“I was just going to have wine for dinner,” Taemin said, “but I think I have some stuff frozen.”
“You don’t have to feed me,” Jungkook said. “I’ll be leaving soon.”
“You’re eating my food before you leave this house,” Taemin said softly, brushing his fingers over Jungkook’s hair.
Jungkook sat with his head down on the counter and Kibum snuggled against his arm. Taemin had dressed down out of his normal librarian outfits, now in leggings and white knit sweater that clung heavily to his shoulders and draped to his hips. His hair was fluffy and damp from a shower, drying down on his forehead. Without his normal flair, he looked a bit clueless, almost ditzy. His hands trailed over Jungkook’s back with the softest touch, leaving a spell of calm behind them.
“Shouldn’t you tell them where you are?” Taemin said.
Jungkook shook his head. “I’ll be going back in an hour. They can put up with not knowing where I am till then. I’m not a little kid. They don’t control me.”
Taemin pursed his lips. “You are vulnerable though, to all the people around here who know about you. You’ve got a unique set of dangers hanging around that don’t apply to most people.”
“I’ve got my potions.”
Taemin quirked up an eyebrow but didn’t argue.
As Taemin heated up a block of frozen soup he’d dug out of the fridge, Jungkook explained the afternoon with Wheein.
“Stupid,” Taemin muttered when Jungkook explained Jimin’s plan. “He’s been camped out in the wilderness for too long. Wheein’s clearly elitist.”
“Why?” Jungkook asked. Out of all the witches he’d met, he related to her the most.
“When someone feels disadvantaged within their supposedly superior demographic, they will do everything they can to keep their advantages over those supposedly beneath them.”
Jungkook sighed. “Is that why rednecks are so racist?”
Taemin shrugged. “I don’t know about that. It’s almost ironic. It is the witches with the least magic that cling to the idea of magical superiority the hardest.” He spread his hands over the pot on the stove and Jungkook heard a sizzling noise. Wonderful smells of chicken broth and noodles filled the room. Taemin sprinkled some fresh spices in and turned down the stove’s heat. “Wheein’s a sweetheart though. I’d trust her more than most to let go of prejudices and be kind.”
“And now Jimin’s mad at me. And Taehyung too, probably.”
“You know the little spiritual healing shop in town?”
Taemin chuckled softly. “That cute thing? People around here treat it like a joke.”
Jungkook groaned. “But the lady that runs it is so nice. That’s so sad.”
“Well,” Taemin said, “imagine it from our perspective.”
“I looked for a job there,” Jungkook admitted. “And they had the lamest sleep tea. I made her one that would actually work with more powerfully magical strains of valerian and chamomile. She wants me to sell it there now.”
Taemin looked thoughtful, eyebrows furrowed. “That’s sweet,” he said finally.
“I want to,” he said. “I don’t want to sell actual magical shit, not that they could tell. I just want to take stuff they already know about and make it work.”
Taemin nodded. “If you’re only using ingredients they’re familiar with, that wouldn’t be breaking any of our rules. There aren’t actually any laws against witches using magic to profit off non-magical people because so many people do it.”
“Right?” Jungkook sat up. “It’s a lot less sleazy than the snake-oil shit I hear about sometimes, like selling magic kettles with tiny spells on them to make water boil faster at, like, three times the price, or mass-producing handmade clothes with spells and selling them under a bunch of different designer brands. I think Jimin’s just scared of looking bad in his new job.”
Taemin nodded thoughtfully. “Potion-making still has a lot of prejudice against it. If it gets out that it’s being shared with non-magic people, that could cripple the business.”
“Oh,” Jungkook said. He put his head back down on the counter.
“But just teas?” Taemin said, and set a big bowl of soup in front of Jungkook. “I can’t imagine that’ll get anyone’s attention. And it could be that Jimin’s more worried about people coming after you than he is about the business. Again, you’re vulnerable here. If you get hurt on campus, the school will just say you weren’t supposed to be here and nothing will happen.”
“And you’re still here,” Taemin said, sitting down with his own bowl. He brushed Jungkook’s hair back from his forehead with a slow, gentle touch. Jungkook found himself wanting it again as if he never got this at home. He wasn’t sure he did anymore, or if he’d just gotten used to it. “So brave,” Taemin murmured. Jungkook’s heart thumped.
They ate quietly together. Taemin did the dishes with some more magical hand-waving as Jungkook settled on the couch with Kibum on his lap and tried to work up the nerve to go home.
“They’ve never hurt me on purpose,” he told Taemin.
“Of course not.”
“I just don’t see Jimin that angry that often.”
“I don’t want to go home. I hate that I don’t want to go home.”
Taemin walked to the back of the couch and wrapped both arms around Jungkook’s chest, head pressed against Jungkook’s neck, so warm and sweet. The sex ring gave just the softest fading buzz, and Jungkook relaxed slowly. “Let’s think about something else for a while,” Taemin said softly right under his ear, and Jungkook shuddered a little, trembly and soft. More than ever, he just wanted to stay and let Taemin make him feel better.
“What was…the best day of your life?”
He’d had a particularly good day at the beach once, back when he was little, didn’t worry about anything, and his family’s problems hadn’t seemed like they mattered yet. One birthday of marathon sex with Jimin and Taehyung had been pretty good. There were several days in his trip out to the Rockies that he thought about sometimes, but that got him thinking about something else that overshadowed all of that. “Jimin and Taehyung let me go for three months, but the best day was the day I got back and snuck into their bed before they woke up.”
Taemin squeezed him in encouragement.
“I don’t think we had sex at all that day. We just had a normal day, but I was back and they were so happy about it. I’ve never felt so loved. What about yours?”
“Minho took me on an all-day date once,” Taemin said. “There was a lot of sex. I think I loved it for the same reason.”
He finally let go and came to sit beside Jungkook with his legs tucked up on the couch. “Favorite food?”
“Pulled pork barbeque.”
“Hah. Of course it is.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Cutie,” Taemin said with a soft giggle. He poked Jungkook’s leg with a toe, and Jungkook grabbed his foot. The ring itched. Jungkook pulled gently on his foot, too weakly to get him closer, but the intention was there. “What’s…” Taemin couldn’t stop giggling long enough to ask his question. He pillowed his head in his hands. “Best sex you’ve ever had. Go.”
Jungkook smirked. “Taehyung has sex magic.”
“Oh man I’ve been looking to buy some spells like that for years,” Taemin said, head flopping back against the couch. “I’ve got this one lame masturbation ring and it’s gotten so old.”
“Best sex you’ve ever had?”
Taemin giggled again and looked embarrassed about it. “Um. Minho fucked me on the roof of one of the academic buildings once. It was a super nice night and he was really keyed up. It was really fun.”
“I fucked Jimin on the porch of our cabin a few times,” Jungkook said. “Usually when Taehyung could see us but had chores to do.”
More ring buzzing. Jungkook slipped it off surreptitiously and shoved it in his pocket.
“I want to meet your Taehyung,” Taemin sighed. “He sounds fun.”
“I like to think he’d like you, but it’s hard to tell.”
Taemin had his cold feet in Jungkook’s lap now. Jungkook hooked his hoody over them to keep them warm and Taemin groaned a little, pressing them against his stomach. “Thanks.”
“Um. What’s your favorite food?”
“Grilled cheese, probably.” Taemin looked down at him from where his head was tilted against the armrest. He turned his head to the side and those eyes shot little arrows through Jungkook’s chest again. In another timeline, Jungkook would have liked to fall for someone like this, through quiet moments and meaningless conversation, making an effort to hang out, committing to putting up with each other. What had he lost when he’d been forced into a contract and loved out of necessity?
“Are you okay?” Taemin asked softly. Jungkook shook his head. Again, Taemin came close and wrapped his arms around Jungkook’s neck. Again, the warmth and gratefulness covered him like a blanket. He tipped his head against Taemin’s, wrapped an arm around his slim waist, and pulled him close until he had to throw his legs across Jungkook’s lap and crush up against his chest. He felt so small there, but warm and steady.
“Thanks,” Jungkook said, voice crackling and quiet. “You don’t mind?”
“I’m a little touch-starved,” Taemin said softly. “I don’t mind at all.”
Just past eleven, someone knocked on the door. Jungkook shook himself out of his half-sleep and peeled his forehead off the front of Taemin’s shirt. Taemin’s fingers slipped from his hair, leaving his scalp wonderfully tingly and all his limbs uselessly weak.
Jimin stood in the door with his coat on, eyes swollen and red. At the curb outside, Jungkook’s truck rumbled, the shadow of Taehyung’s profile lit up in the driver’s seat. Jungkook felt guilty but still a little fuzzy on why.
“Thanks for texting,” Jimin said. “We were getting worried.”
“He’s here,” Taemin said. “We just had dinner and talked. Sorry to worry you.”
Jungkook tilted his head back towards the ceiling, blinking slowly and trying to get his head back on straight. When he looked back down, Jimin was standing in front of him, still in full winter gear even in the warm apartment, hands stiffly in his pocket and a deep frown on his face. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s okay,” Jungkook said.
Jimin sniffled and blinked a few times. “I’m sorry to chase you down, but—” he grit his teeth and looked at the ceiling, blinking fast. “It’s late and we were worried. Just wanted to know where you were. I’m sorry. You don’t have to come home.”
“I’ll come home,” Jungkook said, forcing himself to stand. He wrapped his arms around Jimin’s waist and felt Jimin’s hands latch into the front of his shirt. His face pressed wetly against Jungkook’s neck. “I didn’t realize it was this late.”
Taemin was already gathering his coat and scarf. He looked a bit embarrassed to be there, but gave Jungkook a long hug before they left. Jungkook tried not to feel uncomfortable hugging Taemin right in front of his boyfriends. He had nothing to feel guilty about, right? It’s not like they could feel that Taemin’s hugs made him feel better than theirs did these days.
Jungkook sat sleepily in the middle seat of the cab beside a silent Taehyung as Jimin curled up against the window beside him and stared out into the lights of passing neighborhoods through the fog of his breath on the window.
At home, Bubble greeted them at the door, paws padding back and forth on the threshold. “We’re back,” Jimin said softly, picking her up. “He’s fine.” She reached her paws for Jungkook and Jimin handed her over without meeting his eyes. He took off his boots and trudged upstairs.
“Mrroo,” Bubble said, sounding tired. Jungkook kissed her fluffy head. “Brrp.”
“Sorry,” he said again.
“We need to talk,” Taehyung said, watching the stairs where Jimin had vanished.
Taehyung walked to the kitchen, expecting him to follow. Jungkook waited patiently as Taehyung started boiling hot water and setting out mugs, including a little espresso-shot mug for Bubble. He leaned against the counter, scowling and biting his lip. “I get it,” he started. “Like, I’m pretty sure I know what the problems are here. Jimin and I are fine without knowing each other’s feelings but that was what protected you before, so now you’re scared and the odd one out. I get it. I’m sorry. We’re trying. Please believe we’re trying. There’s a lot going on right now and we’re so busy and confused and prioritizing stuff is difficult.” He rubbed his hands over his face and through his straight hair. “Like I haven’t had more than a couple hours at a time to spend with you two in weeks and I’m too tired to talk so I haven’t said anything but things feel wrong. You have to feel that.”
Taehyung pulled his head out of his hands and looked at Jungkook with little purple bags under his eyes. Jungkook hadn’t even noticed that he was wearing an old t-shirt from Jungkook’s high school. “Jimin told me about you visiting the stupid little shop in town.”
“You do know it’s a sham, right?”
Jungkook bristled. “They’re selling their version of magic to people who see it as legit. It’s not about you guys. It’s not like they’re trying to pull one over on actual witches, or witches trying to pull one over on normal people. They get what they want out of it.”
Taehyung rubbed his hands over his face again. So tired. Those bags under his eyes had become part of his appearance. He looked suddenly thinner than he used to, hair scragglier. “We considered living in the faculty village, you know. We didn’t want to do that because it’d be like the swamp, surrounded by magic all the time. But they also refused our application because they didn’t want non-magical people living there, and that’s when Jimin got scared. This is everything Jimin wants in life, all the ambition I’ve been keeping from him, but we have to tiptoe around because a lot of the community here doesn’t take him seriously. Both because they don’t take potions seriously, and because there are rumors going around that he’s fucking his bonded servant.”
Jungkook buried his head in his arms. “I didn’t ask for this.”
“I would appreciate it,” Taehyung said, voice barely louder than a whisper, “if you’d stop bringing that up. We know its true. We’ve felt guilty about it for five fucking years. We’ve done so much to make it up to you and sacrifice as much as we can to make you happy, and you still throw it at us constantly. We’d like to be able to talk to you about this without feeling like you’re going to lash out with blame every single time. You can’t keep using it to deny yourself any responsibility.”
Jungkook couldn’t look up, grateful again that Taehyung couldn’t feel his passive anger over that. Bubble glanced back and forth between both of them with her ears tilting every which way. Jungkook tried to calm her down with scritches.
“Jimin’s agent called this evening right before he got home,” Taehyung said. “He has a big publishing deal for his next book, even better than what we expected.”
“He feels terrible about what Wheein said about you.”
“It’s not his fault.”
Taehyung raised his eyebrows. “You don’t blame him? Something about yelling at him on the way home and then disappearing before you got here made him think otherwise.” He took a long moment to pour boiling water into their mugs. “Not yet, Bubble. It’s still too hot.”
She settled back into Jungkook’s hands with a sigh.
“He feels really confused about why you’re suddenly trying to find people that aren’t him to spend your time with, both Taemin and the sham shop and something about you reaching out to your family.”
“Just because I want other relationships besides you two doesn’t mean I’m betraying him.”
“He knows that. He’s trying to let you find what you need. If your finding new people didn’t directly correlate to the way you don’t seem to want to be around us anymore, which I’ve been feeling pretty hard too, by the way, he wouldn’t have minded at all.”
Jungkook swallowed. “What makes you think—”
“You won’t talk,” Taehyung said, sharp voice beginning to warble now. “You get home late. You spend all your time in your room. You barely work on potions. You hardly look us in the eyes. We haven’t fucked in, like, two weeks,” Taehyung sucked in a fast breath and kept going, face turning red. “You’ve stopped interacting with the cats as much as you used to. You never smile. Was the damn bond the only thing keeping you here? We used to be able to figure things out and now its like you don’t even want to. We’re bending over backwards to help and you act like we’re ignoring you!”
Bubble scrambled out of Jungkook’s arms and ran across the table. She popped off the edge and right into Taehyung’s hands, who caught her and squatted down on the floor, choking back tears. Jungkook’s vision blurred.
“Brandy’s ignoring me too,” Taehyung croaked. If they’d still had the empathetic link, Jungkook knew he’d be able to feel Taehyung’s old, familiar self-loathing, his fear that he would eventually drive everyone he loved away. Jungkook felt irrationally angry. Of course they were upset, but Jungkook tried too, and always ended up more lost and hurt than before.
“I’m so angry all the time, Taehyung. I feel powerless and unwanted.”
“I don’t know if I’m angry at all the witches at the university, or my life, or myself, or you two.”
Bubble reached one fuzzy paw up and patted Taehyung’s cheek, mewing steadily. Jungkook realized he didn’t care if he hurt Taehyung, and the thought almost scared him.
“I don’t know what I want,” Jungkook continued. “I don’t blame either of you. I love you both and you’ve done a lot.”
Taehyung looked up, eyes squished nearly shut with anguish.
“I’m not sure that’s enough to make up for feeling so unsafe and out of place all the time.”
Taehyung let out a whining sob and slid all the way down to the floor. Bubble clung with her claws. Jungkook sat there uncomfortably with a knot in his throat and a pitching guilt in his heart until Taehyung lurched off the floor and took the steeping tea bags out of the tea. “We’re going to fix this,” he muttered, almost trancelike, eyelids low with sleepiness. It had already gotten so late.
