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If I Bleed Red

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Salem, Massachusetts: 1682

 

The apple is barely ripe, still green and hard as a rock, but he plucks it off the tree anyways, biting it with a crisp chop and chewing it until its flavor bursts in his mouth.

 

He scrunches his nose, his eyes turning into small crescents as he cringes from the acrid taste. He spits the mussy clumps out onto the grass, gagging as the taste refuses to leave him and stomping his foot deep into the dirt for his bad luck. His toes are coated in fresh soil, and his fists are clenched.

 

Blasted thing!

 

He’s too small to reach the higher, plumper ones whose skins are glossy reds. He’d had to jump up with all of the force in his tiny legs, missing the apple over and over until a thick burn had spread within his thighs and a thin sheen of sweat had coated his back.

 

His mouth had been taunt with frustration as he’d bounced up again, looking like a rabbit with all the hopping and jumping he had been doing. Once he’d finally been able to pick off that apple (from the lowest branch of them all, mind you), he’d gotten the sharp surprise of juicy bitterness and had spit out all of his hard work!

 

Not to mention the sun is blazing above, its warmth coating Jimin’s arms and neck like a suffocating blanket. He’s sure he’ll get a sunburn, and he’s well aware of the scolding he’ll receive from his mother when he walks back to the house.

 

Perhaps she’ll paddle him this time for being so daft, and oh, how Jimin wants to avoid that at all costs! He’ll have a reddened neck and an even redder behind!

 

“Why don’t ya just climb it?”

 

Jimin swerves at the cackle of the voice; he could have sworn he was alone! The apple orchard his family has owned for generations is one of his special places, where the area is so grand that he doesn’t have to interact with anyone.

 

So who has dared interrupt his peace? And to laugh at him for it, too!

 

Jimin’s eyes veer around, almost falling over in his haste to pinpoint the face behind the mocking voice. His clumsiness only serves to prolong his embarrassment even more as he trips on his own two feet and crashes into the grass, the blades tickling his cheeks as they turn blood red.

 

“Are ya okay?”

 

Jimin looks up, bracing his hands on the ground as he scrambles to his feet to protect his territory. He furrows his eyebrows, putting a hand on his hips in the way that his mother does when she’s being stern with him.

 

The intruder is...is a young boy, seemily the same age as Jimin. Jimin scans him over, puzzled at this situation and still wearing the red blossoms of embarrassment on his cheeks. His eyes are promptly drawn to the other child’s clothes. The boy’s trousers are soiled in dirt with rips varying in different sizes exposing the pale skin underneath. They’re crinkled and obviously reworn over and over, and Jimin wonders how his mother allowed him to leave the house like that. His shirt is in similar disarray, brown and showing the signs of a pauper.

 

Jimin would be ashamed to ever leave the house like that, but the boy brazenly catches and holds his eye. His stance is wide, a grin stretching across his face. His two front teeth are longer than the others, making him look like a newborn baby bunny, and his eyes are wide and a dark chocolate brown.

 

Jimin relaxes his stance, staring at the new boy with an open mouth as if he’d just confessed to having Typhoid.

 

Jimin looks down at his own clothes, his linen shirt white and tailored and his breeches crisp and buttoned. For a boy who actually lives on this apple orchard, he looks more out of place than the intruder!

 

The boy scratches his head, the moment too long for just a simple scratch, and that’s when Jimin knows he’s carrying lice. He takes a step back.

 

In all of Jimin’s nine years, he’s never seen this boy before.

 

“Do you sleep in a hog’s den?”

 

The boy doesn’t look down in shame as Jimin expects. Instead he throws back his head, cackling into the afternoon sky like a madman. Why is he laughing?!

 

Jimin crosses his arms tightly across his chest, pouting out his thick lips in an expression that he hopes appears as stern.

 

“No, no.” His speech is slurred, and his “no”s sound more like “no-uh, no-uh.” Jimin stares, his behind starting to itch, but he wouldn’t dare in front of a stranger. “I’m from more deeper south. My family decided tuh pull up stakes ‘n move ‘ere.”

 

Pull up stakes? What kind of place was he talking about? Jimin’s family had never ventured to the deep south, and he was starting to understand why.

 

He has never met someone with speech similar to this. The people born in Salem die in Salem. There is no moving around. Everyone in town has a mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother who had settled in these parts and never left.

 

“So you’ve moved here?”

 

“Yup. The journey was rough. I’ve been on a buggy for so long that my buttocks aches when I sit!”

 

The boy pats his own butt as if to demonstrate the point as Jimin watches in silence, the bitter taste of apple finally free from his tongue as he tries not to gawk at this strange child.

 

“Where will you be living?”

 

“‘Bout a ‘alf mile away from ‘ere, near a pond with a tire swing ‘n such.”

 

Jimin knows exactly the house he’s referring to. It’s a small wooden farmhouse with dirt floors and no chimney. No one has lived in it for years, and Jimin has taken to explore it on the afternoons his mother lets him out.

 

Their lands are right beside each other, but whereas Jimin’s home is large and well-groomed with servants attending to the gardens and orchard, this boy’s new home is shrouded in leaves and rat dung.

 

He’s not entirely sure that he’s particularly fond of his new neighbor, but he must remain civil.

 

He sticks out a small hand, stretching it so that the kid knows to shake it and smiling because he knows his mother would be proud of him.

 

“I’m Park Jimin. Nice to meet you.”

 

The boy takes it in his grasp, his grip firm and his bunny teeth sticking out from under his lips. A warm breeze brushes past them, tousling Jimin’s hair into his eyes and ruffling the boy’s shirt as their hands hold each other.

 

“I’m Jeon Jungkook. Nice tuh meet ya, too.”

 

Chapter Text

Salem, Massachusetts: 1683

 

“Jungkookie! Jungkookie! Where are you? Where are you?”

 

It’s been a year. A year of bone-crushing hugs and soft smiles. A year of exploring the woods, their feet bare as they coat their toes with the soil, deer scattering as they scream joyfully into the world until their lungs burn and their feet ache.

 

Jimin and Jungkook are both ten years old now, and Jimin has come to realize that he likes having his neighbor around. He likes the way Jungkookie smiles—yes, he has a nickname for him—and likes the way his fingers splay out when he’s animated, his feet bouncing around and scattering pebbles into the air. He likes the hugs Jungkookie gives him, with his arms wrapping around Jimin and his body warm, inviting Jimin in when he’s sad and petting his hair tenderly when he cries.

 

Yes, he likes his neighbor very much.

 

They regularly explore the town, racing each other to see who can sprint down the dirt road the fastest and breathing heavily as they wait at the first shop for the slower to catch up. They play with the other children in town square, scraping their knees on the cobblestone road and hitting their heads on the signs but always extending a warm hand to help the fallen one up off of his knees.

 

His heart beats alive when he’s with Jungkook, the feeling so clear that every breath he takes around him flourishes his world to gleaming lights.

 

But he doesn’t seem to be the only one who feels this way...

 

Jungkook received his first confession today.

 

Jimin had been crouching on the grass beside the school yard, a metal pail of water freezing his lower lip as he gulps it down. The liquid drools down his chin and soaks his shirt, but Jimin doesn’t notice, his body too greedy for water to care. When it travels down the wrong way, he sputters, spit flying into the air as he coughs out the sneaky water filling his lungs. Jungkook thuds a hand against his back, helping Jimin to breathe as he scolds that he needs to slow down.

 

They had been playing hide-and-seek, scrambling past the other children in the small town to dive into prickly bushes and swerve behind garments as the afternoon sun had burned down on them. Jimin had sprinted with them, chasing girls and boys around trees and fences until his breath had come out in dry heaves, wheezing as the heat suffocated his body. His hands had grasped his knees, his knuckles turning red with how tensely he was gripping his breeches, his sweat trickling down his throat as he stared in choked pain at the dirt.

 

Jungkook had called out to him, sacrificing his hiding spot to sprint to Jimin, putting a gentle hand on his back and immediately leaving the game for the other children to play. He’d wrapped an arm around Jimin, supporting his tiny body as they’d traipsed to a large oak tree on the offside of town. He’d then carefully placed Jimin down into the soft grass, darting to get water from one of the shops and returning with worry pooling in his eyes and a pail sloshing with water in his hands.

 

“You didn’t have to do all that,” Jimin says once he’s stopped wheezing, his body cooling down under the shade of the oak tree as air had streamed into his lungs.

 

“‘course I did.”

 

Jungkook doesn’t say any more, sitting so close to Jimin that he can feel his sweat transferring onto his shoulder, his head resting against Jimin’s hair. Their eyes both trail the other children as they run in circles, screaming in laughter as they chase each other around the town. Jimin regrets being the reason for Jungkook to sit out, pointing a hand out at them and telling Jungkook that he should return back to play.

 

Jungkook silently refuses, shaking his head leisurely against Jimin’s hair and wiping the sweat on his forehead with the back of his hand.

 

Ding Ding.

 

The bells! Oh how Jimin loves the bells!

 

His eyes widen to the size of the sun, his face lighting up until he looks like a toddler tasting rich chocolate for first time in his life. He squirms his arms around, immediately searching for the warmth of Jungkook’s hand and entwining their fingers together tightly. Jungkook gives him a quick squeeze, the pulse reminding Jimin to even his breathing; he is well aware of the squeal that bursts inside Jimin when he hears the bells. Jimin squeezes back twice as hard, ignoring when Jungkook yelps out a curt “ow!” and tries to tug his hand away.

 

The bells mean someone is getting married!

 

Ding Ding.

 

Oh how Jimin wants to hear those bells ringing for him someday!

 

Jungkook snuggles closer to him as Jimin smiles, his eyes molding to crescents as the last ring of the bells floats into his ears. Jungkook frowns, disliking the fact that Jimin’s attention is no longer on him. He plops his body onto Jimin’s lap, their hands still cradling each other as he waits for Jimin to tilt his head down to him.

 

The sudden weight startles him, and he drops his eyes to Jungkook’s, watching Jungkook pout and stare at him like a fat cat meowing for milk.

 

Cute kitty.

 

“No, ‘m a bunny,” Jungkook murmurs, his voice sulky as Jimin realizes he’s said his thoughts aloud, giggling down at him as Jungkook plays with a blade of grass near Jimin’s knee.

 

“Ah, you’re right.”

 

The heat of Jungkook’s body quickly becomes too smothering, trapping any rogue breeze from reaching Jimin’s legs, and Jimin picks up his arms, ready to push Jungkook off into the grass.

 

Haru sneaks from behind a shop as he puts his hands on Jungkook’s shoulders, his focus on the task in front of him waning as he watches her trot towards them. He sees her legs practically bounce with every step, an elbow sticking out as she hides something behind her back.

 

Jimin grits his teeth, a tongue running along his upper lip as he asks her what she wants in a tone that would scandalize his mother.

 

He’s never particularly liked Haru, her eyes arched like a snake and normally directed at his poor Jungkookie. She always looks either about to burst into mad fits of laughter or cry into a puddle, and Jimin can never be sure which one it is. He’s had to endure watching her steal all of Jungkook’s time away, a bitter taste flooding his mouth each instance. Jimin wishes he could push Jungkook behind his small frame, shielding him any way he can from her pinched eyes and grabby hands.

 

His eyebrows lift as she displays a crinkled letter from behind her back, waving it in front of Jungkook as if he should be excited to see the dirt-stained paper.

 

“Jungkookie, I have something for you.”

 

Jimin bites his tongue at that, keeping himself from saying anything more that would disgrace his image and make his mother see red. Haru keeps a peculiar expression twisted on her face as she drops the card hastily, scrambling away with less bounce in her feet than when she came. Jimin watches her pig tails fly as she runs, swerving behind a building without looking back from where she once stood.

 

“Don’t pick it up,” Jimin orders, his face melting to scandalized as Jungkook disobeys, leaving his lap and doing it anyways.

 

He sulks, his head shaking in disappointment as Jungkook timidly opens the letter, his face pinched in frustration as he scans the words.

 

Jungkook can’t read. He had worked on a farm in the south before he’d moved, so he’d never had time for school work, his days preoccupied with collecting eggs from hens and scraping up goat scat.

 

Jimin’s mother is trying to fix that, proclaiming that reading enlightens the soul and teaching Jungkook new letters and words every time he visits their house. She must remain quiet about her teachings, however. A well-educated woman is a dangerous woman—to society and to herself. Jimin doesn’t even know if his father would allow her to continue if he learned about it.

 

The story that his mother has told the boys to say is that they hired a minister to teach, as any well-respected family did. It wouldn’t take much prying into their lives to realize that this is a falsehood.

 

Jimin hates the frustration he sees swirling in Jungkook’s eyes, knowing how disappointed he gets with himself when he can’t accomplish a challenge. He sees the tears beading in the corners of his eyes as he scans again, a third time, a fourth, still unable to see the wide world locked behind those sloppy letters and fancy words.

 

Jimin wants to hug all the anger away, needs him to know these imperfections do not deserve to be the things that destroys him. These faults do not deserve to pollute his mind with “you can’t” s and “you’ll never” s.

 

He gently takes the letter from Jungkook’s hands, seeing the disappointment clouding his face, unable to meet Jimin’s eyes as he sulks. He pets Jungkook’s hair, his hand softly grabbing Jungkook’s chin as he forces their eyes to meet, his eyes silently affirming that “you’ll get there. Give it time.” He continues running his chubby fingers through Jungkook’s brown locks, sifting through the tangles as he finally moves his eyes to the letter.

 

He takes one look and wants to retch all over the disgusting thing.

 

It’s a love letter!

 

She’d even added a sloppily drawn heart at the very bottom!

 

And now he has to read it out loud! What has he gotten himself into?

 

His mouth tightens, his chest puffing out in annoyance as he huffs into the air and starts reading it to Jungkook, every word turning Jungkook’s ears a shade redder and redder. Jimin can feel Jungkook drawing away from him with each line, his embarrassment practically seeping off in clouds. Once Jimin reads the last word, he is fuming, an expression on his face that would make his mother paddle him right then and there. The need to protect Jungkook, to keep him huddled close and safe to his chest, runs through his veins, the feeling more amplified than usual.

 

“So,” Jimin says, dropping the letter into Jungkook’s hands as he shakes his head, trying to clear the fire stirring in his brain. He shouldn’t feel so protective over Jungkook; he knows this, yet his mouth is twisted, his eyes are squinted, and he feels trapped in his own skin, the feeling uncomfortable and foreign. “Do you return her sentiment?” “Sentiment” is a word that Jimin’s mother has recently taught him, and he feels proud for using it, despite the situation.

 

Jimin picks the grime from under his fingernails, his only attempt at being nonchalant, as Jungkook looks down at his hands, staring at his knuckles and fiddling with his sleeves. Jungkook’s head picks up to look at where Haru has disappeared, his eyes open and helpless.

 

“No, I don’t. I like ya more.”

 

Jimin is sighing out loud in relief before he realizes what he’s doing, his hand smacking over his mouth to stifle it as Jungkook’s neck turns to watch him, their bodies huddled and directed towards each other.

 

“As...as a friend?” Jimin doesn’t know why this comes out as a question, doesn’t know why he’d need to clarify this in the first place, doesn’t know why his heart has started thrumming against his ribs and won’t stop no matter how many breaths he sucks in. There’s a cloak of heat swaddling from his torso to the tips of his ears, and he knows that it isn’t from the burn of the summer sun. He's blushing. Why is he blushing? He doesn’t know where it’s come from, just feels it centering in his chest, above his heart and blooming onto his cheeks.

 

“‘course. That’s it.”

 

That had all happened earlier today.

 

Now, they are playing in the apple orchard, Jungkook having disappeared into the trees as Jimin walks around the bark, puzzled to where Jungkook has hidden.

 

He’s never been able to climb the trees, the fear of falling to his death overwhelming the need to be with Jungkook. Jungkook loves them, loves sticking his face against the thick leaves and snacking on apples as he watches down on Jimin. He loves picking up beetles that sleep in the bark and showing them to Jimin, his hands cupping them as if they are a precious silver as Jimin sticks his tongue out in disgust.

 

“Jungkookie! Jungkookie! Where are you? Where are you?”

 

He frowns at his bare toes, the skin red and blistering from how often he runs into the depths of the forest and how little he wears shoes. He grinds his toes into the grass, his mind picturing Haru’s annoying face as she’d smiled, calling him “Jungkookie” before rushing to hide.

 

“‘Jungkookie’ is my nickname for him!” He crosses his arms over his chest, a pout sinking his lips as he stomps through the trees.

 

“I’m up ‘ere!”

 

Jimin pops his head up in surprise, connecting with Jungkook’s eyes as his thick hair falls in waves around his face, his hand gripping tight onto the thin branch beside him. He lets out a puff out air, trying and failing to get his sweaty hair from out of his eyes. Jungkook definitely needs his hair trimmed.

 

“Come down from there!”

 

He puts both hands on his hips, his feet tapping against the soil as he hears a giggle tinkling like little bells and drifting down from the canopy of branches.

 

“Nope!”

 

Jimin picks a small stick up from the ground, preparing to use all his strength to throw it at him, knowing he will miss by a long shot.

 

“Jimin!” A female’s voice yells from behind him. Fearing that he’s about to be scolded, he hurls the stick away from himself, hearing it smack against another tree beside him as he swerves to face her.

 

It’s his favorite maid, Minseo, and she’s smiling with that gap-toothed grin that he loves, her breathing heavy from running over to him through the orchard. “Your father! He’s home!”

 

~*~

 

Jimin’s mother has taken a liking to the Jeon family, evident by her allowing Jungkook to be taught by her in their home. Jimin had been going to the town’s public schoolhouse since he was a small youth, but smallpox is spreading like the plague in Salem, and his mother worries his “fragile” body will catch it. Her words—not his.

 

She has always been protective of Jimin, babying him even as he got past his toddler years. He used to wonder why, wonder why the maids were always told to constantly watch him and why his mother hated letting him out of the house at any point. It wasn’t until this year, on the short week that his father is home, that he finally explains it.

 

They’re in the gardens, Jungkook resting on his chest on the stone pathway as he draws something indistinguishable on his chalkboard. He holds it up every once in a while, pointing to a butterfly or flower he’s drawn, his eyes as wide as the moon as he waits for Jimin to praise it. Jimin has noticed how Jungkook loves hearing compliments from him especially, going out of his way for Jimin to notice something impressive he’s done. Jimin finds it endearing, always happy to leave a compliment and watch Jungkook’s face light up like the dawn of a new day.

 

“I don’t understand why she’s so protective,” he mutters, his body on the stone bench as his father sits beside him. “I want to ride the donkey into town, and you said I could once I reached ten years of age! But mother says no each time that I ask!”

 

Jimin rarely sees his father. He owns a factory in Boston, miles and miles away. He travels by horseback, the journey too long to make back and forth regularly, and his work too important to abandon for seeing his family. Jimin understands it now. When he was younger, he hated the months that his father was gone, hated not having him to mentor him as the other boys his age did. He’s older now, more mature , ten years old . He stills hates it, still hates the few and far between letters saying that he wishes them well but that he can’t return home for another month, but Jimin understands it.

 

His father smiles, his mustache crinkling up as he stares at the leafy hedges surrounding the three of them. Jimin notices that it isn’t his regular smile. It doesn’t have the same hearty gleam to it; there’s no light in his eyes.

 

“Did your mother ever tell you that you had a sister?”

 

“Where?” Jimin asks, twisting his head around the garden as if this mysterious sibling will pop out from under the hedges. His father places a hand on his shoulder, his grip light and making Jimin halt his search.

 

“Jimin, son, she’s not with us anymore.”

 

Oh. Jimin looks up at his father, the world seeming a duller shade of color. So that is the reason why his father’s eyes look so empty. His father is still smiling, his back still straight and his countenance still calm, but Jimin can see the pain in his eyes. How could anyone not? It’s trapped in every limb, begging to be released.

 

But a fully grown man is not allowed to cry in Salem—that’s saved for women and small children solely.

 

“The—” His father chokes for a second, and his eyes widen as if he’s just surprised himself. Jimin can see him berating himself inside, can see how his arms tense and his forehead wrinkles in controlled pain. He watches his father force himself to remain strong for his son, taking a moment to breathe in the summer air. “The influenza took her away from us.”

 

Jimin bites so hard on his lip that it draws blood, the color a sickening red as he watches his father's eyebrows furrow in pain.

 

Jimin can feel it, can feel it in his skin that his father so desperately wants to stop talking. It comes off in waves, shrinking Jimin down with its force. How is Jungkook not seeing this? He waits for him to feel it too, to look up and see the pain, but Jungkook continues smiling, not listening to their conversation from his rest on the ground.

 

Jimin isn’t able to tell him that he needs not say more, his father already continuing onward, his weary face looking anywhere but Jimin’s eyes.

 

“You were very young, still a toddler. I believe you wouldn’t remember.”

 

Jimins shakes his head no. He can’t remember ever having a younger sister, can’t remember every holding a baby girl in his little arms and watching her squeal as she opens her eyes to this new world. Can’t remember whispering promises of showing her that world some day.

 

“It devastated your mother. The babe was already a weak child when she was born, birthed three months before the nursemaid said she was due.” He shutters, the action quick and meant for no one to see. “We believed she would make it to see another year, but I was foolish.”

 

“Father, you can’t blame—”

 

“I brought home a colleague, all the way from Boston. I—I didn’t discern he carried the disease. I would have never...” His father pauses again, his head sinking forward as if the earth is pulling him down to her center. “If I had known, I would have never...”

 

Jimin takes his father’s hand in his own, the callused fingers brushing over his and encompassing all of Jimin’s tiny palm. His father need not speak anymore. His father need not carry this burden.

 

Jimin searches for his pain, looking deep within his father until he finds it, tight and compacted and ready to burst. Jimin doesn’t realize what he’s doing as he drains it away, letting it leave his father in a long sigh of air that blows away with the morning wind into the forests beside their house. His father takes a deep breath in, and Jimin guides it to his heart, letting his body rest for a deserved moment, letting him alleviate the stress that has been overworking his soul.

A maid walks outside, informing them that dinner is piping hot  from the fire and ready to serve. Jimin releases his father’s hand, the connection leaving as they stand up. Jungkook picks up his chalkboard, bouncing up and down on his feet as he exclaims that he’s ready for supper.

 

Jimin looks up to his father, the man’s face resting with an easy smile and less pain embedded in his wrinkles. His father brushes off his black breeches, his pain subsided.

 

“It was refreshing talking with you, my son.” He gives Jimin a smile, a real smile that reaches his eyes. “I don’t know how, but I feel rejuvenated.”

 

Jimin nods up at him, walking over to stay beside Jungkook as they make their way for the house.

 

“Jiminie! Let’s race! First one there gets the warmest slice of bread!”

 

Jimin is about to agree, the challenge already firing up his mind, but his body is...drained. He feels like sod is covering his arms and weighing his head down. He had felt well moments earlier, and now he worries for catching a sickness. His mother would fret her life away if he came down with a fever.

 

“Not today, Jungkook. Perhaps another.”

 

Jungkook pouts, the expression making Jimin giggle until his chest bounds alive with fluttering butterflies, beating their wings in the home of his heart. The sun is sinking down, taking its well-earned rest below the trees as the sky bleeds to red.

 

Jimin hasn’t yet realized that he’s started something, can’t understand the signs because he’s not looking for them.

 

But once it starts, it never stops.

 

Chapter Text

Salem, Massachusetts: 1684

 

Jimin hates the church pews. They are rigid things, meant to force your back straight and keep your mind awake, too focused on the pain in your spine than the weight pulling down your eyelids.

 

Jungkook squirms beside him, scrunching up his face as he listens to the minister and shifting around so much that Jimin has to keep scolding him to be still.  They're alone on the pew, the last one in the back as their parents sit on the bench in front.

 

Jungkook isn’t yet accustomed to the horrid pews, his body aching against the wood as he twists. Jimin, however, has been killing his spine for years now, well aware of which way to contort his back in order to escape without pains for the rest of the Sunday afternoon.

 

It's a talent, he must say.

 

Over the course of his two years with his neighbor, Jimin has realized that there are many things in Salem that Jungkook isn’t yet accustomed to.

 

For one, the music—or lack thereof. The Puritan church doesn’t allow everyday music. It never has, and it never will. Musical instruments are forbidden, the belief that they distract from the focus on the Lord, with the men singing psalms in acapella.

 

“Jungkookie!” Jimin had scolded, snatching the upside down bucket away from Jungkook and shifting his eyes around, confirming that they were alone.

 

Jungkook’s eyes had widened, his chocolate browns mixing with sadness as he’d looked to where Jimin was holding the metal handle.

 

“What? What’s wrong? Does it sound bad? Is my playin’ bad?”

 

Jungkook had been pounding on the bucket as if it were a drum, sitting on the outside of the church’s steps, his eyes closed in satisfaction as he’d thunked to his own beat.

 

“No. It’s not that your playing is bad—

 

"Then what is it?"

 

"It’s that you’re playing at all...”

 

Jungkook doesn’t yet understand the reach of the church, the role it plays in every aspect of life, the grip it has on everyone in this town.

 

But he'll learn. They all do.

 

Jimin watches Jungkook squirming in the corner of his eye, the minister still speaking in the front of the church as Jimin scoots along the pew to scold the younger.

 

“...cannot forget. A man touching flesh in ways impure with another man be more than simply immoral...”

 

“Jungkookie,” Jimin whispers, not listening to the minister’s teachings as he leans over to Jungkook. “Jungkookie, you have to pay attention.”

 

“...it be the devil himself resting in his soul...”

 

“Ya aren’t payin’ attention right now! Why should I?”

 

“Because I was trying to make you pay attention!”

 

“Hush up, boys,” Jungkook’s father huffs, his head swiveling back from the pew in front to look at them, his lips tight with annoyance.

 

“Sorry,” they say at the same time, glancing towards one another with widened grins as they try not to giggle. Jungkook cracks first, little bells of joy filling Jimin's ears. Jimin puts a hand over Jungkook’s mouth, almost squealing out loud when he feels a wet tongue slurp against his fingers.

 

“You devil!”  he whisper-screams, jerking his hand back. Jungkook smirks, watching as Jimin rubs his hand on his pants.

 

That’s what ya get for tryin’ tuh quiet me! ” There’s no malice in either of their tones, their eyes gleaming brighter than the dawn lights as they look at each other, fondness blooming in their chests.

 

“...We shall always keep wary eyes for the sin of one desiring another of the same sex...”

 

Jimin feels warm fingers wrapping around his, his eyes turning into crescents as he smiles at the back of a wooden pew, squeezing Jungkook’s hand tightly, the urge to peck his soft cheek with a kiss filling Jimin’s mind for no real reason as he tries to hide it away.

 

“Amen.”

 

It’s only when they hear the church echoing “Amen” back that they realize they were supposed to say it too, Jungkook resting his head against Jimin’s as he giggles into his shoulder.

 

Jungkook squeezes Jimin’s hand in return, the softness of it his lingering comfort as they part, Jimin’s mother and Jungkook’s Ma and Pa beckoning them to leave.

 

As the church bells ding overhead, they wander to the door with their parents, maintaining a distance deemed healthy for two young Puritan boys.

 

If you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t notice the way that Jimin inches closer, searching for Jungkook’s warmth instinctively as they leave through the church doors; you wouldn’t notice how their hands brush together, too gently and too slowly to be a coincidence; you wouldn’t notice the way their hands finally grasp each other’s once they’ve traveled back home, watching the swing of their palms as they walk through the orchard and sit down together.

 

No, you wouldn't notice.

 

And in a way, they wouldn't either.

 

 

~*~

 

 

One thought plagues Jimin as he drifts off to sleep that night, alone in his bed and staring at the ceiling. One thought plunges in his mind and refuses to relinquish its hold, taunting the small boy with whispers of how easy it should be yet faced with the truth of how difficult the world makes it.

 

He sweats, a panic thrumming in his heart as he tries to forget these foolish thoughts, tries to hide them away to where even he can never reach.

 

 

Why can’t he stop thinking of kissing Jungkook?

 

~*~

 

 

“If ya could live anywhere besides Salem, where would ya be?”

 

Jimin lets his eleven-year old mind ponder this over, his hand holding Jungkook’s as they rest in the tulip patch beside his house. Their backs are on the grass, and their minds are in the sky. If his mother knew that their bodies were smushing her tulips, she’d kill herself ten times over, so shhhhh , she doesn’t have to know of these secret moments.

 

If his mother knew they were holding hands like this, this softly and sweetly...well...Jimin’s not sure what she’d make of it. But for now, they’re safe from a paddling and calmly resting in the flowers, away from the world’s pains.

 

“I...uh...I don’t know. I’ve never once thought of moving anywhere else besides Salem.”

 

Jungkook huffs, obviously not appreciating the answer. He’s grown fond of learning, Jimin’s mother’s teachings setting a fire of passion through his life. He has learned to read and has started taking books with him wherever he goes, preserving their pages from the rain, dirt, even Jimin’s sticky hands. All Jungkook ever talks about is learning more, experiencing more, finding out more. Jimin has never felt that way. He has always been content with Salem. Same old Salem and its same old people. He doesn’t need to experience more when he’s already happy with where he is.

 

It must be a southern thing.

 

“Ya need tuh be a little more creative! I can think of a million places I’d like tuh live!” The hand that’s not holding Jimin’s swings widely in the air, up to the clouds and to the crystal blue sky, as if implying he’d travel to the moon if he could.

 

Jimin’s becoming frustrated himself, not enjoying Jungkook’s tone.

 

“Well, where would you go? If you can think of a million places, then go for it! Tell me one.” He exhales a sulky sigh, his temper heightened. A ladybug flies onto his face, resting on his little button nose and crawling around, tickling his skin.

 

Jimin crosses his eyes to look at it, looking daft but determined as Jungkook turns his head from the sky. His mouth is tight with annoyance, a bitter sentence crawling on his tongue, but the second he sees Jimin’s cross-eyed face, his lips puckering in concentration, the irritation melts away. 

 

Jimin just has that effect.

 

Jimin sneezes, the ladybug shooting into the air as Jungkook cackles a laugh, his grip on Jimin’s hand squeezing tight as his head falls back into the grass.

 

The sound lifts Jimin’s spirit until he’s giggling along with Jungkook, his body turning onto his side so that he can watch Jungkook’s face, watching how his eyes scrunch up and his bunny teeth poke out even more.

 

When he calms down, he flips on his shoulder too, both boys facing each other as they lay in a bed of tulips, their breathing evening out as they watch each other’s eyes.

 

“I’d wanna live in the mountains.”

 

The mountains. Jimin’s never thought about the mountains. He supposes they could be nice.

 

“Why the mountains?”

 

Jungkook ignores his question pressing his forehead against Jimin’s.

 

“Well?” Jimin asks, ignoring how rampant his heart has become. He can feels Jungkook’s breath on his skin, could lean forward and touch his lips— no, no, no.

 

“I dunno. Guess I read 'bout ‘em in a book somewhere, a man escapin' tuh the mountains with his wife, hidin' from all the judgement.”

 

"Seems you've thought about it."

 

"Not really."

 

Jimin smiles, falling on his back and in the tulips as his heart thud, thud, thuds in his chest. He places a hand over his shirt as if the motion will be able to calm his temperamental heart.

 

“So…my question...shall you answer? Where would ya live?” Jungkook asks, suddenly shy as he pets a tulip as if it were a cat. Jimin watches him, not knowing what to say until it comes out of his mouth.

 

“The mountains,” he whispers quietly, watching a smile grow wide on Jungkook’s face. “The mountains sound nice.”

 

Chapter Text

His veins burn.

 

Jimin peels open his eyes, his eyelashes sticking together as he turns his head to the window, the morning light sprinkling into his room. His bedroom faces the sprouting flowers and hedges of the main garden, on the second story up, and he normally loves lounging in his bed, basking in the sun and warm weather. 

 

He can’t focus on beauty this morning, the itching spreading to his chest and coating the outside of his lungs. He grabs the bed frame, his grip so tense that his hand numbs, pushing his body up until he sits upright on the mattress. His other hand dives under his shirt to his torso, sinking his fingernails into his skin and engraving red lines down his chest until his skin peels, his breath quickening as he stares at his bare legs. 

 

Maybe he has poison ivy—he's never experienced it before, but Jungkook has, and he can faintly remember Jungkook describing the itch to be so extreme that it's painful.

 

He hears a soft snore come from Jungkook and twists his neck to the other side, seeing Jungkook’s eyelashes flutter as he sleeps, his mouth drifted open with his bunny teeth winking out from under his lips, his legs lazily spread and tangled in the bed sheets. He’d stolen the covers from Jimin unknowingly in the middle of the night, and the quilt is bunched over his torso and tightly wrapped around his pale legs.

 

Jimin doesn’t need the quilt to feel warm.

 

In fact, he’s too warm.

 

He pulls his hand out from under his shirt, clenching the sweaty cotton over his chest, his hands so tight that he’s ripping the light fabric, the shirt suffocating heat into every place it touches.

 

He has to get it off; he has to get it off!

 

His hands dive for the bottom of his shirt, dragging it over his head and hurling it to the floor, beads of sweet sticking to his neck and dripping down his chest. He doesn’t care that he only has his pants on now—the burning won’t stop.

 

It spreads to the inside of his arms, Jimin chasing it with his hands as he digs and drills his nails into the flesh, scraping jagged scarlet lines down his skin until his whole arm is pink and throbbing.

 

The bed is trembling—no, no, Jimin is trembling. Jimin is shaking so hard that the mattress underneath him vibrates, sweat clinging to his back and his thighs as he his body convulses forwards.

 

The burn has expanded to his legs, bubbles of boiling blood popping inside of his skin; dear Lord he can feel it bursting under his flesh.

 

His nails plunge from his arms to scrape down his legs, his hands shaking so hard that he’s clumsy, the fingers digging too deeply until he bleeds, thin trickles of red dripping into the mattress and staining the fabric.

 

Jimin’s panic thuds in his chest when he realizes he feels relief—relief in his legs from the blood releasing. What does this mean?

 

But the relief isn’t enough. The thin trickles of blood aren’t enough to allow this agony to leave. It still flushes against his skin, pounding from the inside out.

 

He heaves his body out of bed, sagging off the side until he falls, his head collapsing against the wooden floor as his legs follow, slamming down beside him.

 

“Jimine! Are ya okay?”

 

He hears the crumple of the bed sheets moving, the mattress squeaking louder as someone climbs over it.

 

Jimin forces his arms under him, trying to push up to stand on his feet, but his tiny limbs are shaking too much; his body is too weak.

 

“Jiminie?— Jiminie!

 

Jimin can’t respond, his tongue stuck in his throat as his face shakes against the floor, his arms collapsing beside him as he stops attempting to get up.

 

He feels warm arms running along his back, peeling the soaking hair that sticks to his forehead out of his face as he tries to calm Jimin down, tries to stop his shaking.

 

“Please—please—please s-s-stop.”

 

“Stop what? Jiminie? What’s ‘appenin’, Jiminie?”

 

Jungkook’s hands are burning his skin, tears forming in Jimin’s eyes they continue rubbing his forehead, trying to soothe him.

 

“Please stop, Jungkookie; please stop, Jungkookie; please stop Jungkookie His voice cracks against the wood, his body trying to pull away, trying to escape from Jungkook's burning hands.

 

“Jiminie? What do I need tuh stop? Please tell me, Jiminie! Ya scarin’ me!”

 

Jungkook backs his body away from him, and he gets a moment of relief from the hands, bubbles becoming thicker under his skin. His breathing sharpens until he’s seeing white, too much air filling his lungs and making his head drop to the ground, woozy and hitting the floor with a deep thud.  

 

Yellow spots twirl around his room as Jungkook wraps his arms around him, Jimin crying out at more warmth smothers his body and tries to kill him. He's dying. Jungkook heaves him onto the bed, screaming out for Minseo as he holds Jimin’s arms, trying to keep him from collapsing backwards.

 

Every inch of his skin boils, lava heaving inside of him, ready to rupture, ready to burst.

 

This will be how he dies.

 

It bursts.

 

Every inch of his skin pops open, heavy waves of thick liquid coating his body and spilling into the world, soaking the mattress and flooding his sight red.

 

Blood .

 

There’s blood.

 

There’s blood.

 

There’s blood.

 

Jimin crumbles under the weight, smacking the pooling liquid on the bed with a squelch, crying as it pours into his ears, fills the spaces between his toes and slushes under his stomach. Everywhere.

 

He screams.

 

The sound is so loud that Jungkook falls off of the bed, hitting the ground with a heavy thud.

 

It would be hilarious if Jimin weren’t dying.

 

MOTHER! ” He’s crying heavily now, hot tears pour down his cheeks as snot drips from his nose and smears against the mattress. Hot blood dribbles off the sheets and onto the floor. He’s drowning in it. It’s coating his throat, consuming every inch of space in his lungs. He can’t breathe.

 

Dear god, he’s drowning in it.

 

MOMMY! ” He hasn’t used that word to describe his mother since he was five and having nightmares.

 

This is a nightmare in itself.

 

Blood beads and floods down his skin, the thickened streams clotting in his hair and soaking his tummy.

 

This is worse than a nightmare.

 

This is so so much worse.

 

He hears Jungkook beside him, looking at Jimin with shock as Jimin wails and screams, shrieking until his vocal chords are busted and his head is thunking against the sheets.

 

“Jiminie...what’s wrong?” Jungkook approaches him slowly, as if Jimin were a frightened deer, as if Jimin were descending to madness. He takes a cautioned step, looking into Jimin’s eyes as he cries, Jungkook’s face blurry from all the blood and tears dripping into his pupils.

 

Why is Jungkookie not petrified? Why is Jungkookie not screaming?

 

Jimin is ripping out his hair now, the blood not stopping. The blood is not stopping.

 

Why is the blood not stopping—

 

Jungkook slowly gets closer, holding his palms out in a promise to comfort Jimin. “Jiminie, what’s ‘appenin’? You gotta tell me what’s ‘appenin’ so I can ‘elp!”

 

He has blood dripping into his eyes and pouring down his thighs, and Jungkook’s just...standing there—

 

He stares madly at Jungkook, his eyes twitching as he screams, furious.

 

He needs Jungkook to feel the same pain he burns with. He needs Jungkook to be shrieking with horror like he is, the same horror that is clogging Jimin’s lungs and strangling his throat.

 

The blood sloshes, climbing up Jungkook’s pant legs and wrapping around his neck. Jungkook doesn't even look at it.

 

What’s happening?

 

Jungkook collapses to the floor, his hands wrapped around his own throat as the blood slips through his fingers, coating his body as he screams out “It ‘urts! It ‘urts!”

 

Jimin’s mother bursts open the door, her hands flying to her mouth in shock as she sees her son coated in blood, his hands tangled in his hair as he screams and screams and screams.

