. I have to make sure they won't harm you before I let you drink any of them.” He gives Seokjin a disappointed look, pouting at him, and it's devastatingly adorable. “Hyung, I told you all of that. So many times.”

“Ah, right. Must have slipped my mind.” Jimin's pouting even more now. Does he not know pouting like that can be dangerous too? What about Seokjin's heart? “I'm sorry, okay? Don't pout at me, I won't do it again,” Seokjin promises easily and not at all convincingly. It's not like poison could kill him anyway.

Jimin closes the cabinet in a huff and gives Seokjin a glare that's just as convincing. “No more potions for you. You took my trust and wiped you ass with it.”

“Ew,” Seokjin responds and starts to stuff as many pieces of waffle in his mouth as he can fit, hurrying to get back to work. There's no time for a full break, not when there's the risk of Taehyung leaving the safety that is staying behind the counter. “You're disgusting,” he says with his mouth full.

Jimin grimaces. “Says you.”

 

 

* * *

 

 

It's six pm when the portals close.

The coffee machine has just stopped whirring, cleaning procedure done and shutting itself off. Yoongi is the only one left at the café, wiping the display clean before throwing the rag into a bucket to be washed at night. He's glad Taehyung has finally managed to create a spell that makes the café clean itself at night because he can't be bothered with that anymore.

Nor does Seokjin.

His hyung has had a rough week. Yoongi can not only tell because Seokjin tends to loudly voice all of his complaints, but also by the sparks that keep flying up from the ends of his hair and turning into smoke, a clear indication that he's struggling to control his magic. There's ash all over the café's floor and Yoongi is once more glad that they no longer need to mop the floor themselves.

Spells have made him fucking lazy. Seriously. Like, it was just last month that he'd asked Taehyung for a spell that would make his toothbrush brush his teeth by itself, not sure himself if he meant it as a joke or not (probably not), and the fairy had looked at him, unimpressed, and asked, deadpan, whether he'd like a spell to help him breathe as well. When they had sex later that night Taehyung had told him that there's spells for that too and Yoongi had almost slapped him because it had made him think and Yoongi hates to think during sex.

Of course, Taehyung had had to make up for his ruined orgasm.

Yoongi walks through the kitchen and down the staircase to the cellar that they use as a storage. The shelves on the walls reach up to the ceiling and are filled with goods and appliances and boxes with forgotten contents. There's a small lift next to the spiral staircase, a cold room for fresh products and beverages further down the room, and a door. There's a door, right next to a stack of boxes, that looks fairly out of place in a cellar.

The door is an emerald green with intricate patterns engraved into the wood. Yoongi could look at them for days and still be fascinated by the pretty engravings. A bronze doorknocker is fixed on the top half middle of the door; one knock to open the portal, two knocks to warn the tree and make the door disappear.

It's connected to their house, taking one right to the entryway. Unlike the café's other portals, the magic behind this portal is apparently much more simple, only taking them back and forth between house and café, but Yoongi is impressed nonetheless, as he is with all things he can't do himself.

There are thirty-two portals scattered all over the country to take their guests to the forest café. They all connect to only the café's front door, whereas the café's front door connects to all of them, remembering each creature's magic that passes through to send them back from where they came from later on.

Yoongi thinks that's pretty neat magic right there. It's a complicated spell that Taehyung and Namjoon had worked on over the course of a whole year (it took another year to travel over the country to get the permission of each province and special city and make all the portals work). They had told him about the struggles and adventures of that time a few weeks after Yoongi joined their little group of four all those years ago, but when they had tried to explain the exact mechanics behind the portals, Yoongi's brain had not been able to follow.

Magic is similar to technology in the way almost everyone uses it and yet hardly anyone understands how it works, and Yoongi loves technology, but magic is unpredictable and odd and maybe it still scares him a little.

Apparently, Namjoon and Taehyung have made it so that the portals automatically close at point six pm and only open again at eight am; the café's closing and opening time. There's no other way for any creature to get to the café but through those portals since the wards the tree has put around the café, and also their house, make the buildings not only invisible to the naked eye but also impossible to get inside without a portal. The only portal that's permanently linked to the café is the front door to their house in the café's cellar, but the only way to get to their house is through the portal in the tree, and that one only opens for the six of them.

That's why they have to make sure that all their guests have left before closing time. It only happened once that a guest didn't make it home in time, having been in the bathroom for a suspicious amount of time. They had to have him stay over in their guest room; an incubus who accepted their invitation far too easily and got a little too friendly with Taehyung, but Yoongi suspects that he had hid in the bathroom on purpose.

That incubus would have been dead today if it wasn't for Jimin and his fist that made sure that their guest stayed unconscious until eight am, wrists tightly secured with a spell (courtesy of Taehyung). Because Hoseok had been ready to throw the incubus out into the dark forest, face so sinister that it sent a chill down Yoongi's spine. Letting him out into the forest at night would have been a death sentence for sure and Hoseok had been very aware of that; after all, the tree only protects Namjoon and his “chosen ones” (it's what the tree apparently calls them according to Namjoon).

Ever since then Hoseok refuses to let anyone who hasn't gained his trust yet – which is nearly impossible given the elf's very mistrustful nature – to enter their home. The solution they came up with then is to slowly close the café starting half past five, giving them half an hour to shoo away all the remaining guests before the portals close.

Yoongi knocks once, yawning, and waits a second to open the door, tiredly walking through the portal and arriving in their house's entryway with another yawn. He slips his shoes off and makes his way through the hallway.

Getting to the kitchen has become kind of a hassle lately. Yoongi has to navigate around several pots of plants as he walks through their big living room because Namjoon keeps adopting new “children” and hasn't found “the perfect spot” for all of them yet. They won't have any spots left if he continues to add to his collection, but Yoongi doesn't have the heart to tell him that.

Getting through that little obstacle course (Yoongi considers this his workout for the day) and arriving in the kitchen safely, he sees Seokjin sitting at the dining table by himself, a steaming cup of tea in front of him. He has his elbow propped up on the wooden surface to support his heavy head, chin in his hand as he stares off into space with droopy eyes.

He'll burn out if he keeps this up, Yoongi fears, which is ridiculous considering the nature of Seokjin's magic. Immune to sickness or not, Seokjin's mental health suffers regardless. His mind isn't immune to stress and fatigue and the fire eating away at it isn't one he can control.

Yoongi silently trudges towards him on socked feet and wraps himself around Seokjin's back, pressing his little nose into his neck as if to scent him. It's been some time since he last shapeshifted to do it properly, and damn, all of his mates smell so nice, it's hard to control himself. Their scents never cease to get him a little high after a good thorough scenting.

“They are still not back yet?” Yoongi mumbles into his hot skin, eyes falling shut. The older feels like his own personal fireplace, all his to snuggle up to and– fuck, a nap does sound great right now.

Seokjin sighs, then groans, leaning back into the back hug like he's been dying of thirst and Yoongi's the only source of water. He clearly needed the comfort. “Hoseok knows not to show his face until I've got my magic a bit more under control, that little shit.” As if on cue, Yoongi hears Seokjin's magic crackle quietly, displeased with the reminder of who's partially responsible for its restlessness.

“Namjoon's in his study. Probably desperate enough to look up how to get along with elves on the Internet. There are posts like that, did you know? Like, how to get friendly with an elf and all you need to know about your elf. There's lots of wrong information though, I hope he knows to use reliable sources at least. I haven't explained to him yet why he shouldn't believe everything he reads online.”

“Didn't think he'd know how to use the Internet,” Yoongi murmurs. Seokjin is absent-mindedly tugging at the short strands of hair on the back of Yoongi's neck. He's obviously worried about Hoseok, waiting here like this, but he's exhausted and should get some rest, and Hoseok should know that their oldest can't do that if one of them is missing. Yoongi will need to talk to him about that.

Seokjin's hand moves to caress Yoongi's jaw, then back to his neck to just rest there, a comfortable weight that makes Yoongi sigh contentedly. “He's had twenty-six years to find out how to use it. If he still believes the Internet's powered by magic… well, I wouldn't be surprised, but I'd be quite disappointed.”

Yoongi purrs when Seokjin continues to softly tug at his hair. “And the others?”

“Taehyung's upstairs and Jimin stepped out just now to try new potion recipes in his cabin. His magic's been buzzing with excitement these days.”

It's not unusual for Jimin to spend hours in his little cabin where he would craft and make all his potions. It's also where he stores all the bottles that he couldn't fit into the cabinets in the café or the shelves in his room. The cabin's located only a few metres from the tree, right next to the pond that has been monopolised by a gang of ducks who seem to barely tolerate the gnome's presence.

It's only a two-minute walk away. But still.

“You hate when he goes out after sunset,” Seokjin says, squeezing Yoongi's neck softly.

“It's dangerous.”

“He's under the tree's protection. And I think Namjoon talked it into putting a protection spell on his cabin,” Seokjin tells him. “No need to worry, he's safe.” It doesn't sound like he's trying to reassure Yoongi but more like he's trying to reassure himself but Yoongi decides to not point it out.

“Should have done that a long time ago,” he grumbles instead.

“Shush, it's probably listening,” Seokjin warns jokingly.

“The tree's got a soft spot for me. It's okay.”

“There's nobody that doesn't have a soft spot for you,” Seokjin chuckles, carding his fingers through Yoongi's soft hair. The older's laugh ripples through Yoongi's body like gentle waves of warmth.

Yoongi hums pensively, rubbing his cheek against Seokjin's neck and huffing out air through his nose. “The ducks down at the pond definitely hate me though. They always shout at me when I visit Jimin at his cabin.”

“That's because you look at them like they'd taste good.”

“I don't think so. Gnomes are vegetarians, but they don't like Jimin either.”

“Maybe they discriminate against other species,” Seokjin suggests.

“Fucking discriminatory ducks,” Yoongi growls weakly, nuzzling Seokjin's neck again. “I'll eat them all.”

Seokjin chuckles tiredly and cranes his neck to peck Yoongi's cheek before standing up, the younger reluctantly letting go of his favourite source of heat.

Seokjin tilts Yoongi's chin up with a finger to look into his eyes. “I'll head to bed. You coming with me?”

“Not yet.”

“Okay.” Seokjin pecks his lips this time, pets him with a fond look in his tired eyes. Yoongi can't help but to lean into the touch, hating how much he loves to be pet, but never declining when he's offered a hand. “Don't stay up too late, love.”

“No promises,” Yoongi drawls, watching Seokjin go upstairs with hazy eyes. Geez, he needs to snap out of it. He has an early morning tomorrow and a gnome to drag into bed.

 

 

* * *

 

 

Walking the all too familiar way to Jimin's cabin later that night, Yoongi can't shake the feeling that the forest seems more lively than usually; not noisy, but also not as silent. Yoongi feels a little anxious when the thought crosses his mind that something must have excited the forest tonight. A poor creature might have got lost and didn't find its way out before sunset, and now the beasts are having a blast – or a meal, to be exact.

It's always unsettling to think that some creature might be dying somewhere in the forest. It used to keep Yoongi up at night. It took a while to get used to the enchanted forest's quirks. The nights are short but deadly. Come day, the forest changes at the flick of a switch. Two different worlds. You'd never believe that there's beasts roaming the narrow paths and leaving trails of blood at night when, in daylight, you can bathe in fields of flowers and listen to the melodies of birds.

But it makes sense; most carnivorous beasts are nocturnal and hate the light after all.

Yoongi is nocturnal too, originally. That took him a while as well to get used to; sleeping at night and working during the day. The others were very adamant that he follow his biological clock and leave the café to them, but Yoongi didn't want that, hated the idea actually, because they'd be asleep while he's awake all by himself, and where's the fun in that? He'd miss them too much to enjoy anything.

It's already dark outside, the soft glow of the moon reaching for him through branches and leaves. Yoongi walks a bit faster.

The small log cabin stands elevated on a small hill under a big wisteria tree that gives plenty of shade during the day and keeps the cabin cool in the summer. Namjoon mentioned before that it's an old friend and companion of the willow tree, although not nearly as old and enchanted. The wisteria tree is more than half a millennium too young to birth a tree spirit like the weeping willow had done.

Yoongi has never really asked how old Namjoon actually is, now that he thinks about it. His body is very young, only twenty-six years old, but Yoongi knows that his soul isn't.

Maybe he should ask sometime.

The wild mix of plants that is growing around the cabin is being painted in a cold hue by the moonlight; flowers of different colours, various kinds of herbs and patches of weed. Yoongi once asked why Jimin doesn't take care of his garden. Jimin had laughed, high and unrestrained, and said that weeds are precious too, so how could he rip them out? Weeds aren't necessarily weeds, he had explained, they might turn out to be wild herbs and, if you take good care of them, they can be really pretty too.

So, don't judge a weed by its name or… whatever. Yoongi doesn't really care if they are weeds or herbs or flowers, he'll never get around liking stinging nettles. Those things can go fuck themselves. When he had told Jimin as much, he had laughed again, and Yoongi had thought that maybe he wouldn't mind listening to his laugh for the rest of his days.

The pond that's a few steps to the right of the cabin is illuminated by hundreds of fireflies hovering over the water and shining their light on the seven white water lilies floating there. Yoongi used to be spellbound seeing those tiny glowing bugs, wondering what kind of magic made them glow like that, and then he saw the luminescent flowers around the willow tree and his mouth wouldn't even close as he stood and stared in complete wonder.

Jimin explained to him that they are nocturnal balloon flowers, and that, unlike ordinary balloon flowers, they bloom all year round and glow in the dark, regressing into balloon-shaped buds during the day. Namjoon had added a few days later that the willow tree hadn't liked being alone in the dark and that it made the flowers grow to keep it company and illuminate the night for it. He also said that the tree's favourite colour is supposedly purple.

Yoongi thinks the willow tree can be trying at times, like a nagging mother or an annoying little sister, but it's kind of cute how it's quite particular about what it likes and wants. It's much like Namjoon and yet not at all.

Approaching the cabin and thereby getting closer to the pond, he can hear the ducks before he can see them, already shouting at him, loud and angry. Quack quack quack, they go, those ducking fucks– fucking ducks.

The biggest and loudest one is quick to come forward and assert its dominance, puffing its chest and spreading its wings menacingly at Yoongi. Same thing it always does when it sees him.

“Keep that up and the next time we see each other will be for dinner,” Yoongi shouts back, glowering at it.

The duck hisses at him, and Yoongi hisses back. The duck recoils, taken by surprise, and eyes Yoongi suspiciously before slowly backing off. The rest of the ducks follow him, waddling off into the dark.

“That's what I thought,” Yoongi huffs, head held high, preening himself for having successfully defended his turf yet again before he realises what he's doing right now. Yoongi awkwardly rubs at his neck and trudges towards the cabin, blaming his reptilian brain for his instincts to have taken over like that. Fucking embarrassing.

Of all the things in this forest a duck should be the least of his problems, let's be honest.

Yoongi stands in front of the door. Light is shining through the cracks of old wood and there's the faint smell of– huh? He frowns, sniffs, scrunches his nose, and frowns again. That can't be right. Yoongi hurries to open the door and… falters.

“Jimin, what the fuck?” he hears himself say before he even registers to have opened his mouth as he steps inside, wooden door creaking and falling shut behind him

“I walked through the tree's portal and nearly stepped on a cat,” Jimin says like that might explain anything. He seems calm though, so Yoongi tells himself to not freak out. Yet.

“Doesn't really explain why you've got blood all over you.”

Yoongi keeps looking Jimin up and down, afraid to find anything wrong with the gnome. Jimin's once perfectly white t-shirt is smeared with blood and mud now, so are his hands and arms and his neck. It's not paint. It doesn't smell like paint.

“It's not mine,” Jimin says plaintively.

Yoongi raises a brow at the tone. “Why do you sound sad about that? Did you want it to be yours?”

It doesn't look like Jimin's even heard him. His eyes seem unfocused, like his mind is somewhere else. So maybe not so calm then.

“It was injured. Badly,” Jimin tells him, looking a little distressed now, sounding it too, brows furrowed and jaw clenched. Yoongi loathes that expression on any of his loved ones' faces.

“You've picked up another stray?” Yoongi wants to step closer and take the gnome's small hands in his, but his feet won't move when all he can focus on are the blood-stains on his mate's arms and neck. He quickly looks away and blinks the images of vibrant red away.

Jimin chuckles but it sounds bleak. “I'm not Namjoon-hyung. I'll let it go once it recovered.” If it recovers, he doesn't say.

“You make it sound like he's keeping us here when it's us who refused to leave,” Yoongi scoffs softly.

Jimin manages a weak smile. “I guess.”

Yoongi clears his throat. “You said it's a cat?”

Jimin nods solemnly.

“Let me see.”

Jimin smiles fondly at him and takes his hand to lead him over to his work table; a wooden desk that is standing under the window through which the pond can be seen. Outside, the fireflies are dancing like stars in the night sky.

Bunsen burner, small wooden bowls, pestle and mortar to grind herbs; all of his work material is shoved to the edges of the table to make place for a big basket. Yoongi can't help but notice the half-empty jar of fermented strawberries amid the small mess.

So Jimin is drinking again. Yoongi wonders if Taehyung knows about this.

Yoongi carefully glances inside the cushioned basket and finds black fur wrapped in a red-stained towel, cute little kitten face covered in dried blood and dirt. The fur underneath its closed eyes is stained with some dried liquid. Yoongi doesn't know if animals cry in the same way creatures do, but it looks like this cat did, and somehow that really tugs at his heartstrings.

It's asleep despite the pain it must be in, softly snoring, nose and ears twitching every now and then. Yoongi wonders if it's dreaming of something and hopes it's something nice. It looks like the poor thing already went through enough and sweet dreams are the least it deserves.

“That's… quite a bit of blood.” Yoongi has to look away again, swallowing his dry spit. “Will it– how bad is badly?”

“I actually thought it was dead when I found it.” Jimin gives a humourless laugh, runs a hand through his pitch-black hair and leaves it dishevelled. “But it was only asleep, thank god. Must have passed out under the tree.” Jimin's brows furrow again. “There's lots of shallow cuts all over its body. A deep one on the forehead and a nasty gash at the back of its head. That's where most of the blood is from. Looks like it hit its head real hard, which worries me.”

Jimin sounds like he's in pain too listing all of those injuries. Yoongi almost tells him to stop.

“Left hind leg is definitely broken, like, very broken. Maybe it fell from somewhere. It's… it's a lot.” Jimin sighs heavily, rubbing his eye with the back of his hand. “I– I'll need Hoseok-hyung to know if there's anything I missed, like, internally. I need to know what potions would be best, I only gave it a painkilling one for now. He's not back yet?”

Yoongi gives Jimin an apologetic look, like it's his fault. “No.”

Jimin huffs, seemingly upset, maybe frustrated. Most likely just worried.

“I've picked up animals in better conditions and they didn't make it in the end,” Jimin says gravely, jaw clenching as he takes a deep breath. “But this little guy here is still fighting.” He looks at the cat with fond eyes, soft smile tugging at his lips. “I don't know. It kind of got me rooting for it. I'd hope there to be no internal bleeding, but it looks so beat up, I'd rather not get my hopes up. I wonder what happened to it though.”

Yoongi doesn't dare tell him that, if there happens to be internal bleeding, it might already be too late. They don't know how long the cat's been in this state, or how much blood it lost. They haven't gone through the tree's portal since last night, and he's not sure when Hoseok last used it, but he would have informed Jimin if there had been a wounded animal. He always does. They all do. So it's hard to tell. It might have been there for only a few minutes, or it might have been hours, and there's only so much Jimin and his potions can do at this point, and even Hoseok's healing powers have their limits.

Yoongi doesn't have the heart to remind Jimin. He'd feel cruel for it, crushing his already limited hope like that, so he keeps his thoughts to himself.

Jimin mourns every animal that he can't save. It's always been like that, and always will be. Gnomes and animals have a strong bond after all. Nature is deeply rooted within them, a part of them. If nature suffers, they suffer too, and Jimin once told them that it feels like a piece of him dies with every animal that passes in his arms.

Yoongi has seen Jimin come back from somewhere in the forest a few times already, with a shovel in his hand and a tired look on his face, looking so devastated and lost that it hurt Yoongi's heart. He would take him by his hand then and bring him home, make him a glass of warm milk with honey and wrap him in a blanket– and Jimin would just let him, not uttering a single word. The next day, he'd be back to normal, like nothing ever happened.

He never talks about it and they never ask about it, but he's drinking again and there's some kind of strange desperation in Jimin's eyes that hasn't been there before, so maybe it's time that someone does.

“A lot of the open wounds look infected… we'll have to give it a warm bath. To get the dried blood and mud off too,” Jimin says and Yoongi nods, although he doesn't think Jimin's even talking to him. “Kitty won't like it, but there's nothing we can do about that. I have to clean the wounds before treating them.”

Jimin continues to ramble to himself as he leans over the basket. When he turns around to face Yoongi, he has the cat, still wrapped in the towel, cradled to his chest.

“Let's go take a bath, hm? My brave little kitten,” Jimin coos down at it, carefully pressing the tip of his nose against the cat's nose. Yoongi can't help the fond smile as he opens them the door, but it worries him how smitten the gnome already seems.

He just hopes Jimin won't have to bury another piece of himself.

Chapter Text

Yoongi holds the branches out of the way for Jimin and the cat the gnome has cradled to his chest to slip inside the leafy dome that is the willow tree's giant crown. Jimin notices immediately that the flowers' purple glow seems dimmer tonight; he's not surprised to find that they're trying to be mindful of the sleeping animal in his arms.

Jimin had felt the light restlessness of nature upon stepping through the portal earlier this evening, a little startled to find the blood-covered cat with its back pressed against the trunk and the willow tree rustling its leaves in a relaxing tune.

The grass and clover leaves around its tiny body had been nestling against it, bending towards it to caress and soothe it, moss underneath it trying its best to be softer as the cat continued to let out laboured little breaths. Jimin's heart had squeezed painfully seeing that tiny thing in what seemed like such agony and it has been throbbing sporadically ever since.

When Jimin had carried it to his cabin, the ducks had stayed unusually civil, just quietly watching Jimin and the black furry ball in his arms from far away instead of shooting glares and snarling threateningly like they normally do (all animals love him and Jimin's at a loss as to why those ducks are always so hostile towards him and his mates). They had still observed Jimin closely, not averting their small beady eyes until the gnome had disappeared inside the cabin.

This is how nature looks out for its children, helping where it can in the most subtle of ways – going quiet if silence is appreciated and making noise like warning bells if danger is approaching – and the inability to do more than that seems to have upset it. Jimin gives the balloon flowers a small appreciative smile as Yoongi and him approach the tree trunk and he makes a mental note to compliment the flowers more; Jimin loves the way they would glow just a little brighter when he does, eager to show off and be admired.

Flowers are the prettiest when they feel appreciated, after all.

The tree's magic feels different tonight, its presence stronger than normally, as if to keep anything or anyone ill-intentioned even farther away. It seems more protective, Jimin would say.

The willow tree is one of nature's oldest children and it certainly cares for all of its siblings, be it animals or plants or bugs. But it strikes Jimin as odd that it would go out of its way like that for a mere kitten. As good-natured and protective, if not patronising, as the tree might be, it can be a little dismissive, having seen too much in its long life to pay attention to each and every little thing – and the cat's a little thing if Jimin's ever seen one.

The portal is already open for them to step through, as if the tree has been expecting them. Jimin gives it an inquiring look, but the tree ignores him; not even a tiny rustle to acknowledge Jimin's concern. It's being awfully quiet, it feels almost a little ominous.

Jimin tries not to think too much of it but wonders if Namjoon has noticed yet that the tree's acting strange tonight. He says he usually feels a tug at his soul when the tree wishes to see him, when something's up or it just needs his company. And vice versa, Namjoon would send a signal through their soul bond to communicate. But if Namjoon hasn't been informed of anything, Jimin can rest assured that it isn't anything urgent or bad.

Namjoon tends to sulk when the tree goes ahead and decides things on its own, or keeps things from him that concern him too. The gnome thinks that it might be keeping him in the dark about a lot of things, as long as they don't pose an immediate threat and it deems it necessary to warn them. He believes that it's the tree's way of keeping him safe and from worrying about things he can't change anyway.

Jimin feels his heart sink a bit when they arrive in their house's entryway and he can't feel any remains of Hoseok's magic. Yoongi seems to sense this too and gives him a reassuring but tight-lipped smile.

“Let's focus on what we can do now,” he tells him and takes his hand to lead them to the bathroom, skillfully maneuvering them through the living room without knocking over a single plant (Namjoon wouldn't be angry but seeing him sulk over spilled soil isn't fun either).

Jimin was there when Hoseok and Namjoon had argued last night. Hoseok had tripped over a pot and yelled at Namjoon to hurry up and put them away, told him that the house is greener than the damn forest, and Namjoon had been too busy fussing over his poor plant child to notice that Hoseok's bare foot had been bleeding from the shards of ceramic.

Jimin knows that Namjoon was sad that Hoseok didn't seem to care about the plant and that Hoseok was hurt that Namjoon didn't seem to care about his foot. Jimin also knows that they need to talk about this, all of them. They've been very lucky so far that none of those two's fights have escalated yet, and he dreads the day Namjoon will actually get angry for once – because Jimin's seen it before and if Hoseok had been there then too, he wouldn't be trying to provoke him all the time.

The bathroom that Yoongi and Jimin end up in is the biggest of the three in the house, the one with the spacious bathtub and the huge and ever-growing collection of nice-smelling oils and body scrubs that Seokjin keeps buying online. The oldest has been a compulsive shopaholic for over a decade now but refuses to call it an addiction. I can stop if I want to, he'd say and add another item to his cart, muttering, but I don't want to

Classic denial of one's own issues. Jimin's been there before.

“Let me run the bath,” Yoongi says and turns on the faucet, holding his hand under the stream to wait for the water to turn hot and then adjust the temperature. Jimin watches him with fond eyes and god, he loves him so much.

Now that Yoongi's there to be a calming presence and his brain isn't so fuzzy from panicking, Jimin realises that it's a bit odd when he really thinks about it – that it's a cat he found.

It's been almost three decades now that he's met Namjoon and started living in the forest and he's never seen a single cat in all that time. Mice, rabbits, squirrels, birds, ferrets, weasels, foxes, deer, serpents – sure. But cats? A small kitten like this one? It's not even a wild one, the tiny thing. It looks like a normal house cat and those shouldn't be living in dangerous, enchanted forests but in, well, houses.

It might be someone's pet then.

Jimin frowns.

He has never liked the concept of pets. When he'd learned that it's considered completely normal to own another living being like that, he couldn't believe it at first; he still remembers how repelled he'd been. It just seems like such a strange thing to him. And maybe it's because he's a gnome and considers them his friends, but he thinks that all animals were born to freely roam, and not to be kept on a leash or shown off.

Who decided anyway that it's okay to keep certain animals as pets and other animals not so much? Same thing with lesser beings. Who decided that it's okay to treat them like they have less rights, or that they can consider themselves lucky to have any at all? It makes no sense to him.

Jimin's not as repulsed now as he was back then – by the pet thing, not the lesser beings thing, never the lesser being thing – and he supposes he shouldn't mind so much if the pet's taken good care of and loved plenty, if it's kept for companionship and not only entertainment purposes or its attractiveness. Yoongi has some animal genes too and, theoretically, he's also being “kept” (as a lover and friend), but Jimin feels confident enough to say that Yoongi seems content and perfectly happy with them. Maybe it's the same for most pets and their owners. Maybe Jimin shouldn't judge and accept that every creature has different views and morals.

Jimin looks down at the small cat and imagines it in a warm home with food and toys and a place to sleep, and he smiles – but his smile quickly fades when his mind shows him how it's thrown out into the cold dark to fend for itself, death lurking around every corner, and it's hurt and scared and alone and–

Jimin clenches his jaw.

If the cat's someone's pet, it must mean that it has been abandoned then, and that's… that's just cruel. But that still wouldn't explain how the cat got here. The forest is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There's only that one big mansion near the west border of the forest but he's pretty sure it's been empty ever since the couple that used to live there passed away and their son just left.

Apart from the mansion there's nothing else out here but trees and mountains and rivers. It takes two hours by car to get to the closest town and Jimin can't remember to have ever even seen any tyre tracks on the dirt road that leads there. It's a very rare occasion for any creature to find their way out here if it's not via portal to visit the café. It happens though, and when it does and those souls are unfortunate enough to get lost in the forest, they tend to never make it out again. So it's not surprising that most creatures prefer to stay away from the forest itself if it can be helped.

The only reason for the six of them to stay out here are Namjoon's soul bond with the tree that doesn't allow him to be separated from it for too long and the fact they can't just take the firmly rooted giant plant and put it somewhere else – preferably somewhere less dangerous. But Jimin also thinks that there's much scarier things out there than beasts and evil spirits. He's perfectly content to live such a secluded life out here as long as he has his mates and little animal friends to keep him company.

So, did someone really come all the way here just to get rid of a small kitten?

Jimin glances down at the cat's tiny face, all dirty and bloodied, and can't help but wonder, who would hurt such a sweet little thing? Surely, it must have been one of the forest's beasts that's responsible for the cat's poor state, although they don't usually hunt animals its size. Jimin knows that. But no creature in their right mind would do such a thing, and Jimin doesn't want to imagine what kind of heartless monster would.

Jimin cradles the small kitten closer to his chest, as if to hide it from the cruel world. Nobody and nothing will harm it again, he tells himself. He won't let them.

Jimin has to remind himself that he's thinking of the worst case scenario right now. It might just be a small stray that somehow ended up in their forest and ran into danger. Or it ran away and got lost or… he doesn't know, but stranger things have certainly happened and Jimin is definitely thinking too much about this when he should be focusing on getting the kitten clean and then treat its wounds and help it heal, and Hoseok… why is Hoseok not back yet?

“Jimin, don't crush the cat,” he hears Yoongi grumble, and then he feels his warm palm on his shoulder. When the gnome looks up, Yoongi's in front of him, head tilted as he searches Jimin's eyes. “No one's gonna take it away from you,” he says slowly.

Jimin huffs defiantly but loosens his hold around the cat anyway.

“I know,” he counters almost petulantly. Yoongi raises a brow at him. “I'm not doing this for the first time, ” Jimin mutters with a pout, glaring at the tiles underneath his socked feet as if they personally offended him.

Had he shown Seokjin such attitude, he wouldn't have put up with it. The oldest would have reprimanded him, or he would have fought fire with fire and retorted with just as much attitude, if not more. Namjoon might have not even registered the tone of his voice and just taken him by word, not seeing any issue with what he said. Taehyung would have just ignored it, keeping a straight face, and Hoseok would have teased him horribly for acting so childish.

But Yoongi's just looking at him.

“What were you brooding about?”

Jimin looks up. “Huh?”

“You were making that face,” Yoongi tells him nonchalantly, but there's concern in his eyes. “The one you always make when you think about not so fun stuff.”

The gnome isn't sure what kind of face that might be.

“Just wondered how it got here,” Jimin mutters, a bit startled that Yoongi had been watching him. “It's weird, right?”

“I…” Yoongi tilts his head again, frowning as he thinks, “don't know? Is it?”

“Cats like this don't live in forests,” Jimin tells him.

“I guess. Now that you say it, I guess not, no.” There's a pause, and then Yoongi's looking at the gnome with gentle eyes. “But creatures aren't supposed to live in this forest either. Yet here we are.”

Jimin presses his lips into a thin line. “You have a point there.”

Yoongi gives Jimin's shoulder a soft squeeze and then looks down at the cat in his arms. “Let's just focus on getting it cleaned up for now and worry about everything else later. Okay?”

Jimin nods meekly.

Yoongi crouches back down by the bathtub to wait for it to fill, just enough so that the cat won't drown should it wake up in the middle and scramble to hide from them. “You always do that. You get all worked up by yourself, and then you lash out at us when we show concern or try to help. We've talked about it before.”

“I know, hyung,” Jimin mumbles sheepishly. “'M sorry.”

Yoongi grunts softly. “It's okay.”

But it's not. Yoongi has been so supportive and reassuring this whole time and Jimin will have to make sure that he shows him later how much he appreciates it. He doesn't want him to think that he takes it all for granted.

Yoongi turns off the faucet and turns to Jimin, giving him another reassuring smile. God, Jimin wants to smother that man with kisses until he suffocates. “Okay. Let's get the cat inside the tub.”

Jimin returns the smile, puts the cat down on the fluffy carpet in front of the bathtub, and very very carefully unwraps the towel, the blood-stained white fabric revealing the small cat lying on its side. He doesn't fail to notice how it struggles to fill its lungs with air, taking slow ragged breaths and letting out pained squeaks, tiny chest heaving and sinking with a stutter.

The painkilling potion must be wearing off, Jimin realises with a heavy heart. Maybe he should have used the stronger one, but he had been scared the magic might be too much for its little body to take. Jimin's still traumatised from that one time he had used it on a squirrel that was going into shock from the pain and that potion ended up giving it a heart-attack instead – too much potion can give you a stomachache, but a sudden big amount can kill beings that aren't used to so much magic inside their bodies.

Jimin knows it would have died from the shock anyway, and the others had reassured him a thousand times that he had done all he could and that it's not his fault it died – yet it had been Jimin's potion, his own magic, that ended up killing it. How could he not think it's his fault? He tries to look at it as experience that taught him a thing or two and might help him save another life in the future, but the what ifs still won't let him sleep at times.

Jimin glances down at the cat and its ruined fur. It's hard to tell where the actual wounds are and what's just dried up blood in some areas; the fur around its tiny throat is completely crusted with blood. Jimin knows its left hind leg is broken because he's seen a lot of and all kinds of fractured bones in his life, but also because it looks like the leg's bone has been snapped in two, like a broken twig. The thought makes something inside the gnome churn and he has to remind himself to not just assume things.

Jimin looks over to Yoongi when he's about to put the cat into the tub, but the older has his head turned away and is watching the tiny drops of water falling from the faucet and causing ripples in the water, fingertips digging into his thighs like the sight pains him, and– Jimin finally realises.

Oh no. Oh no no no–

Jimin's stomach sinks, the urge to slap himself very present and hard to ignore, but oh god, he should have noticed sooner. He completely forgot about that. How could he forget about that? The cat's covered in blood, looking like it's been attacked and barely survived

“Hyung,” Jimin starts, sounding pathetic, even to his own ears. “Oh, hyung, I'm so sorry, I didn't think of that, I–” Yoongi's shoulders tense and Jimin's heart feels it. Yeah, he didn't think, did he? “I can take it from here, I– hyung, please, please, just– go over there.” Jimin nods towards the toilet that's on the opposite side of the bathroom, far enough that he won't be able to see inside the bathtub – to see the water turn red. “It's okay. Stay there until I get rid of all the blood. Shit, I'm so sorry, hyung.”

Jimin knows he's done the right thing when Yoongi doesn't insist to help nor waves his concern off but silently trudges over to sit on the floor next to the toilet with his legs pulled to his chest. Jimin tries not to get too lost in guilt or feel upset that Yoongi didn't think to look out for himself. Instead, he decides to focuse on getting the kitten clean, softly lowering it into the warm water.

The water doesn't turn red immediately. Jimin gently rubs the fur clean, dried blood coming off slowly and gradually dyeing the water. The gnomes heart cracks a little more with every pained squeak the kitten makes.

The area around the cat's throat doesn't turn out to be just fur that's crusted with blood but skin that's badly burned, and Jimin's not sure what to do with that information. He ends up ignoring the nagging voice at the back of his mind that tries to tell him that he should know what those burns are, asking him if he doesn't think the shape's a bit odd, and to take a better look. But Jimin's trying not to think too much right now, so he doesn't listen.

When the cat's fur is clean, the water's dirty and a rusty red from the blood and mud. Jimin cringes at the sight, glad that Yoongi's not seeing what looks like straight out of a horror movie. He quickly drains the water after settling the kitten in the middle of a spread out towel and sprays the tub clean to get rid of all evidence.

Jimin's starting to feel concerned that the cat hasn't woken up yet, that it didn't even react when the gnome had no choice but to touch its wounds directly to get the dirt and debris out. Its breathing has got a bit more shallow too. He's scared for a moment, wondering if that's a good or bad thing and feeling like it really can't be a good thing, but Yoongi doesn't let him ponder too much this time, back by his side to help and be the solid rock that keeps him from being swept away.

“Let's take the cat to my room,” Yoongi says, wrapping it in the new clean towel like a little burrito. Jimin watches like a hawk, making sure the fabric's not too tight. “Hoseok's likely to go there when he returns.”

Jimin tilts his head, frowning, “You think?”

“He usually does,” Yoongi shrugs, holding the cat burrito like a baby. Jimin's sure he doesn't even notice how he's swaying back and forth lightly like one would with a newborn creature to lull it to sleep. “You know his magic. We'll notice when he gets home.”

They take the cat to the room at the end of the long corridor.

Jimin's never not marvelled at the persistent chaos that is Yoongi's room. It's chaotic, an absolute mess, but somehow, no matter how often Jimin looks at it, it's still so uncannily pleasing to the eye, and right now, it soothes his heart to see the familiarity of scattered clothes and oddly located items.

It's the beauty of organised mess, Yoongi had said to Jimin the first time he'd invited him to his room and had caught the gnome staring at the dismantled pieces of electronic spread out on the desk, the heaps of blankets and pillows and the stacks of snacks here and there like they are art in a museum. You have to master the chaos to rule over it, Yoongi had uttered smugly and stripped off his shirt, tossing it to the side. His shirt had landed randomly on the floor yet looked like it belonged there regardless, and Jimin had marvelled at it and then at Yoongi's soft milky skin.

The messy room had fitted the mood of lazy Sunday afternoon sex so well and has been their favourite hideout for cosy cuddles and sloppy kisses ever since. It might not seem like the right environment to take care of their little patient, but it's the perfect place to calm both their nerves; Yoongi's because it's his replacement of a burrow, and Jimin's simply because it's Yoongi's room.

Yoongi carefully places the wrapped up cat on the soft bedding and they both just stand there for a minute, watching the tiny thing's laboured breathing like it might stop every moment. It's terrifying to not know how severe the injuries really are and to not be able to do much more.

Jimin's about to go retrieve another painkilling potion and some ointment and bandages when he feels it – the sweet magic that's always trying to reach for his soul, as if to seduce it, as if to take it away, and always lingering, even when he's already gone.

An elf's magic is intrusive like that, wanting to creep into one's heart and caress one's soul. It can be a wonderful blissful feeling when it's done with tender love and affection and only good intentions. It's hard to fight it off even when it's unpleasant, and it's even harder to trust an elf not to abuse their power – but they trust Hoseok.

The elf's magic doesn't try to reach for them tonight though, which means that Hoseok's still in a bad mood, keeping his upset magic to himself because he doesn't want to hurt them with it, even though that's hardly even possible. Magic doesn't turn harmful that easily. And still.

Hoseok himself doesn't think so, but they all know how gentle he is, how much he hates to see them hurt and how much more he hates it when it's him that ends up hurting them even the slightest bit. It's just that there are a few things that are harder to control when you're half dark elf and… well, let's just say that most creatures fear dark elves for a reason. But Jimin and the others aren't most creatures, and Hoseok isn't someone to be feared unless you give him a reason.

Jimin's not afraid. Hoseok knows how much Jimin cares about animals, and Jimin knows that he knows and that Hoseok cares a lot about what his mates care about. He won't let his temper get in the way of helping a wounded animal that's not to be blamed for anything. The elf might be unpredictable at times, but Jimin knows he can fully trust him with that.

However, the way things unfold from here on is a bit… unexpected.

The moment the subtle waves of displeased magic reach Yoongi's room, the cat startles awake, squeaking in pain when it struggles too much to get out of the towel it's wrapped in, a few of its still untreated wounds reopening and staining another towel red.

Jimin rushes to keep it still but halts mid-movement, afraid that he'd only scare it more if he tried to touch it now. The cat has already scrambled to the edge of the bed, eyes wild and ears straining to listen for the smallest noise, perked up and alert. It's staring at the door as if it might attack any second now, tiny body tense and ready to leap.

“It's okay, kitty. Don't be scared,” Jimin says with a hushed voice, smiling softly at it although he knows that animals don't care for nice words and gestures like that; a creature is judged by its actions and not by its words in the animal world. “You're safe. We're not gonna hurt you,” the gnome continues to reassure it regardless because it's the intention behind his words with which he communicates with animals. They can feel what he means when they hear his voice.

The cat whips its head around and looks at him like it has only now noticed his presence, eyes narrowing as if it understands and recognises the words. If it had eyebrows, it would be frowning. Jimin knows that animals act on instincts only, but why does it feel like the cat's deep in thought, pondering whether to believe the words it shouldn't have understood.

But it's its eyes that leave Jimin puzzled.

The cat's eyes are a dark chocolate brown and look nothing like the eyes of any animal the gnome has met before, and he's met a ton. Those sparkling orbs, glazed over with fear and… what is it? Dread? They look like a creature's, and Jimin's not sure what's going on anymore.

In hindsight , it should have been obvious then. So very obvious.

The cat's eyes wander over to Yoongi next, then back to Jimin and back to Yoongi again, like it can't decide who's the bigger threat in the room. This is wrong, Jimin thinks, it should know by now that they are friendly, or at least its natural connection with the gnome should be enough to settle it.

“Hyung?” There are knocks on the door and then the door handle is being pushed down, the door swinging open to reveal a glum looking Hoseok. Jimin then remembers that the elf usually comes to Yoongi's room whenever he fights with Namjoon to seek Yoongi's comfort after disappearing for a while. That's how Yoongi knew he'd come here.

“Oh, Jimin, you're here too,” Hoseok smiles before he raises a brow at them, probably because the way they're just standing there looks weird. His eyes move from the gnome to the bed. The moment that Hoseok sees the cat, there's a sudden burst of unfamiliar, or at least slightly familiar, magic, and Jimin, who's still looking at Hoseok, can see the elf's eyes widen almost comically.

Surprise isn't a look Hoseok wears often and it's strange to see it, but there he is, stunned, and Jimin honestly can't tell whether it's the good or bad kind. The gnome then glances at Yoongi, who looks less surprised but still a little taken aback, and then turns around and… huh?

Wait.

That's… oh.

Oh

Jimin can only stare, mouth slightly agape, as all the pieces slowly click into place to show him the full picture and it's… he's not sure how to feel about it, but at least it all makes sense now. The eyes, the reaction, why there's a cat in the forest, everything. Of course. He completely disregarded the option in his turmoil. Taehyung won't be done teasing him in a decade when he finds out.

There, on the floor behind the bed, sits a creature with the tiniest horns the gnome's ever seen on any head. They are blunt and the same charcoal black as his slightly long wavy hair. It's still damp from the bath and drops of water are trickling down the side of his face; big eyes and nose, dainty lips, adorable cheeks, sharp jawline.

Okay, yeah. He's a cute one, Jimin can't help but think. He's also not so tiny anymore, the gnome then realises, but might actually be bigger than him. Bigger than Yoongi too. Bigger than Hoseok, maybe.

Jimin's not too sure what kind of creature he is. There are quite a few kinds with horns, but Jimin's never seen any that blunt and tiny. They look more adorable than threatening. They could be an anomaly. Jimin has heard before that, since magic's always changing, creatures are changing too. There are a handful of creatures now that look different from fellow creatures of their kind, having different or altered features. Perhaps he's one of those and that's why Jimin can't tell what he is.

Since he has horns, Jimin wonders if he has fangs too, and if they are just as blunt and tiny as his horns. He's likely a demonic creature; his magic doesn't feel very powerful though, but rather weak, actually.

There's a creature like that. It's on the very tip of Jimin's tongue, but he just can't think of the name. What was it called again?

Jimin catches the sight of a thin black tufted tail coming from behind the creature and… oh, and he's naked. Okay. Yeah, makes sense. Because he shapeshifted. It happens to Yoongi too after shifting; his clothes get too big and end up in a pile on the floor with him inside it.

It has Jimin thinking, why and how did this creature shapeshift in the poor state that he's in? And how has even Yoongi, as a fellow shapeshifter, not thought of the cat being one? Was he also too occupied with other concerns for the thought to cross his mind, or did he just forget to share that thought?

Jimin knows from Yoongi that shapeshifting requires quite a bit of magic. Shapeshifting should have been hard in the creature's current state, is what that means. He also should be avoiding exerting himself like that.

Normally, when a creature's body is weakened or injured, it's very hard to use magic. Some creatures can't use it at all then, or barely. If they do force themselves to use magic anyway, it puts a lot of strain on the body and might worsen its condition. That can be very dangerous.

Magic is the glue that binds the soul to the body. When the body's in a fragile state, the bond is weakened and the magic focuses on keeping body and soul connected. Using magic in such a state puts the bond at risk of breaking. If the bond is completely broken, the soul is let go and it leaves the body – the creature dies. That's why it's so important to allow one's magic to focus on only one thing at the time, which is to protect the bond while the body recovers.

There are instances though when magic can lose control over itself. Like already mentioned, magic is the glue that binds the soul to the body. It's therefore closely intertwined with a creature's mind and emotions as well. Stress, exhaustion and sudden strong emotions can make the magic burst, leading it to do things that neither the creature or the magic have control over.

Jimin thinks of Seokjin's magic unintentionally crackling and emitting small sparks when he's been very stressed. Those are tiny magical bursts, or at least an example of what form they can take. The more stressed Seokjin is, the less control and the more frequent the bursts.

When Seokjin says he's a walking fire hazard, he means that quite literally – he has yet to burn the café down though.

It really depends on the creature's kind and their magic's disposition. Some creatures' magic naturally tends to burst more easily and often, while others don't have that problem at all. The fiery type in particular has a hard time keeping their emotions under control, like ifrits and salamanders, who are known to be temperamental and hot-headed. Earth creatures, like dwarves and gnomes and goblins, are much more composed in comparison. But, of course, there are exceptions to everything.

Ongoing magical bursts without apparent cause can be a sign of poor mental health and emotional instability caused by anxiety, depression or trauma. In the first few months they had known Yoongi, his magic had been all over the place, making him shapeshift against his will and his fluffy hair spike up at random.

It still happens sometimes.

Seeing that this creature has shapeshifted despite his weakened body must mean that he had been very startled, the sudden intense emotion causing him to accidentally shapeshift. Like, very very startled. The sudden burst of magic had felt like he was terrified, and yet, at the same time, there's something oddly warm and gentle about it.

Even now, Jimin can feel it, and he's in awe at how gentle his magic feels, like warm flames licking at his skin like tiny kittens. He wants to pet them all.

But the creature's magic also feels weak and timid. Jimin recalls feeling it very faintly when he had the cat cradled closely to his chest. Now that the cat– the creature's awake and his magic's present, it's still not very powerful and feels like a flickering candle light, frail and unstable. But that might also be because of his injuries and because he's so frightened.

The creature is still sitting on the ground behind the bed, not saying a word and also not taking his eyes off Hoseok for even a second, and… and he's also still very naked, bed frame hiding everything beneath his navel but also showing everything above and, um…

The gnome feels warmth creeping up his face and hurries to yank the blanket off the bed to throw it over the creature in one quick motion. It ends up landing on top of his head, covering him completely and making him look like a ghost out of a children's book.

It takes the creature a while before he starts to shift, and Jimin watches with curious eyes as the lump under the blanket moves towards the gap between wall and bed. As soon as he's nestled inside the gap, the creature's head pokes out and he wraps the blanket around himself. Although he's not tiny anymore, he looks small like that, all huddled up with his blanket covered legs hugged to his chest and only his eyes and nose peeking out of a small hole to silently stare at them

Jimin distantly recognises the sight to be adorable, but his mind's too occupied worrying about the creature moving around so recklessly with his injuries. He's seen the bruises and cuts all over his torso and arms, more assessable now that there's no black fur but only smooth skin, and the deep cut on his forehead is a constant reminder. Jimin frowns at it, feeling like it doesn't look as deep as before, but that can't be. He hasn't given the kit– the creature any healing potion yet.

Ah, right. The potions. Hoseok.

He opens his mouth to speak but Hoseok's already moving from where he had been standing in the door.

The creature startles and watches him with wide and terrified eyes that are growing more glassy with every step Hoseok takes towards him. Jimin thinks he looks like prey that is slowly but surely accepting its pitiful fate, and that thought makes something inside him churn again.

Hoseok crouches down in front of the creature to match their heights. Jimin might be imagining it, but it looks like there are tears in his big round eyes that are shimmering under the artificial light like shiny chocolate brown marbles. It also looks like he's holding his breath as he stares at Hoseok like he's about to end his life; Jimin doesn't like how that's the first thing that comes to his mind.

But the creature's not holding his breath, Jimin then realises; he actually can't breathe, paralysed with fear to the point his lungs resist to function properly. Jimin can see the colour gradually draining from his face, pearls of sweat building on his forehead, body tense and unmoving as he sits there in that corner, perfectly trapped.

Hoseok lifts a hand and the creature immediately squeezes his eyes shut, a soft whimper falling out of his mouth. Jimin sees the elf falter, hand stopping mid-air before he slowly proceeds, placing the flat of his hand where the creature's heart must be. The gnome imagines how hard and fast the little organ in his chest must be beating right now, but he doesn't need to imagine; he can feel the creature's magic frantically flickering to its beat, like a candlelight that's about to be blown out.

“Hyung! Hyung, what are you doing?”Jimin nearly screeches, aghast, scrambling over the bed to get between the creature and Hoseok. The elf stumbles back as Jimin takes his place to cup the creature's cheeks in his small hands, eyes wandering over his face to look for any discomfort, but there seems to be none, at least no new one. The creature's staring at him with big round eyes, and Jimin can see the unshed tears now, wants to wipe them away, but they refuse to fall.

A hand wraps around his wrist, trying to pull it away from the creature. “Jimin, don't get so close to him.”

The gnome turns around to frown at Hoseok. “Hyung, why did you do that? Did you not see how he was paralysed with fear? Imagine how much it must have scared him when he doesn't know you, or what you were trying to do, and you just get in his face like that. Do you even know how unsettling your magic feels right now?” Jimin yanks his wrist out of Hoseok's grip and pouts at him. “Hyung.”

Jimin sees the guilt briefly flicker in Hoseok's eyes as he clearly realises that what he did was wrong, but the elf decides to shove the feeling away and shift the focus on something else; it's the one thing he does that Jimin absolutely can't stand.

“Was just looking for something,” Hoseok muttters absently. “Anyway, you better tell me why he's inside our house,” he says with his lips turned down and narrowed eyes that won't leave the creature that's in one of his mates' rooms and wrapped in one of his mates' blankets with one of his mates so close to him, touching him, taking his side; Jimin can hear the possessive thoughts without Hoseok uttering a single one of them, can feel the slight hurt seeping through the mental restraints holding his magic back.

He'd find it cute, knows that it's more about wanting to keep them save than wanting to keep them to himself – but Jimin's too pissed off right now, and a little confused.

Jimin turns away from the creature and shares a quick glance with Yoongi, who's sitting on the opposite side of the bed now with his upper body turned towards them, and he seems just as bewildered, if not even more.

“Hoseok–” Yoongi starts, but the elf doesn't let him speak, probably sensing that the older wants to lecture him.

“Didn't we decide to not let any strange creatures stay over anymore? We didn't discuss to make any exception either, so why is he still here? The portal has long closed.”

Jimin wants to retort well, you weren't here for that anyway, were you?

Strange creature or not, he's injured and the elf's not helping at all by being so hostile and terrifying the poor thing, going as far as to look inside his heart without permission. Jimin's so upset right now, and disappointed, and it's making him sad that these emotions are directed towards one of his mates.

Jimin wants to accuse Hoseok of a lot of things right now.

Instead he says, “He's injured, hyung, he's– listen, okay? So I found a wounded animal earlier this evening. A cat. I found it under the willow tree. It was hurt, hyung, badly, and–“ Jimin takes a breath, trying to gather all of the information he needs to convey. ”I didn't know it was a creature that had shapeshifted. I could barely feel any of its magic because it was so weak and unconscious the whole time, I didn't know.” Jimin hates how defensive he sounds. He knows he's done the right thing. He's not in the wrong here; why is he making excuses?

Jimin didn't expect that tiny furball to be a full-grown creature either when he'd brought it inside, but he did bring it home and decided to take care of it– of him, and he'll stick to his decision unless the creature gives him any reason not to. He's his to take care of now.

“Hyung, even if it wasn't– although it's not an animal, he's hurt and weak. He's not dangerous, it's okay.” Jimin can't think of the creature as a threat when he was too scared to even breathe. He's hiding in a corner from them, for god's sake, so who's the real threat here? The gnome wants Hoseok to take a good look at the creature and think again before telling him that he's dangerous.

“He's not dangerous now,” Hoseok says slowly, glancing at the creature, visibly displeased. He sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “Look, he can't stay. He needs to go. I don't– we can't trust him.”

The creature shifts a little upon hearing that, hesitantly opening his mouth as if to say something.

“Hoseok, are you crazy? It's already dark outside,” Yoongi reminds, and the creature's mouth falls shut again to look at the elf and wait for his answer instead. Jimin doesn't like how he seems to think he has no say in this. It's about him potentially being thrown out to be eaten by beasts after all – not like the gnome will let that happen, but still. He should stand up for himself, be a little more proactive when it's his own fate being discussed here.

“So you want to let him stay the night?” Hoseok scoffs, disbelief clear in his voice. “Who is the crazy one again? Did you forget what happened last time we allowed that?”

Yoongi narrows his eyes at Hoseok. His hair has started to stiffen slightly, his magic growling quietly at the elf. Jimin quickly intervenes.

“Yoongi-hyung's right though. Um, it's kind of you who's being unreasonable right now, hyung.” The gnome frowns at Hoseok, growing more and more confused. It's not like him to speak like that to Yoongi; the elf's usually so docile around him. “He's injured and exhausted. Look at him. He's hardly a threat.”

It's also not like Yoongi to put others on the spot, but he does it anyway. “What's you fucking problem, Hoseok. Just spit it out.”

Hoseok grits his teeth. “I am looking at him.” He glares at the creature, making him recoil. “Can't you see? My fucking problem is that he's an imp.”

An imp?

Oh, that's right. Imps do have horns and tufted tails, being demonic creatures and all, it's true. But Jimin thought they were smaller than this. Only his horns are small though.

“You're an imp?” Jimin asks, looking at the creature for confirmation and he seems to shrink under the gnome's eyes, shoulders hunched and chin to his chest, his grip on the blanket tightening. Jimin feels almost a little offended. He's far from scary, rarely intimidating, and this is not an reaction he's used to, nor one he wants to get used to. It doesn't feel good to be feared, and he wonders how Hoseok feels every time a strange creature moves out his way in fright.

The creature hesitates but eventually nods timidly, glancing at Jimin as if to see his reaction, but quickly changing his mind and looking down at the floor instead, like he's too scared to actually find out.

“So what?” Yoongi asks, but he's still looking at Hoseok, face unreadable.

Hoseok huffs, visibly growing tired of arguing. “Do the others know about this?”

“They don't.” Yoongi crosses his arms in a defensive manner, narrowing his eyes. “He's an imp. I said so what, Hoseok.”

Hoseok sighs tiredly. “This is ridiculous...” He has never been good at arguing with the older, hence why he doesn't, but Jimin can see in his eyes that he really wants to this time.

“Um, I really think it's best if he stays the night, imp or not imp,” Jimin says, paying the scowl on Hoseok's face no mind as he tries to stand his ground. If he's not acknowledging his mate's upset, it can't hurt him. Instead, he looks at the imp, who's staring back at him with round unbelieving eyes.

The gnome winks at him, then turns to look at Hoseok, startled to see him still glowering. “Wh-What? You want to throw him out looking like this? At night? He reeks of blood. Hyung, the second he steps out of the ward, they'll smell him. You can't be serious...”

Elves can be ruthless, but Hoseok isn't heartless, and he might have a problem with imps, apparently, but this particular imp hasn't done anything to deserve a death sentence like that.

“The only things out there that might not try to eat him are moon rabbits and jackalopes,” Jimin adds.

“Or wolpertingers, although those things do get a bit aggressive,” Yoongi adds, but Jimin doesn't know what those are. Hoseok doesn't seem to know either. Yoongi shrugs. “Anyway, I agree with Jimin. He's staying.” He gives the elf a telling look that says try me.

The gnome's aware they are teaming up on him, but he can't get himself to feel bad about it right now.

Hoseok's displeased expression persists, even under his favourite hyung's stern look, even when he gives in. There's no arguing with Yoongi, not when you're a mixed elf named Hoseok and weak for all things fluffy. He tried and lost. “Fine. Whatever. Just don't come crying to me when your secret stash of honey's gone,” he spits, pointedly glaring at Jimin and not Yoongi. Jimin's stomach sinks a little.

“Just let me warn you. Imps are mischievous little things, so you better not let him out of your sight,” Hoseok says, giving the imp one last disapproving look and a quick once over, brows slightly furrowing. “Although this one's not little at all, I guess,” the elf mutters and Jimin can see the imp trying to press himself further into the wall behind him, as if to melt into it and disappear.

Hoseok leaves without another word, not even using the door like a civilised creature would but just walking through the wall.

“Okay, uh, don't mind him too much,” Jimin says as soon as he's gone, waving the elf's words aside, and gives the imp a little smile. “He's just in a bad mood 'cause he got in a fight with one of our mates last night. He's not so bad, usually. Just… he's got some trust issues.” Honestly, Jimin's not sure that's all that was because that was... well, he doesn't know what that was, but it was kind of... a lot.

The imp doesn't seem very reassured either if the way he's still looking at the wall Hoseok walked through with those wide terrified eyes of his is anything to go by. The elf left an impression, that's for sure.

“Can you talk?” Jimin asks hesitantly. He doesn't think the imp has said anything so far.

The imp nods curtly before thinking better of it and opens his mouth. “Y-Yes–” Jimin winces at how hoarse his voice sounds. The imp notices and clears his throat, tries again. “I can– I can talk, yes.”

“Hyung, can you bring him some water?” Jimin asks Yoongi, who stands up from the bed without a complaint. Jimin watches him leave the room with a fond smile, then looks at the imp with the same smile. “What's your name, little one?”

The imp lowers his head and hunches his shoulders. “I'm not really– I mean, um,” he glances up at Jimin, “it's– it's Jungkook.”

“Okay, Jungkook,” Jimin starts and gets up. “Think you can stand up? You seem to like this corner, but the bed's much more comfortable, promise.”

Jungkook seems hesitant but ends up nodding. Jimin feels like the imp would actually prefer to stay in that small gap between bed and wall, strangely enough, but the gnome can't tend to his injuries when he's all huddled up like that, no matter how cute that is.

“You sure you can? Your leg–“

Jungkook quickly nods again, immediately trying to get up while keeping the blanket wrapped around himself. He's bracing himself against the wall and is half way up when he suddenly yelps, face scrunching up in pain as he crumples back down.

“Your leg's broken, silly, that's why I asked,” Jimin tells him as he helps the imp hoist himself up with very little effort. Most creatures are very surprised when they find out how strong a gnome is despite belonging to the smaller creatures. But gnomes can lift the sevenfold of their own weight easily. Jimin loves to make creatures' jaws drop by showing off his strength.

Jungkook doesn't seem surprised, although that might be because there are probably other things occupying his mind right now. The gnome can't help the little pout regardless.

“I– I forgot,” Jungkook mutters with audible strain in his voice as he hops on his right leg towards the bed with Jimin supporting most of his weight. The gnome carefully helps him sit down on the edge of the bed, slightly grimacing when he hears the pained little wail leaving the imp's lips. “It– it didn't hurt this much before, I– I think.”

“The painkilling potion must have started to wear off. Still, how can you just forget your leg's broken?” Jimin huffs, slightly amused, mostly concerned, and walks up to Yoongi's wardrobe to open a drawer. “I'd offer you more than underwear, but you'd need to strip for me to take care of your wounds in a bit anyway, so…” The gnome rummages in the drawer until he comes to a sudden stop. “Oh, this one's nice.”

“Y-You don't have to–”

“Oh no, I do,” Jimin chuckles under his breath, a little bewildered the imp would even think that. He must not know how bad he's injured, the poor thing. “Don't you worry about drinking a few of my potions, I have plenty,” he says as he walks back to the imp with a pair of navy boxers in his hands. “Don't try to act tough with me. You're allowed to moan and complain about all your pain and discomforts to me, or else I won't know how to help you. Okay?”

Jungkook's looking at the gnome like he's just told him fairies can't fly. Jimin raises a brow at him.

“Just listen to him,” Yoongi sighs, closing the door behind himself before swiftly handing the imp a glass of water. Jungkook squeaks a tiny thank you and empties it in one go. Yoongi smiles softly when Jungkook thanks him once more as he hands the empty glass back. Yoongi places it on the bedside table and nods towards Jimin while looking at the imp. “Just let him take care of you. He's doing it more for himself than you anyway.”

“That's so not true,” Jimin pouts, throwing the boxers at him.

Yoongi catches them easily as he watches Jungkook, who's in the middle of crawling towards the headboard without exposing or hurting himself. He sounds amused when he asks, “Do you need help getting these on?”

Jungkook reaches the headboard and slumps down with his back against it, gritting his teeth in obvious pain before he retightens the blanket around his frame. There are already red spots seeping through the fabric here and there from the wounds that have reopened. Jimin's glad to notice that that much blood doesn't seem to bother Yoongi. He's also glad that Jungkook's injuries aren't as bad as he had feared a few moments this night, but he swears that they had looked worse before. Had he perhaps not seen right in his panicked state?

The imp's eyes are wide again when he answers Yoongi. “N–no, I, um, I don't… need a-any help, thank you,” he mumbles shyly. Jimin feels the urge to coo seeing the imp blush while declining Yoongi's only half-serious offer so earnestly.

Jungkook slips an arm out of the blanket to receive the shorts with a tiny grateful smile, exposed shoulder looking badly bruised. Jimin watches the imp struggle to get the underwear on while still keeping himself completely covered and exchanges soft smiles with Yoongi.

The gnome's not sure whether Jungkook's self-conscious of his body or his injuries, wants to tell him that one, there's no need for either and two, he's going to see it all anyway when tending to his injuries later. But he decides that maybe they should give him some time alone before that, to settle a little and gather himself. He must be so overwhelmed right now.

He sure is handling it well though, Jimin thinks, feeling oddly proud of the imp. He really hopes that the others' reactions won't be as bad as Hoseok's. He hopes he won't need to tell Jungkook to leave come daylight.

Chapter Text

Jimin was so convinced that the imp would appreciate some time alone, yet when he told Jungkook that they've got to go get some potions and their first aid box, he had looked at him with big round eyes that the gnome swears were begging him to stay.

Maybe it's true that every creature has different ways of coping when hurt because Yoongi had certainly needed that alone time back then. He still does. Maybe it was wrong to just assume the imp would want the same. Maybe Jimin didn't misinterpret the way he was watching them leave with furrowed brows and wide eyes, like he was about to protest again but decided against it for some reason.

But they would have needed to go anyway because, well, they actually need those potions and first aid stuff, and neither of them can just use a spell to make it magically appear in front of them like Taehyung might. Fairies really do have it convenient with their spells. But Jimin knows that, the more useful and convenient a spell, the more complex the magic behind it.

Good thing their winter fairy is a genius.

Jimin still finds it odd and slightly upsetting how the imp had told them with a meek voice and slight stutter that he doesn't need any potions or first aid and that it's okay, that he's okay, and r-really, you don't– you don't have to bother, I'll be fine if you let me sleep some more, and I, um, I don't mind if you stay

The gnome had to refuse him with a heavy heart.

Unfortunately, sleep could not heal his skin and bones, and it's unsettling that the imp would think that. Also, the only thing that really bothers Jimin is that it seems like the imp's more worried about bothering them than his own well-being. He's in no condition to be thinking of others first and act so considerate, yet that's exactly what he's doing, and it just doesn't sit right with the gnome. Any other creature would have begged for a healing potion the moment they woke to find any of their bones broken.

It can't be that the imp has already forgotten about his broken leg again, can it? Surely that's not it. Now that the painkilling potion is slowly wearing off, it must, as Yoongi would say, “hurt like a bitch”, so how could he not be constantly aware of it?

