Jimin’s mother called him a Ward of the Sea. There was always a hidden ounce of contempt on her tongue when the words were spoken, because she knew they could be poison in the wrong hands. If there was a way to mask what he was, Jimin was sure his mother would have never acknowledged the curse at all.
The outside world was dangerous. What was once a blessing from the Moon became a dangerous burden. Bad people were coming for him, she would say, and if he wasn’t prepared, there would be no fighting it.
Jimin called himself cursed for a long time, unaware that there could be any other name for it. Across the waters, however, and over expanses of beach and forest, he heard the legends under countless other titles.
Amidst the pirates, he was a Sea Witch, twisted and powerful, yet expendable. In the woods in the north, past the horizon, he heard murmurs of “Moonchildren” and “Silver Omegas.” In the port cities, there were too many names to remember: Storm Omen, Ocean’s Wrath, Wave-Bringer, The Marked, Blue Eyes, and No Lungs.
Jimin collected many in his mental journal, soaking up the perceptions that accompanied the whispers and rumors. Maybe he’d hear that same contempt if the people uttering those words knew what Jimin was, saw past his temporary disguises and hunched shoulders. Jimin also supposed that they were more likely to retaliate with fear. Although he was worth a fortune in the human trade, Jimin held more confidence in the stories he had created—those the sailors eagerly spread.
The sea was not hesitant to kill.
Although Jimin had known storms and rage for many months now, the waters beneath him were finally calm. He sat in a small boat, sail flat and displaying colors of no land or alliance. He was about a kilometer from shore, he estimated, the sun rising at his back and setting the gentle waves aglow with a fiery orange. He clutched the wooden edge as the boat rocked with the tide, staring out at the sandy shore beyond. Past that was green, a few smokestacks on the opposite horizon.
Jimin’s heart crawled its way up his throat, rendering him idle when he should be advancing towards the shore. He counted the months he had been gone on his fingers, catching his breath when he just barely passed two years. Two springs ago; by the Goddess, had it really been that long?
He should be excited to return home and reunite with his clan, yet the omega was weighted down by the memories of his departure. A grand ship, an angry tide, swords and screaming and fire. Jimin bit his lip, knuckles whitening.
Perhaps the hardest part for him to face would be the clan members. There was no way they wouldn’t look at him differently. Despite their opinions, Jimin wondered if he could face them in the first place. There was a chance they would resent his return, and even fear the consequences of having a cursed omega among their ranks again.
The one person who kept Jimin from turning his boat right back around, abandoning his long journey to find his home, was his mother. If anyone would accept him with open arms was her, and as the Clan Head, her word would be law.
Jimin shut his eyes and inhaled, yellow light against his eyelids as he felt the water move and sway beneath him. He surrendered to the darkness that replaced his sight, imagining himself sinking into the depths below until the salty water was simply part of his veins.
It pulsed like a growing tide. Jimin pushed it forward, from his blood to the sea swelling into the cove. The boat pushed forward. More, Jimin imagined, his own will thrusting him forward on a rising wave.
He opened his eyes once he had lost himself, feeling the sea in his organs, feeling as if he was floating toward the shore. He picked up momentum, tiny waves lapping against the helm, orange surface parting beneath him.
When Jimin reached the shallows, he knocked back into himself like oxygen from two lungs. Spots danced in his vision as the sea ebbed away, until merely blood filled his arteries and Jimin was human once more.
Jimin climbed out of the boat, foam at his calves as he began to drag the vessel onto the sand. At the shore, he stopped, low tide lapping at his boots.
There was a murmur carried with the wind, offering him evidence of life. They were still here, still waiting for him.
The last time Jimin had been on this beach, he was nineteen, no struggle exhibited as he was practically dragged, rope around his wrists rubbing his skin raw, feet bare on the coarse sand. He had tried to crane his head around to get one more glance at the clan that had raised him, cries and hurried whispers hitting his ears, the distressed sounds barely registering against the commanding shouts of the pirates escorting Jimin to their large and imposing ship.
Before the threat had arrived at their cove, lanterns setting the night sky ablaze, Jimin had only been steeped in stories and warnings. Even that same day had been spent like most others—training with his mother in the early morning, then filled with idle, isolated work for the remainder of his hours while the Clan Head went about her duties.
Jimin’s breath was knocked clean out of him as he fell to the dirt. Silvery blonde hair fell into his eyes, and he gasped before blowing the long strands away. His bo staff had been knocked to the ground, too, his palms red and stinging.
Park Hayoon stood before him with squared shoulders, the black ink of her identical tattoos stark against the circumference of both biceps—a repeating pattern of waves. Her right foot was angled before the left in a defensive stance and the end of her own bo was pointed at Jimin. Her eyes narrowed as she watched him sit and breathe.
Get up, Jimin. No one’s going to allow you time to recover from impact,” Hayoon stated, withholding a sigh as her son struggled to heave himself back up.
Jimin wasn’t a bad fighter by any means—his mother had made sure of that. But when his muscles constantly ached and the calluses on his hands were worsening by the day, he found his stamina depleting. Matters were all the worse when his only opponent was the Clan Head, renowned for her strength and speed.
Jimin grabbed his bo and gritted his teeth, steadying the wooden staff in his grip before lurching forward to take a swing. His bo collided with Hayoon’s amidst her swift block, a loud clatter resounding in the empty atmosphere of the field just beyond their home.
Jimin grunted in frustration and side-stepped, feinting to make a lower hit. Hayoon was always too many steps ahead of him, shoving him back when their staffs hit, and taking the opportunity to swing at Jimin in his forced retreat.
The omega stumbled, yet managed to duck. If that attack had made impact, he was sure he’d be sporting a massive purple bruise for a week.
There were times while growing up that Jimin had wished he had a more normal relationship with his mother, one that didn’t involve daily spars and lectures on safety. He wished their bonding time could be spent out on the water, fishing or even just swimming during high tide.
He heard about other omegas who would knit in front of the fireplace with their parents in the evenings, sharing gossip about their peers. By the Goddess, Jimin wished his mother was home at all. She was constantly flitting between parts of their village, checking up with the healers, farmers, fishers, elders, and every other department. Meanwhile, Jimin was left with housework and books—any books he could get his hands on.
If his mother wouldn’t allow him to leave the village, he would see the wonders of the world through the eyes and words of others.
Of course, Jimin’s life could never be normal. If it weren’t for Taehyung’s produce deliveries to the Park house, Jimin didn’t think he’d have any friends. His social life was a bust otherwise, and he could forget about romance altogether.
The world seemed to mock him on the romance front. Just as Jimin was building some strength back up and landing a couple minor blows to Hayoon, there were a couple people crossing his peripheral.
Jimin made a quick glance before returning to his spar. His eyes widened, and he looked again when he realized who was passing by. Jeon Jungkook and his younger brother were carrying baskets of fish up from the docks, where their father must have handed his catches over to them.
In this late spring, Jungkook was shirtless, the muscles of his biceps defined from the strain, his back taut and strong, as well. Although barely a second had passed, Jimin was scared he had started drooling, vision flickering down and across the alpha’s toned abdomen.
“Shit,” Jimin gasped as his legs were swept out from under him. He collapsed to the ground in a heap of embarrassment and shame, Hayoon shaking her head as she leaned back on her heels.
The thud of Jimin’s weight had caught the Jeons’ attention, and Jungkook quickly looked at Jimin with growing shock. For a moment, it seemed like he wanted to rush over and help Jimin up while the omega nursed his throbbing elbow. But one glance at Hayoon stopped any consideration of that short. The whole clan knew the Park routine, and to never interfere.
Jungkook swallowed, sympathy in his gaze as he watched Jimin.
Jimin wrapped his arms around himself and averted his line of sight. Why did he have to make such a damn fool of himself?
Once the Jeons had quietly and hurriedly left, Hayoon offered a hand down to help Jimin up, her son begrudgingly accepting it after a span of seconds. On his feet, Jimin turned away, face heated and teeth biting into his cheek.
“Jimin,” she said, softer than before.
“I don’t wanna talk about it,” he mumbled, trying to walk away.
She grabbed his elbow. “You know that boy’s no good—”
“He’s just fine,” Jimin hissed, swerving on his heel to glare at the alpha. “I know you don’t want me to ever fall in love and mate and have a family like normal people do. And that’s… whatever. But don’t lecture me about having a stupid crush.”
Hayoon took a deep breath, ever the level-headed leader. “I’m not trying to make your life miserable. You just need to know that people in this world will use you—”
“I know,” Jimin snapped. Again, “I know. So stop—stop staying it.”
He wrenched his arm away and scurried back to the house, bitter that at times like these, he didn’t have another set of arms to run to, no comforting scent and embrace of an omega parent, no understanding hums while Jimin cried.
He locked himself in the bathroom to slowly wash up, staring at the wood slats of the floor for the majority of the time, withholding tears.
His mother knocked once, but at Jimin’s lack of reply, she gave up and left. She would surely return home with a small gift for Jimin that night, if only to ease her own guilt.
Jimin simmered in his silence, poking and prodding at the fading bruises that littered his body. His fingertips skimmed over the raised skin of many scars, from his shoulders down to his heels, wondering all the while what alpha would want him, anyway.
The boats bobbed at the docks farther down the beach, tied to posts and left idle. The storm the night prior had kept the fishermen at home this morning, cautious of angry tides. Their absence left the golden expanse of sand eerily still and empty. Jimin’s heart was in his throat, but he felt the need to move forward, toward the grassy incline that would lead him to the village nestled on the cliff above.
He climbed the path of packed dirt, clothed legs grazed by dewy grass. The chatter swelled, and Jimin reached high enough to see the scattering of buildings, windowpanes glinting gold back at him.
Jimin felt bare walking into the village, no bags slung across his shoulder—no belongings at all. He hadn’t collected trinkets in his time away, sticking to bare necessities. He had abandoned the rest of his clothes along the way, trading his thick winter coats for food money, and discarding just about everything else when he left inns. Any funds he had built up were funneled into his travels, the last of his money spent on the little boat washed partially ashore.
He had a breezy cotton shirt and his well-worn leather pants—sailors’ attire he had picked up over the years. He was a stark contrast to the dyed fabrics and carefully sewn garments of the few clan members milling about in this early morning.
Many omegas tied ribbons into their long hair and wore shells or pretty stones on themselves as accessories, hung from their ears or necks, or jangling around their wrists. Jimin paused in his slow stride, watching a young omega girl hauling a bucket of water toward a hut, a glint of gold around her neck and dark stones hanging heavy around her ankle. He felt plain, less omega, although Jimin hadn’t felt particularly pretty or delicate in a long while.
Jimin rolled his sleeves past his elbows and brushed back his short hair, movements hurried and nervous. How was he supposed to go about this without causing too much of a stir? Should he simply waltz straight to his mother’s hut and knock, or should he search for a familiar face amongst the people already awake and wandering? For a moment, Jimin questioned how many of his clan members would even recognize him at this point.
He walked forward, glancing around warily, shoulders unconsciously hunching in. He didn’t want to accidentally be construed as a threat. Jimin only made it a few strides before he heard a commotion to his left, the shuffling of feet and the creaking of old, rusted hinges.
“I know, Pops,” a deep voice sighed, a tall man stepping out of his hut with a basket of herbs on his hip. “I gotta go, be back in the hour—yeah, yeah,” he grumbled, slamming the door to cut off the other end of the conversation.
Jimin was frozen idle, trying to process that voice.
The man turned around, sharp gaze wandering until it landed on Jimin. His lips parted first, then his brows shot up, and his grip finally loosened. Taehyung dropped his basket, the herbs scattering across his front porch. Color drained from his complexion—he had truly witnessed a spirit rise from the grave.
“Jimin?” He whispered, voice hoarse. “Is it really—it can’t be you, right?”
Jimin’s lungs heaved with his intake, his palms sweaty as he clenched them into fists. He nodded once, heart thumping, brain abuzz. Perhaps Jimin hadn’t been ready for this, after all.
Taehyung hopped off the porch in the next instance, dashing toward Jimin before the latter could react. He collided with Jimin in a crushing hug, every ounce of breath knocked out of the elder.
After a beat of hesitation, Jimin returned the embrace, patting Taehyung’s back.
“We thought you were dead. By the Goddess,” Taehyung gasped, pulling away to look Jimin over. “Your hair! You look—wow—completely different.” He brushed his fingers through Jimin’s short, black fringe, out of place compared to Taehyung’s natural hair, the length down to his shoulders, ends curled out. “You dyed it?”
