When Jungkook first sees the crab, he lets out a shout.
He's not particular scared of things that crawl or have many legs (unlike Hoseok hyung) but he is shocked by its very presence in front of him. What is a massive crab (easily bigger than his hand) doing in his living room on the eighteenth floor of a Seoul apartment block?
Seokjin hyung lets out a screech when he sees it. "Get rid of it," he says, taking a rushed step back when the little crustacean clacks its claws. "What's it doing here?"
Jungkook's first thought is Taehyung, because, well. Taehyung may be his best friend but part of being best friends is tirelessly teasing each other with jokes and pranks. And when those best friends are witches in training, the pranks tend to take an odd turn (so, maybe Jungkook sent a plague of frogs to Taehyung's apartment and maybe he wasn't able to reverse the jinx and maybe he had to beg his classmate to let her little sister and future frog expert take them home and maybe Yeojin gave him a dark look and maybe it wasn't half as bad as Jimin's dark look but hey, it was worth it for the decidedly not-dark-but-terrified look that was on Taehyung's face).
But a single crab doesn't do much, so surely it can't be Taehyung?
"It's a familiar," Yoongi says, shrugging casually, trying to act unperturbed as if Jungkook hadn’t seen him jump back behind Seokjin just now. "Look. There's a letter." He points, but doesn't go any closer.
And Jungkook moves closer, and sees that indeed, there is a neat little envelope under the crab's perch. It's perfectly square, a cream colour, written in a dark ink that shimmers like damp sand on the beach. Jeon Jungkook is scrawled across the corner.
It's not uncommon for witches to send animals delivering their messages (animals who can ensure that it falls into the hands of the correct recipient) but most send them with hired birds or cats. Occasionally a rarer one shows its face – but a crab?
"Well," Seokjin asks, foot tapping. "What does it say?"
Jungkook scans the terrible handwriting. "Oh. It's an apprenticeship offer. From a sea witch." He frowns. "There are sea witches in Seoul?"
He's familiar with sea witches, all right: in Busan, the place is full of them, as with every other village, town and city dotted along the coast. But -- "there's no sea in Seoul."
Seokjin shrugs. "Seoul is so big, everything passes through here," is all he says by means of explanation. He still looks warily at the crab.
"But I'm an earth witch," he says. "Why does some old sea witch want me to be her apprentice?"
Yoongi rolls his eyes - they've had this conversation before, but Jungkook is a prodigy so he has the luxury of being picky. "They're not here to teach you your specialisation. Every witch out of training has to spend two years working for a fully qualified witch to oversee their basics and practical skills before-
"-Before they can practice their own brand of magic, yeah, yeah, yeah. But like, earth and sea are opposing forces."
"Then reject it," Yoongi says. "You've been getting offers all week."
"At least go check out the shop," Seokjin says. "It could be interesting! And rejecting witches impolitely is never a good idea."
Jungkook puts the letter down. If he wanted to be a sea witch, he'd have stayed in his hometown just outside Busan with his family and friends instead of moving to Seoul. The offer from the weather witch sounds much more appealing. But he nods in acquiescence: he already had plans to deliver his decisions to three of Seoul's witches anyway. What's another witch?
The crab clacks its claws again, like a jaunty little wave, before it crawls off the coffee table and out the door, leaving behind it only a smell of salt and seaweed, a scent Jungkook hasn't smelled in a long time.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
The meeting with the weather witch didn't go particularly well. Rain spells and earthquake charms all sound well and good but the shop had an oppressive feeling, its witch speaking and not listening, the smell of sour herbs permeating the air. It was just an interview, the witch calling Jungkook the wrong name and promising to get back to him soon. It leaves a bitter taste of disappointment in his mouth, especially after he already rejected his second choice. His mood darkens on his way to the sea witch's shop: the sea has always reminded him of what he can't have, of the town he misses most in Seoul's grey streets.
It's not surprising then, that he had conjured up an awful imagining of the sea witch's shop: even worse than the weather witch's, smelling of rotting flesh and rotten seawater and rotten fish corpses littering the floor-
It's a surprise then, when he enters into a high-ceilinged room. It's less like a shop and more like a miniature gallery: the walls are painted white, minimal apart from a few intense art pieces. Some comfy, low seating in a dark forest green, a few shrubs here and there. Professional looking pamphlets on a coffee table advertising sea magic services and organisations that clean the plastic from oceans. Most places witches inhabit are riddled with chaos, even the cleanest. This place is clean, but open: welcome and sophisticated, elegant but friendly, personality bursting through the space. He finds himself staring at one of the pieces: a hanging woodcut with swerving and whorling lines that he loses himself in.
Jungkook jumps, looking bashfully at his feet when he bows. "Yeah," he says. "I don't know much about art, but it's pretty. Like it's trying to tell a message, but-"
Jungkook looks up, and really sees the man for the first time. Honey skin and gorgeous lips and plum dyed hair styled off his forehead, a light denim jacket pushed up to reveal arms that make his mouth water, tall stance, a kind smile, and dimples that make his heart beat twice as fast.
"I'm Namjoon," the man says. "maritime and oceanic magical expert, and the owner of this shop. How can I help you?"
Jungkook's heart works faster than his brain. His mouth works faster than both of them and out tumble his words before he can even register: "I'm here to accept your apprenticeship offer."
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
Many people underestimate the ocean.
Jungkook knows this. He grew up alongside the sea. He spent his days in rock pools and digging his toes into wet sand and helping the men haul in the fishing nets, His mother creasing her brow as she examines the horizon, watching as the local sea witches performed spells to help the sailors steer clear of shipwrecks. Not even a witch’s magic is a match for the ocean, though.
And anyway, Jungkook came to Seoul to prove himself as an earth witch. As far as he sees it, there’s no need for him to even deal with the ocean. Or so he thought.
The back of Namjoon’s shop smells like the sea. Namjoon is only three years older than him, but everything reeks of sophistication, from his easy smiles to the crystalline jars of sea salt that rest on his workbenches.
“Adding real sea salt to any sea spell makes it better,” he tells Jungkook, “no matter what it is.” His magic smells of the ocean air.
Most of Namjoon’s trade comes from the docks. From fishermen to traders to passengers of luxury cruise ships, they come to him for protective charms against the rush of the sea. While he sets about on the more intricate parts of the charm, he has Jungkook making endless vats of essence of amethyst. The talisman has to be steeped in essence of amethyst for three nights to ensure the longevity and effectiveness of the magic: it turns any plain old object into a suitable vector for a charm. Then Namjoon works the real sea magic into it, incantations tumbling through his lips in a low voice, words so fast that Jungkook can barely discern the syllables. The room swells with the scent of burning driftwood.
Namjoon is the coolest witch Jungkook has ever met, he thinks, stirring the fragrant purple liquid in the cauldron in front of him (counter-clockwise; stirring clockwise would be disastrous for this potion). And Jungkook is friends with Yoongi, so that’s saying something.
He feels a little guilty, knowing he hasn’t much interest in ocean magic, but he’s already learned lots from Namjoon and he’s much kinder than some of the other witches he was interviewed by and besides, maybe Seokjin’s right and it will be better to learn the basics from somebody who won’t see him as future competition in a limited field, and Namjoon has never tried to judge or question why an earth witch wants to—
“Let’s see how this is coming on, shall we?” Namjoon is suddenly beside him, kneeling at the side of Jungkook’s pot.
“Yes sir!” Jungkook says, and he tries not to stare at Namjoon’s hands as he dips a ladle into the mixture. But Namjoon pauses, frozen mid-scoop, and Jungkook half-expects to be found out.
“I’ve been thinking,” he says, “I called my witch mentor sir, and he was fifty years older than me. I think you can probably just call me hyung.”
Jungkook tries not to choke on air. “But—I’m your apprentice!”
