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When Namjoon saw for the first time the most beautiful human he’d ever seen, he was busy with the Petalouses – more specifically with the three youngest. The biggest of that clutch was in his arms, the small head tucked under Namjoon’s armpit; another one was busy playing with his right earlobe, and the last one had decided that his hair made an excellent nest – which, considering that Petalouses had nests made of petals, was a huge compliment.

“This is Jimin, our new flying acrobat. Jimin, this is Namjoon, one of our dragon groomers. He’ll help you to bond with the dragons you’ll be working with.”

Jimin the flying acrobat had a slim, muscular body topped by a very pretty face. His left hand was holding his right wrist, his back straight and his chin slightly up. His posture looked like he was about to step up and start dancing, but all he did was bowing at ninety degrees. “Nice to meet you,” he murmured with a clean, high voice.

“Uh, yeah, nice to meet you.” Namjoon smiled and bowed a little in his direction. The Petalous on his right shoulder fixed its big purple eyes on the stranger and chirped.

At that, Jimin looked up and smiled brightly, showing a nice row of white teeth. One of the upper incisors was slightly crooked. Namjoon felt like he could melt on the spot, but he merely raised his free hand to the small dragon’s mouth to let it chew his fingertip, the baby teeth unable to pierce the skin.

“Well then. Namjoon, I’ll be busy preparing our new hire’s contract. In my office.” Seokjin, who had just brought Jimin to him, pointed at one of the huge flying ships anchored not too far away. “Be nice, don’t scare him off like you did with the other one.”

“For the last time, I did nothing to-”

“You heard me!” Seokjin retorted right before scurrying away, his tone commanding.

With a small sigh, Namjoon kept looking at Seokjin as he blended into the workers who were busy dismantling the giant big top. Then he looked down at the small dragon sleeping on his left arm, its iridescent wings and antennae trembling slightly at the breeze. Right then the third Petalous climbed down on Namjoon’s left shoulder as it stared at Jimin, who was staring at the three little dragons with an endeared smile.

“...so.” Namjoon spoke softly, feeling a little sorry to break the moment. Jimin looked back at his face and, as Namjoon had predicted, his smile faded a little. “You’re here, so I guess you already know what are the risks when performing with dragons.” As he spoke, he tried to look into his eyes; Jimin’s gaze was intense, like he wanted to drill holes into Namjoon’s face. Not to mention that his lips were full and looked incredibly soft: it was hard not to look back at those pink cushions.

“Oh. Oh, yeah, I heard all about it. And, uh. I’m sorry for your loss.”

Then he bowed one more time, still at ninety degrees, the sky blue locks of his hair bouncing slightly at the rapid movement.

Namjoon frowned. “My- my loss?” he repeated. He glanced at the dragon on his right, which had moved from his right shoulder to curl around his wrist like an elaborate bracelet with black spikes, as to look for an answer. The dragon yawned without giving any helpful explanation.

“Yeah.” Jimin’s brows flattened in confusion as well. “The person who interviewed me for this job- Min Yoongi, he told me about it.”

“Ah, now I see what you mean. Let me, uh, let me explain. Sorry.”

He grabbed the Petalous on his left shoulder. The dragon twisted around and chirped in protest, but then it went inside the pocket of Namjoon’s overalls without much complaining. It kept staring at Jimin, clearly interested in that unknown face.

“This is embarrassing, god. The thing is, we didn’t need a new flying acrobat because the previous one died. Nobody died. Far from it, actually. He just chose to leave this circus to join a different one.”

The way Jimin’s expression changed from sorry to gaping, ending with a grumpy pout, was almost comical. “Are you serious?!”

The sleeping dragon woke up and turned in Jimin’s direction, its antennae straight and attentive.

“Here I was so worried, and it was so hard to convince my mother to let me apply for the job, too! What kind of sick joke is this?!”

Namjoon snorted, then he coughed, covering his mouth with his fist. One moment too late.

“What are you laughing at? This isn’t funny!” Jimin kept whining, moving one step forward. Up close his skin looked smooth and clean, a clear surface that made Namjoon’s stomach do somersaults – definitely not a good idea to admire someone’s features in awe when that someone was outraged. “That interviewer was pretty much asking me if I was ready to be a martyr. Must be nice, being able to get away with this bullshit! You guys are indeed the biggest circus in the world, clowning other people like this!”