Shouldn't he want Jimin to heal him and make it stop hurting? Yet he hasn't asked once. Namjoon usually comes to him for things as trivial as a small paper cut (he's not good with pain). But that's okay. Jimin might roll his eyes when he comes with another minuscule injury like that, but he does it fondly, always happy to help, even if it's only to give the tip of his mate's finger a little kiss.

Why is the imp rejecting his help?

Jimin can't help but wonder why the imp's acting like one broken bone is nothing. Like all of this is nothing to him; nothing that would make him feel the need to ask for help, and nothing he'd consider for others to feel concerned about. For all they know he could have serious internal injuries that he's not even aware of. He wouldn't know. He might be dying without knowing it, might just drop dead suddenly.

And what if he actually died? He'd take his last breath in some strange creatures' house where nobody truly knows him, without his loved ones to share his last moments with. He probably just wants to go home, the poor thing, but he's trapped inside this forest for the night.

Jimin is probably thinking too much again. He's too much in his head again, Yoongi would say.

“I didn't know Hoseok's so mistrustful of imps,” Yoongi says instead, arms crossed in front of his chest as they walk down the corridor. The dark narrow passage that connects all their rooms always seems to stretch at night, making itself longer for the darkness to prolong, light refusing to shine brighter than what's really necessary.

It might be doing that because most of his mates are fond of the dark and the house simply wants to make them feel comfortable and at ease. But it's almost a little mean when Jimin needs the toilet at night and the corridor just stretches right in front of him, as if to tease him.

He's not sure why it's doing it now. Surely, it should sense their urgency to get back as quick as possible.

Jimin hums pensively as he contemplates Hoseok's behaviour. “I mean, he's always had trust issues and we all know he doesn't like strangers in the house.”

He really doesn't, even more so ever since the incubus incident a few weeks ago. Taehyung had only smiled tiredly afterwards, said he's used to stuff like that. But Hoseok had been livid and ready to commit indirect murder, and Jimin had thought that maybe he wouldn't mind that so much. The usually so violence-averse gnome had punched the guy instead, his sevenfold strength knocking the creature out for the whole night.

The thing is, anger is not the emotion the elf seemed to have upon seeing the imp, or suspecting that he's an imp, and then realising that yes, the strange creature inside his house is indeed an imp. He seemed upset and mistrusting… and conflicted, maybe? Nervous almost, a bit anxious.

It's not usual for Hoseok to mess up like that; to lose control like that. Even around his mates, he likes to be in control, rarely ever gives it away. Even when his magic's filled with love and affection, he doesn't like to free it of its restraints, always holding onto them so tightly that it sometimes pains Jimin's heart.

Jimin thinks the elf is scared of his own magic, of the things it might do, or maybe the things it had done in the past. Jimin's only guessing here because Hoseok doesn't like talking about his past, has never shared more than a few vague lines, as far as Jimin knows. But they had also reassured him that that's perfectly okay; it's not the past Hoseok that they fell in love with after all, but the present Hoseok, and it's the future Hoseok that they will continue to fall in love with.

But still, only sometimes, the gnome would wonder what the elf's so terribly afraid of. Only sometimes, Hoseok would get that far away look in his eyes and Jimin would feel like there's a part of him that he doesn't know at all, like there's a stranger inside his mate that he's a little afraid to meet someday.

Yoongi seems to be having similar thoughts.

“Maybe it's because elves like to appear all mysterious and shit, but there are still moments when I feel like I can't even remotely tell what's going on inside his head. He… he felt so strange when he looked at the boy like that. It felt like I didn't even know him for a second.” Yoongi pauses, a little lost in thought, then glances at Jimin beside him. “What's his name, by the way? Did you ask? Does he remember? You said he hit his head.”

“It's Jungkook,” Jimin smiles and watches the corners of Yoongi's mouth twitch. “And his memory seems fine? I think?” The gnome sighs. “I… I don't know. But I know what you're talking about. I mean about Hoseok-hyung. He was acting a little strange.” Or maybe more than just a little. “He might not like strange creatures in the house, but he seems much more concerned about the fact that it's an imp than anything else, and imps, they…”

Unlike demons, who are at the top of the hierarchy of demonic creatures and respected by many, imps are not. They are really not. And that is simply because they are said to be less powerful, less intelligent. Less everything. Because they are less. Because they are only a subspecies of a stronger and “better” one. Because they are all the way down in the hierarchy that creatures had once upon a time decided on, and now it's centuries later and many still believe in and live according to it.

Yoongi really likes to blacklist ignorant and old-fashioned creatures that treat other creatures they think are below them without any respect; mostly fairies that act all high and mighty and walk around turning up their noses at everything and everyone (Taehyung himself once said, fairies are pretty but they are pretty stuck-up too).

After being blacklisted, the portals won't let them through next time they try to visit, and Jimin has to agree; the hierarchy is old and outdated and those that want to act like they are above everyone else can “take their bullshit and go somewhere else with it” (Yoongi's words).

Creatures have evolved ever since and are nothing like their ancestors, and many started speaking up on the issue. Those creatures have been demanding for the hierarchy to be banished from existence for decades now. But change has never been easy and many find it rather scary; it's so much easier to stick to the things you know.

It's still work in progress. It might take another century, but Jimin's still optimistic that they'll eventually get there. Change will happen because change has always been the only constant. Until then, however, those considered lesser have no choice but to continue to suffer under the hierarchy. The only thing everyone else can do to support them right now is to look out for them and help where help is needed, to speak up and act.

But nobody's doing that for imps.

“I don't think a lot of creatures think too highly of them. They are rather problematic, or at least that's what I gathered so far from what creatures said. It doesn't seem like they intend to cause problems, but apparently their pranks do end up being harmful more often than not. It makes them pretty unlikeable, I guess.”

Jimin thinks of Jungkook and how he had cowered away from them, backed into a corner like a frightened animal, helplessly trying to make himself as small as possible. He doesn't look like he could hurt anyone, or like he enjoys mischief. He seems much too timid, and so far, he's been the very opposite of unlikeable, if you ask Jimin.

But the gnome also knows not to judge another creature by their appearance, or by one short interaction. Take Hoseok for example; he looks like he wouldn't harm a fly, but Jimin knows what the elf's willing to do if anyone dared to try and hurt one of them. He wouldn't mind getting his pretty hands dirty for any of his mates.

Could the imp be deceiving them? Jimin thinks he's a rather good judge of character, but what if he's mistaken and Hoseok's concern is justified? Are they the ignorant ones?

Now that he thinks about it, he never actually met any imps before today. Jimin's heard that they tend to hide in the dark when they aren't out causing mischief, but he also heard another thing.

“You know how imps used to be servants of more powerful creatures back in the day?” Jimin starts. “Apparently some rich creatures still keep them as slaves, even though enslavement of lesser beings has been illegal for centuries. A guest talks about it sometimes– you know him, that friendly giant that visits on Thursdays. He was ranting to me again last time.”

The hierarchy of creatures might still be a thing, but enslavement of lesser beings has been illegal ever since the protests that turned into riots and went on from 3055 to 3345, today known as the No Lesser Revolution. The law against enslavement is one of the results of the courage and many sacrifices of past lesser beings and those that fought at their sides for their rights and a better future. A lot has been achieved and a lot has changed since then, but like mentioned, it's still work in progress; society still has a long way to go.

Many old creatures that are, well, old and have crooked world views and questionable opinions are just simply not the biggest fans of change – or rights that are only there to protect the weak and poor because how do those benefit them in any way? Those that are powerful and have been around long enough to have a lot of influence (and a stupid amount of money) insist that it's their right to keep what has already been theirs before it was “suddenly” considered illegal to own another creature like that.

Needless to say, most of them got their way and some imps are still kept to this day.

It's something that many are aware of but turn a blind eye to because other lesser beings deserve empathy and need to be stood up for but imps don't, and most don't care about them anyway. It's not right, it's not fair, but that's what society looks like right now; a handful of imps might be suffering still and the rest is being shunned or hated, but at least all the other lesser beings have it better now, right? Sacrifices are warranted for a greater good, they'd argue. As long as they are not a part of said sacrifices, of course.

Jimin shudders at the thought, can't help but think of the injured imp and feel scared for him and his kind. Society as it is right now really doesn't seem to care about them.

No wonder they tend to hide.

“They don't mean no harm but their mischievous nature gets in the way, I feel like,” Jimin tells. “Made them get into enough trouble over the past centuries that they are now left with this bad reputation. Add that their magic's weak and that's enough reason to walk all over them. That giant was really upset 'cause he's friends with one. Told me all about what a sweet little thing she is, but that she went through hell and back. Said he let her stay at his place for a while, but he hasn't heard of her ever since. He's afraid something happened to her.”

Yoongi hums. “Not to make light of what you just said, 'cause that's pretty fucked up, not gonna lie, but the first part kind of reminds me of Joon in the sense that he doesn't mean to offend anyone but does it anyway,” he chuckles humourlessly.

“Yeah, I can see that. It's painful to watch, sometimes,” Jimin mutters. “He's far from being a lesser being though. If imps are all the way down in the hierarchy, then Namjoon-hyung's got to be somewhere at the very top.”

Lesser beings, huh. I really hate that term,” Yoongi frowns down at the floor with a pout. “Just cause some creatures are less powerful than others doesn't mean they are less worth or deserve to be mistreated. Calling them servants or whatever doesn't change anything, it's still slavery, and it's fucking disgusting.” He scrunches his nose in clear distaste, and Jimin fights the urge to poke his cute little nose and go boop, despite the gravity of their current topic. He can't do anything about the fact that his little hyung is such a sweetheart.

Yoongi's always been somewhat of a little social justice warrior, and it's just so freaking attractive; it's making the gnome fall for him all over again, reminding him of why Yoongi has that extra special spot in his heart – right next to Taehyung's, and all the others' special spots, because how could any of them not be special to him?

“Like, sure, creatures are being killed by beasts on a daily. But creatures being enslaved or tortured, or killed by other creatures that can think for themselves and aren't just driven by instincts, yet they still do that shit? We're not fucking savages, and yet here were are dismissing the fact that the most basic rights of some creatures are being blatantly ignored. Like, god, for fuck's sake, what's wrong with society? Why are we so fucking stuck? It's been some centuries and we're still struggling with the same old shit, it's ridiculous. It's the 38th century, for fuck's sake, why does it feel like we're slowly progressing backwards? How the hell's that even possible?”

Yoongi's panting slightly when he comes to an end, huffing as they continue to walk down the corridor that seems endless today. Jimin's really not sure why.

The gnome chuckles, regarding the older cautiously. “You were ranting, hyung.” He pats Yoongi's head, smiling when the older leans in to give better access, visibly calming down a bit when the younger combs his hair back to softness after it had started to stiffen from his agitation. “I thought you were about to go feral for a second there.”

Yoongi huffs. “Was not.”

“Your magic was. This is really making you angry, huh.”

“Someone needs to be angry,” Yoongi grumbles, scowling at his walking feet. “They can't do it all themselves. Look where that gets them.” Jimin comes to a sudden halt when he notices that Yoongi's stopped walking. He turns around and finds him just standing there in the darkness of the narrow walls of the poorly lit corridor.

The gnome walks the few steps back to stand in front of Yoongi and silently waits for him to continue.

“Fainting in front of a stranger's home, alone in a dangerous forest at night, injured and defenceless and scared. It's not fucking fair,” he mutters. “Life's not fucking fair…”

And oh. Oh dear. Oh, Jimin thinks he knows what this is actually about.

Yoongi has always had a very soft spot for so-called “lesser beings”, the supposedly “weak” ones. The shunned ones. The ignored ones.

The forgotten ones.

Because they remind him of himself.

Being a rare creature that's believed to not even exist can be awfully lonely and tiring. It probably would be if Yoongi didn't have the other five.

Yoongi's one of the last remaining gremlins to have survived what can only be called a tragedy – or maybe it was just the normal but very cruel way things inevitably change with time that had led to such tragedy. Creatures evolved while gremlins didn't and where left behind to deal with the consequences that came with that. It was survival of the fittest, and they were simply not fit enough.

Jimin already knew before he met Yoongi and fell in love with him that gremlins are underground creatures, living in burrows to sleep during the day and roam the forest at night – or at least they used to.

Many centuries ago, when other creatures had still been aware of their existence, there were a handful of forests that had been brimming with gremlins to the point they were known to be the little creatures' homes and territories. They used to stay in their smaller fluffier form most of the time to be as close to nature as possible.

There are hardly any creatures that live in their natural habitats anymore, even back then when the gremlins' forests still existed, it had already become rare for creatures to live out in the wild where they originally belonged. When civillisation began to grow, more and more creatures slowly left their forests and mountains and meadows, finding it more comfortable to live in houses – and then there were villages and towns and cities, and the houses were getting bigger and population was growing more dense. Different languages and cultures came into existence, everything kept developing. Many countries became industrialised and money became a thing too, new things were being invented and someday, using technology alongside magic had become the normal and to live in caves and trees and rivers seemed foreign and weird.

While all of this happened, gremlins stayed in their forests that were slowly getting invaded by beasts. With all the powerful creatures to protect nature and their kind gone, beasts had rapidly increased in number and started to roam the forests more freely at night– started to grow more malevolent and hungry, and the small gremlins that were the only creatures left behind just happened to be an easy and very tasty prey to them.

Gremlins almost became extinct back then, first with being one of the few staying behind to live with nature and then with being hunted by beasts. They were slowly forgotten by the old and became mostly unknown to the young, most of them not too interested in creatures' history and boring textbooks about species and evolution. Gremlins persisted, barely, for a good few centuries. But for what price? At the expense of recurring nightmares and crippling anxiety?

Yoongi went through a lot, and he's still living through it at least once a month.

When Yoongi's generation was born, living had become a struggle, more survival than living. Young Yoongi, after a couple centuries of “living” like that and one day finding out that other creatures didn't, started to wonder why they were still out there and not with the others where it was safe and they didn't have to worry about beasts finding their burrow every single night, hoping for the sunlight to come just a little faster so they could sleep in peace. He didn't understand and, getting tired of the constant fear and dread, he decided to suggest moving to a village nearby. Action never followed that decision. The very same night the thing he had always feared just suddenly happened, and Yoongi lost everything.

Jimin still remembers how rundown and distraught the gremlin had looked when Namjoon had brought him home over a decade ago, clinging onto Namjoon's back and looking over his shoulder at them with exhausted eyes that had seen too much of what was better left unseen.

Yoongi is the only survivor of his family, everyone but him sucked dry of their blood by a starving pack of chupacabras. The gremlin had barely made it until dawn and Namjoon, just passing through on that fateful early morning and being the kindhearted creature that he is, had quite literally picked him up like a stray and taken him home to his own forest; had told them later that he felt like something I never lost but found anyway. And then, time passed and Yoongi just kind of… never left. Much like the rest of them.

They've all been found in similar ways by that long-limbed oddball – except Jimin, who had found Namjoon instead.

“He's not on his own. As far as I'm concerned he's not. I'll fix him and when he's all better, we'll send him home, back to where he belongs. It'll be alright. I should have healing potions for all of his injuries in my cabin to patch him up,” Jimin says reassuringly and grabs Yoongi gently by the shoulders, searching his eyes to make sure he's present and not trapped in the past. But he's fine. He's here.

“I definitely have one to help heal broken bones, one for bruising, and one for concussions. Just in case. He didn't seem dizzy or nauseous, but just in case. He'll be as good as new, you'll see. I can manage on my own, I can do this alone,” Jimin tells, painfully aware that it's himself that he's trying to reassure, and blatantly ignoring the fact that his words are borderline lies.

There's a reason he needs Hoseok to tend to the wounded animals' injuries. Because Jimin knows his limits. He knows what he can and can't do, and this, he's not sure he can do, regardless of his overly optimistic words.

“Let me just– I'll be back in a second, okay? Just got to–”

“Jimin.”

“Yeah?” Jimin is still holding onto Yoongi's shoulders as he looks at him with slightly wide eyes. He notices that his fingers are digging into Yoongi's skin, so he forces himself to loosen his grip on him. He doesn't let go of him though. He needs the support. He gulps. “What is it, hyung?”

“You've seen his throat, right? The burns,” Yoongi says slowly, carefully.

Jimin freezes, and swallows thickly. “Yeah, I– I did.”

He did. He's seen them– had seen them when he cleaned his fur, yet he had tried to avoid acknowledging it because it just didn't make sense for an animal to have those. But those burns were still there and staring him right in the eye when the imp had shapeshifted, and this is not just an animal like he'd believed it to be but a creature that's shunned by society and–

“Those… were magic burns.”

Beasts don't cause magic burns.

Yoongi hums. “Looked like it.”

Jimin feels his insides squeeze. “They were shaped like hands.”

Beasts don't leave handprints like that either.

Yoongi hums again, more thoughtfully. “Looked like it…”

“So I wasn't just seeing things.” Jimin glares at the image of those burns in his mind. He hates magic burns, absolutely hates them. Magic shouldn't be used to hurt another. It simply shouldn't. It's not meant to do that. Creatures shouldn't– “I don't like what this is starting to look like,” he mutters under his breath.

Yoongi tilts the gnome's chin up with a finger to look him in his damp eyes, a soft but sad smile on his lips. “Let's not jump to conclusions. It might have been a fight. Whoever did this might look much worse for all we know,” he reasons. “Boy looks like he knows how to throw a punch.”

He's got strong thighs as well, Jimin thinks bashfully, but it honestly doesn't make him feel any less scared for the imp. Sure, he's big. Maybe he knows how to fight. Maybe he beat the other creature that did this to him into a pulp. But Jimin has seen magic burns as severe as this one before and they always leave behind the most nasty of scars.

Damage that's inflicted on the body with magic is very hard to heal with potions alone because of the lingering remains of complex magic messing with its effectiveness, and Jimin has yet to find a recipe for an anti-scarring potion that actually works on scars like that.

The gnome's face grows solemn because he can already tell that Jungkook won't be an exception– because Jimin knows his limits. He knows what he can and can't do, and this, he has to admit, he knows he can't.

But Hoseok might. He actually might, but…

“He didn't even offer healing him,” Jimin mutters dejectedly, hands dropping off Yoongi's shoulders. “He should have seen the burns when he shapeshifted. He should know, hyung. He should.”

Jimin had seen him stare right at them with a face the gnome had no clue how to read, so strangely void of any expression after the initial surprise was gone; and so so distant, like his mind was entirely somewhere else for a moment. And then he had restrained his magic to the point Jimin couldn't even decipher the outlines of his emotions. It had scared him when the elf suddenly approached the imp like that and he couldn't read his intentions, because Hoseok is sometimes just a little bit too unpredictable for Jimin's comfort, although he hates to admit it.

He's not heartless. He's not, but…

“I'll convince him somehow,” Yoongi promises.

Jimin sighs and gives the gremlin a doubtful look. “How?”

Yoongi gives him a smug little smile in return. “Have you ever seen him say no to me?”

Jimin shakes his head because he actually hasn't, now that he thinks about it. The gnome starts to doubt Hoseok would have relented and let the imp stay if Yoongi hadn't been there with him. It stings a little, but they all know that it's not because Hoseok loves them any less; Yoongi just has that little something that the elf seems to need to let down his wards and allow himself be more vulnerable.

Yoongi squeezes Jimin's upper arm in reassurance, still smiling. “Leave it to hyung,” he tells before continuing in a softer tone, “I'll also tell him off for talking to you like that. That wasn't okay.”

Jimin smiles a little sadly at him and grabs the gremlin's hand off his arm to pull him into a hug and bury his face in his neck. “I know he didn't mean it.”

“It hurt you regardless,” Yoongi says and lets his hands wander down the gnome's spine and to the curve of his lower back to rest there. “And he should know that you take it to heart much more than we do when he talks like that. Your heart's more tender than ours and that's okay. We love that about you. Hoseok does too. But it's not okay that it seems like he tends to forget that whenever he's upset. That's why he always ends up apologising, that idiot.”

“Why do I love that idiot so much,” Jimin sighs into Yoongi's skin.

“I don't know,” Yoongi sighs back. “But I fucking love him too. Fuck, we're all fucking idiots.” Jimin hears him chuckle and feels his shoulder gently shake under his chin. “And we need to fucking talk like the grown fucking creatures that we are.”

Yoongi breaks the embrace and takes the gnome's hand. “Come on. Let's go find our idiot elf and settle this.”

 

 

* * *

 

Jungkook remembers.

He was being dragged across the floor by his foot, debris and dirt digging into soft skin and going into open wounds, the hand around his ankle straining with the intend to hurt as he kept squirming and twisting against it, hands searching the ground for anything to hold onto or fight back with and ending up finding nothing.

He remembers.

His ankles are still bruised and throbbing where he has them angled close to his body, regardless of the strain and how much it hurts, because he's scared someone might grab him there again. His leg... god, his master had broken like it was nothing more than a stick. Just crack – and one bone had turned into two. Jungkook had nearly blacked out as he screamed so loud his voice cracked too. He was whimpering, breathing heavily, gritting his teeth and sweating. Crying. He was sobbing when he was grabbed by his ankle and hot pain shot through his leg. He almost threw up.

Bile was rising up his throat but never made it out as he was dragged across the hard stone floor and, he was a bit delirious at that point, but he can still feel the fingers wrapping around his throat and tightening, more and more, squeezing until he couldn't breathe, and then it started to burn and it hurt; it hurt so much and he couldn't breathe, and his master was sitting on top of him, looking down at him, and he was smiling, and Jungkook couldn't breathe and… and then…

Jungkook wraps the blanket tighter around himself, and he remembers.

He was running. He was running away from everything he knew and hated and into the unknown, the dark forest right in front of him seeming like a less cruel fate than anything that might await him inside that mansion should he get caught and dragged back. He never stopped, never looked back. He just kept running.

Jungkook remembers that.

He had tripped several times, had bit his lip bloody and clenched his jaw hard so he wouldn't make too loud of a noise in the silence of the night when his leg felt like it wasn't even part of his body anymore, yet it had still hurt like it was. The burned skin around his throat coming into touch with the cool night air felt like it was still burning too (it still feels like it is). He didn't stop running until… until he entered the forest and… and he tripped. Right, he tripped. And he hit his head and… did he black out?

Jungkook frowns down at his naked feet peeking out of the blanket as he continues to remember.

There was that shrieking sound. That owlish-looking thing staring at him with its black holes, so so empty, and that foul smell, like rotting corpses, coming closer and closer and closer, and then– then there was that… that sweet scent. He followed it and– and he can't remember what exactly happened then, but he recalls a voice talking to him or– or something, and it sounded so sweet and kind, and he had felt so safe and welcomed that he wanted to cry. Maybe he did cry.

Jungkook blinks a few times. His eyes feel sore.

Yeah, he remembers crying, and feeling tired, and hurting and wanting and… nothing. A lot of nothing and that same old aching deep deep inside his chest. But also warmth. A very subtle warmth and the distant feeling of being held.

And now he's here, but… where is here? Where is he? Clearly, he's inside these creatures' home, but didn't he fall asleep under that big tree?

Jungkook looks around the room from where he sits in the middle of the big bed, wrapped in the insanely soft blanket that the black-haired creature had thrown over him, blushing as he did, while Jungkook could only sit and stare as the blanket took the pretty sight away from him. It had been such a nice distraction from everything else that was happening in that moment – from the paralysing fear and the conflicting urge to run and hide.

The elf had called the pretty creature by his name, but Jungkook's disappointed to find that he can't recall it, having been still too out of it then. He didn't expect to right away run into another elf after just having escaped one. It was quite a shock to be quite honest, and he didn't even notice at first that he had shifted back. His thoughts and magic had been all over the place.

It happens sometimes that he shifts by accident when he's very frightened. Unfortunately, his master wouldn't take pity even when he suddenly turned into his animal form, taking the shape of a small black cat. No, he had found it rather fun to chase him through the mansion when he was in his much tinier form, like it's all just a game of tag or hide and seek; like it was fair that Jungkook was leaving behind trails of blood that made it impossible for him to stay hidden for too long. But it's not like the rules were ever fair to begin with.

This elf's magic, however, didn't quite feel like a dark elf's, but also kind of did– which is a little confusing, Jungkook has to admit. It's making his own magic react in a strange way, like it wants to throw him into a panic but isn't sure why. The only thing his instincts were screaming at him, so loud that he woke when he felt the slightest bit of dark elf magic, was to run and hide, simply because that's his conditioned response. So that's what he did – or tried to.

But this elf's magic didn't feel as “dark”, not sinister, and not at all ill-intentioned. But it felt very displeased. Very upset. Very protective, although certainly not of the imp.

An elf's magic is known to be intrusive, trying to curl around one's heart and mingle with one's soul; Jungkook has read about it, and he has experienced it in the worst way possible too. But this elf's magic only slightly brushed his heart and didn't go anywhere near his soul, almost as if it was being held back, or told to behave.

And then the elf had… he had looked into his heart. That was what he'd done when he put his hand on his chest, directly over his racing heart. Jungkook wonders what he found in there; master had never told him when he'd done it himself.

The look on the elf's face was too hard to read though, his expression not quite like the ever smiling mask of his master, but like a blank one with cracks that showed a bit of what was underneath; he'd nearly managed to keep his face void of any expression if it hadn't been for that little twitch of his brows trying to furrow. The imp's not sure what that might mean.

The strong dislike of Jungkook's kind, however, he did not try to hide at all. It's the reaction the imp had always imagined whenever he was told how nobody would want him anyway if he ever tried to run away, that there's no place for the likes of him outside of the mansion. The glares the elf kept throwing at him had hurt like daggers, regardless of being prepared for such hostility.

The elf clearly doesn't want him here, so Jungkook's still confused why the other two didn't take his side. They are mates, aren't they? That's what the pretty one had said. Shouldn't they want to get rid of him when one of their own is so upset about his presence?

It also sounded like there are more of them than those three. To be honest, Jungkook didn't know a creature could have more than one mate. But then again, he doesn't know a lot of what's considered normal outside of the mansion.

Jungkook doesn't know how creatures live and love; he only knows life inside of the mansion. He doesn't know about gentle relationships that are built on love and trust and equality; he only knows about the unforgiving relationship between master and servant. The ruthless commands and absolute obedience. The harsh punishments and rare but unwanted rewards.

He's really not sure how things work outside of the mansion.

As an imp, does he have to find a new master now and hope that they won't be as cruel? Does he have to serve these creatures now since they've been the ones to have found him and went as far as to spare his life? They've been kind so far, at least the two smaller ones, but even the elf didn't hurt him when Jungkook expected him to, so that was a pleasant surprise too. It was, but…

But Jungkook knows not to trust kindness. It never lasts. It never did so far.

Jungkook's eyes wander to the gap between wall and bed where he had hidden before. He kind of wants to go there again; he had felt safer there. It's a nice corner. He feels so vulnerable in the middle of this bed, fears that he's too easily found so out in the open like this. But the pretty creature had decisively instructed him to stay in bed and he doesn't want to upset him.

Jungkook eyes the two big pillows beside him, pondering, until he comes to the conclusion that yeah, that might work too. He puts one on each of his sides and then the blanket over his head like a hood, and hums. Much better.

Sitting there, squished between the soft pillows, he wonders what kind of creature he might be, that pretty one. Jungkook must have read about his kind before, but it's hard to tell from his appearance alone. He didn't have any horns or a tail or fangs or scales, or anything very obvious to indicate his species. The only thing certain is that he's very pretty.

His skin was sun-kissed, his hair the darkest shade of black Jungkook has ever seen. His eyes were filled to the brim with concern and sympathy; the imp has never seen such eyes either. His lips were… Jungkook doubts there are creatures known for how kissable their lips look, but if there are, then he's got to be one of them, because Jungkook couldn't quite help but notice those as well.

His magic felt very earthy, like warm soil and wood on a hot summer day. And it felt very kind, like the gentlest of hugs – or at least what the imp imagines a hug would feel like.

Adding all those observations and sensations to the fact that he's a rather small creature, Jungkook thinks he's likely a gnome, or maybe a dwarf. Gnomes are nature spirits while dwarves are mountain creatures, but both are known to be small and kind and are associated with nature; nature being the one thing the creature reminds him of the most.

But imps are known to be small too, and mischievous, and Jungkook's neither of those, so he might be very wrong.

Is he even near any mountains right now? Or is he still inside the forest? They did mention the forest and that throwing him out would mean his certain death, so he has to be. He wasn't expecting any creatures to live inside the forest when all he's heard about it were gruesome horror stories. That seems to be a recurring thing though; him not knowing stuff. Perhaps he should get used to that.

Jungkook feels very grateful that these creatures have been kind enough to not just leave him outside to die. Master had said that creatures wouldn't care about a mere imp dying, and Jungkook's glad to find that maybe he was wrong – or he was just lucky enough to be the exception that proves that rule.

Those two are gone now. We'll be back in a bit, or so they had said. Jungkook doesn't know how long that's supposed to be, still not sure how time works, but it can't be a lot when it's “a bit”.

When they informed him that they would go get things to treat his wounds, Jungkook had tried telling them again that there's no need for that. The pretty creature had looked so dejected though and gently told him that his injuries might be worse than what he thinks, very adamant that he stay in bed and rest, and Jungkook had simply not the heart to try and explain again that it really doesn't matter. He's an imp.

Jungkook understands; they don't want damaged goods if they were to keep him. But they clearly don't seem to know how an imp's body works. To be honest, Jungkook isn't so sure himself sometimes. Every now and then, his own body would feel a litte strange. A little off. A little wrong. And now, it also feels a little like it's not even his own.

Perhaps he had given them a look that was a bit too desperate then, a bit too honest about the fact that he would have liked them to stay and not leave him alone – because he was scared the elf might come back while they are away. He still can't be certain that he wouldn't hurt him without those two around, and he doesn't want to test the luck that he's had so far.

Jungkook shakes his head to get rid of his fears and tries making himself smaller between the two pillows, knowing that it doesn't work that way but always trying anyway.

He's made it this far, he tells himself, and that he's done well in doing so. He doesn't know where he is or what these creatures intentions are with him, but it's good enough that he's made it out of that mansion because he's been feeling it for some time now – the cracks in his mind and the bad thoughts slipping in, clouding his vision and taking apart his hope, making him question why he's still trying so hard when he doesn't even know if simply being alive is worth all the pain, or what he's even living for. Just what's the point in that? What's the point?

What's the point?

Jungkook exhales slowly, a shudder wrecking through his body before he can take a deep breath, and starts examining the room now that he's in a state to calmly process his surroundings. It's to distract his mind, he's very aware of it, of the way his hands are shaking, but he's also genuinely curious, always has been. Jungkook loves to explore new places, and this room is very different from any room inside the mansion.

It's quite messy.

On the opposite side of the bed is a table with lots of different things scattered across its surface. Jungkook can recognise what looks like parts of electronic devices and different kinds of packaged food that he's never seen before but look very tasty anyway – or maybe he's just hungry.

The floor is entirely covered in fluffy carpet, a stray sock here and there as well as other pieces of clothing. The wardrobe stands tall in the corner next to the door that Jungkook remembers staring at when he'd felt the elf's magic approaching. The gap between wardrobe and wall looks like Jungkook might be able to just barely squeeze himself inside. It's tempting.

All the pieces of furniture are made out of some dark brown wood that radiates warmth and faint traces of magic. A spell maybe. Jungkook's not too familiar with those; none of the creatures he knows knew how to use spells so he's very interested in getting the chance to learn more about them.

At the end of the bed, which is a pretty big bed by the way – Jungkook didn't know beds could be this big –, is a big chest with pretty ornaments carved into the wood. The imp can't help but be curious of what might be inside. It's tempting as well.

Next to the bed, on the right side of where Jungkook's huddled against the headboard, is a bedside table, the empty glass he drank from, a cute little lamp and a notebook with a pen on top of it. Jungkook eyes the drawers, but resists the urge to look inside them.

The room's messy, yeah, but it's cosy, somehow. It feels like someone's actually living here, like they have made this room their own and are very fond of it. It feels like this someone has left a piece of their heart in here so that returning would always feel like being complete again. It's nice. Jungkook thinks it's nice. He likes it. And his chest is aching again, yearning for something he doesn't understand.

He frowns down at it and pouts, wants to say stop that, it's not nice, but it's then that he notices the pressure on his bladder and realises that it's been a while since he used the toilet.

Jungkook's eyes move to the door. There's a clock on the wall above. He's seen one of those before, but he doesn't know how to read them. The short pointer is pointing between the numbers one and two. He's pretty sure that the long pointer was pointing upwards when he watched the two creatures leave through the door. It's pointing almost all the way down now.

Is that already “a bit” in time language? Or does he need to wait until it's pointing all the way down? Or until it meets the small pointer? When will they be back?

Jungkook squirms a little under the blanket. He must have already been holding it for longer than he realised; he really needs to go. Would they be very mad if he left this room to find their bathroom? He doubts they'd appreciate him walking around their home on his own and without permission. The pretty one also told him to stay in bed and rest, and somehow, he really doesn't like the idea of upsetting or disappointing him.

But they also wouldn't like him leaking in their bed, right?

Jungkook's already crawling towards the edge of the bed the moment he imagines startling again and peeing himself by accident, the mere thought and the possible consequences making him anxious. He's careful to let his broken leg hover in the air as he crawls across the mattress and bites his lip when the pain shoots up his leg regardless.

The imp has a feeling that this might be one of those injuries that won't be completely healed by the next sunset. The pretty creature might think he's unaware of the extent of his injuries, but he's not. He knows his leg is badly broken. He knows it's not the only thing broken too. It's just that he's been through worse. It's just that he's used to thinking that, as long as he still has all his limbs attached and it's only skin but no actual flesh that's shredded, it's not that serious. This is nothing.

And, well, he really needs to pee.

Jungkook carefully sits down on the edge of the bed, toes reaching for the ground, and hisses quietly when he tries putting a bit of weight on his left foot. He's really been through worse, but it never hurts any less and there's nobody here right now that he needs to hide his pain from.

Jungkook takes a deep breath and holds it, grits his teeth, braces himself, and stands up. A broken whimper escapes his lips, the bits of blanket in his hands clutched so tightly that his knuckles turn white. He's hunched over, breathing fast, heart beating faster, and feels sweat dripping down the back of his neck and down his spine.

But this is nothing. A few more hours and his body won't even remember the pain it's gone through.

The imp slowly hobbles towards the door, hesitant when he reaches for the handle, contemplating whether he should wait until “a bit” is over after all. He decides that “a bit” might turn out to be longer than he anticipated and grabs the handle, flinching slightly when the door creaks ominously and opens to reveal soft darkness.

Jungkook sticks his head out to peek out of the room and into the dimly lit corridor. It's rather narrow and seems to stretch endlessly when the imp looks both ways and finds the end of each to be indiscernible. That's a bit ominous too, but the imp steps out of the room regardless, the door immediately closing behind him and startling him again. He turns around and frowns at it, a little offended. He's quite done with being startled today.

Jungkook takes a deep breath to ready himself and randomly decides to go right, biting his lip to muffle any sound that might echo in the silence as he hobbles slowly down the corridor.

He soon finds that the dim light seems to follow him, leaving the space behind him in absolute darkness so that he can't even tell how far he's come. When he looks up at the ceiling, there's no light source to be found. This place must be magical itself, he concludes, his own magic thrumming excitedly in his veins as he imagines how much fun it would be to find each and every of its secret corners and little quirks.

Jungkook puts that thought aside for now and makes his way past a few doors, too scared to open any of them in case none of them turn out to be the bathroom, but also afraid to find another of the creatures' mates behind one of them and that they are not too fond of imps either. One door, however, makes him stop dead in his tracks. The magic he can feel from behind it feels familiar in a way that makes his own magic respond like they are old friends, pushing him towards the door while the magic from behind it is pulling him forward.

Jungkook doesn't really think when he grabs the door handle, curiosity getting the better of him, and it only dawns on him when the door creaks open that it's curiosity that killed the cat.

The first thing that greets him is the sheer warmth that seeps out of the room as soon as the door is halfway open. The second thing is the light that nearly blinds him after his eyes got so used to the corridor's darkness. And the third thing… the third thing is not a thing but the creature that is staring at him with wide eyes, seemingly the source of the magic that, the imp belatedly realises, feels rather a bit intimidating because, while his own magic feels like a flickering candlelight, this creature's magic feels like a steady wildfire.

Maybe, if the imp had taken notice of the cute and comfortable-looking pyjamas the creature's dressed in, he wouldn't have found him as intimidating. But as it is, Jungkook's reaction is a rather strong one. He startles, stumbles back, and as he does, he accidentally puts too much weight onto his broken leg. He yelps and loses his balance, butt meeting the hard wooden floor with a heavy thud and an uff!

When Jungkook blinks his eyes open, he finds himself in an awfully familiar position with the creature standing above him and him on the ground, having to look up at him. The creature has come a little closer in the short moment the imp had closed his eyes at the impact, now standing in the door and peering down at him with an odd expression. Jungkook can't really tell if he's imagining the amused glint in his eyes.

He's beautiful, is all that the imp can think with his heart hammering against his chest like it wants to break through his fractured ribcage. Jungkook's holding his breath as they just stare at each other like that, and it feels like the time that he's never understood anyway is standing still. The creature's face is small with symmetrical features, lips plush like pillows and nose a pretty slope. But what the imp can't take his eyes off are his gracefully curved horns, their colour a soft ivory that's fading into the shade of his auburn hair towards the base.

Jungkook can't help but feel a little self-conscious of his own tiny horns, can't help but think that they must look so pathetic in comparison. It makes him want to hide from this creature's judging eyes, so he hunches his shoulders and ducks his head in an attempt to make himself look smaller.

But the creature's eyes aren't judging, Jungkook realises when he dares to glance up at him one more time. They seem to quietly observe him almost curiously, a bit suspicious of him maybe, understandably, and a little unsure. But mostly, they look tired.

The creature looks as tired as Jungkook feels, and somehow, that makes something slightly stir in him.

He knows from previous times he's been in the very same position that he's expected to keep his head down and mouth shut as he waits for the pain, but it never comes. Instead, Jungkook flinches hard when the creature suddenly crouches down in front of him and gently tilts his head up to meet his eyes.

Jungkook holds his breath again as he watches the creature's beautiful eyes roam his face, reddish brown orbs flaring with something Jungkook doesn't recognise, but it makes something flare in his chest as well. He feels heat radiate from the other's body, his magic like a blazing fire confined in a tight space, flames reaching out every now and then to greet him softly and leave behind a comforting warmth that he isn't used to from his own magic.

Jungkook doesn't understand why it happens then; maybe it's because he's had one too many frights today; maybe it's because this creature's magic feels a little like his own and yet not all; maybe it's because he's just so so exhausted and his future seems more uncertain than ever. It might be for all those reasons that he can't hold it together anymore. Raw sobs ripping out of his throat as heavy teardrops roll down his cheeks, Jungkook lets go for a moment and lets himself fall apart.

It makes the creature stare at him with big eyes and back off a little, makes the almost painfully gentle touch disappear. Jungkook watches with teary eyes and a quivering lip as the creature's mouth falls open and closes just to open again. The voice that comes out of his mouth might be just as beautiful as the rest of him; composed and smooth and so so warm.

“Oh, sweet thing, don't cry,” he tells, but it only makes Jungkook want to cry even more, so he hides his face in his hands and continues to sob, unaware of how the creature is looking at him like he wants to cry in his stead.

It's then that the imp's stomach decides to make a loud rumbling noise and causes him to freeze and his crying to quiet down.

“Oh, I see.” Jungkook hears the creature chuckle under his breath. He looks up from his hands to glance at him with shiny eyes, thinking he's laughing at his tears, but surprisingly, that doesn't seem to be the case. “Are you hungry?” the creature smiles at him with such unexpected fondness, it makes the imp's heart throb.

Jungkook's not sure what's going on, but this entire situation just seems surreal. A soft whimper escapes him, shoulders slowly dropping in defeat and making the blanket slide off his shoulder a bit. He doesn't know anymore.

“I, um… t-toilet,” Jungkook mutters too quietly for the other to hear. The creature tilts his head questioningly, so he clears his throat and blinks a few tears away as he averts his gaze. “I, um, I need the–“ His voice cracks and he has to clear his throat again with rosy cheeks. “Toilet.”

“You're not hungry?” the creature asks with furrowed brows.

“No, I– I mean, um…” Jungkook looks down at his blanket covered lap before glancing up again. “M-Maybe… a little.”

The creature's eyes immediately seem to soften.

“Why does that sound like a question?” he chuckles. It's a nice sound, Jungkook decides. “You're either hungry or not. I, for one, am always hungry,” he tells him. “You can deem yourself lucky to have stumbled upon me because, out of this bunch, I actually know how to make proper food,” he smiles, but Jungkook can't quite follow. Why does this creature just offer to cook for him out of nowhere? Why is he talking to him so casually, like it's completely normal for a strange creature to be inside his home and opening random doors?

Jungkook doesn't understand.

“As for your other concern. Here, let me show you the way to the bathroom. The corridor likes to tease little creatures like you, you'll only get lost by yourself,” the creature continues and holds out his hand for Jungkook to… take? Little creature? Him?

Why does that sound so familiar?

Jungkook regards the creature's hand suspiciously before looking back down at his lap. “I don't- why... y-you're not– you're not even gonna ask who I am? Or what I– what I'm doing here?” he asks, getting quieter with each word until he's only whispering.

Jungkook briefly wonders if one of the others might have already informed the rest of their mates about him, but the creature's earlier reaction makes it seem like they haven't yet.

Jungkook looks up again and catches the creature staring at his throat before his eyes slowly move up as well to meet his to smile softly at him, sad almost. The hand that Jungkook ended up unintentionally ignoring goes to wipe off the wet trails on the both of his cheeks. He doesn't shy away from the touch and lets the creature do as he pleases because that's what he's been taught. But Jungkook also finds that he doesn't mind his gentle touches all that much.

When his fingers leave his skin, everywhere he touched feels strangely warm.

“Well, obviously you are injured and, considering where we are, probably lost, and knowing one of my mates as well as I do, that might explain how you got inside and why. I'm also aware of what you are, in case you were wondering, and if I remember correctly your kind is one of shapeshifters, so... again, knowing that mate of mine, that might explain even more why you're here,” he tells, then narrows his eyes slightly as he tilts his head in thought. “What I don't know is, however, why you're all by yourself and walking around while injured, and dressed in only a blanket.” A smile tugs at one corner of his mouth. “I'll assume that you do have something on underneath this flimsy thing.”

Jungkook doesn't know what to say to that, self-consciously pulls the blanket tighter around himself when the creature suddenly huffs exasperatedly, making him tense, ready to apologise. He just can't shake the feeling that he's being a real bother right now; this creature looks so tired, like he was ready to head to bed or maybe already sleeping, but now he has an imp to deal with. He's even seen him crying, how embarrassing...

“Sometimes, I really can't believe my mates, you know. Like, do I really have to do everything?” the creature exhales tiredly.

Jungkook's not sure what he's supposed to say to that either, but it doesn't seem like the creature expected an answer anyway. “Here,” he says, more assertively this time, and holds out his hand again.

Jungkook readjusts the blanket around his frame and hesitantly grabs the creature's hand this time, a sheepish look on his face, his grip weak. It makes the creature roll his eyes as he properly clutches his hand with a firm grip and pulls him onto his feet.

A great mistake.

Jungkook whimpers in pain and is about to crumble back down, yet the creature doesn't let go, keeping the imp on his two feet. Jungkook bites his lip to refrain from crying out loud, fresh tears welling up in his eyes, and he swears he felt the way his broken bone shifted inside his leg before he managed to put most of his weight onto his other leg.

The creature is busy frowning at the unshed tears like they just insulted his face, and then scowls at the imp as if to ask why they did that. Jungkook swallows, puts all of his trust in the fact that he hasn't been hurt by any of them so far and hopes this won't change it, when he whimpers brokenly, “M-My leg, it's um…it's…” He hisses at the pain and looks at the creature with begging eyes. “H-Hurts…”

The creature's scowl turns confused, so he swiftly lifts the blanket and finds the imp's bare leg, bruised yellow and blue and a very dark purple, and shaped a bit oddly. His face falls. “Oh... oh, you poor thing, you really shouldn't be up and walking,” he sighs and gives him a look that's both chiding and sympathetic. “I'm certain you've been told to stay put, no? Oh, you need to sit down, this won't do. I can't believe you fucking walked here like this, what where you thinking?”

Jungkook ducks his head. “S-Sorry...”

“None of that,” the creature huffs and sighs again, grimacing like he's the one in pain.

He silently instructs Jungkook to hold onto him and helps him to move to the bed, and it sure looks like the creature has only recently been lying in it, the bedding crumpled and lying in a heap at one end, pillows scattered.

If he notices Jungkook's hands shaking, he's decided not to mention it. However, when the imp's sitting on the edge of the bed, leg relieved from any strain, the creature is regarding him with sympathetic eyes; they seem sad again, they seem pained.

“I tend to forget how fragile some creatures are. It hurts my heart to be reminded like this,” he sighs.

Jungkook is about to apologise again, although still not sure what the creature is even talking about, when the other is already walking away and towards his wardrobe; a teal-coloured and fancy-looking thing with golden adornments that matches the rest of the furniture inside the room, which looks more fancy in general than the other room, and not messy at all. Everything is neatly put away and the dark wooden floor is clear of stray clothing and stacks of any sort.

The creature returns with a big pink sweater and grey sweatpants, dropping them in the imp's lap before turning around. “Put those on,” he says with his back to him, then he pauses, and adds, “Unless, of course, you prefer that blanket. I'm not one to judge. I have mates that have made stranger fashion choices before.” There's amusement in his voice, Jungkook is sure of it this time.

Jungkook shakes his head, even though the creature can't see it, and quickly puts on the soft clothes – as quickly as his injuries allow him, of course.

He finds that the sweater is way too big, hanging loosely off his shoulders. But he likes it, feels smaller in it, safer. The pants are too wide around his waist, so he has to tie the strings in the waistband tightly for them to not fall down. The fabric of both the sweater and the sweatpants feels gentle on his skin and smells like soft cotton and mild scented laundry detergent.

Jungkook could die happily with his nose nuzzled in this sweater. He didn't know clothes could smell this good! His own clothes had been mostly black, and the blood might have not been visible anymore, but the imp could still smell it with his sensitive nose, even after washing them many many times.

All of his clothes used to smell like fear and pain.

These clothes smell like comfort and safety.

The creature turns back around when the imp's movements quiet down. His eyes crinkle as he smiles, seemingly content, and Jungkook thinks he looks really cute when he smiles like that.

The creature suddenly crouches down again, but with his back faced to Jungkook. Glancing over his shoulder, he says, “Get on my back, I'll carry you. We still have places to go and a stomach to fill.”

Jungkook's eyes widen comically and he waves his hands frantically to decline the offer. “No, I– you don't– I'm… I'm heavy. I'm too big.”

The creature snorts, as if Jungkook's biggest insecurity sounds funny to him, and turns back around to face the imp, still crouching so that he's the one looking up; Jungkook's not used to be the one looking down despite the fact that he's more on the taller side with his height.

The creature places a hand on the imp's thigh to just rest there. “Do you know what kind of creature I am?”

Jungkook shakes his head timidly and stares at the hand on his thigh. The only thing he knows is that he's got to be a demonic creature and that his magic's similar to his own, but he doesn't dare say the later out loud in case it might offend the creature to be compared to an imp.

The other doesn't seem surprised that Jungkook doesn't know what he is.

“Then, what do you know about jinn?” he smiles.

The imp tries to recall what he's read about them and remembers a lot of impressive things, hesitantly starts to list those that left him the most awestruck. “Th–they can suppress pain a-and… and they're immune to di-diseases and can... teleport?”

Jungkook has always been jealous of the first ability ever since he read about it and has, at times, felt nearly resentful about not having it, willing to give away all of his own abilities if only he could have that one in exchange.

The creature smiles and nods. “Good, good. And what do you know about ifrits?”

Jungkook's eyes widen, mouth slightly agape as he marvels at the creature in front of him and what he's possibly implying with those words. He can't believe that such a powerful creature might actually be right in front of him right now– can believe even less that it's the one he's been so fascinated with for a while now. Ifrits are very rare magical beings, and powerful ones too, and Jungkook had felt great admiration when he read about them. They are a type of jinn and have basically the same abilities as them, but…

“Their bodies... they– they're made of smoke a-and flames and… they can control both,” he mutters, still in awe and heart beating excitedly.

“And they're fucking strong, so hop on. Come on,” the creature tells him smugly and clearly satisfied with the imp's reaction, turning back around and waiting for him to do as told.

Jungkook's heart stutters, and he regards the creature's broad back with unsure eyes. His shoulders look broad and perfect to lean on, waist small and made for thighs to go around – but he shouldn't do either of those. Because all of this seems too inviting, too easy, and all of Jungkook's fears are screaming at him that this is a trap and that he should know better than to keep trusting these strange creatures so naïvely.

He's not that simple-minded.

There has to be a catch somewhere. Something. Is the creature going to just throw him off and let his body meet the hard floor to add to the bruises? Is he going to carry him out into the forest to feed some beasts? What if he's going to present him to that elf as a plaything to torture?

Why does Jungkook not actually believe that this creature is going to do any of it? He doesn't know him. He doesn't know what his intentions are. He only knows how warm his magic feels, how reliable his back seems, how kind his smile, and how gentle his touch – and he swears he's really not that naïve, and yet…

Jungkook pushes himself up to briefly stand on his uninjured leg before wrapping himself around the creature's back, arms closing tightly around his neck and cheek pressed against the warmth of his skin. He holds back the whimper that tries to escape when his broken rips complain, takes a deep breath to deal with the pain quietly. The creature reaches behind himself and grabs him underneath his thighs to hold him, then stands up like the imp weighs nothing.

“I'm not nearly as strong as Jimin, physically, but I still don't care how big you are. Even if you were twice your size and there were two of you, I could carry both of you easily. You feel tiny on my back,” he brags.

“J-Jimin?” Jungkook mumbles into the creature's neck instead of acknowledging that his words make a tingly warmth spread in the pit of his stomach, and listens to him chuckle in response, feels his shoulders shake as he does.

“The gnome that picked you up thinking you're just an animal. Thick lips and pitch-black hair. He's not a sight to be easily forgotten,” the creature explains, sounding proud almost, as he walks them out of the room and into the corridor, its darkness wrapping soothingly around them like a blanket.

Oh. So he is a gnome.

Jungkook blanks briefly before slowly starting to think and go through everything that has happened ever since he woke up in that bed with two creatures staring at him in bewilderment.

And suddenly, everything makes a whole lot more sense now.

Of course they wouldn't have just let an imp inside their home if they had known. No wonder he seemed so surprised when the elf mentioned him being an imp. The pretty– that gnome thought he was just an injured animal and wanted to patch up his wounds like all gnomes do. Jungkook has read that they share a special bond with animals besides being very close to nature. They love to take care of others.

But… but imps aren't others. Imps are imps.

Had he known… what would he have done if he had found Jungkook in this form? What would have happened if he hadn't shapeshifted? What if he had shifted back in his sleep before he'd found him?

Jungkook decides that he doesn't want to know, just ignores the what ifs for now and lets himself be carried off to wherever fate has decided to take him – which, for now, is this creature taking him to the bathroom.

Chapter Text

When the corridor finally decides to stop messing with them and lets them reach Hoseok's room, it's as bland as in Yoongi's memories.

The sparse amount of personal items inside those four walls has always been the first thing Yoongi would notice. The only things inside that room are the things that the others have bought or made for him over the course of time; there's not a single item that Hoseok personally purchased because he saw and wanted it. The elf isn't very materialistic, has never really cared about buying and owning stuff, but the things they gave him, he's very possessive over, and he doesn't like anyone but him touching them. It's kind of endearing, actually.

The little succulent plant that Namjoon gifted him is still sitting on the windowsill, right next to a small wooden jewelry box that Jimin made for him. There's an upholstered bench underneath the window that Seokjin put there after finding out that Hoseok would often just stand there and look out the window to watch the forest at night whenever he couldn't sleep.

The bed is pushed into the corner left from the window, the fluffy blanket that Yoongi gave him neatly folded and placed on top of the bedding. The whole wall on the opposite side is basically a build-in wardrobe because, even though the elf isn't materialistic, he does like clothes and shoes and accessories. Taehyung even put a spell on the wardrobe so that the clothes inside stay organised and clean.

It's been a while since Yoongi's last been in Hoseok's room as it's usually Yoongi's room where they go to cuddle and have heart-to-hearts, or sex and pillow talks. It's not only Hoseok, but all of his mates. The gremlin's not sure at what point exactly his room has become that kind of place for them, but for a while now, whenever there's something to discuss or something to “discuss”, they usually end up in the gremlin's room.

It might be because Yoongi's bed is the biggest and his blankets are the softest and that “talking” doesn't always mean just talking – or it might be because it's usually Yoongi that they seek out when they need advice on something, and so they associate his room with talking and comfort; see it as the safest place to be vulnerable and open up about stuff while being engulfed in the safety of soft blankets and Yoongi's soothing scent.

Hoseok in particular seems to be able to only fully relax inside the gremlin's makeshift burrow. Yoongi always looks forward to those late afternoons when he would allow himself to shift into his tinier and fluffier form and the elf would just pet him as the day goes by and nothing seems to really matter; it's what calms them both the best.

Neither of them feels calm right now. Yoongi can already tell by the way the elf's eyes are narrowed and the corners of his mouth are pulled down that he's just as irritable as when he'd left Yoongi's room through the wall. Yoongi's own magic is flowing a little restlessly in his veins.

“I just don't understand why you're so upset. I've been telling you, he's not dangerous. How is that not obvious?” Jimin nearly stomps his foot in exasperation, he's so frustrated.

“He's an imp, that's why. Those are part of the damn reason we use a ward. But what use does it have if you bring it inside?”  Hoseok sighs, running a hand through his dishevelled hair. It would have looked hot if not for that hostile look on his face. “He might be involved with who knows who, planning who knows what. Jimin, try to understand, will you?”

Now it's Hoseok's turn to get frustrated.

Yoongi's getting frustrated too.

They've been talking in circles for a while now, back and forth, arguing and arguing yet getting nowhere, and the gremlin feels regretful that they can't have this talk in his room. Maybe it would have helped Hoseok to drop the act and be more honest because it's so fucking obvious that the elf's keeping something from them. No matter how mistrusting he might be, his reasoning as to why he's so opposed to the imp being here seems lacking to Yoongi. Saying that they're mischievous and pose a possible threat doesn't sound convincing, not out of Hoseok's mouth, not after what they've witnessed so far.

Something's off.

But anyway, this is certainly not going the way Yoongi had planned. The elf's really crossing the line tonight. He's not exactly being mean, but his tone is a bit harsh; the way he's talking just a little condescending. If he keeps this up, he's going to make the gnome cry, either out of hurt or sheer frustration. It might even alert the tree.

The gremlin still remembers how it had wept with him the very first time he'd startled himself awake with his own screams. It seems like the stoic big plant is actually very very weak for their tears. Yoongi understands; he's weak for his mates' tears too, but he'd rather not demonstrate that tonight.

“I– I didn't know… at first. He was injured,” Jimin defends sulkily. He's still convinced he did the right thing and no matter what anyone says, he'd do it again; Yoongi knows that's what's going through the gnome's pretty head right now and he's fucking proud. He'd be there to help again as well, always.

“Hyung, imps aren't necessarily evil. No creature is. Elves aren't,” Jimin tries to reason, and he's damn right. Out of all of them, Yoongi thought Hoseok would understand that the most. Yoongi still thinks he does, so what's the real issue here?

Something's just not adding up.

“You should know best that there's a lot of misinformation like that. I mean, most creatures still think gremlins aren't real,” Jimin points at Yoongi, who's now frowning at his stubby finger, “but hyung's a gremlin.”

Jimin notices him scowling at his finger and quickly stops pointing, smiling sheepishly at him. “Sorry.”

Yoongi crosses his arms in front of his chest and sighs. “It's actually sad how much false information is still being spread. Seriously, the amount of times a fucking troll sprayed me with water to see if I start to suddenly reproduce like crazy just because they've read about it online…” The gremlin rolls his eyes. “Society's a disgrace, I've been telling you.”

“I don't know about society, but trolls are nasty, yeah.” Jimin nods sympathetically, a far away look in his eyes.

Trolls are a gnome and fairy's natural enemy, but to be honest, most creatures are not too fond of them. Trolls like to troll and nobody likes to be trolled, simple as that.

Jimin's history with trolls is not a good one; Yoongi has heard as much.

Several decades ago, when the gnome had still been living on the outskirts of Busan, there was a group of nasty trolls that lived under the bridge just down the road. They used to bully him; would pass his little cottage and ravage his garden, rip out the flowers and step on the plants; would try to hunt down the wounded animals that he brought back to patch up before releasing them back into the woods; would follow him and shout nasty things; would simply harass him whenever they caught sight of him… the list is long, Yoongi's afraid.

Jimin says he still remembers the day Taehyung had come into town like it was just yesterday; how he'd fallen in love at first sight, and how smitten the trolls had been as well to have such a pretty fairy to terrorise. He says he still remembers how terrifyingly satisfying it had felt to watch them realise their grave mistake, their frozen bodies shattering into shards of ice, and how utterly devastating when Taehyung had to lose something very precious in turn.

Yoongi too still remembers Jimin's pained voice when he had told him, and the overwhelming guilt in his eyes, the heartbreak seemingly as fresh as many decades ago when those two had been forced apart and lost sight of each other.

“My point is,” Jimin sighs, pauses and takes a deep breath, “I know what the imps' reputation is like, but hyung, I just don't understand, I– I can't understand.” The gnome's looking at Hoseok with begging eyes. “You know what it's like to be discriminated against, or to be feared because of what you are and what others think they know, but they don't. They don't know you. We don't know him either, and I'm aware. He's a strange creature inside your place of comfort and I understand your mistrust, or concern, I do. But that open contempt of yours, I do not understand. Because we don't know him, so why– he's done nothing so far to be treated like that, so why are you so quick to judge? If you could explain, hyung, I beg you, please do.”

Maybe Yoongi doesn't have to step in after all because damn, Jimin's doing pretty well, isn't he? It makes the gremlin's magic purr with pride. Yoongi really wants to pet him right now and tell him good job and well said. But at the same time, he also kind of wants to take Hoseok into his arms and rub his back reassuringly because he didn't quite expect that defeated look that briefly flashed over the elf's face upon being chastised by sweet sweet Jiminnie of all his mates.

“Would you say the same if he was a troll?” Hoseok mutters, much less upset and more resigned, but there's still that resentful bitter tone in his voice that makes Yoongi's guts twist.

Jimin seems a little taken aback. It takes him a moment to answer. “If Jungkook was a troll, then I… I might hesitate at first, I think, but eventually, I would. Because he's nothing like those trolls and I'd notice that. He's also nothing like what they say about imps.”

There's a glint in Hoseok's eyes when he hears Jimin say that, almost as if he already had the same thought; like he realised it himself and is confused now. He's hesitating. Unsure. Yoongi can tell because the elf's too shaken to even notice that he's loosened the restraints around his magic and it's reaching for the gremlin's heart and soul in what feels like desperation. There's a bit of hurt too.

“So his name's Jungkook,” is all that Hoseok murmurs in response, and, “I see that you already got familiar with each other.” Yoongi swears the elf sounds like a petulant child right now and internally rolls his eyes at the fact that Hoseok would have absolutely teased them for talking like that, yet he doesn't notice doing it himself.

Although he's saying that and sounding like that, Yoongi can see the elf's resolve slowly breaking; the way his brows furrow and his eyes soften; the way his shoulders sag and pointed ears droop; the way his magic goes a bit more mellow, daring to curl around Yoongi's heart and intertwine with his soul now that it thinks it's safe again.

“His name's Jungkook, yes,” Yoongi confirms, deadpan. “And you should have noticed by now that he's harmless. You would know if you'd really questioned whether he poses a threat or not, like, actually questioned it. And you would have come to the same conclusion I did.” If he could have thought about it rationally, that is. But Yoongi knows he couldn't.

Hoseok has let his emotions do the thinking; has let himself be guided by thoughts that had already been there, opinions that had already been previously formed and are clouding his judgement. Hoseok mistrusts the imp for a reason that's deeper than mere prejudice and protectiveness over his loved ones, Yoongi realises. He's never even thought of giving Jungkook a chance to be seen as anything but a mischievous imp that can't be trusted, regardless of anything and everything he could have said or done.

Yoongi can tell now; whatever has caused Hoseok to dislike imps so much isn't something that he can just suddenly disregard or simply ignore. That doesn't mean though that the gremlin's just going to accept that. He can't. Yoongi is going to reason his way into Hoseok's conscience and talk some sense into him, whether he likes it or not.

“Do you seriously think the tree would have let him anywhere near it if he really was in any way dangerous?” the gremlin asks and gives the elf a doubtful look. “You know what the protection spell does.”

The protection spell of the willow tree is a very strong type of defensive magic that radiates from the tree's branches and drives malevolent beasts, evil spirits and creatures with ill intentions away, sensing the nature of their magic and making them unconsciously keep their distance or walk the other way if deemed harmful. The tree's protection spell is different from the wards they have around their house and the café in the way that it doesn't actually turn the tree invisible but makes it that it can only be seen and approached if the tree wants you to.

The fact that the tree let him find it already proves that the imp's nothing but harmless. But that's not all; it even allowed him inside its branches. It has never allowed any strange creature inside before. They've all met Namjoon before they met the tree, so unless Namjoon's recently made friends with an imp without their knowledge, this might mean the tree itself has taken a liking to the imp, and that's quite an accomplishment that not even Hoseok can simply ignore.

“No creature can hide their true intentions from the tree, Hoseok,” Yoongi continues. “You know that.”

He really should know that. It was him after all that the tree had once let wander for hours on end after a very bad misunderstanding that had caused the elf's magic to turn a bit more dark and sinister, and so the tree, deeming him a threat, refused to let him find it, which had almost ended with Hoseok getting lost in the darkness of the forest.

The elf had nearly been taken by a wendigo that night, but who knows what would have happened if Seokjin hadn't found him just in time to burn the thing to ashes. The scolding Seokjin had given the tree with Namjoon standing behind him and nodding along afterwards would have been funny, had Yoongi not been occupied helping Hoseok get rid of the awful stench of decay that the beast had left on him when its long bony fingers had scraped his skin.

“I think the tree likes him too, if that helps you to feel more at ease,” Jimin adds, once again making Yoongi think that they share one mind with the amount of times one of them ends up speaking the other's thoughts.

“I found him asleep by its trunk, and it just let him, hyung. It was singing him a lullaby even, I swear. Nature was trying to protect him as well, and I've told you before how it's still rather resentful of most creatures for leaving it behind.” Jimin takes the elf's hands in his and waits until Hoseok's looking him in the eye to say, “That's actually the main reason I don't think he'd harm us. I trust nature. You know I do. And you trust me, right?”

“I trust you,” Hoseok mutters, keeping the eye contact as he grabs Jimin's wrists to pull him closer. “I don't trust him.”

“We're not asking you to,” Yoongi sighs from beside them. “But can you maybe not threaten him again while he's here? Try to think rationally and tell me the truth, do you really think he's here to hurt any of us?”

Hoseok turns to frown at the gremlin. “I never threatened him.”

“Your magic did, there was no need to do so with words,” Yoongi scoffs, causing the elf's frown to deepen. He seems confused, like he hadn't even noticed his magic doing that, which is… worrying, to say the least. Yoongi's well aware that it's what the elf fears the most; to lose control over his magic.

Hoseok's quite impressive to be able to do it at all because the free-spirited nature of an elf's magic makes it seem like it would be very hard, and because the chaotic nature of a dark elf's magic would make it even harder; because both mixing into an even more unpredictable kind of magic that's sometimes lighter and sometimes darker would have to make it sheer impossible.

It's expected for Hoseok to slip up sometimes, yet he's always so hard on himself, always chiding himself for losing control, even if only briefly.

But at least he didn't let his magic intimidate the imp on purpose, Yoongi supposes, choosing to look on the bright side of things.

“I…” Hoseok starts, still looking a bit startled. “I didn't– that–“

“I know,” Yoongi interrupts, resting a hand on the elf's shoulder before squeezing reassuringly. “I'm just telling you so you can keep it from happening again while he's here.”

And with that the glint of insecurity disappears from Hoseok's eyes and is replaced with the one of repulsion again.

