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All the King's Men

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Jimin was always careful when touching the royal cutlery. Normally it was his father's job to distribute and clean it, but today he was busy out on errands, and so Jimin had been left in charge of the silverware and everything that came with it. What possessed Jimin's father to leave him in charge of such an important thing, he wasn't too sure. He'd heard all the stories of servants who had had their hands chopped off for stealing a spoon or two in an attempt to support their families. He'd even heard of new and radical punishments imposed by the royal family and governing committee that far exceeded the mere loss of a limb, but at least there was nobody supervising him today. Having people breathe down his neck constantly wasn't his idea of fun anyways.

He reached for a long fork and peered into the reflection, getting struck by the light bouncing into his eye off of the clean surface from the flickering candles. A part of him wanted to try having it in his mouth. He had never eaten with cutlery, much less with cutlery made of silver worth more than the worth of his weight in gold. Maybe if he just...

"What are you doing?"

Jimin panicked, dropping the fork on the ground and backing away with his eyes open wide. A boy was there a few paces away, staring at him. There was nothing but fear when everything boiled down to the fact that he, a mere part of the retinue, was soiling the royal family's belongings. It was practically a death sentence. And the boy stood above him like an obelisk: tall and blindingly covered by sunlight from the high windows. For all Jimin knew he could be a trusted courtier with the power to execute him. But then again, the people in the camarilla never did dress in shoddy shirts and dirty pants. And something in the boy's eyes made him feel it would be offensive to consider him a part of the rudimentary political bureaucracy.

"Calm down, I won't tell," the boy just said, sending him a notable wink. He didn't look much older than Jimin, and Jimin got excited by the prospect of seeing another child working in the castle, as he did feel alone and incompetent most of the time. "I'm Taehyung, by the way," the boy added, smiling broadly and looking oddly intrigued. "The royal family's blacksmith apprentice. Soon to be creator of all the best weapons this side of the kingdom has ever seen."

"So that's why you're all covered in black," Jimin blurted out, glancing over Taehyung's dirty hands and sooty face. It was just an observation; he hadn't meant for it to come off as rude. He really ought to think before he spoke.

"The stupid smoke and coals," Taehyung confirmed, mock-brushing filth off his shoulder. "Let's see...a boy all covered in white flour found with a fork stuck up his yap..." Jimin blushed, rubbing his cheeks to rid himself of the flour and the rosy colour beneath it. "You must be a baker."

"Among other things," Jimin corrected him, turning his gaze over to the plates and cutlery he was currently placing out on the tables. "I tend to all sorts of dining matters."

"Marvellous," Taehyung exclaimed, grinning so broad Jimin swore his eyes lit up with glee. "A kitchen hand and an apprentice blacksmith, sharing a bond through mutually soiled appearances."

"Black and white," Jimin added with a giggle, reaching his hand out to touch Taehyung's blackened fingers. The small traces of flour on his own left tiny flecks of star-looking shapes on the dark sky that was Taehyung's palm.

"Black and white," Taehyung agreed, taking Jimin's whole hand in a firm grip and shaking it as if they were grown-ups discussing dire matters. Jimin always thought 'hand-shakes' were so silly, but grinned widely nonetheless.

"Taehyung, for fuck's sake!" Came the loud voice of a man equally soiled in black, waving a prong in the air as he stomped towards the young blacksmith apprentice, the cutlery jingling at his approach. Jimin tensed at the anger in his voice. "How many times have I told you not to walk through the grand dining hall? It isn't proper! Nor sanitary."

"You'd rather have me walk through the cellars and catch pneumonia?" Taehyung tested, crossing his arms and pouting.

"Don't test me, boy. Walk through here again and I'll have you scrubbing the floor 'til you're thirty."

"Fine," Taehyung scoffed, offering a dramatic rolling of his eyes before turning on heel and walking back towards the door. The older man walked right beside him, and Jimin was left speechless and slightly worried until Taehyung turned back around last second and waved at him. Jimin waved back, only then realizing that some of the black from Taehyung's hand had transferred onto his, making his eyes widen as he hid it inside his shirt and sprinted to the nearest wash basin.

 

*

 

It took a good while before Jimin saw Taehyung again. Not long enough to forget his name or face, however, and he blurted his name out right when he saw him by the stack of firewood right outside on the castle grounds. Taehyung smiled the same way he had when they first met, dropping his stack of logs to shake Jimin's hand.

"Hello, white," he teased, sitting down on one of the piles of logs to fix his shirt. "Out here to steal my wood?"

"Black," Jimin acknowledged, sitting down next to him and trying to look just as preoccupied as him, tightening the sloppy apron around his waist. "I'm merely acquiring the sufficient amount to power the kitchen ovens."

"Likewise, but my dad's furnace." Taehyung sighed, pulling a small bundle of brown-ish black substance out of his pocket and offering it to Jimin "Tobacco?"

"Isn't that for adults?" Jimin said before he could stop himself, images of the kitchen aids who were married popping into his mind as they propped mounds of soggy tobacco under their top lips.

Taehyung laughed, taking a big, ol bite out of his tobacco mound. He chewed on it slowly, as if he were trying not to taste it much, then he made a disgruntled face which betrayed the experience all too realistically. "Sure, maybe. But I'll die because of smoke poisoning soon, so why shouldn't I tempt fate with some adult endeavors before I go?"

Jimin frowned at that, observing his face. "Really?" He looked healthy enough. A little tired under the eyes, maybe, but no alarming difference from the rest of the youth Jimin knew.

"No, not really. Father says it's a thing, but I don't believe him. They make up illnesses for everything these days, don't they? To scare us into paying for treatment. Or worse: medicine."

Jimin just stared at him, liking the way Taehyung's tobacco matched the dark smudges all over his face. He looked so cool without even trying, already spitting out the tobacco and cleaning his teeth with his index finger. He laughed when he was done, enjoying Jimin's bewildered expression.

"I don't actually like tobacco," Taehyung confessed, stuffing the rest of the lump back into his pocket and dusting off his pants. "I just use it to look handsome."

Surprised by the boy's stark honesty, Jimin laughed, Taehyung's words seeming ludicrous when the taller grinned wildly and a piece of black tobacco was found stuck in between his teeth, making him look like he was missing one. He hadn't laughed that hard in a long while, his breaths catching in his throat and his eyes tearing up, Taehyung just grinning back and looking pleased with himself though he still didn't seem to realize the unfortunate situation in his mouth.

"It's in your teeth," Jimin choked out through fits of giggles, reaching his finger out to point exactly where. Taehyung frowned and grabbed his hand, running his tongue over his teeth while Jimin swore he saw his ears turn red.

"A common misfortune of the practice," Taehyung defended himself with, spitting to the left and clearing his throat pointedly. Today Jimin could smell the smoke off of him; the heat. It made him lean unconsciously closer, fascinated by the smell that was nowhere to be found in the kitchens despite both rooming fires. It was such a novelty.

"What are you doing?" Taehyung asked, and it was Jimin's turn to blush all the way up to his ears.

"Just, uh....smelling you?"

"Smelling me," Taehyung repeated, raising an eyebrow. Jimin only just noticed how nice his eyes were. They were deep and dark but with a faint glimmer of hazel, catching the light just so as they sat out in the summer sun. He wondered if his looked anything like that, but sadly he'd never seen them. "I suppose you could have given me a worse answer. Do you like my scent? I call it 'sweating by the fire all day and cleaning my father's rancid anvil."

Jimin couldn't help but laugh again. Taehyung always knew exactly what to say to make things sound clever or funny, and he envied that. Pleased with himself, Taehyung wiggled his eyebrows before he got up and started picking up his dropped pile of logs.

"Thank you ladies, I'm here all day," he proclaimed, struggling a little with the fifth log. Jimin rushed over and helped him, trying to steady the balance as Taehyung's hasty stacking became the weak point of the effort.

"You'll definitely be here all day if you fool around so much," Jimin said, catching a falling piece of wood that careened off the side. "Not that I'm complaining, but I was thinking your father's 'rancid anvil' needs more cleaning. For the sake of your musk."

"Right you are," Taehyung agreed, finally stacking the last log in his arms. He then turned to Jimin and his expression fell. "Well bogus, now who will help you stack yours?"

Jimin stared at the firewood down in his own short arms and tiny hands, the flush creeping back up his neck. "I'll just go multiple times."

"That's ridiculous. Wait here while I go deliver my firewood and I'll come back to give you a hand. It seems I have no choice but to come with you to the kitchens." Taehyung's words were sad, but his voice wasn't, and it made Jimin snort.

"Did you plan this all along? Are you going to get in trouble for going places you shouldn't be again?"

Taehyung's simple but extremely effective answer came in the form of a confident, "Yes."

After Taehyung had gone home to deliver his goods the boy jogged up to Jimin with ease, looking eager and ready for their next adventure. Jimin would be lying if he said he wasn't excited by the prospect of bringing his new friend to the kitchens where he spent most of his time. It was, in his opinion, the best place to be in the entire castle.

Taehyung hauled log after log into his own arms silently while Jimin watched, not sure how that was supposed to help him carry them. He stared at Taehyung with his best quizzical expression, the latter catching his eyes in the end.

"You're too puny and small," Taehyung explained, like it was obvious. "How can I let you carry these things all by yourself in good conscience?"

Jimin smiled, picking up a couple himself and laughing at Taehyung's overachieving efforts. The logs in his arms were stacked lopsidedly and he had his tongue out in deep concentration. His arms were pretty built, however; at least enough to carry logs. Jimin wondered if it was all the weapon smithing that Taehyung said he did.

It turned out that walking through the castle with Taehyung was an experience. He'd stop just about every second meter and tell him all sorts of probably fabricated stories about each odd item they passed by; and they passed by plenty.

"See that family crest? My father smithed that a few years ago when the kingdom was low on iron. He actually forged gallons of his own blood into the crest to substitute for the lost iron, and that's why the crest looks red."

Jimin stared wide-eyed at the family crest hanging on the wall that he passed by more or less every day. Taehyung had a story for everything. The cracks in the ceilings, the paintings of stiff women sitting with their hands in their laps, and even stories of the expressionless guards that stood in front of the chamber doors. Before he realized it, they were standing in front of the kitchens, the bustle of noise from the inside revealing how many people were currently in there working on the next meal.

"Do you bake the bread in the fires?" Taehyung asked, sounding impressed if his voice was anything to go by.

Jimin nodded, kicking the big, wooden door with his foot and letting them slip inside. Once in, Taehyung's eyes widened, the rush of people completely different from the quiet path to Taehyung's place. A few men greeted Jimin as he lead Taehyung inside, trying not to bump into anyone or spill any soup. The smells were always a nice treat, most of the meals this time of year made with dried lavender and parsley for that especially exclusive taste. His world may not be as manly and impressive as Taehyung's, but at least it was tempting.

"Shit, that's a big bowl of soup," he heard Taehyung whisper to him, barely hearing anything because of all the noise. He looked to where Taehyung's eyes were directed, landing on a cauldron of rabbit soup simmering over a small fire. Jimin laughed, continuing on past the scullery and finding the shelves for the logs. His strained arms dropped his firewood down in quite a messy pile, while Taehyung attempted to place his down one by one, failing at the very end when five of them decided to avalanche out of his arms.

"Well, at least they're where they're supposed to be. More or less."

Jimin nodded. He couldn't be more pleased with the effort, as Taehyung had helped him bring back an amount that he could only have hoped to achieve with maybe three trips to the courtyard.

"As thanks for your help, do you want a piece of trencher?" He offered, leading Taehyung over to the pantry. He rummaged around the bread basket-- the only basket he was actually allowed to consume food from.

"The scraps?" Taehyung inquired, scrunching up his nose. "And here I was expecting a grand cake. Is this how you thank your new best friend for his lifesaving favours? Poverty alms?"

Jimin's chest warmed at the mention of them being best friends, and he had to reach up his hands to calm his glowing cheeks before Taehyung could see them. He looked around and spotted an unpeeled potato on one of the counters, biting his lip and shuffling over to it most carefully. He took the lump into his hand before hiding it under his apron and motioning and miming for Taehyung to follow him back outside.

Hustle and bustle and heat and smells gone, Jimin lined himself up against a cold wall and let himself suck in some much-needed breaths of air. The candles of the hallways had never been so annoying, plastering shadows of Jimin's silhouette all up the walls. Taehyung stared at the potato in his hand with brimming curiosity, letting Jimin hold it out to him.

"This is a root that grows under ground," Jimin explained, Taehyung's eyes narrowing as he examined. "They're fairly new, I think. The prince likes them a lot. It was all by itself, so...well, I don't think anyone will miss it."

The ground root was beige in colour, covered in tiny vines and sprouting stems. Jimin didn't know what he was thinking stealing food and offering it to another boy, but it felt like the smartest thing to do in the world.

"Are you sure?"

"Positive."

He dumped the ugly-looking thing into Taehyung's hands, watching the taller boy bring it to his mouth and sink his teeth into the newly appointed vegetable before even thinking twice.

"Wait!" He shrieked, pulling it out of Taehyung's mouth. Small grits of the potato were stuck between Taehyung's teeth. It seemed they attracted many things and liked to keep them.

"What?" Taehyung groaned, annoyed. He stared longingly at the potato Jimin had yanked from him, now borne with teeth marks.

"You have to cook it first! It doesn't taste good if it isn't cooked."

"Oh," Taehyung said, but it was obvious he didn't care. Taehyung took the potato back from him, pocketing it swiftly in his pants. "So you're trying to force me to become a kitchen aid like you?"

"No, just heat it by your furnace. Wrap it in a wet cloth and let the embers make it ripe for eating. It should be steaming and the best part is that when you sink your teeth into it, it melts in your mouth right away!"

Taehyung looked more impressed after that description, grinning broadly from ear to ear and deciding to pull the potato out of his pocket. Jimin had never seen someone so excited over food, he thought. Sure, the people of the court were gluttonous, but Taehyung was like a starved boy at a yule feast.

"I'll attempt to cook it if you split it with me," Taehyung said, resting one hand on his hips. He was always so expressive with his opinions. "Gifts are best shared."

Jimin's face lit up as he tried to recall the last time he'd had a warm meal but couldn't remember any. Not that he didn't think Taehyung deserved a whole potato all on his own, but the thought of helping Taehyung cook and then reaping the benefits of their efforts later sounded so much fun he was almost salivating.

Taehyung was the one to initiate a race between him and Jimin to the blacksmith hut, shoving Jimin playfully just as he started to have a slight but deciding advantage on him. Jimin groaned and sprinted after the fiend, ending up almost collapsing at the small steps leading into Taehyung's keep. Taehyung was already inside, grinning, and Jimin was dragged in before he knew it, sat against a grinding stone and made to blow into the burning fire to keep it hot. He could see how Taehyung got dirty from the fires, because after only a few minutes of blowing, Jimin's face was almost grey with soot, the heat making him sweat and redden and cough against the hot stones.

"Alright, work your magic," Taehyung implored him with, sat giddy and rubbing his hands together right next to him. Jimin snorted, lifting the potato up and popping it right into the fire. Taehyung gaped at him. "Did you just kill it?"

"No," Jimin laughed. "Potatoes like fire. Think of them as dragon eggs; they're moist enough to not be burnt to a crisp at immediate contact, and they flourish in the warmth. We'll get him out soon enough."

"When did we decide it was a 'he'?" Taehyung asked, sufficiently distracted from their burning friend. Jimin raised An eyebrow at him.

"Would you prefer a 'she'?"

"Yes. Then she can be my lady."

Jimin kicked Taehyung's side, fishing the potato back out with one of the blacksmith apprentice's metal tools. There were quite a few of them, so Jimin just grabbed the one that was closest. Taehyung stared in awe at the blackened potato that Jimin pried from the fires, his face lighting up when Jimin broke the skin and the steam rose from the mush like smoke.

"Go on," Jimin encouraged, holding the potato out to him. "Try some."

Taehyung leaned down and opened his mouth, scraping some potato into it with his teeth. Jimin shrieked.

"Ew! What are you doing? You're supposed to pick it up! I felt your tongue on me!"

"I didn't sign up to get my fingers burned!"

Jimin rolled his eyes, but brought his hands up to his mouth to have a taste nonetheless. It was sweeter than the late autumn potatoes with the red skin, but Jimin had a suspicion that it was slightly too ripe. They tended to taste better the fresher they were out of the ground. Or at least that was what his father had told him.

Taehyung was humming happily next to him, enjoying some mushy potato from off his fingers and licking the expanse of his teeth to get every inch of the flavour. Jimin would admit-- it did taste slightly burnt. It was to be expected, however, when he hadn't taken the time to wrap the poor thing to keep it from catching fire. Taehyung didn't seem to mind, though, and so he didn't either. It made him horribly thirsty, and he had to dicipline himself to not stick his head into Taehyung's bucket of water and take a big gulp.

"That was amazing," Taehyung drawled, his entire being seemingly sedated by the round food. He let Taehyung have the rest of his half as well, watching him inspect the black dots in the skin. "Are you sure these are for eating?"

"Positive," Jimin insisted, wiping Taehyung's mouth to get rid of some potato skin. Taehyung looked good in the darkening room, his hair reflecting the light from the fire.

What Jimin hadn't taken into account, was his father noticing the potato missing. He should have known, because potatoes were rare and it was even rarer still for one to be loitering about on its own. By the time it was morning Jimin was already panicking, assuming his father would hunt him down at any time and demand the food back. Taehyung seemed to notice something was off, because as soon as he saw Jimin, he held out his hand. A big lump of something brown lay inside of it.

"What's that?" Jimin asked, narrowing his eyes on the object.

"I know you're missing our friend, so I made a new one," Taehyung said, beaming at him proudly. Jimin recognized the brown matter alas dried mud, and had to laugh at Taehyung's ingenuity.

When Jimin's father came for them in the evening, Taehyung was already prepared. He pulled the mud lump out of his pocket and shoved it into Jimin's father's face. Jimin stood ashamed but secretly amused right behind Taehyung, watching his father quirk up his eyebrows in concentration.

His father grabbed the ball of clay-mud, inspecting it as Taehyung and Jimin held their breaths.

"What the hell is this?"

"A potato," Taehyung answered, face serious. "To replace the lost potato."

Jimin's father looked between his son and Jimin's new friend. Jimin caught his eye and knew he'd have to take up double the amount of chores for his trouble.

"Nice friend you have," his father said, and Jimin wasn't sure if he was being genuine or not, but it held true for him nonetheless.

"I know."

 

*

 

After the trestle tables were set up in the great hall and the cloths were spread over them, steel knives, silver spoons and cups, dishes for salt and the shallow, and mazers had to be laid out in exact order. Jimin used to tremble when placing everything down, terrified of getting it wrong and earning himself punishment from the senior kitchen supervisor. Depending on the attendance he also had to cut the trencher and ready the washing basins and cloths for pre-meal grooming. Forks were still a novelty, and many preferred the use of 'God's forks', which was another word for fingers, though the King and his family were modern and steered away from what they considered primitive practices.

The prince of the kingdom was about the same age as Jimin and Taehyung, or at least that's what they'd been told. They'd never seen him aside from in the gaudy paintings on the wall, standing next to the King and Queen and looking quite bored. They'd used to make up stories about how he probably had two heads and that was why he was never let outside of the inner quarters, or about how he was deathly allergic to sunlight.

That was why it came as more than a great surprise when they were wrapped up in talking while carrying firewood together one day and they managed to not see the royal cart right in front of their path, colliding with them head on and making their wood scatter like leaves. It took them a while to realize what had happened, but when they did, Taehyung grabbed Jimin's arm and tugged him down onto the ground in a deep bow, hissing at him to lower his eyes.

The cart had halted, the horses pulling it planting their hooves into the hard soil. Jimin remembered never feeling so scared in his life. Thinking that that was it and today he'd be executed, just like his mother had been for spilling a basket of bread when he'd been but a baby.

"What is the meaning of this?" Came a coarse voice from inside the carriage, and Jimin squeezed his eyes shut tighter, grabbing Taehyung's hand and refusing to let go because he didn't want to die feeling this frightened. Taehyung jolted at his touch but squeezed back, both of them staring down at the ground with laboured breathing.

They heard the carriage door open, and Jimin, against his better judgement, looked up to see who it was, earning him a sharp yank by Taehyung who hissed at him to get down again. He'd seen him, though. The prince.

"And who the hell are you, running into me like that?" The prince had dark eyes and even darker hair, clad in junior hunting gear and leather gloves. Jimin only remembered this because the image he'd seen had been imprinted onto the back of his eyelids, and he tried to focus on the elegant bow slung over the prince's shoulder to school his breathing. "Answer me, or I'm calling for my father!"

"We're castle aids, your honour," Taehyung mumbled, and Jimin wondered how he was able to speak while shaking in his boots. Or maybe he wasn't shaking in his boots; maybe that was only Jimin. "Please forgive our reckless ways. It will never happen again."

"You better hope it doesn't," the prince grumbled, seemingly satisfied with the apology until he shuffled his feet and stopped, standing right in front of Jimin. "And you? Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"

He tried to speak but his tongue was stiff and blocking his throat, making him choke instead, attempting not to sputter out nonsense to the prince and also trying not to faint. His eyes almost popped with the effort he put into staring at an insignificant rock on the ground.

"He's foreign," Taehyung lied smoothly, head still bent as far forward as Jimin's was, but his face betraying no signs of fear. Jimin thanked him silently in his head as the prince scoffed and mumbled something to the coachman, feeling the goosebumps all over his body finally settle.

"Get out of here. And take your mess with you."

Jimin didn't have time to think before Taehyung was hauling him up again and shoving firewood into his hands, both of them avoiding the prince's eyes at all costs. He felt the prince's eyes burn into his skull, however, and couldn't help a small glance up at him to see those dark eyes again.

Regret. He regretted doing that. The eyes were empty of amusement, instead sending forth a bout of apathy while looking down on Jimin's struggle with the logs. He held the prince's eyes until Taehyung dragged him away, feeling said eyes follow after them even when they were halfway across the courtyard.

It wasn't until they'd both settled themselves inside of the cot by the lavatories on the floor that Jimin realized he'd peed himself, the warm and wet feeling in his pants turning cold as they stayed rooted against the stone floor. That hadn't happened since he'd been much younger: the result of terrible nightmares.

"Tae," he squeaked, staring at the firewood that they'd dropped onto the ground by the door. "I think I wet myself."

"Christ, you big baby," Taehyung reprimanded, but his voice was laced with concern, his hand reaching up for a cloth on top of the broom rested against the wall beside them. He threw it onto Jimin's crotch. "Maybe if you hadn't stared at the prince for so long your bladder wouldn't have screamed like that."

"Yeah," Jimin agreed, trying his best to let the cloth soak up the dark patch of urine.

Taehyung sighed and began to undo his leather apron, then undid Jimin's cloth one, switching them so that the dark spot on Jimin's pants was covered by the leather apron and Taehyung donned the cloth apron with the barely visible yellow stain. He fretted and huffed about Jimin being too slim to fit the leather apron properly, but gave up in the end and left it hanging loosely around his hips.

"You can't wear that," Jimin said while paling, gesturing towards his soiled apron. He was pretty sure the shame he was feeling by now was the maximum amount of shame anybody could possibly feel ever.

"I need something to protect myself from flying embers, don't I?" Taehyung reasoned, getting up from the floor and fixing the white apron. "Besides, white looks good on me. I never get to wear white because of where I work. Just gets dirty, ya know? So this thing'll be covered in grime before you know it. Nobody will even care of the stain there previously."

Jimin felt his eyes brim with tears, shooting up and throwing himself into Taehyung's arms as he squeezed him tight, ignoring the stench of horse-shit all around them. "Thank you."

"We don't live the most glamourous of lives," Taehyung said as if reading his mind, laughing into Jimin's hair. His hot breath felt comforting, and Jimin's heart rate had almost returned to normal by the time they parted.

 

*

 

Life at the castle became ten times more bearable with Taehyung around. Though he mostly kept to himself in the blacksmith's hut, he did run errands inside the castle every so often, sometimes even being sent for by the King himself. Jimin always admired his rareness and singularity. He himself was only one of many, but Taehyung was a drop of oil in the ocean, never to dissolve into the crowd.

They'd run into each other most often when searching for firewood or eating scraps for dinner after the castle court had had their fill. Taehyung ate like a horse and it made Jimin laugh, he himself letting down his profession by eating most minimally. As time passed, however, Jimin began sneaking Taehyung into the kitchens to give him treats, and likewise Taehyung would give him small gifts of metal that he'd crafted while his father trained him. Little figurines, tiny plates; all sorts of things. He kept them under his pillow at night and pulled them out when he couldn't sleep, mostly to have something pretty to look at despite the dimness of the room. The lone lantern burning in the servants' quarters was barely enough to keep them alive through the cold winters. Taehyung had offered to fetch more candle wax at the tannery or cordwainer's where he visited often, but Jimin hissed that he mustn't because people would ask questions and they would get in trouble. Taehyung never did like to listen, though. He took a lot of offence to Jimin sleeping in the poor conditions he did, and practically commanded him to come sleep in his hut instead, next to the embers of the furnace on some leftover sheep skins from the tannery. Jimin turned him down when he remembered Taehyung's scary father, insisting he'd rather freeze than get in his way.

So, naturally, Taehyung snuck into the kitchen quarters to sleep with him instead. A learned travelling man had once told him that body heat was the best source of warmth, and so he assigned himself the task of keeping Jimin warm while they slept on the hay-covered, stone floor. It had been strange at first -and most terrifying, seeing as they'd both get their hands cut off if they were found out of place for the night and disrupting the peace- but slowly Jimin grew to depend on Taehyung's warmth, finally able to sleep without waking up with blue toes and cracked skin. Taehyung also brought with him some oil to smear over Jimin's lips and knuckles where his thin skin needed moisture the most. The impending winter sucked many a joy and necessity out of everything within the castle walls.

As compensation, Jimin provided herbs for Taehyung's many blisters and cuts and burns, his calloused hands already looking like they'd seen way too many springs to be those of a young boy. Taehyung was insecure about them, but Jimin insisted they were his favourite part about him, as they were so distinctively Taehyung that he'd never be able to forget them. Them and Taehyung's eyes, seeming to follow Jimin wherever he went and always foreboding with a twinkle of mischief.

 

*

 

The night of a particularly bad cut from being grazed by the sharp edge of an iron slab, Taehyung came wheezing into the kitchens, asking to see him. The other workers around there knew of Jimin's friend who was almost always attached at his hip and rolled their eyes before calling for him, the smaller sprinting up with wide eyes.

"Good god," was all he could think of to say, rushing over to Taehyung before hitting him upside the head. "What are you doing moving around?" He yelled, dragging the boy back out where he came from. A few scullery maidens glared at him for causing a scene, but he ignored them and kept walking. "You should have stayed at home! This can get infected!"

Jimin felt like he heard Taehyung mumble something along the lines of, "How was I supposed to know that?" but let Jimin guide him back to his hut nonetheless.

"Where is your father?"

"Town. Trading for some supplies."

"You fool," Jimin hissed, pinching Taehyung's shoulder with his clammy hand. "You probably tried smithing again without him to supervise you, didn't you?" Taehyung rolled his eyes, making Jimin even more irritated. He shoved open the door to Taehyung's hut, moving to sit him down in a chair. "Didn't you?"

"Maybe I did, maybe I didn't," Taehyung hummed, enjoying watching Jimin fret around looking for water as he pulled out some shrivelled up nettles from his pocket and ground them against a clove of garlic. "What in the Hell is that?"

"Your ointment," Jimin explained, briefly smelling the concoction in his hands. He added a few drops of water to his palms to make the consistency more of that of a thick paste.

"Don't tell me you're going to put that shit on my wound."

"It's either this shit or your arm has to be amputated when the wound gets infected," Jimin scolded, very clearly not in a laughing mood. He shoved Taehyung back down into his chair when he tried to get up, placing his fistful of ointment right over the bleeding cut. Taehyung hissed, grabbing Jimin's wrist angrily and squeezing it as he tried to make it through the pain with a straight face.

"Fuck."

Jimin knew it hurt. He knew that right now, right this very second, Taehyung hated him. But he also knew that he didn't care.

"Sit still."

"Easy for you to say; you're not the one being tortured with herbs in an open wound!" Taehyung groaned, pulling at his arm hard enough to send Jimin careening into his lap.

"Please, just a few more seconds," Jimin begged, pressing the ointment into Taehyung's wound for dear life while the latter grew more and more frustrated, a trail of pained tears leaking their way out of his eyes.

"Jimin," he started, and Jimin knew he was about to say something ugly. He was seconds from ripping his hand away and tearing the wound anew, and then it would take twice as long for him to heal, if he ever even got to properly heal.

Swallowing his nerves and thinking only of his best friend, Jimin closed his eyes shut and lurched forward to quieten Taehyung by clashing their lips together, muffling all of the mean words that would have undoubtedly come out to hurt him in only a few seconds. Taehyung was struck into silence, letting Jimin's weight eclipse him and remaining still as they pressed against each other while struggling with Taehyung's arm.

Jimin only pulled back when he couldn't feel the blood drip from the wound anymore, too high on adrenaline to even begin to think about what he had just done. He was panting, his hands shaking as he finally retreated them from Taehyung's, pulling himself off of his body and reaching down his shirt to tear off a strip to use as bandage. The material tore easily, thin enough to wrap around Taehyung's hand without preventing oxygen from aiding the wound to heal. Taehyung was silent while he worked, a world of difference from his whining earlier, but Jimin could only assume it was because of his stupid decision to quieten him.

"There," he breathed shakily as he tied the final knot in the bandage. "You just...just need to not touch that for a few weeks."

Taehyung stared at the bandage, which was already being saturated with blood and excess pus from the ointment. Jimin wanted to say something more, but could only think of retreating from Taehyung's lap, catching his breath as the hut air suddenly seemed all too stuffy. Taehyung's entire face was shiny with sweat and flushed in pink, his eyes droopy but focused all the same. He didn't say anything, and so Jimin took that as his cue to leave, walking backwards until he hit the hut door and slipped out it before Taehyung had the chance to say anything at all.

 

*

 

A few days later and Taehyung showed up in the kitchens again, this time drenched in cold sweat and his face pale as a ghost. Jimin's eyes widened, rushing over to him and waiting for him to explain himself. Taehyung just half-grinned and lifted his arm up, showing a decidedly un-bandaged hand with a yellow, pus-leaking wound, all oily from a gathered residue of soot and dirt infecting the opening.

Jimin, always the bleeding heart and now carrying the seed of betrayal, started crying right in front of Taehyung's face, his nose running as he considered the possibility of Taehyung biting it because of pure irresponsibility.

"Do you want to die?" He shrieked, pressing fat tears away from the brim of his eyes.

"No," Taehyung assured him, his face calm despite the state of him. Jimin had never seen anyone look so serene while sporting a fever and obvious symptoms of weakening muscles. This was how it started for everyone; the people who didn't make it through the winter because they didn't have to means to attain simple health aids for survival.

