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when i'm down on my knees, you're how i pray

Chapter Text

The ritual is second nature to Jimin.

He doesn’t hesitate as he descends the marble steps of the temple, passing down the path littered with flowers to the round pool of pink water that waits in the patio’s center. Worshippers line either side of the walkway at a careful distance; palace guards keep them at bay, though Jimin thinks there’s no need for that. No one has ever tried to approach him.

He can see the crowds of worshippers stretching into the horizon, down the grassy knoll and spilling into the city streets. They’re all here to see him. It should make him nervous, but it doesn’t anymore. He moves with careful, graceful steps, his sheer robe swishing behind his bare feet. No lanterns light his path, but the full moon and sky full of stars are especially bright tonight.

Behind him, a row of handmaidens carry baskets of ceremonial herbs. He can smell the anise and vervain even from where he walks ahead of them. In his arms, he holds a jug of rainwater they’ve left near the dragontree incense for the past two moons. It’s blessed rainwater from a storm on the night of an eclipse.

He pauses at the edge of the pool to set the jug down by its side, dropping into a brief, smooth crouch before rising again. The royal family have the nearest view, seated in a red-canopied tent just on the other side of the pool. He doesn’t look at them, not yet, focused on the prayer he repeats in his head before he says it aloud, words ringing in the quiet of the surrounding crowd.

He unties the front of his robes with one slight tug. They fall open around his bare figure; he holds his arms out, and Jisoo and Hyojung remove it, exceedingly careful not to touch his skin as they do. They retreat, carrying the robe, and Jimin lifts the jug once more. Except for the jeweled garter around his thigh and the gold chain hanging from his hips, he’s naked. He’s always considered it lucky that the Moon Goddess’s most important festival occurs in the summer when the air is warm on his bare skin. He follows the three wide steps down into the pool, the water warm around his calves and eventually his thighs.

He stops when the pale pink water is at his hips. The handmaidens circle the pool’s edge and sprinkle the herbs into the water, anise and vervain and ginseng. Lifting the jug, he begins to pour the blessed water over his head. Throwing his head back, he lets his eyes drift shut, lips parted as the water spills slowly over his face, drips from his hair and slides down his body.

Around him, the handmaidens chant an incantation.

The water finishes just as their voices die down. Jimin straightens, opening his eyes. His gaze lands first on him , the first prince, heir to throne. His lips are curled into a pleased smirk, like always; Jimin’s stomach turns. The way he looks at him has always made him tense. Jimin looks away, focusing on his feet as he ascends the three steps leading out of the pool on the opposite side. Stepping onto the warm marble, he hands the jug to Seolhyun. Jisoo and Hyojung await with a new robe, a thicker one, white with embroidery of golden thread. He lets them slip it on and ties it shut himself.

Then he moves to stand in front of the royal family’s tent.

“May the Moon Goddess bless us,” he says, and bows.

They stand to return the bow. By the time he straightens, they have, too, the king and queen, the first prince. All except for the second prince, who remains in a bow for a second too long. When he straightens, his gaze drags from Jimin’s feet to his eyes, meeting them without an ounce of hesitation.

Jimin doesn’t know the second prince. He’s been away for ten years, studying in a different kingdom. Jimin met him when they were younger, back when he first arrived at the temple, but it was so long ago that the face that looks at him now is a stranger’s.

The second prince’s mouth curves into a lopsided smile. He graces Jimin with the slightest of nods, and something about the intensity of his gaze sends a shiver up Jimin’s spine.

Jimin looks away like he’s been burned.

“Thank you, Your Holiness,” the queen says. She inclines her head then gestures to the people around them. “Let the festivities begin!”

Jimin turns away. The festivities are not for him to partake in. He is only the catalyst of the fertility festival; with him it begins, then his task is over. With the handmaidens by his side, he returns up the path to the temple. A resounding cheer begins in the crowds around them and spreads down to the city, the cheer that signals the beginning of days of revelry. Jimin’s shoulders threaten to sag, but he doesn’t let them. The cheers sound distant to him - untouchable.

He glances behind him, one last time, and catches the second prince’s eyes.

His family has turned away, gazing out at the city, but the second prince watches him go. When he meets Jimin’s eyes, he smiles. It’s a pretty smile, a bright one. It lights up his whole face.

Jimin flushes and retreats into the temple.

 

 

“Isn’t he beautiful?”

“Did you see the way he smiled? Like the sun god had blessed him.”

“He’s even prettier than the first prince.”

“The first prince,” Hyojung mutters, eyes narrow, “is a brute.”

“A brute with a pretty face,” Seolhyun says.

“What about you, Jiminie?” Junghwa asks. “You stared at him long enough.”

Her tone is teasing. Jimin flushes, focusing intently on the dried herbs he’s tying together, sitting on the cool temple floor with the girls. “I didn’t.”

“I didn’t think he was anything special,” Hyojung says.

“But that’s because you only have eyes for women,” Jisoo answers. Hyojung shrugs, throws her a careless grin.

“I’ve never seen him before,” Mina muses. “They’d already sent him away when I came here.”

“I saw him once, a few years before he left,” Yuna says. “I was so little I hardly remember it.”

“I met him,” Jimin murmurs, deft fingers at work. He rests his chin on the bare knee that emerges from the slit of his robe and doesn’t look at the girls when he admits it.

“You did?”

“Met him as in spoke to him?”

“How come you never told us?”

Jimin shrugs. He was hardly seven years old when he met the second prince, but he remembers it clear as day, remembers his bright laugh and curious eyes. Mostly, he remembers the way his hand had felt clutching his, soft and slender fingers wrapped around his own. Remembers the way his heart had nearly stopped because no one was supposed to touch him, not since he had come to the temple, not even the slightest brushing of skin.

“What was he like?” Junghwa presses.

“I don’t remember,” Jimin lies. “I’m going to go hang these up, now.”

He leaves the storage room of the temple where they work with the herbs for the main hall, the circular room where statues of the Moon Goddess in her various forms border the walls. Jimin stops by the altar at the head of the room, where he crouches to light incense around her most blessed form, the silver wolf. Then he stands and reaches to untie a bushel of dried herbs hanging above the altar and replace it with the one he’s just gathered.

He struggles with the ties, the twine thin in his grasp. It nearly slips and falls twice. He tries again with a frustrated huff.  

“Let me.”

The voice startles him but not as much as the hands that reach above him to take the twine from his fingers, careful not to touch him. He freezes, breath caught in his throat, as the warmth of another body comes from inches behind him. Eyes wide, he spins around and backs away, his hip bumping into the statue.

It’s the second prince, still dressed in the embroidered jacket and slim trousers of the ceremony. He finishes hanging the herbs and turns to Jimin, the same pretty smile from before on his face. He should be out celebrating with the rest of the city; Jimin’s not sure why he’s here when there’s no one around but him and the girls.

“Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t intend to scare you.”

Jimin collects himself. He bows briefly. “Your Highness.”

He returns the bow. There’s something almost mocking in the inclination of his head, in the sweep of his hand. “Your Holiness.”

“Are you here to worship?”

“No.” His eyes twinkle.

Jimin frowns. “Then - did you need something?”

“I came here for you.”

He says it so easily, like it’s nothing. Jimin clasps his hands together behind his back. He takes a careful step away from the altar; away from the prince. “I’m - I don’t understand.”

He wonders, briefly, if Hoseok remembers him. But then he thinks that’s impossible - their meeting had only held meaning for him.

“I wanted to introduce myself.”

He really is beautiful. Jimin can see that better close up, the sharp line of his jaw and the small bow of his lips, dark hair pushed back from his forehead. He’s a little taller than Jimin, body lithe, legs long in the slender pants. He doesn’t look much like his brother.

“Hoseok,” he says. “Second prince.”

“I know,” Jimin says, even though he means to say something else.

Hoseok’s smile curves wider. “Oh?”

“Jimin. Priest of the Moon Goddess.”

“I know.”

The repeated words hold a tint of amusement. Jimin flushes again and takes another step back. “If that’s all, Your Highness - ”

“Call me Hoseok.”

Jimin doesn’t answer. He bites his lip and glances away. It can’t be proper etiquette for entertaining a member of the royal family in the temple, but Hoseok isn’t here for the goddess. Jimin supposes etiquette doesn’t matter.

“It’s been many years since I set foot in this temple. I hope the Moon Goddess will take care of me from here on.”

“The Moon Goddess takes care of all who seek her,” Jimin answers, a recitation; the words are little more than habit now.

“Thank you, Jimin.”

Jimin’s fingers tighten behind his back. No one but the girls of the temple call him by his name.

“I’ll be back with a proper offering another day.” Hoseok heads toward the temple entrance. Jimin lets out a quiet sigh of relief. “I hope to see you again.”

His words sound less like hope and more like a promise. “Yes, Your Highness.”

“Hoseok,” he corrects, pausing in the curtained doorway.

Jimin isn’t going to say it, but the prince waits with that insufferable smile still on his face. One slender hand holds back the curtain as he stands there, long body framed against the night sky, the distant noises of revelry seeping in around him. He tilts his head. His gaze is soft.

“Hoseok,” Jimin says, and the way his lips shape his name feels like a promise, too.

 

 

Being untouchable means there’s no one to take his hand when he steps out of the palanquin. The men who carry it stop just outside the doorway of his childhood home, holding carefully still as Jimin gathers his robes and hops neatly to the dirt. He gestures for them to rest, and they set the palanquin down, rolling their shoulders. None of them meet his eyes, their gazes averted out of respect.

His home is small, a tiny wooden shack on the outskirts of the city. His visits have grown infrequent over the years, especially after the realization dawned that his family didn’t want him back, not really. He knocks on the door, uncomfortably aware of how out of place he looks in his embroidered robes and slender gold bracelets.

His mother smiles when she opens the door; she, at least, still pretends to welcome him.

“Jiminie!” she says, ushering him inside. He follows her to the rickety table in the kitchen with its three weak chairs and sits across from her. “You look well. Are you eating?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Everyone was talking about your ritual at the start of the festival. Jiho stopped by to tell me how lucky I am that I have a son such as you. You did well, as always.”

“Thank you.” He can’t help the way his heart swells at his mother’s praise. He knows that’s all he’s good for to them, for the honor he’s brought their family and the monthly allowance. “How are Father and Jihyun?”

“Well, thanks to the Goddess. They’ll be here soon enough if you’d like to stay to meet them.”

He stays, lets his mother make him a mug of tea and chatter to him about the town news. She tells him everyone’s talking about the second prince’s return and asks if he’s seen him. He shrugs it off, answering vaguely, and she doesn’t press. The thump of boots in the entranceway sometime later alerts him to the arrival of the rest of his family.

Jihyun enters the room first, soot from the forge on his chin and hair sticking to his forehead with sweat. Their mother rises to cup his face in her hands and kiss his cheek. He’s much taller than her now; taller than Jimin, too. A pang of longing stirs in Jimin’s stomach; he wonders what it would be like for his mother to kiss his cheek, wonders what it would feel like to stand and embrace his little brother.

“Jimin,” Jihyun says, starting when he sees him sitting at the table.

“Jihyun.” Jimin’s face stretches into a smile, and Jihyun follows with a hesitant one.

Jihyun’s not cruel to him, just distant, and Jimin can’t quite blame him for that. When they were kids, Jimin had doted on Jihyun, carried him everywhere they went and kissed his scraped knees. But Jihyun wouldn’t remember that. All he’s ever known of his brother is ceremonial robes and strict rules: no touching .

“It’s good to see you well,” Jimin says.

Jihyun answers formally, “We are blessed to have you here.”

Their father enters after him. He takes up space, heavy steps and looming figure. When Jimin was little, his father had seemed like a giant. In a way, he still does. “Jimin.” He nods in his direction, but he doesn’t meet his eyes.

“Father.” Jimin stands, bowing slightly. “I’m happy to see you.”

His father turns toward his mother. “Are you preparing supper?”

His mother starts. “I was just about to begin,” she says, though Jimin can tell she hadn’t been. “Jimin, are you staying for supper?”

He had planned it, but now that he’s here, he doesn’t want to. He stares at his father, at the way he studiously avoids looking at him, and says, “I’m sorry. I only stopped by for a moment.”

“A shame,” his mother says, but the almost relieved glance she shoots between him and his father says otherwise.

To have a child chosen to serve the Moon Goddess is an unbelievable honor. It’s even more of an honor that he’s the first man to be blessed by her in nearly a century. His father should be proud - perhaps he is, in a way. But mostly, he hates him. He sees him as an abomination. He’d hated him since he was born, since the healer-midwife had pulled him from his mother and nearly dropped him in shock. Even the blessing of the Goddess six years later didn’t erase the permanent disgust from his father’s gaze.

Like most pregnant women in their village, his mother had gone to a priestess for a prediction of her unborn baby’s sex. The priestess had predicted a boy child, and the priestess was never wrong. Then Jimin had been born without a cock. The midwife had seen it happen only once before, and that child had grown up without breasts or the ability to grow pregnant. Everyone who saw him thought he was a boy, and he knew himself to be one, too. All that set him apart was that he had a cunt instead of a cock.

“I brought gifts.” Jimin moves to the doorway and gestures to one of the palanquin bearers, who brings a box covered with velvet cloth. From the box, Jimin draws a set of delicate prayer beads draped around a tiny figurine of the Moon Goddess’s human form. “For Mother.”

She takes it, looking pleased. For his brother and father, he has dark, good quality tunics. Jihyun accepts his with a respectful bow, but their father shakes his head.

“There’s no room for such finery in the forge.”

Jimin’s breath catches. He returns the tunic to the box, blinking fast. Jimin’s status means his father can’t raise a hand to him like he used to, but that doesn’t stop him from hurting him in other ways.

Jimin should be accustomed to it by now.

“Thank you for having me,” Jimin says. “May the Goddess bless this home.”

“Take care,” his mother says as he steps through the doorway. The palanquin bearers return to their positions at the sight of him. “Be sure to eat well.”

“It was nice seeing you,” Jihyun calls. Jimin’s not sure if he means it, but he appreciates the gesture.

Jimin gathers his robes, this time to step into the palanquin. Once he’s settled, the men lift it up. He waves once to his family before letting the curtain fall over the side, blocking them from view. His gaze fixes on his hands curled in his lap; he stares for so long he hardly registers the teardrops that fall onto them.

His father used to beat him when he cried. Crying is for girls, he’d say. Weakness is for girls. You’re not a girl, are you? It wasn’t until he arrived at the temple that he learned otherwise, when the handmaidens would tell him it was all right if he cried because everyone did it. Hyojung used to sit next to him and encourage him to cry, cooing words of comfort in place of the embrace she would give the younger girls when they wept.

When he grew older, he realized perhaps his father pushed his brand of masculinity on him to make up for his difference, pressuring him to play in the streets with the town boys and help him in the forge even as a little boy. It must have boiled his blood to see how Jimin changed after leaving for the temple - how he flourished under the girls’ care, flourished under Hyojung and Bora’s assurance that he could be however he wanted to be.

“You’re a man no matter what he says,” Hyojung told him once, scoffing when he returned from a visit home comparing himself to his father and brother. He didn’t look like them, didn’t act like them. They were big and broad, muscled from hours spent hammering metal in the forge, taller than him, jaws lined with scruffy facial hair. They took up space, hid how they felt, ordered his mother around. It was hard to feel like a man when he was everything his father had once told him not to be.

By the time they return to the temple, he’s all right again. It’s just another visit home, after all, and every visit home ends with a sickly swirling in his stomach. Still, he can’t stop himself from returning. He can’t fight the strange sort of obligation that remains in his heart, even though Hyojung tells him all the time that he owes his family nothing.

As he ascends the marble steps into the temple, Jimin considers that in every aspect of his life, he’s always been bound by obligation.

 

 

Prince Hoseok returns three days later.

Jimin isn’t counting, exactly, except maybe he is.

“Jimin,” he says when he enters the temple, a basket of fruits and vegetables on his arm. “Your Holiness.”

“Your Highness.” When Hoseok raises an eyebrow, expecting, Jimin reluctantly adds, “Hoseok.”

“An offering, as promised.” He holds up the basket. “Will you lead me through a prayer?”

Something about the near amusement with which Hoseok moves deeper into the temple tells Jimin prayer is probably the last thing on his mind. But there’s nothing else to do but comply, so he gestures for him to stand before the wolf statue. The candles and incense around her are already lit; it’s Seolhyun’s job to keep them that way.

“So,” Hoseok says conversationally. “Do all the Moon Goddess’s messengers wear so much jewelry?

He’s staring at the gold chains clasped around his biceps, visible through the sheer sleeves of his robe, instead of the statue. Jimin frowns, clasping his hands behind his back.

“It’s tradition.”

“Ah.”

“Please set your offering before the Goddess.” Jimin sounds rather sterner than he means to.

Hoseok’s fighting a smile as he kneels to rest the basket at the base of the statue.

Jimin moves to stand by his side, curving his hands in the sign of the Goddess before his chest. Hoseok mimics the movement.

“What about the pink hair?” Hoseok says.

Jimin shoots him a sideways look. “Are you going to make your prayers?”

“Right, of course.” Hoseok clears his throat with mock seriousness. He closes his eyes and begins. “Blessed Moon Goddess, please grant my family health and success. If possible, please make this season’s mangoes especially sweet.”

Jimin shoots him another look. His eyes are still closed.

“I don’t know if this is possible for even the Moon Goddess, but please convince your priest to answer my questions. I really would like to know why his hair’s pink.”

Jimin wants to be offended, but he finds himself fighting a smile. From the corner of his eye, he sees Hoseok glance his way.

“Also, please help my kitten to stop peeing on the floor.”

This time he can’t help it. Jimin giggles. He claps a hand over his mouth immediately, appalled at himself, but when he turns to Hoseok, he’s grinning too.       

“Prince,” Jimin admonishes. “Prayers aren’t a joke.”

“I’m not joking.” Hoseok blinks innocently. “She’s peed on my favorite rug three times already. And last year’s mangoes were bitter.”

“You’re not supposed to - you have to pray for serious things.” He should be more eloquent than that, but faced with Hoseok’s flippancy, he finds himself tongue-tied.

“Mangoes are awfully serious.” He takes a teasing step toward Jimin, who’s growing flustered.

“You’ve ruined the prayer.”

“You’re the one who laughed.”

“Only because you weren’t being serious .”

“I told you. Mangoes are awfully serious.” He’s a step closer, now, hardly more than a foot between them.

Someone clears their throat.

Jimin stumbles two steps back. It’s Hyojung, standing in the doorway of the back room. “Your Highness,” she says, bowing.

Hoseok nods in return. Jimin touches his cheek, willing the heat to die down. “Thank you for assisting in my prayers.” Hoseok backs toward the temple entrance. Jimin can’t remember the last time he left a prayer unfinished. “The next time I return, will you show me around the temple?”

Jimin’s given tours of the temple before, but somehow he thinks Hoseok cares as little about the temple’s many rooms as he does about the prayer. “All right.”

Just before Hoseok leaves, he inclines his head. His gaze rakes from the tip of Jimin’s toes, dragging up to his face with excruciating slowness. It should make him feel dirty, like when his brother looks at him. But it doesn’t. The heat of his cheeks intensifies.

“Goddess protect you,” he says, the corner of his mouth curving up.

Jimin doesn’t manage an answer. When Hoseok’s gone, he turns to Hyojung, who’s waiting with her brows raised.

“Huh,” she says, and doesn’t mention it again.

 

 

The full moon ritual is open for everyone to witness, but visitors don’t come often.

Hyojung, Bora, and Jimin conduct the ritual alone. They’re the highest ranking members of the temple aside from the Matron because they were all chosen by the Goddess herself. In the pool at the center of the main hall, they’ve sprinkled the pink powder that colors the water. It’s the same powder Jimin uses on his hair, the shade of the Goddess’s flower that blooms under the moon.

They form a triangle standing in the waist-high water, bare skin glinting under the light of the moon that filters through the domed ceiling’s oculus. As they move around each other, they sprinkle herbs into the water and chant the necessary prayers. It’s not a long ritual, though it begins with a few hours of meditation before the peak prayer in the pool. They finish after seven turns then leave the pool to don their robes.

Hoseok stands just inside the doorway, arms crossed, glittering eyes fixed on Jimin.

Jimin shouldn’t be surprised. The temple is not far from the palace, after all, and Hoseok had promised he would return. Jimin stares back as he slips on his robe, tying it loosely, most of his chest still visible. He’s not bothered by his nakedness; for the messengers of the Goddess, it’s a sign of their purity. And he’s used to people looking at him.

“We’re off for the night, Jiminie,” Hyojung says, leading Bora from the room with their hands threaded together.

He nears Hoseok, stopping with three feet of space between them.

“You’re beautiful,” Hoseok says.

There’s something about the way Hoseok looks at him. Something in the heady, lidded gaze, something in the soft quirk of his lips. Something that starts a stirring in Jimin’s stomach and he doesn’t know what it is, has never felt anything like it before. He watches Hoseok’s eyes trace the blush in his cheeks down to his collarbones.

“I don’t know what you expect,” Jimin murmurs. “But I can’t give it to you.”

Hoseok tilts his head. “How do you know when you don’t know what I want?”

He does know. Jimin knows exactly what he wants because that’s what his brother wants, too - that’s what they all want, but only because it’s forbidden, only because he has a pussy instead of a cock. But the tiny part of Jimin that remains hopeful doesn’t want to believe Hoseok is the same as his brother, even if he is. Maybe it’s nothing more than the childhood memory of their hands touching, Hoseok’s curious gaze and cheerful laugh, a memory that Hoseok has probably long forgotten.

“Then what do you want?” Jimin asks. He lets the doubt show.

Hoseok’s stance softens. He smiles. “A tour. Didn’t I say I’d come back for one?”

“Isn’t it late for a tour?”

“Only if you’re not tired,” he amends.

Jimin shrugs one shoulder. “Come on, then.”

He turns away, moving for the painted door to the left of the wolf altar first. His bare feet padding softly against the cool marble contrast with Hoseok’s booted ones. The door leads to the room where they store ceremonial herbs, wooden shelves stacked with pots and boxes lining the walls. Jimin works in here often.

“The storage room,” he says briefly, then ushers Hoseok back out.

The door to the right of the altar reveals a staircase to the rest of the temple that stretches behind the main domed hall. Jimin ascends first, holding his robes above his ankles so he doesn’t trip. “Wait here,” he says to Hoseok before opening the door at the top and peeking into the wide hallway. When he’s sure none of the girls are loitering around outside their rooms, he gestures for Hoseok to follow. “The handmaidens’ rooms, and a dormitory for the younger girls in training.” He gestures to the closed doors on either side of the hall. “And mine.”

His is at the end of the hall; he’s the only one besides the Matron who has a room to himself. Jimin moves to turn away and head for the second staircase, but Hoseok says, “Can I see your room?”

The no hovers on the tip of his tongue. “There are still the altars on the third floor to see,” he says.

“Your room first.”

He finds himself nodding.

Hoseok follows close behind when he enters his room, so close Jimin can almost feel him move. Jimin’s rooms are wide and airy, a circular bed with satin sheets in the center and a seating area against the wall across from it with a table and a few plush chairs.

“The bathing area.” Jimin gestures toward the doorway hidden behind a curtain in the back of the room.

Hoseok moves to it unbidden, pushing the curtain aside to look at the small pool and the bench that holds his herbs. Jimin does his personal meditations in his private bathing area. “Has anyone ever been in your room?” Hoseok throws him a glance over his shoulder.

Jimin can’t help but feel that the question has a hidden meaning. “Just the girls.” It’s not true. Hoseok has been in his room before. “Do you remember the temple from your childhood?”

“It’s been too long,” Hoseok says. “I don’t remember anything.”

His stomach swoops with disappointment.

Hoseok moves away toward the other curtained doorway, slipping past it to the balcony. Jimin follows, watching him lean against the railing and look out over the palace. “You have a pretty view.”

Careful to keep distance between them, Jimin leans against the railing, too. He’s stared off toward the palace so many times he could trace the long buildings and painted roofs in his memory, but Hoseok’s right. It’s beautiful.

“Is it hard?” Hoseok asks.

Jimin glances at him. Hoseok has angled his body so he’s facing him, elbow on the railing. “Is what hard?”

“That no one can ever touch you.”

No one has ever asked him that before.

“It’s the will of the Goddess.”

“That’s not what I’m asking.”

It’s his duty. No one has ever cared to look any further than that. “What do you think?” he says, laced with a hint of bitterness.

“I think it would be awful.”

Jimin turns away from the palace. He rests his back against the railing and shrugs. The robe slips off his shoulder. “I don’t even remember what it feels like anymore.” He can’t remember the touch of his mother’s lips against his cheek, the warmth of an embrace, the softness of Hoseok’s hand in his. He supposes it’s better that way; he doesn’t know what he’s missing.

“There are handmaidens of the Goddess who don’t follow the rules.”

Jimin knows what he’s getting at. The handmaidens don’t have any restrictions on touch like he does, but their virginity is sacred. All messengers of the Goddess make vows of chastity upon coming to the temple. Still, Jimin knows very well that a number of the girls have broken the vow; they’ve fucked each other, fucked outsiders.

It’s not easy following the temple’s rules. Most of them didn’t come here because they chose to.

“What’s your point?”

Hoseok moves. He stops in front of Jimin, the tip of his boots hardly a centimeter from Jimin’s bare toes. His hands come to rest on the railing on either side of Jimin, caging him in. He’s so close Jimin can feel the heat of his body, count his lashes and watch his dimples move as his mouth does.

“You don’t have to follow the rules if you don’t want to,” he says.

He leans closer. There’s barely a breath of air between them. Jimin doesn’t dare move even the slightest bit, afraid that if he does they’ll be touching. Hoseok exhales, and his breath tickles Jimin’s lips. There it is again, that feeling, that uncomfortable stirring in the pit of his stomach. It would be easy to let Hoseok touch him. He’s already done it once.

But Jimin doesn’t want him enough for that. He’s never wanted anyone enough to break the rules. He’s not sure he even knows what it means to want someone.

“You can’t touch me,” Jimin says.

Hoseok’s gaze is lidded as it rakes over Jimin’s face - over his cheeks and his nose, settling on his mouth. “I won’t. Not unless you want it.”

“I’m not going to want it.”

Hoseok smiles, the lopsided one that makes Jimin unreasonably irritated. “If you say so, Your Holiness.”

It’s mocking. “Can you step away from me, please?”

Hoseok lets go of the railing and takes three steps back.

“I’m not going to want it,” he reaffirms. “Your brother has been trying long enough, too.”

Hoseok tenses. Jimin can see it in the tightening of his jaw, the tautness of his shoulders. “What do you mean?”

“Ask him.”

Hoseok hesitates. Then he bows, and it isn’t mocking. “I’m sorry, Jimin. For imposing.”

Jimin nods.

“I’ll see myself out.”

He turns on his heel and ducks past the curtain. It falls between them, and Jimin waits until the tapping of Hoseok’s boots against the marble floor fades into the distance before he returns into his room.

 

 

The Moon Goddess has many names for her many forms, each one more poignant than the last, but mostly she is the Moon Goddess. She’s the goddess of fertility for earth and animal both, the bringer of the harvest and the one they pray to for healthy children. She’s the goddess of magic, sorcery, and divination, too, for the darker arts are always given to the nighttime. Every hundred years or so, she chooses a child to be born with the power of prophecy who lives at the center of her temple as their people’s oracle. They say the last boy to be chosen by her like Jimin was an oracle, too. They say her handmaidens were once born with the power of magic, but that hasn’t happened in a long time.

Her wolf form is her most important; she’s the mother of all wolves, and their nighttime howls are prayers for her. It’s the wolf statue they pray to most often, but Jimin’s favorite form of hers is the snake. It’s a lesser known form, a forgotten one, and the statue is hidden on the third floor of the temple where they perform rituals only sometimes. Her snake form used to be the one associated with fertility, but somewhere over time the association shifted to her human form.

When children turn three years of age, they take them to the temple to be blessed in her pink pool of water so that they’ll grow to be healthy and fertile. Jimin’s parents were late. He was six when they took him. His father was too ashamed to reveal the abomination that was his son before the goddess. He might never have taken him had Jimin’s mother not begged and pleaded until he relented; to grow up without the blessing of the goddess is to grow up cursed.

His mother says the handmaidens gasped when they stripped him of his clothes and helped him into the pool. Whispered amongst themselves, eyes wide and fluttering with excitement. Then he stepped into the pool, and though it was the night of the new moon, for a breathtaking moment, the full moon took to the sky to shine upon Jimin’s tiny form through the oculus. That’s how they knew she’d chosen him. He doesn’t remember that part much. All he remembers is the Matron wrapping him up in a robe and telling him he couldn’t go home. Telling him he couldn’t hug his mother goodbye.

He doesn’t remember much of her blessing, but he remembers the snake.

Living in the temple was hard. There were other little girls his age training to be handmaidens, but he’d never really had any friends who were girls before. He wasn’t allowed to play ball in the dirt anymore, and he missed his little brother and he hated the way everyone flinched when they brushed by him, afraid of touching him even by accident. He didn’t understand it. He hated memorizing prayers and spending all afternoon sorting and learning herbs and all night doing rituals.

It didn’t take him long to decide he wanted to run away.

He’d tried sneaking down from the balcony, but he was too small and he didn’t know how. He ended up falling, twisting his ankle painfully and sprawling onto the dirt with silent tears of pain streaming down his cheeks. Lying there nursing his aching ankle, he’d noticed the snake.

It sat coiled in the garden only a few feet away, beady eyes glinting in the night. He’d held perfectly still, too terrified to even breathe, and watched it for a long moment. Then it began to approach, slithering slowly toward him, hissing when he tried to shift away. He hadn’t learned the difference between poisonous and harmless snakes yet; they were all the same to him. He’d closed his eyes and thought that maybe he was going to die.

But the snake only wrapped itself around his legs, its head resting on his swollen ankle, and lay there quietly. They spent all night like that, the snake holding perfectly still until Jimin’s terror ebbed away and he fell asleep curled up on the ground. Hyojung and Bora found him like that in the morning. When they woke him, his ankle was healed, and the snake was gone.

Hyojung taught him about the goddess’s snake form, and since then he’d held a special affinity for it. After that he focused a little harder during prayers, thought about the beady-eyed snake and its cool scales against his skin, thought about how she’d helped him when he was helpless. In the years that came, he called on her when he was at his most helpless, found peace in his meditation and the connection he made with her through his rituals.

Jimin didn’t come to the temple by choice, but he found a home here much more welcoming than the one he was born into. In the temple he found family, acceptance, peace, even if it wasn’t always easy. Even if sometimes he felt unbearably trapped. He loves the Goddess, feels her presence in the very marrow of his bones even if she’s never spoken to him.

He loves the Goddess, so he’ll never break her rules.

 

 

Jimin doesn’t expect Hoseok to come back.

He’s dipping his feet in the pool outside the temple when he sees him, bounding up the wide steps in his direction. Jimin had thought his rejection would be the end of it; Hoseok isn’t after his conversation, after all. The sight of him nearing fills at first with a soaring lightness in his stomach, then with a sense of dread.

His brother isn’t one to give up easily, either.

“Slacking in your duties, I see,” he says when he’s close enough for Jimin to hear him. The grin he sends him is bright, not disappointed or stilted at all. He crouches at the edge of the pool opposite from Jimin. The distance eases some of the tension from Jimin’s shoulders.

“I already finished them.”

“Sounds like a convenient excuse to slack.”

“I’m not slacking.” Jimin knows he’s teasing, but he bristles anyway.

“It’s only midday. You can’t be done already.”

“Well, what about you? Don’t you have something princely to do?”

Hoseok laughs. He slips off his boots and rolls up his pants, baring his calves so he can dip his feet into the water, too. “Something princely?”

“Riding your horse around the grounds, ordering servants around, laughing at commoners in the city. Something princely.”

As soon as Jimin says it, he regrets it. He’s sunk into too easy of a familiarity with Hoseok. He can’t forget that in the end, as a prince, Hoseok has power over him.

But Hoseok only snorts, rolling his eyes. “I see you think very highly of princes.”

“Can’t say I’ve met too many.”

The lightheartedness leaves his voice. “I’m not my brother, Jimin.”

Jimin looks away. He stares at his feet swirling the water until Hoseok speaks again.

“Tell me, have you ever played janggi? I used to play every day when I was abroad studying, but now no one wants to play with me.”

“What do you want?” Jimin mumbles. He doesn’t look at him when he says it. “I already told you I’m never going to want you.”

“Can’t we be friends?”

Jimin scoffs. “You don’t want to be friends.”

“You don’t know what I want.”

He looks up finally. Hoseok’s staring at him with a narrowed, challenging gaze. “I’m really good at janggi. No one in the temple can beat me anymore.”

Hoseok relaxes. “I’m pretty good, too, you know.”

“That’s what everyone thinks before they play me.”

“Less talk, then. Let’s go play.” Hoseok stands, shaking off his wet feet, and gathers his boots into one hand.

“You’re eager to lose.”

Hoseok moves so quick Jimin barely registers it. One second he’s standing there with his boots, the next he’s bent down and beat a spray of water in Jimin’s direction.

Jimin splutters, water dripping down his cheeks and robe. “Hoseok!” he exclaims.

“Not going to lose,” Hoseok singsongs, and before Jimin can retaliate, he’s running off toward the palace. “Come on,” he calls, and Jimin hops to his feet.

He glances briefly back at the temple as he goes. There’s no one watching, not that he can see. It’s not against the rules to visit the palace. Still, as Jimin chases after Hoseok’s quickly retreating figure, he can’t help but feel like he’s doing something wrong.

 

 

“Jiminie, you know what he wants, right?”

Hyojung stands in his doorway, her robe half-tied and a troubled set to her mouth. Jimin stiffens, pausing in the act of sorting herbs on his bed. She must have seen him.

“I’m not going to go against the will of the Goddess,” he says, tone more defensive than he intends. “I would never.”

“That’s not what I’m saying.” She sighs and steps further into his room. “I’m not one to judge if you do, you know that.”

“I’m not going to,” he interjects. He needs her to understand.

“He’s only been here for a few moons, but he’s already built himself a reputation.”

“I know,” Jimin says, even though he didn’t.

“He wants to fuck you, Jimin.” She’s never been one to mince her words. Jimin flinches. “And that’s all he wants. You can do whatever you please, but don’t have any illusions about his intentions.”

Jimin sets down the bushel of lavender in his hands. “I won’t,” he murmurs.

Hyojung’s gaze softens. “I just don’t want you to get hurt. You’re still naive when it comes to understanding people.”

Jimin smiles half-heartedly. “I know.”

“Just keep yourself safe,” she tells him, and he nods. “Now chin up, baby.” She kisses her fingers and holds them in his direction, her way of offering comfort in place of touch.

His smile becomes surer. He kisses his fingers and holds them up. “Thanks, Hyojung.”

 

 

Youngjin, the first prince and heir to the throne, comes to the temple when he knows no one else will be there.

It’s his luck and Jimin’s misfortune that none of the girls are in the main hall with him, either, as he wipes down the statues and replaces sticks of incense.

“Jimin,” Youngjin says, and Jimin recognizes his voice immediately. An anxious shiver runs down his spine.

He turns to face him, bowing formally, and stares at his feet instead of his eyes. “Your Highness. May I help you with anything?”

“Aren’t you even going to look at me?” Youngjin’s voice wraps around Jimin’s heart like a noose. With effort, he drags his eyes up to his.

The first prince is handsome in a cold way, sharp features and eyes like a cat’s. He has a low voice, one he’s heard the others call attractive, but it only makes Jimin squirm. He’s charming, too, good at making people laugh, good at being likable. That’s the worst part - everyone likes him.

The way Youngjin looks at him now is calculating. “You look beautiful, as always.”

“Thank you, Your Highness,” he says stiffly.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve seen you.”

“Yes.”

“But you’ve met my brother.”

Jimin doesn’t breathe.

“Funny, isn’t it,” he begins, and Jimin knows nothing he says will be remotely funny. “You’ve been playing coy all these years, pretending you’re pure. But my brother comes along and it turns out you’re just like all the other lying whores of this temple.”

Jimin flinches. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Shut up.” The words are like a whip. Jimin steps back. Youngjin steps forward. “I know you’ve let him touch you. I’ve seen how often he comes to see you.”

His hands curl into fists. “I didn’t let him touch me. No one can touch me.”

“Liar.” He takes another step. Jimin does, too, and feels the jab of a stone statue against his back. “Have you let him put his cock in you already? Have you let him fuck your sacred pussy?”

Jimin’s face burns with shame. Tears prick the corners of his eyes. He’s shaking, he can’t control it, nails digging into his palms. Youngjin steps in again, and he’s caging him against the statue. Jimin doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know how to stop him. He’s the heir to the throne, and he’s known for his punishments. If he spreads that Jimin has let someone touch him, he’ll be executed.

“Bet he didn’t fuck you as good as I could. You could have had everything if you’d let me have you first.”

Jimin has endured Youngjin’s shameless gazes and dirty, whispered words for a long time. His only solace has been that Youngjin won’t touch him, that he respects his position enough for that. But if he thinks that doesn’t matter anymore -

“Leave me alone.” He’s crying, wet dripping down his neck.

“Don’t tell me what to do.”

He raises his voice. “Hyojung! Junghwa! I need you - ”

Youngjin’s hand comes to fist in the front of his robe, dragging him forward. “Shut up - ”

“Let him go!”

The voice has both their heads snapping toward the entrance. Youngjin’s grip loosens, and Jimin tugs away, slipping out from in front of the statue to the side. It’s Hoseok. He surges forward, grabbing his brother, face red with fury.

He grabs him by the throat, Youngjin’s hands scrabbling at his wrists. “Don’t fucking come near him. You want Father to find out what happened at Rizin? I’ll tell everyone.”

Youngjin knees Hoseok, forcing him to let go. He jumps back, hissing, “Tell anyone and I’ll kill you.”

“Then stay away from Jimin.”

Youngjin throws one last, furious glance between them before he shoves Hoseok out of the way and leaves the temple.

Jimin sinks to the ground, relief sending shuddering sobs through his body. He trembles, hiccuping breaths making his chest and throat ache. Everything’s blurring and swimming together through his tears.

“Jimin, are you okay?” Hoseok drops to his knees in front of him. “Did he hurt you?”

Jimin can’t talk through the gasping sobs, body lurching with each one. Youngjin’s gone but he can still see his face in front of his, still hear his words in his head.

“Jimin - ”

Hoseok’s hands cup his cheeks, thumbs catching the tears that leak from his eyes.

He freezes. His sobs stop. He can’t breathe.

Hoseok’s skin is soft against his, warm, a foreign touch.

It’s been more than a decade since anyone touched him. His skin erupts in goosebumps, a shiver traveling through him, and he’s shaking again. His mouth forms soundless words.

Hoseok realizes it two seconds too late. He pulls away, eyes wide in horror. “I’m sorry, Jimin, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to - ”

Jimin stands, turns, and runs for the stairs.

 

 

Hours tick by; the night passes in a fitful half-sleep. The ghost of Hoseok’s touch doesn’t leave Jimin’s skin; the echo of Youngjin’s words doesn’t leave his head.

The hours turn into days; the days turn into weeks.

He tells Hyojung. She assigns at least one handmaiden to his side any time he’s outside of his room, lest Youngjin return, but there’s no sign of him. Hyojung says her friend in the palace notes no difference in his behavior; everything’s normal.

Hoseok sends him a note and baskets of fruit. I’m sorry. He won’t come near you again .

Jimin recovers. The fear abates. In order to feel safe, he has to place his trust in Hoseok. He has to trust that whatever he’s done will ensure Youngjin won’t try to hurt him. It takes him time to believe that everything really will be all right, but as the days pass and there’s no sight of Youngjin, he starts to relax.

But no matter how much he washes, the feeling of Hoseok’s hands on his cheeks does not fade.

 

 

Hoseok’s in his doorway. Nearly three weeks have passed since they’ve seen each other.

“Junghwa said I could come up,” he says.

Jimin slips off his bed and stands, arms crossed over his chest. “What do you want?”

“To see if you’re all right. And to apologize again.”

“I’m okay.”

“I swear he won’t come anywhere near you. I’ve made sure of it.”

Jimin nods hesitantly. “Good.”

“And I’m sorry. For touching you.”

“I can’t - ” Jimin inhales a shuddering breath. He slides his arms around himself. “I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Hoseok looks miserable, and Jimin’s glad he feels bad. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s been over ten years since anyone touched me.” Jimin takes a step toward him, chewing his lip. “You’re the one who touched me last time, too.”

“Me?” His eyebrows raise, surprise written across his face.

“You don’t remember at all.” Jimin laughs, bitter. “Of course you don’t.”

“Remember what?” Hoseok steps toward him, too. “Tell me.”

“When we were kids. You played a prank on someone. You were running away, and you ran all the way here. You came into my room and hid behind my bed, and I was so surprised. I didn’t - I didn’t even know who you were.”

But he’d been happy. A part of him had been happy, because he hadn’t played with another little boy in so long, even if Hoseok had clearly been older.

“You didn’t know I was a priest. I asked you what you were doing and you - you grabbed my hand and told me to hush. I hid behind the bed with you until you thought it was okay to go out. You took me with you. We ran around the grounds for hours.”

“I remember.” Hoseok sounds awed, eyes glittering. “I remember you. I didn’t know they had boys in the temple. I couldn’t believe it when I saw you.”

Jimin laughs a little, and this time it’s not so bitter. It feels choked. “You thought I was sneaking into someone else’s room.”

“It was right before I left the kingdom.”

“I never saw you again.”

He doesn’t mean to sound so sad when he says it.

“Jimin,” Hoseok murmurs. His eyes are gentle as they rake his face.

“Can you - ” He takes in a shuddering breath. He’s drawn closer unconsciously. There’s hardly any space left between them. “Touch me again.”

Hoseok raises his hand. It hovers just a centimeter away from Jimin’s face. “Are you sure?”

“Please.”

He grazes his knuckles against Jimin’s cheek, the touch feather-light. Jimin’s eyes flutter shut. He’s shaking, worrying his lip between his teeth. It’s nothing like his own skin against himself. Hoseok’s hands are soft but the pads of his fingers, when he turns his hands around to stroke Jimin’s face, are rougher. The touch sends sparks through Jimin’s body, an unbelievable energy awakening in him. He moves closer, aching for his touch, until the line of Hoseok’s body is solid against his. Hoseok’s other hand cups his face, too, drawing down to his neck.

Jimin shudders as Hoseok’s fingers trace his throat, a light, skittering touch. Hoseok’s thumb presses against his lips, and his mouth parts on instinct. He hears a sharp intake of breath from Hoseok. The hand on his neck drops down to his waist, pulling him closer, and Jimin’s on fire. He’s aching, every instance of contact making his heart lurch and his stomach swirl. He wants more.

“I want to - I want to feel you.” His lips form the words against Hoseok’s thumb. Hoseok pulls his hand away and Jimin’s eyes shoot open, aching loss spreading through him. “Hoseok - ”

Hoseok’s gaze is dark. He bends in, then his lips are against Jimin’s.

Shockwaves spread through his body. He whimpers. Hoseok’s smooth lips move against his; he can’t reciprocate, doesn’t know how to, but Hoseok doesn’t stop. The pressure of his lips is insistent, burning, and Jimin’s eyes flutter shut again. Something wet traces the seam of his lips; Hoseok’s tongue, he realizes, and his mouth parts to allow it. When Hoseok licks into his mouth, he shudders, grabbing fistfuls of Hoseok’s shirt. His knees are weak, he doesn’t know if he can hold himself up anymore, but Hoseok’s hands on his waist are firm.

He moves his lips hesitantly against Hoseok’s, mimicking his movements, and it must work because Hoseok gasps, the pressure of his lips growing harder. His tongue drags on the roof of Jimin’s mouth and the pleasure shoots straight to the heat between his legs. He moans into Hoseok’s mouth, touches their tongues together.

Hoseok pulls away. Jimin chases after him blindly, but Hoseok holds him in place. His lips touch Jimin’s neck, light at first, barely there as they trace down to the hollow at the base of his throat.

“Hoseok,” he gasps, and Hoseok drops a kiss there.

He kisses up his neck, open-mouthed, the wet of his tongue flicking against Jimin’s skin. One of his hands leaves Jimin’s waist to slip down the neck of his robe, tracing his chest, scraping against his nipple. He arches into Hoseok when he presses against his nipple, a moan tearing from his throat. The sound is high and embarrassing and he claps a hand over his mouth to prevent another one as Hoseok sucks on jugular.

It’s too much, and at the same time it’s not enough. Jimin’s pussy throbs, aches, a foreign feeling. It hurts, and he doesn’t want it to stop. Hoseok’s everywhere, his hair tickling Jimin’s chin and his tongue against his neck and his fingers twisting his nipple and his hand burning through the robe covering his hip. He’s everywhere, Jimin can smell him, taste him in his mouth, feel him in his blood. He wants him to touch him more, touch him everywhere, touch him until he doesn’t know anything but the feeling of Hoseok’s skin against his, and at the same time he wants it to stop, he wants him away because he’s so, so sensitive and every touch is too much.

“Don’t hide,” Hoseok murmurs. His hand leaves his chest to pull Jimin’s hand away from his mouth. “I wanna hear every pretty noise you make.”

He threads his fingers through Jimin’s, palm warm against his. His hands are a little rough but soft, too. Jimin has forgotten what it feels like to hold someone’s hand. He’s forgotten what it feels like to be close to someone.

Hoseok kisses under his jaw, thumb kneading his wrist as his grip tightens around Jimin’s. A choked gasp leaves Jimin, and suddenly his eyes are burning and there’s wet on his cheeks. He’s crying. He trembles, weak against Hoseok as he mouths along his jaw and up his cheeks.

When Hoseok’s lip touch his tears, he freezes.

“Jimin?” Hoseok pulls back to look at him, expression quickly turning into one of worry when he realizes Jimin is crying. “Jimin, baby - ”

“I don’t - I can’t - ”

He can’t speak through the tears. He pulls his hand out of Hoseok’s and moves back, calves bumping his bed. The sudden loss of touch hurts more than anything. He wraps his arms around himself, but it’s nothing, nothing compared to Hoseok. An aching emptiness tears itself into him.

“Jimin, tell me what’s wrong.”

“You should go,” he finally manages. His legs are too weak to hold him up. He sits, curling into himself.

He’s not supposed to touch anyone. It’s the will of the Goddess.

“Please, talk to me - ”

“Go away.”

“Jimin - ”

“Just leave.”

He lies down, his back to Hoseok, and curls into a tight ball. With his face in his knees, he lets another sob tear through him. The horrible sensation of guilt swirls through him like smoke, blocking his lungs and clouding his mind.

Hoseok doesn’t move for another moment, then another, until finally Jimin hears his footsteps retreat from the room and off down the hall.

He’s alone again.

Chapter Text

Jimin’s nightly meditation has always brought him peace. The night after Hoseok touches him again, he spends so long meditating in his pool, surrounded by the scent of the herbs he’s sprinkled in the water and the sticks of burning incense, that his skin is wrinkled when he leaves. He prays for the Goddess’s forgiveness for so long and so hard he cries, but by the end of it, the tendrils of poisonous guilt have started to ebb away.

It’s not enough to shake away the memory of Hoseok’s touch.

It’s not enough to drive away the hollow loss that’s taken hold of him, or the flush that comes to his cheeks when he thinks about the way Hoseok’s lips had felt on his neck, or the desperate longing for something so simple as someone holding his hand.

Maybe the Goddess will forgive him, but Hoseok’s touch has awakened something in him that can’t be undone.

He doesn’t know what to do. He can’t talk to Yuna because Yuna will tell him what he’s done is wrong, that what he’s feeling is wrong, and he’s telling himself that enough. He can’t talk to Hyojung, either, because Hyojung will say, who cares? Do what you want . But it’s not that easy. Hyojung was chosen by the Goddess, but she had never wanted this life. They’d made her come. That’s how it was for Jimin, too, but Jimin had found solace in the Goddess’s teachings. Hyojung hadn’t. It doesn’t hurt her to disobey.

Hoseok comes to see him the next day, but Jimin asks Jisoo to turn him away. He doesn’t come back, and Jimin isn’t sure if he’s relieved or disappointed.

Then Jimin dreams about him.

He dreams he’s lying under him, Hoseok’s tight grip pinning his wrists to the bed above his head. Hoseok’s lips are on his neck, and their hips roll together, Hoseok’s cock thick and full inside his aching pussy. It hurts but it’s good, he craves it, begs for it. He can hardly move for the force with which Hoseok holds him down, and he likes it, likes relinquishing control to him. In the dream, he’s moaning, and when he wakes, he’s moaning, too.

It takes him a moment to become aware, but when he does, he realizes his hips are rolling into the air, a hot throbbing between his legs. He’s sweating, fingers clenching the sheets around him. He rolls his hips into nothing, tense and unsatisfied and desperate for some kind of release. For a moment, he’s so desperate he wants to cry. It takes him a while to calm down, inhaling shaky breaths until his hips still and the ache eases to a dull twinge. He’s never dreamt about sex before.

There’s an uncomfortable wetness between his legs; when he sits up, he realizes he’s stained the bed, too, having slept without a robe. Flushing with shame, he strips his sheets and washes extra long that morning. He spends the rest of the day trying to forget he ever had such a dream.

He doesn’t succeed.

 

 

Hoseok can’t stay away for long; Jimin has come to learn that.

Hardly a week has passed before Jimin sees him enter with the morning crowd of worshippers. Jimin assists people with their prayers alongside the handmaidens, but he’s careful not to approach Hoseok where he prays in front of the Goddess’s human form. He considers ignoring him entirely, but when their eyes catch briefly across the hall, Jimin knows he can’t do that. Hoseok’s pretty smile and raised eyebrow have him stirring with longing.

He minds his own business until most of the crowd has filtered out, then they drift toward each other.

“Jimin,” he murmurs.

Jimin presses a finger to his lips. There are still a few stragglers and handmaidens left in the room. Hoseok’s eyes fix on Jimin’s mouth, unfocused, and stay there even when Jimin removes his finger. “Come at noon. Eat with me.”

“Are you all right?” he says, finally, dragging his gaze up to Jimin’s.

Jimin backs away toward the altar as another worshipper enters the temple. “No,” he says. “Noon?”

Hoseok nods. “Noon.”

Jimin helps the others prepare their meal like always, bustling around the kitchens at the very back of the temple. He’s not nearly as good at cooking as Jisoo or Yuna, but he knows enough to do what he’s told, and he can help direct the younger girls toward their simpler tasks. He catches Bora when she’s setting the table to the side and tells her Hoseok’s coming to eat with him.

She wiggles her eyebrows. “All right, I’ll make sure the Matron doesn’t see him.”

She offers to make their tea, but he refuses out of a strange, childish desire for Hoseok to drink tea made by his hand and no one else’s. When it’s nearly time to eat, Bora announces that Jimin isn’t feeling well and he’ll be eating in his room. He makes himself a tray of food, and when no one’s looking, he slips himself an extra plate and cup.

Hoseok arrives when the sun’s high in the sky, knocking on his and slipping inside when Jimin calls for him to enter. He locks the door after himself; it isn’t strictly forbidden, but neither of them want to deal with the reaction should they be found here together.

Jimin waits in his plush chair with the meal on the table before him, and when Hoseok enters, he gestures for him to sit opposite.

“Your Holiness,” Hoseok says teasingly as he sits. “Thank you for having me.”

“Have some tea,” Jimin says. Hoseok lifts the cup to his lips. “I made it.”

Hoseok praises him immediately. “It’s good, Jiminie. Just how I like it.”

Jimin lifts his legs onto the chair and tucks them into his chest, resting his chin atop his knees. He’s not hungry anymore. With Hoseok in front of him, all he can think about is his dream. He wonders what Hoseok would feel like inside him, wonders if it would hurt. Wonders if he’d like it. Heat rises to his cheeks; he glances down. Hoseok sits with his legs spread, but his clothes are too loose for any sign of a bulge. He’s seen cocks before, sort of. The priests of the Sun God perform a ritual with the handmaidens of the Moon Goddess every three years, and the statues in their temple are nude.

