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But a chair, sunlight, flowers: These are not to be dismissed. 

I am alive, I live, I breathe, I put my hand out, unfolded, into the sunlight.

-  Margaret Atwood

 

~~~

 

 

His grandma always said he was born with a golden thumb.

The last time she said it was an early morning, a couple autumns ago, out in the fields as they uncovered the summer squash. Taehyung had laughed loudly and corrected her because that’s not how the saying goes, Gram, it’s called a green thumb

And she had smiled, and shook her head, and took his hands in her own and said, “No. I mean golden. Like magic .”

Taehyung looks down at his hands now, worn from years of hard labor. His grandpa used to tease him about them. Too feminine , he would say, and then he’d tack on without a glance over, Piano hands, like your mother .

Taehyung twists his wrists, rubs at the callouses covering his palms, trails a finger over a bruised knuckle. He tries to see what his grandma always saw. Tries to find something magical there.  

Someone pats his back on their way down the steps, and Taehyung knows it’s supposed to be comforting, a sign of support; but it’s the hundredth hand today and all he feels is something start in his chest, something with fierce, gnashing teeth that makes his breath catch and his heart burn. 

Makes him stand. 

Makes him head for the field bordering the farmhouse where the horizon line is burning against the tips of the wheat, setting the world on fire. 

Taehyung’s hands feel dirty and his clothes dusty and his body stiff as he blasts through the blazing gold, trying to outrun all the ghosts around him, trying to outrun all the heartache chasing him down. 

Instead he crumbles into the soil, no closer to reaching the sun then when he started, and Taehyung lifts a hand and uses a finger to brush against the soft edges of the wheat leaning over him, then lifts it higher to trace the delicate outlines of the clouds above where their edges blur into the sky. He breathes. 

If only golden thumbs could bring people back to life.

 

~~~

 

Taehyung’s been in Seoul for two months. He’s had four jobs, five roommates, a dozen one-nightstands, and as of twenty-four hours ago, zero dollars to his name.

Seoul. The city of opportunity. The city of second changes. The city to make it big.

Bullshit.

Taehyung misses Daegu; the trails and the fields and the river, the sound of birds in the woods, the scent of jasmine that would blow in through the kitchen window on an afternoon breeze.  Not the people. Definitely not the people. But even if the farm hadn’t been sold off by the bank, and even if Taehyung could have taken care of the crops by himself, he wouldn’t have been able to stay. 

Thunder rumbles through the sky, and Taehyung kicks at the sidewalk with his good sneaker, fiddles with a gum wrapper in his pocket, and watches as the crowd around him collectively raise an impenetrable mass of dark umbrellas. 

Taehyung knew it was going to rain. There was a mackerel sky this morning. But he can’t afford an umbrella and he probably wouldn’t have used one, anyway, so instead he tilts his head back and lifts his arms and opens his mouth as the sky falls around him.  

People bump and shove and grumble and curse at him here and there. Taehyung doesn’t mind. He’s gotten worse. High school drop-out. Dark skin. His clothes are always two sizes too big. He knows he’s not smart or handsome or good at anything but working in the dirt and that’s okay. That should be okay. Because he likes his skin and his clothes and he loves the dirt and the flowers and days like today when the sky melts into the earth.

He should be okay. Taehyung needs to be okay.

“Freak,” he hears someone mutter, and Taehyung drops his arms. 

Blinks water from his eyes. 

Stares ahead at the stuttering red light above the cross-walk, one foot balanced on the curb, a tight-rope walker caught in a perilous act. 

Thinks, Well that was rude

Thinks, I should really look for another job.

Thinks, Why am I not okay?

Taehyung drops his foot.

A woman screams.

A car horn blares.

And above it all is the tinkling of piano keys. 

Taehyung turns towards the sound as a taxi rushes by. There’s a hand on his arm, pulling him back, and Taehyung shoves them off and ignores the hushed murmuring, the heavy stares. Where is the piano? The only shops on this street are bars and beauty parlors and second-hand clothing stores. The places playing music are on the Top 40 rotation. None of them would ever play music like this. Soft and lilting. A haunting lullaby.

Taehyung pushes past the small crowd building on the street corner and follows the piano into a side alley, then into another connected to it. He’s walking a grid-line of back streets and he doesn’t have a phone and there’s no way he’ll be able to find his way back on his own, but still he presses forward, jogs down another road so thin a car couldn’t even pass through, dotted with high brick walls and tiny store stoops. 

He knows this doesn’t make sense. That he shouldn’t have heard the music from the main road. He knows that this is probably all in his head—but something is pulling him forward. It’s so warm, makes him feel jingly and blushy and awake and alive and it’s been so long. It’s been so long

He takes a left. Takes the next right. Trips over a loose piece of pavement. Sees a dead-end ahead and slows to a stop with all this bewilderment clobbering around in his body. The music has stopped, and in the sudden silence, Taehyung notices he’s breathing too hard. He can hear his heart beating in his ears, and Taehyung presses his lips together and shakes his head and beats a fist against the stone wall because this is stupid. He’s been so stupid, what was he hoping to find? 

One chord, then another, and Taehyung lifts his head and finds a thin doorway has opened beside him with a blue iron gate that’s been left open. Taehyung hesitates outside of it, but he’s certain the piano is coming from inside. 

There’s a cobbled path leading through a small courtyard up to a red brick building, the stones laced with moss and weeds. A maple tree is tucked into the front corner of the yard in an overgrown, grassy knoll, it’s limbs bowing under the weight of dying limbs. The rest of the space is filled with brush and foliage and the remains of spotted, wilting flowers. 

Taehyung’s heart aches as he stumbles over vines drifting across the path, unsure if he’s feeling his own sadness or someone else’s. 

His Gram used to say that plants carry the emotions of their caretakers. Taehyung always thought it was her way of telling him to be happier. If he couldn’t find joy for himself, then at least try to find it for the flowers. It worked on him, though, and whenever he was in the fields he made sure to sing and laugh and smile and pour into them as much as they poured into him.

But now, here, as he lingers next to a bed of long-dead sunflowers—Taehyung thinks that maybe Gram knew more than she was letting on.

Movement in one of the blue-shuttered windows of the building catches his eye. It’s brief, just a shadow passing through, but a light flickers on above a faded yellow door and Taehyung spots an “open” sign hanging lopsided off the handle. 

The piano has stopped.

Thunder claps overhead as Taehyung presses the front door open, the bell hanging close by chiming to announce his arrival, and as he takes one step into the small entry he’s  struck with the scent of herbs. Basil. Rosemary. A smothering amount of sage. They’re hanging from the ceiling in dried clumps and bumbles. Flowers are threaded throughout them: marigold and chamomile, roses and delphinium.  

Taehyung’s sneakers squeak, squish, squick as he steps further into the building, away from the door, past a quaint reading room whose walls are hidden behind the buckling shelves of books. A lone edison bulb hangs in the center, its glow muted until Taehyung steps in to read some of the spine titles, as if it senses his presence and is trying to light the way. 

Taehyung stares at it, then backpedals to the narrow corridor and watches in awe as the lightbulbs follow him into the main space of the store, as well. A couple large, wooden tables fill most of the first room. They’re coated in trays and low shelves filled with hundreds of neatly arranged rocks that sparkle in the dim light of the lamps that flicker to life as Taehyung moves further in. 

Some of the rocks are raw and jagged and the size of his palm; others are smoothed into small bits that could be worn on a necklace, maybe even made into earrings. They’re all brilliantly colored and placed in such a way that hints at a pattern or a system of some kind. Taehyung moves in closer, and he peels away the damp hair from his eyes and reaches for a yellow stone that’s been buffed into an oval. It’s warm in his palm. Too warm, like it’s been resting near a fire. 

“Citrine,” a breathy voice calls out, filling the air, and Taehyung nearly drops the rock. “Good pick for today.”

A boy steps around the corner from another room. He’s using his apron to polish a glass ball, and Taehyung feels his breath catch as the boy passes a lamp that warms to life beside him.

Taehyung’s never seen someone so beautiful in his whole life. 

Taehyung’s mouth falls open but no words come out. Nothing intelligible anyways. But instead of laughing at him, jeering, the boy just smiles and Taehyung swears the room gets a little brighter; like someone forgot they left the lights dimmed and finally turned up the switch. 

“The stone,” the boy gestures with a nod to the rock that Taehyung has pressed into his palm. He’s got light hair, the same color as the tips of a wheat field just before harvest. It curls around his ears and fluffs up in front. One strand has decided to rebel and sways above his brow as he moves. “Citrine warms the core and clears negative energy to make way for happiness and light. It comes in handy on rainy days.”

“I like the rain,” Taehyung answers thoughtlessly, still caught off guard, still dazzled, and it makes the boy laugh and Taehyung feels the sound reach deep into his bones.

“I can tell,” the boy grins again, and Taehyung frowns and glances down and realizes he’s been dripping. There’s a puddle building under his feet that’s spreading wider where the floor dips towards the center of the room.

Heat builds in Taehyung’s chest, spreading up his neck. “Sorry, I’m so sorry.” He sets the stone down quickly and backs away from the table, away from the boy, but that only spreads more water and he freezes. “I didn’t —I… ’m sorry,” he says, exhaustion mixed who knows what else making his voice crack. 

A moment passes of Taehyung working at a loose thread on the hem of his shirt, and then the boy says, soft as a voice can get, “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

Taehyung shudders. Opens and closes his palms. The boy makes as if to say something else, but he just sets the glass ball down on a stand hidden on one of the tables and hurries to the counter on the far wall. He slips around it, then into a back room Taehyung hadn’t noticed until the boy disappears into it. He returns before Taehyung can flee, holding a couple towels, and Taehyung remains still as the boy approaches him carefully. Like he’s one of the animals from the park that startles easily.

The closer he gets, the heavier his steps become, and Taehyung wants to ask if he’s okay but is only startled into silence once more because one of the boy’s eyes is a warm brown, but the other is this incredible shade of blue. The kind of blue you only see from a perfect summer sky maybe once or twice in your life. The kind of blue Taehyung knows he’ll never forget. 

And then, all of a sudden, the boy starts crying. Tears unstoppable. Like they’ve been waiting a long time to come out.

“Sorry, sorry,” the boy laughs, wiping them away as they fall, but this time the sound doesn’t make the room glow. If anything it grows colder, and Taehyung shivers in the open air. “Here, please have one.”

Taehyung takes the towel and pats himself down as the boy kneels at his feet to mop up the puddles. They make quick work, and Taehyung keeps his head low as he hands the towel back over. 

“Thank you,” Taehyung says, still tucked in small as he finds the zipper of his jacket. He tugs it a bit, twisting the metal between his fingers. “The stone,” he starts again, surprising himself, and the words continue to spill, like someone else is plucking them out of him. “The rock from before. What did you mean about it having energy?”

“It’s a healing crystal,” the boy answers, his tone light. “Crystals have different powers, different purposes. That one in particular is to aide in optimism and dispelling negative thoughts, among other things.”

“But they can’t actually fix things. People,” Taehyung presses, looking back to the table. “They’re not medicine.”

“Can medicine fix a broken heart?” Taehyung glances over in surprise, and the boy’s gaze is so painfully and exquisitely warm that he can’t look away. “Can medicine increase creativity and determination? Can it make you more compassionate? More courageous? Can it give you clarity or wisdom?” 

“Rocks can’t do that,” Taehyung says, but as the words leave his mouth they feel all wrong, heavy and unbalanced on his tongue. 

The boy’s blue eye, for just a brief moment, seems to shine. “They do if you believe they can.”

Taehyung bites the soft spot of his cheek, looks over to where the pale-yellow stone from before is waiting in its drawer—waiting for him.

Taehyung remembers how warm it felt in his palm. Like it was at home there. Like it belonged.

“What is this place?” He asks, more to the room than the boy. Because this guy is talking about energy like it’s a tangible thing and there’s a wall filled with jars of plants and sparkling liquids and a fucking piano brought him here and if Taehyung holds his breath just right, he can feel his heart beat in time with something in the air. Something living. 

Taehyung looks over the boy is watching him with wide, restless eyes, one hand pressed over his heart, like he’s feeling something too big to hold on to on his own.

Taehyung feels this inexplicable urge to reach out for him; but just before he steps forward, the front door jangles and the sounds of the storm and heavy footfalls fills the room before the door shuts, muffling the noise once more. “Jimin! I brought lunch.”

A man turns the corner from the front hall and pauses when he spots Taehyung. Not quite startled, just surprised. His hair is an ink spill across his forehead, and he uses a hand to brush it back. When he spots the blue-eyed boy lingering a few feet behind, something in his face warms so quick it makes Taehyung flush.

“A customer?” This new man asks, knocking his umbrella against the corner of the wall before dropping it into a holder on the other side. 

“No, I’m not. Not a customer. No.” Taehyung’s tongue twists in his mouth and his cheeks sting, but the man just nods and brushes past him with a paper bag in hand.

“You’re in the shop,” he says, passing Taehyung by to head for the boy. Taehyung watches him move, as if he’s in a daze. “Which means you’re looking for something, which means you’re a customer.” The man’s voice is all rumbly and deep and Taehyung hears it, the lilting tone of home in his words. “If you don’t know what you’re looking for, just start browsing. You’ll figure out what you need.”

None of that made sense, but Taehyung’s too caught up in his voice. Daegu. Daegu, but a little off. A little old. The kind of accents his grandparents have.

Had.  Had, had, had. Everything is had now. Everything is in the past. 

Taehyung’s heart is trying to climb its way up his throat, and it doesn’t seem to care if it chokes him on its way out. On instinct, on something , Taehyung reaches out for the yellow stone and wraps his hand around it. He holds it close to his chest. It doesn’t calm his heart, doesn’t “clear him of negative energy”—But it’s warm. Like holding someone’s hand. 

Taehyung can’t remember the last time he held someone’s hand. That morning in the field with Gram? 

“There you have it.” Taehyung looks up, and the brusque man with an old Daegu accent is heading towards the backroom where the boy got the towels. “I’ll be in the kitchen, Jimin.” 

Jimin. Jimin, with the odd eyes who cries with strangers and warms a room with his smile. Jimin, who is staring at him with twisted worry. Like he knows something Taehyung doesn’t, that Taehyung has missed. 

“I’ll ring you up,” Jimin finally says, his eyes curling prettily with his grin.

Taehyung’s stomach drops to his feet. “I don’t—” Taehyung grips the stone tightly, then gently places it back in its tray. His palm goes cold. “I don’t have any money. Sorry.”  

“Oh. No, no, I don’t need any money.” Jimin rocks forward then back. “I don’t take money. But I’ll take a memory.”

“A memory,” Taehyung echoes, and Jimin nods, his blue eye sparkling.

“A happy one preferably.”

A memory. A happy memory. Jimin wants him to share a happy memory.

“Do I forget it?” Taehyung manages to say, and crazy, this is crazy, but his fingers are already finding the stone again. “If you take it, do I lose it? Because I don’t… I don’t have a lot of happy memories. I…” Taehyung knows he sounds like a fool, but Jimin is looking at him tenderly, and something about his quiet watchfulness just makes Taehyung talk. “I don’t want to lose them. Not again.”

Jimin’s face shifts instantly into protective concern. “You keep it. The memory. It’s more like sharing.”  Jimin’s face is still clouded over when he says, “I have to touch you, though.”

“I don’t like being touched.” Jimin nods like he’s heard this before, like he already knew. The stone pulses in his hand. “I… Okay.”

Crazy, crazy, crazy. This is all completely insane

Jimin’s close again, even closer than before; so close that Taehyung can see flecks of gold in his eyes, like leftover traces of the sun. So close that he can smell the orange blossoms and lavender on his clothes. Jimin lifts his left hand and he’s wearing a gold ring on his fourth finger, intricately engraved with a twisting vine. 

“Think of a happy memory,” Jimin murmurs, his tone almost melodic. A tremor runs through Taehyung at the sound. “Could be recent, could be from when you were young. Something warm. Something lovely.”

Taehyung closes his eyes. Happy. Warm. Lovely

He doesn’t bother with this year, of the year before. He skims over the ones before that because there are nice memories here and there. Comfortable ones. Nothing that makes his heart hum, though. Nothing that makes his soul light up. Nothing that feels as if it’s worth what Jimin is asking him for. 

He thinks back to Jr. High. Elementary school. And then, for the first time in nearly a decade, Taehyung allows himself to think of Before. Before the accident, when his family was whole. His first and last trip to the ocean. 

Taehyung lifts his trembling hand, keeps his eyes squeezed shut, and he doesn’t miss the sharp intake of breath Jimin makes as he laces their fingers together. 

Summer. An early afternoon in August. Light streaming through the patchwork leaves of a forest. The sound of rushing water. The warmth of sun drenched sand against his feet. Someone holding him close, singing soft and low in his ear. Laughter and a sky so brilliantly blue it makes you happy just to be alive. 

The stone in Taehyung’s left hand is burning, and when Taehyung opens his eyes, Jimin is looking at him with pure wonder, his gaze so kind and sad that Taehyung immediately draws away. 

“Is that all?” His voice is curt, not himself, and Jimin just nods, looking at him, looking at his own hand, completely stunned. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Jimin breathes, his voice high. He curls his fingers, like he’s trying to hold on to something slipping through them. “Thank you.”

Taehyung nods, and then he’s out the door before Jimin even has a chance to speak with him further. Not that he would. Not that anyone ever does. 

The stone in his hand pulses. The rain has stopped, and on his way through the courtyard, Taehyung notices that the rose bush next to a rotting wooden bench has begun to bloom.

 

~~~

 

Three days have passed since Taehyung visited the weird shop with the weird boy and his weird rocks. One of which is now his. His weird rock. His weird rock that warms his hands and calms his heart. Only crazy people believe in magical rocks, and Taehyung might be one of them now. 

He’s slept on park benches the past couple nights because he can’t bring himself to visit a club. Instead his mornings are spent by the river, watching the sun rise over the tops of the buildings. Evenings are spent there as well, because he likes the way the water turns pink and violet and gold from the setting sun, like a giant canvas of swirling paint. The in-betweens are rough. Summer’s still lingering and Taehyung’s starting to smell a little. He manages to talk a couple people into giving him the leftovers from their cafés after closing, but living off of muffins is only gonna get him so far. 

Taehyung could go back to Daegu. 

Except, he can’t afford the bus ticket. 

And no one wants him there, anyway. 

People put up with him all these years because of his grandparents. If he was normal, then things might be different. If he didn’t dress the way he did and wore shoes more often. If he was top of his class. If he didn’t talk to things, inanimate objects; doors and bowls books and plants and the sky. People always called him odd. It didn’t matter if he worked hard and was good with his hands. He was Different. Flighty and foolish and weird and annoying and dirty and stupid. 

Taehyung buries his head into his palms and rubs at his eyes so hard he sees stars. 

Feels the yellow stone burn in the pocket of his jeans.

In the distance is the sound of a piano. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Taehyung took a different path to get here. Through the park, under a bridge. Down a paved street lined with coffee shops and galleries instead of bars and boutiques. He takes lefts instead of rights and rights instead of lefts, but he still tripped over the same part of the pavement, and he’s still here in front of the rusty blue gate to the courtyard again. Only this time it’s daytime and the sun is shining and Taehyung thinks the place looks even more miserable under clear skies. 

The rose bush has fully bloomed, and now so are the daisies by the front door. Taehyung greets them both softly before pushing his way into the store with the jingle of the bell and the scent of wet earth following him in. 

In the daylight, it’s obvious the store is better kept than the garden. Clean and polished and warm. Bigger than he remembers. Fuller. Taehyung moves towards the wall of jars and flutters over the glasses, leaning in to read their labels and pleased that he recognizes most of them. Lost of teas, plenty of spices. But there are others that have him looking twice: hawthorn, mandrake and meadowsweet and mugwort, rowan, wormwood. These aren’t the kind of plants you cook with. Some of them are even poisonous. 

Taehyung reaches into his pocket and finds the stone. He runs his thumb along the smooth edge, twisting around to look at the rest of the room. The tables of rocks. A far wall filled with more books and small mirrors and glass balls of various sizes nestled into wooden and metal stands.

Plants. Plants everywhere. At least, what used to be them. Ivys and succulents and figs and ferns. All of them are half-dead. All of them feel sad. 

Taehyung hears raised voices upstairs, the muffled sound of people fighting, stomping feet, one pair of which has to belong to Jimin and the other possibly his Daegu friend.

Taehyung should probably announce that he’s here. 

Taehyung should probably just leave. 

Instead he squeezes his rock, tries to control all the blood rushing through his body, and moves a fern away from a splotch of sunlight under the window. 

He takes the ivies in the reading room and switches them out for the ones hanging by the windows. He nabs a pair of scissors off the front counter and starts trimming the dead tendrils of the vines worming their way across the faded brick walls. 

As he moves his hums, and as he hums he feels the air settle. With every plant he works through, Taehyung feels this pressure lifting around him; feels this flutter against his throat, like something in his chest wants to fly out. 

“What the hell are you doing?”

Taehyung looks up from the palm he just finished draining in the front yard to find the boys from before hovering at the edge of the largest rock table, equal measures of surprised. 

“I… The plants are dying,” Taehyung says, then flushes, then bites his tongue and slowly backs away. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t—I’m sorry.”

Jimin looks like he’s going to cry again, but the man, the dark-haired man, looks as if he’s just seen a ghost.

“Why are you here?” He asks, and Taehyung scuffs a foot against the floorboard and the man presses more urgently, “You’re not supposed to be here.”

Taehyung raises his head and everything about the man is braced for a fight—straight-backed, chin raised, eyes mocking. Taehyung wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to throw a fist. It’s been a few years, but Taehyung could probably handle a beating. Possibly. He’s bonier these days. Hit him just right and this time he might break for real. 

“But it’s a store,” Taehyung says, fingering the worn spot on his shirt, not bothering to hide his confusion. “People are meant to come here.”

“Yeah, but once in their lifetime.”

Taehyung narrows his eyes. “That makes no sense.”

The man narrows his back. “It’s not supposed to. It’s magic.” 

Magic. 

Magic ?” Taehyung bleats, and it sounded stupid in his head and is even more ridiculous out loud in the open. 

Jimin rests a hand on the dark-haired man’s shoulder and inhales slow. “What brought you here?” 

Jimin’s eyes are fierce, not a hint of a smile hidden in them today, and Taehyung doesn’t hesitate when he says, “a piano.” 

Jimin’s face clears and his eyes go wide. He turns to his friend. What Taehyung assumes is his friend. How anyone could be friends with him is becoming quite the mystery. “Yoongi, if he heard the piano…”

The man, Yoongi, shakes his head. “I know, but it doesn’t make sense. It’s only been a few days. And he shouldn’t remember.”

They turn to him at the same time, black and brown and blue. 

Taehyung thinks they look tired. The kind that goes deep down. The kind that never really leaves. 

Jimin’s eyes wander across his face, and instead of kicking him out, which is what Taehyung thinks Yoongi desperately would love to do, Jimin just clears his throat and says, “Feel free to look around,” in that soft voice of his. He’s smiling, but it doesn’t make his eyes curve, and that’s how Taehyung knows no, it’s not just Yoongi who doesn’t want him here. 

But that’s not really a surprise, now is it? Taehyung’s in the way no matter where he goes.

A thousand emotions pass over Jimin’s face, but instead of acting on any of them, Jimin just looks at him with a slight frown, as if he’s trying to figure something out, and then he takes Yoongi by the hand and leads him towards the back room. Taehyung wants to think that Jimin’s trying to give him some space, so Taehyung pats down his chest, tells his heart to calm down and do its job, and then he begins to drift around once more. 

Yoongi said the other night that people who come here are searching for something specific, but as Taehyung serpentines around crystals and jars and bottles and plants and books, nothing calls out to him. Not like before with his rock. 

Taehyung pauses in the doorway of the next room. There are shelves of glass here as well, but the bottles are filled with liquid instead of plants and powder. Most of the vials look like the test tubes Taehyung recalls tinkering with in science class when he was young, but some are in larger, more delicately molded containers. 

The contents are in mainly in shades of browns and reds, but then Taehyung spots a blue one, and beside that a green. Down one shelf are a line of purples ranging from royal to lilac. 

Taehyung stops in front of a clear glass sitting on a shelf by itself. He searches for a label, and instead of finding a name, there’s only a short hand-written description in a small, neat hand. 

02/18/15. Healing. Grade A. Consume by mouth. 

Taehyung narrows his eyes, reads the tag again, then carefully takes a step over to pick up a bright yellow bulb.

04/14/15. Emotion: Joy. Grade B. Pour in bath. DO NOT CONSUME.

There’s another that’s dark blue on the shelf above.

07/22/15. Wealth. Grade B. Consume by mouth. 

Taehyung goes through row after row, bottle after bottle. There’s one for forgetfulness, another for fertility. One for love and one for lust and another for luck. All different dates and grades. 

Magic, Yoongi had called it. This place. He called it magic. 

“These are potions,” Taehyung whispers, hand ghosting over a vial, and something beside him shimmers. 

There’s nothing but air when he glances over; just small flecks of dust catching on the light from the window. Taehyung’s gaze flicks around at all the shelves and he thinks back to the rocks and the dried flowers and the wall of glass balls. Crystal balls. They had to be. 

Magic. A magical store. 

A sigh gusts out of Taehyung’s chest and he spins, questions bubbling in his throat—but suddenly Jimin is there, and Taehyung is twisting to avoid knocking against a shelf and feels himself pitching forward, Jimin’s hand on his wrist, on his chest, this sudden cry of alarm and—

Taehyung throws out both arms as they crash to the floor in an effort to not completely crush Jimin. There’s a sickening thud, his throbbing wrists, and Taehyung barely has time to stutter out a stitled apology before there’s a hand tugging on the hood of his sweatshirt, tossing him aside. 

Taehyung sputters and rolls to relieve the tension on his neck and finds Yoongi leering over him, a guard between him and Jimin, his gaze so cold that Taehyung feels the air drop around them.

“Don’t touch him,” Yoongi hisses, and Taehyung shrinks away with his hand still on his neck because Yoongi’s mouth is curled into a snarl and his canine teeth are sharpened to a point. 

Fangs. Those are fangs. 

“Yoongi, I’m fine.”

But Jimin doesn’t sound fine. He’s breathless, voice cracking, still lying on the floor. Taehyung sees that there are tear tracks on his cheeks. He has the hand that was pressed against Taehyung cradled in his lap. 

Shame crackles through Taehyung, so thick it hurts to breathe, and Taehyung uses every muscle in his body to hide his heartbreak as he crawls to his feet, shoulders hunched and head kept low. 

Smaller, smaller. If he can make himself smaller then maybe the pain won’t feel so big. 

Taehyung doesn’t ask if Jimin’s okay. He doesn’t risk another look at Yoongi, whose gaze was full of such desperate disdain for him. Instead he shuffles out of the room, past the shelves and tables, and back to the main floor.  

Stay, something whispers in his mind, low and tender, when he pulls the front door open. Please. Stay here.

The bell jingles and Taehyung’s in the courtyard and the sun is stifling and the plants are dying and there’s no gate. There’s no gate to get out, where’s the alley?

Taehyung’s heart twists as he walks back up to the path to the front door where the rose bush is browning again then jogs back. He moves along the wall, pressing between bushes and shrubs, down down down, covering the perimeter of the courtyard, moving past the dying chrysanthemums and dying asters and dying marigolds and dying elephant ear. 

He comes to a frantic stop in front of the maple and it’s creeking limbs and nearly falls to pieces, the hysteria a thick glob in his throat that he can’t swallow down. But he refuses to cry. Not here. Not for them. 

Instead he reaches into his pocket to pull out the burning stone. “Why?! Why am here?! Why do I keep hearing freaky piano music and why do I have this fucking rock and why is everything I’m around always die?!”

Taehyung throws the stone, quick and hard, and watches it strike against the trunk of the tree and ricochet out of sight. He leans over wheezing, skin crawling with the need to move move move. He needs to do something, anything, but can’t. He’s trapped here, trapped there, and the terror of not having any power numbs his body.

Taehyung lifts his hands to his mouth and cups them together and inhales as slow as he can. Again and again and again, until eventually he can take a deep gulp of air and let it go.

With his heart no longer beating in his ears, Taehyung begins to search in the grass for his rock. He finds it gleaming in a patch of sunlight in an old flower bed, and he tucks it tightly into his hand as he lays down in the cool grass under the shadow of the maple. 

Taehyung closes his eyes and whispers to the wood, “Why me?”

A gentle breeze drifts through the courtyard, shaking the branches.  A bird chirps somewhere overhead, and in the distance is the muted buzz of cicadas. 

Taehyung pretends he’s back in Daegu. Pretends he’s alone in the forest and never learned what heartbreak is. 

“Why are you so sad?” He asks the tree, the flowers, the earth. “Why did you become this way?”

He feels it on the wind, feels it in the tree, in the grass, in the dying flowers. 

Loss

“Did you lose someone, too?” The breeze picks up enough to ruffle his hair. “Did you lose someone important, too?”

The branches are groaning and something light tickles his face, then another, and Taehyung opens his eyes and it’s raining dead leaves. 

Taehyung sits up and crawls over to the truck of the tree, presses his forehead against the bark, then his right hand, and he sits there until the wind dies down, until the leaves stop dropping. He stays there. Minutes, hours. Who knows how much time passes, except that when Taehyung opens his eyes, the courtyard is burning and Jimin is watching him from the doorway of the shop with a look of absolute anguish. 

Taehyung wants to burrow, wants to sleep until next summer, is still lost in his mind as he drags his hand away from the trunk and his eyes away from Jimin’s stunning figure and looks up to find green. Not a lot. Not a sea. Just bursts of it here and there, the kind of bright green you should see on a beautiful tree on a calm summer evening. 

Jimin’s at his side now, eyes warm and hands gentle. Taehyung doesn’t know what to do with himself because he’s so tired and so sorry and so sad and what makes it all worse is that Taehyung knows Jimin feels the exact. Same. Way. 

“Jimin,” he breathes, and Jimin inhales sharply at Taehyung’s rough voice, and Taehyung blinks, blinks, blinks because Jimin has the most unbelievably gorgeous eyes. The kind of eyes you fall into and never try to get out of. “Jimin, please don’t be angry. Please don’t be sad.” Taehyung leans forward, lifts his hand, and Jimin doesn’t shy away as Taehyung brushes the loose fringe from his face, trails a finger along the curve of his jaw. So soft. He’s so soft for a boy. So tender.

“So pretty,” he breathes and Jimin’s blue eye flashes, and Taehyung leans forward and presses their foreheads together just like he did with the maple. Jimin’s breath stutters. 

Taehyung thinks of the summer day by the ocean again. He thinks of Christmas with his grandparents and baking strawberry pies. Thinks of the time he spent by the river with his brother, skipping rocks and finding pictures in the clouds. His mom, stroking his hair and rubbing his back before bed. 

Taehyung thinks of his happy things because he knows it will make Jimin happy, and Taehyung’s not sure why, but he thinks that Jimin deserves to be happy. 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung wakes up early enough that the light outside is an eerie blue and the birds are resting. The scent of sage is still heavy around him, and Taehyung draws the sheets up over his mouth. He breathes in deep and catches notes of citrus and lavender and something heavier, more woodsy and dark.

It’s wonderful, a wonderful scent; but sheets that smell this lived in means he’s in someone’s room, a personal room, not a guest one. It’s not bright enough to make out the odds and ends filling the space, though, so Taehyung groans and rolls until his feet hit the floor. He doesn’t know where his shoes are, but he’s not too worried. He should probably be more worried. Strange bed, strange room. No one really wants to walk down the streets of Seoul barefoot.

But Taehyung’s been in a lot of strange beds and strange rooms lately, and this one shouldn’t be any different. 

The floorboards creak and Taehyung likes that; means that the place is old and lived in and Taehyung likes old and lived in places. The door doesn’t creak, though, which is also good because it means the hinges are taken care of. The hall is narrow. Wallpapered, but he can’t tell of what. A round window over a staircase at the end of the corridor guides him forward, and even though Taehyung knows where he is, he’s still surprised when he slips downstairs to what appears to be a massive, monumental kitchen. Like someone knocked down a wall separating two rooms because they wanted more space. 

There are two stoves, a wall of glass-fronted cabinets that, based on the contents from the front of the store, are filled with an eclectic assortment of plants and extracts. Wooden floors and a raftered ceiling. A large window overlooks another yard, and Taehyung is moving to peek through it when he spots them: two large cauldrons resting on a hearth in a corner of the room. The big, black, cast-iron kind that look more like a prop than casual cookware. The sight of them just a couple yards away from a coffee pot almost makes him laugh.

More awake than when he came down, Taehyung pads back up the steps, pins and needles prickling down his arms as he traces his fingertips along the pattern of the hall walls. Sunflowers, he now sees, this lovely pattern of blue and gold that catches the light as he moves. 

There are four doors on the floor, two on each side. One probably belongs to Yoongi. 

Taehyung shudders, teeth grating against the skin on the inside of his mouth, and he shakes his hands and his head and his whole body to get the memory of yesterday out because he doesn’t want to feel that terrible about himself again. 

Jimin is waiting in the bedroom from before, curled up casually at the foot of the bed. This is his room, Taehyung realizes as he lingers in the doorway. This is Jimin’s scent, his place. And he let Taehyung so easily into it.

“Good morning,” Jimin greets, and there’s light streaming in and Jimin’s hair is a tumble of sunshine and his cheeks are puffy and he’s wearing a silk pajama set and it makes Taehyung smile and he’s not sure why. 

Taehyung lifts a hand in greeting, heart tripping, and Jimin crawls to his feet. “Let me show you the bathroom,” he says, his voice croaky at the edges. He clears it and squeezes past Taehyung, and Taehyung doesn’t know what else to do but follow. 

They move one door down, to the room beside Jimin’s, and Jimin marches right in as Taehyung lingers behind. The bathroom is all tile, floor to ceiling, blues and greens and whites. It’s a hodge-podge collection of patterns, impressive in its own right, but what really catches Taehyung’s gaze is the stain glass window on the back wall. Jimin’s thrown open one side to let in the morning air, but the other catches the light and casts warm, melted watercolor flowers across the floor. Taehyung dips his toes into a rose.

A faucet turns on, the rattling of bottles, and Taehyung looks over to see Jimin crouched beside a massive clawfoot tub. There’s a low bookshelf of glass bottles nearby that Jimin’s sorting through, all of them various shades of the rainbow, and Taehyung takes a seat on the closed toilet as Jimin mutters to himself and plucks a bottle here and there to dump into the slowly filling tub,  the water shifting from red to orange to purple, bubbling some at the edges. 

Jimin claps, startling Taehyung, but Jimin just twists around to smile brightly. “Bath is prepped. And I set out some shampoo and conditioner.” Taehyung nods, still muddled inside himself. “I’ll take your clothes and wash them.” 

Taehyung stands, begins to strip, and Jimin looks so frazzled when he drops his pants that Taehyung almost laughs again.

Jimin spins and doesn’t look his way, just extends a blind hand. Taehyung places the dirty clothes on top of his open palm. 

“Take as long as you want,” Jimin says, his voice smaller than before as he heads for the door. “You can rinse with the wooden cup on the top shelf. I’ll make breakfast when you’re out.” 

The door clicks shut and Taehyung stands there, naked, looking at the deep violet bath and the jars and the dead plants lined up in the window. Taehyung feels this ache build inside him, and he grabs two pots and takes them to the sink to let the water run through them until they drain. He does that twice more, neatly arranges the plants again so that they’re rotated towards the sun, and finally Taehyung musters the courage to slip into the tub. 

The water should be cool by now, but it’s as hot as if Jimin just ran it. Taehyung hesitates, waiting to see if whatever Jimin put in is going to turn him blue or something; but the water stays warm and weighted and Taehyung is still very much a human skin-tone after a minute of waiting it out, so he sinks down low until the bubbles brush his nose and feels like he just might melt. 

Basil and lavender. Jimin put in half a dozen different liquids, but Taehyung can only smell those two. For all he knows there could be some kind of poison in here. 

If this is how Taehyung dies, warm and clean and smelling divine, he’ll take it. There are worse ways to go.

A pain, quick and sharp, strikes him in the chest, like he just cracked a rib. Taehyung takes a breath and sinks under the surface and stays there until there are stars in his eyes and his lungs are on the verge of bursting.

He rubs at his face, scrubs down his body, uses the shampoo and conditioner that smell of oranges. Smell of Jimin. When he’s done, he drains the tub and rinses off any residue, and then Taehyung stands in front of the sink, chewing his bottom lip, dripping water on the floor, feeling clean and fresh and much too jittery. Like he needs to crawl out of this new skin. Like it’s not his to be in anymore.

“Taehyung?” Jimin’s head peeks around the door, and when he spots Taehyung, a still very naked Taehyung, his eyes dart to the ceiling and he holds his arm out. “Clothes. They’re mine, so they might be a little small, but yours are drying.” 

Taehyung walks over and takes the bundle, and Jimin scurries off before he can be thanked.

The clothes aren’t too small. A pair of blue shorts and a white tee that are tighter than what he’s used to, but Taehyung’s always burying himself away in fabric, so they probably fit better than what he’s been wearing. 

He moves barefoot down the hall, to the steps, where the sounds of someone in the kitchen are spilling up. Taehyung finds Jimin working at one of the stoves, but despite how quiet he moves, Jimin still tosses out a light “take a seat” over his shoulder, and Taehyung shuffles to the wooden table pressed against the wall, resting under the light from another open window. 

There are three mismatched chairs set, and Taehyung takes the one resting by itself on the end. 

“We don’t have much, but there’s some rice and kimchi jjigae and I think we have eggs. Do you want me to cook you up an egg?”

Jimin’s watching him, a spoon in each hand, and Taehyung nods. Jimin moves over to the fridge to grab two eggs and it only takes a couple minutes to fry them up. 

Taehyung feels useless as Jimin sets the table: a bowl of soup and rice for each of them, a glass of water and eggs. Jimin claps his hands, says he’ll eat well, and then goes to town on his rice. 

Taehyung stares at the small feast. 

“I know it’s not a lot,” Jimin says again around a full mouth, cheeks stuffed. “I’ll have Yoongi pick up some groceries. Till then this is all we ha—”

“No, it’s not—” Taehyung bites his cheek and picks up his spoon, shaking his head. “It’s wonderful. I haven’t had a home cooked meal in a long time.

Jimin’s quiet after that. Taehyung’s afraid he’s said something wrong because he always says something wrong, but Jimin’s smiling to himself when he looks up to check. 

Silence is okay sometimes. They finish their meals in it, and Taehyung says he’ll take care of the dishes and Jimin thanks him because he has to open shop. Taehyung doesn’t bother to put on gloves, just grabs a sponge and sets to work. Jimin returns from upstairs dressed in slacks and a loose linen shirt pushed up on his forearms. He grabs his green apron off the hook next to the doorway, and as Taehyung scrubs and dries, he hears the miscellaneous thumps of the store waking up. 

When the dishes are set to the side, Taehyung moves to the doorway to watch Jimin work. He’s currently sweeping. This place must collect a lot of dust, being so old and all. 

Jimin tosses the tray of dirt and dust in a nearby bin, and then he spins on Taehyung, gaze expectant. Hopeful, maybe, but Taehyung doesn’t know what for.

“You’re wondering why you’re here, right?” Taehyung curls his fingers and nods. “In the old days, a shop like this would be known as an apothecary. A place that sells substances used for healing.” Taehyung nods because that’s easy enough to understand. “We sell a bit of everything now, but our main job is to concoct potions.”

“Potions,” Taehyung echoes softly, and Jimin nods towards the far room. Taehyung follows his gaze and stares at the shelves and shelves of bottles. “But potions are made by witches.”

Jimin’s face is open and honest. Taehyung feels prickling heat crawl up his neck. “Jimin-ssi, I’m asking seriously here. This isn’t funny.”

“I’m not playing, Taehyung.”

Neither of them say anything more for a while. Jimin waits quietly as Taehyung steps fully into the room. The hardwood in here is cold against his bare feet, unlike the floors from the kitchen and upstairs. “How do you know my name?”

Jimin taps his hand against the side of the table in a staccato beat. “Your memories. I got it from your memories.”

“So that was real?” Taehyung asks, voice cracking. “Can you read my mind?”

“Only if you let me, and only if I’m touching you. And even then it’s only bits and pieces,” Jimin says, voice even, like he’s trying to be calm for the both of them. “I’m a clairsensitive. I can feel other people’s energies, their emotions.”

Taehyung buries his head in his palms, rubbing his eyes hard enough to see spots of color. 

“Taehyung, I’m sorry. About yesterday.” Jimin sounds small again, but Taehyung can’t bring himself to look. “You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just, I touched you, and there are some feelings that are more powerful than others. Overwhelming for me. Joy, for example. And grief.” 

Grief and sadness and heartbreak. That’s all Taehyung’s known for a while now. 

“I wasn’t ready,” Jimin says. “And it was just a bit too much.”

Too much, too much, too much. Taehyung’s always been too much. 

You talk too much. You’re too weird. You’re too skinny. You’re too slow.  

Be quiet. Calm down. Go away, go away, go away. 

“Taehyung.” Taehyung balls his hands into the hem of his shirt. Jimin’s shirt. “Taehyung, look at me.”

Jimin bathed him and fed him and clothed him and let him sleep in his bed. Taehyung has no right to ignore him.

Taehyung takes a deep breath and steels himself for the rejection, but Jimin has one hand fisted in his apron over his heart and tells him fiercely, “Taehyung, you are not, and never will be, too much.”

Jimin’s face is wild with sorrow. He releases his apron and spins around to pick up a rock and a rag. “Yoongi’s going to apologize to you today. You don’t have to forgive him, though. The way he behaved was out of hand.”

Taehyung, still stunned, manages to ask, “Shouldn’t I forgive him?”

“You don’t have to forgive the people who hurt you, Taehyung. That’s not a right they deserve.”

For a moment, Taehyung feels his heart stutter. It’s an alarming feeling, but everything about this interaction is throwing him off balance. No one’s ever said these things to him before. And Jimin… Jimin doesn’t know him but he’s acting like he does and that should bother Taehyung, right? This stranger who can read his mind? His heart?

“As long as you don’t let any darkness build in your heart,” Jimin says, putting the stone back in its tray, “you don’t have to forgive anyone. Will you bring me a red cloth from the storeroom in the kitchen? Second shelf.”

Taehyung grabs two red clothes, one for Jimin and one for himself because he needs to do something with his hands and it’s not fair that Jimin’s working and he’s just floating about, useless.

 Taehyung scrubs a rock extra hard like it’ll help him cleanse his thoughts. “Okay. Potions. Clairsensitive. Got it. So, are you a witch?”

“Yeah. A kitchen witch,” Jimin grins, and he seems lighter than before and Taehyung can’t believe he’s having this conversation but he is. “I work with the natural world as a healer. Herbs, flowers, stones and crystals… I’m like the stereotypical witch,” Jimin adds, as if sensing Taehyung’s confusion. Which he might have. This is weird. A good weird? “I take ingredients and brew them into magical remedies, or I purify stones and glass for healing. But I prefer potions.” 

“Cool. Cool...” Taehyung mutters, staring down at the orange stone in his hand. It’s not warm like his own. “I thought witches were women? And like, wizards were male?”

“No, we’re all just called witches.” 

“How old are you?” 

Jimin’s cheeks flush. “Twenty-three.”

Taehyung’s eyes slit. “You’re lying.”

Jimin shrugs, but doesn’t expound on his answer. “I’m going to assume you’re secretly a hundred and two, then.” 

Jimin sputters around his laugh, like he’s not quite sure how to get it out, and Taehyung watches in open-mouthed awe as the lights around them flicker with the sound. 

“How does that happen?” Jimin glances up to where the bulbs are now back to their muted glow. “When you laugh, it gets really warm and bright. But when Yoongi was angry, it got… cold. Dark.”

Jimin frowns, and the bulbs dim just enough that it wouldn’t be noticeable to anyone who wasn’t waiting for it. “The shop is a part of me. A part of us,” Jimin explains, looking around with utmost care, like he’s letting Taehyung in on a secret. “When a coven settles somewhere, they choose a space and purify it and put parts of their soul into it. It’s a way to keep our magic alive.”

“So, you have real magic?”

“Everyone has ‘real magic’,” Jimin grins, “Some are just stronger than others. That’s how you found your way here.”

“The piano?”

Jimin nods and picks up another stone. It’s bright green and a perfect circle. “Yoongi’s a hedge witch. He’s like a mediator between spirits and people. He can… sense things. I guess you’d call him a psychic in the human world.”

“But the piano?”

“The shop is literally alive,” Jimin says, putting down the green stone to pick up a pink. “Every place a coven settles is filled with the magic and souls put into it. When we flourish, our space flourishes.” Taehyung looks over to the dead plants and wonders what that means. Is Jimin dying? Is Yoongi? “There’s a delicate balance between a coven and the witches in it. I have trouble being around large groups of people. Too many feelings at once and all. But I need certain feelings from people to keep my magic alive. Someone’s else joy for example is like an energy booster for me.” 

Taehyung nods, realizes he’s still polishing the same rock and sets it down to pick up a green one. 

“And then, being a kitchen witch, I need to serve people,” Jimin continues. “It’s a part of who I am. But you can see my dilemma. I can’t be out in the real world because I get overwhelmed, but that means I can’t sell my potions or crystals to the people that need them. So that’s where Yoongi steps in.”

Taehyung glances over to the doorway leading to the kitchen. “Where is he now?”

“He left for work while you were in the bath,” Jimin answers, but doesn’t comment on the fear that flashed through Taehyung’s chest at the mention of Yoongi. “Yoongi has a spell set on the shop to track souls down who really need help. Good souls. Not just those looking for a quick fix in money and love. That’s the piano. The only way to find the shop is to follow the music, and you only hear the music if you’ve got enough magic in you and you’re worthy.”

“That’s a lot of hoops to jump through.”

“It’s a way to protect us.”

Taehyung nods, understanding. “But I heard the piano twice.”

“Yeah,” Jimin says, and Taehyung notices his fingers falter. “That’s why we’re so confused. No one’s ever come back twice. If you come to the shop, it means you’re desperate for something.” Jimin tenderly strokes a jagged crystal with his thumb, lost in thought. “A girl with a broken heart looking to move on. A mother with a sick child. A boy searching for a light in the darkness.”

Taehyung fingers his own stone, warm as ever in his pocket. 

“The store knows what you need, and until you find it, it won’t let you leave.” Jimin looks up at him resolutely. “That’s never really been a problem before now.”

“I heard a voice telling me to stay,” Taehyung whispers, and Jimin looks surprised, like that’s not a common thing even for a place filled with magic.

He gets over it quickly, though, and just nods. “That was the store. Because you tried to leave without taking what you needed. It’s like the clause on a contract. Like I said, it’s never really been a problem until now.”

“So I’m trapped here forever?”

“Only until you find what you need.”

“But how am I supposed to know what that is?”

Jimin’s sigh gusts out of him, and Taehyung feels like a nuisance because they’re stuck with him. He’s not wanted here. Taehyung doesn’t fully understand all the fine print, but he knows that even if the shop might want him to stay, Jimin and Yoongi can’t possibly be ecstatic to board him until this all blows over.

“We’ll give it a couple days,” Jimin says. “Usually someone walks in and goes straight to what they need, like you did that night with the citrine. But some have spent several hours in here before.”

Taehyung feels another question building but bites it down. Jimin looks up, confused, and then says with tender eyes, “I don’t mind talking to you, Taehyung. It’s not a hassle.”

Taehyung drops his eyes back down to his task. Waits a few seconds. Says, “How many people do you get in a day?”

“Four or five. Sometimes only one.” There’s a grin in Jimin’s voice, but Taehyung doesn’t look up to check. “I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s all I really need.” Jimin walks around the table to work on the big crystals and Taehyung picks up a new rock. Sky blue. It feels too heavy in his palm for its small size. “Plus, we get commissioned by other covens who don’t have a kitchen witch on hand. And Yoongi makes enough real money to keep us clothed and fed.”

“How many covens are there in Seoul?”

“Not as many as you think. Maybe twenty? Twenty-five. Usually there are three witches in each, but I’ve seen some go up to seven. It’s harder to share and control your magic with that many people, though.” 

“So you don’t need money, which is why you take feelings—”

“Positive energy.”

“Right,” Taehyung nods, trying to store all this information away and not knowing where to put it. “Positive energy. But in order to make things, you have to have materials.” Taehyung twirls the rock in his hand. “Like rocks.”

“Crystals and stones,” Jimin corrects. “It’s rude to call them rocks.”

“Right. Sorry,” he tells the one in his hand and gives it a little pat. “And you need plants, right?”

“Yeah.”

“If you’re a witch that works with plants, then why are all of yours dead? That can’t be good for business.”

The room dims again, and Jimin lifts a hand to flip off the ceiling. Taehyung knows he’s sad and that’s why the room goes dark and he shouldn’t find it funny—but he can’t help it. Because this is ridiculous. The good kind of ridiculous. The amazing kind. 

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says, and Jimin just shakes his head so that his fringe hides his eyes. The room doesn’t brighten again, and they work in the soft darkness with only the light from the windows. 

“You’re right about the plants,” Jimin says eventually, his voice low and choked. “I’m running out of resources.” 

“I can help.”

Jimin’s head flicks up quickly and it takes Taehyung off guard. “What?”

“I, uh, I grew up on a farm. We mainly worked with vegetables and fruits, but I know quite a bit about nursing plants. That’s what—The other day,” Taehyung bumbles, gesturing towards the ferns with his head, “when I was moving things around. I think… I think with some pruning and proper water and lighting and a whole ‘lotta love you could save most of them.”

Jimin’s crying and Taehyung doesn’t know what to do, but the room is blazing so bright and there’s a pop and a shatter and the two of them look over to where a light bulb burst in front of the doorway.

“Wow.”

Jimin blushes heavily, tears drying on his face, and he hurries to the front counter to grab the broom and dustpan again. Taehyung wants to question the odd response but doesn’t. 

“Okay. So… The plants?” Taehyung asks when Jimin has cleaned up the mess. “Want me to help with the plants?”

“I—” Jimin hesitates; but then he looks over to the shadowed alcove of the doorway where the wilted ivy has started to perk up and he nods once. “Yes. Please.”

“Cool.” Taehyung kisses the stone in his hands, apologizes for calling it a rock once more, then carefully sets it back on the tray. “Do you have actual shears? And potting soil. Some probably need repotted.”

Jimin’s eyes rove his face, an unreadable expression there. “The greenhouse.” 

Taehyung’s soul lights up and it makes Jimin’s whole face curl with his smile.

They return to the kitchen, and Jimin guides him to a forest green doorway on the other side that leads into a small den. There’s a huge, stone fireplace taking up the back wall, but the rest of the small space is filled with chairs and rugs and cushions and lamps. Tucked into the back corner is another door, this one taking them outside, and Taehyung doesn’t stand a shot at controlling his face when they step onto the back lawn and a monstrous building made of glass rises up before them. 

“The greenhouse,” Jimin says again, voice wistful at the edges, and they follow the foot-tread path through bed after bed of dead flowers and stunted trees. “It used to be a conservatory,” Jimin explains, noting his expression of awe. “Back before the war. The witch who lived here before us charmed it so no one knows it’s here. The shop, too. When the city started to grow, people built around it without knowing.”

“Like a mirage,” Taehyung says, and he thinks he’s going into shock. His organs are definitely shutting down. 

“Like a dream,” Jimin responds, his smile sad.

They have to shove with their shoulders to get the front door open, and when they do, they’re hit with a scented wall of wet earth. Taehyung gapes in the threshold as Jimin moves in front of him, still speaking, but Taehyung’s too distracted by the never-ending expanse of plants laid out before them. 

It’s a huge room, so long Taehyung can’t even see the end, but that might be because of all the overgrowth. The ceiling is at least a couple stories to make room for the trees, but certain panes have been removed to allow branches to carry through to the sky, like whoever was taking care of this place would have preferred to tear down the building than tear off a branch.

Taehyung moves forward and trips over a vine that’s wrapped around his foot, and Jimin stoops down to carefully pull the plant away.

“They have a mind of their own, don’t they,” Taehyung chuckles, and Jimin remains quiet at his side. 

“Yeah,” he eventually says, voice thin. “They’re a little angry.”

“Not angry,” Taehyung answers without thinking, reaching out to finger the brown leaves of a nearby vine. “Definitely sad. Definitely lonely.” Taehyung thinks of the maple outside and it’s crying leaves. “Yeah, just sad.”

It’s quiet. Still. Taehyung looks over and Jimin’s look at him again with that unreadable expression. Like he can’t quite settle on what he’s supposed to be feeling. Like he doesn’t want Taehyung to know, either.

“I’ll be inside,” Jimin says, standing and wiping his palms on his apron. He gestures vaguely around the room without looking at it, as if he can’t stand the sight anymore. “Feel free to do whatever. There’s a room in the back with supplies.” 

And then Jimin’s gone, and it feels like he takes all the air with him as he shuts the door behind him. 

Taehyung shudders, tries to take a deep breath but only struggles for a few long moments. Without Jimin here the place does feel angry. Hostile. Like it doesn’t want him here. Like he’s trespassing. 

Taehyung feels something move against his foot and finds the vine from before curling around his toes. 

“Okay, okay. I see you.” He reaches down to pry the plant off. “I’m Taehyung and I’m going to take care of you.” The plant coils around his finger and Taehyung should be concerned by such a living response, but at this point, moody possessed plants are the least of his concerns.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Taehyung can tell that Jimin and Yoongi have been doing their best to keep things alive, but the plants in the greenhouse are worse off than those in the store, and Taehyung’s afraid he might not be able to salvage much. He spends an hour just doing a walkthrough, learning about the plants and the place they call home. There are fewer trees and shrubs than he thought, their branches just overgrown so they appear to take up more space. There’s a pond near the back filled with aquatic plants and a weeping willow, and a large herb patch rests nearby, half in sunlight and half in shadow. 

The main tenants are the flowers, though, hundreds of different species spread sporadically throughout the building. 

All of them are near death. Some are already there. 

Taehyung sits down in the only patch of grass in the whole building, an overgrown, circular lawn pressed into the center of the room, bordered on all sides by flower beds. 

Taehyung agreed to help with the plants because, well, because he wanted to. But he was also moving under the assumption that “plants” meant the front yard and the pots inside the shop. A day’s worth of work, maybe two. This right here, in the greenhouse alone? One person could easily spend weeks in here. 

There’s a scraping sound coming from behind, and Taehyung rolls onto his stomach and spots an ash tree resting nearby, drooping over a bathtub similar to the one in the shop, one of its low branches brushing the side even though there’s no wind in here to move it.

The bathtub would be out of place anywhere else, but here it looks at home, nestled into the flowerbeds, empty save for some moss. Not a container, then. Something that someone might actually bathe in if they felt like it.

Taehyung thinks of Jimin, then. Jimin and his warm smile. The way his expression shattered just like the lightbulb when Taehyung had asked why all the plants were dead. 

Taehyung knows he doesn’t have a choice anymore. He has to help the gardens. 

In the back behind the herb patch is an offshoot to the greenhouse, only one story and packed in tight with desert plants. Cacti tower over him as he does his walk-through, but most of them and the other succulents seem to be holding their own, so Taehyung makes a note to revisit them after the rest of the plants have been cared for. 

To the other side of the herbs is a storage room, too large to be called a shed. It has a workbench and a wall of tools and pots in various widths and depths. He grabs a hand saw and a set of loppers, noting the numerous pruners and shears as he steps back into the humid open air of the greenhouse. 

Taehyung wonders if someone else was here before him who used to care for the gardens, someone who really knew what they were doing. Even if Taehyung couldn’t quite read the sadness in Jimin’s face, he can in the plants. They don’t lie, afterall. They have no reason to. 

Taehyung’s been dealt enough heartache in the past few months, though. Right now he doesn’t want to think about those things. Right now he just wants to play in some dirt. 

There are rules for gardening: when to replant, when to cut back, when to propagate, when to just leave them alone. Shrubs and greenery should be pruned in the early spring, summer flowers need to be trimmed in the fall and spring flowers in the early summer, trees should never be cut in hot weather for risk of infection. 

But the great thing about greenhouses is the controlled environment, so Taehyung kind of goes to town.

He starts on the trees because there are less of them and only in need of minor help. A few dead limbs here and there that have to be cut down, along with some crossed and rubbing branches. He checks their roots for signs of rotting and is happy to find everyone healthy. Trees are sturdy and can take a beating; where Taehyung is going to find problems is in the flowers, which are much more delicate. If he’s right, the greenhouse has been unattended for months now, probably since last fall. It’s a miracle there’s even live plants left to work with. 

Taehyung clips off a dead limb and almost hears the sigh of relief from the hydrangeas. 

Maybe not a miracle. 

Maybe it really is magic.

Taehyung’s still at a loss with what to think of that. Witches, potions, charmed stones and plants.  A part of him thinks this is just a dream, but Gram always said that you can’t see people’s faces in a dream. Most of the time you don’t have all your fingers or toes, either. 

Taehyung definitely has all his proper appendages, and Jimin’s face, just like the first day, was as clear as the morning sky. 

He takes a break to starfish out in the center of the lawn and pulls out his stone from his jeans pocket. It tingles against his fingertips as he holds it overhead to morph with the sun. Taehyung squints past its glowing edges. 

He’s thinking too much, and thinking too much as never gotten him anywhere good; so Taehyung pockets his crystal and rises to his feet and sets off to work because if there’s one thing he knows how to do well, it’s making plants happy.  

 

 

 

So, the vines hate him. Taehyung had to cut back almost half of them because they were spreading into the flowerbeds and attaching to the trees, cutting off sunlight for some and smothering others.

“You guys are greedy,” he tells them, struggling on a ladder to clip the last of wisteria. The wisteria really hates him. It’s old and set in its ways. A lot like his grandpa. “If you hadn’t.” Snip. “Tried to take over your neighbors.” Snip. “ I wouldn’t have to cut.” Snip. “So.” Snip. "Much.” Snip. “Stop that!”

Back on the farm, Taehyung would speak to the plants all the time. Tell them stories. Ask them questions. His gramps would grumble about it being a waste of energy, but Taehyung made sure to get his chores done, and he thinks the plants like the conversation.

A good gardener can read a plant. Know it’s age, what soil it likes, how much sunlight it prefers. But Taehyung’s always sensed more than that. He’s not sure how, but he likes to think that plants and people are more alike than most like to think about.

There’s something about the greenhouse, too. It makes the plants stronger. Louder. More lifelike. 

Case and point: the wisteria. 

Taehyung cuts off a long tendril that was wrapping itself around a branch of a plum tree and feels the vine scream in protest. Not out of pain, just disdain. Disdain for him.

“Don’t make me bring Jimin in here!” He tells it off as a vine wraps around his hand. He tugs it away. “You’re the oldest vine here, stop acting like a child.” 

“Hey.”

Taehyung startles so hard his ladder shifts on the wall, and just before he can go toppling over, something shoves hard against one of the bottom rungs and Taehyung shrieks as he falls back into place.

“Holy shit,” Taehyung whispers, clutching his shears do his chest. He almost died. Well, a fall like this might only break an arm, but still. That’s a broken arm he doesn’t look forward to.

The wisteria is laughing at him and Taehyung tells it to hush up. If he goes down, he’s taking the vine with him.

“Are you talking to the plants?”

Taehyung glances down and finds a familiarly unfriendly face blinking up at him. Yoongi still has his hands on either side of the ladder, holding it in place like he doesn’t trust Taehyung to not make another attempt at a nosedive.

“They liked to be talked to,” Taehyung says, stomach twisting tight as Yoongi gazes up at him. “Singing, too. They really like to be sung to.”

Taehyung sees the moment Yoongi’s face melts into misery. The same expression from the shop yesterday morning, like he’s seeing a ghost. Which maybe he is. Jimin said Yoongi’s a medium. Spirits and the afterlife and whatnot. Maybe there is a ghost here. Maybe Yoongi’s the only one who can see them.

Yoongi still looks like someone is crushing his windpipe, but he drops his arms and then his head in what Taehyung thinks is supposed to be a bow. “I’m sorry about yesterday.”

Taehyung blinks. Lowers his hands. Even with Jimin prepping him for this moment, Taehyung is still stunned. 

“The way I treated you was cruel,” Yoongi presses on, and he’s looking at the sky and the plants and his shoes. Anywhere but at Taehyung. “You might not believe me, but I didn’t mean it. I mean, I did, but not in the way you probably think.”

Taehyung hesitates. Takes a step down. Remains there, when Yoongi flinches at the movement. “Jimin explained what happened. You were just trying to protect him.”

“He said that?”

“No,” Taehyung says. “But I could tell.”

Yoongi kicks the heel of his boot against the earth, grinding it in. Taehyung studies him for a moment, then says gently, “It’s okay. I forgive you.”

Yoongi looks up to him, eyes-wide, and Taehyung tries for a smile and is surprised when it doesn’t fall short. “Jimin said I didn’t have to and that I probably shouldn’t, but you’re not a bad person, Yoongi-sii. I think you deserve some forgiveness.” 

Yoongi’s tapping his fingers along the side of his thigh. Takes a deep, bewildered breath. Says, “We’re having lunch. Come inside and wash up.”

“Thank you, Yoongi-ssi,” Taehyung bows, “but I’m alright. I ate more this morning than I have in a while, so my stomach’s still kinda full.”

It’s quiet and Taehyung glances down to see why and finds Yoongi watching him with an expression of aching shame.  Before Taehyung can ask what’s wrong, Yoongi’s already stepping back onto the path and following the curve of it out of sight. 

“Is he always like that?” he asks the wisteria and clips another tendril. He’s met with silence. “So now you decide to play dumb,” he mutters, clipping some more. 

Taehyung spends the rest of the day finishing up the vines. He pulls a tarp from the storage room and lugs it around collecting bits of brush and debris. He leaves it on the circle lawn when it becomes too heavy and goes about picking up by hand, humming under his breath as he works, wondering about what Yoongi sees in him to make him so closed off. 

Wondering if Jimin gets lonely being in the house all day by himself. 

Wondering who was here before him who used to sing to the plants. 

 

~~~

 

“Hey, I brought you some—”

“Can you fly?” Taehyung bleats out because he’s been thinking about it for hours now and he hopes that it’s true. 

Jimin’s stopped at the edge of the lawn with a bowled over expression, like he doesn’t know whether to be bemused or giddy. He walks to where Taehyung is lying in the grass next to a flowerbed of what used to be daffodils and peonies but are now just weeping stalks. 

Taehyung’s been singing to them for the past half hour to make them feel better because they feel ugly. Taehyung doesn’t consider himself a vain person, but he likes to think he understands their woes a little. People only like flowers because they’re beautiful, after all. If they’re not beautiful, then what do they have to offer?

Jimin settles in at his side and sets a warm plate on his stomach. “What?”

“Can you fly?” Taehyung lifts his hand to trace the moon where it’s peeking in through the glass.  “Witches in fairy tales can fly on broomsticks and stuff. Can you?”

Jimin tilts his head, smiling aquinitily. “I don’t think that’s a skill that got passed down through the line.”

“Drat. I wanted you to take me up on your broom.”

“Sorry to disappoint.” 

Taehyung sits up carefully and takes the plate before it slips. It’s filled with dumplings the size of his fist.

“There’s kimchi and beef,” Jimin tells him, voice hesitant, and Taehyung crosses his legs and plucks up his chopsticks. 

“These are mine?” Jimin nods, his eyes still smiling, and Taehyung’s jaw drops. “They look amazing, thank you.”

“I’m not called a kitchen witch for nothing,” Jimin winks, then says, “Yoongi actually made them. Embarrassingly enough, he’s better in the kitchen than me.”

Jimin tips back into his laughter and something in the air shimmers. The ash tree leaning over them shakes, dropping some of its leaves just like earlier, and Taehyung stares up curiously.

“The plants like your laugh,” Taehyung hums and shoves a dumpling into his mouth. He tries not to moan when the skin breaks. “Sorry, that must sound weird.”