"Then why did you take the bandage off?" He pressed, cradling Taehyung's mauled hand in his own. This time he was the one crying, which was odd as he wasn't the one possibly in need of amputation. He scoured his mind for any ideas on how to treat an infected wound, unable to come up with anything other than a saw to stop the infection from spreading and becoming fatal.

"I liked the kiss," Taehyung said, voice stronger and more certain than someone in his situation should have solicited. He said it with a straight face, dead-serious and stubborn as if challenging Jimin to call him crazy. "It really helped me with my arm."

"You fucked up your hand so that I would kiss you again?" Jimin sobbed, distraught. The tiniest, most miniscule part of him almost felt a little flattered, but it was quickly drowned out by the sharp groan Taehyung emitted as his index finger started twitching uncontrollably.

"...no."

"You're ridiculous," Jimin squeaked, yanking Taehyung down the castle halls with as much haste as he could manage without hurting his arm further. Taehyung followed obediently behind him, remaining silent as Jimin half cried and half stomped angrily down the halls while losing all forms of orientation as he searched for the infirmary. The commoners and anyone who wasn't a part of the royal court were not allowed to use the infirmary, but Jimin knew that if he didn't get there and get access to proper disinfection and bandages, Taehyung would be as good as gone. He also knew Taehyung would probably rather die before having his hand amputated. It came with the trade.

They found the infirmary at last, a small chamber in the East side of the castle by the dungeons, a poor place to hold such a thing as Jimin assumed the cold and damp environment didn't do many favours to the ailing patients. Vials of liquids and jars of body organs lined the shelves all around the room, a few tools made of copper hanging on the walls and a small table standing by a chair making up most of the interior. He forgot about Taehyung for a second and focused on searching for rubbing alcohol, his hands shaky as he skimmed the bottles on the shelves and pulled the stoppers out to smell them. There were many scents in them, everything from rosewater to wine, and Jimin felt himself paling at the thought of not being able to find what he was searching for in time. If only he personally knew an apothecary.

"What are you doing in here?" Came a stern voice behind them, startling Jimin so bad that he dropped a bottle and heard it shatter on the floor. He spun around only to see the prince himself standing in the open doorway, wearing his hunting gear again and looking much less than pleased. He scrambled to find his legs, sinking down on his knees shakily and bowing deeply in surrender.

"Y-your Grace, please forgive us," he begged, waiting for Taehyung to do the same, but hearing no movement on his part. "We-- my friend is injured, and I didn't know what else to do other than bring him here. We do not have the proper supplies in the kitchen--"

"You're from the kitchen? You mean to tell me that this bloody mess--" he gestured to Taehyung, "--has been near my food?"

Jimin looked up and saw the prince stare in disgust at Taehyung, and Taehyung, of all things, was glaring right back at him, like he was equally disgusted. Jimin didn't understand the lack of remorse on Taehyung's part, now having to fear that the prince might have him killed for his insolence if not for their trespassing.

"H-he's not from the kitchens, your Grace," Jimin supplied quickly, hoping to break their unwavering eye-contact. "He's the son of the blacksmith."

The prince's eyes averted to him, then to the mess Jimin had made of the flask on the ground. He heard the prince's footsteps coming closer before he saw it, and backed up instinctively as he was made to be cornered up against the shelves. Before the prince could reach him, however, Taehyung was in front of him, his taller frame almost eclipsing Jimin from view entirely.

"It's my fault," Taehyung said sternly, and Jimin wanted to protest, but Taehyung's hand came up to cover his mouth.

"Oh, I don't doubt it is," the prince spat, but then he softened slightly as he heard Jimin beginning to cry, Jimin unable to stop himself from hyperventilating any longer. He sank to the floor, trembling, crawling his way to the prince's feet and leaning his forehead down on them.

"Please, y-your Majesty," he managed to croak out, wiping his wet face on his sleeve to keep from looking too disgusting. Taehyung attempted to pull him up but he refused him, staying on the ground. "He needs urgent care or he will have to amputate. His fever is already high, and the infirmary is the only place with adequate medicine to aid him. Please, I beg of you."

The prince seemed to muse over his words, looking between the two of them and crossing his arms. Taehyung was still standing upright, and Jimin wanted to hit him and tell him to kneel, but he couldn't because he might hurt him more than he already was.

"I suppose our infirmary is quite equipped, yes. What were you searching for?"

Jimin allowed himself a deep breath. "Rubbing alcohol."

"You mean this?" The prince asked as he casually lifted up a small vial of tan liquid from a shelf right next to the one Jimin had been searching. He shook it slightly, the golden liquid inside dancing in the dim light from the high window.

"Yes."

"Well, here you go," the prince said. He threw the vial to Jimin, who caught it frantically before it dropped to the ground. He looked up at the prince questioningly, wondering if it was some kind of trick.

"I can have it, your Grace?"

"Well, who would I be if I let my disciples suffer?" The prince insisted, casting a quick glance in Taehyung's direction. "Heal him, since you wanted to so bad."

Jimin didn't waste another second after gaining permission, pulling himself up from the ground and grabbing for Taehyung's arm. The wound looked just as infected as before, and Jimin decided to just pour the entire bottle of alcohol on it before the prince had a chance to change his mind. Taehyung hissed, instinctively jerking his hand out and hitting Jimin in the face. Jimin could feel his lip begin to bleed and swell, but he didn't care.

Before he knew it, however, another hand had come to grab Taehyung's, restraining him as he yelled in protest. He could barely process the fact that it was the prince before a roll of bandages was shoved into his hands and he was halfway through wrapping up Taehyung's hand in it, tightening it a tad bit extra than last time to prevent Taehyung from ruining himself again. When he was finally done he breathed a sigh of relief, bending over and gasping while holding Taehyung's hand and resting against his chest.

"Thank you," he murmured, eyes finding the prince standing quiet behind them. "Thank you. Thank you." The prince just shrugged, placing the empty rubbing alcohol vial back in its spot and glancing around the room once quickly.

"You're done in here now, correct?" Jimin nodded, hoping his face wasn't too sweaty. He completely forgot he was supposed to look presentable for royals. "Then you can leave."

"Right away," Jimin agreed, pulling Taehyung with him out of the door and sprinting down the dungeons before the prince had a chance to change his mind.

 

*

 

A few days later Jimin heard of a healer being sent to Taehyung's hut to have his bandages changed, and he ran up to watch the woman bare the wound, which was two times better looking than before, and then wrap it anew with brown bandages, her fingers working skillfully and quickly. Him and Taehyung shared solemn smiles as the idea of Taehyung amputating fled further and further away from them.

He thanked the prince that night in his prayers and decided to do so every night from then on for saving his best friend's life.

 

*

 

Among all the people cleaning themselves on a Sunday, Jimin spotted Taehyung in the corner of the pen where the hay was laid, shuffling around various buckets of water and kicking away sheep. His upper body was unclothed, revealing strong arms and smooth, tanned skin, his complexion having changed a lot since winter. He'd gained more muscle over the years too, his arms developing in line with his future profession despite his young age. His breeches were sitting low on his hips, feeding into his rather muddy leather boots.

"Jimin," Taehyung acknowledged when he saw him approach, setting the last bucket down and shaking his hair to rid himself of flies. "Come to bless yourself for Sunday?"

"If it weren't mandatory, I'd skip it this time," Jimin mumbled, wondering how Taehyung wasn't covered in goosebumps because of the murky weather. It had been a terrible spring, making bathing and cleaning a real chore.

"Father would have my head if I so much as tried," Taehyung chortled, folding his shirt and laying it over the brick wall behind the sheep. The animal smells were almost bearable that day however, as the soap cylinders had arrived in a small stack already, made up of enough animal fat and plant ashes to get rid of the grime even behind their ears. The royal family had sponsored them with more than they did last year.

The water in the buckets was cold, and the only thing that distracted Jimin properly from that fact as he dipped his arms in them was the sight of Taehyung's completely healed wound, now only a dark line up the flat of his hand. Taehyung seemed to have forgotten all about it, grabbing for a bucket and dousing it over himself in one go, coughing as some of it entered his mouth.

"Shit. Pass me the soap."

Jimin handed him a cylinder, and Taehyung grabbed it from him, poking it all around his body with much clumsiness. Jimin laughed, pulling the soap from him.

"That's not how you do it."

"How do you do it then?"

He grinned, kicking his boots off and pulling off his clothes, his pants only just managing to avoid the dirt at his feet. Lathering the bar of soap, Jimin began at his legs and traced it up his skin, letting his hands scrub himself as he did so. He told Taehyung to lift a bucket of water and douse him, and he did just that, the water shining down Jimin's skin as he lathered himself all up with the soap stick. It felt so good, caressing himself to cleanliness. His body had been sore and achy since he'd baked a hundred loaves of bread for a royal feast and his skin had begun to smell of smoked pig.

He bent over to get his toes, then moved to run his hands down his hips and backside, groaning at he passed sore muscles with his wet and soapy hands. Coming to his back, he realized his short arms wouldn't do much of a good job in reaching it, and held his bar of soap out to Taehyung, who he assumed was still standing behind him.

"Can you get my back for me?"

Taehyung was quiet enough for Jimin to wonder if he was still standing there, and he moved to turn around before he was stopped by Taehyung's hand on his shoulder.

"Don't turn." Despite the weird request, Jimin remained looking at the castle walls, hearing Taehyung remove his pants behind him.

"Hey, don't use my soap," Jimin warned him, crossing his arms as he waited for Taehyung to help him, but was met with Taehyung's cold hand splayed over his spine before he got to kick him. The hand was big and comforting, slipping slowly down his skin with careful intent, as if asking for permission. He bent over slightly, letting his head hang as Taehyung's fingers moved up to his shoulderblades.

Then the hand was gone almost as quickly as it came, leaving Jimin to open his eyes slowly as he tried to listen for Taehyung around him. Instead he heard a few of the stall boys laughing, pointing behind him and making all sorts of weird gestures at him. Puzzled, Jimin turned around to face Taehyung, who was no longer facing him, instead angrily turned to the other side while hunched over the fence, his ears red with heat.

"Tae? Are you okay?"

That seemed to be the wrong question to ask entirely, because Taehyung shot up with such a haste that Jimin almost fell backwards into the mud, grasping at the wooden pens as his best friend rushed away from everyone, taking a turn down by the gates to the small path leading to the river.

Upset and worried, Jimin followed him, paying no mind to his lack of clothes or everyone laughing behind him as he ran to catch up with Taehyung. The twigs and stones hurt his feet, so he could only imagine the crazy excuse Taehyung would give him for storming off in that direction. The water was beginning to dry on his skin and he pouted at the idea of needing to douse himself with another bucket of water to get rid of the soap.

He found said boy crouched by the river bank, head lulled forward almost pensively. There was a looming smell of dead animal carcass from upriver, and Jimin shuddered as he remembered exactly what was discarded into said body of water from the castle every day. A practice he had to partake in at times.

"Leave," Taehyung hissed at him, not so much as sparing him a glance. The word pierced Jimin's gut like an arrow, never having gotten the brunt of Taehyung's harsh mouth before and never having anticipated he would either.

"D-Did I do something wrong?" Jimin stuttered, dread settling deep in his gut where the arrow had struck from the upfront rejection.

"Just leave."

"Taehyung, please--"

His words seemed to finally spring the other boy into action, Taehyung jerking up and spinning around in a flurry. His eyes were blown but stern, piercing Jimin's with an intense glance. He could feel himself paralyze to the rooted and muddy ground.

"Can't you see I'm struck by shame?" Taehyung started. His hair was wet from the water still and glued to his forehead, making for an oddly unfamiliar conversation between them. It was odd for Taehyung to not be warm and confident, too. "Don't let me endure this pain, please..."

"Shame? For what?" Jimin asked, his chest tightening. Had he missed something? He was well aware of his naivety and ignorance, but managing to miss a moment of time which had such a profound effect on his best friend was almost unforgivable.

The next moment Taehyung gestured down his chest with his eyes, making Jimin's follow his until they landed on Taehyung's groin, where his length was standing stiff and proud right out horizontally from his loins. It was red and looked painful, but Taehyung cut him off before he could analyze it any further.

"It's your fault."

"I'm sorry..." Jimin supplied unhelpfully. He couldn't stand the idea of Taehyung being mad at him, and wished he knew how to make a stiff phallus die down. It had only happened to him once or twice while in the depths of sleep, and he couldn't remember much of trying to solve the mystery.

An idea came to him, however, when he reminisced back to his earliest years in the castle, and he walked over to Taehyung confidently before sinking down on the ground right in front of him, faced with the erection. He saw Taehyung retreat, but grabbed his thigh, assuring him it was okay. The dirt was soft at his knees from the earlier showers of rain.

"One of the handmaidens...I-I saw her do this to my father one night when he thought I was sleeping. May I...?"

He bit his lip and wrapped a few fingers around Taehyung's stiff cock, putting pressure on it ever so slightly. He stopped when his friend hissed, worried he'd hurt him. It didn't take long, however, before Taehyung's hips started bucking up, chasing the friction of Jimin's hand, almost like a magnet. Taehyung was so warm in his hand, and Jimin's entire body was enveloped by heat as he stared up at Taehyung's concentrated expression.

"Shit," Taehyung hissed. His face was all scrunched up and sweaty, and Jimin felt oddly proud of himself for being able to appease him so well. He took the opportunity of Taehyung's momentary surprise to stick his tongue out to lick at the wet tip. "Shit-- God."

Jimin could almost hear his father mumbling something about never using the Lord's name in vain, but brushed off that thought in favour of focusing on the task at hand. Taehyung pulsed against his lips and he parted them slightly, urging the engorged head in-between them. A stern hand reached down to grasp his hair, but the look on Taehyung's face told him he was no less than wrecked. He had to be doing something right. Taehyung's breathing had never been so deep; so harsh. It was like he was breathing with his entire being and not just his lungs. The itchy grass pressed into Jimin's naked knees, but he tried to focus on the texture of Taehyung's length instead, sucking eagerly around the girth.

"Holy fuck."

Jimin almost smiled around Taehyung, the almost-praise going straight to his heart. He wanted Taehyung to feel so good, as good if not even more so than he made Jimin feel every time he laughed until he cried. He wanted to do that for him.

A stiff hand shoving at his neck brought him back to his senses, the warm length in his mouth slipping out with a belated, wet suction noise. Taehyung was staring down at him almost looking angry because his face was so red, but Jimin could feel him trembling and struggling to stay standing. Jimin smiled shyly up at him, nuzzling his cheek into the dip right by Taehyung's hip. He'd never felt such a closeness before, and it was almost magical. Taehyung groaned, stroking himself a few times before reaching down and hauling Jimin up on his two feet, holding them impossibly close to each other. They'd slept like that together a lot, close and heated, but not like this. Not naked, not panting and sweating. Not so dizzy and needy. Not chasing pleasure.

"You'll be the death of me," Taehyung whispered, his hands already desperately touching all of Jimin that they could. Jimin had felt himself grow hard too, his much smaller than Taehyung's and resting flat against his balls. Each time Taehyung's fingers passed by a sensitive spot on Jimin's skin he could feel his length tingling and tightening, stuck in between his and Taehyung's stomachs as if the design of a cruel joke.

Luckily, Taehyung's tongue was there to soothe any frustration he might have, dipping deep into his mouth and playing with his own as his hands went exploring; forging new paths and etching maps all on their own across a land never traversed. Jimin had to gasp for air, clutching desperately at Taehyung's shoulders as they melted together, either his or Taehyung's hand wrapping around both of their lengths in a moment of mutual bliss before squeezing hard to make them both moan. The sounds of the river died in the distance and Jimin thought he'd never felt something as soft as Taehyung's tongue. Perhaps his lips, but they were harsher now, nipping at his skin and kissing up his jaw like he wanted to devour him.

"I've seen...well, may I try something too?" Taehyung asked, retreating from Jimin's face enough to be able to gauge his reaction and pant for air, but keeping his hands cupping his cheeks. Jimin blinked half-liddedly, though he nodded without putting much thought into it, letting Taehyung turn him around and walk the both of them into the cold water. Each step made the water swallow them up more, and though the water was clean enough, he couldn't see the bottom. Or maybe he was too busy whining and panting for release to pay attention "For lubrication," Taehyung explained, rubbing up against him as the soapy residue still coating them flourished in the water. They were slipping and sliding against each other before long, suds and water covering their bodies. Taehyung groped his thighs eagerly and dipped his fingers into every crease and plump of his flesh. Jimin rested his head back on Taehyung's shoulder, his breath catching as he felt Taehyung's cock poke him from behind. "Just keep your legs together..." He murmured, squeezing his ass cheeks before fisting his length a few times and then lining it behind his upper thighs.

Jimin gasped as Taehyung's cock slipped through the gap between his thighs, the cold water making the slide seamless and quick, leading Taehyung to do it once more, making sure to hold Jimin close all the while. Jimin wasn't sure whether the goosebumps on his skin were from the cold or from Taehyung's ministrations, but he wasn't sure he cared much either.

"Taehyung?" He questioned, not sure what he was attempting to do with his thighs.

"Fuck, that feels so good," Taehyung responded with, his head now resting on Jimin's shoulders instead, like he was some weary traveller dropped into a tavern to sleep through pleasure. Taehyung was so hot and hard, and the friction was slightly chafing but not enough for Jimin to ask him to stop. Especially not when the top of his cock kept grazing the underside of Jimin's balls, making his skin tingle.

He reached down to touch his own length, squeezing around it experimentally and crying out at the sharp pleasure it brought him. Taehyung closed his hand around his, moving Jimin up and down his length with a tight grip that Jimin had been lacking. Taehyung's cock brushed by his balls as he rutted into him, and their combined effort made messes of them, leading them to resort to kissing to keep from releasing all sorts of undignified noises. There was still the risk of someone coming looking for them and finding them like this, or hearing them from the fort. Jimin tried to forget about this as he closed his eyes and whined into Taehyung's mouth, feeling his legs tremble as his arm tired and slipped away from his length, leaving Taehyung to stroke him and thrust his own length between his thighs all on his own.

"Fuck, Jimin," Taehyung hissed, and at those words Jimin saw white, his mind decomposing into a useless mush as he spent his muscles while trying to survive the most intense spike of pleasure he'd ever felt. His toes curled into the sand, his teeth biting down on Taehyung's bottom lip, and in no time at all his best friend was groaning too, spilling warm globs of white down Jimin's thighs right next to Jimin's own mess.

He'd never felt so sinful, lulled in the feeling of both of their release soiling his lower body. It felt more sinful than when he'd stolen a piece of the chicken roast dinner to try for himself. Worse than sticking a silver utensil into his mouth to try tasting luxury. Worse than smearing faith.

"You were so good. That was so good," Taehyung praised behind him, arms still wrapped around his body and his head rested on his shoulder. He planted a few open-mouthed kisses down Jimin's wet neck, nuzzling into him gently and touching his soft cock experimentally. Jimin squirmed with a disapproving whimper at the sensitivity, only to be met with Taehyung's deep laugh, which he felt like he hadn't heard in a hundred years.

He felt so good.

 

*

 

Jimin ran into the most unsuspected guest in his sleeping chambers one evening when he had headed to turn in early, gasping as he saw the black breeches and silk shirt. This was more than he'd seen of the royal family for the duration of his entire life.

"Your Highness," he murmured, bowing deeply and refusing to meet his eyes despite the prince's silent insistence, for some reason hoping nobody would be heading back to sleep soon and find them there.

"Call me Jungkook," the prince said. Jimin's eyes widened, and he found himself automatically shaking his head.

"I cannot, your Grace. It would be most improper of me."

"As you wish," Jungkook almost laughed, and Jimin saw him smiling for the first time, a rather warm and inviting smile for someone of his standing. "How is your friend doing?"

"Better-- tremendously well. I'm caring for him."

"I'm glad to hear." Silence fell over them, and Jimin looked around, cursing himself for not having anything to offer the future king of the kingdom. He should be out in the gardens getting carrots and dirtying his hands with everyone else, and Jungkook should be eating off of silver plates and drinking from shiny goblets.

"You know, as a result of the military nature of our times, the noble household composition is predominantly male. However, I must say it delights me that you bring such a feminine touch to my presence. I couldn't ask for a finer page boy."

Jimin blushed, wondering if it was his need to care for others or his air headed nature that caused the prince to think of him in such a way. The prince barely even knew him, but he must have asked around.

"Your majesty, I am a mere part of the procuration of food," Jimin insisted, feeling page boy to be a regard slightly above him.

"Do you work for the pantry or buttery?"

"Neither...I assist my father in whatever needs assistance."

"So somewhat of a squire of the kitchen?" The prince pried, and Jimin shrugged.

"I suppose I could be considered a page boy."

This made the prince smile, and Jimin returned it with slight difficulty to not seem rude, though he wasn't too sure why the prince was so happy about his newly decided title. The prince, however, just looked around the room, surveying the sleeping arrangements and dingy decor. Jimin flushed, not sure what the prince was even doing there, still standing there and talking to him. Surrounding himself with filth.

"Is this where you sleep? A friend of yours from the kitchen told me so."

"It is, your Grace," Jimin confirmed, not sure he wanted to admit to that. It only furthered the segregation between him and Jungkook. Not that that should bother him, but acts of kindness usually made him want to grow closer to a person, and that wasn't a possibility in this case. Plus, he still had his pride.

"I'll have my father ask a handmaiden bring you a mat to sleep on. And some quilts for your friends. I wasn't aware of the state of these quarters. It's shameful."

Jimin felt his eyes widen, bringing his hands up to his lips to prevent his jaw from dropping wide open. The prince looked even more radiant now, standing there all straight and proper. Jimin could only bow with a hand on his heart. Never in a million years had Jimin dreamed the prince of all people would be talking to him, much less granting him favours and being so kind. The fables of kind kings all made more sense now, as Jimin had presumed them all to be lies before. Propaganda and hearsay.

"Thank you. Gods be good, bless your kindness."

"No need to bless me," the prince waved him off with, stepping ever so slightly closer to Jimin. "I'm just doing my duty. Father told me to keep an eye out on the state of the castle anyways."

It was only then that Jimin remembered the prince was around the same age as him and Taehyung, if not slightly younger. It was odd, bowing for someone like that, but the prince's fine cloths and jewellry reminded Jimin just why it was so. Had they lived another life, perhaps Jungkook would have played with them in the pig pens or run around in the woods pretending to be nobles on their days off. Perhaps they'd already know each other and be coming up with silly nicknames to use when they wanted to annoy one another.

"I am eternally grateful, your Grace," he whispered, taking the prince's hand into both of his own and leaning down to kiss his house sigil ring. "For everything."

"For nothing," the prince brushed him off with, waving his hand dismissively. "It is only common courtesy. The least I could do."

"Even so," Jimin insisted, allowing himself a hopeful smile. Jungkook returned it, leaving him there with a short bow of acknowledgement.

 

*

 

"What are you smiling about?" Taehyung asked when Jimin came to see him work while his father was out collecting metal. Taehyung had been scrubbing the floor for three hours, his face impossibly dirty with soot and his teeth catching a smudge of gray.

Jimin just shrugged, helping Taehyung tidy the firewood stack and blowing into the fire to keep it going. The fire was usually so strong, but it was wilting that afternoon. Taehyung squinted at him before he poked him in the side to make him talk. Jimin giggled, slapping his fingers away.

"Stop it!"

"Alright. But then talk, fancy pants."

He paused, wondering if it would be improper to gush and get giddy. But all he could think about was the promised new bedsheets and quilts. He had barely been able to think about anything else. That and the prince's kindness.

"The prince came to see me earlier," Jimin murmured, smiling to Taehyung from where he was dusting off the furnace. He couldn't help but glow, and Taehyung raised his eyebrows. "He asked about you. Then he told me he'd provide our quarters with mats and quilts!"

Taehyung looked sceptical, halting his incessant rubbing of the floor. He wiped his forehead tiredly, sighing. "No strings attached?" Jimin nodded eagerly, waiting for Taehyung to share his happiness. Taehyung came with another opinion entirely. "Come on, Jimin. He's only visiting you because he's considering selling you to the pleasure house," he said instead, throwing his brush into the grimy bucket of water. Jimin watched it plop in with wide eyes, not believing his ears. "That's what happens to people with a body and face like yours."

It was his turn to frown then, sitting up straight and knotting his eyebrows. "Why would you say that? Can't you just be happy for me?"

"I am. I'm just worried."

"He saved your life, Taehyung. And now he's saving mine."

"Is he?" Taehyung asked rhetorically, and Jimin thought he heard a silent thought of 'didn't I save it?' "Tell me that again when you're dragged off in the middle of the night and forced to wear lace robes by lecherous men."

Jimin, disheartened and caught between being annoyed with Taehyung and believing him, sank his head in disappointment. Taehyung seemed too preoccupied with dusting the floor to catch this, and Jimin decided to stay quiet until he finished his task at hand.

Later that night, when all the gossip and talks were abound in their quarters and the hour of professionalism was gone, a maiden named Tiffany listened to his worries at midnight and told him about how, almost ten years ago, Taehyung's mother had met the exact fate that he'd described for Jimin. That without a warning and without compensation she had been dragged away at night to work as a whore in town, the King deeming her of no use to the castle establishment and therefore expendable. This revelation hurt, but explained Taehyung's behaviour ever so slightly, and Jimin fell asleep with a nauseous ease brewing in his stomach, fighting off dreams about lecherous men, kidnappings, and the cries of a dying woman.

 

*

 

The prince continued to surprise him. A few days after the offer of comfort for his sleeping quarters, the prince showed up at the blacksmith hut wearing almost common clothes, asking for a smallsword to be made for his new interest in the pastime of duelling.

Taehyung had greeted him with a miffed expression, only have his father invite the prince inside with a quivering voice and a promise to make him the best sword the kingdom had ever seen. Taehyung had only told Jimin this when he'd called for him while watching his father level out heated metal on the anvil. The hut was extra hot that day, and Jimin and Taehyung sat together while the prince surveyed Taehyung's father's work carefully, as if ready to jump in were he to do anything wrong. Jimin and Taehyung frequently exchanged glances, but Jimin was mostly happy that he hadn't been ordered to return to the kitchens yet.

The prince threw a silver coin next to Taehyung's father, startling all three of them. Jimin had never seen coins, but it was shiny and had an engraving on it just like Taehyung had told him once.

"Make a second one too, please. I shall need a partner to practice with. I'll use one of your boys, if you don't mind."

Taehyung and Jimin's jaws dropped, and they both stared at each other when hearing the news, wondering which one of them the prince would pick. It was more engaging now, watching the smithing. Suddenly there were two blades stretched out in the fire instead of one, and Taehyung's father was using his best iron. To think that one of them would be holding something so costly soon was unreal. Jimin wondered how badly Taehyung wanted it to be him. He knew Taehyung loved swords and talked of armies and soldiers and fighting all the time, but in the same thought he wondered himself what it would feel like to hold a sword like that; something so magnificent. It would definitely be something else than holding his spatulas and broom. Something else than the silver cutlery.

The swords weren't finished until late into the night, but the prince stayed nonetheless, eating the offered drink and supper from Taehyung's hands. He hadn't seemed to tire even a little bit while watching the old man work, and only grinned wider when everything was finished and he got to hold the sword for the first time. The light of the fire shone down the length of it, making it gleam in all its glory, the sword looking like a perfect fit in the prince's hand.

"I like it," the prince said with a grin, giving it a practice wave. It stopped short of cutting the laces off of Taehyung's boots, and this only made the prince grin wider. "Taehyung, is it?" He asked, pointing the sword straight at him.

"Yes, your Grace," Taehyung said with a delayed gulp, bowing from where he sat on the stone ledge.

The prince smiled, handing him the sword, and Taehyung's eyes almost popped out with the novelty of the gesture. He grasped the handle firmly, his strong arms coming into play as he showed no trouble wielding it and no trouble moving it around. The prince looked pleased with himself, eyeing the flashing metal object that Taehyung had begun swinging around happily.

"I shall need you to practice so that you can face me in duels. Do you think you could do that?"

Taehyung nodded eagerly, bowing his head lower than he had before. Jimin stared at them, his eyes finding a resting spot on Taehyung's leather boots. The prince reached his hand out in offering, and Taehyung glanced at it in bewilderment before he had the wits to take it, shaking him steadily. The prince then moved to Jimin and extended his hand to him as well, Jimin taking it rapidly so as to not seem rude, though the prince didn't shake his, but rather leaned down to plant a brief kiss on it.

"I'd love for you to be the scorekeeper."

"O-of course, your Grace," Jimin was only able to barely whisper.

"Good. So that's settled, then," the prince chuckled to himself, taking his own sword in hand and glancing down the blade. "This should be fun."

Jimin and Taehyung didn't even have to look at each other to confirm that yes, this would be fun.

 

*

 

The only person who seemed unhappy about Taehyung wielding a sword of his own was his father, and Jimin could partly understand why. Busy practicing at the prince's command and swinging his sword at all things standing, Taehyung wasn't often seen in his hut anymore, but rather out in the courtyard, hacking at a straw target and making Jimin laugh as he cut apples off of trees. Taehyung seemed so much more free with a sword at his side, and Jimin only wondered if he'd end up accidentally stabbing himself with it sometime. Or anyone living and breathing, really. Taehyung always was too eager.

"Just wait and see-- when I face the prince I'll show him just who he's messing with!" Jimin bit his lip in a nervous gesture, following Taehyung's aim at a sack of potatoes outside of the kitchens by the river where they threw the leftovers. The potato sack gave in to the slash, splitting open and spilling out lots of little lumps. They didn't deserve that. "He probably thinks I'll be an easy target because I'm poor and haven't had any lessons like he probably has, but no Sir! That's where he's wrong. I've been watching the squires since they got their wooden swords, haven't I, Jimin?" Jimin jolted when he realized Taehyung was talking to him again, nodding appeasingly. "And my father has made so many swords. I know them all like the back of my hand. Weapons are my specialty."

"I...maybe you shouldn't go too hard on the prince," Jimin suggested, watching Taehyung hack up the remaining potatoes. His father would kill him if he figured out where they'd disappeared to.

"You scared I'll lose?" Taehyung teased.

"No, I'm scared he'll have your head. Like his cousin had that boy killed for looking at him wrong." Jimin reminisced back to the least liked member of the royal family: the prince's cousin, Yoongi. He didn't have much of a title but he was a noble and he had a lot of influence, his upturned and haughty nose never able to simply pass by a transgression. Though Jungkook hadn't seemed like he would be alike him at all, the royals never were known to be the nicest.

"You mean Grumpy Yoongi?" Taehyung laughed, but Jimin hushed him.

"Don't say that!" He yelped, looking around himself to make sure nobody had heard. Yoongi always seemed to have eyes and ears everywhere, and if he got wind of someone using that nickname again there'd more than likely be hell to pay.

"What, afraid he's hiding in that sack of potatoes?" Taehyung snorted, stabbing it again with his thin sword. "And thus you die, hypocritical villain!"

He had no idea why Taehyung was suddenly so onboard with everything when mere days earlier he had warned Jimin of abduction and sexual abuse, but he didn't think he liked it. Not that he was jealous, he was just...well, it felt wrong.

