Not that he’d ever made a top ten list, but this is not how Namjoon wanted to die.
He shivers in the high mountain wind, and when the wind dies down, he trembles still. Was the dragon lurking somewhere, watching its offering like a cat watches a mouse? Can dragons lurk? Is that possible for a creature so big?
Namjoon sniffles and doesn’t bother to wipe the tears that fall from his wide, frantic eyes. He peeks down the side of the cliff. The spire of the temple in his little village is just barely visible in the valley a couple of mountains over. The high priestess and the city guards are somewhere below, returning home. Something he’d never do again.
So quiet up here. The sound of his own hiccuped sobs are the only company he has. Nothing but death and wind.
He yanks the flower crown from his head and chucks it into the dust. Fire lilies, the last blooms of autumn. A long robe embroidered with crystals and gems drapes heavy over his body, gold medallions dangle from delicate chains on his wrists and ankles. His hair groomed and scented with rose water, his cheeks and eyes painted in the official pattern of his village so the dragon would know who paid so dearly for the hopes of another ten years of safety.
With dread and trepidation, Namjoon creeps over rocks and boulders to peer over the north side of the mountain. Far, far in the distance a little trail of smoke tells him another village hides in the trees on the horizon, a week’s walk, maybe? He considers dropping all his adornments to appease the dragon and fleeing naked down the sheer cliffside.
A shadow eclipses him. Fear runs cold down to his toes, and though his clings harder to the rocks than ever, a sudden vertigo sends his stomach in a lurch.
Wings beat air and dust his way and he crawls between a crack between the rocks. “No, no, please no, nononono-”
It’s pointless. Claws scrape over stone and a big, reptilian face towers over him. It’d be a beautiful creature, if it wasn’t his death. Black scales shimmer with deep blue iridescence in the sunlight, huge eyes a rich blood red. Fire lily red.
Talons reach for him and he blacks out on the sorrowful wish that his last thought in life wasn’t terror. He had wanted a different death. He had wanted more life.
He comes to in total darkness. Not a sliver of light in any direction, he blinks and breathes, and wonders if he’s really breathing in the afterlife or if it’s a residual habit of the mind.
Is this the abyss? He wonders. The darkness where souls rest unformed? If I walk through, will I find the light and be reborn? Weightless in the pitch black, it’s almost an exciting prospect.
Thinking he has no body, he wills himself forward with his mind to see if that will work. His ankles jangle with coins as thought translates to bodily movement.
A sharp gasp. He touches his chest and finds he’s still wearing the beaded crystal robes, knuckles raw from scraping across rock.
He hasn’t died yet.
“No,” he rasps, broken in spirit. Dread fills him and pushes out a sob that echoes through the cavern around him. He doesn’t know how to go through the fear again, body already aching with the post-adrenaline rush exhaustion. If dragon teeth have to be his death, he’d prefer it to be quick.
“Just kill me already!” he shouts into the black, falling to his knees and feeling his way across the stone floor though there’s nothing to guide him in any direction. A few minutes more of breathless groping and his hand finds cloth. A woven rug, it would seem, odd to find in a cave.
A glow of fire peeks around the corner. “No. No, please, just do it fast, please I’m- I’m so afraid,” he sobs, scrambling backwards until his back hits something hard.
Books rain down around him, tumbling from the wooden shelves he’s up against. The fire comes closer, and Namjoon realizes it’s a torch, not the terrifying breath of a giant, hungry dragon.
Covered in books and unable to look away, he shakes as the torch comes closer and reveals it’s being carried by a human, a man with dark hair and soft woven clothes of wool and fur. For a single, tentative second, Namjoon is relieved. Then the man kneels down in front of him and the firelight glimmers in his eyes. Fire lily red.
“No,” he whimpers, cowering like a dog when the man tugs him up to his feet. He drops back down to the ground in a quivering ball.
The man frowns and sets the torch into a sconce on the wall. Both hands free, he picks Namjoon up and all but carries him to a chair beside the bookshelf. Namjoon thrashes and shoves him away, all attempts at dignity and bravery thrown away.
“Please, please kill me before you do it, I don’t deserve this,” he wails. “Don’t deserve so much pain, please, please just do it quick…”
Clutching Namjoon’s shoulders in a tight grip, the man waits until Namjoon stops sobbing and looks at him.
“Why do you cry?”
With a look a lot like he’d just been slapped, Namjoon blinks and sniffs. “Because you’re going to eat me, and I don’t want to die this way.” He shudders a sob and begins to beg. “I have so much, not much to a dragon I’m sure but, I have friends, and I was going to study woodcrafting in Veil and- and- I wrote a book, I- please,”
“I will not eat you,” he scoffs like the notion is ridiculous.
What kind of dragon trick is this? Namjoon wonders, anticipating the next words from his mouth being “I will rip you to shreds and roast you and then I will eat you.”
But instead the man drops to his knees in front of the chair and takes Namjoon’s hand. His red eyes trace over the design painted on his face, no doubt muddled by tears now, and he doesn’t smile, exactly but he… glimmers. Slow, with something like greed or reverence, he turns Namjoon’s palm up and carefully removes the ruby ring and gold bracelet, and then the other, placing them one by one on the table beside them.
The tears start up again in quiet, resigned sobs. Of course the dragon would remove the treasures before eating him. “Oh gods. No, no…”
He watches Namjoon watch him with curiosity, sitting back to remove the anklets as well, Namjoon’s foot propped up on his thigh. Eyes glittering in the firelight, he traces his fingers over the intricate crystal designs beaded over Namjoon’s chest, down and down to the emerald waves patterned over the thighs.
Chest heaving with fear, Namjoon’s eyes go bigger as the man leans closer and, one by one, unbuttons the tiny buttons down his chest until the heavy robe falls open. It pools around his waist with a slinky thunk, and two more tears roll down his cheek. That’s it. Naked now, nothing standing between him and death. He shuts his eyes and waits.
“I brought you more comfortable clothes,” the man says, eyes lingering on Namjoon’s bare skin before he stands to retrieve a stack of cloth nearby.
He beckons for Namjoon to take them, and frowns when he sits frozen in the chair. That scares Namjoon into motion and brings him to his feet.
“Thank you for the gifts.” He scoops up the robe when Namjoon stands and inspects the tiny crystals, fingers tracing over them as his gaze glitters in reflection.
“They’re so you won’t attack my village. Please, please don’t attack, at least don’t make my death be for nothing, please honor it.”
“I said I will not eat you,” the dragon laughs, eyebrows furrowed. “Put them on,” he urges, pushing the clothes into Namjoon’s arms, eyes trailing down Namjoon’s bare body. “I did not expect… I assumed they would send the most beautiful of their village, but I did not expect someone this beautiful.”
Namjoon pauses his harried dressing, eyes bugged out in confusion at the compliment, at the shyness in the voice.
“What?” he says dumbly.
He steps forward and admires the burgundy silk pants on Namjoon’s long legs. Taking the shirt from Namjoon’s clenched fists, he tugs it down over Namjoon’s head and threads his arms through the sleeves like he’s a child.
Satisfied in his choice of outfit, he looks Namjoon over and hums. “I said you are beautiful. Though, I would like to clean your face. And then I will leave you alone, as I can see you are very afraid, though I don’t know why.”
Across the cavernous little room, there’s a sound of water splashing and dripping in a basin, and the man returns to where Namjoon has glued himself to the wall. Towel in hand, he holds Namjoon’s face still and gently wipes the red paint from his eyes and cheeks.
“It has stained your skin,” he frowns. “Why are you painted like this? Tomorrow I will bring you some oil.”
He continues to stand there, frowning at Namjoon and the way he shakes and heaves panicked breath. “I wish you were not afraid, I don’t like that.”
“Sorry,” he gasps automatically.
He reaches for a little box on the table and takes a pinch of some kind of sweet-smelling dried herbs. “Open your mouth,” he asks softly.
Namjoon complies, too deep in fear to question. It’s sweet when it hits his tongue.
“It will help you sleep,” he tells him, brushing the excess over Namjoon’s bottom lip. “Don’t take more, it is very potent.”
He takes Namjoon by the arms and leads him to the bed against the far wall, deep in warm shadows, and sets him onto the soft woolen bed. Hands so hot.
“Lay back. I think I brought enough furs for a human to be warm. I hunted for weeks, and traded my gold for a hunter to turn them into blankets, because I knew you were coming. Though, I did not know it would be you, ” he trails off, eyes taking in the features of Namjoon’s tear and paint stained face.
Namjoon’s eyes begin to fall heavy, and he smacks his lips to taste the sweet licorice taste of the herbs.
“The herbs will make your dreams sweet, too,” he assures him with a smile. “My name is Yoongi, if you need to call for me.”
He wakes with a gasp, no dreams to memory. It feels like it has been half a moment since his eyes fell shut in the weird, shadowy, firelight terror of red eyes and soft silks and gentle hot hands.
“Why am I still alive?” he whispers to the stone walls. A sickening dread, being dressed up and kept as a pet before he’s killed and eaten alive by a dragon.
Odd, though, that no one knew the dragons took human form as well. Huddled under warm furs, Namjoon contemplates the stories everyone knows, giant scaled beasts perched atop hills of gold. It didn’t make sense, now that he thinks about it; what does a flying lizard want with gems and money?
Still, what does a dragon man want with a human offering if not a meal? The walls of the cavern shake with a sudden bang, followed by the distant scraping of claws on stone before it falls quiet again. Curiosity is smothered by terror. Nothing is right, nothing is familiar, he’s held hostage by a monster and he desperately wants to go home and forget what it feels like to wish for death.
The dragon man soon walks into the room, shallow basket in hand. “Good morning. I have breakfast here.”
Not at all hungry, but he’s too afraid to turn down the offer. The berries are sweet, though he can hardly taste them, the meat juicy and well cooked. An odd breakfast.
“Did you sleep well?”
“I think so,” he mumbles nervously.
“What is your name?”
“Namjoon,” he repeats. “I brought oil for your face. Why did you paint it like that?”
“I didn’t!” Namjoon grumbles, offended. “The priestess paints the official pattern of our town, so you know who not to attack.”
“What does a dragon know of town patterns,” he scoffs, dabbing oil on Namjoon’s red cheeks and rubbing a clean cloth at the faded design.
“Then, why have you never attacked, if not for our ten-year offerings?”
Yoongi pauses and stares at him. “Because, I do not attack villages,” he answers simply. “I’m a dragon, I hunt and collect pretty things. I haven’t been in this area for long, six season cycles. Other dragons have told me that towns leave gifts for them, sometimes, pretty things or companions. The traditions seems odd, but I like pretty things,” he shrugs, back to rubbing at Namjoon’s cheek. “And I come back from hunting yesterday to find pretty things left on top of my mountain, and you. You are very good treasure, I think.”
His stomach swoops in unease. “Companions?”
“Yes,” he agrees, frowning at a stubborn spot on Namjoon’s nose.
“Not- not food?”
“Why would you think your village sent you to be eaten? Wouldn’t that be very cruel?”
“They called it a ‘necessary sacrifice’, an ‘honor to protect the people’.”
The frown on Yoongi’s face deepens. “And so you were willing to die a painful death?”
“No,” he laughs, an angry bark. “I would’ve escaped in the night, had I known, and let them choose someone else. But they don’t tell, of course. They make it a ceremony, drawing a name in front of the whole village with the guards surrounding so you can’t run away.”
Yoongi’s brows are furrowed deep as he processes the information. “Then… you are not the most beautiful of your village? I was told-”
“I’m not even the most beautiful in my house,” he laughs at his lap.
“Are you sure?” The disbelief in the dragon’s voice is so earnest Namjoon can’t help but stare back with a funny quirked little frown.
“Yes? I’m not- not… I guess you haven’t seen many humans.”
“I have seen plenty of humans. At least a hundred!”
“At least a hundred…” Namjoon laughs, looking away from the indignant pout. It’s cute, and he doesn’t have the mental capacity to process that feeling just now.
“For a companion, you are very ornery,” Yoongi mumbles, wiping at his other cheekbone.
“I’m not meant to be your companion, I’m meant to be your dinner. Dinner is ornery.”
It feels a little better, directing his angst toward his captor. He doesn’t trust any of this, doesn’t trust that the dragon doesn’t mean to eat him, or won’t do it anyway when hunger strikes or when Namjoon wears out his welcome. What is a dragon companion anyway? Is it like the stories of vampire thralls? Would some arcane power submit him to this red-eyed monster’s will? In a month’s time, would he be mindlessly strolling around the cavern, organizing heaps of gold and polishing gems and… he doesn’t want to think of what else.
“Why do you eat your own lip?” Yoongi asks, pulling at his jaw with a frown.
“Sorry. Just a nervous habit when I’m, you know. Terrified for my life.”
“I told you, I will not eat you!”
