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Swamp Magic

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Jungkook noticed he was lost a bit too late. He’d sung through four songs with the radio before he noticed he’d probably missed the turn. The drive between Robbie’s hunting cabin and the turn back to the main road was usually less than half a song long. He came to a spot where the road split around an old, dead tree and met up back behind to curve off into the piney forest again. The woods opened up there to a disconcerting patch of sky. He maneuvered the truck around, peering back past a truck bed full of landscaping and house-cleaning supplies, and rumbled back down the path, singing to music again.

At about three songs in, he started looking left for the road. At about four in, he started looking for the driveway to the cabin, and at five songs in, he’d slowed to a crawl, very confused. At about seven songs in, he reached another dead tree in the middle of the road, the woods opening up disconcertingly to sky. He turned around and ripped back off down the road, eyes to the right for any kind of turnoff, saw none, and by the time he’d reached the first tree in the middle of the road, which looked frighteningly similar to the other one, same dead bark and branch pattern, there was a cat sitting at the base of the tree, watching him.

She was a beautiful cat, eyeing his car with focused suspicion, long golden fur layered with darker brown, like tiger’s eye, lithe and thin with an unusually long tail.

Jungkook turned around, a little frustrated now, having spent the better part of an hour driving down an empty, dirt road through the woods in the late afternoon, searching for a road he’d never missed before. He turned off the radio. This time, when he reached the end of the road, there was a guy standing there leaning against the tree, straight brown hair hanging down his forehead, swinging something on a string in one hand. Between the weirdly-patterned, woven hoody and the tight, deep green jeans and leather shoes, he looked more like a west coast hipster than the South Georgian, swampy farmland population that lived around there. Jungkook turned the car off, got out, and walked up to him.

“Why do you keep driving up to the tree like that?” The guy said, voice gentle and accent much more smoothly northern than Jungkook’s.

“Huh?”

“You keep coming up and then driving away. If you want to come visit, just come visit, but you know you should really give us a little warning first before you come barging in. We sent in the letter saying we didn’t need landscaping or housecleaning services for the cabin.” His expression was friendly and open, but something about his posture, his cheerful voice, the way he swung that something on a string, seemed a little hostile. He was gorgeous, and Jungkook felt his shoulders curling in a little, fighting the urge to close up defensively and run away, wishing he could hide his scarred cheeks, wishing he didn’t look so sullen.

“I’m—what? I didn’t even know there was a cabin back there. Can you help me find the main road?”

“It’s back the way you came.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought, but I can’t find it. I just keep ending up driving between these two dead trees in the middle of the road.”

The guy, delicately pretty in a boyish way, especially when he pouted his lips and made a confused face like the one he was making now, tilted his head up to look at the tree. The thing in his hand swung to a stop, and Jungkook could see now that it was a long black stone on a string, set in leather, some sort of new-age-looking hippy shit. “There’s only one tree in the woods like this one,” the guy said.

“Pretty sure there are plenty of dead trees in the woods. It’s winter. Lots of them lose leaves.”

“Leafless, sure, but a dead tree in the middle of the road? Nope. Only one.”

Jungkook stared up into the branches of the tree feeling quite confused. It seemed to be rotting from the top down, branch tips blackened with oddly intentional, patterned cuts straight down the branches. “Am I driving in circles?”

“Nope. It’s a straight road. Ends in a lake just a little way past Robbie’s place.”

“Oh good, you know Robbie’s place. I came from there a while ago. I’ve been driving back and forth but I can’t find it again.”

“You know,” the guy said, “If the tree keeps jumping in your path, maybe you should just drive past the damn tree and come visit. Maybe she’ll let you go after that. Don’t know why she’d want you to, but you are welcome, I guess. You don’t want to get caught out in this end of the woods after dark though. It’s private property for a reason. No hunting.”

Jungkook remembered hearing, once, Owen complaining about a giant goddamn private zone right in the middle of the woods, and the deer seemed to love it.

“What, visit you?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t even know you.”

The guy shrugged.

“I’m going to go find the road. Nice to meet you, I guess. See you later.”

He got in the car, drove until he ran into the tree again, and there was the cat, sea-foam green eyes giant in its angular face. Jungkook could have sworn the cat had been at the other tree the first time. There was no way it had run this far that fast, especially without Jungkook seeing it on the road. He wearily turned around and drove another twenty minutes until he hit the first god damn tree again, and there was the cat, again, standing at the base.

Jungkook sat for a good ten more minutes in his seat, too perplexed to panic. The cat stared, tail flicking gently. He turned the truck back on and drove past the tree, giving it as much space as he could possibly manage. In his rearview, he saw the cat leap up into the bed as he drove past her. He didn’t bother stopping.

Another five-minute drive down the muddy road, past a swamp dense with cypress trees, he came to a wide clearing with a worn, brown house in the middle and a wrap-around porch sagging under the moss covering the roof. Pieces of the house were patched together with new boards. Potted plants clogged the porch and green spilled from the open windows. A full field of plants in rows lay alongside the house, short shrubs and ground dwellers up front and tall, gangly, vine-y things in back, something that looked like corn, but red as fall leaves. Off to the left the woods turned into cypress and the ground turned to water. A dock led some twelve feet out into the swamp. Reeds, lilies, and other marshy things stuck up in the shallows. A low wall ran out into the water, protecting a pool around the dock. The place looked like a farm of weeds.

This house had a truck too, a rusted, brown thing, even older than Jungkook’s. The weird guy sat on the front steps, whittling.

“I guess I’m lost?” he said when he walked up. The cat, which had walked beside him from the truck, perched itself comfortably on the step above the guy and regarded Jungkook in a motherly sort of way, which made him feel defensive.

“Sorry about that,” weird guy said, waving an alligator half carved out of the wood. “Guess you’re spending the evening with us. I’m Taehyung, by the way. This is Brandy. She’s not usually very friendly to strangers. Or friends, for that matter.”

“Cool,” Jungkook said, glancing around. It was the middle of January, so slightly chilly, gray sky. They both wore light jackets. Hunting season had ended the week before, which meant most cabins had emptied, but not this one.

“You’re housekeeping, huh?”

He nodded. “Got hired this year to take care of cabins during the off-season. Did it last year too. Do you live here all year?”

“Yeah. We have a place up north, but most of the time we’re here.”

“You don’t look like you’re from around here.”

Taehyung barked a laugh. “You don’t either. We’re all Asian here. Mostly Asian,” he corrected, reaching up and scratching Brandy’s ear.

Jungkook shrugged. “Well yeah, but that’s not what I meant,” he gestured vaguely at Taehyung’s odd clothes. “How long do you think it’ll be before I can drive back. It’s been a long day. I want to go home.”

Taehyung’s expression softened a little. “How old are you?”

“Nineteen.”

“Cute. Just out of high school? You going to college?”

Jungkook shook his head. “Nah. I don’t really have a future planned out.”

“Cool. I’m twenty-one. So’s Jimin.”

“Who?”

“The other guy that lives here. Come in for dinner. I don’t think you’re getting back tonight.”

The house, for all intents and purposes, looked abandoned on the inside too, floorboards creaking, dust everywhere, walls splintering. It was a jungle, plants layered thick on every windowsill. Another guy emerged from the kitchen, just as beautiful as the first and sparkling with dozens of pieces of jewelry, necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets all glimmering against his skin. “Hi. Who’s this?”

“The tree wouldn’t let him leave the woods, so here he is.”

“Oh!” the guy, probably Jimin, said.

“The tree wouldn’t…what?” Jungkook said, rather distracted. One pretty boy he could handle. He didn't see very many around his small town where many people were missing teeth and had spent the first three decades of their life getting wrinkly in the sun. Two was pushing it, especially when this new one had an oversized beige sweater hanging off one shoulder and draping down his thighs and over his fingers. Jimin had soft-looking brown hair the color of coffee and sleepy eyes, pillowy lips, thin shoulders but enough muscle on his chest to fill out of the top of his sweater.

Jimin turned his attention fully to Jungkook and just stared. Jungkook fidgeted, unable to hold his stare. Jimin murmured, “hm. Dinner. Should we let him in the kitchen, Tae?”

“Why not? The tree already jumped in his path like ten times. He’d be kind of stupid not to realize what’s going on by now.”

“I’m stupid,” Jungkook assured him, a little bitterly, “The tree did what? I’m so confused.”

Taehyung began to say something, but his cat jumped up and perched on his shoulder like a parrot, long tail flicking back and forth. Jimin reached out tentatively to pet it and the cat hissed at him. Jimin looked personally offended. “Fine then. C’mon, stupid. Watch me make dinner and you’ll figure it out.”

Jungkook had walked into some weird kitchens before, some old woman’s right before a low country boil, seafood and giant pots spread out over long wooden tables and low stoves, a kitchen right before the preparation of a couple newly shot does, meat and blood and hide, and some stupid spice and tea shop with hundreds of glass jars all over the walls. This one was like all those ones but put in a greenhouse, plants everywhere. He stood and gaped, and that was before Jimin waved a hand over a line of carrots, and they chopped themselves.

“Gotta sit down,” He muttered. Taehyung pushed him into a chair.

Bat wings hanging from the ceiling, jars of beetles and eyes, strands of roots, dried flowers, and talons hanging from the ceiling, little plants with spiky flowers and tendrils that moved like arms, some fern sitting in a sink and generating blue slime. Jungkook’s skin crawled. “What the fuck.”

Taehyung grabbed a jar from the shelf behind him and he flinched, expecting him to spill spiders down his neck, but he just ladled steaming brown water out of a small cauldron, a fucking cauldron, on the stove. Behind him, Venus fly traps in the window looked like they were trying to bite each other. He could see a jar of pickled lizards. Snake skins sat layered in the rafters. He saw, dimly, Taehyung throwing a spoonful of what looked like sugar into the steaming mug and circling his finger over it. The water stirred itself, Jungkook tried to crawl backwards out of his seat as Taehyung approached him with it. “No. No. No. No.”

“Drink this.”

“Fuck off, right now.”

“You need to calm down. It’s tea. Basically. Drink it.” He grabbed the back of Jungkook’s head, cup tipped towards his mouth. Jungkook’s fumbling arms couldn’t figure out how to protect him. The tea tasted a little like pine and flowers as it slid into the mouth he couldn’t close. He drank.

His head cleared like a bolt slamming across his mind. He blinked and took another cautious sip of the tea. “Whoa.”

“Feel better?” Taehyung said, taking a sip of the tea himself. “That’s to clear up shock and reduce panic.”

Jungkook felt the disconcerting feeling of not being able to panic even if he tried. He would have gotten freaked out about it, but physically couldn’t.

“Okay. I feel like that’s bad for me somehow.”

“It would probably kill you in a life or death situation. Cuts off adrenaline and other needed first-response chemicals. However, you’re sitting safely in our kitchen, and we can’t have you freaking out with so many delicate potions around. I’ve been brewing that moonshine for two weeks now.” Taehyung pointed to a glass bulb filled with with silvery fluid that actually glowed like the moon suspended halfway out of a boiling pot of water. “It’s sensitive to negative emotions.”

“Oh. Are you wizards?”

Jimin snickered from where he was frying chunks of meat. “Wizards. I wish.”

“We’re witches,” Taehyung said. “Wizards are more power-oriented. Elemental, almost. They’re more unusual and way more full of themselves. Brandy is my familiar.”

“She’s beautiful,” Jungkook said, and Brady eyed him imperiously from her spot in the rafters. “What does she do?”

“She helps me.”

“Helps you with what?”

“Whatever I want.”

“I have a familiar too,” Jimin said, dropping all the meat into a stew pot. “You should meet her. Bubble!”

In hobbled the cutest, shortest little grey and white munchkin cat with folded ears, short and stout and very small, with a round face and a long fluffy tail. “Oh no,” Jungkook murmured, heart squeezing at the cuteness.

Jimin reached down and scooped her off the floor with one hand, settling her on his shoulder. “This is Bubble,” he cooed, and Bubble rubbed the top of her head up against his chin. “She’s very sweet. She can’t help me with a whole lot because she’s clumsy and she can’t move very fast, but that’s okay. We love her anyway.”

“Can’t climb stairs,” Taehyung snickered.

“Can I hold her?” Jungkook asked. Bubble swung her huge, ice-blue eyes around to Jungkook, and extended a stumpy paw. Jimin handed her off, sweater slipping forward a bit as he leaned over and giving Jungkook a view straight down his chest, rocky and sculpted. Bubble dug a claw into his wrist and he snatched his eyes away. Jungkook couldn’t help but hold her like a baby. She seemed happy with that, paws stretched out and eyes blinking closed, fur thick and fluffy under his fingers.

Jimin got back to work on the soup, still smiling. Taehyung stretched. “We’ve got chores to do this evening. Hope you don’t mind. Got a business to run.”

“Business?”

“Botany,” Taehyung said. “Potions.” He crossed to the other side of the kitchen, stopping a moment to pull Jimin’s sweater back onto his shoulder and brush his knuckles up the curve of Jimin’s neck above the pile of string and chains. Jimin tilted his head to the side to let him. Jungkook yanked his eyes back down to the cat, face burning. Bubble stared up at him, eyes half-lidded, challenging, claws extending a little threateningly. Jungkook scratched her carefully behind the ears, his hand twice the size of her tiny head. She purred and closed her eyes.

He sat in uncomfortable, but forcibly calm silence while Jimin finished cooking. Taehyung had grabbed a tub of harvested plants and was binding them in bundles and clipping them along a line across the ceiling, stretching up on his toes so his sweater rose up a sliver over his tan tummy and sharp hips, his soft-looking brown hair sliding off his forehead. Jungkook felt like a toad in his damaged skin and ratty, over-long hair, the stained work clothes he’d bought at Goodwill.

“Tell me about yourself,” Jimin said when he set a large wooden bowl of stew down on the table next to Jungkook and folding himself down onto a stool, graceful but commanding.

“I do maintenance and house-keeping for unoccupied cabins,” he said. Bubble jumped out of his arms and got primed to jump from Jungkook’s knee to Jimin’s. They both watched her bob up and down, crouching, re-balancing, and crouching again, until she finally popped off Jungkook’s knee and barely made it to Jimin’s, clinging on a cliff-edge. Jimin scooped her onto his lap. She made a nest in the hem of his sweater, which yanked the collar distractingly low.

“Mm-kay. How old are you? You look young.”

“He’s nineteen,” Taehyung said around a bundle of gnarled sticks.

“Sit down and eat, Tae. We don’t need to ship that out for another couple days.” He turned back to Jungkook. “Got any family? Girlfriend?”

Jungkook shook his head, dragging his eyes away from his embarrassingly clunky, muddy boots next to Jimin’s small feet on the clean floor. “The family kind of fell apart when I graduated. They only stayed together because I was still around. I moved out after high school and they kind of scattered. I don’t know what any of them are doing now.”

Jimin gave Taehyung a look that was probably casual but looked suspiciously meaningful.

“Maintenance. Is that fun?”

“No? It’s better than nothing. I’m not that good at it yet. There’s always new stuff I have to learn.”

“Like what?”

“How to fix cars, plumbing, setting beds, clearing underbrush, building and repairing sheds.” He shrugged. “I need to know how to do everything and I don’t.”

“You’re learning?”

“I’m getting pretty well-rounded.”

Taehyung came and joined them, shoveling food in his mouth and cringing with the heat of it. “You’re a handy-man then,” Taehyung said. “Must be useful.”

“I guess. You guys probably do everything with magic.”

They both looked a little frustrated. “To fix things with magic we need to know what it is the magic is doing to fix the thing. We don’t know much about how things are put together. It usually takes a while. I mean, look at this place. We can use magic to hold it together, but we can’t fix it so it’ll do it on its own.”

“Do you need help?”

“Would we have to pay you?”

“Yes. Definitely.”

“Then no,” Jimin said decisively. Jungkook snorted. Jimin’s eyes flicked coldly up. “Did you know you have a massive pimple on your cheek?” Jimin asked, pointing to the spot on his own glowingly flawless skin.

“Yes, I knew that,” Jungkook snapped, wishing he could pull up his jacket and hide in it.

“I can fix it,” Jimin said with an alluring little smile. “Your skin could be as flawless as mine.” Even with the calming tea, Jungkook felt a bit of a hopeful lurch in his chest, but these were witches, and he didn’t know a lot about witches and their promises, but he’d heard some pretty nasty fairy tales.

“What’s the catch?” Jungkook said.

