When they get to the edge of the little village the next day, nightfall is still two hours away. Yoongi makes them wait despite his desperate need for warmth, too afraid for anyone to see his red eyes.
“At least they aren’t glowing anymore,” Namjoon says, offering an apple plucked from a tree along the little road.
Yoongi shakes his head and plops to the ground in the heap of coats he’s wearing. Hands shoved up under his armpits, he shivers in the autumn sun.
Relief soaks Namjoon’s bones as he soaks in the sun's rays. The apple is sweet, the air is crisp. Hints of smoke from fireplaces and distant bleating of sheep, the thunk of an axe and the muffled call of a woman’s voice. Civilization, humans. The familiarity feels safe after so many days in the wild, after dragon teeth and magic and fae. He could stay here, he thinks, despite what he told Yoongi.
He keeps that thought to himself, though he’s not sure why. He chucks the apple core into the bushes and sits beside Yoongi to stare out at the field dotted with grazing goats.
I want to take his hand again. I want him to feel better .
Now that he’s no longer trapped, he can’t seem to remember why he was fighting the feeling. The fear of being a dragon’s thrall is distant, the fear of becoming dinner only a memory. Though it’s easier to cling to blame and anger, it’s becoming harder and harder to lie to himself. No longer dragon and captive, they’re just Namjoon and Yoongi. And just Namjoon and Yoongi is a thing he perhaps... quite likes.
A glance over at Yoongi makes him smile despite the conflicting feelings that cloud his head. He’s pouting deep in the scarf Namjoon had tossed off and given to him halfway down the mountain, no hints remaining of his fierce monster half.
“You’re sure they didn’t curse you? It looked like ice, what that witch shot you with...” He tries to laugh as he tucks the scarf tighter around Yoongi’s ears.
“Just cold,” he says stubbornly. “It would take more than a witch’s ice to kill me, I just, just need to get warm.”
Namjoon frowns. It seems to him that witch’s ice would be exactly how much it would take to kill a dragon, but he doesn’t speak the concern. What good would it do when neither of them know how to heal a magical wound? And anyway, I'm supposed to let him go, he reminds himself. To be dropped off at the city and let the damned dragon fly away and figure out its own health. Supposed to let him go. Supposed to be let go.
“I don’t want to,” he tells the wind.
He huffs a nervous smile, lighter somehow with the feeling finally spoken. Whether he makes a decision or not, it’s a relief to acknowledge it. “I don’t want to,” he whispers again.
“I said, for warmth,” he mutters, taking Yoongi’s chilled hand in his again, rubbing it vigorously before tucking it under his palm.
The inn is cozy, heated well with a fireplace in every room, steam from the baths and the furnace beneath keeping the air free from chilly drafts. Yoongi keeps his blood-red eyes to the floor, though the innkeeper barely spares either of them a glance. Stomachs full of hearty stew, muddy shoes drying in front of the hearth in their room, they make their way down the long, stone hall of bathrooms.
They undress with eager speed, grabbing buckets and washcloths and soap lined haphazard beside hot water spouts. Namjoon can’t keep his eyes off Yoongi, now that he’s allowed himself to want him.
He feels like he has enchanted himself, bewitched by the new possibility. It makes him giddy, holding this secret right under Yoongi’s nose. Yoongi who thinks he’s beautiful, Yoongi who treasures him most. He could act on it, or he could not. I shouldn’t, he thinks, not if I’m leaving in the end.
But watching him undress, he wants to, so badly. It isn’t written in stone that I must leave. Yoongi wouldn’t be upset if I changed my mind, certainly? But the danger is, what if he changes his mind again? Decisions seem too dangerous for his tired head and heart, everything too fresh and uncertain. But he wants. Of that he is sure, he wants Yoongi and letting him go feels wrong.
Oblivious to the turmoil in Namjoon’s head, Yoongi grins up at him. “I can’t wait to soak my feet.”
“You look a bit warmer than you were,” Namjoon notes, pressing a hand to Yoongi’s cheek before they sit on the wooden bench in front of the hot water spouts to fill their buckets.
He nods, perky at the prospect of a bath after a full stomach and feeling a bit better after days of struggle. “A bit, yes. Here, I’ll- ah, sorry. I’m sorry.” He lowers the washcloth from Namjoon’s shoulder where he had begun to scrub.
Embarrassed, Yoongi wilts into himself and dips the washcloth into the bucket again. Namjoon stares at him, nearly vibrating with the words he wants to speak, the skin he wants to touch.
“You can.” He exhales, nearly in disbelief that the words had gotten out. “If I can do the same for you.”
Frozen in place, Yoongi’s lips fall open. “What?”
“If I can do the same for you,” he repeats, taking his washcloth in hand.
“But I should- but you’re my- my-”
Washcloth soaped into a lather, Namjoon drags it over Yoongi’s pale shoulder, scrubbing at the crook of his neck. A shaky breath; it is so nice to touch him. “Your what? Your treasure? Your companion? I’m not yours,” he reminds him with a smile, studying the conflicting emotions on Yoongi’s face.