"We never know what kind of person Jungkook will turn out to be," Jimin insisted, grabbing Taehyung's hand and stopping him from completely mauling the sack of potatoes with piercing stabs.

"Jungkook?" Taehyung questioned, turning around with a miffed expression. His smile faltered.

"The prince," Jimin clarified.

"Ah, so you two are on a first name basis, then?" Taehyung pried, his eyes cautious.

"N-No, I was just--"

"Don't worry, it's fine. He'll know my name soon enough. He'll be begging it while he yields with his sword in the dirt!"

Jimin sighed, but was happy Taehyung was so energetic nonetheless. He had seemed to have lost his spark a little a few weeks ago. They finished up the task of throwing out the expired food by throwing them into the river, Taehyung hacking them well and good to pieces first before sending them on their way.

 

*

 

Jimin could always count on Taehyung to suggest they do something utterly reckless. Taehyung preferred to call it 'exciting', but it wasn't always that exciting when one of them ended up in deep trouble or had to go explain things to their fathers before they got a whipping. However, Taehyung insisted that this time would be different. He had a sword now, and he'd grown a grape or two taller. Plus, they were only going into the forest, and there were never any people in there. The only thing they had to worry about was wolves, but Taehyung insisted his father had told him they'd all died out in their part of the hemisphere. Something about too little grass for their prey to feed on to sustain the food chain.

"Pack some food from the kitchens," Taehyung instructed, busy sharpening his blade with a rock. He looked so at-ease with a sword, it was almost mesmerizing. He supposed Taehyung had a special relationship to metal seeing as he worked with it day in and day out, but he'd had dozens less accidents with it than what Jimin had predicted. "And wear your boots. We'll be trekking for quite a while, and you always get so dirty."

"Can I bring Osmund?" Jimin asked, glancing back at the lonely goat he'd been put in charge of that week to gather milk. It was the runt of the litter and he was never able to make it far before a mean-spirited brother came to head-butt him into the ground. His ear had already been chewed off.

Taehyung sighed. Clearly Osmund wasn't the kind of companion he envisioned bringing on their journey, but it was also clear that he could never deny Jimin anything. All Jimin had to do was pout. Pout and whine.

"Do we have to?" Taehyung groaned, though he already knew the answer. And the outcome.

"He won't slow us down, I promise!"

Taehyung cast one last glance back at Osmund, seeing his oblong head chew on grass and staring straight at a wall, then shrugged his shoulders in defeat, sheathing his sword again. If he got to pick the activity then it was only fair for Jimin to choose their adventure troupe.

"Who's Osmund?"

Taehyung whipped around to see the prince standing right behind them, a knowing smile on his face while he straightened out his velvet cape. It used to catch him off guard when the prince shadowed behind them, but it had happened enough at that point for him to not jump at the sight. He looked fancy today, at least more so than he had in his hunting gear. He was wearing a blue cape off his shoulders and everything. Jimin dropped the bucket of milk he'd been holding as he was startled from his ease. "Are you preparing for something?"

"A small trip, your Grace," Taehyung explained, wary of the prince's connections and not being able to fully trust him just yet. Who wouldn't report two commoner boys leaving their posts and almost making a mockery of hunting culture?

"May I join you?"

Taehyung lifted an eyebrow as he roped together two pheasants to bring for their dinner, slinging them over his shoulder. The prince being near them could only be catastrophic.

"It's dirty business, your Grace. Wouldn't want your pretty boots soiled."

"You overestimate my desire to stay clean," the prince insisted, reaching up to his shoulders and undoing the velvet cape, letting it fall to the muddy ground. Taehyung stared at it, but Jimin was quick to speak up.

"If you don't mind Osmund coming along with us, I don't see why not. Right, Tae?"

The prince smiled, but Taehyung narrowed his eyes. "And what if they send out a search party for you when they see you're missing?"

"Father is busy planning war tactics and anyone else who would miss me have grown tired if me since I had a beautiful princess promised to me on my name day."

Taehyung and Jimin exchanged glances, but it wasn't as if the decision was theirs to make. In the end, Jungkook was the crown-prince. Jungkook's wishes moved mountains and destroyed kingdoms, while Taehyung and Jimin's worked a mill.

"Alright," Taehyung agreed. "The more hands we have the more we can carry anyways."

Jungkook beamed at them and Jimin beamed back, calling for Osmund and luring him over with some grass. Taehyung kept at his task of strapping up the meat, ignoring the stares they were getting as people who worked for the castle began to wonder what the prince was doing in the flea-infested, shit-hole area of the courtyard.

They set out when the sun was in the middle of the sky, trekking north and gradually slipping into a fold of tall trees, following the trail until they hit a well and had to continue with no path. The forest was calm at that time of day. Sun was still piercing through the branches above and the ground was littered with barn needles, making it soft and springy to step on. The atmosphere was humid from the rains a few days ago, and Taehyung's cough worsened slightly as the hours passed. Osmund was the most sturdy out of all of them, prancing ahead and eating leaves off of low-hanging branches.

"Are you planning on hunting?" Jungkook asked when he spotted a rabbit sprint across an open field, birds cawing in the distance.

"Hunting?" Taehyung snorted, but Jungkook wasn't sure why it was so funny. "Yeah, right after we wipe our asses with golden cloths."

"Do you people not hunt?" Jungkook asked, raising an eyebrow. He hadn't thought about how harsh that might have sounded until Taehyung raised an eyebrow back at him.

"You people?"

"You know..." Jungkook started, a flush rising up his neck and decorating his cheeks. Jimin giggled at them from the side, busy picking out a stick good enough to be his walking companion.

"The savage commoners?" Taehyung offered, but he was still smiling. "Not for fun, no. Not ever, really, since Jimin doesn't like it."

Jungkook turned to glance at Jimin, who wasn't paying much attention to them, but rather poked everything with the stick that was on his path. His hair was crowned in a halo of light from the setting sun, and Jungkook could have sworn it was made of gold.

They settled down in a small gathering of young trees to start their fire, Jimin getting right to spearing the pheasant carcasses and hanging them over the flames. Taehyung didn't bother doing much aside from pick his teeth with a twig, and Jungkook worried that the smoke would attract unknown visitors. Or worse, that Jimin's poor excuse for a fire would bleed into the surrounding trees and burn them all alive. There were so many things that could go wrong.

"Are you alright?" Jimin asked him, probably noticing his paling face. Jimin already had a mouthful of meat, licking his fingers clean of grease and fat.

"The prince is having the shivers because he's so far from home," Taehyung laughed, snapping a twig and making Jungkook flinch. Jungkook knew he wasn't the most well-versed person in the world, but he did feel shame about not liking the fire.

"Well you're scared of the dark," Jimin shot at Taehyung, spitting a pheasant eye into his face. Taehyung scrunched up his nose, throwing some of the guts at him as revenge.

"No I'm not!"

"Are too!"

"Why would I come on this journey if I was scared of the dark?" Taehyung pressed, narrowing his eyes at his friend. "It'll be dark soon and we're far from home. Far from any light once our fire burns out."

Jimin shrugged, sucking on his index finger to get the last of the flavour. Jungkook quite liked Jimin's cooking. Even out there in the wilderness Jimin could make something stale taste like a feast. He was startled to see Taehyung grabbing Jimin's hand and sticking one of his fingers into his mouth.

"Stupid boy, you burned yourself," he mumbled around it, hitting Jimin upside the head. Jimin stuck his tongue out at him and then had the decency to flush as Taehyung refused to unhand his hurt finger.

Jungkook wasn't sure what to do now that he was done eating and Jimin and Taehyung seemed to be in their own world. He locked eyes with Osmund and felt an instant connection with him as neither of them moved from where they were sitting. He knew his clothes would reek of smoke and burned flesh when he returned, but he tried to push that thought away to make way for the darkness that was engulfing them slowly.

"I hurt myself here too," Jimin said, pointing to his tummy with a smile.

"Oh really?" Taehyung challenged, yanking up his shirt and seeing nothing of bother, but granting Jimin's wish nonetheless and kissing his stomach. Jimin giggled with hitching breaths, possibly ticklish. "Better?"

Jimin's eyes were half-lidded, but then he seemed to realize the prince was still there and pulled his shirt back down. "Much better."

Jungkook had never really seen the flesh of people his own age. When he was bathed he was usually bathed with his uncles and his father, and none of his cousins were allowed into his lavatory, so he hadn't anyone to ask that favour of. His own stomach had a small trail of hair down it, so it was very different from Jimin's. He wondered in what other ways Jimin's body was different. He was so small.

"Right, we best get going then." Taehyung dumped the last of their water onto the fire, making it sizzle and smoke up as the flames were extinguished. Jimin readied Osmund and helped Taehyung carry his knapsack on his back. Taehyung reached a hand down to help Jungkook up, who took it without further ado and felt his knees wobble from the lack of burdening them for so long.

"Should we head East?"

"Then we have to cross the river. I say South."

"South is muddy..."

"And the river isn't?"

Jungkook stared at the two boys talking back and forth, finding it nice how Taehyung and Jimin never had a moment of silence between them. Taehyung gave in, as he seemed to do a lot, and they turned south to head for lower ground, Osmund struggling behind them.

The darkness came creeping in on them until it fell all at once, and suddenly the forest wasn't so inviting anymore. The tree branches that had been dancing in the wind were now howling under the moon, their shadows casting long claws onto the ground.

"Where are we now? I swear we saw that tree an hour ago," Jungkook said as they passed by an identical tree to all the other four hundred they'd seen that day. Taehyung rolled his eyes at him.

"I know where we're going."

Jungkook resigned to not speaking after that. Taehyung never gave proper answers anyways. Jimin was preoccupied with trying to get Osmund to keep up, the little thing grown tired from their long journey.

Muffled sounds made all of them halt in their tracks, Taehyung lifting a finger to his lips and signalling for them to be quiet. He knew the sound of rowdy drinking men. He knew the sound of horse hoofs hitting the ground.

"Farmer's boys?" Jungkook asked, his lack of common knowledge showing painfully as figures emerged in the distance, heading in their direction. The men walked up to them gradually, smirking with their rotten teeth showing.

"Bandits," Taehyung corrected. He turned to Jimin, who was the only one without a weapon. "Get behind me." Jimin shook his head stubbornly, walking up beside him instead, and Taehyung had to hiss, "Jimin," though that didn't seem to spur the boy on any further. "Pull your sword out," Taehyung turned to say to the prince, who pulled it out alongside him, holding their blades in the direction of the newcomers.

"Well well well, what what have we here?" An oily voice asked, belonging to a man with long hair and dirty hands. "Two knights and a maiden goat-fucker in distress?"

There was a rumble of laughter, and he could faintly see Jimin paling beside him. Taehyung raised his sword higher, glaring at the men, who had seemed to settle down, dropping bags on the ground and passing around a flask. He could feel Jungkook bristle beside him, straightening up taller and holding his chin high.

"I'm the crown prince--" Jungkook began, but was cut off as another man spoke, his voice hoarse with what Taehyung could only assume was pneumonia.

"Well you're not a prince out here, are ya? Where are your royal guards to protect you and chop my head off?"

"I'll chop your head off myself," Jungkook clarified. Taehyung's eyes widened as he stared at the prince. He had not expected such bravery of him. Or maybe it was foolishness. Absolute lunacy which would in no way benefit them in their current situation.

"I like that one," the man chuckled, his brown teeth shining in the night as he pointed a finger at the prince. "We'll let him live. Grab the goat-- we could sell it in the village for a handsome price."

"No!" Jimin screamed, and Taehyung's heart sank, his best friend doing exactly what he'd expected him to do-- what he'd dreaded. Jimin would die first if he didn't do anything. "Please-- he belongs to the castle and he even has a name! He's an important part of the procuration of cheese and--"

The men started roaring with laughter, slapping their legs and passing flasks of wine around. "Is he a jester? Because he's a funny little one."

"Jesters don't have an ass like that and cocksucker lips, do they?" The man with long hair cackled, drinking up Jimin's terrified expression. The man stepped closer to get a good look at Jimin's face. "I'm telling you-- this one is a runaway whore."

Taehyung growled, jumping in front of Jimin and holding his sword directly aimed at the man's throat. He was panting with effort and anger, his whole body covered in sweat as his heart thundered with fear for Jimin's safety. The adrenaline in his body was luckily clouding his own judgement, leading him dare anyone else to come closer. He wasn't even thinking too much, but his body knew what he needed to do. He needed to keep Jimin safe.

"I told you he's a fair maiden!" The man laughed. "Look at his knight sworn to protect him! He can't even fend for himself!"

"I can too!" Jimin shouted, Taehyung felt a nudge in his side as Jimin slipped past him, his eyes widening in horror as his best friend headed straight for the man and shoved him with all his might, the man looking startled but amused at the sudden development.

"A pup with a mean bark!" He roared, grabbing Jimin's arm with a wicked grin and holding him up so high that his feet barely managed to touch the ground. Jimin yelped, eyes wide with realization as he was pulled up like a ragdoll, his hair falling into his face. The man's big hand reached up and yanked at the strings of his shirt, effectively ripping it off his shoulders and down his chest. The other men whistled, their attention moved from Taehyung and Jungkook's swords to Jimin's exposed skin. "Change of plans," the man announced when hearing the unanimous excitement. "Let's fuck the whore pup and have him watch his two knights beheaded before him."

Taehyung couldn't feel his limbs anymore, too frozen in fear to be able to signal to the rest of his body to move and do something. Jimin was struck with violent trembles as another man came up to touch his unmarred skin, eyes lecherous and betraying of his ill intentions. Jungkook, however, wasn't quite so inhibited. While his jaw stayed locked, Jungkook sprang forwards with a yell and swung his sword so hard he embedded it into the lecherous man's side, causing him to scream and drop to his knees. The long haired man holding Jimin dropped him to the ground, the rest of the men following suit with baffled expressions.

"Don't touch him!" Jungkook barked, daring any man to come closer with his sword aiming at all of them in turn. "If you do I'll consider it treason. Jimin belongs to the castle. I don't take lightly to traitors."

The men seemed to pull out of their initial shock, this time their faces betraying signs of anger. The man who had held Jimin grabbed Jungkook's sword with his bare hands, yanking it out of his grip and kicking Jungkook in the stomach hard enough to send him tumbling to the ground. Jungkook coughed up blood when his back cracked against a tree root, curling up as the man approached to injure him further.

Taehyung regained the mobility in his legs at just the right time, moving his upper body back to spear his sword right into the bowels of the man who had been aiming to stab a knife into Jungkook's skull. The bandits were ill-armed despite being so numbered, while they had castle forged swords made of the strongest steel the kingdom had to offer.

The stabbed man yelled shrilly, sinking to his knees and seeming to spur the other men on, drawing knives and running for all three of them with blood on their tongues. Taehyung was able to hold off the two coming for him, their knives no match for his smallsword and his shorter legs giving him the ability to move with trebled haste. Jungkook suffered a slash to his arm, but also managed to slit a throat, blood showering onto all of them as a major artery emptied itself. Jimin, who hadn't anything to defend himself with, was stepped on and kicked, Taehyung just able to see his face get punched as he swung around to drive his sword into the man that was attempting to flay Jungkook's back. Covered in other people's blood, Taehyung looked around wildly to check for any other challengers, but it seemed that most of the bandits had taken to fleeing, their horses gone and the only thing left being their flasks of wine. He panted, bending over to catch his breath.

"Fuck," he heard the prince spit as he struggled to get himself off the ground, his cheek marred with a long gash. Taehyung hurried over to help him up, pulling him up from under a limp body. The sun had gone down a while ago, and he'd forgotten how cold it got at night, their breaths almost materializing as they panted to regain their wits.

Taehyung froze when he remembered Jimin, barely able to turn around to look for him before he began trembling. Jimin was lying lifeless next to Osmond, clutching the goat's leg and whimpering. His face was littered with bruises, his lip cut and bleeding. His marble skin was imprinted with red marks in the shape of shoes, his shirt dirty and ripped and trodden into the ground where it lay a pace away from him.

"Jimin," he murmured, rushing over to him and lifting him up into his arms, Jungkook all but forgotten. One of his arms was posed at an odd angle.

"I'm fine," Jimin assured him, but his skin was icy and his lips were turning a dangerous shade of violet. Jimin tried moving, but yelped as he bent over and clutched at his ribs. One was probably broken. "I-I'm a little cold..."

Taehyung nodded, trying to hug him close enough to transfer some body heat, but finding his own flesh to be too chilled to suffice as any form of help. Jungkook groaned in the distance, but at least he was able to get up. Taehyung turned to his left and eyed Osmond, gripping the handle of his sword tight. Jimin watched him get up, pointing his sword right at Osmond's eye.

"No! Don't, you bastard," He muttered weakly, but Taehyung ignored him, spearing the animal's skull on his sword and watching it sputter and bleed while Jimin yelled in the background. He wasn't sorry. Anything that would save Jimin's life wasn't ever something he'd regret.

When Osmond had bled out enough, Taehyung pushed him to the ground belly up and began with cutting off the genitals and udder. He shifted his sword and split the hide from tail to throat, taking care not to pierce the stomach. Next he cut the windpipe and gullet before gutting the animal, turning him onto his left so Jimin wouldn't see. He took care not to look at Jimin even once to focus on his task. He knew he was probably screaming and crying, but Taehyung was too preoccupied to hear him. He began removing the hide once the carcass was empty. He cut the skin along the legs just above to hoof, moving his sword in a slicing motion to cut the membrane between the skin and meat. Jungkook showed up beside him, helping him by pulling the anus through the hide to be able to rip the backside of the fur off, a sick tearing sound echoing through the whole forest.

"I'm not letting you freeze to death," Taehyung said as he finally had to turn back to Jimin. Jimin was crushed, his face streaked with tears as Taehyung bent down to pull the animal hide around his trembling body. It stank something awful, and he was glad it didn't make Jimin vomit instantly. He could hear Jungkook regurgitate behind him. "We still have a long way back, and your shirt is ripped and wet."

Jimin looked defeated where he sat, glaring at Taehyung but still huddling the fur closer to himself, standing up on shaky legs as Taehyung helped him back on his feet. Jungkook helped steady him, offering to carry him seeing as his left foot had been crushed by one of the bandits stepping on it with his thick, leather boots. Jimin resigned to letting himself be hauled into Jungkook's arms, the latter thankfully not minding the blood from the goat hide or his constant wincing from his broken rib and bruised flesh.

"Wait!" Jimin yelled before Jungkook got to walk, following Taehyung back in the direction where they'd come from. "D-don't leave him."

Taehyung glanced back at the mess of blood and guts and animal meat resting on the forest floor, sighing to himself at Jimin's demand.

"There's nothing left of him. He'll just slow us down."

But Jimin's eyes were so pleading, Taehyung hadn't the heart to deny him his request. He carried the goat on his back all the way home.

 

*

 

"Here's to Osmond. The finest goat this castle has ever seen."

Jungkook's words made Jimin sniff as they stood over a big hole in the ground where Taehyung had dumped the body, shoveling dirt on it quickly to prevent anyone from finding them and seeing what they were up to. He'd given Jimin one of his own woolen shirts to wear, insisting he go back to his sleeping quarters to rest but Jimin mumbling that he wasn't going anywhere until Osmond was given a dignified burial, and so all of them had gone to the outskirts of the forest once more to lay him to rest near a tall tree.

Taehyung had never understood sentiments for animals, and was only attending to make Jimin happy. He'd seen many animals being killed to be used for the tanner's, and never felt himself form emotional attachments to them. Osmond did look quite pitiful, however, lying bloody and in pieces down in the ditch. Jungkook had managed to hide from the castle guards, washing the blood off of himself in the river before lowering Osmond down to his final resting place.

"Goodbye, Osmond," Jimin said, burying his face into Jungkook's neck seeing as he was still angry with Taehyung. It stung a little, but Jimin was alive and well, so Taehyung had no complaints.

 

*

 

As it turned out, the prince kept his promise about duelling with Taehyung, but not in the way he and Jimin had expected. One day word spread through the castle that the prince had arranged for an official duelling event with required attendance from all of the castle household. Taehyung had turned pale when hearing this, all of his bravado from before dissipating into the wind and going for a trip. He knew as well as Jimin that he was damned either way. Knew now that the prince hadn't been talking about a fun sparring, but meant business. And he'd seen his strength in the woods, fighting off those bandits.

Let the prince win, he was dead. Hurt the prince, and his head was off. There was no lesser of the two evils.

Jimin, forgetting to still be angry at Taehyung for killing Osmond, fretted and begged him not to go to the event, unable to sleep the nights before he was up. His stomach was ill and his face was stiff, his father yelling at him because his state was rendering him useless in the kitchen. Taehyung, however, would not hear it.

"I'm not a coward," he said simply, busy sharpening his sword behind the shed against a rock. Jimin had tried to grab it from him many times, but Taehyung had just pushed him into the dirt, not going easy on him. He was slightly angry that Jungkook would choose to challenge him now, right after they'd gone through their traumatic event in the forest. "The prince wants a duel, and so he will have one."

"Listen to yourself," Jimin begged, feeling his eyes well up in frustration. "You're ready to give up your life for nothing but your stupid pride! What will I do with myself if you lose and your body is laid to rest with an iron sword right through it?"

Taehyung paused his actions, slipping the sword slowly back into his belt. Jimin hoped he was thinking about it; thinking about it real hard and coming to the conclusion that he was acting insane. He couldn't imagine life without Taehyung, and though they were still young, duels never ended well. Official duels arranged by the prince himself had never even happened, and Taehyung's life was the expendable one.

"I won't lose," Taehyung simply said, as if he'd never been so sure of anything in his life. Jimin looked away to hide his tears, unable to face Taehyung again until the day of the duel itself. He didn't want to lose another friend. Especially not Taehyung, even if he was supposed to be angry with him.

 

*

 

There were so many people. Many Jimin had seen around the castle, but twice more taking up the space of the entire courtyard. Noble women were laughing and fanning themselves while their powdered noses gleamed, and the males stood with goblets of ale in their hands, all shaking the prince's hand with many compliments and looks of admiration.

Jimin was supposed to be in the kitchens with the rest of the lesser born, but he couldn't let Taehyung face such a thing entirely on his own. He knew that he was intended to be the poor pig up for slaughter. Taehyung wasn't standing so tall anymore either. In fact, he was slightly hunched forward, gripping his sword with both hands and looking paler than he did in the middle of winter. Jimin could see his mind working, gathering in nausea as he considered the benefits of fleeing versus staying.

"Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to the castle's first arranged duel. On your left, we have Prince Jeon Jungkook, first in line for the throne and first of his name," an announcer called out, the crowd cheering wildly while the king and queen clapped from their seats at the end of the ring. "And on your right, son of Kim Sunghyun, the blacksmith's boy from the royal household." People were much less enthusiastic about Taehyung, some even booing him, but he stood there still, donning his usual clothes and bare feet. The prince wore leather skins and black boots, looking a thousand times more dangerous. His sword was held tight in his right hand, his face looking concentrated but amused, completely different from how he'd looked last time they'd seen each other, when Jungkook had defended Jimin from bandits. "This is a duell going until either party yields or dies. The winner be awarded with unlimited glory and fifteen silver coins. Guards up." Taehyung and Jungkook raised their swords, eyeing each other from across the field. Jimin couldn't watch anymore, turning to face the cat which had come up to walk around his feet.

"Don't look," he urged it, finding the task of breathing particularly hard at the moment. "You should go back inside."

The cat, however, only glanced at him weirdly and continued on its path down to the duelling grounds. Jimin gasped when he heard a clash of metal, whirring his head back to see Jungkook striking Taehyung's blade head-on, the sound ricocheting off of the castle walls. He hadn't expected it all to be starting so soon, and his heart was stuck in his throat when he realized any moment could be Taehyung's last. Taehyung was hit full on by the force and fell backwards, scrambling to get back to his feet before Jungkook could strike again. Jimin yelled his name, letting him know that he was there, watching, but Taehyung didn't seem to take notice; or if he did, he hid it very well.

Taehyung got his turn to retaliate when Jungkook was busy lifting his sword up, almost striking him in the side. He dodged it swiftly, however, and came up on Taehyung's left with a rapid draw, driving the sword right over his shin. Taehyung yelled, sinking to his knee with a hiss.

"Taetae!" Jimin screamed, already a mess and already frantic, running up to get to him but being forced back from the contenders circle by a pair of castle guards. They had chainmail and lances and usually frightened the life out of Jimin, but right now he just needed Taehyung to hear him.

Jungkook paused, seeming to wait for him to yield, but Taehyung just stayed there, panting and staring at the prince's feet. The cut was minimal, but it was bleeding, seeping through his brown breeches. Almost as soon as Jungkook had stopped he was at it again, swinging his sword towards Taehyung and aiming for his lower body. Taehyung dodged, but got his hand caught in the whiplash, the sound of more skin ripping making Jimin lightheaded.

"You have to yield!" He screamed, trying to catch the prince's eye to no avail. He was sure this was just a regular pastime to the rich and wealthy, and he was also sure Jungkook had been trained by a professional, which was given away in his expert-like turns and smart stance. He didn't understand why Taehyung didn't see he had no chance, continuing on despite the prince giving him plenty of warnings with his sharp sword that he wouldn't let him off easy. All he had to do was yield.

In a gust of unexpected strength, Taehyung rebounded from the latest slash at his chest to sling his sword around with as much power as he seemed to possess, the metal passing right in front of the prince's face and grazing his cheek. Stunned, the prince reached up to his face to touch the wound, meeting streams of warm blood. Jimin slouched in the hold of the guards as he stared wide-eyed onto Taehyung's turned back, wondering how he'd had the ability to pull that off.

As if he'd been waiting for Taehyung to just strike him once all along, the prince bowed with one leg out, smiling at Taehyung and Jimin.

"I yield."

An eruption of murmurs followed, many surprised by the turn of events, but none more so than Taehyung, who was staring at his blade as if unable to believe the stains of red were really blood. Jungkook held his gaze from where he was standing, looking mighty pleased with himself.

People cowered, however, when the King's voice suddenly boomed over the grounds and shook every body standing in close enough range to hear him. "Look what he did to my son! Seize him!"

Guards moved to follow through with the commands, but Jungkook blocked them from reaching Taehyung, glaring at his father.

"Stop this nonsense. The opponent won fair and square; who are we to decide otherwise?" He leaned down and helped Taehyung up from the ground, patting him on the back. "This calls for a reward, don't you think?" He asked him, and Taehyung grinned back, catching Jimin's eye from the crowd and giving him the look that clearly said 'haha, I told you so," but in the gentlest way.

When the crowds had cleared and Taehyung's hands were finally full of nothing but blood and silver, Jimin and the prince gathered around him, watching the gleaming pieces with wonder, Jimin more so than the prince.

"What will you do with it?" The prince asked, sounding genuinely curious as he surveyed Taehyung playing with the coins. "There are many things that can be bought for fifteen silver coins."

"I'm saving them," Taehyung replied, holding Jimin's gaze for the first time since the duell. "You never know when you might need fifteen silvers, right?"

"Fair enough," the prince replied, wiping his blade off and sheathing it in a pretty, leather holder, much too delicate to have come from Taehyung's father. Taehyung still seemed slightly off, rubbing at his newest wounds. "I just wanted to make sure I got to apologize."

Taehyung and Jimin's 'for what?' came forth without either of them having to say it. The prince sighed, running a hand through his jet black hair and taking a full breath. "I needed to find a way to stand up to my father. He's been bossing me around for years, uncaring of my state or what I wanted, and I've had enough of it. Maybe this wasn't the most conventional way of doing so, but he couldn't go back on his word with so many people watching him. He finally had to deal with real shame. You got caught up in the middle of it, and for that I truly am sorry."

Jimin wanted to either be angry or feel upset on Jungkook's behalf -he had no idea what it was like to live as a royal- but all he could really feel was the warmth in his heart at Taehyung still being alive, and was unable to stop himself from sighing into Taehyung's shoulder, ignoring the royal presence amidst them.

"You bastard," Jimin hissed, clutching the boy tighter. He still smelled of soot and ashes, and Jimin inhaled it deeply while waiting to be shoved off since Taehyung seemed to enjoy his space lately, but instead the taller boy circled his arms around him, a silent apology tracing right behind his lips as he kissed the top of his head.

"I'll leave you," the prince said, but Taehyung held him back, inviting him to have a victory drink with him and Jimin, all of them having accomplished something that night.

 

*

 

Sometimes Jungkook joined them regularly for antics, and sometimes he had to go out hunting or stay with his teacher to learn all about the world and the structure of the universe. Either way, he was good company (when he wasn't being hounded by guards to stay away from the filthy servants, that was). He brought with him some treats for his new friends sometimes, letting them taste or see the wonders that came with having claim to the throne. He never told anyone about who he mingled with, however, but Jimin understood as much. With a controlling father that would probably mean the end of fun; the end of doing things outside of the castle walls and all of its imaginary importances.

Taehyung's wounds healed quickly, and though the prince's wound had been very superficial, it left behind a bold, purple mark right across his cheek. Jungkook insisted he liked it and that all scars were stories and pride from great battles, brushing the worries off and instead spending a lot of time with Jimin learning about how to fade the scar nicely and where exactly the wives tales got things right.

The prince was a terrible cook. He'd insisted on attempting to fix Jimin a meal one day as thanks for caring for his wound, when all he was left with was a soggy, black lump at the bottom of one of their copper cauldrons. Jimin knew better than to laugh at him, but he was even worse than Taehyung, and that was saying something. The prince seemed to know this, however, and chucked the goop right out into the river to be washed away from existence.

"You'll get it right one day," Jimin insisted, offering the prince a piece of bread instead. The prince took it gratefully, splitting it to share with Jimin, who accepted his half happily.

"Who needs my culinary skills when we have yours?" Jungkook laughed. "Certainly not this household."

"Maybe your father would appreciate something made from the heart by his own son," Jimin tried, and laughed as Jungkook made a disgusted face. "Or that cousin of yours."

"Yoongi? He's a right pain in my behind," Jungkook snorted, chowing down the bread already. "He thinks he's so much better than me because he's slightly older, but I know he still plays in the gardens, the bastard. Father dotes on him like he's the son he never had."

"I think you're better," Jimin said, regretting his words straight after. It was not his place to say. It was certainly not his place to say straight to the prince's face. His opinions on royal matters had no value.

"Maybe at kindness," the prince laughed, spitting a hard seed out of his mouth. "Yoongi has always enjoyed his wickedness. I have a feeling he's still sour about a bet we had last year when I said the southerners would invade before winter. He never did have that much faith in them."

"What did you bet?"

"Two gold pieces."

Jimin's eyes widened. "Those are high stakes."

"Exactly," Jungkook said with a raised finger. "Which is why -when he caught the brunt of it- Yoongi began to curse me every night, praying I'd suffocate in my sleep." The laugh emitting from Jungkook's mouth was odd for someone just having talked about death being wished upon them, but Jimin found it endearing, wondering if Yoongi had ever attempted to literally suffocate the young prince in his sleep.

