Chapter 1: humble beginnings
I've wanted this AU for an eternity. No canon characters-- the Avatar is someone different etc, the only thing that's similar is the war with the Fire Nation. Completely self-indulgent.
Read tags for warnings!
Jungkook notices the man immediately, the first time he comes into the tea shop.
“He’s like…hot.” Jungkook says. “I mean. He looks wealthy. I think he’s from the Upper Ring?”
Jin waves his arm dismissively as he prepares some dumplings in the back kitchen. “Of course he is. Did you see that jade bracelet?”
Jungkook huddles close, eyes narrowed as he squints at the far side of the room where the suspiciously well-dressed man sits.
“All I see is his silk shirt.”
It’s true. The pale-skinned, black-haired man is wearing a silken green shirt with fancy gold trimmings typical to Ba Sing Se fashion. Except it’s not suitable at all for the Lower Ring, where hooligans and ruffians thrive. Jin’s little tea house is one of the safer places here, but it still doesn’t explain why a nobleman would come down to the Lower Ring in the first place. His attire is begging for a mugging.
“Maybe he’s here for someone.” Jin suggests, pouring green tea into their ceramic cups. “Anything weird happen here recently?”
Jungkook pauses, thinking. Still, nothing was coming up. “He could pass for a Middle Ring-er.”
Jin turns to stare at the guy again. They were probably being too obvious, but subtlety wasn’t Seokjin’s style.
“Yeah. Yeah, he could actually. One of those fashionable Middle Ring-ers.” Jin comments.
“Well,” Jungkook concludes, “It’s not our business anyway.”
It was just that the well-dressed man had been here eleven times already in the last month. The first time had been unmemorable. But the second, and the third, more-so. The guy had sat in the same spot each time, off in the corner near the back. Jungkook had only served him three times, Jin the rest. The man was mainly quiet, offering tiny smiles when poured his lotus tea, but mostly blank-faced and focused. Sometimes he brought a book. This time, he hadn’t and instead had been staring off at the window for some time.
Jin side-eyes him. “Frankly, it’s nice to have some gossip around here once in a while.”
“Jin, there’s always gossip down here.”
“Murders and thievings? Not the type of gossip I meant, honey.”
And Jungkook rolls his eyes, returning to serving tea to their customers. The rich-man is still sitting there contemplatively, and Jungkook tries not to stare.
Jungkook had spent most of his formative years in the Lower Ring.
While Jin had grown up in the Middle Ring, parents moderately well off in trading fortunes, Jungkook was forced into the Lower Ring after his parents were killed in a Fire Nation attack when he was little. Now that they had settled into a tense ‘peace’, the Lower Ring was still all he knew. He remembered the bursts of fire, the screeches and red splatters— there was always fear of an impending invasion. Always, even if people pretended everything was okay.
There were good memories here and there—playing earth soccer with the other kids, Jin voluntarily starting a tea house in the Lower Ring and taking in Jungkook. There were also the bad memories. Of learning how to defend himself the hard way, getting beat up in the streets—his pockets stolen of all his money.
Jungkook breathes in the fresh, air of the cold night, stepping out of the tea house. It’s a little past midnight.
There’s a whiff of roasted duck in the corridor to his left, a slight taste of puke to his right. Some dude is pissing in the dark alleyway ahead, and Jungook ducks under the archway of the street to walk briskly forward.
He makes a left, another left, two rights, and goes down the stairs.
Jungkook hears the screams and the roars first. It’s faint, but there. A distant pounding thuds in his head as he gets closer. Seokjin would kill him if he knew Jungkook was back here again. But they need the money.
“Identification, kid?” The gatekeeper this time is a muscled, towering man with twin dragon tattoos running down his biceps. Great. They changed the door guy again.
Jungkook sighs. “I’m a contender. I was here last week?”
“Don’t believe you. You have coin?”
“Then I can’t let you in. Needa pay the first-timer fee.”
Somehow Jungkook just knew this would happen. It’s not that he can’t afford the first-timer fee— it’s just that he’s paid it three times already.
“Call Halla out here. She knows me.”
Now the doorman pauses, giving Jungkook a considering look up and down. “Lady Hotshot!” The guy screams. He has a surprisingly loud voice. “Some kid says you know him?”
“I’m coming! Fucking— shit!” A crash. “Watch where you’re going, dirtbag, or I’ll kill you.”
And then Halla’s there, hair messy and eyes bright. She looks the most alive before the show, clothes dirty and rundown just like the venue, but demeanor energetic.
“You gonna kill someone?” Jungkook asks, amused. “Thought you didn’t bend anymore.”
“Jeon, I don’t need to earthbend to shank someone with a knife.” Makes sense. “Now get the fuck in here.”
The low hangings are familiar, corridor tight and narrow. Jungkook has to squeeze his way through the crowd, keeping his eyes on the back of Halla’s head. He’s been through this hallway what feels like a million times. Jungkook even gets a few conciliatory pats on the back in recognition from loyal bystanders who have watched him participate before.
They reach the pre-game table, right outside the ring, and Halla grabs a little bundle of clothes. There’s a tiny bottle of oil nestled at the top.
“What’s that for?” Jungkook points out, fingering the little bottle curiously.
“It’s to oil yourself up.” Halla says flatly.
Jungkook turns to look at her incredulously. She stares back, deadpan.
Jungkook’s jaw opens and closes for a moment until he finds his words.
Halla sighs, arms on her waist. “You’ll get a lot more bets if you let these babies,” She slaps his arms, “Show off a bit. Alright?”
More bets means more money, but only if he wins. Jungkook gets it. But still, oiling himself up feels a little like whoring himself off to the crowd. He voices as much as he changes into the standardized fighting clothes. He’s already uncapping the oil.
“Baby, you are a whore. You’re selling your body and skills for visceral entertainment.” Halla smirks. “Now scram. You’re up next.”
Jungkook walks forward into the medium sized ring. It’s nothing like Earth Rumble VI in Gaoling or V in the Middle Ring, where the crowds are huge and full of the biggest thugs out there. Rumble Ring is a relatively small rumble contest embedded in the deep twisting alleyways of the Lower Ring, not actually part of the official Rumble series. It’s a quick way to earn money and keep his earthbending skills sharp. Jungkook is good. He knows he is.
The commentator is already starting by the time Jungkook steps into the middle of the ring. His opponent is huge and menacing. Jungkook loves those types. It’s endless fun.
“—third contestant of the night is Jeon, who’s in a five-time winning streak right now! Will he beat The Bear, who has won seven consecutive matches at Earth Rumble VII?”
The crowd absolutely roars. Jungkook breathes in. He imagines that Halla is watching. She always is.
Jungkook jerks his hand forward, left foot stomping forward. A huge column of stone erupts upwards, but The Bear is surprisingly nimble. Jungkook darts to his left as a huge array of boulders are thrown at him, circling around the ring in a crouch.
Then The Bear runs forward, arms out and palms flat towards the ground, as thin pillars of stone rise from the ground, distinctly shaped like javelins. It’s actually pretty creative, and Jungkook raises a wall at the last second to prevent himself from getting hit.
This needs to end quickly. He has to get back uninjured to keep Seokjin from raising any suspicions. Jungkook twists his foot sharply, grinding his leg into the stone floor. His arms arch. Dance.
He encases the man in a stone prison— it erupts as the guy shouts in fury, but the distraction is long enough for Jungkook to send a boulder hurdling at The Bear, pushing him out of the ring.
There’s silence. Then, murmuring. Eventually, a deafening cheer.
Jungkook looks up at the reserved section, and Halla is sitting there, eyebrows raised. She jerks her head upwards.
By the time Jungkook makes it up, the crowd is cheering again for some other money-grabber competing their damn souls away.
“Good match, nice theatrics.” Halla says. “Have a surprise waiting for you.”
Jungkook is wiping the sweat off his forehead when he blinks. “Surprise?”
“Yep.” She says, and leads him to the back where they usually count coins. Halla pulls out the gambling box from underneath the table and slams it on the table.
Then she unlocks it. Jungkook leans forward to take an inquisitive look.
“There’s… a nice sum of money there?” He tries.
There is. Maybe the oil trick worked, or perhaps the match was better then he thought. The quantity of copper and silver coins is large, even a gold coin or two thrown in there. It’s certainly enough to keep him and Jin happy for a while. Maybe some renovations to the tea house could be made, even. But Jungkook wouldn’t call this a surprise.
Halla just stares at him some more, the grin on her face splitting. She reaches down again and pulls out another fucking box, but this one is different. The wood is a little more polished. There’s even a nice painted white design on the top.
“Open it, hun.” She says, smirking.
Halla looks pleased and happy. It’s a weird look on her. He still remembers when he’d seen her for the first time in Rumble Ring two years back, the glow of the fight on her face before she’d gotten permanently injured. She only manages the ring, now, no fighting.
Jungkook hesitates before reaching forward and opening the box.
His jaw drops. Eyes widening. Jungkook’s hands tremble.
“What… Halla—what is this? Shit. Holy shit.”
“I know.” She sounds smug. Jungkook can’t tear his eyes away long enough to confirm if she looks that way as well.
Jungkook’s body feels completely still other than the tremulous shake in his hands.
Right there, inside the box, are seven gold ingots.
It’s a fortune. It’s a fucking fortune. With this, Jungkook and Jin could renovate the entire tea house, hire a new manager, and theoretically leave to live in the Middle Ring for the rest of their lives in fucking luxury. They could relocate to the countryside and start a farm if they wanted. They could travel the world. They could do anything.
“This must be a mistake. Is this a practical joke?” Jungkook’s voice feels small.
“Jungkook, this isn’t a joke.” Halla sounds joyful on his behalf. “Some guy in a fucking fancy ass green shirt bet on you. He dropped the box on us and left after your match.”
Jungkook is still staring at the shining, golden blocks of metal. He jerks his head up in surprise.
“Guy. Green shirt?”
Halla stops. “What, you know him? Dude seemed loaded.”
Jungkook clutches the box tightly, eyes desperate. “Did he have a jade bangle on? Pale skin, dark hair. Kinda short.”
“Yeah, I guess he did. Wait, you know him? How?”
Jungkook feels dizzy. He plops down hard on the nearby stool. “Holy shit. I mean, technically,” he swallows, “I don’t know him. But he’s been dropping by our tea house regularly this month.”
Halla pursued her lips. “Maybe he likes you?”
Jungkook shakes the box frantically. “Halla. This is not Middle Ring money. It’s not even normal Upper Ring money. This is like, fucking, royalty level wealth!”
“Okay, calm down. Just take the money back and confront this guy the next time he drops by, okay?” She makes it seem so easy. As if Jungkook isn’t the shy little bitch he is.
But still. “Believe me, I will.”
Except the wealthy man doesn’t stop by for the entire week. And then two weeks. Jungkook thinks about keeping all the money and just getting himself and Jin out of the Lower Ring. But curiosity eats at him. Was it a mistake? Who was this guy?
Besides, Jungkook isn’t even sure he’s capable of leaving the Lower Ring anymore. Jungkook keeps the money in floorboards under his bed. He doesn’t know how he’ll even explain that amount of money to Seokjin. The rest of the competition coin goes to repairs and polishes on the tea house— the chairs are upgraded, some extra food is stocked just for the two of them. Jin barely notices. He knows that Jungkook does odd jobs on the side here and there anyway, so it’s not that suspicious.
They don’t really need the money. The tea house keeps them afloat, but it’s nice to have the little improvements there, along with backup money. Life in the Lower Ring is unpredictable; you never know when you’ll need extra coin. Besides, Jungkook likes the fight. He has all this built-up energy. Jungkook is fussy, feisty, and he loves competition, especially with something he’s so good at.
Jin’s not a bender, which is fine by him— Jungkook can do the protecting for both of them (even though Jin would willingly take a boulder to the head for him). Still. Jungkook just has to talk to this rich guy, at least once, and get some answers out of him. Halla would probably tell Jungkook to just thank his lucky stars and get the fuck out of Ba Sing Se. Too bad Jungkook is notoriously rebellious.
Jungkook even willingly takes on extra shifts, which Jin finds profoundly weird.
“Are you sure you want to wake up? At seven in the morning?” Jin asks skeptically.
Jungkook nods his head vigorously. “Oh, of course. I just—uh. Love being productive.”
“Jungkookie, you hate waking up early.”
“Not anymore,” Jungkook shakes his head demurely, “It’s a lifestyle change, you know? Trying to be healthier.”
Jin shoots him another weirded-out look. “If you say so.”
So here Jungkook is at early dawn, dusting the outside of the shop. It smells like piss outside. Jungkook scrunches his nose, shuddering at the unpleasant aromas morphing together. Then he heads inside and pours a tub of dirty water out back. They have a row of garden plants lining the backdoor of the shop. Jin and Jungkook alternate taking care of the plants. It brings a lull of comfort back into their lives, seeing the green, pretty leaves decorating the porch. Jin’s memories of green are all domesticated plants in the Middle Ring. Jungkook remembers rice fields and bamboo forests from the countryside.
When Jungkook heads back out, the rich guy is right there, sitting at his usual place. The tea house is completely empty besides him.
All thought screeches to a halt.
Jungkook takes an aborted step forward before realizing he actually has to serve this guy tea, it’s what the man is here for— so Jungkook grabs the steaming pot and strides awkwardly forward. Jungkook stops right in front of the table, and the guy is wearing a green tunic with a sash this time, along with black trousers. It’s more casual, but the material is still soft and high-quality. The guy doesn’t look up, hands fingering at the pages of a book he’s reading.
Then Jungkook realizes he’s just been standing there without pouring anything or saying anything. He pours a cup hastily.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” The man asks, amusedly.
“Thank you?” Jungkook chokes. “Uh, shit. I mean, I was— shit, I’m so sorry.” This is probably why Jin does the serving and Jungkook stays at the back.
The man raises an eyebrow. “Thank me for what?”
Jungkook narrows his eyes, voice lowering as he peeks around the shop. It’s empty and he abruptly feels embarrassed. He continues to speak lowly anyways.
The man is smiling now. It makes him look a lot younger. Nicer, too.
“I know about what you did last week.” Jungkook says quietly. “Thank you. For the money. But I really can’t take that much.”
The smile disappears off the man’s face. “Oh. You figured it out?”
“Yes!” Jungkook hisses. “Seven gold ingots? I would have investigated that like I was one of the Dai Li even if I didn’t know the owner of Rumble Ring.”
The man shrugs. “I was in the area the other night and I knew you’d win. I bet on you hoping you would take the tea house and move somewhere nicer.”
It was a dense sentence. A lot to unpack. Jungkook decides to focus on the first part.
“You knew I’d win?”
“The way you move. It’s obvious to anyone that you were trained in combat.” It’s true. Jungkook had taken dance lessons and sword training when he was younger, before he’d moved to Ba Sing Se. It’s certainly not obvious though—not even Jin or Halla know. Jungkook isn’t keen on talking about his life from before.
The guy takes a slow sip from his tea, jade bangle hanging mockingly off his wrist. He looks very, very handsome.
“I was also hoping you’d win,” the guy continues, “pretty thing like you, beating that massive guy. It’s quality entertainment.”
Jungkook flushes. He’s been called pretty before, but only by Halla or by sleazy guys on the street. He bites his lip, and now the other guy is getting a light dusted pink on his cheeks too. Neither of them are looking at each other.
“Look, I really can’t take all that money. It’s just—way too much.” Jungkook tries again.
On one hand, it’s unexplainable. Jungkook is half afraid that the Dai Li is actually going to show up and arrest him for extortion. But Jungkook is also guilty. Underground bending certainly isn’t worth this much money, and the guy sitting across from him has been nothing but a loyal customer to their tea house for the last month. Jungkook feels like a thief.
The other man frowns, looking almost disappointed. “It’s really not a big deal.”
“Not,” Jungkook repeats slowly, “A big deal.” Seven gold ingots. Not a big deal. Jungkook is going to blow his gasket.
“Uh,” The man changes the subject hastily once he sees the look on Jungkook’s face, “We never introduced ourselves to each other. At least tell me your name?”
Jungkook sits down in the chair across from the guy. “I’m Jungkook.”
“Jungkook,” The guy repeats, testing the name in his mouth, “My name is Yoongi.”
“Well,” Jungkook decides, “It’s nice to meet you, Yoongi.”
“I’m not going to take that money back, Jungkook.” Yoongi says calmly, one hand tracing the rim of the teacup as he stares Jungkook in the eye. He leans back in his chair looking extraordinarily arrogant—the type of guy Jungkook usually avoids. “But how about this: you serve me free tea daily for the next month. I’ll take that as recompense.”
“That’s it?” Jungkook asks skeptically. “That’s still only like, five silver pieces.”
Yoongi shrugs. “Have a few conversations with me as well. I could use the company.”
Even more skeptically, “You just want some daily free tea and someone to talk to?”
Yoongi says, “Your ability to hear what I’m saying and repeat it back to me is stellar.”
Jungkook scowls. “It’s just— so mundane!”
Yoongi raises both his hands in a what-can-you-do manner, face mockingly innocent. “I’m a mundane person.”
It absolutely a lie, but Jungkook declines to point it out. Then Yoongi slaps a sizable sum of coin on the table, scooting his chair out and lazily walking towards the door.
“Well, I’m gonna head out now.” He says, leaving Jungkook still standing there, slack-jawed and irritated.
Jungkook has gotta hand it to him—at least the guy has attitude.
Jungkook wakes up the next morning, opens shop, and Yoongi is sitting right outside on the porch reading a book.
“The fuck?” Jungkook manages.
“Oh. Hello.” Yoongi waves nonchalantly. He acts like sitting outside waiting for their tea shop to open at six o’clock AM isn’t strange at all.
“Do you even live nearby?” Jungkook asks, eyes darting around the empty streets as if it will offer him some answers.
Yoongi strolls in like he owns the place and sits at his usual spot. “I’ve been staying at the inn down the street.”
The inn down the street is actually one of the nicer places in the Lower Ring, so Jungkook isn’t too surprised. Still, the entire situation is almost too awkward to handle, so Jungkook scrambles to the back of the room and begins sifting through tea leaves, pouring hot water through the filter. He’s practiced at this by now, even if Jin does it a bit better. Jungkook picks up on things rapidly and tends to do basically everything moderately well. This appears to include tea-making.
Jungkook walks back across the room and pours Yoongi his lotus tea. There’s a minute of silence where Yoongi just sits there sipping his tea, not even reading his book, gazing appraisingly over Jungkook’s figure.
“Well? Sit down.” Yoongi says, gesturing at the chair in front of him.
“Oh— uh. Okay.” Jungkook settles down awkwardly, fidgeting with his hands. He’s not sure if Yoongi is pretending he doesn’t see or if he straight up doesn’t care.
Yoongi takes another sip from the cup in front of him.
“So, what made you two decide to start this tea house?” Yoongi asks.
This is familiar territory. Jungkook can answer this. At least, that’s what he’s telling himself. Seven gold ingots, he chants in his head, seven motherfucking gold ingots.
“I didn’t start it, technically. It was Jin.” Jungkook manages. “He was looking to get away from trading, since he lived in the Middle Ring. Starting a tea house was kinda his dream.”
“Ah,” Yoongi nods, as if it’s the most normal thing he’s heard of. “But how did you get involved?”
Jungkook smiles. “Jin was nice enough to take me in after I moved to Ba Sing Se. I couldn’t afford anything, but he looked after me like I was his own brother. I’ve worked here ever since I was a kid.” Then Jungkook catches himself. He’s sure talking a lot, considering how quiet he usually is around strangers.
“Don’t worry, it’s cute.” Yoongi says, noticing the self-aware look on Jungkook’s face.
Jungkook turns red. “Oh. You mean. Me?”
Yoongi gestures to the empty tea house. “Who else is around here right now? Business isn’t exactly great for such a high-quality tea shop in the lower ring. Too elegant.”
It’s simultaneously a weird diss and a compliment. Jungkook is flattered and offended.
“Hey, it’s really early in the morning and we work hard to make this place nice. But also, thanks, I guess.”
Jungkook is still blushing when Yoongi continues to hit him with a barrage of questions. How old are you? Do you actually like tea? Have you traveled a lot? Where did you learn earth bending? Jungkook answers accordingly— he’s twenty, is neutral towards tea, and hasn’t traveled anywhere outside of the Earth Kingdom. Earthbending comes mostly natural to him, thanks to his combat training as a child. He’d been interested in sword training and dance when he was young, and his parents had let him do whatever he wanted. Jungkook tries to steer the topic away from his dead parents.
Conversation flows smoothly. Usually Jungkook is socially inept and only great at ending conversations—making pained, aborted attempts to answer a question. This time, he feels comfortable and quick-witted. It’s the synced chemistry of two people who don’t talk often, but can respond properly under the right circumstances.
After that morning, things change.
Yoongi begins making it a point to come in the mornings, and Jungkook joins him each time.
Sometimes they talk for a brief thirty minutes. Other times, Yoongi stays at the tea house for hours, grabbing a newspaper or a journal to bide his time with. Jungkook isn’t exactly sure what the other man is reading or doing, but it seems important. When there are a lot of customers, Jungkook can’t even serve the man, but Yoongi sits there like he’s lived in their tea house his entire life. Weirdly, Yoongi has become part of the scenery.
Even Jin comments on it, one night after all the customers have left.
“So,” Jin starts casually, washing one of the cups, “You’re taking another morning shift?”
“Yeah.” Jungkook replies, “It’s weirdly relaxing, even if I feel like death when I wake up.”
“You feel like death. Yet you’re still doing it.” Jin turns to wink at him.
Jungkook stares. “What’s that for?”
“Don’t think I haven't noticed you and that guy conversing every morning.” Jin snorts.
The way Jin is looking at him is knowingly playful and new. Jungkook clears his throat and dries the cup with a far-too-focused attention, face hot. He deigns not to respond.
Frankly, the entire thing is so weird. Jungkook is used to a life of relative normality, but he can’t say that he dislikes this new change. It’s exciting.
“Please tell me this tattoo is fake.” Yoongi says one morning, hand brushing over Jungkook’s sleeve as Jungkook hovers while pouring tea. Yoongi pushes the sleeve of Jungkook’s worn shirt up, lips pursued.
Jungkook blinks. He’d forgotten about his unfinished flower tattoo, a black inked lotus only partially filled in with orange.
“Sorry, it’s real.” Jungkook says, pulling his sleeve fully up and taking a hard look at his inner forearm. The unfinished quality is strangely artistic. “I got it when I started fighting at Rumble Ring. But I never got the money to finish it.”
“Now you do, though.”
It’s true. But the half-filled in ink has grown on him now. After Jungkook’s family had died, all their property and money had been burned down with the rest of their village. The unfinished tattoo is a symbol of that time. He’s not about to tell Yoongi that, though, the memories far too personal.
“I guess I do have the money, now.” Jungkook says, biting his lip and pulling his sleeve down uncomfortably. Honestly, he has no idea what to do with the money, since Yoongi is forcing him to keep it. Renovate the tea house? Escape the war by going south? It’s more money than Jungkook knows what to do with. Maybe he should use it on finishing his tattoo, if only to spend the gold.
Jungkook takes a good, long look at Yoongi. His clear, pale skin and silk neckline, green shirt. Jungkook wonders what Yoongi does with all his money.
Yoongi sighs. “Take a gold ingot and meet me outside tonight before dusk.”
“I can see you thinking about the money again. Let’s just spend it.”
Jungkook’s jaw works up and down incredulously. “Spend it. Just… spend seven whole gold ingots.” He’s pretty sure there isn’t even a conversion rate for one gold ingot in the Lower Ring. Maybe only at the merchant’s bank.
Yoongi lifts up the ceramic glass and downs the rest of his tea. “Yep.”
Yoongi gets up to leave, and Jungkook raises a halting hand. “Wait a second.”
Then he runs upstairs to lift the floorboard under his bed and unlock the fancy box. Jungkook delicately pulls out a gold ingot and wraps it in an inconspicuous white cloth before heading back to the main teahouse.
“Here you go.” Jungkook says, handing it over to Yoongi, attempting to hide the exchange with his body. Yoongi raises an eyebrow amusedly. “It’s yours anyway.”
“It’s really not—“ Yoongi tries, but Jungkook shakes his head briskly and pushes the ingot into Yoongi’s palm. He sighs resignedly.
“I’ll bring the converted coin with me.” Yoongi says. Then he strides out, his huge presence vanishing simply walking out the door. Jungkook kind of feels like he’s been hit by a wagon.
They meet that evening outside the tea house, exactly at the height of the bustling market traffic. Yoongi lifts up a bag of jingling silver coins, smirking. At the very least, now they won’t have to give some poor merchant a whole gold ingot and expect the guy to procure the proper repayment.
“You should really change.” Jungkook mentions, worried. The Lower Ring isn’t exactly safe, and there are already people shooting Yoongi secretive looks. “You’re going to get robbed.”
“They can try.” Yoongi says, “I don’t give a fuck.”
“Yoongi, you’re really going to get robbed.”
Except Yoongi is already paying for lamb skewers from a street booth for them both. Jungkook shrugs.
They peruse through the street in a comfortable silence interrupted only by the passing comment or observation. Jungkook points out spots frequented by the local kids for playing soccer, or the dark alleyway where shady drug deals always take place. He even points out the route that he usually takes to Rumble Ring, a shady corridor leading down a set of stairs.
“Have you always been fighting underground?” Yoongi asks curiously as they stroll through the street.
“Definitely not,” Jungkook replies, “It’s a recent thing, within the last two years. We were short on money because of Fire Nation attacks. People didn’t come to the tea house as often, so I wanted to help out somehow.”
Yoongi’s lips tighten imperceptibly. “I see.”
Jungkook waits for Yoongi to ask more about it, furrowing his eyebrows when Yoongi remains frustratingly silent.
“Well, what were you doing that night at Rumble Ring?” Jungkook probes, trying awkwardly to maintain the conversation. “I wondered but I never asked.”
“Oh.” Yoongi says. “That was business. I wasn’t actually expecting to see you there.”
It sounds strangely ominous and Jungkook furrows his eyebrows. Business. He isn’t sure he should ask. It sounds like one of those I-could-tell-you-but-then-I-would-have-to-kill-you situations. Yoongi has been surprisingly open about everything except his actual purpose being in the Lower Ring for the last few months. Jungkook isn’t idiotic enough to take that reticence for mere introversion— Yoongi is definitely hiding something. Maybe he’s Ba Sing Se nobility. Or maybe he’s a secret Dai Li agent. Jungkook has spent an embarrassing amount of time drawing up fantastical scenarios, each seeming more unrealistic than the last.
“Hey, watch out.” Yoongi says sharply, pulling Jungkook behind the dirt curb, hand resting protectively on his waist. A wagon barges through the street, horse hoofs clacking on the ground and kicking dust into the air.
Jungkook coughs. “Fuck,” He says, “Sorry, wasn’t paying attention.”
“I can tell.” Yoongi says dryly, hand resting on the small of Jungkook’s back. Jungkook can’t decide if he’s embarrassed or if he actually likes it; perhaps both.
“Well.” Jungkook says after a moment, “I’ll take that as my cue to head back. I don’t want Jin to kill me.”
Yoongi nods. The lanterns have been burning in the streets for some time. “It’s a bit late. I’ll walk you back.”
Jungkook can’t help the semi-disbelieving laughter that bubbles up. “Seriously? You’re going to walk me back? Yoongi, I’ve lived here my entire life. You’re the one who needs to worry about getting cornered and beaten up.” Yoongi’s hand migrates to Jungkook’s shoulder, heavy and claiming. Jungkook blushes. “But—uh. If you want to walk me back, I can’t stop you.”
Jungkook curses his in-eloquence, but all Yoongi does is smile. “I do want to walk you back.”
"Um." Jungkook scratches the back of his head, heart thudding. "Thanks, then."
The way back to the tea house is dark and beaten, lanterns casting strangely ominous shadows across the cobbled path. Most people have settled back into their homes, no longer perusing the streets. It’s the perfect time for a robbery.
This is why Jungkook is barely surprised when they get cornered by a gang of three thugs. In fact, Jungkook has literally seen this exact scenario happen in front of their shop a few times, near closing hours.
“Hello.” Yoongi sounds wry, rather than the frightened he should be.
“That one looks rich.” One of the guys say, pointing directly at Yoongi. He cracks his knuckles. “Give us all your money.”
The third thug turns to eye Jungkook. “And what’re you holding?”
Jungkook glances down at his huge bag. It’s full of high-quality silk cloths and chair mats for the tea house— most of the money had been spent on this.
“Just clothes,” Yoongi interjects calmly. “If you’re done with the interrogation, we need to be on our way.”
The three men in front of them stare incredulously at Yoongi. With his finely pressed shirt, jade bangle, and angled, casual posture, he looks pretentiously arrogant.
“How about we put it this way: give us your money or we kill you.” The guy in the middle says, clearly the ringleader. He pulls out a knife, and Jungkook’s hand clenches into a fist. He could bend these guys out into space, but he’s not sure how much of a commotion he actually wants to make. The authorities tend not to get involved with petty street fights, but bending is a whole different story unless it’s underground. And in terms of one-on-one combat, Jungkook isn’t sure he could take on all three of them without a weapon. They all look ripped as hell.
The ringleader takes a solid step forward, and Jungkook is just about to step in to prevent the inevitable robbery, when Yoongi darts forward.
Yoongi is fast. He ducks underneath the man’s arm and jabs multiple points on the man’s back with his two fingers. The guy falls over, still. Jungkook’s jaw drops.
The second and third guy stare apprehensively at their fallen leader, sweat beading at their temples.
“What’s wrong with him?” One of the men say, panicked, knife out. The other lunges at Yoongi, slashing and cutting into the air. Yoongi dodges easily, hands out. He jabs again into the guys chest, and another along the guy’s arm, fingers pressed harshly into all his pressure points. The other man’s arm is completely immobilized, and he falls over, frozen.
The last opponent simply runs and drops his knife. Jungkook walks over and stares at the fallen man, his face still twitching.
“What the fuck.” Jungkook says.
“You just seem… so lazy and leisurely.”
“I am.” Yoongi says. “Doesn’t mean I can’t fight.”
“Oh.” Jungkook says intelligently. He’s still trying to comprehend the sharp, fluid moves that Yoongi had employed on the failed-robbers. Yoongi had knocked them out in a smooth blow, with moves that were uncommon to the Earth Nation. To put it simply, it was advanced martial arts. No normal individual could do that. Not even Jungkook.
This is not some nobility-ass shit. Noblemen didn’t pull advanced martial arts techniques out of thin air like that. Or maybe they do, nowadays. Maybe learning combat is the new trend amongst nobility. What the hell does Jungkook know? He's just seriously wondering who the hell Yoongi is, now.
“We should get back.” Yoongi suggests, “Chi blocking isn’t effective for long periods of time.”
He pokes at one of the bodies with his foot.
“Chi blocking.” Jungkook echoes.
“I’m not great at it. Never got the full and proper training for it, which is why I also knocked them out.” Yoongi walks forward, and Jungkook follows desperately after. Yoongi makes a fist with his hands, staring contemplatively down at his curled fingers. “Honestly, it’s been a while.”
“Since you fought?”
“Yeah. Hand-to-hand isn’t really my thing.”
The entire conversation is so loaded.
“Are you a soldier?” Jungkook blurts out. It’s the only explanation, except for the tiny problem that soldiers don’t get paid in gold fucking ingots.
“… I guess, in a way.”
“Are you Dai Li?” Jungkook whispers hesitantly.
Yoongi snorts. “No, no. Definitely not. Don’t worry about that.”
They reach the front of the tea house, and Yoongi hands one of the large bags to Jungkook.
“I enjoyed the night.” Yoongi drops suddenly, looking serious. He stares directly at Jungkook. The eye contact and attention is overwhelming. Jungkook suddenly feels pronouncedly awkward.
“Me too.” Jungkook says, trying to stay casual. “Except for the attempted theft, obviously.”
Yoongi laughs. It’s a good look on him, and Jungkook’s heart pounds offensively against his ribcage.
“At least you got to see me move willingly, for once.”
“Yeah. You were really cool.” Jungkook stamps down the rising embarrassment and determinedly looks up. “I’d love to do this again? Like, hanging out.”