“You can’t touch me again,” Jimin says, though every fiber of his being longs for Hoseok’s skin against his.

Hoseok inclines his head. “I won’t.”

“It’s wrong,” Jimin presses, willing him to understand. The way he is so uncaring of the Goddess’s will frustrates him. He’s like Hyojung, separate from any desire to follow her teachings.

“I won’t touch you if you don’t want it.”

There it is again, the caveat. The caveat is the problem. Hoseok wants him to want it. I’m not going to , he almost says, but he doesn’t. They both know it’s a lie. He doesn’t know where it comes from, but he finds himself stumbling over the words, “I had - I had a dream about you.”

Hoseok leans forward, elbows on his knees, and tilts his head. The intensity of his gaze on Jimin makes him shiver. “What kind of dream?”

Jimin flushes, regretting his admission immediately. He looks away, fingers digging into the arms of his chair.

“Ah,” Hoseok says, and leans back again. “That kind of dream.”

Jimin glances at him and away just as quick.

“Did you dream about me fucking you?”

His breath catches, and his flush deepens. He’s uncomfortably hot all over. He tugs the collar of his robe away from his neck and wraps his arms around his knees. He dares to meet Hoseok’s eyes, and the way he’s looking at him makes his cunt throb.

“Did you touch yourself afterward, thinking about me?”

“No,” Jimin breathes. “I didn’t - I’ve never - never done that.”

Hoseok’s pretty mouth curves into a frown. “You’ve never pleasured yourself?”

He knows how sex works, theoretically. He knows how men touch their cocks from the jokes the girls have made before, but he doesn’t know anything about touching his pussy. Some of the girls would know, he’s sure of it, but he’s never thought to ask. Never thought he needed to. “I don’t - I don’t know how.”

“Jiminie,” he croons, face melting into an expression of fondness. “Do you want me to teach you?”

“You can’t touch me.”

“I’m not going to touch you. I’m going to show you how to touch yourself.”

Jimin hadn’t meant for their meeting to turn out like this. It was easy to think about resisting Hoseok when he wasn’t in front of him. Now that he’s here, his coy smile and sultry eyes and words like honey, the last thing Jimin wants to do is resist him. Everyone’s downstairs for mealtime, and he’s already said he isn’t feeling well. They wouldn’t be bothered.

He nods.

Hoseok stands. He moves to stand in front of Jimin’s bed and gestures for him to near. With hesitant steps, Jimin approaches until he’s standing before him. Hoseok closes the distance until they’re close enough that Jimin can feel his breath on his face. He reaches between them to catch the ties of Jimin’s robe and slowly pull them apart. His eyes don’t leave Jimin’s. The robe falls open, and Jimin’s holding his breath. Hoseok’s gaze travels past his lips, along his neck, down his chest. He’s not touching him, but it feels like a touch, the heady intimacy of his eyes tracing Jimin’s skin.

“You’re beautiful,” he murmurs, and the words feel like a touch, too.

He slides the robe off Jimin’s shoulders, careful not to touch his skin, and lets it pool around their feet. He steps back so he can look at him head-to-toe. Jimin shivers, bites his lip, watches Hoseok as he starts to walk. He steps a circle around Jimin, looking at every part of him, murmuring praise. Jimin’s already wet.

“Look at you,” he says. “I’m so lucky I get to look at you.”

Jimin flushes, fights the urge to cover himself even though he likes the way Hoseok looks at him, likes the way his gaze lingers between his legs.

“You blush so prettily, too.” He stops in front of him once more. “Lie down, baby.”

Jimin would do anything Hoseok asked of him when he says it like that, sweet and dripping with desire. He sits and scoots back until he’s half-lying down, balancing himself on his elbows.

“Spread your legs.”

Jimin’s first instinct is to press his knees together, but he doesn’t. He spreads them, his feet planted on the bed. Hoseok follows, kneeling between his legs, and bends down until his face is level with Jimin’s pussy. Jimin draws in a shuddering breath, hands squeezing into fists.

“Your cunt’s so pretty,” he says, blowing lightly. The cool air on his hot, swollen pussy makes his hips jump, a whimper leaving his lips. Hoseok moves back to sit up. “You’re so wet. Is that for me?”

Jimin stares back, eyes wide. He’s too embarrassed to answer but Hoseok wants one, so he does. “F-for you.”

Hoseok smiles, lopsided. “Touch yourself, baby. Feel how wet you are.”

Jimin shifts, balances his weight on one elbow so he can reach his other hand down. He hesitates before he touches himself, but Hoseok’s gaze is encouraging. Lightly, he brushes a finger along the velvety folds of his cunt, soft and wet. The barely-there touch has him whimpering again, aching for more.

“That’s good, Jiminie.”

He presses harder, relishes in the pressure, adds another finger so he can press down on both sides.

“Touch in between your folds.”

Jimin spreads them, a tentative finger touching the bud in between. He gasps, taps it again, then again, increasing the speed of his movements. Pleasure spreads through his pussy, but it’s not enough. He strokes his clit, strokes harder when it makes his hips jump.

“How’s that feel, baby?”

“Feels - feels good.” He drags his fingers on either side of his clit and whimpers. His eyes flutter.

“Look at me.”  

He opens his eyes and meets Hoseok’s, his dark gaze sending a shiver up his spine.

“Pinch your clit.”

Jimin pinches it. He moans, his elbow giving way. His back hits the bed, and he claps his free hand over his mouth, his fingers moving faster as he strokes himself. Hoseok draws closer, crawling to meet him until he’s hovering over him, hands on either side of his head and his knees just inches from his pussy.

“Wish those were my hands,” he says, gaze traveling down Jimin’s flushed face. “Wish that was my tongue stroking your cunt, sucking your clit.”

Jimin whimpers, helpless, shifting beneath him.

“I’d lick into your hole and fuck it, too, fill you up with my cock. But I’d make you beg first. Tease you until you’re crying for my cock, desperate for me to split you open.”

Jimin moans into his hand, long and high despite being muffled, his fingers stuttering in their movements. The pleasure’s building but it’s not enough, he doesn’t know how to make himself feel good the way he needs. There’s no one around to hear them but still he’s afraid, presses his hand harder over his mouth until it almost hurts.

“I told you not to do that,” Hoseok says. His voice has changed, hard and unforgiving. Jimin’s hips roll into the air. He wants Hoseok to talk to him again in that low voice, to look at him like that forever. He uncovers his mouth.

“Hoseok,” he whimpers. “Hoseok.”

“Wanna fuck your tight pussy,” he says. It’s almost a growl. “Wanna feel you sucking me in. Fuck you until you’re coming and keep fucking you until all you know is the feeling of my cock inside you.”

“Ah, Hoseok - ”

“Would you like that, baby? You want me to be the first to fuck your pretty pussy? I’ll be the first to make you scream.”

He wants it. He wants him inside, wants Hoseok to touch him and fuck him and make him his. He’s never wanted anything so much in his life. He whines, writhes, arches toward him. Hoseok’s so close he can feel the heat of his body, feel his breath on his neck, but he’s not close enough. Not nearly close enough.

“It’s not - It’s not enough - ” he says, choked, clenching just for the brief shot of pleasure it brings.

Hoseok moves away and off the bed in one, smooth bound.

Jimin whimpers, reaching for him. “Hoseok - ”

“Come here,” Hoseok orders. He sits on the edge of one of his chairs, legs spread, and beckons.

Jimin slips off the bed, legs shaky, and follows. His cunt hurts, swollen and throbbing between his legs.

“Straddle my thigh.”

Jimin stares at him, eyes wide, unsure.

“Trust me,” Hoseok says, a little softer. “I won’t touch you.”

He’s still fully clothed; the fact makes Jimin flush, but that means their skin won’t touch if he straddles him, even if he holds onto him.

“Come on, baby,” he says sweetly, eyes lidded. “Spread your legs. Ride my thigh.”

Jimin lowers himself to straddle Hoseok’s legs. He clutches fistfuls of Hoseok’s shirt to keep his balance. The pressure makes him gasp, the fabric of Hoseok’s pants rubbing against his pussy.

“Ride,” Hoseok says. “Rub your cunt on me.”

Jimin rolls his hips, mouth dropping open as a wave of pleasure hits him. His fingers tighten in Hoseok’s shirt, and he rolls his hips again, harder. Hoseok leans back, gripping the arms of the chair tightly.

“That’s it. Make yourself feel good.”

Jimin leans toward him as he begins to work his hips properly, the insistent pressure on his clit unbelievably good. He moves faster, stops fighting the noses that leave him, broken whimpers and soft moans. Hoseok’s pants grow damp from the wetness of his pussy.

“Dream about fucking you.” Hoseok’s voice comes out slurred, eyes lidded as he reaches down to palm his cock in his pants. Jimin watches, entranced, as Hoseok strokes over the bulge that has become very visible. “Fucking your cunt, your ass, your mouth. Filling you up with my cum until it drips down your thighs.”

Jimin’s hips stutter, pressure building in his pussy, fingers so tight in Hoseok’s shirt they’re white. He’s leaning close, mouth hovering just inches over Hoseok’s. “I dreamt - I dream about you fucking me. Pinning me - pinning me to the mattress, your cock so big and throbbing inside me.”

Hoseok groans. He moves his thigh just as Jimin rolls down, adding an extra wave of pressure. Jimin moans, long and desperate, and Hoseok’s mouth opens like he wishes he could swallow the noise.

“I couldn’t move, you were fucking me so hard - ah, Hoseok -

Jimin’s moans pick up in speed, his hips losing all rhythm as he rocks against Hoseok, squeezing his thighs around Hoseok’s, clenching his hole until his pussy throbs. His muscles are tensing, thighs quivering, and it feels so good it hurts, he wants more but he wants it to stop -

“Let go, Jimin.” Hoseok’s voice is hoarse near Jimin’s mouth. He’s still rubbing himself off, hand inside his pants, now. “Come on me, baby. Let go.”

The wave of pleasure that hits him is almost unbearable. His mouth opens in a soundless cry, eyes rolling back as his cunt pulses. He trembles, hands losing all strength as they fall into Hoseok’s lap, dizzy and unable to think past the all-consuming pleasure. Then it’s over and he’s weak, loose, like everything in his body’s just been drained out. He collapses against Hoseok, breathing hard, light and sated.

They’re touching. He’s dimly aware of it, that it’s impossible not to touch when he’s collapsed in his lap, but he doesn’t care. His limbs feel like jelly. He knows he’ll have to get off Hoseok, drag himself to his bed, but he doesn’t want to.

“Carry me to bed,” he mumbles.

Hoseok laughs quietly by his ear. He arranges Jimin so he can lift him when he stands, crossing over to the bed and laying him gently down. His hands almost feel like too much on Jimin’s sensitive skin.

Jimin’s eyes threaten to shut but he forces them open, eyeing the bulge in Hoseok’s pants. “What about - what about you?” There’s a spot of slick on his thigh, too, and it makes Jimin blush.

“I can take care of myself.” Hoseok hesitates, then says, “Can I come on you?”

Jimin only has a vague notion of what that means. He nods.

Hoseok lowers his pants just enough for his cock to come out. Jimin doesn’t know what constitutes big or small for a cock, but Hoseok looks big to him, thick and veiny, his balls heavy behind it. It’s not pretty, hard and dark, dots of white liquid on the tip, but all Jimin can think about as he stares is what it would feel like inside him.

“Spread your legs.”

Jimin spreads them, loose and pliant, enough for Hoseok to kneel between. He tugs on his cock with one hand, the other massaging his balls, and dips his finger into the slit at the tip, catching the dots of cum and spreading them along his cock to speed his hand. He works himself fast, twisting and stroking, and Jimin watches his face as he does. His brows are furrowed, mouth tense, jaw clenching.

It doesn’t take him long. When he comes, his whole face tenses, eyes drifting shut and teeth gritting, a pained moan leaving him. The droplets of cum that leave his cock squirt onto Jimin’s pussy, catching on his folds and his pelvis. Jimin licks his lips, his cunt throbbing half-heartedly.

Hoseok falls onto the bed next to him, sighing contentedly. He turns his head to look at Jimin, whose eyes are drifting shut. “You’re beautiful,” Hoseok says, like he always does.

Jimin hums his assent. “You, too.”

 

 

When Jimin wakes, Hoseok is gone, and the swarming cloud of guilt returns full-force.

There’s no cum on him anymore, and a blanket is draped over his form. Hoseok must have cleaned him up before leaving. He curls into a ball, wrapping his arms tight around himself, and tries to fight off the awful feeling that he’s done something very, very wrong.

He doesn’t want to be alone. He wants someone to hold him and stroke his hair and tell him it’s all right. He wants Hoseok, but Hoseok couldn’t even stay long enough to say goodbye.

The day passes in a daze. He can’t focus, lost in regret. He doesn’t know if it’s impure to touch himself, but it has to be impure to let someone watch - to ride someone’s thigh even if they aren’t touching him. It has to be against the rules, he knows it has to be, but it’s too late. He’s already transgressed even after praying for the Goddess’s forgiveness and promising he wouldn’t do it again.

Bora catches him alone later that evening to whisper, “You have to be more careful. Matron was on her way to your room. I had to distract her so I could pick the lock and tell him to leave. He climbed out the window.”

Jimin can’t help the tiny flutter of relief. Hoseok hadn’t left him after all. “I’m sorry.”

“If you’re going to do this, you have to be careful. You know what they’ll do if they catch you, right?”

He knows. No one’s ever been caught in his time at the temple, but he’s heard stories.

The guilt swims in him like a sickness, but he can’t stop thinking about how good it had felt. How he’d liked touching himself, how loose he’d felt when he came. He’s not sure he can go back now that he knows what it’s like to feel pleasure. A few nights later, he’s soaking in his pool; he’s supposed to be doing his nightly meditation, but instead he’s drifting, caught thinking about Hoseok like he has been for days.

He spreads his legs in the water and reaches down to touch himself, hesitant. It takes a few experimental strokes for him to grow more confident. He tries different things, plays with his clit, taps it, strokes around it, but he can’t find the pleasure he’d found with Hoseok there. He thinks about him - thinks about his cock and his voice hoarse with desire, can hear him, how he’d wanted to fuck his ass and his mouth and his pussy - he finds a movement that works, and the pleasure’s building. His toes curl, helpless pants leaving his mouth as his hand moves quicker, his entire body tensing inward - it’s too much, so he stops. His cunt clenches helplessly, spasms, but it’s too much and he doesn’t move his hand again. He sinks back against the walls of the pool, tired already.

The next day, he tries again. He can’t have Hoseok, but at least he can have this.

 

 

He’s alone with Hyojung when she broaches the topic some days later.

She’s lounging naked in the pool of the room she shares with a few of the other girls, and he’s circling the edge of it to light incense for her meditation.

“Did you fuck him?” she asks out of nowhere.

Jimin flushes. He nearly fumbles the stick of incense but catches it before it falls into the water. “No.”

She eyes him carefully. “You don’t have to lie to me. You know I’m not going to say anything.”

“I’m not lying. I didn’t, um, fuck him.”

“How sweet,” she coos. “You’re so shy.” It’s not mocking like it would be coming from anyone else; Hyojung understands better than most what his life has been like. “How did Bora find you naked in bed together then?”

“I, um.” He sighs, sets the incense down, and sits at the edge of the pool. He pulls his robes up so he can dip his feet in the water, kicking them aimlessly. “He taught me how to touch myself.”

Hyojung scoffs. Jimin doesn’t expect that; he winces. “You’re learning how to touch yourself from someone with a cock ?” She flicks a spray of water at him. “What does he know? You should have come to me.”

She’s so indignant that Jimin giggles, the tension easing from his shoulders. “Well I wasn’t planning on it, it just happened.”

Hyojung snorts. “I can’t believe this. I raised you, you know.”

“I’m sorry,” he says through a laugh. “It wasn’t exactly like that. I, uh, rode his thigh. He didn’t touch me.”

Her eyebrows shoot into her bangs. “You haven’t let him touch you?”

“It’s not allowed.”

“Who says?” she challenges, and he doesn’t expect that, either.

“The teachings, Matron, the handmaidens before us - everyone knows it’s not allowed, Hyojung. What are you talking about?”

“You’ve lived in this temple for fourteen years, Jimin. You’ve worshipped the Goddess and done everything you’ve ever been told, no questions asked. Have you ever heard her voice?”

Jimin grips the edge of the pool, staring resolutely at his feet. He knows what she’s saying. Hearing the voice of the Goddess is the ultimate blessing to be bestowed on any human, given only to those who are worthy. The priestess who had lived in the temple long before his arrival had heard her voice, or so they said. The legends of the last boy who’d been chosen as priest a century ago had heard her, too.

“You know I haven’t,” he says, and even saying the words aloud makes him feel unworthy.

“You’ve done everything,” she says. “Everything you’re supposed to. Why haven’t you heard her?”

“I don’t know.” His grip tightens, frustration clear in his voice. “What’s your point?”

“No one knows what she wants.” Her voice has changed; it’s colder, now, like she won’t stand for disagreement. “No one knows if a temple of virgins or a priest who is untouchable is her will. Don’t you think it’s rather strange that the goddess of fertility wants handmaidens who are virgins?”

“But the teachings - ”

“ - are passed down by word of mouth. Do you remember when we were little, we would play a game of messenger? Someone would craft a secret and whisper it to someone else, and it traveled down the line until it reached the last person. And no matter how careful everyone was, by the end the message had always changed.”

He bites his lip. Considers.

“The teachings of now might be vastly different than the teachings of three hundred years ago. So, who says any of this is even what she wants?”

There’s truth to her words, but to think of the teachings as inherently wrong feels like questioning his entire worldview. “That’s easy for you to say. You’ve never cared about what she wanted.”

“Don’t say that.” She sounds hurt, and Jimin regrets it. “That’s not true.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I might not have wanted to come here, but she did choose me. She gave me a life far better than the one I had before. I feel her.” Hyojung places a hand over her heart, and her expression begs for Jimin to understand. “I feel her here, and I feel the Sun God and the Reaper and the Sea Maiden, too. I care about them as much as you do.”

He nods, mouth curved downwards.

“Just because I question what we’ve been told doesn’t mean I don’t care.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, again, and he means it. He’s always seen her disregardance of the teachings as flippancy, as a lack of connection. He’d always thought she resented the Goddess. But he realizes now it’s not that simple.

“Maybe what they tell us is what she wants.” She shrugs. “Maybe I’m sinning, and she’ll punish me for it one day. But I have no way of knowing that. And I’d like to believe she cares about more important things than whether someone touches your hand.”

She flicks another spray of water at him, and he kicks some back. Her smile softens.

“So do what you want, Jiminie. And don’t think you’re bad for it.”

 

 

The next time Jimin sees Hoseok, he’s sneaking in through his balcony.

Jimin’s preparing for bed when there’s a knock on the door to the balcony. He spins to face the noise, prepared for a violent intruder, when Hoseok’s voice comes through.

“It’s me.”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Jimin drops the pillow he was fluffing and flies to the balcony, yanking the door open and gesturing frantically for Hoseok to enter. “Hurry before someone sees you.”

He slips in, his beautiful, mischievous smile fixed on Jimin. His talk with Hyojung has helped with the guilt, but Jimin realizes now that even if it hadn’t, the way his heart soars when he sees Hoseok would have made the decision for him. “I was careful,” Hoseok says, dusting off the shoulders of his jacket. “No one saw me.”

“How did you even climb up?” Jimin peeks out the curtain at the distant drop to the ground incredulously.

“Sheer will and determination.”

Jimin laughs, dashing to lock his door. He turns back to Hoseok and takes a step toward him. He can’t stop smiling. He’s giddy. He doesn’t know what it is but he’s trembling a little with excitement, anticipation, Hoseok’s presence.

“You have the prettiest smile,” Hoseok murmurs, the brightness of his grin fading to something softer, fonder. Jimin’s heart flutters.

“Hold out your hand.”

“What for?” Hoseok asks, but he holds it out anyway, palm up.

“Close your eyes, too,” Jimin decides. The flutter has turned nervous. “Don’t open until I say you can.”

“Should I be worried?” Hoseok sounds amused. He closes his eyes.

Jimin takes a moment to admire his sharp jawline, the strong lines of his forehead. He only hesitates for a second. When he places his hand on top of Hoseok’s, threading their fingers together, he does so decidedly.

“Don’t open your eyes,” Jimin says, because he can tell he’s about to. A shiver runs down his spine at the contact. Hoseok’s hand is firm and warm and nothing’s ever made him so content as just holding Hoseok’s hand. He closes the distance between them and kisses Hoseok’s lips, a quick, soft peck.

“Can I open my eyes now?” Hoseok says when Jimin pulls back, and he sounds restrained.

“Yes.”

He does. The look in them is intense, focused on Jimin’s face. His free arm loops around Jimin’s waist, pulling him to his chest. He kisses his lips more firmly than Jimin had, but he doesn’t deepen it; he kisses his cheeks, the first and then the next, kisses the tip of his nose and his forehead and his eyes when they flutter shut. Every kiss makes Jimin weak, the gentle touches reminding Jimin of everything he’s been missing for so long. Hoseok doesn’t let go of his hand.

“Can you - can you stay with me, tonight?”

Hoseok’s kisses don’t stop. He peppers them along his jaw, each one sweet as the next, kisses the corners of his mouth and across his cheekbones. They make Jimin’s stomach flutter, make it hard to focus. “Yes,” he murmurs into Jimin’s skin.

“I don’t know if I want to - ” He loses his train of thought when Hoseok kisses under his chin, the skin sensitive enough to send a jolt through Jimin. “If I want to, you know.”

He can feel Hoseok smile against his neck. He’d never imagined he could do that - feel someone smile. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t want.”

Hoseok pulls back, and the loss draws a quiet noise of complaint from Jimin. Hoseok leans back in briefly to kiss Jimin’s forehead, then he leads him over to the bed. He lets go of his hand to remove his jacket and toss it onto the floor, leaving himself in a thin shirt and his trousers. The moment they aren’t holding hands feels like a year to Jimin. He climbs into bed and brings Jimin with him, arranging them so he’s leaning against the curved headboard of the circular bed with Jimin leaning back into his chest. He wraps his arms around Jimin, their hands threading naturally together. His breath stirs Jimin’s hair.

Jimin lets himself go. He leans back fully into Hoseok’s embrace, relishes in the feeling of someone holding him, the contentment of Hoseok’s body against his. Something about the way Hoseok’s arms are around him makes him feel protected. He thinks, briefly, that he could stay like this forever.

“You know,” Jimin murmurs, tracing his thumb along Hoseok’s. “I don’t really know anything about you.”

“Sure you do. You know I have a reputation.”

That’s a jab at his earlier words. Jimin frowns, tilting his head so he can look back at Hoseok. “Hoseok.”

Hoseok kisses his frowning lips. “What do you want to know?”

“I don’t know. Just, about you.”

“Like what?”

“Like your favorite food or your happiest memory or what you do all day.”

“That one’s easy. Something princely.”

Jimin elbows his stomach. Hoseok lets out an exhale that turns into a laugh. “I’m serious ,” Jimin says, and it comes out like a whine.

“My favorite food’s the vegetable stew one of the palace chefs makes. My happiest memory was leaving the palace to study abroad.”

Jimin interrupts. “You were happy to leave?”

“Ecstatic.” Hoseok’s tone has turned guarded. Jimin senses that he won’t answer, so he doesn’t press. “And as for what I do all day, well, today I thought about you. Tomorrow I’ll think about you, too. And the day after that, I’ll think about you again.”

Jimin flushes. The heat spreads from his cheeks down to his neck. “Hoseok.”

“Jimin.” Hoseok kisses his hair, his temple, his cheek.

Jimin sits up, turning around to face him. He clambers rather ungracefully into Hoseok’s lap; it’s more comfortable to straddle his waist, legs folded beneath him, so he does. Hoseok rests his head back on the headboard, hands coming to settle on Jimin’s hips. Jimin takes one of them away so he can latch their fingers together again.

“What was it like, studying in a different kingdom?”

“Terrible.” Up close, when he’s really looking, Hoseok looks tired. There are dark circles under his half-lidded eyes. “I was useless at the language for the first few years. The food tasted like shit. No one liked me. But then I got used to it, and I started to love it.”

“Did you miss home?”

“Not even a little.”

Jimin frowns again. As soon as his lips curve down, Hoseok leans in to kiss him.

“Any more questions for your interrogation?” Hoseok says.

“I’m not interrogating you.”

“Sounds an awful lot like one.”

“It’s not . I just want to know about you.”

“I know, baby,” Hoseok laughs. “I’m just teasing.”

He smiles in that lopsided way of his, the way that makes Jimin weak. He wonders what it’s like in the palace. Wonders how many others find themselves weak before Hoseok’s smile. “What’s it mean, that you have a reputation?”

Hoseok raises an eyebrow. “It means I like to have sex.”

Jimin wonders if he’s fucked anyone since they kissed. Wonders how many people he’s fucked since then. He fiddles with Hoseok’s fingers, gaze cast downward, and chews on his lower lip. “Have you ever - do you only fuck girls?”

“What makes you think that?”

Jimin’s quiet.

“Why, do you think I’m only after you because you have a pussy?”

His blunt phrasing is embarrassing. Jimin doesn’t look at him. Hoseok’s hand leaves his waist, and for a brief, anxious second, he’s afraid he’s made him mad. But then Hoseok’s fingers lift his chin so he’s looking at him.

“I don’t care about that,” he says. “I’ll fuck your ass, too.”

Heat rushes to his pussy. He wants that. He wants Hoseok to fuck him, but he doesn’t think he’s ready for that level of closeness when he’s overwhelmed just by Hoseok holding his hand.

“I don’t only fuck girls,” Hoseok clarifies. “I’ve fucked plenty of boys, too.”

“Okay,” Jimin mumbles.

Hoseok’s hands slip into his hair, running down to his nape. He pulls him in, and they’re kissing, soft until Hoseok slides his tongue into Jimin’s mouth. Jimin tries to keep up, moves his lips the way Hoseok does, brushes their tongues together. When Hoseok’s tongue flicks against the roof of his mouth he whimpers, kissing him back with more force. He doesn’t know if he’s doing it right, but Hoseok doesn’t stop, so neither does he, clutching the front of Hoseok’s shirt as the sensations begin to overwhelm him.

They pull away to gasp for breath. Jimin greedily sucks in air as he hovers over Hoseok’s open mouth, eyes closed because he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to handle seeing Hoseok on top of everything. Hoseok’s hands slide down his back, the pressure so good, down to his hips and then his ass. He cups his ass, hands tight and unforgiving, and tugs Jimin’s hips closer to his. The movement forces Jimin’s legs to spread further until his pussy’s nearly pressed into Hoseok’s pelvis.

Hoseok kisses him again, and his hands pulls Jimin’s hips into his just as he rolls his own up. Jimin feels it - the bulge of his cock against him, hard and very, very present. His eyes flutter, fingers weak as he tries to hold onto Hoseok while the feeling of being touched overwhelms him. Hoseok’s everywhere, like before - he can feel him on his ass and his throbbing cunt and against his chest, feel his mouth on his and his hands on him. It’s too much, every inch of his body exceedingly sensitive, but he wants it. He’s never wanted anything so much as he wants Hoseok’s touch.

They roll their hips together, Hoseok’s kisses dirty and loud, saliva connecting their lips when they pull apart to breathe. Hoseok flips them, pushing Jimin down onto the bed, pinning his hands above his head. It’s like his dream, and Jimin loves it even more than he did when he dreamt it. His hips roll into the air, but Hoseok’s hovering too far above him to reach.

“Pretty baby,” Hoseok croons. “Will you be good for me, Jiminie?”

He hums his assent. Hoseok’s lips travel down his neck, and every suck makes Jimin’s hips jump. He wants to touch Hoseok back, but his hands hold him in place, and he likes that even more. Hoseok takes one hand away to untie Jimin’s robe, letting it fall open around him, holding his wrists together with the other hand.

“You’re so pretty,” Hoseok murmurs, kissing the hollow at the base of his throat and dragging his mouth along Jimin’s collarbones. “So pretty and untouched.”

Hoseok kisses along his chest, brushing his lips around Jimin’s nipple in a way that’s tantalizing, infuriating. Jimin writhes, whimpers, and Hoseok smiles against him.

“What’s that, baby? Do you want something?”

“H-Hoseok - ”

His lips finally latch onto his nipple, sucking hard. Jimin arches off the bed, a high moan torn from his throat, his pussy throbbing so hard it hurts . His eyes widen, teeth clamping down on his lip to keep any more noises from leaving him. Everyone’s asleep, and his room is at the end of the hall, but still. He hasn’t lost himself enough to stop caring yet.

“So pretty and untouched just for me. Just so I can ruin you. Is that right, Jiminie?”

Jimin can’t answer, doesn’t want to, can hardly think with Hoseok’s mouth assaulting his nipple then traveling to the next one. His hand holds his wrists together and the others comes to hold his hips down when he jerks too hard on the next suck. He’d never known his nipples could be so sensitive, but even the slightest touch against him has jolts of pleasure shooting to his groin. Hoseok’s mouth moves down to his stomach, kissing the hard planes of his abdomen, tongue dipping into his bellybutton and making his toes curl. He drags his teeth lightly along his hipbones and the top of his pelvis; the barely-there scratches are too much, too little.

“Hoseok, please - ”

“Can I kiss your pretty cunt, baby?”

Jimin doesn’t have the capacity to do anything but whimper his assent. Hoseok’s hands finally let go of his wrists and hips, and he shifts as soon as they do, his hands flying to Hoseok’s hair as his face nears his pussy.

He blows lightly against his mound. “Gonna be the first to eat your pussy. You want that?”

“Please - ”

The whimper Hoseok’s first, light lick draws from him sounds almost pained. Hoseok rubs the crease between his thighs and pelvis before spreading his legs apart, then moves his fingers in to rub against the folds of his pussy. He spreads them, leans in to lick his clit, as lightly as the first time. The next time his tongue touches him, he presses against his clit, massages it in a tight circle. Jimin whines softly, the muscles of his stomach tightening. Hoseok pulls back again, and the teasing is infuriating.

“Hoseok, please, don’t stop - ”

Hoseok laughs. Jimin can feel the air from his laugh tickle his pussy and he squirms until Hoseok’s fingers are on him, again, spreading him apart. “You’re so wet for me.”

He kisses his clit carefully, and Jimin’s resulting whimper is cut off into a moan when Hoseok licks from his hole up to his clit. He doesn’t stop this time; the teasing’s over. He licks him repeatedly, tongue pressing hard against him, and Jimin’s a whimpering mess, fingers tight in Hoseok’s hair. His toes curl, thighs locking around Hoseok’s head as he flicks his clit with such vigor Jimin can hear the slick noises of his tongue against his wet pussy. The sounds of Hoseok’s mouth on him and his own helpless moans are humiliating; he tosses his arm over his face, back arching, unable to keep still.

The pleasure’s overwhelming. Hoseok holds his hips down and massages his clit with the tip of his tongue, closing his lips around it so he can suck. Jimin shoves his fist into his mouth, arching so hard it hurts, moan muffled around his hand. He’s too loud, he’s going to wake someone up, but he doesn’t care -

Hoseok settles on flicking his clit with the tip of his tongue in a way that has Jimin tensing. It starts with his toes curling, then the muscles of his calves tighten, his thighs lock tighter around Hoseok’s head, his stomach tightens and his arms curl in and his neck tenses up, too. His pussy’s clenching uncontrollably, and he’s panting, heat rushing through him. Hoseok’s mouth is almost too much, he almost begs him to stop, but what he really wants is release.

Hoseok’s thumb rubs against his hole. He moves it downward, down to his ass, and presses a tight circle against his rim. Jimin’s orgasm crashes into him, muscles tightening unbelievably until suddenly they’re loose, his thighs unlocking and falling boneless onto the bed, his head falling back and his hands leaving Hoseok’s hair.

Hoseok pulls back to sit on his haunches. His mouth’s shiny with slick. Jimin had hoped he’d be beyond embarrassment, but he’s not, flushing hot at the sight of him.

“You taste so good,” Hoseok says, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. “Could eat you out all day, taste nothing but you.”

Jimin covers his face with his hands. He’s still breathing hard. He knows about sex but he’d never known about this , never thought about Hoseok’s mouth on him like that.

“Don’t do that.” Hoseok’s hands close around his, pulling them gently away from his face. “I wanna look at you.”

“I can’t - I can’t believe you did that.”

Hoseok grins. He kisses Jimin’s neck, mouth still a little wet, trails his lips down to Jimin’s chest again. “Why? It’s the best thing I’ve done in days.”

Jimin’s pliant and boneless, doesn’t think he can ever feel aroused again, but when Hoseok’s teeth nip lightly at his nipple, he feels himself come to life again. Jimin lies there while Hoseok sucks and licks over his body, his breath picking up pace once more.

“Want to go again, baby?”

Jimin didn’t know it was possible to go more than once. He finds himself nodding. Hoseok mouths back down to his pussy, then slides his hands under Jimin’s thighs and pushes them up to his chest.

“Hold your legs apart for me.”

Jimin hooks his hands under his knees and spreads them, tight against his chest. Hoseok doesn’t go for his clit this time. He kisses Jimin’s wet folds, massaging his ass with his hands, then mouths over his hole. He’s still sensitive, and the pleasure almost hurts, but he likes it. When Hoseok’s tongue licks just inside his hole, Jimin gasps, aroused again, his cunt swollen and throbbing, the pleasure taking over like he hadn’t just come. He’d tried to finger his hole over the past few days, but he hadn’t liked it. It’d been uncomfortable, and he’d preferred playing with his clit.

But Hoseok’s tongue, soft and wet, is nothing like that. He licks in deeper, flicking his tongue against Jimin’s walls. His thumbs spread his folds apart as he covers his hole with his mouth and sucks. Jimin arches, a helpless cry leaving him. He claps his hand over his mouth, leaving one of his legs to drape over Hoseok’s back.

“Your cries are so pretty,” Hoseok says before he licks inside him again.

He spreads him wide, and one of his long fingers slips in along with his tongue. Jimin’s so wet the finger doesn’t hurt at all, slipping in easily. Hoseok flicks his tongue inside him just as he crooks his finger and it feels good , nothing like his own short fingers. His hand muffles the staccato moans he can’t control as Hoseok begins to move his finger in and out, crooking it to brush along his walls. He adds another finger and when he crooks them, he hits a spot that has Jimin clenching with pleasure, thighs quivering. He doesn’t pull out. His fingers stay there, massaging the sensitive spot, steadily reducing Jimin to a helpless, shuddering mess beneath him.

Jimin can’t think straight, can’t do anything but clench up and moan into his hand, can’t do anything but let Hoseok do to him as he wishes. Hoseok’s relentless, building up the pleasure without pause, unhindered by the way Jimin’s hole clenches tight around his fingers. He rubs against him as he licks back up to his clit, sucking hard, and Jimin’s coming again.

It hits him harder this time. His whole body tightens, curling around Hoseok’s head, before he collapses back, weak and boneless as his pussy spasms through the aftershocks. Hoseok fingers him through them, doesn’t pull back until Jimin pushes him away.

“Hoseok,” he whimpers. He doesn’t want to do anything but lie there forever.

Hoseok comes to him, hovering over him and kissing him hard. He’s too tired to do much but move his lips a little, lets Hoseok lick into him and suck on his tongue. “You felt so good around my fingers,” Hoseok murmurs, arranging his robe so he’s covered again. He lies down next to him and tucks him into his side. Jimin’s head lolls on Hoseok’s shoulder, eyes drifting shut. “Can’t imagine how good you’ll feel around my cock.”

“I want to make you come next time,” Jimin mumbles into his shoulder, words barely audible.

Hoseok kisses his head. “Go to sleep.”

“You have to leave before morning. So Matron doesn’t catch you.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be gone.”

Jimin curls into him. “I’ll miss you.”

He barely catches Hoseok’s whispered I know before sleep takes him.

 

 

Jimin thinks he might be growing addicted to being touched.

There’s a restless itch under his skin that won’t fade as the days pass, no matter how he distracts himself. He thinks about it all the time, thinks about skin-on-skin in most innocent ways, hands touching and an embrace and an arm around a shoulder, and in much less innocent ways, too. Now that he knows what he’s been missing, he wants to be touched all the time. He can’t sleep for want of it, can’t do anything but wonder what it’d be like to touch every time he’s around another person.

He wants to tell the other girls that he doesn’t care anymore, but he knows some of them will object, and he’s afraid that once he tells, he’ll no longer be able to control himself. He’ll slip up, eventually, when Matron or one of the younger girls is around or when someone outside of the temple is there to see. So for a few days he stays entirely quiet, until he makes a decision - a compromise.

He catches Hyojung alone at one of the third floor altars where hardly anyone visits. She’s just finishing up her prayers and blowing out the incense when Jimin comes up behind her. He only hesitates for a second before he throws his arms around her waist and buries his face into her back.

“It’s Jimin,” he mumbles just so she doesn’t get scared.

She freezes, tension clear in every inch of her body. Jimin squeezes his eyes shut, afraid that maybe she’ll be mad after all, but then the tension flies out of her in one, breathless laugh. “Jiminie!” she exclaims, and spins around to embrace him properly.

Hyojung wasn’t exaggerating when she said she’d raised him. To finally be able to pour all his emotion into one tight embrace, to finally show her how much he cares, is indescribable.

“We have to be careful,” he tells her, but after that whenever they’re alone he holds her hand or curls into her side and a tiny bit of the restless itch is sated.

A part of him is still scared. Sometimes in the middle of his prayers he’ll be hit with a wave of guilt, a wave of regret, but it never lasts long. He decides, after much deliberation, that even if he’s doing something terribly wrong, he doesn’t care.

He’s too happy to care.

 

 

Hoseok comes back after five days, and by then Jimin is on edge with anticipation. When he sees him enter the temple on a quiet evening, the rush of relief that floods into Jimin makes him dizzy. He’d almost been afraid Hoseok wouldn’t come back.

“Help me with my prayers, Your Holiness?” Hoseok holds up a basket of food, eyes twinkling.

Jimin tries to fight a smile. There’s no one around to see, but he doesn’t want to give himself away in so public a place. “Yes, Your Highness. Let me get my materials.”

The incense around the wolf statue is running low, so he heads to the storage room to fetch some more. Hardly a moment after he enters, the door shutting behind him, it opens again. Hoseok has a finger on his lips as he slips inside.

“What are you doing?” Jimin hisses, trying to sound stern, but the way his stomach swoops with anticipation as Hoseok nears him says otherwise.

“Making up for lost time,” Hoseok says before he pulls him in by the waist and kisses him.

It’s a deep kiss from the start, nearly overwhelming. Jimin twines his fingers in Hoseok’s hair, gasping into his mouth, melting into him with the force of it. “Missed you,” Jimin murmurs when they break for breath. Hoseok kisses him again, sucking on his lower lip, licking into his mouth. Somehow he maneuvers them so Jimin’s pressed against the wall, Hoseok’s body flush against his. Jimin can feel the way his chest moves as he breathes, feel the taut muscles of his stomach and thighs. Hoseok’s hand moves to tangle in his hair and pull his head back until his neck is arched enough for him to run his lips along it, kitten licks and little kisses.

“Someone could - ” He breaks off into a gasp as Hoseok’s free hand tugs his thigh up to press against Hoseok’s waist. “Someone could catch us.”

“Stay quiet and no one will,” Hoseok growls into his neck. He rolls his hips, and Jimin can feel his cock hard against him.

He grinds his hips experimentally again, pressing hard into Jimin, then his mouth finds Jimin’s again. He lifts his other leg to straddle his waist, too, and he’s holding him balanced against the wall. Jimin gasps, locking his ankles against Hoseok’s back, his fingers tightening in his hair. He kisses him slow and dirty as he starts to roll his hips consistently, finding a rhythm that has Jimin moaning. He tries to be quieter, but he’s a livewire when it comes to Hoseok. The slightest thing pulls the most sensitive reactions from him.

“Quiet, baby, unless you want someone to hear us,” Hoseok says before he returns to kissing him, swallowing the noises that Jimin can’t restrain.

There’s too much clothing between Hoseok’s cock and Jimin’s pussy as they grind together, Jimin rolling his hips to meet Hoseok’s. He’s holding onto him like a lifeline, the pleasure building up quickly. Hoseok rolls his hips particularly hard and Jimin whines, high and desperate.

“Quiet,” Hoseok snaps, but Jimin can’t. The way Hoseok moves his hips is unreal, smooth and controlled, and Jimin’s losing control too quickly. He can’t stop the moans that break off into whines and the tiny whimpers in between.

Hoseok claps a hand over Jimin’s mouth to muffle his noises just as his hips pick up speed. Jimin’s eyes roll back into his head, the pressure building and building as Hoseok’s hips snap against him. He’s going to come like this, and he doesn’t think Hoseok’s hand will be enough to hide the way he knows he’s going to cry out.

The sound of footsteps comes from outside. He hears Mina’s voice. “Jimin? Where’d you go?”

Hoseok’s hips still. His hand presses tighter into Jimin’s mouth as Jimin shivers in response, his cunt spasming, tears prickling the corners of his eyes at the pleasure so close but suddenly snatched away. Hoseok leans into him, quieting his pants against Jimin’s neck.

“Jimin?” she calls. Another moment passes before her footsteps recede, and Jimin hears the squeak of the door to the stairwell.

Hoseok takes his hand from Jimin’s mouth and sets him gently on the ground. They’re both panting aloud, now, gasping for breath. Jimin’s head lolls back against the wall, the tears escaping from his eyes. Crouching before him, Hoseok leans in to kiss them away.

“That was too close,” Jimin says when his heartbeat starts to calm down.

“I know.” Hoseok runs a hand through his disheveled hair.

“You should go.”

“Aren’t you gonna help me through my prayer?”

Jimin nudges him with his foot. “ No . I’m not going to help you pray after this.”

Hoseok grins. He slumps onto his ass, leaning back on his hands. “I’ll come back tonight?”

“Make sure no one sees you.”

“I’ll be careful.”

Jimin sighs. He wills strength back into his legs and stands, going to the door to peek out. When he sees no one, he beckons to Hoseok to follow. Just before he slips out, Hoseok pecks Jimin’s lips and ruffles his hair.

“Better fix that mess,” he says, leaving with a smile.

Jimin spends the rest of the day in a state of half-arousal and looming anticipation.

He washes for the night with his stomach in a knot, then he tries to meditate, legs crossed on his bed. But he can’t focus, keeps glancing toward the balcony, wondering if Hoseok’s on his way or if he’s still trying to find time. The moon is high in the sky when he hears the telltale sound of someone stumbling on the balcony. He slides off his bed in one neat bound and yanks the door open to find Hoseok bouncing on one leg, holding the other foot with a frown.

Jimin bursts into giggles, covering his mouth and ushering Hoseok inside.

“Don’t laugh,” Hoseok says, offended, rubbing his injured foot. “I tripped.”

“You’re really ungraceful for a prince.”

“Tell me where it says a prince has to be graceful.”

Jimin’s giddy. He laughs again, breathless, and takes Hoseok’s hand, leading him to the sitting area. Hoseok sinks into an armchair, and before Jimin can move to the other one, Hoseok yanks him into his lap. Jimin plops onto him with an oof , and Hoseok loops his arms around his waist.

“What did you do today?” Jimin fiddles with Hoseok’s fingers, admires how long and slender they are.

“Thought about you.”

“Hoseok,” he admonishes. “I mean it.”

“So do I.” Hoseok nuzzles the side of his head, drops a kiss. Jimin leans his back against Hoseok’s chest, fighting the smile that won’t leave his face.

“You really don’t do anything all day, do you?” Jimin teases. “The life of a prince is so easy.”

“I do plenty of things.”

“Liar.”

“Not a liar.” Hoseok pulls his hands from under Jimin’s. His fingers dance along Jimin’s sides, and Jimin scrunches up, a strange jittery sensation flooding through him. He’s hit with the urge to laugh, so he does, arching away from Hoseok as his flitting fingers don’t stop.

“What are you doing?” he says through giggles, squirming against him.

“Tickling you.”

Jimin doesn’t know what that means but he’s still laughing, writhing in Hoseok’s arms as his relentless fingers don’t stop. They feel good, make his stomach jump, and as they grow closer to his stomach, he jerks, a sudden throb of arousal grows hot between his legs. His giggle turns into a gasp, fades into a moan.

Hoseok’s disbelieving laugh sounds by his ear. “Oh, no,” he says.

Jimin frowns, tries to pull away, but Hoseok’s still tickling him and it feels good . “What are you - what do you - ”

“Tickling arouses you.”

Hoseok sounds rather pleased. The fingers of one hand don’t stop dancing along his sides, but his other hand tugs the ties on the front of Jimin’s robe so it falls open. He slides his hand down Jimin’s stomach, swirling a finger in his bellybutton. Jimin’s hips jump. Kissing his ear, Hoseok’s hand moves lower, scratching his pelvis, down to touch the folds of his pussy. He’s already wet. Hoseok separates his folds with a finger, flicking over his clit. Jimin whimpers, reaching back to hold onto Hoseok’s hair as Hoseok’s finger rubs him until he’s soaking wet, his other hand continuing his assault on his stomach. His finger dips lower, massages Jimin’s hole before slipping easily inside.

“You’re so sensitive you even like being tickled.”

“Is that - ” Jimin’s toes curl as Hoseok’s finger crooks inside him. “Is that bad?”

Hoseok kisses the side of his head, and it feels like an awfully sweet gesture to make when he has his finger inside him. “Of course not. I love it.”

His finger moves lazily inside Jimin, his thumb flicking his clit. “I wanted to make you come.”

Hoseok mouths down his neck, nips at his robe with his teeth to pull it off his shoulder so he can kiss there, too. “Oh, yeah?”

“I wanna make you feel good, too.”

“This makes me feel good.”

“But I want to - ” He hisses as Hoseok’s finger touches his sensitive spot. “I want to touch you, too.”

“You can touch me. You want me to make you come first?”

“No.” He’s too boneless after he comes. “I want to touch you now.”

Hoseok laughs quietly by his ear. “All right.” He slips his finger out and wipes it on his pants. “I’m all yours.”

Jimin turns around in his lap, straddling him, knees by his waist. “I haven’t even seen you, um.” He blushes. Now that he’s looking at him, Hoseok’s lidded gaze on his, he’s not quite as confident.

“Haven’t even seen me what?”

“Naked.” Jimin touches the collar of Hoseok’s shirt, hesitant.

“How sweet,” Hoseok croons, swooping in to kiss his nose. He’s hard, Jimin can feel it; he doesn’t know how he’s always so controlled. When Jimin’s aroused, he doesn’t know what to do with himself.

Jimin unbuttons the top of his shirt and bends in to kiss him, tongue slipping into Hoseok’s mouth. He unbuttons further down, fingers brushing the skin of Hoseok’s chest as he does, and Hoseok’s hands settle on his hips. Brushing his lips down to his jaw, Jimin kisses along the sharp line of it, noses under his chin and down to his jugular. He sucks over his Adam’s Apple, has always admired how pretty it looks when Hoseok swallows. Hoseok leans his head back against the chair, his eyes drifting shut, his dark hair falling prettily around his head like a halo.

Jimin pushes his shirt back from his shoulders, letting it hook on Hoseok’s elbows, and runs his hands across Hoseok’s chest. He’s pretty, slender and tone, defined lines in his abdomen. He brushes his thumbs over Hoseok’s nipples, bends in to lightly kiss one. Hoseok inhales, grip tightening on Jimin’s hips, as Jimin closes his lips over the dark bud and sucks.

“Ah, Jiminie, that feels good.”

Jimin wants to make him moan like he always does for Jimin. He nibbles lightly, sucks again, while he twists and tweaks his other nipple. He does it again, rolling his hips against Hoseok’s, and Hoseok draws in a shuddering breath. He scoots back, traces his hand down his stomach to the waistline of his trousers, hesitates before moving his hand lower. His fingers trace the lightest path along the bulge of Hoseok’s cock. Hoseok shifts, fingers digging into Jimin’s skin.

Jimin bites his lip. He doesn’t know how to pleasure Hoseok; he’s nervous as he palms his cock through his pants, but the way Hoseok’s mouth drops open must mean he’s doing something right. He fingers the waistband of Hoseok’s trousers, brushing skin, before he dips his hand inside. Hoseok tenses at the first touch though it’s a light one, barely there. He wraps his hand fully around Hoseok’s cock, noting that his fingers don’t meet around its girth. He strokes up, and a breath escapes Hoseok’s lips.

Jimin pulls Hoseok’s cock from his pants, taking it in both his hands, admiring the way it’s so dark and hard already. “Can I taste?” Jimin asks, and Hoseok shivers, his eyes drifting back open.

“If you want.”

Jimin slips off his lap and kneels on the floor before him, eyeing his cock with some trepidation. He wants to taste, he’s just a little nervous. Hoseok’s cock doesn’t seem like it’ll fit very easily.

“Only if you want,” Hoseok repeats, as if he can sense it.

“I want to.” Jimin leans in, wonders if Hoseok can feel his breath tickling him before he kisses the tip carefully.

“Mm, Jiminie, you’re gonna tease me?”

“Maybe,” Jimin says cheekily. “You’d deserve it.”

Emboldened, he leaves a few more light kisses along the shaft before he returns to the tip and wraps his lips around it. Hoseok sighs, turns into a moan when Jimin suckles on the tip, hand wrapped around his girth.

“Jiminie,” he breathes, a note of protest in his tone, but Jimin doesn’t give in. He keeps his lips wrapped around only the tip, sucking it nice and wet.

He pulls off to ask, “Does it feel good?”

“Baby, don’t tease me.”

Jimin blinks at him innocently, then leans back to sink down on Hoseok’s cock as far as it’ll go. Hoseok gasps, hand flying to fist in Jimin’s hair, resting there as Jimin adjusts to the stretch of his jaw and the weight of Hoseok on his tongue. He stays still until Hoseok looks down at him, their eyes meeting. Hoseok’s darken, a visible shudder running through him.

“Jimin,” he breathes. “You’re so beautiful like this.”

Jimin starts to move his mouth up and down Hoseok’s cock, hollowing his cheeks as he sucks, careful to keep his teeth away as he can’t imagine that feels good. He can’t move too fast, doesn’t know if Hoseok would want that, but Hoseok seems to be enjoying himself as is. He fights to keep his gaze on Jimin, though sometimes he doesn’t manage, his eyes rolling back and his lashes fluttering shut.

“You’re so good, baby, so good at this,” he praises.

Jimin strokes Hoseok’s cock where his mouth doesn’t reach, then brushes his fingers lightly along Hoseok’s balls. Hoseok’s grip tightens in Jimin’s hair, bringing a wave of pleasure that has Jimin moaning around his cock.

“Ah, shit - ” Hoseok’s hips jerk, though he clearly tries to restrain them, and Jimin pulls off his cock with a surprised pop.

“Does it feel good?” Jimin asks, finding his voice a little rough. His mouth feels swollen, drool all over his chin that he doesn’t bother to wipe away yet, not when Hoseok hasn’t finished.

“Amazing, Jimin, your mouth was made for my cock.”

Beads of precum dot Hoseok’s tip, and Jimin leans in to lap at them, curious about the taste. It’s salty, but it isn’t awful, so he suckles Hoseok’s tip back into his mouth, stroking the rest of his cock as he does.

“Jimin - ” Hoseok moans, long and broken, as Jimin’s hands take on a more insistent rhythm while his mouth suckles his tip. “Shit, Jimin, I’m gonna come - ”

Jimin doesn’t want to swallow, pulls his mouth away and continues to stroke him. “On me,” he insists, and Hoseok comes with a tense groan, hands in Jimin’s hair. Drops of cum catch on Jimin’s lips, his cheek and nose. He watches Hoseok come down - his cheeks flushed, chest heaving, eyelids fluttering. When he finally gathers himself, Hoseok opens his eyes and gazes at Jimin. His softening cock twitches in Jimin’s hands.

“Look at you,” Hoseok breathes, catching the drool and cum with his thumb. “So pretty.”

Jimin tucks him back into his pants so he can crawl into his lap again, brushing sweaty hair away from Hoseok’s forehead. “You liked it?”

