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All creatures were his family. His loves were

deep and gentle – not rooted in islands of

possessions as so many human loves but diffused

among people and places, plants and animals,

sounds and sentiments, thoughts and feelings.

(B. G. 1976)

 

*          *          *          *          *

When Jimin wakes up and opens his eyes, he immediately wishes he hadn’t.

He is tied up, completely unable to move, and a few feet above his head a thousand eyes are leering through the darkness.

The eyes stare at him without blinking, piercing right into his soul.

There is nothing else above him. Just eyes.

He lets out a strangled noise and fights desperately to free his body.

With a little more clarity, he slowly pieces together a few details. The eyes aren't real. They seem to be set into the low ceiling above him, along with other strange decorations. Jimin also realises he is not tied up but wrapped in blankets and is able to pull them off his body with a bit of wriggling. Though, sitting up just brings him nearer to the ceiling of horrors above him.

He is in a bed that isn’t his own, a small, enclosed bed. It is too dark to see properly but it seems to be in the rafters of a small building. He can see a ladder at the end down to the floor below.

Every inch of the ceiling above him is covered in bizarre decoration. There are innumerable eyes along with other curiosities; dolls faces, wooden carvings of birds and people, painted faces on stones, twisted plaits of ribbon, vines, leaves, gems, shells...the space is entirely covered.

To one side, metal trays of herbs burn on a tiny window ledge. Their scent invades his brain and messes with his train of thought. He has to shake his head and squeeze his eyes shut to clear his mind.

When he opens them again, he crawls forward and slides open the window to peer out and try to work out where on earth he is.

It's evening outside, and the window looks out from the roof gable of a hanok surrounded by thick forest. Dread curls in his chest. Jimin’s last memory was of days of torment in that very forest.

‘Fuck.’ He mouths to himself and rubs an anxious hand across his face. He is completely exhausted, his whole body aching and weak.

As he stares out of the window, trying to decide what to do, something moves in the fringes of the trees. It is a black shape, hunched and skittish. He watches in horror as it seems to sense him and then slowly turns towards the window. Jimin sees a flash of teeth and then a face carved with black ink marks and furnished with wild eyes.

Jimin drags the window shut and flings himself away across the bed, banging his head. Something from the ceiling falls into his lap and he looks down to see a wooden carving of a grotesque face gurning directly up at him.

Fingers appear at the window, he sees their shadow through the hanji as they grasp at the frame. With another yell he throws the carving at the window. Hearing it split, but not waiting to see the results, he crawls desperately to the end of the bed. Jimin pauses for a second to look down into another semi-dark room, it is hard to see clearly but it looks to be just as mad and terrifying as the space he is currently in.

He hesitates.

Then he hears a soft voice and turns to see a pale white arm reaching through the broken window and grasping towards him.

With a strangled scream that dies in his throat Jimin passes out and falls from the platform to the rough stone floor below.

*          *          *          *          *

Four days earlier.

The witch sits in the clearing, legs crossed and hands pressed into the earth. As he breathes in and out, he pushes his fingers through the dirt in time with his lungs.

The forest breathes around him as if they are one.

No creature minds the presence of the witch. In fact, they all like him.

Small bugs crawl around his fingers, a deer wanders through and strips bark from a nearby sapling before moving on. At one point, a mouse climbs on his knee and peers up at him in interest before scurrying off again into the undergrowth.

The witch doesn’t react but he knows they are there. His eyes are rolled back into his head, only the whites showing, unseeing yet seeing everything.

He knows every tiny thing about the forest at that moment, he can feel every breath. From the slow growing roots of the whispering trees to the warm, beating hearts of other mammals. From the tiny mouse to the other witches that live in the forest – far away but all connected.

His sight is both a joy and a pain, just like all life is. He sees the creatures that are thriving but also those in pain or already dead and decaying. He is at once the owl silently following behind the baby rabbit, hungry, while also the rabbit, lost and looking for its mother. He loves and understands them both.

He sees the beautiful trees, the flowers, the abundance of fruit and life and wonder. But also, the mould, the rot, the buried bones.

He likes the edges of the forest the least. The few metres where the humans dare to tread and bring their mess with them.

He sees the traps and snares they set for the creatures of his forest. The couples pressed against the bark of the trees in a messy affair. The nastier dealings too. The murders. The assault. A lifeless body dragged into his trees and buried in the earth.

His earth.

He wants to like humans more than he does, but they don't give him much reason to try. Messy, dirty, cruel things with no sense of wonder.

He is glad the forest scares them so much that they don't wander into it very far and just keep their trivial dealings at its outskirts.

Their fear isn't an accident. When they try to enter, he commands the flora and fauna in his thrall to scare them away with chilling noises and twisted, disappearing paths.

Over the years, these happenings passed into legend in the nearby human towns, cementing the terrifying magical forest as a place never to go.

Good. He’s glad they are so stupid.

The one place the humans are feely allowed to approach is the white gate.

The gate was made by the hands of witches long before his time. It is circular, hewn from planks of bone-bleached pale wood, surrounded by white stone and edged on either side by a low, tiled wall.

It is symbolic as much as it is functional. The witch had never walked through it to the human side, just like the humans didn't pass into his forest. But it was the point where their purposes aligned.

The witch is bound to serve the humans. They leave their requests for him at the gate, and if he can grant them, he does so – in return for supplies and presents.

The witch sucks in a breath and pushes his consciousness towards the gate. This meditative state he’s in doesn’t provide him sight with a clear picture like a human mind can imagine. It is instead a connection, a sense. He can use it to assess how many humans have touched the gate recently and if they've left him presents.

It is with excitement that he lets himself think of them. He might hate the humans, but he loves their presents.

It wasn’t how things were always done. His parents had, before him, completed requests for the humans in return for necessities like food, fabric and tools. Whereas the witch requests…whatever he likes. Maybe his parents would be ashamed to see their son request oddities and treats instead but, well, they weren’t there anymore to see, so they had no say.

One of the witch’s favourite presents are eyes.

Not real ones, but any sort of model. Glass eyes, or the beaded eyes from dolls and sculptures or even painted ones on stones or wood. Some humans had painted little pictures once, and that was nice enough.

To be honest, he wouldn’t even mind real ones, maybe pickled or preserved?

Nobody has tried that so far though.

If the humans find his requests bizarre, or possibly even creepy, they swallow their concerns in return for the remedies and spells they received which are unparalleled and highly sought after.

The witch is known far and wide as one of the best.

It goes without saying that his odd requests for presents only add to the image of the forest as a terrifying place they shouldn’t enter. Nobody has ever seen the witch but they figure he must be quite something to live in such a place and who knows what he gets up to with the strange things he requests from the humans. They assume the requests must become part of some terrifying, dark sorcery.

It is best not to think too deeply on those things we cannot see, parents whisper to their curious children in the local town.

All in all, it was an arrangement that suited everybody.

The witch is about to refocus his attention on the whole forest and move away from the white gate, when a human disturbs his thoughts by pressing their warm hands against the wood.

That is the first thing the witch feels – an intense warmth from the human's hands, almost burning.

From his position in the clearing, he feels with horror as the human pushes the gate open and heads into the forest.

It’s frightening.

In the witches' lifetime, not one human has dared to pass through the gate, but this one barely hesitates.

The forest tries to enact the witches' requested defences; it rustles and howls and scratches at the human’s face and arms. Yet, the human pushes on into the darkness.

The witch snaps his eyes open and shakes his head to clear his meditative state.

The presence of such a creature scares him, but the forest is under his protection and so it is his responsibility to go and remove it. With a sigh, he stands and leaps into the trees to head towards the disturbance.

The human is very easy to locate because they are yelling. Loudly. Foul curse words fall from their lips as they crash around, snapping precious branches and crushing sweet grasses and flowers under foot.

What a menace.

The witch hasn’t even seen them yet and they are already causing chaos.

As he gets nearer and can make out more than just curse words, he realises the human is shouting for him. They are calling for the witch of the forest, cursing them and demanding their presence.

It sends a chill of fear through the witch’s veins.

If it is a creature of great power, he will have to fight them and it has been a very long time since he last wrestled a dokkaebi or sent on a gwisin. He usually wins of course, but it is exhausting and not something he enjoys at all.

With a deep exhale, he hops across the last few branches between him and the angry human and peers through the canopy of trees. He approached this way hoping to creep up and surprise the creature.

But, it is the witch that is surprised, because beneath them on the forest floor - screeching like a banshee and radiating an energy so hot it burns - is not a demon, it is not even a large human man. It is a child.

A small, pale child with tears streaming down their pretty face and grass stains all over their white shirt.

The witch giggles.

How fascinating that such a little beast is so full to the brim with power.

The child seems to hear the giggle and they crane their head up toward the canopy of the trees and start yelling again, waving an angry little fist.

The witch drops to the forest floor, soft as a whisper, and creeps closer for a better look. He is not invisible, he doesn’t have such a power, but such a human won’t be able to see him if he doesn’t want to be seen.

Abruptly, all anger drains from the child and it begins to cry in earnest. It throws itself against a tree and sinks to the forest floor where it sobs into its palms.

Poor little thing, the witch thinks.

The little human radiates energy, even while it cries in despair.

What a waste of power.

The best thing to do is scare the little wretch out of the forest and back to its parents. The forest was no place for it.

The witch hops back into the trees and presses his palms to a nearby red pine - an old, ancient pine with gnarled flesh.

The human instantly recoils as if slapped. They feel the forest energy shift as it listens to the command of its master and rallies against the human intruder. The witch would love to ask them what it feels like, but knows it can’t be anything good with the terror that flashes in the deep, dark little eyes of the child.

Lovely eyes, he thinks for a moment, before unleashing the full horror of the ancient forest down on the human’s consciousness.

In the usual scenario, with the full force of the witch and the forest united in power against a single human, it would take minutes for said human to run screaming from the forest and never return.

Instead, the witch toys with this human for nearly three days.

Very quickly it becomes not so much about scaring them off but, in all honesty, turns into an experiment on the human’s breath-taking resilience.

How long can they withstand such a deep and ancient power with such a tiny, frail little body?

Finally, as the third night begins to fall, the human collapses, crawls into the mouth of a fox’s den and goes still.

The human hasn’t been able to make any noise since the first day, when they strained their voice to the point of hoarseness, so the witch watches them lay there for two hours before he’s convinced that they really have passed out.

It is with a low, muttered, ‘Wonderful, wonderful, ah! Ah!’ that the witch hops down from the last branch and approaches the child.

Except it continues to be full of surprises and turns out not to be a child after all, but an adult – just a very thin one. Up close the witch can see that their skin, particularly their hands, reveal a human that is probably at least twenty. Perhaps even older.

‘Interesting, interesting,’ he bends down and pulls one of the human’s eyelids up, ‘oh, pretty, pretty eyes, even when you’ve gone inside your head. I think you’re one of the boy-ones, aren’t you?’

He nearly checks inside the human’s trousers for confirmation but then remembers he doesn't really care.

‘You scared me at first, but then that ended up being quite a lot of fun. You don’t look so now, but you’re quite strong.’

The witch stands for a minute or two and stares down at the little human. Even while unconscious, the air around it thrums with heat.

The witch supposes they are going to have to carry them back to the gate and dump them there. But, at the same time, they have ended up much nearer to his own home and he worries the human might die if nobody finds them until morning given the ordeal he’s put them through. They haven’t had any food or drink in nearly three days and have been buzzing around like an angry little fly.

‘You wasted a lot of your energy resisting me and my forest. Was impressive though. I guess I better top you up before I take you back or you might die and that would be a shame, I think.’

Decision made, the witch tosses the little human over his shoulder and wanders back to his small home.

*          *          *          *          *

When Jimin wakes up again he thinks he is being punished and is doomed to keep reliving the same nightmares. Because when he opens his eyes, he is once more faced with the sight of terrifying eyes staring back at him.

But this time they're definitely real.

Real and attached to a terrifying face with black gleaming eyes, a mouth stretched into a grin and skin etched in black tattoos.

Jimin stares, frozen in horror, as the lips open.

'You are absolute chaos! I love it!' The face cackles.

Jimin retches before passing out again.

'Fun. This is so much fun.' The witch laughs before tilting the little human’s head forwards so it doesn't choke on it’s tongue.

When Jimin comes to again, this time it is to a hideous smell creeping up his nose and choking him.

He coughs and opens his eyes. It must be some sorcery, he thinks, some herbs or a spell (in reality the witch had grabbed the closest thing he could think of, which happened to be his overflowing compost bin).

As the horrible face comes back into focus and Jimin's thoughts organise, he tries to scrabble backwards, his instincts telling him that he should run – but he is met by blinding pain and the inability to move. He screams.

Or he would scream but all that comes out is a hoarse croak.

'Oh, oh, stop squirming. Your body has had enough of you, little one!' Jimin blinks and stares as the monster talks to him, far more gently than he had expected it to. ‘You're exhausted. Dehydrated. Starving. And then you flung yourself off the platform and smashed your knees. Broke a wrist too.'

Jimin thinks he might still be making terrified noises but isn't sure. 'Don't worry, I've fixed you pretty well. Will do the rest within a day or two.’

Jimin lets out another soundless wail and flings himself backwards. He’s wrapped in blankets, on a low bed, and the owner of the horrifying face is knelt on the floor next to him, head cocked to one side. 'Ah, little one, stop or I’ll have to knock you out. Don't you want me to fix your bones?'

Why is everything they let out of their mouth so fucking creepy? Jimin stops trying to move and just stares like a rabbit caught in a hunting lamp.

The witch half expects the little human to piss themselves in fear.

'Little one, weren't you trying to find me? You came charging in here, making a fuss and demanding to see me. Made quite the ruckus.'

So this is the witch then. Jimin was terrified that that might be the case.

He opens and closes his mouth. It is true, he had been looking for the witch. He was furious and he was determined - until he found him and got tormented out of his mind for days.

It had been the most terrifying experience of Jimin’s life, to feel like the spirits of the forest were in his mind. Hunting him. Screaming at him. Invading every pore and into his very soul. He can't even remember it properly, only fear and running, running, running.

'I'm not going to hurt you, small human, okay? I'm going to top you up with good things and then put you back at the gate. Okay?'

'Um. Okay.' Jimin wheezes through his sore dry throat. It's the smallest, quietest sound.

'You don't believe me, do you?' Jimin shakes his head. 'Why would I fix you just to break you, little tiny thing? What a waste of my energy and not to mention my very precious food and herbs and stuff.'

He cocks his head the other way and Jimin thinks he looks a little like a small animal. Like he's weighing something up.

'Maybe,' Jimin forces the words through his lips and they get a little stronger but no less painful, 'maybe you're a psychopath?'

The witch giggles 'Ah! Ah! Maybe I am?'

Jimin gets the impression the witch has no idea what a psychopath is but his giggle at the thought of it is no less terrifying.

The witch fixes him with a look and rests his chin on his linked hands.

'Okay little thing, let me do some human logic. Say I'm going to eat you, say I'm not...what you can do about it doesn't really change, does it? You can't walk, you can't talk - you don't know where you are. If I'm going to hurt you, it's too late to stop me. Might as well let me have my fun, no?'

Jimin just trembles and stares, the witch’s reasoning is the furthest thing from comforting.

'Will you eat? I gave you some energy while you were passed out, but proper food would speed things up, Okay?' The witch asks.

Jimin just stares.

The witch rolls his eyes and gets up, returning with a small bowl. 'I'm not wasting wood heating it up when I'm not sure whether or not you're going to be a brat. So, you get what you get. Okay?'

He holds out a spoonful of cold juk. 'It's going to hurt I think, you yelled a lot and you lost your voice so your throat is sore. But be brave and swallow. Okay?'

'You say okay a lot.' Jimin croaks.

The witch scrunches both eyes together like a blinking cat.

'Hmm. Okay.'

The spoon starts moving towards Jimin’s mouth and he reluctantly opens it. Whether he can trust the other or not, food seems like a good idea to build his strength.

It’s tasty, even though it’s cold. It's hobak-juk, something Jimin hasn’t eaten in a long time. He swallows it against the protest from his sore gullet.

In silence, he eats the whole bowl and the witch looks very happy about it.

'That's going to be really good for you. Well done.'

Jimin nods and watches as the other goes and dunks the bowl in a bucket of water and then props it on a rack on a small wooden table.

'What's your name?' Jimin whispers, then feels immediately dumb.

It seems like a stupid question given the madness of the last few days but he's also just a human and there's an order and an expected way of things when you meet a new person - even if you're still wondering if they might eat you or not.

'Oh,' the witch turns and comes to sit cross-legged on the rug by the pallet bed. 'Well, I'm not very sure. I'm not even sure what a name is anymore...I...what's yours? That might help me think.'

'Jimin.'

'shimin?'

'Ji-meen.'

'Jimin.'

'Yes.'

The witch says it a few times with a little smile.

‘Jimin-ssi.’ Jimin adds though he’s not really sure why honorifics matter in this bizarre context.

The witch just grins. ‘And you’re one of the boy-ones, aren’t you? I was going to check but I didn’t.’

‘Check?’

The witch points at his lap and Jimin flings his uninjured hand across his crotch. ‘Yes! I am one of the boy-ones…please don’t check.’

‘Hmm. Thought so. Okay, I think I remember names. It’s what people say to you, right? The thing that you are?' Jimin nods. 'I remember. But I'm still not really sure about mine. I think I have lots.'

'What about your friends? Your family? What do they call you?'

'Hmm, I suppose it’s complicated. You’re thinking like a human. Like, you're talking about mouth-words? Not many things talk to me with mouth-words...'

'What do they talk to you with then?'

'Didn't you hear the forest? When we were chasing you?'

'That's your friends and family?' The witch shrugs. Jimin pushes on, intrigued despite himself. 'Okay, then. What does the forest call you…not with mouth-words?'

'If I were to translate, I guess…master?'

Jimin grimaces, 'Oh…um so, no people talk to you?'

'Hmm, my hyungs…but I guess we communicate on a deeper emotional level than words and names, you know. We tend to just connect our souls on what I guess you humans would conceptualise as a cosmic plane?'

Jimin blinks. Sometimes the witch speaks in childlike phrases. Then all of a sudden, they're whispering about cosmic planes.

'Fuck, Okay. Maybe you really don't have a name.' Jimin half laughs.

'Maybe. Well. I guess, now I think, some of the last mouth-words I heard were said by my parents? They've been gone a long time. Lots of years. But we used mouth-words, when they were here. Like me and you are now.'

He smiles; it's a little haunting.

'Okay,' says Jimin slowly, 'and what did they call you?'

'Well. My...Mama. She called me...sweet one.' He grins so cutely Jimin can't help but smile a little too. '…but mostly, idiot boy and often just stupid or idiot or...' he pauses, 'none of them are a name just for me, are they?'

Jimin shakes his head. Why is he kind of sad about that story?

'Well. Okay. Daddy. He called me idiot boy too - could it be that?' when Jimin shakes his head he continues, 'he also said nuisance and big nose and oh! Oh, oh, Jungkook! And guess what – Namjoon-hyung says that one too sometimes! Sometimes.’

'I think that's the one.' Jimin whispers and Jungkook beams.

'Well, Jimin, you can call me Jungkook with your mouth-words if you want to.'

'Okay.'

Silence falls again.

Despite himself, Jimin closes his eyes and leans back. He is very tired and now that he feels a little less sure that he’s about to be brutally murdered, his body is craving more sleep and pulling him under. He almost can’t help it.

‘Are you falling asleep, human?’ he hears Jungkook whisper.

‘Yes,’ he murmurs without opening his eyes.

‘That’s good, that’s good. Your body needs to do some fixing. Sleep, sleep.’

And he does.

*          *          *          *          *

Jimin ends up sleeping for another entire day. Jungkook was right that his body had had enough of him. He was exhausted from his days of torment in the forest. But, even before that, Jimin’s body was always weak and useless. It was why he was here.

As he lays on the pallet, in what he guesses is the cool light of the early morning, he does an inventory of his body, noting the different aches and pains. He does feel a lot better than yesterday; no sharp pains anywhere and he can move most things even if a little stiffly. But everything aches and his mind feels like it was wrung out like a sponge.

Jimin lets out a sad little breath between his lips. The exertion of the last few days will set him back for weeks. He needs to persuade the witch to heal him, not just from his recent injuries, but the sickness he has suffered from all his life. If he won’t - or can’t - Jimin will barely have the energy to return to his parents and once there he will probably end up in bed the rest of the month and face their disgust and disappointment.

He curls in on himself, holding back tears.

All his life Jimin has suffered with endless and mysterious illnesses. His body has always been frail and weak. If he ever pushes himself too hard physically, he ends up exhausted and barely able to even lift his head for weeks. He gets colds easily, fevers too and blinding headaches that last for days.

Sometimes, he is just sad. Like there is a weight that lands on his chest and all he can do is lie in bed and feel nothing.

His mother says he has been sickly ever since he was a baby. She says she isn’t sure how he even survived his first year, riddled as he was with fevers and rattle-chest from the day he was born.

In difficult seasons, when the harvest wasn’t good and the pig they slaughtered was too skinny, his mother would say she wished he had died as a baby, her words as cruel as the winter falling around them. She would say: what is the use of a man that can’t work and only consumes food and takes up space?

She tells him to be thankful that his brothers are strong enough to make up for him and that his sister was pretty enough to marry a man who paid a good price for her.

‘You can’t even marry and bring us grandsons,’ she would mutter, her arms up to the elbows in grey water as she scrubbed their clothes, ‘what woman would want you when you are so useless and so pale and thin and pretty like a woman yourself.’

By the time he was twenty, Jimin’s brothers had left home and his sister already had four sons herself, but he was still dependent on his parents. As the years wore on, and Jimin showed no signs of being able to leave too, their disgust with him only deepened.

‘Next time you get sick, I will take you to a forest and leave you there,’ his father muttered, as he unlaced his boots one evening, ‘may a gwisin eat you, for all I care.’

Jimin had curled into his blankets by the fire and hidden his tears from his father to whom it would only be further confirmation of Jimin’s weakness.

He wasn’t wholly unloved.

His brothers and his sister tried to take care of him when they could. They tried to make space for him in their own small homes where he could hide from his parent’s wrath. But, last winter, his sister lost two of her own babies when the food was short and her milk ran dry and Jimin couldn’t meet her eyes when she tried to give him food that he felt he hadn’t earned.

He also had a friend, Taehyung. With warm hands and a wicked sense of mischief, Taehyung was the only child that had ever wanted to play with Jimin. He was happy to alter their games to things Jimin could keep up with and they spent all their hours together.

When they turned into young men old enough to work and Jimin couldn’t manage it, Taehyung would try to do Jimin’s share for him and when he couldn’t, he would help Jimin hide from his father’s beatings.

But, as they grew older, a lot passed between Taehyung and Jimin that shouldn’t have. Tender moments they shouldn’t have shared and feelings two men weren’t allowed to feel.

Four summers ago, Taehyung had married a pretty girl from the neighbouring village and now only pain hung between the old friends, twisting their once treasured bond. Jimin couldn’t take refuge in Taehyung’s home and listen to his wife hum as she moved around the house, or witness the happy glimmer in Taehyung’s eyes while he bounced his small daughter on his knee.

So, recently, Jimin has spent all his energy on finding a cure. Without one, he wasn't sure he would live much longer.

The trouble was that witches and doctors aren’t cheap and Jimin had no money for them. So he had to steal.

At first, he would only take the odd egg or handful of rice or a jar of pickles from his parents' store. That was normally enough for the small village doctors who told him his spleen was too large and his kidneys too small, or another that recommended standing in the village pond on the night of the full moon.

Needless to say, none of that worked.

In fact, the pond escapade procured him a fever so bad his parents got excited that he might finally die. He didn’t, but the joints of his knees have hurt ever since.

Next, he stole an embroidered waistcoat from his sister’s husband, stuffing it inside his shirt when they had him round for dinner and trying to swallow the guilt when they hugged him goodbye.

A doctor in the nearest town had accepted the waistcoat as payment for a visit. He told Jimin that his small hands and feet showed that his organs were being crushed by the weight of his ribcage and luckily, he could help. But the waistcoat had only covered the consultation fee and the cure would cost seven coins.

Jimin stayed in town for four days, begging on the streets for coins until he could afford the cure from the doctor. In return, he was given a little vial of grey powder that was claimed to be dragon teeth, but was actually crushed ash from the fire.

When Jimin returned home, he had to listen to his sister cry about the missing waistcoat, describing how she had embroidered it for her husband for their wedding. She didn’t suspect Jimin of stealing it, but her tears caused him great pain.

Jimin couldn’t give up though. He was quite sure he was either months from death or that, if he wasn’t, his parents would eventually snap and feed him to the pigs.

So, he sought out a witch.

She lived two day’s journey from his village. He paid her in rice and cured pork and coins he earned by singing in a local inn.

One of the only things his mother had ever loved about Jimin was his sweet, clear voice, and in the brief moments of peace between them, he would sing for her by the fire. It was a stroke of last-minute inspiration that he thought to offer this as a service in local inns and drinking halls.

He was mostly shooed away but had enough small success to afford to pay the witch some coin.

Hers were the first hands that filled him with hope as they touched him with a tenderness few ever had in his life. Warm and dry, she ran her palms over his limbs, pushed them into his temples and ended with a hand chucked under his chin and her cool eyes meeting his own.

‘My sweet one, you are full of pain, aren’t you? From here to here,’ she tapped his chest and then between his eyes. He nodded. ‘It is beyond me to help you though, for that I am sorry.’ Tears fell silently down his cheeks as the brief glimmer of hope he had felt died away. ‘Shall we eat this together?’ she gestured at the food he had brought. Jimin hadn’t eaten for two days to save it up for her.

Without waiting for an answer, she made up two small plates, adding a few pickles. They sat on her front door step and shared the meal in the evening sunshine.

‘Perhaps you could try the witch in the Han forest?’ She asked.

‘Could they really help me, if you can’t?’ Jimin had asked, sceptically.

‘It is quite possible. They are quite renowned. I have seen sicker people than you granted miracles by them,’ she smiles sadly, ‘but for that reason their prices are high and often…peculiar.’

After insisting he stayed the night with her and giving him something to help him rest, she sent Jimin off to the forest with a description of the fabled white gate. She also gave him a small selection of potent herbs to offer as a gift to the witch.

The walk was hard on Jimin but he made it, though weary and sore.. He looked at the looming white gate before him in awe.

There was a board hanging from the top which stated the witch’s needs and desires and then a series of wooden crates where people could leave said gifts attached to simple letters stating what they needed in return.

People’s requests ranged from simple medicines, cures and charms, all the way through to more complex sorcery. It went without saying that the better your present the better the witch would provide for you.

Every few weeks, in the cover of darkness, the box of presents would vanish and a week or so later the requested cures and spells would appear in return.

On his first attempt, Jimin wrote a short letter describing his symptoms and tied it to the bag of herbs from the witch.

When he heard talk that the witch had returned he went rushing to the gate, but was devastated to find the same bag of herbs there with his request still attached. Completely untouched.

His gift must not have been good enough.

He looked up at the board that the witch scrawled their demands on.

Shiny things

Beads? glass

Eyes

EYES!

Carved faces, those were nice

Long hair, silky only

Sea water

Honey

Jimin stared in disbelief. The witch sounded bonkers, but he had no choice but to persevere.

The landlord of the local inn had taken pity on him and let him sleep in the stables while he waited for the witch’s cure. In return for the favour, he washed dishes and sang in the evenings by the fire.

‘Do you have anything I can do for coins so I can buy a better gift?’ Jimin had to beg him when he returned in despair without a cure.

‘Oh, son. I’ve nothing needs doing that you could manage.’ He responded, with pity.

Later, his wife came to Jimin and told him that after he sings, he should sit on the knee of the blacksmith who loves to watch him and comes every evening to do so.

Jimin sighed and thanked her. For the next few days, he followed the pitiful advice and at the end of each evening a coin was slipped into the pocket of his trousers alongside the blacksmiths wandering hands.

After a week he was able to buy ten beautiful blue glass beads from the local market with his coins. Jimin took them straight to the white gate, attached them to a letter about his condition, kissed the little parcel for luck and rushed back to sleep in the stable.

He continued to endure the blacksmith so that he could stay in the inn and eat the scraps from his plate while he sat on his lap. It would all be worth it when the witch would finally offer him a cure.

The inn was the perfect place to hear about the miracles the witch had already achieved. It was the nearest point to the white gate and pretty much everybody making the pilgrimage there stayed in the inn on their way through.

Jimin heard endless talk of people being cured of lameness, of impotence, of being blessed with huge fortunes, even of miracles such as people having their sight returned.

When the word came that the crates had been filled, he rushed there with the others, though he quickly fell behind and was the last to arrive.

As he approached, his heart sank in foreboding. His senses were right. At the bottom of the box sat his letter but no cure, no response and even worse - no blue beads.

At first, Jimin was heartbroken and he fell to his knees and sobbed.

Then, he remembered that the witch had basically scammed him and rage tore through his body. Not only had they ignored him again but they had taken the beads and given him nothing in return. Furious, and without stopping to think, Jimin stormed to the gate, pushed it open and charged into the dark forest.

Which is how he found himself here, wrapped in a thick blanket on the floor of a bizarre home and co-existing with the strangest person he had ever met.

Jungkook was a riddle. He was all at once the terrifying presence that had hunted Jimin through the forest and invaded his very subconscious, while he was also a surprisingly young man, who talked like a child and pressed his palms to his face when he laughed.

He was kind of terrifying looking.

His long black hair was messy and threaded with beads and feathers, and the skin of his face and body seemed to be entirely covered in black tattoos. On each cheekbone, just under his eyes, were tattoos of two half suns.

But Jungkook also had very kind black eyes and he did seem to be healing Jimin rather well.

Jimin opens his eyes properly and peers around the room that he is in.

When he woke up yesterday, he had been too frightened by Jungkook to pay much attention to his surroundings before quickly falling asleep again. But now, he takes it in properly.

He’s on the floor of a simple hanok. It is well made, with walls of stone and a tiled roof, but it is smaller than average. There is a ladder to the bed in the rafters that he remembers initially waking up on and otherwise only one door and two small windows. It seems this room is the extent of Jungkook’s whole house.

Decoration-wise, the hanok is pure madness and matches the bizarre personality of Jungkook himself.

In terms of normal things in the home, there is a small kitchen area - with some shelves of crockery and clay jars - a low dining table, the bedding Jimin is curled up on, some shelves of papers, and a few racks of herbs.

Otherwise, every other inch of the hanok is very far from normal. Any available bit of empty space on the walls is covered in clutter or decoration. Much like the terrifying platform bed, though thankfully not quite as intense.

There are an awful lot of eyes pretty much everywhere, even painted directly onto the stone. There are also a lot of bizarre artistic creations; sculptures made of wood, faces painted on dried gourds, and stars and moons made from twisted metal.

Most strikingly, there are several slightly disturbing, somewhat naively made, sculptures of various animals and beasts hanging from the beams of the roof. They’re made of bent metal, pieces of wood and ribbon. Shells and beads make up their terrifying faces and they bounce gently whenever there’s a breeze and move at the joints as if alive.

Jimin is looking at them with a bemused horror when to his absolute fury he notices a row of blue glass beads adorning the wing of a model of what he thinks is a crow.

‘That absolute motherfucker!’ he exclaims and pushes himself up from the bed, despite the protests from his body. ‘That arsehole! That bead stealing dick brain. That shit!!’

He continues his litany of curses as he shakily gets to his feet. Every bit of his body hurts but his rage helps him ignore it.

He hobbles to the middle of the floor, stretching his hands to the ceiling to try to pull down the crow and yelling with fury when he can’t reach. With humongous effort, his knees screaming in protest, he pulls himself onto the low dining table and manages to grab a ceiling beam to hold himself upright.

With his last burst of energy, he leans towards the sculpture.

‘Those are my fucking beads, you shit!’ he mutters as he tugs the model crow into his hands and begins pulling the beads off the wing and shoving them into his pocket. Shouting obscenities with every bead.

Just as he has the last bead safely stowed away, the front door slides open and Jungkook appears, his hair wet and wearing only a worn pair of black trousers. As suspected, his whole body is covered in inky black tattoos, just like his face and hands. But Jimin isn’t looking at him properly, his vision is red with rage.

‘Oh, little one! Why are you on the table? I have only just fixed your silly knees.' Jungkook frowns, and it just makes Jimin angrier.

‘You fuck!’ Jimin yells and throws the model crow at him.

It surprises them both by taking off rather gracefully - as if it was a real bird - and swoops towards Jungkook in a loop-de-loop.

‘Oh! Oh!’ he cries as he catches it and before Jimin can blink he has leapt onto the table next to him with the swiftness of a cat and flung the bird into the air again. ‘How beautiful, how beautiful! What a fun game.’ He coos and claps as the bird swoops around the cottage and Jimin can’t help but also watch - astonished.

Then he remembers the beads.

He turns to Jungkook and shoves him on the back with both palms. Hard.

The action takes Jungkook by surprise and he lurches forward and falls to the floor with a noise of shock. He lays still for a moment and then rolls over onto his back and props himself up, touching his lip momentarily and then looking up at Jimin with big, childish eyes and a quiver to his jaw.

He looks as if he might burst into tears and Jimin is horrified. Jungkook pulls his hand away from his mouth and stares at a little spot of blood on his fingers.

‘Ow,’ he says softly, the threat of tears still lingering in the sound of his voice, ‘why did you push me? I bit my lip. It hurts. I thought we were playing with the bird?’

Jimin’s pain and exhaustion (and though he won’t admit it, guilt) catches up with him and he collapses on top of the table, propped up by his one good arm.

‘You stole my beads and you didn’t cure me,’ he mutters.

‘Your beads? But I have been curing you! I fixed your broken bones and gave you some of my energy when you ran out of yours in the woods…I have been trying but you’re not a very healthy human, I’m sorry.’ To Jimin’s absolute horror a tear really does fall then, dangling for a moment in Jungkook’s thick black lashes and then running down the tattoos on his cheeks. ‘I am sorry, I thought we were playing,’ he whispers in a tiny, childlike voice.

Jimin doesn’t know what to say. He just sighs and hangs his head.

A moment later he looks up in surprise at the sound of Jungkook giggling. He is pushing his finger up and down in the tear tracks on his cheeks. When he catches Jimin’s eyes he laughs louder.

‘You made me cry!’ Jungkook grins. Jimin thinks he must be truly, truly insane.

‘And now you’re laughing?’