Jungkook exhales. It'd taken a surge of confidence to even utter that single sentence.
Yoongi says, “I’ll take you out to eat, next time.” His face is soft, gentle. When Yoongi turns to leave, he says, “Stay safe, alright?”
“I should be saying that to you!” Jungkook calls out. But after witnessing Yoongi’s freakishly skilled combat skills, he’s not too worried about it.
Instead, Jungkook sets the bags down and clutches his face. He pats his cheeks a few times, feeling the burning of his skin. His heart is still beating traitorously fast.
Jungkook is in so, so much trouble.
Jungkook wakes up and stares at the three gigantic bags of expensive cloth. All the seat mats in the tea house will be upgraded now, as well as their curtains and bedsheets. Frankly, after Yoongi’s arrival, Jungkook’s overall quality of living had increased significantly. Jungkook never would've thought that one day he'd like one of those Middle Ringer's.
Seokjin has the morning shift this time. Jungkook had requested the change in anticipation that he’d be out late with Yoongi. Jungkook walks down the stairs blearily and peeks from behind the curtain into the main tea house room. As usual, there are no guests, except for… wait.
Is that Yoongi and Seojin. Talking to each other?
And they’re not simply talking. No, they seem to be having an intense, heated discussion, Seokjin’s arms gesturing heavily in front of him as Yoongi nods or shakes his head quickly. Jungkook wonders if he should butt in or just leave and pretend he’d never seen the conversation at all. He’s not close enough yet with Yoongi to join the conversation, so Jungkook heads back upstairs to his room, jittery and curious. He promises that he'll come back down in a few minutes to make sure they're not fighting or something.
Mechanically, Jungkook lifts open his floorboards and checks the box with the ingots, since there’s nothing else for him to do. Jungkook pauses. The hatch for the box is open. An impending sense of dread rises inside him.
Jungkook opens the box and all the ingots are there, which means it's not a thief.
It doesn't take a genius to realize that tampering means someone in the house had seen the gold ingots. Seokjin had found it. Jungkook groans.
No wonder Seokjin had seemed so tense.
The interaction between Yoongi and Seokjin takes on a whole new lens now, and Jungkook rushes back downstairs, prepared to explain himself. No, Yoongi isn't a creeper. The money is actually from underground bending. Yeah, Jin, I'm sorry, I told you I wouldn't participate in Rumble Ring anymore. Just thinking of having to explain the situation gives Jungkook a headache.
This is just great.
woohoo! happy pride month <3
tbh I'm surprised i have the time to update haahaha
Chapter 3: rumble ring
By the time Jungkook enters into the room, Seokjin and Yoongi are sitting across from each other peacefully, sipping tea.
Jungkook stares at the two suspiciously. Yoongi looks innocently back at him.
“Jin.” Jungkook warns, turning to look at the other man. The tip of Jin’s ears are red, which is telling. “What were you two talking about?”
Yoongi quirks his head accusingly, as if to say, ‘yeah, what were we talking about, huh?’
“I thought he was exchanging money for sexual favors!” Jin finally spills, heaving a big sigh. “You really can’t have thought I wasn’t noticing all the recent upgrades in the tea house, right?”
The words ‘sexual favors’ echo appallingly around Jungkook’s frozen and rapidly emptying brain.
“What the fuck? Definitely not.”
“Maybe social favors,” Yoongi pipes in unhelpfully. “Sexual, though? Not yet.”
Jungkook’s face falls into his palms at the ‘yet’. Why is Yoongi like this? Jungkook has been getting a better grasp of the other man’s humor as they get to know each other, and Yoongi is funny, it’s just that his brand of humor isn’t particularly supplemental at the moment.
“Why?” Jungkook bemoans, voice muffled through his hands. He doesn’t even want to look at Seokjin’s face.
“I thought you said you two weren’t romantic.” Seokjin voices dangerously, tone low.
Yoongi replies calmly, “We aren’t. Look at him. He can’t even look at us right now.”
What a bastard. Jungkook looks up defiantly just for that comment, pushing at Yoongi’s shoulder lightly with his right hand, face still burning. Yoongi pats his hand condescendingly before he can pull away. It’s both infuriating and affectionate. When Jungkook looks up, he realizes that Seokjin is staring at them both like his veins are going to spontaneously combust into molten lava; never a good sign.
“Well,” Jungkook clears his throat in the silence, “We’re not whatever you think we are.” He flails his hands awkwardly in an attempt to explain himself. “And uh, Yoongi and I are going to head out now, so. Bye!”
Then he grabs at Yoongi’s arm and scrams out of there.
“My new nemesis.” Yoongi shakes his head sadly as he’s dragged out. “And to think Seokjin has been so nice while pouring my tea the last three months.”
Jungkook bites at his lip, trying to stifle his laughter. He’s a little surprised that Yoongi is talking so much, but it’s a pleasant surprise. Yoongi is funny.
“I can’t believe he thought I was your sexual benefactor.” Yoongi continues. “Do I look like a creeper or something?”
“It’s the shoes.” Jungkook says once they’re out in the bustling streets. He shoots a disdainful look at Yoongi’s silk reed sandals.
“The snark,” Yoongi complains. “They’re more comfortable than boots. Don’t judge me.”
Truthfully, Jungkook has no right to judge. His fashion sense is infinitely worse, and by that, he means that he has no sense of fashion at all. Seokjin finds it tragic. Thankfully, Seokjin has never seen Halla, who looks like she rolled out of a dumpster half the time. It’s all part of her underground facilitator aesthetic, Jungkook supposes.
“Jin will get over it,” Jungkook says sympathetically. “He’s just shocked at all the money.”
“You haven’t even spent half of it.”
Jungkook gives Yoongi a look. “Exactly.”
Yoongi throws his hands into the air in exasperation. “Whatever.”
They both stand outside for a still moment, making eye contact for a hot second before looking abruptly away. A group of kids scream in the street, playing tag with each other. The market is bustling with high energy.
“I guess I should head back now—” Yoongi starts.
“Do you want to go to Rumble Ring with me, sometime?” Jungkook asks.
They both pause. Jungkook’s heart is racing. He doesn’t know where he even got the confidence to say something like that, only that he doesn’t want Yoongi to leave. That he wants to do something fun with him, something different.
“Oh,” Yoongi says, surprised. “Yeah, I’d love that.”
Yoongi hasn’t made it a secret that earthbending fascinates him— the strong, firm movements, gliding and pushing motions of the hand. He always asks about how it feels for Jungkook to bend and how he’d gotten so skilled. Even a non-earthbender can recognize how good Jungkook is.
“Okay. Yeah— um. Great! I’ll see you tomorrow, then?” Jungkook stumbles over his words.
Yoongi ruffles Jungkook’s hair. “Yep.” And then he leaves, walking coolly away, hands in his pockets.
Jungkook gets back to the tea house drudgingly, not wanting to face Seokjin’s wrath.
Strangely, Seokjin is working casually at the counter, pouring some tea leaves through a filter. He looks up and sees Jungkook, face flashing with some indistinguishable emotion before gesturing for Jungkook to come over.
Jungkook sits down primly, awaiting judgment. Seokjin would never actually get angry at him for something like this, but it’s never nice getting berated.
“I hope you know what you’re doing.” Is all the man says warningly, eyes still focused on the flowing tea pot, hands carefully pouring the hot water down the drain. The lack of eye contact relaxes Jungkook minutely.
“Of course I do. And it’s nothing like what you’re thinking.”
Seokjin sighs, brushing a few leaves into the sink with his finger. “He seems nice, to be honest. You could’ve done worse.”
“I just told you, it’s nothing like that!” Jungkook groans emphatically.
Seokjin shoots him a knowing look. “Do you see the way he looks at you?”
The question is so out of the blue that Jungkook pauses. “What do you mean?”
“You’re so clueless,” Seokjin says, rolling his eyes. “He likes you.”
Jungkook's cheeks burn.
“He’s also very generous with his tips,” Seokjin adds, waggling his eyebrows suggestively. Wow, this is significantly worse than getting scolded. The teasing comments are literally wounding.
Jungkook stomps away petulantly. Yoongi? Liking him? What’s there to like? Jungkook isn’t particularly spectacular. He’s just a normal kid living in the Lower Ring, working at a tea shop. Granted, he does participate in illegal earthbending matches sometimes, but that shouldn’t make him more attractive, especially to a seemingly well-established man like Yoongi.
It has been three months of Yoongi’s daily visits. And what they did yesterday— it certainly doesn’t count as a date. Or does it? Jungkook ticks off a few memorable moments of the night in his mind.
- They'd bantered and perused the Lower Ring together.
- Yoongi had bought him food and gifts. And then saved him from thugs, like some sort of storybook hero.
- Then, they’d gone home, but not before Yoongi declared his desire to spend time with Jungkook again.
Scratch that— after reiteration, the entire thing was starting to sound awfully like a date. Jungkook swallows and buries his face into his pillow, pitifully moaning his frustrations into the soft goose feathers that he’d only been able to afford because of Yoongi. He can’t even fucking sleep now without being inundated by reminders of the wealthy man's existence. Seokjin will probably get angry at him for lazily napping in the afternoon, but Jungkook is exhausted just thinking of all this.
He closes his eyes and drifts away.
The week goes by in a blur.
Now that the money situation is out in the open, Jungkook finds no need to hide the exorbitant amount of wealth from Seokjin. They’d both opened the box and stared hopelessly at the six gold ingots. It’s strange— always needing money and now having too much. Neither of them even know how to spend it, too used to their penny-pinching ways.
“If we were in the Middle Ring, then yeah, I could maybe spend this.” Jin confesses, closing the box. “But the Lower Ring? Can we even show someone this without getting robbed?”
“My point exactly.” Jungkook says. “Believe me, I tried to tell Yoongi this.”
“You tried to tell Yoongi something? I’m surprised you were assertive enough to talk at all.” Jin jokes.
Even with the leftovers of the first gold ingot, they’d managed to renovate the entire teahouse, which really just emphasized how much fucking money there was. They polished up on outside wood and paint, solidified the stone base against rain and mud, switched all the seat mats, chairs, and tea supplies for higher grade materials. In a way, it had all been done apprehensively since Jin was worried there would be decreased business— that the tea house would be deemed too fancy by local inhabitants. Thankfully, keeping prices low had done the job. By the time the changes were over, business was bustling as before. In fact, word of mouth was bringing new customers in.
Yoongi sits in the entire month appraisingly, but only in short spurts. Jungkook doesn’t know where he goes—only that he comes back frowning and irritated. It’s weird.
He hopes that Yoongi is okay.
“Here,” Jungkook says, setting a plate of dumplings down in front of Yoongi. Who looks rather dead inside. “You haven’t eaten.”
“You haven’t either though. Sit down.”
Flustered, Jungkook sits gingerly. Yoongi picks up a pair of chopsticks and gestures to the plate in front of him.
“We can share.”
The firm, unrelenting way Yoongi speaks gets Jungkook each time. Yoongi is playful and funny and certainly not always serious, but one constant is his internal strength. Jungkook really likes that.
“So?” Jungkook asks, arching an eyebrow as he practically inhales a dumpling. Apparently, he’s more hungry than he’d thought.
Yoongi’s voice is deadpan. “So, what.”
“So… why’re you so tired this week?”
Yoongi chews slowly and deliberately on a dumpling. He swallows before replying.
“Work. It’s—” Yoongi sighs. “It’s confidential. But it seems like I’m going to be at the Lower Ring longer than expected.”
“Oh.” Jungkook can’t help but feel a little hurt. “Do you not want to be here?”
“It’s not you.” Yoongi says, so direct that Jungkook’s eyes widen. “It’s the fact that my… project is going nowhere right now.”
It’s vague and mildly suspicious, but Jungkook gets it. Maturity comes with growing pains, especially for Jungkook the last few years, in the throes of puberty. He’s always been intent on constantly growing and learning. Stagnating is never a good feeling. Jungkook bites his lip sympathetically.
“Is there anything I could do to help?”
Yoongi’s lips part in surprise. “You want to help me.”
It comes out as a lilting statement rather than a question.
“Well, we have known each other for three months now.” Jungkook fights down the embarrassment rising within him and stares at his lap. “I’d say we’re friends.”
“Of course we’re friends.” Yoongi snaps. Then he swallows, eyes roaming from the blush on Jungkook's cheeks to the way Jungkook can't seem to look him in the eye. “Wait… do you like me?”
The question is so unexpected that Jungkook feels like he took a blunt hammer to the head. His throat is heavy. Speech feels impossible.
“I—uh. I—” Jungkook splutters, a picture of verbal incompetence.
“Because,” The tips of Yoongi’s ears are red, “I’m pretty into you. Ideally, you’d feel the same way.”
“You like me?” Jungkook croaks out.
“I do.” Pause. “This is a really bad idea, but whatever.”
Jungkook assumes Yoongi is referring to the fact that he’ll eventually have to leave the Lower Ring, but this is the first time Jungkook has had relatively strongish feelings for someone and had them reciprocated. It’s all a bit unbelievable.
Hesitant, Jungkook asks, “What now?”
“We can date.” Yoongi allows, staring fondly from across the table, arms crossed. “Whatever you want.”
The accommodating broadness is probably due to Jungkook’s obvious inexperience, which only makes him more determined.
“Let’s date.” Jungkook says. “I— uh, yeah. I like you. Wow, I should just never talk again.”
Yoongi snorts. “You only embarrass yourself when you get embarrassed. Stop that.”
“Ugh, I wish I could. This is all your fault.”
They smile at each other, ignoring the minor tint of pink on their cheeks. Jungkook is giddy with happiness, nearly lightheaded. They converse casually as they eat. Every interaction is shy and new and freshly awkward, until Yoongi leaves with a brush of his fingers against the top of Jungkook’s hand.
The visit to Rumble Ring is pushed back with the development of their new relationship. Jungkook tests the word out in his mouth. ‘Relationship’. The word is almost humorous, considering how unexpected the entire thing was. Jungkook had never expected to date someone— fight, work at the tea shop, avoid the war, yeah. But Yoongi’s insertion was welcome. Jungkook is visibly happier, and everyone could see it.
“Well, you’re freakishly energetic.” Yuna says, sifting through the coin he’d dropped on her desk.
Her family was in metalworking— they sourced steel and iron and bronze, crafting them into valuable sold goods. He’d practically grown up with her and Yugyeom, whose parents managed a cloth dye business.
“I am not.” Jungkook protests.
Yuna doesn’t even look up. “You are.”
She can be infuriating. It’s fine. Jungkook really needs these metal tea infusers.
“It’s the jade bangle guy, isn’t it?” Yuna asks, reaching below the counter to grab three new sets of strainers and infusers. “There’s something between you two.”
Jungkook exhales. “How did you know?”
She looks up at him. “People come and go through the Lower Ring, but when someone stays, word gets around.” Then, her eyes twinkle with mirth. “Yugyeom thinks you’re fucking the guy for money.”
Truly, Jungkook dies a little on the inside.
“Why does everyone think that?”
“We’d be blind if we didn’t notice the sudden tea house upgrades.” Yuna says, “Rich-guy must really like you.”
“I hope so.” Jungkook says, and Yuna’s head jerks up in surprise.
“Jeon Jungkook? Vocalizing his emotions?” She echoes in disbelief. “I think my ears are defective.”
“I hate you.” He mutters, grabbing the infusers and leaving, her laughter ringing in his head. They’d hung out constantly as children, especially when he had first moved to the Lower Ring, depressed and unstable in the aftermath of the Fire Nation attacks. Yuna and Yugyeom had helped. Then they’d gotten older, managing the responsibilities of their respective businesses. Time became rare, playdates indulgent. But they made time to visit. And most importantly, they knew each other very, very well.
Which was a far cry from Yoongi and Jungkook. Frankly, they didn’t know each other well at all. Jungkook knew things like Yoongi’s favorite color and what foods he liked to eat. Jungkook also knew his habits— like when Yoongi would forget to eat, or sleep. His mood. But the more personal things? His family, his job? The details were intentionally vague, and Jungkook didn’t know how to feel about it.
“I’m really just a boring guy,” Yoongi professes shamelessly, “Not sure why you’d want to know more.
Jungkook straight up glowers at him for the shitty answer.
“Okay,” Yoongi finally concedes. “My family is wealthy. Nobility.”
“Earth Nation nobility?” Jungkook whispers conspiratorially.
Yoongi shrugs. “I can neither confirm nor deny.”
It’s essentially a confirmation anyway, and Jungkook tingles with the shock of it. He’d expected it, but… still. Nobility? Jungkook was just a street rat, and here he was, dating someone who he’d never expected to even shake hands with in his lifetime.
“Don’t look so surprised.” Yoongi says, wry. “That’s not even the most shocking thing about me.”
“What else could there possibly be?” Jungkook asks dubiously.
“Believe me,” Yoongi says, “You don’t want to know.”
Later in the week, they visit Rumble Ring together. It’s actively hectic at night, and Jungkook leads Yoongi through the twisting alleyways of the Lower Ring. It can be dangerous at night— knowing his way around can be a literal lifesaver for someone like Yoongi, who’s basically a foreigner.
The gatekeeper is the same guy as before. Two twisting dragon tattoos winding up his arm. He recognizes Jungkook this time, waving him in. Yoongi follows hastily, out of his element.
The hallway is exactly the same as Jungkook remembers it. It’s been more than a month since he’s been back— Halla probably never expected to see him here again. And Jungkook feels powerful here. This is his domain. The realm of earthbending, upon which he has the ultimate dominion.
“And who,” Halla says from behind them, “The fuck is this?”
Jungkook whirls around, smiling. Halla smirks, wrapping a congenial arm around him and reaching out to shake Yoongi’s hand firmly. Her eyes narrow.
“Aren’t you that rich ass guy who left Jungkook a ton of money?”
Yoongi’s lip twitches. “Yes.”
“Well,” Halla declares, “You’re more than welcome here.”
They’re led to the back, a place Jungkook is intimately familiar with. The same washcloths and bins, bandages and wound dressings. The low hanging stone ceiling with the dingy lights. The sink is a lot nicer than before though— instead of suspicious brown stains, the porcelain is clean and new. Halla had clearly done some upgrading in the last two months.
“Why’re you back?” Halla asks, dusting her hands off on the side of her black trousers.
Jungkook jerks his head at Yoongi. “Boyfriend wanted to see Rumble Ring again.”
“Great place.” Yoongi adds. Halla looks between them, her face spreading into a grin.
“Boyfriend?” She laughs uproariously. “Good going, Jeon! Oh, man.” Then she frowns, wiggling her fingers. “It’s not a sex thing, though, is it?”
Jungkook buries his head onto Yoongi’s shoulder, moaning piteously. He hears Yoongi chuckle, shaking his head.
“Yeah, no. That seems to be a common misconception.”
Halla gestures to Yoongi’s holistic presence, as if his mere existence should explain the aforementioned ‘misconception’. Jungkook looks at Yoongi and sees the pristine clothing, the refined, but casual movements. Yoongi is evidently cultured, but still.
“So?” Halla asks. “Are you fighting?”
Yoongi looks at Jungkook. “Are you?”
“Sure,” Jungkook acquiesces. It’s not a big deal— earthbending is second nature to him, and Jungkook loves the thrill of it. He hasn’t had as much combat practice recently, only going through basic exercises every morning. This will be fun.
He shrugs off his coat, grabbing at the bandages and wrapping them around his fingers. Yoongi stares, eyes dark.
“There are a few newcomers today,” Halla mentions, handing him a glass of water, “There’ve been a lot of newcomers in general, recently. I think you’ll enjoy this.”
“Oh?” Yoongi asks, interested. “Newcomers?”
“People who want to fight, but aren’t well known in the Earth Rumble series.” Jungkook explains, finally done gearing up. “That used to be me.”
Halla laughs, pushing Jungkook forward. “And now you’re a veteran. Alright, go on in, kid.”
Jungkook steps forward, but not before dropping a kiss on Yoongi’s cheek. Doing it in front of Halla is a little embarrassing, especially because she bluntly hoots at them like a degenerate, but the aura of Rumble Ring makes him more confident and self-assured. Yoongi brushes a hand against Jungkook’s shoulder, thumb rubbing comfortingly in circles before nudging him forward.
“Be careful.” Yoongi warns, easing into a slight worry and protectiveness that makes Jungkook feel all warm inside.
And then Jungkook steps forward. The roar of the crowd is familiar; some of them probably recognize him.
“Jeon is a six-time champion in the Rumble series!” The commentator shouts. “He’s the last contestant of the night, an aggressive opponent known for his sharp moves!”
Jungkook closes his eyes and breathes in, then out. The noises genuinely coalesce into a rumble, staying true to the name of its home. Jungkook opens his eyes and stares across the arena at the man entering from the other entrance. Narrow face, arched nose, nice clothing— all of it strangely familiar, for some reason. The man is boldly confident. Something about the entire situation seems just a tiny bit off.
And then the announcer thunders: “Will this first-time newcomer be able to take on Jeon? His name is… Jung Hoseok!”
Chapter 4: hoseok
Jung Hoseok shoots Jungkook a blinding grin.
“Let’s have fun!” He shouts, seconds before the commentator yells, “Begin!”
Jungkook barely gets a moment to align himself before Hoseok barrels a huge, oversized boulder at him.
This guy is fast. He soars into the air, propelled by a lift in the stone directly underneath him— the man uses his earthbending for flight momentum. It’s a very non-earthbender thing to do and it practically screams of creativity.
Jungkook runs to the opposite side of the ring, avoiding the pummeling rocks shooting down at him from above. Hoseok lands on the ground with a profound thud, and the entire stadium rumbles. His eyes are serious, lips pursued. Jung Hoseok is shockingly, appallingly, skilled at earthbending.
But Jungkook hadn’t won all those battles at Rumble Ring for nothing. He twirls around and arcs his left arm downwards, hurling a disc shaped stone at Hoseok. Jungkook begins projecting multiple stones, slowly making his way around the edge of the ring. Hoseok slashes his arms down—the discs shatter onto the stone floor around him. The distraction is enough for Jungkook to slam his fists into the ground and levitate a huge, gargantuan boulder at the man across from him. Hoseok’s mouth drops open moments before the boulder smashes into him. The stadium erupts into a dull roar of approval.
Jungkook narrows his eyes, body still. The match isn’t over yet. He knows better than to let his guard down.
Somehow, Jungkook meets Yoongi’s gaze in the crowd across the stadium. Yoongi is sitting in the middle seats, for some reason looking visibly tense. It’s perhaps the most tense Jungkook has ever seen him.
As the dust settles from the impact, Jungkook makes out a shadow of a figure standing up.
“Ow.” Hoseok says, dusting a rock off his fancy shirt. “You’re really good.”
No, the ‘good’ one here is Hoseok. Jungkook has never been challenged like this before in earthbending— Hoseok is evidently a proficient, experienced earthbender. He bends like he’s been in the war zone; unrelenting yet flexible. Jungkook’s style isn’t nearly as stable. He’s aggressive and fierce; more characteristic of firebending. It’s what makes Jungkook so dangerous.
Hoseok smirks, slipping into a fighting stance. He runs straight forward as Jungkook levels himself defensively. The move is direct and transparent, and Jungkook is beset with confusion at the head-on attack.
When Hoseok gets close, he whispers wryly, “How’s Yoongi doing?”
His form grows lax for a brief moment. A moment is all Hoseok needs.
The man contorts his body into a powerful twist and punches Jungkook straight out of the ring. Jungkook hits the outside of the ring with ‘oomph’.
His body burns.
The crowd is completely silent— they’d evidently been expecting the six-time winner Jungkook to defeat the expensive, pretentious looking newcomer. Instead, Hoseok reigns supreme, arms crossed as he raises a fist into the air and cheers alone. Clearly, the guy is a delight. Jungkook groans, lifting his body up and ignoring the painful ache in his arm. Hoseok had gotten him good. The man knows Yoongi? It was the perfect distraction during a match— Jungkook vows to be more focused during battle for the future. If this were a real battle, he’d be long dead. Ugh.
Halla rushes over to help him limp into the backroom. The commentator screams something as the crowd cheers.
The loss isn’t a big deal. It’s not like Jungkook needs the money, anyway. His pride, however, has taken a hit.
Yoongi arrives at the back just as Halla dabs a wad of cotton against a cut in Jungkook’s forehead. He’d walked in calmly, but his breath is short.
“Are you okay? You’re injured?” Yoongi asks quickly, striding forwards. He rests a hand on Jungkook’s shoulder and drops it when Jungkook hisses. Yoongi’s panicked expression amplifies.
“I’m fine.” Jungkook insists. Yoongi shoots him a dirty look.
“I’m not great with redressing wounds.” Yoongi confesses. His hands flutter uselessly.
“Jeon’s a hardy kid.” Halla mutters, clapping her hands together after she inspects Jungkook’s arm. “You’re going to be just fine. Nothing broken.”
Jungkook nods, used to these procedures from weeks of consistent battle years back. Yoongi observes anxiously at the side. For someone so suave, Yoongi is certainly worried now. It’s amusing and cute.
“I’ll be at the front,” Halla jerks her head to the ring. She owns Rumble Ring, and the matches are still going on, though she appears reluctant to leave Jungkook in the back. “Make sure he doesn’t do something stupid.” She says to Yoongi, who makes an inaudible noise of affirmation from the back of his throat.
“Yoongi,” Jungkook sighs, seeing the look on the shorter man’s face.
This is when Hoseok walks in.
Yoongi’s worried look fades into one of momentous rage.
“What the fuck.” Yoongi articulates, calmly furious as he glares at the taller man.
The contender shrugs, unaffected by the aura of general anger emanating from Yoongi. Instead, Hoseok heads directly to the water pitcher and pours himself a glass. Jungkook is still wondering how he found the back room in the first place. It’s exclusively reserved for individuals who personally know Halla.
Yoongi scowls at the blatant disregard and Jungkook wraps a hand around his arm, tugging him downwards. Getting into fights with strangers is never a good idea. Yoongi exhales and lets himself be pulled onto the wooden chair behind him.
“So,” Hoseok says once he faces them, leaning against the wall. “Mingling with the commoners now, are we?”
“Are you serious right now?” Yoongi enunciates. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“I wanted to know why you weren’t visiting me!” Hoseok finally exclaims. “Letter after letter saying you were busy in the Lower Ring? You hate the Lower Ring.”
“Hey.” Yoongi says, offended. He’s rudely interrupted.
“One letter after you say you’ve found a decently nice tea house and then I hear practically nothing from you for months besides ‘I’m fine’?” Hoseok waves the aforementioned letter between his hands psychopathically. Yoongi winces, anger slowly dissipating.
It dawns on Jungkook that the two know each other quite well for them to speak so familiarly. He glances between them rapidly as they continue arguing.
“Do you know how dangerous this is? I can't keep covering for you. I—”
Yoongi shakes his head frantically. He jerks his head slightly in Jungkook’s direction. As if Jungkook can’t fucking see all of this going on in front of him. Jungkook’s lips tighten imperceptibly.
“Uh… oh. I meant, yes, you are a normal, Earth Nation citizen… who is friends with me.” Hoseok trails off, narrowing his eyes at Yoongi. “By the way, who is this?”
Jungkook waves a hand awkwardly in a wave.
“This is Jungkook. My boyfriend.” Yoongi emphasizes the word. It’s a good feeling.
Hoseok hesitates, eyes darting to Jungkook. “Like... romantically?”
Hoseok double-takes and narrows his eyes at Jungkook— as if realizing Jungkook is a particularly interesting specimen suddenly deserving of attention. The man gives Jungkook a visible once-over, settling for a second longer on Jungkook's face.
"Of course he is." Yoongi says.
“Is— this… a good idea?” Hoseok asks haltingly. Each word comes out clumsily, like Hoseok isn’t sure how to phrase it.
And frankly, Jungkook has had enough of this. He’d known the minute he saw Hoseok— from the gilded green collar, the high-end dress pants, the hair and the slight tan around his wrist where a bracelet was usually worn. Maybe it was even a jade one. This man is Upper Ring material.
Jungkook sighs. “I know Yoongi is nobility. You don’t have to pretend—he’s told me everything already.”
Yoongi perks up. “Yep. Exactly. Hoseok, you can stop acting so suspicious now.”
Hoseok glances between the two of them and then his mouth opens in a little ‘ah’ motion. It’s like something has clicked in his mind. He smiles (radiantly) at Jungkook and reaches out for a handshake.
“Well,” Hoseok says, “I guess I should introduce myself, then. My name is Jung Hoseok, and my father sits on the Council of Five.”
Jungkook’s head throbs. He holds the ice pack firmly against his temple. Unfortunately, his arm is sore and already growing weary. Yoongi frowns and reaches over, pulling Jungkook’s hand down and holding the ice pack instead. Hoseok watches this interaction with thorough, rapt attention.
“Wow,” Hoseok says, “I’ve never seen Yoongi do that before.”
Yoongi’s cheeks attain a slight pink hue. “No one fucking asked.”
Hoseok shrugs before turning to Jungkook. “I’m really sorry about your head. And your arm. If I knew you were dating Yoongi, then…”
Jungkook is already shaking his head. “No, I liked the challenge. You’re really good at earthbending.”
That’s a given though. You can’t not be good at earthbending when your father is a general in the Council of Five. Consisting of the five highest ranking generals in the Earth Kingdom, the Council of Five was the commanding body holding dominion over the entire Earth Kingdom military, including its fortresses, troops, and army. All the generals were decorated military veterans— elites who had withstood the test of time. General Wu had defended the Earth Kingdom from multiple attempted infiltrations, such as the one from the Fire Nation a decade ago. Meanwhile, General Jung, Hoseok’s father, watched over Omashu.
Jungkook is still attempting to wrap his head around the reality that Hoseok isn’t just nobility— he’s part of the elite, military ruling class. And Yoongi knows him.
“You’re not so bad at earthbending yourself.” Hoseok mentions, sounding impressed. “Actually, you’re better than most soldiers I know.”
“No.” Yoongi says.
Hoseok ignores him. “If you’re interested in the military, I could help you get started. You’d be a great asset! I promise it’s fun. Most of the time. Haha.”
“Absolutely not.” Yoongi repeats, looking mildly murderous. The aura is directed holistically towards Hoseok, who lets the projected anger slide off him like water.
Before Rumble Ring, Jungkook had strongly considered conscripting. It offered easy pay and lodging, albeit it was a dangerous profession— Jungkook was good at earthbending. He relished in battle.
But Seokjin had been angry beyond belief— his annoying little baby, joining the military? No way in hell. Sure, Seokjin regularly teased Jungkook and their arguments were a daily recurrence, but Jungkook would forever be ‘protectable’ to him. So Jungkook had stashed away his ambitions of joining the military and subscribed to the potentially even more dangerous world of illegal bending. Jin hadn’t been all too happy about that one, either.
This avenue had long been considered and thrown out. Jungkook shakes his head and declines politely.
“The military isn’t really an option for me.” Jungkook says. “I have to tend to the tea house.”
Hoseok raises an eyebrow.
“So you’re the owner of that tea house Yoongi mentioned.”
“Technically, I’m not the owner of the tea house.” Jungkook says, but they weren't looking at him anymore. An indescribable look passed between the two of them. Yoongi broke the eye contact first and looked away.
“Well!” Hoseok insists cheerfully, “How do you feel about visiting the Upper Ring?”
Jungkook blinks. Then he double-takes. “What?”
“The Upper Ring!” Hoseok repeats enthusiastically, as if Jungkook hadn’t heard it the first time. The reiteration is clarifying for Jungkook’s slowly numbing brain. “You know, the place where Yoongi should have been staying the last few months.”
Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Yeah, like I’d be able to get any work done in the Upper Ring.”
“It’s a perfect work atmosphere!”
“Maybe for you.” Yoongi snarks. Hoseok snorts before standing up and staring kindly down at Jungkook. His vibe is both friendly and assertive.
“So?” Hoseok asks, “How about a tour?”
Jungkook shifts a glance at Yoongi, who stares dangerously at Hoseok. Uncaringly, Hoseok crosses his arms and grins. The entire dynamic is strange but playful. Jungkook has never seen someone shrug off Yoongi’s dangerous, confident aura as easily as Hoseok.