“Then what will you do with me?” he whispers. He immediately regrets asking, not prepared for the truth.
“I will care for you, like I care for all my treasure.”
Not quite a reassuring answer, but the vagueness feels safe for now.
“Come, you should bathe. Did you eat enough?”
“Not really hungry…” he mutters, wanting nothing more than to huddle back under the furs and disappear.
When he looks up, Yoongi’s face is in a pout. “I cooked that cow for you.”
“You know, usually we call it steak, or beef. When it’s food.” A stupid thing to get high and mighty about, but he’ll take any chance to lash out.
“Why do you not call it cow?”
“I don’t… I dunno. We like to pretend we’re too good to eat animals, I guess…”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s not something to understand, it just is. ”
Yoongi watches him for a minute but doesn’t speak the thoughts clear on his face. Finally, “Was the- the steak not good? I assumed your village sent the best cow, but I also assumed they sent the most beautiful companion but you insist you are not, so…”
The worry sounds so sincere, and Namjoon is too tired to keep up the aggressive pettiness. And though he wants to scream at him, to insist he’s not beautiful, not a companion, to rage at him for stealing away his life, sullen sounds easier.
“It was fine. Just… not hungry.”
“Well. A bath sounds nice?”
Namjoon just shrugs a shoulder and lets Yoongi pull him to his feet.
It’s cold outside, autumn beginning sooner so high up here. But Yoongi dressed him in warm layers of furs and his hand is like a tiny campfire where it rests on the small of his back as they walk the path through white aspen trees with lemon yellow leaves.
“The hot springs here are always warm, but I heat them. I like a bath to be hot, not warm. I heated it yesterday, so it should be just right. I brought my favorite soaps for you to use, orange or lavender or pine. Or all of them, if you’d like. Taehyung is always happy to make more, if I trade him some… deer beef?”
Yoongi has been chattering on all the way through the woods, oblivious to the scowl on Namjoon’s face, or maybe trying to be oblivious to it. He peeks up at Namjoon for approval and Namjoon tries not to laugh.
“We call deer meat venison.”
“That is very confusing.” Yoongi pouts. “We’re here! Take off your clothes and tell me if it’s warm enough for a human. If not, I can heat it again.”
It sends chills down his neck, knowing “heating it” must mean shifting into the massive scaled beast he saw the day before and breathing fire over the rock pools. The rock he hides behind is a poor cover as he undresses in a nervous scramble, eyeing Yoongi who’s scooping two buckets of water from the nearest pool.
A pointless endeavor; Yoongi carries the buckets over and stares blatantly at his naked body. “I will wash you,” he announces, dropping to his knees in the grass.
“I can wash myself, gods,” Namjoon yelps, more panicked than the intended anger.
Yoongi looks confused. “But you’re my companion. I should-”
“Will you shut up with that! I’m not your damned companion, I’m supposed to be dead. I am dead, my life is gone, I’m-!”
He shakes in the cold, surprised when the warmth of tears roll down his cheek, surprised when he can’t control the rapid shudders of breath.
“If you don’t want to be here with me, why don’t you just go home? I won’t try to stop you, though I’d be very disappointed…”
Namjoon sinks down into a ball on the grass, dragging a fur into his lap. “Can’t. They’d kill or imprison me for escaping you and bringing doom upon the village.”
“I’m sorry,” Yoongi whispers, blood red eyes trained on him but Namjoon can’t meet them.
He sniffles and says nothing besides a weak and petty “stupid damned dragons.”
It’s awkward for a moment, though Namjoon doesn’t notice, too deeply sunk into his sorrow to feel much else.
“I think orange would be nice,” Yoongi says softly, taking a thick bar of soap from his basket and dipping a cloth into the bucket of water. It’s warm when he presses it hopefully to Namjoon’s shoulder, encouraged when Namjoon doesn’t shrug him away.
Slowly, with gentle touch and greedy eyes, Yoongi bathes him and rinses him clean, watching the tears fall with unspoken concern.
“I think you are clean enough,” he says, wiping at Namjoon’s wet eyelashes. “The water spirits get angry if anyone enters the springs dirty, but I have washed your feet, and the rest of you was very clean…”
He squeezes the soles of Namjoon’s feet where they rest on his lap and peers into Namjoon’s face. “You are-”
Namjoon looks up at him in time to see the way he frowns and stops himself. The wind gusts and Yoongi blinks up into the sky, nostrils flaring. “It may snow, tonight. Come on, let’s get in the water.”
Relief takes over his face when Namjoon stands and lets Yoongi lead him through the grass, holding his hand steady as he steps into the hot water.
He hisses at the bite of heat at his skin, easing in deeper and deeper until he’s waist deep in the burnt orange waters. With a sigh, he sits on a submerged rock, eyes falling shut as the water loosens tense muscles.
Yoongi watches, satisfied that Namjoon is comfortable before shedding his own clothes and filling a bucket of water and grabbing the soap for himself.
Cheek resting on a warm rock, Namjoon stares lifeless at the flutter of yellow leaves and swaying trees, barely blinking when the splash of feet enter the water behind him.
“I’m not from here,” Yoongi begins, peeking at Namjoon for any interest.
There is none, but he continues anyway. “I’m from the southern islands, but it is very beautiful here, isn’t it? The trees and- and the… rocks…”
“I know it is, I’m from here.”
“Right, of course. Well, your homeland is very beautiful.”
Namjoon picks his heavy head up from the rocks and stares at Yoongi in the water. So pale in contrast to the rusty water, burgundy eyes and dark hair. Watching him so intently, that eerie dragon greed hinting around his eyes.
“What do you want from me?” he says, blunt and shaky.
“Want from you? I… to be my companion, of course.”
“I’m not going to be your… your sex slave, so kill me right now and get it over with.”
Yoongi jolts like he’s been slapped. “Sex slave, I-! I will not eat you, why do you wish to die so badly?”
The tears bead in the corner of his eyes again. “I don’t,” he pleads. “I don’t. I want to live, but being some monster’s thrall is not living.”
His gaze falls to the water at that, lips pressed firmly together. “I am not a monster,” he says quietly. “I do not keep thralls, or slaves. I simply was happy to have a companion. I thought- I thought that- it seemed a very nice gift, to have someone to... to share with you, and care for you…”
“Like a mindless pet? Because you’re bored? I had a life,” Namjoon spits out bitterly.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know, I thought- I was excited to share with you my- my treasures, my hot springs and my fairy soap and the… I didn’t know you did not want to know them. I am sorry,” he whispers and rises from the water, looking like he might cry himself.
He’s barely out of the water before he shifts. Namjoon watches on in horror and awe as he melds and stretches into shimmering scales and vast wings. Claws scrape over rocks and the beat of his wings send dried leaves floating into the clear water. He’s into the air and it’s quiet.
Namjoon sniffs and watches as he disappears into the sky, a dark creature growing smaller and disappearing over a mountain peak.
“Go Namjoon, go,” he gasps to himself, rising out of the water in a cloud of steam. He tries to feel the rush of freedom, but he’s too numb from so much fear and hurt.
Eyes to the sky, he rushes to pile on the warm clothes and furs Yoongi dressed him in, though his heart tells him Yoongi wouldn’t try to stop him. He almost feels bad, but there’s no time for that. He scrambles up the highest rock in sight and tries to scan the horizon for the stream of village smoke he’d seen to the north the day before.
Nothing. Still, he’d definitely identified the opposite direction of his village, so it was a good place to start. He scrambles down the steep slope, falling on his ass and skidding the last few yards before the ground levels out to a flat stretch of trees and bushes. Breathless and increasingly covered in scrapes and bruises, he scrambles over creeks and stones and thorny bushes.
He pauses to catch his breath and pick brambles out of his fur coat that jab straight through to his skin. Night is falling around the forest, darker than the sky far above the tree tops. He exhales and looks around, a white puff of breath in the shadows of the woods. It’s so quiet. Quiet like the forest is watching him.
Then the snow starts. Silent, tiny flecks that quickly fatten up into fluffy clumps that stick to the ground and fall faster. Namjoon scrambles down slopes and over logs, panicked mind focused on the sole mission of making it to lower elevations before the snow begins to accumulate.
Panic and exhaustion settle in, making it difficult to navigate the dark landscape disappearing under a blanket of white. Close to the edge of a steep slope, he slips over a rock he couldn’t see and lands hard on his side, tumbling through the snow and muddy loose leaves until for one breathless second, he’s freefalling.
With a strangled grunt and wail of pain, he hits the ground several feet below. When his lungs can take in air again, he frantically feels over his skull for any cracks or gashes.
He’s relieved to find none, but then he tries to stand. A scream of pain leaves his lips and he crumples back to the ground. He clutches his leg. Definitely broken.
This isn’t the death he wanted either. Cold and alone, nothing but pain to accompany him as he waits for the abyss to take him. As silent as the snow, he cries.
Colder and colder. Namjoon drags himself through the snow and gravel to a small overhang of rock, the only shelter from the snow he can get. He doesn't know why he does it. Nothing is going to save him; this is it, really it. And as he trembles and numbs, he finds he has regret, in the end.
Better to be a dragon's thrall, better to be kept as a slave than to die alone so young. He glances frantic around the woods, craving one more sight of trees and snow and sky. Miracles, each and every one of them. Though he doesn't believe in the gods, he does believe in life, and earth, and air, and the water that builds flesh around his bones, and in the end he's heartbroken to leave it.
"Help!" he calls out, desperate at last. "Please help! Yoongi? Please! Please..."
Silent. At least the cold numbs the pain in his leg a bit. He calls out again, and again until his voice is a raw rasp.
He watches the snow cake on his soft furs and cries softly to himself, eyelids beginning to fall heavy as he relives the memory of last year's snowball fight with Aron. He'd been bitter about their breakup, but now he's ecstatic and sorrowful at the memories, at his wonderful existence. Cheating asshole or not, his existence was incredible in this moment of death, a beautiful tiny light in a wide sea of unknowing.
A piercing screech snaps him out of his reverie. Nearby, a skinny pine cracks in half and falls to the earth with a resounding thud. Something big coming, judging by the massive footfalls. Another shriek, a small blast of fire that's blinding in the white darkness.
Yoongi sniffs the air and howls, scrambling through the snow in a frenetic search.
"Yoongi?" he rasps, barely a sound through blue, chattering lips. "Yoongi!" he tries again, loud enough this time to catch the attention of the massive dragon.
"Oh gods, oh gods no, nonono-"
Yoongi ignores his whimpers and engulfs him in his jaws.
Gentle. The massive teeth poke uncomfortably, but Yoongi is trying his best.
"No, no no-" Namjoon dry heaves as they launch into the air, branches of pine and half naked aspen trees whooshing past dangerously close. And then they're above the forest, and then they're above the mountain, weightless and unnatural.
Namjoon clings to Yoongi's snout in terror, eyes screwed up as he wills himself to stay conscious. His hands burn from the heat of Yoongi's scales and the frigid whipping winds, but still he clings.
It's a short flight, he hadn't made it far down the mountain after all. The cave looms into view, tiny below them. Yoongi circles down, a careful descent and even more careful landing before he gingerly releases Namjoon from his jaws.
He takes one step and collapses, eyes rolling back in his head.
Humming drifts into his dreams. Lovely dreams of spring apples drizzled in his mother's honey. Fires burned all around but the pleasant weirdness of dreams didn't register the fear. The humming fluttered through his hair like early summer breeze, and then the drone of giant bees, and then the roar of flames coming too close behind him.
He startles awake with a yelp, terrified confusion when the walls he's greeted with are not home. Red eyes meet his and he remembers.
Yoongi smiles, and it makes his sharp, uncanny face soft and... cute. It does next to nothing to quell his moment of panic.
"Stop, don't- please stop trying to leave!" Yoongi scolds him, pushing him gently back down to the bed when his leg has him howling in pain. "You said you did not want to die but you are a liar! Why would run down the mountain? Why would you try again when you know it is snowing outside, and your leg is broken?"
He looks so genuinely befuddled that it makes Namjoon pause and cough out a chuckle. "I just- I don't- I don't know. Panic, you know? I just panicked."
"What is panic? We do not have that word."
"Panic, when you're... suddenly very afraid and you can't think right...?"
All the hairs stand up on his arms; he'd never heard dragontongue spoken before, but there's power in it he can feel.
"I had Erunek earlier. The fae will be mad at me for burning their trees, but..." he shrugs. "I will bring them more deer... deer venison?"
"Just venison." Namjoon lays back down and winces at a nauseating wave of pain. Tears roll warm down his cheek and he ignores them. He feels like a child, he feels like the dead. What do tears matter.
"I need to set your leg straight. I have some medicine to help, but it will hurt. I'm sorry."
Namjoon nods and shuts his eyes, too tired to get any more worked up.