‘Yes! I haven’t cried in a very long time. I thought I had forgotten how to. I had forgotten. I haven’t been sad in a long time.’

‘Well, that’s good…’

‘Is it? I don’t think so. I don’t feel sad and I don’t feel happy and I don’t get tears and I don’t get many laughs. I don’t think I have made tears since Mama left me here and didn’t come back? And that must have been a long time ago because I was so small then my voice hadn’t even gone low and I didn’t have any hair except on my head! I couldn't even reach the top shelves for a few winters after they left unless I climbed up…’ he babbles.

‘Oh…’ is all Jimin can manage in return.

‘So, thank you, little one, for my tears and the rest. I was so happy when I thought we were playing and so sad when you pushed me and we weren’t playing and so in only a few minutes you gave me some really big feelings. They felt nice. Thanks.’

Jimin is running his fingers over the beads in his pocket and feeling like an arsehole. He just nods, almost unnoticeably.

‘So, the beads. You have ten blue beads in your pocket. You got them off the crow’s wing. You said I stole them from you?’ Jungkook asks, his head cocked to one side.

‘Yes,’ Jimin answers, trying to muster up the anger he felt not even ten minutes ago, ‘I left them for you at the gate with a letter about my illness. You took them but you left my letter and you didn’t give me a cure.’

Jungkook nibbles awkwardly at his thumb nail, ‘Ah, I see. Well, so, yes, then I did steal your beads. They are very, very pretty and I really wanted them for my crow. You know how deep black crow feathers sometimes look blue in the sunlight? I thought they would be pretty-’

‘-you dick head,’ Jimin fumes, interrupting Jungkook’s response, ‘if only you knew what I had to endure to get you those beads! Had to humour a horrible, slobbery old man touching me up for weeks! All for you to steal them for a stupid bird model and not even help me?!’

‘My bird isn’t stupid, it flew very prettily.’ Jungkook’s answer has a child-like twinge of petulance and Jimin snaps and throws a cup at him.

It misses but Jungkook flinches.

‘You are throwing lots of things at my head today; it isn’t very kind.’

‘You are one to talk about kindness! Did you not hear what I just told you? What part of I got touched up for some fucking beads, just for you to steal them, was you being kind to me?’

‘Ah, well, I did hear that, I just don’t really understand. I got that slobbery isn’t a nice word but I don’t know what touching up is,’ Jungkook shrugs.

‘I can’t believe you are the renowned witch everybody talks about. You’re an imbecile.’

‘Oh, no. I’m very good actually. If I didn’t give you a cure it is either because you don’t need one or it was a stupid request.’

Jimin wants to throttle him. ‘Do you not even remember it?’

‘I get a lot of requests,’ Jungkook shrugs again, ‘remind me.’

Jimin pauses for a few moments and then sighs for the hundredth time before reciting his letter.

‘It said something like: my name is Park Jimin. I have been ill all my life. I get lots of sicknesses and I am weak and very tired. And very sad. Please help me.'

‘See, I was right, that was a stupid request.’ Jungkook mutters.

Jimin is mortified. ‘I…I can’t write very well, I didn’t know how to explain better. I thought you would at least reply…’ he trails off.

Jungkook tilts his head to the other side and looks at Jimin with curiosity. Suddenly, his eyes roll back in his head leaving only the whites visible. His lips flutter. Jimin can only stare in horror, unable to move, as he feels a strange warmth spread throughout his body.

A few minutes pass and then Jungkook’s eyes flicker back around and rest on Jimin gently.

‘Okay. I see. I will do my best to help you. If I do…can I have the beads back? They’re really nice.’

Jimin pulls the beads out of his pocket. He holds them out and offers them to Jungkook.

‘I’ll give you the beads in return for you curing me. But I’m not leaving here until you do, okay? I don’t trust you.’

Jungkook stands up with a grin and holds his palm out for Jimin to drop the beads in.

‘Okay. Will you also tell me what touching up means?’ he asks with sincerity and Jimin snorts.

‘No. You are far too young.’

‘I am not much younger than you! I can tell. I have done at least twenty winters by your terms, I think quite a few more than that actually - but definitely at least twenty.'

He puffs up his bare chest and Jimin smiles at him, then wipes it off his face quickly.

Jungkook makes Jimin go back to bed and brings him another bowl of warm hobak-juk and a cup of bitter tea.

‘I see you wasted wood on me this time, to warm this up.’ Jimin comments.

‘Ah no, I have the fire going outside to make requests for the gate, it didn’t take any extra to put the pot on the side.’ Jungkook lingers by the door with his own bowl clutched in his fingers, as if he was about to leave. ‘Um. Jimin-ssi?’

‘Yes?’

‘Can I sit and eat with you?’

Jimin nods and works to keep a smile from creeping over his lips.

*          *          *          *          *

The next few days are awkward. Jungkook certainly seems to be taking good care of him, and doesn't seem a threat necessarily, but he is still the strangest being Jimin has ever met.

Jimin can’t remember exactly how long it has been since he stormed through the gate now. At least five days. Maybe a week. He tries to keep track but has passed out so many times - and, with the help of some of Jungkook’s many teas - slept for so long that it is impossible to know. Jungkook is no help because he seems not to keep track of time at all, or not in any way Jimin recognises.

Jungkook is diligent in his care though.

He hand-feeds Jimin juk and broths laced with medicinal ingredients. He brings him various teas, always explaining in his jumbled way of talking what each brew is for.

‘This is ginseng and green tea, for swelling.’

‘This is chickweed and pepper, good for your blood.’

‘This is turmeric, ginger and cat's claw! For making new bones.’

‘Um…like, actual cat claws…or?’ Jimin had whispered, holding the steaming cup in his hands, unsure how he would feel about an affirmative.

‘Oh, no. The herb. Cats aren’t good as ingredients in many things. They’re much too selfish.’ Jungkook laughed.

Jimin would very much like to ask more about that but Jungkook is gone in a blink, he always is.

A day or so after the crow incident, Jungkook comes running into the cottage from his outside store and shoves a little clay jar at Jimin. ‘I forgot I had this, it’s going to be so good for you.’

He lifts the lid and extends the jar towards Jimin, his face split in a huge smile. Unsure about what he's supposed to do, Jimin peers in and then sniffs gently.

‘Honey?’ He asks.

‘Yes! I'll put it in your tea. You need it. You're so skinny.’

Jimin looks dolefully down at his body. He is very skinny. He's always hated it. Unfortunately, he hasn't had a life that provided him many sweet things such as honey.

Alongside the excellent care he is providing to Jimin, Jungkook seems very busy. He is rarely still, always rushing in and out of the hanok. Sometimes he's completely gone for hours.

Jimin isn't really sure he wants him around, but he can't deny he's bored and lonely. He is almost completely bed bound and confined to the pallet on the hanok floor.

Another downside to being stuck on the pallet is his inability to stand properly for long, meaning he couldn’t relieve himself on his own.

He'd been horrified when Jungkook provided him with a clay jar, utterly unbothered by it. However, it was a reality that Jimin could barely walk a few steps (jumping on the table to get his beads had been his biggest exertion so far and had set him back days, according to Jungkook) so, in the end, he had to concede. Though it never stopped being mortifying when Jungkook came to collect the jar and clean it out like it was no big deal.

But, on what he thinks is the third day he’s woken up in the hanok, Jimin needs more than a piss. He’s been trying to ignore it, but Jungkook is feeding him plenty of food and he can't hold it anymore.

One thing is for sure though, he is absolutely not doing that in a jar for Jungkook to deal with.

When Jungkook comes to change the bandages on his wrist Jimin tries to broach the subject without having to say it directly.

‘Jungkook-ssi, is there some other place I can, you know…’ he waves his other hand at the jar. Jungkook just stares and then goes back to folding dried herbs into the cloth. ‘Instead of using the jar?’ Jimin tries again. Still nothing. ‘Where do you go?’

‘In the forest, obviously.’ Jungkook sighs.

‘So, can I do that please?’

‘But you can’t walk more than a step or two, can you?’

‘Yes, I know-‘

‘-what is it?’

‘I need...not a piss?’

‘You need to shit? Finally! I was getting a bit worried. Is it usual for you not to go every day?’

Jimin slaps his free hand over his eyes in shame.

‘Jungkook-ssi, your questions! You need boundaries.’

Jungkook just laughs.

‘Okay, back to your shit. Do you need a bigger jar? Or you need me to hold you up?’

‘Oh gods. No. No, neither of those. I can't go in a jar Jungkook-ssi, I can't have you deal with it.’ He wants to die.

‘Why not?’

‘Because it's embarrassing!’

‘Is it? You humans are so funny about bodies. What is embarrassing about shitting in a jar?’

Jimin’s mouth drops open. ‘What isn't embarrassing about shitting in a jar? Gods.’

‘Poor little thing. Your face is all red, don't strain too much. I don't think that is going to help you right now...’ He collapses in a fit of laughter while Jimin whacks his chest.

‘Jungkook-ssi, please. I want to go outside like you do.’

‘Okay, okay little one. I'll have to carry you though, won't I? Your knees have been healing well, you should manage to squat but if you fall in your shit, I'm going to laugh at you and say I told you so before I help you.’

Jimin just sighs. At least he's getting what he wants.

*          *          *          *          *

Jimin really is starting to feel better, which is quite impressive in just a few days. Though, Jungkook still hasn’t really said exactly what is wrong with Jimin and if he can be fully cured.

'It's complicated,' is all Jungkook says, 'you're in very bad condition. I need to sort that out first.'

He says Jimin’s body is full of old injuries, badly set bones and scars to his skin. He apparently also has the scars of fever in his brain and is much too skinny and weak, and that years of not sleeping well have ruined his health further.

Jimin doesn’t want to ask how Jungkook can see scars on his brain so he doesn’t and just accepts the rest as it all sounds about right.

So, they start with the obvious: his broken wrist and bashed up knees. Jungkook says it should only be a week or two before both are fully healed. He asked the bones very nicely he said. And he's right. After about a week Jimin can use his wrist, even if it still aches, and he can soon hobble around a little as long as he takes it slow.

‘I’m not leaving until you cure me completely,’ he tells Jungkook for the hundredth time as he brings him ginger tea and honey in the evening.

‘You have made that clear, little one. And I made you a promise right back. But you are complicated. I haven’t seen such a sick human in a long time.’

Jimin’s stomach sinks at his words. Jungkook must have cured hundreds of humans over the years - and Jimin is one of the worst? He hopes it isn't beyond his magic to heal him.

'Oh, that made you sad. Why?'

‘Huh?'

'I felt you get sad when I said that.'

'You felt it?'

'Hmm yeah. I can feel most living things and their basic feelings. You burn very hot, your feelings are quite spiky.'

Jimin doesn’t really know how to process that.

'I was just sad that you think I'm that sick. I'm worried I can't be healed.'

'A lot about you can. Most of your problems are easy. I said that because of the sheer amount of things you’ve got going on. Your body has been wrung through. You've had a tough life, haven't you, little human?'

'My family is poor,’ Jimin shrugs, ‘that's how it is.'

'Hmm. That's why you're half-starved and some of the other things. But being poor isn't why you're covered in scars and badly set broken bones, is it?’

Jungkook looks at him with his piercing black eyes and Jimin turns his face away and doesn’t answer, but, if Jungkook is right about feeling emotions, then he will know he is right anyway.

‘Magic is complicated,’ Jungkook speaks into the silence after a few minutes, ‘it isn’t quite like humans imagine. I can only fix what I understand and your body is a mess right now. The injuries and bad health confuse the bigger picture. I need to sort that out first. Okay?’

‘You know it is okay. You are my last hope.’

‘Well, I hope I am worthy of that. Just know I really am trying. You just have to trust me a bit.’

*          *          *          *          *

A few days later, when Jimin wakes, the sun is shining so beautifully he can feel its warmth even through the small windows. He’s lost track of time fully now, but it was late spring when he entered the forest. Summer must be a beautiful time to live out here.

While he day-dreams under the beams of sunlight, Jungkook bursts in through the front door.

‘The sun is wonderful today,’ he grins, ‘I think you need to come outside. The sun will kiss your skin and give you presents.’

‘Presents?’ Jimin smiles as he props himself up on his elbows. He’s growing annoyingly fond of Jungkook’s peculiar way of expressing things.

‘Yes! Presents. I don’t know the words but sunbeams have lots of good things in them for human bodies. They will give you things to make you strong.’

‘Is that why you’re always half naked?’ Jimin can’t help asking. Jungkook very rarely wears anything but a pair of ripped black trousers, not even shoes or sandals.

‘It is summer? I run a lot. I’m warm. Anyway, come, come. Outside!’ And he scampers off back through the door.

Jimin can walk now but it is a slow and wobbly progress. It takes him a few minutes to get through the door and onto the veranda that hugs the front and side of the hanok.

His eyes take a while to adjust to the light but when they do, he grins at the beautiful sight. He has only been outside a few times but every time he does he is hit by the same joy. He’s growing quite attached to the little haven that is Jungkook’s home, and the sunshine truly transforms it into something magical.

The hanok is set in a clearing bursting with green and looking like something he has only ever seen on faded ink drawings in inns. A mountain stretches up behind the hanok, the clearing sits in front, and somewhere near, Jimin can hear water.

They are deep in the forest and it smells sweet and hums with life, the sun shining through the canopy above and casting speckled light everywhere.

Jungkook is buzzing around the tree line, his hens pottering by his feet, while the sun casts flickering swathes of light across his bare skin.

Jimin leans against one of the beams of the veranda and breathes heavily, it took a lot of energy for him to even get this far.

‘Come, come,’ Jungkook yells, ‘into the sunshine.’ Jimin begins to wobble down the steps but stumbles. Jungkook is by his side in a minute, helping him sit down. ‘Poor little one, you really are like a sapling in the wind.’

Jungkook hovers for a minute, tapping his chin as if thinking, ‘sit and wait for me, I have an idea.’

For the next few minutes, he buzzes in and out of the hanok with arms full of blankets, talking to himself the whole time as usual.

Jimin is nearly dozing off again when he hears his name and looks up to see Jungkook standing above him.

‘Is it ok if I pick you up, Jimin-ssi? I will be gentle.’ Jimin nods and Jungkook carries him across the clearing. He turns his face towards Jimin and grins, ‘I have made you a nest.’

The nest turns out to be an old wooden hand cart that Jungkook has pulled into the sun and filled with blankets and even a large fur. He gently puts Jimin down on the edge of it.

Jimin looks at it for a moment before crawling into its midst on his hands and knees like a child. It is a warm day but he has never been offered such a comfortable bed in his life, the blankets and furs impossibly soft. He laughs and nestles in, burying himself deep in the cart. He adores the feeling of being entirely surrounded.

Once he has finished nesting, he looks up at Jungkook with a huge grin and laughs.

‘This is wonderful! I love it! I can’t believe you had me sleeping on that stinking pallet when I could have demanded to sleep in this like a prince.’

Jungkook looks very happy.

‘I only thought of it just now,’ he nods, ‘and you haven’t seen the best bit yet. Are you ready?’

Jimin looks at him and nods. ‘Off we go then!’ Jungkook reaches down and grasps the handles of the cart and starts pulling it around the clearing while Jimin laughs in delight.

‘You’re like a pony! My trusty steed!’ He laughs as Jungkook breaks into a jog.

They play around for a while, the sound of their laughter filling the air and echoing through the trees.

Neither have had a chance in longer than they can remember to do something simply for the joy of it. Jimin thinks he probably hasn’t laughed like this since he was a child playing in the fields with Taehyung.

Jungkook isn’t sure he has ever played before at all. Certainly not with a human.

Eventually, Jungkook stops and flops down onto the grass, his bare skin glistening with sweat.

‘It’s a good thing it’s so warm today. I need to wash now.’ He sighs, brushing his sweaty hair off his forehead.

‘Oh, please, can I wash too? It has been…weeks actually.’ Jimin grimaces. The last wash he’d had, had been in the horse trough at the tavern trying to wash away the smell of the blacksmith’s sweat - and it had barely done the job.

‘Of course. There’s a nice stream.’ Jungkook nods. ‘When it is cold, I can heat up water and we can wash inside but it takes a lot of effort. I like the stream better too.’

‘I am happy with the stream.’ Jimin nods. It already sounds far better than a horse trough.

Jungkook springs up and rushes off, pulling the hand cart behind him. It’s not long before they emerge from the trees to a small slope and a stream that twists around some rocks and makes a small, shallow pool.

It is beautiful.

One thing Jimin didn’t expect (but probably should have) is that on arrival, Jungkook immediately strips naked without any shame.

He then turns to Jimin and asks if he needs help doing so too. Jimin shakes his head and slowly begins undressing as Jungkook shrugs and flings himself into the water.

Jimin shouldn’t be so embarrassed about nudity; it is a very common thing in village life, particularly for things like washing and even some sports.

The problem for Jimin is that he likes men. And though that doesn’t mean he likes the sight of any naked man - actually very far from it - he has spent his whole life so terrified that somebody will catch onto him. That something he does will give away some sign and that the consequences will be brutal. So, he desperately avoids anything like this.

Jungkook doesn’t seem like the type, but Jimin knows from experience how quickly things can turn nasty when you least expect it.

Once he has undressed, he lowers himself from the cart and keeps his head very firmly down to the ground as he begins to shuffle to the stream.

‘Ah, don’t waste your energy, little one.’ he hears just a moment before he is scooped up in Jungkook’s wet arms, carried to the stream and deposited into the water with a plop.

When he surfaces, Jungkook is already leant over and washing his hair.

The cool water is a delight on his tired, dirty skin and Jimin busies himself with washing too.

Jungkook says they should wash their clothes and dry them while the sun is hot and so leaps out of the water, glorious and glistening in the sun.

Before he can look away, Jimin notices that there aren’t any tattoos on Jungkook’s back at all, or the backs of his legs or arms.

He looks down quickly but can’t help asking about them.

‘I haven’t seen anybody with tattoos like yours,’ he says.

‘No?’

‘No, I haven’t seen many people with tattoos at all actually. Just sometimes, on the arms of men in the docks. They’re normally mermaids and things…nothing like yours.’

‘Do mine look okay?’ Jungkook asks with a frown as he sinks back into the water, trailing his fingertips through the surface and looking at Jimin with a creased brow.

‘Yes, they suit you.’ Jimin nods.

‘I look nice?’

‘Yes?’

‘Oh, that’s good. I can’t really see them properly myself, obviously. And I do them myself too. I didn’t really mean to do so many but…well I did and I guess it is something to do and I like the feeling very much…’

‘The feeling? Like the pain?’

‘Hmm, yes, I guess that…it is nice and sharp.’

‘How do you do them?’ Jimin is impressed and curious and finds himself sliding through the water nearer to Jungkook. He holds himself back from lifting his hand and running it over the marks on his skin.

‘Well, I’ve tried a few different ways over the years. First I used ink from the growths on oak trees. It’s quite easy, you just have to squish them up and boil it. My daddy taught me. It is what we write the spells and charms and things with. But that fades after a while on skin. Ink made from ash works better, from burnt pine trees. Anyway, I use that and I have a sharp stick that I boil and then dip it in the ink and poke into my skin. I used to be quite bad at it at first,’ he holds out his hands to Jimin across the water, ‘see how it is kind of blurry and wobbly on my hands? But I got better, I think. And I made an even better tool for the fine detail, with a little fish bone on the end. Although, because I do them looking down at my own body, I guess a lot of my designs are upside down.’

He giggles and flops onto his back in the water.

‘That’s…kind of mad actually. You must have a high pain tolerance.’ Jimin laughs.

‘I like to feel things, remember?’

They float for a little longer in the dappled sunlight before Jungkook decides their clothes should be dry.

Jimin follows him out of the water, refusing Jungkook’s help this time. He shakes his hair out, uses one of the blankets in the cart to dry off, then pulls his clothes back on. Jungkook is right, they are warm and dry from where they left them sprawled on the rocks in the sun.

It makes him feel content and peaceful somehow and drowsiness starts to hit him from the exertion. Swimming in the pool is more exercise than he has done since he came here. He crawls back into the cart and nuzzles into the blankets. He can hear Jungkook talking as he pushes the cart, but soon it registers only as a low hum.

Jimin is not sure he has ever had a better day and before they are even back to the hanok, he is fast asleep.

Chapter Text

In one of their first conversations, Jungkook had adamantly told Jimin he barely ever used mouth-words, but this turned out not to be true at all.

Jungkook never stops talking.

He talked to the dishes as he washed them, the bandages as he wrapped them around Jimin’s wrist and their clothes as he hung them out to dry. He apologised profusely to herbs as he picked them, begged forgiveness of mushrooms as he stewed them and even sang a cute song of thanks to a fish as he de-scaled and filleted it for dinner.

Perhaps, he had been alone for so long it didn’t really register anymore and, since nothing ever spoke back, he didn’t notice he was doing it.

But he did have something that spoke back to him these days, and he seemed to be enjoying Jimin’s conversation as if he were a new toy.

Jimin opens a lazy eye and watches as Jungkook hangs up herbs to dry in the sunshine.

He's sprawled in the summer sunshine in ‘the nest’, happily scratching between the wings of Honey, his now favourite hen. Until he lived here, Jimin had never considered chickens as more than just food. Now he adores them.

Honey's sisters, Lady and Moon, are perched on the handle of the cart, occasionally ruffling their feathers and spreading their wings to enjoy the sun, while their most mischievous sister, Pebble, follows Jungkook around. Jimin can hear him talking to her sweetly.

He hasn’t come over in a while but it won’t be long, it never is.

Jimin has been staying with Jungkook for a few weeks and they have settled into an easy routine. Jimin is allowed to spend all day lazing around in the nest, pulled around by Jungkook and fed rich food and healing broths - as long as he willingly answers Jungkook’s endless questions or tells him stories when asked to.

In Jimin’s opinion, it is a very good deal in exchange for just ten blue beads and some conversation (but he isn’t going to tell Jungkook that).

Jimin has never been so well in his life, never had so much rest or eaten so much food. Not to mention he actually loves talking to Jungkook - whose wonder is boundless and humour surprisingly sharp. Jungkook might be the one starved of human interaction, but Jimin hasn’t exactly lived the most joyful life with humans either.

It was a pure joy Jimin never expected to feel in this life, to sit under the awning of Jungkook’s cottage in the summer rain, with cups of tea between their palms, and tell him stories about sea creatures. Much like it is to listen while Jungkook pulls the nest through the trees and tells Jimin the names of all the plants and flowers as they pass. Or, when Jungkook asked if gods were real, or if Jimin knew how to make honey cakes.

Jimin didn’t know how to make anything much but he wished he could that day, so that he could have made some honey cakes and made Jungkook smile.

He comes around from his thoughts with the realisation that he can no longer hear Jungkook talking to Pebble. He opens his eyes and can’t see Jungkook anymore either, the clearing empty and quiet.

He props himself up on his elbows and looks around just as two hands suddenly grip the edge of the handcart and Jungkook’s grinning face pops into view with a loud growl.

Honey, Moon and Lady all flap away with a squawk of disgust and Jimin yells and hits Jungkook with his palms.

As usual, Jungkook starts asking questions with no preamble. Something that Jimin is used to by now. All Jungkook’s questions are obscure, occasionally pierced by something profound.

Like today, he asks:

‘Why do humans kill for fun?

Jimin doesn't know what to say, so he opts for the sort of cop out parents tell children.

‘Oh. They must be possessed by demons.’

Jungkook looks at him as if he is stupid. ‘But, I’ve seen humans kill each other on the outskirts of the forest. They didn't have demons in them. I saw them.’

‘Oh. Well maybe you couldn't see the demons?’

Jungkook laughs heartily.

‘What? How would I not see them? Don't worry I’ll just put this on the list of questions you don't know the answer to. It is rapidly becoming a longer list.’ He sighs.

Jimin wants to ask more about this list but Jungkook has already vanished back into the trees.

*          *          *          *          *

In the afternoon, Jimin walks himself down to the stream. His strength is returning and he has been wading around in the shallows to try and build up some muscle.

His arms and legs are thin and weak and he hates them. He’s never really known what to do about it but he has discovered that in the water, his joints ache less and movement is easier. In reality, he doesn’t really know how to swim and the best he has managed so far is a sort of chaotic doggy paddle. He’s hoping it is doing some good, but even if it isn’t, he is still having fun.

Jimin has never really had fun in his life.

Even the few glimmers of it in his childhood - moments where he and Taehyung would escape somewhere, or the evenings when his parents left him and his siblings to it and his sister told them folk stories with Jimin’s head resting in her lap - even all those moments were tinged with a lurking darkness.

Joy was always short-lived.

It was never long before Jimin and Taehyung were chased by other children in the village and Taehyung was held down while they dunked Jimin’s head in the water trough or kicked him until he fell into the dirt. Those evenings with his siblings always ended with his mother coming home and scolding him for letting his sister stroke his hair like he was a girl or his father coming back so drunk even his brothers weren’t spared his wrath.

In the forest, all of that seems so far away. With each day that passes, the simple happiness Jimin feels becomes less overshadowed by the pain that inevitably awaits him when he leaves. It is becoming too easy to just imagine that the forest is all that exists and all he needs is this clearing, a stream and some delicious hobak-juk.

Tired, Jimin stretches onto his back and floats in the water, gently moving his arms every few seconds to keep himself on the surface. In that position, his ears are underwater and the sound of the forest dims to nearly nothing. He lets his eyes drift unfocused over the canopy of leaves above, where rays of light break through and dapple across the water’s surface.

He feels completely at peace. He is happy here. Jungkook seemed so terrifying and unhinged at first but has mellowed into something sweeter and more mischievous. Or perhaps Jimin has just gotten used to him.

*          *          *          *          *

From the canopy above, crouching unseen among the branches, Jungkook watches Jimin swim.

When he splashes about in a messy doggy paddle, Jungkook laughs softly. He grins as Jimin tries to pull up his body weight on a branch overhanging the water, battling against his thin arms. He frowns when Jimin disappears under the surface for a moment too long.

Every day since Jimin arrived - Jungkook has felt feelings. He thinks maybe he has even felt all of them by now, though he doesn’t know all their names. Feelings are so wonderful and novel to Jungkook, who has been alone since he was a child and had nothing much to think about aside from survival.

He’s had animals and plants as companions, even other witches from time to time, but there is something different about actually living alongside a human.

He used to think he disliked humans, but perhaps he was wrong. Or maybe it is just Jimin.

Jimin is like a little pet, but better. Like the art Jungkook makes, but real. He loves the stories Jimin tells him. He gets frustrated with him. He thinks he is silly. And smart. And funny. And small.

He is intrigued that Jimin is so full of a natural, burning energy that he himself doesn’t seem to be aware of. It is how Jungkook mistook him for a dokkaebi or at least a huge, human warrior before he saw him. Sight for Jungkook, and all witches, is not just limited to their eyes. There is a lot more to most things on earth than how eyes perceive them. From rocks to plants to animals, everything can also be touched, smelt, tasted but also sensed and perceived. Jungkook wonders if some ancient god was playing a little joke when they squeezed Jimin into a frail human body, when in reality he is so much stronger than that.

As Jungkook watches him, Jimin stretches onto his back and floats in the water. He finds, with a little surprise, that he is just as interested in Jimin’s body as he is his energy and his mind.

Jimin is thin, but lean. He hasn’t worked and built wiry muscle, like most villagers, but there is some definition on his thighs and his stomach. He moves his fingers gently in the water, causing ripples, and Jungkook watches the way the water laps across his chest and stomach. His skin glistens, goosebumps rising and his nipples darken and pucker.

Jungkook frowns a little. Why is he enjoying watching Jimin like this? The feeling in his stomach isn’t one he knows the name of.

He drops his head to one side with a question on his lips. Their bodies are more or less the same, minus Jungkook’s tattoos, there isn’t a reason to find Jimin’s particularly more interesting than his own.

He casts his eye up and down Jimin, taking an inventory.

Jimin’s hair is long and dark too, though it is smooth and shiny and not threaded with decoration. They have the same facial features, though Jimin has bigger lips and Jungkook, a bigger nose. They have the same skin and nails and all the same parts. Like Jungkook, Jimin even has the same bursts of hair under his arms, a small trail below his belly button and more, thick and dark, between his legs.

Their biggest differences are their size and the paleness of Jimin’s skin. Jungkook’s skin is rich and dark and golden, like most humans he has ever seen, because he has spent most of his life under the sun. Jimin’s is white as milk and it practically glows, framed by the water of the pool.

Jungkook cannot tear his eyes away.

*          *          *          *          *

‘I’m going to the gate today.’ Jungkook broaches. ‘I haven’t been in too long. I was…busy.’

They’re sitting on the little veranda that runs around the front and side of the hanok, a tiled awning hanging over it.

The hens sit with them, fussing around Jimin’s crossed legs. Except Pebble, who rests in Jungkook’s lap with her eyes closed in bliss while he strokes her gently.

It’s raining and they’re both enjoying listening to the noise it makes in the forest and as it drips from the tiles above them.

In reality, Jungkook has been putting off going to the gate so he doesn’t have to have the inevitable conversation about taking Jimin back with him.

‘Oh,’ Jimin tries to smile, ‘then should I come with you? I know I said I wouldn’t leave until you cured me, but I should never have stayed this long really, and I feel…good. I feel ok. I can go back. Maybe I could stay in the inn until you can cure my bigger illness?’

Jungkook’s grip tightens on Pebble and she opens a single eye in annoyance. He doesn’t answer.

‘Couldn’t I?’ Jimin pushes.

‘You could.’ Jungkook murmurs.

‘So, I will come too?’

‘But the rain. Rain is not good for you to walk in. You get fevers easily. And you get fevers from rain.’

‘Well, then you shouldn’t go in the rain either. Why don’t we both go tomorrow when it stops?’

‘I must go today.’

‘You must? You haven’t mentioned it at all until today, but now you suddenly must?’

‘Oh. Ah. Ah. When I feel humans at the gate, I must go…now.’

‘In the rain?’

‘In the rain.’

There is a real smile on Jimin’s lips now. ‘So, I won’t come with you…’

‘No.’

‘You’re not going to take me back to the gate…today.’

‘No.’

‘I guess…next time, when you go next?’

‘Ah. Ah, yes.’

‘In a few weeks more?’

‘Yes. Ah.’

‘So, I’ll stay with you until then?’

‘You will stay with me…until then.’ Jungkook nods, a look of relief twitching at his lips.

Jimin has come to love the soft little ‘ahs’ that fall from Jungkook’s lips when he talks. They are one of his cutest habits. Not quite a fully articulated word, more a sound in his throat that turns into a small gasp. His throat bobs when he makes them. They come out more frequently when he gets nervous or anxious, or when he is searching for words.

Sometimes, Jimin’s mind delves into places where he draws those ahs out of Jungkook by other means but he claws it back immediately. He knows he can’t ruin their peace with those kinds of thoughts.

He shakes his head gently and bites on the tip of his thumb.

‘How long will you be? I haven’t ever been alone here for very long.’ Jimin asks.

‘Just the evening, I can move quite quickly through the trees. You’ll be safe, I will leave some protection spells. Stay inside.’

He leaves Jimin tucked under blankets in his pallet bed and vanishes into the rain as darkness starts to fall.

Jimin is surprised to find that he can’t sleep well without Jungkook in the hanok. He isn’t scared exactly, just restless. He is used to the soft noises Jungkook makes from his bed in the rafters at night. Just like Jungkook talks all day, he talks all night too.

Jimin is used to noise. Village life is noisy, even at night. It dawns on him that he has never slept properly alone in his entire life. He’s been on sleeping mats with his siblings. In houses full of family. In the inn. A handful of precious times in some quiet spots with Taehyung. But never alone.

It doesn’t help to start considering just how alone he really is, but he does. The forest is deserted. Jungkook is gone. There is nobody around him for miles and miles.

He throws the blanket off with a huff, that’s done it. Sleep is now very far away.

He gets up and stokes the embers in the hearth so that he can make some tea. They get going enough for the water to warm and he stuffs the little pot with herbs and rests it directly into the cinders. But even warm tea doesn’t settle him. His skin is starting to creep and every sound outside makes him anxious.

Jimin rinses his cup, throws the blanket from his bed around his shoulders and grabs some dry rice. He thinks perhaps he can tempt Honey to come in from the veranda to sleep with him.

‘Honey, my Honey, Honey,’ he whispers at the sleeping hens tucked on the beams of the awning.

They all ignore him. Even precious Honey.

‘Come on, you fluffy madam, I have rice!’

He throws a few grains and they crackle onto the wooden boards by his feet. The hens do nothing but look at him disdainfully.

‘I bet you would come down for Jungkook!’ he grumbles, ‘I won’t forget this, girls!’

As Jimin turns around and takes a step back towards the door, he bumps directly into someone’s chest. His first assumption is that it is Jungkook, but when he looks up and meets someone else’s eyes he yells and rushes backwards, tripping over on the blanket and falling onto the boards of the veranda.

The person doesn’t move, they just stare at him.

Jimin tries to scramble away but finds himself completely immobilised by an invisible force.

‘Does he know you’re here?’ the stranger murmurs.

‘Jungkook-ssi?’ Jimin’s voice quivers in fear. No answer. ‘Yes, Jungkook-ssi knows I am here.’

‘You’re human?’

‘Yes.’

Jimin feels the sensation come back to his limbs and he can move again, though he doesn’t.

‘He hates humans.’

‘He’s healing me.’ The stranger rolls their eyes back into their head and Jimin feels a warmness surge through his body. It is similar to something that Jungkook does but it feels different, like a different pair of hands touching him. ‘Is that you doing that?’

The eyes roll back around and fix him with a stare. It is dark and Jimin can’t see much of the person but their gleaming eyes. ‘It felt different, different to when Jungkook-ssi does it.’

‘Obviously,’ is all that the stranger replies.

‘Who are you?’

There is a long pause and Jimin thinks he won’t get an answer.

‘Yoongi.’

‘Oh.’ That was easier than getting Jungkook to offer him a name. ‘I’m Park Jimin.’

‘Jimin?’ He nods. ‘I was near and I sensed a human I didn’t know. Then I felt Jungkook wasn’t here. I came to check.’

‘Oh. He has gone to the gate.’

‘You live here?’

‘Until I am better.’

Yoongi moves his head with curiosity and Jimin can feel himself being assessed.

‘I am going to wait until he comes back. The air is very hot around you,’ he says.

Jimin isn’t really sure what that means but doesn’t think he is in a position to argue.