Jimin’s expression is still soft, but Taehyung can’t quite read it now that the sun has fully set. “Not really. Plants have likes and dislikes, too.”

Taehyung smiles to himself, pleased that Jimin understands this. “The roses think they’re ugly.” He points at the flowerbed across the small lawn with his chopsticks. “You should go tell them how pretty they’ll be when they bloom. They won’t listen to me.”

“I don’t think they want to hear that from me, either.”

“Then you’re not the one listening.”

Sadness fills the air, and Taehyung glances over with another dumpling shoved into his mouth and finds Jimin twisted up small beside him.

Taehyung swallows before he’s done chewing. “I’m sorry if that hurt you.”

“It’s okay. I just…” Jimin runs a trembling hand through his bangs. “It’s just that I don’t know how to talk to them anymore.”

“You could start with ‘hello’.”

Jimin laughs, but it’s more breath than anything. Jimin’s voice is always half air. Taehyung thinks he’d have a beautiful singing voice. Maybe Jimin’s the one who used to sing to the flowers.

Jimin stands, pats down his pants, and then walks over to the rosebed with quiet determination. Taehyung watches him as he finishes off the dumplings. He doesn’t know what they’re discussing, and it’s probably nothing profound, daily pleasantries and what not, but at least it’s conversation.

Taehyung wonders if Jimin can actually talk to the plants. If his magic helps him cross a bridge that Taehyung can’t even see. 

“You know, you’re taking this pretty well,” Jimin says, falling back into the grass beside him. His sigh is heavy but his eyes are clear as he looks up to watch the night sky settling in above them.

Taehyung thinks it’s incredible that, even though they’re in the center of the city, there are still so many stars. Maybe there’s a spell around the shop. Well, there’s obviously a spell, but maybe there’s more than one. One to bring people here and one to keep them here and one to hide itself and one to help them see the stars.

“It was weird at first, don’t get me wrong.” Taehyung sets his plate aside and leans back into the grass, as well. It tickles his neck and he curls his toes. “But even if I didn’t believe you, which I think I do, I probably would have just gone along with it anyway.” Taehyung pats at his chest. “I’m used to being the only one who’s different, so it’s nice to be around other people who are different, too.”

“Where did you come from, Tae?”

“Daegu. You can’t tell?”

“I can.” Taehyung can hear the grin in Jimin’s voice. “You sound like Yoongi, but his dialect is probably outdated. It’s been a while since he was back there.” 

“How long?”

“Thirty years maybe.”

Taehyung chokes on spit and Jimin purposely avoids his teary eyes. 

“So you are a hundred and two!”

“I am not ,” Jimin laughs, rolling onto his side so he can rest his cheek on his arm. So he can look at Taehyung fully. “We do have slightly longer lifespans than normal people, though.”

Taehyung shifts so that he’s facing Jimin, so that they’re both curled towards each other, and Taehyung wonders if it’s a witch thing or just a Jimin thing, that he feels so transparent and warm around him. 

“How old are you really?” Taehyung asks, laughing when Jimin starts to count on his fingers.

“Sixty-nine,” Jimin answers truthfully. “Stop that, it’s not like I’m a hundred or something. We were still born in the same century.” 

“Gosh, that makes it sound worse.” 

Jimin’s giggling morphs into uncontrollable, spectacular laughter, and the room doesn’t light up but Taehyung’s soul does. 

The ash shakes overhead, like it’s joining in, and Taehyung digs his hands into the grass until his nails break dirt. There are tears on Jimin’s cheeks and Taehyung stops himself from wiping them away. 

Silence settles around them like a blanket, and Taehyung’s eyes are starting to drift closed when Jimin says tentatively, “The place looks good. I was a little worried about leaving you alone, but I’m glad I trusted you.”

“Why?”

“Why do I trust you?”

“Is it because of your feelings thing? Can you sense I’m not some creepy skinsuit serial killer?”

Another burst of laughter and it surprises Jimin this time, like he can’t believe it came out so naturally. “No, Yoongi’d be the one to be able to sense that. And the shop wouldn’t have let you within ten miles of it, anyway.” 

“So you trust the shop.”

“The shop is a part of me and I trust myself, so yeah.”

Taehyung thinks this is a very respectable answer. 

“So, about my question from earlier.”

“Before we went off track about how you’re an old man and I’m not into skinsuits?”

“Yeah. That.” Stars. Stars in his eyes tonight instead of the sun. Jimin’s so beautiful in the moonlight that Taehyung thinks that even if he is dead and this is the afterlife, he just might be okay with it. “What brought you to Seoul, Taehyung? You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but it might be able to help me find what you need to leave. It could be whatever you’re looking for doesn’t exist yet and I might have to make it.”

Taehyung taps a gentle rhythm against his stomach. “I never thought of that.”

“Yeah, I didn’t either. I called up a much wiser friend. He actually said he’d stop by for dinner soon if you’re still here.” 

Taehyung feels his stomach drop. “Is he nice?”

“The nicest,” Jimin nods. “He can be curt, but he’s got a good heart.”

“Okay. I like meeting nice people.” 

Jimin doesn’t say anything to that. Taehyung digs his hands into the earth again. 

“My grandparents died this past spring. First my Gram, from heart failure, and then Gramps a few days later from heartbreak. It’s kind of romantic now that I look back on it.”

Jimin’s voice is even softer in the darkness. “Taehyung, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. They were old. Old people die. You’re old, but you won’t die just yet. That’s nice.”

Jimin doesn’t say anything, but it’s not because he’s offended. It’s like he knows to be quiet, to just be here. 

“So anyway…” Taehyung digs deep, feels soil cake under his nails, feels the earth pulsing at his fingertips. Or at least he likes to think he can. “The bank took the farm and no one really wanted to take me. My parents died when I was in elementary school, my little siblings too. Car accident. I wasn’t in the car or else I would have died, too. I used to think about that a lot. I still think about it, but less now. So yeah. Came to the city because I didn’t know what else to do. But no one wanted me here, either. I did some things I regret, met some people I wish I wouldn’t have; was about to step in front of a car when I heard the piano. Came here. Met you, met Yoongi.” 

Taehyung pauses when he sees a shooting star fall across the sky overhead, but he can’t think of anything to wish for. “He stopped by to say sorry, by the way. I forgave him. He’s a nice guy even if he doesn’t act like it.” Jimin hums a little and Taehyung takes a deep breath to calm down. “Yeah. So, I got the stone, left. Stone made me feel better, but still not all the great. Considered jumping into the river because it was pink and purple and beautiful and why the hell not, but then I heard the piano again and here we are.”

He wiggles his fingers at the end, like “surprise!”, but Jimin’s quiet and Taehyung feels his heart sitting too heavy in his chest, like it’s pinning him to the ground and he’s never going to be able to move again. 

“Taehyung…”

“Please don’t feel sorry for me,” Taehyung whispers to the stars. “I’m not going to say I’m okay because I know you know I’m not, but please don’t pity me.” 

“You know what the definition of pity is?” Taehyung doesn’t answer. “ ‘Sympathetic or kindly sorrow evoked by the suffering, distress, or misfortune of another’.”

“Are you a dictionary? Is that a skill that gets passed down, too?”

Jimin ignores the sarcasm. Jimin is taking this seriously. Taehyung isn’t used to people taking him seriously. To people caring. How do you tell someone that? I’m not used to being loved, so please try a little less.

“I’m the most empathetic person you will ever meet in your life, Taehyung.” Jimin’s voice is fierce and Taehyung likes it, that Jimin can go from sweet to powerful. Tender and hardy, just like the flowers. Jimin’s both. “If you think I’m not going to show you sympathy or kindness or compassion or mercy because you’ve lived a shitty life you didn’t ask for, you’ve got a lot to learn about me.” 

Taehyung wants to shove this entire conversation back into his chest. This is nonsense. Jimin can’t be real. 

“I have a lot of questions,” Taehyung mumbles instead.

Jimin nods and rolls onto his back so Taehyung can’t see his face. “I know you do. And a lot of them I’m not ready to answer, but I’ll answer what I can.”

Taehyung watches the moon. Pats down the wounds he made in the earth. Breathes.

“Maybe being so sad isn’t so bad if it meant I got to meet you, Jimin.”

Jimin inhales deeply and lets it out just as slow.

“Yeah, maybe it’s not.” 

 

 

 

The door on the other side of the hall closest to the stairs leads to Yoongi’s room, which is where Jimin stayed last night and is there again now. He’s letting Taehyung have his room even though Taehyung said he’d happily take the couch in the den.

Jimin looked physically insulted at the mention of it, and Taehyung quickly thanked him for his hospitality to avoid the inevitable confrontation. 

Jimin’s room is warm. Physically, of course, even with the window in the corner pushed open to let in a breeze—but it’s more than that. It’s Jimin. Walls stenciled in diamonds of blue and gold and white. A big, mahogany bed frame filled with pillows and quilts. There are books everywhere, spilling off the built-in shelves and the desk and from under the sitting bench at the foot of the bed. 

Taehyung crawls out from under the top sheet to pad over to one of the shelving units, gaze drifting over the titles there and finding things like Comparative Mythology and Hoodoo, Herb and Root Magic and A Century of Spells

His attention is caught by one called Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. The index says it’s a mixture of common references from what humans know about herbs and flowers and trees combined with a witch’s knowledge of working with the spirits of plants and their magical properties for healing. 

Enamored, Taehyung goes straight to sage, the most consistent herb used in the shop, and discovers that it’s used for self-purification. That it removes negative energy and promotes spiritual, mental, and emotional health and longevity.  It’s meant to help with grief and loss. 

Grief and loss. Grief and loss. The shop smelled of death before Taehyung ever got here.

Taehyung taps the page, not wanting to dwell on that, and then moves on to lavender. 

Magical uses include love, protection, healing, sleep, purification, and peace. Promotes healing from depression. Great in sleep pillows and bath spells.

Taehyung grins at that. Jimin put lavender in his bath again tonight. 

Taehyung’s too excited to go to bed, no matter how many sleeping herbs Jimin doused him in. He finds some blank paper and a pen on the desk, purposefully ignoring the empty picture frames scattered about, and begins to take notes. First, he writes down all the herbs and plants he knows by scent and what their magical properties are, then he pulls out another book to figure out what the major plants used in magical herbology are. Those are the one’s he’ll need to know well because Jimin will use them often in potions and he wants there to be enough in the new garden beds. 

Cleaning up the greenhouse will take at least a week, and it could be another if he has to replant anything. Jimin says the longest anyone has stayed at the shop before him was a few hours. That they don’t control how long he’s kept here. It’s all up to the store. All up to the spell.

Taehyung thinks that staying here a couple weeks might not be so bad. It’s not like he has anything to go back to, anyway. And at least here he’s fed and can bathe in rose water and not wear shoes and talk to flowers. At least here he kind of feels like he has a place he belongs.

 

~~~

 

Jimin finds him downstairs the next morning, pruning the indoor plants. The ferns already look better. The succulents not so much. They’re a hard-headed species and will take some warming up to.

“Are you always up this early?”

Taehyung startles and almost knocks over a huge porcelain statue and quickly catches it before its head can collide with the hardwood. He carefully rights it, pats its brow for good measure because who knows if he’s about to get cursed, then turns to Jimin who’s leaning against the doorway in his cute pajamas. 

“I wish I had matching pajamas,” Taehyung says without thinking, but Jimin just laughs brightly and says, “I’ll get you a pair.” 

Taehyung nods, the backs of his ears warm. “I’m used to being up before daybreak. The fields wait for no man.” 

“I can’t believe you’re a farmer.”

“I can’t believe you’re a witch,” Taehyung rebukes, matching his tone, and Jimin grins so wide the room warms. Jimin must notice because he clears his throat and tells him to wash up and set the table.

They eat ginseng chicken soup with rice. Yoongi joins them and answers most of Taehyung’s questions. They’re one-word answers, but answers nonetheless. Sometimes grunts. Grunts are okay, though. It’s better than getting ignored. 

Plus, Jimin laughs so hard at one point that a light bursts again. He rushes off with pink cheeks to clean up the mess and replace the bulb, and Taehyung turns to Yoongi who is, as always, watching him with utmost care. Not like Jimin, whose expression is always filled with compassion. More like Yoongi thinks he’s going to try to steal something while his back is turned. 

“If you laugh will that happen, too?”

He shrugs. “Probably.” 

“Has it happened before?”

“Have I laughed before?” Taehyung grins and Yoongi rolls his eyes, and Taehyung knows he’s holding back a smile. He has to be. “The bulbs, among other things, only burst under extreme emotions. It’s…” Yoongi bites his lip. “It’s happened before, to both of us. Usually it doesn’t happen this much, but I think Jimin’s so used to not feeling anything that the shop is getting overwhelmed.”

Taehyung twirls his spoon around his empty bowl, clinking it against the sides. He likes knowing things like this. At least, he thinks he does. It means he’s included, and that’s both a wonderful and dangerous thing. But hearing about just how sad Jimin really is hurts him, and Taehyung can’t allow himself to feel that way because getting attached to people is risky. Getting attached to people has never ended well for him.

“Are you sad, Yoongi?”

This is where he gets a grunt. Yoongi finishes off his soup and glances over to Taehyung again. Except, when Yoongi looks at him like this, it feels like he’s looking past him. To someone else.

“Are you looking at all the dead people haunting me?”

Yoongi’s eyes bulge and it’s kind of funny and kind of alarming because Taehyung was hoping there really weren’t any dead people hovering around, but with that reaction?

Taehyung smiles carefully. “There are a lot of them, aren’t there.” 

Yoongi won’t look at him, but he nods.

“Do all humans get followed by their dead loved ones?”

“Most have one or two,” Yoongi answers and Taehyung’s surprised by this, that spirits are so common. That Yoongi is giving into his pressing. “People usually die with regrets, after all. It’s pretty normal for them to stick around for a while. Usually whoever it is they’re haunting figures it out through a will or word of mouth and the deceased move on. Sometimes they don’t. One of my jobs is to help them move on.”

Yoongi looks at him then, his dark eyes shiny and sad. “Taehyung, you—”

“If you’re going to tell me why my family is haunting me, I already know.” 

Yoongi’s eyes slit. “If you knew then they wouldn’t be haunting you, you little shit.”

Taehyung blinks at that, stricken, and Yoongi looks over his shoulder as if to say more and instead just shakes his head. Taehyung wonders what he sees, who it is he’s looking at. Wonders if his family look like they would have in real life or if they’re just floating blobs of darkness. 

Taehyung hopes they’re neither. He hopes they’re colorful rays of light. 

“I can’t help you if you don’t want help,” Yoongi says and grabs the list of things Taehyung needs for the greenhouse that he penned early this morning while on the floor of Jimin’s bedroom. “But I can help you. Just know that.”

“Thanks, Yoongi-ssi.”

Yoongi doesn’t acknowledge him and just shuffles away. He slows when he runs into Jimin in the doorway, though, and Taehyung can’t help but watch as Yoongi leans in close to knock his forehead against Jimin’s in such an intimate display of affection that Taehyung immediately feels ashamed for witnessing it.

Taehyung rises to wash the dishes, and Jimin must sense his mood because he leaves Taehyung in silence. Today he remembers where the tableware goes, and he makes sure to stack everything neatly in the cabinets before slipping out the backdoor to the greenhouse. 

He doesn’t have to shove the door open this time, and he’s not tripped by anything either. Some of the plants still aren’t all that fond of him (aka the wisteria and roses). 

The roses today especially.

Taehyung has to deadhead most of the flowers, which he expected. This means he cuts off the spent blossoms so that new buds can form. The roses take his pruning personally. They’re vain and angry with him even though he’s told them multiple times that it had to be done. The peonies are particularly fond of him, though.

“See?” He tells the roses on his way past and points over to the peony bed. “They’re all bald too and you don’t hear them complaining.”

The air shimmers, like the plants are laughing, and Taehyung smiles and works his way over to the next bed. 

Taehyung doesn’t mind deadheading, but what he doesn’t like is rejuvenating. Deadheading leaves behind most of the plant, but rejuvenation means cutting down to the last four or five inches. If you do it wrong, the plant could die completely. 

It used to scare him, rejuvenating. How can a plant survive when you cut off so much of it? There’s barely anything left, so how is it supposed to grow?

But then his Gram would tell him to be patient and winter would pass, and in the spring the flowers would bloom like he’d never seen before.

Maybe Taehyung’s in the middle of rejuvenation. Maybe he’s been cut down as low as he can go, and now he just needs to make it through the winter. 

But what happens when spring comes and he doesn’t flower? What does he have then?

 

~~~

 

It takes the whole day to finish all the flower beds. What remains is a battleground of stalks and leaves and limbs and petals. Jimin looks like he might pass out when he comes by to check on him in the late afternoon, and Taehyung reassures him that it looks worse than it is. Jimin remains stiff as they clean up the debris together, though, telling Taehyung that they’ll have to get rid of it all because Jimin can’t use remains for his work. Taehyung thinks it’s a waste. 

“It’s because it’s negative energy,” Jimin explains as they empty the last wheelbarrow load on top of a pile they’ve built on the lawn in front of the greenhouse. Combined with all the shrubs and tree limbs from yesterday, it’s a formidable stack. “You, me, the plants, animals, water, the air. There’s positive and negative energy everywhere. As witches, we have to learn how to correctly work with it to help those who can’t. If I used negative energy in a spell, it could hurt someone.”

Jimin leaves for a moment and returns from the house with a large book Taehyung’s seen resting on the kitchen counter the past couple days. Jimin says he’s going to purify the pile, as a way to thank the plants for their sacrifice and apologize for their suffering. 

Taehyung thinks it’s nice that they get a proper funeral of sorts. He stays back as Jimin works, mystified by the transaction. Jimin’s created an intricate ring pattern around the pile with dried herbs and branches and flower petals. Some he recognizes from his time on the farm and some from the herbology book, but others he’s at a loss to their kind.

 Jimin’s walks around the circle, reading aloud from the book in a soft and lilting language Taehyung’s never heard before, and then he stops where he began and sets the plant ring on fire with a match. It starts low, just flickering at first, but the longer Jimin reads the higher the flames reach until they catch the pile of dead brush. Taehyung flinches back when the fire bursts into a sickening shade of green, but Jimin’s voice doesn’t falter and rises clear and smooth over the crackling and hissing. 

His blue eye is burning just as bright as the flames.

Taehyung feels the heat from here, wonders how Jimin is able to stand it, is worried that he might get burned—but just when the green blaze looks as if it’s going to spill over the protective ring, a ferocious wind rips through the yard and snuffs it out, just like that, carrying away with it the ashes. Taehyung looks at the grass for a burn ring, but it’s like the fire never happened.  

There’s a moment of eerie silence and then a bird chirps. Sound rushes back into the yard, and Taehyung realizes he’s been holding his breath and lets it out in one big whoosh

Jimin shuts his book and staggers backwards into the grass.  

“I’m fine,” he exhales as Taehyung kneels at his side. “Just tired. I haven’t done a ritual in a long time.” 

Taehyung can still feel his stomach where it’s resting in his throat and tries to swallow it down. If anything had happened to Jimin, what would he have done? He can’t go anywhere. Can’t get anyone. And what would he say, anyway? My friend just performed a séance and passed out and I think he needs spiritual energy? Also, you have to follow a piano to get here.  He’d be completely useless. Even right now there’s nothing he can do. 

Taehyung,” Jimin groans, reaching up to hold his forehead like it’s begun to ache. “Please stop thinking about whatever it is you’re thinking.” 

“Sorry.”

That’s something he can do. Taehyung makes his mind shut up,  but Jimin’s brow is still deeply creased despite the silence. He’s too pale. Jimin’s cheeks are always blushy around him. This isn’t right.

Taehyung hesitates, and before he can completely talk himself out of it, he grabs Jimin’s hand and thinks of this morning when Jimin laughed so hard the light bulb broke. Thinks of the way his stomach fluttered and his heart jumped to his throat at the wonderful sound. Thinks of Yoongi’s soft, closed-mouth smile he let slip when he thought Taehyung wasn’t looking. 

When Taehyung opens his eyes, Jimin is watching him with flushed cheeks and bright eyes, and when he smiles, it’s slow and sleepy and lopsided and lovely. “Thanks, Tae.”

Taehyung feels like he’s walking on clouds. “Did you have any customers today?”

“One.” Jimin nods, still dazed. “An old woman in need of some pain medicine. She shared with me her first date with her husband. They skinny-dipped in the ocean together and got fished out by the police.” 

Taehyung laughs, loud and short and unrestrained, and it shocks them both into stillness. Taehyung can’t remember laughing like that in a long time. He pulls back his hand and breathes deep. “It feels lighter.”

“Yeah, it does.” Jimin’s watching him with a peculiar expression and Taehyung edges an eyebrow up in question. “You’re abnormally in tune with the natural world for a human.”

“My grandma used to say I have a golden thumb. Magical hands.” Taehyung wiggles his fingers for emphasis and it makes Jimin smile. 

“I think she was a little right.”

Taehyung hears Yoongi calling from the courtyard. Cursing, actually. Angry at Taehyung for making him carry so much dirt. 

“Let’s go help Yoongs.”

“Don’t let him hear you call him that.” Jimin’s still wearing this intoxicating smile, like he’s a bit drunk, and it makes Taehyung feel fuzzy inside. 

“Nah, I think he’s warming up to me.”

Jimin doesn’t say anything to that as they head towards the entrance; but when Taehyung’s gaze flickers over to him, Jimin’s wearing a secret smile. 

 

~~~

 

It does take another week to work his way through the greenhouse until he reaches the very back where the pond and herb gardens rest. Taehyung read up on aquatic plants, but they seem to be the only ones doing well on their own. Plus, the herbs take priority. They’re softer than flowers, and the ones left in the garden are more weary than the other plants in the greenhouse from their attempts to remain alive for Jimin’s sake. Taehyung’s extra soft with the old herbs as he temporarily pots them to clean up the beds, and he’s gentle with the seedlings Yoongi brought him that Jimin finished cleansing this morning. He gets a bit snappy replanting them, though, because they need to be more selfish if they want to serve Jimin well.

“If I don’t know if you need more water, how are you supposed to flourish?” They shiver in response and Taehyung makes a low sound in the back of his throat. “Fine. But if you’re all puny and Jimin can’t use you, it’s not my fault.”

“You’re not supposed to yell at them.”

Taehyung flings his arms in the air in exasperation and Jimin giggles. He actually giggles.  

“See?” He tells the flowers, his voice squeaky as he points at the beautiful, giggly boy approaching them. “Jimin’s here to check on me and you’re gonna make me look bad.”

“You could never look bad, Tae.” 

Taehyung blinks at his words, but Jimin must not think anything of them because he crouches over the new seedlings without looking at him. “Hey, little ones. Just came to welcome you to your new home.” A breeze ripples their tiny leaves and Jimin’s voice goes warm. “Listen to Taehyung, okay? He knows what’s best.”

Taehyung nods appreciatively, still stunned on his feet. “So…” Jimin squints up at him. It’s a sunny day, warm enough that Taehyung’s considering removing his outershirt. “Why can’t you just have Yoongi-hyung pick up a bunch of spices from the supermarket?”

Jimin laughs and the herbs lean towards the sound. Taehyung feels himself leaning in, too. “Because their energy has been stripped. When a witch uses any sort of natural element, we have to thank it and purify the energy. There are spells for different resources. Without the spell, the element is useless to us.”

“So that’s why you grow everything on your own?”

“Partly,” Jimin nods, but his expression grows cloudy. “It’s easier to have resources on hand than to order them in.”

“But people order things from you.”

“Covens without a kitchen witch or a large garden, yes.”

“All witches have gardens?”

Jimin reaches out to finger the leaves of the mint. “Not all, but most. Even if you’re not a witch that practices earth magic, it’s purifying to have plants around.”

“There are witches for that?” Taehyung asks, excited, but Jimin’s mouth is pinched. He looks away without answering, so Taehyung drops down to his knees to loosen the soil around the chamomile with his hands. “But some witches aren’t good with plants. Like Yoongi.”

“Witches who deal a lot with negative energy tend not to do well with elements that have as pure, positive energy as plants. Yoongi likes plants, he really does, but they sense something dark on him and it scares them sometimes.”

“I get that…” Taehyung mumbles, rubbing soil between his fingers. “Maybe if he smiled more.”

Jimin laughs again, but it doesn’t quite make the air sparkle like last time. “He’s actually pretty expressive. Things have just been… different lately.” 

Taehyung senses they’re slipping into a No Question Territory once more, but Jimin changes the topic before Taehyung can. “So… It’s done?”

 “Oh, uh, yeah.” Taehyung stands abruptly and brings his hands to his hips to look around at his handiwork. Honestly, it doesn’t look all that great, but the garden will come back together with time. The hard work has been taken care of, the foundation laid. Yoongi and Jimin should be able to handle things from here. “Yeah. I guess it is.”

Taehyung tips his head back to stare up at the hazy sky through the glass. It’ll rain later. Another late summer storm.

The greenhouse is done. The courtyard taken care of. The plants inside all cared for. 

He’s done. There’s nothing left for him to do. Nothing left he can do. 

Taehyung takes off at a sprint and Jimin calls after him, worried, his light footfall following soon after.  Outside the air is cooler and smells of damp soil and Taehyung bursts into the house and through the kitchen and the shop and out into the courtyard. He brushes the hair from his eyes and looks towards the main wall with bated breath. 

There’s nothing there. Taehyung jogs over, runs his hand across where the gate was before. Gives it a knock. A nudge. If he knew Morse code, he’d probably try that too.

“Taehyung?”

“I thought…” Taehyung’s hand slides off the brick and he takes a step away. “I guess I thought I was supposed to help the plants. Help the plants, leave the store. I guess it wasn’t.”

Taehyung turns around and the intensity of Jimin’s eyes makes his chest tighten.

“I thought it might have been, too.”

“But it wasn’t.”

“But it wasn’t,” Jimin repeats and his voice catches. He clears his throat. “Well, that’s that. On to the next plan.”

“What’s the next plan?”

“Haven’t thought of it yet.”

They stare at each other for a long moment, grasping for something to say as the breeze picks up and ruffles their clothes and hair and suddenly Yoongi is there, caught off guard by the two of them hovering so close to the wall.

Taehyung looks around for the gate because Yoongi had to have gotten in somehow, but he can’t spot an opening. 

“You’re still here,” Yoongi says, mystified. His hands clench on the grocery bags he’s holding, and he looks over Taehyung’s shoulder to where Jimin is standing. “Well, okay. I thought… You said you’d finish the greenhouse today…”

“Yeah, we thought so, too,” Jimin cuts in, and Yoongi’s looking at Taehyung like he might not actually be real.

“Alright, well…” Yoongi shuffles past them towards the shop. “I bought enough for three, so I guess it’s okay.” 

 

 

 

They have hotpot that night. Jimin preps everything and Yoongi makes up the rice and a few side dishes and Taehyung sets the table because he’s not very good at cooking. It’s their usual routine these days, and Taehyung thinks it’s strange to say routine because having a routine means he’s been here for a while and he may be here for a while more. Like he has a place. 

But routines can be temporary. This is temporary. 

He finishes dressing the table. There are a lot of fancy dishes in a cupboard by the stairs. Fine china with various, hand-painted glazes. Old earthenware. Some stuff that might be from a convenience store. Nothing’s a set. Nothing really matches, but the whole house is like that. The new mixed with the old, the old mixed with the really old. The fridge and the toaster and the antique furniture and the cauldrons. But Jimin and Yoongi make it work.

Taehyung manages to make the dishes work. It’s like flower arranging, which he doesn’t have a lot of experience in but he likes to think he’s good at. He sets a crimson tablecloth tonight and neatly arranges the plates and bowls and spoons. He grabs the heavy napkins, the kind you’d get in a hotel restaurant, and he folds them carefully. Yesterday was boats. Today is birds. Tomorrow he wants to make little pocket cocoons to hold the silverware. 

Tomorrow.

If there is a tomorrow. 

Routines can be temporary, and this is temporary. 

“Taehyung?”

Jimin’s looking at him from the stove and Taehyung pulls a smile from nowhere and holds up his crane. It makes Jimin laugh, and Yoongi mutters something about him being excessive, but Taehyung thinks he likes it. He likes to think that Yoongi likes it, likes him, at least a bit.

But getting attached is risky, and Taehyung never wants to love someone so much ever again. 

 

 

 

His bath tonight is orange, but it doesn’t smell of oranges. Taehyung watched Jimin carefully as he poured in all the extracts and oils. When Jimin left, Taehyung smelled them individually before slipping into the tub. He stays in until the water is cold, which he’s discovered takes twice as long as it should, and as he dries Taehyung notices that there’s a new set of clothes on the chair by the door.

Striped silk pajamas. Blue ones. 

His throat is tight and he sucks in a shaky breath and he shouldn’t be emotional over a shirt and pair of pants but he is. Because Jimin said he’d get him a pair and Taehyung thought he was joking but he wasn’t

The hall is dark when Taehyung leaves the bathroom. The light to Jimin’s room is on but Taehyung knows Jimin won’t be there. The light is for him. 

There’s a glow under Yoongi’s door, as well. Muffled voices. Taehyung shuffles forward and lifts his hand and hesitates, drops it back down to his side. Steps away. 

He spends the night curled up in a quilt on Jimin’s floor reading through the herbology book again, adding to his notes. He reads until his mind is hazy and his eyes heavy and he can’t hold a pen any longer, and then he crawls into the bed that’s starting to smell less and less like Jimin. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

There’s not a lot of work to do in the greenhouse; not like the days before. Taehyung mows the grassy lawn that lies in the center of the building, goes around checking for any plants he might have neglected on accident. Extensively weeds. Drains and refills the pond. Sings. He thinks most of the plants like him now. Except for the wisteria. It’s still ignoring him. The roses have softened.

Taehyung assumed that because this is a magic garden, the plants might grow faster than usual. Like, he was going to walk in the morning after and find all the flowers in full bloom.

They’re weren’t, but they look healthy. Green. That’s the biggest change. Everything is so green. Not a brown spot in sight.

Taehyung flips on the overhead sprinklers and watches them run for a handful of minutes, just until the scent of wet earth fills the room. Jimin’s busy brewing, so Taehyung grabs a banana from the fruit dish off the table and goes out to the courtyard to lay under the maple tree. 

Its leaves haven’t fully returned, and Taehyung’s not sure if they will before the fall chill hits. But there’s enough that in the next few weeks when the seasons start to shift, they might get quite a beautiful burst of red. 

A pinhole of sadness pricks his heart, and Taehyung rolls onto his side and shields his face with his arm to block the sun. 

Jimin’s back on the theory that whatever Taehyung needs doesn’t exist in the shop, so he’s been looking for old potions to whip up. He’s been reading a lot lately, these big ancient tomes he hasn’t looked at in decades, not since his apprentice years. They were buried so deep in the library that Yoongi even stepped in to help search, and while Jimin slipped away to clean the dust and mold off them, Taehyung and Yoongi stayed behind to reorganize. 

It was quiet work, but Taehyung likes that about Yoongi. That Taehyung can let his brain shut down and just wander and Yoongi doesn’t try to prod him into conversation. It might be because they don’t have anything to talk about it, but Taehyung no longer feels like his muscles are crumbling any time Yoongi glances at him, so he’s not going to push it further. 

Anytime Jimin finds a promising potion or draught or elixir, he hunts down Taehyung to share it with him. But Taehyung’s not particularly drawn to anything, and he’s not sure how to say it aloud, to explain to Jimin with words that there are already potions in the shop for sadness and grief, but some spells are stronger than others, and Taehyung thinks that there might not be a potion in existence powerful enough to fix him. 

Footsteps on the cobblestone draw his attention, and when Taehyung drops his arm, there’s a little girl waiting at the edge of the grass, watching him. 

Taehyung’s mind blanks. It’s been what, two weeks since he’s seen another human being? One from outside the walls? What’s the protocol for this, for meeting another customer? Taehyung’s always been in the back when someone comes in. Are they allowed to interact? Should he ignore her?

“Do you hear the piano, too?”

She can’t be more than eight. Small and somewhat scraggly looking, her dark hair pulled into a high ponytail. 

Taehyung doesn’t hear the piano, but he nods anyway and points towards the door. “It’s inside.”

There’s not actually a piano inside, not one that he knows of, but the girl turns to the shop and her brown eyes are glassy. Dreamy. Taehyung wonders if he looked like that the first night he walked in. 

“Want me to go with you?”

She nods and holds out her hand. Taehyung heaves himself up. Her hand is cold and impossibly small. He grips it tightly and leads the way, and when the bell jingles, Jimin looks over from the counter, eyes wide when he spots them together. 

Taehyung feels his throat knot up. There must be a rule about this then, one he’s just broken. He’s messed up the exchange and Jimin’s going to be upset.

Taehyung tries to let go, but the girl holds fast, and Taehyung feels the glob in his windpipe grow and grow the closer Jimin gets and then—

Jimin’s thumb strokes along the soft skin on Taehyung’s inner arm, so light it’s almost ticklish, and Taehyung exhales sharply just as Jimin pulls away to crouch in front of the girl, his hair bobbing with the movement.

“Hello, there,” he greets her kindly, his eyes soft at the edges. “How can I help you?”

“My mom.” The girl’s looking at the table of crystals without really seeing them. “My mom is sick.”

Jimin hums. “Wanna look around for something to give her to make her feel better?”

She nods once and takes off for the potions room with Taehyung in tow. She skips over the first three shelves, going straight for the back, only stopping in front of the display case with the iridescent vial. 

She tugs on his arm. “This one?” He asks, pointing to the delicate glass, and she nods. He takes it down for her. “You should hold it with two hands, just to be safe.”

She hesitates just before releasing him, but as soon as the glass touches her outstretched palms, she smiles for the first time since walking through the gate. She has a gap between her two front teeth, big enough that she probably gets teased, but Taehyung thinks it’s endearing and hope she never feels the need to fix it.

“I only have…” She reaches into the pocket of her skirt and pulls out a couple crumbled bills. Her face is falling back into darkness by the second. “Six thousand won. I have six thousand won. Is that enough?”

Jimin’s already kneeling in front of her, and he smiles squintily, adorably, like the sun is in his face. “I don’t take money, actually. But could you share a happy memory with me?”

The girl bobbles her head and Taehyung definitely must have looked like this his first night. Absolutely and utterly infatuated. “I have one. I have a perfect one.”

Jimin extends his hand and the girl takes it, pinches her eyes shut, squeezes his hand, and Taehyung knows he should look away from such an intimate moment but he can’t. He’s tingly and fuzzy and completely overcome by Jimin’s gentle beauty.

It only takes a few seconds, and then Jimin slowly opens his eyes and ruffles her hair. 

“That was perfect.” His voice is thick, like he might start crying. “Thank you very much.”

“Thank you,” she beams, breathless, clutching the vial in her hands. “Will this really help Mommy?”

“Mmhmm. You make her tea every morning, right?” The girl nods. “Just put it in the tea and she’ll be better in no time.”

She nods and bows and races for the door without another word. Jimin watches her through the window, and she must make it safely back to the ally because he finally stands. 

“Cancer,” Jimin sighs. “Stage four. They’ll probably call it a miracle.”

Taehyung doesn’t answer him, doesn’t know how. He’s hyper aware of his tongue resting uncomfortably in his mouth. Hands. He should do something with his hands. He should say something, anything, but what? What do you say after seeing something like that?

Taehyung twists his fingers into the hem of his shirt. A tear slips out and Jimin immediately reaches to wipe it away with his thumb. But then he stops, arm-half raised, and Taehyung almost steps forward to meet him.

“I’m sorry,” Jimin chokes out, stepping back, putting distance between them. “You don’t like touching. I’m so sorry.”

“I like touching.”

Taehyung’s voice comes out raw with emotion he can’t quite place, but he thinks Jimin can because his eyes spark. The hand at his side clenches, like Jimin wants to reach for him again.

Taehyung ducks his head. “I’ll be in the greenhouse.”

Jimin doesn’t stop him. Taehyung’s not sure if that makes him feel worse. He spends the rest of the afternoon cooing at the herbs and telling them stories. They’re mostly old fairytales Gram used to read to him before bed, ones about a brother and sister becoming the sun and moon, and another about far off cities made of gold. They like the one about a prince turning into a frog the most.

“You guys are just a bunch of romantics,” he mutters, and their unanimous agreement makes him chuckle. “Fine. I’ll tell you one about a girl born in a flower who falls in love with a fairy prince.” 

That gets a response not only from the herbs, but from the neighboring beds as well, and soon the air is crackling with energy. Taehyung laughs, and he stretches his arms overhead on his way to the lawn where all the plants will be able to hear him.  

He lifts his voice, as loud as he can go, and the words spill out of him, one on top of the other, and soon he’s caught up in a passionate retelling of Thumbelina, complete with a full voice cast and a couple props and a musical number he makes up on the fly. He’s in a particularly heated scene where Thumbelina is trying to escape from the family of toads with the help of a fish and a butterfly when movement catches his eye, and Taehyung spins with arms still raised mid-flight and finds Jimin and Yoongi sitting on the path beside the dahlias and begonias with the relaxed air of two people who have been resting there a while.

Taehyung suddenly realizes how ridiculous he must look and jerks up, embarrassment flooding his chest. He bites down hard on his bottom lip and is about to apologize when Yoongi, chin resting in his palm, calls out casually, “Why are you stopping?”

“Don’t tell me you’re embarrassed,” Jimin grins coyly, curling up his leg to lean into. “It’s just us.”

Taehyung looks around, anywhere but at them, trying to figure out what it is he’s feeling. Because it isn’t shame or embarrassment. It doesn’t go that deep. Jimin would know. Jimin would know what this jangly, buzzing warmth in his stomach is.

Taehyung’s breathing is shaky, but he turns away from them and takes a few gulps to steady himself and then immediately dives back into the scene where winter is arriving and Thumbelina is given shelter by a field mouse who tries to get her to marry his neighbor, a mole. 

The flowers cry out in dismay and Jimin joins in with a smile, grabbing Yoongi’s arm to fling it up in disapproval. Yoongi’s expression doesn’t shift once, but there’s a softness there Taehyung rarely sees that makes him spin away. 

Taehyung shouts, telling them all about how, at the last moment during the wedding ceremony, Thumbelina is saved by the swallow she nursed back to health over the winter. The air crackles at the good news and Taehyung presses on, the words bubbling out of him, unstoppable, and he tells of how they fly to a sunny field filled with flowers where she meets and falls in love with the fairy prince who gives her wings so she can fly with him. 

Taehyung ends the show with a deep bow as the wind rips through the branches of the trees and the stalks of the flowers, ruffling his clothes and tossing his hair around. A standing ovation. Jimin and Yoongi are clapping along, as well, and Taehyung laughs as he tries to push the hair away from his face. When he finally spots them still lazing near the path, there’s that quiet yank below Taehyung’s stomach and he sends them both a jaw-breaking grin.  

They both falter. Jimin’s hand comes to rest over his stomach, just beneath his ribs, but Yoongi is now standing. He’s already hidden by the curve in the path before Jimin’s even made it to his feet. 

“Did I do something wrong?” Taehyung asks, approaching Jimin slowly. No more butterflies. Not one. His fingers find a stray thread on the cuff of his sleeve. 

Jimin shakes his head, but he’s staring off in the direction Yoongi took, not even trying for an easy smile. “No, it’s not you.”

Taehyung doesn’t believe him. It’s obviously him. What else could it be? 

“I think he secretly likes me,” Taehyung jokes because he doesn’t know what else to do, he thought they were doing well, but it makes Jimin sputter in laughter. “But it’s okay if he doesn’t. Most people don’t.”

“I like you.”

Taehyung doesn’t have anything to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything at all. He and Jimin head back towards the shop, Jimin humming at his side, and Taehyung thinks about earlier when they were alone together in the store. Before Taehyung freaked out. Before he ran away. Again.

It’s not that Taehyung doesn’t like people touching him—It’s just that it hasn’t felt right in so long. Again and again it’s cold hands and sharp nails and strange scents and voices and it’s always been wrong. 

But Jimin is none of that. Jimin feels like coming home. Even Yoongi is familiar, and Taehyung thinks that makes this all the more confusing. All the more terrifying.

Taehyung can feel Jimin watching him, but Jimin doesn’t ask. Doesn’t push. Just continues to hum a soft tune that Taehyung doesn’t realize until much later, when he’s fed and bathed and in bed, is the same melody as the piano song that led him here.

 

~~~

 

On the first day of September, after watering the gardens, Taehyung enters the kitchen to the sight of Jimin sitting at the dining table, head pressed into his hands, while the battleground of a baking session lays in ruins behind him.

“Jimin?”

Jimin doesn’t move, so Taehyung does. He sets about packing up all the ingredients left out, wipes flour from the counters and floor. There’s batter that’s been poured into a pan, left to sit alone on the stovetop; so Taehyung covers the top with a towel and pops in the freezer like his Gram would always do when she made too much for kimchi pancakes.

When he’s washed and dried the dishes, Taehyung turns, patting his hands on a rag, and finds Jimin sitting up at the table watching him work. His eyebrows are turned down, and Taehyung is about to apologize because maybe Jimin wanted the kitchen to be a warzone, maybe Taehyung just destroyed his creative process; but Jimin’s shoulders unfurl, and he gives Taehyung a small smile and a tiny thanks and excuses himself upstairs, not to be seen for the rest of the day until Yoongi forces him from the bedroom to eat dinner.