“Of course not, I’m-” but before Namjoon could finish talking, the green Petalous in his pocket roared to Jimin. It wasn’t exactly a roar – hard to call it that when the dragon involved wasn’t even as big as an iguana – but it was a noisy, insistent ‘woooooorr’ that shut up both men to look at the creature. It was grabbing the hem of the pocket on Namjoon’s chest and it was looking straight at Jimin. The blue dragon that had been sleeping chimed in with a shorter chirp, staring at Jimin with interest.

“What? What did I say?” asked Jimin, a hint of nervousness in his voice.

“They felt that you are uncomfortable and they want to help you,” Namjoon answered promptly. “We’ll solve this quickly. Let the blue one climb on your hands.”

Jimin was surprised, but he didn’t protest: he cupped both hands together (they were small) and held them up in front of Namjoon. The blue Petalous brought its nose closer, brushing Jimin’s fingertips with the antennae before jumping on them. Jimin looked like he wanted to cry, his eyes big and fixed on the iridescent wings spread out in front of him.

“I’m sorry,” Namjoon continued, sincerely hoping that Min Yoongi hadn’t compromised the chances of Jimin ever trusting anyone from the circus ever again. “Our directors has a wicked sense of humor, yeah, but we also needed to be sure that the acrobat would be ready for the worst. Jackson is still alive, sure, but he put his life on the line multiple times. It’s something that you have to keep in mind when working with dragons: they are beautiful, friendly creatures, but they can easily kill you even when they just want to play.”

Jimin seemed to relax a little, his shoulders slumping. “You have a point, and I guess I should be happy that I’m not gonna die as easily as that guy made me think.” He sighed. “Fine. Just- please no more jokes like that.”

“Sure.” Namjoon lied through his teeth with a smile. He already knew that Yoongi would definitely try to trick the newbie many times more before he’d feel satisfied. “Now follow us, and tell us more about yourself. They seem to like your voice, and befriending these three is a good start to get used to dragons without any risks.”

 

Apparently, Jimin was born and raised in the Eastern continent just like Namjoon, and had always dreamt of becoming a dancer. He had trained in Magic Dancing with a friend, then he had been part of a crew right until several members were involved in a fraud and he had found himself jobless. Jimin had thought that his dream to perform on big stages and show his skills had come to an end, then he had heard of the audition for the Skywhale Circus and had decided to give it a try. Despite his confidence for the job he didn’t seem to have much previous experience with dragons, and Jimin did his best to describe with as many details as possible how little he knew, all while expressing his profound admiration for the little dragon that was now curled around his forearm.

“I didn’t know that dragons could be this small! They look like big, scaly butterflies, but they also remind me of cats. Are all dragons like these? No, of course not, I saw a dragon that was as big as a house while coming over. These little guys are so cute, I can’t believe I’ll be living with them from now on.”

They waited together for the Petalouses to settle inside their nest – a significantly big heap of soft flower petals set inside a huge wooden chest.

“Are you going to keep them inside that? Really?” Jimin asked, wide eyes set on the chest as three loaders picked it up.

“It’s dangerous for such small dragons to take off across the sky without staying in their nest. I still haven’t trained them to stay put when the ship sails,” Namjoon explained. “We might have a Protectress with us, but that alone isn’t much with all the dragons we need to take care of.”

Jimin pursed his lips as he still followed the chest with his gaze. Namjoon took those few seconds to look at the shape of his ear, adorned with silver earrings, and wondering if he had ever seen prettier ears in his life. He felt his breath hitch in his throat before he could form another sentence.

“Come with me, I have to check on a couple more things before we take off.”

 

About ten minutes later, Namjoon believed that he had spent enough time with Jimin that he wasn’t all that influenced by his looks. There was only a residue jittery feeling at the bottom of his stomach whenever Jimin smiled.

Not a big deal. Not at all.

“You’re part of the main crew, so you’re going to travel on the Leader-Ship.” Namjoon gestured at the biggest ship. “It’s where the director went earlier. You’ll meet the rest of the performers right there. I’ll be with the dragons and the other groomers on the Friend-Ship – this ship right here. The one on the other side with the red sails is the Companion-Ship, it houses most of our crew with all the loaders and the workmen.”

Jimin burst out laughing. “What are these names for?”

“Our director likes puns,” Namjoon explained briefly, a little embarrassed.