Yoongi at least agrees to come and wait inside. Jimin stokes the fire and lights some candles before making more tea, just to have something to do. Yoongi doesn’t say much, he stands by the fire like a puppet with his strings cut, sometimes with his eyes rolled back in his head.

He hasn’t said so but it seems obvious that he is a forest witch too.

He’s about Jimin’s height but much broader, with cropped black hair and beautiful symmetrical eyes. Like Jungkook, Yoongi’s choice of clothes is peculiar. He wears black trousers and a billowing purple top, almost cape like, and no shoes. His ears and nose are full of silver jewellery.

Purple and black are both unusual colours to see in common clothing, the dye for them is rare and expensive. Jungkook wears a lot of black too. Jimin looks down at his simple white shirt and trousers. He would very much like a purple shirt.

‘It comes from snail mucus. The dye. A special type of snail from the sea. And yes, it is very expensive.’ Yoongi answers a question he wasn’t asked.

‘You read my mind?’

Yoongi sighs. ‘Not like reading script on a page. But I can feel you. I can feel your…emotions, I guess, is the closest word, though that isn’t quite it,’ he looks thoughtful for a moment, ‘anyway, I could feel you were impressed by something, I could feel awe, and you were staring at my shirt, so…’

Jimin nods. Jungkook has also talked about how he perceives things and how he feels and senses the emotions of the things around him.

‘So you can all do that? Read emotions?’

‘Are you asking if Jungkook can?’

‘No, I know he can I just-‘

‘-well. He can. And, yes. He can feel when you get horny for him if that’s what you’re wondering,’ Yoongi adds with a wicked grin and Jimin splutters.

‘No, no, I-’

Yoongi’s face says he is joking but Jimin feels terror grip his throat and his skin goes cold. It is dangerous for people to pick up on those kinds of feelings from him; he knows that all too well. The room spins a bit and he starts sucking in hurried breaths.

‘Ah, don’t panic,’ Yoongi soothes and he moves across the room and rests his hands on his shoulders. Jimin feels his body fill with warmth straight away. ‘I’m sorry. I was teasing. I forgot that humans are stupid about those things. Don’t worry. We don’t care about things like that here. You’re safe.’

Yoongi tilts Jimin’s chin up and looks him in the eyes, ‘You’re safe. Breathe.’ Jimin gulps in air as he adds, ‘and anyway, I doubt Jungkook has worked out what that feeling is even if he has felt it from you. He probably doesn’t understand yet.’

Jimin trusts what Yoongi said about it being okay, there was no lie in his eyes.

‘He doesn’t know what…being horny is?’ He can't help asking, despite himself.

Yoongi snorts and drops his hands from Jimin’s face.

‘Obviously he does. He’s fully grown. Let’s just say I doubt he has connected the dots. I am not sure he knows it is a thing he can feel…for something else…more than his own, you know…hand.’

He cackles and Jimin flushes red.

They go back to sitting in silence. Jimin drinks so much tea to ease the awkwardness he has to leave for a piss twice. When he comes back inside for the second time, Yoongi is laying on Jimin’s bed with his eyes closed.

‘Jungkook confirmed what you said and that you’re no threat. So, I’m going to sleep until he gets here. I would leave but I haven’t seen him in the flesh in a while.’

‘You spoke to him?’

‘In a way.’

‘Where is he?’

‘He won’t be long.’

That doesn’t turn out to be entirely true, not by Jimin’s standards of time anyway and he ends up falling asleep on the rug by the hearth because Yoongi has stolen his bed.

He wakes vaguely, later in the night, to a gentle movement and the soft little sound of Jungkook’s ahs. Then he falls back to sleep.

*          *          *          *          *

It has been weeks since the first time Jimin woke in terror to the sight of a thousand staring eyes and doing so again would almost be nostalgic, if it wasn’t fucking terrifying.

Just like he did all those weeks ago, Jimin screams and flings the covers over his head, kicking his legs wildly to push himself away. He is further horrified to find his legs make contact with something warm and fleshy and even more terrified when two hands grab his ankles and hold them still.

‘Ow, ow, little Jimin-ah, stop. Ow.’

Jungkook.

Jimin pulls the blankets from his face and looks down. He is in Jungkook’s bed and Jungkook himself is crouched at the end, holding Jimin’s wiggling feet.

He looks as if he just woke up too. Probably from being kicked in the face.

Jimin flops down on the pillows and lets his mind catch up with him, his chest heaving. ‘Jungkook-ah, your bed is fucking terrifying.’

He feels the grip on his ankles release.

‘Oh. I like it.’

‘Well, I do not. I told you I don’t want to sleep up here.’

‘Yoongi-hyung is in your bed. I didn’t want you to be cold.’

Jimin looks at their position.

‘Did you sleep at my feet like a dog?’ He smirks.

Jungkook grimaces, ‘Why don’t you like it up here?’

Jimin gestures at the oddities stuck all over the ceiling.

‘The eyes are the fucking worst.’

‘Oh. I like the eyes the best,’ Jungkook grins.

‘Why?’

‘Don’t know. I like to talk to them.’

‘You are completely and utterly mad.’ They both grin this time. ‘Now move, please, I need to piss.’

Jimin kicks at him, gently, and Jungkook obediently shuffles down the ladder.

As he climbs down, Jimin meets Yoongi’s eyes, he is laying on his back and giving him a knowing look. Jimin ignores him.

It turns out spending time with two witches is a bizarre experience. Jungkook was right, they don’t really converse with mouth-words and though they try to for Jimin’s sake, they often forget and Jimin finds himself cast adrift in the conversation and missing out on whole chunks of what is going on.

Eventually, he gives up and curls in the nest where he complains about being neglected to the hens who settle around him. He tries to keep his mind off what Yoongi said about Jungkook not understanding being horny. But it is difficult.

It makes sense and is kind of intriguing in a way. Jimin has pieced together bits of information from Jungkook’s stories and thinks he was about eleven or twelve when his parents left and never came back. Whether they abandoned him or something happened and they died is a mystery. Jungkook isn’t sure, but he does seem to think he would know if they were dead and that they’re not. It is a witch thing apparently.

Jimin agrees. They sound flighty in all Jungkook’s memories of them. Like they were just as bizarre and distractible as their son and that one day they just thought, that’s enough of that, and left their child alone in the woods, never to be seen again.

Either way, Jungkook hasn’t lived with anybody since, his only contact being what seems to be sporadic visits from some other witches in the forest. Jungkook sometimes mentions his hyungs, though so far, Jimin has only met Yoongi.

What it means is that Jungkook doesn’t really know anything about anything. Certainly not anything about more delicate and intimate human things.

Jimin sighs and rubs his forehead anxiously. He really shouldn’t be thinking about Jungkook in this way. All his life Jimin has been told that men like him are evil and disgusting and he can’t help but feel it when his thoughts run away like this.

Jungkook is innocent, he has to remind himself, naïve and childlike.

Jimin peeks over the edge of the nest to where Yoongi and Jungkook are in a trance together. They’re both cross-legged in the dust, knees touching and their palms pressed into the earth. Their eyes are rolled back in their heads, showing only the whites.

Pebble is sitting on Jungkook’s shoulder, completely content and un-phased.

Like this, Jungkook looks very far from naïve and childlike. Both witches are topless and though they are both slim, they have impressive builds in different ways. Their defined muscles across their chests and arms flex as they move their fingers in time with their breathing.

Living in the forest is hard work and their bodies match their efforts.

Jimin sits up to look better. Knowing how Jungkook can usually feel his emotions, Jimin likes to stare at him when he is in a trance and won’t notice.

Jungkook’s skin is brown and smooth, decorated by his intricate tattoos. Jimin likes his collar bones and how they make little dips by his neck. And the deep ridges on his stomach that lead down below the top of his trousers. Even his toes are nice. Bare and moving softly, like his finger-tips.

‘Oh, for goodness sake,’ Yoongi suddenly exclaims. His head jerks up and his pupils appear, ‘Jimin-ssi, we literally had a conversation yesterday about this. About how I can feel the things you feel?’

Jimin blushes furiously and flings a hand over his mouth, ‘I…I thought you were in a trance.’

He is completely mortified as he watches Jungkook’s head also pop up and his eyes open curiously.

‘We are in a deep meditative state in which we emotionally connect on a visceral plane to all things existing around us. We are hyper aware, if anything!’

‘I always thought you…you couldn’t...’

Yoongi shakes his head gently, looking most distressed to have had to share Jimin’s feelings about Jungkook’s body. As Jimin watches the look on his face, he wants to crawl into a pit and die.

He’s stared at Jungkook like that several times while he’s in a trance over the last weeks.

‘Jungkook…’ falls from his lips in embarrassment, ‘you never…you never said-’

He meets Jungkook’s gaze and sees a pink blush on his cheekbones accompanied by a confused expression.

Jimin cuts himself off in horror. He jumps out of the nest, runs into the cottage and flings himself under his blankets.

A while later, Jungkook comes back into the cottage alone.

Jimin is humiliated. And also, a little scared. Yoongi might have explained what happened to Jungkook and then Jimin would be in a very vulnerable position if Jungkook was disgusted and decided to turn on him.

Jimin stays lurking under his blankets while Jungkook moves around the hanok quietly. It sounds like he is starting to cook. It is obvious that Jungkook will know Jimin isn’t asleep, he can probably feel the waves of stress and embarrassment pouring off him.

With a deep sigh, Jimin pulls off the blanket and sits up. Jungkook carries on preparing the food calmly.

‘Can I help you cook?’ Jimin eventually mutters.

Jungkook looks up at him across the table, his eyes tender, and then he nods.

‘Chop these.’

He slides a board of vegetables across the table and Jimin sits down and starts slicing them slowly.

*          *          *          *          *

‘Look, all I’m saying is that if I am here for longer, until you go to the gate again, then you should let me help you. I am well now. Please let me be useful.’

Jungkook is in his little vegetable garden behind the cottage and Jimin is sitting on a tree stump and whining.

‘I don’t need you to help, Jimin-ah. I want you to rest.’

‘But I am bored,’ he pouts.

‘No you’re not! I can feel you. You love lazing around.’

‘Fine, okay, but I really do want to help. I’ve been here for over a month and I’ve done nothing for you. You give me so much.’

‘I like looking after you,’ Jungkook murmurs quietly, the words half lost into the soil from which he is pulling radishes.

Jimin smiles behind him.

‘Is there something else that needs picking? I can do that.’ Jungkook sits up and looks at him, wiping his dirty hands on his thighs. ‘Please Jungkook-ah, I am not weak. I’ve always been dismissed all my life, please don’t do it too.’ Jimin pouts.

‘Ah! What a trick! You can’t manipulate me.’

Jimin just pouts more until Jungkook laughs and throws a basket at him. ‘Pick the beans,’ he sighs and points at where they’re growing, creeping up branches stuck into the ground.

They work in the little garden all afternoon and Jungkook teaches Jimin as they go.

He shows him how to train the beans up their stakes. How to crush egg shells and place them around the cabbages so the slugs can’t crawl to them. They pick radishes, small peppers and some carrots.

‘It is getting deep into summer. We’re going to need to start storing things and getting ready for winter. We will need more this year if-’ Jungkook cuts himself off and stacks more radishes in the basket. ‘I always end up having to ask for lots more boring things at the gate in the autumn. Rice and potatoes. Means less presents.’

‘How will you cope without yet another batch of glass eyes.’ Jimin says while rolling his.

Over the next few days, Jungkook grudgingly lets Jimin do more and more jobs.

He teaches him how to make some of the simple herbal remedies and adapts a special chair for him by the outside fire so he doesn’t have to stand too long over the cooking pot.

Jimin has a remarkably good eye for it.

‘I never cooked before I lived here,’ he says, ‘men don’t really cook in my village. But I like it, it relaxes me.’

Jungkook smiles at him. He likes watching Jimin be proud of himself.

In the evenings, he teaches Jimin how to weave simple talismans with beads and twine and feathers. He teaches him what the different knots mean and the symbolism of the colours or shapes of the beads and stones that they work into the threads.

Jimin’s handiwork is neat and precise.

‘I like making these,’ he sighs, ‘I’ve never really done much with my hands. But this is so soothing.’

Jimin even starts joining him on shorter foraging expeditions through the forest to search for ingredients. They take the hand cart in case Jimin gets tired but so far it has always ended up piled with herbs, mushrooms and other bounty from the forest instead.

Jimin’s health has been excellent for weeks and so far he has managed everything he tries.

He also turns out to have a knack for finding mushrooms. Jungkook teases and says it is only because he likes to eat them so much and can sniff them out.

‘Okay, give me the list again - I am determined.’

‘Oak, Cherry, Sweet Chestnut, Willow, Yew.’ Jungkook recites.

Jimin stops and puts the tip of his thumb in his mouth as he always does when he is thinking.

‘Hmm okay. Well, there aren’t any willows up here, they’re down by the water.’

Jungkook nods, ‘we don’t want any that grow on yews, actually, they absorb its poison.’

‘Okay, so: Oak. Cherry. Sweet Chestnut.’ Jimin repeats his little list and rushes off between the trees.

It’s late afternoon and they’re foraging in the upper section of the forest that stretches over the foothills of the mountain behind the hanok.

Jungkook has been telling Jimin stories of his favourite mushroom and Jimin is insistent on finding some for their dinner.

‘It might be too late for it, summer is half gone.’ Jungkook sighs.

‘Oh, I wish you’d told me about it sooner. Now that you’ve mentioned it, I can think of nothing else - I must eat some. Does it really taste like chicken? I miss chicken, but Honey has ruined it for me forever. I will never eat a hen again.' Jimin yells as he sees a chestnut tree looming through the undergrowth and runs off towards it. ‘I have a good feeling about this one,’ he shouts over his shoulder as Jungkook watches him vanish.

He springs up into the trees and tracks Jimin from above. It is another of their games they like to play. Although, Jimin is getting much better at sensing his presence, another thing to add to the growing list of his new skills.

Jungkook watches Jimin rush from tree-to-tree, hunting for the elusive mushroom on the bark.

‘Ah, what does it look like again?’

‘Sort of yellow, creamy, grows thickly like big waves.’ Jungkook answers.

Jimin pauses and looks up, he scans the view but can’t find Jungkook.

‘When did you go up there?’

‘I’m stalking you. You’re my prey.’

‘Well, you’re not very good at it.’

‘I am, you can’t see me.’ Jungkook crows.

Jimin hmphs and goes back to looking for the mushroom.

A few minutes pass and Jungkook is weighing what Jimin’s reaction might be if he were to leap from the trees and tackle him. It would serve Jimin right for saying he was a rubbish hunter, but he thinks it might also feel nice to knock Jimin off his feet and land on top of him.

He cocks his head, then shakes it when Jimin yells.

‘There! There! That’s it, right?’

Jungkook drops down and looks where Jimin is pointing. ‘Yup, that’s it. Chicken of the woods.’

‘I love the name so much!’ Jimin laughs and claps his hands together.

That evening, they cook the mushroom in some precious sesame oil and Jungkook even makes a crispy coating with some crushed seeds and a spicy sauce out of chillies from the garden.

Jimin thinks he has ascended to heaven.

He eats it with his fingers in pure delight, his lips red and plump from the chilli and slick with the oil. He makes soft, contented noises as he eats, sucking his entire fingers into his mouth and occasionally leaning back to rub his stomach and groan.

‘Honestly, this might be the best thing I have ever eaten. Better than real chicken,' he sighs.

Jungkook lets him eat most of it, unable to pull his eyes away from Jimin’s happy face and beautiful, beautiful lips.

*          *          *          *          *

Eventually, Jungkook is unable to put off going to the gate any longer. He has been avoiding it because he dreads the conversation it will force him and Jimin to have. As much as Jungkook doesn’t want Jimin to leave, he also doesn’t want to have to talk about Jimin’s health, because then he will have to admit what he has already known for ages.

That Jimin can’t be cured.

But, he has a responsibility for the humans he helps in the village and he can’t put off the visit anymore.

It is a burning hot, late summer day and Jimin is sprawled in the shade of the veranda. Even the hens have vanished off into the undergrowth seeking a cooler spot.

This time, Jungkook offers the excuse that it is too hot for Jimin to make the journey with him. He says it will make Jimin unwell and that even if he manages, he will slow Jungkook down too much on the journey. Without him, Jungkook can travel quickly through the trees and not even feel the heat at all.

Jimin’s face says that he knows it is an excuse. Jungkook certainly delivers the verdict like a guilty man, he leans against one of the pillars by Jimin’s feet fidgeting with anxious energy.

Jungkook’s speech has changed a lot since Jimin has lived with him, becoming less stilted and childish the more he talks, but, whenever he is nervous or lying, it all jumbles up again.

Jimin is happy to go along with the charade though, because he doesn’t want to leave either.

Still, this game they are playing makes Jimin anxious, because they are putting off something inevitable. He knows he can’t stay here forever. For now though, Jimin is happy to play pretend a little while longer.

Just as he is about to leave, Jungkook pauses and asks if Jimin would like to request anything at the gate.

‘It is only fair,’ he murmurs, ‘you have been helping me. You should have some presents too.’

Jimin smiles softly and thinks for a moment, then he asks for honey cakes and wine.

Later that evening, with Jungkook gone, Jimin struggles to sleep once again. He tries desperately not to overthink it as he climbs up the ladder to Jungkook’s bed and nuzzles beneath the blankets. The smell comforts him immediately. It is just in case some forest creature breaks in during the night without Jungkook’s magic to protect him. He’ll be safer up here if that happens instead of down below, all vulnerable and alone.

Funny that even the terrifying eyes on the ceiling have become a little more comforting to him when he catches sight of them as he rolls over.

‘I’m not going to talk to you like he does,’ he whispers at them before falling asleep.

*          *          *          *          *

The next time Jungkook’s visit to the gate comes up, they have an excuse ready-made. Jimin had made his own requests last time, which will be picked up this visit, so it is only right that he stays one more time to enjoy them before he leaves.

Jungkook goes to the gate in the early morning. He says he will find some way to hide if there are any humans there, but that he would rather not miss another night of sleep. In reality, Jungkook can function on very little sleep because he draws energy from most living things. His real motive was to not leave Jimin alone at night, as he had been so anxious all the times before. 

Not that it was unwelcome to come home to Jimin asleep in his bed.

Bed sharing doesn’t have the same implications to Jungkook as most people, so it was pure instinct to be so happy at coming home and finding Jimin curled up in his sheets. He had lain down to sleep at Jimin’s feet, not quite daring to trust his desire to fully climb in with him. But, even when Jimin went back to his bed downstairs the next day, his scent had lingered. Jungkook was confused and interested to find that he loved it, that the smell of Jimin on his sheets stirred something within him as he nestled among them to sleep.

*          *          *          *          *

Jungkook gets back from the gate in the late afternoon and Jimin is waiting in the clearing.

He says he isn’t waiting, but he is.

‘We have so many presents!’ Jungkook crows as he rushes forward, waving some hemp bags, ‘I even had to hide some in the forest and leave them. I will go back with the cart.’

‘I guess that is what happens when you leave it too long between visits,’ Jimin grins.

‘Lots of presents also means lots of work though,’ Jungkook sighs and starts to spread things out by the fire.

Jimin sits on his special chair and watches.

‘Oh, these are excellent,’ Jungkook exclaims as he pulls three hahoetal masks from a fabric wrapping and places them on his lap with awe.

Jimin watches with fondness as Jungkook picks up each in turn and examines it, chattering endlessly about them as he does.

‘Oh, it is a shame this one has its eyes closed,’ he sighs, holding up the last.

Jimin reaches his hand out for it and Jungkook gives it to him without question.

‘Do you know what they are, Jungkook-ah?’

‘Ah no, I just asked for faces.’

‘They’re masks,’ Jimin holds it over his face to demonstrate, ‘they have names and characters; this one is Yangban. His eyes are closed because he is rich and foolish and thinks suffering doesn’t matter as long as he doesn’t see it.’

Jimin leans forward and it makes the mouth of the mask move like Yangban is frowning. Jungkook gasps and claps his hands with joy.

‘What are they for?’ he asks.

‘For telling stories, worn by travelling troupes who come to the villages to perform. Each one is a different character, but they’re always the same whoever makes them. That’s why I know who this chap is.’

‘Tell me about the others!’ Jungkook grins and thrusts them into Jimin’s hands.

‘This is Sonpi. He is a terrible know-it-all. Look at his big brain.’

‘Typical humans, thinking knowledge is all about brains,’ Jungkook sighs dramatically.

‘This last one is Punae. She is a concubine.’

‘She’s pretty. She’s like you with your red lips.’

‘She’s a woman!’

‘So?’

Jimin doesn’t argue the point.

‘I would love to see them do the stories, it sounds excellent.’ Jungkook adds.

‘It is good. There is always music too, and songs and dances. The stories are always quite rude and everyone drinks and heckles the players.’

‘I’ve never seen any of those things,’ Jungkook says with wide eyes, ‘I don’t even know what heckling is.’

Jimin’s heart aches for him. Sometimes he forgets the reality of Jungkook’s isolation. He’s gotten so used to their happy life and Jungkook’s unique little ways that he forgets what it means. He forgets he is the only human Jungkook has ever met. Forgets that Jungkook has never left the forest and all the vast experiences he has therefore missed out on. The good and the bad.

‘Well, I am only one little man, so I can’t do the plays for you. But I know some parts of the songs. Would you like to hear them?’

Jungkook nods furiously.

‘Ok,’ Jimin smiles and Jungkook shuffles nearer to his feet.

Jimin doesn’t remember it all perfectly, but he remembers enough to make a decent show of it and has enough musical skill to thread it all together when he forgets certain parts. Jungkook sits by his feet as if in rapture. His eyes are huge and fully attentive.

He whoops and claps when Jimin finally finishes with a small bow from his seat.

‘Ah! So good. Your voice is so nice. So sweet. I didn’t know you could do that! I would have traded songs instead of stories with you.’

‘I am happy to give you both if it makes you smile like that,’ Jimin says softly.

‘It is getting dark. We need to finish sorting the rest of the things.’

Jungkook seems to have a system, so Jimin largely leaves him to it, just offering sounds of appreciation when Jungkook shows him various presents.

Jungkook leaves two parcels until last and then drops them in Jimin’s lap with a flourish.

‘These are your presents. Your first ones.’

Jimin grins. Before he opens them, he gently removes the paper tied to them and reads the requests.

‘If I am going to accept the presents, I guess that means I should help you with the requests for them too. You can teach me, ok?’ Jungkook nods. ‘This person says he has gout,’ Jimin wrinkles his nose, ‘and this one has swelling in her fingers.’

‘Easy, easy. Those are easy.’

‘I guess that makes sense, I only asked for little presents so I got little requests.’

‘Open them, open them!’

‘But we both know what they are.’ Jimin laughs but unwraps the parcels anyway.

The first present are four small yakgwa wrapped in waxed fabric. They are round with grooves around the edges, all identical and perfect.

Jimin wraps them up gently and hands them straight back to Jungkook.

‘These are for you. I know it isn’t the best present because it wasn’t a surprise and you could have just asked for them for yourself. But I had limited options and I didn’t know how to make them and anyway, you asked if I could make them so I guessed you liked them so…here.’

Jimin isn't sure why he's suddenly embarrassed.

Jungkook reaches out his hands and takes them solemnly, like the small offering is of great importance.

‘Thank you, Jimin-ssi,’ he whispers.

Jimin nods and opens the second parcel.

‘Oh! And this wine is for the both of us. Have you had wine before?’

‘No, never.’

Jimin looks down at the clay jars of wine again and suddenly laughs when he sees the label hanging from one of the necks.

'Um, Jungkook-ah, what did you ask for at the gate?’

‘Just wine, why?’

‘Have you already looked at this? Do you know what this wine is for?'

'No?'

'Okay, well, someone is making a joke at your expense then...or you're giving off certain vibes-’

'-I don't understand?'

'-I mean now that I think of it, you do give off a certain lonely aura with those mad lists...’ Jimin cackles.

‘How is that related to the wine?’

‘It’s black raspberry wine…bokbunja-ju?

‘Yes?’

‘You know, they say it’s good for…never mind.’ Jimin changes his mind and shakes his head.

‘What? Tell me!’ Jungkook shouts as Jimin laughs. ‘You know I hate it when you won’t tell me things,’ Jungkook frowns.

'Sorry, sorry, it doesn’t matter. Have you finished putting everything away? Come on, let's eat and then drink this wine. You've really never drunk alcohol before?'

'No, why would I?'

'It's fun?'

'I have fun.'

'Sure, sure.’

They head into the hanok and share rice and left-over vegetables and then sit on cushions by the low fire while Jimin pours them both a cup of the wine.

‘Well, here you go. Drink up.' Jimin sips at his wine and his face falls immediately. 'Oh. It makes me think of that damn blacksmith. He always had a glass after dinner. All the better to feel me up with,' he grimaces.

It is easy to make a joke of it, but his heart sinks at the memory.

Jungkook flinches.

'Ah, ah - whatever you're feeling, I hate it. Ah, stop it! How can I help?' He flops across the rug and snatches away the wine from Jimin’s hands. 'Let's not drink it if it makes you feel whatever that was.’

'I'm Okay. Give it back. It’s just a bad memory, that's all. And we're making a new one to replace it. Give it to me. You can help me make a new happy memory, okay, Kook-ah?’

'Kook-ah?’

‘Uh...’

Jungkook grins, ‘Better than idiot boy.'

*          *          *          *          *

A few hours and at least two jars of wine later, both men are sprawled on the veranda, looking at the stars that peek through the trees and shine into the clearing.

Jungkook had finally persuaded Jimin to explain about the wine being a supposed aphrodisiac, with much embarrassment from the latter.

‘You get so funny about these things. Cocks and shit and all that stuff. Is it all humans or just you, Jimin-ssi?’ he asks.

‘That seems like a wildly unfair statement. If by being funny about shit, you are referring to me not wanting to shit in an actual jar, I really will defend my actions as the sane ones out of the two of us until we are both old men.’

‘I mean, I still don’t get it,’ Jungkook shrugs, ‘but cocks then. Why was it so hard to tell me about the wine? You think I am a child? You think every second request I get isn’t from some old man with a limp cock?’ Jimin snorts his wine. ‘Honestly, you would think you were the one who has never met any other men, Jimin-ssi.’

Jungkook draws out the Jimin-ssi in a suggestive way and wriggles his eyebrows. Jimin wonders where Jungkook has picked up saying his name flirtatiously like that, in satori. He couldn’t have heard anybody do it. One of his parents must have done it to the other, or maybe Jimin does it without realising.

‘I think I know more about cocks than you do,’ Jimin smirks and then instantly regrets his poor joke.

The smile drops off his face and he hopes Jungkook won’t pick up on the double meaning in his words. He’s glad that it is mostly dark around them so he can hide his face.

‘You’re scared,’ Jungkook says into the darkness after a moment, ‘I can feel you. Why? Don’t be scared of me.’

‘I’m not, it’s just-’ Jimin doesn’t know how to begin to explain or if he even should at all. ‘There are just some things we shouldn’t talk about.’

‘Why not? I stand by what I said. You humans are funny with your rules about these things.’

‘Jungkook-ah, I know you’re smart. I know you know a lot. You know a lot of facts. But that isn’t the same as knowing the more intimate things about humans and how they work and how they interact with each other…’

‘I know about sex. Is that what you’re trying to avoid saying in your typical way? I just told you I make potions for limp cocked old men - you think I could do that without knowing what it is for? I’ve seen humans fucking at the outskirts of the forest. I’ve seen plenty of animals in the forest too. I’m not an idiot boy, even if you think so.’

For some reason, Jungkook suddenly sounds annoyed and Jimin tilts his head towards him. He can see the pout of Jungkook’s lips through the darkness, even if just in silhouette.

‘I don’t think you’re an idiot, Kook-ah.’ He whispers but Jungkook sulks and ignores him. ‘Kook-ah. Jungkookie. Jungkook-ssi…’

At the last one, with Jimin really drawing out the sibilance and faking a lisp, Jungkook finally turns and smiles, his front teeth pop over his bottom lip and glint in the starlight.

Silence falls again, but it's no longer filled with tension.

‘You're so intriguing. Sometimes you seem genuinely insane. Other times you're like a child. And others still, you seem like the best and wisest person I've ever met.’ Jimin eventually murmurs.

‘Why can't I be all of that at once?’

‘I guess I'm saying that you are. To me.’

‘I think you apply a lot of human rules and ideas to me. Obviously I seem insane if you try that, if you apply human social norms to the way I live or think or speak. But you have to remember, you're the only human I've ever met. And only like the seventh person at all if you include witches.’

‘Really just me, your hyungs and your parents? Your whole life?’

‘Yes. So, of course I'm silly by human rules. But you know what? I think human rules are stupid. I watch humans at the edges of the forest sometimes. I also know and feel how they treated you. The shame and the weakness they made you feel about yourself. That's all much more stupid to me.’

‘See, you're being the wisest now.’

‘Ah, Jimin-hyung, I think you sometimes forget that I am an infinitely powerful sorcerer with the command of an entire forest at my fingertips. Just because I'm dressed up like a handsome young man who speaks in riddles.’

‘Oh ho. Handsome, eh?’

‘Am I not?’

‘You are.’

‘Do you remember when you first came here and I raised the forest against you? Did I not seem wise and powerful then?’

‘You were scary.’

‘And I could be still.'

‘What could you do to me?’

‘I don't want to do anything to you.’

‘But you could? Like Yoongi, when I first met him, he immobilised me.’

‘Oh, did he now?’

‘Yes, I couldn’t move at all. I don’t think he trusted me.’

‘That was rude of him. I left a signal that you were nothing to worry about in case anybody came by. He was just being crabby.’

‘Could you do it too?’

‘Immobilise you?’

‘Yes…'

‘Obviously. I am as powerful as Yoongi, though a little different in manifestation. This forest is mine after all. He just lives in it.’

‘Will you?’

‘What?’

‘Immobilise me, I want to feel what it is like when you do it.’

‘No, I…I don’t have the energy...’

‘Shame...’ Jimin giggles, really quite drunk now, and rolls onto his side.

‘I’ve enjoyed this,’ Jungkook sighs and wobbles his cup, ‘the wine, I mean. It makes our conversation freer. It makes my skin warm. It tastes good.’

‘It has been nice. It has,’ Jimin agrees and falls asleep face down on his arm.

When he wakes up in the morning Jimin is in his own bed on the pallet with Jungkook curled up opposite him. They’re not touching and are wrapped in separate blankets but the space between them is small.

Jimin is glad not to wake up in Jungkook’s terrifying bed, but he is also glad to wake up next to Jungkook.

Jungkook, who sleeps with his mouth open and a tiny frown between his eyebrows, his fingers gripping onto the blanket at his chest. Feeling bold, maybe even still drunk, Jimin reaches out a finger and gently runs it down the bridge of Jungkook’s nose. He lets it drop softly to his bottom lip and pushes it down slightly, watching it spring back up.

He thinks it might be one of the most enjoyable things recently, waking up and immediately seeing Jungkook.

*          *          *          *          *

After a few more weeks, when it’s time for Jungkook to visit the gate again, Jimin resolves that he is just going to have to be direct and force a conversation about their living situation.

He can tell that Jungkook is delaying and making excuses and in so many ways, Jimin just wants to keep letting him - but he knows no good will come of it.

He can’t just live here forever.

In the end, his courage inevitably fails and he ends up circling around the subject while Jungkook evades answering properly every time.

‘I feel good today Jungkook-ah,’ he tries, while he stirs his food, ‘I hiked all the way up the hill and back.’ Jungkook nods. ‘And I didn't even have an afternoon nap.’ Jimin keeps going.

‘You did a little, I saw you with your eyes shut in the nest.’

‘No, I was just daydreaming, I didn’t actually fall asleep.’

‘Oh. Okay.’

‘My knees are better...’

‘Yes.'

‘And my wrist is healed...’

‘Yes.’

‘Even all my old scars are gone from my skin now...’

‘They are.’

‘Was it your magic that made them go away, Jungkook-ah?’

‘My energy, yes.’

‘And I feel stronger than I have before, not so tired.’

‘Hmm.’

‘I’m even getting a little fat, I think, because you feed me so well and never let me do anything much.’

‘No!’ Jungkook looks up from his bowl for the first time, ‘not fat at all, your new cheeks are very nice.’

Jimin is annoyed that he blushes.

‘You haven’t even seen a fat person, how would you know?’ Jungkook just goes back to his food. ‘Anyway, what I’m saying to you is that I think you have cured me. Don’t you agree? That I am well enough to leave you now? You’ve done your job - more than your job. You’ve looked after me very well.’

‘You want me to take you back to the gate?’ Jungkook asks, his voice low.

‘Well, wasn’t that the point of this? I stayed here because I was too sick to leave. Then I stayed here so you could cure me and I haven’t been ill in months. So, I think I am well enough to leave now…I am healthier than I have ever been.’

Silence falls between them. Then Jungkook speaks with a soft sigh.

‘But you are not cured…’

‘Aren’t I?’

‘No,’ he looks down at his food and stirs it with a deep frown.

‘When will I be cured then?’

‘You won’t. I…can’t cure you, Jimin-ah. I could only make you healthier, fix your injuries. But the disease you have won’t go away…ever. I can’t make it. It lives in the middle of your bones and your blood and in the sadness in the wrinkles of your brain. It won’t kill you, it isn’t like that. You will always live with it though, the tiredness and the aches, sometimes the sadness. I don’t understand it well, I’m sorry.’

Jimin’s mouth forms a little ‘o’ but he doesn’t make a sound.

‘But I will take you to the gate if you want to leave. You are well enough to carry on with the life you led before you came here, though I don’t think it will take long for things to go back to how they were if people treat you the same as they did then…’ Jungkook sighs.

Jimin dips his head and gulps in breaths to swallow the tears.

He had been so hopeful.

He had felt so good the last two months. So strong and so happy. He hadn’t felt the exhaustion or the cloud of sadness that normally plagued him - but then, he hadn’t exerted himself much at all.

He realises with a jolt that this is why Jungkook has probably been delaying this conversation. Not because he wanted Jimin to stay with him, but because he felt guilty having to admit he couldn’t cure him.

He breathes in hard to hold in tears but it is out of habit more than anything. There is no need to hold tears back around Jungkook because he can feel them even if they remain unshed.

Jimin is also trying not to panic. If Jungkook can’t cure him he isn’t sure what he should do next. He can go back to his parents and be tormented, or perhaps, live at the inn by the gate for the rest of his probably short life, sleeping in the stable, singing for the customers and sitting on the laps of dirty old men for coins and table scraps.