“You’re on a probationary trial,” Namjoon says, but it’s teasing rather than stern. “You’re what, twenty-two? I’m only twenty-five. The only reason I have my own shop is because I got lucky and was able to graduate early.”
Lucky, more like he was a prodigy who finished his apprenticeship before he was eighteen.
“You don’t have to if it makes you uncomfortable, of course,” Namjoon continues. “But I don’t think there’s much of a gap between us. You can speak comfortably to me, if you wish.”
Namjoon smiles at him, and something in Jungkook’s chest tightens. It doesn’t feel like there’s much of a gap between them right now. It’s like being with one of his friends (hell, Namjoon is younger than Yoongi and Seokjin and they’re the people he spends most of his time around). There’s lots he doesn’t know about Namjoon and in terms of practical magical skills, Namjoon knows so much more than him, but…but right now, he feels relaxed around him.
Namjoon turns his attention back to the potion, pulling the ladle out, watching a globule drip back down. “It’s a little thick,” he says, swiping a droplet onto his forefinger. “But that shouldn’t be a problem.” He sniffs, then tentatively pokes his tongue out to taste the mixture (Jungkook tries not to watch him too intently). His face scrunches up. “Disgusting.”
“Did I do something wrong?”
“No. Essence of amethyst is supposed to taste awful. In fact, it tastes the right kind of awful which means you’re doing a very good job.”
Jungkook looks down to hide his pride. “It’s one of the harder standard potions,” he says, “but we still did learn it at the academy—”
“Of course you did,” Namjoon says. “It’s relatively easy to make a good essence of amethyst,” and Jungkook almost feels crestfallen by the way he claps him on the shoulder, “but it’s very difficult to make an excellent one. They say it’s impossible to make one that’s 100% perfect. But this…this is good work. It’s already better than the first one you made for me, and that wasn’t half bad either. You’ve lots of talent, Jungkook-ah.”
This time, Jungkook can’t hide the swell of pride that rushes his chest. “Thanks, Namjoon hyung.”
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
“It’s because most witches live longer,” Namjoon says. “Most keep practicing until their second twenties. My great-great-grandmother was a farm witch that lived until she was two hundred and seventeen. Apparently every sheep within miles mourned the day she died, as their entire bloodlines had been shepherded by her.”
“She must have been very respected.”
“She was. And she deserved it! But it meant when the next witch took over her practice, she wasn’t very well respected at all. When your local witch can practice for a century, it means they don’t take people as young as us very seriously.”
Jungkook straightens up, the water licking up to his thighs. “But your clients all seem to like you…”
“They’re all sceptical at first. The trick is to prove them wrong.” Namjoon winks at him. “They all look surprised when they see a man in his twenties in a shop that doesn’t look like it’s been collecting dust for thirty years, but the magic I provide is first class. Word of mouth is always good for a witch.”
“That’s if a witch can get a shop. Seokjin hyung’s been saving for years since he finished his apprenticeship and he still says he’s nowhere close to his goal.”
“He’s a bit of a different case, though, isn’t he? He’s written a lot of important documents. He’s quite famous in magical circles, even if he doesn’t have a more traditional business.”
“I suppose.” He runs another purifying spell through the water again, but this one isn’t quite as satisfactory as his last. He’s frustrated. “Do you know him?”
“Not really. I think we met once at a function. But I’ve read some of his stuff. Most people our age have.”
“He’s much more mature in writing,” Jungkook assures.
The truth is, if Seokjin, who has already made a name for himself, cannot set up his own shop then the future looks bleak for Jungkook. With witches living longer and practicing longer the market is becoming more and more saturated. Meanwhile, with increasing technology and modern interventions, there’s less need for magic in everyday life. The business is shrinking, and none of the alternatives look appealing to Jungkook: the writing route, like Seokjin, doesn’t seem feasible in the long run (he’s excellent at performing spells but likes creating them less) and the teaching route, like Jimin and Yoongi…he doesn’t know if he has the social skills to deal with new magic and teenagers all day every day. Setting up his own shop, having his own familiar, maybe one day his own apprentices; that’s the dream he’s kept dear, that’s what he came to Seoul to pursue.
This time, the purification spell doesn’t work very well at all. The plastic bag nearest him moves half-heartedly but fails to separate from the water and over to the pile of rubbish they’ve created on the bank. There isn’t the swish of clear water through the dark river like there usually is.
“Hey,” Namjoon says. He frowns.
“A purification spell won’t work if you’re worried.”
“It should,” he grumbles.
“Magic is like a river,” Namjoon says. One of his eyebrows is raised. He’s more concerned about his bumbling trainee than the fact that his job isn’t being done. “If a dam is built, it won’t flow correctly.”
“Do you have water analogies for everything?”
“Almost. I have to remain on-brand.”
Despite himself, Jungkook laughs. Namjoon is like that, able to draw smiles out of him whenever he wants. He’s so cool! Not to mention witty...
Jungkook’s train of thought is derailed by the man himself.
“But you can always learn a lot from the water.” Namjoon does his own purification spell, and Jungkook watches as some of the dirt sifts itself out of the river. “Do you want to talk about anything?”
“Not really.” His kindness makes Jungkook feel silly, and a little warm, in a way he can’t tell is satisfaction or embarrassment. “Just dumb future stuff.”
“Ah, the millennial struggle. Or do you count as Gen Z?”
“You sound so old when you try to be wise, hyung. No wonder you fool your clients.”
Jungkook screeches as Namjoon sends a splash of cold river water his way. “Yah, Jungkook-ah, I’m still very powerful.”
“So am I,” he says, more surprised by the fact that he means it.
“Then get to work.”
His next purification spell is much better.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
“Jungkook-ah, did you bring lunch today?”
“I know sometimes you bring lunch instead of going out. But, well, ah, if you didn’t bring food with you today, would you like to eat with me? A friend of mine dropped some homemade dishes over this morning, and it’s far too much for me to eat alone. It’ll just be reheated, but it’ll still taste really good, he makes his noodles from scratch! I mean, that’s if you don’t already have plans—”
Jungkook has enough of Seokjin hyung’s gimbap to feed an army, all stacked neatly in a lunchbox in his bag. Seokjin hyung doesn’t cook often because he’s short on time, but when he does, Jungkook swears he’s putting some of his own magic into the food. But Seokjin understands; he went to ridiculous lengths to win Yoongi’s heart back in the day, uneaten gimbap will be easily understood.
So Jungkook nods. “Sounds great, hyung. I forgot to bring lunch today, actually.” He laughs sheepishly and looks at Namjoon from under his eyelashes. Namjoon grins.
After that, they start eating lunch together each day. Often they order in, or if they don’t, they make far too much ramen. It doesn’t taste as good as Seokjin hyung’s gimbap, or the lunches he bought in the nearby café he had begun to frequent, but the quality of his lunchtimes rises exponentially.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
“The full moon is the best time to brew this,” Namjoon says. He’s a little frantic. “The moon—”
“Gives a natural energy boost to all witches and mages practicing magic,” Jungkook says, with an over-exaggerated eye-roll. He’s trying to make Namjoon laugh. The stressed witch doesn’t laugh – not even a giggle! – but he does crack a small smile.
“You’re not wrong,” he says. “But for sea witches, it’s even more important. The tides follow the moon, and a full moon presents a monthly opportunity to wrangle a little more power over the waves.”
He’s dicing the roots of an orange-coloured plant so quickly that Jungkook’s a little worried for his long, elegant fingers. “So that’s why we’re making…” he glances at the recipe of a potion, the name of which has far too many vowels for Jungkook to even attempt pronunciation, “this?”