"Open your mouth? It does not taste good, I'm afraid."
His lips screw up at the bitter taste but he swallows it all down.
"It will take a few minutes." A steaming hot cloth presses to his forehead, and it's then that he notices how very warm it is. He glances around the room, eyes catching on a massive forge fire in the middle of the stone floor.
"This is my room for sleeping," Yoongi explains when he catches sight of him looking around. "It is the warmest, and you were dangerously cold." He speaks quietly and dabs at Namjoon's scratches and wounds, patting some kind of salve that stinks of pungent herbs here and there on the open cuts and burnt palms.
Namjoon watches him work, too tired and empty to care that his staring is making him nervous. So utterly bizarre that he should be here, cared for by a dragon-man that shouldn't exist, having almost died twice.
A voice in his head reminds him that the first death was never going to be a death after all, but it doesn't change it. Death itself isn't the fear, it's the knowing of death, the preparation for what no one can prepare for.
The voice of his sister telling him to "shut up already with those big, pointless ideas" rings in his ears and he laughs softly to himself.
Yoongi looks at him in curiosity but his eyes begin to fall too heavy, drifting down into a heavy numbness, something like dreams without the sleep.
A hot hand cups his face and combs through his hair for a moment. He smiles, or he dreams he smiles; he's not sure. Either way, the hand cups his face again and is gone, and he misses the warmth.
"I'm sorry," Yoongi whispers.
"Mmm?" The pleasant warmth is cupped around his leg now, and he can't imagine what there is to be sorry for as he drifts on clouds of warped memory.
He screams as the hands shove his broken leg straight.
"Sorry, I'm sorry," Yoongi shouts. "Ah, Ahkrem, ahh," he mutters to himself, face screwed up like it's himself in pain as he aligns the smooth branches along Namjoon's leg and begins to wrap it all together with thick, waxy strips of cloth.
The pain is different than he's ever known, dulled and warped into odd flashes of images and smells by the medicine. His skin prickles cold with sweat, nausea hot in his stomach but he's too tensed and focused on Yoongi's soft mantra of "Don't move. Don't move. Don't move."
After a few moments, the bandages are wrapped too tight for any movement to matter.
"I wanna go home," he sobs. "I miss my mother, I miss my dog. I wish I could go home. I never wanted to come here, I should’ve died instead."
His body shudders with sobs as pain of body and heart swells and breaks inside him. Yoongi flinches but does not argue. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, wiping the dirt from Namjoon’s face with a hot towel.
“Should’ve died instead,” he babbles, fat tears squeezing from the corners of his eyes. “...wanna… wanna go home…”
"I'm sorry," Yoongi murmurs the words until Namjoon falls asleep, lulled by bitter herbs and warm hands in his hair.
He's not sure how much time passes in this dreamy haze of pain and stifling fire and fur and the sweet sleeping herbs pressed against his tongue from time to time. But a moment comes when his lids hover and instead of watching the glow of the fire until they sink back down, his eyes open fully and he sits up.
The drag of chair legs on the stone floor startles him.
“You are awake! Do you hurt?”
He winces. “Yes. Though… maybe just from sleeping so much. My muscles are stiff.”
“I will heat the stones,” Yoongi declares.
“Heat the- what?”
“The stones, the healing stones. You’ll see, they’re very nice, and I’ll coat them in the oils that Seokjin made in summer…”
Yoongi babbles to himself as he hauls out a basket of smooth, dark river stones and sets them on the hot coals of the forge before rummaging around his shelves of herbs and bottles.
“Lie on your back,” he urges after Namjoon drinks the whole glass of water beside the heap of furs that act as Yoongi’s bed.
Carefully, Namjoon turns and tries not to cry out in pain. Basket of heated rocks in hand, Yoongi hisses at the sight of Namjoon’s bare back. “Ah Ahkrem, so many bruises, I wish you hadn’t fallen...”
“Yeah well, me too,” Namjoon scoffs.
The spicy scent of poppy peppers fills the air and he breathes deep, memories of summer air surrounding him. Hot, oiled hands smooth carefully down his back and over the curves of his neck and shoulders before the woolen blanket is pulled away. He blushes to realize he’s naked, that he had been undressed.
The memory of Yoongi’s raspy voice saying “You are very beautiful,” rings in his ears as Yoongi quietly spreads the oil down his hips and thighs before smearing it over his weary feet.
“The rocks may seem too hot, but they aren’t,” Yoongi assures him as he places smooth stones down the line of his spine.
Namjoon wants to bicker but he’s right, the initial bite of heat melts into his muscles, and he lets Yoongi place them down his thighs and prop them up all around his neck and feet with the support of bunched up wool.
“Lie there until they cool.”
He can feel Yoongi hovering beside him, staring. When he finally opens his eyes to look up at him, Yoongi blinks away, though he doesn’t stop taking in the sight of him.
“You are very-” he frowns and stops himself. “Let me know when they cool. I will heat some stew for you. You need food, I think, after so much sleeping and pain. Healing takes energy, surely…”
The mumbling fades as Yoongi shuffles to the far end of the wide cavern.
Another day of sleep and oiled rocks and changed bandages before Yoongi will let him sit up again.
“The stew is good,” Namjoon says quietly, refusing to look up and see the way Yoongi’s eyes light up.
“Really! Good, I put vegetables in it because I know that humans like vegetables.” He sounds proud of himself, like he’s privy to some secret knowledge.
Namjoon rolls his eyes. “Yeah shocking, we don’t merely survive on the flesh of dead innocents.”
It’s unkind to say, and he hates being unkind. But he can’t seem to stop himself, determined to hate his captor even if he didn’t intend to be a captor at all.
The question still haunts him, what did Yoongi expect? What did he want a companion to be? Whatever the hell he wanted from him, Namjoon was determined not to be it.
“Min Yooooongiii!” echoes suddenly through the cavernous halls in a deep, playful voice.
“Ah, my friend Taehyung…” he looks uncomfortable suddenly, eyeing Namjoon through his black hair.
“Yoongi! Let’s see your human,” he giggles, bursting into the room with a huge smile.
Yoongi shrinks in on himself. “This is Namjoon. He- maybe you should come back later, Taehyung. He was hurt and is recovering-”
“What! After hearing you harping about how excited you were for a companion for the last year? Let me at least meet him, gods.”
Yoongi stares at the ground as Taehyung bounces over to sit at the edge of Namjoon’s bed, clapping a hand to Yoongi’s shoulder. “I’m Taehyung, hi! All I’ve heard for the last year is ‘I can’t wait to show my companion this, I wonder if they like books, should I hunt for books, Taehyung? Maybe they like to paint, where does paint come from’?” Taehyung giggles, oblivious to the discomfort thick between the other two.
“A cavern full of things for a companion, and the fool spends all spring making Jimin teach him how to garden, in a panic because he’ll have nothing but meat and Seokjin’s honey to feed them. Do you like to garden? Yoongi, did you show him the flowers you planted too?”
Eyes stuck to the floor, Yoongi shakes his head.
Heart sick with guilt he’s furious to feel, Namjoon peeks over at him. Finally, Taehyung catches on to the strange atmosphere and frowns when Yoongi lurches from his seat, busying himself with the dirty dishes by the forge.
“I like to garden,” he says softly, but it’s too late to distract Taehyung.
“Why haven’t you shown him the flowers yet? You wouldn’t shut up about them. The library?” he asks when Yoongi just shakes his head. “You haven’t-!”
“He doesn’t want to be here, Taehyung!” The words burst from Yoongi’s lips, bitter and rotten. “I was mistaken, we were all- he brought here against his will, he doesn’t want to be here. I told you to come back later.”
Confusion and worry muddle Taehyung’s pretty face. “But, you’ve been looking forward to a companion for-”
“Just come back later, Taehyung!” he shouts, refusing to look at either of them.
Taehyung looks down at Namjoon with a look that makes him feel so small. Horribly uncomfortable, that Yoongi is a person with friends that would be so hurt that he’s hurt, rather than a monster to shout and jab at.
“Okay,” he says softly after a moment. “Heal well, Namjoon.”
The words have a sharpness that make him nervous, hoping he hasn’t been cursed by the fae. He feels cursed already anyway, sick inside and out as he watches Taehyung leave and Yoongi follow after him after sighing and burying his face in his hands.
They eat in silence the next morning. It’s uncomfortable, the urge to apologize that clashes up against the conviction that he has nothing to apologize for.
Yoongi sets his empty cup of tea on the table and stares at his lap. “When your leg is healed, I will take you to the city by Seokjin’s mountain. I am sorry you can’t go home. I am… so sorry…” he says softly. “But at least you should have a life of your choosing.”
He doesn’t know what to say, guilty at the hope the words spark.
Yoongi doesn’t seem to want to see it, eyes on the floor when he murmurs that he’ll be out hunting.
A few hours later, Namjoon has dared to relocate slowly to the chair and bookshelf across the room, daydreaming what life in a new city would be like and ways to sneak back home and visit his family and friends. He stretches his leg, surprised at the lack of pain, just a dull ache beneath the stiff bandages.
Taehyung appears around the arching rock entry and grins. He sits up, stiff and nervous, and slams the book he wasn’t reading shut. Namjoon has never met a member of the fae before, and it doesn’t seem to bode well that he’s hurt this one’s friend.
“Yoongi is out hunting.”
“Mmhm. He told me to leave you alone but he’s a silly dragon that think the fae listen to anyone.”
Namjoon shrinks in on himself, neck prickling with fear though Taehyung gives him a silly grin. “I brought you some treats,” he continues, pulling cloth-wrapped parcels from his bag. “Yoongi has tried his best to learn cooking for you, but he is no baker.”
“Thanks,” Namjoon takes them reluctantly and sets them beside the book he had been reading.
“Try one,” Taehyung urges, amused when Namjoon swallows hard and mumbles that he’s not hungry. “Are you afraid of me?”
“Yes.” No point in lying, he has no escape anyway.
Taehyung hums like he finds that answer amusing. He offers no reassurances to the contrary. “What did Yoongi mean, you were brought here against your will?”
Namjoon sighs hard and wonders why anyone would think to choose this path on purpose. “I was sacrificed by my village to feed the dragon. And gift him gems. So he would spare the village.”
“Humans are really very strange,” Taehyung frowns. “Dragons don’t eat humans; you are very small and not nearly meaty enough.”
That doesn’t make Namjoon laugh the way Taehyung seems to expect. “Dragons are half men, why would they eat their own kind?”
“We didn’t know dragons are also men,” he mumbles, daring to nibble the edge of a berry speckled scone.
“What? You didn’t know?!” Taehyung looks scandalized. “But the tradition of dragon companions is… centuries old, at least?”
“The tradition of dragon sacrifices is centuries old,” Namjoon corrects him, angry with no one to direct it to. Frustrating on a level that he can’t comprehend that a simple misunderstanding has ruined his life and now his leg.
Taehyung is shaking his head violently. “No! No, I have never heard of a dragon eating anyone. They are a bit… brusque and might throw the occasional tantrum, and the younger ones may have trouble containing their fire at times, but…”
None of this comforts Namjoon.
“But to eat someone! To ruin a village for some petty reason! No, they are much too prideful.”
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you! We didn’t start sacrificing friends and family for fun, it began for a reason!”
“What was the reason?”
“Because a dragon attacked our village, obviously!”
“When?” Taehyung challenges him with a scoff.
“How the hell should I know! A long long time ago! It’s what dragons do, everyone knows.”
“They do not!”
“I’m telling you, you’re wrong! And I would know, I’m friends with three dragons!”
“And I’m telling you, I’m not! Our village didn’t start sacrificing our own people for no reason, the story is so old that it’s no longer a story. It’s fact, it’s known. ”
Taehyung pouts at the ground, angry and hurt though Namjoon can’t see what it matters to him.
“You are wrong,” he says finally, a weak argument said through a pout.
“I’m not!” Namjoon retorts, equally weak.
It’s uncomfortably quiet in the stuffy cavern. “Enjoy your scones,” Taehyung mutters, standing abruptly and disappearing down the hall.
Should’ve asked Taehyung to help me out, Namjoon grumbles to himself halfway down the twisting turns of the cavern. No matter what the weather is like, he can’t stand another minute of rock walls and dim firelight.
He winces and pulls himself along, rejoicing when a blinding spot of light appears around the bend. It’s warm in the sun, though he’s glad for the woolen coat to block the cold wind. Still, it’s blissful to close his eyes and let the sun melt orange all around him. Down the hill is a little meadow, all the snow melted except in the shadowy patches that never see the sun. Namjoon thinks he can make it down there easily enough..
Yoongi appeared around the side of a large wall of crumbling rock and moss, basket in hand. “Oh,” Namjoon gasps and struggles to steady himself from the surprise.
“You’re outside,” Yoongi announces with plain surprise.