 

*

 

Winters turned long and cold as the summers crept by almost silently. Jimin had been born on a winter's day, and so his father claimed it was a sign that he was finally growing up into a man. Jimin wasn't so sure about that. He was still almost as short as he'd been four springs ago, while Taehyung and Jungkook had shot up in height like they were being pulled by strings. Taehyung had of course rubbed it in his face for a while, but tired once he realized that it only made Jimin sulky, while Jungkook...well, they didn't see much of the prince anymore. Hadn't seen anything of him for at least five springs, actually. Jimin assumed he was busy with royal affairs, and Taehyung didn't bother speculating because he said the game would have had to stop sooner or later anyways. No prince could stay in the presence of commoners without using them as sacrifice or causing an uproar. Jimin and Taehyung were just from a different realm.

The kitchens were busy this time of year, people rushing about and colliding in attempts to argue about who had the right to the last of the cinnamon or a baking oven. Jimin kept mostly to himself in the pantry, his face covered in flour and his eyes always peeking out the windows to check if Taehyung was out in the courtyard or inside turning gray in the face.

Taehyung was also worked harder with each passing day. Soon he was barely allowed out to play, mostly keeping to his father's side in the hut and working on heated metal. At least that was what he'd told Jimin the last time they'd seen each other, washing clothes down by the river. That and that their cat Mildred had gotten pregnant two moons ago.

He saw him mostly in the courtyard when going to fetch winter skins and onions. Taehyung was big and almost unrecognizable as he stood talking to a group of squires by the horse stables. He had black sheep skins draped over his shoulders, making his back look humongous but his body warm. It was quite a stark difference from Jimin's thin cotton shirt and only pair of woolen breeches. Snow kept clumping in his hair and eyelashes, and he considered turning back to sprint to the warmth of the kitchens, but Taehyung spotted him faster, sending him the biggest smile Jimin had ever seen and rushing towards him so fast his sword clanged in its sheath. He was warm and all-enveloping when he crushed Jimin in a big bear hug, kissing the top of his head. Jimin smiled into the crook of his neck, inhaling his scent deeply for the first time in a while. When Taehyung pulled back, he beamed.

"Jimin," he said, voice warm like the lost summer. "Are you making cinnamon cakes this year?" Jimin nodded, impressed that Taehyung knew the difference and names of all the foreign spices. Then again, he had been taught by the best.

"Buttercream, too. But none for you, I'm afraid."

"Piss on that!" Taehyung laughed loudly, hair flying into his face. "I'll sneak into the kitchens one of these days when father gets off my back and lick it off your fingers."

Jimin felt himself blush as he giggled, knowing Taehyung wasn't just throwing the idea around carelessly. Taehyung always did what he wanted. Jimin often wished that he could be like that sometimes, too. Just take charge.

A deep voice from behind Taehyung made the both of them turn around where they stood, almost forgetting there were others present. "Who's your friend?" A squire with a very oblong face asked, gesturing towards Jimin with his elbow as his hand held the grip of his sword.

"Jimin," Taehyung said confidently, and his name sounded so good falling from Taehyung's lips. He could never tire of it. "The best cook this castle has ever seen."

"Someone from the kitchens?" The squire pried, snorting with his companion. They didn't hide their disapproval in the slightest, and it irked the smaller boy somewhat. "Have you gone soft?"

"I can still pin you to the ground with my sword, don't you worry," Taehyung countered, looking amused. He gripped his sword's handle, teasing the blade open. "Or did you forget when you were on your back yesterday begging for mercy?"

"I won the time before that," the squire mumbled, but seemed to lose his will to quarrel. The one beside him, however, pulled out his sword, holding it lazily but still pointed towards Jimin.

"What do you do in the kitchens then, pretty? Is all you do bake cakes?" The condescending tone of his words made Jimin nauseous. He'd never really experienced prejudice within the community of the lesser ranked, but he certainly didn't feel particularly valuable right then. The boy having a go at him had a face full of acne, his teeth a rotten yellow. "There's no use for a man who cannot handle a sword. War is coming, and anyone who stays in the castle is a coward, in my opinion."

"Nobody asked for your opinion," Taehyung spat, pulling his own sword out. Jimin could feel his hands turn numb from frostbite, wondering if he could gather the nerve to beg Taehyung to take him inside his hut. "All you do is shit, drink, fuck, and repeat. Don't confuse yourself for a hero, Junghwan."

"Calm down, I was only joking," Junghwan scoffed, sliding his sword back and glancing at his friend. The squire with the oblong face shrugged, but he still stared at Jimin like he was less than the dirt at the bottom of his shoe.

"In that case, your sense of humour is lacking," Taehyung finished with, retreating his own sword and grabbing a hold of Jimin's hand, beginning to tug him in the direction of his hut. Jimin trodded in the powdery snow, hating that his shoes were not waterproof, but glad to be away from the ugly squires.

"Have fun fucking your kitchen whore, you stallion!" One of them called after Jimin and Taehyung, and Jimin frowned, his hand going slack in Taehyung's hold. Taehyung rolled his eyes, pulling his sheep skin off and throwing it around Jimin.

"Ignore them. They get beaten by their assigned knights daily. Wouldn't trust a word that came out of their brain-damaged mouths." Jimin was glad for the sudden warmth he was rewarded with, and squinted through the snow as they trudged towards higher grounds. At least everything looked peaceful and covered in beauty when the white blanket settled over the entire scenery. That was the only upside of the cruel winter.

Taehyung practically shoved Jimin inside the blacksmith hut, closing the door to keep out the icy winds and shaking his hair to rid himself of snow. Jimin crawled towards the fireplace, holding his numb fingers out and biting his lip as they turned painful with the warmth attempting to return to them.

"Fuck-- you were out looking for skins, right? You need some sheep skins, Jimin. Winter is never kind."

Jimin nodded, his woolen breeches sticking to his sweaty skin and feeling absolutely disgusting. Even the twine belt around his waist felt too tight, his shirt drenched from the melting snowflakes. His toes felt worse than the cold nights in his sleeping quarters, and the smell of metal and oil all around him didn't exactly lighten his mood.

"Christ, you're shaking," Taehyung's low and concerned voice sounded right behind him, the blacksmith's long arms reaching around to cradle his quivering form. He sighed into Jimin's neck, his fingers feeling Jimin's shirt between his fingers. "We need to get you out of your wet garments. You can borrow some of mine while we wait for them to dry."

"Stop it," Jimin squeaked, trying to dodge away from his best friend. Taehyung looked hurt, but Jimin didn't care. He was feeling miserable. "I-I don't want to be your kitchen whore."

"Jimin..." There was a painful silence between them, Taehyung's strained eyes looking for his own but Jimin avoiding them actively. The hut looked so different when he was angry. Everything was messy and ugly and Taehyung did a lousy job just living. The whole room really stank something awful. "Jimin, I'm sorry. They were just jealous. Say the word and I'll march right back to them and slit their throats. You have my word, and you know I'd never break it."

Jimin looked up to find Taehyung's expressionless face staring down at him, his shapely lips pressed into a thin line. Taehyung meant it, and Jimin knew that. Taehyung would do worse, too, if Jimin wished it. He was just cold and hungry. The winters made everyone cold and hungry constantly, and being able to spend less time with Taehyung only sufficed to make things worse.

"It's okay," he mumbled. "They've had you enough as it is. It's my turn now." He could sense Taehyung smile behind him, and didn't freeze this time when he wrapped around him again, almost crushing him.

Taehyung refused to have him stay in his wet clothes a moment longer, and wrestled a giggling Jimin to peel each piece of fabric off of him until he was left in his thin undergarments. Taehyung, though fairly dry and not too cold, peeled his own clothes off as well, hanging them on a rack above the furnace. Jimin knew they would grow grey from the foul smoke, but Taehyung was so kind to him he hadn't the heart to halt his efforts.

Taehyung pulled him into his lap, arranging his knees on either side of him and looking up at him with those pretty eyes Jimin loved so much. It was such a secure and safe hold that Jimin almost wanted to fall asleep in it, but Taehyung's swift kiss to his lips kept him wide awake.

"We shouldn't," Jimin whispered, panting to himself as he tried to will the room to stop spinning and his heart to stop pounding against his ribs. "We're not young anymore."

"I was fully grown then and I'm no less now," Taehyung insisted. Jimin could see in his hooded eyes that he wanted to kiss him again, and the thought made his stomach sing. "Don't deny me of your nectar and still hold me close like this. Don't breathe life into me and expect me not to want what keeps me standing."

"Still? Even though you see me less?"

"Always," Taehyung corrected. He kissed Jimin's warm shoulder, making the smaller shiver, though not from the cold this time. "Even when you're not here, you never leave me."

"The trees sing your name when I walk past them," Jimin confessed, laughing as he brushed a stray lock of hair from Taehyung's face. His hair had grown so long, and was wracked with knots and grease. Jimin wondered if Taehyung only ever bathed when he nagged for him to, and sighed at the hopeless male currently nuzzling into his neck. "Your ancestors were martyrs and my fathers sing their praises."

Taehyung laughed so rumbling and hard that Jimin couldn't help but join him, not stopping them as they fell backwards into a pile of Taehyung's unused leather samples. Their teeth crashed together and they laughed even more, wiping spit from their lips and feigning bloody bruises.

"You should sing my praises instead," Taehyung whispered into his ear. "Nightly."

"Maybe with my last breath," Jimin snorted. He traced the shape of Taehyung's chest with careful fingers, outlining all the harsh burn marks and stab scars that had found their home there. Jimin wondered if he'd look like that had he been born to a blacksmith. He wondered if Taehyung's skin would be silky smooth were he bred in the kitchens. But alas, nobody would ever know. Except maybe the gods. Maybe they laughed about all the different outcomes up in heaven.

"You make me dizzy," Taehyung gasped, leaning his forehead against Jimin's, both of them turning sweaty from the heat of the fire as they continued their poetic exchange. Jimin let himself dare to kiss Taehyung's cheek, his duties to the kitchen long forgotten. "This is treason..."

"Your mouth was crafted from blasphemy," Jimin countered playfully, running his short fingers through Taehyung's messy hair. "But you don't hear me complaining."

 

*

 

Taehyung had lied about people only making up diseases. At the very cusp of winter, right when the trees were at their barest and the ground was covered in the thickest snow, his father died from smoke poisoning when Taehyung came of working caliber, a sordidly coincidental happening as Taehyung was finally old enough to take over his father's tasks now that he was no longer around.

Jimin followed Taehyung out to the woods to bury him, watching Taehyung take a swig of his father's old ale flask and pour a good helping down into the trench where they'd dumped him. They could see his pale skin and the maggots in the dirt below waiting to devour the next body they could feast on. It was surreal and uncomfortable to be in a situation like that, and Jimin didn't think he'd be able to do it with such gusto if it were his father they were burying. Though death was common among those of a lower class, it always felt equally horrible.

"Go in peace," Taehyung slurred, already breezy from the copious intake of alcohol. Jimin usually tried to limit him, but today was an off day. Today he'd let Taehyung do whatever the hell he wanted. "And don't trip over Uncle on your way to heaven, you clumsy, old man."

They returned after Taehyung had sung an old drinking song to him with a slurred voice, asking Jimin to dance and tumbling around with him while saying his goodbyes to his father.

Once they were finally back in his hut, Taehyung sat down against the fireplace ("it's a furnace!" Taehyung's angry voice still rang in his head) and removed his leather apron and gloves, throwing them to his left without looking or caring where they ended up. Jimin stood above him, staring down at his best friend with pitying eyes. He had never seen him so absent.

"Don't look at me like that," Taehyung groaned, Jimin averting his gaze instantly. Truth was he didn't know how to cheer Taehyung up. He'd never been in a situation like this before, so he felt like any words that could possibly come out of his mouth would be stupid and listless. Before he could say anything, however, Taehyung spoke up. "I lied about smithing weapons for the army, by the way. We mostly just make horseshoes and nails. Or armour for the guards. Appliances for the castle. I guess I just wanted to impress you." Taehyung looked even more down than he had just a moment before, and Jimin scrambled to find something fitting to say.

"You could say you picked apples for a living and it would still impress me," Jimin insisted with a short laugh, feeling his chest tighten. Taehyung grinned up at him, more amused than Jimin had anticipated him to be.

"How could I have known you were so easily pleased?" Taehyung teased. Jimin blushed, kicking Taehyung's booted leg. The taller grinned again, until he reached forward and tugged on the hem of Jimin's cotton shirt. Jimin froze, raising an eyebrow.

"Show me something beautiful, Jiminnie."

He blanked, staring down at Taehyung whose eyes were glazed over at that point, looking serene and oddly hopeful. His face was sheened with sweat, his teeth biting into his bottom lip.

"Beautiful?" He asked. Taehyung nodded. It didn't take long before he felt Taehyung's hands come up to his waist and pull his tucked in shirt out of his pants, unbuttoning the lower buttons and tugging earnestly. Jimin spun around, letting the cloth fall off one shoulder at a time until it ended up in Taehyung's arms, the latter lifting it up to his face to smell it. It looked so pure against Taehyung's dark hands, but still so worn and dirty. He could feel himself breathing more slowly; deeply, his hands clamming up as Taehyung's eyes rested on his stomach.

"Beautiful," Taehyung said, smiling up at him. Warm, calloused fingers came up to trace the dip of his navel and the hem of his pants, and Jimin felt so hot he didn't know what to do with himself, unable to stop a needy moan as Taehyung tugged on the strings. "May I?"

Jimin nodded, letting Taehyung continue his ministrations and almost humming as his pants slid down past his ass and ended up bunched around his thighs. Taehyung's hands were still on him, tracing his skin like his hands were made of fire. His mouth hovered over Jimin's hips while his eyes traced the dip of his pale belly.

"Come sit," Taehyung urged, tugging on Jimin's limp arm and gesturing to his lap. Jimin sunk down bonelessly, whimpering as his skin met with Taehyung's itchy, woolen shirt. Taehyung soothed him by latching his lips onto his neck and kissing gently, telling Jimin it was okay to rest his head on his shoulder.

"Are you sure you won't regret this tomorrow?" Jimin asked shakily, inhaling a large helping of air and thinking of the happenings just earlier that day and how Taehyung had had too much ale to not walk into his door on the way in.

"There's nothing I want more right now," Taehyung murmured against his skin, holding around him so tight Jimin was afraid he might break his ribs again. "Please."

"Okay," Jimin agreed, leaning down to capture his lips in a sweet kiss. Novel and exciting, Jimin had only kissed Taehyung a few times, each as electrifying as the last. His heart was doing somersaults under his ribcage, rendering him scared that maybe Taehyung would hear it or feel the vibrations. And in all honesty, they were more like drum beats than vibrations.

"Sweet Jimin," Taehyung whispered against his lips, his large hands cupping each side of his face. He could see the sweat already gathering on his best friend's upper lip, their skin slicked by the warmth of the fire beside them. "Angel Jimin." Taehyung's hands slid down his stiff neck to dip the small of his back, rubbing paths down his hips and letting said hips lift up ever so slightly. The friction to his crotch made Jimin whimper, holding onto Taehyung for dear life as his naked cock rubbed against the clothed bulge of Taehyung's thick pants. He knew Taehyung was big; he'd had him in his mouth after all, and it still somehow managed to strike a lick of unease in him. But Taehyung undid that unease, like he always managed to do, melting into his face with his lips and merging their mouths together for a good handful of minutes, the breathless gasp leaving Jimin afterwards being a telltale sign of the intensity.

The whole place smelled of Taehyung. The smoke, the coal, the metal. The hay. The leather. It was all him, both individually and combined. An overpowering surrounding of immersion into his favourite scent. Taehyung smiled at him as he lay Jimin down on the floor, taking care not to knock him into the anvil.

"It's almost sinful for you to lay here, dirtied by my grimy floor and greasy tools."

"If that's sinning, then make a mess of me," Jimin breathed, hooking his arms around Taehyung's sweaty neck. The heat was starting to get to him, his eyes half-lidded and heavy while he waited for Taehyung's mouth to find his own.

It didn't take too long, and soon Taehyung was devouring him while touching every part of him he could reach, claiming his spot between his legs and making sure there was no distance between them. Jimin moaned, bucking his hips upwards ever so slightly and hissing when he came into contact with Taehyung's hard crotch.

"Fuck, you're impossible," Taehyung breathed, his head sinking down to rest on Jimin's chest while he thrust his hips down to meet with his best friend's wanton ones. Pre-come dripped down onto Jimin's stomach, making his length ache with every thrust. Taehyung was ripping off his clothes with such haste that Jimin worried they'd tear. His own shirt met the same fate a few moments later, exposing his chest to the warm air of the hut. Taehyung was transfixed with his chest, eyes blown at the sight of his pebbled nipples and soft tummy. "You're just asking to be ravished, aren't you?" He hissed, pressing the pads of his thumbs right onto the protruding nipples, causing Jimin to arch up and throw his head back, encouraging Taehyung to latch his mouth onto them next.

The suction noises were loud and obtrusive as Jimin tried to gather his bearings while looking up at the ceiling, his whole body on fire as Taehyung held him in place. The undignified noises spilling from his mouth only managed to multiply, and soon he was a mess under Taehyung's body, sweat dripping from his bangs and his whole body flushed pink.

"Please," he whimpered, tugging weakly on his best friend's hair as said boy continued to lick and suck at his tender teat. He could feel tears of frustration leaking out of his eyes and he swore that if this continued on for much longer he wouldn't be able to hold back his climax. "No more..."

Finally, Taehyung lifted his head and gazed at him with his beautiful, brown eyes. He looked amused but equally sincere, his hands caressing Jimin's sides and asking for permission to continue further down. Jimin laced his hand together with Taehyung's in approval and squeezed it tight as the latter's sinful tongue dipped out again to map a path down from his bellybutton to his groin.

"No!" He begged, tugging desperately on Taehyung's arm and trying to steer his mouth from his length. He could feel desperation choking him up. "I'll only cry..."

"Then cry for me," Taehyung challenged, licking the tip of Jimin's flush member before licking his own finger and slipping it down between the crack of his full cheeks. Jimin stiffened but felt his hole twitch in anticipation, Taehyung's tongue dipping out to taste his member again while his lips pecked it, all the while trying to distract him from the finger that was tracing his clenching hole. The sensations were overpowering, and Jimin was nothing more than a mess of moans and tears and dripping sweat, hating Taehyung for his determination and hating himself for his willingness to please and partake.

"Oh!" He gasped as the tip of Taehyung's finger breached his hole, making him buck up into his warm mouth. It was madness, existing like this. Existing with so much pleasure. With so much Taehyung all around him.

Taehyung took it upon himself to worm the finger deeper inside, all the while squeezing their laced hands together and observing Jimin's level of comfort. Every millimeter was a new sensation; a new feeling to get used to. Fear mixed with anticipation mixed with wonder, culminating in a dizzying need for more.

"You're doing so good," Taehyung rasped out against Jimin's length, the vibrations sending tingles all the way down to Jimin's toes. "You're amazing..."

Jimin threw his head back in bliss as Taehyung's finger sank in to the last knuckle, asking himself silently who it was who really was amazing. He clenched around the finger, the sweat on his forehead cooling as a strange surge of pleasure rippled through him. Taehyung noticed, pressing his finger in again, and Jimin almost screamed.

"Looks like I found your happy spot," Taehyung said with a smirk, enjoying a few more presses in with his finger and Jimin practically convulsing under his hands.

One thing Jimin noticed was that he became very affectionate and desperate for closeness when faced with intimacy. Luckily for him, there was nothing Taehyung would rather provide him with, and he whimpered into their kisses and sweaty cuddles, trusting Taehyung to guide him carefully through the whole ordeal and even beyond. Before he knew it there were two fingers thrusting inside of his hole, and he rolled his eyes back as he tasted the sin on his tongue, trying to push the thoughts of his father's disapproval and the kingdom's wrath away. Taehyung didn't seem too riddled with fear, mainly enjoying fingering Jimin as if it were the latest entertainment craze, fit for a royal.

"Fuck, my sweet boy," Taehyung whispered into his lips, sucking up each whimper escaping from Jimin's lips as his digits thrust into him. Jimin hoped Taehyung was feeling as good as he was feeling -even just a quarter of it; a smidge- and nosed his way into the skin of Taehyung's neck once he was finally able to control his muscles again. His breathing was so laboured he wondered if he might pass out, but there wasn't much of a chance of that happening when Taehyung was there, watching him so intensely.

He drowned between kisses and jabs of pleasure, hating Taehyung's furnace for turning his skin into a sticky mess. His hair, too, had probably seen better days, but it wasn't like he had much room for thoughts of that nature while he bit his lip trying not to scream. Taehyung had slipped the digits out of him, reaching behind himself for the pitcher of oil used to dip iron in to harden it and diminish smoke. Jimin knew what he wanted to attempt, and felt himself spreading his legs a little further, already so dirty he couldn't find it in himself to care about being bashful.

Taehyung was slicking up his cock with the thick oil, his face red and sweat dripping from his bushy brows. Jimin was used to seeing him like that-- all powered up ready to beat a slab of metal to death, and the thought of him letting out all that strength on him instead was overwhelming. He was already crawling on his knees in between Jimin's naked thighs, running his blackened fingers up them as he went and smiling more gleefully than someone who had just lost their father should. Maybe he had gone mad like that stall boy who sniffed dried tomato seeds a while ago. Maybe for five minutes, Jimin didn't really care.

"Relax for me," Taehyung whispered into his ear, wetting the lobe of it. Jimin could feel something blunt but soft push up against his entrance, clenching in anticipation and curling his toes. "I said relax, silly," Taehyung chuckled, and Jimin could tell he was trying to make him less nervous, for which he was grateful. "Do you trust me?" Jimin nodded viciously, determined to go through with it. Taehyung leaned up and kissed his forehead, reaching between their nether regions and grabbing his cock to line it up with Jimin properly.

The head dipped in first, stretching the rim almost painfully as it forced its way past the tight muscle. Taehyung kissed him all over to distract him, holding his face in his hands and mumbling things Jimin hadn't the energy to attempt to hear. Jimin had no idea Taehyung would ever be so deep inside him, but he seemed to endlessly fill him until his hips were glued all the way against Jimin's backside. He screamed into Taehyung's waiting mouth, voice cracking as Taehyung reached down to grope his chest, squeezing every inch of flesh there.

It wasn't long before Taehyung began moving, and as soon as Jimin's muscles stopped tensing, Taehyung drove in deeper, gyrating pointedly into Jimin's heat. Taehyung's balls slapped loudly against his ass, adding to the telling squelching sound and warning anyone within what felt like would be a mile of them that they were currently very, very busy.

"You're so tight," Taehyung muttered into his mouth, eyes staring right down into his own as their foreheads stayed forged with each other. "Please tell me I'm your first."

"You know you are," Jimin said weakly, head rolled back as he was unable to keep it up while Taehyung thrust. The thought of sharing that with Taehyung made him feel so giddy. It meant that Taehyung was the one he trusted the most; the one he would let have all of him and more. Taehyung seemed ecstatic about it too, kissing Jimin so deep and promising him everything would be fine and to let him know if anything hurt.

He thought only girls were supposed to bleed when being broken into, but Taehyung happened to spot a small smear of blood leaking down his ass, asking him if he should stop. Jimin had grabbed his hair and exclaimed that he couldn't stop now, wrapping his legs around Taehyung's waist and urging him in deeper. It felt more official anyways, when he was bleeding. Jimin didn't want to forget his first time and Taehyung being inside of him. He wanted to remember it. He wanted his body and the floor to remember it. The gods, too.

 

*

 

Being a prince had many upsides, but a notable downside was that Jungkook was never really free to roam wherever he wanted, especially now that he was being being prepared for his future as the king. He had known the halls when he was little and small enough to escape the clutches of his teachers and caretakers, but it became increasingly difficult to find peace for himself as his every step was surveyed by watchful eyes. If anything were to happen to him, the kingdom would be thrust into chaos-- he knew that. But he didn't understand what bad things could possibly happen to him in his own home, especially not when he had a sword kept at his hips most of the time and iron shoulder and chest plates the rest.

His feet hurried along the stretching corridors as his ears perked up to search for any sign of his servants following him. He'd only just been able to shake them, ducking into a servants chamber to hide while the servants fretted and congregated around one another until they followed their own disappearing footsteps down a distant corridor. Jungkook had taken a deep breath and relished in the scent of freedom for however short a while he had it, prepared to be caught soon enough. His feet still knew where to take him, it seemed. The hallways grew brighter and more decorated in blue as he took a turn to the south wing of the castle that housed his extended family. He had spent many a summer running around in there and chasing his cousins. Even Grumpy Yoongi had been playful once, though he'd still been a sore loser and rather loved reminding Jungkook that he hated that he was the one in line for royalty.

He laughed to himself at the misfortune of all the rowdy cousins who used to think themselves better than him before they understood the concept of lineage and power. He'd seen Seokjin just the other day, swamped in books at the library as he prepared to help separate ethical from unethical literature for the citadel to burn, his eyes red with fatigue. Jungkook had had goose liver for breakfast, cleansing his palette with lemon clams and a side of berries. He wondered if Jimin was still working in the kitchens, because food that good could only really be the result of that boy's efforts. Jimin was ginger lamb pies and bloody sausage delights, his smile soft pastry treats and his eyes small almonds. That was how Jungkook remembered him, though his memories were fading as the years passed.

He stopped himself right before heading outside, wondering if that would be pushing it. He'd have people on his heels in a second, and his best bet would be to find refuge in an empty chamber. Not that he had any plans for what he was to do in said chamber, but he was never the type to plan ahead anyways.

Jungkook sighed as he bent over to catch his breath, glancing at the big, wooden door before him and smiling in familiarity. He let his fingers trace the engraved patterns that were lining each dip and curve, leaning in to listen for occupancy.

It was quiet, but not completely silent. The room was alive and breathing. More specifically someone or multiple people were breathing. He closed his eyes and tried to identify the activities beyond the door, surprised it was anything but empty as it stood barred and unused for most of the year.

A low sound wormed into his ears, causing his pants to tent as his groin tingled with his own supplied imagination. One soft and high-pitched sound and one low and full of effort. He bit his lip, leaning all of his weight onto the door and attempting to just allow himself a sliver of a peek.

His palms grew clammy as the noises infiltrated his mind, his eyes picking out the moving parts of the scene before him. He saw two sweaty bodies fit together in a synchrony he'd never seen before, mirroring and almost dancing with each dip and touch on the bed. The kitchen aid, Jimin, looked gone in pleasure, his body draped almost casually over the king sized bed under him.

"We shouldn't be here," Jimin gasped, but moaned as what appeared to be Taehyung sucked on his protruding nipple, lavishing it with extra affection in the hopes of quietening him. Jungkook had always suspected, but he'd never known for sure. It seemed they both had the affliction, and now all of their interactions as children made sense.

"I just want to fuck you properly. On a proper bed with proper linens that are worthy of your sensitive skin. That shouldn't be a sin."

"These sleeping quarters are off bounds..."

Taehyung ate up Jimin's protests by engulfing his mouth with his own, effectively silencing the smaller boy. The air was rather stuffy as the room had been left unoccupied for many months and served as a last resort guest room, but to Jungkook the sight of his two former friends messing up the place most debauchingly was quite refreshing.

"Don't touch yourself," Taehyung commanded as he saw Jimin sneak his hand into his pants, pouting to himself and bucking his hips up while pleading at Taehyung with his eyes and soul.

"Please," Jimin begged, vision glassy and clouded. Taehyung took a hold of his stiff cock and snapped it back against his stomach, seemingly enjoying the whimper Jimin produced as a result.

"Ah! That's not fair!"

Taehyung grabbed his wrists and pinned them down by his head, hovering dangerously close to his mouth. The muscles across his toned back rippled with strength.

"Is it not?"

Jimin's eyes rolled back in his head when Taehyung experimentally rolled their hips together, keeping a straight face while watching the smaller boy squirm. It was clear it had a strong effect on the boy, and Jungkook imagined Taehyung smirking over Jimin, pleased with his own cruelty.

"N-no..." Jimin breathed, but lay deathly still under the other boy, flush and ripe-looking. His skin was already dewed with sweat, his upper lip shiny with either that or spit and he closed his eyes shut as he moaned with the onslaught of Taehyung's sudden ruts against him. "Nooo," Jimin whined, but Taehyung just grabbed his chin, forcing him to keep his gaze. He shushed him before dipping his tongue deep into Jimin's slack mouth, filling the room with wet and obscene noises as he absolutely ravished him, teeth eventually hooking into his supple flesh.

Jungkook had to bend over to catch his breath, feeling his pulse heighten at the view. He was hard in his pants already, fighting the urge to touch himself through his thick clothing. He felt like he was a child again, exhausted from running around and accidentally being witness to dirty copulation.

"You're such a good boy," Taehyung mumbled into Jimin's lips, grabbing both of their cocks and stroking them in time with his thrusts. Jimin's face was entirely red, his arms trembling as he tried to hold onto Taehyung's shoulders with the one hand Taehyung had just released. "Such a pretty mess for me."

"Please," Jimin sobbed. "Tae..."

"Do you want Tae's cock inside you?" Taehyung inquired, licking wet patches into Jimin's flushed cheek to tease him. "I know I've been waiting all day."

"Please," was all Jimin seemed to be able to say, eyes closed as he spread his legs open wider for Taehyung to slip between so that his cock brushed over Jimin's entrance.

"So easy," Taehyung teased. He had this look on his face whenever he talked to Jimin, a slight crook of his lips and a vague twang to his words. "I guess I wasn't the only one waiting for it all day, was I?"

Jimin shook his head, tracing his small hands up his own sweaty chest and toying with his nipples. Taehyung tutted, slapping his hands away and restraining him against the mattress again.

"Don't be greedy, my angel. Taehyung will give you."

Taehyung was nicer this time around, keeping them naked and pressed together while Jimin almost gurgled praises at the big hands splayed over his thighs. Jimin was being so wrecked, and Jungkook wasn't sure he was ready to watch it yet. Jimin getting wrecked was beautiful; monstrously exciting, but only when he imagined it being done by his own cock. He wasn't sure how to gain pleasure through watching someone else do the fucking. That was a far cry away when royal chains that held him down were getting heavier with each passing minute. This was the only time he could ever remember feeling himself envying a commoner.

Taehyung pulled Jimin's pants all the way off, chuckling at his clinginess. Jungkook had only been able to see Taehyung's broad back so far, but when he threw Jimin's pants across the room, he got a good look of the blacksmith's strong arms. He was sure those arms could break Jimin, if they wanted to. Could bruise and leave red marks all over him.

He swallowed a deep breath and was barely himself as he allowed his legs to move forward. His mind was ruled by thoughts and wants, caging his body so sweetly but dangerously all the same. The smell of sex enveloped him completely as he shoved himself in the door.