Jimin looked playfully hurt, slouching against the table next to him. Bubble looked a little squished in his lap. “How mean, assuming I have an agenda. Why wouldn’t I want to help a cute kid like you,” he purred. His voice was enchanting, high and soft, but piercing and a little rough.

“You’re a witch,” Jungkook said flatly, pretty sure that he’d be crawling out of his seat without the influence of the tea. No one had ever called him cute without wanting something from him.

“You’re not religious are you?” Jimin asked.

“No.”

“Okay good.”

“What’s the catch?”

“Not so stupid after all. Get the first floor bathroom working for me.”

Taehyung burst out in excited hooting and nearly spit stew all over the table. Jungkook sat silently and wondered if saving his pride and dignity would be worth refusing, or if he should go ahead and fix the bathroom, no matter how awful, just to satisfy his vanity and get rid of his acne. “Show me the bathroom,” he said tiredly, standing and carrying his bowl out into the living room, which was beginning to darken with the early sunset. Jimin clapped and all the lanterns in the room burst into flame.

“Do you guys have electricity?”

“We have one working outlet in the kitchen where we charge our phones,” Jimin said. “Bathroom is over here. Door under the stairs.”

Whatever charm was keeping the rest of the house warm, it didn’t reach into the bathroom. It was dark and cold. Dirt and leaves covered the floor. “I’m guessing none of this stuff works?” he said, gesturing to the appliances.

“The sink works but doesn’t get any hot water,” Jimin said, “And the bathtub pressure is ridiculous. It’s like a fire hose. The toilet just doesn’t flush effectively.” He had Bubble bundled up in his arms, paws and nose peeking over his shoulder. Taehyung was bumping noses with Bubble, hands on Jimin’s sides to hold him steady.

“Are you two together?” he said, probably because the artificial calm had given him a bit of a loose tongue.

Taehyung shrugged and they both shook their heads, but didn’t bristle and rage like anyone else Jungkook knew, almost like they didn’t mind being asked if they were gay. And maybe they didn’t. Jungkook didn’t know what to make of that except sluggish hope.

“Okay, um, sorry. Can I get some light? And maybe, like, tools?”

“Light?” Jimin asked Bubble, who lit up, white and grey fur glowing intensely. Jimin handed him his glowing cat. Jungkook stared for a moment before cautiously reaching out and taking her. Jimin giggled. Taehyung was still standing behind him with his arms around his waist, and Jungkook could feel himself blushing a little, uncomfortably jealous. Jungkook opened the cabinet to inspect the pipes, feeling a little like an idiot holding a small cat up to see. She gripped his hand with her claws and chirped. He had to put her down on his knee to take his jacket off, dumping it on the floor, and then went back to staring at the piping.

“What is this thing?” Jimin asked, picking it up with two fingers. Taehyung snickered behind him. “I think its camo, but its muddy and faded, so its hard to tell.”

“What thing? Camo? I can’t see it,” Taehyung said. Jungkook’s head hurt with the force of his eye-roll.

Jimin threw his head back and laughed. “It was two dollars at the thrift store,” Jungkook said, a little defensively, “and I needed something warm and sturdy.” He flushed the toilet. It gurgled sadly.

In the doorway, Jimin and Taehyung were whispering to each other. Jungkook cleared his throat. “I think I can fix all of this pretty easily. I have my tools in my truck.”

“I’m adding cleaning the bathroom to the deal.”

“Clea-what? This place is a fucking wreck! That’ll take me all night!”

“Yeah, we used to keep a bunch of plants in here, but they needed more light. That’s why there’s so much detritus. Anyway, if its going to take you all night, get to work.”

“Or I could just fucking go home. You’re probably lying about fixing my skin.”

“Oh I can. Don’t you want to get that gross-looking shit off your face?” Jimin said, “Shame. Is it just on your face, or is it other places too?”

Jungkook came very close to tossing Bubble on the ground, fighting his instinct to curl up and protect himself, hide the bad skin that stretched all the way down his back and across his shoulders.

He stood up, slammed his hands into either side of the bathroom doorframe and leaned close into Jimin’s face, scowling. Neither of them flinched.

“Threatening a witch, little boy?” Taehyung murmured, chin resting on Jimin’s shoulder, “Not very smart.”

“Fuck this,” Jungkook said. “I don’t care enough to deal with this shit. I’m leaving.” He grabbed his coat up from where Jimin had dropped it.

“Don’t go out in the woods,” Taehyung said urgently.

“No. Fuck you. I don’t want to be here.” Panic began to leak through the edges of his mind, panic and a lot of fear.

“You can’t go in the woods,” Jimin yelped, “even in your truck. Things live around here.”

“Fuck that. I’m leaving.”

Behind him, Taehyung whipped a hand out at the same time Jimin stomped on the floor, and Jungkook was shoved off balance at the time time that the carpet grabbed his ankle. He pitched forward into the edge of a table with a sickening crack.

 

When Jungkook graduated high school, he’d moved into the cheapest apartment he could find on the outskirts of his flat, tiny, ugly town, and deleted his family’s numbers off his phone. He started working with the worst kind of redneck named Owen, angry and drunk with a Stetson and a beer gut too large to let him work on cars in his driveway, and knees too creaky to walk up all the steps to the cabins. Now Jungkook did all the work and got one fourth of the pay, but the woods were beautiful, deep and quiet, flat enough to peer off into the carpet of palmettos, green pines and rough brown trunks for acres. The red swamp water looked like iced tea on a hot day, full of graceful roots and sleepy gators. He loved to sit in empty hunting hides in the woods, worn nylon shielding from the hot sun as he smoked, watching deer wander past.

He and the redneck hated each other good-naturedly. Owen talked shit about him to his friends and made racist jokes about Asians. Jungkook laughed at him when he fell down the stairs and hid his glasses from him for kicks, dangled things just out of reach so he had to fight his way up out of his chair to grab them.

But Owen shared his cigarettes and beer if Jungkook brought him weed every week. He’d given Jungkook his old baseball hat when he got the Stetson, faded camo and orange, torn up around the brim. It smelled like sweat and tobacco, but Jungkook loved it anyway. At the end of the day, he could always count on Owen teaching him something or asking about his classmates like he actually cared.

But even though Owen had expected him back around four that afternoon, it probably hadn’t even occurred to him to be worried when he never showed up. Here Jungkook was, skull aching like a white-hot poker through his forehead, hot tears leaking down his face, and groaning pitifully with no idea where he was or how he’d gotten there.

A bright line shone in his eyes. He tried to move his arms to block it and couldn’t. His body felt like a bag of bricks. He tried to shut his eyes tightly but when he opened his eyelids, pain slammed into his forehead. Someone spoke. His lungs burned. He remembered to breath, raking in a few breaths. He tried to yell for help. A desperate groan strangled out of his chest, catching on gasps. His stomach churned with pain.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. You’ll be okay. I’m fixing it. You’ll be fine.”

Slowly the haze began to clear. “You have to drink this.” The edge of a cup pressed against his lip. He tried to close his mouth and couldn’t. “He’s not responding, Jimin.”

“Don’t make him drink that yet. He’s still drooling everywhere. He can’t swallow.”

“Fuck. What if we killed him?”

“Then we plant his body in the woods and make it look like he hung himself. He’s not going to die, Tae. I’ve got this.”

“That’s a lot of blood, Jimin.”

“I’ve got this,” Jimin breathed again. “He’s breathing on his own now, and he’s conscious. That’s good.”

Jungkook could have disagreed with that. He felt like dying. Dying would feel good. Better than getting the red-hot point of an anvil slowly sunk into his forehead.

Something cold and wonderful touched his face, he could feel the pain leeching out of his forehead and whimpered with relief. “Don’t sound so tough now, do ya,” Jimin said, but it sounded tired and affectionate. Jungkook cracked open his eyes to glare at him, and felt more tears slide down his face and into his hair. He could see Jimin above him through a net of glowing gold lines. “You’re adorable,” Jimin said, “Now hold still and let me fix you.”

He closed his eyes and let his brain settle back into his body. “He’s not asleep, is he?” Taehyung asked.

“M’not.” His voice crackled horribly.

“What?”

“I’m not asleep.”

“Can you drink this thing I have for you?”

Jungkook’s stomach rolled with his head. “No way.”

“Please. It’ll help you so much.”

“He’ll be able to sit up in a minute, Tae. Just wait. I’m almost done.”

He heard a high, squeaky meow, and then little paws pressed down on his stomach. “Are you helping, Bubble?” Jimin asked. Bubble climbed up, lay down on his chest, and purred. “Yeah, that’s helpful, I guess,” Jimin said with a sigh.

The pain slowly receded to a bland headache, his whole body aching like a ringing bell, shaking and disorienting. “Done,” Jimin said, and the light about his eyelids snapped off. “Hold still while I clean off the blood.” He felt an odd tickling brushing over his skin, like peeling a facemask off. His shirt dried.

“Get the carpet too,” Taehyung said.

“I’m on it. Hold on.” He felt Jimin moving his arms above him, and then Jimin’s hands pushed through his hair a few times. “I’m going to help you sit on the couch now, and then you have to drink whatever Taehyung gives, you, okay?”

“Okay.”

His head must have been resting in Jimin’s lap, because his pillow shifted and Jimin was pushing him upright. He rolled over, registering some nasty nausea, and tried to stand on his own. Jimin ducked under his arm and helped him to the couch. Taehyung held a small cup of oily, brown liquid up to his mouth. “Oh god, that smells.”

“Drink it.”

He choked it down. His stomach eased. His head cleared more. He realized he was clammy and shaking. “What happened?”

“We accidently both went for you at once and knocked you out on the coffee table. You got blood everywhere. Jimin is really good at healing though, so no permanent brain damage, probably.”

“Is Jimin okay?”

Jimin had curled up on the floor. Bubble stood by his head, sniffing his hair. Brandy was there too, holding a vial in her mouth, tail curved gracefully around her front paws.

“He just needs sleep after that. That wasn’t easy magic.”

“Ugh. I want to go home.”

“Don’t you think magic is cool?” Taehyung said, pouting adorably. Jungkook took another hit to his self-confidence. He had such beautiful eyes, big and glossy, skin as perfect as Jimin’s.

“It’s scary. My head hurts.”

“I have painkiller,” Taehyung said, “but it’ll knock you out for about ten hours.”

“I’ll take it.”

“You should, like, brush your teeth first.”

“I don’t want to move.”

“Brandy, can you go get me some super mint please? I’ll take that.” He grabbed the vial. Brandy scampered gracefully away and came back a minute later with a deep green leaf in her mouth. “Chew. It’s not the same as actually brushing your teeth, but it’ll do enough. Don’t swallow it.”

Jungkook chewed on it. It tasted like the mintiest artificial mint flavor he’d ever tasted. “Ugh, its gross,” he whined, and spit it on the floor.

“You just spit on my fucking floor.”

“You just made me bleed all over your fucking floor, freak.”

And that seemed to get to Taehyung. His lip curled. “If you’re scared, you should be more careful.”

“Yeah, because you might accidentally smash my brains out again.”

“I’ve got other tricks up my sleeve, dipshit.”

“Don’t do that to him,” Jimin said, picking his head up off the carpet. “We just nearly killed him. He doesn’t need you using your weird-ass torture magic on him.”

“I’m not gonna let some kid who just waltzed in here say shit and call me a—”

“I’m fucking trapped here! I never wanted to be here,” Jungkook yelled, and then groaned and lay down, clutching his head.

“Drink,” Taehyung said, tossing the vial at his face. “Sleep it off. I’ll go get some blankets.”

Jungkook swallowed it down. It tasted quiet, somehow, and by the time he fought his boots, coat, and shirt off, he couldn’t keep his eyes open. Someone put a pillow under his head and threw a couple blankets on top of him, and then he passed out again.

 

Jungkook was out the door the moment the sun rose above the trees and found the right road just fine early the next morning, ready to never look back. He’d keep his acne if it meant he got to keep his brain inside his skull. He got to work just in time for Owen to greet him at the door with a cigarette clutched awkwardly in the same hand as a beer bottle, and a porn magazine in the other. “Where’s my fucking hat?”

Jungkook touched his messy hair. “Oh shit.”

“Did you lose my fucking hat?”

“It’s my hat to lose, asshole. You gave it to me. And no. Just left it at the place I stayed in last night.”

“You finally get a girl, punk?”

“Nah.”

“You’re a fag, ain’t ya?”

“Dude, really? I say ‘no’ to being with a girl last night, and that’s what you get out of it?”

Owen looked a little ashamed. “Well, you don’t got friends. Figur’d it had to be a girl. If it ain’t a girl, has to be a guy.”

“You can think I’m a fag if you want. I don’t really give a shit.”

Owen gaped like a fish, like he couldn’t understand the concept of not getting defensive over that. Jungkook got a beer from the fridge and joined him on the porch, collapsing into a deck chair. “You okay, kid?”

“Aw, you care?”

Owen bristled. “You gotta do your work for me today, boy, and fuck you if you’re gonna half ass anything because you’re feelin poorly.”

“Got hit in the head pretty hard last night. I’m fine.” The lingering tingle of fear tightened his chest, the shot of ‘I almost died yesterday.’ He felt unusually happy at the punch of adrenaline, remembering the day before when that had been cut off.

“Can’t be too bad. Once I got slammed in the head so hard I couldn’t see straight for a week.”

“That explains some things about you,” Jungkook muttered.

“Huh?”

“Give me a cig.”

The day passed slowly, a headache slowly building behind his eyes. He had to get out of his truck and throw up around lunch, and by the time he pulled up at the end of the day and Owen offered him a beer, he waved it away.

“You’re sweatin’ like a hog, kid.”

“Where’d you put the weed?”

He sat on the porch, one deeply needed bowl in hand, feeling nasty in his two-day-old, sweaty clothes, feeling more than a little delirious. “You gonna go get that hat, kid? That’s my favorite hat, you know. You should be grateful I gave it to you.”

“I am,” Jungkook sighed. “I’ll go get it. I just have to, like, get up the nerve first.”

He had options. One of which did not include sitting there on the porch for much longer while Owen stared at him, as comfortingly familiar and mundane as that was. He could go out to the witch’s house—the witch’s house. What the fuck even…witches?—or he could go home, shower and change, and then head out to the witches house, which would probably mean staying the night again.

He ended up at home, thinking “This was colossally stupid,” as he stared out at the sunset. He collapsed into bed and went to sleep.

Sometime right before dawn, he woke up shaking and miserably hot, stomach rolling. Fuck those fucking witches. He got in the car, gritting his teeth against the aching in his limbs and the headache shaking his sight, and drove out to the tree in the middle of the road. The first rays of sunlight were just hitting the clouds when he rumbled past it. Around the turn in the road, where the swamp should have come into view, he drove right up the old tree again, like it had jumped back in his path. Back the way he’d come there was only road. He stuck his head out the window. “Let me in, fuckass!”

No response. He put his head right down on the wheel and let the horn blare for a few seconds before taking pity on all the wildlife and sitting back in his seat, trying to calm his breathing. Something hit the front of the car and he nearly died of fright.

It was Brandy. She sat imperiously down on the front of his car. He started it and rumbled off down the path again. Taehyung was outside, soft brown hair held off his forehead by a headband, cute little ponytail bouncing on top of his head, which showed the graceful curve of his forehead and intimidatingly sharp eyebrows. He was wrapped up in layers of knitted shawls and scarves, a full basket of a fresh harvest in his arms. Jungkook, feeling a little akin to a dead mouse that Brandy was delivering, stomped out of the car. “I need my fucking hat back.”

“Did you drive here?” Taehyung put the basket down on the ground, looking alarmed. “You idiot.”

Even though his heart was thundering fearfully, Jungkook grabbed him by the frilly, knit poncho and hauled him close. Taehyung’s brown eyes widened. “Listen, you little shit—”

Taehyung grabbed his bare wrists, and his hands burned like hot iron, blazing over his skin. Jungkook screamed and yanked free, expecting to see his skin black and bubbling. It was fine, not even a little red. He tripped over something and fell on his butt, still staring at his wrists. “Don’t threaten witches,” Taehyung said, “It’s not smart—fuck, Jungkook, wait here. I’ll get you some stuff. Just don’t move!”

Jungkook had turned over and retched into the dirt between his elbows, coming up with a little bit of water and the taste of stale beer and stomach acid.

“You shouldn’t have left,” Taehyung said, coming back out with an eye dropper full of dark blue, shimmering potion. “You’re not healed yet. You still have a concussion.”

“Had work.”

“Did you do an entire day of work like this? Damn, you’re tough.” He dripped the blue into Jungkook’s mouth, then lay a leaf across his forehead and muttered something. “Are you casting a spell on me?”