“Sea spell,” Namjoon says, scraping the roots into the cauldron. They fizzle as they meet the liquid, filling the room momentarily with the smell of turmeric. “Half-generic protection charm, but mixed with an oceanic pacifying tincture. Mixed with a few drops of good luck. Then when the full moon is at its peak, we make a supplication and mind the magic of the moon into it. The result is a sailing draught which is potent enough to help protect lives at sea.”
“It stops people from drowning?” Jungkook frowns, thinking about all of the brews he’s seen his hometown witches frown over.
Namjoon winces. “Not exactly. There’s no such brew that can prevent that indefinitely – I’m working on it, though. But if the drinker comes into trouble at sea—” he pauses to dump another bowlful of roots into the mix “—it raises their chances of survival significantly. This is most sea witches’ – myself included – best seller. That’s why we make so much of it. It’s my rent for the month.” Namjoon gestures around the large vats all simmering around them.
Jungkook remembers his family preparing for the full moon. The restaurant’s best weeks of business were always immediately after the full moon. He never questioned it before, but now – it makes sense.
Namjoon snorts. “I always forget you’re a Busan kid,” he says when Jungkook tells him as much.
Jungkook frowns. “I’m not a kid,” he says. “And why is that funny?”
“It’s just ironic, Jungkook-ah. Usually with sea-witches, it’s us city boys flocking to the coast to study, not the other way around.”
“Oh.” Jungkook passes Namjoon the last tray of the orange plant. “Well, there’s not much point staying in Busan if you’re not a sea witch.”
“There’s lots of diverse strands of magic in Busan.”
“Yeah, but not much along the line of earth magic. My mother was devastated when she found out.”
“She didn’t want you to practice earth magic?”
Jungkook sighs. “More like she didn’t want me to have to leave home to train.”
Namjoon looks thoughtful. “I see.” He glances at the clock. “We need to move on,” he says. “We need to be ready for supplication by 1:15.”
“I’m guessing you don’t usually leave this so last minute,” Jungkook says, eyebrow-raised as he ties his hair back.
Namjoon looks sheepish, and oh gods above, he flushes. He’s so cute. Eyes drop to the floor and his shoulders hunch in a half-shrug and he scratches the back of his neck leaving orange dust scattered on the back of his pyjamas. “Leap year has me out of sync,” he says. “I thought full moon wasn’t until tomorrow and didn’t realise until I was setting my alarm.”
That would explain why Jungkook had a frantic call at 11:30. Namjoon at 11:30 is ready for bed, and was so wrapped up in preparations that he remained in his pyjamas. They’re pale blue, with Ryan bears patterned across them. He has his glasses on instead of his contacts – Jungkook knows he wears contacts because he’s taken to wearing ones with purple lenses, the same shade as his current hair colour, and Jungkook has scoured his Instagram enough to know that his natural shade is a rich, dark brown – and the frames are heavy and thick, like the ones Jungkook used to tease Jimin for wearing in middle school. He used to tell Jimin they made him look like a nerd about to be bullied but on Namjoon they’re endearing and cute, and oh god Namjoon has said something that Jungkook didn’t catch.
“I said, I’m not usually this scatterbrained. I’m not a very good example, am I? Anyway, thank you for helping out, Jungkook-ah. I really appreciate it!”
Jungkook is too flustered to respond cleverly, so he nods and focuses on pulling out the vats of essence of amethyst from Namjoon’s stores.
Namjoon leaves the basic properties of the protection charm to Jungkook, who swells with pride. He’s made them before to good results under Namjoon’s strict guidance, but Namjoon trusts him enough to go it alone while he works on the delicate good luck serum. Namjoon is amazing, flying about the workshop grabbing different tools and ingredients off shelves so fast it looks like he’s grown six more arms. Jungkook studies the way he bites his lip as he measures droplets, how his brow furrows in concentration. As he stirs his own share of the potion (counter-clockwise; stirring clockwise would be disastrous for this particular brew) he watches him out of the corner of his eye.
One strikes the clock on the wall and continues on into the growing past. Namjoon finishes adding the serum into the different pots and cauldrons. There are nine of them, and when Namjoon announces they have to go to the roof Jungkook has barely questioned how they’re going to carry them up when Namjoon waves a hand.
“Come on,” he says, gesturing for Jungkook to follow him up the stairs. Jungkook hears a rattling, but follows.
They go up onto the roof. The night is cloudy but the full moon still shines strongly. The rattling reveals itself as hundreds of crabs, seemingly cropping up from the cracks in the floorboards to hoist Namjoon’s cauldrons, carrying them up the stairs like ants. They look white in the light, washed out by the hazy mix of street lamps and moonlight.
“Creepy,” Jungkook says. He represses a shudder. He thinks of how Seokjin hyung and Yoongi hyung would react to that.
“Don’t be mean to my familiars,” Namjoon says, honest-to-god pouting. “Crabs are very cute. They’re just misunderstood.”
The army of crabs set up the various cauldrons in a circle around a kneeling Namjoon. He nods at Jungkook, and he steps carefully out of the circle. The crabs retreat, disappearing down the stairs as fast as they had come.
When Jungkook was younger, he and his brother and his dad used to go camping. They travelled into the countryside, far enough away from the behemoth city skyline of Busan and any nearby towns that there was no light pollution during the night. While their father snored, he and his brother dragged their sleeping bags out of their tent and lay on their backs in the dewy grass. The brightest stars always manage to shine through the streetlight-addled skies of the city, but out here it was like looking into another world. His brother always pointed out constellations and told Jungkook about their names and stories. It was all information Jungkook knew already, but every year he would pretend he had forgotten. The last time they went camping they fell asleep outside and caught awful colds from lying in the damp. Their mother had been furious.
The night sky of Seoul is even more obscured than in Busan, but the same old soldiers peek through the smog and the gaps in the skyscrapers. And as Namjoon begins muttering, Jungkook feels the change occur. Nothing anyone on the street would notice. Families in their apartments won’t be disturbed. But standing so close to the epicentre of magic (the hairs on his forearms rising) he can feel the way the streetlights and the window lights and the car lights dim, feel the blackness of the sky swallowing up the clouds. The moon feels closer, yellow and perfectly full in diameter. “Your Majesty,” Jungkook bows slightly to the moon.
Namjoon’s voice rises just slightly; Jungkook can’t make out the words but he can hear the smooth tones of Namjoon’s voice, sliding around the syllables of the incantation. When he raises his hand to the sky, Jungkook can see tiny threads of purple glowing through his skin, in the grooves and whorls of his fingertips, the lines of his palm, alongside the prominent veins in his wrists.
The air burns with the smell of salt.
Namjoon opens his eyes – that same shade of purple flickering in his iris, just for a moment – and everything goes back to normal. The streetlamps shine on as before, the moon is obscured by a cloud. All Jungkook can smell is the oil from the fried chicken place next door. The only purple is in Namjoon’s dyed hair. A baby cries somewhere, a few drunks shout below, a car horn beeps loudly. Jungkook hadn’t noticed that sounds outside of Namjoon’s voice had disappeared. He also hadn’t realised he was holding his own breath.
Namjoon frowns at him.
“That was a bit anticlimactic,” Jungkook says.
“Something’s wrong,” is Namjoon’s response. He crawls to one of the pots, dipping a finger into the mixture and letting a drop fall on his tongue. “It’s supposed to turn purple after the incantation.”
Namjoon curses. “Something went wrong,” he says. “In the recipe. But I didn’t – let me think. I did everything the same as usual, I know I was going faster than usual, but I’ve made this hundreds of times…”
His eyes fall on Jungkook.
“You’re good at protection charms, too. Did you do anything different than usual?”
“Nope,” Jungkook says. And he means it; he’s watched Namjoon brew a protection charm so many times he could do it in his sleep. He begins to prattle off; “grind up the centaur blueberry bush root and the soapstone dust, add it to pickled marble and oil of whale liver for potency, bring to the boil and add lizard wing, basted rose, ginger, pixie saliva, few drops of essence of amethyst. Bring down to a simmer, stir counter-clockwise until—”
“Wait,” Namjoon says. “Counter-clockwise?”