 

Jungkook’s body is cradled on the floor, his mouth wide open yet his voice no longer screaming, the blood too tightly wrapped around his throat to make anything more than muffled gurgles as it soaks his shirt and suffocates his throat. 

 

Minseo rushes in, and Jimin’s mother pushes her back out, locking the door before Minseo can see any more of what’s happening. He can see his mother's body trembling, her back pressed against the door as if she wishes to escape.

 

Jimin’s shoulders shake against the mattress, his head slowly lifting up to meet his mother’s eyes as his voice wanes and dies in his chest. He sees the flash across her face, the flash that tells him that his mother wants to run out, leaving her son bleeding to death.

 

"Mommy..." It's a wail that crawls from Jimin’s throat, croaked into the air as he begs for his mother not to leave him. His voice shakes. Everything shakes. His voice cracks. "Mommy—"

 

"Oh honey, I'm so proud of you." She rushes over to him, her knees burrowing into the bed as she cradles his face in her hands. She hugs him as he collapses into her dress, not caring about the red blood soaking into her bodice and coating her arms, not caring about what this means for the family, only holding her child tightly while she murmurs that everything will be all right.

 

She lets the blood soak deeper into her bones, coating her soul but leaving her...empty...

 

"It is okay. You shall be okay. We shall be okay. Hush, hush. Everything shall be fine, honey. Everything shall be fine."

 

Jungkook's muffled cries are gone, his hands on his throat, but he's no longer trying to pry anything off. The blood coats his skin, but it's no longer suffocating him. His back is to the floor as he stares at the ceiling. His eyes are empty, vacant little things that don't see the world, don't hear a sound.  

 

Jimin hiccups, his breathing still sporadic as he cries. He watches Jungkook, watches how his face is empty, his arms are splayed, just like the bodies thrown in the sewer.

 

He can't be dead; he can't be dead—

 

Jimin buries his head in his mother’s chest, the blood flow slowing down as it clots and weighs down Jimin's skin. Jimin's body is drained, and he wonders how he has the strength to keep his heart beating.

 


Leaving them both...empty...

 

 

~*~

 

 

"Your blood is bleeding out to allow room for the magic."

 

That’s the first thing Jimin can comprehend that his mother is saying. The rest fades in and out as a blur.

 

He’s been bathed. He can’t remember anyone putting him in the tub, can’t remember his mother dumping ice cold buckets of water over his head because she had no time to warm it over a fire. He just remembers watching the blood run down the drain and wondering why blood was so red. Watching it swirl and clot in a world of red.

 

And now he’s here. In his bed. Staring at his hands.

 

The sheets have been changed. They aren't soaked with red blood. Jimin supposes that should make him feel calm, but there's still blood coating the room, the floor, the people. It still reminds him of what happened.

 

It's...his. His blood. 

 

Jungkook watches warily on a chair near him. He’s been silent since everything happened. He’s not crying or yelling bloody murder at Jimin—He’s just...silent. Jimin could deal with the silence, could deal with the hatred, but the eyes...the vacant eyes make Jimin's heart sink and shrivel in his chest.

 

There's blood coating Jungkook's throat, but he doesn't seem to see it. He doesn't seem to see any of it, any of the pools still splashed around the room and seeping into the floor.

 

Jimin’s mother sits beside him, a brush in one hand and Jimin’s trembling fingers in the other. Jimin finds he can’t meet Jungkook’s eyes, can’t meet his mother’s eyes, can’t meet anyone’s eyes. Couldn’t even look at himself in the mirror. It’s all too much.

 

She combs through his short hair, her nails scratching his nape in a way that’s supposed to be calming.

 

“Honey, I have much to tell you.”

 

And so it begins.

 

Chapter Text

Witch.

 

That word mean everything and nothing to him.

 

Oh yes, he's heard of witches.

 

His church speaks of them often.

 

“Burn the damned sinners!”

 

His church preaches of how they dig their blackened nails into pure towns, defiling the young boys and poisoning the weak women, convincing the wives to believe they are equal—even superior to their husbands. They curse babies and wither farmlands, ruining crops for generations. They are temptresses, exposing their breasts at godly men before slurping their blood and leaving their souls to the devil.

 

Witches are female.

 

Huh.

 

Seems the world has decided to experiment.

 

The room has no more blood splashed in it. Jungkook is even finally free of it, though he'd not understood why Jimin had begged him to bathe, crying every time he'd looked at his neck smeared with Jimin's blood.

 

A witch awakens after first blood, the wisps of their power finally pulling together in one large burst. It sounds too close to a woman's monthly cycle for Jimin, his ears reddening as his mother had explained.

 

“You are a witch.”

 

He hates it.

 

He hates this word that makes Jungkook flinch, that makes Jungkook pull away as his mother tells what this will mean.

 

He sits across from Jungkook, not knowing what on this earth to say, not knowing what on the moon to say, or the moon after that one. His mother has left him, Jungkook sitting on the bed, the space between them unnatural. Jimin's mother knows that he needs time to think, and she needs time to explain the screaming.

 

He’d used a spell to hurt his Jungkookie.

 

He’s never felt more disgusted with himself.

 

Jungkook can’t see the blood. The normal ones can’t.

 

Normal.

 

Jimin wishes he were allowed to be that.

 

“Why did not you tell me this before?” Jimin shrieks, tears forming in his eyes as his mother tries to calm him down, Jungkook watching silently beside him.  

 

“Honey, when you came into this world and I realized I had birthed a male, I was overjoyed. Males...males rarely ever be witches. In truth, I have never witnessed one. I could have...I could have never conceived the idea that you would be one of us.”

 

Jimin puts his hands over his mouth as he stares at her, the taste of blood still lingering in his throat and coating his tongue.

 

"Mother...why do you speak—speak as if you are one of them?"

 

She doesn't flinch visibly, even at the hate and panic that drips off Jimin's tongue, even as she watches her son's head recoil at her touch when she extends out an arm to pet his hair. She knows this fear.  She's felt this fear herself. She would never allow her son to see how much it ruins her, ruins her to see his eyes roaming hers with disgust.

 

"'Witches are born in blood and die in fire.' That is what my mother said when I presented.  She was a witch, and she cursed the world for it." His mother clenches her hands, tension in her neck as she cools her blood, forces herself calm. "I will not allow you to ruin yourself as she did. She told me that I could burn and be one of them. I realized I could live and be one of us."

 

Jimin pulls back, further onto the bed and deeper into the sheets, as if he could hide from his mother's glaring sins.

 

"No—" He chokes out the word, spews it out as if it will rid the bitterness of blood in his mouth, as if it will vanish the fear from Jungkook's eyes.

 

"Jimin, honey." She grabs his hands, not allowing him to pull back as he squirms away, her touch tight and burning. "It no longer be a matter you versus them any longer. You may let that go. You will let that go. You're one of them now. You're one of us."

 

Jungkook hasn’t blinked away the vacant look in his eyes since everything happened, hasn't smiled and hasn't spoken. 

 

Jimin knows it will be what breaks him. 

 

“Jung—Jungkookie. I...I...” He’s at such a loss. Sweat is trickling down his neck, and he’s panicking because it’s reminding him of the blood. His hands are fidgeting in his laps, his fingers twitching until he realizes that his whole body is shaking, his heart beating in his throat. He is breaking while his precious Jungkookie can’t meet his eyes.

 

“I’m so, so sorry, Jungkookie. I—I can’t express how sorry I am. I...I didn’t—I would never hurt you...I mean...I know I did—but I would never on purpose...I—” His head drops to the bed, his shoulders shaking uncontrollably. He’s too drained to cry anymore. He can feel no more tears beading up.

 

He’s lost the most precious thing in his life, and he mourns.  

 

“I am so sorry. I am one of the ones they preach against. I am the disgusting one.”

 

He buries his head into the sheets until he can only see the darkness of the covers. 

 

He can feel hands gently resting on his shoulders, running down his back on repeat until Jimin stops shaking. Waiting until Jimin’s breathing is calm until he picks Jimin’s face to his and softly cradles his cheeks. There is fear in his eyes, fear that makes Jimin recoil, but Jungkook holds on, keeping his face a breath from Jimin's.

 

“I like ya, Park Jimin. So much. You frightened me; you frightened me so bad, Jiminie.” Jimin cringes, shrinking down into the covers. Jungkook doesn't allow him to get far, pressing closer. “but—but I like ya. Please, please never speak of yaself so hideously.”

 

Jimin looks into his brown eyes, his mouth wavering and his hands trembling, Jungkook covering his fingers with his own. 

 

“You...do you...do you still want to live in the mountains...with me?”

 

It seems silly, this silly little promise that they’re never going to keep, but it means everything in the world to know Jungkook’s answer.

 

Please answer.

 

“Oh, Jiminie,” he whispers, his hands still resting on Jimin’s cheeks as he wipes away his tears. “I’d still love tuh live in the mountains, if I'm with ya.”

 

 

~*~

 

 



Jungkook isn’t allowed to be here.

 

At least, not when he practices.

 

His mother doesn’t want Jungkook to hurt under Jimin's touch again. He's a wildfire, raw magic spewing from the ground he walks, thrumming and waiting for him to set it free.

 

It craves for spilled blood.

 

And over these last two weeks, his mother has released over half of the staff in fear of that craving, the maids and gardeners shocked at the news of their sudden dismissal. Jimin had watched in pain from the shadows, huddling in the corner of the room as he cried for the lives he's ruined. He is the reason why so many workers have left distraught, scavenging for a new job to feed their families.

 

"There is nothing else we could do," she tells Jimin, when he comes crying to her the night more leave, confessing how worthless he feels. He can't bear watching them leave, their backs fading as they trudge through the orchard and away from his home. "This is all for the best. You shall see it, Jimin."

 

Jimin can't see it, can't see how this could be for the best, but his mother has kept Minseo, and that is what keeps his pain from bubbling over. She is the only servant for whom he had begged to keep, falling on his bruised knees in front of his mother as he pleaded for Minseo to stay. His mother hadn't wanted it. She'd scolded Jimin for his heart. "There are many good times for a passion like yours in this world. But this—this is not one of those."

 

But she loves Jimin, has loved him since her cycles had stopped returning, and she'd realized she'd soon birth a babe, her hands clutching the bump on her stomach as she'd felt warm tears spill from her eyes. She will never admit it to him, but she is horribly weak for her only son. His little smiles and pudgy cheeks are what keeps her moving onward each lonely day that her husband stays away.

 

So she'd sunk to his level, crouching in front of her sobbing son and holding his little hands in her palms, squeezing them as she'd whispered that she promised Minseo could stay, her heart leaping to see the beautiful light in his eyes.

 

She'd left his room that night, a sleepy smile on his face but a tight frown on hers, a hand resting on the doorknob as he'd slept, not wanting to leave her son unprotected in this world. They had few servants left, but she felt that small number was still too grand.

 

The moment she'd stepped into the hall, her heart had burned knowing she'd made a mistake, but her promise was already locked, and her feet were already taking her to her quarters.

 

"Jimin! You are not feeling the words of your spell. You must believe yourself to heal, and then you shall."

 

He hears her speaking beside him, knows she's watching him from beside an apple tree, their bodies hidden in the orchard, but he can't bear himself to look over. He knows he will see the disappointment in her stare. She'd told him that healing spells are the easiest to do, giving him a clean knife and making him slice into his fingertip, the cut not deep but making him squirm in pain.

 

His mother doesn't seem to realize that he isn't so confident. If he can hurt Jungkook, the brightest star in his world, than he can't trust himself. How could he trust himself?

 

"I am, mother," he lies, his hand raising up as he tries again, imagining the cut closing up as fresh blood pools down his fingertips.

 

He hates the color of it. That color runs rampant in his nightmares, filling up his throat and seeping into his eyes until that is all he can see, until he's drowning in it.

 

That disgusting color.

 

Witches must spill fresh blood to perform their magic; they must allow it to burst free into their world. It doesn't matter if they are doing a wordless healing spell or a powerful spoken one, that color must be there, and it must live.

 

It's a color he must become comfortable with.

 

"Jimin, what are you feeling as you try to heal yourself? To where is your energy going?"

 

Anger spurts into him at her condescending tone, his heel slamming into the ground as he stomps his foot in frustration.

 

"Mother, I—"

 

His blood hurls from his fingertip, his eyes widening in shock as the red splashes onto his mother's cheek, and her hands flinch in front of her, a bit too slow, a bit too late.

 

The air goes silent.

 

She stares at him, startled, until a finger slowly reaches up to wipe the small amount away, her hands still sticky with it as she smears it on her dress.

 

"Jimin—"

 

"I apologize, mother!" he cries out, his feet running to her as his mind cowers with fear. He's done it again. First Jungkook and now his own mother.

 

She doesn't let him reach her, placing a firm hand on his chest to halt him, her eyebrows tight.

 

"I am no longer a strong witch, Jimin. If you hurt me deeply, I do not believe I would be able to stop you."

 

He recoils back, his heart thumping in fear at the graveness of her voice, the truth in her eyes.

 

He flinches away, his hands lifting to hide the shame on his face as he wishes for Jungkook's soothing smile, knowing it would melt away his pain.

 

Yet he fears he's too great of a sinner to deserve that relief.

 

 

~*~

 

 

Jimin has four rules of magic. Four rules that she tells him each time they meet in the cloak of the orchard. Four rules that he whispers before bed and yawns in the morning, repeating those rules even before he stretches.

 

Number One:

 

Never go more than three weeks without practicing.

 

“Never let the magic build up in your veins. Because when it builds up, it bursts. You must beware of this, Jimin. Practice until it no longer simmers, no longer begs for release, and then you may stop."

 

Number Two:

 

Never practice on friends.

 

“Yes, I'm speaking of Jungkook.”

 

Number Three:

 

Never practice outside of the boundaries.

 

“Never practice magic outside of the confines of our home or of our orchard. You may believe that you are safe, but trust me when I say that there will always be someone watching. You're in a world surrounded by fire; please do not be the fool who believes he can play with it and not be burned."

 

And the most importantly, Number Four:

 

Never show another soul.

 

“Jungkook and I shall be the only two people in your life who know. Your wife will never know, your father will never know, your own children will never know. This will stay locked in every boundary of your soul, every breath you breathe in and every step you take away from this home."  

 

"Mother?" he asks. It's a stifling summer day, and he's worn from healing spells, finally learning to close only the smallest of cuts—but it's a start. "Why do you never demonstrate spells for me?"

 

She looks down to the leaves, her eyes clouded in something that he could almost describe as shame. But that could never be! His mother is proud, strong. She could never be ashamed.

 

"Jimin, I am a weak witch. Age has brought that upon me. I need not perform spells as often as you because it have less magic throbbing against my veins. I might as well be a witch without a tongue. Practically useless in every way it should count."

 

"Why would a witch not have a tongue?" He wiggles his tongue against the roof of his mouth as if it will suddenly disappear, his lips pouting out. She watches him fidgeting, a frown sinking her face.

 

“In days before our time, the minister would chop off anyone's tongue if he so suspected she be a witch. It nearly happened to my own mother, before she escaped from her village."

 

He wrinkles his eyebrows.

 

"But if you can perform certain spells without speaking, why would that raise issue?"

 

He sticks out his tongue, unable to see the pink wiggling under his nose.

 

"If I tell you a story, will you promise me to never speak of it after? I shall never wish to hear it from your lips."

 

He nods his head, the motion rapid as he kicks the weeds with his toes, tilting his head to watch his mother.

 

"I met a young witch once with her tongue severed off; her heart was pure and her energy was clear, but she was stunted." His mother smiles fondly at the memory, a smile he'd only ever seen reserved for his father. "She, at that young age, should had been blooming with power, but she had the same ability as I have now in my thirties. Her spells required more blood and speaking ones were a feat too great for her." His mother pats the grass beside her, beckoning Jimin to sit down.

 

"What happened to her?"

 

He sits down next to her ruffled skirts, unsettled as his mother stiffens.

 

"She despised being so weak when she could have been so powerful, and she...she met Heaven too early." He watches his mother breathe out through her nose, the air unsteady.

 

"Oh." He doesn't know what else to say.

 

His mother's eyes are shining with tears, but they never make it down her cheeks, her sleeves wiping them away. She laughs, but it's sad and a little broken as she strokes his hair.

 

"The moral is, do not lose your tongue. Unless you be mentally strong enough to live without it. Aecha—she was so strong in her powers, but her weak mind is what took her away. I was a fool to believe that a strong magic must equivocate to a strong mind."

 

He runs a hand through the grass, his tongue pressing against the roof of his mouth.

 

"Aecha? What a beautiful name."   

 

"A beautiful name for a beautiful woman."

 

They leave it there, and it dies in that soil, the conversation buried under the roots of the apple trees blanketing them.

 

He speaks when her eyes no longer shine, when her breath is even and her back is loosened. 

 

“Mother?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“How do you know of all this? Of all these spells and witches.”

 

She seems in a daze, silence falling between them as Jimin listens to the birds calling, smacking away a beetle crawling up his arm. It flings on its back, unable to flip over and scutter away, and Jimin feels pity for the little thing. He pushes up its tiny body, letting a healing spell flow into the critter as his warm blood throbs with energy. 

 

“My life was different before I encountered your father. And when I did, he was gone so often that I was free to practice. It was only when I birthed you that I halted." She shakes her head. "I only perform minor spells these days, to relieve the burn in my veins."

 

Jimin has a sinking feeling in his stomach. He knows most marry for wealth and stability, but he's always wanted to believe that his parents are different. They have to be.

 

“Is that why you wedded father? Because he’s gone so often?” He feels his lower lip shaking, fear that the love his mother shares for his father is a manner of survival. “Because he’s convenient?”

 

His mother doesn't look at him. 

 

“No honey,” she sighs, her back to the tree and her head tilted to the sky, her thick skirt ruffling in the breeze. “Unfortunately, that was love.”

 

Chapter Text

Salem, Massachusetts: 1685

 

His mother is cautious. 

 

Always cautious. 

 

He knows this. 

 

Yet, when she turns wary of Jungkook, he doesn't expect it. 

 

He could've never expected it.

 

It starts after his awakening, the caution growing, spreading into her eyes, into the way she observes them play and into the hugs she gives Jungkook. 

 

She watches him when she thinks Jimin isn't looking, listening on their conversations in the gardens, the house, the porch. 

 

He stops wanting to bring Jungkook to where her eyes reach, opting for the orchard where the trees are tall and the stares are gone.

 

She even snoops around Jungkook's house, spending much more time with Jungkook's mother and gossiping about such and such. 

 

His mother hates gossip.

 

And she thinks Jimin doesn't see it, doesn't see the way his mother has changed around their neighbor, doesn't see the caution in every move.

 

But Jimin sees it all. 

 

And he prays that Jungkook doesn't.

 

To her, it doesn't matter that Jungkook has stayed by his side, has helped him through the bloody nightmares and calmed him when he felt his powers were too much. It doesn't matter if he's held Jimin's hand as he'd turned twelve and squeezed him tight, telling him that he shouldn't hate his magic. It doesn't matter that he gives Jimin all the love in the world. 

 

Because she still doesn't trust him. 

 

Yet, the horrible part, the part that saddens Jimin, is that he understands her caution; he understands her fear. 

 

He understands it because in his own way, he holds that fear himself. It's such a sneaky thing, threading into the fabric of his life until he realizes that he's paranoid. He's never been paranoid before. 

 

Jungkook could ruin Jimin with the same word that he preaches Jimin to love. 

 

"Witch."

 

He'd burn to death.

 

His mother and he both know that the possibility of everything collapsing, the possibility of suffocating in flames, rests in Jungkook's twelve-year-old heart. If he ever decides that he's had enough of them, Jimin will bleed red. 

 

His mother cannot stop that possibility. 

 

And that's why she's cautious. 

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

 

He’s in the gardens, squatting as his hand cradles a purple Nova Scotia, feeling along its velvet petals.

 

There’s something in him that warns him the flower is dying, even though its petals are lush and its color is rich.

 

Over this past year, he has learned to understand that feeling, take that feeling from the depths of his chest and push his soul into the flower.

 

He leans over, his face shrouded in his work as a bead of sweat drips onto the soil. He’s in his dirtiest clothes, ones that are soiled from mud forts in the forest and that he only feels comfortable wearing around Jungkook.

 

Jungkook has seen him at his very lowest.

 

Jungkook watches him from a red maple tree; he loves climbing them for some reason or another, and he smiles at Jimin with his large eyes, absorbing everything Jimin does.

 

Jimin bites his lower lip with precision, his teeth knowing how much pressure to give, how long to take and rip until he tastes beads of blood.

 

Jimin exhales, his breathing slow and steady as he murmurs the soft words, extending his heart into the flower and letting his breathing gust through its petals.

 

He frowns, his eyes squinting in concentration as he rests his knees into the earth, running a finger along the flower’s stem and trying to coax out the dead.

 

The flower seems to stare at him, its stem unable to rise any farther. 

 

He falls backwards with a sigh, his back gently hitting the stone pathway as he sulks, the sun falling into his eyes as he rests a hand on his forehead.

 

“Jimine, what’s wrong?” Jungkook calls out from the tree, and Jimin can see him rustling the leaves from the corner of his eye.

 

“The flower...it’s too far gone. I cannot save it.” He shakes his head, picking his back off the stone and wrapping his arms loosely around his knees. “Winter must be coming more quickly than we presumed.”

 

“Oh—Uff! ” Jimin spins around as he hears the branch crack, watching in panic as Jungkook’s body slips and tumbles out of the tree. He lurches up when he hears a sickening crack, a wail of pain gurgling through the entire garden.

 

“Jungkookie!” Jimin bounces to his feet, not even bothering to brush off the dirt on his pant legs as he scrambles to Jungkook. When he reaches him, his knees fall to the dirt, his hands immediately rushing over his torso. He can feel where the pain is, bundled up and tight, right along his arm.

 

Jungkook grits his teeth, his face stiff with determination as Jimin watches him try not to cry. Jimin doubts that he even notices the water welling up in the corners of his eyes, wanting to appear strong for Jimin.

 

“Jungkookie,” Jimin is out of breath, his panting the only sound he can hear. “Jungkookie, I think your arm is broken.”

 

He cringes, trying to move his limb and yelping in pain, his face contorting as he realizes Jimin is correct.

 

“I...” Jimin whispers, his voice as small as a blue bird’s, “I can heal it...”

 

The blood still coats his lower lip; he can still taste the bitter liquid on his tongue.

 

He lets the offer rest there, running a hand through Jungkook’s thick brown hair as his other rests along his arm. Jungkook groans on his back, his eyes pinching shut as another bout of pain runs rampant.

 

Jimin has never healed Jungkook before. Over this past year, he’s cured his mother’s fever, rid a stray cat of its pains, and alleviated his father’s bundling stress, but he’s never touched Jungkook. He doesn't know if Jungkook would feel comfortable with it, with having magic mending his bones and healing his body. Jimin feels the offer is too strong; he doesn't want to push too far.   

 

“Please...” Jungkook sighs out, his voice weak and hushed as his eyes are still compressed tight.

 

Jimin doesn’t wait to hear anymore, already coaxing out the bundle of pain, untying it loose. He whispers tenderly that Jungkook has to breathe, resting a small hand on his chest as he persuades out breaths.

 

Their breathing matches as Jimin guides out the ache, resting his head against Jungkook’s chest, mending the crying bones.

 

He knows it’s over when Jungkook’s gentle hand rests on his hair, Jimin’s head still against his chest, hearing the thump of his heart breathing and beating.

 

Thump.

 

Thump.

 

“Witch!”

 

Jimin wrenches around to the voice, his body flinching at the disgust dripping from that word. Panic gurgles into his throat as his eyes meet hers. He's never seen this woman look at him with so much repugnance, with so much fear.  

 

Minseo.

 

Witches! The ‘ole lot of you!”

 

She must have seen Jungkook fall. She must have watched as Jimin rid his pain.

 

She must have—she must have—

 

She flings her body around as she screams out, terror locking in every limb. To her, the witches will kill her; the witches will kill her. She doesn't wish to die! She almost crashes over in her haste to flee, her body darting around the shrubs as she races for the orchard—for the town, for the people. Somewhere safe from the witches!

 

He doesn’t want to burn.

 

He lifts a hand, watching her screaming in fear as she delves into the woods, her long brown hair almost completely out of sight, but somewhere deep in Jimin’s mind, he knows she never had a chance.

 

He doesn't want to leave Jungkookie alone in this world. 

 

It's instinctual now as he drags his fingernail down his arm, drawing more blood into the open, not even cringing at the sting.

 

He can feel her mind; it’s not difficult to find. He’s known her since he was a babe, babbling and soiling himself. She's cared for him like a mother cares for a child, and he lets that knowledge of her guide his mind to hers.

 

He searches as Jungkook thrums with panic beside him, yelling “Jiminie! Jiminie! We ‘ave tuh go get ‘er! We ‘ave tuh go find ‘er!” He can feel Jungkook's hand shaking his shoulder, his body already jolting upwards as he stands, but Jimin is not with him; Jimin’s soul is not with him.

 

There. And now he’s in her mind, feeling her lungs gasping for air as she sprints through a creek, mud slushing between her toes and panic burning through every limb of her body. Her arms are flailing around as her heart beats too quickly. Jimin can see the town in her view, the acid burning in her thighs and the stabs of rocks drilling into her bare feet, rubbing into open wounds.

 

It’s only a moment until he’s deeper, farther than what the eyes can see, peering into where she holds every precious thing she loves, cares for, lives for.

 

He could steal it all away.

 

But he continues onward, finding the memories embedded into everything she does, her mannerisms, her special looks, her faith and views of the world—views of Jimin.

 

There it is.

 

He grasps the last horrified feelings of Jimin that she has, wrapping those memories in his hold. He clutches them tightly, gripping the fresh thoughts that are running rampant in her mind, the panic she now has when she pictures Jimin's face. She has so many wonderful feelings for him; all he must do is remove that bad that clings to them, smothers them. He unravels it, the fear becoming thin wisps that smoke around her mind; this process feels so natural for him. He then drains it away, drawing back as he feels it seeping out, the abhorrence leaving her soul with every hurried breath she exhales.

 

I’m running to tell the town that Jimin be a witch!

 

She trips over a dead log, almost collapsing onto the ground as she darts closer to the town. 

 

I’m running to tell the town that Jimin...

 

The town is in her sight, the gleam of the church cross shines a clear white into her eyes.

 

I’m running to tell someone…

 

Her feet burn with pain, her body confused as to where she's running to. 

 

I’m running...

 

She slows down.

 

Why am I running?

 

And there she stops, surrounded by trees in the middle of the forest as her body questions her mind what to do. It can't remember. Her mind can only picture Jimin's sweet smiles and his beautiful laughter. There is no hatred behind her memories.  

 

Jimin’s no longer with her, no longer another presence in her mind, but he knows it’s over. He knows he’s safe.

 

The world around him becomes clearer, the blurry covering drawing back as he blinks once, twice. He looks to where Jungkook’s hand was, no longer on his shoulder. He can't remember that warmth leaving. He swivels around; Jungkook is nowhere to be seen. The garden yawns with emptiness, and the sound is muted, save for the bees buzzing around their flowers.

 

“Jungkookie?”

 

“Ma’am! Ma’am! We ‘ave tuh do somethin’!”

 

His knees are still on the ground as he watches his mother approaching, Jungkook’s hand wrapped around hers as he pulls her into the garden, panic in both of their eyes.

 

“Jimin!” She runs to her baby, locking him in her arms as Jungkook runs behind her.

 

“Mommy...” he whispers, a proud smile resting on his face for all he’s accomplished. “It’s done, mother. You need not worry.”

 

Jungkook is still bouncing with panic, his body language screaming how much he wants to be chasing after Minseo, but Jimin’s mother puts her hand on Jungkook's shoulder to calm him, her heart hammering against her chest but her minding needing to understand why Jimin is so calm. 

 

“Jimin...” she says, her voice firm as the steady breeze as she lifts Jimin’s face up to hers, their eyes watching each other’s as Jimin stays on the ground. “By what do you mean ‘it’s done’?”

 

He knows his smile shouldn't be there, but he's saved Jungkook from being alone. He couldn't be prouder of himself!

 

“Minseo doesn’t remember. She shan’t—I...I took the hatred she felt away from her...She carries no more fear for me.”

 

His mother’s eyes widen, her head swiveling up to Jungkook for the sharpest moment.

 

Jungkook can't hear them, his body too far away and his eyes too focused on the woods, waiting but shaking with adrenaline. 

 

"This is powerful magic, Jimin. I could not even do this during my stronger days..." His smile drops, the panic in her voice making his pride sink under her stare. His mother's face lowers, her eyes darkening. She clutches his arm, her grip becoming too tight as he tries to squirm away, her fingers burrowing into his skin. “You tell no one of this.” 

 

They've discussed this before. It's one of her four rules.

 

“I know, mother.” He wriggles away, rubbing his hand where the skin is red and watching her cautiously. 

 

“No,” she pauses, her mouth a tight line. “I don’t think you do.” She turns her neck and lifts her head, her eyes resting on Jungkook and staying there. Jungkook has been watching their exchange, unable to hear and looking ready to take off after Minseo, but he hasn't left yet. "You tell no one."

 

Jimin's heart picks up, his mouth opening in shock as he finally puts it together.

 

He...he can't tell Jungkookie? He's never not told Jungkookie something! This is lying! Jimin's not a liar!

 

He hates keeping anything from his Jungkookie. He hates lies!

 

Her hand surges forward, gripping under his chin and forcing his face to meet her hooded eyes.

 

"Do you understand?"

 

He glances past her head, staring at Jungook watching them with worry. 

 

Would Jungkookie...would Jungkookie be afraid of him if he knew? If he knew he could take away his memories, his life?

 

Would Jungkook be able to give up Jimin?

 

Jimin looks back to his mother, his shoulders slumping as he nods his head. The adrenaline evaporates from his veins, his energy exhausted and begging for relief. 

 

His body falls forward, and his mother's arms catch him, wrapping around him tightly as she rubs a hand along his back.

 

"I'm so tired."

 

Her hand stills. 

 

"I know, honey,' she whispers as his head rests against her hair. "I am too."

 

 

She's always done her work as a mother, treating him when he is ill and loving him when he is temperamental.

 

She’s kept him alive for twelve years counting. Twelve years.

 

This promise, he thinks, as he looks down to his arm, running a finger over where the blood has clotted and dried, is to ensure I’ll have many more to come.

 

 

~*~

 

 

Jungkook wasn’t allowed to stay in their home for this night. His mother had explained that they had everything accounted for, Minseo was not a problem, and that he need not worry about Jimin.

 

Jungkook hadn’t believed her until he’d looked into Jimin’s eyes, seeing that there was no fear. Only then, had he left, taking the journey home before the sun sunk to darkness.

 

The stars will soon start to show, and the sun is already sinking below the clouds, the sunset heavy with reds. Jimin has been sleeping for the past hour, his body exhausted and begging for dreams every waking moment.

 

The magic he’s done today has left him fatigued, lead sinking his limbs down into the sheets, but he hears the whisper of his mother's voice, her tone one that Jimin hates directed at him.

 

He forces his dead body of of bed, crawling to the window and opening it wide, resting his head on his arms as he looks down to her voice. 

 

Oh.

 

His mother stands on the steps on the side door beneath his window—talking to Minseo. 

 

They seem to have been speaking for a while, and Jimin can’t hear everything that Minseo is saying, only being able to comprehend that his mother is dismissing her from the home, and that Minseo is begging her not to, her voice cracking with pain.

 

He wonders what excuse his mother has made for the sudden release. His family has known Minseo since before he was born, his mother telling him stories of how Minseo helped Jimin’s father plant most of the apple trees that were now tall and gleaming in the orchard.

 

Jimin loves Minseo. Jimin’s family loves Minseo.

 

And now she must leave.

 

Because of him.

 

When Minseo grabs her things, he can her her crying, her sobs low yet filling up the hallway. A heavy weight settles over the household, the air thick with pain. He watches her go, seeing as her body fades into a tiny dot in the distance. He doesn’t know how he’ll be able to let her go.

 

His mother has the same thoughts, standing on the side steps and wrapping her arms around herself, watching a woman she had come to call friend leave their household behind, never to return to the Parks.

 

She turns, about to enter into the dark home, but Jimin sees her looking up, her face weary and reminding him of how boneless his body feels. His eyes connect with his mother’s down below, their faces watching each other with expressions neither of them can interpret.

 

She doesn’t smile at him, doesn’t say a word as he hears the turn of the doorknob from down below him and watches her quiet figure step inside the house.

 

They both know he can enter into a person's mind, the fact slowly presenting itself to Jimin, its smile cruel and taunting as the last wisps of light trail from the sky and plunge the world into silent darkness.

 

His mother now knows he could erase the world’s memory, let his existence disappear as quickly as it came. No one would ever have to know of Park Jimin. He can slip into another's mind and take their life away.

 

It's too much.

 

He hears the click of the door closing shut as he stares out the window, the apple orchard looking daunting and sullen, the darkness shrouding its beauty. He doesn't want to move from his spot, partly because he's so drained and partly because he feels tears clouding his vision. 

 

Goodbye, Minseo.

 

He shivers, the night air seeping through his open window and trickling over his bare legs. 

 

His mother now knows that he can make anyone forget. 

 

And he doesn’t know what she will do with that fact.



 

 

~*~

 



 

It’s been two months since that day, and Jimin has learned to move past it, trying his best to hide the extent of what happened with Jungkook, hide what has become of Minseo.

 

“Did ya kill ‘er?!” Jungkook shrieks after Jimin informs him that his mother demanded he not say a word.

 

“No! Jungkookie, nothing like that! Do you really think us so cruel?” Jimin is giggling, his small hands covering his mouth as Jungkook gapes incredulously. Jungkook must realize he looks foolish, and he promptly smacks his mouth closed with a pop, just as Jimin tumbles over in bouts of laughter.  

 

“Then what ‘appened tuh ‘er?”

 

He feels the laughter drain out of his chest, the joy from the situation bleeding away in streams. Jungkook has always been inquisitive, but Jimin made a promise to his mother. 

  

“I wish I could tell you. Jungkookie, I really do.” He looks out his bedroom window, the morning fresh as puffy clouds drift past like grazing sheep. He doesn’t reflect that same peace. He looks back at Jungkook, watching how the boy twists his hair between his fingertips as he watches silently. “But even if I were allowed, I don’t think I’d have the courage to tell you.”

 

Chapter Text

Jimin is never allowed to practice magic on Jungkook.

 

Never.

 

That doesn’t mean he listens.

 

“Jungkookie, do you want to fly?”

 

Jungkook's mouth falls open, practically dropping to the ground, his eyes so wide with astonishment that Jimin fears they will pop out of his skull. The dumbfound expression makes disobeying his mother all worth it, Jimin's hand covering his mouth as his giggles dance into the air, his halo of hair shaking around his face.

 

 

“Ya can do that?”

 

They’re in a wheat field, in a farm a half mile from town. It was a short walk there, with Jimin's hand wrapped in Jungkook's as he'd yanked him along, the excitement of the new spell he'd learned bouncing around in his brain. The forest is only a few feet away from where the boys stand now, and it surrounds them from every side, the shadows of the tall trees dimming the golden of the wheat. 

 

“Never practice magic outside of the confines of our home or of our orchard.”

 

Seems he’s breaking two rules today.

 

He doesn’t know the family who owns the farm, just knows that they are far away from the farmhouse's view and cloaked in the stalks of shimmering wheat. They seem to be in the middle of nowhere. 

 

And nowhere, at the moment, is exactly where Jimin wants to be.

 

“Yes, I’ve been book reading! I found a spell on flight in my mother’s books.”

 

Jimin's hands clasp together in anticipation as he stands in front of Jungkook, his body swaying with the breeze as his fingers mess with a browning stalk. 

 

“Book readin’?”

 

Jungkook looks suspicious, his eyebrows furrowing; Jimin has never been an avid reader, unlike Jungkook. Jungkook could sit in the tulip patch (and he regularly does) reading for hours as Jimin pouts and pesters him to come play. That fact alone has made Jimin intent on believing that books have ruined his poor Jungkookie.

 

“I found them hidden in the back of my mother’s closet.”

 

Jungkook's hands cross over his chest, his feet splaying farther out into the stalks of wheat. 

 

“Why were you searching in her closet...?”

 

Jimin startles, patchy reds and pinks blooming under his nose and tinting his ears. He turns away from Jungkook's eyes, his hands covering his face as he laughs awkwardly. 

 

“I wanted to try on a dress...”

 

He looks to the ground, his bare feet squirming as he wriggles his toes and tosses the wheat stalk he'd been meddling with away from him.

 

“Jiminie...why would ya wanna wear a woman’s dress?”

 

Jimin's plump lips pout out, the red spreading further on his face before he turns around and yells.

 

“It looked comfortable! And I’m tired of these breeches!” he shouts, embarrassment causing his voice to rise up until he sounds like a toddler. He pulls at the material of his pants as if to emphasize how uncomfortable they are. “And this is beside the point! Do you want to fly or not, Jungkookie?”

 

He still can’t meet Jungkook’s eyes, his hands plucking another stalk and twiddling it between his fingers.

 

“Shhhh, Jiminie.” Jungkook puts a finger to his lips, his voice calm. “Do not speak so loud. We don’t need folks ‘earin’.” Jimin doesn’t even raise his head to check if anyone is around; he knows there can’t be. The woods protect them, their leaves bright greens that sway on their branches. “And yes, Jiminie.”

 

“Yes what?”

 

He huffs in a breath. 

 

“Yes I wanna fly.”

 

 

~*~

 

 

Jimin has never concentrated so much, the strain causing his face to burn red and a vein to pop out on his forehead, wrinkles scrunching up his skin. Blood trickles down from where he'd had to scratch his arms again after it'd dried many minutes ago, the warmth reminding Jimin to monitor his energy levels.

 

He can’t just say the words of the spell and be done (even if that is what he’d hoped for!). No, he has to concentrate, concentrate on the height he is lifting him, the air flow that is blowing him, the weight he is carrying, and the energy in this whole process that he is draining. He can feel his power, can feel it slowly seeping out, his bones becoming weary. 

 

He must be aware of his energy levels at all times; otherwise, he could cause a burnout.

 

Jimin hates burnouts with a passion. He hates the feeling of all the energy in his body being drained, his limbs numb and his magic nonexistent. He will do whatever he can to prevent a burnout.

 

But, by God, why does Jungkook have to be so persistent?

 

“Again! Again!”

 

Jimin’s body is lying in the wheat now, his heart beating erratically from fatigue as he spreads his arms and legs out wide, his chest heaving. Breathe. Breathe.

 

“Jiminieeeee...”

 

 

“Yes, Jungkookie?” he sighs, his eyelids drooping over his vision in a futile effort to let him sleep.

 

“Again!”