 

~~~

 

It’s Sunday and Taehyung has been at the shop for almost three weeks and another coven is coming over for dinner and he’s so nervous he might actually vibrate out of his body. Except, there’s green bathwater in the tub today and it smells of thyme (attracts loyalty, affection, and the good opinion of others) and lime (purification and protection, promotes calmness and tranquility), and Taehyung’s so whelmed by Jimin’s thoughtfulness that he forgets why it is he’s anxious about this meeting.

But that might also just be all the herbs making him a little high.  

Resting on a chair next to the door is a folded set of clothes that Jimin must have slipped in when Taehyung was looking away. After drying off, Taehyung tentatively holds them up. They don’t look like Jimin’s usual clothes. Too loose. They can’t be Yoongi’s, either. Taehyung somehow ended up in one of Yoongi’s shirts the other day and it barely hit his waist.

Jimin laughed at that, but not enough to bust a bulb. Taehyung’s trying to figure out if that’s a good or bad thing now, that Jimin’s gotten better at controlling himself.

An oversized white button up and a pair of dark green, wide-legged slacks. Underwear, too. All with the tags still attached. 

These are new clothes, just for him.

Jimin finds him ten minutes later, standing in the same spot in front of the chair. Still naked. 

“Are you an exhibitionist?” Jimin asks, entering the bathroom with his eyes set on the ceiling. “Because that’s something you should definitely tell people.” 

“I can’t wear this.”

Jimin’s gaze drops down to Taehyung’s face, concerned. “Is the size wrong? Too big? Yoongi said we should get it big.” 

“No, I—” Taehyung’s breath catches, cutting off his words. Yoongi was in on this, too? “No, it’s perfect, but it’s… too much. Too expensive. I can’t wear something like this.”

A spark in Jimin’s eyes, and Taehyung knows he’s feeling him, that Jimin understands where he’s coming from. That this isn’t just Taehyung being humble, it’s him being scared. “You’re not going to garden in it, you’re going to eat dinner.” Jimin reaches for a towel and tosses it over Taehyung’s head and begins rubbing vigorously. “Think of it as payment for the greenhouse.” 

“Okay.”

“And it’s good to have a nice set of clothes. We’ll buy something cheaper next time if it makes you feel better.”

Next time, next time, next time.

“Okay,” Taehyung whispers, his throat tight. 

Jimin lifts the towel to peak under at him. “Don’t sound so dejected. Be happy. You know how much neroli I put in that bath? Too much probably. Now smile.” 

Neroli: Joy, happiness, confidence, and overcoming emotional blockages; soothes, relaxes, and uplifts the spirit. Instills confidence and courage when carried or worn. 

Jimin reaches out to prod at his side and Taehyung shimmies away with laughter bubbling in his mouth. 

“Change,” Jimin says with shining eyes. “Now. If you want I’ll even trim your hair.” 

Jimin does trim his hair, just enough so it’s out of his eyes and off his neck. He’s always liked it on the longer side. Hides his big forehead. Sometimes Taehyung braids it if he gets bored. 

Jimin’s casual as he works, maybe even careless, and Taehyung tries to think of happy things because he’s afraid of what Jimin might take from him. But trying to think of happy things just makes him all the sadder, and suddenly Jimin is tugging on a strand of hair too hard to tip his head back.

Taehyung blinks as Jimin leans over him with a frown. “Stop that. You don’t have to force yourself to feel something you’re not.” 

Taehyung doesn’t say anything, just blushes hard, and Taehyung tugs his hair again. This time softer, his fingers lingering at the nape of Taehyung’s neck, like he’s trying to prove a point. “You’re not you if you don’t feel more than one emotion. It’s okay to be sad or angry or scared. You’re human.”

“You can feel those things too, you know,” Taehyung rasps, and Jimin is so stunned he actually loosens his grip on Taehyung’s neck.

Taehyung rocks forward and watches Jimin’s expressions shift in the mirror, a myriad of emotions, none of them all that pleasant. 

Taehyung has to look away before he does something he’ll regret.

Jimin shudders behind him, but all he does is fluff up Taehyung’s bangs one last time before crossing over to the shelves to return the scissors to a holder. 

“There are sandals in the downstairs closet if you need them,” Jimin says, halfway out the door. “But I know you like going barefoot, so it’s okay if you don’t wear them.”

And then he disappears, just like that. Like he didn’t just leave Taehyung alone in a bathroom reeling. 

Taehyung slaps his cheeks and chest and thighs. He feels restless all of a sudden, but not the anxious jitters from earlier. He tries not to overthink it as he finishes changing, and he stands in front of the mirror, tilting side to side to watch is reflection move. Not out of vanity, just disbelief. 

Taehyung feels clean, he always feels clean lately; but what’s more unnerving is that Taehyung can’t recall ever feeling so much like himself, and he has no idea what that’s supposed to mean. 

He runs into Yoongi in the hall as Yoongi’s leaving his bedroom. He’s dressed in a simple black button up and black slacks, and Taehyung spots white walls behind him just before the door clicks shut. 

“Yoongi-hyung, do you think I’m handsome?”

Yoongi blanches. Taehyung does a tiny twirl, the fabric of his clothes swishing around him. “If I say yes will you stop slipping flowers into my bag when I leave in the morning?”

“Probably not.”

“Then no. You’re not.” 

Taehyung’s not offended. Yoongi’s like the wisteria. Set in its ways and afraid of change. So Taehyung just smiles and says, “I think you’re really handsome, hyung. And I know you like the flowers.”

“You’re relentless,” Yoongi grumbles, tugging on a piece of his dark fringe before shuffling past Taehyung with hunched shoulders. 

Taehyung watches him go and suddenly has the inexplicable urge to smooth his palms over the wrinkles of Yoongi’s shirt, to slide them down the curve of his spine, and it’s such a quick and terrifying thought that Taehyung actually covers his mouth as the shame rolls through his body.

“Do you like Yoongi?”

Taehyung swivels, hand slipping down to his throat. Jimin’s leaning out of his own bedroom, and in the shadowed light of the evening sun, he’s more beautiful than ever. 

Did he feel it? Did he sense what Taehyung just thought? Is he upset? Disgusting. He’s going to think Taehyung is disgusting, just like the rest of them.

“He’s like wisteria,” Taehyung forces out, so unsure of himself, but Jimin just nods like he understands.

“Just keep pruning,” Jimin says, stepping fully into the hall to reveal his blue silk shirt and navy slacks. It’s as if he just stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting: strong and captivating and devastatingly stunning. “Come help me with dinner.”

If Jimin did feel Taehyung’s thoughts about Yoongi, then he doesn’t comment on it. Instead he just slips in behind Taehyung on the steps to adjust Taehyung’s collar, and then, just before they step into the kitchen, Jimin whispers low and warm against his ear, “I think you’re very handsome.”

All of the hair on Taehyung’s arms stand up and he trips on the last step. Yoongi scolds him for no reason, but Jimin laughs so hard they have to replace another bulb. 

 

 

 

Namjoon’s coven is loud and happy and easy and entirely distrustful of Taehyung’s presence in their best friends’ home. Which they very well should be, and is probably the reason why Taehyung likes them so much. Loyalty is a hard thing to come by. Finding people who care enough to protect to you is even harder. 

Seokjin’s at the stove with Yoongi, grilling up meat as Jimin meanders from counter to counter chopping and marinating sides. Seokjin, broad with pale pink eyes and a laugh that warms the soul,  is a kitchen witch as well, but he actually cooks food for his customers. Potions baked into cakes and cookies and mixed in with coffee and teas. A café. That’s their shop. An older building in Insadong where the people who walk in order what they need without realizing it.

Taehyung thinks that’s a funny picture; a smoothie for a broken heart, a crépe to do well on your next test.

Of course, he’s the one who carries around a crystal in his pocket because it makes him feel less alone.

Namjoon’s an eclectic witch, which sounds fake. More fake than the other types of witches Taehyung is learning about, but not by much. 

From what Taehyung understands, Namjoon likes to pick and choose different traditions and combine them all together. A little bit of herbology here and runes there and throw in some spirit working and music and sigils while he’s at it. He collects all this knowledge of the world and then just goes out and shares it with people.

“You just go and talk to people?” Taehyung asks

“He’s fluent in, like, six languages,” Jimin calls out, and Namjoon vaguely waves him off, abashed as he rubs at his hair. It’s this muted shade of lavender. One of Taehyung’s favorite colors. 

Taehyung is about to tell him as much when Seokjin tosses in, “He’s been published in like, thirty scholarly journals.”

“Under a few different pseudonyms of course,” Hoseok adds from the seat beside Taehyung, still nursing his first glass of wine even though most of the room is well into their second. Taehyung’s been happily sipping on barley tea since he handed his glass off to Jimin ten minutes ago.

“He solved Korea’s economic crisis back in 2004,” Seokjin nods.

“And he single-handedly shifted the Ringstraked Guitarfish from almost extinct to just endangered,” Hoseok follows up.

“They’re joking,” Namjoon tells Taehyung, neck flushed red, but he has this pleased softness around his eyes that makes him look kind. Easy to approach. If Taehyung saw him on the street, he’d have no problem going up to him to chat economics or endangered fish. “They think they’re funny but they’re not.”

“We’re hilarious,” Seokjin deadpans.

“You love it,” Hoseok gleans, leaning into the palm of his hand.

Seokjin starts, “You love us—”

“—so-o-o much,” Hoseok finishes, then bends over the table to press a wet smack to the center of Namjoon’s forehead, then does it again after saying that he has to kiss him for Seokjin, too. 

Namjoon doesn’t even flinch, so at ease, as if this is commonplace in their home; the teasing, the rising volume, the unrestrained affection.

Taehyung looks over to where Jimin is working beside Yoongi, their arms pressed together, quiet save for Jimin laughing and Yoongi snorting whenever Seokjin makes a particularly endearing quip. 

They’re a couple. At least, Taehyung thinks they’re a couple. Love shows itself in different ways, different forms. They’re not as loud as Seokjin and Hoseok and Namjoon, but Taehyung kind of likes that. Their soft bickering; how gentle they are with each other.

Taehyung takes a deep breath and pats down his thighs. New clothes are nice, but new means no holes. No threads. Nothing for him to latch onto.

“Hoseok-ssi, what kind of witch are you?” Taehyung asks when there’s a lull in conversation, and Hoseok grins wide and he’s been smiling all night. It’s infectious. Taehyung’s cheeks are starting to hurt from matching him.

“A dream witch,” Hoseok says, taking a sip from his glass and puckering his lips. “I interpret dreams. People come to me when they have sleeping problems, and I read their dreams to figure out what’s bothering them.”

“Or use them as divination,” Namjoon adds on. “Some people with strong intuition have dreams that are actually predictions of the future.”  

“But humans rarely have that much power,” Hoseok claps back. “It’s usually more like ‘I keep dreaming I’m pregnant but I’m a man what does this mean?’ kind of thing.” 

Taehyung’s lip curls up. “So, hypothetically speaking, if I dreamt I was pregnant…?”

“Something new is developing in your life,” Hoseok twinkles. “New goals, projects, choices, situations, your way of thinking— But it could be good or bad. Depends on the person’s daily life.” 

“A manta ray,” Taehyung throws out and Hoseok laughs. 

“Emotional freedom. Means you’re navigating through your emotions with ease. But if you get attacked by a school of them, it means you’ve got some suppressed feelings to deal with.”

“A lamp.”

“Guidance, hope, and inspiration.” There’s this spark in Hoseok’s eye, similar to the one Jimin gets when he’s trying to read someone’s emotions. “A dim lamp means you’re overwhelmed and a broken one means you’re shutting people out who are trying to help you.” 

“A jump rope.”

“Fear about making mistakes. Trying to avoid losing an opportunity. May reflect a lack of control.”

“A squash.”

Hoseok’s grin vanishes and Taehyung is startled by this quick, raspy laugh from the other side of the kitchen. When he turns, searching, Yoongi’s staring intently at the rice cooker, as if he’s trying to carry a conversation with it. 

Jimin’s watching Yoongi, as well, mouth parted in surprise. 

“A squash…” Hoseok mutters, and Namjoon teases him about how he’s slacking and should study more.  Taehyung thinks Hoseok’s ears are going to turn the same startling shade of red as his hair. “Shut up, Joon. Not all of us are naturally brilliant.”

“There are a few books on dream interpretation in the library,” Jimin tells them, and Hoseok nods and scurries off into the shop like his sole purpose in life is to figure out the significance of dreaming about gourds. 

Taehyung’s eyes follow him curiously. “So you guys don’t just know things?”

“Of course not. Well…” Seokjin looks over to Namjoon who shrugs. “Namjoon’s claircognitive, so he just knows things. Jimin knows people’s emotions. Yoongi sees dead people—” 

“I don’t see dead people,” Yoongi snaps, and Seokjin just waves a vague, consoling hand his direction.

“You totally see dead people, now don’t interrupt your hyung,” Seokjin commands. Yoongi just huffs. “Witches have natural inclination for whatever it was they were designed to do. Hoseok’s good with dreams, but that doesn’t mean he knows every interpretation in the universe. There are dozens of books on it he has to study. Same goes for me and Jimin. We’re good with natural elements, but that doesn’t mean you can mix certain herbs just because. Take azalea for example. It’s great for Jimin to put in a sachet bag, but if I fed it to a customer they’d die.”

 Taehyung nods because this makes sense. Once you accept the fantastical elements, a lot of being a witch sounds just like having a normal job or going to college to get a degree. 

 A degree in spells or necromancy or ancient languages. How incredible. 

“What do you do, Taehyung?”

Namjoon’s watching him curiously. Namjoon’s always looking at something like he’s studying it, trying to look past it. Into it.  Jimin calls it Reading. It’s a skill witches cultivate to control their secondary powers. Jimin does it with feelings, Yoongi with spirits. Taehyung’s not sure what Namjoon is trying to Read right now, but it makes Taehyung uneasy. Jittery. He finds the last button of his shirt and begins to twist it.

“I farm.” Namjoon nods politely and Taehyung suddenly feels quite small. A mouse in a room of foxes. His tongue feels ten times too big in his mouth, but somehow the words still barge their way out. “I had to drop out of school in Jr. High, after my family died, to work on my grandparents' farm. But they passed back in June and there were too many loans so the bank took it, so I guess I don’t really farm anymore. I, uh, have just kinda been wandering around since then. I really like flowers.”

Taehyung bites down hard on the soft spot of his cheek, his words hanging heavy in the air, so thick it’s a miracle none of them have choked on them yet.

Everyone is looking at him like he’s something broken.

“Squash!” Hoseok shrieks, sliding into the kitchen with a large book held high overhead. “I found th—what’s wrong? What’d I  miss?”

Taehyung stands quick, pulls too hard on his shirt, and his button patters against the tile. He watches it roll all the way to Jimin’s feet. 

Jimin stoops down to pick it up and Taehyung feels like this is a sign. Gram used to say that having an odd amount of buttons on your shirt brings bad luck.

Taehyung counts seven, what used to be eight, and he can’t breathe or think or be in this room for another minute. 

Taehyung deflates, mutters some kind of empty excuse, and suddenly he’s colliding with the back door in the den and fighting to get the latch open. His breath sounds wrong. Wheezy. Is anything making it in? Back out?

“Taehyung.” 

Summer air swamps him when he makes it out to the yard, and Taehyung digs the heels of his palms against his eyes until he sees colored spots. He’s spiraling and he can’t stop it and he tries to take a deep breath but it just gets lodged in his throat and he has to choke it down, he needs to get something down. He needs to be better, he needs to be okay.

Taehyung doesn’t know why he does it, but he spins and finds Yoongi hovering at the edge of the patio and Taehyung just takes two big steps forward and tugs Yoongi against his chest. Squeezes him as tight as can be.

Yoongi is terrifyingly still, and Taehyung should let go but he can’t. It feels like every organ in his body has switched places. It feels like his feet aren’t on the ground, like he’s going to drift away into the night sky and join the stars. That might not be so bad. It might not be so terrible to become a star.

“Taehyung.” Yoongi’s voice is low and rough in the darkness and Taehyung shudders. “Taehyung, you know I can…” Yoongi breathes in deep. “I can sense death, you know. When people are going to die. When they want to die.” Another big gusty breath. “Do you want to die, Taehyung?”

Don’t cry. Even though everything hurts, don’t cry. 

“I don’t know,” Taehyung says against Yoongi’s shoulder, breathes in at the spot on his neck where his scent is the heaviest. Yoongi smells like sage, too. Sage and violets and something musky, something deep. Taehyung melts into it, curling around Yoongi’s thin frame.

“I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know if this is all just my imagination anymore.” Taehyung feels like he’s toeing the edge of a very tall cliff and there’s nothing pulling him back. “I don’t know what’s real,” he whispers. “Am I dead? Did I really die that day?”

Yoongi’s arms are around him, gripping tight, his fingers twisting in the back of Taehyung’s shirt.

“You’re not dead,” Yoongi tells him fiercely, and Taehyung shakes his head and Yoongi steps back, nudges Taehyung’s chin up with his hand. “Taehyung, look at me.” 

Without all the rage, Yoongi looks small and unnerved and vulnerable. Without all the anger, he looks impossibly kind. 

“Take my hand.” Taehyung does, and Yoongi intertwines their fingers and presses their palms together hard. Faintly, Taehyung can feel Yoongi’s heartbeat under his skin.  “Do you feel that?” Taehyung feels the dryness and the strength and the warmth. He squeezes tight without meaning to, and in the quiet darkness, he can see Yoongi’s smile. “That’s us. Living.”

 

 

 

No one’s careful with him when they go back in, but they are soft. The good kind. Jimin sews his button back on and Seokjin gives him the fattiest cuts of beef and Hoseok tells him a story about this girl he spoke with last week who hadn’t slept in days because she kept dreaming she was trapped in her classroom at school and all her classmates had chocopies for heads and if the teacher got angry he’d go around biting into people. 

“What does that even mean?” Jimin laughs, smile hidden behind half his hand, the other side buried against Yoongi’s arm. 

They’re outside on the back patio, under the pergola, surrounding a small table not mean to hold this many chairs but they seem to be making do. The nights are growing shorter and the sun had already set by the time they made it outdoors, but Yoongi lit a couple lamps and there’s a small fire in a pit nearby that Taehyung hadn’t realized existed until now. And maybe it hadn’t. Taehyung wouldn’t be surprised if Jimin told him things just pop up here when they need them. 

“Well,” Hoseok starts, swirling his glass. They’ve moved on to soju, but Jimin mixed together a fruity concoction that Taehyung’s been sipping on that makes his mouth tingle. Maybe he should be more concerned about that. “The people you see in your dreams are usually reflections of your own self. The head is the top of the body, so it has to do with issues of dominance or ambition. Missing a head can mean that your mind and heart aren’t in balance. Maybe you’re behaving too intellectually and your emotions are stifled.” Hoseok takes a long swig and Seokjin leans over to refill his glass. “So, I asked a few questions, and turns out the girl was so caught up in staying top of her class and afraid of letting her family down that she wasn’t thinking about what she actually wanted to do in life, which was attending an art school for college.”

“You got all that from chocopie heads?” Taehyung mutters and Hoseok nods. “That’s amazing. You’re amazing, Hoseok-ssi.” 

Hoseok flushes, his dimples betraying how pleased he is by the compliment. “Call me hyung, Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung warms and nods. Doesn’t dare spare a glance to Yoongi, who he’s still on formal speaking terms with despite being here for almost a month.

Taehyung finds his button again. “You’re all so incredible. I wish I could do stuff like that.”

“Nothing’s stopping you,” Namjoon grins and he’s got his own dimples. Dimples galore in this house tonight. “You’re good with plants, right? I bet you’re the one making the flowers bloom outside.”

Taehyung’s ears burn. “Anyone can talk to plants.”

“Yoongi can’t,” Seokjin laughs, and Taehyung looks over and Yoongi’s resting his chin in his palm and pretends like he’s not listening. “Black thumb.”

“It’s not my fault they don’t like me,” Yoongi mutters.

“It’s because you’re not soft with them.” Yoongi’s eyes flick over to Taehyung’s. “I bet they’d love you lots if you were softer with them.” 

They’re staring at each other, unsure; but the anxious buzzing in Taehyung’s chest has gone quiet, leaving behind a calm stillness, and Yoongi’s face eases into something soft and open and so completely new to Taehyung that Taehyung doesn’t quite know what to do with it.

Taehyung looks for Jimin because that’s just what he does now, he’s drawn to Jimin in moments like this; but Jimin’s gaze moves from Yoongi to Taehyung. He looks just as thrown, but there’s this tenderness in his face that floods Taehyung’s chest with warmth.

Another round of drinks passes and Taehyung settles into his seat as the stories start getting tossed out, some just a few years old, some from decades long past. Apparently Jimin used to be quite the party animal. 

“That is a blatant lie,” Jimin protests, but Seokjin’s shaking his head and wagging a finger at him. He turns to Taehyung with a smirk building at the corner of his mouth. 

“He was always the first to strip during summer solstice,” Seokjin tells him, and once Seokjin starts laughing everyone kind of loses it because Seokjin’s laugh is like squeaky windshield wipers in the rain and it’s wonderful.

Everyone does it,” Jimin explains to Taehyung, like he thinks he needs to defend his honor. Taehyung thinks it’s marvelous. “It’s just a thing.”

“Clothing is optional,” Hoseok throws out.

“And Jimin usually options out of them,” Seokjin follows and they dopily high-five over Namjoon’s head. 

Taehyung finds this to be the most unbelievable thing he’s heard all month because Jimin definitely has a problem with nudity. He turns into a bumbling mess every time he catches Taehyung in the bath. 

“We missed it this year,” Hoseok says in a tiny voice, looking up at the moon, and Taehyung feels it, the moment this weight settles over the group. 

Before it can grow, Taehyung musters up a perky, “I wish I could see it.” 

Jimin’s head whips around, absolutely mortified, and Taehyung backpedals as heat sears up his spine. “Not you naked, I mean. I mean—I’m sure you’re great , but that’s not—No—” Taehyung bites his cheek and his tongue and his lip, anything to shut up, but Jimin is just shaking his head, smiling, and the rest of the guys are in hysterics. Even Yoongi is trying to hide his grin behind his wine glass. 

 “I meant all the witches together celebrating,” Taehyung finishes weakly.

Seokjin adds another log to the fire. “Humans can join, too. As long as you’re partnered with a witch or related to one.”

Taehyung watches the embers rise up in a mini-galaxy, just before they fade against the night sky. “If you’re related to one, wouldn’t that make you a witch?”

“Not necessarily,” Namjoon says. “There are very few pureblood witches left. Ones born from magical parents. Usually we’re born to normal humans, and on our fifteenth birthday our Mark shows up and our powers fully reveal themselves.”

“Once your Mark shows, the Head Witch assigned to that particular district finds you through tracking and gives you the low down,” Seokjin adds. He’s watching the sky like it’s his first time seeing so many stars. “You have to do training under a coven or witch specializing in your craft for about ten years, then you go out on a trial period and get tested. If you pass, then you’re free to roam. Some witches remain solitaries, but most start covens.”

“Like you guys,” Taehyung says and they nod, sharing secret smiles with each other. Taehyung presses his palms against his thighs, spreading his fingers as far as they’ll go. He feels his insides sinking. 

They’ve got years on him. Years of being friends, of being family. Hundreds of secrets, thousands of memories. Happy ones like tonight. 

Taehyung feels completely alone, more than he has all night. More than he has in weeks.

“What if…” Taehyung reaches for his top button and hesitates when he spots Jimin eyeing him across the table. “What if you don’t want to be a witch?”

They look to each other, surprised, like the thought never crossed their mind. Maybe it hasn’t. Most people wouldn’t give up magical powers. Most people would give anything to have more time. 

Jimin is still watching him intently. “Taehyung,” he says. Starts, low and slow, like he’s a child. Taehyung’s chest seizes and he grips hard at his shirt. “Do you remember what I said about the shop? How it keeps our magic alive?”

Taehyung nods and Jimin turns to Yoongi, like he can’t find the words and needs Yoongi to pull them out for him. 

Yoongi blinks. Sighs. Tilts so that his body is no longer facing away from the table but towards it, towards Taehyung. “Magic is fickle,” he says in the same voice that Jimin had taken. “It’s ours, but it’s not. If we ignore it, it will either grow and grow until it consumes us, or it will fade until there’s nothing left. Until we have nothing left. Do you understand, Taehyung?”

“I don’t, uhm—” Taehyung sets his glass down as all this unwieldy confusion barrels around behind his ribs. “So you’ll die?”

Jimin hesitates and then he nods. 

Taehyung looks down at the ground. The wind has picked up, blowing smoke around them, and Taehyung blinks rapidly as tears fill his eyes. 

“How is that fair?”

Hesitation, and then Jimin says in that voice, that voice, the stupid, gentle voice, “Taehyung.”

Something is crawling inside of his chest, the same vicious thing from the day of the funeral, and Taehyung sucks in a ragged breath and holds it down by the neck until it stops moving. 

“All you do is help people, how is that—That isn’t fair. All you do—” Taehyung shudders, the space around him swelling. “You’re good. All you do is good and that’s not fair. It’s not fair. What if you want to do something else, be something else? It’s not—It’s not fair.”

Taehyung’s body unfurls from his seat and someone is saying something but Taehyung can’t hear them over the sound of his heart beating in his ears. 

“I’m gonna go check the herbs,” he says, moving away from them, wanting nothing more than to be alone. Maybe they can sense that because no one follows him to the greenhouse this time, and Taehyung heads straight for the back corner where the herbs greet him softly. Their childlike innocence is soothing, and he crouches beside one of the beds and tries to sort through his scrambling thoughts. 

Feelings. What is he feeling? Anger. Confusion. He’s upset and sad and frightened. The last one surprises him. Scared. Scared of Jimin’s words. Of Yoongi’s. Scared of what they mean. 

“People die,” Taehyung whispers, and it’s so much warmer in here than outside. “Everything dies. Why does this matter?”

It matters because it’s Jimin. It’s Yoongi. Matters because they didn’t get to pick their lives. Matters because they had to leave their families. They had families, friends, people who cared about them. Are they still alive? What happened to all the people they cared about? Did they just have to wait and watch as their loved ones left them behind?  

There was a person here before him. There was, he just knows it. Were they a witch? Did their magic fade? Did it consume them? 

Taehyung leaves after singing a song to the flowers. He’s exhausted and his head is throbbing, but when he closes the greenhouse door, he finds the patio empty. There’s muffled music coming from inside, though. Hoseok’s voice echoes from the kitchen, volume trying to make up for skill. 

It’s an old song. A really old song. But Hoseok’s singing along and he knows every word, and Seokjin’s even providing some heartfelt harmony. When Taehyung steps into the kitchen, Hoseok interrupts himself to cheer, and then he drops his knees and shimmies his shoulders as he glides towards Taehyung in measured steps, like he might just break into a lap dance.

Taehyung, surprised, barks out a laugh and matches his movements until they meet in the middle, Hoseok taking his hands as they begin a passionate rendition of a tango. It’s not half bad but still absolutely terrible, and Taehyung shrieks when Hoseok spins and dips him over a knee. 

Taehyung opens his eyes. Looks up. Spots a topsy turvy Yoongi not even trying to hide his smile. An absolutely adorable gummy smile that makes his face light up. Makes something in Taehyung’s throat catch. 

Without thinking, because honestly it’s never been his strong suit, Taehyung twirls a giggling Hoseok towards Seokjin who catches him easily, and Taehyung strides across the room and catches Yoongi’s hand before he has the chance to escape.

“Taehyung, stop—”

“Shut up and dance with me, Yoongi-ssi.” 

Yoongi does shut up and he does dance, but not well. Taehyung doesn’t know what he’s doing either, though, just places one hand on the small of Yoongi’s back and laces their fingers together and begins to spin about the room in a lazy waltz so haphazard that Yoongi’s forced to put an arm around Taehyung’s waist to keep from falling behind.

Seokjin’s laughing again, high and squeaky and contagious. Hoseok joins in almost immediately, the sound hiccuping out of him, and then Taehyung feels it building in his mouth. He throws his head back and lets it loose because he feels like he’s going to explode at this rate. The good kind. The kind you don’t die from. The kind he wants to get used to. 

But then Yoongi buries his head against Taehyung’s shoulder, and Taehyung feels all the breath in his body leave at the feeling of Yoongi pressed against him, tucked in small and warm and this. He could probably get used to this, too. 

All the bulbs overhead are buzzing and there’s this second of blinding light and then—

Taehyung curls in on Yoongi to protect him from the shattering glass. Seokjin and Hoseok both scream. Darkness fills the room and it’s quiet now, save for the crooning record and the sound of a lone cricket singing outside the window.

The hall light upstairs flicks on and Jimin’s panicked voice calls out to them. “Yoongi?”

Yoongi doesn’t answer. He stays there, still as can be in Taehyung’s arms as feed thud down the steps. A phone lights up the room, then another. Taehyung watches as muted forms move around the kitchen and then Jimin’s there, his usually soft face made sharp from the shadows. 

“Yoong—”

“I’m fine, Jimin-ah.” Yoongi’s voice is tinny. He pushes against Taehyung’s chest and Taehyung loosens his hold. “I’ll get new bulbs.”

Yoongi leaves, making the trip to the cupboard in the dark. Taehyung feels Jimin settle in beside him. “What happened, Taehyung?”

“We were dancing,” Taehyung answers, his voice far-off in his ears. He messed up. Again. “Did I do something wrong?”

Jimin doesn’t say anything. Taehyung finds his button and doesn’t let it go until the bulbs are replaced. Yoongi’s expression is pinched and terrible when Taehyung spots him in the corner of the kitchen where Jimin is whispering something to him. Yoongi just brushes him off. 

Taehyung takes a tentative step towards him. “Yoongi—”

Without speaking, without even looking at him, Yoongi stalks past Taehyung to the stairs, up and out of sight.

A heartbeat of silence and then, “I guess that’s our cue to leave,” Namjoon claps, and Taehyung watches the top of the steps where Yoongi disappeared for a moment longer before turning back to the others.

“I’ll walk you out.” Jimin doesn’t even try for a smile. 

Namjoon shakes Taehyung’s hand like they’re old work buddies and Seokjin claps him on the back and Hoseok does this weird, arm wiggle thing that Taehyung copies because he can’t help it and because he knows Hoseok is just trying to cheer him up.

Taehyung watches them go, and then he backs up until he hits the wall and uses it to steady himself. 

“Taehyung.”

Taehyung hums. Stares at his feet. Clutches at his side where it feels like he’s splitting. His lungs are burning. When’s the last time he took a breath? When’s the last time he did something right? When’s the last time he didn’t ruin something?

“Taehyung,” Jimin repeats, and Taehyung just ducks his head. He doesn’t want Jimin to see him falling apart on top of feeling it.

“I’ll go… check on the flowers.” He makes towards the den, but Jimin speeds over to block the way.

His whole face is filled with sadness. Like he’s tired of keeping it off.

“Taehyung, you didn’t do anything wrong. Tae, look at me.” Jimin takes a deep breath and his fingers find Taehyung’s chin, gently pulling so Taehyung’s forced to look at him. 

His eyes are dim and Taehyung tries to think of something happy because Jimin is touching him and he’s sad and he doesn’t want Jimin sad because of him he doesn’t want to keep letting everyone down he doesn’t want to—

Taehyung .” Jimin’s eyes squeeze shut, and Taehyung tries to pull away but Jimin places both hands on the sides of Taehyung’s face and holds him there even though it must hurt him. “He’s embarrassed, Yoongi’s embarrassed, now calm down.” 

“Embarrassed?” Taehyung echoes, ceasing his struggle. “Of what? The lightbulbs?”

“You made him laugh.”

“He was laughing?” 

Taehyung feels cloudy. He thinks back to before, when he was dancing with Hoseok and spotted Yoongi’s sleepy smile. Remembers holding his hand, surprised that they were the same size. Remembers them spinning and the heat in his stomach when Yoongi leaned into him with his whole body 

Remembers outside, on the lawn, when he breathed in Yoongi’s scent. Felt his heartbeat. 

“Shit ,” Jimin curses, his voice ragged, and suddenly Jimin’s pulling him down to press their foreheads together, noses skimming, and Taehyung inhales sharply at the warmth spreading through his body. The new lights flicker, but Jimin doesn’t notice, and Taehyung replays the memory again and again and again because Jimin likes it and his voice, his voice, his voice. That voice.  

They stay pressed together for a long time. Long enough for the record to end. Long enough for Jimin’s knees to give out. Taehyung catches him, worried until he finds he’s just asleep. Soft breaths, calm face. Exhausted. 

Taehyung’s not very strong, but Jimin’s lighter than he looks, and Taehyung gathers him up in his arms and heads for the stairs. 

Yoongi’s door is closed and Taehyung uses his foot to kick against it. “Yoongi-ssi.”

“What?”

“Open the door, please.”

“I don’t want to.”

“It’s Jimin.”

Heavy footfall and then the door is thrown open. Fear flashes in Yoongi’s eyes when he sees Jimin in Taehyung’s arms. 

“He’s just sleeping.” Yoongi doesn’t move. His bottom lip is quivering and Taehyung pretends he doesn’t notice. “Can I come in and put him down?”

Yoongi, without looking away from Jimin’s face, steps away and gestures towards the bed. His bed. A massive thing that takes up most of the room and is covered in even more pillows and blankets than Jimin’s. 

Bare walls of warm, white wood. Faded and creamy from age. There’s a fireplace on one wall with just a few trinkets lined along the mantle.

Taehyung stumbles setting Jimin in bed and catches himself before he falls. Jimin, unbothered, curls up on his side. One of his hands finds the corner of a pillow to hold on to.

Yoongi’s still standing inside the doorway, and Taehyung tries to think of something to say because they shared a moment earlier. Two moments. Made him laugh, apparently. Why isn’t this as easy as it was back then? 

There’s an upright piano in the corner of the room, next to one of the windows. It’s old. Really old. Dented and scratched and Taehyung’d be surprised if it still played anything at all. 

Resting on top, to his surprise, is a potted plant.

“Yoongi-ssi, you have a plant?”

Yoongi’s voice comes out flat. “It was a gift.”

Taehyung squints at it. “It’s a little dead.”

“I’m not very good with them.”

“Have you tried the soft thing?” Taehyung’s gaze flits over to Yoongi who seems fascinated by an invisible spot on the ceiling. Taehyung looks back to the plant and says without thinking, “Eternal love.”

A weighted pause, then, “What?”

“Heliotropes represent eternal love,” Taehyung says. “I read it in one of Jimin’s books.”  

A gift of eternal love. 

A gift of eternal love that is dying. 

They’re quiet for a moment, and when Yoongi speaks, his voice is so weak that Taehyung holds his breath to hear him. “I’m not good with soft.” 

“You were earlier.” 

Yoongi looks up at him, those dark eyes sad and unsure. He’s so small when he’s like this. 

Taehyung lifts his hand and wiggles his fingers, and he thinks Yoongi’s eyes lose a bit of their sorrow. 

Yoongi swallows, ducks his head again, and Taehyung expects him to change the topic but instead he says, “Can you heal it?”

“Do you want me to?”

Yoongi nods, still refusing to look at him, and Taehyung swivels and walks over to the well-loved piano and the not-so-loved plant. It’s completely wilted, the leaves crippled and brown, and Taehyung honestly wonders if there’s anything to salvage until he reaches out to finger a dry petal and feels it, something soft and muted. A single heartbeat. 

“It’ll take a while,” Taehyung tells him, tells the plant, still holding its petal. “It’ll take a while, but you’ll be okay.” 

Behind him Yoongi sucks in a breath. 

Taehyung leaves after that, and he’s still warm and flushed and walking on air from his time with Jimin and his whatever with Yoongi that he doesn’t mind sleeping alone. He doesn’t open up a book, just crawls into bed with his clothes still on. His clothes. His alone and no one else’s. 

He strokes the smooth, golden tassel on one of the pillows, counts each strand, hums to himself a song with no name until he can longer keep his eyes open. 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung’s in the greenhouse, standing under the ash tree. It’s early morning and the sky is periwinkle blue and impossibly close, and Taehyung reaches up towards the glass because the moon is out. The moon is out and it’s so big and heavy, like it could fall out of the sky any second. 

“Taehyung.”

There’s a boy standing across the lawn, and in the soft darkness Taehyung can’t see his face.

“Taehyung.”

Feet planted, legs locked. Panic rises in Taehyung’s throat as he tries to move, but he’s rooted there. 

“Can you hear me?”

Taehyung looks up and the moon has split into two, and before he can turn back to the boy, he’s staring up at Jimin’s ceiling. Hears the grandfather clock across the room. Birds outside. The creaking of someone walking down the hall.

Taehyung breathes in deeply and holds it until his lungs burn. 

At least there weren’t any chocopie heads. 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung doesn’t mention the dream to Jimin and Yoongi. Before he came here, before knew about magic and witches and that dreams actually mean something and the mind is even more complex than he could have imagined, he would have thought the dream was strange and cool and shared because Taehyung likes sharing things like that, and he doesn’t think Jimin and Yoongi would make him feel bad about it.

The dream is still strange, but not so cool, and he’s afraid of what it might mean.

Except, when he slips into the study while the sprinklers run in the greenhouse to grab the old book Hoseok had pulled out last night—he hesitates with a finger hovering over the page index because he can’t remember what it was he dreamt about and why it’s so important.  

Taehyung waits a few minutes to see if it’ll come back to him, but all there is are a hazy mass of colors and confusion and his name.   

To hear your name being called in your dream indicates that your subconscious may be trying to get your attention about an important message that you are refusing to acknowledge in your waking life.

Well, that’s extremely helpful. 

Jimin calls him from somewhere in the shop, and Taehyung slips the dream book back onto a pile. He decides he won’t worry it, whatever it was. He has more important things to figure out. Like how to get the wisteria to like him. 

And how to get back outside. 

“There you are.” Jimin’s working at the dining table. Piles of dried herbs have overrun the space, the last of the ones hanging from the shop rafters. Taehyung’s confident that the ones in the garden will be ready to pull soon, though. 

“Can you help me bundle these?” Jimin asks. “I’ve got a huge order to finish for the Apgujeong coven.” Jimin’s head suddenly shoots up. He looks to Taehyung, gaze wary. “Something wrong?”

Taehyung shakes his head. “The wisteria still hates me, is all. But the roses have warmed up nicely.”

Jimin laughs at that, his eyes clearing, and he gestures for Taehyung to go wash his hands.

Taehyung hasn’t talked to Jimin about it, but what if the reason the gate hasn’t opened is because he doesn’t want it to? What if he doesn’t want to go back? Doesn’t the shop have to give him what he wants?

Jimin doesn’t ask him again if he’s okay even though he must know Taehyung isn’t. Taehyung appreciates that about him, the attempts at privacy. Jimin tries so hard to make him feel welcomed. And Taehyung can’t take advantage of that. He can’t tell Jimin and Yoongi about the dream, the worry. He’s already a bother and they have actual jobs to do and if this keeps up, Taehyung is only going to be more in the way. 

He needs to find whatever it is he’s here for. He needs to leave, even if he may not want to. 

Maybe that’s what his dream was about. Maybe it’s the answer they’ve been looking for. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Time doesn’t exist at the shop. At least, it doesn’t feel like it’s there. 

Jimin laughs when Taehyung voices this aloud over dinner. Pork belly tonight. Apparently Yoongi had a family today with a pretty invasive great-aunt. They paid a hefty sum to get rid of her before she broke every valuable in the house. 

Taehyung had a lot of questions about that, but Yoongi just grumbled about how he was tired and to leave him alone and let him eat his meal in peace. 

“It’s probably just because you don’t see anyone but me and the plants all day.”

Taehyung spends most of his waking hours in the greenhouse, watering and weeding and singing. He’s taken to reading Jimin’s books, too. The ones about plants and their magical properties. The best way to use magic to cultivate them.

Taehyung doesn’t have any magic, but he’s got good hands and expensive equipment and a big heart, and he thinks he’s managing just fine. 

If he’s not in the gardens then he naps in Jimin’s room. He doesn’t want to risk another run-in with a customer. Not because he’s scared of them. The customers are good people. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t. But it was overwhelming to be there, witnessing it, and Taehyung doesn’t want to let his emotions control him so freely like that again. Taehyung doesn’t want Jimin to look at him again the way he did, with shock and something so close to bordering pity that it hurt. 

“When did you guys settle here?” Taehyung asks, and he looks up from his plate where he’s been arranging his side dishes into color-coded piles and finds Jimin and Yoongi exchanging a look he might not have been meant to see. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s just…” Jimin prods at his meat with his chopsticks. “You’re not going to freak out?”

Taehyung blinks. Feels a slow grin spread. “I think if I was going to freak out I would have done it by now.”

Jimin brightens at that. “Well, I came to the city from Busan in ninety-three, after I finished my training and apprenticeship. Yoongi was already here working as a solitary. What year did you come up from Daegu?”

 Yoongi swallows his rice. “Eighty, eighty-one. There wasn’t a hedge witch for me to train with down there so I did it here. Most of it, anyway.” Taehyung frowns and Yoongi catches it. “My mentor was really old. He passed in my seventh year.”

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says. His hand twitches, wanting to reach out, and he lifts his thigh to sit on it.

Yoongi shrugs. “Don’t be. It’s been a long time.”

“Doesn’t mean it still didn’t hurt,” Taehyung says, half to himself, and the silence rushes in. Taehyung chews his lip, afraid to lift his head, debating what to do next. “So! You were alone until Jimin showed up?”

It takes a moment for Yoongi to answer, like he’s still lingering on Taehyung’s comment. “Think of it as my bachelor days,” he finally says. “Greatest years of my life.”

Jimin smacks his arm and Yoongi grins around his mouthful of food. 

“How does it work?” They both look over to him. “The covens. Do you just pick someone?”

“It’s predestined,” Jimin says, turning to Yoongi, gaze wistful. “We’re just… drawn to each other.” 

The lights are dimming, but Taehyung doesn’t need them to know that they’re stepping into off-limits territory. That Jimin and Yoongi are sad and he needs to stop prodding, but the need to know more is digging away inside, startling and nauseating. 

“But Namjoon-hyung said some witches work alone,” Taehyung presses on. “And that you can marry humans. How does that work?”

“Not well,” Yoongi tells him, voice low, shoulders bunched up in an irritable shrug. “First, your lifespan is much shorter than ours. Usually it’s a solitary that marries a human because they want companionship; but forty, fifty years go by and the human dies and it’s… It’s dangerous, getting that attached to something so fragile and fleeting.” 

Yoongi’s eyes flicker to Taehyung, so quick he knows Yoongi hadn’t meant to do it.

“But does that mean some people are destined to be alone?” Taehyung asks.

“I—” Yoongi’s face scrunches. “Yeah. I guess it does.”

Taehyung taps a finger along his rice bowl. It’s been a while since he’s felt this uncomfortable in his body. Like it’s too big for him to fill. “I don’t like all these rules.”

“You’re not a witch. It’s not like they pertain to you.”

“Yoongi,” Jimin hisses.

“What?” Yoongi grouses back, voice still low, like he doesn’t want to raise it. “It’s true, Jimin. He’s human. And it’s not like he’s going to—” Yoongi bites his cheek and he’s definitely watching Taehyung now. Bitterly. Like he’s the source of all of Yoongi’s problems. 

Taehyung ducks his chin to his chest to hide from those scornful eyes. 

“Whatever. I’m leaving,” Yoongi mutters, dropping his chopsticks and shoving away from the table so harshly his chair screeches against the floorboards. 

Taehyung thinks it’s unfair that Yoongi can leave just like that. That he can go wherever he wants. That he can be so hostile and get away with it. He hates that Yoongi’s so fickle with his feelings. 

What he hates most, though, is how Yoongi makes him feel like he deserves to be resented. That right when Taehyung begins to feel hopeful about something, about them, Yoongi just makes him feel like everything bad that happens to him is justified simply because of who he is. Or in this case, who he isn’t.

“Taehyung.”

“Sorry, am I bothering you?” His voice comes out so short it surprises both of them. 

The wild thing in his chest is back, and Taehyung wrestles it down. Jimin shouldn’t have to feel this petty, baseless anger. Taehyung doesn’t even want to feel it.

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung sighs, digging his nails into his thigh so he can feel each individual press of his fingers. 

“Don’t apologize for feeling.” A long moment passes between them. “I know it’s not fair of me to ask you, but please don’t hate hyung over this.”

“But he hates me,” Taehyung whispers and he means it this time. There’s no trace of joking in his voice. Not anymore.

“He doesn’t. I know that better than anyone.”

“I thought we were getting along.”

“It’s because you were getting along that he’s gotten so defensive,” Jimin says earnestly. “Give him time, Taehyung. Be yourself.”

Taehyung lifts his head, stunned. 

No one’s ever told him that before. 

Jimin tilts his head, confused, obviously sensing Taehyung’s surprise; but nonetheless he smiles at Taehyung, and Taehyung feels  sunshine burst in his chest. He nods and Jimin only brightens more.

“Well,” he claps, pulling the main disher closer to them. “Guess this means more meat for us.”

 

 

 

Taehyung comes in from the greenhouse later that night after a particularly intense conversation with the irises. They’re quite good at giving advice. Very wise, more so than the other flowers. Not as much as the trees. Trees are better listeners, but they also prefer to stay out of people’s business. 

The irises told Taehyung to not worry about Yoongi. That it doesn’t matter who it is, he’s always been fickle like this. That he needs to be soft. Patient. All the things that Jimin’s told him already.

But it’s hard. It’s so hard to try to love someone who doesn’t want to be loved. 

Taehyung pauses, caught between the stairs and his thoughts because that’s right. Oh god, that’s so right. How could he have been so oblivious? 

Maybe he and Yoongi aren’t all that different after all.

Taehyung bounds up the steps, making sure to skip over the one with the creaky board, and comes to a stop outside Jimin’s door. 

There’s a paper bag resting near his feet, waiting, and Taehyung crouches down because he knows it’s for him. Jimin wouldn’t leave something outside his own room like this. That’d be weird. 

The bag is filled with bread. Honey bread, apple bread, pumpkin bread, a bread that’s pink and he’s not sure if it’s edible, among a few others. No note, not that he expected one. 

The bathroom door opens and Yoongi steps out, ruffling his damp hair with a towel and carrying with him the scent of spearmint. 

Spearmint: Healing, love and protection while sleeping. Burn for healing magick, especially of respiratory conditions. Carry for healing. Use in ritual baths for strength and vitality.

Yoongi catches Taehyung watching him and his eyes flicker to the bag in Taehyung’s hands—But then he stalks back to his room without any other acknowledgement and shuts the door. 

Taehyung’s smile is miles wide. 

He eats most of the bread that night on the floor of Jimin’s room, curled in a quilt and studying up on plants. He spends extra time on heliotropes. 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung spends most of his days splitting time between the plants and Jimin, helping to clean and work on orders. He doesn’t avoid the customer’s anymore, instead waiting off to the side, quiet but observant. They’re here for Jimin, after all. Jimin, who is like the sun. Bright and beautiful and captivating. Everything orbits around him.    

A middle-aged man leaves with a smile and a stone to help with anxiety, and Jimin watches him through the window looking out over the courtyard, just as he does with every customer.

Taehyung reaches into the pocket of his new pants, finds his own stone, runs a thumb over the smooth, warm surface.

“Did you watch me leave, too?”

Jimin’s arms are crossed and he’s wearing such a tender smile that Taehyung almost has to look away. 

Jimin doesn’t respond, but that smile was answer enough.

 

~~~

 

Taehyung hasn’t spoken to Yoongi since their fight, if it can even be called that, but this is the third bag of sweets he’s gotten, and even he’s not stupid enough to miss such a blatant apology. 

Yoongi’s stepping out of the bathroom and his hair is like a spill of black ink across his face. He brushes it from his eyes and Taehyung clutches the new bag to his chest. 

“Yoongi-ssi, at this rate you’re going to make me fat.”

Yoongi turns away from him, and Taehyung thinks they’re about to go another day with painful silence when Yoongi casually tosses over his shoulder, “You could stand to gain some weight. You’re a beanpole.”

Taehyung’s never been so happy to be insulted before, and Yoongi glances over and Taehyung’s not sure if it’s the steam from the bath or his crazy giddy smile that makes Yoongi flush. 

He hopes it’s the second. 

“Thank you.”

Yoongi makes a dismissive hand flap and disappears into his room, and Taehyung squeezes the bag again and breathes in the scent of sugar and cinnamon and blueberries and what he thinks might be happiness. 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung’s in the greenhouse under the willow, and when he looks up at the hazy morning, there are two moons shining down instead of one. 

He blinks up at them, but then his name echoes over the water and Taehyung drags his attention from the sky to a person standing across the pond. A patch of delicate, white flowers are growing around their feet.

“Taehyung.”

This is familiar. 

“Taehyung, can you hear me?”

But Taehyung’s never seen this particular tree in the garden, or these flowers or this boy with the hidden face so why? Why does he feel like they’ve met before?

“Who are you?” He tries to ask, but all that escapes is air. 

The boy steps towards him, towards the moonlight, and Taehyung tries to move but his feet are locked into the earth.

And then the boy hits the water. 

He sinks through the surface, out of sight.

Taehyung wakes with a gasp and stumbles out of bed with sleep still in his eyes. He has a pad of paper and a pen resting on the desk, but when he goes to write down the dream, it’s already slipped away. 

 

~~~

 

Chuseok comes and goes without any of them visiting home.

Taehyung pays his respects in the garden to his family’s favorite flowers, and when he asks Jimin and Yoongi later that night why they both chose to stay at the shop, they give each other an intentional look and say that all the family they have left is right here.

 

~~~

 

Hoseok visits them later in the week. He’s there to pick up ingredients for Seokjin, but stays late to talk to Taehyung. Taehyung wants to know everything that’s happening in the world. News never interested him until he suddenly didn’t have access to it.

“Do you not have a cellphone?” 

Taehyung shakes his head. “Never had enough money. And I don’t really have anyone to talk to outside, anyway.”

Hoseok stares at him for a moment, his gaze unusually soft. “I know you told us about your family, but you don’t have anyone else? Great-uncle? Childhood friend? Weird neighbor cat lady?”

Taehyung smiles and he knows it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Nope. No one.”

Hoseok hums under his breath, like he’s storing this information away, like this makes sense to him. And maybe it does. Because Taehyung doesn’t have anyone outside these walls. No one who would be worried if he disappeared for a month. No one he has to lie about where he is. 

Suddenly, Hoseok’s knocking his arm, smile brighter than the noon sun outside. It definitely reaches his eyes. “Well, you do now. Jimin-ah.” Jimin hums from the stove to signal he’s heard, and he’s been so quiet Taehyung would have forgotten he was there if he wasn’t so embarrassingly aware of Jimin all the time. “Taehyung needs a phone so I can talk to him.” 

“I’ll call Yoongi to pick him one up.” 

Just like that. No argument, no fanfare. Taehyung reaches for his chest, grips the fabric over his heart tight. “But that’s so much money. And—and I don’t want to bother anyone and—”

“Tae—” Hoseok pauses. “What’s your surname?” 

“Kim.”

“Kim Taehyung, shut up and accept a gift,” Hoseok snaps, but he can’t hold the stern look for longer than a few seconds and his whole face curves into a smile again.

Taehyung can’t help but smile along with him, but his insides are still squirming. “But that’s still too much.”

Hoseok reaches for a lemon cookie that Seokjin sent over for them to eat. They’re in the same bag that Taehyung received his pastries from Yoongi, which means he’s been eating magical bread without realizing it. No wonder he’s felt floatier than usual. 

“You can leave it here when you go, then.” 

Organ switching. A heart that isn’t a heart but a stomach and where are his lungs? 

Taehyung looks up, the breath caught in his throat, and finds Jimin has gone still at the stove. 

“Yeah,” Taehyung chokes and hopes no one notices that he’s trapped in a free fall. “That’s a good idea, hyung.”

Hoseok nods, swallows, then immediately delves into talk of dancing and if Taehyung’s ever taken lessons because he has the perfect build for it, and Taehyung struggles to give coherent answers because his chest and mouth are still filled with cotton. 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung’s standing in the hall again, clean and warm and smelling heavily of hyacinths. 

Hyacinth: Promotes peace of mind and peaceful sleep. Attracts love, luck, and good fortune. 

Taehyung thinks Jimin knows he hasn’t been sleeping. He put a lot of lavender in the tub today, too. And Taehyung is tired. Unbearably so. 

But it’s not that he doesn’t want to go to bed, it’s just that he’s tired of going to bed alone. 

When he was little, he slept in the same bed as his siblings. When he was older, the same room as his grandparents. When he came to Seoul and got desperate for human contact, he’d sleep with people who asked because it meant a night next to another body. 

Taehyung, for just a heartbeat, allows himself to imagine what it would feel like to fall asleep beside Jimin, beside Yoongi, and his heart flushes and his body quickly follows after. 

Taehyung’s eyes widen and he rocks away from the door, shame almost knocking him off his feet. He’s about to close the door to Jimin’s room when thunder rumbles in through the open window. At the next crackling he begins to count. Just under a minute and a half. A storm about sixteen miles out.

Taehyung scurries downstairs and the wind is already trying to rattle its way into the building when he reaches the backdoor to slip his boots on, the rubber ones he wears when doing particularly dirty work.

There’s a nervous energy in the air as Taehyung jogs to the greenhouse. Another crack of thunder and Taehyung counts a minute this time. 

The plants in the greenhouse will be fine, but he tells them soft things here and there as he runs to the work area in the back and picks around until he finds the tarps. He grabs a few empty terracotta pots, the big kind meant for bushes and saplings, and slowly makes his way back outside. He covers the wild rose bushes first, then the rhododendrons and the goldenrods and the chrysanthemums. By now it’s raining and the wind is crashing against anything it can reach. Taehyung goes back for more pots to cover the bed of wildflowers, and after that he moves back inside, through the store and out front to repeat the process. 

He’s just started dragging the potted plants under the shelter of the front alcove when thunder crashes overhead. The maple groans, almost a warning, and Taehyung lifts the last box of marigolds and makes it under the awning just as lightning splits the sky, so bright that for a second it’s almost daylight.

A nauseating crack echoes across the courtyard, an explosion of light and heat, and Taehyung watches in horror as a huge limb of the maple crashes to the ground.

A garbled cry rises in his throat as Taehyung kneels down over his pot, digging his hands into his eyes. The wind is howling and smoke is heavy on the air and it’s just a tree, it’s just a tree, it’s just a tree

Taehyung doesn’t move until the wind stills. 

Until the singe of burnt wood has left the air. 

Until the rain shifts into a gentle sprinkling; a harmless drizzle. The calm after the storm. 

Taehyung wipes his eyes, takes a deep breath, then shuffles over to the fallen branches. Dozens of them litter the grassy knoll, and he doesn’t look at the large, severed limb. He can’t look at it. Instead he goes straight for the maple, wraps his arms around as much of the trunk as he can, presses his forehead to the bark, and cries. 

“I wish I was a witch,” he sobs against the bark, and he can feel its pain and it’s almost unbearable. “If I was then I could help you and I can’t help you like this, I can’t help anyone . I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” 

His heart is aching, like there’s a hand on it, squeezing, and any moment it might burst. Taehyung breathes and breathes and tries to think of happy memories. Tries to imagine the tree taking them from him as a way to overshadow its pain, just like what he does with Jimin.

 

 

 

Taehyung doesn’t know how long he stays like that. Just that his legs eventually give out. That the next time he opens his eyes, it’s to the wooden ceiling of Jimin’s bedroom. 

Taehyung shrinks under the covers, all the muscles in his body wound up tight, and not a minute passes before the door is thrown open. 

Jimin’s blue eye is burning.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Jimin’s voice is low and dangerous and he comes up close to the bed, so close that Taehyung can smell his fury. He doesn’t know what’s wrong. “Stop it. Stop it, stop it, you know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“Are the plants okay?”

Jimin’s mouth twists. His whole face contorts into something beautiful and terrifying and inhuman. The lights don’t burst, but the air turns cold, and fear is settling in his chest but Taehyung can’t look away.

Jimin leaves without saying anything else. He’s a storm himself as he barrels out of the room, slamming the door so hard the paintings on the walls tremble. Taehyung’s shaken as well. Minutes pass with only the sound of the ticking grandfather clock and the gentle patter of rain against the window.

There’s a knock on the door. Yoongi enters without waiting for an answer. He looks angry, but about as angry as he always looks. Not nearly as angry as Jimin.

“You’re an idiot.”

Taehyung ruffles at that and sits up from the pillows. His head is still swimming and honestly, he’s probably in the first stage of pneumonia; but he doesn’t like how defenseless he feels lying down. “That’s not nice.”

“But it’s true.” Yoongi shuts the door behind him and Taehyungs thinks this is it. This is where he dies. Taehyung wishes he would have managed to befriend the wisteria before he was taken away. “You know why Jimin’s so upset with you, right?”

“Because of the maple tree?”

Yoongi narrows his eyes. “You really are stupid, aren’t you?”

“People say that.” Taehyung tries for a smile and it falls short. 

Yoongi moves over to the empty side of the bed and surprises Taehyung by crawling on top of the blankets to face him. He crosses his legs at the ankles. They’re rarely this close to each other and Taehyung tries not to stare at Yoongi’s fangs as he speaks. “Why do you think Jimin’s upset because of the maple tree, Taehyung?”

Taehyung picks at the golden tassel of a pillow.  “Because I couldn’t help it.”

Yoongi blinks. Slows his words. “There was a storm. Storms happen. Unless you’re an elemental witch, no one could have done anything.” 

“There are weather witches?”

Yoongi’s lip twitches. Taehyung swears it does. “Elemental. Call them a weather witch and you might end up naked in a forest without your memories one day.” 

Taehyung ducks his head to hide his grin. “Noted.”

Yoongi reaches to rub at his eyes like this is already too much for him today, and the silver ring on his finger gleams. Silver to Jimin’s gold. “Think about this, Taehyung,” he says. “Why would Jimin be angry with you about last night? Hint: It’s not because of the tree.”

“Because… The flowers?” Taehyung says. “Are the flowers okay? I thought I covered them pretty well.”

“Oh my god, you really are dumb.” Yoongi drops his face into his palms. “It’s because you were in the storm, Taehyung. You, lightning, possible injury or death. Do you get it?”

Taehyung doesn’t get it.

“Why would Jimin be worried about that?”

“Haven’t you ever had someone worry about you before?” Yoongi’s eyes flicker up above his head and his expression softens. “Mmm, that’s right.”

Taehyung pushes his hair behind his ear. Closes his eyes. “My grandma started losing her memory a few years ago. When she passed, she didn’t really know who I was anymore. And Gramps spent all his time taking care of her so he didn’t really pay attention to me before he died. But I know they cared about me. I know that.” 

“Do you?”

Taehyung  shakes his head, confused, feeling teary. 

“Taehyung.” The way Yoongi says his name is low and intense, and Taehyung doesn’t want to hear what he has to say next. “Taehyung, I think you’re here for me, not for something in the shop.”

Taehyung hangs his head, presses his chin to his chest. Grips at the tassel.

“I know it’s hard to talk about your family, to even think about them,” Yoongi says, voice still warm and full. “But they’re still here for a reason. Don’t you want to help them move on?” 

“What comes next?” Taehyung looks up and Yoongi’s waiting for him. “If they leave, then where do they go?”

“I don’t really know.” Yoongi answers him honestly, just like Taehyung knew he would. Jimin can sense when someone is lying to him, but Taehyung thinks it’s just who Yoongi is, to speak the truth, rather than it just being habit. “Their energy will go back into the earth, but their souls will move over to the other side. I can see them now, communicate with them, but once they go over… That’s as far as I can go as a living being.”

“So they won’t go to heaven?”

“I don’t know, Taehyung.” Yoongi sighs, face falling. He leans back to rest against the footboard. “I can’t see that far.”

“Your bedside manner is awful,” Taehyung grumbles. “Is this what you usually tell grieving families?”

“No, I usually lie and say whatever it is they want to hear.” Taehyung narrows his eyes at that and Yoongi looks up towards the ceiling. “My job’s pretty simple by nature. People approach me because they can feel themselves being haunted, whether that be because of intuition, or the soul doing the haunting has physically manifested.”

“Like the crazy aunt.”

“Yes,” Yoongi nods, one side of his mouth curling up. “Like the crazy aunt. Although her actions were quite justified. Just spending a few hours with her family had me wanting to throw several priceless paintings out the third floor bedroom window, as well.”

Taehyung laughs at that, shifts so that his legs are pressed against Yoongi’s, his feet knocking against Yoongi’s knees. 

Yoongi doesn’t move away.

“So,” Yoongi starts, then hesitates and begins to tap beats of eight against his thigh. “When I pass on a soul’s message, the persons receiving it usually take it at face value. But after that, they usually get emotional, want to know how their loved one is doing, yada yada. So I tell them what they want to hear because it makes them get off my case.”

“Liar.” Yoongi tilts his head and finds Taehyung’s playful gaze. “You do it because you’re secretly a huge sap.”

“If I say yes to that,” Yoongi says in a measured tone, “will you let me help you?”

Smile, dissolved. Taehyung sits there, watching the rain drum against the window. 

“Aren’t you tired, Taehyung?” All the time. It’s like he can’t catch his breath. “Isn’t your heart heavy?”

Taehyung’s face is scrunching up. Sadness floods his chest, so heavy Jimin must surely be able to feel it from downstairs. So thick that everyone must know it’s there.

Yoongi is watching him with the same expression he wore the night he chased Taehyung out into the yard. Open. Vulnerable.

Frightened. 

“You have a good family,” Yoongi says. “A really good one. Most souls who haunt for this long, who left so devastatingly, turn into evil spirits.”

“Are they bright?” Taehyung asks without thinking. 

“The brightest. Very pretty.”

“You’re not saying that just because I want to hear it, right?” 

Yoongi doesn’t break away from him. “No.”

Taehyung is quiet for a long time, then in a ragged voice, says, “Do what you need to do.”

Yoongi sucks in air. He immediately extends his hands. “Hold my hands.”

Taehyung’s eyebrows shoot up, and Yoongi rolls his eyes and wiggles his fingers. “Come on, I do this with everyone.”

“Not because you just want to hold my hand?” Yoongi’s ears are flushed and Taehyung thinks it’s adorable. He takes Yoongi’s hands, larger than Jimin’s and just a bit smaller than his own, and Yoongi holds on to him tightly. 

“It makes the connection stronger. Oh, wait.” Yoongi releases him and tumbles out of bed towards the door. “Be right back.”

Taehyung heaves in a breath and grips at his throat. Fear, waves of it, rush in so fast that Taehyung thinks he may puke. Hot flashes, prickling up his spine, and he claws at his chest because Yoongi’s right; his heart is so heavy that everything just hurts all the time and Taehyung wants to know what kind of person he is without the sadness, but he’s terrified that there won’t be anything left when it leaves.

 

 

 

Yoongi returns with a large plate and a tightly wound bundle of dried herbs and wood. He crawls into bed once more, sets the plate between them, places the bundle down and pulls a lighter from his pocket. 

“Shouldn’t we have candles or something?” Taehyung chokes, trying to crack a joke. 

“I’m not really into candle magic,” Yoongi grins back, barely there, lighting one end of the bundle. Taehyung breathes in the scent of spice and smoke. Sage. Always sage. “Okay, take my hands.”

They hold hands again, and Yoongi’s visibly surprised when Taehyung laces their fingers together.

“It’s more comfortable,” Taehyung says, but he throws in a lascivious wink and Yoongi just closes his eyes and mutters something that sounds like profanity under his breath. “Don’t curse in front of my mom.”

“Sorry.” Drat, Taehyung definitely thought he’d get a smile out of that. “I want you to think of a happy memory.”

“You too?”

“You thinking of something happy ensures that the connection we make stays positive and pure,” Yoongi answers, all business, even though they’re sitting on a bed holding hands like they’re at a sleepover. “It helps keep any possible negative energy from slipping in during the séance.”

“Will you be able to see my memory like Jimin?”

“No,” Yoongi says. “Think about whatever you want.”

Taehyung thinks of the day at the beach, only this time he tries to recall all the details he might have forgotten the last time. The scent of saltwater thick on the air. His mother’s laughter, like bubbles bursting. The velvety softness of the water against his skin as he stared up at the impossibly blue sky. All he wanted to do was lay there in the water for the rest of his life. 

Yoongi squeezes his hands, begins to speak lowly in the same lilting language that Jimin used during the plant burning ritual. Taehyung sways along to the chant, not at all afraid like last time. Not for the same reasons, at least.

“What would you like to say?”

Taehyung thinks Yoongi’s talking to him at first, but then a breeze drifts through the room, blowing the smoke of the scorched herbs around them, and he remembers that they’re not the only ones here. They’ve never been the only ones.

“Your sister’s sorry for eating your pudding.”

The laughter busts out, so quick and sharp that Taehyung almost breaks their hold. Yoongi’s eyes are closed, but his lips are pressed into a tight line to keep from smiling. “Your brother says he’s sorry for fighting with you. That he doesn’t hate you. That you were his hero.”

Oh. Oh, no. He can’t do this. This is too fast. 

“Your parents are sorry that you had to leave school.” No, no, no this needs to stop. “Focus, Taehyung. Your mom knew how much you wanted to go to college.”

He’s not ready this can’t be happening he’s crumbling, spiraling, they have to stop.

“We-we couldn’t afford it,” Taehyung says, heart beating against the back of his throat.  Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. “And I wasn’t smart enough. I-I mean I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t have been able to go, anyway.”

“Your father’s sorry for all the times he yelled at you for daydreaming,” Yoongi says, holding him tighter. “For wanting to be a florist. It was your dream and he should have supported you.”

He can’t do this. He can’t. This is too much, too fast. 

He’s gonna lose them. He’s going to lose them all over again.

A tear rolls down his cheek and Taehyung can’t wipe it away. 

“Your grandpa thinks you’re brilliant. He regrets not telling you that more. He says you have a way with nature he never did.” Taehyung’s hands are trembling and Yoongi’s thumbs rub calming circles into his skin, along the bone where his wrists ache after working. “Your grandma wishes she could have said goodbye. She’s so sorry she couldn’t remember you at the end.”

“It wasn’t her fault,” Taehyung shakes his head, trying to hold back all the sadness inside of him and failing. “She was sick, it wasn’t her fault.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Yoongi repeats back, brows pinching. “Your parents keep saying that…The accident wasn’t your fault, Taehyung.”

“But it was!” Yoongi flinches and Taehyung tries to draw back his hands, but Yoongi won’t let him go. His head is splitting, he needs to leave, he needs to leave and go home but he doesn’t have a home to go to anymore. “I called them to come back early and they-and they—the ice and-and it was. It was, it was, it was it was all my fault, Yoongi, all my fault.” 

Yoongi’s expression shatters. “It wasn’t, Taehyung. You were a child. You were sick and you missed your family and you did nothing wrong, Taehyung. It wasn’t your fault. Look at me. Look at me, Taehyung-ah.” Taehyung tries to suck in the sound of his sobs and Yoongi’s face is wild with sorrow. “It wasn’t your fault. Honest. Straight from your mother’s mouth.”

Taehyung laughs, he cries. He bites down hard on his bottom lip to keep it from trembling and tastes blood in his mouth.  

Yoongi releases one of his hands and reaches out to stroke the back of his head, running his fingers through the tangled hair at the base of his neck just like his mom used to do. Just as Jimin did that day under the tree.

“Taehyung,” Yoongi breathes, pulling at his hair softly, his voice and eyes impossibly soft. “Taehyung-ah, I need you to say it.”

Taehyung shakes and shakes and Yoongi leans forward to press their foreheads together, to hold him still. “Tae, you have to say it.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Taehyung shudders, leaning into him. Yoongi’s thumb slowly brushes across his cheek, wiping away the tears gathering there. Taehyung gasps. “It wasn’t— it wasn’t my fault.”

“Okay,” Yoongi says, his voice breaking. “Okay. You did so good, kiddo. So good.” 

Cupping the back of his neck, Yoongi begins to chant again, his voice turning to whale song in Taehyung’s ears. The breeze is back, relighting the herb bundle, and the smoke serpentines around them, drifting up and out of sight.

A stillness settles over them like a blanket. Quiet tears dribble down Taehyung’s cheeks, and when he opens his eyes, Yoongi is still there, waiting, looking at him like he’s looking deep into him. Searching. Reading.

Taehyung feels light, but not the good kind. Like any second he might drift away. Like there’s something missing. Hollow. Like he just lost his family all over again. 

“Is it over?” Taehyung croaks?

Yoongi nods. “It’s over.”

“They’re gone?”

“They’re gone.” 

 “What do I do now?” Taehyung looks around, feeling as if he’s seeing the room for the first time even though he’s spent every night here for a month and a half. 

Yoongi leans towards him, hesitates, and then a sigh gusts out and he reaches to swipe his fingers across Taehyung’s cheeks again where the tears are still dribbling down. “Now you start over,” he says, going back over what he missed. Taehyung sniffs and leans into his touch. “Now you move forward.”

“Why do I still feel so sad?”

“Because you’re human.”

“Am I still me?”

“Unfortunately,” Yoongi chuckles, and Taehyung echoes the sound and uses the sleeve of his shirt to wipe the snot from his nose. 

Yoongi pulls away to give him room. Taehyung feels sticky. Sweaty. Disgusting. Clear. Maybe not hollow. Not empty. Just a Taehyung with space. Room for new things. New feelings. 

Taehyung takes a big, big breath and feels it go deep, deeper than it has in months. “Thank you, Yoongi-ssi.”

“Hyung.”

Yoongi is biting his bottom lip. “Hyung,” he repeats gently. “Call me hyung.”

“Yoongi-hyung,” Taehyung smiles. His gaze drifts to the window, towards the courtyard. Yoongi watches but doesn’t say anything as Taehyung slips off the bed, breaking their hold, and moves for the door. The stairs. The shop. 

Jimin is standing in the dark in front of one of the windows, looking out over the yard. Just as he always does when a customer leaves.  

He doesn’t turn when Taehyung approaches. “Feel better?” 

“I’m not sure,” Taehyung answers, but Jimin probably already knew that. “I’m sorry if I made you scared, Jimin. That’s why you were angry, right?”

Jimin glances at him, lip caught between his teeth, looking so miserable that Taehyung wants to reach out and hold him. Keep him warm. Keep him safe. 

“Thank—” Taehyung shudders, backing away. “Thank you. For everything.”

Taehyung bows deeply and can’t bring himself to look at Jimin as he rises. Instead he heads for the door, quick as he can without running, because he knows this urge building inside, he knows what he wants to ask them is something he should never say aloud. 

I want to stay. 

It’s still raining outside. The limbs from the maple have been cleared up. Jimin probably did a ritual. That’s good. This is good.

Please let me stay. 

Taehyung clenches his teeth and steps out of the alcove of the doorway, then turns towards the main wall.

“Taehyung?”

Taehyung grips the hem of damp shirt and he feels like he might be blown away. 

“Taehyung?” Jimin repeats, and Taehyung looks over his shoulder. Jimin and Yoongi are hovering in the doorframe. They look impossibly small. Incredibly vulnerable. Jimin’s holding onto the hem of Yoongi’s shirt like a lifeline.

Taehyung opens his mouth. Closes it. Tries again. “There’s no gate.”

“What?” 

“There’s no gate,” Taehyung tells them, tells himself, tells the maple tree and the flowers and the pouring sky. “There’s no door. Jimin, there’s no door.” 

Jimin’s at his side, staring at the wall, staring at him as water plasters down his hair. “Are you sure?”

“Positive.” 

Jimin makes as if to say something but nothing comes out. 

Yoongi’s voice rises above the rain. “I said it might work. No definites.” 

Taehyung doesn’t know how he feels. Doesn’t know what he’s supposed to feel. He turns to Jimin for answers, but Jimin looks just as much at a loss.

“Well, come inside for now,” Yoongi calls out, already moving away from them, hands buried deep in his hoodie pockets. “That took a lot out of me. Let’s eat some ramen. We’ll figure this out later.”

Taehyung stares for a moment longer at the blank wall. He feels like he could stand in this courtyard under the rainfall forever.

Except, Jimin’s nudging him towards the shop where the sounds of Yoongi bumbling around the kitchen have started up, and just like the first day, Taehyung can’t help but follow the sound.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Taehyung doesn’t end up catching pneumonia, but it’s pretty damn near close. 

Jimin doesn’t give him any of the sparkly stuff because apparently that’s only for those with incurable diseases. Taehyung isn’t dying, even though it feels as if he is, so he gets a warm mug of thick, brown liquid instead. It smells like dirt. Tastes like dirt, when Jimin pushes up the bottom to get him to gulp it down. Like Jimin just pureed everything from the garden without looking.

That’s not true. Jimin has a recipe for everything. Absolutely everything. And if he can’t find a recipe, then he makes one and adds it to his grimoire; the big, leather bound book that rests on the counter of the shop when Jimin doesn’t have it at his side in the kitchen.

“Do you think I could make potions?” Taehyung asks. 

Jimin looks at him, thrown. “What?”

“Potions,” Taehyung repeats, staring up at the ceiling and squinting when he sees two overhead lights. “Help you. With potions. If the things are already magical, do you need more magic to make them? The potions n’ stuff.”

Jimin smiles, shaking his head. “Taehyung, you’re losing me.”

“A cat,” Taehyung says, groggy, and flops over onto his side to look at Jimin better. “Why don’t you have a cat?”

“I’m not sure—”

“Witches have cats.” Taehyung stares at the muscles in Jimin’s arms. Taehyung wants to reach out and run his hands across the bare skin there. “Or toads? Familiars? Magic pets. You should have a magic pet.”

Jimin’s grinning behind his hand. “I’ll talk to Yoongi about it.”

“I had a cat when I was little. Well, it was my sister’s cat. And it wasn’t really ours. We just fed it every night. And it stayed. I would have to. We named him Cabbage because he liked to sleep in the cabbage patch.” 

“That’s a nice story,” Jimin tells him, half his face still hidden.

“Yeah. Yeah. It is.” Taehyung squints at Jimin. “You shouldn’t hide.” Jimin hums, tilting his head. “Your smile. It’s so pretty. You shouldn’t hide it.”

Jimin’s jaw tightens and he looks down to his lap where his hands are resting. 

“You’re pink. Are you sick, too?” Taehyung groans and oofs and manages to wriggle under Jimin to get a better look at his face. Jimin flinches, his cheeks flushing more. “You can’t get sick,” Taehyung says as he reaches to pull on the piece of Jimin’s fringe that always dances above his forehead. “You have to nurse me back to health.”

Jimin doesn’t say anything, and Taehyung frowns and falls forward so that the crown of his head presses against Jimin’s chest. Jimin startles but doesn’t break away, and Taehyung’s not sure how much time passes, but when his eyes flutter open, he’s laying in bed with Jimin tucked into his side. Jimin’s fingers in his hair. Jimin’s breath on his neck. 

Taehyung hasn’t felt this well-rested in weeks.

 

~~~

 

“Jimin, what was in that dirt stuff because I want more.”

“It was an ancient herbal tea recipe, not dirt stuff, and no.”

“I feel like I could climb a mountain. Swim to China. Run a marathon. Become a glow worm.”

“Jimin, what the hell did you do to him?”

“Yoongi-hyung, dance with me!”

“Fuck no.”

“I might have put in too much eyebright. You know how much stronger things are when they’re ingested.”

No, that’s your job.”

“Guys, I think I can hear the air moving.”

“That’s called wind, Taehyung.”

“Oh.”

 

~~~

 

Taehyung leans into the back of the toilet, taps his bare feet against the warm tile. He thinks all the floors in the building have a charm on them to stay heated. He never has cold toes. “Why do you always make my bath for me?”

Jimin raises his head from the water, confused. Amused? Jimin always looks somewhat amused when Taehyung speaks. Everyone looks amused when Taehyung speaks, but Jimin makes it feel different. Like it’s not a bad thing he’s trying to cover up with a smile. Jimin just… smiles. At him. All the time. 

“Because it’s my specialty,” Jimin says. 

“Baths?”

“Bath magic.”

Taehyung beams. “Okay. Okay, I gotta hear this. Is this why I always feel high after bathing?”

Jimin almost drops the geranium vial in his hands into the tub. “No. I mean, probably not. Maybe. You’re already a little aloof on your own.”

Taehyung’s snickering and Jimin tries to stare him down, an attempt at looking serious. He absolutely fails. “Bath magic,” Jimin enunciates, “goes back generations. Thousands of years. Most cultures have always had some kind of purification or cleansing ritual involving water and, I don’t know… Water is a really powerful energy source.” Jimin mutters something under his breath in what Taehyung has dubbed Witch Language, then reaches for another glass. Taehyung smells oranges when Jimin pops the lid off. “It’s healing and most of the time you’re naked in it which creates this kind of vulnerability that nature loves. It’s easier for potions and spells to take effect when the intended individual is more willing.”

“Have you ever had to do magic on someone who wasn’t willing?”

“It’s rare for most witches,” Jimin answers, a frown in his voice. “Everyone who comes to the shop is consensual. Magic is… It’s all about relationships. Different energies coming together and working together as one. If one of those energies isn’t compliant, it messes with the balance. That’s why Yoongi’s usually so exhausted after work. He’s constantly working with non-compliant energy.” 

“Is it dangerous?” 

Jimin looks up again, brows questioning. “What Yoongi does?”

“No, well, just magic. Magic in general,” Taehyung whispers, looking away to watch as the bath water fades from a royal purple into seafoam green. “What you do is always so pretty. Soft. Can magic be scary?”

Jimin starts to say something, thinks better of it, then says it anyway. “Yeah. It can be. But magic is easy to understand. There’s no grey space. There’s light magic, and there’s dark magic. Magic that began light and turned dark can always be purified, but dark magic that began as dark will always be dark.”

“Do you think some people are born dark?” 

Taehyung wants to pull the words back in, but they’re stuck there, drifting about, the hidden statement trapped between them. Because Taehyung does think that some people are born dark, but he doesn’t know how to tell Jimin that there’s a beast living in his chest that terrifies him every time it wakes up. That sometimes he thinks it’s going to consume him, and they’ll be nothing left but rage and heartbreak and despair and all these terrible, terrible feelings that Taehyung thought would go away with his family but they haven’t. 

Yoongi was supposed to fix him and he hasn’t and now Taehyung feels more broken than ever, because at least when his family was haunting him he had a reason to be so awfully sad.

“I—” Taehyung starts and his throat is all wobbly, but Jimin waits in that patient and thoughtful way of his until he can say more. “After the accident, everyone kind of looked at me like it was my fault. And I, I started to believe it because it was easy, you know? It’s so easy to just kind of hate yourself. And I’m still… I’m still trying to convince myself that it wasn’t my fault, and I don’t know if I’ll ever truly believe that it wasn’t at least a little bit, but I… I’m really tired of hating myself. I really… I don’t think I want to die anymore, but I don’t…” 

Taehyung reaches for the collar of his shirt and holds fast, tries to slow his words and his heart and his lungs. “It’s like I don’t know how to live? Like I still don’t think I deserve it?”

Jimin’s there, on his knees, hands spread across Taehyung’s thighs. “It isn’t selfish to want to live, Tae, and it’s not something you have to earn.” Jimin looks up at him, clear and vulnerable and open. Young and impossibly old. “Tae. Taehyung, what’s something you want to do?”

Taehyung rubs a finger along his collarbones. “Huh?”

“In the past,” Jimin starts, his voice coming out choppy, “when things got hard, I use to plan things I wanted to do in the future. Something to look forward to. To keep me going.” Jimin’s hands tighten. “What’s something you’d like to do?”

Taehyung clenches his teeth. Touches Jimin’s hand lightly, who doesn’t pull away. “I want to see the ocean again.”

“Okay.” Jimin’s smile grows wider. More crooked. “So think about that when your mind gets too dark. Think of the ocean.”

Taehyung thinks about the ocean now, the one from his childhood, the one that’s the same stunning shade of blue as Jimin’s eye. 

Dusk is pouring in through the stain-glass window, painting Jimin’s face in color, and Taehyung draws his hand away. 

 “Have you ever been to the ocean Jimin?”

“A few times, I think. When I was little,” he nods. He rocks back on his feels, hands slipping from Taehyung’s legs. “We lived more towards the mountains than the coast.”

“I think you’d like the ocean now,” Taehyung says, looking away from him. “Lots of water to get naked in.”

“I don’t think that’s legal.”

“So long as you don’t get caught.”

Jimin laughs, high and unrestrained, and Taehyung feels the floor warm under his feet at the sound, feels his heart warm along with it. 

Taehyung’s voice, soft like a lullaby, says, “I want to go to the ocean with you, Jimin.”

Jimin bites his lip and Taehyung wants to lean forward and do it for him. 

Jimin inhales sharply, gaze hazy. He stands. “I’d like to go with you, too.”

“Maybe one day,” Taehyung whispers, and Jimin’s eyes are dark and the sun has set and the candles in the room begin to flicker on one by one.

“Yeah,” Jimin whispers back, just as tender. “Maybe one day.”

 

~~~

 

A couple days pass, and Taehyung walks into Jimin’s room after a difficult day in the greenhouse to find the heliotrope with one green leaf.

He’s screams so loud Jimin leaves a potion mid-brew to race up the stairs, and Jimin slides on his socks into the doorframe and finds him cradling the pot on the floor, whispering words of praise and encouragement. To a plant. Like a crazy person. Which he very well may be.

Only, when Taehyung looks to him, Jimin has tears in his eyes and a look of such fond adoration that Taehyung has to remind himself how to breathe. That he needs to breathe. That lungs are a thing and his heart needs to beat and kissing Jimin is completely off limits. 

“Do you think hyung will be happy?” Taehyung says instead, fingering the small green leaf, and he can’t control the love swelling in his chest. Has no idea what to do with it. 

“He will.” Jimin’s voice comes out choked, and Taehyung can’t look at him. He won’t be able to control himself this time. “He definitely will.”

 

 

 

When Yoongi gets home that night, Taehyung races into the courtyard to meet him with the plant and its simple leaf.

Taehyung’s not sure what he’s expecting, doesn’t expect much of anything really because it’s been over a week since their séance and Yoongi’s gone back to pretending like Taehyung doesn’t exist. But that’s okay because Taehyung knows better now. Knows it’s all just a façade. Likes to assume it’s a façade, at least. 

But Taehyung’s so unbelievably and overwhelmingly happy that he doesn’t think about Yoongi’s possible reaction until he’s stumbling to a stop in front of him, clutching the pot to his chest, smile stretching his face so tight it almost hurts, so dizzy with delight that heartbeats pass before Taehyung realizes that Yoongi is frozen. 

He’s staring at the single leaf. Hasn’t said a thing. Taehyung’s heart starts to shrivel. 

“I, uh…” What does he say, what does he say, how does he fix this? “Sorry. I didn’t—” Taehyung bites his cheek and takes a step back and where is his heart? Where did it go?

Yoongi moves forward as if to pass Taehyung and he’s ready, Taehyung’s ready for the disregard, ready to be overlooked— 

But Yoongi lifts his arm, and for a moment Taehyung thinks he’s going to pat his shoulder; but Yoongi just takes a deep breath and chases away a stray petal that was resting on top of Taehyung’s head.

Taehyung stares at the rose petal as Yoongi walks away, and Taehyung stands there in the yard until Jimin calls his name to come set the table. 

Taehyung, much to Yoongi’s embarrassment and Jimin’s entertainment, doesn’t let go of the heliotrope all night. 

 

~~~

 

In the morning, the plant has two green leaves. 