“Yes,” says Jungkook, who feels like a stone has dropped into his stomach. Namjoon pinches his nose. “You always say stirring clockwise would be disastrous with this brew.”
“Stirring clockwise is disastrous when making essence of amethyst,” he says, dully. “But when you add essence of amethyst to a potion, you’re supposed to stir it clockwise so that it melds with the other ingredients. Otherwise it doesn’t mix properly.”
Jungkook blinks. Jungkook knows this. He’s made countless essence of amethyst brews. He’s helped Namjoon add them to many potions. And he knows – he knows to stir them clockwise. It clicks in his mind now, but it’s information he’s known since his school training, why the fuck did he fuck this up—
Oh, he thinks, remembering how he was ogling Namjoon from over the rim of the cauldron. Oh.
“Shit,” he says.
“Shit,” Namjoon agrees.
“Surely we can fix it, the moon is still—”
Namjoon shakes his head. “No. There’s only one chance a month to get this right and we’ve missed it.”
“But you got it right,” Jungkook blubbers, “it was just me that—”
This isn’t supposed to happen. Jungkook is a prodigy. He doesn’t make stupid mistakes.
He blinks hard. “Hyung, fuck – I’m so, so sorry – I never do shit like this I don’t know why—
“It’s okay, Jungkook-ah.” Namjoon stands, stretching his hands to the sky.
Jungkook’s chest is bubbling. “Seriously, I’m so sorry, I can’t believe – that I blew this for you.” He bows low, half an attempt to demonstrate his guilt, half an attempt to hide his rapid blinking. “I’m sorry for disappointing you.”
“Get up, Jungkook-ah,” Namjoon shakes his head. “I’m not disappointed in you. I’m disappointed it turned out this way, of course, and I’m disappointed in myself for leaving it last minute. But a good master never pins blame on an apprentice. This is my mistake.”
His mistake for trusting Jungkook to do a stupid fucking basic charm—
“I’ll make it up to you, hyung,” Jungkook says. No, he has no idea how he’ll do anything that can cover the expense of a month’s rent he’s just cost Namjoon, and honestly it’s a wonder he hasn’t been thrown out—
“Jungkook. Breathe. I’m not mad at you.”
A hand comes up to rest on his shoulder. “If you insist on making it up to me, you can just keep doing what you’re doing. My magic’s already gone up in quality from the excellent essence of amethyst you brew for me.” Namjoon looks worn out, a worry line furrowing his brow, but he smiles, his dimples peeking through, and Jungkook feels like swooning. The distance between them has never been this vast.
“Now, it’s late – I say we clean up tomorrow. I have a couch if you want to crash here tonight?”
“My roommates will freak out if I’m not home soon,” Jungkook mumbles. He desperately wants to stay, but guilt is already corroding his insides.
“I see. Goodnight, Jungkook-ah. Thank you for tonight. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Jungkook storms in the door of his apartment, pushes into Seokjin and Yoongi’s room, ignores the way they’re necking to demand he borrow some of their equipment.
They say there’s no such thing as a perfect essence of amethyst, but if Namjoon likes the way Jungkook brews it for him then by all the gods above, he’s going to make him a perfect one.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
“Did you even sleep last night, Jungkook-ah?”
Jungkook yawns. “Yeah.”
“You look exhausted. Sorry I kept you up so late.”
“Oh – it wasn’t your fault, hyung! I stayed up playing video games with Taehyungie.” A lie that will only work if Namjoon doesn’t notice the traces of amethyst dust under his fingernails, or the scent of earth that still lingers on his skin.
Namjoon knocks an elbow against Jungkook’s. They’re scrubbing the cauldrons clean. “Your sleep is more important than Fortnite!”
“Is it, though?”
“You need to stay healthy.”
“I’m good at multitasking. I can stay healthy and play video games all night.”
Namjoon opens his mouth to respond, thinks better of it, and shakes his head. “You’re dumb,” he says, smiling, “you’re lucky you’re cute.”
The surge of warmth in Jungkook’s gut does a little to drown out the guilt leftover from last night.
Jungkook doesn’t train with Namjoon on the weekends. When he returns to the apartment, it’s in a similar state of chaos that he left it in that morning. Yoongi is walking around all of the pots and pans they had in the premises, assembled on the floor. “I still think this is ridiculous,” he says, raising an eyebrow in greeting. “And a health hazard. You think when Seokjin hyung won’t kick one of them?”
Jungkook shrugs, dropping his bag down. His phone beeps; a text from Hoseok. He changes his jacket. “If you’re afraid of knocking a few potions over, you can just stay holed up in your room for the weekend. I’m sure hyung will have no problems with that.”
He shuts the door closed right as Yoongi shouts “brat!”
Hoseok is an angel for various reasons, but right now, as he clambers into the passenger seat Jungkook is primarily thankful for his car.
“Thanks for giving me a ride, hyung.”
“No worries, Jungkookie – I’ve needed to go for a while now.”
“I need sunflower seeds badly – they’re most potent when they’re from a greenfinger.”
“When you have the money for it, yeah.” He pulls out onto the street.
“You know, you could have just let me take the car, hyung. I would have gotten your sunflower seeds for you.”
Hoseok gives him a side-eye over the rim of his sunglasses. “Punk. If I gave the car to you, I’d never see it again.”
Jungkook gives a cheeky smile. “I am the better driver—”
“Don’t make me turn this car around, Jeon Jungkook—”
Traffic is bad, but they don’t mind. Eventually they get out of the city centre. The greenfinger they’re visiting is the best one within driving distance. Ninety minutes isn’t such a bad journey for the bounty they’ll receive.
Greenfingers are mages who grow plants and herbs, some with magical properties, others that have uses in various potions and spells. This one occupies a warehouse; unassuming outside, but once you push open the door the rich scent of dirt and flora hit your nostrils with the strength of a truck. Deep flower beds have been created into the ground, with a converted greenhouse on the back entrance of the warehouse. Hoseok goes immediately to the sunflowers, chatting animatedly with the assistant pruning nearby.
Jungkook closes his eyes, breathing in deeply. All of the little hairs on his body rise, and for a moment he can hear everything; from Hoseok’s excited chatter a few yards away, to the miniscule pitter-pat of the ladybird on a bedalia bush.
His earth magic goes a little off the rails when surrounded by such wonderful earth energy.
He’s interrupted by one of the head assistants bounding over to him. “I thought I could feel some dirt energy in here,” Yubin teases, knocking her knuckles against Jungkook’s. “How’s the apprenticeship going?”
Jungkook smiles. “Harder than I thought – but I don’t exactly make things easy for myself.”
“I’ll say. A sea witch?”
“I bet the parents were amused with that one. They doing well?”
“Oh yeah, they’re fine. My mom wanted to know why I didn’t go back to Busan if I was just going to study under a sea witch. But they’re good. I’m hoping to visit once the apprenticeship is finished. How’s your mother?”
Yubin tucks a strand of brown hair behind her ear. “Ah, well. Had a fall last month but doing much better know.”
“Sorry to hear it.”
“But anyway – what can I help you with? Don’t see you around as much these days.”
“Sea witches have less need for specialist items from a greenfinger,” Jungkook says, a little sheepish with the realisation of how long it’s been since he’s gotten his hands dirty with some good earth magic. “Most of their needs you can get in a general witching store, or you need to visit a water mage.”
“I’d say. So, a weekend project?”
“You could say that. I mostly need soil.”
“Growing anything special?”
“Nothing magical,” Jungkook explains. “Just a gift.”