“So he's going to stay regardless of what I say,” Hoseok huffs, sounding nearly as sulky as Jimin did at the beginning of this conversation – which is taking them way too long, by the way.

They have an injured imp waiting for them and, regardless of his own gut feeling and what he's said to Hoseok, or how much he trusts Jimin and the tree and its protection spell, the imp's still a stranger and Yoongi can understand, like, one-third of the elf's mistrust. He's not a hundred percent comfortable with a strange creature inside their home either, even if said creature has big round eyes and a demeanour that just screams I'm no threat, please take care of me, maybe hug me too?

They shouldn't leave a strange creature inside their home unsupervised for this long no matter how cute or seemingly innocent, especially not with the rest of their mates asleep and vulnerable. Yoongi knows that even the most graceful and gentle looking beings can grow sharp big teeth and pierce you with their lovely horn. He's seen it happen before, hasn't dared going near any unicorn he's crossed paths with ever since. Nasty horned horses, those things.

Bad experience hasn't made him cruel enough though to just throw an injured creature out into the dark forest that he knows will kill him if it can – and it can.

Yoongi's just blankly staring at Hoseok for a moment and the elf slowly raises a brow at him, daring him to say yes.

“Yes,” Yoongi says plainly, and the elf scoffs in disbelief. “At least for tonight,” the gremlin tries to reason. “Anything else we shouldn't be discussing without the others anyway. Let's leave those decisions for tomorrow.”

Speaking of the others, he finds it rather strange that not at least Seokjin has woken up yet. Their rooms are not that far apart and the ifrit's a light sleeper if anything, always so easily startled awake.

“Anyway, let's hurry and get my potions,” Jimin reminds before he not so subtly glances at Hoseok to just suddenly full-on pout at him. Yoongi feels his heart shatter and melt. The gnome's just so fucking cute; he's not sure how any of them have ever deserved so much cuteness in their lives.

“Hyung, I know you don't like the current situation, but did you maybe take a look at his injuries and could tell me what potions to use?” Jimin flutters his eyelashes prettily and Yoongi knows from experience that he wouldn't be able to deny him anything if the gnome looked at him like that. “Please?”

Hoseok only rolls his eyes at Jimin's obvious concern for the boy, seemingly unaffected by the gnome's pouting and pretty eyes. Yoongi gives him an inquiring look, not only because he can't comprehend how he's not a pathetic puddle on the floor yet, but also because the elf has seen the imp's injuries. Why is he acting like the boy's only sprained his ankle or something?

“It's not like he's gonna die,” Hoseok scoffs, and it irks Yoongi to no end because, yeah, maybe they did overestimate the severity of his injuries in their panic and they are not as life-threatening as they had first assumed. Maybe the imp himself did seem strangely unbothered by it all and that should have, in turn, bothered them more.

But what about those eyes that Yoongi knows he's seen before on the faces of those facing death and can't get out of his head? What about the pain he must have went through to be looking like this? What about the things that must have went through his head as he did? What about the consequences of experiencing all of it?

Is that really something to scoff at?

Even if Yoongi's just projecting his own trauma onto the imp right now, or maybe precisely because he is, the elf's words keep echoing in his head and changing – it's not like he's gonna die it's not like he's gonna die it's not like he died it's not like you died it's not you that died it's only you that didn't die why is it only you that didn't die why didn't you die why didn't you die why didn't you– Yoongi didn't die that night. He survived.

But that's why it still hurts so much.

“You don't know that.“ Jimin takes a step back from Hoseok to frown at him, the elf not letting go off him as he does. “Like, you know, remember that rabbit I picked up last month? It looked fine too but… ended up not being fine,” he says with a grave voice.

“He's an imp, not a rabbit, Jimin. There's no need to worry about that,” Hoseok counters like it should be obvious; like the imp's injuries don't matter.

But it's not obvious and they do matter, they should, and now there are two pairs of eyes that are looking at the elf inquiringly, waiting for it all to make sense somehow. Yoongi feels like they are missing something.

“How can you be so sure?” Jimin wants to know, but then his eyes suddenly widen. “Did you see? Hyung, you've looked?” Yoongi can feel the gnome's magic buzzing, like small vibrations tickling his skin. “Can you tell me what potions to use?”

“So you actually don't know?” Hoseok asks, and Yoongi and Jimin both end up looking at him with genuine confusion written on their faces. The crooked smile that tugs at Hoseok's lips when some kind of realisation seems to hit him is admittedly a bit unsettling, and it stirs something deep in Yoongi's guts that he's not sure he ever felt in the elf's presence before.

“That much won't kill an imp. Not even remotely.”

“What do you mean that much won't kill him? What won't kill him?” Jimin frowns, looking nervous.

“Their bodies heal fast,” Hoseok says sternly, then huffs a humourless laugh. “It's hard to believe how fast, actually. It takes them no more than a day to heal an injury that takes every other creature over a week. They recover from things that you normally wouldn't without potions or an elf's help. They survive things you're not supposed to survive.”

Yoongi's brows furrow briefly before they shoot up, eyes growing bigger and lips parting as he recalls something that happened a while ago.

There's this haughty little pixie that visits the café once a month and loves gossip. She's one of their regulars and known for talking behind creatures' backs and spreading rumours. Seokjin dreads her visits every time and Yoongi understands why; she uses words like knifes.

She had one day approached the counter he was standing behind mixing drinks and taken his grumpy expression as an invitation to share her unwanted thoughts on imps with him. Yoongi didn't care, mindlessly nodding along as she kept on blabbering about what he thought were just heedless but harmless complaints.

Persistent little pests, she'd called them, and hard to get rid of.

Hard to get rid of

The possible implication of her words had not really settled in then, but it is now, and it's startlingly cruel and concerning. Yoongi's afraid he'll need to finally blacklist her if it turns out she'd really meant it like that. But to be honest, he's been waiting for her to give him a reason to do so.

How many creatures out there think alike that pixie, he wonders. How many imps are looked at the same way that Hoseok had looked at the imp?

Yoongi tries to remind himself that there's something the elf is clearly not telling them, that there has to be something that could explain the kind of attitude that the gremlin has such a hard time tolerating. If he wasn't his mate, Yoongi's sure, he wouldn't be trying to be this understanding. But this is Hoseok; this is his mate, and while he might be struggling to understand him right now, Yoongi knows he's not like those elves that the elf himself despises so much. This is not what he's usually like.

Yoongi tells himself to have some faith, but he's distracted by the elf snorting a bitter laugh that has him frowning.

“It's almost funny, you know? The more severe or lethal the injuries, the faster they heal,” Hoseok says, but Yoongi fails to find what might be so funny about that. “Since they are more urgent, their bodies concentrate on healing those first when there's more than one injury. I suppose his broken leg will have healed within the next, I don't know, one or two days? His fractured rips will have healed within that time too, probably. All the bruises and scratches will be complety gone within few days.”

“His rips are broken?” Jimin squeaks. He looks devastated, eyes big and shaky as he has to learn that there's actually more to add to the already so long list of injuries.

“Most of them. His hip's fractured as well and he has a concussion– or had one. His lung was punctured at one point, likely by one of his broken rips,” Hoseok adds as he recalls all he's seen with his elf vision, oblivious to the gnome's complexion that's turning paler with every new injury revealed. “His shoulder and jaw were dislocated at one point, but, well... that looked like it happened a while ago. It's hard to tell with imps, honestly.”

Even Yoongi feels his tummy twist funnily as he tries to digest all of that, heart feeling heavy because he would have probably never known if not for the elf's ability to see. It worries him that Hoseok seems pretty much unmoved when he's the only one that's seen the exact extent and severity of the imp's injuries, every hidden scratch and bruise and crack. Surely, he must feel at least a little bit of sympathy.

Yoongi thinks Hoseok looks like he wants to add something, but he's hesitating, seemingly conflicted, and for a second, he believes to have seen it – a glint of pity in the elf's eyes. It's gone in a blink. In the end, he's not sure he's seen it at all.

“Like I said, don't worry about him. He's going to be perfectly fine. He's already recovered from all the injuries that should have been lethal,” Hoseok says in an almost spiteful tone that has Jimin taking another step back, the elf yet again letting him do so, letting go of his hands this time.

Yoongi's regarding Hoseok cautiously. Somehow, he feels like that's not what the elf had initially wanted to say, but he decides to not bring it up right now.

“So… he has healing abilities then?” Jimin sounds doubtful. “Like elves do? But that's– I thought imps' magic is weak.” He keeps glancing between his two mates until he's looking at Yoongi with questioning eyes. “I mean, his magic did feel pretty weak, right?” And healing abilities, which only elves are known to have, would require much stronger magic than that.

“It is weak,” the gremlin nods. He had to focus on the imp's magic to actually feel it; it barely had any presence. Meanwhile, they can often feel Hoseok and Seokjin's magic through the walls without even consciously trying to.

“They can't heal others or actively use magic to heal themselves like elves can. It's nothing they have control over. They just… do. It's not really an ability they can freely use, it's more like– it's just how their bodies work. Jinn don't get sick, fairies can't touch iron, imps don't die. It's something like that,” Hoseok explains matter-of-factly.

Yoongi frowns. “They can't die?” He's never heard of creatures not being able to die.

“Not really. I mean, it's not like you can't actually kill them, but you would need to use magic to do so.” Which is very hard to do.

Magic isn't meant to be harmful; its nature is kind and giving, and using it to hurt or even kill is fundamentally wrong. Magic might turn hostile and feel unpleasant to other creatures and oneself, but magic itself is never malicious.

While it is possible to end a life using magic, it's still a hundred times easier to just kill with a simple weapon or bare hands than to force one's magic into doing something that it's strongly opposed to. It would take either genuine and very profound hatred or another intense emotion for magic to go against its nature like that and end another creature's life.

Yoongi knows what the elf's trying to say; if magic's the only way to kill imps, they are pretty much incapable of dying.

“The reason why they can't heal injuries inflicted by magic is the same reason why potions can't,” Hoseok says and Yoongi nods, understanding.

Potions are not very effective against magic burns. Using magic against magic that is of different nature doesn't really work. It's like mixing oil with water; nothing happens. Using magic against magic that is of the same nature, however, can cause them to repel each other, similar to when the same poles of two magnets collide. That hardly ever happens though; it's simply an exception to the general rule.

“They aren't immune to magic, so spells and curses still work on them as well.” Hoseok shrugs. “Basically, magic can leave permanent damage and has the potential to kill imps, but you can still stab them in the heart with a plain knife and they won't die.”

Jimin winces at that mental image. “They might not die, but– but they still bleed. It would still hurt them, hyung. He was hurting.”

Yoongi tries not to look at Jimin's bloodstained t-shirt as the gnome's words resonate deeply in his heart. He's right. They might not die, but they still bleed and they still hurt, and Yoongi can't help but wonder what it does to the mind to experience death but to continue living; tries not to think of what kind of ideas it might give some creatures when they learn that they can kill and get away with it because there won't be a corpse or any consequences.

Yoongi scowls at his feet because he doesn't know how to feel about all this or what to think anymore, and why does Hoseok know so much about imps anyway? Is this common knowledge that the gremlin's just simply lacking? But Jimin didn't know either and, unlike Yoongi, he went to school and has received proper education.

Do they not teach stuff like this to young creatures at school? He wouldn't be surprised if imps were disregarded there as well, as if not teaching about their kind would make them disappear.

“Wait. They can't heal magic burns?” Jimin's muttering absent-mindedly, as if talking to himself. Hoseok nods, but Jimin doesn't see. “Then– then what about the one around his throat?” the gnome asks quietly, hesitantly, like he fears to actually know the answer; like he's let himself hope just to see that hope get crushed. He looks at Yoongi, eyes filled with dread. “He's really gonna have to live with those?”

“What?” Hoseok says, but Yoongi's convinced that he heard and understood him just fine.

“The magic burns around his throat that look like fucking handprints, Hoseok,” the gremlin replies regardless. “Are they gonna scar like they normally would?”

“Those… you– yeah, but those weren't…” Hoseok sighs, looking oddly tired all of a sudden, and then his face turns completely blank. Yoongi's trying to look past the elf's lack of expression to see what he's hiding underneath when Hoseok hesitantly says, “It's called an elf's mark.”

“An elf's mark?” Yoongi's heard of that before. Why has he heard of that before?

“It's... it's an elf's claim of ownership,” Hoseok explains briefly, nothing more than a few little words, but the meaning they carry– oh, it makes Yoongi's stomach turn and twist as he shivers in repugnance, makes the hair on his arms stand on end as he feels the shiver run down his spine.

He's disgusted; he's absolutely disgusted. He fucking hates even just the mere idea behind a claim like that, but to actually burn another creature's skin with magic to own them like that… it's so wrong, so vile, and his heart actually hurts now, thinking of the imp's little face and how he's been branded like a thing that can be owned.

“Um, a claim of ownership?” Jimin repeats, voice sounding shaky as he's clearly just as disturbed as Yoongi. The gremlin puts a hand on the small of his back to soothe him, but Jimin doesn't even seem to notice.

At least Hoseok's finally looking a bit more like the elf they all know and love, eyes sympathetic and concerned as he looks at the gnome. But of course he wouldn't stay unaffected when one of his mates is making a face as if they are the one with the mark around their throat.

Yoongi waits for Hoseok to meet his eyes. “Aren't those illegal?” he inquires when he does. Because he remembers now.

When the laws against enslavement of lesser beings came into effect, there was a lot of commotion for a while concerning elves and the things their magic can do. A lot of what creatures still believe it can do is not even true though, and a lot of what it actually can do, they likely won't ever find out; Yoongi's learned as much over the past decade.

The spreading of misinformation has been a problem for a long time, especially ever since the Internet has made it so easy.

Elves, however, have never really cared enough to correct any of the wrong beliefs. Most of them don't seem concerned or mind being feared. It seems they find it rather amusing to let their fellow creatures believe what they want just to further mess with them. Elves are cunning creatures, their morals questionable, and their own enjoyment often takes priority in everything they do; Yoongi's also learned that not all elves are like that though.

So basically, back when the laws were being revised, a lot of creatures that fear elves have used the time of great change as an opportunity to make society a place they could feel safer around them, which led to the law prohibiting elves from putting their mark on creatures. A lot of elves' magic and what they can and can't do has been restricted by the law ever since.

Hoseok's the only elf Yoongi actually knows. Those marks have never come up in any conversation they've ever had though, nor has the elf ever brought it up himself. None of them ever asked about it either, so the gremlin didn't know what exactly they were or what they looked like.

He's still not too sure what a claim like that means for the creature wearing it or the elf that put it there, what the purpose behind it is. But he doesn't really want to know. All Yoongi cares about right now is that it reminds him of the whole entire issue of imps and lesser beings and slavery, which he can't believe is still an issue, and he can't fucking stand it.

“It is illegal, so you'd think they would put it some place more hidden,” Hoseok says. “Whatever elf claimed that imp clearly didn't care about being discreet though. Makes you wonder why.”

“Makes me feel sick is what it does,” Yoongi mutters. It makes his skin crawl.

The gremlin's certain his hair's become a mess by now, all rough and spiked from his magic going feral inside him, rumbling lowly like a wild animal that's ready to pounce. He can feel it in his blood, his magic like a raging torrent in his veins.

“Why do you care so much about that imp?” Hoseok asks, taking the gremlin by surprise with the genuine curiosity in his voice.

“Why do you care so little?” Yoongi returns the question, genuinely curious as well, but all he gets is another blank expression and silence, and the conversation dies just like that.

Hoseok's persisting silence and schooled blank expressions are getting a bit repetitive and irritating, honestly. The gremlin's about to voice his complaints, lips already parting when he suddenly feels something tugging at his shirt – or someone. It's Jimin, back from the rabbit hole that his mind so often tends to be, and seeming a little fidgety, stepping from one foot to the other like he needs the toilet.

Yoongi presses his lips together and raises a brow at him. “Yeah?”

“I told him we'd not take too long, but we've been away for a while. Come on, let's go back,” Jimin urges with audible worry laced in his voice, already moving towards the door. He doesn't wait for an answer or for Yoongi to follow, too antsy, door falling shut behind him with a thud that the gremlin would have usually scolded him for, considering how late it is.

“I'm coming with you.”

Yoongi turns to look at Hoseok, who just spoke, and just regards him for a few seconds, tilting his head. “Why?”

“Because I do care,” he says but doesn't specify, and heads towards the door to leave as well. The elf's words, however, remind Yoongi's that there's still something they need to talk about.

“You know,” Yoongi says, watching Hoseok come to a halt when he's just about to reach for the door handle. He turns around and waits for the gremlin to continue. “You know you can't talk to Jimin like that when he's so clearly taking each and every word to heart.” Yoongi scowls softly at the elf. “Why do you always seem to forget?”

Hoseok tenses, his magic tightening its grip and feeling like a vice around Yoongi's heart. “I didn't forget, I just–“

“Didn't care?”

“Of course I care about Jiminnie,” Hoseok growls, looking offended, as he should be. That's good.

“Only for a moment. In that moment, you didn't,” Yoongi tells him and yet again, the elf's response is one of silence. Because there's actually noting to say this time; he can't deny it. “It's normal to lose control over your emotions like that every now and then. Sometimes we do or say things we don't mean, and that's okay. And sometimes we hurt another and it's not so okay. But only if you choose to ignore it. I know you won't, I'm just reminding you.”

As if feeling scolded by his words, the elf's magic decides to uncurl from around Yoongi's heart, leaving it lonely and throbbing. The gremlin walks up to Hoseok and takes his hand to intertwine their fingers instead, looks him in the eyes and sees the regret there. And that's good too.

“I'll apologise,” he says curtly and squeezes Yoongi's hand in his like it's his forgiveness that he's asking for. Yoongi squeezes back and pecks his lips.

A fond little smirk tugs at the gremlin's lips when they leave Hoseok's and he notices him lean forward as if to chase after them.

“Hyung…”

“I know you will, you always do,” Yoongi tells him gently. Hoseok looks up from his dainty lips and into his kind eyes. “But you can't just keep on hurting him like this because you know he'll forgive you. He will, but he won't forget. He'll just carry it in his heart for it to come back and taunt him when he needs it the least.” Because part of the gnome still believes all the ugly things those trolls used to tell him.

“I'll apologise,” Hoseok says again, the glint of regret in his eyes turning pained. It's guilt. Yoongi knows because he's seen it way too many times in their gnome's eyes whenever he's looking at Taehyung, thinking that nobody would notice.

“Okay,” Yoongi whispers and gives him a soft smile that the elf tries to return.

The gremlin's expression turns more solemn when he's reminded of their current issue, and he asks, “But are you sure? That it's that? Those... around his throat, aren't those just magic burns? How do you know that it's an elf's claim?” Just magic burns; Yoongi wants to scoff at his own words. They are never just magic burns. Those would be bad enough, but a claim seems so much worse in comparison, so yes, he'd rather want it to be just magic burns.

“The mark's still fresh so the magic has not fully settled yet, but yes, I'm sure,” Hoseok tells him. “You recognise claims like that if you've seen them before.” Yoongi ignores the urge to ask where; where and when has Hoseok seen them before? “The edges of the burns are more defined and the colour's a bit odd. If you look very closely and for long enough, you can see a faint pattern of some sorts. But the most distinct feature is..." Hoseok glances down at his hands and sighs. "They are always shaped like the elf's hands.”

Yoongi's not even noticed half of these things and he's spent way more time with the imp than Hoseok.

“So you really were able to get a good look, huh,” Yoongi mutters, not even trying to keep the reproachful tone out of his voice. And yet you chose to ignore it and implied throwing him out, he thinks, becoming increasingly despondent about the situation.

Hoseok doesn't say anything and so the gremlin decides to make one last attempt. “Do you think you could maybe take another look at that claim and see if there's anything you could do?” When he sees the elf's expression grow conflicted again, he adds, “Do it for Jimin. He found and brought him here, he feels responsible.”

Hoseok scowls at that. “He doesn't need to.”

“Obviously,” Yoongi agrees easily. “He still does though.” The gremlin's afraid that Jimin feels responsible for a lot of things that he shouldn't feel responsible for. It's because of those goddamn trolls that he does; because of the things they've done; because of what they've made Taehyung do.

Because he feels guilty.

But no matter how many animals he tries to save in order to lessen the guilt he feels, it's never enough; every time that he does, he takes one step forward, just to be thrown all the way back every time he doesn't. The guilt's still there, always at the back of Jimin's mind or in his eyes, and sometimes it's so bad, Yoongi thinks he can feel it too.

“Would you please? It would mean a lot to him, and it would help settle his nerves too. I think he's struggling again. Please, Hoseok.” Hoseok's flustered expression tells him that the elf didn't quite expect the urgency in his voice. Well, Yoongi didn't expect it either, but the concern he felt earlier this night is back at the front of his mind and he can't just ignore it.

“I saw a half-empty jar in his cabin. He's drinking again,” Yoongi confides. But Hoseok doesn't seem surprised anymore, and when he decides to stay quiet again, it almost seems as if…

“You knew,” Yoongi says, frowning.

Hoseok sighs. “I saw.”

“And you didn't say anything?” Yoongi hisses quietly. Again. He's about to let go of Hoseok's hands and back off, but the elf doesn't let him, pulls him even closer instead. The gremlin huffs in annoyance, but relents easily. How can he stay mad at any of his mates when they all have him so weak for them.

“Does Tae know?” Yoongi asks, a bit distracted by Hoseok nuzzling his hand.

“No,” Hoseok mumbles into his skin, his magic timidly approaching Yoongi's heart again, not able to resist the urge to curl around it for too long when the gremlin's so close. Yoongi wants to coo at it but knows better than to do so; the elf's magic is easily offended. “He didn't want me to tell anyone, so you can't say anything either.” Hoseok cradles the gremlin's hand against his cheek and Yoongi's other hand follows to cradle his other cheek. “I promised. He promised too, said he has it under control this time.”

“And you believed him?” Yoongi scoffs softly, then sighs. “Jin-hyung's always saying that he can stop anytime with his shopping addiction too, but we know not to believe him. How's that different? He's lying, Hoseok. To himself, to you. It's a fucking lie.”

“Maybe, but I tried trusting him this time.” He sounds defeated. “Look, about the claim. I can't– I… there's nothing much I can do about another elf's claim,” Hoseok says and lets go of Yoongi's hand. The gremlin retracts his other hand as well and watches Hoseok run his own through his hair in a slightly distressed manner. “It's not that simple.”

“I didn't expect it to be simple. Can't be helped if even you can't do much about it. But at least he'd accept that,“ Yoongi argues. “Just do what can be done. It's all I'm asking for.”

Hoseok hums absent-mindedly. “Did you know that he's an imp, hyung?”

“Not that it would have mattered, but no, I didn't,” Yoongi replies. “I kind of knew it wasn't just a normal animal though.”

And Yoongi thinks, that's it. He's convinced that Hoseok's going to say no regardless of what he's said so far, what they've both been telling him tonight. But at least he tried.

Yoongi can't quite believe his ears when the elf gives in.

“Fine,” Hoseok sighs, petulantly crossing his arms in front of his chest.

Yoongi warily glances at the elf like he's expecting him to immediately take it back. He doesn't wait for him to have second thoughts and change his mind though, pulling at one of his arms to reconnect their hands and take him to his room; get it done with.

Yoongi's had a long day too and it's late. He's slowly starting to feel the exhaustion gnaw at his muscles and the sleepiness tug at his eyelids, and he's honestly not looking forward to waking up early the next day – or, well, today. He honestly doesn't know how Seokjin manages all that he does, but he does somehow.

When they reach Yoongi's room, the door is wide open and through it, they see… Jimin sitting inside Yoongi's wardrobe?

The gremlin frowns at the clothes that have fallen off their carriers and onto the floor, and then at the gnome kneeling inside his wardrobe with his butt sticking out and, yeah, it's a nice butt, the best butt, but that's really not the point right now.

“Jimin, what are you doing?” Yoongi asks slowly.

The gnome makes a distressed noise when he notices them and turns around to stare back, wide-eyed, which is strange because he should have at least noticed Hoseok's magic by now. He must have really been absorbed in… doing whatever it is he's doing right now. His magic feels jittery.

Jimin immediately climbs out of the wardrobe, stumbling as he does when his shirt somehow gets caught on one of the carriers. “Imps like to hide, right? I thought maybe he climbed into your wardrobe?”

“So you tried climbing inside yourself?” Yoongi asks distractedly as he's looking around the room. Hoseok is too, and they both don't fail in noticing a specific creature's absence.

“Where's the imp?” Hoseok asks suspiciously. Yoongi feels like he's watching all the talking and reasoning and convincing he's done for half an hour going down the drain. Great.

Jimin whines loudly, his magic reaching them in jittery waves. “I don't know!”

The elf scowls at him. “He's gone?” And Yoongi absolutely expects it when his frown deepens and he says, “I've told you so.” Hoseok lets go of Yoongi's hand to cross his arms in front of his chest again and mutter lowly, “I've told you they can't be trusted.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes at him. “You're not helping right now by saying it twice.”

Hoseok ignores him. “So we have an imp roaming inside our house,” he sighs heavily, “and we can't even search for his magic with how weak it is. Now what?”

As much as Yoongi doesn't like to admit it, Hoseok's right. Even if injured and weak and harmless, even if they seem like the bigger threat to him than he to them, he's still a strange creature and now he's somewhere inside their home, probably got lost too with how much the house likes to mess around, and they really shouldn't have left him alone, what the fuck were they thinking? Maybe he's already gone? But he can't pass the portal on his own, and even if he could because the tree randomly decided so, he'd end up in a deadly forest…

No, Yoongi's got to be honest with himself; he's more worried about the imp's well-being than him being a potential threat to his home and loved ones. No matter how hard he tries, he doubts the imp wants to cause them any problems by doing mischief, or whatever it is that imps have done or been doing to gain that bad reputation of theirs. He'd be a hypocrite if he believed that not all elves are the same, yet pigeonholed the imp just like that.

But he knows Hoseok, and he doesn't know the imp, so it'd be justified to be suspicious of him, right? Stranger danger and all that. Right? So why is it that, while he normally has to consciously try to trust strange creatures, this time, he actually has to remind himself to be wary of one.

Yoongi doesn't get to further contemplate as he's ripped out of his thoughts. They all feel his magic a few long seconds before he arrives, and it's powerful and kind and soothing, and warm. So so warm. Always so warm for him to snuggle into; he's already feeling a little drowsy just thinking about it.

They all turn around at the same time, expecting to see their oldest mate slowly emerge from the dark to appear in the door in all his beauty and tiredness. And he does. He emerges from the dark, looking as beautiful as always and as tired as ever, dressed in those very anticlimactic and rather childish-looking pyjamas again; the pale blue one with thin vertical stripes in a darker shade of blue and evenly spread tiny red hearts everywhere. Seokjin emerges from the dark looking beautiful and tired and soft and carrying an ever so wide-eyed looking... imp… on his back…?

“What the fuck?” Yoongi mutters at the sight, eyes moving to the clothes that the imp's now wearing; Seokjin's favourite pink sweater and his comfiest sweatpants. Seeing another creature but their hyung dressed in them brings back the bittersweet memory of when Namjoon had brought Yoongi home with him all those years ago and the oldest had, upon seeing the hurt and sad and cold gremlin, insisted on dressing him in those very same clothes.

The magic burns that Yoongi now knows to be an elf's claim are glaring at him from where the way too big sweater's slid of the imp's shoulder, revealing his throat and neck and collarbones, yet all that Yoongi can focus on are the burns and cuts and bruises as his mind's racing through everything that Hoseok has told them.

Seokjin huffs a humourless laugh. “Right back at you. What the fuck's going on?”

The imp is peeking at them over their hyung's shoulder but ducks his head when he finds Hoseok looking back at him. The elf has noticed the clothes as well, but with visible disdain.

Yoongi can't share his sentiments. It almost looks like the imp belongs there, on their hyung's back, looking all soft and comfortable and oddly small. The gremlin feels a bit dazed looking at them in their comfy clothes and feeling their combined magic, the ifrit's like a big cosy fire place engulfing him in warmth and the imp's like small flames shyly licking at his skin.

Yoongi doesn't realise he's zoned out until Jimin's voice brings him back.

“Hyung…” the gnome mutters, seemingly just as puzzled to see the imp draped over their hyung's back as Yoongi. He doesn't even continue what he wanted to say.

“So I found this one here all on his own while injured and hungry,” Seokjin begins with a voice that makes it hard to tell whether he's messing or being serious. “And now I find you just idly chatting in Yoongi's room at this hour. Someone mind explaining?”

Hoseok and Seokjin's eyes briefly meet, but the elf's quick to avoid the older's gaze, stubbornly looking away as guilt flashes through his eyes so fast that Yoongi almost misses it.

“Why are you not asleep yet, hyung?” Yoongi asks instead of answering his question.

Seokjin huffs. “You expect me to sleep with all this mayhem going on?” He disapprovingly shakes his head. The imp on his back scrunches his nose when the movement makes Seokjin's hair brush his face. Yoongi refrains from smiling fondly at him. “For your information, I was sleeping. I woke up when I felt a burst of strange magic. Turns out it was this one's.”

Right. Fuck, of course.

Seokjin has always been rather sensitive to magic. He often feels their upset through their magic before they even feel it themselves. It must be stressful to feel all theirs in addition to his own emotions, Yoongi feels like. He would imagine that it's a pain in the ass more often than not and he knows that it's even causing the ifrit migraines, which of course he can simply suppress with his magic, but still.

And yet Seokjin insists that it calms him to feel them all so intensely and that it reassures him to know that they are all there and alright when they're rooms apart and he can't see them; that it's been more of an asset than a liability so far.

Apparently, he doesn't appreciate it though when they're passionately making love somewhere inside the house while he's trying to fall asleep, and so he's just lying there, horny and wide awake, but too tired to join or do anything about his growing arousal.

It wasn't just one time that Seokjin's complained about it to him.

“I'm sorry we woke you, but hyung,” Jimin glares at the now sweatpant-clad leg that's dangling next to their hyung's thigh, “He really shouldn't be moving around this much with that leg of his. I don't care what amazing ability his body has, he should be resting.”

The imp on Seokjin's back keeps shifting, seemingly uncomfortable being spoken about without being spoken to, eyes darting around the gremlin's room like he doesn't know where to look at or what to focus on. Seokjin kindly tells him to stop moving and he abruptly quits his fidgeting to dejectedly stare at the ifrit's shoulder.

The gnome must have noticed his discomfort as he pointedly tells him, “I told you to rest. Why didn't you listen?” The imp winces in response, then glances up to see Jimin's slightly chiding but fond eyes and immediately lowers his head again. Yoongi's noticed him doing that a lot in the short time he's been here.

Jimin's eyes move to Seokjin next.

“Don't give me that look,” the older defends himself before the gnome can say anything. “He was already up and roaming when I found him, or he found me? He opened the door to my room, thought it was the bathroom, I guess.” Seokjin turns his head as much as possible to look over his shoulder and at the imp, whose eyes widen comically when he sees the ifrit's face so close to his own.

“I, uh… I– I really needed to go, s-sorry,” the imp mutters quietly, turning away and not daring to look at any of them again as he hides his face in their hyung's neck.

“Why would you apologise for needing the toilet?” Yoongi frowns just as Seokjin exclaims, “And he's hungry too! Did you not hear–“ He suddenly just stops to squint at the gnome's upper body. “Jimin, sweetheart, what's that on your shirt?” Seokjin asks, frowning at the red stains all over the gnome's white t-shirt.

Yoongi hears something crackling, smells something burning.

“Is that… blood?” Seokjin's eyes slowly move from the t-shirt and up to Jimin's face. He discreetly glances at Yoongi before he turns to the imp again. “It's yours.”

It's not a question, but the imp answers regardless, mumbling something into Seokjin's neck that Yoongi can't make out except for the tiny 'm sorry at the end that has his magic complain quietly. The ifrit's magic flares up as well, sparks flying up from the ends of his hair and turning into smoke.

“Please stop apologising,” Yoongi sighs before addressing his hyung. “And hyung, calm down plea–”

“You've been here talking between yourselves while this one's been on his own bleeding and hurting and needing relief, and how could none of you notice that he's starving?”

That sounds slightly exaggerated to the gremlin, but of course Seokjin would consider that the worst thing about the imp's current state, although Yoongi thinks that he's acting a bit more theatrically than his usual dramatic self would.

Hunger is probably also the least of the imp's concerns right now. He looks like he really wants to jump off their hyung's back and hide under Yoongi's bed, most likely feeling the ifrit's displeased magic and thinking it's his fault or something stupid like that.

“You should have heard his stomach! Oh, what a heartbreaking sound...” Seokjin shakes his head as he shudders, a few sparks flying up again. “You'd be in flames too.”

“I doubt that–“

“All these creatures and not a soul to feed him! I can't believe it!”

Yoongi sighs, growing slightly irritated by repeatedly being cut off like that, and decides that, as from now on, Seokjin has no right to complain again about Jimin never listening.

“Are you done?” Yoongi raises a brow at Seokjin, who raises a brow right back at him. Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Look, I'll make him something to eat, but please go sleep some, hyung. Your magic feels very tired. You're acting weird again.”

“I need to feed this hungry little creature is what I need to do,” he declares fiercely, determined. “So if you will excuse us. Out of the way, the kitchen's waiting for us,” Seokjin tells them, even though he's the one standing in the door and nobody's blocking his way, and then he turns around, the imp helplessly watching with big eyes as the ifrit moves them out of the room. Small sparks light up in the dark of the corridor, and so do the imp's eyes when he sees them, and then they're gone.

Jimin doesn't wait to run after them, squeaking a tiny w-wait!

Yoongi turns to Hoseok as soon as they are alone again.

“He was just looking for the bathroom,” the gremlin says.

“And you believe him? That's what he's saying, but are you sure it's true? He might be lying, hyung,” Hoseok mocks, not minding the way Yoongi narrows his eyes at him when he realises that the elf's mimicking what he's said before about the elf naïvely believing Jimin's promise. It's a sly move and Hoseok knows it.

I'll try trusting him then, Yoongi thinks to himself, recalling Hoseok's reply. It wouldn't be the first time that trusting a strange creature ends up being the best mistake he's ever made. It's brought him five mates so far, hasn't it?

Who says that this time can't be another such mistake?

Chapter Text

The last time Seokjin's seen an imp feels like such a long time ago. Probably because it is. It must have been a couple centuries, he thinks, that he's come across one in a very similar state, beaten up and afraid. Worse. That imp had been starved, limbs thin like sticks and cheeks hollow; eyes even more hollow.

Seokjin would never forget how reminiscent of a devil bird's empty black eyes they had been, like bottomless holes that, once you've fallen inside, you'll never get out again. Lost.

That imp had shown no response when Seokjin had crouched in front of him. Hadn't said a word, hadn't even moved, but just looked at him, or rather past him, eyes dull and unseeing, and Seokjin had wondered, how much pain must one go through to turn numb like that. He still thinks about it sometimes.

Seokjin had taken pity, not sure what else to do but bring him back home with him, so he had carried him there on his back, much like he is right now, but at least this imp's thighs don't feel like he could easily break them if he'd wanted to. His eyes don't look empty either, but much like tiny galaxies, glistening with either fear or curiosity. Alive.

That imp from back then might have once had eyes like that too. Seokjin would like to think that he had, but he won't ever know, because when he'd found him, unfortunately, it had already been too late.

It is true that an imp's body can withstand a lot and more, Seokjin learned, but the mind can't, and as it turned out, that imp's mind had already been broken beyond repair, and the body he'd been carrying on his back had only been an empty shell.

There was nothing left to bring back.

Seokjin's glad that this imp still seems to have some light in his eyes and that there's not just emptiness behind them, no seemingly bottomless holes, and he's glad that he's not too late this time.

Seokjin might not like how scared the imp had seemed back in his room, and how he'd been distressed to the point of heavy tears. How he looked terrified to be touched - to be hurt, he'd dare say - yet let him touch anyway.

And Seokjin might not like how intimidated the imp had seemed in the hallway either, and how he couldn't keep still. How he'd shivered every now and then and kept fidgeting like he wasn't sure whether to get off his back or hold on for dear life.

But Seokjin's glad because at least he's still able to feel scared or intimidated, he can still express those things. He hasn't become numb to his surroundings, or his own pain, and his magic too is still alive, still flowing in his veins, warm and gentle and anxious.

It's just the sad sad reality of current society that the imp he's carrying now could have very well ended up like that imp he'd carried back then, and that thought is deeply unsettling. It could have easily been like back then, when Seokjin had still naïvely believed that all creatures are inherently good at heart and that everyone deserves a second chance or a third, or a fourth, or a fifth... or as many as they'd want.

Back when he'd still believed that it was normal for love to hurt.

That it was okay to hurt for love.

But it wasn't love.

He had to realise, eventually, how cruel creatures can be, and he'd fully believed it. He'd fully believed for some time that that's all they are. Until he had to realise, again, how sweet creatures can be. How gentle.

Love can be gentle.

And this imp's magic feels gentle too.

He feels a little heavy on his back. Not heavy as in too heavy, but simply heavier than Seokjin's expected him to be, and he's glad again. This imp doesn't feel like just skin and bones, and that's good. There might still be a lot of other things left to worry about, but at least there is something left.

Seokjin forgot his exhaustion and desperate need for some good hours of sleep the moment he'd seen the imp's leg, and then he'd seen his throat and it hit him like a brick in the face, like an ice-cold shower; anger, disgust, pity. It woke him up real good.

Because he knows exactly what he had been looking at. Those burns, those patterns, that shape - oh boy, it's been a while since Seokjin's last felt his magic boiling in his veins like this, like his blood might be boiling too. It's been even longer since he's last felt the urge to hurt anyone, but he genuinely kind of wants to hurt whoever dared laying their filthy hands on this poor little thing.

It had been infuriating back then, and it still is just as infuriating now. Maybe even more, because having five mates has definitely not helped with that strong urge to protect and keep safe. He'd love to always keep them within a range in which he can still feel their magic, to be reassured of their well-being, but he knows he can't demand such a thing.

And it pains him to be reminded, yet again, how fragile other creatures seem to be. An ifrit's body might not heal like an imp's, but it doesn't have to. There's hardly anything that could harm him in the first place; he's immune to diseases and his magic engulfs him like a second layer of skin, like armour, shielding him from most injuries and offensive magic.

Stress and fatigue might actually pose the biggest threats to him.

Seokjin's magic just won't stop bursting, small sparks flying up and turning into smoke in short intervals, and he's just too tired at this point to try and fight it. So he doesn't. And it's just so precious how the imp seems fascinated by his magic, the tiny noises he makes in awe sounding nothing but endearing in his ears as they descend down the stairs.

Seokjin almost trips over several plants as he makes his way through their obstacle course turned living room, dim light following them and turning bigger and brighter to warmly illuminate the kitchen when they reach it.

“Alright, I'll let you down to sit on this chair here, careful,” the ifrit announces as he slowly kneels down with his back turned to one of the chairs around the dinner table.

The imp's arms disappear from around his neck, as do his legs from around his waist, and then the weight on his back is gone, leaving him weirdly upset for a moment. He was getting kind of used to the ticklish feeling of the imp's timid magic hovering near his skin, as if too shy to actually touch him.

When he turns around to regard the imp, he seems very interested in their kitchen, eyes roaming the cabinets and appliances as he's biting his bottom lip. Seokjin's seen the cut there before and he presses his lips together to keep himself from telling the imp to stop nipping at his wound, scared it might come across the wrong way and frighten him. He knows he can be a bit... much, and the imp's magic had felt so dejected earlier when he'd told him to keep still.

Seokjin pulls another chair in front of the imp, then hurries to the living room and comes back with a cushion that he places on top of it. “Here, put you leg up,” he tells him, and the imp does as told, but not without staring at him with star-struck eyes that have Seokjin feeling slightly self-conscious, but also very soft inside.

It's cute how something that's a matter of course can catch him off guard like that, as if it astonishes him another creature would go out of their way for him. Somehow, it leaves Seokjin with a strange sense of foreboding.

“Good?”, Seokjin asks, raising a brow at him. The imp nods, quick jerky movements that make his tousled hair bounce. It's a bit long, the ifrit's noticed, long and wavy and messy, cute little horns peeking out and almost looking like tiny cat ears. It's quite adorable.

Seokjin doesn't really think when he reaches out to tug a few strands out of the imp's face and behind his ear. He freezes under his touch, doesn't dare move a muscle, might even be holding his breath, and they stare into each other's eyes until Seokjin retracts his hand to just smile at him. The imp tries smiling back, but it looks unsure and confused.

“Is there something you'd like me to make for you? I know how to cook a lot of things, so don't hold back on me,” Seokjin tells him, and the imp looks even more unsure now, eyes darting around the room as if they might find an answer somewhere else. Seokjin doesn't think he's asked him anything difficult.

“I, uh... I don't know,” he ends up muttering quietly.

“Do you have a favourite dish?” Seokjin tries.

“I... don't know.”

Seokjin frowns. “Then, is there maybe anything you're craving right now?”

The imp hunches his shoulders and looks down at his lap again, seemingly a little upset. “I don't know... 'm sorry.”

“Oh, but no, it's okay. Why are you apologising, dear?” Seokjin scowls softly and tilts the imp's head up to meet his eyes. They are really pretty, his eyes; bright like a starry sky and sweet and warm like melted chocolate, so deep he might drown in them. It's a shame he always keeps his head down.

The imp's staring into his eyes, petrified. “I– I don't know,” he gulps, “I... I like anything. A-Anything's fine.”

“Anything's the most difficult to make,” Seokjin chuckles, but stops when the imp's just staring at him, frozen again. He lets go of his chin and hums. “Well, how about some fried rice with egg, that's always good, and- oh, and a nice bowl of noodle soup. Ah, but not just any noodle soup. Let me tell you, I only make the best noodle soup.” Seokjin smiles to himself. “It's my mother's recipe, the noodles are self-made and the broth's thick and savoury. It's truly the best comfort food I can think of. I always make me some when I need to cheer myself up.”

The imp nods, wide-eyed. A little overwhelmed maybe. Seokjin knows exactly what might help with that.

“But how about some warm cosy lime blossom tea with honey first? It'll soothe you little soul, I'm sure,” Seokjin smiles. “Doesn't that sound good?”

The imp nods, still wide-eyed. Seokjin gets the feeling he'd nod at anything he offers, and sighs as he turns towards the door to wait for Jimin to arrive, feeling the gnome's magic hurriedly descending the stairs and approaching the kitchen, reluctant for some reason.

The imp turns towards the door as well, his own magic flaring up slightly when Jimin's magic close enough for him to sense. Seokjin's not surprised at all that he seems a little excited over the gnome's arrival. Jimin's hard to dislike. Creatures take a liking to him rather quickly, for many and very different reasons, and as a spirit of nature, he's also a comforting presence to be around, especially to small animals.

When Jimin does arrive, it's not the usual comforting presence that arrives with him. He hovers in the kitchen's door a little awkwardly instead of just joining them, jittery magic coming off him in small waves. He's changed into a clean t-shirt and is glancing at them with uncertainty in his eyes, or more specifically, he's glancing only at Seokjin with his big puppy eyes.

“Hyung...” the gnome mutters quietly.

“Jimin, sweetheart, come here,” Seokjin tells him. Jimin hesitates but eventually walks over to his hyung, who gives him a gentle smile upon seeing the glum expression on the gnome's face. The ifrit cups his cheeks and pecks his forehead, brows slightly furrowed in concern. “You're magic's all shaky, dear. Why are you so nervous, hm?”

“You're not upset?” the gnome mumbles, wrapping a small hand around Seokjin's wrist to keep his hand there. The older frowns at Jimin's sulky lips, not liking that he's the reason for them without knowing why. He's no fan of genuinely distressed pouts like that and feels the strong urge to kiss it away.

“Why would I be upset?” he asks.

“You've been stressed out and... we woke you up and...” Jimin glances at the imp and back at Seokjin, magic turning slightly distressed. “Hoseok-hyung really doesn't seem to like him being here. I- I brought a strange creature inside the house and... I know you're not fond of it either.”

Ah, right. That explains why the elf's magic had felt so tense and defensive back in Yoongi's room and all the way down the corridor, Seokjin thinks, and he then wonders if he'd maybe imagined that tinge of fear in it because it doesn't quite make sense, does it? Why would Hoseok be scared?

The only time Seokjin's ever seen him genuinely scared was when a wendigo had come a little too close for comfort that one time. Those things truly look like something out of one's worst nightmare though, so he really can't blame him. Their only weakness is known to be fire and Seokjin had never felt as blessed to be born an ifrit as he had when he'd burned the torn skin off that skinny stag-like looking thing's bones just when it had lunged at Hoseok to shred his flesh with its big claws.

But the fear he's felt tonight was different from the one he'd felt back then, he just doesn't know how.

Seokjin hums. “Well, you're right. I'm usually not too fond of it.” Jimin's shoulders visibly slump. The ifrit holds onto them with a firm grip to make the gnome focus on his next words. “But this one's such a sweet little thing, just look at him.” The imp shrinks under their combined gaze, and Seokjin fears that he's not only frightened but also terribly shy. “He's injured too, so of course you couldn't have left him alone, how could you? I'm not upset at all. You've done the right thing in bringing him here. Sweetheart, I would have too.”

Because he'd done it before; tried to, that is.

The gnome visibly relaxes, a faint smile tugging at his lips, and then he sighs in relief and lets himself fall into Seokjin's chest to bury his face there. “Oh, thank god. I'm so glad, hyung. Your magic felt really intense for a moment when I came downstairs, like...” Jimin fists the fabric of his pyjamas, slightly tugging at it. “I- I thought...”

“Oh. Oh, no no no.” Seokjin wraps his arms around his mate and hugs him. ”Oh, Jiminnie, no, I don't want to hurt him.” He presses his lips together when he feels the imp's magic anxiously flicker at his words, like a candlelight that's about to be blown off, and chides himself for it, quietly mutters, “Not him.” Jimin breaks the embrace to raise a brow at the older yet doesn't ask further when Seokjin decides to ignore it.

Jimin turns around to glance at the imp again, but with a fond smile this time, eyes moving from his little face down his burned throat to his bruised shoulder and to his elevated broken leg. “Are you comfortable sitting like that?” Jimin asks gently, gaze awfully sympathetic, and Seokjin fully expects it when the imp simply nods.

“Are you sure? Do you need more cushions? We have a lot of them. Yoongi-hyung buys new ones all the time. They end up being scattered everywhere.”

The imp shakes his head.

That shyness of his is definitely going to become an issue if it's keeping him from voicing his concerns.

Seokjin lets Jimin shower the imp with more questions, which he all answers with either nods or head shaking, and goes to make the lime blossom tea that he's promised him. The ifrit hopes it will help calm his nerves and soothe his tense muscles, help him relax around them, and become more talkative maybe because the imp's voice is much too sweet to not be heard.

This lime blossom tea that he's going to make is a little special actually. They've received it from another tree spirit that Namjoon's acquainted with and whose tree is a very big lime tree that's almost as old as the willow tree. The blossoms that the tea is made of are therefore drenched in powerful magic, making it much more effective than your average herbal tea.

The thing is, creature's magic might ruin good food, but if the ingredients are naturally magical that's not the case at all. This tea tastes as lovely as it is beneficial, and the ifrit's certain it will help the imp calm down a bit. He really hopes it will because the poor thing's so nervous, it's hard to watch.

Seokjin's cradling the kettle in his hands to boil the water inside as Jimin goes to sit down on a chair next to the imp, chair legs screeching on the tiled floor as he scoots closer. Seokjin turns just in time to see the gnome frown and pout at the imp, who has become very tense and is trying to subtly lean away from him.

“Don't worry about what Hoseok-hyung said. You don't need to keep your distance just because he told me to stay away from you. He's got no right to do that,” Jimin tries to reassure, carefully placing a hand on the lower half of the imp's thigh to show that it's okay to be close. “Unless you want to keep your distance of course, then you can. I won't touch you if you don't want me to either, just say no or... or just shake your head, that's all you need to do.”

Seokjin can feel the imp's magic flicker again but with emotions that he can't fully grasp this time. Doubt, confusion... relief? No, there's more than that. The imp doesn't move Jimin's hand off his thigh, nor does he stop leaning away, but glances at the gnome like he's said something strange, and that in itself is strange too because there's really nothing strange about what Jimin's said. No, what's really strange is that he had to even say it.

“...okay,” the imp mumbles quietly after some time.

And then it's silent for a while except for the clinking of metal against porcelain as Seokjin stirs the honey into the brewed tea. It's a special kind of honey as well. It's from Jimin's (not so) secret stash that the gnome hides in the highest kitchen cabinet, probably thinking that, if he can't reach it, they can't reach it either, forgetting that most of his mates are taller than him or that they could easily use magic, or simply a chair.

All Seokjin had to do was to kindly ask the cabinet to drop him the jar of infused honey that has lavender, vanilla and evening primrose in it (kindly ask is all they have to do really, but the house likes to tease the gnome and would often refuse him simple requests like that).

Jimin named this specific infused honey “Good Night Honey” as he likes to feed them a spoon whenever they have trouble falling asleep. Seokjin hopes it might help the imp to have a “good night” at their place as well because of course he's staying the night, potentially two nights if his leg's not fully healed by tomorrow.

Seokjin doesn't think there's any need to even discuss this. There's nothing to be discussed here and he's not going to let this be argued about, although, looking at the imp and his cute little face, he doubts anyone would try.

Except for Hoseok.

The elf's apparently already expressed his dislike of him being here, and what was that about him telling Jimin to stay away from him? Okay, maybe Seokjin won't be able to avoid a little bit of arguing then. As much as he hates doing it, if drastic measures are needed, he's not going to shy away from pulling his hyung card and have the last word in this.

Surely, he won't have to though, right?

Seokjin places the steaming cup on a saucer and brings it to the imp, whose nose immediately starts twitching when he smells the sweet floral aroma.

“Smells good, right? Go on, take a sip. I think you'll really like it,” Seokjin smiles as he hands him the tea. The imp accepts it, porcelain rattling in his shaky hands. Seokjin's not sure if it's because he's feeling weak or nervous, but it's probably both.

The imp eyes the cup suspiciously for a little while before he takes a sniff, nose twitching again as he does. He briefly glances at Seokjin and then tentatively nips at the delicate porcelain, eyes growing bigger and magic turning pleased as he continues to take little sips.

Seokjin smiles contentedly and leaves the table to return with a second cup of tea. He places it in front of Jimin.

“Oh, hyung.” Jimin stares at the cup, looking surprised. “You've made me a cup too?” He beams up at him, eyes disappearing with his big smile. “Thank you.”

“You need to calm down as well,” Seokjin tells him, to which the gnome pouts. It's a welcomed one this time. It's a deliberate one, and a cute one at that, but Jimin's always cute when he's not busy sassing him back or being a flirtatious menace.

The ifrit decides to no longer postpone feeding the imp, can no further allow him to stay hungry while in his care because his “hyung senses”, as Yoongi likes to call them, would never condone such a thing, so he goes to gather all ingredients and tools and starts cooking.

Soon, the leftover rice from earlier today is sizzling in the pan and the pre-made soup is cooking on the stove. Seokjin's quietly humming with the loud kitchen noises as his intrumentals and only stops when he feels Yoongi's magic slowly approach.

The ifrit turns around and watches Yoongi enter the kitchen on silent socked feet. He's on his own, but Seokjin can still feel the remaining magic of Hoseok clinging onto the gremlin, which is pretty normal though since the elf's magic has always been as weak for Yoongi as the elf himself, reaching for his heart and soul even when Hoseok tells it no.

Yoongi wordlessly takes a seat at the table, joining the imp and gnome's little after midnight tea party. He smiles when he meets the imp's eyes, but the poor thing flinches and quickly averts his gaze.

“You're cooking your mother's noodle soup? Smells good,” Yoongi comments casually, as if he's not at all feeling dejected by the imp's reaction. Seokjin can easily tell that he is though by the way he's awkwardly touching his neck as his eyes wander aimlessly through the kitchen.

“Of course it smells good. I'm the one cooking here,” the older huffs.

“You should put some duck in there,” Yoongi suggests. “I think it would go well with the soup.”

Joking around like that is usually how the gremlin copes with stressful situations, and Seokjin wonders, is this a stressful situation? Is the imp's presence stressing him out, or is something else?

Seokjin snorts. “And you still wonder why those ducks hate you so much?”

“They don't only hate me, they hate all of us. You should have seen the way their leader tried to pick a fight with me earlier tonight, like it even stood a chance against me. Fucking hilarious.”

“Their leader?”

Yoongi shrugs. “Don't they feel like a gang to you?”

Seokjin raises a brow, amused. “A gang of ducks?”

“A duck gang,” Yoongi confirms.

“Sounds stupid.”

“You're stu-”

“Hyung.”

Seokjin turns to look at Jimin, thinking that he called for him, but the gnome has his gaze fixed on Yoongi. The ifrit turns back around to check for the food, stirs the rice and tastes the soup, and as expected, it's good. Of course it is. But why does Jimin sound so apprehensive again?

“Where's Hoseok-hyung?”

Oh, Seokjin doesn't like that tone.

“Don't know. Went to sulk in his room again, probably,” Yoongi mutters, sounding... annoyed? Frustrated? His magic feels upset and sad and- oh, he's disappointed. In Hoseok?

Seokjin looks over his shoulder to frown at the gremlin, wondering; what else did he miss in those few hours he allowed himself some rest? Did Hoseok and Yoongi have some kind of disagreement? But those two never fight, not really. They usually end up having angry sex instead and then, afterwards, they apologise to each other and cuddle and everything's fine.

Did they end up fighting because of the imp? Because Hoseok doesn't want him here? Well, that's slightly problematic.

“I'm done with his bullshit for tonight.” Yoongi sighs resignedly. “Maybe he's less of an idiot tomorrow and can remind me again why I love his stupid ass. Sleep usually helps with being a decent creature, right? His brain must be malfunctioning 'cause it's tired and has turned him into a dick or something.” He's rubbing his face tiredly. “I really hope that's all this is.”

Seokjin squints at the gremlin and clears his throat to catch his attention. “Are you implying something here?”

Yoongi huffs out a silent laugh. “No, but some sleep would do you good too. You seriously need some rest, hyung. Something's going to catch fire one of these days if you don't. You're already leaving trails of ash everywhere you go if you haven't noticed.” Oh. Seokjin's eyes widen. He hasn't. “I told you I could've made him something to eat in your stead. Why don't you try accepting when one of us offers to help for once?”

“But why offer him okay food when I can offer him good food?” Seokjin counters.

“Wow, hyung. Why stab me in the heart like that?” Yoongi gasps, holding his hand over his heart in mock hurt. Seokjin immediately opens his mouth to retaliate but gets distracted by the way Jimin winces, magic suddenly recoiling as if stung.

“Jimin, sweetheart, what's wrong?” He frowns at the gnome, who's looking at the imp with a very conflicted expression.

“Jimi-”

“I just- hey, is it true...” Jimin starts, stopping when the imp glances up from his cup of tea to timidly meet his eyes. “I mean, you don't have to answer this. It's just that I wanted to hear it from you rather than someone else, just- just to make sure, um, so...” Jimin sighs, a little frustrated, and throws his two hyungs a helpless look. “Hyung,” he whines. “How can I ask this without sounding insensitive? I feel like maybe I shouldn't?”

The imp looks at them as well, looking confused and kind of concerned, but Seokjin doesn't really know what Jimin's talking about either. Yoongi seems to know though, a little ah leaving his mouth when he understands.

“I don't think so?” Yoongi tilts his head, eyeing the imp for a second before he gives the gnome a shrug. “You won't know until you know, I guess. Just ask.”

Jimin takes a deep breath before facing the imp, startling him a bit with his determined expression, furrowed brows and intense stare.

“Y-Yes?” the imp squeaks.

“Okay, so, as an imp, do you- would you really not die if you were stabbed in the heart or, you know...” Jimin scrunches his nose. “Stuff like that?”

The gnome's never liked violence. He absolutely hates it; hates seeing or hearing about it, hates talking about it, and turns pale just thinking about it. But Seokjin's more concerned about the imp, whose magic has started flickering wildly upon hearing that question, tiny flames crackling with a sense of urgency before the imp shuts them up completely and his magic's presence is suddenly just gone like that.

No wonder imps are known to be good at hiding, Seokjin thinks in that moment; with their magic being so weak, if they suppress it, it feels like the imp's not even there.

“I, uh, no, I wouldn't... die,” the imp whispers, glancing warily at Jimin. He looks like he wants to say more, but his mouth stays shut.

“Oh wow, so have you died before?” Jimin asks before he can think better of it, mouth quicker than his brain, as it often tends to be when he's genuinely curious about something.

Seokjin grimaces. He didn't even consider that his mates might not know much about imps. Now that he thinks about it; it makes sense for these two not to know. Yoongi lived most of his life isolated from other creatures in that beast-infested home forest of his. Jimin too used to live a pretty secluded life in his little cottage on the outskirts of Busan.

They still kind of live like that; secluded and isolated, that is. The guests at the café are the only creatures that aren't mates that they see and talk to on a regular basis, close friends dropping by only every once in a while, being quite busy themselves.

But there are no imps among their friends, nor can Seokjin recall to have ever seen one among their guests, and he's spent almost every day at the café these past twenty years. He would remember.

“Um...” The imp looks at his lap as he fiddles with the long sleeves of his sweater. Seokjin doesn't even need to feel his magic to know that he's uncomfortable.

“Oh my- no no no, don't answer that. It's okay, pretend I didn't say anything.” Jimin makes a high-pitched noise in his throat as he buries his face in his hands. “I'm so sorry, oh god, please can someone just shut me up next time.”

Yoongi hums. “I mean, how would you like us to shut you up? I can think of a few-”

“Yoongi, please. Behave,” Seokjin warns, glaring at him over his shoulder, because now's really not the time for naughty thoughts.

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “I'm sure he's old enough to not be censored by you.”

Seokjin's mouth drops open, aghast. “Just look at his face, will you? He looks like it's not been too long since he's dropped out of the womb! He's practically a child!”

Yoongi snorts. “What the fuck are you even saying? You can't tell how old a creature is by just looking at them. He might as well be older than you, hyung. You're talking shit.”

“I can tell, okay? Don't question me,” Seokjin huffs. “Anyway...” He turns the stove off, fills a bowl with soup and piles a moutnain of rice into another, places both bowls in front of the imp, gets a glass of water because hydration's always important, and then takes the seat next to Yoongi. Ignoring his mate, he smiles at the imp. “Why don't we talk a little as you eat?”

Seokjin regrets saying that when he sees the imp tense and then absently nod. The ifrit scowls, not liking how it seems like he's feeling pressured to agree.

“We don't have to talk of course. You can also just eat and ignore us. Don't worry about being rude,” Yoongi tells him, and Jimin nods reassuringly, but the imp's just staring at his elevated leg like it might grow a mind of its own and attack him.

His ankle is bruised too, Seokjin discovers, all the way around. Almost like a bracelet. Almost like a... chain.

“Obviously. You don't have to tell us a thing about how you got here and why you're injured if that's not something you're comfortable talking about,” Seokjin says, feeling relief wash over him when he sees a bit of the tension leave the imp's body. “Hyung's sorry. I didn't mean for that to sound like we're about to interrogate you,” he apologises, ignoring Yoongi's you don't even know if you're his hyung. “But how about introductions, hm? Wouldn't you like to know our names at least? How's that sound?”

“I, uh... okay,” the imp answers meekly, glancing up again. “Okay,” he repeats, as if telling himself.

“Okay,” the ifrit agrees. “Well, then... my name's Seokjin,” he introduces himself a bit awkwardly. “But you're welcome to call me Jin. Next to you, that is Jimin.” He nods to the gnome, who's smiling brightly at the imp, eyes turning into small crescents. The imp returns a weak smile as he fiddles with his sweater paws, looking a little flustered.

Seokjin places a hand on Yoongi's shoulder. “This one's Yoongi.” The gremlin lifts a hand in greeting and the imp slightly bows to greet back. “The other one you've met is Hoseok, and our other two mates that you haven't yet met are called Namjoon and Taehyung.”

Seokjin waits for him to look at them weirdly, like most creatures do upon finding out that all of them are mates and they are not just two throuples living under the same roof. Creatures don't usually have more than one or two mates, so he's aware that they are a little special in that aspect.

A weird look is not what they get though.

The imp's too occupied mouthing their names, probably trying to memorise them by repeating them to himself. Seokjin thinks that he's precious for trying, but he also thinks that it'd be unlikely for him to remember them all at once, not while his magic's so nervous.

“What's your name, dear?”

The imp pauses and meets the ifrit's gaze. His ever so slightly startled doe eyes are just as endearing as they are disconcerting, and Seokjin's not sure if his heart just cracked or melted or both.

“J-Jungkook,” the imp mutters quietly, looking oddly proud to have told them his name, little smile on his face.

“Well, the circumstances could have been better, but it's still nice to meet you, Jungkook.” Seokjin subtly glares at Yoongi, then politely smiles at the imp. “Now, how old are you if I may ask?”

“Twenty... t-twenty... two? Three?” Jungkook tilts his head, frowning to himself.

“Are you asking us?” Yoongi asks, amused.

“I think... twenty... three.” It almost sounds like a question again. Seokjin's brows furrow slightly.

“You think?” The gremlin chuckles, not at all in a mean way, he sounds endeared if anything, but Jimin still gives him a soft glare when he takes notice of the imp's dejected expression.

Seokjin can't tell if Jungkook's actually daunted by Yoongi's comment or if he's just unnerved by the apparent uncertainty over his own age. Creatures do tend to forget their own age, but usually that only happens when they've been around for several centuries, not barely two decades.

He's so young.

“Oh, he's literally a baby!” Seokjin coos, ignoring the way his hearts drops because the imp's bruised all over, and his leg's broken and his throat's marked, and he's only twenty-three. Maybe his age shouldn't matter because all of that would still be awful regardless of his age, but he's only twenty-three and... “He's not even reached full maturity yet.” Seokjin's smile drops as well. “Oh dear, you're not even...”

Jungkook glances up at him, a curious glint in his eyes, but yet again, he chooses to stay silent. Seokjin meets his gaze, pondering why the imp's all on his own and out here when he's not even fully matured yet. The ifrit's own mother would have never. She had not allowed him to stray far from home on his own until he'd turned twenty-five, reaching full maturity and independence. But his mother might have also been slightly overprotective.

It must run in his blood, Yoongi had once said, and Seokjin found he couldn't really deny it.

Seokjin still remembers turning twenty-five even though that was five centuries ago. It's always made a big event and said to be an every creature's most important birthday since that's when they're fully developed and stop aging. From then on, age doesn't really matter anymore. Creatures can live long lives, potentially forever – or so they say. Nobody knows if it's true though as nobody can possibly prove it.

The current creature known to be the oldest alive, Seokjin has heard, is said to be around eighteen centuries old. That's pretty fucking old, and yet the willow tree's even older than that, about two centuries older than that, to be precise. Namjoon's soul is approximately half as old as the tree, having been born when it reached the age of one millennium as a tree needs to be at least that old to birth a tree spirit.

Age is honestly a bit of a tricky thing when it comes to tree spirits, or spirits in general, as they are born twice; first their soul, then their body and mind. They are the only creatures that don't have to experience childhood and adolescence to reach adulthood as they are born fully matured.

This is why Namjoon is the oldest, yet at the same time, he's also the youngest of them. His soul is very old, but his second birth has only been twenty-six years ago. Jimin and Taehyung consider his soul's age his real age and therefore call him their hyung, while Hoseok thinks his mind's age is his real age and refuses to see him as someone older than him. Namjoon only considers Seokjin and Yoongi his hyungs though, says it feels right to do so, which had offended Hoseok quite a bit when he'd noticed.

Namjoon does a lot of things because they “feel right” as he struggles to put into words the exact reason, if there is one, which is often why creatures find it hard to understand his actions and decisions, even his own mates. He's easily misunderstood.

Seokjin thinks that he has that in common with imps. They are misunderstood too. More. Hated and shunned for the actions of their ancestors.

Creatures have slowly changed over the centuries - their appearance, their magic, their abilities, their morals, the way they think and the way they act. As is completely normal and natural. It's called evolution, and Seokjin can't comprehend how there are still so many creatures that don't understand such a simple concept or that they can't just put all imps, or any other creature, into one and the same box anymore because they simply won't all fit in there.