"Your Highness," Taehyung rasped as Jungkook finally had enough and flung the door open, his boots echoing against the floor almost threateningly. Jungkook could see the desperation and fear in Taehyung's eyes, and tried to stand in a more inviting manner. He could see Taehyung moving to make sure he was hiding Jimin's naked figure as best as he could, but Jungkook had a keen eye for the baker's flushed skin, and it didn't escape him.

"Do feel free to continue. Don't let my presence disturb your play time," he insisted, smiling down at Jimin, who had never looked more flustered. His eyes were so wide it was like he was losing his innocence right before Jungkook's very eyes. "Go on-- look at him," he pointed to Jimin, smirking. "He's so hard and desperate. Look at his little cock."

He could see Taehyung's jaw clenching in a tense realization, and Jungkook felt bad-- he really only wanted to help them along. He could show them plenty of rooms containing whatever they may desire: silk sheets and beds with canopies and velvet pillows. Whips and chains and torture devices. All they had to do was ask. And Jimin looked so desperate, weak, and tired in the sheets.

"May I?" Jungkook questioned, gesturing towards Jimin. With his peripheral vision he could see the panic flashing across Taehyung's face, and had to laugh, because Taehyung never had liked to share his toys. "For old time's sake."

After a long deliberation, a curt nod was all Taehyung gave him, and Jungkook lit up with the biggest smile, reaching out an eager hand and tracing a few fingers down Jimin's upper thigh. He was warm and tender, just as expected. Jimin whimpered, breathing rapidly enough for Jungkook to grow concerned about him fainting. He slowed his hands down, glancing Taehyung's way instead and enjoying the way all the boy's veins seemed to pop in concentration.

"May I lick you?" Jungkook asked as he turned back to Jimin, folding one of his legs all the way up towards his chest. Jimin looked to Taehyung for guidance, but Taehyung didn't seem to be too clocked in anymore, so Jimin took it upon himself to nod and bite his lip. One of the many advantages of being a prince was that he was so intensely revered.

God, and Jimin was so sinful. Just like he'd always remembered him.

He leaned down as he spread Jimin's thighs as wide as they could go, levelling his face with Jimin's plump ass. Jimin squeaked, and Jungkook could feel him quivering under his fingers, leading the prince to place comforting kisses up from his knobbly knees. Taehyung grabbed Jimin's hand, watching Jungkook carefully while the youngest traced fiery hot kisses up Jimin's skin.

It didn't take long before Jimin was moaning. Like any maiden -any lady or whore he'd had before- Jimin went lax once he licked over his entrance, sending him into a fierce and uncontrollable lust. Jimin arched his back with every sensation, every movement, and Taehyung watched him all the same, taking care to asses his expressions.

"Soft like a peach," Jungkook remarked, daring to trace his fat tongue down over Jimin's spasming hole again. He hadn't expected his next sexual encounter to be with a boy so much lower in status than himself, but it was a pleasant change of pace. A change from the noble ladies with frilly undergarments and convoluted hair updos. Jimin was so much easier to please. "You look close to bursting."

Jimin moaned at his words, his head lulling from side to side with delirious eyes. It seemed that once Taehyung was assured Jimin was feeling okay, he wanted to go back to having control again, and knelt down on the bed while creeping up to Jimin's head, turning it carefully sideways. Jimin was limp and biddable under them, opening his mouth so invitingly for Taehyung like the prince himself wasn't even there watching them. The blacksmith required no words to communicate with the other, Jimin's tongue dipping out to touch his thumb as soon as it pressed against his lower lip. Taehyung gestured for Jungkook to take his place, the younger grinning and deciding that that wasn't such a terrible idea, understanding Taehyung's claim to be properly inside the boy. He wouldn't push his luck.

"Oh," Jimin gasped when Taehyung was back between his legs, running steady fingers up the insides of his pale thighs. Jungkook hurriedly pulled at the strings on his pants to let them slide down, revealing his length right in front of Jimin's face as he crawled next to his head. It collided with Jimin's lips, smacking them and driving him to grasp at Jimin's hair to keep him in place.

"You gonna take two cocks for me, baby?" Taehyung asked, but it wasn't so much a question as it was a statement. A truth. "You gonna show the prince how good commoner cunts are?"

Jimin nodded, already opening his mouth for Jungkook while letting his eyes slip shut. Taehyung just chuckled, busy preparing Jimin with his long fingers aided with Jungkook's prior, personal lubrication. The low whines against his length was maddening, and Jungkook dipped inside of Jimin's warm mouth, the whines turning into vibrating rumbles and almost making him ejaculate on the spot. It was like fucking into a warm pie, and he couldn't hold back from ruining it. Jimin only accepted him deeper when he began thrusting, one of his small hands curled into the prince's formal breeches. He almost forgot Taehyung was there too until his cock muffled a scream from Jimin that came from three long fingers pressing deep inside of him. Teeth grazed his length ever so slightly and he winced, but kept Jimin still by pressing his head down into the sheets and using a thumb to ensure his jaw stayed slack. He knew it wasn't his place to control Jimin, that he was a guest, but Jimin just made it so easy. It felt natural.

"Good boy," he heard Taehyung murmur behind him, stroking up the expanse of Jimin's soft tummy. Jimin keened at the praise, lips almost curling into a smile around Jungkook's length, and the prince was unable to deem it anything but precious. Only Jimin could make something so sinful feel precious. He had a cock down his throat but he gave off the aura of someone innocent and eager to please, easily responsive to touches and knowing how to bend to Taehyung's every will like a handsomely decorated acrobat.

"Go on," Taehyung muttered as he sunk his hard length into Jimin, not stopping until he bottomed out. Jungkook didn't realize he was talking to him until Taehyung stared at him and waited for him to move, holding a warning hand on Jimin's ricocheting chest.

Jungkook pulled his hips back and gyrated them forwards, sinking deep into Jimin's throat and making a loud sound with the slick spit as he opened his esophagus. If he hadn't felt Jimin breathing against the tufts of pubic hair at the base of his cock, he would have presumed him dead or sleeping, taking everything that was given to him as easily as if it was what he was made for. Taehyung pulled out and thrust back in, drawing a low whine from Jimin and catching Jungkook's eye. From then on they kept eye contact and frantically fucked Jimin into the sheets, each thrust harder than the last and the smallest boy choking on cock and pleasure all the same. It was wondrous to see someone being speared by cock on both ends. It turned Jimin completely helpless and made his only purpose seem to be pleasuring others, his long lashes fluttering prettily against his cheeks as he tried to keep breathing through his nose.

"Fuck," Jungkook grunted, coming close to his release faster than he ever had before. It would be pitiful of him, as the future king, to come before two of his servants, and so he pulled out of Jimin's homely mouth, stroking his cock languidly to edge himself as he watched Jimin fall apart from Taehyung's thrusts. Jimin was staring up at him in what he could only describe as longing, strings of spit still connected from the tip of his cock to his mouth. The sounds spilling or of his mouth were wanton and needy, and Jungkook groaned to himself before he was unable to stop the streams of thick come shooting out over Jimin's face, catching on his plump lips and pretty lashes all the same. Dripping off his chin. Jungkook's cock hurt something awful but in a masochistically good way, and he had to let himself stand there with his drooping length in his hand for a while as he came down from his high.

Jimin was next to come, screaming now that his mouth was free and grasping desperately at the sheets around him before holding his arms out to Taehyung and seemingly begging to be held. Taehyung did, leaning over the boy and practically caging him in while he kissed him too sweetly and honestly to be coated with Jungkook's come. Jimin's muscles spent and slacked before he released between his and Taehyung's stomachs, holding onto the blacksmith's arms for dear life.

Taehyung, despite Jimin's climax, picked up his pace, making the smaller boy whine into the shoulder he tried muffling him with. Taehyung's skin was tan and looked good against Jimin's, and they slid together so easily as Taehyung used Jimin's slack body to find his release. He collapsed onto Jimin when he came, kissing his cheek tenderly. Jimin was still eyeing Jungkook curiously, but Jungkook felt strange standing there now, eyeing their post-coital affections.

He shoved his cock back into his undone pants and ran a hand through his hair, realizing he'd just engaged in sexual contact with servants in his uncle's bedroom. The worst part was that he didn't feel any remorse, and that he'd do it again, easily. It was riveting, in fact.

Jimin seemed to have passed out from the intense fuck and looked even smaller there in the big bed, soft hair fallen in his face as Taehyung cleaned him off with his own shirt and helped him back into his pants, dressing him just like how the handmaidens did Jungkook every morning. Taehyung seemed cautious now, the bliss of ecstacy gone and their reality returning as their sweat dried along with the remaining come.

Jungkook offered to help by wrapping Jimin in the sheets that were under him, ignoring Taehyung's heated protests. Jimin whined, but didn't wake.

"Don't worry," Jungkook whispered, though now was a stupid time to worry about loudness when they'd been lavishly abusing their safe haven just moments before. "Nobody will know, I'll make sure of it." Taehyung seemed torn, Jimin looking cold and pitiful but the price of stealing and besmirching castle property hanging heavy on his shoulders. "Please trust me."

Taehyung finally nodded, picking Jimin up into his arms and keeping Jungkook's gaze his whole way out the door, before he turned to flee, presumably struck by fear. Jungkook didn't blame him; he probably never would.

 

*

 

It would have been more odd if it didn't happen again. So it did.

This time Jungkook had snuck out onto the grounds while dodging his teacher and stood perched up on Taehyung's porch, looking in through a window hole and spotting Taehyung inside fucking Jimin with one of his smithing tools; a long iron shaft that seemed to hit the right spot inside of him, because Jimin was biting his hand to keep himself from screaming, hunched over Taehyung's anvil while the blacksmith dipped a newly formed metal hook into a basin of water, making it hiss and cloud the area with smoke. So Taehyung liked multitasking. Or maybe Jimin was being loud and needy and needed to be punished. The possibilities were endless, and it didn't take Jungkook long to stroke himself to full hardness while he watched Jimin swallow the metal object like it was a real flesh cock.

Taehyung spotted him first, like always. He smirked at him this time, giving Jungkook his cue for joining in and Jungkook taking him up on it faster than necessary, walking in the front door and letting Jimin's embarrassed realization draw multiple twitches from his cock. Taehyung had dropped the tool so that it was hanging out of Jimin's ass all on its own, and Jimin seemed set on removing it, but Taehyung wouldn't let him.

"I'm not finished with you," Taehyung warned, nudging playfully on the tool one last time to make Jimin moan. "Don't move."

Jimin didn't. Jimin always did as he was told, and Jungkook drank it right up, parched for a second helping. Unparalleled obedience.

"Your Highness," Taehyung greeted, bowing for Jungkook as he got up from crouching on the floor. He dusted his hands off as if he had merely been doing his grimy job just seconds earlier. He was more confident this time around, unless it was a guise to cover his unease. "What brings you to my humble abode?" Jungkook didn't know what to say, so he didn't say anything. It wasn't like him to get nervous, but he was now. Nervous because of Taehyung or Jimin or both, he didn't know. All he knew was that this was more thrilling than listening to boring lectures about the kings before him and the battles they'd won, his whole body on fire as he watched Jimin struggling to stay still with the thick tool still inside him. It was more thrilling than their adventures as children. "Are you here to help me punish this boy?" Taehyung offered, gesturing with his head towards Jimin, who was still bent over the anvil as ordered. "He's grown soft to the real world and started crying when I killed a pigeon that flew into my quarters this morning. I told him he looked better when crying from being stretched open and filled with something thick." Taehyung was grinning down at Jimin and Jungkook had to swallow hard when he imagined Jimin crying and Taehyung comforting or punishing him by shoving a tool up his ass. "But the tool is too hard for him, poor babe. I think he wants something softer and warm instead."

Jungkook widened his eyes as he tried to digest Taehyung giving him rather explicit permission to fuck Jimin. Properly fuck him. He swallowed his dry throat painfully once more and just nodded, not stopping Taehyung when he undid Jungkook's pants and crouched down to pull the tool out of his lover, drawing out a pitiful whine that went straight to his length. Taehyung tossed it away and then sat back on his stool, waiting for him to mount Jimin.

Jungkook got down on his knees behind the naked boy, observing his stretched and slick entrance so close to his own naked groin. Jimin shifted slightly, and Taehyung laced their fingers together before Jimin could grow scared, whispering something inaudible into Jimin's ear. Jungkook squeezed his pulsing cock, the thought of having it inside of Jimin in mere seconds making his head spin and hurt with excitement.

"Go on," Taehyung said, startling him back to full awareness. "Show the boy how the future King punishes the weak."

Jungkook nodded, his cock so hard it was hurting and screaming at him to slam inside of Jimin. He followed his natural urge, aligning the tip with Jimin's wet entrance and hissing at how warm he was. Jimin moaned, managing a curious but sultry look back at Jungkook, who caught his eyes just as he pushed in, flattening Jimin down on the anvil.

Gods, it was heavenly. Blasphemy or not, he found heaven inside of Jimin and he swore he felt himself ascending, his sins absolved as he was swallowed by a tight vice, warm and more than welcoming. Jimin's moans sounded like gospel psalms, encouraging him forward with nothing in his blank mind other than chasing his release. He was already thrusting, already bucking into him so fast he could feel his legs hurt, and Taehyung covered Jimin's mouth to keep in his screams of pleasure, stroking his sweaty bangs every so often to keep them out of his eyes.

"How does it feel to have a prince inside you, Jimin?" Jungkook asked without realizing what was spilling from his mouth, his lips kissing over his sweaty neck and shoulders, closely followed by an eager tongue. "Fucking your tight hole silly," He leaned up to Jimin's ear, breathing into it in heavy puffs. "Using you as I please?"

He felt Jimin shiver under his fingers, goosebumps rippling over his honey skin. He didn't look at Jungkook, but he could feel Jimin tighten around him, which urged him to thrust harder and faster, making the boy's dangling cock trap painfully against the unforgiving anvil. He had almost forgotten Taehyung was there, but remembered when he licked Jimin's cheek and felt a hand turn Jimin's face away from him.

"Don't kiss him. Please."

Jungkook nodded in understanding. Sort of. He didn't understand why he couldn't do that when he could fuck him with no questions asked, but he did comprehend his secondary nature in their encounter and that his presence was a variable, not a given. Taehyung always held Jimin's hand, too. It was like he didn't quite trust Jungkook. Didn't quite lovehim being there, but had him there nonetheless because he felt like it. Because Taehyung always did whatever he wanted.

He only managed two more thrusts before the knot in his stomach loosened and his toes curled while he spilled himself entirely into Jimin, leaning on top of him. Taehyung shoved him back as if he weren't a royal at all, lifting Jimin up from the anvil which he'd probably smothered him against and walking Jimin quickly over to a wash basin to clean him. Jungkook panted and watched as Taehyung used a wet cloth to remove any trace of him that was left, taking care to check Jimin for damage or other unwelcome sights.

Despite him 'using' Jimin, the come leaking down his thighs and dirtying his undergarments while he sat on the filthy blacksmith floor made him feel rather used instead, all of Jimin's attention currently wrapped up in Taehyung's enthusiastic praises and caring touches. He stayed until Taehyung had helped Jimin come by tugging him off, looking annoyed with Junglook because he hadn't managed to make Jimin climax during their encounter at all. Was Jungkook selfish? Was that why he'd only been able to chase his own climax? Maybe. He was used to getting what he wanted, but he hadn't meant to keep Jimin from feeling pleasure alongside him. He would have to try harder next time.

 

*

 

Council meetings were the worst thing Jungkook knew. All it consisted of was his father and several advisors jacking off to their negotiating victories and leaving Jungkook in the dust whilst wishing to be elsewhere. It was unfair. Sometimes he wished he wasn't king-to-be, hearing others outside the castle windows laughing and talking loudly about things that weren't the lack of money or the need for rigorous politics.

After the council meeting he had more lessons, an aged and decaying man with hundreds of books trying to tell him the importance of doing things for the benefit of the people but to trust gut instinct, and he would honestly hurl if he heard the word 'honour' one more time. At least he was better than the lectures he got from his father at the dinner table while his mother was off crying about another deceased relative to bite it from illness.

He found himself waiting by the blacksmith hut for Jimin and Taehyung one sunny day after finishing all his chores, but curiously neither boy was there. Taehyung only showed up hours later with a large hammer in his hand and his fingers greased in something impossibly black. The latter looked surprised to see him there, throwing his hammer down by a tree stump and picking up a stack of hay instead.

"Jimin's not here," Taehyung just said, speaking softly as if stepping on eggshells. He sounded confused. Jungkook felt equally so.

"Shall we go get him?" Jungkook offered, scratching the back of his head. "I've been thinking and-- well, I kind of miss how we used to be when we were younger. Life is so hectic now, but I thought we could head into town or something. Or go see the animals together. I know Jimin likes the animals." He was having such a hard time wringing himself for words when he was the one who wrote elaborate poetry in his lessons and was expected to have excellent eloquence. How was he supposed to delicately put that he wanted to be around his old friends for more than just sex?

"Look," Taehyung said, dropping the hay back down and leaning a hand on his hip. He looked tired, his eyes almost bloodshot. Jungkook had forgotten how hard the commoners were expected to work, and almost felt guilty for imposing. "I don't want him to grow close to you. It'll only hurt more when you leave." Jungkook felt stunned at his words, swallowing thickly as Taehyung spoke so unfiltered and harshly that he almost got offended. Their previous friendship was the only thing that let Taehyung get away with speaking to him in such a manner. Jungkook honoured friendships. "It's only a matter of time before you're king. You've already left once-- he doesn't need it again. We'll see the animals on our own, okay?"

Jungkook knew his soul was starting to taint when the first thing he thought after Taehyung finished was the insolence of the commoner speaking to a prince and giving him commands like some war general. It burned a little to get such lip from a dirty boy who had more stacks of hay than he had real property, but he told himself to snap out of it, yanking his own head out of the clouds before he got to lash out. He was hurt and he wasn't thinking clearly.

"I just thought it would be fun," Jungkook defended himself with, pulling his gloves off slowly. Taehyung stared at the gloves while he talked, looking vaguely unimpressed. "Forgive me for missing your company." He wondered if that had come across as a little too passive aggressive, but it was the only truth he knew to say.

"Who do you think had to explain to Jimin why one day you just stopped showing up?" Taehyung pressed, folding his arms brusquely. Taehyung had grown so broad Jungkook almost cowered like a pup at his change in stance. "Why Jimin couldn't go running to you to show you a flower crown he made because you would never greet him with familiarity? He'd be cast away like a stray dog. And don't you try to deny it."

"He wanted to show me flower crowns?" Jungkook asked in soft wonder, not wanting to consider any of Taehyung's other points. He was tired of everything, but most of all he was tired of people thinking they knew him and his struggles and made decisions based on their own prejudice. The thought of Jimin making flower crowns for him almost made him want to well up with tears.

Taehyung didn't reply, but stared Jungkook in the eye for a while until he seemed to sigh in defeat, the tensing in his forehead clearly visible. Jungkook frowned, walking forward and placing a hand on Taehyung's stiff shoulder. The physical labour of the commoners was a remarkably odd thing, his household never partaking in such strenuous activities. It was why the commoners had more joint problems. More injuries and exposure to disease. He wondered if Taehyung had attracted a disease and that was what was making him so antsy.

"Alright," Jungkook sighed back, taking a step behind himself. "I don't want to be a burden. I just wish you two knew how much you mean to me and that I never intended to offend either one of you."

Taehyung nodded, glancing around himself as if worried Jimin would show up at any moment. Jungkook was almost disgusted with himself for flashing jewellry and silk robes when Taehyung was hard at work in the same getup he'd had five springs ago. Their clear divide was staring him in the face, and still he felt stabbed in the back. Still he felt the skin between his shoulderblades bleed.

"You can come find us when your loins burn," Taehyung tried to remedy, and Jungkook could only give him a grateful nod, abandoning his plan to pay Jimin a surprise visit in the kitchens. He remembered what Jimin looked like crying, and decided that he didn't want to be the cause of that ever.

 

*

 

But fooling around wasn't so bad. It was easy with Jimin being so lovely and soft and thick in all the right places; so willing to please and so eager for praise.

Taehyung had invited him to join them by the horse stalls, Jungkook showing up to the sight of Jimin bound with thick leather belts and kneeling on the floor, his ass a tender red. Taehyung held a brown belt in his hand, Jungkook very sure about where that had been just moments before he got there. Jimin beamed at his arrival, moving slightly to see him better but whining as pain wracked through his sore behind.

Taehyung smirked, grabbing Jimin's bound hands and lifting him up onto his feet. "Look at you, all messy. A whipping boy posing as a kitchen aid, wouldn't you say, your highness?"

Jungkook couldn't find it in himself to do anything other than nod, spotting semen down Jimin's left thigh and letting his mind blank with the mental image of himself getting down and fucking Taehyung's come right back into Jimin, filling him up to maximum capacity.

"I'm fairly certain even whipping boys would be frowned upon when finding arousal in sodomy and bondage," Jungkook mused, laughing at the thought. He'd always had a penchant for the more sadistic side of power, and Jimin looked good bound in leather. Already broken in.

The smallest boy whimpered, his eyes searching Jungkook's with pleading in their depths and his hair a halo around his head. Jungkook inhaled sharply when Jimin bent forward to press his face into the hay-covered floor, leaving his ass on full display while his thighs quivered.

"It is a maiden's place to be sheathed with cock, but here you are, begging for it," Taehyung continued, fingers tracing Jimin's sweaty back like he was touching precious china. "Wrecked by it."

The smallest whimpered, back moving in little jitters as his ass clenched, unintentionally causing more semen to leak down his thighs. Without seeing his face, Jungkook knew Jimin must be blushing the darkest rosy red, his eyes squeezing shut in embarrassment. Taehyung seemed to be thinking the exact same thing, walking around to look down at Jimin's face and grabbing his chin, touching the small traces of come left at the corners of his lips.

"The royal whore," Taehyung whispered to him, his breaths coming out rather harsh and dry. "Can't be satisfied with only one cock, hm?"

Walking back around Jimin, Taehyung bent down again and dipped his still-wet cock ever so quickly and shallowly in and out of the boy's stretched hole. Jimin moaned, his eyes blown at he tried to take the surprise with gusto. Jungkook got the hint and yanked his own pants down while he followed after Taehyung with a quick spear of his dick into Jimin's moist entrance. The split second was everything he'd hoped and more, shuddering when he felt Taehyung's come catch onto his length on the way out. For all he knew his saliva could have ended up in there too. Jimin really was a mess.

"Let's fill him to the brim," Taehyung said lowly, getting down on the ground and pulling Jimin into his lap against a stack of hay, spreading the boy's legs on either side of his waist. Jimin's back arched naturally and his head fell backwards, leading Jungkook to have eye contact with him for a few fleeting seconds.

Taehyung sank Jimin down onto his ready length, kissing Jimin's neck and mumbling praises to him before he gestured for Jungkook to go next. Jungkook paled, the thought of Jimin taking two cocks at once almost being too much for his puny brain to handle. Taehyung hooked a finger in next to his filling cock, teasing the rim open for a wider stretch. Jungkook stood stiff (in more ways than one) and still by the barn door, his hands grasping tight onto his attire. Taehyung laughed, tapping Jimin on the cheek.

The next second said angel turned around with pleading eyes much too innocent for his request, breathing out a small but clear, "Please fill me."

Jungkook lost his mind, fumbling with the rest of his pants vigorously and slamming down onto his knees as he crawled over to align his cock up with Taehyung's, holding Jimin's hips in place for good measure.

"Are you ready to get stuffed like the needy, little cockwhore you are?" Jungkook asked, his hands tightening around Jimin's throat.

But one thing he came to learn: only Taehyung could talk to Jimin like that. Taehyung glared at him for the remainder of the fuck, almost ripping his eyes out as Jungkook began sinking in too fast and Jimin yelped in pain.

"Sweet boy, so good for us," Taehyung cooed, licking and kissing away the stray tears falling down his face. Jungkook felt bad, but the heat around him was so tight and heavenly that it was forgotten in less than a second.

The belts looked painfully tight where they bound Jimin's arms together behind his back, but the latter had yet to complain in any shape or form, so Jungkook assumed me must like it. He was almost seated fully when Taehyung began moving, giving Jungkook no heads up

"Ah!" Jimin yelped, flopping his head down on Taehyung's shoulder and glancing back at the prince in wonder. "Taetae, it's so much. It's so much, Tae; I'm so full."

Taehyung didn't say anything to acknowledge him or Jungkook, busy driving his cock in and out of Jimin's stretched hole. The tightness was almost unbearable, Jungkook's bearings gone a long time ago. He breathed in Jimin's damp hair and bucked his hips forward, alternating with Taehyung's rhythm and rendering Jimin a mumbling mess between them.

"O-ow," Jimin whimpered into Taehyung's mouth, Jungkook slowing as he worried about whether he was moving too fast or not, but Taehyung gestured for him to keep moving, rubbing Jimin's cheek and singing his praises as they kept going. Jimin's breath was so laboured and his skin was flushed all over, leaving Jungkook struggling to keep his release at bay while he held Taehyung's eyes in a silent challenge, both of them trying at the same time to fuck harder than the other but also last longer, resulting in a disastrous mess between them as Jimin came from the unrelenting stimulation, his body all limp and floppy.

Him and Taehyung kept going, ignoring Jimin's sulky whines about sensitivity and watching as slowly but surely Jimin grew hard again, whether it was because of Taehyung dirty talking into his ear or the double stretch proving too arousing for him, he wasn't sure. His hips began stuttering as Jimin clenched down on them, Taehyung cursing under his breath and looking depleted and love-struck as he gazed into Jimin's face while he fucked up as best as he could, his fingers digging into Jimin's fleshy sides.

"Please finish or I'll come again," Jimin breathed to them, both Taehyung and Jungkook taking that as a challenge instead of the plea it was supposed to be. Taehyung grabbed Jungkook's hand all of a sudden, moving it towards Jimin's strained length and telling him silently to pump him in time with their thrusts. Jungkook did exactly that, kissing and sucking between Jimin's shoulder blades as he assessed the tensing muscles under him.

Jimin was powerless to stop it as he ejaculated a second time, crying and falling on top of Taehyung, who held him still as he started his final sprint to his own climax, Jimin spasming around both of their lengths feeling too good to ignore. They came at roughly the same time, Taehyung grunting into Jimin's shoulder and Jungkook hissing at the cramped space, his head swimming as he had to get used to the feeling of something warm and wet filling Jimin that wasn't only his own come.

Taehyung reached around to undo the leather binding Jimin's hands, accepting the handful of the smaller boy that he got once Jimin was free to fling himself into his arms and cling to him. Jungkook allowed himself to indulge, stroking soft trails down Jimin's sweaty back and smiling as he slowly pulled out his softening cock. It slipped out easily, but Taehyung seemed to be set on staying inside a while longer, brushing Jimin's hair back and closing his eyes.

"That was amazing," Jungkook said, his voice oddly hoarse as he turned to see his surroundings. Luckily nobody had walked in on them. They were in a decently public area, and Jungkook had far too much at stake to be doing what he was doing.

Taehyung smiled at him, nodding solemnly. Jimin's laughter sounded like bluebells ringing in the forest.

 

*

 

"Tae, what we're doing...it's okay, right?"

Taehyung looked up to see Jimin frowning down at him, still not wet from the water whereas Taehyung had already dunked his head under. He let his feet touch the bank, slicking the hair away from his head. He wished it had been warmer, but he rarely ever got his wishes fulfilled, so it would be foolish for it to start now.

"Of course it's okay. People bathe in the river all the time."

Jimin bit his lip, fumbling with his fingers. Taehyung knew what he was going to say. He could read Jimin like an open book. Could taste his feelings through the air like an aromatic wine.

"No, I mean the...the sex. And Jungkook. And everything."

Taehyung scrunched up his nose, staring down at Jimin's toes. Jimin really should bathe soon, or he would catch pneumonia standing out in the open air like that. The seasons were particularly unrelenting these days, claiming more lives than women could give birth to. Unsure of what to say, Taehyung motioned for him to come join him, Jimin only doing so when he understood that Taehyung didn't have an answer for him yet.

"Pass me the soap," Taehyung told him, and Jimin gave in, grabbing a bar and submerging himself into the water until he was right in front of Taehyung, staring into his eyes. "Thank you." He then grabbed Jimin and turned him around, dipping his head into the water and lathering the bar of soap up to serve as a cleaning agent for his hair. Jimin slumped his back against Taehyung's chest reaching down under water to hold his hand, but he couldn't find it. His stomach sank.

"Will they hang me?" Jimin suddenly asked, his lulled forward head making his eyes search the water surrounding them, spotting algae and a few streams of fish. Taehyung startled behind him, moving around so that he was standing in front of Jimin instead.

"Why would you say that? What on Earth would possess you to think such a thing?"

"It's just that we're always so cautious," Jimin tried to explain, though he knew it was difficult for him to get the right words out. "And Jungkook is the prince, after all. If anyone finds out about his afflictions, they'll come for whoever bewitched him into those wicked ways in the first place. And what if I'm not good enough? What if he decides that he hates fucking me because I've grown too boring? I have these thoughts sometimes, you know. Little worries."

Taehyung smiled halfheartedly, rinsing some soap out of Jimin's hair with his hands. Jimin was still warm despite the freezing water, huddling close to Taehyung and peering into his eyes. His irises were always so beautiful to look at. Taehyung wouldn't mind drowning if it would be drowning in those.

"We can stop, if you want," Taehyung suggested. He hadn't thought Jungkook would be this much of a burden only being there as a source of pleasure. He had intended for it to be fun and a vague ode to their old friendship. Sharing and caring and warmth. Enough dominance to make Jimin feel overwhelmed with arousal.

Jimin shook his head slowly. "No," he replied. "I love making you happy. And him happy. I just have a creeping feeling that the end will come soon. It's too good to be true, isn't it?"

"No," Taehyung said quickly, kissing Jimin's wet neck and rubbing the sore muscle there. "The gods are finally indulging you for being so patient and kind. And beautiful. Putting you to good use as a pretty concubine."

Jimin rolled his eyes at him, hitting his shoulder. Taehyung chuckled and attempted to dunk the smaller boy under, only letting up when he suspected Jimin might be drowning. Jimin sputtered and looked miserable, but it was the kind of miserable that was over in a flash, so Taehyung didn't mind it.

They were snapped out if their little world when Jimin's father boomed down at them that it didn't look like they were washing dishes, and Taehyung almost fell under as he retreated from Jimin like he'd been scorched. Jimin hurried back to the bank, pulling his clothes back on over his wet skin and getting to work immediately. Taehyung laughed at how scared he was of his father's wrath, earning him a wet rag thrown into his face by a stressed Jimin.

 

*

 

Jimin startled in the night when a Kingsguard tapped him on the shoulder, telling him the prince was summoning him to his chambers. It took him a little while to wake properly, trying not to pee himself at the fear of his doomsday being upon him. He was barely allowed to gather his bearings before the guard yanked him up and sent him on his way, explaining the directions to him quickly before disappearing.