It seemed a distant and impossible thing, too much of a risk. Jungkook was reminded of being a cat, waiting in misery for weeks while Taehyung and Jimin went about their ‘fixing things.’
That night, Jungkook took the sex ring out of his pocket and put it on the dresser in his suite. He moved more of his clothes from his room upstairs to the room off to the side of the house when no one was watching. He tried sleeping in his normal room in the main house that night and felt like he was right back in the swamp, an uncomfortable outsider in a dangerous place. They’d never hurt him. He knew that. They’d never hurt him on purpose. They’d spent five years within a few feet of each other, mixing themselves together till they were a unit more than three individuals. They’d never hurt him. Why was he trying to tear himself out?
But each day passed in an anxious haze to get away. Jimin and Taehyung became obstacles between the suite and the front door, everyone avoiding each other’s gazes and stuttering out what sounded like rehearsed conversation around the dinner table. Sometimes Jimin and Taehyung would speak and he wouldn’t notice, would be too busy thinking about how fast he could get out and walk to Taemin’s, or what he could say as an excuse to escape back to his room to sit in silence with Palmela. Was it guilt? Just discomfort?
Later in the week, as Jungkook slept alone in his suite for the fourth night in a row, he woke to a body forcing its way into bed with him. “Who?”
“I’m sorry,” Taehyung whispered, hesitating right on the edge of the bed. “I can’t…I need—” he took a deep, shaky breath, hugging himself in the dark, backlit by the moonlight through the windows. “Sorry, can I share with you tonight? I’m not…I miss you. I’m not doing okay.”
Jungkook robotically held his arms open and let Taehyung curl into them. “I love you,” Taehyung said. “I really love you. I’m so sorry. Please don’t…” Jungkook sleepily felt him shake with tears and tightened his arms. He really had gotten thinner.
“You’re okay,” Jungkook said, and kissed his head, feeling disconnected. In the dark with Taehyung’s slimmer form, it almost felt like Taemin’s slender body. His half-awake brain kept twisting the image into Taemin in bed with him.
“…haven’t talked to either of us in days. We keep trying. Have you even noticed? You just don’t listen sometimes. We’ll stop talking and you don’t even look…Jungkook?”
“I…huh? I haven’t…what?”
Taehyung rubbed his face against Jungkook’s arm. “Sorry. It’s late. I shouldn’t bring this up now. Jimin’s just…really hurt. And midterms are coming up. Please talk to him. Please. Even if you don’t want to. We don’t know what to do.”
“Okay,” Jungkook murmured, just wanting to go back to sleep. He turned Taehyung around and squeezed him tightly against his front, lips pressed to the back of his neck. “I’ll talk to Jimin. We’ll figure this out. You can sleep. I’m sorry.”
“Are you sure?”
“Taehyung, anything for you,” Jungkook said. “I’m sorry. I’ll try harder to…I don’t know. Figure things out.”
“Thanks,” Taehyung said, finally relaxing weakly. Jungkook squeezed tighter to reassure him and the impression of Taemin’s thin form flashed back. He didn’t fight it.
It was another day before he worked up the courage to sit down near Jimin in the reading room in the attic after dinner. Jimin looked up warily. “Good day at work?” Jimin asked.
He and Taemin had raced to dust all the shelves, magical vs non-magical, which meant that Taemin did most of the work and Jungkook got to run in the library with socks on his hands. “It’s been nice, yeah. You?”
Jimin smiled warmly and relaxed. “It was okay! We had the lab. Um. Heejin is doing really well. She says you showed her some good potion books in the library. Everyone’s progressing. Except Wheein, who is, uh, falling behind.”
“Karma?” Jimin guessed, but looked uncomfortable.
“Congratulations on the publication deal,” Jungkook said.
Jimin’s mouth wagged open in surprise. He looked oddly stiff. “Thank you. It’s just…It’s been a whole week.”
Jungkook shifted uncomfortably. He’d been aware of every day that passed. “I wanted to apologize,” he said. He strongly considered getting up and fleeing. His eyes wouldn’t leave the carpet. “I really hope you don’t think that I’m blaming you for what Wheein said. I was happy to help and it sucks that she lashed out. I’ve been the one putting myself in with these people so I should be able to handle it, um…”
“That’s all fine,” Jimin said. “Thank you for apologizing. I was worried. And I’m sorry for…lashing out about the shop. I get anxious about…my position. I want to be able to figure this out with the three of us but we—Christ, Jungkook, we need to talk about things before we do them.”
“I’m sorry about being an ass and making you worried on the day of your publication—n”
“That’s not necessarily the problem—”
“I shouldn’t have made you worry. I’m sorry I have problems communicating. I’m sorry I’m so inconvenient. I’m sorry I’m making your dream job harder. I’m sorry I’m reaching out to make friends with people that aren’t you.”
Jimin looked like he wanted to put his hands over his ears, but he sat there with his lips pursed and held it in. There was a long, uncomfortable silence in which Jungkook realized his apology may not have been sincere.
“I’m trying,” Jimin finally said with a crackling voice. “I’m really doing my best.”
Jungkook took a deep, heavy sigh. “I’ll try harder. I’m sorry. Taehyung says I’m not trying hard enough.”
“You’re not,” Jimin said, face screwed up in something that was either anger or sadness. “I know it’s hard for you too. I’ll try…fuck, Jungkook, I’m trying.”
“I’m sorry,” Jungkook mumbled.
“Thank you. It’s okay.”
They sat quietly in their chairs, both pretending to read. Jimin gripped his book hard, face turning redder and redder, eyebrows tightening down and jaw locking in increments till he set his book down with shaking hands and left the room. Jungkook saw him out the window, stomping down the driveway with hopefully the last real cold front of winter rippling his hair. March was beginning, and still the trees slept. He sat silently in the reading room for a while, trying to figure out Jimin’s anger. Should he be guilty? Should he be even angrier?
What remained was a blank apathy, a little frustration followed by a discomfort and confusion. He wished it was still early enough to show up at Taemin’s unannounced.
Every day, Taemin greeted him at the library broom closet with a cappuccino and a hug, and asked him very cautiously how the previous evening had gone. Sometimes Jungkook told him and sometimes he didn’t, and Taemin would nod or flinch, and give him one of those warm hugs and a word of support.
“Do you know what’s wrong with Professor Jimin?” Jiwoo asked later in the day as he passed the girls’ table in the library. “He doesn’t look like he’s getting any sleep.”
“Um, family matters,” he said. Across the table, Heejin was pretending she wasn’t paying attention, but her lips screwed together, probably thinking about the bond.
He pulled her aside later. “Look, about the bond thing…”
“I talked to the guy who did it before,” she said quickly. “The one who established a bond with a non-magical woman. He, um, wouldn’t give me very much information because the woman died in a magical accident a few years ago and he has some new opinions on whether or not it’s a good idea, but I got some stuff, and though I have no idea how to apply the theory I got to three people instead of two, its probably a good new lead.”
“I think you could, like, put it off if you want to,” Jungkook said. “Like…” he ran a hand through his hair and groaned a little. “I’m not sure re-establishing the bond will fix things. Might…make them worse. So it’s okay if you don’t work on it for now.”
She stared at him. Viv came hopping around the edge of the shelf and popped right into Jungkook’s arms. “You want me to stop.”
“Um. Yeah. I’d rather not waste your time.”
Heejin rubbed Viv’s head, frowning hard. Jungkook hoped she hadn’t already gotten so far that she’d wasted a lot of time. “That’s…Well, keep me updated,” she sighed. “If you change your mind, I have a lead.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
“And think hard about this, okay?” Heejin said, sudden and urgent but a bit unsure of herself. “I know being non-magical in this world is hard, but my mom is very happy. They’ve had some rough spots, but you can make it work if you all commit to it.”
Or he could take his chance and run.
“Yeah. Thank you, Heejin.”
She smiled. “No problem. Just let me know.”
He handed Viv back and went back to his chore of repairing a broken shelf. Students passed, staring as always. The prickling on his neck and his uncomfortable desire to flinch and hide never went away.
“I’m going to visit the swamp,” Taehyung said. “With Brandy.”
Jimin looked up from the labs he was grading with a tired sigh. “When?”
“Today. She’s been refusing to leave the greenhouses all week.”
Jungkook didn’t look up from cooking eggs. He’d been planning to walk to Taemin’s house to hide again. He’d done so the day before on Saturday and it had been cowardly and stupid, but they’d played board games and talked about Taemin’s favorite books, and he’d felt so reassuringly happy.
“I’ll go with you,” Jimin said.
“Can I go?” Jungkook asked without thinking.
“We’ve got to go quickly so we’re using the transporter,” Taehyung said. “You’d have to drive down, and that’s seven hours.”
Jungkook swallowed and nodded, feeling dumb. “Okay.”
After breakfast, Jimin and Taehyung stepped into the closet holding hands and left the house empty. Jungkook stood in the hallway like he always did when he was waiting for them to come home, just like a puppy, staring at the door.
Fuck the swamp. Fuck the witches. Jungkook threw his coat on and trudged out into the mountain cold. He got in the truck and drove off.
Taemin greeted him with a little worry. “Are you running away again?”
“They’re not home today,” Jungkook said. “I just wanted to come by.”
Taemin let him in. He’d gotten used to seeing Taemin in casual wear, comfortable but shy. The difference in his face, Jungkook realized, was makeup. Jimin used to wear makeup pretty frequently, but he hadn’t in the past couple years, and Jungkook had forgotten the difference it made, how soft even the most powerful witch could look with splotchy cheeks and swollen eyes.
Taemin had commented on Jungkook’s clear skin recently, running his thumb under Jungkook’s cheekbone. “It’s a potion,” he’d said. “I used to have the worst acne.”
“No wonder Jimin’s so pretty,” Taemin sighed. “I need that potion.”
“He’s planning to put it in a book, I think.”
“No wonder you’re so pretty,” Taemin said, murmuring like he was talking to himself. “Jimin treats his pretty things well.”
Taemin, in loose silk pants that almost matched his green carpet and a clinging black shirt, settled with his legs in Jungkook’s lap again, and Jungkook rested his own book on Taemin’s ankles over his small feet.
At some point, Jungkook fell asleep there. At some point he woke up again and Taemin was just setting lunch on the coffee table in front of him. He groaned, stiff and groggy, and Taemin stuffed the edge of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into his mouth.
Taemin giggled and waited for Jungkook to grab the sandwich. “Your hair is kind of crazy,” he said, and ran his hands through the back. Jungkook nearly dropped his sandwich and passed out again. He finished eating with the post-nap confusion fading, and picked up his book again. Taemin’s feet settled back into his lap. Jungkook thoughtlessly wrapped a hand around them.
“Your feet have so many calluses. Like Taehyung’s.”
“Why must you compare me to Taehyung?” Taemin teased. “Enjoy my feet for what they are.”
“Oh stop,” Taemin laughed.
Jungkook tossed his book aside and wrapped his hands around Taemin’s rough feet. He squeezed them, dragging his palms over the soft bridges to the tough balls of his feet and then to the rough little toes. Taemin sighed and leaned his head back.
“I wear really stupid shoes,” he said.
“The leather things? I’ve seen them. And you’re on your feet all day.”
“I need to find something better. I’ve put softening spells and support spells in them, but they don’t fix everything.”
“Just fly everywhere on a broomstick.”
Taemin giggled, wiggling his toes in Jungkook’s hand. “Broomsticks are banned on campus except on the sports fields.”
“We had some serious accidents.”
“Oh man. Broom accidents.”
“You have no. idea,” Taemin said, grinning. “This one kid went right through a dining hall window in the middle of mealtime because some frat hazing event was to fly around blindfolded. Glass everywhere. Tons of people in the medical building. Another time, some people started pelting the campus with water balloons from one-hundred-and fifty-feet. It was like the world was fucking ending. You have no idea.” He laughed. “And then there was the incident with all the silly putty in the big quad oak. That was the final straw.”
“Magical pranksters must be the worst.”
“Some of the things that have banned on this campus,” Taemin said, and shook his head. “Ridiculous. Whoopi cushions, electric toothbrushes, Pokemon Go, cactuses.”
The wind howled outside. He imagined Jimin and Taehyung down in the swamp in a cold, howling wind. But it was March. Jimin and Taehyung were probably down to jeans and t-shirts, wandering around in the warm sun with the sounds of alligators and the smell of oak and pine straw. Daytime. No reason to be worried. Without having a steady in-flow of power for so long, the swamp would be back to slumbering during the day. Brandy would be having the time of her life.
Maybe they were in the house now. Maybe they were out in the old garden. Maybe they’d pulled the canoe out and were paddling around the lake in front of their house, in and out of cypress roots, looking for ospreys.
“Things aren’t getting better with the guys?” Taemin asked.
“I feel more and more like I should take my chances and get out of there.”
Taemin pouted, nudged his stomach with a foot. “You love them.”
“I loved them because it made things easier. Brandy once told me that I was tying myself down as much as they were because of how much I loved them. I keep thinking I should just run now that I can.”
“You’d miss them.”
Jungkook’s throat locked up a little. He nodded. “Something is actually going to kill me one of these days. I’ve come so close so many times.”
“I can’t stand how much it would hurt them if I left. I can’t do it.”
Taemin shuffled his feet lightly in Jungkook’s lap.
“I’m doing fine,” Jungkook said. “I like it here, I think. Running away would just give me way more problems. I’d have nowhere to go, no one to take me in, no way to get a job, not much money.”
“Why do all my options suck?”
“I’d miss you,” Taemin said, “if you ran away.”
Jungkook nodded, squeezing his feet again. “I’d be giving up a lot.”
“Magic and a good job and everything.”
“I think I can’t run away. I don’t think I want to.”
Taemin sat up and pulled Jungkook down to rest his head on Taemin’s chest. “Fuck, I wish I had a choice,” Jungkook said. Taemin hummed and burrowed his hands into Jungkook’s hair again. Jungkook shuffled around and got comfortable on Taemin’s slender body, jammed between his legs. “How did it feel when you left Minho?”
Taemin tugged his hair silently for a moment. “I was so lonely. It was mostly my fault. I felt like I’d destroyed something I needed.”
“I don’t want that,” Jungkook said.
“And I was only with him for a year or so. You’ve been with yours for five.”
There had been those long weeks with Taehyung’s mom up in Massachusetts, sleeping in Taehyung’s old room and cleaning the house during the day, cooking dinner and making grocery runs, organizing the basement and scraping snow off the driveway. He could do that again, could hope it mended him to start really loving them again. Still, the thought of living amongst normal people again, after having this for so long, repulsed him a little. Maybe he’d gotten a little addicted to magic the way bonded servants were supposed to.
“We thought about…reestablishing the empathetic link without the bond,” Jungkook said.
“I doubt its possible with you in the mix.”
Jungkook rubbed his face against the front of Taemin’s shirt. “I know.”
Sometimes he wondered if Taehyung and Jimin would have been happier without him.
At three, Taemin got dressed for a shift at the library. Jungkook gave him a long hug by the doorway, Taemin hanging on closely. “Be good to your boys,” Taemin said, giving him a stern look that had Jungkook grinning fondly. “As good as you can, at least. You’ve made enough sacrifices.”
Taemin leaned in quickly and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Jungkook drove home feeling relaxed and fluffy. This could be a lot worse. He could be going through this without Taemin’s help, feeling so unsure while the only people who cared about him were the people he wanted to run from. He had another person now.
Down in the swamp, the day would be heading for the golden hour. Jungkook lazily made himself an early dinner and crossed the magically warmed breezeway into his room, imagining how this barren place might look and feel when spring came, filled with leaves. It was hard to imagine.