“Mm,” Jimin mumbled, “For safety reasons.”
“Of course,” Taehyung said, muttering to himself. He licked his lips, a hitch in his previously open expression. A tiny furrow creased his brows. “You…” He stopped; he was staring at the lower half of Jimin’s face.
Jimin grew suddenly self-conscious, fighting the urge to duck his head and hide. He knew the scar was stark and eye-catching. There was a gash starting a couple inches above his top lip, raised and pink skin stretching down to nearly his chin. It was gnarly and hard to digest; it kept most alphas from admiring Jimin too long, entirely turned off by the suggestion behind the scar.
Taehyung shook his head and put on a smile. “You look good,” he said with forced pleasantness. “Sun-kissed and pretty as ever.”
“Thank you,” Jimin murmured, brushing off the evident lie. He glanced over Taehyung’s shoulder, the latter still clinging tight to Jimin. “How’s Mother been?”
Before Jimin could note Taehyung’s reaction, he caught onto the ruckus he had caused just beyond them. A small crowd had gathered a little way off, mutters exchanged as people shot wary looks Jimin’s way. Then, pushing through the small crowd, an alpha emerged, a man of sturdy build and eyes almost comically wide in question.
“What’s this about a foreigner?” He grumbled, voice rough with sleep, hair ruffled, curled, and messy, long enough to almost reach his chin.
An omega pointed at Jimin, and Taehyung slowly released him, taking up a defensive position.
“Jungkook,” Taehyung breathed. “It’s Jimin, he’s home.”
Whispers spread through the crowd like ripples, Jungkook’s response delayed.
“Park Jimin?” The alpha muttered, stumbling forward to reach them. “When—how? Oh my Goddess, you’re alive.”
The flicker of hope that had arisen in Jimin’s chest at the sight of the familiar man quickly died as Jimin fully took in his appearance. He was clearly more matured, frame filled out and muscles defined, another inch or two added to his height. His jaw was strong—well, everything was strong compared to the doe-eyed boy Jimin had known Jungkook to be growing up. But standing out amidst everything else was the black ink on Jungkook’s biceps, circling around both arms in their clan’s traditional, symbolic waves. It was the mark of the Clan Head.
Jimin instinctively reached for his knife hilted at his hip, a knot of betrayal coiling hot in his gut. He pulled his blade free, the metal catching the morning light, and the occupants of the clearing went rigid.
Jungkook’s hands shot up in surrender, and he halted firm in his path.
A growl rose in Jimin’s chest. “Why are you wearing those marks?” He snapped, gesturing toward Jungkook’s tattoos. “What have you done with Head Park?”
“Jimin,” Taehyung anxiously coaxed from his side. “We didn’t do anything with her. She—she passed away, over a year ago. She appointed Jungkook as the next head.”
Jimin shook his head. No, his mother wouldn’t abandon him like that. She had raised Jimin to be as strong as her, so she would hold out hope for his return. She would stay strong, and she would wait for him. “Don’t lie to me,” he hissed, glare still settled unflinchingly on Jungkook. “Did you betray her, overthrow her?”
“Jimin,” Jungkook attempted to quell now, lowering his posture in submission. “We loved and respected your mother, and you know we would never do that. She was a great Clan Head. She just… was absorbed in grief. She wasn’t the same after you left, and the grief took her after half a year.”
“Mother’s not weak,” Jimin whispered. “That can’t be true.”
“I’m sorry,” Jungkook insisted. “Really.”
The rage inside Jimin festered, stoked by his denial. No, he did not escape his captors, bid his time until the right circumstances arose, and find his way home just to arrive to… this. Lies, lies, lies. His mother was not dead.
Jimin tightened his grip around the knife’s hilt and lurched forward, a shriek sounding steps off, and Jungkook muttering a panicked “shit.”
Before Jimin could get close enough to attack, however, a broad set of shoulders blocked his view, startling Jimin to a stop. He blinked up at the new alpha, belatedly recognizing Seokjin as the elder frowned down at him.
“You can’t hurt a healer; international law,” he stated matter-of-factly. He waited until Jimin’s ragged breathing had eased somewhat before exhaling a sigh. “Lower the weapon, Jimin. You’re in shock and acting out in turn.”
Jimin clenched his jaw, face morphing into a sneer as he shot a look at Jungkook over Seokjin’s shoulder. At Seokjin’s refusal to budge, however, Jimin was urged to slowly lower his knife.
“Good,” Seokjin exhaled, exasperated. “Now, is this a real conflict we can settle with words, or do you need space?”
Jimin stumbled back a step; he’d forgotten Seokjin’s tendency to talk down to others. The fact that Jimin couldn’t muster a response made matters worse.
“I think he needs to settle in,” Taehyung spoke up, rushing forward to grab Jimin’s shoulders, possibly holding him back from another outburst. “No one’s injured—we’re all just a bit spooked. Maybe we should call it a morning and reconvene later, huh? When we’ve taken a breather?”
“Is he stable enough to be wandering around our village?” Seokjin spoke over him, addressing Taehyung. His gaze flickered down, noting Jimin’s slight offense. “It’s been years, and this is how you make your grand return. Excuse my distrust.”
“I’ll be with him,” Taehyung assured, already steering Jimin away from the scene. “I’ll bring him home first. I’m sure you’ve been missing your childhood house, right?” He prompted.
Jimin kept cold and steady eye contact with Seokjin as he nodded along.
The crowd around them split in half to make a path toward the back side of the village, scared to get in Jimin’s way. Jimin tried to look over his shoulder at Jungkook, get a last glimpse of him before he was practically dragged off. He stared at those damned tattoos as he stumbled in front of Taehyung, heart falling heavy in Jimin’s gut.
When Jimin met Jungkook’s eyes, they weren’t filled with resentment or anger or even a hint of fear—merely sympathy.
Taehyung wrenched Jimin forward and looped their arms, setting a faster pace toward the familiar hut nestled on the cliffside, surrounded by long, swaying grass and the sun’s perpetual blanket of warmth.
That hint of hesitation burst inside of Jimin once again when they neared the home, but Taehyung seemed unaware of the former’s reaction. He almost appeared excited in Jimin’s stead, happy to have someone occupy the ghostly reminder of the entire family line that had passed.
“We thought you were dead,” Taehyung had said.
Had everyone mourned him as such?
The shuttered windows, stiff door hinges, and untouched belongings answered that question for Jimin. Stepping inside brought upon them a stark drop in temperature. The area was dark, yet even under the minimal lighting, Jimin could see the layers of dust throughout. The wooden floors were dusty, too, no residual footsteps to indicate the occasional visitor.
“Everyone… left this place alone,” Jimin murmured.
Usually, when a home was abandoned by death, it was repurposed for a new family. There was something eerie about this untouched atmosphere. It was a shrine, yet none came to grieve and remember.
For a moment, Jimin wondered who had found his mother dead—where she had been, how cold she’d become, if someone, anyone was by her side.
Taehyung stopped in the entryway, leaving Jimin to wander in the first few steps. When Jimin turned around in question, Taehyung’s responding smile was weak. “Sorry, it just feels wrong to go in there.”
Jimin supposed he understood.
He surveyed the area, the darkest shadows melding into tiny streaks of gray light. From what he could see of the kitchen, it was spotless. The family room didn’t have a blanket out of place, nor a log by the fireplace left unstacked. Hayoon was immaculate, but even this felt staged, like someone else had come in after her to lay the home to rest.
“Was she alone when she passed?” Jimin whispered, mere breath disturbing the dust motes.
“No,” Taehyung stated. “It was… slow. After that night, it felt like she was a ghost of a person. The deterioration got physical a few months in. And then she—she stopped going out, stopped interacting. I think she knew she couldn’t handle being a leader anymore. That’s why she agreed to train Jungkook.”
“So, she didn’t choose him, it was his request,” Jimin said, lips pursed.
“Yeah. When I ask him about it, he says he doesn’t know what compelled him, but I think he wanted to finally get close to you, no matter what form that took. And Hayoon saw that he was young and bright, and honestly, we were running low on options.”
“How long did she train him?”
“Four months. They started to actually get along after the second. She still chewed him out all the time, though, until she lost her spirit. He took over a lot of her duties early on, and then she got sick.” Taehyung exhaled long and heavy. “He was with her the whole way, held her hand when she passed.”
Jimin shut his eyes, plagued with the image of his mother in some infirmary bed, thin and colorless, with only Jungkook to see her through to the afterlife. He should’ve gotten here sooner, he should have been here, then maybe she would have made it.
“Half a year, huh,” Jimin mumbled. “I was at the port by then. I wonder if I could’ve made it.”
“Jimin,” Taehyung sighed. “Don’t do that. It’s happened, so we have to accept it and move on. Jungkook wasn’t ready to be Head, but Hayoon appointed him, so he saw it through. He fought the challengers and everything.”
“There were challengers?” Jimin asked, shocked anyone would question Hayoon’s judgement.
Taehyung shrugged, shifting on his feet, evidently uncomfortable. “He’s young.”
Jimin bit into his cheek. Age meant nothing for wisdom or a leader’s abilities.
Taehyung cleared his throat to draw Jimin’s wandering attention. “I’ll leave you to settle in for a little while, yeah? We’ll go out and spread the news, calm the masses meanwhile.”
“We?” Jimin echoed.
“Me and Jungkook.”
Jimin paused. “Did you take up a leadership position, too?”
Taehyung snorted, as if the notion was absurd. “No, I just help him out sometimes. We’re together at some point most days, anyway.”
“You’ve gotten… close?” Jimin’s volume dropped, brows pinched. Jungkook and Taehyung hadn’t exactly gotten along much as kids.
“Your absence forced us together,” Taehyung mused. “He’s still a brat, but he’s got a good heart. I don’t mind helping out when I’ve got nothing else to do.”
“Right,” Jimin murmured.
“I’ll come by later to check on you, okay?” Taehyung said.
“Uh huh,” Jimin agreed, watching Taehyung step out of the glowing entryway.
Jimin reached for the door handle to shut it, pausing midway. He was almost scared to shut himself in. He couldn’t be sure if he was ready to be alone and isolated with all these ghosts just yet.
He turned on his heel and meandered in further, passing by the dark hall that led to two bedrooms. He skimmed his fingers over stiff furniture fabric as he entered the family room, moving directly to the wall to open a couple curtains. He squinted as the light hit him, and once illuminated, the room looked all the emptier.
In the corner, highlighted by a ray of orange and a flicker of disturbed air, was the low table, home to their family shrine. His father’s favorite necklace was laid out on the polished surface, incense beside it.
Jimin approached carefully, then knelt before the shrine. He searched around for the matches he just vaguely remembered were hidden near it, holding the box up to light one. The tiny flame heated Jimin’s flushed cheeks, and he quickly reached out to light the incense.
As small tendrils of smoke wafted before him, Jimin settled in and clasped his hands, ducking before the shrine. “Father—” he began from memory, pausing a mere second later. “…And Mother. I’m sorry it took me so long. Please know I’m safe, and I… I hope you’re doing well, and you’re keeping each other warm.”
Climbing out of his bedroom window was second nature to Jimin by now. He always went barefoot to avoid any audible disturbances, feet landing in the lush, wet grass. This was his time to be free and alone, to climb up the slope at the farthest edge of their village and look out at the sleepy lights, the ocean roaring from the other side, crashing waves barely in view.
Jimin liked the stars up here. He laid back against the soft earth and looked skyward, tracking the familiar bright specks swimming within the black of the night. Although the stars didn’t speak to Jimin, he felt an intimacy with them, as they shared the same secrets of his escapes and whispered confessions.
Jimin often lost track of time, the moon passing by above as he was watched and breathed and sank lower, body and mind at peace. Sometimes, though, Jimin would have a visitor, and his time spent waiting was filled with anxious butterflies.
That final night, Jimin only had to wait for a few minutes before Jungkook collapsed down next to him in the grass. His hair was nowhere near as long as Jimin’s, but he still pulled it back to keep it out of his eyes. Jimin once called it a rabbit tail due to the curled puff at the back of his head’s appearance. Thankfully, Jungkook was also sporting a shirt this evening. Jimin wasn’t sure he could survive any more embarrassment from his unconscious ogling.