Both options fill him with despair.

Living with Jungkook has spoiled him. He has been too happy because when he thinks of those two options, he thinks he could no longer cope with it.

He wishes staying was a possibility, but it can’t be. They have been pretending all summer and Jimin can’t stay here forever without having anything meaningful to contribute.

‘Are you so sad because I have failed to fix you?’ Jungkook asks across the heavy air between them.

‘Yes.’

‘I am sorry that I failed.’

‘Don’t say it like that, but I do wonder why? You are so powerful and have succeeded in so many other miracles. Why can’t I be cured?’

‘Hmm. I haven’t, not in the way they tell the stories anyway. I am very good at what I do but magic doesn’t work like humans want to think it does, like I’ve explained a little before. With a lot of things, it isn’t even about magic at all, just knowledge and skill. That is why I could teach you to make most of the things I do and you do it just as well as me. The charms and potions and herbs for example. My magic helps because I can listen to the forest and the creatures and find the right ingredients and know how to use them, but the actual making takes no power or energy at all.’

Jungkook pauses and pulls at the skin on his neck. ‘The other things, where I use my energy or what you would see as real magic only work if it is something I can …uh, conceptualise, I guess. If somebody has a broken bone, I can ask the bone to grow back. If they have lost their sight because the wires have gone wrong, I can reconnect them. I can burn away growths that sit around the guts, or straighten out a spine…or, you know, things that just need to be rebuilt or moved. I can do that. Deeper, more complicated things - things that run through bodies like fire or riddles - I can’t do them.’

‘And that’s me?’

‘Hmm.’

‘I’m too complicated to be fixed?’

‘Your brain was hurt, probably when you had a fever when you were little. And your illness because of it is intricate. I can’t fix something I don’t understand.’

‘So that’s it, I will always be weak and useless and a burden.’

‘No.’ Jungkook looks up at him abruptly, his eyes gleaming.

‘That is all very well for you to say, Jungkook! Living here has been a beautiful reprieve but it is temporary. Back in my village, useless is exactly what I am.’

‘Jimin-hyung, it isn’t you that was broken, but that the things they were trying to make you do were breaking you.’

Jimin just snorts and turns his face away. He doesn’t need Jungkook’s wonder and naivety right now. Not when he has just been handed a death sentence.

Jungkook lets the silence fall but doesn’t stop looking at Jimin from across the table.

Eventually he speaks.

‘Jimin-ah? Do you want to leave because you want to go home or because you think you have to?’ Jimin shrugs stiffly. ‘Because…I would be very happy if you stayed. If you wanted to…’

Jimin turns his head around and looks at Jungkook in disbelief.

‘Why?’

‘I like your company.’

‘But I can’t offer you anything. I am useless and weak and you just told me I will be sick forever. I can’t live here. What would that even mean? You’re going to run out of patience for me eventually.’

‘You are thinking about it like a human. If you want to live here, there is plenty you could do, you help me a lot.’

‘What bit of weak and permanently exhausted don’t you get?’

‘I think, you’ve spent a lot of your life coming across things you couldn’t do because you were being forced to do things humans think young men should do. Nobody, not even you, has ever tried to think of finding you something else that could be useful, or adapting those existing things so you could do them. Every time I’ve adjusted some job I do here so it works for you, you’ve been brilliant at it.'

Jungkook shrugs as if what he has said is obvious.

Jimin goes quiet, but can’t help reflecting on the truth in Jungkook’s words.

‘And you’d really want me to stay?’ he asks.

‘If you would like to.’

‘But what does that mean, if I do? You’ve been alone for so long and now you suddenly want someone to live with you forever?’

‘No, just you.’ Jungkook answers. Jimin doesn’t even try to untangle that, he just finishes his stew quietly.

‘Okay.’ Jimin says after a while, as if okay is enough of a reply to such a life changing question. Jungkook seems satisfied.

‘You should know though, that you’ve only been here in the summer. That is the nice time to live in the forest. Even for me, the winter is very hard. It will be very different. Cold. Not much to eat. It is dark a lot.’

‘I can handle it.’

‘My parents left just before winter. The first one without them was very bad. I’ve never liked it.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘I think I will like it, not being alone for the winter this time.’ Jungkook sighs and his lips curl into a shy smile.

‘I think we will drive each other mad, cooped up in the hanok for months,’ Jimin allows himself to smile back, ‘but I think I will like it too, Jungkook-ah, you’re the first person I’ve ever enjoyed driving me mad.'

Chapter Text

As summer folds itself away into a mild autumn, Jungkook starts to panic about having enough supplies for winter.

Jimin hears him, out in the vegetable garden, whispering anxiously to the last of the squashes.

‘Please, can you manage one more? For my Jimin-hyung. There’s two of us this winter. I need to feed him well. So, could you grow just one more?’ He tenderly strokes the green vine as he speaks, curling his long fingers through the leaves and whispering the words like a spell.

But the squash plant doesn’t grow one more fruit for him and Jimin overhears him again a week later as he petulantly reprimands it.

‘I gave you some of that really nice fertiliser. The one made out of comfrey and filled with loads of my energy. And not even one more tiny little squash? I am going to delight in pulling you up in a few weeks. I am going to let you dry in the sun and burn you in the fire and take joy in watching you crackle up to ash.’

Jimin leans against the wall at the end of the veranda and stifles a laugh in his sleeve. This isn’t the first time he has overheard Jungkook scolding their supplies.

But, when Jungkook sinks down onto a tree stump and puts his head in his hands, Jimin rushes over to him.

‘Kook-ah? What’s wrong?’

Jungkook lifts his head, his eyes are huge and wide, his bottom lip protruding in worry. If he didn’t look so sad, Jimin would think he looked beautiful.

‘I’m worried about winter. I want it to be okay for you, but I don’t really know what that means.' He says.

‘Well, do what you normally do - just a bit more?’

‘But we are different, Jimin-hyung. I’m good at surviving on not much and if things get really bad, I can draw energy from other things, like the trees. I can also…meditate, I guess you would say, I can slow my heartbeat down and shut off unnecessary parts of my body. I do that for days sometimes in winter to save supplies and, honestly, to pass the time.’

‘So, you’re worried because I am weaker than you?’

Jungkook makes a frustrated noise in his throat.

‘You always make everything about weakness versus strength. It’s reductive.’

Jimin is a little taken aback because Jungkook never snaps at him. He is never anything but soft and tender.

He crouches down and puts his small hand on Jungkook’s knee. They both stare at it for a moment, a curious look in Jungkook’s eye, and Jimin realises they haven’t really touched before. Not when the only purpose is comfort. It must have been a very long time since anybody touched Jungkook affectionately.

Jimin squeezes his knee the tiniest bit and then drops his hand away, not sure if the touch was welcome. Jungkook’s hand twitches almost unnoticeably, his eyes stay on the spot Jimin’s hand was with a small frown.

‘I’m sorry, Kook-ah. You have actual worries and I was being whiny,’ they look at each other for a moment, ‘but I know I will be ok. I have lived through very harsh conditions before. I’ve gone days without eating properly. Winters without warm clothes. I can do this with you.’

Jungkook’s frown deepens and he tugs at his hair.

‘That’s the thing. I don’t want it to be like that. I like you happy and full and smiling. I don’t want you just to survive.’

‘Ah, don’t fret. I can do it.’ Jimin grins but the frown on Jungkook’s face doesn’t budge. ‘I really can, Kook-ah. So, let’s work diligently, okay? Tell me what to do. Let’s go!’

So, they do.

They collect vegetables from the garden and Jungkook teaches Jimin how to store them. The squashes on wooden wracks in the cellar store and the root vegetables, in buckets between layers of sand that they dig from the bed of the stream.

‘If we do this right, they will last months,’ Jungkook murmurs, checking a pile of carrots for any marks or soft spots, ‘but they all have to be perfect or one will ruin the whole lot.’

He grabs one from between Jimin’s fingers as he is about to place it in the bucket. ‘See! This one is a no. Look,’ he pushes it right under Jimin’s nose and points at a dark, soft spot on the skin.

‘Okay, okay. Put it on the pile for tonight then.’

Anything that can’t be stored, they start pickling and preserving. Jungkook even spends two whole days making huge vats of kimchi and Jimin watches him fondly as he works, stained up to the elbows with red from the chilli paste.

Jimin has never really seen men do jobs like Jungkook does before. When he first ended up here, he had figured Jungkook just requested most of his food, pickles and preserves from the gate. Instead, as he watches Jungkook’s fervent autumn routine, he realises how much effort living in the forest takes.

It is honestly impressive.

Jimin also finds out that he likes to learn these skills too and that he can do most of them quite well. Sometimes, it makes him sad to think what a different life he might have led, had he been allowed to try them in his life before, and how he could have found something to contribute to his home.

Jimin’s favourite new skill is definitely making fruit leathers, that is what Jungkook calls them anyway.

He’s covert about the whole operation, even as they prepare, only muttering, ‘you’ll see, you’ll see,’ as he gives Jimin instructions.

First, he puts two huge slabs of stone in the cellar; to cool down, he says. Then they remove the stones from one bucket of plums and another of apricots.

Jungkook emerges from the store with two large jars of honey, grinning.

‘I requested these, just for this!’

He only lets Jimin taste one finger dip of it before they start, no matter how much he pouts.

They boil the fruits in two pots until it is soft and then add the honey. Then they boil it at a really high temperature, Jungkook stoking the fire endlessly to keep it roaring. Jimin gets tired and has to sit on his chair while he stirs the bubbling, sticky sweet fruit.

Once he’s happy with how it looks, Jungkook gets the two stones from the cellar and then Jimin watches in interest as Jungkook spoons out the fruit mixture onto the cool stone in little squares and rectangles.

‘I don’t get it…’

‘Be patient,’ is the only answer he gets as Jungkook keeps scooping and pouring.

After an hour, he peels off one of the creations and slaps it into Jimin’s palm with a proud grin.

‘It’s beautiful.’ Jimin sighs, holding it up to the light. It is one of the plum ones and the fruit has dried clear and bright pink like a gemstone.

‘Taste it, taste it!’ Jungkook sings.

Jimin places it between his lips and bites, it is chewy and he has to pull and suck it between his lips.

It’s sweet, delicious and Jimin has never tasted anything like it.

He looks up at Jungkook, still sucking the fruit with an expression of sheer delight. Jungkook’s eyes fall to his lips, already stained pink by the plums, thick and moving softly around the sweet.

‘I… knew you would like them,’ he smiles and then rushes away.

Jimin savours the fruit leather. It is the best thing he has ever eaten.

*          *          *          *          *

As the temperature drops further, Jimin realises he is going to need some new clothes. He came to the forest in a simple shirt, a pair of trousers and some hemp sandals and that is all he has worn since, occasionally throwing a blanket or fur over his shoulders in the evenings.

The state of their clothes doesn't really matter too much, in the forest just the two of them. In the heat of the summer, they often walk around without their shirts on and Jungkook often walks around in nothing at all. Jimin doesn’t quite have the confidence to go that far, some of his preconceptions about propriety still clinging on, but he has stopped being so fazed when Jungkook does it. He hardly notices it as unusual anymore.

But, if the winter is going to be as brutal as Jungkook claims, Jimin is going to need at least another layer and probably some shoes or even boots.

He’s been impressed with Jungkook’s skills so far, but this seems like something he is going to have to request at the gate. He feels kind of awkward and guilty about it, still not fully settled into the fact that they both decided he could live here forever. A big and difficult word to really comprehend. Jimin still feels like a guest in all honesty.

However, he broaches the idea of clothes one afternoon as Jungkook chops wood in the clearing outside the hanok.

Wood chopping for the winter season is almost as serious a business as storing and preserving food, it turns out. Jungkook sets himself ridiculous targets every day of how many logs he will add to the pile and seems to relish in the challenge, increasing it each day. Jimin helps a little, but wood chopping isn’t one of his strengths.

He very much enjoys watching Jungkook do it though.

‘Kook-ah?’ he interrupts carefully, ‘I was thinking and I realised I am going to need some clothes for winter. Don’t you think? Just one or two things, some warmer things.’

Jungkook thwacks the axe into the block one last time and stands up, covered in a delightful sheen of sweat.

‘Ah, of course,’ he sighs, ‘we can request some. Really hate all the boring requests I have to make each winter, so tiresome.’

‘I’m sorry. I feel bad about it. But I came here only in these, I don’t think they will serve me well enough.’

‘No. No. Definitely not.’

‘I did think, I can go to the town, if you want - or the inn? And sell some things. Then I could go to the market and buy clothes myself. I don’t have to take up all your requests. I know why you don’t leave the forest, but there isn’t any reason for me not to, is there?’

‘No. No. Don’t do that. I don’t like that. No.’

‘Why? I’ll come back.’

‘Of course you will, you love it here.’

‘So?’

‘I just don’t like the thought. You’d have to stay away for a day or two. I don’t like the thought. It makes my skin itch.’

Jimin tilts his head and sighs. Jungkook has started saying things like this and it is forming an anxious little knot in Jimin's stomach. Not because he doesn’t like it – if he was being honest, he loves it – but it is making him worried all the same.

He diverts the conversation, making it a problem for later, once again.

‘Ok. Well, do you have anything we can share? Before we waste too many requests. What do you wear in the winter?’

Jungkook drags them both inside, hauls an old chest from the corner of the hanok and starts pulling out things for Jimin to try.

‘Here, take that off and try this on.’ He throws a shirt at Jimin.

When Jimin is slow, Jungkook tuts and pulls him forwards, brushing Jimin's hands away. He unties the front of his shirt and pushes it off his shoulders. As he does, his hands run over Jimin’s skin while the shirt drops to the floor.

He hops back a step and his cheeks flush. He looks at his hands.

Unsure how to respond, Jimin bends down and picks up the new shirt from the floor. It is long and padded, with a collar lined with fur - perfect for winter.

He wishes he could read emotions like Jungkook does, because that reaction to touching him was odd. Jungkook has seen Jimin shirtless a hundred times. He’s seen him fully naked quite a few times too. So why, this time, did it cause Jungkook to flush and pout?

Was it the way his fingers trailed down the skin on Jimin’s shoulders? That did feel good.

Jimin pushes the thought away. It can’t feel good though, it shouldn’t.

He looks down and tries to do up the new shirt, his fingers tremble and he fumbles the tie. Jungkook steps forward again and pushes Jimin’s hands away to tie the front of the shirt himself.

Then they both drop their arms and make eye contact for a moment. Jungkook raises his hand, slowly. It looks as if he might bring it up to Jimin’s cheek. He looks curious and uncertain.

But Jimin is certain. He is certain that something like that isn’t a road they can go down. This thing blooming between them is something he should stamp out before it really begins. So, he abruptly ducks under Jungkook’s raised arm and lunges for the chest of clothes.

‘What about boots? Do you have any boots?’

*          *          *          *          *

The next time Jungkook goes to collect requests at the gate, Jimin begs to go too but is flat out refused.

‘I want to help, you had to go back last time with the cart. That’s silly, I could help carry things.’

‘I’ll just take the cart in the first place, okay?’ Jungkook shuffles his feet and looks up at Jimin through his lashes like he does when he’s worried or when he’s appealing to Jimin’s soft side. He’s caught on to human guiles remarkably quickly.

‘I am very spoiled,’ is all Jimin answers, knowing when he is defeated. He can’t exactly put his foot down and insist. If he tried to follow him, Jungkook could easily just vanish and leave him in the woods alone.

Jungkook fusses about leaving though, knowing that Jimin doesn’t like sleeping in the hanok alone. He even insists on putting Jimin to bed, laughing as he wraps him in blankets and tucks them under his feet.

‘You’re my little dumpling,’ he suddenly whispers, almost to himself more than anything, and then his smile falls off his face.

Jimin watches as he blinks his eyes a few times.

‘Jungkook-ah?’

‘Daddy used to say that.’

‘He used to wrap you up like this?’

He nods, ‘like a dumpling, wrapped up like one.’

‘That’s a nice memory…’ Jimin says with uncertainty. Jungkook has frozen in place, his arms hanging by his sides, eyes distant.

‘Ah. Yes. And then once, he…did it. You’re my little dumpling. And then they never came back.'

‘Oh. Jungkook-ah...’

‘I stayed wrapped up for a long time. They didn’t come back though. They never came back.’

Silence falls around them.

Jimin wriggles out of his blanket, stands up and flings his arms around Jungkook’s neck. He holds him tightly and leans his whole body weight against him.

He’s wanted to hold Jungkook many times over the last few months but has always decided against doing so. Yet this time he doesn’t even consider stopping.

Jungkook drops his forehead onto Jimin’s shoulder but his arms stay limp by his side for a moment.

He’s reeling. Nobody has hugged Jungkook since his parents left. In fact, nobody has really touched him at all. In over a decade. Aside from the couple of times he’s carried Jimin or tended to his wounds.

And now he is in Jimin’s arms, his face in his neck, able to feel the warmth of his skin.

With a shuddering breath, he gasps and wraps his arms around Jimin’s waist, pulling his body against his own. He makes a soft ah against Jimin’s neck, revelling in the feeling.

After a few moments, Jimin lets go and sits back down.

‘I ruined the blanket. You’re going to have to tuck me in again.’ He says.

After Jungkook leaves, Jimin immediately tears the blankets off his body. Bile rises in his throat at the image of Jungkook as a little boy curled in the same position waiting for his parents to come home.

He makes tea, curls up on the steps of the hanok and cries into the darkness. He cries for the little boy that got left here, all alone and somehow, he also finds a few tears for the little boy he was too, not so unlike Jungkook, even if he was physically surrounded by people.

Jungkook’s isolation had been a different kind of cruelty but Jimin’s was just as bitter. For Jimin was always the other while he grew up: the child not like other children who grew up to be a man not like other men but not allowed to be like the women either. Just a nobody; useless, unwanted, isolated.

He marvels that, despite the ways they were raised, he and Jungkook are finding it so easy to care for each other now. Because that is what it is out here: easy. Living with Jungkook is easy. And more. It is a joy Jimin didn’t think this life would ever provide him.

He wipes his tears and goes back inside. Jungkook won’t be back for a while but he would hate to come back to Jimin crying like this.

He creeps up the ladder to the platform and curls up in Jungkook’s bed. He knows the other won’t be surprised to find him there anymore.

*          *          *          *          *

The hug they shared that evening unleashes something in Jungkook. A curiosity and hunger for touch that neither had realised he had been burying.

And Jungkook chases the feeling like a new obsession.

His fingers find the crook of Jimin’s elbow as he leads him through the trees. They brush the base of Jimin’s spine when he follows behind him. He hooks his wet hair behind his ear as he laughs while they bathe in the stream, Jimin’s face spread in a wide eye-smile. Jungkook’s favourite of his smiles.

Jimin shakes off none of these increasing touches, but he never returns them. Since he hugged Jungkook, he hasn’t reached out again and his lack of reactions confuse Jungkook.

He doesn't understand it because he feels a rush of something sometimes, in Jimin’s emotions, when he touches him. Like when he tucked his hair behind his ear.

He can see how Jimin’s eyes drop to his lips and he feels the swoop and tightening in his belly. But then, Jimin always pulls away.

In the stream, Jimin had pulled backwards and sunk under the water with a plop, leaving a tang of bitterness crackling on the surface of the water and under Jungkook’s tongue.

Jungkook doesn’t know what any of it means. He doesn’t really know what he wants, but is just as confused as to why Jimin is so reluctant to give it to him. The push and pull makes his head swim, but he can’t stop himself. He chases the experience headfirst like he does with most things.

Like that evening, as they sit next to each other on the veranda, popping a late harvest of beans out of their soft cases, and Jungkook presses their thighs together

They accidently left the beans too late on the plants and now they’re swollen and tough. They thud into the wooden bowl at their feet. One by one. Occasionally, they let the hens steal one and rush off across the clearing with their prize, their sisters following behind to snatch it, squawking as they go.

They’re both quiet. The press of their legs feels warm to Jungkook, burning where their flesh touches. He wants more, wants to chase the feeling of heat - but he doesn’t, because he can feel the contentment pouring off Jimin.

Jimin is happy.

Jungkook looks around; at the home they share, the evening sun poking through the trees, their fat hens and their fat beans. He looks at Jimin last, who turns his face up and beams at him, his eyes disappearing as his cheeks swell. He doesn’t say anything but it says a lot. And Jungkook is happy too.

*          *          *          *          *

Jungkook watches Jimin dip a small blade into the bowl of warm water and shake off the oil and fine hairs, then carefully bring it back to his face.

He is sitting cross legged on the veranda, a highly-shined metal plate in front of him to see his reflection as he shaves the small collection of hairs from his chin.

The blade is new, Jungkook got it for him with his last delivery of presents, and Jimin was ecstatic.

‘I have wanted to do this for so long,’ Jimin sighs, dipping the blade again, ‘I hate having hair on my face.’

Jungkook doesn't really understand what Jimin is up to, but his lack of understanding doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in the whole procedure. He is highly interested in fact.

He lays on his stomach by Jimin’s knees and peers up at him with rapt attention, occasionally running his fingers over the soft hair on his own face.

Water gleams on Jimin’s finger tips as they grasp the blade and Jungkook’s mouth falls open as he watches it draw across Jimin’s skin. He loves the sound. Like a gentle scratch but soft and slick. He also likes the way drops of water run down Jimin’s wrist and disappear into his sleeve.

Jimin smooths oil over the next bit of skin with his thumb and Jungkook’s eyes track the movement hungrily. The sight causes a coiling tightness in the depths of his belly.

He fidgets at the feeling and Jimin notices, he drops hooded eyes onto Jungkook with curiosity. They seem to say, really? This? But Jungkook doesn’t really understand and just keeps staring, his soft bottom lip puckered outwards.

What he does pick up on though is the change in emotion seeping from Jimin’s skin once he flicks his eyes away again. He can tell that Jimin is enjoying him watching, that he's noticed Jungkook’s reaction and he likes it. He’s enjoying the hungry look in Jungkook’s eyes as it travels over his skin and Jungkook feels it emanate from him like a warm glow.

He gulps a little. Jimin's emotions - that tightness in the depths of his belly - it feels the same as his own. So, for the first time, Jungkook understands what it means.

He is grateful he is lying on his stomach as he feels himself harden.

Getting hard is a gentle surprise, like the final piece of the puzzle falling into place. Jungkook finally gets how it all goes together; the feelings of longing, of interest, of hunger, of a need to touch Jimin - and now his hard cock between his thighs.

When Jungkook had said to Jimin that he knew about sex, he wasn’t lying. But what he didn't know was that it connected to this. He thought sex was just a functional thing that humans did to make children, just like other animals.

But now, as he watches Jimin drag oil and the soft blade across his skin in the evening light, he finally puts all the pieces together.

When Jimin finishes, he gently places the blade on the edge of the bowl, and the tiny sound reverberates around Jungkook’s ears like it was made by a full-sized drum.

Jimin wipes his face dry with a small cloth then looks down at Jungkook. They make eye contact for several moments.

‘Will you do mine?’ Jungkook asks.

‘You want me to shave you? But you barely have any hair.' Jimin smiles softly.

He reaches forwards and runs his thumb along Jungkook’s jawline and he feels the goosebumps rush up his neck in the wake of Jimin’s touch.

‘Please.’ Jungkook whispers.

‘Ok.’ Jimin pats his lap and nudges Jungkook's shoulder so that he flips over, then he pulls him back so his head rests in his lap.

Jungkook looks up at him as Jimin cleans the blade carefully on the cloth and then dips it in the still warm water.

He is right, Jungkook doesn’t have much hair on his face. Just soft, fine hairs down across his chin, only slightly darker than his other hair, a line across his upper lip and a scattering down his throat. Jimin smooths oil across one side first.

Jungkook can’t help the soft noise that bubbles in his throat at the first touch of Jimin’s blade. He shuts his eyes. Jimin shaves one side of Jungkook’s chin, then turns his head with reverence to do the other side. Then his top lip. Then with careful strokes across his throat.

Jungkook feels water track down his skin and fall to the nape of his neck. Each one causes his flesh to goose and pucker in its wake.

When he is finished, Jimin wipes his face carefully then rests a hand gently on Jungkook’s shoulder. He opens his eyes and looks up, staying where he is.

Something burns in Jimin’s eyes and in the emotions that pour out from his chest. Jungkook can feel something new there, taut and about to snap.

Jimin sucks in his bottom lip, his eyes travel to Jungkook’s mouth, and then his crotch where the folds of his shirt and trousers haven’t done quite enough to cover his hardness. Jimin’s eyes are dark and wide.

And then they are cold.

‘All done,’ he whispers, scooping a light hand under Jungkook’s shoulder and pushing him so that he sits up.

In a hurry, he stands, grabs the blade and bowl and rushes away. Jungkook stays seated for a while in his absence, a finger running up and down his own throat.

*          *          *          *          *

For the past day or so, Jimin has been acting strangely and Jungkook doesn’t know what to do about it. He’s been irritable, distant. He wanders aimlessly around the clearing rubbing at his chest or sits on the veranda staring at the trees, his face blank.

Jungkook is attuned to Jimin’s mannerisms nowadays and he noticed this change immediately. He noticed how Jimin stopped making eye contact with him and started snapping at him when he tried to make conversation.

Evening has started to fall and Jimin is curled up in the nest, which is resting just by the line of trees at the edge of the clearing. Sadness pours off him with such strength that Jungkook could choke on it.

Jungkook feels helpless. He hovers. He has enough sense to realise Jimin doesn’t want to talk, but he cares too much to be able to leave him alone.

So, he uses his skills to linger near Jimin, but stay out of sight.

He wants to fix everything so badly. He is a fixer. A witch that has spent his whole adult life listening to the requests and pleas of sick humans begging for a cure. It is an affront to him to leave things unattended to. To give up. Even worse to be faced with something he can’t fix for the first time in a little human he has grown to care so much about.

In the end, he can’t bear it anymore. He can't bear the sight of Jimin curled in the nest with such a blank look on his face. Jimin has his eyes shut, but Jungkook can feel he is awake and he can feel the fog and disassociation that lies heavy over his skin.

He hates it.

He remembers how when he was sad about his parents, Jimin hugged him. Jimin stood up and threw his arms around him and Jungkook felt better. It felt good.

Trying not to overthink it, he approaches the nest and then carefully crawls in behind Jimin. Slowly, he edges up behind him and rests lightly against his back. Jimin stiffens and the pain that rushes out of him catches in Jungkook’s throat. He can’t stop himself; he wraps Jimin in his arms.

He is still new to touch like this. He approaches it with basic instinct, listening to his body and his senses. Jimin stays stiff for a few moments and then Jungkook feels him relax with a breath. In. Out.

They lie there for a moment. Jungkook follows the rise and fall of Jimin’s breathing, mirroring it with his own. He becomes very conscious of Jimin’s proximity. Of his scent. The warmth of his skin.

It’s the first touch in a while that Jimin hasn't shrugged away from and he can't help pressing his nose to the nape of Jimin’s neck, breathing him in. He smells like Jungkook’s home, like Jungkook’s things, but he also smells like Jimin. Like a recipe of smells that are only Jimin. Like Jungkook could find him with his eyes closed. And he would.

To his surprise he feels Jimin’s back arch slightly, like he is pressing himself deeper into the embrace. Jungkook drags his nose from the collar of Jimin’s shirt to the edge of his hairline.

He's been aching for this kind of touch, but Jimin always moves away, never lets him explore like he wants to. Jungkook never pushes. He has to trust Jimin’s choices even if he can feel that there's more to them. But today, Jimin doesn't stop him. In fact, he reacts. He pushes back into Jungkook’s warmth. He lets the smallest sigh fall from his lips as Jungkook sends an exploratory finger under the hem of Jimin’s shirt and swirls the pads over the skin on his hip.

He feels the muscles in Jimin’s stomach tighten in response, as if they are tightened by a drawstring that follows the drag of Jungkook’s finger. He does it again. The muscles react the same, this time accompanied by a shiver across the surface of Jimin’s flesh.

Jungkook is enthralled.

He repeats the action like a child learning a new skill.

This time a gasp falls from Jimin’s lips.

'Ah, Jungkook.' he sighs and his head falls back on Jungkook’s shoulder.

Somehow, the sound of his voice makes Jungkook’s stomach muscles tighten too. That same swoop he has only recently recognised.

He lets his lips drop onto Jimin’s shoulder where his shirt has shifted to the side and revealed his pale skin.

Jungkook doesn't really know anything about kissing, not properly - he doesn't know about all the ways a mouth can be used like this - but his body tells him what to do and he listens to it. He mouths across the skin on Jimin’s shoulder, gently, very gently. His lips barely open, just grazing the skin, but he can taste and smell Jimin and the intensity makes his head spin.

His hand on Jimin’s hip tightens into a grip. Then he experiments with a tiny bite to his skin.

Jimin reaches down to take Jungkook’s hand and, for a second, he thinks Jimin will stop him. Here comes the familiar gesture to stop Jungkook’s affections - but he doesn't. He laces their fingers together and pulls the arm around him. Pulls so that they lean slightly forwards, Jungkook’s weight on his back.

Jungkook revels in the way that feels. The way they fit. How Jimin’s back fits against his chest; his ass into Jungkook’s lap, their legs tangled. He thinks they should do this more. They should sleep like this. They should never stop connecting their bodies just like this.

He can feel Jimin’s emotions too. All those new ones he doesn't have names for but how they feel the same as his own.

They feel almost like the feeling he gets when he touches himself, but not quite the same. These are stronger. The anticipation, the build-up - there's such a different edge to them than the base feeling he gets for himself which is so easily and quickly relieved.

He's utterly consumed.

Then all at once, worried. He climbed into the nest with Jimin because he wanted to make him happy and make him feel safe. He didn't plan it to deepen in this way.

He tips his head away from the intoxicating smell of Jimin’s warm neck and breathes some fresh air.

'Are you letting me because you were sad?' He whispers.

'No,' Jimin’s voice shudders, 'No. I want you. Keep touching me.'

But Jungkook needs to see it confirmed in Jimin’s eyes. He needs to make sure he is present.

He shuffles backwards under the blankets and pulls Jimin’s shoulder until he lays flat on his back, then he leans across him and cups a hand across Jimin’s jaw.

Jimin looks at him with blown pupils, but his eyes see Jungkook. They mirror the emotions Jungkook can feel. There's no lie in them.

'Touch me. It's Okay. Do what you feel,' Jimin whispers.

So Jungkook leans further over Jimin and continues the exploration of his skin. He rubs his nose and his lips against the top of Jimin’s chest at the collar of his shirt, then over Jimin’s throat and neck. He still doesn't open his mouth fully, but he sighs and gasps as he does it.

And Jimin is so responsive. He arches up, his eyes rolled back. His hands grip into Jungkook’s clothes and pull him down. He moans too. They relay the sounds between them, causing and affecting each other.

Jungkook feels a rush of intensity burst from Jimin when he brings his mouth to Jimin’s face, like he is overwhelmed but in a good way. He repeats the motion, running his lips over his jaw. His cheeks. The intensity of feelings almost floors Jungkook. Jimin wants. Wants and needs.

Then, Jungkook draws his mouth over Jimin’s lips, sweeping across and travelling past to his other cheek, but for a moment his lips move across Jimin’s and the reaction from both of them surprises him.

Jimin lifts his head slightly, led by his lips, like he's searching for more. At the same time, Jungkook can feel what Jimin feels and the emotions match Jungkook’s own; that same shudder up his spine, the pull in his stomach, his hard cock between his legs - but more. More somehow.

He lifts his head and opens his eyes, pauses until Jimin’s eyes flicker open too. He watches him for just a second and then lowers his head slowly, clearly and deliberately moving to brush their lips together again.

Jimin stares at him the whole time. It isn't really a kiss. Jungkook just pushes his mouth against Jimin’s and then lifts his head again to meet his eyes.

Like he's asking a question. Is that right? Is that what I should do? Do you like it?

Jimin does nothing but his eyes burn. He dips his head again and presses their lips together. They move, pucker slightly and he knows what he’s doing is right.

‘Ah. Ah,’ escapes his lips, like a breath straight into Jimin’s waiting mouth.

Jimin’s eyes flutter closed and Jungkook could drown in the feeling of their mouths pressed together, Jimin’s lips on his.

He goes to move his lips, to open them, and then he feels two palms on his chest. They push.

He leans back and Jimin’s arms come between them, holding him away.

Jimin is staring at him. His eyes have changed.

'Stop. Jungkook, stop,' he murmurs.

Jungkook moves his arms so he's taking his own weight but stays above Jimin, his head tilted. A thousand questions on his lips.

'Why?'

'We shouldn't do this.'

'But we want to. We both want to. I can feel us.'

'But we shouldn't.'

'Why?'

'Men don't kiss.'

'What?' Of all the reasons he thought Jimin had, it wasn't that. 'Was that a kiss that we just did?'

'Yes.'

'Then men do kiss. Because we just did.'

'Well, we aren't supposed to.'

Jimin is going stiff again, curling into himself and drawing away.

'I don't understand.'

'Neither do I. But we can't do this. It isn't just that, it's us Jungkook-ah. This, we... can’t.'

Jungkook wrinkles his nose. He's so confused. Bitterness and pain rushes through Jimin’s veins and douses the lust Jungkook could feel in him before. It makes Jungkook’s head reel, trying to understand.

'But we want to. I want to touch you so much. You made me hard. I didn't understand before, what that meant, that it comes with a feeling like this. I, Jimin-ah, I want to touch you so much. I feel such a lot.'

Jimin screws his eyes shut. He's hurting.

Jungkook pulls away immediately, he doesn't want to hurt him.

'It’s us, Jungkook-ah. We can't do this if you want me to be able to live here. I…you haven't done this kind of thing with anyone. You just feel intensely about me because of how alone you've been. And I can't ruin you. Men shouldn't kiss.'

Jungkook can feel that there is a lot more behind Jimin’s words but he can’t understand any of it.

'That just makes no sense. Why can't men kiss? I don't care about any of that. I want to kiss you. I want to touch you. I don't understand why anything else matters.' Jimin doesn't answer, just turns his face away, and Jungkook reluctantly moves and lays on his back staring at the trees above.

'Have you kissed other men, Jimin-hyung?' Jimin doesn't answer again, but he turns his face to Jungkook and their eyes meet. He doesn't have to reply for Jungkook to know the answer is yes. 'So, it is just me. It is just me that you think you shouldn't kiss?'

'Yes,' Jimin whispers and Jungkook feels the guilt and shame that burns in Jimin with the words.

'Right. Right.'