Even the path towards the prince's chambers were extravagant. Along the walls hung vibrant tapestries of gods and men in all their glory, illuminated by a succession of torches and chandeliers. A carpet clothed the floor, leading whoever was on it forward towards the grand doors at the end of the hall, which Jimin could only assume was where he was supposed to go. The servant hadn't exactly given him concise details about his summoning, so half of his expectations and decisions were guesswork.

He reached his hand out and knocked softly on the wooden door, wondering if anybody inside could even hear it through the dense material. His palms were sweating and he felt so naked standing there, clad in only his usual attire with stains and messes wherever least expected. He felt as if he were spoiling the air just by breathing it in. He had never expected to be invited to the prince's private quarters. Ever since they had started their little routine, Jimin had expected Jungkook to get bored and distance himself soon enough. He was cooped up and lonesome and looking to rebel while hormones still raged in his body, and Taehyung and Jimin offered and easy and pleasurable solution.

He startled when the door was swung open to reveal Jungkook, smiling bright and beckoning him inside with wide arms. His hair was messy and he only wore a velvet robe, his neck decorated with jewellry.

"Lovely of you to come, Jimin," Jungkook said, wandering back to his table and grabbing a silver goblet off of it. He swirled the contents. "Would you care for some wine?"

"No thank you, your Grace." He didn't know much of wine, but Taehyung had told him once it was made of pig's blood, and that was the reason for the intense colour. He didn't quite fancy drinking pig's blood.

"Very well." Jungkook slinked back to his bed, looking like he'd already had a fair bit of the wine. Jimin watched him down the last of the substance in his goblet before he dropped it on the floor, sitting himself up against the grand headboard. His skin was flush and he looked happy. Jungkook looked really good smiling.

"Your Grace?" He pressed, staring around himself and observing the room. The ceiling was high and every inch was covered in silks and gold laquer. The air in the quarters was actually breathable, and there wasn't a faint stink of mould latched onto everything.

"Is something the matter?" Jungkook replied, busy running a hand through his hair.

"Just...me alone, your Grace?"

"Yes. Does that displease you?"

"No, your Grace."

"Perfect. Disrobe for me."

Jimin hesitated, his eyes widening. It wasn't that he was shocked by the request, but he had only ever engaged with Jungkook sexually while Taehyung was present. He had agreed to try it because Taehyung wanted it -or maybe they all wanted it, Jimin wasn't sure- but he did know it felt weird when Taehyung wasn't there.

Not wanting to disobey the prince, Jimin pulled at the strings of his shirt, allowing it to slip open slowly and reveal the expanse of his chest. Jungkook's eyes were glued to his tummy, trailing lower still as Jimin's hands reached for his pants, fumbling with the strings. His breath hitched when he struggled with the knots, the strings slipping out of his slippery fingers and the unmerciful feeling of being judged while doing such a menial task rendering him even more unsteady.

"Perfect," Jungkook mused, smiling up at him. He pulled off his shirt too, his eyes shining. Jimin held his breath as the prince walked up to him. He could feel him breathe against his skin. "You're so pretty. You were always so pretty."

Jimin lowered his gaze at the overwhelming praise, feeling Jungkook's hands brush his cheeks and settle at his hips. The room was warm. Jimin wasn't used to heat because of his cold quarters, but there were only a few lit candles and a crackling fireplace. Maybe it was the lavish skins hung up over all of the furniture. Maybe Jungkook was the sun.

"Your Grace, if I may speak...I've been thinking, and...why have me when you could have anyone you desire?" Jungkook's fingers were scorching on his skin, and Jimin's breath kept hitching. "I'm just me whereas...town has plenty of pleasure houses, any of the workers I'm sure would be happy to serve you. Anyone foreign, even. Princes and princesses. People with silk robes just like yours."

He felt Jungkook pause, reaching for his chin and lifting it up until they were locking eyes. "Are you not content for me to fuck you?"

"No-- I mean, of course I am--"

"Then rest assured that you are everything I want and need," he breathed against Jimin's mouth, stroking comforting circles into his lower back. Jimin leaned into him at the caressing touch, his eyes flickering closed.

Jungkook peeled his pants the rest of the way off, latching his mouth onto Jimin's unmarred shoulder and sucking. There was carpet under Jimin's feet and he wiggled his toes at the novel sensation. It was so different from the hay in his sleeping quarters. Jungkook reached down to cup his behind, squeezing him pointedly and letting his chipped nails graze his tailbone.

"You're growing wet for me," Jungkook snickered, gesturing down to Jimin's small cock which was hard and ready hanging from his stomach, leaking precome. Jimin moaned, nosing into Jungkook's neck to hide his shame. "That pleases me greatly. You can rub it against my thigh, if you'd like."

Jimin did as he was told, rutting slowly against Jungkook's naked leg without losing himself in shamelessness. Jungkook seemed content with just watching him, letting him work up a sweat by wiggling and whining like a needy dog. Jungkook's knee was perfectly solid and warm for him to seek friction from, but the heated rutting was making him feel like such a child. It was chasing with no end in sight.

"Your Grace," he begged, lining his mouth up with Jungkook's ear. There was a strong arm wrapped around his waist, encouraging his movements.

"Call me Master; I find it more suitable," Jungkook ordered, teasing Jimin by brushing a hand over his strained cock.

"Master," Jimin corrected. His knees were already turning weak. His neck was pricking with some unknown feeling, and Jungkook didn't let him finish before he was shoved back onto his lavish bed, surrounded by silk blankets and velvet covers.

The rest happened so quickly. Jimin was grasping at the sheets one second, then spun and shoved face first into them the next, groaning to himself as Jungkook spread his cheeks. Jungkook left him only to get heated oil and the pig intestine hood for his cock, and then he was sliding into Jimin all in one go, slamming his hips against the supple flesh of his ass in a most loud collision. Jimin was winded, grappling for some hold on anything around him, even reality, and just when he managed to breathe again Jungkook was thrusting wildly into him, his stiff cock wet and ready as it opened Jimin easily, driving into him while Jungkook's balls slapped against his skin.

Jimin wasn't aware of how loud he was being until the blanket of surprise and pained pleasure left him to make way for his awareness regarding his surroundings. His cries were cut off and often strangled by Jungkook's rapid movements or a hand on his neck, and he resigned himself to being a blubbering mess into the bedding while he let his prince have his way with him.

He reached out a hand deliriously as he felt himself nearing his climax, ready to intertwine fingers, but retreated it quickly once he remembered Taehyung wasn't there to help him, and had to recognize an empty feeling in his chest while being pressed down on and stuffed full of the prince's cock. He knew Taehyung would tell him he was being messy by drooling into the prince's sheets. Taehyung would stroke his hair and tell him to be a good boy while letting him suck on his thumb, and that thought was the only thing that let Jimin explode against the sheets, his come shooting into the silk and smearing against his tummy too fast to be dignified.

Jungkook grunted and groaned as he realized what Jimin had done, bucking brokenly forward at a wild pace and chasing his own climax. The prince's breaths were loud in his ear and tickling his nape, his presence surrounding him most completely. When weird sounds began to slip from him, Jimin knew he was about to burst, hissing all sorts of things to Jimin while he spilled into the thin cap wrapped around his cock.

"Say it again," Jungkook grunted, moaning as he rode out his pleasure with closed eyes.

"Master," Jimin rasped, his eyes shiny with tears as his sensitive cock burned under him. He whined and curled in on himself as Jungkook finally stilled inside of him.

"Come here," Jungkook said, and Jimin wasn't sure what he wanted until he felt a hand turn his chin and a pair of soft lips covering his own. He lay completely limp while Jungkook tasted him with tongue, turning him over and running his thumbs over Jimin's sensitive nipples. Teeth bit into his bottom lip ever so slightly, and Jimin cringed at the feeling, grasping onto Jungkook's shoulders to have something to keep him sane. When Jungkook pulled away, Jimin felt the spit on him cool against the air. His release was also cold and drying, caking his back and stomach.

The prince got up, walking over to his forgotten goblet and drinking whatever was left in the cup. His hair looked even messier now than when Jimin had come in, and he noticed the elaborate food stains spotted down the prince's robe.

"You can leave now," Jungkook just said. Jimin sat up, staring at him. He considered saying something; asking a question maybe, but Jungkook's unconcerned attitude put him off and he found himself getting up on his feet and walking out as fast as his legs could carry him.

He hadn't walked far before he realized he was practically sprinting out to Taehyung's hut all but half-naked, ignoring the wet grass and the owls making noises that he feared would alert people of his presence. The windows of the castle were still lit, but Jimin's heart was racing and it wouldn't stop. It had been so hard to breathe within the castle walls, every painting feeling like it was staring and following him with their dead eyes. Guards outside of all the he doors had seen him even if they never turned their heads, and by the time he'd made it to the kitchens he was in hysterics.

It had felt so different. Not that it had been terrible and he'd been treated badly, but it hadn't felt right. It had been impersonal and quick. rough. Then he'd been kissed like it was nothing more than a cock in his mouth. But maybe he was overreacting. Maybe he just missed Taehyung.

He stopped to catch his breath outside of Taehyung's door, knowing his father would scold him for dirtying his shoes in the mud but trying to keep it out of mind. He just wanted to hear Taehyung's voice again. Wanted him to tell him that everything was okay, even if it wasn't. Even just listening to his own thoughts was making him queasy with embarrassment.

He knocked, and it didn't take long before a familiar face opened the door, groggy and still burdened by sleep. Taehyung's messy hair was a work of art, decorated with an odd twig or two and sporting dusty discoloration. He often offered to brush Taehyung's hair for him, but was shot down before he so much as could promise it wouldn't hurt.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Taehyung croaked when he realized who it was, his eyes squinting. "It's way past hours! What if you were caught?"

"I'm a sensitive baby," Jimin reprimanded himself before Taehyung could, sniffling and letting tears slip out of his eyes. He was already shaken and he hadn't expected Taehyung to sound so harsh. He hadn't expected anything that had happened that night and it was all so overwhelming. He could handle hunger and plagues and his muscles burning from hard work, but he couldn't handle this. He was crying before he even realized it.

Taehyung's eyes widened as he stood dumbfounded before him, unused to seeing Jimin so upset. Jimin was supposed to have been sleeping in his quarters, and unless Jimin had had a bad dream, the unease in his stomach told him something was off.

He led Jimin inside, closing the door behind him and sitting him down on the floor by the sizzling furnace. Pushing Jimin's head into his neck, he wrapped his arms around him and shushed him softly, kissing his sweaty hair. Jimin was trembling, and it made his heart hurt, but he knew better than to pry for answers. Jimin was feeling overwhelmed and needed him to be the calmness that had left him.

"He kissed me," Jimin blubbered, touching his lips like he couldn't quite believe it. Taehyung frowned at his words, holding Jimin tighter. Even without hearing a name, he was fairly convinced he had the right individual pinned down. "He kissed me and then he cast me aside. He didn't even hold me, he just--" Jimin sniffed, wiping his runny nose. "--told me to leave. There was come still on my belly, Tae! I was made to walk out like I wasn't even worthy of a second glance once I'd been used!"

Taehyung bristled, his expression darkening. He had thought him and Jungkook had a mutual understanding in regards to exactly that. He'd thought there had always been a line between what the prince was welcome to do and what was off limits, and Taehyung regretted even inviting him to join in the first place. Whether it had been for friendship or servitude's sake, he felt it might have been one kindness too much. The royals never learnt of boundaries and instead were spoonfed the need to steal. Lands, money, people; the royals could barely even tell the difference.

"The prince...did he come to you in your sleeping quarters?" Taehyung asked softly, trying to mask his alarm at the news of Jimin being bedded without him, right in the middle of the night. He then realized how stupid his question was, the kitchen servants all sleeping in piles almost on top of each other in their sleeping chambers. Taehyung had first hand experience with the environment, after all.

"He asked for me," Jimin corrected. He seemed to have gained slightly more colour than his pallid face moments before, and Taehyung hoped they could continue down that path. "I-I was summoned to his bedchambers, and I thought...I thought you'd be there too. Like you always are."

Jimin's frown was never a pretty sight. His eyes dropped with the corners of his lips, almost like a baby goat, and Taehyung felt like all the happiness had been drained out of the world as if by the work of witchcraft. He patted Jimin's head and kissed his face, but the air of depletion didn't seem to be able to lift.

"Next time I will be there to cut his nuts off. If he has the balls left to try fucking you again, I mean," Taehyung remarked, a small spike of ease coursing through him when he caught Jimin giggling through his tears.

Taehyung spent the entire night kissing Jimin, ensuring him that he was worth so much more than his body and that he loved him very, very much. Jimin almost whined in happiness, clinging to him so sweetly and enjoying every kiss with closed eyes and soft breaths. At least the trouble had lead to something good. Him and Jimin hadn't slept next to each other in a long time, forced to confinement in their own quarters due to busy schedules and a sore lack of energy.

 

*

 

Taehyung's next meeting with Jungkook was a mid-week council he'd been summoned to. He'd made a point to avoid the castle altogether except for when absolutely necessary (like when he went to see Jimin on his off hours). Now he was sat in a room amongst Jimin's father, a few knights, and other servants of the throne that barely ever saw each other, all gathered to have their good work brushed off as an implied inconvenience.

"The Keeper of Gold and his Majesty Jungkook have decided the court's spendings regarding your individual posts," a page boy read, standing right in front of the prince, but sadly not enough to cover him from view. "We will be making an investment in our army out of fear of the rising powers in the West. This means less resources to the kitchens and more tasks for the smith as he must aid in forging weapons and armour until we can outsource the job to the village."

A collective murmur gripped the room, but Jungkook silenced everyone with a flick of his wrist. Taehyung snorted, feeling embarrassed for his excessive efforts at maintaining power. His friend Hoseok -a skilled stonemason- sat to his right, sighing every few seconds and looking ready to build a wall around himself.

"The crown is grateful for your loyalty. You are free to leave."

Nobody wanted to linger, so the chairs clanged against the floor as people made their way out of the hall, dragging with them whatever they'd bothered to bring in. Taehyung, however, stayed seated, lifting his feet up on the table and grabbing a juicy looking red apple to bite into. Jungkook, who had been talking to his cousin, stared and him while looking none too amused.

"Your Grace," Taehyung greeted, well aware of his insolence. He expected full on grovelling on the floor for forgiveness from Jungkook, or he wouldn't be bothered trying to give him the light of day ever again. Maybe that was an exaggeration, but it would be a pretty long while before he'd be able to get his cock hard with the sight of Jungkook anywhere in his near vicinity.

"The last time you called me 'your Grace' was one of the first times we had one of our encounters," Jungkook laughed, shooing a handmaiden away from himself and telling the rest of his entourage to leave them.

"Figured it would be a nice touch seeing as looking at you once again makes me feel mildly to moderately uncomfortable."

Jungkook stopped in his tracks, his boots clacking loudly against the stone floor as they drew to a halt. Anybody else would have been killed for their words, but Taehyung still had faith in his standing. He had faith in Jungkook's gratitude.

"What?" Jungkook sounded equal parts confused and hurt, something which struck a nerve with Taehyung, who told himself that nobody could be daft enough to not notice someone being in low spirits for over a week at least.

"You made Jimin cry," Taehyung explained, the words themselves bringing back images of that night and making him even more irate. "He came to me in tears because of you."

"He cries about everything--" Jungkook started, but Taehyung cut him off sharply.

"Do you think I give a fuck? I share what's most precious to me in this world with you, and you think you can treat it like it's anything other than a gift from the gods?" Taehyung could feel himself getting heated, and had to fight to keep himself from getting out of his chair and doing something utterly stupid. He couldn't even look at Jungkook's face in fear of deciding he wanted to punch it.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know-- it was an accident. I was drunk and I wasn't thinking."

"Oh, don't say sorry to me; I don't care about your feelings. Who you need to apologize to is Jimin." Jungkook nodded fervently.

"I will. Really, Taehyung; I have no mal intentions towards Jimin." Jungkook's face looked so fallen and gaudy that Taehyung almost felt bad for the confrontation. Almost.

"I believe you. Just one more thing, then I'll leave," Taehyung said, finally letting himself stand up and tossing the rest of his apple on the floor. Jungkook frowned deeply.

"Are you grooming my boy?"

"What are you talking about?" Jungkook asked, his jaw clenching after his words escaped. It was clear that he wasn't used to being talked to like that. Like he was anything other than a god.

"Are you grooming--" Taehyung repeated, stepping closer to Jungkook until he was a mere arm's length away. The tension between them was clearly palpable. "--my boy?"

"Your boy?" Jungkook questioned with an uncomfortable laugh, but Taehyung wasn't smiling. Jungkook seemed to take note of this, clearing his throat. "My dearest Taehyung, I'm merely looking out for his wellbeing. Jimin has been working in horrid conditions for most of his life, and I feel like the least I could do would be to offer him a cleaner and safer environment. And grooming-- are you a hypocrite? You're the one fussing over his feelings and forbidding him from having a casual fuck outside of your demands as if you own him. You're a controlling hypocrite."

Taehyung's eyes were so narrowed and dark that they were barely slits, his upper lip tensing most notably. He hadn't seen Taehyung angry before. At least not properly angry. But what he was now had to be surpassing that, because he looked livid. Or perhaps Taehyung was finally seeing reason thanks to Jungkook; getting more insight on his persona from an outside perspective. Jungkook always thought it was best to work on self improvement through feedback from someone who knows you well, but he wasn't sure Taehyung took the time to follow such principles himself.

"Don't lure him into your bed alone ever again," Taehyung said, his words low and punctuated. Jungkook could have Taehyung killed for his insolence, but he was above that. Even if Taehyung's face when he said it made him impossibly angry. He was never made to feel angry much when everything he wanted to happen usually happened without a second request.

Taehyung eyed the guards on the far side of the room before he turned to walk out, his absence near Jungkook spurring the prince to feel latent resentment, his pride notably wounded from the command he'd gotten just earlier. He couldn't let Taehyung have power over him like that. What sort of King would he be if he allowed his disciples to step all over him?

"Wait," Jungkook said. The blacksmith turned back around, his face still wracked with apathy and looking none too amused to be beginning a new conversation. Jungkook cleared his throat, pointing down to Taehyung's hips where his pride hung snugly. "I'll be needing my sword back. You've had your fun with it."

Taehyung hesitated for a few moments before he undid the holster more quickly than he'd done anything, throwing the sword down in one heavy drop, his eyes still piercing and unemotional.

 

*

 

"How many suns until the birds sing again?" Jimin asked, smiling idly as they strolled through the city streets looking for Taehyung's iron supplies and stone casts. There were many people out in the afternoons and usually he hated going, but he couldn't bare to be on castle grounds for any longer than absolutely necessary. He couldn't bare those insolent crows cawing and making a ruckus around his hut. Couldn't bare the sight of the pigs and the slaughtered goats. Plus, it had been a long time since he'd smelled the wafts of the big city, rotting meat touching his nose wherever he turned. "Taehyung?"

"I didn't know." He was too focused on surveying the area. Lately he'd been dreaming. Not wild dreams, but realistic dreams in which he and Jimin escaped the castle to build a better life for themselves. They were fed and had the basics for survival, but he couldn't help but frown as he watched people roam around as they wanted, not having to ask for permission to take a shit or be followed by the terror of being accosted by kingsguards. Sometimes he daydreamed about selling Jimin to a merchant, because that was the only way they would take someone under their wing, and he'd watch him from afar as he lived his life in the city, far away from the claustrophobic castle walls where the servants rotted in their own feces in the sleeping quarters. He could visit him nightly, ensure that he was safe, and best of all, he was no longer in a place where Taehyung felt uneasy.

"What are you thinking about?" Jimin piped up to ask, looking miffed as his best friend wandered around the town but didn't look at any of the food or return his conversation.

"Nothing," Taehyung assured him, ripping his mind from his straying thoughts for good. "Just wondered if your father ever saw me sullying you in the kitchens. Doesn't he lurk around there all the time? What if he saw what my tongue did to your pretty hole on the night of the autumn feast?"

"Tae," Jimin hissed, a fierce blush ripping over his features and Taehyung's messy distraction easily forgotten. "What's gotten into you lately?"

"I'm growing bored of smithing doorknobs," Taehyung explained, shrugging noncommittally and grabbing a fresh pear off of a merchant stand. He sank his teeth into it the first chance he got, trying to block out the smell of feces running down the sewers in the middle of the street. "And when I'm bored I look for ways to annoy you, because you're adorable when you're embarrassed."

"Well stop," Jimin mumbled, saving the pear from Taehyung's clutches and placing it back on the stand.

"Hey! I was eating that!"

"A blacksmith and a thief? You better be careful or you'll have too many professions to juggle."

Taehyung rolled his eyes, but wrapped his left arm around Jimin's shoulders anyways, leaning in to kiss his temple. Jimin whined, bowing his head to keep onlookers from staring.

"You think being sweet gets you whatever you want..."

"It does, when you're concerned. You've always been weak to knights in shiny armour."

"I'm only weak for you," Jimin corrected him, his words so sincere that Taehyung's chest swelled with a familiar warmth. It was the warmth he felt whenever Jimin was around, and it always drove him insane.

"Keep it that way."

 

*

 

It wasn't that he was jealous of Taehyung-- or mad at him in any way. He was just scared. Scared because Taehyung was becoming a force to be reckoned with and kept communicating micro-threats that left his stomach uneasy. Taehyung had many times insulted the honour of the crown. Many more he had insulted Jungkook as a person directly, and thought Taehyung was a mere commoner with a little bit of metal in his hands, Jungkook felt he was imposing in such a way that it was becoming threatening. He'd warned Taehyung many times, of course; what would happen if he kept at it. But it appeared he turned a blind eye to it all. The only thing Taehyung cared about was himself.

Taehyung fornicated with Jimin wherever he pleased, even though he put Jungkook in a precarious position as he had to pretend to turn a blind eye to his chambers being sullied. All Taehyung did was laugh about it and feel bliss as if he owned the world. It made him sick. Jungkook technically owned the world, and Taehyung didn't even come close. He was cowering in front of a servant.

Jungkook breathed heavily as he bit his lip in preparation for what he was just about to do. Him and a handful of guards were standing outside of his aunt's chambers, listening to the kerfuffle going on inside. They were being loud, like always. Insolent. Completely shameless and uncaring of the castle property they were destroying. He could imagine it-- Taehyung dragging Jimin around and Jimin making a mess of the room like he did of himself and everything he touched. All the while they neglected Jungkook's many sacrificed for their cause and continued on like he was a disposable bag of horseshit.

He sent the guards marching in first, their heavy boots echoing like a war drum as Taehyung's face was frozen in fear and he sprang away from Jimin's body, his hard cock slipping right out of him. Jungkook walked in soon after, careful that his collar was adjusted correctly and that he had a clear view of what was going on.

Jimin was already stretched open, his legs parted just so and his eyes searching Jungkook's still with trust in their depths. He smiled at the boy, walking up to him and instructing his guards with a quiet flick of his fingers to hold Taehyung down.

"Jungkookie, a-are we playing?" Jimin asked, his eyes lit up as if he were hopeful that the air between them had been cleared and this was his way of apologizing. He stroked Jimin's hair, smiling down at him.

"We're playing, little one. Taehyung wants you to cry and act like you hate it. Can you do that for me? Give him a good show and I'll make you come so good. We'll be so proud of you."

Jimin nodded eagerly, whimpering when Jungkook pulled him back by his hair and glancing in Taehyung's direction with tears building in his eyes. Jungkook wondered what that would be like for the poor blacksmith. Seeing his most precious thing hurt and begging for him; breaking slowly in the hands of someone he had used to consider a friend. He hoped he felt it tenfold. Felt it burn his heart so badly that it didn't want to keep beating, and remind him that he was nothing but a commoner having attempted to best a god-anointed King.

He heard Taehyung yelling incomprehensible things from behind them, and found himself delighted in the accompanying music as he sank his unclothed length into Jimin's wet hole without much preamble, kissing Jimin deep and enjoying his feigned struggling and empty pleas for Taehyung to save him. He couldn't tell which got him closer to ecstasy: Jimin's pathetic acting or Taehyung's soul-shattering protests, the latter looking nothing short of a mess as he yelled until his face turned purple and made one of the guards beat his head with the back of their sword.

He quietened then, his mouth dribbling globs of blood and his head hanging while Jungkook fucked into Jimin, holding his face straight up to keep him from seeing the mess behind him.

"I'll fuck you so hard you start bleeding blue," Jungkook hissed loudly, resulting in Taehyung puking onto the cobbled floor behind them, the wet sounds only driving Jungkook faster. Taehyung had yellow and brown soiling the sides of his mouth, and Jungkook had to fight to keep focus on Jimin, who was stuck staring into his eyes, moaning and whimpering as Jungkook reached a hand down and began tugging at his hard cock, kissing his warm neck. Jimin was full of tears, all streaked down his face and his arms flailing and 'attempting' to shove him away.

"Please, don't, please--" Jimin blubbered his face all covered in sweat and his lip coated with snot, but his left arm was tugging at Jungkook's shirt so needily, begging him for release. Jungkook decided enough was enough and squeezed Jimin's small length harder, thrusting deep and biting his neck to let a blue mark of remembrance form later, all the while living in Jimin's almost singing praise as he came hard against his own stomach. Jungkook bit his lip and allowed himself to spill inside Jimin, grunting graces out of his mouth and licking the sweaty boy's ear.

He pulled out before Jimin could gather his bearings, shoving his cock back in his pants and motioning for his guards to drop Taehyung, more than ready to catch some sleep and dream about the aftermath of his visit when he was away from the loud and tumultuous scene.

 

*

 

"Taetae...w-we were only playing. He said it was just a game." Jimin had kept repeating the same thing at least twenty times to Taehyung while helping him home, worried after seeing him with vomit all over himself and a steadily bleeding mouth, but having had no idea when or why it had happened. Taehyung didn't say anything, too busy alternating between holding back tears and crying, clinging to Jimin with a death grip. Jimin had a bucket of warm water and a cloth to clean him with, but Taehyung barely wanted to lift his head from him.

"I thought he was going to kill you," Taehyung said weakly. His eyes were unfocused. "We...w-we had a disagreement earlier, and..."

Jimin frowned, pulling Taehyung's face up. "Why would he do that? You can't be so paranoid, Tae. This is just Jungkook we're talking about."

"Paranoid?" Taehyung grated, his eyes dark as he grabbed Jimin's hand which had been busy cleaning his bloody lip. His grip was hard and painful. Unforgiving. "The prince wanted me to believe he was raping you and you call me paranoid?" Taehyung's breath and spit was flying into his face now, their noses almost touching. "I watched him rip your honour to shreds and crush your pretty heart all in one go! I've never been that distraught!"

"Please, Tae, y-you're hurting me--" Jimin was silenced as Taehyung yanked at him, his hand throbbing in pain. He'd never in his life been scared of Taehyung, but he was getting pretty damn close.

"Oh, did he tell you to say that too?" Taehyung hissed, grabbing Jimin's shirt and shaking him so hard his head whipped back and forth. Jimin could see insanity pool in his irises, a speck of dust short from engulfing him completely. Or at least that was what he told himself. "Act like I'm a monster? How badly does he have you wrapped around his little finger? Are you two conspiring to take me down?"

"I'm not-- it's not like that! I'm so sorry for what he did; for what I did. I-I didn't know--"

Taehyung looked completely blinded for a few seconds and yelled loudly into Jimin's face before he shoved him backwards so hard Jimin could barely fit a thought in before he felt a splitting pain at the back of his head. He blanked, his vision going black. His body curled in on itself, the pain in his head throbbing as his eyes strained wide open and his mouth hang slack. His back arched as the muscles contracted all on their own and refused to rest.

"I'm sorry," Taehyung choked, his face still gaudy but his eyes warm with recognition this time. He scrambled down to his limp form and checked him for injuries, turning him slightly and making Jimin hiss in pain. "Forgive me, Jiminnie. Forgive me." Taehyung was crying again, and Jimin decided he hated it. Taehyung never cried and now he was crying, looking so out if it where he stood hunched over his body.

He couldn't feel much aside from pain, but registered that he was picked up into Taehyung's strong arms, his throbbing head cradled against his chest as they rushed out the door of Taehyung's home. His vision was swimming and the castle didn't look the same, all bent and weird as they hurried over the courtyard and through a big door, swallowed by dimly lit halls and cold air. He smelled the mould again, and knew he was where he belonged. He felt the damp air itch at his skin, the faint sounds of a baby crying clouding him in familiar white noise to drown out Taehyung's rushing feet. Every step was painful as his head was jerked around, but he could only assume Taehyung knew where he was going and really needed to go there. Taehyung wouldn't hurt him for nothing. Taehyung wouldn't lose his mind while he was in trouble.

"Just hang in there, okay?" Taehyung's voice was oddly calm. Every time a torch flickered past his vision he flinched at the memories of guards carrying them, burying himself into Taehyung further and squeaking nothing of intelligence out into the empty halls. His eyes were droopy and the darkness was catching up with him. He was so tired. "Listen to my voice and don't fall asleep. We're almost there."

He was bounced slightly with heavier steps. It got slightly colder. The sound of a heavy door being opened rattled him awake, his body shook as he was placed down on the cold floor, dim lights telling him that he wasn't anywhere too familiar, but not a place entirely unknown to him either. He heard shuffling footsteps and bottles clunking and hitting each other, liquids dripping to the floor as a few of them smashed.

"Fuck." He swore he could hear rats talking. Or maybe it was frogs, hidden deep inside the castle. Maybe the Queen collected them. Something wet doused his hair, and he thought it felt nice until it started stinging like nothing had ever stung him before. He screamed, flailing his arms as he thought he was being eaten alive. Warm hands came to hold him down, and he stopped struggling only when the back of his mind managed to help him remember that it was Taehyung. "Lay still and be a good boy," Taehyung murmured to him, kissing his cold lips and lifting his head slightly. Jimin felt something warm and soft wrap around his crown, and clung to Taehyung's arm while he worked, trusting him completely. "There you go. You're doing so well." He was pulled vertical again, body swaying even as he sat, and another body pressed up against his, holding him steady.

He was in the infirmary. Every time he blinked he could see more details, and the third time he could make out his legs on top of Taehyung's, the softness under him telling him that he was sitting in his lap. He sighed, curling his arms around him and resting his bandaged head into his neck. The position hurt, but Taehyung wouldn't let him get up. He was busy rubbing his sides and nosing into his hair, his belt serving as a firm reminder against Jimin's hip that he was there and wasn't leaving.

"You remembered..." Jimin croaked, his head still dizzy when he tried talking. Taehyung kissed him to keep him quiet, but Jimin wanted so badly to praise his attentive mind in remembering the procedure of treating a wound. Granted, his wasn't infected, but Taehyung's effort was just all the same, the bandage around his head lessening the throbbing ever so slightly.

Taehyung hummed a familiar tune to him to lull him to sleep, but Jimin insisted on stroking Taehyung's face with closed eyes. He wasn't sure where he was touching exactly, but it didn't matter. He knew Taehyung's face and he could still feel him warm against him.