Jungkook flopped onto his back just as Jimin sat up, bodily exhaling as he folded his arms under his head. “It’s warm tonight,” he mumbled.
“Don’t get too comfortable and fall asleep. You’re too heavy for me to even try carrying you home,” Jimin replied.
“It’s okay, you can just drag me. I’ve got thick skin,” Jungkook smirked up at him.
Jimin bit into his cheek, refusing to smile. “Or I could leave you out here. Alphas run hot, right?”
“Oh, that’s cruel,” he dramatically sighed. He shifted onto his side so he could lay his head in Jimin’s lap. “At least let me take shelter in your room.”
Jimin snorted at the idea of his mother barging into his room in the morning and spotting Jungkook sleeping soundly in his bed—or on his floor, more likely. Jimin may have a crush larger than his own heart, but he was still a stuttering prude that blushed red as soon as Jungkook touched him. Jimin was astounded he had lasted so long without completely blanking out tonight, given the alpha’s comfortable and intimate position literally on top of him.
“And what would Hoseok think?” Jimin joked as a divergence.
Jungkook’s expression immediately fell. Oops, wrong move.
“The rumors aren’t true, you know.”
“Ah,” Jimin stumbled over his tongue. “Sorry, it just… it does make sense, given how often you’re together. That kind of gossip was bound to pop up.”
“Our parents are fishers; of course we’re stuck together so much. He’s basically my brother,” Jungkook scoffed. He scratched his nose, glaring up at the sky. “I don’t know why all the old timers need to make assumptions. It’s not their lives.”
“Some of them have got nothing better to do,” Jimin mumbled. “No excitement left when your kids are grown up and you’re left to knit in your family room all day.”
“Huh, sounds like you.”
Jimin smacked his arm. “As if I have any choice in it. I’d be down on the docks with you if I could, maybe get some real practice in. I’ve got these abilities, and Mother won’t even let me use them. What’s the point of being special if you’ve gotta hide it from the world? I’d rather die early than live like this any longer.”
Jungkook’s eyes were wide as he watched Jimin, absorbing his words. “Really?” He asked quietly. Jimin’s lifestyle was no light subject, given the stigma surrounding what he was.
Jimin pressed his lips together. “Yeah, I guess. It could always be worse, but it sucks right now. I’m alone most of the time, I don’t pull my weight in the clan, and I can’t even—even be close to a normal person. Goddess knows I’ll never leave my mother’s house, never have a mate, much less kids,” he grumbled, voice hoarse the longer he thought about the notion. His throat tightened.
“You want a family?” Jungkook echoed. He sat up slowly, still leaned considerably into Jimin’s space.
“Mm,” Jimin mumbled, almost embarrassed to admit it. He played with his fingers in his lap. They were getting close to the age when young adults paired off and mated. Jimin knew that soon enough, he was going to be left behind.
“Y’know, in a year I can apply for my own hut, move out of my parents’ place,” Jungkook said softly.
“Right,” Jimin replied. The normal stuff, of course.
“You don’t have to be under Hayoon’s thumb forever.”
Jimin caught on gradually, his idle movements coming to a standstill as his mind whirred. He blinked a couple tines before tilting his chin up, looking at Jungkook from under his lashes. He held the alpha’s gaze for a long moment, then a wry smirk curled its way onto Jimin’s lips. He snorted. “You should find a competent mate, Jungkookie,” he murmured. “Someone that’s got some kind of skill, experience in a trade o-or just life in general.”
“You don’t know what I want,” Jungkook retorted, quietly yet firmly.
“Yeah? I’m gonna bet you’re much better off with an omega like Hoseok. You’re familiar with him, you’re both trained in fishing. Imagine all the fun you’d have working together,” Jimin said, trying to keep the bitter hint out of his tone.
“I don’t like Hoseok that way,” he repeated. “He’s stupidly in love with Seokjin, anyway. And I don’t want a mate who does the same thing as me, who’s way too similar and boringly familiar. Maybe I want someone who’s more reserved, but so smart and diligent. Someone odd and unique and—” He paused, observing as Jimin covered his flushed face with his hands, “—Shy. And impossibly cute.”
Jimin merely shook his head. Laughter bubbled up behind his palm. “You act like my mother would ever give her blessing.”
“Probably not, but you could run away. You could dye your hair, and we’d pretend we’re a young nomadic couple. You’d keep records for the new clan’s archives, and I would fish. And at night, when everyone’s asleep, we could go down to the shore and practice your fancy water magic.”
Jimin’s hushed giggles became full-bodied, chest heaving and shoulders shaking. He wasn’t certain when it had simply devolved into sobs, tears soaking his warm cheeks and running from his hands down his arms.
Jungkook gingerly grabbed Jimin’s wrists and lowered his hands, Jimin falling forward when he was exposed. He pressed his forehead to Jungkook’s shoulder, the latter’s arm moving to wrap around him. He shushed Jimin, rubbing along his lower back.
“T-that sounds s-so nice,” Jimin hiccupped, reaching up to cling to Jungkook’s shirt. “’S not fair.”
“No, it’s not,” Jungkook whispered. “But your life’s not gonna be miserable forever, Jimin, I promise. You’ve got people—friends—on your side, and as much as Hayoon may not like it, you’re an adult. One of mating age, too.”
Jimin sniffled, voice too warbly and unstable for a reply.
“I’d take care of you,” Jungkook said tentatively, “If you decided to leave her home. I’d provide for you while you settle into a new life, pick up a job in the clan. Hayoon’s capable of stopping us from being a mated pair in the eyes of clan, but she can’t stop us from living together, being together. A-and if you wanted, eventually, we could have a family.”
Jimin leaned back, wiping at the tears under his lashes to meet Jungkook’s eyes. His lower lip wobbled. “I’d be a burden.”
Jungkook shook his head. “I don’t think you understand how much I lo—like you.” He mustered a smile, tilting his head.
Jimin hunched into himself, unbearably heated and red. “Stop looking so pretty,” he mumbled.
Jungkook snorted. “What, I’m pretty?”
“Stop,” he whined, gently tapping the alpha’s chest.
Jungkook stared at him with bemusement for a beat longer, then lurched forward. Jimin startled, emitting a squeak before losing his balance and falling back into the grass. His hair haloed out behind him, and he watched Jungkook doe-eyed, the alpha shifting to hover over him.
Jimin saw the way the younger was looking at him, and it sent his heart aflutter. “W-wait,” he stammered, holding up a palm to prevent Jungkook from coming any closer. “I don’t… d-don’t know how to do much. I’m not experienced, like, at all.”
Jungkook shrugged. “It’s okay, me neither.” The corner of his mouth quirked up. “Am I gonna be your first kiss?”
Jimin huffed, burning up and practically jittering. He pulled his lip between his teeth, eyelids hooded as he heavily exhaled. “Depends. Are you gonna kiss me?”
Caught breathless by the sight below him, Jungkook sunk down into Jimin’s gravitational pull. They were almost close enough for their noses to brush, Jungkook held up on his elbows, and Jimin laid flat and pliant. Jimin was nervous for a matter of seconds, until Jungkook’s eyes closed and he tilted his head the slightest, the little bit of air between them static.
Their lips brushed softly, Jimin inhaling and freezing, hoping to capture the moment he may not be able to relive. He lifted his chin to press in firmer, lips slotting together, a light contact turning into a real kiss full of want and warmth.
Jungkook moved against him, mouth parting, a gasp passed between them. Another kiss, another stolen moment. The next was almost rough, fueled by a dam of yearning and years of doubt. Jungkook dragged his teeth across Jimin’s lower lip, and the omega pushed his fingers through the younger’s hair.
It was wonderful, and then it was over.
They heard the shrieks before they smelled smoke.
Out by the cliffs, a hut was on fire, bobbing torches carrying destruction to the next building in sight. The skyline was lit red with fury, orange spiraling into Jimin’s blue irises.
Neither of them spoke as they spotted the mast in the distance, black flag barely standing out against the inky night. White skull on black fabric, jaw unhinged and pictured serpent slithering out of the undead mouth left agape.
That night, all of Hayoon’s worst fears came to fruition. They had found him.
Taehyung returned to Jimin in the late afternoon. Jimin couldn’t say he had settled in at all. He had refused to step foot in his mother’s room, and even returning to his own had been a laborious task. His mother had evidently left it untouched, and Jimin had opened his wardrobe only to sit on the hardwood and stare at the contents within—clothes now too small for his frame, childhood toys stuffed in the corners. This place did not belong to him anymore.
Taehyung offered a distraction in the form of an invitation from Jungkook: a dinner at the Clan Head’s hut. It was an odd proposition, given that Jimin had been willing to cut the alpha to strips mere hours ago. Now he wanted the three of them to gather in an enclosed space and chat and… catch up? What more was there to say? Jimin was gone, he escaped, and he was back. No need for gory details. He didn’t want them looking at him any differently than they already, unavoidably, did.
Jimin didn’t have a nicer outfit to change into, so he allowed Taehyung to fret over his hair on their walk over. He didn’t have anyone to impress, anyway; Jimin had already done his worst, and if for some reason Jungkook did decide to cast Jimin out for good, he was well equipped in survival and the nomadic lifestyle. Adaptation was much easier than many would think.
Rather than knocking, Taehyung let himself into Jungkook’s house, gesturing Jimin along after him. It was small, Jimin thought, and rather bare. He supposed Jungkook hadn’t bothered to move much of his personal items from his parents’ home to his own. That was standard for young adults, though, anticipating filling it up with items from their own lifestyle and budding families.
Taehyung led them directly to a quaint dining room aglow with flickering candlelight. Even the walls were washed with a hazy yellow. The low table was polished and made of a dark wood, the materials probably arriving from a trader. Taehyung then sat Jimin down on a plush cushion on the floor.
Jungkook popped his head out of the adjacent kitchen, offering Jimin a surprisingly warm smile. “Did you get a chance to rest up?” He asked.
“Not much. That house is cold and disconcerting,” Jimin said bluntly, Jungkook’s expression falling for just a moment.
“Ah, you should have a drink, then. It’ll help ease you,” Taehyung lightly suggested. “How about rum? We have a nice bottle from a southern clan—”
“I don’t drink alcohol,” Jimin interrupted. “It inhibits my senses.”
Taehyung blinked, gaze owlish. He shared a quick look with Jungkook, and the latter cleared his throat.
“Makes sense,” the alpha replied. “Well, uh, the food’s about done. Tae, do you wanna grab the drinks while I set the table?”
Taehyung tutted and wormed his way into the kitchen’s entrance. “You’ve done enough. Go sit down and I’ll carry stuff out.”
Taehyung silenced Jungkook by shoving him forward, the alpha stumbling a step before dejectedly moving to the table, sitting down across from Jimin as Taehyung disappeared from view.
Jungkook seemed to be searching for something else to stay, surely working through every topic and trying to pick out the least invasive. They were already tiptoeing; Jimin didn’t want to see what either of them would awkwardly bring up next.
“You guys have really gotten close,” Jimin observed, folding his hands in his lap. Despite the lack of any threat, Jimin couldn’t resist the urge to make periodic sweeps of the area, always listening closely for possible disturbances. Letting his guard down was a dangerous move in any context. After his pause, Jimin forcefully pitched his tone higher, attempting to sound upbeat and pleasant. “How long have you been together?”
Ah, pleasantries really weren’t Jimin’s style.
If Jungkook had a drink to nervously occupy himself with, he would be choking now. His breath stuttered, and he stared at Jimin with bewilderment. “N-no, no, we’re not—” He chuckled. “No. We’re friends.”
Jimin’s brows creased. Was he bad at reading relationships? “You act like a pair,” he stated. “He knows his way around your house. I figured you were preparing to mate. Clan Heads are expected to have partners, after all.”
Jungkook shook his head, adamant. “Seriously, we’re good friends, and that’s it. I’m not in any rush to find a mate, and Taehyung is enamored with Namjoon. If anyone’s mating, it’s those two. Although I’m sure Seokjin and Hoseok will beat them to it, since their ceremony is scheduled for this fall.”
Jimin snorted. “Wait, Tae’s finally gotten over Yoongi?”
“Not really. He’s just convinced himself that Yoongi will never love him back, so he’s aiming all his affections at Namjoon now.”
“Things haven’t changed all that much, then,” Jimin murmured. “That’s interesting, though; why put all your effort into one when you could have both?”
Jungkook arched a brow and quirked up a smile. “That’s some revolutionary thinking, Park.”