“I needed sun. I just- the grass over there, I wanted to lay in it.” He really wasn’t planning on escaping, but he feels the need to explain himself anyway. The talk with Taehyung had wormed its way into his brain, rooting doubt and guilt that douses the heat of his rage in a way he resents. Without the rage, he feels hollow.
Yoongi just nods. “Fire heals, sun fire most of all. I was gathering carrots, to make more stew. Carrots belong in stew?”
“Yes,” he laughs at Yoongi’s sudden worry. “Though… where are the carrots?”
Peering into Yoongi’s basket, there is none of the telltale orange of the vegetable, just leafy greens.
“What do you mean, the basket is full of them,” Yoongi lifts a handful of leaves and frowns in confusion.
The confusion deepens when Namjoon lets out a loud bark of laughter.
“These- these are only carrot tops, where are the carrots? You know, orange, thick, sweet…”
“Orange… you mean the root?”
“Yes,” Namjoon laughs. “The carrot part of the carrot.”
“The… the part in the ground? In the dirt?” Yoongi’s mouth goes slack as he ponders. “Is this a joke?” He asks softly, looking hurt.
“No, truly, they- show me the garden.”
He lets Yoongi wrap an arm around his waist to help him hobble across the meadow to a humble row of vegetables.
“Here it is,” Yoongi announces. “This is, this is yours. I made it for you.”
He sounds sad when he says it, embarrassed.
“Thank you,” Namjoon whispers, sorrow for himself and guilt for Yoongi prickling hot down his neck. “It’s a nice garden.”
“Is it?” Yoongi perks up, deep red eyes on him. “The only gardens I know are the big farmer’s fields at the edge of South Aut, but I never visit in the day, so I don’t know what they look like. Surely much bigger than this, and, I’m not sure if cabbage is supposed to look like that…” he trails off, eyes on the bulbous purple vegetables on the ground.
“No, that looks right. My grandpa grew red cabbage every year, and turnips… he would roast them and… anyway. Those look ready, you should harvest them.”
“Oh,” Yoongi jumps, looking around wildly for a tool to cut them until he remembers his knife in the basket.
“So these are the carrots?” Namjoon giggles, hobbling over to a bald patch of the garden, little shorn orange heads poking out from the dirt.
“Yes, don’t-! I’ll do it!” Yoongi abandons the cabbages when he sees Namjoon trying to lower himself to the dirt to root them up.
“I want to,” Namjoon says quietly. “Truly, I like gardening. I like the garden.”
Red eyes blink in surprise. “Okay. Then, here-”
Yoongi comes behind him and holds his weight as Namjoon sinks awkwardly to the cold ground, broken leg stuck out funny to the side.
“It’s a little harder without the tops but… see? You just pull the whole carrot right out.”
“And then you eat it?”
“Yes, they’re very sweet.”
“Sweet?” Yoongi gapes, frowning like he’s sure Namjoon is making fun of him now.
“Yes,” Namjoon tries not to smile. He snaps one in half and rubs it thoroughly with a little handful of nearby snow. “Try it.”
Suspicious, but Yoongi nibbles on the end. A pout of surprise. “That is very strange.”
“Sweet, right?” Namjoon asks through a mouthful of carrot.
“How can fruit sleep in the earth?” Yoongi gawks at the carrots, mystified.
“Is it so strange?” he grins, proud for some reason, to share the joy of carrots.
Yoongi doesn’t bother to answer, chewing on another bite. “I bet this would be very good with deer- venison.”
His excitement is infectious. “If you roast them, they get even sweeter.”
He gasps a little. “Let’s roast them!” And then, “What does it mean, roast?”
Namjoon laughs and works another carrot out of the cold dirt. “You, a dragon, doesn’t know how to roast? It’s what you were meant to do to me, before you eat me.”
A pout dims Yoongi’s innocent look of wonder. “I told you, I will not-”
“I know, I know. You won’t eat me. I believe you,” he adds after a moment’s hesitation. “Truly.”
Yoongi’s face softens at that. He nibbles on the end of the carrot and looks away.
“Roasting is cooking food over fire.”
“Isn’t all cooking over fire?”
“No- well, yes. Yes, but-” Namjoon laughs to himself. “Yes, I suppose it is…”
Trailing his fingers over the rough leaves of zucchini vines beside him, he thinks a moment. “Roasting is more… over a fire. Directly over a fire. But not directly over the flames, that’ll just burn it. Also, roasting can be in the stove… You’ve gone and made me feel like I don’t know what roasting is at all,” he chuckles.
“Can you show me how?”
Something about the simple question, here on the edge of autumn and afternoon makes him feel so vulnerable. A cold breeze accompanies long shadows and golden light, crows flapping to the tall fir branches to rest for the night.
“Sure. Sure we can roast some carrots.”
Yoongi watches closely as Namjoon mutters to himself and places the oiled vegetables on a pan and covers them with another pan before placing it on the hot coals. “Not quite the same as an oven…” he sighs in dissatisfaction. “Still, I think it’ll bring out the sweetness.”
“Why do you not simply cook them over the flames?” Yoongi looks mystified.
“Because then they would burn. Turn black. Roasting has to be… for longer time. Slower.”
Nodding at the strange knowledge, Yoongi thinks a moment before turning back to the cabbage he’s chopping. “It seems strange to be taught fire magic that I do not know already.”
“It’s not magic, it’s just cooking.” Namjoon grumbles, and wonders if that’s a lie. An interesting thought.
“So, you said we were making… what was it?”
“Salad,” Namjoon tells him for the third time. “Did you… did you only learn to make stew?”
A scowl that gives him away. “No! No, I- I also can um, put things in a pan with oil and- and make them soft…”
Namjoon grins against his will. “Ah yes, the oil softening technique.”
“Yes,” Yoongi agrees, relieved that he had said the right thing, not knowing he really hadn’t. He gets nervous when Namjoon doesn’t stop grinning. “So, we’re cooking salad,” he prompts, handing Namjoon the bowl of chopped cabbage.
“The great thing about salad is there is no cooking involved. You simply chop vegetables and dress them.
“In a sauce,” Namjoon hurries to add. “Not- not clothes. Do you have vinegar?”
Yoongi’s head tilts at the unfamiliar word.
“Like a...a sour wine? No? Lemons, perhaps?”
With a bright look of relief, Yoongi scurries to the door in the cold rock wall and pulls out a crate of produce. “Lemons!”
“Not as good as vinegar would be, but I can make it work.”
Never has Namjoon felt so competent in the kitchen, amazing Yoongi with every addition to the jar of oil and spices and crushed garlic. It’s addictive, somehow, to entertain him with the simplest things. He gets swept up in it, explaining the regions for lemon growing, the varieties of garlic his neighbor grows, the creamy dressings you can make if you have a goat for milk. And that leads to an explanation on cheese which truly confounds Yoongi.
“You wait until milk gets old and molds?”
“And then you wait a little longer,” Namjoon grins at the small gape of Yoongi’s mouth.
“And it becomes this- this cheese?”
“It sounds like the food of witches,” Yoongi says doubtfully. “I’m not sure if you should be eating that.”
“Worried for me eating arcane milk?”
Yoongi nods vigorously, not knowing he’s being teased. “Yes! A friend of mine, a dragon several mountains away, accepted food from a witch and he couldn’t fly for months. It was terrible.”
“You seem very wary of witches,” Namjoon notes, tossing the salad in a large pot.
Namjoon shrugs. “Every village has at least one witch, to make the medicines and care for the land when crops don’t do so well.”
“Every village has a w-?! Ah. You mean an Elevar.”
Every time Yoongi speaks a word of dragontongue, Namjoon can’t help the way he snaps up to attention, riveted by the swelling of the air around them.
“Say it again?” he asks, eyes glued to Yoongi’s lips.
“Why does- why does it feel like that, when you say dragon words?”
“Feel like-? I don’t know what you mean,” Yoongi tilts his head dumbly, fiery eyes wide.
“Really?” Namjoon scoffs. “Look, say something in your dragontongue.”
He frowns and considers a moment, eyes studying Namjoon’s face. “Nourn e chor yepotsukush, toten naar uf sekain.”
A whimper claws itself uninvited from Namjoon’s throat, head buzzing and ringing like a gong. “See?” he chokes out, raising his arm between them to show the way he trembles, goosebumps pronounced from wrist to neck.
Perplexed, Yoongi reaches out to skim hot fingers over his skin. “I don’t know why… it is only words… would you rather I didn’t speak it?”
He shakes his head and busies himself with the salad again. “No. No it’s fine, I’ve always had an interest in languages. What did you say, just now?”
It’s quiet a beat too long. When he looks up Yoongi is gaping a little. “What, did you curse me in dragontongue?” he teases.
“No, not- I just said the salad looks good,” he says a little too quickly.
“Well, it’s ready. Try it.”
A bite of greens shoved in his mouth, Yoongi chews thoughtfully. “Though it doesn’t taste like meat, it’s not bad.”
Namjoon snorts at that assessment and takes a bite himself. “Mm, I did pretty good. So what you mean, an Elevar instead of a witch?”
A sour quirk twists Yoongi’s lips but he takes another bite of salad. “An Elevar is… a human who knows about the cycles of the earth. The fae think fondly of them, help them with their herbs and spells. But that is… not magic. Witches are terrible creatures, minds corrupt with the power they’re bargained for. They’re greedy, and they torture for entertainment.”
He tries to ignore the pit of fear in his stomach. It makes him feel fragile, to be frightened by mere stories. Another bite of salad to occupy his attention. “Definitely doesn’t sound like the town witch.”
“Tell me about your witches?”
Namjoon shrugs. “It’s like you said. They deal in simple spells and herbs, observe the seasonal rites, do secret things in the woods that no one dare ask about.”
“Commune with the fae,” Yoongi provides, as if it were a simple thing.
“Sure. My aunt’s wife’s mother was a witch. I loved to visit her as a child, her racks of dried herbs and flowers, jars of snakeskins and acorns and butterfly wings…” He snorts a laugh. “Once, when I was eight, I snuck into her kitchen while she was fetching eggs and ate half a pan of some honey taffies. Turns out, they were sleep aids to be sold. I slept for three days straight and cleaned her chicken coops for three weeks in apology.”
Yoongi laughs, a raspy sound that matches a dragon, Namjoon thinks.
“It must be nice, to have so much family around,” he comments. Namjoon opens his mouth to ask him why he left his home, but something stubborn in him eats the words, determined not to want to know. The desire to ask flips a switch in him back to sullen, mild horror at how easily conversation had flowed between them for the last hour
“Let’s eat the carrots,” he says instead, lips pressed into a tight frown.
The next few days are socked in with chilly fog and soggy earth. Namjoon insists on helping harvest the last of the little garden anyway, tired of sleeping and staring at the flames dance on stone walls. Conversation comes in bursts, started nervously by Yoongi and ended abruptly by Namjoon, one minute laughing and asking Yoongi questions, the next moment scowling and silent no matter what Yoongi says.
He insists that his leg really doesn’t hurt, and oddly, he’s not lying. But Yoongi doesn’t seem to believe him, begging him not to wander too far while he’s out hunting and soaring the bright blue skies of autumn far above the rainclouds and fog. Namjoon rolls his eyes every time, satisfied when it makes Yoongi go quiet and uneasy. But the truth is, he’s too terrified to wander out of sight of the cave, mind full of sheer cliff drops and snapping bone.
Another misty afternoon finds them in the garden, Namjoon giving non-committal grunts in response to Yoongi’s attempts at conversation. Yoongi pouts and eyes him nervously, but the pointed silence has him nervously rambling again within minutes. All the while, Yoongi watches him shift around the plots of vegetables carefully lest Namjoon twist his leg or lean on the cast at a wrong angle. He’ll dart to his feet when Namjoon hobbles across the row of vegetables, hovering beside him though Namjoon mutters that he’s fine.
After the last of the turnips and garlic are unearthed, he insists that Namjoon soak in the hot springs with him again to fight off the chill in their numb fingers and toes.
“I’ll bring the vegetables in and get clean clothes for you to change into after,” Yoongi says, trotting back toward the cave entrance.
“Hey, will you-? Will you bring my book I’m reading too? It’s on the table by the bed.”
He gives an enthusiastic nod, glad to be spoken to and given a way to be useful. Namjoon frowns at the knot in his chest. He reminds himself that it’s not Yoongi’s fault. But it is , no matter how rational he tries to be, it is Yoongi’s fault, for existing, for coming to this mountain, for being a dragon.
“If you would let me fly you, we would already be there,” Yoongi grumbles, pausing to let Namjoon hobble up the path to meet him for the fifth time.
“Never,” he says with great conviction, stomach dipping just at the memory of his one reeling flight up the mountainside. It scares him a little that his heart pounds just at the mention of it. Not only a rational fear but a response of panic in his body that is unfamiliar. “Never,” he repeats.