“Um,” Jungkook says, peeking at Yoongi again, who sighs and closes his eyes. “Sure? I mean, if Yoongi is okay with it.”
“Oh, Yoongi is okay with it.” Hoseok smirks. “Right, Yoongi?”
Defeated, Yoongi opens his eyes and exhales. “Yeah, whatever.”
Hoseok claps his hands together, and that’s that.
They walk back together in a daze. Jungkook wonders what the hell just happened.
Sighing again, Yoongi rubs at his temple tiredly. Jungkook hesitates.
“So… you two are friends?” Jungkook asks. It’s still dark outside. A few crickets chirp expectantly into the night.
“Oh, we’re long-time friends.” Yoongi reassures. “I’m just not too keen on him pressuring you.”
“It’s really not a big deal. It actually seems like— you’re more bothered than I am?”
“Probably.” Yoongi agrees easily. The tea house is in view, now. “I grew up with him. We still disagree often."
Jungkook isn't surprised. The two have a strange, perplexing energy to them; this tenuous strain of tension coupled with the dichotomous comfort of an easy friendship. It seems like the two have a complex history.
"What do you argue over?" Jungkook asks, curious.
Jungkook slides open the tea house door, locked already by Seokjin, and raises an eyebrow at Yoongi, who stands frozen at the entrance before relaxing.
"You want me to the stay the night? Are you sure we're ready for that step?" Yoongi asks teasingly, stepping inside and taking off his coat. Jungkook splutters.
"I didn't mean— that's not what I meant."
Yoongi snorts. "I know. Just kidding."
The tea house is dark at night. They creep up the stairs quietly, trying not to wake Jin from his slumber. Jungkook has shown Yoongi the entire tea house before. The second floor has an array of guest rooms, initially for when the tea house had been a rentable inn as well. Jin had wanted to focus on their quality of tea rather than the holistic aspect of the business, so the guest rooms had been rendered empty in recent years. They were top-notch rooms, though, thanks to Yoongi's freakish sum of money available for renovations and room upgrades. Now, the beds were goose feather and silken, clean and soft.
Jungkook slides open the door next to his room and gestures inside.
"Your room." Jungkook whispers. "Do you need anything? Water, food?"
Yoongi doesn't look inside the room. He doesn't look away at all, in fact, except for the heated gaze he's shooting at Jungkook's face. Under the moonlight, Yoongi's pale skin practically glows, his eyes more intimidating than usual. It's pretty impressive how Hoseok hadn't been fazed by Yoongi at all. When Jungkook had first met Yoongi, he remembered the overwhelming nervousness. Along with attraction, of course, but mostly nervousness.
Now, Jungkook didn't know what to do. Yoongi was just—looking at him.
"I'm thinking a lot of embarrassing things right now." Yoongi utters casually.
"About what?" It's getting harder for Jungkook to breath. The air feels suddenly tight and warm.
Yoongi curls a warm, firm hand around Jungkook's neck and pulls him down for a open-mouthed kiss. Jungkook groans as Yoongi licks into his mouth expertly. It's not like Jungkook is a beginner at this by any means, but Yoongi makes him feel light-headed and fluttery and unsure. A little unbalanced, even. For some reason, Yoongi's hand, firm and unmoving at the back of Jungkook's neck, turns him on more than anything else.
When they separate, Yoongi's eyes are dark and heady, his mouth parted. Jungkook abruptly wonders how he looks to Yoongi. His lips are probably red, eyes dazed. He certainly feels that way.
"You're too attractive." Yoongi muses. "It's unfair."
"I'm your boyfriend." Jungkook manages.
Yoongi merely twitches his hand dismissively before laying down on his bed, his back barely visible in the darkness.
"Well," He says with a tone of finality. "Good night. Long day tomorrow."
Jungkook's jaw drops. His insistent boner doesn't plan to go away anytime soon, and Yoongi is going to sleep? It's practically infuriating. If Yoongi senses Jungkook's aghast presence, he doesn't acknowledge it. In fact, after a whole two minutes of standing there, Jungkook hears snores coming from the bed.
Frustrated, Jungkook slams the door more loudly than necessary before walking to his own room and standing there for a solid moment. He's never felt so sexually frustrated before, even if they hadn't really done anything.
Jungkook bites at his lip. He really, really shouldn't be doing this. Especially with Yoongi in the room right next to his.
Jungkook lays down and unhooks the tie at his pants, shuddering at the friction as he pulls his trousers, then his boxers down. He wraps a hand around his cock, closing his eyes at the instant relief. It's easy to imagine Yoongi's hand around his cock, or maybe his mouth. Jungkook bites down harder, struggling to keep his small, pathetic moans to a noisy minimum. He doesn't really care if Yoongi hears— it'd be embarrassing, but the bastard deserved it. Jin hearing, though? That's straight up self-persecution.
The slide of precum makes the steady movement of his hand easier, but it's not enough. Jungkook opens his eyes, staring at the ceiling. He philosophically contemplates his entire life for the quick second it takes to grab a bottle of lube off the table. Whatever. He's horny and Yoongi had instigated it.
Jungkook fits a finger inside himself, then two, rubbing insistent circles against his prostate. His hips buck hard into his hand as he moans brokenly. He wished that Yoongi was here, stroking at his thighs and nosing at his neck, pressing wet kisses up the long column of his throat. The thought is unbearably, deliciously hot, and he feels needier than usual.
"Oh—" Jungkook chokes out, the pressure building until his vision whitens. He shuts his eyes tightly as he circles his hips and pushes downwards on his hand, riding out the aftershocks.
Jungkook inhales and exhales shakily, trying to regain the calmness of his breathing. He grabs a few tissues from the side of the bed and cleans himself up.
By the time Jungkook curls into bed, clean and pristine once again, he's exhausted and still bitter at Yoongi's teasing. He falls asleep quickly, feeling more combative than usual. Yoongi is just too much, sometimes.
The Upper Ring is luxurious. It’s out of Jungkook’s imagination—he’d fantasized about high-end houses, fancy clothes, snooty and pretentious nobles. But the pure architectural scope of the landscape was unprecedented. Waterfalls and rivers and stone statues laid the path to each individual house, their roofs embellished with flowery stone carvings. Noblewomen walked past them meticulously and delicately, faces brushed with white powder and hair lifted in complex Earth-style combs and braids. The only girl Jungkook knows who remotely cares about how she looks is Yuna (definitely not Halla), and Yuna’s style is glaringly plain in comparison to the people here.
Hoseok and Yoongi walk amongst the scenery with ease, conversing quietly to each other. The way they interact is intimately familiar. Yoongi calm in the face of Hoseok’s energy and Hoseok confident against Yoongi’s sarcasm and wry humor.
Jungkook places a hand against the curled, white marble of a lion standing in front of a house. These decorations were so frivolous and bulky. In the Lower Ring, something like this would be stolen, or desecrated. Or most likely, there would be no room to place something as large as this.
"Jungkook?" Yoongi says, pausing in his walk. Hoseok stops as well, looking back at Jungkook.
Shaking his head lightly, Jungkook replies, "It's nothing."
"Did you sleep well?" Yoongi asks. His face is expressionless, but Jungkook can tell he's being teased.
"I hate you."
Hoseok chimes in, "Whoa. Hate? That's a strong word. And you've only known him for like, what, a few months? Wait until you know him for a few years."
This time, Yoongi is the one glowering. Jungkook snickers.
They stop in front of a regal looking building, giant-set doors opening into a large, empty courtyard. The courtyard doors have a fancy, red sign that reads "Zhou's Earthbending Academy".
"An Academy?" Jungkook voices, reading the sign slowly. His grasp of Earth Nation standard is tenuous and frayed but existent. His parents had been firm about his language skills as a child, even if he hadn't gone to Academy later on in life. This, though, is an Earthbending Academy. Jungkook has never set foot in something like this, too expensive for him to afford. This one especially. The doors are gilded and the inside contains huge, sectioned off areas filled with pebbles, dirt, sand, and even mud. Almost every variation of simulation exists; did nobility send their earthbending capable children here?
"This is the only Earthbending Academy in Ba Sing Se. Cool, right?" Hoseok declares. "There's one in Gaoling and a really small one in Omashu. But that was dismantled because of the Fire Nation occupation."
Yoongi is already walking forwards by himself, hands in his pockets as he strides through the courtyard.
"Why're we here?" Jungkook asks.
"Can one of you break this open?" Yoongi asks, pointing at the mid sized lock on the door. Jungkook stares, appalled, as Hoseok lifts his hands and curls it into a fist. A load of stones stick into the lock, compressing until it breaks. Yoongi plays with the door until the lock falls, walking inside.
"I'll be right out." Yoongi says, right before he closes the door behind him.
Jungkook blinks. He looks behind them, towards the entrance to the courtyard. No one saw—no one was even remotely near the entire academy complex. He'd thought the Upper Ring would be more protected, but it's actually sparse and luxuriously confident in its safety. The entire school is empty as well.
"Students don't have class today." Hoseok explains. "And Yoongi needs to check on something. But I also wanted to teach you a cool move."
"Teach me." Jungkook repeats dubiously. "That's awfully nice of you."
A single class at this place would be how much—a few silver ingots? Either way, way too much for Jungkook to afford.
Hoseok laughs. "I'm not a teacher here. But you're Yoongi's boyfriend and you have a lot of potential. Why not?"
Clearly, Hoseok lives a carefree life. The man claps his hands together excitedly and walks to the sand pit. He sits down and jerks his head at Jungkook.
"Sand?" Jungkook notes, sitting crosslegged. Hoseok nods.
"Do you know the root exercise? Lets close our eyes."
"Yeah." Jungkook says. Halla had taught him. He closes his eyes and imagines the tree—the largest, greenest tree he can think of. Its expansive roots are planted deep within the earth, becoming one with the earth. No one can move this tree. It is stable, ageless. And now, Jungkook is the tree. His earthbending is linked irrevocably to this tree.
Hoseok inhales deeply and opens his eyes. "Good. Now, I want you to forget everything you just visualized."
"What?" Jungkook double-takes.
"Sandbending is nothing like that. You can't root yourself in the sand, nor can a tree. Instead of commanding the sand, you're guiding it."
Hoseok stands and holds out a single hand. The earth rumbles a little, and the sand in the pit shakes. Then, the sand begins rising with the dust as the ground shakes a little harder. It feels like a mini-earthquake. Hoseok twists his hands and circles his arms; the sand rises like a circular column into a vortex. Is this what they call a tornado? There's no air, though. Just small, tiny particles of sand and dust floating, evidently controlled, in the air. The entire contraptions falls once Hoseok puts his hands at his side.
"It's easier if there's wind." Hoseok says, "But that's the general gist of it! Make the sand rise using traditional earthbending, and then feel out the particles of sand as an accumulated mass—guide it, don't command it."
Jungkook furrows his eyebrows. He hopes his face is conveying the sizable doubt that he's feeling. He closes his eyes and senses the pit in front of him. It's uneven, unlike hard rock. His connection to the sand is frail. When Jungkook reaches out a hand to test the waters, he tries to move the block of sand like a block of earth. Instead, the sand merely trembles and shakes with a buzz.
With his eyes closed, Jungkook also senses the movement on the earth from behind him. He turns around.
Yoongi storms out, looking unhappy. "I need to head back to the Lower Ring."
"Immediately?" Hoseok asks, face turning serious.
Jungkook abandons his sandbending venture and ambles over to Yoongi's side. Yoongi rests a hand on Jungkook's shoulder.
"Thanks for inviting us." Jungkook says, trying to be courteous.
Yoongi adds, "This was helpful, Hoseok." The words are laden with meaning, heavy and secretive. Hoseok stares, frowning before he nods.
He escorts them back to the Upper Ring exit. The rest of the journey back is otherwise uneventful, and Jungkook dozes off onto Yoongi's shoulder on the monorail. But he can't help but wonder once he's back in the safety of the tea house— what exactly had Yoongi been looking for in that Academy?
Chapter 5: jade
Jungkook wakes up to the interspersing light of his curtains and the sound of roaming wagons rattling the awakening city. When he actually opens his eyes, however, Jungkook jerks up from shock.
Seokjin is standing over his bed, arms crossed unhappily.
“I’m not clothed!” Jungkook protests, covering up his naked chest. Seokjin stares down unforgivingly.
“Do I look like I give a shit?” Jin scoffs.
It was impressive how threatening a single question could sound. Jungkook swallows apprehensively.
“You went out last night, didn’t you?” Jin asks, tone warning. “Rumble Ring?”
Jungkook opens his mouth to lie and reconsiders just as quickly. He’s a poor liar, and judging by the look on Seokjin’s face, it wouldn’t go over well. At all.
“You’re right.” Jungkook replies meekly. He peeks up at Jin over his broad lashes. “I’m sorry.”
Jin continues staring inscrutably at him, lips tight.
“I really can’t control you.” Jin says finally, sighing as if he’s come to some sort of resigned conclusion in his mind. “I’m too old for this.”
Jungkook raises his eyebrows skeptically. “What the heck, you’re not old.”
Jin whirls around and exits out the door. “Too old to be dealing with you!” He calls out.
What a fantastic start to his morning. Jungkook blearily rubs his eyes and sits on the edge of his bed for a moment, gathering his thoughts. He changes out of his pajamas, washes his face, and double-checks the money under his floorboards. Everything is routine— which reminds Jungkook that just yesterday, he’d been in the Upper Ring with Hoseok, whose father was in the Council of Five. Yoongi’s circle of acquaintances.
The confirmation that Yoongi isn’t merely some high-brow wannabe (despite the sorely low statistical likelihood of that being true) is jarring. Jungkook knows people who matter, now. These are important, powerful people. Hoseok is a better earthbender than Jungkook. His father heads Omashu.
Jungkook has been sure of his place in the world for years— and now things are topsy turvy. Jungkook sighs. Maybe it will be a good change. It’s been good for the last few months, so why is he to think otherwise?
Emboldened, Jungkook grabs a light robe and slips downstairs.
“You heading out?” Jin asks, straining some tea leaves, still sounding a tinge disgruntled.
Jungkook looks down at his untied robe and pajamas. “Uh. Yeah.”
“Ugh. Whatever.” Jin says. “I’m just amazed.”
Jungkook snorts before leaving the tea house. What he’s wearing isn’t a big deal— to him, at least. He steps outside into the permeating stench of the city. It’s familiar, and in that sense, somewhat comforting.
The inn across the street is run by Miss Chau, the only unmarried woman above forty running a business in the vicinity of the tea shop. When Jungkook walks in, she doesn’t even look up from the stack of silver she is meticulously counting.
“Second door to the left.” She intones.
“Thanks, Miss Chau!”
Chau grunts. Jungkook grins. She’s one of his favorite people in the city— grumpy but accommodating.
True to her word, Yoongi is sitting in the breakfast room reading his notebook. It’s mostly empty, other than a boy dusting the back of the tiny room, disposing of a few rotten bananas.
Yoongi snaps the notebook shut when he sees Jungkook enter.
“Hi,” Yoongi smiles, “Just some light reading.”
“I see.” Jungkook comments, but doesn’t press further. He’d seen the notebook before— filled with organized scribbles of Yoongi’s handwriting, columns and rows of dates and names and addresses. Jungkook wonders what he’s hiding in there.
“Don’t.” Yoongi warns, bringing to attention that-unspeakable-thing between them for the first time. “It’s nothing you want to involve yourself with.”
Poleaxed, Jungkook’s jaw drops. “I didn’t say anything.”
“I saw the look on your face.”
Yoongi stands up, pocketing the notebook and stretching his arms nimbly. “I’m an observant guy.”
Strangely endeared, Jungkook settles on his heels and decides to drop the issue entirely. He’s a street rat— people like him know how to pick and choose their battles.
“Alright,” Jungkook replies testily, “You’re choosing where we’re eating then, Mister Observant.”
Yoongi does not end up choosing where they go to eat.
“I know nothing about this place.” Yoongi says, deadpan. “You choose.”
It’s not a request, and while Jungkook normally refuses to take orders from people, this is a special case— one that involves his own taste buds.
They explore the rest of the Lower Ring together. The Lower Ring is huge, and Jungkook lives in only a small portion of it— the nicer, Northern portion.
“There’s this super delicious hot pot place on the Southern side.” Jungkook enthuses. “The grilled meat there is like. Mouthwateringly good.”
“I’m just hungry.” Yoongi says. “You know this place better than me.”
They walk through the main street, watching the quick-paced activity of the city. Yoongi reaches over and nudges at Jungkook’s hand, palm up. Jungkook turns to look at him— Yoongi is still resolutely looking straight forward, face giving no indication that he wants to hold hands. It’s so him that Jungkook snickers, interlacing their fingers and squeezing. He ignores the elevated rhythm of his heart. To get to the restaurant, they hop on a wagon and pay the rider a few coins. It’s a fairly common method of transportation there.
Ting’s Hot Pot Restaurant is a relatively large establishment, near the singular modal entrance to the Middle Ring. That’s probably why it’s so nice. Jungkook walks inside and holds up two fingers. The waitress nods and smiles, seating them near a window overlooking the Lower Ring.
“This is surprisingly nice.” Yoongi remarks, looking outside. “Great view.”
“Of course it is.” Jungkook says, feeling proud of his city. He’s Earth Nation down to his bones. Yoongi sips at his cold drink, smiling over the edge of the glass. And then the moment is interrupted.
“Jungkook!” Someone shouts, running over.
“Hi, Jimin!” Jungkook grins. The shorter, casually dressed man reaches over to ruffle at his hair. Jungkook bats his hand away.
“Nice to see you haven’t changed.” Jimin retorts, “As cute as ever.”
Yoongi’s smile turns strained. “Who is this?”
“This is Jimin,” Jungkook introduces, “He works here as a waiter. And this is Yoongi, my… boyfriend.”
It still feels weird rolling off his tongue, but in a good way. Jimin’s eyebrows are raised so high that they disappear into his bangs.
“Shit.” Jimin says. “I guess Tae wins three silver coins.”
Yoongi smirks. “That’s funny.”
“Hey,” Jimin shrugs. “The bet was back from when we first met you. I guess Tae has more hope than me.”
It’s simply great to know that his friends casually bet on his lack of a romantic life. Although, honestly, Jungkook probably would have bet like Jimin three months ago, too. Yoongi’s presence had been a complete wild card.
“Another childhood friend?” Yoongi asks.
Jungkook has talked about Yugyeom and Yuna more than once. He’s surprised that Yoongi remembers them enough to assume that Jimin is someone similarly familiar. Unfortunately, he’s off the mark.
Jimin shakes his head, patting Jungkook’s head. “I met this kid a few months ago when I started working here, during spring.”
The two share a smile. It’d been a few weeks before Jungkook had met Yoongi, actually; Jimin and Jungkook had hit it off immediately.
“Well,” Jimin says, “I’ll leave you two to your date. I have to keep working.” He grimaces.
“What about Tae?”
Jimin rolls his eyes. “He’s out in the city, practicing his bending.”
Jungkook blinks. “His waterbending?”
Neither of them notice Yoongi rapidly stiffening.
Jimin chuckles awkwardly at the question. “Yeah, uh. His waterbending is pretty awful, to be honest.”
“A waterbender.” Yoongi interjects glacially. “Interesting.”
Jimin pauses and stares at Yoongi, who stares back, chin resting in his palm.
“…Right. Well, I have to scram before the boss yells at me. Bye, Jungkook. Nice to meet you, Yoongi.”
“Nice to meet you, Jimin.” Yoongi says darkly. Jungkook glances between Yoongi and Jimin’s retreating back. What the heck had just happened? How unbearably awkward.
“This ‘Tae’ you two mentioned.” Yoongi says, “Wouldn’t happen to be called Taehyung, right?”
Jungkook swallows a gulp of water and almost chokes.
“Yeah.” A laden pause. “Yoongi, do you… know Taehyung, or something?”
“Not personally, no.”
Jungkook waits patiently, waiting for Yoongi to elaborate. He doesn’t. Jungkook doesn’t know why he even expected an explanation, at all. Typical Yoongi.
“Look, you can’t just say that and leave no explanation.” Jungkook retorts, short-tempered and annoyed.
“It has nothing to do with you.” Yoongi snaps. He abruptly pales, regret coloring his face. Then, Yoongi sighs. “It’s work. Sorry.”
A waitress stops by and places two plates on the table. Jungkook pokes at his dish awkwardly before looking up.
“Taehyung is my friend.” Jungkook says. “I think that it’s pretty relevant to me. I don’t know anything about you or your work. How do you expect me to trust you?”
“You know things about me.” Yoongi protests weakly.
“Sure I do. But you’ve never given me a straight answer about what city you’re from, or where you learned your combat skills. Things like your family, or what you do for a living.” Jungkook bites off, frustrated. “Don’t you realize that I’m completely in the dark?”
Yoongi sits back, stunned by the torrent of words thrown at him. “Does that bother you?”
“I hope that’s a rhetorical question.” Jungkook mutters, aggressively stabbing his chopsticks into the fried noodles in front of him.
Jungkook refuses to look up, unhappy and angry.
“Jungkook.” Yoongi repeats emphatically. A hand is thrust in front of his food. Jungkook looks down.
Smack dab in the middle of Yoongi’s palm is a circular, jade bangle. It’s dark green and freakishly smooth; expensive.
Jungkook stares uncomprehendingly.
“There are things I can’t tell you right now. But I hope you can still trust me. My father gave this to me, and before that, my grandmother to my father. It’s a family heirloom.”
“That’s— I mean— I can’t take this.” Jungkook says, still mad but rapidly losing traction of his anger the longer he stares at the priceless family heirloom displayed in front of him.
Yoongi snaps, “My arm hurts. Fucking take it already.”
Jungkook reaches over and gingerly lifts the bracelet. Instead of smooth stone, he’s greeted by curved, etched edges. Upon closer inspection, Jungkook notices that the sides of the bangle are carved with some sort of design— a circular, waving dragon. Its tail winds around half of the bangle, elegantly imprinted into jade.
“My family crest.” Yoongi mutters, sounding a tiny bit abashed. “Just— keep it. And once you trust me, give it back.”
Jungkook looks up, surprised. “I thought you’d force me to keep it.”
Yoongi laughs. “I know that sort of thing makes you uncomfortable. Besides, it is my family heirloom, after all. I don’t like you that much.”
Snorting faintly, Jungkook slips the bangle on. “Wow, way to make your way back into my good graces.”
“What can I say? I’m a smooth talker.”
Jungkook’s anger has completely deflated into a pathetic little lump. He’s flattered— touched, even. The frustration still sits there, simmering as always, but it’s overridden by the overwhelming urge to kiss Yoongi. Kiss or kill.
“Don’t break it.” Yoongi warns suddenly.
“Thanks for the unwanted anxiety.”
Lunch progresses undisturbed excluding their small conversational hiccup. Jungkook doesn’t—does trust Yoongi. It’s complicated. He trusts that Yoongi will put himself in danger to make sure Jungkook is alright. He doesn’t trust what Yoongi is doing; the dangerous, sly way he hides information. What if Yoongi is a drug dealer, or a brothel scout, or… honestly, who the fuck knows? Jungkook’s mind can’t concoct anything that makes sense that falls in line with Yoongi’s association with Hoseok, a nobleman whose father is in the Council of Five.
Jimin pulls Jungkook away before they leave.
“He’s hot, and rich, but—” Jimin cuts himself off, pursuing his lips.
“I know.” Jungkook says, studying Jimin’s expression. “He’s a bit suspicious. But he treats me well.”
Jimin licks his lips. “I’m glad. As long as you’re happy.”
“I am.” Jungkook hesitates, reaching over to rest his hand on Jimin’s arm tentatively. “I’ll come visit you later, to see Taehyung?”
“Of course.” Jimin says, smiling tightly.
Jungkook leaves feeling uncomfortable and unsettled. The entire situation feels off. Strange.
Yoongi asks, “So, you two are close?”
Jungkook shrugs. “We’re good friends. I like Jimin. He takes care of me.”
That’s when Jungkook notices Yoongi tightening his grip around Jungkook’s hand. Jungkook raises both eyebrows.
“Don’t tell me you’re jealous.”
Yoongi replies, “I like you.”
It’s simple and sweet. Direct. Jungkook wills the burn in his cheeks to die down as fast as possible. Jungkook is emotionally blank on the best of days— stunted on the worst, as Yuna liked to describe it. Even simple declarations like this get him flustered. Yoongi doesn’t seem to fare any better, however. He can’t seem to make eye contact with Jungkook as they both walk.
“You’re meeting with Hoseok later today?” Jungkook asks.
“Yeah. I’ll be in the Upper Ring tonight.”
Jungkook pauses in front of the tea house. He leans forwards to peck Yoongi on the forehead.
“I guess I’ll see you later, then.”
Yoongi's lip curls upwards. "See you." He says, voice gentle. And then he turns away, leaving Jungkook feeling strangely like a left-behind bride.
Seokjin yawns, serving their last customer tea before shooing them out. It's dark. The tea shop is closing soon, and Jungkook has enjoyed a day mostly free of responsibilities. That is, until Seokjin asks if he can close up for the last thirty minutes. They're closing late today despite the low flow of customers— Jin had an extra batch of tea that he'd wanted to use up.
Jungkook dusts the outside of the shop quickly and efficiently. He's good at chores and always has been. Yuna envies that ability. She'd never been good at housework, and was instead amazing at things like mathematics and counting the finances of their store. Basically, the opposite of what Jungkook was skilled at. Math was one of his least favorite things, ever.
Jungkook sighs. Honestly, he misses Yuna and Yugyeom. He should hang out with them more. He can't even use the tea shop as an excuse anymore. With the influx of money from underground bending and Yoongi's general, rich-ass existence, Jungkook has worked significantly less hours than he did last year. It's incredible what money can do.
The street is strangely quiet. The wind picks up, blowing a tiny gust of dust against the porch steps. Usually, the occasional beggar stops by, asking for some money. Some drunkards screech into the streets, yelled at by Miss Chau. The light tinkling of laughter as the last of the denizens in the Northern Lower Ring go back into their homes, swayed by the darkening, unsafe night. And, like clockwork, there is usually the fading sound of horse hoofs as the wagons disappear into the farmlands from the city.
Tonight, there is no noise.
No people, no animals.
Only the light gust of wind.
Upon staring into the street, Jungkook realizes that he's the only one in the entire street. Usually, even Yugyeom's uncle will stop by the late-night shops for a snack. Today, none of the street shops are open.
Hands sweating, Jungkook tightens his grip on the broom. He ducks back into the tea house and takes in a shuddering breath. Silence is unnerving in the city. Something isn't right.
Jungkook peeks outside from the window, and his heart drops.
Coming from Miss Chau's inn is a group of clothed Dai Li. He swallows, throat dry.
The group stands outside the inn for a moment, waiting silently until a man comes out after them. This man is clearly the ringleader. His hair is long and tied back in a braid, body long and face lean. No wonder the streets had been empty— once a single person caught sight or heard word of the Dai Li, everyone would vacate their residence. Not willingly, but for survival. No one knew who the Dai Li targeted and why. It was immeasurably dangerous to get tangled up with them.
The Dai Li ringleader takes a long, hard look around the entire street, before settling his gaze directly on the tea shop. Oh, no. Oh fuck.
Jin was asleep.
Jin was asleep and he'd had a hard day. What if they ransacked the house and woke Jin up? Jungkook and Jin had worked too hard for their tea house to be invalidated by the Dai Li. Perhaps they were just here for questioning. A worst-case scenario was the illegal earthbending at Rumble Ring that Jungkook had been involved in. Sweat beads down his neck as Jungkook considers the potentiality of an arrest. He takes a deep breath.
Jungkook would walk outside and have a civil, understanding conversation with them. With these master, spy-level earth benders.
Burying his dread, Jungkook opens the door with a jingle and steps outside onto the porch. The Dai Li ringleader stills in surprise before smirking pleasurably.
"Hi, uh, Mr. Dai Li." Jungkook starts awkwardly, and then curses himself. "Did you need something?"
"You're very brave." The man says. Jungkook forces the trembling in his hands to stop. He can't defeat these people if they want anything. There are at least ten Dai Li—too many.
"Brave?" Jungkook manages. "I'm just making small talk with the protectors of our kingdom. Civilly."
"Right." The man sounds amused. "Civilly. Well, I'll ask you civilly— do you know a man named Min Yoongi?"
Jungkook's veins fill with ice. Or fire. He can't tell which.
"Yes," Jungkook says, goosebumps on his arm from the wind. "He lives in the inn across the street. Miss Chau could tell you more, I think."
"Oh. Unfortunately, she can't." Dai Li ringleader drops casually, "Because she's dead. I killed her."
Jungkook's mind blanks.
What? No. She couldn't be dead. Miss Chau had been in their street for over a decade— she was the innkeeper, the neighborhood old lady. Everybody was scared of her, but thought of her fondly. She'd give them snacks when they were kids despite being the grumpiest adult in the street.
"She was quite loyal." The Dai Li muses. "Who knew she'd been hiding the fugitive Min Yoongi for months, now?"
Jungkook's entire body tenses. Yoongi? This entire thing must be a fever dream. Please let it be a dream.
Unfortunately, the man continues to speak.
"Of course, if you've been helping Min Yoongi, we'll just have to eliminate you too."
"The tea house." Jungkook whispers, and repeats more firmly. "The tea house. What do you want from us?"
The man pauses. "I know Min Yoongi has been frequenting this tea house for months. My question is— why? What has he been doing? If he's been conspiring here, we'll need to simply erase this establishment from existence."
The words 'erase this establishment from existence' echoes through Jungkook's mind. He'd grown up in this tea house. Jin had put in a ridiculous amount of time, energy, and money to keep this place running. It was their safe haven, their home. It was a place they'd made their own. Like hell Jungkook was going to let a bunch of Dai Li walk in and destroy everything. This place was filled with memories. It could never be so easily 'erased'.
Besides, Jungkook was the only one who could bend. He'd protect Jin— it was a promise.
Lowering his body into the traditional earthbending stance, Jungkook breathes in deeply. He is a tree, his legs the planted roots. No one can disturb him or topple him down.
"If you want to destroy this tea house," Jungkook articulates, "You'll have to make it through me."
"I don't like hurting Earth Kingdom citizens," The Dai Li man says, which is deeply hypocritical considering he'd killed Miss Chau, "But if you're putting up a fight, you must have something to hide. Everyone, he's a Fire Nation sympathizer. Eliminate him."
And before Jungkook can even ruminate over the ludicrous and out-of-place accusation of being a fucking Fire Nation sympathizer, the Dai Li are already lifting their feet up and stomping downwards, earth rumbling with the telltale signs of powerful bending. This is awful, fucking awful, and Jungkook leaps up into the air, propelled by the stone underneath him. He projects himself across the street, as far from the tea shop as possible, trying to minimize any possible damage.
The ringleader in front of him stands motionless, and Jungkook barely dodges every expert blow coming his way. He knows it's only a short amount of time before he's injured. And just as Jungkook thinks it, he's hit.
A huge, towering boulder crashes into his side, throwing him down the street. Jungkook had just scraped by a fatal injury by reinforcing his arms with stone, but his entire body throbs. And Jungkook will die—he'd rather die than reveal anything about Yoongi, frankly, he doesn't even know much about Yoongi in terms of important information, but still. Weakly, Jungkook palms at the jade bangle on his wrist, the bracelet cool and soothing against his overheated body.
"You're quite good." The Dai Li man says, walking over casually. It's more menacing than it should be; Jungkook groans from the dirty floor, squinting through the blood running down his forehead and his temple at the man.
Jungkook almost laughs because Hoseok had said the exact same thing.
"But it's over." His perpetrator almost looks sad. Sympathetic. Jungkook's vision sharpens as his head clears. The man kneels down next too Jungkook. "You—"
"Stay the fuck away from him." A familiar voice snarls, cutting through the silence of the night.
And Jungkook watches, eyes wide open, as a huge, gigantic sweltering pillar of flame is projected vertically through the city square. It's the biggest display of fire Jungkook has ever seen. It's firebending.
The Dai Li man jumps back, clothes singed as he barely dodges the attack. Almost half of his entourage is disabled—on the ground or moaning in pain.