“I’m telling this leaf to help with your concussion. Don’t interrupt.”

Jungkook enjoyed the lovely feeling of all the pain, delirium, and tension fading away, his mind clearing up. “Oh god, that’s so good.”

“Why aren’t you wearing your dumbass coat. It’s cold out here.”

“I think I left it at home. Couldn’t even see straight.”

“Do you think you can walk inside now?”

“Yeah.”

Jimin greeted them inside with a warm blanket, a pot of tea, and a stack of crackers. “Go eat these and lay down for a bit. Do you have work today?”

“I work every day but Sundays. There’s a lot to do right now since everyone just vacated their cabins.”

“Can you call in sick?” he asked, putting a gentle, small hand on Jungkook’s sweaty, nasty forehead. Jungkook flinched violently away.

“Please don’t burn me,” he pleaded, voice shaking.

“I won’t! Taehyung, what did you do to him?”

“He grabbed me. I could’ve done worse. I just did the thing to his wrists a little.”

“Couch,” Jimin instructed like a mom, and then pushed Taehyung back out the doors. “Go pull some weeds or something.”

“You could come help you know!”

“I’ll be out after I get Jungkook taken care of.”

Jungkook was already lying down on the couch, the blanket up around his throat. “Wake me at nine-thirty,” he groaned.

 

He woke, finally sane and sober, to something purring loudly under his chin, and something else rumbling loudly against his stomach. He opened his eyes and put a hand up to feel downy fluff in a small, round bundle up against his neck. “Bubble?”

“Meep!”

Brandy had curled up on his stomach, her long elegant tail brushing against his arm. Taehyung stood above him looking shell-shocked.

Jungkook realized, with a mix of fear and excitement, that he really wasn’t dreaming. While he’d still been delirious, he hadn’t been able to tell. He was definitely awake. Taehyung definitely existed. Witches and magic were real.

“What?”

“I’m just—Brandy doesn’t—She’s sleeping on you!”

“Yeah?”

“She’s never slept on someone that isn’t me. She doesn’t even let me touch her sometimes.”

Jungkook lazily scratched her behind the ears. “She’s a beautiful cat.”

Bubble started mewing loudly, butting her head against Jungkook’s jaw and tapping his neck with her paw.

“Bubble gets really jealous when people give Brandy attention,” Taehyung said. “You’d better pet her.”

He did. She stretched happily. “What time is it?”

“About nine-thirty. I just finished my chores, but Jimin just went out for his. You have to go to work?”

“Yeah.” Brandy slipped away courteously so he could stand, and Taehyung watched her go looking somewhat betrayed. Jungkook stood with Bubble still tucked under his chin and walked out to the front porch.

“You’re going to need a coat. We could give you one.”

“I’ll drive home and get mine. I’m not wearing some crazy knit thing to work on hunting cabins all day.”

“Relax. It’s leather.”

“Deerskin?”

“Nah. Something similar though. I don’t think any normal human would be able to tell the difference. The residual magic might make your day kind of interesting though.”

“I just want my hat back.”

“You’re already late to work, Jungkook, just take the coat.”

“I don’t want to be letting you do any favors for me,” Jungkook said. “You fed me dinner already. I don’t want to owe you any more.”

“Besides all the high level healing magic we used on you? You don’t count that? You’re already heavily in debt.”

Jungkook scoffed at him. “No I’m not. Those weren’t favors. Those were you fixing the damage you both did to my head. I think you still owe me for the trauma. I didn’t know anything could hurt that much.”

Taehyung pouted a little, pulling his bandana-headband down over his eyebrows. He looked about ten years old. “Yeah okay. I’ll go get your hat.”

He came back with the coat too. Jungkook had seen so many deerskin coats in so many hunting cabins, walking around on the backs of his high school classmates and the people living in his town. They were trophies, garish, ugly, brown things with leather fringe, fitted poorly. This was gorgeous, soft tan with fluffy white lining, beautifully paneled, red leaves embroidered along the edges.

“No way. I can’t borrow something like that from you. That’s too much.”

“Not borrow. I wouldn’t ask for it back. It would be better than your old ratty coat that was way too big for you.”

“I feel like I’m making a deal with the devil. You’re going to want me to pay somehow. Whatever it is, I won’t do it.”

“It wouldn’t be hard. You have access to private property around here. There’s a house across the lake with a green roof and a red door—”

“Bill’s place.”

Taehyung nodded. “They have some plants with small white flowers growing by their front porch that blooms all year. They’d never miss it, but I need it, and I can’t get there. You could. You clean their yard, right?”

“Yeah,” Jungkook breathed, “But that can’t possibly be worth that much. This coat looks like it cost hundreds of dollars.”

“I made it myself. Try it on.”

“It probably won’t fit,” Jungkook said hopefully, but he slid his arms into the sleeves anyway. It was tight on his arms and didn’t quite button over his chest. “Yeah,” he said, a little disappointed, but very relieved. “Can’t—”

Taehyung touched it and it molded itself around Jungkook’s body. Taehyung smoothed his hands over the front, and Jungkook took a reflexive step back, unused to guys touching him freely. Taehyung stepped with him.

“I can only do that once on any article of clothing I make. That’s yours now, Kookie. Get me the flowers.”

“That’s stealing. My job is to take care of that house.”

“They won’t even notice. You don’t have to take all of them, just a couple plants. Don’t kill any of them. And drive right back here with it, or it’ll die. Your day off is Sunday, right? That’s tomorrow.”

“Yeah?”

“Get me the flowers tomorrow morning, then stay and fix the bathroom. We can get all this gross shit off your face. Did you know you’re breaking out really really bad right now?”

Jungkook hadn’t looked in a mirror in days, and hadn’t been paying attention, but he could feel a few little aches, the hot, itchy sort of grimy feeling that came with a breakout after a few days of sleeping poorly and eating garbage. “I’ve had a couple rough days,” he sighed, already trying to shrug into his collar where beautiful Taehyung couldn’t see ugly skin.

Jungkook put his hat on his head, climbed into the truck, and drove to work.

“Where,” Owen said, softly, staring bug-eyed at the beautiful coat, “Did you get that thing.” He’d probably wanted one like it his whole life. Jungkook felt a thrill of vanity.

“I did a favor for the people that live in that house back past Robbie’s place, but I guess he didn’t have money.”

“What the hell did you do to earn that?”

“F-fixed their bathroom?”

“That’s it?”

“It was a mess.”

“Maybe I should go ask to do a few favors for them.”

“Don’t,” Jungkook said, “It’s not worth it.”

“Why?”

Jungkook searched his head for a minute. “They’re gay and really touchy.”

Owen visibly jolted. Jungkook didn’t add that he kind of liked that about them. “Oh. Well. Stay away from them. Don’t want you getting mixed up in that. Nice coat, but don’t put yourself at risk, boy.”

Which was almost sweet in a bigoted, idiotic kind of way.

Taehyung was right about the magic in the coat. Once during the day, he saw a bright red lizard staring at him from inside a log. He could have sworn he saw a buck with an eye in the middle of his forehead a little way off in the woods. He hid in a nearby cabin for a while, the coat sitting the the front coatrack which he sat on the floor in the back of the cabin bedroom, letting the chills leave him.

At the end of work, he was just locking up to go home when he was surrounded by a school of tiny, floating minnows that held little glowing lights in their mouths. One trailed a long string of algae. They must have come right up out of the swamp. They flitted around him, beautiful little flashings of gold light and silver sides. He stood very still, eyes wide open until tears dripped down his cheeks, not wanting to miss a thing. He could have lived his entire life without seeing this, something between twenty and eighty years of mundane, ordinary, dirty life, but here he was in the woods surrounded by floating fish on a cool January night.

He almost wanted to follow them off into the woods, see them glow beneath the red swamp water, but following magical creatures off into the dark has never been a good thing to do. Some small thing with purple fur skittered off the hood of his truck when he walked up. He giggled happily and watched the palmettos rustle as it rushed away.

He fell asleep that night with the coat as a blanket.

 

Right at sunrise, again, he stole the keys to Bill’s place from the work shed and drove out to it. Right up under the porch was a small patch of little plants, flowering even in the thirty-five-degree winter morning. He carefully dug up a couple, put them in a solo cup with extra dirt, and drove straight to the witch’s house with the plants in the cup holder. The tree let him past this time, and Taehyung dropped his basket and sprang up out of the field and ran over to him. Jimin stood out on the low wall in the water, tossing things into the cypress swamp.

Taehyung took the solo cup from his hand, stared at the plant inside, and then grabbed Jungkook by the jaw, waited till he stopped flinching, expecting a burn, and kissed him right on the lips. Jungkook followed him inside in a daze, lips tingling.

“You got extra dirt too! Bless you!” He hauled a large geode down off the shelf, dumped some sand in the bottom, and planted the flowers inside as Jungkook watched. Jimin ran in with a tinkle of silver and jewels, squealed with excitement and gave Jungkook a tight hug around the waist. He pulled back and ran his hands down Jungkook’s coat.

“You gave him this?” he asked Taehyung, “For that?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung muttered, crushing a gleaming white stone in a pestle, which seemed to take a lot of strength and some magical muttering. “Get the water ready for the moonstone.”

Jimin pulled Taehyung down for a happy kiss on the lips that left Jungkook feeling oddly cold. He filled up a bowl of water from a large copper kettle and crushed some dried leaves from a jar into it, and put it back down beside Taehyung so he could dump the moonstone dust into it.

“How did you know the flowers were there?” Jungkook asked.

“A witch lived there a few years ago. She would always taunt us about having them. There’s a magical border still on the place. These are nearly dead now. I thought we wouldn’t be able to save them.” He dumped the water in a tiny can and sprinkled it over the flowers. They glowed.

Jimin came back to the coat, shoving it slightly off Jungkook’s shoulders and examining the interior. Jungkook held his arms out to help. “There are lots of spells sewn into this coat,” Jimin said, running a finger down the inner seam below his arm. Jungkook felt a little thrill of fear. “Here’s one of mine!” He pointed out a little embroidered circle of stitches. “It makes the coat hold warmth better.”

“He put some charms in the hem around the base,” Taehyung said. “Water resistance, some shielding capabilities. Did you see any weird animals out there yesterday?”

“A school of glowing fish!” Jungkook said, lighting up despite himself. Jimin and Taehyung beamed like proud parents. “There was a purple animal on my car, a red lizard, um, a buck in the woods with a third eye. I didn’t like that one.”

Jimin and Taehyung looked up in surprise. “Wait, you saw a what?”

“A buck with an eye in his forehead? Is that not a thing? It might have been my imagination.”

Jimin shook his head. “That’s a thing. That’s just,” he looked at Taehyung, “You don’t suppose that’s a…”

“Like an actual forest spirit,” Taehyung said. “That’s supposed to be a warning, usually that something big is about to happen to you. Was he looking at you?”

“Yeah, he was.”

The two witches glanced at each other, Jimin had switched, at some point, from running his hands all over the coat to running his hands over Jungkook’s body, down his back, up around his sides and over his chest, the heaviness of his rings dragging through his t-shirt, and Jungkook noticed runes and circles dotted across the silver, tiny vials of herbs on some of his necklaces, and spells on the charms hanging from his wrists. Jungkook stood very still and watched him cautiously. “I’m not going to burn you,” he murmured, “Don’t worry. I never learned nasty little tricks like that in boarding school.”

“I went to a non-magic boarding school,” Taehyung said. “My mom is normal. Dad’s the witch, but he’s kinda busy and distant. But the normal people didn’t like me. Had to learn some self defense.”

Somehow, that made a little too much sense. Jungkook felt the slightest bit sympathetic, but also remembered the panic of burning. Jimin’s small fingers rubbed circles on Jungkook’s nipples. Jungkook stood quietly and took it with his jaw tight, staring Jimin down. “You’re so docile,” Jimin giggled. “I wanna keep you.”

“That’s what happens when you’re worried someone is going to bash your brains out or burn your skin off when you move to fast,” Jungkook said, “You ever seen someone move carelessly around a bear?”

“I’m a bear,” Jimin said, “I like that,” and then slid in, snuggling up to Jungkook’s chest.

Jungkook gave Taehyung a look as if to say, “Get it off me,” but Taehyung only grinned. Jungkook’s arms were beginning to hurt from holding them carefully out of the way. Why did Jimin’s shirt have to be so thin, clinging to every line in his shoulders? His head rested on Jungkook’s neck, rubbing gently under his jaw. “You’re a lot like Bubble.”

“She is my familiar,” Jimin said, sliding his face back to look Jungkook in the eye. “She was formed from my magic.”

Jungkook felt his perception of the world slide out of alignment yet again.

“Have you eaten?” Taehyung asked.

Jungkook hadn’t. “Yeah,” he said.

“Are you going to fix my bathroom now?” Jimin asked.

“Yeah. Would you let me go?”

“You’re so warm though.”

“Put on a sweater.”

Jimin’s lips slipped over his neck. “You smell good.”

“Really? I smell like cigarette smoke and dirt.”

“I like that. Smells manly. You also smell like this leather coat. You smell so good.”

“I’m uncomfortable.”

Jimin stepped back, releasing the firm grip on his hips. “Go get to work then. I’ll start the potion for your acne.”

Jungkook got his tools out of the truck and got to work. It took all morning for him to clean the damn place, carrying bags of leaves and dirt through the house to the outside. It looked different in the daytime, dustier and unkempt. The windows were perfect and clear, but the log walls were grimy. He suspected they didn’t bother with surfaces that didn’t let the light in on their plants, but he couldn’t imagine it was very good for their lungs.

Jimin brought him a sandwich for lunch and left it on a chair right outside the bathroom. Jungkook almost got offended that they weren’t inviting him to eat with them, but Jimin was eating as he boxed dried leaves and living plants into crates and loaded them into the back of their truck, and he saw Taehyung out the window mixing old dirt with a sandwich in his mouth.

“What do you two do?” He asked Jimin.

“We’re suppliers for apothecaries, especially plants and herbs. That’s just to pay the bills though. What we really do is research. Potion making is kind of a lost art these days, but Taehyung found a bunch of really old book on it, and I have a lot of passed-down knowledge from my family, so we came down here where the weather is nice to start a farm. I’m writing a textbook based on what my mother taught me.”

He nodded. “That’s really cool.”

“It is! It’s taking a bit to catch on, but once people see what we can do with this, they’ll really get into it. And then the market for our plants really will really boom.”

“What do witches do if they’re not making potions?”

“Divination. Um…curses. Leeching off poor, unsuspecting, non-magical neighbors. I’m kidding. That’s unusual. There’s a lot of jobs that focus on taking care of magical creatures, because they’re really hard to control. Potions can help with that too. Some witches use magic to get ahead in the human world. There’s healing, artisans, businessmen.” He shrugged. “Tae and I probably fall into the business sector. And there’s a small community for magical science. Now get back to work!”

Jungkook ate his sandwich quietly and watched him work, thighs and arms flexing as he hefted the heaviest boxes. Jungkook itched to help, but didn’t.

The toilet was a pretty easy fix. The sink and bath required some disassembly. The work was hot and frustrating. He only got sprayed in the face once, but the dampness stuck to his shirt for the rest of the afternoon, and he had to lay his hat out on the porch to dry. Taehyung and Jimin took two full truckloads of packed boxes off down a road behind their house and disappeared, coming back with an empty truck to cross off orders. Jungkook knew for a fact that there were no roads off the property besides the one he drove in on, and figured he’d rather not know where they were going.

As evening began to make things difficult to see, Jimin came in, checked his progress, and then scampered off and returned with a curtains and candles to light the room up. He decoupaged a few spells onto the walls with a little brown glue pot with veins of gold running through it. Bubble sat in his shoulder as he worked.

“Everything you two own is cute as fuck,” he said.

“Really? It’s kind of rough. We hand-make almost everything. Taehyung is quite the craftsman, but he can’t make anything like the stuff actual artisans make. Your coat though. That was amazing. I can’t believe he gave it to you.”

Jungkook felt a little guilty. “Was it really worth the plant?”

“I think so. That’s a very sought-after flower. It produces light, small tear-shaped crystals that are possibly incredibly valuable potion ingredients. We don’t know yet. It’s got cool healing properties. If I had had it when you got your head hurt, it wouldn’t have taken you so long to recover.”

“’So long,’” Jungkook snorted. “Concussions take weeks to heal, and I’m pretty sure I would have had permanent brain damage. Why don’t you guys go be healers for regular humans too? You could save a lot of lives.”