“On point!” Jimin laughed more – probably a little too much for puns that lame. He sobered up to point at the Leader-Ship again. “So you’re not going to show me around there?”

Namjoon caressed the back of his neck. All of sudden Jimin’s gaze was too strong to bear. “Yeah, sorry about that. You’ll have to get another guide when you’re on board… dragon groomers don’t travel with the rest of the crew. We’re busy taking care of the dragons, there’s too many who aren’t comfortable with flight, plus we have to make multiple checks before we leave for Najzemia.”

“Oh”, was all Jimin said.

“I’ll take you there right away, so that you can meet the other artists. They’re all very good people, I’m sure you’ll get along.”

Jimin followed Namjoon without saying anything else, remarkably quieter compared to his endless stream of questions from earlier. Namjoon wondered if he had been talking too much.

Seokjin had told him to be friendly, which meant that Namjoon couldn’t really ignore even the smallest hint of uneasiness, especially on the very first day. The dragons would be the first to notice if the new acrobat wasn’t feeling at ease in their circus, and it had already been hard enough to find a new, decent flying acrobat to begin with. Which was why Namjoon soon turned back to him, deciding that it was right for him to ask. “What is it?”

“Huh?”

“You’re not saying anything anymore. Is something wrong?”

“Oh, uh, it’s nothing, I was just thinking.”

Suspicious, but for the time being, Namjoon decided not to pry. He kept walking across the field, dodging the loaders and greeting the rest of the workers of the circus with a bow or a wave of his hand accordingly.

“I just,” Jimin said after a few seconds. “I thought you would be my only guide. Are we already finished with everything?”

Did he sound… dejected? Namjoon couldn’t figure it out himself, but he didn’t sound especially happy about it. He glanced at Jimin curiously, but he was looking at the ground, and the angle didn’t let him see his face properly.

It could be that Jimin wasn’t as good with new people as he looked. Or maybe he was nervous at the idea of having to interact with the other artists so soon, or just wanted to make a good impression and didn’t feel very prepared just yet.

Maybe he wanted to spend more time with me.

Namjoon almost scoffed at that thought and tried to shake it off with a warm smile, even though Jimin wasn’t looking at him. “Don’t worry, you won’t get rid of me that easily! All the dragons of the circus make for a single, huge family, and being accepted by all of them isn’t a fast thing to do. We’ll have a lot of work to do as soon as we arrive, you and I.”

Jimin made a small smile. “Really. Then I’ll be in your care from now on.”

It was just a smile. It was just a sentence. Those butterflies had no place in Namjoon’s stomach. What the heck.

When they finally arrived, Namjoon almost didn’t notice how the Leader-Ship had floated at least ten meters higher than it should have, definitely out of reach even for the high iron staircase placed for the crew to get on board.

“Hey guys! You forgot a man!” Namjoon yelled, looking up at the edge of the main deck.

There were some shouts. Then…

“I can’t believe this. Really?” Namjoon sighed in disbelief at the sight of a rope ladder being unrolled along the side of the ship. Was that the warm welcome they had in mind for their new artist? Making him climb up the ship on his first day?

“Whoa. I guess I’ll have to work my way up the ladder. Literally.” Jimin, if surprised, didn’t look the least bothered by it. Namjoon kinda wished for the ground to come up and swallow him.

“I’m so sorry. I think they’re just playing with you! Let me just talk to them and I’ll put some sense in their skulls,” Namjoon rambled, feeling more and more embarrassed. He raised his hand to grab the rope ladder.

He ended up grabbing Jimin’s hand instead. The acrobat gently pushed his hand away, still unbothered.

“Don’t worry. This works for me.”

Just like that, Jimin winked. Namjoon held his breath.

“See you when we land on Najzemia.”

Then, just like that, he took off. There was no other way to describe it: he barely touched the ladder with his fingertips and propelled himself up, easy as if he was swimming, twirling a couple times as he reached the deck of the ship in the blink of an eye. He waved one more time at Namjoon from above, still smiling, before going out of sight.

Namjoon took a moment to realize that he was smiling like an idiot. For once, he didn’t care about hiding it. “Bye,” he answered weakly, waving timidly only when Jimin wasn’t looking anymore.