"Min Yoongi," The man growls.
Yoongi punches his arm downwards as his body twists, leg kicking into the air elegantly. Every slash or kick is followed by a large arc of flame. The movements are familiar, and Jungkook suddenly realizes where he's seen Yoongi's combat before. It's military standard Fire Nation bending, the type that had destroyed Jungkook's village years ago when he was a child.
Yoongi is firebending.
Yoongi is a firebender.
Chapter 6: revelations
"General Wu," Yoongi interrupts, tendrils of flame dancing off his fingertips, "Seeing your face again makes me feel depressed.”
Jungkook’s mind races to keep up. General Wu Yifan is another one of the Council of Five, perhaps the most famous member. He’s been a senior advisor to the throne and is on the trade delegation with the Northern Water Tribe. General Wu is a defender of the Earth Kingdom—powerful, congenial, kind, he’s stopped multiple Fire Nation infiltrations. It dawns on Jungkook that he may be stopping another one, right in front of Jungkook.
Yoongi is a firebender. He’s Fire Nation.
"Min Yoongi." The Dai Li ringleader—General Wu— hisses. "Fire Nation fugitive, hiding right under our noses.”
“Fugitive?” Yoongi asks, body still defensively angled between Jungkook and General Wu. “I’m certainly not a fugitive. I’m here legally at the permission of General Jung.”
Wu snarls, “Jung is a forsaken traitor.”
“Perhaps to you.” Yoongi somehow remains relaxed. “Your anger consumes you.”
“My righteous anger at being colonized.” General Wu sneers. “We’ll never be subjugated by the Fire Nation.”
And he’s not wrong. It’s the type of thinking that Jungkook has followed through for the last few years—a deep hatred of the Fire Nation, of being conquered. And Jungkook will always hate that idea. But right now, General Wu (the war hero, his brain whispers) is his enemy, and Yoongi is his ally. His boyfriend. Everything is so confusing right now.
Someone in the corner of his eye crosses their hands and stomps down. Jungkook leaps up instinctively, barely dodging the encasement of earth meant to imprison him.
“Get out of here.” Yoongi says grimly, once Jungkook lands next to him. His ankle nearly collapses on him, and Jungkook limps unevenly as he turns to stare at Yoongi.
“Jungkook.” His name is a conversation stopper. Icy and calm, Yoongi’s gaze doesn’t stray from General Wu’s. “I said, get out of here.”
It’s an unreasonable request. Jungkook has to worry about Jin and the tea house first. His own injuries are secondary concerns.
“The tea house,” Jungkook insists, “I can’t. Besides, can you even take on all these people?”
“Can you even stand?” Yoongi snipes. “Don’t worry about the tea house.”
“How the fuck am I not supposed to worry?”
“Do you trust me?”
Jungkook stills. Yoongi must know that he’s asking a lot—the man is Fire Nation. No. No, Jungkook can’t let himself think about that right now. Instead, he thinks about Yoongi as a person. The Yoongi he knows is starkly willing to protect the tea house. So Jungkook opens his mouth to reply.
“I do,” He whispers, “I trust you.”
Yoongi settles into a forward battle stance, closing his eyes. Then he opens them. The air around him heats—static permeates the air, tickling the hair at the nape of Jungkook’s neck. Something really, really weird is going on. Jungkook has never seen or felt this before.
“Then get out of here. Get somewhere safe.” Yoongi says.
The space around him crackles. That’s when Jungkook sees it—tendrils of electricity, snapping along Yoongi’s arms and coagulating in biting bursts of blue at his fingertips. Yoongi’s hands are poised and arched with two fingers pointed tenuously in front of him, body extended. What the fuck. What the fuck. That is not normal firebending. This is some wacko elemental shit.
“Go!” Yoongi shouts, right before General Wu leaps at him.
Jungkook darts away and flinches at the shooting pain erupt in his leg. A huge explosion sounds behind him, and he ducks into an alleyway, willing his heart to calm down. Panicking won’t help him. His limp is impairing.
This isn’t efficient at all. Jungkook raises his arms and twists the earth around him to form a circular moving plate that shifts him along the road—the earth seems like rough water, now, and Jungkook glides away from the commotion behind him.
He can’t go to Halla. It’s far too incriminating, and the Dai Li likely know that he’s been frequenting that place. Besides, Jungkook doesn’t want to draw any attention to Rumble Ring and destroy what Halla has so delicately built.
There’s only one other place that Jungkook can hide.
Clenching his jaw, Jungkook twists his arms and bends his path forward.
Ting’s Hot Pot looks strangely intimidating at night. It’s arched on the highest point of the Lower Ring, near the Monorail.
The Monorail is completely quiet. Without earthbenders to power the vehicles, the trains lie still on the stone rail.
Jungkook sneaks into the back of the shop, near the residential spaces, and peers into Jimin’s room. Then he pauses.
The entire room is clean and pristine, with no evidence of human activity in the room. Baffled, Jungkook hobbles to the room next door, Taehyung’s room. It’s also empty.
Unsettled and confused, Jungkook bends himself down to the bereft alleyway and heaves a breath. So, Taehyung and Jimin are gone. Did they depart the city and quit their jobs? They’d just been there working the other day. Jungkook can’t help the tinge of hurt that lances through him, mentally and physically. His leg still hurts, coupled with the knowledge that his friends had left without even conveying a simple ‘goodbye’… everything was so confusing.
And Yoongi. Oh, his traitorous, lying boyfriend. Jungkook stamps down the surge of fury and closes his eyes. Now is not the time.
“Hey,” Someone says, and Jungkook startles, almost falling on his leg as he struggles to place himself into a bending position. “Whoa, be careful. I’m not trying to hurt you, man.”
Jungkook turns around.
“Who are you?” Jungkook hisses, glancing around the darkened alleyway as if another random person will jump-scare him. The girl— because she looks quite young, similar in age to him— blinks. Her eyes are large, nose tall and arched, cheekbones high. She’s very, very pretty. Quite possibly the prettiest girl he’s ever seen. Jungkook swallows awkwardly, because he’s awful around girls (excluding Halla, who is more demonic than human, and Yuna who doesn’t even count because she’s like family).
Except the girl snorts ungracefully and sits down on the barrel closest to her, spreading her legs. Classic manspread. Oh, goodness.
“I’m Kyulkyung,” The girl offers.
“Jungkook.” He replies, taking the proffered greeting to deeply examine her. She stands with the settled grace of a warrior, even if her mannerisms aren't very feminine. Kyulkyung is also wearing tight, formfitting green robes. Jungkook narrows his eyes.
“Do you bend?” He asks suspiciously. She eyes him.
Jungkook debates the merits of answering honestly before promptly giving up. What does he have to lose, anyway?
“I’m an earthbender.” Jungkook admits. “Trying to avoid the Dai Li right now.”
Instead of the fearful reaction he was anticipating, she perks up.
“Oh thank god.” Kyulkyung gasps, “Me too!” She sounds immensely relieved. “I’m trying to get the hell out of this city. It’s literally swarming with Dai Li right now. Can you bend that Monorail?”
“Whoa, whoa, let’s slow down for a second. Are the Dai Li after you too?”
Kyulkyung stares at him. Hard. Like some sort of internal debate is going on inside her too, before she exhales and sighs.
“I’m not a citizen of the Earth Kingdom.” Kyulkyung finally offers, “I’m trying to find Kim Taehyung. But his room is empty, the motherfucker.”
“Oh. Oh.” A few things slot into place.
“Wait… is he a firebender?” Jungkook whispers. Because that would explain Taehyung and Jimin's abrupt entrance into the Lower Ring— Taehyung's disappearances and excuses of ‘waterbending’ practice. For all that Jungkook had seen Jimin waterbend, he’d never actually seen Taehyung do it, despite both of their proclamations as Water Tribe citizens. And, perhaps, it would explain the subtle animosity between Jimin and Yoongi.
Kyulkyung stares incredulously at him.
“What? No.” She laughs. “Kim Taehyung isn’t a firebender. He’s the Avatar.”
Jungkook waits a few seconds for the punchline.
Nope. Kyulkyung is still laughing.
“Man, that’s funny. The Avatar as Fire Nation. Haha!”
“Holy shit.” Jungkook is aghast. So much so that the pain in his leg seems inconsequential. “The Avatar? I thought the Avatar was hiding in the Northern Water Tribe.”
Indeed, it was common knowledge that the Avatar was a young man, or late teenage boy, kept safe away from the tendering reaches of the Fire Nation. He was said to be of the Southern Water Tribe, but with the Water Tribes banding together against the Fire Nation, it was more likely that he’d retreated to safety with the Northern Tribe. Jungkook realizes that ‘waterbending’ likely meant ‘earthbending’— that Taehyung and Jimin had come here for Taehyung to learn earthbending. What the fuck.
Slightly pained, Jungkook says, “I’ve known him for how many months and he never told me.”
“He made friends here?” Kyulkyung asks, sounding very amused for some reason. “Nevermind, of course he did.”
Kyulkyung opens up her arm and jerks her head at him. “Come on. You obviously can’t walk. Let’s get to the Monorail.”
Jungkook stares at the offered help and dips his head in resigned acceptance, letting her serve as his crutch. Together, they amble along the streets, avoiding the patrolling signs of Dai Li. Jungkook never knew that so many Dai Li existed at all. It occurs to him that he still knows nothing about Kyulkyung; however, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and right now, the important thing is making it out of the Lower Ring alive. Besides, she knows Taehyung.
“You’re great at bending.” Kyulkyung notes as they cruise out of the Lower Ring and into the Agrarian Zone. Truly getting out of Ba Sing Se requires exiting the Outer Wall, which is heavily guarded.
The sound of the Monorail being used in the middle of the night is definitely going to attract Dai Li attention. Except Jungkook doesn’t really care— it’s easy to hide out in the farm fields. They'll just have to move quickly once they get off the rail.
“Thanks,” Jungkook says, arms moving smoothly as they glide. He’s still thinking about Taehyung and Jimin. Taehyung was the fucking Avatar. How did Jungkook go from a no-name Earth Kingdom commoner to meeting Earth Kingdom imperials, firebenders who could… do stuff with lightning, and, finally, unknowingly befriending the Avatar? It was utterly ludicrous.
Most jarringly, Yoongi had lied to him. Maybe not lied. Yoongi had told him multiple times that his real profession was nothing glorious, and Jungkook had never, within his wildest imaginations, thought that this was what his ‘real profession’ was. In actuality, Yoongi had lied far less as a spy than one would think. A spy. That must be what Yoongi was. Yoongi had been making data entry points and notations about the entire city in his journal— he’d even infiltrated the Earthbending academy. The Dai Li were after him. Jungkook took a shuddering breath and accepted the truth; that Yoongi was an enemy of the Earth Kingdom.
His boyfriend was an agent of the Fire Nation. The evil, bad people who had killed and pillaged and murdered Jungkook’s family.
Jungkook had come to terms with the death of his family a long time ago, and in doing so, laid his hatred to rest. Jungkook had better things to do than seek revenge. But having his boyfriend be part of that imperialistic nation? This was pushing it.
There was a severe, halting mental disconnect in Jungkook's mind between the firebender Yoongi and the boyfriend-who-was-good-at-martial-arts-and-rich Yoongi. Jungkook groaned and clutched his head desperately.
“You look pretty stressed, kid.” Kyulkyung interrupts. She looks exhausted.
“Who’re you calling a kid? I’m pretty sure I’m older than you.”
Kyulkyung raises an eyebrow. “Aren’t you like, sixteen?”
Jungkook stills, offended. “I’m twenty.”
Kyulkyung leans back, abashed. “Oh, shit. I’m nineteen. Sorry.”
Did Jungkook really look that young? It was probably because his hair was down. Jin always said that he appeared older when his forehead showed.
“It’s not a big deal,” Jungkook says through grit teeth, slowing the Monorail down as they both get off.
They pause, staring up at the vast, giant wall in front of them. The Inner Wall. It’s huge. Gigantic really. Jungkook has been here a few times, so it’s nothing surprising, but Kyulkyung is amazed, eyes wide. Jungkook quirks a smile.
They walk from the transportation drop off into the transportation hall, a giant chamber with pillars and lowly lit torches. Simple stone seats embellish the sides of the giant room, likely for queues. In the past, when there had been wars or famine, huge populaces would migrate to Ba Sing Se, requiring large in-between areas like this one to appropriately house and check every individual who was let past the Inner Walls. From what Jungkook recalled, the Outer Walls were even more grandiose.
Mouth open, Kyulkyung lays a palm on the giant pillar. She traces the stone in wonder. Jungkook's brow furrows. There is a permeation of something strange; this place should be empty, but Jungkook can sense something else in the stone contraption. Suspicious, Jungkook lays a hand atop the pillar as well.
Vibrations. There's something heading their way.
That’s when Jungkook hears the voices.
Kyulkyung grabs his arm and ducks them behind a pillar. The entrance hall is huge and made of stone— sound reverberates.
“—there are Fire Nation soldiers out there,” A very familiar voice says, panicked, “How the hell did we miss this? How did they know we were coming?”
The next voice is uniquely identifiable. Taehyung.
“You already mentioned it. Do you think it was Jungkook?”
“Tae, Jungkook is harmless. He’d never sell us out.”
Sounding slightly guilty, Taehyung says, “But we sold him out. The Dai Li are probably swarming the Lower Ring, right now.”
Kyulkyung has frozen completely as well, her stance tense. Her hands noticeably curl into fists.
Jimin and Taehyung had been the ones to bring the Dai Li to the Tea House? Betrayed, Jungkook bites his lip and wills himself to calm down. It's not working. His head rushes with blood and anger and nothing of the stable earth he's supposed to represent.
“What else could we do, after Jungkook brings an obvious Fire Nation spy into the restaurant?” Jimin snaps. “That dragon bracelet on his boyfriend’s wrist. It’s branded on every single fucking Fire Nation warship!”
Jungkook has never seen a Fire Nation warship but that sounds—
Kyulkyung whips her head over to him in shock.
“You know Master Yoongi?” She manages.
This is all too much— Yoongi and Taehyung and Jimin and everything. Adrenaline coursing through his veins, Jungkook angrily steps out from behind the pillar and against all logic and reason, confronts Jimin and Taehyung.
“What the fuck?!” Jungkook shouts. “You brought the Dai Li to the Tea House and purposefully put Jin and I in danger? What sort of half-assed friends are you?”
“What the—Jungkook?” Taehyung wheezes, looking very much like a deer in headlights.
“Yeah, it’s me,” Jungkook growls bitterly, “Probably thought that I was already caught and tortured by the Dai Li, huh? Right within your plans.”
“No.” Jimin says firmly, stepping between Jungkook and Taehyung, the latter whom looked guiltier by the second. “We knew you wouldn’t be in danger, because we have an agreement with the Dai Li. They’re on our side. And you should be too.”
“Not in any danger?” Jungkook echoes in disbelief, “My leg is fucking impaired because of General Wu. I have a limp.”
It comes out whinier than Jungkook would have liked, but whatever. It’s true.
Jimin rolls his eyes. “Oh, come off it. I can heal that in an instant. Waterbender, remember?” Jimin wiggles his fingers. “You’re such a baby.”
“Jungkook,” Taehyung interjects softly, “This might be a surprise, but I’m the Avatar. We never told you because we never wanted you to be in danger.”
Jungkook already knew that Taehyung was the Avatar, but he can't seem to come up with a non-combative and blustering retort.
“Yeah, you put yourself in enough danger, with Rumble Ring.” Jimin chimes in. “We never wanted you to get involved, which is why we didn’t ask you to teach Taehyung earthbending.”
“You lied to me.” Jungkook emphasizes, hurt.
“Technically, we didn’t.” Jimin says. “Taehyung really is bad at waterbending. He’d practice his waterbending half the time, and the other half he’d practice earthbending at that one Academy. Zhou’s, was it?”
Taehyung nods, but Jungkook’s brain is already shattering.
Zhou’s Earthbending Academy. The exact place where Hoseok and Yoongi had taken Jungkook— for Yoongi’s ‘work’. This entire time, that trip had been a calculated step. Which means that Yoongi and Hoseok had gone there for an explicit and specific reason. Jungkook wishes he could will away the sudden revelation unfolding in his mind.
“The Fire Nation,” Jungkook chokes out with sudden comprehension, “This entire time, they’ve been trying to—”
“—capture you, yes.” Kyulkyung says, stepping out from behind the pillar at last.
Flames curl up her arm, tendrils wrapping around her fingers lovingly, caressing her palms. The fire from her hands casts flickering shadows across her elegant form, framing her pale, pale face. Her dark black hair. Like Yoongi’s.
Taehyung and Jimin pale dramatically.
Kyulkyung is a firebender.
Jungkook should have known. He was tired of being tricked. And technically none of them (Yoongi, Taehyung, Jimin, Kyulkyung) had lied to him, but still.
“Sorry for lying,” Kyulkyung promptly murmurs to him. Jungkook jerks in surprise. “Yeah, I know. ‘Technically’ I just omitted information, but it was still a cruel thing to do. Seems like you’ve been lied to enough.”
“Princess Jieqiong.” Jimin says. “What a displeasure.”
No fucking way.
"Jungkook?" Taehyung asks warningly.
Jungkook winces. "I had no idea she was Fire Nation. Or that she was a Princess." Turning to Kyulkyung, he says, "You lied to me about your name?"
"Okay, so I did lie there." She says, readying her body into a formal battle pose. "We can argue about it later. Are you going to help me or not?"
Jungkook is already backing away, arms up defensively in an 'x'.
"No, no way. That's treason." As if he didn't already commit treason by helping Yoongi, but at least that was self-defence.
That's when he hears a voice tickle the back of his neck, someone's breath whispering onto his ear.
"But you've already committed treason, Jeon Jungkook." The voice says from behind him, and Jungkook didn't know that his conscience could talk now— before a sharp, blunt pain hits the back of his neck.
The last thing Jungkook sees is the widening of Taehyung's horrified eyes and Jimin's outstretched arm. Jungkook's eyesight flickers.
Everything goes dark.
Chapter 7: the lake
Jungkook wakes up in chains.
“Oh, you’re awake.” Kyulkyung says.
His head throbs.
Jungkook groans as he lifts his aching neck to stare at the room around him. It’s dark and shadowed— plops of water create puddles around him, bringing his attention to his wet ass. Goddamn it. He’d been knocked out by the Dai Li— General Wu’s men, no doubt, or maybe even General Wu himself. These people knew who he was.
Jungkook is completely bound. His arms and legs are chained together, and even his fingers are cradled by hard metal. It absolves any possibility of him bending his way out of here. So long as he can twitch his fingers, it’s over. But with his head free… they’ve underestimated him. He can get out of this.
“Wait.” Jungkook says, “Why aren’t you in chains?”
Kyulkyung rolls her eyes as she stands and walks across the room. The drip-drip of water from the ceiling is grating on his nerves.
“Take a look around you. There’s no way out.”
Jungkook does— there isn't even a metal door. They’ve been bended into a singular room with no modal exit, earth surrounding them completely. Kyulkyung isn’t in chains because the Dai Li know it’s impossible for her, a firebender, to escape.
She stares down at his metal prison and furrows her brow. “I thought about bending you out, but I was scared I’d burn you.”
“That’s probably why they didn’t bother putting you in chains. They knew you’d fatally injure me or something.”
And Jungkook can sense metal. He can’t bend it per se, but he can feel where it is. The metal’s strength and tenacity— it would take a very, very high temperature to melt this. The good news is: he doesn’t need it to melt. He just needs it to get hot enough.
Jungkook breathes in and leans his head back.
“What’re you doing.” Kyulkyung’s voice is deadpan.
“Getting us out.” Jungkook says, just as he snaps his head forward in a rough motion. A mid-sized chunk of rock falls out of the wall and onto the floor in front of them. The room is perfectly rectangular with a tiny, tiny window for air— except now, there’s a chunk of the bottom wall missing.
Kyulkyung blinks and laughs.
“Nice thinking, Jungkook!” She exclaims. “Okay, gimme your hands.”
Jungkook barely shifts from his spot. The metal encasing is like a body cast— one for his torso and one for his bottom half. The part mitigating movement in his hands is connected to his entire upper half. Kyulkyung tsk’s and manually pulls him over. She lays a palm over his hands (or where his hands should be) and watches with intent.
Jungkook feels the heat through the metal. The iron glows a dark red, then a lighter orange. Steam starts to arise from the place where Kyulkyung’s palm hovers in the air, until she retracts her hand and hisses.
Jungkook stares down apprehensively at the glowing metal and lets Kyulkyung splash some water from the muddy puddle onto it. The iron positively sizzles.
“That’s going to hurt.” Kyulkyung intones with a wince.
The impact won’t be pleasant— but Jungkook is abruptly grateful for Yugyeom and his metalworking family. Because heated metal promptly doused in cold water makes it hard, yet extraordinarily brittle, and thus susceptible to breakage.
Jungkook slams the cooled part of the encasing down onto the stone. His breath punches out of him as he groans in pain.
But: the metal breaks. Shatters, really.
Not all of it falls, but it’s enough. Jungkook can move fingers, and with that, he bends the stone from the walls to his chains and snaps it apart. Then his hands, then his feet encasings.
He’s free. Jungkook twirls his right leg experimentally and exhales with relief. His injury is confined to a huge, nasty bruise, but he can move.
“Okay,” Kyulkyung says once Jungkook has regained his breath, “Now that we’re both free, can we get out of here?”
They are directly under a large body of water. It’s insane.
“I think we’re under Lake Laogai.” Jungkook says. “It’s the only body of water in the agrarian zone big enough to be… this huge.”
He’d touched the wall and felt the entire complex using his earthbending— as much of it as he could, at least. Some parts were blanked out with crystal and metal, making it harder to evaluate the underground system. It’s giant, and there’s a crater like-shape pressed into the earth directly above them, which can only be a lake.
Kyulkyung shudders. “Ugh, water.”
Her tone of disgust draws Jungkook’s attention; she’s a firebender. And not only a firebender, but a Princess of the Fire Nation. Jungkook isn’t too familiar on the Fire Nation royal family, but he knows Fire Lord Ziji has two daughters and a son. Otherwise, he knows nothing about them, including their names. And from what Taehyung and Jimin mentioned, apparently there had been Fire Nation soldiers outside the Inner Wall waiting in ambush for them all. All led by the girl in front of him.
“Those Fire Nation soldiers,” Jungkook says, “Your men.”
Kyulkyung eyes him sourly. “Yeah. What of it?”
“Where are they now?”
“Trying to find a way to rescue me, I suppose. Useless idiots.” Kyulkyung lets a flame lick in the center of her palm, before closing her fist. “I’ve been trying to capture Kim Taehyung for months.”
“Like… how many months?” Jungkook asks, unsure of whether or not he actually wants to know the answer.
“Probably nine or ten. Man, it’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” She chuckles wearily.
Nine or ten months was similar to how long Taehyung and Jimin had stayed at Ba Sing Se. They had probably arrived at the Earth Kingdom to escape detection from Kyulkyung, taking the opportunity to polish Taehyung’s skills at earthbending. How had Jungkook been so blind? And Fire Nation soldiers in Ba Sing Se? That was was state-level treason. It was a military invasion.
And Yoongi was involved. Kyulkyung knew him.
“So. You’re a princess. What are you doing out on a military expedition?”
Kyulkyung’s smile strained in a way that very much resembled Halla before she went on a psychotic rampage. Her face congenially conveyed the insult: you-misogynistic-pig. Jungkook winces. He’s not familiar with Fire Nation tradition— it’s not like the Earth Kingdom was completely archaic, but it wasn’t normal for women to be in the military— and not only participate, but to lead and strategize. Princesses were normally coveted and protected, not placed on the front-lines.
Although from what Jungkook could see, it wasn’t so much that she had been ‘placed’ than that she willingly and gleefully engaged in battle.
“I guess I never introduced myself. Officially, I’m Princess Jieqiong of the Fire Nation, first-in-line. Except I have no interest in the throne. Politics aren’t really my thing.” She curls her fingers into a fist. He watches as a puff of smoke erupts from the action. “I’d much rather be a military general, like Master Yoongi.”
Jungkook inhales and chokes on his spit.
“Sorry. Can you repeat that?”
Kyulkyung— or Jieqiong, now— frowns at him like he’s an idiot. “Aren’t you involved with him? Or was Taehyung incorrect?”
“You said military general. Like, Fire Nation military general?”
“What other general would I refer to?” She says, annoyed.
What the fuck.
Jungkook shouldn’t be surprised, especially after the last few hours, but he is. Yoongi isn’t just a Colonel, or a Captain. He’s a general— the highest rank one can attain in Fire Nation military— of equal footing with those in the Council of Five. Which means Yoongi is very, very young to be a General. What the fuck was Yoongi doing in Ba Sing Se for over half a year? Jungkook swallows. He’d ingratiated himself with an enemy far too powerful. None of this felt right at all.
Thankfully, Jieqiong doesn’t seem hostile, even if she is giving him a dank stink-eye.
“I can’t believe Master Yoongi is romantically involved with you.” Jieqiong scoffs. “You’re so…commoner.”
Jungkook ignores her and palms at the wall directly in front of him. It’s part earth, part crystal. Some clay. He can definitely bend them out of here.
“You should profess your dislike after I get us out of here.” Jungkook retorts.
Jieqiong smiles. “Who said I disliked you?”
“…You just did?”
“I said that you were mundane. I actually rather like that— and you’re funny, to boot. I just don’t understand why Master Yoongi would like you.” She pauses, musing. “He’s so hard to please. You are good-looking though, so maybe it’s that.”
Jungkook stamps his flush down. The important thing is getting them out of here, and Jungkook can deal with his emotional crisis later, but he can’t help the bubble of questions exploding in his mind.
“Are you, um, close with Yoongi?”
Jungkook tries not to sound like he’s prying, but Jieqiong snickers.
“Min Yoongi has been on the military council since I was a kid. He helped train me in firebending.” It’s the first time Jungkook hears Yoongi’s full, true name. “I mean, he wasn’t one of my official instructors by any means. He was far too busy for that— but he made time for me because I was really clingy.”
Tense, Jungkook realizes he’s been holding his breath in anticipation for everything she’s saying. Jieqiong continues.
“You probably don’t know this, but Yoongi is a really, really good firebender. One of the best.”
“Oh,” Jungkook interrupts without thinking, “I know.”
He remembers the sharp, smooth movements as Yoongi fought against the Dai Li. The crackling of electricity. That was more than passing skill— it was complete mastery over the bending arts. That was beyond firebending.
“You do?” Jieqiong asks, surprised. “Huh. Well, Master Yoongi is definitely talented. But he’s not a prodigy. He had to work hard to get to where he is.”
“Did he.” Jungkook says, trying not to sound bitter.
What did working hard even entail? Pillaging and burning Earth Kingdom villages? Killing innocents and looting families? Yoongi didn’t seem like he did any of that, but only because he was far too high-up in the ranks to deign to visit one of the places the Fire Nation (Yoongi’s Nation) had destroyed— instead, Yoongi bought into the indoctrination of an institution that condoned all this. He’d been working to capture the Avatar this entire time.
And worst of all, Jungkook still loved him.
There aren’t any soldiers outside of their boxed room. Jungkook bends the wall apart and steps out. Jieqiong follows closely behind him.
The crevice opens up into a black hole that diverged into two tunnels. Jungkook stares at the left one, then the right one. It was just two, giant black paths growing larger and larger. How inviting. If he wasn’t an earthbender, this entire underground system would feel very eerie.
“I wonder where the Dai Li are.” Jieqiong comments. Jungkook grunts in agreement; as far as he was able to sense, there weren’t any humans nearby.
Jungkook stares at the cracked edifice and ponders the theoretical atmosphere of space. Here, out in the underground, it is still, silent. Dark and heavy, lacking any sort of bustling energy that Jungkook is used to. Inside the dark paths ahead of him, it is laden with mystery— he has no idea what is inside or where it could lead to. Completely and utterly dark.
Resting his hand briefly on the rock face, Jungkook closes his eyes and channels a bit of thoughtfulness; something which he normally lacks. The entire complex is large. He can’t sense it completely… but of the two diverging paths forward, one leads to a larger room, and another to the side of the Lake. That one. Jungkook opens his eyes.
“I know the way out.” He says, but Jieqiong isn’t paying any attention to him. Her attention is completely honed on Jungkook’s wrist and the jade bangle dangling off it.
Jieqiong’s jaw is slack. She doesn’t say a word.
“He actually gave you that?” Jieqiong voices in disbelief. “The dragon bangle? That’s been in his family for ages!”
“I know,” Jungkook replies defensively, “I’m not keeping it. I’m just holding onto it temporarily.” He realizes how dumb it sounds and drops his hand from the wall awkwardly.
“That’s—” Jieqiong shakes her head briefly. “Wow. He must really like you.”
It brings a barrage of memories. Yoongi confessing his attraction, Yoongi bringing him on dates, Yoongi defending Jungkook and telling him to leave—
Jungkook wonders if Yoongi is okay. If he’s safe, or hurt. Past the anger and the betrayal— Jungkook hopes desperately that Yoongi and Jin are both okay. And maybe Jungkook doesn’t even need the jade bangle, because Jungkook does trust Yoongi, however stupid of a subconscious choice (is it even a choice?) it is. He’d realized that when Yoongi told him to run.
Jungkook walks forward into the tunnel, and Jieqiong follows tenaciously as Jungkook leads them through the darkness.
Finally, Jungkook opens his mouth, because he has to know.
“Did Yoongi come here to capture the Avatar? Like you?”
Jungkook isn’t sure he’d be able to handle it if Yoongi had been in Ba Sing Se purely on an agenda—and that Jungkook was a mere distraction. A game.
Jieqiong squints into the darkness. “Actually, Yoongi is supposed to be on vacation.”
Jungkook shuts his mouth after his exclamation of surprise. The sound echoes precariously. Princess Jieqiong doesn’t seem like the type to lie either, so at least he can rest easy about that, but… vacation? Was she fucking with him?
Jungkook protests, “But he was definitely tailing Taehyung. Yoongi had all these leads and everything.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt it.” Jieqiong snorts. “Yoongi isn’t the type to stay idle.”
“But why did he help me?” Jungkook cuts off, frustrated. Yoongi had given him money. Attention. The man had merely wanted some free tea and conversation as recompense. They’d gone on mundane lamb skewers dates and explored unforeseen places of the Lower Ring together. Jungkook had even taken him to Rumble Ring, his secret place.
And, finally, Yoongi had saved him from the Dai Li. Jungkook had left him behind.
Was there some sort of ulterior motive behind it all, some misplaced sense of guilt? What did Yoongi have to gain from all this if he were searching for Taehyung?
The sound of rushing water grows louder in tandem with Jungkook’s discordant thoughts, yet Jieqiong stops dead in her tracks and turns to Jungkook. He feels uncomfortable with the attention, but she seems intent on speaking, gaze serious.
“Look.” Jieqiong sighs. “I’m sure you’ve deduced this already, but— Yoongi isn’t the type to get attached easily. I’m sure he came here on his own time to follow up on a few leads. But he got sidetracked by you, which is totally unexpected, and… well. Obviously, something happened between you two. He even gave you that bracelet.”
Jungkook glances down at the green jade hanging off his wrist, fingers curled loosely into a fist.
“You’re not Fire Nation nobility so I’m sure you don’t understand the significance. But. That’s not something you give to a mere friend.” She shakes her head in disbelief again, muttering to herself. “Fucking hell.”
They finally reach a large crystal cavern, lit up with blue and white. The entire place is dripping wet, water flowing in light streams. They’re close to an exit.
Jungkook fingers the cold, stone bracelet, feeling the ridged dragon edges. Indeed, he doesn’t know the significance, but Jieqiong’s reaction shows it’s meaningful enough for him to feel appropriately touched— and confused.
“Oh, thank goodness.” Jieqiong breathes in the fresh air as they walk out of the cavern into a wooded field. Lake Laogai is nearby in the distance. They’d taken an underground tunnel out.
Perhaps most starkly, across Lake Laogai: fire. Huge plumes of smoke floated up into the flittering night sky, obscuring the starlit view with ash and gray.