 

~~~

 

“Taehyung, how do you feel about living in the attic?”

Taehyung looks up from his toast, and Jimin and Yoongi are watching him expectantly from across the dining table. Taehyung finishes chewing before he speaks. “There’s an attic?” 

“Yeah,” Jimin nods. “There’s something restless about him, a nervous energy that’s seeping into the air. “It’s all storage right now, but Yoongi and I thought you might want to use it.”

Taehyung glances towards Yoongi who is busy sipping coffee, an image of perfected nonchalance. 

Taehyung drags himself back into the present moment, trying to seem breezy and fine even though his chest is cramping up. “Oh. I, yeah, of course. You probably want your room back. But I can take the couch. I don’t want you guys to trouble yourselves.”

A sliver of silence passes and Jimin’s voice is careful, almost tentative, when he speaks again. “This isn’t about me wanting my room back, Tae.” Then what else would it be? “It’s about you having your own space.”

“Oh. Well…” Taehyung unclenches his jaw and looks down at his hands. He wipes his palms on his lap, willing himself to be cool, to calm down. “I can stay in the den. It’s really nice in there. Better than the park. I mean the park was okay but, you know, it was kind of cold at night—”

“You slept in a park?”

Yoongi’s voice is alarmed and Taehyung feels the telltale signs of bitter humiliating flooding his chest. “Yeah. I don’t—I don’t have a place to live or anything. My backpack. I just have my backpack.” 

“Oh my god…”

“I, uhm, can stay in the greenhouse, too.” Taehyung grins to keep his lips from quivering. “I’d probably be in the way in the den, right?”

“Taehyung, you’re not—” Jimin sighs and it’s caught somewhere between exasperation and disbelief and things were going so well, how did they get here? “We offered the attic because we want you to be comfortable while you’re here. Don’t you want your own room?”

“I,uh, I don’t know. I’ve never had one before.”

“Then I’m making the final decision.” Jimin’s already heading for the staircase. “You’re staying in the attic. Come on, let’s get started.” 

Taehyung’s left there, dazed, as Jimin disappears. It’s quiet, and Taehyung looks over and finds Yoongi watching the top of the steps with the same cautious expression that Taehyung is wearing. 

But Yoongi just shrugs, picks up his mug, and jerks his head towards the stairs. A signal for Taehyung to follow. 

Taehyung doesn’t feel like he has much of a choice, so he does. At the end of the hall, just past Jimin’s room, a ladder’s been let down from the ceiling. It creaks as he and Yoongi climb up, even worse than the normal stairs, and Taehyung fights off fears of falling through the baseboards.

The attic is just shy the size of the second floor. Two rooms, packed to the rafters with decades worth of stuff: utility shelves filled with books and lights and jars, the rest of the collection of dishes that don’t fit in the pantry, trunks filled with clothes, trunks filled with more books, trunks filled with toys. There are suitcases and hatboxes, mirrors, a plane propeller, a globe the size of a small car. More than anything, though, there are cardboard boxes, dozens of them, some marked but most left blank stacked precariously in every space they can fill.

Jimin’s standing in the midst of it all with his hands on his hips.

“There’s a lot more than I remember,” he says when he hears them approach from behind.

“It’s like a museum,” Taehyung mumbles in awe and drops in front of a box to peek in. It’s full of old clothes. Old, old clothes. “Are these hanboks?”

“Probably mine,” Yoongi says, leaning over to peek. “I kept a lot of my mentor’s belongings. He was born during the Joseon dynasty.”

Taehyung’s eyes blow wide. “What part of the dynasty?”

“Late,” Yoongi tells him. “Obviously. We’re not that old, geez.”

“I don’t know, hyung. You act like an old man.”

“Still young enough to beat your ass.” 

“You don’t scare me, hyung, I know you’re a pacifist.”

Yoongi stares at him, long and had, then huffs and turns away with a grumble. 

Taehyung just laughs as he seals up the box again. “Is there anything magical in here?”

“If you’re thinking something like a portal to another dimension, then no,” Yoongi answers. “Didn’t your grandparents hold on to all their stuff from when they were young?” Taehyung nods. “Same with us. Jimin’s also way too sentimental for his own good.” 

“I don’t deny that,” Jimin calls out from the second room. “You’ll thank me one day for not letting you throw things out. Some of this is valuable.” 

“But most of it is junk,” Yoongi whispers as he passes by Taehyung to find Jimin in the throngs of memories, and Taehyung feels his heart swell because Yoongi’s never this familiar with him. Maybe they are making progress. Maybe Jimin was right about him just being himself. 

Taehyung reaches up to grip at his drubbing heart and tells it to calm down, calm down

Jimin’s head pokes around a stack of boxes to send him an odd stare, and Taehyung realizes that he’s wearing a maniacal smile and quickly turns to find something to busy his hands and mind.  

 

 

 

Cleaning the attic is just as big a job as fixing up the whole greenhouse, mainly because Jimin wants to stop and look through every box while they have the chance. For organizational reasons, he said while brandishing a black marker, ready to title and date everything in sight; but Taehyung knows it’s mainly to relive the past. Yoongi would never admit it aloud, but Taehyung knows he’s soft for a trip down memory lane, too. 

“Hey, Jimin?”

Jimin glances up with a smile. At his feet is a clothing box, the contents of which look like they came from the seventies. Lots of orange. Lots of paisley. Maybe there are some nineties boxes lying around. Taehyung always loved looking at vintage jackets in thrift stores. 

Taehyung crouches down but doesn’t open the box in front of him. It was exciting at first, but that was a couple hours ago. Now it’s just weird. Now it’s almost overwhelming. Because Jimin and Yoongi are old. They’re old and they’ve spent years together and Taehyung is just… It’s been what, two months? Two months is a blip for them. A dust mote. But for Taehyung, this is the longest he’s spent time anywhere but at home, with his family. And the others, Jimin and Yoongi and Hoseok and everyone, they’ve had each other for years and Taehyung’s never had that and he’s never going to have that. Not with them. Not with anyone.

“Tae.”

Taehyung can’t look up. Not when he feels like this. Not when he knows that Jimin knows he’s feeling like this. 

“Tae, is this freaking you out?” Taehyung shakes his head even though it’s a lie. He’s not supposed to lie to Jimin. He’s not supposed to try. “You can stop,” Jimin says, soft at the edges. “Yoongi and I can handle this.” 

“That’s not it.” It is and it isn’t. Because Jimin thinks he’s upset over them being witches, but Taehyung’s upset because they’re surrounded by years of memories, memories spent without him, memories he’ll never be a part of; and for the umpteenth time since he’s arrived, Taehyung’s realizing how much he doesn’t belong here except he does . What’s so agonizingly terrible is that Taehyung isn’t out of place here. It’s like there was a spot waiting for him to fill it and now that he’s here, he doesn’t want to go, how is he supposed to leave?

But you’re not a witch, his mind whispers, and Taehyung grips at the hem of his pants and forces himself to breathe. You don’t belong here and you never will. 

“Tae—”

“Do you miss being outside?” Taehyung blurts out, because he knows Jimin is going to try to coddle him and Taehyung can’t handle that right now. He can’t handle Jimin’s kindness because he doesn’t deserve it and he doesn’t understand why Jimin treats him so well and oh god, he’s spiraling and he doesn’t know how to stop.

Jimin is staring at him, conflicted. “What?”

“Outside,” Taehyung rushes, voice torn. His teeth clack together. “Like, in the real world. Do you miss it?”

“I—” Jimin hesitates. “I guess. Yeah. I do.”

“When was the last time you tried to go out?”

A pause, and then Jimin says, “A year.” Except his voice is all wrong and wobbly. It makes Taehyung look up, and Jimin is staring down at his hands, his ring, looking like he’s about to sink through the floorboards. “It’s been a year.” 

A year. A year is nothing to them, right? Taehyung expected ten years, maybe twenty. But only a year? Taehyung could spend a year here easily. 

Maybe he’ll have to. Maybe next fall he’ll still be here. With Jimin. With Yoongi. 

“Why did you go out?”

What if a year does pass and he hasn’t left? That’s a bad thing, right? Or a good thing? The best thing. 

Taehyung scrapes hard at his wrist. 

No. No, no, no. He can’t do that. He can’t stay here. Even if he wanted to, how is he supposed to spend a year like this? Constantly living in fear. Constantly wondering when his last day is. When he has to go back to the real world, back to nothing.

“Jimin?”

Yoongi’s voice drags him back, and Taehyung looks up to find that Jimin is frozen over his now open box. 

His eyes are flat, expression shattered, and Taehyung’s hand scratches at the wood and he hisses when a shard digs under his nail.

Jimin looks over at his cry of pain, at Yoongi’s voice. Looks at Taehyung like he’s a complete stranger. 

“Ji…Jimin?” Taehyung whispers, and Jimin blinks and he’s back. He’s back, but his eyes are misty, bottom lip trembling. Was it something Taehyung said? Something Taehyung felt? “Jimin, I’m sorry. You don’t have to answer, I’m sorry, please don’t cry.” 

But Jimin’s not looking at him, he’s looking at the box again, and Yoongi breezes by to see what’s happening and stills as he reaches for Jimin’s shoulder. 

Taehyung watches the heartbreak roll over them, their grief so thick and new it’s smothering. 

Yoongi reaches down, folds over the flaps of the cardboard, then carries the box to an empty corner—the insides left untouched, the outer unmarked. 

Yoongi does the same with another nearby box, and then another. He moves in silence, and soon the genial atmosphere they started with is gone and there’s a small stack of unchecked boxes in the corner of the room that Jimin and Yoongi refuse to address.

Breakdown diverted. Jimin goes to go start dinner, leaving him and Yoongi to finish up the wall they’ve been working on. Taehyung wants to ask if something is wrong, but can’t find the right words. He doesn’t know how to console Yoongi. He doesn’t know what to say to make him open up. 

Taehyung wonders what the boxes could possibly contain to have that much effect on them, but he stops himself from snooping when Yoongi’s finally had enough and escapes to help Jimin, his shoulders hunched and eyes filled with such sadness that Taehyung can’t bring himself to acknowledge his leave. 

Taehyung busies himself with dusting and tries to lose himself in the menial task.

He remembers having to go through his grandparents’ things after they passed. Remembers not only finding bits and pieces of their lives, but his parents’ and siblings’ as well. Remembers how he only held it together because he was so numb inside he couldn’t feel anything, anyway. 

Taehyung knows what’s in the boxes. Knows that it’s not his place to ask. Knows that the space left behind by the person before him is far larger than just the greenhouse and the gardens. 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung finishes the attic on his own, in his own time. He doesn’t check the boxes, just moves them out of the way to the main room. Dusts. Sweeps. Mops. Takes breaks to check the gardens and talk to the flowers. Jimin’s been quiet the past few days, and Taehyung can’t figure out if it’s because of the memories or what Taehyung said or because there hasn’t been a customer in half a week and he’s starting to feel it. Or not feel it, really.

“Hyung.”

Yoongi pauses, looks around in alarm, and Taehyung laughs behind his hand. “Hyung,” he calls again, and this time Yoongi tips back, searching.

“Taehyung,” he answers simply. Waits. A breeze drifts through the courtyard and a millennium passes before Yoongi asks, “What are you doing?”

“I was trying to see over the wall.”

Yoongi’s brow deepens. “What for?”

Taehyung shrugs, can feel his smile start to slip, laughs nervously and tries to look anywhere but at Yoongi but it doesn’t work. He pats the maple branch he’s perched on, the highest he could reach without breaking either of their limbs, but he can still only see the tips of the buildings around them. Not another soul in sight. “No customers came by again. It was a little lonely.” 

Concern is now blanketing Yoongi’s face. “How’s Jimin?”

Taehyung didn’t expect Yoongi to ask him that. Yoongi never asks him anything important. Never tries to include him in conversation. Never tries to make conversation. 

Taehyung stares down at him, befuddled, and Yoongi ruffles his hair the way he always does when he’s confused or hesitant. 

Taehyung drops his smile. It’s too heavy to hold on to.

“I tried to keep him company, but I think I was just making things worse. Because I was lonely, so he was getting even more lonely. Maybe. I came outside to give him space.”

“You don’t have to do that, you know.”

“Do what?”

“Treat him like he’s fragile,” Yoongi says simply, shoving his hands in his pockets as he walks away. “Come inside. Let’s help Jimin with dinner. He’d like that.”

Taehyung doesn’t move for a while, even after Yoongi’s invitation. Instead he waits for the sun to set, holds up his hand and spreads his fingers and closes one eye to watch the pink light filter between the open spaces. The maple leaves tremble around him in the wind and Taehyung’s too tired to read into the message.

Inside, Taehyung pauses in the doorway to the kitchen. Jimin’s at the counter chopping vegetables and Yoongi’s beside him, cutting up meat, pressed in so close their arms keep brushing, so that their thighs never quite break contact. 

Usually Jimin would be grumbling about not having space to work, a playful pretense of course; but tonight he leans into every quiet touch like he’s craving it.

Instead of the light and fluttery butterfly wings he felt in his chest the first few weeks, Taehyung’s heart is a pounding boom! boom! boom!  

Taehyung feels alive. More alive than usual. He’s not sure how to explain that to someone, if they were to ask, but ever since the séance, Taehyung has been almost painfully aware that he is a person, and that he is alive. Grounded. Very of the earth. Very aware of everything little thing that’s happening to him. Like he hadn’t been paying attention before. 

Except Taehyung was paying attention. Before. And now it’s doubled and he’s constantly wrinkled up inside with how much he notices. His brain keeps wanting to shut down. Some days he just wants to crumble to the floor and not get back up. He’s always stretched thin, and he’s just waiting for the final drop of water to land that will tear him in two. 

Taehyung doesn’t understand how Jimin can do it all the time, and then he realizes that Jimin can’t. The constant sorting and organizing of his and everyone’s feelings. That’s the whole reason why he’s here, cooped up in the shop.

Taehyung fiddles with the stone in his pocket out of habit, rubs his thumb over the smooth surface where it burns hot.

“Tae?” 

Taehyung’s breath flees. 

“I’m gonna check on the flowers,” he says, but he can’t hear his voice and hopes it sounds normal and not like his heart is breaking. He drifts through the kitchen and the den and back outside where the autumn air knocks some reality back into him again. 

That’s right, that’s right, that’s right

Taehyung races to the circle lawn and tumbles down in the grass at the root of the ash tree. He can feel the flowers concern, but he just buries his face into the earth and is trying, trying, trying not to breathe so fast because now Jimin’s looking at him like everything is wrong and maybe it is. Maybe this has all been a miserable mess from the start.

 

 

 

Taehyung doesn’t go back inside. He can’t. Not like this. He can’t do that to Jimin. So instead he snuggles up under the ash and tells soft stories to it and the nearby flowers until his voice grows hoarse. He falls asleep like that, with dirt and dew smeared across his cheeks. 

He wakes to half a moon hanging overhead and groggily pulls himself to his feet. When he slips back to the shop, he finds Jimin lounging on a sofa next to a fire, feet propped up on the armrest as he reads from an old tome. 

He hasn’t given up on finding a way for Taehyung to leave and Taehyung wishes he would stop. Wishes everything would just. Stop. 

“Tae?”

Taehyung ignores Jimin and heads upstairs to the bathroom, and for the first time since he’s been here, draws his own bath. He’s watched Jimin often enough to duplicate one of the particularly heavy  sleeping draughts, but it still doesn’t feel right. The water just turns a murky purple instead of flittering between the colors of the rainbow. 

He still stays in the water for too long. Long enough for the water to go cold. Long enough that when he slips into the hall, Yoongi’s bedroom light is off. 

 There’s a plate of food outside Jimin’s door. Taehyung brings it back downstairs to place in the fridge.

 

~~~

 

Sunday, Hoseok and Seokjin and Namjoon are coming over again, to help move furniture upstairs. Into Taehyung’s new space. His new room

Taehyung’s never had his own room before, and he’s not sure if he likes it. 

He likes the idea of having his own space; but having it means that he has a place here, and Taehyung knows this is temporary and that’s why he refuses to let himself get too giddy over it all. That, and the attic is so far away. If he was lonely just being down the hall from Yoongi’s bedroom, what is that going to feel like now, being cooped up on a whole ‘nother floor?

Maybe this is a good thing, he thinks, as he steps away from Yoongi’s room without knocking again. He stayed for quite a while this time, listening to their muffled voices on the other side.  Maybe he needs to be further away from Jimin and Yoongi. Maybe he should start trying harder to put distance between them. Maybe he should be trying harder to protect his heart.  

Taehyung crawls into Jimin’s bed. Jimin washed the sheets earlier (he’s been on a cleaning spree the past three days, since there are no potions to replace), and Taehyung snuggles in deep under the covers and just breathes. He tries to find a lingering trace of orange blossoms and comes up short. 

 

~~~

 

Who is he kidding? The shop had his heart the moment he walked through the door.  

 

~~~

 

Taehyung starts spending extra time in the greenhouse. It’s not that there’s much to do, no more than usual that is, but Jimin’s only gotten a couple customers the past few days and Taehyung’s sadder than ever and he hates that Jimin’s eyes don’t twinkle anymore. Jimin should always have a smile hidden somewhere on his face, and Taehyung can’t help but think that it’s his fault that there isn’t anymore. 

So he keeps his distance. First it’s time in the greenhouse, then it’s missing lunches and then breakfasts and finally dinners. Yoongi doesn’t say anything, not that Yoongi ever says anything. Not that Taehyung expects him to. 

“Eat.”

Taehyung glances down the ladder to find Yoongi hovering below with a bowl of stew and an ornery expression, like seeing Taehyung is enough to make him angry. Which it usually is, or was, but lately it hasn’t.

Taehyung blinks at him and tries to smother the sadness rising up in his throat because they’re moving back in time and he doesn’t know how much longer he can spend reliving the past.

“I’m not hungry.” He goes back to clipping the vines and yelps when Yoongi kicks the leg of the ladder. “What the hell, hyung?”

“Eat,” Yoongi hisses. He lifts a booted foot to kick the ladder again and Taehyung scurries down before he dies. “And cut out this bullshit.”

“Pruning?” Taehyung asks as he jumps the last four rungs. He takes the bowl, careful not to touch Yoongi, a habit that’s rolled over from Jimin. “I kinda have to prune, hyung.”

“No. I’m talking about how you’re avoiding us.”

Well, at least Yoongi’s curtness hasn’t changed.

“I’m not avoiding anyone,” Taehyung mumbles. He knows he sounds petulant and whiny, knows that Yoongi can read him like a book, but Taehyung has to at least try. Distance. He’s creating healthy distance.

“Bull,” Yoongi scoffs. Taehyung can’t look him in the eyes. “Did Jimin do something to hurt you?”

“What? No!” It bursts out of him, loud and fast and entirely true. Yoongi’s eyes soften. 

“Well, he thinks he did and you need to stop acting like he has.”

“I’m not… He hasn’t.” Taehyung looks up, catches Yoongi’s eye. Yoongi edges a brow up. “I don’t think Jimin could ever do something to hurt anyone.”

Yoongi pauses. Taehyung shuffles his feet. “I told you not to treat him like he’s fragile.”

“I’m not—”

“You are.”

Taehyung drops his head. He doesn’t like that his hands are trapped. He wants to disappear into the sky, and he’s not sure what’s worse: the shame of being called out and disappointing Yoongi, or the regret of hurting Jimin again when he’s been trying so desperately to avoid doing just that.

“You don’t understand,” Taehyung finally gives in.

“I understand plenty,” Yoongi responds and Yoongi must hear how torn he his because his voice loses some of its sharpness. “You’re just hurting him more by trying to keep your distance, Taehyung. It’s Jimin’s job to help people, so let him help you.” 

Taehyung grips hard at the edges of the bowl, holds back his sound of surprise when Yoongi reaches to ruffle his hair. 

Yoong’s eyes drift over his face, like he’s trying to remember something. “It’s my job too, you know.” Yoongi’s voice is thick with an emotion Taehyung doesn’t recognize from him.  “Eat your soup. And don’t sleep out here again. And for fuck’s sake, let Jimin draw your bath. That’s his favorite part of the day.”

Yoongi stays with him after that. Even after they’re done talking. Even after Taehyung has finished his meal. Yoongi plops himself down in an open patch at the base of the ladder and just talks. Not about anything important it sounds like. Just happenings in the news. Some new music he heard on the subway. A movie he’d like to see next month, but Jimin wants to see it too, so they may have to wait until it comes out online so they can rent it.

Taehyung listens and prunes. His heart is swelling and he lets himself feel it for the first time in days. How happy he is. How happy he can be if he just allows himself to live.

 

~~~

 

Jimin sings as he fixes Taehyung’s bath that night, and Taehyung didn’t think a person could get any more beautiful, but he was so wrong. He’s been so wrong. 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung’s in the maple again when Yoongi returns home, on a higher branch this time at the urging of the old tree who claimed it could hold his weight just fine. He’s taken to waiting outside for Yoongi, not because he wants to get away from Jimin anymore, but because it’s almost October and Taehyung hasn’t seen much of him lately. Something about lively spirits and the Autumn Solstice and strong spiritual energy.

Taehyung’s not sure what any of the witch mumbo jumbo means, but he does know that Yoongi’s been working late hours, and even though he’s making bank, the shop feels empty without him.

“Hyung!” Taehyung beams and starts to work his way down the branches, careful not to scratch his palms like last time. “Hyung, guess what! Jimin had like ten customers today and the heliotrope grew a flower and Hoseok-hyung is—Hyung?”

Taehyung’s on the last branch when he notices that something’s wrong.

Yoongi’s body hits the cobblestone the same time Taehyung starts screaming for Jimin, and Taehyung swings down and collides with the earth, struggles to keep himself from falling as he trips over his feet to get to Yoongi.

Hyun—!”

Taehyung gasps as the sudden pressure against his side cuts off his breath, and he crashes into the walkway with a yelp of pain because Jimin—Jimin just  hit  him.

“Jimi—”

“Don’t touch him!” Jimin hisses, fear twisting his face into something terrifying. Taehyung shrinks back as Jimin crouches beside Yoongi’s still form. “Yoongi? Yoongi, can you hear me?”

Jimin rolls him over, and one hand hovers over his mouth while the other presses against his neck. Heartbeat and breathing, Taehyung realizes. That’s what they did with Gramps.

Hyung,” Jimin calls out, and the endearment is enough for nausea to build in Taehyung’s throat. “Hyung. Yoongi, honey, please.”

Instead of puking, Taehyung manages out a strangled, “Jimin, what’s happening?”

Jimin pulls back and begins to tug Yoongi’s limp body to his feet. Taehyung moves forward to help, and Jimin whips around to shove him away with his foot. “Don’t touch him, Taehyung. Don’t touch me, either. Go get the door and run upstairs and start a bath.”

“But, Ji—”

“Now, Taehyung!” Jimin crouches, digs a shoulder into Yoongi’s stomach and hoists him onto his back.

Taehyung doesn’t know how else to help but to do as Jimin says. He races for the door and leaves it hanging open as he stumbles through the shop and up the stairs to the bathroom to start the faucets. He can hear Jimin behind him, his steps all wrong with the added weight, and Jimin thuds into the room not long after and motions for Taehyung to back away into a corner.

Taehyung huddles on the other side of the sink as Jimin steps into the tub, still fully-clothed, and kneels down to place Yoongi in the water, delicate in the way he holds the back of Yoongi’s neck, cradles his face between his palms.

“Tae.” Taehyung can’t drag his gaze away from Yoongi’s pale face, but he hums to tell Jimin he’s listening. Jimin’s already started dumping entire vials into the water and his voice is calm and clear as he speaks. “Go downstairs. Grab me my grimoire off the counter, and all the birch dust, spotted thistle, snapdragon and cayenne you can find. Hurry.”

Taehyung runs off, tripping over his feet on the last step. He scours the walls of the main floor for all the ingredients Jimin asked for and tries to get his mind to run on auto-pilot. But he can’t shut it down. He can’t stop thinking about what they mean.

Birch: Protection and purification

Cayenne: Speeds up the effect of any mixture to which it is added

Thistle: Purification, protection against negativity and evil, hex breaking

Snapdragon: Exorcism

Taehyung chokes on his breath but forces his feet to move, move, move, and when he returns to the bathroom, Jimin’s stripped Yoongi of his shirt and Taehyung cries out at the dark bruising blooming across Yoongi’s chest, spindling its way up his throat and down his arms. Like a living thing. Like vines.

No, not like vines. Plants could never be this black. Could never feel this dark. And Taehyung can feel it, the weight surrounding the tub and spilling into the room like it’s trying to smother anything it can touch.

Jimin looks up and his face is a riot of fear, but his voice is still flat. Still in control. Jimin knows what he’s doing. He has to know what he’s doing. “Set them beside the tub, then wait outside, Tae.”

“Jimin, what’s going on?” Taehyung whispers, and it’s the loudest he can bring his voice. He sets the items down and Jimin doesn’t move to grab them until Taehyung’s backed away to the door.

Jimin begins to unscrew the lids and sprinkle the contents into the murky red water, bordering brown. Taehyung’s never had a bath this color before. “Taehyung, I need you to wait outside. Go to the greenhouse.”

“Shouldn’t we call Namjoon-hyung? Or a witch doctor or s—”

“I am a witch doctor, Taehyung. And you can’t—” Jimin tilts his head back and sighs, and finally his voice cracks. “Tae, please. I need you to go outside. It’s not safe in here. Please.”

Taehyung startles at the depth of desperation in Jimin’s voice. So he leaves. He leaves, but he stops in the kitchen because how is he just supposed to walk out on this? On them?

For the first time in forever, Taehyung doesn’t want to run away.

Taehyung breathes and breathes and breathes. There’s buzzing nearby, and Taehyung looks around and spots Jimin’s phone ringing on the counter next to the stove. The flame is still on, not hot enough for the contents of the pot to boil, and Taehyung grabs the phone and flips off the heat. Swipes call.

 “Jimin,” Namjoon’s voice rushes in. “Jimin-ah, thank god, something’s happened to Yo—”

Hyung,” Taehyung breaks, and there’s stirring on the line, a moment of confusion.

“Taehyung?”

“Hyung, there’s something wrong with Yoongi-hyung and Jimin’s not telling me what’s happening and I think he might be dying—”

“Taehyung.” Taehyung chokes on his heart and there’s shouting in the background. When Namjoon speaks again, his voice echoes. “I grabbed Hoseok and Jin. Calm down. Tell us what’s happening.”

“Yoongi-hyung came home and there’s, there’s something wrong with him. Jimin said I couldn’t touch him and he’s doing some kind of ritual upstairs in the bathtub.” When the lights begin to flicker, Taehyung sinks to the floor against the cabinet doors and pulls his knees to his chest. “Hyung, he’s using a lot of purification herbs. He… He’s using snapdragon.”

“Snapdragon’s only used for exorcisms,” Seokjin’s voice cuts in, and Taehyung nods because he knows, he knows. It’s one of the few plants Yoongi carries with him on jobs, and one of the only plants he’s never seen Jimin have to use. “Taehyung, where are you?”

“Kitchen.” The lights cut out and Taehyung closes his eyes.

“Go outside,” Namjoon says. “Go to the greenhouse. Get as far away from the shop as you can.”

Taehyung can’t bring himself to move.

“Taehyung,” Hoseok cuts in, voice laced with hysteria, “Yoongi-hyung’s either been cursed or possessed. You need to get out of the shop.”

“But Jimin—”

“Jimin’s doing what he can, but it might not—” Upstairs someone starts screaming, a piercing, guttural sound that makes the walls tremble and the dishes shake, makes the bulbs burst one by one by one. Taehyung gasps as the air in the room freezes. A chill prickles from his toes to his spine. 

“Taehyung, you need to get out of the shop.”

“I can’t. Hyung, I can’t. I can’t leave them, I can’t, I won’t,” Taehyung whimpers as he presses himself against the cupboard. “I won’t leave them.”

“Taehyung-ah,” Hoseok soothes, and Taehyung shakes his head and scrapes at the hardwood. “Taehyung-ah, you have to leave. If not for yourself, then for Jimin and Yoongi-hyung. Did Jimin tell you to leave?”

“Yeah.”

“Then leave. Listen to him and leave. That’s the best way to help Jimin right now. Don’t make him worried about you when he needs to focus on Yoongi-hyung.”

Taehyung nods, shakes his head, trembles. He can’t feel his legs under him, but something outside is calling out. So he crawls across the kitchen floor, glass digging into his hands, and he makes it out onto the back lawn and is met with a sunset so bright and brilliant and beautiful he wants to scream.

Taehyung’s sobbing, and he pushes forward onto his feet and into the greenhouse. He’s dissolving. He’s running through water. Running through sand. Running through the weight of understanding that the next time he goes back into the shop, there might not be anyone there to greet him.

The plants are in an uproar, their energy frightened and stifling, and Taehyung heads for the ash tree that was beckoning for him and climbs up into its branches.

“—ung! Taehyung-ah!”

Hyung,” Taehyung cries into the phone. “Hyung, I don’t know what to do please, you have to help them.”

“Taehyung, we can’t—” Hoseok cuts himself off and he sighs. The receiver crackles. “Tae, I’m sorry, but we can’t go over there. Not yet.”

Taehyung wails and feels the tree shake, feels the flowers cry along with him, feels as if the sky overhead is going to crash around him at any moment and he’s the only one who cares.

“We’ll stay on the phone with you, but we can’t risk going over there, Tae. Not yet.”

Taehyung gets that. He understands. He doesn’t want to put anyone at risk.

But if Yoongi dies, and if Jimin dies, and Taehyung’s trapped here alone for the rest of his life—

Hoseok is singing something in Witch Language and Taehyung’s tired, so unbelievably and overwhelmingly tired, and he settles in against the ash trunk to listen to the filmy song and can’t bring himself to think about anything but Hoseok’s husky voice crooning into his ear and the burning, golden sky spreading out-of-control before him, setting the city and everything he loves on fire.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Taehyung wakes to a periwinkle sky so lovely and soft that, for a steady moment, he forgets why he’s in a tree. In the stillness of the garden he sits there, bunched up on a branch, just him and the gauzy purple clouds and the scent of swirling honeysuckle. 

There’s this aching emptiness surrounding him. A stillness he’s never experienced here before. Taehyung feels like a ghost as he climbs from limb to limb, and his legs crumble under him when he swings down to the ground. He lays there in the dewy grass until the feeling returns to his fingers, then his toes. And then he continues to lay there, listening, because the silence has settled around and it’s starting to take root behind his ribs.

Taehyung reaches out and presses a palm against a root of the ash, and seconds pass into minutes which pass into despair until finally, Taehyung feels a weak thrum deep under the bark. 

Off in the distance he hears voices, real voices, maybe even possibly his name. 

Hoseok put a spell on him. That has to be it. That’s why he’s sprawled here, staring up at a purple sky, feeling the planet humming around him.

The world moves a few paces slower as he picks himself off the ground and works his way down the winding path of the gardens to the front door where the voices have grown louder. Taehyung’s stomach is tight. Knotted. He wants to retch. He wants to cover his face and burrow into the earth. 

It’s so quiet. It’s so quiet. Like all the magic has left. 

The entrance has been sealed shut by the akebia, and Taehyung hears his name called from the other side. He runs his fingertips over the small flowers and watches the plant melt away, and he’s barely stepped foot on the lawn when a body crashes into him.

Taehyung breathes with difficulty and pushes against the bright red head pressed into his chest to find Hoseok’s beaming, tear-covered face. 

“We thought you died!” Hoseok cries. Taehyung thinks he’s about to get kissed or punched or maybe both when Seokjin comes up to grab Hoseok by the collar and tug him off. Hoseok complies, although he looks at a loss of what to do with his arms now that Taehyung is here and very much alive and no longer in them.

Seokjin shakes his head and Hoseok retreats, a hand fisted into the hem of Seokjin’s hoodie. They both look ragged. 

Taehyung crosses his arms, cradling himself, trying to hold it together. 

“The plants wouldn’t let us in,” Seokjin says. His eyes are searching Taehyung’s face. “We thought we’d lost you.”

“They were protecting me,” Taehyung mumbles, unsure of how to lift his voice.

Out here there are birds and crickets and the distant sounds of the city. Out here there’s Hoseok and Seokjin. Out here the stillness disappears and his chest opens back up, but it’s not enough, and Taehyung doesn’t want to ask.  Hasn’t he been through this enough? Are there not enough people in the world to split the grief evenly? For someone else to share this weight?

“They’re fine.” Taehyung looks over. Up. Seokjin is still looking through him. “They’re fine, Taehyung. Namjoon says they’re both in the clear.”

Taehyung nods. His vision tilts. The night wind shifts his hair and he doesn’t tuck it away. “Can I see them?”

 “Of course,” Seojin says. “But I think they’re asleep now. They both used up a lot of their magic.”

Taehyung pulls himself off the ground. Hoseok’s brow is creased. Seokjin is still watching him like he’s going to bolt. 

Taehyung just presses past them. They don’t follow. 

It’s dark when Taehyung slips into the den. Even when he flips on the lights, all the bulbs manage to do is give a little buzz before sputtering out. He works his way through the muted morning light of the shop from memory, one hand trailing the wall, then the banister of the staircase. There’s a warm glow coming from Yoongi’s room, and Namjoon’s shadowed form fills the frame when Taehyung steps on the creaky stair at the top of the landing. 

“Hey, Taehyung.” 

Taehyung bobs his head in greeting. Waits. Namjoon clears his throat and steps aside, an invitation. 

“He’s doing well,” Namjoon says in his low, rumbly voice, glancing sidelong at him. “Jimin got most of the dark magic out, and I was able to cleanse what remained.”

There are burning candles on every surface of Yoongi’s room. The big, special kind from downstairs in one of the cupboards they rarely access. They’re infused with spells and their flames crackle like burning wood, as if they’re whispering to one another. Jimin never lights them. He says they’re only for heavy magic usage.

Yoongi’s curled up in the middle of his bed. Only Taehyung doesn’t see him as he is now, in soft pajamas, tucked under a downy quilt, hair haloed out around his face. No, all he sees is the Yoongi from back then. The Yoongi from the bathtub with a body blooming with bruises. 

“I’ll be downstairs,” Namjoon says, patting Taehyung’s shoulder. 

Taehyung thinks he nods. Namjoon is gone, though, leaving Taehyung alone, leaning against the frame of the door, watching Yoongi just breathe. 

He wasn’t breathing earlier. In the bath. He wasn’t breathing and Taehyung had just stood there, completely useless. 

The scent of the room is nauseating, like dying flowers. Taehyung hasn’t been here since the night he carried Jimin in, but not much has changed. There’s still the bed, the piano. A small bedside table with a lamp and a stack of notebooks. Candles, of course. Taehyung considers lighting a fire in the fireplace, but he doesn’t just trust his hands. So he sits instead, on the floor next to the head of the mattress. He rests his back against the frame and crosses his legs and presses his forehead into his hands. He’s not sure when he falls asleep, but Taeyhung wakes to fingers sliding into his hair. He hums, blinking the haze from his eyes, and tilts his head back.

Yoongi is watching him, half his face hidden under the blankets. He’s dazed, but the longer he tugs at Taehyung’s hair, the clearer his eyes become.

“You look like a fucking wreck.”

Yoongi’s voice is almost gone, just a hoarse shadow to what it usually is. Taehyung remembers the screaming and pinches his eyes closed. “Slept in a tree thanks to you.”

“Like you haven’t done that before,” Yoongi quips back.

Yoongi’s hand moves down to his neck, gripping lightly there. Taehyung hums, “I think Hoseok-hyung put a spell on me.”

 “He’s been known to do that.” The grip tightens. Taehyung peeks through one eye. Yoongi’s face is still covered, but his brows have bunched together. “You okay?”

“You mean am I dying? Not today.” Yoongi’s deep, dark eyes blink back at him, unamused. “I’m fine. Totally fine. Not a scratch, hyung.”

Yoongi stares at him and Taehyung twists away to turn around. Yoongi draws back his hand but leaves it resting in the open on the edge of the mattress. 

“Are you okay?” Taehyung asks. “Namjoon said you were okay.”

“I’m okay,” Yoongi nods, cheek brushing his pillow. He looks like he wants to go back to asking about Taehyung and they can’t have that. Because Taehyung is fine. Because Yoongi was the one who was cursed. Because it doesn’t matter if Taehyung feels like his bones are melting and every time he tries to sit up straight his spine gives out. Because Yoongi and Jimin almost died, and Taehyung needs to be fine.

“You were cursed?” Taehyung asks.

“Yeah.”

“You were dying.”

Yoongi pauses. Nods. Says softly, “Yeah.”

“But you’re not anymore. You’re okay now.”

“I’m okay now,” Yoongi nods again, and Taehyung nods back. Yoongi waits for another question, and when it doesn’t come, he cracks a grin and Taehyung wants to smile back but he can’t. “Actually, I think I’m high right now. Still not fully convinced I’m not dead. Can’t quite feel my legs. Not sure if it’s because of all the fuckin’ candles or the curse.”

Without thinking, Taehyung reaches for Yoongi’s hand, still resting in the open between them, and laces their fingers together. “Feel that?”

Yoongi’s eyes drift across his face as if he’s trying to remember something, and then he hums and Taehyung’s breath catches inside him when Yoongi squeezes their palms together. “Yeah. I feel that. Thanks.”

Taehyung’s not sure what to say or do next, but he’s not ready to leave so he sits there, his chest slowly rising and falling with Yoongi’s. He’s wearing a linen shirt open at the collar, and Taehyung stares hard at the splash of pale skin just over where his heart should be. 

Neither of them say anything for so long that when Taehyung lifts his gaze, Yoongi’s eyes are closed. Maybe sleeping. Taehyung can’t quite tell, but he notices that, sometime in the passing minutes, he’s loosened their hands enough for him to run soothing circles against Yoongi’s wrist with his thumb.

Taehyung quietly tries to pull away, but Yoongi holds fast. “Hyung?” 

“I wasn’t going to come back.”

Yoongi’s eyes are still closed and Taehyung swallows thickly, understanding settling uncomfortably over him. “Hyung, you would have died.”

“Yeah. Probably.”

“Hyung—”

“But at least you two would have been safe.”

Taehyung breathes and breathes and breathes and the air won’t reach his lungs.

“I laid in an alley for a bit, just kind of waiting for the curse to take over.” Yoongi’s staring at a spot over Taehyung’s head, towards the open door into the hall. “I knew it was a bad one, don’t quite know what caused it. Maybe a spirit turned demon or some kids fucking around with cult magic. But I knew if I came back…” A shudder ripples through Yoongi’s hunched frame. “But I couldn’t do it. I thought about Jimin and I just… I had to see him again. I couldn’t leave him like that, not after—” 

Yoongi shakes his head. Buries under the covers. Says, voice muffled, “I didn’t want to die.”

Taehyung tips forward, his head suddenly so heavy his shoulders are trembling under the weight. 

“Wanting to live isn’t selfish, hyung.” Taehyung stares at his bare feet, black with dirt and dust. “Jimin told me that.”

Yoongi chuckles and it isn’t a pleasant sound. “Jimin’s too good for this world.”

Taehyung’s head throbs. He takes a deep breath and a tear, just one, slips down his cheek. “I’m happy you’re okay, hyung,” he whispers. “I know I’m not Jimin, but I’m so happy you’re okay, Yoongi-hyung.”

Taehyung fists a hand into his shirt, just over his heart, so deep he thinks he might have broken skin except he can’t feel it. The touch. The pain. He digs in harder and there’s a tug on his sleeve, pulling him back, and Yoongi is halfway out of bed, his eyes wide and frightened.

“Before. In the alley.” Yoongi is holding his hand now. Taehyung sees now that his eyes are misty and bloodshot. “Taehyung, I thought about you, too.” 

Taehyung shakes his head because he can’t believe that. He can’t allow himself to believe that. 

Taehyung doesn’t know what to say, can’t find his words, and suddenly there are thudding feet in the hall and Taehyung turns just as Jimin stumbles into the doorframe. His face is alight with fear. 

Tae .” Jimin says his name like all the breath is leaving his body. He crosses the room, eyes only for Taehyung, and Jimin smooths a hand under his hair and across his forehead. Seconds pass and he presses his palm harder against Taehyung’s skin, moves the other to cup the back of his neck.

“Jimin,” Yoongi starts, concern seeping into his voice, and Jimin shakes his head.

“I can’t feel you,” Jimin whispers, expression completely shattered. “Tae, why can’t I feel you?” 

Because you don’t want to feel me.

“Seokjin-hyung said you used up a lot of magic.” 

Because I don’t want to feel anything like that ever again.

“I’m fine. Totally fine.”

Jimin’s searching his face, serious and determined. Exhausted. His knees are bent, like they may give out under him any moment.

Taehyung rocks forward to his feet, and when Jimin steps towards him, Taehyung presses a fist to the center of Jimin’s chest, keeping him in place. “I’m okay, Jimin. I’m okay.”

Yoongi tugs on Jimin’s shirt. A silent message, a warm warning. 

Jimin wraps and arm around his stomach and settles in on the edge of the bed. Yoongi shuffles back to make more space. “Okay,” he nods, looking down at his hands like there’s something wrong with them. Like they don’t belong to him. “Let’s talk tomorrow. Today. Later.”

Taehyung tries for a smile, forces everything he has into it, and it must be enough because Jimin grins back sleepily and crawls into the spot Yoongi made when he slid over. 

Taehyung watches them for a quiet moment as they get settled. 

Crosses the room. 

Shuts the door behind him. 

Breathes. 

He doesn’t think about the curse. Doesn’t think about Yoongi’s awful screams or Jimin’s terrified eyes, like his world was turning to dust and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He definitely doesn’t linger on the pain of the flowers when they thought they were about to lose someone again. 

Taehyung doesn’t think about how he almost lost someone again. Two someones. Possibly the most important someones in the world to him now.

Instead he goes downstairs and Seokjin’s made him tea. Magic tea, just as disgusting as Jimin’s, which is kind of comforting. He downs it fast even though it scalds his throat because he knows it’ll knock him out. 

“Hoseok-hyung.” Hoseok and Namjoon are curled up on the sofa near the fireplace. They both turn to him, their eyes red from crying. Namjoon has a firm grip on Hoseok’s hand. “Hyung, will you sing to me again?”

“Is the tea not working?” 

“It is.” Taehyung settles into the armchair across from them, the big lumpy one that makes him feel small, and he buries his chin into the crook of his arm. “But I just need to sleep now. Like right now. Please, hyung.”

Hoseok seems to understand that if Taehyung stays awake another moment he just might break for real, so he clears his throat and the lilting notes of the witch song from last night flow into the room. 

It’s different in person; smoother and unfathomably more beautiful. Taehyung listens for as long as he’s able until the voice and the room and his mind tunnel into black.

 

~~~

 

Jimin and Yoongi sleep for so long that Taehyung’s genuinely worried that maybe they’ve actually died and the others are just lying to him; but Namjoon says it’s just a hibernation stage, a recuperating process that allows time for their bodies to heal and their magic to replenish itself. 

Taehyung doesn’t like that this sounds like some kind of video game, but Namjoon says they’re fine and Taehyung trusts him, so he sets about to take care of the shop. The others step in to help clean up the shattered vials and balls and bulbs. Most of the kitchenware survived. All the mirrors will have to be replaced. 

Taehyung feels as if he’s the only one who’s affected by what happened. The others are calm, unbothered. Seokjin’s making terrible jokes that Taehyung remembers finding funny but can’t bring himself to laugh at. Namjoon tries to make casual conversation, telling Taehyung all about some of the strangest classes he’s taken which includes, but is not limited to: Comparative History of Organized Crime, Introduction to Beekeeping, and The Art of Walking.

“I really enjoyed the last one,” Namjoon says over dinner. Kimchi stew. It’s the first meal Taehyung had here, and Taehyung wonders if Seokjin’s magic knew that. “They taught you how to be a more conscientious walker, like with your form, but also the psychiatry behind it. How different speeds and environments can affect your mood.”

That is neat, and Taehyung wants to ask more, but he just keeps looking at them and wondering why they don’t care that two of their best friends have been sleeping for twenty hours. That they almost died less than a day ago. Is this an everyday thing for them? Maybe it is. Jimin said that dark magic coexists in the world with all the light. Who is he, an unknowing human, to say that things like this don’t happen often?

“It’s not common,” Seokjin says, when Taehyung finally asks after stirring his soup for long enough that it’s gone cold. “But this kind of thing isn’t rare, either, especially for hedge witches.”

“Dark magic is drawn to Yoongi-hyung,” Namjoon explains around his rice. Some of it spills onto his chin and Hoseok throws a napkin at him. “He’s had a few curses come his way over the years, but never something this strong. He usually can handle everything himself.”

Taehyung isn’t reassured by this and they must be able to tell.

“This kind of thing will probably never happen again.” Hoseok says, giving his winningest smile. Taehyung doesn’t accept it. Hoseok doesn’t seem to mind. “Hyung was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It happens. Especially this close to an equinox.”

“You keep saying that,” Taehyung says as he mashes tofu against the side of his bowl. “But I don’t know these things. I don’t understand. What’s so special about an equinox?”

Namjoon gulps down a mouthful of stew and leans forward, chewing as he speaks. Hoseok looks mildly disgusted. “It’s the shifting of the seasons. A time where night and day are almost the same length. We’re not sure why, but the spiritual energy during these times peaks. Makes it easier for humans to see ‘paranormal’ happenings and whatnot. Like a veil has been lifted.” 

“The solstices are even wilder, though,” Hoseok says as if reliving a memory. “The energy is so crazy high we all get kinda drunk off of it.” 

The point is,” Seokjin sends them both a silencing glare that only makes them grin, “is that this kind of thing is rare. The autumn equinox is the worst because it’s so close to Halloween. Humans get stupid, try to call on spirits they shouldn’t be calling. A lot of dark magic gets stirred up. It’ll quiet down once October passes.”

“But what if it happens again?” Taehyung frowns down at his bowl and fiddles with the end of his shirt. Jimin couldn’t sew the button back on this time because Taehyung lost it somewhere in the greenhouse. “What if hyung gets cursed again and this time Jimin can’t help him?”

Silence follows, and the longer it settles, the greater the blob of hysteria in Taehyung’s throat grows.

“Taehyung…” Taehyung tugs at his shirt, pokes his finger through the button hole, scrapes his nails across the cotton of his pants. He doesn’t want to look at Namjoon. Not when he says his name like that.

“I’ve lived a pretty long life,” Namjoon presses, and Taehyung takes a deep breath, refusing to look at him. “I’ve lost a lot of people, and I can tell you that the secret to not losing your mind when you live as long as we do is to not fixate on things. Reminisce? Yeah. Plan for the future? Definitely. But when you get too caught up on what’s happened and what can happen, you start to lose yourself.”

Taehyung feels impossibly small when they act like this, like actual witches. When they act like these immortal beings who have seen the world and then some. 

Tug, tug, scrape, slide. 

“What am I supposed to do then?”

“Live in the present. Live in the moment.” Namjoon sounds so soft, so careful. Taehyung doesn’t want to be treated like this, like he’s fragile. “Appreciate and value and enjoy everything that’s happening right now. Don’t worry about what’s already passed and don’t stress over what could be.” 

“Wow,” Seokjin whistles. “So philosophical.”

“You know you love it.”

Seokjin smacks his shoulder but doesn’t deny it, and that makes Hoseok laugh, which makes Seokjin laugh, and soon Namjoon follows after and the kitchen is filled with warmth and tenderness and for the first time since the incident, it kind of feels like home again.

Home.

Taehyung’s breath flees, a startled swoop of birds taking flight. His fingers still.

Home. Since when has he started calling the shop home? Since when has it felt that way for him?

Seokjin’s in tears, but his laughter is hiccuping out of him now, a repressed cry. There’s a gasp Hoseok can’t quite keep in. Taehyung watches Namjoon fold them both into his sides, heads buried against his shoulders, as they both try not to lose it.

Namjoon looks up. His eyes are deep and dark. He’s carrying a lot of things inside himself, too. Taehyung can see that now. 

“I’m gonna check on the flowers.”

Nobody stops him. They probably know that Taehyung’s leaving to give them some space, a moment with each other where they’re not having to think of him as well as each other.

The plants greet him at the entrance. They’re spooked still, but Taehyung can’t find it in him to sing. They must see that. They must know. Plants can see everything, after all. You can’t hide from them the way you can with people.

Taehyung settles into the center of the circle lawn. He expects to cry, but there’s nothing there. Nothing inside. So he sits there in silence as the plants tell him stories in feelings instead words. He sits there, waiting for the sadness to rear itself, but it never does. Hoseok comes in sometime later to tell him that Jimin is awake and asking for him. 

Outside the shop, on the back patio, Hoseok pulls him into a hug, cradling him close. 

Taehyung doesn’t hold him back.

 

~~~

 

Yoongi hasn’t gone back to work.

In the kitchen, Taehyung sits at one end of the dining table, in the seat nearest to the stairs so that he can look out the window over the backyard. Yoongi’s in a wrought iron chair that he’s drawn from the patio to the center of the garden. Taehyung’s not sure how long he’s been out there, hunched over and staring out towards the greenhouse; but it’s the third morning Taehyung has woken to work and crept downstairs to find him there. Waiting. Watching. Listening, maybe. 

The stairs creak, but Taehyung doesn’t bother looking over. Not until Jimin’s made a cup of tea and is settled into one of the other seats. 

Jimin’s forehead is creased, eyes still concerned and desperate to read him even after three days. 

Jimin hasn’t brought it up, but Taehyung knows he’s growing frightened. Jimin is starting to realize that maybe the reason why he can’t feel anything isn’t because of his own lack of magic, but maybe because of Taehyung’s own lack of emotions. 

Taehyung’s too tired to bring himself to care. About Jimin’s constant, sidelong stare or how he keeps approaching Taehyung from different angles, searching for an entry point.  About Yoongi’s near catatonic state in the garden each morning, and how sometimes Taehyung will catch him in the upstairs hall, gaze caught on the door across from Jimin’s room that hasn’t been opened once since Taehyung’s stay here began.

It’s been four days since the incident, and Taehyung knows that something has changed between the three of them but he can’t pinpoint what it may be. 

 

~~~

 

They watch a movie that weekend. 

Movie nights have become a thing over the course of the past few weeks. Taehyung can’t remember who brought up the idea, but they alternate picking and it happened to be Jimin’s turn this go round. He selects something animated, and Taehyung doesn’t realize until a half hour in and his hot chocolate has grown cold that Jimin picked one of Taehyung’s favorite Ghibli films. The one with the gorgeous wizard and the girl who’s been cursed to roam as an old woman. 

Taehyung hasn’t slept. Not because he can still hear Yoongi’s screams. Not because Jimin had looked straight through him as he crouched in the tub over Yoongi’s bruised body. Not even because Yoongi told him that he was going to stay in that alley. For them. He was going to die for them.

No, Taehyung hasn’t slept for almost three days because he remembers the walk through the greenhouse the next morning. The aching stillness after he had woken up. Like all the magic had been drained from the world. Like there had never been any there to begin with. 

A tear slips down Taehyung’s face, all the way down until it drips off his chin and lands in his mug.

He thought they died. 

Taehyung had thought Jimin and Yoongi had died, felt that they had died, and now he can’t unfeel it.

They’re here, there, curled up against each other on the sofa. Jimin’s head on Yoongi’s chest, arms around his waist as Yoongi absently twists at a lock of Jimin’s hair. 

They’ve been like this since they both woke up, as if the near-death experience sent a tremor through their relationship. When Yoongi’s not out sitting in the yard, he’s reaching for Jimin’s hand in the kitchen. Jimin doesn’t laugh and push him away, either. He just stops whatever task he’s on and allows Yoongi to hold him. 

Taehyung always knew that they were more than what they show to him, are definitely more than anything they’ve ever said aloud. The lack of honorifics and the affection in their gazes. The rings. 

This was a rough week for them. This was a terrible week for them. This is the kind of week that some people don’t bounce back from but they’re doing okay. In their own way, they’re doing okay, so why can’t Taehyung be okay? 

They almost died. They almost died and left you here alone where no one can hear you or see you or feel you. They were going to leave you here to disappear. To become a ghost. Because they have each other and they don’t need you and they never, ever will. 

Taehyung’s stomach heaves, and he curls over his lap and grips at the arms of the chair because he feels like his rib cage is collapsing in on itself. He’s so sad, he wants to die. 

Taehyung hears Yoongi gasp the same moment Jimin makes a sob noise, deep from his gut, and Taehyung scrambles to his bare feet. He’s supposed to be okay, he’s supposed to be okay. 

“Taehyung,” Jimin chokes, and Taehyung shakes his head and stumbles towards the backdoor. He needs to run. He just needs to sprint and lose himself in a forest but he can’t do that anymore because this is Seoul and he’s trapped in a store and he doesn’t have a home to go back to anymore. He doesn’t have anything to go back to. He doesn’t have anything at all. There’s nothing left, not even the ghosts. 

“Taehyung!” Yoongi shouts, voice startling loud in the clear autumn night. Taehyung’s never heard Yoongi raise his voice before and it almost brings him to stillness and he has nowhere to go, the greenhouse door won’t open.

The plants won’t let him in.

Taehyung takes this information like a knee to the gut. He crumples to the ground, bewildered as the vines tighten and weave amongst each other, keeping him out. 

His eyes blur with angry, hurt all over tears, and Taehyung presses his face into his hands and tries to suck in the sound of his sobs but everything just keeps trickling out. 

Taehyung doesn’t know how long he stays there curled up in the grass, crying into his hands; just that when his shoulders stop shaking and the tears slow to a dribble, when he lengthens his spine and lifts his head from his chest, Yoongi and Jimin are sitting within arm’s reach, waiting on him. 

Jimin’s trembling. There are still-wet tear tracks on his cheeks. Yoongi’s jaw is clenched. His eyes are black and shiny in the darkness. Both their faces are lit by the light over the greenhouse door, making their features soft and worn. Aged. Tired. 

Taehyung wipes the snot from his nose. He pinches his lips together, contemplating how to move forward; but before he can mull it over, Jimin’s already falling forward, reaching to cradle Taehyung’s face in his hands. 

Taehyung’s breath hitches and he pushes one palm out, catches Jimin across the chest, and shoves him back to where he was. 

“Don’t touch me,” Taehyung says, voice wrecked, and he sees it, the exact moment Jimin’s resolve shatters.

Jimin’s tears flow freely now. His face twists into something wounded. His voice comes out torn. “Why won’t you touch me?”

Taehyung’s throat is tight. “I—I do. I touch you.”

“You don’t,” Jimin cries, but Yoongi makes no effort to hold him. He just sits there, looking between them both with this unreadable expression. “You let me touch you sometimes, but you never—You’ve never— Do you think you’ll hurt me, Taehyung?”  

Taehyung nods. Shakes his head. Pushes his palms against his eyes because it’s so much more than that now.

Yoongi, voice deep and dark, says, “What are you so afraid of, Taehyung?” 

It unglues him instantly.

You ,” Taehyung chokes out, and he hears it, when they both inhale sharply. “You, you, the both of you. You both terrify me.”

Taehyung sniffles and presses hard enough it hurts. A tear tries to slip through his fingers and he squeezes tighter. “From the first day I knew that I—That if I wasn’t careful…” He shakes his head, again and again and again. “I’m not supposed to be here I don’t belong here I can’t stay,” he cries in one breath, refusing to look at them. “I can’t stay and I-I’m not… I’m trash and I’m not—No one wants me. No one’s ever wanted me and everyone I care about always dies and I don’t-I don’t —”

Taehyung wants to do nothing more than break down the greenhouse door and find a spot where no one can find him and cry. He just wants to outrun all the heartache in this place that’s constantly battering against the doors and windows and their souls. 

Taehyung said that he’d never let himself love anyone as much as he loved his family ever again and this is why. 

A hand slips down his spine, dipping under the loose hem of his sweater, palm splayed flat against the bare skin of his back. Taehyung shudders and shifts, but the hand stays, rubbing large circles, trailing along his spine as Taehyung’s breathing slows.

“I tried so hard,” Taehyung whispers into the earth. “I tried so hard not to love you both.”

The hand stills, and then it’s grabbing him, pulling him forward, burying in his hair.

Jimin looks at him, face to face, hands on the back of his neck, holding Taehyung in place. 

“You almost died,” Taehyung says, looking between the both of them. Yoongi’s expression falters. “You both almost died. I could feel it. I thought—”

Yoongi leans forward, curling around Jimin to cup Taehyung’s cheek. To brush his thumb under Taehyung’s eye where the tears have been gathering. 

“I’m not okay,” Taehyung gasps as they both hold him.  “Hyung, I’m not okay. I lied. I’m not okay and I haven’t been okay for a really long time and I thought, I thought you were gone and I was alone again. I thought you both had left me. Please, I don’t—I don’t want to be alone. Not again. I can’t do it again.”

Jimin’s face cracks open.

“Oh, Tae,” he breathes, leaning in to knock their foreheads together. “My sweet, sweet boy.”

Yoongi crawls so his chest is pressed to Taehyung’s back. His head drops to the crook of Taehyung’s neck and rests there, his fingers ghosting down Taehyung’s arm until they can curl around his hand, loosely clasping. 

Jimin takes a deep breath and slowly reaches over to run his fingers through the back of Taehyung’s hair. The other comes to rest on his mouth. Jimin’s thumb presses on his lower lip, tugging lightly, and Taehyung’s lips part with a small sigh. 

“Tae,” Jimin whispers into his mouth. “Tae, I’m going to kiss you now.”

Taehyung opens his eyes. Jimin is waiting. “Okay,” he breathes out, lifting the hand that Yoongi isn’t holding to grip Jimin’s wrist. “Okay.”

Jimin kisses him softly, just the barest hint of pressure before pulling away. It leaves Taehyung wanting, chasing after him, and Jimin presses in to kiss him again, harder this time, so that Taehyung falls back against Yoongi’s chest as Jimin climbs into his lap.

Yoongi wraps his hands around Taehyung’s waist, squeezing tightly as Jimin pulls Taehyung back in to kiss him again, open-mouthed this time, and Taehyung melts into Yoongi’s hold when Jimin’s tongue flicks over his bottom lip, tasting.

Taehyung breaks away with a gasp. Silence drops around them, save for the sound of him and Jimin trying to catch their breath. Yoongi’s hand is under his sweater, rubbing up and down his stomach. 

A breeze kicks up, ruffling their hair, making them shiver against each other. Taehyung remembers that it’s October and they’re outside. The tip of his nose is tingling. 

 Jimin is watching his face in the lamplight. Like he’s waiting for something to happen, something terrible. But all Taehyung says is a quiet, “let’s go back inside,” and Jimin nods and tugs them all to their feet. 

The credits of the movie are rolling when they walk in, and Yoongi breaks away to switch off the TV and the lights. Jimin’s moving towards the kitchen so Taehyung follows, Yoongi trailing behind, and once upstairs Taehyung falters in the hall, unsure of where he should go.

Jimin’s fingers curl loosely around his wrist, guiding him to Yoongi’s room. Taehyung looks over and Yoongi nods. Taehyung’s never seen his face so open and untroubled. 

“Just sleep,” Jimin says as they crawl into bed, and Jimin and Yoongi rearrange themselves automatically to create a space in the center between them where Taehyung can fit. Taehyung doesn’t think, just slides in carefully  as Jimin tugs the heavy quilt over them. Yoongi shifts so that he can crawl behind Taehyung again, but Jimin presses in close, half resting on Taehyung’s chest, a hand finding its way back to his hair to tug. 

 Jimin and Yoongi speak in muted tones for the new few minutes, not about anything in particular or important. Foods they want to eat that week. A new drama being released. Yoongi asks Jimin about a special potion that sets Jimin on a tangent, and somewhere between Jimin’s quick quips and Yoongi’s husky laughter, a hand trailing over his scalp and another along his hip bone, Taehyung falls asleep. 

 

 

 

When Taehyung tries to stretch in the morning, he’s wound up in two other bodies; Jimin’s legs thrown over his waist, Yoongi’s arms curled around his chest. 

Taehyung’s tucked under Yoongi’s chin, and he lays there for a dazed moment, listening to Yoongi’s heartbeat, the bewildering events of last night seeping in as he untangles his fingers from Jimin’s hair. 

Before the hysteria can build, Jimin’s hand creeps across his stomach to the other side of his body, and Jimin drags himself up with a groan.

“Stop it,” Jimin says, eyes still closed as he presses his mouth to Taehyung’s jaw. “Too early. Talk later.”

Jimin falls asleep on him like that, but Yoongi’s awake now and slowly traces the arch of Taehyung’s brow with a finger, chasing away a few tendrils of hair from his forehead. Taehyung sinks into him more, seeking the heat in the early morning chill, and when he tips his head back to look, Yoongi’s eyes are closed even as his fingers trail through Taehyung’s hair. 

“Hyung,” he whispers, and Yoongi cracks an eye open. “Hyung, I—”

“Later,” Yoongi grumbles, and his deep voice vibrates through Taehyung’s back. “Go back to sleep, Taehyung-ah.” 

Taehyung nods and lets his head drop again so it rests next to Jimin’s. Allows himself close his eyes once more. Lets himself soften at Yoongi’s touch until he feels the same floating, whirling feeling from last night spread through his body until he feels weightless. The good kind. The kind he wants to get used to. 

 

~~~

 

They don’t really talk about what happened after that. Not about anything. The curse or how they all almost died or the kissing and holding and touching. And Taehyung doesn’t bring it up because he’s scared. Scared of it all. He doesn’t want to think about the curse, and he doesn’t want to think about the tenderness that followed, either. Because what if Jimin and Yoongi tell him it was all a misunderstanding, just something they did in the moment to calm him down?

Taehyung would rather live pretending that nothing happened than be told that he was a mistake.

 

~~~

 

Yoongi’s decided not to go back to work for a while, not that Jimin or Taehyung or anyone really minds. He’ll have to eventually, because it’s his calling, but for now he lounges around at home and assists Jimin in the shop and sometimes will surprise Taehyung in the gardens to help him weed and prune.

Taehyung thinks it’s ironic that, out of all the plants, it’s the wisteria that takes to him so quickly. 

 

~~~

 

Days pass and Taehyung’s slipping into the greenhouse one morning to turn the sprinklers on when he feels it. A shift of some sort. A vibrancy in the air that isn’t usually there. 

He quickens his pace, nearly at a jog when he bursts through the brushline of the grass circle and is met with waves of color. The roses have bloomed. So have the peonies. The daisies and the dahlias and the hydrangeas and hyacinths. Several more are in the late stages of budding, and Taehyung throws his hands to the sky and spins and spins and laughs as the plants around him sway in his delight because it’s autumn and they shouldn’t be blooming for months yet here they are. Against all odds, here they are.  

Magical flowers. Definitely magical flowers.

“Jimin!” Taehyung shrieks, racing through the building and out into the back lawn. “JIMINIE!”

Jimin’s sliding into the frame of the French doors, hard enough to rattle them, face ashen with worry and still holding chopsticks. He was cooking eggs when Taehyung slipped out. “Tae? Tae, what’s wrong?”

“The flowers bloomed!” Taehyung practically screeches, and he throws himself into Jimin’s chest and almost sends them crashing to the floor. “The roses and peonies and hydrangeas and the herb garden is so full and the trees are so happy and—What’s the matter?” 

Taehyung leans back to give Jimin space because it looks like he might pass out. He looks so dazed, and Taehyung works a finger into the curl at Jimin’s neck and tugs lightly. “Jiminie?” 

Jimin shivers violently, and then he leans in to capture Taehyung’s bottom lip in a soft, tender kiss and oh. Oh

 Jimin pulls back before anything can escalate, which might be a good thing because Taehyung can’t feel his fingers.

“Thank you,” Jimin whispers against his cheek, and Taehyung nods even though he doesn’t know what he’s being thanked for. Jimin rocks up on his toes to place a peck on his hairline before pulling away. “Go finish watering. Breakfast will be done in ten.” 

Taehyung nods again, stunned into silence, and he shuffles back to the greenhouse, unsure if he’ll ever remember how to use his hands again. 

The flowers laugh at him for the rest of the day, but Taehyung just laughs back.

 

 

 

It’s evening and Taehyung is laying out under the maple, bundled up in the new coat Jimin and Yoongi got him now that winter is finally drifting in. He’s been telling the old tree stories, similar to the ones he performs for the plants in the greenhouse, just with less theatrics.

 The plants in the gardens are wilder, less refined. But Taehyung thinks they grow sad more easily, being away from everyone. They’re more difficult to speak with, as well. Harder to reach. If Taehyung had to compare, Yoongi resembles the gardens while Jimin feels more like the greenhouse plants. Both are so, so beautiful, though. 

Taehyung flushes all the way to the back of his knees and the maple laughs at him in its own way, shaking just enough to drop a few of its bright red leaves. 

A lot of people don’t know that it’s harsh weather that brings out the color in autumn trees. Cold fronts and heavy storms. Without them the leaves turn brown and drop, just like that. Nothing special. Nothing more. 

Maybe, for him and the maple, the storm was both their turning points.

There’s a hand in Taehyung’s hair, and he opens one eye to find Yoongi kneeling over him, the light of the setting sun casting him in soft shadow.

“Hyung,” Taehyung grins sleepily, and Yoongi holds up the leaf he plucked from his hair. “Welcome home.”

Yoongi’s been out for a few hours. Not working, just visiting the café and picking up some much-needed groceries. They’ve been using paper towels as toilet paper and finally ran out of rice this morning. 

Yoongi’s been talking of going back to work, and Jimin won’t hold him back if he does; but Taehyung knows they’re both relieved to have Yoongi around, close, within reach. 

“Were you waiting for me?” Yoongi laughs, but he isn’t mocking. His eyes are warm. “It’s cold out. Come inside.”

“Hyung, lay with me for a bit.”

It’s a reach, and Taehyung expects Yoongi to grumble and shuffle away; instead Yoongi hunkers down and sinks into the open space Taehyung’s left on the lawn, just close enough that their arms brush. Taehyung can hear him swallow. 

After a few minutes, Yoongi clears his throat and says, “Jimin’s going to be upset if you get sick again.”

“Just enjoy the sunset, hyung.”

Time passes. The sun dips over the wall completely. The sky fades. The stars come out. 

Yoongi finds his hand in the darkness.

“Are you scared, hyung?” Taehyung teases, and the seconds slip by and Yoongi squeezes his hand but never answers. 

 

~~~

 

Nobody breaches the subject, and Taehyung doesn’t want to be the first one to talk; he doesn’t know what to say. 

But the last time Taehyung held onto feelings this big, he had a breakdown on the back lawn. He doesn’t want to go through that again. 

Jimin’s bed was lonely before all this happened, and now it’s almost unbearable. 

“Taehyung?”

Taehyung stops, halfway into Jimin’s bedroom, and turns to find Jimin leaning out of Yoongi’s.

“Do you need something?” Taehyung shakes his head and Jimin smiles softly. From here, in the shadows, Taehyung can’t tell if it reaches his eyes. “Well, if you do, just ask.”

