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The secrets in your palm

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The Village is still caught in webs of dreams when they come, with their multicolor carts and cheery chimes that announce their arrival. The people call them the Rootless - the ones that don’t sleep - because they never stay in one place for long.

To the side of the world Taehyung gets to call home, they come only once every ten years, dragging their animals and belongings noisily through the main street to settle right at the foot of the hill. Or at least that’s what Hoseok told him, because Taehyung has never seen them before. Not that Hoseok has either, but he heard tales from the old patrons who pass their days at his mother’s Tavern, the only one in their Village.

Rumors have gone around for weeks now, whispers that the Caravans have been spotted in a nearby town, that they were going to stop by next. So when Hoseok wakes up that Saturday to loud cackling coming from the street, his heart jolts, and he scrambles out of bed as fast as possible, throwing the curtains open.

No one in their Village laughs like that, Hoseok knows.

It only takes a quick scan to spot him, the Rootless man, hands on his hips and head thrown back as he wakes up the world with his laughter. Hoseok feels like he might burst from the excitement rushing through his veins.

He sprints to the washroom, pouring water in the basin and splashing his face. On his way out, he collides with his older sister, who glares at him, but Hoseok is much too happy to care. He throws on some clothes and flies downstairs, stealing a honey bun from the kitchen before running outside.

“JUNG HOSEOK!” comes a voice as he’s pushing the doors open and he turns around to see his mother shaking a fist at him.

Hoseok doesn’t slow down though, even if he knows that his ears will be hurting by the end of the day (he was supposed to help peel potatoes that morning). He just runs faster and faster, almost choking on the sweetness of the bread. But it’s all worth it, he reasons, when he spots Taehyung already working in his mother’s vegetable patch.

He woops, stumbling a little over some loose rocks and Taehyung looks up, waving a hand in greeting.

It’s just the start of great day, Hoseok knows, the Caravans are finally here and he has a plan.

 

◈◈◈

 

“Are you sure they will be there?”

Hoseok nods, shushing Taehyung by pressing a finger against his lips, and waving at him to follow. They walk to the hill, sharing the apples Taehyung took from his house before telling his mother that he was going out to play. Close to the top, Hoseok drops on all fours, crawling the rest of the way and Taehyung imitates him - the apple firmly secured between his teeth.

In all his nine years of age, Taehyung has never seen the Caravans from up close. The last time they set foot in their village he was nothing but a sigh in his mother’s womb, so he’s not quite sure what to expect. He reaches the summit a little after his friend and settles beside him, taking a deep breath before peering down.

There’s a total of ten or so carts parked at the foot of the hill and people going this way and that: some unloading, some lifting up tents. Kids run in all directions, shouting and laughing, but overall there’s nothing remarkable about it. Just people doing people stuff.

Taehyung frowns. “Where are all the cool things?”

Hoseok rolls his eyes, cuffing him on the back of the head. “They just arrived you dummy, the shows won’t start until night,” he explains. “I overheard Noona saying they do magic!”

Taehyung gasps, eyes going back to the setting camp with more intent, before whipping his head back to whine at Hoseok.

“But I can’t come here at night, Hyung. You know Mom doesn’t let me out. More so now that they are around.”

Hoseok grins wickedly at the pout on his best friend’s face.

“Don’t worry, I have a plan.”

 

The first thing Taehyung’s mother does after he makes it back from his escapade with Hoseok is scold him. She yells at him, pulling his ear and demanding to know where has he been.

“I was with Hoseok, Mom,” he says, rubbing his ear to soothe the pain. “Down at the apple orchard.”

The lie comes easy out of his mouth and he manages not to wince at the fact. Truth is, that his mother is overreacting, has been doing so ever since the rumors started. She isn’t the only one though. Every mother in the Village is behaving that way. Soonkyu even complained that her mother doesn’t let her go get the bread alone anymore. Taehyung doesn’t understand but he knows that it’s due to the Caravans.

His own mother has ordered him not to approach them. That they are dangerous and not to be trusted. Even his Hyung, who’s in the military, sent a letter ordering him not to go any closer to them and to obey Mom.

“Noona said it’s because they steal children,” commented Hoseok early on as they walked back to Taehyung’s house. “Old lady gossip, don’t mind it.”

The knowledge makes Taehyung wary, both because he’s afraid of his mother’s wrath and also because he doesn’t want to be kidnapped. It also doesn’t help that his mother has used the ‘Dad card’, saying how disappointed he would be if Taehyung were to fool around with the Rootless.

That is what makes Taehyung’s stomach churn the most as he waits for Hoseok, perched on his windowsill. He has never seen his father (His mother says it’s because he can’t leave the military base. He has to protect the country.) but he doesn’t want to be any less than a good son.

A few minutes past ten, a pebble hits his window and Taehyung climbs out of bed to find Hoseok waiting outside, his smile blinding in the moonlight. Taking a deep breath, Taehyung double checks that his mother is asleep in her room, before throwing a rope made of sheets out the window. Minutes after, he’s jumping to solid ground and then he’s running alongside Hoseok.

They giggle softly as they race to the hill, afraid the sound might carry in the wind and wake up Taehyung’s mother. Members of their Village also walk in the same direction and they keep to the shadows to avoid being spotted. The adults might talk monstrosities about the Rootless, but they still attend their shows.

Religiously, every night for as long as the Caravans are around.

The camp is now alive with lights and music, roaring laughter and sweet voices; Taehyung is in awe. He gapes as his eyes struggle to take it all in. The tents glow like sunlight and now he believes in all the rumors, the Caravans truly look like magic.

“C’mon,” whispers Hoseok and they make their way down, hiding behind trees.

From up close, the camp is so bright it’s overwhelming, there’s too much to see and Taehyung tries his best not to miss a single thing while still keeping up with his friend. There’s dancing on one side and people drinking on the other, Taehyung can even distinguish some of the Tavern patrons at a table, playing cards with a man sporting a wicked mustache.

But it is the puppies huddled under one of the carts what catch Taehyung’s attention. They are fluffy and pudgy, fur of that murky brown color that comes with too many breeds blending into one.

“Hiiii,” coos Taehyung, squatting to pet them. The mother doesn’t seem to be around and the puppies are happy to get some attention. Taehyung giggles, so entranced by the little furballs that he doesn’t notice the person standing behind him, until he clears his throat.

“Those are mine.”

Taehyung looks over his shoulder to find a boy around his age, with full cheeks and a mop of black hair. He stands up, dusting his pants and looking around - Hoseok is nowhere to be seen. Taehyung’s eyes go back to the boy in front of him and he notices now the odd clothes he is wearing: floppy pants and a bright orange shirt.

With a gasp Taehyung points at him, as realization settles in.

“You are a Rootless!” he says, drinking in every feature of the boy, who’s now scowling.

“Am not!” the boy says, almost offended. “I’m a Traveler, a citizen of the world.”

Taehyung looks at him blankly. “What’s a citizen?”

“I’m not sure, but Uncle Namjoon likes to call us that,” the boy replies, crouching down to pick up one of the puppies. Taehyung mirrors him, smiling at the little critter on the other boy’s lap. “I’m Jimin. Who are you?”

“Taehyung, I’m from the Village.”

Jimin seems to perk up at the information. “Really?” he asks eagerly, eyes raking Taehyung’s body. “I’ve never met anyone from here before.”

Taehyung nods. “I live over there,” he says, pointing to the hill. “Right on the other side. I came here with my friend but I lost him.”

Jimin looks around as if expecting Taehyung’s friend to show up.

“Do you need help finding him?” he offers. “I can show you around while we look for him.”

Taehyung agrees and then they are walking among the party, with Jimin’s hand firmly wrapped around Taehyung’s wrist. Everywhere they go, there’s something to see: musicians and dancers, fires with sizzling meat that makes their mouths water, even a dog doing tricks to the delight of the audience.

“That’s the puppies’ mom,” Jimin’s points out, tugging at Taehyung’s arms so he won’t stay behind.

It isn’t until they are approaching a cart selling sweets that they find Hoseok. He’s hiding behind some barrels, mouth agape as he stares at the display of sweet buns and candy apples.

“Hyung!” Taehyung calls and Hoseok turns around, pressing a finger to his lips. Taehyung falls silent, signalling for Jimin to keep quiet as they approach him.

“She’s an angel…” Hoseok whispers, eyes going back to the cart and Taehyung follows his line of view to find the girl selling the sweets. She has dirty blond hair and soft almond eyes, doesn’t look that much older than them.

By their side, Jimin snickers.

“That’s my sister, Olga,” he says and Hoseok seems to notice him for the first time. Taehyung frowns, the girl looks nothing like Jimin, except for maybe the curve of her cheeks.

“And you are?” asks Hoseok, warily.

“This is my friend Jimin!” chirps Taehyung. “He’s a Roo- a Traveler. I just met him, Hyung. This is Hoseok-Hyung,” he adds, to Jimin this time. “My best friend in the whole world. You should call him Hyung, too.”

Jimin wrinkles his nose, shaking his head. “We don’t do that. I’ll just call you Hoseok.”

Taehyung starts to protest but Hoseok shrugs, eyes going back to the girl. “Is she truly your sister?” he asks, voice dreamy.

Jimin rolls his eyes, like this is something that happens all the time.

“Olga!” he yells, catching the girl’s attention and Hoseok squeaks, crouching out of view behind the barrels and dragging Taehyung along.