“Magic isn’t just healing,” Jimin said, sitting back against the sink cabinets. “We have advanced healing powers, but we can also kill you really easily, or control you. I don’t think you want us interacting with the regular world. There’s a reason people used to be so intent on burning us." Jungkook felt a chill again and Jimin smiled coldly. "When you finish, I’ll have dinner ready. You’re staying here again tonight.”

Jungkook had forgotten about not being allowed outside at night. As if the implication of power Jimin had just given him hadn’t been enough to scare him. He glanced fearfully out the window. “Fuck.”

“We’ll give you a real bed this time.”

Jungkook wasn’t sure he’d be able to sleep in this house without being heavily concussed. The house at night felt trapping and dark, surrounded by danger and filled with malice.

He ate dinner quietly. Across the table, Jimin and Taehyung chattered about orders that needed to be filled. The moonshine in the strange glass bulb had vanished, along with a lot of other boxes and piles around the kitchen. The blue plant in the sink continued to generate slime, but most of it was gone now. Spare white labels with a sleek, botanical logo and Jimin’s beautiful handwriting littered the table. Kim and Park Botanicals.

Taehyung kept trying to flip his spoon into his cup of water, giggling excitedly. Brandy and Jimin watched like this was something that happened every day, Jimin smiling a little, Brandy flicking her tail. If familiars formed out of a witch’s magic, Jungkook decided he’d like to stay away from whatever magic had formed Brandy. Bubble’s magic he could handle, but then again, he’d also seen a little of what Jimin could do.

Jungkook got the same impression from them as he’d gotten from the few kids in his high school who might actually go somewhere in life, unlike the backwoods idiots that the rest of them were. He felt, not small around them, but rather lumberingly large, bigger than he had any right to be, a waste of space.

“Let’s get rid of your acne,” Jimin said after diner, and Jungkook ducked his head, embarrassed to even acknowledge it, embarrassed that they knew he cared.

“Do all witches get to go through life without acne?” he asked as Jimin settled him on a stool in the middle of the kitchen with a towel over his lap.

“Nope!” Jimin said cheerfully, sitting down on another stool across from him with a small wooden bowl in one hand, filled to the brim with a peach-toned, clear potion. “Take your shirt off.” Jungkook wordlessly pulled it off. “I am,” Jimin said, “quite possibly the only person in the world besides my own mother who knows this recipe.”

“Doubt it,” Taehyung said.

“Let me hyperbolize when I want to, Kim Taehyung,” Jimin snapped, pushing a headband into Jungkook’s hair to get it off his forehead, and he sat there like a polite child in the doctor’s office. “And yes, some other families could very possibly have passed down this recipe or similar ones, but I’ve never heard of it. I’ve sent it in for a patent, so I might get very rich on it someday soon, but in interest of secrecy, I haven’t put it in any books yet.”

“You haven’t published any books yet,” Taehyung said.

“Tae, shut up.”

Brandy had joined Taehyung at the kitchen table, sitting beside his empty plate and watching. Bubble jumped up on Jimin’s lap to be part of the fun and Jimin picked her up and put her on the table. “Sorry, honey. I’ll come love you when I’m done with this.”

“Is this really worth one functional bathroom?”

Jimin dipped a smooth sponge into the potion. “No, but you’re not a witch. I don’t think you’ll be blabbing to anyone. Close your eyes.”

Jungkook took a deep breath, shoving aside his huge remaining distrust, and closed his eyes. “I was thinking about equal exchange here.”

“It might not be equal exchange, no. But that deer coat might not have been equal exchange either. That plant might make or break our little business.” The first soft brush slid over his cheekbone, cool and clean. He and Jimin sighed at the same time. “This is so satisfying every time,” Jimin murmured. “Not so much with Taehyung. He barely had any acne at all.”

“What’s it doing?” Jungkook asked.

“Just wiping it all away. Your skin is going to be beautiful.”

It seemed too good to be real. Jungkook felt a little queasy. The cool sponge carefully covered every inch of his face, into his hairline and over his eyelids, around the backs of his ears and over the edges of his lips. The sponge started slow lines under his chin and down his neck, Jungkook shivered, eyes sliding back open. Jimin concentrated carefully on what he was doing, tracing carefully over his shoulders. Jungkook watched acne scars from months ago vanish beneath the sponge and almost got embarrassingly teary.

“So what’s your story, small-town Georgia boy?” Jimin asked. “You don’t have much of an accent.”

“We moved here when I was really young, but Dad's business here never took off like he wanted it to and things fell apart. My family disbanded after I graduated. You know where I work. That’s about it.”

“That’s not a story,” Jimin said, and stopped sponging his chest to stroke a finger over Jungkook’s collarbones and the sensitive dip just between them where Jungkook had no acne. He let him, though, glad that he wasn’t the one staring for once. Jimin moved around behind him to get his back and Jungkook pursed his lips and flushed. Acne was fine with a bunch of other teenagers around the pool. It wasn’t great, sure, but everyone had it, and there were more important things to worry about. Sitting shirtless with his marked up back and shoulders in Jimin’s kitchen was another thing entirely.

Jimin must have seen him cringe. “Don’t worry about your skin,” he murmured. “I was an assistant healer in high school. It’s common. And I may talk shit about it to tease you, but I’ve seen enough of this that I just see it as skin now. It doesn’t change how pretty you are. It’s just a cosmetic vanity.”

“In that case, it was definitely worth one bathroom,” Jungkook said.

“Hm. People get so hung up on this. It’s natural.”

“You’ve also never had to deal with it for years though,” Taehyung said.

“I wish guys could wear makeup,” Jungkook said miserably. “Would have saved me a lot of anxiety in high school.”

“They can,” Jimin said.

“Not in rural South Georgia they can’t.”

“Point taken.” He ran the sponge slowly over Jungkook’s back. Jungkook shivered. Across the kitchen, Taehyung watched from a dark corner, beer bottle in one hand, the top pressed against his pretty bottom lip. He looked more like a fantasy elf than a human, swallowed up by his massive woven sweater, long, thin legs sticking out from under. “I think I got everything,” Jimin said, brushing a hand down Jungkook’s arm. “Are there any other spots I don’t know about, or is that it?”

“That’s it.”

“Damn. I wanna keep touching you,” Jimin said against his neck. His hands slid up Jungkook sides and gently over his chest. They slid over his nipples and he shivered, struggling to hold still, feeling a bashful.

Taehyung smirked softly.

“I need a mirror,” Jungkook said.

“There’s a full-size one in my closet,” Taehyung said.

“I don’t want to go in your closet.”

They led him up the wide, wooden staircase and pointed him into the upstairs bathroom, all cracked white tile and a claw-foot bathtub. His reflection stared back from the mirror, airbrushed and flawless. He took the headband out of his hair and let is flop back down over his forehead.

“Wow,” he said softly, “Thank you.” His reflection looked almost up to par with Jimin and Taehyung, less like some standard high-school drop out and more like the angelic beings beside him. Jimin hadn’t just fixed his skin. It glowed, perfectly smooth and soft, color deep and even. “I don’t know if fixing the bathroom does this justice.”

“I know what would even the odds,” Jimin said, sliding up to stand next to him, fiddling with a pendant around his neck. Several beautiful rings glittered on his fingers. His eyes glittered enchantingly, the tilt of his neck completely seductive, and Jungkook felt himself get drawn in. “Kiss me,” Jimin murmured, like he knew Jungkook couldn’t refuse.

Jungkook hesitated, waiting for it to be a joke, waiting for Taehyung to laugh or for Bubble to get indignant. Nothing happened. He leaned forward, heart hammering, and pressed one kiss to Jimin’s lips, as sweet as he could make it through the heart attack. Jimin’s hand touched his chest lightly and he nearly jumped out of his skin.

Jimin and Taehyung both giggled. “You’re such a pretty kid, Jungkook. You should keep visiting. The coat will get you past the gate in the winter, but what about in the summer when you don’t have it? We should get you a—”

“Hold on a second, I’m thankful for everything you’ve given me and all, but I don’t think I’ll be coming back after this.”

“What?” Jimin said, looking genuinely startled. “Why?”

“Are you kidding? This place is terrifying. Magic is overwhelming. You’re both kind of rude. Why would I come back? Every time I come here I get roped into doing something for you. Eventually it’ll be something that’s too much, but you keep threatening me like I’m not allowed to say no. I’m not coming back.”

Jimin pouted at him. “Not even for Bubble? And Brandy likes you!”

“They’re lovely cats. I’m not putting myself at risk for them.”

Jimin gave Taehyung a very clear “I told you so” look.

“I thought non-magic people couldn’t resist being around magic after they found out about it,” Taehyung said, shrugging.

“Why? I can’t use it. I’m at a permanent disadvantage here.”

Jimin pouted. “Will you at least come visit? You’re useful, and we like having a friend nearby.”

Friend?”

“Are we not?”

“No!”

Jimin pulled away from him suddenly, and Jungkook flinched.

“I’m not going to hurt you!” Jimin squeaked. “I’m not Taehyung!”

“He was scaring me that time,” Taehyung whined from the hallway. “He had me by the collar. People used to do that to me all the time and that usually ended with me trying to hide bruises for the rest of the day.”

“Oh Tae,” Jimin said.

Jungkook would be sorry, except he was terrified that Taehyung might lump him in with past bullies in his experience and lash out accordingly. “Can I have my shirt?” he asked quietly.

“Yeah,” Jimin said. “Let’s go back downstairs.” As they left the room, Jimin waved goodbye to the candles, who all waved back and then flickered out.

Jungkook curled into one arm of the couch downstairs and watched the witches go about their evening. Jimin read out of a book that looked like it was barely holding itself together.

“’Harvest the moss at night,’ it says here. That’s a problem. We’d have to grow it inside and we’re running out of space.”

“I’m sure we’d be fine if we stuck it close to the house. Maybe on the porch?”

“No way. You heard how close the imps got to the house the other night. Practically under the eaves. I won’t risk it.”

Jungkook glanced nervously out the window.

“I’m going to light up,” Taehyung said. “Anyone interested?”

“I’ll hit it,” Jimin said, “but not too much because I’m reading.”

“Jungkook, do you want to try some wizard weed? This is some serious Gandalf shit right here.”

“You know about Gandalf?”

“We’re witches, not aliens. I have this super cool pipe here.” He pulled out a carved wooden pipe with a long stem and a stone bowl. “You should take a couple hits.”

“What the hell is Gandalf?” Jimin muttered. Taehyung ignored him.

“What are you smoking?”

“It’s basically weed, just magical. Feels a little different and it's very slightly hallucinogenic.”

“Okay, I’ll try it.”

Taehyung took a few puffs. Beside him, Jimin lounged sideways in his chair, his book floating up over his head. Jungkook took one puff, and slid out of sobriety just slow enough to think “Fuck, this was a bad idea,” and then he was soaring. The world glowed in rainbows, like staring through a prism. He felt so intensely relaxed that he could have moaned if his head hadn’t thrown itself back, twisting his throat up. “oh god,” he whispered.

He dimly saw Jimin take a hit, then opened his eyes a few minutes later and Jimin was in his lap, weightless and sensually elegant, thrown across his arm. Jungkook stared down at the gorgeous lines of his chest, the small edges that peeked out from under his collar, his sharp jaw. His hand ended up under Jimin’s shirt, and then Jimin’s shirt was off, and he had a little magic circle tattooed above his hip bone, a silver circle with a rune in it above his belly-button, and bands of silver on his arms. His shirt was off and nothing had ever felt so wonderful under Jungkook’s hands, each curve of his body an tactile dream that went right to his blood.

He felt the end of the pipe in his mouth and sucked in.

 

Jimin was kissing him. How had he missed the start of this? Jimin was shirtless in his lap, and their mouths were stuck messily together. Jungkook drooled down his chin a little. “We keep fucking you up when you stay over,” Taehyung giggled, and now Jungkook was kissing Taehyung, and it was different, but Jungkook couldn’t tell how, but he felt different too, smaller, softer, boyish. He wrapped his arms all the way around Taehyung’s waist and crushed him in close, tying their bodies together, and he’d never felt anything so perfect.

 

He was lying sideways on the couch, Bubble under his arm, and Jimin was naked and kneeling on the ground, thighs wide around Taehyung’s hips, and Taehyung was gasping as Jimin sank down.

 

He heard Jimin when he came, the sweetest little gasping moans he’d ever heard, delicate as blown glass out of his pink lips, like honey dripping through the air. The glow around every object made it a little hard to see, but Jimin was holding Taehyung’s arms down on the floor as he bounced in his lap, slowing down and grinding his hips as Taehyung whimpered desperately. Jungkook thought he might have moaned.

 

Taehyung was kissing him again. He was staring at the ceiling now. The pipe sat on his bottom lip. “God, yes.

Jungkook was lying in the middle of the floor, shirt missing, and nothing felt good anymore. His shoulder burned. He stared into the light of a single candle. He could see others in the corner of his vision. He was breathing way too hard, like there wasn’t enough oxygen in the air.

 

Jungkook opened his eyes. The entire room was ablaze with candles now. He was lying on his back on a wood floor and his shoulder hurt. Taehyung’s low voice and Jimin’s high one, from a short distance away, chanted nonsense.

 

The room was almost completely dark but for a small line of light under the door, and he was so scared. Sweat dripped down his face. He couldn’t move. His breath raced in and out of him like sea-waves set in panic-inducing fast-motion. Things cackled outside the walls. His beautiful new skin was cracking. He screamed.

And then there was Jimin. The room lit up and Jimin sat above him, dark purple circles under eyes, holding a ball of light with eyes in his hand. He set Bubble down on the bed next to Jungkook and she slowly faded to a soft glow. They tucked themselves down into Jungkook’s arms. He saw Taehyung’s sleepy face crawling over them both, and then felt him curl tight around Jungkook’s back, warm and protective. “You’re safe. It’s a bad come-down. You smoked too much. We’re sorry. You can sleep now. You’re safe.”

Jungkook held on tight as a wild pounding got closer and closer, shaking the room and deafening in his ears. He couldn’t tell if it was from whatever lurked outside or from his own chest.

 

Sunrays streaked through the window and turned his quilt orange. A model of the planets turned in midair against the wall. He stared, blinking, for far too long, and then rolled out of his warm bed, dragged his clothes on and walked downstairs. “I’m okay, right?” he said to Brandy, who nodded. “I don’t trust you,” Jungkook said.

Brandy turned her back on him.

“Sorry,” he muttered, and grabbed the toast on the counter with his name written in the air above it, needing anything to cut the cottony, stale feeling in his mouth. He grabbed his coat and drove away without saying goodbye, thoroughly disoriented and feeling a little numb. He took a deep breath when he made it off the property. He was done now. He was never going back. The ritual chanting from the night before lit up in the edges of his consciousness and had him near whimpering with fear. He drove way too fast all the way to Owen’s shack.

“Where the fuck have you been?” Owen yelled when he drove up.

“Huh?”

“You’re an hour and a half late.”

“Oh,” Jungkook said, trying to shove his trembling hands in his pockets and missing.

“You’ve got huge ass hickeys all over yer neck.”

Jungkook slapped a hand over his neck, which stung a little.

“Are you wearing makeup?” Owen said, reaching out a dirty thumb and smearing it over his face.

Jungkook flinched out of the way. “No? What?”

“All yer spots are gone.”

“Cleared up overnight, I guess.”

Owen narrowed his eyes, taking in Jungkook’s jerky movements and shallow breathing. “Are you high?”

“I think so.”

“Oh. Fucking stoner.”

“I’m your fucking supplier!”

Work was rough. Owen came out with him that day. He forced himself into as much awareness and diligence as possible. As Owen covered all the tools in the truck with the tarp to drive home, Jungkook found an owl with actual horns on a nearby branch. They stared at each other for a moment, and then Jungkook walked quickly back to the truck, trusting Owen’s bad eyesight to keep him from seeing. He hoped magical creatures weren’t something he was going to have to deal with for the rest of his life now. Maybe he should just burn the coat.

Something burned like a blister on his shoulder. His joints hurt. Sometimes everything in his vision would start to glow a little, and he’d just have to deal with it for a few minutes, blinking rapidly and shivering all over.

“Kid, what is up with you today?”

“Why do you always call me kid?”

“Can’t pronounce your fuckin name. Are you on drugs?”

Jungkook sighed and rested his head on the window. It really would be nice to have some real friends around. He dimly remembered when his family cared about him back in elementary school. Or maybe they’d just been good at faking it and no one had really ever cared about him in his life. “Finished up my business with the guys in the woods last night. They have some crazy stuff. I don’t remember what happened.”