“You did so well, sweetheart,” Hoseok says, kissing his cheek. “I’m so lucky.”

Jimin settles against him, satisfied. He’d enjoyed seeing the ever-composed Hoseok fall apart because of him. “I liked that. We should do it again.”

Hoseok laughs, breathy and awed. “I’ll never say no to that.” He wraps his arms around Jimin’s waist, hand cupping his ass. “But for now, it’s your turn.”

 

 

The other girls have started to figure it out.

“Finally,” Junghwa says.

“Don’t get caught,” Mina warns.

“Think carefully about what you’re doing,” Jisoo tells him.

But the most detailed warning comes from Yuna, one morning when they’re stuck collecting herbs from the garden behind the temple together.

“Jiminie,” she says, and her tone alerts Jimin to the seriousness of the matter. He turns to her, watching as she collects mint, her long hair falling around her face. He hasn’t known her quite as long as he’s known some of the others. She’s younger than him, came when she was older when her family fell into poverty and she was lucky enough to make it to the temple rather than starve.

“Yes?”

“Is he good to you?”

Jimin flushes. He returns to gathering leaves of basil, crouched in front of the slender plants. “Yes.”

“That’s good.” She shoots him a smile.

“Do you - do you think I’m bad for this?”

“I don’t think you’re bad. I think what you’re doing is wrong.”

He nods. He expected that.

Yuna shrugs. “But that’s not the point. I’ve heard things from the palace. I don’t think he’s the type to want anything other than your body.”

“I know. Hyojung said the same thing.”

“It’s just that you’ve always been like me.” She crouches next to him and begins to help him with the basil. “You care a lot. About everyone.”

He stays quiet, focusing on dropping leaves in his basket.

“Just be careful, that’s all.”

“Yes. I will.”

The conversation troubles him. It’s the second time he’s been warned, and he wonders what it is everyone’s seeing that he isn’t. He knows Hoseok only visits because he wants him, not because he cares. He knows that.

He doesn’t know why everyone else seems to think he doesn’t.

 

 

The seventh night of each moon is a blessed one, and Jimin spends it in private meditation. He forms a circle of the necessary herbs on his bed and sits in the center, legs crossed, incense lit in various places around his room. He breathes in the smoke and closes his eyes, chanting under his breath. It’s calming like it always is.

There’s a quiet knock on the balcony door, and Jimin knows it’s Hoseok before he cracks an eye open and calls for him to enter. Hoseok slips through the curtain holding a handful of pink snapdragons.

“Good evening.” Hoseok drops into a sweeping bow, flowers held across his chest.

“It’s midnight.”

“I picked these flowers just for you.” He steps up to the edge of Jimin’s bed, beaming like he’s waiting for praise.

Jimin fights a smile. “You got those from the garden outside the temple.”

He fakes offense. “No! How could you think such a thing?”

“Hoseok, I know that garden like the back of my hand.”

He plops down in the space behind the circle of herbs on the bed, leaning on an elbow, and shrugs. “What are you doing?”

“It’s the seventh night. I have to meditate until dawn.”

“All night? That sounds boring.”

“It’s not boring . It’s for the Goddess.”

“Do you have to pray all night? Can’t you spare an hour?” His hand comes to stroke Jimin’s nape.

“Nothing tonight,” he says firmly. “Tonight’s important.”

Hoseok flops onto his back with a dramatic groan. “Fine.”

Jimin smiles a little and returns to his whispered chanting, his eyes drifting shut again. He finds it difficult to focus, too conscious of Hoseok’s presence, keeps expecting Hoseok to bother him again. He doesn’t make so much as a sound, and eventually Jimin slips into the trancelike state that finds him when he meditates deeply enough.

He slips out of it slowly, regaining motion in his fingertips and toes, the strain in his muscles from sitting in the same position for so long catching up. He can’t tell how much time has passed. When he opens his eyes, he finds Hoseok fast asleep, his arms stretched out haphazardly and just barely touching the edge of Jimin’s ring of herbs. His pretty lips are parted slightly, every steady inhale shifting his shoulders. His legs are dangling off the bed in a way that can’t be comfortable.

Jimin finds himself smiling as he quietly gathers his herbs, moving carefully so as not to shift the bed more than necessary. Then he sits by Hoseok’s side and strokes a hand gently through his dark hair, pushing it back from his forehead. In sleep, he looks tense, brows furrowed and forehead crinkled. Not for the first time, Jimin wonders what Hoseok’s life is like. Wonders why there’s always a hint of unhappiness simmering under the surface of his carefully constructed exterior.

Hoseok wants to fuck him. Jimin knows that, has been told that by what feels like everyone. He knows that, and looking at him now, he realizes he doesn’t mind. He’s been thinking about it long enough.

Hoseok stirs, roused by Jimin’s touch, blinking slowly as he wakes. As soon as his eyes settle on Jimin, he smiles. It’s a soft, sleepy smile. He catches Jimin’s wrist in his slender fingers and pulls it down to his lips so he can drop a delicate kiss against his skin.

“Done?” he murmurs, and Jimin can feel him shape the word.

Sex might be all he wants, but Jimin can’t believe that Hoseok doesn’t care about him even a little. The way he looks at him is too sweet to be a lie. “Hoseok.”

“Mm?” He drops another kiss on the inside of his wrist, sleepy eyes closing again.

“Have you ever been in love?”

He doesn’t know why he asks.

Hoseok’s eyes open, and they’re a little guarded, a little curious. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Jimin murmurs, fingers grazing the curve of Hoseok’s cheek. “I was just wondering.”

“Have you?” Hoseok counters, and it feels like a test.

“Haven’t had much of a chance to do that.” Jimin shifts to lie down next to him, curling into his side and resting his head on Hoseok’s shoulder. Hoseok’s arm wraps around his waist without hesitation. “There used to be a boy who delivered our milk. He had the prettiest eyes, big and long-lashed.”

“You fancied him?” Hoseok turns his cheek against Jimin’s hair.

“I used to think about what it would be like to hold his hand.” It sounds almost silly to say it now, that once he had dreamed of something so innocent and thought himself bad for even that. “He had nice hands, bigger than mine. I think he caught me staring at them once. I was so embarrassed.”

“Does he still come around?” Hoseok’s arm tightens around his waist, almost like he’s jealous. Jimin smiles.

“I haven’t seen him in years. I only fancied him for a little while. A child’s fancy.”

Hoseok makes a quiet noise of acknowledgement by his ear. The hand that isn’t resting on his waist comes to play with one of Jimin’s, running his thumb over his fingers. He doesn’t speak for so long Jimin thinks he might be falling asleep again until at last he says, “I was in love once.”

Jimin tilts his head to look at him. “Really?”

“I met him in the kingdom where I studied.”

“Was he a noble?”

“No, he - well, his family were Hands of the Reaper.” Hoseok’s mouth twists into a wry smile. “I met him at a funeral.”

That must have been an interesting story. “Did he love you back?”

“He did.”

“Then what happened?”

Hoseok shrugs, threading his fingers through Jimin’s. “I don’t know. It just didn’t work out. He had the things he wanted to do and I had mine and they didn’t really align. I was going to leave one day, anyway. We both knew that.”

“Still. It must have hurt.”

Hoseok sighs. His expression has grown distant, like he’s lost in remembrance. “It hurt a lot.”

“What was his name?”

He hesitates, and Jimin starts to deflate, wonders if he regrets exposing himself so much already. But then he says in a voice that’s quiet and reverent, “Yoongi. His name was Yoongi.”

“Yoongi.” Jimin shapes the word around his mouth, gets used to the feel of it. He expects the stab of jealousy that follows. He’s always been acutely aware that he isn’t Hoseok’s first for anything the way Hoseok is for him, but the implicit understanding that there was someone before him - that there’s someone who matters more - fills him with a mix of annoyance and despondency. “Do you still love him?”

It shouldn’t matter even if he does. What Jimin and Hoseok have doesn’t have anything to do with love; Jimin understands that. Still, he tenses while he waits for the answer.

“I don’t think so,” Hoseok muses. “But there’s something about your first love that always stays with you, I think.”

He finds himself relaxing in relief.

Hoseok chases away the sober atmosphere in an instant, turning to Jimin and tickling his side until he swats his hand away. “Why, are you jealous?” He teases.

Jimin shoves his face away. “No,” he mutters.

“If you say so,” Hoseok singsongs, clearly not believing him.

Jimin scoffs, scowling, and tucks himself against Hoseok more tightly. He’s a little jealous. They fall into silence again, a comfortable one, and despite the lingering bitterness, Jimin’s mostly content. Hoseok doesn’t open up often. For him to reveal so much of himself feels like a triumph.

“Hoseok,” Jimin starts, then stops. He’s been thinking about it for a while, thinking about it long enough. Knows what he wants.

“What is it?” Hoseok presses when he doesn’t continue.

Jimin hesitates. He knows this’ll change everything, but he also knows that he’s thought it through hard enough, that if he thinks any harder he’ll only confuse himself. He buries his face against Hoseok’s neck so that his next words are quiet, muffled.

“I want you to fuck me.”

Chapter Text

Hoseok shows up on his balcony right at midnight three days later as scheduled.

Jimin pulls him inside, and Hoseok only pecks his cheek briefly before handing him a cloak. "Pull the hood low," he instructs, and Jimin does as he's told.

If he ducks his head enough, the cloak conceals his identity entirely. They'd planned to go to Hoseok's rooms in the palace for the night. You can be as loud as you want there , Hoseok had told him, and the thought of not having to hold back had made him shiver with anticipation. When he's ready, Hoseok leads him to the side of the balcony, where a vine descends to an awning and then to the ground.

"So that's how you do it," Jimin whispers.

He watches him push off the wall using the vine to the awning and jump the rest of the way to the ground. Concealing his own nervousness, he follows the same path. The vine is harsh on his palms, and when he reaches the ground, Hoseok takes his hand in his and sets off toward the palace.

He's been in the palace a few times, occasionally for meetings with the king and queen and once to play janggi with Hoseok, but he's never seen Hoseok's rooms. They enter through a servants' door and sneak through the mostly empty halls of the palace, their path lit by candelabras lining the walls and their footsteps softened by plush carpeting. Hoseok takes him up a staircase to a separate wing of the palace where a guard stands at the heavy doorway - a strong, handsome-looking man. At a nod from Hoseok, the guard opens the door and steps aside to let them pass.

"This is all yours?" Jimin says in awe, peering around at the immaculate sitting area that seems to be only the beginning of Hoseok's apartments.

"All mine," Hoseok affirms. Jimin wonders if he's imagining the hint of bitterness in his tone. "Come on."

Jimin follows him through a curtained doorway to his bedroom. A pleasant fire burns in the grate, and the pretty mantle is lined with decorative pieces that are clearly from far away lands. Jimin wonders if any are from the kingdom where he studied. The rug laid out before the fireplace is thick and lined with fur; it looks so soft Jimin can’t help but bend down to run his hand along it. The temple is beautiful in its own, simple way, but they don’t support such excess.

Hoseok watches him with a hint of amusement. “Like it?”

“Your rooms are beautiful.”

He straightens and realizes he’s facing the bed. He’d avoided looking at it when he walked through the curtain, but now he can’t look away. It’s huge with sheets of white and gold, four posters connected by sheer curtains and a flat canopy. There are so many pillows Jimin thinks he could get lost in them. He flushes with nervousness, imagines Hoseok pressing him into the pretty sheets. He wonders what they’ll look from the outside, the shadows of their joined bodies visible through the curtains.

Hoseok steps closer to him, filling his vision and blocking the bed behind him. “I’m gonna fuck you in that,” he whispers conspiratorially, as if it’s a great secret.

“That is the idea,” Jimin murmurs, gaze drifting to Hoseok’s lips as he nears.

Even though Hoseok has kissed him so many times by now, the feeling of someone’s skin against his still shocks him. He kisses back with fervor, running his hands over Hoseok’s slender shoulders. Hoseok pulls away first, dropping to his knees so suddenly Jimin starts. He kneels before him, head tilted to gaze at him with dark eyes.

“I’ll make you nice and wet for me first,” he says, reaching to untie the front of Jimin’s robe. It falls open, revealing his bare skin, and Hoseok leans in to kiss his stomach. It’s a soft kiss, and it makes Jimin smile.

Jimin’s in the middle of wondering how Hoseok’s going to eat him out standing up like this when Hoseok pulls his bare leg from the slit of his robe and settles it on his shoulder, Jimin’s thigh resting against his cheek. He turns to kiss his skin, sucking a mark into the supple flesh. Then he leans in, and even though he’s done this before, his proximity still makes Jimin flush.

“Won’t you get uncomfortable down there?” Jimin says amusedly.

“How could I be uncomfortable with my face in your cunt?” He noses against Jimin’s mound while he speaks, and his breath tickles his folds.

Jimin laughs, and it breaks off into a gasp when Hoseok’s tongue drags against his clit. Hoseok doesn’t bother starting slow, his mouth insistent and overwhelming from the start. His hands knead Jimin’s thighs, working their way to his ass and pulling him in even as Jimin’s hips jerk away from sensitivity.

“H - Hoseok - ” he moans, unsure if he wants to come so soon.

Hoseok pulls away just when the pleasure starts to peak, when Jimin’s muscles have tightened to the almost painful and he knows he’s seconds from coming. The sudden loss has Jimin reeling, gasping for breath, his fingers harsh in Hoseok’s hair.

“Bed,” Hoseok orders, and Jimin isn’t in the state of mind to even hesitate.

He sprawls on the bed and waits for Hoseok to join him, who crawls toward him on all fours until he’s hovering over him. He kisses him first, and he tastes like Jimin, his lips slick. His mouth travels down Jimin’s neck, kisses the hollow at the base of his throat and moves to his nipple, the touch so light it’s infuriating. Jimin’s so keyed-up already, so close to coming that the teasing tickle of Hoseok’s lips makes him squirm in discomfort.

“Don’t tease me,” Jimin mumbles, arching with a gasp when Hoseok licks his navel.

Hoseok lifts his head up, running his hands down Jimin’s arms still covered by his robe until he stops at his wrists. His grip is tight, pressing his wrists into the bed, and the playful glint in his eyes turns darker. “You’re mine tonight,” he says. “I’m going to tease you all I want.”

Jimin shivers, and Hoseok returns to his ministrations, nipping along his hips and his pelvis and the tops of his thighs. He kisses his folds again, a soft, light kiss, pulling away before Jimin can even gasp. Hoseok’s hands leave his wrists to stroke down his ribs under his robe, the touch light enough that Jimin starts to squirm, the giggles sitting on the tip of his tongue.

“Hoseok, please - ”

“What’s the matter?” Hoseok croons, his fingers merciless as his fingers dance along his abdomen until Jimin’s straining his muscles with how harshly he squirms, caught between a laughter and a moan. “You want something?”

“I want you - ” He arches away from Hoseok’s hands, and Hoseok finally takes mercy, resting his hands on his hips and kissing his stomach again. Jimin collapses, panting. He’s so aroused that it hurts; he just wants release, wants something, anything to ease the ache.

“Want me to what?”

Not for the first time, Jimin wonders how Hoseok’s so good at staying in control. How he manages to look so unaffected, like he could lie here and play with Jimin all day, pull him to the edge of pleasure and away until Jimin’s sobbing, begging for him, and not even break a sweat.

“I want you to - ” He hesitates, flush spreading down his chest, and looks away. He doesn’t want to say it.

“Want me to what?” he repeats, leaning over him and resting his elbows on either side of Jimin’s torso. Like this he’s looking right at him, head tilted, the heat of his body hovering just over Jimin. So close but not quite close enough. “What is it you want me to do, baby?”

“Touch me.”

Hoseok shifts to trace his fingers along Jimin’s cheek and down his neck, the touch painfully light. “I’m touching you.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Do I?” Hoseok kisses his jaw, soft and gentle, then rolls his hips down hard. The pressure of his hard, clothed cock against Jimin’s body has him whimpering. “Ah, is that what you want?”

He grinds against him again, and Jimin arches into him, slinging his arms around his neck. Matching Hoseok’s rolls with his own, they grind against each other until Hoseok’s panting into Jimin’s neck and Jimin’s eyes are rolling back into his head. He’s on edge so the pleasure builds quickly, and his hips begin to lose their rhythm in his desperation, rutting frantically against Hoseok, harder and harder to get the pressure he needs. When he’s close, moaning into Hoseok’s hair, Hoseok suddenly pulls away and leaves Jimin humping the air.

This time, Jimin sobs, fingers fisting into the sheets, pussy aching as he rolls his hips into nothing. “Stop,” he sobs. “Please. It hurts.”

Hoseok’s back on him again, kissing his face and his neck, but his hands hold his hips firmly still. “Tell me what you want.” His tone isn't as gentle anymore. He wants an answer, and the way he demands it makes Jimin shudder.

“I want you to - ” Jimin’s breath hitches. Hoseok’s hands leave him entirely, pressing into the mattress on either side of his head as he leans over him, eyes locked on his, waiting. Jimin licks his lips, breath quickening. “I want you to fuck me.”

The corner of Hoseok’s mouth curves up into a smile. He surges down, pulling Jimin against him and kissing him breathless. Then he moves away briefly to tug his shirt off over his head, revealing his smooth skin and toned abdomen in a flash. He’s seen him before, but even so Jimin’s breath catches, his cheeks reddening. He reaches out to trace a hand along his chest hesitantly before Hoseok’s kissing him again.

“I’ll make you feel so good,” he says into his mouth, one hand shoving his pants down. “Make you feel like nothing but my cock will ever satisfy you again.”

He pulls back again so he can take his pants off entirely, tossing them off the bed and kneeling in his nude glory. Jimin can’t do anything but watch him, shivering in anticipation, his gaze drawn to Hoseok’s cock standing dark and hard. In another moment, Hoseok will be inside him, and Jimin will truly never be able to turn back.

“You want that, Jimin?” he says. “You want my cock?”

Jimin nods, biting his lip, and Hoseok leans toward him again. He presses against him, taking Jimin’s face in his hands, their bare chests flush together, and fits his hips against Jimin’s. Jimin whimpers, and suddenly he’s shaking because he can feel him. Hoseok’s hard cock presses against his folds, spreading them when he shifts, and he feels big and thick and hard and he’s going to be inside him, he’s going to fuck him. Jimin shakes like a leaf against Hoseok’s body, the sudden swarm of guilt and doubt overwhelming him even though he could have sworn he was beyond that.

They’ve never been this close. He’s never felt Hoseok’s naked body against his, never had his cock press against his cunt. He’s scared.

Hoseok kisses his cheek, shifting so he can look at him. “You’re nervous?”

He nods, and suddenly he feels like crying. He looks away, blinking rapidly.

Hoseok kisses the tip of his nose and both of his cheeks. Presses his lips, feather-light, over his eyes and his forehead and the corners of his mouth. “I’m going to take care of you,” he murmurs, and he starts to rock his hips slowly, his cock dragging between Jimin’s folds in a way that makes him seize up and gasp. “I’ll make you feel so good, Jiminie, I promise. Trust me.” The movement of his hips remains excruciatingly slow but it feels good, so good Jimin’s panting in hardly a moment, twitching every time Hoseok’s cock brushes his clit. “Do you trust me?”

His hips pick up speed just a notch, dragging Jimin to the edge again, making his toes curl with pleasure. He’s wet and aching and he finds himself nodding almost frantically; he wants relief. “Yes,” he says. “Yes. Please.”

Hoseok ruts against him in earnest, cock dragging hard against him, and moans drip from Jimin’s mouth with abandon. The slide’s a little rough despite how wet he is, but he finds he likes it that way. His legs spread on instinct, thighs falling apart, and it feels so good already, too good, that he can’t imagine how it could feel better when Hoseok’s finally inside. He whimpers, hips twitching into Hoseok’s, head pressing hard into the soft pillow as he arches upward.

“Ah, Hoseok - ”

Hoseok pulls away just before Jimin can tip over the edge.

This time Jimin cries out, surprising himself with how loud he is. “Please,” he cries. “Hoseok, please , I need you, I need your cock, fuck me - ”

He’s babbling, curling into himself, reaching down to touch himself for the pleasure Hoseok keeps denying him. But Hoseok grabs his hand and presses it back into the bed, his grip unforgiving. “You want my cock, Jiminie?”

“Want your cock, want you inside me. Please fuck me, make me come, I need it - ”

Hoseok lets him go to reach for something on his bedside table. He slicks his cock up with something that looks like it might be oil, then wipes his hands carelessly on the bedsheets. “Shh,” he murmurs, brushing Jimin’s hair away from his forehead and kissing his brow. “I’ll fuck you, baby, just like you want. Spread your legs for me.”

Jimin strips off his robe, tossing it off the bed, and forces himself to relax, lying on his back and spreading his legs, his hands resting above his head. Hoseok leans in, steadying his cock with one hand, and presses the tip against Jimin’s hole. Jimin shudders, eyes locked on Hoseok’s, and before he can second-guess, Hoseok’s pushing inside.

“You’re so wet for me,” Hoseok croons. “Look at that, taking my cock like you were made for it.”

Jimin gasps as he pushes further inside. It feels strange, like he’s being stretched open; Hoseok feels big, filling him up in a way that his fingers never could. Hoseok leans closer, threading their fingers together and pressing Jimin’s hands into the bedsheets for leverage; his eyes don’t leave Jimin’s for a second, not until he pushes all the way inside, his hips meeting Jimin’s skin. Then his lashes flutter briefly shut, face contorting in a grimace of pleasure, the first time he’s let go of his control all night.

The control’s back before a minute even passes. “How’s that feel?” he asks. “How’s my cock feel, Jiminie?”

“Full,” he mumbles. “Feel so - so full.”

“I’m so lucky,” Hoseok murmurs, bending to kiss Jimin’s jaw again. When he moves, his cock shifts inside Jimin, pulling a gasp from him. “Get to be the first to fuck your pretty cunt. Get to be the first one inside you, the first one to fuck you until you scream.” He laughs a little, his mouth curved in a wicked smile. “Our pretty, untouched priest.”

Jimin shudders, whimpering at the way that makes Hoseok’s cock shift in him, too. “Aren’t you going to move?”

Hoseok’s eyebrow quirks. “You want me to move?” His tone sounds playfully mocking. “All right, Jiminie. I’ll move.”

Jimin doesn’t even have time to brace himself. Hoseok pulls back and fucks into him so suddenly Jimin lets out a choked gasp that’s cut off by the next thrust, just as quick as the first.

“How’s that? That what you wanted?”

His hips snaps forward, and Jimin’s whole body jerks in response. “A-again,” he gasps. “Do that again.”

Hoseok falls into a rhythm, fucking into him with smooth, steady thrusts. The sound of their skin meeting echoes through the room, has Jimin flushing in embarrassment. It feels good, the drag of his cock inside him hitting a spot that makes his toes curl with every thrust. Out of habit, he finds himself holding back his sounds, letting only tiny whimpers and gasps out even though he’d be moaning loud and long if he let himself.

He’d be lying if he said Hoseok’s cock stretching him open didn’t hurt, but once he grows used to it and the pleasure starts to take over, the ache turns into a burn that adds to the pleasure. He’s started to realize through their encounters that he likes a bit of pain mixed in with the pleasure. His fingers flex in Hoseok’s hold, and he rolls his hips to meet Hoseok’s, lashes fluttering at the added pleasure it brings him.

Hoseok leans over him with his brow furrowed in concentration. He looks more focused than he has all night, and Jimin thinks it might be because he’s holding back.

“Come on,” Hoseok grunts. He slows his thrusts to a grind but it isn’t any less overwhelming, his cock rubbing incessantly against his walls, Jimin’s body seizing up with pleasure. “Don’t hide, baby, I know you’re louder than this. Show me how loud you can be.”

That’s why they’re here, after all, instead of in Jimin’s room with its fluttering curtains as the only shield against the outside. They’re here so Jimin can be loud. So Hoseok can fuck him until he screams.

Jimin’s flushing all the way down his chest. Hoseok starts to fuck into him again as if to spur Jimin on, his hips snapping faster, the sound of their skin smacking steadily growing louder. Jimin couldn’t hold back his noises anymore if he tried. His moans turn staccato to match the pace of Hoseok’s thrusts, his body sliding up and down with the force of them, only held in place by Hoseok’s hands on his wrists. His eyes roll back into his head and fuck, it feels good, so good he doesn’t know what to do with himself. After being brought to the edge so many times, it doesn’t take long until the pleasure’s building to an unbearable amount. He squirms, arching into him, and Hoseok presses closer as he fucks him harder and faster, drawing louder moans from him.

Jimin wraps his legs around Hoseok’s waist, ankles locking at his back and tugging him in, his next moan hitching as his cock hits him even deeper than before.

“Hoseok,” he moans, “faster, p-please - oh - ”

Hoseok’s smooth thrusts pick up speed until he’s fucking him so hard the bed’s rocking, posters slamming against the wall. Jimin’s moans turn into cries, his fingers flexing until Hoseok finally lets him go and he can dig his nails into Hoseok’s back. The pleasure’s building and building and he feels like he needs to piss, almost begs Hoseok to stop in case he does, but all that comes out of his mouth is a desperate, incoherent garble. Hoseok’s hands fist the sheets, the tendons in his neck popping, sweat dripping from his temple onto Jimin’s cheek, and he grunts with the strain of his pace.

The pleasure peaks and Jimin’s coming with a long cry, his cunt spasming through it, nails digging harshly into Hoseok’s skin until he’s sure he’s drawn blood. He arches when he comes, their sweaty chests pressing against each other, and Hoseok doesn’t slow down until Jimin collapses back into the bed, panting, eyes drifting shut. Then he finally slows his thrusts to a gentle drag, dropping a kiss on Jimin’s mouth.

“You came,” he says, and he sounds almost surprised.

“‘Course I did,” Jimin mumbles, exhausted already.

“I didn’t even touch your clit.” He kisses him again, his cheeks and his jaw and his mouth, sucking on his tongue. “You’re amazing.”

“What about you?” Jimin slings his arms loosely around Hoseok’s neck. He’s sensitive from coming, but Hoseok’s hips rock slowly enough that he doesn’t mind. The slight sting of oversensitivity feels good. “Aren’t you going to come?” He wants him to come inside him. He’s always wondered what it would feel like.

“You think you can go again?”

Jimin nods before he even thinks about it. He’s exhausted and his cunt aches but the thought of Hoseok fucking him again has him stirring with arousal already. He wants it.

“Turn over.”

Jimin does, limbs like jelly, holding himself up weakly on all fours. Hoseok grabs his hips and adjusts him, pressing him down with a hand between his shoulder blades so that he leans onto his arms, ass jutting into the air. Jimin grabs onto the pillow and clutches it tightly, resting his cheek against the plush material as he feels Hoseok’s cock brush against his cunt from behind.

“Don’t hold back,” Jimin says, voice muffled by the pillow.

“What’s that?”

“Don’t hold back this time. You were holding back.”

Hoseok laughs quietly, smoothing a hand down Jimin’s spine and drawing a little shiver from him. “I don’t think you’re ready for that yet, baby.”

Jimin wants to be ready. “I am,” he insists. “I thought you said you were going to make me scream.”

“I won’t be gentle.”

“Fuck me like you’d fuck anyone else.”

Jimin feels his lips press against the small of his back. “I’ll fuck you better than I fuck everyone else.”

Hoseok sheaths himself inside him with one smooth thrust, and Jimin gasps into the pillow. He thinks he could grow addicted to the feeling of being full.

“You feel so good,” Hoseok moans. “So fucking tight and wet.”

“Just for you,” Jimin murmurs, his eyes drifting shut as Hoseok starts to roll his hips.

“I know that,” Hoseok says.“Your little cunt’s all mine.”

“Don’t hold back,” Jimin reminds him, and Hoseok laughs.

“You don’t know what you’re asking for, baby,” he says, but he gives it to him anyway.

Hoseok pulls out to the tip and thrusts in so hard and deep Jimin’s eyes fly open, his legs flexing and a surprised cry leaving him. Before he can gather himself, Hoseok does it again, pulling another high-pitched cry from his wide-open mouth. Hoseok grunts with the force of the next thrust; it has Jimin’s whole body jerking, his fingers scrabbling for purchase in the sheets as his legs twitch, held in place only by Hoseok’s weight.

Hoseok ,” he sobs, and it breaks off into a cry with the next thrust.

Hoseok presses against him, his weight pinning Jimin to the bed with his chest against his back, and starts to fuck him at a brutal pace. It has the bed’s posters rattling and Jimin crying out with abandon, fingers fisting into the sheets to ground himself as his eyes roll back into his head and drool slides down his chin. It feels so good that it’s too much, reduces him to tears and has him pressing away from Hoseok and toward him at the same time.

“You’re so loud,” Hoseok growls, voice hot by his ear. “Bet the guard has a hard-on just from your voice.”

Jimin shudders, whining in protest as he remembers the handsome man who’d stood outside Hoseok’s rooms. He’d forgotten about him, but now he’s trembling in shame to think he’s listening, to think he can hear Jimin’s helpless sobs. He buries his face in the pillow and bites on the covers to muffle his cries.

Hoseok straightens to kneeling, tugging Jimin’s hips up so he’s balancing on his knees in front of him. The shift has his cock angling even deeper, and Jimin’s cries turn into one long one, wobbling as his body jerks. It’s too much and not enough all at once. Hoseok’s fingers thread through his hair and yank his head away from the pillow; the sharp tug shoots straight to his cunt.

“Let him hear you.” Hoseok’s voice is low and strained. “Let him hear how pretty you sound.”

The sound of his voice and skin-on-skin rings through the room, humiliating in its loudness. It’s too much and Jimin’s sobbing, his face a mess of drool and salty tears that he can taste on his lips. Hoseok’s fucking him so hard it hurts, but something about the pain only brings him closer to the edge until he’s teetering over it, every inch of his body tense and curling inward. It’s Hoseok’s hand on his nipple that sends him over, his orgasm making his legs tense and flex and his pussy clench around Hoseok’s cock until finally he begins to loosen, collapsing helplessly onto his stomach as the thrusts finally stop.

He pants into the pillow, loose and so boneless he doesn’t think he could move even if he wanted to.

Hoseok’s dropping soft kisses down his spine. He’s still hard and full inside him, but he doesn’t move, lets Jimin catch his breath. “You’re so good for me, Jiminie. You take me so well, like you were made for it.”

Jimin mumbles an incoherent response into the pillow, and Hoseok’s quiet laugh makes his cock shift. He kisses the back of his head, running his hands down Jimin’s ribs, massaging his back. Jimin knows he could fall asleep like this, even with Hoseok still inside him, but Hoseok hasn’t come yet. He wants him to come. He’s been dreaming about what it would feel like - what it would look like - to have those little white drops he’d licked up so hesitantly inside him instead, filling him up with their wetness. Wonders if they’d leak out, slide down the insides of his thighs. He’s tired and sore and he doesn’t know if he can even handle another round, but he wants to. He thinks maybe he wants Hoseok to fuck him all night.

There’s just something about Hoseok’s cock inside him that makes him feel so satisfied. Like he’s craved touch all his life and now he has someone touching him all the time, someone inside him, locking them together in a way that’s so intimate it still makes him flush if he thinks too hard.

Hoseok’s kissing his shoulder blades when he speaks again, and Jimin can feel his lips shape the words against his skin. “One more time, baby. You think you can be good for me one more time?”

“Uh-huh,” Jimin says, spreading his legs a little wider. He shifts so he can grab onto one of the bedposts, thinks he’ll need the leverage this time. “Come inside me.”

Hoseok’s fingers dig into his skin, and he gasps quietly against his shoulder. “Say that again.”

Jimin flushes. “C-come inside me.”

Hoseok starts to move, pressing heavily against him, his fingers falling to his hips and gripping tight enough to leave bruises. This time he doesn’t fuck him fast, he fucks him deep, his roll of his hips slow and thorough, his cock reaching deep inside Jimin. He doesn’t think his body will forget the imprint of it for a long time. Hoseok fits Jimin’s chin between his fingers and turns his face so he can kiss him, their tongues meeting before their lips do, just as he fucks into him deep enough that Jimin jerks, moaning into his mouth.

Hoseok slides a hand under Jimin until his fingers are on his clit, circling it lightly.

“Ah, Hoseok, can’t - I can’t - please ,” he cries as Hoseok’s fingers press harder. His clit’s so sensitive from coming twice already, and he finds himself twitching away from the touch, letting go of the bedpost to wrap his arms around the pillow and sob into the soft cloth.

But Hoseok doesn’t let up, adjusting so he can press Jimin back into the bed when he shifts away, his hips pressing against Jimin’s ass and staying there as he rolls them tight. His cock moves firmly against Jimin’s sensitive spot, his hand circling his clit relentlessly, and the pleasure has Jimin’s eyes rolling back into his head. He lies there and takes it, helpless cries muffled by the pillow, feeling the tension in his muscles peak once more.

Hoseok’s on the edge, too; Jimin can feel it in the way he starts to fuck him faster again, this time with the desperation of someone chasing release. Jimin comes with Hoseok’s fingers on his clit, seizing up and spasming from the force of it, falling loose and pliant as Hoseok’s thrusts don’t cease. His hips snap desperately before he comes, too, rocking through it until he presses against Jimin, panting into his hair. Jimin can feel the wetness of his cum filling him up, and it’s strange, not quite like he imagined it’d feel. He likes it.

“That was amazing, Jimin,” Hoseok mumbles, kissing his hair.

He lies there until he starts to go soft inside him; Jimin can feel the way his cock shrinks, fluttering against his walls. Then he pulls out slowly, and Jimin feels strange from the loss of it, empty. Hoseok turns him onto his back, stroking his sweaty hair back from his forehead, and spreads his legs by the knees. Then he kneels between them, face at level with his cunt.

“Let me clean you up,” he says, before he licks into Jimin’s hole. Jimin gasps, hips jumping, too tired to do much more than shiver. It takes him a moment to realize what Hoseok’s doing.

“I didn’t get to see it,” Jimin mumbles, disheartened.

“See what?” Hoseok asks when he finally pulls back, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.

“Your cum.”

Hoseok laughs almost incredulously. He bends down to kiss him, and Jimin can taste it on his tongue - the cum that he ate out of his cunt. “Next time,” he promises, then begins to litter kisses over Jimin’s body - along the soft insides of his arms, over his belly and his hips, on his knees and ankles. “You were so good for me,” he murmurs against Jimin’s skin. “Better than anyone I’ve ever had.”

“Liar,” Jimin mumbles, fighting off the sleep that threatens to take him.

Hoseok lifts up to look at him. He takes Jimin’s hand in his and brings it to his lips, kissing the tips of his fingers and then his knuckles, one-by-one. “Why would I lie to you, sweetheart?”

Jimin hums, tired and sated, his heart swelling at Hoseok’s tender treatment. “I can’t be the best.”

“You are,” he murmurs, taking his other hand to do the same, his kisses sweet and lingering. “You’re perfect.” He tucks the sheets around Jimin’s bare figure carefully before slipping off the bed. “I’ll have us a bath drawn.”

Jimin watches him pull on a silk robe through bleary eyes. He disappears, and Jimin has the sense to cover his face with a pillow when he hears voices. He lies there, hidden, while he listens to the servants come in and out of the room, the thump of buckets and sloshing of water accompanying them. Jimin could fall asleep like this, but he doesn’t want to, doesn’t want the night to be over already. He wants more time with Hoseok.

Eventually, just when he’s about to give up and drift off, he feels the bed shift. Hoseok removes the pillow, stroking his cheek. “Bath’s ready.”

Jimin holds his arms out with a pout, unwilling to move. Hoseok indulges him, lifting him from the bed and carrying him to the gilded bathtub they’ve placed right before the fire. It’s filled with warm water and soap, a layer of foam over the water and rose petals sprinkled on top. Hoseok helps Jimin into the water and drops his robe carelessly to the ground before following.

He fits himself behind Jimin, tugging him into his chest, and Jimin relaxes against him. Hoseok’s hands run up and down his arms, his lips tracing the shell of his ear. The warm water feels nice on his sore, sweaty body.

“How do you feel?” he asks.

“Sore,” Jimin complains, pouting at him. “You fucked me too hard.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.” Hoseok kisses down Jimin’s neck, light, absent kisses, like he’s doing it out of habit. Like he can’t help himself.

“It’s all right,” Jimin amends, playing with Hoseok’s fingers. “I wanted it that way.”

“I noticed,” he says wryly, and Jimin flushes. “Did you like it?”

“Yes.” He sighs, eyes drifting shut, the sweet-smelling water lulling him to sleep. “Want to do that again and again,” he mumbles. “Never want to stop.”

Hoseok laughs quietly, nuzzling his cheek. “Believe me, I’d fuck you all day if I could. Keep you here forever, never let you out of my bed.”

“Sounds nice.” Jimin’s half-asleep, knows he won’t last for much longer. He threads his fingers with Hoseok’s and rests against him.

“Goodnight, Jimin,” Hoseok whispers in his ear, just before he finally lets himself go.

 

 

His virginity has always hung over his head in a way that made him think losing it would change him forever, especially in the days leading up to the night he spends with Hoseok. But after he’s lost it, he finds that he doesn’t feel much different at all.

He does, and he doesn’t.

The first day after, he feigns ill and spends the day in his room. Even though it’s irrational, a part of him feels like they’ll be able to see it on him, the others. They’ll know what he’s done. He knows the goddess will know, and he isn’t sure he can manage praying in front of her statue after what he’s done.

He tells himself it's okay, listens to Hoseok and Hyojung's words repeat themselves like a mantra in his head. No one knows what she wants . But it isn't easy letting go of a lifetime of teaching, years of understanding that his virginity his sacred and that if he loses it, he's lost everything. He doesn't feel like he's lost everything.

He doesn't, and he does.

Hoseok comes back only a night later. Jimin's asleep, and he wakes up to lips against his jaw and a hand threading through his hair. Hoseok curls up next to him and kisses him and distracts him with his silly teasing like he always does. That's when Jimin decides it doesn't matter, that he's happy with his decision. Satisfied. It's almost nice not having to worry about the stress of the things he can't do always hanging over his head anymore because he's already done them all.

But that's the problem. It's easy to feel like everything's okay when Hoseok's with him. Hoseok makes him forget. It's only when they're apart that the doubts return to the surface.

He doesn't go to Hyojung for advice because he feels guilty for bothering her so often about this matter, and also because a part of him knows her well enough to know what she's going to say. Somehow he finds himself speaking with Junghwa instead, and it's entirely unintentional.

They're collecting herbs from the garden when she disappears around to the side of the temple and returns with a basket of uprooted plants that look suspiciously like neem.

Jimin tilts his head curiously. "I didn't know we had neem planted."

"It's a secret," Junghwa says slyly, pressing a finger to her lips.

"What's it for?"

She glances around them carefully before leaning in to whisper, "Keeps us from getting pregnant."

Jimin's mouth shapes an oh as he nods his understanding. He considers himself lucky that he doesn't have to stress about that like the other girls. He isn't fertile; the healers had determined that when he began to grow into his body. One of the girls who used to live at the temple had ended a pregnancy once. Jimin was only eleven when that happened, but he can remember Hyojung and Bora holding her while she cried. He can remember the blood, too. She'd left the temple some years later when she'd grown ill with no hope of recovery.

"Hasn't Matron seen you growing that?"

"Neem's good for a lot of other things besides that." Junghwa shrugs. "Seolhyun turned it into toothpaste once."

Matron's getting old. It's not as hard to slip things by her as it was once.

"You should be glad you don't have to worry about this nonsense," Junghwa mutters, crouching next to him to continue picking basil leaves. "Although I suppose it doesn't matter. You haven't fucked him yet, have you?"

Jimin doesn't know what drives him to admit it so easily. Maybe that it's been burning the edge of his tongue for days, a secret begging to be shared. "Um, I did."

Junghwa squeaks so hard she nearly falls over. Jimin grabs her arm over her robe and straightens her, shaking his head fondly. "You what !"

"Don't be so surprised. You all were acting like it was inevitable."

"But you didn't tell us."

He shrugs half-heartedly.

Her shock changes to concern almost immediately. "Was it all right? Did he hurt you? You wanted it, right?"

He waves his hands to dispel her worry. "Yes! It was - it was amazing."

She beams. "I thought we were your sisters, Jiminie, we're supposed to share these things."

"I know, I just - " He shrugs again. "It's complicated."

She picks up on it quickly enough; when it comes to feelings, Junghwa is keenly perceptive, even if she's absent-minded for everything else. "Do you regret it?"

That's a hard question. He's been wrestling with that for days. "No. Yes. I don't know."

She nods. "I felt like that after my first time, too. I think we all do."

"I feel guilty."

"I did, too."

"Do you still feel guilty?"

"Not really. But I'm not sure if it's because I've accepted what I believe or because I've grown numb to the feeling over time. It's hard to say."

She reaches over to rub his back comfortingly. It already feels better, knowing he isn't the only one who doesn't know how to feel. "It's all right if you need space from him for a while, or if you never want to do it again. You can take your time."

Part of him considers that maybe he doesn't ever want to do it again, but he realizes quickly enough that the rest of him trembles at the thought of that. It's not that he doesn't want to, it's that he feels like he shouldn't. Like he's better off staying away from Hoseok from here on out because Hoseok wants to fuck him and Jimin doesn't know what he wants. Because they've told him for fourteen years that sex is wrong and his brain tells him to stay away. But the thought of Hoseok makes his heart and his body stir in a way he's never felt before; he knows all it'll take is another visit from Hoseok to convince him that he can never stay away.

Jimin feels a little like he's trapped.

Then he sees Hoseok again, and predictably, all his inhibitions fade away to nothing.

It's late, but Jimin's awake when Hoseok climbs onto the balcony and slips through the door after a quiet knock. His face melts into a smile when he sees Jimin sitting there, and he surges for him immediately, pulling him into a kiss so deep he nearly drags Jimin off the chair.

They break away, breathless, and Jimin laughs against his mouth. "Did you miss me?"

"Always," Hoseok murmurs. He maneuvers them so he can sit in the armchair and tug Jimin into his lap.

"How come I always sit in your lap?" Jimin complains, resting his head on his shoulder. "You should sit in mine, too."

"No, thanks," Hoseok says cheerfully, kissing the top of his head. "I like it this way."

"What about what I like?" Jimin hits his chest, frowning. Hoseok laughs, catching his fist and kissing his knuckles, one at a time. He doesn't know what it is about Hoseok that makes him want to act childish, that makes him want to be doted on. He's the center of attention at their temple, but he's never been doted on. He's always had to be regal, poised. Mature.

"You don't like this?"

"I didn't say that."

"Thought so." Hoseok threads their fingers together, sighing into his hair. "I thought you were going to be asleep. I was prepared to be disappointed."

"Why'd you come so late?"

"I had to take care of some things. There's - " He hesitates, and Jimin can tell he's trying to decide what to say. Holding back like he always does. "There's a lot going on right now."

"I heard something about problems with the northern kingdoms."

"Yes," Hoseok murmurs. "Something like that."

Living in the temple, he's mostly removed from the outside world. They only hear about the goings-on sometimes; no one bothers to inform them of much. Their job is to worship only. Doesn't matter that whatever happens to the kingdom affects them, too.

Jimin looks up at him, delicately tracing his finger along Hoseok's sharp jawline. He taps his cheek. "When are you going to take the mask off?"

"What mask?" Hoseok asks, but Jimin can tell by the way his eyes glaze over with distance that he knows exactly what he means.

"You're always hiding. Holding back. Pretending."

"So that's what you think about me, huh?" he teases.

"See, you're joking around to avoid the subject. You always do that."

"There's nothing more to show you than I already have." Hoseok's voice is low, serious. "I've given you everything that matters."

Jimin returns his head to Hoseok's shoulder, sighing quietly. He brushes a hand along Hoseok's chest, stopping over the steady thrum of his heartbeat. "Liar."

"Don't be like that." Hoseok tilts his head up to look at him with a finger under his chin. "What do you want from me?"

"I don't know," Jimin whispers, eyes locked on Hoseok's.

Hoseok removes his finger, lets Jimin look away. Jimin leans into him, tense, until he finally shifts to straddle his lap and face him, looking down at him.

"Don't be mad," he says, cupping Hoseok's face in his hands. "Are you mad at me?"

Hoseok's gaze softens. He leans in to mouth at Jimin's neck. "Not mad at you, sweetheart."

Jimin kisses him, slipping his tongue into Hoseok's mouth. He initiates, but Hoseok deepens it first, kissing him until Jimin's whimpering into his mouth. He leaves his mouth slick with spit to kiss down his neck, hands sliding down to his waist so he can tug him closer, forcing his legs to spread wide around his hips.

"Are you gonna fuck me again?" Jimin asks, gasping when Hoseok's lips slide down to his chest, dragging the neck of his robe aside with his teeth. "You didn't - ah - you didn't last time."

"Thought you might still be sore."

"So considerate." Jimin's words break off into a groan when Hoseok tugs his nipple between his teeth.

"You want me to fuck you?"

He considers that deflecting their conversation with sex might not be the best idea, but with Hoseok's lips against his skin he can't bring it in himself to care. "Yes."

"Let's try something new today." He undoes the ties of Jimin's robe and pushes it back so it hangs on his shoulders, the front of his body bared for him to see. He presses a hand to the small of Jimin's back and mouths down his chest to his abdomen. Jimin arches back, kept from falling only by Hoseok's hand, gasping as Hoseok's tongue traces his skin.

"Something - something new?"

"Mm, but you're going to have to be quiet. Can you do that?"

He can't quite keep the annoyance from his tone. "No."

Hoseok's hands slide up his bare thighs, moving around to cup his ass and tug him in even tighter, until he's right over his crotch. Jimin can feel him hardening beneath him; he rolls his hips teasingly, relishing in the way it makes Hoseok's composure crack. "Well, you're gonna have to try or I can't fuck you."

"I'll try. What's new?"

Hoseok grins before sucking on his nipple until it reddens. When he pulls away, he says, "You're so impatient."

"Tell me," Jimin whines, rocking his hips harder, feeling the way Hoseok's growing against him.

"How do you feel about being on top this time?"

"On top?" He slows his hips, furrowing his brow as he considers. "I can do that?" Then he thinks about it for another moment and realizes it would be just like this. All Hoseok has to do is slip his cock inside him. "Oh."

"Want to try it?"

Jimin finds himself flushing at the thought of it, fucking Hoseok right here in this chair. At the thought of Hoseok’s cum inside him again. "Yes," he mumbles, and suddenly he can't look him in the eye.

Hoseok kisses his mouth and his cheeks. "Cute," he says, then reaches down between them to press his fingers against Jimin's folds. "You're already wet," he croons. "Should have known."

"What's that mean?" he mumbles, embarrassed at how quickly he always gets wet. He wonders if it's normal or if it's just because he's inexperienced.

"You're always so ready for my cock. Should have known you'd be ready today, too."

Jimin flushes, gasping as Hoseok's fingers dip between his folds, trace down to his hole. He pulls his hand back up, and it's shiny with Jimin's slick.

"Try it," Hoseok urges, and the intensity with which he's looking at Jimin makes him squirm.

"That's - that's strange," he mumbles, but with the way Hoseok's looking at him, Jimin knows he won't be able to say no for long.

"Come now. Don't you want to know how good you taste?"

He brings his fingers close to Jimin's lips, close enough that he can smell himself. Jimin's eyes meet Hoseok's. He leans in until Hoseok's fingers press against the seam of his lips, then parts them just enough for his tongue to dart out. He tastes different than Hoseok, sweet and a little salty, too. Hoseok's still watching him. He takes Hoseok's wrist to steady him and opens his mouth, taking his fingers inside and laving his tongue around them, licking up every last bit of slick.

Hoseok's lashes flutter, a quiet moan leaving him.

Jimin sucks around his fingers one last time before pulling away. Hoseok leans his head back against the chair; he looks wrecked already, and Jimin feels himself swelling with pride for breaking Hoseok's strict composure.

"Fuck," Hoseok says.

"I'm all wet," Jimin mumbles, embarrassing himself even as he says it. "I'm wet and ready. Will you fuck me now?"

"Of course, Jiminie. I'll fuck you." Hoseok straightens, undoing his pants so he can pull his cock out, hard and ready.

Jimin leans behind him to grab oil off his table, one of the many different kinds he keeps for his meditations. He slicks up Hoseok's cock himself then falters, unsure.

"How do I - "

"Kneel," Hoseok says. "I'll help you."

Jimin rises, kneeling over him, and watches Hoseok position his cock underneath him. He starts to lower himself slowly, hands trembling where they hold the arms of the chair tightly enough to turn his fingers white. He's nervous again, the slightest bit of doubt creeping into his heart like last time. This time he pushes it away with the memory of how good it had felt to have Hoseok inside him. He wants that again.

Hoseok has to adjust his cock a bit before it breaches Jimin's hole. It takes effort not to just drop down, but Jimin forces himself to sink slowly, mouth dropping and eyes fluttering shut as Hoseok's cock stretches him. It's going to be deeper this way, he can feel that already, and he shivers in anticipation.

"Slow down, baby," Hoseok warns when Jimin starts to sink a little faster.

"Hoseok," he whimpers, then finally bottoms out with a breathless gasp, his knees resting on either side of Hoseok's hips. He feels so full , nothing like before, Hoseok's cock reaching so deep inside him he feels like he's a part of him. He falls against him, panting, adjusting to the fullness. "Hoseok, you're so deep." He mouths wetly at Hoseok's neck, tucking himself closer and gasping when Hoseok's cock shifts inside him with the movement. His fingers dig into Hoseok's shoulders.

He can tell Hoseok's trying hard to keep himself still, gritting his teeth and gripping the arms of the chair tightly. "You like that, Jiminie?" he bites out by Jimin's ear, kissing his lobe. “You like it deep?”

“I - I like it,” he mumbles, tucking his face against Hoseok’s neck. He rolls his hips experimentally, and his lashes flutter as Hoseok’s cock rubs against his walls with the movement. The next roll is a little surer, a little more forceful, and it makes Hoseok gasp, too.

Hoseok’s hands slide down his bare skin to cup his ass again, pulling him in, forcing his hips to keep moving. Jimin settles into a rhythm, hips rolling smoothly, shifting to find the spots that have him biting his tongue to stay quiet. The steady pleasure is good, but Jimin wants the intensity back, wants the pleasure that makes his eyes roll and his toes curl. He pulls back, gripping the sides of the chair for leverage and leaning back as his hips snap faster.

“Is it - am I doing good?” he says, breathless and a little desperate for Hoseok to say something, to tell him he’s doing it right. Last time, everything had depended on Hoseok, and Jimin feels a little lost knowing he’s doing all the work this time around.

“You’re unbelievable,” Hoseok murmurs, his gaze tracing Jimin’s body like he’s drinking him in. He takes one of Jimin’s hands and brings it to his mouth, kissing his palm and down to wrist.

Jimin whimpers, and he starts to fuck himself faster on Hoseok’s cock, the pleasure building until he’s desperate to chase it. Hoseok’s lips travel gently down his arm, a stark contrast to the forceful snap of Jimin’s hips. His movements lose their rhythm, desperate, hard rolls, and he yanks his hand away from Hoseok so he can clap it over his mouth to keep himself quiet.

“That’s it, baby,” Hoseok croons. “You’re doing so well. So beautiful.”

Jimin moans, muffled by his hand, his eyes rolling back into his head as the pleasure builds to the unbearable. He’s riding Hoseok fast enough that the chair’s shaking, and he can feel his muscles tensing with his oncoming orgasm.

“You gonna come on my cock?” Hoseok says, his fingers tracing down Jimin’s neck and chest, pausing to twist his nipples.

Jimin moves his hand so he can whisper desperately, “Please, I’m close, please - ”

Hoseok grips his hips tightly and thrusts up just as Jimin fucks down. A startled cry leaves him, and he claps his hand over his mouth again, eyes wide and watery. Hoseok’s gaze is fixed on his, and its intensity makes him want to look away. Hoseok fucks into him again, and Jimin falls against him, burying his face against his neck to muffle his whimpers as Hoseok picks up a rhythm. Jimin no longer bothers rolling his hips, clutching Hoseok’s shirt like a lifeline as he lets Hoseok take over and piston his hips fast and hard. Hoseok’s hands slide down to his ass, tugging his hips in to meet his every thrust, and Jimin can’t hold back the tiny whimpers.