 

He truly is a toddler.

 

Jimin pushes himself off the scratchy wheat stems, promising him one (and yes, he does mean one) more time, his body sore and drained.

 

He knows he's a fool, but he doesn't mind being one for his Jungkookie.

 

He stands up to full height, his limbs begging gravity to sink him down as he whispers the words under his breath, his voice low and worn. He holds out his hands in front of him as a visual, pretending as if he were carrying Jungkook in his palms and letting the magic do it for him. He feels the rush spurting from his body, slinking towards Jungkook's animated eyes and bobbing body. Jimin can feel where his magic is, even if his eyes can't detect it, aiming for Jungkook's arms and legs. It swirls around his figure, thick clouds building into Jungkook's legs and pushing him off the ground. His magic continues to strike into the air and fill his lungs as his body stiffens in concentration, his hair sweaty and clinging to the back of his neck.

 

Jungkook’s mouth opens wide, his smile puffing his cheeks out as Jimin strains to lift him. He's been lifting him several feet earlier, but now his magic is limited, only able to take him a foot into the air. Jungkook beams nevertheless, his arms flailing around as he squeals into the air, lifting Jimin's mood to see how amazed his eyes are.

 

He's a sucker for Jungkook.

 

But he's also exhausted; his breathing is heavy, and his mind is straining. He can’t lift him any highe—

 

What was that noise?

 

Jimin swerves, his magic still pouring into the air and lifting Jungkook as he looks around, paranoia clouding his mind as he strains to maintain control over his magic. The wheat seems to stare back at him in boredom, only bugs bouncing in the air and flies swarming his face. A bird starts chirping from a tree in the woods, and a chorus of others call after it, singing until it's all Jimin can hear.

 

He’s crazy. They’re in the wilderness. Of course there will be sounds.

 

He hears Jungkook giggling from the other side, still happy and floating as Jimin turns around and—

 

He heard it again!

 

It's a snap of a branch cracking, spilling into Jimin's mind. He wouldn't normally notice things like that, the rustle of leaves sounding too heavy and human to be an animal, but his magic is in the air. His magic is everywhere, clinging to the golden stalks and shadowed trees and making Jimin feel the thrum of his surroundings more than usual. He turns around, his eyes darting through the ocean of wheat. They search past the bright yellows, sifting through the trees. His magic knows where to take him, his eyes finding the source of the noi—

 

 

Oh.

 

Jimin's world collapses into silence, his ears blocking out all sound of birds and flies knocking against his face. His stomach drops, acid searing into his throat as his breathing rushes, heart accelerating as his magic throbs in the air.

 

There’s a figure. A figure in the woods.

 

Watching them.

 

Their eyes meet.

 

Jimin cries out in panic, his mind forgetting to fill Jungkook's limbs as he drops Jungkook, no longer able to maintain that delicate concentration.

 

“Oof!” Jungkook yells out behind, the sound dull and disconnected from Jimin's mind.

 

His hands shake with untamed panic, his mind shrieking at him to erase it all, erase this whole thing from the stranger's memory. He desperately buries his nails into his arm until he’s bleeding more, magic searching for the figure’s mind in the world—

 

And freezes when he realizes the stranger is searching for his mind too.

 

He wasn’t expecting it—the raw magic soaking into his memories and clinging on his skin.

 

Foreign magic. 

 

It feels different from his own, soaking into his mind. 

 

The stranger has the upper hand, already aware that Jimin is a witch, but Jimin could’ve never expected it. He isn’t prepared. His powers are drained from lifting Jungkook into the air over and over, and his breath comes out in pants, desperately trying to force the stranger out of his head. His magic seems to cackle at him as he scrapes whatever wisps he has left, but it isn't enough.

 

Get out!

 

I’m sorry.

 

The reply in his mind sounds like his own voice, and his body shakes with fear. He can't discern this voice from his own. If he were not aware of what the stranger was doing, he would have believe his mind was talking to himself. 

 

Get out! Get out! Get out! Leave me alone! Leave us alone!

 

Jimin feels tears of frustration beading up in his eyes, his body sinking to the ground from exhaustion. He drags the last cloud of energy from his body, and it sputters out, not enough to slink into the stranger's mind. 

 

He feels the foreign magic sifting in his head, grasping his memories.

 

Jimin knows what happens next.

 

 

I’ll only erase my own existence. Then I'll leave you two be.

 

Get out! Get out!

 

His mind is pleading with the voice now, his body slumped into the wheat and crying in pain. He can feel his panic drifting away. If his fear is leaving, that means the stranger is succeeding! 

 

No. No I am scared. I am scared. I must stay scared.

 

Why exactly is he scared?

 

He clutches his hands to his head, his mind straining to remember the words:  There’s another witch in Salem; there’s another witch in Sale—

 

Hmmmm, the wheat looks pretty. Jimin's so tired of lifting Jungkook. Jungkookie is heavy! 

 

Goodbye.

 

“Jiminie? Why’d ya drop me? That really ‘urt my behind!”

 

He hears Jungkook’s voice coming towards him, and he drops his hands from his head and into the dirt. He's lying on the ground, an itchy feeling thrumming in his skin.

 

Blast it all! He's in burnout!

 

The itching will soon get worse, and he knows he'll soon faint; the strain on his body will become too much. His energy is gone, and it might take a week to fully return, so for now, he'll get to throb in pain.

 

He really should have watched his energy levels better. He doesn't know why he allowed himself to let it get this far!

 

His eyes watch Jungkook hover over him as his back sinks deeper into the soil, seeing Jungkook’s face scrunched up in pain as he rubs his butt.

 

“I must have lost concentration.” He watches Jungkook pout. “I’m really sorry. I'm in burnout.”

 

Jungkook sinks to his knees, running a hand through Jimin’s hair and shaking his head.

 

"Oh no. Are ya gonna faint like ya did last time?"

 

Jimin can already feel his world blackening, his strain to keep awake weakening. 

 

"Yes. I'm sorry." He doesn't have the energy to widen his gaze or pout out his lips, but Jungkook sees the shimmer of tears locked behind his eyes.

 

"It's okay, Jiminie. I'll carry ya 'ome. 'm strong!"

 

Jimin would giggle, but his body traps it in. 

 

“‘N what were ya starin’ at?”

 

Yellow dots splotch into his vision, his mind drifting away. 

 

“Hmmm?”

 

“You ‘ad ya back turned for a little bit, starin’ at somethin’.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Jungkook stands up and turns to look at the empty wheat field, the golden stalks waving in the breeze and shining under the glow of the sun.

 

"It's empty out there," Jungkook says, when his eyes meet Jimin's again.

 

Jimin frowns in his head. What, indeed, had he been looking at?

 

He can’t really remember having anything in particular that he’d been looking for. He doesn't know what made him turn around, but he doubts it was a big deal if he can't remember it now. “Probably just admiring the beautiful waves of wheat. My mother should plant some.”

 

He looks up at Jungkook, his heart still beating hard from all the work he’s been doing, the perspiration dripping down his back. He manages to lift the corners of his lips up the smallest bit, hoping Jungkook understands that he's smiling at him as his mind sinks into darkness, and his body shuts down.

 

 

 

And somewhere, behind the trees and in the shadows of the forest beside, the stranger is watching.

 

And smiling with him.

 

Chapter Text

“Jiminie, my parents are sendin' me tuh a boardin' school.”

 

His brain must not be working. His ears couldn't have heard that correctly.

 

“What?” He stares at Jungkook, flinching away as he prays this is a joke. “When? Where? Why?”

 

They’re in town, sitting on a stone bench as the afternoon sun warms their toes. It’s autumn, and Jimin has been loving the leaves, their red and yellow colors flaring all around Jimin’s home and putting a smile on his face.

 

He's not smiling now.

 

“I’m going tuh Boston. I’ll be livin’ in a Puritan school where they’ll teach the Lord’s lessons. I'll get tuh talk proper!”

 

They watch each other, the town square loud and bustling with people.

 

“For how long?” Jimin asks, his voice going quieter as he says each word. He feels on the verge of crying, his fists clenching against the stone.

 

“I dunno.” Jungkook looks down, fidgeting with his hands. Their heads both lift up as a bird flies down near them, pecking at a dead animal on the side of a shop. “I think I'll be returnin' when ’m eighteen. That’s what my Pa’s talkin' ‘bout.”

 

The words kill him. 

 

“Oh, Jungkookie,” Jimin cries out, digging his elbows into his knees as he covers his face with his hands, tears spilling down his cheeks. “Jungkookie, that’s in six years' time!  When shall you leave?”

 

“In two weeks’ time...”

 

The hot tears fling out of his eyes and onto the ground when he jerks his head to Jungkook.

 

"Two weeks? You must be joking, Jungkookie. Please tell me you're joking! "

 

Jungkook moves to comfort him, his hand resting over Jimin’s smaller one, but Jimin stands up, wrenching his hand away and staring at Jungkook with tears dripping onto the cobblestone. 

 

“Listen, Jiminie...I—when I ‘eard at first, I was devastated. So sad that I’d be missin’ such a long part of ya life, but—but Jiminie, I’m gonna get an education!”

 

Jimin scrunches his face in disgust, his eyes unable to focus as his vision is blurry and shaking. 

 

“My mother already educates you!”

 

Jungkook’s eyes widen as Jimin realizes what he’s said. They twist around, making sure that no one has heard of a woman teaching. The town seems unwavering, people still scuttling about, but Jimin knows there are eyes and ears in every corner.

 

The apple orchard is safe. The town never is.

 

He bends forward, more quietly as he whispers, “My mother already teaches you. Is not that enough for you?” His breath is hot as it fans across Jungkook's face, so close that he knows Jungkook must see the veins in his arms, his fists clenching. He doesn't know if he wants to throw himself in the sewers or hide in his blankets and cry, and he’s blinking madly to try to chase away the tears.

 

“Jiminie...I...I love ya Ma. I really do. But I—I—You see how I talk! I sit next tuh ya, with ya’s proper voice and clever eyes, ‘n I wanna be like that! I wanna be somethin’ ya can be proud of! At the moment...I—I'm not...I've never been somethin' ya can be proud of...”

 

Jimin's mouth gapes open, words trying to form but leaving him a mess. He doesn’t know what to say. Has he ever realized that Jungkook doesn't like how he talks? No, Jimin's always believed he was confident with it. Confident Jungkookie, standing tall and proud in his dirty clothing. Confident Jungkookie, standing up for Jimin when Jimin doesn’t have the strength himself.

 

Maybe Jungkookie isn’t so confident.

 

“I love ya Ma. I love ‘er books, but ya only have so many.” Excitement picks up in his voice, his eyes blowing wide. “Jimin—Jiminie, they have a library there! Pa’s told me it’s full of books! Everywhere!”

 

His eyes light up; the stars couldn’t outshine his sparkle. Jimin doubts that Jungkook realizes how his fingers splay out, how his smile grows to the clouds, and his body stands proud.

 

He has the same look on his face when talking about the school as he does when talking to Jimin.

 

Jungkookie is...Jungkookie is too far gone.

 

“We can purchase more...” Jimin’s voice quivers, his bottom lip shaking as he knows this is a battle he’s already lost.

 

No, he can't lose. He can't! Jungkookie is his! He is Jungkookie's! How can they be each other's when they are miles apart?

 

“Jiminie, let’s go somewhere more quiet—where we can talk more freely.” Jungkook stands up cautiously, watching Jimin as if he were a baby bird and offering out his hand for Jimin to hold. 

 

Jimin stares at his fingers, watching how they tremble just slightly and how they reach closer for Jimin, as if they want to swoop in and wrap him up. 

 

But Jimin backs up, his heart already miles away where no one can reach him, his feet already ready to flee.

 

“No...” He trembles, his eyes wide and broken. Jungkook's hand quivers more, yet he keeps it outstretched, as if Jimin will change his mind. But Jimin can't take it. He won't. “I must leave—I shall, I shall need space.” 

 

"Space?"

 

He wishes he couldn't see the way Jungkook's face collapses in pain, his mouth open and his eyes wide.

 

His body turns around to protect himself from those chocolate browns, his feet taking him away as if he can escape. He can't escape—at least, not from his tears. Not from the pain. He promises himself that he won't run, yet his legs move faster, faster, faster until the trees are flying past him and his forehead is sticky with sweat. He needs to get away from here. Or, not here—Jungkook. Anywhere but Jungkook. 

 

He's never said that sentence before. He's never thought he'd find safety away from his Jungkookie. 

 

And Jungkook lets him go, his outstretched hand slowly lowering to his side, standing near the stone bench and wishing that Jimin hadn't just stomped all over his heart. 

 

 

 

~*~


 

 

Jimin’s mother lets him cry in her dress, letting his snot wipe into her bodice and his sobs muffle in her clothing. He grips the fabric around her arms, squeezing it tightly as if he could squeeze away all his pain as she pets his hair, murmuring kind words that Jimin doesn't believe.

 

It’s only until he calms down, his head lulling on her shoulder and his eyes drifting shut, that she whispers, “He can’t remember you.”

 

His bedroom is quiet, the noise of the cooks below the only sound. 

 

Jimin doesn’t understand what that means, doesn’t understand the tone of his mother’s voice. His eyes drift open, watching hers stare down at him. He's sleepy from all the crying, and his mind isn't fully present, but he can still sense that something in her words is off.

 

"What do you mean?"

 

He relaxes into her chest, his words slurring. 

 

“Jimin, honey, I know this shall be dreadful for you.” She pauses, her breath fanning onto Jimin’s hair as they sit on the floor, “but he cannot recollect of your magic—”

 

He flinches, a wave of understanding flooding into him as he jerks out of her arms. His legs wobble as he stands, the earth trying to drag him down, but he won't let it. She looks up at him from the floor as he sneers down at his mother as if she were the devil himself.

 

Never.

 

He jolts around to face the door, his feet almost tripping over the furniture as he moves, needing to be out of this house—this blasted, confining house that wants him trapped forever.

 

“Jimin!” She stands to her feet, her voice filling with frustration. She runs to grab his wrist, yanking him away from the door and cutting off his circulation with her hold. She rips his arm around, forcing him to face her. “The school for which he’s traveling is a institution advancing witch hunting! ” she screams, her spit flying into his face. He feels how she's trembling, her face forced to seem harsh, yet her eyes tight with fear. 

 

Jimin stills, his head jolting up to meet his mother’s gaze, her grip loosening as she stares into her son’s scared eyes.

 

“No, it’s not! Jungkookie said he’ll learn about the Lord. Nothing more!”

 

He stomps a foot into the wooden floorboard, knowing the cooks downstairs are probably hearing the ruckus, but he doesn’t care.

 

“Jimin.” Her voice lowers, her eyes darkening until Jimin is afraid of what his own mother will do. He steps back, but she follows him, her arms ready to trap him inside. “That school will teach Jungkook that witches be beastly, abhorrent, barbaric whores of society that shall be set ablaze at the stake and incinerated to the devil!" Her screams drill into Jimin's ears, the pitch scratching into his brain. "That school will teach Jungkook to hate you for everything you be now and be later! That school will thieve you away from me! ” Her voice cracks, seeming to surprise herself as she puts a hand to her throat.

 

That’s when Jimin realizes that she’s not talking about him anymore. She's not seeing Jimin's face anymore, but the face of another child she's going to lose.

 

Her cheeks are red with frustration, the splotchy color trailing down her neck and hiding behind her dress. She's a mess, her long black hair tangled in her ears and body shaking with fear.

 

She's just a scared woman, worried for the one she loves, just like everyone else. 

 

“Mother...” He steps forward, wrapping his arms around her waist and squeezing her tightly. He listens to the pounding of her heart through her dress.  “Are you worried—that—that I’ll leave you...as my sister has?”

 

His teeth dig into his lower lip without realizing, the bitterness of blood in his mouth as he guides his magic into her body. Her head falls down, the tension melting from her form as Jimin eases it away. The stress in her is well hidden, buried deeply in turmoil in her mind, but Jimin finds it, unwrapping the strands until it loosens. He helps her breathe, his magic filling her lungs and exhaling with her, letting his mother let go of years worth of pain. 

 

“Did your father tell you of her?”

 

“Yes,” he says. She sighs as he reaches on his tip toes to pet her hair. “Don’t be angry with him, mother.”

 

She steadily sinks down on the floor, Jimin coming down with her as he lays on her shoulder once again. Her body is so used to pain that it keeps returning, even as Jimin's magic continues to force her to breathe. He must keep a constant eye on it as he sits with her, the effort leaving him tired and drowsy.

 

“Jimin. I know you don’t believe me when I say this, but that school will teach Jungkook to be a man that you will hate. Six years is a long time for a person to change.”

 

Jimin sighs. 

 

"Father is gone often, and he hasn't changed." He closes his eyes as he speaks, wishing he could delve into his own mind and force away his own pain.

 

"But he has, Jimin." Her voice is the quietest it's been all day, almost as if she's telling Jimin a secret he isn't supposed to hear. "The man who returns to us now is not the same man who held you as a babe."

 

"My Jungkookie would never change. I know that." It's almost as if he's rehearsing the words, his voice sounding empty, even to him. 

 

What, indeed, does he believe?

 

"Yes. I, too, said those words many years ago. I thought I knew as well."

 

"But Jungkookie is not father."

 

"In that, you are correct. But he also is not one of us."

 

One of us. 

 

He wishes doubt wasn’t crowding in his mind, wishes that he were strong enough to believe that his Jungkookie would never turn on him.

 

Yet somewhere deep in his heart, the fear has already taken hold. The doubt has been festering ever since he lifted his eyes to see Jungkook's vacant stare, the blood clinging to his throat on his awakening day. 

 

Yes, that doubt is there, spreading.

 

And it won’t be long before it consumes him whole.

 

Chapter Text

“I’m tying you down.”

 

Jimin whispers it to the ceiling, their bodies lying beside each other in Jimin's bed. 

 

It hadn't taken long for Jimin to realize that he needs Jungkook, needs to enjoy the little time left that they have together. He'd walked over to the boy's house three days after, a sadness in his step. But there are some things you just have to do for friends, some things you just have to endure. He would hate himself if he didn't get to spend these last days with Jungkook just because he'd needed space. 

 

The night sky is filled with clouds, so Jimin can’t see the glow of the moon, can’t see the white light that normally shines through his window. He can only hear the pitter patter of the rain pouring outside his room and the rise and fall of his own chest.

 

For a moment, he believes Jungkook to be sleeping, no immediate response coming from the boy beside him. He reaches an arm out in the dark, searching for the other and tapping on his shoulder.  

 

“What do ya mean?” Jungkook groans, his voice laced with exhaustion. The covers ruffle in the darkness as Jungkook turns his head towards him, the mattress creaking under him.  

 

“Jungkookie, I know how much this school excites you, yet I'm selfish.” His head is still turned up to the ceiling, not wanting to look at Jungkook, not even in the safety of the dark. “I don't want you to leave me, yet I don't want to tie you down here.”

 

He doesn't want to be the shackles that keep Jungkook from flying free.

 

“Ya not tyin’ me down.”

 

His voice is quiet, barely audible above the rain outside, but Jimin knows his Jungkookie. He can hear the crack in Jungkook's voice. He knows that  he could be the reason that Jungkook doesn't rise to be something amazing. He could be the one who sinks him.

 

“I wish I could believe that.”

 

And Jungkook doesn't deserve that. Jungkook would do everything in his power to make sure Jimin could do the things he loves, even if he wasn't there beside him, even if it meant Jimin leaving him forever.

 

So why can't Jimin do the same? Why is Jimin so selfish?

 

"I'll come back for ya, I swear it. 'm fine with stayin' in Salem. I just wanna be with ya."

 

"But you don't like Salem."

 

The reply is quiet. 

 

"I like ya, though."

 

Jimin doesn't say anything to that, his cheeks burning in the dark. There's something almost fluttery in his chest, something that's been beating for years now. He doesn't know when Jungkook's smile became brighter than the sun and when Jimin started doing silly things to bring it out. He doesn't know when Jungkook's opinion became a thing that he cherishes. He just knows that his heart won't slow down, even as he takes quiet breaths in and bites his lip to distract himself.

 

Jungkook's head moves to stare at the ceiling, both boys thinking as their eyes stay away from each other. Jimin feels Jungkook's hands searching for his under the covers, his own meeting Jungkook's in the middle. They entwine their fingers, the heat from their hands comforting them both in the cold of the night as they listen to the lull of the rain.

 

“It's okay tuh be selfish sometimes, Jiminie. If it's somethin’ real special, of course it'll be ‘ard tuh let it go.”

 

Jimin sighs, his back sinking deeper into the mattress. The room is silent, save for the thunder rumbling outside. Jimin hates thunder, hates the booming sound in the distance, and he squeezes Jungkook's hand tighter. He forces himself to focus on that warmth, trying to keep his breathing even as he lets himself drift. The sounds make him panic, but Jungkook's hand makes him safe.

 

He’s almost asleep, clinging on to the beginning of a dream, when he hears Jungkook murmur to himself, so quiet and sad that Jimin knows he wasn’t supposed to hear.

 

“I don’t know if I’m gonna be able tuh let ya go.”

 

 

~*~

 

 

Today is the worst day of Jimin’s life.

 

He’s sitting with Jungkook, ruffling his hair as they bite cold bread under an apple tree. Jungkook’s belongings are all beside him, one brown leather suitcase resting against his knee, and Jimin tries his best not to look at it.

 

“You’re leaving today,” he says, his back collapsing against the bark of the tree. “You’re truly leaving.”

 

Jungkook doesn’t seem to know what to say. He picks at the grass, swirling the piles of fallen dead leaves and putting them in Jimin’s lap one by one. Jimin doesn’t know why he’s doing that, but he lets him, watching as the rich red leaves contrast against his pale skin.

 

Jungkook takes the reddest one he can find, the leaf more vivid than the apples in the summer, and cups Jimin’s face with his palm, placing it behind Jimin’s ear as if it were a flower. Jimin would tell him to stop being daft, but he likes the feeling of the leaf tickling his hair. He likes that Jungkook put it there. 

 

Jimin sighs slowly, and Jungkook leans over, staring at the leaf, moving so close that Jimin can feel his breath on his lips. He's too scared to meet Jimin's eyes.

 

Jimin cradles Jungkook's hand, running a gentle finger over his knuckles to soothe him. Jimin watches his shoulders relax only slightly, his body lowering closer. Jimin sees the worry in his eyes, looking like ones of a frightened baby deer, and Jimin wants to coo, wants to hug it all away. 

 

Their gazes finally connect as he cups Jimin’s cheek, their breathing molding together as he leans forward, his warmth enveloping Jimin as his chest presses against Jimin's. He’s trembling; his confident Jungkookie is trembling against him.

 

Lips on lips. Jimin’s never felt like this before, like the love he has for Jungkook is spilling out in every tender touch. Jungkook is cradling his cheek, his soft lips meeting Jimin’s as he closes his eyes.

 

His stomach feels like bubbles of warm air are bouncing inside of him, a thousand tiny butterflies filling his heart and fluttering in his chest, trying to escape free. He feels like pulling Jungkook up to his feet, dancing in the orchard even though the Church doesn't allow it and singing to the buzz of the bees. Jimin smiles into the kiss, his hand blindly searching for Jungkook's other one that rests beside his thigh as their fingers find each other, entwining together.

 

He feels like never letting go.

 

Jungkook pulls back gently, a shy smile on his face but open sadness in his eyes, and Jimin's heart cries out. Jungkook whispers with a soft tone, his voice shaking and his cheeks red as he gnaws on his lower lip, “I 'ave tuh leave now...”

 

Jimin can feel the burn on his own ears and the splotches on his cheeks, knowing his eyes must be shimmering.

 

It’s all too soon.

 

“I’ll—I’ll go with you.”

 

They don't look at each other as they walk through the forest to Jungkook’s home, their cheeks red and their hearts thumping. Jungkook’s mother and father have already gotten the horse out when they arrive, and Jungkook’s father has a suitcase of his own for the journey there and back. His father and he will take turns traveling on the horse until they reach the school.

 

“Jungkookie.”

 

He turns back to Jimin, a shy smile on his face and the remnants of blush on his cheeks as he meets Jimin's eyes. There's a pain behind them too, a pain that bleeds every time Jungkook looks at him. Jimin can see that Jungkook hates himself for leaving him, tears in his eyes that Jimin knows he will soon spill.

 

Jimin doesn't want him to cry. 

 

"Yes, Jiminie?"

 

Jungkook wants this. Jungkook wants this freedom, to study and learn and become someone. Jungkook was never tied to Salem. He was meant to explore. He’s a boat, on the open ocean, moments away from being free from the harbor.

 

"I think I love you," he whispers, his breath catching in his throat and Jungkook's eyes blowing wide.

 

And there he's said it. He's said the thing he knows he shouldn't, his tongue become lose with Jungkook.

 

Selfish. That's what he is. He's selfish.

 

Jimin will be the one to sink him.

 

Jungkook wraps him in his arms so suddenly that Jimin gasps, the hold tight and warm. He squeezes him tenderly as Jimin starts to sob, letting Jimin bury his face in his chest and hide in his arms.

 

But not if he can let him go. 

 

"Jimine, I know that I love ya." His voice is trembling as he cradles Jimin. "I'll come back for ya. I promise that." 

 

Jimin only sobs harder, hearing the pain of leaving and the relief of the confession mixed together as one in Jungkook's voice. He feels warm tears in his hair, and that's when he realizes Jungkook is crying. Jungkook will come back for him.

 

No you won't. I won't allow it. 

 

And his teeth dig into his lower lip.

 

Slipping into Jungkook’s mind is like entering a loving home, the door wide open and welcoming with a fire cooking supper in the corner. He's never been here before, but it's familiar; it's a safe place for Jimin. His soul walks around, peering into the memories they have together as his magic dances around. 

 

It's shocking seeing the love he has for Jimin. It's in every memory they have together, in every word they give each other. He sees himself through Jungkook's eyes, his world flooding with Jungkook's memories of him. He feels Jungkook's heart beating faster when they had held hands and tastes the bread on Jimin's lips as they'd kissed. He feels the nerves that had bounced in Jungkook's veins on the nights when Jimin had cuddled him close and the exhilaration in his chest as he'd played with his Jiminie.

 

His Jiminie.

 

Jungkook has believed he was special since the beginning. 

 

The wash of love makes it all worse, makes him sob harder, snot dripping into Jungkook's chest as he wraps that love up. His magic wraps up the fond memories of Jimin's eye-smiles and the way his nose scrunches up when he's determined. He wraps up Jungkook’s passion to protect Jimin against anything and everything. He grasps Jungkook’s inner fears for Jimin, the fears that Jimin won’t want to be around him when they’re older and the fears of someone taking his Jiminie away forever.

 

Inhale. 

 

He take every beautiful smile they've shared together, every tight hug and lasting glance. 

 

Exhale.

 

And guides it away.

  

Jungkook's arms become tense around him, no longer cradling Jimin's body to his chest. His hands hold him awkwardly as Jimin holds down his sobs, and he pats his back as if he can't figure out what to do. 

 

He's uncomfortable. His Jungkookie is uncomfortable to be holding him. 

 

Jimin lets go.

 

When he looks up, Jungkook is staring at him weirdly, his arm scratching behind his head and his legs fidgeting around. 

 

There's no more fear for Jimin’s well being and no more excitement for Jimin’s happiness. There's a stranger reflected in Jungkook's eyes, a neighbor that Jungkook has no connection to.

 

Jungkook wipes away his tears as if he's unsure why they are there, his brows furrowing in confusion.

 

"Uh..."

 

“Jungkook,” his father calls out from the horse, looking ready to take off. “We must go. Say farewell.”

 

He smiles, and Jimin almost takes a step back in shock. He can't remember the last time Jungkook smiled like that, with his eyes empty and his mouth forced up. His stance is uncomfortable, but he's forcing himself to be polite in front of his neighbor. 

 

“Farewell, Park Jimin.”

 

Jimin can't respond back, knowing his voice will break and his eyes will pour, so he nods quietly, his face staring at his feet. 

 

Jungkook has a special smile that he always saves for Jimin, and it's...it's no longer there.

 

"Oh, and that's a pretty leaf in ya 'air."

 

Jimin's eyes widen, his fingers quietly raising up to his ear to cradle the leaf. Jungkook turns around with a curt wave, walking towards his father as Jimin stares in silence, his eyes still open as the ocean.

 

It doesn’t feel real as he watches them leave, the horse clomping down the dirt path and into the forest.

 

It doesn't feel real as the sound fades to nothing, the birds whistling in the trees and his heart pounding in his throat. 

 

It doesn't feel real as Jungkook's mother returns inside the house, Jimin standing alone on the dirt road.

 

He’s given Jungkook another chance, a chance to find a nice woman and marry her in the mountains, a chance to explore and have children and leave Jimin—

 

Good Lord, it hurts so much.

 

Jimin tears into the woods, his mouth gaping wide in pain as he sobs, the sounds echoing in the trees yet not reaching the person he wants most. He screams, snot dripping into his open mouth as his foot stomps into the ground, hating what he’s done and hating that it was the right thing to do.

 

Jungkook's not going to return to Salem. He has no reason to. 

 

Magic pours from his body, blood still on his lip as the flowers around him sprout up and grow tall, greens and pinks enveloping his vision, almost as if mocking him. 

 

His body cries with exhaustion, his magic low and his heart dead. His knees fall to the ground, his tears pouring down into his hands as he covers his eyes, his screams of frustration and sadness quieting to whines and little hiccups. The flowers cradle his body as he sinks to the soil, the soft things shining brighter as he cries. 

 

Jimin has cut their strings. He's allowed Jungkook to leave the biggest thing he was tied to in Salem.

 

Because with that kiss, Jimin had realized that Jungkook would never be able to let him go.

 

Chapter Text

Salem, Massachusetts: 1692

 

In a small house in Salem, where the trees block out the sun, and the birds chirp quietly from the canopy, three girls are screaming.

 

The sound breaks into the darkening sky, the sun drifting below the trees as if trying to escape. 

 

The girls' pain is raw in their voices, seeing sights that aren’t there and shouting nonsense at chairs, hiding below tables as local ministers are rushed inside and neighbors are told to stay away.

 

Their father watches them, his face flinching in pain as he sees his daughters decent to madness, unable to help and udderly petrified by their wails. He clutches his heart, praying that God will save their souls as he sinks to his knees. 

 

The tallest minister places a steady hand on the father's shoulder, speaking the Lord’s words as he holds his cross in front of them, trying to save the children from the demons he knows have invaded them. The girls spit on his shoes, their eyes twitching as they rave, and the father flinches, cowering deeper into the floor. 

 

"Witch!"  the youngest one croaks out, her finger spasming as she points to their young and beloved caretaker. It's the first coherent word that any one of the girls has said. 

 

The ministers startle, the hair raising on the backs of their necks as horror splashes onto their faces. They watch each other for an instant, their minds pervasive in terror.

 

"Go forth," the tallest affirms. 

 

The caretaker shrieks as rope is bound to her wrists. The fiber digs cruelly into her flesh, the ministers surrounding her small body in an instance. Her face is shoved to the floor with a thunk, the sound barely heard over the roar of screams still coming from the children, but the girls' madness is no longer on the forefront of the ministers' minds. 

 

"Damned witch."

 

She sobs as they drag her out of the house by her wrists, her feet kicking out and her hair flying around as she screams in fear. She flails, crying into the air as the ministers heave her away. Her petite body scrapes against the soil, dirt rubbing into skin as she's yanked down the road.  

 

“I’m not no damned witch! I’m not no damned witch!” 

 

The poor girl hasn't yet realized that the moment the youngest pointed her tiny finger, she was a dead woman. 

 

 

“Sound the bells. We shall warn the town of what is to come,” the minister commands to a bell-ringer boy, clutching his cross with a grip so tight that his knuckles are red. 

 

The boy frowns, confusion in his eyes as the tallest minster stares at him, his order ringing clear.

 

“What’re we soundin’ them bells for this evenin’?” His tiny voice can barely be heard over the girls’ screaming, and the minister hopes that with the witch out of their presence, they will be able to return back to the Lord.

 

He takes in a deep breath, a frown scrunching his face as he watches the caretaker being dragged down the streets, her screams awakening the sleeping people of Salem.

 

“The witches are here.”  

 

 

It isn't long before the sound of bells can be heard all over Salem, booming through the square and into every alley, shop, and home. It isn't long until the bells are all the folk can hear, their clanging imprinting in everyone's minds from miles around. 

 

 

And then everything goes to hell.

 

Chapter Text

Salem, Massachusetts: 1693

 

Salem’s gone mad, Jimin thinks as he arranges the bouquet in the window. The flowers are tulips and roses from his garden, and he knows that his mother would be proud to see them organized so perfectly. He would normally have made sure to fill them with life before he entered the shop, coaxing magic into them to make their petals more luscious and their color more vibrant, but these days are very dangerous times. He can’t go around spewing spells on whims—not like when he was young.

 

Since the first scream of “witch!” on the other side of town, everyone is ready to point their finger at everyone else. Neighbors accuse neighbors; husbands accuse wives; siblings accuse siblings. He’s had men from the church travel down his dirt road and knock on his door, asking if he knew if his neighbors are affiliated with the “witch whores.”

 

He’s said “no” each time, affirming vehemently that Mrs. and Mr. Jeon are a good family with good Puritan morals, and heaving out a deep sigh once he sees them traveling down the dirt road, past the orchard and away from his home.

 

“Salem’s gone bloody mad,” he hears his partner huff out, and Jimin knows he's rolling his eyes without even having to turn around. Jimin nods in agreement, backing away from the flowers to enjoy his work. They rest in the window, their petals droopy and their color slightly dull, but the way the sun shines on them is mesmerizing.

 

“My thoughts exactly,” Jimin says, turning to see his co-worker of three years, Kim Taehyung, at the counter, shifting through the coins and arranging them in small piles on the table.

 

One hundred people have been accused so far.

 

One hundred.

 

And Jimin has sensed not a sliver of magic in any one of them.

 

Of that hundred, five have been hanged, and four have been burned to ashes. The town folk (save for young children) must attend their deaths, not being allowed to shut their eyes as their family members, neighbors, and friends sob out in pain, dying within reach. 

 

It’s a warning to each one of them.

 

So the people are going mad in response. If they can accuse their neighbors before their neighbors accuse them, they can escape it. It has sent their life in to one flurry of blame, the jails overcrowded as more people flood in. People break out every night, fleeing to other towns to escape their trials. Innocence doesn't matter anymore in Salem. 

 

The trials are rigged anyways. All a man needs is a feeling of witchery for the accused to be sent to the noose, their body hanging limp in the middle of town square.

 

“Burn the witch whores!”

 

Every shop window must display the new laws against witchery, reminding every man, woman, and child of what demons rest in their town.

  

The first accused witch was a caretaker. Jimin stills remembers watching as she was dragged out into the middle of the square, malnourished and with a trial that was too quick to be justified. He flinches at the memory of the young woman’s face, her mouth open wide and drooling as blood poured from her lips. They’d beaten her before the trial until she hadn’t known which way was up and if the sun was black or green.

 

“The devil bid me to serve him! I was solely obeying his word!”

 

Salem had watched in panic. The crazed way the young woman had wrenched around in the men's hold, screaming her lungs off and bucking around, made them cower in terror. A man had shoved her face into the dirt, spitting on her as she shrieked. 

 

“It’s the red cats! They’re the ones speaking to me! The black dogs! Oh, the black dogs! And the birds! Yellow ones! The yellow birds!”

 

When she was finally hanged, the platform falling underneath her with a creak, the town itself exhaled with relief. "She’s sleeping with the devil now,”  he’d heard the people whisper afterwards, their tone calmer now that the caretaker was hanging limp, her blank eyes staring into the full crowd. 

 

Jimin had darted for the matchmaker shop, cowering in the back room as he'd convulsed in tremors, his body shutting down and his mind drifting back and forth from reality. The selfish part of him wasn't even thinking about the caretaker, his hands touching his neck as he'd imagined being the one up there hanging.

 

An innocent woman had been murdered, yet all he could think was that could have been me. 

 

She wasn’t a witch, that was certain, just a girl, beaten raw until her mind was shreds of what she once was. How couldn't other people see that? And if they did, they made no objection.

 

But he knows why: the one who objects is the next one who stands on the platform.

 

It's a town full of selfish bastards, and Jimin can't say he's any different.

 

Jimin walks outside to wipe the windows, using a bucket of lye and water on a torn shirt as he reads the paper he stuck up two months ago.

 

“If any man or woman be a witch, they shall be put to death.”

 

He rubs the glass, thinking about how frightened his mother would be at this mayhem. She would have never let him leave the house.

 

In a sad way, he’s thankful that she passed before all of this. She’ll go to heaven, believing that her baby is safe from harm’s way. He tells himself that as his heart clenches with pain, his mind filling with his mother's smile. If she’d heard about the craze, she’d kill herself with worry. She'd be terrified of what would happen to Jimin.

 

He sends his prayers in thanks that the Lord gave her passage into heaven, before Salem turned into hell itself. Jimin has never met someone over forty, and these days, he's just begging to make it to twenty-one. He thinks they're all just begging to make it another year.

 

He scrubs the dirt that refuses to budge from the windowpane and thinks about his mother, about her hugs and her terrified eyes when she’d realized he was a witch and her careful teachings of spells where the maids couldn't find them.

 

She was proud of him when he got the matchmaker job, in a shop working under Kim Jaeho. His mother had always been a romantic at heart. Her books of forbidden attraction had made Jungkook cringe and stick out his tongue when they were younger. She was so happy that Jimin was working to bring the town together by love, and he’d been so elated to impress her. 

 

But his job isn't the roses and sweeping romance that his mother had thought. Sure, he watches the bright smiles on the newly wed's faces, their feet bouncing in joy as they walk down the aisle. Sure, he sees how the bride tears up as they exchange their vows, the groom grinning as the rings slip over their fingers. And sure, he's felt proud of himself for a match well done, Taehyung and he celebrating with a hug over a successful union.

 

But he also sees the way the bride collapses afterwards when she thinks she's alone, staring at a wall with vacant eyes as her hands clutch her ring and her real tears start to spill. He sees the way the groom's head smacks against the back of the church when the event is done, his fists clenched and his face tight as he whispers a girl's name who isn't the bride's. 

 

He sees it all, and he knows that when it's time for him to marry, he'll feel the same emptiness staring into his bride's eyes as the rest of them feel. He's not one of the special ones.

 

Perhaps Tae will find love, Jimin thinks as his arms tire from scrubbing so hard. Working under Jaeho was how he’d been introduced to his son, Kim Taehyung. His mother had loved Taehyung, loved how Jimin was making friends after years of loneliness. He knows that his mother viewed it all—the new job and the new acquaintances—as Jimin finally getting to have his normal life. If she were still here, he knows she'd have loved seeing the progress he's made. 