 

Thanks to his continuous work with the dragons, it never took long for Namjoon to figure out which dragons were the most comfortable with each specific performer. Hongai, the grumpy Crimson Wanderer with huge red eyes, was all over Jungkook, while the Sparking Looper Raihane liked Cao Lu the best. Mina had developed a strong relationship of mutual love and support with Neve, the Northern Feathered that even Namjoon had had trouble getting close to, and there were little to no places where Hoseok could go without at least one of the three Fire Abyssals perched on his shoulder. Seokjin himself, now a director but a contortionist in the past, was the favorite of the Protectress, Fereneel.

On the very first day in Najzemia, as all the nests of the dragons had been set down on land and the shelters had been started up, Jimin befriended Shaya, the only Mountain Gem of the Circus. Even as menacing as a giant, fluffy, flying serpent with opalescent crusts scattered over its body could get, Shaya let Jimin cuddle her like a kitten from the first moment, welcoming him to her nest made of hard mountain rocks and moss as if he was family.

“You can still see if you’re compatible with other dragons, you know,” Namjoon let him know on the third day in a row that Jimin had spent looking exclusively after Shaya and playing with her. “You’re always in time. Shaya still needs to learn how to behave in presence of a big audience in the big top. Your paycheck might be delayed.”

“I’ll wait for Shaya to get more used to it. I don’t mind.” The response Namjoon expected punctually reached him. Jimin was clearly too enamored with Shaya, his (small, small!) hands always deep in her thick, night blue fur, his smile never leaving his face in her presence.

Namjoon’s experience with dragons wasn’t really needed to tell that Jimin wouldn’t accept anyone else as a partner: Shaya was sprawled onto her nest of rocks and gems and was completely lax under Jimin’s affectionate touch.

Who could blame her? Namjoon would have done the same. He could only wonder what would Jimin’s thin fingers feel like as they scratched his scalp gently.

Jimin raised his head to look at him right at that moment, and Namjoon had to remind himself that flying acrobats could only kinda fly, definitely not read minds.

Right?

“Hey, um. Can you stay for some more? I want to try and mount Shaya, if I can.”

Namjoon shook his head. “Sorry, can’t do it. You two already played plenty for today, better do it tomorrow and let her sleep. I have to look after some other dragons before dinner and I can’t watch over you two.”

Jimin pouted slightly. “Does she have to do it right now? I wanted to spend some more time with her at least.”

Definitely not surprising, but the sun had already set and Namjoon had to go help the other dragon groomers with the forest dragons, so that they wouldn’t feel cold – the nights in Najzemia weren’t as warm as the ones in their habitat, even in summer. He pressed his lips together, thinking. “I can call Taehyung, ask him to fill in for me for one more hour, if you want.”

Jimin seemed dumbfounded for an instant, then he shook his head, smiling immediately after. “No, no. I was only thinking of, like, ten more minutes or so. No need to bother anyone, really.” There was a small hint of... disappointment, in his tone? Namjoon wasn’t entirely sure, but Jimin was already petting Shaya one more time, and pushing gently her head back onto the ground to make her stay in her nest and not follow him. “You’re right, we’ve already done a lot for today. I’ll just, uh.” Jimin glanced at him tentatively. “See you for dinner, maybe?”

The idea was marvelous to Namjoon, but the man smiled bitterly as he remembered his own duties. “Can’t, I’m sorry. I’m gonna take long, I’ll probably eat cold leftovers much later.”

Jimin shrugged. “I was thinking of checking on Cao Lu and Hoseok’s practice before going, anyway. Who knows? We could have dinner together in the end, after all.”

His chest felt incredibly warm as he noticed how, oddly, Jimin seemed to look forward to see him even after hours and hours spent together. Namjoon wanted to scream in delight. “Okay! Then maybe we’ll see each other later, I guess.”

 

Taking care of the forest dragons took longer than he expected, one of them not liking the nest and requiring the groomers to rearrange it multiple times before they were finally satisfied with it. Namjoon did it all without a complaint, smiling at their pettiness but also knowing too well that they’d be unsatisfied with the arrangement the day after, most probably.

The dragon groomers only got to have dinner at midnight, when the cooks themselves spared them the trouble to walk away from the Friend-Ship and let them have dinner on the deck.

“Are you taking care of that new flying acrobat?” asked Jianyi curiously as he gave Namjoon his share of meat.

“Yeah… why?”