Yubin tilts her head, pausing for a moment. “Sentient Ambrosia encourages growth the most,” she says, “but sometimes a little too much, if it’s not a magical plant you’re using it for. Ends up like overwatering a flower – too much just overwhelms the poor thing. So, I think…Royal Pokeroot should do the trick! It’s very magical and stimulates growth but adapts to ingredients its mixed with. Let me grab a bucket.”
The thing with magical herbs and plants is that the soil they’re grown in often take on some of the magical properties. Even the flowers and roots that aren’t magical benefit from it; it’s the reason why Hoseok travels all the way out here to buy sunflower seeds. For any soil spell, using soil from a greenfinger’s improves the quality and longevity of the magic exponentially.
Yubin packs up a box of rich, damp soil for him, while Jungkook buys a few other pieces that catch his eye. Hoseok gets his sunflower seeds. On their way home, Jungkook makes him stop at a regular gardening shop.
That night, Jungkook transfers soil from the box into the ceramic pot he bought. He uses no trowel or spade, but his bare hands. He smells like mint.
When the pot is filled, he washes his hands, and pulls out the two green calcite crystals he’d been charging in his room. He kisses them once each, whispers a few words, feels his magic warm them up, and buries them in the soil.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
The water bottle thrown at him breaks his focus. He blinks. “Ow,” he says.
“It barely touched you,” Seokjin says, raising his fists. “But fight me, if you think you’re able to beat me!”
“I’ll beat you any day of the week, hyungie,” Jungkook says, unscrewing the top and taking a sip. His mouth is dry. When did he last eat? “But I’m busy right now.”
Seokjin clicks his tongue, but his joking manner is gone. He stands a little awkwardly. “You know, there’s no such thing as a perfect essence of amethyst, Jungkook-ah. It’s impossible.”
Jungkook’s mother once told him he could do anything if he put his mind to it. “I know, hyung.”
The room is thick with the stench of the brew. He gives this one a stir. Better than his last attempt, but the consistency remains off.
“Get some rest.” Seokjin closes the door behind him.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
It’s difficult navigating public transport with a jar of dirt and leaves in his face, but he makes it to the shop on time.
“Jungkook? What’s this?” Namjoon is bewildered.
Jungkook grins at him through the leaves in his face. “A gift,” he says, squeezing through the doorway to set the plant on the desk Namjoon uses to greet clients. “A tree. But with enchanted soil.” He ducks his head, unable to meet Namjoon’s gaze. “Y-you said before that sometimes you forget to water your plants.”
Sometimes matters of the earth elude me when my head is stuck in the waves.
“It’s relatively simple earth magic; the soil is enchanted. It has more nutrients and is laced with magic. Even if you forget to water it, it won’t die. And it will help it grow stronger. Even with minimal attention, it will flourish.”
Namjoon delicately traces one of the leaves with his fingertips. “Something as beautiful as this should have full attention regardless.”
Jungkook can’t stop himself from smiling.
“This is beautiful, Jungkookie, but why?”
“It’s an apology,” he says, voice a little tight. “For messing up your potion. I’m really sorry—”
He’s cut off by Namjoon pulling him into a hug. “You’re impossible,” he says, right into Jungkook’s ear, close enough that he feels the ghost of Namjoon’s breath on his skin. “I thought I told you, it wasn’t your fault, that you weren’t to feel guilty?”
“I’m not always good at doing what I’m told,” Jungkook whispers. Namjoon is even taller than Seokjin hyung, and while he doesn’t have the same hard lines of muscles Jungkook has built after long evenings in the gym, he’s broad and firm. Jungkook feels truly held. He wants to rest his head on Namjoon’s chest and listen to the thrumming of his heartbeat.
But he doesn’t. He stays with the more socially acceptable position of keeping his chin perched on Namjoon’s shoulder, even as their hug stretches past a socially acceptable time frame.
Jungkook is glad Namjoon is holding him, otherwise he would feel weak at the knees.
“It was unnecessary,” Namjoon says. “You don’t owe me anything. But regardless – it’s very welcome. I’m very grateful.” He pulls away, still smiling. Jungkook suddenly feels very hot. “Thank you, Jungkook.”
“No problem, hyung.”
He spaces out a little, wanting to say something else – but the bell over the door jingles, a customer entering. Jungkook practically jumps from Namjoon’s arms.
It really must be warm in here. Namjoon’s cheeks are flushed from the heat too.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
Namjoon puts Jungkook’s gift in the front of the shop. A place of honour, seen by all who enter; fellow witches, interested clients, and friends alike. He trails his fingertips along the leaves every time he passes.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
“I mean, of course you can stay late,” Namjoon says, blinking owlishly. “But why?”
Jungkook cracks his knuckles. “I want to get better at making essence of amethyst. I was practicing at home, but there’s more space here.”
“Well, if you want, of course you can. Anything here is yours to use as you like. But – why essence of amethyst?”
Because, Jungkook thinks, essence of amethyst is one of the substances Namjoon uses most, and if he can make the best one in the city, he will be proving his usefulness to Namjoon and everyone, once and for all. It will make-up for the fuckup with the full moon brew. It’ll show that Jungkook can do anything if he sets his mind to it, just like his mother said.
Jungkook didn’t leave Busan to become a mediocre witch, after all.
“It’s a personal challenge I’ve set for myself,” he says. “I want to make a perfect essence of amethyst.”
“Because I think I can do it. If I work hard enough at it.” He checks the heat of the cauldron. Perfect. “I came to Seoul to become a powerful witch, and I’m going to succeed.”
“You think essence of amethyst will prove that? You already make it better than average, and it doesn’t have a whole lot of uses for an earth witch.”
“You’re right.” Jungkook doesn’t even need to look at the recipe anymore, the well-worn ink is pressed into the crevices of his mind. “But I want to be the best.”
Namjoon doesn’t press him further, but he keeps him company by lingering in the work-shop while Jungkook practices late into the evening.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
Taehyung gets him back for the frogs.
Seokjin laughs so hard that he spills his strawberry milk everywhere. Yoongi pretends to roll his eyes, but records on his phone.
“They keep us young,” he says, patting Seokjin’s arm.
“What’s happening?” Jungkook asks. He goes to pick up the neat little envelope, but it takes three times before his shaky fingers are able to grasp it.
Just a note to let you know all is forgiven for the frogs! As your loving and understanding friend, I’m aware that it wasn’t intentional, and must have been a simple slip of the hand! You are so clumsy after all. Instead of requiring reparation, I simply ask that you reflect on your clumsiness for a few days!
Much love, Taehyungie <3
“It’s a letter hex,” Seokjin says. “Old-fashioned. Been a while since I’ve seen one of these!”
“Old-fashioned like you, hyung?”
Seokjin raises an eyebrow. “Pass the salt, Jungkook.”
“Pass me the salt.”
Jungkook goes to grip the salt cellar, and involuntarily his hand moves, knocking it off the table. Salt scatters across the floor like snowfall.
Yoongi hums. “Clumsiness hex. Perfect to get under the skin of a perfectionist like our Jungkookie” He ruffles Jungkook’s hair. “Tell your Namjoon hyung to keep you away from anything dangerous or delicate today.”
It’s unbearable, because the entire work day Namjoon giggles as he fumbles. “It’s funny, seeing you so disarmed,” he says, and when Jungkook pouts he ruffles his hair the same way Yoongi did. “It’s cute when you get so flustered.” Jungkook pouts more. He doesn’t want Namjoon to mess with him the same way Yoongi does – Yoongi is like a big brother to him, and Namjoon is decidedly not. And he’s so cool, Jungkook wants Namjoon to think he’s cool, too! Not cute…
But apparently, pouting doesn’t get this message across because Namjoon coos, poking his cheek. “So cute, Jungkook-ah.” Jungkook just wants Namjoon to take him seriously! To get his attention, he pokes Namjoon back, pressing the tip of his finger right where Namjoon’s dimples form.