“What is that?” Jieqiong asks, aghast. Clearly, it wasn’t her doing.
“Your Fire Nation men?”
She scowls at him. “My people aren’t stupid.”
Maybe not stupid. Perhaps cruel and sadistic are the better descriptors, though Jungkook knows better than to voice that thought aloud. He shrugs and walks in the direction of the forest.
“Then lets walk away from the fire.”
The two of them stride away from the Lake and towards the even agricultural fields.
Small huts with shallow and foundational trenches were cut into the soil. Some of them even had small porches marked with postholes for storage. On the short side of the huts were the drainage channels that simultaneously directed water away from the thatched roofs and watered the fields. Elevated sites were surrounded by well-watered land suitable for farming and natural pasture. It wasn’t just grain and food— oxen served as draft animals for ploughing and meat, while sheep and cattle were used for milk, wool and leather. All the materials here were aggregated into Ba Sing Se or distributed across the Kingdom.
This, right here, was the peak of Earth Kingdom ingenuity.
It was too bad that agricultural innovation could do nothing in the face of Fire Nation ships and weeping fire.
Jungkook would know. He didn’t remember much from the attack when he was younger, the one that had killed his family. He’d only been eight. Most people hadn’t even died from the soldiers. They’d died from the flames that had trapped them inside homes, the explosion of oil canisters and the large trees that had fallen down.
In Jungkook’s village, they had large storage jars for foodstuffs that were sunk into the floor of their homes. His mother had hidden him in one of those crevices. He’d crouched in his home, aligned with the fresh food, sitting there scared out of his mind as the air stunk of brimstone. Screams permeated through his ears; scorched earth and flames licking the top of his head as his house burned down.
The food slowly rotted and turned filthy with refuse. Jungkook didn’t know how long he had hidden there.
Screams turned to crackling wood, which turned to silence.
When Jungkook finally removed himself, starving and half-asphyxiated from the lack of oxygen, the entire village was only burnt embers.
And the people? His family?
There was only ash.
The Fire Nation demonstrated its monstrous power that day. Only later, when Jungkook grew older and settled into the tea house, would he understand that such great power entailed a vicious subjugation of weaker parties—that his village was merely a tiny factoid to testify such an expansion.
Jungkook wasn’t the type to hold grudges, but he would never forget something like this. Ever. It was ingrained and carved within him, even when he wished the trauma would disappear like the ashes he’d seen that day.
Striding decisively forward, Jieqiong skims a hand over a hut. They’re nearing the Outer Wall.
“There’s a strong agricultural class here.”
Jungkook tries to dismiss his rapidly darkening demeanor.
“Yeah. The Agrarian Zone is huge.”
“I guess social stratification is present regardless of the culture.” She says, sounding forlorn.
Jungkook glowers. “At least we don’t go around attacking and occupying other territories.”
Jieqiong flinches, surprised.
“Oh, I… didn’t mean to offend.”
Too angry to care, Jungkook realizes that he likely looks intimidating. Halla used to say that it was his best feature during fights. He emanated a frightening, ferocious aura.
Rather timidly, Jieqiong stares back at him. They’re in the crossroads of some fields and a forested area.
“Wait.” Jungkook says, pointing, attention diverted, “There’s someone there.”
Jieqiong whips around to stare at the figure running towards them. He narrows his eyes.
“Jungkook! Oh, Spirits!” The figure shouts, and Jungkook’s eyes widen in surprise.
“Taehyung?” Jungkook manages, just before Taehyung slams into him, hugging him tightly. Jieqiong is postured in a combative stance, hands forwards.
“Thank the Moon Spirit you’re safe! I was so fucking worried.” Taehyung mutters into Jungkook’s shoulder. Jungkook hugs back automatically, still shocked.
“Wait… aren’t you working with the Dai Li?”
“We were. And we still kind of are. But— they knocked you out and wanted to torture you, and there was no way Jimin and I could take all of them on, so we let them take you and then planned a jailbreak.”
Jungkook broke apart, frowning.
“Yeah, except I still ended up getting out myself. With Jieqiong’s help.”
Taehyung has been conspicuously angled away from Jieqiong this entire time.
“Why did you think Lake Laogai was completely empty?” Taehyung gestures broadly with his hand. “We lured them away. Fire Nation attack distraction.”
Ah, so that was the fire. The Dai Li had been lead astray. It was probably Jimin’s conniving plan.
Jieqiong glowers. “You pinned it on my people.”
“It’s not like your people are innocent. What’s one more attack on your record?” Taehyung snaps.
Recoiling, Jieqiong narrows her eyes, mouth open in a spiteful retort. The animosity between Jieqiong and Taehyung is pretty amazing.
“Where’s Jimin?” Jungkook interrupts.
“He went down to get you, but he’s probably realized you got out already, so I think he’ll be on his way back soon.”
Jungkook blinks with an embalming sense of gratefulness, and he clasps Taehyung’s hand. Taehyung squeezes his arm warmly. Taehyung and Jimin had lied to him, yes, but they had also come back for him.
Taehyung replies, voice soft and fond. “We wouldn’t leave you behind, Jungkookie.”
Birds chirped in the distance.
“You’re just going to accept him back, like that?” Jieqiong asks in disbelief. That’s when Jungkook notices— Jieqiong hadn’t softened her defensive stance. Her entire body is tense, like she’s ready to fight.
Taehyung starts, “Look, I hate to say this, but we can’t trust her. She’s totally intent on capturing me—”
“You don’t have to say it,” Jieqiong hisses, crouching in an aggressive pose, hands curled forwards like claws. “I’ll say it myself: I’m going to eliminate you, Avatar. Stay out of this, Jungkook.”
Before she can move, Taehyung reacts. Suddenly, Taehyung darts forward, bending a huge chunk of the stone house from behind him at Jieqiong. It hits the ground with a resounding boom. She dodges resourcefully, not stumbling from the impact.
Jieqiong slashes her leg— belching red flames into the sky, and Jungkook’s vision burns with orange light.
Taehyung bends water from the jars around them to meet Jieqiong’s flames head on. Steam erupts amongst the air, the night hotter and more humid that it should have been.
The fighting occurs almost too quickly to comprehend.
Thankfully, Jungkook has experience with battle. He darts backwards into the air and observes raptly from higher ground, brow furrowed with frustration. Why did this always fucking happen? Disaster after disaster, friendships torn apart with violence, and negotiations descended into displays of brute force. Taehyung snarls in the distance.
Fire sparks into the sky as Jieqiong presses forward in attack. For her cutesy but brash personality, she's startlingly ferocious. The surrounding flora and fauna bristle with visible agitation, trembling from the forces of elements twisted against their will. Taehyung’s brow crinkles with sweat. He lifts a massive stone wall from the ground, blocking the stream of flames launching from Jieqiong’s hands. In battle, she is the personification of a monster. It's hard to fend her off, and Taehyung is losing. Jungkook lurches forward to help, but flinches back at the eruption of flames emanating from the center of the field.
Smoke clears. Somehow, Taehyung is uninjured. The wet ground reflects red, fire blazing a trail up Jieqiong’s arms.
There’s a second figure standing next to Taehyung, now.
“Jimin,” Jieqiong intones, “Great to know that you’ve been framing my people for attacks on the Earth Kingdom.”
“Glad you like it.” Jimin replies coldly, hair still wet from Lake Laogai. It looks like he made haste to get here as quickly as possible, once he realized Jungkook had already safely escaped.
Jimin lifts his hands. Water trembles from the ground, solidifying into sharp icicles. Jimin whisks his body elegantly, sending the projectiles forward.
Except Jieqiong wags a finger, almost mockingly.
She opens her mouth, and flames pour from her lips.
It’s terrifying. Jungkook has never seen a firebender do that before, and the image is jarring. Her mouth is open in a silent roar, whooshing fire heating the air in a horizontal vortex.
In the ruckus of the battle, Jungkook notices an innumerable number of shadows encroaching on the field. His heart freezes. Firebenders. This is the Earth Kingdom; Jungkook’s nation. His people. Fire never should have been allowed here in the first place. Hadn't the Fire Nation done enough? Hadn't the harsh hand of subjugation razed enough towns to the ground? Jungkook's fears of a Fire Nation invasion are teasingly (horrifically) being realized in front of his very eyes.
Mind made up, Jungkook leaps up and lands next to Jimin. The earth shakes and hums with pleasure from his presence. Jungkook closes his eyes and exhales, feeling the rooted firmness under his feet. Nothing feels better than being close to the earth.
“You idiot.” Jieqiong voices, as her soldiers parry next to her in a line. There are so many of them. Probably around fifteen, and all masters of combat like the Dai Li. How the hell was security in Ba Sing Se so weak that they’d let so many enemies in?
But Jungkook can’t even think about that— doesn’t have the capacity to, really, because Yoongi is right fucking there.
Min Yoongi. That was his full name.
A General of the Fire Nation.
Yoongi sidles up to Jieqiong casually, hands in his pockets. There’s a cut on his forehead that wasn’t there before, and dirt on his sleeve. The visage— the image of him— is almost fantastical. Jungkook’s eyes still hurt from the brightness of fire earlier, but he keeps them open despite the dryness, desperately drinking in Yoongi’s holistic figure. Yoongi appears to be doing the same thing; checking Jungkook’s body up and down for injuries, taking in his weary face. Too much had happened since they last saw each other.
Jungkook lets out a shaky breath after a hasty evaluation.
Yoongi isn’t seriously injured. Good. Good. Relief floods his veins, and immediately after, fury.
Jungkook lets the anger flow. Cold, hard, like metal or the deep stone of the earth.
Yoongi seems to realize that something between them has changed. He doesn’t reach over or walk over. In fact, he doesn’t say a single thing. He just stares at Jungkook, desperate and sad and resigned. Relieved, too. Practically mirrors of each other, really, except Yoongi has the upper hand. He'd known the truth this entire time.
“Master Yoongi.” Jieqiong says, her voice tight. She, too, can’t seem to look away from Jungkook, except her look is one of betrayal. Standing to Jimin’s left, Jungkook has made his loyalties clear.
“Jungkook,” Yoongi warns slowly, “What are you doing?”
His tone is dangerous. For the first time, Jungkook feels a trickle of doubt— and fear. Yoongi’s deceptively calm countenance belied a vicious interior.
The sky is dark out in the Agrarian Zone. Stars twinkle innocently in the night sky, falsely comforting and inane.
“I’m getting Jimin and Taehyung out of here.” Jungkook says, and swallows. In the aftermath of his confirmed loyalties, the atmosphere is suffocatingly tense.
A moment of silence. The Fire Nation soldiers all stare at Yoongi like they’re surprised he hasn’t violently attacked the opposing side yet.
Jungkook asks, “Is Jin safe?”
“He’s fine.” Terse. Warped, blue sparks fizz between Yoongi’s fingers, darting venomously off his hands, and Taehyung flinches backwards. “Hoseok has legal jurisprudence in Ba Sing Se. The Dai Li can’t touch the tea house.”
Seokjin was safe. Yoongi hadn’t violated the sanctity of his promise. Yoongi made sure that Seokjin was safe, and Jungkook was right to have trusted him, except now—
Who betrayed who, really? Perhaps they were simply both bad boyfriends, valuing nationalism and duty over emotional obligation.
Water rises off the ground, hovering inches into the air as Jimin waits for the conversation to devolve into battle. It’s three against the bending equivalent of an army. This is the most Jungkook can do for his friends. He can't let them die.
Maybe— well. Yoongi wouldn’t hurt him. He just wouldn’t.
Yoongi’s face is suspiciously blank, but his fingers twitch impatiently. Lightning would destroy Jimin’s waterbending, and even Jungkook isn’t too sure how well his earth walls would hold against that type of wildly controlled bending. The situation is appallingly clear. Jimin, Taehyung, and Jungkook will lose if they fight here. A sudden surge of futility and hopelessness hits him, and Jungkook takes an involuntary step backwards. He doesn’t want to fight Yoongi. Not ever.
Yoongi, however, seemed to have no such qualms. He stalks forward, eyes narrowed.
“Stop.” Taehyung interrupts, right hand raised palm outwards, feet spread evenly apart. His voice booms. It's almost like Jungkook is hearing double.
Taehyung's eyes glow a supernatural and spiritual white, air erupting in minute circles around his body. The entire atmosphere lights up with unnatural light. Taehyung is the center of a rapidly picking up tornado, water and earth trembling around him in perfect attunement. The concept of "Avatar" and "all-powerful" suddenly becomes very real and very relevant. Growing up, Jungkook thought the spirit realm was myth, but this is...
Pressure eases around Jungkook's head, making his ears pop. Wind rustles tenuously. His clothes flap wildly as the wind picks up speed.
“Oh, shit.” Yoongi curses, retreating backwards as Jieqiong punches a flame at the air spiral.
Taehyung dispels her efforts with a simple wave of his arm. He's fucking glowing.
Jimin screams, “Let’s go!”
He grabs at Jungkook’s arm and breaks out into a sprint. Jungkook can barely hear anything above the roaring sound of wind and shaking grind of earthbending. He sneaks a look behind him and his jaw drops— Taehyung has raised a gargantuan sized wall, bending it forward like a slow-moving stone tsunami. He is floating in the air, arms moving expertly. Jungkook can’t even see the flaring lights of firebending, although his eyesight still flashed in an afterimage of blood-red fire from earlier.
The two of them are close to the Outer Wall. Jungkook bends the exit wide-open and slides inside. Jimin whirls in next, both of them panting.
In the distance, Taehyung has already stopped bending, soaring forwards at a freakishly fast speed towards them. Behind him is a huge egg-shaped casing of earth— a display of momentous power. The firebenders are all temporarily trapped inside.
“Avatar State.” Jimin whispers quietly.
Jungkook forces the trembling in his hands to stop.
As Taehyung enters next to them, blinking to reveal normal, non-glowy eyes, Jungkook bends the entrance shut. Just in time to hear the thunderous explosion coming from the earth encasing, and the flash of blue fire revealing Yoongi's exit.
Panting, Taehyung's head hits the earthen wall. Adrenaline courses through Jungkook's veins, hands hot against cool stone.
They're safe. Finally.
Early morning brings a misty veil, a comforting breath descended upon them. Trickles of water flow under the stones as they walk along a smaller Earth Kingdom road. It's almost too easy to sneak out of Ba Sing Se.
No one monitored exports; only imports.
The three of them hop on a wagon near the outskirts of the city. Jungkook has a bag of coins on him— pieces of a gold ingot that were technically just Yoongi's money— and it’s easy to bribe one of the countryside traders into giving them a ride.
In the meanwhile, Jimin’s powers are curative— he healed all the small injuries any of them obtained, passing over cuts and bruises with ease, leaving unblemished skin.
Out here, everything is peaceful. Farms brazen with a few oxen and the occasional windmill were the most exciting things about the journey. Later, they transition into forest and villages, similar to the village where Jungkook originally grew up. He hadn’t left Ba Sing Se in years. This was all new to him. Taehyung and Jimin whisper in undertones, careful not to disturb Jungkook.
Jungkook is lying down, blanket covering his body as he faces the wagon wall. Pretending to sleep, because he doesn’t want to talk to anyone. Jungkook still can’t process everything that happened within the last day. Doesn’t want to process it, really.
After a few hours blissful blankness, Jungkook finally sits up and asks, voices hoarse with disuse, “Where’re we going?”
“North.” Jimin murmurs, handing him a waterskin.
Jungkook gulps down the water, surprisingly parched.
“What do you mean, north? Like, where?”
“The Northern Water Tribe.” Jimin clarifies. “They can offer us protection. Safety, shelter.”
And where else can Jungkook go? He could turn back to Ba Sing Se and find Jin, but the place was probably swarming with Dai Li spies intent on capturing him. Unlike Jin, whose safety was now contingent upon Hoseok, Jungkook has no one. No connections. Or, at least, no one he can find or contact. Perhaps Yoongi would have helped Jungkook once upon a time, but now that was shot to the rocks. 'Safety' and 'shelter' seem like fantastical ideals, now.
Bitterly, Jungkook replies, “I thought the walls of Ba Sing Se could’ve protected us, but I was proven wrong.”
Jimin settles into the wagon, looking awkwardly castigated.
“The Northern Water Tribe isn’t like that. It’s safe.” Taehyung defends.
Jungkook thinks of his village, of the tea house. Of how a Fire Nation military general and Princess had so easily infiltrated his city.
“Don’t be too sure of that.” Jungkook says.
With its large ships and heavily armed soldiers, the Fire Nation felt unstoppable. Jungkook moved to Ba Sing Se to escape firebending, but it was clear now that he would be followed by it forever.
In the tense aftermath of the conversation, no one says said a word.
When they near the forest, Taehyung speaks to him again.
“So, your boyfriend is a real hardass.” Taehyung mentions casually, carefully avoiding the topic of fire-nation-military-general-enemy. “Seemed stern as hell.”
“No.” Jungkook croaks out, and clears his throat embarrassingly. “He’s, um.”
Jungkook can’t find the words for paradoxically grumpy, but playful, and warm all at the same time. The train of thought is making him more and more gloomy. Jungkook wilts into his seat on the wagon.
“Jungkook.” Taehyung nudges gently. Jungkook picks at the straws silently, eyes downcast. “It’s alright to talk about it. Jimin and I won’t judge.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Jungkook snaps.
He wonders how bad it would be to jump off the side of the wagon and simply get skewered by cliffs. That’s how unwilling Jungkook was to engage in this conversation at all.
Jimin rubs at his temples, like listening to them pains him.
“Oh, gods.” Jimin mutters, climbing into the front seat with the wagon driver.
The journey settles into silence again, except for Jimin and Taehyung, who belatedly reminisce about returning home. Listening to the two talk, Jungkook learns more about them than he did a year of hanging out with the duo in Ba Sing Se.
While Jimin is from the Northern Water Tribe, Taehyung is from the South, although they’d known each other as children. Taehyung had spent a large amount of time up North learning the water bending arts from Masters. Jimin was better than Taehyung at bending and could heal to boot— although Jimin claims that it’d been an immense pain trying to get the elders to let him to learn the ‘womanly’ healing arts. In the last few years, Taehyung and Jimin had been traveling to abandoned and empty air temples in pursuit of airbending scrolls. Anything to improve Taehyung’s airbending, considering there was no one alive to mentor him. However, once the Fire Nation began pursuing them wholeheartedly, they’d left the Northern Tribes and traveled to Ba Sing Se undercover.
It’s going to take a few days of straight traveling to reach the northern shores of the Earth Kingdom continent, and then two days by boat to reach the Northern Water Tribe.
“I miss home.” Jimin says wistfully. Taehyung nods in agreement.
Jungkook misses home too.
A day away from the coast, the three of them stay at a fairly empty inn. They’re all in disguise, wearing green Earth Kingdom farming clothes. Jungkook rubs a thumb against the cool jade on his wrist, feeling the etched sides. It’s comforting.
“Do you know how to firebend?” Jungkook asks Taehyung abruptly.
Taehyung has been twirling his index finger as he lies face up in his rugged bed (the inn doesn’t have great accommodations, but it’ll do), a tiny whorl of wind drifting from his hand and swirling the dust of the room around. He gestures with his hand and the whorl disappears. A breeze drifts through the room.
“I... know how to.” Taehyung’s face is sour. “I’m not great at it.”
He reaches out a hand in example and lets a tiny flame hover. It lights up the darkness of their room like an unstable candle.
“Except when you’re mad.” Jimin supplements kindly. “Taehyung is a liar. He’s actually great at firebending, even without a mentor.”
“Can you shut up?”
“But you’re a natural.”
Taehyung dismisses the fire and leans up, staring down gravely at Jimin’s bedroll on the ground.
“I’m serious, Jimin, can you not say that to people?”
Jimin rolls his eyes and sinks into his pillow. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I get why you’re reticent, but still. You’re the Avatar. You’re supposed to be good at all the elements.”
“The Fire Nation is the lone colonizer of every single nation right now.” Taehyung grouses out.
It seems to be a frequent topic of disagreement between them. Jungkook understands why Taehyung is so reluctant to admit his ability, since firebending is feared and reviled by other countries. As a representative of peace, Taehyung likely isn’t too keen to associate himself with the element. Jimin has no qualms, however.
“Taehyung is awful at waterbending.” Jimin reveals easily. Taehyung scowls. “He’s alright at earthbending. Mostly, he just picks up on airbending and firebending the best, even though he tries not to firebend.”
Jungkook recalls witnessing Taehyung earthbend against Yoongi and Jieqiong; the Avatar was competent and able, but evidently no master of the geokinetic ability.
“I could practice earthbending with you.” Jungkook suggests, perking up at the prospect of earthbending. Just thinking about bending makes him feel a little less desolate.
“Good idea!” Jimin voices approvingly. “And don’t slack off with water bending either, Tae. I’ll be overseeing that.”
Taehyung groans aloud. He must be really, really bad at waterbending or something. The idea is humorous— Taehyung allegedly grew up as a water bender, too. Perhaps it was a personality mismatch. Taehyung was spontaneous, easygoing, and all-over-the-place. Certainly not the type of personality naturally matching stable earthbending or emotionally cool waterbending.
Swallowing his thoughts over bending compatibility, Jungkook turns to the wall and closes his eyes. His head is cottony and full; exhausted. His limbs ache sorely from sitting in a hard wagon, legs mush.
Breathing in evenly, Jungkook sleeps.
“How do you know Jieqiong?” Jungkook asks curiously.
They’re finally on the boat to the Northern Water Tribe, and slow rocking of the boat is strangely soothing. Taehyung lays on a bed of furs, sleeping as their guide gently rows them. It’s a man from the Water Tribe, actually, one of their contacts and friends called Minjae. Time passes, and Jungkook grows more comfortable. Staying on the move distracts him from more unpleasant thoughts.
Jimin glowers at the question and crosses his arms.
“She’s vicious. And crazy.”
Jungkook waits for more elaboration as Jimin struggles to find the words.
“Princess Jieqiong is… ambitious. She’s been trying to capture Taehyung since she caught wind he was in the Northern Water Tribe. It’s actually why we left.”
"We told travelers that we were the Avatar and I even made Taehyung bend multiple elements at the villages we stopped at. We made sure word reached the Fire Nation before they mobilized their navy."
It was logical. Why would the Fire Nation expend resources attacking the Northern Water Tribe for a single individual that already left? In doing so, Jimin and Taehyung had ensured the safety of their tribe.
“And…” Jungkook swallows, finally ready to say the name. “Yoongi? Do you know him?”
Jimin’s gaze softens. He uncrosses his arms and clutches at the wood seat below him.
“No, I don’t.” Jimin says. “All I know is that Fire Nation warships are constructed by one family. That family holds a majority share over metal sourcing. And…” He hesitates. “Every single warship I’ve seen has that insignia printed in red on its hull.”
Jimin points at the jade bangle hanging off Jungkook’s wrist.
Jungkook’s mind races. Does Yoongi come from that family? Does this mean Yoongi’s family is nobility? It would certainly explain his position as a general despite being so young, and his incredible and overwhelming wealth.
“The Fire Nation has the strongest navy in the world.” Jimin says seriously. “They pay their soldiers well. Contracted foreigners are generously compensated. Their strategy guarantees loyalty and subservience.”
“We should be wary.” Jungkook says at last.
Because he’s Earth Kingdom, not Water Tribe, and he doesn’t have to worry about the constant fear of a naval invasion. It’s a different sort of fear, with the Earth Kingdom. Generals, and now Admirals. How was it that one Nation has such a dominion over war?
“Let’s make haste.” He says, and stands up. “Minjae, I’ll help.”
Jimin twists his arms in tandem with Minjae, and the water flows around them, pushing the boat smoothly forward. They go at a faster pace now. Taehyung snorts in his sleep and curls in, legs wrapped around the fur. He’s a cuddler, that one.
Everything is a novelty. Jungkook stares in awe at giant glaciers, rolling waters and ice caps floating amidst dark blue. As they approach North, sea otters and puffins float in the water or perch above ice. Jungkook can’t stop staring. It’s all so new. Jimin, however, is right at home. He breathes comfortably, warm air misting from his nose in practiced tradition.
All Jungkook feels is overwhelmingly cold. He is not used to this.
“Look.” Minjae points. Jimin grins broadly. It’s the happiest he’s looked in a while.
The Northern Water Tribe is protected by simple snow embankments and surrounded by a fortified ice wall, topped with sections of skilled waterbenders. It’s not as large as the Outer and Inner Wall of Ba Sing Se, but it’s ice. Jungkook’s jaw drops. There’s a certain elegance to it all; crafted sculpture and plain minimalism. But still grand.
“Wait until you see the Moon Sanctuary.” Jimin smirks, hands planted firmly on his waist and looking stupidly pleased. He kicks Taehyung. “Wake up, man. We’re finally home.”
Everything is cold.
Jungkook doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to it. But it is strangely pleasant, in a way. Isolated but comforting. Jin likes nature. Yoongi would hate this.
Jungkook shifts in bed and stares at the wall, wrapped in warm furs. He drives his mind to happier thoughts. The food here is great. Warm, roasted duck and cooked seal with fresh water. The people are extraordinarily hospitable. At least three women have approached him seductively, amazed at the foreignness of his relatively pale skin (Jungkook wishes they could see Yoongi) and his attractiveness. Someone even told him he’d make wonderful children.
Taehyung had laughed awkwardly and steered Jungkook away.
The waterbending is lovely, too. Jungkook finally sees Jimin in his element, body arching like a wave over ice, twisting water into complex shapes and demonstrating the flexible attack capabilities of waterbending. He also learns of the women practicing the healing arts— Jungkook even opens his mouth to ask an Elder about it, since he remembers Jimin healing their injuries, but in the background, Jimin slashes at his throat in a desperate gesture. Jungkook duly shuts up.
“I wasn’t supposed to learn healing at all.” Jimin says embarrassingly. “I mean, it’s more okay for a man to learn the feminine arts than the other way around, but it’s still pretty frowned upon.”
Ah. “I see.”
Jungkook recalls Jieqiong. How ironic was it that the most oppressive and imperialistic of all the nations was the least sexist one?
On the other hand, Taehyung really is poor at waterbending. He’s not awful, but compared to Jimin and the Council Masters, he is comparably mediocre.
“Waterbending is all flow, fluidity, gracefulness.” Jimin explains.
Taehyung chuckles shamefully; all things that he lacks.
“I’m very spontaneous.” Taehyung explains. “Free-spirited. Being the Avatar doesn’t mean I just master everything immediately. I need to connect with the element. But it’s hard with a personality mismatch.”
Jungkook understands. In the aftermath of the attack during his childhood, he’d felt like everything in his life was uprooted. Jungkook hadn’t been able to earthbend for a while.
Jimin and Taehyung show him around. It’s like a fantasy here, beautiful and cold and majestic. Foreign. The Moon Sanctuary is the most surreal, embedded deeply within the city and thoroughly part-temple. Jimin explained their religion to him, their worship of the Moon and the importance of lunar fish. Fascinated, the stories of Water Tribe culture immerse Jungkook away from his day-to-day turmoil.
But, all this feels temporary. The truth is, Jungkook doesn’t feel safe anymore. Without stable earth underneath him, Jungkook technically lays adrift the sea.
Distraction is still temporary, and Jungkook feels something coming.
Something. And who knows what it is?
A storm, perhaps.
This wraps up the equivalent of "Book 1", and initiates the beginnings of a journey outside of Ba Sing Se; to places unknown.
Chapter 9: min yoongi
“Admiral Min, we—”
“It’s General Min, now.” Yoongi corrects coldly. The soldier winces and nods, head bowed low. “I don’t dabble in seafare war tactics anymore.”
“I’m sorry, sir. Of course, sir.”
The Fire Nation soldier next to him shoots the man a sympathetic gaze, as if it is an unspoken fact that Min Yoongi’s singular attention is akin to an unpleasant curse.
“Report.” Jieqiong demands, body stiff. Soot dusts at her nose. She's a mess.
Yoongi watched her grow up— he can tell she isn’t happy with this turn of events. Jieqiong is generally easy to please, but getting involved in all this capturing-the-Avatar-nonsense has lowered her mood drastically in the last year.
The group Captain speaks: “We didn’t enter past the Inner Wall, as instructed. General Yoongi found us and directed us towards you, Princess. The Dai Li are still active, and are temporarily distracted.”
“They’ll be moving towards us now.” Another soldier interjects.
The Captain nods. “I recommend an immediate retreat.”
Jieqiong stares hard at Yoongi. He beckons lazily with his hand.
“Head out.” Yoongi orders.
The entire entourage moves obediently, and they shift with the practiced motion of professional firebenders, escaping before blame can be cast upon them. Even with his tail between his legs, Yoongi would rather die than be the man who incited war between Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom.
Yoongi doesn’t dabble in seafare war tactics, but his mind still operates like it.
The Avatar has retreated to the Northern Water Tribe. Yoongi doesn’t even need to send spies this time. It’s easy to deduce.
He wonders how historians will depict this era. “An age of expansion eventually wrought with international instability and internal political tensions” perhaps. Maybe it’ll be a kind retelling, or a twisted retelling. It all depended on who won, and who was writing.
Capturing the Avatar is a massive, one-man undertaking. Seeking to accomplish this alone is virtually impossible, bordering on masochistic arrogance, and yet here Yoongi is, alone in the Earth Kingdom. He’d been here for months. Someone like Jimin would accuse him of attempting to assert mastery over a dying country. The Air Temples were extinguished, Water Tribes deteriorating. To Jimin, it would seem like the Earth Kingdom was next.
Yoongi wonders what Jungkook thinks of him now.
But no. That’s not the reason why Yoongi is here.
“Master Yoongi.” Jieqiong sidles up to him, voice quiet. “Are we heading back to the Capital?”
Yoongi quirks an eyebrow. “I don’t know. Are we?”
It’s a lesson he’s been trying to teach her for years: never show deference to someone else. You will be seen as weak, feeble, and a false ruler. It would be easy for Yoongi to usurp the throne if she inherited at this rate. Her title as a Princess should precede her respect for him. It had always been hard for her to understand this, especially as a child overtaken by hero-worship.
“We’re going to the Capital.” Jieqiong declares, only half-confident. “I mean, that’s what makes sense, right? The Avatar escaped to the Northern Water Tribe. We should amass an army and attack immediately.”
Yoongi nods approvingly. “Good. But wrong on the second part.”
Her body is angled towards him, raptly attentive. Yoongi sighs.
“Face forwards.” He demands. She twitches and turns, appropriately scolded. “You can’t let the soldiers see how you concede to me.”
“Sorry.” Jieqiong mutters.
“It’s fine. Just be more aware.”
Yoongi is soft— always, so soft on people, especially people who he liked. He hates it. If he’d just attacked, the Avatar would already be in their grasp, and this entire ordeal over. If he’d attacked Jungkook instead of loitering and hoping pointlessly that the younger man would have simply left—
Jaw tight, he strides briskly forwards.
They head towards the west, the direction of the Fire Nation Capital. The High Generals are likely in turmoil as usual, but at least Namjoon has the intellectual capacity to maintain his political position. A hawk has already been sent out.
A ship will be waiting for them. Yoongi knows it.
Especially after his humiliating failure to capture the Avatar.
It’s hard not to think about Jungkook. Thankfully, Yoongi is excellent at avoiding his problems.
He breathes in and empties himself of emotion. There is only unwavering will and no room left for doubt. A determined, unflinching ambition will guide him back home.
This is how he generates lightning.
It is the one thing that comes easy to him. Most firebenders cannot formulate lightning without strict training, and even then, it’s difficult. Lightning-bending requires a complete lack of inner turmoil; the ability to be at peace. In emotions, calm— in actions, aggressive.
It takes a week to arrive at the Pohuai Stronghold near the Ruins of Taku. To the West of Ba Sing Se, forest; and even more west, the destroyed Earth Kingdom city of Taku, a place which has now been taken over by Fire Nation infiltration teams.
The fortress is under the command of Colonel Shinu. The man has been itching for a promotion for the last few years, rallying up the Yuyan Archers to higher and higher acclaim in hopes it will acquire the Fire Lord’s attention. Yoongi has met him a few times. They’re not too fond of each other. Yoongi is half Shinu’s age and already a High General. It surely irks the older man, knowing this.