The book he’d been reading at Taemin’s seemed a lot less interesting without another body there beside him with its own book shoved in its face. Palmela had grown in the magical warmth over the house and with Taehyung’s fertilizer. She nearly filled a whole window with leafy fronds that felt achingly homey. The whole room smelled like palmetto when the sun came in just right and set her glowing.
It had been a long day, a long week. Jungkook lay on his back and thought about the high school days when he’d fill the time watching porn on his cracked phone screen. Simpler times.
They’d stopped “practicing.” Jungkook had been unwilling to participate since the day he’d fought with Jimin on the way home. He flopped around uncomfortably. He rolled over and took his pants off just for fun.
But he felt almost guilty when he pulled his soft cock out of his boxers and ran a loose fist over it, dry and hot from sitting inside his clothes, sensitive from being untouched for however many days it had been. He’d been out of the habit of jerking it for years, used to having someone there to do it for him.
Forget the boys. Guilt made him soft. What had he watched in high school? Muscular men fucking each other hard and fast in unconventional places, sometimes, but mostly the unsatisfying but safer videos of a man and a woman, both dumb bad actors with almost-perfect bodies and bad hairstyles, too much makeup, too much body hair.
No response from his cock. He sighed and tried one man, big stocky body, blue eyes. This one looked a little like Mason from high school, but older, kinder, hairless, and with a softer jaw. He’d thought about this one a lot. In his fantasy, fake Mason sat on the other end of the bed from Jungkook, perfect white teeth showing as he smiled and wrapped a bold hand around his own dick. Fake Mason told him to watch.
They matched strokes, Jungkook with his eyes shut tight, working his hand slowly up and down till he had to ditch the fantasy and go hunting around in the bathroom for some real, non-magical lube. He flopped back down on the bed and closed his eyes again. Fake Mason’s hair was black now, body a little slighter. Jungkook accepted these changes. They were closer to what he was used to wanting,
Fake Mason had his lip between his teeth, eyebrows screwed together, and he thrust up into his moving hand in little, desperate jerks. Was that another man behind him? Someone smaller and slighter with one hand around Fake Mason’s neck, light but threatening. Jungkook let a little sigh out into the air as Fake Mason’s hand was replaced with someone else’s, a more slender, paler hand, someone small but controlling. Jungkook knew that feeling. Jimin rarely topped, but he could get so wonderfully mean when he did.
Jungkook looked around himself in the real world, bright with daylight. Every curtain in the room was open to the wilderness, except for the one blocked by Palmela. He’d lived in total privacy for years, had fucked and jerked off and sucked cock in full view of an open window more times than he could count. Neighbors were closer here. He had no reason to believe anyone would be wandering in their property, but the open windows had him moaning anyway. He rubbed a thumb sticky with lube under the head, squeezing and working himself slowly.
Fake Mason had disappeared. Only the slight man remained, a faceless, small figure thumbing his cock in amusement as he told Jungkook to go faster, to be good for him.
Who was he kidding? That was Taemin. Jungkook forced it back, forced Taehyung into that lanky spot, legs spread. Finger yourself for me, the figure said. Jungkook gasped and stabbed a finger into himself. He slopped lube onto his fingers and tried to imagine Taehyung’s face as he gave the order, got only thin, slanted eyes and a beautiful sharp smile, Taemin’s slight figure there with his legs elegantly splayed, dick in his hand.
He froze and squeezed his eyes shut. Taehyung. Taehyung sitting on the bed, mischievous smile on his face. Not Taemin.
Stretch yourself for me, the figure said, and it was Taemin’s voice. Jungkook pushed in and whined, dissatisfied at how his fingers wouldn’t reach very far, how his cock pulsed hard at the thought of Taemin’s soft voice giving him orders.
Did he give in so easily for any man who gave him attention? He loved two men already and it seemed like a lot. Now three?
Fuck yourself for me, Jungkook’s brain said in Taemin’s voice. Let me see how you like it.
Jungkook was gasping now, fingers shaking in his own ass, dick aching for touch even as his brain resisted. His fantasies usually made him out to be pathetically desperate. Porn was so much better. Maybe he should get his phone.
But imaginary Taemin looked so good at the end of the bed, smiling at Jungkook like he had that afternoon, all soft and loving. Good boy. Look so good. So good for me. They don’t appreciate you like I would. Anyone would love you better than they do.
Jungkook threw a hand over his mouth to cut off the whimper, angry and hurt, a little shocked at the shivering aches up his spine. He worked another finger in with lube dripping onto his sheets like a shameful little boy. He’d have to ask Jimin to clean it for him later, clean the mess he made while dreaming about another man.
Something was weird about the way his dick jerked in his hand. That didn’t seem like the thing to turn him on, but he gasped, arched up, and dragged his fingers hard over his walls until he found a spot that gave and pulsed with sour sensation. He stayed there, rubbing frantically, legs trembling. Taemin’s eyes stayed on him, watching his ass fucking take it like the disgusting, cheating slut that he was.
A sob burst out of his throat. His dick still ached. He couldn’t stop his hand from moving, from jerking as hard and fast as he could. His mind wiped blank the fantasy to focus on the burn of pleasure bending his spine, the fierce, delightful pain bursting from inside him. Every muscle in his body tensed as he came like a shot all the way up his chest, over his hoody, thick and white.
Taemin would—he would lick it clean. He would—Jungkook shook his head, trying to ignore the image of Taemin’s tongue on his chest, of Taemin shoving his own dirty fingers into Jungkook’s mouth.
He’d never gotten off on being treated like a toy. He hated being demeaned during sex. Where was this coming from? He rolled over and slid off the bed on legs that wobbled. His head spun.
He had his sheets and hoody in the washing machine before the buzz fully faded. He sat on the floor, leaning against the machine with his vision blurry and sound muted like his ears were full of water till his brain got back on track with what had just happened.
Not a big deal, right? People jacked off sometimes. People jacked off about things they’d never do in real life all the time. Wives could masturbate thinking about celebrities and husbands could jerk off to porn. Taehyung had once gotten Jungkook off by telling him a story about a Namjoon and a hooker that he’d witnessed when they were just out of high school. Not so bad.
He got in the shower, mindlessly scrubbing until he realized that the cum he could still feel on himself was just a remnant of guilt and not actually there at all.
Taehyung stopped the truck and put it in park right in front of the dead tree. Brandy sat up from where she’d been sitting on the back of the seats for the past two hours, slid the back window open with a paw, and climbed out into the bed. They heard her paws on the roof.
“Ugh,” Taehyung said, and put his hands over his face.
“Bubble, come out from under the seat, please,” Jimin sighed. “Don’t you want to see the old cabin?”
Brandy’s impatient face appeared at the top of the windshield.
“Okay,” Taehyung sighed, and drove around the tree.
The way was terribly, bitter-sweetly familiar, every stump recognizable. Fresh leaves burst over every bush, and grass had grown over the road to their cabin, just like it had been when he first forged his way down this old road.
The old farm field had begun to grow, familiar plants sprouting up and competing with growing weeds. The lawn had run wild, still fairly tame with the cool winter, but flooding the edge of the house and taking over the parking area. The door to the barn stood wide open.
As soon as they stopped, Brandy jumped off the roof and loped away into the forest.
Taehyung stepped out of the truck. As his foot landed in the dirt, swamp magic rushed up into his body in a tide, settling in the strained pieces of him that had begun to run on just the restless magic his body generated.
“I’ve nearly got her,” Jimin said behind him, oblivious. Taehyung wished Jimin could feel this, the wild sweep of power settling into him like a cool glass of water into a dehydrated body. He took a deep, slow breath and felt it begin to pool and settle in him, felt the tiny drain open in the back of his mind where the swamp got in and began to pull him out. How had he missed it?
Jimin walked around the side of the truck with Bubble in his arms, dripping in silver and staring distrustfully at the cabin just like the first time they’d ever come here.
“Everything’s growing really well,” Jimin said, nodding at the garden. Taehyung sighed and nodded. He’d dreamed it would be, growing wild and beautiful over the whole clearing. He’d dreamed, a couple times, of lying out there in the dirt himself, planted there by the swamp to lie in the sun and feed the earth while monsters tended the plants around him. Sometimes he had his boys with him. Sometimes he was alone. Both dreams were equally horrifying.
“What a waste,” he murmured.
“It wasn’t. You wouldn’t have Brandy. I wouldn’t have written a book.”
Taehyung closed his eyes and enjoyed the breeze, the sun, the smell of dirt in the yard.
“I’m going to go check out the house.” Jimin went up the steps and disappeared into the unlocked front door. Taehyung thought he saw Jimin bend and put Bubble on the floor to run around on her own power. Taehyung headed for the open door of the barn.
Inside, most of their abandoned farm tools had gathered significant dust. Leaves covered the floor. Evidently the wind had blown open the door at some point, and most of the lighter objects leaned away as if blasted. The ladder had fallen over and broken. Taehyung swept it upright with a hand and knitted it together with magic to climb into the loft where Jungkook’s couch bed sat gathering mildew against the window. The spring breeze came through the window with the smell of grass and leaves. It was one of the most cruelly beautiful days where the swamp begged him to love it.
He rested against the window and stared out at the cypress swamp, the lakes of gators and lily pads disappearing into the forest in the direction of the main channel. He could tell which trees had grown, could locate the distant osprey nest at a glance, knew the exact direction of his old pool of Jordan’s Pitchers. How odd to return to a loved place with fear, and missing an important member of the family.
Was it his fault Jungkook had become so distant? He’d been spending all his working hours in the Georgia greenhouses, often came home too tired to talk, spent hours every weekend sorting through business in his office. He’d have more time when things settled down. He’d assumed Jungkook knew they weren’t forgetting him. He thought Jungkook would trust them to be trying their hardest. Was their hardest not good enough?
Jungkook would never have let the lawn get to this state. He would never have left any of the tools downstairs alone long enough to get dusty. The whole barn seemed symbolic of where they were headed, unkempt and lonely in a magic swamp with the best pieces gone. If Jungkook left, everything they’d built would weather and gather dust.
Jimin had thrown every window open and air swept through the creaking house. All of Jungkook’s repairs had begun to wear down like the rest of the boards. Grass grew up through the porch. Taehyung stood in the kitchen and ran his hands over the stone basin. The old table looked just as they’d left it, benches slightly askew.
He found Jimin in the ritual room, curled up on the floor right in the middle on the burns where Jungkook had laid when they bonded him to them. He turned over when Taehyung came in. Something shifted in Taehyung’s brain, the memory of Jimin on the first day here as they unpacked, boyish and strong, wearing barely any clothes and using every opportunity to show off the strength rune. His hair had gotten longer since then, his face slimmer. His body had let go of some of its sculptured firmness to the give of good eating. He never dressed in those see-through tank tops and booty shorts anymore.
“Look at you,” Taehyung murmured. Jimin tilted towards Taehyung as he lay down and leaned over him, pressed their lips softly together. “It’s been seven years at least since we showed up here.”
“I didn’t love you then,” Jimin said.
Taehyung kissed a trail down his sharp jaw and his neck, skipping over the necklaces.
“What are we gonna do?” Jimin whispered.
“It’s like when he was a cat. I can’t feel it, but I can see it in his face. He’s so distant. He’s so scared. He looks so defeated all the time.”
“It’s been less than two months. It’s a tough change. We’ve all been distracted. Maybe we just need a vacation.”
“He’s going to leave us.”
Taehyung nestled his face into Jimin’s chest so he couldn’t see his face twist up. He could play strong now without anyone in his head. He’d feared this all along, that the bond would break and Jungkook would discover he hated them after all. “We don’t know that yet.”
“It’s my fault,” Jimin said.
He’d been saying this since the incident with Wheein, or at least since that night when they picked him up from Taemin’s, looking innocently soft and caring with Jungkook sleeping on his couch. Taehyung had seen Taemin’s texts to Jimin sometimes, little updates on what Jungkook was doing that didn’t receive a response. Taemin always updated them when Jungkook came to his house now, always told them when he was feeling particularly uneasy. It hurt to have to hear it from someone else, but they leaned on those messages for everything.
“Is he at Taemin’s now?”
“Yeah. Taemin says he’s talking about running away but that he’s nowhere near going through with it.”
Poor Jungkook, desperate to gain an advantage, trapped in a community that hurt him constantly, knowing he’d never belong. “I kind of don’t blame him.”
“Why do we always hurt him?”
“I’m starting to think it’s in our nature.”
In the first year, they’d watched Jungkook pull the curtains on his windows as the sun set every night, watched him turn white and sweat when noises came from outside the house. They’d thought it was cute. They’d smiled and hugged him when he sat up in bed in the middle of the night with fear dumping down the empathetic link. How many times in the past five years had they watched him nearly die? They’d added another one just this a month ago. Was it only a matter of time?
“I thought the move would help,” Taehyung said, “but he was happier here. He shouldn’t have jumped right back into the magic community.”
Jimin rolled his eyes. “He wanted to. Kind of defeats the point of buying a house off campus. Maybe he should go live with your mom again.”
“I think he’s too magical for her now.”
“He can’t have both. Leaving us means giving up magic. I’m not sure he’s willing to do that.”
“Oh he might be.”
Jimin’s face twisted again. Taehyung flopped onto his back and stared at the ceiling to give him privacy. There was one circle up there. It had a matching mark on the floor under them, a ritual for growing plants. Jimin heaved a deep sigh.
“What happens to us if he leaves?” Taehyung asked.
Dust motes floated in the sun. Jimin sounded like he was holding his breath. The dust stirred as he puffed it out into the air. “You just said. I keep teaching. You keep growing the business.”
“To us, Jimin.”
“I love you,” Jimin said. “I’m not going to stop.”
“Yeah, me too. I think. I might…”
Jimin nodded. “You might feel too betrayed and toxic to return it for a while. I know. I’m prepared for that.”
Jimin had come a long way from the boy who would sacrifice any amount of dignity for the attention of random strangers when they were young. His mother would be proud to see him now. The swamp had done a lot to each of them. “You shouldn’t have to deal with that. If he leaves, I think I’ll hate him for doing that to us.”
The house had never felt so much like a shell, a glass bottle in the mud, full of moss and sand, its labels stripped away and contents washed out, no seals blocking the world from coming in. “I hope Brandy comes back soon,” Jimin said. “I want to leave.”
“You always wanted to leave.”
“I never loved this place like you and Jungkook did.”
“He still does.”
“He introduced me to Palmela. That’s so cute. Happiest I’ve seen him in weeks.”
They lingered in silence, waiting for the sun to set. Eventually they shuffled quietly around the house, checking out the scuffs in the living room from when Jimin and Jungkook wrestled the furniture out at top speed, the holes in the kitchen floor where Jungkook dropped the chaos potion mix, the rotted spot in the table that Taehyung left when the swamp took over. Upstairs was Jungkook’s room, and then Taehyung’s and Jimin’s, all with little scraps of paper, coins, and bits of useless things that they hadn’t bothered to throw away. The library had been emptied completely. Jungkook’s heavy script was so obvious on some of the spell cards.
“He’s part of the magical dynamic of this family,” Jimin said. “There’s no getting rid of that.” He shook his head. “We have to do something. Everything will change. We can’t let this happen.”
Taehyung swallowed and shut his eyes. Jimin turned, waiting for the usual argument.
“We have to let him go if he wants to go.”
“I know,” Jimin whispered. “I know.”
Sometime well after nightfall, the transporter door clicked open and Jungkook jumped off the kitchen stool to meet his witches in the hallway. They’d had to drive back northeast after the sun went down and he’d been waiting in the kitchen for hours, antsy and bored. Brandy sat on Taehyung’s shoulder as cheerful as she ever was, but Jimin and Taehyung looked like they’d been slogging through the mud all day, eyes hooded with exhaustion and feet dragging on the floor.