“What the hell!” Hoseok hisses and Jimin laughs, head thrown back and Taehyung feels his lips stretching and mimicking the gesture. Jimin’s laughter is like the bells they put around the sheep’s necks or like the wind chimes at the ice cream parlor. It makes his tummy feel warm. “She could have seen me!”

Jimin continues laughing as he walks to the cart, chatting with his sister for a bit, before coming back with three candy apples. They eat them as they stroll among the people, until their teeth are sticky and the moon is high up in the sky.

“We should go,” says Hoseok, yawning and stretching. Taehyung nods, turning to Jimin with a smile that is all teeth but for the few he’s missing.

“Come play with us tomorrow,” he offers, veins feeling bubbly in anticipation. “By the river,” he points in the right direction, swatting Hoseok by accident. Jimin promises he will.

They wave goodbye and as they leave, Taehyung can’t help but look back at his new friend.

 

◈◈◈

 

Taehyung meets with Jimin to play almost every day after that.

More often than not Hoseok joins them, complaining about his Noona and how she always makes him peel the potatoes alone while she chats up the delivery boy. The river and the adjacent woods are their playground, always offering new opportunities to explore, hidden places where stories are made.

Jimin is also a bottomless source of tales, stories of the world that he tells them when they are huddled together under the trees. Taehyung always listens with undivided attention. Not only because it ignites a desire to see everything with his own eyes, but also because he likes the way Jimin talks.

“How do you know so many stories?” asks Taehyung, completely enraptured and Hoseok leans forward, eager to know the answer as well.

“Lissa is a storyteller, so she shares with me a lot,” Jimin replies.

“Who’s Lissa?” Hoseok wiggles his eyebrows and Jimin snickers, throwing him a twig.

“My sister, you moron,” he replies amused, before resuming with the story.

Jimin has a sweet voice, a little high pitched but soothing, that tickles Taehyung making him want to grin. Or maybe it’s the way Jimin is always smiling while he talks that makes Taehyung’s skin tingle, as if little ants were having a race down his arms.

Whatever it is, it’s comforting and Taehyung loves it, wants to listen to Jimin for years.

It is on a sunny afternoon that Taehyung notices Jimin’s pierced ears for the first time. He shows up by the river wearing what looks like a feather earring. It sways softly in the summer breeze and Taehyung gapes.

“Whoa,” he says, reaching to touch it but Jimin flinches away.

“Don’t, I just got it done,” Jimin explains, sitting down. “Salomé said not to play with it until it heals.”

“Who’s Salomé?” Taehyung asks, plopping himself beside him, eyes still studying the feather. It’s a very pretty thing, delicate and rich in details.

“My sister,” Jimin replies and Taehyung frowns, confused.

“I thought your sisters’ names were Olga and Lissa,” he says, playing with the grass.

Jimin nods. “Yeah, this is another sister.”

“How many sisters do you have?”

“I have six,” says Jimin, enumerating with his fingers. “Olga, Haru, María, Lissa, Salomé and Akua. Though she’s married so she doesn’t travel with us anymore, joined a different clan.”

“So many,” comments Taehyung, surprised. He has never met someone with so many siblings before. “Must be so cool!”

Jimin makes a face. “Sometimes, I’m the youngest so they all boss me around. But not for long.”

“Why?”

Jimin leans closer, covering his face in a conspiratory gesture and Taehyung heart stutters. He doesn’t know why, but it happens often when Jimin is around.

“Because one day I’m gonna be head of the Clan,” Jimin whispers and Taehyung raises his eyebrows in a silent question. “The title goes to the oldest son of the current Head once they are too old to make decisions and Uncle Namjoon doesn’t have a son. That’s why mom tried so hard to have me,” Jimin explains pointing to himself. “I’m next in line.”

“Ooohh,” says Taehyung nodding in understanding and then pursing his lips. “So your Uncle only had girls? Why can’t girls rule?”

“No, he doesn’t have kids at all.” Jimin stands up, dusting his pants and Taehyung scrambles after him. “And I don’t know why girls cannot do it, those are just the rules.”

Jimin starts walking, hands in the pockets of his pants and Taehyung trails after him, pondering his friend’s words.

“Why doesn’t he have kids? I mean, you said he was married, right?”

Jimin turns to face him, walking backwards, a pensive expression on his face.

“You’ll see.”

 

The camp is alive with activity at that time in the afternoon.

It’s the first time Taehyung returns since the first night he met Jimin. People are busy setting tables and lighting the fires, hanging ropes of lights from the tents and organizing stands where the goods will be displayed. Jimin doesn’t stop walking until they reach a bright orange tent with green flaps. Pushing them aside, he gestures for Taehyung to follow.

“I’m back!” Jimin hollers and a sandal comes flying out of nowhere, hitting him on the arm and making Taehyung jump in surprise. “Ouch! María it hurts!”

A girl with midnight hair and caramel skin comes from behind a set of curtains, another sandal already poised in the air.

Insolente.” She says something in a language Taehyung doesn’t understand, but the gesture is crystal clear and he shrinks on his spot by the entrance. “What did I say about screaming at home?”

Jimin pouts, rubbing his arm. “I’m gonna tell Mom you hit me.”

The girl rolls her eyes, dropping the sandal and fitting it on her foot. She turns to Taehyung then, eyeing him up and down. Taehyung does the same, she looks nothing like Olga - the other sister he met - but she has Jimin’s eyes.

“Who’s this?” she asks, pointing to Taehyung with her chin.

“Taehyung, a friend I made from the Village,” replies Jimin, signaling for Taehyung to get closer. “This is María, another sister-”

“The best one,” she interrupts, flipping her long hair over her shoulder. Taehyung’s mouth goes slack at the gesture. Hoseok is gonna regret not joining them today. “I made sweets,” she adds, making her way to the flaps and pushing them aside. “Grab some.”

The wink she throws Taehyung over her shoulder makes him go red to the tips of his ears. Jimin shakes his head, lips twisted in annoyance as he disappears behind a set of curtains. Taehyung hurries after him, openly gawking at the decoration inside. There are pillows everywhere, some mattresses barely visible behind curtains and low tables. There’s also a plush rug covering every inch of the floor and clothes. Clothes everywhere.

Jimin presses a finger to his lips as they pass another set of curtains. A slender foot is sticking out and Jimin mouths ‘Olga’ as they tiptoe around it. They grab some sweets from a plate on one of the tables before heading outside. They are made out of honey and walnuts and something else Taehyung doesn’t recognize. It leaves his lips sticky and his stomach warm and content.

“You don’t look like any of your sisters,” Taehyung comments around a mouthful of honey.

Jimin nods. “We all have different fathers so I guess that’s why. We never stay for long in a single place and Mom never liked the idea of getting married so-”

“So you don’t know your Dad?” Taehyung asks. Jimin shakes his head. “Me neither. I mean, he left for the military when I was a baby and I never see him.”

“I don’t care about Dad,” Jimin says. “Mom is enough. Do you miss yours?” Taehyung sighs sadly and Jimin pouts, pushing a piece of his sweet into Taehyung’s mouth. “He’ll come back for you one day, you’ll see.”

“Thanks.”

On the way, Jimin points out Salomé, the earring sister, who has reddish hair and soft looking skin like Jimin’s. It shouldn’t surprise Taehyung anymore, but he still marvels at how pretty she looks, even from the distance. But it only takes him one fleeting glance at his friend to know that nothing related to Jimin could be anything short of beautiful.

“There he is,” says Jimin, stopping abruptly.

Taehyung, who had been distracted by the chimes dangling from one of the carts, bumps into him. He reaches out, steadying Jimin by his arms and connecting with warm skin. The contact makes him blush and with a jolt, Taehyung notices that Jimin’s skin is as soft as it looks. Jimin smiles at him over his shoulder, not minding the contact and Taehyung keeps his hand where it is, all the while feeling his heart thumping in his chest.

“Who’s there?” Taehyung asks trying to ignore his stomach. It feels funny, like full of fluttery things and he doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s upset from the sweets.

“Uncle Seokjin,” Jimin says, pointing to a man dressed in all black but for a red necklace nesting on his broad chest. “Uncle Namjoon’s husband.”

It takes Taehyung a couple minutes to understand. He frowns looking at Seokjin and then sees another man approach him. This one is slightly taller, with dark hair and a mustache. He is wearing a matching red necklace and a dazzling, dimpled smile. Seokjin smiles at him, looping an arm around his waist and - to Taehyung’s surprise - leaning in for a kiss.

He turns to Jimin with question on the tip of his tongue that evaporates immediately at the view of Jimin’s lips around his thumb, as he sucks it clean.

Taehyung looks back at the head of the clan, at how happy he looks embracing another man and he wonders, for the first time, how it would feel to kiss a boy.

 

◈◈◈

 

Hot summer days are Taehyung’s favourite because it’s the only time Hoseok agrees to swim.

They are barely reaching the river when Donghyuk - one of Hoseok’s friends - starts taking his clothes off. He throws them every which way, hollering like a madman. Taehyung laughs, taking his t-shirt off and running along, splashing into the water without a care.

Hoseok is a little more reserved. Leaving his clothes on a neat pile and approaching the river reticently, testing the temperature with his toes before shivering and retreating back to lie under the sun. Donghyuk makes eye contact with Taehyung, gesticulating toward Hoseok and the river and a mischievous smile spreads on Taehyung’s face.