Jimin shrugged. “Given what I’ve seen in my life, nothing is impossible.”
Their conversation petered off as Taehyung returned with dishes in tow. It only took him a few trips to have the food laid out and drinks before them. Once he sat beside Jimin, he grabbed the latter’s plate and began serving him much too large portions.
“That’s not necessary,” Jimin attempted to protest.
“You’ve had a long trip,” Taehyung justified, handing Jimin’s heaping plate back over.
Jimin tentatively ate as the other two served themselves.
“So,” Taehyung started, pausing to take a long drink of rum, “What d’you think you wanna apprentice in here?”
“Taehyung,” Jungkook said pointedly, “We don’t even know if he wants to stay.”
Taehyung watched Jimin with expectation. “You’re gonna stay, right Jiminie?”
“Um,” Jimin mumbled, attention flickering toward Jungkook briefly. Was the alpha subtly suggesting that Jimin shouldn’t? He cleared his throat. “That was the plan. I think I’ve seen enough of the world by now. I ought to settle down.”
Taehyung was positively beaming. “That’s what I thought,” he proudly stated, tapping Jimin’s thigh under the table. He took a bite of his dinner and continued speaking around a mouthful. “What about the archives?” He swallowed. “You like reading, and I’m sure you’ve picked up a lot of foreign information that could be good for our records.”
Jimin hummed and pushed his rice around the plate. “Yeah, those clan records are definitely outdated.”
“You could squeeze him into the archives office, huh Kook?” Taehyung pressed.
Jungkook was slowly chewing. He set his chopsticks down with a clatter. “Sure,” he said. “If that’s really what Jimin wants to do.”
“Not like I have much else to offer,” Jimin muttered. “Although I could show you all how to use more than a bo in battle,” he added with a smirk.
The awkward silence amidst them did not sound like an approval.
Taehyung quickly moved on. “Were you working somewhere before?”
“A pub,” Jimin said. He gnawed on a cut of meat. “Served drinks to loud-mouthed sailors.”
“No, sailors. I made sure to pick a port where the human trade was banned. It kept the worst of them out,” Jimin stated, nose wrinkling up at the memory of the other port cities he had passed through, those filled with murder, theft, and even worse things.
Taehyung pressed his lips together. Ah, so now came the difficult question as to how Jimin got into the position of choosing work, of being alone and free at all.
“You don’t have to ask,” Jimin said gruffly, carefully setting his chopsticks down and meeting Jungkook face-on across the table. “Just tell me what you wanna hear about first. I’m not gonna flinch or be offended.”
Jungkook gaped, struggling for words.
“Can you…” Taehyung exhaled. “Can you start from the beginning, then?”
Jimin grunted in affirmation and pushed his plate away. He took a swig of water to hopefully clear his voice. “Yeah. You’ll be happy to hear I wasn’t with my captors for all that long. Three, maybe four months. Most of it was spent below deck, watching waves slosh against the sealed porthole.
“There’s no real elegance to it—they don’t want there to be any. They want you to be hungry most of the time, weak and vulnerable and tired, but not quite dead. And they don’t want you to be human, because humans are trouble; they’re annoying and unpredictable.” Jimin rested his palms on the floor behind him, leaning back. He pressed his tongue into his cheek, swiped it over his teeth. “With omegas, I hear they start with the hair. It can kinda be a point of pride for us, makes us feel pretty and desirable. The first night, they let me bang on the walls and cry, but on the second, I was taken up in front of the crew, and the quartermaster grabbed a fistful of my hair. He said something sleazy, not that I remember anymore, and he chopped it off. He dropped it, made me watch it fall to the dirty deck in front of me.”
Taehyung unconsciously reached up, running his fingers through the waves of glossy hair curling at his nape. He audibly inhaled, averting his gaze from Jimin, most likely in guilt.
“Anyway, I didn’t cause much trouble for a while. I mostly sat in that hole and listened. Sometimes, the younger crew would actually talk to me. A lot of it mocking, but there were kids who… who were kinder. They ended up on board because of their parents’ debt, so they understood what it felt like to be a prisoner.”
Jimin observed Jungkook’s expression as it morphed from neutral to an irate form of concern, his brows pinched and frown heavyset. “Even though you won’t actually ask it, no, they didn’t rape me. I was technically an object being shipped—I didn’t belong to that crew. Besides, virgins go for a high price on the market.” Despite Jimin’s bemused tone, neither of the men beside him seemed even remotely humored. “For a while, I figured that’s what they were gonna do with me. Rich, old alphas like strange playthings, right? I’d be one of a kind, but I guess they had a different kind of buyer lined up.
“This guy wanted the Ward of the Sea, not a silver-haired omega. He wanted me to be a weapon, and because of that, the pirates assumed I had any real control over my abilities. They tried to test me out a few times, beat me when I couldn’t make the tides do what they wanted, couldn’t sink enemy ships or pull a captain overboard with a fucking flick of my wrist.” Jimin scoffed at the mere notion of this all being so… easy, simple. That wasn’t how reality worked.
“I figured if it was ever gonna be better, I should really learn how to do something. I practiced from my cell, with the little puddles left by spilled water and storm leakage. It was all I did when I was alone and unsupervised. I got better, and I got angrier. When I realized I didn’t have to be helpless, things changed,” Jimin’s volume dropped off, voice tinged with that simmering contempt.
“Did you… Kill them?” Taehyung asked softly. He seemed scared of the answer.
“Not right away. It was a big crew, and I wasn’t sure how desperate they were for the gold I was gonna get them. I tested the waters a bit, although a lot of it was reckless and stupid. I started fighting back with my words. I didn’t know pirate culture, though, didn’t know what happened when you misbehaved.
“Apparently, they’ve got this marking system in the trade. Prominent scars mean something in their world, like a warning to other traders and possible buyers. I wasn’t gonna be a plaything, so they decided to mark me.”
Jimin stopped, looked down at his lap where he fiddled with his own fingers. He didn’t want to meet either of their gazes at this part. He didn’t want them staring at his mouth, assessing his scar and reacting with mere pity. Jimin knew what he was, what he looked like now. He didn’t want their pity.
“The, um, mouthy ones get a gash across their mouth. Fitting.”
“Aw, you ruined his face,” the first mate sneered, grasping Jimin’s chin as blood ran down in rivulets.
His mouth stung, and his entire face throbbed. Goddess, it hurt, the sharp tears gathering in his eyes. He wouldn’t cry in front of them, he swore to himself. Jimin gritted his teeth and glared back at the first mate, resisting spitting a mouthful of blood up at him. That would only make matters worse, and Jimin had taken enough of a beating for today.
“Some fuckers like that, y’know,” the quartermaster snorted, looking Jimin over. “They like the brats, go after them for a good time. It feels better when they think the beatings are justified.”
Jimin held his tongue, but he bared his teeth.
“It was okay if I was damaged goods. It was worth the ‘little scratch;’ made me shut up for a while,” Jimin continued, shrugging. He could still feel the sting along the raised skin of his scar. He ran his tongue over his upper lip.
“I kept waiting after that, until the right time came. I had to be above deck, and the worst of them needed to be occupied. The funny thing is… you really shouldn’t bring a Sea Witch out to a literal abundance of water, where you’re practically stranded and the depths are too deep to fathom. Even if a witch’s hands are tied behind their back, the whole world’s become their weapon.”
Jimin pressed his nail into the pad of his finger, smiling wryly. “So yeah, Tae. I killed them. Well, most of them. I left the younger ones alive to spread the tale.”
His gaze flicked up, anticipating horror to mar Jungkook’s face. He was simply observing Jimin, however, a little sympathetic, still very curious. To not be disgusted by a murderous and vengeful omega was an impressive feat.
“The rest kinda doesn’t matter in comparison. I docked the ship at the nearest port, sold it, and started my travels. I had to take a break when the money ran out, find a job at that pub, and the owner was old and docile enough to let me live in one of the inn rooms above. I made a bit of money there, but mostly stayed for the sailors’ talk. You can charm a lot of information out of drunk sailors, whether that information is actually true or just folktales.
“To be honest, I didn’t know where exactly home was, or how far I’d have to go. I was working there for about a year when I finally haggled a map into my hands, and there it was—the Park Clan. I waited another couple months to save up more wages, and I set off.” Jimin shrugged, arms tired from his stiff position. “Now I’m here.”
“That’s—” Taehyung breathed, meal long forgotten and glass of rum near empty.
“A lot?” Jungkook offered, voice mellow and gaze settled on Jimin. Calculating, always calculating.
“Yeah, wow,” Taehyung agreed. “It’s amazing you actually made it back to us. I had dreams, but I guess I never actually thought…” He shook his head, mustering a smile. “It doesn’t matter. You’re here, and that’s all we could’ve asked for.”
He tugged a shocked Jimin into a hug, Jimin hesitating a few beats before lightly wrapping his arms around Taehyung’s shoulders.
Jimin’s expression morphed from startled reluctance to something warmer as he eased into the unfamiliar embrace. He hadn’t been touched like this in a long, long time. His chest felt bubbly, and Jimin swore he exhaled butterflies.
Jimin wasn’t watching his mother when he made the decision. They were breathing lungfuls of smoke, and children were huddling in the arms of their parents. Many of their alphas were held at sword-point or already injured. Even Hayoon had a gash on her arm, but she was holding strong to her staff. She had managed to knock a few of the pirates unconscious before taking the hit.
Despite the distractions, and the fire practically licking at his ankles, Jimin was looking at Jungkook, held immobile by a pirate with a blade to his neck. He had been trying to defend Jimin, but he was no seasoned fighter.
With tears gathering in his eyes and his jaw clenched, Jimin wished he could be more useful. He could fight, yes, but his body was limited. If he could use the sea, the gifts of the Moon Goddess, perhaps they would stand a chance. His wishes were not reality, though, and Jimin soon realized that sacrifices would need to be made.
The pirates wanted him—they had made that point clear, pillaging as they made their demands for the Sea Witch, the young boy with silver hair. Jimin assumed one of their trading partners had caught a glimpse of Jimin, and word had finally spread about the Park Clan’s best hidden secret. Now time was up.
Jimin held Jungkook’s panicked gaze when he offered himself up. The omega would go with the pirates on the condition that they would leave his clan be with no further harm, never to return.
Of course, they quickly agreed, and Jimin held himself still as they bound his wrists behind his back with rope.
Hayoon shouted at Jimin to stop all the while. He was being irrational, they could beat this, she couldn’t let this happen. Did he know what these people were capable of? The horrors they would do to her baby boy?
Jimin counted his breaths as he tried to tune her out, tears falling free as he bid his mother a wordless goodbye. Although the notion seemed impossible at the time, Jimin swore he would come back to her. He thought she had believed him.
As he was tugged toward the cliffs that would lead them down to the docks, he was forced to turn his back on those he loved. Jimin could feel the prickle of that fire’s heat on his skin for months after.
The elderly alpha woman who ran the clan’s archives was reluctant to even allow Jimin into her office. The stories of his violent display from the previous day had spread through the village like a summer flame. She squinted at him with suspicion as Jungkook tried to explain how much of a help Jimin would be to the office.
Jimin knew she only allowed him a position due to the Clean Head’s pestering.
He started with minimal hours, sifting through their documentation of places Jimin had actually been to. He could deal with his second-hand knowledge later down the line.
It was a lot of reading, as Taehyung had predicted, but amidst the mutters and heated stares that Jimin felt from the entire clan while out in public, the quiet and vacant archives became a welcomed reprieve.
It must have been only the second or third day when Taehyung dragged a begrudging Jimin out of his house for a clothes fitting. He shook his head as he lectured Jimin about wearing the same clothes day after day.
“Do you wash them?”
“Of course,” Jimin grumbled.
Taehyung wrinkled his nose. “They still look so gross and worn.”
Jimin gave him an exasperated look, but Taehyung only picked up their pace.
To say that Jimin was uncomfortable being poked and prodded and examined by the tailors would be an understatement. Getting his measurements taken was bearable, but getting pieces fitted was another situation. He felt like every stab of a needle was more than an accident, like he was being mocked and punished for even stepping foot in this place.
Jimin didn’t belong in attractive and elegant omega clothes. He didn’t belong in these nice, soft fabrics, being cared for by these masters of their trade. Even worse, the entire room was filled with omegas, with their smooth skin, blushing cheeks, and long, lustrous hair.