They just can't seem to get it inside their heads, clinging onto those old believes of theirs, proud even as they choose to stay blind to the world changing around them. Seokjin thinks they all know a creature or two like that.

It's the huge gap in age between the oldest and youngest generations. He knows. It's two very different mindsets clashing. He can imagine. It's because creatures live such long lives that makes change so hard to accept. It makes sense. But Seokjin's so sick of hearing those excuses excuses excuses because that's all they are.

Why can't they see that not all elves are deceiving. Not all fairies are stuck-up. Not all gnomes are kind. Not all trolls are mean Not all nymphs are beautiful.

And not all imps are mischievous.

Not all imps are small, it seems, either.

They call it an “anomaly” when a creature doesn't look like most of their kind, and Seokjin knows that this imp would be considered one because his body doesn't match the size of his horns, his tail is kind of short, and his wings are probably too small too. They'd call it an anomaly, but maybe that's what all imps will look like in the future and it would be considered normal then. But who really knows. Maybe he's just kind of special like that, but is there something wrong with that? With being different?

This imp's body might be too big, but his heart's probably too big too. Seokjin can see it in his eyes and he can feel it in his magic as well. He's a kind soul with a tender heart, and the harsh world just doesn't know how to treat sweet creatures like him. Seokjin can tell; he's one of those that see the best in everyone and everything and get the worst in turn. Hoseok and Yoongi might say that there's no way for him to know that, those two being the most sceptical among them, but he's never been wrong before - except that one time.

“Okay, let's not further keep the little one from eating, the food's getting cold. You haven't even taken a bite yet,” Seokjin announces and stands up to walk over to the imp and move the chair he's sitting on so that he's closer to the table and can comfortably eat without spilling soup all over himself. He adjusts the chair that Jungkook's leg is resting on and says, “Now eat.”

Jungkook doesn't need to be told twice, fortunately having discarded the thought that they might want to poison him (no offence taken). Deeming Seokjin's food save to eat, he digs in without second thought.

He's barely had a taste of the noodle soup, eyes growing big as they apparently tend to do most of the time, before he shovels a big spoon of rice into his mouth, cheeks puffed out as he chews hastily to quickly take another bite, then another sip of the soup, and another bite, and so on and so on.

“Dear, slow down please. The food's going nowhere,” Seokjin chuckles fondly, not sure how to read the flustered look on Jungkook's face that almost makes it seem like he's done it without realising. It might be a habit of his, to inhale his food like that. Seokjin frowns, concerned, because that can't be healthy.

They let Jungkook eat in peace as they chat between themselves, unimportant topics and mindless banter that seems to help the imp relax a bit more, or maybe it's the tea taking effect. Either way, Jungkook has stopped glancing at them after every bite he takes, as if scared they might rip the spoon out of his hand and take away his food, so that's good.

Yoongi is currently explaining to them what wolpertingers are; some kind of small mammal with feathery wings, horns, a bushy tail and fangs. They look like an animal made of leftover pieces of other animals and according to him, they get aggressive if provoked. Seokjin thinks he's heard of those before but can't quite remember, and Jimin seems very intrigued by these strange little beings that supposedly live in their forest and yet he's never seen them before.

“They are quite cute, kind of. Like, in a weird way,” Yoongi tells them. “I once saw one that looked a bit like a rabbit with bird-like wings and antlers. Another time, it was one that looked more like a fox.”

“Oh, they sound precious! I want to see one too,” Jimin pouts and petulantly sips his tea.

Yoongi chuckles. “They have pretty sharp fangs though. You're not scared?”

“You said they only get aggressive if provoked.”

“You're pretty provocative if you ask me.”

Jimin snorts with one hand covering his mouth, almost spitting his tea all over the table. “Oh my god, hyung, shut up.”

Yoongi smirks. “Make me?”

Seokjin fondly rolls his eyes at them, sees the imp's rosy cheeks, and rolls his eyes again. He doesn't roll his eyes when Jungkook ends up choking the next moment.

It's not because of their blatant flirting though, Seokjin quickly realises when he follows the imp's gaze and finds Hoseok standing in the door, watching them silently. Seokjin frowns. The elf's holding onto the restraints of his magic so tightly, keeping it close to his own heart, that the older can barely feel it.

He's never liked Hoseok doing that to such a degree as it puts quite a strain on his mental and physical health, but the elf's stubborn and just won't listen. Not even when it's Yoongi complaining about it.

Hoseok is hovering in the door like Jimin had before, and he too seems concerned for some reason. Seokjin briefly wonders if he'd be able to feel that tinge of fear again if the elf wasn't restraining his magic so much, but then decides he'd probably imagined it.

“What's with you all hovering in doors today? You've never before had a problem just barging into rooms. Hoseok, dearest, come in, will you?” Seokjin says when Jungkook has stopped coughing for the most part.

Jimin, being the closest to the imp, had immediately jumped up to rub his back and is now holding the glass of water to his lips while worriedly glancing between Jungkook and Hoseok, magic thrumming in apprehension again. The imp too is eyeing the elf cautiously as he drinks, magic flickering anxiously.

Seokjin frowns at them and then at Hoseok, who's still standing in the door, keeping his distance. When Seokjin meets Yoongi's gaze, the gremlin seems oddly tense as well.

“Okay, hyung's not amused. What the fuck's going on?” he asks when nobody else says anything, the only noise interrupting the silence being the occasional quiet cough that the imp's trying his hardest to hold back, seemingly scared of being too loud.

“Uh, well...” Jimin starts as he glances at Yoongi, silently asking him to explain in his stead, which he does end up doing, more or less.

“Hoseok here is discriminating against imps, that's what's going on,” Yoongi supplies dryly. “Don't ask me why though. I'm still struggling to understand.”

The elf glares at him, or at least as much as his heart allows him to glare at Yoongi aka his favourite ball of fluff (name provided by Taehyung), which is not much more than him just squinting at the gremlin. He seems displeased with the word 'discriminate'. Seokjin would be too; that's quite an accusation.

“I told you why,” Hoseok mutters dejectedly.

“But did you actually?” Yoongi raises a brow at him, daringly. “You said it's because he's an imp and that he can't be trusted, nor stay. You also said it's because he's a strange creature and that he might be dangerous. And we told you exactly why those aren't good enough reasons.”

Seokjin's aware of Hoseok being uncomfortable with strange creatures inside the house, they all have. Seokjin prefers to have only his mates and close friends inside the house too, so he understands. Nobody's really comfortable with strangers inside their homes, a place that means comfort and familiarity for most.

Seokjin understands. But that thing about imps...

He frowns at the elf, then looks at Jungkook, who's been quietly watching them with his big doe eyes. This one? Dangerous? He must be joking.

Seokjin chuckles under his breath, slightly shaking his head. “I'm sorry, but I find that very hard to believe.”

“He doesn't look like it, they never do. He... might be though,” Hoseok grumbles, but he sounds tired and resigned, like he already knows that he can't convince anyone, maybe not even himself.

“Exactly my point,” Yoongi groans, frustrated. “He also might not. Same fucking logic. And we've already been through why your concerns make no fucking sense. Aren't you tired of talking in circles? I am. This conversation's getting nowhere.” The gremlin's magic is rumbling lowly. It's been a while that Seokjin's seen him so agitated.

Seokjin places a hand over Yoongi's hand that's lying flat on the table, nails trying to dig into its wooden surface. He splays his fingers over his and presses them down to keep him from hurting himself, hopes his warmth and the skin on skin soothes and calms him like they always do.

 

 

Yoongi turns his hand around to intertwine his fingers with Seokjin's and squeeze the older's hands. The older has always been good at knowing what he or the others need before they even know it themselves most of the time, a special ability given to him by his sensitivity to magic and his natural protectiveness.

Yoongi really wants to wrap the ifrit around himself and curl up somewhere, but holding his hand needs to be enough right now.

“Hoseok, I love you, okay?” Hoseok raises a brow at him, already sensing the “but”. Yoongi sighs. “I do. But at this point, I honestly don't know what else to call it. You're not being reasonable, you're being prejudiced. You're not even giving him a chance to change your mind, you don't fucking want to, and it's not fucking fair. What else can I call that but discrimination? Tell me.”

The kicked puppy look on Hoseok's face absolutely hurts his heart, but Yoongi doesn't think he's said anything he shouldn't have. He's not just going to let how much he loves his mates get in the way of telling any of them his honest opinion if he feels the need to, and he certainly felt the need to in this case. There are no regrets.

“Hoseok, dearest, no discrimination inside the house, you'll upset it again,” Seokjin kindly reminds, and oh, please no. Yoongi remembers the last time the house had acted up, locking doors at random or making them disappear entirely. It was a fucking mess.

Seokjin can teleport and Hoseok can walk through walls, so it doesn't effect them as much whenever the house is upset with them, but it causes the others quite a few problems, like getting locked in rooms at the most inconvenient of times. Yoongi can live without going through that stress again, thank you very much.

“So you're saying it's okay outside the house?” Yoongi quirks a brow, mildly amused.

“Excuse me, that was poorly worded.” Seokjin gives the elf a stern look, but Yoongi can see the softness seeping right through. “Hoseok, we don't fucking discriminate in or outside of this house, obviously, so stop it.”

Yoongi snorts.

“Did all of you just collectively decide to forget about what happened with Taehyung?” Hoseok asks, looking at each of them, crease between his brows.

It's the second time he's bringing that up, and while Yoongi thinks that it's a fairy reasonable concern and fear after what had happened that one time they did let a strange creature stay, it still seems like an excuse to him; because it doesn't explain why him being an imp and not just any other strange creature poses such a problem. Hoseok's not usually the type to believe creatures' talk, nor does he give a shit about the hierarchy of creatures, so it must be because of something he's experienced himself. But what could have happened for him to dislike an entire race? Isn't that kind of extreme?

But then again, Jimin too knows that not all trolls are mean and yet, whenever they have trolls as guests at the café, he would always avoid their tables and let the others serve them. The gnome knows better yet can't help the fear he feels because it's so deeply rooted.

“I don't think any of us is ever going to forget that,” Yoongi mutters.

Hoseok narrows his eyes at him. “And yet you want to repeat that same mistake?”

“That was different,” Seokjin intervenes. Yoongi doesn't miss the flash of hurt in his eyes as the older is reminded of that incident. “Hoseok, dearest, I don't think it's good to generalise from one bad experience alone. That was that and this is this. The situation's totally different. I understand your concern, trust me, I do, but it doesn't excuse-” The ifrit stops to roll his eyes. He gives Hoseok a chiding look. “Stop glaring at him, will you? He's injured and you're scaring him. Stop being rude.”

Hoseok does stop glaring at Jungkook, but now he's glaring at Seokjin instead. There's no heat behind it though. Compared to before, there's been none in neither his eyes or voice ever since he's entered the kitchen- well, he's not really entered, he's still standing in the door, keeping his distance.

“Oh, don't you dare glare at me. I haven't forgotten about this morning. Who do you think is doing your work when you decide to just fuck off like that, huh?” Seokjin clicks his tongue disapprovingly, the ends of his hair sizzling threateningly. “And will you look at the time! It's almost three in the morning.” He huffs a mirthless laugh. “No, you know what time it actually is? It's I-shouldn't-have-to-deal-with-this-right-now o'clock. I'm tired, Hoseok. Don't be like this when hyung's tired.”

“Hyung, I'm sorry about this morning, I mean it. I know I said I'd try not to do that anymore, but...” Hoseok crosses his arms in front of his chest in a defensive manner, fingers digging into his upper arm. “I was upset, I...”

He was scared.

He doesn't have to say it for Yoongi to know; Hoseok's scared he might lose control over his magic, that he might end up hurting them. So he walks away, just leaves and goes somewhere his magic won't be able to reach for them whenever he feels himself slipping, unaware that that's kind of hurtful too.

Even right now, he's keeping a safe distance.

It's something that he's been telling him isn't necessary; something he's told him again and again he doesn't need to do. Many times Yoongi's tried to make him understand that they'd all rather hurt with him than have him hurt on his own, that none of them would mind that, would prefer that even.

It doesn't matter.

Hoseok thinks he doesn't have the right. Not as an elf. Not when the dark part of his magic might try to reach for them while he's not in the right state of mind.

It's because he's a mixed elf.

Every creature possesses dark and light magic. Usually, it's eighty percent or more light magic and twenty percent or less dark magic that make the whole of a creature's magic. However, some creatures' magic ratio is reversed. Dark elves, as well as some fairies and a very small percentage of other creatures, possess way more dark than light magic.

What's special about mixed elves is that their magic is exactly half light and half dark magic. It sounds like the perfect balance, it sounds like soemthing good, yet for some reason, that's the exact reason why it's so hard for Hoseok to control his magic.

While other creatures have a dominant type of magic, mixed elves don't have one. Dark and light magic are equal and in a constant fight to take over, causing the whole of their magic to be unstable and unpredictable.

Contrary to what most believe, dark magic isn't harmful or dangerous though – at least not essentially. Never on its own. Dark doesn't mean evil or bad. Dark magic isn't evil or bad, it's just easier to manipulate. Easier led astray by negative emotions and ill intentions. More open to the more twisted thoughts. Easier abused and used by the wrong type of creatures for the wrong things and wrong reasons.

Dark magic can be kind and giving too, but creatures tend to forget about that when all they hear about is the damage done by it and the creatures hurt by it; the families torn apart by it and loved ones taken away by it.

It's always the bad stuff that sticks to the mind while all the good slips through the cracks and disappears, like it was never even there to begin with. That's just how it is - with dark magic, with imps, and life in general.

“I think it's better to continue this conversation tomorrow at breakfast and with everyone present. I can't think clearly right now and I'm afraid of what might happen if I don't get at least four hours of sleep tonight,” Seokjin says tiredly, his magic feeling almost too hot on Yoongi's skin.

“I think some sleep would do us all good,” Yoongi agrees, giving Hoseok a not so subtle look, daring him to talk back. “But if you're too frightened to sleep with such a scary imp in the house, alright, he can stay the night in my room and I'll sure he doesn't murder you in your sleep because I sure as hell would in his place.”

Hoseok frowns at him. "Hyung, that's not what I-"

"I know.” The gremlin's magic hisses at Hoseok, warningly, to which the elf shuts his mouth, lips pressed to a thin line. “I'm fucking trying to prove something to you by doing this, Hoseok, so let me fucking prove it to you."

“Geez, you two are cursing a lot today,” Jimin comments as he throws a glance at each Yoongi and Seokjin. He then looks at Yoongi only. “Are you for real, hyung? You'd let him stay with you?”

“Sure, why not,” Yoongi says, pointedly looking at Hoseok as he does.

Yoongi is rather wary of strange creatures too. Obviously, not as much as Hoseok, but he'd say it's a healthy amount of wariness. He's wary of the imp. He was wary of him, as he would be of anyone or anything he doesn't know, but now, after he's watched him for a little while and has seen him fidget and flinch and stutter and blush, and has heard him apologise one too many times, he can't say he is anymore. All he's seeing is a sweet boy who's had a rough night.

Yoongi's not sure what exactly he'd imagined imps to be like. He's never really contemplated the nature of imps, but if he had, he probably wouldn't have thought of someone like Jungkook. He wouldn't have imagined someone as shy and timid, and concerningly submissive, to be an imp.

The way he's holding his head low and keeping his gaze down, and the way he would only talk if talked to, worries Yoongi a little bit, to be honest. It probably worries him more than it should, considering they've only met a few hours ago.

He seems like a good kid though, all in all, and that's all he really needs to know. Yoongi still thinks, even more so than before, that he'd like to try and trust him, despite what everyone says, and depite what Hoseok says.

So he's going to prove it to him, that he trusts him, or that he's at least willing to try, and that it's okay; that they shouldn't avoid each and every corner because of the potential danger lurking behind it. That sometimes, it might be worth it to go around that corner, even when they can't see what's behind. Even though they might get hurt in the end.

It doesn't have to be a malevolent beast that's hiding behind the corner, waiting to devour them, because it might also just be a poor little creature in need of their help - and to help him, that's what Yoongi wants. Somehow, that might even be what he needs; because he's been there before, in that position, and he knows how lonely and scary it can be to spend the night in a foreign place with only your mind to keep you company and hurt you in ways you didn't even know it could.

Because he knows there would be shadows hiding in places you'd least expect, waiting for when you're at your most vulnerable to show themselves.

Yoongi knows what it's like, and if he'd known it back then, he would have wanted someone to stay. So if he can and Jungkook lets him, he'll be that someone for him. He'll be there.

“If Hoseok's so sure he's a threat, someone should stay with him, no?” Yoongi says while keeping eye contact with the elf. “I can do that.”

Yoongi waits for him to say something, sees Seokjin watching him with tired eyes and Jimin regarding him worriedly as well, notices Hoseok looking back at them all.

But he doesn't say anything.

It might be the combination of Yoongi saying he's letting a strange creature sleep inside his bed, Seokjin being so tired because of him and Jimin looking so distressed by the entire situation, which the elf certainly didn't help make any less stressful, that seems to get to him, making him hesitate to retort something else.

Hoseok looks a little upset, and he looks a lot guilty in Yoongi's eyes. But he's also glaring at the imp again, like it's all his fault, very obviously still mistrustful of him, much to the gremlin's dismay. Yoongi sees the imp tense, not daring to look the elf's way but obviously aware of him staring at him.

It's wrong, it's childish, and Hoseok will realise it himself eventually, maybe he has already, so it's kind of okay. It's going to be okay. But right now, the imp looks like he's seriously considering to make a run for that gap between refrigerator and kitchen counter that he's been eyeing almost longingly for a while now, and that's not okay.

“If that's alright with you,” Yoongi says and watches the imp turn to look at him, a little startled and a lot confused.

“Huh?”

Yoongi gives a fond laugh. “I know you've been eyeing that corner over there for some while now, but would you mind sleeping in my room with me to prove to that idiot,” he throws the elf a glare, “that you're not here to murder us?”

Jungkook's eyes widen comically. He stares at Hoseok and gulps, shakes his head frantically. “I- I don't mind, no, but I'm not- I- I don't-”

“Obviously,” Seokjin huffs. “But to be honest, I'd prefer it too if you weren't on your own tonight. I'm aware this won't kill you, but I don't want you to wake up in pain and with nobody there to help. And I'm sorry, but I highly doubt you'd come seek it yourself. So I think Yoongi's offer really is the best option right now. If you really don't mind, that is.”

Jimin nods at the imp as if to reassure him that it's okay, and surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, that's all it takes for Jungkook to nod as well.

And for Hoseok to leave.

The elf walks away without another word and Yoongi hates how it feels like he's taken some of the tension, which he's not even noticed until now was there, with him. He sees Jungkook exhale shakily, like he's been holding his breath all this time – and Yoongi can't blame him. Hoseok has only contributed in making him feel unwelcomed and scared so far. To say he hasn't been the most charming tonight would be an understatement.

“I know I proposed it, but again, you don't have to feel obliged to accept my offer,” Yoongi tells Jungkook because he needs to make sure the imp knows this; needs him to know that he can still say no. Because what they think is best for him might not be what he needs. Maybe he does want to be alone. “We have a guest room if that's where you would prefer to stay the night. You can think some more about it while you finish eating of course.”

Jungkook hunches his shoulders and stares down at his food, and that's when Yoongi realises that he hasn't touched it for a while now. Seokjin does too.

“What?” Their hyung is looking at the half empty bowls. “You're already done?”

Jungkook nods as he fiddles with his sweater paws. “Th-Thank you for the food,” he says very quietly, slowly. He's kind of blinking a lot, Yoongi notices, like he can't focus. “It, uh, was really really good, but, um...” He swallows and whispers, “I- I'm not hungry anymore.”

Seokjin frowns. “Oh, but you've hardly eaten anything,” he says sadly and Yoongi huffs out a quiet laugh because, if going by the ifrit's standards, then yes, the imp's barely eaten anything. By a normal creature's standards though, he's had more than enough, even if he didn't finish the food. Seokjin's portion sizes are a little ridiculous after all.

Their oldest really needs to stop thinking that everyone has a bottomless pit as a stomach like he has.

Yoongi still remembers when he had ended up overeating and got sick that one time when they were still strange creatures to him and he was recovering from his post-potion fatigue; Seokjin wouldn't stop refilling his plate and the gremlin didn't want to offend him again by declining his food after he seemed so insulted the first time he'd tried to.

The ifrit always gets all dramatic over food. It's ridiculous, but also hilarious, and because it's so Seokjin, Yoongi thinks it's also fucking adorable.

“I-I'm sorry, I- I, uh...” Jungkook stammers, swallowing again. He's doing that a lot as well.

Yoongi narrows his eyes at the imp. Something's off. He's kind of-

“Oh dear, why are you sweating so much?” Seokjin suddenly exclaims.

He's right. He's sweating quite a bit. He looks a little pale, or maybe a lot, and very very exhausted, like he hasn't slept in a very long time, or ever. His breathing sounds laboured, his head is swaying, his eyes seem hazy.

“I think the painkilling potion's completely worn off now,” Jimin tells them. He looks at the imp with woeful eyes, crouching down next to him like one would when talking to a child. “Hoseok-hyung's looked at your injuries earlier. He's an elf, so he saw. And told us. It was... it's bad, isn't it? You must be in a lot of pain now that the potion stopped working. It seems like it. But you should have said something instead of just enduring it. I told you I can help.”

Jungkook blinks a few times. His eyes look wet. “It's- it's okay though,” he breathes out shakily. “It's gonna heal on its own... e-everything. I just... need some rest. I- I can just sleep it off.”

His voice sounds strained, breathless almost, and Yoongi recalls his ribs being broken, recalls his lungs having been punctured at some point, and winces at the thought. He doesn't want to imagine how something like that would feel, but he does; Yoongi imagines how it would feel to choke on his own blood, to not be able to escape that feeling, to make it through and remember all of it.

It sends a chill down his spine and makes him shudder. His hand finds his throat and his eyes find Jungkook's as he swallows thickly around the lump he feels there, funny feeling in his stomach spreading to the tips of his fingers.

“We know you'll be okay, but...” Jimin sighs sadly, a little frustrated maybe. “But it hurts, right?” He gives the imp his warmest, most comforting smile. “Don't you want it to stop hurting?”

Jungkook's staring at Jimin, breathing heavily through his nose as he blinks rapidly, trying to focus again, or trying to blink away unshed tears, Yoongi's not sure. The imp lets out a shaky sigh that sounds more like a pained whimper, and nods.

“W-Want it to stop please,” Jungkook whispers and he sounds so desperate, so tired, Yoongi feels it in his own chest, painful and heavy.

“Okay. Okay, good. That's good, you're doing good.” Jimin smiles sadly, but there's warmth in his eyes. “Now tell me, how did this potion work for you? Did it lessen the pain only partially, mostly or entirely?” he asks, each word spoken with utmost care.

“M-Most-” Jungkook suddenly stops and presses his eyes shut, jaw clenching hard as he takes slow controlled breaths, whole body tense.

“Hey, you okay?” Yoongi's sitting on the edge of his seat, alarmed. Next to him, he can hear Seokjin's magic crackling. He can smell the smoke and feel the concern.

“W-What's wrong?” Jimin asks when Jungkook doesn't answer, eyes tightly shut and brows furrowed in what seems like a lot of pain, beads of sweat trickling down his face. Jimin's hands keep hovering near the imp's shoulder, suddenly too scared to touch.

Jungkook shakes his head eventually, exhaling shakily, and then he opens his eyes and swallows thickly. “P-Partially?” he grits out, and it takes Yoongi a second to understand that he's still trying to answer Jimin's question. “Um, wh-whatever you gave me h-helped, but not... not much, 'm s-sorry.”

“Hey, don't apologise, okay?” Jimin gives him a gentle smile. “I can't help you if you don't tell me. I told you earlier, didn't I? I meant that. I want you to complain to me about any discomfort or pain.”

Jungkook's brows furrow slightly, something about what Jimin said seemingly not making sense to him. Yoongi thinks it might have something to do with how used the imp seems to pain, and enduring it. He's pretty sure though that you're not supposed to just endure broken bones. That sounds like torture.

“Maybe I could give you some potion to help your body heal even faster as well?” Jimin asks, frowning. “Would that work? I don't know much about imps' bodies, so...”

Jungkook shrugs feebly. “I, uh, I've never had... any potions b-before. I-I mean before today, so... I don't know.”

Yoongi frown deepens. That can't be right.

Potions have become such an every day item, it has even become a problem for some. Potion abuse and addiction is quite an issue nowadays. That's another reason why Jimin doesn't want them to take them without his knowledge and always reminds them to drink them in moderation.

The consequences of potion overdose can be as mild as a light stomach ache and as severe as inner magic burns and organ failure, organs literally getting burned from within while there's no potion to help with the pain or damage as it's what caused it in the first place.

But Yoongi's never heard of anyone that's never before taken a potion at least once in their life.

“His body might be faster than your potions.” Yoongi hums thoughtfully. “I think it would be more harmful than helpful if his stomach were to digest too many different potions. Give him only another bottle of the painkilling one to help him cope with the pain,” he suggests. “But try a stronger one,” he then adds, glancing at the imp, who's still clenching his jaw, gritting his teeth so hard, Yoongi's scared he might break them.

“Yoongi's right,” Seokjin chimes in. “Too much strange magic is bad for fragile creatures like him. Let's stick to one kind, just to stay on the safe side, okay?“

Jimin nods. “Yeah... yeah, okay. I'll go grab a bottle, or two. I'll be quick, yeah?”

The imp nods slowly, or he tries to, but it seems to make him dizzy. Yoongi's not sure he even understood what Jimin just said, or anything of what they've said in the past few minutes. He seems too out of it, eyes unfocused and complexion paler than the gremlin's.

“Oh my, you're about to faint.” Seokjin stands up to round the table.

“Jimin, sweetheart, I think it's best if you bring the potion to Yoongi's room, yeah? He's not gonna be awake for much longer.” Jimin nods and scurries out the kitchen. Seokjin smiles at the imp, sweet and kind. “I think it's time to head to bed, dear. Let me take you there.” The older gestures Yoongi to come help Jungkook get on his back when the imp doesn't respond.

Yoongi hears the gnome running upstairs as he walks over. Jungkook is hardly awake at this point, eyes barely open and tiny breaths coming out more shallow now. He looks so frail and his magic feels so weak, like it might just disappear any moment. If Hoseok hadn't told them about imps, Yoongi would have tried his hardest to keep him awake in fear he might not open his eyes again once they close.

Seokjin crouches down in front of the chair Jungkook is sitting on, looking over his shoulder as he waits for Yoongi to help him onto his back. Gremlins aren't known for their strength and Yoongi has a hard time holding the imp's body upright while coordinating and carefully manoeuvring his arms to go over Seokjin's shoulders and his legs around his waist without hurting him.

It feels like anywhere he's touching the imp's skin is probably bruised underneath these clothes and he can't help scrunching his nose as he holds onto his waist while Seokjin gets a hold of his thighs. Yoongi hopes this won't hurt his broken rips too much, and didn't Hoseok say his hip's fractured too? Fuck.

They manage somehow. The imp's on Seokjin's back again, head lying on his shoulder this time, cheek squished and lips slightly parted, eyes closed. Limp. The burns around his throat look even worse from up close. They look fucking painful, Yoongi thinks as they make their way to the stairs, and he doesn't mean the physical kind of painful.

Sleep might fix the imp's injuries, but that claim mark... why the hell is that even a thing to begin with? Being able to mark creatures to claim them like that, even against their will. Well, they actually don't know that, but Yoongi's sure that, if the imp had wanted it, then he wouldn't be here right now and looking like this, distraught and hurt and in too much pain to stay awake.

Sleep might fix his injuries and the scars will fade, but what about the memories? What about his mind?

Yoongi doesn't know what exactly happened to the imp. He doesn't know this boy's story. But he knows one thing, and he knows it very well; some wounds never truly heal, and they reopen every now and then to bleed again and again. Some wounds aren't visible to the bare eye, and yet those are the ones that hurt the most.

Yoongi knows this well.

He knows this so fucking well.

Chapter Text

Waking up has never been a particularly great feeling. Jungkook can't recall ever liking it.

More often than not, he would wake up with the paralysing sense of impending doom and his heart in his throat, each beat accompanied with the thought of I can't, I can't do this, I can't do this anymore, I can't I can't I can't, and he would go through his day with constant dread in his stomach and what ifs in his head, just to watch the day end from his little window that night, sunset painting everything a soft red; and he'd feel relieved because he'd been lucky and nothing had happened that day.

He'd fall asleep while wishing for the next day to be the same, and the next morning would come way too fast, giving him whiplash with the stark contrast of being woken by being dragged out of his bed, his wishful thinking shattering into a thousand tiny pieces as the day turns into a blurry mess of pain and pain and pain until, by the end of it, he'd be lying in a puddle of his own blood, voice hoarse and mind numb.

He wouldn't even make it to his bed by the time day turns into night, but would wake up the next morning on cold tiles and a colder feeling in his chest.

Time would just pass like that.

Jungkook would look forward to the times his master would be gone, sometimes for a couple of days, sometimes weeks; he'd spend his time in the library reading more about the strange creatures he's never met and the notorious beasts he's heard plenty of horror stories about, or he'd crawl into the hobgoblins' hideout to listen to their curious stories and odd jokes that he wouldn't always understand, but he'd still wear a smile as they bicker and laugh, feeling comforted yet so far far away.

Sometimes, a wild animal from the forest would find its way to the mansion and Jungkook would gladly shapeshift to befriend it. They would play fight all day and chase butterflies together, fall asleep while curled around each other, and when the other would pin him down to groom him, he'd feel so content and blissed out, he'd almost believe for a moment that everything's going to be okay somehow.

Jungkook learned to look forward to those times, learned to live for them as they would often be the only thing to keep him sane and help him make it through the worst days.

But there would always be worse.

He also learned over time how to read his master's expressions and how to see through his ever smiling mask. He learned that, when his smile turned sickly sweet, he'd need to get as far away as he can and hide, knowing it meant the elf was in a particular bad mood and wouldn't stop until Jungkook had died at least once that day, but he'd never realise quickly enough to make it in time.

Even in his half awake state, Jungkook shudders remembering.

He hates the feeling of coming back to life with every fibre of his cursed body. Nothing feels worse than to open your eyes, feeling like you've been through hell, just to realise that you're still there and stuck. It's like waking from a nightmare and finding yourself in another one.

Many days would pass like that, falling in and out of consciousness, and whenever he'd wake up and manage to actually stay awake, he'd hardly even remember if it's still the same day or the next or the day after that.

Maybe that's why he has such a hard time understanding time and how it works, or why he doesn't even know how old he is. He had overheard his master talking to one of his friends once while he was still quite out of it and not fully back yet; heard him mentioning that he's barely twenty and that it's hard to get your hands on such a young one nowadays. But, unfortunately, Jungkook can't tell how much time has passed since then, so he can't even calculate how old he'd be now.

Jungkook can't tell how long he's lived inside that mansion. Actually, he doesn't even know how he got there either. He was simply there, just woke up one day, hole in his mind and hole in his chest, and when he'd asked where he was and why he can't remember, he was told that he was where he belonged and shouldn't question it; that he needed to listen, and that if he listened well and behaved, all would be good and he'd be okay.

He hadn't known then how deceiving the elf really was, how easily he made lies sound like the truth.

Whenever Jungkook tried remembering his life before, his head would start to throb and he'd get all dizzy. His magic would feel like it's burning him from the inside, which shouldn't be possible, and he'd feel panic rise, hot and suffocating, then pass out.

So he just stopped trying one day. Sometimes, he's not even sure it ever existed. A life outside of the mansion, that is.

Maybe he's never even had one.

It's not what Jungkook's trying to remember right now though. No, he's trying to make sense out of what it is that feels so different waking up this morning, and while he's used to “different” meaning anything but something good for him and feel terrified of it, he can't say it's a bad kind of different this time.

The mattress underneath him doesn't feel like his own. It's firm but gentle to his back, not digging hard springs into it like the measly thing he usually sleeps on that could have as well been made out of stone. The bedding smells like fresh cotton and flowery detergent, the remains of some other scent, or scents, still hanging onto it. It's faint, but Jungkook has always had a good nose.

Jungkook wants to cry; he's never felt this comfortable waking up before, at least not that he can remember, and when he turns to his side, he almost does cry out.

There it is, the source of all this pleasant warmth – a blanket-covered lump and white soft-looking hair with streaks of brown peeking out in a tousled mess. It looks so amazingly fluffy; Jungkook has to suppress the urge to reach out and touch it.

And then it slowly comes back to him – why he's here and how he ran, and these strangely kind creatures that took him in and gave him food and a place to sleep… he still can't believe they've done so much for him in so little time. He can't remember anyone having treated him like this, like… so nicely. And with so much warmth, and care.

The ifrit that had carried him around and called him pretty names; the gnome that had seemed so upset that he's in pain and kept asking him a million questions; the elf that wanted him gone but had seemed so oddly sad behind his mask; this creature right here that had defended him for reasons he doesn't fully understand.

They've all been so nice to him. Even the elf, despite not wanting him here, hadn't tried to hurt him. That's more than Jungkook could have ever asked for. It's… it's so much. How could he ever thank them? He's just an imp, so how can he– why would they…? He's an imp.

Jungkook has read about imps messing things up throughout history, always there when things went wrong, and he's heard about the grudge many still hold against them. He's seen that one illustration in one of the books; the hierarchy of creatures or something, it was called, and he had looked at it, starting from the top, reading the names of all those powerful creatures with their cool abilities – jinn and elves and old spirits – and his eyes had kept moving, down down down, all the way down, until he'd found imps at the very bottom, heart dropping to his stomach.

Jungkook had felt like everything around him was slowly melting and he was sinking with nothing there to hold onto – because until then, he'd still believed his master was lying to him every time he'd tell him that imps held no worth in this world. He'd still been holding onto the hope that it wasn't true and that he was, like usually, just being cruel to him for the sake of it.

But to see it written down like that, like an acknowledged fact, like an unchangeable truth... had hurt. It hurt. It still hurts to think that he's worth so little. That nobody would miss him when he's gone. That nobody else would want him. That maybe the mansion was where he belonged and he's the only one closing his eyes from a truth that everyone else already knows.

These creatures must know it too, so why are they being so kind to him? Why does it feel like they actually care? How could that be possible? It doesn't make sense.

Jungkook eyes move from the soft-looking hair to the little face peeking out of the blanket – delicate eyelashes, button nose, pouty lips, light skin. This is Yoongi, he recalls, and looking at his soft features, he also recalls blunt words, spoken straight-forward with a gruff yet strangely soothing voice. He remembers his voice very distinctly for some reason, as he does the ifrit's broad back, the gnome's pretty smile, the elf's wary eyes.

Jungkook has no idea what kind of creature Yoongi might be, now that he thinks about it. He's met a very limited amount of creatures in his life, and none of their magic has quite felt like his.

He knows he's not a dark elf, no way. Jungkook doubts he would have slept as soundlessly next to him if that was the case. He's not a light elf either. He's not a demon, nor an incubus or succubus. The slight sense of excitement or danger or both that all demonic creatures give off is not there. He's not a hobgoblin either; their magic feels murkier, in a sense. He's also not a mermaid as theirs is muddier.

His magic feels similar to the hellhounds in the sense that it feels feral and bold. But it's not as untamed. It's softer. Gentle. Like a domestic animal, but not quite. Something animalistic is there though because it reminds him of the wild animals from the forest.

Yoongi might be a shapeshifter. Jungkook has never met a fellow shapeshifter before and the fact that the other might very likely be one has him feeling all excited, and so curious – what kind of creature might he be?

Jungkook buries his nose in the soft bedding and huffs out a breath, eyes slowly closing again. This is so nice. He feels like he's lying on clouds, like he might float away; like he's allowed to just exist and breathe and dream.

It's so so nice.

Whatever they've given him is working wonders. Being used to at least some part of his body to hurt at all times, it almost feels a little strange to be in absolute no pain. It almost feels like something's missing. Jungkook realises with a heavy heart that being in pain has become his everyday, his “normal”, and that's– that's kind of messed up, isn't it?

Potions sure are a wonderful thing though. If only he had known how to make some himself, things could have been so much easier…

No. No, that's – it doesn't matter anymore. No use thinking about it. He doesn't want to think about it.

It's over now. He's made it out of there and he's never going back again. Jungkook doesn't think he can after experiencing so much kindness. Just imagining being back inside those towering walls and having to go through that torture again, to be reduced to a sobbing bleeding mess while thinking of these creatures' kind words and gentle touches, having had a taste of how different things could be and knowing that he can't have that– it would break him. It would break him.

He actually can't. Now that he knows, he can't go back anymore. He– he can't. He just can't.

Yoongi's soft little breaths sound soothing in Jungkook's ears and he listens to them, tries to blend everything else out, every little daunting thought and the way they make his chest ache and magic tremble. Instead, he focuses on matching his own breathing to his. In – one, two, three – and out – one, two, three. Slowly. Calmly. And again.

For a moment, Jungkook's tempted to go back to sleep, but then he's reminded again that everything good in his life is short-lived. Nothing good ever lasts.

The cramps hit him out of nowhere.

Jungkook's whole body tenses, mind going fussy with the way his stomach contracts. It feels like his guts are being twisted. Like his stomach is trying to digest itself. Like something's dying inside him. Maybe something is dying inside him, who knows. Maybe it's his heart that's simply rotting away.

Jungkook tries to makes himself small, the way he's done so many times before. Curled up with arms wrapped around his middle, he whimpers quietly before he presses his face into the pillow to silence himself. There's a fleeting thought that maybe they've drugged him instead of giving him “painkilling potions”. That that's what he gets for blindly trusting creatures and wanting to believe in selfless kindness. That he should know better than to be so naïve.

Kind huh, his own mind mocks, they're gonna hurt you so bad, just wait and watch

Jungkook ignores it, simply because he's too afraid that it might be true. Because he knows that they could hurt him so easily if they wanted.

The imp's panting by the time his stomach decides to give him a break. The sudden absence of pain feels like bliss but has him feeling slightly out of it. He's light-headed, vision swimming and ears buzzing when he hears soft knocks on the door.

Jungkook manages to turn his head just in time to see the door opening, squinting at it with unfocused eyes.

The creature that appears in the door is one he hasn't met yet, golden skin and silver hair. His serene magic seeps into the room like mist, cold and ethereal. Jungkook's eyes grow hazier, his mind slowing down, thoughts flowing like molasses. He's entranced, caught by this creature's beauty.

It distantly dawns on him that all of them might be devastatingly gorgeous like this, but Jungkook's not sure what to do with that realisation; it's honestly a bit overwhelming to think about, so he's almost glad his mind's a bit too numb to process that information yet.

“Hyung, my morning... cuddles.”

The creature's deep voice, thick like honey, immediately dies in his throat upon noticing Jungkook's presence. The imp's looking back at him from under the blanket with hazy eyes, hair dishevelled and cheeks pink, skin covered in a fine sheen of sweat. He's faintly aware that his laboured breathing must sound way too loud in the sudden silence of the room.

Perhaps, if Jungkook's brain wasn't so slow right now, he could guess how wrong this might look to the other; him looking and sounding like this while in his mate's bed, said mate right next to him. But as it is, he can only meet the creature's icy gaze, his magic flickering submissively in a weak attempt to show that he means no harm.

They stare at each other for a little while longer, the creature's expression staying completely blank as his magic grows colder. But then he just turns around and leaves.

Jungkook hurriedly sits up not even three seconds later, suddenly ripped out of his fuzzy head-space and very awake, magic racing in his bloodstreams and heart pounding. He doesn't look away from the door, keeps watching it apprehensively, even when he hears the bed sheets rustle next to him.

“Huh? You're already up?” Yoongi's voice sounds rough from sleep, a low rumble that comes from deep in his chest; soft vibrations that make a pleasant shudder run through the imp's whole body, causing his hair to stand on end. Jungkook nearly purrs in response. “What are you looking at?”

“S-Someone came looking for... cuddles.” Jungkook tilts his head slightly as he looks away from the door and at Yoongi, feeling his chest ache with how soft the creature looks, puffy cheeks and tousled hair. His eyes are closed, eyebrows furrowed, nose scrunched and lips pursed in a sleepy pout.

It's a sight Jungkook isn't sure he's allowed to see, but maybe, if nobody finds out, they won't mind him looking for a little bit because it has some of his stress just melting away.

“Cuddles?” Yoongi mutters absently while rubbing his neck. He stretches, arms high and bones cracking, before letting his arms fall into his lap to just sit there with his body slumped and eyes still closed, seemingly still half-asleep. His brows begin to furrow again and then he opens his eyes, lips slightly parting. “Oh.” Yoongi groans. “Oh, fuck. Right, Taehyung. I forgot about him.”

Taehyung? So that was Taehyung.

Jungkook tilts his head a bit more, a quizzical expression on his face. Their eyes meet.

“He comes over in the mornings for, uh, cuddles.” Cheeks turning rosy, Yoongi clears his throat and touches his neck again. “It's okay. He'll find someone else,” he shrugs. “He's got enough mates to choose from.”

Jungkook still worries though because, what if Taehyung really wanted cuddles from Yoongi this morning and couldn't get them because there's an imp in his bed? He's already being a nuisance, isn't he? He's causing them trouble. They also seem to keep arguing with that elf ever since he's here. The imp's clearly disturbing their domestic peace.

“More importantly,” Yoongi says, giving Jungkook a quick once over that has the imp freezing, but only out of habit. “How are you feeling? Is the potion still working fine for you?”

Jungkook nods instinctively without actually understanding what is asked. When he does register the questions, he nods again, then pauses. “Um...”

Yoongi raises a brow at him. “Yeah?”

Jungkook clutches the blanket tightly in his fists, reminding himself that it's them who said it's fine, that it's okay to tell them. That it's okay to say when it hurts. Jungkook ignores his own mind again, which is giggling evilly in his ears while taunting, but is it?

“It's n-nothing, just... I don't know why, but, uh, my stomach...” He places a hand over it and glances up at Yoongi, unsure.

Yoongi doesn't seem surprised. “Cramps?”

Jungkook nods, wide-eyed. “Y-Yes.”

Yoongi sighs softly, lips stretching into a thin line. “I was afraid that might be the case. You've had quite a bit of painkilling potion and your stomach isn't used to digesting magic. That's why it's cramping.” The corners of his lips twitch, the signs of a faint smile as he meets Jungkook's eyes. “Don't worry though, it's normal, and it's only bad in the beginning. But honestly, you could have woken me if it scared you. Or, well, we should have warned you, I guess. Sorry.”

Jungkook quickly shakes his head. “No, 's okay. I– I wasn't scared.”

Yoongi smiles. “Okay.” He has a nice smile. “How about food then? Think you can eat? Or are you feeling sick?”

And that's how Jungkook finds himself sitting at the edge of the bed that he's clumsily crawled to, waiting for Yoongi to get dressed and get Jungkook something as well to change into because his clothes feel a little damp from all the sweating he's been doing since last night.

Jungkook had startled a little when Yoongi had kicked the blanket off himself and slid off the bed to waddle over to his wardrobe because, apparently, he sleeps in only a t-shirt and underwear – which is perfectly normal sleep attire, but it's just that Jungkook hadn't quite expected to see so much leg, Yoongi's long t-shirt having ridden up to expose plaid trunks and milky thighs.

The imp had quickly averted his gaze, afraid it might make the other uncomfortable if he caught him staring.

And so now, he's sitting here, magic flowing nervously in his veins and eyes focused on the open door again, expecting another creature to appear any moment and demand cuddles just to freeze at the imp's sight, waiting for Yoongi to realise that it'd be better to get rid of him.

Jungkook's eyes keep darting to the gap between wall and wardrobe right beside the door. He can't help it, okay? It's just such a nice corner. It looks cosy. Small, but not so small that he wouldn't fit. He really wants to–

“You like your corners, don't you?” Yoongi says, coming into Jungkook's vision with what looks like a black hoodie, black sweatpants and grey underwear in his hands. The imp appreciates his fashion choices. He likes dark colours; they make him feel at peace. “Is it an imp thing, or...?”

Jungkook looks up at him. “An imp thing?”

“Like, do imps like cramped places or something? You guys prefer the dark, right?”

“I, uh, I don't know. I– I guess I do?”

Jungkook knows the natural course of conversation would have been for Yoongi to inquire why he wouldn't know that – you don't know? Don't you know other imps? What about your family? – but Yoongi doesn't ask, just gives him an understanding smile. Jungkook doesn't quite expect how much he appreciates it, but he does. He wouldn't have been able to answer any of those questions.

Jungkook doesn't know why he doesn't know, but he doesn't know any other imp and he doesn't know his family either, or if he even has any. And Jungkook has thought about it a lot; often at night when sleep would refuse to come and seem like the sort of blessing he doesn't deserve, painfully out of reach.

He'd think about whether he has family and, if yes, where they might be; if they are alive and doing alright (without him); if they miss him and what they are like. He'd imagine a doting mother and a strict but loving father. Maybe he's had a sibling too. Maybe a cute younger brother or sister, or perhaps it's Jungkook who was the little brother.

Regardless, he'd always imagine a warm home full of love and laughter and hugs and all those things he craves, and it would put a smile on his face. He'd smile imagining it until the first tear would drop, and then the second, followed by a third; until he'd have to muffle his sobs with a pillow because he'd be crying too loudly and it would hurt too much, like his chest is ripping in two, like his heart is tearing apart.

It would always hurt so so much because he can't remember. Because he can't remember if there is anything to remember. He'd sometimes wonder if maybe it's better that he can't, that maybe he does have family somewhere out there, but they've just never tried looking for him, that they've never even bothered; and so he'd hope that it's just that they weren't able to find him and had to give up, and not that they've never missed him in the first place.

Jungkook is absolutely terrified of how much more it might hurt if he had to accept that not even his own kind cared about him.

“Me too”, Yoongi says, voice low and calm and bringing Jungkook's mind back to the present. “I like the dark. It's comforting.”

It is, Jungkook thinks and nods, smile tugging at his lips slightly. The dark has always embraced him like one of their own and held him close, keeping him hidden and safe while he'd tell himself that nobody can hurt him when darkness swallows him whole.

Jungkook notices Yoongi clutching the clothes in his arms tightly to his chest instead of handing them to the imp. “I'm sorry by the way”, Yoongi says, taking Jungkook by surprise. “About Hoseok. He...” Yoongi sighs. “I really don't know why he's being like this, but– he's not a bad guy. He's not been acting like it, but I swear he's not. I can promise you that he'd never actively try to actually hurt you.”

Jungkook thinks he can very clearly hear the silent “unless”; the unspoken he won't hurt you unless you give him a reason to. Jungkook doesn't say that he's afraid that him just being an imp alone might already be enough of a reason. It's always been enough of a reason so far.

“He's not like that.” Yoongi's looking at the imp's throat, a slightly pained expression on his face. “He's not... like that elf that's done this to you,” he says slowly, regarding the imp cautiously.

Jungkook feels his heart speed up just at the mention of his master. To hear someone else but his own mind mentioning him, even if only vaguely, has him feeling dizzy from the rush of adrenaline it gives him, but he tries to swallow his fear down, ignores the slight tremor in his hands or how his blood has turned cold for a moment.

It's strange. Even though Jungkook's in no pain right now, it still feels like his throat's burning. It's a faint but unpleasant feeling that's constantly there, reminding reminding reminding, not sparing him a moment to forget for a little.

Jungkook doesn't actually know what his throat looks like right now– he doesn't know if he wants to know. But he remembers how his skin had felt like it was melting when the elf's hands had closed around his throat. It was a type of pain he's never experienced before. It probably doesn't look too pretty.

“Are you scared of elves?” Yoongi asks tentatively.

Jungkook just shrugs, lowers his gaze to his feet. He doesn't want to admit that he kind of is, that he can't help it, honestly.

Yoongi continues, “It's understandable if you are. You don't need to be scared of Hoseok though.”

Jungkook doesn't mean to but he ends up giving Yoongi a doubtful glance.

Yoongi smiles that soft smile of his again. “Yeah, I know. But he's all bark and no bite, promise. If he wasn't, he would have actually done something instead of just arguing. I thought about it and, well…” Yoongi huffs softly. “To put it bluntly, if he'd fully and doubtlessly believed what he was saying, he wouldn't even have tried arguing and just thrown you out. But he didn't.”

“It's... it's his home,” Jungkook mutters quietly. “He has every right to–”

“Let me stop you right there,” Yoongi interrupts, voice firm but not unkind. “This is not only his home. So no, he has no right. He's allowed his own opinion, but he can't force it on any of us, or simply go and decide things all by himself. He has no authority over us. We're all equals in this household.” Jungkook watches with curiosity as Yoongi's hair spikes a little, single strand of soft hair growing stiff. The way his magic is rumbling threateningly – or maybe defensively? – has his own flickering nervously.

“Also, he shouldn't be saying things like that when he knows they could be hurtful. He's shown no respect to you, who's done nothing for him to act like that, and–” Yoongi huffs, hair returning to its previous softness, magic recoiling as if scolded. “Sorry, I– my magic goes a little feral, I guess, when it comes to things like this. I'm not angry with you.”

Jungkook nods, a little distracted, wondering if this is the right moment to ask. He's still so curious.

“Wh-What kind–” Jungkook's shoulders tense as he ducks his head. “I– I mean– if you… don't mind me asking, um…” He glances up at the other, feels reassured to see the soft smile still being there. “What kind of creature are you?” Jungkook whispers and holds his breath.

“Hey, don't do that,” Yoongi sighs. The imp's head shoots up, eyes wide and startled that he's done something wrong, that he shouldn't have asked, but his apprehensions are quickly proven wrong. “There's no need to cower like that. I don't mind you asking me anything. If I don't want to answer, I'll just let you know, yeah?”

Jungkook exhales and nods, quick little movements, heart thrumming in his chest. But it's not because he's scared. He's still awfully nervous, but it's not making him want to run and hide right now. He's allowed to keep his head up and ask questions, and it makes his heart bounce happily.

“I'm a gremlin,” Yoongi explains.

Jungkook's brows shoot up, eyes big. “I– I thought–”

Yoongi chuckles mirthlessly under his breath. “That they're not real?”

“N-No, I thought I– I read that there are… none left?” Jungkook says quietly, afraid he might have offended Yoongi. Maybe he's not remembering it right?

Yoongi smiles, but it looks pained this time. Unexpectedly, Jungkook feels a twinge in his chest.

“There are almost none left, you're right. But to be honest, I'm not even sure if that's true anymore.” Yoongi shrugs like his words don't hold any weight, yet his shoulders slump like they weigh a ton. “Who knows, maybe I am the last gremlin.”

Jungkook would like to tell him that, as long as he doesn't know, he's allowed to hope. That, as long as he hopes, there might still be some of his kind left. He wants to say that he too is still holding onto hope and that it's okay that that's all he's had for as long as he can remember.

Jungkook ends up not saying any of that, and the silence just seems to add some more weight onto the gremlin's shoulders, Jungkook's own shoulders slowly sinking with them, as does his heart. He didn't know silence could be this heavy and immediately regrets to have not opened his mouth for once in his life.

Yoongi gives him a reassuring smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. “Do you think I'm enough of support to help you to the bathroom? Or should I get one of the others to carry you?”

Jungkook remembers the ifrit looking very tired last night and him mentioning that he really needs some sleep, how it had seemed to worry Yoongi, and also something about burning stuff by accident. So he shakes his head and pulls his left pant leg up to inspect his broken leg.

“L-Looks fine.” It's not weirdly shaped anymore, but it's still badly bruised. It definitely would have still hurt a lot right now if not for the potion. The imp has had enough of his bones broken and healed and broken and healed to know.

Jungkook glances up to see Yoongi scrunching his nose. “Fine, you say. Doesn't look fine to me.”

Jungkook smiles feebly at his leg. “It's healing just fine.” When he looks up again, the gremlin's staring at his throat with an undefinable expression. Jungkook shifts uncomfortably. “It– It doesn't hurt, so... I think it's fine if– if I lean onto you and, um, you help me w-walk?”

Yoongi seems to contemplate this for a few seconds, but eventually he sighs and says, “Okay. But I won't risk breaking our necks to help you down the stairs. I'll get one of the others to carry you for that.”

Jungkook nods because he knows that a broken neck is not at all a pleasant experience. He then remembers that it could also very likely kill the other, his nodding turning more frantic.

Unlike with the gnome, he doesn't let Yoongi support most of his weight, scared that he might be too heavy and crush the smaller gremlin. He remembers these two being about the same height, but while he knew that gnomes are much stronger than what they look like, he can't recall gremlins having anything like super strength, only that they've got night vision and that they can negate other creatures' magic, which… geez, that's so cool.

Jungkook notices the way to the bathroom seeming much shorter than when the ifrit had carried him there the night before. Now that the corridor is flooded with the soft light of the morning sun and there's not just a dim light following them around, it doesn't seem to stretch endlessly anymore, the window at the very end of it making that very obvious. He almost misses the way the darkness had hovered around him, watching him like he'd imagine a mother would watch their child taking its first steps with endeared but cautious eyes.

Jungkook can see the forest behind the glass of the window, sun greeting him from behind the trees and firs. It feels like another lifetime that he was running out there, lost and almost convinced that that's where he would take his last and final breath. He was so sure he wouldn't make it through the night, yet here he is, whole and alive and with new found hope in his heart. It's small and weak, like his magic, but it's there and that's all that really matters for now.

Maybe from now on, things will get better – there's a fleeting thought like that, followed by many similar ones. Maybe he didn't endure it all for nothing. Maybe fighting back was worth the risk. Maybe it was good that he ran. Maybe it was right to not look back. Maybe it was time.

Jungkook has no other choice but to hold tightly onto those thoughts and hope.

The bathroom welcomes him with soft white light and the memory of last night, when he'd really needed to go and the ifrit had been kind enough to help him sit down before leaving to wait outside.

The gremlin offers his aid without Jungkook having to ask as well, wordlessly tugs at his sweater and nods towards the bathtub that the imp has perhaps been eyeing for a bit too long and too obviously. Jungkook couldn't help but stare though because he's never seen such a nice big bathtub and, quite frankly, he's still feeling sticky with sweat and absolutely hates feeling anything but clean.

He really does.

Jungkook had often found himself scrubbing away at his skin for hours on end whenever his master was done “playing” with him, unable to get rid of the feeling that he's still covered in layers and layers of dried blood, even though the water running down his body had long lost its pinkish colour.

How he's being treated right now is such a stark contrast to those times and how Jungkook's used to being treated though. Yoongi's minding to be very careful as he helps him get his arms out of the sweater before pulling it over his head to discard it on the floor.

“Careful with your shoulder,” the gremlin reminds gently and, “Slowly, don't hurt yourself,” he says softly. The genuine concern in his voice makes a strange sensation bloom in the pit of Jungkook's stomach, where it grows and spreads until his whole body pulsates with it, a tingling warmth underneath his skin. It's an unfamiliar feeling, and while that would have normally been scary, he's not scared at all.

Jungkook's still wearing briefs when Yoongi helps him climb into the bathtub and sit down. The gremlin had told him to keep them on if he wanted, had smiled reassuringly and said that he doesn't mind either way.

Jungkook's not at all used to having his privacy so respected, to be continuously asked what he's comfortable and okay with, to be reminded again and again that he has a choice; and so he gladly decided to keep his underwear on, magic flickering excitedly to be given so much autonomy.

“This is oddly familiar,” he hears Yoongi mutter while waiting for the water to heat up, shower head in one hand, the other held out under the stream of water. Jungkook wouldn't have minded it to be cold, but honestly, he doesn't know when he'll get the next chance to have a warm shower or any food after this, so he's quite happy.

“When Jimin found you, your fur was covered in blood and dirt, so we gave you a bath. Sorry we couldn't ask if that's okay, but– well, I guess, given the circumstances, we didn't really have much of a choice,” he says, lifting the shower head and letting the warm water engulf Jungkook's body, but leaving his hair dry. He then tells him to hold his palm out and squeezes some soap into it. Jungkook's nose twitches when he smells the flowery sweet scent of it, a mild fragrance that's very pleasant to his sensitive nose.

“'S okay,” Jungkook smiles timidly, rubbing the soap into his skin, Yoongi's eyes following as he tries to avoid all the damaged skin, not because he's being mindful of his injuries, but because he thinks the gremlin would scold him if he didn't. “You thought I was just a– a cat, so...”

“Well, Jiminnie thought you were just a cat,” Yoongi says as he sprays the foam off Jungkook's body. The imp catches him grimace slightly when the blue and purple and yellow as well as lines of red resurface with the foam gone, cuts and bruises spattered all over his skin like stars in the night sky.

“I actually knew you weren't just a cat. I mean, not from the start, but I had a hunch at least, later on. Your magic was too weak while you were still unconscious for me to be sure, but I definitely had a feeling. When you woke up, I knew. I could sense it, that we had something in common somehow. I think it's instinct, like, something in me responded to you, telling me, ah, this one feels familiar, kind of…” Yoongi frowns a little. “Am I making any sense?”

Jungkook nods frantically, unaware of the timid smile that's still on his face. He feels kind of excited meeting another shapeshifter, his magic shyly bending towards the gremlin. He knows exactly what Yoongi means. Jungkook has felt it too, is feeling it too, that they're similar in a sense. He would have never thought of mentioning it though, in fear it might have insulted the other to be compared to an imp. Surely, he wouldn't have taken it as a compliment, right? Jungkook doesn't think so.

Yoongi smiles back at him and turns the water off, then holds a hand out to him, which the imp grabs with a tiny thank you, and pulls him up… a tiny bit too abruptly.

Jungkook slips on the wet porcelain floor trying to balance all his weight on his good leg, hands flying up to grab onto the gremlin's shoulders. He lets out a shaky breath in relief when he doesn't make them both fall and looks up to find Yoongi's face barely a few centimetres away from his.

His heart jumps to his throat, heat rising to his cheeks.

“O-Oh,” he breathes. “S-Sorry.” Jungkook hastily removes his hands. Trying to create some distance between them, he takes a step back and–

And oh, bad idea.

Because when he slips a second time, he does fall, and when he falls, he's not the only one falling, his hands having reflexively shot out to try and hold onto what's close – and what's close is Yoongi, who seems to weigh absolutely nothing and is easily pulled off his feet and on top of Jungkook. The imp's arms are quick to protectively wrap around the gremlin because the only thought in his head at that moment is that it doesn't really matter if it's his skull that's split open, but it does if it's Yoongi's.

There's a loud thud when Jungkook's head comes into harsh contact with hard porcelain, and a squeezed out ugh- when Yoongi lands on top of him with his face squished into the imp's chest.

Jungkook's not one to curse, but fuck does it hurt. It's also the same place he hit his head when he fell while running through the forest and geez, he isn't usually this clumsy, he swears he's not.

“Oh, fuck...” And no, that's not Jungkook cursing out loud this time.

The weight on top of him shifts and then there's warmth near his cheeks. Hands. Gentle hands touching his cheeks. Gently moving to his head and through his hair as if looking for something.

“Hey, are you okay? I– shit, I think you hit your head. Can you open your eyes?” Jungkook hears and– oh, right, he closed his eyes in anticipation of the impact. So he opens them and– and sees Yoongi's face hovering above him, brows deeply furrowed and lips pursed. He's sitting on top of him, thin thighs straddling his waist and looking at him… he seems concerned for some reason? Did he forget that Jungkook's an imp? There's nothing to worry about.

It's then that Jungkook realises that he's still got his arms wrapped around the other, one hand on his lower back and one at the back of his head. He quickly removes them, keeping his hands close to his chest.

“S-Sorry– I'm sorry… um, are you okay?” Jungkook presses out under his breath.

“I asked you first,” Yoongi scoffs softly, rolling his eyes. “I'm okay. You hit your head, not me.” He sits back, frowning down at the imp, seemingly displeased. “That sounded like it hurt.”

“It's– It's okay. My skull's thick,” Jungkook smiles reassuringly, but the gremlin doesn't smile back, observing him quietly and seeming even more displeased now. Jungkook immediately tries to duck his head and avoid his gaze, but Yoongi won't let him, hand cupping one of his cheeks so that the imp can't look away.

Yoongi then shows him a peace sign with his other hand and… um, okay? Jungkook blankly stares at his fingers, going slightly cross-eyed with how close they are held to his face.

“How many?”

Jungkook's eyes widen as he glances up at him, confused. “Wh-What?”

“How many fingers?” Yoongi repeats.

“Two?”

It must be the correct answer, but Yoongi still doesn't seem very pleased. Jungkook finds that he dislikes his displeased face quite a lot.

“That's gonna turn into a huge fucking bump. Like you needed some more of that,” he grumbles under his breath as he gets off the imp, wincing when Jungkook's hips catch his eye, a whispered shit leaving his lips. Jungkook's not sure what he sees there, except for the wet fabric of his boxer shorts and maybe– oh, okay, that's a lot of bruising. Right. His hip bone got crushed when–

Jungkook feels bile rise in his throat with the memory. He swallows. He swallows it all down and hopes that's where it stays. He doesn't want to think about it.

Don't think about it

“It's okay, I'm– I'm fine.”

Yoongi sighs, still displeased for some reason, and not knowing how to fix that has Jungkook feeling slightly nervous. Is the gremlin annoyed with him? “Okay then. But tell me if you stop feeling fine and… let's try this again, I guess?”

They try again. Jungkook lets himself get pulled up, slowly, the back of his head throbbing dully. This time, there's no slipping or falling, and they manage to sit him down on the edge of the tub.

Yoongi drops a towel on his head and then goes to rummage for a spare toothbrush inside the cabinet underneath the sink while Jungkook removes his wet underwear, dries himself and puts on the clean clothes that the gremlin left on the closed toilet beside the bathtub.

Yoongi is still searching when Jungkook's ready and dressed in his new black attire, warm and comfy. For a while, he just watches the gremlin, who keeps muttering to himself – I know Hoseok hoards them here, he changes his like every other day, that clean freak – but then his eyes move up to the slightly fogged mirror and–

His eyes widen.

Jungkook's eyes widen in horror when he sees his own reflection staring back at him, and his heart seems to stop. His magic feels frozen too, little flames deadly still, because–

Because those are handprints.

And they are burned into his skin.

Those are his handprints burned into his skin. Branded. Like a reminder– like a claim. Jungkook slowly realises that this is what they've all been staring at with those unreadable expressions on their faces, and his stomach twists. He wants to hide, just crawl in a hole and never come out again; wants to hide forever. This is just… this is… it's so cruel

Everything just goes numb like that. Suddenly, everything seems so far away – or is it just Jungkook who's far away? Everything's just white noise in his ears, like he's underwater, drowning, and he's there but he's not, trapped in his body that doesn't feel like it's even his own anymore.

For a moment, he thinks he can feel them again, wrapping around his throat, long thin fingers and sharp nails digging into his skin, tightening and tightening. He thinks he can smell burned skin. He thinks he can hear his voice, close to his ear, whispering, Jungkookie, my precious toy, you can try and run, but you'll never get away

And it sounds like a promise.

 

 

Jimin hates waking up alone.

It doesn't happen very often. Jimin usually wakes up with at least one of his mates squished to his side. Or on top of him. Or underneath him. It rarely happens that there's none of them around and it never fails to remind him that he's absolutely blessed, thankful for each day that he gets to start with his beautiful mates like this. He truly is.

It reminds him that he's not on his own anymore and that he's so so loved.

But sometimes, when it happens and Jimin does wake up all by himself, he'd feel a little afraid. He'd suddenly get scared that he might wake up one day like this just to realise that everyone's gone and it had all been a dream. One cruel dream. All of it. He'd fear that he might wake up, open his eyes and find himself back in his little cottage, sad and lonely and heartbroken.

Like that morning after Taehyung had been punished and exiled, and Jimin, despite believing at the time that the other likely blamed and hated him and wouldn't want to see him again, had decided to leave Busan and search for him. He'd felt so desperate to find Taehyung and have him back at his side that every single second that he wasn't, it simply hurt to breathe. He couldn't bear it. Being apart had hurt too much. Even as days turned into weeks turned into months turned into years and became decades–

It hurt.

Waking up alone hurts because it always reminds him of that godforsaken morning, of waking up with his first and, at the time, one and only true love gone, and it absolutely terrifies him.