By the time Hoseok notices the shadows looming over him, it is too late.

They lift him by the arms and legs, throwing him into the water as Hoseok screeches louder than his mom. Taehyung laughs hard until tears spring from his eyes. It’s a lovely summer afternoon, one of the last before school starts again.

It only gets better when Jimin shows up, slowly approaching them with playful eyes. Taehyung gets out of the water, shaking his head like a puppy and raining drops of liquid happiness onto Jimin’s lovely skin.

“Dummy,” Jimin says, slapping his calves and Taehyung laughs.

“Come swim!” he invites, pointing to the shiny surface of the river where Hoseok and Donghyuk are engaged in a rather ridiculous chase along the bank.

Taehyung smile doesn’t fade until Jimin removes his t-shirt. He stares for a second at the unexpected reveal of bare skin before turning around hastily. His ears are suddenly burning and Taehyung runs back into the water, seeking the coolness and not even waiting for Jimin.

Somehow it gets easier - as they play along under the sun - to get used to this new version of Jimin. Water trails down in rivulets every time Jimin comes out of the water and Taehyung disguises hungry touches under the excuse of innocent games. It is satisfying, to touch Jimin, like the feeling he gets after eating his favourite pie.

Taehyung doesn’t know why.

At some point, Hoseok and Donghyuk leave and then it’s only them.

Jimin drags himself out of the water, lying on his back on the grass as he soaks in the sunlight. Taehyung crawls out of the river as well, lowering himself next to him, but careful to leave a space in between. He looks at the sky through squinty eyes, turning to the side after a moment for his gaze to settle on Jimin’s earring.

Taehyung lifts a hand to play with it, making Jimin smile.

“Do you like it?” he asks, dropping his head to the side and looking at Taehyung.

“It’s pretty,” Taehyung replies softly.

Something swirls in Jimin’s eyes and Taehyung sits up, yanking bits of grass, roots and all, as he stares at the river. Jimin sits up as well and his bare shoulder brushes against Taehyung’s. It’s warm, due to the sun, and a shiver runs down Taehyung’s back.

Jimin hums.

“Has anyone read your palm before?” he asks, reaching for Taehyung’s wrist.

“No,” he replies, following as Jimin turns his hand, palm facing up. There’s dirt stuck to the skin and Jimin makes a face, rubbing at it with his thumb. “Do you know how?”

Jimin nods. “Haru taught me a bit. She’s the second best at it in our camp.”

Taehyung follows in a trance as Jimin traces the lines on his palm with his finger. It tickles and it makes him want to squirm. It feels like revealing secrets-

“Oh, I see,” says Jimin after a while, eyebrows frowned in concentration. “Your palm is a little obscure,” he continues in a low, mysterious voice and Taehyung leans forward unconsciously, eager to hear some more. “It means...you will grow to be like a pig! Smelly and dirty if you continue living this way, go wash those hands!”

Taehyung pouts and Jimin cackles happily, falling back as he laughs.

“You lied to me,” accuses Taehyung, crossing his arms over his chest and Jimin’s gaze softens.

“I have something for you,” he says after a moment, reaching for his pants. He takes out a little paper envelope, handing it to Taehyung. “I made it myself.”

Excitement rushes through Taehyung’s veins as he opens the unexpected gift. He shakes the envelope on top of his palm until a metal feather drops on it. It’s the exact replica of the one Jimin is wearing on his ear.

“I was supposed to wear both, one on each ear but-” Jimin explains, cheeks dusting pink and no one could blame Taehyung if he stares a bit. “I saw you looking at mine...thought you might want one too...so we match, you know? Because...we are friends, right?”

Taehyung looks down at the feather and then back up at Jimin. The sun is low in the sky and it shines right behind Jimin’s back, making him glow. Taehyung licks his lips as his mouth feels dry all of a sudden. Jimin shuffles closer.

“Do you like it?” he whispers.

It’s a moment suspended in time, the world turns off around them and Taehyung only sees Jimin.

There is a question waiting in the curve of Jimin’s mouth, one that Taehyung is eager to answer. He closes his eyes, leaning closer as butterflies explode in his tummy, threatening to spill down his tongue. After a minute or two, there is the faintest brush of lips against his, one that makes his heart skip a beat. Jimin moves away and Taehyung blinks a couple times, still trying to understand what just happened.

“Whoa…” Taehyung murmurs softly, licking his lips and Jimin giggles, which makes him want to giggle as well.

The moment is sweet, however short lived. A scream resonates in the valley just when Taehyung is thinking about kissing Jimin again, making him jerk back in haste.

“KIM TAEHYUNG.”

His mother is coming in their direction, an angry quality to her step. Taehyung stands up quickly, Jimin following at a much slower pace. It doesn’t take long for her to reach them and she latches on Taehyung’s arm immediately, yanking him close.

“What do you think you are doing?” she asks through her teeth, eyes open wide and hair flying in the wind. Taehyung has never seen her so mad before.

“I was playing with my friend-”

The answer seems to be a mistake, for Taehyung's mother shifts her gaze to Jimin and then hatred rolls in waves from her every pore.

“What are you doing with my son, huh?!” she demands, taking a step forward that Jimin reciprocates by stepping back. He looks scared and Taehyung feels terribly guilty. “What kind of ideas are you planting in his head, you Rootless scum!”

“Mom!” Taehyung pulls at her sleeve as tears fill his eyes. Jimin is shivering, incapable of uttering a single word.

“Jimmy!”

Taehyung looks up to find María walking up to them. She’s a vision of colors and swirling skirts and the snarl on Taehyung’s mother’s face deepens. María wraps an arm across Jimin’s shoulders, murmuring something quick in what Taehyung has learned to recognize as Spanish and then Jimin is giving him a sad look, before running away.

“Stay away from my kid,” Taehyung’s mother threatens.

“You are lucky I’m not Akua,” is all María says, spitting at his mother’s feet.

Taheyung’s mother bristles, but her reaction is too slow and María is already retreating. Taehyung feels hollow and confused, following Jimin with his eyes until he can’t see him anymore.

“Mom,” he says quietly, feeling like something precious just slipped in between his fingers. His mother tugs at his arms as they speed walk back to their house. Taehyung stumbles, trying to keep up with his mother’s long strides, all the while with tears running down his cheeks.

Halfway through, his mother whirls around, seemingly incapable of keeping her anger contained.

“What did I say about the Caravans?” she yells and Taehyung cries harder, feeling specks of saliva landing on his face. “Answer me, Taehyung!”

“N-not to g-go near them,” he stutters, sniffing. “B-but Jimin is not d-dangerous Mom, none of them are-”

“Yes they are!” she interrupts.”I told you to stay away for a reason and you disobeyed me! I don’t want you mingling with the Rootless, not now, not ever!”

“But why?” Taehyung whines. “I don’t understand.”

His mother stills then, and determination flashes behind her eyes. Eyes that look nothing like Taehyung’s.

“Because they took your father away from us,” she says with certainty, not leaving room for doubt. “He isn’t in the military, Taehyung. He abandoned us. For them.”

 

The night travels slowly across the ceiling of Taehyung’s bedroom and he can’t sleep. He should be, since tomorrow, school starts back again, but his mother’s words cut through the tendrils of dreams and he’s left awake with a gaping wound in his chest.

So it is with the need of closure that the next morning, he deviates from his normal route to school, ignoring the ticking clock and running up the hill. Taehyung isn’t sure who he wants to find first, Jimin or the mystery of his father, but it doesn’t matter much.

Because when he finally reaches the top, breathless and sweating in his freshly pressed school shirt, the Caravan is already gone.

 

◈◈◈

 

Ten years later

 

“No!”

Hoseok pouts, gloomily wiping the surface of the bar after Soonkyu denies him a drink for the upteempth time that afternoon. The Tavern is full of patrons busily slurping noodles before the lunch special runs out. Soonkyu gives him a disdainful look, before turning around to place clean glasses back on the shelf.

Just then the door swings open and Taehyung steps inside.

Hoseok waves halfheartedly at him, moving on to wipe some tables clean. Behind the bar, Soonkyu fixes her top, dragging it dangerously low before turning around to offer Taehyung a blinding smile and a glass of lemonade. Hoseok rolls his eyes, scrubbing vigorously as he mutters curses under his breath. He’s the son of the owner of the Tavern and still all he gets are glasses of water on a good day.

Talk about favoritism.

Taehyung sits down at the bar with a groan, sipping on the cool drink while he waits for Soonkyu to bring his food. Working at the Village’s only carpentry business pays well, but it takes its toll on his back. It doesn’t take long for the girl to place a bowl of soup in front of him, along with a piece of bread and a generous view of her breasts.

“Tough day?” Soonkyu asks, crossing her arms, a gesture that stresses the size of her bosom and Taehyung swallows his soup. The day is hot and sweat is starting to collect on Soonkyu’s cleavage, threatening to trail down, inviting Taehyung to chase after it.

“I’ve had worse,” he replies, lowering his eyes.

Soonkyu leans forward then, to whisper in his ear. “Talk to Hoseok when you are done, meet me at the back.”

It takes a couple bills - and a bottle of beer - for Hoseok to accept to cover the bar and Taehyung practically runs to the storage barn, right outside the back door of the Tavern. Soonkyu is waiting for him with the laces of her shirt already undone and he wastes no time to get underneath it, hands fondling her chest.