Hoseok shifts his head down to catch Jimin’s mouth against his, kissing him slowly, swallowing the little noises. Jimin squeezes his eyes shut and grows lost in the way his body’s tightening, on the way he’s so close.

“Let go, sweetheart,” Hoseok murmurs, breath hot against Jimin’s ear, and Jimin comes with a full-body shudder. He gasps soundlessly, arching away from Hoseok and toward him again, twitching through his orgasm.

Hoseok’s quick to follow, spilling inside Jimin and slowing to an unsteady roll until his hips still at last. He pulls another kiss from Jimin, sloppy as they try to catch their breath. Jimin slumps against him, Hoseok’s arms wrapped loosely against his waist. He rests his head on Hoseok’s shoulder, and his eyes drift shut.

Hoseok’s whispering praise in his ear, pressing light kisses against his skin. Jimin can feel his cock fluttering to softness inside him. Like this, his doubts feel far away, his mind and body sated, tired.

He finds himself wishing he could stay like this forever.

 

 

There’s a legend they like to tell the children that goes something along the lines of this: somewhere far away, in a land not quite like theirs but close enough to be palatable, there lived a woman given a great gift from the gods themselves. She was given the power to weave images from the air with her stories. All she had to do was tell the tale, and it would come to life before her, tiny figures crafted from shadow and dust who battled along mountaintops and kissed amid valleys. Her gift drew visitors from all over their land who came to watch the little floating people and listen to her beautiful stories.

The only problem was that every story she told aged her just a little bit more.

By the time she was twenty, she had gray hair and wrinkles as deep as her grandmother’s. She knew the effect her stories had on her body - everyone did. The gods had warned her, too, told her to use her gift sparingly lest she die an early death. But the woman found joy only in her stories, in the awed faces of children who gathered around her feet and the gasps of even the most jaded adults. She loved her stories, and so even though each one dug her grave a little further, she continued to tell them. When she was twenty-two, she died of old age.

They use the legend to teach the children that even the best of things can have a cost; they use it to show the foolishness of the woman who caused her own death because she couldn’t practice moderation. Jimin used to listen to the legend around the village festival bonfire with his little brother tucked against his side once, too.

These days, he finds himself thinking about that particular legend quite often.

He feels a little like her. Like he’s running headlong down a hill toward a lake of fire but the momentum has built to the unstoppable, and even though he can see the burning fire right before his eyes, he can’t do anything but keep on running toward it.

Hoseok isn’t the fire; he’s the momentum. Jimin’s in too deep and he can’t stay away, even though before his eyes a steady count grows of all the bad that’ll come of this. There’s the obvious: they might get caught, if they’re caught he’ll be killed, even if they don’t get caught maybe the goddess will punish them one day or another.

And then there’s the concern that begins to grow larger and larger every day until it becomes suffocating: the unbearable knowledge that he’s going to have his heart broken.

You know what he wants right ? Hyojung had said. Just be careful , Yuna had warned. They’ve been telling him from the start about Hoseok and his reputation, and Jimin knows what Hoseok wants. He knows it. It’s just that he’d thought it wouldn’t matter, that there wasn’t anything more he would ever want from Hoseok. He’s the goddess’s chosen one. His entire life’s path has been decided already; he doesn’t have room to want anything more from Hoseok.

He thought it wouldn’t matter.

But the days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months and Jimin can’t lie to himself anymore. Everything’s Hoseok, Hoseok, Hoseok. When they aren’t together, Jimin aches for him, thinks about him every minute of every day. It isn’t even like they don’t see each other often, isn’t like he doesn’t get enough of him, but anything is too little no matter how much.

They fuck all the time. Hoseok fucks him in his meditation pool and on his chair and on the floor, fucks him standing and pressed against the wall and face down on his delicate sheets. Fucks him awake and fucks him to sleep, fucks him on every inch of his palace suite. Jimin doesn’t even blush at the sight of the handsome guard who listens to him scream anymore, he’s so used to it now. Jimin surprises himself with the way he craves Hoseok, has realized that Hoseok could fuck him all day and maybe it still wouldn’t be enough.

So Jimin loves the sex, had thought the sex would be all he wanted, but eventually he figures out that he’s like Yuna said he was after all. He cares too much, and Hoseok’s so good to him, so doting, so affectionate, as if he cares about him the same way. That’s the real problem. Hoseok doesn’t make him feel like all he wants is sex, even though Jimin knows it is.

He brings it up, once, teasingly. Just to test it. Just to find out for sure.

“All you want is sex,” he tells him, and Hoseok doesn’t even deny it.

“Isn’t that all you want, too?”

 

 

Jimin’s twenty years old, but Matron still intimidates him just as much as she did when he was six. He’s always considered himself lucky that her room is on the other end of the hall than his, affording him at least a small amount of privacy compared to the younger girls whose rooms are right next door. When he was little, he used to think she had eyes like a hawk’s that followed you around wherever you went. He and Seolhyun used to joke that she must have had an extra pair on the back of her head, hidden behind her thick hair. She always seemed to know everyone’s secrets.

But that was back then. Now that he’s older and she is, too, he’s learned exactly how to slip his secrets right under her nose. They all have.

He bows to her respectfully when he enters her room, closing the door quietly behind him. She sits on an armchair by the window and bows in return, a slight inclination of her head. Her gray hair is bound in a braid that flows over her shoulder and down her waist, and she sits ramrod straight with her hands clasped in her lap like always.

When they were children, she would call them into her room if they misbehaved for slaps on their arms. She couldn’t touch Jimin, so she improvised; he would get hit with a shoot. He hated those times, but it was nothing compared to the abuse he had faced from his father. Her light slaps were almost meaningless in the face of his father’s heavy blows, strong from years of blacksmithing.

He doesn’t get called into her room often anymore; he’s good at doing what he’s told, and he’s always excelled in his role leading rituals. Still, when he comes to stand in front of her, he feels a bit of the old nervousness return. Especially when this time he has so much to hide.

“Jimin,” she says, and the lines her face crinkle as she speaks. “Are you well?”

“Yes, Matron.”

“You’ve been distracted of late, I’ve noticed. Is something the matter?”

He twists his fingers together behind his back. “Not at all, no. I apologize if I haven’t been fulfilling my duties as I should - ”

She shakes her head, holding up a hand to stop him. “You’ve been doing quite well. I’m only asking out of concern.”

He gives her a quick, tiny bow. “Thank you.”

“You’ll be twenty-one years of age in less than half a moon.”

“Yes, Matron.”

“You know what this entails.”

It isn’t a question. He nods. He’s been preparing for more than a year already. She knows he’s ready; this is only a formality. The final check. “Yes, Matron.”

“They’ll all be watching you. Any mistake made will mark you forever.”

His stomach rolls with anxiety. Despite how often he has prepared for the ritual, it’s never felt real until now. “I understand. I won’t make any mistakes.”

She shifts, sighing, and Jimin can hear the creak of her old bones. “I know it isn’t always easy, living the way you do.”

Jimin balances his weight from foot to foot, fingers tightening around each other.

“It’s difficult when everyone’s always watching you.”

He’s been in the public eye for so long; he can’t even remember what it feels like not to be watched. “It takes extra discipline,” he says carefully.

She nods. “It does. And you’ve done remarkably well.” The corner of her mouth lifts up the tiniest bit in what might be the hint of a smile, the closest she’ll maybe ever get. “I am proud of you, Jimin. And I know the Goddess will bless you greatly.”

His throat aches with the lump that rises in it. Matron doesn’t hand out compliments easily. To be told after years of strictness, years of her ever-present disapproval, that she’s proud of him - and to understand acutely that he doesn’t deserve it anymore - fills him with an overwhelming bout of emotion. If she knew, she’d loathe him.

They all would.

 

 

All Jimin can think as he walks down a path of flowers to the patio’s pink pool, the entire city gathered to watch him, is how strange it is that only a year has passed when he feels like his entire life has been turned upside down.

He focuses on the ritual, so he doesn’t dare look toward the royal tent even though he knows Hoseok is there watching. The last time he watched him begin the fertility festival, they hadn’t even known each other. Now he knows him more intimately than anyone ever has. Jimin couldn’t have imagined, shivering under the intense gaze of a near stranger, that in a year he’d have given him everything - mind, body, and soul.

He lets Jisoo and Hyojung remove his robe and steps naked into the pool. As he pours the blessed rainwater over his head, the girls chanting and sprinkling herbs around him, he considers that a year is a long, long time. Anything can happen in a year.

It should feel wrong, ushering in the fertility festival when he’s no longer pure. The festival begins with him because he is an end. He marks purity, virginity of its most absolute form: the priest who’s never been been touched. Everyone starts out pure before they aren’t. He marks the last moment of purity before the revelry begins, and every day will be devoted to celebrating fertility. But now he isn’t pure; he no longer has the right to begin the festival.

But it doesn’t feel wrong.

It feels like it’s meant to be. Like the goddess is with him, like he has more of a reason to begin the festival than he ever has before. He feels good, and he revels in it as he steps out of the pool and walks toward the royal tent. It’s always the first prince’s eyes he meets before anyone else’s, but today it’s Hoseok’s. Today his gaze finds Hoseok’s like it’s instinct, settling on him and reading the hidden emotion in Hoseok’s eyes.

Hoseok gives him a tiny, nearly imperceptible nod, and the corner of Jimin’s mouth turns up the barest bit. Then he bows to the royal family and says, “May the Moon Goddess bless us.”

“Thank you, Your Holiness,” says the queen, like she says each year before turning to the crowd. “Let the festivities begin!”

And Jimin returns to the temple.

He doesn’t glance back this time. He doesn’t need to look back to know Hoseok’s watching him, can feel the weight of his gaze on his back. With the handmaidens by his side, he smiles all the way back.

He retreats to the third floor altar after the ritual, the large room reminiscent of the temple's main floor but darker, wider, and even more crowded with the statues. Not only the Goddess's statues, but the others, too; the Sun God, the Sea Maiden, the Reaper. On most days, no one really comes to the third floor except him, and it's nice to worship away from the others for a time. Even from so high, he can hear the noises of revelry floating through the curtained windows. Some of the girls have snuck out to join before. Hyojung says everywhere you go there's people fucking - behind bushes, in alleyways, in the corners of taverns - or people dancing like they're about to. It's the fertility festival, after all.

He leans down to light incense around the Goddess's statue at the center of the room. It's not her wolf form; this floor holds a form of hers that's less remembered than some of others. A serpent carved from stone is coiled around a tall stone base, its flickering tongue emerging from its mouth, eyes beady and fixed straight ahead. Her serpent form used to be associated with fertility just like her human form is now, so Jimin always prays to the serpent on the night of the fertility festival.

Once he finishes lighting the incense, he bows his head in prayer.

He's only halfway through a line of chanting when he hears footsteps, followed soon by a voice.

"Even after a day of rituals, you're praying?"

"Hoseok," Jimin says, a breathy exclamation. "Did anyone see you come here?"

Hoseok doesn't answer. His quick strides have him at Jimin's back in a second, and when Jimin turns to face him, Hoseok grabs him by the shoulders and turns him back around. His grip's tight, breath stuttering by Jimin's ear. "You looked beautiful today."

"What are you - what are you doing here?"

Hoseok presses against him, chest to Jimin's back, and Jimin can feel his cock against his ass. He's hard. "I'm completing my ritual."

"What do you m- " Jimin's breath hitches as Hoseok's hand slides down the front of his robe, parting the fold to run his hand along the inside of Jimin's thighs.

"First time I saw you was at this ritual a year ago." Hoseok's voice is low, rough with desire. His fingers tease the crease of Jimin's thigh. "Naked and glistening wet, pouring water over your head with your pretty mouth open." He nibbles lightly on Jimin's ear. "I wanted to fuck you so bad." His hips move shallowly, cock grinding against Jimin's ass.

"Hoseok - " Jimin whimpers as Hoseok's fingers just barely brush his folds. "Someone will find us."

"Couldn't fuck you then, but I'm gonna fuck you now. I'm gonna fuck you so hard you'll feel me for days, how's that?"

Jimin's lashes flutter. "We're at an altar. We can't." Even as he says it, he grinds back into Hoseok.

Hoseok's fingers part his folds, stroking over his clit and sliding down to tease his hole. His free hand pinches Jimin's nipple through his robe. "I'm going to fuck you until you don't remember where you are."

"Someone could find us - this is wrong - " His whimper turns into a whine, Hoseok's long fingers slipping into him, pressing against his walls in a way that makes him shiver.

"Don't care. I'll fuck you right in front of everyone. Fuck you while everyone's watching you scream for my cock."

Jimin arches at the thought, the shame, trembles to think of anyone seeing him under Hoseok with tears in his eyes and covered in cum.

Hoseok removes his fingers. "You like that? You're already so wet." He presses against Jimin's lips with the pads of his slick fingers until Jimin parts them, letting him slide his fingers into his mouth. He sucks on them, tasting himself, moaning.

"Hoseok," he gasps when he removes his hand. "Not here - the Goddess is watching."

"I hope she is," Hoseok growls in a way that makes Jimin's cunt throb. He pushes him forward; Jimin catches himself on the statue, clutching the tall base. Hoseok gathers the length of his robe and pushes it up to gather at his waist; he's bent forward with his bare ass on display, cunt aching and wet. "I want her to see you get fucked."

He slides in without any warning. Jimin's mouth opens in a soundless moan as Hoseok's cock fills him up, fingers digging tight into his hips as he bottoms out. He starts to rock into him immediately, and Jimin's fingers tighten on the stone altar. He's burning with shame, overwhelmed with it - to be fucked at all is a sin, but in the middle of his prayers, in a room of sacred statues, in front of the Goddess herself, amid the smoke of ceremonial incense - the shame spreads through him. It makes his pussy ache even more.

"I want the Goddess to know you're mine, now."

Jimin whimpers. His head hangs between his shoulders, gaze fixed on the ground, fingers white from his tight grip. Hoseok taps his thigh, and he spreads his legs wider so Hoseok's next thrust hits him even deeper.

"Imagine what all those people today would say," Hoseok murmurs, almost fond, as he drags his cock slowly against Jimin's walls. The pace is maddening; Jimin whines, tries to move his hips, but Hoseok holds him in place. "If they knew their beautiful, pure priest lets himself be ruined like this."

He drags himself out to the tip, stops just barely still inside him. "Hoseok," Jimin whimpers.

"What do you want?"

"Fuck me."

His cock moves shallowly inside him. He's teasing. Jimin can hear the amusement in his voice. "Like that?"

"Fuck me har- " his voice hitches. He's embarrassed. Ashamed. The smoke of the incense fills his every breath; it's the strong kind, the kind that could make him see stars if he breathes enough. "Fuck me harder. Harder."

Hoseok pulls out to the tip, slams back in so hard Jimin's back arches, a cry torn from his throat. He bites his tongue immediately after, tastes blood, prays that no one's heard.

"Hear that?" Hoseok demands, and Jimin knows from the tone of his voice that he's not asking him. "Hear what your pure little priest wants?" He fucks him with purpose, now, deep, steady thrusts that pull broken ah 's from Jimin's mouth. "He's mine," Hoseok growls. "All of him."

Hoseok's hand threads through Jimin's hair. He drags his head up until he's staring right at the Goddess's statue, right into the snake's beady eyes. Hoseok wants him to look at her. He wants him to know what he's doing. Jimin shudders. The incense is making him heady; his vision blurs. Hoseok's thrusts slow down, stop, and it's infuriating, the itch under his skin growing to something unbearable.

"Please," he's begging. " Please ."

Hoseok leans into him, hot mouth against his ear, the grip in his hair unforgiving. The tip of his cock brushes against Jimin's hole. "They're all thinking about it, you know. When they watch you strip off your robe and step into the water. They're all thinking about fucking you."

A shiver runs up his spine. His eyes squeeze shut.

"But I'm the only one who gets to. I'm the only one who gets to fuck your sacred cunt." Hoseok straightens, but he doesn't let go of Jimin's hair. He pats his hip. "Open your eyes," he says, so Jimin does.

Hoseok fucks into him hard . Jimin moans, but it's cut off on the next thrust, and then Hoseok doesn't stop. He sets a brutal pace, fucking him deep and fast; Jimin holds tight onto the statue, rocking back and forth. He's staring right into the statue's eyes and he's never felt a humiliation so intense before, never felt this kind of shame running through every inch of his body. He's hot with it, tears welling in his eyes because the worst part is he doesn't want him to stop. He wants Hoseok to keep fucking him, to fuck him even harder than he already is.

The smoke's making him dizzy, Hoseok's cock is overwhelming, and Jimin's crying, mouth open, drool leaking from the corners. He doesn't have the presence of mind to care about being loud anymore, doesn't even comprehend the broken, staccato moans leaving his mouth, couldn't stop them if he tried. His lashes flutter, vision blurring; he thinks he could go into a trance like this, the kind of trance he only manages when he's meditated for hours.

Hoseok's relentless. He grunts with every thrust, but he doesn't slow down, doesn't ease up. Jimin feels his body tense for the coming orgasm, his muscles tightening, the pressure building until it hurts and he wants nothing but release - then he's coming, pussy spasming, eyes rolling back into his head. Hoseok doesn't stop fucking him, so even as Jimin's body relaxes after the release, Hoseok's cock brings him back to life. Jimin's legs are shaking so hard he would fall if Hoseok's arm around his waist wasn't holding him steady.

"Hoseok," he whimpers, weak, wincing with pain. He's so sensitive, he doesn't know if he can take it, but part of him wants to - Hoseok's relentless cock is already making him seize up with pleasure again.

"One more time, baby," Hoseok coos, breathless. "Can you come one more time for me?"

Jimin's not sure he can but he wants to, wants to be good for Hoseok. "Y-yes," he mumbles, and Hoseok keeps going, hitting all the right spots, pulling helpless noises from Jimin.

He tenses up even faster than before; his orgasm hits him like a wave, he whimpers through it, letting Hoseok hold him up. Hoseok comes a second after him, cock twitching, the wet of his cum filling Jimin's pussy. They're both gasping for breath when Hoseok pulls out of him.

"You're perfect," Hoseok says. He lets Jimin's robes fall back around his legs and turns him around so they're chest-to-chest. Jimin collapses into him, arms wrapped loosely around his neck, and lets Hoseok support his weight. "Two times," he murmurs, kissing Jimin's head. "And I didn't even touch your clit."

Jimin's too tired to say anything. He buries his face in Hoseok's neck and lets him hold him for so long he's afraid he'll fall asleep on his feet. Hoseok litters kisses over his hair, murmuring sweet nothings. "You should go," Jimin finally says once his legs regain some strength. He pulls back.

Hoseok kisses him lightly. "It's ritual, you know. Fuck someone during the fertility festival."

"I know." Jimin can't help the secret part of him that's pleased - he finally got to participate. "Come back tomorrow? You always take too long. You make me miss you."

Hoseok laughs. "I'm sorry, Jiminie. I'll come back tomorrow."

“It’s my birthday ritual.”

“I know. I’ll be there, you know I will.”

"Promise?"

"Promise."

This time when Hoseok kisses him, it lingers, sweet but thorough.

Not long after Hoseok leaves, Seolhyun comes looking for him. It's time for the dawn ritual that marks the first morning of the festival. He accompanies her downstairs, hoping no one notices his limp, and chants before the silver wolf statue with cum dripping down his thighs.

 

 

Jimin has never celebrated his birthday before.

On the day of, arrangements begin early in the morning: they set up in a clearing at the base of the mountains outside the city, and men from the palace begin erecting a tent there for Jimin. He’ll prepare for the ritual with the help of the girls inside, while the men set up the drums and the offering to the goddess outside.

When the tent is erected, Jimin approaches the opening flap to slip inside. He's nervous, has been all morning, and he's rehearsing the ritual in his mind with a singular focus, so much that he doesn't notice the person standing next to the flap until he speaks.

"A moment, Your Holiness," he says.

Jimin startles, glancing up. His eyes widen before he can help himself, and he has to fight not to take a step back. It's the handsome guard who stands outside Hoseok's door. "Yes?" Jimin says, dread swirling like a sickness in his stomach. The man won't recognize him; there's no way he knows his face. Jimin is always exceedingly careful to keep it covered when he visits Hoseok's rooms. But his voice, perhaps -

The guard reaches up to adjust the flap before gesturing for Jimin to continue on. "It was loose," he explains. "I thought it might fall on you."

"Thank you," Jimin says, voice breathy with nerves, before he slips by the man and into the tent without wasting another second.

Once he’s inside, he inhales a shuddering breath, steeling himself. The guard doesn’t know him. Today he has to focus; he doesn’t have time to be anxious.

“Are you all right?” Seolhyun asks. She and Jisoo have begun lighting the incense in a circle around the tub at the center of the tent. It isn’t filled with milk yet, but it will be soon.

“I’m fine,” Jimin says, and convinces himself that he is.

They cover the tent with the proper herbs, carefully selected and placed in their exact positions: anise to the north, vervain to the east, ginseng in between. The men bring the tins of milk to heat them over fires outside the tent. Hyojung and Bora bring his clothes, beautiful robes made of silk and embroidered with thread dipped in gold that they had tailored just for today. Mina and Yuna lay out his jewels, cleansing them with a ceremonial lavender mixture: garters for his thighs, a slender belt around his waist, delicate bracelets to line his wrists, earrings that fall to his shoulders, a chain threading through his hair that drips with tiny jewels.

When they’ve heated the milk, the girls leave to fetch the containers and bring them into the tent. They pour it carefully into the tub, steam rising from the thick liquid. While they wait for it to cool enough to be comfortable, they mix in honey and lavender. Jimin strips off his robe, shivering even though it isn’t cold out.

“Nervous?” Junghwa asks him gently, and he nods.

“You’re going to do perfectly.” Hyojung’s voice is firm, booking no disagreement.

The girls scoop out the layer of skin that’s formed atop the milk before sprinkling an abundance of pink petals from the Goddess’s flower. Then Bora gestures for Jimin to enter. He steps gingerly into the bath, dipping in his toes before he lowers his body to sit while leaning against the side of the tub. He sinks down to his shoulders and sighs, the milk gentle and warm against his skin. Then he clasps his hands together and begins to chant; around him, the girls form a circle and do the same.

At some point, they begin to hear the sounds of revelry outside the tent. His birthday ritual is open for anyone to witness, and they’ve been expecting that much of the city will show up. He prays and soaks in his milk bath and listens to the sounds of laughter and shouting; everyone’s keyed up already after the first day of the fertility festival. He wonders if Hoseok is there yet, mingling with the common folk, or if he’ll show up later.

Once they complete their prayers, Jimin steps out of the bath, dripping onto the tent floor. Seolhyun hands him damp washcloths to cleanse his skin, and Hyojung and Bora hold out the robe for him to slip into. He slips on the thigh garter and belt before he ties it shut, taking the rest of the proffered jewelry from Mina and donning it one by one. By the time he’s done, he feels like he’s dripping with jewels. Yuna fixes the chain in his hair, careful not to touch him even though they all know he doesn’t care anymore. She arranges the part of his hair then steps back to look at him with the others.

Hyojung looks like she might cry, her eyes glistening and a fond smile playing at her lips. “Look at you,” she murmurs. “Little Jiminie’s not so little anymore.”

He flushes. “Don’t be a sap.”

Bora scoffs. “Don’t tell us what to do, Jiminie. Tonight’s the night to be emotional.”

“We should go,” Yuna says, moving toward the tent flap.

“You’ll be okay?” Hyojung asks.

“I’ll be fine,” Jimin says.

The girls whisper their good luck’ s and leave him to join the festivities. He waits just inside the tent flap, listening, and the jitters return. It sounds like there are a lot of people out there. He waits until he hears Matron’s voice thanking everyone for coming and giving praise to the Goddess. Then the beat of the drum begins. It starts slow, a steady thrum that Jimin can feel in his very bones. When it speeds up to match his heartbeat, he parts the flaps of the tent and steps outside.

The quiet gasp flows through the crowd like a wave. It makes him flush with a mix of embarrassment and pride. They’re here for the Goddess, but he understands that mostly they’re here for him. He walks forward to the center of the clearing where they’ve made room from him, gathering around him in a wide circle. He stops just in the center, presses his palms together, and bows long and deep.

Then he straightens, raises his arm in an arc, and begins to dance.

The crowd is nothing more than a blur before his eyes as he immerses himself in his dance, matching the rhythm of the drums. His silk robe flows like water around him, his bracelets jingling. He’s practiced the dance for a year at least, if not longer, all for this final moment. Their people have long used dance to honor the gods, and it’s one of the main components of the fertility festival. He tries to portray devotion through the flow of his body. The light of the stars and torches set up around the clearing glint in his vision. His nerves fade as he dances, too focused to be anxious anymore.

They’re all watching him, enthralled, and he revels in it, lets it empower him to dance better than he ever has in any of his practices. This dance is for the Goddess, and he holds her in his heart as he moves. Prays that she still loves him despite his transgressions, prays that his devotion will be accepted.

He finishes the dance with a final bow, panting as he bends at the waist, hair matted with sweat against his forehead. When he rises, the crowd breaks into a rousing cheer that brings a smile to his lips.

“Thank you,” he says, though they’re cheering too loud to hear him. “Thank you.”

He retreats to where the other girls stand, and Matron announces that the festivities may continue. Mina brings him a drink, and he stands among them, smiling so hard it hurts. Some of the people approach him hesitantly, bowing and praising him, and he accepts it with red cheeks and flustered thank you ’s.

He’s so overwhelmed that he almost forgets that he hasn’t seen Hoseok yet until suddenly it hits him. He stretches his neck to peer through the crowd, but he isn’t anywhere, and Hoseok isn’t hard to miss. It hurts, knowing he didn’t show up after he promised he would, but Jimin tries to explain it away. He might have gotten caught up with something, maybe saw part of it and left for the end.

In the process of searching for him, Jimin finds his brother instead.

Youngjin stands off to the side with a small entourage, nodding graciously to anyone who passes with a bow. That he’s here but Hoseok isn’t fills Jimin with a awful sense of wrongness. Suddenly the success of his dance turns bitter, tainted by Youngjin’s gaze. He hasn’t seen Youngjin more than briefly after the incident in the temple, and he hadn’t expected him to be here.

Jimin stiffens, inching closer to Hyojung on instinct. She registers the movement and glances at him curiously, following his gaze through the crowd. He hears her quiet hiss of distress when she sees Youngjin, too.

“It’s all right,” she murmurs. “We’re all here.”

As if sensing their gaze, Youngjin’s head turns in their direction. His gaze lands on Jimin’s, and instead of ignoring him like he has been these past months, he smiles. He looks triumphant. Like he knows something Jimin doesn’t. Like the power that had been taken away from him by Hoseok’s threat has been regained.

Jimin looks away, stomach swirling with nausea. The lingering disgust from Youngjin’s gaze doesn’t leave him for the rest of the night.

 

 

Distantly, the sound of commotion comes down the hall, voices both frustrated and firm. Jimin rouses from where he sits curled against the rail of his balcony, the nighttime wind dancing in his hair.

“Don’t - ” He hears someone cry, pained and desperate. “You can’t.”

It’s Bora.

He stands, stepping warily back into his room. The voices grow louder as he nears the doorway; he picks out Bora’s, Hyojung’s, and Junghwa’s.

“Soften the blow, at least,” Junghwa begs.

“He’s going to find out sooner or later,” Hyojung hisses. She’s using that voice she uses to make all the other girls listen to her, the one that has kept Jimin in line since he was a child. “I want him to hear it from someone who loves him.”

Jimin pushes open his door slowly. They’re standing in the hallway, flushed and out of breath, and they look upset. “Hear what?” he says quietly, foreboding making his stomach clench painfully.

Hyojung’s gaze softens as soon as it lands on him. She breaks free from the others, stepping toward him and ushering him into the room. Bora and Junghwa exchange a pained glance before following, shutting the door behind them.

“What’s going on?” Jimin can’t quite keep the fear from his voice.

Hyojung takes his hands gently in hers. She’s looking at him the way she did when he was ten and she had to explain that he didn’t owe his family anything if they hated him. That it was okay to cry if he wanted to cry. “Jiminie,” she murmurs.

Hyojung’s nature isn’t gentle; she’s a whirlwind, the explosive force that holds them all together. She’s blunt and funny and isn’t afraid of pointing out their flaws. If Hyojung’s trying for gentleness, it means something is really, really wrong.

“Jiminie,” she repeats, taking a breath as if to steel herself. Bora places a hand on her shoulder for strength. “The second prince is gone.”

Jimin blinks, slow to understand. He glances between her and Bora and Junghwa, and the way they’re all looking at him makes him feel ill. “Gone?”

Hyojung squeezes his hands the tiniest bit harder. “He’s left for the kingdom where he lived all those years. To be married.”

Jimin’s heart stops.

“And, um - ” She glances at Bora, who shakes her head the tiniest bit. But Hyojung’s face hardens. She turns back to Jimin. “The betrothal was in the works for weeks. They’ve been planning it for a while now, kept secret from the public until now.”

“Weeks,” he repeats, finding hard to understand, hard to fathom. He’d known about it for weeks and hadn’t said anything. He’d seen him just two nights ago, when he’d fucked him in front of the altar. All that and now he’s gone.

He’s gone.

“He promised,” Jimin says, and his voice sounds distant to his own ears. He can see the way they’re looking at him with pity, like he’ll fall apart any second, and he hates it. “He promised he’d come back.”

You make me miss you . He’d said he’d come to the ritual. He’d promised knowing he was going to leave, knowing he was going to be married - Jimin’s stomach sinks down his feet and his throat swells up with the threat of tears. He doesn’t cry. He stares at Hyojung’s worried face and feels like he’s drifting out of his body, feels like he should react, should shout and cry but all he can do is just stare.

Hoseok’s gone.

Chapter Text

It’s a stilted, awkward dinner, the kind of thing that makes Jimin’s stomach twist with dread whenever he thinks about visiting home. He sits across from his mother and notices the way his father tries very hard not to look at him and wonders why he always insists on visiting when it does nothing but make him miserable.

“The butcher’s wife stopped by after the last time you visited to tell me how lucky I am to have a son in such a high position,” his mother says. “You are a source of pride for us.”

At least she tries, unlike his father who pretends he doesn’t exist. But unlike other visits, this one has an extra bout of misery attached to it. Jimin can’t help but think about all the things he’s done and how if anyone were to ever discover them, his family would die of shame. Even in his most bitter moments, he found comfort in the fact that at least, if nothing else, his family would be honored because of him. At least he could do that much.

Now he doesn’t even have that to hold onto.

His father wastes no time disappearing when dinner ends. His mother asks Jihyun to fetch herbs from the garden for tea while she clears up the table, refusing Jimin’s offers of help. Standing around idly makes him uncomfortable, so after a moment he slips out the back door to join his brother.

Jihyun glances up at his emergence and smiles, albeit a touch hesitantly. Jimin doesn’t usually stay for dinner. Usually, he isn’t welcomed for that long. His visits are brief, and conversation with his brother even briefer. He can’t remember the last time they actually talked to each other.

“Need any help?”

Jihyun shakes his head immediately. “It’s hardly any work.”

Jimin watches him crouch in the dirt and inspect the plants for healthy-looking leaves to tear off and drop in a small basket. He leans against the house and sighs, gazing up at the night sky. He hopes tea won’t take long. Not that he wants to return to the temple, not really. His solitary bedroom used to be a solace for him, but now it only makes him sick.

“I have something for you,” Jihyun suddenly blurts, and Jimin’s gaze turns to him in surprise.

“For me?” He can’t keep the disbelief from his tone.

“You always bring us gifts. I’ve never given you anything.”

“You’re younger. You’re not supposed to give me anything.”

“Still.” Jihyun stands, wiping his hands on his trousers before reaching into his pocket. “I dunno if you’ll like it, uh, I just saw it at the market and I thought - well, it seemed like something you’d wear.”

Jimin nears him, curiosity piqued, still a little bit in shock. “I’ll love anything you give me.”

He retrieves a set of bangles from his pocket and offers them to Jimin with a tiny bow. It hurts, having his own brother bow to him. It always has. Jimin can’t help the way his eyes water at the sight of the pretty, delicate things. They’re cheap, clearly, especially when he’s used to the kind of finery that could never be found in a tiny village marketplace, but to Jimin they’re the most beautiful things he’s ever seen.

He blinks away the tears, figures his brother won’t think much of him if he cries. Remembers the way their father would beat him for it. “Thank you,” he whispers, clearing his throat. He holds his hands under Jihyun’s so his brother can drop the bangles into them without touching him.

“I’m sorry it’s not much.”

“It’s perfect.” Jimin blinks rapidly, can’t fight the tears and the lump in his throat. He turns away for a second, casting his gaze to the sky to will them away. It means so much that they’re bangles. He can’t help but wonder what his father would think if he knew his son had gifted his other son a pair of bracelets .

When he’s ready, he turns back to Jihyun and bows to show his thanks in lieu of the embrace he wishes he could give him.

“Thank you,” he says again. “This - this means the world to me.”

“It’s nothing,” Jihyun mutters bashfully, rubbing the back of his head and kicking at the dirt. It makes him seem younger, less like a spitting image of their father. Jimin has always thought they were mostly the same, though his brother has never been rude to him like their father has. Even so, he’d figured their father would have raised him to think the same way he did. He figured Jihyun probably didn’t like him very much, and Jihyun had never done much to prove that wrong.

Jimin slips the bangles onto his wrists, a smile splitting his cheeks wide. It’s been a while since he smiled so genuinely.

“I’m sorry,” Jihyun says, and Jimin thinks he’s apologizing for the gift again before he continues. “I’ve never done much for you. Never done much to be your brother. I’ve been thinking about some things lately, and I realized how much I regret never trying.”

Jimin’s moved almost to tears again. He stares at him, lip quivering, and doesn’t know what to say.

“I just - ” he shrugs half-heartedly. “I guess I never thought about it until now. It must be hard being you.”

It’s hard. It’s so, so hard, and Jihyun’s words feel like permission. Suddenly Jimin feels weak, tired, like he can’t hold himself together anymore. Like he doesn’t want to.

“Yes. It’s hard,” he almost whispers. “I thought Father would have gotten to you. I thought you didn’t like me because of him.”

“Yeah, well,” Jihyun mutters. He kicks the dirt with his booted foot again, and this time it’s harsher than before. “Father’s a piece of shit.”

Jimin’s startled into a laugh that he stifles with a hand over his mouth, glancing back worriedly at the house. “Is he - is he very cruel to you?”

“It was worse when I was younger. He’s getting old now.”

He feels a pang of regret deep in his gut for not being around to protect his little brother like he did when they were children. “They must be thinking about marrying you off soon.”

Jihyun clears his throat, glancing down at his feet, suddenly shy. “I, uh, have someone in mind.”

“You do?” Jimin coos, another smile splitting his cheeks so wide it almost hurts. “Tell me.”

“The baker’s daughter. You probably don’t remember her.”

“Do Mother and Father know?”

“They’re not exactly pleased with it.” The shy smile twists into a more bitter one. “She’s a bit of a free spirit. They don’t like that.”

Jimin scoffs. “I can’t imagine they would.”

The back door cracks open, and their mother peeks her head out. “Did you pick the herbs?” she asks.

Jihyun holds up the basket as proof. “We were just coming in.”

She nods, glancing between them, before returning inside. Jihyun and Jimin exchange a look and a tentative smile.

“I wish you the best of luck,” Jimin says.

“And I you.” Jihyun bows again, his hair flopping over his forehead. When they were kids, he’d hated getting his hair trimmed. He’d run around with bangs falling into his eyes, tripping over everything because he couldn’t see. Jimin had taken to tying his bangs in a little poof above his head to keep them out of his eyes. He’d looked so cute with his chubby cheeks and apple hair. “May the Goddess bless you.”

“May she keep you in her sights.”

Jimin leaves not long after tea, waving goodbye to his mother and drawing the curtains on his palanquin as it starts to jolt with movement. He stares at the bangles on his wrist all the way back to the temple. With every curve of direction that draws them nearer to the temple, Jimin feels the lightness that had settled into his heart from Jihyun’s words begin to fade. By the time they make it back and he emerges to see the temple’s pillars rising in the distance, he feels weighed down with despondency again.

Hyojung and Bora are arranging dried herbs around the statues in the main hall when he enters.

“How was it?” Hyojung asks, taking in the slump of Jimin’s shoulders. Out of habit, she reaches for his hand and only stops herself at the last second. He doesn’t miss the flicker of annoyance on her face. He knows she’s upset with him, hasn’t done much to hide it, since he told everyone he’d be returning to doing the goddess’s will with no more transgressions. Just because of him I can’t hold you anymore?

“Jihyun gave me these.” Jimin holds out his wrist, and Bora and Hyojung both break into smiles.

“That’s so sweet.”

“They’re lovely.”

He lowers his arm and heads for the stairs. “I’ll be in my room until the full moon ritual.”

“Resting?” Hyojung asks, even though she knows the answer.

“Meditating,” he responds. He’s done little but pray to the goddess for forgiveness these past moons.

He heads up before he can see the look on Hyojung’s face.

 

 

Blessing the three-year-olds brought to the temple is not one of Jimin’s many duties, but every now and then he’ll take over for one of the handmaidens who can’t. Seolhyun takes ill with a fever, so Jimin joins Jisoo and Yuna in the main hall to greet a family and the daughter they’ve brought for the ritual. She’s a sweet little thing, round cheeks with dimples and hair quite thick and long for her age. She doesn’t get nervous when they take her from her parents and gently help her undress so she can step into the pink pool beneath the oculus. When Jimin takes one of her tiny hands in his to walk her along the outermost step of the pool, his own wrapped in cloth so their skin doesn’t touch, she gives him a beatific smile.

The others chant the necessary prayers and scatter herbs into the water. The ritual progresses like any other until they complete their third turn around the pool, when something strange begins to happen. It’s a dark, moonless night, but miraculously, light grows to shine upon them from the oculus. They look up, and a full moon glows bright overhead. It only shines for a moment, and Jimin stares in awe from start to finish. It’s almost blinding. He feels a muted sort of wonder as he gazes upon it, knowing the goddess is watching them.

For a moment, the world stills.

Then the full moon fades back into darkness, and Jimin realizes Jisoo and Yuna are staring at him in horror.

It dawns on him slowly, like a trickle of cold water running down his spine. The Moon Goddess’s chosen ones are selected from childhood to serve until they die. During their lifetime, no one else is granted her highest blessing. Another child shouldn’t have been chosen until Jimin was dead.

Jisoo’s calling for Yuna to fetch Matron, and the little girl’s parents beg for an explanation in frantic tones. They sound distant to Jimin’s ears. He looks down at the girl, who still clutches his hand trustingly. She looks back at him, bringing her free hand to her mouth to suck on her thumb. It must have been like this when he was chosen, too, the air sizzling with the promise of change, of something greater than them. Jimin wishes he was in a position to wonder what he did wrong for the goddess to order his replacement so soon, but he isn’t.

He already knows.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, because he knows her life will be hard. She blinks.

Then Matron’s there, ordering them out of the pool, and Jimin wraps her tiny form in a robe. After he slips on his own, he picks her up and sits on the stairs with her in his lap, careful that their skin doesn’t touch. It’s not his own restriction anymore; now it’s hers, too. They watch as Matron explains to her parents what it means to be chosen. Her mother cries, though she tries to hide her tears lest they be taken as a sign of disrespect, a sign of ungratefulness.

Jimin wonders if his mother had cried, too. Wonders if his father’s shoulders had sagged with relief. In a brief moment of bitterness, he considers how cruel it is to ask her parents to be grateful that they’re losing their daughter forever.

They come to them eventually to say their goodbyes. They bow to him first, and Jimin notices the way her mother’s hands tremble over her stomach. The goodbyes are hard to watch, her mother’s panicked words and her father’s quieter ones. In the end, they try to reach for her, and Jimin has to stop them.

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, the words like lead in his mouth. “She can no longer be touched.”

Her father’s eyes fill with tears at that. Her mother rubs the little girl’s arms gently over her robe. Jimin was lucky; he was six years old when they took him. He had six years of touch to set him up for a lifetime; she only has three. It’ll be much harder for her. “Goodbye, my sweet,” she says, then looks to Jimin. “Your Holiness. Please take care of her.”

Jimin inclines his head. “She’ll be in the best hands. I promise.”

It’s hard for them to leave. They glance back every step and linger in the curtained doorway. In the end, Jimin sets the girl down and ushers her up the stairs first.

He leaves her in the room the younger girls in training share, informing them vaguely of who she is and what they’re to do with her. He doesn’t linger to face their panicked questions - but you’re the chosen one . Then he follows Matron into her room.

She sits heavily at her desk, and Jimin can see the weariness she’d hidden in front of the girl’s parents sag into the lines of her face. She sits in silence for so long that Jimin ventures the first words.

“Matron,” he says quietly, “is the goddess angry with me?”

“Oh, Jimin,” she sighs, and the careful exterior breaks. The look she turns on him is full of pity. In all his years at the temple, the Matron has never looked at him like that. “You’ve done everything you were told. Why would she be angry with you?”

His stomach clenches. He glances at his feet, hands clasped tightly before him. She’s wrong. He knows she’s wrong. “She’s replaced me.”

Matron answers with another heavy sigh and a moment of quiet. “There have been cases documented such as this,” she finally says. “It’s possible that this is sign of an impending catastrophe.”

“Catastrophe?”

“Perhaps the goddess is preparing us for dark days ahead with extra help.”

“You think so?” he ventures, not daring to hope.

“Perhaps. This is an extremely rare occurrence. But - “ she hesitates, as if she doesn’t want to continue. “It’s possible that it is as you suspect.”

“That I’ve been replaced.”

“Yes.”

“How will we know?”

“I suppose we’ll find out one way or another, won’t we? A catastrophe won’t be difficult to miss.”

His fingers tighten until they turn white from pressure. He knows it’s not a catastrophe. He’s been replaced.

“Go on and rest, Jimin,” she says. “We’ll discuss this further tomorrow. Wake up early and meditate.”

“Yes, Matron.”

He returns to his room and sits gingerly on the edge of his bed. For the first time in his life, he considers that maybe there’s no point in praying anymore. The goddess has truly forsaken him.

 

 

Jimin hates him.

Sometimes when he can’t sleep, he lies awake and considers exactly how much. I hate him, I hate him, I hate him , he thinks, then he wonders if the hatred will ever allow him peace. He thinks back to the day he’d helped him tie the twine of herbs and wishes he hadn’t said his name. Wishes he hadn’t allowed him the victory of hearing it fall from his lips instead of the formal Your Highness . He thinks about the day he gave him a tour of the temple and wishes he’d said he didn’t have time to give tours so late at night. He thinks of the prayer he led him through and wishes he’d forced him to finish it, to be serious, to not make light of the goddess and her power.

It’s his fault Jimin betrayed her. It’s his fault she’s forsaken him, replaced him, his fault that Jimin feels weighed down with a purposelessness so intense he doesn’t know how to go on anymore. If he hadn’t seduced him with his pretty words, his assurances, if he hadn’t made him doubt -

Yet even as he thinks it, Jimin knows it’s not entirely fair. Nobody forced him to doubt. Nobody forced him to betray the goddess’s will. He could have said no. If he’d been stronger, if he’d been a better person, he would have said no.

But he didn’t, and now he has to live with the consequences - the shame - for the rest of his life.

He wishes, he wishes, he wishes he’d done better.

Everyone had warned him, after all.

You know what he wants, right?

Just be careful .

He’s the one who didn’t listen. He’d thought, he’d hoped, that Hoseok meant what he said. That he cared about him beyond the attraction of fucking someone untouchable. Toward the end, Jimin begins to realize that he’d maybe started to think Hoseok loved him, too. Now he bitterly wonders how many encounters they had during the time Hoseok’s betrothal had been arranged. How many pretty words had Hoseok whispered to him knowing the days they had together were numbered? Knowing he would abandon him?

Their brief affair won’t hold any weight for Hoseok. He fucked him and left, and he never has to look back. He’s no different for their knowing each other. But Jimin - Jimin’s whole life has been turned upside down. Jimin will never be the same again.

That’s the hardest part. He can’t get back what he’s lost.

He hates him, but his heart is still his.

 

 

These days, Jimin moves through rituals as if they’re muscle memory and nothing more. He feels numb to them, completing the actions only because he needs to. Time passes as if he sleeps through it, one full moon ritual after another. Tonight, when he stands in the pink water with his sisters and chants his prayers, he wonders if he even deserves to lead them anymore. He steps out of the pool with a heavy heart, and Hyojung helps him into his robe. Her fingers brush his skin on accident; he flinches away.

“Sorry,” she says, but her tone is begrudging.

Before, there were never any accidents. Everyone moved around him as if on pins, exceedingly careful not to get too close lest the most sacred vow broken. Now, accidents happen all the time. It’s as if everyone’s forgotten how to be careful.

“It’s all right.”

He joins Yuna crouched by the statues, arranging herbs and lighting candles around their bases. She nods to him, soft glow of candlelight casting shadows on her calm face. Jimin listens to Hyojung and Bora’s retreating footsteps as he shifts dried leaves around mindlessly.

“Is this really what you want?” Yuna asks him quietly.

He glances at her, head tilted in question.

“To go to back to normal like nothing ever happened.”

“I made a mistake. It only makes sense not to err again.”

She hums, lifting a long candle to light another with its small flame.

“I thought you of all people would understand,” Jimin murmurs. “You always thought I was doing wrong.”

“Yes,” she agrees. “But is that what you think?”

Jimin quiets.

“Where’s the use in going through the motions if your heart isn’t in it?” she asks. “Ritual means nothing without belief.”

“Ritual can awaken belief over time. Isn’t that what we always tell everyone?”

“You’ve been doing this your whole life,” Yuna says. “I don’t think that’s going to work.”

“I did believe,” Jimin insists. “I always believed.”

“And now you don’t,” she finishes for him.

“I just - ” he flounders. He can’t bring himself to object. “It isn’t as simple as you’re making it out to be,” he finally says.

Her expression softens. “Jimin, I know it isn’t simple. That’s not what I’m saying.”

“Then what are you saying?”

She sighs, settling cross-legged on the ground. She abandons all pretense of work, and Jimin does the same, sitting down next to her. “Do you know why I believe in the goddess’s rules?”

He shakes his head.

“Because they make sense to me. They’re safe.” She wraps her arms around her knees, the reflection of the flames flickering in her eyes. “My mother had my sister and I out of wedlock. My sister came from a night with a man she didn’t know. I came from someone she trusted, but who left her anyway. She spent her whole life blaming us.”

Jimin rests a hand on her clothed arm for comfort. He’d known she came from a hard life, but she never liked to talk about it.

“We were very poor, you all know that much. That’s why she sent me here - one less mouth to feed. She didn’t mean to have my sister or me. She didn’t have the means for it. Both of her pregnancies were accidents.”

She pauses, gathering her thoughts.

“When my sister was sixteen, she fell for a man much older than her. Well, fell isn’t the best word - he took advantage of her. He was manipulating her. She didn’t mean to have a child, either, but she did. She and the baby both died in childbirth. That’s when my mother sent me away.”

“I’m sorry,” Jimin whispers. “You must have had such a hard time.”

“I did,” she agrees. “And then I came here. And finally I had food and comfortable clothes and people to take care of me. The goddess gave me a home, and in exchange I just had to follow some rules.” She shrugs. “And the rules made sense. Staying away from sex is safe. I won’t ever have a child I don’t want. I won’t ever bring children into the world who will grow up unloved.”

“Yes,” he murmurs. “It is safe.”

“And I won’t ever get my heart broken, either, because my heart belongs to the goddess.” She smiles at him gently. “And I don’t mean that to shame you. I just mean that for me, the rules make sense because the temple offers me safety. But I understand that it isn’t the same for everyone, and that it isn’t that simple. None of this guarantees safety either. If it did, you wouldn’t have to be so terrified of the crown prince.”

Jimin winces even at the thought of him.

“But for me, this is all I want. I’m satisfied. And I think you need to learn more about what you want. Because right now it seems like you’re only doing this out of your resentment for the second prince, and to punish yourself.”

She’s younger than him, but Jimin feels like a child. Like he’s lost and unsure, and her words are gentle and wise. He’d never felt so lost before Hoseok; he thought he knew what he wanted. But he’s beginning to realize that maybe he’d never really known.

“Learn what your heart wants, then do as it asks you to,” Yuna murmurs. “Or else you’ll be miserable forever.”

 

 

The ritual the handmaidens of the Moon Goddess perform with the priests of the Sun God only happens once every three years, so Jimin has only attended it twice since he was considered old enough to go. It’s a highly ceremonial affair, and it’s highly monitored, too, both by the public and the Matrons of both temples. Even so, Jimin has heard more than one torrid story of what happens behind the scenes.

The temple of the Sun God is on the other end of the city, and they spend a day in travel with their retinue of carriages tugged through the streets by highly-decorated horses. Everywhere they go, the citizens make way, bowing as they pass and watching in awe. Jimin spends the entire ride staring at his hands clasped tightly in his lap and feeling acutely like it isn’t right for him to attend the ritual when he isn’t even the chosen one anymore.

Matron had absolved him of such doubts, claiming there was no reason to assume he should not be completing his duties as usual. But that’s because Matron doesn’t know. Attending the ritual has always been a great source of excitement for them, but this time Jimin feels only apprehension.

If the goddess has forsaken him, should any of this matter anymore?

By the time they arrive at the temple, night has fallen. The path to the doors is lit by torches, and just inside the main hall, a hearty fire burns in the grate. Evidence of fire and light is everywhere - the torches to light even the darkest corners, fireplaces in each room though their city never grows cold enough to need them. Unlike the Moon Goddess, the Sun God has only two forms: a human man and a lion. Both forms are represented by large statues in the main hall, twice the size at least of any statues they have in the Moon Goddess’s temple.

All the deities are important to their people, but their city has always revered the Moon Goddess most of all. Her temple is given the honor of being right next to the palace, and her rituals are the ones most frequented by the citizens. Still, if Jimin were to consider the next most popular deity, it would be the Sun God.

They’re welcomed by the priests, mostly strong, young men and some younger boys. There’s one woman, and Jimin starts in surprise at the sight of her - she hadn’t been there the last time he came. The Sun God’s temple rotates priests quicker than the Moon Goddess’s temple; in three years, many new faces can be seen.

The Matron of the Sun God’s temple welcomes them before he has one of the priests direct them to their rooms. Jimin starts to follow along with the others, but he’s stopped just before heading up the stairs by a quiet cough and a murmured, excuse me .

He turns around. One of the priests stands there, head lowered slightly in respect. Jimin doesn’t recognize him from last time, but he supposes three years is long enough to forget someone’s face. He’s handsome, so handsome Jimin feels a sudden jolt in his stomach upon looking at him.

“Your Holiness,” he says, bowing, and Jimin inclines his head in response. “We’ve prepared a separate room for you.”

They’d done that last time, too; Jimin had forgotten. He feels undeserving, but he follows the priest down a hallway to the side.

He leads him to a large room where a pleasant fire already burns in the grate, the bed made in dark silk. The Sun God’s temple looks so different than the Moon Goddess’s in every way; here everything is larger, more ostentatious, where the Moon Goddess values a more understated beauty. The headboard of the large bed looks like real gold.

“Thank you.” Jimin sets his small bag down by the bed. The priest bows again and leaves. His robe and trousers are sturdy, but Jimin can still see the way the muscles of his shoulders ripple as he moves.

It isn’t cold out, but the heat of the fire feels comforting. Jimin settles on the thick rug on the hearth and wraps his arms around his knees, gazing at the flickering flames. He supposes he should run through a prayer for the Sun God now that he’s in his domain, so he closes his eyes and prays.

When he opens them again, he swears for the briefest, strangest second, he sees something in the fire.

Then he blinks and whatever it was is gone. And oddly enough, he feels a little lighter. A touch of the confusion that has settled over him since the blessing of the new chosen one fades.