"Don't worry. Everything is okay," he whispered into Taehyung's neck. He felt Taehyung nod and knew he was smiling, but also felt the wet tears drip onto his forehead. "You're okay. We'll be okay." Nobody every comforted Taehyung, and he thought it was unfair. Taehyung deserved to feel safe too. Just like how he made Jimin feel. "You're the bravest person I know."

Taehyung laughed into his hair and Jimin almost felt offended, but then realized he was the one with the bandaged and bleeding head, his vertigo triggered with even the slightest movement and the room spinning so badly he had to cling to Taehyung for support.

"Thank you," was the last thing he heard before a deep sleep claimed him.

 

*

 

They were scolded the next day. Not for breaking into the infirmary, because Taehyung had gotten them out of there before anyone found them and erase any trace of them being there, but because Jimin had been out of the sleeping quarters that night, and his father knew whose fault it was. Taehyung had accepted the responsibility nobly, apologizing by bowing to the ground and begging forgiveness. His father had grunted some form of dismissal, assigning Jimin to river duty the rest of the day to keep him from wanting to frolick around at night again. He didn't ask about his bandaged head.

Unfortunately for his father, Jimin only used the time to bathe Taehyung in the river, helping him wash his back and having fun decorating his body with leaves he found floating in the water. Taehyung was equally amused, taking revenge by tickling Jimin and almost having a heart attack when he barely escaped being dunked under the water, demanding they stop fooling around from then on to salvage Jimin's injury.

"I dreamt of you last night," Jimin mused, pulling the last of the leaves off of his best friend. This leaf had been sitting right atop his manhood-- Just like the clothing of Adam.

"Was it a good dream?" Taehyung inquired, slapping Jimin's wandering hand away. "It better have been."

"You were a potato," Jimin said with a straight face, and Taehyung had to snort, hating Jimin for being precious and childish even where dreams were concerned. "So yes, needless to say it was great."

"Am I better suited to be a potato?"

"Much better. I couldn't hear your yapping."

"Rascal," Taehyung laughed, pinching Jimin's belly button. Jimin kicked his shin and stuck his tongue out at him, but let Taehyung kiss his nose nonetheless. Jimin tasted of early spring and green grass. Taehyung had never been particularly fond of spring, but since Jimin seemed to flourish in spring he always welcomed it with open arms.

"Will you sleep with me again tonight?" Jimin asked after a long period of silence, his hands holding Taehyung's arms as though careful not to impose himself too much. Taehyung pulled him closer and ghosted his fingers over the thick bandage wrapped around his head.

"I'll stay with you this night and all nights henceforth," Taehyung proclaimed, the mere thought of leaving Jimin alone making him queasy with worry. Then again, he now had to be afraid of himself, too. He'd lost his mind in front of Jimin. He'd hurt Jimin. Him, Taehyung. Not Jungkook. At least physically. It was reprehensible and almost enough to rid himself out of Jimin's life, but he knew the outcome of that would be much more damaging.

A full basket of carp and trout and several clean dishes later, Jimin and Taehyung were finally able to head back to the castle, given time off by Jimin's father to eat some salt cod and peaches. Halfway through their feast, Seokjin showed up to instruct Jimin to bring the prince his supper, but Taehyung flared up and fought Seokjin until the latter finally gave up and vowed to bring it himself.

"I can't stay away from him forever," Jimin said quietly, and deep down Taehyung knew it was true. Jimin was born and bred to serve the royal family, and Jungkook would one day be king. But that didn't mean Taehyung couldn't prolong and prevent it to the best of his abilities until that day came.

 

*

 

"Taehyung, is it?"

Taehyung looked up from where he was bent over, trying to stack firewood into his arms. He felt like that was all he ever did; stack firewood. That and get his fingers burned. Castle guards showing up at his doorstep was never a good sign, but at least this one didn't seem to be planning his slaughter. He'd been up since the crack of dawn trying to keep his furnace alive despite the tiresome wind blowing in through his windows.

"Yes, that's me." The guard bowed to him, of all things he could be doing, and Taehyung was so taken aback he dropped his logs.

"I am here to inform you that you have been sent for by her Majesty the Queen. She is requesting some work to be done on the castle locks and door bolts."

Taehyung stared at him, feeling quite defenseless without his sword hanging at his hip. Not that he would ever try fighting a guard off; he wasn't a fool. But there was a certain sense of security in owning something crafted to kill. The guard gestured for him to follow along, and Taehyung did so with a wary glance back at his hut, the smoke still rising from the chimney.

 

*

 

He had never seen the Queen. He had never seen any of the royal family aside from Jungkook, now that he thought about it. And he realized why when he was bowing to her and sinking to his knee, feeling dirty and unkempt even only in the same room as her, her dress made of thick silks and endlessly embroidered with pearls and crystals. On her head sat a golden crown, the likes of which Taehyung had never seen. He hands were covered in frilly gloves, and he didn't dare look her in the eye as she addressed him.

"I need the locks fixed and replaced. The last smith who worked on them did a terrible job, and now the doors have problems closing and staying shut. We also need new hinges and deadbolts for some, but I'm sure you will be able to identify those immediately."

The latent realization that the Queen had just insulted his father left a rather bitter taste in his mouth, his hands tightening their grip on his breeches. Listening to her talk was an experience in itself, and he almost felt claustrophobic. Beady eyes watched him from all around the grand room, and he did his best to only bow and nod until he was guided away by the same guard who had shown him in.

 

*

 

"How are you finding your new task?"

Taehyung flinched as his concentration was broken, looking up to find none other than the Queen herself staring down at him inspecting the hinges of a door in the South wing. He had been been working all day, taking note of what needed replacing and tallying up the materials he'd need for their improvement. The locks seemed to be alright, but he had noticed two in particular that were shoddy and almost dissolving, a far cry from anything that could be said to keep someone out of a room.

"It is a great honour, your Grace. I will see to it that every door is as good as new."

"That pleases me greatly," the Queen said, sending him a big smile. Her powder makeup almost cracked when she moved the muscles in her face, and Taehyung wondered if she was in pain. Her mouth had a bloody red colour to them, and he wondered if that was a result of the new trend wherein women scratched at their lips until they bled to achieve such a deep, red shade. But on second thought, he was sure the Queen had better things to do than claw at herself. Taehyung knew nothing of the affairs of the upper class, and it would be foolish to pretend he did. "Looking at my succulent lips, are you?" The Queen asked, yanking Taehyung back to awareness. He stared on wide-eyed as what she had said had time to sink in, his head shaking from side to side frantically. "Oh, it's quite alright. I won't tell anyone. You poor servants probably don't have much to look at aside from a few plague-infested village girls, so I don't mind if you feast on this new form of woman you've just been introduced to. I'm not that cruel."

Taehyung swallowed hard, his throat too dry to keep from hurting as he did. He had never expected to so much as be addressed by the Queen, but there he was; being approached by her. She was batting her long lashes at him, her hair in a different updo than it had been the first time they met. He was violently uncomfortable, bordering on nauseous.

"I'll leave you to your work," the Queen mused, setting a surge of relief through him. She was inspecting the door hinges and pursing her lips. Taehyung remembered how old she was when she did, the fine lines showing by her mouth and stretching the slack skin there. "Unless, of course, you want me to stay..."

His eyes widened, stuck on her face. He knew it was rude to stare and not keep his eyes low, but he was trying to understand whether or not the Queen had...no, she couldn't have. He must be getting ahead of himself. Poisoned by smoke just like his late father. He stayed still as the Queen moved to stand next to him. She peeled her gloves off, then kicked her pointy shoes over to the bed.

"You wouldn't mind if I change in front of you, would you? I just feel so awfully uncomfortable in this get-up. Life isn't easy for a royal, you know. I have to change clothes six times a day because the old, lumpy men in this castle are offended by the thought of a woman bleeding through her undergarments."

Taehyung nodded dismissively, his eyes glued to his feet. He was in the Queen's chambers-- it made perfect sense. He was the intruder. She had every right to feel comfortable.

The Queen walked away from him, allowing him the ability to breathe again. He stared at the wall while he heard her rummage through her drawers and pulling off fabric. He closed his eyes for good measure, feeling clammy and strained where he stood, in such close approximation to the disrobing Queen. Her suffocating fragrance was more obvious now than it had been in the large throne room.

"Tell me...do you live alone, Taehyung?"

The question caught him off guard, but not enough to keep him from replying. "Yes, your Grace," he said quickly, actively avoiding the looking-glass angled right at her. He was beginning to grow warm, afraid he might faint from the dread in his heart.

"Do you ever get lonesome?" The question was loaded and clearly seeking only one answer. Taehyung wanted his lips to curl around very select words about how he had Jimin and Jimin was all he'd ever need, but they couldn't.

"On occasions, but I have good friends working at the castle. I spend a lot of time with them."

He could see her nod through the looking-glass, his chest tight and painful. He hadn't expected to be subjugated to this. He didn't know what to do. If he offended her he was as good as done for, but if he played into what seemed like her game then he would be committing treason. She met his eyes, and he instantly averted his own, turning around fully and taking cautious steps towards the door.

"Could you please help me loosen this lace string?" Came a coy voice behind him, his heart sinking into his stomach. Why did he have to be the one to be chosen for the Queen to play with? He had heard rumours of her whims, but he'd never given them much thought. Never thought them to be true.

He turned around dutifully, spotting her standing facing him with her hands on the long lace strings of her cream corset. He sucked in a deep breath, stepping forward cautiously, as if afraid she would have guards kill him any moment. She was smiling, much like she'd been smiling the whole time she'd been with him. She held out the white strings for him to take, and it took him long enough to gather the courage to come up and grab them that she shook them and mumbled some word of haste, his feet springing forward the last stretch and launching him to take the strings. She made an ungodly sound when he finally had them in his hands, causing him to avert his eyes to the the wall on his left.

He pulled, feeling the strings loosen under his fingers and cursing the gods for placing him in this predicament. He wanted to be back in his filthy excuse for a home, breathing in smoke and slowly dying. He wanted Jimin to come bother him with stupid questions and offer to comb through his unruly hair. Gods, he wanted Jimin to run his fingers through his hair right now. His delicate, little fingers.

The corset slipped open as he loosened crossing by crossing, her breasts spilling out and hanging freely. He shut his eyes, breathing heavily through his nose and expecting wrath to be brought down on him. But the room was silent. The only thing he could feel was the warmth of the Queen by his hands.

"Look at them," she said softly, sounding almost sad. He grit his teeth together and opened his eyes, allowing them to settle on the fat mounds hanging from the Queen's chest. They looked almost swollen, large pink nipples punctuating the ends. "Do you like what you see?"

He had to bend over to gather his bearings, trying hard not to vomit on the Queen's feet. She mistook his malaise for arousal, stroking a hand up his back and leaning her face down to smile at him some more.

Taehyung pulled away from her, making her breasts jiggle at the force of his recoiling. She looked shocked, but he couldn't find it in himself to care. All he could do was excuse himself and say something about his furnace needing attention and that he regrettably had to excuse himself right away. He didn't look back to gauge her reaction as he made his way out of the chambers with his head low.

 

*

 

To his relief, nobody came for him. No cutthroats or executioners or bludgeoning guards with footman's flails. He was called upon for the lock duties as normal, breathing in deep relief every time he managed to work a day without the Queen finding him. He began to wonder if it had only been a dream, the whole thing feeling too surreal to be something that had really happened to him. But he realized it was very real when every time he saw Jimin from then on there was a sharp bout of shame coursing through him. When Jimin undressed for him all coquettish and wonderful but he couldn't gaze upon his naked chest because all he could see was woman's breasts. How was he supposed to keep from him that he had let his eyes feast on the sex of a woman? The Queen's own privates, no less.

Jimin looked saddened when Taehyung turned down sex with him for the third time, pouting and quickly covering himself back up, the thin shirt he always wore still not hiding much from the imagination. It wasn't even that he didn't want Jimin, because he did; so badly. His tantalizing skin and his tender nipples-- he wanted to mark it all as his and make Jimin utter those adorable sounds whenever he sucked and licked him all over. He wanted that, but he felt he would only be doing Jimin dirty. He would taint him.

"Have you grown tired of me?" Jimin asked, tying back up his tunic shirt and blushing like he was horribly embarrassed and ashamed of himself. Taehyung almost hissed, feeling so torn but mostly upset that he could ever make Jimin feel invalid.

"Of course not," He proclaimed, gathering Jimin's warm hands into his own and squeezing them. "I couldn't even if I tried. I'm just...I'm riddled with shame, my sweet."

"Whatever for?" Jimin looked so curious and and concerned that he wanted to squeeze him tight and never let him go. Jimin was too pure for this world-- too good to live within it's murky depths.

"I've gazed upon a woman," Taehyung croaked, pulling his dirty hands away from Jimin's. Jimin just looked at him quizzically, and so he took a deep breath, explaining further. "I saw her naked breasts. I unclothed her and let her breasts spring out of her corset."

Jimin grew much more understanding this time, retreating his hands from Taehyung's knee and gazing at him with wide eyes that grew to brim with tears after the shock subsided. Taehyung wanted to take it all back after seeing the hurt on Jimin's face. He wasn't sure what was worse: betraying Jimin every time he touched him or breaking his heart in so few words. Jimin was staring at his lap, his face pale and tired.

"I'm so sorry, Jimin."

Jimin nodded abysmally, looking empty and rather lost as he got up from Taehyung's floor and began retreating from him, looking smaller and more vulnerable with each step. He tried to reach out to Jimin and open his mouth to explain more; to tell him how it meant nothing and that he had only ever desired him, but the boy in question had run out of his door before he so much as got to let himself cry.

 

*

 

The next few days were miserable. He was called back to work on the locks by the guards all day, leaving him no time to be able to find Jimin and explain himself. But he did understand if Jimin didn't want to see him again. He could have refused the Queen's request to disrobe her. He could have done so many things differently, in hindsight, and it made him feel rotten. All he wanted was a second chance and a smidge of forgiveness. He wanted to properly apologize to Jimin; wanted to see his face again. The last desire was selfish, but he never claimed to be perfect.

He tried asking for Jimin in the kitchens on the third day, but he was told Jimin didn't want to see him, and resigned to falling asleep on his hay-covered floor while biting his tongue, crossing his fingers for the coming days to be good to him.

 

*

 

Good was far from what he got when he was snapped awake by a couple of guards hauling him out of his hut and dragging him by his arms over the courtyard. Stones scraped at his knees and he barely had time to blink his eyes awake before he felt one of his shoulders dislodge. He yelled, fighting back futilely until he resigned to let them take him to their destination.

He found himself dragged over the marble floor of the throne room, looking up to see the entire royal family perched on their chairs. He caught Jungkook's eyes, seeing them cold and distant. His stomach rumbled with unease. Nothing about the situation felt good.

"Taehyung, son of our late, third blacksmith," Jungkook boomed, his hands clenching the arms of his throne rather tight. Taehyung tried to get used to hearing his voice again, but it sounded so different. It was grating and didn't treat his ears kindly. Didn't calm the storm in his guts. "You stand before us today accused of stealing my mother's family jewellry. As the only person with access to the locks in the castle, you are the primary suspect for this crime. If you hand the necklace back now, no harm will come to you."

Taehyung tried to understand what he was saying, but none of it made sense. Why would he have stolen her jewellry? He didn't even know she had any because she'd been so busy trying to assault him with her sexual advances.

"It has to be him," the Queen spat, eyeing him with much distaste. "He has been attempting to seduce me the whole time he's been working here!"

"Do you admit to your crimes?" Jungkook asked, not looking particularly interested in hearing what he had to answer.

"No," Taehyung said confidently, glaring at each person before him in turn. The King. The royal advisor. Jungkook's handmaiden. The Queen.

Jungkook.

"Prince," he said, gritting his teeth together as he tried to ignore the pain in his shoulder. "You know I would never cross you or your family. I am innocent. Release me, and I will consider us even."

The court started mumbling, people drinking up squeaky whispers as they all discussed the blacksmith's latest words. Jungkook now looked irate, the veins on his forehead popping in effort as he seemed to struggle to stay calm.

"I don't know what debt you speak of," Jungkook muttered, stepping closer to Taehyung so that he could hiss in his face. "All I know is that my mother's necklace was gone this morning and you're the one who has been changing all the locks. And not only that, but you have the audacity to lie through your teeth after attempting to ravish my mother!"

Taehyung frowned, his eyebrows knotting. Looking at Jungkook enraged him. Jungkook's face was wracked with lies and Taehyung was only on his knees because Jungkook had been lucky enough to be born from the right cunt. Justice wasn't a word the royal family knew of. Mercy wasn't either.

"Please," Taehyung tried, remembering Jimin still back in the kitchens probably crying and feeling betrayed and miserable. He couldn't let anything happen until he got to explain himself to him. He couldn't let Jungkook turn his world on its head because of a bout of childish jealousy. "If this is about Jimin--"

Jungkook grabbed his hair and placed his mouth right next to Taehyung's ear. He hissed into it, spit flecking on Taehyung's skin. "You should feel honoured. I can have anyone for my bed, anyone to grace with my presence, and yet I chose to stick it to your dirty, little kitchen boy."

Taehyung froze. He knew he had less mobility because of his dislocated shoulder, and he knew the guards could crush him with one swing of their clubs. He inhaled sharply, trying to find his peace. He thought of Jimin's smile. Jimin's heart-shaped face.

"Don't you dare speak of him like that," Taehyung muttered, trying to keep his voice low enough for none of the others to hear. He knew his voice was laced with sadness and betrayal, but he couldn't mask it. Not after everything that had happened. "What's possessed you?"

"I'll speak of him however I wish," Jungkook countered, pulling his head up until he was only a breath's space away from Taehyung's face, spittle flying into it. "He's one step away from sleeping with the pigs; that's how lowly he's ranked. A simple commoner who'd lick dirt off my shoes if I asked him to. Probably doesn't even know how to wash the shit from his own behind like civilized people--"

Taehyung was at Jungkook in a matter of seconds, yelling and reaching his hand down to constrict around his throat. He had had enough of his filth, his lies, and feigned amity. The mere sight of Jungkook made him want to spill blood; and lots of it. Jungkook coughed, his face quickly pinkening with effort as Taehyung let his nails join in, seething like an angry canine.

Before he got to break Jungkook's neck, however, guards came to grab him, yanking him roughly off of the prince and shoving him onto his stomach on the ground, headfirst. He could taste copper in his mouth as he realized he'd bit his tongue on the way down, panting into the stone floor. Heavy boots jammed into his back, winding him.

"You crazy fool!" Jungkook laughed, cackling with an open mouth and blood pouring down his face making him look nothing short of insane. He was clambering to get back up on his feet, his crown sitting lopsidedly on his head as he'd attempted to put it back on. "Only you would assault the future King in front of his court! Only you!"

Taehyung wouldn't attempt to argue with the truth in that, but he would do it again. Always. For Jimin, always.

 

*

 

He awoke to clanging of metal and his body screaming from cold, his back propped up against the moist wall of a cell in the dungeons. The air was humid; infested with stench and the smell of death from rotting corpses. He glanced around, finding himself to be alone in the cell apart from a bucket filled with water. His wrists were chained together, but he still had the freedom to move.

He tried standing, but his legs were too weak, making him groan in pain as the effort reached his shoulder. He would have to slam himself against the wall to fix that, at some point. He would probably also have to beg for any scraps of food he could get. A stallboy had been imprisoned once, but he'd never been released. Taehyung wondered if he was still down there with him.

The most vexatious thing about his new confinement was that he couldn't tell the time. He hadn't a clue how many days had passed, if any at all, and he couldn't tell the time of day. There was just darkness and dampness and a faintly lit torch that allowed him some visibility. He considered calling for a guard, but knew he would only be in for a world of pain if they were in a bad mood. He settled for scraping gravel out of a wound in his knee, probably from being thrown in the cell, and hissed to himself as the smell of blood overpowered that of rot.

He'd heard of the dungeons often as a child; mostly horror stories to keep him and the rest of the children of the courtyard out of trouble. Little had he known they would all be true. The only thing that wasn't -at least so far- was the rats; the dirty rodents supposed to be preying on the flesh of the rotting prisoners. Taehyung couldn't see as far as the next cell due to the lack of light, and so wondering about such things was futile. At least he wasn't chained to the wall or the ceiling. And at least Jimin wasn't down there with him, even though he swore he could hear his voice whenever he closed his eyes.

Jimin. He bit his lip, trying to hold back tears. He hadn't even gotten to make amends with his Jimin. He hadn't fought hard enough to keep him, and he felt like a coward. A coward who would get what he deserved for being so fucking foolish.

"Taehyung."

He squeezed his eyes shut tight, tears spilling as Jimin's voice invaded his mind. Only Jimin could say it so softly, but still make him feel so safe. Why did he have to hurt like this?

"Taehyung!"

The voice was louder this time, and he opened his eyes. He wondered if he was dreaming when he saw Jimin screaming for him, clambering at the barred door to his dungeon room, his fingers grabbing desperately at the metal. He had to be. But he could see him so clearly. He could see the individual strands of hair on his head and his button nose. He gasped in realization. Taehyung was unable to look at him, keeping his gaze steady on his feet. He knew he shouldn't have done what he did. Knew it was possibly the stupidest, most shameful thing he could have ever fallen for, but the problem was that he'd do it all again. He'd do it in a heartbeat. A thousand times. And now, even after all he'd done, Jimin was there.

"You shouldn't be here, Jimin," he croaked, much like Jimin's voice was cracking with raw emotion. Jimin shouldn't be in tears because of him. He was afraid the prince's words would have put him in tears; that was why he'd silenced Jungkook. Alright, so maybe he also wanted to defend Jimin's honour. Maybe he was so proud of Jimin that he couldn't imagine anyone ever speaking ill of him.

When he couldn't help himself any longer, he looked up, finally met with his little love's face. The face he had grown to adore and cherish so, so much; the person wherein all his swelling affections lay in a slow bloom. As per usual, he had flour dusting his cheeks and hair, his hands dirty with yellow residue of some kind. Probably saffron pheasant. Taehyung's mind slipped back to Jungkook's words about Jimin being filthy and soiled in his own excretion, and he couldn't hold back the floor of tears any longer, overcome with sadness and pity and his heart ashamed at the poor job he'd done defending Jimin. It was unforgivable of Jungkook to insult the very thing about Jimin he loved the most; his face dusted with this and that from cooking and baking, usually without him even being aware of it. And especially the flour-- the white stars painting his face. And Jimin was still there, even if he was angry with him.

"What happened?" Jimin shrieked to him, Taehyung having averted his eyes already and trying not to listen. "Why did I overhear the maidens whispering about you being doomed?"

"I might have attacked the prince a little," Taehyung said off-handedly, picking out some straw from his pants. The cells were filthy, nothing short of a warning of eternal imprisonment. And it was really straining on his eyes that the only source of light was from the fire flickering outside his cell.

"You're hopeless," Jimin sobbed, sinking down to the floor with his hands still clutching the bars. He leaned his forehead on them, sniffling.

"Why are you here?" Taehyung asked, despite not wanting to. "Aren't you still upset and angry with me?"

"Hoseok told me everything," Jimin said, almost smiling, but then looking concerned. His sobs were loud and biting. "I-It doesn't matter, Taehyung. None of it matters."

Taehyung nodded due to the lack of anything decent to say, his eyes feeling tired even as they rested on Jimin. Jimin was so beautiful even in the dim light. He'd be glad if he died with only that image of Jimin burned into his eyes. Except Jimin didn't suit fear and tears. He didn't look good when he was so scared.

"Don't worry; I barely got to scathe him. My offence isn't grave, and I'll probably be let out soon," Taehyung lied, desperate to get Jimin to calm down. He hadn't expected Jimin to come looking for him, and so it was even more harrowing to see him wail like Taehyung had already been sentenced to death.

"Really?" Jimin sniffed. Taehyung could see that he wanted to believe. He really, desperately wanted to.

"Yes."

"Do you promise?"

That one was harder to reply to in good conscience.

"I promise."

Jimin give him a small smile, his pearly whites almost lighting up the whole cell and his cute, crooked tooth on display. Taehyung was hit with a rush of affection, wishing to crawl to Jimin and look into his eyes while kissing and embracing him, but he couldn't do that now in fear of alarming him. In fear of sparking the idea of impending doom and desperation that he was trying to mask.

"What the Hell are you doing here?" Came the barked voice of the guard, grabbing Jimin by the nape before Taehyung could warn him and hauling him up like a sack of potatoes. His feet were off the floor.

"Please! Don't!" Taehyung exclaimed, bolting up from his seat and training his eyes to the fist stuck tight and menacingly in Jimin's soft locks of hair. "He got lost-- he's just lost--"

"Lost my ass," the guard snickered. He was the fat one with the golden tooth. The one who had dislocated Taehyung's shoulder. "This looks like the prince's whore to me. Oh yes, Sugarplum, we've seen you prancing over to his quarters."

Taehyung could see Jimin pale as the man breathed the words into his face. The rotten word hung belatedly in the air, turning Taehyung's every breath sour.

"Please don't hurt him," was all Taehyung managed to say, his eyes focused on Jimin's ripped shoes. He'd wanted to buy him a new pair at the market. He'd wanted to buy him fifty. He wanted him safe and sound and warm and eating so much he could barely contain any more.

The guard seemed to tire of their exchange, grumbling something before dragging Jimin down the halls and up the stairs in the distance while Taehyung yelled after them.

Taehyung hoped Jimin wouldn't come down to look for him again. It would do neither of them any good. He would rather spend his last days alone.

 

*

 

Jimin lay over the priest's desk, his ass stinging from the harsh whipping. It was entirely different from when Taehyung did it; entirely unpleasant and impossible to process. The priest hit harder, and he hit with a wooden mace hard enough to wind him. His desperate pleas for the hits to stop fell on deaf ears, and his throat was rendered sore and hoarse from screaming. Instead of Taehyung's gentle hand soothing his flaming cheeks after after the punishment, the priest simply sat his mace back against the wall, clearing his throat in annoyance. The only thing left in Jimin was nauseating shame as his bare behind bloomed with colour for the priest to see and acknowledge, ready to deem the punishment fit for repenting his sins.

"Do you repent?" The priest asked, much too calm for someone who had just beat the life out of a young boy. Jimin, with snot run down his chin and his lip bleeding from biting into it, sweat and tears shining his face, nodded, letting his head fall forward in defeat. "State your crime."

"Wandering out of bounds," he rasped, wondering if he would fall unconscious anytime soon as the room was beginning to spin for him. Never had the priest's parchments looked to hard to read; so foreign. His quarters smelled of mould. Everything smelled of sulphur. "Please-- please, you have to let me go! A dear friend of mine is in trouble--"

"This wouldn't happen to be the fellow you were visiting in the dungeons, would it? The boy-fucker?"

Jimin didn't know whether telling the truth or lying would be a better option, so he chose neither, staying silent as the priest walked around to see his face. The priest was old and withering, his skin reminiscent of leather and his eyes sunken in and disconcerting. Jimin had only seen him a couple times during festivities that required psalms, and he felt like he absolutely didn't need to see him any more than that. And since they were apparently partaking in a staring contest to judge who would falter first, Jimin deep within himself wished the priest would drop dead.

"Your Eminence, the Queen requires your council."

Their gazes were broken as a guard sounded in the room, making the priest's beady eyes flicker up in concern. Jimin tasted a small swig of relief, moving his fingers to make sure his hands didn't fall asleep in his position. The priest looked troubled, but nodded nonetheless, dismissing Jimin with the wave of a hand and leaving out the door as swiftly as someone of his stature could.

 

*

 

The only thing on Jimin's mind as he wobbled his way out of the chapel quarters was to find the prince. It was easier said than done, finding the prince, but the burning in his gut wouldn't leave him and he swore he was unable to scent things with his nose anymore. The mention of the prince had spurred him into action, making him set aside his tiredness and crying for another time.

Most of the guards and royal court seemed to be elsewhere as he sprinted along the illuminated, long corridors of the castle, trying to remember his way to Jungkook's dressing quarters. He was strictly forbidden from going there without explicitly being summoned, but he couldn't find a care within himself to acknowledge that fact and let it stop him from getting to where he needed to be.

As he turned a corner, he saw a big wooden door standing proud at the end of the hall, the many candle stands lit invitingly around it, almost as if welcoming people in. Jimin rushed to the door, putting all of his weight in edging it open and stumbling inside less gracefully than he had hoped.

"Jimin?" Came a familiar voice from deeper within the chambers, and Jimin looked up to see countless servants busy with the task of dressing Jungkook for bed. Even his advisor was there, stopped in the middle of his sentence at the sight of Jimin rushing in so suddenly.

"Jungkook!" He called, barely able to hold back the tears as he panted from his exertion. Jungkook waved the servants away from him, clad only in his white, cotton pants while his eyes gleamed in the dimly lit room. He looked off.

"You are to address me as 'your Grace' or 'your Majesty', and nothing in between," Jungkook bit out, keeping his attention on the papers his advisor had been sharing with him. "And you do not have the permission to speak to me, let alone be here."

"Kneel for the prince!" A guard demanded from behind him, kicking the back of Jimin's legs. He buckled forward easily, barely catching himself on the ground with his hands.

"Please, your Majesty," Jimin continued, eyes simultaneously swimming with hope and drowning in worry. Everything around him looked so menacing when he was desperate and exhausted. "Taehyung hasn't a bad bone in him. He has become delirious lately with thoughts of...well, I'm not quite sure, but I beg of you to spare him; he hasn't done you any harm!"

Jungkook chuckled, rolling his eyes. He grabbed the documents and flung them onto a small table, allowing a servant to dress a loose robe over his shoulders. The colour burgundy had never looked so regal. He fixed his rings back on, each finger adorned with a golden sigil or a sapphire stone. He didn't speak until Jimin was trembling.

"Oh, I'll spare his life alright," Jungkook said, almost calmly. Jimin didn't dare to look at him. "Guards, take this boy and throw him out where he belongs," Jungkook commanded, his men springing to life at once, already on guard since the moment Jimin had entered the quarters; the result of prejudice against the lesser born finally come in handy. "The sight of this--" he gestured to Jimin with a scrunching up of his nose, mimicking disgust. "--dirty kitchen rat is making me sick to my stomach."

"Jungkook!" Jimin cried as a guards pulled him up by his shirt, ripping the material to reveal at least half of his upper body.

 

Jungkook would miss it; he sure would. The soft skin despite the lowly work, the sensitive nipples and weak spots that made Jimin come with just the breath of Jungkook's mouth. He could lick and kiss it all day; worship it even. But the price for his pride had to be paid, and he wasn't in a giving mood. Besides, there was something oddly erotic about Jimin being thrown around like a ragdoll, looking completely disheveled, broken, and disgraced for everyone to see. He was reminded of his place, a spot he frequently seemed to be forgetting.

With a final wailing plea, Jimin was dragged out by his hair, kicking and screaming, his legs sweeping behind him.