Taehyung doesn’t know if he’s a boobs man, at least not if he compares himself to Donghyuk’s endless praise for the soft flesh, but he likes the weight of them on his palms. Soonkyu must like it too, because every time he licks over her sensitive nubs, she ruts harder down on his lap. They don’t have much time, so Taehyung doesn’t invest much on preambles, unzipping his pants and sneaking his hands under Soonkyu’s skirt.

The heat is nice as she bounces on his lap, the wetness is welcomed around his dick, but there’s something missing. That extra something that makes Donghyuk and Hoseok go crazy over girls in miniskirts. Still, the friction is enough to make him come as Soonkyu shudders on top of him. When everything is done, she hurries to adjust her clothes and Taehyung does the same, fighting sleep so he can go back to work.

“I really like that necklace of yours,” Soonkyu says, caressing the feather nested in between his collarbones.

“Thanks,” Taehyung gives her a half smile.

“Bet it would look real nice in between these,” she suggests, lightly touching her breasts.

Taehyung grimaces, there it is.

He had been fooling around with her for too long it seems, since Soonkyu is already asking for a token of love. Something that will show the girls in the Village that he belongs to her.

He hums in response, racking his brain for something to say when someone bangs on the door. Loudly.

“Time’s up, Mom is on her way!”

Taehyung resists the urge to sigh loudly in relief. Bless Hoseok and his timing. Soonkyu leaves the barn, throwing a glare at Hoseok before re-entering the Tavern. Taehyung bumps his friend’s shoulder on his way out and they start making their way down the street, when Donghyuk shows up out of nowhere, skidding to a stop right in front of them.

“Where’s the fire?” asks Hoseok amused, holding his friend by the shoulders as he catches his breath.

Donghyuk points behind him, somewhere at the mountains in the back.

“The Caravans,” he says in between big gulps of air. “They saw them...in the town.”

Taehyung’s stomach lurches so hard it makes him feel instantly sick.

“The Rootless are coming back.”

 

◈◈◈

 

Hoseok spends the rest of the week like an overly excited puppy, getting on Taehyung’s nerves.

It’s not only him though. The whole Village vibrates with barely contained eagerness, waiting for the Caravan to finally set foot on their land. Taehyung has a permanent scowl on his face as he works, radio set at the highest volume possible, tired of the neverending gossiping haunting him everywhere he goes.

The signal falters for half a second, just the slightest distortion, but is enough for the bells to reach him, even at the far back of the store where he’s currently buffing the edges of a nightstand. His co-worker screeches some nonsense, dropping a box he’s holding and running towards the exit. Taehyung bites his lip. The bells are now close enough to fill the space, louder than the voice of the girl wailing on the radio.

Taehyung’s stomach churns and he closes his eyes. His mother’s voice, ten years old, resonates inside his skull.

They took your father.

A splinter buries itself deep within his thumb and Taehyung groans, exasperated. The feather on his chest burns against his skin and the memory of afternoons under the sun fights to resurface, but he pushes it back down and away into a box. He made a promise to his mother. A promise he plans to keep, no matter how sick it makes him feel.

Even if his own father is coming back in that Caravan, Taehyung is resolved not to care.

 

◈◈◈

 

“C’mon Tae,” Hoseok whines. “The Caravans have been here for two days already. Everyone in the Village already went to see them, everyone but us.”

Taehyung raises his eyes to find his friend sprawled on top of the store counter, one of his cheeks squished against the hard surface. When he notices Taehyung looking, Hoseok lets out a sad puppy whimper and Taehyung wrinkles his nose in disgust.

“Who’s the Hyung, huh?” Taehyung says, hoisting up a box and walking to the back of the store. Hoseok trails behind him, dragging his feet.

“I just don’t get why you won’t come,” Hoseok says.

“Not interested,” replies Taehyung, arms shaking with the weight of the box.

“But it’d be the first time we actually get to enjoy the camp,” Hoseok tries again. “Think about all the pretty girls...we might even see that kid we met years ago.”

Taehyung’s heart jumps at that, anticipation almost getting the best of him, but he manages to shake his head.

“Let’s get some lunch.”

They step out onto the street, Hoseok still grumbling under his breath but more or less resignated that there’s no changing his friend’s mind. The environment feels electric and Taehyung frowns, scanning the place.

Girls skitter around in clusters, all giggles and whispers and ruby cheeks behind concealing palms. If Hoseok notices anything, he doesn’t say, so Taehyung tries to shake the tingling sensation at the back of his neck.

It isn’t until they are about to reach the Tavern that all the factors align and Taehyung finally understands. There’s a group of girls and one or two boys looking through the crystals of the butcher’s shop. Soonkyu is among them, and Hoseok scoffs, cupping his hands around his mouth to call her out.

He doesn't get a chance though, for a louder collective giggle fills the space and the girls turn like one, leaning against the window trying - but failing - to look inconspicuous. From the butcher’s place, two boys walk out under the sun. The first has platinum blonde hair and the palest skin Taehyung has ever seen. The second makes Taehyung’s mouth go dry and forces his heart to rebel.

It’s Jimin.

It’s him but not him at the same time. The boy in front of him has unexpected silver hair and a face so pretty it makes the girls swoon when he flashes them a tiny smile. His skin glows in the sunlight and for a moment Taehyung doubts himself. But there’s no mistaking him.

The boy is wearing a feather earring, one that matches perfectly the one counting Taehyung’s heartbeats.

“Isn’t that-?” starts Hoseok but Taehyung shushes him, looking left and right to try and cross to the other sidewalk. However it’s too late, Jimin has already seen him.

Even from where he is, Taehyung can detect recognition lighting up Jimin’s eyes - making the smile go wider.

“Taehyung?” he starts, just when Taehyung is setting foot on the street, hastily crossing it and pulling Hoseok along. His friend is frowning but doesn’t say anything, not until they are hidden by the walls of the tavern.

“What the hell?” Hoseok scowls, arms crossed over his chest but Taehyung doesn’t reply, too busy nursing the sudden ache in his chest. “You know, I’m patient but this shit smells way too much. What’s going on?”

Taehyung open his mouth, waiting for a lie, but it isn’t what comes out.

“Do you really want to know?” Hoseok’s nod is firm. Taehyung exhales shakily, making up his mind. “Just...don’t tell anyone.”

 

“Who was that?”

Yoongi throws an arm over Jimin’s shoulder, leaning on his side. He smells heavily of his favourite vanilla tobacco, that and the mint on his breath. Jimin cuddles back in the offered embrace and somewhere a girl sighs.

“A friend...I suppose,” Jimin replies, walking in the opposite direction, making their way back to camp. Olga is waiting for the meat and if he doesn’t come back in time, he’ll suffer for it.

Yoongi hums beside him, easily falling into step. His nose is starting to turn red, too sensitive to the angry summer sun.

“Didn’t look like it,” he comments, tipping his hat as he salutes a group of mature ladies exiting the grocery store. Even at their age, they blush and Jimin smirks. They didn’t come into the Village only for meat, after all.

“He was at some point,” Jimin explains, playing with his earring. “I guess ten years is a long time.”

“Guess you are right.”

They walk the rest of the way in silence, Yoongi eyeing the Village left and right. It’s his first time in the place, only joining their Caravan a couple of years back. Olga still yells at them when they finally make it back, complaining that it took too long, and Jimin scurries away as fast as he can, laughing when a sandals hits his butt - a family favourite.

Yoongi sighs, lovesick. “What a wicked aim.”

“Everything is wicked about her,” Jimin says, picking up the guitar and testing some cords. “You don’t stand a chance.”

Yoongi shrugs. “That kind of beauty is best admired from afar.” He looks at Jimin then. “What you doing about loverboy?”

Jimin lies down, guitar pressed against his chest - like an overgrown baby.

“Nothing...time will tell.”

 

Back at his house, Taehyung doesn’t seem able to shake his frown away. It’s been stuck to his eyebrows ever since the afternoon. Ever since his short lived reunion with Jimin.

“Heard the Caravans are back.”

Taehyung lifts his eyes to see his mother walk into the kitchen, a hard set on her mouth. She makes herself busy heating up food and placing a plate in front of Taehyung. He thanks her, grabbing his chopsticks and stuffing his mouth, just so he doesn’t have to try and make small talk.

“I trust the conversation we had years ago is still fresh in your mind,” she adds, noticing that Taehyung isn’t so keen in gifting her with his words tonight.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Your brother is also coming back home for the holidays, maybe in a day or two,” she adds. “Make some time and clean the room, will you?”

Taehyung nods, even though he’ll most likely be spending his brother’s holiday at Hoseok’s. It isn’t that he doesn’t like his brother. It’s just that his brother is too much like their mother, and Taehyung is not. It gets suffocating, to share the house with both of them, too narrow-minded with their feet well planted on earth.

After doing the dishes, Taehyung takes a quick shower to soothe his muscles before bed. In the mirror, he can see the feather pendant shining under the lights and he frowns once again. He raises his hands to take it off, only to drop them right away.

Whatever, he thinks as he goes to bed, even though it’s a lie.

 

◈◈◈

 

“Thought you were doing nothing.”