So maybe it's a good thing that Jimin doesn't get the chance to realise that he's alone in his bed this morning; doesn't get to realise as much because he's startled awake when the door is thrown open and mentioned first love waltzes inside his room in long strides, cold misty magic creeping underneath the warm sheets to wrap around his ankles and pull a little.

“Tae, 's cold,” Jimin whines, kicking at his mate's magic, but Taehyung simply ignores him and crawls on top of him to straddle his waist without uttering a single word – typical Taehyung behaviour.

It's strange though that he doesn't seem to be still half-asleep like he normally is at this time.

Jimin moans in annoyance, though his small hands still find their way to the other's thighs, short fingers pressing into soft flesh. Taehyung's wearing those very short shorts again and Jimin hums approvingly, loving how warm the fairy's skin feels in contrast to his cold magic.

“Jimin.” Taehyung's voice is as deep as ever, a low timbre that soothes the gnome's soul like nothing else does.

“Hmm.”

“Wake up. I need to tell you something.”

“'m 'wake.”

“I saw something strange.”

“Hm. Did you have another weird dream?” Jimin mutters absently. “Can't you tell me later about it? Let me sleep just a little longer…”

Taehyung's thighs tighten around his waist, squeezing and demanding attention. “It wasn't a dream. I went to Yoongi-hyung's room–”

Jimin opens his eyes the slightest bit to squint up at the fairy, blinking sleepily. “For cuddles?”

Taehyung's staring back at him, unblinkingly. “I went there for cuddles, yeah.“

Jimin fondly caresses the fairy's sides, a subconscious action to reassure the other that his following words are of concern for their gremlin and not meant to chastise him.

“Hey, I know he only ever complains half-heartedly and that he likes the cuddles just as much as he likes to indulge us. But maybe you should go to someone else for your morning cuddles?” Jimin tells him gently, soft words and soft smile. “Let him sleep, Tae. You know how poorly he sleeps most of the time. It's better not to wake him up earlier than necessary–”

“I'm mostly still asleep when I go to find someone. It's not really a decision I actively make. But that's not what I–”

“Tae, we already have an overworked hyung. We don't need another sleep-deprived one– ouch!”

Jimin frowns at Taehyung, who just pinched his nipple over the fabric his shirt.

“That hurt,” he pouts at his mate, wiggling underneath him. Taehyung's thighs tighten again, holding him in place as he goes to lean over him and grab Jimin's wrists to hold them above his head.

“You're not listening,” he tells him calmly.

Jimin's fingers flex briefly before relaxing again, arms going limp in the other's hold, lips pressing into a thin line as he meets Taehyung's gaze. He sighs in defeat. “Sorry. Go on then.”

“So,” Taehyung starts. “I saw a strange creature in Yoongi-hyung's bed.”

“What,” Jimin mumbles dumbly, brain still not fully booted yet, taking a little while to register the words “strange creature” and connect them with “Yoongi-hyung's bed” to then recall last night's events and make sense of it all.

Right. Jungkook. Injured and timid imp called Jungkook. Poor and sweet Jungkook, who slept the night in Yoongi's bed with said hyung. Strange but precious creature that Taehyung and Namjoon don't yet know about.

“He's brought some creature home. I saw them in his bed,” Taehyung tells him quietly, slowly, brows slightly furrowed. Clearly, so out of context, the scene that he's witnessed must have indeed looked a bit strange. Unsettling even, maybe. He does seem concerned, the cold of his magic feeling a little harsher than usually on Jimin's skin.

“Is hyung cheating on us?”

Jimin slightly lifts his head and just stares at Taehyung, Taehyung staring right back at him with his beautiful blank face and his beautiful silver eyes that shine the softest hue of blue in the morning light.

“Yoongi-hyung's cheating on us,” Taehyung repeats, as if finding Jimin's reaction not satisfactory and therefore concluding that he must have not heard him at all then. But Jimin has heard him just fine and he also very much noticed that what was once a question is now a slightly accusing statement.

Jimin lets his head fall back into his pillow and rubs the sleep out of his eyes. “He's not cheating.”

“But he's not sharing. He's brought home that cute creature and he's not sharing.” Taehyung's eyes narrow slightly in uncertainty. “That's cheating.”

“That's… not exactly how that works. And don't you think that if he was actually cheating on us, he'd hide it better?” Jimin asks slowly. “He's not by the way. Cheating, I mean. He's not, Tae. Don't worry.”

“But I saw them,” Taehyung objects, lips slightly pursed to show the hint of a pout. His magic's a little upset now, slightly agitated that Jimin won't believe him and biting his skin like harsh winter air. It's kind of cute and Jimin would tease him for it– normally. Normally, he would, but he doesn't want him to believe Yoongi's actually cheating on them. He'd hate for him to genuinely feel hurt by this.

“That creature you saw is an imp called Jungkook. I… I kind of picked him up yesterday night and brought him home.”

Taehyung's eyebrows twitch like he wants to frown. “Picked him up?”

Jimin chuckles softly. “He's a shapeshifter and I mistook him for an actual cat, which is why I picked him up to patch him up because he…” Jimin's expression grows a little pained, Taehyung immediately mirroring it, big eyes searching his mate's face for the cause of his discomfort.

“Jimin?”

“He was injured. He's– god, there was so much blood, Tae. So much of it, and Yoongi-hyung, he– I didn't think, I forgot, I–“ Jimin whimpers quietly, feels Taehyung's grip around his wrists tightening slightly. ”It was bad, Tae, it– it's bad. He's got broken bones and everything and he's had a concussion and he– I thought he wouldn't make it, but he's an imp, so…”

Taehyung nods, understanding. “He'll heal.”

“Yeah, he… he'll heal.” Jimin frowns, feeling weirdly uneasy to say it out loud even though he's thought it before. Jungkook will heal. It's the truth, but it just sounds so… dismissive. It surely did sound awfully dismissive when Jungkook had said it himself, told them himself that everything will heal on its own, that it's okay. Like it doesn't matter how badly he's injured because he will heal regardless. No matter what, he will heal.

Does he really think like that?

His lung was punctured at one point, likely by one of his broken rips

Jimin winces. The imp had literally suffered a lethal injury that very day, likely still traumatised, and Jimin went and asked him if he's died before. That's so– why can't he just keep his mouth shut for once?

Jimin tries to shake the reprimanding thoughts off, focuses on Taehyung instead and the fact that he seems to know.

“I take it that you know about imps then?” he asks to be sure. “That their bodies can heal themselves?”

Taehyung lets go of his wrists to lean back, still keeping eye contact all the while. It's not at all surprising that Yoongi often struggles to look the fairy in the eye; he's got quite the penetrating stare, as if searching one's soul. He probably is.

Elves can see into one's heart, but fairies are said to see your entire soul. Jimin's not sure what that means, what difference that makes, and Taehyung doesn't know how to put it into words either, at least not in a way that makes sense to anyone but him, and maybe other fairies.

Admittedly, even though Taehyung is the one he's loved the longest, he's also the one he understands the least at times.

“Yeah, I do. Why?”

“I didn't.” Jimin sighs. He didn't know at all. He feels stupid again, ignorant. “Doesn't matter. So, the current situation's like this. As of now, he's still badly injured, so we've let him stay the night. Personally, I'd like to let him stay for a little longer. Just until he can walk on his own again.” And maybe until they can figure out if there's anything they can do about that nasty claim.

It's Jimin now who's searching Taehyung's eyes, assessing his reaction for any signs of discomfort hearing the gnome's honest opinion. The fairy's never expressed mistrust towards strange creatures to the extend Hoseok does, not even a little bit, even though it's Taehyung who that incubus back then had persistently tried being intimate with, even after the fairy had made it clear that he's not interested, politely asking him to stop.

Asking politely hadn't been enough.

That creature was the lowest of the low and Jimin sometimes wishes that he'd done more than just punch him in the face and knock him out. It almost frightens him how violence had come so easily to him in that moment despite his deeply-rooted aversion to violence and his inherent pacific nature.

“Okay,” Taehyung says.

“You'd be okay with that?”

“Sure.”

Jimin raises a brow at him. “You only thought a minute ago that Yoongi-hyung's cheating on us with him though?”

“And you said it's not true.”

“It's not,” Jimin reassures, voice going softer.

Taehyung shrugs. “Everything's fine then. You said he's injured. I only saw him briefly but he looked pretty exhausted.” He nods to himself. “I see why you wouldn't want him to leave just yet. He looked vulnerable.”

Jimin wants to question him and ask if that's really what he's thinking inside that pretty head of his, but then the fairy's moving, rearranging himself until he's lying on top of Jimin, cheek pressed against his stomach and arms wrapped tightly around him. Jimin pets his head, lets his fingers thread through his hair, smiling when Taehyung lets out a content sigh and just lets himself breathe for a moment.

He feels like he's really needed this.

Their magic mingling together feels like a fresh winter morning, like dewy grass and frosty air. Jimin loves it. It makes him crave hot chocolate and want to stay in bed and cuddle all day; and he loves how their bodies fit like puzzle pieces, how they just melt into each other, tangled limbs and shared warmth, and how his soul feels so complete when Taehyung's around.

He loves it so much, he doesn't know how he managed to survive so long without it. He barely remembers the time after they'd taken Taehyung away from him; only that he'd felt very angry and heartbroken about being unable find him for so long, anger and sadness turning into a constant dull pain behind his ribcage.

So creatures can actually die of a broken heart, Jimin had came to think at one point, and he still thinks it would have eventually killed him if he hadn't found Namjoon right when the pain had started to become too much to bear for much longer.

“He was awake?” Jimin mutters curiously.

Taehyung hums. “Yeah. I think he'd just woken up when I came in.” There's a pause. “He looked kind of out of it.”

“I think he's been through some stuff,” Jimin mutters.

Taehyung just nods.

“But he's not… he's harmless, if you're concerned about that,” Jimin quickly adds. “We wouldn't have let him stay if he was anything but, obviously. To be honest, I think he's more of a threat to himself than anyone else.” Jimin huffs a humourless laugh. “I've never before met a creature that's too timid to ask for help even when they really really need it. He must have been in so much pain, like, his leg's literally broken and he tried to just endure it. That's…”

Kind of concerning, actually. It's upsetting even, for some reason. Jimin's not sure, but he sure doesn't like it.

“I wasn't concerned about that.” When Jimin lifts his head to look down, Taehyung's moving his head to look up, and he sees him smiling. However, there's something almost sad about the way his lips curl yet his eyes look so dull. Jimin doesn't like that either.

Of course Taehyung wouldn't be concerned about that. He's the least judgemental creature Jimin knows and he'd be the last to think that another creature might mean any harm just because that's what everyone else says, or because he's experienced it happen before. Taehyung has never cared about what other creatures say. He only believes what he sees and hears and feels himself. He gives everyone a chance regardless of how they live their life. He's kind, but he's also strict.

Taehyung shows kindness only to those that he truly believes deserve it, which is why there's not a single day that Jimin doesn't take a moment to marvel at the fact that he's one of them. He still feels so guilty. He still thinks at times that he doesn't deserve it. Or him. Or any of them, really.

Taehyung's doing his best to show him that he does, as do the others. But it's hard.

“Where is Hoseok-hyung?” Taehyung asks after a while of comfortable silence, taking Jimin by surprise. He thought the fairy had fallen asleep on top of him, like he often does very easily. His magic has become so subdued and relaxed, so Jimin really thought he did.

A fairy's magic is usually very quiet and subtle like this, actually, like someone constantly walking around on tiptoes as to not disturb anyone. But Taehyung's magic is even quieter than that, or has become like that; has become a little estranged from the fairy for reasons Jimin doesn't want to think about right now.

Taehyung rubs his face all over Jimin's little tummy before pulling his shirt up to leave little kisses all over his skin, making the gnome giggle under his breath. “His magic's all over you. I haven't seen him at all yesterday,” Taehyung mumbles into his skin. “Where's he?”

Jimin's head rolls to the side and he finds the other half of his bed empty. It's not like he's not already noticed, yet he frowns at the empty space as if it offends him. Honestly, it kind of does.

“I don't know. He was still here when I fell asleep,” Jimin murmurs, his pout audible even in his own ears. He hates being like this, but again, the only thing that he hates more than just waking up alone is to fall asleep next to one of his mates to wake up with them gone the next day. It makes him anxious.

Hoseok had come into Jimin's room last night after they've got the imp in Yoongi's bed and managed to give him some of the stronger painkilling potion without him choking or waking – which had been quite an interesting experience and sight, seeing Jungkook unconsciously purse his lips to drink when they'd lifted his head and pressed the little bottle to his mouth, and it had made Jimin wonder if it's just that he was so exhausted or if he's usually that hard to wake and easily manhandled in his sleep.

But the gnome had forced himself to stop those thoughts and where they might lead to deal with more important things. Like reminding Yoongi that he was to call him if something's wrong and making sure that he's still okay with “babysitting” the imp for the night, which the gremlin had rolled his eyes at before shooing them out of his room, Seokjin having to drag Jimin out of there because the gnome couldn't help hovering, reluctant to just leave and sleep.

Just sleep hadn't been what was awaiting him though.

Walking inside his room, Jimin had been greeted by Hoseok sitting on his bed, waiting for him with a strange expression on his face and, even stranger, with much less restraints around his magic.

Jimin had felt a mix of emotions reach him the moment their eyes met. Upset, lots of it. And hurt. Guilt. But the most surprising one was definitely the strong sense of apprehension that he'd felt like a heavy blanket wrapping around his heart and soul. He'd felt slightly suffocated by it and had not choice but to wonder what Hoseok must be feeling then.

Hoseok apologised. For a lot of things. Not the things that Jimin thought he wanted him to apologise for, but things that he already forgot he'd needed to hear him apologise for.

He apologised for being mean and for talking harshly, and he apologised for not handling his emotions right and letting them out on Jimin.

He apologised for not having them under control, for not having his magic under control, but Jimin was quick to pout sadly and remind him that that's not a thing he'd ever want him to apologise for. Not for that. Never for that. But Hoseok had looked so upset, making Jimin feel upset too because they've had this kind of conversation many times before and the outcome's always the same and never any less distressing.

They ended up hugging because Jimin thinks being upset sucks, and hugs might not solve anything, but being upset while hugging sucks at least a little less. So Jimin had wrapped his arms around the elf and told him I love you. But instead of his usual love you too, Hoseok had apologised again.

Jimin had asked, what else are you sorry for, hyung? However, he'd never received any reply.

Jimin thinks he had heard the elf's magic whisper to him when they had gone to bed, a tangled mess of limbs; it had gently curled around his heart with such strange desperation, the gnome couldn't help but wish he understood. It pains Jimin to know that there's still so much that Hoseok's not ready yet to share with them.

Because Jimin loves him so much. He loves them all so so much and he doesn't want them to only share their happiness with him, but all of their pain and sadness as well. He wants it all, even if it ends up hurting him, even if it's bad for him. All of his is theirs and all of theirs is his. That's what it means to be mates. That's what his “I love you”s mean.

I am you and you are me. This is us. This is ours. We're different but we're the same. Let's be happy together and let's be sad together.

Hoseok was the last to become their mate. It's okay if he's still not ready to open up. It's okay if he still needs time. Even if it takes him another decade, that's okay too. But it's no secret that it's been putting a bit of a strain on their relationship for a while now. He keeps getting into arguments with Namjoon and he keeps disappearing. He keeps saying things he ends up apologising for and he keeps promising that he won't do it again.

They trust and love him, but it does hurt when their questions and concern is answered with silence or rejection. There's only so much they can understand through magic, so talk is what they need to do. They need to be honest with each other. But there are wards all around Hoseok's heart, keeping them out. They can't get inside unless he lets them in, but he won't.

In the end, they fell asleep and Hoseok didn't apologise for his attitude towards the imp or the things he said in his presence. He didn't apologise for scaring and not helping him. He didn't bring Jungkook up at all and Jimin, unable to tell if that's more of a good or a bad thing, didn't bring him up either, scared to break the fragile moment they were sharing.

Jimin's bed feels cold now, and it's not because of Taehyung's magic, but because Hoseok's gone. It has Jimin feeling a little conflicted. Did he forgive the other too easily again? Should he have demanded some answers in turn? He still wants to ask him whether he can help the imp with that mark, if there's anything he can do.

“So, this creature in Yoongi-hyung's bed,” Taehyung says as he pulls Jimin's shirt down again when he thinks he's covered all of his stomach with enough kisses and props his chin up on Jimin's chest to look at the gnome.

“Jungkook,” Jimin reminds.

Taehyung hums. “Hoseok-hyung doesn't mind him being here?”

Jimin sighs. “No, he actually does.” A lot. “He's not… happy about it.” What an understatement.

“And Jin-hyung? Does he know?”

“Yeah. He… ran into him, kind of,” Jimin tells him. “I knew he wouldn't throw him out, but I expected him to be at least upset having to let him stay over.” Seokjin has never liked letting strange creatures inside their home, even before that incident. Jimin didn't expect him to instantly grow fond of the imp. That was fast, even by Seokjin's standards. “You know how hyung gets. He insisted to cook for him and made sure that he doesn't have to walk, carried him around everywhere.”

“He seemed like something hyung would fuss over, “ Taehyung murmurs. “I can see that.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Because he looked like he'd need someone to fuss over him.”

Jimin snorts. “You said you only saw him briefly. And what does that even mean? What makes one look like that?”

“His eyes.”

“His eyes?”

“They are big,” Taehyung answers.

Jimin frowns to himself. “But so are yours?”

“His are kind.”

“You're kind too?”

Taehyung shakes his head. “I choose to be kind. He just… is.” He doesn't say anything else and Jimin knows better than to demand an explanation, knows that there's nothing else he could say for Jimin to get what he means.

Unlike Namjoon, who has trouble understanding creatures, it's the opposite for Taehyung. Taehyung understands creatures to an almost frighteningly agree.

It's that fairy thing again. That whole soul-seeing thing. They say after all that the eyes are the window to a creature's soul. Maybe there's something that Taehyung saw in Jungkook's eyes that they didn't. Couldn't.

“But it's a good thing,” Taehyung suddenly says. “That he's in imp. Isn't it? He'll take no time to recover and he won't even need any potions. Isn't that nice?” the fairy continues, but something about that statement has Jimin feeling uneasy again.

Jimin has an odd feeling that, if Jungkook wasn't an imp, he wouldn't have been hurt this bad and had to recover in the first place. Because… what if him being an imp is the reason he got hurt? What if being an imp was good enough of an excuse to do that to another creature?

The things that were done to him… he's only alive still because he's an imp. So what if they knew that? What if they only hurt him so much because they knew he would recover anyway?

And what if that wasn't the first time? Jimin recalls how used to pain Jungkook has seemed to far, almost eerily so. It still makes him feel a little sick in the stomach to think one could get used to any sort of pain at all.

What if– he's been claimed after all, so what if… oh, Jimin doesn't want to even consider this. Surely– surely, he's just thinking too much again. Surely, he's wrong and the imp was just really unfortunate to cross paths with the wrong kind of elf at the wrong time at the wrong… enchanted forest…?

Jimin still doesn't know. He doesn't understand. Why was he out here? What was he doing out here to begin with? At night?

“And he won't even have to worry about scars,” Jimin hears Taehyung mutter quietly, almost as if the fairy didn't want him to hear. But Jimin heard. He felt the words stab him right where it hurts the most.

“I'm not sure that's true,” the gnome says bitterly.

“What do you mean?”

Jimin exhales slowly, tiredly, and just as he's going to answer, Yoongi suddenly appears in the open door and sighs, “You've really picked up a big one this time.” Yoongi's clothes look a bit wet here and there. “Come on. You need to get up and carry your kitten.”

Chapter Text

Hoseok has always been an early riser. He's always loved the very early hours, has always found comfort in the calm silence of it; the tranquility.

The first thing he'd often do on those early mornings is to open his window and listen to the quiet noises of nature waking up while the deadly nightlife of the forest goes to sleep. There's just something so strangely calming about the stark difference between the forest's day and night and being able to witness the exact moment when everything shifts.

Maybe it's because it reminds Hoseok of himself and his own two-facedness. It's comforting to know that nature as well has two so very different sides to it and that maybe both are needed for either to exist; makes Hoseok think that it might be okay for him as well to have two so very different sides to him; that maybe he's supposed to be this way and shouldn't hate himself for it.

It's hard not to though, sometimes.

Hoseok has never thought of himself as either a good or bad creature because he knows himself pretty well; he knows what he's capable of if pushed too far. The lines between what's considered good and bad by most creatures have always looked a little blurred to him, a little hard to see.

And his magic too has always felt rather vague to him, light and dark magic on equal terms and fading into each other so much that he can't tell where the line dividing them is, or if there even is one. Hoseok is simply assuming that there has to be one and that he needs to stay on that line, that he needs to keep his balance because he can't risk tilting towards his dark magic.

It's such a scary thought. Not just because the thought itself is scary, but because Hoseok has seen it happen before. He's seen a dark elf losing themself, completely abandoning all of their light magic. He's seen it happen before; severe pain and anger and grief taking hold of their dark magic and turning it into something entirely different. Something bad and harmful and malicious. Something all-consuming.

Something twisted.

Hoseok still contemplates whether some creatures are just born like that, if it's just who they are, or if it's the environment that creates them, makes them become like that.

Maybe it's both?

Either way, he can't ever end up like that.

Hoseok often thinks about it in the early mornings when his mind is clear and his emotions feel distant and thinking becomes much easier. He would just open his window and let his thoughts run like rain drops, and this morning is no exception.

Except he's not in his room and he barely slept at all.

Except, this morning, his mind's still too loud and his thoughts are scattered.

It's not even six am yet when Hoseok escapes the warm comfort of Jimin's arms and decides to step outside for a bit. It's easy enough to slip out of the gnome's hold without waking him, the elf's ability to go through not only walls but any kind of substance coming quite in handy once again, even if it's not exactly a pleasant feeling doing it with living things. It's a very strange sensation, one that he won't ever get used to.

Hoseok doesn't even feel bad about it anymore, sneaking away like this. Because he's done it so many times before. It's not a rare occurrence for Hoseok to wake up in one of his mates' arms and feel smothered, suddenly too aware of how much he's loved and how much he loves and that he's got so much to lose at this point. At times, he becomes so aware of it that he'd feel like it might actually drive him insane if he doesn't get away, if he doesn't put some distance between them.

Hoseok can't deny that it has become kind of a bad habit to disappear every now and then, to leave for a while without telling his mates so and spend a bit of lone time, just to get his thoughts sorted and calm himself a bit. Hoseok likes to pretend that him walking away like this is for their sake too, that he's doing them all a favour by doing this. He doesn't want them to worry.

He's realised by now that they don't see it like that and that they don't like it and will worry anyway, and he's well aware that Jimin won't like waking up to see him gone either. But Hoseok has decided long ago that, even though he can't hide all of his ugly sides from them, he wants to at least try and hide the worst of it.

He's still not ready for them to see him like this. He's not ready for them to see how insecure and pathetic he is or how he questions everything and, most of all, himself; how afraid he is to trust and love and give himself fully to them.

Hoseok is too scared to have things like that, to want and need and let himself have it, because he fears to get everything taken again; so he's keeping that distance and those walls around his heart, and he restrains his magic and puts on that mask. Because it's easier that way.

However, when he decided all of that he hadn't known his mates as well as he does now, or that he'd one day get to call them his mates. Moreover, Hoseok didn't expect a particular hyung to be as persistent, and even less did he expect himself to grow such a soft spot for him, or any of them really – but he did.

And then he went and fell for all of them.

Yoongi was to first to realise something's off with the elf, the first to see right through Hoseok's bullshit, and he didn't hesitate to make it clear that he did and that he doesn't like it. It didn't take that long for him to create a crack in Hoseok's walls and peek inside and see. Because he's Yoongi and Hoseok has long accepted that maybe it was always meant to be that way; to look at the gremlin and feel like maybe everything's going to be okay.

Maybe his walls have never been as thick as he always liked to think because there's more than one crack now, and his walls just keep crumbling.

Yoongi has got him to share a few of the darkest corners of his heart with him; the corners that Hoseok felt comfortable with sharing and that weren't so dark that he'd feel himself slipping. Hoseok has told him about his parents' sudden death and how regretful he's felt ever since about a lot of things, like not having been able to say goodbye, or not having had the chance to tell them that he loves them just one more time– to never see their smiles again or hear them reassure him that he doesn't need to be afraid.

Honestly, it had felt good to share those things, not like the weight was lifted off his shoulders, but like relief; like he didn't have to carry it all by himself anymore; like he had a place to go if he ever wanted to share a bit more. It had felt like Yoongi understood his pain– because he did. Because he does. Because Yoongi has not only lost everything like Hoseok did, but he has lost everything right in front of his eyes, and probably in one of the most brutal of ways.

Hoseok would have nightmares too if he had seen everyone in his life be taken away from him like that; ripped to pieces and devoured as if their lives meant absolutely nothing. He can't begin to imagine the helplessness Yoongi must have felt, or the despair and agony that he still sometimes feels– the rage.

In Hoseok's case, he at least hadn't been present when it happened. He wasn't there to experience the betrayal and bloodshed that his brother had to witness – and yet, somehow, that's just as cruel, just as hard to come to terms with, and so he never did.

Because he wasn't there when they'd needed him the most; he wasn't there to protect them. He could have saved them, he could have– It's a different kind of pain to have regrets like that, but pain nonetheless, and Hoseok doesn't want any more of it. He'd like to avoid losing anyone else if he can help it. He'll do anything to keep his mates safe, even if that means being the bad guy.

Even if it means disappointing or upsetting them.

And they are disappointed and upset with him; he's very aware of it. Especially Yoongi, which is rather hard to digest. Hoseok hates nothing more than to know that he's the one to have put a frown on that little face, hates to be the reason for his hair to stiffen when he loves the fluffiness of it so much.

What's worse is that he's upset Jimin as well. And an upset gnome means an even more upset Yoongi. And two upset mates mean a very upset Seokjin, which– that's not something that Hoseok likes to know he is responsible for.

It's really– it's really not a nice feeling at all.

Hoseok has slept maybe one or two hours last night, maybe not at all. He had closed his eyes for a while but all he could see in the darkness of his own mind had been guilt and fear and… doubt. He'd felt suffocated in Jimin's arms, felt like he didn't deserve the gnome's kind heart and forgiveness. He still feels like he doesn't.

Needless to say, sleep had turned around and walked the other way to leave him to his thoughts, and none of those thoughts had been pretty.

Hugs are nice, and Jimin's hugs in particular are very nice, but having thoughts like that and feeling so undeserving while lying in his mate's arms had been painful; waking up and still feeling like that was tiring; and knowing that he's managed to upset, not just three of his mates, but four this time– it's sickening.

Because, right now, Hoseok's making his way through Namjoon's plant children army that is still occupying more than half of the living room's floor, and as he steps around the various sizes of pots, he's quickly reminded of their argument again. Hoseok recalls both of them being hurt by the other and acting petty, much more than was reasonable, and stubbornly insisting that it's entirely the other's fault, like always.

Considering how different they are, it's almost funny how similar they are in that aspect.

Hoseok hasn't seen Namjoon ever since. It's usually Hoseok that ends up apologising first and would come seek the other. It's partially because he knows he's the one responsible for their fights turning into fights in the first place and he'd eventually feel guilty for always trying to provoke the other. But mostly, it's because Yoongi would either keep nagging him until he does, or he'd refuse to let him pet him if he doesn't, which– that's just cruel to the both of them, isn't it?

At the end of the day, Hoseok honestly doesn't mind to be the first one to apologise and is happy to do so. It makes him feel like the bigger creature, like he's the more mature one – which he genuinely does think he is.

Hoseok doesn't care how old Namjoon's soul might be or how wise that makes him according to everyone else; he's pretty much still a baby in his book, eager to learn but so clumsy in his approaches that one can't help but want to help and take care of things for him. And maybe, like the rest of their mates, Hoseok's a bit weak for him. Maybe it does make him want to look past their differences and baby him instead, just a little bit.

Maybe that's why Hoseok's feeling rather restless knowing that it's been a little longer than a day that he's seen Namjoon and they also haven't made up yet. The fact that he hasn't yet apologised and the other might still be upset with him, just like the others– that he's upset four out of his five mates in the span of two days–

Hoseok hates that.

He hates it and he hates feeling the need to run away and risk upsetting them even more. He hates that it doesn't matter how much he hates it, he's already stepping through the portal and breaking his promise to not just disappear on them once again.

At least he's not going too far this time, he attempts to reassure himself. He's only stepping outside for a bit.

Normally, Hoseok would put more distance between himself and his mates. Normally, he would leave the forest for a while – although he'd stay near the west border – and keep to himself for a few hours, sit on a tiny hill and watch the old abandoned mansion from afar as the sun either sets or rises, painting the dead stone walls in soft reds while he imagines there to be still some life and warmth inside them.

Today, however, he doesn't dare stray too far – can't. Not with that imp still inside his home, inside his mate's room, inside his mate's bed– Yoongi's bed.

Hoseok sighs dejectedly. He can't believe he's let him be that reckless. What was Yoongi trying to prove doing that anyway? That the imp's harmless? That Hoseok's being paranoid and unreasonable? Well, what about them being too trusting then? What about them being too nice?

His mates are simply too kind, too good-natured for a world with so many bad things in it, with so many threats and deceiving creatures, with so much pain and hate and indifference. So he really can't help wanting to look out for them. It's good to be open-minded and friendly, of course it is, but there's a limit. There's a line there that his mates don't seem to care about, crossing it without a second thought. He's just trying to protect them.

It doesn't matter that he doesn't have to. He knows they can defend themselves just fine, all of them. It's not like he'd need to protect them from a creature with magic as weak as that, but… he's made that mistake once before, hasn't he? And he's learned from it.

The worst things happen when you least expect them; on the sunniest days, in the happiest moments, when you have the most carefree thoughts. Things you've never feared until they happen, and after they've happened, you can't stop fearing them.

But it won't happen again. Hoseok won't be deceived again, no matter how big or innocent those eyes might have looked; he won't fall for them, no matter how gentle and frightened his magic might have felt. He doesn't care. He'd rather upset his mates temporarily than risk losing them forever.

He'd rather have to deal with their disappointment than the regret he'd feel if history repeated itself, knowing that he could have done something about it but chose not to.

It's better to be safe than sorry.

The air feels cool on his skin when Hoseok comes out on the other side of the tree's portal, the dim light of the slowly rising sun is shining through the long branches of the willow tree, dark orange mixing with the soft purple of the glowing flowers surrounding them.

Hoseok sits down on the grass, uncaring that it's damp from dew and soaking slightly through his pants, and– and that's not like him. To not mind getting his clothes dirty, that's not like him at all. But he can't get himself to care right now. He hasn't really been himself since last night anyway, acting like a complete stranger in front of his mates, so why care now?

Hoseok ignores the uncomfortable feeling of cold wetness underneath him and leans back, leans against the willow tree's giant trunk and closes his eyes, breathes in the crisp air, listens to the soft rustle of leaves and lets his thoughts wander.

Considering how long creatures live, Hoseok knew that there would come a day that he'd need to confront his issues with them. He knew that, someday, he'd eventually have to deal with imps again, even if they've become hard to come across these past few decades.

It's more likely, nowadays, to be attacked by a drop bear while walking through a forest during daytime than to see an imp at a public place – and drop bears belong to the nocturnal wildlife, mind you.

Hoseok needs to be honest and admit that he's not been too displeased but rather relieved even that imps have started to live in the shadows and keep to themselves. It's not like he's genuinely happy about it, it's just… it's just that he can't say that he misses them. He can't say he minds them hiding away. He can't say he's not at least a little glad that he doesn't really have to worry about the possibility of having to serve their kind at the café.

But Hoseok knew all along that the time would come, sooner or later, and that he'd cross paths with one of them again, one way or another. He just would have never imagined that he'd be the bad guy in that scenario.

Yoongi has made it very clear that he is though, and Jimin probably thinks so as well but is too kind to admit that he does. Seokjin too didn't seem too pleased with him, but to be honest, his oldest hyung hasn't been too pleased with him for a while now.

Hoseok glares at the willow tree's long branches, the leaves that are always green, even in late autumn– even in the harsh cold of winter that is coming soon.

“Aren't you the one that's like… I don't know, supposed to keep us safe and stuff?” Hoseok asks the tree, uncaring of his reproachful tone. “All those fancy wards and powerful protection spells, and for what? You've quite literally welcomed him with open arms.” He frowns. “Or open branches, I guess.”

Yoongi and Jimin have both mentioned it to him like he wasn't already aware, but Hoseok knows, theoretically, that the tree wouldn't have let that imp anywhere near its roots if it had recognised him as a threat. And it's also very strange that it went as far as to let it inside its branches. But maybe it had a lapse in judgement or… something? No being is all-knowing after all and– or it might have been an accident, or…

It doesn't make sense.

It just doesn't make sense, none of it; the tree's behaviour, his mates' behaviour, but especially that imp's behaviour– the way he'd cowered in front of him, the way he'd looked at him… Hoseok just can't get those big round eyes out of his head. Whenever he'd close his eyes, he'd see them staring back at him, almost reproachful, as if taunting him. Making him second-guess.

“I don't get it,” Hoseok mutters, or pouts, but you can't prove that. “What were you thinking, letting this one in? Why an imp of all creatures? I doubt you believed him to be a normal cat like Jiminnie did, so why? Because he was injured? Because you pitied him?” The elf scowls. “He's a strange creature. You've never cared about those before.”

The tree responds with a soft rustle and it sounds like it's giggling, as if it finds Hoseok's questions amusing, as if his concern is laughable at most.

“This isn't funny,” Hoseok huffs, less threatening and more exhausted than he meant for it to sound. “This is serious. This isn't some shelter for strays that you think are cute and then– and then randomly decide you want to keep. Which he's not, by the way. He's not cute and we won't keep him.” He sighs. “Creatures aren't puppies, you know? You can't just pick one up like that and expect… well, I don't know what you expected to happen. I don't understand your weird ancient tree logic.” The elf gently bumps the back of his head against the tree and looks up at its crown. “Namjoon won't like this.”

The tree's leaves rustle cryptically, making Hoseok frown. He is about to demand the tree to stop messing around and explain itself – although he knows it can't exactly do that for very obvious reasons (like being a tree), or at least in a way that anyone but Namjoon would understand – but then he feels the portal open beside him, hears a soft exhale that he'd recognise anywhere.

“Ah, there you are.”

Hoseok looks up and is greeted with warm magic and the familiar sight of cute striped pyjamas.

“Hyung.”

Seokjin raises a brow at Hoseok when he sees that he's sitting on the ground, scrunches his nose disapprovingly when he sees the grass glistening wetly in the dim light, eyes narrowing slightly because he knows Hoseok would be the last to deliberately sit in dirt like that. He doesn't address it, just huffs out a silent chuckle that sounds remotely like amusement, and strangely like relief.

“Aren't you cold?”

He is cold. “Not really.”

Seokjin appears to just hum in response, but Hoseok feels his hyung's warm magic curl around him, like a blanket.

“I felt your magic near the entrance and wondered where you disappeared to again.” Seokjin clucks his tongue in disapproval. “My magic was preparing to burst again, geez. Stop upsetting it,” he complains as he bends down to gently tilt Hoseok's chin up and give him a quick but tender kiss – because no matter how much the elf might upset the other, or his magic, Seokjin will still kiss him good morning and good night every day and night if he can help it, always.

It warms Hoseok's heart, it really does, but it's also a reminder of how sweet and loving his mate is– how sweet and loving all of them are, and how bitter and selfish he is in comparison. It often feels bittersweet to be on the receiving end of his mates' unconditional love.

“Sorry, hyung,” Hoseok mumbles against his lips, magic vibrating contentedly under his skin and reaching for the other, wanting Seokjin closer, wanting all of him, wanting more – magic is honest like that, unlike creatures.

Seokjin hums, pleased, and gives him one last peck before letting go of his face. He's smiling, but his eyes look tired. He's still beautiful though. He's never not beautiful.

“Jimin's been looking for you,” the older says while leaning his back against the tree's trunk to gaze at the glowing flowers' weakening light as the sun rises; hues of purple and gold. “Said you two spent the night together but that you weren't there when he woke up? He seemed a little sad about that. Why'd you leave?”

“Why would he be sad about that? I've upset him so much last night, he really shouldn't,” Hoseok mutters under his breath. He feels Seokjin shift next to him, feels his eyes on him, but finds that he can't look at him right now.

“Because he loves you, stupid,” Seokjin says, but his voice is warm. Always so warm. Too warm. Hoseok might just get burned one day.

The elf wraps his arms around himself and tells his magic to stop reaching for the other, to stay close and behave, to stop wanting more.

Seokjin seems to notice because of course he does. There's compassion now, in his voice when he says, “He won't just stop loving you because you've upset him.” And it's so much. Hoseok doesn't know how to say that he feels like that's all he does, that he's upset Jimin again– that he's upset all of them and that he hates it so much it hurts.

Hoseok looks up to meet Seokjin's gaze and it's awfully fond and soft. A little sad perhaps. “None of us would, I hope you know that. We argue all the fucking time. And we say things we don't mean and we hurt each other and then we apologise and make up, and everything's fine. It's always been fine.” He doesn't mention that, three out of five times, Hoseok is the one who started the fight and Namjoon is likely the one he's fighting with; that one out of those other two times, he's still somehow involved.

Is it really fine?

“It's fine,” Seokjin groans, like he's read his mind. “So what are you doing here all by yourself, hm? Went for a sulk?” the older teases. Hoseok's not in the mood for teasing.

“Just needed some air,” Hoseok answers vaguely. “Was thinking.”

Seokjin hums knowingly. He doesn't question why he'd need to leave their home to do that, and Hoseok's glad he doesn't. “And? Any interesting thoughts? Any groundbreaking conclusions?” he asks instead.

Hoseok looks away again, sees the rays of sun shining through the long branches grow a little stronger. It's probably been half an hour that he's been sitting here like this, thoughts going anywhere but where he wants them to go. He shrugs. “Not really.”

Seokjin hums again. “I assume this is about our little guest?”

Hoseok briefly glances at him before he turns away to scoff, “He's not exactly little, is he.” Nor a guest, he has to bite back.

“What do you mean? He's fucking tiny,” Seokjin says.

“Hyung, he's almost as tall as you. How is that tiny?”

“Well, I don't mean physically.”

Hoseok quirks a brow, confused. “How else do you measure size if not physically?”

Seokjin throws his arms up in exasperation. “It's a thing, okay? Don't question me, I'm older than you.” He lets his arms drop to his sides, leaning back against the tree's rough bark as a sombre look slowly begins to cloud his face. “You know, I thought I knew how fragile creatures were, but… his magic feels so weak, it's barely even there.”

Hoseok can hear the frown in Seokjin's voice, can feel his magic burn with concern for that imp in a way it usually only does for one of their own, and… he doesn't know how to take that.

It's not really that surprising though, if he thinks about it. Seokjin's an ifrit and one of the most powerful creatures to exist; immune to sickness and magic so strong that nobody sane would ever think of picking a fight with him. To him, most other creatures seem so fragile in comparison that he thinks they need to be wrapped up in thick blankets and handled with utmost care– and of course he only means well when he treats creatures weaker than him like babies, but it can come across as a bit condescending at times.

Much like Jimin's too kind for his own good and Namjoon's too naïve for the world they live in, Seokjin is gentle to a fault.

Yoongi has told him again and again not to treat him like glass, would get upset and frustrated every time Seokjin's too gentle with him when all the gremlin wants sometimes is for the oldest to grab him by the neck and push him into mattress, fuck him like he means it and not like he's scared he might break him if he's just a tiny bit more rough.

Tears have been shed because of this, and not the good kind. Hoseok's seen the hot angry tears rolling down the gremlin's feverish red cheeks because there are few things Yoongi asks for and fewer things he'd say he really needs– and being manhandled just so happens to be something that he really really needs every now and then.

He says it's the animal genes, that it's him being a gremlin and shapeshifter and feeling feral sometimes, but they all know it's not just that.

“Physically, I know he's not little, but apart from that… I don't know. He just– he feels small to me,” Seokjin says and there's a strange kind of desperation in his voice. “And it kinda hurts my heart, you know?”

“We don't know him,” is all Hoseok can say in response because he can't say that he does know.

He doesn't want to admit that his own heart might have hurt quite a bit when he'd looked at all the injuries the imp had suffered in the last thirty-six hours and they turned out to be much worse than he'd expected– when there turned out to be more than he'd expected.

Hoseok had actually felt a little sick when he'd noticed a few injuries that he hadn't mentioned to his mates– couldn't mention because of what they might insinuate. Because it would be so easy to imagine how the imp had got them, and Hoseok didn't want them to imagine.

Hoseok might not trust him, might not like him being here, but his heart isn't made out of stone. Hoseok doesn't think that what he's seen could have ever left him completely cold, imp or not imp.

“We don't know him,” Seokjin repeats, agreeing. “But we used to be strangers too, at one point. Meeting strange creatures doesn't necessarily need to be a bad thing. They might be nice. You might end up liking them once you get to know them.” Seokjin's lips curl up. There's an oddly confident glint in his eyes. “You never know.”

But I do know, Hoseok's mind adds, almost petulantly. It can be a bad thing. They might not be nice. They might not be nice at all, even if they seem like they are.

“I get it. You like him,” the elf says. “You all like him and I'm the asshole because I don't. Whatever.” He's not pouting, so he ignores the older cooing at him.

“I do like him,” Seokjin smiles complacently. “He's such a sweet thing, honestly. And so polite.” He sighs, sounding fond. “So polite. Very shy.”

Hoseok rolls his eyes. Isn't he exactly his type then? Isn't that the same reason why Seokjin's extra soft for Yoongi? That hyung is shy too– although, he supposes, the gremlin's a different type of shy than that imp.

Yoongi will say the nastiest things in bed, but is too embarrassed to admit that he wants them to pet him. He will cuss them out, but blushes when he asks to hold hands. He can give someone a detailed explanation as to why he hates their guts, but can't look his own mates in the eye when they tell him he's cute and why. He's super endearing, basically.

That imp, however, he seems more like the stutters when he speaks type of shy. The terrified of talking to strange creatures type of shy. The his mind might blank if he's put on the spot type of shy. The it's almost kind of concerning type of shy – that is, if Hoseok was concerned about him. He isn't. Hoseok doesn't care about him. Why would he? His mates are the only ones he cares about.

There is nothing and nobody more important than them.

“I don't care what he's like, I don't want anything to do with him,” Hoseok sighs. That he doesn't want them to have anything to do with him either goes without saying. “I just want him gone as fast as possible, please.”

Hoseok feels the other's eyes on him, drilling holes into his head as if to see inside, trying to understand– but he clearly doesn't. Hoseok doesn't want him to understand. It's better if none of them ever understands.

“Hoseok.” The way Seokjin says his name is soft yet pointed, and Hoseok knows the older is being patient with him. “I don't know what it is that's making you act this way and I won't ask if you don't want me to– I mean, I know that you don't. But. I really think you should try and forget for a moment what he is, so you can see who he is.” Like his voice, Seokjin's smile is soft, but there's something hard in his eyes. “I'm convinced that, if you could look past whatever opinion you already have inside your head, you'd actually quite like him. Also, nobody thinks you're an asshole.”

Hoseok gives him a doubtful look. Immediately, one corner of Seokjin's mouth twitches; the telltale sign that he's about to crack a stupid joke.

“Creatures aren't assholes, Hoseok,” Seokjin says, deadpan. “They have assholes.”

“Hyung, please.”

Seokjin shrugs. “Okay, maybe Yoongi called you something like that, but you know him. And you know how he gets when it comes to things like this.”

Hoseok narrows his eyes. “Things like what?”

“You know, being prejudiced and judgemental. Things like that. Especially if it concerns lesser beings.”

“It's not like that,” Hoseok sighs resignedly, but when he opens his mouth to argue and defend himself, he finds that he can't. He doesn't know how or what to say without saying too much.

It's not like he's unaware. Hoseok is aware of how he acted last night, how he must have come across. He's aware that he's being unreasonable and mean and everything that he hates to be. He knows. He knew when he went and opened his mouth and not only intimidated that imp but also hurt Jimin with his words.

He knew nobody would be on his side.

But he's not being like this because that imp is considered a lesser being or because he thinks that lesser beings are, well, less than him. Hoseok couldn't care less about that stupid hierarchy or creatures' talk. This is not him just blindly hating imps simply because that's what everyone else does. Sure, it's easy to hate what others hate just for the sake of it, just to be part of something or make things easier for oneself. But that's not what this is. That's not what he's doing and, quite frankly, he's not that stupid that he'd listen to creatures running their mouths just because they know nothing better to do with their time and energy.

Hell, he knows all too well how it feels to be on the receiving end of that. It hurts sometimes to be feared, to be judged, to be hated for what he is. It hurts to be looked at like that, to be whispered about behind his back, to be made something he isn't.

It hurts to be discriminated against.

Hoseok knows that and he knows that it's wrong and spiteful. But imps, they–

This is well-reasoned mistrust based off his own experience; the things he's seen imps do and the lack of remorse or sense of responsibility that they've shown afterwards. Hoseok has seen what they're like and his mates obviously haven't. They do not know what imps are capable of and Hoseok sincerely wishes for them to stay ignorant. It's okay if they don't know. It's better if they never have to find out.

Imps, they…

They just can't be trusted.

He just can't trust them. Hoseok can't be in the same room as one of them and not feel nervous, anxious even. He can't look at an imp and not feel that deep ache in his chest. He can't just forget about everything they remind him of. He can't forget about what they took from him and what they gave him in return; the grief they caused him and the pain they've put him through.

He can't do that, not so suddenly, and not right now. Maybe never.

Hoseok doesn't know what to say, so all he can say is, “It's not like that.”

And all Seokjin can do is sigh in response.

“Hoseok, dearest, let me tell you this now,” the older starts, and the determined expression on his face tells Hoseok that whatever he's going to say can no further be argued with. His patience is wearing thin, and Hoseok is partially to blame for that. “I want him to stay until at least his leg's fully healed. Or at least that was the plan, but, well…”

Hoseok frowns at him. “But what, hyung?”

Seokjin's magic suddenly bursts and Hoseok watches the tiny sparks as they float through the air until they burn to ashes. The willow tree rustles its leaves in sympathy. “But what if– Hoseok, what if there's no place to return to? What if he's got nowhere to go? I mean, somewhere that's safe, at least. What if he's got nothing like that?”

That's none of their business, Hoseok wants to say, and they shouldn't care, he wants to argue. He shouldn't care, he reminds himself. He really shouldn't.

“So what you're trying to say is…”

“I'm not letting him go if it's not safe for him to do so.” There's a strange urgency in Seokjin's voice that Hoseok hasn't heard in a long time. “I can't.”

“Hyung…”

“That I am,” Seokjin huffs, then he sighs tiredly. He seems older today, somehow, like he's aged a whole decade overnight. “Hoseok, listen. Please hear me out, okay? He's not even fully matured yet. He's only twenty-three, he's got a fresh claim around his throat, and whoever put it there– whatever sick bastard hurt him like that might still be out there and waiting for him for all we know. It'd be irresponsible to make him leave if that's the case.”

“He's not our responsibility though,” Hoseok interjects.

“He's not.” Seokjin's eyes soften. “But Yoongi wasn't our responsibility either, was he?”

He wasn't, but…

“That was different.”

“Was it? How?” Seokjin asks with a low voice. “Do you think he looked like that because he wanted to be claimed? Do you think he got all those injuries because he let that be done to him willingly? Because I don't fucking think so, I really don't.”

Hoseok doesn't think so either, he doesn't, but…

“Yoongi was hurt and needed help. This imp– Jungkook, he's hurt too, and he needs our help. What's so different?”

“It's different, okay? It just is,” Hoseok insists stubbornly. The look Seokjin gives him is a mix of exasperation and… is that pity? “Also, you're just assuming things right now. You might be wrong.”

“Oh, I really do hope so.” Seokjin chuckles mirthlessly. “I fucking wish I was wrong, but…” His lips draw into a thin line. “Last night, when he came into my room, whenever I came too close or tried to touch him, he'd flinch. He was so scared, he was shaking. But you know what? He let me touch him anyway, like he had no choice. Like he's accepted that he can't do anything about it anyway. Like it didn't matter that he might not want that. I don't like that.” Seokjin's shaking his head, jaw tense and brows furrowed. “I– I don't know what else to think but that he must be used to it.”

Hoseok holds his breath. “What do you mean by that?”

“Being hurt, being in pain, I don't know. Bad stuff. It's like he expects it at any given moment.” Seokjin glares down at his hands as if they're weapons. They aren't. “I don't think I did anything that could have made him think that I would, but he kept looking at me like he's waiting for me to hurt him somehow.”

Hoseok stomach sinks. He thinks he knows exactly what kind of expression Seokjin's talking about – because he remembers seeing it on the imp's face when he'd approached him to look into his heart, which he shouldn't have. He knows he shouldn't have looked, should never look without permission, but he still did.

His big eyes had looked even bigger then, wide with fear fear fear, and apprehension, like he knew what was about to happen and dreading it. But then he'd closed them, almost as if in resignation; as if choosing that, whatever he thought was about to happen, he didn't want to see.

Like he had no choice

Like he's accepted that he can't do anything about it anyway

Like he's waiting for me to hurt him

Hoseok feels sick.

Jimin had scolded him then, saying that the imp had been paralysed with fear, but Hoseok had been too preoccupied with making sure he's no threat to really notice. Sure, his magic had felt pretty timid and nervous, but… but what?

Maybe Hoseok just didn't want to acknowledge it. Because, why would an imp be scared if they don't have to fear for their lives? What is there to fear more than death?

“So I thought, maybe he's just scared of me, because I know my magic can be a lot for fragile creatures like him,“ Seokjin says. “But then it happened with Jimin too, and it's– it's fucking Jimin. Like, his magic's the epitome of soothing, like flowers and rainbows and shit. Why'd he be scared of that? His magic should know better.“ He's getting a bit worked up now. “It really should know better, but…the injuries, the claim, his behaviour– and the fact that he's an imp.” A brief pause, a short but heavy silence. “He might have been…“ Seokjin's voice fades off as a solemn look clouds his face.

There's no need to say it; they've both seen the angry red skin around his ankles that Hoseok is pretending he didn't notice. Maybe there's more he just doesn't want to acknowledge.

It'd be easy for Hoseok to heal those grazes. It wouldn't even take him more than a mere few minutes. An elf could easily heal such light wounds, as well as the rest of cuts and bruises, and it wouldn't even begin to exhaust their magic.

It would take almost no effort.

Normally.

“None of this is making me feel reassured that anything but keeping him here would be a good idea,” Seokjin says and it makes sense. Admittedly, everything he's said so far is making perfect sense – but Hoseok still thinks that getting rid of that imp as fast as possible and going on with their lives as if nothing ever happened would be a much better idea.

Something must show on his face because Seokjin's expression briefly tenses before it softens into something sad but fond.

“Come here,” the older says, pulling Hoseok up to engulf him in a warm hug. The elf melts into his arms, his own arms going around Seokjin's waist to hold on tight, pressing his cheek against his neck, even as he thinks that he's done nothing recently to deserve it. “I know that what happened with Taehyung was scary, but it's okay. Everything's gonna be fine. I highly doubt that the little one could hurt any of us, but even if he tried, I wouldn't let him. You know I would never let anyone lay even a finger on any of you again, right?”

What if you're not there though, Hoseok thinks but doesn't say.

What if I'm not there again?

“I know.”

“Good.” Hoseok feels the soft press of Seokjin's plush lips against his temple, feels them curl into a small smile. “Then stop being rude, and don't glare at him while we eat breakfast, yeah?” A peck. “Let's try to be nice, hm?” Another peck, now on his forehead, and they're looking into each others' eyes. “Okay?”

Hoseok sighs and pulls Seokjin closer, holds on tighter as he thinks that, if he can't make him leave, he'll just have to keep an eye on him – because no matter what, he'll be there this time.

He will.

 

* * *

 

Seokjin doesn't know if Hoseok has the same thought when they step through the portal or if it's just him, but he thinks it's suspicious, a little ominous perhaps, the way the tree rustled its leaves when they did, sounding almost… excited. Kind of giddy. And Seokjin wonders if maybe it knows something that they don't.

It would certainly not be the first time.

It doesn't scare him. Ultimately, he knows that the tree has only ever their best interest in mind, always looking out for them. Because any creature that Namjoon chooses to love and care for, the tree will regard as one of its own and protect, and anyone that dares to try and harm them will face its wrath – if they've survived the ifrit's, that is.

But that's what's confusing.

Jungkook's not one of them. Namjoon never chose him, and as far as Seokjin's concerned, he's not even aware of his presence yet. The tree has no reason to act the way it has, no reason to have let him inside its branches, inside the wards, inside their home. And Seokjin's confused. He's really confused – but he's not exactly upset about it.

Not at all, actually, and that's… interesting.

For him, it hasn't been and still isn't a question of whether to let Jungkook stay at theirs, but rather a question of for how long? And, surprisingly – or maybe it's not that surprising, really –, the answer is that he doesn't care for how long.

Seokjin meant what he told Hoseok. He wants to help Jungkook, wants to help him get better, wants to to do something so that he won't get hurt like that again– because it's not too late. It's not too late this time. He can still do something and there's still life in the imp's magic, there's still hope in his eyes.

Seokjin doesn't want to avert his gaze and look away, act like it's none of his business just because that would be the easy thing to do. He can't to do that, nor does he want to. He wants to help keep him safe and he means it from the very bottom of his heart, feels it with his entire soul, his whole being– it almost has him feeling a little crazed.

It might be the lack of sleep.

Seokjin's certain he's not the only one, but he's barely slept last night. He had gone to bed and closed his eyes and it had been quiet; so quiet that he couldn't stop hearing it– the imp's small voice, quiet and timid, and so so pained, asking for it to stop, for the pain to stop, w-want it to stop, please…

It just kept echoing inside his head.

Words that had been spoken like a confession, like a secret he was sharing for the very first time. Words that were still ringing inside Seokjin's mind hours later and that followed him into his dreams, where they could take shape and come to life and haunt him.

He had startled awake this morning, chest tight and magic burning in his veins, an agonising restlessness deep in his bones that was urging him to get up get up get up up up–

He had been on his feet before he knew it.

Seokjin couldn't stop thinking about it; why had it seemed like admitting being in pain or asking for it to stop were such very foreign concepts to Jungkook? Like he couldn't or shouldn't, or isn't allowed? That's ridiculous and concerning and, to put it bluntly, really fucked up.

Ever since he's heard him say that, there's been this overwhelming urge to constantly check on him, a strange creature that Seokjin has known for a couple of hours maybe, and that's ridiculous too. To feel so responsible for his well-being when he barely knows the kid… it's strange.

It's strange, but not anything too new, actually. It has happened before, after all.

This is almost like back then when Namjoon had come back with a very bloodied and pale-looking creature on his back; a creature, mind you, that they'd all either believed didn't exist anymore or weren't sure had ever even existed to begin with. All Seokjin could think back then as well, he clearly remembers this, had been poor thing and fuck and, vaguely, something along the lines of must protect

This feeling inside his chest now is awfully similar to that, to what he'd felt when the gremlin's eyes met his for the very first time that day and all he could see was pain – because when he'd looked into Jungkook's for the first time, he'd seen something frighteningly similar.

This needing to make sure the other's alright, this wanting to take care of him and coddle him, it's the same as when he'd put Yoongi in his favourite sweater all those years ago and made sure he was fed and hydrated; when he would hold him whenever he'd wake up screaming night after night after night– and it hadn't mattered then that they didn't know each other well enough because the gremlin had needed it, period. He had needed someone.

Seokjin hadn't minded then to be that someone for Yoongi, and he doesn't mind it now either to be that someone for Jungkook as well, if he wants that.

Hewais ready to give him as much.

When Seokjin had opened the door to Yoongi's room this morning, he had fully expected to see them both still in bed. Admittedly, part of him had been looking forward to seeing the gremlin and the imp still asleep and wrapped in sheets, soft and safe and all his to gently wake up. So yes, Seokjin had felt a little disconcerted when neither of them had been there, the bed already cold and empty. He could still feel their magic from the neatly folded sheets and well-arranged pillows, something that he's never in all these years seen Yoongi do before.

The faint traces of their magic had led him down the stairs and to the kitchen, where he'd found Jimin and Taehyung, still in their sleeping attire and looking softer than soft, the gnome humming along to a song that was playing on the radio and making coffee while the fairy was sat at the table, watching the other with fond eyes but glancing away every now and then to eye Jungkook curiously. The imp had been sitting on the other side of the table, much like last night, with his leg elevated and big round eyes roaming the room but never picking one spot to stay – a nervous habit, it seems.

Jungkook was dressed in what Seokjin knows were Yoongi's clothes, while Yoongi himself – like so often, although he always denies raiding their wardrobes – was wearing what Seokjin knows were definitely not his clothes, standing in front of the stove and cooking something that had smelt like fried eggs. Taehyung must have attempted to help at one point because there'd also been the faint smell of burnt toast.

They had all immediately noticed the ifrit's presence before he'd even stepped inside the kitchen and turned around to either smile at him or say good morning or both or, in Jungkook's case, just stare at him like a startled deer caught in headlights.

He'd looked better after what Seokjin hoped had been a few hours of restful sleep. He'd looked a litte bit more relaxed and a lot less scared, although still very shy and noticeably alert, ready to run and hide at the first sign of any kind of possible threat. But still, Jungkook's magic had felt more settled than the night before, not flickering as wildly anymore, less like a candle that's about to be blown out, and that was a good thing.

However, there had also been something else then, something in his magic so subtle and easy to miss that Seokjin thinks he had only noticed it because of his sensitivity to magic, and he doubts the others have picked up on it; doubts they would notice the difference if they tried to.

Seokjin's not quite sure what it was, but he knows that it had felt sad, had felt like grief almost, like the imp's magic was mourning, quietly weeping, and it definitely hadn't been there the night before.

Seokjin really has no idea what could have possibly happened in those few hours for such a subtle yet fundamental change in the imp's magic to occur, and he's starting to think that he might have just imagined it.

Seokjin's a bit tired after all, and a bit more than usually too.

Yoongi has been nagging him for a while now to get some rest. Seokjin might be complaining a lot about being stressed and his mates being fucking menaces at times, but it's not like they don't offer to help and lessen his workload because of course they do. They're the first to notice the change in his magic, when it's about to burst, and that's sweet and reassuring and makes them the best fucking mates in the world, which they are regardless.

It's just that, at this point, Seokjin's not even sure anymore if he actually knows how to rest and not constantly fuss or worry or work. It's just become a big part of who he is now, and how is he supposed to change what's part of him? That's scary.

And then the imp had appeared out of seemingly nowhere and he's been the perfect distraction from everything that's been going on lately, inside and outside of Seokjin's head. So, admittedly, he's not been an unwelcome distraction, but Seokjin still thinks that he would have preferred it if they could have met under different… circumstances.

In a perfect world, he imagines, they would have met on a cozy late afternoon in the middle of spring or summer, inside the café, and Seokjin and his mates would have been enamoured and treated the imp to dessert because he's so so sweet, and maybe he wouldn't have been too shy to hold a proper conversation then and they would have chatted for hours; maybe they would have invited him inside their home after closing and treated him to dinner as well, and it would have been absolutely wonderful.

In a perfect world, they wouldn't have met on a cold night in late autumn and the imp wouldn't have been severely injured and scared because, in a perfect world, imps wouldn't be hated and nobody would be considered lesser and all creatures would be equal and treated with the same amount of respect.

But a perfect world doesn't exist, so…

Anyway.

Seokjin had went to greet each of his mates with a kiss (or two because Jimin always insists that one isn't enough) before turning to the imp to ask him how he's slept and how he's feeling. Jungkook had only tripped over his words a few dozen times when he told him that he's slept fine and that he's alright, and Yoongi had only turned around right away to add that, actually, he's had cramps from the painkilling potions when he woke up and that he's also slipped in the bathtub and hit his head.

Seokjin had really wanted to scold the imp right then and there, and he would have told him all about being careful on slippery surfaces and the severity of head injuries and that being an imp is no excuse to be reckless. Then, afterwards, he would have thoroughly searched his entire body for any minuscule injury and left kisses as he went to mark where he's already looked– but, well…

That's what he does with his mates and the imp's obviously not one of his mates, therefore that would have been highly inappropriate. So instead, he had taken a deep breath to calm himself and his weird hyung urges before giving the imp a very shortened and heavily edited version of his usual lecture and a quick but not so subtle once-over to check for anything else that might have happened in those few hours he'd let him out of his sight.

And Seokjin had nearly choked on his spit because, when their eyes had met afterwards, Jungkook had smiled at him – a weak and very uncertain little thing, but a smile nonetheless – and Seokjin had felt ecstatic. The kind of ecstatic one feels when the stray cat that usually doesn't let anyone near it allows you to pet it. He had been happy, and relieved. He had been so relieved, for some reason.

That's why, as he's stepping through the portal with Hoseok following close behind, Seokjin feels his heart halt in his chest and his blood freeze in his veins when he senses the tangled mess of magic that's coming from the kitchen, mostly distressed and panicked, and that's– that's not good.

That is not good.

Seokjin abruptly stops walking, Hoseok bumping into him.

“Wha–“ The elf cuts himself off when he feels it as well– must feel it as well because he can't possibly not feel this, because this… this feels like…

It feels like someone's dying. No, it feels like someone's convinced they're about to die, magic flickering erratically, bursting and bursting and bursting and– Seokjin feels exhausted just imagining how physically draining that would be, feels scared of how dangerous it could be if the bursts were to continue for much longer at such a rate and intensity.

It's none of their mates, Seokjin can tell as much. Even if it's a mess, Seokjin can tell that it's Jungkook and that he's fucking terrified for some reason.

Hoseok can't though; he can't tell.

The elf's frowning, confused. Then he's glowering at the kitchen door, less confused as he grows distraught, and Seokjin wonders what it is that's made his magic feel so unstable and kind of menacing, what kind of thoughts he's having for it to sicker through the restrains he's usually holding onto so tight.

Suddenly, Hoseok is moving, and he's moving fast. He doesn't even attempt to step around the pots of plants as he makes his way to the kitchen, moving right through them because he can't be bothered right now, and that's never a good sign.

“Wai– Hoseok, don't– fuck,” Seokjin hisses and teleports to the kitchen, arriving half a second before the elf does. They both stand there, frowning at the situation in front of them and trying to make sense of it.

Jimin is kneeling on the floor with his back to them, muttering something that sounds like a string of apologies to what appears to be the gap between refrigerator and kitchen cabinet, magic growing more and more distressed as the seconds pass. The gnome's definitely aware of their presence but won't turn around to acknowledge them, just keeps on muttering in a frantic manner that is hard to listen to.

Taehyung is standing next to him, magic more confused than anything, but also upset because the fairy's always upset when Jimin is, way more empathetic than what could ever be considered healthy when it comes to the gnome.

Yoongi is the only one turning towards Seokjin and Hoseok when he notices them, slowly approaching them. His magic feels awfully quiet, the way it does when he's deeply concerned, like the calm before the storm.

“Are you okay?” Seokjin asks him immediately, to which the gremlin just nods. “What's going on? Why…”

Seokjin can't see Jungkook from where they're standing, but he can feel him even more now, and it's bad. He can feel that it's bad. But the imp's magic is weak and their mates' magic is not, and so it's their distress and concern that Hoseok is feeling rather than the imp's burning panic.

“What happened?” Hoseok asks with a voice that's strangely void.

Jimin turns around to look at them. His eyes are wide and wet and it's very obvious that he's on the brink of tears. “Hyung…”

“Oh, sweetheart, no…” Seokjin coos, heart weak for the gnome's teary eyes. He wants to go comfort him, smother him with kisses, but there are more pressing matters.

Hoseok's magic is starting to feel a little unsettling.

“Jimin, what's wrong?” Hoseok asks worriedly. “Are you okay? Why–“ His jaw suddenly clenches, as do his fists, eyes darting around the room as if looking for something, or someone. “Where is he?” the elf growls lowly.

There's a tiny whimper, coming from somewhere behind Jimin, and Seokjin squints past the gnome, thinks he can see bare feet peeking out of that gap between cabinet and refrigerator, the one that Jungkook had been eyeing last night.