 

*

 

The dread wracking through Jimin as he resigned to the puddle of mud the guards had thrown him in was sickening. Pneumonia be damned-- Jimin hadn't the willpower or energy to move a muscle. All he could think of was what Jungkook had said to him about sparing Taehyung's life, and how he'd gotten chills down his back from his words. The sky was darkening and he knew he hadn't a chance to go back to see Taehyung because the guard would be there, just as grumpy as before. He felt like ants were crawling all over his body; even under his skin, hissing at him to see Taehyung before it was too late. There was no way the prince would spare his life-- he saw that now. He'd seen the hate in Jungkook's eyes firsthand, and he didn't look content with letting Taehyung off so easily.

Jimin tried to get up one last time, but his body wouldn't let him. He was pulled right back to the wet and cold dirt that held him captive. He whined and hissed when anyone walked by to look at him, his hands hurting from clenching so hard. He hoped his father was already too drunk to notice he was missing. Jimin welcomed defeat with a weary head, the ground keeping him captive.

He was doing nothing. He was nothing.

 

*

 

Jimin awoke in the morning with a scratchy throat and stiff limbs, his muscles finally letting him up from the mud, which had now dried and cracked all over his skin. Everything was dehydrated and smelled expired. The sun was out and felt blinding and burning as it shone down on Jimin's face.

He imagined Taehyung down in the dungeons a whole night on his own. Had he even been fed yet? Jimin didn't want to know. He knew he was thinking of such trivial things because he was scared of his real worry: was Taehyung still alive? Jimin would have slept away his execution if he wasn't. Taehyung would have been all alone and scared and Jimin wouldn't have been there to see him. Wouldn't have been there to promise him he'd join him in the afterlife as soon as he figured out how to end his own life.

He got up on shaky legs, ignoring the questioning looks he was getting from the stallboys and a few of the lowly-ranked squires. He didn't have time for their superiority complex today. He only allowed himself the time to pray the sun would disappear, as he felt Taehyung didn't deserve the world to look so happy while he was in peril.

Jimin gathered his bearings and tried to figure out how to return to the dungeons, if only to see Taehyung's body off. He was sick to his stomach, but his head still worked, and he managed to hatch a plan before gathering everything he needed and all but sprinting down the spiral stairs to the bottom of the castle. It was on the way to the infirmary, and he'd been there many times. He knew the way.

Though the corridors underground all seemed similar, Jimin knew the dungeons were kept in the direction with the foulest smell, following his nose to a narrow walkway that widened into a dead end full of steel bars.

He took care of the guard as he'd planned, then looked for Taehyung's cell. He'd already been there once, but it didn't help. Each cell looked as empty as the next. As dark and desolate and brimming with maggots. He tried to bring the torch on the wall with him, but ended up burning himself, setting it back and whimpering because he'd never been good with fire. Maybe he didn't want to see things too clearly anyways. Maybe if Taehyung's body was still in the cell he didn't want to see it decomposing.

"Hello?"

At first he'd wondered if it was himself who had said it, but his mouth had been sealed shut ever since his encounter with the guard to keep from tasting the air of death all around him. The voice was soft but deep, and it took Jimin a few moments to recognize it, though he did immediately when he placed the voice in his memory.

He spun around, glancing at a cell behind him. The torch lit up the ground within the cell all the way to a pair of knees. Jimin sprang to action, flinging himself down on the stone floor and grasping at the metal bars. It couldn't be. He had been so sure of his worst nightmare.

"T-Taehyung?" He asked into the dark cell, wondering if his ears and eyes had deceived him.

His heart leapt in his chest when he got the familiar reply, "Jimin."

"Tae," he said, his chest swelling with warmth and his arms trembling out of instinct. "G-gods, I thought I'd lost you! I was so worried all night-- I was so sure the prince had gotten to you before I'd get to see you again. I thought I'd have to lay myself to rest beneath a willow tree."

The feet he could see moved, and Jimin sighed in relief, glad to see him functioning. But he was probably exhausted. And freezing. Jimin bit his teeth, wondering how he could help him get his strength back. He hadn't even thought to bring with him some food-- he'd bed too preoccupied thinking Taehyung was already dead.

"How did you get down here? Are you alright?" Taehyung sounded hoarse but his voice was such a blessing to hear again that Jimin couldn't help but feel elated.

"I bribed the turnkey with two pieces of your silver. You know, your prize from the sword duell? I'm so sorry, but I just-- I had to see you and...a-and I didn't know how else to fight my way in here, so I figured this was the only way."

Taehyung didn't say anything, so Jimin wondered if he was angry. He had all rights to be, of course; Jimin had just admitted to stealing from him, but he'd thought Taehyung would just have been glad to see him. Or did he not matter than much to him anymore?

"I think you should go back."

Jimin felt his heart break a little, his fingers icy on the metal bars. He still couldn't see past Taehyung's knees, but now he didn't know if he wanted to. Would he look annoyed? Disgusted? Was he angry?

"Wh-what? Do you not want me here?" Jimin deflated. He was met with nothing but silence. Should he really go? "I'm not leaving if you're ashamed of being here or something. That's silly, Tae. And I can handle seeing you in here, alright? I-I thought you were dead all day, after all."

The silence made way for the sounds of shuffling, Taehyung moving away from the wall and crawling over to him. Jimin allowed himself a smile, thinking about how much he'd enjoy holding Taehyung's hand again. He'd hold it and tell him everything was going to be okay, and that Jungkook probably didn't have the guts to hurt him. Jungkook was angry, but he wasn't evil. He'd just been lashing out. He'd been lashing out and Taehyung had been in the way.

"Gods, I was so worried, Tae. I dreamt of you, you know. I saw you beheaded in my dreams and I kept waking up screaming. What royal hasn't beheaded someone for attempting to hurt them, right? But Jungkook wouldn't. He's good deep down; I know it. Putting you here was unforgivable, but I don't think he's a bad person. Have they told you when you'll get out? The spring festival is in a few days. We can make the pies for it together, you know, like we used to."

"Jimin...." He wasn't quite sure how to classify the emotion in Taehyung's voice, but Taehyung clearly wasn't as giddy as he was.

"And I have banners this time from my father! We have all kinds of colours that we've dyed with berries! Maybe this time we can participate in the games. I know you never liked the games, but I've heard they're fun. You can even win grand prizes like a sheep or a hammer!"

"Jimin, look at me."

Jimin stopped his babbling, slowed by Taehyung's unamused voice. He located Taehyung's arms in the dim light, following them up to his chest. It was so hard to see with only the stupid torch. He should have been smart enough to bring a lantern down. He was heading to the dungeons after all, how stupid was he? He squinted, following the dip of Taehyung's collarbones up to his chin, then froze, seeing trails of red in his path.

"Don't scream."

Taehyung leaned forward a little more, allowing some of his face to catch a sliver of warm, flickering light. The red trails traced all the way up to his eyes; or what should have been his eyes. Instead, Taehyung was blindfolded. Or was he bandaged? A thick, white rag lay over his eyes, and the...and the rag was soaked in blood. The rag was soaked in blood, right where his eyes were. The red trails were blood running down from the rag. Jimin slapped his hands over his mouth, unable to breathe.

"Y-your--"

"Jimin, breathe. I'm alright."

He couldn't breathe; he couldn't breathe. Every breath of air was stolen from him and the dungeon atmosphere was suddenly more suffocating than he'd remembered. There was so much red everywhere. Some dried but some still wet. And the rag--

"Your eyes! Y-your eyes-- Taehyung, what have they done?" He wailed, trying to keep himself upright by clutching at the bars. He couldn't look at him anymore. He let his eyes sink back to his feet, back to the part of him that was still alright.

"I'm alright," Taehyung stressed, sounding closer than earlier, and before he knew it Taehyung was holding Jimin's face in his cold hands. "It doesn't hurt. This is nothing."

"Liar," Jimin whimpered, looking up to catch Taehyung's eye so that the word would sting more, but realizing there was nothing there and retching. "Liar!" He screamed, hitting Taehyung through the bars until Taehyung grabbed his hand and wrapped his arms around him as well as he could with the metal still between them. "Liar! Liar!"

Jimin didn't stop crying until he fell asleep hours later, clutching Taehyung's hands. The guard returned and dragged him out when he was done fucking his tavern wench in town.

 

*

 

He always went into the cot when he was scared. It was a place where he had a lot of memories planted; most of them with Taehyung, and he sucked in deep gulps of air as he tried to keep himself sane. After being thrown out into the mud again by the guard and having everyone around either laugh or cringe at him, Jimin was feeling sore and disheartened, trembling from the quick dip into the river: an attempt at washing himself of the filth. He only had one shirt, and it seemed to be permanently stained brown.

The door opened with a startling jolt, creaking and turning until it revealed a familiar face, hidden mostly in shadows from the dim light. His heart sank, but he was too weak to fight.

"Now now, Jimin, don't look so down," Jungkook tutted, bending down to stroke Jimin's cheek. Jimin flinched away from him, whimpering into the stone wall behind himself. The prince scoffed, settling for stroking the top of Jimin's head with the latter showing much reluctance. "My good graces have spared the crook his life, Jimin. You should be thankful. Anyone in my place would have had him killed without question."

Jimin was too busy crying to speak, wishing more than anything that he had never introduced himself to the prince. That they'd never bumped into his cart that fateful day or spoken his name in any breath. However, when he opened his eyes, Jungkook was still there. His expression was relatively blank, bearing no traces of remorse for what had transpired. Jimin couldn't help but think about what a terrible judge of character he was, and how he was too stupid to have realized anything; any warning signs. He still couldn't grasp how Jungkook had turned from a sweet and upright boy to a pure monster. Even mad kings had stories of their slow undoing.

"It's a pity he'll no longer be able to lay his eyes on you though, isn't it? You look particularly ravishing today, too."

Jimin stilled, the sweat down his spine turning cold as he was reduced to shivers. Jungkook's eyes on him were insistent and menacing, and he could feel his throat clench in realization.

"Y-you did it...you did it so that he would no longer be able to lay his eyes on me?" Jimin almost howled, his eyes wide with unshed tears. He was still such a mess with snot and saliva run down his face, exactly what Jungkook claimed him to be, but his only focus was on the gaudy getup Jungkook was wearing. The frills and ugly velvet. He hated it. He hated him.

"Spare me your self-flattery," Jungkook snorted, straightening out his robes and wishing he could eye his stance in a looking-glass. Unfortunately, none of the slaves' quarters were so lavishly equipped.

"Swear on the Gods that you did not do that," Jimin begged, voice cracking too much for him to possibly sound angry anymore.

"You don't get to command me to do anything! I am the crown prince!" Jungkook hissed, and suddenly a vicious hand was sprung forward to yank at Jimin's already ruined shirt. Jimin could smell the wine and pork off of Jungkook's breath. He allowed himself to fall limp in the prince's hold, too weak to fight him off. Jungkook narrowed his eyes. "Suck my cock in apology."

"What?" Jimin asked, unable to believe his ears. Taehyung was bleeding and in pain in the dungeons, and here this savage was, demanding pleasure.

"What are you waiting for?" Jungkook insisted, yanking at Jimin's hair instead. Jimin whimpered, shooting his hands up to cover Jungkook's in an attempt to lessen the pain. "You get fucked enough to rival a prostitute, and you can't even grant me this? Can't even pay me back for all of your sins?"

"My sins? By God's teeth..." Jimin let his head hang. His insides had long ago been etched away by the stark betrayal, the harrowing truth about a person he thought he could trust rendering him distraught.

"You swear to the higher graces, piggy?" Jungkook spat, shaking him with a mere yank of his arm. Jimin remained silent, trying to ignore the itchy feeling of the drying tears down his face. "You're plump and lazy and messy and you think the Gods have time for you?"

He resigned to not saying anything. He didn't want to say anything, nor was there anything to say. He wanted to sleep-- for a hundred years. He wanted to be left alone to come to terms with his own inadequacy and failure to protect the one person he truly loved. He felt like Jungkook couldn't hurt him anymore with words, because he'd already done his worst by harming Taehyung. Anything else was just a dim rumble; small flies around his head trying to annoy him.

"Please, just leave me," he said, knowing fully well the chances of Jungkook heeding his request were as good as nil.

Jungkook raised his eyebrows, but seemed to find it in himself to draw out something akin to pity, releasing Jimin and letting him sink down to the floor in a mess. Jungkook had sweat on his forehead, his lips dry and cracked already from the poor air down in the servants' quarters. Jimin was positively surprised when Jungkook -stubborn and cruel Jungkook- turned on his heel and left him, leaving only the distant echo of footsteps and Jimin's loudly spinning mind.

 

*

 

The next morning, as if like clockwork, news spread about the King falling ill during the night and passing away in the wee hours of morning, leaving the castle in deep mourning. Jimin awoke in the cot, drenched in sweat and back aching from the inhuman position he'd laid to rest in; brooms and buckets hunched under his back.

Jungkook reigned.

 

*

 

When Taehyung was released from the dungeons, Jimin didn't know what to do. He didn't know how to help him or greet him and he didn't even know if Taehyung wanted to see him. Well, touch him. Hear him.

He approached his hut nonetheless, thinking Taehyung couldn't possibly continue his work as a blacksmith in his state. He was proven wrong, however, when he opened the door to find Taehyung sticking a long piece of iron into the furnace, the end turning yellow with heat.

"Hello, Jimin," Taehyung said. It was as if nothing had happened and this was just a normal day. Taehyung was just working and Jimin was watching him work, bugging him to come out and play or kiss him silly.

"How did you know it was me?" He asked. Taehyung laughed.

"Don't be stupid. I may be blind, but I'm not dead."

Jimin managed a small smile, walking up to behind Taehyung. Taehyung didn't turn, and instead continued with his work. The air around them was eerily calm. At least the smell of death was gone, replaced with burned metal and coal. Smells of the living.

"Are you sure you want to see me?" Taehyung inquired. Jimin frowned, reaching for Taehyung's hand to stop him from busying himself with other things. Taehyung halted his movements reluctantly.

"Of course. Of course, you idiot."

"It looks worse in the light, you know."

Jimin sighed, pulling on Taehyung's arm to get him to turn. He did, albeit slowly. The rag had greyed slightly, probably from the contact with Taehyung's stupid smoke, and the blood down his cheeks was gone. The blood in circular pools by each of his eyes, however, wasn't. Jimin struggled with keeping himself calm, but he did, for Taehyung's sake. He pretended he couldn't see the marred flesh peeking out from under the rag. He pretended he wasn't imagining what Taehyung looked like under the cloth.

He reached up and cupped Taehyung's cheeks, glad to feel them warm underneath his fingertips. His skin had been colder in the dungeons. His skin had been pale in the dungeons. He looked better.

"This is much better," Jimin insisted, holding back tears in favour of hiccuping a small laugh. "Now you can't trick me into being your floor-scrubber just so you can look at my ass."

Taehyung laughed too, leaning down to kiss him. He was off course by a few centimeters, and Jimin quickly adjusted the position of his lips so that Taehyung could meet them fully. The kiss was warm and dry. It was like all his sleepless nights were repaired the dull ache in his chest could finally take a break.

He stayed with Taehyung all day, uncaring of his father summoning him to come help in the kitchens, spitting at him whenever he showed his face and even brandishing one of Taehyung's hot irons to fend him off. Taehyung laughed all the while, and even harder when Jimin told him it wasn't funny. The part Taehyung didn't laugh at was when Jimin insisted he change his bandage dressings, and he grew mum for a while, his expression rather unhappy.

"I don't want you to see it," Taehyung said lowly as he stopped Jimin's hands from reaching to untie the knot at the back of his head.

"Why not?" Jimin asked, genuinely offended.

Taehyung snorted. "You know why. They mutilated me...it won't be pretty."

"I'm not changing your bandage to see how pretty it is, Tae," Jimin said defensively, trying to yank his arms out of Taehyung's hold but not managing it even halfway. Taehyung sighed and Jimin wished he could have seen his eyes to decipher his mood properly, but alas, he couldn't.

"Please just leave me with the last of my dignity," Taehyung murmured into his ear. His breath tickled nicely over Jimin's skin. "Leave me to carry this burden by myself. Allow me some form of pride in my looks that will assure me you might still want to be with me."

"I don't care how you look," Jimin said, rather hurt. "If I cared how you looked I wouldn't have gotten with you in the first place! Y-you big...ox."

Taehyung laughed, seeming to grow less tense. "I know. But I care. My stupid brain cares."

Jimin slumped, feeling tired. He knew Taehyung had every right to have his boundaries respected, and he knew he shouldn't be hurt by Taehyung refusing to show him his most vulnerable self. He curled into Taehyung's side, resting his head on his shoulder. It had been a long couple days for them. It felt like only yesterday they'd been playing with goats and eating berries from under the kitchen counters.

"Stroke my hair," Jimin mumbled, holding Taehyung's arm tight. He missed when Taehyung did that. He used to fall asleep like that, and lately he felt like he couldn't fall asleep unless he had the soothing touches back. Something to dull the jarring new changes and feelings always washing over him.

"With pleasure," Taehyung said, sounding both amused and affectionate. His long figners snuck their way into Jimin's hair, playing with the strands before pushing them softly back, and Jimin couldn't remember ever falling asleep so fast.

 

*

 

Once the relief of Taehyung being alive subsided, all there was left was anger. Really bitter, thick and persistent anger. Anger he wasn't quite sure where to channel.

Until one day, when he got an idea stirring in the depths of his tired, little head.

He could feel his heart pounding in his chest, rendering him exhausted enough to bend over as he reached for vials of syrup and sacks of flour, slipping it into the closest bowl he could find. The kitchens were empty, the darkness almost discouraging him from his plan but his cold fingers carrying on, pictures of Jungkook flashing before his eyes whenever he let himself feel the hurt in his chest. The ingredients around him that used to smell so sweet -the ginger, the cinnamon; even the eggs- now smelled of nothing, or worse than nothing. Sickening sweetness. Rotten.

He wanted to hurl.

He ignored the slow footsteps making their way into the kitchens, knowing fully well who it was as nobody else found their way into those quarters in the middle of the night. The steps were calm and slow, coming up behind him and ending in a small scrape of wood sliding across the floor. The butter in his batter was stubborn and almost impossible to blend into the flour. Jimin wanted to cry. Why was it so hard to do his job today? Why that day, of all days?

"Is that cake for me?" He heard asked behind him, and almost grew angry. He couldn't believe Taehyung found it suitable to be joking at a time like this. He couldn't believe he wasn't angry or distraught or tearing the castle apart like Jimin wanted to do. It was all he could think about. When Taehyung wasn't stroking his hair it was the only thing he felt. Anger.

He ignored his best friend, chucking a good handful of nuts into his cake batter and making sure to stir them in properly. They made little bumps in the otherwise smooth mixture, and he grimaced at the sight. Why did it have to be so ugly?

"Jimin, your cake smells different," he heard behind him. Jimin perked up and reeked around, his eyes wide. Taehyung couldn't possibly smell it. He didn't get omniscient senses just because he'd lost one of them.

"How so?"

"I can smell it, Jimin."

"Smell what?"

"The nuts. You know how allergic the prince is to nuts."

Jimin paled, biting his lip. What would Taehyung think of him? Did he think he was a madman? An evil bit no better than Jungkook. He tried to call his breathing, but it was hard. It was hard because Taehyung didn't seem enthusiastic about his ingenious plan.

"It's for you, Tae! He-- look what he did to you! I mean, y-you can't look--"

"Jimin," Taehyung cut him off with, reaching for his hand and squeezing it. "No."

Jimin whimpered, dropping his mixing ladle. He felt ashamed, but the hatred in him would suffocate him if he backed down. He had the perfect opportunity, and he didn't want to let it go to waste. Everyone had cake at the spring festival.

"It's eating me up, Tae!" He whined, pulling his hand out of Taehyung's calm hold. Taehyung frowned, but at least he clouding see how Jimin was crying and how his face was such an ugly pink shade from being so distressed. He couldn't see how Jimin hadn't taken care of his appearance for days and how his eyes were bloodshot with the lack of sleep. "The anger, my hatred, everything...if I don't do something, I feel like I'm going to go crazy."

Taehyung nodded, but didn't let Jimin go back to his baking. His incessant hands were holding him captive, dragging him out of the kitchens despite Jimin's heated protests, until they found themselves in a hallway far away from where they usually wandered.

It was quiet there. The tall windows let in some light from the early sun rising, and the portraits hung large and heavy along the walls. Jimin groaned, complaining about wanting to go back, but Taehyung just kissed him to quieten him and handed him something that he'd held behind his back.

Jimin looked down at what he was holding in his heads. A knife. It was heavy and sharp. Freshly forged.

"I want you to be able to let out your feelings, but only in a way that will not bring you down." Jimin didn't even understand how Taehyung had been able to else him through the castle without being able to see where he was going. Was he like a bat who could work with echoes? "You see the third painting from the end of the hall?" Taehyung asked, and Jimin lifted his head up to look to his left.

"Yes."

Taehyung nodded, placing a hand on Jimin's shoulder. "It's the prince, isn't it?"

It was. It was a portrait painting of Jungkook's upper body, wearing a blue outfit adorned with several armour accentuations. He looked grave and serious, his mouth tight and his eyes squinty. Jimin got angrier just seeing it. He'd let that man fuck him once. He'd let him have all of him and crawled on the floor for him, but it hadn't been enough. He'd never been enough.

Taehyung lifted his hand which was holding the knife, pointing it down the hall where Jungkook's portrait was hanging.

"Take out your feelings on that. You can hurt him as much as he's hurt you."

Jimin felt a sense of energy and vigor course through him, his eyes focused on Jungkook's lifeless face. Taehyung let go of him, and as soon as he did, Jimin ran up to the painting, glaring at it before he revved his arm back and stabbed the heavy knife right into Jungkook's left eye, creating a big, gaping hole. He stabbed it again. And again. He screamed as he stabbed it, then moved on to stab at the other eye, almost ripping it out of the frame. His arms hurt so good and his lungs burned with exertion, and every slash to the prince's face that he managed to land made weights lift off of his shoulders. The tearing sounds were more beautiful than any melody as years of frustration poured out of his arms and into the open gashes of what had been an oil painting.

He tired after some time, panting and bending over to catch his breath. After he'd caught his breath and taken a look at his work, panic started to settle in his stomach, and he turned to look for Taehyung when his panting turned into hyperventilating.

Taehyung was there instantly, somehow. Holding his hand and telling him he'd done good and to not worry. Jimin screamed that he'd be killed for this, but Taehyung held him tight, smiling at him like he was overreacting.

"We'll be gone before they even see this," Taehyung told him, and Jimin looked up at his face, confused. "They'll never catch us."

"Wh-what?"

Taehyung shushed him, pulling out a heavy pouch from his belt. Jimin recognized the pouch, because he'd stolen from it. Silver.

"We'll run away together. This should be enough to keep us going for a while, right? I can't see how much is there, but if you only took two silvers then there's plenty to help us disappear."

Jimin stared at him, well aware that he couldn't see him staring. He had never known anything outside of the castle walls; never even thought of what life was like out there. And now he was supposed to just leave everything? The thought of never seeing the prince -well, now the King- again was tempting, but he hadn't been prepared for it to be sprung on him so soon.

He took Taehyung's hand nonetheless, squeezing it and smiling. "You never know when you might need that many silvers, huh?"

"Yeah, you never know," Taehyung laughed, though his palm was clammy and cold. Jimin wondered if he could pack some things before they left, though by the looks of it they did need to get out of there rather in a hurry. Jimin was sure he'd screamed while slashing Jungkook's face. And those hallways were always flooded with nobles in the daytime. Jungkook would know who had done it. He wouldn't even have to second guess.

Jimin's ears picked up on movement from behind them, and he spun around with his breath caught in his throat. Jungkook was a few pages away from them, staring at him. Taehyung had grabbed the knife in his hands before he'd even gotten to turn around, and was aiming it in the direction of the sound of Jungkook walking towards them.

"So you wanted revenge, huh, rat?" Jungkook spat, staring at the knife in Taehyung's hands. Jimin paled, realizing that Jungkook would think Taehyung had been the one to mar his face in the painting.

Jungkook approached them both with flaring nostrils and Jimin felt Taehyung move in front of him while sinking into a defensive stance to shield Jimin, his knife held out like he was weilding a sword. Jungkook cackled.

"Are you serious? You're gonna try stabbing me with no aim? You can't even see where I'm standing."

Jimin knew he was right, because Taehyung's knife was pointing just to the right of Jungkook, where nobody was standing. Jungkook laughed even more, then walked closer. Taehyung refused to move, even when Jimin tried to drag him to the side. He started crying out of frustration, knowing Jungkook had the upper hand and that once again Taehyung would take the blame for his own fault.

"You never could learn your place, could you, Jimin?" The King suddenly said, and Jimin quietened, shivering when he felt Jungkook's eyes rake up his body. "And now he's made you cry. That dirty dog has made you weep once again."

Jungkook's bejewelled hand reached out for Jimin's face, steady and confident. Jimin held his breath, ready to feel the disgusting fingers touch his skin again, but Taehyung quickly spun the knife in his hand, driving the blade backwards into Jungkook's outstretched arm and cutting right through flesh and bone like his knife was hot and sinking through fresh butter. Jimin was always so good at sharpening his knives. Jungkook was always destined to fall apart. But Jimin hadn't seen it coming.

Jungkook's arm hung on a string of his own skin and flesh for a little while, until it fell dully to the floor, making a wet sound as it slapped against the stones. Jungkook screamed, his voice carrying through the walls and floors alike, sinking realization into each of Jimin's bones.

"I thought w-we weren't supposed to Jungkook's-- to sink to his level," Jimin whimpered, grabbing onto Taehyung with heaving breaths and feeling himself pale at the spots of blood that flecked Taehyung's cheeks. Blood was spraying and pooling. More of it that Jimin had ever seen. More than had been spilled from Taehyung's eyes.

"I take it back. He can still live without a hand. An eye for a fucking eye."

"Makes the whole world--"

"Temporarily, deservingly satisfied," Taehyung said darkly. He lifted his knife up again, holding it in Jungkook's more precise direction. "But not satisfied enough. My knife is dying to get acquainted with your eyes, Sire. don't think I don't know what they've been looking at while you've assumed my blindness." Jungkook was still screaming, eyes wide as he clutched his stump of an arm. Taehyung grinned and stepped forward, taking an easy slash at Jungkook's shoulder, his clothes ripping to make way for spurts of blood. "As long as I'm not dead I can see your eyes on him. I can see you lusting after him."

"Tae, don't!" Jimin cried, scrambling to hold his arms, but his best friend just shrugged him off. His mouth was concentratedly thin with little room for perspective. Even the sweat on Taehyung's forehead was dead set on dripping. He looked big and dangerous.

Taehyung raised the knife again, zeroing in on Jungkook's face. Jimin whimpered before he jumped in front of Jungkook and took the slash to his own cheek, watching some of his hair get cut in the process and dusting down onto the floor. It hurt.

"Jimin?" Taehyung hissed, lowering his knife and seeming to try to look for him. Jimin winced in pain, holding his bleeding face in his dirty hands.

"To me y-you're soft and safe and...just don't do this. P-Please don't become like the people we hate so much." Jimin reached out his hand, urging Taehyung to take it. Though Taehyung couldn't see, he did reach out for him, and Jimin caught his arm, making him drop the bloody knife. "He cannot touch me again," Jimin tried, glancing down at Jungkook's removed hand. "He'll be known as the crippled King who couldn't wield a sword."

"But regicide..." Taehyung paused, his voice low. He was holding Jimin's trembling hand, but his mind was elsewhere. "According to the divine right of kings, monarchs are presumed by decision of God to have a divinely anointed authority to rule. As such, an attack on a king by one of his own subjects would be taken to amount to a direct challenge to the monarch, to his divine right to rule, and thus to God's will. If I kill him, people would believe the divine have picked a new leader, and Jungkook's legacy would be nothing more than heresy."

Jimin stifled a deep breath, squeezing Taehyung's hand. "Wh-what does that mean?"

"I could be King, Jimin," he said with such conviction that Jimin didn't know what to feel. "I could be the new King. I could fix this wretched kingdom and right all the wrongs that have been commited under the Jeon family name."

"Then it would be without me by your side," Jimin said, withdrawing from him. He stepped back.

"Jimin--"

"No. No-- this isn't the Taehyung I knew. Taehyung wouldn't murder a defenseless man on his knees. Taehyung wouldn't--"

"The Taehyung you knew hadn't had his eyes gouged out by the man telling him time and time again about how much he wanted to rape you," Taehyung croaked, and Jimin could see wetness pooling at the rag over his eyes and the shaking of Taehyung's shoulders as his words wracked sobs out of him. "The Taehyung you knew hadn't yet realized he'd fallen in love and dreamt every night about killing whoever made you cry a thousand times over!"

Jimin felt tears stream down his own eyes, running up to the blacksmith and throwing his arms around him, stroking his hair like how Taehyung stroked his when he needed peace. It was Taehyung's turn to break and be weak, and Jimin held him together as he slumped into his arms, shaking and trembling. He was panting into him, heated and clammy. Jungkook was struggling to breathe while he clutched his bleeding arm, his face so white he looked like he was being seduced by death and his lips so blue a thousand blueberries couldn't have stained them. Jimin watched him while he hugged Taehyung closer, locking eyes with the King and refusing the break the contact while he held Taehyung tighter than he ever had before.

 

*

 

Jimin suited breathable air. The clean surroundings and warm nature agreed with him, his sickly thin skin replaced with a fresh glow from the sea breeze whipping gently at his face. He had a lily tucked behind his ear, the only thing that had been able to keep him quiet for the duration of their long journey. Taehyung had found it on a hilltop after crawling around on the ground and letting Jimin smell it before he adorned him with it and insisted he was nothing short of a forest nymph; full of life and beauty. Jimin had squeezed his hand.

The harbour was loud, but the sounds were novel and refreshing. He could smell sea and salt and fish, his hair dancing around his head as Jimin led him around by his hand, making Taehyung taste seafood and feel the slippery scales of fresh salmon and the rugged backs of starfish. He complained often about the sand digging into the soles of his feet, but it was a thousand times better than smooth, cobbled tiles. The slimy ropes he had to step over felt like freedom and every time Jimin stopped to pick up a crab he had to stop himself from smiling like a maniac all by himself.

He traced his fingers along the wood of the fishing boat that had promised them a safe trip across the South Sea, sighing along with the passing night winds that seemed to never end. He wasn't sure how much he'd actually paid the captain, because Jimin was pressed up against his shoulder, sleeping soundly. He had been sleeping since they got on board, for the first time since they'd set out on their journey. Taehyung hoped he would sleep until they got back to dry land, so that he could open his eyes and the first thing he would be greeted with would be a place completely different from where they'd left. Taehyung wondered what it would be like. Would it be green and flourishing? Red and dry but littered with a populous infrastructure? He felt like his imagination was the only thing limiting the endless possibilities.

He didn't much of what morning would bring, but finally the waves were loud and his mind was quiet, and of all the things he couldn't see, there was one thing he definitely could. He could see tomorrow; bright and gleaming. Across those crashing waves and tumultuous waters, beyond the capes and fleets and creaking ships.

Waiting, just for them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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