“Welcome, Princess Jieqiong, General Min.” The men of the Stronghold echo in tandem, bowing their heads in traditional Fire Nation tradition.
It’s been so long. Yoongi hasn’t had someone bow properly to him in months.
The show of respect reminds him of his who he really is: a Fire Nation High General working for the nation’s best interests.
“Rise.” Jieqiong commands. She’s really good at this part, gracious but controlled. “Colonel Shinu. You’ve done well with the Yuyan Archers.”
Shinu positively preens with the praise. “Ah, thank you, Princess. You flatter me. I’ve set aside rooms for you and General Min. I hope they will suffice.”
Spirits, this is so boring. Yoongi finds formalities like this annoying. Actually, Jieqiong probably finds them more annoying, but at least she’s great at facades. Besides, it’s her job to do shit like this.
The tower at Pohuai is based on an ancient prototype of Fire Nation wall defense, but the architecture itself is new. The stronghold is, after all, in the Earth Kingdom. Taku, an important strategic city, had been demolished nearly twenty years ago. The Pohuai Stronghold had been built in place as a strategic foothold in the Earth Kingdom. There were supposedly still some inhabitants living nearby, but barely enough to constitute a small village.
“Why was the city demolished?” Jieqiong inquires as they depart to the lower levels.
“Trade. To cut off Earth Kingdom resources.”
It had been High General Bujing’s idea. This was before Yoongi replaced him, of course.
They reach the colder, wetter lower levels of the Stronghold. Most of the training area has been vacated in anticipation of Jieqiong’s presence. She favors training alone. Yoongi is the single exception, and only because she has something to learn from him.
“You want to train.” Yoongi voices disbelievingly. “Now?”
Jieqiong shrugs off her green robes to reveal her tight, red battle clothes. She has discarded purely ornamental wear not because of scorn, but because of the genuine inconvenience of ruining good clothes.
This is a convenience Seokjin and Jungkook don’t have. Yoongi hadn’t realized it until he arrived at the Lower Ring— that people didn’t regularly possess excess luxuries. Perhaps it was the cultural arrogance of having a rapidly industrializing country, but Yoongi felt bad seeing such hardworking people receive so little for their efforts. Thus, the generous donation of seven gold ingots. It was nothing to him, but everything to the tea house.
And now, those months seemed meaningless. Jungkook had chosen his side.
Yoongi takes in a shaky breath at the thought. He must control himself.
Jieqiong settles into a conventional battle form, arms raised in front of her. Her jaw is tight.
“Your desire gives you power.” Yoongi comments, circling around her. “But you are emotionally displaced.” He ignores the hypocrisy of his own words. “You won’t be able to achieve what you want.”
What she wants: lightning-bending. She’s been wanting blue fire and lightning for ages, but Yoongi can see the broiling lava within her. She can’t. Of course, a key point of generating blue flames and bending electricity is repressing emotions. And not just repressing them, but virtually erasing them; to become an empty vessel devoid of feelings. The body becomes a tool, the flames purer. Stronger.
Furthermore, the individual should have reached the pinnacle of skill before all of this. Not even Yoongi can emit blue fire. He doesn’t have the singular, modal focus of a sociopath.
Jieqiong blasts a ray of fire at him. His words place her in a foul mood, as usual.
He arches an eyebrow. “Didn’t you want lightning? I can show you.”
Jieqiong has seen it a hundred times, but every time he offers, she never declines. Like a child, she’s fascinated by it. Hopefully, she understands that technique is only half of it and that internal state of being is the other half. Lightning is a bit easier than blue fire— inherent calm rather than almost inhumane emptiness.
“Empty your thoughts,” Yoongi says, drawing the power through his left arm and gathering it from the air. He lets the energy formulate in his core, aggregating all his chi to his right hand. “Calm your mind.” He breathes and focuses on his index and middle finger, a focal point for the electricity. It’s the most standard way to do it.
But there’s something wrong. Strange.
The energy isn’t smooth or flowing. It’s jagged and tumultuous—shaky even. Yoongi abruptly realizes that the lightning isn’t right.
It’s too late. Only by chance does his honed sense and reflexes save him from a nasty scar on his face.
An amalgamation of lightning and fire erupts from his entire hand, a huge explosion rocking the entire training room. A corner of the room blows up, flashing with electricity. Debris and dust fill the room.
Yoongi hisses at the burning on his right hand, the ache of muscle jolting up his arm.
“Master!” Jieqiong screams worriedly. She chokes on a cough, the dust in the air stifling.
Her body happens to slam into him in the blind confusion, and he blinks through tears of smoke as he navigates them to the exit. Once they reach the entrance upwards, devoid of polluted air, they both collapse on the stairs.
Jieqiong rubs at her eyes. All Yoongi can do is stare appallingly at his hands.
What the fuck just happened?
His right hand is mostly fine— bright red with first degree burns and going to peel over the next few days. Two of his fingers, however, are in poor shape. Fleshy red and bubbling with blood, he winces at the torn flesh of his index finger. It stings with needles and burns like searing fire. He bites back a groan when a breeze hits his wound the wrong way. Even thinking or looking at the wound enhances the throbbing.
“Yoongi,” Jieqiong says, “What happened? Oh, shit— your hand!”
“I lost control.” Yoongi replies dumbly. He’s frankly dumbfounded.
This has never happened before.
And he doesn’t want to admit it, but— the body is merely a conceptual apparatus for lightning-bending. He knows he has the technique down perfectly, which only means… there’s some sort of internal, emotional issue going on.
“You don’t think it’s—” Jieqiong cuts herself off.
Yoongi grits his jaw through the pain and tries not to whimper.
“Say it.” Yoongi forces out. He’s never liked lies and he refuses to accept any from her now.
“Fine.” Jieqiong snaps. “You don’t think it’s your feelings for Jungkook, right? I’ve never seen you lose control like that. And I’ve never seen you date anyone either, so…”
“Jungkook? No way.” Yoongi instantly denies, even though he knows it’s highly likely. It’s a little too much to admit out loud, though.
Jieqiong stares pointedly at the empty spot on his wrist, the place where his family bangle should be. Oh, shit. It makes sense; she and Jungkook had shared a jail cell. Of course she'd noticed. It doesn't make him any less embarrassed, though.
“All you do is blather on and on about internal peace and separating the negative and positive energies. Has it ever occurred to you that romantic feelings can impede that?”
It has indeed occurred to him, but not in the context of, well, himself. Lightning-bending is a cold-blooded sub-sect of fire bending. The Fire Sages had even warned him that improper use resulted in fatal explosions. He was lucky, this time, that he’d survived.
“I don’t want to talk about this.”
“You like him because he’s handsome, or what?” Jieqiong demands.
Well, she certainly has the traits of a firbender: relentless. She’s making a few assumptions there. The first one being that Jungkook was freakishly attractive (true). The second assumption was that Yoongi would fall for any pretty face (not true). Yoongi liked Jungkook for far more reasons than just his face, and…
And now Yoongi knew exactly why he’d failed at generating lightning.
“Go away, kid.” Yoongi rolls his eyes, standing up and hissing at the pain in his hand.
“We need to get you a healer.”
“You mean a waterbender?” Yoongi scoffs.
Jieqiong tightens her lips. “I mean anyone who has the skills to help with your wound. I’ll ask Colonel Shinu.”
Yoongi holds up his uninjured hand, palm up in rejection. “No. Don’t ask him. I’ll find a healer myself.”
“Princess Jieqiong.” Yoongi says icily, and she freezes. After a moment, her body relaxes in a concession.
“Fine.” Jieqiong replies at last. “We leave in two days. Get yourself a healer by then.”
It’s fairly simple. Yoongi asks one of the fortress guards on any nearby settlements— apparently there are still some remnants of former city inhabitants living there. Among them, a herbalist near the ruins of Taku. Yoongi hides his wounded hand, citing his interest in the geographical scenery.
No one questions him. No one dares to. He’s developed quite a reputation, not all of it undeserved.
Yoongi wanders away from the Pohuai Stronghold into the surrounding Taku ruins.
To the far west is the Gulf of Ratta, a port that the Fire Nation had used to begin their far-flung colonization attempt. Taku was an important settlement for trade internal to the Earth Kingdom. It was also used for the exploitation of rich mines— nearby was a large smelting center. All this knowledge is based on historical textbooks or scrolls, of course. Yoongi was barely old enough to understand what an invasion was back then. All of the Fire Nation High Generals were someone different— a different Fire Lord, a different time.
The abandoned city of Taku is huge and eerily silent. Birds chirp innocently in the distance, a stark contrast to the remains of a dead city.
Perhaps the creepiest part are the funerary graves. Earth Kingdom funerals involved huge burials, especially for the aristocratic elite. The Fire Nation is much of the same; opulently furnished tombs, grave goods inlaid with amber and gold and silver, commissioned art for the afterlife. With vast trade in Taku decades ago, it is no surprise there had been so many wealthy people living here. The evidence is all in the graves.
Yoongi walks through Taku’s dire necropolis— a city in its own right. This one, though, is full of the dead. It is a graveyard modeled in the form of a city— huts and buildings that are half-underground, containing the bodies of olden dead. When the citizens evacuated, they had no ways of bringing their dead ancestors along with them. So, here lies a city of the dead.
Incredibly creeped out, Yoongi walks quickly through the ruins.
The herbalist hut isn’t hard to find. She lives on a cliff face, smoke rising from her chimney with blatant habitation. Plus, Yoongi is fairly decent at tracking. He knocks on her door awkwardly and shifts from side to side.
The door creaks open. An old woman peeks her head out. She squints.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Hello.” Yoongi says, “I heard you were an herbalist? I injured my hand and was hoping you had some remedies.”
“Heard from who?” She grouses suspiciously at him. Yoongi looks down at himself. He’d made sure to dress in Earth Kingdom style.
“Um?” Yoongi tries, “Nearby?”
Yoongi realizes that there’s nothing ‘nearby’ besides the Pohuai Stronghold and blanches.
“I have no reason to help you.” The Herbalist says, glowering unsympathetically. She begins to close the door, and Yoongi bows.
He can’t seek help from Shinu. It’s a political concession that he can’t make, and neither can Yoongi remain totally injured. There’s so much potential for something to go wrong, and he needs to be at a peak physical state.
“Please.” Yoongi says, face bowed low, hands clasped in front of him in a traditional Earth Kingdom act of respect. “I’m a Fire Nation traveler. I’m not… I’m not an archer from the stronghold.”
The Herbalist studies him with narrow eyes and slowly opens the door.
“That’s an Earth Kingdom nobility bow through and through. And those clothes… are you a trader?”
Yoongi swallows. “Of sorts.”
He feels her gaze scrutinize her body for a few seconds. Then, she heaves a big sigh and creaks the door open at last.
“Come in, then, child.” The Herbalist mutters. “I’ll see what I can do.”
The Herbalist studies his hand with rapt attention, turning it this way and that in her weathered hands. She unseats herself to retrieve various herbs, grinding plants together with precise detail.
“Is this injury from a firebender?” She asks, back turned and hunched in her mature age.
Yoongi pauses. “Yes.”
He almost feels guilty for lying. None of it is a direct falsehood, though.
“So, you’re a traveler.”
“Indeed.” Yoongi replies, “Honestly, this is just a temporary interlude in the Earth Kingdom. I got involved in a bit of action, so…”
The Herbalist nods like this is normal news. She adds water to the concoction, fusing it into a paste. “How unfortunate. The Fire Nation is even hurting their own, now?”
The two of them make small talk. She tells him about how most of her herbs are unavailable, especially the ones for more complex diseases, because of Fire Nation patrols and proximity to Pohuai. Yoongi swallows his pit of unease and swears to make things easier for her when he gets back.
“I thought there were more inhabitants here?” Yoongi inquires curiously.
The Herbalist barks out a laugh. “Your information is outdated, then. You didn’t know? The Earth Kingdom is calling for military recruits and beginning conscription.”
“Conscription?” Yoongi repeats, blood running cold.
The Herbalist nods. “The people here— most of them left to help out the war effort and prevent the Fire Nation from encroaching on our territory.”
Yoongi’s mind races. Ba Sing Se has taken action after the Fire Nation infiltration was found out. That was fast. Defenses are likely being mounted at the coastal cities, to prevent the seaborne enterprise of foreign prospectors. Militarization doesn’t mean war, but it certainly isn’t a good sign. The Earth Kingdom is a defensive nation and needed unanimous votes on the Council of Five to declare wartime. Furthermore, General Jung was a pacifist. Yoongi knew he’d try to veto the order if it passed— and it couldn’t have passed. Not with him on the Council. Unless… he wasn’t, anymore.
“Oh.” Yoongi takes in a deep breath. “I see.”
Yoongi wishes Namjoon were here. The man is strangely reassuring, a comforting and logical presence. He would have considered every strategical possibility.
Instead, everything feels tilted on its axis.
“You sure you aren’t a soldier?” The Herbalist asks, mildly hostile, finally bandaging up his hands. The cool balm soothes his burns, easing the pain and numbing his flesh.
Yoongi twists his wrist in a practiced motion. “I used to… row boats. Boating.”
The old woman leans back.
“You don’t seem like the type.”
They stare at each other for long a moment.
Yoongi admits, “It’s a family thing. They’re all, uh, really into boating. When I was younger, I just wanted to settle down. Work on some personal projects in the city, you know.”
She sniffs testily. “Now you’re a trader, though.”
“Yeah.” Yoongi says dryly. “Funny how things worked out that way.”
It really was funny, thinking about it. Yoongi just doesn’t want to hear the misnomer ‘Admiral Min’ anymore. It reminds him too much of his family. And that vile idiot, Vai-Meng. Just thinking about the military elites back home makes Yoongi shudder.
The Herbalist pats her hands against her sides. “Alright. Make sure to re-bandage your hand in two days, and expose it to the air. It should peel quite a bit.”
“Thank you.” Yoongi says, heading to the door and pausing. He reaches into his pocket and grabs out a bag of coins, dropping it on the counter near the exit. “Really, thank you. I hope all goes well for you.”
“I don’t need this, boy.” The woman says, but Yoongi shakes his head.
“Just take it.” He doesn’t mention how herb procurement should be significantly easier after today—especially after he gives the orders for the Yuyan Archers to avoid her hut.
She waves an arm and he leaves.
As Yoongi strides briskly through the ruins, he ruminates over the logistics of the Earth Kingdom orders. This is not good.
Yoongi makes it back to the Stronghold in under an hour and sits at his desk, tapping his quill incessantly against the table. He writes two extensively detailed messages— one to Hoseok, one to Namjoon.
Then, Yoongi acquires two hawks. In the stone tower of Pohuai, he watches intently as one flies off to the East, the other to the West, wings flapping rapidly as that of a freer creature than himself.
There will, he thinks, be a hasty change of plans.
Chapter 10: admiral of the north
Two weeks of supreme tranquility have Jungkook settling into a false sense of security. At least Jungkook recognizes that it’s false, though. Taehyung, on the other hand, is having the time of his life. He doesn’t seem to accept the looming power of the Fire Nation.
“Come on.” Jimin snaps, water spiraling gracefully around him in the air. “Tae, you have to learn how to do this.”
“But it’s hard!”
“That’s the point.” Jimin grouses. Jungkook has watched Jimin grow increasingly and visibly more irritated. Despite that, he never loses superb and exact control over the water around him. The pair stand on an icy plateau, in front of the waterbending training halls. Jungkook watches from the balcony, pleasantly entertained by such a spectacle.
Among them, Jimin is the most high-strung. He certainly hasn’t forgotten about the looming Fire Nation threat, and has been pushing Taehyung harder than ever to achieve master waterbending skills. Jimin has multiple tendrils of water coming off the sides of his arms— water whips, he calls them. Snorting, Jungkook wanders away, leaving the fatal interplay of two opposing personalities alone. Unfortunately, Jungkook can’t waterbend, and listening to Taehyung complain has gotten old.
Jungkook likes Jimin and Taehyung. They’re fun and inclusive. Caring.
But Jungkook is homesick as hell. He misses Jin, and the tea house, and Halla and Yugyeom and Yuju. Traitorously, he even misses Yoongi. In the confines of his own mind, admitting it is easy.
Garbed in heaving furs, Jungkook strolls around the icy complex to a bridge overlooking the entire city. In the distance, a waterbending instructor teaches his students near the icy palace. There are no women among them; a small group of around ten boys emulating slow movements articulated by elegant turns and spins.
Here, in this city of ice, there is very little earth to bend. Jungkook had felt the ice walls only to sense earth buried deep down under. Too deep— there is land, but it’s almost undetectable underneath the masses of drifting snow. Using the resources here, Jungkook can’t even bend on his own, much less teach Taehyung anything. It’s probably why Taehyung has been roped into nonstop waterbending lessons the past few weeks, culminating with his childish tantrum at Jimin.
After wandering around for a few minutes, Jungkook finds his way back.
This time, there’s no Jimin. Just Taehyung. And he’s talking to himself.
“—mad at me, Tae Tae?” Taehyung whines at the empty space in front of him, hands clasped together as he pouts at some imaginary person in the air. Then he darts a step forward.
Taehyung’s voice, significantly deeper: “How could I be mad at you, Moon Princess?”
“Don’t be like this, Tae Tae. I love you.” Taehyung’s voice is back to a dolphin high-pitch, emulating that of teenage girl.
Is he… acting? By himself?
“Good.” Taehyung’s voice is gruff again, overly masculine. “Now, come kiss me.”
There is a self-aware pause, as if he realizes the impossibility of kissing a made-up and imaginary person.
“Wow,” Taehyung says, staring into empty space, his voice normal again. “I’m so bored.”
Jungkook’s jaw drops. Fucking weirdo.
“Yeah, that’s normal.” A voice startles from behind him. “Imagine dealing with that for ten years.” Jimin sidles up to him, arms sternly on his waist as he narrows his eyes at the ludicrous scene.
“At least act as a waterbender in your stupid skits!” Jimin shouts with easy familiarity. Then he mutters to himself, “That way you’d practice more.”
Jungkook bites his lip in an attempt not to laugh.
“Whatever,” Jimin rolls his eyes, hands thrown into the air. “I give up. How are you? I wanted to check in.”
“I’m okay.” Jungkook says, rubbing his fingers together and exhaling heated air onto them, trying to get some warmth back into his body. “I'm thinking of whether I should go back to the Earth Kingdom or not.”
“Do you trust what he said?”
It takes a moment for Jungkook to realize what Jimin is talking about— that he’s referring to what Yoongi had said about the tea house being safe under Hoseok’s protection.
“I do.” Jungkook says. “He wouldn’t lie to me about that. I’m just worried about how Jin is doing. Like, emotionally. I hope no one is giving him trouble.”
Jimin nods reasonably. “I’m sorry all this happened. It must’ve been a shock, getting uprooted like that.”
Silence. And then, “If you want to go back, Taehyung and I will help all that we can.”
Jungkook clears his throat and turns to face Jimin, face reddened from the cold. Jungkook really isn't used to this weather.
“What are your plans? Are you and Tae staying here?”
“No way.” Jimin replies quickly. “It’s too dangerous, even if Taehyung doesn’t want to acknowledge it. We left initially because the Fire Nation targeted the Northern Water Tribe. Except they followed us to the Earth Kingdom, and now we’re back home. I’m certain that they know we’re here again. It’s only a matter of time before an attack.”
Jimin’s face is serious. “The Fire Nation has the strongest navy in the world. Why wouldn’t they attack? Besides the obvious goal of capturing the Avatar, the Water Tribes are most vulnerable nation right now. If the Fire Nation wanted to conquer, they would conquer here, first, not the Earth Kingdom. We were safer there.”
“Taehyung wanted to return.” Jungkook says with dawning realization. “Or else you never would have come back.”
Shrugging, Jimin looks out over the city, to where Taehyung is futilely practicing. “This is my home. Taehyung grew up in the South, but I grew up right here, in this city.” His gaze is fond. “If vagabonding is the only way to keep this place safe, then…”
In that moment, Jungkook understands. He would do the same with the tea house a thousand times over, to keep those memories and those people safe from imminent danger.
“But you’re here now, anyway.”
“Taehyung is homesick.” Jimin explains. “I thought, what was the harm in going home for a bit? But now we’ve been here for too long, and grown complacent.”
Jungkook fiddles with the fur on his collar.
“You want to leave.”
Jimin’s tone is resolute. He looks over the city— to Taehyung, his friends and family, the sculpted ice and floating structures, cold water and sea creatures inhabiting the area. To Jungkook, it is apparent that some things are different in this foreign city, but some are exactly the same as back home.
Later that night, Jungkook jerks awake. His chest heaves, sheets sweaty despite the cold.
It’s just a nightmare. Not real.
Trying to calm his breath, Jungkook rubs a palm against his forehead, inhaling and exhaling in concentrated motions. When his heartbeat finally slows, he kneels up on the bed to peer outside— the sun is barely out. Darkness broods over early dawn, illuminating the frozen sea and ramparts of ice in the city. White vaporous air obscures the filmy clouds, giving a distinctly misty feeling of early dawn. Jungkook can’t even remember the contents of his dream, beyond the brief terror when he’d awoken. Maybe it’s subconscious anxiety of his unknown future inundating his mind with worries. Idly, Jungkook touches the bracelet at his wrist and pushes down the dreadful ache in his chest. Thinking about Yoongi brings out a complex array of emotions. Frustration, affection, betrayal, and most particular of them all, guilt. Why did he feel so guilty? Jungkook had done the right thing. He’d saved his friends, repelled the enemies of the Fire Nation— helped restore order. But he felt unsettled.
Since when did he live such a multifarious life full of strife?
Usually Jungkook is a heavy sleeper and certainly not a morning person. Today, however, Jungkook needs some air. He grabs at his shoes, a pair of thick, warm-soled boots lined with fur. A dull thud echoes throughout his room, and he teeters precariously as he pulls on his pants. Strange.
Jungkook grabs his coat and peeks outside inquisitively.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
Perhaps a glacier had separated. That was common in these parts. As warmer weather approached, huge ice structures fell into the water, the larger of which were significant enough to make a ruckus. It was very different from back solid earth back at Ba Sing Se, and Jungkook had no reason to suspect an irregularity.
Except another resounding thud shakes his room. This time when Jungkook looks outside, a giant flaming rock hurls towards the icy house a street below him.
“Oh, fucking—” Jungkook scrambles to hide behind his door as the house-sized boulder crashes into the nearby building with a huge boom. The entire road shakes. His chest heaves with adrenaline, heart racing.
A flaming boulder. Had just crashed. Into the house next to his. His mind struggles to comprehend what had just happened.
What the fuck is going on?
A scream echoes in the distance, and then the sound of voices as the entire city begins to awaken. Another crash. Jungkook darts outside, panicked. The city horns burst loudly in warning of attack.
This must be a siege. Jungkook has never seen one before, but this fiery technology can only mean one thing: Fire Nation weaponry.
Grabbing his coat and running to Jimin’s room, Jungkook realizes with horror that the Fire Nation had caught the Northern Tribe off guard—they’d attacked at dawn at dawn, right when the moon disappeared. The navy had opportunistically planned for weakened waterbenders while most of the city asleep— with no lines of defense, the people of the city ere easy pickings.
As Jungkook runs, sprinting along the icy walkway, he barrels headfirst into Jimin, who hits him with a oomph. Jimin falls backwards, sitting flat on his rear, eyes wide with panic. Jungkook is overwhelmed with palpable relief.
“I was just looking for you—”
Jimin cuts in, half-crazed. “Where’s Taehyung?”
“I thought he was with you!”
“No— he was practicing waterbending all night with the Masters!” Jimin pants, whipping his head around frantically. “Oh, shit. Shit. Shit.”
Jungkook has never seen Jimin lose his cool like this.
“Okay, let’s just calm down. And, um, think about where he could be.”
“I can’t fucking calm down.” Jimin snaps. “I’ve checked his room. I checked the training halls. I even checked the Spirit Oasis. Spirits, I’m going to kill him when I find him.”
Another thundering crash against the walls. They both flinch. Jimin inhales deeply and breathes, eyelashes fluttering nervously.
“Okay. Okay. Let’s head to the wall. The night guards always know what’s going on.”
Jungkook nods. “I’ll follow you.”
They start a brisk pace, and Jimin is noticeably jittery and tense, hands clenching and unclenching with stress. A woman grabs her screaming child, lugging him away from a disintegrated house. People exit their homes, panicked and staring in desolation at the destroyed craters. The scene is horrific. Maybe to ward off anxiety, Jimin starts updating him with news.
“Minjae already went to inform all the Masters. I checked for Taehyung when the attack started, but I couldn’t find him.” Jimin steers them away from the Royal Palace, a conspicuous blue structure likely to be targeted. “The Fire Nation Navy is focusing on the wall right now. They have trebuchets on their metal ships, armed with metal weapons. We didn’t detect them because half their ships were submarines.”
“I didn’t know what they were either. Some form of underwater ships.”
Aghast, they duck behind an alleyway, piercing screams ringing across the city.
The concept is infeasible. How can ships possibly be underwater? That defeats the definition of a ship. Fire Nation ingenuity at its incomprehensible best, again.
Jimin shakes his head. “I don’t get it either.”
Finally, they reach the wall, and Jimin twists his arms as he bends the ice upwards. Jungkook stumbles from the sudden jerk of movement. Jimin wastes no time— they shoot speedily to the top of the wall, the motion somewhat nauseating. The booms have noticeably reduced within the last twenty minutes.
“Jimin!” Someone shouts; an older man, bearded and clothed in intricate fur clothing. This person is evidently of higher status.
The wall is huge. Not as large as the Walls of Ba Sing Se, but still impressive, especially considering they were made of pure ice. The top of the wall provides an a whole area for standing and observing, and it is clearly in use at that very moment. What seems like hundreds of waterbenders are twisting their arms, mini-tsunami’s rising from the ocean and arching over the metal ships to disable them. So this is why the crashing sounds had stopped. The front rows of Fire Nation ships are rapidly being deconstructed and sunken. That's not to say that the threat was gone; hundreds, maybe even thousands of black iron ships traversed the ocean, cutting through floating ice, farther than the eye could see.
“Master Un!” Jimin cries, running over to the old man standing alone, overlooking the chaos. “I couldn’t find Taehyung.”
The man folds his hands under his robes, his wrinkled face crinkling with relief. “Well, good thing you came here. Taehyung is over there.”
He points to the western side of the wall. Indeed, camouflaged within the battalion of waterbenders stands Taehyung, face tense in concentration. Jimin glowers and practically flies over in a rage, leaving Jungkook awkwardly with Master Un.
“You are the earthbender child?” Master Un muses, hands stroking his beard. Air puffs out in front of him.
“That’s me. Yeah.”
“I’m glad they’re making friends. To be honest—” Someone screams from below the wall. A ship capsizes and fire explodes into the air. “—I expected them to form friendships, but not necessarily with skilled benders. I hear you’re a very good earthbender.”
Desperately trying not to glance at the Fire Nation Navy, Jungkook smiles weakly.
“I hope you can teach Taehyung. He has a lot to learn.”
Man, Jungkook would gladly help Taehyung with his earthbending, except there’s no fucking earth here. Thankfully, someone saves Jungkook from answering. Someone runs up to Master Un, face dark. It’s the man who had rowed them to the Water Tribes weeks earlier— Minjae, or whatever his name was. He was one of Taehyung’s friends and a fairly adept waterbender as well. Also, apparently, royalty. The son of the Chief.
“We’re holding them off, but the scouts say there’s more movement down south!”
Master Un stiffens. “They have a second fleet.”
Minjae breathes despairingly. “But— how do you know that?”
Already shaking his head, Un strides towards where Taehyung and Jimin are deeply engaged in a heated argument.
“It’s obvious.” He explains, “The Fire Nation can’t afford to wait until nighttime, which is when the moon shows favor. So their Navy is, quite intelligently, amassing themselves now. Taehyung, Jimin!”
The two are absorbed in a impassioned debate. Jimin stops mid-sentence, scowling unhappily.
“Master!” Taehyung says, turning, “I swear I can fight. I’m not useless, I—”
“You must leave.” Master Un’s voice is stern. Jungkook gazes over the Navy. A tiny black dot blots in the sky.
Jimin interjects, frustrated, “I told you, Taehyung, if you leave, we’d keep the city safer than if you were here.”
“Guys.” Jungkook says, with impending unease.
He’s duly ignored.
“Can’t you go into Avatar State?” Minjae wonders.
“And if he fucking dies? What then?”
“I think I can speak for myself, thanks.” Taehyung snarls at Jimin. “And I’ve tried going into Avatar State, but for some reason, I can’t.”
“Guys.” Jungkook bursts out loudly, seizing Taehyung’s arm. “Something is coming at us.”
The black dot is closer than ever, and Master Un pales. His mouth parts. The waterbending master pushes them forwards, arms arching tenuously. Water coils around the four of them defensively, which is when Jungkook realizes that the monstrosity hurdling at them is an enormous metal ball.
And just meters away, a huge block of metal crashes into a top section of the wall, disintegrating it into pieces.
Jungkook wheezes, hands sweating despite the bleakly frigid weather. They're alive.
“Good call.” Master Un pants, arms protectively around Taehyung and Jungkook. Jimin crawls up the side of a wall using his water whip, and Minjae gapes stupidly at the blasted hole in the wall. It hadn’t smashed into them, but it had hit the nearby battalion of benders. Blood splatters across the blue ice— the bodies already fallen into water.
Dozens of people, dead.
“No.” Taehyung stands petrified, staring numbly at the smoking remains. “But… why?”
“We need to leave.” Jungkook startles himself by saying. “You can’t— you can’t fight that.”
He remembers the attack on his village. The burnt, hissing embers of wood. And that hadn’t even taken a whole damn fleet.
“Jungkook is right.” Jimin echoes, blinking back tears. He’s not looking at any of them— only the empty space where people had just stood. Jimin had known those people. He grew up here, after all.
“But Master Un—”
“I,” Master Un says, “Would sacrifice myself a thousand times over, if it meant keeping you out of Fire Nation hands. We will fend them off. Leave.”
Face torn, Taehyung bites his lip, agonized with indecision. Another black dot appears on the horizon, and Jungkook tenses. There must be some technologically advanced ship out there with extraordinary projectile functionalities. Unfortunately, none of the waterbenders can get to it. The ship is too far and protected by dozens of intermittent firebenders.
Jimin's face finally twists as he grabs Taehyung, hauling him away. Taehyung lets out a choked noise of protest, body practically rooted in place from shock.
“Good luck.” Minjae murmurs, hands moving already in tandem with the waterbending teams. “There’s a small island nearby. It has a boat and a sanctuary. Get out of here.”
“We will.” Jungkook says, before Jimin pulls them over the eastern ledge.
His arms intricately bend them down the slope, and off through the city in a shaped mini-sled. They slide quickly to a more abandoned side of the city, where the Spirit Oasis is. They’re traveling so quickly that the wintry air stings crisply at Jungkook’s face. Jimin’s arms flourish and undulate unforgivingly, pushing them through the terror-stricken city.
“There are ice caverns connected to the Spirit Oasis.” Jimin says, for Jungkook’s benefit. His voice trembles a little. It’s a fair testament to the strength of Jimin’s resolve that he hasn’t broken down yet. Taehyung remains completely silent, stock-still. “We can get out from there.”
“Wouldn’t the Fire Nation know about this?”
Jimin shakes his head. “You have to swim through ice cold water to get there.”
The city is in a panic. People rush from their homes, grabbing supplies and heading towards the Sanctuary, hidden behind the valley. Screams and cries from children echo across the city— fire lights up remnant weaponry, torches rolling onto the ground. Homes empty swiftly from organized evacuation.
For a moment, they’re all quiet, leaving the background ruckus of the city.
“I left them behind.” Taehyung suddenly says vacantly, eyes peering wide at his spread hands. “This was all my fault.”
“It’s not your fault—” Jungkook says, except Jimin scoffs.
No one says a word in the aftermath of Jimin’s display of attitude. Jungkook gawks at him.
“Are you serious?” Jungkook questions disbelievingly. Taehyung doesn’t need that right now. None of them need that right now. They’re close enough friends that Jungkook can voice his open incredulity. They finally reach their destination, the Spirit Oasis temple bowing exquisitely above them.