Fuck all of this, Jimin thought as Taehyung made him shrug on another silk robe. He felt even more ridiculous when Taehyung tried to add jewelry to the mix. Jimin had to put his foot down on that front.
The tiny, shiny shells of a bracelet jingled as Jimin work to wrench it off. In the corner of the room, a few apprentices and assistants were gathered, glancing at him as they muttered and snickered. There was a high tinkle of a giggle, and Jimin nearly broke the bracelet as he finally removed it.
The main tailor herself made comments under her breath, whispering about how Jimin’s body was too stiff, the muscles firm and unbecoming of a young omega. He should be soft, pliant, and moldable. There was no give around his waist, no soft fat to grasp at and round out his hips.
Jimin had always been fit, but given his limited diet and active lifestyle travelling and flitting about the pub, the soft curves he may have had once had simply melted away to hard edges.
Taehyung heard the comments, too, and tried to ease them with much louder compliments about the outfits, about how they looked so good on Jimin, how he was so pretty and curvy in all the right places. What did that even mean? There was no such thing as having curves in the wrong places.
An assistant tied a sash tighter around Jimin’s waist until his breath was literally knocked out of him. “It’d look better if you had a slimmer waist,” she mumbled, blowing long, black hair out of her eyes before she yanked again.
This time, Jimin hissed, and she backed off.
He supposed, given all the circumstances and his typical temper, an outburst was bound to happen. It most definitely was not good for Jimin’s already sour image, but those damned omegas just wouldn’t quit their gossip. They even had the gall to gesture to his scar.
One said, “He’s got the biceps of an alpha.”
Another said, “It must be embarrassing being stronger than whoever’s fucking you.”
A smattering of giggles.
Finally, “His mouth just ruins the entire image. How can you make our prettiest dresses look so unappealing with just one scar? It’s jarring.”
Jimin was tugging on his familiar, loose shirt when his composure snapped. Jimin’s arms lowered to his sides, and his sharp gaze flicked up. He felt the corner of his mouth curl in a snarl.
“You have no right no criticize my body,” he said, lowly at first. The room was open and hushed enough for the words to carry, to hit the other omegas like a riptide.
They stilled, stiff, and fell silent.
“You know nothing, living in your cozy homes with your parents and your mates. You’ve never had to defend yourself, never had to prioritize survival over your vain looks,” Jimin stated. “And I’ll bet you don’t know what it’s like waking at any small sound, reaching for a weapon because someone could be at your door, or even in your home already. Do you check your locks twice? Do you secure a bolt, anyway? Do you have to constantly look over your shoulder, terrified of getting robbed, killed, or raped? To some omegas out in the world, it’s a matter of all three.”
Jimin clenched his jaw, seething as his glare bore into them. “What, no snide reply?” He growled.
They were oozing pheromones of fear.
The right thing to do in a civilized society full of people you’re supposed to be amicable with would be to calm down. Jimin should take deep breaths until his red complexion eased, until the fire in his gut quelled. He should lower his head to his peers, offer apologies until he appeared somewhat less like a rabid, raging beast.
Looking at them, though, thinking of them as predators rather than peers… Jimin couldn’t do it. He couldn’t submit to them, because weakness meant death.
Breathless and panicked, Jimin rushed out before Taehyung could even utter his name in alarm.
That speech of his predictably didn’t do Jimin any good. Most of the clan still avoided Jimin like he was diseased, forcing him to travel between his hut and the archives, and not much more. He hadn’t realized that returning would mean surrendering himself as a prisoner all over again.
The archives were lonesome, but they were better than the shadows that took up residence in Jimin’s home. He hated feeling haunted, so he resorted to staying amidst the records after hours, sorting and reading, jotting down notes as time passed him by. The other staff merely let him be; Jimin was at peace here, nowhere near a threat.
Getting any sort of visitor was shocking. Jimin nearly startled out of his own skin when he caught a flicker of movement in his peripheral.
Jimin dropped the book he had been holding. He was hunched over a pile of scattered tomes and notes on the floor, and he straightened himself up to crane his neck, getting a look behind him.
Jungkook was leaning casually against a sturdy bookshelf, peering through the dim space at the mess in front of Jimin.
“Hi?” Jimin uttered, clearly confused.
“Hey,” Jungkook replied, as if this was a normal occurrence. “I had some free time, figured you could use a break from all this dusty paper.”
“Come to the docks with me,” Jungkook insisted. “If you get in trouble with the staff, I take full blame.” He smiled, genuine and warm, and Jimin’s heart melted just the slightest.
Jimin carefully set his quill down into its inkpot, then exhaled. He had been doing more than enough work during the past couple weeks, playing his helpful part for the clan that despised him. He could afford an hour or two away, out in the sunlight, ocean mist on his cheeks.
“Okay,” he softly agreed.
They took Jungkook’s father’s boat out to the water, since many of the fishers were already done for the day. The afternoon currents were calm, waves small, surface calm once they passed the white caps.
Jimin inhaled the salty air, heartrate easing as their small boat swayed, slow and gentle. He closed his eyes to feel the spring sunlight on his lids, gusts of wind rustling his hair. Jimin gripped the rough wood of the boat’s edge, holding himself idle as he relaxed into his seat on the bench.
“Your hair’s growing out,” Jungkook observed, dropping his oars when they were far out enough to avoid getting swept toward shore with the tide.
“Mm,” Jimin uttered.
“Are you gonna let it grow out to its natural color?”
“Might as well; don’t have anyone to hide from at the moment,” Jimin shrugged. His lashes fluttered as he opened his eyes, skin warmed by the sun drifting overhead. He ran his fingers through the loose strands, happy he could be rid of the dye for good in a matter of months.
“Have you tried climbing that old tree up on the hill again?” Jungkook shifted topics, keeping things light.
“Haven’t exactly been outside much,” Jimin admitted. “This is probably the most I’ve been in the sun since I got here. I’m going to be pale all over again soon.”
“Then you should make sure to take frequent trips out here,” Jungkook snorted. “Try sunbathing, maybe.”
“Ah yeah, lay around in the sand in front a bunch of people who probably already think I’m not pulling my weight,” Jimin retorted. “That’ll go over well.”
“I’ll do it with you,” Jungkook insisted. “They’re not gonna send me nasty looks. They like me.”
“Oh, do they?” Jimin murmured with bemusement. He rested his chin on his palm, gazing at the alpha through hooded eyes. The air was such a perfect temperature, he couldn’t help feeling this comfortable.
Jungkook’s gaze widened a fraction, like a startled doe. “What, have you heard otherwise?”
Jimin snorted at his genuine concern. He shook his head. “No, don’t worry. The only person I really talk to is Tae.”
Water sloshed the boat’s sides, rocking them rougher than before. Jimin’s grasp tightened around the edge, and Jungkook lurched forward, his hand falling to rest on Jimin’s thigh as he supported himself.
Jimin’s attention immediately flickered down to the contact. His skin was suddenly prickling.
When Jungkook noticed a few belated moments later, he cleared his throat and yanked his arm back toward himself. “So… you haven’t been up the hill, huh?” He continued, smoothing out his unsteady voice. “We should try stargazing again, like we used to.”
Like they used to. It had been fun and exciting sneaking out, whispering in the dark as their shoulders brushed. The last time had been different than all the others, though, and Jimin wondered which version of their secret outings he had in mind. He figured Jungkook was still trying to play Clan Head, easing his returning member back into the group until he was content enough on his own. The alpha would drop him, then—Jimin was almost certain of it.
“Sure,” Jimin said, anyway, practicing his pleasantries.
“Is everything going alright otherwise?” Jungkook prodded. “Are you adjusting well, need any help or accommodations?”
Jimin waved him off. “I’m fine figuring it out on my own. I just feel like a feral animal right now, in the process of being domesticated. I guess I’m slowly realizing that I have to be considerate of everything and everyone around me; I can’t up and leave when I fuck up. I mean, I can, but I probably shouldn’t. I don’t know who else would accept me,” he chuckled dryly, wrapping his arms around his midsection.
Jungkook watched him, simmering in a lapse of silence, the wind whistling into their ears, a drone of absent and subtle noise. He rested back on his palms, then lowered his voice. “You’re really down on yourself sometimes, y’know. Do you mean to do that?”
“Do I mean to—” Jimin stopped; he was admittedly confused by that question. Was it on purpose, or just a force of habit? It could very well be part of his nature, a remnant of his short time on that damned ship. That broken and inhuman feeling his captors had instilled within him had slithered its way into the darker parts of Jimin’s chest, coiled tight and eager to strike.
Jimin pulled his lower lip between his teeth, at a loss for words. “I don’t know,” he admitted in a mumble. “I mean, I just… I know how I look, and I know my temper. And I know I’m far from your typical omega. A lot of people don’t like that, would rather not have to deal with me hanging around. That’s fair, honestly. I get tired of dealing with me, too—all the nervous ticks and paranoia, the nightmares and—and trust issues.”
Jimin glanced up; Jungkook was listening so patiently. When had this careless young boy grown up to be a leader?
He exhaled, rubbed the bridge of his nose. “It’s my fault, too. I signed up for this shit when I handed myself over. I shouldn’t be all that upset by the side effects. It’s much better than any other outcome if I hadn’t stopped that raid so early. God, when I think of it, the most I remember is you with that sword to your neck. Couldn’t let you die, couldn’t… couldn’t take that risk.” Jimin’s voice had petered off into a mutter. “I think I’m the only one who remembers, though. The people here, they—they look at me with some sort of disgust. I’m not asking to be treated like a hero, but some space would be nice.”
Jimin blinked, a flush rising to his cheeks as he realized how much of his guts he had just spilled, and to a practical stranger, too. He and Jungkook were entirely different people now. It was absurd to treat him the same way he had years ago.
Jimin floundered for a moment, searching for an interruption, an optimal diversion. He was gearing up to ask Jungkook about how he was adjusting, given his important public position and all.
Then Jungkook lurched forward and gathered Jimin’s small hands between his own. Jimin nearly startled, staring up at him with mouth slightly agape.
“Thank you for sharing that with me,” Jungkook said, volume low enough for his voice to be a rumble. “I know that must be hard, being so honest and open, given what you’ve been through. I heard… about the incident from a while ago, and about some other interactions you’ve had with the clan. People don’t understand, as much as I wish they did. And you’re still figuring this all out, and—anyway, I’m happy you’re putting in the effort. People will come around eventually, with time. They loved Hayoon, and not long ago, they loved you, too.”
Oh, Jimin’s heart was doing this odd thing. There was a flicker of heat, a pause between beats, and it sucked the breath right out of him. For a single second, he was his younger self, staring starry-eyed at a boy above him, glittering constellations beyond his messy hair.
Jimin wanted to kiss this boy, he realized—no, this man. They were older, and Jungkook was brighter, yet he was still every bit as compassionate as he had been previously.
When he noticed Jimin’s vibrant red blush, Jungkook’s expression bloomed into that goofy smile. Ah, he so did resemble the boy Jimin had known ages ago.
“You’re a good pep-talker,” Jimin murmured, focusing on their hands, Jungkook’s so soft and secure around Jimin’s. If they compared their palms, he was sure they would look so very different. Jungkook may have a few rope burns, but Jimin’s skin was rough and calloused. What an odd contrast, given their ranks.
Jimin was growing too flustered, being the center of this alpha’s attention. He tugged a hand away to fake cough into it.
Jungkook took the signal and released him, leaning away to give Jimin space.
The alpha rubbed the back of his neck, glancing around them. His features lit up. “Can you talk to fish?”
Of all the things he could have said, that was not exactly what Jimin was expecting. “What?” He asked blandly.
“There was this rumor going around when we were kids that Wards can like, talk to fish. I never had the courage to ask you, though,” Jungkook shrugged.
Jimin’s brows pinched together. “Seriously?”
“Is this the part where you tell me how gullible I am?”
“I was gonna say stupid, but gullible works, too.”
“That’s just mean,” Jungkook dramatically whined.
Jimin scoffed, then pursed his lips. “I really want to disclaim that ridiculous rumor, but honestly, I’ve never even tried, so I can’t give you a definitive answer.”
Jungkook visibly perked up, and he stretched out his arms to gesture to the rippling water surrounding them. He arched a brow. “Well? Now’s your time to find out, huh?”
Jimin shook his head, feigning thorough exasperation. “Idiot,” he muttered, rising to his feet, nevertheless.