 

But she's not still here.

 

His mother has been dead for two years now, leaving this world when Jimin was eighteen. His father had died a week before that, carrying sickness from one of the men in his factory. He'd returned home, his face pale and his eyes bloodless, collapsing into his wife's arms. He'd died before knowing that his return had caused the sickness to spread to her, and when Jimin had realized what he'd done, his mother's soul was already slipping from her body.

 

They rest in graves beside each other, their lives ending at thirty-seven and thirty-eight of the same illness.

 

If it hadn't been for Taehyung's persistence, he might have never left the house. He could picture himself still crying in his bed, refusing to touch the sunlight and meet any other person than the few maids who were left. Taehyung was the one who'd traveled to his house every day, barging into his room and forcing him to talk about the pain he was suffering in. 

 

"I don't want to burden you—" 

 

"I don't give a damn what you want. We're sitting here, and we're discussing the hogshit that's ruining our lives. Then we're going to take that shit, mash it into a pile, and throw it into the sewers. And if it takes a little longer for one of us to get there, you can be damn sure the other shall give him all the time and affection he needs."

 

Jimin knows his parent's lives had been fulfilling, living longer than most other people in Salem and staying beside each other until death. In the end, his father's stupidity in bringing the sickness home led to his mother's demise, yet she'd died telling Jimin how much she'd loved her husband. She'd also died telling Jimin that he wasn't allowed to wallow in mourning for her, but some promises are ones to be broken. 

 

He yawns, still tired from waking up this morning and wishing he could fall back in bed, remembering how he'd slept through the afternoons with Jungkook when he was younger. He misses that, misses when they'd lie in the sun like cats and bask in the warmth of the weather. 

 

The weather is still nice, the sun is still warm, but Jungkook is not here. 

 

There's a sound overhead, at first pleasant, and Jimin continues working, forgetting what this particular one means.

 

The bells.

 

Jimin’s head wrenches up, his eyes widening as his heart thuds where he stands. The ringing of the bells making his stomach plummet, disgust gurgling inside. They used to be beautiful, signalling that someone in their town was being wedded.

 

These aren't wedding bells.

  

He drops his lye, turning towards the steps to the shop as owners and customers walk out of businesses to herd to the square. Jimin must do the same; it’s mandatory. Only children under twelve are excused from the killings, and Jimin hasn’t been twelve for eight years.

 

He runs up the steps, almost tripping in his haste. He shoves open the wooden door, his torso leaning into the shop as he yells. 

 

“Tae! We must go! The bells are ringing!”

 

He sees Taehyung knock his head into a shelf, having been searching for papers underneath the counter, and he groans out in pain.

 

“Oh, hogshit,” Tae murmurs, the curse barely audible to Jimin’s ears, but he has learned to read Taehyung like a book. He scrambles out, holding his head as he mutters obscenities into the wind. Jimin gives him a pointed look as they exit the building together, their feet hurriedly taking them to the town square as they mold with the others. Taehyung and his mouth are going to get him into trouble someday.

 

It's not long until they're at the back of a large crowd of people, Taehyung and he standing at the back of it as the people whisper around them. It's too bright for this to be happening, the sun almost seeming to smile. 

 

“This be a hanging or a burning?”

 

“Who is it this time?”

 

“I heard Yangsu just had her trial; I fear it’s her.”

 

Jimin stands with Taehyung, a large man blocking Jimin's view. He’s grateful for it; he doesn’t think he can stomach watching another face as their body shrivels and their blood sizzles. The smell is enough to force tears to his eyes, leaving him retching for the rest of the afternoon.

 

His breathing becomes more erratic the longer they stand and wait, his body shutting him down. The more of these he watches, the worse he gets each time. His head tilts forward with wooziness, his hand clutching his sweaty forehead as he starts panting. He worries he will puke all over the man standing in front of him. 

 

Jimin feels Taehyung’s hand brush against his other hand, wrapping his fingers around Jimin’s as a way to calm him. He's well aware of what happens to Jimin during these trials.

 

Jimin wants the comfort, needs it even, but they already have the accusation of witchery hanging over their heads; no need to incite any claims of suspected sodomy as well. His hand trembles as he withdraws from Taehyung's grip, holding his own wrist in front of him. 

 

“I ‘eard witches make wives infertile.”

 

“Really? I heard that just by looking at them, you’ll see the devil dancing in their eyes.”

 

The head clergyman steps up, the townsfolk going as silent as the dead as he speaks. The man in front of him moves, allowing Jimin sight of what's in front of him. 

 

A woman is to be hanged.

 

She comes out tied in ropes, struggling and crying into the air, and Jimin just can’t watch. His eyes fall to his shoes, his stare empty. He wishes to close away from all of this madness, from all of this pain. He can sense it radiating from her body, her soul begging for Jimin to save her, to set her free. 

 

A warm body presses against his side as a low voice whispers to him.

 

“Jimin, I apologize, but you must watch.”

 

Jimin nods his head, slowly picking up his eyes as the woman is dragged to the center of the wooden platform with rope binding her wrists. She’s distraught, the life silent in her body as they drag her, her body slumping as she faces the crowd. Her left eyes is a bruised black, and she's limping.

 

He's not allowed to look away, the men watching the crowd for signs of disobedience. 

 

He can’t stand it as the executioner ties a rope around her throat, her breathing becoming erratic as the town watches the panic spilling in her eyes. He can't tell if it's fear or hunger in everyone's faces. She struggles, her legs flailing and her torso twisting. She’s a dead bird trying to fly.

 

Jimin grabs Taehyung’s hand, gripping it tight, needing someone who's safe to hold him. He doesn't give a damn if anyone sees; he needs someone safe. 

 

The platform drops from beneath her, and her neck snaps, the crack loud as a whip and silencing the air.

 

Jimin’s whole body starts to shake, and Taehyung is unable to do anything more in this crowded place than clutch his hand—and clutch his hand tight.

 

Thump.

 

Thump.

 

Jimin doesn’t realize it as Taehyung guides him back into the shop, untangling from the crowd and walking through the empty streets. They reach the wooden shop door, and he flips the “Open” sign to “Closed” even though it’s too early in the day for that. He watches blankly as Taehyung pulls out a wooden chair and makes him sit in it, his body crouching in front of Jimin as he runs a soothing hand up and down his arm.

 

“Minnie, you’re shaking. You need to breathe, Jimin. Breathe for me.”

 

Jimin gasps for air, his whole body trembling in the chair as Taehyung rubs his arm to calm him.

 

“Jimin, inhale with me. See?” He takes a gulp in, his hand moving in an upward motion. “Now exhale.” He sighs out, urging Jimin to do the same.

 

"Inhale." 

 

"Exhale."

 

"Minnie, you've stopped breathing. Come back to me. Come back to me."

 

The world fades in and out. For how long, Jimin can't tell. Sometimes Taehyung's soft tone rings out, and other times he wonders where Taehyung had gone, his voice a murmur in a sea of panic. 

 

Minnie, you've gone again. You must come back. Do you see my hand?"

 

Something blurry is shaking in his face, the motion too quick. He feels nauseous. 

 

"Minnie?"

 

He nods his head though he doesn't know what he's nodding for. 

 

"Breathe."

 

Jimin doesn't realize when he starts connecting Taehyung's words with Taehyung himself, just notices that his body is breathing, and his hands are trembling. He tries to speak. His voice breaks on the first two tries, and on the third, it cracks, but it's enough for Taehyung to understand. 

 

“I don’t think I can travel home like this.”

 

He feels a warm hand rubbing his shoulder. 

 

“Do you believe you are able to climb up the stairs with me? You may sleep here tonight.”

 

Taehyung lives in the shop building, becoming the owner once his father had passed, and Jimin has stayed here many times before.

 

“Tae...my legs. I’m unsure if I’m able to move them. I don’t know what is wrong with me.”

 

Taehyung runs a hand through Jimin’s hair, reminding Jimin's body to breathe as he taps on his chest.

 

“It’s okay. Your body is still coming down from its scare. I’ll help you come upstairs when you’re ready.” Taehyung stands up suddenly. “I’ll get you some porridge. I have some left from last night—”

 

“No!” Jimin gasps out, his hand thrusting in front of him to clutch Taehyung’s shirt weakly. “Please—please don’t leave...at least not yet.”

 

His eyes are wide, his lips bitten raw as he begs Taehyung.

 

“Please don’t go...”

 

And he doesn’t.

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

Jungkook had told Jimin he was to return in six years.

 

It’s been eight.

 

The first year apart from Jungkook was the worst.

 

Or maybe it was the second.

 

Or perhaps the third.

 

By the fifth, a seventeen year old Jimin had finally allowed himself to let his Jungkookie go.

 

Or, not let go per se—but forget. Forgetting was easier. 

 

He’d gone out into the world, seeing it greener than ever, allowing himself to talk to people in town and enjoy himself.

 

He heard of a gathering, one set into place by the younger boys. They discussed it in secret, in the back of the church pews and away from the minister’s stare. Jimin was lucky to have learned of it at all.

 

They invited him one hot afternoon, seeing his curious gaze and wandering eyes as the church bells rang overhead. This was before the witch trials had started, and the bells incited a giddiness in Jimin when he heard them. The boys told him that if he came, he was not allowed to bring anyone or tell anyone, especially not a clergyman of the church.

 

Jimin had always been told by his mother to stay safe, stay home, stay hidden.

 

He'd found that he needed something more.

 

He trampled around, almost getting lost in the woods as he walked barefoot in the dark, trying to find the path the boys had mentioned. He stumbled upon it by accident, seeing the bonfire’s light in the distance and the sound of someone beating drums.

 

He followed the light like a moth, his feet taking him to a small open field next to a river. It was surrounded by trees where no one else could see them, away from the glaring stare of the Puritan church’s vigilant eyes.

 

That'd been the real place where he first met Kim Taehyung.

 

There were girls and boys on logs and tree stumps, some warming their hands by the fire and others dancing to the beat of the drums. The boy who was playing was young, his round apple cheeks smiling as he smacked his hands on the self-made instruments to a beat that was solely his own.

 

He looked free.

 

When Jimin stumbled into view of the others, he was met with warm glances. Their eyes turned back once he untangled himself from the branches and waddled over to the bonfire. He hates describing it as a waddle, but with his feet sore from thorns and his legs aching with each step, that's the best way to say it.

 

Jimin’s eyes were wide as he swerved his head around. He’d never seen people dancing before. The Church didn’t allow it, viewing it as a distraction from the Lord and a creation made by the devil.

 

Yet everyone looked so happy.

 

He stuck his hands out in front of him to the heat of the fire, worry thrumming in his veins as he watched the flames. He had no acquaintances at the gathering, and in those years, he hadn't been trying to socialize. Perhaps this was a foolish idea...

 

He saw movement from the side of his vision, a blurring hand waving back and forth, and he looked up on instinct.

 

A boy was sitting on a log, his legs splayed out and his back slouched as if he held not a care in this world. He gestured his hand as if to say hurry up on over, and Jimin glanced around as if waiting for someone else to pop up and claim the offer. He rose on wobbly legs, walking over and slowly sinking down beside the boy. The other's gaze was calming, the fire close and crackling beside them. 

  

“I’ve never seen you here before,” the boy said, smiling warmly with bright teeth and scooting closer to where Jimin sat. He seemed the same age as Jimin, his hair a ruffled mess and his feet tapping to a beat that Jimin couldn't hear. Half of his hair glimmered from the fire, and the other half shined from the moonlight, his head swaying back and forth.

 

Jimin pursed his lips, his hand fiddling against the log and picking at the moss covering it.

 

“That would make sense, seeing as I’ve never been here before.”

 

That cracked an every larger smile on the boy’s face, this time reaching all the way to his eyes as his hand lifted up for Jimin to shake.

 

“Welcome.”

 

Jimin took it in his own, the boy’s grip rough and calloused against Jimin’s soft fingers as the pounding of the drums grew louder in their ears.

 

It wasn't long before the boy, he learned was named Taehyung, asked him to dance, bouncing up onto his feet and pulling Jimin flush against his body to rock with the music. Jimin's head was resting against his chest, and his heart was flinging itself into his throat, his arms awkwardly swaying beside him. Taehyung grabbed his hands, noticing how they trembled and staring at the red tinting on Jimin's cheeks. 

 

“So nervous to dance with a boy, you are. I wonder why—” he paused, his eyes brightening up with embers as his body leaned closer as if on instinct. “Ohhhhh...” The grin he gave was a devil’s smirk; he could see it in the boy’s eyes. “You don’t prefer the female-kind, do you?”

 

Jimin wrenched his body away, Taehyung’s eyes widening in surprise as Jimin told him he preferred no such thing. A hand fell to his hip, his face tight and his heart crying for him to escape to the woods. 

 

Words like that were the type to tie around your neck and hang you until you couldn’t speak any more of them.

 

Taehyung was speechless for a moment, his mouth parted open and his stance wide. His hands still reached for Jimin's, even as Jimin inched away, and he grabbed them softly before he could leave. Jimin blushed, tilting his head forward to hide from his gaze. He felt Taehyung's thumbs rubbing circles into his palms, the movement meant to calm him. When he glanced back up, a smile had been blooming back onto Taehyung's face, the playfulness returning.  

 

“You can sulk and deny yourself…” Taehyung said, the light from the fire twirling across his features, “or you can dance with me...” He leaned closer, no one near this particular area as his hot breath tickled Jimin’s ear. “Your choice.”

 

And ohhh, Jimin was a weak man.

 

They actually danced that time...or, tried to. Neither one particularly knew how, just moved their bodies to the beat of the drums. As the night continued on, they became more reckless. Sweat started collecting on their necks, and their faces were too close, but Jimin loved it. He watched as Taehyung dared to move closer, pressing against his warmth as they got lost in the beat.

 

When people started leaving, escaping back into the shadows of the woods to meld back into their beds, Taehyung pulled Jimin down beside him. They lounged against a log, preferring to stay as far away from their normal lives for as long as they could. Minds giddy and eyes tired, they huffed from exhaustion into the darkness.

 

There were five people still around the fire, two of them Jimin and Taehyung. The darkness cloaked their bodies, save for the reds and yellows of the firelight that glimmered off their sweaty cheeks. Two people were sleeping, with the other slowly dozing off, and the sound of the drums were long gone as the drummer-boy had snuck home. The forest was left to the quiet hum of the crickets.

 

Jimin's head rested against Taehyung's shoulder, curling up as they sat in the warmth of the fire. The hoot of an owl made him jump, snuggling closer to Taehyung to hide and continuing to grip his shirt even when he realized the danger was gone. He felt the vibrations of Taehyung laughing beside him, pouting out his lips as he continued to chuckle.

 

Taehyung looked down at where Jimin rested in his arms, the fire’s light reflecting in his eyes. He wrapped them tighter, his head leaning closer, drawn to Jimin. The sudden warmth moving around made Jimin's head dart up to find him, almost jolting back in surprise as their eyes met. They were once again, too close. He sighed out loud as Taehyung's forehead pressed against his own, his eyes slipping shut.

 

He could feel Taehyung’s warm breath against his, could smell the scent of the lye he was using to wash his hair and the pine that clung to his linen shirt.

 

He licked his lips, the movement coming unconsciously as his eyelids parted open. He saw Taehyung's eyes dart to them, scanning them over and biting his own as if he couldn't control himself. Jimin's body leaned closer, his lips parting in an invitation.

 

He breathed in.  

 

Taehyung surged forward, meeting his lips as Jimin gasped out, the sound halting to be replaced with groans deep from Taehyung's chest.

 

Jimin’s body burned all over as he threaded his fingers through Taehyung’s hair, feeling Taehyung’s rough hands running down his arms and touching his thighs. He arched forward, whines leaving his mouth as Taehyung pushed his body down into the grass, leaning over him with a gaze that seared over his chest and set a fire to his stomach. Taehyung paused, thinking over something as his eyes scanned Jimin's lips, running hands through Jimin's hair and feeling the soft strands between his fingertips before attaching his mouth once again, hot breath rushing between them.

 

Jimin found himself grabbing Taehyung’s back, his hands burrowing in Taehyung's shirt. He tugged him closer into his chest, sighing into another kiss, their movements sloppy and messy.

 

What am I doing?

 

“We—we should stop. This is—immoral,” Jimin panted out, not wanting to listen to his own words as he groaned into Taehyung's mouth, his mouth still moving frantically against the other boy's.

 

Taehyung’s soft lips left his an instant later, his eyes peering down at Jimin’s as he panted. They continued downwards, trailing down Jimin’s body and looking to where Jimin's pants were tight. Jimin's cheeks flooded with fire, the heat filling the tips of his ears as his hands darted to shield his crotch. Breathing shaky, he was unable to look up to Taehyung’s soft gaze, wishing he could be swallowed into the dirt.

 

“I apologize?” Taehyung said, it sounding more like a question as he pulled away onto his knees. Jimin whined as the warmth disappeared, his arms tense and his body aflame.

 

“No, it’s all right," he blurted too hastily, his breathing still erratic and his lips swollen. He watched Taehyung stand up stiffly, offering a hand to Jimin and pulling him up off of the forest floor. Taehyung started smiling, the darkness hiding it as he watched Jimin trying to compose himself, fixing his clothing and smoothing out his sleeves. “I just...my heart...I'm—”

 

“Ah...” Taehyung sighed, his arms falling to his sides. “You fancy another man; is that it?”

 

What?

 

No.

  

“I don't—”

 

His treacherous brain surged with Jungkook's smile. Damn it.

 

Seems he hadn't managed to make himself forget.

 

His mind flooded with Jungkook’s happy eyes, his southern accent whispering to him in the tulip bed and his small lips kissing Jimin’s plump ones under the apple tree. He imagined how full his heart would be if he were with him, how much he'd always wanted them to know each other until they were old. He imagined kissing Jungkook again, whispering promises of the mountains in his breath and wrapping his arms around him.

 

“...yes, I suppose...I do.”

 

His teeth bit into his lower lip out of habit, the magic stirring in his chest. He hastily yanked up his arm to wipe the blood away on his sleeve, the crickets chirping louder around his feet.

 

When he was stressed his magic didn't listen to him. 

 

He couldn't be stressed. Not here. 

 

I'm fine, he thought, his eyes focused on the forest floor. He shifted in discomfort, hating how the stars seemed to glare down on him and wishing that Jungkook's bunny teeth would leave him be.  

 

“That is fair.” Taehyung's tone was joking, no malice carved into his words. He chuckled, Jimin's eyes watching silently. Taehyung's focus slowly wandered to one of the sleeping boy’s faces and remained there as he whispered, “I suppose my heart rests with another as well.”

 

Oh.

 

Seems they're both not allowing themselves to let go.

 

When they'd left that night years ago, they'd left in silence, quiet eyes watching other quiet eyes as they'd walked through the woods together. 

 

Taehyung had smiled to him once they'd reached the front of the town. He'd waved to Jimin, the woosh of his hand cutting through the air the only sound. He'd turned around before Jimin could wave back and weaved behind the shops to wherever his home rested. 

 

"Bye," Jimin had mouthed, knowing he'd never see Kim Taehyung again. He'd sparsely left his own home those days, and he hadn't been open to following up on what happened to the boy. 

 

In a way, he'd been glad it'd ended that night, not wishing to remember what they'd done and the confessions they'd exchanged in the robe of darkness.

 

He never would have thought that in that same year of 1690, when he’d decided he needed a job and came walking into the matchmaker shop, that he’d meet that same handsome face again, the darkness no longer hiding his boxy smile.

 

Chapter Text

Jungkook was never supposed to return to Salem. It was never in his plans.

 

His parents had moved to that town when he was newly nine years, with prudish people giving him peculiar looks when they believed he wasn’t looking and the Church being stricter than his own Pa. He’d always promised to leave, planning to move back to the south where the people were nicer and the weather was warmer.

 

When his father had told him they were sending him away, sending him to a place where he could get an education and provide for a family someday, Jungkook had been bouncing off the walls. His passion for books had started as a blur, he couldn’t quite remember just where, but he knew that this opportunity would allow him to pursue this fervor.

 

Yet, that memory was a smudge in his life, as if someone had taken the key piece out of it and was forcing him to look at it uncompleted.

 

He remembers having reservations about leaving, remembers crying to his Pa about journeying out of Salem, but that simply doesn’t make sense. Perhaps Jungkook couldn’t handle the sudden change, perhaps he was afraid of staying in a city without his parents’ guidance, yet he can pointedly remember not wanting to leave Salem because there was something in that bloody town that had made him love it!

 

Which was preposterous! The doors had opened to a golden opportunity, one to escape the town he so hated and start his new life, yet he’d wanted to stay! He’d had reservations!

 

And for the life of him, he can’t recollect what those reservations were!

 

His entire three years in Salem were a grand smudge in Jungkook’s memory. It was only until he’d left, moving from the town to a city he’d never been, that he’d finally received clarity.

  

In his school, there had been a constant pressure from the Church, the instructors monitoring everything the boys read and restricting the places to which they could travel. He had grown used to teachers surveilling his movements and fellow students tracking his progress, comparing him to themselves. He'd learned the best ways to sneak out, and the best ways to get caught. He'd discovered the quickest way to make a teacher get off his hind and the fastest way to get one monitoring him like a hawk.

 

He took these lessons, and he improved, watching each day as he grew from them, becoming quicker and smarter from his mistakes.

 

He loved it. 

 

He loved learning. The books they had were selected with purpose, nothing of the fiction-sort, but they were numerous, and Jungkook could lose hours in their library, reading everything he could grasp his hands on.

 

He loved the environment, with the boys wanting to learn just as passionately and feverishly as he did. He loved the competition that stemmed from this, noticing how failing made him push harder, study move, move quicker.

 

When he was sixteen, he became the top student of his class, the top student at the sports they played and the challenges they created. His speech had improved, and his vocabulary was expanding daily, no longer leaving him as the country boy with the thick accent. The pride was evident in his voice when he was eighteen, and the minister chose him to write and perform the graduation speech for the school.

 

The school wanted him to preach, wanting him to become a minister, but it was never his passion. He wanted to do good things for the world, and those good things didn’t stem from a place of teaching. He wanted action.

 

The school had taught of witches, the creatures spiteful and vicious, their sinful bodies luring you in to curse you and ensnare you in their trap.

 

Jungkook became obsessed with them, realizing this was his calling to the world. This was his action, his way to do good.

 

If he could rid the world of witches, an innocent person could live free.

 

He'd spent two extra years in Boston, prolonging his studies of witchery. He'd planned to move down to Tennessee, where an epidemic of witches had started.

 

He'd felt it was his calling.

 

Until he'd received the letter from his Ma.

 

His Pa had died, leaving Jungkook with the home and acres of land surrounding it. His Ma, because she was female, couldn’t control the property. If Jungkook didn’t go down to claim it, the town would take it away, leaving her homeless.

 

But worse, was her fever. His mother wrote of her Typhoid, describing it overtaking her and filling Jungkook with panic.

 

He’d written his Ma back quickly, promising that in a month’s time, he’d make the journey back home, staying with her for as long as she needed.

 

He'd promised to himself that he would halt his adventures, watching over his sick mother, already thirty-nine, until she had to be buried deep. He would stay there with her, making sure her last moments would be smiling with her son, even if it meant returning to the town he despised.

 

Yes, Jungkook was never supposed to return to Salem.

 

But alas, here he is.

 

Chapter Text

Jimin watches Taehyung struggling to ink his notes for their newest client, his writing sloppy and almost illegible.

 

He's sitting at the table where they usually discuss matches with customers, his back hunched over and his face contorted in frustration. Every once in a while, Taehyung's head will sink to the table, muttering profanities to the wood as if it'll listen.

 

Jimin is sweeping near the front, the shop dusty because Taehyung is always busy and wouldn't clean even if he had all the time in the world. He glances outside the window as he hums quietly to himself, the day bright and warm as the people mill around outside. He's opened the door to sweep out the dust, and the hot air blows over his skin. His magic begs him to force a nice breeze to coast in the shop, his mind whispering that letting out a little blood wouldn't hurt. It'd be so easy.

 

But he can't.

 

His magic has recently begun to simmer under his skin, telling him that he hasn't been using it enough.  Yet he's too scared to listen. This town isn't safe, and the ministers could stop by his home at any time.

 

It's been a year, and he only allows himself to let off steam by little spells, enough to tamper his pain but not enough to quell his hunger. He'll lock the door in his bedroom, blocking all moonlight out with his curtains and sitting in the corner farthest from any entrance point. That's where he practices, using a small kitchen knife to cut his fingers and performing wordless healing spells to mend the skin. 

 

He doesn't know if he should be this paranoid. He has no one to ask for advice, and he doesn't know what he should be doing. These trials are a situation he's never faced before, and a panic he's never experienced. He's walking into everything blindly and hoping he doesn't get burned. 

 

It's horrible.

 

The two people in this world that knew of his magic are gone. The two people who were supposed to help him are gone.

 

It's just Jimin now. 

 

"This damn hand..."

 

Jimin's covers his mouth to stifle a chuckle, knowing it would make Taehyung glare pitchforks at him. Taehyung has always been more comfortable with his left hand, as he’s bickered to Jimin numerous times.  Jimin doesn’t understand it, doesn’t see how a person’s left hand could possibly be more comfortable than his right, but he’s not in a position to judge.

 

And it doesn’t matter if Taehyung prefers his left hand more, he’s not allowed to use it; people who scrawl with their left are said to be witches.

 

Jimin finds some of the rumors entertaining, the ones about him being of flying ability with a face as ugly as an ass.

 

He doesn’t think his particularly resembles a donkey, but to each his own.

 

“Tae, stop your whining. I’ll aid you.” He sets the broom against the wall with a clack, shutting the shop door and walking over.  

 

Taehyung’s nose scrunches up, his face locked with annoyance as his other hand moves to wave Jimin away.

 

“No! I am able. I’ve been practicing writing with the bloody hand since I was a babe!" Jimin ignores him and sits on the bench beside him, watching as Taehyung shoves away all the extra quills so that Jimin can't reach one. "The ministers forced me to use this horrid hand. I am able!” His face looks so pinched that Jimin's fingers dart to his stomach, rushing to tickle him as he screams out. He beams as Taehyung’s eyes blow wide, his frustration melting into laughter and his hand letting go of the quill. “Get off, I say! Get off!”

 

His mouth is wide open, the fit of howling heartily booming in the room. Taehyung tries to wrestle away, Jimin's fingers staying on him as he twirls them around until tears are spilling from Taehyung's eyes.

 

When Taehyung gets frustrated, the stress evident on his face, Jimin makes it a point to relieve him of it. And since these days are too dangerous to alleviate with magic, Jimin has turned to more...unconventional methods.

 

Taehyung lets out another long shriek, almost falling onto the floor as he darts away from Jimin's fingers. Jimin spots his whoosh of hair fly up as he hides behind the counter, screaming “You wench! You wench!”  as Jimin laughs. He sneaks closer, clutching his stomach to try to stifle his giggles. 

 

He's about to pounce behind the counter when he hears the click of the door, signalling someone has entered.

 

He stiffens up, quickly hissing at Taehyung to “hush!” as his spins to face the customer on the balls of his heels, his face lighting up into the polite smile he always uses.

 

"Welcome, what can we do for you?"

 

Taehyung's still mumbling obscenities from the corner, and Jimin has half a mind to grab the broom and wallop him over the head.

 

Instead he smiles, one that turns his eyes into crescents as he walks over to them. 

 

A woman stands with her father, her body petite and her hands clasped in front of her mannerly. He recognizes her as Daeun, a short young lady with hair just above her shoulders and thick lips. She was one of the children that Jimin and Jungkook had played tag with when they were younger, but he hasn't formally spoken to her in years.

 

"Taeee." He forces his voice to be light and airy, even though he knows Taehyung can hear the bite behind it. "We have customers."  

 

Taehyung bounces up from behind the counter as if he hadn't just been cowering, splaying his fingers on the wood to steady himself as he grins over to Jimin. He's a natural people-person. He strolls over to Daeun's father immediately, asking about his farm and if his crops are doing well. His smile is wide, the kind that draws you in because of how genuine it is, and Jimin wonders how Taehyung hasn't yet found a match to call his own.

 

"Daeun! How pleasant to see you! Do you desire to be matched?"

 

She's about to murmur yes, her mouth opening to form the words, but her father steps forward, cutting her off with a curt hand. "Yes, she does." He tells Taehyung that he'd loved to discuss his daughter's matching with him, putting a hand on his shoulder as if they're good pals. Jimin watches from the side as Daeun's head lowers, her hands clasping tighter and her shoulders sinking. 

 

Jimin and Taehyung both bristle, but this is normal; this is to be expected. It's rare that the bride-to-be gets any final say in any part of the process. At least, not in Salem.

 

If you didn't know Taehyung well, you wouldn't see how his shoulder are stiff, how his smile is tilted down an inch and his demeanor is off, but Jimin's been close friends with him for a while now. He observes as Taehyung takes the man over to their main table, the father sitting down with a huff as Taehyung clasps his hands together on the wood.

 

Daeun slinks over to Jimin with quiet feet, her face blank as she watches their exchange of her future. She seems to find comfort in Jimin, her tight hands relaxing against her blue dress. Jimin's always found that the women are more comfortable around him, and they always seem to stay near him during discussions of matching. Jimin knows it's mostly due to the fact that his form is small, and he carries air that is unthreatening. He used to dislike it more, not liking how his face could be better described as "pretty" than "manly," but he supposes it's nice. He can bring comfort to these anxious women as their fathers plan out the rest of their lives. 

  

"Do you want to walk to the back with me?" 

 

 She nods her head, remaining quiet, and he escorts her out the backdoor, listening to Taehyung's voice fading as he talks with her father. 

 

They step outside, the clouds drifting over the sun and granting shade to the world. The area is a small garden out back, with brick walls closing the space from any stranger's view. It's not exactly a productive garden. Taehyung refuses to plant anything beside tomatoes in it, even though he's said numerous times that they are disgusting. He won't even let Jimin sell them, swatting away all of Jimin's ideas of other foods and giving Jimin pouty glares when he sees Jimin trying to sneak some out.

 

"Did you know that Taehyung despises tomatoes?"

 

Jimin gently elbows her shoulder, coaxing out a giggle from her that she covers with her small fingers. He knows she's only doing it to be polite, but it's nice to see her smile.

 

"Do you plant them just to spite him?" she asks. He sees her eyes scans over all of the little reds that surround the two of them and grow up the walls.

 

"Oh no, no. Taehyung plants them all by himself! I'll come out here and see him talking to them!"

 

That one actually makes her laugh this time, her body flinging over towards him and resting on his shoulder for a brief moment. 

 

She's similar to me, he thinks. She even has the same crescent eye smile that he has, puffing up her cheeks when she giggles. She'd make a good sister.

 

"Is that so?"

 

He notices how as they talk more, the conversation molding to other things besides Taehyung's daft obsession with tomatoes, that she leans into him more. Her giggles become more frequent, and her touches linger longer, her body moving closer. 

 

She seems too interested in what he has to say. He would almost categorize it as flirti—

 

Is she...flirting with me?

 

No, she's not. She's being polite.

 

He says something again, something he knows wouldn't even make Taehyung laugh, yet she almost falls forwards, giggling into the air. Her eyes are bright as she looks up at him, and he's lost. 

 

He doesn't know what to do with this, so he smiles tightly instead.

 

She's barking up the wrong tree.

 

He stiffens at the unwelcome thought, gulping down spit as he tries to fling it away from his mind. 

 

No. She's not. Because in this town, she's doing everything right.

 

She straightens her posture, her hands resting near his as she leans towards him. She isn't bold enough to move any closer, but he can see in her eyes that she wishes to. He smiles, but it's getting harder to bring up the corners of his lips.

  

Taehyung and I are the wrong ones. 

 

She's pretty; he can say that. Her eyes are a light blue color. They look like...water? What's a good way to describe them? And her lips are nice looking, he supposes. They're thick like his. Her hair is shorter than most girls that he knows. It's nice hair. Slightly tangled, but that's okay. 

 

Why is he even thinking these things?

 

He can't stop himself from his thoughts. He pictures wedding her. It wouldn't be bad. Is that how you're supposed to think of a wedding? He pictures kissing her. Yes, he could kiss her. It'd be fine. He could do it. He could enjoy it.

 

And consummating the marriage? Yes, he supposes he could. Her voice is nice. Her noises would probably be nice in bed. Doesn't he have a better word than nice? And shouldn't he be blushing...thinking about a woman in bed? He puts a hand to his cheek. No, his face doesn't feel hot. He frowns.

 

He admits, it'd be strange to play the dominant role. Women like dominant men, right? Do they? Perhaps he'll have to ask Taehyung. 

 

Well...then again...perhaps that wouldn't be the best idea. Taehyung probably wouldn't know either.

 

No! Just because Taehyung is...that...doesn't mean that he doesn't know what women like. They should both know what women like. Women are basically just men in dresses!

 

Wait—no. That seems like the wrong way to think about tha—

 

"Jimin? Are you there?"

 

He almost reels back, the sudden voice pulling him out from the mess of his thoughts.

 

Her head is tilted, watching him with pouted lips and wide eyes as he grips the bench. Her fingers are so much closer than they were before.   

 

"Are you okay?"

 

He watches her lips as she says the words, wishing he felt something. Anything.

 

"Yes, I'm fine. I apologize. Please continue."

 

Any. Damn. Thing.

 

But as she begins to smile, he has to has to choke down his disappointment.

 

He feels nothing. 

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

"What's going on with you, Minnie?" Taehyung asks, three days after Daeun and her father had first arrived into the shop. Taehyung's been watching Jimin since then, noticing something strange with his friend but not saying anything about it. And he's right; Jimin has been feeling off since that day. He'd waved Daeun away, seeing her flirty smile as she'd walked with her father, but he'd felt empty.

 

Now, they're sitting across from each other at the small table in front of the shop, Taehyung's elbows resting against it as Jimin fiddles with the cup of water he's been drinking.

 

Jimin shakes his head, watching the people walking around and the children playing.

 

"No, you must tell me," Taehyung huffs, his arms crossing as he leans against the chair. 

  

"It is not a conversation for outdoors."

 

"Then we will travel inside." Jimin's eyebrows raise, Taehyung standing up so fast that his chair almost falls over. He starts walking to the shop door before Jimin can protest, swiveling his head back when he doesn't hear Jimin's footsteps behind him.

 

"If you do not come with me, I'll take my precious tomatoes and slam them against your window as you sleep. You'll wake up to bloody reds dripping down your window."

 

The threat is more weird than...threatening, but Jimin stands up anyways, his shoulders lowered as he follows Taehyung inside.

 

The moment the door shuts behind Jimin's back, Taehyung's in front of him, his voice gentle.  

 

"Minnie, I care about you. What's been going on with you?"

 

He feels tears building in the corners of his eyes, his face pinching in the way he knows his mother didn't like when she was alive.

 

"How do you do it?" It's a quiet whisper, more air than actual noise, but Taehyung's always been good at hearing what Jimin can't begin to say. 

 

"Do what, Minnie?"

 

"How do you...deal with it?"

 

Taehyung sighs, his hands wrapping around Jimin's as he guides them to the main table. He sits down, and Jimin follows, staying farther away from his friend than he normally would.

 

"You must be more specific."

 

Jimin curls into himself, staring at his palms faced up against his legs.

 

"Boys," he murmurs, and this time Taehyung isn't able to hear, scooching closer.

 

"Can you repeat that, Minnie?"

 

He shuffles into himself, looking at his thighs instead of Taehyung's face.

 

"Boys...men...How do you...How do you allow yourself to...like them." His voice gets smaller with each word until he's whispering them. He drags his feet up onto the bench, wrapping his arms around his legs in a ball, and putting his head against his knees.

 

Taehyung opens his mouth for a moment, no sound leaving his lips before he closes it, his eyes surprised. He seems to try again, his teeth poking out from under his lip.

 

"I've just...never liked women in the way that other men would say. We'd talk about females, but ever since I was younger, I realized we didn't..." he sighs lowly, "...we didn't talk about them in the same way. I realized I never would feel the same way they felt."

 

Jimin hides his face in his knees.

 

"But we will. Someday. We will."  He hears how his own voice cracks, not noticing that he's just referred to them both instead of just Taehyung, doesn't notice as his hands start to tremble. 

 

"Minnie..." Taehyung sounds so sad, his voice low and his hands running through Jimin's hair. "We've never talked about that night in the woods."

 

"I don't wanna." He sounds like a petulant child. His eyes are watery, and his hands are quivering as he shakes his head.

 

"We need to."

 

Jimin just shakes his head again, his face tight. 

 

Taehyung moves closer, his voice quiet and his face grave.

 

"Did I...did I hurt you, physically or mentally, when I kissed yo—"

 

"No! Please don't think that!" He looks up for a second, seeing Taehyung's worried eyes as he pets Jimin's hair. He feels like such a child as his head buries in his knees again, away from his view.  

 

He can almost feel Taehyung's hesitation, blowing off him in waves.

 

"When you got...'excited', did that frighten you?" Jimin can hear how he's trying to teeter around his words, not wanting to scare away Jimin.

 

Jimin's face heats up at the memory, his hands clenching. He tries to forget how good that moment between them had felt, but it's everywhere in his mind. 

 

"Not exactly."

 

Taehyung clutches his hand, his grip warm.

 

"Minnie...we have to talk about it."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because this is affecting you, Minnie. We cannot just forget the things that hurt. We cannnot just ignore the words that are difficult."

 

Jimin sighs into his knees, his back slouching. He knows Taehyung is referring to to the months after his parents passed on, the pain he hadn't allowed himself to speak. 

 

"I know. I just...don't understand...anything."

 

Taehyung's hand draws back, Jimin missing the sudden warmth, and his head leans forward as if to chase it.

 

"Then I shall help you understand." He coughs, clearing his throat. "I, Kim Taehyung, kissed you, Park Jimin. A fellow man." Jimin's eyes almost pop out of his head, his neck shooting up to stare at Taehyung with his mouth open wide. "And I liked it."

 

Taehyung's grinning. 

 

"No,"  Jimin breathes out, eyes the size of moons.

 

"Yes. You shall go next."

 

"No."

 

"Yes. And we can do this all day, Minnie. I'm not letting you leave for home until you do." He crosses his arms, a smile on his face, but Jimin can tell it's pained. 

 

"No. Why are you being so cruel?"  He feels tears once again threatening to spill, his voice high and shrill.

 

Taehyung's face falls, his eyes shining, and his body curling away. He pulls back, and Jimin reaches out for him on instinct, cradling his shoulder with a hand. He hates himself for making Taehyung sad.

 

"I'm so sorry, Tae," he whispers, his world shaking. "I'm just...not...like you."

 

"I am sorry, too, Minnie. I...truly...I just do not know how to help you. I'm trying, Minnie. I'm trying so much."