“He seems like a solitary one. He came to the big top and looked like he wanted to have dinner at the table with everyone else, but then he just stood there for the longest time, and waited until everyone had left. For a moment I thought he was waiting for someone, but then he just came to us and asked for his share, then he ate all alone and left.”

Namjoon, his cheeks full of all the meat he could manage to munch on without choking, chewed a little slowly as he processed the new information.

He had only known Jimin for a few days and still didn’t know a lot about him, but he was pretty sure he was anything but solitary. The other performers had told him that he was very sociable, Taehyung was pretty enthusiastic about him too, and Jimin himself had told him multiple times how he always liked to have people around.

Those news sounded… strange. He promised himself he’d ask Jimin about it the next day.

 

The next day he completely forgot about it, because Taehyung hurt his ankle. The pain would be gone in a day or so thanks to medicines, but he was better off not doing any heavy work. Namjoon offered to switch places with him, so he ended up spending the whole day taking care of the nests and help cleaning the oldest dragons, as well as reassuring the most confused creatures that no, Taehyung wasn’t gone forever and yes, he’d be back the next day, all while Taehyung spent the day watching over Jimin and Shaya’s bonding.

Jimin didn’t say a word about it, greeting Namjoon cheerfully the day after. Not at Shaya’s nest, however. He went all the way to the Friend-Ship, waiting for him at the base of the iron staircase.

Namjoon wondered if that feeling was the one that made Jimin fly: pure happiness swelling his chest. He definitely felt he could take off at that moment.

“You didn’t have to come to the Friend-Ship, I can just see you at the Leader-Ship. It’s closer to Shaya’s nest anyway”, Namjoon told him, unable to help a content smile.

“It’s not a big deal! Besides we can talk as we walk together,” Jimin answered simply.

With a little frown, Namjoon turned to him as they headed to the nest. “You can talk to me at any moment. Aren’t you tired of seeing me every day, the whole day?”

“Nope. I’d never get tired of you,” he declared happily.

Was the pink shade he saw dusting Jimin’s cheeks real, or was it just the reflection of the blush he could feel coloring his own face?

 

Their routine settled just like that: Jimin going to meet him at the Friend-Ship every morning, them having their packed lunch together at noon, then Jimin asking Namjoon out for dinner – and Namjoon being forced to refuse most of the time because of different duties. They got along pretty great, which was more than what Namjoon had dared hoping for.

“Is it really fine like this?” Jimin asked after a week. He was mounting Shaya, the entire length of her long body spread on the soft grass. It was a nice day to fly, so Namjoon had brought both of them to practice flying together over the safety net that they had set up in the field, but Shaya seemed to find the idea of resting on the fresh ground much more fun. As good as Jimin was to spoil her, he couldn’t really lift a dragon as big as a pine tree all on his own.

“What?” Namjoon asked.

“I mean, tomorrow the Circus will have its first show, and… I don’t know.” He hesitated. “I’m happy I can spend more time with Shaya, but I feel like I’m getting to have fun and play with her while everyone else is working hard.”

Namjoon shrugged. “You saw the others practicing, didn’t you? Cao Lu eating all her meals with Raihane, Mina spending more than an hour cuddling Neve because he was sad. I can see how you’d think that it’s not work, but this is included in your contract. You need to play with her, cuddle her, sometimes even spoil her a little. You have to remember every little thing she likes and dislikes. It’s almost like adopting a child.”

Jimin smiled, his gaze fixed on Shaya as he fondled the thick fur around her neck. Shaya curved her long neck back at him at the gesture, her round eyes observing him with curiosity. “So this is why you’re always busy. All the dragons here are your babies, pretty much.”

“Not exactly”, Namjoon laughed, for some reason feeling a little shy. “I am way easier to substitute, unlike an artist.”

“You shouldn’t say that about yourself. When we go to the nest Shaya runs to you, not me,” observed Jimin, an unreadable expression on his face.

“Well, not for much longer.”

“Okay, fine, what I’m trying to say is… you should acknowledge your value more than this.” Jimin wasn’t looking at him, still busying himself with cuddling Shaya’s thick, dark fur as she let out a low rrrrr of pleasure straight from her throat. “I don’t think you’re that easy to substitute, for one.”

That gave Namjoon a weird, tingling sensation in his chest. Feeling embarrassed, he laughed again, not knowing what else to do with himself. “Why, thank you! I appreciate it.”