“I told you to stay away from them,” Owen said, and Jungkook knew it was supposed to sound self-important, but he sounded worried, like a gruff, concerned grandpa, and Jungkook wanted to cry.

At the end of the day he sat alone on the porch, warm in his jacket, but missing the way his old, ugly coat had hung on him, cozy and huge, draped off his shoulders. The sore spot on his shoulder rubbed up against his t-shirt and burned. Owen had already gone inside and gone to sleep, which left him without even his shitty excuse for an adoptive grandfather.

He went grocery shopping. Some girl from high school worked behind the register, lank hair hanging in her face. He’d only ever had one good interaction with her, both of them piss drunk and stupid in someone’s above-ground pool after midnight with several other guys. She’d danced for them in her wet clothes, solo cup splashing liquor into the water. She looked much older now, sullen. He bet he did too. He bit down his pride and asked for cigarettes. They didn’t look each other in the eye as she checked him out, and he left with his head down.

In the mirror at home, he could see a little brown circle, about the size of a quarter, emblazoned on the skin of his shoulder, twinging in pain. Heavy lines crossed over it, with runes written in the segments, what he recognized now as a spell circle. His stomach turned with fear. He spent all evening scratches at it, working at it with a sponge, rubbing his hand over it till the skin tore and he gave up and smoked through half a pack. When the sun came up he made some black coffee and headed out to work early.

He was halfway through dealing with his last cabin around noon when the work had petered out, wondering how this job was going to keep giving him enough money to eat and pay the bills during the next couple months when they only checked the handful of cabins every other week. Even worse, what about the spring when the owners came back and they might not have anything to do at all if no one had special requests. He’d just locked the main cabin and gone down to the truck to start yard work, when he felt a call towards the witch’s house, like someone had said his name. The spot on his shoulder lit up, almost like a brand. “No,” he said, out loud. He dropped a leaf-blower on the ground and climbed into the driver’s seat, key in the ignition, head spinning, hands shaking, the irresistible urge to find Jimin and Taehyung pulling his foot down onto the gas.

“No, no way. Stop.” The truck rumbled out and down the road.

He never wanted anything to do with them again, never wanted to put himself at a world where he was at an even greater disadvantage than the one he was already in. He’d finished his tasks, gotten his rewards, and wanted out, and yet his hands stayed glued to the wheel as he drove down past the tree. He felt tied down, like he’d lost will over his own body, a puppet on strings. The house came into sight and his panic mounted, every bit of fear jumping back up in his throat, no calming potion to lock down his adrenaline now. This was the part where they sacrificed him, or turned him into a raccoon to live in the swamps. They were calling him back for punishment. He drove there, literally kicking and screaming in the driver’s seat.

They were waiting in the living room for him, and Taehyung held one end of a glowing golden chain that faded into the air and reappeared up towards Jungkook’s neck. His back hit the door, pressing like he meant to break right through it and run away, skin crawling like the very first time he’d been there, expecting something to grab him or jerk his feet out from under him, force its way down his throat or burn into his skin. “What did you bastards do to me?” he snarled. They looked at him like mild entertainment, like he was a dog, and Jungkook wished he could run.

“You’re bound to us now. You come when we call and do what we say.”

Bound? Like a slave? Oh. So he was a dog. Useful, maybe, but not a person, not to them or anybody else.

He’d never had a future to begin with. He’d always been the fastest, strongest, most talented person in the room, and it had gotten him a dead end job in the woods and a life he could barely afford to rot in. Jungkook had lost his family. He’d lost his security. He’d kept his freedom, but Jimin and Taehyung had lured him in on his own vanity and wonder, and taken even that from him. He’d always been some anonymous idiot that other people used. His eyes blurred with tears.

“I hate you,” he said, voice wobbling.

“Oh yeah?” Jimin said, giggling.

Jungkook grabbed the nearest table of plants and tipped it over. The witches both leapt up out of their seats, shrieking. Jungkook picked up a small blue plant in a seashell pot and hurled it through a window.

“Charlie!” Jimin screamed, trying to run past. Jungkook hooked him around the waist, heard all his breath woosh out in a satisfying hiccup, and threw him over the back of the couch. He’d lain on that couch two nights earlier, drugged up and watching Taehyung and Jimin fuck on the floor. He’d been on that couch when both witches had climbed into his lap and kissed him like he meant something to them. “Fuck you both,” he shrieked. “Let me go!”

Taehyung looked like his only child was dying on the ground in front of him, hands extended over the upturned table as he magically rewound its fall, tipping all the plants back up and into their containers. Jungkook came for him. He spun, erecting a shimmery shield in the air between them. Jungkook ripped it aside like a shower curtain and punched him across the cheek.

He’d been in a couple fights in his life with guys much bigger than Taehyung. He knew how to hit hard. Taehyung’s head whipped to the side like he was made of straw and he fell right over. Brandy jumped between them and yowled. “You don’t scare me, you stuck-up bag of fur!” Brandy fell silent, ears down, eyes wide, a little puffed up, leaning away with an expression of shock.

“Wait!” Jimin gasped, standing on the other side of the couch. “We’ll make it worth it for you!”

“Worth it? You just fucking enslaved me! I don’t want it to be worth it! Let me go!”

Jimin shook his head. “Not how it works. We’re bound for the next five years.” Jungkook stomped towards him and he backed up fast. “We’ll make it worth it! Anything you want for the next five years! Anything we can give you!” Like Brandy, Bubble ran between Jungkook and Jimin, squeaking imploringly.

“Get out of the way,” he growled. She continued bobbing and chirping nervously. Jimin stared between them, terrified, like he thought Jungkook would throw Bubble out the window too. All the fight melted out of him. He stood in the middle of the living room feeling like Frankenstein’s monster. Taehyung groaned on the ground behind him.

“I’m going to go fucking finish my work with Owen, and then I’ll come back and deal with this.”

Jimin gave him one curt nod and Jungkook stomped out of the house. From his truck, he watched Jimin and Bubble frantically reviving the tiny plant he’d thrown out the window. He beat back a little edge of guilt. Fuck their stupid plants. If they couldn’t treat people well, they didn’t deserve special plants.

 

He stayed with Owen after work much longer than he would normally have done, letting the sun sink lower and lower as he sat on the porch and slowly slowly drained a six-pack of beer. The sun set over the woods as Owen ranted about development companies buying up forest and destroying it.

He could feel a dim mental link like a storm cloud on the edge of his thoughts. Taehyung and Jimin were angry, and a little distressed. They got more worried as the day went on, until Jungkook felt the mental pull again, halfway through his sixth beer. His body got up out of his chair without even subconscious agency, which felt strangely dreamlike and a little floaty.

“Sorry, Owen. I gotta go.”

“No problem. Thanks for listening.”

Jungkook wished he could stay. Even Owen was better company than no one. Or witches.

The cold air bit through the open windows as Jungkook drove back down past the tree, which seemed to glow dimly from the roots under the last light of the sky. He’d figured that he should experience as much of the real world as possible before Taehyung and Jimin killed him and buried his body in the woods.

Taehyung magically tied him to a chair the moment he got inside, wrists and ankles pinned invisibly down. “So you don’t destroy anything else,” he said.

Jungkook remained sullenly silent. His life sucked. How could they possibly make it too much worse? Jimin was curled up on the couch with the little plant in his hands, scowling. Bubble sat under the end table beside him and and chewed on what looked like a slab of meatloaf.

“So witches do this pretty frequently,” Taehyung started.

“Enslave people? It’s shitty.”

“Sure,” Taehyung waved his hand, “from your perspective it is. With us its just how things work. We like having non-magical helpers. It’s usually a pretty good deal for both sides. You get magic favors. We get an errand runner.”

Just what Jungkook had always wanted to be when he grew up. He sighed through his nose.

“There’s an empathetic link between us. We can feel your emotions just a little, and you can feel ours. It’s dim and sometimes hard to notice, but it prevents people from being complete dicks to each other. Honestly, I don’t see what your issue is.”

“Can you look at this from my situation for a minute? I’m in danger all the time. You two can, and have taken advantage of me. More than once. You almost killed me, like, twice.”

“You did pretty well earlier,” Jimin muttered.

Taehyung shrugged. “Yeah, I don’t think we’re very good at this."

"The spell book was great with what to do," Jimin said, "but the details on etiquette were really sketchy. Maybe we should have discussed it with you beforehand, but it didn’t occur to us.”

“It occurred to me,” Taehyung said, “but I figured he’d say no. So I didn’t bother bringing it up.”

Jimin and Jungkook both stared at him for a minute. “You two are psychos,” Jungkook said, “This is seriously fucked up.”

“We’re witches, Kookie baby,” Jimin said. “We run by different rules. We’re all a little evil. You know what Taehyung’s special skill is? Mine is body magic, healing, but also hurting, good potions and potions that'll fuck you up worse than any poison. His force and manipulation. That’s part of the pain trick.”

“Manipulation?” Jungkook snapped.

“I mean, it's not really,” Taehyung said, a little self-consciously. “I’m good at fucking with people's heads, but I’m better at crafting and plant stuff, potion-making and all that.”

Jimin shrugged. “Potions can control minds.” Bubble growled as she tried to chew off a tough piece of meat. “Bubble? What are you—oh no, Taehyung, she’s stress-eating again.”

Bubble looked very caught, eyes wide as she looked up at Jimin. Taehyung looked very put-out.

“You’re going to make yourself throw up again,” Jimin said, leaning down and trying pull the meat away from his very territorial little cat, clinging with all four paws. Jimin picked it up and Bubble hung on like a sloth.

“I haven’t even used mind control on you,” Taehyung said, completely ignoring the scene behind him. Jimin had one hand on Bubble and one hand on the meat and was trying to pull them apart.

“That’s a lie,” Jimin muttered, and managed to separate the meat from the cat, who mewed piteously and stretched for it. “You already threw up once this morning. Cut it out. You have to stop stress-eating.”

Taehyung continued loudly over the scolding in the corner. “Okay, besides the burning thing, and the thing I’m using to hold you to the chair now.”

“Wait, this is in my mind?”

“Yeah, you only think you can’t move your arms. I’m tricking your brain into—oh.”

Jungkook lifted his arms up off the chair and crossed them, waiting for Taehyung to continue.

“How did you do that?”

“You told me it was in my head.”

“Yeah, but you overpowered it. How—you know what, never mind. You’re ours now. End of story. Don’t take it out on the plants.”

“For five years?” Jungkook said softly.

“Yup. You’re perfect. Young, capable guy, no close friends or family, and stuck in a dead-end life? Perfect. You’ve got nothing that makes you a liability.”

Tears welled up in Jungkook’s eyes before he could stop them.

“Job one,” Taehyung said, unsympathetic. “Fix the window you broke. It’s too dark now, so do it tomorrow. We've magically taped it up but I don't trust that to last effectively.”

Jungkook shook his head, trying to will his tears back into his eyes. “I’m leaving. I want to leave.”

“It’s already too dark.”

“Why can’t I go out at night?”

They looked uneasy. Bubble had started chewing on Jimin’s finger. “There’s a dragon in the swamp, and some really vicious cat-like demons that attack in a pack like wolves. The variety of magical plants here draws a lot of goblins, imps, and trolls, as well as all the other cool stuff. Don’t go outside at night. Our grounds are mostly protected, but between the clearing and the tree is a minefield. Don’t risk it. We just got you. It was hard magic and we’re both pretty excited. We don’t want you dead.”

“You’re a worst-case scenario waiting to happen,” Jimin said. “You seem to attract magic, even though you’re not a witch, and you don’t have the defensive methods that we do.”

“I can punch things better than you can,” Jungkook said to Taehyung, trying to keep the awful tremble out of his voice. “How’s your face?”

“Fine. Jimin can heal bruises in about five seconds. He can also punch pretty hard. You had him in your lap the other night. Did you see his arms? Or can you even remember that?”

“You both kissed me,” Jungkook said weakly.

“We kiss everyone. We’ll fucking kiss each other. Don’t worry about it. Doesn’t mean anything.”

“You didn’t think that it might hurt?” Jungkook said, voice rough and high, “Someone actually acts like they care about me, and it's to fucking enslave me?”

“Yeah yeah, we get that you’re lonely, but shut up,” Jimin said, “We’re not enslaving you. You’re bound to us. It’s different.” His attention was back on the little plant in his hands. Bubble sulked with her back to the room.

Jungkook battled back his tears, staring furiously at the ceiling.

“Jimin, are you going to make dinner or not,” Taehyung sighed.

“No.”

“Okay, I’ll do it. Charlie will either be fine, or he won’t be, but you’re not helping anything by sitting and staring at him. Put him where he’ll get some sun and stop worrying about it.” Both witches left the room. Jungkook climbed the stairs up to the room he’d stayed in two nights ago, climbed under the blankets, and stared out the dark window until he went to sleep. He thought he saw lights away in the trees a few times, and when he dreamed, he dreamed of being trapped in a cage underwater while a glowing catfish-dragon swam around him and laughed.

 

He nearly dropped the glass for the window repair right over the side of his truck. His hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Owen had given him some cigarettes and sent him home early after finding out he hadn’t eaten anything in over two days. Jungkook had planned to come in, fix the window, and drive out before anyone even talked to him. He’d gotten halfway through the cheapest, ugliest window fix he’d ever done when Jimin walked around the side of the house with a stack of grilled cheese sandwiches and a hot mug of coffee.

Jungkook nearly choked on the first sandwich and had to sit down. He got half down and held a cigarette up. “Light, please?”

Jimin pursed his lips and lit it with the tip of his finger. “You shouldn’t do that.”

“Why not? You can just heal my lungs, right?”

“Yeah, but still. It’s a bad habit.”

Jungkook shrugged. “Not like you care. I’m just a sad little servant, right? I thought you liked me smelling like cigarette smoke.”

Jimin knelt down beside him, knees spread so he could sag gracefully between them, and took something out of his pocket. “Do you want this phone case?”

“You know how weird it is to have a witch handing me a phone case?”

“Not that weird. We all use phones too. Anyway, phone case. My brave attempt at crafting. It’s wooden, and the inlaid design is jade.”

It was heavier in his hand than he expected, a beautiful little polished wood case with the shapes of fish swimming across it, pines and palmettos etched in the background. “Like the ones in the woods,” he said. “This is beautiful.”

“You can have it, if you want. I made it for you.”

Jungkook raised an eyebrow. “And you act like you don’t care. It feels kind of flimsy.”

“Look inside.”

He turned it over and saw saw little spell circles etched into the wood.

“It’ll waterproof and shatterproof your phone. Like, drop it out of a plane into the ocean, and it would be fine.”

Jungkook peeled his old, five-dollar black case from Walmart off his used iPhone 5c, scratched up and cracked already, and clipped the new case onto it. “Thank you.”

“No problem. Thanks for fixing the window you broke. Sorry about not debriefing you on the plan before-hand.”

“Not gonna apologize for enslaving me?”

“I’m not sorry for that,” Jimin said, nose in the air, flicking his hair off his forehead, “And it's not slavery. We’re yours too. It works both ways. There’s an old system between humans and witches going on here. You burn us, and we control you.”

“Why are all the sweaters you wear three sizes too big for you?”

Jimin blinked blankly at him and shifted awkwardly on his knees. The collar sat wide and uneven on his shoulders and it draped way below his belt-line, the back caught up on the swell of his butt. “They look cute,” he said, pulling the sleeves a little further down over his fingers.

“Do you ever wear shirts under those?”

“Sometimes.”

Jungkook stared contemplatively. “You wearing one right now?”

Jimin pulled the hem of his sweater up to reveal bare skin, his abs rippling softly up from the plane between his hips. He had that cute little rune in his navel. Jungkook reached out and ran one hand gently up over his chest, testing to see if what he'd let him do the other night was just a product of the high. Jimin sat there on his knees, one hand still holding his shirt up a little, beginning to shiver in the cool air, and held his breath, eyes wide on Jungkook’s face. Jungkook grabbed one nipple and pinched. Jimin gasped, sweater paws slamming reflexively into Jungkook’s hand over his shirt, which only jammed Jungkook’s hand to the nipple. He massaged it gently. Jimin’s eyes squeezed shut. For the first time in days, Jungkook felt a little control over the situation.

“You control me, huh?” Jungkook said, admiring the deep pink flush on Jimin’s round cheeks. “If you say so, cutie.”

Jimin moaned softly, chest pressing into his hand. Jungkook pulled it away and stood up, feeling a little vindictive. “Gotta finish work.”