 

"I know."

 

It's quiet for a long while. Sunlight shines through the windows in the front of the store, pouring over their sullen faces.

 

Taehyung's hand stretches out, wanting to hold Jimin, wanting to help him. But he draws it back, not knowing how.

 

"That night. You had admitted that you fancied a man..." He pauses, his eyes looking out the window. "Why can you admit that, but not...other things?"

 

Jimin shivers though the room is thick with heat.

 

"It was different. He was...he was someone I grew up with. It was natural."

 

"If you could have pursued him, would you?"

 

"No. The Church would hang me."

 

"And if the Church didn't know?"

 

"The people in this town."

 

"And if not the people?"

 

"Myself."

 

"Oh, Minnie!"  Taehyung cries out, wrapping his arms around Jimin and burying Jimin's face in his neck. That's what breaks him. That's when his tears finally spill, bursting from his eyes. "Do not speak like that!" And Taehyung's crying now; he can feel water dripping onto his hair. 

 

Taehyung doesn't deserve that.

 

"Tae," he breathes. "Tae, I liked that night too much. If you had been...the boy I'd used to fancy...I don't know—I don't know if I could have stopped myself. I barely did that nigh—"

 

"Why do you need to stop yourself?" Taehyung whispers, tears dripping down his cheeks. "Why aren't men like us allowed to be happy? Why—why are we never allowed..." He sucks in a breath, his shoulders shaking.

 

"I don't wanna burn, Tae." Jimin's hiccups ring into the air, clutching Taehyung tighter as he chokes out the words. 

 

"No, Minnie." Taehyung's words are cut off by his tears. "No, I just do not believe you're being honest with yourself."

 

Jimin doesn't say anything, just grips him tighter. It's easier to hold him.

 

"I think—I think you're afraid to be happy." He sniffles, and Jimin feels the fabric of Taehyung's sleeve rush over him as he wipes away his snot. "I think you believe that you don't deserve it."

 

"Tae." His vision's blurry as his pain dribble from his eyes, his face cowering in his friend's shoulder. "Tae, they've all left me."  

 

"Who has left you, Minnie?" Taehyung's hand rubs along his back, warm tears still falling onto Jimin.

 

"Everyone."

 

"No, Minnie. That just isn't true."

 

"But it is true, Tae. My mother's gone, my father's gone, Minseo's gone, he's gon—"

 

"But I'm still here, Minnie. I'm not leaving you."

 

He closes his eyes, his body drooping. In a way, he's not truly listening. 

 

"They keep leaving me." 

 

"I won't." 

 

"You will," he murmurs, heart heavy and words tired. "They all do."

 

And it's true. They all have.

 

"Minn—"

 

The shop door opens with a click, and the boys jolt away from one another. Jimin smudges the tears from his eyes with his sleeve, coughing as he forces on a smile and tries to keep his voice from breaking. Taehyung's face is a mess, his hair sticking in odd directions and his eyes swollen.  

 

"Welcome. What can we—" He halts as his voice cracks, the sound making him want to shrivel up as he clenches his eyes together from pain. "What can we do for you?"

 

He turns toward the door, his voice hoarse and his eyes red and puffy as he tries to compose himself. He sounds as broken as he feels, but there's nothing he can do about that. Instead, he opens his eyes and smiles wi— 

 

"Jungkook?"

 

 

Chapter Text

“Jungkook?”

 

The man stands at the entrance, his face open with surprise and his hand still clamped on the doorknob. Jimin must look deranged; it's hard to see through his swollen eyes, unwiped tears still trickling down his cheeks.

 

They stare at each other.  

 

“Do I know you?” the man says. 

 

His heart isn't beating. 

  

Do I know you?

 

He can't breathe.

 

"Tae—"

 

He's choking out the word.

 

"Tae—"

 

He's flinching back.

 

"Tae—"

 

He feels Taehyung’s arm brush against his, the warmth unable to calm him down. His head sinks to stare at the floor, anywhere but this man's face—this man's face. Jungkookie is a man. An adult. 

 

"Minnie?" The voice is just background noise, a sound in a place Jimin isn't listening. He feels hands covering his arms, forcing him steady as Jimin's body tries to collapse itself. "Minnie, you're hyperventilating!" His heart slams against his chest, acid coiling in his throat and slinking into his stomach. He's already been crying, his world blurry and exhausted, and now this man is here. This man who's supposed to be little, supposed to be twelve. 

 

He was never supposed to see his Jungkookie grow up. 

  

"Tae, I can't do this—" 

 

His magic bubbles up underneath his skin.

 

Getoutgetoutgetout

 

He tears away, pulling back from Taehyung's steadying grip. His feet dig into the wood underneath him as he flees. There's no exit in the garden in the back, and he won't get any closer to Jungkook at the front door.

 

He's trapped.

 

He stumbles into the small room in the back of the shop before he can process what he's doing, someone's voice yelling out to him as he slams the door shut.

 

Click.

 

The door's locked.

 

Footsteps thunk on the other side.

 

The door's locked.

 

Hands pound on the door. 

 

He's not out of the shop, but the door's locked. 

 

"Minnie! Minnie! Open the door! Please open the door!"

 

He feels hands tight in his hair, and he rips them away.

 

No.

 

He can't.

 

If he pulls out his hair, he could bleed. 

 

And if he bleeds

 

No. I'm fine.

 

He's fine. He's fine! His breathing is the only sound in his ears, but he's fine! The walls are closing in on him, but he's fine! 

 

You're overreacting!

 

It screams at him.

 

You're overreacting!

 

He knows. He knows damn well.

 

His body is curled against the wall, and he's trembling. 

 

Why can't he stop trembling?

 

This. This feeling is the same terror as he feels at the trials. This is the same panic that kills him when he watches them die. They all die. 

 

Why are you scared?

 

He doesn't know. He's scared of nothing. He's scared of everything. 

 

Jungkook doesn't remember him. Jungkook is just another person.

 

Jungkook doesn't remember him.

 

That's a good thing.

 

Right?

 

His hands are clammy; his neck is burning up; something wet is trickling down his cheeks. 

 

"Minnie? I'm getting scared! Please tell me something! Tell me you are okay! What has happened?" 

 

His head is thick, feeling the fabric of his pants rub against his lips as his face drops forward. Someone is still banging against the door.

 

"Is he here?" 

 

The words are a breath of empty sound.

 

"Is he here?" 

 

His mind is a mess of useless noises. 

 

"The man?"  the door asks.

 

"Yes!"  He cries out, squeezing his own hands until they're white. 

 

The sounds at the other side cease, hurried footsteps replacing them.

 

Thunk.

 

Thunk.

 

Thunk.

 

Jimin smears the water away from his puffy cheeks, his air caught in his throat.

 

Be calm.

 

How?

 

His body isn't listening.

 

The footsteps take too long to return back, Jimin's heart pounding in his ears as he waits. His minds darts around, his worry escalating as he hears the person huffing deeply behind the door again.

 

"He's not here anymore." 

 

His hand is clutching his chest. His airflow is still erratic, but at least he's breathing. 

 

The man is gone.

 

Jungkook is gone.

 

His shoulders collapse with relief, a sickening feeling still coiling his stomach. 

 

His body is glad that the man is gone. His body is letting him breathe.

  

He wishes he didn't feel comfort in it. 

 

And that voice? Who is that?

 

Taehyung. The voice is Taehyung. How could he have forgotten? What is wrong with him?

 

"May I come inside?"

 

Jimin wishes he could let him. He wishes he could stand, but standing requires too much out of him. His arms are trembling, heat covering his chest and sweat dotting his neck.

 

He's so damn tired of being scared.

 

When he doesn't respond to the voice, he hears a bump on the other side of the door, knowing that Taehyung's back is resting against it.

 

"I shall wait here, then."

 

Jimin watches his fingers, watches how they won't stay still. 

 

And he cowers, his body weak as he listens to his magic cry.  

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

He wants to tell Taehyung. 

 

Everything.

 

It burns in his throat, the words.

 

Taehyung sits in the backroom with him, their bodies together on the floor. The sky has darkened, the panic has drifted, and Jungkook is long gone. 

 

Jimin doesn't know how long it took him to stand up, to open the door and feel Taehyung suddenly pulling him in his arms. He just knows they're here now, the sound of an owl hooting outside as Taehyung runs a hand through Jimin's hair.

 

"You've had an exhausting day."

 

"I know."

 

Jimin would laugh, except he thinks it'll make him start crying again.

 

"Who is he, Jimin?"

 

Ah, that question. The one that Taehyung has kept returning to. The one that Jimin doesn't wish to answer. 

 

"Do you remember the conversation we were having, just before he arrived?"

 

Taehyung's body presses closer to his, his arms hugging Jimin closer as the calls of the owl get louder.

 

"Of course I do."

 

"Then you remember that man—that man that I said I fancied."

 

"I do—oh."  Taehyung's eyes blow wide, his body pulling back so that he can look at Jimin face to face. The gaze he gives him is almost angry, his eyes so tight with worry for Jimin that his body tenses. “Has this man done something to you, Jimin?”

 

No, Tae. You've got it all wrong.

 

I'm the one who's done something to him.

 

"Not at all."

 

And his voice breaks.

 

"Do not lie to me!" Taehyung's hands grip Jimin's arms, his gaze searing into Jimin's. "No person reacts that way to a man that hasn't ruined them!"

 

Jimin cries out, his body pulling back to press against the wall.

 

"But he has not, Tae! have done the ruining! have done the harm!" He shakes his head around, his hair flinging into his eyes. "Please..." He feels his shoulders shake; from fatigue or pain, he doesn't know. "Please do not blame him for the deeds I have committed."

 

Taehyung stiffens, teeth biting his lips pink as he looks at Jimin. The darkness twirls over their faces, two bodies watching each other in the gloom. 

 

 "What have you done, Jimin?"

 

And Jimin cannot answer.  

 

"What have you done?"

 

He should push these questions away. He should push this friend away.

 

But he grabs Taehyung, pulling him into an embrace as his head presses against his chest. He listens to the thump of his heart. It's quicker than normal, the sharp thuds echoing in Jimin's ear, but it's more calming than a lullaby. 

 

"Something bad."

 

Taehyung doesn't relax around Jimin's hold, but he feels Taehyung's chin resting on his hair, feels Taehyung's hot breath against his head.

 

 "Can you speak of it?"

 

"No. It is too..." he buries deeper into Taehyung's chest as he searches for a word. "...personal."

 

Thoughts crash in Jimin's head, swimming onto his tongue but never leaving his mouth. I erased myself from him. I was too scared. I've made him confused. I've set him free. What was I supposed to do?

 

 Taehyung's eyes widen.

 

"Personal..." His eyebrows go up, and a weird look fills his face. "I have been asking you if he has done something to you, but it seems I should have been asking if you have done something with him." 

 

"I—"

 

"No. I will not judge you, Jimin. No need to look so fearful." Jimin is starting to realize what idea Taehyung's conjured up, watching Taehyung take in a breath. "It was consensual, correct?"

 

He nods his head quickly. Taehyung has made his own version of what Jimin's words mean, and Jimin's only option is to agree. He has no better way to explain.

 

"Good," Taehyung sighs. "But it seems you are still...uncomfortable with the things you've engaged in with him."

 

Jimin nods his head again. And the truth is, he is uncomfortable, but not for the reason Taehyung believes. This topic is a place of confusion and embarrassment for Jimin, considering the Church never speaks of it, and the town remains quiet about it.

 

"Jimin, you shouldn't be. It brings me great pain that you are. You haven't done anything bad."

 

He tries to stop his face from blushing red. It doesn't matter if Taehyung is...similar to him in preferences; he still doesn't wish for Taehyung to believe the lie that he's done things with another man. Well...he's kissed a man...two different men—

 

No, it's not the same. Jimin doesn't know what exactly is going on in Taehyung's mind, but he knows it isn't kissing.

 

Yet it's better that Taehyung consider him promiscuous than...a witch. 

 

"Why did he come here? Did he say?" He asks this to move them onward, knowing that the longer they stay on this lie, the longer Taehyung will be able to sense the truth.

 

He sees how Taehyung's eyebrows raise as he switches topics, but his friend says nothing further about it. Instead, he watches Taehyung rub his temple with his hands, his face growing thick with hesitation. That look alone makes Jimin wish he'd never asked.

 

"Minnie...what is the reason that all of them come here?"

 

Jimin's head shoots up, his eyes huge and his mouth parted open. It's a blow to the chest.

 

"No."

 

He loved me.

 

"He's come for a matching. He said it as he left."

 

"No."

 

"I can refuse service. He need not require us. He can find a bride on his own."

 

Jimin wants to; he wants to so damn badly. 

 

But how can he be so harsh? Jungkook has done nothing wrong. 

 

Jimin is the one who ran away; Jimin is the one who made the man uncomfortable. And he's supposed to repay that by...shoving him away? Refusing service?

 

He sucks in a shaky breath, his hands running through his hair in the nervous habit he's picked up.

  

"No. If he's come to us for a matching, we cannot deny him. We cannot be so cruel." His finger runs over Taehyung's hands as he speaks. "He is not a man who deserves that."

 

"Then I can be the one to do it. You need never see him here."

 

Jimin almost nods his head, almost accepts the offer.

 

Almost.

 

But the questions.

 

The questions Taehyung could ask him. The questions Jungkook couldn't answer.

 

'How do you know Jimin?'

 

'I don't. He was a neighbor with whom I've spoken little.'

 

'That does not make sense! You must know him better than that.'

 

'I truly do not.'

 

The questions that would kill Jimin.

 

Because Jimin remembers Jungkook, but Jungkook...

 

Jungkook's a blank slate. 

 

And if Taehyung were to help him get a match, were to get closer to him, were to realize that there are too many things that don't align, too many memories that Jungkook should have, he could scream "witch!"  to anyone he wants in town.

 

Anyone.  

 

And Jimin wouldn't have a backroom to run to.

 

"Jimin?"

 

His eyes are glazed, his heartbeat picking up as he tries to keep his lips from quivering.

 

Taehyung can't know what he is. Taehyung can't ask Jungkook any questions.

 

So he lies.

 

“My mind is free, and it is strong. I do not mind a challenge.”

 

It's fucking fake. He's not strong. His mind isn't free. He terrified. He's terrified to see Jungkook, to match him with a woman and watch Jungkook marry by Jimin's own hands.

 

He's terrified of finally letting him go.

 

But he lies, and he smiles, and he watches Taehyung's skeptical eyes bloom into trustful ones.

 

He lies, and he hates himself for it.

 

He lies because he's been forced to, ever since the day he awoke in blood. 

 

And he isn't allowed to stop lying now. 

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

"Tae?" Jimin murmurs, his voice tiny. He shuffles in Taehyung's tiny bed, the sound loud in the quiet of the room. 

 

Taehyung hadn't allowed him to leave for his house this night, forcing him to stay in the shop as the moon peaked from behind the clouds. 

 

"Mmmh?" Taehyung's voice is gruff, his voice coming from the floor beside Jimin. 

 

Taehyung would normally sleep next to his friend, their bodies pressing too close because his bed isn't meant for two, but he refused tonight. "You've been through too much today. You need a bed to yourself."

 

"Why am I like this?" He grabs a pillow from beside him, curling into it and pushing his feet deeper under the covers. "Why do I get so scared?" His fist punches the bed, the thump muffled by the mattress as he wriggles around.

 

"You've been through much, but worse, you are allowing it to fester. That is the issue. It is normal to carry fear, to have that bloom into something destructive, but—"

 

"But you do not!"

 

"Do not?"

 

"Carry this fear! This horrid panic!" He tries not to scream it, but his voice is raised and angry, directed at the pillows as he squishes his head into the fabric.

 

"I have."

 

"When?" 

 

He's expecting some foolish answer, some answer that will truly confirm that he is alone.

 

But Taehyung's voice is empty, his body creaking against the floor. 

 

"When my dad died. I...I had attacks like yours. Some nights, I just couldn't breathe."

 

Oh.

 

Jimin remembers it, remembers how Taehyung's light had fallen from his eyes, remembers the tears that had poured more than the new days.

 

But he also remembers how quickly Taehyung had overcome it, how fast his smiles had returned. He'd never needed Jimin to come to his house; he'd never needed Jimin to pet his hair, to force him out of bed and to give him something to live for. Jimin was the weak one, the helpless one who wouldn't have survived. Taehyung did it all on his own.

 

"I wanted to die so badly, Minnie. It hurt so fucking badly."

 

He reels back into the mattress. That voice is the same as the one he'd used when he'd come sobbing to Jimin, begging Jimin to make him forget his pain through tears and snot. He'd cried against the wall, asking the world to allow him to forget because the truth was too excruciating to remember.

 

But he was never able to forget.

 

Because even though Jimin could have taken away his pain, he didn't.

 

It was too dangerous. Jimin couldn't risk his life for random words said in the heat of despair. 

 

And he still hates himself for watching Taehyung's abandoned eyes and choosing to do nothing.

 

"But you—you got better so fast. You never took the months that I did. And I'm still..." he gulps, "I'm still working on it. I'm still thinking of mother. But you overcame it."

 

Taehyung laughs, but it's not a laugh. Laughs are fun and light and beautiful; laughs are magic. 

 

This is empty. This is broken, lonely Taehyung, laughing into the night air because he can't stop his pain from overflowing out of his lips.

 

This isn't laughter. This is agony.

 

"I didn't, Jimin. I know it appears that I did."

 

And that's what stills him; that's what leaves him with wide eyes in the dark, staring into the black that surrounds them and wishing he could light a candle to see Taehyung's face.

 

They've both been lying. They've both been suffering. 

 

They've both been keeping things from each other.

 

And while Taehyung's bared it all, while Taehyung's giving up a part of him that hurts so badly that he laughs so brokenly, Jimin's still hiding. 

 

Jimin's still lying.

 

"I am so sorry, Tae," he whispers, and it's the only clear thing he can think to say. He's apologizing for everything in those words, his mind a forest of mess.

 

"It is not your fault." Jimin can hear the way his voice wobbles, the smack of something that sounds like a hand thunking against the floor below. "I should have been more open. I shall try to be."

 

"I shall, too."

 

Fucking liar.

 

But what can he do? He's a witch. The truth would kill him.

 

He closes his eyes.

 

Yet he's starting to wonder if the lies will, first. 

 

Chapter Text

 "Hello. I've come to apologize."

 

His hand is raised as his voice cracks on the word, a smile on his face to hide how stiff his back is as he waves...

 

...at the pond.

 

The ripples of the water seem to mock him, deforming his reflection as he stares at his tight expression.

 

Daft. You're being daft.

 

His hand drops, his arm flinging down beside him as he sinks to the ground. His fingers cover his face, sighing steamy breaths of air into his palms as he groans. The sky above him is thick with darkened clouds, the grays a blanket above his head as he crouches. The forest around him laughs with life, yet Jimin feels so numb.

 

He hasn't been home in two days, hasn't seen Jungkook in two days. Taehyung has allowed him to stay in his home above the shop, watching Jimin as he avoids his real house like the plague and stares at the shop doors, waiting. But Jungkook hasn't walked through them.

 

He understands why Jungkook hasn't returned. If Jimin had walked into a shop and sent the worker running into the backroom, he wouldn't either.

 

He still wishes he would.

 

He listens to the buzzing of the bugs around him, dragonflies swarming around the pond's murky waters and flying high into the air.

 

He needs to apologize. He knows this.

 

Damn. He stands to kick the grass, feeling how the mud slushes against his ankles and how the stalks stick between his toes. He needs to apologize for his behavior, yet he hasn't been able to return home, to knock on his neighbor's door and ask for forgiveness. 

 

Because if he does that, Jungkook will return to the shop. And Jimin doesn't know how he will be able to match his love away.

 

His love. No. He can't think like that.

 

"Argh!" He stomps around the pond, his mind repeating one word. It's been the one that screams in his head, drifting into his dreams and playing as he opens his eyes and eats his meals.

 

Jungkook. Jungkook. Jungkook.

 

How is he supposed to forget his face? It is the only one in his mind. That shocked mouth, wide doe eyes with those chocolate browns just as beautiful as he remembers.

 

How dare he have the same eyes! How dare he have grown so much, yet remain so similar!

 

Jimin squeezes his eyelids together tightly, his forehead wrinkled as he tries to forget the brief moment where he and Jungkook had looked at each other, tearing Jimin into a world of just the two of them.

 

Those eyes were a tunnel, dragging Jimin kicking and screaming back to the past.

 

"I'll come back for ya. I promise that." 

 

No. No, you were never supposed to!

 

It's been eight years. How dare his memories yank him into their hold!

 

Does he deserve this? Does he, for being so sinful? The world is playing a dirty joke, watching him squirm and laughing in his face.

 

Your mother is dead, and your Jungkookie is gone. Instead, you must endure him knowing you as nothing more than a stranger; you must force on a smile and match him with a woman you'll envy for the rest of your life.

 

He shoves his shoes onto his dirty feet, feeling the mud cake into his socks but not paying it much mind. He smacks a mosquito dead, pulling up his fingers to see his own blood smeared between his thumb and forefinger.

 

His magic gurgles up, spilling from the spot the blood-sucker had attacked and pouring into the air.

 

It's a release he needs; the build up has been getting worse.

 

He grabs a sharp stick from the ground, clenching his eyes shut as he digs it into his skin. His head collapses forward, sighing into the air as his body screams with relief. Tiny pink and orange flowers blossom around him, the leaves in the trees nearest to him gleaming a brighter color as the wind blows louder. 

 

It feels so good to let go.

 

You're being careless.

 

I know.

 

He shakes his head, forcing his body to pull his magic back. It yells bloody curses at him, hating him for never fully letting him release like he did when he was young. 

 

But what can he do? Even the forest has eyes.

 

Chirp. Chirp.

 

It's not him that hears the chirping, but his magic. His magic is what jolts his head up, his eyes centering on a bird in the pine tree above him.

 

It's a small yellow thing, with a black head and light brown legs. It bounces up on the branch, chattering into the air. It's the only bird in the canopy that Jimin can see, the singing reaching Jimin's ears as his magic darts around it.

   

He could swear the damn thing is watching him.

 

The bird gives one last peep, jumping off the branch and diving into the air towards the sun. Jimin thrusts his hand to shade his eyes from the brightness to see where the creature is leaving to, but the bird is gone. 

 

He wouldn't think anything of it on any other day, but his magic sifts in him, straightening his spine and forcing his eyes alert. Something is amiss. 

 

He needs to get back to the shop.

 

He hurries into the woods, his feet quick as he jumps over logs. His arm is still bleeding, small trails trickling down his skin as the wind rushes against the pulsing gash.

 

He doesn't let himself heal it with magic. There's a tightness in his body, one that warns him that something is watching, and he refuses to allow that something to see his wound magically disappear.

 

Instead he clutches his sticky arm, hissing in pain and hating how loudly the accused caretaker's last words echo in his mind.

 

"And the birds! Yellow ones! The yellow birds!”

 

 

 

 ~*~

 

 

 

When Jimin opens the door to the shop, he hears voices talking from the corner where their main table is. He clutches his bloody arm, yelling out immediately to Taehyung as he steps inside.

 

"I know you are with a customer now, but I need a washcloth!" 

 

He turns away from the voices, crouching down to rummage through their drawers for anything that will stop the bleeding. His magic is pulsing underneath his skin, and he cringes from the pain that's running through his arm. When his magic begs him so harshly, it's hard not to dig deep, spill as much blood as he possibly can, and now he's hurting from it. 

 

He stands up suddenly, almost too quickly as his head rushes and yellow spots dot his vision, but he can't pause now. He drags a hand down his arm, watching how the blood smears under his palm. He hadn't noticed how much blood he'd let out, needing the release so badly in the moment that he hadn't considered how hard he was digging.

 

He'd really dug deep.

 

His eyes spot something unusual from the window, and he swerves his head to watch it—

 

and almost faints when he sees the droopy potted plant that Taehyung had barely managed to keep alive suddenly rush with life. 

 

Damn it to hell! 

 

He truly needs to stop the bleeding. 

 

He feels a warm body behind him, and he almost cries out from panic as he whirls around.

 

"Here. Take this."

 

A torn shirt is shoved into his face, Taehyung's long fingers holding it and watching him as he snatches it from his hand. He rubs it up and down his arm, collecting the blood and hoping it doesn't catch infection. He can heal it with magic, but it's still an itchy burden that he'd rather not bear.

 

"Thank you." 

 

Taehyung gives him a short nod, his eyes darting to stare at where Jimin's dabbing at his wound. He doesn't say a word, instead beckoning Jimin to walk with him back towards their customer.

 

"Hello again, Daeun."

 

Daeun sits at the table quietly, her face brightening up as she sees Jimin trudging towards her. She gives him a small wave, not noticing how Jimin grins awkwardly towards her and shuffles uncomfortably as he reaches the table. He pushes his bloody arm behind him, not wanting her to see how badly he's hurt himself.

 

"It was so nice speaking with you, Daeun. I'll look forward to talking with you again." Taehyung gives her one of his dazzling smiles, one that makes her blush as she stands. Jimin stays where he is as his friend walks her to the door, saying one last farewell as he watches he leave down the street.

 

The moment the door shuts, Taehyung's warm smile is gone, his eyes dark as he watches Jimin from the other side of the shop.

 

"Why was Daeun here without her father?" Jimin says just as Taehyung asks, "Now how did you hurt your arm that badly?"

 

 They watch each other, Jimin's lips pursing as he struggles to think of some lie that will tide him over.

 

"I tripped and scratched it on a branch?"

 

"Why does that sound like a question?"

 

"It's not."

 

 Jimin grins tensely, his arm still throbbing as Taehyung walks towards him.

 

"You're an idiot, Jimin."

 

"That's a harsh observation." Jimin tries to laugh, but Taehyung isn't having it, instead staring at his wound as if it had grown the devil's horns and putting a hand on his hip. "I am sorry?"

 

Taehyung sighs instead of berating Jimin any further, looking towards the window out to where Daeun has left and picking up his notes from the table.

 

"Daeun came to discuss with me privately of her matching. Her father thinks she has gone to buy seeds." He blows air across the paper, trying to dry the ink before it can smear onto the other sheets. He hands some of his notes to Jimin, the writing a mess of jargon as Taehyung is a fool with his right hand. "She's begging me to not match her with some old man that her father desires. It's quite sad, truthfully."

 

Jimin shakes his head grievously, looking at Taehyung's underlined words: No male as old as her father himself.

 

"I told her that I'd try my best, but I'm starting to believe that she has you in mind."

 

Jimin almost drops the papers, sneering his lips up unintentionally as he places the documents on the counter. He groans, hearing Taehyung laugh lowly at him as he tries to compose himself.

 

"I presume that you've implied to her that I am not an option." He turns to Taehyung, hating the grin that's spreading on his friend's face.

 

"Mmmmh, well, since she has not said it to me directly, no, I have not had the chance to imply anything of the sort."

 

Jimin whines, his nose scrunching up as he glares at Taehyung. They have not again breached the discussion they'd been having before Jungkook had arrived, and Jimin is wondering when it will force itself back up. Taehyung seems almost ready to start it again.

 

"For someone who remains so adamant on not liking his own sex, you sure seem to despise the idea of women."

 

"It is not women!" Jimin yells, huffing out as Taehyung shakes his head. "It is soley her!" He's always seen her as something of a friend, perhaps a sister, but never a lover. Perhaps with someone else, but certainly not her.

 

"Jimin, you're a fool, but I am fond of you." He grins widely, and Jimin tries to stop the curses that bang in his head from spilling off his tongue. "And that isn't even the thing that happened today that was most interesting."

 

Jimin would have rolled his eyes, walking up the stairs to eat some leftover soup, but Taehyung's tone is no longer joking. 

 

"What happened?"

 

He prays it is not Haru. That woman is a snake in disguise, and the whole town knows it. She is the only women for whom they have not been able to find a match, which is a feat in its own. The people in Salem are desperate, but not desperate enough to take Haru on as a bride, and Jimin will bang his head against the wall if Taehyung mentions that that woman has decided to pop her head back into the shop for a third time.

 

"Mr. Jeon returned."

 

Stones burying in his chest and choking his airflow would have been more pleasant to experience. Hell, he'd rather have had Haru than this. 

 

"When?"

 

Jimin looks down at the blood now clotting on his arm, thanking his luck that Jungkook hadn't been here when he'd arrived. He doesn't know if he would have been able to control himself with his magic running rampant in the air. He's barely able to control himself now.

 

"An hour after you left this morning to do what ever it is you were doing." Jimin's thoughts run wild. Jungkook was here, possibly even standing in the spot that Jimin is now. "I told him that you were suffering from terrible head pains that day, and the sudden surprise of a new person made your agony much worse."

 

Jimin huffs, knowing he wouldn't have accepted that explanation if he were in Jungkook's shoes but begging that Jungkook did.

 

"And did he believe you?"

 

"Not exactly, but he nodded along. And do not give me that look—he'd surprised me! I hadn't thought he would return, at least not so soon, so I had no good explanation planned." Jimin had told Taehyung the night he'd returned that they needed to arrive at some reason to explain his behavior. Taehyung had agreed that it was better to lie than to deal with the mess of Jimin's reaction to the man he'd once felt something for. 

 

Well—the man he still feels something for, but those are thoughts that come barreling into his mind when his defenses are low.

 

He loves Jungkook.

 

But he can't love Jungkook.

 

He shouldn't.

 

He doesn't.

 

Why is this so damn hard?

 

"I hadn't thought he would choose to return at all." Jimin thought that he'd have to appear in front of Jungkook, certainly not the other way around.

 

"He told me that his mother is dreadfully sick, and that she desires him wedded before he dies. He urged that he needs to be married fairly quickly for she might go under at any point." Taehyung shivers, the mention of sickness making him weary in his bones. He walks over to the drawers on the other side of the shop and shoves the papers into them, Jimin following slowly behind. 

 

Jimin hasn't formally spoken to Mrs. Jeon in years. After he'd taken himself away from Jungkook's memory, he'd done the same for the Jeons once Mr. Jeon had returned home. Taking away his connection to two people's minds at once had been horrible, draining Jimin for weeks afterwards and forcing Jimin's mother to keep him on bed rest, but it had to be done. Now, he sparsely talks to his neighbors. He knows little of what occurs in the Jeon household, and truthfully, he hasn't wanted to know. It's too hard to hear.

 

But now that he knows Mrs. Jeon is close to passing, he regrets not spending more time talking to the people living just through the woods. His regrets keeps piling up, but he can't stop allowing them. He can't stop from wishing he'd never let Jungkook go all those years ago. He can't stop remembering the words Jungkook had spoken before he'd left.

 

"Jimine, I know that I love ya."

 

He does not love Jungkook, for men do not love men in Salem. He cannot let himself forget that.

 

He cannot.

 

He hears his friend murmur something beside him, pulling him out of his regrets as he sighs tiredly into the shop. He sees Taehyung's face twisted in confusion, his eyes focused on the window where a potted plant stands proudly.

 

"I could have sworn that flower died days ago."

 

Chapter Text

"Hello, Mr. Jeon."

 

Jeon?

 

"Go ahead and sit at that table over there. We shall be right with you!"

 

Jeon Jungkoo—

 

Jimin's hand aren't moving, the muscles so tense that he can see how they tremble in front of him. The hair on the back of his neck raises, a chill clutching his spine and forcing him rigid.  

 

His heart isn't beating. His breath escapes out of his lips in quick bursts. He swerves towards where Taehyung is speaking to the man, his body tall and lean. 

 

So much older—

 

Jimin ducks behind the counter, frantically darting through the drawers for the spare quills so that his shaking hands have something to do. He spills his notepads all over the floor in his haste, snatching up loose sheets of paper before Taehyung can see the mess he's made.

 

He hears Taehyung saying something to Jungkook, but the words are lost on him.

 

Get the quills, get the ink, get the notepad.

 

These tasks are what keeps his mind sane. If he can focus on anything other than that man's voice, perhaps he can stay calm. 

 

The click of Taehyung's black shoes walk towards him, coming to a stop in front of him as his mind bounces in panic. 

 

"We shall be with you in a moment."

 

Taehyung crouches down beside Jimin, their bodies hidden behind the counter as Jimin's clutches his papers to his chest and stares at the wrinkles of Taehyung's pants. He feels a soft tap to his shoulder as someone clear his throat from the other side of the room. He hears the table moving as someone sits down, and he knows he's not doing a good job by making their customer wait.

 

He feels calloused hands under his chin, pulling up his face and forcing him to look at the friend in front of him. Waves of fear crash in his eyes, and he feels Taehyung shiver when he sees it. 

 

"Are you able to do this, Jimin?"  The words are silent as the night, Taehyung's tone deep as the fabric of his clothes ruffle. "Do not say what you believe I desire to hear; say the truth."

 

He can't.

 

But he's been preparing for this. These words he knows he'll have to say.

 

'I am able; I shall be fine. I am able; I shall be fine'

  

"I am able. I shall be fine."

 

His voice is steady, and it's the only thing that pushes him forwards, the only thing that gives him hope that he might be able to convince him of this lie. He even smiles at Taehyung as he thrusts himself off the floor, leaving his friend still crouched on the ground. It's only until Taehyung's eyes are no longer on him that his smile wavers and his composure shakes, a glistening in his eyes. He can't let Taehyung see it.

 

But Jungkook does.

 

His eyes connect with the man's, seeking out Jungkook's like they were always meant to find him, and oh.

 

The man's eyes are on his, Jimin's body numbing as those chocolate browns stare back at him.

 

Beautiful.

 

His head is a hammer cracking in his chest, yet all his mind can think is that word.

 

How can a man be so beautiful?

 

He's not supposed to think things like this! These things shouldn't barge into his mind and erase every ounce of power he has.

 

It was easy to deny these urges to Taehyung. It's so much easier to deny these thoughts when their isn't evidence in front of him, when there isn't someone so beautiful, yet so male.

 

It's easy to pretend like you've never loved him, until he's looking into your eyes, and your heart won't stop crying out for you to hold him.  

 

And he can't yank his gaze away.

 

You're twenty years old now. How did that happen? You were twelve; we were twelve.

 

Jungkook's face is slimmer than it was as a child, no more baby fat piled in his cheeks. Has he been eating? Everything is sharper, his shoulders are broader, and his eyes are more serious. He's tense, the heavy weight of eight more years berating him down in a way that Jimin has never seen before. Yet Jungkook does not look as if he's let it defeat him.

 

He looks stronger from it all.

 

Does Jimin look the same?

 

If Jungkook could remember, would he cry at how much older Jimin's gotten?  Would he have wrapped Jimin in his arms the moment he'd returned, saying praises of how beautiful Jimin's become, how much Jimin's changed? Would he have thought that Jimin's grown to become someone to admire, someone strong?

 

Have these years made him weaker?  

 

Taehyung's standing beside him, and Jimin doesn't remember him ever getting up. He can feel how Taehyung's eyes bore into his, but he's trapped.

 

He can't remember a world where Jungkook has looked at him like this. He's only ever experienced a moment, a brief moment before Jungkook had left where all the love had melted from his eyes. He's never truly experienced how blankly Jungkook can watch him, a stranger. 

 

Who exactly is Jungkook without Jimin? Who has he become? 

 

Taehyung clears his throat, and Jimin grips the paper so hard that it tears. It's a minuscule sound in the room, yet that ripping paper rushes into Jimin's ears and fills up every ounce of his focus. 

 

"I shall be your matchmaker." 

 

It takes a strong part of himself to say those words, and an even stronger part to smile with them, to pretend. He's all but a figure in a dollhouse, playing the role as a child moves his limbs and speaks his words for him. 

 

"I am pleased to have you aid me."

 

No. How dare he.

 

He halts his feet before he can jolt back from shock. That twang—that beautiful flair that colored all of Jungkook's phrases, that blossomed something unique in his tone and whispered those sweet words to Jimin. 

 

It's nowhere in his voice.

 

Just like Jungkook had wanted.

 

Jimin's chest collapses with something he can't name, his smile shining wider to hide himself away. If he smiles, everything is fine, right?

 

He's almost waiting for the spell to beak, for Jungkook to laugh and embrace him in his arms, for the "ya"s and "gonna"s to return to his voice.

 

But it never lifts.

 

"It is a fine day outside. I suggest we discuss there."

 

This room is too hot, too stifling. He needs somewhere away from Taehyung's heavy eyes, away from this pain and somewhere he can feel the breeze hitting his cheeks. 

 

He doesn't see Jungkook nod, but he hears the squeak of the bench as he stands. 

 

Panic creeps in his throat like poison, searing under his skin. He can't seem to get himself calm. 

 

He looks back over to Jungkook, almost frowning as he has to lift up his head to meet his eyes.

 

So tall. 

 

He's taller. He's grown up. His arms are no longer scrawny, and his hair is no longer a mess. 

 

Somehow, Jimin hadn't realized. Hadn't expected it.

 

The man who stands in front of him looks like he commands the world, takes it as his. 

 

 Jimin's feet step back, his hand clutching the ink bottle as his head lowers down. He counts his breaths, four counts inhaling and five counts exhaling. 

 

One 

 

Two

 

Three

 

Fou—

 

"May we discuss now? I must leave before the sun lowers."

 

Jimin nods his head, his movements jerky and his eyes still peeled to the floor. He flicks the hand that carries the quill, gesturing for Jungkook to follow him to the backdoor as he tries not to trip over his own two feet.

 

If Taehyung murmurs something under his breath, watching Jimin with sad eyes as they leave the shop for the back, Jimin doesn't hear it.  

 

The moment they step into the tomato garden, a gust of leaves rush past them, smacking against Jimin's face as they sit on the wooden bench outside. Jungkook watches him, seeming to wonder how close to stay as he follows down beside. Their thighs almost touch, the bench being too small for Jungkook's large frame. The man seems to realize this as well, shifting away and pressing against the sides as he tries to allow Jimin more room. 

 

Jimin plucks the leaf from his hair, watching Jungkook eye it as it flies from Jimin's hands and flings onto the walls surrounding them. 

 

"I will need to know your preferences for females."

 

Normally he would say something more, perhaps begin with a question, but his words fall flat. Their bodies are too close, and the heat from his skin is too much. Jimin's brain is clouded in fog, the smell of Jungkook's woodsy scent the only thing in his nose. He almost sneezes, the overwhelming rush of Jungkook clinging to his skin like memories in his heart.

 

He opens his mouth to say something more, his eyes finally dragging along Jungkook's chest to focus on his nose. 

 

You are so handsome.

 

"Thank you, I suppose."

 

Jimin's back straightens, his mouth tightening into one straight white line of shock as he realizes. His toes curl in his shoes, the weight of his stupidity crushing him down. 

 

He said that out loud. 