Jungkook is so confused. And that answer hurts. In one breath, he rises from the nest and rushes away into the trees, leaving Jimin curled beneath the blankets.

*          *          *          *          *

The next few days are awful. Jimin torments himself for hurting Jungkook, for misleading him. He’s stupid. Because he knew, he knew how they were growing to rely on each other was dangerous. He even knew it was a bad idea to stay with Jungkook, if he really acknowledges it. But he was selfish. And greedy.

He wanted to stay in this beautiful home in this beautiful forest, and be free and happy and healthy. But that is more than Park Jimin is allowed to have in his life, he knew that deep down too. Knew that he was shown this joy just to torment him harder when he finally has to do the right thing and give it up. Because he knows that now - he knows he has to leave.

He knows it when he sees the person he has turned Jungkook into since the day they held each other in the nest. Since he stole the precious glimmer of Jungkook’s first kiss.

Jungkook is avoiding him. Jungkook is jittery. Unsure. His usual rambling chatter to himself muted to little murmurs and sighs, abruptly cutting off if they crescendo as if he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself.

Their interactions have dropped to the most basic sentences they can manage and still share such a tiny space, both seeming to desperately avoid making eye contact with the other.

Crushing Jungkook into a shadow, making him hurt and awkward, is already more than Jimin can bear.

After two days of it, he resolves to leave the next - but this decision means they will finally have to talk. He is not quite such a coward to run without explaining why.

They sit opposite each other at the table with hobak-juk between them. They haven’t had it for a while and he wonders for a moment if Jungkook made it on purpose, because it is Jimin’s favourite. Because it is the first meal they shared.

He hopes so. He will take the memory of it with him.

‘Jungkook-ah,’ he finally breaks the silence, ‘I’m sorry. ’ Jungkook looks up, his spoon hovering. ‘I’m sorry that I hurt you. I’m sorry that I let things go too far. I’m sorry that I’ve taken so much from you, staying here.’

Jungkook frowns. ‘I don’t want any of those sorrys. Keep them.'

He ripples with anger and Jimin isn’t quite sure what to do with it. He expected sadness or confusion, not anger.

‘Well, I have put them out there. And I mean them. I-‘

‘-say it again and I’ll leave.’ Jungkook threatens, putting down his spoon.

‘Okay. I deserve your anger.’

‘You’re being pathetic Jimin. You’re not weak. Don’t act it. Say what you want to say to me.’

Jimin sucks in a sharp breath. ‘I’m going to leave. Tomorrow.’

Jungkook clenches both of his hands on the surface of the table.

‘No.’

‘I’ve already decided.’

‘No.’

‘Jungkook-‘

‘-what about my decision?’ Jungkook cuts in. Jimin sighs, opens his mouth and then closes it again. ‘So, once again you are not giving me one?’

‘It isn’t that simple, Kook-ah, I need to do what is right for both of us and you don’t understand-'

‘-I am not a fucking child,’ Jungkook stands up suddenly, his whole-body rigid with anger, ‘you seem to think it is ok to treat me like one because I am different to you. Because I talk funny, or seem weird or, I don’t even know what it is you have decided because you don’t tell me. But I am not. I am your age. I am an adult. And I know how and what I feel. About you. What I want from you. I am not an idiot!’

‘I don’t think you are an idiot.’ Jimin half whispers, his lip trembling.

‘Then why have you made a decision about our life without involving me?’

‘Because I know it is the right one.’

‘It isn’t. Look at me, I am angry and I am sad. You are sad. You are the saddest you have been since you came here. I can feel it. It is pouring off you. Why would the right decision make us feel like that?’

Jimin screws up his face. He didn’t expect Jungkook to react like this and he wasn’t ready for it.

‘Jimin-ah, please don’t leave because of this. Please.’ Jungkook moves around the table to Jimin. He kneels beside him. ‘Please, Jimin-ah. I don’t want you to go. You don’t want to go. Right?’

‘Jungkook, that isn’t-’

‘-no. Just answer that bit. Do you want to go, really?’

‘No.’

‘Ok. Then don’t. We will work out the next bit together. Please. Please?’

‘I don’t want to go,’ is all Jimin manages to say. It isn’t a confirmation that he won’t, but it is at least an acknowledgment.

They both breathe out, shakily.

‘I’m sorry I pushed you. That I kissed you. Okay?’ Jungkook offers.

Jimin looks up at him with wide, pained eyes.

‘Jungkook-ah, I think you mistook my words the other day. I could tell they hurt you. When I said it was just you that I shouldn’t kiss. It isn’t because I don’t want to. I know you’re not an idiot. That you can feel my emotions. So, you know what I feel for you, there’s no point lying. But I don’t know what to do with those feelings because we can’t do…that. But I also don’t know how to live here and not want that from you. That’s the problem. That’s why I should go.’

He pushes his palm to his eyes and screws them up in pain.

‘Why can’t we?’ Jungkook whispers.

‘It feels wrong, Kook-ah, it feels like I am corrupting you. Okay? I knew I liked men before I came here. Knew since I was little. But you’ve never met anyone but me. You have no idea what or who you do and don’t like. I feel like I’m forcing something on you, like I gave you ideas that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.’

Jungkook snorts out a breath, he still looks angry but softens when Jimin starts to cry.

‘And why do you get to decide that’s how it is? And why does it matter? I like you. I want you. Why does there have to be more to it than that? Please don’t hurt us both by doing something just because you think you should and not because you want to.’

‘I’m so confused,’ Jimin gasps.

‘Jimin-ah, where you grew up, are men allowed to know they like girls without having kissed one? And the other way around? When it is a man and a woman, they can get married without kissing, or fucking, or touching – right? Without hardly interacting at all?’

Jimin nods. ‘So why can’t it be the same for me? Why can’t I just know? Why do I have to justify it, or prove it? You’re bringing the prejudice of your village here and I hate it. Because you feel shame for how you are, because you’ve been taught to think you’re wrong or bad you’re scared of that being the case for me too. But I don’t think like that, I never have and never will. I don’t think it is shameful. I honestly don’t give a shit who fucks who in this world. And I won’t let you impose that on me. You will not put that shadow over how I feel about you.’

Jimin just watches him talk, tears running down his cheeks. ‘Maybe I like girls too. Who knows? Who fucking cares, frankly? But I want you. I care about you. I can’t bear the idea of you leaving. And I hope, when you are ready, you will let me touch you again.’

Jungkook finally leans forwards and rubs the tears on Jimin’s cheekbones away with his thumbs. ‘But we won’t rush it, okay? We have time. We don’t need anything to change. But what we are not going to do is pretend what we feel about each other isn’t okay. It is beautiful. I like it. And I’m going to keep it. Okay?’

There’s a long pause, but Jimin knows there is only one right answer.

‘Okay,’ he hiccups.

‘So you won’t leave tomorrow?’

‘No I won’t leave. Tomorrow.’

‘Good. Now eat your food.’

Jungkook stands to move back around the table to his own bowl, and Jimin reaches out a hand to grip the fabric of his sleeve.

‘Kook-ah? Can I have a hug first?’

Jungkook nods and sinks back down, pulling Jimin into his arms. Jimin rests his forehead on his shoulder and cries the rest of his tears. His pain and fear isn’t gone but it feels smaller in the wake of Jungkook’s words.

*          *          *          *          *

Jimin should be more surprised to be snuck up on by witches poking their heads over the side of the hand cart, but he lives with Jungkook so he isn't.

What he is surprised by, is it being two witches he doesn’t recognise. They both have mops of black hair and matching mischievous grins as they peer at him.

He should probably be scared. Two unknown witches creeping up on Jimin when he is alone should be something he finds terrifying. He’d passed out multiple times when he first met Jungkook, and hadn’t fared much better with Yoongi - but since then, Jimin has learnt to trust in Jungkook’s power.

Nobody can approach their home without Jungkook’s consent. So, if these two have gotten this close to him, Jungkook must know them. They must be his other hyungs.

'Hello, little human Jimin-ssi,' one of them grins.

'Yoongi-hyung told us about you,' the other adds.

'He said our youngest dongsaeng was keeping a pet.'

Jimin props himself up on his elbows.

'Maybe Jungkook-ssi is my pet?' he says with a quirk of his eyebrow.

The two witches nod at each other like this idea is quite sensible.

'Entirely probable,' one agrees.

'You burn very warm. I imagine Jungkookie is quite weak about it.' The other adds and they both cackle.

'Are you going to introduce yourselves or is the mystery all part of the performance?' Jimin sighs.

'Ah sorry, forgot you need words for that. Hoseok.’ One of them smiles.

‘Seokjin,’ the other adds.

‘Two Seoks…’ Jimin says.

‘Two socks,’ Seokjin laughs and leans himself back so his feet are in the air, ‘two socks? See?’

Even Hoseok doesn't seem to get it and looks at him with a frown.

Seokjin sits up with an exasperated sigh, ‘I guess you would need to speak English for that to make sense. Uncultured, both of you.’

They both go back to staring at Jimin over the edge of the hand cart. It is a little unnerving.

‘So, did you come to see Jungkook-ssi? Or me?’

‘Oh, you for sure. We don’t need to visit to see Kookie.’

‘Shall I make some tea then?’

‘Lovely, lovely.’ Hoseok nods.

Jimin climbs out of the nest and crosses the clearing to the hanok. Hoseok and Seokjin follow close behind his heels, intense and excited. They seem to be highly amused by Jimin.

‘Shall we sit outside? It’s warm. I can make the tea on the fire out here.’ He asks them.

There’s almost always a fire burning in the clearing outside the hanok because it is where Jimin and Jungkook make spells and remedies for the requests.

‘Yes, Yes.’ One of the witches replies.

They sit down together on the mats by the fire and wait for Jimin as he goes inside to fetch the tea things. When he comes outside, Hoseok and Seokjin are sitting next to each other, crossed legged, their eyes rolled back in their heads. They have one hand joined, palm to palm. They’re silent but both their faces move and twitch in faint expressions as if they are having a conversation. Jimin realises that they probably are.

He chooses not to disturb them and just starts making the tea.

After a few minutes, they lift their heads and their eyes roll back around, they relax from the position they were in but keep holding hands, letting them fall between their knees.

Like all the witches he has met so far, these two don’t look like regular people. The basics of how they dress are right, but there is something about how they have put it all together that is off; the colours too bright, the patterns not something Jimin has ever seen. Both of them seem to also be fond of feathers, with examples of various colours hanging from their ears, knotted into their hair and even poking out of various pockets.

‘So…’ Jimin says awkwardly as he hands them both cups of tea.

He’s not as used to socialising as he used to be, after months of it being just him and Jungkook, with only the brief appearance of Yoongi.

‘So…’ they reply and both just grin at him and sip their tea.

Jimin sighs.

There is an air of mischief about them.

‘You live here?’ Seokjin finally asks.

‘Yes.’

‘With Jungkook?’

‘Obviously.’

‘How is he?’

‘You said you can talk to him yourself?’

‘To clarify, how is he to live with?’ Seokjin counters.

‘Easy. Thoughtful. Funny.’ Jimin doesn’t see the point in evading, they’ll either read his feelings or outsmart him anyway.

‘And how are you to live with?’ Hoseok asks.

‘Difficult. Thoughtless. Sullen.’ He's only half joking. ‘Is this some kind of big brother intervention? Or do you just revel in making humans uncomfortable.'

‘Oh, both! Definitely.’ Seokjin laughs.

‘Jungkook is very special. We all watch out for him. And we couldn’t resist getting a look at you when we heard the gossip from Yoongi-hyung.’ Hoseok adds. He has a kind face, a touch less chaotic than Seokjin’s.

‘I think he is special too. I will watch out for him, if I can.’ Jimin adds.

‘So, you really are going to stay forever?’

‘Oh. Probably. It’s…maybe.’

They both nod happily. ‘Good. That’s good. I bet Jungkook is happy.’

‘Oh. Right.’ He gulps.

They continue to talk aimlessly, but Jimin can tell that a lot more is being said between the two witches, that they are communicating in some way on top of the conversation he is part of. He finds it a bit annoying.

After a while, Jungkook emerges from the tree line, the hens pottering around his feet as he chatters to them. He’s holding the hemp bag he takes out foraging and thanking Moon for locating a particularly difficult root for him.

Jimin swells with fondness at the sight. Jungkook, in the dappled forest light, his chest bare and his trousers covered in grass stains, chatting happily with their chickens - it is one of his favourite sights.

‘Oof. Wow.’ Seokjin murmurs, bringing one hand to his chest and squeezing Hoseok’s with the other.

‘Right? Hyung did not exaggerate.’ Hoseok nods.

Jimin tears his eyes from Jungkook and glares at the two witches who are staring at him intently. He guesses they read his emotions and so felt the rush in him when Jungkook appeared.

‘Don’t start,’ he says with a point of his finger and they both raise their hands as if in surrender.

Jungkook grins when he sees them and comes bounding over. He plops down next to Jimin and ruffles the hair at the back of his head.

Since their talk, they’ve been careful with each other and steered away from any touching that might lead somewhere or hold more meaning, but they’re both being more relaxed and tender.

So far, Jimin likes the compromise. He turns his head in Jungkook’s hold and smiles at him.

‘Successful?’

‘Yes. Yes. A good haul.’

In another life Jimin would find it odd that Jungkook doesn’t really acknowledge or greet his hyungs, but in this life he knows it is probably because they were already communicating long before Jungkook physically appeared.

The four of them sit for another few hours, finishing the tea and then sharing a simple meal. Jimin doesn’t miss the way Seokjin and Hoseok seem to be tracking and assessing his and Jungkook’s interactions. Jungkook either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. He is as fond and gentle to Jimin as he always is. Staring at him when he talks and occasionally rubbing the back of his neck.

As evening falls, Seokjin and Hoseok vanish off into the trees with a hug and a laugh and Jimin can’t help feeling a little glad. Like he can finally relax.

Jungkook senses his tiredness and tells him to go to bed while he douses the fire. Jimin washes up quickly and half falls into his sheets on the floor of the hanok.

‘Jimin-ah,’ he hears Jungkook whisper through the darkness some time later, pulling him from his half sleeping state.

‘Hmm?’

‘Can I sleep with you?’

‘Yeah,’ he mumbles and feels the movement and warmth as Jungkook crawls under the blankets with him. Jimin rolls over and nestles into Jungkook’s side falling back to sleep quickly and deeply. They don’t sleep together every night but it is starting to happen more and more.

*          *          *          *          *

When Jimin wakes up in the morning, Jungkook is pressed tightly behind him, his face nuzzled in Jimin’s hair and their bodies pushed together with no space between them.

And they’re both hard.

Jimin can feel the shape of Jungkook’s cock at the base of his spine and his own against his stomach.

He shifts a little and Jungkook reacts immediately while still asleep, gripping Jimin’s hips and pulling him closer against him.

Jimin hates himself for the rush of pleasure he immediately feels at the contact and the way he can’t help but arch a little further into it. Jungkook sighs in his sleep, dropping his mouth to the skin on his neck and mouthing against it, Jimin’s breath catches in his throat.

He wants to let this thing growing between them happen so badly. Jungkook seems so sure of himself. So sure of what he wants and what he understands and Jimin wants to trust him. But he can’t shake off the fear that is so deeply entrenched within him.

Yet, it feels so good. So good to have Jungkook behind him, arms around him and softly moaning in his sleep. It isn’t even just how good it feels sexually but in so many other ways too. Jimin feels safe. Loved. Content.

Sometimes he lets himself dream of what their life would be like if he let go and just let this happen. While dreaming, he can pretend it would be perfect. But he knows the world isn’t like that, not really, and he knows his soul is long past saving but he can’t help but worry about causing harm to Jungkook’s.

Jimin arches his body and pushes back into Jungkook’s arms once more, wanting one last dream before he has to pull away. He needed to stop this five minutes ago. And he’s about to, when he feels Jungkook wake up. Jimin feels his body stiffen immediately and his lips pause on Jimin’s neck. Then he pulls backwards with a jerk.

‘Jimin-ah. I’m so sorry. I was asleep. I-’ he cries out.

He sounds panicked and Jimin feels crushingly guilty because Jungkook was not at all the one responsible for what just happened. He keeps pulling away and Jimin grabs his hand and pulls it back around his waist, desperately wanting to reassure him.

‘It’s OK,’ he breathes, but he can still feel how tense Jungkook is behind him.

‘It’s not, I’m sorry. I didn’t realise I was hard, I’m-'

His sentence is cut off in a gasp of surprise when Jimin pulls Jungkook’s hand into his lap.

‘I am too. You didn’t do anything wrong.' Jungkook freezes but the air between them changes immediately. Jimin knows it is wrong but he presses Jungkook’s hand into himself and revels in the gasp that leaves his lips. ‘It’s the morning. It happens,’ he whispers, neither of them moving Jungkook’s hand.

Then Jimin moves his hips, just a tiny fraction, but increasing the contact of his cock with Jungkook’s palm. Jungkook moans and drops his head to Jimin’s shoulder again, pushing his cock against his back.

Jimin is conflicted. His brain is a mess of lust and love and pleasure. Happiness. Guilt. Pain.

He guesses Jungkook can feel his turmoil because he leans back and pulls his hand away from Jimin’s grasp. Jungkook pushes Jimin onto his back and makes eye contact.

Just like last time, it breaks the spell. As soon as their eyes lock Jimin feels the lust he felt go cold. He closes all the little doors in his mind and shuts himself off.

‘We should get up,’ he murmurs coldly and rolls away from Jungkook under the blankets. He pulls a fur over his shoulders, shoves his feet into a pair of boots and vanishes out of the front door.

Jimin can’t keep doing this. The push and the pull. It is tearing them both apart.

*          *          *          *          *

This time when Jimin pulls away, Jungkook isn’t confused - he’s furious. Yet nothing he does pulls Jimin out of the desolate mood he has fallen into.

Neither rage, nor harsh words, nor jokes nor anything at all stop Jimin wandering around their home as if in a trance. His face white and blank, muttering only small, calm replies to questions he is asked but offering nothing more.

He does the jobs he is supposed to. He eats the food he is given. He even lets Jungkook share his bed. But the man in Jungkook’s arms while he tries to sleep isn’t Jimin, it is something cold and empty.

Eventually, Jungkook cracks.

Jimin sits across from him and picks at his food, offering only clipped little replies to Jungkook recounting the events of his day. The thing that finally tips Jungkook over the edge though, is when he smiles.

It is tight and forced and it fills him with rage because Jimin knows that Jungkook can feel his emotions, which means there is literally no point in Jimin faking a smile. Either Jimin has forgotten that, or that he no longer cares - both are hideous thoughts.

Jungkook stands up and throws his plate of food at the wall, where it smashes and tumbles to the floor, bringing down a few pieces of his art with it.

Jimin jolts and sits upright, like he has only just realised Jungkook is in the room. His mouth pops open and he looks shocked at the look on Jungkook’s face.

‘Fuck!’ Jungkook yells and starts pacing, tugging his hair with his hands. ‘Fuck! Jimin!’

The shock has already eased on Jimin’s face and he goes back to sitting there like a blank little doll.

‘Why are you being like this? Where have you gone?’ Jungkook marches around the table and pulls Jimin up by his wrists, pulls him so he stands in front of him. ‘I hate this. I don’t understand. Why are you pulling away again? Didn’t we talk? Didn’t you listen?’

Jimin is half limp in his arms but Jungkook can feel his emotions starting to change. He can feel something seeping into the blankness, some pain and hurt manifesting itself in Jimin’s chest.

For the first time since he met him - Jungkook is glad that Jimin is in pain. He wants Jimin to feel the same as he does.

‘Jungkook,’ Jimin finally whispers, his voice weak and flat, ‘I told you. I told you we can’t. I can’t.’

Jungkook throws his wrists out of his hands and storms to the other side of the room.

‘Do you ever fucking listen to me? Ever?’ He yells and Jimin sits back down, tears starting to fall across his cheeks. ‘That hurts, Jimin. I feel like every conversation we have had, every good thing we have said. What we share. I feel like it doesn’t matter because you’re going to do what you want anyway. Whatever I say.’

Jimin just cries and Jungkook thinks he is going to choke on everything he can feel swirling around them. His own emotions and Jimin’s filling the hanok like black smoke and smothering them both.

In the end he can’t handle it anymore - can’t handle Jimin’s pathetic tears or his own pain - so he storms out into the night.

Jungkook rages around the forest for several hours, anger and pain coursing under his skin. He feels out of control and that isn’t something he is used to. He controls everything in his world, quite literally if he really wanted to. He could bend the will of creatures and living things to his demands. Yet, he cannot control what is happening between him and Jimin. Can’t stop Jimin from pulling away. Can’t seem to make him believe that he is overthinking everything.

Eventually, Jungkook’s pain burns out. Though, several parts of the forest have suffered from his anger.

When he gets back to the hanok Jimin is asleep in his bed on the floor. Jungkook can feel that it is real, Jimin isn’t faking sleep, but he doesn’t feel settled. He is covered in a thin sheen of sweat, his brow furrowed and his fingers gripped into the sheets.

Jungkook watches him for a few minutes and then he climbs into the bed with him, wrapping his tiny body in his arms and tucking his chin over his shoulder.

When he wakes up in the morning, Jimin is gone.

Chapter Text

Jimin wakes slowly. His dreams are littered with the forest, with green dappled light dancing behind his eyelids. When he opens them, the ceiling above him is unfamiliar; beams of rich, dark wood.

For a moment he looks at them peacefully and then jolts truly awake as reality hits him.

He doesn’t know where he is.

He lifts his head cautiously and looks around, his vision spinning a little as he tries to focus. The room he has woken up in is small and neat, nothing in it but the bed roll he is on and a few simple pieces of wooden furniture. It seems to be evening, the light through the windows deep blue.

Jimin can tell that he is still in the forest, even without being able to see it. He can hear it, maybe even feel it around him. He would know it anywhere.

He tries to sit up and finds his body weak and painful. He sighs, pressing a palm to his cheek and finds it burning.

Somehow he isn’t scared even though he has woken up in a strange home. If he is still in the forest, he is probably safe. It is Jungkook’s forest after all, he had told him that enough times, and whatever has happened between them, he doubts Jungkook would let him come to harm.

With some effort Jimin pushes himself up on his elbows until he can lean back on the wall. His head spins, even with such a tiny movement. The bed he is on is absolutely covered in blankets, even a fur draped over his legs, and yet he feels cold.

Jimin screws his eyes shut. He’s sick again, really sick.

Fucking idiot.

He thumps his head against the wall a few times in frustration, but it does nothing except make his head hurt more and he squeezes his eyes shut in pain. A door slides open across the room, but when he tries to open his eyes the light blinds him and he cries out, shrinking back into the sheets.

A warm palm lands on his forehead and smooths across his skin gently, his pain eases immediately.

‘Don’t hit your head. That is going to do nothing good for you.’

The soft palm slides from Jimin’s forehead to the back of his head and leans him forwards just a little. Jimin feels the pillows and blankets being adjusted until they’re propped up behind him.

He opens his eyes a crack and this time the room comes slowly back into focus, and so does the man above him.

Jimin looks up into a round face, with soft brown eyes and a deep pair of dimples.

‘Ah. Morning. I’m Namjoon-ssi. Would you like some tea?’

*          *          *          *          *

Namjoon - despite being surprisingly huge in Jimin’s opinion (both tall and thickly muscled) - is soft spoken and moves with a slow and gentle grace.

Jungkook had always talked of Namjoon as if he admired him a lot, and he came across like the linchpin in their little band of witches. Jimin understands it immediately; Namjoon emanates power but also a sense that he’d only use it if he had to.

To Jimin's surprise, Namjoon also seems to be immediately fond of him. When he comes back into the room, with a tray of tea things, he settles his warm palm on Jimin’s shoulder and earnestly declares how happy he is to finally meet him.

Like all the five witches Jimin has met, Namjoon is a bit odd looking, though he is by far the most normal. He wears a fairly regular shirt and trousers and no unusual jewellery or adornments, but his hair is shaved at each side, the rest pulled up on top of his head.

As he hands him tea, Jimin also notices that Namjoon has tattoos on the back of each of his hands.

‘Oh, you have tattoos as well…did Jungkook do them?’ He can’t help but ask, even though the slight mention of Jungkook hurts.

Namjoon spreads his hands out in front of him and admires the markings with a smile. One shows the outline of a mountain range, the other the waves of the sea.

‘Yeah, he did. It hurt. A lot.’ Namjoon’s grin is as warm as the summer sun.

Jimin nearly smiles too but then it drops off his face. He brings his tea to his lips and sips, even though it is still too hot. His hands are sore, his skin is covered in scratches, and they burn around the heat of the cup..

‘Jimin-ssi, you know I can feel that. Right?’ Namjoon sighs, leaning forward and gently taking the cup of tea from Jimin’s fingers.

‘What?’

‘I can feel that it hurts. That the tea is too hot. And that your hands hurt.’

‘Oh. Right.’

Namjoon’s smile stays warm, even if a little exasperated.

‘Let it cool. I put salve on your hands, and your other wounds. They’re healing.’

Jimin tips his palms up and looks at them, they’re laced with deep red marks, some of them slightly oozing. A few trail up his wrists and across his forearms too.

‘What happened?’ He looks up and meets Namjoon’s eyes. ‘Why am I here?’

‘I found you. In the forest. You went on quite the rampage, I think the forest retaliated a little bit,’ he nods at the scratches on Jimin’s arms, ‘or perhaps it was trying to stop you leaving. You were out there a while before I found you. You’ve had a bad fever, you were delirious. I keep thinking it has broken, but I am not sure.’

Jimin drops his eyes again. Shame creeps under his skin like a shiver. He can’t even run away properly, just ends up lost and sick and dependent on somebody else.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t be. I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time and though it might not feel like it right now, I think the moment was…opportune.’ Namjoon’s eyes sparkle a little and crease at the edges.

‘Does…does Jungkook know I’m here?’

‘Well. I’m not going to pass messages between the both of you, ok?’ Jimin nods. ‘But yes, he does. He knows you’re safe.’

Jimin can’t help being a little surprised that Jungkook isn’t here too if he knows Jimin is, but he knows that’s selfish. He is the one who left.

‘Aren’t you going to ask if he is?’ Namjoon asks, his eyebrow a little raised.

‘Uh, if he is what?’

‘Where he is? If he is ok?’

‘Oh, I…didn’t think it was my place. I left and…’ Jimin’s voice trails off. Namjoon doesn't try to fill the silence. He just looks at Jimin curiously.

After a few moments he reaches down and passes Jimin his tea.

‘It is cool now. The warmth should be perfect on your hands.’

Jimin nods as he takes it, he is right, the tea doesn’t hurt his skin this time, it soothes it.

‘Is he…’ Jimin finally murmurs into the quiet room. ‘Is he ok?’

Namjoon takes a sip of his own tea. He is sitting cross legged on the floor by Jimin’s bedding. He sits incredibly straight, his posture impeccable.

‘No. He isn’t. Not really. What you did was incredibly selfish, do you know that?’

Jimin chokes a little. He puts his cup down on the tray.

‘Yes…and no. I…I had to leave.’

‘I'm guessing you were trying to leave the forest?' Jimin nods. 'But no, I don’t mean that it was selfish to leave. It isn’t my place to pass judgement on that. But it was selfish how you did it.’

‘I…wasn’t really thinking.’

‘I can believe that, but perhaps you should think now? Perhaps you need to think about what you just did to Jungkook - that wasn’t the first time he has had to wake up abandoned.’

Jimin grimaces and feels the bottom drop out of his stomach. He hadn’t thought of it that way, he hadn’t really thought at all and Namjoon’s words catch into his skin like little hooks.

‘Oh…’

‘He had to wake up - in the very same bed - and find you gone. In exactly the same way. That was cruel, Jimin.’

Silence falls between them and Namjoon goes back to drinking his tea, calmly. Jimin stares down at his own cup and feels a few tears fall across his cheeks. He doesn’t know what to say, Namjoon delivered his words so straightforwardly, without anger, just calm, simple honesty.

‘Is someone with him?’ He asks, after a while, trying and failing to meet Namjoon’s eyes.

‘Let’s not talk about him anymore. Just know me and his brothers love him. And also know that I don’t say these things to hurt you, ok? I am not angry with you either. I am happy to have you here Jimin, and I look forward to talking with you. But I will always be straight forward. And sometimes, we need to sit a while and feel certain things and the consequences of our decisions. Ok?’

‘Ok.’

Jimin can’t help but feel a little fondness burn in his aching chest. The soft rhythm of Namjoon’s language has a little echo of Jungkook’s, right down to the inflected ok? cropping up at the end of his sentences. Jungkook must have picked it up from him.

‘You’re welcome to stay here a while, until you’re better. And I really hope you do.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Do you want to sleep some more? I can help if you need. You’re quite sick still, your body needs rest to heal.’ Namjoon asks.

‘I…yes please. My head feels very full. Can you make that go? I think I will struggle to sleep otherwise.’

Namjoon nods and clears away the tea things. When he returns Jimin has laid back down in the bed, the fur pulled almost to his neck. Namjoon’s hanok has ondol heating, unlike Jungkook's, and Jimin can feel it below his sleeping mat - yet he still feels cold.

‘Lay still.’ Namjoon requests softly and then kneels beside him.

He reaches out a palm and places it on Jimin’s forehead. Jimin feels the warmth and then the familiar rush up his spine, and the strange, intimate feeling of Namjoon inside his mind.

He has always found it interesting that the touch of each witch feels different. When Yoongi had done this it had felt different from Jungkook, and now Namjoon once again feels like a different pair of hands.

It is the last thing Jimin thinks before he falls into a deep, dreamless sleep.

*          *          *          *          *

‘You’re a better man than me.’

Namjoon looks up in surprise as he steps out onto his veranda. Yoongi is sitting there, in the evening light, with a long pipe between his fingers.

‘No, I’m not. Would you really have done differently?’ Namjoon sighs and sits beside him, he lets his feet hang off the wood and dangle in the night air.

Yoongi doesn’t answer for a while, just draws on the pipe. Namjoon hears the tobacco crackle in the bowl and watches as the orange glow throbs and then dims again.

‘He’s messy. I knew he was going to be a problem when I visited, you’ve felt him? How he burns?’

Namjoon nods. ‘I have.’

‘Knew he was going to cause trouble for Jungkook. It just radiates off him. Chaos.’

‘I don’t think it is quite fair to say he has caused the chaos. They caused it together perhaps. I think maybe it even just found them, there never was anything they could do to avoid it…’

‘Don’t be sentimental.’ Yoongi sighs, he leans forwards to re-light the end of his pipe. ‘What’s him running off done but cause them both pain? Stupid little human knows how he feels about Jungkook, the rest of us can feel it, he’s not that stupid.’

Namjoon chuckles into the darkness.

‘Ah hyung, sitting here so easy, having to lean forward your pipe’s so long, your lips around a jade mouthpiece. Do you even know what it is like to grow up like Jimin?’

His question is rhetorical and Yoongi knows it.

‘Say your piece then, Joon,’ he sighs.

‘No piece. Just worth reminding yourself that it isn’t as simple as hearts and minds out in the villages. The emperor can take a boy to his bed, he does by all accounts. The rest of you yangban too. Can write poetry about it even, while sprawled on your silk sheets. But that’s not how it is in all the small places of our nation. Those in power say one thing in front of the government office and another behind their doors.’

‘Hmm, that sounded like a piece, though you said it wouldn’t be.’

‘Well, did it do its job?’

‘I don’t have silk sheets.’

‘Not out here maybe, but you were born on some. No?’

Yoongi smiles gently around his pipe. ‘That’s the point though isn’t it. We’re not a part of that any more. Any of us. We’re all in the forest, Jimin too. He doesn’t need to live by those prejudices anymore.’

‘And you think the weight just falls away like that? More than twenty-five years on this earth being told he’s disgusting and evil and only a few months to wash it all away?’

‘Okay, okay.’ Yoongi raises one of his palms, his fingers spread.

‘I love Jungkook just as deeply as you. Would fight any of the dark creatures of this forest for him. But Jimin isn’t one of them.’ And just like that, Namjoon has the final word.

They sit in silence for a while, both of them breathing in the forest.

‘I’m guessing you will go to Jungkook?’ Yoongi asks. ‘He’s making a mess.’

‘I will, but I need you to look after Jimin. Will you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Will you be nice?’

‘Probably not. But I won’t be unkind.’

Namjoon sighs, that seems like the best he’s going to get.

‘You need to monitor him. He isn’t stable yet. I found him by the river you know, unconscious and half in the water. Who only knows what he was up to but he was soaked, entirely frozen to the bone. He isn’t healthy, he doesn’t recover quickly.’

‘Why do you think Jungkook didn’t go after him? Sounds like he almost died, why would he let that happen?’

Namjoon shrugs. ‘I’m guessing he put a block on him. He’s angry, you can feel it too, right? But I doubt he would’ve let him come to harm if he knew.’

‘I think he wanted one of us to find him. It felt like that to me.’

‘Probably. He didn’t seem to want to know anything more than that Jimin was here when I told him.’

‘Well, I wouldn’t either.’ Yoongi mutters, not missing Namjoon’s side eye.

*          *          *          *          *

Whatever Namjoon had done, it affords Jimin a few hours of dreamless sleep, but it doesn’t last. He wakes in the early hours, sweaty and tangled in the sheets, the fur flung across the floor.

Confused, he calls for Jungkook and for a few blissful minutes he is there, his cool palms on Jimin’s cheeks. He coos his name, strokes his skin, kisses the tip of his nose.

‘Little one, little Jimin, you’re ok.’

Jimin’s body cools under his touch, he draws in deep breaths, and tries to open his eyes. But then Jungkook’s hands tighten and his fingernails start clawing into Jimin’s skin. They slide down to his shoulders, leaving red marks in their wake, and then they are shaking him. Roughly.

‘Why did you go? Why did you leave me? You coward. You coward. Don’t come back. DON’T COME BACK.’

He is choking beneath Jungkook’s hands, they’re squeezing all the air from his lungs. He can’t breathe. The light in the room is deep, deep blue and Jimin drowns in it.

Then, Jungkook is gone. Instead, Yoongi stands by Jimin’s feet, his eyes cold and staring. The room is black now, in fact there is no room at all, just a black void in which Jimin floats, Yoongi looming above him, staring, staring, staring.

He tilts his head a little, like a cat, and he narrows his eyes at Jimin.

‘Go back to sleep. Stay asleep. Don’t wake up. Don’t ever wake up.’

Jimin misses Jungkook’s hands in the blackness, they might have been choking him but he would accept it, just to feel his touch.