Finally Shaya got a satisfying amount of cuddles to take flight, her heavy body floating in the air as easily as a cloud, Jimin grabbing her fur to not fall off her back while she twirled. Namjoon watched in awe as Jimin’s figure floated up, the magic letting him twirl along, as light as a feather.

Neither of the two humans said anything about that topic again, that day, but Namjoon had the strong feeling that Jimin had wanted to tell him more. He kept thinking about it as he watched the practice, Jimin swimming mid-air around Shaya’s long body, weightless and agile, his blue hair blending with the clear sky above.

Maybe he was seeing something that Namjoon had never noticed. Or maybe Namjoon had always known about it, but he wasn’t good at recognizing it in himself.

Hours later, when Jimin and Shaya landed, the three of them had lunch together. And Namjoon invited Jimin to watch the first show together, set for that same evening – soon enough to not make everyone wait too long, late enough to let both the crew and the dragons settle into the place.

“It’s a very long show, but I think it would be useful to you to actually watch the performances then, instead of only watching the artists practicing on their own.” His reasons tumbled out of his mouth, impossible to stop, because that was his job and because that was his duty, and Jimin would rather enjoy the show on his own rather than stay even longer with him, no matter how much he claimed that he wasn’t annoyed by his presence and how much he liked company.

Jimin’s expression lit up and Namjoon felt his heart swell in delight in response. “Of course, I’d love that! I can’t wait!”

 

Jimin and Shaya’s progress was outstanding, and Seokjin himself had stated that they would be able to perform very soon, but the first show in Najzemia was still a little too soon. For that time around Jimin would have to just sit with the rest of the audience and enjoy himself, as well as paying attention to the smallest technicalities that he would need for his own performance.

The opening was always one of the best parts. Nothing amazed the audience more than a shower of small, colorful dragons falling from the dark ceiling of the big top and flying all around, bigger and shinier than any butterfly, sparkling like quiet fireworks on Seokjin’s cue. Then, in a festive parade, the performers would enter the arena one by one, waving at the audience, either walking or flying with their partners, all while the music filled the air along with the small calls of the dragons.

Cao Lu always gave her best when she performed first, playing with Raihane as if they weren’t just a long, yellow dragon, but a ribbon for her to draw figures in the air as she danced. Hongai, who disliked daytime, would definitely perform toward the end with Jungkook, his flames taking the breath away from the audience. One by one, the performances would leave everyone speechless, making them live the most wonderful of dreams.

That was what could be expected from the performances, pretty much. Too bad that Namjoon wasn’t even there to see it.

It couldn’t be helped: Ildi, one of their oldest dragons, had hurt himself and was too upset about it to be left alone. Being almost completely blind, he also needed extra care, which meant that Namjoon had to stay by his side along with two more dragon groomers to make sure that he’d be okay even when most of the other dragons were busy with the performances.

The Protectress was there for a while, too, her giant figure looming over them, but she couldn’t just stay with the few dragons that stayed in their nests and neglect all the others in the big top, so she soon left the four of them alone.

Namjoon hadn’t had the time to let Jimin know about it: he had asked Taehyung to deliver the message, feeling guilty about it but unable to do much else.

“You’re lucky I love you so much, or I wouldn’t have stayed. Take care of yourself a little more next time, hm?” he murmured at Ildi’s ear, stroking his giant muzzle.

Ildi gurgled low in response, sensing the sweet tone of his words.

 

When the performance finally ended and all the dragons were brought back to their nests, Namjoon sprung up from where he was sitting next to Ildi and ran toward Shaya’s nest as fast as he could, hoping to find Jimin. He got lucky as he found him right as he was kissing Shaya goodnight, his lips pressing softly on the tip of her nose. He stood there, breathing heavily and watching them as they both turned to him.

Shaya’s eyes sparkled in his direction like a couple of giant, pink jewels. Jimin smiled a little, but he didn’t look very happy to see him.

It was for their job, and it was for his job that Namjoon had been forced to not go, but the guilt he felt was almost suffocating. “I’m so sorry. I was about to come, but then-”

“I know what happened, Taehyung told me all about it. You don’t have to worry about me, this is your job.”

Jimin didn’t speak any differently from the usual, softly and kindly, but there was unmistakable gloom in his gaze, blatant even in the darkness.

Before Namjoon could say anything else, Jimin was already moving two steps away, Shaya curling on herself in her nest.