 

How could he say that out loud—

 

"I simply mean that it will be easy finding you a wife, as you would be considered attractive—by women." He smiles thinly, his eyes scrunched as he watches the puzzled expression on Jungkook's face melt into amusement. Jimin finds himself staring at that half-grin, knowing how it blooms wider when Jungkook finds something really funny and knowing the bunny teeth that rest behind his upper lips.

 

Does he still have those teeth?

 

Jimin wishes so.

 

"Well then I am glad that I'll be able to find a wife." With that, Jungkook's humor fades, and he's no longer looking at Jimin. The space between them is small, but it seems to grow wider.

 

How have you been? I miss you.

 

Jimin is speaking to Jungkook on borrowed time; Jungkook won't be his much longer.

 

Jungkook isn't his now. 

 

"What would you desire in a wife?"

 

He can hear how tense his voice sounds, how the first word breaks and how the last word is quiet, but stopping his hurt would be like stopping a stampede. Instead, he picks up his papers, placing the ink beside him on the ground as he dips the quill quickly in it.

 

"I would want her to be pretty, I suppose."

 

'Pretty'  he writes down, but 'Suppose'?  Should he put that as well? Jimin doesn't know what to make of these words, falling too quickly from Jungkook's mouth.

 

"As most men do." Jimin waits for Jungkook to say anything to that, but his mouth looks locked, his legs moving around restlessly beside Jimin's. “Do you have a preference for waist size? There are many women with slim figures looking for husbands.”


Yet at that, Jungkook's frown deepens, his brown eyebrows furrowing to the center of his face.

 

"I do not care of waist size. That seems a silly desire, no?"

 

And Jimin does not know what to say. Most men he has spoken with have a preference. It's always like that.

 

"Not silly. As men, we are allowed to be picky." The words are forced, his arms tight as he leans down to dip his quill into the black ink, just for something to occupy himself. The men he meets might not always have strong preference for waist size, but there is always something. Jimin simply must find what that something is for Jungkook. "Nevertheless, let's continue." He smiles as if to cure the heaviness that creeps in the air. 

 

He is well accustomed to the men being uncomfortable at first, the idea of talking with another man about ideal types daunting, but they always loosen up. 

 

They always do.

 

"Perhaps I should make tea, Jungkook?"

 

"No."

 

"All right."

 

Jimin hates this, his hand scratching the back of his neck as he stares at the tomatoes. 

 

Chirp.

 

He swerves his head back with a jolt, his eyes narrowing on a little bird hopping along the wall. Its bright yellow wings reflect off the sun, a song singing from its lips.

 

The same one?

 

Damn. He doesn't need a second audience.

 

"Mr. Park?"

 

He almost flinches out of his stupor, his eyes narrowing at that horrid formality.

 

Mr. Park. Since when has he ever been that?

 

Wait.

 

He freezes in place. 

 

Shit. He's been referring to Junkook as "Jungkook," using his name as if they're friends. 

 

And they had been. Once.

 

"You may call me Jimin." He tries to aid himself in the situation with that, but Jungkook gives him an odd look. He's definitely realized how informal Jimin has been, and Jimin can't tell if Jungkook's annoyed with it or not.

 

But how could he ever refer to his Jungkookie as "Mr. Jeon"? How could he ever bear to do that? It would hurt more than knives, cutting through his stomach and sawing away his tongue.

 

"Ah, and as you have been, you may refer to me as Jungkook." There's a playful hitch in his voice, but it's hard to hear through the discomfort cloaking it.

  

"Perfect!" Jimin's tone is injected in cheerfulness, and the sound makes both men flinch, too forced for a situation that shouldn't be so awkward. He's been doing this for years now! He knows how to calm the jittery ones down, yet he can't act normally. Every word is thick and stunted, every thought is crying with pain. The sun is beating down on him, and the proximity is wasting him away. "Now, what are your preferences for waist size?"

 

Jungkook's teeth shine, but not in a smile. No, his face looks pained, and his arms tense. 

 

"You have already asked me of waist size." Jungkook's tone is level, calm even, but there's a frustration locked behind him. Jimin lets out a breath of pure wheezed air, his panic fluttering like birds. "And I already responded that it is not an interest of mine."

 

That blank tone, those furrowed eyebrows.

 

Jimin laughs in panic, choked sounds echoing from his mouth as the yellow bird on the wall sings louder.

 

"Ah, I apologize. I do not know what has gotten into me!"

 

But he knows. He knows exactly. He's known since the moment Jungkook first stepped into the shop.

 

"Perhaps another day...Jimin?"

 

At that, he lifts his head to the beautiful eyes he wishes he could have seen grow up. He hears how tired that voice sounds, soft and patient as he watches Jimin's distress.

  

"Another...day?"

 

Jungkook shakes his head, standing up and stretching a hand for Jimin to take. Jimin stares at his fingers, wondering what he is supposed to do, until Jungkook finally sighs and pulls it into his pocket.

 

Oh. He was...he was supposed to take the hand. 

 

Good Lord! His brain should be thrown to the madmen! Perhaps they would make better use of it!

 

"No. This day is fine as any other." He doesn't want Jungkook to leave so quickly. He's finally talking with him, finally with him in his presence. 

 

I miss you.

 

But Jungkook walks away, his back to Jimin as he turns the doorknob and walks inside the shop with little more than a glance in Jimin's direction.

 

"No. I believe waiting another day is for the best," he hears Jungkook's voice travel out from the open door, and Jimin...Jimin doesn't follow after him.

 

Jimin doesn't watch him go, doesn't hear as Taehyung asks a polite, "leaving so quickly?", doesn't see his tall form walking out the door and into the street, walking in the same direction as Jimin's home. They are neighbors, after all. He'll have to pass him at some point. 

 

No, he can't watch, because he's too busy staring at the ink that stains his fingertips and gnawing on his lower lip and trying not to throw a brick at the damn bird that keeps calling out happy songs.

 

Perhaps it is only because his magic is not in the air, but the bird feels normal, friendly. 

 

It's just like any other bird, except more obnoxious. 

 

When Taehyung walks through the backdoor, Jungkook now gone, he sits beside Jimin. He pats Jimin's back as he peers down at Jimin's blank face, and grabs the notes that sit on his lap.

 

He expects Taehyung to console him, but instead he hears laughter, twisting his torso to see Taehyung's eyes scanning over his notes.

 

"All you have written here is 'pretty'! Are you really that infatuated with him or—"

 

"No! You fool!" he hisses out, his cheeks blooming pink. He tries to snatch them out of Taehyung's hands, but his horridly tall friend stands up, ignoring Jimin's puny form as he tries to bounce up to grab the papers. "And you are speaking too loudly!" 

 

These birds have ears.

 

"Are you sure you do not require me to handle him—"

 

Taehyung's still smiling, enjoying that Jimin's face no longer looks so vacant, but his tone still has worry slinking in it. 

 

Jimin can't have that. Jimin can't have that worry, for worry leads to things he can't deal with. Taehyung can't know who Jungkook is to Jimin. Taehyung can't know Jungkook.

 

"No. My mind is strong; I do not mind a challenge."

 

Those are dull, a mantra of words, but he forces everything into it until he could almost believe that he means it. 

 

He has to.

 

And there's that last question in his mind, that question that laughs at him every time he tries to force it away. 

 

If I'd never made you forget, my Jungkookie, would you still say you love me?

 

Would you still believe it?

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

What have I done? Surely I should know. Some grave error? I've spooked that matchmaker. But how can that be? I said no words to him before he went running.

 

And Ma's disappointed. She won't say it, but even with a mind delirious from fever, she's giving me those sad eyes. 

 

Wants me married, but how am I to do that? This matchmaker seems to never desire me to return. 

 

And there is another one, a calmer man in that shop. Why am I not speaking with him instead?

 

This is why I hate this horrid town. It has never made sense. It didn't make sense when I was younger; it doesn't make sense now. These people are mad, and they seem to rejoice in it.

 

Witches rampant in this town; Ma's told of the trials. I've talked with the head minister, tried to see how I can help. He says he'll talk with me. Perhaps I can help rid the town of these devils. Perhaps, perhaps.

 

Jungkook stares at the wall in his home, the night quiet and his head thick with stress. His mother's snores are disturbed by how much she's turning and whimpering in her sleep, her fever withering her away. He sighs into the wood, pressing his forehead into it with closed eyes.

 

But that man.

 

I haven't been to this bloody town in eight years, yet that man stares at me like I'd never left.

 

 

 

~*~ 

 

 

 

Jimin can't remember Jungkook ever being so indecisive. Hell, he seems to have stronger opinions about grass than women!

 

They're in the shop, a day later, frustration on both of their minds, yet they're both polite, both pretending with their calm smiles.

 

Liars, the both of them.

 

“Do you have a preference for personality? There are many charming women in this town.”

 

“I’m not sure.”

 

Jimin grits his teeth, picking up his quill and scribbling something quick in his notes. Jungkook sits across from him, their knees so close together that he can almost brush against them as he shifts along the wooden bench.

 

Jungkook's been responding this blandly since the first question, and Jimin doesn't know how he's supposed to do his job like this.

 

“Do you desire a woman who’s quiet or loud?”

 

“Perhaps.”

 

“Perhaps what?”

 

“Perhaps both.”

 

He drags his sigh away from his lips with every ounce of willpower he has, noticing how Jungkook's fingers twitch slightly on the table.  

  

“Do you desire a woman who is carefree or meticulous?”

 

“Either is fine.”

 

Blast it all! If they were still children, he'd have smacked Jungkook by now!

  

“I assume you want them able to carry children?”

 

“Not necessarily.”

 

Jimin pauses his writing, staring up at Jungkook with a face that he hopes didn’t display his surprise. He’s never met a man who was content with an infertile wife.

 

They all want—no, need children. Children are what carry on the business, provide for the household when the parents grow too old, maintain the bloodline. 

 

Jungkook's a madman. 

 

“From what you are telling me, I can simply take any woman off the street and wed you with her. Is that what you so please?”

 

He jolts his head up when he sees Jungkook stiffen, taking in the pained—and slightly annoyed—expression he wears on his face. 

 

“No, of course not.”

 

But Jimin has had enough of this. 

 

“What exactly do you desire from this, Jungkook?”

 

This is the most forward he's been, and Jungkook doesn't seem to appreciate it. 

 

“I’m not sure.” He crosses his arms over his chest, his stance confident but his eyes wide. It's the first time Jimin's seen him look hesitant, unsure of himself. “This is all my Ma’s planning, not mine. She desires me married before she passes.”

 

He can't stop the next words that blurt from his mouth. 

 

“And do you desire to be wedded?”

 

Jimin leans forward, his heart crying out in his chest, his hands wishing he could touch Jungkook’s saddened face and empty eyes. In another world, in another time, he’d kiss it away.

 

“I suppose I do...”

 

“That’s not an answer with which I’m content.”

 

“I do.”

 

Jimin's not selfish—his next words are for the good of Jungkook. 

 

“I do not believe you. Please do not return unless your heart desires this yourself. Good day, Jungkook.”

 

Alright, perhaps Jimin is slightly selfish.

 

He stands up from the bench, dusting off his brown breeches and straightening his shirt. He needs space from Jungkook to breathe. Every word from this man hurts, every time he has to ask what Jungkook desires of a woman, a woman, a woman. 

 

Jimin was never supposed to deal with something like this, something that hurts this badly.

 

And where has Jungkook been?

 

He was supposed to return two years ago, once his studies had finished at eighteen. Isn't that what he'd said?

 

But he was also supposed to never return, making a great life in the city where he could be free of Jimin.

 

And Jimin was supposed to have let Jungkook go by now. 

 

Supposed to, supposed to. As if 'supposed to's mean anything.

 

They've both failed each other in some way,

 

“And what would you know of the heart?” Jungkook asks quietly from where he sits, Jimin bristling at his words. 

 

But the question isn’t a rude one. He knows this as he looks over, peering into Jungkook's worried eyes. This man is lost, still his little Jungkookie who trembled as he kissed Jimin years ago, still worried of doing the wrong thing.

 

I know your heart.

 

But he isn’t allowed to say that, hasn't been allowed to say that since he erased himself years ago, watching Jungkook leave.

 

“I’m a matchmaker." He sighs as if those words mean anything at all. "It's my job.”

 

Chapter Text

Apples.

 

Damn apples. 

 

There are too many in this world. Honestly, he wouldn't mind seeing them burning in the flames of hell. 

 

"Taeee," Jimin whines, one hand holding tightly to a thick branch to steady himself as the other clutches a fruit in his hand. He stands on a hand-crafted ladder, the wood old and decaying from mold, and it wobbles back and forth as if on a mission to collapse at every movement. A large woven basket leans under him against the tree, brimming with apples and seeming to shudder itself every time Jimin drops in another. 

 

"Whaaat?" Taehyung has that same whine in his voice, but lower, his friend's exhaustion bringing out a deeper growl. He watches Taehyung throw another apple into his own basket (more of hurls it down, if we're being honest) and looks over at Jimin with slitted eyes. 

 

This isn't the first day they've been picking. No, it's been three consistent days in a row. Their backs are aching with every twist and turn and lean, their hands no longer careful but swiping apples at random and flinging them down with a fury of sweaty armpits and weary fingers. He's been staring at yellows and reds for so long that he's starting to believe those might be the only two colors in the world. 

 

"Would you say we have enou—"

 

"Yes! Yes dear God, we have enough. Please—please no more. I beg of you, Jimin!"

 

He would laugh at the desperation in Taehyung's voice, but his body is too tired, and his forehead is too wet. Instead, he nods, his head moving up and down slowly as if he's long forgotten how to do so after being suffocated in apples. 

 

They're only here in the first place because Jimin had realized they were starting to brown on the trees. He'd had help and servants doing this for years, entering the house with baskets of apples and leaving Jimin's only purpose to then consume those fruits. But now that he's finally sent them all away, the death of his mother allowing him to finally cut out the last of them, he's had to come to the horrid, tiresome fact that he must do this all by himself.

 

Or, not all by himself, because why would he do that when he has a gullible and willing friend to suffer with him?

 

Well...probably not so willing anymore. 

 

And Jimin has hated it as well, all the extra work and long hours just for picking stubborn apples who cling to their branches, yet he loves it. 

 

Loves it because the hard work consumes his mind, wears out his body and takes him far away from a certain Jeon Jungkook.  

 

Jimin heaves the basket into his arms, wincing as his muscles sob with pain. He forces himself through it, pressing it against his chest as he watches Taehyung roll his eyes and do the same. 

 

Jungkook hasn't returned in three days. Sure, Jimin's seen him on the street, walking into other shops and making pleasant talk with the owners, but the closest he's been back to the matchmaker's building is with his eyes. Jimin's felt the weight of his stare, on the few hours that he hasn't been slaving in the orchard with Taehyung, and he doesn't know what to make of it.

 

Jungkook could have been seen as a mystery, but Salem has managed to squash that. The town is alive with gossip about the man, enough to let Jimin stay aware of him without needing to track him. He's been hanging around the town square and the head minister, but Jimin doesn't know why. Women have increasingly described their ideal types in ways too similar to Jungkook for Jimin to be comfortable with, but he's been forcing himself to grin and bear it, writing their descriptions down and cringing at his own annoyed thoughts.

 

And Taehyung's become more pestering, asking about why Jungkook hasn't returned and giving Jimin eyes that say he knows Jimin's too invested in him for his own good. 

 

And there brings on the topic...the preferences. Jimin is like that. He wishes not to be, but his dreams of a certain man seem to giggle otherwise. 

 

He needs Jungkook out of his life, needs to be able to focus on not exposing his magic and focus on finding a wife for himself, but he can't when someone so beautiful obnoxious stares at his back, sweaty from picking apples, and making Jimin's spine shiver. 

 

Yet the truth is, he could never want Jungkook out of his life. He could force himself to believe it when Jungkook wasn't there, could pretend and lie like he's good at, but this man has taken a step into their shop and ruined his plans all in one go. 

 

He refuses to talk with Taehyung about it, refuses to acknowledge his friend's raised eyebrows. The closest he's gotten to anything is admitting, out loud in tiny, quiet words in the dead of night, that he feels nothing for women, a realization that was long overdue and left him curled tightly in his covers. Perhaps he's just not met the right woman yet (he can still hold onto that hope), but he knows the way his heart thumps for Jungkook isn't the same as for Taehyung. He's known this for some time now, he's admitted this for some time now, but it's only now that these words seem to have any meaning on him, impact him. Whatever lens he had obscuring his world is off, but that doesn't mean his tongue is any more free.

 

And there isn't a specific word for what Taehyung and Jimin are. There never has been, and Jimin doubts there ever will be. 

 

But he can think of one that's pretty close:

 

Abnormal. 

 

It sears on his tongue like a brand, and Jimin doesn't know if he'll ever get used to it. 

 

Yet when has he ever been normal? He'd gotten eleven damn years of sweet normality before he'd presented, and now it's as if the world keeps wanting to drag him back down.

 

I mean, he’s a witch. If he’s already damned to burn in hell, might as well burn in blazing lights of sin, right?

 

But it's not that simple.

 

They reach the house in their slowest time yet, pushing open the door with heavy pants and dropping the apples onto the table. The sun is low in the sky, orange light shining through the window as the the world darkens. 

 

Taehyung's been sleeping at Jimin's house for the past three days, too tired to make the journey back to the shop, and he's already sifting through the cabinets and placing the candles around the room out like he owns the place. Jimin hears the clink of flint against steel as he drags some of the baskets off the dining room table so that Taehyung and he have enough room to eat.

 

Soon, the room is alive with tiny lights haphazardly covering the furniture. He watches as Taehyung places the tallest candle in between the edge of the table and another basket, humming to himself as the last of the candles are set. His friend moves to the fireplace after, and the sound of chinking starts again until the room crackles with heat and vivid yellows strike across their faces. 

 

"Please do not tell me that we are eating only apples, bread and cheese again," Taehyung mumbles once he has put the flint and steel away. Jimin stacks two plates in his hands and walks over, setting them on the table with a clack. He only shrugs in response, walking to the pantry and standing on his tiptoes to grab the bread as he listens to Taehyung complain. He hears a thump, presumably Taehyung pulling a basket off one of the chairs so that he has room to sit down, as Jimin grabs a knife and wooden cutting board. 

 

It's Salem. The only foods anyone has available to eat are simply different forms of the main four: bread, apples, porridge and cheese. 

 

"Eat up," Jimin says after he has walked back to the table, gesturing to all the apples and stale bread in front of them.

 

"Where's the cheese?"

 

"I thought you said you were tired of it."

 

"I also said I was tired of bread," he shoves in a mouthful for emphasis, locking petulant eyes with Jimin, "but lak at meh now, 'm still eatin' et."

 

Jimin tuts, scolding Taehyung for eating with his mouth full and reminding himself of his mother, the memory making him smile fondly. 

 

"I have run out of cheese, but the harvest festival is in a month or two, and everything is always cheaper there, so I'm waiting." 

 

Taehyung sighs, but it seems to pacify him, and they eat quietly, only the crackle of the fire and the munch of chewing filling their ears. They're both too worn out to do anything other than stuff their faces and soon fall into bed. 

 

Knock. Knock.

 

It's only two sharps raps at the door, but Jimin's already standing up with a groan, his meal only just started. 

 

“I hope it is not those blasted ministers come to ask me to rat out my neighbors again.”

 

Taehyung puts a finger to his lips, telling Jimin to hush up before he says something to ears that shouldn't hear it.

 

"Need me to walk with you?" He flicks his hand to gesture to the door. 

 

"No. I shall be fine."

 

He watches Taehyung sigh into his chair in relief, probably too tired to fathom getting up, as Jimin walks to the front of the house with a grunt and opens the door while the last light from the sky fades to black.  

 

"Hell...o." He almost chokes on the words, the sight in front of him...not the ministers.

 

Jungkook's standing at the door, his forehead sweaty and panting. He obviously ran here, but Jimin doesn't know why. It sends a shiver of fear through him, the prospect of something bad happening that would cause Jungkook to sprint to his neighbor, but Jungkook's eyes don't look panicked.

 

Either way, why is he at his door? And why does his damn heart have to beat so sporadically!

 

“Jungkook, why are you here so late? It is already dark.”

 

Jungkook purses his thin lips, his voice almost coming out small. “It was not dark when I left...”

 

Jimin doesn't know what to say to that, turning his head back enough that he can see Taehyung still at the table, watching them with food still stuffed in his mouth and wide eyes.

 

“Nevertheless, why have you come?”

 

He leans against the door frame. Don't leave.

 

Foolish thoughts, shut up.

 

He wishes his heart had enough strength to tell Jungkook to go.

 

But before either of them can say anything more, Jimin hears a rumble of something. A sharp whine that does not come from either of their lips, and then Jungkook's shifting, a weird expression on his face.

 

Embarrassment? 

 

And Jimin, eager Jimin, who doesn't seem to know what is good for his own well being, immediately realizes there is a simple way to make Jungkook stay. 

 

His Jungkookie's stomach is grumbling, so obviously—

 

"Are you hungry? Would you like to come inside to eat?" Perhaps he sounds a little too eager. 

 

It's a daft thing, how the heart works. How the brain can scream one thing at you as your mouth moves against it, and your heart lifts with joy. 

 

Say yes.

 

Jungkook scratches the back of his head, looking off to the side before agreeing timidly, and now Jimin's escorting him into his home and avoiding Taehyung's piercing eyes. How did he get here? Jimin has invited him in, going to eat dinner with the man who's twenty years old and grew up too quickly for Jimin's liking. 

 

He almost expects Jungkook to take the lead, to travel around this house that he practically grew up in and pull a chair up to the table. But Jungkook peers around as if he'd never stepping in its halls, bounced on the couch with Jimin and hid behind the stairs.

 

He walks into this house like a stranger.

 

Because he is.

 

And Jimin can't seem to remember that fact.

  

Jimin clears off another part of the table, not bothering to give Jungkook any explanation on the plethora of apples as he pulls up a chair and watches Jungkook slowly sink down. 

 

"Plates...we need another plate." He's mumbling to himself as he darts for the kitchen and returns with another in hand, placing it in front of Jungkook and plopping down without looking at either of the men. 

 

Jungkook is sitting beside Jimin, and Taehyung is across from the two of them, not yet having said a word. Jungkook’s eyes flick to Taehyung, giving him a quick awkward smile at which Taehyung raises his eyebrows, and Jimin kicks him under the table.

 

When they were younger and ate with Jimin's mother (and sometimes Jimin's father when he wasn't away), Jimin and Jungkook would always be barreling over each other to say their story of what had happened that day. It was always filled with Jimin's mother scolding Jimin to let Jungkook have some time to speak as the sound of excited children burst into the room. 

 

But that was then. Now, they sit in silence, a wary look between the three of them as Jimin picks up a slice of bread. 

 

"Feel free to eat whatever you wish."

 

"Thank you, I shall."

 

It's a tense, quick little spurt of words, and Taehyung shoves his plate aside, banging his elbows onto the table and waiting for someone, most likely Jimin, to start any sort of meaningful conversation. When Jimin doesn't aid, Taehyung barrels on, perhaps the only normal one in this room. 

 

"All right. Why have you come, Mr. Jeon?" Taehyung's voice is even, the sound almost like a parent asking the man his daughter is courting if he has good intentions, and Jimin bristles with the words. He shouldn't have invited Jungkook inside. What was he thinking? Now Taehyung has opportunity to pester Jungkook...to learn of things he shouldn't. How could Jimin not have thought of this! He curses Jungkook's eyes; they are too much of a sinkhole. 

 

Jungkook doesn't look at Taehyung when he replies, instead cutting up slices of apples as he turns his head towards Jimin. 

 

“I’ve thought of what you said. I do, indeed, wish to be wedded. I would enjoy it greatly if you returned to aiding me find a wife.”

 

Oh.

 

Jimin gulps, the sound audible to only him, but he can see Jungkook's eyes tracing his neck as it bobs up and down.

 

His heart is...is sinking.

 

But what did he expect? For Jungkook to suddenly wrap Jimin in his arms and proclaim that he never wanted a wife, but Jimin? Proclaim that he could never forget his Jiminie?

 

And these words, these innocent words, honestly make Jimin mad. Because even though he knows his desires are impossible, he couldn't help that part of himself that begged God that Jungkook would still care. 

 

“Why didn’t you simply tell me that tomorrow, in the shop?”

 

Calm Jimin, calm. Your voice is too hostile, too snappy.

 

“I...” he pauses, “I didn’t think of that...”

 

Taehyung snorts, the sound echoing in the house, and Jimin steps on his foot, warning him to stop. Taehyung lets out a small yelp, glaring at Jimin as Jungkook's head swerves between the two of them in confusion, and Taehyung pushes out of his seat before any more damage can be inflicted. 

 

He grabs his plate and walks into the kitchen as to not watch this mess any further, and Jimin wants to force his ass back down. 

 

"I am leaving for sleep. I bid you goodnight." Taehyung's voice is thick with something Jimin can't name, and he almost hisses at Taehyung to come back, watching his friend grab a small candle and leave them for the stairs. 

 

"Taehyung!" 

 

But Taehyung doesn't respond, only letting out a small chuckle as the sound of his feet thump up the stairs and eventually go quiet.

 

The two men look at each other.

 

They eat in relative silence, food shuffling around their plates until it finally seems that they are both finished.

 

Do they speak? Not really. Because even a million things running through each other's minds isn't enough to get their mouths to open.

 

Jimin walks with Jungkook to the kitchen, Jungkook helping Jimin as he rubs a cloth coated in vinegar and ashes to clean the plates. They clean quietly, only the ribbits of the frogs croaking outside as the fire starts to sink down, low on wood. 

 

"Taehyung...is he...Are you two...?" 

 

Jungkook doesn't continue with that thought, trailing it off and looking at Jimin as if he should know what the man's talking about. Jimin only closes the kitchen window, shutting out the sounds of the creatures that call in the night. 

 

"I do not know what you mean."

 

Jimin puts the plates away, turning to look at Jungkook's face, and oh my  are they are close, Jungkook not seeming to notice. Jimin has to take a step back, his butt hitting the counter as he tries to squirm away. 

 

"Why is he...staying in your house...?" Jungkook doesn't say anything more, a look on his face that shows he's frustrated with what he's said, but also unable to stop himself.

 

"We are friends. He has been helping me collect all of these apples." He sticks out his arm to motion to the apples falling out of the baskets and rolling onto the floor. "And I think it is late; you should be heading home."

 

He says this now to keep himself from saying something ridiculous, something along the lines of: Jungkookie, you should stay here. It's already so late. No, he won't let his heart entertain that idea. His heart has been bad. He'd scold it, but it doesn't seem to ever listen. 

 

And it’s also odd speaking formally to Jungkook. It’s odd being just a neighbor, and in a way, Jimin is sick of it, sick of pretending today.

 

He moves for the door, hearing more than seeing Jungkook's shoes clomp behind him as they reach the front and stall there. 

 

"Would you desire any apples before you leave? I have plenty." Even when trying to get Jungkook out, he can't keep his words from wanting him to stay a little longer. 

 

Jungkook only shakes his head no, the motion quick and jerky, and Jimin says a final goodbye, his hand resting on the doorknob as Jungkook steps out. 

 

“Wait—”

 

Jimin's heart leaps with something giddy, and he wants to scream at it. 

 

“I remember you.”

 

No.

 

He  cannot.

 

There's no way. Jungkook would have said something; Jungkook would have wrapped him in his arms; Jungkook would have— 

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Is he breathing? He doesn’t think he’s breathing,

 

Breathe. Jimin.

 

You have to breathe.

 

“When I was leaving years ago. I've finally remembered why you are so familiar! You were at my house to say goodbye. I’ve never thanked you for that. It was kind of you.”

 

Jimin is breathing now, thank God, his hand still gripping the door so tightly that he can feel the splinters lodging into his fingers.

 

“Oh. It was no grand deal. Simply a neighbor doing his duties."

 

Jungkook shakes his head, a smile on his face but an embarrassment in his tone. 

 

"Forgive me, but I can hardly remember you from then."

 

Jimin bristles, a warning sounding off in his head and whacking against his skull: be damn careful. 

 

"We were not close as children."

 

The words burn as they go up his throat.

 

"Oh. How could that be? I apologize. I must have squared myself away. I was frustrated at moving from my old farm for a long while."

 

Jimin smiles, but it hurts, a dangerous turmoil sloshing in his stomach. Yes, I do remember how you missed your old house.

 

"No, it was not your fault. It was because of me that we did not become friends."

 

Jungkook's face scrunches up, his hand coming to scratch the back of his neck, and Jimin sweats when he realizes what he's doing.

 

He's trying to search for a memory that isn't there. 

 

"I truly apologize for this, but how did we first meet? I moved here when I was nine," I know, Jimin thinks, "and my memory was shoddy then—even now." Jungkook seems frustrated as he finishes, looking so beside himself, as if he himself has done something wrong.

 

You haven't done anything wrong, Jungkookie. 

 

It is your Jiminie who made a mistake. 

 

And was it a mistake? Was it fair of him? Taking away his memory. He'd only been a small child, not even a teenager, making a colossal decision. Had he truly done the right thing, made the right choice? How much has Jungkook suffered from it? How much has he gained?

 

Jungkook looks at him expectantly, and Jimin wonders how he explain a memory of them both that Jungkook doesn't have. 

 

But perhaps he does have it, if only just remnants. Because saying Jimin took away his memory isn't the truly best way to describe it. He took away Jungkook's connection to Jimin, and with it, traveled the memories. For he may remember meeting Jimin, but only with coaxing it out. It's not a memory that just sits, it needs to be pried, and even once pried, the whole is not there. To Jungkook, Jimin is simply a distant neighbor, one whose face he can hardly remember and whose personality is lost in the weeds. 

 

"I met you in this apple orchard." The memory is still crisp in his mind, an exhaustion in his voice that didn't come from working long hours today. "I was not...I was not the kindest towards you at first. I had never met a boy like you."  

 

'Do you sleep in a hog’s den?'

 

He cringes at the memory, picturing a little Jungkook wearing those dirty trousers and wide grin, and wondering if Jungkook will recall anything from then. They hadn't known each other well, and perhaps there wasn't enough of a connection between them for Jimin's magic to target it.

 

But Jungkook only looks puzzled, a vein in his forehead sticking out as the man concentrates on a memory he can't find.

 

It's hard to find memories when you have no emotions towards them. Perhaps that is truly how to describe what Jimin can do, take away the emotion. Because without it, your mind finds no reason to hold on. The magic takes away the feelings, and eventually, your mind willingly gives up the rest, makes the job easy.

 

"Oh, and did I avoid you after that?" He grins in a joking way, a relaxed stance against the door, but Jimin can tell he's confused, can tell he's skeptical of this memory that he can't find. 

 

"We both avoided each other." Jimin grits his teeth, his hand wanting to fling the door shut. Instead, he stares past Jungkook, into the darkened orchard once find with two boy's elated screams as they'd chased each other around, once filled with sunburns and smiling toddlers and giggling maids. "We never could have been friends then. It was obvious that the two of us together just didn't work."

 

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

When Jungkook comes to the shop the next day, Jimin sits him down in the garden out back, already prepared and antsy. They sit in the sunlight, the rays creating a halo of gold around Jimin's hair.

 

"Pretty."  He could have sworn the words are for him, but when he looks back, Jungkook isn't looking at him.

  

“What do you want in a wife?” Jimin asks today, not giving Jungkook questions of his own as that method didn’t work the first time.

 

“Cannot you ask me questions as you did before?”

 

Jimin would smile if he weren’t try to remain looking serious. Jungkookie's a baby. He watches Jungkook’s hands fidget in his lap, his voice coming out shy. He reminds Jimin of the babes the mothers carry swathed in blankets with their large eyes and timid smiles.

 

“No, I cannot. Last time I did that, your answers were insufficient”

 

Jungkook reaches his hand down to fiddle with a tomato stem.

 

"Do you want me to start now?"

 

He can think of some snarky thing to reply with, but instead he says a gentle yes. 

 

He actually smiles this time to calm Jungkook, but Jungkook only looks down, a hardness to his gaze. And on the inside, Jimin reflects that same hardness, that same emptiness. He has to pair Jungkook up with a woman, listen to him talk of everything he wants in a woman. 

 

Grin and bear it.

 

“I want her to be strong...”

 

“A calloused woman for heavy working? Perhaps in the farm?”

 

“I suppose so—”

 

“Mmmm, none of that uncertainty today, or I'll escort you out.”

 

“Fine. Then yes. Decent build.”

  

Jimin gets out his ink and scribbles it down. When Jungkook says nothing more, Jimin raises his head to stare at him, an eyebrow moving up as the bees swirl around them.

 

“You do realize there is more to a woman than being a muscle pig such as you...”

 

Jungkook’s eyes widen at that, his head shifting down to look at where his arms are buff and then looking up to where Jimin sits beside him, scanning over Jimin's own form.

 

Heat floods into Jimin faces like a storm, leaving him a stuttering mess as he flounders for something to correct his mistake. 

 

"Oh, I—uh..." What can he say?

 

The twelve year old Jungkookie would have laughed at that, or at least returned the favor with his own witty remark, but the man that sits with him is not the same. The man that sits with him doesn't understand. 

 

“I—I apologize for that. Please continue...”

 

He's a fool.

 

When they finish, Jimin’s ears are still tinged pink, and his idea of a woman for Jungkook is a little clearer, his heart a little heavier. Jungkook sighs, resting his back against the chair and staring at the fluffy clouds floating along the sky.

 

“I don’t recall Salem being like this.”

 

“Like what?”

 

Jimin needs to walk to his orchard, still having apples that he needs to finishing picking, but Taehyung has flat out refused to help anymore, and it isn't really a job for one person, unless you have wish of heatstroke. 

 

“This town is so...so paranoid, so fearful. Everyone was once so open, I remember.”

 

Jimin runs a hand along his knees, pulling up his white stockings and fixing the cuffs on his shoes. Jungkook doesn't know what he's talking about. 

 

“I’ve been here for twenty years now, and I must inform, this town has always been paranoid. These witch trials are simply bringing out that fear that’s been slinking inside hearts and minds for generations.”

 

Jungkook picks a tomato, it’s green and looks like it’d be sour, yet he still seems to consider eating it, only putting it down when Jimin gives him a look.

 

“When did these trials start? And how? They surely weren’t occurring when I lived here. I’d have remembered that.”

 

Jimin tries to remember the rumors of what happened that night, the night of the screaming. He wasn't there for the initial uproar, but it wasn't long until he was a part of it all.

 

“It started when a caretaker...a supposed witch...cursed three young girls last year, making them descent to madness." More like a poor girl, in the wrong place at the wrong time. "The caretaker wasn’t the only one accused, however. The youngest child raved on about a beggar and an elderly woman having cursed her too.”

 

“And were they...witches...as the children said?”

 

Ah, now this is a question Jimin can’t answer honestly because they were not, and only he is aware of that. When blood was spilled onto the floor, Jimin could sense no magic in it.

 

That’s how witches can sense other witches—when their red blood spills from their veins, calling out as they die.

 

“I do not know,” Jimin says instead, looking down at the tomato plants surrounding them.

 

“When did the bells start? I believe I remember the bells being for weddings.”

 

'Jungkookie, Jungkookie, the bells! The bells! We have to go see the bells! We have to go see who's being married!'

 

“They still have bells for weddings; they still have the church bells for Sundays and Wednesdays, but they ring separate bells, the 'Killing Bells' is what most people in this town call them. The difference is subtle, but the fear that snakes through makes it obvious which ones are being rung.”

 

Jungkook leans forward, too close for Jimin’s sanity. Jimin can still see his little Jungkookie smiling in Jungkook’s chocolate eyes, though Jungkook is not smiling now.

 

“What happened to the women accused?”

 

“One was burned, and the other two were hanged. I was only there when the caretaker was hanged. I did not stay for the other two. At that time, the hangings weren’t mandatory for people in the town to go to, and I did not desire to watch.”

 

Jimin leans away, the memory of the bloody screams piercing inside the walls of his mind.

 

“Jungkook…what do you know...of witches...”

 

Oh, Jimin is sailing into dangerous territory, spotting the dark waters and deciding to plunge in.

 

Jungkook straightens up, a hint of pride in his voice as Jimin peers over curiously. "Well, when I became a witch hunter—"

 

"You are a witch hunter?"

 

Fuck.

 

Holy Fuck.

 

Jimin has a death wish. Jimin truly has a death wish. Why did the rumors never warn him of this?! How could he have missed this?! This glaring, putrid, sneaking thing.

 

Jimin is going to fucking die, and it's all because he has a horrible taste in men. 

  

"Yes...?" Jungkook's eyebrows are furrowed, looking down at Jimin as Jimin's heart slams against his chest, his body trying to send him shaking.

 

'Six years is a long time for a person to change.'

 

His mother was damn right.

 

"Why did you not tell me!" His voice is almost high with hysterics, having to pinch himself on the thigh to remind himself he shouldn't be behaving like this, but the pain makes it worse, makes him want to spill blood and burst.

 

"Is it important for you to know?'

 

Jimin gulps, taking a shaky breath in as he removes his hands from his leg. Lord. Dear Lord. This is not how he wants to die. Not under the hands of someone he loves. "It—it is just good to know for matching. W—women like to know what jobs their potential husbands will have." 

 

Witch hunter.

 

His Jungkookie.

 

He could have never fathomed those words together. Jungkook was always the one to protect him; Jungkook always assured him that he wasn't wrong, sinful, disgusting. 

   

“I know they are wicked things, created from the Devil himself and sent to carry out his plans,” Jungkook says. Jimin lets out a shaky breath, knowing that his face is drained white, and leaning over to his notepad so that Jungkook can't see him. “I’ve studied for witch hunting for two years now, so I’d know. Witches are temptresses; rotting in the sewers would be the kindest fate for them.” Jungkook runs a hand through his hair, and looks down at Jimin who shrinks further from his gaze, collapsing in on himself. 

 

He can't let Jungkook see how panicked he is, how pale he is.

  

“Yes...I’m sure they are.” 

 

Jimin needs to leave, needs to go anywhere but here, anywhere but under this soon-to-be killer's gaze. Because one day, Jungkook will be one of them. Jungkook will be with one of the ministers, dragging out a poor, innocent girl screaming and sobbing for her life. And even if that girl is a witch, she'll still be worthy of life; she'll still deserve love.

 

And Jungkook will be the one to strip that away, until he's numb from watching all the witch whores weeping in flames. Until he's craving more blood, like all the witch hunters eventually do.

 

Until his Jungkookie is finally gone. 

 

“What do you know of witches, Jimin?”

 

His reply is empty, a useless string of words that don't make sense to his ears. Nothing makes sense; he had to go and love a witch hunter.

 

“I know nothing..." Everything hurts, everything hurts. "...truly nothing of them at all...”

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

 

“Jimin, have you truly looked over this list?”