“I’m not cute,” he says, glowering. “You’re cute.”
Namjoon laughs at that.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
He’s survived almost the whole day without disaster – “I was really clumsy when I was a teenager,” Namjoon had said, “my arms were too long and I didn’t know what to do with them, and I broke so many potion glasses during my apprenticeship. At least this is only for twenty-four hours” – because Namjoon sets him to tasks that are fairly low risk. Jungkook keeps from spilling his bottle of water through sheer determination, and it’s easy to tune out and focus on not embarrassing himself when Namjoon is discussing intricacies of sea magic (he feels a little guilty doing this, but he focuses for all of the parts useful to him; he isn’t a sea magic practitioner so the details of sand and seaweed are immaterial).
The only incident occurs during their lunch break – in Namjoon’s kitchen in his apartment above the shop – and Jungkook reaches into one of the drawers to grab them spoons and chopsticks. As he brings them back to the table they escape his grip, his items rattling to the floor for what feels like the eightieth time today.
“Sorry, hyung!” he squeaks, falling to his knees to gathered the scattered cutlery.
He reaches for the last spoon at the same time Namjoon does, his hand gripping the back of the other’s palm and not the cool metal of the chopstick.
And it’s so, so silly but something in Jungkook’s brain starts fizzling. He looks up, wide-eyed, and Namjoon looks back at him, with his kind eyes and his shy smile and his stupidly, outrageously, annoyingly cute dimples.
Namjoon’s skin is warm. Jungkook doesn’t want to let go. Are his hands always this warm, or is it just today? His cheeks are a little flushed too, so maybe it’s just the afternoon heat, more importantly, are his hands always this smooth and soft—
The rice cooker beeps loudly. Jungkook shoots to his feet, but Namjoon rests a hand on his arm. “I’ll get it,” he says. “We want it in your belly and not on the floor.”
“Yes, hyung.” Jungkook’s throat is dry. He’s not nervous. It’s something better.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
“To Jung Hoseok getting his barista’s phone number!” Seokjin hollers, and they all clamour back, stomping their feet on the floor before clinking their soju glasses together.
“I still got game,” Hoseok says, still caught in the excitable stage he enters during his first few drinks. A few more shots and he’ll crash.
“Hoseok hyung,” Jungkook whines. “You can’t abandon me. I don’t want to be the only single person in the friend group!”
“Ah, Jungkookie, do you want hyung to date you instead?”
“Then.” Hoseok mimes zipping his lips closed and throwing away the key.
“Finally, peace and quiet!”
“Jungkookie doesn’t want to date Hoseok hyung,” Jimin says, curled up in the couch with his legs in Taehyung’s lap. “I think he’s got his eye on someone else.”
“A weather eye, you could say?” Seokjin chimes in.
“Let’s just say, there’s a certain witch whose magic wand Jungkook wants—”
“Hyung!” Jungkook throws a cushion at him.
Yoongi shakes his head, pouring a shot. “Drink up, kid.”
Jimin sniffs loudly. “Is that seasickness in the air? Or lovesickness?”
“There’s a difference?” Yoongi asks quietly.
Hoseok shoots him a glance with sparkling eyes. “A certain witch who doesn’t know anything about earth, hm?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yah, Jungkook-ah,” Seokjin says loudly, “you’re so thirsty not even all of the water in the sea could help you!” Jimin breaks into giggles, leaning over to high-five Seokjin.
“I don’t have a crush on Namjoon hyung!”
“Who said anything about a crush?” Seokjin asks. “But I did hear that sea witches can move their hips like the waves—”
Taehyung joins the dots. “You can say Jungkookie’s denial is deeper than the ocean!”
“The truth will hit him eventually,” Seokjin says. “Like a tsunami, one might say.”
“It’ll fill him up like water pouring into a glass,” Yoongi says, pouring soju into Jungkook’s empty glass.
Jimin frowns. “Wait – where is he getting filled up?”
Jungkook hurls his second cushion at him.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
The surge of magic usage – from helping Namjoon during the day and practicing his amethyst brewing at night – Jungkook is charged with a creative energy. He channels it the best way he knows how; revenge on Taehyung.
Pranking Taehyung is a delicate balance; total chaos will get drag Jimin into collateral damage. Sometimes that’s the intention; Taehyung has been known to enlist his help. But Jimin’s students are approaching their exams, so he doesn’t want to add to his stress. The best way to go will be to pull off a prank that amuses and entertains Jimin while inconveniencing his boyfriend. Yes. That’s the way to go.
So Jungkook goes to the library with Namjoon one day. While the older pores over an ancient Pirate Codex and a map of the Indian Ocean, he pulls down a book titled Friendly Jinxes. Some of the jinxes are not so friendly, but there are a few good ones. Jungkook is tempted by the one that makes stray cats follow you meowing for scraps all week, but his last prank was animal related. He doesn’t want to typecast himself. So he narrows his options down to two very similar spells.
The first makes the victim speak only the truth for twenty-four hours. The second prevents them from speaking at all for twenty-four hours.
The truth is tempting. Taehyung has a flair for the dramatic, loves the stage and loves being the centre of attention. This isn’t a bad thing, no, but reducing his language to simple, blunt truths would frustrate him. And twenty-four hours isn’t too long; long enough to annoy, short enough that it doesn’t become a genuine hindrance.
At the end of the day, they love each other. They prank each other because they can, to flex and to show off, to annoy each other in the way best friends do. But their intention has never been to hurt one another.
The truth jinx is tempting. However, Jungkook remembers the particularly mouthy and gloating words Taehyung had sent with the jinx and thinks a fitting response would be to take his words altogether. They could use some peace and quiet – for a limited time.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
It works wonderfully.
Seokjin and Hoseok are howling as Taehyung gestures wildly, trying to convey his point without words. There’s a lot of pointing in Jungkook’s direction, many fists shaken, and so many muffled noises and groans that Jungkook can’t even tell where his botched words are supposed to start and end.
“Mmm! MMmmMMM HHFFFF!” Taehyung makes a rude gesture, his eyes brimming with mirth.
“What’s that, hyung? Oh, you like my new sneakers? Thanks, they’re new.”
Jimin giggles, and Taehyung puts on a mask of betrayal. He can’t hide his grin, though.
They’re a few drinks in, a board game abandoned in their midst. They had teased him throughout – what’s that, Taehyungie, you’d like to skip your roll? No problem! – until in revenge, he enchanted the pieces, mixing everything up so much they couldn’t tell who was winning or losing. Full of bad beer but good food, stomachs hurting from laughter, Jungkook concedes that even wordless, Taehyung is a born entertainer.
He grins at Jungkook, teeth bared, before attempting a sentence the magic doesn’t let out. Jungkook gets the gist when Taehyung points at his own eyes, then jabs his finger in Jungkook’s general direction. Look out, Jeon-ssi, Jungkook can practically hear his voice in his head, you’re next.
“Bring it on.” Jungkook opens his arms wide. “Do your worst.”
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
Sometimes the nights are lonely. Jungkook has been dreaming of home more and more often; the smell of the sea in Namjoon’s workshop drags memories from the depths of his mind; the sand beneath his toes when he’d go for his morning run on the beach, the gentle smack of the surf against the shore audible from his bedroom, clinging to his mother during the worst storms where those smacks became as loud as thunderclaps.
He has buried his home and his nostalgia under ambition, but somehow, Namjoon makes the two entwine.
He appears in Jungkook’s dreams, too. A hand out of the chaos of his heart, dimples smiling.