“At least let me carry you, then.”
Namjoon looks at himself, and then at Yoongi. He laughs. “You? Carry me?”
“You are my companion, I-“ he stops the heartfelt rant before it starts, remembering how Namjoon feels about that. “You are injured, and I’m much stronger than I look. And I’m worried for you, you need heat so you don’t get sick. Fire heals.”
Walking stick shoved into the soft dirt, Namjoon sighs and leans on his good leg. “Fine, try it.”
Relief washes over Yoongi’s face. In one smooth motion, he lifts Namjoon up into his arms and carries him onward like a bride, oblivious to the deep flush of surprise on Namjoon’s cheeks.
He has no idea where to rest his eyes. Cradled like this, he either has to keep his neck craned upwards or nestled up against Yoongi’s chest, which is absolutely out of the question. For a while he stares resolutely toward their destination, but his neck begins to ache, and the only other choice is let his head dangle backwards at a painful angle or stare straight ahead at Yoongi’s face.
He tries to look right through it at the passing trees and brush. But the pink pout of Yoongi’s lips catch his eye, or the fan of his dark eyelashes, or the way a breeze catches his silky black hair.
If we had met in another way, in another place, I’d find him attractive, Namjoon thinks. The thought feels forbidden in his mind’s determined haze of loathing.
He thinks the thought again when Yoongi sets him carefully, easily on grass as if he wasn’t several inches and pounds bigger with gangly limbs and an awkward leg cast.
He thinks the thought again when Yoongi drops his clothing without a bit of shame at the rocky edge of the hot springs, dark hair tossed back on a breeze.
There’s something about the creamy skin and hard lines, the thin, soft thighs and cheeks and arms that carried him like he was barely more than a housecat. And then that pretty face, deep eyes that hint at formidable strength and lips always pursed in an innocent pout, the-
Surrounded by wafts of steam, Yoongi turns and looks back at him in question. “Do you need help undressing? I know you said you could do it yourself, but with your leg-“
“No, no I’m fine,” Namjoon snaps himself out of his observations and pulls his gaze away. He undresses quickly, not surprised to find Yoongi watching him with unrestrained curiosity. Trying to ignore it, he steps into the sting of hot water and sighs in relief.
Yoongi rises to offer his hand, worried as Namjoon limps over wet rocks.
“I’m fine, I can-” He immediately slips. “Thanks,” he murmurs, holding tight to the hand that grabs him.
They sink into the deeper waters together, Yoongi letting go only when satisfied that Namjoon can paddle his way through. Fog crawls in slowly, blurring the edges of trees and rocks until everything feels like a dream.
“I love the hot springs,” Yoongi sighs as he leans against a rock, collarbones bowing parallel to the surface of the water. He breathes in deeply of the cold air that pinks his cheeks and smiles a little. “We don’t have anything like this in the south.”
“Why did you come to this mountain from so far away? Didn’t you have family?” He had been determined not to ask, but loosened by the steaming hot water between them, the words came out.
Yoongi looks surprised by the question, by any question. “It’s what dragons do. Yes, I have family, but… dragons are solitary creatures. Every dragon leaves to find their own territory. With a frown on his brow, he laughs softly. “I was too clingy as a child. My parents were… harsh with me. To prepare me, to help me become a strong dragon who could leave on my own. But still, I never…”
He catches a yellow leaf floating on the water and chews his lip. “I was very surprised to hear about the tradition of dragon companions here in the north, very different from our southern nests. I thought it sounded very nice, to have someone to care for, someone to… well. It’s unfortunate, that the tradition is not what I was told.”
Yoongi looks embarrassed to have brought it up again, but a wistful look glimmers around his eyes as he watches the aspens relieve themselves of dry yellow leaves.
He can’t even fathom what a dragon family would look like, what a harsh upbringing could mean for half-man half-monster. It bothers him still that no one ever knew that dragons walk as men as often as beast. Surely someone in generations past had known of this? Surely it should be in the common knowledge of his people who live so close to dragons, surely it should be in the town’s books of lore?
It’s frustrating more than ever, the inability to know beyond what’s been taught to him. He always hated it, growing up, having to rely on others for knowledge, parents and teachers that would sigh and dismiss him when he inevitably asked, but, why?
Swimming to the edge of the water, he drags himself up into the chilled air far enough to reach for his pack and fishes out the book he’s nearly done with. In books, at least, he found solace with others who asked questions, who were unsatisfied with just the life they knew.
Yoongi opens his mouth to ask him what he’s reading, but thinks better of it. Namjoon pretends not to notice. They sink into silence full of questions unasked, thick and formless as the fog surrounding them.
His leg aches but he can’t stand sitting in the stuffy room for another day. Yoongi left in the morning, declaring he would hunt some apples for Namjoon and an elk.
“Don’t let those wily apples get away,” Namjoon had laughed. Yoongi hadn’t gotten the joke, face clouding over, sure only that he was being mocked.
Namjoon sighs and shuts his book, dried leaf between the pages to mark his place. Nothing but the constant hum and crackling of fire in the little forge. Walking stick in hand, he hobbles out of the stone room.
So far, he has only gone straight from here, toward the drafts of fresh air that lead outside. Today, curiosity and boredom lead him down the right hand curve in search of the room he had first been placed in. It seems distant now, that first hellish night, the taste of sweet sleeping herbs from Yoongi’s fingers, the certainty that death was imminent.
The uneven walls of the cavern opens up on the right to a small room lit with a fireplace much smaller than the forge in the room Namjoon has been sleeping in. By the looks of it, this is the library Yoongi had prepared for him.
He takes in the little room, begrudingly touched that so much effort was done for him. Bookshelves remained a mostly unknown concept, it seems. All along the walls books were stacked into precarious towers with no rhyme or reason besides heaviest on bottom, smallest on top.
Still, the sight of so many books makes him smile. Some titles are familiar, some are not. Some are in languages he’s never heard of before, and others he’s not sure if he should touch with bare hands.
On the far side of the room, several chairs are lined up beside each other, with a messily sewn sack of wool laid across them. Namjoon laughs softly. A reading sofa made by someone who has never seen a sofa before, no doubt.
He grabs a dusty copy of an old favorite mystery novel and settles into the sofa, bunching up a lumpy pillow behind his head so he can lean against the wall.
There were a few shelves in the library that held no books at all, but instead were lined with glass jars and little wooden boxes. Curiosity wins Namjoon over after a couple of chapters, and he rises to limp across to examine them.
Jewels in some, spices in others. In a few, items that Namjoon can’t identify, odd berries or… eggs?
“Those are mine,” an unfamiliar voice appears behind him.
He nearly drops the the little glass jar. The man smiles. He’s alarmingly pretty, soft with stone grey eyes and an aura that makes Namjoon’s shoulders curl up toward his ears. This man he would believe is a dragon in a second.
“I’m Jimin, I’m sure Yoongi has spoken of me.”
“Ah, yes, yes he said you were his friend, fae, that you helped with the garden-”
Jimin cocks his head at the way Namjoon’s voice shakes and smiles wider. “Do you like it? The garden?”
An innocent question, but the way it’s spoken sounds like a threat.
“Yes, yes, very much, good choice of vegetables, I-”
“Are you lying?” Jimin steps closer. “Taehyung told me you were afraid of him. Are you afraid of me, too?”
“Shouldn’t I be?”
“No,” Jimin frowns. “We were all very excited to meet you. I’m so sorry you… you did not want to come here. I am an orestiad, I never travel into the valley, I do not know the valley people’s ways. None of us do, I’m afraid. So, Yoongi was very worried that we wouldn’t know how to make this home for you, and probably he was right,” Jimin laughs. “But he did try very hard. Several nights he visited the town to the east to trade in the night market, and would come back whining about how terrified he was of the crowds and how his ears rang from so many voices.”
Namjoon sighs and doesn’t laugh along with Jimin. “Is he just sending all his friends to me to guilt me into staying?”
The smile falls from Jimin’s face. “What? No, he strictly forbade us from “bothering” you. He’s always exaggerating, though this time it seems he was being truthful. You really do mean to leave?”
His eyebrows peak into worry and Namjoon stares back in defiance, resenting the guilt he feels.
“Of course I do.”
“You don’t like it here? Did you see the library?”
Namjoon looks around at the piles of books and laughs. “Are we not in it?”
“Here?” Jimin scoffs. “No, this is merely storage. Dragons and their treasure rooms, you know?”
Namjoon nods like he knows and follows Jimin down the stone tunnel that winds and twists, expecting the rooms they pass to be full of gems and gold, and in part, they are. But there are piles of odds and ends, wagons and lutes, barrels of ale and cauldrons for cooking, swords and old garments.
“If Yoongi doesn’t destroy villages as he says, where does all this come from?” The question comes out quietly.
Jimin stops with a curious look on his face, amused and offended at the question. “Funny, how you humans don’t know of Yoongi, despite the dangers he keeps you from. Have you had any problems with witches, in your village? Or the sorcerer bandits that call themselves Faingar? Or the slavers that travel west to east?”
“There haven’t been slavers around here for years,” Namjoon says. He’s never even heard of Faingar.
“Exactly. You don’t think he’s out hunting elk all day, do you?” Jimin laughs.
He had thought that, as a matter of fact, but keeps it to himself. His mind can’t keep up with the information Jimin is giving him. He doesn’t know anyone who lives far enough away from the mountains to confirm if they do have problems with slavers or sorcerers without the protection of a dragon. Sure, the merchants who visited his village would ride in with tall tales of dangers of every variety, but he’d assumed they exaggerated to draw in sales.
“Here’s the library,” Jimin announces as they reach a much larger room. “ Your library, though I do visit it a lot,” he giggles.
He had been resolved not to be impressed, but his jaw drops anyway. The library was bigger than the one in the mayor’s estate back home, and that was surely the biggest one in town.
“This is huge,” he whispers, taking in the sight of shelves that line the walls and at least ten rows of books in between. In the middle was another small forge that kept the room cozy, surrounded by piles of cushions and furs to relax on. Though there are no windows in the cavern, the walls are draped in gauzy curtains and silks and tapestries intricately woven. Empty vases rest on top of shelves for decoration, and a few small paintings of pastoral scenes hang on the walls.
“Do you like it?” Jimin asks.
“Of course I do, how could I not?” Namjoon breathes, hobbling through an aisle of books with eyes that struggle to take in every title.
“Good.” Jimin giggles. “It ended up being Yoongi’s biggest project to prepare for you coming, though he became quite a reader himself, after a while. I just come for the novels about sex. Humans do the most interesting things with each other.”
He pulls a book from his bag and replaces it on the shelf, grinning at Namjoon’s discomfort. “Yoongi found an easel and some paints at one of the night markets, if you like to paint. He also procured that odd music thing from one of the bandit raids.”
A lap piano rests against the wall where he points.
“Yoongi loves it, though none of us know if he’s using it correctly,” Jimin giggles. “Anyhow, I won’t bother you any longer,” he says with sharp sweetness. “I’m glad I got to meet you at least once.”
The hollowness in his chest expands as he smiles thinly at Jimin waving goodbye before he disappears into the dark hallway. He sighs, taking in the sight of so many books. Now, truly, he is touched. He can’t imagine how long it took Yoongi to collect so many books all by himself, to carry them all up to this highest mountain peak.
It makes his stomach twinge, imagining Yoongi faithfully, eagerly preparing for his arrival, months or years that Namjoon was spending miles below, oblivious in his own small world. Heartbreaking in a way, so much wasted time for both of them.
He sighs and strolls down the next aisle. “Ooh.” His eyes light up upon finding a novel by his favorite author. Sure, he’s already read it five times, but what’s wrong with a sixth?
Nestled into the furs by the fire, braced leg propped up on several pillows, he basks in the familiarity of the words, the comfort of a story he knows the ending to.
When he wakes, a silken blanket has been thrown over him, novel still clutched in one hand. The plunk of piano keys in a simple melody string along the deep-voiced hum beside him.
It stops when Namjoon sits up and yawns.
“You found the library,” Yoongi announces unnecessarily, eyes darting over to him in that nervous way Namjoon has come to know.
“Mm. Jimin showed me.” He rubs his sleepy eyes and yawns again.
“Ah, Ahkrem take my stupid friends,” Yoongi mutters. “I told them to leave you alone, I swear I did.”
Namjoon laughs. “Yes, that’s what Taehyung said.”
“Taehyung s- Taehyung came too? Ahh, Ahkrem toknar… I’m sorry, they just...” He shrugs, helpless to explain.
“It’s fine. Now I can say I’ve met the fae before. My friends back home would never believe me. They’d never believe any of this.” Not that he could ever tell them.