 

Jimin lifts his head to where Taehyung sits across the table, eating porridge. Taehyung invited him to dinner, two nights after Jimin learned of Jungkook's work. He is talking to the same type of man who wants him dead.

 

He'd panicked. Screamed into his empty house until his voice was cracking with rawness and his fists were beating against a wall. 

 

It was almost as if he'd expected something to change. Almost as if he thought Jungkook would suddenly turn into the black-eyed, sadistic old men who plague his nightmares. Almost as if the confused, somewhat timid Jungkook would suddenly stab him with a pitchfork and bring him out into the town square as the Killing Bells sounded around him.

 

But Jungkook is still the same. Jungkook is still Jungkook.

 

Jungkook held open the door for Jimin the next day and offered to help him pick apples the day after that. And of course, Jimin declined, but it was still something so unlike the cruel men in his nightmares. 

 

It's hard staring at your killer's strong arms and wanting them to wrap around you, to cradle you safe.

 

“I’ve looked at it, of course as I am the one who wrote it. Why do you ask?”

 

Taehyung has his papers beside him, always working, even as he shoves in mouthfuls of porridge. He picks them up, the sound of the paper crinkling as he scans it over and crosses his legs under the table.

 

“Minnie...he wants a partner who is shorter than he, with a decently strong build, normal-sized waist, thick lips, shorter hair, and gentle face. Does this ring any kind of bells for you?”

 

“Well yes. It sounds like Sowoo; I realized that as he was talking. Could that be the woman’s to which he’s referring? She’s married, he should know.”

 

Taehyung's mouth falls open, almost comical as drops his spoon in his bowl with a clack.

 

“Minnie...please tell me you’re not this daft.”

 

“What do you mean?” What is Taehyung blabbering about?

 

“No—please Minnie, please tell me I’m not the best friend of someone with the intelligence of a cow. I would have simply walked to the pasture if I wanted a cow!”

 

“How rude of you to say!” Jimin stomps his foot to the floor, the bowls of porridge almost tipping over and spilling onto the table. He huffs, his arms crossing over his chest as his lips jut out into a pout. “I still don’t know to which you’re referring, and after that comment, I honestly do not care to know.” 

 

Taehyung laughs, his head shaking side to side as he sees Jimin’s sulky face. "A cow...My friend...how did this happen? Is this how the Lord has chosen to punish me?" His grin is too obnoxious for Jimin's taste, and he stands up with his own bowl of porridge before Taehyung can stop him. The candles burn around them, their wax dripping down onto the table, staining it. 

 

"I'm going to bed now." He curtly waves, climbing up the stairs to Taehyung's bedroom and ignoring Taehyung's squabbling.

 

“You’ll figure it out someday,” Taehyung calls out to him, his voice echoing as Jimin reaches the top. His friend's tone is playful, but his words are not. “I just hope that when you do, it’s not too late.”

 

Jimin rolls his eyes, yelling down as he hears the sifting of china plates from downstairs. 

 

"Ominous words will get you nowhere, Tae!"

 

Chapter Text

Jimin sits in church with Taehyung, murmuring to him as people file inside and head to their seats. It's their spot, in the very back where the minister's eyes don't bore into their skulls and where Taehyung can complain of how stuffy the room is without old ladies giving them dirty looks. It's the same place where he used to sit with Jungkook, where their parents used to sit in the pews in front of them, scolding the two boys as they'd huddled together, holding hands secretly and giggling too loudly over useless, mundane things. 

 

Now Jungkook isn't with him, Taehyung pressing against Jimin's side and talking into his ear instead. Two adults whispering of their worries, less giggles and no hand holding. 

 

It isn't the same. 

  

Jimin wriggles. The pews still hurts like the devil—that part hasn't altered. Even after years of sitting here, he still hates them, still can never find just the perfect place where his back isn't straining. One year, he'd tried exploring the front of the church, trying to see if any of these seats weren't designed to force you rigid, but the ones in this church were all designed with purpose, all trying to kill you slowly before the sicknesses in this town ever could. Even worse, the minister has perfect access to look you directly in the eyes in the front, picking apart your soul as he preaches against the evils in this world. Words of sins that had dug into Jimin's mind and struck too close. 

 

It wasn't long before Jimin had moved back. 

   

It's the bright morning of Sunday, streets empty as everyone has taken to church, rubbing the sleep in their eyes and pretending with everyone else that it was never there to begin with.

 

But Taehyung isn't pretending. There's a yawn in his voice as he talks with Jimin, eyes lined with a light shadow of purple that Jimin knows he mirrors. His friend's voice is lower, partially from the sleep he hasn't had but mostly from the worry choking him quiet. 

 

They've dealt with difficult matches before, not necessarily because of the people involved, but the times they've needed to be wedded. Some years are dry ones for any sort of attraction, good matches not coming by, or people too young to be married. Taehyung's long accustomed to it; he's been in this business longer, has experienced it better and gotten a hold on all its difficulties, bending them to meet his needs.

 

But not this time. Jungkook, Yongsoon, and Daeun have yet to be matched, the uncertainty unfamiliar to Jimin but detrimental to Taehyung. The man enjoys his work, revels in his talent with it. And this pause, these people who are still not wedded, are making him antsy.

 

He can read people more studiously than a book, pick apart their pages and sift through their desires. He knows the love that each person wishes for; he's never wrong. But that doesn't mean the men's and women's wishes are always there in human form, waiting to be matched. No, sometimes the women of their dreams are long wedded, and the men are hooded eyes and stingy smiles, unwilling to enter the lock of marriage just yet. Taehyung has always managed to find the ones for their clients to perhaps not love, but admire. And that's the prettiest blessing anyone gets in Salem. 

 

He's been speaking of his cautions to Jimin, unsure if they will be able to find them decent matches. Perhaps they will walk out! he keeps exclaiming into Jimin's ear.

 

But the man's worries are unfounded. Jimin's never found his friend to be unsuccessful. Only one man has bowed out, and that was for fault of fever and eventually, the grave. 

 

"We have a wedding approaching!" Jimin's trying to bring some life into Taehyung's face. He clasps his hands together, fingers thrumming with anticipation, the same excitement bleeding out into his voice. This is the first time this morning that his speech hasn't come slurred with fatigue, the promise of weddings always making him flourished with joy. Taehyung's only watching him sparingly, not reflecting the same interest. His head is slacked backward, as if calling blessings from God. "Of course we cannot occupy all of our time on them." Jimins's speaking of the three unmatched clients. Perhaps it's not the long time they've been taking to match them that is worrying Taehyung so, but the number. They've spent more days in the past on others, yet these three people combined and eager amplify the desperation to find them matches, and find them quickly. "You are allowed to worry of it after—but not now."

 

Jimin's hands knead Taehyung's shoulders, on a mission to abate the pain. It's risky, to be somewhat fondling another man, especially in places like this. His hand slips away, remembering his caution, but Taehyung whines lowly, his shoulder chasing Jimin and his eyes pleading, a puppy's. 

 

Jimin abides once again, his hand slipping back up, if only to take the glazed look out of his friend's eyes, to have him relax a fraction more. 

 

"Yes, however..." His friend says, his cheeks puffing out with a bubble of air he's about to sigh out. 

 

"Jungkook is my priority." Jimin faults himself for part of Taehyung's stress, knowing his connection with Jungkook has halted his desire to match him away. "It's not a blame on you that he isn't matched yet. And I can take on Daeun or Yongsoon if you wish it. I am here for you, you know that." His hand has traveled to Taehyung's back, where the arriving people cannot see it and where Jimin's fingers can still continue to ease the man. "And we shall get through it. We always do. This is no exception."

 

Taehyung ruffles his own hair, messing with the edges in an exhale as he spies the tall windows, locked closed and trapping every breeze away. 

  

"It is too stifling in here. Cannot they simply open the windows?"

 

Jimin's hand falls from the man's back, twisting against the pew and smiling. Taehyung has returned to normal if he's complaining about the heat. Or, at least that is how it seems. Jimin knows Taehyung still has a list, long and burdensome, running through his mind and amplifying every passing worry. 

 

Jimin goes along with it anyways, shuffling closer to Taehyung, close enough that his breath is in his face, and the purple circles are thicker, harder to be concealed. "But that would lead to the Devil sneaking through and peering under the ladies' skirts." He stabs his elbow into Taehyung's side, meaning to be playful but miss-aiming and striking a little too boisterously. 

 

The man only grunts, rolling his eyes and asking, "Remind me of why I'm in Salem?"

 

"Because I'm here, of course." He's winking, almost scandalizing himself. Not here, not here, he's saying in his mind, but it makes Taehyung smile. He wraps his arms around Jimin, pretending to snore against his shoulder, his mouth comically wide and a bit of drool escaping without notice. 

 

The men quiet for a moment, the air calm. There's the darting sound of gossiping in the air, the church women at the front the loudest about it, but it is not directed at the two of them. Their husbands discuss with one of the ministers, forming a circle around him as their deep voices carry over. It's nice sometimes, to be away from it all. No one to impress and no words needed to be spoken. 

 

"Ahah, it seems the Devil has managed to slip through nevertheless." His friend's hands have loosened around him, still clinging on but mind preoccupied to what lies behind Jimin. He almost doesn't wish to look back, aware that the smug smile Taehyung beams with is a ticket for chaos pure in every form. 

 

“Stop that wicked look,” Jimin hisses, smacking Taehyung’s arm. It's a lost cause; the grin only grows wider, and his hands finally fall from Jimin's sides, his butt wiggling as Jimin stares at him. 

 

“I cannot. The Devil bids, and I must serve.” He's laughing now.

 

“What are you even—” Jimin whispers, his his head serving to—oh dear God why is he here?

 

And what is with Taehyung's horrid nickname?

 

Jimin's hand slams down with nerves, hitting Taehyung's thigh aimlessly and ignoring his whine of “Now why did you do that?”

 

Jungkook's tall form is a beacon, one that draws Jimin into his flame, burning him crisp. The man is shuffling in the middle of the walkway, people brushing past him to go to the seats they've had for years, basically have claimed as theirs by now. There are no names on the seats, but everyone has certain ones with carved letters in their minds, and everyone respects it. Jungkook doesn't have that same familiarity, doesn't know where his place is in all of this. He's a puzzle piece in the game that is Salem, not yet realizing that he doesn't truly fit anywhere anymore.

 

Familiarity comes with years, and Jungkook hasn't had enough of them here. 

 

It makes Jimin's heart hurt. 

 

“Go to him.” Taehyung's voice is scolding, like a mother tired of her son's antics. "I do not believe he's attended service here before." He elbows his arm into Jimin's side, swatting him like a bug when Jimin doesn't yet start to move. 

 

His eyes rest on Jungkook's a little longer, watching how the man clutches his right arm and thumbs over it, a smile on his face.

 

But Jimin knows that smile like he knows his mother's face. It bleeds with discomfort, his left eye twitching and his body shifting around. He takes a step forward, reconsiders, then steps back. A confident man stands, but the world's dragging it away.

 

That's when Jimin gets to his feet, feeling Taehyung swatting his arm harder and glaring down at him. 

 

“I am. I am! Stop hitting me, you fool!”

 

His body pushes him forward, a new flurry thrumming through him as the noises of the church quiet down. Service is soon to start, and Jungkook seems to realize this fact, turning away from Jimin. 

 

Where's he going?

 

The man walks quickly, choosing a seat in the very back, away from the rest of the world. Perhaps Jimin should sit back down?

 

He's wary, glancing back at Taehyung from the end of the pew, not knowing if he should take another step forward. But Taehyung's adamant on Jimin leaving, making rapid shooing motions with his hands and hissing our jargon from where he sits. Jimin twists up his lips, watching Taehyung's vehement stare of Do-it-or-so-help-me-God and almost wishes to disobey, to stomp right back over to him and plop himself down with a huff. The rebellion would feel so good.

 

Jimin smiles at him with all teeth instead, more mocking than friendly, saluting with two fingers as he turns back to Jungkook and strolls over, panic slinking around him. 

 

Taehyung is too invested in this. 

 

He sees Jungkook duck behind the pew, and for a moment he freezes, believing the man to be hiding from him. What has he done? But he watches him bumble underneath the pew as Jimin crosses the aisle, now bare of people. The man is searching under the seats for the Bibles they place under there, probably taking his sweet time to avoid the looks from the people towards the front. No one directly stares, even the women are not brazen enough for that, but this new person is a novelty, and they're looking; they are. It only takes half moments for eyes to sweep over, to see the sight then resume back. They need not be staring with heavy looks, these light eye-sweeps are frequent, and enough. 

 

Making it worse, Jungkook's all alone in his pew, the fact glaring that he isn't one of the rest. 

 

And that's a dangerous thing.

 

Hands full of nerves, he reaches Jungkook, placing the one that trembles the least on to tap on his back and hoping his palms aren't too sweaty. 

  

Jungkook practically jumps out of his seat at the touch, so close to hitting his head against the pew that Jimin jolts back as he waits for the sound of the smack that never comes. His eyes are wide when he whirls up to Jimin's face, Jimin's heart thrumming faster and his cheeks blooming red. There's a strangled second, one where both try to collect themselves under the other's gaze: Jimin with his heart and Jungkook with his eyes. 

 

“Oh,” Jungkook places a hand to his chest, his voice almost breathless. “You scared me.” His mouth widens to a smile, his eyes crinkling as they look at each other. Jimin almost preens under it, almost feels the need to fix his hair, though Jungkook's only doing it to be polite, knowing his place to stray away the tension in their chests. 

 

His look makes Jimin’s heart...flutter, his hands tying nervously together as he says, “You may sit with Tae and me if you so wish.” Service hasn't started just yet, but Jimin brings his voice lower, the room quieter than before. The gossip in the corner isn't ringing as loudly; it's either because the women have simply stopped (unlikely), or they're briefly too preoccupied with watching the matchmaker talking to the handsome man in town who hasn't been to a service yet.

 

Jimin doesn't appreciate the silence, knowing the eyes are making their rounds over him, but he cannot let it hinder him.

 

Plus, the unrestrained relief that pours into Jungkook's eyes calms him down, his smile becoming more toothy and—

 

hestillhasthosebunnyteeth.

 

They gleam proudly, pearly whites that poke out under his top pink lip. Jimin can picture him in a field, wrinkling his nose as he chews on a carrot with a fluffy white tail, and the image almost sends Jimin spiraling into laughter.

 

Jungkook, a rabbit. He can see it.

 

He sucks in a sharp breath instead, every bone in his being swearing to the Lord that he will make this man smile again for him. They bring a nostalgia that dances within him, a childhood of warm summers washing over and making his toes tingle, his body happy. 

 

They feel so much like home. 

 

He escorts Jungkook through the pew, to the other aisle where Taehyung's looking at them with an amicable smile, but Jimin knows what evilness brews in his head. 

 

“Why are you blushing like schoolgirl?” Taehyung whispers into his ear once they reach him, Jimin's lips tightening and his glare searing as Jungkook sits beside him. Taehyung's shameless, and he knows this, not willing to tamper it like the rest of Salem would.

 

It's something Jimin would usually admire, would usually wish to be like, but not today, not in front of Jungkook with burning cheeks and a passion to hide far under the pews. Taehyung's shamelessness isn't needed today.

 

“I do not know to what you are referring.”

 

Taehyung’s eyebrows soar to the ceiling, his teeth poking out as that devil-grin returns. Has it even truly left? That polite smile when they'd arrived was only a mask, a deceit. 

 

“Ohh, I see we're playing that game.”

 

"No games."

 

Yes, games.

 

Taehyung doesn't say that, but Jimin knows him too well, and it practically blares in his head. You're playing games, the warning echoes. Be wary.

 

But Jimin always is.

 

Except when he's not.

 

And he's increasingly not around this bunny-toothed man.

 

Jimin faces the front, lips tight and face turned away from Taehyung. It's hard to be focused on him anyways, with Jungkook's thighs so close and his hand inches from Jimin's. It's teasing, but Jungkook doesn't seem to realize it, gnawing on his lower lip and staring at his shoes. He's not exactly timid, something strong blazing through him just as he breathes, but it's not at its greatest capacity, more subdued. 

 

Taehyung isn't letting up, his lip curled up and his hands clasped together, almost like the villains in fantasy stories that Salem's not allowed to read. 

 

He almost smacks Taehyung again, only refraining from doing it because Jungkook wouldn't understand this unusual friendship. He'll remain civil today, even if Taehyung's coming with all guns blazing.  

  

“We are sitting in a church . Your eyes should be on the minister!” He's now the mother, scolding Taehyung with all but a finger in his face and watching him through slitted eyes. 

 

“And yet your eyes are admiring his ass—”

 

He hurls his promise of not thwacking Taehyung out the window; this man pushing all of his buttons, and then some. The smack to his chest is loud enough for Jungkook to jolt, peering over at them with wide eyes. The two must look to be in a crazed relation, the constant bickering and hitting natural to them, along with the hugs and sweet words afterwards, the ones that no one sees. 

 

Jimin doesn't want to look at Jungkook's face, praying for all that it's worth that the man hasn't heard what sins have been exchanged. 

 

“Are you two...?” Jungkook struggles for the word, not knowing what to say as he looks at them. He's teetering along the edge, worrying of offending the two men but also just as puzzled as anyone else. Jimin would feel pity for him if he weren't already using it all up on himself. What has Taehyung turned him into?

 

“Splendid,” Jimin forces out, almost tripping over that one word in his haste. Taehyung wheezes out an exaggerated “My best friend is trying to murder me!”  beside them, clapping a hand over his chest for emphasis, though it isn't needed. Jungkook smiles at the two of them, not knowing what to make of them. No bunny teeth this time.  

 

“Ah...Okay.”

 

Jimin wishes that that was the end of it, but as service starts, and the minister begins preaching, his best friend’s smile only gets more wicked, whispering sins into Jimin's ear.

  

And he's appalled to say that no amount of smacking and quick hisses at him to “Stop, you heathen!” ever make that devil-grin fully disappear.

 

 

~*~

 

 

Service ends with a rush of Amens and ruffled skirts, and the church dismisses out, waving paper fans in their faces as they bicker under their breath about the heat.

 

Jimin walks with Jungkook and Taehyung, Jungkook deciding to follow the two people he knows like a lost dog. It was never formally spoken that he would, he just did, and Taehyung and Jimin accepted it like fact.

 

They walk through the town leisurely, their feet not needing to travel any faster than usual, their destinations not immediate. The three of them talk about things not related to Jungkook's matching or Taehyung's stress or Jimin's fatigue, instead of Taehyung's frustration at his wilting tomatoes and Jungkook's meticulous plan to neaten up the garden in front of his home. It's a nice change, laughter flowing between the three of them without prompt, just gentle and free, like a baby first learning how to express its joy to the world with giggles. 

 

It's calm, a situation unusual for the three of them, but welcome.

 

Jimin's mind slowly drifts, his desperation to arrive home louder as they walk towards the gates of town. His thoughts practically sing in his head, wishing to collapse into his bed and sleep for the rest of the afternoon. Taehyung and he planned this morning, on their way walking to church, that they would come back to Jimin's house, spend the afternoon there. However, Taehyung has a fire under his ass, one that purely seems to want to torment Jimin, and no amount of scolding gazes will extinguish it.

 

“My cat has been hurling all day!" Jimin's forehead wrinkles up, completely lost at what Taehyung's getting at. They've just passed the matchmaker shop, the sign proudly saying "closed," as Sundays are days devoted to worship, not work. 

 

Jimin's staring at Taehyung, but Taehung's not looking at Jimin, his eyes central on Jungkook. The inflection is his voice is off the charts, speaking as if either boy knows what he's talking about. 

 

"I think he must have consumed my putrid tomatoes," he continues, winking at Jimin. That's when Jimin realizes what this scoundrel is planning, Jimin’s face melting into scandalized horror. "I must leave now. He must be attended to!” 

 

He doesn't have a damn cat, and Jimin's about to not have any damn sanity. 

 

Taehyung's darting away, but Jimin snatches the collar of his white shirt, narrowed eyes. He just about wants to expose Taehyung's lie, but how would Jungkook react to that? His friend is annoying, but he doesn't deserve to be seen as a liar simply because he's too stubborn for his own good. 

 

What even is Taehyung trying to do? Jungkook's a taken man, even without a ring on his finger. 

 

“No, dearest Taehyung, I feel he will be fine if you wait a little longer.”

 

“Oh no, no,” he stretches out the “no”s as his hand waves in front of his face, Jimin becoming panicked as that devil-light gleams brighter in his friend’s eyes. “I couldn’t leave him there, hurling all by himself. He’s too daft to figure out on his own, let alone when I’m trying to help.

 

God damn you, Taehyung.

 

“I truly believe that is unnecessary.”

 

“I truly believe I do not care.” He yanks himself out of Jimin's hold, so fast that Jimin doesn't have time to grab him again. He waves curtly, a laugh trickled out of his mouth as he darts around one of the shops. Jimin is reeling, his mouth partially open as he looks at the vacant spot where his friend had stood, the sudden fact presenting itself that his friend has left him alone. 

 

With Jungkook.

 

Jimin’s too old for this behavior.

 

He looks up to the man beside him, his smile tense and his shoulders stiff.

 

He's done this before. He's been alone with Jungkook before. This shouldn't be strange. 

 

So they walk.

 

And they chatter.

 

And it's pleasant but meaningless. 

 

They're almost at the edge of the town when a flurry of clothes rushes past them, screaming in delight. A younger boy chases after, the two adults stopped to watch. The first boy grips a tree branch and climbs up, the other shorter one yelling up at him with his hands glued to his hips. The one on the ground refuses to climb up, and the one in the air crosses his arms, not willing to jump down.

 

If Jimin were to think too hard about it, the sight would ring familiar: the shorter body on the ground, hands on hips, staring at the taller boy who's brave enough to venture into the tree.

 

But Jimin's not going to think about it. 

 

The ground-boy swerves around, spotting Jimin and Jungkook, his face brightening up. He sprints over to them, the distance short and quickly covered by the boy. He's practically bouncing in place, his hands swaying by his sides. 

 

He recognizes the kid as Kwangjo. Jimin matched his older brother a year before, and he's had dinner with the family. They're pleasant farm owning people who offer to bring Jimin homemade food for his work, to which he politely declines. 

 

"Jimin, sir, please please pick me up! I wanna be tall, but Minjun won't let me piggyback him!"

 

"He's heavy!" The other boys calls out from the tree, staring at the two of them as Jimin giggles. It's a fresh sound, one that make Jungkook look over in surprise. Has he never heard the matchmaker laugh? He has, but maybe not in the way he is now, so carefree and light.

 

"All right. But you have to stay still!"

 

Kwangjo's squirming on the balls of his feet, but he stills just enough as Jimin squats down. There's a heavy weight on his back in an instant, small arms wrapping around his neck almost too tightly, a boa constrictor squeezing its prey, as Jimin stands up.  

 

"Who are you?" He hears Kwangjo ask, feeling the young boy's head resting on his shoulder as he looks at Jungkook.

 

"Oh, me?" Jungkook points to himself. He's joking, but the young child doesn't realize it, saying an "Of course you!" Jungkook opens his mouth dramatically, his pink tongue easily seen in his mouth and his eyes opening to the size of the heavens. The expression is so exaggerated that Jimin laughs, watching it loosen Jungkook's form and simultaneously spurring Jungkook on even more.

 

"I'm Jeon Jungkook." He's smiling widely, glancing over at Jimin with warmth as Kwangjo yells, "That's a good name. But mine is better!"

 

"Be nice now." Jimin pouts out his lips, his tone playful as he scolds the boy. 

 

"And what is your name?" Jungkook asks. He feels the boy wriggle around on his back, can imagine how he beams as he screams, "Kwangjo!" It about bursts Jimin's eardrums, his eyes flinching shut as he cringes. He opens them to see Jungkook laughing, now fully locking eyes with him as those bunny teeth he's recently discovered pop out.

 

He's made them appear again! Or, was it him? Was it Kwangjo?

 

"You are right! Definitely better than mine."

 

Jimin would disagree, personally loving Jungkook's name, but he's not about to voice that.

 

Jungkook steps forward, close enough that Jimin can almost feel his breath, as he reaches out to ruffle Kwangjo's hair. 

 

"How come I never seen you before, mister?" The kid asks, voice still too loud as Jimin readjusts him on his back. Jungkook's smile falters for only a moment, a moment that only the other adult could notice, before it's back and brighter than ever with a blink of the eyes.

 

"I used to live here. Then I moved to the city."

 

"The city?" Kwangjo's hands fly around him in excitement, Jimin having to clench hold of the child's legs to keep him from falling off. "What's the city like?" The amazement in the kid's voice is pure, one that lifts Jimin's head higher as he watches Jungkook, wondering the same. 

 

"It was different. Not as pretty as Salem, but there were more adventures to be held."

 

"Adventures!" The boy cries out in delight, and Jimin watches his small fist jut out as if he's holding a sword. "Like pirates?" 

 

Jimin is surprised to hear that Kwangjo knows anything about pirates, could have sworn the church restricted those kinds of books. But Jungkook doesn't miss a beat.

 

"No, not like pirates. Though there were soldiers in the streets sometimes."

 

"Soldiers!" Jimin's starting to believe just about anything will impress this kid. "I wanna be a soldier!"

 

"You'll have to get strong." Jungkook lifts up his arm, pulling up the sleeve and flexing his biceps as Jimin chokes in a gasp. Kwangjo is only squirming in excitement, but Jimin's face is flushed, a nervous laugh on his lips. His head tilts down, and he tries to picture Taehyung in his undergarments to get that image out of his mind before his body reacts in ways it shouldn't. 

 

"I'm already strong!" The voice is proud. He assumes the boy is flexing his own muscle, watching Jungkook give an exaggerated whistle as he laughs. 

 

"Wow, almost as strong as me!" He's kidding, but it's not like the boy knows that, and he hears the sound of the kid laughing back. There's a cat meowing in the distance, bees buzzing in the air and birds chirping in the trees, but Jimin focuses on only those sounds: the two boys laughing. It's so free, so raw and happy. 

 

"Say, you look taller than Mr. Jimin. He's too short. Can you piggyback me instead, Mr. Jungkook?"

 

Jimin's mouth drops open, almost offended by this short boy's gaudy words. Jimin's not short! Where is this blabber coming from? He's very tall!

 

He is!

 

But Jungkook looks about ready to fall over in laughter, staring straight at Jimin's incredulous face and putting a hand over his mouth to keep it in. His shoulders shake anyways, the treacherous things betraying. 

 

"Excuse you! I'm very tall, I'll have you know—"

 

"Kwangjo, hurry up! We're supposed to meet up with your Papa!" The tree-boy has jumped down, closer than before and looking antsy to leave. 

 

Jimin feels the boy nodding against his head, his feet kicking out as he asks Jimin to put him down. Jimin obliges, a sulky pout still on his lips at the short comment, but he's not truly angry. He swoops down quickly, giving a sigh of relief as the heavy weight jumps off his back, and the boy sprint off to meet his friend.

 

"Bye bye Mr. Jiminie!"

 

Jungkook and Jimin watch them for a moment, seeing them darting behind the trees and hearing their yells even as their bodies disappear.

 

"Jiminie?"

 

Every bone in his body is stone, hitching in a breath as his world goes cold.

 

It's so interesting, how happy moments can be cut open, like a knife slicing through thick flesh and bleeding icy trickles down your chest. 

 

"What of it?"

 

The word hurts too much, coming from Jungkook. It freezes his body, like dunking his head in bath water in the frozen winter. It's a clarity he neither wants nor needs.

 

"Nothing. Cute nickname."

 

That's all it is, he supposes. It doesn't mean much anymore. Just a cute, dumb nickname. 

 

Yet the words dribbling into his veins, searching for the prize that is his heart and searing him up. 'Cute nickname;' you would know.

 

"Yeah."

 

He can't help it as a smile travels on his face, as his back straightens, and he fixes his hair, as if to impress. He's not allowed to ever look at a man this way, think of a man this way, but it's humorous to believe that his brain's going to listen to him now. His body craves for Jungkook to call other things on him cute.  

 

"That kid is adorable."

 

He pictures Kwangjo's excited face, dark freckles and light brown hair with arms that can never stay still. 

 

Children truly take his heart, their smiles enough to chase away adult's issues into places he can't reach.

 

"Yes. I've matched a member of his family."

 

His brother still lives in Salem. Few ever leave. 

 

"Really? How long did it take you?"

 

"Only a few months."

 

The child's brother was very handsome, which means a great deal here. It wasn't difficult.

 

"How long do you think until I am?"

 

He stalls. Never.

 

In a way, the words shock him. They're so harsh in his mind, not screaming but final. Words so crisp and clear that Jimin worries. It was thought too quickly, too strongly, and his body wants to believe it, does believe it. 

 

"I'm truly not sure. It's different for everyone." He huffs, but more with frustration at himself. "Taehyung's always been better at it than I." He holds no bitterness for Taehyung, only drive for himself to improve. Taehyung's the boss, but Jimin still wants to do his share. Taehyung's swamped with too much responsibility as it is. 

 

Jungkook bumps his arm, making Jimin chuckle, and he carries a playfulness in his tone. "Give yourself slack. I'm sure you are great."

 

He smiles. 

 

And Jimin returns it. 

 

They start walking again, Jimin swaying, a boat in the ocean, the tallest waves of the storm over for now. His worries still play, but they are subdued; their dark music is so hard to hear over the symphony of life in his heart. 

 

Jungkook, you make me this way.  

 

“So what were you like as a child?” Jungkook asks as they pass the edge of the town, past the iron gates and the sign that says "Salem" in thick black letters. They turn, now on the dirt road that leads back to their houses as their feet crunch against the soil.

 

“I was a recluse when I was really little. My mother didn’t want me out of the house, and I’d only sneak off to the orchard every once in a while.”

 

“What about when you got older?”

 

It seems as if the distance between them is getting closer, Jungkook's arm almost brushing against his, but perhaps they were this close at the start?

 

“When I got older, I met someone who changed me." He smiles, and though it's a little sad, he's also enjoying remembering those times. Meeting Jungkook was something he'd experience time and time again if he were allowed. If God asked him his greatest regret, the first would be the death of his mother, perhaps his father too. He'd been too late. But the second would be his time with Jungkook. Not because he regretted those moments, but the lack of respect for them irks him. He'd thought it would be like that forever, and he hadn't cherished them, hadn't cradled them. "I started going out more, playing in the orchard more, making friend’s with the children in the town. He really changed me for the better.”

 

Jungkook really had.

 

“Ah, I can see how he did.”

 

Jimin furrows his eyebrows, his head popping up to look at him, but Jungkook is staring at the trees. Why would Jungkook say something like that?

 

“What do you mean?” What does he know?

 

“Oh, it’s—Taehyung seems very bubbly. If you were like a recluse as you say, I can see how someone like Taehyung could bring you out of it.”

 

Ah, Taehyung. Of course he'd believe that. 

 

He smiles softly, thinking of how loud Jungkook was when he was younger and wondering how much of that fire carried on into adulthood. They were both such happy children, such passion in their eyes, especially Jungkook's. He wishes he could have seen it blossom. It would have been beautiful.

 

"Do you still read books?" The words are out of his mouth before he's regretting them, and Jungkook responds faster than he can take them back. 

 

"Of course. Only the classics."

 

If Jungkook's wondering how Jimin knows of his passion, he doesn't ask.

 

Jimin wrinkles his nose. "The classics are horrible! I cannot believe you would spare a moment of time for them!" He gently elbows Jungkook's side, hearing the deep chuckle coming from deep in the man's chest. 

 

"How dare you! The classics are brilliant!"

 

"Agree to disagree!"

 

"Never!" Those teeth stick out again, his hand reaching out as if to ruffle Jimin's hair. He stops himself, from whatever he had been thinking of doing, but Jimin sees it; he does. "I take it you didn't read much as a child."

 

Jimin shakes his head, listening to the sounds of the forest around them giggling with life.

 

No, that was always you.

 

“Were you a rebellious teenager?”

 

Jungkook's full of questions, but Jimin doesn't mind them. He wonders how long Jungkook has carried them in silence, proud that he's comfortable enough to finally slip them out. 

 

Their feet walk together, their steps matching on the same beat. Jungkook will never see teenage Jimin, and Jimin will never see a teenage Jungkook. They were both out of each other's lives for those years, a period of development that neither will ever see. 

 

“Perhaps.”

 

“Perhaps?”

 

“I moped around for much of my time as a teenager. Once I overcame that...I suppose you could say I became more rebellious.” 

 

He thinks of his times with Jungkook, screaming into the air as they’d run into town, more reckless than his mother would like. He'd been rebellious before Jungkook had left, but perhaps in a different sense. Every day he walks brazenly into town, he is rebellious. Every time he goes to one of the gatherings with Taehyung, he is rebellious. Maybe not in the same way as a child, but in a different, more present one. 

 

Every breath he takes is its own rebellion.

  

“Oh. Was it over a female?”

 

He glances at Jungkook.

 

“Something like that.”

 

They’re quiet, the trees surrounding them as their feet carry them along the dirt road muffling them from world.

 

It’s Jimin who breaks the silence, his curiosity overwhelming every cautionary thought, bypassing every warning like it does best around Jungkook. “Did you court a girl in your time away?”

 

Please say no.

 

“Yes.”

 

He flinches, a pain so deep it might as well be physical. Did Jungkook see it? He hopes not. He kicks a stone along the path, watching the little thing fly to distract his thoughts. The stone darts away from his foot, fleeing in escape, but he always reaches it again. Because a stopped stone can't move again.

 

Until it is shoved, until it is pushed. 

 

“Are you...are you still with her?” His voice hitches up. He coughs to cover himself, his hand darting up as he stares at his own fingers. They're not callused like Taehyung's, not large like Jungkook's. Just small, almost dainty things, as if he didn't spend days in the orchard, as if he wasn't a man at all. 

 

Dangerous things, a man without calluses. 

 

“No.”

 

Jungkook’s voice is strained, eyes white marbles, reflecting light blankly. The kind where you know they are some place far away, reliving memories others will never see, exploring their own story and hating that they face it alone. 

 

“Did it end poorly?”

 

Jimin is rude; he knows. Yet it doesn't stop him. Some curiosities are so forceful, so berating and beating down on him that he must voice them. To not voice them would give up everything he is. He's already allowed himself to sacrifice so much.

 

“Something like that. He didn’t want what I wanted.”

 

He.

 

Jungkook—

 

The world is brighter. He hates to say it, but he will. His heart slams against him, his insides alive with a song that only he can hear. It's blaring in his ears, so loud.

 

It's his every wish, his every desire. 

 

But he's grounded more quickly than his mind can fly off, can run away. He yanks it back, that mind, just liked he'd yanked Taehyung. But this time, he won't let it out of his grasp; it won't escape away, giggling into the air like his friend had.

 

These desires are deadly.

 

It should have always been questions of perhaps, only can speculate, only can wish.

 

But now it's fact. Now he knows. Now it's all to the forefront and lightening his eyes, quickening his walking, swaying his hips. 

 

In a way, he’d wished that he’d been Jungkook’s little flaw, his little mistake as a youth before he'd returned refined, polished and heart with the women. 

 

Turns out they’re both born sinners.

 

“Did he go to your school?” He's almost out of breath with the words, panicked laced in them. Anyone could hear them. These woods aren't thick enough. “Is that how you met him?”

 

Jungkook’s body goes rigid, a solid stone of terrified eyes and beating heart.  

 

“She. ” He coughs. “She. I don’t know why I said ‘he’ in the first place. Forgive me.” He laughs, its tone so unnatural that Jimin flinches under it, hating it. Jungkook still walks, but he's glancing at Jimin. At the trees, at Jimin, at the trees, at Jimin, waiting for something.

 

For a moment, Jimin doesn't know what he's looking for, what he's trying to find.

 

But it isn't long until his mind supplies him the answer: Jungkook's searching for the disgust, the disgust he knows that will crowd Jimin's eyes, that will tear him away as he hisses profanities and screams for the man to never venture near him again. 

 

There's none to find. Jimin's eyes are long perfected to be blank, Jungkook's stare making it harder for this facade, but he will allow nothing to slip past. 

 

Because it isn't disgust that he would show, but a sad, fearful kind of joy.

 

In a way, he's happy. 

 

And in a way, he hates himself for being so. 

 

He'd suspected it, after those long nights, after those longing looks. But he always wondered if his memories had forced those thoughts, put in loving smiles that weren't there.

 

Sure, the boy had kissed him, told him he loved him, but those were words said by youth, minds too young and hearts too easily given up. 

 

And it's a weird feeling to have his thoughts confirmed. 

 

“Ah, ‘she’.”

 

“Yes.”

 

Liar.

 

“So did you meet her at your school?”

 

What does he even do with this information? What should he do?

  

“Yes.”

 

He doesn’t say anything more, and for once, Jimin doesn’t push him. There's silence between them, not necessarily awkward, but something close to it. Something very close.

 

Jungkook likes men...but what does this mean? Nothing can change; nothing will change because Jungkook's swept it under the rug, and Jimin's too scared of being hanged to bring it up.

 

Cowards, the both of them.

 

“What was your boarding school like?” he asks, knowing Jungkook's house is soon, feeling that same urge that always pops up when Jungkook's involved:

 

He doesn't want him to leave. His feet slow on their own accord, desperate to keep Jungkook here for as long as they are able. They're at a snail's pace, and Jimin feels that it's still too fast. 

 

Jungkook’s eyes light up; Jimin has hit a better topic for the both of them.

 

“I enjoyed it so much that I stayed two years extra. I was meant to arrive at eighteen." Six years, it was supposed to be. Six years that passed too slowly and hit too hard. Six years with no reward at the end, for two more had to pass for anything to come, and Jimin had accepted the man was never to return. "There was never anything for me in Salem, besides my family.”

 

They're so close to departing, their feet crunching against the dirt and their hands swaying at their sides. They don't say much, nothing meaningful at least, until they reach the road that splits to his house. 

 

“I wanted adventure. Outside of Salem.”

 

“You were always destined for the mountains.”

 

Jungkook raises his eyebrows at him, Jimin's head lowering, heart thrumming, feet stepping too quickly. 

 

Does Jungkook even like the mountains anymore? Has he gone too far?

 

They stop.

 

Too reminiscent of the past the man no longer has?

 

“Yes,” he says, his tone light and his eyes looking away into the trees. “I guess I was.”

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

"Tae, there's been some thoughts in my head, thoughts that I want you to assure cannot be true."

 

"Go at it; I'm listening."

 

And he pauses. 

 

"Why do I feel like one of our clients with Jungkook? That stunt you pulled—you—Are you attempting to match me with him?"

 

The silence in the room is deafening, a confession in its emptiness. 

 

"You are! You wench of a man! Tae, do not run away from me! Wait till I get my bloody hands on you!"