Taehyung nods and Jimin nods, but neither of them step back into their rooms.

“Taehyung-ah.” Taehyung can’t bring himself to lift his gaze from Jimin’s feet. “I can feel you, remember?”

“I’m sorry.” Taehyung bites his lip and pulls at the hem of his pajama shirt. “Sorry.”

“I’m not—” Jimin forces out a gusty sigh and this is it. This is the moment they tell him it was a mistake. That he was a mistake.

There’s a hand tugging on his wrist, and Jimin is stepping in close, mouth pressed against his jaw. 

“Just say that you’re lonely, you idiot.” Jimin’s head drops to the crook of his neck and rests there. “Do I have to do all the work here?”

“But you—”

“You think we haven’t noticed you standing outside Yoongi’s room every night?”

Taehyung warms and begins to shrink away. Jimin immediately draws back to give him space. 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” Taehyung says lowly and reaches to wipe away a tear before it can fall. It feels like something inside of him has cracked. 

Taehyung would have gone along with it if it, the silence and avoidance, if it wasn’t for before, when Jimin kissed him in the yard. When Yoongi held onto him like a lifeline in the dark. But he can’t keep doing this. It’s killing him.

“Oh, Tae. Tae, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” Jimin coos, reaching to cup his face. “I wasn’t trying to make fun of you.”

Taehyung stifles a sob, feeling small and unimportant, and Yoongi’s voice echoes down the hall, “What’s wrong? Is he okay?”

“He’s just overwhelmed,” Jimin calls back, guiding Taehyung towards Yoongi’s room. “He’s fine. He’ll be fine.” 

Jimin gets him to crawl into Yoongi’s bed, and Taehyung curls up in the center and bawls and tries not to get snot on any of the pillows. Yoongi and Jimin curl around him and there are hands everywhere, stroking his arms and back and pulling at his hair and wiping away his tears. Yoongi’s fingers dance over his hand like he’s playing the piano, and Jimin’s tracing soft patterns into the curve of his back and it makes Taehyung shiver, makes his heaving breaths quiet into the occasional hiccup. 

“Tomorrow,” Jimin breathes against the back of his neck. “We’ll talk tomorrow. Sleep now.”

Taehyung does sleep, and he hopes that tomorrow never comes. He can’t live through rejection again. Not from them. 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung dreams of white flowers, that night. Small, delicate ones. A field of them under a full, luminous moon so large it fills the whole sky. A boy’s voice calling out his name.

“Tae?”

Taehyung realizes he’s sitting up in bed, that Jimin is draped over his lap and Yoongi is still asleep behind him, that it’s still dark out and Taehyung needs to—

Needs to what?

“Sleep, Tae,” Jimin murmurs, pulling him back down. “’s just a dream.”

Just a dream. Just a dream. 

Taehyung closes his eyes and wishes he knew if it really was just a dream.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Namjoon and the others come over the next day in the late afternoon, and even in Taehyung’s dazed and delirious state that he has yet to recover from after sleeping for almost twelve hours, he doesn’t miss the careful gazes sent his way as they help lug the new mattress Yoongi bought him up two flights of stairs, along with a dresser and desk among other things. 

He knows what they’re thinking. It’s the same thing Taehyung’s been thinking since the attic announcement. Since he first got here.

Why? 

Or better yet, why him?

They don’t comment aloud, though. Hoseok chats with him just as he always does, with too many hand motions and just the right amount of enthusiasm. He talks about his customers and their dreams and this new dance class he’s started teaching. 

“Dreamology is fun and all,” he says after helping scoot the bed frame into place, “but it doesn’t make me feel as much like myself as dance does.”

“You should give me a lesson one day,” Taehyung grins as he straightens the covers. Green. His favorite color. He wonders how Yoongi and Jimin knew.  

Hoseok gleams and starts popping and locking, laughter so bright Taehyung can’t help but join in. Soon they’re more preoccupied with who has the best body roll (Hoseok, obviously), but Taehyung still calls out to Yoongi when he steps through the doorway to get a second opinion. 

“Hyung, who has a better wave?”

“A better wh—?” 

Yoongi’s voice sputters out indignantly when Taehyung and Hoseok start body rolling to imaginary, sultry music, and Taehyung throws on an extra hip thrust at the end just because he can and because he likes it all too much how Yoongi, despite Hoseok being the better dancer and way more flexible, is only watching him.

Yoongi breaks from his stupor, his gaze refusing to meet Taehyung’s as he turns heel and calls out over his shoulder that they’re both idiots and for them to come help with dinner. 

Taehyung’s skin is burning, and he only grows warmer when Hoseok brushes by and playfully nudges his arm.

 

 

 

Downstairs, Seokjin has commandeered the kitchen. Jimin doesn’t seem to mind his space getting overtaken and moves as a shadow, stirring and flipping and tasting here and there, following through on orders before Seokjin has a chance to make them. Namjoon stays off to the side at the dining table, reading, hands kept to himself. 

Apparently he’s a klutz, and it’s safer for everyone involved if he remains strictly as moral support. 

Taehyung learned that the hard way when he got whacked with a lamp earlier.

“Tae, come help me wrap the dumplings.”

Taehyung skips over, feet in time with the light music flowing from the bluetooth speaker on the windowsill, and slips in beside Jimin at the counter to grab a fork and set to work. 

Seokjin, much like Hoseok, fills the silence before it has a chance to happen. He chats about what dinner will be and how the café is going, the strangest customers he’s gotten, stories from his childhood and his training years. How he met Hoseok first and then Namjoon, on a college campus in the nineties.

“Hoseokie and I were already together when we met Joon,” Seokjin says as he stirs a pot that smells heavily of happiness and soy sauce. “It took a few years to convince him to go out with us.”

Taehyung frowns at that, confused, because Jimin made it sound like coven mates are drawn together. That it’s not something you can fight. No matter where you settle, you always go back to each other.

Seokjin catches Taehyung’s expression. “Joon has a pretty complicated past, and settling down wasn’t something he expected to happen to him.”  

“Never found a mentor,” Namjoon replies from his seat in the corner. Yoongi’s joined him, and they were conversing about something quietly until now. “Most witches know their calling, but I’ve never had a set one. Nothing felt right. I was going to classes at the time hoping to narrow down the search, but I found hyung and Hoseok instead.”

“Gee, glad we’re so desirable to you,” Hoseok huffs. 

“Want me to show you later how desirable I think you are?” Namjoon asks, quirking a brow up, and Hoseok immediately shrinks back to return to chopping vegetables, flushed to his ears as Seokjin and Jimin curl over the counter in hysterics.  

“You both disgust me,” Taehyung hears Yoongi mutter.

“Hey, you guys are a thousand times worse,” Hoseok juts in, and he looks somewhat threatening, waving his chopping knife around. “Taehyungie.” Taehyung glances up from the lettuce he’s separating and Hoseok wags the knife at him. “Watch out for Yoongi-hyung. He acts like he’s cold-blooded, but he’s a romance machine.”

“What the fuck, Hoseok?” Yoongi chirps the same time Namjoon calls out firmly, “Hoseok, that’s enough.”

Hoseok pulls back, looking thoroughly scolded. Taehyung’s neck is hot as he returns to his task. 

Taehyung knows Hoseok is just playing, trying to lighten the mood; but Taehyung woke up in Yoongi’s arms again today and they still haven’t spoken about it. None of them have talked about the small touches, the lingering stares. Hoseok is the first to even bring it up, and he doesn’t even live here. 

Not wanting to be the source of another ruined evening, Taehyung manages to nudge Seokjin into talking about the café again, asking about all the magical breads he consumed that Yoogi brought him.

“You ate them all in one night,” the elder gapes, gaze flicking to Yoongi who has gone uncharacteristically quiet. That’s pretty damn quiet. “Did you feel okay?”

“Very floaty,” Taehyung says. “Like when Jiminie gave me his special ancient dirt juice to help my flu.” 

The kitchen stills and Taehyung wonders what he said wrong again, wonders if the dirt juice is a secret and he should have kept his mouth shut. Except that Seokjin obviously has his own recipe, as well, and Taehyung belatedly realizes everyone has gone still because he used Jimin’s nickname.

Taehyung wants to suck the word back in but he can’t and it’s just there, hovering over everyone’s heads, ready to drop and crush them all without warning.

“Taehyungie, it was tea. Tea. Stop calling it dirt juice,” Jimin says as he passes by with a bowl of fresh rice ready for cooking. He’s completely indifferent, maybe even a bit teasing, and although it breaks the tension in the room, Taehyung can still feel the other’s confusion at the sudden endearments. 

Except for Yoongi, who is still quiet in the corner with his phone. 

Maybe he’s embarrassed. Maybe everything that’s happened really was just an accident. Maybe Yoongi’s just going along with Jimin because Yoongi adores Jimin and wants to keep him happy. 

But Jimin hasn’t said anything, either, and Taehyung’s starting to think he just dreamt everything up. A dream within a dream. Now that’s terrifying. 

“Hoseok-hyung?” 

Hoseok hums when Taehyung slides in beside him at the other end of the counter to start pulling dishes from the cupboard. “Is there a reason why someone wouldn’t remember their dreams after waking up?”

“If you want a scientific answer, then it just depends on the way some peoples’ brains are set up,” Hoseok answers seriously, just as he always does when the topic of work comes up. “It’s the chemical balance and what not. Most people only recall a small percentage of their dreams, anyway, and those who sleep deeply remember even less. Now, if you want a witch’s answer,” Hoseok gleams, and Taehyung nods softly, “It’s usually because your subconscious is trying to protect itself from whatever message was in the dream.” 

“But what if the message in the dream is important?”

Hoseok looks at him oddly. “Are you having strange dreams, Taehyung-ah?”

Taehyung feels eyes on him and looks over to find Yoongi and Jimin watching him carefully. “I don’t think so,” he answers, dropping his head to hide from them. “I guess I don’t know. I can’t remember anything when I wake up.”

“Well, let me know if you do remember. I’ll give you a free consultation,” Hoseok winks, and Taehyung manages to laugh because it’s almost impossible to be sad around Hoseok, and because he doesn’t want anyone to know just how much the sleepless nights are worrying him.

 

 

 

After dinner, they congregate to the den to drink and warm up in front of the fireplace. Seokjin and Hoseok share more embarrassing stories about Jimin and even throw in a few for Yoongi this time; stories of when they were both young, country bumpkins and first moved to Seoul. 

Everything is filled with light and laughter, as if the past two weeks never happened.  

“I remember meeting Yoongi for the first time,” Seokjin nods, sipping from a glass of soju. “I think it was ’86? Little apprentice Yoongi who would hang out in the cemetery. He didn’t talk to anyone but his mentor and the ghosts for five years.” 

Taehyung thinks that sounds lonely. 

Tries not to think about how much he wants to hug Yoongi. 

Tries not to think of how old they all are. 

That Taehyung must seem like a child to them. 

“Hey, you were still an apprentice, too,” Yoongi bites back, and Seokjin leans around Jimin to slap the back of Yoongi’s neck. 

“I’m still three years older than you, be respectful.”

“It’s been thirty years, get off your high-horse, hyung-nim.”

Jimin glances over, giving him an intentional look. Taehyung just smiles, not wanting him to worry, and hunkers down in his favorite lumpy arm chair. It has a floral pattern to it, and at one point in time must have been a deep red. Now it’s faded to peach. 

“Taehyung-ah?”

It’s not Jimin who calls out, but Yoongi. They’re both watching him curiously, like they’re expecting him to bolt again. Which, given Taehyung’s track record, is a high probability.

“Can you explain the age thing?” Taehyung asks instead, trying not to feel small and dumb, because he told himself he’d stop holding on to each and every little thing until it consumed him. This is a good place to start.

“The age thing?” Jimin asks.

“How you’re all old men but look like college students.”

Hoseok laughs too loud and Jimin joins in. It’s Namjoon who answers, but he’s wearing a smile of his own as he combs a hand through Seokjin’s hair, casual as can be, like he doesn’t even notice he’s doing it. “We’re not sure why, but when we turn fifteen and our magic presents, we just slow down. We have about three times the normal lifespan of a human, give or take.”

“That’s weird.” Taehyung picks at the skin around his fingernails. “But I guess it’s not the weirdest. What’s the weirdest thing about you?”

Yoongi looks amused by his wording and Hoseok pipes up, “Probably the Marks.”

Taehyung vaguely remembers the term being thrown out the first time the other coven was here. “The things that tell you you’re a witch, right?”

“Partly,” Hoseok nods. “They’re signs of magic. All witches have them.” 

“Like tattoos or something?” 

“Some of them are tattoos, but usually it’s a strange eye or hair color. Like, my hair is red and Namjoon’s is purple.” 

“I tried to dye it once and nothing happened,” Namjoon sighs.

Seokjin pats his thigh and says, “Pink eyes. But not the medical condition. My irises are pink.”

“I’ve got a blue eye,” Jimin throws in bashfully, leaning into Yoongi’s side. Taehyung swallows thickly because he wants to join them. He wanted to sit with them from the beginning, but didn’t want to draw attention. Isn’t sure if he’s allowed. “Just one, though. It’s kind of weird.” 

Another question answered, and Taehyung’s about to say that he loves Jimin’s weird, beautiful blue eye when Namjoon says casually, “But humans can’t see Marks.”

Taehyung’s organs shrivel up and sink to his feet, and his gaze flitters to Namjoon and this doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make sense because Namjoon’s hair is purple. Like a grape. No mistaking it. And Hoseok’s hair is cherry red and Jimin’s eye, Jimin’s sparkling, ocean eye…

“Yoongi-hyung, what’s your Mark?” Taehyung asks, but he can’t hear his voice and he hopes it’s not wavering. He hopes he sounds normal. 

Yoongi’s cheeks are flushed and his mouth is pressed into a tight line. 

“Fangs,” Hoseok grins from the other side of Namjoon, using his fingers to make little pincher motions in front of his mouth. “It’s an uncommon Mark.” 

“But not as uncommon as wings,” Seokjin adds. “Only really old witches have those. And horns.”  

“Taehyung?”

Taehyung looks up to where Jimin’s leaning forward on the couch. His eyes are sparked with concern. “You okay? Are we freaking you out?”

“No,” he says, but his voice comes strangled. “No, I just—” Jimin’s eyes narrow and Taehyung nods. “Yeah, actually.” 

He is freaking out, but not about what they think. 

“I guess it is pretty weird to know that what you see isn’t what’s actually there,” Namjoon says, now eying Taehyung curiously. Studying him again. No matter how friendly Namjoon comes off as, his eyes are always too intense. 

“Yeah. A little,” Taehyung lies, and Jimin stiffens at his words. 

No, no, no…

Taehyung should just tell them because this is important, right? Really important. Because if Taehyung can see their Marks, and only witches can see Marks, doesn’t that mean he’s a witch? 

Oh god. 

“Bathroom!” Taehyung springs up and scrambles out of the den, tripping over blankets to get to the stairs. He locks the door to the bathroom and strips, then rushes for the mirror in the corner of the room that’s tucked up over the sink.

Taehyung searches every inch of his body for something unusual, but his hair is black, eyes dark brown. Normal. Very normal Korean coloring. He doesn’t have fangs, doesn’t have wings, doesn’t have horns. He looks for a physical mark, a tattoo. Something odd that no one would notice while he’s clothed, but there’s only the occasional freckle and mole and scar.

He checks his arm pits and the bottom of his feet and the back of his neck and inside his thighs. 

Nothing. 

“Taehyung?” Jimin calls from the other side of the door, and now that Taehyung’s conducted his search, his insides are less fuzzy than before. But not by much. He’s still drowning in questions he doesn’t know how to ask or if he even should.

“I ate too much pork belly!” Taehyung shouts, and there’s a moment of silence and then Jimin laughs. 

“I told you not to make yourself sick.”

“But Seokjin-hyung’s cooking is so good,” Taehyung whines, dressing again. He runs the faucet for show and gets his hands a little wet. 

“Hey, what about my—whoah.” Jimin steps back as Taehyung flings the door open. He feels warm. Crazed. Jimin’s eyes darken and wow, wow, wow don’t kiss him. Now is neither the time nor place to be kissing anybody, Kim Taehyung.    

Except, Jimin doesn’t have the same thought process, and Taehyung’s breath catches when Jimin covers the distance between them and pushes him against the wall.

It’s all teeth and hands and Taehyung doesn’t even have a chance to kiss him back before Jimin’s dragging his nose along his jaw-line. Taehyung can hear him inhaling, and Taehyung tips his chin up and Jimin nips at the soft skin at the base of his throat, pulls his head back down to kiss him again and again and again. 

Taehyung’s knees buckle and Jimin’s hands slide around his hips, pushing him harder against the wall to hold him in place, and Taehyung feels Jimin’s tongue swipe along his bottom lip and is about to open his mouth when someone clears their throat.

Taehyung’s trapped against the wall, but he manages to fully stand and break contact with Jimin only to find Namjoon lingering at the top of the stairs. Namjoon’s eyes are burning, but not like Jimin’s. Jimin’s eyes are filled with desire. In Namjoon’s eyes, Taehyung can only find condemnation. 

Jimin steps away from Taehyung, but Taehyung’s frozen still, fear flooding his chest, cutting off his breath. 

“Hyung,” Jimin says. It’s not a question, but it’s open-ended. Namjoon came up here for something and Jimin’s telling him he can talk. 

“Jimin-ah, can I speak with you?” Namjoon’s sharp eyes flicker to Taehyung once. “Alone.”

Taehyung ducks his head, shuffles for the steps and keeps a wide berth between him and Namjoon. He pauses near the bottom, waits until a door shuts upstairs, and Taehyung twists to head back, dancing over all the trouble areas. 

There’s no one here, but Taehyung feels as if there are hands on him, dragging him forward. Whether Taehyung wants to snoop or not, something is telling him he needs to. 

Taehyung doesn’t have to get close to hear. Their voices are already raised. 

“Jimin, you can’t be serious,” Namjoon says, voice biting with disbelief. “He’s not one of us. He’s human.”

“We’re human,” Jimin shoots back just as quickly, and Taehyung’s chest is strangely calm. He tries to keep it that way. Tries not to let Jimin know that he’s here. 

“We’re mortal. There’s a difference.”

“He… Namjoon, he doesn’t have anyone. He needs us.”

“Maybe now he does, but what if the door opens tomorrow? Are you going to stop him from leaving?”

“Of-of course not.”

There’s a long moment of weighted silence, and then Namjoon sighs and says, “God, you’re already in too deep.” In too deep? In too deep of what?  “I know he’s a lot like Jungkook—”

“This isn’t about Jungkook.”

Taehyung inhales sharply because Jimin’s voice… He’s only heard this tone once, the morning after the storm when Jimin was so angry the temperature in the house changed.

Everything is about Jungkook,” Namjoon counters. “Jimin, it’s okay that you both grieve, but you and Yoongi need to move forward.”

“We are. We are now.”

“Because of Taehyung.”

“It’s not like that, hyung.”

“So you’re not just using him as a replacement?” 

Hyung,” Jimin hisses, and Taehyung needs to leave, he wants to leave. He doesn’t want to hear anything that Jimin hasn’t told him himself; but there’s a weight on his back, pinning him in place. 

“I’m not here to argue with you, Jiminnie. Just…”

“What?” Jimin snaps, voice panicked. “What happened? Did you see something?”

“I can’t… I don’t know,” Namjoon sighs. “I just know that something’s going to happen, Jimin. Something big. And it has to do with Taehyung.”

“Good? Bad?”

“I can’t tell. I’m sorry.”

Another heavy sigh, and then Namjoon says, “It’s your job to help him, Jimin, not the other way around.” Movement on the other side of the door. “He’s a good kid. He is. I can see that. But when he leaves, and he will leave, Jimin, he’s going to forget about this place. He’s going to forget about you. That’s the way the spell works. They leave and they forget. And I don’t want you and Yoongi-hyung getting hurt again because you got too attached.”  

“But he remem—Taehyung?” Quick footsteps, and then the bedroom door is flung open and Jimin steps into the dimly lit hall, spots Taehyung lingering a few feet away. “Tae, how much—?”

He should have left. 

“So…this really was just your job?”

Taehyung feels the familiar ache in his chest, reaches up for his heart and digs his hand into his shirt until he feels nails press against skin.

Jimin’s face crumples. “Tae, that’s not—”

“Did you have fun playing with me?” Taehyung whispers, and Jimin exhales sharply, like Taehyung knocked the wind out of him. “Playing with the pitiful human. Did I help you pass the time?”

Jimin’s voice wobbles. “Stop it, Tae, you know that’s not true.”

Taehyung shakes his head because no. No, he doesn’t know anything anymore. He thought he was starting to understand. He thought that maybe, just maybe, Jimin and Yoongi were starting to care about him the way he cared about them. But it was just a lie. It was just him wishing for something he could never have. 

A dream. It’s just one big dream. A nightmare. 

“I trusted you,” Taehyung says quietly. “Jimin I trusted you.”  

“Tae. Tae please, calm down. Look at me—”

“No, no, no.”  A part of him wants to sob, but the anger just roils inside him, thick and acrid, and he yells instead. “I opened up to you, Jimin! I let you touch me and you-you only, what? You only told me things because I won’t remember any of this? I’m not a toy, Jimin!”

Jimin clutches a wall for support, his eyes brimming with tears. This should stop Taehyung, but it doesn’t. Because Jimin is feeling exactly what Taehyung is, and Taehyung thinks, good, he deserves to know the damage he’s caused, he deserves to know this is all his fault.  

The lights in the hall flicker and then dim, one by one, casting them in disorienting darkness with only the glow from the moonlight. Namjoon’s muttering something to Jimin and there are people moving downstairs and the wild thing is back, hot and furious in his chest, and Taehyung thinks about allowing it to take over for once. What would happen if he just let it go?

“Jimin-ah?” Yoongi’s distressed voice reaches them just before he does, and Taehyung inhales sharply, his rage growing because Yoongi was in on this too. Yoongi, who has always hated him. Who would go along with whatever Jimin wanted. Who has never cared about him.

Jimin’s sobbing, and Yoongi pushes past Taehyung to slide across the floor to where Jimin’s curled against Namjoon’s side, his cries a chant, half pleases, half Taehyung’s name. 

“I don’t want to be here anymore,” Taehyung says, but blood is rushing through his ears and he can’t hear his own voice, so he says again louder, “I don’t want to be here, I want to leave!”

Someone’s tugging him, shushing him, pinning down his arms where they’ve started to claw at his chest. Out, out, out, he needs to let it out. 

They all knew, they all knew. Taehyung’s not important to them. He was here to pass the time. A game, just a game. He doesn’t matter to them, he was never going to matter to them.

“I want to leave!” Taehyung cries, fisting pounding on the back of whoever has him pressed in close, and Taehyung wails and heaves and he wants to go home but he doesn’t have a home to go back to. 

Jimin’s cries sound like a wounded animal, and Taehyung twists and shoves and turns fast, slams his fist into the wall so hard he hears something crack. The plaster, a bone? All Taehyung knows is that he doesn’t want this, he doesn’t want to feel this way, all this anger and resentment and despair and grief, oh god the grief, it’s like everyone around him is dying all over again. 

Taehyung doesn’t want the darkness to come out. He wants it to stay inside of him until it smothers and dies. So he hurls a punch at the wall again and again, beats the wild thing down with every blow because he doesn’t want to keep feeling these terrible, terrible things.

He doesn’t want to keep hurting Jimin, even though Jimin might have just broken his heart.  

Jimin’s stopped crying. Taehyung’s stopped swinging. The lights flicker back to life and Yoongi has Jimin in his lap and there’s blood smeared across the wall and everyone is staring at Taehyung like he’s the monster from a fairytale. Like he’s the dangerous one and not them. 

Taehyung falls to his knees, buries his forehead against the hardwood, and cries. 

 

~~~

 

When Taehyung was little, even before the accident, he used to pretend he didn’t exist. Not that he had died. Not that he was invisible. Just that he never was

He’d find the smallest space in the house—a cupboard or the shoe closet or under the kitchen sink—and he’d curl up and hide in the darkness and pretend that he wasn’t real. Or he’d go outside and race to the forest across the field, lose himself in the trees, and imagine himself just floating way. 

That’s what Taehyung does now. He curls in on himself because maybe if he’s smaller than the pain won’t feel so big. Maybe if he’s smaller, then no one will be able to see him. 

Maybe if he’s small enough, he can just disappear. 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung’s in the greenhouse. He has been for hours. No one stopped him from leaving because they know there’s nowhere for him to go, anyway. He’s trapped here. Forever? Is he stuck in this waking nightmare for the rest of his life?

The plants are distressed. They know something’s not right, but he can’t bring himself to console any of them. He doesn’t have the energy for that. He doesn’t want to keep pretending that he’s okay because he’s not. Oh god, he’s so not okay. 

Taehyung lifts himself from the ground in front of the door and trudges down the path to the lawn where the ash tree lives. It’s the oldest thing here, and after everything they’ve been through, Taehyung feels remarkably calm when he’s beside it.

“Hey, old friend.” The branches creak and Taehyung steps forward to press his forehead against its bark. “Mind sharing some tree wisdom with me?”

The greenhouse goes still, and Taehyung tenses, full expecting some croaky old voice to fill his mind and bestow him with infinite knowledge. The seconds pass in silence, though, and Taehyung runs his fingers along his brow, pressing hard at a tense spot there. 

Taehyung looks over, sees the bathtub he’s been trying for weeks to get some plumbing run to so it’s not just sitting here empty and useless. He crawls into it. Wraps his arms around his knees. Slides down until he can look up at the night sky through the gaps in the tree branches.  

No stars tonight. No moon, either. 

“Do you have friends?” The tree creaks and Taehyung hums. “Of course you do. Everyone in here is your friend.” A groan this time. “Okay, I get that the roses gossip too much, but you’re neighbors and you have to deal with it.”

Complaints rise across the lawn from the roses and Taehyung hushes them. “You do gossip too much. Ask any plant in here.” They quiet down again, but Taehyung can tell they’re not actually offended, just a little miffed at being called out. 

Taehyung knows they like him, now. Knows they’ve liked him since the beginning but just didn’t know how to show it. 

I don’t know how to talk to them anymore, Jimin had said, and Taehyung’s reminded again just how alike plants and people can be because Taehyung doesn’t know how he’s ever going to be able to go back inside and face the others. He doesn’t know where they go from here. 

 “I’ve never had friends,” he whispers to whoever’s listening. “I’ve been without people for so long. But then I met Jimin and Yoongi-hyung—”

The air ripples at the mention of their names and Taehyung smiles. “You guys like Jiminie a lot, don’t you?” A breeze drifts through, ruffling his hair, and Taehyung nods. “Yeah, I do too. But Yoongi-hyung’s good, too, isn’t he?”

It’s a split decision and that makes Taehyung laugh. “I told him to be softer with you guys. You have to give him a chance, okay? How’s he supposed to get better if you don’t give him a chance?”

Split decision again, and it only makes his chest clench. 

Taehyung drapes an arm over his face. “What do I do?” he asks the ash, the flowers, the empty sky. “They definitely hate me now.”

Do you hate them?

Taehyung startles. He tilts his head back to stare at the tree, upside down. “Hello?”

Do you hate them?

“No,” Taehyung answers honestly, sitting up, searching. That voice. It’s not like the plants. It’s too real. Too human. Airy and lilting, like it’s on the verge of singing. “I wish I did, though.”

Why?

“Because they hurt me.” Taehyung’s on his feet now. “Who are you?”

Hurt people hurt people, the voice says. Do you want to hurt them?  

“No,” Taehyung answers honestly again, knowing that even though he’s angry, he never wants to hurt Jimin and Yoongi. Not again. “No. Never.”

Then give them a chance, Taehyung. Let them explain what happened.

Taehyung stills, caught under the shadow of the ash, staring out across the lawn towards the rose bushes. He’s having déjà vu. Some major déjà vu. 

He looks up, expecting to see a moon hanging overhead. He blinks at the emptiness there.

“Who are you?” Wind drifts through the room, enough to lift his shirt. The flowers hum and sway with it. 

Taehyung waits for the voice to say more, to console him, but nothing comes. 

Give him a chance, Taehyung had once told the flowers, all those weeks ago. Maybe he should follow his own advice. 

 

 

 

When Taehyung slips back into the shop in the early hours of the morning, Hoseok and Namjoon are sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for him.

“Have a seat, Taehyung,” Namjoon says, gesturing with his head towards Jimin’s usual chair.

Taehyung doesn’t want to do this, doesn’t want to talk to them and get interrogated and feel even worse than he already does; but after everything that’s happened, he doubts they’re going to let him go just like that. He’ll be surprised if they ever leave him alone again. 

“Want to talk about what happened upstairs?” Namjoon starts off when he’s seated, and Taehyung shakes his head. “Taehyung.”

“I got upset,” he mutters to the table. 

“Why did you get upset?”

Annoyance pricks at his throat, and Taehyung steels himself before looking up. Namjoon is as calm as can be. Hoseok sits quietly to the side, a silent observer. 

“You know why.”

“I can assume why,” Namjoon corrects.  He looks at Taehyung for a moment longer, searching, and then his posture relaxes, like he’s decided that Taehyung is no longer a threat. “Taehyung, I’m not here to be the bad guy. We’re just trying to understand what’s happening here.

“I got upset,” Taehyung says again, breaking away from Namjoon’s gentle gaze to stare at the wall between his and Hoseok’s. “Because you all have been lying to me this whole time.”

“Lying how?”

“You didn’t tell me about the memory thing.”

“That’s right,” Namjoon nods. “We didn’t. So why did that make you upset?”

“Because it means you guys were just playing with me,” Taehyung tells the wall, voice unwavering. 

“Taehyung-ah…” Hoseok starts, and Taehyung shakes his head to cut him off.

“You were only humoring me, right?” He can’t look at their faces, but he sees them shift. “You only told me so much because I’m not going to remember it, anyway. Is this amusing to you? Are you learning a lot? Adding all this new information to your books?”

“Taehyung, calm down.”

“I am calm,” he says, turning back to Namjoon. It’s not a lie, not even a hint of one. He is calm. Nothing like before. “You asked me why I got upset, so I’m telling you.” 

Namjoon leans across the table and folds his hands like he’s about to go into a story. Taehyung feels small when Namjoon acts like this. He feels young and doesn’t like it one bit. “Taehyung, let me explain something to you. There’s a spell on this shop, just like how there’s a spell on our café, just like how there’s a spell on every place a coven settles. It’s a memory-wiping spell. Every human who enters our space will leave without remembering their visit. It protects us, and it protects them.”

“But I don’t get that.”

“Why?”

“Because I remembered,” Taehyung says. “I remembered my first visit.”

“I know,” Namjoon replies. “Jimin called me the day after you came back.”

Taehyung taps beats of eight against his thigh. He takes a deep breath, shoulders lifting, falling. “Why did I remember?”

Namjoon leans back in his chair, face no longer as serious and determined as when Taehyung first sad down. “Some humans have unusually strong intuitions,” he says, his jaw jutting forward as he clenches and unclenches it. “Some people are in tune with the energy around them much like a witch would be. They’re rare, but they do exist. I think you’re one of them. Jimin’s told me you have an unusual relationship with nature.” 

“I like to talk to the plants.”

“Do they talk back?”

“Not in words. Just…” Taehyung struggles to explain what happens when he’s with the plants in the gardens. “Feelings. I just sense stuff. Can witches talk to plants?”

“If you mean actual conversations, only green witches can do that,” Namjoon answers. “Other witches, like all of us, can only sense their energy shifts. These ‘feelings’, you’re talking about.” 

Taehyung nods in understanding, but he’s getting answers to questions he didn’t know he had and he doesn’t know what to do with this information. He doesn’t understand why Namjoon is explaining all of this to him.

“Taehyung.” The way Namjoon says his name, like it’s a declaration, has him looking up from the table. “Which of Jimin’s eyes is blue?”

Hoseok finally moves in his seat, surprise flashing unhindered across his face. Taehyung doesn’t look away from Namjoon. “How am I supposed to know that?”

“Taehyung.”

He knows. Taehyung had a feeling he knew. 

“The left.”

“Holy shit,” Hoseok breathes in astonishment, and both of them are moving to their feet and Taehyung bites the inside of his cheek. 

“I already checked for a Mark,” he says and they still. “There isn’t anything.”

“I thought so, but I couldn’t be sure,” Namjoon says, and the two of them return to their seats, still visibly unnerved. “I don’t sense any magic on you.” 

Taehyung wants to know what that means, what magic feels like to them; but then Namjoon sighs heavily and says, “Do you wish there was?” 

Taehyung fixes an unwavering stare on him because he knows Namjoon already has the answer to his question. 

“Taehyung.” Namjoon keeps saying his name like it’s a burden. “I’m not going to tell you what you’re feeling for Jimin and Yoongi is wrong. It’s not. It’s beautiful. It’s the same way I feel about Hoseok and Jin-hyung; but without a Mark, you are human. Your life is short. When you leave here, and if you were to remember again—in forty years you’re going to be an old man, and Jimin and Yoongi… They’ll be almost the same as the day you met.”

“I already know that.”

Namjoon’s wide-eyed at his voice, sharp and bitter and angry, and Taehyung doesn’t care if the witch is two years his senior or two hundred. He’s tired of this. Tired of them. He knows this already. He’s been living with this understanding for weeks now.

The seconds slip by in silence. Taehyung can hear the house creaking with the weight of bodies and the wind outside. Hoseok remains quiet but observant and Taehyung wishes he was the one leading this… can it even be called a conversation?

“I wish things were different, but they’re not,” Namjoon finally breaches after an uncomfortable amount of time has passed. He doesn’t try to make eye contact this time, and instead keeps his gaze set on a corner of the room. “I’m not going to give you the details because it’s not our story to share, but Jimin and Yoongi have been through a lot in the past year, and you being here... You’re just going to end up hurting them. You already have hurt them.”

Namjoon looks at him for that last part, and Taehyung can see anger there. 

Fear for Jimin outweighs his fear of a witch with a grudge. “Is Jimin okay?”

“He’s resting,” Hoseok says, and Taehyung can tell he has a hand on Namjoon’s thigh, a way to calm him down, maybe. “Jin-hyung’s taking care of him.”

Taehyung nods, but he doesn’t feel any better. His chest is still all tangled up. 

“I know you didn’t mean to hurt him, but Jimin’s not used to being around people,” Hoseok says gently, and Taehyung takes it back. He doesn’t want to have this conversation with Hoseok, either. “Yoongi-hyung’s learned how to control his emotions over the years, and the customers who enter the shop aren’t here for very long. You’re… You’re wearing him down, Taehyung.”

“I’ve been trying.” Taehyung finds the last button of his shirt and twists and twists and twists. “I’ve been trying really hard not to feel anything, hyung.”

Silence. Taehyung looks up and finds them watching him with conflicted gazes. Bewilderment and worry and unease. 

“But that’s not good for you, Taehyung-ah,” Hoseok objects. “You’re supposed to feel things. We all are.” 

“But Jiminie—”

Namjoon’s hand slams against the table, making them jump, harder than Taehyung thinks he intended because Namjoon’s still for a long moment. His voice is strained when he speaks. “You’re not meant to be here, Taehyung. I don’t know what’s going on with the shop, but if you stay here any longer, Jimin’s magic is going to Expend.”

Joon,” Hoseok hisses. 

Taehyung blinks. “Expend?”

“It’s going to eat away at itself,” Namjoon says, ignoring Hoseok. “Eat away at him .”

Taehyung’s button, the same button from last time, snaps from his shirt. “He’s going to die?”

Namjoon’s gaze is unwavering. “He could.”

“Namjoon, that’s enough.”

They all look towards the stairs where Yoongi stands at the bottom, his small form hunched but his eyes alight with anger. 

“Hyung,” Namjoon starts, and Yoongi just shakes his head and approaches the table. 

“Taehyung, are you okay?”

Taehyung’s on his feet, at Yoongi’s side, completely torn because his mind is telling him to run but he wants nothing more than to fold Yoongi up in his arms. “Hyung.” He reaches out and tugs his arm back in, cradling it at his side. “Is Jimin okay? Is he going to be okay?”

Guilt is building in Taehyung’s stomach, spreading spreading, so thick he might throw up. Taehyung tucks his chin to his chest and holds back a sob because if Jimin dies because of him—

“Taehyung-ah, he’s fine. Hey.” Yoongi’s fingers curl around his hand, loosely clasping, and Yoongi tucks in close to peer up at him. He doesn’t look angry. Not at Taehyung. “He’s fine, Tae. He’s sleeping right now. He’s fine.”

Taehyung nods and a few tears dribble down his cheeks. Yoongi reaches to rub them away with his thumbs, and then he surprises Taehyung by pressing a lingering kiss against the dip where Taehyung’s collarbones meet. 

“Yoongi-hyung.”

“What?” Yoongi drawls, pulling away to look at the others. 

Namjoon and Hoseok are both floored.

“You can’t…” Namjoon starts and then bites his lip. “He’s not one of us.”

“We’ll deal with that,” Yoongi answers flatly. Not a single emotion stands out in his voice. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Joon-ah, but this has to do with me and Jimin. And Taehyung.”

“We just…” Hoseok this time, still looking split between concern and awe. “We don’t want to lose you both, hyung.”

“I don’t plan on going anywhere, so unless you know something I don’t, stop worrying so much.” Yoongi pauses. “Do you know something I don’t, Namjoon?”

Namjoon ducks his head. “No.”

“Cool. Tae, will you go upstairs and send Seokjin-hyung down? And stay with Jimin, please.”

Taehyung’s chest seizes. “I—”

“It’s fine,” Yoongi grins softly, his eyes hooded and gentle. Taehyung feels his heart stop. Literally. For a solid three seconds he thinks he might be dying. “You’re not going to hurt him. He was asking for you.”

Taehyung nods and Yoongi pecks him on the neck again because it’s as far as he can reach without going on his toes. Taehyung shuffles for the steps, still unsure, but he wants to see Jimin. He needs to see Jimin. 

Seokjin looks up from where he’s sitting at the end of the bed when Taehyung lightly taps on the open door to Jimin’s room, takes one dragging look over Taehyung’s body, and promptly says, “You look like shit.”

Taehyung doesn’t say anything. He bites the soft spot inside his cheek and waits. 

“I’m not going to bite,” Seokjin says, much more softly this time. He pats the space beside him, and Taehyung takes a tentative step forward, eyeing Jimin’s rolled up frame beneath the covers. Only his hair is visible, fluffed up over a pillow. “He’s fine. Come here, Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung takes a seat. Tries not to stare at Jimin. 

Seokjin’s voice is warm, easy, like a smile. “Did the others talk to you?”

Taehyung nods and feels as if his head might just slip off his neck.

“Rough?”

Taehyung nods again, bare feet tapping against the floor.

“They’re both overprotective,” Seokjin says, lacing his fingers together. He sucks in a long breath. “It’s been a long time since someone got this close to us.”

“Namjoon-hyung hates me.”

Seokjin starts to say something, thinks better of it, then says it anyway. “He doesn’t. I won’t speak for him, but Namjoon has a particularly difficult time letting people in. He never—Becoming a witch wasn’t something he had really planned for in life. Remember how I said it took a few years to get Joon to come around to me and Hobi?” Taehyung nods and Seokjin leans back on his hands, chest towards the ceiling. “It was deeper than that. He avoided us, for years, because the idea of being forced together with someone sickened him.”

Taehyung sits up straight, but Seokjin is staring off towards a corner of the room, a loose smile on his face. Taehyung’s never noticed just how beautiful Seokjin is. How kind his eyes are. 

“So what happened?” Taehyung asks lowly.

Seokjin sighs, full-bellied and deep. “Treat it like a rubberband. The connection between us can be stretched, but eventually the link grows tired and worn and it just. Snaps.” Seokjin closes his eyes, like he’s reliving a memory he wishes would fade. 

Taehyung places a hand on Seokjin’s thigh. Seokjin melts at the touch.

“We didn’t snap, but it almost happened,” Seokjin continues. “Namjoon stayed close after that. It took a few more years, but he grew to love us. I think he had always cared for us, though, just in his own way.”

“Are you guys okay, now?” Taehyung asks. “You seem really good with each other.”

“Yeah, we’re good,” Seokjin grins, tucking his chin to hide his smile. “We make each other better. Stronger. Once Namjoon and Hobi realized that, things got easier. But it was hard in the beginning. None of us are very good with talking about our feelings. None of us knew how to be affectionate with each other. It takes time, is all. Time and effort.”

Seokjin’s watching him intently, his light eyes soft and serious. He isn’t smiling anymore, and Taehyung looks away when Jimin shifts in bed. 

“I hurt him,” Taehyung whispers, fisting a hand in the bottom of his sweater. “I hurt him, hyung.”

Seokjin’s hand falls on his shoulder. He squeezes tight. “But we all hurt you.”

Taehyung’s eyes well, and Seokjin claps him on the back once. He leaves after that, shutting the door behind him, and Taehyung crawls over the mattress to lay on top of the quilt beside Jimin. Taehyung reaches to tug on the rogue strand of blond splayed over Jimin’s forehead; but then he catches sight of his skinned knuckles, yellowing at the edges, and Taehyung flexes his fingers once and hisses when the prick of pain spreads to his wrist.

Jimin shifts again, head poking up from under the quilt, face scrunched in confusion. He blinks a few times, staring at the room like it’s the first time he’s seen it, and Taehyung’s insides sink when Jimin’s gaze eases over to rest on him.

“Taehyung,” Jimin croaks, reaching for him, and Taehyung shuffles forward so that Jimin can cup his cheek. “Tae, I’m sorry.”

“No, no please don’t,” Taehyung cracks, feeling the tears build in his throat. “It was my fault, I shouldn’t have gotten so upset—”

“Don’t apologize for feeling,” Jimin says, “Now get under here.”

Hesitation, and then Taehyung lifts the quilt and crawls under to slide into the warm space beside Jimin. Jimin pulls him in close, arms circling his waist, and they cling to each other for a long time. Long enough that Taehyung is starting to drift when Jimin leans up and whispers against his neck, “I’m sorry. We should have told you about the memory wiping spell.”

“Yeah, you should have,” Taehyung echoes back just as quiet, and Jimin curls in closer so every part of their bodies is touching. “But I get why you didn’t.” 

“You’re not angry anymore.” It’s not a question. Jimin must be able to feel that he isn’t.

“No.” Jimin hums and Taehyung rests his chin on top of Jimin’s head, so that Jimin is tucked against his neck. “I hurt you.”

“You didn’t mean to.”

“What if I did?” Taehyung confesses, running his hand up Jimin’s spine. “For a second I was happy you were hurting the way I was. But then—Then I wasn’t. I’ve never been so sorry about anything in my life.”

“I believe you,” Jimin says into the column of his throat.

“I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you. Do you forgive us?”

“Yeah. But…” Jimin hums, egging him on. “Namjoon-hyung…”

“What’d he say to you?”

Jimin’s voice snaps out of him, short and sharp, and Taehyung finds his hand under the blankets and squeezes. “A lot of stuff.” Jimin’s wriggling like he wants to crawl out of bed, and Taehyung throws a leg over his hip to keep him in place. Jimin growls, but it’s playful. Taehyung can feel him relax when he starts to rub little spirals against his palm. “I—He mentioned Expending.”

Anger again. “He had no right to say that to you.”

“But he did. Jimin, am I—He said you could die because of me.” 

“If what happened earlier happened every day, then yeah. Maybe it’d kill me.” Taehyung’s lungs are shutting down and Jimin’s wide awake now. “Tae, calm down.”

“But I—”

“But you’re not ,” Jimin says, pulling back enough to look Taehyung in the eye. “You got overwhelmed, I got overwhelmed. Simple as that. And I’m going to try my damnedest to make sure you never feel that awful again. Got it?”

Taehyung nods, bumping their foreheads against each other. 

“What else did you talk about?”

“Why I got so upset.”

Jimin hums. “We’ll talk about that with Yoongi. We should have talked yesterday before this all happened.” 

“I’m kind of glad it happened,” Taehyung says quietly, and before he can start panicking, Jimin’s finger brushes the skin of his inner wrist and Taehyung releases a small sound. 

“I can tell,” Jimin grins. “Why?”

“I feel lighter.”

“Good. But let’s find a better coping method next time.”

Jimin’s fingers find his other hand and Taehyung hisses at the contact. He hadn’t realized how much it hurt until now.

Jimin’s brow furrows. He places his hands on Taehyung’s chest instead, palms warm. “What else?”

“Talked about the memory spell,” Taehyung mumbles, closing his eyes, suddenly tired. Jimin’s tracing shapes below his collarbone. “How I remembered even when I left. Namjoon-hyung doesn’t know why?”

“No. I asked him to research it, but he just said it might be because your intuition is so high.”

“Yeah, he said that, too.”  Taehyung sighs when Jimin presses a dry kiss at the base of his neck, in the same spot Yoongi placed one earlier. “Jiminie?”

“Hmmm?”

“I think your blue eye is really beautiful.”

Jimin sucks in a breath, surprise making his nostrils flare. “Tae, you—”

“I can see it,” he nods, and Jimin’s rolled them over, straddling himself over Taehyung, making as if to strip him. “And hyung’s fangs. But I don’t have a Mark! I already checked. And Namjoon-hyung said he couldn’t sense magic on me.”

Jimin’s sitting up now, pressed against thighs, looking right into Taehyung’s face. “Are you sure?”

“I checked everywhere. Everywhere,” he emphasizes again just to make Jimin blush, but Jimin laughs instead. He crawls off of Taehyung to lean against the headboard, but then he gestures for Taehyung to follow, and Taehyung shifts so that he can lay his head in Jimin’s lap. 

Jimin starts to absently play with his hair and Taehyung mulls over the thought of just going to sleep. But there’s still a pressing concern, one he’s been flipping over in his mind for weeks now that he might have an opening to now. 

Taehyung takes a deep breath, then exhales long and slow. 

“Hyung also said that you and Yoongi-hyung have had a rough year.” 

Jimin’s hands keep tugging, but he tips his head back and closes his eyes. 

“I’m not—I’m not going to ask about it,” Taehyung says. “I don’t want to force you guys to talk about it. But I’m here for you. I—I love you both.” Jimin doesn’t say anything, but Taehyung can hear him suck in a breath. “I love you, Jimin,” he murmurs into Jimin’s thigh, and Jimin’s hands go still. “Please don’t be angry, please don’t hate me.”

“God, Taehyung,” Jimin rasps, pinching his eyes shut. “Why would I be angry about that?”

“Because…Because…” Taehyung’s surprised to find himself scrambling for a reason. After everything that’s happened, with them here together right now, why would he still think that Jimin is angry? “Because it’s all I’ve ever known.”

Jimin breaks at that, and he pushes Taehyung’s hair away from his face and kisses the middle of his forehead, both eyelids, the tip of his nose. And then he buries himself into Taehyung’s hair and breathes deeply. 

“You’re amazing, Kim Taehyung,” Jimin says, sounding drugged, and Taehyung wants to hear his voice like that again and again for the rest of life. 

“Am I interrupting?” 

Taehyung’s eyes flutter open. Yoongi’s leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed, too far away.

“Hyung,” Taehyung says, blinking away sleep and the daze of Jimin kneading his neck. “Yoongi-hyung, I love you.”

Yoongi makes this noise, like he’s forced all the air from his stomach and out his mouth. Like Taehyung just punched him in the gut. Jimin stiffens under Taehyung’s head, breathes through his nose slowly, like whatever Yoongi may be feeling is overwhelming him.

Taehyung doesn’t know how Yoongi feels right now, about that, about him; but he does have this expression on his face, bewildered and embarrassed, but kind of happy, too. Taehyung hopes he’s happy. He wants Yoongi to be the happiest person in the world.

Yoongi steps closer, but not near enough to sit on the bed; so Taehyung lifts his good hand, reaching, and Yoongi’s face splits open.

“Yoongi,” Jimin says quietly. “Yoongi, it’s okay.”

Yoongi moves closer. Places one knee on the mattress. Waits, until Taehyung wraps a hand around his wrist and pulls and pulls until Yoongi is in his lap, until their fingers are braided together, until Taehyung is nudging Yoongi’s chin with his nose, forcing Yoongi to face him, and Yoongi’s mouth finds his and works it open in a devastatingly slow kiss. Their first kiss, Taehyung manages to recognize through his hazy bliss.

They kiss for what feels like a long time, Jimin humming occasionally overhead, like he’s enjoying the feeling of Yoongi’s weight and warmth as much as Taehyung is. But then Taehyung gets bold, and he slips his tongue in to skim the sharp point of one of Yoongi’s fangs. Yoongi gasps and draws back. 

“Hyung,” Taehyung whines, reaching for him. “Don’t be ‘barassed love your teeth,” he drawls, leaning in to try to kiss him again. “Love them. Love you.” 

Yoongi’s eyes are tight. “Tae…”

“He can see them,” Jimin says, sounding all too amused. 

“What do you mean he can see them,” Yoongi answers, pushing Taehyung back down against the mattress. Taehyung doesn’t like this turn of events. He wants Yoongi. Now

“He can see them. My eye, too. No, he doesn’t have a Mark,” Jimin adds when Yoongi reaches as if to relieve Taehyung of his shirt. “His intuition is just that strong, I guess.”

“Odd,” Yoongi remarks in the same voice Jimin took, and his cheeks are flushed but he keeps his mouth firmly pressed shut. 

Annoyance sparks in Taehyung’s chest, and he squirms and catches Yoongi across the shoulder, pushes hard and rolls so that he has him pinned to the mattress. Yoongi lets out a sound of surprise, and Taehyung takes the opportunity to kiss him again. It’s all teeth and tongue, and Taehyung takes extra care to feel every one of Yoongi’s fangs. 

Taehyung only pulls away when Jimin starts chuckling and Yoongi’s a puddle beneath him. 

Yoongi’s eyes are like slits and he looks all dazed and confused. Taehyung leans back down to press a lazy peck against his brow. “Hyung, you smell good.”

Yoongi mumbles something unintelligible, and Taehyung settles down against Yoongi’s chest as his feet hang off the side of the bed. 

“Tae.” Taehyung hums in acknowledgement. “Taehyung, we need to talk.”

Taehyung shifts to his other cheek so he can look at Jimin. 

Jimin looks tired. Jimin looks sad. 

Taehyung reaches as if to hold his hand and pulls back out of habit. That just makes Jimin wilt more, and Taehyung carefully twines their fingers together and is relieved when Jimin relaxes against his touch. 

“Talk to us about earlier, Tae.” 

“I was upset.” Yoongi works a hand under his shirt and Taehyung shivers as his nails graze up his spine. “Because you guys didn’t tell me about the memory wiping. So I thought that meant… You guys were just playing around with me. Telling me all this stuff because I was just gonna forget it all anyway. Like I’m some kind of toy.” 

“That’s not true, Taehyung,” Jimin says, voice thick, and Taehyung nods.

“I—I know.” 

“We didn’t tell you because we thought you’d leave after a few days. A week tops. We’ve never… No one’s ever been here the way you have, and no one’s ever come back. And you remembered. You remembered us, and we didn’t know what to do, so at first we treated you like any other customer but I—we…” Jimin’s struggling for words and Yoongi reaches out with the hand not touching Taehyung to find Jimin’s free hand. Jimin takes it gratefully. 

“This is terrifying for us too, okay?” Jimin sounds like he’s going to cry and Taehyung can’t stand it. “Knowing that any minute the shop could open the gate and you’d have to go and maybe this time you don’t come back. Maybe this time you forget for real. I know you’ve been struggling, but have you thought about how devastating that would be for us, too?”

A tear drips down Jimin’s cheek and he doesn’t bother to wipe it away. Taehyung takes in a big breath. “But I’m not—I’m just me.”

“That’s exactly why. Because it’s you .” Jimin’s voice breaks. “Our gentle boy who sings to plants and pets the rocks and talks to the sky and isn’t afraid to say what’s on his mind and has all this love to give. So much love I think it crushes you some days.”

Yoongi’s fingers press deep into his back and Taehyung trembles. “But… I’m just a customer.”

“Not anymore,” Jimin says, tugging on his hand. “Not anymore, Tae.”

“Then what am I?”

“You’re Taehyung,” Yoongi whispers against the top of his head. “Our Taehyungie.”

Oh, Taehyung adores the sound of that name coming from Yoongi’s mouth. 

“But Namjoon-hyung is right,” Taehyung continues to argue because he’s afraid all these feelings are just going to die inside of him and stay there forever if he keeps holding them in. “I don’t belong here.”

“He said that to you?” 

“I’m gonna fucking kill him,” Yoongi seethes, and Taehyung flattens himself to hold Yoongi in place. Yoongi thaws beneath him into a boneless heap again. 

“He shouldn’t have said that, Tae.” Jimin shifts and begins to play with his fingers, anger lacing his voice. “I’m sorry.”

“But it’s… It’s true, though,” Taehyung says. “ I don’t belong here. I don’t belong anywhere.”

“You belong here, Taehyung.” Jimin pulls away from Yoongi hold Taehyung’s hand in both his own. “The shop brought you here which means you belong. Let’s just focus on the now, okay?”

“You…” Taehyung hesitates because he’s afraid to ask but he has to. He has to know or he’s just going to keep doubting everything that’s happening here. “Do you want me?”

“What?”

Taehyung burrows against Yoongi’s chest, says, “No one’s ever wanted me.”

Yoongi’s cupping his face, dragging his face up so they’re eye-to-eye. Yoongi looks angry. Yoong looks devastated. “Your family wanted you,” he says, and Taehyung’s heart twists. “They only reason I was able to get them to leave in the end is because they knew they were hurting you. Okay, Taehyung? Do you understand?”

“I understand,” Taehyung repeats, so quiet he barely hears it in his ears.

Yoongi nudges his face up again. “Taehyung-ah, would I ever lie to you?”

“No.”

“Taehyung-ah.” Yoongi’s gaze, always so clear. “Would I ever lie to you?”

“No, hyung,” Taehyung says, leaning into Yoongi’s hand.

“Then that means you believe me when I say that we want you here.”

“I—” Taehyung feels Jimin tugging on his fingers. “Yeah.”

“Okay.” Yoongi pushes his head back down so Taehyung’s pressed into his chest again. Over the sound of Taehyung’s laughter, Yoongi says, “Jimin-ah, feel up to making something for Tae’s hand?”

“Of course.” Jimin’s already untangling himself from blankets and bodies. “Be right back.”

Taehyung hears Jimin’s steps creak against the floorboards of the hall, and then it’s quiet. Yoongi’s fingers trail along his spine, working his way up to the base of Taehyung’s shoulders, light and teasing. Taehyung wriggles. “Hyung, that tickles.”

“You like your back rubbed.”

“But you’re tickling me.” Taehyung’s words barely make it past his smile. Yoongi chuckles, the sound going right through Taehhyung’s chest.

They lay there together for a while. Taehyung thinks the room is brightening, the light from the window taking on a blue hue. 

Taehyung breathes in Yoongi as deeply as he can, then says, soft as can be, “Hyung, you didn’t just do all of that because of Jimin, right?”

Yoongi’s arms tighten around him. “What?”

“You…” Taehyung tilts his head so that Yoongi can’t see his expression. “Sometimes I think you only pretend to like me because of Jimin.”

Yoongi’s hand isn’t moving. Yoongi isn’t moving. Taehyung thinks he might have broken him. 

“Do you really think I’d be holding you like a baby right now if I didn’t like you?” Yoongi chides, and Taehyung’s not sure if it’s because he’s been here for so long, but he can make out the bruising in his otherwise apathetic tone.

“If it was for Jimin’s sake,” Taehyung answers honestly. “Did I hurt your feelings?”

“I’m slightly wounded. Guess I had it coming with the way I’ve treated you.”

“I knew it was just a front.”

Hesitation. Yoongi’s fingers press too hard against his lower back, but Taehyung doesn’t say anything. “Did you, though?”

Taehyung shrugs. “Most of the time.”

Yoongi’s hand rests on the back of Taehyung’s neck. “I’m not like Jimin,” he says, kneading at Taehyung’s skin. “I’m not good at expressing myself.”

“That’s okay, hyung.”

“No, it’s not.” Yoongi runs his fingers through the tangle of Taehyung’s hair. “I need to be better. I do, Taehyung. I can’t let you both do all the work here.”

Taehyung props his chin on Yoongi’s chest. Yoongi’s gaze is set on the ceiling, but his jaw is clenched. Taehyung touches his cheek lightly, and some of the misery melts away. “Thanks, Tae.”

Taehyung hoists himself up on his elbows, and he can almost hear Yoongi swallow as he leans forward to box Yoongi in. Yoongi blinks up at him. A knowing smile twitches his mouth, but he keeps his lips pressed together.

There’s a flutter in Taehyung’s chest as he bends down, waist warm where Yoongi’s hands are gripping his hips under his sweater. Taehyung presses a kiss to a corner of Yoongi’s mouth, then the other, the fullest part of his lips. He presses in closer, trying to work Yoongi’s mouth open, but Yoongi just huffs through his nose.

Taehyung draws away. Frowns. “Hyung.”

Yoongi edges a brow up, but says nothing else.

“Hyung, I love your fangs.” Yoongi just groans, trying to throw an arm up to cover his face, but Taehyung just pins it down. “Hyung.”

What?” Yoongi grouses.

“I think your fangs are sexy as fuck.”

Yoongi barks out a laugh, startling them both into stunned silence until suddenly Yoongi’s smiling, so huge he can’t even get another laugh past it, and Taehyung digs his forehead against Yoongi’s shoulder and falls to pieces. 

They’re both still giggling in each other’s arms when Jimin returns, wide-eyed and holding a teacup and a small pot of salve. “Tae-yah,” he says, pulling on Taehyung’s pant leg. “Drink this, please.”

Taehyung begrudgingly crawls off of Yoongi to accept the mug. “Is this new dirt stuff?” He takes a small sip and stops himself from spitting it back out.  “It’s even more disgusting than the first one.”

“Thanks. I tried extra hard to make it taste even more horrible. Just for you.”

Jimin applies a thin coat of medicine to Taehyung’s knuckles, then worms under the covers as Taehyung drinks the tea. He holds his nose and it kind of helps to mask the flavor. 

As soon as he puts the mug on the nightstand, his eyes slip shut. “Sleepy.”

“I put in enough hops to knock out a bear, so you better be,” Jimin chuckles, and there are hands guiding him down into the bed and Taehyung feels like he doesn’t have any bones anymore. He’s just floppy flesh.

“’an sleep you?”

“What?”

“Can…” Taehyung’s tongue is thick in his mouth and he groans. “Sleep…you?”

“Yeah, darling.” A hand on his forehead, in his hair, on his stomach. “You can sleep here.”

“Love you,” Taehyung breathes, looking up into the warmth of Jimin’s face to smile at him. “Love… both so much.”

Jimin says something, but Taehyung doesn’t catch it. He’s too tired. Too tired, too soft, too warm, too happy.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Taehyung’s in the greenhouse with the moon looming overhead, so huge and heavy he thinks it might fall out of the sky at any moment. So large he just might be able to reach up and touch it. 

He thinks the moon, this moon, will be warm in his hands. Soft under his touch.

“Taehyung.”

Taehyung drops his arm. Cast in shadow under an elm tree across the lawn stands a figure, a boy maybe, around his age. His voice is warm, a greeting, and Taehyung takes careful steps through the moonlight towards him, the earth shifting underfoot, this endless sea of grass.

“Taehyung, I need you to listen to me.”

Taehyung can’t find his voice. He has so many questions, he wants to listen, he wants to know everything; but his foot catches on the ground and sends him sprawling, and by the time Taehyung rolls on to his back, the boy and elm and the gardens have vanished, leaving him alone in a field full of wildflowers.

There are five moons looming overhead. 

Taehyung starts awake, palms and forehead damp as he rolls onto his side and heaves. For a moment he’s so disoriented he thinks he’s still dreaming. He can’t feel his hands, can’t catch his breath. 

Taehyung falls to the side, then crawls to his knees. Digs his fingers into the damp earth of the greenhouse soil. Looks up at the pale afternoon sky. 

“Taehyung?”

Jimin’s jogging up the path, face pinched with worry, and all the air in the world rushes into Taehyung’s lungs at once and he gasps, “I had a dream.”

Jimin’s crouching at his side, pushing away Taehyung’s hair where it’s sticking to his neck and temples. “You okay? What was it about?”

“Don’t know,” Taehyung answers for both questions. His breathing is still stuttering, and he rubs hard at his eyes. “Don’t remember.” 

Jimin sinks beside him and worms an arm under Taehyung’s head for him to rest on. Jimin kisses him quick, then falls back onto his side, his thumb working in small circles against Taehyung’s bare shoulder. 

“Want me to sing you a lullaby?”

“I’m not a baby,” Taehyung yawns.

“You’re my baby,” Jimin laughs and starts to sing anyway. It doesn’t take long for him to get drowsy, for the sun to begin sinking below the glass panes of the ceiling. It’s getting darker earlier, fall moving into winter. Soon it will be time to replant the gardens.

 

~~~

 

“Do you think hearing voices is a sign of insanity?” Taehyung whispers to the maple even though Yoongi is out and Jimin is with a customer and there’s no one else to overhear his worries.

The maple groans, its answer vague and questioning, and Taehyung wants to laugh at himself because here he is, asking a tree if he’s going crazy. 

“It’s like…” Taehyung presses his fists deeper into his jacket pockets to fight off the morning chill. He taps a staccato beat against his stone. It’s cool to the touch, even though he’s had it pressed into his palm. “Sometimes I think I hear my name. But it’s more like a memory. Like I’m living something over again.”

Wind whips through the courtyard, stirring the leaves on the cobblestone, and Taehyung blinks up at the sky, waiting for an answer he knows won’t come. 

“Sometimes I think I’m not all the way here,” he half says to himself, still processing the words, and he can feel the earth around him listening quietly. “Floaty, but not in a good way. Like I’m fading.”

The stillness waits.

“I wish I could talk to you for real.” Taehyung reaches to pat at the bark and hears the bell of the front door jingle. “I feel like there are things you have to say that I just can’t hear.”

The branches overhead rustle without wind, dropping leaves on his head and shoulders, and Taehyung looks over to watch a girl, probably high school, pass him by in a daze. In her open hand is a red crystal, about the size of his own, and she doesn’t look up from it as she takes the path to the wall and passes through without stopping. 

Taehyung’s gotten use to them leaving like this. Dazed and intangible. Ghosts in their own bodies. 

Yoongi says ghosts are more energy than anything. Manifestations of their lives once lived. Sometimes they’re bright and glowing, sometimes they’re just a muted fog. None of them really look like people anymore, though, which makes sense because they aren’t. Not anymore.

“Sometimes,” Taehyung says low, mouth close to the bark, eyes squeezed shut, “Sometimes I feel like it isn’t just us here. Like there’s a ghost here none of us can see.”

The maple creaks and the brush trembles and Taehyung looks up just as the air in front of the gate shimmers. 

Taehyung pushes away from the tree, tripping over his feet, and he’s only made it a few steps before Jimin’s calling him from the shop.

Jimin’s standing in the doorway, arms wrapped around his slim frame to fend off some of the cold. Taehyung looks over his shoulder, back to the path; but the plants are still, the air smooth. 

Taehyung goes to Jimin, bursting into his space, slinging his arms around Jimin’s shoulders and leaning into him with as much of his weight as he can without sending them both tumbling to the floor.

Jimin readily accepts the hug,  laughter rich as he holds onto Taehyung tightly, and Taehyung nuzzles his forehead into Jimin’s hair and breathes in his orange blossom scent and tries to ground himself.

“Tae?”

“Can we have fried chicken for lunch?” Taehyung says into Jimin’s hair, still smelling him, and Jimin does a half shuffle back to kick the door closed before they lose all the heat in the store.

“Sure. I’ll call Yoongi. You okay?”

Taehyung’s not sure, but he knows he likes this, this moment, so he nods and Jimin slips his hands under his shirt to rub at his back. 