“Tell me about your friends? If you’d like. I never had friends before I came here and those damned fae fools found me.” Yoongi smiles fondly. “Dragons are solitary creatures,” he repeats at Namjoon’s look of disbelief. “Often, I wonder if I’m being a friend in the right way. I’m not always certain I know what it should mean...”
“I think everyone feels that way, sometimes.”
He pauses, annoyed at the need to reassure him. “My friends… Well, there was Lena, super smart, big curly hair that she was always sticking flowers in. She helped her family tend the sheep. And Jeongguk, now he would probably be the most beautiful of the village. He’s the most anything, really. Most talented, smart, most kind, most popular, artistic and the best kneeball player, funny-”
“Were you mated?” Yoongi asks like he’s sure the answer is yes.
“Me and Jeongguk?” Namjoon laughs out loud and hugs a pillow. “No. No, though he did ask me out once. But I was set on this other guy, unfortunately… so strange to think they all believe I’m dead right now. I wonder if… I hope they’re okay. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if one of them was sent off to die…”
“I’m sorry,” Yoongi whispers.
He shrugs. It wasn’t Yoongi’s fault, but he can’t quite get those words out.
“Me and Jeongguk used to talk about publishing a series of novels. I’d write them and he’d illustrate them.” Namjoon laughs a little. “I wrote a book, actually. Jeongguk drew the cover for it. The plan was to get it published, to bring it to the printing presses in the bigger town beyond, circulate it through the traveling merchants… a copy could’ve ended up here, maybe.”
He looks around them at all the rows of books, wistful for dead dreams and dear friends. It’s a hurt too fresh and hopeless to talk about. “It is really a very nice library,” he says instead. “The nicest I’ve ever seen, actually.”
Yoongi looks too conflicted by the heavy conversation to acknowledge the compliment. It makes Namjoon uncomfortable, too exposed to the person he was determined to keep shut out. Eager to change the subject, Namjoon points at the lap piano.
“I hear you’re a professional piano player,” he teases.
Yoongi blinks, roused slowly from his deep thoughts. “What? No, no. A piano, it’s called?” He hums at that bit of knowledge. “I do like it, though I’m not sure how it’s supposed to sound…”
“No,” Yoongi blushes, fingers gripping around the edges of the piano.
“Oh, come on. I’m no expert either. You were playing a while ago.”
“Yes, but you were asleep then.”
“Don’t be shy. You’ll be better than me, no doubt. I always was shit at piano.”
“What is shy?”
He almost laughs at the question. But Yoongi telling him how he never had friends before, how dragons are solitary and fierce, no wonder there are concepts he doesn’t know, like shyness and panic, two things a dragon should know no words for.
“You know, when you’re nervous about what someone thinks, so you get quieter or… or try to hide yourself. Or your cheeks turn pink when you feel embarrassed,” he laughs, thinking of Yoongi’s pink cheeks the day before when he had slipped up and called dinner ‘elk beef’ again.
“Dragons are not shy,” he mumbles, face to his lap to hide his flushing cheeks.
Namjoon can’t help but grin. “Uh huh.”
“Alright, I will play you a song that I thought of. It- it might be strange. But I saw a woman playing at the night markets, so at least I think I’m playing it right.”
Red eyes dart over at him before he steels his resolve and rests long fingers on the white keys again. The piano is old and slightly out of tune, but the melody Yoongi taps out sends a rush of calm through him.
Namjoon tells himself it’s just nostalgia for any music, any melody besides the wind in the trees and the low crackling hum of fire and Yoongi’s voice. But it is beautiful, an odd composition clearly written by someone foreign to the traditions of music, eerie and lovely.
Tears well up in his eyes, emotions tugged dangerously to the surface by the power of sound and song. “I like it,” Namjoon admits quietly, sniffling and curling back into the pillows. “Play some more, if you’d like.”
The next few days are filled with music and books. Encouraged, Yoongi plays the lap piano every night, filling Namjoon’s dreams as he drifts to sleep. The melodies drift and echo off cavern walls in the morning as Namjoon prepares breakfast. Radiant with joy, Yoongi grins wide when Namjoon tells him quietly, “I like that one” or “that was a pretty tune.”
He means to keep his mouth shut, but it’s impossible to deny Yoongi’s hopeful eyes and infectious excitement every time he’s told he did well. Namjoon finds himself sitting beside Yoongi on the bed and teaching him basic chords, gently moving his fingers into position on the keys.
Yoongi spends less afternoons away hunting and patrolling, instead poking his head hopefully into the library and smiling when Namjoon sits up and says hello instead of scowling at him. The hours pass quietly with the turning of book pages and the meandering notes from Yoongi’s piano beside him.
Another afternoon brings Yoongi peeking around the corner as always. This time Namjoon is standing between the shelves, a big grin on his face.
“Yoongi, look! This is my favorite book. This is what inspired me to start writing when I was a kid!”
He walks back to the fire and slumps down to the pillows. “Look!” he whispers again, urging Yoongi forward to sit beside him. “It’s a children’s book but it’s… more than that. It talks about the universe, about the unknown that we somehow know, and can never know, and the unknowing of things we think are true…” he laughs to himself and skims his hand down the glossy page illustrated with a bizarre rabbit.
“See, this line is my favorite. ‘The soul has come together in the shape of rabbit this cycle, you see, to dream the dreams of grass and moon. And when its soul bursts free again, the dreams will be dreamt by human or loon.’ I love that,” Namjoon breathes, eyes dancing over the pages. “See how the rabbit is drawn? Look closely, inside are a hundred other creatures, in tiny bubbles. Bubbles of the soul, as the book calls them…”
When he looks up, Yoongi is studying him instead of the book. “You are very beautiful,” Yoongi sighs, immediately flinching at the words he meant to hold back.
Namjoon blinks in surprise, heart skipping at the sudden compliment, the intensity in the deep red eyes.
“Your words, they are very beautiful, your- your mind. I like to see what makes you this excited. I am, I am happy you found the book here…”
He begins to rise, knowing his words and presence are unwanted.
“I’ll read it to you,” Namjoon stops him. “If you’d like.”
The fire crackles beside them as Yoongi stares and blinks with no attempt to mask his shock. “Yes, yes I would like that.”
He sits down beside Namjoon again, settling back into the cushions when Namjoon does, watching with round eyes as Namjoon flips to the front of the book and places it between them so Yoongi can see the illustrations.
“Oh? What language is this?”
“It’s in the original Borvanese. But I have the translation memorized,” he admits.
“Can you read both to me? I’d like to hear it.”
Namjoon glances over at Yoongi, something in him wanting to see the sincerity he knows is there. He remembers reading aloud to Aron, the bored disdain he’d find in his eyes, immediately followed by “can we do something else already?”
But Yoongi looks nearly as excited as he does, adoration and curiosity mixed in his expression. The thought echoes in the back of Namjoon’s mind, this is what I always wanted from a companion.
He frowns and tries to exhale. “Yeah, I can read both,” he murmurs, turning back to the text.
“...and the moon travels ever onwards, watching us bloom and wither as she goes.”
The book shuts with a gentle thump. When Namjoon looks over at Yoongi, his red eyes are blurred over with unshed tears.
“I liked that very much,” he says quietly.
Yoongi nods and curls his knees up to his chest. “I think I would have liked your book. I wish I could read it, too. It would be wonderful to hear it in your voice…”
“Thank you,” he whispers, and really means it. It stings, the dreams he’d been on the way to chasing, goals left unfinished, a life mid-construction kicked over by this massive storm. “I wish I could’ve written more…”
“I’ll bring you paper and ink! I know I have a crate of it somewhere… maybe with the other paints…” he mumbles to himself, standing and trying to decide which storage room to go to.
“You don’t have to,” Namjoon smiles sadly. “Don’t feel much like writing, these days…”
Yoongi stares at him, shrinking into himself like he’d been slapped. “I’m… I’m sorry. I’ll- just in case, I’ll go fetch it.”
Namjoon shrugs and nods. He almost tells him, it’s not your fault. But he holds back, because still, it feels like it is. Or at least, it feels good to have it be someone’s fault. If Yoongi hadn’t come to this mountain, of all mountains, if he hadn’t been born a dragon, if dragons hadn’t existed at all…
Watching Yoongi disappear into the dark hallway, he bites back a cry, helpless to his own emotions and circumstances. The thought flip flops in his head, I wish I'd never met him to I wish I'd met him in a different way.
The paper and ink remains untouched on the library table for days. Namjoon eyes it, considering, but the flooded hollow of his chest blocks any creativity. If he opens the gates to let the words out, who knows when the pain would stop flowing? And then, what’s truly frightening, the emptiness that would follow. Without the sorrow, without the anger, he would be empty. He would be no one, Kim Namjoon an idea of a person who died weeks ago on a bejeweled mountain ascent.
He sighs and curls around a pillow. When he looks up, Yoongi is staring at him. The last few days he’s been quieter as they putter around the cavern together in their small routines. Namjoon catches him in long stares as they cook or read together, some pensive sadness in his eyes when he looks away. Though more often than not, Yoongi gives him a small smile and keeps staring for a moment longer as if he could devour the sight of him and keep it in memory.
This is one of those times. Namjoon stares back at him for as long as he can stand it, until the intensity has him blinking away. He reopens his book.
“Mm,” he grunts, willing his heart to stop its thudding.
“If- if you will not let me fly you to the city, we should leave now. Before the big snows come and trap us in until late spring.”
Heat shivers through his veins. “What?”
Yoongi refuses to look at him now. “I do not want you to be imprisoned for half a year,” he says quietly. “When you could be writing, and making a life of your choosing…”
“I- what,” he echoes, the only word he can seem to get out. It's so abrupt, yet he doesn’t want to question Yoongi and make him change his mind. There was no rational reason to stay longer, after all. His leg can hold weight fine these days, healed unnaturally fast by fae medicine and dragon heat.
“And I do not know how we could make such a long flight anyway. The burns on your hands last time, after only a few minutes in the air… and there are no large clearings down that side of the mountain...”
He stops his rambling and looks at Namjoon, eyes longing to have his proposition denied. Namjoon sees it, he knows Yoongi wants him to stay.
He can’t do it. He can’t willingly trap himself in the place that represents the death of everything he loves, everything he is.
Looking away, he nods. “You’re right. We should leave before it snows again.”
The silence stretches long like rubber fit to snap.
“I’ll prepare our packs, then.” Yoongi shifts where he sits. “Would you-? Would you like salad again? We should use the last of the leaves…”
He nods at the floor, rubbing absently at the bittersweet ache in his chest.
“And perhaps you could finish reading our book to me tonight? One last time before we go.” He tries to say it brightly, as if suggesting a fun activity before the arduous hike before them, but the words echo with mourning.
Namjoon tries to match the brightness with a wan smile. “Sure. It would be awful not to know what happens to Mr. Marren and his missing cat.”
The night fades closed as all their nights do these days, with Yoongi’s piano melodies curling through the firelit shadows on the stone walls, eyes falling shut as they daydream the world of novels, quiet questions and wonderings murmured between them about characters and plot.
Four days of rain and sleet has his leg throbbing along with his head. Blisters have formed on his toes from picking their way through rocks and fallen branches. His shoulders ache from the heavy pack and somehow one sock is soaked through. He keeps his whining to himself, knowing that Yoongi took the pack that’s at least double in weight. Not to mention that Yoongi doesn’t have to be putting himself through this at all; it would be the easiest thing in the world for him to shift and soar down the mountain in a matter of minutes.
Every few hours, he tries to talk himself into letting Yoongi fly him down, but the lurch in his stomach and the spike in his heart rate shuts down that notion. His hands shake until he can distract himself from memories of the earth falling away below him, trapped in searing dragon’s jaws.
And Yoongi, though he will not admit it, is tired. Namjoon sees the way he winces and rolls his shoulders, the dark circles that bloom slowly under his eyes with each passing night.
“Just for one night, please. I just want a bed and bath. Come on, just keep your head down and no one will notice you! Especially at the bathhouses, the staff barely spare you a look. What do you care anyway, if anyone gives you a hard time you could just blast them with fire.”
“I would never-!”
“Yeah, yeah.” Namjoon kicks the rock that tripped him and rolls his eyes at Yoongi’s dismay. “I know, you’d never. But you could. I don’t know what you’re so afraid of.”
“People are afraid of dragons. If I walk into town shouting “hello! A dragon is here!” People will be afraid. And people resent being afraid. And a group of resentful people become angry. That’s why the dragon companion tradition exists, doesn’t it? To-”
“Except that it doesn’t,” Namjoon reminds him, swatting at a wet branch. “It doesn’t exist. Remember? Sacrifice, dragon sacrifice. People will be afraid because dragons burn down villages and eat their children.”
“I told you, we don’t! I would never-!”