Imps will hide after causing mischief, they say. Imps like to hide in the dark and watch the chaos unfold as they giggle to themselves; and while that's true, it's also very true that creatures hide when they're scared, and so do imps. But everyone always seems to forget about that – if they aren't already busy pretending that imps aren't creatures to begin with.

Seokjin wonders, which one is Hoseok?

“Jimin,” Hoseok says pointedly, magic uncurling and growing darker, restraints weakening. Seokjin can't tell if it's subconscious or not and it worries him. “Jimin, where is he? What did he do?”

“Nothing! He didn't– I–“ Jimin stutters as Hoseok's magic keeps expanding, dark and threatening and slowly creeping towards the gnome, but it's not Jimin that it is reaching for.

“Hoseok, stop it,” Seokjin warns, a note of urgency in his voice that's hard to miss, but Hoseok doesn't even seem to hear him.

“I swear if he hurt you–“

“For fuck's sa– Hoseok!” Seokjin firmly grabs the elf by his shoulder this time to get his attention. Hoseok turns around to glare at him. The ifrit remains perfectly composed and stares right back at him.

“Hoseok, dearest,” Seokjin says in that calm voice that they all know means they better shut the fuck up and listen. “I need you to calm down, okay? Let Jimin explain. I'm sure Jungkook didn't do anything to harm him.”

“He didn't!” Jimin confirms, shaking his head vehemently. “He didn't do anything. It's my fault, I… I hurt him.”

“You… what?” Hoseok breathes, frowning. His magic is slowly withdrawing, protectively lingering around his mates instead.

Seokjin feels his own brows furrow. “Jimin, sweetheart, what do you mean you hurt him?”

“You didn't hurt him,” Taehyung interjects, voice soft, eyes softer. But Jimin just shakes his head again, lower lip quivering like he's about to break into tears. He bites it harshly, refusing to let any of them spill. Seokjin hates when he does that.

“You couldn't have known,” Yoongi sighs. “That wasn't a normal re–“ He pauses, lips pressing into a thin line as he considers his next words carefully. “It was a strong reaction, is what it was. You didn't know he'd react like that. It's okay. You're okay, yeah? You didn't do it on purpose.”

Jimin lets out a shaky breath. “But I still shouldn't have just– I should have asked first, I… I'm so stupid.”

“Stop that,” Taehyung glares at him, looking hurt by the insult as if it was directed at him. “Don't say that.”

“Okay, would someone mind to actually explain what's going on?” Seokjin asks, feeling a slight sense of déja-vu. He glances towards where he assumes Jungkook to be hiding for some reason before his eyes move back to Jimin, who immediately looks away. Seokjin manages to briefly catch his eyes before he does, and there's guilt in them.

It's always guilt, even though nobody ever blames him.

Yoongi speaks up in Jimin's stead and explains, “You know how much you fucking hate when your tail gets stuck inside your clothes while dressing?”

Seokjin nods, no idea where this is going. But yes, it's really uncomfortable to have his tail's movements restricted in any way. It feels like he can't move one of his limbs and it's maddening.

“Yeah?”

Yoongi runs a hand through his messy hair. It's not as fluffy as it's supposed to be and Seokjin really wants to do something about it, pet it back to its original fluffiness. “Well, Jimin noticed that Jungkook's tail was stuck inside his hoodie and wanted to help him with that and…”

Seokjin's tail twitches. “And?”

“Well, to do that he obviously had to touch his tail and– I think Jungkook didn't like that very much. Immediately bolted out of his seat when Jimin grabbed it.” Yoongi nods towards the gap between refrigerator and cabinet. “He's slipped inside that gap. We've been trying to coax him out, but no success yet.”

Seokjin sighs tiredly and rubs his temples, briefly closing his eyes. This is ridiculous.

None of his mates have tails, so they wouldn't know– well, they should know not to just touch a creature's tail, especially if they don't really know them, but maybe they weren't fully aware that the reason for that is because it's kind of a sensitive area? Of course Jimin still shouldn't have touched Jungkook's tail without asking, or at least a warning. But in his defence, all of them are so used to Seokjin not minding them touching his tail, he probably didn't think of it when he did that. He just wanted to help.

Yoongi's right though; the reaction they discribed does sound a bit extreme. Jungkook must really hate having his tail touched.

“Hyung, what– what do I do?” Jimin asks, hushed but desperate. “The way he's sitting, it's putting so much strain on his leg, and I think– when he jumped up, I think I… I heard something cra-ack.” Jimin's voice cracks as well when he says that. “But he won't come out.” Jimin turns around to face the small gap with sunken shoulders. “He won't even look at me, and I don't know what to do, hyung, I–”

Seokjin interrupts him with gentle hands, cupping his face. He pecks his lips to shush him. “Hyung will take care of it,” he tells him as he runs a hand through the gnome's pitch-black hair.

Jimin is staring into his eyes, a bit calmer now but still distraught. “But–“

“Your magic's too unsettled, Jimin. It's messing with your head. I need you to calm down first,” Seokjin tells him gently. “Let me do this, yeah?”

Jimin nods, then nods again, a little faster, and moves out of the way to let Seokjin kneel where he had been kneeling until now. The sight that greets him there hurts his heart.

Jungkook is shaking where he's all huddled up in that narrow gap, body curled up so tight, he looks impossibly smaller.

“Hey,” Seokjin whispers softly as to not scare him, and watches with heaviness in his chest when Jungkook flinches regardless. The imp immediately tries to curl up even more, his magic flickering wildly in distress when he finds that he can't.

“Hey, it's me, Seokjin… Jin-hyung? You remember me, right?” Seokjin tries and holds out a hand. “Why don't you come out of there, hm?”

“'M sorry, p-please– please don't…“ Jungkook buries his face further into his knees as he continues to mutter indistinctly, arms tightening around his legs, fingers digging into skin.

Seokjin quickly withdraws his hand and frowns, concerned. “What is it? What's wrong? Tell me, dear. Tell hyung, I'll fix it.”

“Don't– please don't hurt me, please– please don't–” His voice breaks, turning into a small whimper. It's a sad little sound but it echoes loudly, almost painfully, in Seokjin's ears. It must be one of the most upsetting sounds he's ever heard, and he's heard Taehyung cry himself to sleep, heard Yoongi scream himself hoarse.

“No– oh god. No, my dear, no. Why would I– of course I won't hurt you,” Seokjin tries to reassure, voice quiet and gentle even as he feels himself grow upset. “Nobody here is gonna hurt you.”

Jungkook shakes his head, sniffling.

“No, I promise. You're safe here. Please, won't you come out of there? Let's have breakfast, yeah? Some tea? You liked the one I made you last night, right? I can...”

Jungkook is still shaking his head, and he's mumbling now, very quietly, something that sounds like n-not safe, 's not safe– Seokjin frowns at that. He just told him the opposite of that. Does he not believe him? How can he prove it to him?

Okay, admittedly, maybe Seokjin miscalculated this. But given how cooperative and scarily submissive the imp has been so far, he expected this to be much easier. No wonder the others couldn't coax him out; the imp's too distraught. It's like his mind is somewhere else.

“Please Jungkook–“

It's then that Seokjin notices that the imp's nails have broken skin. Jungkook is digging his fingers too hard into his flesh, tiny trails of blood trickling down his arms.

The ifrit's magic bursts in alarm.

He's hurting himself, Seokjin hears his mind screeching, and bad bad bad– it's instinct when he reacts, his whole being throbbing with the urge to protect, to stop him from hurting, make it stop, make it stop, please– his hands are already reaching for him, fingers wrapping around the imp's wrists to move his hands away and make him stop, make it stop stop stop–

Jungkook lets out a squeak, high-pitched and terrified, but he doesn't struggle, doesn't try to get his hands free. Instead he starts to plead again, and there's a crack– Seokjin swears he just heard his heart begin to break.

“N-No! No– please–“ Jungkook's voice trails off into a sob that shakes his whole body and pierces right through Seokjin's heart, and it fucking shatters. There must be shards there, scattered at his feet, but Seokjin doesn't look because Jungkook is sobbing and there's no noise. It's so quiet. He's so quiet all of sudden, and it's Seokjin now who's terrified.

Jungkook is trying so hard to be quiet even as he's hurting so much, even as he's struggling and wheezing, and somehow– somehow that's so much worse.

Seokjin lets go, startled, and the other immediately tries to back off, moving away only for his back to collide with the wall behind him. He's got nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. When Jungkook realises as much, he hesitantly lifts his head to glance up, and Seokjin almost wishes he didn't; his eyes are big and wet and filled with dread.

Seokjin wants to hug him, hide him in his arms so that nobody can ever hurt him again– anything to make sure he will never look at him like that again, with dread and fear in his big eyes. But he knows that wouldn't be a good idea, would just make it worse if anything. So instead, he stays where he is and waits.

He waits.

Seconds pass and turn into minutes as they look at another. Nobody says a word and the silence spreads. Only their magic speaks for them, filling the air and flowing and mingling.

Jungkook only glances away when he hears the others move, and Seokjin too only takes his eyes off the imp to watch his mates sit down on the ground; Yoongi first, then Jimin, followed by Taehyung. Hoseok frowns at them, already opening his mouth to say something when Yoongi grabs his wrist with an annoyed cluck of his tongue and pulls him down to make him sit next to him. The elf lets himself be manhandled without a complaint, but not without a petulant pout on his lips. He's been pouting a lot today.

Seokjin smiles at them, then turns back to face Jungkook, who's still watching them with big eyes that glisten wetly in the light.

“We won't hurt you,” Seokjin says again. “You're safe here,” he promises again as well, his magic flaring with how much he means it, warmth that overflows and reaches out to the imp in gentle waves.

Jungkook eyes him warily, but after a few seconds, something in those brown orbs seems to slightly shift, and he's nodding hesitantly. Seokjin feels some of the tension in his shoulders leave.

So far so good.

Seokjin's eyes move down to Jungkook's legs, still angled and kept close to his chest, and Jimin's right; that can't be good for a broken leg. He frowns at said leg and it's only then that he notices his tail, wrapped tightly around his thigh. Jungkook follows his gaze and sees him looking at it. The tufted end of his tail twitches, the whole of it tightening around the imp's thigh. His magic flickers weakly as if to say, don't look, don't touch, please leave me alone

Seokjin gives him a sympathetic smile. “Jimin said he touched your tail.” Jungkook's breath hitches. He ducks his head and nods. “Do you not like having your tail touched?”

He nods again and mutters a small apology.

Seokjin shakes his head. “That's okay. Don't be sorry, dear. He startled you, right?” he asks and Jungkook doesn't nod this time, just quietly stares down at the ground in front of his feet. Yoongi's pants are a bit too short for him and Seokjin pointedly avoids looking at his bruised ankles as he continues, “He didn't mean to, and he's very sorry.”

Jungkook looks up at that to tentatively glance at Jimin, who's been gazing at him with big apologetic eyes this whole time. Taehyung has his whole body wrapped around the gnome like a comfort blanket, chin resting on his shoulder, nose pressed against his throat. His eyes are gentle as he too gazes at the imp, a strange glint in them that Seokjin can't quite read.

“Are you angry at him?” Seokjin asks him.

Jungkook looks at Jimin some more, then slowly shakes his head. “No,” he says quietly and looks back at the ground.

“Scared then?” Seokjin asks next. ”Are you scared of him now?”

Jungkook shakes his head again, slightly more vigorously. Jimin lets out a soft exhale and it sounds a lot like relief.

“Will you come out and eat some breakfast with us then?” Seokjin's voice is gentle and he finds that it's easy; the warmth that he hears in his voice when he speaks to the imp requires no effort, it's just there when he does, unwittingly. “I'm sure you must be hungry. You were watching Yoongi cook earlier this morning, and I admit, he's pretty decent. But how about tasting his food so you can tell him that mine's still better though, hm? Doesn't that sound good?”

Yoongi sighs, leaning against a kitchen cabinet and looking more tired than yesterday. They all do. Hoseok is pressed to his side, watching everyone with narrowed eyes, as if analysing the situation.

“You know, you could have said that without dissing me. My cooking's great, thank you,” the gremlin mutters with pouty lips and it's fucking adorable, but Seokjin resists the urge to coo aggressively. Instead, he blows Yoongi a kiss, just to spite him some more, and Yoongi moves his arm to catch and toss it aside with a huff. The older snorts at his antics, amused.

“He acts like that, but he's all soft inside, don't let yourself be fooled. He's very sweet, actually,” Seokjin tells Jungkook with a smirk, feeling fondness bloom in his chest when he sees the imp glance at Yoongi with something like shy curiosity in his starry eyes, and that's so much better. But anything's better, really, than the previous terror they'd been glazed over with, eyes wide but unseeing.

Seokjin had been scared for a second there, that they might stay that way.

Yoongi has the audacity to blush when he notices those big eyes fully focused on him, quickly averting his gaze. It catches Hoseok's attention, and he's frowning now, displeased, or maybe confused, or both. Yoongi pays him no mind though. He clears his throat and meets Jungkook's eyes, opens his mouth like he wants to say something but closes it again, lips pressing into a thin line.

“Would it be too early for another painkilling potion?” he asks, glancing at Jimin with questioning eyes. “It's been only a few hours, but…” Yoongi slightly grimaces. “I heard it too. Earlier, when he jumped out of his seat... that sounded like a bone cracking.”

Seokjin's chest grows tight. He hates that Yoongi knows how that sounds; hates that he still remembers everything so vividly.

Jimin slowly inhales and exhales, timidly searching the imp's eyes. “What do you think?” Jimin asks him, sounding sad and dejected and very upset with himself, especially when Jungkook just eyes him warily. “Does the potion still work? Are you in pain right now?” I hurt you, his eyes say. This is my fault, his hunched shoulders scream, and Seokjin's magic crackles.

Jungkook nods, then abruptly shakes his head. He pulls his legs closer to his chest and immediately, his face scrunches up in what looks like sharp pain.

Seokjin sighs, a little tired of him still refusing their help. “We need you to be honest with us, okay?”

“'S okay, I– I'd rather not,” Jungkook bites his lip, “I don't, um… n-no potion, please.”

A small sad “oh” falls out of Jimin's mouth and he pouts, disappointed, “I thought– did my potion not help at all with the pain?”

“I-It did,” Jungkook exclaims quietly, shoulders hunching when he notices them all looking at him. He looks back down at his feet and mutters, barely audible, “It helped, a-a lot, but… um…”

Jimin untangles himself from Taehyung's limbs to crawl closer to the wide-eyed imp, probably to hear him better, but the sudden motion startles Jungkook, and his back collides with the wall behind him in yet another attempt to get away with nowhere to go. It must be a reflex maybe, a reaction he can't control, because he almost looks apologetic when he sees Jimin's face crumple up in response.

Jimin slowly sinks back onto his knees. “S-Sorry, I, uh… sorry.”

He looks and sounds like a kicked puppy and, oh god, Seokjin can't deal with any more of this, so he pulls the gnome to his chest – slow careful movements to be mindful of jumpy imps – and wraps his arms around him.

He can feel his rapid heartbeat through his back.

“You need to slow down, Jimin,” Seokjin whispers softly, lips brushing against Jimin's ear. “He's already backed into a corner, give him some space, yeah?”

Jimin huffs, almost a bit defiantly, but then he sinks into Seokjin's chest. His silky hair tickles Seokjin's throat and chin when he nods his head. He's probably pouting again, discontent with not being able to fuss over Jungkook like he would when any of his mates are hurt or sick or sad, or any combination of those.

Not even the wounded animals he picks up to tend to are skittish around him since his magic reassures them that he's no threat, makes them recognise him as a friend. Jimin's not used to anything even close to Jungkook's reaction. Nobody's scared of gnomes, even if they're good at stealth and scarily strong. They're not seen as a threat, to a point that they're not even taken seriously at times. They're more known for their good nature and pacifism, which creatures often take advantage of.

Jungkook doesn't seem to know that. He keeps acting like he's never once met a kind creature in his life. It would make sense, would certainly explain a few things, but also– wouldn't that be too sad to be true?

They wait again, and when Seokjin's certain that Jungkook doesn't look like he's about to bolt anymore, he gently nudges Jimin out of his embrace and into Taehyung's open arms. He feels their magic intertwine softly, a mix of earthy upset and cold reassurance, and hopes for the best as he turns to Jungkook and holds out his hand again.

Jungkook only flinches a little bit, eyes his hand only briefly as he chews on his bottom lip before finally taking it. Seokjin has to hold back a big sigh of relief and then a stupidly big grin that wants to creep onto his face, magic thrumming happily in his veins. He's extra careful as he helps the imp crawl out of the tight space, but Jungkook still winces as he moves and none of them misses that.

“Careful. Here, I got you,” Seokjin mutters distractedly, pulling the imp's arm around his shoulder as he wraps his own arm around Jungkook's tiny waist. He sits him down on a chair, makes sure his leg is elevated and well-cushioned, and then drops a blanket in his lap.

The smile Jungkook gives him as he drapes the soft fabric around himself is small and hesitant, but it's better than nothing.

Seokjin returns the smile before glancing at each of his mates. Taehyung is trying to mold his body to fit perfectly around Jimin's, acting like they're not already fitting puzzle pieces. Jimin seems content with not being able to move, just letting Taehyung do as he pleases. Yoongi is holding Hoseok's hand, cradling it to his chest like it's something precious, or maybe like he's afraid of letting go of him, while Hoseok is failing to not look like he's very pleased with Yoongi just holding his hand. And Namjoon…

Seokjin's magic crackles, stressed.

Not this again…

“Alright. Has anyone seen Namjoon?”

Chapter Text

When Yoongi was still a young and impressionable gremlin and his world didn't extend past the tunnels underground, and everything he knew was the small forest he was born in and the faces he grew up with, his definition of what happiness meant had been very different from what it is now.

Back then, underneath the ground, where neither beasts nor sunlight could reach them, simply being alive had meant happiness. Being alive was a gift in itself, his mother would always remind him. He should be grateful, she would tell him, and that he should be happy to simply see the sunrise after every night that he survived.

Perhaps she had been right, but living like that had never truly felt like being alive. Yoongi had never truly felt like he was living, or happy. He was just existing. Surviving. Trying his best to not mess up and get himself killed – but for what? He didn't care about the sunrise. Not when he couldn't see past the dark present; not when he couldn't even see a future he'd want to live in. And what else was there, anyway?

Eat, sleep, don't question and repeat. For about four centuries, life had been simple like that.

Every day was survival. Each and every single day was the same. Yoongi never looked forward to tomorrow because he knew tomorrow would be the same– because yesterday had been just like today and today would be just like yesterday. Tomorrow would be just like any day.

For about four centuries, life had been monotone like that.

He used to hope that tomorrow would be different. But when tomorrow finally turned out to be different, it all went to shit. It was all ripped away from him before he could even attempt to make a change himself, and it makes him think; did they ever even had a chance?

Could things have been different? And how different would things be now if the answer was yes?

Like, what would have happened that day if Yoongi had been able to voice his thoughts? What would have happened if tragedy hadn't struck first? Would his family have listened if they had lived? Would they have ever left the forest? Or would they still be stuck underground?

Where would Yoongi be now if things had been different?

Like, would he have ever even met his mates if not for the loss of his family? Would he have still found his way to them if not for that pain? Or would Namjoon have found him anyway? Is it just not possible to have it all? To not have to lose one thing in order to gain another? Or is that simply too much to ask for? Would that be selfish?

Is it greedy?

Is it greedy to want and pursue happiness when his siblings never got the chance? Is it cruel of him to want and learn what true happiness means to him when they can't anymore? Is it wrong to want and find out what else life has in store when they'll never know?

Is it heartless to move on?

It's not like Yoongi will ever forget. He just wants the memories of that night to stop haunting him; he'd just like the nightmares to stop for a while, that's all he's asking for. All he wants is to be able to remember his family and the good times without having to remember all the bloodshed and violence as well and– and to recall their smiles and their voices without seeing their dead eyes and hearing the scrunch of broken bones and torn flesh between sharp teeth.

But those dreams– they're always the same, and everything's still so vivid in his mind. It's still so easy for dreams to become memories and feel like reality. It is still so easy to get confused for a bit. Just a moment – but that's all it takes.

They're always the same.

Yoongi would believe to hear screams, although he knows, distantly, that the forest's noises shouldn't be able to reach his ears inside his bedroom when the entire house is surrounded by soundproof wards. It would be then that he'd realise that the screams were coming from inside his head and that he's still dreaming. He'd realise that those screams were his own and that he's back underground, running through the tunnels with those things chasing after him, claws and teeth dripping with his parents and siblings' blood and starving for his as well.

Whenever he wakes up, it would be to screams again, and those too would be his own. He'd scream himself awake, one or more of his mates already by his side, looking sad or distressed, and he'd nuzzle his face into their chests as they pet his hair, trying to soothe him by humming a soft melody or whispering sweet nothings into his ear.

They never get him in the end, those things – chupacabras, they're called, those ugly, bloodthirsty hyena-looking things. No, they never get him in his dreams, and they didn't get him back then either, but they're always so close. Yoongi knows he just barely escaped death that night and it leaves him wondering, sometimes, (but not as much these days as it used to) if maybe he wasn't supposed to make it.

Rather than reliving those moments in his dreams and feeling bad for being alive, Yoongi much prefers to stay awake and ask himself those same damn questions he's been asking over a decade now. And even though he doesn't know if he'd actually like an answer to half of those questions, he can't stop them from invading his mind every sleepless night.

Last night as well, it took him a while to fall asleep. Yoongi's magic had still been a little too restless for him to immediately pass out once he had his favourite and softest pillow squished against his face because he didn't have his favourite and softest pillow to squish his face against and drown out his thoughts– because he had given it to Jungkook and had to resign himself to nuzzling his second favourite pillow (which is nowhere near as soft, but still pretty damn soft).

It had been too hard to not think about how the imp had got here and how Yoongi had got here himself ten years ago; there were just too many parallels, too much that reminded him of his own fragile mental state back then– and the blood.

There had been so much blood and Yoongi couldn't stop his mind from being painted in it, his thoughts turning red red red until even the white ceiling had looked red in the blurred darkness, and Yoongi had been scared to turn his head and look at Jungkook, this irrational fear making him think that if he did, he'd find him painted red as well.

But Jungkook had looked peaceful in his sleep, despite having passed out against his will, and nothing else. No signs of red, only the soft glow from the moon and the stars shining through the window, painting his face in subtle hues of yellow and blue, and unfortunately, illuminating the cuts and bruises too.

The painless void of unconsciousness had probably been a blessing if anything, but Yoongi couldn't help but think that he'd looked so devastatingly young in that light.

He has yet to get that image out of his head – of him as a cat, bloodied and unconscious and small, just a tiny ball of messy, dirty fur. But even with the blood gone and inside a bigger body, he had still looked like a tiny ball of pain and fear when he slipped inside that gap– and now that he's sitting in that chair again, somehow, he still looks small.

He still looks scared and strung out. He looks like the exhaustion has made its way through his skin and flesh and reached his bones, like it lives there now, refusing to leave.

That's what permanent stress does to you, Yoongi thinks as he looks at him, still holding onto Hoseok's hand so the elf can't act too hastily again. That's what magic in a permanent state of distress does to your body, making you bone-deep exhausted, and it worries him.

The way his magic had burst when Jimin grabbed his tail had been characteristically inconspicuous, yet it had still been enough to get their attention (that, and the fact that he'd leaped out of his seat). The series of smaller bursts that had followed reminded Yoongi of his own episodes when some sensation or noise or scent would trigger him and he'd be back, trapped in the past.

Flashbacks. He fucking hates them.

Yoongi doesn't know if that was what had happened; if that was something that Jungkook had experienced before or was even used to. But he hopes it wasn't, and he hopes he isn't.

Even now, the air is still thick with the remains of their combined magic, distressed and panicked and worried, and Yoongi feels a bit sick with it. But with all of their magic so close together, it also made him realise something; it made it easy to compare.

There are obvious differences, and less obvious similarities.

Jungkook's magic kind of resembles Seokjin's in some aspects; Yoongi had already noticed as much before, but now he's sure. Both their magic feels warm and gentle, and while Jungkook's magic might lack Seokjin's fiery temperament and intensity, they're both kind of unstable and prone to burst.

However, and this he finds interesting, Seokjin's magic behaves like that because it's so powerful and – similar to Hoseok's magic but for a different reason – hard to control. It bursts under the tension and crackles. Jungkook's magic bursts too, but it flickers. Like it might go out and disappear.

It's feeble.

Frail.

It's weak, for lack of a better word, and it was also Yoongi's first impression of Jungkook's magic.

It's common knowledge; imps have weak magic, which is why they're considered weak creatures (bullshit). They might be “pesky little things” but they're “easily taken care of” (although Yoongi had yet to discover the true meaning of those words – but also, more bullshit).

You might want to be cautious around them, but they pose no real threat, just scare them off with your magic

Weak as fuck those creatures, kind of useless, aren't they?

No kidding, Yoongi read comments like that online in some forum discussing lesser beings, written and meant as advice on how to “deal” with imps, like they're some type of pest. Yoongi almost threw his laptop, he got so upset reading that shit.

Seokjin and him have had many long discussions about this particular topic and the conclusion would always be the same one in the end – society's fucked up, simple as that. Society's been fucked up for the past five centuries that Seokjin's been alive, the older had told him, and that probably won't change for the next few centuries either.

Anyway.

This aspect of the imp's magic – its fragility – it reminds him a little of Taehyung's magic. Yoongi knows that, even though a fairy's magic is supposed to be subtle and deceivingly delicate, Taehyung's magic has become estranged from him. It's not subtle nor is its delicacy deceiving. No, it's subdued.

The difference is hardly noticed by others, but for Taehyung, it's like he's lost one of his senses almost completely.

His magic has become a soft whisper to him, an echo of what it used to be; wrapping around him like faint mist, it is barely tangible.

Jungkook's magic is similar, but also not at all. Where Taehyung's magic is smooth and graceful, Jungkook's feels raw and unkempt. Yoongi had seen it in his eyes when he'd leaped off the chair. For a moment, just a split second, there had been a fire in his eyes, hot and aggressive and desperate, before it was extinguished just as quickly and replaced by fear fear fear

Everything is not entirely what it seems, that is true when it comes to magic, and the imp might just be another living example of that.

Jungkook's magic has definitely something a little wild to it, something a little feral– something that is somehow a little like Yoongi's. But only a little because Yoongi's magic is not as soft, not as tame, not as docile as his. The connection he feels between them tells him as much; this odd but comforting feeling of fellowship and this weird attachment that has already started manifesting itself and is growing alarmingly fast inside his chest.

It's a shapeshifter thing, Yoongi is sure of it, but it's kind of scary because he's never felt it like this, and he can't help but wonder if Jungkook feels it too.

He might not. Yoongi's magic is much more driven by his instincts than other shapeshifters'. He's not just a shapeshifter after all, but also a gremlin – a kind of creature that has been left behind in evolution. A creature of the past. Less developed and forgotten.

His animalistic genes are more dominant than other creatures', making his magic more savage, making his instincts harder to fight. Making him more prone to feel foolishly drawn to another creature just because his instincts tell him so. Just because he reminds him of home. Just because his stupid little gremlin heart yearns for pack, for another ball of fluff to scent and groom and play-fight with.

His instincts can be a pain in the ass, not just because of that, but just in general.

It troubles him because Yoongi sometimes ends up acting a certain way before his rational thoughts can catch up and reprimand him, tell him no, and don't, and bad. The others do tell him that it's mostly just endearing when he growls as if to “defend his territory”, or when he hisses at stuff that irritates him and purrs when he feels safe, content and comfortable – but it's still embarrassing. He's ashamed of that side of him; the raw animalistic magic that runs in his blood and the way it throbs when he feels like he's about to go feral.

It's not as bad anymore, but his magic used to burst a lot for quite a while after he met the others, when he was still recovering, which– it makes sense. He had just gone through something very stressful, something “traumatic”, he supposes, and his magic had still been deeply unsettled. He kept shapeshifting at random and his instincts were going haywire; he would hide under heaps of thick blankets because their weight on top of him was the only thing that could ground him, and he would hiss at the others whenever they got too close and tried to get him out and eat and stuff.

Jungkook had also shifted against his will, Yoongi recalls. The moment he'd seen Hoseok– no, the moment he had felt the elf's magic, his magic had burst and poof! – the cat had turned into an imp.

Magic bursts are not that rare of an occurrence, especially among creatures that use the fiery type of magic, but there's a difference between it being a condition that some creatures are born with and have to deal with but are able to live with just fine and it becoming a disorder that any creature can suffer from if they're under a severe amount of stress and/or have been for a long period of time.

There's a difference between having to just deal with frequent bursts and having to deal with frequent bursts and other symptoms on top of that, some of them crippling.

There's a difference there that not enough creatures know about or recognise, and so it gets easily swept under the carpet when other symptoms do show up.

Yoongi had read plenty about it on the Internet after going through it himself, after enough time had passed and he'd finally felt ready as well as the need to understand more about what the fuck was wrong with him still and how to deal with it in ways that didn't entail smashing his head in or gauging his eyes out because the urge to do so had been very bad and concerning during the times he'd struggled the most.

Traumatic events, abuse, heartbreak, grief – all of those things have the potential to leave a creature with an Bursting Magic Disorder, Yoongi had learned reading multiple articles and studies online. This disorder shows through symptoms, such as extreme exhaustion or hyperactivity (or sometimes both), magic and/or sensory hypersensitivity, sudden intense emotions or the lack thereof, weird cravings and, of course, the determining symptom and what gave the disorder its name – magic bursts.

Common long-term effects and resulting conditions are magic hypofunction, suicidal thoughts and/or depression, as well as other disorders. The worst outcomes are severe magic hypofunction resulting in death or the suicidal thoughts becoming too much to resist, also resulting in death.

The gremlin had read plenty of horror stories, all of which had him sighing in relief because… that could have been him.

That had nearly been him.

Yoongi, unfortunately, had experienced half of the mentioned symptoms for months – which is also the reason why he'd gained such great respect and sympathy for Seokjin before he even really knew him. Because even before he got to know him like he does today, and before he decided to stay (before all of them collectively decided for him to stay please), he had already known of the ifrit's magic hypersensitivity, as well as his magic being prone to bursting – both things Seokjin never cared to hide, even around a stranger.

Learning what magic hypersensitivity feels like had been an excruciating experience. It had really fucked with Yoongi's head, the migraines it caused him nearly driving him up the wall, the nausea it occasionally gave him rendering him a pathetic mess. He doesn't know how the older deals with that shit all the time because one thing that he's now aware of is that it's overwhelming. It's like, magic, but a lot of it– all of it. Everywhere. Constantly.

Yoongi isn't sure how it's possible to get used to that, so maybe it's just him who couldn't handle it, because Seokjin is certainly handling it just fine most of the time.

Honestly, their oldest is kind of impressive, having five mates that are all different kinds of creatures with so different kinds of magic, living with them and working with them and loving them while feeling all of it so intensely and, mind you, without wanting to murder them (most of the time). That is truly his real strength – not his powerful magic, but his tolerance.

As previously mentioned, magic bursts are not that rare of an occurrence, and with Seokjin's magic being unstable 24/7, Jimin's being easily distressed and Hoseok's being hard to control, it was and is inevitable. Yoongi has witnessed all of his mates' magic burst before at least once or twice – or in Seokjin's case, like, a million times – after spending nearly every day of the past decade with them.

Except for Taehyung and Namjoon's.

So, the thing with Taehyung's magic, and he has said so himself, is that it– it can't. Burst. It can't do that. Not anymore. It's because the connection between his magic and emotions is a little broken now; because if part of something is taken away, nothing works like it's supposed to anymore. Taehyung had explained this to him with feigned indifference in his voice and a distant look in his eyes. It's something called magic dysfunction, Yoongi had learned after doing his own research.

In conclusion, as they had all found out one or the other way, Taehyung's magic is a bit of a touchy subject.

Namjoon's magic can burst, according to witnesses (Seokjin and Jimin), but apparently, it takes a lot for that to happen. It's not that surprising because the words to best describe Namjoon, as well as his magic (and yes, Yoongi has contemplated this before), would most likely be: wholesome, welcoming and endlessly patient.

The magic of spirits that were born by ancient, powerful entities and share said magic with said entity works differently from what Yoongi understands, apparently. But then again, Yoongi's general understanding of magic is not that great to begin with, so what does he really know.

Yoongi has never seen Namjoon's magic burst in the ten years or so that he's known him, that's a fact. He's never seen him get overly emotional or extremely upset either. Namjoon is sad when they're sad and he's in pain when they are. He gets frustrated, sometimes, when he struggles to understand and he can sulk for days when they've managed to truly upset him. But it never overwhelms him. He never loses his calm and it doesn't disrupt his magical flow.

Yoongi has merely heard of that infamous one time he got genuinely angry back when it had been only Namjoon, Jimin and Seokjin and they hadn't settled down yet. Couldn't. Seokjin's mother wouldn't let them. Letting him go live somewhere where she couldn't check on him whenever she'd want had turned out to be a slight issue. She hadn't liked it. Hadn't liked him having mates, and even less so many. She still doesn't.

It's safe to say that she loves her son way too much, to an extent that couldn't be healthy for either of them– wasn't healthy for either of them, and Seokjin is very aware now of his own overprotective nature that he's no doubt got from her, which is why he's careful not to smother his mates with it the way she had done with him.

Yoongi doesn't know all the details and he's only ever heard her voice over the phone when she'd call her son and Seokjin wouldn't pretend to be too busy to talk, but he knows their relationship is… complicated. Complicated in a way that had made Namjoon's magic burst with anger. In a way that still makes him go stony silent at just the mention of that woman.

The only time Yoongi would say he's first-hand witnessed Namjoon's magic feeling more than a bit off, perhaps close to bursting (even the air had felt tense and heavy then, kind of threatening – the tree's doing, Yoongi suspects), had been when that low-life excuse of an incubus had forced himself on Taehyung.

Yoongi has never seen that kind of expression on Namjoon's face, not before then and not ever since. He'd like to keep it that way. It was unsettling, to say the least, to see Namjoon's face look so void of emotions, his eyes so dark, his jaw clenched so hard. He didn't quite look like their clumsy, soft-spoken, plant-obsessed and all-creatures-loving Namjoonie like that. Not at all.

Namjoon had never looked so ready to attack, so willing to hurt, and he usually never retaliates; it doesn't even seem to cross his mind, normally. Yoongi is glad because genuinely angry Namjoon seems like a thing he doesn't want to experience, nor a concept he wants to acknowledge.

He hopes another strange creature inside their home won't upset him too much. It was the tree after all that had let him inside, so surely that won't be an issue. Namjoon likes creatures, as long as they behave civil and respect his mates' boundaries. But with Jungkook, it's the opposite that might be an issue.

Yoongi is a little concerned that Namjoon might get too excited meeting a creature that's hard to cross paths with nowadays. He's kind of obsessed with talking to rarer kinds of creatures and Yoongi still remembers how the younger (or older, depending on what you consider his actual age) had talked his ears off, asking a million questions the first few weeks that he'd been with them.

Yoongi supposes that the tree hasn't informed him yet of their little guest because if it had, he'd already be here. One-hundred percent. But, and to answer Seokjin's question concerning his whereabouts, none of them has seen him since that little dispute with Hoseok.

When they say as much, it has the ifrit scowling.

Yoongi lets go of Hoseok's hand and leaves him behind on the floor to join the others at the table, Jungkook's eyes following his every movement before they move back to Hoseok to glance warily at him.

“I swear, not in a million years would he be able to survive on his own,” Seokjin mutters tiredly, leaning back into his chair with a long sigh. Yoongi starts massaging his neck out of sympathy while taking the seat next to him. It must not be easy being the oldest, and Yoongi knows loving someone that has no idea how to look after themselves isn't always easy either.

They might have to drag their missing mate out of whatever rabbit hole he's most likely fallen down again while on the Internet, or whatever else he's been up to in his study this entire time. It's been almost twenty-four hours and it might be time to confiscate his laptop. Again.

It's hard to tell at times whether he's an old spirit or a newborn creature with the amount of supervising that they do.

“I haven't seen Joon since he walked off looking, like, you know that face he does? Like he's constipated? That one. It was after his fight with Hoseok, after he told him, and I quote,” Yoongi throws the elf a reproachful look, “Go to your plants next time you want hugs or kisses since you care so much more about them. Like, really, Hoseok? Seriously?”

Hoseok groans like he's wounded and stands up, brushing none-existent dust off his pants. Their kitchen floor is always perfectly clean thanks to Taehyung's self-cleaning spell, so there's really no need for that; it's just a habit. Where does the dirt go? Yoongi doesn't fucking know. It's magic.

Hoseok leans against the kitchen cabinet – a safe distance from Jungkook, yet the perfect spot to keep a close watch. “I didn't mean to– it slipped out of my mouth before I– please stop looking at me like that, I know!” Hoseok huffs, glaring back at Yoongi. “I'm not proud of it, okay?”

“Good,” Yoongi says with narrowed eyes, letting go of Seokjin's neck to cross his arms in front of his chest. “Because you shouldn't be. That was really unnecessary and you know it. He already has such a hard time asking for those things and then you went and said stuff like that to him? Just punch him in the face next time, why don't you?”

“The way you said it wasn't very nice too,” Jimin agrees, averting his gaze when he sees Hoseok's face fall.

“Bad hyung,” Taehyung says with a blank face, not looking away but deliberately keeping eye contact with the elf. Yoongi would feel bad for Hoseok if he didn't think that he might deserve this much disrespect from their two youngest ones. He has fucked up a lot lately, but yesterday, that was different.

That yesterday wasn't the Hoseok they know.

If Taehyung knew everything that had happened last night– if he knew the things that were said and the things that were left unsaid, the unfair treatment that was received and the feelings that were hurt… Hoseok would have got something worse than a simple bad hyung

Fairies have a reputation when it comes to being savagely straight-forward and honest, and winter fairies in particular can be a little cruel. Just stereotypes and shit, Yoongi knows, but this one does apply to Taehyung and they all have had their own experience with that icy fairy attitude of his.

“Okay, everyone, stop ganging up on him,” Seokjin chides softly (always soft, always the one to give in and go easy on them) before his brows furrow in slight concern. “You think Namjoon at least remembered to drink or eat anything? There are no traces of his magic in the kitchen. He wasn't even in his room last night. What if he passed out again?”

“Then at least he got some rest,” Hoseok tries to lighten the mood and fails. “Okay, that sounded funnier in my head.”

“Very funny indeed,” Seokjin mutters, deadpan. “Always funny to imagine my mates lying somewhere, passed out, having potentially hit their head and bleeding out. Makes me laugh out loud, ha ha.”

“Hyung, you know I didn't mean it like that,” Hoseok mumbles sulkily.

Again, Yoongi almost feels bad for him.

Seokjin sighs. “I know. I know, sorry, it's just… he's making it really hard for me to keep my stress level down. Why must he be so bad at taking care of himself?”

Yoongi doesn't want to tell him that, if he wanted to keep his stress level down, maybe he should have chosen himself some mates that aren't… so much work – and that's the nicest way to put it.

“It might be reassuring to know that I did refill his drawer with snacks and put a few water bottles on his desk a few days ago,” the gremlin says, ignoring Seokjin and Jimin cooing at him like he's the most endearing thing. They tell him he is all the time, but Yoongi always pretends he can't hear. “But who knows if he actually managed to recall his basic needs. He always gets so absorbed in his research.”

Seokjin huffs, suddenly exasperated. “He doesn't even react to me standing right beside him and actually talking to him when he gets like that. I'm telling you, the fucking disrespect he's shown me sitting at that desk and ignoring my very existence, even though, and I swear, he'd die of fucking dehydration without us, he wouldn't survive a week–”

“A week? Really, hyung?” Jimin interrupts, and Yoongi nods and says, “I'd give him two days before he'd try to cook for himself and blow up the kitchen.”

“Exactly! That's what I'm saying, he–” Seokjin catches sight of the watch mid-rant, his eyes widening. “Would you look at that, it's past seven already. We have an hour left until opening. For the love of god, would someone go grab him please?” He throws Hoseok a not so subtle look as he says this, the elf sighing excessively but silently leaving the kitchen to go and drag their missing mate out of his study.

“I can't believe he was in his study this entire time. Surely that'd be a new personal record,” Yoongi says contemplatively when Hoseok is gone. He didn't miss the warning look the elf had given Jungkook on his way out, and Jungkook didn't either. “You sure he's actually home?” Yoongi asks Seokjin while glancing at the imp, who seems more tense again.

“Yeah, I can feel him. He's… well, somewhere at least,” Seokjin replies as he pulls Jimin out of his own seat and onto his lap to wrap his arms around him. Taehyung, who has been standing behind the gnome with his hands on his shoulders, quietly takes his seat after moving the chair a little closer so that his shoulder is touching Seokjin's when he sits. “The house probably changed the layout again to hide him away. He wouldn't have felt anything through all those walls.”

Yoongi groans in annoyance.

It's always a pain in the ass when the house does that. For some reason, whenever Namjoon would spend too much time in his study, researching whatever he's currently obsessed with (Yoongi thinks he heard him rambling about some new type of plant they recently discovered or something), the house would change its entire layout so that they'd struggle to find him and he can spend even more time in his own head, which he already does too much anyway.

Yoongi has concluded that the house either does this because it's really fond of Namjoon (understandable), or to mess with the rest of them (very likely).

The house is playful like that because, as Jimin has told him before, it was built by a group of hobgoblins that was specialised in building sentient accommodations and well-known for their great architecture. However, apparently, and unbeknownst to Namjoon, Seokjin and Jimin at that time, they also liked to play pranks on each other while working, and so their playful magic must have bled into the materials as they built the house.

Hobgoblins have a quirky type of humour that is similar to the infamous mischievousness of imps. The only difference is that they've never got themselves into serious trouble or caused severe damage with their pranks – or at least, and this is what Yoongi suspects, they just never got caught. Unlike imps.

Most of the time it's Jimin that the house likes to mess with, making the corridor longer to make him walk more or the walls higher so he can't reach the shelves. Yoongi understands; the gnome is fun to tease, his reactions are nice and his annoyed pouts (unlike his genuinely upset ones) are cute as fuck. But more importantly, he's the least likely to burn the house down if teased too much. It did that once to Seokjin and has not messed with him ever since. There's still a burned spot on the wooden floor in the living room that the house refuses to fix out of sheer pettiness.

The story's kind of funny, actually. At least it is in hindsight because at the time, it definitely wasn't.

The house had made the door of Seokjin's room disappear one day so that he'd need to teleport to get out. Since it had also changed its layout, Seokjin didn't know the current locations of their rooms (the ones they use) and couldn't freely teleport, which is why he had no choice but to teleport to whatever room was currently next to his, which would just turn out to be an empty and doorless room that he'd never seen before – and that would happen continuously.

The house had created endless random spare rooms just to further mess with Seokjin.

A dozen teleportations later and stress levels through the roof (because he had kind of important plans that day and had actually been in quite a hurry), Seokjin had burst into flames as soon as he made it to the living room, burning the wood underneath him while threatening to burn everything else down as well. They could just built another house, he had shrugged in mock indifference, causing the walls to shake in fear.

The house is still resentful of the ifrit to this day.

“Hoseok can just follow his magic while going through the walls, he'll find him,” Yoongi says. “Good thinking to send him get Joon, hyung.”

Seokjin chuckles. “I actually asked him so they can have some privacy and talk things out.”

“Oh. Talk things out, huh,” Yoongi chuckles. “Oh, I get it.”

“No.” Seokjin says. “Not all of us resolve conflict with sex, love.”

“But resolving conflict can lead to sex.” Yoongi nods towards Jimin and Taehyung. “They always end their fights with their pants down.”

“They end up like that regardless,” Seokjin scoffs.

“So they really haven't made up yet?” Jimin interrupts, not even acknowledging their comments on Taehyung and him not being able to keep their hand off each other. Seriously though, there's rarely a day those two aren't found cuddle-fucking or shoving their hands down each other's pants. Yesterday might have actually been such a day for the first time in a long while.

Taehyung has either not heard them or is just plainly ignoring them. He's looking at Jungkook, eyeing him with an unreadable expression. Yoongi has noticed him doing that ever since they've introduced the imp to him, and it's starting to make him a little anxious.

“They haven't made up yet,” Seokjin confirms, sounding tired of their constant little arguments.

“But they always make up within the same day,” Jimin frowns, growing concerned. “This isn't– this isn't, like, more serious than usual, right? Or should we, I don't know, intervene or something?” The gnome worries his lip between his teeth, growing slightly distressed. “What if they end up fighting again? And Hoseok-hyung isn't in the best mood either. Oh, this can't end well…”

“Don't worry your pretty little head too much. They'll be perfectly fine.” Seokjin squeezes Jimin's waist reassuringly, hands running up and down his sides. “They just haven't made up yet 'cause they've both been distracted with other things.” Seokjin glances at Jungkook, one of said other things, who has been quietly watching their interactions, big round eyes darting around to whoever is currently speaking. Kind of reminds Yoongi of those videos of cats' eyes following something moving back and forth behind the camera, their eyes too moving back and forth. “We've all been more or less distracted. Which reminds me– Jungkook?”

Jungkook freezes as if caught doing something he shouldn't. “Y-Yeah?”

“Dear, about what you said earlier.”

“I– I said…?” Jungkook says, startled, as he looks at them from across the table, eyes darting from creature to creature again, back and forth, and Yoongi suddenly notices; their seating arrangement kind of reminds of an interrogation, them on one side of the table and Jungkook on the other side of it, all by himself.

Yoongi doesn't like that.

Should he go sit next to him? But maybe he's more comfortable with the table acting as a barrier between them. What if he only ends up startling him again by changing seats? Jungkook is still noticeably tense and alert after all; enough so that Jimin had simply placed the warm, wet cloth in front of the imp on the table for him to wipe off the trails of blood on his arms that his nails had left behind instead of just doing it himself like he normally would.

But Jungkook had seemed thankful for that and as a result, Jimin's face had brightened up a little.

Yoongi decides to remain seated for now.

“Yeah, what you said earlier. I don't really understand. Why don't you want another potion?” Seokjin asks as he nuzzles Jimin's hair, the younger practically a puddle in his arms. “Is it the cramps?”

Jungkook is staring at them, almost like he's in trance, and it takes him a while to shrug and slowly nod. Yoongi isn't sure if it's the way Jimin and Seokjin have melted into each other or the fact that their oldest was right with his guess that had him blanking like that.

Seokjin gives him an apologetic smile. “Oh dear, I'm sorry if this offends you, but a few of your bones are broken and your leg is like, double broken or something, and you're afraid of cramps?”

Jungkook shrinks a little and shrugs again. “I– I don't, um, I'm not… used to those?”

Yoongi frowns.

Is he asking them right now? And what does he mean he's not used to those? What is he used to then? Oh, Yoongi doesn't want to even start thinking about what that might imply, but it's hard to keep his mind from wandering.

Is he used to having his leg broken? Is that what he means? Being used to having his bones broken? But that… that would be absurd. That's just– who could get used to that? That can't possibly be a thing. That isn't a thing, no way. Yoongi refuses to even consider that it might be. Who would– and why would they– no. Just no.

But what if–

“Oh dear, that's okay.” Seokjin's voice is soft, his smile is small but gentle. “Nobody likes cramps. But aren't they, like, the lesser evil? I mean, compared to–“

But Jungkook is already shaking his head before Seokjin can even finish his sentence, his eyes wide and glassy. Yoongi and Seokjin exchange glances, silently sharing their concern.

“I'm sorry, Jungkook,” Yoongi apologises. “I didn't know it was that bad. Why didn't you say anything?”

Jungkook fidgets nervously, and then, quietly, barely audible, he mutters, “Wasn't th-that bad, just, um, w-weird.”

“Weird?”

Jungkook seems hesitant to elaborate, so it takes him a few seconds to do so. “I– I know it's not– I know that's n-not what–” He interrupts himself with a little huff. It almost sounds like he's frustrated. “I know it sounds– it sounds stupid but… it felt like– like my insides were, uh, like, um, r-rotting or– or something,” he says and quickly averts his gaze.

And, okay. Cool. That's not at all a disturbing image he just put in Yoongi's head, what the–

Jimin makes a small distressed sound at the back of his throat. “Your stomach reacted strongly because it didn't know how to digest magic. It's not dangerous, and it also won't be as bad the second time. It– it doesn't make your insides rot or anything, I promise,” he reassures, even though he looks a bit disturbed himself, squirming uncomfortably in Seokjin's lap, which the older quickly stops him from doing with firm hands.

Yeah, Yoongi thinks, this isn't quite the right situation to have a lap full of squirming gnome and the mind to enjoy it.

Jungkook shakes his head, shoulders hunching defensively. “I don't– I don't know, um…”

“We can make you some tea to help soothe your stomach, how about that?” Seokjin suggests, and when he doesn't seem convinced still, he adds, “Think about it some more. If you change your mind, just tell one of us and we'll bring you a bottle. It doesn't have to be now. I think it'd be better if you ate something first anyway.”

Jungkook nods, but something about the way his shoulders sack with relief tells Yoongi that he won't change his mind so easily. At least he's stopped wincing in pain, so Yoongi takes it that the potion from last night is still working and has finally started to relieve the new pain as well. But then again, it has only been a few hours and they used the strongest one Jimin had in store.

It feels like so much longer though.

“By the way, this has been bothering me,” Taehyung suddenly speaks up, all their heads turning towards him. He leans forward to rest his elbows on the table, head in his hands, and stares up at Jungkook with this odd glint still in his eyes. “I heard a few things about imps, but you don't quite… how do I say this? Fit the picture?” he says. “So, yeah. Why's that?”

“Oh my god, Tae,” Jimin hisses and slaps his arm. The fairy doesn't even flinch, but Jungkook certainly does. “You can't just say stuff like that,” the gnome scolds him because, while curiosity might get the better of Jimin and makes him say things he regrets, Taehyung just straight-out asks what he wants to know, unapologetically and without regrets.

Yoongi can tell that Jimin's even more afraid now to somehow upset Jungkook, scared for them to ask the wrong questions or move the wrong way in case the imp might bolt and hide again.

But Taehyung has always been a lot more easy-going than him.

Taehyung frowns at Jimin. “Why not?”

Before Jimin can answer and possibly argue with him, Jungkook is shifting in his seat, folding his hands in-between his thighs and hunching his shoulders as he shyly glanced up at Taehyung. He immediately looks down at his lap when Taehyung tries to meet his gaze and there it is again; that odd glint in the fairy's eyes.

“Wh-what did you… hear?” Jungkook hunches forward slightly, seeming curious yet scared, perhaps, to really find out.

Taehyung tilts his head, still cupped in his hands, the corner of his mouth twitching in an almost-smile. “What do you think I heard?”

“I– I don't know, but I… I think they're n-not good things,” Jungkook says meekly.

“You're right. They weren't good things, mostly,” Taehyung confirms and the way he says it so matter-of-factly makes not only Jungkook wince. It doesn't deter Taehyung from simply continuing. “Creatures are very strange though,” he says and he sounds amused. “They say one thing and mean another, and sometimes they don't mean what they say at all. Or they can say a thing and really really mean it, but that still doesn't mean it has to be true.”

It's a really lengthy and round about way of saying that it doesn't matter what he'd heard, he knows better than to just believe any of it. Taehyung has always struggled with picking the right words and phrasing them in a way that doesn't only make sense to him but others as well. Sometimes, he chooses to not talk at all because of this, but Yoongi likes to contemplate the fairy's words and translate them in his head. It's interesting, the way Taehyung expresses himself, and the way he sees the world and the creatures in it.

“Do you get what I'm trying to say?”

Jungkook glances up at Taehyung through his eyelashes with slightly furrowed brows. “I, uh, I'm not sure, s-sorry.”

Taehyung just smiles. “I think you do,” he says in a somewhat knowing tone that has Yoongi narrowing his eyes at the fairy. “What we see isn't always the truth either. I find that looks can be very deceiving,” Taehyung says, holding eye contact with Jungkook, who, unexpectedly, doesn't avert his gaze this time but is staring right back into Taehyung's eyes, giving him his undivided attention.

Taehyung's magic might be subdued, but he's still very mesmerising. It has nothing to do with magic, has slightly to do with him being a fairy, but mostly, it's just who Taehyung is. It makes Yoongi want to rub his nose all over his throat because that's their fairy and everyone should know and keep their hands to themselves.

“Looks and words and actions can be deceiving, but do you know what can't?” Taehyung asks after a pause. Jungkook looks spellbound, eyes big and bright as he hesitantly shakes his head no, and it hurts Yoongi's heart how young and innocent that makes him look.

“Your soul,” Taehyung says. Jungkook nods slowly and Yoongi thinks he is starting to understand where Taehyung is going with this. “I'm a fairy, you know. You couldn't deceive me if you wanted to.” He smiles cryptically and says, “I can see everything.”

Jungkook gasps silently, eyes widening, and then he's shaking his head violently, black locks flying around his face. He had fallen asleep with his hair still damp and it has become a curly mess, a few locks sticking out here and there. The way it frames his little face is kind of cute and– and that is not the type of thought Yoongi should be having right now.

“I– I'm not– that's not– I m-mean, I, uh, I– I don't–“ Jungkook begins to stammer, but Taehyung is quick to save him from tripping over more words.

“Ah. Don't worry, I know you're not trying to deceive us. Actually, I think you wouldn't be able to if you tried.” Taehyung's eyes soften, glistening like melting snow in the sun. Yoongi doesn't think he's ever seen him looking at a stranger with anything but a gaze that's cold and hard like ice. “You're soul's quite transparent, did you know?”

Jungkook blinks a few times, eyes slightly narrowing as he frowns at Taehyung. “Is that– is that something b-bad?”

Taehyung chuckles into his hand and Yoongi is surprised to find that it sounds fond. “It's really pretty.”

Jungkook blushes, finally averting his gaze after, Yoongi is guessing, like thirty seconds of keeping eye contact with Taehyung. That's kinda impressive.

Yoongi doesn't know what it means to have a transparent soul, or what exactly makes a soul pretty in a fairy's eyes; they've all long stopped questioning Taehyung's cryptic statements, nor do they always understand his vague explanations – although he did pretty well this time (and Yoongi will have to let him know that). It's funny how elves purposely try to come across as mysterious and shit. Meanwhile, fairies don't have to try; they just are those pretty enigmas that creatures wish they understood.

It's an interesting observation Yoongi has made over the years, watching elves and fairies at the café interact with other creatures. He has noticed how elves would often dodge questions in subtle ways to instead get the other to reveal more about themselves and how smug they'd seem about it, wallowing in having the upper hand. He has seen how fairies would wordlessly stand up from their seats while on a date and just leave after looking at the other for a while, no need for further conversation to understand that the other isn't worth their time.

What it is they understand by looking at one's soul, Yoongi isn't entirely sure. Some of what he was able to gather so far, mostly by analysing Taehyung's explanations and by doing his own research, is that, one; no soul looks like the other, and two; the eyes are the window to the soul. Also, – this is common knowledge though – fairies can tell when they're being lied to.

Maybe that is why elves rarely associate with fairies – because they wouldn't be able to fool them. It might be why it had taken Hoseok so long to warm up to Taehyung during those first few weeks of getting to know each other. It certainly hadn't helped either that the first thing the fairy has ever said to Hoseok was that the elf's soul looks torn.

Hearing such words from a creature that you only knew by sight would definitely make you hesitant to approach them again. Needless to say, it had scared the elf off quite a bit. Hoseok had tried really hard to avoid Taehyung after that. He had tried, sure, but in the end, he still fell for him. Hard.

A few weeks had gone by and Hoseok would deliberately seek Taehyung's company like it was second nature; his eyes would search for him upon entering the café and he'd sit some place nearby where he could listen to the fairy's scatterbrained narrations with fond eyes and, occasionally, join the others' banter. He'd also always order a waffle just so he could thank Taehyung for the food afterwards, telling him he made the best waffles ever, simply because he liked the way it made him want to smile.

It seemed to be the little things that had Hoseok falling for him. He fell for the hidden warmth underneath his cold, for the pretty flower buried underneath heaps of snow. He fell for the sheer ethereal beauty of Taehyung; the beauty that is him being unapologetically himself and the pure genuineness that he radiates, the way he carries himself with fascinating nonchalance. The way his lack of magical presence seems to make him want to try harder, be better, and to not take things for granted.

Hoseok never stood a chance. Yoongi knows this because neither did he, nor did the others.

And then, one day – months later –, Taehyung had offered Hoseok to look into his heart to show that he trusts him, to prove that him being a mixed elf really isn't a problem; to let him know that he doesn't care about that but that he cares about him. And so, Hoseok had looked, and he had cried at the sight. That day, for the first time, he had cried in front of one of them, shedding silent tears as he saw with his own eyes and felt with his own heart that Taehyung was hurting, that his heart was filled with grievance and misery.

That he too was torn, just like Hoseok – just like they all are, in some kind of way.

Another day, about a year after that, and after everyone else had already openly shown their interest in Hoseok being more than just a good friend, it had been Hoseok who had asked Taehyung, with everyone gathered underneath the willow tree, whether he'd like to be his mate, finally reciprocating all of their feelings and agreeing to join them.

The thirtieth of November, 3767 – it's the date of their anniversary, the day that they've officially become complete, and next month, they will be celebrating ten years of being together like this, all six of them. Every year, on that day, Yoongi is reminded again of how lucky he can consider himself, how grateful he should be, and that it'd be greedy to ask for more. He's reminded again of how glad he feels to be where he is, even with all the bad memories plaguing his mind – because, regardless of it still haunting him at nights, it's what brought him here.

That's what Yoongi has decided to believe in the end, and he likes to think that his family wouldn't want him to let them become a painful past that he wishes to forget. They don't deserve that. They'd want him to be happy, right? If it had been Yoongi, he'd want them to move on and be happy, he thinks.

It's what Yoongi forces himself to believe every day, and every day, it is a new battle that he needs to fight. It's harder on some days. Some days, he doesn't manage to fully convince himself that he deserves to live and love and laugh and all that happy shit. Some days, he tells himself that it's okay to want nice things and get them and he doesn't believe it.

Some days, he loses that fight. But that's fine – as long as he's still fighting.

“So, another thing I've been thinking about,” Taehyung announces, gently ripping Yoongi out of his thoughts with his deep soothing voice. Taehyung turns away from Jungkook to look at them instead, facial expression not giving away anything, but Yoongi knows that his mind must be buzzing right now.

“Tae, are you sure you want to ask this now?” Jimin asks defeatedly. “It can't wait until later?”

“I've waited until now to ask this. I've been patient,” Taehyung reasons, seemingly pleased with himself. “So, I know they don't really need it, but I was wondering,” he starts, nodding sideways towards Jungkook while still looking at them. “You haven't treated any of his wounds. Why? Because he's an imp? I would have thought you'd insist on that.” He's pointedly looking at Jimin when he says that.

Jimin's eyes go round with surprise, then they narrow and he looks upset.

“I did! I did insist– I mean, I would have, but…” Jimin glances at Yoongi. “Hyung said to leave it.” Yoongi squints at the gnome because why does he sound so accusing saying that? He's already explained to him why he had said that and why it's the right thing, so there's really no need to be such a petulant little shit about it.

The thing is, Yoongi would have really liked for him to treat the imp's wounds too, and not just for Jungkook's sake or Jimin's conscience or because it'd be the right thing to do – but for his own sake as well. He can't stand looking at him just to see the cuts and grazed skin glaring back at him, even if the worst is hidden underneath his clothes. Yes, Yoongi would have really fucking loved to have him wrapped up in bandage and covered in band-aids, just so he doesn't have to look at those angry red lines and dark bruises.

Is it bad that Jungkook's well-being isn't the only reason he'd like his wounds to be treated? Maybe, but not really. Yoongi is just trying to look out for himself after he had to regretfully realise that no, he's still not good with blood and it still makes his vision blur and his ears ring and it'd be hard to breathe, and then suddenly, he'd feel like he's back underground.

And he can't help Jungkook if his mind's somewhere else.

They had tried to tend to Jungkook's wounds when he fell unconscious last night, but Seokjin had only managed to pull the wide neck of his sweater aside to get a better look at the gashes on his shoulder when Jungkook abruptly started to struggle in his sleep, trying to fend him off. The attempt to bandage his ankles instead went even worse with him kicking out, just about missing the ifrit's face. It didn't wake him up, surprisingly, but it did seem to distress him, making him whimper and thrash around not matter what they tried.

So, in the end, they had no choice but to give up and try again the next morning.

It didn't feel right to just leave him like that for the night and Jimin – especially Jimin – felt really bad and hesitant. But what other choice did they have? It didn't feel right to restrain him and do it forcefully either, even more so since Jungkook had been unconscious and defenceless and– yeah, they weren't trying to do anything bad to him, but it had still felt so wrong.

Therefore, the next morning, Yoongi had asked Jungkook to let them tend to his injuries after he'd helped him wash, during which he'd almost split his fucking head open (Yoongi thinks he lost a decade due to the heart palpitations that gave him). However, Jungkook had seemed weirdly distraught all of a sudden and had strongly declined his offer, stuttering his way through his words with a pleading voice and close to panicking – and again, it had just felt so wrong.

Yoongi's not sure if Jungkook really just dislikes them touching him – because he does let them touch him even though it seems to scare him? It's just his wounds that he's unreasonably protective over, like he's afraid they might dig a finger into his wounds or something.

Maybe he just doesn't trust them with his injuries. Maybe he'd rather let his body heal by itself.

They thought about bringing him to the closest hospital, aware that they're not allowed to refuse any kind of creature treatment, not even imps. However, that doesn't mean they have to be nice to them. Seokjin had been quick to voice his concern that such harsh treatment might harm Jungkook more than not bringing him there would do.

Besides, what else would they be able to offer that neither Jungkook's body itself or Jimin's potions can do? It'd be just unnecessary stress they could easily avoid. Yoongi has also heard that a light elf works at that hospital and that they're specialised in treating internal bleeding and organ damage, but Jungkook doesn't seem any more fond of elves than Hoseok is fond of imps, so he didn't even mention it.

When Yoongi offered Jungkook the first aid kit to do it himself, he'd declined that too, for some reason, and the gremlin hadn't felt comfortable asking again after that – and also slightly discouraged.

It's not like he needs his injuries to be tended to anyway, even though Yoongi still finds it hard to believe that his leg can just heal by itself like that, or that they can't even tell now that he'd previously received a lethal injury that had his lung punctured. Like, that still seems fucking crazy to Yoongi. He knows that the imp doesn't need any medical care, it's just that… it doesn't feel right to do nothing. It doesn't, but is treating his wounds really worth the amount of distress it would cause him when he doesn't really need it and clearly doesn't want it?

Wouldn't it be wrong to disregard what he decided himself? It's his body, so it should be his choice as long as it doesn't cause him any harm. And maybe even then, it should still be his choice.

Sometimes, the right thing to do doesn't feel like the right thing to do.

But someone please explain that to Jimin without him making you feel like a monster for even suggesting such a thing.

Yoongi had thoroughly explained to the gnome why it'd be better to not bring it up again when he had gone to get him to carry Jungkook down the stairs (which the imp had seemed fine with, fortunately); he'd told him to only offer him potions to help with the pain but, apart from that, to just let the imp's body do its thing.

But of course Jimin had asked anyway.

He never received an answer though because immediately after asking he got distracted by Jungkook's tail being stuck in his hoodie and, well– the next thing they knew they had a panicking imp squeezing himself inside a small gap that he barely fit inside, a disturbed gnome apologising frantically and a confused fairy hovering around, not sure what to do. Then, of course, Hoseok had to storm inside the kitchen to make things worse at the same time as Seokjin appeared out of nowhere to save the day, and here they are now.

And the day has only just started. Yoongi feels like he's had enough stress to last him a week, which is not good because it's stress that tends to trigger the nightmares.

“Jungkook doesn't seem comfortable letting us treat his wounds,” Yoongi explains yet again, slowly, watching the imp tense upon hearing his name, yet he keeps his head lowered. The way he does it so naturally, how he seems so accustomed to it, being spoken about without being spoken to– it's bothering Yoongi more and more.

“We should respect that. There's nothing for you to insist when it's not your choice,” he tells Jimin, but who he actually hopes to be listening this time is Jungkook.