He’s still staring in the fire when a knock sounds on the open door. It’s the same priest from before holding a tray of food and what must be tea. He enters, dipping into a crouch to place it on the rug by Jimin’s side. He doesn’t rise, remaining crouched, his head tilted as he gazes at Jimin curiously.

“You can join the other handmaidens to eat, if you’d like. I can show you to their rooms.”

Ordinarily he would say yes, but lately Jimin craves solitude. He doesn’t want to deal with the concerned glances the others can’t seem to hide these days. “I’m fine here. Thank you.”

The priest nods, rising and heading for the door.

“Wait,” Jimin calls, and he glances back, brow raised in expectation. “What’s your name?”

He doesn’t know what drives him to ask.

The corner of the priest’s mouth tilts up. “Jungkook.”

“Jungkook,” Jimin repeats quietly, and the priest disappears down the hall with a final nod.

He sleeps easy that night, much easier than he has in a long time, and he dreams of fire. He watches it spread around him in a tall circle, but he feels only comforted, not afraid. Instead of searching for an escape, he settles down and begins to meditate.

“Well done,” a deep, unfamiliar voice tells him, and he wakes with contentment settled deep in his chest.

The ritual begins at dawn. Jimin prepares with the other handmaidens, dressing in a thin yellow robe and golden anklets like everyone else. The priests of the Sun God dress in loose, crimson trousers that tighten around their ankles and thick chains of gold tied around their bare waists. At the center of it all is the woman Jimin had seen the day before. Hyojung tells him she’s their new head priestess and that it’s only her second year here. Despite her inexperience, she conducts the ritual with absolute confidence.

The ritual consists of a great bonfire erected in the lawn of the temple, around which the priests and handmaidens dance to the beat of drums. People of the city come to watch, and the dances last all throughout the day, interspersed with revelry and food and prayer. Jimin shares a dance with the new priestess, a practiced push-and-pull, their bodies always within a hair’s breadth of each other. This particular dance no longer makes him nervous, though it’s only his third time doing it.

Yesterday, on the ride over, he had thought he would feel sick completing the ritual. Undeserving of the honor, of the responsibility. But after last night, he doesn’t feel like that at all - he feels strangely right .

The priestess introduces herself to him later when they mingle with the citizens drinking ceremonial wine.

“My name’s Heeyeon,” she tells him, a careless fire alight in her eyes. Jimin takes a liking to her instantly. He can see why she’s the Sun God’s chosen one; he’s never met someone so alive with energy.

“Jimin,” he says, and she laughs.

“I already know that.”

Of course she does. He’s been the chosen one for a long, long time. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“And you.” She takes a step closer so that they aren’t so easily overheard. “It’s good to meet a kindred spirit.”

“You’re the only woman,” Jimin observes, then hesitates before he dares to ask, “Are you - ”

She catches on almost immediately and nods. “My clit’s nearly as big as a cock.”

Her crass admission makes Jimin blush, but she only laughs some more.

“I grew up in a little village not far from here. I was, ah, not taken to so well.” She speaks about it easily, but Jimin understands. He knows. “One of the priests had a prophetic dream about me and brought me here a few years ago.”

“You have a priest with prophecy?” Jimin says, amazed. They haven’t had anyone in the Moon Goddess’s temple with the power of prophecy for a long time. He vaguely remembers hearing about someone with prophecy in the Sun God’s temple, but he hadn’t paid much attention to it.

“Jungkook.” She gestures to the priest who’d taken Jimin to his room last night. He stands a ways away from them, but he glances up when they look his way. His gaze meets Jimin’s across the clearing, dark and interested, and he nods with a raise of his wine glass. Jimin flushes and looks away. “It isn’t strong. He sees visions quite rarely.”

“Still. You’re quite blessed.”

“We are.”

“It must have been hard,” Jimin ventures after a moment’s silence, “being found so late.”

“I wish they’d found me earlier,” she agrees. “But I’ve found my place. I’m happy here. Content.”

“I’m glad.”

“It must be much harder for you,” she says with a sympathetic twist of her lips. “With the restrictions on touch and virginity.”

It isn’t like that for the Sun God’s messengers. Sexuality has great precedence in their temple. Jimin has even heard that one of their rituals involves sex, though he knows very little about it. The details of that sort of thing tend to be kept away from him and the handmaidens. For all he knows, it could just be a rumor.

“Sorry,” Heeyeon amends immediately. “That must have sounded disrespectful. The goddess has her reasons for all she does, of course, blessed be her name.”

“Yes,” Jimin murmurs, thinking of little Sohye back at the temple, learning what it means to be the chosen one even though she’s only three years old. “She must.”

The ritual resumes before long. As night nears, the dancing gives way to quieter forms of prayer. The day ends with a massive feast after sunset prepared by the Sun God’s priests. Large pots of rice are brought to join the meat that lines the blankets they spread on the ground. Most of the priests double up on carrying the enormous pots, but Jimin watches Jungkook lift one all by himself, the muscles in his bare arms tensing.

Jimin bypasses the food, still full from earlier, and mingles with Junghwa and Mina for a time before wandering off to the outskirts of the celebration on his own. Dancing is one of his favorite forms of prayer, though he has little opportunity to do it ordinarily. The Sun God’s temple has many rituals that involve dance. It’s invigorating in a way other forms of prayer aren’t, has a way of making his body alive with connection to the gods and the world around him.

The days since Hoseok left have been filled with bitter confusion, regret, and doubt for everything he had begun to hold dear. He no longer wants to be touched, yet he misses touch more than anything. A part of him understands that now that he knows what it’s like, he can’t live without it anymore. He hates Hoseok, but he misses him, too. And now he’s been replaced on account of all his transgressions, proving that he was wrong all along, that he shouldn’t have done all he did.

But something about the Sun God’s temple feels warm, peaceful, like the turmoil within him has been gentled to little more than a murmur. The day’s ritual has only supported the growth of that peace.

Jimin doesn’t feel like worrying anymore.

Jungkook finds him lingering at the edges of the crowd. Somehow Jimin knew he would come for him. He watches him approach carrying two plates of food, the firelight casting a warm glow over his bare skin and red trousers.

“You aren’t eating, Your Holiness,” he says, handing Jimin a plate with a bow.

Jimin takes it obligingly. “Thank you.”

Jungkook stands a few steps away from him, gazing off at the crowd. Jimin finds himself admiring the sharp line of his jaw, the jewels in his ears, his gaze traveling down to the chiseled muscles of his chest and abdomen. He’s bigger than Jimin, taller, too, and Jimin wonders if he could lift him as easily as he’d lifted the giant pot. Wonders, briefly, what it would be like for Jungkook to fuck him.

Jimin snaps his head away, a hot flush rising up his cheeks. For a moment he’s ashamed, appalled at where his mind has taken him, but the feeling fades almost as soon as it comes. It seems as if the temple has muted all his misgivings, even shame. He can’t and won’t try to deny to himself that after months of pleasure with Hoseok, his hand hasn’t been enough to satisfy him. He’s been on edge for a while now.

Jungkook glances at him, perhaps alerted by his movement. Jimin clears his throat uncomfortably. “I, um, heard you have the power of prophecy.”

The way Jungkook rubs the back of his head bashfully is endearing. “Just a bit.”

“Is it burdening?”

“People don’t usually ask that.” He brushes a hand against his jaw thoughtfully, shrugging one shoulder. “It can be. There are things I’ve seen that I don’t understand.”

“I can imagine.”

“And sometimes I see things that require a decision.” He meets Jimin’s eyes when he says it, his own gaze dark and intense. Jimin flushes under the weight of it.

“What kind of decision?” he finds himself asking.

He only stares at him for a few seconds more, but they feel like an eternity, long enough that Jimin squirms under his gaze. Then he glances away. When he speaks, his voice is low, and Jimin takes an unconscious step closer to hear him. “I saw a vision of you and me.”

For some reason, Jimin shivers, a sensation he can’t name pooling in his gut. He stares up at Jungkook, eyes wide with curiosity and perhaps a touch of fear.  “A vision? Of us?”

He nods briefly, though he still does not turn to look at him. Jimin takes another step closer.

“And what happened in this vision?”

Jungkook glances at him out of the corner of his eye. “The summer solstice ritual.”

Jimin furrows his brow. They don’t have a solstice ritual in their temple; the solstice is the realm of the Sun God, but even then Jimin has never heard of such a ritual. “What happens then?”

“You’ve never heard of it?” Jungkook tilts his head curiously. “I thought everyone knew.”

He shuffles his feet, embarrassed at his ignorance, and looks away. “I don’t know it.”

“Jungkook!” someone calls. They turn; it’s Heeyeon, beckoning him across the clearing.

“I’ll speak to you later. Enjoy your night, Your Holiness.” Jungkook bows before backing away. Jimin wonders if he’s imagining it or if the tilt to his lips is rather amused.

“What was that?” Junghwa says slyly in his ear, causing him to jump in surprise.

“Don’t do that!” he exclaims, and she only laughs.

“So? What did he want?”

“Nothing,” he says a touch too defensively. “Just brought me food.”

“I see.” She seems to sense that he’s uncomfortable with the teasing and ceases, turning to face the fire. “You should eat some of that, it’s really good.”

“I’m not hungry,” he murmurs, but he takes a bite out of a warm sweet potato anyway.  “Junghwa,” he asks after a moment, and she hums to show she’s listening. “Do you know anything about a midsummer ritual?”

“I’ve heard of it,” she starts, suddenly excited again. “Isn’t it supposed to be kind of a secret?”

“I’m not sure.”

“It’s some sort of sexual ceremony, I think.”

Jimin stares at her, the curious feeling pooling in his gut again. “Oh.”

So that’s where the rumors came from. To him it seems almost unfathomable that a deity would look upon sex as an act of worship when for him it has always been the biggest taboo. What he’s done has turned the goddess away from forever, but here in the Sun God’s temple what he’s done is part of the norm. Part of what’s expected.

“I’m going to get more food,” Junghwa mutters, wandering off in the opposite direction. She looks back on her way to sternly order, “Eat.”

He plays mindlessly with his food, gazing into the massive bonfire, wondering if it’s possible to see visions in the flames. Jungkook has the power of prophecy. For him to have seen a vision of them engaged in a sex ritual - he shivers, entranced by the flames, unable to look away. He fancies that he can see what Jungkook saw in the fire, Jungkook’s strong back as he bends over Jimin’s smaller body, arched in the throes of passion.

If fate is prewritten, then prophecies always come to fruition. Jimin tears his gaze away from the flames and meets Jungkook’s across the clearing - again, as if it were fate. A hot flush spreads across his cheeks, burns through his chest, as he understands the look in Jungkook’s eyes. He wants to fuck him.

They start clearing up the food soon enough as the citizens return to the city by foot or on horses. Jimin helps as much as he can, distracted and wanting nothing more than to escape to his room where he can think in silence. He finds his chance when most of the clearing has been restored to its ordinary neatness, and no one seems to be searching for him. Hands clenching his delicate robes, he holds them above his feet so he can step quickly back toward the temple.

“Your Holiness.”

Of course, it can’t be that easy. Jimin turns, breath catching in his throat. He can’t look at him without thinking of it, and Jungkook looks like he knows that. “It’s not midsummer,” Jimin blurts.

The corner of Jungkook’s mouth curls up, his eyes twinkling. “Does it matter?”

Jimin stares at him, heart thudding painfully in his chest. “Do you know what you’re asking?” he demands. “You’re asking for me to betray the goddess’s will.”

“That’s debatable.”

“Debatable?” Jimin says, flustered. Not again , he thinks. Not again. Everyone always thinks it’s more complicated than it is. Before Hoseok, Jimin had always seen it as so simple.

“I’ll wait by the back exit of the temple at midnight,” Jungkook murmurs, his gaze as hot as a touch. “The door out is down the hallway outside your room. If you want, you can meet me there.”

Jimin’s fingers tighten where they clutch his robe.

“Think about it,” Jungkook says, then turns away, leaving him flustered and confused.

 

 

Does it matter ? Jungkook had asked, and sitting there staring into the fire that flickers in the grate of his borrowed bedroom, Jimin realizes it doesn’t.

He’s not the goddess’s chosen anymore. She’s left him for what he’s done. His mistakes have already been made; he’s already lost everything. It doesn’t matter anymore, what he does or doesn’t do, not really. Yuna had asked him to learn what his heart wanted; he thinks he’s known for a long time that remaining untouched is no longer what he wants. And Jimin wants so badly to erase the ghost of Hoseok’s touch on his skin, wants so badly to purge him from his body - wants to be someone Hoseok doesn’t know.

Everything he knows about sex is because of Hoseok. Everything he’s discovered and learned has been controlled by him. Jimin wants to know himself outside of what Hoseok has made him to be. It’s not that he wants to replace Hoseok with someone else, rather that he wants to grow beyond him, to find pleasure that isn’t due to Hoseok alone. To prove to himself that he can, perhaps.

He wonders if deciding nothing matters since he’s ruined everything already is counterintuitive, tossing himself down a slippery slope that’ll only make things worse. He wonders if it’s strange that he’s willing to trust a stranger so soon it when it took him so long, so much agonizing and doubting and regretting, to trust Hoseok. It doesn’t feel strange. The muted contentment that’s settled upon him remains even now.

It feels - dare he say it - right .

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it’s fate. That it’s prophesied. It never occurs to Jimin to wonder if Jungkook’s lying. Perhaps it would be smart to wonder, but he doesn’t. Doesn’t question it.

Quite some time has passed since he seated himself in front of the fire, still dressed in the pretty yellow robe from the ritual. It must be nearly midnight, though he doesn’t dare peek out the window to check - not yet. When Jimin struggles with a decision, he prays. That’s what he’s always done. Somehow it doesn’t feel like the best idea to pray to the goddess when she’s angry with him, especially when he wants to ask if he should do what angered her to begin with all over again.

So he prays to the Sun God instead.

By the time he’s done, his feet carry him over to the window unbidden. He was right. It’s midnight. Before he can doubt for another second, he tugs a cloak over his shoulders and heads for the door.

The hallway is thankfully empty, though with the hood pulled tight over his face, no one would recognize him anyway. He steps quietly on bare feet to the back door, which he pulls open slowly so as not to make any noise. Slipping outside, he blinks to adjust to the darkness and closes the door behind him.

Jungkook isn’t waiting there. For a brief, panicked second, he wonders if Jungkook changed his mind.

Then a voice says, “Your Holiness.”

Jimin spins, nearly tripping over his own feet. Jungkook leans against the wall of the temple, changed out of his crimson trousers into a pair of less ostentatious ones and a loose, white shirt with a dipping neckline. Looking at him makes Jimin’s stomach flutter with nervousness for the first time since he made his decision.

“Jungkook.” He straightens his shoulders, trying not to let his sudden nervousness show.

“I thought you wouldn’t come.”

“You foresaw it.”

“Not everything foretold comes to be.” He pushes off the wall, stepping toward him until they’re only half a foot apart. “You know that.”

“You know what happens if we’re caught, right?”

“We won’t be caught.”

“But if we are.”

“None of my people would tell. Would yours?”

He’s almost offended at the suggestion that one of the handmaidens would betray him like that. “Of course not.”

Jungkook tugs one of the torches lighting the doorway from a bracket on the wall. Then he turns to Jimin. “Come on,” he says, holding his free hand out for him to take.

Jimin looks down at his hand, then up at his face, lit by the torchlight. He doesn’t look hesitant, but he doesn’t look forceful, either. If he were to change his mind right there, he thinks Jungkook would understand. Would nod and wish him good night.

Jimin reaches out to rest his hand in Jungkook’s.

Jungkook’s face transforms with a sweet smile, his fingers tightening around Jimin’s, and Jimin’s heart flutters with the feeling of finally touching someone again. Threading their fingers together, he lets Jungkook pull him along as he starts to walk away from the temple.

“Where are we going?” he asks a little distantly, distracted by the feeling of Jungkook’s thumb rubbing circles into his skin.

“The ceremony takes place in a cave not far from here.”

“A cave?”

“For privacy.”

“Ceremonies aren’t usually private,” Jimin says wryly, and Jungkook glances back at him to grin. It’s a cheeky grin, and it only endears Jimin to him further.

“This one usually happens in front of an audience,” he admits, and Jimin finds himself flushing at the thought of it. Imagines, briefly, getting fucked before the awed eyes of strangers.

“It isn’t the summer solstice. This isn’t an actual ritual. Are we going to follow the rules anyway?”

“Some of them. If you’d like.”

“How do you know your vision wasn’t of the future, if it was midsummer?”

“It wasn’t.” They’re walking away from the city, toward open land and hills that surround it. The Sun God’s temple is built at the very edge of the city, so it isn’t a far walk before the city limits are passed. “It was the midsummer ritual, but it wasn’t midsummer.” Jungkook shrugs. “And anyway, you’d never be here during the summer solstice, would you? So it must have been now.”

“Have you - ” Jimin clears his throat. “Have you done it before? The ritual?”

“Not exactly.”

“You don’t even know me,” Jimin murmurs, glancing down at their intertwined hands. “Did one vision influence you so?”

“I know you,” Jungkook protests, turning to look at him as they walk. “I remember you from the last time you came to our temple.”

“That hardly counts.”

“It counts. I remember watching you dance. You were beautiful.”

Jimin stares at him wordlessly before glancing away, a strange lump in his throat. He’d missed feeling wanted.

Jungkook guides Jimin down a path he seems familiar with, and they go in silence, Jimin’s belly churning with anticipation and nervousness. There is something comforting in Jungkook’s presence next to him. Even thought he doesn’t know Jungkook, his heart trusts him.

They reach the mouth of the cave, a yawning blackness greeting them, and Jimin swallows, eyes finding their way back to Jungkook. The priest leads Jimin into the cave with a confidence that Jimin finds reassuring. The flames from the torchlight flicker against the walls of the cave, casting ominous shadows as they wind through, slightly hunched forward.

Jungkook never lets go of his hand, squeezing tighter when the cave’s walls begin to expand, and then they find themselves standing inside a vast cavern, the light from the torch barely revealing the depths of it.

Jimin can see some familiar markings to the Sun God, can see that the walls are decorated in the traditional golds and yellows and reds. Jungkook tugs him just slightly, wordlessly guiding him toward the wall next to their exit. There he dips his torch down, the flame touching a strip of liquid that has been left pooled in the ground.

It ignites immediately, and with a crackling hiss, the entire cavern is lit in seconds, fire licking its way along the strip of oil. The strip ends at the other side of the cave’s entrance, and Jimin stares, awed, at the vastness of where he stands. It’s as though the mountain has been hollowed out entirely, seats carved into the sides for the audience Jungkook spoke of earlier.

Everything glimmers in gold. Jimin’s hand slips out of Jungkook’s hold as he steps closer to the middle, entering the ring of fire that now encloses them. At the center lies a raised platform, a stone slab made completely of black marble, flecks of gold and grey glimmering throughout. Symbols of the Sun God decorate the sides in real gold, perfectly carved into the black marble. Jewels sparkle at the base, red rubies so large Jimin can hardly believe the size of them. They’re cut into perfect circles.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Jungkook asks, breaking Jimin’s awed transfixation with the cave. He turns to look at Jungkook, finds him walking closer, arms wrapping around Jimin’s waist as he holds him, back to chest.

Jimin’s heart pounds against his ribs, nodding his head. Jungkook’s breath ghosts over the back of his neck, a kiss so soft he barely feels it pressed against the nape.

“Don’t be nervous,” Jungkook whispers, carefully pulling away and taking Jimin’s hand in his once more. He walks Jimin to the platform, up three raised steps all engraved with jewels and prayers to the Sun God.

He has Jimin stand on a golden circle, the rays of the sun glimmering in waves around it, and moves toward a crate Jimin hadn’t even noticed. Jungkook unlatches it, opening the lid, and pulls out incense followed by a few jars and a jeweled box.

He hums something under his breath as he works, sending Jimin smiles every time their eyes meet. Jimin watches as he travels along the curved path created by the ring of fire, a circle carved in gold embedded into the ground about a meter inwards from it. He lights incense in seven bowls laid into the ground equidistant from each other, the scent of amber wafting into every corner of the chamber.

“Normally, the other priests would be doing this,” Jungkook explains, “but it’s just us. You’ll have to forgive me.”

“No,” Jimin says, unable to keep his eyes off of Jungkook, “I understand.”

As Jungkook completes his first task, lighting the last of the incense in the seventh bowl, he stands directly across from Jimin in the circle, their eyes meeting over the dais. Jimin dislikes that he has look down to see him, but Jungkook rises to his full height, arms extending to the cavern’s ceiling. Jungkook completes his prayer to the Sun God, eyes slipping shut.

Jimin’s breath catches in his throat, Jungkook a sight to behold as his body stretches upward. It’s not like Jimin hasn’t noticed Jungkook’s attractiveness, enthralled by the bulk of his muscle. Where Hoseok had been lithe, Jungkook is fuller, bigger, thicker.

Upon finishing the prayer, Jungkook fixes his attention on Jimin, a smile on his face, but his eyes have grown darker. There is an intensity there that sits like a weight upon Jimin’s chest, his breath lodging in his throat. Jungkook walks forward, crouching when he makes it to the platform. When he stands upright once more, he has an unlit torch in hand.

Jimin hadn’t noticed the long staffs lying next to the platform but Jungkook grabs all four, carrying them to the four corners of the platform’s base and lighting one at each corner. Jungkook finishes behind Jimin, the ghost of his presence sending shivers down Jimin’s spine.

“Almost done, love,” Jungkook tells him as he returns to his box. The endearment catches him off guard, his cheeks heating. Only Hoseok ever gave him such affection.

Jimin stares openly at Jungkook’s profile as he sets two jars down on the platform. Jungkook is handsome, his nose prominent, cheekbones shark and jaw sharper. His eyes, however, are large and soft, trusting.

Jimin’s heart races in his chest, gaze flickering away. He notices the straps of leather then, tied at three different points on the platform. It quickly clicks what they’re for and his stomach clenches, at once nervous and thrilled. Would Jungkook be tying him to the dais? Was that part of the ritual?

He finds his voice doesn’t want to come out, almost scared to break the silence that has befallen them, the crackle of fire echoing in the cavern. Jimin sucks in a breath, wondering if he should undress. Surely he’d need to be naked for the ritual.

Jungkook clears his throat, drawing Jimin’s attention back to him. He walks up to him, a hand coming to cradle Jimin’s face. “You okay?”

Jimin nods, jerky and short, his fingers curling around Jungkook’s wrist. His skin is as warm, comfortable.

“You still want to do this?” Jungkook asks, eyes searching.

“Yes,”  Jimin answers without hesitation. His skin tingles as Jungkook’s hand drags down his neck, pushing his cloak away. It slides off Jimin’s shoulders easily, crumpling to the floor and leaves him in nothing but the thin yellow robes he’d worn earlier. He nearly shivers under Jungkook’s gaze, allows him to trail his fingers down the length of Jimin’s body until he undoes Jimin’s robe, revealing his bare skin.

“Even my vision could not capture how beautiful you are, Jimin,” Jungkook whispers, leaning forward to press a kiss just under Jimin’s jaw. Jimin flushes under the praise, pleased, heartbeat thudding in his ears. “We’ll need to get you up on the dais.”

“Okay.”

Jungkook removes Jimin’s robe slowly, two fingers lifting the fabric and pushing it back inch by inch. Jimin catches his lip in his teeth, feels the wetness between his folds at Jungkook’s deliberate drag. When he leans in, breath ghosting over the shell of Jimin’s ear, Jimin lets out a quiet gasp, hands reaching up to fist into Jungkook’s shirt.

“Your Goddess has truly blessed you,” Jungkook says, kissing Jimin just under his ear. He finally slips Jimin’s robes off, and they join his cloak on the floor, Jimin left naked save for his jewelry. His hands caress Jimin’s body with the same deliberate care, travelling lower and lower until warmth sinks into Jimin’s belly, one of Jungkook’s hands hovering just above his pelvis.

Jungkook’s gaze meets his, thumb stroking over the jut of his hip bone. “The ritual is normally done after taking a stimulant of sorts, but we don’t have to take it if you don’t want to.”

“A stimulant?”

“Some of the priests call it an aphrodisiac,” Jungkook explains, carefully watching Jimin for any reaction.

“Oh,” he replies, letting the information sink in. Of course Jimin has heard of aphrodisiacs, has heard the whispers about the Sun God’s temple. It doesn’t bother him, so he nods despite the heat in his cheeks. “Okay, we can take it.”

Jungkook cocks an eyebrow at him but his smile is pleased. “You’re up for everything, aren’t you little bird?”

“Were you expecting me to be scared?” Jimin asks, leaning forward. Despite the abundant fire in the cave, his nakedness leaves him cold. Jungkook seems to realise, tugging Jimin in closer to himself.

“I’m a little surprised, yes,” Jungkook murmurs, eyes falling to Jimin’s mouth. A hand cups his ass, squeezing the flesh tightly, sparks shooting up Jimin’s spine. His cunt throbs at the attention. “But I find your spirit thrilling.”

Jungkook closes the distance between them, kissing Jimin sweetly. It’s teasing, barely anything, and Jimin whines the second Jungkook pulls back, smirking. “Such a pretty dove,” he murmurs, hoisting Jimin up easily.

He grips Jimin by the thighs, pull him in flush to himself as he turns them around so that Jimin can be placed on the dais. The stone is cold, goosebumps raising against Jimin’s skin as he’s set down, legs on either side of Jungkook.

“What,” Jimin asks, arms wrapping around Jungkook’s shoulders. “What else do you do in the ritual?”

“Mmm, well, the offering is always tied down and blindfolded,” Jungkook answers, tugging Jimin closer. He can feel Jungkook’s cock against his cunt, arousal throbbing through him, the thin material of Jungkook’s trousers hiding little.

“Is that all?” Jimin asks, purposefully wiggling even closer to Jungkook. Their breath mingles and Jungkook’s smirk grows.

“The ritual is usually done in front of an audience, and it isn’t just one priest who fucks you.” Jungkook bears his weight forward as he explains further to Jimin, hips grinding against Jimin’s waiting cunt. “Alas, today we will have to make do with just me.”

Jimin’s breath catches in his throat, a hand bracing himself on the platform as Jungkook continues to push him, his back arching. Jungkook presses kisses down the line of his throat, slow and leisurely, fingers grazing over Jimin’s hardened nipples.

“Such a pretty little dove, aren’t you, Your Holiness?” Jungkook whispers against his skin, his eyes meeting Jimin’s from where he has lowered himself, his mouth sucking a bruise against Jimin’s belly. Jimin quivers under the attention, hand winding into Jungkook’s hair.

“Do you always tease your sacrifices so?” Jimin’s voice comes out all breathy, heat blooming in his cheeks.

“Only when they are mine to feast on alone,” Jungkook grins, rising to his feet. He leans over Jimin purposefully, grabbing one of the jars. Jimin watches him unscrew the lid, Jungkook dipping a finger in.

It’s some kind of viscous liquid, the colour of honey and just as fragrant. Jungkook brings his finger to Jimin’s lips, Jimin taking it in readily. He sucks it between his lips, tongue swirling around the digit, eyes meeting Jungkook’s. Jimin pussy clenches, eager to be filled, Jungkook’s eyes darkening impossibly.

Before Jimin can swallow, Jungkook surges forward and kisses him, licks into Jimin’s gasping mouth hungrily, the aphrodisiac pushed back and forth between their mouths as Jungkook kisses him. Jimin’s mind goes hazy as Jungkook has him swallow, pouring the liquid straight into his mouth this time.

Jungkook then dips two fingers into the jar, smearing the liquid over Jimin’s nipples. He licks the mess clean, sucking against Jimin’s aroused buds until it has Jimin tossing his head back, breathless with his arousal.

Jimin whines into the touch, his folds getting wetter and wetter. He’s sure he could easily slip two fingers into himself, but he wants Jungkook’s cock, wants the stretch of fullness only a cock can bring.

He finds himself tugging on Jungkook’s locks, body jolting when Jungkook bites down on one of his nipples, a sharp gasp leaving him as his back arches into Jungkook’s mouth, his tongue soothing the sting.

“Impatient?” Jungkook smirks as he looks up at Jimin, the pupils of his eyes already dilated. Jimin can feel the heat sinking into his cheeks and washing down his neck and maybe he is. He’s missed being touched, feeling wanted. Mostly, however, he’s missed feeling filled, being used.

“What does it feel like when it takes effect, the aphrodisiac?” Jimin asks instead, eyes slipping shut as Jungkook kisses his way up from his chest and up his neck, mouth wet and greedy as it devours Jimin’s skin. Jungkook stands between Jimin’s spread legs once more, their eyes meeting as Jungkook’s hand fists into the back of Jimin’s head, yanking it back until there is a strain in Jimin’s neck from the pull.

“It heightens all your senses,” Jungkook murmurs, his free hand dragging down Jimin’s abdomen until it reaches his cunt. He teases at Jimin’s clit as if to make his point, touch there and then gone, drawing a shudder from Jimin as he whines, body tingling. Jungkook’s smile is playful, tinged with something dark as he leans down and sucks against Jimin’s clavicle, nose digging into Jimin’s skin as his mouth travels along the length of his neck, teeth pulling on the dangling earring in Jimin’s lobe. “Your pleasure will feel more intense, your mind hazy, as if you’re floating.”

Jimin nods, finds himself dragging his hands down Jungkook’s torso until he finds the hem of his shirt, hand slipping underneath. Jungkook’s physique is hard muscle, the ridges of his abdomen smooth under Jimin’s fingers as he trails his hand upward.

Jungkook finds Jimin’s mouth once more, their tongues brushing against each other filthily, Jungkook’s fervor almost too much for Jimin. He finds himself just slightly overwhelmed but he enjoys it, enjoys the way Jungkook kisses him like he’ll devour him. Jimin can’t help but wonder how thorough he’ll be when he fucks him.

“When,” he starts, breathless, “when are you going to fuck me?”

Jungkook lets out a groan, biting against Jimin’s plush bottom lip before pulling away, his eyes cloudier then even before. “So you are impatient,” he grins, kissing Jimin’s swollen lips once more. “There’s no need to be shy, Your Holiness.”

He drawls the words out, grabbing Jimin’s hand from where he has it pressed flat against Jungkook’s abdomen and guiding it lower, Jungkook’s hips rolling into Jimin’s palm. Jimin’s cunt throbs, clenching around nothing, as he whines, hand rubbing against Jungkook’s hardened cock. To his embarrassment, Jimin thinks his mouth actually waters, Jungkook’s thickness making his mind go blank.

“Come on, little dove,” Jungkook breathes, pulling away from Jimin. He’s wound Jimin up to his satisfaction apparently, the smirk on his lips wide and proud. “Let’s get started.”

Jimin’s heart skips a beat, nodding as he allows Jungkook to manhandle him. He ends up on his hands and knees, embarrassment coloring his cheeks as Jungkook lets out an appreciative hum, hand trailing down the line of his spine until it smooths over the curve of his ass.

“How has anyone managed to keep their hands to themselves when you look like this, love?” Jungkook asks, fingers slipping down between Jimin’s ass cheeks. He whines at the touch, feels himself getting wetter, head ducking. He doesn’t expect Jungkook to drag his fingers through his folds, a pathetic moan escaping him as he pushes back into the touch, but Jungkook doesn’t indulge him, snickering instead.

“So desperate already,” Jungkook murmurs, giving his ass a spank. Jimin jerks forward, gasping, humiliation sitting like a hot coal in his belly. “Can’t wait to see what you’re like when there’s an actual cock inside you.”

Jimin flushes at his words, feels like his whole body is on fire, desperate to be touched. Jungkook hadn’t lied when he said Jimin’s senses would feel heightened. His skin tingles everywhere Jungkook spares him a touch, hands trailing down Jimin’s thighs and calves until they reach his ankle. He’s pulled back, a leather strap pulled over his ankle. He repeats the action with Jimin’s other leg, moving around to the front when he seems satisfied.

“Wrists together, pretty bird,” Jungkook instructs, taking Jimin’s proffered hands. He pulls Jimin’s arms forward to the last stirrup, binding his hands in place with the strap of leather. “How do you feel? Is everything comfortable?”

Jimin finds himself with his ass up in the air, legs spread apart so that his ass and cunt are on easy display. His weight rests on his knees and calves, body tugged forward so that he’s forced to bow his head, the rest of his weight resting on his elbows and forearms. It’s not the comfort of a bed, but he doesn’t find that he minds. There is something thrilling in being tied up and bound, left to Jungkook’s mercy.

“It’s okay,” Jimin answers, glancing up at Jungkook. He imagines his knees will hurt after this but then, he it would not be a sacrifice to the gods if he were to only receive pleasure.

“Did I bind you too tightly anywhere?” Jungkook asks, stepping toward his chest. He returns to Jimin with a crimson ribbon, the sheen of which tells Jimin it’s silk.

“No, it’s comfortable,” Jimin replies, licking his lips.

“If it ever hurts or feels uncomfortable, tell me,” Jungkook instructs, running the silk ribbon through his hands. He watches Jimin like a wolf, his gaze burning through Jimin until he’s incapable of holding it, head dropping. The flush in his cheeks will have no respite tonight.

Jungkook pets his hair, slipping the ribbon around his eyes. The silk is smooth and feels as luxurious as Jimin expects, his breath hitching when Jungkook ties the ribbon to the back of his head. He’s left in the darkness, the smell of amber filling his senses even stronger now.

“Are you always so obedient, Your Holiness?” Jungkook whispers against the shell of Jimin’s ear. He shivers, flinching at Jungkook’s sudden closeness. It earns him a chuckle, Jungkook’s feet padding away from him. The crackle of the fire around them suddenly seems that much louder, Jimin’s skin yearning to be touched.

With his sight gone, Jimin’s ears strain to pick up on what’s going on around him. Jungkook’s footsteps have silenced and Jimin wants desperately to know where he has stopped. If they had an actual audience, Jimin thinks he would have burned to a crisp from the weight of his humiliation, acutely aware of how he has been displayed, easy for the taking. Jimin can’t even squeeze his legs together to stop Jungkook from seeing his wet pussy.

Big hands curling around Jimin’s ankles, Jungkook humming under his breath as his fingers dance upwards along Jimin’s legs. The touch leaves his skin singing, Jimin catching his bottom lip between his teeth. He’s not sure if it’s the lack of vision or the aphrodisiac that has him feeling every touch with such intensity.

“Even your cunt is so pretty, love,” Jungkook compliments, his hands spreading Jimin’s ass apart. A cool blow of air falls on his pussy and Jimin clenches around nothing, a needy whine escaping him. He just wants Jungkook to touch him.

A thumb rubs between his folds easily, Jimin’s back curving downward, body sighing into the touch. Jungkook’s thumb grazes his clit every now and then, a brief spark of pleasure igniting up Jimin’s spine.

“Please,” he pleads, needing more and Jimin expects Jungkook to continue his teasing, but instead his breath catches in his throat when Jungkook’s tongue laps at his wet pussy, the flat of his tongue dragging up the length of his folds.

“O-oh.” Jimin’s voice comes out breathy, mouth hanging open as Jungkook traces his folds with the tip of his tongue. It feels better than anything has before, a sure effect of the aphrodisiac as Jimin finds himself arching into the touch.

“Such an eager little dove,” Jungkook murmurs, hands smoothing over Jimin’s back and then sliding down his sides to squeeze at his slim waist before running over his ass. Jungkook kneads at the fat, hot breath ghosting over Jimin’s leaking pussy. Big hands grip him around the thighs, Jungkook’s nose digging into the cleft of his ass as he laps at Jimin’s cunt, tongue playing with his pussy to his leisure.

Jimin whines at the touch, eyes squeezing shut. It’s not enough, Jungkook’s tongue licking over his folds. He wants more, a sense of emptiness nearly driving him crazy. Goddess, he’s missed feeling like this.

“Jun - Jungkook,” he moans, unconsciously pushing his ass back into Jungkook’s mouth. He gets a slap to his ass for his impatience, the tip of Jungkook’s tongue teasing his clit simultaneously. The touch sends a jolt through his body, as though he’d never been touched there before. His pussy feels even wetter, Jimin embarrassed by how easily he arouses, how greedily he wants.

Jungkook’s mouth wanders away from his clit, tongue pushing into him and he moans, eager to be filled, back arching down, ass pushing up into the air, perfectly bowed. His body yields to the intrusion easily, Jimin’s mouth hung open as he gets fucked, slow and steady. Jungkook moans against him, vibrations almost too much sensation and he whines, his bound hands curling into fists.

The leather straps keep Jimin fixed in place, restricting his movement so much so that Jimin feels like nothing more than a doll for Jungkook to use as he pleases. Arousal burns hotly through him at the realisation, teeth catching his lip to hold off on his embarrassing cries. The wet sound of Jungkook’s tongue thrusting into him is loud enough in the cave.

“Got such a tight little cunt, love,” Jungkook hums, kissing Jimin’s pussy until his mouth travels farther up, tongue teasing his clit after leaving another kiss there. Jungkook’s nose digs into his pussy and Jimin nearly fucks himself on it. “I can’t wait to be inside you.”

“Then fuck me,” Jimin huffs petulantly, but his voice comes out pleading, unhappy to be empty once more.

“Impatience doesn’t suit you, Your Holiness,” Jungkook admonishes, pinching Jimin’s thigh in punishment. He lets out a cry at the spark of pain but finds himself still so desperate to come.

“I’m - I’m sorry,” he apologises, ready to beg Jungkook for any kind of mercy.

His apology seems to please Jungkook as he licks at Jimin’s clit, building a gentle pressure that has Jimin’s voice catching in the back of his throat. Jungkook’s touch is insistent, mouth sucking over Jimin’s clit as his tongue flicks it repeatedly, over and over. Hands spread his cunt further apart, a finger slipping inside of Jimin easily, joined by a second soon after when the first meets little resistance.

He should feel ashamed of his own body’s eagerness to be defiled but he finds his mind going hazy, his thoughts singularly focused on his release.

“Jungkook,” he gasps, nails digging into his palms as Jungkook’s fingers fuck into him harder and faster, with a sort of relentlessness that builds and builds. His mouth sucks against Jimin’s clit, equally persistent, and the doubled attention is too much, pleasure building until Jimin’s belly and thighs tense, a moan louder than any other falling from his lips hoarsely. His orgasm burns through him, pleasure throbbing through his body in tandem with his heartbeat, all his senses overridden.

Jungkook’s mouth is still hot against his clit, licking it purposefully just to hear Jimin whine as he flinches away from the touch. His orgasm pulses through him, body wanting to collapse but his restraints don’t allow him such comfort.

“Jungkook,” he whimpers, attempting to curl away from the priest as he adds a third finger inside him. The stretch burns, not unpleasantly, the feeling of being used and filled so thrilling.

“Yes, little bird?” Jungkook hums the words out, nose slipping between Jimin’s folds as he rubs it against Jimin’s entrance.

“Please,” he begs, unsure of what exactly he wants: for Jungkook to pull away or for him to fuck Jimin in earnest.

“Please what?” Jungkook teases, thrusting his fingers into Jimin harshly, a cut off gasp echoing through the cave. Jimin’s ears burn with shame. “If you have no suggestions, then you’ll have to be patient.”

The heat of Jungkook’s body suddenly leaves Jimin, and with his vision taken from him, Jimin feels the loss even more acutely, whining.

“Have you...have you ever been taken here?” Jungkook asks, his voice slow, deliberate, a finger dragging over Jimin’s puckered hole. Jimin’s eyes widen, breath hitching in his chest.

“N-no,” he answers, swallowing around the anticipation that sticks in his throat, growing in size.

Jungkook hums, the fingers keeping Jimin’s cunt full pulling out. “Would you allow me?”

“Yes,” he breathes out, feeling strangely trusting of Jungkook.

A kiss is pressed to his ass, Jungkook’s presence disappearing. Jimin’s left on his own, knees burning from holding his weight up. He shifts just slightly, ears straining to catch any sound of Jungkook’s intentions.

“Ah!” Jimin gasps, spine going rigid as Jungkook pours something cold over his hole. His fingers rub the liquid against his entrance, and Jimin realises from the way the liquid makes his skin tingle that Jungkook is using the aphrodisiac.

Jungkook only hums under his breath, continuing his ministrations, the liquid dribbling down the cleft of Jimin’s ass until its coolness reaches Jimin’s pussy. Jungkook pours more, a hand pulling one of Jimin’s cheeks back and he feels the aphrodisiac pour into his hole, the coldness sending shivers up his spine. Jungkook presses kisses to the bare skin of his ass, murmuring about how pretty Jimin is, how good, and Jimin is so distracted by the sensations and the praise that when one of Jungkook’s fingers prod at his entrance, his hole resisting the intrusion, he jerks to alertness.

The aphrodisiac has left his mind hazy, pleasantly so, but Jimin fights against it as Jungkook pushes his finger past the tight ring of muscle. “This okay, pretty bird?”

Jimin responds with a wet moan, nodding as Jungkook pushes his finger in deeper. His body tightens the further the finger goes and Jungkook rubs a hand up and down Jimin’s spine, his tongue licking at the rim of Jimin’s hole.

“You’re okay, love. I’ve got you,” Jungkook assures and Jimin forces his body to relax, trusting in Jungkook. His cunt throbs, squeezing around nothing as Jimin’s body tingles with arousal. His fingers clutch at the edge of the platform, lip catching between his teeth as Jungkook’s finger pushes in deeper.

It feels foreign, Jungkook’s finger inside him all the way down to the knuckle. Jimin sucks in a breath, focusing on the feeling. The burn of the intrusion is uncomfortable, his body unwilling to yield, but Jimin breathes through it.

Jungkook pulls the finger out just as slowly, the digit dragging against Jimin’s rim before he pushes it back in. Jimin whines through the shallow thrusts, relaxing as he gets used to the strangeness of the feeling.

“Such a good boy,” Jungkook murmurs sweetly, palm rubbing soothingly against Jimin’s ass as he continues pushing in and out of Jimin. “Should have known you'd take it so well.”

Jimin flushes at the praise, head resting on one of his arms as Jungkook adds more of the aphrodisiac, pushing it inside of Jimin as he continues to fuck his finger into him. Jimin loses himself to the sensation, his lack of vision almost a reprieve. He’s not sure he could have handled looking at Jungkook right now.

Jungkook squeezes his waist as he pushes a second finger into Jimin and he can’t keep the groan at bay, rim burning as he’s spread open even wider. Jungkook goes slow, keeps his pace steady, almost lulling as he works Jimin open, long fingers reaching deep into Jimin. It’s like nothing he’s felt before, the stretch and burn beginning to feel pleasant. Jungkook’s quicker to add a third finger, pushing Jimin’s limits. Jimin whines as he’s forced open, breathing shallower as he’s finger fucked.

Arousal burns through him so quickly, Jimin’s cunt throbs with neglect, wetness almost uncomfortable. Jungkook’s fucks into him a little faster, the thickness of his fingers filling some empty ache inside of Jimin.

“Jungkookie,” Jimin whines, drool beginning to slip past his mouth as he pants, body desperate for more. “Jungkookie, please. W-want more.”

“More of what, little bird?” Jungkook asks, always teasing and Jimin wants to snap at him, tell him to fuck him properly, he's so wound up but Jungkook would only drag this out longer. Jimin swallows, licking his mouth as he lets out a pathetic sob, hoping to convince Jungkook to take pity on him.

“Want your,” he breathes, “want your big cock, Jungkookie. Want - want you to f-fuck me with it.”

“Oh, not so shy anymore, huh?” Jungkook grins, his fingers already slowing down. Jimin almost misses them as he pulls them out but he knows something better is coming, mouth wet from his growing appetite. “There’s a good little dove, so eager.”

There’s a sound of something opening, Jimin can’t place it, but before he can ask, Jungkook’s got his cock rubbing against Jimin’s wet folds and he loses all semblance of thought, moaning wantonly.

“O-oh, please Jungkook, w-want it,” Jimin begs shamelessly. He doesn’t care if Jungkook thinks he’s easy, too desperate because he is and he wants a cock spearing him open and filling him up.

Hands grip him by the hips as Jungkook rubs himself between Jimin, heavy cock dragging against Jimin’s cunt before the cockhead drags over Jimin’s rim. “Gods, you’re such a pretty little thing aren’t you? Makes me want to ruin you.”

“Then ruin me,” Jimin rasps out, feeling Jungkook’s cockhead rub against his rim.

Jungkook groans, spanking Jimin’s ass before kneading the fat. “Such a greedy little bird.”

His body tingles, muscles twitching with anticipation as Jungkook’s hands push his cheeks apart, cock pushing past his rim. The burn of the stretch is worse, Jungkook’s cock thicker than his three fingers, but Jimin only moans through it, hands fisted.

“Fuck,” Jungkook breathes out, his length burying further into Jimin and splitting him apart. Jimin’s voice catches in the back of his throat as he attempts to relax around Jungkook’s cock, the air in his lungs sticking to his chest. Jungkook leaves Jimin feeling so full, it’s as if he’s filled something inside of Jimin that he never knew was empty. When Jungkook finally bottoms out, Jimin lets out a guttural groan, Jungkook’s grip on his tips so tight it hurts.

“Jimin,” Jungkook rasps, voice hoarse. “You - you okay?”

And Jimin almost thinks it’s too much, chest heaving as he adjusts to the feeling. “’M g-good.”

Jungkook doesn’t move, hands stroking Jimin’s sides to soothe him and Jimin relaxes, tension easing out of his body. It’s not until Jimin gives a little experimental push back on Jungkook’s cock that Jungkook grips him by the waist again, hands squeezing around him.

“You’re so fucking tight, little dove,” Jungkook breathes out, grinding into Jimin, his cock pulsing heat inside of Jimin. “Made to be fucked, aren’t you?”

Jimin doesn’t have it in him to reply, lost to the arousal burning through him. And just as Jimin grows impatient, Jungkook pulls out, thrusting into Jimin in one quick go. Jimin gasps out loud, the suddenness of the movement jolting him upwards.

“Oh.”

“Wish you could see how well you take me,” Jungkook tells him, thumb rubbing against Jimin’s rim as he begins thrusting into him, pace steady. “Look so good getting fucked, pretty bird. So good on my cock.”

Jimin only whines, pussy dripping with neglect and for the first time he wishes his hands weren’t bound, desperate to touch himself. He tugs against his restraints but they don’t budge. Instead, Jimin lets his head rest against the cool dais, Jungkook fucking into him at his leisure, the wet squelch of his cock driving into Jimin pooling heat in Jimin’s belly. Skin slaps against skin, Jungkook’s pace picking up as Jimin takes him easily, the slide in and out wet with the aphrodisiac. The cavern walls echo Jimin’s whines and moans back to him, arousal eating him alive from the inside out as the embarrassment of what they're doing leaves Jimin entirely.

“So f-full,” Jimin garbles out, mind drifting as nothing but Jungkook pounding into him registers into his consciousness. “Jun - ah !”

Jungkook fucks with abandon, thrusts sharp and fast, and Jimin’s knees ache as they rub against the dias. With every thrust in, Jimin whines and gasps, Jungkook’s name nothing more than a series of broken sounds on Jimin’s lips.

“Fuck, fuck Jimin," Jungkook hisses, leaning down until his pelvis meets Jimin’s ass. When he thrusts in, it feels deeper and Jimin lets out a pitiful mewl, back arching and it feels like too much, body aching to come. He can’t even manage to string the words together to ask Jungkook to touch him, squeezing around him tighter. Jungkook’s palm finds Jimin’s stomach, pushing down on it as he fucks into Jimin. It makes Jimin even more aware of the cock drilling into him.

“So good for me,” Jungkook growls out, his hand dragging down until it finally reaches what Jimin wants touched most. As Jungkook’s fingers meet Jimin’s clit, he lets out a loud wanton moan, eager to show Jungkook how good he’s making him feel. “You going to come for me little bird? Going to come on my cock?”

“Com - coming,” Jimin manages, head nodding, drool slipping past his lips. Jungkook’s hand works over his clit as quickly as he thrusts into Jimin, the doubled sensation driving Jimin over the edge far quicker, catching him nearly off guard. “Jungkook!”

Jimin’s orgasm crashes through him, pleasure building up into a crescendo, so agonizingly sweet that Jimin loses himself in it. Jungkook swears above him, pleasure pulsing through Jimin as his body tightens, his ass squeezing around Jungkook’s cock so tight that Jungkook’s hips stutter, the first splash of cum hitting Jimin’s walls as he's fucked through his orgasm.

Hot cum pours into him and Jimin only sobs, Jungkook’s hand never stilling as it rubs insistently at Jimin’s clit, still fucking him. It’s definitely too much now, Jimin trying to shrink away from the pleasure as it overwhelms him. Jungkook stills above him, chest pressed against Jimin’s back as he catches his breath, cock pulsing in Jimin’s ass. A kiss is pressed to the back of Jimin’s neck, Jungkook’s fingers rubbing between Jimin’s folds. Wetness dribbles out of him, the feeling almost humiliating but Jimin’s not all there, knees aching and body still strung out.

“You okay, Jimin?” Jungkook asks, his voice coming to Jimin like a far away sound.

He manages to nod his head, hoping Jungkook will sense it, see it.

“You did so well,” Jungkook murmurs, littering kisses all over Jimin's neck and shoulders. “Made me feel so good.”

“’M happy,” Jimin manages, whining when Jungkook pulls away from him. He doesn’t want to move, doesn’t want Jungkook to leave him empty. “D-don’t - ”

“What’s wrong, love?” Jungkook presses an open mouthed kiss between his shoulder blades.

“Don’t wanna be empty,” Jimin mumbles, embarrassed at his need. He can’t help how desperately he wants.

“You really were made to take cock,” Jungkook says, and Jimin whines again. “How many cocks do you think you can take, Your Holiness?” He pulls out of Jimin slowly, his cock still hard. Jimin’s got drool falling from his mouth, chin wet. He’s too far gone to think, wishing he could just collapse. His cunt is still pulsing, orgasm throbbing through him, the wetness between his folds beginning to dribble down his thighs. Cum oozes down the cleft of his ass, his now empty hole gaping around nothing.

Jimin hates feeling empty.

“I think you could take three rather easily. All your holes are so greedy.” Jungkook punctuates his conclusion by thrusting two fingers into Jimin’s cunt, the wet squelch filling the vastness of the cave. Jimin whines in humiliation, cheeks already burning from the exertion. “I’ve seen the Sun priestess take three; she enjoys being ruined. Every priest in the temple must have fucked her at least once. I bet you’d like that, getting gangbanged by everyone.” He pushes a third finger in, Jimin gasping as he takes the intrusion. “Wouldn’t you, little dove?”

The idea of taking so much cock sends a jolt through Jimin’s body, the two orgasms Jungkook has given him still not enough. He feels delirious with want. He moans, loud and wanton, hips pushing back against Jungkook’s hand.

Jungkook tsks, pulling his hand away and spanking Jimin’s ass. The slap rings through the cavern, a crisp sting left behind against Jimin’s cheek. He hisses through the pain, incapable of picking his head up from where it touches the cool stone of the dais.

“Still so eager to be filled, hmm?” Jungkook teases, kneading Jimin’s ass and spreading his cheeks apart. It would have rendered Jimin speechless from embarrassment earlier, to be displayed for Jungkook’s enjoyment so easily, but now Jimin only whimpers, head nodding. “Are you not satisfied, little bird?”

“Jungkook,” Jimin pleads, hears the shameless desperation in his own voice. “Jungkookie, please - ”

“You’re not very good at begging, Your Holiness,” Jungkook tells him, tone casual. His touch disappears once more and Jimin lets out a pained cry, a fire burning under his skin, eyes growing wet with tears.

“No, no, no, please Jungkookie - please, I’ll - I’ll be good,” Jimin hurries to assure, but Jungkook only laughs, the sound of him rummaging through the chest meeting Jimin’s ears.

“Of course you’ll be good,” Jungkook murmurs, knuckles raking down Jimin’s side, his touch only multiplying Jimin’s yearning. “What choice do you have? What would your followers say, seeing you like this? Cum dripping out of your ass?”

The humiliation burns up Jimin’s spine, the back of his neck prickling at Jungkook’s words as a hot flash pulses through him. It distracts him enough that when Jimin feels something cool and wet against his used entrance, he only jerks from the whiplash of emotions.