 

Chapter Text

"I apologize, Jungkook, but we cannot discuss matches today. Taehyung and I are very busy!"

 

There's a bouquet in his hands, flower petals falling onto the ground in a circle around him. He watches them in dismay, murmuring under his breath and setting the whole thing on the table. 

 

"With what?"

 

Jungkook's standing beside him, watching as Jimin crouches down to pick up stray petals. He squats down as well, his large hands scavenging around near Jimin's small hands to pick up the fallen ones. 

 

"A wedding!"

 

"Here you go."

 

"Thank you." 

 

Jimin accepts Jungkook's offering of the pink and red petals, collecting them in the palm of his hand. His eyes are alive with light, almost like a child's during the annual festival. Weddings are one of his favorite things in the world. 

 

"Who is being wedded?"

 

Jimin walks over to the window, picking up the folded cream-colored table cloth as Jungkook follows beside him. 

 

"Hyejin and Jungnam. They are very excited." 

 

Excited might be an overstatement, considering Jimin is probably more excited for the wedding than the both of them combined. Taehyung has been allowing Jimin to take on more clients, and this is the first match he's truly proud of. Love might not be the reason for marriage, but it will come from it, and Jimin believes Hyejin and Jungnam will form that bond. Perhaps not now, but one day. 

 

Jimin beams, swaying his arms in glee as he takes the cloth to the table and drops it beside the bouquet.  

 

"Do you need any help?"

 

Jimin's lips part open, his head turning up to look at Jungkook, pausing from his work for a moment. His immediate response is a no, but his mouth closes shut before he can voice it. He thinks of heavy tables he normally carries with Taehyung, their arms sore the day after, and all the flowers and candles they must set out and light. 

 

"Yes...yes that would be appreciated." Jungkook brightens up, but Jimin immediately follows with a "Only if you have the free time, though. We can do it on our own."

 

But Jungkook shakes his head, picking up the flowers and giving them a sniff as he stares at Jimin. 

 

"I'd love to. I wish to be away from my house, anyways."

 

Jimin can't understand the darker tone in his voice. 

 

"Why?"

 

The man looks down at his shoes, lips twisted, only glancing back up when Jimin places a timid hand on his shoulder.

 

"My Ma...it's just," he sighs. "It's hard to see her like this."

 

Jimin's face falls, his hand steady on Jungkook's shoulder. It's as if it were news of his own mother; he's filled with memories of her. He'd been to late to save her. Even magic can't take every pain away, and that'd been the first time he'd truly learned that his magic has limits, limits that can never be crossed.

 

There is such a time as "too late."

 

He's watching Jungkook, knowing how the man is bracing for death, watching his mother die in front of his eyes and only being able to hand her soup and sing her songs as a farewell.

 

He understands that pain, that frustration at staring at someone and doing nothing.

 

"If you need to talk with me, I'm here."

 

He doesn't withdraw his hand until Jungkook's nodding, and the man's eyes aren't so shiny. There's a silence between them, Jungkook leaning closer, as if he can tilt away from his burdens. He needs a distraction, and Jimin is happy to oblige. 

 

"Minnie—oh." Taehyung's stomping down the stairs, his hand paused on the railing as he looks at them. "Forgive us, Jungkook, but today we have things that must be attended to—"

 

"Yes, Tae. I told him of it." Taehyung finishes down the stairs, looking at the fabric on the table. "He is helping us."

 

Taehyung raises his eyebrows but says nothing more. Jimin doesn't know if he can trust this rogue friend. He's made it obvious that he wants to stir things up, match two people who cannot be matched. Jimin wants to tell Taehyung of Jungkook's preferences for men, but he's worried it will only further fuel Taehyung's flame. 

 

"Well, get your hands ready. We're off to carry tables," Jimin says, determined voice and quick smile. Taehyung's already off to the front, but Jimin must confirm again, listening to the shut of the door. "If that is all right with you?"

 

Jungkook only smiles and follows after. 

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

"I do."

 

Jungkook's eyes catch Jimin's, a grin on the corner of both of their lips. They're standing across from each other at the front of the church, Jimin closest to the groom and Jungkook closest to the bride. Taehyung's beside Jimin, the groomsmen all lined up near them in their stuffy suits.

 

Jimin's in a black suit as well, one that's loose around his shoulders but too tight around his neck. He always takes it to these weddings. It's the same one that his mother bought for him when Taehyung had informed him that he'd need one for their job. It's been worn too many times to count, and he probably needs a new one, but it smells of his mother's perfume, and he hasn't been able to part with the memories. 

 

They always stand at the front of the church during these services, with the bride and groom. It's a sort of thank you for all the hard work they've done. Not all matchmakers go to these lengths, matching the people and then planning the wedding for them and going to each public meeting that is required before the couple can marry. Taehyung does it in the name of romance, but it's honestly only because the matches get squeamish with these things, and it's helpful for everyone involved that the couple has two friendly faces with them.  

 

The church blooms with flowers, mostly Jimin's doing. He'd spent hours with Jungkook, placing them on the floor, at the tables, along the pews and the crosses. Everything is almost perfect, but he hadn't been able to fill the flowers with magic. They're slightly droopy, considering most of them were picked the day before and left out because Taehyung had forgotten plants need water. 

 

Hyejin, the bride, is adorned in white, the symbol of purity draped in her modest dress. The few things that aren't white are the browns of her hair and the natural pink dusting her cheeks. There are tears in her eyes, ones that drip down and gleam in the light. 

 

"If anyone shall object to this marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace."

 

And the world is silent. 

 

"I now pronounce you," and the magistrate drawls it out, voice deep and hands up in the air, "husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."

 

Bells, loud and glorious, ring in Jimin's ears. 

 

When the church exclaims with joy, Jimin's eyes are on Jungkook's, their smiles large and teeth poking out. The men watch each other as the now-husband threads his hands through her hair, kissing her as tears pour thicker down her eyes, and the noise of clapping drowns everything out. They watch each other during the celebration feast, quick glances when the bride throws back her bouquet (the same bouquet with the fallen petals) and a lucky girl catches it with a laugh. 

 

Jimin has a hard time taking his eyes away when Jungkook's face is crinkled with joy, his laughter often, his stomach full, and his shoulders relaxed. There is no music, no dancing at any point, but Jimin can feel it in his soul. 

 

He watches Hyejin, sees Jungnam place a hand on her back, and smiles. 

 

Taehyung walks behind him, a smile on his lips as he sighs and sits beside Jimin. Taehyung's giving him a proud look, clapping him on the back and murmuring praise as the sun beams down on them. The day has gone perfectly, the people in the town getting a well-deserved break from the tension seeping in it.

 

He's finally done something right.

 

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

"Who accused her?"

 

"Her husband."

 

The Killing Bells, those wretched things, drown out the life of every soul and every smile. Jimin has a hand to his mouth in horror, feeling his hot breath burn against his fingers.

 

"He's naming her a witch, saying she tried to curse him on their wedding night." 

 

"Did she?"

 

"Her word against his—"

 

"No,"  he gasps out, can't bear to overhear this conversation any longer. There are tears beading up in his eyes, wrinkles prominent with stress and pain. The two speaking women turn to him, worry in their eyes (for Jimin?) as he steps back.

 

When the bells sounded, he'd known. He'd known.

 

The people huddled in the square aren't even watching as Jimin bolts, shoving past people with heavy breaths. He could be fined for leaving; he could be killed. He pushes past a tall man, acid in his throat and arms uncontrolled, no longer one with his body.

 

There's a hand closed on his wrist in an instant, yanking him back. Jimin swerves in panic, noticing that the grip is too gentle, and the hands are too large, hating them from stopping him from leaving. 

 

"Jungkook, let me go."

 

"I'm sorry, but I can't."

 

There is genuine frustration, pain, locked in Jungkook's voice, but it doesn't make up for anything. Tears are trickling down Jimin's cheeks, and he doesn't want to look at the man, doesn't want to be able to see anything.

 

Taehyung is still in Jimin's house, having slept there after the wedding. Jimin's the one who decided to leave early for town, start the cleaning that's needed after the service, when the bells had screamed overhead, when dread had closed over his feet and kept him frozen. Taehyung isn't here to hold his hand, to hug him afterward. He only has Jungkook, with his hand tight on his wrist and his voice sad.

 

Yesterday was so joyful.

 

Jimin feels like a kid as Jungkook walks with him. It's like being taken by his mother to the back of the crowd. He's a doll being dragged.  

 

There are so many people, so many people to watch this. 

 

He can't watch. He cannot.

 

But Jungkook taps on his shoulder, whispering low under his breath, "They are watching you. Look up now."

 

Jimin picks his head up slowly, eyes darting to where a man in black stands, eyes indeed on Jimin. He glances away, pretending to look in front of him when he's only watching the back of someone's head, feeling how his body is woozy, his head light and vision splotchy.

 

 

His hands have fallen to the floor in the matchmaker's shop, tears streaming down his face—How did he get here? Why are they so suddenly in the shop?

 

Jungkook falls down beside him, knees hitting the floor with a thud beside Jimin. 

 

It's happening all over again. He should be getting better, not worse. Watching the woman's swinging limp body was a blur, feeling Jungkook wiping the tears from his face so that no one could see them was a blur, hearing Hyejin's mother cry out as her daughter's neck snapped was a blur. He remembers hearing the voice of a girl in front, unsure of who exactly it was. 

 

"She didn't perform well in bed. This is her punishment."

 

That was punishment, to accuse her of witchery?! Taking someone's life was punishment, simple as slapping the wrist of a child?! 

 

The woman is dead.

 

And now he's in the shop, not completely sure of when he walked here. Did he walk here?

 

He knows Jungkook's talking to him, but he can't hear the words, the panic in his mind too strong. 

 

There's something else there, brewing. Something he hadn't expected to feel.

 

Anger.

 

He's goddamn angry.

 

Warm arms wrap around him, cradling him against a warm chest as his shoulders shake and his head falls forward. He breathes him in, hands grasping onto his little rabbit, his little bunny. 

 

His body wants to bleed so badly, wants blood in the air, needs it to spill. 

 

Blood on his body, the floor, these arms that hold him. 

 

He's starting to forget why he can't, why there's still that warning in his mind begging him not to. 

 

He's breathing too hard, he knows that. He's pressed against Jungkook's chest, breaths too heavy and eyes pouring. Hands run up and down his back, daring as far as under his shirt and scraping along the skin, trying to soothe him. 

 

Jimin thought that he'd married two people so right for each other, so perfect together. He'd thought he had finally gotten one right. There were tears in her eyes!

 

It's now he knows that they weren't tears of joy, weren't tears of the wedding. 

 

No, they were tears of sorrow, tears of desolation as she'd wedded to a man she couldn't stand, as she'd wedded to a man and forced every muscle to smile. But she couldn't stop the tears. That was the only thing she couldn't fake away. And Jimin hadn't realized, hadn't said anything.

 

He can recall only now seeing how she'd shivered after they'd kissed as the world had cheered, disgusted at his touch. She'd pulled away too quickly for a happy bride, her eyes too low and her smile too faint.

 

Among the celebration, among Jungkook's happy eyes and Taehyung's proud words, he hadn't realized. 

 

He should have.

 

"Hold me, hold me, holdmeholdme."

 

He's saying the words he says to Taehyung when he's stressed, words that aren't meant for anyone else, yet he's still saying them to Jungkook, still needs them.

 

"I am. I already am." 

 

The hands are firmer around him. He's clinging to Jungkook on the floor, in his lap. He's clinging to Jungkook. 

 

There's an old warning in his mind, one that's hard to hear over the pounding of his heart. 

 

Don't get close to this man.

 

How can he listen to the warning over his sobs, when Jungkook's being so patient, so sweet?

 

"I did this. I matched them. I caused this to happen!"

 

He saw the signs, yet he wasn't looking.

 

"No, you did not," Jungkook's saying this in his ear, rocking Jimin side to side like a baby. "This is not your fault. She was a witch—"

 

"No she was not!"

 

"Jimin—"

 

"I know she wasn't; you know she wasn't; the whole damn town knows, Jungkook! Yet we stand there like obedient sheep, watching our kin get slaughtered and saying absolutely nothing because in the end we're all thinking 'at least it wasn't me!'"

 

Jungkook's rigid around him, yet still squeezing him, still not letting go.

 

"But one day, it will be us, Jungkook! W—We'll be standing there, watching our loved ones stare at us from the crowd! Oh Lord what have I—"

 

"Calm, Jiminie." He's using that damn nickname, his words low and stretched out like a stream of water. The impact of it is instantaneous, his body relaxing into that familiar endearment. "Calmmmm, shhhhh, Jiminie. Everything is okay."

 

"If they can murder a woman for not performing well, then everything is now traitorous. It doesn't matter of witchery anymore."

 

His body is soothed against Jungkook's hands, but his words are not. His words are fire, thick and burning.

 

"We are fine, Jiminie. We are safe. Nothin's gonna 'appen to ya."

 

That voice.

 

He's helpless against it.

 

Jungkook seems to slip into his old accent without noticing, out of habit, one hand rubbing Jimin's shoulders as the other runs through the locks of his hair. It's that voice that drains Jimin's panic away, focusing on that drawl, focusing on every beautiful thing that was once associated with it. 

 

It's not long until he's in the forest with young Jungkook, jumping in the fallen Autumn leaves and tossing them into his friend's face, the sun on their backs and deer prancing around them. He can feel the soil under his feet, the "Jiminie"s loud in his ears, the breeze strong in his face.

 

It's not long until he's safe.

 

"She wasn't a witch." It's a murmur of breath from Jungkook, horror in his voice. It's as if Jungkook's just realizing it now, hadn't connected that an innocent woman could ever be tried and killed, hadn't realized that the good ministers don't always do good things. He's staring out the window, past Jimin as if he could see her swinging body all the way from the shop, as if it isn't too late. "You're right. Oh God, she wasn't."

 

Chapter Text

"Mother, I-I'd had this horrid dream that you'd diedddd—" He tries to keep his composure, tries to keep his head high and his voice unwavering, but he sobs out the last words, drawling it out as he cries and leans towards his mother. "I thought I'd lost you." He chokes on the words, face falling forward as he covers his eyes with his hands, his body shuddering.

 

He's crying onto the sheets, clenching his fingers together. 

 

His mother is beside his bed, her black hair long and vivid. She steps closer, feet light on the floorboards. She's in white, so similar to Hyejin's wedding dress, and her skin is bright, healthy.

 

"I'm okay, honey. Don't be silly. I haven't left you."

 

He curls up on himself. The dream was so strong that he's almost convulsing, unable to shake it off. She'd gotten sick in it—he'd watched her farewell smile drift from her face, the light gone, the love gone.

 

He waits for her to put a hand on his back, to soothe him, but she's only watching. 

 

"Mom—" why is he calling her that—"you'll never die, right? You're not going to leave me, right? You left so quickly in the dream." He puts a hand over his mouth, using the other one to rub against his eyes where the tears are trickling down. "I'll miss you."

 

She shakes her head, her face falling as she watches her son's puffy eyes, her own shimmering in the light. 

 

"Honey, everyone dies. You know this."

 

"But you w-won't."

 

He stares at her youthful face. He'd thought she'd died. He sees tears trickling down her cheeks, face becoming redder and splotchy.  

 

"Jimin, do not cry. You're not a child, honey." She blinks, scrunching up her face to contain herself. "You can accept that I will pass."

 

"But you won't." It's a mess, a mumble of words that he can't stop repeating. "You're going to see me have children of my own. You're going to hold them and hug them and love them. You're going to love who I marry, and you're going to be at my wedding." It feels like there's a vice on his throat, his eyes as wide as a baby's, sobs spilling into the air. "You're going to be at my wedding. Please be at my wedding." He's begging his mother, pleading with her to stay alive, for him.

 

She brings up the sleeve of her dress, wiping away her tears. She loves her son too much, he knows; these words pain her to hear.

 

"I hope so."

 

He trembles, the world blurry, unfocused. 

 

"I think I like Jungkook. I think I like men." He stares at the bed sheets, head downcast. He doesn't want to see the hatred in her eyes. "I think—I think I want to marry one. I know you wouldn't like that. I—I know you'll hate me for this. It's okay to hate me."

 

His mouth is lose. For once, his mind isn't screaming at him to keep those words hidden. He just needs to tell someone. He's never truly told someone. He's admitted he doesn't like women, he's admitted he feels something for Jungkook, but this is the first time he's spoken so brazenly of marrying one, of his thoughts being of men, and only men. 

  

"It's okay."

 

His head lifts, and he watches her smile, tucking her hair back behind her ear and looking out the window of his bedroom. Maybe she's looking for the workers. He's dismissed them all. Will she be mad at that?

 

"It is?"

 

Today, he's going to walk with her through the orchard. He'll take a day off of work (Taehyung will understand) and pick apples off the tree with his mother. He'll cook her breakfast.

 

"You know I could never hate you, Jimin."

 

Today, he will give her a huge hug, the tightest he's ever given her.

 

"But I hate myself for it."

 

Oh! He needs a new suit. He'll buy a new suit with her. 

 

She's not comforting him like she normally does, still standing beside the bed, not holding him and not running a hand through his hair. She's distant.

 

"You are not allowed to hate yourself, Jimin. I forbid it." She chuckles at her own words, tilting her head to the side, eyes towards the morning sunlight. "The orchard still looks beautiful. You're doing well."

 

She's trying to bring the topic to lighter things. 

 

But Jimin can't shake it off, can't stop remembering that pain. He thought he'd lost her.

 

"I truly thought you were gone. I thought you'd left me."

 

"We're back to speaking of this?" She sighs, watching how his lip quivers. Her tone softer, stepping closer to the bed, so close to her son. "Honey, do not worry. I'll watch you marry, and I'll be so proud."

 

She takes his hand in hers, smiling, and he wonders why he doesn't feel the warmth.

 

"You promise?"

 

He waits for her response, a tear trickling down his cheek; he's happy. His mother is here, with him. He can picture it. His mother will see him marry. She'll be in the front pews, tears in her eyes and a blooming smile on her face as Jimin kisses his husband. He's always pictured her at the service, hugging him afterwards and pestering them about adopting children, little grandbabies for her to love.

 

She squeezes his hands, their fingers both small, as she looks at her son with pride.

 

"I love you." It's a whisper. 

 

He's not sure which one of them says it.

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

When he wakes up, his heart is cold, snot dripping down his nose and cheeks puffy. Tears have crusted his eyes shut, but he wouldn't want to open them anyways.

 

 

His hands are empty.

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

 

“Do you need any help?”

 

Jimin should have said no; he truly should have. 

 

“Yes.”

 

He's sleep deprived. What can he say? His mother's birthday would have been three days ago, but she's dead, and he's alone.

 

No, not alone. He'd sat with Taehyung, crying into his hands as the man had patted his back and hugged him until his tears had dried up. He doesn't want to sleep. When he dreams, it's of them talking, discussing the things happening in his life as if she's there with him. It's all just her saying what Jimin wants to hear. She's a figment of his mind, a creation for him to get some closure that he doesn't deserve. 

 

He's forgetting what her hands feel like. 

 

He shakes his head. He's had his time to mourn. It's over. He shouldn't be doing this. Why can't he stop himself?

 

He's here now with Jungkook, plucking apples from his orchard, hair sticking to the back of his neck from sweat. His throat is parched, craving water like a starved man but not wanting to complain. The harvest festival is in a week, on Saturday, and Jimin's attempting to throw his mind into it. It's easier to forget about the things that pain him when his hands are busy, his mind overworked. 

 

The hanging of Hyejin was weeks ago. No one has been accused since, the town silent, almost peaceful. He's waiting for the downfall, for someone else to take blame they don't deserve, but for now, everything is normal.  

 

Everything is normal, including how Jungkook treats Jimin. He thought the man would resent him for being so weak that day, for begging Jungkook to hold him as he'd cried, but they haven't mentioned it. If anything, Jungkook is friendlier, smiles more and offers help more. 

 

Jimin doesn't want to be a source of pity, but it's a better response than he could have hoped for. 

 

Jungkook also hangs around the shop more, even when there isn't a planned discussion of matches, and chats with Jimin or even Taehyung when he's free. His presence no longer makes Jimin nervous; it's welcome. He always expects to see Jungkook there, waiting at the front door before the shop opens. They'll walk in together, Jimin learning to bring an apple with him in the mornings to give to Jungkook who'll groan and take it gratefully. That's when they'll talk until Taehyung walks down, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and saying a gruff "Morning" to Jungkook before flipping the "closed" sign to "open" and officially starting the day. 

 

Jimin doesn't know if Jungkook's there because he truly wants to talk with Jimin or if he's there to get away from the stress of his mother dying and being trapped at home. Jimin suspects it's a little of both. He understands it. It's hard to watch the person you love wither away, and he's all for making Jungkook laugh away the stress. 

 

Jimin stands on his tip toes, hand outstretched in desperation to snatch an apple. He forget to bring the ladder from the house and instead uses the branches for leverage, bouncing up and down.  He sighs, cursing himself for forgetting it and cursing his short height—not, that he's short or anything. 

  

“Do you want to get on my shoulders to reach the higher ones?”

 

Jimin tries to not stare at the sweat soaking through Jungkook’s shirt, the fabric clinging to his skin. He lifts his eyes up to the man, thinking it over, imagining his body touching Jungkook’s, his crotch against the back of Jungkook’s head—

 

“No thank you. We really don’t need to get the higher ones. There aren't that many left.”

 

Jimin applauds himself for his self-control, but his lack of self-control was what go him into this mess in the first place.

 

When the sun sets, the day deciding it wants to end in swirling reds and oranges above their heads, Jimin pulls up his basket, telling Jungkook they've finished with a loud sigh and looking back at the orchard.

 

And they have. There are still apples on the trees, the stubborn ones, with some brown ones smashed on the ground, but besides that, they've done all they can. He's finally finished! And it's perfect timing with the festival approaching. 

 

They groan in exhaustion as they walk to the house, sweaty and tired, Jimin telling Jungkook "thank you" over and over as they set the baskets on his table. He's starting to forget what his table looks like when it's not covered with apples. 

 

He makes Jungkook some porridge and bread, the only two foods he has beside apples at the moment, and warms it with the fire, settling beside Jungkook on the couch when he’s finished.

 

“Thank you. I’m starved.”

 

They talk with each other about their weeks, the exhaustion from the day letting them open up. Jimin tells Jungkook how he saw Kwangjo again today, the little boy who'd asked for a piggyback ride, and Jungkook's eyes light up. 

 

It isn't long before they somehow get deeper into the topic of children, and Jungkook's blurting out, "How many kids do you want?"

 

On a normal day, Jimin might stiffen, might back away from this question that seems too weird for their friendship, but he's tired, and he feels accomplished from the day's work. 

 

In other words, in this moment, he doesn't give a damn.

 

"Three. All boys."

 

"Your poor wife."

 

Jimin smacks his shoulder, wiggling into the pillows on the couch as he re-situates his bowl of porridge, the fire hot on his face. 

 

"She'll be very happy, thank you very much." He giggles as he says it, voice alive with light. Jungkook seems to feed off of it, drawing closer and watching Jimin's eyes as if they were diamonds. "And how many do you want?"

 

"Two. One boy. One girl."

 

"And at what age do you wish to be married?"

 

Why are they talking about this again?

 

"One hundred."

 

The fact that Jungkook answers without hesitating, expression dead serious and staring right into Jimin's eyes, makes Jimin fall over in laughter, his almost-finished dinner spilling onto his shirt. He hears the bowl drop to the floor with a clang, a hand covering his mouth as he watches how Jungkook grins at him.

 

"See? Now you've made me spill porridge onto my shirt! Bad boy!"

 

Jungkook laughs, walking to the kitchen without Jimin needing to say anything and getting a damp cloth. He's back in front of Jimin in an instant, the couch sinking with a squeak under his weight. He rubs it over Jimin's shirt, the cold water bleeding through Jimin's top and wetting his chest, making him shiver. Jungkook's eyebrows are pinched, gaze centered and focused on his task over the shirt, and Jimin almost laughs at how serious he's acting. 

 

"I can do it..." Jimin mumbles, cheeks warm, but Jungkook only shakes his head, scrubbing the last of it away and throwing it on the table beside them.

 

"All better."

 

His tone is so sweet, so calm that it makes Jimin tired, the night finally getting to him. He snuggles closer to Jungkook, reminding himself of how Jungkook had wrapped his arms around him when he'd asked and almost wishes to ask it again. 

  

Jungkook starts rubbing a hand along Jimin’s back, the fire in front of them as they sink into the couch, a peaceful night filled with crickets chirping past the walls.

 

Jimin thinks about what Jungkook said earlier. The man had been joking (most likely), but it wouldn't have mattered if his answer had been honest. He'll be matched soon, wedded soon. It's coming. 

 

Jimin looks up in a daze, expecting Jungkook to be watching the fire, watching how the flames crackle in reds and yellows, but the man is looking down at him, seeming to have been doing so for a while now.

 

“Someone’s sleepy,” he whispers, his voice low and hot against Jimin's lips.

 

“Mmmm,” Jimin murmurs, pressing his head against Jungkook’s chest, the fire nice and warm against his face.

 

“Jimin?”

 

His voice is breathy and low, deeper than usual, the kind that makes Jimin’s heart flutter as he looks up. Jungkook’s hand runs along his chin as he presses closer.

 

“Can I…?”

 

Jimin’s heart doesn’t know what to do. It cries out that they shouldn’t be doing the, cries out that Jimin is supposed to match Jungkook with a woman, but he's nodding; he's nodding and praying that Jungkook does it before either one can change their mind.

 

His soft lips press onto Jimin’s, first gently, his hand running through the tangles in Jimin's black hair, his chest pressing against the other. Jimin groans into his mouth, a hand trailing his back as he grips the fabric. His noises seem to spur Jungkook on, echoing in the empty house as they move faster, become desperate against each other. He squirms, the heat of their bodies making him want more, whining into the boy's mouth with a smile.

 

Jungkook pushes down on him, Jimin’s back falling into the cushions as Jungkook lowers over him, his elbows steadying himself above Jimin. He runs his hands down Jimin’s chest, exhaling a warm breath in surprise as Jimin gasps. The cold touch of his fingertips makes Jimin wriggle against them, his reddened lips parted open, his body burning with heat. Jungkook's lips mold into his, biting his plumper lower lip until Jimin wriggles and moans. He's murmuring something as he presses against Jimin, words Jimin can't understand as Jungkook’s hot breath mixes with his.

 

This is freedom. This is what freedom feels like. The freedom to kiss who he wants, to moan into his mouth and press against his body.

 

There's a fire in Jimin’s stomach melting him as Jungkook's eyes trail over his swollen lips, a thumb stroking against his cheek.

 

“Why are you so damn beautiful?”

 

Jimin whines at the praise, his hands underneath Jungkook’s shirt as he runs hands along his sides, down his back. Jungkook groans, the sound deep in his throat as his lips trail down Jimin’s neck, sucking on his skin to hear his pretty sounds.

 

“So tempting...”

 

‘Witches are temptresses; rotting in the sewers would be the kindest fate for them.’

 

Jimin isn't breathing.

 

That's what he'd said, isn't it? That's what this man had said—Jungkook—who's now kissing him. 

   

Jungkook looks up, immediately feeling the way he’s stiffened like the dead and widening his eyes as he sees Jimin’s pale face, drained of all pinky color, blank eyes staring up to the ceiling as if he isn’t seeing the world.

 

"Jimin?"

 

His head lulls to the side. He can feel his heartbeat in his throat, pounding badump, badump, badump.

 

Jungkook's hands are running over his forehead, his body no longer pressing against Jimin's, the heat leaving just as quickly as it'd appeared.

 

“Jimin—what’s wrong? You have to tell me what’s wrong so I can help!”

 

‘Jiminie, what’s ‘appenin’? You gotta tell me what’s ‘appenin’ so I can ‘elp.’

 

The memory makes Jimin’s head sink deeper into the couch, drained as he remembers the day he presented as a witch, remembers how Jungkook had approached him, care in his eyes as he tried to understand what was happening, why Jimin was screaming.

 

“Please leave.”

 

Jimin’s voice is a mouse’s whisper, his eyes vacant.

 

He’s fallen in love with a witch hunter. He let him kiss him.

 

“I cannot just leave you like this!”

 

“Please leave,” he repeats, still silent, still blank.

 

The enemy is staring him in the eyes.

 

But Jimin has never been able to see Jungkook as the enemy.

 

That's his fault.

 

He feels Jungkook picking him up with a huff before he can protest, carrying him like a bride. He feels the beating of his heart as he walks him up the stairs, peering into each room until Jimin finally tells him which door to go through, voice shaky and eyes unfocused.

 

“I’m sorry, Jimin. I don’t know what I’ve done, but I’m sorry.”

 

He gently places him on the bed, running a hand through Jimin's hair and kneeling beside the mattress.

 

“You’ve done nothing wrong, Jungkookie,” he whispers, not noticing the slip from his lips. “I’m the one who turned you into this.”

 

I’m the one who took you away from me; I’m the reason you don’t love me anymore.

 

“Jimin, you didn’t turn me into anything. I’ve always had...certain inclinations… You can’t—you can’t blame yourself for what we did.”

 

He wants to sleep. He's so tired. 

 

Witch hunter.

 

It has to be like that. Why does Jimin have to like what isn't good for him?

 

He closes his eyes, letting his mind slip away as he whispers, “That’s not what I meant...”

 

When he dreams, he dreams of the mountains, yelling out “I love you” s into the air as Jungkook appears behind him, holding his hands and kissing his lips.

 

In his dream, Jungkook had never forgotten how much he loves Jimin’s smiles, his hugs and his tender touches. Jungkook cradles him as they look over the world, the clouds drifting in the sky as the emerald greens of the mountain side take their breath away.

 

Jimin prays that he never wake up. 

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

“I've found you a match.”

 

They’re outside on a small round wooden table, Jimin sitting across from Jungkook.

 

They haven’t made true eye contact in two days.

 

“Oh?”

 

Jungkook sounds disappointed, and Jimin hates it, hates how he’s been struggling to give up Jungkook for eight years now, and now his progress is in the trash. Jungkook doesn’t deserve to want something more, doesn’t deserve to sound disappointed.

 

Jungkook only believes they've kissed once; he's lucky. 

  

It’s Jimin, who has to have the sickeningly sweet memories of how soft his Jungkookie's little hands were and how gentle his lips were under the apple tree. It’s Jimin who has to carry the burden of the beautiful boy with the cutest bunny teeth and the happiest smile.

 

No, Jungkook doesn’t deserve to feel disappointed.

 

“Her name is Daeun.” His voice comes out harsher than intended, his frustration boiling into his words. “I think you’ll find that she matches your list, and she’s excited to meet you.”

 

“I don’t see how she could match your list. I desire a male.”

 

Jimin’s eyes about pop out of his head, his body shooting up as he wraps his hand over Jungkook’s mouth, eyes sharped to slits as he swerves his head around the streets.

 

“Please do not say things like that!

 

He hisses out the words, frustration and panic coated in it. There are people walking about, across from them as they go into the shops and chatter with neighbors. How could Jungkook say something as deadly as that? Is he mad?!

 

Jimin knows that look in Jungkook’s eyes as he feels Jungkook's lips part open under his fingers. He’s about to stick his tongue against Jimin's palm to get his hand to move, just like he did when they were children, and Jimin yanks away before those memories can flood into him.

 

“Why? Why does it matter if I get hanged? Why would you even care?”

 

Because I love you, you fool—

 

“Shut up!”

 

He’d meant to say it in his mind, but his frustration boiled up, hands clenched beside him and bangs flying in his face.

 

Jungkook raises his eyebrows so far that they practically rise into his hair.

 

“What did you—”

 

"Shut up."  He means it now, eyes staring directly at Jungkook. "I do not know what it is like in the city, but in Salem, you cannot do this."

  

He can feel his magic building up, thrumming under his fingertips. He hasn't been using it enough. He knows this. 

 

'Never let the magic build up in your veins. Because when it builds up, it bursts.'

 

I know, mother.

 

He grits his teeth, taking in deep breaths as he tries to calm himself. He knew that if he were to spill any blood, he’d give in; the magic would consume him. He can’t let that happen. He can’t bleed red.

 

Jungkook's frowning, eyes the saddest little things Jimin's seen, but he has to keep Jungkook in line. What happened with them will only happen once. They had a night of freedom fit for a lifetime.

 

No more.

 

“I've..." And he lowers his head. In a breath, his frustration is gone, replaced with emptiness, cold and ever present. He was never mad at Jungkook, even with his foolish words. He's mad at Salem, and everything it's done to him. He's mad that Salem's ruining Jungkook; he's always known it would. "I've arranged a meeting with the two of you.”

 

And he hates the look that Jungkook gives him, betrayed.

 

This is his job. He has no right.

 

“What?”

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

“Hello, Ma'am.”

 

This is the most awkward courting he's ever arranged. It's as if Jungkook has never met a female. 

 

It's a day later. The clouds are thicker in the sky, promise of rain in the horizon. Jimin prays that it doesn't pour; the festival's approaching quickly.

 

Jungkook had met him in front of the shop this morning. This time, Jimin hadn't brought an apple, staring at the man with a frown. He almost hadn't let him inside, turning his chest away from where Jungkook was standing and ignoring his words. 

 

But the man held out his hand, holding a bundle of yellow flowers out in front of him and giving Jimin those puppy eyes, the ones where his pupils are blown wide and his lip is trembling, murmuring apologizes for his behavior the day before.

 

And Jimin had accepted, too weak for Jungkook and those brown eyes, taking the flowers from his hands and immediately noticing that they were the same pretty weeds that litter Salem. 

 

"You gave me weeds?!"

 

"Huh?"

 

Jungkook had immediately waved his hands in front of his face in desperation, face red and scared as Jimin's shoulders had started shaking. Until he'd realized Jimin was laughing at him. 

 

"Thank you, Jungkookie."

 

That's the second time that endearment has slipped, and it's the second time Jimin hasn't noticed, smelling the weeds with a grin and unlocking the door, allowing Jungkook inside for his attempt at apologizing. 

 

Now, they're at Daeun's house, outside in the grass where the sun peeks out from time to time. Daeun's father watches them from a tree stump. He has an ax in his hand, chopping logs and staring at Jungkook when he slams the pieces apart.

  

Jimin would be laughing if he weren't trying to remain professional, watching how Jungkook's eyes widen every time the man lifts the weapon up and gulps every time he glances at Jungkook and gravity slams it down. 

 

This could be you. Watch it.

 

Jimin coughs into his hand, covering his smile with his sleeve and trying with all of his might to stop the giggles. It all started with an awkward handshake, with Jungkook removing his hand way too quickly and blushing as he apologized for his sweaty palms. Jimin had almost had to excuse himself to go laugh in the woods. It's one thing to have sweaty hands, but Jungkook should know it's best not to bring attention to it. 

 

"Jungkook enjoys the city. You've mentioned to me before that you'd like to travel there."

 

Jimin's only the moderator, throwing in things when needed and trying to keep the conversation from becoming too stilted. 

 

"Ah, yes! The city excites me!" She clasps her hands in front of her, her thick lips pouted out. 

 

They continue on like that, Jimin having to help too much. He's used to it. Few people are ever able to perfectly fit on the first meeting, and awkwardness naturally comes from it. It's only if this were to continue to the fourth or fifth meeting that Jimin would have to worry, but for now, they are fine.

 

Slam.

 

Gulp.

 

Jimin's giggling.

 

When it ends, Jimin finally saying that it is enough for today, Jimin walks with Jungkook home. Jungkook is still uncomfortable from the meeting, but Jimin swings his arms freely, a lightness in his chest as they walk along the trees. 

 

"I cannot believe you did it again! One poor handshake just wasn't enough for you!" He giggles into the air, thinking of how Jungkook had, in his farewell, held on for too long this time, once again mentioning his sweaty hands and apologizing. He watches Jungkook's face turn red, his ears the color of the apples Jimin picks and a tongue in his cheek.

 

"I didn't know what to say! I couldn't just not apologize! That would be rude!"

 

Jimin claps him on the back, their homes getting closer as he leans into him. 

 

"But you're drawing attention to it! Unneeded attention!"

 

Jungkook shakes his head, hands out in front of him as if he doesn't know what to do with them. He stares at his fingers, wide eyes and focused expression as Jimin watches. 

 

"Why have you failed me, sweaty things?"

 

He's talking to his hands, and that's when Jimin loses it, his head falling into the nearest body (Jungkook), and his laughter even louder than the call of the birds surrounding them. 

 

It takes several moments for Jimin to pick himself back up, Jungkook's hands supporting his back as he stares into the man's eyes. Jungkook's grinning, pushing Jimin's hair out of his eyes and laughing with him. 

  

He loves that smile. 

 

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

"Tae. I have something to say. I need you to hear it. But you cannot say anything after it." His hands quiver, thoughts on his mind so strong, so persistent. He needs them out. 

 

His friend pats his back. He must hear the worry in Jimin's voice because he shuffles closer, smile calm and soft and legs splayed wide.

 

"Say whatever you may need."

 

And Jimin breathes in.

 

"Okay." He's trembling, only slightly, biting his lower lip, just shallowly enough not to draw blood. "I—I, Park Jimin," he sighs, watching Taehyung curiously peeking at his face, "kissed you, K—Kim" Fuck. His voice is shaking. He feels Taehyung hugging him, the man's body enveloping him with a smile huge on his face. Jimin's remembering when Taehyung said his own version of these words, moments before Jungkook had walked into the shop for the first time. "—kissed you, Kim Taehyung." He stares at the ceiling. "A fellow man." Jimin can't exactly remember the words Taehyung had said that day, so he ad libs, needing to get these last sentences out. "And I didn't mind it. And I think I like m—men." He gasps out the last words, said completely on impulse. "I think I love Jungkook." 

 

The shop is silent, a pulse under the skin.

 

"Minnie," Taehyung's saying, squeezing his body tighter against him, warm and voice beaming. "I'm so proud of you—so damn proud of you."

 

Jimin's said it. Not to a dream of his mother, not in his hidden thoughts, out loud.

 

It's in the open, fresh in the air. Jungkook, the man who's been making him smile since he was nine. Jungkook who kissed him twice, who's always so sweet on him and helps him and holds him and goes on walks where they talk and lifts his heart and—

 

Love would seem too fast if Jimin hadn't always felt this way, always felt that Jungkook was the only one he's ever wanted to hold and kiss and laugh with for the rest of his life.

 

Is love giving up someone you care so much for, crying so much, just to see them be happy? Is love wanting the best for someone, even if their "best" doesn't include you in it?

 

There's some barrier that's broken, shatters in Jimin's body and leaves him bare, defenseless to the world, to himself.

 

He's terrified.

 

Fucking terrified.

 

But he's also so fucking proud.