The boat wobbled as Jimin stood, Jungkook reaching out to stabilize him until Jimin shooed his hands away. He grabbed one edge of the boat and leaned over, squinting down at the dark depths to search for the flutter of fish below.
“How would I go about attempting this?” He asked with subtle humor. “Do I just speak normally, or do I imitate what I think a fish would sound like? Wait, do I need to be underwater for this?”
“Don’t get your clothes wet. These are new, right?” Jungkook noted, tugging at Jimin’s new silk outer robe. He swore he didn’t need anything this nice, but Taehyung had insisted, eagerly paying for it himself.
Jimin hummed in affirmation.
Jimin tried very hard to ignore that comment.
“Hey, fish,” Jimin jokingly addressed instead, perhaps spurred on by the absence of any other people around, and also Jungkook’s airy snickers resounding behind him. “Show yourselves before I lift you by force.”
“Don’t threaten them,” Jungkook huffed, followed by a breathless chuckle.
“How else are you gonna make fish do anything? They have very small brains.”
“And how would you know that?”
“I did all the cooking at home. I had to dissect them.”
“Not the head,” Jungkook scoffed.
Jimin shrugged. “Maybe I got bored.”
Jimin had been staring down at that deep blue nothing for too long now. Clearly this was no serious endeavor, so he stepped up onto the bench for a higher vantage point.
“What are you doing?” Jungkook asked with a smirk.
“Summoning them with my special Moon powers,” Jimin replied in a dramatic hush. He shut his eyes, pretending to be meditating. “Have you never seen me in action?”
“I figured you didn’t get any action.”
Jimin cracked open one eye just to glare down at the alpha. “Don’t break my concentration,” he muttered.
Vaguely, like a shift in the wind, Jimin felt the stronger currents coming toward him, as subtle as a whisper in his ears. If he had been paying any real attention instead of losing himself in the moment and goofing off, he would have stepped down and held on the instant he felt the premonition. The sea was speaking to him, and Jimin had the gall to ignore it.
When the swell of water hit them, it collided with one side of the boat, disrupting its idle state and entirely throwing Jimin off balance. He barely had the chance to take a breath before he was thrust off his feet, back hitting the water’s surface.
The impact was worse than he had anticipated, stunning Jimin for a couple seconds. In that lapse of consciousness, Jimin sank. His arms were spread, mouth open, remnants of air floating past in a rapid trail of bubbles.
The sunshine was so much more mesmerizing from down here. The ocean’s rippling surface distorted the waves of light, and it glittered hazily, unbearably bright yet too gorgeous for Jimin to tear his gaze away.
Jimin inhaled until his lungs were full; he didn’t feel the sting and ache a normal human would. He simply felt peace, mind intact and body at ease. Oxygen gone, he sank and sank into the all-consuming blue.
He had forgotten about Jungkook, however—naïve, selfless Jungkook.
Jimin’s vision morphed into a disturbed flurry of white foam and glittering bubbles. The splash overwhelmed Jimin’s previously muted hearing, and when his surroundings cleared somewhat, he finally saw Jungkook swimming toward him, expression marred in desperate concern.
Jimin almost wanted to laugh. If either of them was going to drown down here, he wouldn’t bet on himself.
Jungkook was a fast and efficient swimmer, as to be expected, and he soon had his grip secured around Jimin’s bicep. He pulled him up, kicking harder to fight against the ocean and its inevitable vortex. After a beat, Jimin decided to help him out, urging his body to start moving, as well.
When their heads breached the top of the water, Jungkook inhaled deeply, gasping for oxygen. Jimin merely opened his mouth, allowing everything to slowly trickle out. He would have to force the rest out of his lungs with some coughing—he did so as quickly as he could manage, knowing Jungkook would be overly worried about those horrid sounds.
Once Jimin’s airway was cleared, he merely stared at Jungkok as they treaded water. They had drifted from their boat, and the sea was much colder now that the shock had ebbed away.
“Thanks for saving me,” Jimin said, blunt.
Jungkook waded in place. He blinked. “You didn’t need help, did you?”
Jimin meant to offer a real reply, some sort of explanation. Instead, he broke into giggles. A frigid and composed part of him had finally burst, releasing all this goddamn tension in his chest. And he felt free.
He covered his mouth, yet still continued to laugh like he was possessed, ribs aching and stomach heaving. Soon, Jungkook was joining him.
Despite Jimin’s determination to go about his lonesome routine and mostly avoid the rest of the clan, Taehyung had managed to convince him to attend the village’s summer festival. It was towards the beginning of June, and everyone was expected to be there to share in stories, food, and conversation. Jimin knew he was an outsider, and it might turn out to be an overall uncomfortable experience, but Taehyung swore up and down that Jimin could leave whenever he wanted.
Taehyung came knocking on Jimin’s door the evening of the festival, toting a knitted cyan shawl, warm and thick. He placed it right in Jimin’s arms with a grin. “My pops made it for you, like a welcome home gift,” he said, buzzing with anticipation as he watched Jimin examine the carefully crafted item.
Jimin brushed his fingers over the soft material. The color was beautiful and rich; he already knew it would complement his eyes. He looked up and returned Taehyung’s smile. “It’s great, Tae, but he really shouldn’t have.”
Taehyung shook his head. “Trust me, it was good for him to have his hands full for a while. He gets bored now that all the kids are grown up. And Pops missed you—we all did.”
Jimin hummed half-heartedly. He doubted the accuracy of that sentiment, but he wasn’t about to argue.
The sun was setting when they arrived at the clearing in the center of the village. A bonfire was built, benches surrounding it for families to gather and chat amongst each other. Children were running amok, pushing each other around and ducking under adults’ legs.
The air already had a chill to it, so Jimin tugged the shawl over his shoulders as he wandered nearer.
Jungkook must have been speaking to the clan about him, Jimin suspected, because when he made eye contact with quite a few of the older members, they offered him polite smiles. It wasn’t a familiar gesture, but it was a welcoming attempt, and Jimin appreciated it all the same.
Taehyung wanted food, but Jimin’s stomach was tied in too many knots for hunger, so the former left Jimin at a vacant bench to go find the food display laid out around here somewhere.
Jimin curled into himself the slightest once he sat down, gaze wandering around his surroundings, vaguely pinpointing faces he recognized. It was hardest with the kids—they changed so much over short periods of time.
He watched the fire grow as alphas threw logs into the pit, smoke creeping higher in the sky as the night grew darker, fading from navy to pure ink. The glow of the flames was far, but Jimin still felt its wandering heat on his reddening cheeks.
He eventually spotted that food table, Taehyung lingering in the area, distracted by a man Jimin hadn’t seen in a long while. Yoongi, slouched over a bit, pouty lips perpetually downturned. He was putting something on Taehyung’s plate, insisting the omega take more of it despite Taehyung’s flustered resistance.
Ah, Jimin thought with bemusement, Yoongi was more interested in Taehyung than the latter thought.
Then Namjoon approached the bickering pair, and the atmosphere eased with the presence of their peacemaker. He had such a kind smile, and his grip was firm as he rested his hands on each of the boys’ shoulders. They made an unlikely group, the three of them together. A surprisingly nice one, however; they had struck a balance.
Parents were calling their children back to them now. Apparently, the elders were preparing to tell stories, starting the festival with important folklore before the adults were too drunk to space out completely.
Jimin hadn’t attended many of the festivals when he lived here, so he was rather unfamiliar with how these went. When he was in attendance, it was typically at his mother’s side, greeting the important clan staff rather than joining the actual celebrations.
This was nice, Jimin mused—being on the other side of things.
A larger frame plopped down on the bench right beside Jimin as the crowd was settling. Jimin blinked a couple times, looking the newcomer up and down.
Jungkook was holding a steaming mug, and he immediately extended it out to Jimin. “Tea,” he explained. “The temperature’s gonna drop even more, and I think this kind’s got a nice spice to it.”
Jimin’s lips parted in surprise. “Oh, you didn’t have to—”
“Jimin,” Jungkook interrupted, pleasant yet firm. “It’s okay to let someone take care of you every once in a while.”
Jimin was taken aback, a hint of guilt slithering around his rib cage. The alpha had a point, though. Jimin had no reason to deny Jungkook’s help and consideration. After a spell of contemplation, Jimin tentatively reached out, wrapping his short fingers around the heated ceramic. “Thank you,” he murmured.
Jungkook seemed satisfied with Jimin’s acceptance, and he nodded in reply.
Jimin snuggled deeper into his thick shawl, raising the cup to his lips to blow at it. Although he wouldn’t admit it, Jimin was glad to have Jungkook beside him. Sitting alone in a field full of the entire village was lonelier than he could have imagined. He felt more relaxed like this—less like a spectacle, more like a piece of this communal equation.
Jungkook fingered the hem of Jimin’s shawl, impressed by the material. “This is pretty.”
“Mm,” Jimin uttered. “A gift from Taehyung’s father.”
“It looks good on you, a fitting color,” Jungkook whispered, keeping his tone soft as the crowd devolved into an expectant hush.
Jimin dipped his head down, astounded at how easily this man could make him blush.
An elderly woman carefully lowered herself to a bench close to the fire, facing the rest of the clan as she scanned them all with a warm smile. Her gray hair was a bit windswept, loose strands falling into her eyes. She held onto a carved wooden cane even as she relaxed into the seat, leaning forward onto it before addressing the crowd.
She told the story of the beginning, of the Moon Goddess and her ocean of wonders. Jimin had heard this all before, mostly from his mother, some other details from the many books he buried his nose in. This woman’s gravelly voice was captivating, though, and her every word soothed Jimin further.
Jimin paid extra attention when she arrived at the creation of humanity.
“The Goddess emerged from the sea,” the elder rasped, speaking with awe and rapture. “She knew the land, its threats and glories, and knew it desired a creation of her own. She searched the shore, finding only her own creatures, wandering and seeking, until she stepped foot in grass. She felt the lush greenery, the tiny, vibrant life just before her, and she was filled with divine inspiration.”
“Divine inspiration,” Jungkook echoed in Jimin’s ear, dramatically copying the elder’s reverent tone.
Jimin muffled a snicker, only shivering the slightest from the alpha’s proximity.
“—She took a sapling, young and full of potential—” Oh, Jimin had missed some of it. “—And the Goddess swallowed it whole. She created a new life within herself, a being that had the love and resilience to create and nurture in turn. She gave birth to the first omega.”
A few little kids squinted at the woman in confusion, glancing up at their parents thereafter. Jimin almost laughed again, imagining the conversations these families were going to be forced to have later tonight about the mysterious origins of babies.
“The Earth spoke to the Goddess,” the elder continued. “Her creation was something entirely different, entirely fascinating. But his world was full of dangers, and he wanted to protect this omega as much as the Moon. So, he found the grandest oak, towering and strong, and touched its roots. The Earth breathed new life into this tree. It twisted and turned, reshaping itself until it resembled the form of the Goddess’s omega. Then, with the great shudder of an earthquake, the tree became human—the first alpha, the steady protection that the omega required.”
Jimin rolled his eyes at that last part. No alpha protection was required, but the thought of two opposites making a fated whole was nice, at least.
As the stories continued on, and the fire continued to crackle and burst, Jimin found himself unconsciously leaning closer to Jungkook, falling into his orbit. Before Jimin was even aware, he had his cheek pressed to the alpha’s shoulder, eyes half-lidded from contented drowsiness. Jungkook had wrapped an arm around Jimin’s waist to hold him secure.
For the first time since he had arrived, Jimin felt at home.
Jimin had been plagued by nightmares, hazy memories from his time on that pirate ship. His unconscious mind made him relive the humiliation, the sneers and the beatings and the cold nights spent alone. When Jimin woke, he stared at the ceiling for a long while. He was still alone.
Those restless nights left him on edge and steeped with old doubts. To avoid the eerie creaking of his house and sitting idle with his thoughts, Jimin spent most of his time buried in the archives. Although the clan was much more accommodating toward him these days, he still felt rather out of place. Jimin held no familial ties; Taehyung frequently checked up on Jimin, but even he had a multitude of responsibilities that kept him occupied.
Jimin felt like an island, going about his activities on his own schedule, cooking for himself, eating and sleeping by himself. There were short outings with Jungkook when he was available, but that was rare. Knowing he was a distraction to the Clan Head made Jimin feel all the morel like a burden.