Jimin stops bending and doesn’t reply, stepping off the ice and striding towards the Spirit Oasis. Jaw set, Jungkook is ready to run forward and demand answers, except Taehyung rests a hand on his shoulder.
“Let him be.” Taehyung mutters quietly. Reserved. “Some of those waterbenders were his friends.”
Glancing between the two of them, Jungkook bites his lip and nods jerkily. He doesn’t want to pick a fight, especially under these circumstances. Together, they follow behind Jimin and step into the Oasis. The area is lovely—sunlight spills into the warm cavern, a pond of clear water holds two Koi fish, and a large tree descends alluringly under a stone arch. Invitingly surrounded by a lush garden, a waterfall flows in the background. Jungkook has never been in here before, but it is lovely.
“Tui and La.” Taehyung murmurs, looking at the pond. “The Moon and Ocean spirits.”
He must be referring to the fish. Sometimes, Jungkook forgets that all the Nations possess their own vast mythical fabrics.
Jimin is staring at the waterfall, brow furrowed. He lifts both hands and curls his hands— the water diverts, revealing a blue, glowing cavern and flowing water. A deep pool lies at least three meters down. The water looks freezing.
“You want me to jump in that?” Jungkook asks, doubtful.
“Air bubble.” Taehyung replies, studiously not looking at Jimin. “We’ll bend the water around us. It won’t be bad.”
“Uh huh.” Jungkook says, gazing with skepticism as Jimin jumps in first. Jimin splashes into the pool. A burst of glacial air hits Jungkook from below, and he winces unappealingly. Jimin beckons with a hand, and Jungkook inhales. Now or never, he supposes.
Jungkook jumps. For a brief moment, terror overwhelms him, except only his feet dab the icy water— the rest of his body is dry, and Jimin spirals his hands expertly. Taehyung wades in beside him, and silently nods towards the darkened depths of the water.
Let’s go. Jimin mouths, and swims.
The water is murky and barely visibly. Deep beneath the ocean, there is little to see. The water is too cold to sustain most life, especially in the presence of an attack—nearby animals have all fled. Indistinct and vague shapes pass blockishly above them, opaquely somber. After a few minutes, Jimin winces, pace quickening. Jungkook can see the surface of where light finally pitches through.
Suddenly, the air bubble crashes, freezing cold water flooding across his body. Fucking hell.
Jungkook gasps at the frostbite inducing sensation, except he gulps in a mouthful of saltwater, choking. The need for survival wins out, and he paddles as quickly as possible to the surface. When Jungkook’s head erupts above water, he spits out ice cold water, shivering.
“Sorry,” Jimin’s teeth chatter, paddling roughly, “I couldn’t hold the air bubble that long. The underwater pressure was weirdly strong.”
Taehyung heaves himself onto a piece of ice, arms bending the water from his clothes. He reaches over to help them both out.
“This sucks.” Jungkook says, watching as the water is bent from his clothing back into the ocean. It dissipates the jittery freeze, but his body is still cold. His muscles feel hazardously close to raw degeneration. “Where’s the island?”
“Around the corner.” Jimin says. “Used to be a fishing cavern, but now it’s a tiny sanctuary.”
All three of them heave, panting with exhaustion. Finally, it’s Taehyung who bends the momentous block of ice in tiny motions. He looks physically exerted even moving his arms. Jimin shivers. They barely inch around the corner when Jungkook sees it— a large cavern, starkly engraved into the glacier-side. A stone figure stands near the wooden dock, some sort of votive statue. There’s no boat.
“Where,” Jungkook asks dangerously, “Is the boat?”
“Maybe it’s deeper inside.” Taehyung suggests, grunting as the ice hits the wooden dock. He topples over, body splayed on the wood. “I am so tired.”
“Get the fuck up.” Jimin snaps, forcing himself up and squinting into the cavern. It’s fairly deep. Light illuminates further down. “I haven’t been here in a while.”
Jimin steps forward. Jungkook can barely move. He swears he’s going to get a case of body atrophy later, and Taehyung seems to be even worse off, groaning in pain.
Something is strange, though, and Jungkook pauses.
Why is there light illuminating this place? There aren’t any sources of natural lighting— no open tops or reflective crystals. It must be coming from somewhere, so Jungkook looks around curiously, half-confused.
Then he sees it. A lit, fiery torch nailed to the wall. It had been placed there long ago— but someone must have lit it recently. Jungkook’s blood runs cold.
Someone is here. Someone knows about this place.
“Jimin, wait a second—” Jungkook says, flustered and alarmed, forgetting about the debilitating fatigue besetting him. Around the corner, Jimin stands absolutely stock-still, face pale.
Jungkook rushes forwards.
The rest of the cave spreads into a spacious cavern. Tiny tufts of grass grow in the middle, and a few mid-sized rocks decorate the sides of the cave. In the back, torches line to highlight a row of stone animals. The main spotlight, however, is the middle of the cave, because this is where their boat is.
The boat is turned upside down, dry and safe.
It’s a nice boat. Sturdy.
Theoretically very good for their prospects, if there weren’t someone sitting on the overlapping ribs of the wooden boat. Jimin is still, as if suspended in time.
The stranger rubs his fingers mindlessly. A tiny fire hovers above his hand whenever he snaps his fingers, dark hair silky smooth and aura dangerous.
He looks up. Jungkook can’t fucking breathe.
“Hello,” Yoongi says.
“Yoongi.” Jungkook chokes out, taking an aborted step forwards before stopping. The guilt rises viciously, pain slashing across his chest.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Taehyung growls, sidling next to Jimin, whose hands are clenched in a struggle to suppress his anger.
Jungkook is so used to seeing green on him that he can’t get used to the sight of red, red and red covered all over his body— Yoongi’s boots are black, but his robes and coat are varied shades of maroon, made of high-quality leather and glossy silk, adorned with warm military outer garb. The getup is rather casual compared to a formal Fire Nation uniform. But, undeniably, Yoongi is nonetheless clothed in an elite variation of the Fire Nation standard.
“I was wondering why there was this nice set-up right outside the city.” Yoongi says conversationally, patting the hull of the wooden boat like he owns it. It echoes hollowly. “I guess it was for you guys.”
Taehyung looks savagely thunderous, weariness erased in favor of antagonized anger. The attack has grated at him— never will Taehyung trust anyone of the Fire Nation easily again. But Yoongi lets the ill-intent slide off him smoothly, scrutinizing Taehyung and Jimin with an arrogant airiness. Then, his gaze slides over to Jungkook. Yoongi’s expression changes. More uncertain, and lacking the easy confidence he’d just displayed. For a moment, Yoongi says nothing, and just stares at him, face flickering unevenly.
“Jungkook,” Yoongi finally utters, and hearing his own name come from Yoongi’s mouth is peculiarly new. “Come here.”
“No.” Taehyung bursts out. “He’s Fire Nation.”
“I’m not planning on hurting any of you.” Yoongi snaps abruptly, startlingly vehement. His dark eyes are still locked on Jungkook. “Least of all him.”
“Don’t trust him.” Jimin warns. “He can lightning-bend.”
The warnings were useless. Jungkook trusted Yoongi— how could he not? Yoongi had saved him. In fact, he’d had ample opportunity to hurt Jungkook and capture Taehyung back in Ba Sing Se, but he hadn’t. And Jungkook knows why, down to his core. Yearning rises like a tide, the longing too powerful to ignore.
Jungkook walks steadily forwards, and Yoongi stands to greet him. Taehyung makes a noise of protest, before it falls into silence.
Slowly. Unwaveringly. A pause.
“Min Yoongi.” Jungkook says, evenly. “So, that’s your real name.”
Yoongi’s face is unreadable, a picture of stoicism. Still, his jaw leaps. They stare at each other for a long moment, too many things left unsaid.
Yoongi reaches up and tucks a strand of hair behind Jungkook’s ear, hand brushing against his ear. The motion is gentle, affectionate.
“Your hair got longer.” Yoongi observes coolly.
“I guess so.” Jungkook touches his head self-consciously. Yoongi watches the familiar motion with fondness. Something alarmingly close to tenderness flashes across his face.
Jungkook glances down and notices Yoongi’s wrapped hand. His right hand is carefully bandaged, two fingers delicately dressed with cloth. Dismayed, Jungkook reaches down to cradle Yoongi’s wrist, gingerly turning his forearm around as he inspects the injury.
“What happened?” Jungkook asks, heart beating frantically. “Are you okay?”
“I’m okay.” Yoongi reassures. His uninjured hand travels to Jungkook’s shoulder, resting firmly. The contact is grounding, in a way. “I’m more glad that you’re okay.” Yoongi’s eyes shut tiredly. “You don’t even know how glad I am to see you.”
“I think I have an idea.” Jungkook says with a chuckle, but it comes out awkward. Yoongi spares him a small smile before turning to Taehyung and Jimin.
The two appear deeply unamused by the entire exchange. Jimin in particular is agitated by the attention.
“You know who I am.” Yoongi says.
His aura changes when he’s talking to Jimin. More dangerous. Sly, confident, and assured, this Yoongi is compellingly authoritative. Even the simplest of words is forceful with intent. This man leads armies and orders soldiers on a regular basis. Jungkook has no trouble believing that this Yoongi could kill someone without a qualm. The change is stupefying.
“I think I have an idea of who you are.” Jimin’s mouth twists mockingly. “High General Min Yoongi.”
“Why are you here?” Taehyung asks, piercing, “If you’re not going to hurt us, then let us leave.”
Yoongi’s hand abruptly drops from Jungkook’s shoulder. He nonchalantly curves around the boat, serpentine. Time falls into deathly suspense. Jungkook can literally feel the tension rolling off Jimin and Taehyung in waves.
“I'm afraid I can't let you leave,” Yoongi says, his fingers grazing against the jagged, cold wall. He turns to face them. “Because I'm here to request your surrender.”
Chapter 11: confrontation
An utter stillness permeates the room, laden with disbelief from all parties. Taehyung stiffens with savage immediacy.
“Surrender? You must be fucking kidding me.” Taehyung hisses.
Jungkook whips his head around to stare at Yoongi, baffled. He briefly considers the chances of having entered a radical parallel universe, bereft of basic logic. Does Yoongi think that Taehyung is actually going to surrender? And does he in any way believe that Jungkook is just going to let that happen?
“Yoongi, you can’t be serious.” Jungkook voices, horrified, his earlier relief dissolving into incredulity. “These are my friends. You can’t hurt them.”
Holding up a hand, Yoongi says, “Let’s not degenerate into violence. I don’t plan on hurting anyone.”
“—yeah,” Jimin interrupts, “Because you’re injured. You’re the one at a disadvantage.”
The way Yoongi says it implies that he doesn’t believe he’s at a disadvantage at all. The insinuation claws at Jungkook— does Yoongi have Fire Nation soldiers stashed around the corner? Doubt creeps up inside him, like a disease.
“Sit down.” Yoongi gestures in front of him.
“You’re fucking kidding me.” Taehyung says. “If you think I’m going to just sit down and chat—“
Jimin strides forward and sits, legs crossed and face grave. Taehyung gapes.
“Talk. What’s the Fire Nation doing here?”
“I’m surprised you’re being so compliant.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Jimin’s voice is cold. “I don’t trust you. I trust Jungkook.”
Jungkook’s breath hitches. The blanket trust and camaraderie startles him, filling him with warmth. His eyes widen at Jimin in amazement— Jungkook really hasn’t done much to earn such trust, and he sincerely hopes it isn’t misplaced.
Taehyung settles beside Jimin, face set in a glower.
“Talk, then.” Taehyung demands.
Jungkook settles a hand on Taehyung’s leg, stilling his slight trembling. Yoongi follows the movement carefully, shifting his gaze to Jungkook’s face. His expression is, once again, unreadable.
“It’s over.” Yoongi says, in a tone that isn't meant to be cold or derisive but still is, simply because of the subject matter. “Our ships are going to conquer your city.”
“We’ve already evacuated.” Jimin replies. “The city may be lost, but our people survive. What’s your point?”
Yoongi’s gaze doesn’t stray. “But Prince Minjae is on the front lines, isn’t he? And his younger sister is still in the palace.”
“If the daughter and son of the Chief are both captured, how do you expect the Northern Water Tribe to subsist?”
“You knew.” Taehyung rasps. “How the hell do you know so much about the Northern Water Tribe?”
They were a relatively isolated people, but Jungkook floods with sudden realization. It was the same way Yoongi knew so many things about the Earth Kingdom— the same way he’d been inundated in Ba Sing Se for months, without fear of discovery.
“Spies.” Jungkook says. “You have spies here.”
“We have spies everywhere.” Yoongi corrects. “The Northern Water Tribe is no exception.”
“But how?” Taehyung asks, his bafflement evident. Everyone knows everyone in the Water Tribes— neighbors for years, families living in the ice, helping each other. There are no strangers.
Yoongi shrugs helplessly. “Money? Safety? People are easily swayed by those things. Not everyone is as loyal as you, Avatar.”
Jimin says shakily, “Is that how you knew we would be here?”
“In part.” Yoongi says. “Our discoveries in subterranean ship exploration makes probing easy. This place was suspicious— a boat with ready supplies off the borders of the city? Be thankful that I found this place first, and not Admiral Zhou.”
Jungkook has no idea who Admiral Zhou is, but the name clearly means something to Taehyung and Jimin, who stiffen.
“Who’s that?” Jungkook asks.
Taehyung replies, “He’s the Admiral of the Northern Fleet. The bastard has been pressuring the Northern Water Tribe borders for months. Zhou has also lead raids on my home down South. He’s bad news.”
Yoongi’s face looks a little sour, like he disagrees. He doesn’t say anything, though.
“So, what? You want us to surrender so that it won’t be a legitimate attack?” Jimin asks.
“Correct.” Yoongi says. “A surrender precipitates any potential future invasions of the Water Tribes. It even means you might get to keep national independence.”
The entire chamber is silent for a moment as the words sink in. It’s a peace offering that bears a heavy weight.
“All of this is at the cost of Taehyung.” Jungkook contributes quietly, voicing out the implication. “Taehyung will have to give himself up.”
Tightening his lips, Yoongi says, “It’s war. Sacrifices have to be made.”
“I refuse.” Jimin bites out. “I absolutely can’t accept that. Not when it’s the Avatar. Taehyung is supposed to bring peace and harmony to the four Nations. We have no guarantee that the Fire Nation will stop its colonizing ventures if Taehyung surrenders. For all we know, this is just a ploy to eliminate him.”
“Even if it’s not, why should Taehyung surrender?” Jungkook cuts in. Yoongi stares at him. “We’ve all been oppressed long enough.”
“Jungkook, you can’t possibly believe…” Skepticism colors Yoongi's tone. “You think that you three can stop the Fire Nation? Don’t fuck around.”
“I’m not fucking around!” Jungkook's voice is loud. It echoes throughout the cave, and Yoongi flinches back in surprise at the utter resolve in his tone. “My family was killed in a Fire Nation raid. My tolerance has a threshold, Yoongi, even for you. I’d rather die fighting than see the Fire Nation destroy more people I care about.”
The air threads soundlessly with tension. Yoongi’s mouth turns white, jaw tight. He speaks, stiff and precise.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I know enough.”
“Be careful with your words.” Yoongi warns sharply, and turns to Taehyung and Jimin. “This is nonnegotiable. Surrender or else.”
“Or else what? You’ll attack?” Jimin adds cynically. “Thought you said you wouldn’t.”
“I’m— fucking spirits— I’m not going to attack you. I wish you people would just cooperate with me.”
Yoongi, who Jungkook knows to be extremely uncooperative, says the sentence without an ounce of irony. Yoongi sits passively, fingers tapping urgently against the stone he’s leaning against. His body language is casual, but there seems to be an inaudible anxiety to him as time passes. Almost like time is running out.
“No,” Taehyung repeats, “I’m not surrendering. At least this way, we have a chance to fight back. I’ve seen towns and cities subjugated by the Fire Nation. It’s not pretty.”
“There’s more at stake than what you know.” Yoongi says. “Jungkook, please.”
It’s a plea. For what, Jungkook has no idea. A plea to go to Yoongi’s side? To stay out of the conflict? To help him convince Taehyung? So many potentialities, and all options that Jungkook rejects. He’s not helping Yoongi on this, no matter how much he trusts him.
“I’m sorry.” Jungkook replies with ultimate finality, and Yoongi exhales with defeat, shutting his eyes very slowly. He maintains his composure with difficulty.
“You’re making a mistake.” Yoongi says, not looking at any of them. “You’re all making a mistake.”
And then Yoongi opens his eyes, staring at some point past their heads, near the corner of the tunnel to the entrance.
“I know you’re there, my friend. Come on out.”
Jungkook whips his head around, flummoxed. Someone had followed them?
A pleasant, almost amused sigh sounds from around the wall, and a man in full metal armor steps out. Advanced, metal plates decorate his body, culminating in the presence of a high-ranking Fire Nation military. The man is tall and wears no helmet. A long, handsome face, almond eyes— he looks at Yoongi familiarly and catalogues Jimin and Jungkook with perfunctory apathy, before settling on Taehyung.
Taehyung grays. A bead of sweat condenses at Jimin’s temple despite the cold, fingers digging into the cold soil.
“Admiral Zhou.” Taehyung mouthes mutely, thunderstruck.
The shock is understandable. Jungkook blinks and double-takes. This is Admiral Zhou, the Admiral of the North and conquerer of Nations? Shouldn’t the man be off commanding his fucking navy or something, since there was a siege going on and all? Jungkook expected someone older, with a beard, and less… elegant. High-class. This man projects more of an image of royalty then Jieqiong does.
“You’re not surprised to see me here.” Zhou notes.
“I guessed that you’d follow me. How long have we known each other, after all?”
Admiral Zhou ignores Yoongi’s comment and squints at Taehyung.
“So, that’s the Avatar.” Zhou crosses his arms. Smiles. “He seems angry.”
“Taehyung isn’t an object.” Jimin snarls, standing up. He splays an arm in front of Taehyung. “Don’t even think about it, bastard.”
Admiral Zhou looks around the chamber, and then back at the exit, thoroughly observational. His inquisitive expression fades into realizing disappointment.
“Oh, Yoongi. I was wondering why you told all the ships to back off,” Admiral Zhou says, displeased. “You said you’d be able to convince the Avatar to surrender. But were you just planning to let them go?”
“That is not true.”
“Yeah, that’s not true.” Taehyung mutters to himself, shooting Yoongi a dark glance.
Admiral Zhou takes a single step forward. Jimin tenses.
“Then why the secrecy? The lack of military support?” Zhou says. “I was suspicious. Frankly, I wasn’t even sure why you wanted to come on this siege. You’re not an Admiral anymore.”
Yoongi stands too, positioning himself a little ways in front of Jungkook. Admiral Zhou takes the minute movement in, eyes finally landing on Jungkook. Jungkook freezes.
“You’re right, Zhou Mi.” Yoongi hums. “I’m not the Admiral of the North anymore. You’ve taken over that position for me, thank the spirits. But you’re doing things with this role that I don’t agree with.”
“A disagreement over politics. We’ve always had that.”
Admiral Zhou is still peering fixedly at Jungkook. Yoongi shifts carefully to block more of his view. Jimin and Taehyung inch closer towards the wall.
“Who is that?” Zhou finally asks scrutinizingly, head tilting to get a better view at Jungkook.
It takes a moment for Yoongi to respond. A moment too long, because Zhou Mi’s face hardens.
“No one.” Yoongi says. “Look, it’s not true. I wasn’t planning on letting them escape.”
“I see.” Now, Zhou Mi’s voice had gone positively frigid. “Perhaps, you weren’t planning to help the Avatar. But you certainly planned for someone.”
“I see the dragon bangle on that man’s wrist.” Zhou says, and that’s what he was looking at, Jungkook realizes. “You directed our troops away from this place because you were protecting someone. Him.”
Yoongi is silent.
And then, “His name is Jungkook.”
“This is treason, Min.” Zhou says. “You gave him an out, and in doing so, you gave the Avatar an out. And now I’m forced to rectify your mistake.”
“Zhou Mi,” Yoongi urges, “Stop this.”
The Admiral stands straight, hands curling in warm-up; tell-tale signs of imminent firebending violence.
“Let him attack.” Jungkook says, placing a hand on Yoongi’s arm. Zhou eyes the contact. “I won’t let him take Tae.”
“Shut the fuck up, Jungkook.” Yoongi snaps, but he doesn’t move to go to Zhou’s side. If anything, he stands even more protectively in front of Jungkook.
“You’re going to help the Avatar,” Zhou Mi echoes in disbelief. “For a lover?”
Little puffs of smoke begin to burst from Yoongi’s palms, spluttering and explosive in agitation. He shifts defensively, bandaged hands uncurling.
“There are some things I’m willing to compromise,” Yoongi says, “And some things I’m not.”
Jungkook can’t help it—his breath hitches. This isn’t going to degenerate into another fight, is it?
Things happen all at once.
Jimin suddenly darts towards the exit, hand wrapped tightly around Taehyung’s forearm. Taehyung jerks in the opposite direction, towards Admiral Zhou, his entire arm wreathed in red flames, face contorted in rage. It’s an assassination attempt. Admiral Zhou blasts flames from both arms, one towards Taehyung and the other towards Yoongi, who warps his arms widely, dispelling the attack.
“Taehyung— you stupid fuck!” Jimin shrieks, half-toppling over in an attempt to pull Taehyung back from his furious lunge. The two collapse on top of each other, and Admiral Zhou uses the chance to jump at them, smirking. His hands crackle with energy.
Jungkook takes off.
“Wait, Jungkook—” Yoongi says, panicked.
Electricity emanates from Admiral Zhou’s body, sparking like a net from his arms. This bastard can lightning bend too? No wonder he’s a renowned Admiral. But Jungkook has no time for deliberation. He slams both hands onto the ground, hoping desperately for some earth underneath all the ice.
Jungkook can barely generate a tiny stone, much less an earthen wall in these conditions. He can't shield Jimin and Taehyung, and they recognize it in tandem. Frantically, Jimin and Taehyung spring apart in opposite directions; Jimin towards the entrance, sprawled across the ground in a painful dive. He crashes headfirst into an icicle, groaning. Meanwhile, Taehyung flings himself towards Jungkook, who grabs him and pulls away from the now empty space where Zhou is aiming.
The lightning crashes like a thousand screeching birds into frost, shattering across the ground.
“Zhou Mi, stop this.” Yoongi yells over the crashing ice, face twisted in anguish.
“You’ve chosen your side, my friend.” Zhou Mi says, face hard and air smoking. His fist clenches. “Don’t lie. I know you and Namjoon have an agenda. You’ve been so secretive these last two years. First abandoning your position as an Admiral and joining the land tactics division, then vacationing in Ba Sing Se as a ruse. Did you think I wouldn't notice? Is this your plan, now— traitorous defection?”
“Do I seem that idiotic?” Yoongi growls. “I’m not a traitor.”
Zhou Mi's lips thin.
“Then move.” He commands.
Yoongi breathes heavily into tenuous silence. “Jungkook. Move.”
“I’m not moving.” Jungkook says.
Taehyung tugs at his sleeve urgently (uselessly).
Jungkook can’t see Yoongi’s face, but he imagines it settles into resignation. Jungkook isn't going to budge on this. Admiral Zhou must see it too, because he narrows his eyes. His arms shudder with lightning. Aims. Crackles blue.
Yoongi doesn’t move. Jungkook’s heart thuds perilously against his ribcage.
“Yoongi.” Jungkook bursts out worriedly.
“I can redirect it.” Yoongi says, but something about his voice is off.
There’s no time to think. A jagged bolt of blue forks brilliantly towards them from Zhou’s pointed fingers, intimidatingly loud. Yoongi catches it, and the current arches into his body, discharging through his fingers towards the ceiling. Both his hands smoke. Blood drips onto the ground.
Admiral Zhou, unfortunately, has no time to take this all in.
“You forgot about me, bitch.” Jimin says from the entrance.
Water rises like a tide behind him, strangely powerful. The moon shines brightly from the open, clear sky. Somehow, through all this, time drifted to darkness. Night. Zhou barely twitches in defense before Jimin encases him in frigid ice, except for his head.
Jimin’s arm hovers outstretched, countenance savagely harsh. “The moon is on my side, now.”
“You.” Zhou spits. “You’re a nobody.”
“I’m the person who’s killing you.” Jimin corrects. It’s the first time he’s ever sounded so cold and heartless. Ruthless. Even somewhat gleeful, in a way. “Because you killed my friends.”
Vengeance is something that has never characterized Jimin in any way. Now, perhaps, it will. People change.
“Then do it.” Admiral Zhou stares Jimin dead in the eye, proud. “I die without dishonor.”
A second of hesitation, but ugly violence mars Jimin’s face. A floating icicle plunges into Admiral Zhou’s neck, blood splattering across Jimin’s face. The red drips dichotomously onto the light blue ground, Zhou’s body still encased like a statue. Stillness penetrates the room, a false tranquility.
The Admiral of the North is dead.
“Yoongi?” Jungkook asks, voice small and tiny as he stares at the other man's back.
Something is wrong with Yoongi.
Skin peels off Yoongi's hands and his former wound opens raw, dripping thick scarlet onto the ground. He stands silently, body spasming for a moment, hands smoking with ash and the smell of embers. Yoongi hacks out a wet cough, something like vomit coming out in front of him, except Jungkook realizes that he’s spewing blood. And then Yoongi collapses straight onto the ground.
Jungkook barely manages to catch him.
“Oh, shit. Shit.” He tries shaking Yoongi. Blood trickles from the corner of the man's mouth, head lolling to the side ineffectually. “Don’t do this to me. Don't you dare. Not after protecting me, you asshole.”
Nothing has an effect. Yoongi, for all intents and purposes, looks like a corpse, face paling by the second. Jungkook hadn’t known the man could get even whiter— yet somehow a gray pallor colors his body.
“What’s wrong with him?” Taehyung asks detachedly.
Jungkook barely registers his presence. Doesn’t even notice Admiral Zhou’s frozen corpse. Instead, Jungkook checks for a pulse.
It’s so weak that he can barely believe that it's real; it might be a hallucination borne out of desperation.
“Please wake up. Yoongi, please—”
Jungkook rips apart the man's shirt, tearing off his leather outerwear. Yoongi’s chest is bruised so dark that it’s almost black. His temple bleeds as well— from what, Jungkook doesn’t know.
“Jungkook, we need to go, now—”
“Get off me!” Jungkook flings Taehyung’s arm off, hovering protectively over Yoongi, eyes wet and blurry and strictly focused on Yoongi’s limp body. His eyesight straightens as he stares ahead and sees Jimin.
Jimin is just standing there next to Zhou’s standing body, dumbfounded and hands uselessly hanging at his sides. Those hands could be doing something, like healing Yoongi. Jimin is a waterbender, isn’t he? He heals people. Jimin can save him. Jungkook surges with desperation and hopelessness.
“Jimin— you can heal people, right? Please heal him. Please.”
Jungkook is begging and he doesn’t care.
Still, Jimin stands there, staring at Jungkook and Yoongi like he’s witnessing a natural disaster happening in front of him. Jimin’s eyes are wide.
He had just killed Admiral Zhou.
Partly out of self-preservation, but also partly out of vengeance. Turmoil flashes across Jimin’s face, hate and uncertainty and affection combating one another.
The icicles of the chamber drip onto the frozen floor, making ceaseless plopping noises that echo in tandem with the rising tension of the room. The air is cold, but Jungkook is so panicked that he might overheat and pass out from heartrending terror. Except he can’t pass out. Not when Yoongi had just saved them.
Taehyung speaks up. “Jimin—”
But Jimin raises a hand sharply, silencing him. His eyes are narrowed, as if he’s come to a decision. Walking briskly forwards, Jimin rolls up the sleeves of his blue Water Tribe furs. To save, not destroy, because he’s a healer, and not a killer.
“I’ll only do this once.” Jimin’s voice is hard. “And only because I know you care about him, Jungkook.”
“Thank you, thank you.” Jungkook is hurt and scared but most importantly— pathetically relieved. Yoongi will be okay. Jungkook trusts Jimin.
Jimin’s bends water from the ground and the air, solidifying a hovering globe of water that washes down to Yoongi’s chest, glowing green and blue.
“Are you kidding me?” Taehyung echoes in disbelief from behind them. “This guy was with Admiral Zhou. He’s not dead— we should leave him. He’ll be fine.”
Jungkook bites his lips hard at the words. He can’t say anything, because Taehyung isn’t fucking wrong. Admiral Zhou Mi had brought a fleet of Fire Nation ships into the Northern Water Tribe with the clear intention of attacking, using superior naval technology. And maybe Yoongi hadn’t been part of the leading forces— but still, he’d come with them. He was on friendly terms with Admiral Zhou. He was a Fire Nation General. There was little dispute on Yoongi’s loyalties. If not for Jungkook, Yoongi would almost certainly have helped Zhou attack Taehyung and Jimin.
Despite it all, Jungkook would sacrifice himself a million times over rather than leave Yoongi behind to die. His heartbeat is calming down, but Jungkook still recalls the desperate hammering sensation battering against his ribcage— the dry, blinding panic and ice sharp pain when he’d realized that Yoongi was laying there on the ground, after taking a hit meant for Jungkook. Thankfully, Zhou is dead now.
“He could freeze to death.” Jimin reasons calmly, hands moving from Yoongi’s chest to his forehead, which is still bleeding in a trickle. “Even if he doesn’t die from his head injury.”
“Fucking fine.” Taehyung snaps, and falls silent, perhaps pouting or perhaps fuming. Maybe even both.
“Taehyung will come around.” Jimin murmurs to Jungkook, palming Yoongi’s forehead before checking his vitals. “He’s just mad.”
“I don’t blame him.” Jungkook whispers hoarsely. The Fire Nation is in the wrong here, but, “I just… it’s Yoongi.”
Jungkook says it helplessly. The same way he feels.
Jimin’s gaze softens. “You’re a sweet kid, Jungkook. You don’t deserve to have all this shit happening to you.”
“None of us do.” Jungkook doesn’t mention Jimin’s abrupt show of rage. Whatever submerged feelings of resentment lie in the relatively temperate Water Trive boy will remain dormant, at least for now. Jimin lifts up Yoongi’s eyelid, then checks his pulse. Nods to himself.
When Jungkook glances down, Yoongi’s eyes are moving restlessly, evidenced by the rapid flickering of his eyelids. He’s unconscious, but alive. Jungkook exhales sharply with relief and collapses a little against Yoongi’s side.
“Oh, Spirits.” Jungkook breathes out. “Thank you. Fuck. Fuck.”
“He’ll be fine.” Jimin promises, letting the water wash to the side. “Look, we really have to go now. This place is too remote, and the Fire Nation fleet will be here any second for Admiral Zhou. They’ll make sure Min is safe.”
Jimin stands to his feet and Taehyung dusts off his hands, the boat settling into the water. Between all this, Taehyung has pulled the wooden boat away from it’s position near the stones in the chamber. Then he looks at the both of them expectantly. Jungkook looks at Taehyung and glances down at Yoongi. Something inside Jungkook has settled deep within him— powerful and moving, as if he’s come to terms with himself.
“I’m not leaving.” Jungkook decides, heart thudding fast. He’s never been so certain.
Taehyung’s mouth pops open.
“I can’t— I can’t leave him.” Jungkook gestures helplessly to Yoongi’s figure.
“He’ll be fine.” Jimin reiterates, tone heavy and eyes like steel. “I made sure of it.”
But how can Jungkook explain that this feeling inside him is against all logic? That his emotions will be in a constant worried flux unless he can see Yoongi visibly recovering? Instead, all Jungkook simply shakes his head.
“But, Jungkook,” Taehyung tries, and this time, Jimin is the one who pulls him away, pursuing his lips.
“Let him be.” Jimin says. “We need to go.”
“I’ll be fine.” Jungkook tries to reassure, as he cradles Yoongi’s head on his lap. Taehyung glances down at Yoongi and stares Jungkook dead in the eye.