“I got worried,” Jungkook said.
“Sorry. We should have texted,” Jimin said.
Jungkook’s greeting felt suddenly forced. He’d planned to suggest sex immediately, but didn’t know how to say it, didn’t know how to approach, felt uncomfortable with the thought of just stepping up and kissing one of them with the other watching. It had never been a problem before. That was stupid.
“Is there food?” Taehyung asked, so easily bumping their heads together.
“It’s on the stove.”
Taehyung kissed his forehead and murmured a thank you.
Jimin was leaning around the staircase. “Bubble, don’t run off. You still have to eat.”
She was inching her way up the stairs by scrabbling her claws in the carpet. “Mrrm,” she said, and kept climbing.
“I’ll bring it to you,” Jimin sighed. “Kook? Um. How are you feeling?”
Jungkook riffled through his brain and tried to force it to tell him, but ended up shaking his head with a sigh. “I don’t know. Antsy maybe? Can we…”
Jimin frowned and stepped cautiously into his space, kissing his cheek. “Can we what?”
“Um. Eat, I guess.” He’d been about to say fuck. The fantasy of Taemin giving him orders hadn’t left his head still. He had to know if he could shake it out, or if this was just a new thing he’d be dealing with. Some sort of resentment pushed him away from the idea of sex with these two, like it wasn’t them who deserved it.
Jimin and Taehyung ate tiredly and quietly, eyes continuously flickering to Jungkook with maybe worry, maybe curiosity, maybe frustration.
“Jungkook, do you still have my sex ring?” Jimin said suddenly.
“It’s on my dresser. I got tired of my finger itching all the time.”
Jimin smirked a little. “You’re just too hot, aren’t you?”
“How do you deal with it?” Jungkook said.
“I lived in the middle of a swamp with two boyfriends. I just had them fuck me all the time,” Jimin said.
Jungkook chuckled. Now that he thought about it, the ring had mostly buzzed around Taemin. Nothing against Taemin, of course. Jungkook would have been sending the same signals his way. He didn’t say anything, his exasperation only growing.
“I haven’t had it on in a while. Can you…”
Jimin and Taehyung waited patiently. He felt his face turning red as the words dom me, got stuck behind his teeth. He never asked for that. He’d never liked that much. “It’s been a while since we fucked,” he finally said.
“You want to?” Taehyung said cautiously.
No. I just need to know. “Uh huh.”
Taehyung and Jimin looked across the kitchen table at each other, eyes wide and surprised, passing some sort of thought back and forth. “You wanna try?” Jimin said cautiously. Jungkook nodded. Jimin nodded. They finished eating quickly and quietly, and walked upstairs with hopeful smiles and a plate of dinner for Bubble. Jimin was already taking his shirt off.
Jungkook’s head felt all twisted up, like there was something distinctly wrong with this. Taehyung and Jimin didn’t look the way they used to, somehow strange and alien. All the familiar desire had slipped away. His chest burned anxiously. He’d loved that desire. How had Taehyung and Jimin gotten to look so bland so fast? Just a month ago he’d thought Taehyung was the prettiest person in the world.
“Kook, you wanna top?” Taehyung asked, fingers dripping before he’d even gotten his pants all the way off.
“I—no, actually. Well…I’ll take middle.” He felt weirdly bare without a shirt on. Initiating any action seemed impossible. Jimin unbuckled his pants, small, familiar hands, and Jungkook relaxed a little, relaxed enough to climb onto the bed and pin Jimin’s beautiful body to his blankets. That felt better. Jimin got his thumbs against Jungkook’s nipples, Taehyung’s hands on his butt. His dick began to swell.
“You okay?” Taehyung asked. Jungkook felt hair brush his shoulder, and then a kiss to the back of his neck.
“Weird day,” Jungkook said. “I need…like…a distraction I guess. Something normal.”
Jimin spread his legs and waited patiently while Taehyung got around to lubing him up, weirdly clinical. He was hard yet, and looked like he didn’t care. “Hard and fast?” Taehyung asked. “Soft and slow?”
Just get it over with. “Whichever,” Jungkook said. “Take charge.”
Jimin turned over on his stomach with his ass up in the air, and Taehyung put two fingers to his hole. He stretched open so easily, so comfortably, that Jungkook slid into him to the hilt before Taehyung got around to working a finger into his ass.
“Relax,” Taehyung murmured against his back. “You can do this. There you go.”
Jungkook gasped. He fumbled to reach around Jimin and tug him to hardness, fitting his whole little cock in a palm. Jimin moaned happily and wiggled back.
“You okay, baby?”
Taehyung drew his fingers out a little. “Kook.”
“I’m okay!” Taehyung pushed back into him, heat around and heat inside. It really had been awhile. The oversensitivity from earlier in the day came back with a force and Jungkook bucked without meaning to. Jimin giggled softly.
“Been missing this?”
“Needy boy,” Taehyung murmured. Jungkook had never been into that before, being gently mocked and played with, but it struck just right. He felt a little drunk.
“Now. Do it,” he said.
Taehyung teased, lining up slowly and just pressing the tip of his dick against his hole for a few seconds. Jungkook whined and jerked back. Jimin chuckled underneath him. Taehyung sunk in and Jungkook rocked forward with him, filling Jimin back up. They’d gotten to be masters at the position, stacking just right so everyone got a good angle. Even if Jungkook couldn’t read them, this was muscle memory.
The image of Taemin under him popped into Jungkook’s mind. He forced his eyes open, saw that the back of Jimin’s head looked a little like Taemin’s if he let his vision go soft. He blinked it away, flushing, so grateful that they couldn’t feel his head now. Taehyung was whispering something sweet and soft, thrusting gently in, and now Jungkook was imagining Taemin there too, behind him with his hands on his hips, giving orders and telling him how easy he was.
“Oh!” he gasped. Had his brain gotten so used to being open to more than one lover that he wanted another? He shook his head. Where was this coming from? Jimin’s beautiful little shoulders lay directly under him, the flat angles of his back and waist. Taehyung’s big hands pulled him back by the hips. Something about the image of Taemin had his dick trembling.
“Oh fuck, it’s been awhile,” Jimin said.
“Harder,” Jungkook hissed.
“Our baby,” Taehyung murmured, and Jungkook knew he was talking about him, not Jimin. It rankled a little, but not enough to open his mouth and say something with a dick building up speed inside him, jamming against his walls.
He could imagine Taemin holding him there exactly like this, bent over with his lips at his back, murmuring something about how he loved it. “Tae—” he said, and stopped himself. Taehyung didn’t falter at all. Jungkook grit his teeth.
Below him, Jimin squirmed against Jungkook’s limp hand, rubbing his sticky precome all over his fingers. Jungkook tightened them suddenly and Jimin’s whole body stiffened. His passage squeezed wonderfully, and Jungkook forced forward.
What about Taemin under him? Would he make noise? Would he tease? Would he blush? Jimin arched his back with a sigh and turned his head back for a kiss and guilt pored through Jungkook so hard that he fumbled and kissed the side of Jimin’s nose. Jimin laughed it off. Jungkook flinched. His arousal felt like it had been turned off at the source. He closed his eyes.
There was Taemin again in his mind’s eye, so soft and graceful, so elegant. “More, Jungkook,” Taemin gasped in his mind’s eye, and Jungkook picked up to a pace that had Jimin squirming and whimpering out little noises with every push.
“Gonna—” Jimin said.
“Tae, shut up, it’s been so long. Kook’s been on my dick this whole ti—nnh.”
Jungkook fucked down harder and felt Jimin shudder a couple times, a deep, labored tensing. He sped up his hand, focusing on the head, and Jimin pulsed enthusiastically across his skin with a breathy moan.
Taehyung yanked him upright, one hand on his chest and the other pressing against his stomach till he sat fully down on Taehyung’s length, so full and hot, so weak to it. Taehyung started him bouncing and he bore down on it, struggling to keep strong and steady. Fingers pinched his nipples, probably Jimin’s, turned over and watching them, but Taehyung’s hand stopped him from stretching into them. He could only gasp and twitch.
He couldn’t stop Taemin from coming to mind again, Taemin behind him, small and slight but strong. Taemin would order him to work for it and he would. He’d do anything, and it would be his choice, not his curse.
“Kook, you look so angry,” Jimin’s giggled, cutting through the fantasy. Jungkook whined.
“He’s getting it too good,” Taehyung said right in his ear.
Taehyung’s hand wrapped lightly around his cock, holding steady for Jungkook to fuck into as he worked on Taehyung’s cock, nothing but abs working his whole body up and down.
“Fuck you,” he spit. Taehyung chuckled. “Fuck you!” he repeated, and this time he meant it, but Taehyung only pumped Jungkook’s dick long and hard, in rhythm with the cock inside him.
Jungkook saw stars, saw sudden darkness as his eyes squeezed shut with the last dregs of oxygen leaving his lungs in a punch. He hung on the edge suddenly, thighs shaking hard.
And he imagined that it was Taemin’s hand squeezing his dick, Taemin’s hand on his shoulder. He melted over the edge with delicious painful lurches, dribbling cum over Taehyung’s fingers, pulsing more and more as Taehyung continued to thrust, until Jungkook thrashed and yelled.
He was shoved off to the side in the sheets, just at the right place to have an eyeful of Jimin’s fat lips as Taehyung pushed his dick past them. Lube slid down his cheeks. Jungkook shivered at the sight of it.
And then the aftershocks ended. His dick softened slowly, even as moaning and sighing still filled the room. He lay, suddenly hollowly calm, as they finished and flopped down next to him, as they waved the mess away, as they snuggled in blissed-out silence. He felt suddenly dumb, suddenly sure of only one course of action.
“Gonna go to sleep,” Taehyung said. Jimin got up to brush his teeth.
Jungkook faked it, brain spinning, a little guilty and a little shocked. Taehyung got back and lay down in bed. Even without the link, he knew when they were both dead asleep, knew their breath and their stillness. He slipped out of bed and walked downstairs to his own bedroom.
He got dressed in the dark and drank a night-vision potion. Brandy was nowhere to be seen, so he slipped out the window and ran into the woods.
The night felt oddly warm, almost warmer than it had been during the day, a promised front coming in, maybe, spring just a week or two away. He navigated the back way around town, through an alley full of garbage cans and dim streetlights. His head rang like someone had slammed him into a brick wall. Jimin and Taehyung, his wonderful witches, his five-year boyfriends, his keepers and protectors, his captors, his tormentors. Had he caught Stockholm Syndrome? Where had all his affection gone, evaporated right out of their relationship in a matter of weeks?
He had to stop in the dark a couple times and calm his pounding heart. He swung the backpack off his bag and dug a calming potion out of one panel. His head abruptly cleared and the emotions began to sort themselves out in a calm, polite way. There was anger, there was fear. There was desperate sadness. He had loved loving them. It felt bright and safe in a way nothing else ever had. He didn’t want to let it go. But he also felt a compulsion to keep walking away.
Wickham campus let him in easily now. Either he carried enough magic on his person to be allowed in, or it had come to recognize him. He passed around the back of the shops in the darker edges. Students milled around on the streets. They milled around in the dark too, but he could see them there, and know to sneak around the edges of groups smoking blunts, and freshman blundering around just chatting in the middle of the night.
The faculty village was much better lit. He knew better than to sneak through a witch’s backyard. He trusted that there were no cameras and chose a side road.
It took a couple minutes for Taemin to answer the door, clearly just awake, and a light rain had begun to fall. His figure had Jungkook’s stomach turning, but he couldn’t stop his returning smile when Taemin looked so happy to see him. “It’s so late,” Taemin said, but invited him in. “Did you have a fight?”
“No,” Jungkook said. “We just…we were having a good time, actually, and I just, I wasn’t into it.”
“Not into a good time?” Taemin chuckled, eyes cutting with their usual startling power to Jungkook’s. “Doesn’t sound like you. I’ll put on some tea if you want to talk about it.”
Jungkook followed him into the kitchen. “We finally managed to fuck again but I couldn’t stop thinking about…”
Taemin turned slyly to him as if he knew, or expected, a smile quirking at the edge of his lips. “That’s dirty, baby. What were you thinking about?”
Baby. And Jungkook had him backed up against the fridge, sliding the magnets around. His whole head felt far away. “Have you been…did you do something to me?” he asked. Taemin’s head tilted back, eyes so wide. Jungkook’s whole being pushed back against that question. Taemin had done nothing. Taemin was perfect to him.
“But Jimin,” Taemin murmured, “Taehyung. You shouldn’t.”
“My masters?” Jungkook scoffed.
Taemin’s hands were on his chest, squeezing his shirt. His mouth was open, chin tilted up. “Kook,” he said, so soft, features so soft and perfect, eyes so fond. Jungkook leaned in to kiss him.
So strange to kiss new lips after so long, while sweat and touch still lingered on his body. Jungkook’s heart lit up with a desire he’d never felt in five years.
They broke apart, hands still clinging. Taemin had a look of wild joy in his eyes. His hand flattened against Jungkook’s chest in a sudden, abrupt moment. There was a flash of light, and Jungkook fainted.
Jungkook was freezing. Sunlight stabbed through his closed eyelids. He tried to lift his head and his neck lit up with pain. His throat was stretched out, head leaned way back against a hard surface. With a cough and a groan, he tipped forward. The sensation of dry mouth and stiff limbs woke him slowly. He opened his eyes.
The sun came through an attic dormer window. Plastic boxes and Christmas decorations lay around him. He had one wrist hand-cuffed to the frame of the bed he was sitting upright in, winter coat still on. His back felt spotted with bruises.
“Before you ask anything stupid, like ‘Why are you doing this,’” Taemin’s voice said softly from the corner, and there he was in his soft pajamas, curled around a cup of coffee in an old, threadbare chair, gorgeously perfect. “My family died when our non-magical servant drove the family car into a tree.” Those sharp eyes had never looked so cat-like, like a tiger watching its prey. “He was very devoted, but I never particularly liked him. We didn’t have a servant bond with him. My family has other ways. I never knew how he felt, but my parents kept complaining that he asked for too much magic. In the end, he killed them, and I’ll never know why.”
He set his coffee down on the side table with a delicate hand. Sadness had begun to pulse through Jungkook’s chest alongside brilliant, happy love. This was a man he wanted to see when he woke up in the morning. Perfect. But how horrible. How wonderful that Taemin trusted him enough to tell him. “I’m so sorry,” Jungkook said.
“I don’t like non-magical people very much,” Taemin said, “but you’re a bit of an anomaly. I like you a lot. I’m having fun. You’re so charming.” He giggled, so precious. Jungkook clung to it.
Here they were, finally. Taemin should be on the bed, right now, fucking the life out of him. Maybe that’s where this was headed.
“I know what Jimin thinks, but I really didn’t set that cursed book on you,” Taemin said. “That was an accident.”
Of course it had been. Jungkook nodded hard. Taemin would never have hurt him on purpose.
“That book just floats around. I’d forgotten to worry about it,” Taemin said, and leaned back against the seat with his eyes closed, reverent, “but seeing you struggling and panicking, seeing you fast asleep in Jimin’s desk chair, not waking up, so helpless…” His sentence became a soft moan. “I wanted you. I decided I had to have you. You look so perfect here.”
“I—me too,” Jungkook said, brain struggling to put words together. “I want—Taemin, so much more than the other two.”
“Do you know Seokjin’s special magic?” Taemin said, every bit as soft and lovely as normal, looking like he might pull a book out and start reading, might produce a hand full of candy and feed them to him one by one. “How people fall in love with him the more they interact with him? It usually fades. That’s a natural enchantment. They’re very rare. I have one that my family has had for hundreds of years. I create thralls.”