Whatever Jungkook’s pushing into his ass is thinner than his cock, but unyielding. It has none of Jungkook’s cock’s softness, the hardness of it spearing Jimin open until he’s groaning, back arching like that of a cat.

“Have to make sure I keep my little bird filled, right?” Jungkook asks, the object pushed all the way into him. A flared base keeps it from slipping entirely into Jimin, the base fatter than the tip. It stretches him out nicely, leaves Jimin feeling comfortably full, though it doesn’t compare to Jungkook’s cock. He’s not sure anything could.

“If it were up to me, I’d keep you filled up all the time, pretty dove,” Jungkook tells him. “It’s a shame not to use such eager holes.”

Jimin squirms, heat blooming in his cheeks at the words. His cunt craves Jungkook’s cock, the feeling of emptiness not appeased by the stretch in his ass. “Then,” he starts, swallowing, “Then use me. Fuck me, Jungkookie.”

Jungkook curses under his breath, moving away from Jimin again, hands finding the straps around Jimin’s ankles. The leather is undone quickly and Jungkook works around the platform, the blindfold secured around Jimin’s eyes tugged off just as quickly. He expects Jungkook to undo the restraints around his wrists as well but Jungkook leaves them, Jimin daring to open his eyes briefly.

He immediately squeezes them together, the light in the cave stinging his eyes, tears trickling down his cheeks. Jungkook’s feet pad against the floor, and suddenly Jimin finds himself being flipped over, back against the cold stone of the platform.

“Ah!” Jimin gasps, shivering as he tries to curl into himself. Jungkook, of course, denies him as he grabs Jimin by the ankles, yanking his body down the dais until his arms strain against the leather binding his wrists. Jimin feels like a toy for Jungkook to play with, body pliant and willing, eager to please Jungkook.

A thumb rubs at his clit, Jimin’s body jolting at the intense pleasure that rolls through him. The aphrodisiac has rendered him mindless, body so sensitive that Jungkook’s touch is almost painful.

“Look at you,” Jungkook murmurs, rubbing Jimin’s folds, thumb pushing into Jimin's cunt teasingly. “So fucking wet you’ve made a mess of yourself, pretty bird.”

“’S your - your fault,” Jimin throws back, words sticking to his mouth. He blinks his eyes open slowly, adjusting to the harshness of the light in the cave until he can keep his eyes open long enough to take Jungkook in. He’s bare chested, nipples dark against his golden skin, but what catches Jimin’s eyes is the way sweat drips down Jungkook’s face, his eyes alight and ravenous. Jimin whines when he notices the glistening wetness around Jungkook’s mouth, eyes squeezing shut again.

Jungkook looks so good Jimin can hardly stand it, cunt clenching. He wants Jungkook inside of him.

“It’s my fault your cunt is so greedy, Jimin?” Jungkook asks, thrusting a finger into Jimin so quickly, Jimin gasps, back lifting off the platform. “You’ve come twice now, little bird, and still you want more.”

“Don’t care,” Jimin rasps, wrists straining against his bounds. He wants so badly to pull Jungkook down, to kiss him. Tears sting at his eyes, his voice coming out garbled and wet, desperation getting the better of him. “Want - want you to fuck me. Please, please Jungkookie, n-need it.”

“Sssh,” Jungkook hushes, raising himself up onto the dais until he’s settled between Jimin’s legs. He leans down, kisses his way from Jimin’s pussy all the way to his neck, teeth nipping skin and mouth sucking hot kisses as he trails his way up. When he reaches Jimin’s mouth, a hand grips Jimin by the cheeks, Jungkook licking his way into Jimin’s mouth until he’s nothing but a whining mess, the strain in his arms burning. “I’ve got you, pretty bird. I’ll take care of you, promise.”

Jimin only cries, tears slipping past his eyes and Jungkook doesn’t tease for once, lining himself up with Jimin’s cunt before pushing in. The slide in is so satisfying, Jimin loses himself to the sensation, head tipping back, mouth parted. Jungkook’s cock is so thick and hot inside of him, and Jimin feels full beyond comprehension with both his holes used.

Jungkook’s cock buries into him, Jimin’s cunt wet and throbbing as he takes him in, body yielding to the thickness of it. He’s swearing, hair sticking to his forehead, wet with sweat. Jimin’s vision has gone blurry, lungs greedily sucking in air as he tries to get used to the fullness.

“Fuck,” Jungkook groans, eyes slipping shut. “ Fuck .”

Jimin wants him to move, tries to fuck himself down on Jungkook’s cock but his eyes snap open, hands digging into Jimin’s hips immediately, holding him in place.

“You truly are so impatient, Your Holiness,” Jungkook grits out, snapping his hips into Jimin as if to punish him. Jimin mewls, forcing himself to keep his eyes open. He wants to see Jungkook, wants to see the way his arms bulge, how his thick muscle ripples under his skin.

“Don’t - don’t you want to fuck me?” Jimin asks, voice breathy, strained as he tries to get the words out. “Isn’t my c-cunt good enough?”

“Gods,” Jungkook curses, fucking into Jimin, the length of his cock burying into Jimin easily. He’s so wet, Jimin thinks he could easily take two cocks into his cunt right now. The thought buzzes under his skin, so eager to be used and fucked. “You’re too much, pretty bird. So fucking tight for me, so good. Feels so good inside you, fuck.”

Jimin moans at the praise, skin singing with pleasure as Jungkook fucks into him. His cock drags against Jimin’s walls, stretching his cunt around its girth, and Jimin loves it, licking at his lips. Jungkook pounds into him harder, leans down to suck Jimin’s skin into his mouth, teeth dragging over Jimin’s hardened nipples.

When their mouths meet, it’s less of a kiss and more an exchange of breath and spit, Jungkook pushing Jimin’s legs up, angling himself deeper into Jimin. His cockhead drags along the upper walls of Jimin’s cunt, hand coming to rest just above his belly. He pushes down against it, and Jimin sobs, pleasure so overpowering he can hardly keep himself grounded to reality.

“Please,” he slurs, drool slipping past his mouth. Jimin’s so far gone he doesn’t even think he remembers his own name. All he knows is Jungkook’s cock pounding into him so hard it jostles his body up with every stroke in, Jimin’s cunt burning. He feels so full, stretched to his limits and still Jimin wants more.

The pressure builds and builds, Jungkook’s cock dragging against his walls so intensely, arousal thrumming with a vengeance under his skin. Jimin moans, voice stuttering out of him as Jungkook fucks into him, thrusts quick and sharp. Sweat rolls down Jungkook’s neck, Jimin gasping for air, fucked to tears.

It feels like he’s going to burst, pleasure reaching such an overwhelming height that Jimin is almost afraid of the fall, back arching off the dais as his cunt squeezes around Jungkook tighter, his cock squelching with every thrust into Jimin. He grips Jimin’s thighs, manhandles Jimin until he’s bent in half, feet nearly touching the platform above his head as he leverages himself up on his knees to fuck into Jimin’s wet heat.

The new angle leaves Jimin scrambling for air, body forced to take Jungkook’s cock however he willed. Jimin cries as he’s fucked, feels stupid with desire and arousal, eyes rolling into the back of his head as Jungkook growls above him.

“Fuck fuck fuck,” Jungkook curses. “Got the perfect little cunt, don’t you, little dove? Fe - feel so good, fuck.”

Jimin can only cry, hands twisting into the leather binding his arms together. He’s so close . “Ah - ah - ah!”

“Come on, pretty bird,” Jungkook encourages, cock slamming into Jimin’s greey hole, “come for me. Let me feel how - how tight you get.”

Jimin lets out a scream when it comes, orgasm nearly blindsiding him. He comes so hard, his body trembles, convulsing as Jungkook’s cock throbs inside of him, fucking cum into him. They go for a few more strokes, Jimin’s body pulsing as his orgasm washes through him wave after wave, Jungkook’s thrusts erratic as he empties himself inside of Jimin.

He collapses on top of Jimin, arms giving out and Jimin’s so far gone, he barely reacts to Jungkook’s added weight, blackness touching his vision as his body sings with pleasure. Jimin thinks Jungkook’s kissing his neck, but he can’t be sure, consciousness slipping away from him. His cunt throbs around Jungkook’s cock, his hot cum stuffed inside of Jimin’s pussy. He groans at the thought, whining when he tries to move his arms to hold Jungkook.

“One,” Jungkook starts, pushing himself up, “one moment, love.” It takes everything out of Jimin to keep his eyes open, to watch as Jungkook undoes the restraints on his arms. He’s so intoxicatingly handsome that if Jimin had any energy left in him, he’d beg Jungkook to fuck him again.

“So good, pretty bird,” Jungkook praises him, kissing Jimin as he massages Jimin’s wrists. As he lets Jimin’s hands go, Jimin wraps his arms around Jungkook’s shoulders, kissing back with what little strength he has. “Thank you, Jimin.”

Jimin’s not sure what he says back, the black eating away at his vision until he loses himself to it. When he comes to, he can no longer feel the cold of the dais beneath his back. He blinks, eyes sticky with dried tears, and feels something warm and soft between his legs. Pushing himself onto his shaky elbows, he sees Jungkook kneeling between his legs, running a cloth damp with warm water over him. He’s careful when he runs it over Jimin’s cunt, but despite the gentleness Jimin twitches from sensitivity.

“How are you feeling, love?” Jungkook asks, and Jimin hums. He licks his lips, and his voice is hoarse when he tries to answer.

“Sated,” he finally manages, and Jungkook’s answering smile is satisfied.

Jungkook cleans him off carefully, wiping the sweat and cum and aphrodisiac from his skin. He’s laid Jimin down on a makeshift bed, soft and warm with thick blankets of fur. Jimin lies there, dozing off, feeling contentment deep in his bones and something else. Something stronger. There’s a thrum in the air, some sort of energy, and he can’t tell if he’s still feeling the effects of the aphrodisiac or if it’s something more than that.

“Do you feel that?” Jimin murmurs after a time, when Jungkook’s clearing away the remains of their ritual.

“I feel something,” Jungkook says quietly, as if not to disturb the energy in the air.

Jimin closes his eyes. If he strains hard enough, he swears he can hear whispers.

“Perhaps the gods are watching us,” Jungkook says, returning to Jimin’s side. He lies down next to him, pulling Jimin against his chest and kissing his temple sweetly.

It’s strange to think of the gods watching them in a way that isn’t disapproving. Jimin has always felt his goddess’s disapproval when he was with Hoseok, always had that fear hovering at the edge of his mind despite how much he told himself it didn’t matter. But the energy in the cave tonight doesn’t feel disapproving.

It feels almost elated.

“Sleep,” Jungkook whispers, pressing another kiss to Jimin’s cheek. “I’ll wake you when it’s time to leave.”

Jimin doesn’t want to leave. He curls closer to Jungkook and rests his head on his chest, sighing happily. Sleep comes easily.

 

 

Jimin dreams of a storm that doesn’t stop.

He dreams of a river that rises until water overflows from its banks, rising higher and higher until the city’s very streets are flooded. He dreams of people braving the water on boats when it’s higher than the windows of their houses, and he dreams of people drowning.

He sees the temple walls rising high and safe on their hill, the doors boarded shut, and he sees the palace just as strong and closed behind it.

He wakes up with a shuddering gasp, sweat beading on his temples and his heart thudding painfully hard. Jungkook’s arms are wrapped loosely around his waist, and he wakes with him, voice rough with sleep.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, his arms tightening in comfort.

“Had - had a nightmare,” Jimin breathes, eyes fluttering shut again as he realizes it’s over. He’s awake, and the city isn’t flooding.

“What did you see?”

“A great and terrible flood.” Jimin inhales deeply, wills his heart to slow down. Just a dream, he tells himself. Just a dream.

“In our city?”

“Yes. It felt so real.”

Jungkook runs a hand along Jimin’s hair, tugging him securely against his chest. He kisses his forehead soothingly. “I understand. It’s like that when I have my visions. Jarring.”

“Jarring,” Jimin agrees, the perfect word for it. He sighs and takes stock of his surroundings to ground himself, feels the way his body is pleasantly sore, feels Jungkook’s heat against his skin. The strange energy is still alive in the cave, though it seems to have faded in intensity. “Should we be leaving soon?” He cranes his neck for a glimpse of the mouth of the cave.

“We still have some time,” Jungkook murmurs, so Jimin relaxes against him. He still feels groggy, unsettled, but the contentment of the cool, quiet night drives the last vestiges of discomfort away. He turns in Jungkook’s arm so he’s looking at him, their legs tangling together under the blanket.

“Tell me about yourself,” Jimin whispers, playing with the chain around Jungkook’s neck, the symbol of his position. They’re both still mostly naked, though Jimin had carelessly thrown his robe back on during the night. It’s only a scrap of fabric, though, hardly any cover at all.

“What do you want to know?” Jungkook runs his fingers through Jimin’s hair again before resting a hand on his neck.

“Anything.”

He laughs, a low, muted sound. The firelight casts a soft glow upon him, bare skin smooth and pretty. “That’s a wide net.”

“How long have you been at this temple?” Jimin tries.

“Five years. I was still a little new when you last came.”

“Did you come of your own will? Were you chosen?”

“My family succumbed to illness when I was twelve.” Jimin makes a noise of upset, curling closer to Jungkook and winding his arms around his waist. “I lived with an uncle for a few years who didn’t appreciate the burden. As soon as he realized I had the gift of prophecy, he sent me off to the nearest temple.”

“So you did not want to come.”

“I did, actually. I liked the idea of it. And however ill his intentions, I have loved it here.”

Jimin hums, stroking a hand down his arm absently. “Will you stay here long or move on elsewhere?”

“I’d like to work in the palace,” he admits a little shyly. “I want to be a spiritual advisor. Take part in directing palace rituals.”

Jimin blinks at him, half awed and half reluctant. He can’t imagine someone like Jungkook in the palace. Jungkook feels too good for a place like that, too genuine. “That’s a trying position.”

“I know, but I don’t mind. I like a challenge. And I’ve never wanted marriage or children, so the requirements don’t bother me. I’d like to devote my life to the will of the gods.”

“Then I hope you meet only success and good fortune.”

“And you? Do you enjoy your life at the temple?”

Jimin sighs softly. “I do. Lately it’s been harder. Some things have started to get in my way - doubts.”

“Isn’t that always the case? Doubt is inevitable. Especially for people like us.”

“Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” Jimin counters wryly.

Jungkook laughs. “No. I think the more immersed you are, the more you doubt. The laypeople don’t have to confront the questions as closely as we do.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

Jungkook flips onto his back, stretching his arms out with a satisfied grunt. “We should start preparing to head back.”

They help each other dress, all gentle, shy touches. There’s a natural uncertainty between them, but it isn’t uncomfortable. Jimin finds himself feeling content, satisfied. If Jungkook’s smile is anything to go by, then he feels the same.

Jimin understands better now. What happened with Hoseok has changed him permanently; whether that’s for the good or bad is yet to become apparent, but he does understand that he can never go back to who he was. He doesn’t want to. All he can do now is embrace the change and learn himself anew.

It isn’t an easy path he’s chosen, that much is certain. His path has become one of disobeyment. And it isn’t just about the sex - far from it. That isn’t what he really wants.

What he really wants is answers.

He finds himself drawn again and again to things that have been said to him since he began this journey. Hyojung’s words - don’t you think it’s rather strange that the goddess of fertility wants handmaidens who are virgins? No one knows what she wants . Jungkook’s answer when Jimin had said they were betraying the goddess’s will - that’s debatable . The Matron’s suggestion that perhaps Sohye was sent as a warning, not as a replacement. The approving energy that exists in this cave as a result of the ritual.

Jimin wants to know. He wants to learn the truth.

“A prayer before we return?” Jungkook suggests, and Jimin nods.

They stop in the mouth of the cave to pray briefly underneath the night sky.

“Thank you to the gods,” Jungkook says, lips curved teasingly upward, “for bringing us together.”

Jimin finds himself grinning back.

“I’d like it if we could remain friends,” Jungkook suggests on the dark walk back to the temple. “Though we likely won’t see each other before the next combined ritual.”

“I would like that, too,” Jimin murmurs. “Thank you for tonight.”

“And thank you,” Jungkook responds, teasing note in his voice again. They stop by the back door of the temple, hidden in the shadow of the awning.

Jimin arches up to drop a soft kiss against Jungkook’s jaw. “Goodnight, Jungkook.”

“Goodnight, Jimin.”

Chapter Text

Since the night they saw each other on Jimin’s birthday ritual, Youngjin has grown more confident again. Still, he’s never grown so confident as to ask him to accompany him to the palace.

“Well?” he presses, eyebrow raised. Jimin stands before him stiffly, hands clasped tightly behind his back. “I’ve already asked the Matron’s permission. I let her know I have some qualms about the palace’s engagement in ritual to discuss with you, and she was quite understanding.”

Jimin swallows harshly, recognizing that he has no way of extracting himself from the situation. “Yes, Your Highness.”

He follows Youngjin across the grounds to a wing of the palace Jimin has visited a few times for the library. Youngjin seems calm, chats normally on the way, as if he hadn’t done what he did. A sick sense of foreboding fills Jimin’s belly; he glances back at the temple more than once, wonders if he can still turn back.

They end up at the library, and standing outside the folding screen door is the handsome guard who used to stand outside Hoseok’s rooms. Jimin ducks his head out of instinct as he follows Youngjin inside. The guard doesn’t spare him a glance, staring straight ahead like he’s supposed to. Like he always does.

Jimin’s brief relief at seeing their destination to be the very public palace library fades when he realizes no one’s inside, not even the bookkeepers. Youngjin slides the screen door shut behind them and heads inward, weaving among the bookshelves with only a glance back to make sure Jimin’s following.

Pausing in front of a bookshelf, he slips on a pair of gloves and retrieves a large tome from the middle. He carefully sifts through the pages until he stops on one and turns the book to Jimin.

“Read,” he instructs, but when Jimin moves to take the book, he shakes his head. “Don’t touch it. Just read.”

It’s a very old account of a burning. Jimin realizes quickly enough that it’s about a handmaiden. After breaking her vow of chastity and sleeping with a man from the city, his brother informed the Matron. She was burned at the stake on the very grounds of the temple itself. Jimin’s halfway through reading about the way she screamed while her flesh burned when he’s had enough. He turns a glare on Youngjin, taking a step back.

“Why are you showing me this?”

“She was just a handmaiden,” he says, a pitying twist to his mouth. “Imagine what they’d do to you, the chosen one.”

“I haven’t broken my vows.” Jimin’s proud of the way his voice remains hard and steady.

“I know what you’ve done, Your Holiness.” He doesn’t sound the slightest bit frustrated or furious, just calm. That’s the most frightening part. “I know you’ve fucked my brother.”

“I haven’t done anything. Where’s your evidence?”

Youngjin gently places the book back on the shelf before heading for the doorway with a jerk of his head. Jimin follows reluctantly, hands clenched into fists at his sides. There’s another door at the far end of the library, he’s sure of it, in case he needs to make an escape. The prince pulls open the screen door and nods to the guard.

“Jimin, you must recognize Haneul.”

Jimin’s stomach sinks right to his feet. Suddenly he thinks he might not get out of this as easily as he had hoped. But he’d always covered his face - he’d always been careful -

“I can see by your face that you do. Haneul, is it true that His Holiness visited the second prince’s bedroom on multiple occasions?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” the guard says, gaze still fixed resolutely ahead, his form stiff.

“And you believe they were having sex.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

Jimin wants to hiss at Youngjin to stop, that he’s made his point, but he’s frozen, gaping at both of them with his eyes wide and his heart thudding hard enough to hurt.

“And should you be asked to attest to this, you would be willing to do so?”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“Thank you, Haneul.”

Then Youngjin grabs Jimin’s wrist, slides the door shut, and yanks him back into the library. Jimin regains enough presence of mind to tug his arm back with so much force he nearly stumbles into a bookshelf.

“What do you want?” he hisses, glaring at Youngjin with all the fury of a cornered animal. “Are you going to have me killed?”

“I can,” Youngjin acknowledges. “I could have you burned at the stake.”

“But you’re not going to. You want something.”

“I think you know the answer to that.” Youngjin takes a step toward him, his gaze lidded as it traces down his neck.

“Never.”

“Then die,” Youngjin says easily, as if it’s nothing. “Give in or die. It’s your choice.”

He steps in until he’s caging Jimin against the shelf, reaching out to brush his fingers along Jimin’s cheek. Jimin flinches, tensing away from him, but he doesn’t do anymore than that.

“It’s an easy decision,” he murmurs. “I’d fuck you better than him.”

“Fuck you,” Jimin spits, and anger finally slips through Youngjin’s calm demeanor. His hand fists in Jimin’s hair, tugging his head back so harshly tears spring to Jimin’s eyes.

“You have two days,” he says. “If you haven’t come to me by midnight on the second day, I’ll tell everyone.”

He lets him go and strolls off toward the door without sparing him another glance. When Jimin hears the door slide shut, he slides to the ground, a choked sob tearing from his throat. He clutches his head between his hands, struggling to hold himself together. He’s been fragile glass since Hoseok left him, and Youngjin has delivered the last kick to shatter him to pieces.

He’s going to die. Hoseok has abandoned him to his fate, and now he’s going to die.

 

 

The last time all the older girls gathered together like this, it was when one of the handmaidens had gotten pregnant. Jimin had been too young to join them back then, but he remembers passing by the doorway and hearing the low murmur of voices. Remembers knowing something was wrong. Even in his lack of understanding, fear and worry had mingled painfully in his chest.

Tonight, they’re gathered in Jimin’s room. He sits on his bed with his arms wound around his knees, and the girls are everywhere else - on his bed, his chairs, seated on the floor and standing by the doorway. Their expressions are grim. Junghwa’s crying, though she tries desperately to muffle it against her arm. Seolhyun sits by her, rubbing her back, and Mina sits on her other side with a gaze that’s painfully blank. Hyojung and Bora are directly across from Jimin on the bed, their hands intertwined tightly for strength.

“I’m sorry,” Jimin murmurs. “If I hadn’t broken the rules, this wouldn’t have happened.”

They all surge to life with furious energy, but Yuna’s the first to speak. “He’s the one who’s blackmailing you. This is his fault, not yours.”

“There’s nothing we can do, is there?” Mina says, her voice little more than a lost whisper. “He’s the crown prince. There’s nothing we can do to stop him.”

“Don’t say that,” Hyojung snaps. She’s been simmering with anger since he told her. “There’s always something we can do.”

“Then what do you suggest?” Seolhyun snaps back. “Because right now we’re all looking rather dry.”

“He could run away,” Jisoo says, her eyes wide. “He could run away before the two days are up.”

Jimin meets her gaze across the room, a flickering of feeling - fear, mostly - breaking through the numbness that has taken hold since he left the palace. She looks terrified by her own suggestion.

“I’ve been reading,” Hyojung begins slowly, and they all turn their gazes to her. “There are some historical accounts in the vaults of the palace library that I think everyone seems to have forgotten about.”

She hesitates, and the air is heavy with her silence.

“It used to be different,” she finally says, “all of this. I found mention of a priestess who had a lover. Just a tiny, passing mention, but it was spoken of like it was nothing. Like it was ordinary.”

Jimin’s breath freezes inside his chest. They exchange glances between themselves, a slow murmur of confusion spreading across the room.

“And there was another mention in a different text of a handmaiden with a child who still served in the temple.”

“Are you sure these are true accounts?” Mina asks.

“They seem to be. They’re old, ancient, but I think things must have been different once.”

“Are you suggesting provisions on touch and chastity are not the goddess’s will?” Yuna says, soft like she can’t even believe she’s saying it.

“I’m just saying that these rules weren’t always in place. And that history is written, but the goddess’s will passes orally by tradition.”

“And oral traditions are unreliable,” Seolhyun finishes for her.

Hyojung inclines her head in agreement.

“What’s your point then?” Junghwa asks, her eyes still wide and watery.

“My point,” Hyojung says, “is that maybe we need to do some searching and find out who decided these rules. Because I think it might not be her who did.”

“We don’t have time for that,” Bora argues, her fingers tightening around Hyojung’s. “We have two days. Uncovering that kind of truth could take years, and years more to convince a whole kingdom that what we’ve believed for centuries is wrong.”

“So Jimin runs away,” Jisoo repeats, her voice firmer this time. “Jimin runs away, and we find a way to convince everyone he doesn’t deserve to die. When it’s safe, he can come back.”

“Where will I go?” Jimin speaks at last, sounding as tired as he feels. “I have nowhere to go.”

His family would never help him, and anyway that’s the first place everyone would look. He doesn’t know anyone else. He’s never known anything beyond the walls of the temple.

Yuna comes to sit by him, her eyes alight with the fervor of inspiration. She takes his hand in hers. For as long as Jimin can remember, Yuna has never broken a rule. “Go to the goddess’s sanctum. Go to her heart and ask for her help.”

Jimin stares at her, his own eyes widening in wonder at even the thought of it. The heart of the goddess’s power lies in the wilderness to the north, the no-man’s land between their kingdom and the northern one. It’s said that her presence is unbelievably powerful there, that if she allows you to set foot in her sanctum, she will reveal herself without doubt.

“They say the ascetics who live in worship of her there will help anyone who asks,” Junghwa says, wiping tears on the back of her hand. “Perhaps they’ll let you stay for a time.”

“What if she refuses to let me in?” Jimin says. “She’s already replaced me. What makes you think she would reveal herself to me when I’ve never even heard her voice?”

“We don’t know for sure if you’ve been replaced,” Mina says gently.

“If worse comes to worst and you cannot speak to her, you can live with the ascetics. It wouldn’t be a bad life,” Yuna says.

It wouldn’t. It would be a life of peace and solitude and worship. Maybe he’d begin to understand himself and the goddess the way he always thought he did; maybe, so far from everything else, his doubts would no longer surface with such strength. But most importantly, it would be a life.

“You seek her help,” Bora says, “and we’ll do our best to clear your name here.”

The other girls nod their assent. Jimin stares at each of their faces, determined and hopeful and serious, and feels his chest constrict with too much emotion. They’re all so much stronger than him.

“It’s so far,” he whispers, his voice cracking. “How will I get there all alone?”

Suddenly Hyojung gets to her feet, and she’s giving orders left and right, and everyone starts moving, talking, emerging from their despondent stupor. “Bora, there’s a map on my shelf in the bedroom. Mina, fetch the kitchen shears and put on walnut shells to boil. Jisoo, we’ll need a satchel - “

“I have a pair of trousers and a shirt in my closet. They’re inconspicuous,” Junghwa suggests.

“We have a few water canteens in the kitchen,” Yuna offers, heading for the doorway.

“I’ll gather a good stock of herbs,” Seolhyun says.  

Jimin watches them flutter around, the numbness still holding him still, until Hyojung turns to him. “Get up,” she tells him, “we’re going to do this.” The fire in her eyes has turned from fury into hope. “You’re going to do this.”

So Jimin stands, and they begin to prepare.

Mina cuts his hair, shearing the pink locks off into a pile that Junghwa collects to burn in the kitchen. He rinses his hair with hot water she brings him to scrub out as much of the dye as he can, then Bora rubs a paste of walnut shells over what’s left of his hair to darken any remaining pink strands. Meanwhile, Seolhyun, Jisoo, and Yuna begin to pack him a satchel. They fill it with herbs, nuts, a bar of soap, some dried fruits, and flint and steel for fire. They add a small pot and tin cups for cooking on the road, and they fill two canteens with water.

While he sits with the dye in his hair, he pores over the map with the others, tracking a route for him to follow. Getting out of the city won’t be hard; he knows his way well enough. He’ll pass the Sun God’s temple just before he leaves the outskirts of the city, and for a brief moment he considers stopping to ask Jungkook to find him a place to sleep for the night. His heart tells him he can trust him.

But then his heart had told him to trust Hoseok, too, so he abandons the idea as soon as he entertains it.

From there begins the travel northward. They mark villages and towns along the way that he can stop in to replenish his supplies or find an inn for the night if he’s lucky. When it comes to the idea of inns, the girls disappear to their rooms and return with all the coins they can find, pooling them together for him to take. Jimin can’t stop the tears that spill at that. They’ve all been saving what little money they had for so long.

It won’t be an easy journey. The road will be dangerous at times, and though Hyojung procures a knife for him to take with him, he knows he’ll be useless at using it. He knows he won’t really be able to defend himself should something happen. He’ll just have to hope the road is kind to him.

With the map marked and studied, his bag packed and the dye washed out of his hair, Jimin changes into the plain shirt and trousers Junghwa brings him, joined by a pair of old boots he wears to work in the garden. Hyojung finds him a heavy, waterproof cloak that he knows he’ll need the further north he gets, though winter is ending and by the time he reaches the colder parts of the kingdom, they won’t be difficult to traverse.

Then they pray, their hands joined in a circle of meditation, incense lit and herbs scattered around them. Jimin begs the goddess to protect him. Maybe he doesn’t deserve it, but he prays that she’ll have mercy on him regardless.

He asks them to say goodbye to the younger girls for him, to take care of little Sohye in his stead. He hugs them one-by-one, holding the tears back until they choke him. Hyojung tells him to be strong. Junghwa tells him he’ll make it. Yuna says she’ll pray to all the gods every night.

With the hood of his cloak tugged over his face and the heavy satchel hanging from his back, Jimin climbs down the vine he used to use to sneak out with Hoseok. He takes one last look at the faces of his sisters in the balcony doorway, at the temple that’s been his only home, then turns his back on everything he’s ever known.

 

 

It takes the rest of the night and all of the following day to make it across the city. He takes the long route, skirting the edges of the city itself, afraid someone might recognize him well enough to see beyond his meager disguise. He only stops to eat once, snacking on fruits and nuts rather than wasting his time cooking. Once he’s far enough away from the palace that the incessant ball of tension in his belly eases up, he’ll stop to rest.

His feet ache despite his sturdy boots, and his shoulders scream with pain from the load of his satchel though they’d packed as minimally as feasible. By noon, he’s fighting the urge to plop down and start crying. He isn’t made for this. He isn’t a traveler. He’s a sheltered little priest, and he’s tired and frightened and all of this is his fault. If only he hadn’t been foolish enough to trust a prince.

But he doesn’t stop walking to cry. He keeps going. Tired as he is, his fear of death spurs him onward.

By nightfall, he draws near the Sun God’s temple. Unlike the Moon Goddess’s, it’s relatively quiet at night. He’s so exhausted he considers again finding a way to seek Jungkook’s help, his inhibitions fading with desperation. He’s fighting the urge, still a ways from the temple grounds, when a shadow steps out from behind a tree, holding a lantern.

Jimin starts, curses himself for not having noticed the light from afar. He’s reaching for the knife at his belt when the stranger tugs his hood off, revealing a familiar tuft of dark hair and big, pretty eyes.

“Jimin,” Jungkook says, and he doesn’t look surprised to see him in the least.

“Jungkook,” he breathes, voice hoarse from exhaustion. Relief has him swaying, but Jungkook grabs him before he can fall, strong arms tight around his waist. “How did you know?”

“I had a vision. Saw you collapsing on the temple grounds.” Jungkook runs his fingers through Jimin’s short, dark hair. “Your hair,” he murmurs. “Tell me what’s happened. Why are you here all alone?”

Jimin clutches Jungkook’s shirt with sudden urgency. “You can’t tell anyone I’m here. Please.”

“I won’t. You can trust me.”

He wants to. How he wants to. But the fear doesn’t ease up, though he makes the decision to nod. “Can you find me a place to stay for the night? I’ll explain after.”

“I’ve already prepared. Will you be able to make it a little further?”

He doesn’t feel like he can, but he has to, so he nods. Jungkook supports him as they bypass the temple grounds to walk further out of the city, toward the hilly land Jimin remembers from his last visit. The ritual cave is their destination, and Jimin finds a fire already lit inside with a pot of soup simmering and a bed made on the ground. If he weren’t so exhausted, so afraid, Jimin thinks he would feel shy and embarrassed to return to the place where Jungkook had fucked him so thoroughly. As it is, he feels only relief. They won’t be bothered here.

Jimin sits gratefully on the makeshift sleeping pallet, finally setting his pack down and rolling his aching shoulders. Jungkook ladles him a bowl of soup and bread, handing it to him and sitting cross-legged before him. He waits patiently as Jimin eats, only speaking to remind him to slow down. Then he refills his bowl for him, which Jimin works through a little slower. Just one day, and he’s already like this. He doesn’t know how he’s going to make it.

When he’s sated at last, he tells Jungkook the story. Jungkook’s silent throughout, though his expressive face does little to mask his reactions.

“The crown prince has such a good reputation,” Jungkook says when he’s done. “I never would have guessed he was so awful.”

Jimin shrugs. He’s never had the luxury of believing Youngjin’s reputation. The prince had always been a tormentor for him.

“Heeyeon has been wondering about that, too,” Jungkook muses, “ever since she came here. She told me she thinks it’s strange that we’re allowed sexual liberty when you all are not, especially considering the Moon Goddess represents fertility as one of her values.”

“Not many are brave enough to question the tradition.”

“Ah, well.” Jungkook smiles wryly. “Heeyeon doesn’t really like following rules.”

Jimin smiles back, soft in the warm glow of the fire. “My sister Hyojung is the same.”

He rinses out his soup bowl with the jug of water Jungkook brought them so he can sprinkle some herbs into it and mix them into a paste. Then he gingerly removes his boots, wincing at the pain, and starts to apply the salve to his blistered soles. Jungkook watches him quietly, chin in hands.

“How are you going to do it?” he murmurs after a while, his eyes soft with pity. “You’re so delicate.”

“I’m not delicate,” Jimin defends.

“You are,” Jungkook insists, though the gentleness with which he says it suggests he means no offense. “The Goddess’s sanctum is so far. How will you make it?”

“I have to,” Jimin mumbles. “I don’t have a choice.”

“You could build a new life somewhere. Leave all of this behind.”

“I have no skill except worship. With what would I build a life?”

“You could be a healer. You know your herbs.”

“Every village has its own healer. No one would trust a stranger.”

Jungkook sighs. “It just seems so impossible. Like you’re risking on your life on something that might not even help you in the end.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Jimin snaps, choking up. He looks away, blinking rapidly.

“I’m sorry.” Jungkook reaches over to intertwine his hand with Jimin’s. “I’m just worried.”

“I know,” Jimin whispers. “Me, too.”

“Maybe I can help. We have a library in the temple. I can enlist Heeyeon, and we can do our own searching. She’s already done a fair bit from the way she talks. If we should find anything, I can contact your sisters.”

“You’d do that? For me?”

“I’ll do my best.” Jungkook pats his knee before pulling away to clean up. “Rest, now. You need sleep.”

“Thank you.”

He wraps his cloak around him and lies down. “Jungkook. You said you had a vision?”

“I did?”

“I thought you didn’t have many of those.”

“I don’t. You must be my lucky charm.” Jungkook flashes him a blinding smile. “That, or the Sun God loves you very much.”

Jimin laughs quietly, his eyes drifting shut at last. If only that should be true.

 

 

The day the bells ring to alert the kingdom of a criminal on the run, Jimin does not dare stop to rest. He eats while he walks, forgoes sleep, walks until his feet bleed and every step makes him flinch. He doesn’t dare go near any of the towns or villages he passes on the way, sticking to the wilderness. Only when he’s about to collapse from exhaustion does he finally make camp, but even then he’s on edge with fear, too tense to sleep for long. As soon as he wakes, he packs up and keeps walking.

Travelling alone means he has too much time to think. He’s used to spending time with himself because of his meditations, but during those times he clears his mind and thinks only of the goddess. He’d thought he was skilled enough at it to clear his mind under any circumstance, but he finds that when he’s physically exhausted, in pain, hungry and afraid, he cannot find the emptiness that always came so easily to him.

All his thoughts are hopeless, bitter and despondent. He thinks of Hoseok often. Thinks of how he must be sleeping somewhere warm and comfortable with his betrothed by his side while Jimin sleeps on rocks. Thinks of how he escaped this with not even the slightest taint on his life, while Jimin’s has been crumbled into nothing. Thinks that if he ever saw him again, he’d kill him.

On the fourth day of travel, he caves and stays at an inn. It’s a seedy place, one he should have been wary of from the start, but the promise of a roof over his head and proper food lure him in. When he wakes that morning, his pouch of coin is gone. The innkeepers are of no assistance, and they throw him out when he grows upset. He cries on the way out of the town for the loss of his greatest security, and for the loss of his sisters’ hard work. Then he stops, for he doesn’t have enough water to waste on tears.

When the fear of being too close to the city abates, he slows his pace and allows himself frequent breaks to regain his energy. As the days pass, his endurance grows, and he lasts longer without breaks. Every day, he makes it a little further than before. Jungkook had added notes to his map that prove abundantly useful. He’s lucky he’s so skilled at gathering, managing to procure enough to cook broths and stews to sustain himself. They’re energizing if not quite filling. He’s lucky he doesn’t run into bandits, either, though he has nothing worth stealing anymore.

He doesn’t feel lucky. He feels miserable.

The cold begins to bite the further north he travels; he finds they had underestimated it. The cloak is warm, but it isn’t enough. He could catch an animal to skin for its fur, but he doesn’t know how to do either of those things. They didn’t eat much meat in the temple, and when they did it was brought to them by the palace. He doesn’t have any money to buy furs. So he endures it, sleeping close by the fire at night and mixing salves for his hands that grow chapped from the cold during the day.

Perhaps inevitably, he grows ill. His nose clogs and his throat swells until it’s difficult to eat. The cold hurts more when his body’s weak, and walking becomes harder and harder until eventually he can’t walk at all. He has the medicinal herbs he needs to treat himself, but with no rest, the illness grows too severe to be helped as the days pass. When he can no longer travel, he makes camp in a clearing in the forest and curls up on the hard, cold ground with his cloak wrapped tight around himself.

He stays there until nightfall, writhing with fever by the fire he barely manages to keep alive, plagued with chills and a rattling cough that tears through his throat and makes his body spasm. He’s hungry, but he’s too weak to cook, and he doubts he could keep anything down anyway. He runs out of water. Lying in the clearing with the full moon shining overhead, Jimin realizes he’s going to die.

The last thing he sees before slipping into unconsciousness is a sleek, white wolf peering at him through the trees.

He wonders if the goddess has come to take his life.


 

One night, curled up together in Hoseok’s bed with a gentle breeze fluttering the curtains on his window, Jimin had asked Hoseok if he ever worried they’d be caught.

“Of course I worry,” Hoseok had murmured, carding his fingers through Jimin’s hair. “But we’re careful.”

“What would we do if they caught us?” Jimin had traced his fingers absently down Hoseok’s bare chest, cheek resting against his warm shoulder. “You’d probably be fine, since you’re a prince and all. I think they’d kill me.”

“Why are you talking about that right now?” Hoseok had muttered into his hair, his arm tightening around his waist. Jimin could feel him tensing against him. “Don’t talk like that.”

“It’s a possibility, isn’t it?”

“I wouldn’t let them kill you.”

“I know you’re a prince,” Jimin had teased, propping himself up on his elbow to look at him, “but I dunno if you’re that powerful.”

Hoseok hadn’t risen to the bait, a troubled frown playing on his lips. He’d reached up and brushed his knuckles down Jimin’s cheek. “I’d do anything to make sure they wouldn’t harm you. Anything.”

Jimin’s gaze had softened. “You would?”

“Isn’t it really my fault you’re in all this anyway? Since I seduced you?” A little of the seriousness had left him, replaced with his usual twinkling mirth.

“Oh, yes,” Jimin had agreed with mock gravity, lying back down. “I had absolutely nothing to do with it. This is all your fault.”

Hoseok kissed the side of his head. “I wouldn’t let them kill you. You know that, right?”

Jimin had smiled into his skin, even though he knew it wasn’t that simple. Hoseok was only the second prince, after all. “I know.”

 

 

Jimin’s warm.

He’s warm and there’s a weight atop his body. His lids feel to heavy to open, so for a while he lets himself lie there, almost comfortable, as he regains slow awareness of his body. He wiggles his fingers then his toes, shifting slightly and twitching his lips. As sensation returns, he finds that his body aches horribly, like he’s been run over by a carriage and two horses. Everything hurts, and when he groans, his throat burns too.

With difficulty, he forces his eyes open. They feel sticky, and for a moment everything’s blurry. Then a ceiling comes into focus, wooden and lit as if by a warm glow. He’s draped in a thick, furry blanket. He’s confused. He wonders if he’s dead and this is some sort of afterlife.

Shifting, Jimin pushes the heavy blanket off his body. He’s dressed in unfamiliar clothing, loose and warm, and his feet and the cuts he’d sustained from a fall are all bandaged. Slowly, he pushes himself onto his side and sits up, letting his feet dangle off the bed. He’s in someone’s bedroom, tiny and cozy with a fire in the pit at the center of the room. It’s sparsely decorated, bare save for the bed and a heavy trunk in the corner.

He’s alive, he decides, wiggling his fingers. Someone’s saved him, and he’s alive. As he inspects his surroundings, something dark slinks out from behind the trunk. It’s a small black cat with glowing eyes who settles on its haunches a few feet away to watch him. Rubbing the gunk out of his eyes, he pushes himself onto his feet and takes a step toward the door.

The wave of dizziness has him falling before he’s halfway there.

He doesn’t hit the floor as expected. Instead, he hits something warm and malleable that makes an annoyed oof when he does.

“Careful,” the someone says, setting him straight and leading him back to the bed. “You think you’re invincible or something? No walking yet.”

Jimin sits down and looks up at the man he assumes to be his savior. He has an accent, one Jimin recognizes as part of the northern kingdom, though he hadn’t thought he was near enough the border to meet any of their people yet. The man’s small and slender like him, dressed in black with sturdy boots and dark hair pushed back from his face. There’s a lazy droop to his eyes and a slightly annoyed pout to his pretty, pink mouth.

“Where am I?” Jimin asks. It takes him three tries to get the words out, voice hoarse from disuse.

“Not dead, if that’s what you were wondering,” he says dryly. “Thanks to me.”

Before Jimin can inquire any further, the man disappears back through the doorway. He returns with a mug of broth and a cup of water, the latter of which he hands to him first. Jimin tries to take it, but his hands are too weak to hold the cup steady. The man presses it to his lips for him instead. Once he starts drinking, he doesn’t want to stop, his mouth parched and hurting, but the man forces him to take only small sips before pulling the cup away.

“Thank you,” Jimin manages to say. The man sits next to him on the bed and has him drink the broth next. It’s embarrassing to be fed like a child, but Jimin isn’t fool enough to protest.

The little black cat jumps onto the bed to rest its head in Jimin’s lap. The man snaps at it to leave him alone, but it doesn’t move an inch. Jimin finds its presence comforting, curling a hand through its soft fur. Only after Jimin has finished the water and broth does the man finally speak.

“Yoongi,” he offers. “My name’s Yoongi.”

Jimin hesitates, wondering if it’s unsafe to reveal his name. But he’s so far at the edge of the kingdom - does it even matter here? Yoongi catches onto his hesitation.

“I already know who you are.” He raises a brow. “You don’t have to lie.”

Jimin tenses immediately, his fingers tightening in the cat's fur until it raises its head to yowl in protest. He lets go with a start. Yoongi reaches out to place a calming hand on his knee, and the tilt of his head makes his racing heart slow back down.

"You're safe here," he promises.

"You knew who I am but you still - " He glances at Yoongi's hand on his knee, even though there's a layer of clothing in between. Noticing his discomfort, Yoongi removes it. "It's forbidden to touch me."

Yoongi snorts. "So what was I supposed to do, let you die?" He stands, taking the empty dishes with him. "Anyway, you're on the run for disobeying that particular rule, aren't you?"

"That's a long story."

"You don't have to tell it." His words are short, but the look in his eyes is gentle, like he doesn't want him to be uncomfortable. He leaves and returns with a roll of bandages and a small wooden bowl of salve. "It's been a few days since I changed your bandages."

Jimin's eyes widen. "A few... days? How long have I been unconscious?"

"Three days. You woke a few times, but you weren't lucid. You had a nasty fever." Yoongi kneels before him to unwrap the bandages around his feet and replace them with the new ones he lines with salve first. "And no wonder. What were you thinking, traveling with a measly cloak like that? You didn't even have a pair of gloves."

"I didn't know it would be so cold," Jimin says quietly, regret flooding over him like a wave with the knowledge that he could have died if it weren't for Yoongi. He might have died because of his own stupidity. "I didn't - didn't have much time to prepare."

Yoongi checks the cuts on his arms, too, and deems them healed enough to forgo bandaging again. Jimin watches as he wipes his hands and checks the fire, the flames casting flickering shadows across his face.

"Are you a healer?"

Yoongi glances at him, a lock of hair falling over his forehead. He looks vaguely amused, like he can't imagine why Jimin would think that, or like the idea of being a healer is somehow absurd to him. "I'm a Hand of the Reaper."

Jimin can't halt the widening of his eyes or the way his lips part in a surprised oh . Now his assumption feels absurd to him, too. He's quite the opposite of a healer. "We're on a cemetery?"

Yoongi nods. He jerks his head toward the curtained window beside the bed, and Jimin leans over to lift the edge of the dark cloth. The land outside is rough, rocky with tufts of weeds and trees still mostly bare of leaves, though Jimin had thought winter would be over by now. Stone grave markers emerge from the ground in scattered places, their curling scythe heads looking ominous in the already bleak environment.

Every human has a relationship with death, but the Moon Goddess is so concerned with life that Jimin has never lingered near the world of the Reaper for long. He wonders what it's like understanding death with the clarity Yoongi must, wonders what it's like living all alone with only the souls of the dead to shepherd.

"How did you know who I was?"

"You ask an awful lot of questions," Yoongi says, but he answers anyway. "I can sense it - sense your soul touched by the goddess. And with the news of your running away, I put two-and-two together."

"I didn't realize the news had spread so far north already."

Yoongi shrugs one shoulder. "These things spread quicker than you think. Especially when the bells start ringing."

"You won't turn me in?" he says, his voice small, even though Yoongi had said he was safe.

"I won't," he responds firmly, getting to his feet and heading for the door. "You should rest. You're still weak. Later, we can see if you're up for a walk. The fresh air will do you good."

Jimin nods. "Thank you," he says, though he knows the depth of his gratitude can't be measured by those words alone. But Yoongi merely acknowledges it with a tilt of his head and slips out of the room, calling for the cat, who refuses to follow.

When Jimin curls back up in bed, the cat tucks against his side. He falls back asleep in moments.

 

 

The cat's name, Jimin learns, is Dawon, and she's a prickly little thing who seems to like Jimin more than she likes Yoongi. Though he can't quite figure out what she is, he can tell she isn't a normal cat. There's something otherwordly about her. She isn't Yoongi's only companion; he has a large rook that likes to sit on his shoulder, too. Jimin meets the rook when he leaves Yoongi's bedroom and finds the sleek black bird settled on one of the wooden rafters, watching him.

He meets the wolf when Yoongi takes him on the promised walk.

He calls her Nuni, and Jimin recognizes her immediately as the white wolf he’d seen before he’d fallen unconscious lying in the woods. Yoongi must be blessed greatly by the goddess to have company of her most favored form. When Jimin had seen the wolf through his darkening vision, he'd thought the goddess had sent her to kill him. He finds comfort now in believing she had sent her to save him instead.

Perhaps her anger with him isn't as final as he had thought.

Northern land is so different than what Jimin's used to; the grass is dry and dull, the plants are hard and thorny and rather intimidating to look at. They must be to survive in this harsh weather; he can't imagine how much harder it is even further north than they are. Yoongi seems to find it amusing that he finds the weather so dramatic. "This is nothing," he says, "it hardly even snows around here."

Jimin steps gingerly through the graveyard behind Yoongi, watching as he pauses to straighten grave markers or tug out weeds. In Jimin's city, graves are decorated with brightly colored flowers. Here, it seems like herbs are the fashion. Jimin catches sight of mint, sage, and thyme among others. Once he realizes Yoongi's picking a smattering of herbs for the basket dangling from his wrist, Jimin starts to help. It feels nice being useful; traveling had made him feel so out of his element, so incompetent, that he'd forgotten he had any skill at all.

He limps a bit, his feet still sore, but Yoongi keeps his pace slow so he can follow along. The fresh air does feel nice, returning the color to his cheeks and easing the sick, dizzy feeling inside of him. Still, he tires before long, and Yoongi walks him back to his cottage. It's a pretty, tiny thing made of stone and wood with creeping flowers along the walls and herbs hanging to dry from the windowsill.

Perhaps he should be more wary, but Jimin feels safe. He thinks he wouldn't mind staying here for a little while, resting, building up his energy before he continues on his journey. There's still a ways to go, and more than that, Jimin worries about the trip back home - if there'll even be one at all.

"How long have you lived here?" Jimin asks while Yoongi prepares him another bowl of broth, this time stirring in some more vegetables for sustenance. He sits at the tiny table in his little kitchen-cum-sitting room, the only other part of the house besides the bedroom, and prepares bundles of herbs for drying while Yoongi cooks.

"Not long." He stirs the pot over the fire, ladling Jimin a healthy bowlful before joining him at the table. "Someone else had charge of this land before me. I found it by chance. The town nearby was looking for a Hand to take over when the last one died."

"I thought the Reaper's blessing runs in families."

"It does," Yoongi acknowledges, taking the bundle of oregano from Jimin's hands and pushing the bowl toward him. He stares at him sternly until Jimin starts to drink, then turns back to his work. "My family's dead."

Jimin starts, frowning at him. "I'm sorry."

"Border skirmishes destroyed the land we presided over. I had to find somewhere new to take charge of."

"That must have been hard. Are we far from your old home?"

"A fair bit. In case you hadn't noticed by my accent, I'm not from this kingdom."

"I thought so."

Yoongi ties the last bundle of herbs and heads to window to dangle them outside with the others. When he returns, he dusts off his hands and leans back in his chair, looking at Jimin expectantly. "You've asked quite a few questions. I think it's only fair that you answer a few of mine, little priestess."

Jimin frowns into his bowl, setting it down gingerly. "You said I didn't have to tell the story if I didn't want to."

"You don't have to tell me that story. But you ought to tell me something."

He crosses his arms over his chest, leaning back in his chair to mimic Yoongi's pose. "What do you want to know?"

"Your destination. Where are you going that you've ventured so far from your home?"

“Why do you want to know that?” Jimin says. His heart tells him to trust Yoongi like it had told him to trust Jungkook, but still his mind presses for caution.

“I want to know if it’s even possible for you to get there.” He pauses, shaking his head in disbelief. “To be honest, I don’t know how you made it this far. You’re clearly not used to the road.”

Jimin bristles. He can tell Yoongi doesn’t mean to offend, but still his words sting. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know if it’s wise to tell you where I’m going.”

“I promised you I wouldn’t tell.”

“But how do I know your word is true?”

“If I planned to turn you in, I would have done it already.”

“You could be waiting for me to leave. Have them waiting at my destination.”

“I wouldn’t do that.”

“How do I know that?” Jimin whispers, staring into his murky bowl of broth. He wishes he could trust him. He wishes he could trust anyone.

When Jimin looks back up, there’s a curiously sad tilt to Yoongi’s mouth. “You would have struck me as trusting,” he murmurs. “You must have been hurt very badly.”

Jimin swallows through a throat suddenly tight with emotion.

“There’s something else I’m curious about. You don’t have to answer, but may I ask?”

Jimin nods hesitantly. “You may.”

“The palace’s announcement says you broke your vows of touch and virginity. I would have expected there to be a witch hunt for whoever else was involved, too. It seems like a deliberate omission that they mentioned no one but you.”

“You want to know who?”

“I’m just curious,” he says honestly. “It must have been someone important if they won’t say who. I don’t like that. I want to know what they’re hiding.” At Jimin’s silence, he ventures, “Was it the crown prince?”

Jimin laughs bitterly. “Haven’t you heard? He’s the one who exposed me.” He pushes his bowl away, appetite lost, and stares at his hands. They’re trembling the slightest bit. “It was the second prince.”

Yoongi’s fingers tighten around the knife until they turn white. “Hoseok?” he breathes, and it’s the way he says it, the shocked, tender familiarity, that makes Jimin look up.