“I know! I know. You would never. Good, that’s very nice of you. That doesn’t mean anything to generations who know the stories of what happened before. Doesn’t mean anything to, for example, my parents, who have lost their only son to beg mercy from the dragons.”
It’s quiet besides the sigh of rain on fir branches and the snap of sticks beneath their feet. Regret twinges sickly in Namjoon’s gut, an annoying emotion considering nothing he said was untrue, exactly.
Yoongi stares at the wet earth. “I’m sorry,” he says quietly. “I’m sorry you can’t go home.”
Neither of them speak again until they reach a dry clearing beneath the thick branches of cedar far overhead. “This should be a good place for the night,” Yoongi says, setting his heavy pack against a fallen log.
He busies himself with spreading out the bedroll without sparing Namjoon a glance. Pouting or giving Namjoon space, he can’t quite tell. Either way the guilt irritates him into silence just when he’d been ready to soften.
Mere moments is all Yoongi needs to build a healthy campfire out of damp twigs and chunks of mealy log. “We should gather more wood for the fire before it gets dark,” Yoongi says.
Night falls quicker than expected in the thick of the forest, eerie tones of dusk thick in the cold, misty air, quiet as the birds settle into their rest. The distraction of setting up camp has smoothed the sharp mood between them, too tired to keep up a wall of resentment. And anyway, Namjoon wasn't mad at him, he was just... mad.
A glance over at Yoongi makes Namjoon do a double take. His skin, pale in the blue cold, dark hair lifting on a silent breeze, lips parted in focused thought. And his eyes, fire lily red, glowing like embers.
“Your eyes,” he gasps.
Yoongi blinks at him. “It is the full moon,” he says plainly, as if that explains it. A smile quirks at his lips when he sees Namjoon’s open wonderment.
“I didn’t see them glow in the full moon before,” he argues, enveloped in a hazy warmth he’s come to identify to himself as dragon magic.
“Perhaps you did not really look at me before,” Yoongi laughs, but the words stick. Perhaps, he hadn’t.
He takes in the sight of him until the thought is inevitable, it’s a pretty sight.
Gods. Definitely not the most comfortable thought, though it is so hard to draw his attention from it. “And anyway, what does a dragon have to do with the moon?”
Yoongi looks offended at that. “What does a dragon have to do with the moon? Do your Elevar teach you nothing? The moon has-“
He goes dead still, one hand clenched around Namjoon’s wrist.
“Witches,” he spits out. The armful of branches hits the grass with a soft thump.
Namjoon’s heart is in his mouth. “Witches? What do you mean-“
With a burst of heat, Yoongi shifts into scale and wing and claw and roars into the darkness.
“What’s wrong with you!” Namjoon hisses. ‘Why would you announce we’re-“
A rip of thunder shakes the ground. A small group of men and women, wild-eyed and translucent blue appear around them. Smiles of greed expose their bloody teeth, and then, Namjoon’s vision goes dark.
Yoongi has wrapped him up in his wing. To protect him from the blast of fire his breathes upon the group, Namjoon assumes, though it’s not much cooler here caged against a dragon’s chest.
He hears one wail of pain, and stumbles forward when Yoongi lunges to the side. Another wail from Yoongi this time, and Namjoon is released long enough to see a spear of light shoot straight through Yoongi’s wing.
Yoongi stumbles and roars, rising up on broken wing to huddle Namjoon into safety again. Fire blasts around the witches and lingers in the wet branches above. They duck behind rocks and shields of light, and for a second, Namjoon can see it in a few of their eyes: fear.
Witches though they be, Namjoon cannot help but feel a sense of human belonging with them stronger than the raging lizard beside him.
One of them stands and screams a war cry before barreling toward them, glowing staff raised.
Yoongi isn’t fooled at the distraction. He swings his spiked tail hard into the chest of the witch attempting to sneak up behind them. The other one is burnt to bone, and Namjoon’s glad that Yoongi’s wing blocks most of his view.
A growl of frustration, Yoongi stomps at the earth. Vines creep with unnatural swiftness across the grass and up Yoongi’s scaled legs, but it’s a useless attack. The vines singe and wither away.
Another one gets too close. Horror pierces through Namjoon at the snap of bone just above his head. Morally, mortally horrified at what Yoongi is, and how the what defines the who. Life leaves the mangled witch so easily, tossed like a field mouse from his massive jaws.
The last witch laughs in a rage, glowing eerie shivers of silver as she mutters incantations. The vines that burned to ash when directed to Yoongi’s scaly limbs now slither up Namjoon’s ankles, tighter, painful and tingling around his knees.
Yoongi turns and howls in anger when he realizes what the witch is doing. Breath of fire singes at Namjoon’s skin, eyes squeezed shut at the blast of light. The vines fall away but Yoongi howls in pain.
It’s a mess of moments too fast to decrypt yet slow like gapped memories. Yoongi stumbles into him and leans heavily to one side. Then Namjoon sees it; a torn gash through Yoongi’s bat-like wing, burning and crystalizing with something other than fire, silver like the aura of the witch.
He growls and curls the other wing around Namjoon. “You cannot have him, witch.”
“A witch is entitled to what a witch can take,” she laughs. “The ceremony requires ‘that which a dragon most treasures’, and so, I will have him.”
“You will die trying.”
“Will I?” she scoffs. “By a weak wounded dragon who treasures a simple human more than his entire hoard? No. I have not died yet, and you have nothing left. It would be easier, to hand him over.”
There’s laughter in her voice, knowing the advice is infuriating. The ground quakes beneath them, gentle, almost indetectable. For a moment Namjoon thinks it’s simply the growl rumbling in Yoongi’s throat, but the heat trapped around him here beneath his wing makes him dizzy, mind too taxed to trust.
“Nothing left.” A laugh rakes over Yoongi’s throat and prickles goosebumps over Namjoon’s neck. “Witches used to respect dragons, I hear. They had reason to. Begop gaien agaok!”
The final syllable rings metallic like a gong in Namjoon’s head. Disoriented but he quickly realizes the rumbling isn’t a figment of his fear and heat-addled mind. The earth increases its shaking until it ruptures, sliced open by an invisible knife. Lava spurts forth like blood between them and the witch, bright hot and fatal.
It’s the last Namjoon can see, wrapped tight in Yoongi’s scaly wings to protect him from the heat. Noises he can’t differentiate waft on the air, a howl deep from Yoongi’s belly. The heat in his protective bubble is more intense than he’s ever known, worse than several summers ago when the drought and heat wave cooked him where he worked in the corn fields. He struggles to keep consciousness, eyes insistent on shutting.
Silence, followed by a whoosh of mercifully cool, fresh air as Yoongi releases him. Namjoon falls to his knees and gasps, winter wind wicking away the sweat that soaks his skin.
“Gods! I thought I was- Yoongi?”
The great dark dragon limps forward and collapses into the lava pooling between the rocks.
“Yoongi!” Namjoon rushes forward but halts, unable to come any closer to the river of liquid fire. “Yoongi! Gods, I can’t-! Wake up! Oh gods, oh no-“
The black scales begin to glow with cracks of red and all Namjoon can do is watch in horror. Yoongi lays motionless, deaf to Namjoon’s desperate cries.
Flame overtakes him in a magnificent display of sparks and swirl, and then, as if someone miles below had pulled the plug, the fire is sucked away, lava shrinking away like water down the drain.
What’s left is the silence of snow and moon, the bare skin of Yoongi laying in the rubble of scorched earth.
For a moment Namjoon can only gape at him, fearing the worst. “Yoongi?” He whispers. A step forward, another before he trusts that the lava won’t come spurting up again to devour him. “Yoongi, are you-“
He can’t say it. Shaking, he kneels beside him and places a hand on his shoulder. Warm skin, as warm as ever. “Yoongi-“
A whine of discomfort, Yoongi curls in on himself.
“Oh gods, Yoongi-“
“I shouldn’t have done that,” comes his feeble voice.
“Thrown yourself into lava? Yes, I agree!”
“No, that’s not… fire heals. I meant…”
Nothing follows. In a rush of panic, Namjoon shakes him. “Yoongi? Yoongi, don’t-“
He whines again, and it’s then that Namjoon sees the wound Yoongi is hunched around. A big gash across his chest, bleeding in a slow, steady flow.
“Oh, oh no, oh no- hold on, the pack, where’s your pack… the medicine, I’ll- those herbs you used before...“
Yoongi shakes his head and groans. “All the medicines were for you. I need fire.”
“I’m not going to set you on fire,” Namjoon scoffs, angry though he’s not sure why. Tears wet his eyes and he pulls Yoongi up from the earth.
“You have to, I tried to keep the lava flowing a little longer but… I couldn’t…”
His muscles slump, heavy against Namjoon’s lap. “Yoongi? Yoongi. Hey come on, wake up, you can’t seriously expect me to set you on fire. Come on. Yoongi?”
He doesn’t move. In the indifferent silence of night, Namjoon has to make a decision. Awkward and unsteady, Namjoon scoops him up in his arms and stumbles forward, praying he can remember the way back to their little camp.
To his relief, the campfire is still burning with low licks of flame. The muscles in his back are screaming in pain, panic sending him forward still. Erunek, his mind provides him. He wonders if dragons have another word for this kind of panic, the kind that gives strength of adrenaline rather than wild flight. He lowers Yoongi in an ungraceful heap and fans the flames higher.
“No way can I do this,” he whispers, staring at Yoongi and trying to visualize himself incinerating him.
But the blood is still flowing, and he has no other options. “Ahkrem, if you’re listening, please don’t kill him…”
Careful to hold Yoongi’s face away from the dirt, he tugs and drags his body into the campfire. In a long, sickening moment of fear, Namjoon watches helpless as the flames leap bright around him, twists of green and sparks of deep red.
Horror has him frozen in place. Once, three times Namjoon reaches into the fire to pull him out but he stops himself. “He hasn’t burned alive yet, Namjoon, not even a scorch mark on his skin, not even a scorch… not even a scorch...”
Tears flow freely now, helpless to the spectacle. “Ahkrem, please…” he begs a god he’s never known.
Yoongi is unscathed when the flames die down, skin a smooth cream, no more trickles of blood, only the black smudge of coal here and there. Hissing in pain at the bite of burning coals, Namjoon pulls him from the fire and wraps him in all the furs they brought.
A groan, a pout, Yoongi curls up on the thin bedmat but doesn’t wake. Exhausted with the crash of relief, Namjoon lays beside him under the blankets and falls into an anxious sleep.
Morning rises quietly in fog, birds somber, trees heavy with the drip of collected mist. Namjoon gasps, ripped from dreams of fire and witches. He’s grown so accustomed to nightmares. Several times he had woke, scrambling to check for signs of life in Yoongi, or to strain his ears toward imagined sounds in the darkness.
The woods are peaceful, horribly unsettling for his body which is still stuck in hypervigilance. He tries to breathe in, and out. In, and out.
Nearby, a robin chatters and takes flight. He exhales once more. The air on his cheeks is sharp, but warmth envelopes him. Yoongi, breathing quietly against him under the covers, gentle breath against his shoulder.
One arm is slung across his chest but Namjoon doesn’t move it. That what a dragon most treasures. The witch’s words repeat in his head, visions of vicious dragons curled around their mountains of gold, but instead it’s this: a pale, skinny arm thrown around him, Kim Namjoon, son of a flower merchant.
Tears trickle down the side of his face and he can’t say why. Overwhelmed with the fragility of things, with the death of ideals that had defined him, hard won through the trials of a simple village life. Such importance he had assigned to them, such strength he’d thought he’d built, his own little dragon hoard.
And Yoongi, who treasures him the most, according to a witch, and surely a witch would know such things. It’s hard to put himself on a scale against the weight of what he himself had treasured, a family, friends, sense of home, sense of self, a creative dream… and for Yoongi, the worth of his presence is equal to all that.
It makes his chest ache, anger or tenderness or… he doesn’t know what to call the emotion. He turns to look down at the man cuddled up against him, small and simple in sleep, nothing like the fearsome beast that summoned lava from the depths and crushed bone mere hours before.
The wind gathers and stings cold where tears lay wet on his cheeks. Pushing the thoughts away, Namjoon tugs the blanket up over their faces and wills himself back to sleep.
“I couldn’t catch an elk for you, rabbit’s as big as I can get,” Namjoon says when Yoongi wakes hours after dawn.
It’s an eerie sense of calm after such a traumatic event. He doesn’t know what else to say after someone defends your life and nearly dies, how to convey the deep, shaky terror or the relief that Yoongi has woken up. He gives him a nervous smile and spoons rabbit stew into a bowl, thin and a bit pitiful in attempt to ration out their meager supply of vegetables.
Yoongi sits up on his elbows, squinting against the sunlight. For a moment, Namjoon looms above him. That which a dragon treasures most.
It doesn’t feel like that’s what he should be, standing there days unshowered, weak and bruised and… just Namjoon.