Jungkook had no idea what that meant. He squinted.
“It’s not exactly love,” Taemin said. “It’s obsessive admiration, which I force upon you through eye contact. My family has been banned from using it on witches for centuries, but conveniently developed the servant bond just to mimic what we can do naturally.” He leveled his eyes at Jungkook and Jungkook could feel himself falling harder, spiraling faster. “So they don’t care if I use it on non-magic people. That would be hypocritical. The community has mostly forgotten about our power. It’s been centuries since they’ve seen it used.”
Jungkook could barely think through the words. Something about a servant bond? This wasn’t the servant bond. This must be better. This was love.
“I promise I’m getting somewhere with this,” Taemin said with an embarrassed little smile. “Sorry about my rambling. What this means for you, is that you don’t have to do anything I say. I don’t force you. You will do what I say because you want to. Tell me you love me.”
“I love you,” Jungkook gasped, just glad to be given the opportunity. His head spun.
“Of course you do. Now you’ll sit up here and you won’t move off that bed till I give you permission. You can be patient, right?”
Jungkook nodded quickly. Of course he could be patient for Taemin. He could hide up here and Taemin would bring him food and play games with him and read with him like he always did. He could wait.
“I’m going to get ready for work.” Taemin stood up and sauntered down the stairs, his little figure moving so beautifully. Jungkook’s eyes followed him as far as they could. He felt freer than he had ever felt. Jimin and Taehyung were far away. He’d chosen to come here.
The sun burned in his eyes. He shivered hard in the cold of the attic. Frost coated the window outside. He squished himself as tightly together as he could on the bed and laughed.
He stayed there till lunch, growing steadily more and more uncomfortable. The attic grew warm and he couldn’t get his coat all the way off the arm with the cuffs. He needed to pee so badly he thought he would burst.
“Have you been good?” Taemin said, eyes just poking above the attic floor.
“Yes,” Jungkook gasped. “I gotta get to a toilet right the fuck now.”
Taemin chuckled. “So cute. Hold still. I have the key.”
He unlocked Jungkook and led him to the bathroom in the master bedroom. Jungkook sat on the toilet getting everything out and feeling a little punch-drunk.
“Listen to this,” Taemin said, opening the door as soon as he heard the sink running. “I got a text from Jimin this morning. It says ‘Have you seen Jungkook? He’s not around the house.’ And I sent back, ‘I haven’t seen him. I’ll check the library.’” He looked up to smirk at Jungkook’s blank face. “And then I didn’t.” Jungkook figured he should be finding this funny.
“So they’re looking for me?”
“They think you’ve run away, because I told them yesterday you were talking about it. Jimin’s been asking me about everything you tell me. Isn’t that nosy?”
“Fuck him,” Jungkook spit.
“Oh I’d like to,” Taemin said, and Jungkook felt a roiling surge of jealousy rip through him. “Let’s get you back upstairs.”
He buckled Jungkook back into the cuffs, which Jungkook found rather fun, squirming on the bed and hoping Taemin would get on there with him. “Isn’t it Monday?” he said. “Shouldn’t we be at the library? Shouldn’t Jimin be at work?”
“Jimin is at work,” Taemin said. “I’m on my lunch break. You’re taking advantage of your flexible hours to run away from home.”
“Yeah,” Jungkook said. “Yeah I am. Will you kiss me again?”
Taemin smiled fondly. “Look at those gorgeous eyes. You’re so cute. I think I’ve said this before, but Jimin’s a collector with taste.”
“Won’t you get in trouble for having me here?” Jungkook said.
Taemin grinned. “No. I won’t.”
Heejin stopped by Jimin’s desk after lecture and said quietly, “Is Jungkook okay? He’s not at work today.”
Jimin had to hide his face behind a folder for a minute, sure he was being completely obvious. “He’s fine. Just staying home,” he said, dragging a smile onto his face. His chest ached like someone had cracked his chest. A broken heart. It hadn’t stopped throbbing since he and Taehyung realized that Jungkook had really vanished from the house and hadn’t gone to Taemin’s, since Brandy hadn’t been able to track him further than the stream a hundred meters off in the forest after the rain washed everything away. He hadn’t turned up for work. He hadn’t left a note. No one in town had seen him.
“I see. Well, good to hear,” Heejin said, something odd and fake about her lilting tone. She seemed on the verge of saying something, maybe to pry further. Jimin hoped she wouldn’t. “Give him my best.”
“Of course,” Jimin said, voice barely above a shaking whisper. Taehyung had skipped work to scour the town in case he had just gotten up early to get coffee, but they both knew he wasn’t. Taehyung kept muttering that they’d missed something. Jimin had watched Taehyung go pale, watched all the strength fade from his thin face. He’d been shaking with panic for hours now. Jimin could hear it every time Taehyung called him with nothing to update, just wanting to hear Jimin’s voice on the line.
Jungkook had been so weird the night before, squeezing his eyes shut in bed, shaking, not meeting anyone’s eyes, hugging himself in the kitchen, hesitating every time they talked to him. He’d faked sleep after they fucked. They’d been too worried to talk. Taemin had warned them too. They’d just let him go.
The month after Jungkook finally got the freedom they’d been waiting five years for, after they’d finally moved him out of the swamp and to a non-magical neighborhood to protect him, after structuring their futures and careers around him, after they’d worked to change themselves and adjust their world for him for five fucking years, he’d spent weeks waffling and avoiding and brushing them off. He’d just given up, and damned the men who loved him.
Jungkook didn’t trust them without the empathetic link. He’d thrown everything away. A cold fury had begun to rise in Jimin’s head, and it was the only thing keeping him from shutting down completely.
Taemin had been gone too long. Jungkook could hear him downstairs. Something sick and horrible was turning over and over at the edge of Jungkook’s head and he couldn’t figure out what it was. He strained against the chain. It had begun to get cold again.
Taemin finally appeared at the top of the stairs with grilled cheese sandwiches just as Jungkook pulled the coat back on, not able to get one of his arms in the sleeves this time. “If I take the cuffs off, will you stay right where you are unless I say differently?” Taemin said so sweetly.
“Yeah, of course,” Jungkook said. “Are those for me?”
“Your favorite food.”
“How sweet of you to remember,” Taemin said, and brushed a hand over his cheek as he handed them over. “I ran into Jimin today. He’s not really holding it together. I’d be so embarrassed if I was him. I bet he broke down in front of his class.” A brief flash of discomfort and worry snapped into Jungkook’s head, but drifted away as Taemin giggled happily. “How has your day been?”
“Long. I missed you.”
Taemin smiled. “I’ve never gotten this far with the enchantment,” he mused. “They always pushed me away before I’ve really set the hook. You just so badly want to be loved by people that you never questioned it once.” He sat on the bed, watching Jungkook gulp down his food with a proud smile on his face. “Didn’t you find it weird that you’d abruptly and irrationally fallen out of love with the other two?”
Jungkook shook his head. “The bond broke. There’s nothing tying me down and nothing is working.”
“Just fortunate timing then,” Taemin said. “You just didn’t notice. Lucky me. You must be an idiot.”
“Please kiss me again.”
Taemin shook his head. “That’s not what you’re here for.” Jungkook heart sunk. Taemin laughed at loud. “You should see your face,” he said. Jungkook felt a smile trying to return. “Poor Jungkook,” Taemin sighed. “You’re a bit less interesting like this. I can’t decide if I want to bond you to me or watch you weaken and die. You’re so pretty, Jungkook. Maybe I’ll do both.” He smiled his pretty, innocent smile, and something in Jungkook’s head clanged with wrongness and terror, but he was so pretty, so perfect. Jungkook’s Taemin, who protected him and needed him. They were meant to be together. This was perfect.
Taemin turned and left the attic again with one last piercing gaze as he walked down the stairs, pinning Jungkook’s heart to the inside of his ribs and leaving him shivering and alone.
Jungkook lay awake freezing until just after dawn, then fell into a restless, stiff sleep as the room finally warmed a few degrees. He woke in the afternoon with a pounding headache and a full bladder again, stomach growling, throat dry. A bedspring had left a new bruise on his ribs.
By the time Taemin arrived, he was steadily squirming. “Toilet,” he strained out.
“Good boy for holding it,” Taemin said and unlocked the cuffs. Jungkook stumbled down the stairs. He leaned on the cabinet as his vision spun and he tried not to splash everywhere. “You’re so good,” Taemin said when he came out feeling dizzy and heavy. Taemin pet his hair and he nearly fell over. “Just use it whenever you want from now on. I’ll take the cuffs off.”
“Thank you,” Jungkook groaned. Back upstairs, Taemin pushed him down on the bed and straddled his chest. Jungkook struggled to get in enough air. “I met your Taehyung today,” Taemin said. “Came snooping around the library. He’s a pretty one.”
“Can’t say much about his personality though,” Taemin said. “Couldn’t look me in the eye and kept flinching at loud noises. He started crying a couple times. I think he’s really worried you left him for good, baby.”
“Good for you. You gotta do what you think is best,” Taemin said, grinning mockingly. “If they’re not good for you, you leave. Now hold still while I make dinner.”
A few minutes later, he set a bowl of soup at the top of the stairs and went back to the living room to read. Jungkook sat at the top of the stairs with his empty bowl and waited impatiently for him to come back till it got so cold his lungs hurt and he retreated back to the bed.
He didn’t get any sleep that night either. Sometime in the early, early morning, black and ever colder outside, the sick, horrible feeling rose right to the surface, a standing wave of guilt, terror, and longing. He missed something more than a warm bed and a body next to him, and couldn’t figure out what. He missed Taemin, right? He needed Taemin. Taemin hadn’t kissed him again yet.
He remembered the empathetic link. How lucky he was that it was gone. Taehyung and Jimin would have found him by now if he’d still had it. Maybe Taemin would never have thought he had a chance if they were still bonded. He might never be here, living in Taemin’s house under Taemin’s care, being praised and feeling him so close.
Jungkook nearly threw up his soup and still had no idea why.
Taemin didn’t come check on Jungkook the next morning, but he’d started coughing. His chest wouldn’t stop shaking. He could no longer breathe through his nose. He felt damp and freezing and gross. Taemin hadn’t let him shower. Taemin hadn’t brought him breakfast. He doubled over with another hacking cough and curled into the deerskin coat. He wished he had a bigger one. When would Taemin come back? When could he go back to work? When was the last time he felt warm?
He paced the attic. On one pass by the street-facing window, he saw Brandy down on the road, looking the other way. He threw himself on the floor under the bed, crunched up in the dust bunnies. After a minute or two, he heard a questioning “Guuk?” right at the window, then some light padding over the roof, then “Guuk?” again at the other window. Then nothing. It was a long hour before he climbed back out, sorer than ever and trembling with exertion and sure that if Brandy had seen him, Taehyung would be here by now. His stomach gurgled.
In mid-afternoon, he heard the front door open suddenly. It hung open for a minute, then closed. He sat up straight, waiting for Taemin. There was some shuffling of feet on the first floor. Some cabinets tapped open and closed. Sound seemed to be coming from a couple different rooms.
He rolled under the bed again, pressing himself against the back wall. A break in? Jimin and Taehyung coming to drag him away? He needed to tell Taemin. Where had his phone gone?
The door opened. Someone pattered up the stairs. He saw little leather shoes and white socks pass under the foot of the bed, jarringly familiar and completely out of place. The person dropped to their knees. Jiwoo’s face and auburn hair appeared under the foot of the bed. They locked eyes. “Found him!” she yelled.
“No!” Jungkook yelled.
Two other pairs of feet hammered up the stairs just as Jiwoo levitated the bed off of him. He popped to his feet and ran towards the window. A desk jumped into the air in front of him.
“Taemin!” he screamed. Ice sealed around his feet. He overbalanced and sat down with a yelp. Heejin, eyes blazing, climbed over his body and pinned him to the floor, both hands on his face. He grabbed her tiny wrists. “Get off!”
“Ow!” She yelled. “Hold still! Chaewon!”
Golden webbing whipped out and wrapped around his body, pinning it to the floor. Chaewon stood with her hands raised like a puppet master. The ice crept from his feet up to his back, sealing him to the floor with a bitingly cold paste. He screamed.
Heejin was chanting over him, hands burning on his face.
“Jungkook!” He heard from downstairs, Taemin’s thin voice stretched into a yell. “Who the fuck is in my house?”
From between Heejin’s hands, Jungkook saw Jiwoo thrust her arm out. The door slammed. The crackling, squeaking sound of ice followed. “Kibum!” Jiwoo shrieked.
“Yes!” Jungkook yelled as the cat burst into his sight with his fangs bared and eyes glowing red.
Chaewon’s butterfly flapped out of her hair and a burst of colorful light flashed out like a solar flare. Kibum flopped onto the floor.
“Whoever you are, I can get you expelled for this!” Taemin yelled.
“Help!” Jungkook screamed
Viv hopped up by Jungkook’s forehead and put her paws in his hair. A burning, stretching feeling began to spread slowly from the inside of his brain to his skull. He could hardly hear over his own screaming.
“What are you doing to him! Let him go!”
The burning gained speed, whipping outwards and down through his body. Something black and glowing rose straight out of his forehead and shattered in the air.
There was abrupt silence except for Taemin shrieking threats and pounding on the door. Jungkook blinked at the ceiling as he fully processed where he was and why. He was at Taemin’s house. He’d been a prisoner for three days. Jimin and Taehyung had been looking for him. Jimin and Taehyung. Jimin and Taehyung. His wonderful witches.
The three girls leaned over him expectantly. He panted like he was coming up from underwater, feeling his brain snap back into place like an overstretched rubber band, all his affection for weird, intrusive, mysterious, terrifying little Taemin vanishing in a flash. “Holy fuck,” he croaked.
“We gotta get out of here without Taemin seeing us,” Heejin muttered.
“Let me up,” Jungkook gasped. “Let me at him.”
So the girls crouched out of view while Jungkook pounded down the stairs, yanked the door open, and punched Taemin right in the face.
The girls managed to get Jungkook a quarter mile into the woods before setting him on the ground and letting Chaewon go to work with the same golden webbing Jimin used to fix injuries. Jungkook fumbled in his backpack for a cold-relief potion of his own. “Jimin and Taehyung. Jimin’s in his office, right?”
“He hasn’t been there all day,” Heejin said. “I kept trying to find him and tell him what I thought was going on, but I don’t know where he lives and he’s not answering his email.”
“Home then,” Jungkook said. He wasn’t sure what there was to fix besides a few bruises, but Chaewon stayed at it a long time. Eventually she pulled back and nearly collapsed into the leaf litter of the forest. The other girls pulled her to her feet. Chuu pushed her by the ankle. They helped Jungkook too.
“You’re dangerously dehydrated,” she said. “I’ve got you working for now. We just need to get you to water soon, and I don’t think we should walk very far.”
“To the student lot!” Jiwoo said, charging off into the woods in the wrong direction. Chuu chattered at her. “Oh, sorry,” she said, turning and rushing after the penguin. Jungkook stumbled along next to them.
“Holy shit, Jimin and Taehyung. They must be…fuck. Taehyung’s probably beating himself up really bad. Jimin’s been blaming himself for weeks. Oh my god what have I done to them.”
“They can’t have given up on you that fast,” Jiwoo said.
“I’ve been treating them like I hate them for a month,” Jungkook said, hysterics creeping into his voice. “They have every reason to think I just ran off.”
Every inch of love had come right back. His attachment to them hung in his heart as surely as it had when they’d been bonded together, right there and as strong as ever. A murk had been removed, all the distrust and discomfort vanished like it had never been there. Had he really been cold-shouldering them for more than a month? He’d been forcing them away as fast as he had when he’d been a cat. And right when the most important periods of their careers picked up. Why had he ever wanted to re-enter the magical world?