Jungkook prides himself on his ability to perform well at all times, but more and more often he finds himself distracted at work. Namjoon is so kind and so patient as he tries to explain the intersections of sea magic and weather magic, or the properties of mermaid tears, but Jungkook’s mind keeps turning to more internal matters. It’s a paradox; he can’t focus on Namjoon’s words because he’s too busy dwelling on feelings for Namjoon. Then Namjoon, lovely and concerned and so, so kind will ask him what’s wrong, ensuring Jungkook sinks deeper and deeper into aforementioned inconvenient feelings. Because Jungkook is a coward he makes up some excuse about being tired, and Namjoon gives him a reassuring smile or squeeze of his hand or encouraging words and move onto the next task, and the cycle repeats itself.
“I think he’s homesick,” he overhears Seokjin whisper one night.
“Nah,” Yoongi whispers back, “he’s lovesick.”
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
Carefully, he dips into the liquid, scooping up a spoonful. He tips the tip of his index finger into it and brings it to his lips, tentatively licking the potion off of it. It tastes bad – but not foul.
“The consistency is better,” he says, sighing. “Better than last time, anyway. It’s thicker, which means the unicorn marrow has fully dissolved. But it doesn’t taste that foul, so the spell of attraction mustn’t have worked as well.”
Namjoon scribbles something down. “You kept it brewing longer, right?”
“No, usual time, but at a higher heat.”
“To get the marrow to fully disintegrate?”
“Yeah. But higher heat shouldn’t mess with the spell of attraction.”
“You’re right. Spells of attraction ideally aren’t affected by preparation methods. So, either your spell of attraction is slightly flawed – minimally, because it’s worked well for the other essences – or the higher heat results in a mixture or reaction in the other ingredients that prevents the spell from taking full effect.”
Jungkook frowns. He looks at his handwritten recipe, squinting at the list of ingredients. The ink is worn off of the sheet. “What would fuck with a spell of attraction? Wouldn’t we know if something did, by now?”
“I don’t know, Jungkook-ah. Essence of amethyst isn’t meant to be perfect. But the one you made two potions ago – I think that was probably the best one I’ve seen yet—”
“I’m going to try again,” he says, ignoring Namjoon. “I increased the heat by about two degrees.” He waves a hand, and the fire crackles again. “I’m going to try again with one. Depending on that, then I’ll move onto half a degree, or three quarters.”
“It won’t work, Jungkook,” Namjoon says, his voice tired.
“I’ll find a way. Maybe the spell of attraction—”
“No, Jungkook,” Namjoon says, sitting cross-legged beside him. “It won’t work. Not even magic can protect forever. A protection charm can only be so effective. By its very nature, essence of amethyst can’t be perfected. You can follow each step one thousand times, and each time the mixture will react in a different way. It’s not that it’s just a difficult or intricate potion to create, it’s physically, figuratively, magically impossible.”
Jungkook swallows. “You’ve never objected so much before.”
“I think it’s a noble pursuit, to challenge yourself to create the best version of something. And I think you’ve done wonderfully, Jungkook-ah.” A warm hand settles on Jungkook’s where it still lies across the page of the recipe. “But I don’t want you pushing yourself needlessly on something that you’ll never find.” His words are sincere. They wrap themselves around Jungkook and keep him upright.
“You don’t think it exists?”
“Perfection in this potion.” Jungkook swallows. “Or perfection at all?”
Namjoon sighs. “The concept of perfection is inherently flawed. I don’t think perfection can ever truly be achieved. Not even the ocean, the most powerful body on this earth, erodes its shores in a straight line.”
Jungkook turns his hand, so Namjoon’s presses against his palm. Gently, he curls his fingers up, gives Namjoon’s hand a tight squeeze.
Namjoon squeezes back. “I know you try your very best at everything,” he says, “and I want you to know that’s enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”
Jungkook squeezes tighter – just for a moment – then lets go. He exhales.
“I don’t believe in perfection,” he says, “but I believe in the pursuit of perfection.”
He starts again.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
You found the spell that I jinxed you with?
in the library hehe
you must have consulted it a lot jungkookie
spine was all bent
when you opened the cover all of the pages fell to this one
So? You trying to use the same spell as me?
no copying allowed
did you forget the rules jungkookie?
You’re the one breaking them
How did u even FIND that book
No fair. He’s a neutral party!
if you ever believe
jiminie is a neutral party
when im in the equation
u are very wrong
I feel betrayed :(
jiminie loves u!
but he loves me more
wanted to say
thanks for the inspiration
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
“Whoever in this household drank my last strawberry milk is so dead,” Seokjin says at breakfast a few mornings later, arms crossed. “’Fess up, and face your sins!”
“Don’t make me get the wooden spoon, Yoongichi.”
Jungkook tries his usual eye roll at the term of endearment – just to convey that he’s right here witnessing them be gross and in love – but it doesn’t come. His face doesn’t cooperate. Maybe he did stay up too late last night.
This is a well-rehearsed routine. Yoongi tends to drink or eat anything he gets his hands on in the fridge after a night of drinking (including Seokjin’s precious strawberry milk) and sometimes Jungkook steals one when they run out of banana milk. Regardless of who does it, they always blame each other; mainly because it’s fun to wind Seokjin up. Yoongi will forever be his partner in crime.
“It must have been Jungkookie,” Yoongi says, on-cue, faking shock. “He’s become a thief in the night!”
Jungkook gasps, and turns to accuse Yoongi of fraud and conspiracy, but instead what comes out is—
“Yes, I drank the last strawberry milk.”
“Huh?” Seokjin asks, head tilted, because he knows this routine too, and mostly does it to make them laugh. “You’re admitting it?”
Then, Jungkook remembers Taehyung’s texts from last night. The photograph he had sent, a photo of the spell Jungkook had used to jinx him with voicelessness. The spell on the page opposite. The one that he had been tempted by, but ultimately decided against. The truthfulness spell.
Taehyung’s gotten him good.
“Kim Taehyung!” he exclaims. “He got me with the spell I was going to use on him.”
Seokjin snorts, strawberry milk forgotten. “Looks like you reaped what you sowed, Jungkookie.”
“Yah, Jungkook-ah, don’t you think I’m your coolest hyung?”
Jungkook sticks his tongue out, but then, “yes, Yoongi hyung is really cool, just not quite as cool as Namjoon hyung.”
The two menace hyungs giggle to each other. “Yoongichi, you should record him saying that you’re cool. For when he gets moody again.”
“You two are the worst! I love you.”
Jungkook is able to ignore the heat flushing to his face under the barrage of shouts they let out at this.
“Wah, our Jungkookie really is the best!”
“Hyung-nim adores you, Jungkook-ah!”
Jungkook tries to scowl at them and look frightening, but a smile keeps threatening to spill out. It kind of ruins the effect he’s going for.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
It’s a quiet afternoon in the workshop. Namjoon is filtering through a few documents and invitations while Jungkook counts the amount of glowden ampules they have in stock at the other end of the table.
Until Namjoon puts one letter down. “I’ve got an invitation from a sea witch living on the coast,” he says, “she wants me to come down to study the properties of a local type of algae. She needs a second opinion. She also extended an invitation to my apprentice. Are you interested?”
Jungkook barely has time to process the various elements of this – his brain computes the coast, the sea, but not home; and that homesickness bubbles up in his chest, and he still hasn’t become a successful earth magic practitioner yet, so what even was the point of leaving—
“No,” Jungkook says. “I’m not interested.”
He cringes. It’s true, he doesn’t want to go to the coast, but he doesn’t mean for it to come out so crass.
“Oh,” Namjoon says, clearly disappointed. He puts the invitation down, smooths over it. “Are you sure? It could be really fun. It will be a really interesting area to explore for sea magic—”
“I’m sure it will be,” Jungkook says, trying to recover his lost ground “But…” whatever excuse he’s trying to form dies on his tongue. “I have no interest in exploring sea magic. I mean! I don’t like going to the coast.”