Jimin huffs, clearly not pleased, but he doesn't protest. Seokjin rests his chin on top of the gnome's head and tightens his arms around him to hug him closer to his chest. It seems to do the trick as Jimin visibly deflates, his expression softening slightly.

“Any more questions?” Seokjin says, raising a brow at Taehyung, eyes clearly telling him not to ask them even if he has more. Taehyung opens his mouth– “Good. So, breakfast, yeah? I'm starving.”

“You're always starving,” Yoongi rolls his eyes.

“And I told you, I can't help it. My magic makes my metabolism work ridiculously fast, you wouldn't believe it,” Seokjin huffs.

“I don't believe it. I think you just like food too much,” Taehyung says.

Seokjin seems offended hearing that. “How dare you! There's no such thing as liking food too much. Stop spouting nonsense,” he exclaims as he covers his ears. “I don't want my ears to hear such a thing.”

Taehyung chuckles lowly at their oldest theatrics, making Jimin stop his pouting to softly smile at the fairy, which, interestingly enough, has Jungkook's magic feel less tense. Seokjin and Yoongi exchange pleased smiles before the gremlin stands up to go set the table so they can finally have some breakfast and start the day. His early efforts better not go to waste. Yoongi makes some mad good eggs on toast and he wants Jungkook to know that his food is just as good as Seokjin's.

“Hyung, I'm afraid the food's gone cold by now,” Yoongi says after throwing the remaining slices of bread that Taehyung didn't burn in the toaster. The coffee is cold too, and so is the tea that Jimin had started to make for Jungkook when he heard about his stomach issues. “Should I put it in the microwave? Or do you want to…?”

Seokjin huffs. “Re-heating your food and acting as your personal furnace, that's all I'm good for, huh? You don't love me.”

Yoongi snorts and hums, pleased. “I mean, you're hot, yeah. I do love that.”

“Menaces, each and every single one of you,” Seokjin complains, but it sounds fond. He slowly stands up, Jimin still in his arms as he's very obviously reluctant to let him go. This is where having more than one mate comes in handy and Taehyung is more than happy to receive a lap full of gnome that he immediately wraps his arms around as Seokjin moves to the kitchen counter.

“I've spoiled you, haven't I? It's my fault, isn't it? Of course it is,” Seokjin mutters in defeat, even as he complies and starts to heat up the pan with his hands. Yoongi rolls his eyes; they all know that he loves spoiling them. It's always him insisting on doing stuff like this for them after all, especially when it's something only he can do. He always complains first though because he can and likes to complain.

While placing plates full of food in front of everyone and listening to Seokjin talk about stuff concerning the café and today's shifts, the gremlin can't help but notice how Jungkook seems much calmer whenever the attention's not on him and they're just talking among themselves. He's not sure though if the attention just makes him nervous or if he genuinely dislikes it.

Yoongi places a plate in front of Jungkook and the tea Jimin prepared. “It's a herbal tea for cramps. Fennel, chamomile and, uh…” Yoongi glances at Jimin to seek help. He can't remember all of the gnome's countless recipes and he's never had any problems with cramps.

“Peppermint, ginger and nettle leaves. And a spoon full of cinnamon honey. Tastes a bit funny, but it should help,” Jimin kindly supplies.

Yoongi grimaces at the mention of nettles. He stands by his opinion – stinging nettles can go fuck themselves. He doesn't want any of those little fuckers' kind anywhere near him and he doesn't care that it was his fault he walked into them because he didn't know what they were, okay? Those rashes had stung like hell. No, thank you. He's not risking to go through that torture again.

Jungkook doesn't seem to mind drinking something with nettles in it as he mutters a quiet thank you before taking a tiny sip. He frowns a little at the taste, but takes another sip nonetheless.

Jimin waves him off. “No need to thank me, I…” He fiddles with his stubby fingers while nervously chewing on his bottom lip. “Look, I'm really sorry I grabbed your tail like that. I wasn't really thinking. I didn't– I don't want you to think I was trying to be mean and pull it or something. I would never do that, I swear.”

“It's– it's okay,” Jungkook tries to reassure. It seems genuine. Everything about him seems genuine; Yoongi really can't comprehend Hoseok's mistrust, not anymore. “I, uh… I believe that you wouldn't d-do that, I– I think.”

“But you did think I would! I mean–” Jimin sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “Sorry, but I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have reacted like that if you really believed I wouldn't.” He presses his lips into a thin line and mutters, “No offence.”

Jungkook is shaking his head so hard, Yoongi is surprised he isn't dizzy when he stops.

“I– I didn't mean to– I mean, my– my, uh, mind, like, it– it kinda blanked, o-or something, and– and I couldn't– I didn't… it's not– it's not your fault,” Jungkook rambles with a shaky voice. “I… I don't have good memories of, um… ha-having my tail t-touched.”

“Oh.” Jimin's face falls. “I'm so sorry.”

Jungkook just shakes his head again, softly this time, and smiles weakly at the steaming cup of tea. “Just… thank you.”

Jimin's eyes widen a little in surprise before they turn crescent-shaped with a warm smile. “You're welcome.”

Yoongi squeezes the gnome's shoulder when he sits down next to him and gives him an approving nod. Jimin doesn't acknowledge the gesture, but they all see the faint blush on his cheeks.

“Oh. Good news, everyone. He found him,” Seokjin announces, breaking the peaceful moment as he sets the now steaming mugs on the table. The smell of coffee immediately reaches Yoongi's nose and, yeah, he really could do with some of that.

“What?” Taehyung moans with his mouth stuffed full with toast and egg, and Jimin tells him not for the first time that he shouldn't put so much food in his mouth all at once as he wipes crumbs off the corner of the fairy's mouth, licking them off his thumb while he looks at Taehyung with endeared eyes, or maybe like he wants to lick his lips too.

Definitely like he wants to lick his lips too.

“Hoseok and Namjoon are descending the stairs right now,” Seokjin explains curtly, giving their youngest two a look that Yoongi has seen enough times to know that he's asking them to not make out at the dinner table. Yoongi grabs himself a mug of coffee and sits down while taking a sip.

“It was about time,” Yoongi mutters, smacking his lips as he savours the bitter taste. The liquid is burning hot, just how he likes it.

Seokjin keeps a straight face as he takes a seat and slowly starts to count, “Arriving in ten, nine, eight–”

“I can't believe you found one!” the excited voice of Namjoon greets them first, sounding muffled as he presumably makes his way around his potted children. It's only been a bit more than a day, but god, has Yoongi missed his stupid voice and his stupid face and his stupid everything. His magic rumbles longingly.

“Five–“

“Yeah, it's quite unbelievable, huh,” Yoongi's sharp ears pick up Hoseok's gruff voice, sounding not too far behind Namjoon. There's the sound of something breaking, followed by a sheepish oops and Hoseok saying, “This is why we keep telling you to put them away– please just slow down, please.”

“One.”

When Namjoon bolts through the door, he nearly slips on the tiled floor with his sock-covered feet. He's still wearing the clothes he wore two days ago and strands of his short hair are sticking up here and there. He looks a bit pale, dark circles underneath his eyes that appear slightly bloodshot, indicating that he probably hasn't slept at all last night.

Seokjin isn't looking all too pleased with that, but despite his obvious sleep deprivation and potentially other deficits, Namjoon seems lively. Hoseok appears behind him, looking the opposite. Yoongi wants to hug him; he wants to gently smack his head, tell him to stop being so obnoxious, and hug him.

“Oh! Is that him? Um, hello there,” Namjoon awkwardly waves at Jungkook, hovering in place like he wants to go shake his hand or both hands, or perhaps the whole of Jungkook's body, just to see if he's real or not. But he seems to know better for some reason and keeps a safe distance for now. “So, uh, you must be Jungkook. Hi, I'm Namjoon. It's so nice to meet you. You know, I've never met an imp before, although I've always wanted to,” Namjoon continues with a silly little smile on his face. “You're bigger than I thought? That's so interesting.”

Jungkook is too stunned to speak as he stares at Namjoon with his big eyes.

“You were right. What? Oh. No, it's fine. I'm glad you did,” Namjoon is whispering to nobody in particular, which means he's probably talking to the tree. He's also clenching his fists like he does when he's trying to stop himself from jumping up and down because he can't contain his excitement – and excited he must be because he even left behind his shattered plant child to get here as fast as possible.

It's endearing in Yoongi's eyes, but Jungkook appears to be a bit disturbed by Namjoon's behaviour, still just staring at him like he's grown a second head. Namjoon doesn't seem taken aback by the imp's lack of reaction; more like, it doesn't seem to dampen his excitement at all.

Namjoon is smiling at Jungkook, cute dimples and everything, before turning to Hoseok with a slightly confused frown. “I don't see why you'd be worried though. He seems harmless?”

Hoseok frowns back at him. “But you said you didn't know about this. The tree let him in and didn't even mention anything to you. Isn't that kinda odd?”

Namjoon hums thoughtfully, but then he just smiles again. “I see. But she's usually behaving odd, so it's not very odd at all, I think.” He shrugs after giving it a mere second of thought. “She probably knows what she's doing.”

“Probably?” Hoseok sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose between two fingers. “All of this is giving me a serious headache.”

Namjoon gives him a worried look, but he's quickly distracted by Seokjin clapping his hands together to get their attention. Jungkook flinches at the harsh sound and Seokjin instantly apologises with a soft sorry dear – and all of it seems so normal. The oldest seems so well-attuned to him already, so used to having a seventh creature sitting at their table, you'd almost not notice that there are only six chairs.

“Namjoon, honey. As you already know, this is Jungkook. He's injured, and fragile, so please be careful around him, okay?” Seokjin introduces. Namjoon gives him a thumbs-up, which doesn't reassure any of them.

Seokjin gives him a tight-lipped smile, then turns to Jungkook with a softer expression. “Jungkook, dear. This one is Namjoon. He's never learned how to properly navigate his limps or control his strength, so… you too be careful around him. Maybe keep some distance? Yeah.” Seokjin looks at both of them. “Just be careful around each other, okay? We don't need any more injuries to happen.” He nods to himself. “That's all.”

Namjoon turns to Jungkook with his dimples out, like it's legal and not hurting anyone. But Yoongi feels wounded, and he wants to touch. “Jungkook, I'd love to–“

“No. You sit down and eat before I shove the food down your throat,“ Seokjin tells him in the strict tone he only uses when he's worried about their health or wants to strangle them, or both. “You're probably dehydrated too. And you haven't slept, have you?” Namjoon smiles sheepishly and looks at the ground, rubbing his neck. Seokjin deflates. “Oh, honey,” he coos and it sounds a little pained. “Come on, go drink some water before you sit. You look much too dazed for my liking.”

Namjoon does as he's told, pressing a kiss to Seokjin's cheek when he passes him and whispering something into his ear that has Seokjin smiling softly to himself. He then takes the seat next to Jungkook, mindfully keeping his distance.

Yoongi can tell that Jungkook is just as aware of Namjoon's presence as Namjoon is of his, but the imp doesn't dare acknowledge it or look his way as he keeps his shoulders high and his head low. Yoongi also catches a glimpse of his hands before they disappear underneath his thighs. They were shaking.

“So now that everyone's here and confirmed to be alive, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss who's staying and who's leaving,” Seokjin says once Namjoon has taken a bite and, well, he couldn't have made that sound any more ominous, could he?

Seokjin takes a big bite as well just as Jimin stops nipping at his mug. “Uh, what do mean by that?” the gnome asks.

“Well, we have a café to run, as you might remember, and I don't think it'd be a good idea to take him there with us. I'd rather he stay in bed and rest his leg properly,” Seokjin explains between chewing. He swallows. “Also, he might get odd looks with his face so bruised.” And for being an imp, nobody says, but Yoongi knows they all think it.

Most of their guests seem like pretty decent creatures, and those that have shared their opinions on imps seemed to either not care or came off rather sympathetic. The creatures that think all remaining imps should just be dealt with by killing them off are the same creatures that think that running a café in the middle of a magical forest is a ridiculous idea only lunatics could come up with. They don't actually have to worry about those type of radical creatures visiting here.

They're not really the problem.

Creatures can defend imps and be on their side and mean only well, and that's all nice and stuff, but you never know how they might react if confronted with an imp in real life for the very first time – and Jungkook doesn't need any more reasons to be stressed out.

“Can't we just close the café for today?” Jimin asks, looking at each of them to seek agreement. “We don't have any reservations anyway, and we can turn off the portals and put a disclaimer online. It's just one day.”

Seokjin hums contemplatively. “I'd prefer that too, actually. But it's Monday. We're getting all deliveries today and it's too late to postpone any of them. I also have that meeting with those two lovely officials in about two hours, which you know I'd love to just cancel, but I already cancelled on them last time and I don't think they'd be too thrilled if I did that again,” he explains with a sigh. “They way they talk makes you feel like you're wasting their time by just fucking existing, I swear.”

Right. Seokjin had mentioned during one of his rants yesterday how little he's looking forward to that.

“You heard them on the phone last time. Time is money and their time is definitely worth more than mine, so how dare I cancel last minute?” Seokjin scoffs. “What? My mate was attacked and I have to be there for him? How is that more important than a meeting that's basically just formalities, you ask?” He rolls his eyes, his magic lightly crackling at the reminder of that unpleasant phone call a few weeks ago. “Like I want to deal with them any more than they want to deal with me. It's better to just get it over and done with.”

“Okay, so… who is staying then?” Yoongi raises a brow as he continues to sip his coffee.

“Well, I obviously can't,” Seokjin starts. “And with me being absent for one or two hours, I need at least you and Jimin there to handle any possible issues. But I also need two servers in case of a morning rush.” Which means Hoseok needs to be there too, Yoongi continues in his thoughts, but it's not like he was an option to stay with Jungkook anyway.

That means Jimin and Hoseok in service and Yoongi behind the counter. That works.

“So either Joon or Tae is staying,” Yoongi says, ignoring how Taehyung is trying to get their attention by just staring at them with piercing eyes. He must want to disagree.

Seokjin nods. “Yeah. But definitely not Joon.”

“Why me?” Taehyung asks, mouth twitching like he wants to pout. “Don't you need me too?

“I'm sorry, darling, but all you know is how to make waffles, and you're not the best at handling guests either,” Seokjin explains, trying to soften his words with a fond smile, but Taehyung still takes it to heart; the temperature around him has dropped a bit, making Jimin shudder. Even Jungkook looks up to give the fairy a curious look.

“I make the best waffles. Why would you not need me there?” Taehyung insists, and Jimin immediately turns around in his lap to wrap his arms and long legs around him and press his face into his neck and whisper hm-hm, the best

“Who's gonna make the best waffles if I'm not there?” the fairy mutters, but he already sounds less upset now that Jimin is hugging him like a koala and whispering reassuring sweet nothings into his ear. It's Taehyung's favourite type of hug, although it's usually him hugging them like a koala.

When it's Jimin, it doesn't matter though; all his hugs are the best type of hug.

“I don't understand. Why can't I stay with him?” Namjoon interjects with a slight frown. “Then Taehyung can go make all the waffles he wants.”

“Because I don't trust you to be left alone with Jungkook,” Seokjin says like it's obvious. It should be obvious. Namjoon doesn't say anything, but he appears to be contemplating something.

“I can stay,” Hoseok mutters quietly from the kitchen counter that he's leaning against. It's true that there's no empty chair left for him, but Yoongi doubts he'd sit with them as long as Jungkook is sitting at the same table. And yet he's suggesting to stay with him? When he can't even stand to be in the same room?

No fucking way.

“I don't trust you to be left alone with him either,” Seokjin replies like that should be even more obvious and Yoongi feels relief wash over him. Good thing their oldest and him are on the same page here.

“But you trust him to be left with Taehyung? Just the two of them? All by themselves?” Hoseok questions in disbelief.

“I don't mind,” Taehyung shrugs. “But the waffles–”

“See. He doesn't mind,” Seokjin replies. To Taehyung, he says, “Tae, darling, we all know how the waffle iron works. Forget about the waffles and worry about looking after Jungkook here instead.”

“Okay,” Taehyung relents, wrapping his arms around Jimin for more physical comfort. The gnome giggles, causing Taehyung's lips to curl into a smile before responding with a low-pitched giggle of his own.

I mind,” Hoseok stresses, but he can't help how his expression softens at the sight of all that domestic fluff right in front of him. Their two youngest are simply too damn cute to keep frowning.

“Oh well, I'm afraid that doesn't matter since Taehyung's a grown creature and is fully capable to be making his own decisions,” Seokjin shrugs nonchalantly.

Hoseok squints at him. “Wasn't it you who's just made all the decisions for us?”

“I'm the oldest, it's my right to do that,” Seokjin huffs. “I'm old and wise and shit, so obviously I know what's best for you.”

“That's not how that works,” Yoongi counters with the mug pressed to his lips. He deflects the glare Seokjin throws him by looking away.

“I hereby declare that, as of now and given my ultimate hyung powers, I have authority over all and any imp related issues that might arise while the little one is staying with us,” Seokjin announces, then looks around the table. “Objections?”

At least four hands rise to object. Namjoon is still contemplating.

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “You don't have any ultimate hyung powers or whatever the fuck you just said. You can't just–“

“None? Great. So Tae is staying,” Seokjin smiles, then turns to Jungkook, who has been watching their oldest intently this entire time, barely even blinking. He's either impressed or horrified and Yoongi doesn't know which one would concern him more. “Dear, is that okay with you? You're already a little familiar with our Taehyungie, right? Do you mind if he stays with you for a few hours? It's not because we don't trust you–” Hoseok clears his throat, but Seokjin just talks over the noise. “He's not supposed to be watching you, he's just here in case you need something.”

They all look at Jungkook, who looks, yet again, like the epitome of deer caught in headlights.

Yoongi is not surprised when all he does is nod.

Oh well.

It's going to be fine. Probably.

Chapter Text

“I still don't fully understand why I couldn't stay home with him,” Namjoon mutters dejectedly, and not for the first time in the last – Jimin cranes his neck to check the time – oh wow, it hasn't even been two hours since they've opened the café and Namjoon has already asked them more questions than they've had guests.

Seems like a normal Monday morning so far, Jimin would say, if he wasn't all too aware that this Monday morning isn't normal at all. There's a hurt creature in their home, one that is injured and scared – possibly traumatised – and out of his sight and reach to take care of (not that that has really worked out so far), and that knowledge is like an itch he can't scratch. He just wants to go home and make sure Jungkook's wrapped up in enough blankets and resting and not in pain.

But the world doesn't pause for hurt imps to be taken care of, it just keeps spinning like nothing ever happened, and therefore Jimin has to be here and serve guests, who don't even know that the gnome is needed somewhere else right now, when really he just wants to go through his potion collection to find that anti-anxiety potion that he knows he's made at one point but couldn't find yesterday.

Don't get him wrong – Jimin loves working at the café with all of his mates. He loves serving guests and talking to creatures, getting to know them and each of their very different lives, while also flirting with his mates and being able to just spend time with them. It's the little things that he's learned to appreciate and look forward to every day; sharing quick kisses in the kitchen while bringing in the dirty dishes and hidden touches behind the counter, teasing each other when little mishaps happen and inside jokes that will still be funny even in a few decades from now on. Little moments that would later become precious memories – remember when and you know that one time and this reminds me of.

Today, however, Jimin can't really get himself to enjoy those things. It wouldn't be right.

“What did Jin-hyung mean when he said he doesn't trust me to be alone with him? Why would he say that?” Namjoon continues to question and Jimin knows without looking that there's a deep line etched across his forehead; the one that's always there when Namjoon gets stuck questioning things. “Also, what are the exact requirements to gain that trust? You know, like, can I still qualify? I feel like I didn't get a fair chance to prove myself. I mean, you didn't even let me talk to him.”

“The fact that you don't know proves that hyung's seemingly unreasonable decision-making was reasonable after all,” Yoongi says from behind the counter, where he's busy polishing various kinds of glasses. He scowls at the wine glass in his hands, then adds, “But don't let him know I said that. It will go to his head.”

Namjoon is sitting on the other side of said counter, on one of those high bar stools that rarely anyone ever occupies – except for Namjoon of course, who likes to sit there, as he does right now, mostly to watch Yoongi work while telling him about his current obsession; and sometimes, Yoongi would join the other, often when he's tired and there's nothing to do (or because something Namjoon said had piqued his interest and he's decided it is time to have another of their long discussions).

Today too, Namjoon is watching Yoongi from his usual seat as the gremlin delicately polishes one glass after the other with an ease and absent-mindedness that shows he's been doing this nearly every day of the last decade. He's fast but thorough with it, and the glasses he's done polishing are glistening prettily in the soft morning sunlight.

Namjoon had been quick to offer his help upon seeing Yoongi take all the glasses out of the dishwasher half an hour ago, but both Jimin and Seokjin had been even quicker to sit him down and remind him that he is to stay away from all things sharp, fragile or hot (this does not include Seokjin of course – he'd never burn his mates, not even by accident). They all have yet to forget about the last time Namjoon had tried to help, which had ended with him not only shattering the first glass he touched, but also with his then bloody hands triggering Yoongi.

That had not been a fun day for any of them, Jimin can tell you that much.

It's been twenty-six years and Namjoon is still blaming his clumsiness on the fact that he's not quite used to his body or the way it works yet. He's convinced that it's either that or his body is actually cursed (which Taehyung had quickly reassured him that it's not). But either way, Jimin can confirm that Namjoon still moves with the same grace of a newborn fawn that he did the first day of having a body. He has about as much delicacy doing everyday activities as a giant has doing flower arrangements, and frankly, it is equally as endearing as it is troubling.

He's still so clumsy, it's hard to watch sometimes.

If you ask Jimin, he'd have to say in all honesty that Namjoon is not quite “built” for the type of work that they do. Multitasking and courtesies and attentiveness are not really things that he's ever been good at, and they all know this. Namjoon is the thinking kind of type after all; he excels at the theory part of things, and when it comes to the putting it into practice part, he usually leaves that to the others.

It might be that he was given a bigger brain in turn of most of his grace, Hoseok would often joke, and Taehyung would sometimes join in and add that that's only fair, making Namjoon pout quietly because – was he just complimented or insulted? He can never tell (god bless) so of course he'd have to thoroughly contemplate that as well, unaware of Seokjin cooing at him and his cute thinking-face.

The point is, even if Namjoon only wants to help, intentions always so pure and making it hard to decline him anything, none of them really trusts him to balance trays that carry mugs with steaming hot liquid inside, even with the balance and gravity defying spell working and everything. It is simply not safe for him to be behind a stove or hold a sharp knife, nor would it be profitable if he were to ruin the cakes and pies and pastries with his clumsy hands all the time – so how could they leave him alone with another creature that is currently in a state as delicate as their most ancient chinaware?

They can't put a creature back together the way they do with broken porcelain by using a simple fixing-spell– well, they can, but it'd be better if they didn't have to. Not that Namjoon would ever purposely hurt another living being (or not-living being). He did accidentally break Jimin's pinky one time though and had then been terrified to even touch the gnome for an entire week, which Jimin did not like at all, so really, it is not only for Namjoon's sake if they can avoid such incidents.

Only every now and then, they let Namjoon serve a glass of lemonade or a piece of cake, which he's always does with the biggest smile, always happy to be of any help, but that's about it. Which is why, when he's not already – or still – stuck in his study with only his hyperactive brain and his countless plant children to keep him company, or somewhere else doing other Namjoon things, he mostly just watches them work. And most of that time, he's perfectly happy with that; just watching while rambling about his newest discoveries. That's what he finds peaceful and Namjoon loves when things are peaceful.

His newest discovery, and therefore current obsession, however, as of today, happens to be one certain skittish imp that he's been introduced to, yet was denied the interaction he had so eagerly hoped for, for reasons he's either struggling to understand or doesn't want to understand – Jimin can't tell.

Once they had sat him down in that seat and there was nothing else to distract him (not counting Jimin, whose presence alone is already a distraction, or so the others like to tell him), Namjoon had inevitably found himself confronted with increasingly more questions, as well as the outrageous injustice that he claims they're doing to him by keeping him away from Jungkook.

Apparently, it is absolutely not fair that they've had their “fair share of imp time” while he had been preoccupied isolating himself, doing an intense 36-hour-research on elves and their quirks in hopes of understanding why he keeps getting into arguments with Hoseok, and also how to prevent them in the future, which he had not so tactfully told them with the elf right there to hear as well.

Jimin had noticed Hoseok's usual composure crumble slightly at that; the hint of hurt that he thinks he saw flicker across his face and the way he felt his magic waver, the scarily blank expression he put on immediately to try and hide it. The fact that Namjoon would rather ask the Internet than his own mate about their relationship issues must have felt like a punch to the face, or at least that's how Jimin thinks he'd feel if he were Hoseok. The gnome knows he'd be really upset if he ever found out that his own mates felt like they couldn't come to him with their problems, especially those that involve him as well.

Hoseok had been rather sullen afterwards, keeping to himself as he diligently did his work without any idle chatter or joking around, very much unlike his usual witty self. A few of the more regular guests have already asked about him and if he's not feeling well, or if anything happened for him to be so quiet.

It hurts Jimin's heart to see Hoseok like this, but he also knows that, unlike with the others, it is better to just leave him alone for a while until he's less irritable and Jimin doesn't run the risk of accidentally having his feelings hurt because all his attempts at cheering him up keep getting rejected.

However, that risk doesn't even exist right now as Hoseok has disappeared inside the kitchen a while ago and hasn't reappeared since.

At least he's not deliberately picking fights, like Seokjin sometimes does when he's in a bad mood, Jimin thinks – although, admittedly, the creatures their oldest ends up blowing up at are usually not the most pleasant guests to begin with and probably deserved it.

Jimin's just glad that today's business has been rather slow so far and that there haven't been any rude or difficult guests yet since he isn't feeling his best either.

Jimin draped himself over Namjoon's back approximately fifteen minutes ago and he hasn't moved a muscle since. He's feeling sluggish, lethargic even, and he can't focus no matter how hard he tries; his mind just keeps drifting, showing him potential scenarios of Jungkook panicking and Taehyung not knowing how to calm him, and it's stressing him out.

It's not that Jimin thinks the fairy isn't capable of looking after someone else. No, he thinks Taehyung is fairly good at it actually and, unlike Jimin, he's also able to keep his cool (quite literally), even when things get more than a little stressful. It's not that he's worried. It's just that Jimin would much rather be there with them as well to witness himself how Taehyung is handling everything just fine…

Okay. So maybe he is worried. But only because he's never learned how to not constantly worry when it comes to Taehyung. He's spent such a long time worrying about him without being able to see for himself that he's safe and sound that now that he can, he does so at any given chance, which is pretty much all the time.

And now there's also Jungkook, who keeps stirring Jimin's protective instincts like it's an Olympic sport and he's aiming for gold. But it's fine. Jimin's fine, and Taehyung and Jungkook are probably fine too. Perfectly so. Probably.

“I'm just saying that I would have totally been capable of looking after him as well,” Namjoon mutters dejectedly. “I mean, I take good care of my children, don't I? I could have… you know, maybe with Taehyung together?” Namjoon is pouting now and ugh– it's adorable. He's adorable and Jimin's starting to realise just how much he's really missed him these last almost-two days.

Yoongi snorts. “He's not a plant, Joon. You know that, right?”

“Yeah, of course I know that imps aren't plants,” Namjoon says, then tilts his head. “But it's basically the same, right?”

Yoongi just sighs and shakes his head.

“But don't you like being here with us?” Jimin purrs into Namjoon's neck, where he knows the other is sensitive – maybe to mess with him a little, maybe to distract himself. Namjoon shudders and Jimin, pleased with the reaction, smiles into his goosebump-covered skin. “Jin-hyung's not even here to scold me for doing this at work,” he drawls as he drops little kisses along his nape before finding a spot he deems perfect to nip and suck on.

Seokjin had left an hour ago to meet those officials, who he has decided to describe as “miserable creatures with sad lives that can't stand others' happiness”. He hadn't left though without thoroughly complaining about it always being him who has to do things like talking to the authorities and doing phone calls and all that boring grown creature stuff that needs to be done to successfully run a business.

Of course he had complained about that – because he always does. But when Yoongi had offered to go in his stead, the older had looked scandalised. He had turned around then, demonstratively opened the door to stomp through the portal and disappeared without another word (which pretty much translates to “no fucking way will I send you to talk with those self-important assholes, love”).

So now, Yoongi and Jimin are left with the shared responsibility of looking after the café and making sure Namjoon doesn't hurt himself, or others. It's been an hour and there haven't been any accidents or injuries yet – so far so good.

Jimin feels like he's just waiting for something disastrous to happen and it is slightly unnerving.

“There's so much I need to know though,” Namjoon sulks, even as he shudders one more time when Jimin licks soothingly over the now reddened skin, secretly hoping it will bruise just enough for the others to see later. “Like, what's his opinion on the imps' current reputation? And is it hard living in the shadows? Why is he not the size I expected? Is it just him, or are all imps actually that big? What's his relationship with other demonic creatures like? What happened to him? And, um… I've been also kind of wondering why he seemed so afraid of me?”

Huh. So even Namjoon noticed that.

“There's so much I wanna ask him and so little time. What if he leaves before I ever get to ask anything?” Namjoon asks, sounding genuinely distressed by this. For him, it must seem like a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to have an imp inside his own four walls to ask all the questions that neither books not the Internet could give him satisfying answers to. To not allow him that just yet, it's like dangling a piece of flesh in front of a starving wendigo, and those things are always starving.

It must seem cruel to him.

“That's exactly why Jin-hyung didn't trust you to stay with him,” Yoongi points out. He sighs, expression softening when he meets Namjoon's gaze. “Look. He had a rough night and is still recovering. He really doesn't need you asking him a million questions right now. Especially not any intrusive ones, and I know you can't tell which ones would count as such.”

Namjoon huffs quietly because he knows as well that he can't always tell that he's stepped on a landmine with a question of his, at least not until after it exploded and he's got a scowling elf telling him to back off, or a fairy with an oddly void expression asking him to leave him alone for a bit.

Jimin has to agree with Yoongi on this. As much as he wants to let Namjoon roam free and get all those questions buzzing in his head to quiet down and stop bugging him to be answered (the downside of having an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge), it isn't the best idea. It isn't even a good idea – at least not right now.

This is a first.

For the first time ever since becoming Namjoon's mate and living with him, Jimin has another priority besides making sure the fellow spirit gets anything he wants (as long as it's safe, sane and consensual and within Jimin's capabilities). Because, while the gnome is more than happy to have their oldest spoiling him and the others rotten, he has his own protective urges that are sometimes too strong to ignore, which is why it's Taehyung, who is slightly younger than him, and Namjoon, who is not always fully capable of looking after himself, that he likes to fuss over, his pampering habits, admittedly, running a little wild sometimes when he does.

The first time he realised that Namjoon, unlike his other hyungs, doesn't resist or mind being taken care of or babied by him, Jimin had been elated. He won't ever not treasure this feeling or take it for granted– this warm fussy feeling of I'm wanted and loved and needed that he gets, even if he gets to feel it every day now whenever he coaxes Taehyung out of bed after the younger has gone to cuddle with someone and is refusing to get up or let go of them, or when Namjoon has stubbed his toe or cut his finger trying to be helpful again and he's all his to make it better.

“Okay. Alright, that makes sense, I guess,” Namjoon admits begrudgingly after he's had enough time to ponder Yoongi's words. “But I don't see how Taehyung was that much of a better choice then.”

And that's…

“He actually has a point,” Jimin agrees after a pause, his own concern about the fairy being alone with Jungkook back again and wrapping around his head in the form of a building tension headache.

Yoongi sighs again. He puts the polished glasses away and turns to his two mates with a contemplative frown. “He seems the most comfortable around you and Taehyung,” he says, but doesn't sound too sure.

Jimin's eyes widen for a brief moment as he lifts his head, surprised. “Wha– me?” What on earth is Yoongi talking about? “No, hyung. No, I made him panic, I– did you not see me startling him into a near panic attack? He might have accepted my apology, but…” Jimin shakes his head. “Maybe before, but no way he's still comfortable around me after that. I screwed up, big time.” Again.

Jimin would normally fix stuff like this with physical affection, but he can't exactly do that with Jungkook because, one; Jimin's only a strange creature to him and Jungkook might find it inappropriate, might even feel really uncomfortable yet wouldn't say anything because, as they've learned so far, he's not the most forward with his own needs or wants. And, two; it might very well startle him again, maybe even worse than before. It's a little heartbreaking Jimin can't just give him a hug and the comfort that he so clearly needs.

It makes him sad, and for some reason, when he meets Yoongi's gaze, it's reflected in the other's eyes.

“You probably didn't notice because you got yourself all worked up again– which you tend to do and really need to stop, Jimin. It's not always your fault when something goes slightly wrong, okay?” Yoongi tells him– reminds him, and not for the first time. Jimin avoids the gremlin's much too empathetic eyes. They both have their issues with guilt, but it's not like Yoongi deals with it any better than him… yeah, okay, maybe he does.

Yoongi comes to them when he struggles and needs to talk about it with someone. Meanwhile, Jimin bottles it up until he can't no more, spirals, gets wasted, and then he talks about it. If he's still a little drunk by then… well, they've already seen him at his lowest. What's a little sobbing and drunk babbling compared to that?

So what if he still keeps a few jars of fermented strawberries and spiced gin in his cabin? At least he doesn't keep a jar in his bedside table anymore. That's an improvement. It's no big deal.

Hoseok caught him drinking a few days ago, but it's fine. He promised not to tell the others about his little slip-up if Jimin promised that he had it under control – which he has. It was only one jar, and he's not even finished it. If Seokjin refuses to acknowledge that he's both a shopaholic and workaholic, then Jimin has every right to do the same. He's not an alcoholic, not anymore, and he can stop whenever; he's not relapsing or anything.

It was a once-in-a-while thing. They all have a drink every now and then after work, so why can't Jimin? It's only to de-stress. No harm in that, is there?

They don't need to know because he's got it all under control.

It's not important right now, anyway. There are more pressing matters– like, for example, the fact that Yoongi is frowning at him like he can read his thoughts on his face.

“You're doing it right now,” Jimin hears Yoongi mutter under his breath. “Listen. Jungkook seems less tense around you, especially when you're more calm. The problem's just that you're not. You're nervous and scared of doing something wrong. You're stressed around him, and that kinda seems to stress him out as well,” he tells him.

Oh, great. So him being stressed out stresses him out? Wonderful. Especially since Jimin can't help but get nervous around Jungkook now. It's just– what if he scares him again? What if he ends up hurt– more hurt because of it? Because of him? What if Jimin says something wrong again? His conscience really can't take any more of that; he's already drowning in enough guilt.

“As for Taehyung,” Yoongi continues. “I don't know if you noticed, but the two of them kept sneaking glances at each other. No idea what that means, but it didn't seem like a bad thing? I mean, Jungkook looked more curious than intimidated by Tae, which– considering how easily he's spooked, that's a lot, I think.”

What? No, Jimin actually hasn't noticed that. How did he not notice that? The only thing he's noticed, besides the fact that he's still really bad with stressful situations, is how Jungkook gravitates towards their oldest, almost as if seeking guidance from him, looking at him with those wide starry eyes like he has all the answers – which he does have, most of the time.

It might be because of Seokjin's magic, as well as the way he acts and talks, which makes it seem like he's the one with the most authority, or like he has some sort of authority over the rest of them.

But their relationship doesn't work like that.

There's no set hierarchy in their relationship. Not that there's anything wrong with having one if that's the best way of making things work and everyone involved happy. If it's healthy, why not – or so Jimin would like to say, but he has seen and heard about too many families and relationships breaking apart because of the toxicity it can bring. Because more often than not, it doesn't work the way it's supposed to.

It's a system that makes it so easy for those with authority over others to abuse the power and trust they were given, creating oppression and fear instead of protection and comfort. It is sad, but it's true, and Jimin doesn't want to have anything to do with it. He believes that every body and soul that nature has given birth to has been given birth solely to be free – free to make their own decisions and live life the way their heart and magic longs for, the only obligation being to bring no harm to others and respecting nature while doing so (an obligation that is, as history and the present shows, harder to meet than expected).

Jimin had been more than just relieved when they had all collectively agreed that a hierarchy within their relationship is not something any of them would be comfortable with. That had been pretty early on in their relationship, Seokjin having been the one to bring it up, and even as their number of mates increased, their opinion on that never changed. Yes, some of them might be a hyung to the other and they do acknowledge their differences in age, but that doesn't give the older ones more power; it doesn't earn them more respect, nor does it give them the right to ignore the younger ones' opinions or force any of their own upon them.

They're all equals.

Seokjin likes to use his age as an excuse to have the last word in arguments and the right to scold them, but his age isn't the actual reason they listen to him or follow his lead or trust his decisions. It has nothing to do with age, or the fact that Seokjin is a more powerful and experienced creature than them. Well, experience does not not matter, but no – it's because they trust him with that, with themselves. The ifrit knows what to do when nobody else does and it's usually him who takes control over situations when all control is lost.

Despite his temperament and theatrics and tendency to exaggerate, it is Seokjin, actually, who stays reasonable when that seems impossible for everyone else. He has done it more times than Jimin can count on his fingers; prevented things from escalating and kept the bad from becoming worse, that is. He might not act like it, nor does his magic, but he's the one to stay calm and rational when everything and everyone around him is dissolving into chaos.

So it just makes sense, for them to give him that sort of trust.

Seokjin has proven to them, again and again, that he's not just talk, but he actually does know what's best for them, and while Yoongi, for example, would never admit it, it is true that Seokjin does tend to be right most of the time.

Nine out of ten times, Seokjin is the one who handles things, and the one time that he doesn't or can't, one of the others is always there to take over and have his back, no matter what. They trust each other with their lives– hell, there had been moments they had no other choice but to trust each other with their lives. But, ultimately, all that hardship that they've suffered has only deepened their bond, made them grow closer and stronger.

This time as well, the ifrit had been there to handle things when they got out of control, the one to know how to carry that kind of responsibility and not crumble beneath it, and Jimin can't even put into words how relieved he had felt when Seokjin had appeared to take over the reins.

He won't always be there to clean up my messes, something small and malicious whispers, a fraction of his mind that is very mean and self-deprecating and that Jimin knows he shouldn't listen to. So he ignores it – or at least he does his best to ignore it.

“I think… I think he's most at ease when Jin-hyung's around,” Jimin says a little absent-mindedly. “I mean, it makes sense, doesn't it? He made sure he's dressed comfortably and that he's fed and– and that he's resting his leg properly and whatnot. He did everything.”

He did everything I didn't

Don't engage. Ignore it.

No, Jimin isn't surprised that, even to a strange creature, Seokjin comes across as trustworthy and reliant and, all in all, comforting – that's just who he is. So he wasn't too surprised either when Seokjin managed to finally get Jungkook to come out of that corner when they had failed. He's not surprised, just… disappointed. With himself.

Maybe I didn't try hard enough

Jimin frowns.

Did he? Did he not try hard enough?

Yoongi snorts. “I think hyung is as good at calming him as he is at startling him, so it pretty much evens out. He seemed a bit overwhelmed by his temperament, if you ask me.” Yoongi's smile fades a little, but there's warmth in his eyes and reassurance in his voice when he says, “Jimin, trust me. I saw the way he visibly relaxed just because he saw you smiling. You didn't screw up. Whatever happened to him is screwed up, but what happened this morning was just a mistake. Mistakes happen. We learn from them and move on. Please don't beat yourself up over this, don't fucking do that to yourself.”

And he's right. Of course Yoongi is right. Jimin knows he is, but why is it always him putting his foot in his mouth? It's just so frustrating that all of his good intentions always blow up in his face and that he always ends up feeling like he has to apologise. And still, it doesn't matter how many times he's forgiven when he can't forgive himself. He's just stuck feeling guilty all the time and it sucks.

It just sucks.

“Sorry, but you lost me,” Namjoon chimes in, sounding genuinely confused because he wasn't there. Jimin actually feels envious of Namjoon's cluelessness. What he wouldn't give to not feel like this anymore, god. Namjoon would never agree, but sometimes, ignorance really is bliss. “What do you mean you screwed up? And what was that about a panic attack? Why did he have a panic attack?” Namjoon asks worriedly.

“I don't think it was a panic attack, not really,” Yoongi answers hesitantly, his brows slightly furrowing in thought. “It… kinda seemed like he was having an episode of some sorts. But, well, doesn't really matter. Either way, it wasn't good.” He shrugs.

Now that Jimin thinks about it, the way Jungkook had stared off into space, as if not seeing his surroundings, but seeing something – it does remind him of Yoongi becoming unresponsive when he's having an episode. Usually, it's blood or a nightmare that triggers one of those. Jimin knows they just barely dodged Yoongi having one yesterday when Jungkook had been still in his cat-form, fur and towel covered in blood. That had been a close call and Jimin tries, as Yoongi told him, to not beat himself up over that as well, but… he really should have known better.

How could he just forget about something like that? At this rate, and in hindsight, he can't consider his actions anything but plain stupid.

“An episode?” Namjoon asks quietly, like he might break something if he spoke any louder. Yoongi's mental health used to be a sensitive topic and Namjoon's still not forgotten how Yoongi had told him to “fucking shut it” once when he had pushed him too far with his seemingly endless questions. “Like the ones you get, hyung?” he asks carefully, eyeing the gremlin like he might pounce at any moment.

Whenever Yoongi has an episode, he said it feels like he's back underground. Jimin remembers Yoongi trying to explain– trying to put it into words without breaking down again, that it feels like he's still there, like he never got out and like he never will.

It makes Jimin wonder, where had Jungkook been when he had hid in that corner and begged them not to hurt him, mentally? What place had his mind gone for him to be so terrified? For him to react like Jimin was about to– he doesn't even know… rip his tail off?

Jimin's not sure he even wants to know. Ignorance is bliss, right? It's bliss. He's probably better off not knowing.

“I mean, it seemed like one, but I can't say for sure,” Yoongi answers slowly, frowning, deep in thought. “It looked like he was having one and what he said made it sound like it too, but I really don't know. Either way, he was clearly very scared.”

No, he wasn't scared. He was terrified. Of being hurt... by them? Jimin still can't get his head round that. What made him think they would hurt him? At what point did any of their actions or words make him think they would do that? Is it because he doesn't know them?

It must be because of what happened to him because Jimin would like to think that they've made a better impression on him than that.

“So why was he scared?” Namjoon asks.

Yoongi briefly glances at Jimin before looking back at Namjoon. “Jimin… touched his tail and– well, Jungkook didn't like that.”

“He hated it,” Jimin mutters ruefully, nuzzling Namjoon's neck to breathe in more of his soothing scent, but all it does is remind him of Jungkook– of Jungkook smelling like Namjoon. Smelling sweet, like lavender and vanilla and those flowers he always forgets the name of. Because Yoongi had let him use his body wash…

Yoongi had…?

Yoongi, the one who is most affected by scents. Yoongi, who is always rubbing his little nose into their necks and against their throats. Yoongi, who tries to scent them at least once a day, even though it does nothing for them or him because they're not the same, but he still does it because it's something that comforts him. Yoongi, who doesn't like them smelling like other creatures on his best days, but apparently is totally fine with another creature smelling like one of his mates?

Yoongi, who had helped the imp in the bath and chosen to use Namjoon's favourite body wash, even though they have one especially for the rare occurrence of having guests over (and another thousand other ones because Seokjin can't stop buying more and more). Yoongi, who had let him sleep in his bed– his bed that he makes sure is always covered in all of their scents and traces of magic because it's his place of comfort, his safe haven... which he let Jungkook enter just like that.

Huh.

Jimin had not thought too much about it before, occupied being glad that Jungkook would be safe during the night and feeling troubled that he wouldn't let them help how Jimin saw fit… but Yoongi allowing that – it's a lot. They would have never demanded such a thing of him, and the gremlin isn't usually one to volunteer for stuff like that either, and yet he had allowed Jungkook something they all know his instincts have more of a say in than the gremlin himself.

Do his instincts not mind Jungkook inside his substitute burrow? Even though it had taken them weeks to be allowed the same? Jimin feels like he should be offended, but instead he's feeling weirdly touched. Well, he already knew this, but now it is proven again; Yoongi might have the biggest heart out of all of them.

Yoongi exhales loudly through his nose. “Yeah, okay, he hated it a lot. Leaped off his seat and squeezed himself inside that gap between fridge and cabinet to hide from us. So then we couldn't get him to come out until Jin-hyung came and unleashed his– what did he call it? His ultimate hyung powers?” Yoongi snorts. “Well, it did work. I'll give him that. Anyway.” He gives Namjoon a pointed look. “No touching his tail.”

Namjoon hums thoughtfully. “Interesting,” he murmurs and Jimin knows he's not talking about Seokjin's made up powers. “Is it an imp thing or– like, maybe they're protective of their tails? You know, like gnomes being possessive of their honey, so they hide it. Or maybe it's more of a personal thing? Like Tae being uncomfortable showing his upper body? Or maybe–”

“It's likely a personal thing, but– listen, Joon,” Yoongi interrupts Namjoon's rambling to warn and remind him, “Don't you dare ask him about that when we get back, okay? We don't ask creatures we just met about their possibly traumatic experiences, and we also don't give them a detailed analysis of their behaviour to question them about it, unless they ask for it.” Which nobody in their right mind would ever ask for, obviously. “We've discussed this before.”

Namjoon nods before he suddenly stops. “Okay. But, hypothetically, what if I asked him first if he's okay with it? And, let's say he agrees, right? Would it then be okay?” he asks with badly disguised hope in his voice.

Jimin has an inkling that Jungkook would probably even say yes to that – which is the problem. The others must have noticed this as well, but he's been very cooperative so far, to an unsettling degree, and it doesn't sit well with Jimin. Jungkook might very well say yes when, really, he wants nothing more than to say no, and that's just unacceptable. They can't have that – Jimin won't allow it.

Yoongi seems to be having similar thoughts.

The gremlin has been silent for a few seconds, but now he's squinting at Namjoon, as if considering something. “You know what? Write your questions down. Everything you want to know. I'll look through them and tick off the ones that are okay to ask. But you don't get to ask anything else. Deal?”

Namjoon doesn't even think it over, just breaks into a happy grin while giving Yoongi a thumps up. “Deal.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes, but like always, it's fond.

“By the way, why did Jin-hyung say he needed at least you two here to handle any possible issues?” Namjoon asks after a few minutes of them just comfortably listening to the soothing ambient music and the distant chatter of creatures, the sounds melting together into a relaxing background noise.

“Because we're the most responsible,” Yoongi replies like it's a given fact, an undeniable truth – like he's daring Namjoon to try and argue with that.

“I'm responsible,” Namjoon mutters defensively. “I can handle things too, and uh, possible issues. Those. Or other issues. Those too. Any issues, I can handle them. I'm responsible.”

“Of course you are,” Jimin coos at him, kissing along his jaw with restrained fervour since they're still kind of in public.

Yoongi snorts. “You're a safety hazard, is what you are.”

“I'm not,” Namjoon denies stubbornly, but the way Jimin feels him slowly deflate underneath him contradicts his words. “I mean, I've been doing better lately. I didn't run into any door frames this whole week.”

“Congrats, Joon. So proud of you,” Yoongi tells him with no emotion in his voice. “And you definitely didn't almost knock a whole tray full of dishes off the counter while passing it earlier. That was definitely the tray's fault for being in your way and not moving at all.”

Oddly enough, Namjoon is smiling, magic nearly vibrating with excitement. “I've learned what sarcasm is. I've been studying it, so I can tell. You're being sarcastic right now.” He sounds very proud of himself. Jimin pecks him behind his ear to let him know that he's proud of him as well.

Yoongi leans back against the counter behind him as he crosses his arms over his chest, raising a brow. “Are you sure?”

Namjoon opens his mouth, but only to close it again, uncertainty making his brows furrow. He helplessly glances at Jimin, whose face is close to his as he's resting his chin on Namjoon's shoulder.

“Hyung, don't be mean. Stop confusing him,” Jimin chides half-heartedly, squishing Namjoon in his arms as he briefly forgets about his strength.

“I am mean, that's my thing.” Yoongi chuckles under his breath. “That's how I show you that I care. By being mean to you. It's, uh, a particular brand of affection.”

“Is it? Or is it really just you trying to convince yourself that you're a tough cookie when, in reality, you're just a big softie,” Jimin snickers while Yoongi scrunches his nose in mock disgust.

“What are you talking about?” the gremlin scoffs, lips gone all pouty. “I'm the toughest cookie that fucking exists.”

“I liked those cookies Jin-hyung made last week,” Namjoon says. “With that soft filling? What are they called? Oh, or his gooey chocolate cakes? The tiny ones? Yeah, those are so good,” he nearly drools, entirely changing the topic, either on purpose or, which is more likely, his brain just simply registered the words “cookie” and “soft” and went an entire different direction with it, one that has nothing to do with the actual conversation going on.

Jimin can't help but smile fondly at Yoongi from over Namjoon's shoulder. “I liked them too, those cookies,” he says, smile turning into a grin. “The ones that are soft inside? They're my favourite.”

“Great, now I'm craving hyung's cookies,” Namjoon sighs sadly, oblivious to the underlying meaning in Jimin's words or the faint blush on Yoongi's cheeks. “You think hyung would make some for us tonight if I asked nicely? Oh, we can use the imp as an excuse, right? Hyung loves impressing strange creatures with his cooking and baking skills.”

“Namjoon. When have you ever had to actually try to persuade Jin-hyung? You think he'd deny you anything?” Yoongi asks him, a bit of disbelief in his voice because he probably never thought he'd have to say this. “Hyung's fucking weak when it comes to you. Just tell him pretty please and show him that cute dimpled smile of yours. He'll be baking trays of cookies. You'll be sick of 'em before you know it.”

Namjoon seems to consider this for a moment before shaking his head with a sad little pout. “He stopped me from talking to Jungkook though.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “That's because he's got those big doe eyes and hyung's magic would probably go up in flames if they were to go any wider or fill with tears because you asked him the wrong question. We can't have hyung turning into a fire hazard, can we? That'd be bad.”

Namjoon nods in understanding. “He does have big eyes, you're right.” A short, suspicious moment of silence. “Do you think that's an imp thing or–”

“Namjoon, please,” Yoongi sighs tiredly. “Just– please. Stop.”

“Hearing that without context is kinda weird.”

All their heads turn to see Hoseok saunter out of the kitchen, one hand on his hip, the other holding a piece of paper. Good. Jimin was starting to worry about the lack of elf this morning.

“Since, you know, the last time I heard you say those exact words you didn't actually mean for either of us to stop,” Hoseok says, lazy smirk tugging at his lips as he joins them at the counter. He waves the paper in the air, Jimin absently recognising it as a delivery receipt. “Most of the deliveries came by the way and all those boxes are blocking the entryway to the stairs. Someone mind helping me move them?”

“They didn't move them themselves?” Yoongi frowns.

Hoseok tugs a strand of light blond hair behind his pointed ear and meets the gremlin's eyes. “Uh, they're supposed to do that?”

“Yes, Hoseok, they are,” Yoongi huffs, exasperated. “That's part of their fucking job, we pay them for that. They're not supposed to just leave all that shit where we don't need it.”

Hoseok's mouth draws into a thin line. “Well, I didn't know that.” He shrugs. “Anyway. Someone here gonna help me with that?”

Namjoon perks up, rustling Jimin with the movement. “I can–

“Oh, if only we had a gnome that can carry the sevenfold of his weight and wouldn't mind helping little old me with moving some heavy boxes?” Hoseok asks theatrically, meeting Jimin's eyes with a raised brow, as if to say, I'm obviously talking about you, get over here already

“Oh, right. Let me help you with that, hyung.”

“Thank you, Jimin,” Hoseok says, but he's looking at Yoongi. “See. This is why he's my favourite.”

“You just have a strength kink,” Yoongi scoffs.

Hoseok shrugs nonchalantly. “Do you want me to deny that?”

“I thought Tae was your favourite,” Jimin mentions as he makes his way over to Hoseok after begrudgingly unwrapping himself from around Namjoon, tightening the knot of the dark green apron around his waist that had loosened slightly.

“And here I thought I was your favourite,” Yoongi says, but it doesn't sound like he cares at all, voice all but monotone.

“Really depends on the weather and what mood I'm in,” Hoseok smiles, winking at Yoongi, who just scoffs again in response. Jimin can't help his own amused smile when he sees the tips of Yoongi's ears turn red right as he turns around to brew himself some coffee, muttering a string of profanities under his breath that Jimin would not like to repeat.

Hoseok chuckles, always just as humoured as he is enamoured by their small hyung's shyness, and grabs Jimin's wrist. “We'll be quick,” he tells the others as he leads Jimin into the kitchen.

“Whatever. Take your time,” Jimin manages to hear Yoongi mutter just before the door shuts behind him.

Inside the kitchen, Jimin finds Hoseok's words to be true; there are several stacks of boxes blocking the way to the stairs. The gnome rolls up his sleeves, focused on getting this newly given task done as quickly as possible, and goes to lift an entire stack at once. Meanwhile, Hoseok doesn't even attempt to lift more than one box, muscles in his arms straining a little even with that. Jimin supposes they're pretty heavy, but well, he can't really tell.

And so the two continue to move all the boxes in front of the elevator, Jimin moving most of them, but Hoseok is the only one sweating and out of breath by the end of it. Jimin tells him to take a break and leave the rest to him, which the elf readily accepts.

Hoseok is leaning against the sink on the other side of the elevator, idly watching Jimin do all the labour by himself; fitting box after box inside the elevator to get them down to the cellar (it's like Tetris, trying to fit as many of those boxes as possible inside the metallic square while also considering the weight limit). There's a smitten smile on Hoseok's face when the gnome takes a glance at him, and it has him smiling as well. Jimin briefly averts his gaze to lift another box, shoving it into the far back of the elevator, and when he turns back around, the smile is gone from Hoseok's face, replaced by slightly furrowed brows and a tense jaw.

“Hyung?”

Hoseok meets his eyes and sighs. He crosses his arms in front of his chest, fingers digging into his upper arm as he lowers his gaze to the floor. All of that is screaming discomfort and defensiveness, and it has Jimin worrying his bottom lip between his teeth in anticipation. He can already guess what this might be about.

And he's right – turns out, Hoseok is still not too happy about a specific imp's presence. He's still concerned or upset or whatever it is that he's feeling, and it makes Jimin want to shake some sense into him, make him understand that he can stop now. He can drop the act now (please let it be an act). It's not funny anymore, never was. Discrimination isn't a joke.

And yet here's Jimin hoping that this is all just some kind of messed up joke. Hoseok can't really hate Jungkook just because he's an imp, right?

“Does Tae– did he really say he doesn't mind him? That he doesn't mind that imp being here? He really said that?” Hoseok asks in a small low voice, sounding and looking so much unlike himself; hesitant and solemn and unsure of himself. His words, his tone, and even just the way he's standing there with his eyes averted and his arms wrapped around himself… Jimin has never quite seen him like this. He doesn't like it.

“Jungkook. He's called Jungkook, hyung,” Jimin reminds him, admittedly sounding a little exasperated. He picks up another box and turns around again to roughly shove it inside the elevator, letting a bit of his accumulating frustration out on the innocent inanimate object. “Why do you gotta be like this? You know his name, I know you do.” Jimin huffs, facing Hoseok with his hands placed on his hips. “And yes, he doesn't mind. Tae doesn't mind him at all.”

You're the only one who does, Jimin thinks but doesn't say.

Hoseok doesn't seem to believe him; the elf looks all but unimpressed. Jimin sighs, hands sliding off his hips to hang limply at his sides. “Hyung, he really doesn't mind. I made sure to ask him first thing this morning and he said he's not concerned about him being a threat, never was. Even when he saw him in Yoongi-hyung's bed without any context. He just…”

Jimin recalls the fairy's genuine upset because he thought Yoongi was hogging Jungkook, not because he was sharing his bed with a strange creature.

“Tae thought hyung's cheating on us, and the only thing that bothered him about that was that he's not sharing with the rest of us, not the fact that he's supposedly cheating.” Jimin chuckles quietly. “Can you believe that?”

Hoseok exhales slowly through his nose, seeming not as amused as Jimin expected him to be, or at least hoped he would be. “I'm afraid I can. I do believe that. Of course he'd be more concerned about that than what he should actually be concerned about. That's why things went so wrong the last time we had a strange creature over. Tae has no sense of self-preservation, and you know that.” Oh, Jimin knows that very well, and his expression must show that he does. Hoseok's eyes soften. “That's why we have to be extra careful from now on. We can't let it happen again. We owe him that.”

Oh, Jimin owes him way more than that.

The gnome lets out a mirthless little chuckle. “Come on, you can't seriously still be convinced that he's a threat. He's the least threatening creature I've ever seen, how can you…” Jimin is shaking his head. “Hyung. Let's be honest, can we? You wouldn't have let him sleep next to Yoongi-hyung if you genuinely believed he might harm us, or am I wrong? Tell me I'm wrong. Even if you did, I wouldn't believe you.”

This seems to leave Hoseok without any response. Jimin knew it from the start, but Hoseok is starting to realise it only now– he must be. Although he's seemingly struggling to accept it, for whatever reason. But the elf can't deny it anymore – Jungkook is harmless, and he's not here to hurt them. On the contrary, he's the one that's hurting, and Hoseok should be aware of that. He's the one who told them the extent of it. He's the one who saw it for himself. He should– he has to know, right?

Jimin doesn't know which would be worse – him being that ignorant or him knowing and acting like this regardless.

The silence is broken by a distant sharp noise that sounds suspiciously like something shattering– like porcelain plates shattering on the floor and breaking into tiny pieces. Jimin is very familiar with this particular sound and so are the others, unfortunately.

“Namjoon, I told you not to,” Jimin hears Yoongi muffled voice groan. He isn't shouting (he never raises his voice at them). He doesn't even sound angry, just disappointed. Maybe a bit tired. “Don't look at me like that, I'm not Jin-hyung. It won't work with me. Nope, no no no– leave it. Don't touch anything, you'll cut yourself. Let hyung clean this up. You just sit there and– stay put.”

And then–

“Did Tae see his soul?”

Jimin frowns. That's a stupid question, and by the way Hoseok is avoiding his eyes, Jimin can tell that he knows that as well.

“You know he did,” Jimin says slowly, eyeing the elf suspiciously. “It's not like he can control or just turn it off or something.” Unlike elves, who can make the decision whether they want to see and what it is they want to see, then look for it. Fairies can't adjust their vision like that; they can't make their eyes not see another creature's soul.

Maybe they're like imps in that sense, Jimin thinks. Hoseok mentioned before that their fast healing is not something they can control. It's not an ability, nothing that they consciously do or have any influence over, but it's simply how their body works. Seeing souls might be like that too – it might simply be how fairies see the world and the creatures in it.

“Right,” Hoseok mutters, appearing to be deep in thought. Jimin is almost a hundred percent sure that he's trying to think of more things to argue why Jungkook needs to leave. Luckily, it seems like he can't find any because all he does is repeat the obvious.

“So he saw his soul and still he didn't mind being alone with him?” Hoseok says, frowning.

Yes.” Jimin huffs out a humourless laugh. “Yes, he doesn't mind, and to be honest, I think he does more than not mind him.” Jimin briefly considers whether to mention it or not, then decides to just say it. “I think he might even like him.”

Hoseok scoffs and raises a brow at Jimin. “Oh, does he now, yeah? Really?”

Jimin just shrugs. “He said his soul looks pretty, and we're the only ones he calls pretty, you ever noticed that? Him calling Jungkook's soul pretty, that's almost the same as saying that he likes him, isn't it?”

“He– what?” Hoseok falters. “What does that even mean? What's a pretty soul?”

“A pretty soul is a soul… that looks pretty, obviously.” Jimin throws his hands in the air. “Geez, I don't know.” He drops his arms and sighs, because of course Taehyung never really elaborated what he did mean with that, nor did anyone ask. And Taehyung has said many different things about many different souls, but not once has Jimin heard him call a soul pretty, which had sounded more like his personal opinion rather than a simple observation. “He also mentioned it being transparent. Now, I don't know what that means either, but it certainly doesn't sound very threatening to me. Does it to you?”

Hoseok doesn't answer that. Instead, he asks, “He really said that?”

Jimin takes a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “Yes. Yes, hyung, he did. Word for word, he said that. Why is that so hard for you to comprehend? I don't get it.“

Hoseok is frowning again. “But it doesn't make any sense.”

Jimin scoffs in disbelief. “No, hyung, it's you. You're not making any sense. Yoongi-hyung was right. At this point, we're just talking in circles.”

Hoseok doesn't seem to hear him, too busy scowling at the floor as he's having some sort of epiphany or internal meltdown or crisis or– Jimin isn't sure what it is, but either way, Hoseok definitely appears to be going through something.

“So Taehyung really is fine with him. He really doesn't mind him.” They're not even questions anymore, but statements that are formulated with a lot of uncertainty and disbelief. And god, Hoseok sounds so taken aback, like he didn't expect that at all, like he never even considered that a possibility, which is… odd.

“He does,” Jimin confirms yet again, eyeing Hoseok carefully. “And I do too. Jungkook, he– he's really sweet. He's… he's just very scared and injured and– hyung, he just needs help.” Jimin waits for Hoseok to meet his eyes so he can see the resolve in them. “He needs our help. And, um, since we're already talking about him being hurt… so, I thought you could, like, you know…”

“Heal him.” Hoseok finishes. He just sounds oddly defeated now – the way he does when he wants to indulge them but can't. Jimin's heart sinks a little, already seeing the rejection in Hoseok's eyes, hearing it in his tone, the way he's speaking slowly, carefully – like he too knows that Jimin might not want to hear this. “Help him heal even faster, have all his injuries gone – that's what you want me to do.”

Jimin licks his lips anxiously. “Um, yeah, basically. So–“

“Because he's hurt and you can't stand the thought of not being able to help.” He really does sound defeated. Jimin's heart stumbles a bit, now really growing concerned why that might be.

“I, uh– I guess, yeah. Yeah,” Jimin confirms. “He's in pain. I don't want him to be in pain when we can do something about it. It's… it's only natural.”

But Hoseok is shaking his head now, expression sympathetic. “It doesn't work like that.”

“It doesn't…” Jimin deflates, his hope to be able and convince Hoseok to at least heal Jungkook's leg turning into disappointment, weighting him down like tons of bricks. “But– why? Is it that– do you just not want to? You– you hate imps that much?”

“No. No, I mean– it's not like that. It's not…” Hoseok sighs, sounding a bit frustrated, but also apologetic. He's not happy about this either – although, apparently, for an entirely different reason. “If I could, I would have just healed him right away and he wouldn't even be our problem anymore. And also, I'm not that cruel that I wouldn't heal him just because I don't like him. But either way, it's simply not possible. I can't help him, nor can you. Magic can't. We can't help him like that.”

“What… what do you mean we can't help him? Why can't we help him?” Jimin asks frantically, wondering anxiously – is Hoseok saying that because he thinks Jungkook wouldn't accept his help? Jimin will admit, he turned out to be a more difficult patient than expected, but surely they can convince him, or find some kind of compromise? Jimin's not one to give up so easily. If he's anything, it's stubborn.

Jungkook might be saying that he doesn't want any more of his potions or that doesn't need any treatment now, but once he's all healed up and free of pain, he'll realise how silly it was to refuse their help. He'll thank them later, afterwards. But right now, he's scared and overwhelmed – he doesn't know any better, nor does he know what's best for him. He's in no state to be making such decisions, which is why they need to make them for him.

Right?

It doesn't matter what pretty morals Yoongi wants to hold onto, Jimin stops caring about those when it comes to sickness and injury. The proper and timely treatment of those is more important to him in that moment than comfort and consent. Because, as much as he'd like to consider them as well, sometimes the situation just doesn't allow it.

Jimin's not wrong thinking like that, is he?

If another living being is in pain, you don't just watch them suffer – you help them. It's not that complicated. God, Jimin just wants to help him stop hurting. Why– just why is that so hard to understand?

Turns out, it is a bit more complicated than that.

“I already mentioned this, but imps' bodies are very strange. They don't die if fatally injured by any ordinary weapon, but magic can easily kill them. Something about strange magic entering their bodies keeps them from healing. My healing powers won't work on him. I… I tried it before.” Hoseok pauses and there's something in his eyes, something sad and pained. Is it regret? Or resentment? It might be grief. “I tried healing an imp before. It didn't work. Nothing happened. My abilities did nothing to help and theirs just… stopped. Their body just stops healing altogether. It's weird. They're weird creatures.”