“Gotta get home.”
“I have a car,” Jiwoo said. “We’re fine.”
Jiwoo’s car was the nicest car Jungkook had ever been in, sleek and silver with pristine leather seats and a glide like a hovercraft. Heejin and Chaewon piled in the back, all of them looking like superspies in their pea-coats and serious expressions. As soon as the car doors closed, he realized how bad he smelled after being locked up sick in an attic for three days. The girls gave no indication they noticed, only chattered about the legal possibility that Taemin could actually bring them to court or have them expelled.
“With my dad being who he is?” Heejin laughed. “Hell no. Not a chance.”
“Can’t you just say you were rescuing a kidnapped person?” Jungkook said.
“They won’t care,” Heejin said. “You’re non-magical.”
Jungkook stared tiredly out the front windshield. “Right. No! Keep going straight! Sorry.”
Viv hopped up into his lap and nosed along his shirt, he lifted her and gave her a small kiss. “Thank you,” he murmured.
“Happy to be of service!” Jiwoo chirped from the driver’s seat, not looking and not aware that he wasn’t talking to her. He let her have it. He’d need to give them all a more serious thank you later anyway, sometime when he smelled better.
They drove up to the yellow house in the woods and piled out of the car all at once. They made it all the way to the door before Jimin whipped it open, looking like an absolute mess in Jungkook’s favorite t-shirt and boxers. “YOU LITTLE SHIT!” he screamed, and his eyes had never been so swollen. “HOW DARE YOU FUCKING DO THAT TO US!”
Jungkook stomped right into his arms and kissed him hard on the mouth, only missing a little. Jimin struggled. Jungkook’s knees gave.
“He got kidnapped!” Jiwoo squeaked, catching him under the arms and falling with him. Her face was bright red, eyes flicking in astonishment to Jimin’s underwear. Jungkook struggled to stand without knocking her over again.
“Dehydrated,” Chaewon said, trying to haul him up.
Jimin swooped him up bridal style and carried him to the kitchen as Jungkook tried to wrap his arms as tightly as possible around his shoulders. “Holy fuck I love you,” he mumbled into Jimin’s shoulder. “I have to tell Taehyung.”
“Sh, sh,” Jimin said. Jungkook’s butt hit one of the kitchen stools. Bubble meeped and nudged his arm. “Water, water, water. Bubble, get me some super mint. Taehyung!”
Taehyung appeared at the door, hair uncombed and clothes smudged with mud. He rushed across the kitchen, banging carelessly against the island, and nearly knocked Jungkook off the stool. His breath swept hot and heavy against the top of Jungkook’s head and he shook all over.
“It was Taemin,” Jungkook said. “I should have listened to you about him.”
“He’s got a natural enchantment magic,” Heejin said, already leaning against the counter like she lived there. “A really dangerous kind. There was a whole legal drama when the school signed him on six years ago but everyone’s forgotten about it.”
“Natural enchantment,” Jimin said. “Like Seokjin?”
Heejin’s eyes popped. “Seokjin has natural enchantment?”
“Love magic,” Jiwoo gasped. “No wonder!”
“Forget I said anything.”
“Taemin can slowly bend a person’s will to his through eye contact,” Heejin said. “’Enthralling,’ them, if you will.”
“He said he creates thralls,” Jungkook said with a mouthful of Taehyung’s shirt. “I thought that was, like, a medieval thing.”
“I’m gonna kill him,” Taehyung said, crushing Jungkook’s face closer to his chest.
“You can’t. You can’t touch him. I can talk to my dad, but I doubt he’ll be able to do anything with the clause excluding non-magicals from the rules. It’s supposed to be less intrusive than a servant bond anyway.”
“How did you know where he was?” Jimin asked.
Jungkook leaned out from behind Taehyung to hear the answer. Jimin had a potion in his hand immediately, something hot and restorative, probably for exhaustion or dehydration. Bubble nudged it towards his mouth with her head.
“I’ve been suspicious of him since I started going here,” Heejin said. “I mean, have you seen what he wears? He dresses like a supremacist.”
“I fuckin told you!” Jimin squealed, turning a finger on Jungkook. The dark circles and puffy eyelids made him look a little maniacal. He also hadn’t shaved in a couple days, stubble darkening his face unnaturally. Taehyung never grew facial hair anyway. Jungkook didn’t want to think about the way he looked.
“And then dad told me about his magic a few weeks ago,” Heejin said. “I figured he’d already been using his powers on Jungkook, but it seems to be the type of enchantment that gets stronger the more you’re aware that it’s happening. Jungkook just got confused and delirious and stopped being able to think critically about it.”
“I liked him more and more the more you warned me not to,” Jungkook said.
“That would be why,” Heejin said.
“Every time I felt like something was off I just wanted him more. Fuck I feel like shit. I’ve felt like shit for weeks. I can’t believe I didn’t notice.”
“You have the world’s worst self-awareness,” Jimin groaned.
Jimin’s potion tasted like the most delicious peppermint tea and he melted back into a puddle. “It’s fine now. I’m home. It’s fine.”
Heejin nodded. “I got really worried when Jungkook told me to stop, uh…”
Jungkook drew one quick hand across his throat to cut her off from talking about re-establishing the empathetic link. She hesitated.
“Told you to what?” Jimin asked.
“When…he said he wasn’t sure how he felt about you anymore,” Heejin said. “Which was just a few days ago. As soon as you started acting like…well, like your boyfriend had left you, I, um…I figured. I wanted to tell you, but…I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want you busting into Taemin’s house for nothing.”
Jimin made a small, pained groan. Taehyung squeezed Jungkook tighter.
“How did you even know we were dating?” Jimin said.
“I told her,” Jungkook said. “Sorry.”
“You’re also not subtle,” Heejin said.
Taehyung kissed Jungkook on the top of the head.
“We had a better chance of getting away with breaking, entering, and getting him out without getting caught than you two do,” Heejin said, “and my consequences would be less severe. Especially if it turned out he actually wasn’t there.”
“Getting expelled would be pretty severe,” Jimin said softly. “Possibly charged with some major criminal offense. Thank you all so much. I can’t believe how much you just risked for us.”
Screw smelling like shit. Jungkook stood up with a small wobble and teetered forward to give Heejin a hug. “Thank you,” he whispered. She wrapped her arms around his neck. They barely knew each other. She’d saved his life anyway.
“I’m sorry you got thrown into this,” she said.
“I was the one who wanted a job on campus,” Jungkook croaked. “Like an idiot. I’m sorry I dragged you in.”
“Sometimes non-magic people need witches to stand up for them,” she said. “You’re up against a lot here.”
Jungkook moved down the line, getting an enthusiastic hug from Jiwoo, and then to Chaewon, who looked a little overwhelmed, either from the smell or from getting to hug him, and turned a little red when he pulled away. “You should get a lot of rest,” she said. “You had a terrible cold when I found you, and you don’t look like you’ve been sleeping.”
Jungkook shook his head. “There’s no heating in that attic. He fed me once a day. I got no water.”
“Oh my god,” Jimin said. He leaned heavily against the counter.
“He said he wanted to either bond me or watch me die,” Jungkook croaked. “God, what have I been doing. I didn’t even care.”
Taehyung laughed a little and it sounded like a sob. “You’re back,” he croaked. “You’re here. I’ve been so scared.” He dissolved into quiet tears again, his Taehyung who deserved every ounce of his love and then some. He tugged Taehyung into his arms again and felt Jimin snuggle up against his back with a tired little sigh.
Over Jimin’s shoulder, Jungkook saw Jiwoo make a “Let’s go,” motion with her head, and they began gathering their stuff. “We’ll see you in class tomorrow,” Heejin said to Jimin. They vacated the house with last sunny waves from three girls and three familiars.
Jimin piled them into the massive bathtub in his room, two in the tub and Taehyung on the edge, washing Jungkook’s hair for him and scrubbing his skin clean. Bubble stood off to the side and patted at the bath bubbles with her tiny paws. “Don’t fall in there,” Taehyung said. “You’d blend right in. We’d never be able to find you.” Jungkook sat back against Jimin’s firm chest and let euphoric satisfaction and the basic joy of living reintroduce themselves to his mind. This felt right. This felt so much better.
They piled into Jimin’s bed with a giant tray of Chinese take-out. Brandy stood guard at the foot of the bed and Bubble stood guard over the food. Jungkook had stopped admiring the wooden ceilings and elegant furniture weeks ago. He’d spent the first two months in a wonderful new place getting forced further and further away from enjoying it the way he should have. Halfway through the first eggroll, tears started rolling down his cheeks.
“Too hot?” Taehyung deadpanned.
“I actually wanted to be in that attic,” Jungkook said. “I thought I loved him. I fucking liked that attic more than you two for three fucking days. What the hell? That’s the scariest thing I’ve ever felt and I didn’t care!”
“You do love us, right?”
Taehyung flopped down on the mattress with an empty chuckle. He squished himself against Jungkook’s leg and sniffled.
“It’s been a month,” Jungkook said weakly. “I’ve been falling for him for over a month. He nearly ended my fucking life.”
“Shh,” Jimin said. “You’re back now.”
Jungkook kept crying. “I thought you two were being cold! I kept wondering if I’d only loved you because that made the bond easier.”
Jimin sniffed beside him and buried his face in the pillow.
“And none of that’s true! I’m so happy here! I’m so happy wherever you are! And it took your potions students to fix things. What were we doing? How did we not figure that out? Why are we so critically bad at fucking talking?”
“Shh,” Jimin said again. He wrapped an arm around his waist. “You’re back now. You’re back. We’re going to make this work.”
“It works already,” Jungkook said, a little garbled around his egg roll. Bubble hopped onto his lap to catch crumbs and he broke off a little piece for her. “Really. Nothing is wrong with this relationship now. Nothing.”
“I don’t know,” Taehyung said. “Bubble sometimes spits her food up on the kitchen floor and doesn’t tell anyone.”
“She’s a nervous eater,” Jimin said, sitting up and swatting him.
“And Jimin hits me,” Taehyung said, nodding contemplatively. “Look at that.”
“And we still don’t take great care of you.”
“Room for improvement,” Jungkook said. “I love you both. Oh god, what if he comes back?”
He couldn’t fall asleep for a while that night, laying in the dark with Jimin and Taehyung both also sleepless beside him. Every once in a while they’d started murmuring to each other, sweet little words of happiness or worry, just reveling in the wonderful fact that, against all odds, here they were again, alive and together.
“We’re not going to be involved in whatever happens to Taemin,” Jimin said finally. “Taehyung and I really weren’t involved and Jungkook isn’t relevant to our courts of law. It’s all on the girls.”
“I feel bad for doing that to them,” Jungkook said.
“People want you alive, Kook,” Taehyung said. “Suck it up and deal with it.”
“I’m a cute non-magical human. Everyone’s pet.” There was a tense pause. “That was a downer. Sorry guys.”
“The cutest pet,” Taehyung said. Jungkook snorted.
Eventually Jimin insisted on letting Jungkook sleep, and Bubble took over, purring steadily until each of them had drifted off. There’d be plenty to stress about when the sun came up.
Jimin decided, after much thought, not to give the girls automatic perfect grades in his course since that would be academic dishonesty. He did, however, invite them to the second housewarming party with their friends to celebrate the fact that Jungkook was still alive and mentally back in the game. The three hosts, the three girls, Namjoon and Seokjin, Yoongi, and Hoseok all gathered around the kitchen island as Jimin impressed his students with his abilities as a chef and Jungkook stood awkwardly in the way, not sure how to interact with the girls he still knew very little but owed very much. Viv hopped into his hands and Chuu kept dipping her beak into his water while their witches smiled indulgently and Chaewon glanced nervously at her inactive butterfly. Kahn stood up to nearly seven feet in height and gave him a very furry, very intimidating hug.
“Do you still have library privileges?” Jungkook asked the girls. They all grinned and shook their heads.
“We don’t go there unless we have to,” Chaewon said. “We’ve made a new study space in the greenhouse.”
“Unfortunately,” Jiwoo said, “We have to go there a lot. It’s the library after all.”
“You should have seen Taemin’s face last week!” Chaewon said. “He’s got no potion bruise cream. His whole eye was so purple. You hit hard.”
Jungkook blushed. He so rarely got to punch things.
“He can’t prove it’s us,” Heejin said. “Unfortunately, that means we can’t even attempt to prosecute him, but Dad’s thinking it through. We’ll get back to you on that soon. Taemin is, however, leveling all the power he does have against us through gossiping with our professors about what little shits we are.”
“And none of them believe him!” Jiwoo said. “It’s excellent.” She took a sassy sip of her sparkling grape juice.
“I don’t serve him in my bakery anymore,” Seokjin said, looking very pleased with himself. “I got to show him the door a couple days ago. He looked really pissed.”
“I was there,” Namjoon said. “Can confirm.”
Jimin spoke over them to the girls. “You guys are welcome to check our library for anything you need before you try the school’s library. It’s tiny, but we have a lot of stuff on medical magic and potions.”
All three girls looked wholly delighted. Taehyung led them up the stairs to see it and Jungkook watched them staring around as they went, picking out the protective spells hiding in the corners and the rare magical plants set out on side tables.
Jungkook had found himself flinching around witches again, growing quiet in big gatherings like this. “Don’t worry about me,” he told Jimin during a quiet moment as Jimin rested his chin on his shoulder and squeezed bracingly. “I’ll get over it again soon.”
“I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t.”
Across the room, Hoseok pulled an actual giant spider out of Seokjin’s back pocket and scared the crap out of him. “Really wouldn’t blame you,” Jimin said.
Dinner was some kind of ridiculous witch dish that involved puff pastry and curry shrimp frozen in unlikely fantastic shapes. The girls giggled and bounced in their seats, laughing at inside jokes and serving each other. Jiwoo dumped a whole plate of food on Chaewon and cleaned it off with an expert poof, and then all three of them turned bright red and hid laughter behind their hair for the next ten minutes. Viv stole food. Chuu put her flippers on her hips and looked disapproving.
Heejin pulled him aside before the end of the evening. “I’ve been doing some research on you empathetic link spell.”
“You have?” Jungkook said. “You don’t have to, you know. You’ve already done a lot.”
She breezed right over that. “I found some friends to help out. We’re coming at it from a completely different angle but we’ve reached a sticking point. I need an eyelash from all three of you.”
Taehyung was drunk and didn’t even twitch when Jungkook tugged lightly at his eyelashes. Jimin was a little confused, but Jungkook brushed it off by saying he had some fluff there. He delivered all three to Heejin where she had a set of contact cases waited for him. “Perfect,” she muttered. “No idea if this will work. I’ll get back to you.”
The party ended shortly after Kahn and Yoongi started singing a duet. Taehyung drove the girls back to their dorm. Jungkook leaned on Jimin’s shoulder and softly tried to send warmth over the empathetic link that didn’t exist anymore. Jimin smiled like he got it.
After Jungkook’s first small shipment of tea to the spiritual healing shop sold out in a few days, he began to design a new line of Kim and Park Botanicals that could be sold as teas. He didn’t expect it to get very big. This would entail a whole mess of paperwork and taxes to the normal person government, especially if it got big. He hoped it didn’t, but what the hell. He was stuck at home again. He could make tea for days.
After cleaning up the recipe for the sleep tea and planting enough little baby plants out in the greenhouse to make up for the new demand, he found a recipe in one of Jimin’s mother’s books for a menstrual pain potion that could be made with magical berries that were almost cranberries. A cranberry tea. Taehyung bought him a machine to package it.