Yoongi leans against the wall, lighting up a cigarette as they both eye the doors of the Tavern. Jimin shrugs, playing with the apple in his hand. It’s a pretty little thing, all smooth skin and deep red. ‘It goes with your lips,’ commented the girl who gave it to him. Jimin gifted her a smile in retribution.

“Things changed overnight.”

Yoongi offers his cigarette and Jimin wrinkles his nose, shaking his head. “Let me guess,” he says. “Haru read your tea leaves again. No way she got close to your palm.”

Yoongi lets out a short laugh, making an up and down motion with his hand, and Jimin snorts in agreement.

“Not that she can tell me anything I don’t know already,” Jimin says. “Been hearing the same ever since I was born.”

“Ugly little thing,” Yoongi smirks, satisfied.

“Fifteen over eight,” Jimin calls, smugly, and Yoongi makes a face.

“That’s because you fuck both ways,” he complains. “I can’t keep up.”

Jimin doesn’t reply, tossing the apple as he crosses the street. There is no need to look back because he knows Yoongi follows, always has his back. His skin feels alive with foreshadowing, there really isn’t room for failure. Haru had seen it right when Jimin was but a bundle in her arms. There’s just one for him, that’s all.

“What did the tea leaves say anyway,” Yoongi asks when Jimin is about to push the door open. He can probably detect the slight tremble of Jimin’s bones. Jimin is grateful for the distraction, Yoongi always knows how to anchor him best.

“The time is now.”

 

Taehyung is considering how to tell Soonkyu he doesn’t want to fool around anymore when the doors open. He doesn’t look, although Hoseok elbows him repeatedly while clearing his throat loudly. He doesn’t look, even when the Tavern is filled with murmurs and soft sighs.

The only thing that makes Taehyung turn around on his stool is the way Soonkyu’s attention shifts towards the door. She pushes the neckline of her blouse even lower, if possible, and Taehyung peers over his shoulder to find Jimin.

Looking straight back at him.

For a wild second, Taehyung considers if he should push the neckline of his t-shirt down as well, showcase those collarbones. The thought dies immediately as his eyes settle on Jimin’s shoulder slope, barely concealed by his flimsy tank top. Hoseok scurries away when Jimin makes for the bar and Taehyung turns back around.

Jimin settles beside him, eyes scanning the spirits carefully.

Soonkyu is almost bouncing with unsubtle desire, movements determined as she rearranges her hair in the way she knows makes her attractive the most. However, before she can even utter a word, a pale hand calls her attention from the opposite extreme of the bar. Taehyung recognizes the owner of said hand as Jimin’s friend and he snorts at the disappointed look on Soonkyu’s face.

Jimin looks at him.

“Taehyung,” he says and his voice brings back memories like a torrent of thick honey - sweet and sticky and coiling around Taehyung’s belly button.

He exhales, before stealing a glance, which is a mistake. The same honey swirls within Jimin’s eyes, inviting, and Taehyung is hooked. He can’t look away.

“You have changed,” Taehyung says, stating the obvious.

“Time did good to you too,” replies Jimin, lips twitching in amusement. Taehyung’s nape feels warm. “You have not come to see us.”

“Didn’t know it was mandatory.” Taehyung glances around the Tavern, eyes briefly crossing with Hoseok’s, before settling back on the mirror behind the bar. He can see Jimin staring down, a pout on his plush lips.

Taehyung is suddenly hungry.

“I thought we were friends,” Jimin finally says. “But I guess rumors are stronger than promises.”

Jimin pushes against the bar to stand up, but Taehyung’s hand stops him, curling around his wrist. Without a pause, Taehyung’s palm is facing up and Jimin scans it, fingers trailing softly over the lines he does not remember.

“What does it say?” Taehyung asks as his heart speeds up.

Jimin leans closer and Taehyung realizes, with a jolt, that he smells familiar...like first kisses and the promise of more.

“That I’ll see you tonight.”

 

That night, Taehyung goes to the Caravans.

He trails behind Donghyuk while Hoseok walks worriedly by his side.

“Would it be ok?” Hoseok asks.

“I’m not sure,” Taehyung replies and it’s true. He is nervous. From the prospect of crossing paths with his father or seeing Jimin, he doesn’t know.

The camp is alive with light and music. People from their Village fill the space with money and laughter, showering the Rootless with their hard-earned wealth. To their right, people form a tight circle around what looks like a dance floor, and Taehyung has to squeeze in between them to get a better look.

Pale boy is propped on a chair, legs spread wide to accommodate an accordion on his lap. A cigarette dangles from his lips as he plays, feet tapping rhythmically on the floor. The center is taken by girls in full colorful skirts, arms thrown high to the sky as they spin to the music. The combination of the twirls of the fabric and the glee on their faces is mesmerizing but Taehyung soon finds his eyes settling on something else.

Someone.

Jimin is dancing among the girls. Taehyung recognizes one of them as María, Jimin’s sister, and another one that looks a lot like Olga. Before he can decide if he’s right, there’s a change in the song and the girls drop down, leaving Jimin in the center. His eyes scan the crowd, until they find Taehyung, where they stay.

The dance is like nothing Taehyung has ever seen before. Jimin’s movements are powerful and smooth, flowing from one to another in a hypnotizing pattern that coaxes heat to blossom in Taehyung’s gut. The fire burns as Jimin breaks him piece by piece, with each roll of his hips and even though he wants to, Taehyung can’t seem to be able to look away.

When the music stops, Jimin bows and Taehyung steps back. The crowd goes wild, men and women alike throwing bills and coins at Jimin’s feet.

The Traveler looks up then, eyes intense behind his bangs, and Taehyung knows there is no going back.

Thoughts of his father all but disappear as he leaves the camp. It was a mistake, after all, lowering his guard and accepting to visit the Caravans. Just like he knew it would be, right after he saw Jimin for the first time.

The feather feels heavy on his chest.

 

◈◈◈

 

“So your brother is coming tomorrow?”

Taehyung nods, making a face at Hoseok as he slurps his ice cream. The day is particularly hot and they spend the afternoon trying to fight the heat at the parlor. A fat drop of the sugary treat drips onto Hoseok’s lap and he pouts. Taehyung hums.

“Maybe we should go to the river,” he suggests.

Hoseok glances up from cleaning his pants. “Maybe you should look that way instead,” he says, pointing with his chin.

Taehyung does.

Jimin waves at him from across the street but doesn’t move from where he stands. His pale friend stretches, dipping his hat and looking left and right, before crossing the street, walking straight at them.

“I’m Yoongi,” he says, sitting next to Hoseok. “What you guys doing?” he adds, collecting some melting ice cream with his finger from Hoseok’s cone and sticking it into his mouth.

“Huh…” Hoseok looks at Taehyung, confused. Jimin snorts from across the street. “We were going to the hmm...river?”

“Sounds good.” Yoongi stands up then, pulling Hoseok by the arm. Hoseok makes a little noise but doesn’t really fight against the hold. “Never been there before, I could use a guide and you,” he says, pointing at Taehyung. “Better go over there before my boy burns under this damn sun.”

Hoseok’s lips are set in a wary pout as he leaves with Yoongi but Taehyung reassures him with a tip of his head. Gathering his courage, he walks lazily to where Jimin is waiting.

“There was no need to manhandle my friend, if you wanted to talk to me,” he says when he’s in front of Jimin.

“That was all Yoongi,” Jimin replies, leaning back against the wall. “You left early the other day.”

Taehyung shrugs - the movement exposing his necklace - and Jimin takes a step forward, hand suspended in the air. He hesitates for a second before dropping it, aware of the tension in Taehyung’s body.

“I felt like I saw enough,” says Taehyung, shifting on his feet. Jimin bites his lips, as if unsure of how to proceed. He worries his lip some more, turning it an enticing red color. Taehyung is seconds away from snapping and forcing him to stop.

“I was hoping we could talk,” Jimin looks down at his hand as he fidgets with the shirt, “so we could catch up, you know?”

“I don’t have much to share,” Taehyung almost groans out loud at his own words, seeing the sadness that suddenly surrounds Jimin, making him look small.

“Is this about the rumors going around?” Jimin asks, looking everywhere but at Taehyung. “I’m not gonna hurt you-”

“I know.”

“Then?” Jimin looks up and Taehyung considers if maybe he should just get it out, say all about his father and the weird, terrifying things Jimin awakes in him, only to feel the words dying before even reaching his mouth. Jimin sighs. “Come with me?” he pleads.

And Taehyung wants to, every inch of his body wants to say yes but he shakes his head. Jimin nods in understanding, going for his earring and taking it off.

Jimin offers it to Taehyung and he takes it, feeling his throat tight.

“I understand,” he says. “Take care, Taehyung.”

Jimin gives him a tiny smile before turning around and Taehyung is reminded of the feeling he had years ago. Of losing something precious, though this time it’s all his fault.

 

Yoongi goes back to camp to find Jimin lying on his bed.

He clucks his tongue, the hunch on the other boy’s shoulders is signal enough of things gone wrong. From across the room, Haru gives him a look, one rimmed with kohl and heavy with meaning. ‘Fix it,’ her eyes seem to say.

So he does, the best way he knows, shuffling out of his shoes and spooning Jimin until their bodies are pressed tightly together, from head to toe. Jimin grumbles that it’s hot and Yoongi grumbles back that he doesn’t fucking care and then they lie still.

Jimin sighs, long and sad.

Haru silently closes the curtain, creating a protective cocoon.