“Sorry, but I’m really tired right now. I’m just gonna go sleep. See you tomorrow.”

Namjoon looked at his back as he walked away for the longest time.

“See you tomorrow,” he murmured only when Jimin was already too far away to hear.

 

The next day went smoothly. Namjoon supervised Jimin and Shaya’s practice as usual, watching closely the dragon’s behavior to make sure that she always felt happy and curious of what would Jimin do next. There weren’t major issues, apparently, and Namjoon was pretty sure that soon enough Jimin would gain the confidence necessary for him to practice with Shaya without anyone keeping an eye on him at all times. They had lunch together as usual, Namjoon making sure that Jimin wouldn’t share too much of his share with Shaya, then they resumed practice again.

What was the catch?

Probably nothing. It had to be nothing other than Namjoon’s pure imagination acting up in the presence of Jimin right after the night he had ditched him, even if it was for a right cause.

That, however, didn’t change the fact that Jimin barely said a word to him the whole day. He only asked questions about Shaya and made sure that whatever he wanted to try would be okay with the dragon, but other than that he was much quieter and less expansive than usual.

In the beginning Namjoon had barely noticed, since Jimin’s mood didn’t seem particularly bad or anything – he had been his cheerful self the whole day, laughing with delight at all of Shaya’s funny antics and covering her in kisses like he had started doing recently. Still, it was much different to Namjoon compared to the previous days.

A new alarm bell rang in his head when Jimin, at the end of the day, merely greeted him and went to have dinner on his own without asking him to eat together: something Namjoon wasn’t prepared for, even though he had been forced to refuse the invitation every other time because of work.

He had to solve the issue, if there was one. He had to be brave and face the problem head-on.

Which meant that he’d better ask for opinions from someone who wasn’t Jimin.

 

“Do you think that Jimin hates me?” he asked Taehyung that evening.

They were busy changing the Petalouses’ petal nest. They had grown much bigger in a few days, which meant that a single chest of petals wasn’t enough for the three of them: they had to fill three different chests with petals. A very boring, long work that they were finishing up lazily – good thing that Petalouses kept their nests fresh for a very long time.

Instead of answering right away, Taehyung stared at Namjoon for a very long moment, squinting his eyes at him and pressing his lips together. Namjoon, too used to Taehyung’s character, merely waited for him to speak.

“Curious,” said Taehyung in the end. “This is exactly what Jimin asked me yesterday.”

“He asked you if he hates me, too?” A look from Taehyung made him regret the joke immediately. “Sorry. Go on.”

“I think he got self-conscious after yesterday. I mean, I’m getting better at taking care of dragons here, but I’m not as familiar with Ildi as you are. They get too nervous with unfamiliar smell next to them, since they’re blind. If I could have done it myself, I would have done it in your stead.” He grimaced. “Instead you had to go, and when I got to the big top and saw Jimin waiting there, he had this resigned look on his face, like he was expecting you to not show up in the end.”

That was even worse than being hated by Jimin, maybe. Namjoon sighed heavily, brushing a hand through his hair – a habit he got from Jimin. How ironic.

“Maybe he noticed that on a daily basis dragon groomers have more free time than the performers, but he didn’t consider that after your duties with Jimin are over, your usual grooming duties are still there,” Taehyung supposed. “All I know is that he complained about you refusing his invitations to dinner, and looking like you always have work to do right when he proposes you to do something together.”

“I’m not doing it on purpose,” Namjoon whined, hiding his face in his palms and brushing it hard. Part of the petals he was plucking from the pile of flowers next to him spread on his cheek.

Taehyung patted his shoulder lightly. “I’m sure he knows it, too. I haven’t spent as much time as you did, but I think you can talk to him, you know? Explain your situation better. We might not be as important as the performers, but that doesn’t mean that our duties can be pushed for later.”

“That won’t make him feel much reassured, I’m afraid.”

“Then reassure him.”

The simplistic answer made Namjoon throw the petal-less flower in his hand right in his face. Taehyung sputtered.

“I’m serious! Fix it by showing that you don’t hate him at all. If he sees that you’re actively trying, then he won’t be as worried and your work won’t be affected anymore.”

“Our work is not affected. Today we worked fine,” Namjoon said, taking another flower. “I just...”

“Missed him,” Taehyung completed with a smile.