He tries to see hints of it in Yoongi’s eyes, tests the waters of what it’d feel like to be treasured.
Yoongi smiles up at him and reaches for the bowl. “I like rabbit.”
He sits beside him on the bedroll and stares into the trees. Every breath brings scent of pine and rain, and if he closes his eyes to imagine, a faint hint of cottage smoke.
“How do you feel?” Namjoon asks, turning to Yoongi.
He seems unnerved, either by the question or the rare eye contact. “I feel… okay. Cold. The heat helps,” he says, nodding to the hot stew.
“Your eyes are still glowing,” Namjoon whispers, fascinated.
Yoongi blinks up at him and darts his gaze back down to his breakfast. “Well, it’s still the full moon, even if the sun is up.” He shivers and pulls the blanket up over his bare shoulders. With a sigh, he finishes up the last bites of stew. “I should go see if my clothes survived shifting last night.”
They did, it turns out, partially at least. His shirts are nowhere to be found and his pants have a few large rips, but his coat is mostly intact and his boots are merely singed.
To both of their surprise, Namjoon finds himself buttoning Yoongi’s sleeves and kneeling to the cold moss to tie his shoelaces. “There, you’re- you’re okay.”
He stands and ignores Yoongi’s look of surprise. “We should get going,” he mutters.
Hours into walking, Namjoon can’t ignore the way Yoongi winces and shivers every few steps ahead of him. Pale skin that usually glows warm pink at the edges is greyed with exhaustion. He grabs Yoongi’s hand to stop him for rest and gasps.
“Your hands are cold. Your hands are blue, ” he scowls, appalled.
“I’m fine,” Yoongi insists through chattering teeth.
“You haven’t been anything but unbearably hot since I met you, this is not fine.”
“I’m just not used to sleeping in the cold…” he argues feebly.
“You aren’t well and you need warmth,” Namjoon says. “Let’s go to the bathhouses, please. Steaming hot water, a big fire in the hearth, you need it. I need it.”
Yoongi shoves his hands in his coat pockets and stares out beside him. “And that will be it, then?” he asks softly. “You’ll… you’ll be in a village and you won’t…”
The realization twists Namjoon’s stomach. Yoongi didn’t want to stop in any towns because then, Namjoon won’t need him anymore.
It’s a vulnerability he can’t acknowledge. Nor is he sure why he genuinely hadn’t thought of escaping at the first opportunity. “You think I’m going to hunker down in the first five-family village I come to?” He scoffs instead. “No, you promised me a city and a city is where we’ll go.”
Terrible at hiding his emotions, Yoongi’s face is painted with hesitant relief. “Well. There is a town to the southeast and I have seen the steam of their baths when flying. It is hard to guess time walking but I think… two days away?”
Namjoon can’t stop watching Yoongi as he builds a massive fire that evening. That what a dragon most treasures. He doesn’t feel like he deserves that, can’t imagine he’s shown any side of himself worthy of being treasured, and yet. And yet he doesn’t doubt it, nor does he hate the way his chest tingles with sparks when Yoongi’s eyes meet his across the flames.
The question haunts him, what did Yoongi expect from a companion? What does he want him to be?
Same as the night before, Namjoon sleeps in shallow fits of anxiety, waking startled every hour or so wondering if he’d even fallen asleep at all. In the powder grey before dawn, he gives up. Yoongi is clinging to him in sleep, shivering with every slow inhale.
It worries him. Who cares for Yoongi?
Guilt rises up like an ocean wave again. On the mountain, the home Yoongi had so carefully crafted, his friends would care for him, perhaps? But they’re here, in the middle of nowhere, for his sake.
Yoongi who has to take care of himself, and of Namjoon, and leave his home, and find the way through the woods on foot, all for Namjoon. Fought off witches at risk of his own life, all for Namjoon. To willingly give up that which he treasures most, because that treasure wants nothing to do with him.
I didn’t ask him to do any of it, Namjoon argues bitterly with himself. Still. It wasn’t the circumstances Yoongi asked for either.
He looks at Yoongi asleep against his chest and tries to see him without all the happenstance attached. Sincere Yoongi, funny on accident, shy and too forward in turns, curious and stubborn, pretty Yoongi. Very pretty.
Another big shuddered breath and Yoongi curls more tightly around him. Light as a snowflake to the earth, Namjoon rests his hand on his.
So cold. He frowns with worry and balls up Yoongi’s icy fist beneath his palm, trying to impart the warmth he holds.
A frenetic concern overtakes him. What if Yoongi feels worse than he’s letting on? What if he’s too afraid to admit it? Tucking the blankets carefully over Yoongi’s entire body, Namjoon slips out of the bed and works quickly to build up their campfire again until it’s roaring and crackling with flame with every branch Namjoon tosses in.
The heat is painful on his skin but nevertheless he drags their bedroll closer and closer until Yoongi’s back is too the fire.
All the movement wakes Yoongi, who pokes his head from the blankets and groans in question.
“Go back to sleep,” Namjoon whispers, climbing back under the covers beside him. He folds Yoongi’s cold hand back beneath his and rests it on his chest. “Just making more heat for you, you need heat. Go back to sleep.”
For a moment or two, Yoongi doesn’t seem to breathe.
Namjoon resolutely shuts his eyes and sweats beneath the blanket, relaxing only after Yoongi scoots closer and rests his head on Namjoon’s shoulder once more.
“How can you be shivering still!” Namjoon laughs in annoyance, wiping the sweat from his brow with his sleeve. One last mountain peak scaled before the long trailing descent into the lightly inhabited valley.
Finally at the top of the thigh-burning climb, Namjoon wheezes a bit with every exhale. His leg is screaming in pain but he says nothing, not wanting Yoongi to offer to carry him when Yoongi is such a dull shade still, pink lips dry and pale.
Yoongi gives a tired shrug, almost indetectable below so many layers. Namjoon had flung his coat off an hour down the mountain, panting and scowling at the dim sun before he insisted that Yoongi wear it. He falls to the dirt with a huff. “I hope no more witches come before we get to the baths. I don’t think I could keep you safe from them…” he sighs and leans against a rock, eyes heavy.
“They won’t, I’m sure.”
He’s not sure. He settles beside Yoongi and rolls his aching shoulders. “And anyway, I can see the steam from here, see?” He points to a patch of fog far down below. “It’s all downhill from here, we could be there by nightfall.”
Yoongi nods but his eyes are falling shut as he slumps against a large rock.
“We could take a little rest here, though.”
With great effort, Yoongi pops his eyes back open. “No! No. We should keep going. The sooner we get there the better.”
Namjoon dusts off his pants and stands, extending his hand to pull Yoongi up. Yoongi’s hand is freezing.
“Gods,” Namjoon mutters. “We’re you- they didn’t curse you, did they?”
“No. I’m just cold,” Yoongi pouts. “Just very… very cold.”
Namjoon frowns again as he slides his pack back over his shoulders. The chill that has set into Yoongi seems quite unnatural, but maybe it’s natural for a dragon?
I don’t know how to help a dragon, he realizes with anxiety. I’m not supposed to want to. He keeps the thoughts to himself. “Well. For warmth.” He takes Yoongi’s hand in his much warmer one and continues resolutely down the mountain, refusing to look back and see Yoongi’s expression.
They’re still too far off by nightfall, the descent proving to be a tricky, slippery pick through mud and rocks and rolling branches. Hands held for warmth and for balance, curses are muttered between them as they slip and trudge through, delirious and giggling after a while.
“I’m sorry I won’t let you fly me,” Namjoon laughs as they fall in a pile to the mud again, too exhausted to stand.
Yoongi groans and laughs against him. “I couldn’t here anyway, too close to the villages. We would’ve had to fly around to the southern end where not many people live, and then at night… and I don’t know how we could’ve made that work anyway, since probably you could only stand a few seconds of touching dragon skin at a time…”
“Could’ve made a dragon saddle,” Namjoon giggles.
“A dragon does not wear a saddle,” Yoongi argues, huffing in mock annoyance.
“Does a dragon muck through the mud then?” He teases, finally pushing up to standing and offering Yoongi his dirty hand.
“Yes,” he says with attempted dignity, though it’s squashed immediately when he nearly slips again.
Finally camped in a relatively dry space, Namjoon wiggles his cold, wrinkled toes in front of the fire and downs the last bites of stale ham and onion bread.
He stares at Yoongi across the fire, amused at his attempt not to notice. “Why don’t you simply sit in the coals?” He laughs, nodding at Yoongi’s arms held out across the flames.
“Because then the fire would die out,” Yoongi pouts.
The smile on Namjoon’s face fades as he ponders. “Have you been cold like this before?”
Yoongi shakes his head. “When dragons get sick, or hurt, they always turn cold, yes. But I’ve never been away from forge fires for so long, besides when I traveled up from my parents’ home. But I wasn’t sick then, so I don’t know…” he trails off.
I’m sorry you’re away from your forge fires. I’m sorry you’re here because of me. I’m sorry you’re hurt because of me. All the words stick in his throat.
“Well. The baths should help?”
Yoongi nods. “Does your village have a bath?” he asks after a moment.
“Yeah, we do. Though, it’s quite a bit smaller than Fronstown to the east. In the winter months, my family would travel there to use the baths every few weeks, only a few hours by carriage. They made the best lemon cakes there too, almost better than the baths,” he smiles.
A smile glows in Yoongi’s tired eyes as he watches him talk. “You’re worse than the fae with your sweet tooth. Jimin’s favorite day of the year is when the Elevar leave cakes and candies at the fairy circles east of the mountain.”
“I used to help our Elevar make those cakes…” He stares into the fire, trying to let fond memories remain untouched by grief. There will be new memories to make, he tells himself. A whole future wide open, thanks to Yoongi letting me go.
The thought twinges in his chest. He tries to take a step out of himself and see this moment as a memory too. Would he miss the firelight alive in Yoongi’s red eyes? Would he regret not exploring this spark of longing at the sight?
It doesn’t matter, right? Too little too late, when they’ve already gone through so much for him to be free, too big of a decision to make with too little time.
“Oh,” Yoongi gasps, surprise comical on his face.
An odd, glowing bug has landed on his head. Another appears over his shoulder, and another touches his nose before buzzing away.
“Nixads,” Yoongi says, gaping in amazement. “I haven’t seen them since I was a child.”
“I didn’t think they were real! Ow, hey,” Namjoon sputters when one of the tiny bug-like fae chucks a berry at his face.
That makes Yoongi laugh, that rare, raspy sound. Namjoon picks up the fallen berry and nails Yoongi in the forehead with it, barking in laughter when Yoongi’s lips go round in surprise.
The nixads chitter in amusement, fluttering between Namjoon and Yoongi like fireflies, careful to avoid the dance of flames. And just like that, they’re gone, disappearing into the treetops.
“That’s something you don’t get to see if you stay home, I suppose,” Namjoon laughs.
Huddled up deeper in his layers of blankets, Yoongi hums in sleepy agreement. “I wish we had brought a book. I miss listening to you read.”
“When I was a child, I used to tell my parents a bedtime story every night.” He grins and pokes at the coals. “Usually it’s the other way around, the parent tells the child a story,” he explains.
“Really? That sounds so nice. Once, my parents brought me on a patrol and they found an abandoned house. The plague maybe, or slavers… Anyway, I brought home books when they told me to have my pick of the treasure there.” He laughs a chilly sound. “I remember they told me, ‘this is not treasure, this is food for fire. See how it burns.’ And they tossed them in the forge…”
Namjoon’s heart aches for him. “I’m sorry.”
He shrugs. “They were only trying to make me into a strong dragon. But I think… maybe their idea of that was very small. I’m strong enough,” he says stubbornly.
“Strongest dragon I know,” Namjoon smiles, rising to join Yoongi beneath the thick blanket. “If you’d like, I could tell you a bedtime story. You have to fall asleep before the end, though, because I have no idea where the story will be going.” He laughs nervously, unsure why he feels so… giddy.
“I would love that,” Yoongi sighs, laying back on the bedroll close to the fire.
“You are still so cold.” Namjoon frowns and tucks the blanket around Yoongi’s feet. “Here, for- for warmth.” He scoops Yoongi into his chest and holds him tight, rubbing his arms and back vigorously as if his intentions were purely medical.
Tingles rise up from his belly at the closeness and make a smile stretch across his face anyway. The wall of resentment is no longer there to block him from noticing how nicely Yoongi fits against him or the pride that rises at Yoongi wanting to hear his stories, his voice.
“Alright. So once upon a time there was a… a tree. But it was no normal tree, this tree could walk, and talk.”
“Oh,” Yoongi hums in pleasant surprise at that turn of events.
It makes Namjoon smile wider. “You’re supposed to be falling asleep. Anyways, yes, this tree could walk and talk. One day…”
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.”