Jimin stared up from under his lashes and ran his fingers through his hair, looking a little lost, but then grabbed Jungkook’s thigh and used it to stand, and hovered close, hands brushing Jungkook’s side. “When you’re finished, come inside for dinner,” he murmured, “I’ll send Bubble out with some hand-warmers.”

“Bubble is a hand-warmer,” Jungkook said.

Bubble came out ten minutes later with two wire rings in her mouth, a small pink stone in each. Jungkook slid the rough wires skeptically over one finger on each hand, and got the wonderful feeling of sinking his hands into warm water. “Oh god, that’s amazing.”

Bubble rubbed his ankle and purred until Jungkook picked her up. “Do you stress eat, Bubble?” he asked. She just climbed up and settled on his shoulder. He was worried, at first, about throwing her off as he worked, but she buried her claws in his leather coat and hung on.

He went inside to finish the window, and Bubble scampered off after a beetle, leaving him alone in the living room, poking around at stuff to see if anything acted particularly magical.

If Taehyung wasn’t a great craftsman, Jungkook really wanted to see what master craftsmen in the witch world got up to, because the room was covered in incredible touches. What had obviously once been an old, ugly couch, had been intricately carved and embroidered. “Did he make this?” Jungkook asked Brandy, who was licking her paw. She shook her head. “Oh. That makes more sense then.”

“Brought that from home,” Taehyung said. “It’s Dad’s old couch. His roommate decorated it in school. I made this though!” He held out a wooden globe put together like a puzzle with different pieces of wood. The countries were a bit rough, the edges simplified, but it was beautiful.

“Wow.”

“You can’t have this. I’m keeping it.”

"Why would I want it?”

Taehyung scowled, hurt.

“Go away. I’m trying to fix your fucking window.”

“You’re not as nice as we thought you were.”

“Getting buyer's remorse? I’ve just been impressed into servitude. I’m in a pretty bad mood.”

“With an aura like yours you were probably going to run into magic sooner or later,” Taehyung said as he walked out. “You should be thankful it was us and not someone really nasty.”

Jungkook had to sit still for a minute to overcome the urge to smash the rest of the glass in the window since it would probably end up as more work for him.

Taehyung danced outside the window, bouncing around like a cartoon character, waving two sticks that had steady streams of smoke coming out the ends. Jimin started tossing balls of mud at him, which hardened in midair and burst on contact with a bang. Taehyung shrieked and Jimin chased him twice around the entire house before they both ran inside. Taehyung slammed the kitchen door shut and locked it. Jimin grabbed Bubble off the floor and shoved the end of her tail in the lock. It clicked and Jimin yanked it open, still screaming. Bubble meowed in confusion.

Dinner was surprisingly calm after that mess. Jungkook ate his spaghetti with chopsticks, because that was all they had clean at that moment, beautiful chopsticks with jewels set at the tips, but chopsticks nonetheless.

“Sun is setting,” Taehyung said, “looks like you’re staying with us again tonight.”

“That's fine. The bed upstairs is nicer than mine.”

“Cool. You can watch me make potions.” He took off his baggy coat and got to work looking much smaller in his loose green shirt, all thin, boyish lines and shaggy hair. “So potions,” he said, turning around and slamming a bowl on the table, an alarmingly normal, plain, purple, plastic bowl, “are pretty cool.”

Jungkook raised an eyebrow. “Modern magic is a huge-mishmash of traditions from all over the planet. There are a hundred ways to do every single thing. Except for really obscure, powerful spells, but those are kind of famous, mostly, like the spell to travel through portals, the technique for dealing with sphinxes, and Jimin’s acne potion. Potion-making is a system that went way out of fashion during the scientific revolution and era of colonization because non-magic people started doing the same thing, you know, chemistry, and new methods of magic were being popularized all over the globe because of new access to other cultures. Spells and hands-on methods of magic were a lot flashier and more interesting. Potion-making was seen as slow, outdated, and expensive.”

“Let’s not forget that witches were using potions to make some really really nasty poisons, and anyone who made potions was suspected of treachery and murder,” Jimin said. He’d lost a rock-paper-wand game, and had to wash dishes.

“Yeah. And that. Bad associations,” Jimin measured out half a cup of some beige powder and threw it in the bowl. “But potions interact directly with the body, so they can do really cool things that no other type of magic can, and we lost a lot of that when the world gave it up. There’s a potions revival market beginning to open up, and we’re jumping on that train. Potions are cool. They’re a lot more impersonal than other methods of magic. Some of them deal entirely with magical materials only, and don’t involve human magic at all, so even you could make them.” Jungkook sat up a little.

“That got your attention, right?” He crushed a dried frog to powder and threw it in the bowl. “Most potions taste terrible, by the way.”

Jungkook’s nose crinkled. “Don’t worry, you’re not magical, so most of the potions that have any effect on you are made entirely of plants. You don’t have any magic for magical ingredients to interact with. You won’t ever have to drink rain eel and gryphon barf tonic to cure you of lying syndrome.”

“Did you ever actually have lying syndrome,” Jimin said, “or do you just lie a lot?”

Taehyung stopped crushing a tablespoon of seeds in a mortar and turned around. “Lying syndrome doesn’t exist, Jimin. It’s a trick they use on little kids to make them more honest. Did your mom never let you in on that?”

Jimin’s plate slipped out of his hand and smashed on the edge of the sink. “What?

Jungkook hid his smile behind his chopsticks.

“There is a strain of imp flu that makes you excessively dishonest, and then there are compulsive liars, but lying syndrome isn’t a thing.”

Jimin shook her head. “I’m not going to talk to her for the rest of the month and I ain’t even gonna tell her why.”

Taehyung giggled. Jimin twisted a ring on his finger and then fixed the broken plate with a flick of his hand.

“Jimin was his mom’s favorite,” Taehyung said. “She babied him until he was sixteen. Like literally babied him. Made him sit in her lap until he got taller than her, which took a while.”

“Shut up,” Jimin said. “No she didn’t. I learned a lot of awesome stuff from Mom, and she’s amazing. Be nice.”

“She’s pretty cool. She’s just manipulative and overprotective and controlling as fuck.”

“She doesn’t know where we live,” Jimin added, “One of the protective spells on this house is to keep her away. I love my mother, but she won’t let me be.”

“Still treats him like he’s ten,” Taehyung muttered. “Get’s mad when he swears. Tried to explain to him that people sometimes have sex out of wedlock two years after the first time I fucked him, and he was already more experienced than I was when that happened.”

“She’s a little delusional, paranoid and naïve at the same time,” Jimin said. “Really skilled at potions though. I think Bubble got some of her magic.”

Bubble was playing with the steam coming off a pot on the stove.

“You’ll probably meet her someday soon,” Jimin said, “Now that you’re ours. She’ll be so proud. She might treat you like a pet though, because you’re not magical. That’s kind of how a lot of our people see you guys. Don't take it personally.”

Jungkook’s warm feelings towards this odd little family deflated with a frustrated wheeze.

“Bubble, stop eating that.” Bubble blinked blankly up at Jimin with a piece of paper hanging out of her mouth. Jimin plucked it out of her mouth and looked at it. “Protective spell from the window. You’re right. I should go put a new one on the fixed window. I’ll do that right now. Kookie, you’re on dishes.”

Jungkook scowled and shuffled over to the sink. “Sponge?” he asked.

“For dishes?” Jimin asked, confused, and Jungkook stared at him until he said. “Oh right. Sorry. I use a…” He held up his hand and the air in it started looking a bit fluffier. “Okay. I’ll finish in a minute,” he went back to his paper and ink, butt stuck out in the kitchen, baggy sweater clinging. “Jungkook, I bet we could teach you to draw spells. You wouldn’t be able to activate them, but that could be cool. Oh, and I know you’re staring at my ass.” He held up his hand. “I have a ring that tells me when people are thinking sexy thoughts at it. Mom gave it to me for safety purposes but I just use it to get laid.”

Jungkook stared hard at his butt and thought hard about groping it. Jimin giggled and clutched his left hand. “Stop that! It tickles!” He said, “Sit with Tae and behave while I put these on the windows.”

Jungkook sat down beside Taehyung because he had to. Jimin's order left him no will to do otherwise. Taehyung poured some potion into a line of small glass beakers. “He’s got a nice ass,” Taehyung said. “I stare all the time. It’s the best thing to play with during sex.”

“Are you sure you two aren’t together?”

“Yeah. We’re just two lonely boys in the woods with needs, you know? But it's always a little weird the next morning. I’m just saying, you should hit that sometime.” He picked up a handful of stones and dropped one into the first beaker. Nothing happened. He made a note of it. He dropped a different rock in the next one. It turned clear. “Yup. Good,” he muttered, and made a note.

“What are you doing?”

“Potion experimentation. I’m trying to find a potion that makes you levitate. People used to be able to do that.”

Jimin came back into the kitchen. “I’m pretty sure a potion that counteracts gravity is going to have ingredients a little more rare than a leopard frog, Merlin beetles, and marijuana seeds.”

“Well no. No one knows what the ingredients might be. Pretty much everyone agrees on dragon horn, but the rest is a mystery. But if we knew which gem has a reaction to Merlin beetles, who have some control over the effect gravity has on them, we might have us another ingredient. All the other stuff is just to stabilize it.”

“You really think people haven’t tried that?”

He dropped another stone into it. The glass cracked apart and leaked potion everywhere.

“Interesting,” Taehyung said after a pause. He dropped a stone in the next one and the whole potion shot upwards like a fountain.

“I’m out,” Jungkook said, right before Jimin started nagging.

Jungkook decided to go on a self-guided tour of the house, since he didn’t really give a shit about being rude and just wanted to spit in someone’s face. He opened one door, and found Brandy sitting on the bed staring at him. “Taehyung’s room, right?” he asked. It was covered in unfolded clothes. She ran past him out the door. “Going to tell on me?” He said, watching her supernaturally graceful gallop down the hallway.

Jimin’s room was spotlessly clean. The portrait of a woman on his vanity looked exactly like him but older. Charlie, the little plant, sat in the window. It felt different than Taehyung’s room, which had felt very normal and human. This one felt like it was full of power. Slowly turning circular globes hovered near the ceiling. Something that looked like a mirror reflected back a huge, homey, extravagantly furnished room that looked nothing like anything in the house. He closed the door carefully.

The last room on the top floor was a library, four walls of shelves set into the walls and partially filled with books, gaps for the windows. A worn-in sitting area filled the center, and a desk beneath one window was covered in open books, scratch paper, and pens. He felt like he was walking into a pocket of Hogwarts, everything clean and bright and so different from the rest of the house that he checked the doorway for portals, maybe a soft glowing line around the door or a distortion in the air.

“I write the potions books in here,” Jimin said from right behind his shoulder. Jungkook jumped. “Taehyung has awful handwriting. It’s my favorite room. How’s your skin doing with my potion?”

“Can I read the books?” Jungkook said as Jimin turned him around and examined his cheek with careful fingers.

“Don’t know why you would. They’re all books about magic.”

“Why wouldn’t I want to read about magic?”

Jimin hummed, smiling, and held out a bright green, flat jewel on a pendant. He slid it over Jungkook’s cheek, then pulled down his collar to look at the skin right under, pressing gently. “No strange reaction to the potion. I was worried you might reject it since you’re not magic. It was unlikely, but there was a chance. It’s always hard to tell how magic will affect those without it. Depends on whether or not the spell reacts directly with the magic inside the other person, and its often hard to tell which spells do that.”

“Is that why I could tug down Taehyung’s shield yesterday?”

“Yeah, I saw that. You’re at least partially resistant to his magic. It happens sometimes, non-magic people having some resistance. Tae's mom is like that.”

Jungkook smirked. Jimin gave him a cool, challenging look, and then turned him around so he faced the doorframe, pulled his shirt all the way up, and bunched it at his neck. “You know, one thing we’re all going to need in this set-up is trust.” Jungkook shivered a little. Jimin’s cold fingers drew down his spine, and then across his shoulders. He held his breath, tense and waiting. “Loosen up, Jungkook,” Jimin said with his soft little voice, “Be a good boy and trust me, okay?” He ruined it by giggling.

“Are you done?” Jungkook growled.

“Shouldn’t you be adding a ‘sir’ onto the end of that?” Jimin said, raspy in his ear with his chin on Jungkook’s shoulder, “I’m your master now, you know.”

Jungkook tried to pull his shirt down, shaking his head. Jimin kept it up, reached his hand under Jungkook’s arms, and the glowing gold chain appeared in his hand, leading up to Jungkook’s neck. “Ours,” Jimin said, and Jungkook could feel his happiness like an aura seeping into his head, messing with his thoughts.

He turned around, shirt pulling out of Jimin grasp, still inches away from his grinning face. “Stop fucking lording it over me. I fucking hate this. Why the hell would I trust you?”

“You’re not resisting a whole lot," Jimin said easily, "You’ll get used to it.”

“I don’t want to. Don’t treat me like your fucking pet.”

“We finally have a bonded servant. It’s exciting! There are so many things we want you to do for us. Maybe we should put you in a collar and teach you tricks.” He said, round cheeks glowing, curvy eye-smile infuriatingly bright.

Jungkook’s hands knotted in the front of his sweater. “Don’t you dare, you little shit. Don’t fucking mess with me.” Jimin’s back hit the opposite side of the doorframe as Jungkook shouldered up, got in his face. Jimin eyes glazed over a little, head tilting way back, eyes hooded, and Jungkook got the ridiculous sharp urge to bite into his pale throat.

“You’re thinking sexy thoughts, Jungkook,” he moaned, “My ring can tell.” He leaned closer, lips reaching for a kiss.

Jungkook let go and stomped off down the hallway, heading back to Taehyung’s crazy experiments in the kitchen.

“You could just have sex with him,” Taehyung said when he walked in. He’d abandoned his experiments and was instead organizing little jars of herbs into a fancy box.

“What?”

“I'm beginning to feel both of your thoughts a little, which is interesting. It's an empathetic link. Side-effect of the bond. I knew Jimin was a bit of a slut, but I didn’t know how strongly he felt about getting laid until just now. He must really like sex or really think you’re something special.”

Jungkook shook that off. “He says I’m resistant to spells.”

“Yeah, you’re non-magic so a lot of things just flat out don’t work on you, but I think you’re a little resistant to magic in general. You should have seen the way your body fought the binding. I thought we’d be in the ritual room till you sobered up. How’s your shoulder, by the way? Let me see it.”

Jungkook obediently pulled his sleeve up over the mark and Taehyung came to check on it using a flat green stone like the one Jimin had used to check his skin upstairs. “That’s really settling in nicely. Wow. Like, I didn’t expect the spell to stop resisting for another week.” His grin turned sly. “You sure you’re not enjoying this?”

“Yes!”

Taehyung gave him a doubtful look. “For someone who resisted the spell so strongly when we cast it, your body sure is accepting it easily now. I’m just saying.” His hands ran appreciatively up and down Jungkook’s arm, squeezing lightly.

“You two need to stop examining me as an excuse to look at my body.” He was half joking, but Taehyung looked up coquettishly through his bangs, and then leaned in and pressed his lips to the mark on his shoulder. He bit gently.

“Weren’t you just telling me to fuck Jimin?” he murmured. “What are you doing?”

“Can’t I pet my puppy when I want to?” Taehyung said, low voice soft as cotton.

Puppy. Someone called him puppy once in high school. Jungkook had lit his backpack on fire and never got caught. “I don’t think you two really understand who you’ve chained yourselves to yet.”

“Really? Are you dangerous, Jukkie?”

“I’m not going to be your puppy, and I’m not going to let you order me around like one, either of you.”

“You have so much bark, but where’s your bite, baby?”

Jungkook snapped at Taehyung ear with his teeth, not bothering to be gentle. He felt a little alarmed at himself, but Taehyung yelped, hands latching onto Jungkook’s shoulders, and Jungkook felt a distant stir of arousal and shock, the echo of Taehyung’s emotions down the empathetic link. His self-control unraveled, fierce and wanting. He had two cute boys at the other end of his leash, flirting and happy to have him there. He’d never had anyone before.

He grabbed Taehyung by the waist, thin and boyish like the rest of him. “You’re kind of small, puppy,” Jungkook growled, muffled around Taehyung’s ear. He squeezed and Taehyung whimpered a little, clinging to Jungkook’s shirt.

Jealousy and hurt joined the empathetic link, little twinges at the edge of his awareness. Jungkook slid his eyes over to the doorway to see Jimin standing partly behind the doorframe with his eyes wide, one sweater paw over his mouth, cute and sexy. Jungkook beckoned him over with one hand. Jimin came slowly, the hurt fading. Jungkook wrapped an arm around his waist, crushing him in against his body and reaching his mouth down towards Jimin’s neck. Why not let himself have this?