While the bravery lasts, he continues, scrubbing down Yoongi’s chest. “What do you mean by companion? What did you expect?”
Taken aback, Yoongi’s eyes widen. He seems exasperated when he asks, “Do you not have this word?”
He scoots closer and tips Yoongi’s face to clean the nape of his neck. “We do, but it can mean many things. Do you demand loyalty?”
Yoongi gives a puzzled laugh. “Loyalty? Am I your king?”
“No, but some demand it of their companions. If I left you to be another dragon’s companion?”
“If you- I would… I would be very sad.”
“Hm. Then you demand loyalty.”
“I do not demand any-“
“Should a companion carry your things?”
Yoongi thinks a moment, watching Namjoon lift his hands into his lap to scrub at. “I’m almost certainly stronger, so I should carry them.”
“Should a companion cook your food? Sleep in your bed? Ask you about your day?”
“I… if they wanted to then-”
“Do companions kiss?”
An inhale fills Yoongi’s chest and he freezes. “They- they can, if… if they want. Though, dragons do not have kissing so, I don’t know-“
“Dragons don’t have kissing?” Namjoon laughs softly. He scoots forward again and trails his fingers down Yoongi’s warm skin, sparks shooting down his spine. “Yoongi. I’m not your companion. But-”
He frowns. Something about his own insistence feels hollow. He remembers the thought he had in the library before,
this is what I’d wanted from a companion all along.
The excitement in his chest when Yoongi would carry a new book to him every night, the care of Yoongi’s hands when changing the cast on his leg. The comfortable quiet between them as they would cook dinner together, Yoongi trying to help or playing an odd tune on his piano. He could be set free to find someone else, but where would he find a better companion than Yoongi?
Yoongi looks sad at the reminder of what they aren’t, and Namjoon finds he doesn’t like that. “But I think- maybe I could be? Since all this time, I think…? I think you’ve been mine.”
Now that he’s said the words out loud, the truth of them sinks around them like so many layers of snow. He’s certain at least that the urge to kiss him, to show him new things and make him feel is more than just a curiosity. To care for him, after so much being cared for.
“And, um. According to my definition, companions kiss.”
“Oh,” Yoongi gapes.
Smiling nervously at Yoongi’s look of shock, Namjoon tucks his dark hair behind his ear and kisses him softly on the lips. Warmth fills him, warmer than campfire, warmer than the sun in August fields.
“I like that,” Yoongi whispers. “Though, I don’t understand why…”
His eyes fall shut when Namjoon kisses him again, moving his lips against Yoongi’s this time.
“I don’t know how to do that,” Yoongi murmurs, shy and eager.
“Just… just imagine I’m a juicy summer peach,” Namjoon laughs, dragging his fingers through the steam beading on Yoongi’s chest. His hands shake, giddy with nerves.
Yoongi blinks up at him. “I’ve never had a peach.”
Namjoon can’t help but squeeze his face and giggle. “Gods… then, just try to do what I do.”
“At the same time?” Yoongi asks after Namjoon pecks another kiss to his lips.
“Yes, at the same time. Or...maybe a beat after…”
He pecks Yoongi’s lips again and waits for Yoongi to do the same.
“Yeah, like that,” he whispers and kisses him again, sighing when Yoongi reciprocates. Water drips and echoes in the little tiled bathroom, their damp skin slipping against each other when Namjoon pulls him closer.
The next kiss is even better, Yoongi’s pouty bottom lip fits so perfectly between his, and the next even better still once Yoongi gets the hang of it. The open desire Yoongi gives him rushes through his bloodstream in heady tingles, driving Namjoon to kiss harder, deeper.
Between every kiss, Yoongi is staring wide-eyed at him, desperate with curiosity. “Kissing is good,” Yoongi decides quickly, though his lips are still a bit clumsy against Namjoon’s. “Why-”
Their lips press together again and Yoongi is powerless to stop himself. “Why-” he tries again, whimpering a little when Namjoon sucks at his bottom lip.“Why- I thought- I thought you wanted to leave me?”
Finally, he holds Namjoon still. “I thought… I thought you wanted to leave me. More than anything else.”
Namjoon’s gut twists and he gives a heavy sigh. “I thought I did too. But I just… I was just… so angry, I think. I just wanted to be free. Free from you, I thought, but… I like you. Free from everything else now, it’s impossible not to see. I like you. I want you.”
A big, flustered smile pushes up Yoongi’s cheeks. “You like me?” he whispers mostly to himself, disbelief bright in his eyes. “But you-?”
He can see the questions forming in Yoongi’s eyes, decisions he’s not quite ready to commit to. “I like you,” he murmurs, cupping Yoongi’s face to sweep him up in another sweet kiss, absently dragging the soapy washcloth up and down his back.
Yoongi shivers despite the stifling steam in the room, and Namjoon pulls away. “Let’s get you into the bath.”
He finishes scrubbing at Yoongi’s body, working his way down his arms and stomach, trying not blush when he travels lower. But the way Yoongi groans and watches him with such reverence, as if he’d painted the stars in the sky himself, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed.