Jungkook came knocking on Jimin’s door one late afternoon, days after they had last seen each other. Summer was peak trading season, so Jimin knew Jungkook was very busy with negotiations and all sorts of oversights.
“It’s a nice day. Wanna go for a walk?” Jungkook asked.
And as guilty as Jimin was eating up the alpha’s time, he said yes.
They trekked up the grassy incline, following mere instinct toward the high clearing that they used to occupy so often. Nearby was that familiar, sturdy tree Jimin had climbed in an attempt to get closer to the stars.
“You look tired,” Jungkook said as they crested the hill, gentle to make it sound less like an insult.
“It’s fine,” Jimin replied, ignoring the confirmation of “I am” hidden in there.
“Is it work? You spend so much time there. You should really take more breaks.”
Jimin shook his head. “I don’t mind it, really. It gets me out of the house, some peace of mind.”
“Is it the house, then? I know you’ve mentioned not feeling comfortable in there. You could move out, if that would make things better,” he suggested.
“Yeah, maybe I should,” Jimin half-heartedly agreed. He watched the bustle of the village bellow them, the children scurrying off from their parents, the teens wandering about in little packs. “How’s work for you?” He diverted.
Jungkook exhaled and leaned back on his heels. “Fine. It seems like there’s an influx of elder complaints right now. I always get stopped when I’m out and about, elders telling me about all these things that need to be changed although I’m not even in charge of most of it. I’m learning how to smile and nod. The worst of them will forget it by tomorrow, anyway.”
Jimin snorted. “Mm, Mother used to groan about how elders were the worst. According to her, they’ve got nothing better to do than complain.”
“Sounds like Hayoon.” Jungkook paused, idly sticking his hands in the pockets of his pants. He seemed nervous for a reason Jimin couldn’t place, his gaze wandering and his movements fidgety. “So, I stopped by the infirmary today. It was supposed to be a short trip, but I got caught up talking with Seokjin. We got into this conversation about intention.”
“Uh huh,” Jimin said in the quiet that followed, looking down at the grass swaying at his feet. Did he remember to wrap that extra bread up earlier?
“Y’know, making it clear what you want, being bold about your choices. Communicating those wants effectively to avoid misunderstandings. That stuff,” Jungkook rambled.
“Right,” Jimin murmured. He bent down to pluck up a clover. Huh, he had wrapped that bread up, now that he thought about it—a relief, considering how hard and stale it could’ve gotten. Jimin pulled off a leaf, a little bit more relaxed now. He twirled the clover stem between his fingers, waiting for Jungkook to speak again. “And?” He prompted.
“Well, it’s just… I’m realizing how important that is to relationships, especially for people like Seokjin who are committed to someone. I guess in our heads we make our own assumptions about things, but actually making stuff official and concrete for both of you is another story, and it can make you feel insecure if you’re not on the same page.” Ah, yeah, Jungkook definitely sounded nervous.
“Do you need to tell me something, Kook?” Jimin jokingly asked, expecting him to rant about another person or situation entirely.
“I think so, yeah,” Jungkook answered instead, forcefully evening out his warbly voice. “I’m not sure I’ve made my intentions clear with you.”
Jimin’s bemused smile fell, and his attention flickered up to Jungkook. “What?” He uttered, confused.
“A had a thing for you for a long time growing up, but then you were gone for a while, and we haven’t brought it up since you’ve been back. I figured, given how much time we’ve been spending together and how good it all feels, that we may have a similar understanding of what this is between us. But I shouldn’t make assumptions, I should make my intentions clear.” Jungkook took a deep breath, then puffed out his chest as if he was psyching himself up. “I don’t want to just be your friend, Jimin. I want to be your mate.”
Jimin blinked, admittedly taken aback. A beat passed in tense silence, then another, only the rustling of wind in Jimin’s ears. He tried to process that little speech, the implications and pressures behind it… and his stomach dropped.
“Oh,” Jimin whispered, clover stem slipping out of his lax grip.
“It’s okay if you don’t feel the same—”
“It’s not that,” Jimin interrupted, voice hoarse. “Jungkook, I… we can’t.”
Jungkook’s dejected expression morphed into one of thorough confusion, brows furrowed and lips parted in mute question. “What do you mean? We’re adults, we get to make these decisions for ourselves.”
Jimin bit his lip, clenching his fist to release some of his building tension. “It’s not about us; it’s the clan. What would they think about their Head mating an omega like me? I’m practically an outsider, and a dangerous one, at that. A lot of them still see me as cursed, a liability. Not to mention how unfit I am for such an important role.”
“Even if it did matter what the clan thought, I wouldn’t care. Jimin, you’re selfless,” Jungkook insisted. “If no one remembers what you sacrificed for the rest of us, I’ll remind them over and over again. Sure, you’re not like other omegas, but you still have the same wants and needs. You’re still a hard worker, and I know you’d make a great father.”
Jimin shook his head, throat restricting. No, he couldn’t allow Jungkook to do this to himself. Jimin was trouble, and no one as sweet and supportive as Jungkook deserved to deal with Jimin’s baggage for the rest of his life. “I’m not delicate or pretty,” Jimin rasped, blinking away the moisture gathering in his eyes. “I’ve got a permanent mark from the human trade. As much as I want to think otherwise, I still belong to them. They’re in my nightmares, in my waking world; this is always going to be a part of me, and I don’t want you to be plagued by it, too.”
Jimin inhaled a shaky breath, continuing before Jungkook could jump in. “And who’s to say I’d make a good father? I killed my own when I was born, Kook. I sucked the life out of him, then made the rest of my mother’s life miserable. I might as well have taken hers, too. I don’t know how to be gentle, don’t know how to trust or be cared for—”
“Then let’s try,” Jungkook said, bordering on desperate. He stepped closer. “These things take time and care, and I am more than willing to put in the effort. Jimin,” he plead, “I want to provide for you. Just let me.”
Jimin stumbled back, heart thumping madly. He wanted to touch Jungkook, wanted to fall into him and believe in the world he was offering. Yet, he was scared. If none of this worked, if Jimin was truly broken for good, who’s to say he wouldn’t be left alone all over again?
Jimin placed a hand over his mouth. Goddess, he was going to cry. He couldn’t do this out here, in front of him.
“Jimin, think about it,” Jungkook said, firmer than before. “Please, don’t turn this down just because of what others might say, or how you think people see you. I know you’re compassionate, and I’ve already seen you open up.”
“I need to go, Jungkook,” Jimin said, voice unsteady.
Jungkook watched Jimin turn away and start to descend the hill. His chest heaved; he was fumbling for a way to make Jimin stay. “I love you, Jimin,” he said, raising his volume, voice breaking the slightest. “Remember that.”
By the time Jimin made it home, his vision was blurry with tears. He had avoided his mother’s room at all costs, guilt eating him from the inside out whenever he so much as looked inside. As he stumbled through the dark hall, however, his body brought him past the entryway, stranding him idle in the middle of the previously undisturbed bedroom.
Everything was so neat and organized, as if she had been here just this morning. Jimin saw the stiff blankets atop her bed, pulled flat and straight, and a sob rose up his throat.
As a child, he would sneak into his mother’s room in the dead of the night, floorboards creaking under his little feet. He’d snuggle in right next to her, feeling so much safer from the monsters of his nightmares once he was merely by her side. Hayoon often woke from the disturbance but uttered no complaint, allowing Jimin to nestle in closer and drift back to sleep.
Now, Jimin wanted nothing more than to curl up next to his mother under the warmth of her sheets. She would pet his hair as he cried, because his father had never been around to do it in her stead.
Jimin found himself kneeling down onto the bed without a single thought. He didn’t pull back the blankets. He simply laid down atop the pristine display, curling around himself for some semblance of security and protection. He grabbed Hayoon’s pillow and nuzzled into it, inhaling her residual scent.
His attention caught on something left behind, however—a notebook, previously hidden under the pillow. Its leather cover was dark and worn, and when Jimin reached out with shaky hands to grasp it, the surface was smooth, as well.
Jimin slowly sat back up, staring at the notebook with reverence. All this time, he had been praying to his parents at their family shrine, desperate for some way to connect with them. And all this time, his mother’s words had been waiting right here, unbeknownst to him.
Jimin carefully opened it to the first page to soak in Hayoon’s neat and curved scrawl.
“Medics have suggested I start journaling to help process my grief. I don’t know what to write, what to say. I keep pulling this back out at night, staring at the blank pages.”
The first entry was brief, and Jimin’s heartbeat faltered; he imagined Hayoon laying here alone every evening, illuminated only by soft candlelight, her chest heavy and expression solemn. He turned the page.
“I guess I should start with the loss I actually know how to process. I met your father when we were teens. Jihwan’s family joined the clan soon after I started training to be the Head. I noticed his smile first, swore it was the brightest thing I’ve ever seen. You have the same smile as him, Jimin. It lights up any room.
“I know I was awkward around him, but he didn’t mind. He was so kind, a little naïve. That’s probably why I wanted to protect him so badly. We mated too young, but his parents didn’t mind, and we sure didn’t, either. We weren’t quite as young when we found out we were having you. Jihwan started bawling on the spot.”
Jimin flipped a few pages, skimming this longer entry.
“You were born in the middle of the night. Jihwan had been cold and tired all day, so he stayed in bed throughout the labor. Medics said it was normal until things got much worse. You somehow wailed more that your father when you were born, and your face was scrunched up like you were upset with us. You were so small, so delicate.
“Jihwan held you, and you were in his arms when he passed. Even though it was brief, I’m glad he got to meet you.”
Jimin continued on, throat tight.
I’ve had to spend a lot of my time with Jungkook lately. He talks too much, does weird little things like bowing to everyone when he’s nervous. He needs to learn how to be confident in himself, or no one’s going to respect him. But he’s a good kid, smart and kind. At least he’s not hopeless.”
Jimin smiled at that, eyes blurring the slightest.
“Jeon talks about you a lot. It makes us both sad, I think, but it’s good to remember, good to understand the parts of you that we didn’t always get to see. The kid admitted he would help you sneak out, and I’m trying not to get frustrated at the thought of you wandering around in the dark. I suppose some part of me knew you doing things to get away; I smothered you too much. No, I stifled you. I’m sorry, I should’ve just let you live.
“All you wanted to do growing up was play with the other kids.”
Then, there was a later entry.
“He loves you. I hear it in his voice, see it in how he treated you. I should have given him a chance much earlier.”
Jimin quickly moved on, getting too emotional just thinking about his mother’s regrets. He had to pause, though, when he reached a page with warped paper. There were small circles, dry now, but clearly caused by droplets. Tears, he realized after a moment. Jimin had never known Hayoon to cry, so these words hurt more than they ought to.
“I keep praying to the Goddess that you’re safe. I pray to Jihwan to watch over you, protect you. I didn’t do right by him. Goddess, I didn’t do right by you. Please come back, Jimin. Come home.”
There were many more entries beyond that, surely filled with Hayoon’s wishes and regrets. Jimin couldn’t see anymore, though, his vision entirely distorted by welling tears. A sob was rising from his chest, wracking his entire frame.
He gently closed the journal and set it aside, overwhelmed by a flood of sorrow and loss. He wanted so badly to hug her, to show her he was alright. And Jimin forgave her, of course he did. He missed her so much.
Jimin clung to the pillow, burying his face into it as he hiccupped and shuddered. He wanted to be a kid again, loved and cared for. He wanted his little family back.
All he could do, though, was wallow and wish, so Jimin cried and cried and cried until his chest hurt and his lungs gave out.
Jimin must have slept for hours. When he rose on weak limbs, his throat was hoarse and his cheeks stiff from dried tears. Looking back, he couldn’t explain what compelled him to leave the house that night, or what drew him past the lit windows of the village’s huts, down the worn trail to the cliffs edge, and to the roaring beach below. Maybe it was the Moon, drawing him back to somewhere he could feel whole again.
Once his feet were in the soft sand, he found himself shedding his clothes, walking directly toward the water. The tide’s foam gathered at his bare ankles, then the chilled water was lapping at his calves. Higher and higher, the omega in a trance as he swam out farther into the liquid moonlight.
He felt the water glide between his fingers as he waded, his movements sure and steady, breath evening out in turn. There was always a sense of peace that accompanied being in the sea. Nothing could hurt him out here, he knew. This place was void of worries or precedent. Jimin was not cursed, not a failure as an omega or the Clan Head’s son. He was one with the ocean—one body, one mind, one heart beating in time with the calm waves.