Jimin hasn't heard half of what Hoseok just said, the pounding of his own heart suddenly too loud in his ears. Strange magic entering their body keeps them from healing – he stopped listening after that and now it's all he can hear, as if the words are stuck on repeat inside his head. Over and over again, they echo, the meaning behind them growing sharper, like knifes, stabbing his already bleeding conscience and– oh god, this is not good. This might be bad. This might be very bad.

“Does…” Jimin tries to swallow around the thick lump in his throat, nearly choking. “D-Does that include potions?”

“Potions are basically ingestible magic, so yeah. But you know that.” Hoseok raises a questioning brow at the gnome.

He's right. He knew that. He knows that. He– he should have known that.

Jimin gulps, heart in his throat. “S-So… if I were to give Jungkook painkilling potion to– to help with the pain– not help him heal, but just to help with the pain, he would–“

“Not be in pain, but also not be able to heal,” Hoseok finishes, frowning now. “Why are you… oh.”

Jungkook is no longer in pain but… he's also not healing.

Jimin feels a little faint when he squeaks, miserably and more air than voice, “Oh my god...”

Why does it always have to be Jimin messing up? Why is it always him? Why can't he do anything right? For once, why can't he just…

“Jimin! Namjoon won't keep his ass seated, come sit on him please!” Yoongi's head appears in the door frame, eyes searching the kitchen before they land on Jimin and Hoseok in the far back. “And table four wants to pay by the way, so get your ass out here.”

Oh no.

“Jimin? Hey, what's wrong? You look pale.”

Oh no...

“Jimin? Okay, now you're starting to scare me. Really, what's wrong? Did something happen...? Hoseok, what's going on?”

Oh god, no…

Chapter Text

The first time Jungkook “died” will forever be one of his most memorable deaths. At that time, he had been aware that he healed ridiculously fast, but he hadn't known the full extent of his body's healing ability yet.

When Jungkook died for the very first time, he didn't even realise that that was what had happened at first.

One moment he was in so much pain that he was screaming so loud his vocal cords tore apart. The next he woke up feeling fuzzy and disorientated, still in a lot of pain, but something was different. Something felt wrong. When his head had lolled to the side and he regained some focus back, he saw a fist-sized lump-looking thing lying right next to him in a puddle of deep red liquid.

It took a while to realise that he was looking at his own heart that had been ripped out of his chest, discarded on the ground and dead. But Jungkook– he certainly wasn't dead. His heart lay next to him but he wasn't dead, and when he gathered enough strength to lift a hand and feel for the hole in his chest, he felt it… thump… thump… thump… another heart already beating inside of him.

Only then did he realise – ah, he had died. He had been dead, and now, he wasn't anymore. How strange.

It's curious, Jungkook thinks, even to him, the way his body heals; how lethal injuries heal within moments; how broken bones and skin and torn flesh would be as good as new the next day; how, the less life-threatening the injury, the longer they take to heal, simple bruises and cuts healing at, what he assumes, an almost normal pace.

How he can loose large amounts of blood and never really bleed out.

How severed body parts will reattach themselves or just regrow like it's nothing.

How… his entire heart can be ripped out of his chest and he'll just wake up with another one.

It is all so curious in a way that would often make a bitter smile tug at Jungkook's lips as his eyes burnt hot with unshed tears – because how ironic is it to not be able to die when he believed it to be the only escape from this hellish thing that his life had become.

How amusing, he had thought that one time, when the loss of blood and bone-deep exhaustion had made him laugh out loud deliriously, convinced he was finally losing his mind.

And oh, let Jungkook tell you how much his master had enjoyed that particular trait about him when he had witnessed it for the first time, so delighted that he wouldn't have to deal with any consequences when he once again lost control and overdid it; that he could have “all the fun he wanted” without holding back. Jungkook slowly started to notice the elf's gaze linger on his body, bruised all over and limping, his eyes following him as if considering, as if thinking what else can I do to him? How else can I hurt him? What would break him?

But these creatures weren't looking at him like that. All he could see in their eyes was concern and upset, but they didn't seem upset with him, and that's the part that seems so strange to him – if not with him, why were they upset?

Because he's an imp? Because of his injuries? Because of his body being able to heal said injuries? They mentioned that the elf had looked at them. They know what he's recovered from, the things done to him that weren't visible to the naked eye. They know.

Do they resent him? Do they resent him having survived all of that? Why a worthless imp like him, right? His master had often talked about how much of a waste it was of nature to have given such a “gift” to imps of all creatures, but all Jungkook could think was how funny it is that he'd call this curse of his a gift.

It is funny, Jungkook still thinks, how creatures consider it a blessing to be unable to die when it only ever made him suffer; how they could be envious at all of that cursed body of his when he was so envious of their underappreciated mortality.

But no. Jungkook doesn't want to die. Not anymore. Not after how far he's come.

He can't tell how much healing his body has already done, or how much it has left to do; can't feel too much of the pain right now anyway, which is nice, truly a relief, it is – but he also can't feel his magic, which, quite honestly, is starting to make him feel a little anxious. It's… disconcerting. Very concerning, actually. This has never happened to him before and, moreover, it can't be normal. He should be scared. Because, normally, even when he completely suppresses his magic, Jungkook would still be able to feel it flickering deep inside his chest, flowing through his veins to his heart, a gentle and soothing warmth that's always there to reassure him.

And now it's gone. Now it's cold inside his chest and it's spreading through his body like a disease and to his limps, into his very fingertips.

Jungkook knows his magic is considered weak, possibly the weakest out there. It must feel weak to others, but to him, it has never felt like that– like this… and he doesn't like it.

Jungkook always thought he'd prefer to feel nothing rather than anything at all, but he hadn't known that feeling nothing would be this scary.

This cold– it's making him feel numb.

Jungkook's butt certainly does feel numb, but that has nothing to do with the absence of his magic. No, that has more to do with the absence of movement that he's sure is about to drive him crazy.

He's been sitting in the same position for way too long, the soft mattress underneath him not helping much when he shifts to try and regain some feeling in his cheeks, yet all he does is sink further. It's like sitting on clouds, except he can't tell where the clouds end and his body begins, which is really not that comfortable.

He can't sit still anymore; it's driving him nuts.

Jungkook doesn't like doing nothing; he's not used to it. He's never been the best at keeping still, unless unconscious, as it makes him feel restless. He's always moving or keeping himself busy in some way, and when he can't do that, he starts fidgeting and twitching – tapping his foot, playing with his fingers or sweater paws, chewing on his lip, rocking back and forth, shaking his leg– anything.

Jungkook can't keep still– never could, even when he got reprimanded for it with either harsh words or a few slaps to the face. Actually, getting reprimanded only made him even more fidgety and twitchy. Being punished for something he couldn't help had, unsurprisingly, not helped getting rid of those nervous habits but worsened them, if anything. Jungkook now often finds himself sitting on his hands in an attempt to keep still, and it works – it works until, inevitably, he gets distracted or lost in thought and forgets, already fidgeting again without having noticed.

So Jungkook can't help but wonder whether they'll scold him too, these creatures that have been so kind to him so far. Probably not, seeing as he won't be staying that long anyway, right? Reminds him that he's got nowhere to go now.

Right. That's a thing now; a thing that he'd have to figure out sooner or later. He's got no place to stay and he doesn't know anyone… can't remember if he does, that is.

Jungkook squirms, still trying to get some feeling back in his cheeks and trying to push those thoughts to the back of his mind to figure out (and likely fail to figure out) later. Oh, he really wants to just stand up and take a stroll, shapeshift and go for a run maybe, but he's not sure he can in his current state. If he really had to, he'd probably be able to, but he also probably shouldn't. The ifrit was right. He really needs to rest, and as uncomfortable and restless as he's starting to get, the soft mattress and the not-moving-around-too-much is what his sore body truly needs right now.

Jungkook can't understand how the fairy has as good as not moved at all this entire time, just sitting next to him on the giant bed (the same he woke up in, he recalls, Yoongi's) and keeping enough space that another body would fit between them. He's being the perfect embodiment of calm and collected – a state of being that Jungkook has yet to achieve and probably won't ever be able to achieve.

The pretty– the gnome– Jimin carried him up the stairs again, just like he had carried him downstairs not too long ago (he thinks it wasn't too long ago, but time's still very confusing to him; he can't tell). But something was different this time.

Jungkook couldn't help but notice the gnome's hesitance, taking a moment before he hoisted him onto his back in one smooth move, still with an ease that had the imp all flustered, considering he is neither small nor a light-weight and Jimin's not exactly big either. His smaller frame makes it easy to forget that gnomes are ridiculously strong, and so, even though he shouldn't at this point, Jungkook had marvelled at Jimin's strength when he had carried him up the stairs like he weighed nothing, laying him gently down on the bed like he's something precious.

For a moment, Jungkook had almost believed it. For a moment, he hadn't felt like his body was too big for him, like he might be the right size. But only for a fleeting moment, and then he had remembered who he was and why he was here, and just as quickly as it had come, that feeling was gone, replaced with an even deeper emptiness.

Jungkook understands that the others had to leave for work (it sounded like they run a café, which is kinda odd considering they live in the middle of nowhere) and he gets why they wouldn't want to leave a strange creature alone in their home, he wouldn't either – if he had a home, that is.

What he can't comprehend is why exactly they're letting him stay in the first place. Jungkook expected them to make sure he'd be gone by now. It's light outside. They said it's too dangerous for him to leave because it was night and the forest is not safe at night. Wasn't that the sole reason they couldn't kick him out when the elf had asked them to? It's not night anymore, so why is he still here?

They seem to pity him, that must be why. Maybe they know how lost he is; that he's got nowhere to go and nobody to lean on. Maybe him being an imp is enough for them to know that he won't receive any hospitality elsewhere. Jungkook can't remember anyone ever pitying him, but he supposes, considering the impression he's made so far (bursting into tears in front of them, passing out in front of them, freaking out in front of them), he must look rather pathetic in their eyes. He's a mess, let's be honest. Such a mess…

Jungkook is used to creatures looking down on him with disgust in their eyes, mouths downturned in clear distaste, treating him like a rug beneath their feet. Hatred too, once, although Jungkook doesn't think he had done anything to deserve so much of it. His master had rarely anyone over at the mansion, but when he did bring someone, it was never a pleasant experience for Jungkook. The nicest of them were those that had been rather indifferent about him or just downright ignored him. He always preferred feeling invisible over feeling like an object being showcased.

Being the centre of attention makes him feel sick now, he's come to realise, and it makes his hands shake and heart race and thoughts spin; makes him trip over his words like an idiot.

His hands are currently shaking too, or maybe they're still shaking from earlier; he's not too sure. Either way, he is now alone with the fairy– with Taehyung, who doesn't seem bothered by the silence, but looks relaxed, idly nipping at the mug cradled in his hands and apparently unperturbed to have been left alone with a strange creature. Much unlike Jungkook, who can feel the silence like a pair of hands wrapping around his throat (don't think about it don't think about it don't–) and making it hard to breathe. And yes, it has his hands shaking, tremors running through his body and making him shudder – but that might also be because of the other's frosty magic hovering around them like mist.

He must be a winter fairy. Jungkook has read a little about each season's fairy and their very different temperaments, but he's only ever met a summer fairy. She hadn't been… very nice. One glance at him and her pretty face had distorted into something ugly and mean, repulsed by the mere sight of his soul. Jungkook still remembers how her nails would always be freshly manicured, the ends sharp enough to break skin and make him bleed. He had learned through her that summer fairies weren't all flowers and sunshine like one might expect. Not even slightly.

Taehyung seems… Jungkook doesn't really know, actually. He makes him nervous. They all make him nervous, but the others haven't been so silent. They talk a lot, is what he got so far. Constant chatter and loud voices, which he thinks he likes, but isn't used to.

Taehyung hasn't said a word since the others left.

Jungkook doesn't know how to read Taehyung's silence, but it feels intentional. It's not an awkward silence, not for the fairy. It's not a silence created by lack of words, but by lack of any need for them; there's purpose in Taehyung's silence. Jungkook feels like there's purpose in anything Taehyung does, or doesn't do, or at least that's the impression he's got so far. He's hard to read though so Jungkook has his doubts. Maybe he just doesn't want to talk with an imp now that it's just the two of them. Maybe, without his mates here, Jungkook isn't worth his words.

Wouldn't be the first time he'd be given the silent treatment.

Jungkook cautiously eyes the fairy, whose lips are practically glued to the rim of his mug as he's either staring very intently at something or simply staring off into space and looking at nothing in particular. Jungkook watches him just sitting there like that, in all of his ethereal beauty and aloofness, seemingly not caring about his presence at all, but then Jungkook's nose twitches, catching a whiff of something sweet and– oh, it might not be tea that he assumed is steaming in the fairy's mug but hot chocolate.

Hmm. Chocolate.

Jungkook doesn't know if imps just have a sweet tooth, but he's often craving anything with lots of sugar in it. Every now and then, his master would throw a chocolate bar at him as a reward of some sorts, a treat, making Jungkook feel like a dog, just some pet. Despite feeling awfully humiliated, Jungkook would still eat the chocolate; he'd cradle it to his chest and scramble to hide somewhere before frantically shoving the chocolate bar in his mouth, loving how the sweetness slowly melted on his tongue while crying ugly tears that tasted salty on his lips. Afterwards, he would just sit there for a while, overwhelmed by a sudden wave of intense self-hatred that left him paralysed.

It never made him love chocolate any less though.

Jungkook sniffs the air some more and, immediately, Taehyung's eyes meet his. He places the mug on the bedside table and moves on the bed so that he's facing him, sitting with his legs crossed. The corners of his mouth lift the slightest bit, the ghost of a smile adorning his lips, the glint in his eyes softening.

Jungkook had realised, when he managed to hold the fairy's gaze for a bit earlier at the dinning table, that what he thought to be an icy glare was just a curious stare, and it had calmed him down a lot when he considered the possibility that Taehyung might be looking at Jungkook the same way Jungkook was looking at Taehyung; that, maybe, winter fairies aren't all icy attitude and frozen expressions like the books made them out to be, just like how Jungkook has never really felt the need to cause mischief even though he's an imp.

“So,” Taehyung starts, tilting his head a little. Jungkook is mimicking the gesture without realising, tilting his head as well, but in the opposite direction. Taehyung's smile grows bigger, an actual smile now, if small, and Jungkook feels a little breathless, his heart stuttering in his chest.

“Do you like video games?”

“Video… games?” Jungkook repeats timidly.

Taehyung nods, eyes big and expectant. “Yes.”

Jungkook looks at him like a doe caught in headlines, wide-eyed and motionless. He shrugs, small and meek, and for some reason, for Taehyung, that is enough of an answer to jump into action.

Taehyung scrambles off the bed and rounds it, coming to a halt on the other side where Jungkook is still sitting, not quite understanding what is happening now.

“Let's go,” the fairy tells him and pulls the thick blanket off his legs. Jungkook trembles, feeling much less safe with his legs exposed. He tries not to think of mean hands grabbing his ankle and clumsily scoots to the edge of the bed.

Fairies are certainly not as strong as gnomes or jinn, not nearly as, so Jungkook's not too surprised that Taehyung doesn't insist on carrying him like the others had, doesn't even offer. Instead, he helps Jungkook stand and lends him his shoulder to lean onto, like Yoongi had to get him to the bathroom.

Jungkook finds that the fairy's body feels unexpectedly warm when he tentatively wraps his arm around Taehyung's neck. There's a short moment where neither of them moves, but then Taehyung's hand wraps around his wrist to hold him steady, his other arm wrapping around Jungkook's waist. It's almost as if he waited for Jungkook to touch him first before touching him too, but Jungkook quickly reminds himself to better not read too much into it.

Regardless, a weird sensation spreads in Jungkook's chest, warm and fuzzy and strange. Jungkook blinks slowly as he frowns down at his chest, confused as to what's going on. It doesn't feel like his magic. No, that's still gone.

How weird.

Jungkook doesn't get the chance to further contemplate it because there's a more pressing issue making its way to the front of his mind as they make their way through the door and that is– he's really not sure he's allowed to leave the gremlin's room.

The ifrit had clearly said to stay in bed and rest. Jungkook vividly remembers his words and he wants to remind the fairy, because maybe he hadn't heard or has simply forgotten, but they're already near the stairs and Taehyung seems weirdly excited and Jungkook just can't get his mouth open to get the words out.

His discomfort must have shown either way because Taehyung is quick to explain, thinking Jungkook might be confused as to why they're going downstairs. “My gaming console is in the living room 'cause hyung–” (Jungkook assumes he means the ifrit) “–confiscated it after I kept staying up all night playing,” Taehyung tells him as they carefully take one step at a time, “so it's his fault we have to go there to play. I'll show you my room some other time.”

Jungkook can't even start to ponder the implications of “some other time” because the further they get from the room he was clearly instructed to stay in, the more nervous he gets, thoughts racing. They might have been nice to him so far, but surely that kindness will stop once he gives them a reason to be upset with him – and disobeying an order, a simple one at that, would definitely upset them, right? Surely, he was told to stay in that room so he wouldn't think of leaving without notice again like he had when he needed the bathroom. They couldn't have been too happy about a strange creature– an imp roaming freely inside their home. Their elf certainly hadn't been…

“W-We should go back,” Jungkook stammers, skittishly looking around in fear of being caught, his heart and breathing speeding up as he does, and it's not because he's trying not to trip and fall down the stairs, although his feet do feel kind of heavy. Actually, his entire body feels very heavy. It's hard to navigate his limbs like this, feels like he's moving in slow-motion. “Please– let's– let's go back, please.”

Taehyung stops dead in his tracks to eye Jungkook curiously. Jungkook falters a little, but the fairy's hands are there to steady him. “What is it?”

“I, uh, I d-don't think this is a… good idea,” Jungkook mutters sheepishly.

“What?” Taehyung's eyebrows twitch. Jungkook is holding his breath. “Why? You don't want to play?” The corners of his mouth pull into somewhat of a sad pout and Jungkook is taken aback by the genuine upset in the fairy's voice.

Jungkook shakes his head, feeling light-headed. “N-No– I– I mean… he said– he told me to stay in bed, so I– so I should, um… s-stay in that bed…”

The ifrit's words echo inside his head – not a good idea to take him with us… stay in bed and rest… might get odd looks with his face so bruised. He had not directly said it to him, yeah, but Jungkook is used to creatures talking about him in his presence like he's not there. It doesn't matter. Even if not directly spoken to, he is still expected to listen and do as told; many beatings had taught him that.

The ifrit has made it clear that he's the one with the most authority, and that's not really surprising seeing as he's the most powerful creature here. The others hadn't objected to him having the last word either – all the more reason why Jungkook should do as he said and stay in bed and rest.

Is Taehyung– is he testing him?

Something in the fairy's expression shifts then, his piercing gaze softening in sudden understanding. What he's come to understand, Jungkook doesn't know, but whatever it is, it's made his light eyes dim and soft expression turn grim.

“Those weren't orders, Jungkook,” he says quietly, but the words sound loudly in Jungkook's ears; they hang heavily in the air.

Before the words can get any heavier and threaten to smother them, they start moving again – meaning Taehyung is moving and Jungkook has no other choice but to move with him. Taehyung continues talking as they make it down the stairs. “Those weren't orders. That was just Jin-hyung talking while in hyung-mode. It's what he does. But don't misunderstand. What he said about having authority and stuff, don't mind that. Hyung doesn't mean half of the things he says… ah, but I guess you'd have to know him to be able to tell when he's actually being serious, so it makes sense why you're confused.”

Taehyung nods to himself, then stops to glance at Jungkook's bruised face, eyes landing on his split lip. Jungkook expects them to move further down to his throat, but they don't. They move back up, icy blue eyes meeting his warm brown ones before he looks straight ahead again, leading the way.

“You do need to rest, but I don't see why it would matter where you rest. You can rest on the couch while we play…” Taehyung pauses again. He does it a lot in-between talking, Jungkook notes. “You know… you shouldn't blindly listen to what others say thinking they know what's best for you when they don't really know you. It makes it easy for them to take advantage of you…” Another pause. A small frown. “Jimin says it's just that I'm being rebellious, but I don't see it. I… just don't like others thinking they can tell me what to do. Makes me want to do the opposite, you know?”

No, Jungkook doesn't know, not really. Doing anything except what he's been told to has never been an option, especially since he'd know from experience what consequences he'd have to face if he did defy. So he listened. He tried to behave. He did as he was told and never complained. But it was never enough– he was never enough because somehow, he'd still manage to fuck up and anger his master. He'd still be punished, despite trying his damnedest to submit and endure.

The elf's mood swings had been bad like that, unpredictable and dangerous, and so it wasn't unusual that he wouldn't mind something one day, but the next, it would suddenly get on his nerves and he'd lash out. The rules seemed to change all the time, and the uncertainty would always keep Jungkook on his toes, causing him permanent anxiety, his poor little heart always ready to leap out his chest at the smallest noise, the constant threat of violence at the smallest mistake– mistakes that he wouldn't be able to tell were even mistakes until it was too late.

Him just looking the wrong way would trigger the elf on some days. Simply crossing paths with him when he didn't want to see the sight of Jungkook that day would make his eye twitch dangerously, and the next thing Jungkook knows, he's being slammed against the next wall or grabbed by the neck and thrown to the floor, followed by the cacophony of his own ripped out screams and choked up whimpers and ragged breathing, his master's pleased humming, mean words and laughter a constant and cruel accompaniment. He can still hear the wet splatter of warm blood and mind-numbing cracks of broken bones, then the sudden silence when it all becomes too much and everything fades to black–

Jungkook shuts his eyes tightly and takes a deep breath, exhaling shakily. It works. A little. He's fine. He's still here, and most importantly, he's not there anymore. He's not.

Honestly, Jungkook can't remember anymore when exactly, but at some point, doing anything but what he's been told to do wouldn't even cross his mind. The thought of “what if I don't” just stopped crossing his mind eventually because there was no “what if”, Jungkook knew exactly what would happen. Any kind of defiance would only mean more pain.

That is, until yesterday happened and, suddenly, there were hands wrapped around his throat– and yes, those hands had done that many times before, more times than he could count, but this time, something had been different. His instincts and magic had been screeching in alarm, senses going into overdrive as everything in him was screaming at him to get the fuck away and run as fast and far as he can, to just get out get out get out–

And he made it out. He did– he… he really did. And now he's here and everything will be fine. Nothing will ever be as bad as the last… how much time had he even spent in that god forsaken mansion? He can't tell.

This is not the mansion and Taehyung is telling him right now that their words aren't orders. He's basically saying that it's okay to disobey and do as he pleases, and even though his heart is beating desperately in his chest and his hands are still shaking, those very same instincts are quiet now. It's so confusing. Jungkook doesn't know what to believe, if the fairy is being serious or not, and for the first time ever, Jungkook's magic isn't there to help him out.

“They left you with me, so… when I say it's fine to leave Yoongi-hyung's room, it's fine,” Taehyung says as he manoeuvres them though the living room, which, um… why are there so many plants? Jungkook tries to look at all of them, half of which he's never seen before (wait– is that one plant moving?), but looking around while walking turns out to be disorienting. He's already feeling dizzy when he stops twisting his neck to look at them and tries to focus on the soft-looking pastel-yellow couch, which he assumes is where they're headed.

“Jin-hyung… he'll be a bit upset when he finds out we moved downstairs with nobody here to carry you. That's unavoidable. But he'll get over it,” Taehyung says as he helps Jungkook sit on the couch – and yes, it is as soft as it looks, giving in under Jungkook's weight (and oh god, he might never be able to get up again).

“He's quick to burst, but he's also quick to forgive. Hyung's like that.”

Taehyung hasn't sat down. He's standing in front of Jungkook, who has to look up now to meet his eyes, automatically hunching his shoulders defensively, trying to make himself smaller underneath his gaze– starting to feel small, but not in a good way.

Jungkook hates what he's become…

“Hyung can't look me in the face and be upset.” Taehyung tells him for some reason. “I probably shouldn't be taking advantage of that. But I don't do it on purpose, not… always.” He shrugs. “Jimin disagrees. He says I know exactly what I'm doing, but… Jimin's worse though, you know? He's, like, small and squishy, so you don't expect it, but he can be really mean. Yoongi-hyung too… I have this theory. You wanna hear?”

Jungkook doesn't have enough time to nod jerkily before Taehyung just continues talking.

“The smaller the creature, the meaner they are. Pixies, for example. They're tiny, right?” He huffs softly, nose slightly scrunching up as a look of repulsion quickly flashes across his face. “Can't stand them. They're so mean… but I do love Jimin and Yoongi-hyung, even if their words hurt sometimes. Maybe because I like being the big spoon and they're the perfect size to wrap myself around. Jimin used to get upset whenever his size was mentioned, but he doesn't really mind so much anymore… being tall wouldn't suit him anyway. I mean, can you imagine Jimin being tall? I can't. Namjoon-hyung is the tallest and he could never be mean, which I think supports my theory… he's nice to hug too though. Maybe I just like hugs too much. Because, you know, Jimin's hugs hurt sometimes, but I still like them. Or maybe I just like Jimin too much. The others say they can't even tell our magic apart sometimes because it gets all tangled up.” Taehyung smiles softly and then, more quietly, like he's sharing a secret, he says, “I like it a lot when that happens…”

Taehyung continues rambling like that, jumping from topic to topic, some making sense to Jungkook and some less. Jungkook mindlessly nods along as Taehyung tells him about that one time Jimin and him held hands throughout an entire day (“A spell gone wrong got us stuck, but I loved every second of it. Jimin not so much.”) and then how he used to sleep-walk and woke up underneath the dinner table one morning with a really bad stomachache and covered in honey from head to toe (“Jimin was very upset. He ignored me for two whole hours. It was bad.”) before abruptly changing the topic to rainy seasons and why they're so great (“Yoongi-hyung gets really sensitive when it rains a lot. It's only then that he lets us spoil him without trying to fight it. I think I like it more when he tries to fight it though. It's cute and he never really tries that hard anyway.”).

This is so odd, Jungkook thinks and tries to listen to the ongoing chatter. He recalls Taehyung's previous aloofness, which has just disappeared like it never even existed in the first place. It's almost as if a switch has suddenly flipped; Taehyung was so quiet in the beginning, but now he won't stop talking.

The fairy's deep voice slowly becomes background noise as Jungkook wonders whether his own lack of words could have been the reason for that or if it's just that Taehyung had needed some time to get used to Jungkook's presence. Either way, it still doesn't feel like he's forcing himself to fill the silence between them. He doesn't seem like the type to force himself to do anything – the exact opposite of Jungkook, or at least the persona he's been forced to put on until, eventually, it became part of him and now he can't get rid of it.

Or has he always been like this? Jungkook can't even remember what he used to be like, who he is – maybe this is who he is? Anxious, timid, quiet, obedient– sad… lonely.

Maybe this is him, has always been him…

Jungkook doesn't want to think about that, but as he tries to chase those thoughts away, he realises with a start that Taehyung has stopped talking.

Shit.

Jungkook anxiously meets the fairy's eyes, only to find him silently staring at him. He shifts nervously in his seat, ready to apologise. He would have already, if only he could find the courage to utter a single word, but they all seem to come up his throat just to get stuck, making him feel like he's choking. Instead, he makes a small distressed sound, cheeks turning red in embarrassment when he hears himself.

Jungkook can't read the fairy's expression, but he's convinced that he's made him upset. He didn't listen, just rudely ignored what Taehyung was saying; the fairy has every right to be upset, and every right to let him know how upset. But maybe, if Jungkook shows that he's sorry, he won't hurt him too bad. He won't… he won't hurt him, will he?

Jungkook doesn't know. He doesn't know and it makes his hands shake again.

“Oh,” Taehyung says and Jungkook flinches, quickly averting his gaze to look down at his lap the way he had come to learn would occasionally help to not further provoke his master after he's somehow managed to make him angry again– Jungkook bites his lip hard, reopening the cut there, focuses on the pain instead.

But Taehyung is not his master, is he? And Taehyung told him that there are no orders to follow. He did say that but… it's just so hard to believe.

Jungkook dares to glance up at Taehyung, fingers fidgeting nervously in his lap – because what if he's wrong? What if he's awfully, horrifyingly, disastrously wrong? What if Taehyung is just messing with him, feeding him lies. What if his words are so hard to believe because they simply aren't true?

But, shockingly, Jungkook finds that the other isn't even standing in front of him anymore. Taehyung is sitting next to him on the couch and Jungkook's heart skips a long beat, thoughts racing as he wonders when he sat down and why he's sitting so close, what he's going to do sitting so close, how he's going to hurt him, how much it's going to hurt and if it will finally break him–

But Taehyung– Taehyung is still simply looking at him, meeting Jungkook at eye-level, expression soft and curious, and maybe a little concerned, and Jungkook can't help but wonder, why is it that they all look at him like that?

“You're really easy to read, you know? Your eyes, they're, like, really big and expressive.” Taehyung hums in thought as he stares into Jungkook's eyes. Jungkook stares right back, mesmerised. “I've never seen a soul so transparent … it's rather fascinating.” Taehyung smiles at him, eyes twinkling. “So pretty.”

Jungkook blushes, mouth slightly gaping before he shuts it close, flustered. He quickly averts his gaze. Trying to maintain eye contact with the fairy– it's too much right now. It's not good for Jungkook's heart, and that poor little organ's already under a lot of strain. No need to add to that.

“I think I was rambling earlier, but what I actually wanted to say is that… if hyung can't look at me when he scolds me, I think, then he won't stand a chance against those pretty doe eyes of yours. We're safe,” Taehyung grins mischievously, and Jungkook can't follow. Why would a creature as beautiful as Taehyung call him pretty? Especially when he's got mates that are so much prettier? (Jungkook tries not to think of the gnome's smile or the gremlin's voice, but ends up thinking of the ifrit's lips and– that's not much better).

His head hurts, trying to understand, throbbing to the rhythm of his heart. Actually, everything is slowly starting to hurt again – his leg, his hip, his shoulder, his ribs. They're aching numbly, a distant pain, but trepidation is making his chest feel tight as he remembers that the potion must have started to wear off again.

It's going to hurt a lot, broken bones always do, and yet he can't get himself to agree and willingly drink another potion, but then again, when has ever agreed to anything willingly? When has his opinion ever mattered? They've shown him some kindness and he's already acting spoiled–

just wait, they'll be sick of you before you know it–

Jungkook exhales harshly through his nose, growing annoyed at his own thoughts.

It's just– his magic hates it. Jungkook doesn't know why, but he can feel it in his bones, in his stomach, and to be honest, he'd rather throw up from the pain of broken bones than experience those so-called “cramps” again. They had not lasted that long, he will admit, but that foul feeling, the way it had made his stomach ache so much that his legs felt weak, ears throbbing with heat and head floating, vision swimming as something seemed to crawl up the back of his throat, taking his breath away (making his insides rot) – it had scared him, more so than he likes to admit, and… yeah.

No, thank you.

His magic is rejecting those potions, even though they help keep the pain at bay, and it makes no sense. Maybe his magic hates him just like everyone else does…

Jungkook's thoughts are yet again interrupted when he feels the couch moving. Taehyung has stood up, walking around the wooden coffee table to crouch in front of the TV. Jungkook thinks this is the first time he's turned his back to him as he notes how his white and very oversized shirt stretches around his back, the thin and slightly transparent fabric showing two pinkish lines going down his back.

Jungkook tilts his head, wondering what those might be. Tattoos? Scars? Or was it just his imagination? He quickly scolds himself; it's really none of his business. But Jungkook has always been too curious for his own good. He's opened enough doors in the mansion with no regard to the consequences to know that curiosity really did kill the cat (it did kill him a couple of times, but Jungkook has more than nine lives, and apparently no self-preservation skills).

What can he say – boredom makes him do stupid things sometimes.

Jungkook startles when the TV flickers to life, showing a screen that's oddly familiar to him, yet he can't put his finger on why. He had no access to electronics in the mansion. Taehyung comes back with two controllers and an excited glint in his eyes. He drops a baby blue blanket in Jungkook's lap, then one of the controllers on top of it. Jungkook's eyes follow all of his movements silently before they land on Taehyung's face with an unvoiced question.

“You've ever played before?” he asks, nodding towards the TV screen that shows some kind of colourful loading screen. Jungkook shakes his head numbly, mind not catching up with this bizarre situation that he's found himself in. But no, he doesn't think he's ever played this video game before, or any video games really… or has he? He knows what video games are, but that's about it. His head throbs trying to remember.

Taehyung nods, seeming oddly pleased. “I can teach you.”

The words make the hair on his neck stand on end, but he just nods, brows rising quizzically when Taehyung doesn't sit down again but rounds the couch, sauntering away toward the door that Jungkook's been through enough times by now to know that it leads to the kitchen; the one that he's observed has a giant fridge, various domestic appliances and exactly twenty cabinets. Yes, Jungkook has counted them. He's not sure why, but he has.

Twenty cabinets. That's a lot of room for storage; it had been his first thought when he'd studied the exterior of the kitchen with big marvelling eyes. Jungkook had wondered, is still wondering, if they're all as stuffed full as the ones he had been able to peek inside.

The cabinet that the ifrit had opened last night, as had the gnome earlier this morning, both to make him tea, was filled to the brim with all kinds of glasses containing different substances. Dried herbs and flowers; liquid… stuff (?); sand in various colours– well, probably not sand, but it had looked like sand to Jungkook; weird slimy stuff, some of which must be honey, or had at least looked like honey, but the rest… Jungkook has no idea what the blue and purple slimy stuff might be, and some if it had even glittered.

What had piqued the imp's interest, however, where the contents of the cabinet the gremlin had opened while cooking, seeing as it seemed to only contain piles and piles of packaged snacks and candy that Jungkook both has and hasn't seen before and was very interested in seeing again.

His master has never starved him, not on purpose or as a form of punishment at least. But with all the running around he did in his other form and the amount of healing his body had to do constantly (and the permanent stress), even the decent amount of food he got had never been quite enough to restore all the energy he would burn all the time.

Jungkook can't stop his mouth from watering at the thought of all those sugary and savoury snacks, nor can he help how his hands get a little shaky. His body is craving all those extra calories, sleep alone apparently not enough to help heal his wounds – or, at least, that's what he initially thought might be the case. It's what usually triggers his healing to slow down.

But never before has his healing just… stopped.

Jungkook is starting to notice, as the potion is slowly losing its effect, that his body hasn't healed nearly as much as it should have. His broken bones shouldn't be so… broken still. It doesn't feel like his leg has healed much ever since he put too much weight on it earlier this morning, eliciting a nasty crack from it and sharp pain that quickly turned into numbness again.

Actually, there has been no real change ever since then in general. None of his injuries have made much progress in healing and for once, he can't fully blame that on lack of sleep or food. They've fed him two full meals and he's slept like a baby, no excruciating pain to follow him into his dreams and startle him awake. None of that. Jungkook was actually able to get some proper rest for once – so why is he not healing?

His lung had healed just fine only yesterday, as had the concussion he knows he had after throwing up a few times, but that had been before he tripped and tumbled down a hill in the forest (well, it's just Jungkook's luck that he'd hit both the front and back of his head). His rips are nearly done healing too – only nearly though, that's the thing, and it's strange. It's almost as if they've just stopped healing in the middle of it, and now that the potion's wearing off he can feel a slight discomfort there, almost painful when he takes a deeper breath.

This… is slightly concerning.

Taehyung returns with his arms full of rustling bags, small packages and canned beverages. He drops them messily on the coffee table, a few bags and packages falling off to the side and on the carpeted floor. Taehyung stands with his hands on his hips to regard the mess he created, looking proud of himself. Jungkook's slips quirk slightly at that, wanting to curl into a smile. When Taehyung turns to look at him, it's gone.

“I've brought us some snacks,” Taehyung announces. Yeah, Jungkook can see that, but “some”? Jungkook can count, he knows a bit of maths; there are at least ten different bags and packages of both savoury and sweet snacks. Chips, gumdrops, chocolate, cookies, crackers – and that's only the ones Jungkook recognises from the packaging. Who is Taehyung trying to feed? There are just the two of them here.

“You look like you'd be fond of snacking,” Taehyung says as if to explain himself and– uh… what is that supposed to mean, Jungkook wants to exclaim, but all he does is frown a bit. “That came out wrong. I mean, you look like you need some feeding up and I'm glad to help.”

Jungkook's frown just deepens.

Taehyung's eyes widen. “You don't like any of these?” Taehyung looks down at the mountain of snacks like they're an utter disappointment – then he suddenly turns on his heels, as if to walk back to the kitchen and retrieve more snacks, but before he can, Jungkook makes a small alarmed noise. Taehyung immediately halts.

“I-It's fine! I– I like 'em… a-all of them, or– a-any of them,” Jungkook stammers, cheeks feeling hot. He looks down at his lap, faint smile tugging hesitantly at his lips. “Thank you…” And he means it. Nobody has ever done something so silly yet genuinely nice for him. He doesn't know what else to say, but he's starting to realise now that Taehyung might be much more observant and thoughtful than he'd first assumed from just the way he looks and carries himself. Or perhaps it's like the fairy has said and Jungkook's simply that obvious and easy to read, his big eyes hiding nothing.

Jungkook's still not sure how to feel about that.

The couch moves again as Taehyung slumps down next to him, dropping a bar of chocolate on top of the controller sitting in Jungkook's now blanket-covered lap. “That's my favourite,” the fairy says. Jungkook takes the chocolate bar in his hands and turns it around to read the package. Strawberry and cream, it says, and Jungkook bites his lips to keep himself from smiling again.

“Don't do that.” Jungkook glances up at Taehyung, who is frowning slightly, lips pursed. “Don't bite your lip. You're making it bleed.”

Jungkook nods softly, licking over the cut on his bottom lip and tasting the bitter taste of blood, Taehyung's eyes following the small movement and only moving back up again when Jungkook's tongue has slipped back inside his mouth.

“S-Sorry,” Jungkook mutters, stomach doing a funny thing.

Taehyung's eyes narrow a bit. “Why are you apologising?”

Jungkook shifts in his seat, about to bite his lip again but thinking better of it, bottom lip trembling with the effort to avoid such a deeply ingrained habit. “Um…“

“Jimin does it too. He keeps apologising.” Taehyung grabs at his chest, hand over heart, like he's hurting there. “I don't know why, but I don't like it.”

“O-Okay, s-sorry–” Jungkook grimaces slightly, clenching the soft fabric in his fists. Ugh, he wants to slap himself. “I– I mean, I'm… not sorry? I mean, uh…”

Taehyung's voice makes a low rumbling noise in his throat, a tiny chuckle that sounds both amused and fond in Jungkook's ears. The fairy turns his head to stare at the TV screen, pressing some buttons on the console in his hands. The screen shows a menu with a few options that say start game, load game, settings and exit, curious looking characters jumping around in the background like children high on sugar. Jungkook watches them, enthralled. Why does he feel like he's seen this before? Why does it feel so familiar? Jungkook feels irritated with the inability to figure out why.

Taehyung chooses the first option and a movie-like clip starts playing, starring the characters from before.

“I worry about him. A lot,” Taehyung seems to say out of nowhere, biting his lip like a hypocrite, but Jungkook doesn't dare call him out on it. “Jimin, I mean.”

Jungkook takes a deep breath, glancing at the side-profile of Taehyung. The fairy's lips are pressed into a thin line. He really is beautiful; big eyes with dark long lashes, nose a perfectly sloped line and heart-shaped lips with a rosy tint. He truly does live up to each and every description of a fairy's ethereal beauty. Jungkook can't believe he's actually real, but there he is, disgruntled expression distorting his handsome face, pulling the corners of his mouth down.

“Why, um… wh-why are you worried?” Jungkook asks hesitantly and looks back at the screen. It says to select a character. Before Taehyung can explain to him which buttons to use, Jungkook's already pressing them, changing character until one catches his eye. He chooses it with strange determination, as if he's done it before, as if he was looking for that one specifically – but how could that be?

Taehyung eyes him curiously, but he doesn't say anything, just selects his own character. The screen changes and turns into a rather ridiculous and unrealistic racetrack. It's a racing game. Jungkook feels weirdly excited, but kinda also a little nauseous.

“His soul's so delicate. I'm afraid he'll just break apart one day and… not recover again,” Taehyung tells him with unexpected rawness in his voice, so open and honest, it gives Jungkook goosebumps. He's not sure how he's earned this; to be given a piece of the fairy's mind, something he seems to feel strongly about, concerning someone he deeply cares about. Showing such vulnerability… why is he sharing this with him?

The screen shows each their characters at the start line, gases fuming as a countdown goes, “three, two, one…” The screen says GO! and the race starts. Jungkook's character shoots off after he's gained some extra-boost pressing the right button at the right time, leaving Taehyung's character behind to follow after him, close on his tail. Jungkook is distantly reminded of the hellhounds chasing after him in the dark, but the giddy feeling and satisfaction in his chest as he makes his character cut sharply around corners and dodge obstacles smoothly is much stronger, making his heart beat and body vibrate with a more enjoyable kind of adrenaline. His stomach churns, but he ignores it.

This is fun, Jungkook thinks, feeling slightly emotional because– he can't remember when he's last enjoyed something this much. Yeah, play-fighting with the wild animals that would sometimes find their way inside the mansion and burying his nose in books while hiding in the library had been fun, distracting him from everything else, but there would always be that nagging thought at the back of his head, reminding him that everything was temporary, that nothing good ever lasts; that this too would end and he'd have to face the reality that was him living in fear and pain.

Jungkook hopes this won't end like it always does – too soon.

“I think… he feels responsible for you,” Taehyung says and Jungkook runs into a wall, his character making a distressed noise, before complaining loudly to him. He clutches the controller tightly in his hands.

“Wh-What?”

Taehyung pauses the game and turns his head to meet the imp's eyes. There's something in his expression that has Jungkook's chest feeling tight.

“Jimin likes to play this game where he blames himself for everything. He brought you here thinking you're a just an injured animal,” Taehyung explains. “He does it a lot. He brings them home, tries to fix them, tries to save them… and when he can't, he blames himself. You're not a tiny animal, but that doesn't matter to him. He feels responsible for you. Seeing others in pain…” Taehyung shakes his head. “He can't stand it. So seeing you in pain hurts him. I don't like him hurting like that, it hurts me too. Here.” Taehyung lays a hand flat over his heart. “It hurts a lot.”

“What a-are you– um, what are you t-trying to say?”

Jungkook is met with silence, so quiet that he'd hear himself breathing if only he was breathing. And then–

“I want to ask you a favour.”

Jungkook inhales sharply, body freezing. His stomach twists and turns, like it's trying to digest itself, and– what? A... a favour?

Jungkook looks down at his lap and starts fidgeting with the controller in his hands. “What– what kind of… f-favour?”

“Let him help you.”

Jungkook freezes again. That's… not what he expected. “H-Help me?” He glances at Taehyung with furrowed brows. What kind of favour is that? That's nothing like what he's usually asked for. Not at all. Far from it. How would he be doing him a favour by that?

“Yes. He's trying so hard, but you won't let him. Jimin's… good. He's so good. It pains him that you won't let him help you.” Taehyung exhales quietly. “He's blaming himself again, I can tell. He just wants to help you not hurt anymore, so… won't you let him?”

Let Jimin help him? What does that entail? Let him give him potions? (Please no.) Let him unnecessarily treat his wounds? (He doesn't know if he can without freaking out again.) Let him comfort him? (Comfort him how exactly…?)

Jungkook doesn't know if he'd be comfortable with any of that, but yet again, when has that ever mattered? They seem to know that he doesn't want them to and the gremlin– Yoongi had said they should respect that and that it's his choice. His choice. God, Jungkook had got goosebumps when he heard that. He could have kissed the gremlin, which, obviously, is a bad thought. A very... bad thought.

Taehyung searches his eyes, for what, Jungkook's not sure, but seeing what he's said about his eyes and soul, it must be all there for him to see. His expression looks sombre. “You know he didn't mean to hurt you, right? When he touched your tail. He apologised... so many times.”

“I… I know,” Jungkook admits quietly, remembering how the Jimin had apologised, and not just for touching his tail. He was genuinely sorry, even his magic had felt it, and Jungkook found that he really dislikes the gnome's upset pout a lot.

Taehyung's not searching anymore, but he still asks, “Do you believe it?”

Jungkook stills.

It's so strange. He does. He does believe it, actually. Surprisingly. It is so strange, but he really does. Jimin had not meant to hurt him. Somehow, somewhere deep inside, he knows that, knew it, and yet – his body had reacted before his mind could even process what was happening. He had not meant to act like that, so pathetically, so… out of his mind.

But that's what he had been – out of his mind.

Suddenly, everything had become blurry, tiny black spots obscuring his sight more and more with each breath that came much too quick, too shallow, no oxygen reaching his brain, ears ringing and vision fading out– and then he was back in the mansion, lying on his stomach, sobbing and clawing at the cold dirty ground, heavy weight on top of him, his tail in a painfully tight grip and the threat of what might happen much too real, much too present, because he had seen the knife in the elf's hand, caught its dangerous glint in the light.

A creature's tail is one of the most sensitive part of their body, and his master knew that. He knew that very well, always using it against him. Jungkook could take it when it was just his arm or leg, even his spine – but his tail? Jungkook can't even describe it; it's a scorching and maddening sensation, a feeling that goes beyond words. It's more than just pain. It's humiliating.

When the gnome's short fingers had wrapped around the base of his tail, Jungkook's magic had just burst, alarm bells going off in his head, screaming to get away and run run run before it's too late, every other thought gone to be replaced with distorted images of his worst nightmares that, sadly, were never just nightmares.

Jungkook had begged because he had learned that if he showed that he was desperate enough, it might appease the other. He'd beg him to stop and tell him that he was sorry and that he'd be better, that he could be better, that he'd listen and behave and do as told, just please… please just– please no, n-not my tail, not my tail, p-please, please d-don't– no…!

But only because you're begging so prettily, his master would say and hurt him regardless, just not as badly as they both knew he could and would if he really wanted to; maybe not his tail this time but other places, many of them, if not all.

Jungkook had done that mistake very often in the beginning – he had tried to defy the elf, kicking and punching, trying to fight with both arms and legs and screaming bloody murder. But he'd learned rather quickly that any attempt would be useless, would make it worse. He'd always been a fast learner. He had learned, and now he can't help his body from reacting accordingly, so he had tried to make himself small and begged. He'd begged them not to hurt him.

And they didn't. Not once have these creatures even made an attempt, and it's been… more than “a bit” of time, he supposes. Normally, it doesn't take this long for creatures to at least insult him, either with words or just a demeaning look on their face.

Jungkook meets Taehyung's eyes and nods slowly because yes, he does believe it. Call him naïve or just plain stupid, but he believes Jimin didn't mean to hurt him, didn't mean to scare him like that, and how could he have known that Jungkook would just freak out like that? It's not his fault at all; it's Jungkook's, for being so messed up. Nobody normal would have reacted like that, he's aware. His mind is sick, contaminated with bad thoughts and memories and foolish oh so desperate hope.

A smile spreads slowly over Taehyung's face, making his whole face light up, or maybe that's just Jungkook still being awestruck by his beauty, which seems to glow, golden skin glistening like frost in the sunlight.

“Good. Because he could never hurt anyone intentionally, even if he wanted to,” Taehyung says and pauses. “Even if they deserve it.”

Jungkook shudders, the words sending a chill down his spine, the way Taehyung's voice suddenly turned a bit lower, darker, sounding almost sinister in his ears. The air around them has dropped in temperature, but Taehyung either doesn't notice or isn't acknowledging it. It's only a slight change, faint and easy to miss; the fairy's magic and facial expressions, the changes in his emotions, they seem to be like that, kind of subdued, just a fleeting presence. It's like it's right there one moment, hidden underneath a layer of ice, and then it's gone again before Jungkook can even try to grasp it.

Jungkook eyes the fairy warily, but none of what had been in his voice just now is showing on his face; as expected, gone just as fast as it came, leaving the fairy's face eerily void of any emotion.

“I'm not asking you to do anything you don't want to. Like I said, you shouldn't. But just…” Taehyung hums thoughtfully, eyes searching the room like the words he's looking for are just hanging in the air for him to grab and put in his mouth. “Let him look after you a bit, like… let him fetch you blankets and pillows and stuff. Don't accept his potions if they really make you that sick. Don't let him patch you up if you really hate it that much. Just… let him fuss over you. Just a little. He'd already be glad if you let him run some errands, like bring you food or… I don't know.” Taehyung tilts his head, questioning. “What would help you feel better?”

Jungkook's lost for words. He doesn't know. What would help him feel better? What makes him feel better? Distraction. Being distracted helps. Jungkook looks back at the TV screen where both their characters are frozen mid-race, the small transparent window in the middle asking them to continue or leave.

Jungkook is struck with the sudden realisation that he wants to continue. He doesn't want to leave. He doesn't want this to end yet. But is it okay to be that selfish? To accept their help? To ask for it? The slowly but surely returning pain tells him that he should never trust because it always hurts more when his trust is eventually betrayed. The pain in his leg says they'll break him. The ache in his chest says they'll crush him. The throbbing in his shoulder says they'll stab him in the back and twist the knife. The soreness in his limbs says they'll push him down, remind him of his place.

The burning sensation around his throat says– it says they'll hurt him bad.

But the weak flicker of magic inside his heart that's desperately trying to get his attention is asking him to give them a chance, let them prove him wrong and oh, how much he wants this to be true, them only and truly trying to help, not expecting anything in return.

But what does he want? How can they help him when he doesn't know what he needs? He usually just… waits. He sleeps, and when he can't sleep, he stares at the ceiling, counts the cracks there until his mind feels numb enough to not register the pain anymore.

But what does he want?

Part of him wants to be left alone, preferably forever, just crawl inside a dark corner and never come out again. The other part… the other part can't even bear the thought of such loneliness.

Jungkook is still just staring at the screen, he realises with a start, and averts his gaze, glances at Taehyung.

The fairy nods towards the controller in their hands. “You want to continue?”

Jungkook ducks his head a little and nods. “Y-Yeah. It's… this is f-fun.” He smiles down at his controller, then the chocolate bar in his lap. “I… I like it.”

Taehyung smiles. “It is fun.” He pauses, eyes narrowing slightly. “You've played before.” It's not a question but a statement. An observation. Then, “You're good.”

Jungkook looks at him and sees a curious glint in his eyes, something like interest, like he's been intrigued by something– by Jungkook. Jungkook starts fidgeting again, squirms a little but stops when there's a sharp pain shooting up his spine, coming from his hip, spreading to his neck. It hurts, but Jungkook swallows the whimper threatening to leave his lips, takes a deep breath, exhales slowly.

“I– I haven't played this… before,” Jungkook says, but he sounds uncertain, because he is. “I think?” he adds and frowns to himself. He thinks he hasn't played this before, or any video games in general, but it's strange. This game feels so familiar, the characters do; the controller does, and its weight in his hands, the buttons and what they do. He knows how to play, but it seems to be pure muscle memory. He didn't even have to look to know which button to press, just knew it, and yet he wouldn't be able to explain the controls to someone if they asked. It came easily to him, like something he's done so many times that he doesn't have to think.

It's nice.

It's weird.

Why can't he remember? His worsening headache stops him from trying, makes his thoughts scatter and slip away, far far away.

Jungkook squeezes his eyes shut until he sees colourful spots, blinks them away when he opens his eyes again and tries to focus.

Focus on what? The screen. Right, the game. But the game's still paused. They're not playing anymore. Pay attention. What was he doing? They were talking. Taehyung. Did he say something just now? Jungkook thinks his lips just moved, but he couldn't hear anything. God, he's tired – and sweaty. Why is he sweating so much again? And Taehyung's lips keep moving. He's frowning now, but Jungkook can't hear. He's trying so hard, but he can't hear. It feels like his ears are stuffed with cotton, like his head is full of fog, like the couch is moving, making him sway, making him nauseous, making him–

Oh god, Jungkook feels sick. He's going to be sick. He's gonna–

Jungkook gulps, trying to keep it in. His stomach is heaving painfully and he can't– oh god, he can't–

He can't.

Jungkook throws up, violently. He would have done so all over himself and the soft blanket and couch, but there's a bucket that's seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Jungkook didn't notice him leave, but Taehyung must have gone to retrieve it while he was busy taking slow steady breaths (and miserably failing at it). He's made it just in time to save Jungkook from making a terrible mess; the better-throw-this-away-can't-be-saved-anymore kind of mess.

“Ugh,” Jungkook groans, tears streaming down his face as he heaves over the bucket, fingers gripping tightly around its rim. He's gasping for air in-between what feels like vomiting his guts out. What a waste of their food and potions; there's a distant thought like that, but then he's retching again.

Jungkook chokes and coughs wetly. He spits one last time into the bucket when he thinks he's done, throat feeling sore and stomach cramping painfully (oh god, not this again.) His shoulders tremble as he sobs, and he tries so hard not to, tries to cry in silence, tries to keep quiet, but it hurts too much – he whimpers pathetically, each sob tearing out of him, out of control, and thinks shamefully that he must sound like a dying animal, wailing miserably like this. He keeps his head down, doesn't dare look up and into the fairy's eyes, afraid to see him stare at him with disgust.

But Taehyung hasn't moved away yet. He's sitting close to him – thigh against thigh, shoulder against shoulder – and his presence is like an anchor that keeps him from crumbling and breaking apart into pieces so tiny he might never be able to pick them all up again.

Jungkook has no strength left. His hands are shaking, his stomach is churning, his magic has returned partially, but it's barely there to really soothe his pains or reassure him. He feels thoroughly wretched, like a wrung out towel, and so so embarrassed.

Jungkook glances up at Taehyung through wet eyelashes, clumped together with his tears, cheeks feeling hot with exertion and shame. The fairy lifts his hand. It hovers over Jungkook's back for a second, but there's conflict in his eyes. He drops it, then takes the bucket from Jungkook's lap and puts it away on the floor.

Taehyung grabs a can from the coffee table. Jungkook hears a fizzing sound, then there's something cold nudging his hand and he can hear Taehyung's low voice through the fog in his brain, sounding like he's underwater.

“Drink some,” he thinks it says and Jungkook numbly does as told. It tastes cold and very sweet on his tongue, whatever it is.

Jungkook's heart is beating too loud, going thu-thump-thump-thu-thump-thump in his ears, making his head throb. Everything seems quiet and distant, like he's here but not really. Is this what ghosts feel like? Those trapped souls inside the forest, those poor “evil” spirits…do they feel like this? Do they hurt like this? Like everything's so close but just out of grasp.

There's a sound, but it never really reaches Jungkook's ears, fading just as it is about to. Jungkook looks in the direction it came from and comes face to face with Taehyung, who has a strange look on his face.

Oh. Oh wow. Jungkook forgot about him for a moment there– he forgot about everything for a moment… a second? A minute? Hour? Time is a weird construct, Jungkook thinks, one that he wishes he understood. Everyone else does. He's the only one left behind, trapped in what feels like one hellishly long fever dream. It's so lonely, existing like this. Nothing feels even real anymore; nothing seems to matter. He's the only one here while everyone's moving, just passing him by. What had nature in mind when it created imps? What even is his purpose? To just suffer like this? Or is he nothing more than a mistake? Is that why he's being punished? For existing?

Jungkook's thoughts start to fade too, one moment there are too many that they tangle messily, the next there's nothing but static. The moment it all comes back, it all comes back at once. The noise, his thoughts, the pain– it's too much. It feels overwhelming, like his entire body is splitting apart, like his soul is being crushed underneath it all. It's too loud. It's too bright. It's all too much.

Jungkook is hunched over on the couch, elbows digging into his thighs, head in his hands. He's crying again, loudly, but he doesn't care anymore. His face is wet with tears that are trickling down his neck and arms, soaking the soft blanket that Taehyung had draped over Jungkook's back at some point during his hysterics, perhaps a failed attempt at calming him. It must have slipped off his shaking shoulders, now lying bunched up around his waist and on his lap, like a protective barrier that has fallen into ruin trying to save him from himself.

Jungkook's shoulders are still shaking, chest heaving. He's breathing too fast; his brain can't keep up, too much air, and it's making him light-headed and dizzy. It does little to distract from the pain, which is permanent now. His body feels like one big open wound; too many places that hurt than places that don't. Jungkook can't even tell them apart anymore. It just hurts, everything, all the time– he's hurting all the fucking time, it just never stops, and he's so sick of it.

That's funny, a disdainful voice inside his head snickers, growing darker and meaner as it says, you've already been sick, almost threw up all over yourself, and this poor creature sitting right next to you, he's probably disgusted. That's all these creatures have been doing all this time – tolerating your presence. Who would want an imp like you inside their home? Don't get it twisted. They don't want you here. Nobody wants you, they just can't get rid of you… or can they? Why are they not getting rid of you? Unless–

Jungkook squeezes his eyes shut as his hands wander up to his head to grab fists full of his own hair and tug at it in distress. He's muttering brokenly under his breath, desperately pleading for his own thoughts to shut up and stop before he ends up just mumbling an endless string of no no no while shaking his head weakly. He doesn't notice the fairy standing up from the couch to kneel in front of him, doesn't hear him warning him that he's going to touch him. When Jungkook feels long slender fingers wrap over his in an attempt to stop him from ripping out strands of hair, all he registers are hands that are not his own being much too close to his horns than he'd like them to be.

Jungkook wails and blindly swings an arm out, trying to get the hands away from him. He stills when he hears that low soothing voice make a hissing sound. The hands are gone immediately, but so is the odd combination of body warmth and cool magic next to him. He notices this a little late.

Jungkook watches a small red circle appear out of nowhere right in front of his feet. Then another one. Then he realises that they're dropping down from somewhere above him and looks up. What he sees makes his stomach squeeze painfully, ice-cold dread spreading inside his chest, making his breath get stuck in his throat.

Blood is trickling down Taehyung's face, a thick stream that's coming from a paper-thin cut across his left cheek. Jungkook can't do anything but sit and stare with wide eyes at Taehyung, who is standing in front of him, expression unreadable. Jungkook inhales shakily as he watches him lift a hand to his cheek, briefly touching the cut before he retracts it to look at his red-stained fingertips. His eyes widen a little.

Their eyes meet and Jungkook feels like he might pass out.

“I didn't– I didn't m-mean to– I– I didn't, I–” Jungkook stutters out, but then stops himself when he remembers that trying to explain himself always makes it worse, make it sound like he's making excuses, that it's always better to just immediately apologise and hope for the best.

“S-Sorry, 'm sorry, I'm s-sorry,” he says and gazes into the fairy's eyes as if to seek forgiveness – or anything really. He doesn't like the blank look on Taehyung's face. It's been there a while now and he doesn't like it because he can't tell what he's thinking or what to expect, anxiety going haywire and destroying any rational thought in its way.

When Jungkook's magic bursts, it's almost too painful to handle. He hunches over again and groans. It feels like he's dying, but Jungkook knows – he won't die this easily. His magic is holding onto his soul, refusing to let it go once again, keeping it stuck inside his body to let him suffer like he did many times before. This is nothing new. The only thing that's new is his company– the one he hurt accidentally.

But will it matter whether it was an accident or not? Jungkook has a feeling that it won't because it has never mattered before, so why would it now?. Jungkook hurt him. He hurt him. What are his mates going to say when they come back? What are they going to do?

This is… this is bad. This is so bad. He made a mistake again and they're gonna–

“It's okay,” Taehyung finally says, expression still unreadable, and Jungkook shakes his head – no, it's not. It's not okay. Nothing is okay. It's never okay. He'll never be okay.

Taehyung comes closer to kneel in front of Jungkook like he'd done before. Jungkook leans away, trapped on the couch.

“You were out of it and I startled you. It's my fault, I should apologise,” Taehyung says slowly. He makes it sound like it's not a big deal at all, like Jungkook isn't the reason he's bleeding right now. It doesn't make sense. Why would he apologise when Jungkook's the one at fault? Why would anyone ever apologise to him when Jungkook knows for a fact that he doesn't deserve it, isn't worth it.

“I h-hurt you…” Jungkook croaks.

“It was an accident.”

Jungkook shakes his head. “It– it doesn't m-matter. It w-won't matter to them, I… I hurt you.”

Taehyung tilts his head, eyebrows twitching. “What do you mean?”

But Jungkook just shakes his head again and averts his gaze to look at anything but Taehyung, the sight of his red-stained cheek reminding him of what he's done and the unknown consequences of his actions. It's nerve-wrecking, having to wait instead of just being punished immediately.

“Are you… scared they'll hurt you? My mates? Cause you accidentally scratched me?”

Jungkook nods. Isn't it obvious? It doesn't matter if it was an accident. They won't see it like that. All they'll see is that cut on Taehyung's cheek and then they'll look at Jungkook with cruel cruel eyes and that will be it. They'll realise that they've been stupid to take an imp in, that it was a big mistake that they've trusted him enough to leave him alone with their loved one, that Jungkook took their kindness and what? What has he done in return? Caused them stress and upset and now this.

They'll finally realise now that they should have never helped him in the first place, that they should have left him in the forest to die a horrible death– should have let him be torn to shreds by some beast, into enough tiny pieces that hopefully his body wouldn't be able to put itself back together.

Maybe that was his fate and the universe is angry now that he's escaped. Maybe that is why his healing ability has failed him. Maybe that is why he's come so far – to have hope bloom in his heart just so it can wither away and rot inside his chest.

When Taehyung speaks again, his voice is cold like ice. “They're not like that.”

Jungkook has to look up, startled by the fairy's hard tone. He sounds… he sounds angry.

“They're not like that,” he repeats, like Jungkook might have not understood the first time, like he's too stupid to understand. The angry tone is gone as fast as it came. His expression softens and he looks almost a bit apologetic. “They're not like that,” he says again and Jungkook still fails to understand.

“You've been hurt badly by another creature, I understand,” Taehyung says with a weak smile. “I know creatures can be cruel. I can see it in their souls, the things they try to hide… it's sickening.” Taehyung grimaces slightly. “I used to avoid them for that reason. I couldn't stand the sight and… the lies. They'd lie in my face and smile and I hated it. I began to hate them. They'd use so many pretty words, but they were all empty. They'd try to deceive me, so I... started to deceive them back. But one day, I had this dream…”

There's a far away look on the fairy's eyes, like he's lost in memories. He quickly shakes himself out of it and continues. Jungkook just listens.

“That dream made me realise something, so I went on a journey with no destination. That's when I met Jimin, and then…” Something pained and awfully sad flickers through his eyes. He sighs. “I lost him. I was– I went away for a bit, and when I came back, he was gone. So I went on another journey, to look for him. I was… in pain. Missing someone hurts… a lot. I didn't know that before.” Taehyung brightens a little. “But fate, it was kind to me. Jimin and I were reunited. He wasn't alone anymore by then and I gained more than I had lost. It's some kind of miracle, I think.” He nods to himself. “Their souls are all so kind, it's... hard to put into words. I never thought it possible either. I'm not saying they never lied to me. They do lie to me, but even their lies are kind. I think they do it to protect me... or themselves. I don't like that either, but... yeah.”

Jungkook can't help the question. “Why… are you telling me this?”

“I'm telling you this because I know you can't see what I see. My mates will never hurt someone like you. I told you… your eyes tell more than most. Even they would be able to see. They're not the kind of creatures you need to fear.” Taehyung points to his cheek. “I'll explain, so they won't misunderstand. I know they're a bit overprotective after… what happened. They can't help it, but it will be fine.”

Why can't they help it? What happened? Jungkook wants to ask, but he doesn't. Some parts of Taehyung's story didn't make a lot of sense; the fairy intentionally left a few things untold. What kind of lies had he been told? What does he mean with he deceived them back? What had he dreamed about? Why did he have to leave? How did he find Jimin?

But he would have told him if he wanted Jungkook to know those things, so Jungkook doesn't ask.

“Everything will be okay,” Taehyung smiles reassuringly and his words do nothing but feed that small hope in Jungkook's heart, making it grow a little despite the terrifying amount of doubt and fear next to it that is threatening to swallow it whole and leave behind nothing. But nobody warned him about hope being such a dangerous thing. Nobody warned him about how it can be both a bad and good thing.

Needless to say, everything wasn't okay.

Not quite for a while.