Jimin doesn’t ask anything else. They stand like that a moment longer, holding each other, and then Jimin has to go back to an elixir he’s brewing and Taehyung needs to go cut some herbs and flowers for drying. Althea root and violet and flax seed and fern. Jimin has a large order of protective sachets to make. Ever since it got around that Yoongi was cursed, all the witches in the area of gearing up for a rough month of dark energy.

In the greenhouse, the wisteria wraps around his ankle as he passes by, successfully tripping him. Taehyung imagines that if plants could snicker, that’s what the vine would be doing.

“You secretly love me,” he tells it from the ground, staring up at the twisting mess of purple flowers, and if the vine could curse, it’d probably be doing that, as well. 

Maybe it’s actually a good thing he can’t hear what the plants have to say. 

 

~~~

 

“Taehyung,” Yoongi rumbles, struggling under the weight of Taehyung’s legs pinning him in place. “I need to go to work.”

Without opening his eyes, Taehyung rolls until he’s splayed on top of Yoongi even more than before, arms curled around waist and his chin digging into the bony part of Yoongi’s shoulder. “Then go to work,” he yawns. “What’s stopping you?”

“Don’t be a child.”

There’s a hidden smile in his voice and Taehyung laughs and tightens his hold. “You don’t like getting cuddled?”

A pause. “Who would like this?”

“You hesitated. You do.” Taehyung rubs his nose into Yoongi’s neck and hears Yoongi’s breath catch. “Jimin said you do. No one can lie to Jimin. Are you embarrassed?”

Yoongi doesn’t respond, which means silent denial, which means yes.

“You should skip work today and just nap with me,” Taehyung mumbles as he works one leg over and under Yoongi’s and musters the energy to card the tips of his fingers through the hair behind Yoongi’s ear. Yoongi sighs, then phones his client to say they’ll have to reschedule for later that week.

 

~~~

 

“Birthday?”

Hoseok glances away from the TV, just enough to share his startled stare but not completely drive off Rainbow Road.

“They didn’t tell you?” He asks and kicks out his feet, trying to avoid some bumpers and miserably failing. Yoshi’s sent spiraling off into the endless void of space and a pile of books on the coffee table tumbles to the floor. Taehyung gets a speed boot and rushes by. “Yeah, Jiminie’s birthday is in a few days. Jin’s got like an eight-course meal planned. I can’t believe they didn’t tell you.”

Hoseok’s back in action, but Taehyung’s already half a lap ahead and the obvious winner. He passes the finish line but doesn’t feel all that excited about it. Not anymore.

He’s not that surprised they didn’t tell him. Maybe a little, but not a lot. There are plenty of things Taehyung feels like he’s still being left out of that he tries not to think about it because it just makes him sad and who purposefully wants to make themselves sad? Not him. Not anymore.

“Well, Jimin is self-conscious of his age.” Hoseok finishes restacking the books and leans over to grab the bag of sweets from his backpack. The champion’s prize. Taehyung doesn’t get why he had to play to earn it. It’s not like Hoseok doesn’t have full access to amazing magic bread all the time at the café. 

Taehyung stares at the paper bag. “Yeah.”

“They weren’t hiding it on purpose, idiot.” Hoseok slaps his shoulder and Taehyung can’t help but choke on a laugh, his chest still wound up tight and ready to snap. “Things have been crazy lately.”

Taehyung’s about to mutter out another low yeah, reminds himself that thinking too much has never gotten him anywhere good, and instead he slaps his thighs a few times to wake himself up and asks, “What should I get him? I don’t have any money. I can’t go out. I’m not good at making things.”

Hoseok looks at him funny, and it’s something sly and secret and unexpected. “I got an idea,” he says, and Taehyung knows instantly that he doesn’t want to hear it. “But how against stripping are you? And are you allergic to chocolate syrup?” 

Taehyung feels the back of his neck prickle. “I’m not doing what I think you’re suggesting that I do.”

“Jimin’s got some kinks. Just saying.” Hoseok shrugs when Taehyung’s jaw goes slack. “You learn a lot about a man after twenty years.” 

“Noted.”

“So. Chocolate syrup?”

“Not happening.”

“Handcuffs?”

Taehyung physically recoils. “Go home, hyung.”

“You know you love me,” Hoseok winks, and Taehyung just rolls his eyes. He walks Hoseok to the door, though, and watches him leave through the wall.

Minutes pass. Leaves rustle noisily across the path. Taehyung can hear Jimin singing the chorus of a girl group song from the kitchen.

“Yeah,” he says quietly, hugging an arm to his chest. “Yeah, I know.”

 

~~~

 

Taehyung wakes to Jimin refilling the tub with fresh hot water. 

“What’re you doin’?” Taehyung drawls, and Jimin reaches up to pour in a few drops of an earthy scented oil. Angelica root. He reaches for another vial and this one is plum. He goes for a third, but Taehyung can’t recognize the scent of this one. 

“What’s that?”

“Carnation,” Jimin hums, adding in a few more drops and replacing the vial on the shelf.

Taehyung rubs at his face, trying to wake up a bit, attempting to remember what carnation is used for.

“Carnation: protection, strength, healing, enhancing magical powers, and achieving balance,” Jimin recites, sensing Taehyung’s confusion. “Looks like you need to study some more,” he smirks, flicking Taehyung with bubbly water as he says it.

“Shut up,” Taehyung grins, stretching his arms overhead with a groan. He leaves them dangling over the porcelain, fingers grazing the tile of the floor. “You’ve never used that on me before.”

“It’s not for you.”  Jimin shuts off the tap. “Scoot over.”

“Why am I—” Taehyung’s voice chokes off as Jimin stands and slips off his shirt, then starts on the button of his slacks.

In the warm light of the setting sun, Jimin’s form is stunning, glowing, cast in shadows and swatches of color from the stained-glass window. A painting come to life. Tanned skin and toned muscle and holy shit, holy bejeebus Jimin is naked. Jimin is naked and slipping into the tub with him and this is not okay, this is not okay.

“What—what’reyou doing?” Taehyung bleats, voice loud and frantic as Jimin settles on the other side of the tub. Taehyung tucks his legs to one side and Jimin goes to the other.

It’s a big tub. It’s a huge tub,  actually. Four people could fit easy. Yoongi says they had to reinforce the floor so it wouldn’t fall through to the lower level when people were in it. 

It’s still not big enough. Not for this. 

Jimin doesn’t show that he feels any of Taehyung’s rapidly shifting emotions. He just tips his head back to lean against the porcelain. It exposes his throat, and Taehyung watches as water dips into the divot of Jimin’s collarbones. “You always take too long. Plus, I’m constantly worried you’re gonna drown in here.” 

“Yeah, but you don’t…” Taehyung closes his eyes. No matter what this is or what they are, staring is rude and embarrassing and Taehyung can’t remember the last time he felt this ashamed, and that just makes him feel more garbled and wrong because Jimin isn’t something shameful. Jimin is wonderful. Jimin is beautiful. Jimin is a mix of every good thing that’s happened to him in life so why, why does Taehyung feel this red hot horror spreading all over his body?

Taehyung is dissolving in the worst way.

The water sloshes, and Taehyung opens his eyes to see Jimin moving to crouch between his legs. There’s nothing sexual about the way Jimin is watching him, though. He looks frightened, as he reaches for Taehyung’s face, and this is too much too much too much.

Jimin draws back immediately. “What’s wrong?” He asks, face falling by the second. “Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung shakes his head, confused, feeling the urge to cry, tries hard to push it down.

Jimin sinks back onto his knees, splashing more water around, and his face is a mess of emotion. Concerned, of course, but also sad. He looks hurt by Taehyung’s rejection. But that’s the thing, it’s not rejection. It’s not anything Jimin is or has done. It’s all Taehyung. It’s always Taehyung who’s messing up.

“Tae, what are you thinking?” 

He closes his eyes and he can’t lie to Jimin anymore. Not like before. They’re too close for that now and honestly, Taehyung is just so tired of holding everything in. 

“You’re too good for me,” he says, the words barging from his mouth, all balled up. He presses his hand hard against his sternum as the sadness floods his chest. It’s been a while since he’s felt it this strong, and his lungs struggle to work around it. “You’re so beautiful and lovely and kind and I’m just me and I don’t know what I’m doing and I kind of feel like I’m—like I’m soiling you somehow.” He takes a shuddering breath.  “I don’t want to hurt you again.”

He wants to take all the words back. He wants to stuff everything back in his mouth, shove it all down into his chest; but instead Taehyung bites hard on his bottom lip, digs his nails into his palm and squeezes until his knuckles feel as if they’re going to split.

“Kim Taehyung, I love you.”

Taehyung’s eyes fly open. Jimin leans forward, eyes focused and tender, and he reaches to touch the soft spot behind Taehyung’s ear. Taehyung shivers as Jimin’s hand trails down to the hollow of his neck, then places his palm against his Taehyung’s chest where Taehyung’s heart is drubbing underneath.

“I love you,” Jimin says simply, open and vulnerable. “I don’t know if you heard me that night, when you said it first. But I said it back and I’m saying it again now because nothing has changed and nothing will change. I love you. So much. And I know sometimes you think none of this is real, but please don’t… please don’t doubt this. Please don’t doubt us .” 

“But, I… Jimin,” he chokes, and Jimin pulls him forward to press a fierce kiss against his temple.

 “Remember, we only focus on the now. What’s happening right now. That’s what matters. Not the future.”

“Okay,” Taehyung whispers.

“Okay,” Jimin echoes, just as quiet. He skims a hand under Taehyung’s chin, bringing their mouths together. “Now, can I please kiss you, my beautiful boy?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung nods, barely stopping himself from bashing their noses together. “Yeah, please do.”

Hand firmly gripping his upper thigh, Jimin does kiss him, again and again and again, and Taehyung kisses him back and it’s desperate and wonderful and warm and Taehyung doesn’t know where his limbs end and water begins.

“Hyung’s gonna be upset,” Taehyung manages out when an almost concerning amount of time has passed with them in the tub. The light outside has died, and the candles in the room long ago flickered to life.

Jimin pulls away from where he was working at his neck, just enough to be heard. “Want me to call him in here?”

“I, uhm, don’t know—Don’t know if I can handle that much.”

Jimin laughs and kisses his cheek. “You’re cute, Tae.”

“I’ve never—I mean.” Taehyung doesn’t know if this is something they should talk about, except they probably should talk about it. They need to. He knows that. But he’s not sure what they’re doing or what they are and maybe he’s the only one thinking this far and—

“Tae.”

“I’ve been with people,” he blurts again, and he looks down and Jimin’s looking up at him, listening patiently, wanting to hear more. Taehyung bites his lip and tries to figure out what to say next. “I’ve been with a lot of people actually, but never anyone who mattered and I don’t—You matter. You and hyung both matter and I’m scared.”

Jimin draws back again, but he looks a bit drunk, eyes slitted and dazed. His hands are gripping the sides of the tub to keep them separated, and Taehyung stares at the muscles in his arms and has such a strong urge to reach out and run his fingers up them it scares him.

“Don’t be scared,” Jimin says, tugging on a strand of Taehyung’s hair. “Not of us.”

“Not scared of you, I’m scared of me,” Taehyung says. “I don’t care if I get hurt, but you and hyun—”

“Taehyung, don’t you ever say that to me again.”

Jimin shifts so that he’s looking down on Taehyung now, his blue eye sparking with sudden emotion. “You had better care if you get hurt. You had better always put your life first. I know… Fuck,” Jimin sputters, his shoulders falling, his expression shattering. He sits in Taehyung’s lap, legs on either side of Taehyung’s waist, and presses his face into his hands.

“I could sense your sadness the first night we met. Your grief. I knew that you…” Jimins hakes his head like this is the hardest thing in the world for him to do. “I knew that you probably wanted to die. Yoongi knew. And you were like that for weeks and only recently has it really gone away and just— Fuck.”

Taehyung wants to run, escape to the greenhouse, wants to curl into Jimin’s side at the same time and tell him that he’s okay, he’s okay, he’s okay. 

Jimin falls forward so that his head hits Taehyung’s chest. “Tae, you have to talk to us about it, okay? You have to tell us if it ever gets bad because we can’t help you if you don’t talk to us.” 

“Okay.” 

“Promise me, Tae.”

“I promise,” Taehyung murmurs.

A sigh gusts out of Jimin’s mouth, long and hard, and he leans all his weight into Taehyung. “God, I love you so much.” 

“I…” Taehyung traces a lopsided star into the back of Jimin’s shoulder. “Why didn’t you tell me? About your birthday?”

“My birthday? My birthday’s not for—oh. O-oh.” 

“You forgot?” Taehyung says, voice hopeful, and Jimin leans back to look at him.

“Completely,” he nods, both brows raised, and then he laughs. “God, I’m so old now.” He looks more deeply into Taehyung’s face. “You thought we were hiding it?”

“I’m not sure what I thought. But I was kind of sad I found out from Hoseok-hyung.”

“Sorry, darling,” Jimin coos, squishing Taehyung’s cheeks between hs palms; but he means it, and Jimin chases away a stray tendril of hair near his temple. Brushes a thumb across his cheek. “Yoongi’s is in March, if you want to start planning now.”

Taehyung grins enormously and Jimin watches him for a long moment, long enough that Taehyung feels the need to bite his cheek. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“You’re so gorgeous,” Jimin says, fingers softly tracing the muscles of Taehyung’s neck. It makes his blood sing. “From the first moment I saw you…”

Jimin doesn’t finish his thought, just shakes his head and falls forward, kissing him wholeheartedly.

When they part to breathe, Taehyung moves his hands from Jimin’s neck to his waist.  “I think—I think I want hyung, now,” he says, voice barely coming out above a whisper. 

Jimin looks down at him, eyes dark, his smile full of flirt. “I’ve been waiting for you to say that.” He raises his voice. “Yoongi!”

Taehyung wonders if Yoongi will even be able to hear them from his room, especially if he’s listening to music, even more so if he’s asleep. Which is more than likely. And then Taehyung feels bad because here he’s been, making out with Jimin for an hour, and Yoongi went to bed alone. 

The bathroom door creaks open and Yoongi steps in.

“What’s up—Oh. Oh. I, uh…” Yoongi makes a blatant move of turning his body towards the wall and lifting his gaze. When he speaks, it’s to the ceiling. “Do you guys need something?”

“Hyung, I want you.”

Yoongi lifts his hands to his hips. Stares more intently at the spot where the tile meets plaster. “I, uhm, what?”

“Hyung, I want you,” Taehyung repeats, voice croaking out, and Jimin shifts and Taehyung inhales sharply at the feeling of hands dragging across his thighs. “Hyung.” 

Yoongi’s gaze flickers over to them and he looks unsure, maybe uncomfortable, and Taehyung sobers up quickly, embarrassed again. Frightened. “You don’t—” He starts, and Jimin must sense his wariness because he reaches to hold Taehyung’s hand under the water. “You don’t have to, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, you’re probably weirded out—”

“No. No, god no.” Yoongi’s already across the room, shirt gone, pants dropping, tapping through the pooling water on the floor. “Move over.”

Taehyung leans forward, momentarily stunned by the turn of events and Yoongi’s perfect pale skin, such a contrast to his and Jimin’s, and suddenly Yoongi is also very naked and crawling in behind him and pulling Taehyung tight against him, folding him up in his arms and o-oh holy shit.

Jimin reaches to turn on the tap again and replace the water that escaped during their little escapade earlier. 

“Is this okay?” Yoongi whispers near Taehyung’s ear, sending a small wave of shivers across his scalp. His hands find Taehyung’s neck, kneading deep, and Taehyung opens his mouth to tell him yes but instead he just outright moans. In a bathtub. With two naked men surrounding him.

Taehyung flushes all the way to his toes, but Yoongi’s chuckling against his back and Jimin’s grinning, looking more than okay with this development.

“Stop that,” Taehyung growls and Jimin’s eyes flash with surprise. 

“Stop what?’

“Giving me that look.”

Understanding crosses his face, and the corner of Jimin’s mouth tilts up as he looks at Taehyung, lashes shadowing his eyes, his hair sticking in three directions from where Taehyung had been pulling at it earlier. How can someone be so adorable and sexy at the same time?

“You mean this look?” Jimin smirks.

“Fuck you.”

“Do you want to?”

Taehyung’s arms go cold and Jimin freezes up with him. It’s moments like these that Taehyung wonders if Jimin’s reactions are just a result of Teahyung’s feelings, or because Jimin’s a person who does actually experience chagrin. 

“I, uh…” Jimin’s blushing all the way to his collarbones and that’s not fair. Jimin doesn’t get to say something like that and then get embarrassed about it. “Sorry. It just slipped out.”

“No, I—It’s okay.” Yoongi’s hands, which had gone still at Jimin’s comment, quietly set to work again. Taehyung wishes he could see his face. He needs to know what Yoongi’s thinking. What they’re both thinking.

“Taehyung, you don’t—That’s not…” Jimin makes a small noise of exasperation. “Okay, I’m just going to be completely open here, alright?” Taehyung nods. He likes openness now. Openness is good. Openness avoids fights and breakdowns and lots of crying. Taehyung’s so tired of crying. It’s exhausting.

“I like you,” Jimin starts, and Taehyung blushes and blooms and brightens. Jimin looks elated by his response, albeit still twitchy. “I like you. Yoongi likes you. You like us. Yoongi and I like each other. We’re all in the same boat here. Or bathtub, I guess.” Taehyung grins at that and it makes Jimin visibly calm. “What I’m saying is that Yoongi and I have slept together, but we’re not going to make that a part of our relationship with you if you don’t want that. I’m totally cool with just making out and cuddling.”

“I’m good with that,” Yoongi agrees, his voice rumbling too close to Taehyung’s ear. It makes him tremble again.

“I like that,” Taehyung nods, dipping his head down to hide his flush. “I like all that but I—I do want more. I’d like to do more, too. Someday. If that’s okay.” 

“That’s very okay.” Jimin says, his voice coming out strangled. “Cool. Great. Glad we had this talk.”

Taehyung nods and feels Yoongi behind him doing the same. 

“Great,” Jimin repeats, clapping his hands together. He’s so utterly uncomfortable it’s cute. “Tae, come here. I’ll wash your hair.”

Jimin washes his hair and Taehyung washes Yoongi’s, then turns around to do Jimin’s. They chat the whole time, about their favorite books and movies and foods and music. Nothing too deep, nothing very magical. Taehyung likes the way Yoongi holds his hand and asks him things, the way Jimin leans in confidently to draw pictures against his skin, listening in that thoughtful way of is. If they weren’t in a bathroom, this would kind of feel like a date.

“Can we go on a date?”

Yoongi breaks mid-story, and he and Jimin are both staring like Taehyung just turned into a mollusk. 

Shit.

“I, uh.” If Taehyung tries to run now he’ll surely slip on the tile and die. That’s not how he wants to go. Plus, openness. Openness is good.  Openness is great. “I know we can’t leave the shop and I don’t know if we’re actually dating, like, can I call you both my boyfriends? But boyfriend sounds so—I don’t know, not enough? Are you two married? Is this an affair if you two are married and I’m not? You don’t have to propose or anything I mean, wow that’s weird and sudden and I just… I’ve never been on a date,” Taehyung finishes weakly, tugging on his fringe, and a moment of awful silence passes before Yoongi’s bleating, raspy laugh fills the room and Jimin’s crawling into Taehyung’s lap to pepper him in kisses.

“God, I love when you ramble,” Jimin smiles against his cheek and kisses him wetly. 

“Really?” Taehyung’s breathless. He’s not sure how words are even forming now. “Everyone I, uh, all the people I slept with… they always said I talked too much. I had someone gag me before, but that might have just been a kinky thing.”

A moment of sudden, hard silence, and hot shame starts to burn in his belly. Taehyung tenses. Why did he have to say that why did— 

“Fuck them,” Yoongi growls, and Taehyung bobs his head to the side to peek around Jimin’s shoulder. Yoongi looks like he could kill a man. Which he probably can. “Your voice is incredible. I could listen to you talk all day.” 

“Agreed,” Jimin grins, but his eyes are dangerous. Angry. “I love your voice. Talk about whatever you want, Tae, whenever you want. We’ll always listen.”

“Unless I’m sleeping,” Yoongi pecks on. “Don’t bother me if I’m sleeping.”

“You’re so unromantic, Yoongi. We were so having a moment and you ruined it.”

Yoongi shrugs like ‘what can you do’, and Taehyung hears the blood pumping in his hears and he takes a deep breath. It comes back out as laughter. He laughs and laughs and snorts a little an

“God, I love you so much,” Jimin breathes, pulling him in close, studying him like he’s something strange and marvelous. “Let me touch you more. I just need to feel this.”

Taehyung hums as Jimin drapes himself across his chest, and Taehyung flails a hand blindly in the air until Yoongi gets the message and braids their fingers together.

Jimin doesn’t move for a long time, so long that when Taehyung’s eyes flutter open, he finds himself swaddled in blankets on Jimin’s bed. Yoongi’s writing in his journal and Jimin’s reading. Taehyung’s tucked cozily between the two of them. He mumbles something incoherent, isn’t even sure if he had real words to say anyway, but Yoongi’s hand tangles into his hair and Jimin starts humming low and smooth. A lullaby. The piano music that brought him here. 

Taehyung always thought it was Yoongi who wrote the song, but maybe it’s been Jimin all this time.

 

~~~

 

Taehyung rises early the morning of Jimin’s birthday and makes breakfast without burning anything or hurting himself. It’s incredible. It’s absolute magic. Taehyung thinks the shop is working with him, or maybe it’s just protecting itself. Must be hard to call the fire department for an invisible building.

Jimin and Yoongi are still curled up small in Yoongi’s bed, tucked into the corners with a space in between where Taehyung’s left a visible absence. He pauses in the doorway, just kind of taking them in, but the eggs are cooling fast and Taehyung whistles the tune to a children’s song about bears he remembers his mom singing to him in elementary school, increasing the volume until he’s basically shouting and the lumps under the quilt stir.

Jimin reaches blindly across the mattress, hand searching, and when he doesn’t find whatever he’s looking for, he shoots up fast, eyes wide with alarm and half his hair matted to his face.

When he spots Taehyung hovering beside the bed, the worry smooths from his face. “Tae? What’s going on?”

“Breakfast in bed for the birthday boy,” Taehyung grins, stooping down to lay the tray on Jimin’s lap when he’s settled back against the headboard. “And Yoongi-hyung, I guess. Figured he’d want food, too.”

“’m flattered,” Yoongi groans, stretching himself awake. He cracks an eye open. “I smell strawberries.”

“And eggs and pancakes. Look, I even made the pancakes into shapes.”

Jimin peers down at the plates. “A… cloud?”

“They were supposed to be hearts,” Taehyung shrugs. “They got a lil’ fat. Little lumpy.”

“I love my fat, lumpy pancake heart.”

God, Jimin’s smile is crushing him. Everything about Jimin after he’s just woken up is too soft to handle.

“Matches your real heart,” Yoongi says absently as he plucks a berry from the tray and tosses it into his mouth. Jimin swats his shoulder but looks absolutely smitten by the comment.

Taehyung takes it back. Both of them are too soft to deal with.

“You guys eat,” he says, rubbing his thighs tentatively. “I’m gonna go water the flowers and I’ll be back to wash the dishes.”

“Tae, you don’t have to—”

Taehyung pushes the loose hair around Jimin’s face behind his ear, uses his thumb to skim across Jimin’s plump bottom lip. Jimin’s breath stutters, lashes fluttering, and it’s the sweetest victory. “I couldn’t get you a gift, so just lemme help out today. Okay?”

“Okay,” Jimin says quietly, unusually docile. “Thank you.”

Taehyung runs his hand through Jimin’s hair one more time and doesn’t miss the tiny noise Jimin makes at the action. As he pulls away, though, Jimin latches on to his wrist, holding him in place. 

“What’s wrong?”

Jimin looks up at him coyly. “I don’t get a birthday kiss?”

Heart soaring, Taehyung tips Jimin’s chin up and chastely pecks him on the lips. Jimin’s pouting cutely when he pulls away, so Taehyung kisses his cheeks, his forehead, the tip of his nose, one eye and then the other, and Jimin’s giggling sweetly and Taehyung kisses him one more time on the mouth, drawing it out, laughing into his mouth when Jimin slaps him on the butt.

“I don’t get a birthday kiss, either?”

Yoongi’s lounging to the side, head propped up on his hand like he’s watching a movie. His voice is aloof but his eyes are tight. Taehyung doesn’t like when Yoongi looks like this, like he feels left out, and Taehyung leans across the bed, threads his hand through Yoongi’s hair, and tips his head back to kiss him deeply. 

“You taste like strawberries, hyung,” Taehyung says as he pulls away, and Yoongi’s eyes are bright and his ears red. Taehyung laughs and brushes his bangs aside to kiss his forehead. “Love you. And love you,” he says to Jimin, patting his leg as he crawls off the bed. “I’ll be back in a bit.” 

On the walk to the greenhouse, Taehyung can’t stop smiling. He tries, but the corners of his mouth keep tugging up and there’s a spring to his step that he just can’t control. He can’t help but bound through the gardens, shouting and twirling the whole way because today is a good day. The flowers match his enthusiasm, cheering along with him as he goes. Today is going to be the best day. He’s going to make sure of it.

 

 

Hoseok wasn’t lying about the eight-course meal. Seokjin cooks enough to have leftovers for three weeks, but knowing Jimin’s appetite, it might last four days. They’re all surprised when Namjoon claims he made the cake. 

“I decorated it!” Hoseok grins, and Taehyung thinks it looks like a Hoseok Job. Plenty of sprinkles. Fake glitter. Lots of rainbows. But you can never have too many rainbows. He says as much and Hoseok high-fives him.

“Nothing broken?” Yoongi comments idly and pokes the pastry with a cutting knife from across the table, like it might be sentient and crawl off the platter if they take their eyes off it. They’re all circled around, wary. “Is it edible? Have we tested it?”

“It’s the thought that counts,” Jimin says resolutely. “If I die, it’s in the name of friendship.”

Namjoon scowls. “Shut up. Jin said it tasted good.”

“If Seokjin-hyung says it’s okay…” Everyone turns to the head of the table where Seokjin’s perched, laughing at them silently with his eyes. 

Everyone shifts back when he nods.

Yoongi’s still hesitating.

Taehyung reaches past him with a fork, plunges it into the pink monstrosity, and shoves a huge bite into his mouth. “Tastes like cherries. And cinnamon. And sunlight. Mmmm.”

Taehyung’s the pickiest eater and his throat isn’t swelling, so that’s that. They gorge their already bursting bellies on Namjoon’s Not Terrible Cake, take a few too many shots of soju, and then Hoseok turns some music on, music with a fast beat and a deep bass, and he grabs Yoongi by the front of his sweater and tugs him into the center of the kitchen to spin him around and dip him low, much to Yoongi’s chagrin and the rest of the room’s entertainment.

Jimin goes for Seokjin, and the two of them waltzing to club music is a sight. Taehyung’s tempted to grab his phone and instead makes accidental eye-contact with Namjoon. 

Namjoon’s face says that he’s not drunk enough to dance right now. Or maybe ever. But he does brush off his pants and take the empty seat beside Taehyung. Minutes pass as they watch the others. Hoseok and Jimin were made to be dancers, and it’s a joy to watch them with Yoongi and Seokjin who, in simplest terms, were not. 

“Things seem good.”

Taehyung’s surprised and doesn’t bother hiding it. He looks over and Namjoon has his hands shoved in his pockets. He looks uncomfortable in his body, like it’s too big for him and he’s not sure what to do with his long limbs.

“Things are good.” Taehyung debates his next move. Things have been weird lately. A bad weird. He’s kind of tired of it. “I’m not angry, you know. Or upset with you. I know you were just trying to protect Jiminie and Yoongi-hyung.”

Namjoon tips his chair back and rests his head against the wall. “I don’t regret what I said. I think someone needed to say it. I am sorry if it hurt you, though.” 

“It did. But now it doesn’t. I forgive you.”

Namjoon look confounded, but there’s a faint smile on his lips and his face cautiously opens. “How are things really?”

“Which things?”

“Well, you and Yoongi-hyung and Jimin-ah, to start.”

Taehyung notices his legs are jiggling and stops. Starts to pick at thumbnail instead. “We’re good. I think. We talk about things now, so that’s nice.”

“Things?”

“Feelings, I guess. Our pasts. Well, they know everything about me now.”

Namjoon hums warmly, getting it. “But you feel like you don’t know anything about them?”

“Yeah.”

The music turns slower, something sultry, and the others switch partners and Taehyung thinks the way Namjoon watches Hoseok and Seokjin sway together, with complete adoration, is kind of wonderful. He can’t imagine a time when they didn’t get along. When Namjoon didn’t have eyes for them always.

“I can’t help you there,” Namjoon finally says, but he doesn’t sound unsure of himself. Taehyung wonders if he’ll ever be like that someday, like Namjoon; calm and collected and completely aware of his place in the world. “But maybe you should try talking to them. Hiding things hasn’t gotten you guys anywhere.” He tap, tap, taps his long fingers against the side of the table. “Actually, hiding things actually drove you to the brink of a melt-down and instigated your emotional development, but I wouldn’t recommend building your relationship on a foundation of half-truths and assumptions. That’s kind of unstable.”

“I don’t…” Taehyung doesn’t know what to say, so he chews on his lip, tastes blood, and moves to fiddle with the hem of his sweater where it’s starting to fray from touch. “Jimin said at the very beginning that there are certain questions he can’t answer.”

Namjoon shrugs. “That was then. This is now. You’re all in different places from where you were four months ago. You’re different people. Maybe now he’s ready to answer. Maybe you just need to ask.”

Taehyung’s voice comes out small. “What if I don’t like what I hear?”

“A person belongs to themselves. You have to accept all of them. You don’t get to pick and choose the parts that you like.”

Taehyung’s had conversations with Namjoon before, some of them deep, most of them not terrible. But it’s always felt like a session. Like Namjoon is asking him things from a list in his head. This feels real. This feels like Kim Taehyung and Kim Namjoon, sitting in the corner at a party, acknowledging that the other exists and that it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“How’d you get so wise?”

Namjoon flushes at Taehyung’s words. He clears his throat and his dimples are like craters on his cheeks because he’s smiling so wide. Taehyung resists the urge to press his finger into one. “Time. Mistakes. I read. And I’m in some psych classes right now.”

Yoongi’s said something to make Jimin laugh, and the magical sound drifts over to them and Taehyung’s heart clenches, skipping a beat, and Yoongi’s smiling and Jimin’s got both hands threaded through his hair and Taehyung feels millions of tiny stars burst into being in his chest.

“I wish I could go to school,” he whispers, still watching them, and Namjoon hums appreciatively. 

“You want to be a florist, right?” Taehyung nods, still watching Jimin and Yoongi sway together. “You don’t need school for that. You know more than enough.” Comfortable silence, and then Namjoon says the impossible. “When you leave here, you should open a flower shop next door to us. We’ve got a great building there. Been empty for years.” 

“Yeah?” Taehyung whispers, feeling both hopeful and somewhat cracked at the same time. His hands are sweaty and his clothes too tight. “I won’t know who you are, though.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”  Namjoon rocks forward and back in his chair, his eyes faraway. “But I have a feeling we’d become friends again even if you forgot.”

Potentially teary. That’s how Taehyung feels. “We’re friends?”

Namjoon looks at him head on. “You’re one of us now.”

“But I’m not a witch.”

“But you’re family.” 

Taehyung doesn’t dare look up for fear he imagined the words. Instead he flings an arm across his face to hide so Namjoon can’t see that he’s secretly smiling into it. So no one can see his tears.

A hand falls on his head, ruffling his hair. Taehyung peeks out and Namjoon pats his head reassuringly, his smile kind, eyes still resting across the room where Jin has started doing a fudged version of the macarena.

Taehyung calms down. Turns his head and wipes his nose on his shoulder. Namjoon nudges him with his elbow. “Come on. Hoseok’s drunk enough that we could probably challenge him to a dance-off and win.”

“I’ve seen you dance, hyung,” Taehyung laughs, rubbing at his cheeks. “Hobi-hyung will still crush you. Leave the challenging to me.”

Namjoon stares at him for a long moment, a dozen emotions flickering through his eyes, and Taehyung feels young under his gaze. Young, but safe. Accepted.

Namjoon squeezes the back of his neck and is already walking away when he says, “You’re a good kid, Taehyung-ah.”

 

 

 

The others leave well after midnight, Hoseok droningly whining from Namjoon’s back about the oil crisis in Syria and how the supermarket down the street doesn’t sell his favorite honey butter chips anymore while Seokjin sings loud and out of tune trot songs at his side. Namjoon looked absolutely endeared by both of them, though. True love at its finest. 

“What’s this?”

Jimin and Yoongi just walked into the kitchen after seeing the others off, and Jimin’s smiling lazily at the bouquet of flowers on the kitchen table. Taehyung put them in a blue vase he found in the cupboard. Sky blue, but not the powdery kind. The rich kind. A perfect summer sky. Jimin’s favorite color.

“Flowers,” Taehyung says, wringing his hands behind his back. “I mean. Yeah. Flowers. For you.”

Yoongi stays back as Jimin approaches the table, only mildly swaying. He had some wine, but not too much. Not enough for him to not recognize Taehyung’s nervous stare. Not enough to keep him from reaching out to delicately stroke the petal of a peony. 

“They’re beautiful,” he murmurs, his eyes going soft. Yoongi comes up behind and wraps his arms around Jimin’s waist, and Jimin steps back into his hold.

“I cut them. From the greenhouse. Obviously.” Taehyung scratches his arm, clenches and unclenches his hand. “But the flowers were totally happy to help and we can dry them out for sachets and I just. You know I’m not very good with words or feelings, so I was hoping the flowers could talk for me.”

Jimin narrows his eyes, looking towards the bouquet again, seeing it differently this time.

“Tae, these are—”

“You,” Taehyung gushes, and he can’t hear his voice with his heartbeat pounding in his ears, but the words rush out of him. “All you. Chrysanthemums for joy and hydrangeas for understanding. Peonies for compassion, freesia for trust, jasmine for grace, thyme for courage, amaryllis for beauty and lilac…” Taehyung chokes and swallows thickly. “Lilac for first love.” 

Jimin rocks forward out of Yoongi’s grasp, and Taehyung opens his arms just as Jimin throws himself into his chest, completely overcome. Jimin’s fist knocks against his shoulder, again and again, and Taehyung just folds him up close and breathes Jimin into lungs as deeply as he can. Jimin’s scent, one of his favorites in the world.

Taehyung kisses his forehead. “Happy Birthday, Jimin-ah. I… I got you another gift, though.”

Jimin blinks up at him, star-crossed, grinning so wide all his teeth show. “What is it?”

“Me.”

Jimin’s thrown. He hesitates, pulls away just enough that Taehyung thinks this is it. It’s too soon. He’s messed up.  

“Tae,” Jimin laughs, and it’s easy and warm like his eyes as he lifts up on his toes, his body stretching to reach. Jimin’s lips are gentle when they work against his, and he’s smiling so wide it can’t quite be called a kiss.

“You sure?” Jimin asks, breathless, and Taehyung nods, the panic fully squelched, and Yoongi comes up beside him to lace their fingers together. “Both of us?”

Taehyung nods again because of course, of course it has to be both of them, and that’s all they need. Jimin’s leaning into him, the pull unavoidable, and then Jimin’s mouth is crushed against his, teeth and tongue and lips all raging together as fingers slip under his sweater. Taehyung’s unbuttoning a shirt, slipping it off shoulders, plucking on belt loops. Someone’s tugging him towards the stairs, stumbling, pushing him onto a bed, straddling his hips, hands on his chest, his back, his thighs. 

 “Taehyung,” Jimin calls against his neck, and Yoongi echoes him, mouth pressed against his bare stomach, and Taehyung stares at them, stunned, both of them flushed, hair wild, eyes warm. All for him. 

Kiss me,” Taehyung says, anguished, and both of them don’t hesitate to answer.

Lips against his ribs, against his heart, and Taehyung bursts, all the sunshine and starlight in the galaxy exploding out of him at once, blinding, and Taehyung feels like all their lingering sorrow is crashing together, their worlds falling apart only to click back into place piece by piece, breath by breath, heartbeat by beautiful heartbeat.

 

~~~

 

Taehyung wakes at 5:34am. He crawls out from under the twisted sheets, lifting the arm and a leg pinning him down, and grabs a loose blanket to wrap around his shoulders. 

Out in the courtyard, the maple stirs for him, but Taehyung doesn’t have anything to talk about. Not today. Instead he settles down against the cold earth to watch the sky come to life, tendrils of pink and purple peeling across the clouds. 

Time passes. The birds sing. The sun wakes. Taehyung unfurls himself from the ground with a groan, pats the maple’s trunk, and pads back inside. 

Yoongi’s waiting up for him.

“You okay?” His voice is low, hoarse, and Taehyung nods and walks around the bed to crawl over him in an effort not to jostle Jimin. 

Yoongi grows small, and Taehyung wraps an arm around his shoulder and tugs him in close.

“You’re cold.” Yoongi’s eyes are searching, dark and warm. He’s looking for something wrong, and Taehyung doesn’t have anything to give him. This particular morning feels breathless in the best of ways.

“I watched the sunrise.”

Yoongi hums low, and Taehyung rubs a hand up and down his arm and tries not to feel worried that he isn’t achy or shy or unsure.

“What changed?” 

Taehyung knows Yoongi’s talking about last night. How just a few days ago Taehyung had told him he needed time.

“You’re my family,” Taehyung answers simply, voice soft and certain.

Yoongi breathes in deep. He takes Taehyung’s hand and presses his mouth to the tender skin of his wrist.  “Go back to sleep,” Yoongi whispers there, and Taehyung settles into the pillows and finds Jimin’s hand under the covers.

Taehyung thinks back to the first day in the greenhouse when he told Jimin that maybe being so sad wasn’t so bad if they got to meet each other. Back then he didn’t fully believe it, but now?

Jimin’s pinky curls with his and Taehyung allows his eyes close.

Now Taehyung’s thinking that maybe he was brought here for a reason, and this just might be it.

 

~~~

 

“Hyung. You should skip work again today.”

“We’re going to go bankrupt.”

“We can live off of love.”

“And plants.”

“Jimin makes enough to support us.”

“Hell yeah I do.”

“You’re both unbelievable.”

“Love you, too, hyung.”

“Yeah, yeah. Love you.”

 

~~~

 

“He’s tired all the time,” Taehyung hears from the kitchen, and he pauses in the den, then swings around the corner before Jimin can see him. He shouldn’t eavesdrop, but Jimin and Yoongi have been so careful with him lately and he wants to know why. 

“No, I stopped putting sleep inducers in the bath a while ago,” Jimin says to whoever’s on the line, but Taehyung’s guess is either Namjoon or Seokjin. “Yeah, he’s out all day in the garden. It’s not like he’s cooped up all the time… You know what I mean, hyung… Depressed?”

Depressed? Taehyung leans into the wall, thoughts muddling. Is he depressed? That doesn’t make sense. If there was ever a time he was that low, it would have been his first couple weeks here when he was still haunted by his family. What does he have to be sad about now? 

Well, he guesses it’s more than just being sad. But he’s good. He’s good, right? Jimin and Yoongi are so good to him and Taehyung doesn’t feel like he’s drowning anymore; but he does feel tired. Heavy. Not like before. Before it was as if something was always cutting off his breath, trying to choke him. Now it’s like he’s carrying a weight he can’t see. 

“But we’ve talked about everything he’s been worried about; shouldn’t he be happier than before? I just—It feels like nothing has changed.” Jimin’s voice reaches him again, and Taehyung blinks up at the chipped plaster of the ceiling and wonders how long he zoned out. “Hold on a minute. Taehyung?”

Taehyung flinches and steps around the doorway. Jimin’s watching him with narrowed eyes from the stove. “Tae.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Go ahead and sit down. I was gonna talk to you anyway.” Taehyung takes a seat and Jimin eyes him a second longer before returning to his steaming pot. It smells of coriander and rue and dogwood. A healing potion, maybe. One for good health. “Seokjin-hyung? Oh, Namjoonie-hyung. Yeah… Yeah… An outside source? You mean like an energy force?... No, I understand, but what could possibly— No .” Jimin’s eyes flicker to him, suddenly frightened, and he listens to what Namjoon has to say on the other line. “Hyung, he didn’t touch us. There’s no way.”

Jimin must sense that he’s scaring Taehyung because he smiles even though it doesn’t reach his eyes. He swivels back, then lowers his voice. “Go ahead and research it some more, hyung. Let me know what you find… Yeah. Kay, bye.”

Taehyung picks at the hem of his shirt. Another new one. Grey this time and silky against his skin. It doesn’t feel appropriate to wear while gardening, but Taehyung doesn’t pay much mind to stuff like that anymore. 

“Taehyung-ah.” Jimin’s voice is soft, like Taehyung is a child he’s trying not to frighten. “Do you feel okay, Tae?” 

"You’re asking me this?”

“Yeah. I am.” Jimin takes a seat across from him, extends his hand for Taehyung to take if he wants. And he does. Taehyung adores holding Jimin’s pudgy little hand. “I can sense your emotions, but I don’t know where they’re coming from, Tae. You’ve gotta help me a little.” 

Taehyung leans over the table to lay his head on his free arm. “I’m not sad or anything. At least I don’t think so. I’m just sleepy. Heavy.” 

Jimin loosens their grip to play with his hair instead. “Is it the dreams? You’ve been pretty restless at night.”

“Maybe. I don’t remember dreaming when I wake up, though.”

“Well, I’d call Hoseok-hyung, but unless you remember something, he won’t be of much help.” 

Taehyung closes his eyes. There’s a tense spot building behind Taehyung’s left eye. He wonders if Jimin can sense it. “What did Namjoon-hyung say? You looked kinda scared.”

“It wasn’t important.”

“Jimin, please don’t lie to me.”

Jimin sighs in this big loud lonely way that makes Taehyung ache. “You know how we talk about energy? How it’s all around, positive and negative?” Taehyung nods. “Namjoon-hyung said there might be some kind of negative energy force affecting you.”

“Oh. That’s nice.” 

“You sure you didn’t... Didn’t touch one of us?” Jimin asks, his voice  trembling at the edges. They try not to bring up that day. Out of everyone, Taehyung thinks that Jimin took it the hardest. 

“Positive,” Taehyung slumps forward. “I had bruises from where you kicked me.”

Jimin laughs at that, but it isn’t a light sound. “I think it’s just the dreams, then. We’d be able to sense if there was a negative force around. Yoongi especially.” 

Taehyung hums and watches as half-hearted sunlight filters in through the window overlooking the back garden. Tiny specks of dust lazily float about them, and he blows out a gust of air and watches them dance among each other.

Taehyung doesn’t feel reassured by Jimin’s words like usual. He doesn’t feel anything, and he knows that should worry him, that being so empty inside is bad and maybe he should talk to Jimin about it but he just… How do you talk about something you can’t put into words?

“I’m sorry, did I scare you?” Jimin asks, misreading his silence, tugging at the strands around his neck. Taehyung closes his eyes again. 

“No, ‘m fine.” 

Jimin has to return to whatever potion he’s making, and Taehyung trudges to the front yard to lay under the maple. Most of its leaves are gone now and it’s becoming uncomfortably cold out these days, but Taehyung likes being near the tree, his first friend here, and he likes waiting for Yoongi to get home. 

The branches groan in greeting, and Taehyung barely manages out a small hello before he’s sinking against its roots to sleep. 

 

~~~

 

Yoongi’s been staring at him for a solid two minutes. Taehyung’s been counting in his head. Jimin’s at the kitchen table trying desperately not to laugh.

“I’m a witch,” Taehyung states when too much time has passed, like it isn’t obvious. He’s wearing a robe. He has the pointiest of pointy hats. He even stole a broom from the cupboard.

Yoongi’s stare goes cold as he looks over Taehyung’s shoulder at Namjoon. “You did this.”

Namjoon points to Hoseok. “He did.”

“Guilty,” Hoseok nods, not at all ashamed by his participation in these events. “Isn’t it great?”

“I think my costume is better.” Seokjin twirls, and the metallic pink fabric of his dress catches the light and sends tiny, flickering rainbows across the floor. 

“You make a perfect Princess Peach, hyung,” Taehyung nods dutifully. Seokjin curtsies. “We should have coordinated our outfits,” he says towards Jimin and Yoongi, pouting with mild disappointment in reference to Namjoon and Hoseok who are standing by the stove as mario and Luigi respectively. 

Namjoon looks at home in his oversized overalls. 

Hoseok looks unsure of how he got into his.

“I don’t know,” Hoseok draws out, grinning mischievously, twirling the end of his mustache purposefully. “Yoongi as a vampire is kind of hilarious.”

“I lost a bet.”

“I know,” Seokjin smirks. “I’m the one who made the bet.”

Yoongi’s face is expressionless as he lifts both his middle fingers in response.  

Taehyung pops a handful of skittles into his mouth; contraband candy the others collected on the way here. Apparently there’s some kind of city-wide coven party happening tonight. 

Taehyung asked if it was being held in a cemetery, and Seokjin and Hoseok had both just blinked at him.

(The party was actually at a rented out club in Itaewon. Very legal and not at all as witchy as Taehyung thought an all witches party on Halloween night would be.)

Taehyung swallows his glob of chewed candy. “Hyung, I think you’re hot.” Yoongi flushes and Hoseok’s gagging into a pot on the stove. “Eleven out of ten would bang.”

O-okay, that’s our cue to go.” Namjoon drags a hysterical Seokjin away by the hem of his skirt. Hoseok’s already in the shop, heading for the front door, ‘la-la-la-ing’ to mask out their voices. “Enjoy the candy and alcohol. Use protection. Don’t do drugs.” 

He aims a pointed stare at Jimin and Jimin blanches, visibly offended. “It was one time! And totally organic!”

Namjoon doesn’t stick around to listen to an argument he’s probably heard before. Instead he tosses a loose wave over his head, and the kitchen is uncomfortably quiet in the wake of their departure.

Taehyung finishes off his skittles and starts snacking on a Snickers. “Can we makeout now? Jimin in tights is kind of a turn-on.”

“They don’t call me Boy Wonder for a reason,” Jimin winks, sliding out from behind the table. “Mask on or off?”

“Definitely on,” Taehyung nods, grinning around his candy bar. “Hyung, you coming?”

Yoongi’s staring at them with glazed eyes, then says to no one in particular, “I fucking love Halloween.”

 

~~~

 

Taehyung doesn’t use his stone much anymore. Sometimes he remembers to switch it over when he changes pants, but most of the time it remains on his nightstand in the attic. He doesn’t feel the need to carry it around as much. Not like before. 

“It doesn’t feel the same,” Taehyung tells Jimin over breakfast. Since he managed cooking on his own, they’ve let him help out with more than just setting the table. Taehyung has sworn to make the perfect egg roll. But if he messes up, he can just scramble it. Yoongi likes scrambled eggs.

“How so?”

Taehyung taps along the pan with his spatula. “It’s just kinda… I remember it used to always be so warm in my hand. Made me feel gooey inside. Now it’s just like any other rock on the ground.” 

Taehyung doesn’t get an immediate response which doesn’t worry him all that much. It’s when the eggs are borderline steaming that he gets concerned and turns to find Jimin and Yoongi exchanging a look he might not have been meant to see.

“Is that bad?” Taehyung wheezes. “Is it bad I can’t sense it anymore? Am I dying?”

“No, no, no. Not at all,” Jimin rushes, and there’s a smile tugging at his eyes. “It’s just that… Remember what I said about citrine? How it’s a healing stone that replaces negative energy with positive?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, it’s goes deeper than that. It helps build self-confidence and eliminates fear of judgement.” Jimin quirks his head to the side and stares at Taehyung in that far-off way. Reading him. “And it also gradually eliminates the fear of being alone and the fear of being unworthy of love.”

Taehyung successfully flips the eggs to the other side, wondering what Jimin’s looking for in him. “And this relates to my broken stone how?”

“It’s not broken, Tae, it’s just that you don’t need it anymore.”

“I don’t?”

“No. Because you…” Jimin looks at him, really looks at him, and he breaks into this ridiculous, hideously beautiful smile. “The crystals only work for people who really need them. If it’s not working for you, then—”

Taehyung breathes in quick. “I’m not broken anymore.”

“You were never broken, Tae.” Yoongi’s watching him from the table, face serious and determined and lovely. “You just needed help.”

“Help,” Taehyung murmurs, his eyes drifting towards the storefront. “You guys helped me.”

“We did,” Jimin says, echoing his tone of voice, following his gaze. Taehyung steps away from the stove into the center of the kitchen where he can see through the shop to the courtyard windows.

There in the corner, just behind the maple, is a blank brick wall.

Taehyung reaches for his heart, pats it three times to get it pumping again, and then returns to his eggs. He doesn’t need to tell Jimin and Yoongi what he was checking for. He doesn’t need to tell them that it’s not there. Not yet. 

“Do I need to give it back?”

Jimin shakes his head. “The stone picks its carrier. It’s yours now. Forever. And maybe one day you might need it again.”

“I hope not.”

“Yeah, I hope you don’t either.”

“But I probably will,” Taehyung nods, not quite sad about it, just thoughtful. 

“Yeah,” Jimin nods along with him. “You probably will. But that’s okay.”

“That’s okay,” Taehyung says.

“That’s okay,” Yoongi agrees.

The three of them kind of look at each other for a long moment, and then Taehyung tries to flip the pan with only his wrist and manages to get most of the eggs back in.

Jimin laughs so hard he cries, and Taehyung thinks it’s a good sign that none of the lights burst at the sound.

 

~~~

 

“Taehyung.” 

Taehyung looks away from the moon, shrouded by an eclipse, to stare at a boy covered in shadow across the lawn. 

“Taehyung, you’re running out of time.” 

For what? he wants to ask. Who are you?

But before he can even open his mouth, he’s waking up in Yoongi’s bed to the sound of a piano. 

Taehyung tries to blink the sleep from his eyes. He stays quiet for a while as he listens to the sound of Yoongi tinkering on the keys and the wind trying to rattle it’s way through the window pane. Taehyung tries to judge what time it is, but the clouds are thick and grey and block out enough light that Yoongi’s flipped on the bedside lamp to warm the room.

“Hyung,” Taehyung croaks out, and Yoongi glances over his shoulder as Taehyung crawls out from under his duvet. “’Mornin’.”

“Afternoon,” Yoongi corrects as he continues to fiddle with a melody, but Taehyung catches the small grin on his face before he turns away. “You’ve slept the day away. Again.”

“’s warm,” Taehyung moans, rolling into a ball. “And hyung smells so good.” 

There’s a laugh hidden in Yoongi’s voice. “What do I smell like?” 

“Sage,” Taehyung responds immediately, because everything smells somewhat of sage in the shop. “And violets. Boneset. Hyssop.” Taehyung inhales deeply and lets it out just as slow. “Cypress. God, it’s so good.” 

“You can smell all that?”

“I’ve been studyin’.” 

“Smells?”

“Kinda.” Taehyung rolls again so he’s burrito-ed in Yoongi’s blankets, Yoongi’s scent. He likes it even more that Jimin’s. Jimin’s is light and intoxicating, but Yoongi’s is so rich. “Herbs. Plants. What they do.” He sinks into the mattress and his words comes out thick and lilting. “Violets for calming and creativity. Boneset for protection against evil spirits. Hyssop for purification. Sage and cypress for overcoming pain of loss.” 

“You have been studying,” Yoongi says, but his voice sounds off. When Taehyung tries to peek out to check, Yoongi has his whole body turned towards the piano. 

“Hyung, you wrote the piano music that goes in people’s heads, right?”

Yoongi’s fingers hover over the keys without pressing down. “Yeah.”

“Will you play it for me? It was so beautiful.” 

A song trickles into the air. The bones of one at least. One he recognizes. The one he asked for. But it’s much slower, a little lighter. Less urgency. A lullaby, the one that Jimin hums to him some nights before he sleeps.

Taehyung rolls onto his back and holds a pillow close. “So pretty. Soon as I heard I followed.”

“That’s kind of the idea,” Yoongi says, voice so weak Taehyung can barely hear it over the sound of the music.

Taehyung curls up further, unbearably exhausted all of a sudden, and he says thoughtlessly, “Saved me, hyung.”

“What?”

“You saved me, hyung,” Taehyung yawns and the invisible weight has returned, flattening itself against his back, urging him to close his eyes. “I was ‘bout to step in front of a car when I heard your music.” 

The piano cuts off with an ugly, missed chord. Taehyung pries his eyes open and is startled to see Yoongi watching him with this indescribable heartbreak in his eyes. 

“Hyung?” A few layers of fog slip away from his mind, and Taehyung sits up, awake now. Alarmed. “Hyung, don’t cry.”

Yoongi doesn’t cry, but he does scoot back on the bench and walk over to fall onto the bed, onto Taehyung. Taehyung’s forced to lean back, and Yoongi crawls on top of him and just lays there. Not holding him, not teasing him. Just there. 

Taehyung struggles to drag a hand out of the blankets and into the open air. When he does, he finds one of Yoongi’s hands, and he works his palm open and drags a finger down the center of his palm. Yoongi doesn’t make a sound, and Taehyung repeats the action again. 

When he goes to do it a third time,  Yoongi suddenly has his hand. He repeats the action back.  

Neither of them say anything more for a while, so long that when Taehyung turns towards the window, he realizes that it’s dusk outside and he fell asleep. Yoongi’s still resting on top of him, eyes closed, breaths slow. Jimin’s calling from the stairs about dinner. 

“Hyung,” Taehyung whispers, throat scratchy with disuse. “Hyung, dinner.”

Yoongi doesn’t move and Taehyung’s about to shimmy to get him to wake up when Yoongi says in a low voice, so quiet Taehyung almost misses it, “I love you.”

Taehyung’s breath hitches and Yoongi doesn’t say anything more, doesn’t open his eyes. He refuses to move until Jimin’s heavy steps can be heard on the stairs, and a second later he’s falling into bed on top of them with a battle cry echoing from his mouth. 

“Dinner,” Jimin says simply afterwards, groaning as he slides back to the floor. Yoongi’s grinning but still hasn’t opened his eyes. “You guys better be happy you’re so cute.”

“Don’t worry, you’re cute too, Jiminie,” Yoongi says, and Jimin trips over his feet or maybe air on his way to the door. Jimin doesn’t turn around to acknowledge this, but his ears are flushed, and Yoongi climbs off of Taehyung like it’s the hardest thing he’s ever had to do. As if he’s carrying the same weight that Taehyung does.

“Hyung.” 

Yoongi glances over at him, one leg on the floor and the other still on the mattress, and Taehyung tugs on the strings of his hoodie until Yoongi’s falling forward into him for a kiss.

It’s slow, and Yoongi trails his fingers gently down the side of Taehyung’s face. Taehyung opens his mouth but Yoongi only pulls away, finger tracing the curve of Taehyung’s bottom lip. He looks guilty for not wanting to go further, but Taehyung smiles sweetly and pecks his palm. 

Yoongi grins back, pulling away reluctantly, and he’s almost made it to the door when Taehyung calls out, “Hyung?” Yoongi twists so his whole body is facing Taehyung. “I’m okay now. I’m okay. Remember the stone? Crystals don’t lie.”

Yoongi moves in close again. He silently takes Taehyung’s hand, twines their fingers together, and tugs Taehyung from the bed so they can walk downstairs together. 

Yoongi holds on to him as they set the table. 

Holds on to him all through dinner. 

Holds on to him during their weekly movie night. 

As they brush their teeth.

When they’re crawling into Jimin’s bed, Yoongi wraps an arm around Taehyung’s waist from behind, latching on once more. Jimin watches on, confused as he climbs in beside Taehyung, and Taehyung doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know how to tell Jimin about what happened earlier without making him worry. Because Taehyung is okay now, but Yoongi’s holding on to him like any moment he’s going to disappear. 

Taehyung doesn’t sleep that night, not because of the dreams, but because he realizes it’s not such a far-fetched fear. They have no guarantee that tomorrow won’t be their last. There’s nothing keeping him here but magic, and Taehyung’s learning how fickle a thing that can be.

 

~~~

 

“What do you want for Christmas?”

“Christmas?”

Taehyung wonders for a moment why Jimin’s asking when there’s still a couple months left until the holiday. Except that there’s not. It’s December now. They had their first snowfall yesterday. The plants outside have all gone quiet, even the trees. Sometimes Taehyung will try to strike up conversation with the maple like before, but it’s so tired that most of the time he’ll just sit in its branches and talk to himself. 

He hasn’t really been paying attention to the days lately. He hasn’t thought ahead at all. After Jimin’s scolding in the bathtub, Taehyung’s taken to only thinking as far as dinner. So far it's served him well. No more panic attacks. No more panic anything.

“Yeah,” Jimin says from the floor, tucked beside the fireplace where he’s taken up the meager open space on the rug with books. He’s studying. Jimin has these moments where he likes to refresh his knowledge, and he’s taking special care with all the extra orders coming in. Once it got around that he was back to full inventory, the other covens in the city have been calling in almost daily.  “Is there anything you want?” Taehyung shakes his head. “Clothes? Games?”

“No. I have enough clothes.” Taehyung’s flipping through his own book, but this one isn’t magical. Just a know-how on perennials. They’re getting into a crucial time period in the greenhouse between bloomings and Taehyung has a perfect success rate he’d like to keep. “There are games here. I already have a cell phone. Seriously, I don’t want anything, Jiminie.”

Jimin’s pouting. Taehyung can’t stand when Jimin pouts. “But it’s Christmas. And your birthday is coming up.”

“You don’t have to get me gifts for both. Usually my grandparents just combined the two. Oh!” Jimin looks at him expectantly. “My grandma always made this amazing lemon cake for my birthday.”

Jimin looks mildly bummed. “You want a lemon cake? That’s it?”

Yeah.” Jimin lightens at his enthusiasm. “And maybe some pizza. We haven’t had pizza in a long time.”

Jimin makes as if to say more, because how could it possibly be that Taehyung only wants food for gifts, but then the shop door jingles and the tell-tale sound of Yoongi’s boots dragging across the hardwood reaches them before he does.

“I brought pizza!” He yells from the kitchen, and when he’s not immediately bombarded by hungry hands, Yoongi’s head pokes around the den doorframe. There’s snow melting in his hair and his cheeks are bright pink from the wind. When he catches sight of Jimin and Taehyung, still rooted in place, staring at him with matching amusement, his forehead furrows. “What’s wrong?”

Taehyung rolls off the sofa and walks over to pat his cheeks. “This is why we’re soulmates, hyung.”

Yoongi sputters, ears blooming the same shade of his face where they peek out under his beanie, but Taehyung’s got his eyes set on a meat supreme and nothing will deter him, not even Yoongi’s adorable, kissable face.

 

~~~

 

Okay. So he goes back to kiss Yoongi’s face. Then he eats half the pizza. No one complains.

 

~~~

 

“We made a cow!”

Taehyung looks over to where Jimin’s hugging the neck of something that could be called a cow. Maybe. It has ears. Well, one. Namjoon knocked the other off and is trying to unsuccessfully reattach it.

Taehyung and Hoseok turn from the crumbling cow to their lumpy Totoro, back and forth, and high-five each other without looking.

“We’re totally going to win,” Hoseok says and Taehyung hums in agreement. 

That is, until they glance to the other side of the backyard and see that Yoongi’s constructed a mini replica of Gyeongbok Palace, all the way down to the pagodas and carved ceiling tiles.

Seokjin sits in the middle, perched on a snow throne, chin resting on his hand. Smug.

Yoongi’s too busy adding to the east wing to notice their heavy stares. 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung forgets that just because he’s doing better doesn’t mean that Jimin and Yoongi always are. 

The early afternoon light ribbons the shop in shadow. Taehyung pads around, checking the reading room and the potion room, slipping out to the front garden, then the kitchen again. It’s quiet. He takes the stairs two at a time. Yoongi’s room is empty. So is Jimin’s. So is the bathroom. 

The ladder to the attic has been let down. 

Taehyung technically still lives in the attic. All his belongings are up there. It’s warm and smells like his grandparents’ house and gets the best sunlight, so it’s where he goes to nap. He only sleeps there at night once or twice a week, when he needs some time to himself; when he feels like he might have a difficult time sleeping and doesn’t want to keep the others up reading or drawing.

But as far as he knew, Taehyung thought he was the only one who still went up there at all.

Taehyung serpentines through the maze of towering memories. He knows where he’s going. He knows where to look.

Jimin’s off to the side, on the floor with his arms spread wide, and Taehyung’s eyes settle on the boxes in front of him, the ones they packed a couple months ago. The ones that never got marked. 

“Jiminie?”

Jimin tilts his head, the hair on that side fall towards the ground. Jimin opens up a hand, and Taehyung pads over to sink into the space beside him to sit. 

He grabs Jimin’s hand, studies his face, then says gently, “Wanna talk about it?”

Jimin shakes his head, and even though he’s smiling, a hollow, lonesome sound works its way out his throat. It makes Taehyung ache with tenderness. 

“I love you,” Taehyung murmurs, and he lifts Jimin’s hand to his mouth to kiss his knuckles. 

Jimin’s shoulders shake and he closes his eyes. He bites down hard on his bottom lip and a single sob escapes and he shudders, shoves it back down, and then goes quiet on the floor. 

They sit there for the rest of the evening, roles reversed. Taehyung hums softly, pets Jimin’s hair, never lets go of his hand. Jimin falls asleep like that, with his head in Taehyung’s lap. When the sun finally sets, Taehyung scoops him up in his arms and tucks him into the bed in the next room, his room, and settles in at his side and sings the softest of lullabies.  

 

 

 

A few days later, Taehyung finds Yoongi at the foot of the stairs to the attic, leaning against the wall with his arms folded. He isn’t looking up, though, he’s looking forward, towards the fourth room. He doesn’t look up when Taehyung calls his name. He doesn’t look up when Taehyung touches his arm lightly and pulls him in by the shoulder. 

Yoongi goes limp in his hold, and Taehyung looks down at Yoongi’s hands, caught between their chests; they’re shaking. 

Without a word, Taehyung leads him to Jimin’s room. They curl up together on the bed, Taehyung tracing idle patterns into the back of Yoongi’s neck as he tells him about his day, about the flowers and all the things he has left to do tomorrow. About his thoughts on the recent music groups debuting and turmoil in the government and the latest discovery that dinosaurs might have been fully covered in feathers. Like big chickens, he says, and Yoongi presses his mouth against Taehyung’s neck and Taehyung can feel him smile. 

The words continue to tumble out of him, uncontrolled, but Yoongi doesn’t interrupt once. 

Hours pass. Jimin doesn’t come to find them, as if he senses they just need time together alone. It’s probably time for dinner, and Taehyung’s hands are working through Yoongi’s hair when he says softly, “It’s okay to be sad, hyung.”

Yoongi doesn’t say anything, but he scoots back into Taehyung’s embrace, asking to be held tighter. Inside of him, Taehyung feels something small and invisible relax just a bit. Like he’s finally accepted that maybe he’s really not all that alone with his sadness anymore; as if he’s finally realized that maybe the three of them love just a bit differently, at different volumes, and maybe that’s okay.  

 

~~~

 

“Did you ever figure out your dreams?”

Taehyung looks up from the flowerbed. Hoseok’s still dangling from the limb of the ash tree, knees hooked around the branch so he can swing upside down. 

“Nope. Never remember them when I wake up.” The flowers flutter under his touch, and Taehyung eyes them curiously. The past few days they’ve started to rile, their energy a persistent, nervous buzz whenever he’s around them. “Why?”

Hoseok’s quiet for a moment. “You’re not sleeping, are you?”

“I sleep some.”

“I wish I could help you more.” 

Taehyung heard them speaking one night a couple weeks ago. Hoseok and Yoongi and Jimin, alone in a corner of the storefront. They didn’t know he was in the reading room. Or maybe they did. Jimin always seems to know where he is in the shop.