Jimin squeaked in panic and activated the glowing chain, pulling it taut. Jungkook froze and waited, and then Jimin released him and he bit down on Jimin’s soft shoulder, his arms full of cute, breathless witches, wonderful want streaking down the empathy link.

“I’m in charge, sir,” Jungkook said, “You’re mine too, right? Works both ways? You said you’d give me anything I want?”

“Yes,” Jimin whispered. Jungkook kissed his lips, sober and without panic this time, able to really appreciate they way they squished against his. He squeezed a little tighter, Jimin’s solid waist on one side, and Taehyung’s wafer-thin one on the other. Jimin moaned into the kiss, hands already trembling against Jungkook’s chest. He bounced up on his toes to be even with Jungkook’s height. Jungkook’s heart pounded in his chest. He hadn’t kissed a boy in years, not since some giant, ugly asshole at his classmate’s cabin in the coat closet late at night with the rest of the party raging right outside, back when he’d still been so small and so scared. Things were different now.

Taehyung pulled on Jungkook's chain, wrapping it around his hand and dragging Jungkook closer. Jimin whined as Jungkook switched to Taehyung, eyes opening to see Taehyung playfully side-eyeing Jimin. He growled. Taehyung giggled and closed his eyes, focusing on the kiss. Jimin’s head thunked onto Jungkook’s shoulder. “Jungkookie,” he purred, one hand squirming down their bodies and over the front of his jeans, “Are you a virgin?”

“No,” he grunted, and felt Taehyung smirk against his lips.

“Ever had sex with a guy?”

“No,” Jungkook said again. Jimin giggled happily and tapped his belt buckle. His pants undid themselves, which felt a little disorienting.

“Couch,” Taehyung muttered, and shoved them all towards the kitchen door. Jimin got ahold of Jungkook shirt on the way there and helped it over his head. Brandy leapt up off of the couch just as Jimin pushed Jungkook down onto it, the flash of her golden tail disappearing into the kitchen. Taehyung came up behind Jimin and licked a delicate stripe up his neck, pulling his sweater slowly up his chest, over the perfect abs, the pronounced pecs that Jungkook had seen spread out in his lap two nights before, even more mouth-watering than he remembered.

Jungkook leaned forward to jerk his fly open, and yanked Jimin’s pants down his thick thighs, a little surprised when Jimin wiggled his hips unselfconsciously, dick bouncing. “What’s this for?” Jungkook asked, tracing the tattoo on his hip with a thumb.

“Disease prevention,” Jimin sighed. “Doesn’t catch everything, and nothing magical, but it gets STIs.”

“You saying I can fuck you bare?”

“Huh?”

“Without condoms,” Taehyung said. “Non-magical birth control. It’s like a latex dick sleeve.”

“A what?” Jimin said, stepping awkwardly out of his pants. “What the hell is latex?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jungkook said, impatient to finally get his dick in a guy, and sucked the tip of Jimin’s semi into his mouth. Jimin’s whole body sagged against Taehyung and he hardened under Jungkook’s lips. The chain re-appeared in Jimin’s hand, tugging Jungkook’s neck insistently forward.

“Stop that,” he said, pulling off.

“Don’t like being on a leash?” Jimin said, smirking. Jungkook mimed biting his dick, but Jimin only pulled him forward with the chain till his nose rubbed against Jimin’s cock. He sighed pointedly, but licked it, willing to let it go for the time being if it was getting Jimin off. He heard them kissing above him, and small, high moans like music notes, Jimin’s angelic voice growing warm and heady.

Taehyung shoved Jimin forward and Jungkook popped off and jerked all the way back against the cushions, closing his legs a little so Jimin could put his knees on either side of them, elbows on Jungkook’s shoulder, butt stuck out towards Taehyung. Jimin licked sweetly at his lips and then slid his tongue into Jungkook’s mouth. Jungkook pulled his sweater off his shoulders, leaving him in nothing but his jewelry, rings covering his fingers, pendants that normally hid under his clothes, and silver bands tight around his arms. He had a large, silver band around one thigh with runes all over it.

“You’re so sparkly,” Jungkook murmured with a smile, “Why doesn’t Taehyung have any of this?”

“He got most of those from his mom,” Taehyung said. “It’s all pass-down house-keeping magic. And I don't use spells.” Jungkook reached up and pinched both of Jimin’s nipples at the same time that Jimin jerked forward with a gasp, back caving. His head dropped onto Jungkook’s shoulder and he groaned high and long, twitching.

“Jimin, what?”

“Just shoved a couple fingers up his ass,” Taehyung said.

“Wh-wait, don’t you need lube?”

“It’s magic lube,” Taehyung said, holding his dripping fingers where Jungkook could see them. “I was thinking you could fuck him, and then I’ll fuck you. You okay with that?”

“Fuck. Do that,” Jimin said, “please.” He yanked his vibrating ring off his hand, muttering “tickles,” under his breath.

Jungkook shook his head at Taehyung. “Wanna fuck both of you.”

Taehyung hesitated. “Trying to make some sort of statement here, puppy?”

“Yup.” If this was going to set the tone for their time together, he wanted all the control he could get.

“Ever had anything up your ass?”

“No.”

Taehyung stared at him for a while, considering carefully. “Okay. Later. You can fuck me tonight. Sure you can make it through Jimin?”

“Nope. Sucks for you.”

Taehyung sighed and went back to work on Jimin’s ass. Jimin moaned into Jungkook’s shoulder, clinging tight as Jungkook played with his nipples. His long pendants brushed cold over Jungkook’s chest.

“You like being the center of attention, huh?” he said.

“Mhm,” Jimin sighed.

“Owen would have a heart attack if he saw me now,” Jungkook said.

“Under two men with a golden chain around your neck?” Taehyung said, doing something that made Jimin mewl in his ear.

“Is this something witches normally do with their humans?” he asked.

“Do non-magical people usually have sex with their pets?” Taehyung returned, and Jungkook glowered. “Kidding, kidding. That’s an unfair parallel. No, it's not normal, but sometimes it happens.”

“It’s illegal in some countries because of consent issues,” Jimin murmured into his neck. “Not in the states, but some places. Not really enforceable though. Shouldn’t be banned when most adults can cooperate and not be assholes to eachoth—Tae! Do that again!”

“Countries where it's banned see it as bestiality,” Taehyung said, twisting his wrist viciously as Jimin buried his face in Jungkook’s shoulder, gasping.

“I’m not a fucking animal. Hurry up so I can fuck him.”

Taehyung smirked and Jimin squirmed and whimpered against Jungkook, back bowed harshly. Jungkook rubbed two steadying hands down his back and kissed the side of his face that he could reach.

“Babydoll,” he murmured.

“Fuck yes,” Jimin whispered.

“Can you suck my dick, beautiful?”

“Tae, let me down on the floor, please,” Jimin said. Jungkook rubbed his hair affectionately, like his best friend wasn’t fingering his ass.

Jimin looked up at his easy smirk as he moved slowly to the floor, tugging Jungkook’s jeans off as he went. Taehyung moved to the side so he could still reach but didn’t have to back up even further, smirking up at Jungkook. “Just two days ago you never wanted to see us again. Changed your mind?”

Jungkook huffed indignantly, a little embarrassed by how distant that desire seemed now. “If you can’t beat ‘em, make friendly and dom the fuck out of them when they least expect it. That’s how the saying goes, right?”

Jimin giggled breathlessly. “I’ve never met a better bonded servant than you, babe. You’re so perfect.” His hand wrapped around Jungkook’s cock, stubby fingers only barely getting all the way around, and Jungkook shivered and snickered.

“Your small hand makes me feel bigger.”

“Ah! Don’t be a jerk!” Jimin whined and tried to pull away, but Jungkook grabbed his wrist and kept him there. Jimin whined and bit his thigh, fingers wrapping reluctantly back around and stroking. “Mm, you’re bigger than Tae,” he said.

“Bullshit,” Tae muttered. His head rested on Jimin’s shoulder, watching Jimin’s hand on Jungkook’s dick.

“You’re not that big, honey.”

Jungkook giggled. This seemed like the best perk to get out of a bad situation.

“He’s not as big as some of the toys we use,” Taehyung said, and then, to Jungkook, “You’re not special.”

“I think I’m pretty special to have two beautiful witches literally chaining me to themselves. Thirsty fucks.” He got one hand on the back of Jimin’s head and one hand on the back of Taehyung’s and guided them both towards his dick. For someone who thought Jungkook’s dick was nothing special, Taehyung opened up fast, sighing breathily and wrapping his tongue around Jungkook’s crown as Jimin kissed up the side with an open mouth. When they met at the tip, tongues sliding together and lips brushing, Jungkook’s eyes shut and his neck gave out, head thumping back on the couch.

“Look at me, honey,” Jimin moaned, and Jungkook struggled to tilt his head back down and stare Jimin in his sultry, hooded, needy eyes. Jimin was facing Taehyung now, hips angled forward to he could reach between Jimin’s legs and continue thrusting three fingers into him.

“Anyone want an aphrodisiac?” Taehyung said, lips still trailing over the head of Jungkook’s dick, wet from Jimin’s mouth.

“No way,” Jungkook said immediately. “You drugged me last time. Not again. Next time you’ll put an electric collar on me that ties me to the house.”

“We wouldn’t! And that was just weed,” Taehyung whined.

“It was not just weed.”

“Magical weed.”

“I want one,” Jimin said without really taking his tongue out of Jungkook’s slit, “the aphrodisiac.”

“Of course you do. That’s why I asked.”

Taehyung got up and started shedding his clothes as he walked back to the kitchen. He came back with a handful of tiny vials just as Jungkook was settling Jimin on his back on the couch, crammed in between his legs.

“Sure you don’t want a bedroom?” Taehyung asked.

“I like this for now,” Jungkook said. “I’m staying out of your rooms for a while.”

“I’ve got a mirror on my ceiling for a reason you know,” Jimin said.

Jungkook’s dick sat up in interest, but he still remembered the chilly power of Jimin’s room, and the absolute fucking wreck of Taehyung’s.

Taehyung had his lubed fingers back between Jimin’s legs, opening the tiny vials and emptying them into Jimin’s mouth with the other. He drank one himself and then handed the last to Jungkook. “For stamina. You’re going to need it.”

Jungkook drank it gladly. There was no telling how long he’d last otherwise. He had only his right hand for company for so long. He could feel it sinking, cold and heavy into his stomach, and then felt a numb kind of pressure shoot through his veins and pool in his balls. “Oh, fuck, that’s super weird. I don’t like that.”

“You never seem to like magic the first time you see it,” Taehyung said, face twisted up strangely after drinking his own potion, “But you’ll like this once we get started.”

Jimin’s eyebrows furrowed hard, teeth gritting. “Ah, it always fucking hurts.”

Taehyung’s smirk curled smugly. “Mhm.”

“This is a little…” Jimin’s eyes widened and his back snapped taught with a gasp like he was coming right there. “Oh, fuck. That’s the strong one. Holy hell.” One of Jimin’s rings sparked to life, crackling and glowing blue. “Ha. My ring thinks its poison,” Jimin gasped, voice high at the top of his range, cracking and breathy. “Ugggh, Tae. Oh god.” He squirmed, muscles tight, head thrown back, face already desperate, and Jungkook was very, very glad he’d just taken a stamina potion.

“What does it feel like?” he asked.

“Feels like, fuck, feels like I really need you. Everything aches. Please please touch me.”

“Paired it with a sensitivity potion,” Taehyung snickered.

“Fuck you! Why do I always trust you with this shit?”

Jungkook lifted his hips off the couch just a little and lined up. Jimin’s knees clutched Jungkook’s sides weakly, hands tugging the throw pillow under his head.

“Look at you, sir,” Jungkook hissed as he slid in and Jimin arched right up off the coach, keening. Jungkook took a minute to breath, eyes screwed shut at the tight feeling of Jimin around him. “Love having a dick in your ass, don’t you?”

Taehyung moaned beside him, and Jungkook looked down to see him with one set of sticky fingers behind himself, wrist moving. His other hand clutched Jimin’s arm so hard Jungkook knew there’d be bruises there.

“Kookie, please,” Jimin whimpered, a tear sliding down his temple and into his hair.

“Legs on my shoulders, Babydoll.”

Jimin complied weakly, and that tightened him around Jungkook’s cock. Jungkook grunted and started thrusting with intent to hurt. Jimin tossed back his head and wailed. Bubble hopped up on the back of the couch to see what the issue was, lost balance, and tumbled down the back into Jimin’s neck. “Mrrowr?”

“Bubble?” Jimin whimpered.

Taehyung doubled over giggling, head on the couch, fingers still inside himself, and Jungkook stilled and watched Jimin, still shuddering, wrap an arm around the furry, white ball and hold her up. “Baby, you shouldn’t be jumping in here.”

“Meep.”

“I’m fine. Are you okay?”

“Prroo.”

“Yeah. I’m just getting my soul fucked out of me. You should go, like, take a nap or something.”

Jungkook snickered and Bubble looked back at him. She looked a little embarrassed, so Jungkook gave her a few soft pets, jostling Jimin’s legs on his shoulders to reach, and Jimin nearly dropped Bubble as he trembled.

“Maybe you should put her down.”

Jimin lowered Bubble to the floor and Jungkook started again, short, sharp little thrusts that had Jimin jolting and moaning through his teeth.

“Do your familiars always interrupt you during sex?” Jungkook asked.

“Usually we stay in his room and lock the door,” Taehyung said, “But whenever we’re out in the house, Bubble always finds a way to interrupt because she’s a shameless attention whore, and Brandy sometimes sits off to the side and looks like she’s judging us. She’s standing on top of the kitchen door right now.

Sure enough, there she was, staring Jungkook right in the eyes from on top of the very narrow kitchen door. “Is that magic?” Jungkook gasped.

“Standing on the door? No, I think that’s just a cat thing.”

“Are all familiars cats?”

“Is now really the time for this conversation?” Jimin moaned, fingers tugging at his own nipples.

“God, you’re so hot,” Jungkook muttered.

“God?” Taehyung said with a smirk. “We’re more about Satan here. Witches are his servants, you know.”

“Don’t bring your fucking Catholic school superstitions into this,” Jimin said.

“Stop bickering when I’m fucking you,” Jungkook said.

Jimin activated the golden chain. “Don’t order us around, hun.”

“D-Please don’t treat me like a pet, Babydoll,” Jungkook snarled and wrapped a hand around Jimin’s dick, who dropped the chain immediately, thrashing and gasping. Jungkook’s other hand yanked on his collection of pendants. “And I’m not the only one here with a leash. Don’t try me.”

“Harder, please. Fuck me harder. Harder!”

Jungkook dropped down onto his forearms over Jimin’s body, and dutifully pounded harder. Not like he really had a choice once Jimin gave the order. Jimin bent so easily under him. He sank his teeth into Jimin’s neck, sucked on the purple bite mark, and then trailed kisses up his jaw to his mouth. Jimin opened up with a sigh. His makeup had started to run in shimmery black streaks under his eyes and down his face.

“You sure you don’t want me to finger you open and fuck you up?” Taehyung murmured from beside him.

“I’m sure. I’m coming for you right after this. He’s not gonna last much longer.”

“That’s true, but with that potion he’s not gonna be done when you’re finished.”

“Fuck him yourself then,” Jungkook said. “I’ll watch.”

Jimin was too far gone, small, chubby fingers fumbling with his nipples as Jungkook bent over him and snapped his hips in. “This is awesome lube,” he hissed out.

“Doesn’t wear out till you want it to,” Taehyung moaned, arching back as he thrust his fingers deeper into himself.

“Jukkie, I’m going to make you do this to me all the time,” Jimin groaned. “Fuck, you’re so good. Taehyung, just wait till you’re on his dick. You’ll never want mine again. Fuck.”

Jungkook smirked proudly.

“Better come fast,” Taehyung growled. “I want a turn.” He leaned forward and sucked Jimin’s dick into his mouth. Jimin sobbed, visibly trembling all over. Jungkook wound his fingers into Taehyung’s soft hair and pulled lightly, trying to lighten his thrusts so he didn’t jostle Jimin’s dick into Taehyung’s throat too hard. Taehyung slurped around Jimin’s dick and moaned quietly. Jungkook could feel the stamina potion numbing his body’s reaction, turning the swooping throb into a fading ache.