“Here’s one for constipation,” he’d said when he presented his rough business plan to Taehyung as the company owner, putting recipes down on the desk. “Here’s one for upset stomach with that magical ginger. Here’s one for hay fever. This one is for menopause. Most of these are nearly identical to stuff that’s already on the shelves, except I’ll be using strains with small magical concentrations, so they’ll just work a little better than what non-magical people are used to. I had Heejin look over the legal stuff and she says it’s foolproof.”
Taehyung tilted his lens-less glasses down with a stern expression. “Perfect. Where do I sign?”
As Jungkook cleaned up the scattering of papers that had been his presentation, Taehyung said, “We may want to go for a rebrand. KJP Botanicals sounds cooler than ‘Kim and Park,’ you know? Put that ‘Jeon’ in the middle.”
And just like that, Jungkook had a job.
The trees had just come into leaf, budding green in the warming air. Jungkook spent long afternoons alone at home, out doing yardwork like he used to with Owen and stomping through the greenhouse with baby plants and a watering can. Spring came gently here, azaleas springing up at the edge of the woods. Jungkook walked into town, bought a bunch of flower seeds, and started planting them all over the yard with a sprinkling of magical fertilizer.
One afternoon, Jimin poked his head out of the back of the house to find Jungkook aggressively nailing a garden box together. “Honey, I brought a guest home for you.”
Wheein stood in their living room, arms crossed tightly in front of her chest. “Sorry,” she said first thing, not really looking at him. “Thanks for helping me with, ya know. Um. Sorry.”
He absently rubbed the sweat off his face with a t-shirt while he tried to figure out an answer.
“Kook!” Jimin barked. “Shirt!”
Jungkook glanced down at how far up his stomach his shirt had ridden and dropped it. “Sorry,” he muttered, flushing.
“No need to apologize,” Wheein said, bobbing around awkwardly with her eyebrows raised. “More than fine.”
“I’ll say,” Jimin said, and then got on with it before things got any more uncomfortable. “Wheein would like it if you taught her more of your potion tricks. She’s one of the best students in the class and she’s lagging behind.”
“Tutoring?” Jungkook said. “I can do that.”
Wheein took a deep, uncertain breath like she didn’t know how to respond to a yes and couldn’t believe he’d still willingly associate with her. “Okay, thanks. Yeah. Um.”
“Wanna start now since you came all the way down here?”
“I’ll go finish the planter box,” Jimin said.
The first afternoon in the basement was uncomfortable, sticky with sweat as he was and as nervous as Wheein seemed. He had no idea how to teach, so they made potions, he explained the steps as best as he could, and she took notes. “I hope that helps,” he said.
“Better than nothing,” she said, looking like she could not imagine her scribbled pages of confused notes ever amounting to anything. “Jimin says the next book he puts out will help.”
Jungkook sent her off with the theory books he’d learned from and went out to find Jimin burning magic circles into the sides of the garden box. “Good lesson?” he asked.
“Think so. That’s gonna be…yeah. I guess I’ll have fun with that.”
Jimin sat back with a deep sigh and a small smile. He handed the hammer back to Jungkook but stayed there kneeling in the dirt, already a little sweaty. “I haven’t stopped feeling bad about that,” he said, “and you can’t come back on campus to see her, so good. That’s good. Let’s go have dinner.” Jungkook watched the always beautiful process of Jimin sweeping the sweat from his body, drying off his skin and hair and leaving it fluffy and soft, cheeks red.
The evening sun glinted through the spring trees and filtered through the kitchen window a little greener than it had all winter, lighting up the countertop and dishware. Taehyung had dinner half prepared already, something simple all thrown in a pot together and smelling strongly of rosemary. Brandy slept across his shoulders like a boa. “You’re sending your first shipment of tea out to the healing shop tomorrow, right?” Taehyung said.
Jungkook nodded. It took a minute for Taehyung to remember he couldn’t feel the affirmative in his head and turned to check. “Cool. I’ve just hired a new manager to deal with orders so I don’t have to,” he flashed them a smile. “I’m free! Kind of.”
“We can actually talk to you on weekends now? That’s wonderful, honey,” Jimin said. He was trying to fit Bubble in an extra-large mug, phone in hand for photos. She peeped up at him expectantly. Taehyung giggled. “That’s job enough for you then?” Jimin asked.
It took a minute for Jungkook to remember where the conversation had begun. “Yeah, I think that’ll keep me busy.”
“You won’t mind staying in the house?” Taehyung asked. “You can have more involvement in the magical side of the business too, if you want. I can probably give you a position now that we have two incomes.”
“I think I shouldn’t.”
Taehyung turned around from the stove and pouted at him, long eyelashes catching in the light. The food in the pot stirred itself.
“I think I’m done trying to work with magic.” He’d tried his best to forge a place in the community alongside his men. As bitterly as he’d wanted it, that had to stop. “No more swamp for me.”
“You’ll be fine staying home all day?” Taehyung asked.
“Uh huh. Maybe I’ll look for a part-time job again.”
Jimin’s arms snaked around him from behind. “I’m gonna miss you at work, baby.”
“I miss you at work already,” Taehyung said. “But, you know, we’ve all wanted alone time for years. We’ve got it now.”
Jimin’s presence at his back still felt strangely cut off without the intensifying pressure of the link, but it had begun to get a little lost in the normal feeling of his warmth, the press of pendants against Jungkook’s back and the smell of Jimin’s hair as he rested his head on Jungkook’s shoulder. “I love you, babydoll, but I’m never going back on that campus again.”
All the same, Heejin met Jungkook at the archway onto Wickham campus at ten in the morning a few days later and led him in, making sure he had his sunglasses and hood. She drew something on his forehead with an eyeliner pencil and stood back, squinting. “You’re the spitting image of my younger cousin now,” she said. “It’s weird.”
“I’ll take it,” Jungkook said. The air blurred a little at the edge of his vision like he was looking through a one-way veil.
“Don’t turn your head too fast. I’m bad at illusion spells.” She pointed them down a path right around the center of campus, but gave the library a wide berth. All the magnificent trees bloomed with pink flowers and vivid green leaves. Bright grass poked through the dead, brown stuff across the quad. Students walked around in lace-up jeans and crop tops instead of heavy coats and high socks. Familiars chased each other across the quad and fluttered through the trees. Jungkook almost regretted that he wouldn’t be going there again.
There was a forge on campus. The big, low room opened right up into the air where students pounded away at anvils with hammers that winked with jewels like an elven fantasy workshop. He walked around the back way behind Heejin, around the abnormally large witches with tattoos spiraling around their bare forearms, handling red-hot metal with their bare hands.
They didn’t stop, striding right through the door into a rather large building, up a set of marble stairs carved with scenes of witches at work on various crafts, and into a large studio with arched windows, low, flat tables and many bright desk lights. Jewelry lay across every surface. Two blond girls with more sparkling silver on their bodies than Jimin ever did looked up from where one was linking together a charm bracelet. Heejin shut the door behind them.
“Heejin, is that—he looks just like your cousin,” the nearest girl said, and dropped the bracelet. A delicately carved magic circle tinkled on every link. Her owl familiar startled from the back of her seat and flapped onto a nearby shelf.
“Illusion spell,” Heejin said. “Hold on.” She started scrubbing at Jungkook’s forehead with a tissue. “Crap, I think this is the smudge-proof brand. Hold on.” She dug around in her bag and came up with a little spray bottle make of glass and gold and squirted it right onto his head. “Sorry,” she said when he flinched. “Just makeup remover. Jimin taught us a recipe.”
When he opened his eyes, the girls’ mouths hung open as they stared at his face. “Well okay,” the taller one muttered. A small beta fish floated through the air by her head, mouth also gaping at him. “Damn, professor Jimin. Nice. Um.”
Heejin handed Viv to Jungkook. “She missed you.”
“Miss you too,” Jungkook said, holding the familiar little rabbit close to his face to snuggle into her fur. Walking around campus without Jimin or Taemin at his side had felt unnatural and dangerous, even though he was looking over his shoulder for both of them. The bunny soothed him.
“This is Jungeun and Jinsoul has the fish, jewelry majors. They’ve been helping me with the craft portion of this.”
“More Koreans, huh?”
“There are quite a lot, aren’t there?” Heejin said. “Gotta band together I guess. We finished the project a couple days ago, but we still weren’t sure if you should be coming onto campus or not. Oh here’s Haseul.”
The lock clicked open and a shorter girl with a beautiful face came in, a little white bird fluttering in with her. “Hello. How’s, um. Hi.” She got a good look at Jungkook’s face and ground to a halt on the floor. Jungkook didn’t need a sex ring to know how she felt. “Uh.”
“She’s a half breed too,” Heejin said. “Her dad was a bonded servant. She knows a lot about bonding magic, so I got her to help.”
“You brought in a lot of people,” Jungkook said.
“Thank you, I mean. Um. I don’t mind. Thank you for doing this.”
“It was fun!” Haseul said, regaining her initiative. “I learned a lot of cool magic! It helped me out on a test yesterday!”
“Not me,” Jungeun groaned. “I’m so behind and these were so hard to finesse the spells into.” She saw Jungkook’s face fall. “Fun though! Definitely the coolest project I’ve worked on in a while. And the most relevant to everyday life. God, the spells they make me create in class. They have literally no reason to exist except to make me mad.”
Jinsoul giggled and wacked her arm.
“Sorry. Should I get the box?”
At Heejin’s nod, Jungeun slid a drawer under her desk open and pulled out a small blue velvet box. She lifted the lid and set it on the table. Inside were three small golden rings, each etched with the tiny, tiny lines of a three-dimensional magic circle. Runes sat at four points on the inside. At the very top, each ring had an emerald, all cut in sparkling ovals.
“The eyelashes are set at the base of each stone,” Jinsoul said, voice too loud in the quiet room as Jungkook stared at the beautiful jewels. “Emeralds are the stones of intuition. They open the mind. The eyelashes have had plenty of magic put in them by Haseul, and Heejin designed the circles and runes.”
“When you put them on,” Heejin said, her deep voice cutting through powerfully, “you will have an effect pretty close to the empathetic link of the servant bond, though it might be a little weaker and colored with the influence of the emeralds. When any person takes their ring off, they’re removed from the link till they put it back on.”
“And it’s only temporary,” Heejin said. “It relies on the eyelashes lasting, and while they’re pretty safe in there, they will degrade over time.”
“That’s fine,” Jungkook said. “It’s a crutch for now. Eventually we won’t need it.” He picked up the box gently and stared at the three rings there in the cushion. All lined up perfectly. “It doesn’t matter which ones we put on?”
“The initials are under the stone,” Jungeun said.
Jungkook tilted the box up and saw JJ, TK, and JP under each of the emeralds. “Wow,” he murmured. “How much did these cost you to make?”
“We used student supplies,” Jungeun said, shrugging. “Don’t tell anyone.”
He slipped his out of the box and slid it onto his left ring finger. It adjusted size to his finger with a little glow, and then settled. A little mark vanished from the gold on the outside and he knew it wouldn’t readjust again.
“That’s the marriage finger,” Jungeun said with a little snicker.
“Is it?” he said, still staring at the little emerald and wanted to get the other two rings home right now to feel someone inside his mind again. The girls giggled and nudged each other in his peripherals. Viv, still clinging awkwardly to his shoulder, gave his ear a little nibble to ask for more pets.
“Did Jimin tell you what’s been going on?” Heejin said.
Jungkook finally looked up. “What? About…Wheein?”
“What about Wheein?” she said, frowning. “She’s not giving you a hard time again, is she?”
“No, no. I’m tutoring her now,” Jungkook said.
“Oh. No, not that. Word got out about what Taemin did to you. Not to the students, but the professors know that Taemin took Professor Jimin’s pet human and played with him. Not my phrasing by the way.”
Jungkook swallowed hard. “And?”
She shrugged. “Nothing of course. Some professors thought it was funny. Some were disgusted. I figured Jimin wouldn’t tell you because he probably has to deal with a lot of flack from coworkers, but I think you need to know. I insisted on disguising you for a reason. My dad is trying to get Taemin put through a hearing, but…” she shook her head. “There’s no solid evidence except the testimony of me, Jiwoo, and Chaewon, and that’d get us kicked out of school. Even so, he’s not sure he’d win. The only thing it can hurt is his reputation.”
Jungkook fiddled with the ring on his finger. The girls all stood around looking solemn. “My parents wrote the school an angry letter,” Haseul said softly. “They say that man shouldn’t be allowed to work with students after showing he’ll use clearly evil magic on someone our age, but you’re not a student or a witch. I hope it’ll at least show them it’s making the school look bad.”
Jungkook took of his ring and put it back in the box, then stood there holding it and staring down at it till his vision unfocussed. He had a pitching feeling from the fact that his life meant nothing to many of the people on campus, and that someone who almost killed him would face no punishment. He could imagine Taemin in his library now, pacing around with smug satisfaction as all his favorite students sat around him, knowing he was untouchable.
This could hurt Jimin’s reputation as much as Taemin’s. Jimin was so cheerful at home and hadn’t told Jungkook. Clearly he didn’t think they needed to care. Jimin had put all his hopes in this job though. “Thanks for telling me,” Jungkook said. “I haven’t heard anything.”
“It’s mostly a warning to never feel like you can come onto campus unprotected,” Heejin said. “It sucks, but that’s the reality.”
“I’m right back in the swamp,” he said, which didn’t make any sense to the girls, who agreed hesitantly, giving each other tiny shrugs. “I guess that’s fine. I don’t really want to come back. I don’t really want to be here.”
“Sorry,” Heejin grunted.
“This is worth it,” Jungkook said, clutching the rings. “I feel like I’m about to go home and propose.”
Lots of happy giggling. Viv poked her little nose under his chin, sniffing.
As Heejin led him back across campus, eyeliner circle on his forehead again, Jungkook caught sight of a slight, blond figure walking out of the restaurant in distinctive draped black. He felt a little chill down his spine, a blank emptiness of feeling where there used to be admiration and affection, the certainty of friendship. Kibum trotted beside him on one side, and that student from way back, Clayton, walked on the other. Jungkook figured he probably should have talked to that kid while he had the chance.
Kibum stopped and turned suddenly, sniffing the air.
“Go go go,” Jungkook hissed, speed-walking down the street towards the archway.
“Huh?” Heejin said, looking behind. “Oh. He can’t recognize you now.”
“Kibum,” Jungkook hissed, getting close to running. Heejin hurried to keep up, lagging a little behind.
“They’re both walking away right now. He’s not going to come after you. Really, you don’t have to worry.”
“He totally will,” Jungkook said.
“He totally won’t. He’s so freaking scared of Jimin. He’s not going to go near you again.”
Jungkook slowed a little. Taemin had gone out of his way multiple times to say how powerful Jimin was. “What makes you think so?”
Heejin smirked. “Dad says he’s seem them in faculty meetings. Jimin stares at him and Taemin gets so white and fidgety. Jimin makes a point of disagreeing with everything he says and Taemin can’t even argue with him.”
“Good,” Jungkook said, and headed for the gate feeling a little vindicated.
“Down to the swamp?” Jungkook asked, peeling his head off the pillow. Taehyung had a glass of water in hand, hair still in his face and sweat still shining on his shoulders, walking with a little bit of a limp from how hard Jungkook had just fucked him. Taehyung had kept asking for more, verbally, even though that seemed to make him uncomfortable, so Jungkook had kept going harder. Now Jimin was laughing at both of them as Taehyung limped and Jungkook lay on the bed in a sweaty heap and tried to catch his breath. Jimin could have fixed it in a moment if he chose to, but they didn’t mind feeling it a bit afterwards. He could heal it later when it felt annoying instead of satisfying.
Jungkook still hadn’t cum. Even going at full speed, it hadn’t been enough without feeling two other inputs of pleasure. Jimin hadn’t either. He’d kept pushing Taehyung away and giggling when he made his dumb sex faces. Taehyung said he needed a break though, and even though they whined, he’d stopped everything and gotten a glass of water.