“It’s a sign,” Hoseok had said, voice urgent. Insistent. “You have to see that, guys. I need to Read him.”

“You can’t Read something he doesn’t remember,” Yoongi had said.

“We’re hoping it’s just a stress thing,” Jimin added after. “He hasn’t been mentioning them lately. I think they’re tapering off.”

No one spoke to him about it after, but Taehyung went to Hoseok as they were leaving for the night, feigning ignorance, and asked if there were any old-fashioned ways to bring about some clarity.

So Taehyung has been sleeping with bushels of mistletoe under the bed. A sachet of peppermint and marigold and mugwort tucked into his pillowcase. 

Taehyung shrugs and pretends to be really focused on cutting the browning stems off the roses. Which he is. But he also wants to avoid Hoseok’s unusually serious, sad eyes. “I’ll remember them. When I’m supposed to.”

“But what if that’s too late?”

Hoseok didn’t mean to say that out loud. He looks up, guilty and bewildered at the sound of his own voice, then drops to his feet to stand and face Taehyung fully.

Jimin and Yoongi don’t mention the dreams anymore, but that may be because Taehyung’s gotten better at hiding them. But Hoseok, whether he’s more perceptive or feels something the rest of them can’t, has latched on and refuses to step away from it. 

Taehyung rubs at the back of his neck where sweat is building and drops his eyes back to his task. He doesn’t want to see Hoseok’s concern. He doesn’t want to think about the implications of his worries. Instead he cuts off a stem here and there and the scent of dying roses ribbons through the air. 

Taehyung doesn’t respond to Hoseok’s question because he doesn’t have an answer. 

 

~~~

 

The heliotrope has fully bloomed, so much that Taehyung has to replant it so it has more space to grow. He chooses an off-white stoneware pot, to match Yoongi’s room, and he sings to the flower as he places it back atop the piano, in the same spot they met all those nights ago.

Arms circle around Taehyung’s waist. “Lunch is ready.”

Jimin rocks forward on his toes to press a light kiss against the side of Taehyung’s neck before he shuffles back into the hall. Taehyung turns to watch him go, fondness settling in his chest when he spots that Jimin’s only dressed in a pair of Taehyung’s sweats, his hair thoroughly mussed from their nap earlier.

He shakes his hips like he knows Taehyung is watching, and then he giggles the whole way down the hall when he senses Taehyung’s smile.

Taehyung returns to the heliotrope. He straightens the pot once more, brushes a finger along one of the velvety petals. Warmth builds in Taehyung’s chest. Despite winter settling in around them, Taehyung’s always running hot these days. Like he spends every morning bathing in the sun.

“Tae, I didn’t slave over a hot stove for my cooking to go cold!” 

Taehyung hears Yoongi say something about how Jimin only spent ten minutes reheating leftovers of the food that he spent two hours on the night before. Taehyung laughs as he pushes away from the doorframe, and he takes one more look at the rich, purple petals standing bright against the stark walls. 

Maybe he should be more disappointed at their separation, but he’s not. Because he doesn’t need to care for it anymore. It can survive on its own now.

It’s time to let it go.

 

~~~

 

Taehyung feels like something crawled between his ribs and died.

Jimin, unable to sit still since they all woke to Taehyung’s fever in the early hours of the morning, has been flittering about the shop most of the day. Between brewing Taehyung hourly cups of herbal tea and replacing his cold cloth and washing sweat soaked sheets, Jimin’s also been trying to wrap up last minute orders. Yoongi had to take an emergency call and has been out for hours, but he returns in the afternoon to take over nursing Taehyung so that Jimin can package, but really that just entails the two of them napping until it’s time for Yoongi to meet Namjoon and the others to head to the Winter Solstice in the park. 

Yoongi’s hovering in the doorway to Jimin’s bedroom. He was supposed to leave twenty minutes ago. 

“Hyung, ‘m fine,” Taehyung says, not exactly sounding fine. His lungs feel half their usual size. Like he’s been breathing through a straw all day. “You need to go.

Yoongi’s got anxious hands. They keep running up and down his thighs. “You’re not fine. You’re burning up.” 

“I just need ta sleep it off.” Jimin adds another blanket, some kind of method to sweat out the fever, and if this flu doesn’t kill him, Jimin’s affection certainly might. “Go. Have fun. Dance naked under the moonlight.”

“That’s only a drunk Jimin in the summer thing. No way am I stripping in the dead-ass of December.”

A bark of laughter, and then Taehyung slips right into a coughing fit that leaves him wheezing. He pushes the top blankets off of him, much to Jimin’s complaints, and sits up to relieve some of the pressure on his chest. It doesn’t help.

His ribcage is splintering, and there’s this strange metallic taste on his tongue that he can’t mask no matter how many cups of tea Jimin shoves his way.

Yoongi hesitates in the doorway for a moment longer, then crosses the room in a few, broody strides to be at Taehyung’s side.  “I’ll be back just after midnight, okay?” He rests a hand on top of Taehyung’s head and untangles his bangs. 

Taehyung’s spine is made of sponge, and he falls back into his mound of pillows, boneless. “Stop hoverin’. ’s cute, but go. The others are waiting.”

“I—” Yoongi’s ears are red, and he leans down to peck Taehyung on his forehead. He steps over to press a kiss against Jimin’s cheek, who is watching the two of them with thinly veiled annoyance. “I love you both. Feel better, Tae.  Do what Jimin says. Call if you need anything.” 

“We’ll be here,” Jimin smiles with only his eyes, and Yoongi squeezes his arm before leaving. 

Taehyung waits until he can no longer hear boots thudding on the floor. “He’s a mess.”

“No more than you.” Jimin pushes the cup towards his mouth. “Now drink the damn tea.”

Taehyung does drink it, and he wakes up several hours later with his head cradled in Jimin’s lap as Jimin watches a movie on his computer. Taehyung watches along quietly for a few minutes, but it’s not a simple romance like usual, instead some kind of thriller, and Jimin’s too far in and the plot is convoluted and Taehyung doesn’t know what’s happening and his head is hammering.

“Tae?” Jimin’s cupping his face, checking his temperature. “Shit, you’re hot.”

“Can I have the sparkly potion now?”

“You’re not dying. And it won’t work on you unless it wants to.”

“I hate magic,” Taehyung mumbles into Jimin’s thigh. “’s so finicky.”

“Not like people are any different.”

Taehyung hums, but it comes out garbled.  Jimin shuts his laptop and places it on the bedside table. Silence for a few heartbeats, and then Jimin sighs. “What’s up?”

Taehyung taps a finger on the covers where Jimin’s knee rests underneath.  “How many solstices have you been to?”

“A handful. Not as much as the others. Why?”

“Why won’ you go this year?” Jimin’s quiet, and immediately Taehyung wants to pull the words back in, but instead he presses on. “You can… You can leave. I know you’re not just here ‘cause I’m sick. And you say that i’s hard and ’m sure that it is, but everyone keeps telling stories about you outside and they’re all happy stories and… What changed? Why is it so hard now?”

Taehyung looks up, hoping that he hasn’t overstepped. Jimin’s staring out the window, gaze distant and wistful.

“Once you feel something,” Jimin says, his voice full of emotion Taehyung can’t decipher and isn’t sure he wants to, “it’s really hard to unfeel it. Does that make sense?”

“Kinda.”

“Let me tell you a story.”

Jimin slowly traces a tendril of Taehyung’s hair near his temple with one finger. His voice is tender, the same tone he takes when he sings. “I grew up in this little town in Busan. Population was less than a thousand, and we were spread out over several miles. I trained there when my powers presented, and it was easy to manage the empathetic link there.”

Jimin glances sidelong at Taehyung and grins. “But then I felt called to the city, to Yoongi, and I had to adjust. It was hard, but Yoongi helped me a lot. Held my hand everywhere we went, no matter who was watching.”

Jimin’s eyes cloud over, his smile dims.

“Certain emotions are stronger than others,” he says. “Some just… sit with you longer. And if someone near me is feeling the same way I am, it’s overwhelming, sometimes even unbearable.” Jimin places his hands in his lap and takes a deep breath. “Something happened to us. Something awful. Yoongi was a wreck. I was in shambles. I couldn’t be around others without feeling every terrible emotion they were. So I locked myself away, to protect myself, but I look back now and I realize I might have just been making things worse.” 

Taehyung understands because he did the same thing. For years that’s how he lived because he didn’t think there was another option. 

“But things are different now. We’re different. Better.” Jimin’s head lags over towards him. Weeks of unsaid words rest between them. “Taehyung, there’s…” Jimin pinches his eyes closed. “There’s another story I need to tell you. That we need to tell you.”

Taehyung’s heart trips. “I want to hear it.”

“It could…” Jimin bites his lip. “It could change things.”

It could. And it probably will. But every change Taehyung has gone through since he’s been here has saved him in a way. 

 “Nothing will change the way I feel about you,” Taehyung says, loosely curling his fingers around Jimin’s wrist.

Jimin twists to loop their hands together. “Tomorrow? When Yoongi is back?

“Tomorrow,” Taehyung answers, his throat knotting up, feeling eerily calm despite the cracking behind his ribs. “I’ll be waiting.”

 

 

 

 

The bed shifts, and Taehyung  startles awake, reaching blindly for the movement. “Jiminie?”

A hand on his shoulder, pushing him back down. Yoongi’s voice fills the darkness. “It’s me. Go back to sleep, Tae.”

Taehyung struggles to swallow the cotton in his mouth. His legs and arms are cold and cramped, but his chest is on fire. “You said… you’d be back late?”

“Left early. Too cold. I missed you both. Scoot over.” Taehyung rolls onto his side and squelches a hiss of pain. Yoongi stills. “You okay?”

Taehyung’s not, he knows that. He’s shaky and his organs feel stretched and the burn, like when you skid your palms against the ground except that it’s everywhere inside him, this constant stinging, pin-prickling sensation. 

A tremor runs through Taehyung, all the way to his toes when Yoongi’s hands press into the bare skin of his back. Yoongi moans at the warmth and Taehyung welcomes the minor relief. 

Taehyung wants to ask him about the gathering, if he had fun, if the others got drunk and danced like Hoseok talked about. 

Taehyung wants to tell him about what Jimin said. Wants to tell Yoongi that he’s in love and  that he doesn’t blame himself anymore, that maybe he’s still sad but that’s okay because all the wonderful in his life outweighs the terrible. Wants to talk about the shooting star he saw tonight, but he didn’t make a wish because he has everything he needs. That the full moon outside—the luminous, luminous, luminous moon— is so beautiful that he cried a little, but that might have also been the delirium taking over. 

Instead he stays quiet as Yoongi holds him tightly, and thinks about how, for the first time in a very long time, Taehyung only wants tomorrow to come faster. 

 

 

 

When Taehyung opens his eyes, he knows that something’s wrong. 

The world is an eerie shade of red, and Taehyung rolls onto his side, groaning with the effort as he glances around to see that the greenhouse is covered with a fresh coat of snow. All the plants and trees are dead, dried and iced over, and Taehyung struggles to his feet and looks up and sees a blood moon hanging overhead. 

Snow falls lightly, coating his lashes, and Taehyung rubs at his eyes. Stills, when he hears crunching feet behind him.

“Taehyung.” 

Taehyung swivels, and just a few yards away, standing near the bowing roses, is a boy around Taehyung’s age, his eyes soft and scared and big enough to hold the sky. 

Taehyung moves towards him, feet sinking into the earth, but he doesn’t make it far before his legs fold beneath him and he’s left retching onto the grass. Taehyung’s ribs are splintering and it feels like his spine is being pulled from his body.

“Taehyung, no, no. Come on.” The boy, crouched beside him, tugging him to his feet. Taehyung looks into his face and sees nothing but compassion there. Familiarity. “Come on, Tae, walk with me.”

Taehyung walks. Trudges really, as the boy wraps an arm around his waist and practically carries him towards the greenhouse door.

“What’s going on?” Taehyung asks, but his heart is pounding so loud it’s hard to hear. 

“You’re out of time,” the boy says, and Taehyung stumbles to the ground and heaves. “Tae, come on, you need to wake up.”

Taehyung rolls onto his back and clutches at his heart. None of this is possible. None of this is real.

“Taehyung, please, you have to listen.” Just out of reach, the boy squats beside him. Taehyung notices that his hair is the same shade of ripe peaches. His eyes, big and brown and frightened. Taehyung feels the need to hold him.

He holds out a hand and the boy latches on, pulling him up again. 

“What’s happening?” Taehyung’s knees keep locking, but the boy is moving them forward, dragging him along. “What’s happening to me?”

Taehyung hears voices in the distance, and then he doesn’t. The boy is looking ahead towards the door, just a handful of yards away, but he’s smiling now. Something warm, something lovely. A freckle, hidden just beneath his bottom lip.

“Jungkook.”

Jungkook looks down at him, surprised, and the realization knocks Taehyung right to the ground. 

Jungkook sinks with him, keeping him upright, but Taehyung can only claw at his chest. Can only stare and think, this is the person who came before me, thinks, this is the other boy they loved, thinks, maybe I would have loved him as well.

Jungkook looks up and Taehyung follows his gaze. There’s barely any sky left, just the moon reaching far and wide. Snow falls lightly around them.

“Taehyung,” Jungkook says gently, gripping Taehyung’s chin, tilting his face to match his earnest gaze. “You need to wake up before it’s too late. ”

Taehyung shakes his head, knocking Jungkook’s hand away. The energy building in his chest starts to bubble in his throat, cutting off his breath. “But I have so many questions,” he gasps. “You can’t leave. Not now.”

There’s a mark against Jungkook’s head that wasn’t there before, and Taehyung flinches when he sees that it’s blood, a fresh wound. It drips down Jungkook’s neck into the collar of his sweater.

Jungkook touches his temple and his hand comes away wet. He stares at it for a long moment as the blood drips down his arm, speckling the snow; but then he wipes it against his jeans, reaches to pull Taehyung into his arms, and forces them both to their feet.

Taehyung’s limbs are shaky by the time they make it to the door, and Taehyung can hear it clearly from here, the voices shouting on the other side. 

Taehyung twists around and grips the front of Jungkook’s jacket, pulling him into a grasping, desperate hug. Jungkook stiffens, breath hitching, but then Taehyung sinks his hands into the back of Jungkook’s hair, tugging lightly, and Jungkook buries against his shoulder. 

Taehyung rocks them, back and forth, until the moon overhead has grown so large it might just crush them where they stand. 

“I never left,” Jungkook says, his tears warm and wet against the skin of Taehyung’s throat. He pulls back and Taehyung cups his cheeks, wiping away the tracks left there, just as Jimin and Yoongi would do for him. 

“You have to go,” Jungkook tells him, hands pressed over Taehyung’s, holding him close. “You have to wake up now. You have to remember.”

“What if I don’t?” Taehyung says. “What if I don’t remember?”

“You will.” Jungkook’s voice breaks. “I’ll make sure you remember them.”

And then he looks at Taehyung, really looks at him, and the air shivers between them when Jungkook rocks forward to press a dry kiss against his forehead. “Thanks for taking care of them.”

And then he’s gone. Jungkook is gone and the greenhouse has disappeared, all save for the door, standing lonely beside him. 

Taehyung reaches for the handle the same time something grips is ankle, and when Taehyung glances down, expecting to see a strand of the wisteria, he finds a hand instead, multiple hands reaching up from a pool of black sludge, tugging on his legs, pulling him into the sinking earth—

Taehyung screams as he pulls himself up, and he grasps at the door frame, digs his shoulder in so hard that the glass spiderwebs under his touch. Just as the ground gives way under his feet, Taehyung throws himself forward, catches the handle, and the door flings forward, the darkness on the other side pulling him.

Someone is screaming. Someone is screaming and Taehyung flails, shoving the hands off him, slapping and kicking until he hits the ground hard enough to knock the breath out of him. The screaming stops. Taehyung realizes it was him, him screaming.

He wheezes and scrambles to his feet even as the weight of his heart pins him to the floor, and Taehyung spots the desk and dives across the bed just as something gets a grip on his shoulder. Taehyung swings his arm until his elbow collides with whatever’s holding him back, and there’s a sickening crunch and warmth on his skin.

Jimin stands there, stunned, gripping his nose as blood pools through his fingers. 

“Taehyung!” Yoongi’s dragging a shell-shocked Jimin away, eyes furious and scared. “What the fuck—”

“Dreams, the dreams,” Taehyung says, grabbing a pen and scribbling away at the paper he leaves out every night but has never put to use. He writes down everything he can from the dream, from the last one and the first one and all the others in-between. Everything he can remember because he remembers and he knew they were important. He knew it. “The dreams…”

“Taehyung.”

Taehyung ignores them because he has to write this all down. The moons and the flowers and the darkness and the hands. 

Taehyung shudders at the memory, at the feeling of nails digging into his skin, but he keeps writing.

“Call Hoseok-hyung.”

“Jimin, you ne—”

Call him.” 

The trees. The snowfall. The voice.

“Taehyung-ah.”

 “What’s happening?” he whispers, and the hysteria is dying and leaving behind an uncomfortable stillness. His skin is prickling. The tips of his fingers are numb. “What am I supposed to do?” 

Help them. Please.

Taehyung’s head whips up and he looks around the room. Yoongi’s gone but Jimin’s watching him, still covered in blood, and Taehyung should be worried, he should be taking care of Jimin, but that voice

It’s the one from his dreams, the same one from the greenhouse, asking him if he hated Jimin and Yoongi.

It’s the same voice from the shop. The one that told him to stay.

Taehyung’s chest is burning, searing, flaring. So hot that if he touched his skin he’d surely burn.

“Taehyung? Taehyung, what’s wrong?”

Scorching. A wild thing. Something alive and angry beating against his ribs.

Taehyung reaches out blindly and Jimin grabs his hand, lets go immediately with a cry of pain that drags Yoongi back to the room in seconds. 

“What’s wrong, what’s going on?”

Remember.

Taehyung blows past both of them into the hall and heads for the end, to the room he’s never seen and the room that no one speaks of. 

“Taehyung!”

Taehyung throws the door open and finds a bedroom. A lived in one. Not a guest room. Not as busy as Jimin’s, but not as bare as Yoongi’s. There are books and papers splayed on the desk by the window. An open computer with a black screen. The bed is unmade, its sheets tossed aside like whoever slept here couldn’t be bothered to fix them. Clothes on the floor. The air is thick and stale. Untouched.

Dead plants. Dead plants everywhere. 

“This is his room,” Taehyung chokes, and before he can step inside, a hand yanks him back and Taehyung collides with the floor. 

Yoongi’s standing over him, furious. “You don’t get to go in there,” he hisses, voice low and eyes blazing, fangs bared. “Don’t you dare go in there.”

“That’s Jungkook’s room.”

Yoongi’s face pales at the name. His arms drop, his eyes go flat.  The life has left him. “Who—Who told you that? Who told you about him?”

“I met him.” Yoongi’s knees buckle and he catches himself on the wall. “I met him. Just now. He’s been here this whole time, Yoongi.”

“No. That’s not true. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Taehyung claws at the floorboards as the fire roils inside him, acidic and spreading, spreading. “His hair. His hair is the color of ripe peaches and when he talks it sounds like he’s singing and there’s this mole, this mole at the edge of his bottom lip—”

Yoongi barrels into him and Jimin’s yelling and Taehyung tastes blood in his mouth. His head is aching, but his chest hurts worse. Not a stroke, a heart attack, someone reaching into his chest and squeezing until there’s nothing left

There are hands everywhere, voices too, and someone pries Yoongi off of him and Taehyung scrambles away into the corner of the hall and curls in as small as possible and Yoongi hit him. Yoongi hit him. 

“What the fuck is going on?!” 

That’s Namjoon’s voice. Namjoon is here, probably Hoseok and Seokjin too, but Taehyung is too stunned to check. 

“Yoongi, what the hell, man?”

“Taehyung. Taehyung-ah.”

“What are you guys doing here?”

“Namjoon sensed something was gonna happen tonight.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“Taehyung-ah, look at me. Please.”

“Dreams. He kept saying something about dreams.”

“Dreams?”

“He mentioned Jungkook. Hyung, he knows what Jungkook looks like.”

“Taehyung,” someone tries again, and Taehyung flinches away from the hand on his leg with a whimper. “Sorry. I won’t touch you. Taehyung-ah, can you hear me?”

“Jungkook’s been talking to me in my dreams,” Taehyung bursts, and he digs his nails into his arm until he feels the prick but nothing compares to the pain in his chest. 

Namjoon is crouched in front of him, eyes wide with surprise. “That’s his name, right?” Taehyung gasps, all of his words bubbling up at once. “The boy who was here before me. He was a witch, too. He sang to the plants. His voice, I heard it when I came back that day. He’s the one who told me stay. And I’ve been having these dreams and he’s been in them. And the moons and these little white flowers and the trees keep changing and I can’t talk and—”

“Taehyung, calm down. Breathe.”

“He said it’s too late,” Taehyung cries, digging his hands into his hair. “And I don’t know what’s going on but you said that dreams can predict the future and—AIHH!”

Taehyung doubles over, the pain in his chest too much to handle sitting up, and he digs his nails into the floor and screams. 

“Tae! Tae, what’s wrong?”

“Holy, shit—”

“—burning—”

“—feel that?”

“Taehyung!”

There are hands on him, hoisting him up, and Taehyung shrieks and cries and doesn’t remember much after that; just a crooning voice singing against his ear, ice water, fingers pressed over his burning heart, his splitting soul.

 Taehyung knows he’s dying, that this is the end; but as he floats there in the silence, his only wishes that he could have gotten the wisteria to have liked him.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Taehyung wakes to wind whistling through the windowpane. 

His eyes are gummy, but every time he pries them open, they sag close on their own again. So he lies there in the eerie blue light of morning for a few more minutes, this dull ache in his chest, feeling smeary at the corners of his mind, breathing in the heavy scent of sage and citrus as someone behind him shifts.

With more effort than it’s worth, Taehyung rolls onto his back, then his side, and he blinks through bleary eyes at the body in front of him, tucked in close, just a bit of blond poking out from above the quilt. 

Taehyung stares for a little while more, but the fuzz never quite clears from his head. So he wriggles out from under the arm on his waist, holding back a groan of pain, and finds that he can sit-up as long as he doesn’t breath too deep. 

The floor is warm under his feet, and Taehyung tap, tap, taps his toes. Shoes. He should probably be more worried about where his shoes are. 

Taehyung stands, using the footboard of the bed to haul himself across the shadowed room, then reaches blindly for a wall. He shuffles forward, hunched to relieve the pressure on his ribs, but by the time he makes it down the narrow hall and to the stairs, Taehyung’s finding it easier to move. He eases himself down slowly, step by step, pausing when he touches a particularly creaky one. No one else in the house stirs, though, and Taehyung wonders if the rest of the place is empty. It’s kind of a large space for only one person.

There’s a dining area at the foot of the stairs, and Taehyung rubs at his eyes as he crosses the kitchen. He pulls down a mug from a glass cupboard and is halfway through sipping a glass of water when his eyes catch on a corner of the room where a massive stone hearth has been built into the wall. Resting in the center are two large, black cauldrons. 

Taehyung stares. Finishes his drink. 

He’s seen stranger in the past few weeks. 

Taehyung washes and dries the mug and returns it to its shelf. There’s a thin doorway off to the side, tucked around the dining table and almost invisible from the staircase. Taehyung shuffles towards it and finds a cramped living room with a couple sofas. There are bodies on them, snoring and shifting, and Taehyung backpedals immediately.

Upstairs the sun is rising through the round window at the end of the hall, and Taehyung can see now that the walls are covered in patterns of blue and gold sunflowers. Taehyung traces a petal with his finger, smiling softly at the way it gleams under his touch. The floors squeak under foot and Taehyung likes that, means the place is old and lived in.  The doors don’t, though, which is also good because it means that someone is taking care of them.

Taehyung pauses under the door frame to the bedroom from before. There’s someone sitting on the edge of the bed, their slight frame silhouetted by the bruised sky in the window. At the sound of Taehyung’s sharp inhale, the person turns, searching. 

Their eyes meet, and Taehyung bites his lip, debating the next move. The morning after is always a toss-up, and Taehyung doesn’t want to overstay his welcome.

The boy from the bed makes that decision for him, though, already thudding across the room to throw himself into Taehyung’s chest. Taehyung staggers back and collides with the hall wall, the breath gusting out of him, and he slides to the ground, the boy now crawling into his lap to bury his face against Taehyung’s shoulder.

His tears soak through the collar of Taehyung’s shirt in seconds, and Taehyung, feeling crooked inside, isn’t sure where to rest his hands so he keeps them hovering over the boy’s trembling shoulders.

“Tae,” the boy chokes, pulling back to cradle Taehyung’s face in his small hands. “Taehyung-ah, oh my god, Tae.”

Blue. A blue eye. A wonderful shade of blue, like the kind you see from a perfect summer sky. The kind that makes you ecstatic just to have eyes. 

Taehyung wants to bury into this wisping voice, these beautiful eyes, the heavy scent of orange blossoms and herbs—the same scent that clings to the bedsheets, the same scent that clings to Taehyung’s clothes.

But Taehyung’s too tired for this. This beautiful boy whose little sobs have morphed into spectacular laughter. Who is pressing fierce kisses across his cheeks and temples. 

“I don’t—” Taehyung shakes his head, feeling muddled and small on top of the topsy-turvy, and the boy in his arms moves out of his breathing space but still stays there in his lap, completely at home. Taehyung looks at him, the dull throbbing in his chest spreading, so bewildered by what’s happening.

“Tae? Baby, talk to me.”

“I don’t—” Taehyung repeats, grasping at his chest, and he doesn’t understand. He doesn't understand why there’s a gorgeous boy looking at him like this, making Taehyung feel so seen, holding him like he’s something precious.

“Tae?”

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung gasps, his throat tender, and he presses a hand to a tense spot over his brow.  He feels like his bones are trying to crawl out from his body. “I’m really sorry but I don’t—Whatever happened last night, I don’t remember, I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay, Tae. That’s okay.” Taehyung shirks away from the hand reaching for his neck and the boy, the beautiful blue-eyed boy whose bed he slept in last night, looks as if Taehyung just slapped him. 

“Tae—Taehyung.” Taehyung needs to stop doing this. It doesn’t matter how lonely he is, he needs to stop doing this to people. “Taehyung, you… You know who I am, right?”

Taehyung squeezes his eyes shut, one hand over his heart, and shakes his head

The boy lets out a small, sobbing noise. “No, no, no. You don’t remember last night. That’s fine. That’s fine, sweetheart, but what about the day before? And the day before that and the week before that? What do you remember, Taehyung, what’s the last thing you remember?”

Hands squared on his shoulders, pinning him in place, and Taehyung tips his head back against the wall and says, “Lost my job. Got kicked out of my apartment. Wandered around in a storm. I don’t—” The road, the car. A hand pulling him back. “That’s it. That’s the last thing I remember.”

“Yoongi!” The boy cries out, desperation in his voice, looking so unbearably frightened that Taehyung feels the urge to hold him. “Yoongi!

Not a heartbeat passes before a door down the hall is thrown open and a man is tumbling out, his face alight with fear. “Jiminie?” His deep voice rasps, and he pauses, stricken by the sight of Taehyung on the floor. “Taehyung-ah?”

 Taehyung doesn’t know what’s happening. He doesn’t know where he is or who these people are and why they keep calling out to him like they’re friends, like they’re family. 

“Taehyung-ah,” the man drawls, his eyes and hair so dark against his pale skin. He’s so pretty, so handsome. “Tae,” he repeats, storming forward, and Taehyung thinks he’s about to get hit but instead the man drops to his knees, wraps one arm around his waist and the other around his neck, and falls into Taehyung’s chest, weeping.  

I'm so sorry,” the man cries, nails digging into Taehyung’s shoulders, mouth pressed to his neck. “Tae, I’m sorry.”

“I don’t—” Taehyung chokes, and his skin is itching and he forces a breath through pinched lungs. “I don’t—I’m sorry, but please get off me. I don’t know you. I’m, I’m sorry.” 

The man draws back quick, holding him at arm’s length, tears dribbling quietly down his cheeks to his throat, into the collar of his sweatshirt. He’s looking at Taehyung with so much sadness that Taehyung has to look away to escape it.

“I’m sorry,” Tehyung whispers again, voice catching, and he fists his hands in the hem of his shirt, smooth as silk and definitely not his own. That’s what finally sets him off. That he isn’t in his own clothes. That he can’t find his shoes or his backpack. His backpack, which contains all he has left of home.

Taehyung doesn’t realize he’s curled in on himself until there are new voices and faces squeezing into the narrow hall, swamping him with sound, and Taehyung heaves in a breath that doesn’t want to make it to his lungs.

“It’s an aftershock,” someone says, as hands try to haul him to his feet.

“Like an earthquake?”

“Yeah. His body is still trying to handle the change. Taehyung. Taehyung, look at me.” Taehyung lifts his head and finds a man pressed in close. His hair is the color of a bruised sunset. “Tae, you’re okay, but you need to calm down. Take big breaths.”

“Wanna go home,” Taehyung chokes out, prying off the hands on his waist, his shoulder. “Wanna leave, let me go.”

“Taehyung, you can’t leave.”

“Why not?” Taehyung gasps, reaching blindly to catch himself on the banister. “You can’t keep me here, I’m lea— Oh god, my head.”

A hand on his arm, around his waist again, and the dark haired man from before, the one who looked at him like he was seeing a ghost, keeps him on his feet. 

“Come on, Taehyungie,” he says gently, pulling Taehyung in close, gathering Taehyung in his arms so they can walk back down the hall to the open bedroom door. Taehyung wants to fight him off, but he’s too tired for anything and his arms are going cold. 

“Jimin,” someone barks. “Jimin! Go grab something. Something strong.”

Taehyung’s guided back into bed. He weakly shoos people away, but his legs are too heavy to lift on his own and he falls back, all dead weight, as hands grip under his calves and gently lift them onto the mattress. 

Taehyung’s breaths are shuddering out of him. He feels like the air is trying to blanket him, push him down until the bed swallows him whole.

“Taehyung, drink this.”

Taehyung leans into the pillows, away from the teacup pressed against his mouth that smells faintly of wet earth and cherries. 

“We’re not trying to drug you,” the man chuckles, eyes warm. “It’s medicine. Trust me.” 

Taehyung wants to go home—but he doesn’t have a home to go back to, he doesn’t have anyone who would miss him if he was gone, and all Taehyung wants is for this unbearable ache in his chest to go away so he opens his mouth and swallows. 

Taehyung sputters. “Tastes... like dirt,” he grimaces, but takes another sip anyway. 

“I made it extra disgusting,” the blond from before answers softly from a corner of the room. “Just for you.”

Taehyung finishes off the drink without gagging and a filmy fog slips over him, like his mind is now floating a few feet above his body. “I want to go home,” he mumbles, and there’s a hand smoothing his bangs back and someone is humming a soft, trickling melody. Limb by limb he goes numb, head calming, chest opening. “Wanna… go home.”

You are home,” someone whispers near his ear, and Taehyung gives in when his eyes finally shutter closed. 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung wakes again in the strange bed of the strange room of the strange house he’s trapped in. He lets himself cry for a while, pitiful and sprawled out under the weight of a quilt, and when his breaths slow to the occasional hiccup, he falls asleep again. 

He starts when there’s a rap against the door, and Taehyung rubs away the gunk from his eyes and pushes away the covers just as the door opens enough for a bright head of red hair to peek through.

“Hey there, kiddo,” the man grins. “Remember me?”

Taehyung shakes his head and the man’s face loses some of its spark. He steps into the room with measured steps, approaching as if Taehyung is some kind of skittish animal. “I’m Hoseok. Jung Hoseok-hyung.” Taehyung doesn’t say anything, just curls his knees up to his chest. “I came to talk to you, if that’s okay.”

Taehyung shrugs this time and the man, Hoseok, walks over to the desk and pulls out the chair. He flips it around and sits down so he can lean into the wood backing. In his hands is a crumpled sheet of paper. 

“I bet you have a lot of questions.” Taehyung purposely looks away and Hoseok plows on, undeterred. “First, you’re at a shop.”

Hoseok waits. Taehyung waits. An uncomfortably long silence settles over them but Hoseok just keeps giving him this sad, gentle look.

“Am I supposed to know what that means?” Taehyung finally asks, and Hoseok’s grin spreads into a  heart. 

“I guess not.” Hoseok clears his throat, folding and unfolding his paper into a square. “It’s a magical shop.”

“Like for magicians?”

“Like for witches.”

Taehyung sits up straight to lean against the headboard. “Thanks for letting me stay the night and for the medicine, but this isn’t funny. Can we stop this?”

Hoseok’s mouth pinches into a thin line, but his eyes are still soft as he says, “This isn’t a joke, Taehyung.”

The sky outside is a deep, rolling grey. Taehyung looks around the room, at the splay of books and artwork and color, everything shaded gold from the lamps on the bedside table and desk that someone flipped on while he was out.

“Hoseok-ssi,” Taehyung says calmly, folding his hands in his lap. “Magic isn’t real.”

Hoseok’s eyes, glowing with secrets, look right through him. “But it is.”

They stay there together, watching the other, and Taehyung tries to find some hint of dishonesty in Hoseok’s face but he just can’t. His gaze is bright and open and when he smiles, it isn’t mocking. 

Taehyung runs his fingers along his brow, massaging right above his eyebrow where it’s started to ache. There’s a ring of sweat around his collar and Taehyung tugs at it, feeling as if something is rustling under his skin.

“Taehyung?”

“I feel weird,” Taehyung grunts, and he doesn’t know this man, they only just met, but he’s scared and his ribs feel like they’re cracking and he’s so tired

There’s thudding feet on the steps, in the hall, and a moment later the blond from before is skidding into the doorframe. He grips the wood for support, eyes frantic as they rake down Taehyung’s body, searching.

“Tae?”

“It hurts.” Taehyung’s voice breaks and he digs his hands into the sheets. Hoseok moves to stand, but the blond beats him to it, padding forward to grab a glass off the nightstand. He presses it against Taehyung’s mouth and Taehyung drinks even though he doesn’t know what it is. 

He chokes, scrapes his teeth against his tongue to get the bitterness off. “That’s disgusting.”

“You say that every time. Come on, darling, drink it all. It’ll make you feel better.” 

Taehyung ignores the “darling”, ignores that he’s apparently been in this position before, ignores the hand threading into the hair at the base of his neck as the guy tips the glass for Taehyung to drink from again. It tastes like burnt tree bark, but the searing feeling in his chest is quieting so Taehyung manages one last gulp before he pulls away, gasping.

He wipes his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. When he twists back around, the boy is sitting on the edge of the mattress, expectant. Like he’s waiting for something.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Taehyung asks.

The blond startles. He opens his mouth, then closes it again, and instead of speaking, reaches to push Taehyung’s damp fringe from his forehead. 

“Jimin.”

The blond, Jimin, glances over to where Hoseok has been watching them. Hoseok is frowning, and Jimin draws his hand back. Cradles it to his chest, like he’s trying to hold on to something there.

Taehyung doesn’t like being touched by strangers, so why doesn’t he mind this? Mind them? 

“What’s going on for real?” He asks. “Who are you guys?”

Jimin squeezes his eyes shut and doesn’t answer. 

“This is Park Jimin,” Hoseok finally speaks up when it’s clear that Jimin won’t. Can’t. “He’s owns this shop.” 

“The magical shop?” Hoseok nods and Taehyung nods back. He’s foggy now, after drinking the tea, and he’s too exhausted to keep arguing. “Did you guys drug me or something?”

A tense look shared between them, and Jimin bites his lip and Hoseok sighs in this big, exhausted way and says, “Your body is still adjusting to the magic.”

Taehyung tries to process those words. “What?”

“The warm, buzzing sensation you feel is magic,” Hoseok elaborates, tapping his fingers along the bare skin of his arms. Taehyung follows the movement. “Your body is trying to adapt to it. It happens to everyone.” 

Jimin shifts at his side. He’s fidgeting with one his rings, the gold one. The rest are all silver. “I’ve been giving you a potion to help ease the transition,” he says gently. “The aftershocks should wear off in the next day or so.” 

“That’s not what—This isn’t happening.” Taehyung laughs, this stilted, ugly sound. “What do you mean magic?”

“I told you,” Hoseok answers. “This is a magical shop.”

“Yes, but…” Taehyung looks from him to Jimin, but for some reason looking at Jimin just makes him sad, so Taehyung settles his gaze on the grey sky outside. “Okay, let’s say I believe you. But what does that have to do with me? Is the shop like eating me or something?” 

“Of course not. It’s not the shop’s magic you’re feeling. It’s…” Jimin cuts himself short and Hoseok finishes for him.

“It’s your own.”

“I still…” Jimin won’t look at him. Hoseok won’t look away. “I’m still confused. I don’t understand.”

“You’re a witch, Taehyung.” Hoseok’s smile spreads, filling his whole face, like this is the best news he’s gotten to share with anyone in his life. “Just like us.”

Taehyung blinks, sucks in a quick breath, and says, “Bullshit. I’m not that high.”

Jimin’s twisting his ring so roughly Taehyung can see the skin redden under his knuckle. “You’re not high at all. We told you, what you’re feeling is your magic trying to regulate itself.” 

“I can’t…” They both seem like sane people. This doesn’t feel like a fever dream. His gut isn’t telling him to make a break for it. “Start over. Who are you people? And where exactly am I?”

“You’re in Seoul, specifically Namdaemun,” Hoseok answers, taking over once more. “My name is Jung Hoseok, and I’m a dream witch. This is Park Jimin, the owner of this shop, and also a kitchen witch.”

“Okay,” Taehyung nods, sitting up higher in the bed. “Okay, this all sounds really fake, but okay.”

Hoseok grins, but his voice remains cautious. “Taehyung, this is real. This is a magical shop and I am a dream witch. Jimin is a kitchen witch. And you,” his finger moves to Taehyung, “are a green witch.” 

Taehyung can’t stop the hysterical laughter from bubbling up in his throat. “Yeah. Sure.”

“Tae.” Jimin is watching him earnestly, arms tightly wound across his chest, cradling himself. “Tae, this isn’t a joke. We would never lie to you.”

Taehyung’s smile dims. “But it has to be a joke. Magic isn’t real.”

“But it is.” Jimin is crestfallen and he moves forward, so close his thighs press against the mattress. His breathing is shaky. “You’ve… You don’t remember, but you came to this shop almost five months ago. You healed our gardens and we… You’re our... Tae, I would never lie to you.”

Five months? Five months is a lifetime. Five months means that…

Taehyung stumbles out of bed and his feet tangle in the sheets, making him crash into the floor with an aching thud. The others cries out, startled, and Taehyung’s elbow is pulsing as he pushes himself up towards the window and inhales sharply at the sight of the barren winter landscape of the garden courtyard he couldn’t see from the bed. 

His breath fogs up the glass as he speaks. “Okay. Okay. Five months. Got it.” Taehyung drags a finger across the condensation. The glass is freezing under his touch. “But I’m not a witch. I don’t have any powers or anything.”

“Green witches have a personal relationship with nature no other witch has,” Jimin answers from close behind. “You were always good with them. Could listen to them. Now you’ll be able to talk to them the way you always wanted. Help them grow and heal faster.”

“I can talk to plants?”

“Pretty much. You’d have to test it out.”

Taehyung nods, still staring at the fresh layer of powdery snow, the naked limbs of a large maple tree. “Weird, but okay. Okay.”

“You also have a witch’s Mark,” Hoseok adds cautiously, sensing that they’re losing him.  “All witches have a physical mark of magic on their body. Mine is my hair. Jimin’s is his eye.”

A nudge against his shoulder, and Jimin holds up a hand mirror when Taehyung turns. 

Taehyung, who was already dangerously close to becoming unhinged, promptly shoves it away.

“No,” he says, shaking his head, feeling so angry he might just start crying again. “No. This has gone too far.”

“Taehyung—”

“That’s not me.” Jimin crouches beside him. “That’s not…What did you do to me?”

“Nothing.” Jimin’s face, so beautiful and kind and warm. Taehyung can trust him but he shouldn’t. He shouldn’t, no one’s ever given him a reason to, so why now? Why with him? Why is this happening to him? “We haven’t done anything to you, Taehyung.” 

“But my eyes—My eyes are weird. Did you put contacts on me?” Taehyung rubs and rubs and rubs and nothing dislodges and he takes the mirror from Jimin, ignores the small noise of surprise Jimin makes when their fingers brush together, and Taehyung looks again and it can’t be. This can’t be real because his hair and eyes are an impossible shade of gold.  

Hoseok clears his throat, and Taehyung reaches up to tug on his fringe, finds that it’s firmly attached to his head. Real hair. Real hair, real eyes.  This is him, this can’t be him. “We didn’t do anything, Taehyung-ah. It’s your magic. It’s your Mark.” 

“I can’t—This isn’t funny,” Taehyung shakes his head, his insides sinking. His reflection blinks back, moving in time with him. There’s a shadow of a bruise along his jaw that Taehyung’s not sure how he got and he presses the pads of his fingertips to it. “I’m not a witch and you’re not witches and there’s no such thing as magic.” 

“Tae.” Jimin’s crouched at his side, a hand on his thigh, his thumb rubbing soothing circles into the fabric over Taehyung’s knee like he’s done it a thousand times before. “Taehyung-ah, you know this is real.”

The horrible thing is that he does. Taehyung knows they’re not lying and that’s him in the mirror and that summer has long passed and he can’t remember the past five months of his life. It’s like he’s woken up to someone else’s life. Like everything has shifted one degree and he can’t get his eyes to adjust.

Taehyung places a hand over his sternum where the weight used to rest, where the hand used to squeeze, and he rubs and rubs and waits but beside the prickling under his skin and the occasional ache of his ribs, Taehyung’s chest is still.

Taehyung holds on to Jimin’s hand, finds himself threading their fingers together. He watches as something in Jimin’s face warms with an unmistakable ache of longing and Taehyung knows. Taehyung knows that this isn’t the first night he’s spent in Jimin’s bed. 

“Tae?”

Jimin’s watching him, eyes hopeful and sweet and tentative, and Taehyung wants to tell Jimin that he feels like home.

Instead he recoils, yanking his hand out of Jimin’s weak grasp, and Taehyung’s frustrated and bewildered and Jimin must see the panic 

building in his eyes because he tries to talk him back down, tries to reach for his hand again; but Taehyung’s already on his feet, his stomach in knots as he stumbles for the door. He trips twice on the stairs and catches himself on the railing before he slams into the table where three men are standing.

They’re all watching him like he’s gonna snap and god, Taehyung’s had enough of that look for the rest of his life. 

One of them, the beautiful one with dark hair and soft eyes that makes his chest feel full, shifts towards him, an arm lifting as if to hold him. “Taehyung-ah?” 

One look at Taehyung’s face and he stops, dismayed, his expression falling. 

The two other men are watching them sadly, but what’s worse is Jimin. Jimin, standing just a few steps behind him, gripping the banister like it’s the only thing holding him up, quiet tears streaking his cheeks.

Taehyung feels his vision tunneling inwards, and he doesn’t want to see their disappoint anymore so he runs. He doesn’t know what else to do but flee, and his body must know something he doesn’t because he’s racing past everyone through what looks like a store, a strange store filled with crystals and vials and plants, out into the courtyard that’s surrounded by high brick walls. 

Someone calls his name and Taehyung looks over his shoulder, sees the doorway empty, but the greetings and exclamations only continue to build, chorusing together until Taehyung feels as if his head might just split open.

He crumbles to the ground, on the verge of screaming, when a shudder ripples through the garden and all the voices go still. 

A deep groan, and then an older voice, rough and warm, says, Calm down. You’re startling him.

Taehyung breathes. Lifts his head towards the sound and finds the maple waiting in the corner.

The voices. The voices are coming from the plants. The plants are speaking to him. 

“They weren’t lying,” Taehyung whispers as he rocks back to sit in the snow, only mildly aware that he’s barefoot in pajamas in the dead of winter. “It’s all magic.”

“Kim Taehyung?” 

Taehyung looks out over to a thin cobblestone path. There’s a woman hovering near the wall,  one hand pressed against a blue iron gate, watching him curiously.

Taehyung bobbles his head and the woman steps forward, a smile blossoming across her face. “I’ve been looking for you. My name is Lee Sunmi. I’m the Head Witch over Seoul.”

“You’re…” Taehyung digs a hand into a small patch of dead grass growing beside his thigh. “Head Witch. You’re the Head Witch.”

Sunmi nods, unbothered by his appearance, then stoops down to join him on the ground. Her eyes are purple. Pale as lavender. 

“This is Yoongi and Jimin’s place,” she says as if making conversation, peering around the garden in fond bemusement. “I assume you’ve met them already? Are you friends?”

“I don’t—I don’t remember,” Taehyung says, because even though Jimin says they are, even though Taehyung knows how to read a face, he’s still stumbling. “I don’t remember anything.”

Sunmi’s face shifts, her eyes harden, and Taehyung stiffens, suddenly intimidated. “What do you mean?”

“Jimin says I’ve been here for months,” Taehyung says, the words tumbling out of him. “But I don’t remember anything. I don’t remember them. But Hoseok-hyung says this is a magical store and that I’m a witch but I can’t be a witch, noona. That doesn’t—I can’t be. I just can’t. I’m not—”

I’m not special enough for that, he wants to say, but he bites the soft spot of his cheek instead because out of all this absurdity, that’s what Taehyung finds the most impossible. Because maybe he does believe in witches. Maybe he does believe in talking plants and potions and magical dreams. But those are amazing, incredible things and Taehyung’s never been anything close to that and why him? Why now?

 “Hoseok? Jung Hoseok is here?” Sunmi is looking past him towards the front door of the shop, eyebrows knit together, and when she stands she holds out a gloved hand for him to take. “Come inside, Taehyung-ah. I think there are some secrets I’ve been left out of.” 

 

~~~

 

The potion Taehyung took earlier is wearing off and his head is pounding, a distant thumping behind his eyes that keeps in time with his heartbeat. There’s the pulse of something alive in the air, and Taehyung doesn’t want to call it magic but he knows that’s what it is. It swirls around them, agitated, settling around Sunmi’s small frame where she stands in the center of the kitchen. 

“What the hell were you two thinking.”

Jimin is curled around Yoongi, the dark-haired man from before, and they keep their heads bowed as Sunmi paces the room, face pinched as she tries to piece together their story. It was a long one, a recounting of the past several months since Taehyung first appeared at their door.

Taehyung sat down on the steps half-way through, too overwhelmed to do anything but listen. Hoseok and the purple-haired man, Namjoon, hover close by, like they expect him to run off again. Which he might. He hasn’t decided yet. Seokjin, the pretty one with kind, pink eyes, remains at the kitchen table, taking in the scene quietly.

 “We have rules for a reason,” Sunmi finally settles on, exhaling sharply, a hand caught in her long hair. “Why didn’t you contact me when you found out he couldn’t leave? That’s something you report, Jimin, Yoongi.” 

Taehyung understood most of it. Could accept most of it. That the shop sensed his sadness and brought him here to help him, just as it’s done for thousands of others. He picked out a healing crystal, a yellow one that’s currently resting in his front pocket, warm against his skin. And then he left. Just like they all do.

Except he came back. He was the first one who ever came back. 

“But we thought…” Jimin can’t bring himself to lift his head. “We had it under control. We didn’t… It’s just he…”

Taehyung came back, and then he couldn’t leave. And Jimin and Yoongi tried to find a way to help him, to return him back to the real world. They really did. Jimin went through every spell and potion he had. Yoongi helped his family move on. No wonder Taehyung feels so airy. Carrying six people around is pretty heavy work. 

Sunmi makes a low noise in the back of her throat, caught between concern and anger. “People could have died, Jimin. If his magic had fully Expended, it would have taken out everything within a few miles. Thousands gone, including yourselves.”

But Taehyung stayed. Taehyung fixed the gardens. Taehyung fell in love.

“But we handled it,” Yoongi says, his voice thick.

“Namjoon handled it,” Sunmi bites back. “If he hadn’t been here, we wouldn’t be talking right now. You owe him your lives.” 

But the most unbelievable part is that Yoongi and Jimin, they fell in love with him, too. 

There’s a splintering noise that draws Taehyung back to his body, and he looks over to find Jimin’s fist has collided with one of the lower cabinets and left a mangled dent. He’s breathing hard, and the lights overhead flicker with every fall of his chest.

“We get it, okay.” Yoongi squeezes his side, moving in close, but the bulbs only buzz louder. “We get it, we messed up and we get that but we couldn’t—” Jimin sucks in a breath. “We couldn’t let him go, noona. He’s supposed to be here.”

Taehyung rubs at his heart where a weight is settling. 

“It finally makes sense,” Jimin continues, voice breaking. “It wasn’t us keeping us here, it was… It was Jungkook.” All eyes in the room find him, and he looks down at the ground as if to hide from their weight. “All this time it was Jungkook.”

Taehyung glances around and wonders if they’re missing someone; if there’s another witch in the shop who isn’t here with them now.

“Jimin-ah,” Sunmi murmurs, and her face is all compassion now and Taehyung sees it, sees the way Jimin bites his cheek to keep from crying, how Yoongi’s hand has drifted down so their fingers are laced together and he gets it now. “Jimin, Jungkook’s been gone for over a year.”

“But he’s just as much of the shop as we are,” Jimin hiccups, not bothering to wipe his cheeks. “His energy is still here. Yoongi’s spell brought Taehyung here, but it was Jungkook’s magic that carried him back and made him stay. Kookie… He must have sensed Taehyung’s dormant magic. That’s why Taehyung couldn’t leave. That’s why he’s been having these premonitions. The shop knew— Jungkook knew he was a witch and was trying to tell him, trying to tell us before his magic Expended.” 

Taehyung holds his breath as the energy in the room falls around Jimin and Yoongi, circling around them, a living thing. Can no one else feel it?

“Jimin,” Sunmi sighs, and Jimin shakes his head.

“You know I’m right, noona. Hoseok looked into his dreams and the signs are all there. Jungkook has been trying to warn him for months. It just… It all makes sense now.”

It all makes sense now, Taehyung mouths to himself, and he watches as the energy from before, just a feeling at first, slowly starts to shimmer on the air. 

“Jimin, I believe you,” Sunmi says, her voice careful. “I really do. But if that’s why he was here, then it doesn’t matter anymore. Taehyung is a newly presented witch. You know what comes next.”

“But he—”

“He needs answers. Needs training.”

Taehyung feels eyes on him, and he looks up from the worn floorboards to find Jimin and Yoongi both watching him with such heartbreak he wants to bolt from the room, through the shop and out the gate and away from everything that’s happening here. 

Namjoon moves towards him, like he’s reading Taehyung’s mind. 

“We can train him,” Yoongi says, and Jimin nods along. 

“That’s not how it works and you know it, Yoongi.”  

It was Seokjin who spoke. Seokjin, who’s been watching with quiet thoughtfulness through the whole conversation. Seokjin, who looks like he’d rather do anything but say what he’s going to say. “Taehyung needs a green witch and a stable environment, and you both…” He looks at Yoongi and Jimin intentionally, like the two of them together now are answer enough. He closes his eyes, softens his voice. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for Taehyung-ah to be here any longer.”

“But he can’t leave,” Jimin says, face twisted, on the verge of tears again. “The gate. The gate isn’t there for him.”

“Taehyung, did you see the gate outside?”

Eyes on him again, and Taehyung looks away from the swirling cloud of light hovering beside Jimin and takes a second to find his voice. “Yeah.” Jimin looks stricken. Taehyung wishes he would have kept silent. “Yeah, the one behind the maple. Big and blue.”

Jimin and Yoongi visibly and instantly deflate. 

Sunmi sighs, and just like Seokjin, Taehyung knows she wishes they weren’t having this talk. “Jimin, Yoongi. I’m sorry, but Taehyung can’t stay here. You know that. You knew that from the beginning.” Jimin shakes his head, and Yoongi’s hand that isn’t holding Jimin keeps clenching at his side. “He doesn’t remember you all. He needs an impartial, unbiased environment. You’re just going to keep confusing him.”

“We won’t,” Yoongi says, the same time Jimin makes a noise of disagreement. “We’ll start over. Pretend nothing happened.”

The cloud from before, the beautiful, swirling rays of light starts to settle into something more solid, something less magical and more…

“Is that fair to any of you, though?”

Something  a little more human. 

“Let him go.” Namjoon this time, with Hoseok at his side, a hand on his shoulder. Seokjin moves to join them and Taehyung watches them for a long moment, the three of them together, and comes to another realization for the day. “At this rate, you’re just going to end up hurting yourselves.” 

Yoongi scowls, fully revealing his teeth, and Taehyung notices that he has what appears to be fangs. “That’s none of your—”

“You weren’t there.”

Jimin’s still, so still. He has an arm wrapped around his stomach, like he’s trying to hold something back, like he’s bracing himself for something terrible. 

“You weren’t there,” he repeats, and the others stiffen at his words and the room is pulsing and Taehyung’s breaths come in short. He feels like he’s crashing head-on into a wall again and again and again, and he slides down low against the steps. “You act like you know what we’re going through but you don’t. Jungkook wasn’t yours, he was ours.”

Taehyung clutches his hands to his chest, skin pricking at the sight of a boy standing beside Jimin, his face so kind and sad and full of love that Taehyung doesn’t know if he can stand much more of this. How have any of them lived here with so much sorrow weighing them down?

 “He was ours and we didn’t—I should have been with him,” Jimin chokes, his small frame trembling, and Yoongi tucks his chin to his chest. “We should have been there for him and we weren’t and now he’s gone. He’s gone and now we’re losing Tae, too, and just—I can’t keep doing this. I can’t lose anyone else.” 

What comes next is grief, waves of it rushing through the kitchen, and suddenly Jimin’s sobbing and Yoongi’s trembling and Seokjin’s on his feet, folding them both up in his arms, handing Yoongi off to Namjoon for him to hold. 

“Jimin. Jiminie, calm down,” Seokjin coos, patting down his face and hair, rubbing a hand along his spine. “Taehyung isn’t dying. He’s just going away for a while.” 

“But once he leaves, he won’t remember,” Jimin wails, his cries sloppy and devastated. 

“He doesn’t remember anything now, Jimin.”

Jimin just shakes his head. “But at least he’d be here.”

Taehyung kicks his legs out in front of him, crossing them at the ankles, and pats the open space on the stair he’s sitting on. The boy from before steps forward at the invitation, and Taehyung notices that he’s scuffed up, that he’s bleeding from somewhere near his temple, that there’s a halo of light encircling him so he’s smeary around the edges.

His hair is the color of ripe peaches in the summer.

Hoseok’s hands are shaking where he stands beside the doorway. Sunmi waits quietly off to the side, giving them space, dabbing at her eyes. Yoongi hasn’t spoken, doesn’t hug Namjoon back; just allows someone else to carry his weight for a few moments.   

Taehyung watches the boy take a seat beside him. Their shoulders brush. Their eyes meet. 

“Jungkook wants you to let him go.”

The room shifts and Taehyung’s tired again, has that fuzzed-over feeling in his brain. But Jungkook’s hand is resting warm on his thigh, and Taehyung touches him lightly, a question, and Jungkook laces their fingers together and smiles at him crookedly. The room warms with it, or maybe it’s just him imagining it. 

Taehyung takes a moment to gather his thoughts, to figure out what’s a memory and what’s a dream. He spots sunflowers on the table, neatly arranged in a glass vase, and for the first time that day, for the first time in what feels like forever, Taehyung doesn’t feel lonely or lost or broken.

“I don’t really understand what’s going on,” he says, and Jungkook nods encouragingly, “but I needed help, and the shop gave me you. You both needed help… so the shop gave you me.” 

Taehyung looks away from Jungkook, looks past everyone to where Jimin and Yoongi are watching him with haunted eyes. 

“I let my grief go,” Taehyung says gently, and he’s not quite sure what he’s saying but he believes it. “I let all my anger go. I learned to love myself. Now I think it might be your turn.”

Taehyung wonders what the others know that he doesn’t for them to be looking at him this way, for them to be looking at Jimin and Yoongi with such unfathomable understanding.

“You can see him, can’t you?” Yoongi suddenly asks, pulling away from Namjoon, nodding towards where Jungkook sits. 

Jimin starts, his whole body twisting, unwieldy hurt in his eyes. “You can see him?” He whispers, and Yoongi closes his eyes and nods. “You’ve been able to see him all this time?” Jimin doesn’t sound angry. He sounds like someone just broke his ribs. “Yoongi—” 

“Only sometimes,” Yoongi sighs. “Only when things got really bad. When we got really bad.” 

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I didn’t…” Yoongi drags a hand down his face and refuses to look at anyone. “At first I thought I was just wishing for it, you know? Wishing for him. And Kook’s energy is so tied in with the shop that, I don’t know, I just didn’t think about it. I didn’t think it was really him until…” Yoongi takes a shuddering breath. “The day I was cursed. I thought I was dreaming, but he was there. He protected Tae. Us. I think I knew after that, but I just… I didn’t want to let him go.”

Jimin’s falling back against the counter, unable to support himself. “You’ve been able to talk to him this whole time?”

“No. Nothing like that. I just…” Yoongi reaches for Jimin’s hand and Jimin lets him hold it. “I swear, Jimin-ah, I wasn’t hiding this from you. It’s only happened twice. Three times now, I guess.” Yoongi sends a pointed stare towards the stairs and Jimin follows.

“He’s here? Right now?”

Taehyung nods and Jimin’s knees give out. He drops so fast Yoongi doesn’t have a chance to reach for him. 

“Jiminie—”

“He’s here,” Jimin breaks, and Yoongi crouches at his side and runs a hand through the back of Jimin’s hair. “He’s been here the whole time.”

“Yeah, Min. He’s been here the whole time.”

“We kept him here,” Jimin whispers, and it’s so quiet in the kitchen that Taehyung doesn’t miss it. “Oh my god, we kept him here.”

“He’s fine. He’s…” Yoongi looks up to them again, eyes bloodshot from holding back tears. “He’s really bright. The brightest I’ve ever seen.”

Taehyung realizes then that none of them can see Jungkook the way he is now. The way he once was. A teenage boy with crinkling eyes and heavy boots and windswept hair pushed behind one ear. 

“I didn’t want to let him go, either,” Jimin says so soft Taehyung almost misses it. Yoongi pushes a strand of hair away from Jimin’s face. “I can’t—I don’t know how to let him go.”

Taehyung stands quickly, crosses the kitchen in a few long strides, and sinks to the floor in front of Jimin. “Take my hands.” Jimin doesn’t move, staring at him, stunned, so Taehyung reaches to hold him himself.

All the breath in Jimin’s body whooses from his mouth. He sobs, just once. 

Taehyung moves in closer. Says, “Think of a happy memory.”

“Tae—”

“That’s how you start,” Taehyung rushes, squeezing their palms together, and this is all crazy but it’s happening and he’s going to let it. He trusts Jungkook. He trusts himself. “You think of a happy memory. You remember all the happiest times with him. Think of one now.”

Yoongi curls towards them, and Taehyung reaches for him and Yoongi grabs his hand. Jimin takes Yoongi’s other, and they sit there together, tucked in close.

Taehyung closes his eyes, goes through years of memories spent with his grandparents. He thinks of baking pies during the holidays with his grandma, the kitchen ripe with the scent of strawberries, and plowing the fields in early spring with his grandfather before the sun would break from behind the trees and the dew was still thick on the grass. He thinks of an early afternoon in August, sunlight trailing through trembling leaves, a sky so brilliantly blue that he couldn’t tell where it met the water. 

Namjoon, knocking over a cow made of snow.

Seokjin, knitting by the fire.

Hoseok, in this very kitchen, teaching him how to waltz.

And then he thinks of Jimin in the bath with him, hair slicked back and laughter bright enough to burst a lightbulb, his face a rainbow of color from the light of a stained-glass window. He thinks of Yoongi, too, curled beside him in bed on a late winter afternoon, hand combing through his hair and another scratching along in a notebook, voice a low hum as he tries to find the right tune to the song he’s been writing.

Jungkook standing before him in the greenhouse, cupping his face, kissing his forehead.

Taehyung feels a hand on his shoulder and opens his eyes to see Jungkook peering down at him.

Tell them, he mouths, that it wasn’t their fault. The accident wasn’t their fault.  

“It wasn’t your fault,” Taehyung whispers, then repeats it louder, with more conviction. “Jungkook said the accident wasn’t your fault.”

Jimin gasps and Yoongi tries to tug away and Taehyung holds on tight. He refuses to let them go.

“Say it,” he urges, pulling them back in. “You need to say it. You don’t have to believe it just now, but you need to say it.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Yoongi whispers, and Taehyung hears Jungkook sigh.

“Jimin.”

“I can’t,” Jimin cries, shaking his head, eyes squeezed tight. “I can’t. I can’t leave him. Not again.”

“Jiminie-hyung,” Taehyung says, only it’s not him saying it. Jungkook, a hand on the back of Taehyung’s neck, says again, “Jimin-ah, please.”

Silent tears dribble down Jimin’s cheeks. “It wasn’t my fault,” he chokes out. “It was-wasn’my fault.

Jungkook sighs again, and when he leans forward, resting his weight against Taehyung’s back to press the pads of his fingers to Jimin and Yoongi’s inner wrists, they both go wide-eyed.

“Kookie?”

“I’ll never be far,” Jungkook grins, stooping to kiss Jimin’s temple, then moving to do the same to Yoongi. “You’re always gonna be stuck with me, hyungs.”

Taehyung looks over and catches the way the others are watching them. Bewildered, but not surprised. They can’t see Jungkook, not the way the three of them do, but they must know. 

Jungkook groans as he rises to his feet and Taehyung follows automatically, drawn to him in a way that’s terrifying and right. He makes it as far as the door to the den before Jungkook’s turning to press a palm to Taehyung’s chest, warm, right over his heart.

“Take care of them, Tae.”

Jungkook’s eyes are twinkling. He’s got that lovely, lopsided smile on. 

Taehyung’s brow furrows. “How do I take care of them if I can’t remember them?”

“Time,” is all Jungkook says, taking Taehyung off guard when he leans in to hug him hard and quick. “Everything takes time.”

Jungkook leaves, then. Taehyung watches him walk to a door tucked in the corner of the den, out into what must be the back gardens. 

The door swings shut and Taehyung stands there for a few moments, knowing Jungkook’s not coming back but unsure how to move forward.

The lights hum and then glow just a brighter. Taehyung hadn’t noticed that the shop was kind of dark. Not until now.

Jimin’s sobbing. He wails. His shoulders shudder and he pounds a fist against the flooboards and Yoongi remains quiet at his side, stroking along his spine. The others wipe their eyes and faces and Taehyung thinks that, under all the sadness, the air is clearer. That it’s a little easier to breathe. 

Hoseok and Seokjin take Jimin upstairs. Sunmi’s pulled Namjoon away to the front of the store to discuss something in private. 

And Yoongi…

“Come with me, Tae.”

Yoongi looks smaller than before, eyes red and shoulders hunched, swallowed by the blue sweater that looks to be a few sizes too big for him. Taehyung recognizes this sweater from the hazy memory from earlier. Recognizes it as his own.

Taehyung follows after him through the same doorway Jungkook passed through just minutes before. There are shoes lined up next to the frame, and Yoongi gestures to a pair of boots in Taehyung’s size that are the dirtiest among the bunch. Yoongi hands him a coat, too, after slipping on his own, and they walk out together to the back lawn. 

Dusk splatters pink and orange across the sky, and Taehyung stumbles at the sight of a monstrous glass building rising up before them. He’s so overwhelmed by its beauty that he has to pat his heart to make sure it’s still beating.

Yoongi shoves his hands deep into his coat pockets. He studies the ground, kicks his boot against a spot of dead grass sticking up in the snow. He studies Taehyung’s face for a moment, then says gently, “Can I tell you a story?”

Taehyung nods and wraps his arms around his chest. It’s chilly out, but the bite in the air feels good in his lungs. 

“Once upon a time—” 

“Seriously?” Taehyung surprises himself by laughing, like after everything that’s happened today, he’s still managed to find a little happiness in whatever’s going on here. 

Yoongi stares at him, and then he smiles sleepily, the soft edges of his grin a contrast to his rough voice and tired eyes.

“Shut up and listen,” he growls, but Taehyung can’t pick out any actual bitterness. Yoongi starts to move towards the large building, a greenhouse, and Taehyung follows closely at his side. 

“Once upon a time, there was a little boy who knew when people were going to die.”

Taehyung stumbles at the entrance, and Yoongi’s hand finds his arm to steady him. The touch lingers for a moment, and then Yoongi tugs the door open and Taehyung’s met with a rush of warmth and a chorus of greetings that grow and grow as news of his entrance spreads through the massive room.

There must be thousands of plants here, and Taehyung almost buckles under the weight of their words before they realize that Yoongi is here as well, that something important is happening, that they all need to shut up and listen. 

“What a bunch of gossips,” Taehyung grins, and the plants nearby giggle but keep to themselves. 

Yoongi’s openly staring at him again and Taehyung realizes he’s probably acting strange.

“Sorry, it was kinda loud for a bit.”

“We can go back outside.”

“No, it’s okay now.”

And it is. The shouting has died down to quiet murmuring here and there, like listening to a conversation from the next room over. It’s comforting in its own way, like they’re not completely alone. 

Yoongi clears his throat, and as they make their way through the blooming gardens, Yoongi tells his story and Taehyung and the flowers listen.

“The little boy knew when people were going to die, when they wanted to die; and after they passed, he would make friends with them,” Yoongi says in a gentle voice. “He would try to help them in a way he couldn’t when they were alive. When this boy grew up, he found out he was a witch, and things started to make sense from there.

“The boy moved to Seoul to work under a much older hedge witch who taught him how to hone his powers, and half a decade passed like that, with only him and that elderly witch and the ghosts he befriended in the nearby cemetery. But everything dies eventually, and soon the elderly witch passed away, and one by one the boy helped the ghosts around him move on, as well.”

They come to a lush lawn, and Yoongi sinks to the ground and spread his arms wide. He pats at the earth, urging Taehyung to join him, and Taehyung takes a seat a few feet away and curls his legs up to his chest to rest his chin on his knees.

Yoongi’s voice smooths over, and he watches the sky as he speaks.

“The boy traveled from cemetery to cemetery, graveyard to graveyard, family plot to family plot. The souls he met he helped move on, and years passed like that, with only him and the ghosts of the dead and the occasional run in with another witch. The boy, now a man, wondered if this was how things were supposed to be. If he was going to spend the rest of his long life never really belonging somewhere. But it made sense, in a way, because how could anyone ever love someone so full of darkness, anyway?”

Taehyung feels a familiar tug on his heart, and he’s surprised by the desire in him to draw Yoongi in close, to hide from him and kiss him all at the same time.

“But then, one spring day,” Yoongi breathes, his voice going tender, “a boy showed up at the man’s doorstep. The most beautiful person the man had ever seen in his life. He was so bright, so full of light. He said he was a kitchen witch. That he just finished his training. That he left Busan because he felt like Seoul was where he needed to be. That he’d come to the hedge witch’s house because he was drawn to it. Drawn to him.” 

Taehyung thinks of Jimin, thinks of his golden hair and gleaming smile and airy voice. Wonders what it would be like to hear him laugh, to hold his hand. 

“They became each other’s family, this man with only darkness in his heart and this boy who saw so much good in the world. They learned about each other’s weaknesses. Their fears. Their dreams. They grew to love each other, but they couldn’t help but think that something was missing. They didn’t know what it was until one autumn morning when a boy showed up on their doorstep, bright-eyed and nervous with the universe in his eyes, and everything made sense. Everything felt right.”

The flowers have gone quiet, the air still, and Taehyung swallows the knot in his throat but doesn’t fight off the deep sadness blooming in his heart.

“His name was Jungkook,” Yoongi murmurs, so soft Taehyung has to lean forward to hear him. “He was a green witch, right out of training, and he was the light of their life. He was—He was everything. Until he wasn’t.”

“One day,” Yoongi’s lip is trembling, and Taehyung crawls forward to take his hand and Yoongi lets him. He holds on fast. “One day Jungkook left to visit some friends in a coven across town. He asked the two older men to go with him because it had been so long since they’d been out together. But the hedge witch had to work and the kitchen witch couldn’t handle crowds, so they both turned him down. That evening…” Yoongi’s whole body shudders with his breath, and he presses the palm of a hand against his eyes. “He felt it. That evening. The hedge witch felt it when Jungkook was going to die and he tried—They both tried so hard to get to him and they just—” 

Yoongi’s breaths sound like sobs as he forces out the words, and Taehyung wants to tell him it’s okay, he doesn’t have to say anything more; but Yoongi presses on if he doesn’t say this now it might just kill him.

“The two witches blamed themselves for what happened,” Yoongi says in a desperate whisper, and Taehyung squeezes his hand and Yoongi repeats the action back. “They should have gone with him. They were so selfish. It was a car accident. It was avoidable. They should have been with him.”

The plants cry out in an unintelligible mess of heartbreak, like they too have been holding on to this pain for too long.

“They grieved for months,” Yoongi says, voice thick with tears. “They carried on with their daily lives but everything was wrong. Soon the plants began to die, the plants that Jungkook cared for over the years, the plants that loved him just as much as the witches did. The plants began to die and, slowly, the two witches could feel themselves following, their magic gradually fading away. But then,” Yoongi continues, low and trembling, “one summer afternoon during a thunderstorm, a human boy came into the shop the witches owned. He was dirty and wet and unbelievably sad. He was as close to death as they were. Maybe that’s why they didn’t mind when they discovered he couldn’t leave. Maybe they thought they could save him the way they hadn’t saved Jungkook.”

Yoongi twists so he’s facing Taehyung completely, and his eyes are dark and beautiful when they rest on Taehyung’s face. 

“Except days passed, weeks passed, and the two witches realized that maybe it wasn’t just them helping the boy; maybe this new, wonderful, golden-hearted human who sang to the plants just as Jungkook did was there to help them, as well. And he did. He taught them how to love again. They were happy. It didn’t matter if he was human, they were happy.” 

Yoongi pushes Taehyung’s hair away from his eyes, and Taehyung doesn’t pull away when Yoongi cups the side of his face, like he’s looking into him, searching for something.

“But, just as they learned in the past, all happiness is fleeting,” Yoongi says. “Turns out the boy was actually a witch, a green witch just like Jungkook, and his magic had been Expending, building inside of him since he arrived, until one night it finally burst.” Yoongi traces his jaw where the skin still aches from his bruise, and the hairs on his arms stand up, an involuntary shiver trickling through his body. Taehyung doesn’t try to pull away, though, doesn’t try to hide. “They almost lost him, only to discover that it didn’t matter. The boy was now a witch, but he didn’t remember them. In a way he was gone, just like Jungkook.” 

They sit there for a long time, until the sun sets completely behind the buildings around them, just a few tendrils of russet and gold left on the skyline. Yoongi’s touch on his face is gentle, and Taehyung feels a small part of his heart bloom and break at the same time. 

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, and Yoongi shifts in the soft darkness.

“You’re alive,” he says, sighing deeply. “You’re alive and that’s all that matters, Taehyung-ah.”

“But I hurt you. I hurt you both and I’m sorry—” 

“No, Taehyungie. No.” Yoongi’s hands skim his cheeks, the pads of his thumbs tracing along his cheekbones like he expected to find tears. “You didn’t hurt us. You saved us. Thank you.” 

“I wish…” There’s no moon, no stars. Nothing to look for overhead. “I wish I could remember.”

Yoongi doesn’t answer, not that he needs to. Instead he stands and tugs Taehyung to his feet, and they walk hand in hand back through the greenhouse, across the lawn, into the kitchen where the others have gathered.  

Jimin is back, eyes pink and puffy, and he spots Taehyung and Yoongi’s laced hands and almost starts crying again. 

“Can I—Taehyung, can I hug you?” He asks, hands clutched to his chest. “I know this is weird for you, but I just—”

Taehyung grabs Jimin’s arm and pulls him in, wraps him up close, and Taehyung can feel Jimin’s fingers in his hair and his breath on his neck and he doesn’t say a word. Jimin runs his hands up his back and across his shoulders, like he’s memorizing the way he feels.

“Jimin.”

Jimin hums against his throat and rocks them in place, swaying gently.

“I don’t… I don’t remember much, but I think… I think we talked about the ocean one time. You said that whenever I get sad, that I should think about the ocean?”

“You remember that?”

Taehyung doesn’t answer, just presses his hands firm and solid against the small of Jimin’s back. “Whenever you get sad, think about the ocean, okay?”

Jimin nods, and Taehyung can feel him gathering his strength as he pulls away. 

Hoseok’s there next, arms out-stretched, and Taehyung doesn’t remember much of these men but he knows in his heart that they’re friends; dance partners and advice-givers and snow fortress builders. He gives Hoseok a smile and steps into his waiting arms. Seokjin just ruffles his hair and tells him to eat well. Taehyung reaches out to shake Namjoon’s hand and is surprised when he gets tugged into full-bodied hug. 

“You’re a good kid, Tae,” Namjoon smiles, a dimple appearing deep on his cheek.

Yoongi taps him on the shoulder, looking shy, and Taehyung gathers him in his arms and just holds him tight for the longest time. 

This is harder than he expected. 

Sunmi is waiting in the doorway to the shop. She’s been patient with them all, letting them tie up all the loose ends. She pats his back and guides him into the courtyard, softly lit by the windows from the shop and a series of lanterns strung across the garden.

“Taehyung-ah.”

The others have followed them out, and Taehyung taps his boots against the cobblestones for warmth as Jimin presses past Hoseok and Namjoon, Yoongi padding after not far behind. 

In his hands is a gift box that’s more ribbon than wrapping paper. Taehyung’s breath catches, and a beautiful, horrible ache blooms inside his chest. 

He takes a step forward, holds his hands out so Jimin can place the small package in his palm. 

“We were—we were going to give it to you for your birthday,” Jimin says softly, backing into Yoongi’s chest like he’s seeking the comfort. Yoongi wraps an arm around his waist. “But it’s Christmas Eve and it’s—It’s okay if you don’t want it, but it’s yours.” 

Taehyung peels away the tape and paper to reveal a small velvet box. He hesitates, knows that he can say no right now, that he can hand it back over to Jimin and they would understand. 

Instead he flips it open and finds a wooden ring, engraved with a vine, polished to shine.

“Are you proposing?” He jokes, and Jimin makes a choked sound and that’s answer enough. They were. They were going to. They were going to ask him to be a part of their family and he can’t stand knowing that he’s made them so sad.

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung mumbles, staring at the ring in his palm instead of their tear-streaked faces. “I’m so sorry.”

“We’ll be here,” Jimin says, forcing a smile out. “You’ll always have a home here. No matter what happens, this is your home, Tae.” 

Taehyung nods, has arms around him, then a second set, and he lets Jimin and Yoongi hold him one last time because even though it doesn’t mean the same to him as it does to them, Taehyung doesn’t think he’ll ever forget their kindness.

“Thank you for loving me,” he tells them, and Yoongi just squeezes his hand and Jimin lifts up on his toes to kiss his cheek.

They head back inside after that. Jimin first, followed by Yoongi, followed by the others until it’s just Taehyung and Sunmi left in the dim courtyard under a brightless, lightless sky. 

“Shall we go?” She says, her voice soft, like she thinks Taehyung might just crack if she speaks too loud. 

He nods even though he doesn’t quite want to go. Because he isn’t supposed to be here anymore. Not right now. 

Sunmi slips outside first, and Taehyung turns around to look at the shop one more time. The lamp light warms the brick, and in the window he can see two figures standing, watching him go.

Taehyung slips the ring onto his fourth finger, a perfect fit, and with a glowing warmth and his heart beating loud and real in his chest, Taehyung steps through the gate and back into the city.

 

 

 

A car horn blares, a woman screams, and there’s a harsh grip on his arm, pulling him back so sharply he topples into the sidewalk. Some people point at him and a few linger to stare, but most carry on their way, unbothered by the boy lying in the center of concrete.  

Taehyung blinks the snow from his eyes. 

Snow. It’s snowing in August.

“Kim Taehyung?”

A woman peers over him with a large umbrella shielding them from the sky, and Taehyung notices she has the most beautiful eyes. The same shade as lavender in spring.

“Taehyung-ah,” she says again, and Taehyung’s surprised by her voice. A little deep, a little husky. He thinks it matches the fierce spark hidden in her gaze. “It’s nice to meet you,” she says, unfazed by his dazed condition on the ground. “I’m Sunmi.”

Taehyung doesn’t know what else to say but, “Nice to meet you.”

“Would you like to get some coffee?” Taehyung blinks again. He’s groggy and disoriented and he was certain there was something he should have been doing, place he was supposed to go to. “There are some things I’d like to talk to you about.”

Taehyung doesn’t know this woman, but he does know that the ice on the sidewalk is seeping into his jeans and the snow is falling from the sky in fat lumps and despite the chill working against his skin, his heart has never felt so warm. 

“What’s happening?” He voices aloud, and Sunmi offers her arm and Taehyung doesn’t know what else to do but take it.

“Let’s go find some place inside and I’ll answer all your questions,” she grins, and Taehyung nods because he doesn’t have a choice. Because there’s a dull buzzing in his chest that’s making his arms tingle. Because every time they pass a tree on the sidewalk, Taehyung can hear it breathe. 

Because there’s a wooden ring on his fourth finger that he’s never seen before, and Taehyung wants to know why looking at it makes him feel like he’s forgetting something important. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Is this normal?”

Sunmi looks up from her tablet and brushes a strand of hair off her cheek, eyes kind and curious as always. “Is what normal, Taehyung?”

“This?” Taehyung gestures to the train car they’re sitting in, but he has no clue what he’s talking about, no clue. “Not… Not staying places. You know… Moving around so much?”

Sunmi places her hands in her lap, giving her full attention to him. Taehyung likes that. Likes her. Sunmi makes him feel safe. Like someone cares. She’s been with him all this time, always checking in, by his side for every move. “You mean why you haven’t found a mentor?”

She says it so simply, but it’s more than that. Taehyung knows it’s more than that because it’s been a year since that day in winter when Sunmi told him he was a witch. It’s been a year of traveling across the country, staying a few months here and there with older green witches who are supposed to train him and help him hone his magic. That’s the way it works. You find someone and you stay, you study, and then supposedly it’s time to find another place to set up shop and settle. 

“Taehyung?”

But it never lasts. It’s supposed to last. Witches are supposed to train for a decade, but he barely made it six months in Jeollabuk and four more in Ulsan and only one in Busan. And now they’re on a train to Gwangju and it’s not that Taehyung didn’t like the witches in all those places; they were nice and understanding and more than willing to take him under their wing, maybe even excited when they heard about his peculiar circumstances. 

But none of it felt right. None of it has felt right.

 “It’s just… It’s just, isn’t it weird?” Taehyung asks as he draws a cow into the condensation on the window with the tip of his pinkie. It’s going to snow soon, which means less time to work with the plants outside. Most of them sleep a lot during this time. Except for the pines and yews. They’re as chatty as ever, but that’s just how aspens are.

“You’re not asking what you really want to ask,” Sunmi says, and Taehyung chews on his bottom lip. He adds some spots to his drawing. One of the ears is missing and he debates adding it on.

“I’ve learned this all before,” he finally says, looking over to gauge her reaction. “That’s... You’re not telling me everything, are you?”

She’s not. Taehyung is certain she’s not because it can’t be normal for him to have the knowledge he does. It can’t be normal for a witch in their first week to already understand the magical properties of hundreds of herbs and flowers. It can’t be normal for a witch who’s never picked up a spell book to have dozens of rituals and recipes memorized. But Taehyung did, and the more time he spent with the witches who trained him, the more he kept remembering.  

Sunmi’s quiet. She hasn’t gone back to reading. Her phone buzzes and she doesn’t answer even though it’s probably work. Instead she keeps her gaze set in the distance on the winter-ready sky. She stays silent for so long that Taehyung thinks she doesn’t have an answer. That maybe he’s reading too far into this. That he’s just getting anxious again.

But that’s the strangest thing about all this—the realization that Taehyung isn’t anxious anymore. Well, he’s anxious now, about this mentor thing, about all these things he knows and those five months he can’t remember. 

He still gets nervous in big crowds, but not like before. Now he doesn’t mind if people bump into him. He doesn’t think anyone who laughs nearby is laughing at him. When he talks, he doesn’t worry about what comes out and what people will think or say in return. 

Taehyung doesn’t feel sad and lost and heavy. Not like before. It’s like he went to sleep as one person and woke up as another and that should terrify him but it doesn’t and he knows there’s an answer out there as to why and—

“Taehyung.” Taehyung looks up from his hands where he’s been fiddling with the ring on his finger, the one he woke up to, the one that makes this beautiful, horrible sadness bloom in his heart. “You feel called somewhere, don’t you.”

It’s not a question, and Sunmi’s expression says she already knows the answer.

“I want to go back to Seoul,” Taehyung says honestly, and something in his chest hums, something soft and intangible. His magic, he’s learning. That’s the fluttering feeling that stems from his ribs. A living creature that beckons to him sometimes, reminding him that he’s not alone. “I…I need to be in Seoul.”

Sunmi nods, and when they get off at the platform in Gwangju, they buy a couple one-way tickets back the way they came.

 