Jimin dunked his head. He relaxed his muscles and simply floated.
He ended up on his back, idle for a long while as he stared at the blanket of stars. The Goddess was bright tonight, silvery light almost warm against Jimin’s exposed skin. He let himself drift under the glow amidst the galaxy reflected around him, swimming in a million stars without disturbance.
Nothing lasted forever, though, not even Jimin’s lonesome peace. He felt the ripples in the atmosphere like a warning, another premonition he couldn’t quite explain.
Jimin righted himself until he was wading again, sinking down as the waves lapped at his chin. He peered through the darkness at the beach beyond. There was a broad figure out on the sand, idle as he observed Jimin. Jungkook, Jimin belatedly recognized. Perhaps he was waiting for Jimin to yell at him to leave, but Jimin did no such thing. He was more curious as to whether the alpha would be brave enough to approach.
Jungkook sensed the challenge, reaching down after a mere pause to grasp the hem of his shirt. He tugged it off with ease. He stepped forward, leaving his clothes beside Jimin’s trail, slowly shedding each layer until he reached the water’s edge. He flinched at the initial chill, but continued to push forward, wading when he could no longer walk.
He swam toward Jimin without breaking his gaze, and Jimin’s heartrate picked up, a bit shocked the alpha was going so far to follow him. Jimin raised his head above the surface, cheeks dripping and glistening under the white, wavering light.
Jimin’s expression morphed into something vulnerable, that high-walled protective part of him bursting once again when Jungkook drew near. Jimin wished he had held his tongue earlier, had listened Jungkook out. The alpha had something to prove to Jimin, and that fact in itself sent a crack through Jimin’s composure.
“I’m sorry,” Jimin whispered, the rough winds carrying his words. “You were right, about the clan, about everything. I’m tired of being alone, and every time I’m with you, it’s like there’s this new spark of life in me. I want that, Goddess, I—I want you—”
Jungkook wrapped his fingers around Jimin’s wrist and tugged him close as if he weighed nothing. He wrapped his arm around the omega’s waist, warm against cold, soft against firm. And Jimin’s lips parted in a muted gasp. He had more to say, really, but what else needed to be uttered when Jungkook was leaning in, hooded gaze full of so much reverence, and kissing Jimin.
Jimin slung his arms over Jungkook’s shoulders, returning the embrace. Kissing him was—was heat into his veins, butterflies in his ribcage, new life poured into every ounce of him. He tilted his head, kissing Jungkook deeper, harder, consumed by him until he was breathless. Even then, Jimin didn’t mind. He had never been one who needed much oxygen, anyway.
Jimin twisted his fingers into the alpha’s damp, curly hair, anchoring himself as he was lifted by the waist. Closer, warmer, flush against each other until there was no room for the tide rushing between them.
When Jungkook needed air, he only allowed an inch between them so he could inhale, and Jimin whispered it again: “I want you.” His lips were a ghost against Jungkook’s, gentle and fleeting.
“How much?” The alpha rasped.
“You know,” Jimin breathed, chest shuddering, fingers winding deeper into his thick hair. “You know.”
Jungkook kissed him, rough. Then, a softer press of lips right over Jimin’s scar.
“I came home,” Jimin said when they parted. “I’d travel the world again for you. I love you.”
Jungkook stopped, pulling back to look Jimin in the eye. His gaze was wide, a jolt of shock coursing through him at the confession. He searched Jimin’s expression for that sincerity he craved, hope seeping into his own.
Jimin nodded, adamant. “I love you,” he repeated. He kissed Jungkook lightly, gently. “I do. I have for a very long time.”
Jungkook, too overjoyed for words, hoisted Jimin up higher, the omega wrapping his legs around Jungkook’s waist in return. Jungkook chuckled, airy and free, and he swooped in for a heated kiss. He nipped Jimin’s plush lower lip, soothed the bite with his tongue.
Jimin involuntary moaned, a sound so small and weak it could barely be heard above the crash of waves beyond them.
“Let’s—” Jimin stuttered, grasping onto Jungkook’s shoulders, mind hazy. “Please, let’s—hold me, please.”
“Not here,” Jungkook mumbled.
Jimin rested his forehead against the alpha’s collarbone as Jungkook looked around. He squeezed the younger’s bicep, need coiling hot in his gut.
“Come home with me,” Jungkook suggested. “There, we can do it there.”
It was even harder leaving the frigid ocean than it had been getting in. The summer air was kind to them, however, gentle on their skin as they rushed to pull on their clothes. Impatient, Jungkook scooped up a giggling Jimin, and they departed the starry sea.
Jimin was laid out on Jungkook’s bed, flickering candlelight glowing orange and yellow hues across his bare body. Jungkook was kissing his way up Jimin’s stomach agonizingly slow as he fingered the omega open, overly concerned about hurting him.
Jimin squirmed and gasped at the unusual yet pleasurable sensation, raising his hand to bite down on something.
Jungkook grasped a firm thigh to hold Jimin down, his fidgeting very distracting and admittedly hazardous. His exploration brought him up to Jimin’s hardened nipples, and Jimin nearly kicked the alpha’s stomach when he wrapped his lips around one.
“Shit,” Jimin grunted, voice breaking off into a whine.
Jungkook’s gaze flickered up to Jimin to watch his face distort from sensitivity. Jimin, however, thought the sight from his angle was all the more arousing; Jungkook’s hair was still wet and messy, cascading down in dark waves and curling against his forehead. He was rather bitter he couldn’t reach Jungkook’s hair at the moment, otherwise he would have his fingers absolutely tangled in it.
“Done yet?” Jimin sighed when Jungkook stretched out his three fingers inside Jimin.
“I think that’s up to you. Feel ready?” He asked, voice low and rough. He continued his trail up, laving his tongue over Jimin’s clavicle, tasting salt on his skin.
“I don’t care. I want to kiss you again,” Jimin mumbled.
Jungkook snorted and sat up. “I really don’t want to hurt you.”
Jimin adamantly shook his head, mussing his the back of his hair as he rubbed it against the sheets. “You won’t, promise. I’ll be okay.”
Jungkook seemed doubtful, but he slowly pulled out, nevertheless. Jimin withheld a hiss at the sudden sensation.
Jimin was admittedly a bit scared, but he supposed anyone’s first time was inevitably going to be intimidating. At least he knew he was in gentle, considerate hands.
When the alpha aligned himself with Jimin’s entrance, the latter curled his hands into the blanket below. His abdomen clenched with anticipation, and Jungkook had to smooth a hand over his tensed stomach.
“Try to relax,” he murmured, “Or you’ll be too tight.”
“Wait, can I hurt you?” Jimin asked, raising his head the slightest to squint down at Jungkook.
The younger snorted. “You sound way too excited about that.”
“It’s just curiosity, I swear.”
Jungkook shook his head, bemused, and rubbed Jimin’s stomach again. Jimin took the cue and exhaled, working to even out his breathing and calm his tense body in turn. When he felt the alpha’s cockhead at his entrance, he closed his eyes, letting his anticipation overwhelm his nerves.
“Mm,” Jimin mumbled.
Jungkook pressed in slow, Jimin’s lips parting during the motion. He kept a firm hand at Jimin’s hip, steadying the omega as he continued pushing in inch by inch.
When Jimin mustered the strength to open his eyes and take in the sight of the alpha above him, he caught onto the flexing of Jungkook’s abs and the taut muscles of his shoulders. Fuck, he was hot. Suddenly, another wave of slick leaked past his rim.
Blushing, Jimin pressed him head back against the bed. He bit into his lip, holding himself still until the alpha was fully inside him. He finally exhaled the air trapped in his lungs.
“Fuck,” Jungkook muttered, reflecting Jimin’s precise thoughts.
Jimin clenched his fist in the sheets. “You can move,” he breathed. He had felt a spark of something earlier, and he desperately wanted to feel it again. The drag of the thick cock against his walls sent full-body shudders through him, and Jimin continued to urge his partner onward.
It was just as Jungkook was establishing a steady pace that he spoke again. “So, when are you gonna let me mate you?”
Jimin released a dry laugh. “Straight to the point while I’m in a vulnerable position, huh?”
“I just figured, given the moment we had back there…” he intentionally trailed off. He snapped his hips, thrusting in harder than before.
Jimin’s lungs stuttered, and he secured his thighs around the alpha’s hips. He looked down at Jungkook through hooded eyes, lips red and swollen from how much he’d been worrying them.
Jimin arched a brow. “I suppose it’d be okay when you knock me up.”
“When, not if?” Jungkook asked, humored.
“What, do you intend for this to be a one-time thing?” Jimin shot back.
His walls tightened around Jungkook’s cock, and the alpha hissed. “Nope, definitely not,” he replied, voice slightly gravelly.
Jungkook angled his hips a bit differently, and Jimin released a whimper. The former slowed his movements, surprised. “Did I hurt you?” He asked in a rush.
“No,” Jimin practically moaned. “No, do that again.”
Jungkook did, and Jimin’s veins were alight. He reached out, grasping for more leverage, and Jungkook accommodated him by leaning closer until he was just about hovering over the omega. Jimin wrapped his arms him, nails digging into the alpha’s back when his thrusts grew deeper, rough.
“Yes,” Jimin whispered, tears at the corners of his eyes.
There was sweat gathering at Jimin’s temples and an ache in his abdomen. He was riddled with sparks of pleasure, arteries hot and insides coiling.
Jungkook started kissing along Jimin’s jaw, breath stuttered against his flushed skin. His lips skimmed down across Jimin’s throat, wet and warm and sensitive. Jimin’s own cock twitched as Jungkook bit lightly into the juncture between his neck and shoulder, not quite hard enough to break skin. It felt like a promise.
Jimin got lost in the white light behind his eyelids, hand snaking up until his grip was twisted in Jungkook’s silky hair. The alpha’s thrusts were growing erratic, and Jimin knew he was close to release, too.
He heard his own whines and gasps echoed back to him, punctuated by the slap of skin on skin. Jimin felt overstimulated and dazed, so he sought Jungkook out again and pressed their lips together, stifling his shrieks and moans as the alpha’s knot began to expand, slipping past his rim until he couldn’t pull out.
The orgasm was all-consuming, Jimin overwhelmed by shudders and weak noises as he grasped onto Jungkook harder. He resurfaced while Jungkook was coming, gut warm and full as the alpha released inside him. Jimin was content to be locked together.
They were still sweaty and exhausted a while later when the knot went down. Jimin’s back was pressed to Jungkook’s chest, the latter’s nose buried against Jimin’s neck.
Jimin murmured, “I should clean up.”
Jungkook smoothed his palm across the curve of Jimin’s waist, exhaling. “Okay. Are you going to leave after?”
“I don’t know,” Jimin admitted.
Jimin was warm and content in Jungkook’s embrace, and although he didn’t want to overstay his welcome, the house he would be returning to could never feel like home again. This—these arms secure around his waist, this man who loved and cared for him—was home now.
“Stay,” Jungkook whispered, sleepy and spent.
Jimin paused to twine their fingers, then he smiled. He stayed.
Jimin sat in the sand, gentle breeze brushing against his cheeks as he gazed out at the quiet ocean before him. Tide was low, and he had risen early just to watch, listen, and feel the peaceful waves roll in from the depths beyond.
Jimin’s hair was entirely silver now, past his chin and finally longer than Jungkook’s. He stood out starkly amidst the rest of their village, but Jimin didn’t mind all that much anymore. He fit in in other ways.
Jungkook had a hard time sleeping alone, so it was no surprise when Jimin spotted him sluggishly descending the cliffside, rubbing his eyes as he gravitated toward Jimin. When he reached the omega, he simply flopped down behind him in the sand, slotting the elder between his legs.
Jungkook hummed as he wrapped his arms around Jimin’s waist and hooked his chin over the omega’s shoulder. “What’re you doing out here so early?” He mumbled.
Jungkook spread his palm over Jimin’s stomach, a slight roundness to it that clearly hadn’t been there before, and Jimin placed his hand over the alpha’s. Seeking warmth and the familiar scent, Jungkook then nuzzled into Jimin’s neck, right over the pink, raised scar of his mating mark.
Jimin rested back against his love’s chest, eyes hooded as his body eased with contentment. He smiled, gaze set on the shimmer of orange just peeking over the horizon, casting a hazy flame over the rippling surface of the sea.
“I’m just watching the sun rise.”