Eyes shy up to Yoongi, he presses a wet kiss to the inside of his pale thigh, and then another. “You are so very pretty,” he says shyly, and grins when Yoongi’s mouth falls open in surprise.
“Pretty? I- no-”
“Yes,” Namjoon argues, giggling and kissing his knee before moving down to wash his feet. “Okay, rinse off and go get in. You need to get warm, I’ll wash myself.”
Yoongi looks like he’s going to argue, but the temptation to soak in the tub is too much. His groan of satisfaction upon sinking into the scalding water echoes off the tiles. “It is perfectly hot. I’m afraid you will boil,” he sighs dreamily.
“I’ll be fine,” Namjoon laughs. He looks up and finds Yoongi watching him wash himself with that greedy reverence he’s come to expect. “You’re not supposed to watch people when they’re naked, you know.”
“Why? I like to watch you. You are- you are so beautiful.” The words end in a hush, like they’re almost too precious to speak. Yoongi looks nervous, unsure if it’s really okay to speak how he feels now.
Namjoon tries not to curl into himself, to relax and wash himself how he normally would, but he feels like every inch of his body is painted in Yoongi’s words, beautiful, so beautiful.
The water is indeed biting hot. He hisses when he steps in, pausing before stepping down thigh deep. “Gods,” he mutters. “You could cook prawns in here.”
“Yes, it’s wonderful,” Yoongi sighs.
“Ooh, salts for sore muscles.” Namjoon wades across to the big ceramic pot of salts on the ledge and sprinkles a generous scoop into the bath. “Mmm. Smells like my childhood. I used to hate this scent, because my parents would never let me use the orange salts I wanted,” he chuckles.
They sink into a comfortable silence, though neither of them can quite relax, eyes darting shyly across the water, wondering and wanting.
“I would like more kisses,” Yoongi announces abruptly on a soft pout. And then, “Is that okay?”
"Yes," Namjoon grins. He glides closer through the water, Yoongi's pretty face fuzzed into a dreamy haze through the steam, pink lips and pink cheeks, dark eyes gleaming only barely in their unnatural hue. Beneath the water, their thighs brush and Namjoon doesn't miss the little gasp in Yoongi's chest at the touch. He ghosts his hand down Yoongi's side and pulls him closer.
A peck to Yoongi's eager lips, but then Namjoon leans down and kisses his neck, once softly before he licks at his warm skin and sucks at it.
"O- oh," Yoongi stammers, clutching Namjoon's waist. "That's- ah," he sighs. "I want more of that."
Namjoon leans back to admire the mark left on his neck. "Yeah? Come here, then," he hums, and pulls Yoongi into his lap.
The next morning Namjoon wakes in a soft, warm bed and smiles in delight. Yoongi is cuddled up against his bare chest, breathing softly in sleep. He stirs and yawns when Namjoon stretches and shifts.
“Oh? You’re ridiculously warm again,” Namjoon takes Yoongi’s hot hand in his and leans up in surprise.
“Mm. I snuck downstairs to the furnace room and slept in the coals for a few hours.” He smacks his lips, eyes falling shut.
Namjoon barks a laugh. “Not because of me? I’m hurt,” he teases.
“How could it be because of you? You are nowhere near as hot as a furnace fire.” Yoongi pouts in confusion.
Tucking Yoongi’s arm back around his waist, Namjoon grins and gives an exaggerated sigh. “What do dragons know of romance, eh?”
“What is romance?”
He snorts and shoves the blanket away from his neck. “It’s… it’s when you do or say things to make someone feel like you love them and think they’re special. Things like giving jewelry or flowers, saying ‘my happiness is only because you’, and so on and so on. Honestly, it's overrated.”
Yoongi hmms against his chest. “We don’t have this word. I don’t think dragons do romance.”
“No, I wouldn’t suppose they do.” Namjoon smiles against Yoongi’s hair. “Although, you do, in your own ways…”
“Do I? Well. I was never what a dragon is supposed to be anyway, if you ask my tribe.”
That makes Namjoon wonder. “What would they have done with me, if they were you?”
“Mm? Let you run away and die, I suppose. They never would’ve wanted a companion in the first place, so perhaps they would’ve left you up there in your jewels and painted face. Well. Without your jewels, more likely…”
It’s sobering to think back to that day, heart still mourning the loss of all he had. He doesn’t want to dwell on it.
“You know, I was thinking. When we get to the city, perhaps I could write a letter to my parents. Unsigned of course, something cryptic, you know? And then-”
Yoongi peeks up from his chest and interrupts him quietly. “We… we are still going to the city?”
“Yes? I would like to see it with you.”
“Oh. And then?”
“And then? We will see other things. Other places, perhaps. I don’t- I don’t know.”
“Yes,” he laughs softly, lifting Yoongi’s face to kiss him. “I mean together. If… that’s okay? If it’s okay that I don’t know beyond that yet.”
Satisfied, Yoongi snuggles back against him. “Of course it’s okay. I’ll go with you anywhere.”