“Not just the swamp. It’ll be spring break,” Taehyung said. “I know you miss it, so I thought we could go. You know. You can visit the greenhouses and pick up some plants. We’ll go to the beach in Savannah. And we can drive down to the swamp one day if you want to.”
Jungkook sat up slowly, arms protesting. Palmela’s gentle woodsy smells had been making him homesick. “That sounds great. Yeah. I can do that. Jimin?”
Jimin groaned. “Swamp again?”
“Greenhouse,” Taehyung said.
“Okay,” Jimin said rolling dramatically onto his back. “It’s not the worst vacation idea ever I guess.” His body curved in little mounds and plateaus down to the rune in his flat belly, the V that arched to his hips, his plump, spread thighs. Jungkook grabbed him by the leg and pulled him roughly closer.
“You two just finish that up,” Taehyung said, lying on the end of the bed. “And let me know if you need help.”
“Probably will,” Jungkook said. Jimin climbed on top and sat on his cock with an easy jerk that had Jungkook’s back arching up and his breath short.
“Oh are you?” Jimin crooned. His small hand trailed slowly up the center of his stomach and chest, the nearly continuously line through all his muscles to his collar. “Wonder why? How’s this feel?” He rolled his hips slowly forward and back and Jungkook sighed. Jimin’s little cock bobbed against the smooth plane between his hips, balls squishy in Jungkook’s pubic hair.
The rocking started another steady pleasure that must have been way too light for Jimin but was just enough of Jungkook’s overworked cock to pull him to the edge within a few minutes, just Jimin’s rolling hips and soft moans, Taehyung with his fingers in himself at the end of the bed. Jungkook felt a little out of his head. Eventually Jungkook came wetly into Jimin’s ass and felt the slippery mess drip out and down his skin. Jimin pulled off slowly and it motioned Taehyung closer.
Jungkook jolted as Taehyung’s hair suddenly jammed right into his ass as he shoved it between Jimin’s legs. He backed up quickly and watched Taehyung pull Jimin’s dripping butt down onto his open mouth. A little light hovered in the air above Jimin’s cock. As it sank in, Jungkook’s breath caught, shivering with oversensitivity. Jimin seized up, pulling away from Taehyung’s mouth in reflex till Taehyung wrapped firmer hands around his thighs and held him still.
Jimin swayed, one hand in Taehyung’s hair and the other searching for a support. Jungkook could almost tell where the ball was in Jimin’s cock from the way it jerked when it passed the sensitive spot right under the head. Precum dribbled steadily out.
Taehyung had managed to shove one long finger into Jimin beside his tongue, searching steadily along the walls, and Jungkook’s body flushed hot again. He reached forward and caught Jimin’s support arm as it slid down his sweaty thigh, letting him hold on. “ahh…ahh Tae, oh—”
The ball finally found Jimin’s prostate from the inside, just the lightest stimulation on a secret spot that could barely handle it. He lurched forward, breath hard and loud in his throat. Jungkook caught him by the shoulder and held him up so he could watch, see Jimin’s head tip back when he arched, every tendon between his ass and neck stretched in pleasure. In the instant that Jimin’s breath stopped coming and his eyebrows screwed tight in bliss, Jungkook ducked down and sucked Jimin’s cock into his mouth.
Jimin yelled. Cum burst over Jungkook’s tongue. Jimin’s little cock thrust forward with a choking force that Jungkook could barely hold onto, and then he ripped away just fast enough to catch Jimin as he collapsed.
“Nearly smothered me,” Taehyung grumbled. Jungkook struggled to lie Jimin down slowly and accidentally spit a trail of cum onto his own chin. Taehyung giggled at him.
Since Jimin was barely verbal, Taehyung and Jungkook cleaned up the old fashioned way, dragging a cold wet cloth over their faces and crotches. Taehyung threw Jimin’s legs open and started fishing Jungkook’s jizz out of his ass.
“There’s, um, cum and lube in your hair,” Jungkook said to Taehyung.
“Neck too,” he said. “Fuck. Gonna have to shower.”
They pulled up a full bath and Jungkook carried Jimin too it, even as his armband sparked and glimmered, no doubt fixing all his sore spots before they happened. Jimin was already back to giggling and kicking.
“We can do sex,” Taehyung said happily as they climbed in.
“It was fucking hard though,” Jungkook said. “Took me so long and I couldn’t help either of you.”
Taehyung pointed to himself with another adorable pout. “You got m—mph.” Jungkook smothered those pretty lips with a kiss, and stayed there, running his fingers through Taehyung’s gross hair. Taehyung’s dark eyes widened almost shyly. “You, um…you got me,” he said.
“You only came because you were fucking Jimin.”
“I mean, true, but give yourself some credit here.”
Jungkook shrugged. He was getting better. That didn’t mean he was good yet, or would be any time soon. And they’d spent a lot of the evening struggling to stay hard as they giggled at each other’s weird sounds and faces.
“We need to fuck in the cabin when we get down there,” Taehyung said. “The couch bed is still there.”
“We are not messing up my couch bed,” Jungkook said. “No way.”
“It’s already super moldy.”
“We can fuck on the porch for all I care,” Jimin said. “We can fuck in the ritual room. We can fuck out on the collapsed dock with the alligators. I’m sure they won’t care.”
“Bring Owen out with us,” Taehyung said, and then snickered when both his boyfriends tried to kick him.
Jungkook sat back with his arms on the back of the tub and watched Jimin and Taehyung bicker about travel plans over his chest. Those rings sat in his potions backpack, waiting for him to find the right time. He’d been planning to present them after sex when everyone was in the best of all possible moods, but this was a new opportunity.
Jimin’s fingers traced slowly round and around his pecs, sometimes flicking his nipples to feel the way he tensed every time. Taehyung just tucked his head against Jungkook’s neck and hung onto his waist. This made him feel stronger than anything he managed to prove in the magic community. Two people loved him. He made two people happy, magic or not, and they made him happy in return. Who knows where his life would have been without them.
“You look like a dog,” Jimin said. “Don’t lean your head out the window.”
Jungkook had his window rolled down to smell the pine and palmetto woods, breathing in the woody spice of the air with wind whipping his hair into knots and a big grin on his face.
“Love this smell,” he said. “Missed it.”
“The woods smell?” Jimin rolled down his window too, and really did lean his head out. Bubble’s loud meeping could barely be heard over the air blowing past at fifty-five miles and hour. “Nice and familiar. I smell cypresses too.”
Soon they could smell the watery steeped-tea smells of peat and red trees, plant decay and mossy growth sitting stagnant under a sparse canopy. They’d spent the previous evening with Owen at his place in town. He’d retired just in time. Most of the cottages had fallen into disrepair suddenly over the summer with evidence of animal attacks and the presence of swamp water and grime eating away at even the tallest houses high off the ground and away from floodwaters. Owen’s successors had trouble fixing the damages before hunting season arrived.
“What in tarnation happened down at yer place? Everythins all fine and dandy now, but for a while there, it was like the fores’ was tryin to git in.”
“Don’t ever go into that property,” Jungkook said. “It probably won’t let you anyway, but don’t. Especially not at night.”
“Did sump’m chase ya’ll out?” Owen said, leaning forward in his seat.
They all nodded, probably mysteriously since that wasn’t exactly what happened but they all unanimously decided it was close enough, and Owen sat back with a hand over his beard and an alarmed look under his Stetson.
And here they were, the very next morning, turning down the road towards the dead tree, branches more blackened than ever, runes reaching further down the trunk than Jungkook remembered.
Of course it let them in. Taehyung stuck his head through the window where he’d been laying in the trunk. “We’re here.”
“Hm,” said Brandy, head squeezing in beside his so her face stretched back and made her eyes unusually wide. Jungkook snickered at their faces in the rearview mirror.
The grass in the clearing had grown way too long. Jungkook had an urge to go find that hand-push lawn mower and get to work. But the garden had grown into a beautiful mess of plants all competing for sun, a miniature jungle of magical herbs.
For a while, they didn’t go inside. The porch had begun to cave in on one side, but the rocking chairs remained, and Taehyung took his usual spot on the steps. They’d spent more time on the porch than they had in the living room when they lived here, warding off the bugs with burning herbs and enjoying the roasting heat and the shade. Bubble ran in and out through the front door carrying June bugs, and Brandy hunted slowly through the long grass around the edge of the cabin. His dreams had made this place a shadowy glen under towering trees with wind breathing through the trunks and the air sparkling and alive. He’d almost forgotten what it was really like, stumpy and short, too bright, too hot, smelling like earth, all gray moss and screaming cicadas.
“It’s funny how much I love this place,” Jungkook said, “you know, as much as I hated it.”
“Just familiarity?” Jimin asked. He lay on his back with his shirt riding up over his little tummy, watching Bubble wander in and out.
Jungkook shrugged. “I think…this is the first place I was happy. And it was scary but it was also kind of like living in a movie.”
Taehyung chuckled and nodded, and Jungkook wished he knew what he was feeling, either empathy or that little edge of bitterness he got sometimes when people brought up the non-magical world.
But the house had shrunk. Not literally, but Jungkook had gotten a little more accustomed to a bigger space, a shadier yard, the smells of emerging spring and trimmed lawn instead of the murk of swamp. He’d begun to feel what it was like for a home to be a place to relax and not a fortress. “I like the new place better,” he said.
“You mean that?” Jimin asked.
He nodded. “It’s safe.”
Taehyung and Jimin both let out audible little sighs of happiness, relieved smiles on their faces.
“I wanna say sorry,” Jungkook said suddenly, and the words came so much more easily than they had a month ago. Jimin and Taehyung looked up in confusion. “About how I acted with Taemin. I know I wasn’t thinking right, but you two were busy with your careers and trying to make things work with me. Even before Taemin had me, I think I wasn’t helping. So I’m sorry.”
Jimin sat up. “We got it at first, you know? The bond broke and we all needed to figure out our own heads, and then someone caught you and messed you up and we were too overwhelmed to know what to do. We both prioritized work, of course, because we had to, but I still feel like an idiot for not protecting you more. You might still have that job and be fine if I’d gone in there and figured things out. Or you could have had a job with the shop in town if we’d been more supportive. Honestly, Kook, I feel like shit. You don’t need to be sorry.”
“We really should have put our feet down after Taemin set the book on you,” Taehyung said. “Or forced conversation. I think all of us have forgotten how to talk about things. I keep thinking we could have helped you integrate with the community better but we just let you go and someone hurt you.”
“Taemin didn’t set the book on me,” Jungkook said.
They both stared blankly at him. “Kook, I kinda think he must have,” Jimin said.
“He said he didn’t,” Jungkook said, “like while I was captured he said he didn’t. That thing was just accidentally there, and he hadn’t cared much about me before, but I guess he got, like, a power trip seeing me struggle with it and that’s why he started targeting me.”
Jimin’s mouth dropped slowly open. Taehyung’s whole face screwed up in disgust.
“And that stuff is everywhere. If it wasn’t Taemin it would have been someone else. I can’t pretend I can be safe around witches anymore,” Jungkook said. “I should never have tried and I’m not going to try again. The more magic I get close to the more likely it is to kill me.”
Silence and reluctant nodding from his boyfriends. Taehyung scowled.
“But you’re right that we’ve forgotten how to talk. We had a relationship of forced honesty, but I think we’ve gone too far in the other direction. Honesty is what kept us together.” Jungkook took a deep breath. “For instance, Jimin, I know people at the university know what happened with me and Taemin and that you’re getting shit for it now.”
Jimin looked ready to deny it.
“Heejin told me.”
Jimin slumped and pouted. “You didn’t have to know,” he whined. “I didn’t want you to know people were just blowing it off.”
“It’s not exactly unexpected,” Jungkook said. “She wanted to make sure I knew not to come back. And you have a bad habit of keeping things to yourself so we don’t have to deal with them. Jimin, don’t let us get away with that. Tell us what you’re dealing with and make us help.”
Jimin gave him a wry smile. “Haven’t you become quite the relationship counselor.”
“I’m the worst at this,” Jungkook said, “And I’m not going to better very fast. I want to be involved again instead of waiting for you two to fix everything. So…” He pulled the velvet box out of his pocket and popped it open. “I got us something.” He leaned forward and pulled his own ring out, then passed the box to Taehyung and Jimin. They leaned forward to grab it.
“Kook,” Jimin said, urgently, “Is this…are you proposing, because that’s…um, I’m not sure we can do that. Polygamy is still illegal most places, and I’m not sure we’re ready for another change.”
“What? No. Um. No, I’m not that clueless,” he said, feeling a rush of embarrassed heat. “Just put them on. And what would even change except for taxes?”
He watched Jimin and Taehyung slowly, slowly put the rings on, and a sudden, delicate breath of Jimin entered his head, a whole wave of uncertainty and excitement, Taehyung’s ever-present curiosity. They whipped their heads up and stared at each other. Taehyung’s curiosity turned to shock and fear. He ripped the ring off. Jimin’s link turned to worry as Taehyung’s presence vanished. For a long, uneasy moment, Taehyung stared at the ring, then Jungkook, then the floorboards, before sliding his ring on again, this time pushing relief and interest into their heads. Jungkook felt his throat tighten.
“We can take the link off,” he said. “How…I thought this was impossible.”
“Magical bonds are Heejin’s specialty and she’s friends with some other skilled girls,” Jungkook said, keeping most of the wobble out of his voice. Jimin looked up, expression accompanied by so much love and happiness. “It’s just a crutch,” Jungkook said. “They’ll stop working eventually, but lets be honest, we need the help. I feel safer with this, and a bigger part of the relationship with this, and I just…I wanted to hear you both again, so…”
Jimin and Taehyung hit him at once, knocking the rocking chair back against the house with a bang. As Taehyung flopped into his lap with the smothering feeling of his affection right against Jungkook’s head. Jimin climbed over them both to kiss Jungkook’s forehead with a big wet smack. The chair felt like it might tip over at any moment, but Jungkook held still and giggled happily.
It wasn’t like the old link, thinner and weaker, filled with a different presence as if filtered through water, but he could feel the love right inside his mind again. He’d almost lost this.
Bubble clawed her way up Jungkook’s jeans, mewing excitedly for cuddles. Over Taehyung’s shoulder, Jungkook could see Brandy sitting on the railing and staring over the swamp as if guarding them. They would go home soon, and it would be perfect again, Jungkook and his beautiful witches in a magical house together.
“Thank you both,” Jungkook said quietly. “You’ve kind of made my life. Things were never going to be this good for me.” Neither seemed to know what do say, both smothering hot on top of him and clinging desperately, but he could feel their fondness and happiness in his head. “I know we’ve got problems,” he said, “but that’s fine. We can fix it or live with it.”
Cicadas kept on chirping. The loud splash of an alligator diving into the water sounded from across the clearing. Bubble purred against his chest. This felt more like his dreams, minds endlessly connected as they snuggled in the heat and haze. Crammed into a rocking chair with two men on top of him, one glittering with jewels and the other leaking wild magic into the air, felt closer to perfect than he’d ever believed he’d have. Magic runes with protection spells sat in his ears. He had a backpack full of potions and two arms full of powerful witches who loved him.
“Wanna go fuck on the couch bed?” Taehyung asked, and Jimin’s mind switched from affection to lust in a moment.
“Mrrrm,” Bubble sighed.
As Jungkook pinned Jimin to the floor of the loft and Taehyung tugged the futon off the couch to throw it on the floor, Jungkook saw Brandy and Bubble sitting together by the door, one sleek, tan lady and a little ball of fluff with their sides nearly touching, both staring out at the swamp together with a friendly calm and tails crossed over each other. And he thought the family might just be okay.