Jimin arched, breaths hiccupping into his throat, moans high and pained, and then writhed as he came into Taehyung’s mouth. Taehyung tried to pull off but Jungkook grabbed the back of his head and held him down. Taehyung giggled and continued swallowing around Jimin, who flailed, trying to push Taehyung’s head away, sobbing.

Jungkook finally let Taehyung off, and Taehyung immediately pulled himself up onto the couch, shoving Jimin and little further up so he could get on his hands and knees in front of Jungkook. He licked Jimin’s oversensitive nipple. Jimin grabbed him by the jaw and said “Don’t,” warningly, locking eyes with him like a disobedient three-year-old.

Jungkook chose that moment to slide into Taehyung. Taehyung whined loudly right in Jimin’s face. Jimin’s jaw dropped a little, thumbs petting over his cheeks.

“Tae, I thought you said this got awkward for you two.”

“It’ll be awkward when I’m no longer on the aphrodisiac, but fucking everything is turning me on right now,” Jimin said.

“Hey, sex happens,” Taehyung muttered, dropping his face back down to Jimin’s chest. “And he’s pretty.”

Jungkook wrapped his hands around Taehyung’s waist and started easing in and out, the slide slow and deep. “Whoa. You’re soft,” he murmured, fingers sinking into his skin. Taehyung whined in response, so Jungkook reached around and drew his fingers slowly over Taehyung’s soft little tummy and giggled into his shoulder.

“Fuck off,” Taehyung moaned. “Please just fuck me.”

Jungkook started thrusting again. “Would have thought a farm boy like you would have built up some muscle,” he said.

“He’s the scientist,” Jimin said, looking like a sex god with his brown hair thrown off his forehead, deep smudges around his eyes, jewelry sparkling across his body and Taehyung’s head clutched to his chest. “I’m the housewife and the heavy lifter around here.”

“You can’t talk to the plants. I can,” Taehyung grunted out around sweet, low little huffs at the top of every breath.

“Shh,” Jimin said, “Jungkook’s nearly done. I want his sloppy seconds.”

“I don’t know about that,” Jungkook growled at the same moment that Taehyung heaved Jimin’s hips back down the couch and lined up to push in with Jungkook’s thrusts. Jimin wailed, eyes rolling back in his head as Taehyung thrust in. Jungkook felt the pleasure tied up in his gut slowly begin to tug free and had to stop slow for a moment and catch himself.

Jimin had Taehyung’s head tilted up by his hair, open mouths tipped against each other, tongues sliding wet and careless, both too distracted for any kind of finesse. Jungkook thrust harder until Taehyung collapsed onto Jimin’s chest, unable to focus enough to keep kissing, arms shaking as he tried to hold himself up and keep thrusting in. Jungkook grabbed him and hauled him upright, sitting back on his knees with one foot on the floor and Taehyung bouncing on his lap. Jimin whined pitifully, one hand sliding down in between his own legs and the other over his small cock.

Jungkook tipped Taehyung’s head back on his shoulder and shoved two fingers into his mouth. The chain around his neck locked tight, Taehyung tugging it threateningly in one hand, but he bounced harder on Jungkook’s dick, sucking around his fingers, beautiful melodic moans rattling deep in his throat. His hair flopped lightly off his forehead as he bounced and Jungkook pressed kisses into his pretty skin. Jimin, knees spread beneath them, spilled over his fingers into his hand again, sluggish little spurts that dripped down his wrist and onto his bracelets and stomach.

“Fuck,” Jungkook muttered, gritting his teeth and trying to hold out, but his dick ached with every tug on the golden chain, and the stamina potion slipped away. He could feel every slight texture of Taehyung’s walls gripping around him. He shuddered suddenly, all the sudden feeling punching shivers up his body, and he nearly fell, shoving Taehyung back onto Jimin’s chest.

“Did the potion wear off?” Taehyung gasped, struggling to get back onto his hands, but Jungkook chased it, hands gripping Taehyung’s hips as he threw his head back and fucked him hard. In seconds, the tension broke and Jungkook came with an awful, desperate whine. He slid carefully out, unlocked his shaking legs, and collapsed back against the armrest of the couch.

“Think you can go for one more?” Taehyung asked Jimin, who nodded, and Taehyung lay back against Jungkook’s chest, their sweaty skin sticking together, and Jungkook could see his own cum trailing across the couch from where it dripped out of Taehyung. Jimin crawled over both of them, turning Taehyung partly on his side, one of his thighs gripped tight to Jimin’s chest, and thrust in viciously.

“Fuck, I just came, don’t do this to me,” Jungkook groaned. Taehyung whimpered and drooled on his chest, his long hair feathered unevenly over his forehead, strong eyebrows drawn tight. Jimin didn’t let up for a moment, hips angled tight up against Taehyung’s and pumping like a machine. Taehyung just tensed against Jungkook’s chest and gasped through it, body rocking with Jimin’s thrusts, and Jungkook held him steady, hands petting over his shaking body, and watched as they took each other apart.

Jimin finally grunted out, “Hold his wrists.” Jungkook grabbed Taehyung’s wrists in one hand, the other one gripping his side. Jimin’s fingertips lit up light blue on one hand, and he trailed them slowly up Taehyung’s dick. Taehyung squealed and thrashed, tugging weakly at Jungkook’s grip, eyes squeezed shut and his head thrown back.

Jungkook jumped. “What are you doing?”

Jimin touched Jungkook’s leg lightly. His fingers felt like ice.

“He loves cold play,” Jimin giggled. “Like the band only kinkier.”

Taehyung panted against Jungkook’s chest, gasps shuddering out of his shaking chest as Jimin pressed one blue finger against the tip of his dick. He tensed and cum spurted out around Jimin’s finger and across Jungkook’s thigh. Jimin brought his dripping hand up to mouth and coolly licked it clean as Jungkook watched with his jaw hanging open.

“Just me now,” Jimin said, and dropped Taehyung’s leg, climbing up over his body. “Can you suck me off, servant?”

It wasn't an order. Jungkook was free to refuse. “That was just in his ass,” Jungkook said, staring at Jimin’s dick with his nose wrinkling. Jimin waved a hand over his dick and all the wetness disappeared.

“Ta-da. Clean. Please, Jungkook?”

Jungkook could see the tremble in his hands, how rock-hard his cock still was. “Aphrodisiac hasn’t worn off yet?”

Jimin shook his head, earrings glittering in the light, tantalizing. “One more. Please?”

Jungkook nodded, hands already sliding up the inside of Jimin’s marble thighs to cup his sweet, round butt and pull him in closer. Jimin braced his knees wide on either side of Jungkook’s head on the armrest and pressed slowly down till most of his cock was in Jungkook’s mouth, his hands in Jungkook’s hair. “Oh fuck,” he whimpered as Jungkook sucked hard. “I’m keeping you forever. Oh my god.”

Taehyung pushed himself up off Jungkook’s chest to jam himself down into the couch cushions beside him, one arm worming beneath Jungkook’s back and a leg thrown across his hips. His other hand trailed wet and slimy up Jungkook’s chest and then lifted up and off. Jimin jolted when Taehyung pressed his fingers up into him, and nearly choked Jungkook. His hands tightened reflexively in Jungkook's hair.

Jungkook growled warningly and Jimin pulled out with trembling hips, thrusting so lightly into Jungkook’s mouth, like he couldn’t help it.

“C’mon, Jimin,” Taehyung murmured, “Fill his throat up.”

“Ours,” Jimin breathed. “You’re ours now.”

Jungkook couldn’t really see, eyes tearing up between the insistent tugs on his hair and the steady jabs at the back of his throat, body tensing as he fought his gag reflex, but his chest felt wonderfully warm sandwiched between them both. His hands stayed gently on Jimin’s round ass, pushing him just a little harder, telling him he could take it. Taehyung rubbed his side gently, legs and arms pinning him in, and Jungkook had never felt so safe. His chest ached a little. If even being someone's servant could make him happy at this point, that just said something about his life and how starved he was for affection.

Jimin shuddered wildly above him, every muscle in his body shaking as he whimpered. Jungkook sucked hard, cheeks beginning to ache, and Jungkook felt Taehyung’s arm moving against his chest. He gripped Jimin’s cheeks and spread them to help Taehyung get deeper. Jimin whined desperately, hips rolling. “Please, please Jungkook, don’t stop. Don’t stop, Tae.”

He came, spilling barely anything into Jungkook’s mouth and trying to sit there and take more, but Jungkook pulled him off when he was bent double and spasming over Jungkook’s head, mouth open wide and eyes screwed shut. He gasped and twitched when Jungkook lay him on his chest, sensitive dick squeezed between their hips. Taehyung pet his hair. Jungkook got an arm around both of them and held on tight.

“You warming up to us?” Taehyung asked, and he sounded a little hopeful.

“No,” he said, but the empathetic link had them in his head, their exhilaration at having him there. Legitimate affection. It felt so good he could cry. He fought it.

“Here,” Jimin said, pulling a pendant over his neck, one with a shining talon-shaped stone at the end. “In exchange.”

“You don’t have to pay me for sex,” Jungkook said, but took it anyway, examining the cracked green surface. “What does this do?”

“Doesn’t do anything,” Jimin said. “But if you take it to the city and sell it, it’ll get you enough for rent for the next six months. I made it just for fun a couple months ago and I’m tired of it. You’ll get more use out of it. You’re ours now and we have to take care of you.”

The ever-present imposing stress of surviving with a shit job and no family or friends slowly lifted off his chest. He wouldn't have to get another job to make up for Owen's poor paycheck. He looped the pendant around his neck. "I still hate you," he murmured, "but thanks, I guess." Taehyung hummed and kissed his shoulder. And that, well, that really didn’t feel too bad.

 

“Didn’t you say your familiars form from your magic?” Jungkook said, sitting shirtless in the middle of the kitchen again. He’d finally agreed to let Jimin cut his hair. Taehyung sat morosely off to the side with Brandy giving him a rare cuddle, hair trailing just below his eyebrows instead of right down into his eyes like it usually did. His hair already lay on the kitchen floor.

“Yeah, they do,” Jimin said.

“Doesn’t that technically mean you guys are creating life? The book you gave me last week said that isn’t possible.”

“They’re extensions of our lives. They live as long as we do but they can’t live separately from us.”

Bubble purred in Jungkook’s lap. Taehyung sat up like he was about to start lecturing, but Jimin cut him off. “How’s work going, Jungkook?”

“You ask every day and the answer never changes. It’s lazy and calm. Owen keeps asking me to get you two to sign up for his services.”

“No way,” Jimin said. “We got a worker of our own.” He bumped Jungkook under the chin.

Over the past few months, Jungkook had built them a mini-barn, with Taehyung's magical help, in exchange for a whole new wardrobe of clothes. He’d cleaned every inch of the house and replaced the rotting floorboards so Jimin would cure his smoking habit. He’d helped with a harvest of plants that kept stinging Taehyung and Jimin but wouldn’t touch him, and they’d given him a beautiful silver flute, which he’d sold and gotten enough money to rent a better apartment. In exchange for fixing their truck, they let him ditch even that and come live in their guest bedroom instead. Most nights he had one or both of them to cuddle with him, which had been annoying at first, but more and more welcome over time.

“I think he’s worried I’m going to quit working for him and just come out here and work for you two.”

“Will you?” Jimin asked excitedly.

“No way. You’re going to have to keep sharing me. Owen needs the help. We’re finally starting to get along.”

“So familiars are really cool,” Taehyung said, who hadn’t forgotten where the conversation had started. His eyes glittered like they always did when he launched into a lecture on magic. “Don’t roll your eyes, Jimin. He doesn’t know any of this and it's cool. You can’t always cut me off when he asks questions. Just because you’ve known all this shit your entire life doesn’t mean those of us who didn’t grow up around magic don’t want to talk about it. So Jungkook, most people get their familiars when they’re around thirteen, and they reflect the power and ability of their owners.”

Jungkook looked down at Bubble in confusion. If anything, Jimin was more powerful than Taehyung, but his familiar didn’t reflect that.

“But there are other factors,” Taehyung continued, “A witch’s magic grows as they get older, so if you get your familiar relatively young, you’ll outgrow it, but if you get it relatively old, it’ll be unusually powerful. Brandy didn’t appear for so long that I thought I wouldn’t get one at all, or that maybe I had a really unusual one who was just a gnat or something and it had been with me the whole time and I just didn’t know. People get dogs and cats most of the time. Sometimes horses and, like, chickens or hamsters. The more unique and powerful your magic will be, the more unique and powerful the familiar. I was twenty and living here before Brandy appeared. Scared the shit out of Bubble.”

Jimin giggled. “Bubble never recovered. We used to share her, and then Brandy came along and suddenly there’s this gorgeous, powerful, mysterious familiar that only lets Taehyung touch her, and you sometimes, I guess, you fucker. Why are you special? Bubble had so many jealousy issues. I got her when I was seven and couldn’t even cast spells yet. Mom was so proud. And then I grew up and Bubble didn’t, but that’s okay. She’s still precious.” Bubble tried to catch a few short strands of Jungkook’s falling hair. “Back then I only needed a stuffed animal, a nightlight to get to the bathroom, and something to pick the lock on my mom’s cookie cupboard, so that’s what Bubble gave me. You should have let me cut this a long time ago,” Jimin muttered, “It’s practically a mullet.”

Brandy looked like she might be smiling softly at Bubble, but she might have been staring her down in disapproval as Bubble tried to catch some of Jungkook’s hair and nearly fell off his lap. Taehyung grinned softly at Jimin from across the room. Jungkook had been watching that particular relationship awkwardly morph from best friends to half-boyfriends via Jungkook. They still hadn't quite settled. They still didn't kiss much during sex or cuddle much if Jungkook wasn't with them, but they could all feel it on the empathetic link, the mutual, not-so-platonic thing between all of them.

“What can Brandy do?” Jungkook asked, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her do much magic.”

“She can do everything I can do that doesn’t require thumbs,” Taehyung said proudly, “And she has offensive magic too. She’s incredible.” Bubble sat up unsteadily in Jungkook’s lap, glared balefully at Brandy from across the room, flipped her little folded ears imperiously, and nearly tipped over again. Brandy heaved a visible sigh and stuck her head right down into Taehyung’s mug of whisky.

“What do I give you for this haircut,” Jungkook said as Jimin cleared away the loose hairs.

“I don’t know. Fuck me on my bed under the mirror maybe?”

“I did that last week.”

Jimin grabbed the back of his neck threateningly. “And you don’t want to do it again?”

“Unlike you, babydoll, I don’t like looking at myself during sex.”

Jimin came around to his front and grabbed him by the shoulders. “Why the hell not? You’re like the hottest guy alive or something. You’re so—oh fuck. Oh my god your hair looks amazing short. You finally look like a man and not a teenager. You sure you don’t want to fuck in front of a mirror?” He threw Bubble over his shoulder like a dish towel and took her spot on Jungkook’s lap. Jungkook closed his eyes and sat still as Jimin kissed every inch of his face.

“You’re so docile,” Jimin murmured in awe, as he always did, when Jungkook let him tilt his head any way he pleased and suck on his neck to mark him. “You like being my good boy?”

Jungkook huffed indignantly.

“Mom’s going to love you,” Jimin said, not for the first time.

“Leave some for me,” Taehyung said, coming up being Jungkook and wrapping his arms around his chest. He felt Brandy’s long tail curl possessively around his neck. “Your mama is going to try to take him from us the minute she sees him. He’s so handsome and capable. She’ll be worried about him corrupting you.”

Jungkook smiled, a little off balance sitting on a rickety stool with his head tipped to the side and his eyes closed, one witch feeling up his chest and the other tugging his hair, but he relaxed and let Taehyung hold him steady.

“I feel like the family dog,” he murmured.

“Family dogs can’t learn potions,” Jimin murmured against his cheek. “The blister cure you made yesterday was incredible.”

“It’s too warm in here for this,” Jungkook complained softly. It was April. The thermostat had hit eighty-five and the house still hadn’t cooled. Jungkook didn’t look forward to the real summer weather.

“You don’t mind,” Jimin said.

He didn’t. He felt sandwiched, surrounded, and smothered. He’d spent the entire morning packing potion ingredients into crates and loading them into the trucks to go teleport up north using a magic circle back in the woods. His arms never stopped aching these days as their business took off, partly under the influence of that little plant Jungkook had stolen for Taehyung months ago. But his aching arms felt better when Taehyung squeezed them fondly, humming happily in his ear, and he never missed the lonely, fearful months between high school and getting captured by witches.

“My beautiful boys,” Jimin said, hugging them close, Bubble balancing on his shoulders and purring. Jungkook smiled and let them tug him closer.