*          *          *          *          *

Of the five witches that live in the forest it was Namjoon and Jungkook who met first. Or more accurately, Namjoon who found Jungkook.

He and the three others had just settled in the forest, seeking peace and privacy to set up their homes. From the beginning they felt a wildness in the forest, something untamed and feral pulsing through the trees.

It didn’t take long for Namjoon to follow it and it led him to Jungkook. His parents were long gone and he was alone and half mad in the solitude of his clearing.

Namjoon had gained his trust slowly and forged a bond with him. Jungkook had been wild but almost immediately enamoured with Namjoon, and excited and enthusiastic to share his magic with somebody. At the time, he only had vague memories of other witches and thought himself part of the forest rather than a person.

As they spent more time together, Namjoon brought Jungkook into the fold with the other witches of the forest. But he never really pushed for more.

Perhaps he hadn’t done enough, he thinks, as he walks through the forest to Jungkook’s home. As he starts to witness evidence of destruction in the trees and greenery. Perhaps he should have done more.

Jungkook was grown when Namjoon had found him, around twenty as far as he could ever work out, and he had already been alone a long time. Namjoon thought he shouldn’t interfere too much.

But, perhaps he was wrong.

His doubts settle in his chest as he approaches. He’s half preparing himself for a fight. He can feel the energy Jungkook is emitting - it is feral.

As he walks into the clearing, everything is silent. The fire that always burns outside the hanok is nothing but ash and around it: chaos.

Nothing looks like it has escaped Jungkook's wrath, every single thing is broken. By the steps up to the veranda several large kimchi jars have been smashed and the blood red contents spread across the ground seem like a portent.

Namjoon chokes on a little sob.

The last time he found Jungkook abandoned can’t even compare to this. Last time, Jungkook had been crouching on the veranda like a cat with his head tipped to the side, his eyes wide with fear at the approaching stranger, but also alight with curiosity and mischief.

This time, Jungkook is curled in the bedding on the hanok floor, his fingers twisted in the sweaty sheets. He lies on his side but his eyes are open. They follow Namjoon as he slides open the door and steps inside.

Pain hangs so thickly in the air Namjoon nearly retches. He leaves the door open behind him, hoping some of it will air out.

He doesn’t say anything, the witches have never needed to talk to communicate. Instead, he connects his mind to Jungkook’s, unobtrusive, a simple sign of brotherhood.

It is Jungkook that breaks the silence as Namjoon kneels down on the floor beside him.

‘Honey,’ he murmurs, ‘Honey. My Honey is gone.’

‘I know. I know. Jimin is gone.’ He soothes.

Jungkook pushes himself up in response and his eyes narrow and focus angrily on Namjoon, like he is seeing him for the first time.

‘No! Fuck. Don’t say his name. Honey, my sweet hen. My Honey. Honey is gone.’

‘Oh.’

The anger seeps out of Jungkook as quickly as it came and he flops back down.

‘I…scared her. She ran off into the forest, but she hasn’t come back.’

Namjoon isn’t the sort of person to offer platitudes, so he just sits there and nods.

Then Jungkook begins to cry.

‘I’m alone.’ He whispers between tears. ‘I am alone. It is winter, again. And I am alone.’

‘Jungkook-ah? Do you want to go to sleep?’

‘Yes. Yes, please.’

‘Okay. Okay, let me help you.’

Jungkook shakes below Namjoon’s fingers as he reaches over and grips into his shoulder. He continues to cry, his eyes wild, and then all at once they empty and he goes still. His eyes roll back into his head and Namjoon reaches forwards and closes his eyelids. A tear falls down his own cheek but it is one of relief, Jungkook sleeps peacefully.

*          *          *          *          *

Jungkook pulls himself down the ladder from his bed, stuffing his feet into boots and emerging onto the veranda. Namjoon is sitting on the top step facing the forest, his shoulders covered in furs. He has always been an early riser and he makes a pretty picture, framed by the early morning mist.

Jungkook squeezes his shoulder as he passes and walks to the fire in the clearing, stoking the embers and brewing sage tea in the kettle hung across the pit. He takes a cup back for each of them and sits down beside Namjoon, their shoulders nudging together.

‘You’ll have to go home soon, hyung.’ Jungkook murmurs, his lips around his cup.

‘This whole forest is my home.’ Namjoon replies, always adept at saying only what he means to.

'Thank you. For coming. And for helping me sleep. I really needed it, I feel better. More…present.'

'Yes, you did. You made a real mess here.' Namjoon nods at the clearing and the signs of Jungkook’s anger.

'I know. I'm ashamed of it. But I…hyung, that wasn't just about Jimin-hyung, was it? Him going, it made me feel a lot of other things too. Like my parents, and, you know…'

'I do.'

'These things will always find their way out.'

'They will.'

'Well, it's out now. You really can go home, hyung.'

‘I know, I just… I don’t want you to be alone.’

‘I’m not alone whether you are here or in your own home. You know that. We can communicate just as well with you on the other side of the forest. Like we always have.’

‘You know what kind of alone I mean, Kook-ah.’

‘I do.’ Jungkook sighs and swallows a mouthful of his tea. ‘Funny isn’t it, how I was fine with that kind of solitude for so long. It was just me here for years. For most of my life. But now it feels different.’

Namjoon sighs and brings his palm to the back of Jungkook’s head tenderly. ‘I don’t think it was ever fine. I think you just survived.’

Jungkook huffs and brings his knees up to his chin.

After a few minutes, Namjoon speaks again through the silence but this time his voice is choked with something.

‘And I am so sorry, Kook-ah, so sorry that I left you alone for so long. I’ve been thinking about it and I think I made a mistake. You were grown when I found you, your parents already long gone and so I thought all I could do was treat you like an adult. But I think that was wrong now...now I have seen the change the little human wrought in you.’

Jungkook goes to interrupt but Namjoon raises a hand and he falls silent. ‘I won’t speak much about him. But when he was here you changed so much. You became so warm and so funny and so smart-mouthed. It was nice to feel you being like that. I’m sorry that we never tried to give you that contact, me and your brothers.’

Jungkook just nods into his knees.

He doesn't blame Namjoon's choices, nor those of any of the other witches, but he can feel that Namjoon's words are right. Living with Jimin had changed a lot about him, he had been happy, and he had learnt to enjoy companionship.

He doesn’t have the words to reply so he doesn’t, instead he connects his mind to Namjoon’s and lets him feel the way he does in his chest. Namjoon makes a shocked sound next to him and tries to disguise it in his tea.

‘You love him.’ Namjoon sighs a few minutes later.

‘Ah.’ Jungkook answers. ‘Is that what that is?’

They sit for a while longer in the clearing. It is an icy cold day and they watch the frost draw back as the sun climbs higher and peeks through the trees. It is the first frost of the year, a hint that winter is creeping closer.

As the morning breaks properly, the hens hop down from their perches in the beams of the veranda and they bob around Jungkook’s feet until he throws them some dried rice for breakfast.

They are still missing their sister. Lady, Moon and Pebble had forgiven Jungkook’s terrifying outbursts and come back. But their sweet sister Honey - Jimin’s beloved Honey - had never returned. Jungkook knew she was dead, otherwise he would’ve been able to find her. He hadn’t even found her fluffy little body so she must have been eaten.

He is terribly ashamed about it.

It makes him think of Jimin. He would be furious.

'I should come and get him, shouldn't I?' He asks, sitting back down next to Namjoon.

'Yes. You should. But give him a few more days. I'm looking after him and he's doing well, though I'm sure you'd fix him up better than me.’ Namjoon smiles fondly and grasps Jungkook’s shoulder. ‘I think the space is good, for both of you. It changed Jimin's whole world, meeting you - for the better - but I don't think he's had a chance for his head to stop spinning. And you either, one minute a total recluse, next minute in love. It wasn't nice to leave it in a fight, or for Jimin to run - but this space won't hurt either of you.'

Jungkook smiles, then he snorts. ‘I bet you’re having so much fun, aren’t you, sharing all your wise words with Jimin? Bet he is eating out of your hand.’

‘He’s better behaved than you, for sure. Politer. Tidier. An all round exceptional house guest.’

‘Is he…is he ok?’

‘Physically, he is getting there. He’s a frail thing and he made himself really sick. I honestly thought he was dead when I found him.’

Jungkook flinches. ‘I shouldn’t have blocked him. I would’ve found him sooner.’

‘Well, what’s done is done. But, he'll regain his health as much as he ever had it. His mind is another story, poor little thing is a mess. He misses you though, endlessly. It makes me quite sick when I get caught in his feelings.'

'Ah, I've always liked it. How strongly he feels about everything. It's spikey. I like it.'

'Of course you do. Anyway, he's doing well. You know, I really like him a lot.'

Jungkook grins, like he's proud. 'He is a cool human.'

'His heart is pure even if his head is a shit show.' Namjoon smiles. ‘Give us a day or two more, and then come and get him. OK?’

*          *          *          *          *

Jimin has been at Namjoon's for a few days when he finally feels well enough to get up. Namjoon had said to trust his body and only to move when he feels like it.

So, on shaky feet, Jimin emerges from the little room he's been sleeping in for the first time.

As he moves through the hanok, he can't help a surprised laugh escaping his lips. If Jungkook's mad home had given Jimin the idea that all witches lived the same way, he has just been proved spectacularly wrong.

Namjoon's hanok is beautiful - and distinctly minimalist.

Jimin wanders up the corridor from his room, his hand trailing against beautiful, rich wood. The whole place gives the impression of understated wealth. Dark wood. Intricate wooden frames across the windows. Minimal furniture. It doesn't feel like the home of a witch at all but a wealthy scholar.

Jimin finds Namjoon sitting on the floor in the main room reading, a book across his lap and a small pile of others on the floor beside him.

'Ah, you're up. How're you feeling?' He looks up and smiles.

'I'm OK. How long was I asleep?'

'Just the night.'

'I thought so, I just…wasn't sure. I slept strangely.'

'You've been here three days. Were you wondering?'

'Yes and no.' Jimin sits down next to Namjoon on the warm floor. 'I'm out of the habit of keeping time I think, Jungkook-' He flushes and Namjoon gives a small nod. '...Jungkook doesn't. He doesn't really keep time.'

Namjoon drops a warm hand on Jimin's knee and squeezes.

'He isn't a forbidden topic you know. In fact, I'd be a really good person to talk about all this with. If you wanted to.'

Jimin looks up and meets his eyes. Then he sighs and looks away.

They're sitting next to a set of doors which Namjoon has slid open. It's cold outside but bright and sunny and the doors overlook a small yard. It's neat, like the rest of his home, but the forest approaches it at the edges, as wild and beautiful as ever.

Jimin loves the sight. He loves the forest. He missed it somehow, even though he knew it was just outside his window.

He wonders how far away they are from Jungkook's home.

‘You were gone…’ he offers into the quietness.

‘Hmm.’

‘Was Yoongi-ssi really here or did I dream that?’

‘Oh, he was here. Was he rude?’

‘No. He just sort of loomed through the darkness. I was still half delirious I think.’

‘Sounds like him.’

‘Were you…did you go to Jungkook?’

‘Yes.’ Namjoon meets his eyes.

Jimin flounders.

'I…don't know what to say. I don't feel like I have the right to ask anything about him after leaving.' He sighs and pulls his knees up to his chest, resting his chin on them.

‘He’s okay. He’ll be ok. So will you.’

‘I hope so.’

Namjoon closes his book and puts it on top of the pile beside him.

'I suspect you never really wanted to leave, did you?' He asks quietly.

'Doesn't mean I shouldn't have.'

'Do you still think that? Even with a little space?'

'Every reason I have to stay is matched by a reason to leave.'

'Well, some things hold more weight than others.'

'Will you tell me which ones?' Jimin is serious but Namjoon laughs.

'No, I won't. But I will tell you that you underestimate Jungkook. I understand why. He's unique. But he's probably smarter than both of us. You need to learn to trust him.'

'You say that like I'm going back.'

'I think you'd have already left the forest if you really wanted to. Do you even remember running off?'

Jimin sighs and bites at his thumb.

'Not really. I didn't plan anything, I just…got overwhelmed.' Namjoon stays quiet, his face calm. Jimin is learning this means that he should keep talking. 'Last thing I really remember is us fighting. Jungkook was angry. I was sad. And then we slept and I just lay there in his arms and all I could feel was panic. A deep panic like hands around my throat. Like I couldn't breathe. Even Jungkook's breath on the back of my neck felt like it was burning into my skin.'

Jimin's hands shake a little in his lap. 'At first I just wanted to get outside where I could cry and be upset without waking Jungkook up. I knew he'd feel me and wake up. So I ran into the forest, and then I guess I just kept running…'

Namjoon nods, he looks earnest.

'The forest got in your head, I think. We don't just keep humans out because they…annoy us, but because it's a dangerous place. Enough to drive most humans mad.' He says.

'It's never done that to me before.'

'Well, it's Jungkook's forest. It does what he says.'

'So, he told it to hunt me?' Jimin asks, surprised despite himself.

'Ah no. The opposite. I think he just stopped telling it not to.'

'That's the same, surely.' He's upset by the thought and feels the threat of tears prickle in his eyes.

'Hmm. It's not conscious. I think he's blocked you from his mind. Perhaps you need to think a little about whether you really blame him for that?'

Another thing Jimin has learned is that when Namjoon says perhaps he is actually about to state a fact.

Jimin looks out at the forest again, he can taste blood where he's biting into the side of his thumbnail.

'If you knew I didn't really want to leave, then why didn't he?' He half whispers.

Jimin hates how it sounds even as it comes out of his mouth. Like he's admitting he just threw a tantrum and Jungkook hasn't reacted like he wanted him to. Which isn’t quite true, but still the question lingers.

They sit in silence for a while. Namjoon looks out at the forest too, his eyes clear and bright. Jimin imitates him and tries to breathe in the cool, clear air.

'I don’t think that is the right question.’ Namjoon says eventually, turning his gaze back on Jimin.

‘Then what is?’

‘Well. I’m guessing that Jungkook has probably already told you everything you need to hear from him. He’s good like that. He was fortunate, in this world, in having nobody ever tell him how he was supposed to express himself. He doesn’t employ guiles and tricks like most people do. So you can bet if he’s said something to you, that he means it. Maybe, the question is why you’re not hearing it?’

‘Oh.’

Namjoon just gives a tiny little nod in response. ‘I thought so.’

‘He said something similar, the night we fought. Said I never listen to him. I…guess I find it hard to.’

‘It isn’t too late to start now.’

Jimin smiles at him, a deep genuine smile for the first time in a while.

‘Would you like to read something? It helps me when my mind is racing and I need to empty it out.’ Namjoon gestures at the pile of books beside him.

‘Oh. I can’t really read. Only a very little.’

‘Do you want to learn?’

*          *          *          *          *

‘Namjoon-ssi? Uh, can I ask you…why is it…why don’t you mind? About me and Jungkook being…you know…it really doesn’t bother you, does it?’ Jimin ventures to ask that evening as they eat dinner.

‘No. Not a bit. Why would it?’

‘It’s just, it doesn’t bother you. Or Jungkook. It didn’t bother Yoongi-ssi either. Or Seokjin-ssi and Hoseok-ssi now that I think of it. Literally none of you have cared. But that isn’t how it has been, the rest of my life…’

‘For a start it would be a bit hypocritical if any of us cared.’ Namjoon’s eyes shine with humour. ‘It isn’t an accident we’re all out here together - it’s an accident we found Kook - but, the rest of us, we live out here so we can be…ourselves.’

‘Oh, ooh.’ Jimin distracts himself with his food, not really sure how to reply. Though, he has a thousand questions if Namjoon is really saying what he thinks he is.

‘In case my illusion wasn’t clear, I’m saying that we all like cock too.’ Jimin snorts so hard that rice rolls off his plate and he shoots his head up to catch Namjoon looking at him with a very smug look on his face. ‘Sorry, it’s just you always talk to me so correctly, like I am an old sage or something. You know you can just be direct, right?’

‘I…guess I do now.’

‘Good.’ Namjoon smiles. ‘Fortune is a funny thing isn’t it? Of all the places you could’ve ended up, you found us. A bunch of witches just like you.

*          *          *          *          *

Yoongi stands awkwardly at the door and Jimin just knows something great is about to happen because Namjoon can barely mask the amusement on his face.

They are sat on mats on the floor, books spread between them, from which Namjoon has been teaching Jimin to read.

Yoongi is holding a parcel in his arms, wrapped in silk cloth, and Jimin watches him curiously as he kicks off his sandals and steps inside.

'Morning hyung.' Namjoon smiles, his face now trained to an impassive expression, but not quite hiding the humour.

'Morning Joon, Jimin-ssi.' Yoongi nods at both of them and then sits down, the parcel on his lap.

Silence falls and Jimin watches the scene before him with uncertainty. Namjoon is pretending to read, and Yoongi won't stop fidgeting.

'Uh. Jimin-ssi, I brought some things for you.'

'For me?' Jimin is surprised. The few times they've met Yoongi has seemed to dislike him. Bringing him presents is quite the turn around.

'Mm, so...I know you've been struggling a little, with who you are. Who we are, that is to say…liking men?'

'Oh… um…' Jimin had barely managed to talk about this subject with Jungkook or Namjoon. He feels completely at a loss at potentially having it with Yoongi.

'Remember when we first met, and I teased you and you got scared?'

'Yes.' Jimin answers warily.

'I should've talked to you more then, I'm sorry that I didn't. But I did say we didn't care about that out here, right?' Jimin nods. 'I should've also said I didn't care because it was the same for me too.'

'OK…' Jimin nods again, Namjoon had basically said as much.

Yoongi rubs his forehead, he looks a little stressed, like he isn't quite managing to say what he means to.

'Anyway, I just...I wanted you to know that things haven't always been like they are. There's been a lot of change in this nation of ours, but love between men, it isn’t new or unusual. It wasn't always seen as bad…it used to be quite revered even... but, mostly, I wanted you to see these.'

Yoongi finally unwraps the parcel on his lap, inside are some books and some rolls of paper.

'What are they?'

'Stories and art…about men like us.' He smiles gently.

Namjoon finally stops pretending to read and leans closer.

While Jimin doesn't know what to say.

Gently, Yoongi pulls things out, showing them to Jimin one by one and explaining the history. Jimin can't read a lot of them but Namjoon and Yoongi take it in turns to read extracts. Jimin's head spins. They read him epic poetry - even treatises by monks - and artwork, beautiful ink drawings of men together.

His head spins. It is a whole different history to the one he had known.

'See, and this drawing. It's of an ancient Chinese emperor and his lover. He was sleeping so soundly the emperor didn't want to wake him, so he cut his sleeve so he could leave for a meeting.' Yoongi points at the beautiful ink, Jimin stares at it in awe.

'In certain parts, they call us cut-sleeves because of it.' Namjoon leans over and adds. 'I've always kind of liked it, it’s an homage to a great love. That's not something I mind being named after.'

Jimin smiles at him but it doesn't reach his eyes; he is overwhelmed.

'And this is poetry. Of the Hwarang of Silla.' Yoongi slides another volume across the floor. Jimin takes it with trembling hands.

'I won't be able to read it, not well. Not yet.' He murmurs. In reality he isn’t sure if he even wants to look; too intimidated by the information held within.

'But you will soon.' Namjoon soothes and squeezes his shoulder and Jimin bursts into tears.

'I'm sorry. I'm sorry.' He sobs as the other two look at him with concern.

'For what?' Yoongi asks.

'For crying…I'm sorry, it's just. I didn't know. I didn't know. For the longest time I thought it was just me. That I was just…' Namjoon hasn't moved his hand, his grip firm. Even Yoongi has moved closer, his face is unreadable. Perhaps even a little angry. 'I'm…thank you so much Yoongi-hyung…I-'

Jimin cuts off, tears fully taking over his body. The others sit in silence.

'Well it isn't. Just you. It never was.' Yoongi tells him and Jimin just cries harder.

'I…I thought they were demons.' Jimin suddenly sobs.

'Who were?' Namjoon asks, soothing.

'The other men I'd been with. I thought they were evil spirits or demons. That it was a test and I was weak and broken…and-'

He breaks off, consumed by tears and Namjoon and Yoongi exchange a shocked expression.

'Oh, Jimin-ah…'

'But they weren't, right? They were just men… like me.'

Yoongi places his hand on Jimin's knee, on the other side from Namjoon.

'Like us. Like us, Jimin-ssi.'

Jimin's tears don't slow down. They rush out of him, hot and frantic.

'-and Jungkook.' He gasps. 'I thought maybe by now I was the demon, because I hadn't resisted. And that I was the one tempting Jungkook. I didn't want…I didn't want to do that to him.'

It's Yoongi that snaps and hugs him. He throws his arms around Jimin and pulls him into his chest.

'No. No. You're not. You're not.' He murmurs and doesn't let him go.

*          *          *          *          *

Jungkook ended up having to spend a lot of time fixing all the shit he broke. He managed to stock back up on a lot of necessities like food by requesting things at the gate (helped greatly by a spate of winter illnesses increasing demand for his assistance). But, there were a lot of things that he had no choice but to rebuild or make with his own hands.

Actually, it turned out to be kind of soothing, chopping wood for winter and then using the extra to rebuild things like his dining table and parts of the veranda.

Today, he was fixing the handcart. The handcart that once upon a time was known as the nest.

The axle had snapped and there was a hole in the base as if Jungkook had plunged his foot straight through the boards. He couldn't even remember doing it.

He sits in the clearing by the low fire, a fur across his shoulders, as he pares a wooden strut to replace the axle. Pebble pecks and scratches around his feet, among the fine wood shavings that drop from his hands.

It's cold, the threat of winter hanging in the air. The forest is quiet and without the buzz that summer always brings.

Jungkook’s breath creates mist around his hands as he works the wood. Yoongi had made him this knife. Actually, he'd given him all his woodworking tools, but they had come along with very strict lessons from his hyung on how to use them.

Jungkook smiles at the thought. They'd all visited him, his hyungs. No doubt egged on by Namjoon but actually not unwelcome to Jungkook.

He raises the carved spoke of wood he has been working and smooths one hand across it to check for faults, blowing dust away as he does.

Jin and Hoseok and had bothered him for an entire day. But they had largely been sweet, helping him tidy and sort the mess he’d made of his home.

Namjoon had said to leave it a few days before going to get Jimin and the time has nearly passed. Jungkook isn’t really sure how he feels about any of it. Other than that he misses Jimin like something has been carved out of his chest.

He guesses that might be a good thing. In a way. A little of what Namjoon was talking about, because missing Jimin eclipses a lot of other things. It pushes out the anger, and the hurt, and the confusion. Leaving the room only to want to do whatever it takes to make this place feel like their home again.

*          *          *          *          *

All Jungkook can think, as he walks to Namjoon's, is that on the return journey he will have Jimin with him.

If he agrees to come.

Namjoon made it seem like he would. In some ways nothing has changed, but it feels like everything has, and Jungkook hopes he is right about that.

As he approaches the hanok he starts fretting. He feels nervous. He stops in the trees just before Namjoon's garden and ends up pacing in the undergrowth, muttering words of encouragement to himself.

He knows Namjoon will be able to feel him lurking there. He better not rat him out to Jimin.

Jimin.

He's going to see Jimin.

As he paces, he realises that he can't feel him, even though he must be close by. For a moment he's worried, then confused - then, he remembers he blocked Jimin from his mind.

With a small, nervous laugh he drops down to the forest floor. He sits cross legged, fingertips in the earth, eyes rolled back - and he searches for the little point of warmth that is Jimin.

He isn't hard to find, the heat of him hasn't changed a bit. As soon as he allows it to, it burns straight under Jungkook's skin, rushing across him like the touch of a thousand palms.

He gasps and coughs, his senses filling back up with Jimin.

Jimin feels as hot as always, but there is something different about him. Jungkook can't quite identify it, but his feelings have altered almost imperceptibly.

He shakes his head and gets to his feet, all his hesitance gone as he rushes through the last trees and runs across Namjoon's garden.

The door is open and when Jungkook's eyes fall on the figure framed within it, he skids to a halt.

Jimin is sitting on the floor, legs tucked under him with a book across his lap. Several more are discarded around him. Some open, some in a little pile. There's a tiny frown of concentration between his eyebrows and he runs a finger across the words as he reads.

Jungkook's chest lurches, a physical lump filling his throat. Jimin looks different - thinner and as pale as snow - but in all other ways he looks better.

His hair is loose, falling around his shoulders soft and freshly washed. He's wearing simple white trousers and a pale purple shirt, his feet bare. He looks impossibly beautiful. The air around him is light and clear. Jungkook has never felt such a lightness from Jimin, like his chest is open wide, no weight on his shoulders.

A tear slides silently down Jungkook’s cheek as he watches him. Jimin suddenly slaps his palm down on the page he is staring at in frustration and then he laughs, bringing his hand to his mouth to cover the sound.

His fingertips are stained in ink.

The sound of Jimin’s laugh is so beautiful and infectious that Jungkook can’t help laughing too. As soon as he does Jimin freezes and then his head darts up and their eyes lock.

They just stare at each other for a while, frozen, and then Jimin’s lips form the tiniest smile.

‘Huh. I see why Namjoon-hyung suddenly had urgent business elsewhere.’ Jimin says and then closes the book on his lap.

Jungkook hadn’t felt that Namjoon was gone, he must have been too distracted by Jimin.

‘You’re reading?’

‘I’m trying to. Namjoon-hyung has been teaching me.’ Jimin grins. ‘And Yoongi-hyung.’

Silence falls between them, as much as it ever is silent in the forest. Jungkook pushes his toes into the dirt at his feet. He isn’t even wearing shoes.

He suddenly feels awkward…and different. Different from Jimin who is sitting in Namjoon’s tidy house with a book in his lap, his clothes washed and his hair neat and silky. Jungkook feels big and cumbersome, in comparison. He feels grubby and loud, with his messy hair and tattoos.

Why would Jimin want to leave this home - with heating and books and his own bedroom - to come back with Jungkook and go back to washing in the stream and sleeping on the floor?

He hovers and tugs at his hair anxiously. Jimin never felt this serene in his home. Jungkook never made him this happy. And it only took Namjoon a few days.

‘Jungkook?’ Jimin’s voice rings out around him. ‘Are you going to come in?’

‘Do you want me to?’

‘Very much. If…you came to see me, right? Not Namjoon-hyung?’

‘Oh! Yes, you. Yes.’ He moves forwards a little, up the few steps of the hanok, but stays lingering in the doorframe. ‘I would have come sooner…but I…Namjoon-hyung he thought it would be good for us to…’

‘Hmm. Yes. He said as much to me. Some space.’

‘And, was that…was that good for you?’

‘I think so. It has-’ Jimin breaks off and sighs, rubbing his hand across his face. ‘I…have a lot of big things to say. Now you’re here, I’ve lost them all…’

‘Mine have all gone too. You look so pretty sitting in the doorframe, laughing with ink on your fingers. I forgot too.’ Jungkook smiles and edges a little closer.

They smile at each other, shyly.

‘Come sit?’ Jimin nods at the floor mat opposite him.

So, Jungkook sits, awkward and fidgety. Neither of them speak. Jungkook is still getting used to the way Jimin feels now, and also trying not to get carried away by the fact that - tucked gently under apprehension and nerves - Jimin’s emotions are buzzing with pure joy. Jungkook wants to think he has caused that joy, but he doesn’t want to be proven wrong.

‘Kook-ah?’ Jimin asks and Jungkook sucks in a little breath. He didn’t realise how much he needed to hear Jimin drop his full name and soften it back to Kook-ah. Like he couldn’t breathe until some form of closeness was reignited between them. Jimin is looking down at his lap. ‘Before, when we argued, you wouldn’t accept my sorrys. Will you let me give you one now, please?’

‘Uh. That depends. What is it for?’

Jimin smiles at his reply and the feeling is so warm it reflects on Jungkook’s face too. Then Jimin’s expression becomes serious again.

‘My sorry is for leaving the way I did. I know it must have hurt you a lot, to wake up and find me gone. That was…it was bad. And I’m sorry.’

They make eye contact. Jungkook can feel the sincerity in Jimin’s words.

‘Hmm. Ok. I will take that one, I accept it. Because, it was bad. It really hurt. I was…angry with you.’ Jungkook tugs at the back of his hair. ‘I think I am still angry with you to be honest, it is just that all the other things I feel are bigger now.’

‘Thank you. For accepting,’ Jimin smiles gently, ‘I didn’t even really mean to go, I don’t know what I was doing. My thoughts were such a mess. And I am really sorry that it made you hurt…but I’m glad I ended up here. Namjoon-hyung has helped me a lot. And Yoongi-hyung too, surprisingly.’

‘I can tell…you seem different.’ Jungkook tries not to let the worry show in his voice. The little worry tickling the back of his mind and whispering that this is a better place for Jimin to be. That living here would be better for Jimin than returning with him. Because he would never take him away if it was, it wouldn’t even cross his mind to stop Jimin being exactly where he needs to be - but the idea hurts.

‘I am.’ Jimin moves forwards a little, raising up on his knees and shuffling towards where Jungkook sits. ‘I’m not very good at speeches, Kook-ah, and I’m still working out how I feel about a lot of things. But I have another sorry for you.’ He pulls in a deep shuddering breath. ‘I’m sorry that you got caught up in my mess, and my self-loathing and all my horrible thoughts about us…because we are men. Do you remember that you said I was bringing the hatred of my village to you? Well, I see that now. And I’m sorry for it. You were right, and I should have listened to you.’

Jungkook looks up, meeting Jimin’s wide, shining eyes as he continues. ‘Kook-ah, I am really sorry that I didn’t listen, that I couldn’t hear you. But I am listening now….and…and I am ready to let you love me.’ He bite his lip. ‘If you still want to.’

‘Ah, ah-’ Jungkook starts stuttering.

Jimin shuffles even closer and keeps talking.

‘-because…because I love you, Jungkook. A lot. And I really, really want to come home.’

Jungkook freezes at the words, letting them sink into his skin. He tries to say something coherent, but fails. Instead he reaches out for Jimin, his fingers gripping into the fabric of his shirt, and pulls him towards him.

Jimin comes easily. He folds into Jungkook’s arms and lets himself be pulled into his lap. The touch is such an intense relief that Jungkook bursts into tears, burying his head into Jimin’s chest and nudging his shirt out of the way.

It feels so good to press his nose into Jimin again; to breathe him in, smell him and to hear his heart. Jungkook runs his lips across his skin, his tears still falling. But more than anything it feels good to be able to feel Jimin’s emotions. Because Jungkook can feel Jimin’s love, just the same as his own.

He lifts his face to Jimin’s waiting gaze.

‘I love you.’ Jungkook says. ‘I love you too.’

‘Good,’ Jimin smiles, not able to hide the shake in his voice, ‘then take me home.’

*          *          *          *          *

They walk back to the clearing, the air between them loaded and uncertain - but not unpleasant. Both of them still seem wary of where their new boundaries are. Jimin contents himself with occasionally peering up at Jungkook, a small shy smile on his face.

Jungkook has threaded his fingers into the fabric of Jimin’s shirt sleeve, just above his elbow, as if he doesn’t quite dare hold his hand instead.

The walk takes a couple of hours, and they barely talk, but Jimin feels peaceful, particularly as they approach the clearing and he begins to recognise where they are.

‘Ah, I can feel that.’ Jungkook murmurs through the quietness, as they break through the final line of trees. ‘You’re…happy. It feels really nice.’

‘It feels good to me too.’ Jimin grins.

The clearing looks the same to Jimin, though the fire is out and it is a little tidier.

‘I didn’t know how long I'd be, so I put this out.’ Jungkook crouches down by the ashes and starts rebuilding the fire.

Evening has started to fall and everything is tinged slightly blue. Jimin pauses a few feet from the steps of the hanok and wraps his arms around himself.

‘Can I…go in?’ He murmurs.

Jungkook lifts his head. ‘Of course. You must be tired, you’re still healing. Go get warm, I won't be long.’

Jimin nods and steps inside.

He notices immediately how different the hanok looks. None of the sculptures of creatures line the roof beams anymore and a lot of other clutter is missing. The dining table is different too.

He hears Jungkook step inside behind him and his eyes flick back to the now empty roof beams.

‘Your creatures, they’re gone… what happened?’ Jimin asks.

‘Will you eat? You need it.’ Is the only answer he gets, but Jungkook lightly touches his hip. Tenderly.

‘Oh. Yes.’ Jimin turns away from the missing art and looks up at Jungkook, whose face is uncertain and a little embarrassed. He reaches up and touches his cheek gently and Jungkook hums, closing his eyes.

‘Stay in here while I cook? I want you to be warm.’ He adds, backing away.

‘Okay.’

Jimin lights the fire inside and then potters around putting the few things he brought from Namjoon's away. Namjoon insisted he took some books with him to keep practising and Yoongi had given him a purple shirt, like the one he loved when they first met.

It's only been around a week since he was last here. But it feels much, much longer.

He cannot help the few tears that stream quietly down his face as he takes note of all the differences since he left. He realises that the changes were probably caused by Jungkook smashing the place up. He can’t think what else could have happened and everything missing is distinctly breakable. Jars, wooden furniture, Jungkook’s art and crockery.

He wipes the tears away, but the guilt at causing him such pain has already settled in his gut.

Jungkook doesn’t come back inside for a long time and Jimin starts to get worried. Before, he would have rushed out there without thought to see what he was up to but it feels different now. He senses Jungkook wants a little space and time and he wants to give it to him.

Eventually, he cracks. Jimin pulls a fur from a hook on the wall, shoves his feet into his boots and wanders out onto the dark veranda.

Jungkook is hunched by the fire in the clearing but he doesn’t move. Jimin can’t tell if he has heard him come out of the house or not. He takes in the sight around him, it isn’t so drastically different out here. He can hear the soft sounds of the hens in the rafters of the veranda and he tilts his head at them a little and smiles. He’s missed them.

‘Honey is dead.’

Jimin whips his head around and sees Jungkook standing at the base of the steps.

‘What?’ Jimin asks and looks back upwards to count the silhouettes of the perching hens. Three.

‘You shouldn’t be out here in the cold. Go inside.’ Jungkook says, his voice low.

‘What happened to Honey?’ Jimin asks, devastated.

‘I...scared her. And she ran away, they all did. But she never came back.’

‘Oh…’ Jimin doesn’t know what to say. He wants to ask what the fuck Jungkook did to scare her so badly but he can’t because Jungkook’s face is etched with pain.