Yoongi drops a kiss on the back of Jimin’s neck.

“Guess the score hasn’t changed?” Yoongi whispers, playful. Jimin shakes his head. “Don’t let him fool you, there’s more than just years gone to waste.”

“You know something?” Jimin asks, tracing the pattern of the comforter with a finger.

Yoongi hums, reorganizing the secrets he stole from Hoseok. “I know loverboy is wrong,” he says. “Thinks we stole his father for some reason. It’s an improvement though, from children to full grown adults...scratch cradle robbers from the list.”

Jimin turns around then, his breath warm on Yoongi’s cheeks. There are a few tears trapped on his eyelashes and Yoongi brushes them away, pinching Jimin’s cheek for good measure. Jimin swats his hand away.

“What do you mean we stole his father?” Jimin demands. “That clearly is a lie.”

Yoongi yawns, the warmth of their bodies lulling him to sleep.

“I don’t know,” he snuggles closer and Jimin makes a face but cards his fingers through Yoongi’s hair anyway. “But you two should pay a visit to the head of the clan.”

“He doesn’t want to see me anymore,” murmurs Jimin and Yoongi is tempted to roll his eyes.

“Jimmy…” Yoongi drawls, ready to lecture him in the ways of love, but Jimin is pouting and he’s feeling sleepy so it won’t do.

“Yeah?”

“Let’s sleep.”

 

◈◈◈

 

Hoseok is slipping into his pajamas when a pebble hits the window of his room. He looks down at Taehyung, who’s already settled in his sleeping bag. It doesn’t look like he noticed the noise, which is understandable, considering he’s fully absorbed in reading a manga. Shrugging, Hoseok goes back to his night routine only to be disturbed by another pebble.

“Did you hear that?” Taehyung asks, propping himself up on his elbow, manga discarded on his lap.

Hoseok moves to the window, pushing the curtains aside and peering down to find Yoongi. Weird, he thinks, sliding the window open.

“What?” he hisses, trying not to disturb the rest of his family.

“Hey Dimples,” Yoongi waves. “Is Loverboy there?”

“Who?” Hoseok asks, frowning. Yoongi grins at the bewildered expression on the other’s face.

“Taehyung,” he clarifies.

Upon hearing his name, Taehyung stands up, moving closer and looking outside from over Hoseok’s shoulder. Yoongi’s facial expression goes from pleasant to unfriendly in a second.

“First of all, asshole,” Yoongi says giving him the middle finger and making Hoseok squeak in surprise. Taehyung’s face remains impassive, he was kind of expecting that. “Second, come down...you too, Dimples,” he adds as an afterthought.

Hoseok eyes Taehyung briefly, silently telling him that it’s alright. That they could close the window and pretend Yoongi was not out there if he so desires. But really, that is not what Taehyung wants. Not even close.

Taehyung grips the windowsill, he’s finally at the edge of his imaginary cliff. He can’t just keep looking down, right? Taking a deep breath, he closes his eyes and jumps.

“Be right there,” Taehyung says. “I just need to change.”

 

The walk over to the camp is silent except for Hoseok, who’s mourning the month’s worth of potatoes he would have to peel, just so his sister will not tattle on them leaving the house late at night.

Taehyung pats his back, promises to help every day and Hoseok just shrugs. Says it’s ok, plays the Hyung card. Taehyung holds his hand to show he is grateful, also for support. They follow Yoongi without question until they take the path opposite to the one leading to Jimin’s tent.

“Where are we going?” Taehyung asks, considering that maybe it’s time to do so.

Yoongi chuckles. “We are not meeting Jimin, if that’s what you wanna know.”

“Then, who?” interjects Hoseok making a full stop and reaching for Taehyung to do the same. Dread crawls slowly up Taehyung’s spine, could it be that Yoongi knows about his father?

Yoongi smiles, sweet as caramel, and reaches for the flap of the tent right behind him - makes a gesture inviting them in. Hoseok goes in first, glaring and stopping when he spots the man smoking at the center of the room.

“Yoongi,” the man says, leaving the book he was reading on a table in front of him. “What do you think you are doing, bringing villagers into my home? Seokjin is sleeping.”

Taehyung thinks he recognizes the man, from a memory of the past. Yoongi lets go of the flap, moving deeper into the space.

“Uncle,” he says in a soft drawl and the man in front makes a face, smoke filtering out of his nostrils. “Remember the issue I mentioned the other day-”

The eyes of the man shift immediately to Taehyung and he remembers: a red necklace and a dark mustache. The mustache is gone and the hair is now salt and pepper but the necklace remains. It’s Namjoon, head of the Travelers’ clan.

“Ah,” Namjoon says, reclining on the pillows. He makes a gesture with his hand, motioning the three of them to sit. Hoseok gapes as he shuffles toward the closest pillow, never been in a Traveler’s tent before. Taehyung has a better hold of himself, but his eyes dart suspiciously to Namjoon every now and then, only to be met each time by a powerful stare.

“You do look like him…”

The comment makes both Hoseok and Taehyung stare back at the head of the Clan, both of them knowing what he means.

“Excuse me?” says Hoseok tentatively - worried sick about his friend - and Namjoon waves his hand in a shooing motion, making Yoongi laugh.

“Alright Dimples,” he says, grabbing Hoseok’s arm and hoisting him up. “You and I will go now.”

“What!” Hoseok sputters, eyes wide as he looks at Taehyung. “No! I can’t...Tae!”

He struggles in Yoongi’s hold and Namjoon tsks, exasperated, going back to his pipe.

“It’s ok, Hyung,” Taehyung says in a soft voice. “I’ll be fine.”

Namjoon takes a long drag from his pipe, truly savouring the tobacco before letting the smoke go. He waits until it is clear that they are alone, only then returning his attention to Taehyung.

“Your father did abandon you to come with us,” he starts and Taehyung feels his skin go cold, somehow he was hoping Namjoon would deny everything. “And though I don’t approve of what he did, he had a reason-”

“Commitment issues?” interrupts Taehyung. Namjoon shakes his head.

“No, and don’t interrupt me again,” scolds Namjoon, scratching his chin. “He was one of us. He is,” he clarifies. “Though you won’t find him in my clan anymore.”

Taehyung blinks, only half disappointed at the news, attention catching on the meaning behind Namjoon’s words. “So you are saying, that my father is a Traveler?”

Namjoon smiles, pleased at the use of the term.

“I never met him properly but he was part of our clan long ago. Before my days. Met your mother in one of our visits, fell in love with no delay.” Namjoon eyes Taehyung briefly, before continuing. “He begged your mother to come along - was even willing to raise her kid as his own - but she refused, so he stayed. Ten years later we came back and he now had his own kid coming, you.”

“Guess it became too much pressure,” Taehyung comments bitterly. “Too much responsibility to be bound by blood.”

Namjoon considers the statement before replying. “It isn’t in the nature of a Traveler to stay in a place for long. We crave the road, it’s fundamental for us. As critical as the air-”

“Are you defending him?” Taehyung says, hands curled into fists. Namjoon glares, out of patience.

“No. I’m just saying both your parents are to blame,” he clarifies. “Still, just know we did not steal him. We don’t go around picking up people to keep. Also know that you are welcome, if you ever feel the itch for the road.”

Something in Taehyung’s chest stirs, but he shakes his head. “That’s not who I am.” he says, standing up.

Namjoon smiles.

“It’s in your blood, kid,” he says, picking his book back up. A clear signal for Taehyung to leave. “Whether you like it or not.”

“I’m happy where I am now,” Taehyung says, though it sounds as if he’s trying to convince himself rather that the head of the clan.

Namjoon turns one page, scratches his cheek with the tip of his pipe.

“If that’s so,” he says, piercing eyes back to Taehyung, “then please leave Jimmy alone. I like my nephew happy, agreed?”

Taehyung gives him a curt nod.

 

Later that night, Hoseok sits on the floor of his room with Taehyung’s head in his lap. He strokes his friend’s hair rhythmically, nails scratching the scalp soothingly. He doesn’t ask questions as Taehyung sniffs, his tears wetting Hoseok’s shorts.

Somehow it feels like he knows enough.

 

◈◈◈

 

“You lied to me,” Taehyung accuses with barely contained tears in his eyes.

His mother looks up from where she’s cleaning shrimp. His brother - who’s eating at the table - doesn’t say a word. He’s probably aware of everything as well.

“I did not,” she refutes calmly. “I told you the truth, he abandoned us. You.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees through his teeth. “You didn’t tell me he was a Traveler though...that I am, too.”

“You are not!” his mother hisses, palm heavy as it rests on the table. “You are my son, born and raised in this Village. One of us.”

Taehyung upper lip curls in anger just as his brother mutters a warning, ‘Taehyung.’ It takes him two seconds to realize that he should have known all along that he didn’t belong. That he was never like them. One of us.

“I used to think I was, Mom,” Taehyung says, walking backwards toward the door. “I’m not so sure anymore.”

 

◈◈◈

 

When Taehyung arrives to the camp, he finds Jimin sitting on the floor, busily painting María’s toenails.

Jimin does not see him right away, so Taehyung takes his time to study him. Even hunched over, lips pursed as he concentrates, Jimin is quite certainly a treat to the eyes. María is talking, fanning her other foot to dry the deep red polish. Whatever she is saying, it makes Jimin smile from time to time. It makes Taehyung’s lips twitch as well.