Yoongi looks as if he’s seen a ghost.

“Do you know him?” he asks, then it dawns on him. Yoongi. It’s a common enough name, enough that he hadn’t thought anything of it. But he’s Yoongi, and he’s of the northern kingdoms, and he’s a Hand of the Reaper, and of course - of course. Jimin should have known. “Oh,” he breathes, eyes wide. “You’re Yoongi . His Yoongi.”

Yoongi winces, glancing away. “Well,” he mutters, “not his Yoongi anymore.”

Jimin falters, his stomach swirling with a sudden, strange sense of embarrassed wrong . He never would have expected to meet the man Hoseok had loved. What a strange, strange twist of fate.

Yoongi looks back at him, his gaze shuttered, guarded. “Were you in love or were you just fucking?”

Jimin flushes at the blunt phrasing. He’s at first offended, then he wonders if Yoongi’s only asking because he wants to know how much to hurt. Because it would hurt more if they were in love. “We were - we were just - ” He clears his throat. His eyes sting. He’s acknowledged and accepted it a hundred times over, but it still hurts when he says, “Just fucking.”

Yoongi’s gaze softens, flickering all over Jimin’s face like he’s seeing him for the first time. When he speaks, it’s gentler. “But you loved him. It’s written all over your face.”

It’s too much, talking about him again when he’s spent so long doing everything he can to hate him, to forget him. He inhales deeply. Hardens himself. “It doesn’t matter. He left me.”

“Left you?”

The words come out in a rush, laced with bitter despondency. “He tricked me into fucking him, then he left me to get married. Left me to die for what we did while he escapes without so much as a stain on his reputation.”

Yoongi stares at him, and he’s guarded again. “He did that?” he says quietly, and Jimin can’t gauge a reaction from his tone.

“The betrothal was being prepared for weeks while we knew each other. He was ready to leave me. He was - ” Jimin chokes on the words, can’t hold back the tears anymore. He stands abruptly. “I’m sorry. I’m tired. I’m going to rest now.”

He stumbles back to Yoongi’s room, dashing at his eyes and forcing himself to inhale shuddering breaths. He was supposed to be done crying over Hoseok. He was supposed to have nothing but anger left.

He must have been good to Yoongi. He must have been so good to him since he’d loved him back. Jimin’s just unlucky, unlovable. Hoseok mustn’t have cared what happened to him, since he’d never managed to love him.

He wouldn’t have left him if he’d loved him back.

 

 

Yoongi has a gruff, quiet way of taking care of him. Jimin's eager to be useful, both because idleness breeds despondency and because of the debt he owes Yoongi for saving his life and keeping him in his home. He helps in the cemetery and with cooking their meals and any other duties he can set himself to; at least these tasks he knows very well how to do. But he's still weak, and he tires himself out easily. Yoongi has taken to nudging him out of the way or pulling things out of his hands as a sign that he ought to go rest.

They don't mention Hoseok again, not until Yoongi brings him up a few days later. Jimin looks at Yoongi with new eyes now that he knows. He and Hoseok are so different, but he can see how they would match well with each other - blunt, prickly Yoongi and bright, loud Hoseok. He thinks they must have been beautiful together, like the melting colors of the sky when night and day meet.

They're sitting quietly around the fire in Yoongi's bedroom, Nuni lying languidly by the window and Dawon curled on Jimin's lap. Dawon has taken quite the liking to him, though Yoongi swears she's vicious to everyone else. Nuni, on the other hand, won't even look at him. That's put a damper on his comfort regarding the goddess.

Yoongi leans back against the foot of his bed, working at a square of wood with a little carving knife, when he suddenly asks, "Did you see him? Before he left."

Jimin glances up from where he's shredding the leaves off a bundle of cilantro. Shifts uncomfortably, remembers the last time they were together and the broken promise after that. "No. He was - he was supposed to watch my birthday ritual. He wasn't there."

"And then you found out he was gone."

"Yes."

"So he never told you about the betrothal. You found out through others."

Jimin nods warily. "Why are you asking all this?"

Yoongi chips away at the wood with a hint of frustration, swearing when he makes what looks like an unintentional cut. Sighing himself free of tension, he looks up at Jimin. "The Hoseok I knew wouldn't do something like that. To anyone."

Jimin scowls down at Dawon. "It's been a while since you knew him," he mutters. "Maybe he's not the Hoseok you used to know."

"Perhaps," Yoongi acknowledges quietly, but Jimin can tell by the look on his face that he doesn't believe it.

"Anyway, he didn't love me, and he didn't know I loved him," Jimin says, gazing absently into the fire as his annoyance cools. "It must not have mattered to him."

"Still. Even if he didn't, if he really did what he did, it was awful." Yoongi shakes his head. "But he wouldn't do that. He wouldn't."

Jimin wants to cry again, and he hates it. He's tired of crying over Hoseok. He puts the cilantro into the basket, wipes his hands, and curls around Dawon for comfort. The cat blinks at him sleepily. "Well, he did." His voice breaks despite how hard he tries to hold it steady.

Yoongi's quiet for a long moment while Jimin collects himself. Then he asks, "Did he ever tell you about his mother?"

"The queen?"

Yoongi shakes his head. "He didn't, then."

"Tell me what?" Jimin mutters, frustrated again, hating that Yoongi knows what Jimin doesn't. Hates the reminder again of how little he had mattered to Hoseok in the end.

"He's a bastard."

Jimin's gaze flickers to Yoongi in shock.

"His mother was a concubine. She died giving birth to him. For whatever reason, certainly not out of the goodness of his own heart, the king decided to keep Hoseok. He made the queen lie and pretend he was hers."

He gapes at Yoongi, surprise rendering him frozen and stuttering. "But - but the whole kingdom thinks - no one knows ?"

"No one, not even the fools at court. Aside from the king and queen, only the first prince knows."

"Youngjin knows," Jimin breathes, and suddenly things start to click into place.

"The queen hates him, of course. Youngjin's older, but they've always been afraid that Hoseok will usurp his claim to the throne one day. Kill him in his sleep, declare him unfit to rule. The people love Hoseok as much as they love Youngjin. More, even."

"Is that why they sent him away to study?"

Yoongi nods. "The queen wanted him out. He wouldn't have ever returned if his father hadn't made him come back. She and the first prince must not have been happy about that."

Jimin thinks of how troubled Hoseok had always looked when he came from the palace, thinks of the simmering discontent that always lay under the surface of his carefully constructed mask. The queen and Youngjin must have been quite cruel to him. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Things aren't always as they seem. That's all I'm saying." He shrugs one shoulder as if it doesn't matter to him either way, but the pout of his mouth begs for Jimin to understand. "I know it must have hurt. You must hate him. But I just don't think Hoseok could be so cruel."

He doesn't want to believe him. He doesn't want to entertain a false hope that there's more to it, that maybe Hoseok hadn't left him after all, not when he's spent so long forcing himself to hate him. Forcing himself to come to terms with his betrayal and Jimin's own foolishness.

"Whatever it was," Jimin says firmly, picking the cilantro and knife back up to resume his work. "It doesn't matter anymore. He's probably married by now."

Yoongi stares at him for another moment before nodding and returning to his carving. They’re quiet for a time, and it isn’t a comfortable silence. Jimin still feels on edge, his heart thudding and his palms sweaty. He doesn’t like it. He wants their camaraderie back.

“May I ask you something?” Jimin ventures.

“You just did,” Yoongi says, hint of teasing returned to his tone. Jimin’s lips quirk up.

“You understand better than most what it’s like to devote your life to the gods,” Jimin starts. He hesitates, the movements of his hands slow as he considers his words carefully. “Do you think little of me for breaking my vows?”

Yoongi picks at the wood with a furrowed brow for a long moment before he answers. “I think that your vows are between you and the goddess, and that what I think doesn’t matter.”

“Oh.” It’s a strangely comforting answer. “Do you ever regret your position? Wish you had a different life?”

“That’s a heavy question, little priestess.”

Jimin flushes. “You don’t have to answer it.”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t.” He sets his carving down and wraps his arms around his knees. Dawon slips off Jimin’s lap and pads over to Yoongi, rubbing against his side. “I suppose we all have regrets, don’t we? That’s part of being human.”

“Yes. I suppose.”

“And it doesn’t help that the world makes our devotion much more complicated than it needs to be. I think things could be simpler.”

“How do you mean?”

“There are so many rules.” He shakes his head with a rueful laugh. “Easier for me than you. I’m all alone. I can break them sometimes.”

Jimin blinks at him, engrossed in their conversation enough that the herbs hang loosely from his fingers. “You don’t mind breaking rules?”

He shrugs. “In the long run, how much does it matter if I burned the sandalwood at a send-off for a half hour instead of a whole?”

“My sister said - she said she thinks the goddess has better things to worry about than whether someone touches my hand.”

“And maybe she’s right.”

“But what if she’s wrong?” Jimin murmurs, voicing the question that has plagued him since the beginning. “What if you’re all wrong and it does matter? The half hour squandered means the soul doesn’t make it to the afterlife. Someone touches my hand and a life of devotion crumbles to dust.”

“Did you think about that before you broke your vows?”

Jimin flinches.

“I think about that before I squander the half hour, too. Of course I do.” Yoongi sighs, fiddling absently with the carving, lashes casting shadows on his skin. “There’s no way to know, is there? And we’re only human. It’s hard to always do as you’re told.”

“That’s what discipline is for.”

“It is,” he agrees. “But you have to understand your motivations before you can be truly disciplined. You have to know what you want.”

“I thought I knew I wanted. I thought I was disciplined, and then I wasn’t.”

“You must not have known yourself after all.”

“Yes.” Jimin wrings his fingers in his lap. “That’s what I realized.”

“It takes a lifetime, I think.” Yoongi’s gaze finally flickers to Jimin, and it burns through him in a way that’s painfully discerning. “Some rules are more beneficial to enforce than others.”

“What do you mean?”

“Our gods and goddesses are not good or pure or merciful. We know this.”

The bluntness of his words makes Jimin wince, even though he knows objectively that Yoongi is right. He finds himself glancing around on instinct, like the gods have an ear pressed to their windows, ready to obliterate them for their disrespect. “I - yes. We do.”

“Your goddess is awfully petty from all the stories they tell. And my god is cruel.”

“Sometimes, yes.”

“Often,” Yoongi corrects wryly. “But their stories hold lessons, don’t they? Reasons for us to be better. To be kind, to be merciful in ways that they are not.”

“Of course.”

“Aren’t those rules important, too, just like your provisions on touch and my ritual send-offs? But no one seems to care quite as much about those.”

“It’s hard to be good,” Jimin murmurs.

“Very hard,” Yoongi agrees. “So we pick and choose what we wish to follow instead.”

“Easier to tell a temple of handmaidens to preserve their virginity than to ask the king to be kind.”

Yoongi barks a laugh. “Ask the king to be kind? Impossible.”

Jimin smiles, his nervous heart calming down at last. “Thank you.”

“For what?” Yoongi snorts. “I gave you no answers. Only more questions.”

“That’s all right,” Jimin says. “I think that’s what I needed.”

 

 

Jimin begins to regain his strength as the days pass, and the pressure of moving on with his journey grows to the unbearable. He pores over his map when Yoongi isn't around, tries to gauge where they are and how much further he has to go. He starts to search for signs of their location while he's out and discovers they aren't far from a river and a little town. Eventually he manages to pinpoint their rough location and estimates about a three days' walk to the goddess's sanctum, much less than he had anticipated.

But after his disastrous experience, he's terrified to be on the road again, even if it is only for three days.

"You're leaving soon," Yoongi says one day while they're out in his garden. Jimin starts, flustered. It isn't a question. "Don't think I haven't noticed you sneaking that map around."

"And you didn't say anything?" Jimin answers, annoyed. He's grown more comfortable with Yoongi over the days, responds to his snark with snark of his own now.

"I'm saying something now, aren't I?"

"Took you long enough," Jimin scowls, annoyed that he'd been hiding for nothing.

"I've started packing a bag for you. So you can be better prepared this time."

"I only had half a night to prepare. We did our best," Jimin huffs. Yoongi shoots him a cheeky grin in response.

"When are you planning on leaving?"

"I'm not sure. A few days, maybe. The full moon will be an auspicious night."

Yoongi looks rather alarmed. "You're not planning on leaving at night, are you?"

"No, I mean the day of."

He breathes an exaggerated sigh of relief. "I was hoping you weren't that stupid."

Jimin swats a spray of dirt in his direction. They work for a bit longer before Jimin ventures a question that he's been thinking about for some time now. It's just that they don't have much time left, and after Jimin leaves he might not ever see Yoongi again. After he leaves, he might not ever get the chance to ask.

"Yoongi," he starts, "can I ask you a question?"

"You say that like you aren't going to ask it anyway."

"I'm serious," he says, exasperated, and waits for Yoongi to stop grinning at himself and nod for him to go ahead. "Can you - can you tell me what Hoseok was like? When you knew him."

Yoongi sobers quickly enough, shooting him a sideways glance. "You sure you want to go there?"

Jimin nods, and the lack of hesitance must convince Yoongi because his expression turns thoughtful.

"He's scared of everything," he starts, a fond smile tugging at his lips. "Everything, I swear it."

"Really?" A hesitant smile picks at the corners of Jimin's mouth, too.

"Really. My family used to have a big dog. Scared the shit out of him every time he came around. Saw a spider once and nearly screamed my ear off."

Jimin's smile widens at the thought of it, handsome, controlled Hoseok falling to pieces because of a spider. Then he fades. He hadn't gotten to see that side of him. How many other sides of Hoseok did he never learn about?

It must be so different to be loved.

“And he was so bright,” Yoongi continues, oblivious to Jimin’s silent turmoil. Or perhaps he doesn’t care - Jimin wonders if he ever feels bitter toward him, jealous like Jimin is of him sometimes. “He had a way of putting on a good face no matter how dismal he was inside.”

“Yes,” Jimin whispers, because he’d known that side of him quite well. He’d only ever known the way Hoseok hid. “He did.”

“He had a temper,” Yoongi says wryly. “Never took much to work him up.”

Jimin smiles quietly.

“But he was… he was a good man. A better one than me. He was empathetic, couldn’t hurt anyone, anything.”

It feels strange to speak of him so positively when he’s done what he’s done. But somehow Jimin doesn’t want Yoongi to stop. He had thought he was a good man, too, before he left him. He had thought he was the best man he knew.

“Do you still love him?”

“In a way,” Yoongi says easily. “I think there’s always a part of you that stays with the people you used to love.”

“I suppose there is,” he considers. There’s a part of him that’s still with Hoseok despite his betrayal. Yoongi’s words make him feel a little less guilty about it.

Yoongi stands with a sigh, dusting off his hands. “Come on.” He jerks his head toward the house. “Let me show you the provisions.”

Jimin wipes his hands on his trousers and follows.

 

 

On the day Jimin prepares to leave, Yoongi tells him to take Nuni with him.

“She doesn’t even like me,” Jimin says with a tinge of confusion, but Yoongi shakes his head.

“She does. You won’t tell me where you’re going, so I can’t help you on your way. I’d feel better if you had her to take care of you.” At Jimin’s skeptical expression, Yoongi presses, “She’ll take care of you. And she’ll know her way home.”

“Fine,” Jimin acquiesces for Yoongi’s sake. “If it’ll make you feel better.”

Yoongi isn’t one for fanfare, so he tries to send him off with a pack full of provisions and a gruff take care of yourself . Jimin’s the one who pulls him into an embrace, growing a little choked up at the thought that he most likely won’t ever see him again.

“Thank you for everything,” Jimin says with a voice that breaks at the end, and Yoongi rubs the back of his neck in that shy way of his. “Will you be very lonely when I’ve gone?”

“I’m used to it,” Yoongi says, but Jimin can see the truth in his gaze.

“I’ll come back,” he decides. “I’ll come back and visit you, I swear it.”

Yoongi just smiles. “You are very kind, little priestess. Your people do not deserve you.”

“I hope we’ll see each other again.”

“If the gods will it,” Yoongi agrees, inclining his head.

Just before Jimin leaves, Yoongi tosses him the little carving he’d been working on every now and then. It’s a wolf, beautiful in its detail.

“Reminded me of you,” he says, and pushes Jimin out the door.

Nuni doesn’t follow; she leads the way, always five feet ahead of him. Sometimes she stops when she gets too far ahead, sitting with her tail flicking back and forth like she’s impatient for him to hurry up. He never hesitates to follow. He can tell she knows the way much better than he does, although her disdain for his slow pace is slightly unnerving. Not to mention it reminds him of Yoongi.

There is little left to his journey, and the furs Yoongi stitched him mean he’s much better prepared for the remainder of the way, although the cold still stings. After spending so many days in Yoongi’s company, traveling feels even lonelier than before. Still, Nuni’s company helps, even if she doesn’t like him.

It takes them two days and three nights before they cross the very last village on their side of the kingdom. Beyond them lies the vale they say is the goddess’s sanctum, and in the mountains even further, the ascetics make their home in worship of her. By noon, he reaches the edge of the vale, and there he stops.

He sits on the slope of a hill downward and gazes at the beauty of the goddess’s land, grass a beautiful green and evergreen trees thick and alive. The land teems with life, birds cawing and treetops rustling and deer slinking in the distance. With Nuni resting on her haunches by his side, Jimin curls his arms around his knees and watches, wondering what’ll happen if the goddess rejects him. If he tries to set foot on her land and she turns him away.

If he isn’t worthy.

In the end, it’s Nuni who spurs him forward, nudging his side until he rises and takes the final steps down the hill.

He passes into the vale without incident. He walks through the grass for some time before he realizes he’s inside, that nothing has happened to suggest he must turn back. Before he can begin to feel elated, he realizes Nuni is gone.

He’s just beginning to regret that she’d left him without so much as a goodbye when he sees her slipping through the evergreen trees toward him. From her mouth dangles a large green leaf. As she nears, he sees the tiny, delicate white flowers growing from the leaf like little stars. She drops the leaf at his feet and tilts her head to look at him, her dark eyes strangely knowing.

Then her jaw snaps, and a voice comes from her, low and powerful.

“Well done,” she says.

She turns away and lopes back where they came from, passing the boundaries of the vale in moments.

 

 

Time seems to pass differently in the vale.

The days are long and the nights are longer. Jimin sleeps like he’s never slept before, wakes to the chirping of birds at dawn feeling rested and refreshed. The vale teems with life, and he’s never short on food, finding bushes and trees of bountiful fruits that shouldn’t grow so far north. Here he feels safe in a way he has never felt anywhere else, not even at the temple, especially after the first prince had started paying attention to him.

In his free time, he meditates.

He hasn’t found the peace he used to seek through meditation in a long time, but in the vale it returns to him. The goddess doesn’t come to meet him like they say, but he feels her presence everywhere - in the moon shining overhead at night, in the abundance of snakes living among the trees, in the very air he breathes. And somewhere during his meditations, he comes to accept that Nuni’s voice must have been her, too.

Jimin came to the sanctum for help, for answers, but he thinks maybe those answers were already inside him. All he needed was reassurance. The confirmation that she hasn’t abandoned him for what he did - and she hasn’t. She allowed him into her most sacred place, told him well done just as the Sun God had. If she still loves him, maybe what he did wasn’t so bad after all.

Or maybe, like Hyojung and Jungkook seem to think, it wasn’t bad at all.

And if that’s the case, then he doesn’t deserve to die. No one deserves to die for breaking vows which the goddess doesn’t even care for. They can’t keep imposing rules that don’t matter, vows that don’t matter, on the handmaidens and little girls like Sohye. If Jimin’s not out of favor with the goddess, Sohye isn’t a replacement. If Sohye isn’t a replacement, she’s the sign of an impending catastrophe, just like Matron said.

Jimin had dreamt of a catastrophe. He’s seen it. Wrapped safely in Jungkook’s arms, he’d convinced himself it was nothing more than a nightmare.

Before coming to the vale, everything had seemed so muddled and complicated, the right path obscured by a fog of doubt and confusion. But now that he’s here, it seems so simple. It must have been so simple all along.

Jimin has always been bound by obligation.

He doesn’t know how many days have passed when he makes his decision, but it feels like many. He feels rested, rejuvenated, as if all the doubt and suffering of the moons since he met Hoseok has been shed from him at last like a snake’s skin. Maybe he shouldn’t have trusted a stranger with his heart so easily, but Jimin doesn’t regret meeting Hoseok anymore. Everything he went through, he needed to truly understand himself and the goddess the way he does now.

The morning he decides to leave, he packs himself a bag of provisions from the plentiful land and studies his map for the route back. Then he says farewell to the beautiful land and the goddess, heads for the edge of the vale, and begins his journey home.

Chapter Text

Two guards standing at the temple entrance, one pacing the parameters, and another underneath Jimin’s balcony.  

It’s quite obvious that he won’t be able to sneak past them.

Not for the first time, Jimin wishes he had Hyojung’s combat skill. She could probably take down the guard by the balcony and sneak her way up without even being noticed; Jimin, on the other hand, doesn’t stand much of a chance. Sighing, he gathers his satchel and leaves the cover of his hiding spot. He didn’t come here to hide; he’d just hoped he could talk to the others first.

The guard who patrols the parameter catches sight of him and approaches, hand on the hilt of his sword. “What’s your business here?”

“I would like for you to call for the Matron and tell her Jimin, Priest of the Moon Goddess, has returned.”

Predictably, the guard starts, eyes widening. He beckons for one of the others to join him, who comes jogging over from the entrance. “You’re under arrest and will be taken immediately to the palace to await sentencing - ”

“Don’t touch me,” Jimin snaps, stepping back when the other guard reaches for him. His vows might not matter anymore, but he’s not about to be manhandled by some royal lackey. “I’m still the goddess’s chosen.”

The reminder is enough for the man to hesitate, so Jimin plunders on.

“I will go with you willingly, but I would like to be brought to the Matron first. I’m under her jurisdiction before anyone else’s. You may notify the palace that you’ve found me, but I want to see the Matron.”

“Our orders are to take you straight to the crown prince should you turn up,” the second guard says. “You can ask him to allow you a visit with the Matron, but we must take you to him first.”

“I will not go until I’ve seen the Matron.”

The guards look just ready to grab him again when someone leaves the temple, perhaps to investigate the commotion. It’s Bora. Her eyes grow wide at the sight of Jimin, and she comes flying right through the guards to fling her arms around him.

“You’re back!” she cries into his shoulder, pulling back to look at him. “You’re back, you look awful, didn’t you find any food to eat? Goddess be thanked, we were so worried - ”

“We’re going to have to take him to the crown prince. Those are our orders,” the guard insists, and Bora spins around to face him.

“As a priest of the goddess he belongs to our temple, and his judgement is to be decided by the Matron before anyone else. These have always been the goddess’s rules, and even His Highness will not bypass them. Come, Jimin,” she says, and marches decidedly toward the temple.

Jimin can tell the guards are hesitating, unwilling to stop Bora lest they anger the goddess in the process. He considers himself lucky; someone of his rank isn’t arrested often, and the low-ranking guards are too fearful of their positions to know exactly what to do.

“You may inform the crown prince that I have returned,” Jimin says, inclines his head, and follows Bora.

The first guard’s a quick thinker. He sends the second after them. “He’ll be keeping watch over you, then, to make sure you don’t leave again. I’ll be off to inform the palace.”

Bora looks like she wants to argue, but Jimin lets it go with a nod. He’d expected worse. He catches up with Bora, leaning in close as they walk inside, the guard a few paces behind them.

“Why the hell did you just march back here like that?” Bora hisses. “You know they want to kill you, right?”

“I know, I’ll explain later - what have I missed?”

“Goddess above, Jimin, it’s nothing but chaos here. I don’t have time to tell you everything, but Hoseok’s back.”

Jimin would have stopped dead in his tracks if Bora hadn’t ushered him on, shock filling his eyes. “He’s what ?”

“He’s back and he confessed to having an affair with you. He told everyone. They’ve put him on house arrest.

“He did what ?” Jimin exclaims, unable to keep the shock from his tone. “But his betrothal - he was gone - ”

The royal family had very deliberately stricken Hoseok’s name from the announcement of Jimin’s transgressions, unwilling to bring embarrassment to their own name. For Hoseok to return and tell everyone -

“Jimin!” He’s barely registered the voice before he gets an armful of Hyojung. He hugs her back, shoulders sagging with relief. He’s home at last. Nothing’s all right, but he’s home. “Why did you come back - ”

“Tell me,” Jimin interrupts, “have you been trying? To convince everyone?”

She glances at the guard then nods. “We’ve been trying. So have the Sun God’s priests.”

Jimin nods. “Can you take me to Matron please? I’ll explain everything later.”

They head upstairs, and it’s strange being back after so long. Everything’s the same, as if he never left, but he feels like it shouldn’t be. Like it should be different, just like him. Hyojung knocks on Matron’s door and offers a simple, “Jimin’s back.”

Jimin prepares himself for the worst, but when Matron opens the door, there’s something akin to relief in her gaze. She takes one look at the guard and says, “Please wait outside. Come in, Jimin. Hyojung, you may enter as well. Bora, you’ll have work to do.”

Bora looks sullen to be dismissed, but she nods and walks away. The guard is less easily shaken. “I’m to be guarding him until the crown prince’s further orders.”

“You may guard him from outside the door.” With that, Matron ushers them inside and decidedly shuts the door behind her.

Before Matron can say another word, Jimin bows, drops to his knees, and starts digging through his bag. He speaks at a rapidfire pace. “Matron, I’m very sorry for everything but I’ve been to the goddess’s sanctum where only the worthy may enter. I have proof that I’ve been there; here is the flower the legends say grows only on her land. She spoke to me in the form of a wolf and told me well done .” He stands, and Matron takes the flower from him to peer at it carefully. “I know everyone believes what I’ve done is wrong, but I haven’t lost favor with the goddess because of it and I think that means I haven’t done anything wrong. I’d like to plead for my case.”

“Sit down, Jimin,” Matron says. “And take a deep breath. You’ve travelled a long way.”

He’s too keyed up to sit down. He sinks gingerly into the chair Hyojung pulls forward for him, then sighs a little. The last time he sat in a chair was at Yoongi’s house.

“I’m sure you’re aware that the handmaidens have been pleading your case already with Hyojung in the lead.”

Jimin glances at Hyojung. Her face remains impassive. “Yes, Matron.”

“At their weekly orations, the Sun God’s chosen has been telling the people about the different history she seems to have discovered. Our girls have been speaking to anyone who cares to listen. By now, word has spread all throughout the city.”

Jimin swallows. Waits.

“Some of the historical accounts discovered by the Sun God’s temple name a spurned king as the source of our vows. The royal family is furious. We are being guarded at all times, and any talk of blasphemy is being met with very strictly. They do not want to let you live, Jimin.”

“I understand.”

“They might have had the girls killed already for spreading such nonsense if the people hadn’t latched onto the ideas so quickly. If they begin executions now, they’ll look like they’re hiding something. Like the account of the supposed king really is true.” She sighs, handing the flower back to Jimin.

“Do you believe it?”

“I do not know what to think. I have upheld what I thought to be the goddess’s will my entire life.” She shakes her head. “No, I do not know if I believe it. But I do know that I raised you all. And I don’t want any of you to die.”

Jimin’s eyes shine. “Does that mean - you’ll help?”

“She’s been helping,” Hyojung finally blurts, unable to keep her stoic expression any longer. Matron shoots her a reprimanding glance, but she continues, “Matron has been the main gateway between the palace and us. The queen respects her enough to listen to her, at least sometimes.”

“It is truly a blessing to know the goddess accepted you into her sanctum. That will strengthen your case very much, at least before the people if not the royal family.”

“And Hoseok coming forward,” Hyojung says. “That helped, too. Made the people even more wary of the royal family. They’re upset that they tried to keep the knowledge from them.”

They’re lucky they don’t live in an absolute monarchy like the northern kingdoms, where the royal families don’t have to worry about what the people think. Here, at least, the king’s council answers to the people, and by default the king does, too.

“The second prince,” Matron scoffs, wagging a finger in Jimin’s direction. “I should have known it was him. He was sniffing around here far too often. I even questioned him a few times, but that boy has a way with words. Slithered right through my questions like a snake.”

Hyojung looks like she’s trying very hard not to laugh, and Jimin bites his lip to keep from joining her. “Sorry, Matron,” he mumbles.

“We need to figure out what to do before the crown prince comes marching down here again,” Matron says.

“Has he been doing that a lot?”

“Oh, yes, he’s been here all the time. Trying to intimidate us, I think.” Hyojung scoffs.

“There’s something else,” Jimin starts, sitting up straight. “I had a vision. When I was, um, in the temple of the Sun God, I think I had a vision.”

“And you’re telling us now ?” Hyojung exclaims.

“I didn’t know it was a true vision. I thought maybe it was a dream. But while I was in the sanctum, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I realized it must have been sent by her.”

“What did you see?” Matron demands, urgency clear in her gaze.

“The river overflew and the city flooded. It was disastrous.”

The look Matron and Hyojung exchange is one full of fear. “Sohye saw the same thing,” Hyojung says. “She has the power of prophecy, Jimin. She’s had the same vision twice. She goes into a trance and when she’s lucid again, she says she saw it raining so hard the city was full of water.”

The river hasn’t flooded in a hundred years.

“It’s the catastrophe,” Matron confirms. “The catastrophe for which the goddess sent us Sohye so she may warn us.”

“But if I received the same vision, why did she need to send us someone else?”

“Perhaps she couldn’t reach you,” Hyojung murmurs. “Maybe she wasn’t the one who sent you the vision. You said it happened in the Sun God’s temple.”

“Oh,” he murmurs. The Sun God. It would make sense; Jimin had reached a level of peace after praying to him that he hadn’t had for many moons before that night. But he wonders why Jungkook never received the same vision, especially when he has an affinity for prophecy that Jimin doesn’t.

“We will need to request an audience with the king, as is precedence for visions of this sort. I was already intending on it because of Sohye, but now the cause is only strengthened,” Martron says.

“I understand.”

“I’m going to send word first to the palace and request that they place you on house arrest while this matter is sorted out. If the second prince is allowed that honor, you should be, too.” Matron stands, heading for the door. “Go to your room, Jimin. And take a bath, by the goddess.”

Now that he’s seated, his exhaustion has begun to kick in, and standing back up again is difficult. Hyojung helps him, leading him out the door with an arm around his waist. His body is unbelievably sore from weeks on the road, and he would give nothing more to just relax. But he knows he won’t be able to yet.

Matron engages the guard, and Hyojung helps Jimin to his room. Everything’s just as he left it - there isn’t even any dust. The girls must have looked after it for him. His bed looks warm and comfortable and inviting. It’s been so long since he slept on a bed.

But first -

“Hoseok,” Jimin breathes. “It’s true? He came back?”

“Jimin, it was - ” she shakes her head, a look of awe coming into her eyes. “I still don’t trust him, but I wish you could have seen it. He came in the middle of a ritual, half the city was here. Came barrelling in on a horse and announced right there that if you were to be punished, he would have to be punished with you.”

Jimin doesn’t dare to hope. Doesn’t dare to be hurt again. “But his betrothal?”

“I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but my friend in the palace said she heard rumors he broke it off. Ran away in the dead of night before anyone could notice.”

He doesn’t understand. Hoseok had left him. He’d left him, yet he comes running as soon as he hears Jimin’s in danger? Jimin can’t fathom why he’d left him in the first place. “I don’t understand.”

“I don’t, either,” Hyojung murmurs. “But I think there must be more to this than we know. Here, strip off those grimy clothes. I’ll have the girls heat a bath for you. They’ll be ecstatic to know you’re back.”

Bora and Junghwa fill his pool with warm water while Hyojung finds him clothes to wear. He asks her for the dye made of the goddess’s pink flower, too; his hair has grown back to its ordinary length during his time spent travelling, and he wants to look like himself again. Like the goddess’s chosen one. The girls clamor outside his door, eager to see him, but Hyojung shoos them all away until he’s rested and eaten. By the time he’s done eating, the pool is filled, and he slips into the warm water with a sigh of relief.

It feels so unbelievably good, the warm water loosening the soreness of his muscles and washing the grime from his body. Hyojung lathers soap into his hair as he soaks, seated on the marble behind him.

“Jimin,” she begins, “the vision you had at the Sun God’s temple. Was it when you fucked that priest?”

He flushes, nodding. “Just after.”

“That’s what I thought. I didn’t know if it was the best idea to say so in front of Matron yet, but I discovered something else in my research.”

“What?”

“Back before they instituted the vows, it was said that the chosen ones of the goddess could receive visions during sex, unless of course they were already born with the power of prophecy like Sohye.”

He starts, craning his neck back to look at her. “Really? But I never had any before.”

“I imagine it’s not an every-single-time sort of thing. But that’s what they said.”

“So perhaps the vision was from the goddess, not the Sun God. It just needed the act to come through.”

“That’s when the connection is one of the strongest, or so they say.”

“Then these vows have been depriving generations of priestesses from receiving visions?”

“It would seem so.”

He slumps against the side of the pool, huffing in amazement. Imagine what the goddess could have given them in all this time, imagine the visions the priestesses could have seen. To think that they’ve been depriving themselves of a stronger connection with the goddess because of these vows - he shakes his head. “That’s awful.”

“I know. It seems all of this runs much deeper than we expected.”

“I can’t believe Matron’s helping.”

“I still can’t believe it, either. I thought she’d be the first one to turn us in.”

Raised voices have them turning their attention to the door. One is Matron’s, and the other Jimin recognizes immediately as Youngjin’s. Jimin’s hands begin to tremble underwater; he clenches them into fists.

“Get out, quick,” Hyojung hisses, and Jimin dunks his head in the pool to get rid of the soap before hopping out and drying off. He slips into the robe Hyojung brings him; it’s been so long since he wore his robes, and he’d grown so tired of trousers and shirts, but he doesn’t have time for relief.

As soon as they return to the room, Youngjin pushes the door open. His gaze alights on Jimin’s and narrows, simmering with fury. “So you’ve come back to receive your punishment?”

“If the goddess wills for me to be punished, then I will be punished.”

Youngjin looks like he has quite a few words to say about that, but he restrains himself after a glance in Matron’s direction. “I will be taking you back to be imprisoned in the palace. There’s no need for a blasphemer to be residing here in such comfort.”

“His Highness, the second prince has been allowed the comforts of his own apartments during his arrest,” Matron says smoothly. “His Holiness’s rank is not much lower than His Highness’s. I’ve sent a request to Her Highness, the queen, that he may be afforded the same treatment until this matter has been taken care of.”

Youngjin bristles visibly, but he knows that when it comes to his parents, he can’t do whatever he wants. “Should her response be negative, he will be taken to the palace.”

Matron inclines her head. “Of course. We will await her decision.”

Youngjin throws Jimin one last look before marching out of the room. Jimin’s shoulders sag with relief, and he prays thanks to the goddess for Matron’s presence as a buffer between them. He doubts the queen will take long to respond, and he can’t imagine why she wouldn’t side with her son. But still, he hopes.

“Now we wait,” Matron says, turning to leave after him.

“The lunar eclipse ritual is in two days,” Hyojung says. “If they let you stay here, you can assume your role in leading it.”

“And take that time to tell everyone I’ve been to the sanctum,” Jimin realizes, and she nods.

“Go rest.” She steers him toward his bed. “We don’t know when he’ll be back.”

Jimin climbs into bed and prepares to get what little rest he can manage.

 

 

It’s strange being home, strange sleeping in his bed and wearing his pretty clothes and gazing out the balcony door at the palace like he used to. It’s strange knowing Hoseok’s finally there again, strange and a little surreal.

The queen says he may stay in the temple, but he’s to be confined to his room with a guard outside his door at all times. They’ve scheduled his trial for a week away, and it’s to be public. Matron says the king and queen wanted it to be private, but their council had refused. The people are too invested now , they’d said. It has to be public . So Jimin has nothing to do but sit in his room and wait. The girls are not permitted to come in and sit with him, and he’s handed trays of food briefly through the door.

It’s boring at the least, suffocating at the most, and he meditates most of the time to chase his anxieties away. He isn’t permitted to attend the lunar eclipse ritual like they had hoped, but Hyojung slips a note in with his food later that tells him they’d told everyone of his visit to the sanctum and shown them the flower, too. The visitors had certainly seemed intrigued.

On the third day, Jimin slips a note to Hyojung asking if her friend in the palace could get something to Hoseok. He’s driving himself mad with the questions, with the what-ifs, with knowing he’s so close yet entirely out of reach. Not to mention Yoongi’s words echo ceaselessly in his head - the Hoseok I know wouldn’t do something like that . Hyojung says she’ll try, so Jimin pens a simple note: why did you leave me ?

Then he sits on the balcony, a guard pacing on the ground below, and watches the palace. He used to watch and wonder what Hoseok was doing with that flutter of shy love that had taken hold in his heart. It’s different now. He wonders if Hoseok’s pacing across his room, chafing at his confinement just like Jimin is. He’d always hated the idea of being trapped. Hated the guards outside his door, even though they were supposed to be there to protect him, hated the days he couldn’t get away to see Jimin.

Jimin reminds himself that he shouldn’t care, not when Hoseok left him without a word.

The reply comes a day later. I had no choice . Jimin traces over the familiar handwriting with trembling hands, over and over until he’s sure he’ll wear the ink away. Imagines Hoseok’s face when he’d written it, the crease between his brows and the curve of his pretty mouth. Then he crushes the note in his fist and flings it into his pool. How could a prince have no choice?

The audience with the king and queen comes at last, and Jimin is allowed out of his room to accompany Matron and Sohye to the palace with a retinue of guards. He’s nervous, and he clutches the tiny wolf carving Yoongi had given him in his palm like a lifeline. Wolves are strong, he reminds himself, and he has to be strong.

They’re taken to the meeting room, where the king and queen and some witnesses wait. They’re dressed in finery as always, circlets of gold atop their heads. Both of their expressions are hard. Now that he knows, he understands why he can’t see anything of Hoseok in the queen’s face.

Matron explains the visions and Sohye’s power of prophecy. She has Jimin testify exactly as to what he saw, and he’s proud of the way his voice remains steady. Sohye quietly tells them she saw the city full of water, too; apparently she’d had yet another vision while Jimin was confined to his room.

“I believe the goddess has sent us a second chosen one to warn us double of the impending disaster. There’s no sign as to when this might occur, but I believe we must begin preparations immediately.”

“It seems to me,” the king begins, and Jimin can tell from his shuttered gaze that this won’t be easy. “That the goddess replaced her chosen one with another on account of his very serious transgressions.”

Matron inclines her head in acknowledgement. “While I understand it seems that way, there is evidence that suggests otherwise. There is historical precedent for the goddess sending aid in the form of another chosen during times of catastrophe, just like the one they’ve seen in their visions. Additionally, His Holiness has been to the goddess’s sanctum, something that strongly suggests he has not lost her favor.”

“Ah, yes, I heard the handmaidens have been spewing such nonsense. Tell me why I should believe these claims when your handmaidens have been doing everything in their power to usurp me?”

“Usurp you?” Matron sounds scandalized. “Your Majesty, they would never dare.”

“Accusing my ancestor of blaspheming the way they have is not alarming to you, then?”

“The sins of your ancestor are not your own.”

“His Holiness - ” the queen spits the words like they’re poison, “ - has never had any visions before. A three-year-old can easily be taught to say what Her Holiness just did. Moreover, the priest of the Sun God who is proven to have the power of prophecy has had no such visions. This seems to me,” she finishes coolly, “a clever ploy to distract from His Holiness’s guilt.”

“Your Majesty,” Jimin says, bowing before he begins, “We would gain no benefit from lying. We would be exposed easily enough by a flood that never comes.”

“And then you would claim that prophecy is unreliable, that fate does not always come to be as told.”

“I will not uproot the entire city over the whims of someone so untrustworthy,” the king says. “You may leave now.”

“People will die!” Jimin blurts. The horror of the impending flood has been muted inside him from the hope that they would be able to save the city with the goddess’s warning. Now, horror and rage mix inside him almost painfully. “People will die if you do not listen to us.”

“Enough,” the king hisses. “You are dismissed. We will meet again for the trial.”

There’s nothing they can do but leave.

Jimin feels numb on the walk back to the temple as reality finally takes hold of him. He’d travelled home from the sanctum with a frantic energy, images of the flood he’d seen so long ago plaguing his mind. He’d had nightmares while he journeyed, woke up sobbing with desperation as he dreamt of everyone he loved falling prey to the river’s terrible power. But then he’d spoken to Matron, and she’d seemed so sure that an audience with the king and queen was all they needed. With Sohye to back him up, his claim had felt so strong.

With a million things to worry about, he hadn’t let himself worry.

But now they refuse to believe him, and the flood will hit a city unprepared. A city expecting nothing.

He doesn’t know when it’ll happen, but the frequency of Sohye’s visions tell him the catastrophe must be imminent. The king and queen might refuse to help, but Jimin can’t let his people die.

He has to do something.

 

 

People will die.

People will die, so when they bring him his dinner, Jimin slips Hyojung a message. Take this to Hoseok , it says, with a note inside that reads only: you have to ring the warning bells .

Then he waits.

 

 

Two days before the trial, it begins to rain.

It’s a heavy, unrelenting rain, the kind that pounds on the temple roof like thunder. Strong winds uproot the flowers in their garden, force them to board all the windows shut. On the very same day, the warning bells begin to ring in the palace. They’re taken up by various checkpoints across the city until they’ve been heard in every corner. Even more than that, a caller walks through the streets shouting for all to hear, the city will soon be flooded as prophesied by the Moon Goddess’s chosen! Evacuate while you can!

Jimin nearly sobs with relief when he hears the bells. He had almost given up hope. He doesn’t know how Hoseok managed to do it, but he did it. Matron sends out some of the handmaidens to spread word that the temple will open its doors to as many people as it can fit, given that it’s situated atop a hill and much safer than the rest of the city. The palace is on high ground, too, but of course they would never open their doors.

In all the panic, Matron manages to convince the guards to let Jimin out of his room to assist in the preparations. The Sun God’s temple later announces that they will lead parties into the hills outside the city for safety.

Then the palace sends out another caller. This one tells the people there is no danger of flooding, that there is a conspiracy at work, and orders everyone to stay put. A messenger to the temple comes within the hour, sent by the king himself.

“The king says everyone involved in this treason will be tried and executed within a week,” he tells them, and the fear that spreads among them is palpable. But the Matron stands firm.

“The rain is not going to stop,” she says grimly. “The people and His Majesty will see that for themselves soon enough.”

“What are we going to do?” Jisoo bemoans when the messenger leaves.

“Keep your heads together,” Matron snaps. “We have work to do.”

Just as Matron says, the rain does not stop. Despite the king’s orders, people begin to come to the temple for shelter, afraid of the way the water starts to rise in the streets. After that everything’s a whirl of frantic preparation as they find room for families and blankets for those who are drenched. Outside, the storm continues, drumming on the walls ominously.

Sohye’s parents arrive before long. “The streets are already flooding,” her father tells them. Jimin leads them up to see her, too panicked to say much more than a few cursory words. There are still people in the city. Before Jimin leaves them, her mother stops him.

“They say - they’ve been saying the vows might not be the goddess’s will. That even though you broke yours, you haven’t lost her favor. Is that true?”

Jimin nods tentatively. “It’s what we believe to be true.”

“May I hold my daughter?”

Jimin’s throat constricts. He nods. “I think - I think it would not matter if you did.”

The joy on her face is almost painful to see. He doesn’t think his mother would have reacted like that. He can’t help but watch as she goes to gather Sohye in her arms and kiss her cheeks, her husband’s eyes filling with tears as he reaches for his daughter’s hand.

He turns away and gets back to work.

“When is he going to do something?” Hyojung hisses while they brew pots of tea over the stove for those who’ve begun to take a chill from their wet clothes. They’ll have to begin rationing their supplies; it’ll be impossible to go out and gather when all the plants are being uprooted by the storm. “The streets are already flooding, it’s obvious this is no gentle rainstorm. He’s a fool not to act now.”

“He’s the king,” Jimin murmurs. “He values his pride above all else.”

Yuna and Bora have gone out into the city again to gather as many people as they can. Matron has told them to direct those that are able to head for the Sun God’s temple instead, where they can take to the hills. The Moon Goddess’s temple is large, but there’s only so many people they can hold. They’ll reach capacity before long.

To Jimin’s great surprise, his family shows up at the door. Mina fetches him to meet them, and his father looks sullen to be there.

“Father, Mother,” he says, approaching them with wide-eyed surprise. Jihyun steps in a moment after them. They’re all dripping wet. “Come, dry off. I’ll find you blankets.”

“I want you to know you’re no son of mine,” his father says bluntly before taking a step. “I’ve heard what you’ve done.”

Jimin stares at him long and hard. Before, those words might have hurt. But Jimin has been through hell and back, and more than anything, he has the goddess on his side. He reaches into the pocket of his robe and closes his hand around the wolf carving he always carries for strength.

“I haven’t been your son for a long time,” he says. “If you’d like to take shelter in our temple, then come and I’ll find you blankets. If you’d prefer to brave the storm, you may leave.”

“Jimin,” his mother starts, then glances at his father and snaps her mouth shut.

His father brushes past him to enter the temple further, jerking his head for his mother to follow. Jihyun stays behind. “They didn’t want to come,” he says, shaking his head in disbelief. “Because the king called this a conspiracy. Father called you a traitor.”

“How did you convince them?”

“I told them they were fucking fools if they didn’t want to use their eyes and see that the water is already past our ankles.”

Jimin smiles for the first time in what feels like days. He surges forward and throws his arms around his brother for the first time since he was six years old. Jihyun hesitates, then embraces him back so hard Jimin feels his back crack. He pulls away, laughing. “Go on, little brother. I’ll bring you blankets.”

They’re running out of blankets and towels. They’ve stripped their own beds and found all the spare sheets and comforters in storage, and they’ve pushed people together to share, but there isn’t much left now. Jimin imagines by nightfall they’ll have to close their doors to anyone else, even though just the thought of it has his heart aching. They’d tried . They’d done everything they could. If only the king wasn’t such a proud, useless fool.

He can only hope enough people will make it to the hills.

The day wears on, an endless flurry of work without break as they try desperately to accommodate the people who keep showing up at their door as everyone begins to realize the flooding is only growing worse. Jimin is fighting his exhaustion as he ladles soup for the youngest children who can’t hold their hunger when next to him, Seolhyun suddenly hisses his name.

“Jimin,” she says, and she sounds awed. “Jimin, look.”

He looks up, and Hoseok’s standing in the doorway.

Matron flies to meet him, and they’re engaged immediately in tense conversation. He’s soaked just like everyone else who arrives, the hood of his cloak sticking to his face. It’s been so long but he doesn’t look any different - of course, it hasn’t been long enough for that. It’s just that Jimin feels so different but here he is, the same as he was, like time and heartbreak haven’t come between them. Like they’d seen each other just yesterday, Hoseok’s arms tight around him as he promised he’d see him tomorrow. Just wait a day, Jimin, you can wait a day . He’d always told himself that in between Hoseok’s visits, had always tried to calm the way his heart ached when it’d been too long.

Now it’s been so long the heartache has become permanent.

There’s a murmur running through the people gathered in the main hall when they realize who’s arrived, more than a few glances tossed Jimin’s way. Matron turns away and heads off through the hall, gesturing for Hoseok to follow, and at last he looks up and sees Jimin.

He’s always been good at controlling his expressions, but Jimin can see the flicker across his face - relief, pain. Jimin’s frozen stiff, and Hoseok looks reluctant to move on. But he follows Matron, his eyes locked on Jimin’s until he has to turn away to follow her up the stairs.

“Excuse me,” the child Jimin’s supposed to be serving says, and Jimin starts, returning his attention to the task.

“You all right?” Seolhyun murmurs, and Jimin nods. He has to be all right.

Jisoo comes to him as soon as she’s free and takes over. “Go on,” she says, nodding toward the stairwell.

Jimin hesitates, but they both return to work. He’s left standing there for another moment before he finally summons up the will to move toward the stairs. Their rooms are already full of people; he finds Hoseok and the Matron conversing in the hall.

“Does His Majesty have any plans?” Matron’s saying, and Hoseok shakes his head.

His voice is hard when he responds. “He’s slow on acting, as always.”

Looking at him then, at the bitter curve of his mouth and his unforgiving tone, Jimin realizes that Hoseok hates his father.

“But I’m here,” Hoseok says. “Tell me what I can do.”

Jimin steps carefully toward them. They notice him belatedly, and when they do, Hoseok takes a step forward.

“Jimin,” he breathes, then stops himself before he can go any further. Hearing him say his name again after so long - Jimin forgets how to breathe.

“How did you get away?” Jimin says, and it’s harder to get his voice out than he thought it would be.

Hoseok clears his throat. “The palace is chaos right now. I slipped out, tried to talk to my father. I couldn’t convince him to do anything, so I left. I don’t think he cares what I’m doing right now.”

“Jimin, put His Highness wherever he’s needed. We must work to accommodate as many people as we can.”

Jimin nods his acquiescence and gestures for Hoseok to follow. He leads him back to the main hall and sets him to mopping the excess water from the entrance. Mina looks at him a little strangely when he asks her to fetch a mop for Hoseok, but he doesn’t waver. Prince or not, he came here to help.

They don’t have the opportunity to speak much after that, busy as they are. Jimin isn’t sure he even wants to speak with him yet, contents himself with stealing glances across the temple as Hoseok works and stops to greet the people crowding the hall. His presence seems to have a positive effect, makes everyone feel like their rulers haven’t entirely abandoned them. Jimin watches more than one person search for a chance to approach him. He has a smile for everyone, and he speaks with whomever he can.

There’s more to all of this; Jimin would be a fool not to see that. But still, the tiny voice at the back of his head whispers a mantra: he left you, he left you, he left you .

They reach capacity just before nightfall. They’ve made room for people everywhere they can possibly manage; they know there’s nothing else they can do, but even so Jimin catches a few of the girls crying after Matron bolts the doors. They’ve done everything they can, but it’s still not enough.

There are people who knock on the temple doors, beg to be let in, and that’s the hardest part.

When night falls, things quiet as everyone settles into sleep. There’s no room for them to stretch out; parents sleep with their children in their laps, and those who are lucky manage to lean against a wall. Jimin sits leaning against the base of a statue, his tired eyes threatening to droop shut, and watches Hoseok sit with a family across the hall. He’s telling them something that makes them smile, a true feat in a situation like this. But Hoseok has always been good at making people smile despite themselves.

He leaves them and crosses the temple, gaze meeting Jimin’s halfway. Jimin doesn’t break it, staring back until he comes to sit next to him with his arms wrapped around his knees.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly, “that my parents didn’t listen to you.”

“No offense,” Jimin murmurs, “but your family is a real piece of work.”

“You’re telling me.”

“Mine isn’t so great, either.”

“Your brother’s all right. Ran into him earlier. Think he was sizing me up.”

Jimin snorts. “I don’t know why he bothered. You wouldn’t stand a chance.”

“Hey, now.”

“Don’t look at me like that.” He struggles to keep his voice down, amusement bleeding into his tone. “He’s a blacksmith. He’s twice your size.”

“Size isn’t everything, you know.”

Jimin shoots him a wry look, and Hoseok grins in return. They slip into a silence that’s somewhere between awkward and comfortable, which is more than Jimin might have hoped for considering everything. He sighs, rubbing his hands over his eyes. His body wants him to sleep, but his mind resists. How can he sleep when there are still people out there?

“You think he’ll do anything tomorrow?”

“He has to do something eventually. The flooding is waist-high already.”

“I had the vision months ago,” Jimin whispers. The day’s wearing on him. He’s tired and hungry and afraid. “Months ago, but I was too stupid to recognize it for what it was.”

Suddenly everything’s too much. His vision blurs and his throat’s tight and he can’t cry here in front of everyone, not when he’s supposed to hold them together. But everything’s too much and on top of that, Hoseok’s here, too, and Jimin doesn’t know how to be all right.