~~~

 

Taehyung’s standing in front of a closed down building of what looks to be an old boutique. It has a large, glass-fronted wall and a lilac door and what used to be wisteria growing up the worn brick, and Taehyung presses his palm against the cool window and inhales long and slow. Buzzing, brightening, beaming. Taehyung feels like his lungs are going to burst. 

“Went out of business years ago,” someone calls out from behind, and Taehyung blinks up at the beautiful, beautiful building. “But it’s for sale, if you’re looking.”

Taehyung hadn’t realized he was looking until right now, this very second, but suddenly it all makes sense. Why he wanted to come back to Seoul. Why he’s been wondering the streets for weeks between his shifts at the movie theater and the supermarket.

He’s brimming, full-on vibrating when he turns around to ask the stranger who he needs to call, what he has to do to make this place his, and the man before him blinks in surprise, jaw going slack, and he drops the bags of groceries in his hands.

“Oh,” Taehyung says, and he stumbles forward to grab the fruits and vegetables before they have a chance to roll down the sidewalk. He gathers handfuls of mangos and avocados and a stray peach, and as Taehyung dumps the goods into the brown paper bags, his chest suddenly pulses.

“Oh,” Taehyung repeats, more quietly this time, swallowing down the fuzz in his throat. He looks up and blinks the sun from his eyes. “You’re a witch. What a coincidence.” 

Taehyung’s grinning again, but he runs nervous hands up and down his thighs as he stands, a habit he’s not sure where he picked up from. 

The man has deep purple hair and is staring at him oddly, and Taehyung wonders if he’s broken some kind of witch etiquette, made some terrible offense. No one’s really taught Taehyung anything like that and he tugs at the hem of his shirt, rubs a finger along the too long nail of his thumb.

“I…” The man starts carefully, and Taehyung chews on his lip and the man is suddenly grinning wildly, big and dopey, like he’s come to a miraculous revelation. He’s got a dimple the size of a crater on one of his cheeks. “I like to think of stuff like this as fate.”

“Fate?” Taehyung repeats as the guy scoops up his bags again. “That’s a pretty strong word to use with a stranger.”

“Nah,” the man shakes his head. “We’re practically family.”

“Family?” Taehyung echoes again, and he wants to be miffed but the word sits well on him and he can’t help but laugh. It kind of barks out of him, wild and unrestrained, and the man stares harder, eyes roaming his face as if he’s searching for something. “We’re family because we’re witches?”

A moment of hesitation, and then the man smiles again, but this time it’s something more private, something Taehyung’s not quite sure he’s meant to see. “Yeah,” he nods. “Yeah, let’s go with that. I can take that.”

Taehyung dumps the produce into the bags.

The man stares. Taehyung stares back.

“I’m Taehyung. Kim Taehyung. A green witch,” Taehyung says, shooting a hand out and pulling it in just as quick when he realizes that the man no longer has a free hand for him to shake. His ears are hot despite the evening chill, but the other witch doesn’t seem to mind, though. He just smiles again in a way that brings about a second dimple this time.

“Kim Namjoon. Eclectic witch.”

O-oh shit, that’s cool,” Taehyung whispers and bites his tongue right after. “Sorry. I just, you’re probably really smart.”

“Not really. I just study. There’s always something new to learn.”

A pause again. More weighted staring. Taehyung hasn’t met another witch around his age before and it’s been years since he tried to make a friend. He doesn’t know the steps anymore.

He fiddles with his ring, twirling it around his finger, and Namjoon’s eyes flick down to the movement and linger there. The air shifts. Namjoon softens. Taehyung has to find his breath again.

“I have to get these home,” Namjoon says, his voice choked, and he raises his arms a bit to indicate the excessive amount of produce he’s carrying. His eyes stray to Taehyung hands again, now still. “But you should come over some time. My coven would probably love to meet you.”

“I—yeah. Yeah, I’d really like that,” Taehyung nods, all the anxious buzzing seeping from his chest at the invitation. “Cool. That’s really great. Uhm, how should I, you know, contact you?”

“You can just come by for dinner tomorrow. We usually eat around seven.”

“Okay. Yeah. Uhm, where?”

Namjoon laughs and it comes from his feet, rich and low. He tilts his head towards something behind Taehyung, and Taehyung turns and notices that there’s a store next door to the lilac building. They’re about the same size, the spaces, but this new place is all warm, stained wood.

“That’s our shop,” Namjoon says, already moving towards it. “I’d invite you in now, but my partners don’t do well with surprises.”

“Totally get it,” Taehyung nods, his body curling in with the rush of warmth running through his limbs. “Tomorrow’s great. I have to get back to work, anyway.” 

Namjoon smiles again and it scrunches up his whole face. His shoulder knocks against the door and a bell jingles, but Namjoon stops himself mid-step, leaning through the frame. “Taehyung.”

Namjoon’s looking at him the same way Sunmi does sometimes; tenderly, with a hint of nostalgia. Like he’s holding onto a secret. 

“That building would make a great flower shop,” Namjoon says with a wink, shoving his way inside the café and out of sight.  

 Taehyung spares once more glance at the purple building, at Namjoon’s soft looking shop. A couple holding hands drifts past, then a man walking his dog. The sun is setting and Taehyung pulls the collar of his coat up when a breeze drifts through. He shoves his hands in his pockets and  finds the worn, yellow stone he’s taken to carrying around and grins quietly to himself, twirling away down the sidewalk with his blood singing and his heart keeping time with his steps.  

 

~~~

 

It’s been four months since Taehyung bought the building next door to the café. He’s not sure why it was so cheap, but it has great water pressure and there hasn’t been a sign of any bugs or mold or ghosts.  He’s working on turning the first and second floor into a set of indoor gardens; the third is a small apartment where the former owner must have lived that he now calls his own. Taehyung’s looking into putting a greenhouse on the roof, but that’s money he hasn’t made yet. He has time, though.

Twice a week he eats dinner with the coven next door. He meets Hoseok, a dream witch who greets him like a long-lost brother with a hug and a scream that wrecks his eardrums and blows out a lightbulb that they both have to clean up after. Seokjin, a kitchen witch, was much more reserved their initial meeting. Taehyung thought he was almost elegant until halfway through dinner when he started spewing back-to-back vegetable jokes and was the first, and sometimes only one, to laugh at them.

Taehyung likes Namjoon’s coven. They don’t seem to question how he’s only been a witch for a year, even though everyone else made it pointedly clear how peculiar it was. How strange he is, even for their kind. Instead, the three of them help him get settled. Between clients and dance practice, Hoseok helps him lug and arrange saplings and shrubs and flowers around his store. Seokjin answers his questions about running a shop of his own, from not only from a witch’s perspective, but from a normal business one, as well. Namjoon gets him set up with all the necessary spells required of shops, practical ones to help with water and electricity and heating, and others that are a little more… magical. A spell to draw in customers, another to make them forget. 

“Forget?” Taehyung had asked, and Namjoon nodded as he closed his grimoire, one of many, and tucked it under an arm. 

“It’s a safety precaution,” Namjoon explained, ruffling Taehyung’s hair as he passed. “For us and for them.” 

Taehyung didn’t understand what he meant, and he still doesn’t know what they need to be protected from; but he just nodded and tugged on his ring and sent Namjoon off with a bouquet of goldenrod and white chrysanthemums. 

At dinner they always share stories with him about their childhoods: where they trained, how they met, what customers came in that day, what Namjoon learned in class, what Hoseok’s teaching his kids, a new recipe that Seokjin’s finally perfected. 

Taehyung never mentions that he feels like he’s heard some of it before. 

 

~~~

 

“I’ll see you next week, Mrs. Kim.”

Mrs. Kim is a regular. She’s almost seventy and visits the market every Sunday and somehow, miraculously, magically, she’s taken a liking to picking up a bouquet of sunflowers for her husband on her way to visit him at the hospital. 

Mrs. Kim blows him a kiss, and Taehyung laughs and reaches out as if to pluck it from the air. He places it in his apron pocket and it makes her smile on her way out the door, not that she wasn’t already. 

Mrs. Kim is a regular, but she’s not the only one. There’s Mr. Gu, who drops by on Tuesdays and always goes for red tulips. And Jaeun, a girl in her final year of university, who visits every other Thursday for daffodils. Minseok, who has a weakness for peonies, and picks them up for his mom whenever she gets home from business trips. There are dozens more who come by the shop, and if Taehyung doesn’t know them by their name, he knows them by their flower. 

Namjoon was surprised at first, when Taehyung mentioned one morning that he had regulars. He and Hoseok came over to check the boundary line, to see if the memory spell was holding. It was. Namjoon put it there which means it was perfect. 

But that hasn’t stopped people from coming back again, and again, and again.

“Maybe it’s just the way your magic is,” Seokjin said, brushing between them to drop off a bag of muffins on Taehyung’s counter. Taehyung could smell the blueberries through the paper. If it wasn’t for Seokjin, Taehyung would have withered away by now. “It’s a part of you, but it still has its own thoughts and feelings. Magic isn’t a science, so stop trying to control it.” He smiles warmly, flicking Namjoon’s cheek on the way past, like they’ve had the same conversation before.

It's quiet for most of the afternoon. A woman comes in for a bouquet of magnolias. A few teenage girls stop by just to browse and take photos. A couple follows after wanting to place an order for their wedding in a few months. Apparently his name has gotten around, and Taehyung’s stunned as he takes down their information and says he’ll get back with them on if he’d be able to fill such a large order. 

He knows that he will, it’s just a matter of if he wants to put himself out there like that.

“Who do you think they heard about me from?” He asks the poppies he’s repotting, but of course the nearby flowers have to throw in their thoughts. Most mention Hoseok or Seokjin, but the snapdragon says it was probably Mrs. Kim who seems like the gossiping type. Taehyung scolds it for being rude but knows it’s probably right.

You should do the wedding, the poppies urge softly when the chatter’s quieted, and the hibiscus agree beside them. 

“But they were normal customers,” Taehyung answers, patting down their soil. “If I get too many normal customers, I won’t have enough time for the magical ones.”

Are the normal ones less important? They say, and Taehyung pauses at their words. Everyone needs a little help at the end of the day. 

Taehyung laughs at that, his heart drubbing loud in his chest at their words. “You’re gonna start beating the irises out on advice-giving.”

We’ll stick with helping people sleep.

Taehyung finishes the repotting, then works his way through watering the first floor, making idle chatter here and there and checking with the plants to see if they need anything. Usually it’s a browning leaf cut or they want to be rotated for more light, and Taehyung’s busy hunting down a dead tendril inside a button fern when he catches sight of a man lingering outside the window to the shop, staring up at the glass wall in wide-eyed wonder. 

Taehyung leaves him be, but a few minutes later, after he finishes clearing away the clippings from his work bench, he spots the man still standing there. 

He knows he’s not supposed to push. If they’re meant to come in, they will. It’s just that there’s something familiar about this particular maybe-customer that has Taehyung pausing again. Something about his dark hair and even darker eyes, the way the dusky sky pouring in through the window frames his slight figure. 

He’s absolutely stunning. 

There’s a garbling sound beside him and Taehyung shrinks back when he notices he’s been drowning one of the palms. He coos softly at it in apology, slides it over to the drain to dump the excess water, and when Taehyung returns to the main floor, the man has slipped away. 

Taehyung thought he would come in. With that expression, they always do. 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung’s propagating succulents when the man returns a few weeks later. It looks like a small massacre has taken place on his work bench, and Taehyung sings softly to the cuttings as he arranges them neatly on some newspaper for drying. He looks up at the urging of one of the ivies and spots the dark-haired man from before outside the front window with a paper bag from Seokjin’s bakery. Taehyung watches him quietly as he works.

Today he doesn’t look as dazed. Today he looks quite lucid. 

Taehyung’s taken to reading the eyes of those who come in. The ones who look like they’re lost in a dream are here for the magic. The ones who are bright and lovely are simply here for the flowers.

This man doesn’t look like he’s here for either.

He doesn’t come in, though. Instead he takes a slow step away from the window and then shuffles down the sidewalk. Taehyung watches him go, eyes set on the street long after he’s disappeared. 

He was cute, the succulent in his hand chirps, and Taehyung just sighs because he can’t disagree. You should call him in next time.

“He’ll come in if he’s meant to come in,” Taehyung responds gently, clipping off one of the growths on its stem, but Taehyung feels a steady thrum in his chest for the rest of the night. Something about the man sets his magic off, and Taehyung knows in his heart that if isn’t the question, it’s only a matter of when.  

 

~~~

 

“Hey, Hobi-hyung?”

“What’s up, buttercup?” Hoseok gleams from atop his step-ladder. Seokjin’s been in a belated spring cleaning mood, given that it’s almost September, and he’s been having Hoseok and Namjoon do a thorough cleaning of the café the past two days. He mentioned other things, something about negative energy and feng shui, but Taehyung doesn’t think it really affects anyone if the sofas are all reorganized to face northeast. 

Hoseok’s been set with most of the dangerous cleaning. After the lamp incident, Namjoon’s on mop duty where his feet can remain strictly on the ground. 

“Do a lot of witches come here?”

Hoseok flips his dust rag over one shoulder and leans against the long chalkboard hanging above the back counter. It acts as a menu, and Namjoon says its charmed so that when people come in, they only see an option meant specially for them.  Something for courage, something for love, something for luck. Taehyung’s never seen anything written on it, but Seokjin always seems to know what to make him, anyway. 

“Yeah, we get a few here and there. There’s only a couple dozen covens in the city, but we’re good friends with a few of the groups and will visit each other’s shops here and there. Why?”

Taehyung taps against the front counter like he’s playing the piano, hands moving to an unknown beat. Taehyung wonders if he tried to play it if an actual song might come out.

“TaeTae, you’re dreaming on me.”

Taehyung smiles up at him and Hoseok’s eyes crinkle in response. “I think I saw another witch outside the flower shop last week.”

Hoseok’s smile flickers but doesn’t fully disappear. “A witch? Last week?”

“Yeah. I mean. Maybe. I thought I felt someone else’s magic, but he never came in so I wasn’t sure.”

Hoseok’s quiet for a long while, but he doesn’t go back to cleaning. Instead he stares at the ceiling and dreams on his own for a bit.

“He’ll come in when he’s ready,” Hoseok says quietly to himself, certain of something, and there’s that look again, the look they all wear around him. Like there’s something hidden here that Taehyung’s meant to find out on his own. 

Namjoon somehow manages to kick a table after that, and Taehyung helps him reattach the leg before Seokjin returns from his grocery run.

Not that Seokjin doesn’t notice the broken lamp or the fresh dent in the wall where Namjoon might have slipped and cracked the plaster.

“I swear, you’re all like babies, I can’t leave for more than an hour without coming back to something destroyed. Next time you’ll burn the whole building down,” Seokjin huffs, eyeing the shattered light, and Namjoon rubs the back of his neck and Seokjin sighs and pulls him in for a quick kiss. Namjoon melts under the touch, smiling so wide that it’s not quite a kiss any more, more like two people just laughing into each other’s mouths. Seokjin can never stay mad for long. Taehyung likes that about him.

Hoseok makes an indignant noise from atop his ladder where he’s finishing wiping down the last of the paintings. 

“Fine, except for you, Hobi. You’re the only one I can trust.” Seokjin taps the ladder and Hoseok slides down only to throw himself around Seokjin’s shoulders. Seokjin chuckles and nuzzles his temple with his nose, and Taehyung watches as all the lights in the room warm in response. 

Hoseok says shops are infused with the magical energy of the witches who settle there. That they’re tied to the witches, in a way, and react to their emotions, the good and the bad.

Taehyung smiles as the lamp closest to the three witches buzzes too bright, but it doesn’t burst like the ones from a couple weeks ago, when Seokjin laughed so hard at Namjoon trying to mimic one of Hoseok’s choreographies for an upcoming show that they had to replace all the lights in the library upstairs.  

Taehyung wonders if the flower shop will ever respond to him the way the café does to the others. Right now, Taehyung can feel all the energy in the room happily swirling about them, light on the air, almost like it’s dancing around them. He doesn’t feel that in his shop, though. Despite all the plants, things are quiet there. Despite all the plants, things are kind of lonely. 

Taehyung wonders if he’ll have his own coven one day. Maybe that’s why things never worked out with a mentor. Maybe, like Namjoon, Taehyung just needs to do his own thing for a while. 

Something presses against his bangs, and Taehyung blinks, dazed, and looks up to find Seokjin leaning over him with that Look. Quiet, understated, kind and so full of affection that it just makes Taehyung all the more sad. 

“And a kiss for our golden boy,” Seokjin coos and ruffles his hair. It’s probably time to get it trimmed again. “Wanna help me in the kitchen? Or do you need to get back?”

“I need to get back,” Taehyung smiles, warming under the other’s similar stares. He can’t calm his beating heart, can’t get his mind to quiet down. “I’m in between flowerings, so everyone needs lots of attention.”

“Let us know if you need help.”

“Joon, you’re not going near a pair of cutting shears again.” 

Bickering ensues. Hoseok ends up in a headlock. Namjoon ends up on the ground nursing a bruised shin. Seokjin rolls his eyes and gathers up the groceries, already moving towards the kitchen. He’s seen this often enough to not get involved and Taehyung sneaks out during the lull. 

He greets everyone as he slips back into his shop, not needing to flip any lights on because the voices create a guide of sorts. It’s only been a couple hours, but the plants welcome him back like it’s been years. He tries to do a quick run-through to check on everyone, but he takes too long chatting with the herbs that the saplings start to get huffy, and then he has to make a stop by the cacti shelves because they’re getting a bit, well, prickly.

Taehyung can talk to the plants for hours. They’re kind and caring and great at giving all kinds of advice and each have their own colorful personality, their own likes and dislikes. Almost like people. They’re good company, good friends, but it’s not the same as having someone else here to share the space with. Share himself with. 

Namjoon might have done his own thing, but he still found Seokjin, found Hoseok. Fate brought them together and love made them stay.

Taehyung settles in beside the roses to listen to a story, something he must have missed about a customer earlier this afternoon, and he tries not to think about how much it scares him that maybe, just maybe, he really is meant to be alone. 

 

~~~

 

It’s been a month and the succulent cuttings have all been replanted and Taehyung’s got his hands full trimming back all the flowers. He’s starting to consider hiring on some help to watch the front of the store because he might have jumped into this too fast. How is he possibly supposed to handle a business on his own? He barely has enough time to care for all the plants, let alone all the customers and orders and deliveries. 

“I’m not a very good witch, am I?” Taehyung mumbles to the morning glories curling around his wrist, and Taehyung breathes on the petals and watches as they quiver. The plants are trying to reassure him that he’s doing great for a witch his age. That he’s trying his hardest, doing his best. 

Plants don’t lie. Taehyung knows he’s doing well, treating them and the people who come in right. But no matter how many bouquets or potted ficuses he sells, no matter how many peonies he plants, Taehyung knows he’s missing something. He knows that his chest is going hollow and that it isn’t normal or good, but what does he have left to fill it? Dirt? 

The plants aren’t the problem. The problem is Taehyung. The problem has always been with Taehyung.

A sigh gusts out of him, long and hard, and Taehyung opens his eyes and there’s a man peering down at him, the beautiful dark-haired man from before. He’s still wearing that same, indiscernible expression.

Taehyung thinks he’d be even more breathtaking if he smiled. 

“Oh,” Taehyung blinks, and he shoots to his feet and chuckles when a branch of the Japanese maple reaches out to tickle his cheek. He scolds it softly and then hesitates because this is a customer. A customer who’s probably been here a while and has watched him have a meltdown to the plants and—

“Oh,” Taehyung blinks again, and the ivy loosens on his wrist and Taehyung feels as if the floorboards are rocking under his feet. His magic is pushing so hard against his chest he might just break a rib. “You are a witch.”

A pause, and then the man finally answers with “I am.” He’s cautious, still staring at Taehyung like he’s searching for something. He looks tired. Taehyung has some flowers that could help with that, but Taehyung also knows that look in his eyes. The deep, quiet sorrow. He sees the same dull spark in the mirror some days.  

It’s what he woke up to this morning. What almost kept him in bed.

“Sorry, I just—I saw you through the window a few weeks ago.” Taehyung gestures towards the front like there’s some other place he could be referring to. “I thought, I don’t know. I kind of felt some magic but I wasn’t sure and—Hi, I’m Kim Taehyung. I’m a green witch.”

It’s an automatic response, and the man looks at Taehyung’s outstretched hand, then pointedly glances around the room, and Taehyung feels his smile slipping and of course, of course, of course, how could he be so stupid—

A hand against his own, holding tight, and Taehyung’s breath catches as the man squeezes their palms together. 

“Min Yoongi,” the man answers, clearing his throat. “Hedge witch.”

“Oh, that’s neat,” Taehyung beams, giving their hands a small shake. He stops himself from dragging a thumb down his wrist because who does that to someone they just met? Creepers. And apparently Kim Taehyung. “You see spirits, right? That’s amazing. You help so many people.”

Yoongi’s dark eyes are sparkling and sad. Yoongi looks at him the same way Namjoon does, the way they all do—with a familiarity that can’t be just a coincidence. 

“A bouquet,” Yoongi says suddenly, and Taehyung hasn’t tried to let go of his hand but neither has Yoongi. He’s not sure why Yoongi’s still holding on, but Taehyung hasn’t let go because Yoongi’s hand is warm and smooth and he’s afraid that if he lets go now, he’ll try to touch Yoongi’s beautiful face. Brush the loose hair from his eyes. Drag his lip free that’s caught between his teeth where he’s starting to chew it raw. 

“A bouquet,” Taehyung echoes, nodding like he understands. Usually he does. Usually he can read the people coming in; and maybe it’s a witch thing, their magic canceling out or something, but Taehyung can’t read Yoongi. Can’t figure out why he’s here. “Yes. We have those.” Taehyung laughs. He gestures with a tilt of his head towards a wall of shelves to their right where rows of pre-made bouquets are waiting to go home with someone. “They’re color-coded for ease of choosing.”

Yoongi looks at him, at the flowers, twists back to him. “How convenient.”

“I’ve found that most people choose flowers based off their colors, rather than their meanings, but most of the time they’re connected. And I think they look pretty.”

Another nod. Taehyung stares at Yoongi’s profile as his eyes ghost over the shelves, searching for one in particular, maybe. 

The words tumble out of him before Taehyung can catch them, “Have we met before?”

A pause, a shuddering breath, and Yoongi slowly turns to Taehyung with a look so full of hope that Taehyung wishes he hadn’t said anything at all. “What?”

“We…” Taehyung realizes they’re still holding on to each other and have successfully passed the acceptable allotted time of stranger-to-stranger initial hand contact. He lets go and doesn’t miss how Yoongi tries to linger. 

Taehyung goes to tug on the bow of his apron, threading a finger through one of the large loops. Yoongi rubs down his thighs, an action that has Taehyung staring. “Sorry, it’s just you seem really familiar. Is that just a witch thing? I’m still pretty new to all this. And every time I ask Hoseok-hyung he just kind of laughs at me. Do you know Jung Hoseok from next door? I saw you with a bag from the bakery and just… Are you okay?”

He's not okay. Taehyung can see that and Yoongi must know he can see it, but instead he just clears his throat, tongue pressing against his cheek, eyes batting fast, and says, “Allergies. I’m not very good around plants.”

Taehyung rocks back on his heels, debates his next move. 

“Well, they seem to like you. The wisteria especially.” Taehyung eyes the vine that’s been creeping overhead, unusually active for this time of day. Or ever. “Good for you. It took months for it to warm up to me.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that before.”

“Really?” Yoongi’s gone back to looking at the wall of flowers, but his eyes dart to Taehyung, like he can’t help but stare. Taehyung feels himself ooze under his gaze. He’s afraid that if he looks down now, he might just find his heart on the ground. “Do you know a lot of green witches?”

“Just two.”

“Oh, wow.” Taehyung follows him up to the shelves. “I’ve met a lot of green witches actually. Like, five or six? They were supposed to be my mentors, but nothing ever quite felt right, y’know?”

“Yeah, I… Yeah.”

“Sorry. Am I talking too much? I’ve been told I talk too much.”

“No. No, you… You’re perfect. Okay, I mean. The talking. I like it.”

He likes you, the gardenias whisper, leaning in close as they pass, and the honeysuckle repeats the sentiment as it brushes against his wrist. Taehyung warms at their words, at Yoongi’s eyes trailing over his face. 

A memory flickers in Taehyung’s mind, dreamy and wandering. Warmth, like being buried under the covers in winter, a hand trailing along his spine. The scent of cypress and hyssop. 

Taehyung takes a deep breath and smells sweet pea and lilies and lavender and mint and sage. 

“Oh. Great. Well.” Taehyung re-ties his bow where it’s unraveled under his touch. “Flowers,” he says, clapping his hands. “See anything you’re drawn to?”

Yoongi’s eyes linger on him for a moment more before turning back to the flowers. “Not quite.”

Taehyung takes another step. They’re shoulders brush but Yoongi doesn’t move away. Taehyung breathes in deep.

Sage. Sage and calamint and violets and—

“Hyssop,” Taehyung whispers, and all the nerves in Taehyung’s body turn towards Yoongi. 

Yoongi’s watching him, mouth agape, eyes too wide, the most awake he’s looked since coming in. 

Taehyung doesn’t have any hyssop in the shop.

Taehyung clears his throat, and he uses every muscle in his body to keep from reaching out to pull Yoongi in close. He finds the thread of his apron again and wraps the string so tight he can feel his circulation cut off. “I can make a bouquet for you, if you don’t see what you’re looking for?”

Yoongi nods. Taehyung nods. Steps away. Picks up an empty pail next to the shelf. 

“Can you tell me a little bit about the person receiving the flowers?”

Yoongi’s quiet for a heartbeat. When he speaks, it comes out so soft Taehyung has to step in close again to hear him. “For my partner. He’s, uhm, been under the weather this week.” Yoongi kicks his boot against the concrete, dragging his heel along a smooth crack. “We have a greenhouse, but I don’t know how to cut the flowers, and I saw this shop last time I was here…”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says, pulling a set of hand clippers from his apron. “Cutting is kinda scary, but it’s the only way for new flowers to bloom.”

Yoongi stares at him again and Taehyung doesn’t duck away this time. “Yeah. I’ve heard that before.”

“So.” Taehyung twirls the handle of the clippers around before the silence can grow too large between them again. “Your partner. What’s your favorite thing about them?”

“He’s selfless,” Yoongi answers without hesitation. “The kindest person I know. And when he laughs, he throws his whole body into it.”

Taehyung moves around to another shelf, where the chrysanthemums are calling to him. He clips a couple yellow ones, takes a few steps to the left and cuts a few of the pink peonies where they’re beckoning for him, as well.

“Is he a witch?” A small nod. “What kind?”

“Kitchen.” 

“Like Seokjin-hyung!” Taehyung grins, going for the hydrangeas, the ones just now slipping into a dusky purple. He tucks them into his bucket. “I wish I was better in the kitchen. Does he have any hobbies besides cooking?”

“He loves to dance. We both like music.”

“His favorite kind of dancing?”

“Ballet.”

Jasmine this time. 

“He sounds like a catch.”

“Yeah, he’s…” Yoongi tips his head, smiling squintily, adorably. “He’s so beautiful.” 

For the first time Taehyung notices that his teeth are sharpened to a point, like fangs, and Taehyung’s so overwhelmed by the urge to lick them that he trips over his sandals on his way to the amaryllis. His chest is burning and Yoongi must notice his embarrassment because he laughs. It’s more breath than sound. Taehyung almost loses his footing again.  

Instead he shakes out his hands, chastises himself for lusting after a complete stranger, and plucks some myrtle and lemon leaf and thyme on his way to the bench. 

“What are you doing?”

“Putting together a bouquet,” Taehyung answers, his voice thick as he spreads out all the flower to get a better look.  

“Yes, but you…” Taehyung glances up and Yoongi’s hovering nearby, gaze set on his hands. “Those flowers.” 

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry ‘bout all the questions.” Taehyung plucks off a few leaves, trims a stem here and there. “It’s just, when I’m making a bouquet for someone and I learn about them, the flowers kind of respond, y’know? So like… Peonies for compassion and hydrangeas for understanding, chrysanthemums for joy, jasmine for grace, amaryllis for beauty… Are you okay?” 

Yoongi’s eyes rove over his face and for a moment Taehyung thinks he’s messed up; but then the corners of Yoongi’s mouth begin to curl upward and he says gently, “Yeah.  He’ll love it. Can you put in some lilacs?”

“Of course,” Taehyung nods. “Is he your first love?” 

It might be an invasive question, but as Taehyung gathers a couple lilacs, he hears Yoongi say from quietly behind, “Yeah. But he’s not my last one.”

Taehyung wonders how many people have the joy of Yoongi loving them.

Taehyung arranges the flowers and the greenery in comfortable silence. He measures out the stems again to trim, ties them off with a blue bow, bundles the bouquet up in butcher paper, and finally wraps another larger bow around that. Yoongi watches him work, focused on every little action, and Taehyung takes longer than he normally would adding in the few final details, making sure everything is perfect. 

“All done,” he announces, a bit hesitant, but Yoongi just takes the outstretched bouquet with a smile that floods Taehyung’s chest with sunlight. His magic hums, knotting up his throat, cutting off his breath so suddenly that Taehyung staggers in surprise.

Yoongi studies his burning face. Opens his mouth. Closes it. 

“Thank you,” he finally says, voice tender and tentative, and Taehyung watches the silver ring he’s wearing glint in the sunlight. “He’ll love it.”

“Bring him by next time,” Taehyung finds himself saying, and he reaches to fiddle with the top button of his collar. “I’d love to meet him.”

Yoongi stares at his hand. He lifts his free arm, and for a second Taehyung thinks Yoongi’s going to touch him, hold his hand again; but he just pulls back in and runs his fingers through his tangled hair.

 When Yoongi smiles, Taehyung can see it go all the way to his eyes, and he likes to think it’s with a little less sorrow then when he came in. “Yeah. I think he’d love to see you, too.” 

 

 

 

Yoongi’s almost two blocks away when Taehyung catches up to him. He’s never been a runner, can’t recall the last time he ever willingly put effort into like, health and fitness, so he’s grossly out of breath as he calls out for Yoongi to stop.

“Taehyung-ssi?”

Yoongi’s got that wide-eyed look again. Surprised. Expectant. Taehyung chokes on his breath and sticks out his arm and holds it there. 

“This is...” 

“A bouquet,” Taehyung gasps, then breathes in deeply through his nose. In through the nose, out through the mouth, right? That might have stuck with him from gym. “It’s, you, you said… It’s a bouquet. It’s you.”

Yoongi stares at the flowers, at Taehyung’s warming face. “Taehyung-ssi, what are you—”

“Sunflowers for loyalty and adoration,” Taehyung says, stepping forward, shaking the bouquet to get Yoongi to just take it already because this is embarrassing and his arm hurts and he should have stayed inside. He should have stayed in bed. “Lily of the valley for sweetness. Gardenias for joy and heliotropes for devotion and daisies for, for beauty and daffodils—” Taehyung takes a too big breath and doesn’t know what to do with it and the words just tumble out over each other, “Daffodils are for new beginnings.”

More staring on both their parts, but while it’s quite possible Taehyung could never get tired of looking at Yoongi’s face, Yoongi seems set on looking everywhere but at him. The sky, his shoes, a dog passing by. Back to the road. Back to the dog. No, a new dog this time. 

Yoongi takes the flowers.

Yoongi says quietly, “Thanks, Taehyung-ah.”

Yoongi brushes his fingertips over the band of Taehyung’s ring.

Smiles softly.

Walks away. 

A woman asks if he’s okay and Taehyung just nods, then shakes his head, notices that the sun has begun to set, turns around and heads back to his store with so much magic brimming inside of him he thinks he might just take off into the sky and never come back down. Who said witches can’t fly again? Taehyung wants to prove them wrong.  

 

~~~

 

Taehyung wakes up at 4:34am with a hollowness in his chest he hasn’t felt in years. The emptiness of it aches, a deep sadness settles in his heart, and Taehyung uses every muscle in his body to pack a bag, buy a ticket, and hop on a bus to Incheon.

Taehyung hasn’t seen the ocean since he was little. A trip with his family, the summer before the accident. It’s autumn now. The sky is a rolling grey of forecasted rain. The beach he ends up at is more rocks and glass than sand. Taehyung picks up stray bits of trash littered about and stuffs it in his backpack on his walk along the shoreline. 

The beach looks about as empty and lonely as he feels, but Taehyung takes careful, measured steps and thinks about his breathing, big and timed and gusty, just like Namjoon showed him to do when the world feels too big and he feels too small.

Taehyung isn’t sure what he’s doing here, but he knows he doesn’t want to leave just yet, and he knows that even if he did, he’d just sit at home in the bathtub watching some sad animated film as he stuffed his face with snack cakes.

So Taehyung is here instead, toeing the edge of a literal and proverbial bluff, wind whipping his bangs  as he stretches his arms wide, far as they can go, hoping the clouds know that if he could hold all of them he would.

Taehyung feels something small inside of him relax a bit. He stretches up on his toes, cups his hands to his mouth, and screams so loud that he startles the gulls diving in the distance.

He screams and shrieks and hollers and throws in a respectable attempt at a yodel, and then he falls backwards and lays there, star-fished in the browning grass, chest towards the sky, crying from laughing.

Stillness settles over him. Heavy. Warm. Taehyung closes his eyes, smile creeping onto his face, and can almost feel fingers dance along his spine

Taehyung watches the water lap at the shore.  Digs his nails into the sleeping earth. Closes his eyes and just allows himself to breathe.

This morning Taehyung was sad, but now he feels calm, a tiny bit hopeful, and very much so like someone somewhere, for the first time since that summer in the field with Gram, is tugging on his hand, calling him home.

 

~~~

 

“How did it feel,” Taehyung starts off slow, not knowing how to ask but feeling like he needs to, “when you guys first met?”

Namjoon looks up from his textbook, brows drawn together, one hand caught in Hoseok’s hair and the other gripping a pen. Namjoon’s been studying for an hour, now. At first it was a heavy, one-way conversation about something to do with dialectical differences between speech in large communities and the effect it has on socio and economic development; but then Hoseok threatened to burn Namjoon’s original copy of some book from the sixties and Namjoon promptly took to the silent route. 

“You mean like how we knew we’d be each other’s coven?” Hoseok presses, voice rough from his nap, and he squirms on the sofa so that he’s still curled into Namjoon’s side but can see Taehyung better where he’s perched in one of the armchairs, cradling a cup of Seokjin’s spicy hot chocolate. 

Taehyung nods, dragging his pinky along the rim of his mug, watching the fire lick at the bottom of the big, stainless steel pot on the stove. Seokjin’s mid-brew and Taehyung usually loves watching him work, but his mind’s been so sky-high lately that he hasn’t been able to focus on anything but the plants. The shop’s been closed to customers for three days, ever since Yoongi came in.

Yoongi.

Yoongi, Yoongi, Yoongi

Taehyung can still feel his magic drubbing in his chest, spreading through him so fast that his fingers keep going tingly.  

“I think it’s different for everyone,” Namjoon says, and Taehyung looks over and watches as Hoseok draws small, invisible shapes against Namjoon’s knee with his ring finger. Namjoon absently trails his fingertips down the side of Hoseok’s face, traces the curve of his top lip. Taehyung knows there’s a mole there, the one that Seokjin likes to aim for during kisses. 

“It’s almost like,” Namjoon starts again, and his voice comes out deep and warm and so, so tender that Taehyung’s cheeks warm. “It felt like I was coming home for the first time in years,” he whispers, caught up in the past, caught up in Hoseok pulling his wrist in to press a light kiss against his palm. “Like I was searching for something I had forgotten and suddenly I could just stop .” 

Namjoon and Hoseok share a smile private enough that Taehyung finally has to look away. “Why do you ask?” 

Taehyung taps along his mug. Digs his bare heels into the thick shag rug underfoot. He takes a deep breath of the potion, the room, the world and then says, “I met someone.”

“You met someone,” Hoseok says.

“You met someone?” Namjoon startles.

“A witch,” Taehyung nods, tracing the embroidered pattern of the chair fabric, avoiding Hoseok and Namjoon’s expectant stares. “He was… He was all that and more.” 

 Taehyung’s face is burning and his magic is beating against his ribs so hard he can barely catch his breath. 

He braves a look at the others and Namjoon and Hoseok are both still smiling at each other, wearing their secret smiles; but when Hoseok asks to hear more it’s genuine and Taehyung lets go of all the doubt and tension in his body and tells them about Yoongi. Yoongi and his soft smile and sleepy eyes and how talking to him felt like laying in the wheat field outside his family’s farm as the sun set on the horizon, as it painted the world in gold.    

 

~~~

 

It’s been a couple months and Yoongi hasn’t visited again, but that’s okay. Taehyung cares for the plants. Visits with customers. He’s done two weddings in three weeks and has another coming up soon. Mrs. Kim still stops by for sunflowers, but she no longer takes them to the hospital. Jaeun’s graduated and hasn’t been by since the summer. Mr. Gu has stopped asking for red tulips and now reaches for yellow.

Taehyung’s figured it out now, the way his shop works. 

The stone in his pocket, the ring on his hand. A potion, a spell, a book. Compared to these things, flowers are fleeting. Even with enough care and well-wishes, no matter how hard you try, they’ll never last forever. 

That’s why people come back. That’s why it’s dahlias one week and irises the next. Why some come every day, every week, every month. Because flowers are fleeting and feelings are fleeting and people are fleeting, but it’s like the poppies said:

At the end of the day, regardless of who you are, everyone needs a little help, a little wisdom, a little friendship, a little love.

At the end of the day, everyone needs a little magic.

 

~~~

 

It’s Christmas Eve and Taehyung’s walking back to the shop to prep for dinner with the others when he hears it, soft and delicate, a hushed lullaby that barely rises over the din of voices around him.  

The tinkling of piano keys.

He pauses, his gaze skimming over storefronts. It’s mostly a residential area, and out of the few shops that are here, all have some kind of seasonal jingle trickling through their outdoor speakers. The people moving about keep to themselves, most of them couples on dates enjoying the holiday and the recent snowfall. It’s quiet for a moment, and Taehyung twists in place, staring from window to window, wondering if he just imagined the music. 

But he hears it again, the piano, and Taehyung heads towards a stone-paved side street lined with twinkling lights. He picks up the pace and jogs through a connecting alley, then stops, takes a left, takes the next right. He pauses outside a café, steps aside for a man trying to get past. He listens. Hears the music in the distance and takes off once more, sprinting as he passes doorway after doorway, alley after alley, and no matter how hard his heartbeat thuds in his ears, it’s never enough to drown out the sound of the piano.

This is crazy, Taehyung thinks to himself as he races down a paved back road and the brick walls around him loom higher and higher with every step. He slips on a patch of ice but manages to keep his balance and this is crazy; because something is pulling him forward, something is pulsing deep within him, calling out to him, and Taehyung thinks his lungs are about to burst but he just keeps running because he has to. He just has to. 

He turns one last corner and almost slams into a wrought-iron gate. It takes several heaving, gasping, moments for him to collect his mind, and then Taehyung reaches out tentatively and the gate swings way under touch. 

Taehyung finds himself in garden courtyard. It’s hard to tell with winter pressing in, but it’s well-cared for—no weeds in the cracks of the cobblestones, the hedges neatly trimmed and arranged. There’s a large maple tree looming in a knoll in the corner of the yard, and Taehyung’s drawn to it in the way he usually is with plants that have old souls.  

Taehyung presses his palm against the bark of the trunk. Warmth spreads through his arm, curling in his stomach, and it’s so overwhelming his knees almost buckle.

Welcome back, little one.

Taehyung inhales sharply as the greeting washes over him, and he realizes the sentiment is being echoed through the small garden. The flowers, sleeping before, now greet him by name, and Taehyung lifts a hand to his chest and pats his heart a few times, willing it to calm down. 

He’s good with plants. Taehyung’s good with plants, plants love him, but this is different. This is different but familiar and terrifying and right

He spots a door recessed into the dark brick of the building. There’s a small open sign hanging from the knob, and as Taehyung pads along the foot-worn path, saying hello to the plants here and there out of habit, a light flickers on over the frame. There’s a bell that chimes on his way in, and Taehyung’s hit with a wall of warmth and herbs. Calamint and rosemary and orange blossoms and there, just under the myriad of scents, is hyssop.

Taehyung grins as he unwraps his scarf and moves further into the store. He’s sweaty from the run, jittery from the garden, confused by the denseness in the air. Like the building is holding its breath. There’s a small library to his left, the shelves bursting with books and buckling under the weight of their pages. Taehyung passes it by and instead scopes out the main room where bundles are flowers and branches are drying from the ceiling. Two large, wooden tables take up a majority of the space, and they’re covered in hundreds of crystals. 

Taehyung leans over one table and picks up a familiar yellow stone, the same buttery shade as his own, but just a bit bigger. It’s cool in his palm. Taehyung rubs his thumb over a particularly golden spot. 

Magic pulses through the store, something softer and sweeter than his own that makes the air stir, and Taehyung looks up at the same time a breathy voice says, “citrine.”

A boy steps around the corner from another room. In his hands is a vial that he carefully places on a nearby shelf. “Good pick.”

Taehyung notices that his smile is slow and breathtaking. That he’s beautiful. That his hands are trembling where they’re pulling at the string of his green apron. That it feels like the world just fell apart and is slowly clicking back together.

Taehyung’s chest knots with bewilderment as he tears his gaze away to look around the room again, searching. 

“This is a magical shop,” he says, a grin curling on his lips, and something about what he’s said makes the boy shudder. “You’re a witch.”

The boy’s mouth opens, but no words come out. The room does get brighter, though, like a small power surge just rushed through. Taehyung stares up at the ceiling in awe. 

“Amazing,” he murmurs. “Just like Jin-hyung’s café.”

“Are you…” Taehyung looks over and the boy is tugging on the pocket of his apron this time. He starts again. “Are you looking for something in particular?”

The words echo back to him. He asks customers this all the time. It’s ingrained in him, in every witch probably—but the way this boy says it, with marginalia, has Taehyung thinking that maybe he is here for something special.

Taehyung laughs, still breathless from his run, from his magic, from this stunning boy before him. He blows the hair out of his eyes. He forgot to tie it back today. “I heard a piano,” Taehyung tells him. “It was so beautiful I had to follow.”

“Oh,” the boy says. His hand has gone still and he shifts from foot to foot. “Oh,” he repeats. Swallows. Looks around. Looks back at Taehyung. 

Warmth. The memory of it. Sun-drenched earth beneath his feet. A piano song, shivering in the morning air. Wet handprints on his shirt, his waist. Laughter. The scent of orange blossoms and cypress.

“We,” Taehyung starts, grasping at his chest where his heart has begun to hum. “We… Have we…?”

Summer. An early afternoon in August. Light streaming through the patchwork leaves of a garden.

A hand in his hair, the ghost of fingers on his spine.

Someone holding him, singing soft and low, the echo of a lullaby.

The entry bell jingles. Heavy footsteps drag across the hardwood. They come to a rest, and Taehyung swivels, disoriented, and finds Yoongi standing on the other side of the table, holding his scarf like he was in the middle of shucking it off, just as stunning as the last time they spoke. 

Yoongi doesn’t move, doesn’t say anything at all. Just stands there, looking unnerved and vulnerable and expectant. Eyes wide with wonder at the scene set up before him.

A hiccup from behind, and Taehyung turns again and finds the boy with a hand pressed to his mouth, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Taehyung crumples. The world moves a few paces slower. He feels like a moon-eyed fool, the way his body just lumbers across the room in response to some tears.

“Hey, no, no. It’s okay.” Taehyung’s voice comes out much too soft. Sweetness aches beneath his ribs as he brushes his palm over the boy’s cheek. “You’re okay.”

The boy sniffles. Wipes his nose. Looks right into Taehyung’s face.

Blue. That startling, wonderful shade of blue.

They stay there a moment, eye-to-eye, and Taehyung shudders when the boy slides his fingers into his hair, tugging lightly, a hand resting on the back of Taehyung’s neck.

“We…” Knuckles grazing his jaw. Taehyung finds the hand and braids their fingers together. Doesn’t miss how both the boy and Yoongi suck in a small breath at the touch.

Taehyung stares at their hands, at the table of crystals, at the doorway in the back that leads into a kitchen that he knows will have a hearth with two cauldrons. There will be sunflowers on the walls upstairs, petals laced in metallic gold so that when the light hits them in the morning the whole hallway glows. A bedroom with too many pillows, another with too many books. A greenhouse out back, the ceiling so tall it might as well be part of the sky. 

Taehyung looks down at their hands again, then turns to search for Yoongi. He hasn’t moved, not once, and Taehyung can read it on his face now, his expression from the flower shop; all the hope and heartbreak and this ache of longing that Taehyung has no idea how he could have missed before. 

“Taehyung.”

A whisper, more breath than sound against his palm, and Taehyung looks out the window and sees snowfall, the heavy kind that sticks well and is best for sculpting. He sees the limbs of the maple sway in the breeze as if caught in a wave. Sees the iron gate he entered from slowly latch itself back into place and suddenly it’s there, it’s all there: the warmth and the wonder and this undeniable sense of magic, of home .

“Hey, Jiminie,” Taehyung smiles, and as the sunshine bursts in his heart, the lights overhead flicker with it.  

 

 

 

The end.

 

 

Chapter Text

Hey friends~

No, this isn't a new chapter or an epilogue. Sorry to get your hopes up, and you're free to scadaddle on out if you'd like. But I'm posting to let you all know that as of ten minutes ago on this fine Wednesday afternoon in June, I've edited the entirety of Up We Go. I mean all of it. ALL of it. The entire fic has been refreshed, and there's almost 10k of new material. It's still the same story, just with like a nice haircut or something. Not so scruffy anymore.

To keep this brief, there are a few reasons for this update:

  1. The first is that I feel like I now have a better grasp on the member's rich personalities, as well as their relationships with each other, compared to when I first posted the story two years ago.
  2. I wanted to include more background information to make the characters more dyanmic, so you'll find some added info here and there on that.
  3. There were some inconsistencies in the world-building and plot, and hopefully those are all squeaky clean now.
  4. I also worked to make the fic less western, as it's important not to whitewash the cultural significance of the setting in which the story takes place.

 

I love this fic dearly, and I know several of you do, as well, so I wanted to make the story better because I thought it and you all deserve it.

Anywho, thanks for being awesome and patient and loving the words I've written. Please don't feel required to read this if you don't want/feel up to it! If you tell me there's a typo I'll cry, but dear heavens please let me know if there's a typo.

I'll delete this chapter/update/thing in a few days so please don't leave a comment here if you want it to stay! Love you!

(●´□`)♡