Taehyung ventures a little closer, the glow of Jimin’s smile calling him like a siren, until María fixes him with a glare.

“Who’s this?” she says loudly and Jimin looks up. The smile melts like ice under summer heat.

“Can we talk?” Taehyung asks, ignoring the best he can María’s stare.

“Jimmy is doing my nails,” she replies and Jimin gives her a glance, raises his eyebrows some. She rolls her eyes, waves them off. “Suit yourself.”

Jimin stands up, tilting his head - asking Taehyung to follow. The inside of the tent looks like it did all those years back and Taehyung is filled with nostalgia, only accentuated by the mole on the back of Jimin’s neck. He didn’t remember it, probably never knew it existed. Everything about Jimin is new and also old.

Time seems to move in circles whenever Jimin is involved.

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says firmly, before Jimin can open his mouth. “I...I had a talk with your Uncle...Namjoon.”

Jimin hums. “So you don’t think we steal people anymore? I could have told you that, if only you trusted me enough-”

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung repeats, sincerely. There’s some clatter somewhere in the tent but he keeps his eyes fixed on Jimin, trying to communicate what’s in his chest.

Jimin frowns, a gesture that looks wrong on his face. He knows he’s being difficult but can’t seem to stop. From behind a curtain, a girl with long flowy hair steps out with a tray in her hands.

“Tea?” she asks Taehyung with a pleasant smile and Jimin groans.

“Haru…” he says warningly, but she ignores him, smile growing wider as her eyes study Taehyung.

“Jimmy gets really moody without sweets,” Haru continues, completely ignoring Jimin. “So don’t take his words to heart. He’s a little pup, all bark but no harm.” Her grin makes Taehyung smile as well and Jimin huffs, crossing his arms, but Taehyung can see the corner of his mouth lifting and he knows they’ll be ok. “He forgives you by the way, been moping all week after your little fight.”

Taehyung sips his tea in silence after that, under the vigilant gaze of Jimin’s sister. It’s awkward and Taehyung gulps it down hoping that she’d leave them alone. When he chokes on a tea leaf, Haru snatches the cup out of his hands, dumping the remaining tea on a plate and then staring at the cup. Taehyung scratches his head, confused. Jimin screams a little into his palms.

“W-what are you doing?” Taehyung asks.

“Reading your fortune,” Haru replies and whatever it is that she sees, makes her beam at him. “Ah this is good...I like you already.”

“Huh...thank you?” Taehyung says unsure, trying to peer inside the cup as well. Jimin is blushing when he looks up. Taehyung doesn’t know why, but it’s so pretty he doesn’t care. “What does it say?”

“Nothing,” Jimin interrupts hastily, standing up. “It’s pretty innacurate, let’s talk-”

Haru makes an offended noise, punching Jimin’s thigh and earning a yelp. “Brat! Wasn’t I right with you or not?” she demands, whirling back to look at Taehyung. “Do you believe in desti-”

“Alright, time to go!”

Jimin pulls Taehyung by the shirt, forcing him to stand up and Haru cackles, delighted at the blush on her brother’s face. Jimin’s ears are still burning hot when they step outside. María is still there, and she wiggles her toes in their direction. Jimin sighs.

“Forgive me,” murmurs Taehyung, wholeheartedly, offering the feather earring back. Jimin’s eyes dart to the matching token resting on Taehyung’s chest, before taking it back with a nod. His eyes linger on Taehyung’s palm. “What does it say?”

“That we...we’ll be ok,” Jimin replies. Taehyung’s heart swells. He hasn’t been this happy in a long, long time.

“Jimmy!” calls María and Jimin smiles apologetically at Taehyung.

“I gotta go,” he says, taking a step back and it’s like it pulls the words out of Taehyung.

“Meet me tomorrow,” he blurts out. “Let’s get some ice cream or something just...let’s start over.”

Jimin gives him the first real smile of the night, the one that calls butterflies to live inside Taehyung’s gut.

“Alright.”

 

◈◈◈

 

It takes Taehyung all but hours to finally understand.

It takes a trip to the ice cream parlor; a night of Jimin dancing under the camp lights.

It takes Jimin’s laughter against his shoulder and the sight of his hand on Taehyung’s thigh.

It takes nothing big, really. Just Jimin being himself and the gorgeous shine of his plush lower lip, every time he sucks it into his mouth.

Taehyung snorts at his own slow brain. It’s so obvious now what was it that Soonkyu lacked. Why it never seemed to be enough. The sun clings to the drops of water travelling down Jimin’s chest, as he emerges from the river and by Taehyung’s side, Hoseok snickers.

Taehyung smiles as well, embarrassed. “That obvious?”

“Nah,” Hoseok replies, leaning back and he seems ok with it. Happy even. The tight knot in Taehyung’s stomach loosens up a tad. “Maybe you should drool a little more, get Jimin to finally notice.”

“Notice what?” Jimin asks, sitting in between Taehyung’s spread legs like it’s natural. Like it’s right.

It is.

Taehyung knows now but he doesn’t need to voice the words. He just laughs into Jimin’s hair, sneaking in a kiss or two as his body whispers for more.

More as in the things Taehyung’s brain conjures up in the middle of the night, when sweat clings to his skin and he has to swallow the need to call Jimin’s name.

More, like what Taehyung sees in Jimin’s eyes every time he smiles.

 

◈◈◈

 

Taehyung spots his mother as soon as he steps out of the Tavern, but it’s already too late to stop Jimin.

The other boy comes out laughing at something Hoseok is saying, carelessly throws an arm around Taehyung’s waist, leaning on his shoulder for support.

Hoseok falters in his step, eyes Taehyung before pulling Jimin slightly away. Jimin goes without question, half hiding behind Hoseok.

“I came to fetch you,” Taehyung’s mother says, the grip on her purse tightening as her eyes sweep over Jimin. “Your brother is going back to the base tomorrow. No need to stay with the Tavern boy anymore.”

Hoseok winces at the name but smiles all the same, always polite. “Mrs. Choi, what a pleasure to see you,” he greets.

Taehyung’s mother purses her lips, almost offended at being addressed, returning her gaze to her son without acknowledging Hoseok.

It’s too much.

“I believe Hoseok-hyung just greeted you, mother,” Taehyung says. “Shouldn’t you say something?”

“And I believe I have the right to talk to whoever I consider worthy of my time,” she replies petulantly. “Am I not?”

“He’s my friend,” Taehyung counters, anger flaring.

“And a terrible influence, may I say, if we consider the kind of company he frequents,” she says it with her terrible gaze pointed at Jimin, distaste clear on her face. “I thought my opinion about the Rootle-”

“Travelers,” Jimin interrupts, stepping closer and Taehyung’s mother takes a step back. She even raises her purse as if Jimin is about to attack her. “I know very well where my roots are-”

It’s all wrong, Taehyung notices, having his mother and Jimin in the same space. It’s sickening, the clear separation in his life, how he’s just halfway there, no matter which direction he faces. Hoseok squirms, uncomfortable and unsure of what to do, and Taehyung snaps.

“You should apologize,” Taehyung says to his mother, stomach clenching painfully at the traces of a command in his tongue. He didn’t mean it like that. Or maybe deep down he did. Whatever it is, his mother doesn’t take it gracefully.

She scoffs. “Enough of this, Taehyung,” she says. “We are going home.”

Taehyung clenches his hands tightly. “Not until you do.”

“Tae-” mutters Hoseok in warning, but too late. Taehyung’s mother steps forward, eyes narrowed in anger.

“How dare you-” she hisses. “This is not the example I have given you, Taehyung. I did not raise you like this!”

Taehyung feels the words leaving his mouth before he can stop them. Bravery or tomfoolery, it matters not when the deed is done. “Good thing I’m bad at learning from example, then. Seems you were only able to pass one thing to me-” he takes a deep breath, lets the acid stick to every vowel. “We both fell for one of them.”

Jimin gasps at the same time that a hand connects with Taehyung’s cheek. He stares at the concrete in shock, skin throbbing and flushed red from the imprint of his mother’s ring on his cheek.

“Home, now,” she says, turning around and starting to walk down the street.

Jimin raises a tentative hand and Taehyung jerks away, incapable of looking at him right now. Not like this, not when hate envelops him like a toxic mist.

“I...I’ll see you later.”

Jimin swallows thickly as Taehyung trails after his mother, hands buried in the pockets of his jeans. Hoseok moves closer, wraps an arm around Jimin’s shoulders in comfort.

“I didn’t want it to be like this,” Jimin murmurs.

Hoseok sighs. “No one did.”

 

Jimin sniffs, picking another section from Olga’s hair and doing a very poor braiding job. Olga, who’s inspecting the progress in a mirror, scowls.

“You are just making a mess of it, Jimmy,” she complains, batting his hands away. “I can’t go around like this.”

Jimin flops down on the carpet. “I’m not a hairdresser,” he murmurs, devoid of energy, closing his eyes. “Shut up.”

Olga studies him, twirling a strand of golden hair around her finger. Haru, who’s sitting in a corner reading a book, closes it. They eye each other, silently discussing how to proceed. It’s the first time their baby brother is giving out the kicked puppy vibes and no one is sure how to handle it.

“Is this about Loverboy?” María asks tentatively, coming from behind a curtain.

“Lover, who?” interjects Salomé out of nowhere.