“Look at me,” Hoseok says, quiet and firm. “Look at me, Jimin.” Jimin looks at him, at his face warm in the glow of all the candles, the face Jimin’s been dreaming about for so long that right now almost feels like a dream, too. “You don’t know if they would have listened to you months ago.”

“They would have listened to me then. They didn’t hate me then.”

“You wouldn’t have known when the floods were coming. You would have waited for days, and when nothing came, everyone would have forgotten.”

“You don’t know that’s true.”

“You don’t know it isn’t. You tried your best, you hear me? You did everything you could.”

He doesn’t feel like he did everything he could. He always feels like he should have done more. Against himself, he rests his heavy head on Hoseok’s shoulder and blinks his tears away, breathing in the familiar scent. Mostly everyone’s asleep; no one’s really looking at him, and he’s tired.

“You took too long,” he whispers, his voice watery. “You made me miss you.”

Jimin can feel him tense, sees the way Hoseok reaches for him then stops, his hands clenching and unclenching as if he wants to hold him. “I know, sweetheart,” he murmurs. “I know.”

“Why’d you leave?” Jimin whispers, because he can’t bear not knowing anymore.

“He made me.” His voice is so low Jimin has to tilt his head up to watch his lips move. “Had proof about you and me. Said he’d tell everyone, have you executed, if I didn’t comply with the betrothal.”

Jimin blinks slowly. There’s nothing on Hoseok’s face that speaks of dishonesty, but of course Hoseok has always been good at hiding himself. “They said the betrothal was planned weeks in advance.”

“It was. I was - I didn’t tell you because I thought I could get out of it.” His expression dips into one of shame. “I thought it wouldn’t matter, that I didn’t need to worry you over nothing.”

“You should have told me.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“So you thought you could get out of it, but then Youngjin threatened you.”

“Yes.” His eyes are imploring, desperate for Jimin to understand. “Please believe me, Jimin, I’d never leave you like that. Never.”

“It wasn’t hard to believe,” Jimin murmurs. “It’s not like you loved me.”

“Is that what you think?” His voice rises just a touch, and he controls it, glancing around them briefly.

Jimin lifts his head off Hoseok’s shoulder. “What else was I supposed to think? You never made me believe anything different.” He stands, straightening his robes. “I’m going to rest now. Goodnight.”

He feels Hoseok’s eyes burning into him as he walks away, but he doesn’t look back.

 

 

The river floods during the night.

When they rise the next morning, the rain has stopped. They remove the boards from the windows and look at the devastation the storm has wrought on the city. More than person is driven to tears; Jimin has to fight everything in himself to keep from crying. He doesn’t know how they’ll recover. The water is so high they won’t be able to get down the hill without a boat, which means they’re essentially trapped between the palace and the temple until the water goes down. The people who have taken refuge with them have lost everything; all their possessions will have been destroyed by the water.

The worst part is that it isn’t over yet. Flood brings disease, and they’re likely to run out of food very soon. But small hope comes when the palace finally takes action; soldiers are sent out on boats across the city to search for survivors. If the palace is involved, Jimin can only hope that they’ll send supplies when the temple runs low.

There’s no time to waste thinking about what’s to come, however. They have a meal to prepare for a temple chock full of people, chamber pots to empty and illnesses to tend to; many of the cityfolk had been in the rain for quite some time before they made it to the temple, and there’s more than one taken with fever.

Jimin doesn’t have a chance to speak to Hoseok again, busy as they are, until late afternoon when a messenger arrives from the palace. She brings word that the palace will send supplies soon, and that the king has requested the presence of Jimin, Hoseok, and the Matron for a brief meeting.

Jimin starts to panic, but Hyojung holds him by the arms and tells him to be strong.

“They’re not going to do anything to you,” she says, “nor to any of us. Not after all this.”

The ground is sodden, squelches as they walk across it to the palace. Grass and bushes have been uprooted; on the palace grounds, a few workers are clearing away a fallen tree. They’re lucky it didn’t fall on the palace itself. Inside, the palace is alive with movement, workers rushing this way and that as orders are given nonstop. The messenger leads them past a crew fixing where a piece of the ceiling seems to have fallen in.

The king and queen are the only ones who meet them in the council room, though Jimin had expected at least someone else to be there. He bristles at the sight of them, fists clenching, knowing that their incompetency led them to where they are now. People are dead, and the king and queen sit in their thrones with faces devoid of any sense of turmoil.

“Please, sit,” the queen says, and they do so, albeit stiffly. “We would like to accept our mistake in mistrusting the goddess and are eager to make amends to the people.”

Jimin doesn’t miss her careful wording; he’s the one they mistrusted. The goddess didn’t have anything to do with it.

“We are sending wagons of supplies, and we will open our doors to any who wish to come from your temple to ease the burden on you,” the king continues.

“With all due respect, Your Majesty,” the Matron says coolly, “you should have opened your doors yesterday.”

The king inclines his head in acknowledgement. “You must understand, we cannot be hasty in our decisions. It’s a matter of the throne’s safety.”

Jimin vibrates with anger, his fingers whitening from how tightly they dig into his palms. Underneath the table, Hoseok rests a hand on his knee.

“And the matter of the threat we received yesterday?” Matron questions. “Should we be preparing our final meals?”

“Of course not,” the queen says smoothly. “You understand what you did was an act of treason. But given the circumstances, we will punish it only lightly.”

Jimin understands. The people would riot if the handmaidens were executed for saving their lives.

“And His Holiness’s trial?” Matron ventures.

The queen’s cold gaze alights on Jimin, and he swallows harshly. “The trial will be postponed, given the state of our city. When things settle, we will decide His Holiness’s punishment.”

Jimin’s heart skips a beat, and his mouth goes dry. He’d hoped, even though he should have known better than to hope. He had thought, foolishly, that maybe after all this they’d have mercy on him.

“There should be no reason to have a trial,” Matron says before Jimin can open his mouth.

“I see nothing that should get in the way of one,” the king says. “His Holiness has broken the goddess’s most sacred vows. That has not changed.”

Matron places her hands on the table. Jimin has seen her angry before, has seen her furious, had that fury directed at him. But he’s never seen the anger inhabit her as it does now. “His Holiness was allowed into the most sacred of places, the heart of the goddess herself, for which we have proof. Forgive me, but I don’t think you understand how truly wondrous this is. Even after a lifetime of service to the goddess, I myself would not dare to imagine she would allow me into her sacred vale. But His Holiness has been welcomed and blessed despite his transgressions. If the goddess herself finds no fault in him, then who are we to question that? Who are we to deliver judgement when hers has already fallen?”

“If he’s given a trial, you’ll have to give me one, too,” Hoseok says firmly, jaw set tight. “You must hold me accountable rather than hiding for the sake of your own reputation.”

“To question us in that tone - Matron, I allow this only because you have long served the goddess and the crown with great faith. But I will not be spoken to this way again,” the king says. “If you are so sure His Holiness deserves no punishment, then you may stand in his defense at the trial. We take the path of justice, as always, and there will be a trial. Whatever the outcome, His Holiness must address what he’s done.”

“As for you.” The queen’s sharp gaze turns to Hoseok. “What you have done - ran away from your betrothal and endangered our precarious relationship with the North, rang the bells without our permission, sent a messenger through the city with false orders from His Majesty - these will be punished appropriately.”

“Your Majesty,” Jimin blurts before he can stop himself. “He rang the bells at my request. I wanted to give our people a chance to survive.”

“Quiet,” Hoseok hisses, but it’s too late. The damage is done.

The queen looks at him with eyes aflame. “The prince makes his own decisions. But we will make note of your involvement to address at your trial, along with your other transgressions.”

“If that is all,” the king says, “you are dismissed.”

It isn’t all. Of course it isn’t, but Jimin knows there’s nothing else to be done. He can see the defeat weighing on Hoseok and Matron’s shoulders. He stands with them, each step toward the doorway so heavy he can barely manage it.

“Hoseok,” the queen calls. “A guard will be placed on you. You’re not to leave the palace. Do you understand?”

Hoseok stiffens, hands clenching into fists. Still, he turns to face them and bows. “I understand.”

He follows them out, just a few steps behind. Matron’s hand grips Jimin’s arm, fury still clear in her devastated face, as she leads him away. Jimin glances back. Hoseok’s standing there, watching them go, despondency clear in the curves of his body. Jimin wishes it didn’t have to be like this, wonders when he’ll get to ask Hoseok all the questions he wants to ask, tell him all the things he needs to tell him.

Hoseok raises his hand in a wave. Jimin nods, throat tight, and turns away.

Chapter Text

Jimin throws himself so fully into helping the city rebuild that he convinces himself his trial is not on the horizon and Hoseok is not trapped in the palace mere yards away from him.

The city is devastated, and recovery seems like a far-off dream. They work long and hard; they do what they can. When they can do nothing, they offer peace through ritual and prayer. Sometimes they can manage no more. Jimin moves through the days mindlessly, disconnected from himself as his body goes through the motions. He knows there’s no use wondering what-if, but he can’t help it.

Would the city have survived if he had warned them quicker?

But he knows it wouldn’t have mattered. They wouldn’t have believed him. If he hadn’t broken his vows, if the people had still trusted him, could he have saved the city? Yet, if he hadn’t broken his vows, he wouldn’t have received the prophecy to begin with.

Everything is too complex to understand, so Jimin tries not to think.

Slowly, steadily, they pick up the scattered pieces of their lives, until at last the trial is announced. Jimin has found that in the wake of the devastation, most people don’t seem to care about his transgressions anymore. Sometimes he gets questions, and sometimes insults, but mostly they seem to have moved on. Everyone has better things to worry about. But when the royal council announces the date of his trial, interest begins to brew once more.

They hold the trial on the palace grounds, and the crowd who comes to watch stretches all the way to the temple. Jimin doesn't know how they'll even hear what's happening, but they gather nonetheless, buzzing with eagerness. He wonders how many of them are eager for a death sentence.

The council seats themselves in a circle around the central table, where those who will testify must sit. The king and queen sit outside the circle; this trial, it has been decided, will not involve them. Given that their son is on trial, they're too close to the matter to remain fair.

Jimin sits at the table with the Matron, Hoseok, Youngjin, and the guard who had sold him out. The council had wanted Sohye to join the trial, given that she saw the prophecy of the flood as well, but Matron had protested. She's only a child.

The eldest council member, the Minister of Personnel, begins.

"We gather here today under the eyes of the gods to address a most grievous accusation against His Holiness Park Jimin, chosen hand of the Moon Goddess, son of Park Chulwoo and Min Hana. May the gods guide us toward the truth."

Jimin isn't nervous. His heart beats steadily, hands resting in his lap. After traveling to and from the vale alone, after surviving the devastation of the flood, nothing really feels difficult anymore.

"His Holiness has been accused of breaking his sacred vows of touch and celibacy by engaging in sexual relations. His Highness the second prince, Jung Hoseok, has confessed to his part in these transgressions."

Everyone already knows, but Jimin still catches a few audible gasps.

"The accuser is His Highness the crown prince, Jung Youngjin, who will begin with his accusation."

The minister bows to Youngjin, who stands and begins to speak with his head held proud.

"Thank you for gathering here today," he says, bowing politely to the crowd. "I apologize for bringing such negativity when our city already struggles so."

Jimin tries not to let his irritation show.

"I began to suspect something untoward when I realized how much time my brother had been spending with His Holiness. Of course, I didn't want to believe it. I respected the both of them deeply."

Jimin's eye twitches.

"But then a trusted guard approached me with his concerns, and I was forced to believe it." Youngjin nods to the guard, who stands at his behest. "Haneul, will you tell the council what you saw?"

Haneul clears his throat, hands clasped before him. "I was stationed before His Highness the second prince's door for many months. I alternated with others, and more often than not I was on night duty. His Highness had brought people to his rooms before, but I noticed that he began to bring the same person night after night. This person would always have a full-body cloak with the hood concealing their face."

"Wait," one of the council members interrupts. "You are a palace guard. What business do you have taking note of who the prince consorts with? Your duty is to stand guard, not to spy."

Haneul swallows harshly, Adam's apple bobbing. Jimin wonders if he had gone to Youngjin willingly, or if he'd been threatened into it. He wonders if Youngjin had paid him off from the start just to keep an eye on his bastard brother. "My duty, first and foremost, is to keep His Highness safe. I took note of his visitors only to fulfill that duty."

The council member accepts it, sitting back and allowing him to continue.

"You said the visitor had their face covered," Youngjin says. "Tell us how you knew it was His Holiness, Haneul."

"One morning, the light fell just the right way. I saw his face underneath the hood."

"And what were His Holiness and my brother doing during those visits?"

Haneul clears his throat again. "They were having sex, Your Highness."

"How can you be so sure?"

"They were not quiet."

Shame turns Jimin's face hot. He turns his face down, peering at his hands through blurring eyes. He can hear murmurs in the crowd, some laughter. Then he takes a deep breath and straightens his head, lips set in a firm line. He has no use for shame.

"Thank you, Haneul." Youngjin gestures for the guard to sit. "I have spoken to other guards who can confirm that they saw my brother bring a hooded guest into the palace multiple times. If necessary, I will call them forward. Moreover, I approached His Holiness with this suspicion before he ran away, and he did not deny it. And most importantly, my brother has admitted to it, as many of you now know."

"Thank you, Your Highness," the Minister of Personnel says. "Does that conclude your accusation?"

"It does." Youngjin takes his seat.

"We will now hear from His Holiness."

Jimin stands on steady legs. He has prepared his piece well, and he has Matron to support him should he falter or forget. The girls have agreed to lend their own stories should he need them; they wait in the crowd with everyone else. He's ready. He's been brought on a long path, and now he will see it to the end.

"First," he says, proud of the way his voice does not shake, "I would like to apologize for the distress and uncertainty I have caused. I would like to apologize for breaking my vows." He bows long and low, forehead nearly meeting the table, before he rises to pindrop silence. "I will not deny what I've done. All you have heard is true."

He doesn't have to look at Youngjin to know how smug his reaction must be.

"But I stand before you today with the goddess's blessing on my side, and I will tell you how it came to be." He inhales, steeling himself for the story ahead. "I rushed headlong into breaking my vows, and I regret that. However, in the process I have learned a number of disturbing things, many of which you all must have heard by now. I was approached by His Highness with his knowledge of my affair, just like he said, and after that I left the temple in search of the goddess's sanctum. By then, a new chosen one had been blessed by the goddess - little Sohye. I was afraid this meant she had replaced me because I had disappointed her, though the Matron suggested that historical accounts show sometimes more than one person is blessed in preparation of a catastrophe.

"I had dreamt of a catastrophe. But since I have no gift of prophecy, I didn't see it for what it was. I thought the flood I saw was just a nightmare. It wasn't until I sought answers in the sanctum that I understood my dream for what it was - a prophetic one, a sign of the catastrophe that the goddess had been trying to prepare us for." He holds up the cup of water with the flower from the vale in it, which he has kept safe since his return. "This is the flower of legend that grows only in the goddess's vale, which I present to you now as proof of my visit.

"I sought the vale to understand if the goddess had turned her back on me for what I did. She allows only those who have gained her favor to enter the vale, and I was blessed enough to be allowed within. There I was presented the flower by a wolf who spoke with her voice and told me 'well done.' I prayed to her for many days, and the dream of the floods returned to me over and over during my time there. I realized then that I needed to return to warn everyone."

Jimin pauses for breath, glancing at the Matron for strength. She nods to him, her face impassive as always.

"I came back and found that Sohye, who has the gift of prophecy, had seen the same vision of flooding multiple times. We held council with His Majesty the king, though at the time he was hesitant to believe the prophecy, given my history of transgressions. But the flood came to be. Despite breaking my vows, the goddess showed me clearly that I'm still her favored one; she allowed me a vision, and she allowed me into her sanctum." Jimin sets the cup down and takes up the stack of parchment that sits on the table before him. "Here I have a collection of accounts found by the Sun God's temple and the Moon Goddess's temple that suggest our vows are not ordained by the goddess herself."

The council shifts; the crowd murmurs.

"You will have heard already, but I have for you the whole story as pieced together through these accounts. Many centuries ago, King Daehyun - may the Reaper guard his soul - asked the priestess of the Moon Goddess to marry him. She refused. He set in place the rule that all handmaidens of the temple from thereon would remain virgins or die."

Jimin can feel the king's fury without having to look in his direction. He turns to him, anyway, and bows. "I mean no disrespect. King Daehyun's actions do not reflect on our respected ruler. I tell you this today because I searched for a reason to explain why the goddess would still favor me despite what I did, and we found these answers. There are a number of accounts here of handmaidens and priests and priestesses who had children and lovers and still remained a part of the temple. There are also accounts of devotees who chose to remain celibate. I have everything right in front of me, and the council is free to verify the authenticity of these documents at any time. We have nothing to hide."

Jimin peers at the crowd, and they stare back, riveted. Many of them already believe him, having heard the stories from the handmaidens, and many of them don't. Many of them never will. But his goal isn't to convince the whole world. He's only a stepping stone, the first of many. One day, others will lead them to change.

"I don't believe I deserve to die for what I've done. The goddess has passed her judgement, and who are we to dispute it? And lastly," He swallows, and his hands begin to tremble. They hadn't discussed this part beforehand. He hopes the Matron won't be mad. "His Highness the crown prince came to me with his accusation, just as he said. He came to me and told me that if I did not have sex with him, he would tell everyone what I'd done and make sure I was sentenced to death."

He expects the way the crowd gasps this time, expects the council members sitting up in amazement, expects Youngjin to stand in sudden fury. Jimin remains firm, shaking hands clasping each other. He doesn't dare to look anywhere but straight ahead.

"Prince Youngjin has approached me with lewd comments for many years, and I've refused him each time. On one occasion, he tried to force himself on me. The second prince came in time to help stop him. Three of the handmaidens can confirm this, as I went to them for comfort. That is all." He drops into his seat, body hot with nerves, his heart thudding painfully hard.

"How dare you!" the queen exclaims. "How dare you accuse my son of such a thing!"

Jimin squeezes his eyes shut, fighting for breath, before he opens them to see the fury on Youngjin's face.

"You're going to believe a whore like him?" Youngjin scoffs.

The Minister of Personnel shouts for silence. "Enough! This is a trial, and we will behave in accordance. Your Holiness, for such a grave accusation, you must present your support now."

Jimin nods. He gestures to the crowd, where he can see Hyojung pushing her way forward already. "Hyojung, a senior handmaiden."

Hyojung steps to the edge of the circle, fire blazing in her eyes. Jimin's chest constricts with love for the sister who is always ready to defend him, even entirely unprepared. "Any of the handmaidens can attest to what His Holiness says. We've all heard the prince's comments. His Holiness came to me first after the prince tried to assault him, and I ordered the other handmaidens to keep an eye on His Holiness. I had one handmaiden by his side at all times in case the prince came again."

"Did he come again?" one of the council members asks.

"He didn't approach me again until it was with his accusation," Jimin answers.

"I have heard the prince, too," Yuna says, voice steady and strong. "He would often have crude comments for His Holiness when he came alone for prayer. I heard him say once that it was only a matter of time before he got his hands on His Holiness."

"As have I," Bora adds. "I have heard comments that do not bear repeating. Some of them have been directed toward the handmaidens, as well."

The council members murmur amongst themselves, calling for silence again when the crowd's chatter grows too noisy. Finally, the Minister of Personnel says, "Prince Hoseok. Your Highness. Is it true that you witnessed such an occurrence?"

Jimin has avoided looking at Hoseok since he walked onto the palace grounds, unsure of how his heart will react if he does. He hasn't seen even a glimpse of him since they placed a guard back on him. He looks at him now, heart in his throat. Hoseok looks tired, determined, mouth curved into a frown.

"I did. I came upon my brother threatening His Holiness, just about to lay his hands on him before I pulled him away."

"Do you have anything to add to His Holiness's statements regarding his transgressions, Your Highness?"

Hoseok nods. "I, too, would like to apologize and accept responsibility for what I've done. But more importantly, I have some matters to bring to your attention that the people might not know."

"Proceed."

"In the end, this trial is a matter of trust. Do we trust the word of His Holiness, who has broken his vows, or do we trust the word of the royal family, who have accused him?" Hoseok stands, clasping his hands behind his back. "His Holiness broke his vows, but he returned here even under the threat of death to bring the warning of the flood. He broke his vows, but he has admitted to it without hiding. Can my father and mother say the same?"

"What are you getting at?" the queen snaps, but the Minister of Personnel waves for Hoseok to continue.

"His Holiness brought us the prophecy, but the king and queen refused to believe him. Their mistrust caused a delay in their reaction to the catastrophe. Had they reacted on time, many lives might have been saved. His Holiness and I decided to ring the bells because we had no choice; many people were able to escape because of our warning who might not have made it otherwise. It was said His Holiness could not be believed because of his untrustworthy history, and that Sohye could not be believed because she's only a child." Hoseok's eyes glint. "However, the same night on which His Holiness came to us with a warning, Jeon Jungkook, a priest of the Sun God who has been blessed with prophecy, sent word to the palace that he had received a vision of a devastating flood just that morning."

The crowd hisses with shock, and Jimin turns his wide eyes on Hoseok. Jungkook had had a vision after all.

"Still, no orders were given to prepare."

"You are betraying your family?" the king says, but Hoseok ignores him.

"If you do not believe me, we can surely call Jungkook to confirm his vision. That is only one count against my family; I will present you with more."

"I cannot allow this to continue," the king tries, but the Minister of Personnel shakes his head.

"The trial must go on."

"When the news first went out that His Holiness had run away after breaking his vows, the person he had an affair with went unnamed. My brother has admitted quite clearly that he already knew I was involved. My family kept that knowledge from the people to preserve their reputation; I never would have been implicated if I hadn't returned to confess myself."

The crowd murmurs; Jimin sees some nods, some anger.

"And my final confession is this: I'm the king's bastard child, and the queen is not my mother."

The uproar knocks Jimin back in his seat. He holds Hoseok's gaze despite it, wishing he could give him strength just from a look, shocked that he would go so far. The crowd shifts in their emotion, and half the council has risen to their feet.

"Is it true?" the Minister of Personnel shouts. "Your Majesty, have you kept this from us?"

"Of course not!" the king cries back. "Lies, all lies!"

"It's true!" Hoseok shouts to be heard over the noise. "It's true, I was born to a concubine and adopted by the queen!" People begin to silence, eager to hear what else Hoseok has to say. "I tell you this now so that I can ask: does it matter that His Holiness has broken his vows when the city has been brought to the brink of destruction, when our crops are destroyed and our homes gone? If he hadn't returned to warn us, perhaps half of us standing here would be dead. So I ask you: does any of this matter?"

The silence transforms into noise again.

“Yeah, who cares!” someone shouts.

“Tell us when you’re opening your grain stores before we starve!”

“Will the treasury provide us the coin to rebuild or will we be homeless forever?”

“Order!” The Minister of Personnel shouts until some measure of quiet is achieved. “The council will now discuss.”

The council retreats to deliberate as the guards struggle with keeping the crowd at bay. Jimin moves to meet his sisters with the Matron at his heels, gratefulness spilling from his lips as soon as they're within earshot. From the corner of his eye, he can see Hoseok arguing with his father.

"I can't believe the king has been lying to us all this time," Hyojung spits.

"They told us they couldn't believe me because Jungkook didn't have a vision, but he did have a vision. He did and they knew - "

Matron rests a calming hand on Jimin's arm, stopping him, though the set of her mouth betrays her own anger. "We must wait, now. Pray to the goddess for her help."

"They refused to help the people just out of pride," Yuna whispers. "They knew but they let people die."

"And the Reaper will judge their souls accordingly," Matron says. "Now be quiet and pray. The gods will save us."

Jimin's too on edge to focus on prayer, and he can tell Hyojung is, too. They meet each other's gazes with an intensity that can't be conveyed through words. It takes a long time for the council to return, and in the meantime the crowd doesn't settle. People call out to Jimin nonstop, some of them saying they believe him, some of them calling him a whore. He finds his gaze drawn again and again to Hoseok, whose heated conversation with his family doesn't cease even for a moment. They won't let him off easily. They'll punish him for a long time.

At long last, the council makes their way back to the circle, and an expectant hush settles upon everyone as they wait.

"There is much to deliberate," the Minister of Personnel says. "The matters of King Daehyun and the accusations against Prince Youngjin must be investigated further. We will need to learn more about Prince Hoseok's confession. This trial was solely to decide His Holiness's guilt and punishment, and the council has decided."

Jimin waits, the Matron's hand tight on his arm, Hyojung's shaky breath by his ear. Across the circle, Jimin meets Hoseok's eyes. He nods, the ghost of a smile on his lips.

"Based on the many deaths he prevented during the flood and his entrance into the goddess's sacred vale, we have decided His Holiness will not be punished for breaking his vows."

The crowd roars.

Jimin doesn't hear the rest of what he says, doesn't care, finds the strength with which he'd held himself together throughout the trial fading at last. He sobs, relief turning his limbs loose and weak. Everything feels hazy, disconnected, like he's watching from above as the crowd cheers for him and his sisters cry his name with joy.

"You did it," Hyojung cries, and he pulls her into his arms to cry against her shoulder.

"We did it," he says.

 

 

Jimin’s mending tears in the younger girls’ robes when he hears something on the balcony.

It’s late to be up, but he’s used to staying awake. He’s squinting at the needle and thread in the candlelight when the noise startles him into pricking himself. Wary, he sets his work down and slips off his bed, taking a hesitant step toward the balcony door. They aren’t surrounded by guards anymore, but the king and queen have managed to leave a few nonetheless “for the safety of the people” still seeking shelter with them. Jimin’s sure they’re only there to keep an eye on things. But the noise can’t be one of them, not when it came so clearly from his balcony.

Then there’s a knock on the balcony door.

Jimin freezes, heart thudding in his chest. He debates running to fetch someone for help, wonders if maybe someone’s come with ill intention. There are many people in the city who still hate him for everything that’s happened.

Just as he turns away, he hears, “Jimin? It’s me.”

His heart skips a beat.

Then it picks up again, hammering against his ribcage, and he finds his feet moving of their own accord. He flings the door open. Hoseok’s standing there, framed by the night sky, looking a little out of breath.

In the moments after the trial, Jimin had wanted so desperately to be with Hoseok. He’d wanted to forget the betrayal, the doubts, and share in the joy of success, the hope for a future. He feels that same elation rise in him now as he looks at him, and he can see it echoed in Hoseok’s eyes.

“Hoseok,” he breathes, and flings his arms around him.

Hoseok’s arms wrap naturally around his waist in return, holding him close against his chest. So much has happened, and here they are after all of it, holding each other once more. There’s nowhere else Jimin would rather be. Their togetherness may be complicated, but right now it feels simple. Jimin wants it to be simple.

And maybe it is. Maybe, in the end, it’s much simpler than they think.

Reluctantly, he extracts himself from Hoseok’s embrace. Hoseok gazes upon him with glistening eyes.

“How did you get away?” Jimin murmurs. He doesn’t know if Hoseok is still restricted to his rooms or if they’ve allowed him freedom again, but he’s sure the situation must not be good.

“I have my ways,” Hoseok says, like he always does. It’s meant to be teasing, but he still looks too affected to achieve such lightheartedness.

“We have to talk,” Jimin says, and it’s hard to force his voice past the lump in his throat. He takes Hoseok’s hand and leads him to the bed, sitting on the edge by his side. He can’t bear to move away, to lose the warmth of his body.

They need to talk, but Jimin can’t stop staring at him. His heart has longed for him with such fervor that having him here feels like a dream. Jimin drinks in his pretty mouth, his sharp jaw, his tired eyes. He’s here. They’re together.

Jimin can tell by Hoseok’s flickering eyes that he’s drinking him in, too. They’re still holding hands, fingers laced loosely and resting on the bed between them.

“I didn’t want to leave,” Hoseok whispers, breaking the tender silence. “I didn’t want to leave you.”

Looking at him now, Jimin can’t help but believe his words. And Jimin’s had a long time to think on them.

Jimin nods. “He threatened you.”

“He threatened you,” Hoseok corrects, his voice tight. “He knew there wasn’t much he could do to me. He wanted to hurt me through you.”

“And he did it anyway.”

“I didn’t know what to do.” He sounds strained, like he’s trying to hold back the desperation. “I just wanted to keep you safe. I should have known he’d tell anyway.”

“You should have,” Jimin agrees, because both of them have been privy to Youngjin’s cruelty for too long to be fooled so easily. “And you should have told me. About the threat and about the betrothal, too.”

“I know.” Hoseok casts his gaze down to their joined hands. “I should have told you many things.”

“Yes.” Jimin swallows, the pain and the joy clogging his throat, urging to be set free. “I met Yoongi.”

The shock spreads across Hoseok’s face slowly, like it takes him time to truly understand. First his brow furrows, then his lips part and his eyes widen. He lurches back. “Yoongi?” he repeats, as if he can’t believe his ears. “How - ”

“He saved my life. And he believed in you, you know. He told me you would never abandon anyone.”

Hoseok opens his mouth to speak but falters, closing it. He tightens his hand in Jimin’s to say what words cannot. His eyes glisten once more. “You have much to tell me,” he manages at last, voice hoarse. “About where you’ve been and what you’ve seen.”

“And you.” Jimin smiles gently. “We have both gone quite far.”

There is much to tell and much to hear, but somehow Jimin feels no haste. His heart tells him they will have many nights to share their stories, and that tonight there are more pressing ones to uncover.

“Your betrothed,” Jimin starts. “Are they - did they expect something from you?”

He had heard Hoseok left before they were married, but still it’s lingered in his mind for days. While he’s elated to have Hoseok back, he worries about who he’s left behind, what promises he may have made. Did they want to marry him? Were they betrayed when he left, too?

“His name is Namjoon,” Hoseok says, “and he’s in love with the world.”

Hoseok looks fond, and Jimin blinks up at him, waiting for more.

“He doesn’t want to marry. He helped me run away.” Hoseok smiles. “We knew each other when we were young. It’s why I felt so foolishly confident that the betrothal would never come to be. I remember him speaking of how sure he was that he could never be content with another person.”

Jimin’s heart tilts with relief. “Good,” he murmurs. “I’m glad he wasn’t hurt. And that you had a friend to ease the pain of leaving.”

It must have hurt, disappearing without saying goodbye, knowing he would be leaving Jimin to believe he was betrayed. It must have hurt knowing his brother and mother wanted him gone so desperately, exiled from their lives forever. Hoseok must have had a hard time, too, during the time they were apart. Yet he turns a smile on Jimin now, the pain carefully masked. “I was lucky to have him.”

“I - ” Jimin swallows harshly. The words he’s gathering the courage to say make him nervous, but he wants to say them. “I gave myself to someone else while you were gone.”

Hoseok’s expression shutters. He nods stiffly, says nothing.

“Don’t do that,” Jimin urges. “Don’t put the mask on.”

Hoseok sighs, running his free hand over his face. “You’re right.” He pauses to gather his thoughts; Jimin can tell speaking his heart is difficult for him, so he waits patiently. “I’m - it hurts because I’m jealous. Because I wanted to be the only one for you. But we were never promised to each other, and you thought I betrayed you. You had every right to do as you pleased while I was gone.” He pauses again, swallows. “Still,” he mutters. “Hurts.”

“I wanted to know myself beyond you. I felt - felt like I didn’t know myself anymore, not without using you as a crutch.”

“And did you learn?”

Jimin nods. “I came to understand a great deal.”

“Then that’s good.” Hoseok squeezes his hand. “Your journey has changed you. You seem far surer of yourself now than back then.”

“I think - ” Jimin hesitates, struggling to explain. “I don’t regret what we did. But I do regret how we went about it.”

Hoseok’s nodding before Jimin even finishes. “We were too hasty,” he says.

“Yes. And I - I shouldn’t have given myself to you without knowing where you stood in regards to us. Breaking my vows was a cause of great pain for me. And I think, if I hadn’t been treading on such unsteady ground with you, maybe it wouldn’t have been so confusing. And you shouldn’t have led me down this path without giving me that reassurance. There was too much at stake.”

“I’m sorry. I pursued you without ever thinking of the consequences, without truly understanding how much you would struggle. To me, it was just - just another rule to be broken. You were beautiful, and I wanted you. I didn’t think much beyond that.”

“And I was running along after you without knowing what I was doing.” Jimin shakes his head ruefully. “Of course I would fall for you. How did I ever think I wouldn’t?”

“Jimin,” Hoseok murmurs. He reaches to cup Jimin’s cheek in his hand, the touch familiar in a comforting way. “You must know now how I feel about you.”

“Tell me,” Jimin breathes. He needs to hear it. He always has.

“I love you,” Hoseok says. He presses their foreheads together, his breath warming Jimin’s lips. Jimin feels the dam burst, tears brimming over, slipping down his cheeks. “I love you, Jimin.”

“And I love you,” Jimin whispers, resting his hand over Hoseok’s heart. He feels it stutter against his fingertips.

“I always did. I was - was just afraid of it. Of loving.” Hoseok squeezes his eyes shut. It’s hard, clearly, but he’s trying, and Jimin’s heart swells. “I never grew up with much love. The only person who ever really loved me was Yoongi, and circumstance made sure that wasn’t enough to last. I think somewhere along the way I had made the decision not to allow love anymore.”

Jimin kisses the corner of Hoseok’s mouth softly. “I’ll love you enough for all the years you spent without it.”

Hoseok brings their joined hands to his lips and kisses Jimin’s knuckles, one-by-one. They hold each other quietly for a space of time that feels immeasurable, relishing in the words they’ve finally dared to breathe to life.

Then, at last, Jimin asks, “What now?”

“I want to be with you,” Hoseok says. “And I won’t let anyone stop me. I’ll fight the whole city to be by your side.”

Jimin lets out a watery laugh. “I think you’ve already done that.” He sobers, admiring the teardrops suspended on Hoseok’s lashes. “I want to be with you, too.”

“Then it’s done.”

“And I want - I want to know you. Who you really are.”

“I’ll tell you anything,” Hoseok promises. “Everything. All of me is yours.”

“Will you stay with me tonight? I’ve missed you more than I can say. More than I even understood.”

Hoseok presses his lips against Jimin’s cheek before arranging them on the bed. He pulls the sheets over their bodies, gathering Jimin against his chest. “I thought of you with every breath I took.”

Jimin curls into him, the unease in his heart fading at long last. “Don’t leave me again.”

“Never.”

 

 

Jihyun comes to visit one evening, and he has a girl by his side. Jimin hasn’t seen his parents since they left the temple; they’re living outside the city limits, where a village of tents has been erected by people whose homes are beyond saving. They’ve refused all offers of help from Jimin, and after some struggle, he’s come to accept that there’s nothing he can do for them anymore.

He hadn’t heard much from Jihyun, either, so he’s surprised to find him stepping across the threshold.

“Jihyun,” Jimin says, smile spreading across his cheeks as he moves to greet him. Jihyun’s dropped some of the formality he used to have when greeting him, but the girl next to him bows.

“Your Holiness,” she says before she rises. “Goddess be with you.”

“And with you,” Jimin responds. He peers at her carefully, suspecting that she might be the girl Jihyun had mentioned he wanted to marry. She’s pretty in an innocent way, with round cheeks and big eyes.

“Are you well?” Jihyun asks. “Has anyone been giving you any trouble?”

Some visitors of the temple have been rude to him - one went so far as to spit at his feet. But he’s growing accustomed to them. For all the rude visitors, there are kind ones, too. “It’s been all right. And you? Are Mother and Father managing?”

Jihyun sighs. “There’s little to eat, as you know. Father went back to the house to see if there was anything he could salvage, but nothing survived.”

“You’ll tell me if I can do anything, won’t you?”

“I actually came here today because I wanted to ask for your blessing.” He looks a little shy as he glances at the girl next to him. “This is Chaeyoung. We’re to be married at the end of the month.”

Jimin beams at the confirmation. “It’s lovely to meet you, Chaeyoung.”

“The honor’s all mine.” She dips into a quick bow again, and she looks nervous. “I - I think you’re very brave.”

Jimin flushes, waving her off. “I’m not sure bravery has anything to do with it. But thank you.”

“We aren’t having a ceremony,” she says. “There isn’t much to celebrate with. But we wanted to come for your blessing anyway.”

“Father doesn’t approve,” Jihyun murmurs. “He doesn’t want anything to do with us if we marry.”

He knows what that feels like. Jimin’s heart feels heavy. “And Mother?”

Jihyun shrugs. “It doesn’t matter what she thinks. You know how it is.”

He does. Her word has never stood before their father’s. “Well, I’d be honored to give you my blessing. And the goddess’s, too.”

He leads them to the wolf statue and runs through a prayer while they stand by him with their heads bowed. Jimin winds a string of herbs around their joined wrists, has them dip their hands in the pool, and finishes with a dash of oil on each of their foreheads.

“I wish you only happiness,” Jimin murmurs, unwinding the string and placing it aside. “I know there’s little to be happy about now, but I hope you can find comfort in each other.”

“Thank you,” Chaeyoung says. “I don’t have any brothers. I know you have much to occupy your time, but I would love to meet you sometimes.”

Jimin’s heart swells in his chest. “Nothing would make me happier.”

She hesitates, then holds her arms out. “Can I - ”

Jimin nearly coos, embracing her happily. She’s beaming when they break apart, and Jihyun looks like he’s trying hard to restrain the extent of his joy. “Thank you for coming to me,” Jimin says. “I’m so happy you thought of me.” Happy to be included. Happy to feel like at least he hasn’t lost all of his blood family.

Jihyun exchanges a loaded glance with Chaeyoung, who seems to understand right away. “I’ll wait outside. Thank you again, Your Holiness.”

“Jimin,” he corrects. “Please, call me Jimin.”

“Jimin,” she says before turning to slip out of the temple.

“Is everything all right?” Jimin presses, and Jihyun nods.

“Can we sit? I just wanted to talk before I leave.”

They find a quiet spot on the steps by the back door of the temple near the garden. Jimin sits by Jihyun’s side, folding his robes underneath him, and waits for his brother to speak.

“You’re wearing them,” he notes, nodding to the bangles on Jimin’s wrists.

“I always do,” Jimin says.

“I’ve heard - people have been talking. They say the second prince comes to the temple sometimes.” Jihyun looks at Jimin carefully. “Is he good to you?”

Jimin smiles, touched by his concern. “Yes. He’s very good to me.”

Jihyun nods, satisfied. “If he isn’t, you can tell me. I’m not afraid of a prince.”

“My little guardian,” Jimin laughs, nudging him.

Jihyun’s ears turn red. He glances at his hands in his lap before he quietly says, “I’m sorry again. For never trying to know you. I wasted a lifetime.”

“And there may be a lifetime ahead of us to remedy that.” Jimin takes one of Jihyun’s hands between his own. “We must only look forward.”

“We have each other,” Jihyun says. “Our parents have abandoned us both.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jimin murmurs. He used to crave their love and approval even though he knew he would never get it. Now he doesn’t need it. He’s found peace with himself; he no longer needs anyone’s approval. And love - well, he has plenty of that. His sisters, Matron, Hoseok, and now Jihyun and Chaeyoung, too. Sometimes Jimin feels like the luckiest boy in the world. “Just like you said. We have each other.”

“Do you think they will try to come for you again?” he says, nearly a whisper. “The crown prince? The king and queen?”

“I don’t know,” Jimin answers honestly. “Maybe. We’ve unearthed many things. I don’t think they’ll let us off so easily.”

Jihyun squeezes his hand. “I’ll be by your side through it all. This time, you can count on me.”

“Thank you, little brother.” Jimin lets him go, standing and brushing off his robes. “Just come visit me every now and again. That’s all I need.”

“I will,” he says resolutely.

“Go on, now. Chaeyoung is waiting for you.”

Jihyun nods. He smiles at him, reaching out to squeeze his hands again before he starts off in the grass. Just before he rounds the corner, he glances back and waves.

 

 

“We look for her face in the moon, and we listen to her voice in the wind, and we feel her love in the sea - ”

“Stars,” Jimin corrects gently.

“Stars,” Sohye repeats. “She doesn’t like the sea.”

Jimin laughs. “She likes the sea, little one, but that’s the Sea Maiden’s dominion. Our goddess is busy with other things.”

“Oh.” Her tongue pokes out in concentration as she weaves together a bracelet of flowers like Jimin had taught her. “When are Mama and Papa coming again?”

Her parents have taken to visiting her regularly; Matron, who seems to have grown soft in her old age, has allowed it. Not that it would have mattered for Jimin - his parents had never wanted to visit him. Sohye’s lucky in many ways. Hyojung has been convincing Matron slowly by showing her old accounts of the early chosen ones that the requirement to be untouchable isn’t necessary. They’re hoping Sohye won’t have to grow up with no one to hold her hand when she cries.

Jimin doesn’t feel bitter or regretful about Sohye’s luck compared to his. He feels only relief and a deep sense of responsibility. He’d had many people to guide him during his life, but no one had ever understood what it was like to be the goddess’s chosen. Sohye won’t have to grow up like that. Her life will be difficult, and he can’t give her all the answers, but he can be there. He’ll always understand.

“They come on Moon Day, remember? That’s two days away. Can you count to two for me?”

She raises her fingers. “One, two.”

“Good job,” he coos.

“I had a dream,” she tells him matter-of-factly.

Jimin freezes, his stomach clenching with sudden fear. “What did you see, Sohye?”

“You,” she says, giggling happily.

He swallows, trying to keep the fear at bay. Just because it was a dream doesn’t mean it was a prophetic one. “What was I doing?”

“Crying.”

He winces.

“You were wearing this big red thing.” She stretches her arms out to explain, waving them in the air around her head. “Over your face. But I could see your face.”

Jimin falters, gaping at her, the realization setting a flood of butterflies loose in his belly. “Was there gold on the edge of the red thing?”

She nods enthusiastically. “How did you know!”

The first laugh that bubbles up his throat sounds confused, incredulous, and the second is just happy. Then he’s doubled over, laughing, and there are tears in his eyes. Sohye starts giggling, too, following in his lead.

“You looked funny,” she agrees. “Why were you wearing that?”

Jimin straightens, trying to gather himself, rubbing the tears from his eyes. He realizes they aren’t tears of laughter anymore. He gulps past the lump in his throat. “That’s what you wear when you get married.”

Her face lights up. “You’re getting married!”

He presses his hands to his eyes briefly, then pulls them away, smiling back at her. “If you saw so, it must be true.”

Married. He rolls the word around in his mind until it loses its meaning, then he laughs to himself again. In all his years, he’d never imagined such a thing for himself.

“I’m done,” Sohye announces, holding her completed bracelet up to the sun.

“It’s beautiful. Put it on, sweetheart.”

But she shakes her head. “I made it for you, Jiminie.”

She dangles it from her tiny hand, and Jimin takes it with a soft hum. “Thank you.” He slips it onto his wrist, admiring the splay of color. When he looks back at her, she’s occupied herself with braiding stalks of grass, mumbling a prayer under her breath.

“We look for her face in the moon, and we listen to her voice in the wind, and we feel her love in the stars. For she is in all things, and she is always with us.”

When Sohye had been chosen, Jimin had felt nothing but hopelessness. Looking at her now, he realizes he feels exactly the opposite. He has hope that her life will turn out to be a good one.

And he has hope that his will, too.

 

 

Jimin holds a stick of wax over a candle and lets it drip onto the letter he’d folded carefully away. “Will you do me a favor?” he asks.

Hoseok hums from where he leans against the foot of Jimin’s bed, stroking Jimin’s nape absently. “Anything.”

Jimin leans over the floor and warms the end of his seal over the flame before pressing it into the wax. He feels a little embarrassed to be asking another favor of him when he’s already arranged for a palace messenger to deliver the letter and goods Jimin gathered. They’re for Yoongi - a thank you, well wishes, and things Jimin knew he would want. Like mangoes - he remembers Yoongi mentioning how much he’d love to try the fruit that didn’t grow so far north.

“It’s Jungkook,” Jimin explains, blowing on the wax to cool it. “He wants to be a spiritual advisor in the palace.”

Hoseok’s hand stills. Jimin glances back to find him frowning. He doesn’t look angry - the curve of his lips feels more playful than anything. “And?”

“Can you put in a good word for him? I don’t mean anything major, I don’t think he’d want the position through nepotism. Just, I dunno. A recommendation?”

Hoseok’s pout deepens. “You’re asking me to help your ex-lover. Isn’t that unfair?”

Jimin turns a sly look upon him. “How many ex-lovers do you have in the palace again?”

“Point taken,” Hoseok snorts.

“So will you?”

Hoseok sighs like he’s thinking, stretching his arms out and clasping his hands behind his head. “Hmm.”

“Hoseok,” Jimin whines, clutching at him. “Please. I don’t know how else to repay him. He did so much to help the temple while I was gone.”

“I already did,” Hoseok reveals easily, and Jimin starts.

“What do you mean?” he exclaims.

“I heard about how much he influenced his temple to help yours. And everyone says he’s an excellent priest.” Hoseok shrugs. “I recommended him. They’re visiting the temple next month to observe him before they decide.”

“Thank you,” Jimin beams, then swats at him. “You had me pleading for nothing.”

Hoseok grins, catching him and pulling him against his chest. “I like teasing you.” He kisses the top of his head softly. “You are so kind, Jimin, for trying so hard to take care of the people you love.”

Jimin flushes, fiddling with the buttons of Hoseok’s shirt. “I had so much help,” he whispers. “Everyone did so much. This is the least I can do to show my thanks.”

“Everyone did so much because you deserved it,” Hoseok says. “You bring the best out in people.”

“You’re flattering me.”

“I mean it,” he murmurs, his tone serious. “You make me want to be better, too.”

Jimin glances up at him, surprised into silence. Hoseok’s gaze is gentle, his mouth curving into a soft smile.

“I’ve always hated being a prince,” he admits. “All the pomp and circumstance, the expectations, the lack of freedom. And knowing my family cares so little for me - living abroad was the best part of my life. I didn’t want to come back.”

Jimin hums to show he’s listening. Hoseok has been trying to open up, though it’s still hard for him. Now, when Jimin asks him about his day, he always returns an honest answer. Even if part of that answer still involves his teasing, thought about you .

“I thought - when I ran away from the betrothal to return here, part of me thought this would be it. That no matter what happened, I was going to abdicate my princehood.”

Jimin’s lips part in shock.

“But after the flood, and after seeing your bravery, I changed my mind.” Hoseok brushes a lock of Jimin’s hair away from his forehead. “You didn’t have to come back here. You could have stayed away, built a life for yourself. But you marched back to what could have been your death because of your duty to the people of this city, because you needed to warn them.” He sighs, his gaze thoughtful and distant. “I’m in a position of power, even though I’m only the second prince. I have a duty to our people, too. And maybe I can help bring some change to our world, too.”

Jimin’s heart fills with warmth. He hasn’t told Hoseok about Sohye’s dream, and he isn’t sure if he ever will. But looking at him now, Jimin thinks that he would be very happy to marry Hoseok one day. He cups Hoseok’s cheek in his hand and leans up to kiss his jaw. “I think you’re doing the right thing.”

Hoseok smiles. It’s a genuine, lighthearted smile. “I think so, too.”

 

 

“Put your back into it,” Hyojung insists, pausing in her work to inspect Jimin and Jisoo’s. She leans on her hoe and watches them work.

“Stop nitpicking,” Jisoo grumbles, but Jimin dutifully puts more force into his blows as he breaks apart clods of soil churned up by the plow moving ahead of them.

They’ve been working since morning along with the scores of people who have come to help plant the year’s crops. The flood had destroyed their crops and left the city hungry, relying on the palace’s grain stores to survive. But the king and his council are growing stingy with their generosity.

Sweat runs into Jimin’s eyes, and his body aches from the hours of hard work, but he doesn’t mind. He pauses for a breather, leaning on his hoe and shielding his eyes from the sun as he gazes across the land. Everyone is hard at work: the farmers and their families, the people of the city. All of the handmaidens save for a few left behind to look after the younger ones are here, and the Sun God’s temple has sent its strongest priests to help pull the plows. Even the reclusive Sea Maiden’s temple has sent people to help.

Hyojung hikes her pants more securely around her waist and gets back to work, ponytail swinging high above her head. In all their efforts to help the city after the flood, Hyojung has been at the forefront. She never shies back from a challenge. Jimin admires her; he always has. He thinks half his courage comes from spending his life following in Hyojung’s footsteps.

Jimin wipes the sweat from his brow and moves toward the next clod of soil. No matter how much they spend helping, it never feels like enough. He knows he has to tend to his duties in the temple, too, that people are visiting more and more for the comfort provided by prayer, but he feels useless when he’s home for too long. There’s always so much to do. And despite their best efforts, the situation is still undoubtedly miserable.

“Jiminie,” Yuna calls, passing by him and pressing a canteen into his hands. “Drink, you’re too red.”

He takes a swig of water gratefully before returning it to her. A few rows down, he catches Hoseok pulling a plow with another’s help. They pause for a brief rest, chests heaving. As if he senses Jimin’s gaze, Hoseok glances over and catches it. He nods, and Jimin nods in return. Hoseok’s presence alone has done a great deal for the people; with the prince in their midst, they feel less like they’ve been abandoned.

“It’ll grow,” Yuna says, a note of optimism in her voice that Jimin doesn’t hear often these days.

He glances at her. She’s gazing across the land, her eyes bright, shoulders straight. The flood may have devastated their land, but it also left behind the black silt they’ve now been overturning into the soil. It will make the land more fertile than it has ever been.

The gods send hardship, and with it they send ease.

“It’ll grow,” Jimin agrees, and returns to work.

Chapter Text

Hoseok’s arm is a warm and steady weight around Jimin’s waist. Jimin leans against him more heavily, liking the way warmth blooms at the places where their bodies touch.

“That one’s for your cute nose,” Hoseok’s saying, pointing toward the star in question then tapping Jimin’s nose.

Jimin shifts his cheek where it’s pressed against his shoulder so that he can look at him. “You already counted that star.”

They’re sitting atop a hill on the outskirts of the city, a plush blanket and a mostly empty basket of food next to them. They don’t really need to sneak around anymore, but for old times’ sake, Hoseok had shown up on his balcony at midnight and asked for his time.

“Two reasons for each star,” Hoseok says. “Isn’t that what I said?”

Jimin had asked him teasingly why Hoseok loved him, and Hoseok had very seriously answered that he had a reason for every star they could see.

“Liar,” Jimin returns. “You’re just making this up as you go along.”

Hoseok continues as if Jimin hadn’t spoken, pointing at another star. “The one, the bright one? That’s for how hard you make me work.”

Jimin huffs, shoving at him. “I don’t make you do anything.”

“Do too,” Hoseok complains. “I’m trying to woo you with my romantic words, and here you are telling me I’m doing it wrong.”

“You’re too much.”

“And you love it.”

Jimin softens, leaning back into him. “I do,” he agrees. “That’s one of my stars for you.”

Hoseok leans in to kiss him slowly. When he pulls away, he says, “We should marry.”

Jimin’s heart skips a beat. He yanks himself away, at first full of wonder and then anger. “Don’t joke about that!”

Hoseok grabs his wrists, calming him with the seriousness of his gaze. He doesn’t look like he’s joking. “I mean it.”

Jimin blinks at him, alarmed to find himself tearing up just at the thought of it. “You do?”

“I do,” he says gently. “I want to marry you. If you’ll have me.”

“If I’ll have you!” Jimin exclaims. “Of course I will. Of course.”

“So that’s a yes? We’ll marry?” His eyes twinkle, and Jimin’s even more alarmed to find that his eyes are teary, too.

“They’re not - they’re not going to be happy with that - ”

“I don’t care,” Hoseok says firmly, tugging Jimin back into his arms. “We’ve already accomplished so much. Why not take this, too?”

Jimin buries his face in Hoseok’s chest, unable to hold back the sob. He thinks of Sohye’s vision, of himself in a red veil, something he had only dared to imagine in the darkness of the night, wrapped up in his blankets and dreaming of things that could never be. He’d blessed many couples who came to the temple before their marriages. All his life, he’d never imagined he could have such a thing. No matter how he secretly longed for it.

“I love you,” Hoseok says, pressing a kiss to his head.

“I love you, too,” Jimin says, and he’d never imagined he could be so happy, either.