That part is true at least. But a stab of confusion bursts across Namjoon’s face. “You don’t like the coast? Aren’t you from a coast village just outside Busan?”
“I am.” Jungkook places the ampule in his hand back onto the oak of the table. He’s well and truly lost count by now. “I grew up by the sea. I love my hometown, and I love my family, and I love the sea. But...it’s difficult for me.”
“You miss them?”
“It’s really unusual for a witch with an affinity for earth to be born in a fishing village,” Jungkook says. His heart is beating rapidly. He doesn’t need to unload all of this right now, but the damn magic loosens his tongue. “Leaving was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, so I swore I would make it worth it by becoming a successful earth witch. I can’t go back until I’ve done it. And I haven’t been home since I left because I’ve failed to do it. I’ve failed to succeed. And sometimes I get so lonely and homesick that even the thought of the ocean or the beach is painful. I don’t want to think about it.”
Namjoon looks stunned at this sudden outburst of honesty. Jungkook feels like shoving his head in a cauldron.
The problem with a truth spell, one he hadn’t anticipated, is that he isn’t just forced to blunt honesty with others; he’s forced to be honest to himself.
He thinks about the way the smell of the sea in Namjoon’s workshop tugs at his heart, thinks about why he doesn’t want to focus on sea magic, thinks about why he never told his mother he was apprenticed to a sea witch. The sea is home, but home hurts, the sea hurts, and before Jungkook can even begin to process this onslaught of emotions there are salty tears dripping from the end of his nose.
Namjoon jumps up with a handkerchief. “Jungkook-ah,” he says, “it’s okay. It’s okay to be homesick. But you’re not a failure, you’re still so young and you’re so talented, you show so much progress. You’ll be running the game in a few years—”
“In a few years,” Jungkook repeats. “Everyone said I was a prodigy. That I would go places. But I’m still only an apprentice. You were finished your apprenticeship before you were even a legal adult! How can I be a prodigy compared to you, compared to all of my friends who are successful and established—”
“And older than you,” Namjoon says, dabbing furiously at his cheeks. “You’re doing so well.”
Jungkook wants to bury his head in Namjoon’s chest. “Am I? If I was just going to be apprenticed to a sea witch, why did I bother coming to Seoul?”
Namjoon blinks at that. Jungkook wants to pretend he doesn’t see hurt, wants to pretend that he isn’t being fucking rude to the person who makes his heart beat this fast, but the truths this spell are forcing him to confront is ugly.
“I’m sorry, hyung,” he says.
“It’s okay,” Namjoon says, but his voice is strained. “I didn’t know how painful the sea could be for you.” He’s awkward – more than usual. He’s sitting on the table beside Jungkook, half-caught between defence and comfort, all underpinned by the strangeness that is Jungkook’s sudden openness. They’re both aware Jungkook puts on a front around him, and it feels painfully obvious to Jungkook that Namjoon probably sees right through him. He feels so close, but so far away at the same time. “But – if it’s such a sensitive topic, why did you choose me? Are you still interested ins sea magic?”
Jungkook opens his mouth. It’s a mistake, because as soon as he does he can feel the honesty take over his tongue, far too sharp. “I’ve never been interested in sea magic, not since I left home. I don’t care about any of it. I didn’t want to be your apprentice. I came here, that day, to turn you down because I had better offers.”
Namjoon winces. “Well,” he says, tension lining every muscle. “Why did you accept, then?”
“Because,” Jungkook feels the words coming out, and shuts his eyes. He doesn’t want to see Namjoon’s face. “I thought you were hot.”
“You thought I was hot? That’s the only reason?”
His eyes snap open again, trying to convey his earnestness. “I thought you were gorgeous, and cool, and when I saw you it felt like the world had stopped spinning and I had no interest in your discipline of magic but I knew I wanted to be around you more. I know that’s not a good reason and I know I’ve been lying by omission, pretending to be invested in the magic but all this time – I was just interested in you.”
Jungkook surprises even himself.
“I love you.”
Maybe Namjoon hadn’t seen through him, because when Jungkook studies his face all he sees is shock, and he’s ruined everything.
Jungkook scrambles to his feet, and runs to the door. He doesn’t even grab his jacket, too busy fumbling with his shoes as he leaves the shop, the entrance bell jingling over Namjoon calling his name.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
He practically falls into Taehyung’s arms when he opens the door.
“Jungkookie? What’s wrong?”
“I ruined it,” he says, “I told him the truth.”
Taehyung’s face falls.
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
He spends the night at Jimin and Taehyung’s. Jimin orders copious amounts of food and tries to give gentle advice that Jungkook ignores. Taehyung barely lets him out of his arms once he undoes the jinx, apologising into his shoulder over and over again about the damage he’s inadvertently caused. But there’s nothing to be forgiven, because this is how Jungkook and Taehyung have always played, and they both know there were no cruel intentions. This makes Taehyung smile, at least.
And then, later, Jungkook gets a text.
Can you meet me tomorrow? I know it’s Saturday, but can you come by the shop?
⎈ ⎈ ⎈
As Jungkook walks to the shop, there is a feeling of finality in the air, filling it with tension, like the humidity of a thunderstorm.
Namjoon is pacing inside the reception area when he enters, the chime of the bell making him look up from where his shoulders were hunched.
“Hi,” he says, eyes wide, as if he didn’t believe Jungkook would actually show up.
“Hi,” Jungkook says, unsure if his voice sounds as miserable as he thinks it does.
Namjoon gestures for him to sit down, so Jungkook does. He had prepared an apology, but it doesn’t come. “I suppose you don’t want to continue our apprenticeship anymore,” he says.
“You’re right,” Namjoon says.
Jungkook closes his eyes, something akin to sorr0w (is it heartbreak?) filling his chest—
“But only because…” Namjoon swallows.
Jungkook looks up.
“Only because I don’t date those I work with. It would be unethical to ask you out, unless we halt our apprenticeship here.”
There’s a moment of silence where Jungkook’s brain lags behind.
“That is—that is if you want to date!” Namjoon hurriedly adds on, and he’s blushing. “If not, we can continue on as normal and forget this ever happened—”
“You like me?”
Namjoon nods, smiling sheepishly. “I didn’t realise. Or at least – didn’t realise how much, until yesterday, and then you left and…and I knew I had to give it a shot. So—”
“Fuck an apprenticeship,” Jungkook says, which really is a rarity because he never curses. “I can get one somewhere else. I have other offers. But not like – not like this one.”
“Do you even have to ask after I confessed my love to you yesterday?” He scoots closer to Namjoon on the couch.
Namjoon chuckles at that. “I guess not.”
He reaches out to hold Jungkook’s hand, and Jungkook’s heart is hammering so violently in his chest because he never once believed that this – a universe where Namjoon would like him back, would want to date him – could ever exist, and now it’s here at his fingertips and he’s going to cling to this chance like a drowning man clings to a life preserver.
He feels giddy.
“We have a lot to talk about,” Namjoon says.
“Yes,” Jungkook says. “But – but can I kiss you first?”
He’s not sure where the courage comes from, but Namjoon laughs and then his hand is on Jungkook’s jaw. Jungkook has kissed a few people but never has it felt so utterly thrilling. It’s nothing particularly fancy or erotic, a chaste press of his lips against Namjoon’s, but it holds so much promise and excitement for the future, the wonder flies through his body faster than any magic and lights up his nerves like fireworks. Screw the damn essence of amethyst; it will never be perfect, but this moment is.
“Wow, he says, mumbling into Namjoon’s lips.
“I wanted to do that for a long time.” Namjoon’s breath is hot when it falls against his skin.
“Then you have no idea how long I wanted it,” Jungkook says, laughing breathlessly.
“Since the moment I first saw you.” He leans his forehead against Namjoon’s, and it feels like home.