Jimin peeks one eye open to find all his sisters staring down at him, the picture completed by Lissa looking over Haru’s shoulder, not quite sure of what’s going on.

“Did you mess up the readings?” Lissa says, looking at Haru and she gasps, offended.

“The leaves never lie!”

“Who’s Loverboy?” Salomé demands again, now crossing her arms as Haru and Lissa bicker in the background. Jimin groans, hiding his face in a pillow and mourning the day he was born in a house full of girls. “Are you dating someone? Why didn’t I know about this?”

“I’m not dating,” Jimin mutters but his sisters don’t seem to be paying attention to him anymore, too busy arguing between each other: isn’t he too young to date? Who’s the guy again? Can someone redo my braids?

Feeling his patience running short, Jimin sits up, looking around for a route of escape. María, always quick, grabs him by the shirt, scoffing an as if. Just then, the flaps of the tent open and Jimin’s mother steps in, firmly clutching the arm of a boy.

More specifically, Taehyung.

“I found this one lurking outside,” she says, eyeing all her children. As one, five hands point at Jimin and his mother lets out a weary sigh. “Thought so, too pretty to catch the interest of any of you girls.”

Taehyung smiles - a tight lipped, uncomfortable smile - and Jimin detangles himself from María, straightening his t-shirt. This was so not the way he wanted to introduce Taehyung to his family.

“Hey, Sal!” calls Olga and Salomé turns to her. “Loverboy,” she adds, pointing to Taehyung with her chin. Lissa makes an excited noise, looking Taehyung up and down.

“Who?” says Jimin’s mother and his sisters dissolve into a chorus of giggles.

Taehyung goes red to the root of his hair.

Jimin decides that is enough.

“His name is Taehyung,” explains Jimin, throwing knives with his eyes at his sisters and moving closer. “He’s, uh...a friend.”

In the background, someone snorts. Most likely María. More giggles follow. Jimin’s mother rolls her eyes, letting go of Taehyung. He bows repeatedly at her, before stepping closer to Jimin. They both stare at Jimin’s mother, until she shoos them away.

“Go, go,” she says, dismissively, walking further into the tent and disappearing behind a curtain.

Before any of his sisters can do anything that would embarrass him more, Jimin grabs Taehyung by the wrist, snatching a blanket as he leads both of them out. Someone screams be safe on their way out and Jimin speeds up, cheeks burning.

He doesn’t slow down until they are far away from his family’s tent.

 

“Your family is...charming.”

Jimin snorts at Taehyung's word of choice but doesn’t say anything, still staring at the stars. They are alone on top of the hill, bodies pressed together as they follow the constellations in the sky. From time to time, Taehyung squirms a little, restless, but Jimin remains quiet.

Waiting.

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung murmurs after a while. “For my mother.”

Jimin hums, goosebumps rising on his bare arms. If from the cold or the deep tone of Taehyung’s voice, he isn’t sure.

“Not your fault,” Jimin says, reaching for Taehyung’s hand and squeezing it in a silent ‘we are ok.’

Taehyung sighs, whole body relaxing. He looks at their joined hands for a few minutes, listening to Jimin’s breaths. The night is muted, there’s no one looking. He intertwines their fingers, lazily tracing circles with his thumb. Jimin’s hand is soft and small, trembling slightly in his hold.

It’s perfect.

“I love the stars,” Jimin whispers suddenly, breaking Taehyung’s reverie. “When I was younger, I didn’t like moving because I always had to say goodbye to my friends, so I’d make a huge deal about it, throw pretty bad tantrums. I didn’t deal with change that well.” Taehyung smiles imagining a tiny, chubby Jimin; lips pouted in displeasure. “Until one night, Uncle Namjoon took me stargazing. He told me that no matter where I was, the stars would always be there for me. That they were like home…”

Taehyung shifts on his spot, lying on his side to look at Jimin as he speaks. The way his lips move is hypnotizing. The way his chest rises and falls, soothing. Everything in him is finely detailed. Ethereal, like made out of the actual stars he loves so much.

“They are beautiful,” Jimin finishes, exhaling.

Taehyung can’t take his eyes away from him. “Yeah...you are.”

Jimin tilts his head, eyes locking with Taehyung’s, heart skipping a beat. A thousand voices whisper in his ears, voices from all over the world. Voices that read his palm, his tea leaves, his cards. No matter the how, or the who, they all say the same thing over and over, that there’s just one for him, that he would find him, no matter what.

Jimin feels ready to stop roaming.

“Did you mean it?” he asks, eyes falling to Taehyung’s lips. “What you said before. Was it true?”

Falling hurts, Taehyung thinks as he leans down slowly, but in the right way. It’s scary, but also exciting. It requires a whole lot of faith, but there’s no one Taehyung would rather trust with it than the boy sprawled under him.

Jimin closes his eyes, eyelashes fluttering, and in the starlight he’s everything that’s beautiful in the world. Taehyung’s brain stops working right at the moment their lips touch, too overwhelmed with the feeling. Their lips work together perfectly, better than in Taehyung’s wildest dreams, their bodies fit just right. The kiss is languid, tender, as Jimin runs his hand down Taehyung’s back while Taehyung cups his cheek.

Jimin tastes like a lifetime and when Taehyung breaks the kiss, filling his lungs with air, there’s nothing but future in the eyes gazing up at him.

“Tell Haru that I do,” Taehyung says.

“You do what?” asks Jimin, a smile teasing his gorgeous lips.

“I do believe in destiny.”

 

◈◈◈

 

Taehyung doesn’t look back at his house - or the place he used to call home - after closing the door.

It feels liberating, somehow, to have only one way to go. To no longer be debating right at the edge of possibilities. When he arrives at the top of the hill, Hoseok is already there, surveying the camp.

Or what remains of it.

Hoseok nods at him and Taehyung flops beside him, looking down as well. Most of the tents are already packed, only a few remaining. People are busily loading the carts, tying up the animals, locking away magic so they can carry it to the next town.

It’s the end of the summer and the Caravans are ready to leave.

“Got a nice couch into my room the other day,” Hoseok says, scratching his neck. “It has your name all over it.”

Taehyung grins, eyeing the bag beside him.

“You sure about that?” he asks. “I can be a handful. Real messy.”

Hoseok laughs. “As if I didn’t know that already.” He leans closer, bumping shoulders with Taehyung. “My home is yours, always.”

At that, Taehyung's eyes fill with tears but he bites his lower lip, hard, to contain them. He opts for passing an arm across Hoseok’s shoulders, resting his head against his friend’s.

Hoseok pats the hand on his shoulder. “Does he know already? Did you tell him?”

Taehyung shakes his head, releasing a shuddering breath. Hoseok nods, facing the horizon. Everywhere he looks is familiar, the playground that saw them grow.

“I’m gonna miss you,” Hoseok says, a tear running down his cheek. Taehyung brushes it away, enveloping him in a tight hug.

“I’ll be back,” he promises. “Keep looking at the mountains until the day comes.”

 

 

Jimin is loading the cart when he spots Taehyung in the middle of the chaos that is the camp. He’s holding a bag over his shoulder and Jimin’s stomach swoops at the view, but he reels it in, doesn’t want to add disappointment over a broken heart.

But Taehyung is walking towards him with determination in his step and Jimin’s heart can’t quite control itself, jumping in his chest.

“What are you doing?” asks Yoongi amused, taking the box from Jimin’s hands and pushing him forward. “Seems to me like we’ll be sharing a tent after all.”

“What? No, I-” Jimin falls silent, eyes going back to Taehyung. Yoongi offered him to share his tent a few days back, if Taehyung were to join them when the camp was ready to leave. I got all the gay covered had said Yoongi, wiggling his eyebrows, to Jimin’s mortification and Taehyung’s amusement.

Could it be?

It doesn’t take long for Taehyung to reach them. Jimin stares at the bag and Taehyung stares at Jimin, leaving Yoongi to roll his eyes and walk away.

“You are here,” Jimin says, stupidly stating the obvious and Taehyung chuckles.

“I am.”

Jimin looks up then and his heart kicks hard in his chest, so hard he sways a little. The feather that used to rest on Taehyung’s chest now hangs proudly from his ear, in a perfect mirror of Jimin’s.

“You got an earring.” Jimin feels his eyes water and he wants to laugh. For years on end.

Taehyung blushes, licking his lips. “Hoseok’s noona did it. It happened last night.”

Jimin kisses him, throwing his arms around Taehyung’s neck. The bag drops to the floor. Some of the Travelers around them whistle, others coo. Someone yells at Namjoon that there seems to be another mouth they have to feed.

Jimin leans back feeling happier than ever. Taehyung grins, that beautiful boxy smile that Jimin never managed to forget in the ten years they were apart.

“Here,” says Taehyung extending his palm. “Tell me what it says.”

María makes a disgusted sound when she passes by them, but she’s smiling. Jimin laughs too, a little choked up and wavery as he drops a kiss in Taehyung’s palm.

Behind Taehyung, Jimin can see his mother nodding in approval. He can see his sisters giving him the ok. But over all, he can see his people and a circle finally complete.

Jimin doesn’t need to read Taehyung’s palm. The secret has never been concealed to his eyes. He hugs Taehyung tight, resting his head on his shoulder.

“It says the same that it did ten years ago,” he whispers only for Taehyung to hear. “It says that you are going to stay.”

Taehyung does.