‘I…ah…I’m sorry, about Honey. And about the hanok…all the things missing and…I guess you’ve probably realised I broke it all.’ Jungkook rubs at his face, hovering at the bottom of the steps. ‘I’m ashamed…it is why I was hiding out here. I remembered about Honey and I knew you’d hate me, and-’

Jimin cuts him off, closing the space between them and bringing his hands to cup Jungkook’s face.

‘Stop. I bet it felt really fucking awful, waking up here alone. I understand why you would be angry and hurt. ‘

‘But, Honey..-’

‘-I know. I am really sad about her, but not with you.’

Jungkook turns his head in Jimin’s palms like he can’t bear to meet his eyes, so Jimin leans his head forward until his nose brushes against Jungkook’s cheek.

‘Kook-ah, I missed you.’ He murmurs into his skin. ‘Kook-ah, I love you.’

It feels better every time he says it.

Jimin watches, out of the corner of his eye, as Jungkook can’t help but smile, his teeth popping over his bottom lip. He turns his face back to Jimin, his black eyes glinting as they connect with Jimin’s.

‘Please, Jimin-ah. Ah, please.’ He sighs.

'What? Kook-ah, what is it?'

‘Please kiss me.’

Jimin reaches forward, pulling Jungkook by the back of his neck toward him and presses their mouths together. It is only half a kiss at first. Jungkook’s hands flutter in the air and his fingers spread out as if he is startled. Then, his hands fist into the fabric of Jimin’s shirt and he responds, moving his mouth too.

His eyes close again immediately and he lets out a moan that reverberates through Jimin’s body like he’s a plucked string. Jimin could cry in relief at Jungkook’s response, the relief of finally collapsing into each other's arms. He pulls Jungkook tighter against him.

Jungkook kisses Jimin with a feral kind of hunger, both of them consumed in the enormity of what they have been holding back from each other.

It's like a damn bursting.

Jimin hasn't been kissed much in his life and never like this. Jungkook takes. He isn't held back by anything because he has never been told what he's supposed to do. He doesn't know anything about kissing and so is ruled purely by instinct.

It only takes a few minutes for Jimin to feel completely and utterly lost, in the best way.

With some effort he leans backwards, causing Jungkook to whine and grasp at his face to pull it back to his mouth.

‘Kook-ah, let’s go inside.’

Jungkook doesn’t even reply, he just lifts Jimin up, wrapping his legs around his waist and carrying him into the hanok. He barely looks where he is going, but is still gentle when he places Jimin on the bed and then kneels on the floor beside him.

Jungkook undone in this way might be the most beautiful thing Jimin has ever seen. With his lips bitten red and popped open, wet with spit, and his eyes wild and full of lust.

‘Come here, kiss me again.’ Jimin whispers and Jungkook responds immediately.

From his position knelt on the floor between Jimin’s thighs he kisses and touches him like it is an act of worship. He grasps Jimin's face until his mouth falls open and then licks inside it. Sucks Jimin’s tongue. He moves his mouth over his cheeks, his forehead, his neck.

Jimin moans as Jungkook touches him, having never felt anything like it. Jungkook seems to react to the noises he is pulling from Jimin’s lips, his fingers tightening and gripping his flesh in response.

Jimin clings on to enough sanity, just for a second, to remember that Jungkook hasn't done any of this before - this is all a first for him.

‘Kook-ah, Kook-ah? Look at me?’ Jimin curls his fingers under Jungkook’s chin and tips his face up until their eyes meet. ‘I...do whatever you want, ok? Whatever feels good.’

He doesn’t know how to explain better than that. Jungkook’s eyes are black and deep and Jimin leans forward to kiss his wet lips again. It is gentle this time but soon turns hungry.

Jungkook seems to want to explore every part of Jimin's skin. He runs his lips across Jimin’s flesh, pulling at his shirt at the neck so he can attack his collarbones, his hands reaching underneath the fabric to claw at Jimin’s back.

He tries to sink his mouth lower down Jimin’s chest and growls in frustration, pulling at the fabric with his teeth.

Jimin’s lips form a small smile.

'You want this off?' he asks him.

'Yes. Off.'

Jimin unties it and pulls it from his shoulders and the sight of his exposed body, stretched upwards like that, opens more glorious possibilities to Jungkook who falls mouth first onto his skin without a pause.

He runs his lips across Jimin like an act of possession. He licks and bites and even smells his skin, running his nose along it and into the edges where scent gathers; his neck, his wrists, his armpits.

It is unrestrained and animalistic. Jungkook never feels anything with just one sense, and now he is finally allowed to touch Jimin like he has wanted to; he does it his way. He wants Jimin in every way; touch, taste, sound, smell, sight and all the other infinitesimal senses in between them.

When his mouth grazes Jimin’s nipple and Jimin shudders and cries out Jungkook pulls his mouth away and makes eye contact.

It's like he's checking what the reaction meant.

Jimin thinks that, like most things, actions speak louder than words so he pushes Jungkook gently and then slides forward, landing in his lap, legs either side of his thighs.

Jungkook makes an ‘ah’ at the contact and grasps Jimin’s hips, pulling him down and deepening his hold. Jimin pauses to let him. He wants Jungkook to follow his own desires and discover what feels good without it being shaped too much by him. All of this is new to Jungkook and Jimin wants him to explore it himself.

After a few moments, Jimin breaks their contact just long enough to untie Jungkook’s shirt and throw it to the side and then it is him with his mouth all over Jungkook’s skin.

He licks his neck and drops kisses across his chest. He takes his time to mimic Jungkook’s actions, the licking, the biting, even the sniffing - and fuck if that isn't really hot. The smell of Jungkook’s skin as he drags his nose over it, his mouth open and his lips leaving a trail of spit in their wake.

He couldn’t even describe the smell by attaching it to anything else, it is just Jungkook. Just Jungkook.

He stops at Jungkook’s nipple and licks it, short and sharp. Then he sucks it fully into his mouth rolling his tongue over it as it hardens immediately.

Jungkook grips his waist so hard he knows it will bruise. He bucks his hips up and Jimin feels how hard he is. Jimin lifts his head, pulling Jungkook to look at him and making eye contact.

‘See?’ he asks with a wicked grin framed by swollen wet lips.

‘Ah, ah, yes.’

They kiss again, wide-open wet kisses. Jungkook is feral. And Jimin loves it.

‘Jimin, Jimin I…' he keeps losing his words to their kisses, ‘I, Jimin, Jimin...’

Jimin can't tell if he's worshipping his name or trying to ask a question so he pulls their heads apart, both of his hands fisting into the back of Jungkook’s hair.

He looks at him. Jungkook looks ruined. Animal. On the verge of being lost.

He's breathing heavily, his mouth open.

‘What do you want?’ Jimin asks.

‘My cock,’ he breathes with all the straightforwardness he always has, ‘touch me, please.’

Jimin nods and slides back a little so he can untie the top of Jungkook’s trousers and Jungkook shuffles a bit until they're pushed down mid-thigh and his cock springs free.

Jungkook gasps at the relief from the pressure and the rush of cool air to his skin.

They’ve seen each other naked a lot, but never while hard. Jimin bites his lip. Jungkook’s cock is glorious. Hard against his stomach. Aching red at the tip. It bobs against his skin with a jerk as Jimin stares at him, as if reacting to his gaze.

Jimin holds his palm out in front of Jungkook’s face.

‘Lick,’ he commands and Jungkook does, without breaking eye contact. ‘Wetter,’ he says again and Jungkook obliges.

Then Jimin drops his hand. He rolls his palm over the head of Jungkook’s cock to spread the spit and then moves his hand down, gripping his fingers around it firmly. Jungkook keens below him and throws his head back, his body already trembling. Jimin pulls him up by the hair to look into his eyes.

‘Look at me Kook-ah, keep your face up and talk to me. I need to hear you. I want to know what feels good to you.’

‘You. You feel good.’

Jimin starts to move his hand and Jungkook moans and shakes but he keeps their eyes locked together. His pupils are blown, almost unseeing.

His cock looks just as good. Jimin isn’t going slowly, he moves his hand hard and fast, leaning forward to spit more when needed. The sound is incredibly lewd and Jungkook seems torn between watching and staring at Jimin.

Jimin is unbearably hard in his own trousers, he moves slightly as he touches Jungkook, just to grind on the fabric.

‘I want to touch you too. I want to see your cock,’ Jungkook whines.

‘It’s OK, just let yourself feel good.’

‘No, I, uh,’ he pauses as Jimin flicks his wrist and focuses on the head of his cock, ‘I can feel you. Remember. I feel you, I want to feel your emotions, like this, if I touch you like this. Want to share. Want to, I can feel how ah, ah...’

He sighs and Jimin understands. He’s feeding off the feeling of Jimin’s arousal just as much as anything they are sharing physically.

‘Go ahead then, you can.’

He stays straddled on Jungkook’s lap and doesn't stop touching him as Jungkook struggles through untying his trousers and pulling Jimin’s cock out too.

He throws a hand around it immediately and moves. It is dry but Jimin doesn't even mind the slight burn. It just feels amazing because it is more than the touch; it is Jungkook. Jungkook below him, between his thighs. Jungkook touching him, Jungkook moaning.

It is the sight of their hands on each other, seeking pleasure together. Finally expressing the feelings they've been growing together with nowhere to put them.

It's so much. Jimin feels so much. He arches up and lets himself fuck into Jungkook’s hand.

‘Jungkook,’ the name falls from his lips like a prayer and Jungkook looks up at him in devotion.

Jimin thinks about what Jungkook said about feeling his emotions, and he wants this to be about how Jungkook feels and experiences his first expression of love.

‘Kook-ah,’ he breathes, ‘you can, if you want to, you can go in my head. Do that thing you do. I want you to feel everything.’

‘I can, I can, I don't need-‘

‘-but I want you to. If you want to. Take what you want from me. I can feel it, you know, when you do it. I know it's you, I can feel you too.’

The moan that rips through Jungkook is not human.

‘OK, I...’ he leans his head back, closing his eyes and Jimin feels the familiar warmth travel up his spine as Jungkook lets his mind connect to Jimin’s. The light pressure is like a breath of warm air.

It doesn't feel the same for him as it does Jungkook, he doesn't have the power for it to be a shared experience, but it still is in a way because he can feel it and he knows it is him.

The sensation is so intense he can hardly breathe. Jungkook is barely moving his hands on Jimin’s cock now, almost like he's so consumed in the feeling he can’t.

'Ah, fuck Jimin, fuck, I can feel you. Your mind.' He cries, his eyes roll into his head and he drops his forehead onto Jimin’s chest.

Jungkook cums with a whole-body shake, spilling all over Jimin’s hands, and immediately goes slack, his head still dropped and his breathing rugged and fast.

Jimin lets him rest there and breathe. He still has his hands on Jimin’s cock but isn't moving. He's just sighing and quivering gently.

Then, he looks up and their eyes meet and it is the most beautiful thing Jimin has ever seen. Those black eyes staring at him, wide and open and sweet. He leans forward and they kiss. Just as deeply but less feral.

Jungkook begins to move his hands again over Jimin’s still swollen cock.

'Lean back.' Jimin tells him, gently pushing his hands off and Jungkook obeys and leans back on his palms, 'Watch me. Watch how you make me feel.'

Jungkook just stares in awe as Jimin stays straddling his thighs but raises up on his knees. He spreads Jungkook’s cum from his hands all over his cock and uses it to ease the movement as he touches himself. His head tipped back, mouth open in a silent moan.

Jimin doesn’t know where he got the bravery for such an act, or such words. Jungkook doesn’t touch him, but he can feel that he is still inside his head.

It doesn't take Jimin long to cum too, all over the clenching muscles of his own stomach. He slumps forwards onto Jungkook, his filthy hands pressing into his chest.

After a moment, Jungkook starts easing himself further backwards until he's lying on the rug. Jimin grabs his abandoned shirt and cleans them both up a little before curling into Jungkook’s body.

'Was that ok?' Jimin asks as their eyes meet.

'More. More than OK.' Jungkook replies, leaning to kiss Jimin again. Lazily.

Then they both just lay there to feel the enormity of the line they just crossed. They can't take it back now. But neither of them want to.

'Sleep with me. In my bed. Please, or both of us down here. But just, with me. Please.' Jungkook suddenly murmurs, fast and panicked with a small hint of tears in his throat.

Jimin pushes himself up on his elbows and cups his face, worried. 'Are you ok?'

'Yes. Yes. It's…I'm feeling - a lot. And I'm- I need you to be close. It will feel OK if you're close.'

Jimin nods, ‘I'll stay close.’

They wash quickly and without enthusiasm in the bucket on the veranda, cold in the night air, and then creep into Jungkook’s bed.

Jungkook is clingy the whole time. His fingers constantly outstretched, hooked in Jimin's waistband, gently tugging his hair, clasping his fingertips. As if Jimin is water slipping through his fingers.

As they curl up entwined and sleep creeps over Jimin, Jungkook whispers into his neck.

'Don’t take it back. Please. Do not take this from me. Let me keep it. Let me keep you.'

Jimin rolls towards his mouth and joins their lips. 'I'm yours,' he breathes.

Chapter Text

When Jungkook wakes, Jimin is in his arms. His cheek is resting on Jungkook’s forearm and he's still fast asleep. Jungkook nuzzles into his hair and breathes him in. He smells all wrong. Not like their home anymore, not like Jungkook. Although, as he presses his nose against his skin, Jungkook can make out the unique smell that is Jimin, just Jimin. 

He rubs his lips gently across the back of Jimin’s neck. He doesn’t want to wake him because he can feel how peaceful he is, but he can’t stop himself.

The last few days have been such a mess Jungkook barely understands what happened. He had missed Jimin so much he could be sick, and now he is here in his arms, soft and warm and peaceful. He doesn’t know why he starts to cry but he kisses the falling tears into Jimin’s skin, rubbing his nose from Jimin’s shoulder to the skin at the back of his ear.

Jimin squirms at the touch and his eyes flutter open. He tips his head and looks back and, seeing Jungkook's tears, he turns in his arms and raises his palm to wipe them away.

‘Sorry that I woke you.’ Jungkook sighs feeling instantly guilty. 

‘It’s ok. Waking up to you is…I thought I was dreaming.’ Jimin runs his thumb over the plains of Jungkook’s cheek, tracing the tattoo of the sun. ‘I missed you so much.’

Jungkook’s tears start to fall again and he dips his face into Jimin’s hair.

‘I didn’t know I could miss anybody.’ Jungkook whispers into his neck. Jimin stays quiet, tracing his fingers lightly over his skin. ‘Before you came, I think, I never really saw myself as a person. I was just a part of the forest, like any other tree or plant or creature. I was just here to heal the humans. To help things grow. I didn’t realise I could be more than that…that I was a thing with a personality and big feelings and you gave me that…and then you left.’

He feels Jimin’s fingers grip into his skin at those words, he’s turned onto his back so he can look at Jungkook as he talks, but Jungkook keeps his head buried. ‘And that hurt so fucking much...but, I also realised it didn’t go away with you. That feeling of being more…and wanting more. I was still more than I thought, even without you.’

Jimin turns onto his side and nudges their noses together until Jungkook meets his eyes.

‘You’ve always been something, Kook.' He breathes. 'You were something when I first came here, you were funny from the minute I met you. Funny and wild and smart and beautiful.’

‘Ah…I…know. I know I am something now. With or without you. But I don’t want to be. I don’t want you to go. Please don’t go, please don’t ever go again.’

His words are urgent, a little cracked, and he closes his eyes and speaks them into Jimin’s lips.

‘I won’t,’ Jimin whispers, ‘I won’t. I won’t.’

Jungkook feels Jimin’s breath on his lips as he reassures him and then Jimin’s hand on his cheek tilting his face up. He meets his eyes, then leans forwards gently and presses his lips to Jimin’s. He keeps his eyes open for a moment as Jimin responds to his kiss, wanting to watch him. Jimin sinks into it easily, his feelings open and warm - and Jungkook consumes them. His eyes close too and he pulls Jimin into his chest.

They kiss slowly and deeply and Jungkook feels how it burns, how Jimin feels all the same emotions and feelings that he does. They mould into each other, their breathing and heartbeats in sync. Everything about them connects.

It is a different kiss to the ones they shared the night before, hungry in a completely different way. There is still an urgency but it feels like smoke not fire, like silver not gold. Jimin is saying something into Jungkook’s mouth without any words.

They sweat a little, in their bed in the rafters of the hanok, and they’re soon both hard. But being in Jimin’s arms, kissing him, is all Jungkook wants from this moment and Jimin doesn't take it any further either.

After a while, Jimin leans back, his fingers still wrapped in Jungkook’s hair and his lips swollen and pink. Jungkook plants a kiss on the tip of his nose.

‘I, er, really need to wash,’ Jimin murmurs, a small laugh on his lips, ‘Can I? Can we heat some water?’

‘Hmm. I agree. You smell bad.’

‘Charming.’ Jimin flicks his nose.

‘I mean that you don’t smell like me anymore, I don’t like it. But now you’re home.’

‘Hmm.’ Is all Jimin answers, but his cheeks flush pink at the word home.

*          *          *          *          *

‘You’ve been holding out on me.’ Jimin laughs and runs his finger around the edge of the round wooden bath that Jungkook had miraculously appeared with. ‘No bucket of tepid water on the veranda? No icy stream…’

‘You love the stream.’ Jungkook huffs as he tips another full bucket of boiling water into the bath, heated up on the fire outside. ‘And this is way too much fucking effort for a regular thing, not to mention a waste of wood.'

Jimin just laughs, ‘I do love the stream.’

‘Well, it will be too cold for the stream until spring now. But I promise this is not happening all winter.’ Jungkook grins and vanishes back outside with the bucket.

Jimin sinks down, cross legged, and admires the set up. The bath is large and wooden, made from planks of smooth wood fixed together with burnished metal bands. Jungkook had dragged it in from where it had been in storage at the back of the hanok.

He won’t let Jimin help, despite his efforts. So, he sits by the fire, wrapped in a fur, and watches as Jungkook hauls in buckets of water from the fire and fills the tub.

Jimin has also lit the fire inside the hanok and the whole place feels warm and serene. When the tub is two-thirds full Jungkook finally seems satisfied. He rummages through the shelves in the corner and comes back with two little vials of oil and some parcels of herbs. He drops the herbs into the water and swirls his fingers across the surface, then he kneels in front of Jimin.

‘Smell them. Pick which one you like.’ He says, offering up the two vials.

Jimin grins and reaches out his hands. The first has a floral scent, the second is deeper, like herbs and musk.

‘I feel like a princeling,’ he smiles and hands Jungkook back the floral oil, ‘this one.’

‘Well, pretend you are. Just for tonight.’ Jungkook grins over his shoulder as he moves back to the steaming bath and tips the oil into the water, stirring it with his fingertips.

Jimin rummages around the hanok to find his comb, unties his hair and sits back by the fire to brush it loose.

Jungkook fusses over the bath a little longer, then, finally seeming satisfied, comes to crouch by Jimin’s feet.

‘It is ready for his highness.’ He smiles and Jimin wrinkles his nose. Jungkook reaches up and pulls his fingers down through a strand of Jimin’s soft brushed hair. 'I like it when your hair is loose like this.'

‘Will you bathe with me?’ Jimin asks. ‘It’s a big tub…’

‘You want me to?’

Jimin nods. ‘If you want to. It was a lot of effort, and you’re all sweaty from lugging in the water. We should share.’

Jungkook nods and then stands, offering Jimin his hand and pulling him gently to his feet. Then, he reaches for the ties at the front of Jimin’s shirt.

Jungkook undresses him slowly, reverently, dropping each piece of clothing onto the stool by the fire and pressing little kisses across the skin he uncovers. Jimin closes his eyes and allows himself to just feel the warmth of the room, the beautiful scent of the bath and the tenderness and care in Jungkook’s actions. With a kiss to his shoulder blade Jungkook guides him to the bath and Jimin steps in, sinking into the water with a deep sigh.

Jimin has never had a bath in his life and it feels phenomenal. He sinks below the water and tips his head back onto the edge of the tub, eyes shut. Then, he remembers Jungkook should also be undressing and he opens them again hoping to watch.

Jungkook is actually crouched by the bath, opposite him, his arms on the edge and his chin resting on his hands. He’s just watching Jimin in the water.

‘What are you waiting for?’ Jimin smiles.

‘Just…you looked very happy.’

‘I am.’

Jungkook grins and stands to undress. Jimin doesn’t take his eyes off him the whole time. He looks as beautiful naked as he always did but for the first time Jimin feels like he is allowed to look at him shamelessly.

So he does.

Jungkook seems to enjoy his gaze and by the time he steps into the tub his cock has thickened a little and hangs heavily between his legs. Jimin stares at it purposefully with a raised eyebrow until he sinks beneath the water.

‘Come here.’ Jungkook murmurs as he leans back against the edge of the tub and sinks his shoulders below the water. Jimin tilts his head, then obeys, sliding across the water and drawing himself onto Jungkook’s lap, his knees either side of his thighs.

It is an intimate position, even under the water, and he tries to keep a little distance which Jungkook immediately closes, one arm around Jimin’s waist and another sliding up his wet back.

‘Let me wash you.’ He murmurs into the skin at Jimin’s shoulder.

‘Is that just an excuse to touch me?’

‘Do I need one?’ He lifts his head, his eyes earnest.

‘No.’ Jimin smiles and presses a kiss to his pink lips.

It is a whole new type of pleasure to be washed by Jungkook. He takes his time like he is learning all the parts of Jimin’s body and in his characteristic way he doesn’t just use the soft cloths and the salt scrub. Instead, he also runs his nose across Jimin’s skin...and his lips and his tongue and his nails. He scratches his fingers into his scalp as he rinses his hair, kisses along the line of his wrist, circles the pad of his thumb around Jimin’s nipple until it puckers and hardens.

Jimin feels the pain and confusion that had fallen between them being scrubbed away into the sweet floral water, soothed and washed from his skin by Jungkook’s hands.

At some point Jungkook drops the pretence of washing and just pulls Jimin deeper into his lap with a sigh. Jimin can feel Jungkook’s hard cock against the crease of his ass and his fingers, spread across his back, turn needy, urgent. They leave red stripes on Jimin’s skin which blossom in the heat of the water.

‘Jungkook,’ Jimin whispers into his neck, ‘what do you know about sex? About sex between men?’

‘Oh,’ Jungkook gasps and Jimin feels his cock twitch, ‘well, I’ve seen…a little. Saw some men at the edge of the forest once and…um, Yoongi he has some…art and books and…’

Jimin lifts his head with a little laugh and raises his eyebrow.

‘Does he now?’ Jimin smiles, amused. Yoongi’s collection of books must range from the quite tame romantic poetry he had shown to Jimin to some more illicit material.

‘Hmm, yeah. But I don’t really…I know how bodies work. I just, I didn’t really think there was more to it until I met you, I didn’t realise it was uh…that there was, uh-’

His voice cuts off as Jimin's fingers dip under the water and circle around the base of his cock. Jimin squeezes gently and Jungkook's eyes widen.

‘Do you want me to show you? Do you want this to be something we explore?’ Jimin asks. 

‘Oh. Uh. Yes. I want you…I want to touch you…and you, keep touching me…please.’

Jimin smiles. 

‘Do you know what we can do together? Do you know all the ways that we can make each other feel good?’ He whispers as he slowly begins to move his hand up and down Jungkook’s cock.

‘Uh, no.’ Jungkook stutters.

‘Mmm.’ Jimin murmurs, his face sly. ‘Well, let’s think about them together then, shall we?’ He tightens his hand around Jungkook’s cock until he gasps and his head rolls back. ‘Let’s find out what makes you feel good?’

‘Yes. Yes.’

‘So, I guess my hand does? You like my hand on your cock, right?’ As he says the last word he flicks his wrist and Jungkook whines.

‘Yes.’ He breathes, then lets out a noise of dismay as Jimin removes his hand and brings it to squeeze his shoulder instead. ‘Why, why did you stop?’ He pouts.

‘You think that is all there is? Just hands?’ Jimin slides forwards on his lap, pushing their chests and hard cocks together. ‘Think of something else and I’ll do it. What else would feel good?’

‘Uh…’

Jimin can almost see the cogs in his mind turning, Jungkook’s cheeks are flushed with arousal, his pupils blown. He stutters but doesn’t manage any words and Jimin’s grin widens.

‘Let me help you think.’ He smirks, kissing up the side of Jungkook’s face. ‘What feels good about my hand, Kook-ah? When it is tight? Wet?’

‘Yes, that.’

‘Hmm. What else is like that?’ Jimin tilts his head and pouts his lips, then brings the tip of his finger to play suggestively with his bottom lip.

Jungkook zeroes in on his mouth immediately.

‘Mouth. Your mouth.’ He answers, eyes raking across Jimin’s lips.

‘You think my mouth would feel good around your cock? My lips? My tongue?’ Jimin leans forwards and licks across Jungkook’s jaw as he speaks and then drops his hand to wrap around his cock again. Jungkook moans and bucks his hips upwards with a jerk and the water sloshes around them. ‘You like that thought, do you?’ Jimin laughs into his ear.

‘Ah. Ah, yes.’

Jungkook’s pupils are blown, his mouth opening and closing as he tries to form words. He grips one of his hands into Jimin’s hair and pulls his head back a little as if to take a better look at him. Jimin arches his back and lets his mouth drop open and Jungkook’s huffs out a little breath.

‘Well, go on then.’ Jimin smirks.

‘Ah. What? Can I?’

‘Do you want to? Is it something you want to try?’ Jungkook looks lost for words and Jimin softens for a moment and strokes his cheek gently. ‘We don’t have to do anything now. We can just talk about it, don’t let me rush you.’ He soothes.

‘Oh. No. Fuck. I want to, fuck I want to. I just…you’re so fucking beautiful, I’m just…lost.’

‘Ok. Well, ask me nicely then-’

‘-please.’ Jungkook answers before Jimin has even finished his sentence. ‘Your mouth. Please.’

Jimin nods and slides backwards off Jungkook’s lap, rising up on his knees. He tilts his head to the side and stares at Jungkook hungrily. For a beat Jungkook sits there, dazed, and then he stands up in the bath, the water splashing and running off his skin. His cock is hard against his stomach.

Jimin settles in front of him and kisses gently up his thighs and then pauses, his face inches away from Jungkook’s hard cock, to let his lips fall open. His breath dancing across his skin.

Jungkook looks down at him with devotion, smooths his wet hair away from his face with one hand, then takes his cock in the other, his eyes never leaving Jimin’s mouth. Jimin sucks his bottom lip, bites it, then lets it pop back out. Satisfied when Jungkook moans and moves his cock until the head presses against Jimin’s plump lips, dragging it back and forwards.

He feels Jungkook push a little, the head of his cock pressing into his lips and Jimin sucks at it. He draws his lips together to give Jungkook resistance to push against and Jungkook cries out, his hips stuttering and his eyes wide. One of his hands flies to Jimin's hair which he threads between his fingers in a wild grip.

Jimin keeps his eyes turned up at Jungkook as he sinks further into his mouth with a deep groan, his hand trembling in his hair and his head tipped back in ecstasy. Jimin flattens his tongue and draws back and then sinks into his cock again and Jungkook keens and gasps above him. Jimin moves in the same way a few times more, as if to demonstrate and then pulls off to lick down to the base.

‘Take what you want, it feels good for me too.’ He tells him and then takes Jungkook’s other hand and guides it into his hair so he is holding his head in both hands. ‘Use my mouth.’

He pushes his lips back around Jungkook’s cock and takes as much of his length as deep as he can.

And Jungkook snaps, taking Jimin’s permission and running with it. He thrusts into Jimin's mouth wilfully, moaning like he's never felt something so wonderful in his life.

'Fuuck. Fuck Jimin. Fuck.' He chants and Jimin's eyes roll back in his head in pleasure at Jungkook's curses. He sounds half lost. Water splashes out of the bath with their movements but neither of them care.

Jimin grips his own cock under the water and matches his strokes to Jungkook's. He feels mindless in the best way.

'Ah. Can I? Can I… uh?' Jungkook starts stuttering above him and Jimin opens his eyes.

Jungkook is a fucking vision looming above him, his muscles wet from the water and twitching across his stomach and chest as he thrusts into Jimin's throat, deep and wet. His face is carved in pleasure, a little crease on his brow, and his eyes wild.

Jimin locks their eyes together and gives the tiniest nod in answer to the question he thinks Jungkook is asking.

Jungkook makes an animal moan, gripping fiercely into Jimin's hair, and immediately spills down his throat. Jimin cums too, with just a couple more strokes of his cock under the water, utterly captivated by the sight of Jungkook above him still riding out his orgasm and gently thrusting into his mouth.

He licks at Jungkook’s cock a few more times, then let's him fall from his mouth. Jungkook sinks back into the water and his head drops against the edge of the bath, his eyes closed. Jimin creeps back into his lap, wrapping his arms and legs around him and dropping his forehead onto his shoulder.

After a few moments, Jungkook suddenly grabs him tightly around the waist, one hand rushing up to Jimin's hair and his mouth desperately tracing across his neck.

Jimin feels his body begin to shake and he lifts his head to find Jungkook crying. Jimin frowns and reaches out his thumbs to wipe the tears from his cheeks.

'Are you OK?' Jimin asks. Jungkook gasps, tries to pull in a breath to talk over the tears but can't manage it. 'Ssh. Sh.' Jimin soothes and leaves kisses all over his face. 'It's OK. You're OK.'

'I am. I am.' Jungkook swallows. 'They're um, they're not bad tears. Good tears. Good feeling. I just, my feelings are really, really big. I um, I'm feeling a lot. Just hold me please.'

*          *          *          *          *

Jimin is sitting on the steps of the veranda, wrapped in several huge furs, watching Jungkook in the clearing. Jungkook is crouched over a huge iron pan talking to himself as he stirs and adds ingredients.

Jimin had wanted to help but was flatly refused. The fact that Jungkook is even allowing him to sit outside the hanok was the result of a medium sized fight and an eventual compromise.

Though Jimin had recovered well - his wounds healed and his appetite returned - he was still weak and easily exhausted. Jungkook had made it quite clear that, in his opinion, Jimin should never leave his bed and simply sit there like a prince being fed all of Jungkook’s best food and endless healing teas and broths. In all honesty, Jimin was so exhausted he could have agreed to it. He wasn't resisting because he was bored or particularly liked being up, but because he hadn’t been back long enough to cure the itch in his skin if he spent the whole day apart from Jungkook.

He felt soothed watching him work in the clearing. He was so happy watching Jungkook slowly unfurl back into the person he had been in the height of summer, when Jimin had first arrived; funny and weird and effervescent.

Their shared angst over the last weeks had muted that in Jungkook, but now it was coming back and Jimin couldn’t get enough of it.

In the end, Jimin had managed to win the fight by pointing out - correctly - that it was interesting that all exertion was banned in the name of Jimin’s health unless it involved those moments that Jungkook crawled into the sheets with him with a hard cock and desire to get off in some new and interesting way that Jungkook was still enthusiastically exploring.

A very disgruntled and pink faced Jungkook had then conceded that Jimin probably could come out and sit on the veranda as long as he stayed warm and didn’t try to do anything else.

So, that is where Jimin sits and watches Jungkook work by the fire.

Obviously, he had no complaints about Jungkook’s explorations. Frankly, he couldn’t get enough of Jungkook either, of finally being able to express himself physically like he had wanted to for so long.

Jimin had never been able to explore this part of himself. He had never been able to lay sprawled on his own bed in the warmth of a fire and take his time with someone. Actually, Jimin had never even been with someone in the light at all. All his experience had been under the cover of darkness. Hidden. And all overshadowed by believing each to be a test or a trick that he miserably failed.

It couldn’t have been more opposite with Jungkook because here in their home, their haven in the forest, they could do whatever they wanted anywhere they fancied - and they did.

A sharp clang of metal rings across the clearing and Jimin is snapped from his thoughts to see Jungkook stumbling to his feet. In a blink, he skids across the clearing until he is at Jimin’s feet. He crouches on the step below, pushes between Jimin’s knees and flings himself into an embrace, his lips finding Jimin’s.

His kiss is wet and urgent. Jimin laughs and falls backwards onto the wood of the veranda, cushioned by Jungkook’s arms around him and the endless furs.

‘What’re you doing?’ He laughs as Jungkook half mounts him, his mouth hungry and insatiable across his skin and not put off by Jimin’s laughs.

‘Your thoughts,’ he grunts, somewhere by Jimin’s collarbone, ‘I was trying to work but your mind is burning and thinking filthy things. I can’t tune you out. Now my cock is hard and my mind is spinning and you look beautiful and you smell beautiful and ah ah…’

Jungkook palms his hand desperately into Jimin’s crotch before lifting his head to kiss him again. He’s practically riding Jimin’s thigh and Jimin laughs and pushes him backwards by the chest.

‘Gods, calm down you hound. You’ll spoil the brew if you leave it.’ Jimin holds Jungkook above him by the shoulders and grins up at him.

‘I can be a hound if that is what you desire right now,’ he smirks and rubs himself against Jimin’s thigh with a grin, ‘want me to bite you?’

He sinks back into Jimin’s neck to make good on his promise and Jimin’s resulting laughter echoes through the trees.

‘Stop, stop it. Finish your cooking little witch. The villagers gave you such a lovely present and everything.’

After a nasty winter contagion had swept the local village the humans had come together to beg Jungkook for relief - and in return had together bought him a very fancy and expensive set of twelve glass eyes. They were exquisite, each a different and realistic colour, and Jungkook had gone half out of his mind with joy on receiving them.

Jungkook lifts his head with a groan and shakes it forlornly as if trying to clear his mind.

‘Ugh, they did. You’re right. Can’t kill off half a village because I’m cock drunk.’ He sighs dramatically and pulls himself from Jimin’s arms.

Jimin regrets being the sensible one for a moment as Jungkook’s warmth leaves his body, but he tightens the furs around himself and watches Jungkook return reluctantly to the fire.

‘I’ll keep my thoughts as innocent as a child's, though that might be difficult while you’re still hard.’ He nods at Jungkook’s obvious tented trousers with a laugh.

*          *          *          *          *

The next time Jungkook goes to the gate, Jimin insists on going with him, despite Jungkook trying to protest. Whining that he should save his energy.

‘I’m coming. Even if you try to leave me.’ He tells him, stubbornly. ‘Plus, I have some requests of my own to make. Very important business indeed.’ Jimin adds, wiggling his eyebrows.

‘Oh?’