Despite himself, Namjoon smiled as well. “Missed him.”

 

The next day Jimin looked at him with surprise first thing in the morning. “What are you doing here?”

“Well,” Namjoon shrugged, “you always come to pick me up every morning. This time around I wanted to do it for you instead.”

Jimin smiled shyly, a soft blush coloring his cheeks. “Thanks.”

“I’m just sorry because we won’t reach Shaya any sooner, since I still have to get our lunch.” He tried to say it apologetically, but he only sounded oddly proud. “Wanna come with?”

Jimin was officially the happiest-looking man to ever be proposed to get in line for a packed lunch. “Sure! Let’s go, let’s go!”

They got in line with the other groomers and performers for the kiosk. Jimin greeted everyone with a smile and Jungkook, as he got in line behind them, gave Namjoon a knowing grin. Namjoon slapped his bicep, holding back his laughter.

After that much on his part, Jimin already seemed in a much better mood as they went to Shaya’s nest and greeted her for her breakfast. Shaya noticed it and was especially playful, bouncing and floating on their way to the open-air safety net to practice. Their teamwork was getting better by the day, Shaya starting to predict where Jimin would want to step and Jimin guessing what would Shaya want to do next.

As usual they sat on the grass for lunch, enjoying their mix of bread, vegetables and cured meat and shielding their meal from Shaya’s usual attempts at grabbing bites of it.

It seemed like a good moment to talk. Namjoon dipped his hands in Shaya’s coat, his eyes fixed on her as he thought of what to say.

“It’s not like I don’t want to spend time with you, you know. It’s the opposite, actually.”

Jimin, who was staring straight at Shaya as she licked crumbs of food off his fingers, looked at him in surprise. Namjoon felt a rush of embarrassment and lowered his head, avoiding his gaze.

“I’m just very busy. Dragon groomers don’t have to do a lot of things every day, because there’s many of us and you artists help out a lot by taking care of your partners, but emergencies pop up randomly and we can’t do much about it when it happens.” Even without looking at him, he could sense Jimin tensing up at his words, so he quickly went on. “But that doesn’t mean that you’re doing something bad! It was just bad timing, or bad luck, or whatever you want to call it.”

He still didn’t dare raising his gaze, neck-deep in his own shame for making Jimin, of all people, think that he didn’t want to spend time with him. Namjoon still had no idea how had they come to that, and trying to think about it the previous night hadn’t brought him to any brilliant conclusion: it had just been awful timing, that was it.

His train of thoughts stopped when Jimin placed his hand on his knee, the warmth seeping through the fabric.

“Does this mean that we can have dinner together, this evening?” he asked. Hopeful, a small smile on his plump lips. Namjoon feared he would pass out for a moment as his head spun – he had gotten used to Jimin’s good looks by then, hadn’t he? What was going on?

“It means that if I can’t reach you for dinner by the time the Protectress goes to sleep, then I pledge to have breakfast with you every day from now on, if that’s what it takes for us to actually do something together that is not related to work,” he finally blurted out.

Jimin’s eyes widened in surprise. It was incredibly embarrassing, Namjoon not used to share his feelings that honestly with anyone who wasn’t a dragon, but he forced himself to not look away.

At least until he felt something tugging at his hand. He looked down just in time to see Shaya gulping down his last piece of meat, a quiet growl of satisfaction spilling from her throat.

“You…! That was my lunch! Are you for real?!” he protested with a frown. When Shaya responded by licking her muzzle, he sighed. “I guess this is how it is. I’ll let it slide this one time, but let’s not make it happen again, you hear?”

Shaya bent her long neck just enough to brush her forehead against his palm. Namjoon pet her, unable to contain a small smile.

Then something soft and warm touched his cheek, gentle and light. He knew what it was right away, his face heating up moments before he turned to look at Jimin.

“Thank you for being so nice,” he murmured, a gentle expression on his face. “Since we’re done with lunch, let’s get back to practice, shall we?”

Namjoon would have loved to say something back right away, but nothing came out of his throat. He only sat there, lost in his own storm of thoughts, while Jimin was standing up and beckoning Shaya.

The spot Jimin had kissed on his face was hot, warming up his entire body. His fingers hovered on it, not daring to touch.

“Sure,” he exhaled, too late for Jimin to hear. Then he finally stood up, hoping to be able to make his face straight again before Jimin would look at him once again.