‘Yup. Also, I did think…we might make some requests for Chuseok? Isn't it the full moon next week? So it will be Chuseok…right?’

‘And you want to do something?’ Jungkook frowns. ‘What do humans usually do for Chuseok?’

‘Don’t you do something?’

‘Oh, well yes, I suspect not what you’re thinking of though. It’s an important day, there are some rituals I will do. There’s a shrine, up the mountain behind the hanok, I usually spend it up there.’

Jungkook reaches down and pulls a hemp sack over his shoulder.

‘Ah, of course. Will you spend all day up there then?’

‘Yes. Are you ready to go?’ Jungkook adds, ‘You need more layers on. Go get another fur.’

Jimin rolls his eyes but obeys. As he comes back out Jungkook holds out a hand and Jimin runs forward to take it. They’re quiet as they start their walk through the trees to the white gate.

‘Would you like to come too?’ Jungkook says after a while.

‘Hmm?’

‘To the shrine, on Chuseok?’

‘I could do that?’

‘If you want to, it is very beautiful.’

‘Oh, I would like that a lot.’ Jimin smiles up at him. ‘Can I leave something for my ancestors? You know, as I can’t go home.’

Jungkook nods, then turns his face to Jimin as they walk, his face serious.

‘Do you want to? Go home for Chuseok?’

‘No.’ Jimin says, acknowledging it for the first time. ‘I meant my village, my parents' home. Because…I already am home.’

Jungkook squeezes his hand and goes back to looking ahead.

‘Yoongi-hyung often joins me. Sometimes my other hyungs, though not always. They have their own shrines. But mine is the oldest. It is a very special place.’ He murmurs.

‘Would they…if they came…would they like to eat with us? Afterwards? At the hanok?’

Jungkook looks at him curiously, like he doesn’t quite get the concept.

‘You would like them too?’

‘Uh, yeah.’ Jimin swings their hands as they walk. ‘I’ve been thinking, since I got back, that it would be nice to see them more often. If I…if I am going to live here…forever, I um, would need to see people, you know, in the flesh. I can’t talk to people in my head like you…can’t talk to the trees and hens and the forest either and I’ll go mad eventually. I can’t just talk to you…all the time…forever…’

‘I see.’ Jungkook answers, an unreadable expression on his face. But Jimin sees the tops of his ears flush pink.

They keep walking, sharing no more words, but Jimin thinks he might hear Jungkook murmuring forever under his breath like he is rolling it around on his tongue.

*          *          *          *          *

The thing about Jimin’s illness - that Jungkook wouldn't ever be able to cure it - hadn't been a lie. But, Jimin hadn't really believed him, or hadn't let it sink in. He had still held onto a little flame that there was something Jungkook could do, or that now his life was better, things would change.

And they had. But not enough.

So, the next time Jimin has a flare up, Jungkook watches the hope die in Jimin's eyes, and he hates it.

Jimin hasn't been back long before he finds himself confined to bed, sore and exhausted… and angry. He kicks Jungkook out of their bed, with an actual weak kick to his shins, after Jungkook tries to pepper kisses and comfort into his skin.

Jungkook understands, he can feel the sadness and the loss that Jimin feels - and he can feel it isn't about him - but he hates being useless nonetheless.

He tries to placate himself by doing tasks that will help them - chopping wood, brewing a tea for pain relief, tidying their home - anything that will help Jimin and that Jungkook has control over. But he can feel Jimin's sadness permeating everything around him and it makes him desperate.

For a while, he goes outside and leans against the wall below where the little window of their bed peeps out. He can't solve Jimin's sadness but he just wants to be part of it. He just wants to be close to him.

For lunch, he prepares a whole tray of food: rice, pickles, broth, eggs, kimchi, even some of the fruit leathers that Jimin loves, and two different teas (one for pain and one for rejuvenation). Jimin tends to refuse to eat meat these days, saying the hens look at him with sadness when he eats their friends.

Jungkook sets the food by the pallet bed, which he covers in extra furs, then he climbs the ladder to their bed and rests his chin on his hands at the top rung.

He can feel that Jimin isn't asleep, his body is still, a curled lump under the blankets in the dim autumn light.

'Jimin-ah, I made food. Come down and eat it?'

Jimin slowly sits up and props himself up on his elbows. His hair is loose and falls around his shoulders. Jungkook thinks he's the most beautiful thing in the world, everyday, all the time.

'OK. Thank you.' Jimin’s voice is small and dry.

Jungkook rubs his feet under the sheets and smiles, then descends the ladder.

This time, Jimin let's Jungkook fuss over him. He let's Jungkook wrap him in the blankets and furs of the pallet bed and place the tray of food over his knees. He even eats and drinks without complaint. But he still radiates sadness.

'Thank you. For the food. I'm sorry.' He sighs.

'Ah, no sorrys or thank yous. I want to care for you.'

'Do you? Aren't you tired of it?'

'What is there to be tired of?'

'I just don't feel… equal.' Jimin sighs.

'Jimin-ah. You give me so much. Equal doesn't mean the same.'

He watches Jimin lean back against the wall and bring one of the fruit leathers to his lips.

'I love these. You're a genius.' He smiles a tiny smile, the sweet sucked between his lips.

Jungkook reaches out and tucks a lock of Jimin's hair behind his ear.

'I know I am, little one.'

Jimin pushes his cheek into Jungkook's palm, nuzzling into the skin.

'I'm sorry. I'm sorry for shutting you out. I just needed to let reality settle in. I've spent a lot of my life dreaming of being cured one day. It's hard to accept that I won't be.' He sighs.

'I get it.' Jungkook leans forward to kiss the tip of Jimin's nose. 'But you are you. You're not broken, you're not less. It doesn't help to think of it like that. And we will make a life that suits you.'

Jimin kisses Jungkook's palm, still sticky from the fruit leather. He brings it to his mouth and licks it and is rewarded by the bubble of Jimin's giggle.

'You're disgusting.'

'I know.' Jungkook grins. 'Wait here. I have something for you.'

Jungkook scampers off to a corner of the hanok and comes back dragging a large wooden chest. He pulls it right up next to the bed and then hops on to the pallet, sitting cross-legged at Jimin's feet.

'I, er… haven't told you much about when you were away. Have I?' Jimin shakes his head. 'Well I guess you've figured out that I… broke a lot of things.' Jungkook sighs and runs a hand over his forehead. 'I'm not proud of it, that anger. Anyway, it was… bad.'

'Kook-ah, I'm so sorry-'

'-Shh. Don't be. I'm not bringing it up for you to be sad. I'm bringing it up for this.' He grins and leans forward to open the lid of the chest.

Inside are many smaller wooden compartments and trays, and also some dishes and clay jars. On the top layer Jimin can see beads, twine, feathers, stones, Jungkook's beloved glass eyes - and a huge assortment of other oddities.

Jimin looks at Jungkook in confusion.

'I smashed up a lot of the things I loved the most while you were gone. My creatures and my art.' Jungkook gestures up at the rafters where his creations used to hang. 'Jin-hyung and Hoseok-hyung gathered all the pieces up and carefully brought it all together, like this. They knew I'd miss it and they were right.'

'They're good brothers.'

Jungkook nods solemnly. 'They are. You know, I started making these things not long after my parents left me. I had a lot of… time, and it wasn't good to let my brain have too much space, you know? Making these things helped. And now they're going to help you.'

'What?'

'Here,' Jungkook clears away the crockery and then dumps the empty tray back across Jimin's lap. 'Make stuff.'

'Ah, Kook-ah. I'm not creative like you.'

'So? Just thread some beads together or something. Tie some knots. You'll be surprised.'

Jimin looks at him with an unsure face and picks up some pebbles to roll them around in his palms.

'But these are your things. Your presents. These things are precious to you.'

'Silly. You're precious to me.’ Jungkook laughs. ‘But, fine, say it's a present for me if that helps you. Will you make me a present, hyung?'

Jungkook's eyes glimmer and he's gratified that Jimin smiles and swats at him.

'OK. Will you sit with me? Make something too? Unless you're busy…'

'No! Making art is more important than jobs sometimes!' Jungkook grins and starts crawling across the sheets. 'Move up, I'm coming in!'

*          *          *          *          *

As he so often is, Jungkook turns out to be right about finding joy in making things. Jimin discovers that he loves to thread beads and twine together in strings of knots and plaits. He even works out a special way of knotting twine so it makes a twisted pattern in a spiral and the repetitiveness soothes his brain.

His creations are also very pretty. Jungkook loves them. He hangs each one around the hanok with delight and smiles happily when they knock his face and head as he walks around.

Jungkook has also been creating again and has just finished making a huge creature from gathered wood with a snapping jaw and wings that move.

He gives it a set of dark green glass eyes.

'They must've come from across the sea, the eyes. I've never seen green ones in real life. Have you?' He asks as he ties the beast into the rafters of the hanok.

'No. Never. Only ones like ours.'

Jimin is propped up by the fire making one of his little knotted creations. He looks up with a fond smile as Jungkook crows with happiness at the sight of his now hung up beast.

Jungkook pokes its belly and it bounces up and down gently, its wings moving like it is flying. He rocks on the balls of his feet and claps his hands.

Then he comes to sit with Jimin by the fire. He slumps down and drops his head into Jimin's lap.

'Oh but we have very different eyes, Jimin-ah.'

'What?'

'You said, like ours. But ours aren't the same.'

'Yours are darker. Black.'

'And yours are much prettier than mine. They tell me lots of stories.'

'Oh, do they now? What do they tell you, my little forest urchin?'

'Ah, they tell me the secrets you aren't ready to say with your mouth. They always have.'

Jimin puts his work down and leans his head over Jungkook’s, cupping his cheeks with his palm.

'Is that right?'

'Uh huh.' Jungkook nods, eyes wide and pure.

'Well that's good then. I've always been terrible with mouth-words.' Jimin plants a kiss on the tip of Jungkook’s nose.

*          *          *          *          *

'You're different.' Namjoon smiles.

'Hmm?' Jimin turns to face him as they walk through the trees.

'Can't you feel how you've changed?'

'I have?' Jimin answers, next to him Jungkook squeezes the nape of his neck. He looks as fond as Namjoon.

'You have. You seem like you've… opened up. Like a flower in bloom. Like, you were always this inside but you had to keep your petals closed shut. And now, you are unfurling.'

Jungkook snorts. 'Fuck, hyung. Petals?'

Jimin whacks him in the chest while Namjoon's cheeks darken.

'Thank you, Jooni-hyung.' Jimin nods at Namjoon. 'I do feel better…different.'

It is early morning and they're hiking up the mountain to the shrine. The air is cool, some of the grass and leaves still tipped in white from the frost.

The walk is hard on Jimin, but Namjoon and Jungkook had insisted that if he wanted to come they'd go at whatever pace he wanted.

'It's nice actually, to walk this slowly through the trees,' Namjoon sighs, looking around as they take their third break, 'And taking time to stop and enjoy it. I don't do that enough.'

Jimin just grins at him, he knows that comment was meant to make him feel better. Once upon a time it might have even felt like a dig, but instead he feels the care in Namjoon words.

'We're nearly there,' Jungkook grins. He never sits for their breaks but buzzes around talking to the various trees and bugs. 'Yoongi-hyung is already there.' He crows and rushes off again into the trees.

Jimin and Namjoon both smile fondly, then follow him.

Not long after they pass two beopsu, leering across the path and marking the boundary to the shrine. They all give them a respectful berth as they pass.

The shrine is small and clearly ancient, but breathtakingly beautiful, set as it is on the mountain in the forest. The back wall is painted with a faded picture of a man sitting at the base of a red pine, a tiger at his feet.

They greet Yoongi and Jimin finds a quiet seat for himself out of the way, while the three witches work together quietly.

Sometimes, Jimin forgets who Jungkook is. That, as well as being the funny, peculiar man he lives with in a simple home in a clearing - that he is also a powerful witch with mastery of an entire forest. It is with awe that he is reminded of it as he watches Jungkook perform the gut outside the beautiful forest shrine.

It is strange enough to see him dressed in bright colours, but when he actually dances, when the power of the sanshin and the forest thrum under his skin, his eyes rolled back as he chants - Jimin is captivated.

Jungkook was seseummu, Namjoon had told Jimin - a hereditary shaman. One of his parents had been a shaman, and the other a witch. Though, they left before training him properly, so many wouldn’t count him as such. But, it ran in his blood and worked hand in hand with his magic and Jungkook had grown up to combine it seamlessly.

'Jungkook is very powerful. In some ways even more so because no humans really taught him, instead it is the spirits and the gods that guide his magic. And they like him.' Namjoon had laughed, ‘I think the spirits like his wildness.’

*          *          *          *          *

Jungkook carries Jimin on his back most of the way down the mountain, despite Jimin protesting.

'It's quicker this way and I'm hungry, little one, we need time to cook if we are to have guests.' He answers with finality.

Namjoon and Yoongi walk back to the hanok with them, it is still early, only mid-morning at the latest. Jin and Hoseok will join them later.

It had been Jimin's request that they all had a meal together for Chuseok, but now it is here he is nervous. They weren’t doing any of the traditional things, as Jimin would have had he still been in his village. Instead, just coming together to eat and drink.

As usual, Jungkook does all the cooking and leaves Jimin to arrange a place for them all to sit and go through some of the things he requested from the gate for the occasion.

It strikes Jimin, as he goes through them, that they have been prepared with incredible care. He traces a finger over a small bamboo box of songpyeon. They’re beautiful, the soft dough all different subtle colours with flower petals pressed onto their surfaces. Another box, just as carefully arranged, holds maehwa songpyeon, fashioned into the shape of plum flowers.

The villagers took time on these requests. It meant something to them.

‘I think they like you Kook-ah.’ Jimin says, as Jungkook comes in from outside holding a few dishes for the table.

'What? Who?' He looks flustered and a little sweaty, his hair scraped up on top of his head.

'The villagers. They like you.'

'No they don't, they're terrified of me.'

'Hmm. I know you want to think so, but I'm not so sure. These requests, you always called them presents and to be honest, they really feel like they are. Look how carefully they are wrapped. How beautiful these songpyeon are…'

'That's what I asked for.' Jungkook huffs.

'I don't think so-'

'-why wouldn't they like you, Jungkook? You're an excellent witch. You keep them safe and healthy.' Namjoon cuts in from where he is sat by the fire with Yoongi.

'Maybe I want them to hate me.' Jungkook frowns and stomps back out to the clearing. But the others don’t miss the surprised and possibly happy expression under his frown.

*          *          *          *          *

‘I just think you could have been better hyungs and you know, taught him a few things…’ Jimin mumbles into his cup of wine.

It is at least his third. The food has mostly gone and the small group of men are sprawled on the floor around the table.

‘Like what?’ Seokjin asks with the smirk he pulls when he is asking a question he already knows the answer to.

‘Like, life lessons...you know. Things about being a man or, at least like kissing...’ Jimin burns with embarrassment saying the last words and Seokjin snorts with glee.

‘Oh, well, I am sure you are teaching him plenty about kissing now-’ He grins.

Jimin shushes him at the precise moment Jungkook leans away from Namjoon and overhears the last words.

‘What? Kissing? Oh! Yeah, we do that all the time,’ he answers proudly, causing the entire table to collapse in laughter and Jimin to thump his head down onto the wood with a groan. Nothing perturbs Jungkook though. ‘So, you all know about kissing too?’ He seems genuinely thrilled to discover the common ground, ‘I thought maybe you didn’t, I didn’t want to bring it up and seem like a show off.’

Seokjin and Hoseok seem about to expire with their laughter, while even Yoongi cackles. Namjoon is kind enough to tap a hand on Jungkook’s shoulder and say, ‘That was thoughtful, Jungkook-ah.’ But his amusement is just as obvious as the others by the way his dimples have popped out.

‘I mean, I had seen some of Yoongi-hyung’s drawings, obviously, but I always thought they were more like diagrams, you know, for medical purposes. And then Jimin came and I just wanted to put my mouth all over him. Would’ve done sooner if he hadn’t got so upset about corrupting me…’

If Jimin could smash his face right through the table he would.

‘Oh, please tell us more about why Jiminie thinks he has corrupted you...’ Seokjin laughs.

‘Well, it took months before he would let me touch his cock-’

Jimin darts up and slams his hand over Jungkook’s mouth, whose eyes widen. Hoseok is laughing so hard he has fully collapsed to the floor.

‘Fuck, Jungkook. Honestly!’ Jungkook’s eyes peer over his hand, wide like a deer. ‘I am going to let go but you say another word and so help me!’

He releases gently and Jungkook just sits back and grins, taking a gulp of his wine. Jimin lets out the breath he was holding.

‘Honestly, how are you all so normal and he is like this. I thought it was a witch thing but maybe it is just a…’ he trails off as the table falls into an awkward silence. Hoseok pulls himself upright slowly and Yoongi fidgets with his chopsticks.

‘Oh, Kook-ah, I’m sorry,’ Jimin brings his hand up and massages the nape of Jungkook’s neck. ‘I’m just a bit drunk, I didn’t mean to make a joke of it. I’m sorry.’

Nobody says anything for a few moments, then Jungkook smiles.

‘Ah. It’s ok. But you know, what happened to me isn’t a witch thing. Getting abandoned in the forest and everything...which, you know, is why I’m so weird. My parents were just not into children I guess, or something.’

‘Most witches only move somewhere secluded as adults to set up practises,’ Namjoon nods, 'but we live with humans otherwise.'

‘Yeah, I grew up in a city,’ Seokjin shrugs, ‘my parents make shoes.’

It makes Jimin ache for child Jungkook yet again, and he burns with anger at parents so selfish they could leave their child in such a way. If they didn't want him, couldn't they have just left him somewhere with other people? Did they really have to leave him in the forest alone?

‘Who are you angry at?' Yoongi cuts into Jimin’s trail of thought, his head cocked to one side.

‘His parents.’ Jimin whispers, without pause, used to the fact they can all feel his emotions by now.

Jungkook drops a hand onto Jimin’s thigh and squeezes.

‘It is quite something when you do that you know.’ Hoseok adds.

‘Do what?’

‘Burn, like that.’ All the witches around the table nod. ‘You always burn quite hot but sometimes it is almost unbearable.’ Yoongi sounds admiring.

‘It is powerful, definitely.’ Namjoon nods.

‘If you think that is impressive,’ Jungkook adds with a grin like this time he knows exactly what he is doing, ‘you should feel what he feels like when I touch his cock.’

*          *          *          *          *

‘I was thinking about what they said, about me burning very hot, about my energy,’ Jimin hums into the darkness where he and Jungkook are curled in bed.

‘Hmm...’ he answers, sleepy and content.

‘You’ve always said it, since I met you. Now they do too.’

‘It is hard to ignore.’ Jungkook’s reply is muffled in the sheets.

‘Well, I thought you were just being odd. But apparently not.’

‘Ah no. You are hot like the middle of the earth.’

There’s a pause and Jungkook’s breathing evens out like he has fallen asleep.

‘Why?’ Jimin whispers.

Sensing that this conversation means something, that Jimin is anxious, Jungkook rolls onto his back to wake up properly and eyes Jimin through the darkness.

‘I’m not sure, it happens. Everybody has a different soul.’ He sighs.

‘But why, why has it happened?’

Jungkook shifts his shoulders in what would be a shrug if he was sitting up.

‘Who knows? When I first met you, I thought maybe it was a joke by an ancient god. Or that maybe you were in the wrong body as some sort of punishment. But it isn’t that, you are meant to be exactly as you are, I can tell that now.’

‘Am I powerful?’

‘Very.’

There’s no hesitation or lie in Jungkook’s answer.

‘Magic?’

‘Ah no, magic passes through families, you’re born with it.’

‘Really?’ Jimin asks, momentarily distracted, ‘I didn’t actually know that.’

‘Uh yeah. Doesn’t have to come from a parent directly but there’s usually a direct line and it’s there from birth.’

‘But, Seokjin-hyung? He said his parents made shoes?!’

‘Yes? Not all witches take a path like mine or my hyungs. You heard what Namjoon-hyung said, he moved to the forest with the other three by choice. For…most people…this life is a choice. Some witches just choose to use their power to make really, really good shoes.’

They both laugh and Jimin curls back into Jungkook, throwing his arm over his chest.

‘I would feel if you had magic. You don’t.’ Jungkook adds.

‘That’s a shame.’

‘Why?’

‘All this power I have - apparently - but no way of using it. That’s a shame.’

‘What do you mean, using it?’

‘What do you think I mean? I’m just a weak, sick human living in a forest with no use for their power aside from apparently making everything a bit warm.’

‘Jimin-ah, you use your power every day, you have all your life. Typical hu-‘

‘-oh! If you are about to say something like ‘typical human way of thinking about power’ or some shit, I will absolutely knee you in the dick.’

Jungkook’s mouth closes with a pop and a sulky frown.

‘It is though,’ he whispers after a moment and then lurches away with a laugh as Jimin jumps on him. Jimin ends up straddling his waist and beating him with the pillow, shouting about his apparently infinite power.

‘You want to feel my huge power, little witch? Want me to make you all warm inside?’

Jungkook grips the pillow mid swing and peeks over the top of it, eyes glinting.

‘Yes please?’ he grins and Jimin falls on his mouth with a laugh.

          * 

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          * 

                    Some months later…

                                                                  * 

                                                        * 

                                              * 

                                    *

Jimin is standing on the veranda, his hair loose and wearing just a long shirt, a mug of steaming sage tea cupped between his palms.

It has been a cold, cruel winter but tonight was surprisingly mild, the sky rich and orange and burnt.

He and Jungkook had just made love, tangled in the blankets on the old pallet bed on the hanok floor that they only really use for such things these days. Jimin rarely finds the sufficient fire to want to fuck under Jungkook's terrifying art and the glass eyes adorning the bed in the rafters. But they sleep up there, warmer in the cold nights.

They both came out to wash up but the sunset had caught Jimin and he stayed, leaning on the pillar. Jungkook had brought him the tea and a kiss and then vanished back inside.

Jimin is barely focusing on anything, instead just feeling the warmth and swell of the forest around him. The sound of the hens roosting above and the forest creaking gently. He feels calm.

And then suddenly there is a figure breaking through the trees and their eyes meet across the clearing.

Neither move.

Jimin can't process why or how he's here. He just stares as the figure takes a few steps, their eyes locked, and then stops. Frozen.

He looks the same as he always did - but shell-shocked, like he's unsure what to do.

This staring between them could have been going on for seconds or minutes.

Then Jimin hears Jungkook speak softly from over his shoulder, from the door of the hanok, and he jumps out of his skin - but he never drops eye contact with the man across from him.

'I let him approach. I let him find us because he knows you. His mind says he does. Is that right?'

'Yes. Yes, he…does.’ The answer seems insufficient of the thousand words Jimin could've used but they’re all lost somewhere in his mind.

Behind him, Jungkook's face screws up as he feels the enormity of what Jimin does about the new arrival.

'Tae.' Jimin breathes at last and it breaks the spell.

They both move at once and meet in the middle of the clearing. Jimin throws his arms around his neck and half jumps into his arms.

They don't move for a while.

‘You are real. I thought you were a ghost or dokkaebi sent to trick me.’ Taehyung breathes into his hair.

Jimin suddenly becomes all too aware he is barely dressed and his bare ass is half out.

'Shit, I'm not dressed. Wait here, don't move.'

'I've seen you in less.' Taehyung answers but it sounds sad rather than jokey and Jimin doesn't stop to acknowledge it. He just rushes into the hanok, throws on trousers and boots, and rushes back out to Taehyung like he might be gone.

Jungkook has gone but Jimin is too confused and overwhelmed to notice.

'Tae, why on earth are you here?' He asks as soon as he's back by Tae’s feet in the clearing.

'You went missing. I've been looking for you for months. You're alive!' He seems happy and surprised by the last bit and rests a hand on Jimin’s shoulder as if to confirm it. 'You’re alive and you look - healthy? Happy?'

The man standing in front of Taehyung - with golden brown skin, full cheeks, even some muscles - is very different from the slim, white boy who left their village at the beginning of summer.

'I'm both.' Jimin answers.

'You live here? Who was that?’ He pauses to look over Jimin’s shoulder and then turns back to him. ‘I've been tracking you and then finally they said at the inn that you stayed there and that there's rumours you went through the gate and never came back. That the forest or the witch, or both, had eaten you.’

'Not dead. Not eaten.' Jimin shrugs, not knowing where to start with months to fill Tae in on.

'And you live here? I'm so confused. Who was that with you before? Do you live here?'

'That was Jungkook-ssi. We live here, together.'

Comprehension seems to dawn on Taehyung’s face. The silence that falls between them holds many unanswered questions.

'Let’s go inside. I'll make us supper.' Jimin offers.

Tae follows him slowly, making a low whistle as they enter the hanok and he looks around curiously.

'It’s quite the place,' he murmurs.

Jimin gestures for him to sit by the table and he does, but he keeps peeking around, as if his questions are just increasing not lessening.

Jimin hurriedly lights more lamps (he and Jungkook tend to live only by the fire in the evenings) and throws blankets over the pallet bed, hopefully, making it less obvious what had happened there just an hour before. He makes them up a table of food and also brings out a small jar of precious soju. Then, he sits opposite Taehyung and serves him. They eat and drink in silence for a few minutes.

'I thought I was coming in here to find your body.' Taehyung finally offers across the table.

Jimin grimaces. 'It was a long way to come just for that.'

'Maybe I just wanted an answer. Everyone else seemed so... unbothered.' He pauses on the last word and catches Jimin's eye, perhaps regretting his phrasing.

'Taehyung, it's OK. I know how my family feels about me.'

'Your sister, she was heartbroken - but she couldn't do anything. And I, I couldn't just leave it. They just said you'd gone to Galsa, there were rumours you were living on the streets there. Or that you were, you know…working in one of the tea houses. I looked for weeks. And then they said you’d gone to the gate and that was it. Trail cold.'

'But here I am.' Jimin says.

'And you live here? You live here…so you can be with a man?' Tae’s cheeks go a little pink at the question and he drops his eyes to his plate of food.

The air is heavy between them.

'Ah, not quite. Though I guess it helps,' Jimin can't help smiling a little, 'this is Jungkook-ssi’s forest. He is the witch here. He's always lived here.'

Tae’s eyes widen and his hand drops to the table.

'But you are, you seemed... is he…'

'Oh. Yes. That too. We are. Together.' Jimin nods.

'And you've been here since summer?'

'Yes. I came at first so that Jungkook-ssi could heal me. I broke in and refused to leave until he did, but somewhere along the line I stopped wanting to leave I guess.'

'And he did cure you? You look so different, so healthy!'

'Ah no. Jungkook-ssi can't cure me. My disease is… complicated - that's what he says - but I had a lot going on that could be cured with some rest and food and medicine.' Tae looks almost sheepish. Guilty. 'He looks after me very well. It should be a surprise to no one that such a change of circumstance improved my health.'

'It isn't. I'm sorry that is all it took.'

'It’s OK, Tae. I was never your responsibility'

'I would have liked it if you could have been.' Tae’s voice shakes as he says it and he finally lifts his face and meets Jimin’s eyes.

They share a smile. One full of sadness for the young men they never got to be.

'It must've taken a lot of courage for you to come in here. The stories about the witch and his forest are wild.' Jimin smiles gently and takes a sip of his soju.

'They are. But I needed to know.'

'Well you're lucky Jungkook-ssi let you through. It’s quite something when he raises the forest against you.'

'Is it...'

'Hmm. He knew you were coming though. Said he let you through because you knew me.'

'How did he know?'

'It’s hard to explain but he can read minds, in a way. Though, that's a very simplified way of saying it. It's more like he can sense what people feel.'

'Oh.' He looks like he wants to say more but holds it in. 'Where did he go by the way?'

'I'm not sure actually. He was probably a bit anxious. He…hasn't met many humans. None actually, apart from me.’

'Oh.'

Saying it out loud Jimin realises the truth of his words for the first time. He’d been too shocked by Tae’s abrupt appearance to notice where Jungkook went but he starts to worry a little that he is hiding. He’ll go look for him once Taehyung is settled.

'You’ll stay the night? It's late.' He turns back to his friend.

'Oh. Yes. I guess so. Is that OK?'

'Of course. I've missed you.'

'I've missed you too. For a long time, even before you left-'

'-Tae...'

'I know, I know.' Taehyung draws in another one of those shaky breaths. Like he keeps wanting to say more but Jimin doesn’t want to let him. He can’t. It won’t do either of them any good now.

'How long have you been gone?' Jimin asks him to redirect the conversation.

'On and off since you left. My wife...my wife will be glad to see me home so she can beat me thoroughly. She's furious. I... I've missed a lot of work. She's had to stay with her mother.'

'Tae... that was, you didn't need to. I'm OK.'

'But what if you hadn't been?'

'And what were you going to do? Turn up here and fight a witch for me?'

'I would have tried.' Taehyung sticks out his chin a little and for a moment Jimin sees the boy that used to fight the other kids in the village to defend him.

'Well thank you. And I'm glad, though it’s selfish. I'm glad I got to see you again. I... don't plan to leave so…'

'This will be the last time.' Tae says and Jimin nods. 'I'm glad you're happy. That I got to see you find happiness. Life was cruel to you.'

'Are you, happy?'

Tae doesn't answer for a while.

'I have a son now too. He was born last month. He's wonderful. His sister hates him.'

He smiles that boxy smile Jimin always loved and it’s pure and real. Jimin is glad that something can make Tae smile like that, even if it isn’t his wife.

As they grin together the door slides open with a snap and Jungkook stands in the doorway framed by the night sky.

Taehyung flinches and scoots away a little across the floor.

Jimin can see how Jungkook might look terrifying to Taehyung. He remembers how terrified he had been to wake up in the hanok and see Jungkook that very first time. His appearance now - looming over them, framed in the doorway, his shoulders heaving and hair wild, covered in tattoos - is intimidating.

But he doesn’t look scary to Jimin, instead, he can see that he looks incredibly anxious.

Tae is only the second human he has ever met and he probably has no idea what to do.

'Kook-ah,' Jimin breathes and reaches out an arm, palm up, towards him. It’s the signal Jungkook needed and he rushes over and sinks under it, pressing his face into Jimin’s neck and breathing deeply.

'Don’t worry,' Jimin breathes, 'just be yourself.'

He feels a tiny nod into his skin.

Tae is looking at them curiously.

What Jimin doesn’t expect is that Jungkook suddenly sits bolt upright, looks at Tae and then throws himself into a bow.

'Hello! I'm Jeon Jungkook!' He half shouts.

It might be the cutest thing Jimin has ever seen and he works very hard not to laugh, knowing how upset that would make his sensitive boy who is trying so hard to be normal.

‘Kim Taehyung.’ Tae bows back looking very unsure of himself.

Jimin reaches up to stroke the back of Jungkook’s hair.

‘I didn’t know you were a Jeon. Funny isn’t it. Never really occurred to me to ask, not since the first day, seems so pointless out here.’ He smiles.

‘I forgot actually. Wouldn’t have known if you had asked. Then, I was out there thinking about how you were supposed to greet people, and it just came out of my mouth. Like muscle memory.’

They both giggle and press their foreheads together. Jimin is picturing Jungkook pacing about trying to remember the polite way to greet a human and is warm with endearment.

They rub noses and Tae looks down at his plate in embarrassment.

It is hard to remember to act with social protocol when it is usually just the two of you and some hens.

In the end, the rest of the evening passes smoothly. Taehyung gets on surprisingly well with Jungkook, the two of them sharing an off the cuff kind of humour that bounces easily between them. Had he stayed longer Jimin imagines it wouldn’t have taken much for him to feel left out.

As it is, Taehyung leaves with the sunrise.

The three of them walk to the gate together, and then Taehyung crosses over to the human side and Jimin remains on the side of the forest. Taehyung smiles warmly, a final time, and then turns away. Jimin watches him until he is out of sight, tears falling on Jungkook’s shirt where he rests his cheek. And Tae never looks back over his shoulder.

Jimin feels full with the enormity of watching the small figure of his once best friend disappear over the horizon. But above all, he feels a closure in their goodbye, like a little piece of his heart is finally at rest.

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                    *  

                         A few more months later... 

                                                                         *

                                                               * 

                                                     * 

                                           * 

Jimin sits under the awning in the evening light, watching Jungkook work beside him. Jungkook is grinding charcoal into powder, the tips of his fingers blackened, and a spot on his nose to match.

The hens are bothering him, insistent that whatever Jungkook is up to is a possible snack. Occasionally, Jimin throws some rice across the clearing to distract them, but he also quite enjoys watching them harass Jungkook who reprimands them without any sincerity.

Their little family of chickens has grown in number. A few months ago, close enough to what Jungkook decided had been around a year since Jimin came to the forest, Jungkook had presented him with a gift of two beautiful eggs to mark the occasion. Moon had been desperately trying to sit on a clutch of eggs since spring arrived and Jungkook marked the two new eggs with dye and let her sit on them. In the end, Pebble joined her, and the two of them warmed the eggs until they hatched.

One chick grew to be a proud black cockerel that Jimin named Night. The other chick was still fluffy, even fully grown, and was skittish with expressive eyes that often made it look like it was sulking. Jungkook knew very well Jimin had named the hen Plum, but he called her Jimin-ie nonetheless, teasing that the two of them were too similar for him to tell the difference.

‘Okay, this is ready.’ Jungkook says, pulling Jimin from his thoughts.

He holds up a small glazed bowl between his palms, filled with the powdered ash, blended with oil and water.

‘Excellent.’ Jimin smiles and shuffles closer to Jungkook’s knees.

Jungkook grins, placing the bowl down and picking up his tattooing tool.

‘Are you sure?’ He laughs, ‘we are really going from no tattoos, to face tattoos?’

‘Yes.’ Jimin nods.

‘Well, ok then!’ Jungkook laughs and leans forwards, cupping Jimin’s chin in his hand to steady him.

He drops kisses to Jimin’s skin before he begins his work.

The bite of the stick is excruciating. Jungkook works slowly and precisely, dipping the stick in the ink that rests on his knee.

The pain is immense, but Jimin is used to pain and he barely flinches. Even so, Jungkook kisses his lips between every small section he inks across his lover's skin.

When he finishes, he wipes Jimin’s cheeks gently and then leans back to admire the new tattoos.

On each of Jimin’s cheekbones, just below his eyes, are a pair of two half-moons - designed to match the suns on Jungkook’s.

‘Moons, for my moon.’ He whispers, when he is finished, pressing a last kiss to the tip of Jimin’s nose.