“We’ll come back for you.” Taehyung vows, eyes dark, and then he turns to follow Jimin, whose gaze curtly flickers away. Jungkook hears their footsteps echo against the icy ground— and then the sound of waterbending. And then, silence.
Only the shuddering of waves permeates the room. Yoongi takes in a ragged breath, restless in his unconsciousness, fingers twitching. As Jungkook runs a hand through Yoongi’s hair, against all odds, he feels comforted.
No one comes by.
Jungkook grabs ice from the wall and tries to get Yoongi to drink water. The unconscious man barely swallows anything, the liquid sliding down his chin and his neck. He wraps his furs around Yoongi’s body, hoping it’ll supplement for the freezing cold conditions. Jungkook even moves them towards the entrance, hoping that someone will come, sooner rather than later. Yoongi’s lips are turning blue, and Jungkook’s mind races with worry.
The impossibility of a million things— how had the situation progressed to this state? Jungkook cradles Yoongi’s head onto his lap, feeling terrible.
Are the Water Tribes safe? Had Jimin and Taehyung escaped to safety? Jungkook was no longer entitled to the answer. He had made sure of that the moment he decided to stay behind with Yoongi.
But Yoongi was worth it.
Jungkook touches his jade bangle absentmindedly. It hangs innocently off his wrist. Jungkook swallows.
He takes the bracelet off and lifts Yoongi’s limp wrist, making sure to avoid his injures. Slips the bracelet on. It’s back where it belongs.
A horn sounds in the distance.
Through the glacial darkness, a flash of light wanders over the cave entrance searchingly. Jungkook winces at the brightness, squinting. Another blustering sound, this time closer, and Jungkook makes out the hull of a giant, ebony metal ship.
The ship docks. The entire chamber jolts.
“Is that—? High General Yoongi!” A battalion of soldiers descends downwards, clothed in a deep red. Some of them carry torches.
“Where’s Admiral Zhou?”
“Who are you?”
A chorus of whispers sound amongst the relative silence, and Jungkook raises his hands in a motion of surrender. They don’t seem violent. Yet. Just suspicious and on guard. Clearly, Admiral Zhou had alerted his troops to this area some time ago.
Then one of them looks behind him, and sees Admiral Zhou. Or, what’s left of him at least. The soldier’s face drains of blood. And another, and then another. A gasp. Jungkook knows it doesn’t look good. He looks like a criminal.
Finally, the man who’d first spoken steps forward, face grim.
“You’re under arrest, stranger. You’ll be questioned thoroughly about the happenings tonight.”
“I understand.” Jungkook says hoarsely. “Just— get him somewhere warm.”
A few other soldiers lug Yoongi’s body off towards the ship, and someone cuffs Jungkook. He’s going to be jailed. Again.
The arrest is quick. Efficient.
Jungkook is placed in promptly chains and ushered into a giant metal ship, its gargantuan hull overbearing. From up close, Jungkook can see the huge, red dragon emblem blazoned across the obsidian sides. Yoongi’s crest.
The Fire Nation soldiers aren’t rowdy— instead, they seem to be quietly horrified, as the news of Zhou Mi’s death had already spread across this particular ship’s inhabitants. Only the sound of whooshing wind, water slapping against metal, and howling cold sounded in the distance. Jungkook’s own feet hit the ship deck with dull footsteps as the soldiers walked him to his jail cell.
They clearly weren’t aware he was an earthbender. Not like the Dai Li were, back at Lake Laogai.
The Fire Nation soldiers don’t even bother to chain him and instead, simply throw him into a cold, isolated cell. It would be easy for him to escape, except Jungkook isn’t focused on escaping. Not until he can have a proper conversation with Yoongi. His chest twinges.
Thing is, being placed in a jail cell with no alternative means of amusement means that he’s left to his own devices. One device, really, which is his mind. Jungkook struggles to prevent the rapid, almost apocalyptic onslaught of depressed panic from overwhelming him. He is bound captive in the very heart of a conquered city on a massive metal ship. There are a few rocks here and there— a potted plant with earth a cell over, and a marble armrest two corridors down. Jungkook can sense it. But it’s not enough for him to take down all these soldiers— only enough for him to escape, if he’s lucky, and get off the warship. But where would he go?
Besides, there’s Yoongi. Thinking about the man is…
Jungkook stamps the emotional barrage and closes his eyes. He sits crosslegged on the cold metal, and focuses on the trickling sound of dripping glacial water. Splashes and drops echo from afar, overshadowed by the groaning heaves of the metal ship. An almost aesthetic frugality tinges the entire scene. In the distance, there’s a slow splash, no doubt a frozen, creaking mass of a glacier breaking into the water, opposite of solid earth. This is the peak of instability, a reflection of his internal state.
Footsteps echo through the prison, before Jungkook realizes that the hasty noise is coming from above. At first, he thinks someone is coming to interrogate them. But there is no one coming for him.
An entire day passes similarly.
A soldier comes down to provide food and drink, even blankets to keep him warm. The guy kindly cracks a smile at him. The treatment is too cordial, which is when Jungkook realizes the Fire Nation soldiers think he’s on their side: a Water Tribe defector paid off by the Fire Nation. It almost makes sense. They definitely had no idea he was an earthbender. The soldiers were probably frantically coming up with explanations as for why Jungkook had helped Yoongi instead of running away.
But, naturally suspicious, the ship Captain had locked him away until he had sufficient manpower to interrogate Jungkook. No one had him on surveillance, after all.
This theory is confirmed the next day, when a soldier drops his meal off.
“This must suck for you. What’s your name again?”
Jungkook coughs into his soup.
“—Jungkook. Name’s Jungkook. You?”
“Lim. Nice to meet you!”
It is a really short name; Jungkook has suspicions that it’s not the man’s real name. Perhaps his nickname?
Ignoring Jungkook’s poor conversational skills, Lim bulldozes on. “I mean, I have no idea which side you’re on, but everyone is saying you saved Admiral—whoops, General Yoongi, so that’s great! Sad thing about Admiral Zhao, though. He was a great leader.”
“Oh.” Jungkook wets his lips, trying to seem casual. “He was? I don’t know much about the Fire Nation.”
Lim shrugs. “I’m pretty new, but everyone liked him. He was ambitious.”
“Ah. That’s good, I guess.” Complete lie. “You mentioned General Yoongi. Is he alright?”
Blinking, Lim says, “Wow, I guess you really were trying to help him. Or maybe he’s the one who bought you off. That’s why you care so much?”
“Sure— whatever. Just, he’s okay, right?”
“I’m not entirely sure. Rumors say his heart stopped and everything—lightning-bending gone wrong, you know. He’s still alive though. If he died, everyone would know. The entire capital would know.”
“Shit. Fuck.” Jungkook exhales. “Thank the Spirits.”
Lim eyes him suspiciously.
“You’re weirdly happy about his health for a Water Tribe captive. I guess General Yoongi really saved your ass.”
“He did. He really did.” In more ways than one.
“Well,” Lim stands, pursuing his lips. “I’ll see you same time tomorrow, Jungkook. Don’t count on Jelai to speak to you. She hates your guts.”
But Lim merely snorts, back already turned, as his hand waves goodbye. Jungkook slumps into his warm little cot, resigning himself to another period of semi-anxious boredom.
Conversing with Lim becomes the most eventful part of Jungkook’s stay in the dungeons. Jungkook’s meals are delivered succinctly at noon by Lim, who stays for a few minutes to chat. Most of the content is small talk— inane information about favorite colors and changing weather conditions. Rarely, however, Jungkook gets useful information. Recent news on the Water Tribe— they’d surrendered to the Fire Nation, but half of the city had somehow departed. The Fire Nation win was hallow, and Zhao’s death had delayed aggressive pursuit of the citizens. Jungkook rests easy knowing that Jimin and Taehyung’s evacuation had been successful.
Night falls, and his meals are dropped off by a female guard named Jelai. She’s studiously silent. Sometimes she offers a glare or two. Very pleasant.
Lim knows close to nothing about Yoongi, who is too high up to be remotely relevant to him. But Jungkook learns that this Empire-class battleship is under the jurisdiction of a Captain Joo, who is commanded by a Commander, and in turn commanded by an Admiral. Formerly, the dead Admiral Zhao. Now, the fleet is drifting aimlessly in terms of command. Apparently, the entire Northern Fleet has been placed under jurisdiction of Admiral Ping Yee, who commands the Southern Fleet. Unfortunately, the man is too far away to actually command the fleet, which is why most of the soldiers are slightly confused about their next steps. Most of these names fly over Jungkook’s head— he doesn’t know any Fire Nation military names except for like, two people. And Fire Lord Ziju, of course.
As for Jungkook’s legal status? Officially, he’s a war criminal. Unofficially, he’s a Water Tribe defector that may be pardoned.
If only they knew— Jungkook wasn’t Water Tribe at all.
“So, how’s the cell treating you?” Lim asks, holding up a water spout as Jungkook showers. Lim’s hands spark with fire, heating up the water. Jungkook has been let out of his prison temporarily— Jungkook tells them he’s not a (water)bender. And really, even if he was, it wasn’t like he’d do anything malicious to the soldiers, and they know it. He had the chance a long time ago, when he was surrounded by water. And he wouldn’t make it very far now.
“Okay.” Jungkook allows. “I'm glad I’m out here showering. I was starting to smell.”
Lim leans forwards and sniffs. “I mean, you smell fine.”
“That’s because I’m showering.”
“No, you just have water on you.”
Jungkook rolls his eyes and doesn’t reply, running his hair through with soap. Lim has become a friend— of sorts. They’re on opposite sides of the war, but the Fire Nation grunt is not a bad guy. He’s snarky and has a killer sense of humor. Lim’s real name is apparently Lim Changkyun, but most ship soldiers just refer to each other by their last names.
“I think Jelai secretly thinks you’re hot.” Lim says conversationally. Jungkook blanches as he dries himself off.
“Right? She’s too scary.”
“That’s not—” Jungkook cuts off a giggle. “Okay, you’re not wrong.”
“I know. I’m rarely wrong.” Lim says, and then he pauses. “Is that… a tattoo?”
Jungkook double takes, staring at his right forearm. The black, unfilled lotus. The orange barely blots the top of the flower, ink unfinished. It reminds him of when Yoongi last asked about it, akin to pouring cold-water over his head.
“Yeah.” Jungkook says awkwardly, turning his arm over and showing Lim. “It’s a lotus.”
“Is it like… abstract art or something?”
Jungkook cracks a smile at that. “No. I never got the money to finish it.” Which is technically a lie, because Yoongi had given him sufficient funds to do so, and now Jungkook is sad again.
“Whoa. I’ll back off. Sorry to drudge up old memories.” Lim says, arms raised in surrender. Startled, Jungkook stares at him.
“It’s pretty obvious. You’re face looked all… kicked. Also, you were kind of tearing up?”
“I was not.” Jungkook says, wiping at his eyes just to make sure. He was not.
“Okay, okay.” Lim says, escorting Jungkook back to his cell. The hallway is dark and metallic. Torches flicker along clean sheets of metal almost futuristically. In a way, it’s cool being in a Fire Nation battleship. It’s certainly more technoligically advanced than anything else Jungkook has seen in Ba Sing Se.
“Hey,” Jungkook starts, “I’ve been here for almost a week now. Do you know when someone is going to interrogate me?”
Lim nods. “Probably a few days, when we reach Capital Island.”
Jungkook pales very, very fast. He sways unsteadily and clutches at the wall.
“Capital Island?” Jungkook echoes feebly. His muscles weaken against the tepid air.
“…Yeah?” Lim clarifies slowly. “You didn't know? We’re heading to Capital City.”
Capital City, other than housing the esteemed Fire Lord, is the second largest city among the four nations. The first is Ba Sing Se. Capital City is somewhat of a myth— the Royal Caldera of rich nobility is housed within an inactive volcano, and somewhere among the terrain is the Fire Nation Royal Palace. There is, of course, a Royal Plaza, and a Royal Forum, as all royal areas possess, and a spectacular harbor connecting most of the primary trade routes throughout all major cities.
The City itself lies on Capital Island, in the western side of the Fire Nation and south of the Northern Water Tribe. Likely the most fortified island in the world, the city is seen as impossible to navally infiltrate. And don’t even speak of a ground assault. The damn city is on an island.
It takes another two days for them to reach the city. Jungkook hadn’t even realized the ship was traveling this entire time— which is a testament to Fire Nation engineering, considering he could barely feel the ship moving. For some reason, he’d thought that they would be staying at the Northern Water Tribes to assert dominance. Instead, Jungkook is smack dab in the political and governing heart of his enemies. He feels sick.
This is where Jieqiong grew up. This is where Yoongi is from.
The Fire Lord lives here.
Jelai shoots him suspicious glances as the entire ship unloads, and Lim clasps chains on his wrists apologetically.
“You’ll be taken to the Capital Dungeons, but honestly, I think you’ll be let out soon. I heard someone high up is taking it from here, and you aren’t an enemy, so…”
If possible, Jungkook becomes even more nauseous. Not an enemy. Not an enemy, ha! If only they knew— if any of the Fire Nation soldiers who were with Jieqiong that night were there to verify, he was fucked. And gods, Yoongi.
“Is General Yoongi alright? Are they taking him off the ship too?” Jungkook asks anxiously. One of the soldiers nearby glance at him.
“I’m sorry,” Lim shakes his head. “I don’t know much. He’s alive. We’d know if he weren’t.”
But, otherwise, nothing.
Jungkook takes in a shuddering breath as he’s led onto the docks.
It pierces at him, equally as overwhelming as the bustling docks. Jungkook squints, raising a hand to block the powerful rays, except— his hands are chained. And then, the noises of harbor activity. Ships sway in the water, splashing against wood and metal. Soldiers bark orders— they aren’t the only boat docking and unloading, and from behind him, more prisoners are taken out of the ship. These are true prisoners, garbed in blue furs and eyes narrowed with the hatred of subjugation. Northern Water Tribe benders— Jimin’s kin.
“Boiling Rock.” Someone sighs from behind him. Jungkook stiffens.
That is a fate worse than death.
“Keep walking, prisoner.” The man holding his chains says sternly, and Jungkook walks across the dock to another barred vehicle— similar to a wagon, but made of metal. The city isn’t even visible from where they are, and it seems he won’t get to witness it’s rumored wonders.
Jungkook turns around frantically to see Lim waving goodbye. Don’t worry, he mouths.
“Where am I going?” Jungkook asks, swallowing a pit of unease. Nausea and nervousness battle inside him, twisting like snakes.
Dismissively, “The dungeons.”
“But, it looks like they’re going to the dungeons. Why aren’t I going with the rest of them?”
“Those are for traitors and Water Tribe benders.” The man say, barely looking at the line of prisoners two docks down. “You’re not a bender, and besides, there was a special request for you.”
“—Me?” Jungkook’s voice cracks.
“Yes. You.” The guy sounds amused. Well, at least someone is amused. “Now get in.”
The next thirty minutes are a rocky and bumpy ride through terrain, evening out into well-worn concrete and industrialized roads. His teeth stop chattering at every bump, and Jungkook starts breathing through his nose again. Time sways in and out of focus, and Jungkook tries to think of nothing— everything. Nothing.
And then he’s out in front of a huge, looming side of a black building, a huge black flame emblazoned on the architecture. To his right is a cliff-face. Titanic waves crash in the distance.
“They’ll take it from here.” The guard says, giving his chains to the men standing guard at the entrance. These red-helmeted men nod curtly and open the door. One man leads him inside, and Jungkook shivers.
The hall is large— fancy torches line the corridor, and plus cushions seat finely dressed military men in the entrance, who stare with interest at Jungkook as he passes by. It’s dark, stark, and plain, but certainly no dungeon. Jungkook weaves through twists and turns until the man stops in front of a door.
“This room.” He says, and Jungkook is too nervous to say a single word. He simply walks in. The door shuts behind him, and Jungkook takes a moment to calm himself.
The room is plain. There’s a nice chair.
This is not a dungeon.
This is an interrogation room.
In the Earth Kingdom, interrogation equivocates torture. But according to Lim, interrogation in the Fire Nation was a spectrum of civilized to tortuously severe. With that on his mind, Jungkook almost chokes when a polite knock sounds at the door.
Metal creaks opens, and a soldier strolls in. His clothing looks a little too nice to be a foot soldier, but otherwise the man appears similar other Fire Nation commanders. His skin is dark, hair cleanly cut and black.
“Hello.” The man says pleasantly, pulling the chair out from his side of the table and sitting down. He gestures nicely at the chair next to Jungkook. Jungkook takes a seat.
“Do you know where you are?”
“This doesn’t seem like a dungeon.” Jungkook says. “It’s too nice.”
The man laughs loudly. “It definitely isn’t a dungeon. To be honest, this isn’t even an interrogation.”
Oh god, this isn’t an interrogation? It must be a death sentence. They’ve already decided. Jungkook pales even further, and maybe even turns a bit green.
“Just think of this as a conversation.” The man hurries, smile dimpling into his cheeks. “My name is Namjoon. This is the FNSC.”
“Fire Nation Strategic Command.” Namjoon supplies. “I’m responsible for primary military strategy.”
“—A general. Yes. Don’t get too worried, though. I’m here to get you out.” Namjoon lifts the bundle of scrolls he was carrying and unfurls one. “Legally you’re a war criminal, but I can get you a reprieve for military assistance.”
General Namjoon slides the scroll towards him and Jungkook skims through it. He’s literate enough to get the gist. He's being freed. Namjoon hands him a quill and Jungkook signs the scroll quickly, relief spreading through his chest.
Namjoon, a strategic leader for the Fire Nation... is acting unnecessarily kind. Proper but casual, and clearly intelligent. Calm.
“Do you know Yoongi?” Jungkook asks, handing the scroll back to Namjoon.
The man blinks.
“I do. Why do you ask?”
“There had to be a reason why you were helping me this much. Is he alright?”
Namjoon furrows his brow. “Intuitive. You’re right— Yoongi is a close friend of mine. We rose through the ranks together, although we’ve gone our separate paths recently.” Namjoon ties the scroll neatly. “Yoongi is recovering. He's still bedridden, but he can walk. I’m guessing you know how stubborn he is.” At that, Namjoon sounds exasperated. “The bastard keeps insisting on attending war meetings.”
“Why hasn’t he come to see me?”
“He’s not exactly physically capable of doing that right now.” Namjoon pauses. “Or emotionally.”
“Yeah. ‘Oh’. Very nice response.” Namjoon chuckles. “You two are perfect for each other.”
Jungkook doesn’t know how to respond to that, so he stays quiet.
“Alright, I’ll need a thumbprint, and— perfect. Thank you.” Namjoon passes Jungkook a tissue to rub the ink off. For a moment, the two of them stand in silence, and Jungkook shifts on his feet awkwardly. Namjoon sighs.
“Technically, you’re good to go. I doubt you’ve got transportation out of here, but I think the bigger matter here is that you don’t want to leave.”
“I’m not leaving until I see Yoongi.”
“That’s understandable.” Namjoon says. “It’s not that Yoongi doesn’t want to see you. He’s just very adept at avoiding his problems.”
“So I’m a problem.”
“Yes,” Namjoon states bluntly. “Maybe not to him, but to me you certainly are. Jungkook, I hope you understand you’re a huge liability to someone like Yoongi.” He pauses, voice tight. “You know, Yoongi wasn’t actually the one who told me about you two. He didn’t say a single word. It was a discreet letter from Hoseok. And that was how I knew that it was real— you weren’t just some midsummer Ba Sing Se fling.”
The words trample Jungkook like a boulder, bulldozing him. His heart aches futilely.
“It wasn't a fling to me either.” Jungkook says, quietly.
“I never said it was.” Namjoon replies gently, appearing genuinely sympathetic. “I’ll set up a room for you in my suite. If Yoongi knows you’re with me— it’ll definitely rankle him. He’ll talk to you.”
The guards are cordial as they exit. Now that Jungkook is affiliated with a General, they treat him with significantly more respect.
“They used to be like that with me.” Namjoon notes. “Before I was a General, when I was just a no-name kid aspiring to work in political strategy.”
“I was naive back then. Thought I could change the world. And then I realized that for the Fire Nation, the military was the world.”
That sort of dulled the conversation, and they left with relative silence. Namjoon took him through the lower canals of the city, and then the bustling, active part. It was clean and huge— everyone wore red, and the transportation systems were clearly defined. It was so different from the Lower Ring, but in a lot of the ways same as well. Vendors sold jaunty items and foodstuffs as they yelled sales. Small children darted across the rock roads, playing Yoo Ball. Some man screamed about a thief running away with his funds. Maybe they weren’t so different after all.
Namjoon lived westwards of the Royal Palace, on the outskirts on the Royal Caldera. It was an extremely nice, luxurious three story mansion. Jungkook had never stepped foot in a place as nice as this. Huge, red dragon emblems curled up the black columns. There were plush cushions— naturally crimson— along with an intricate Pai Sho set.
“I’ll be back.” Namjoon promises. “Feel free to take a nap. There’s a couch nearby— just don’t wander off!”
Jungkook almost thinks he’s too trusting, until he realizes that the entire area is devoid of paper. Philosophical books and well-work historical documents, yes, but no incriminating military reports. Nothing truly of value that Jungkook could sell off to a national enemy. It makes sense that a member of the FNSC would carefully plan his house, considering how easily accessibly it was.
The exhaustion hits Jungkook at once. He’d been living in a shitty ass jail cell for a week, before relocating without sleep to a highly intimidating interrogation room. The couch in Namjoon’s living room is nicer than any bed Jungkook has ever slept in, and he practically knocks out the moment he lays down.
By the time Jungkook wakes up, it’s been hours— the sky is dark as insects buzz into the night. Outside, lanterns in stone lions burn distinctly through the window. Namjoon still isn’t back.
Grabbing a candle from the entrance, Jungkook yawns and wanders over to the bookshelf. There isn’t much of interest there. It’s not like Jungkook received an adequate enough education to understand all this, so he’s pretty lost.
Instead, he looks at the Pai Sho set.
The chess set has been played. Perhaps Namjoon had a guest over recently, but the tiny figures of marble or polished wood (either way, very high quality) are well-worn. For some reason, the white lotus tile stands out. Jungkook palms it into his hand, turning it over before placing it back down.
A small miniature of a ship stands at the edge of the desk. It’s accurate to reality, because the crest from Yoongi’s bracelet is on the black hull.
“I bought that from a vendor.” Namjoon says. Jungkook turns around— Namjoon is near the back door. “Sorry, I entered from the back entrance.”
“It’s fine. I took a really long… sleep. I don’t think it can even be considered a nap.”
“I know that feeling,” Namjoon snorts. “You saw the Pai Sho set?”
“I really like to play.” Namjoon walks over and stares at the remnants of whatever game was last played. He slides the white lotus tile over and picks it up. “This is my favorite tile.”
Namjoon stares at him scrutinizingly for a moment before shrugging. “You like that miniature?”
Jungkook realizes that he’s still holding onto the tiny ship replica and sets it down hastily. “No, no.” Rather the opposite, in fact. “I was just wondering where the insignia is from. The dragon.”
“It comes from the Avatar.”
Blinking, Jungkook stares at the insignia again. “What?”
“It’s a noble family crest,” Namjoon explains, “One which the last Fire Nation Avatar belonged to. Yoongi comes from that line of nobility. They’re very successful ship-makers, as you can probably infer.”
Unsure of how to feel, Jungkook looks away from the tiny ship. That is so weird. Does that mean Taehyung and Yoongi are related? He can imagine Taehyung’s face of absolute repulsion. Then, Jungkook wonders what Yoongi thinks about it all.
“Speaking of Yoongi,” Namjoon says, “He does want to see you. But it’s a little— unconventional.”
“That was a fast.”
At that, Namjoon grins. “You should have seen his face when I told him you were sleeping in my house.”
Jungkook tries not to redden and fails. “Continue, please.”
“He wants you to sit in on a war council meeting.” Even Namjoon looks a little cautious. “Yoongi was adamant about wanting you there.”
“That’s… unexpected.” Jungkook floods with an array of emotions, predominantly confusion. “Besides, how would I sneak in? It’s not like those meetings are open to the public.”
“It would be easy.” Namjoon admits, “Palace guards are allowed everywhere— they’re vetted by my supervisor Taryn, and I do the task on her behalf. Procure an outfit and you’d be good to go.”
“Yeah. It’s actually a little disappointing, isn’t it.”
They share a smile at that, and Jungkook feels determination flood through him. He’s going to see this through.
Jungkook repeats the thought in his mind as the idea solidifies. He’s going to talk to Yoongi and have a real conversation, even if it kills them.
For the person who asked where names are from:
Chapter 13: admissions, new and old
Jungkook fiddles with a leather strap on his right wrist. The Fire Nation guard uniform is strangely hard to assemble, despite the uniformity. Jungkook is used to wearing loose, broad clothes, rather than military-tight uniforms. He searches his memory for the last time he wore something formal, which was… never. Jungkook cringes a little. He carefully clasps his belt in place, looking wistfully out the window.
Completely serene, the aristocratic gardens are a spartan level of organized— contrived nature and built ponds, unlike the Northern Water Tribe. The entire city makes him feel unnerved. Jungkook is an imposter here. One second he might be safe, and the next, they’d be taking him in for his execution.
Jungkook raps his knuckles curiously against an open window, watching as a hummingbird skitters away. This might be the most peace he’ll be getting for the next few days.
“Ready?” Namjoon asks, smiling in a way that screamed detachment. The man was certainly nice, but he was professional. There was none of the easy camaraderie that Taehyung or Jimin brought with them.
This was the same feeling with Hoseok, too. Friendly distance— the friendliness only there only because of Jungkook’s association with Yoongi. This was understandable. They didn’t know Jungkook personally, after all.
“So,” Jungkook rasps. Embarrassed, he clears his throat. He should probably drink more water. “How do you know Yoongi? And Hoseok?” Jungkook tacks on the last bit hastily. He doesn’t want to sound too intrusive about Yoongi’s personal life.
“I grew up with Yoongi.” Namjoon says absentmindedly, scanning over a few documents as he stands by the door. “Our parents mingled in the same social circles. My parents were self-made politicians, so it was a little different, but Yoongi’s parents were originally traders.”
That sounds fake. People don’t go from traders to military high generals.
“Very, very successful traders.” Namjoon clarifies amusedly. “Wealth driven by patented inventions, you know the type.”
Jungkook does not know the type, but whatever. He hums in agreement.
“And Hoseok?” The extremely good earthbender. How does an earthbender even come into contact with Fire Nation military aristocrats?
“Ah. Hoseok.” Namjoon sets the documents on the table and opens the door, leading them through a green garden. Birds chirp sharply against the flowing streams of water. Sunlight filters through low-angled trees, arching onto the elegant cobbled pathway. “Hoseok’s sister is married to Yoongi’s brother.”
Jungkook’s spit goes down the wrong way and he chokes.
“They’re related through marriage.” Namjoon makes a face, as though he too is disturbed by the fact. “I mean, we’ve all treated each other like siblings while growing up, but it was still weird when it happened… Anyway, the two rule over Omashu. They’re merely figureheads, of course. The Fire Nation holds dual control over Omashu, along with General Jung.”
Jungkook, still trying to process the fact that Hoseok and Yoongi’s siblings are married, says dumbly, “Jung is on the Council of Five.”
“No. Well, yes. He was. But the Council has gone through a… division, of sorts, recently.”
“What does that mean?”
“Look up.” Namjoon says sharply as they turn, and Jungkook stands stiffly, walking behind Namjoon as a line of soldiers salute the General. Once they walk by, Jungkook relaxes again. Namjoon continues casually, as if nothing happened.
“It means the Earth Kingdom is wrought with internal turmoil.” Namjoon’s voice is grave as he leads them up the side dais near the palace. The front is huge, but they dart near the side.
Namjoon slides the tiny, unassuming door open and gestures inside.
The Fire Nation palace is radically different architecturally from anything Jungkook has imagined, yet it fits his preconceived aura of those from the Fire Nation.
Red. Red is everywhere, from the swirling dragon pillars to the upturned tiled ceilings. Flames lick at the sides of the walkway, like tiny snakes. Namjoon swerves easily into the largest hallway, and then into a singular, octagonal room. The columns in the giant room are large, like the redwood trees near the Yang Li forest in the Northern Earth Kingdom. The table is hard, black metal. There’s nothing natural here—the room is regal and mechanical. Everyone is already seated, chatting in low murmurs.
Jungkook stands near the exit awkwardly, palace clothing hanging too small over his shoulders. Yet, his disguise works. No one questions why he’s there. From the distance, he can barely see the faces of the people sitting around the table, other than their military uniforms, stark and intimidating. Yoongi is the smallest person by shoulder width at the table. He looks healthy— a little pale, but he was always pale. There are no evident wounds, no brace on his arm, no bandages wrapping up his neck from the chest injury. Perhaps a water bender had hastened the healing process. Regardless, Yoongi doesn’t spare him a glance, and Jungkook swallows heavily.
Namjoon slides into an empty chair near the end of the table, four seats down from Yoongi.
“Are you an Earth Kingdom sympathizer? Is that why you’re so hesitant?” A man at the table sneers. The conversation had already started while Jungkook was gazing around stupidly.
Yoongi raises an eyebrow in response. “Our strongest allies are the Earth Kingdom.”
“Of course they are,” Another man waves his arm dismissively, “Compared to those Water tribe dissenters who killed Zhou.”
“They’re backwards folk.” Namjoon soothes. “Let’s return to the topic at hand—the invasion of Ba Sing Se.”
Jungkook’s head blanks. What?
“Of course we invade them.” The first man scoffs. “The Council of Five has resisted for too long. It’s an affront to us.”
“Vai-meng, that’s because you’re a war mongering idiot.” Yoongi says.
The entire table bristles. Vai-meng, a solid, built looking man with a goatee, stands up in outrage, his chair scooting backwards.
“Sit down, Vai-meng.” The only woman at the table scolds. Her hair is tied up in a severe bun, facial features grave. She looks to be in her mid-fifties.
Jungkook has heard of her—Taryn Zhu, the only female military strategist at the table. She must be Namjoon’s direct superior. Jungkook wonders what title everyone else holds. Once again, he’s hit with the earthshattering feeling that had accompanied him when he first found out Yoongi was Fire Nation, a fire bender, and a military general. But even worse—Jungkook’s brain is still reeling over the words “invasion of Ba Sing Se”. This is insane. This is absolutely insane. No wonder Yoongi had wanted him in the room.
Taryn continues to speak. “You must admit, you enjoy war more than any of us here.”
“That’s true,” Vai-meng concedes. “Only because the rebels push back against our military in occupied territories. I’m getting sick of it.”
The oldest man looking at the table speaks up, his beard white and neatly trimmed. “We must be relentless.”
“We also need to be cautious!” Someone snaps.
As the discussion becomes more heated, Jungkook counts the number of people at the table: sixteen. All are military High Generals and Admirals, with the exception of Fire Lord Ziju, who has stayed silent the entire time. There are an array of people surrounding the room—nobility, other military specialists, and anyone with a vested interest in politics, really. Jungkook even eyes the Fire Lord’s young son, garbed in royal wear—his face is blank, hair arrested in a tight ponytail. Jieqiong, thankfully, is nowhere to be seen.
But no one in this room has a say except for those sitting at the primary table. And sitting at the table, unconcerned and confident, is Yoongi, who looks like he belongs there.
Jungkook’s throat feels immeasurably dry. He tries not to fidget. The other guards stand complacently, looking bored.
Fire Lord Ziju finally lifts his left hand smoothly into the air. His face is placid. All discussion halts.
“I’m going to call a vote,” Ziju says calmly, “Those in favor of an invasion say ‘Agree’, and those against say ‘Disagree’”.
Vai-Meng responds immediately. “Agree.”
The smooth way it transitions into decision making shows that this process is procedural, likely done at every officiated meeting. Yoongi is next, directly to the left of Vai-Meng.
“Disagree.” Yoongi says right off the bat. No wonder. Jungkook lets out a sigh of relief. He doesn’t know why he was so tense—even with everything between them, Yoongi is a good person, and Jungkook knows that.
“Ping Yee?” Fire Lord Ziju prompts. The man next to Yoongi taps at the table ponderingly for a moment.
“Disagree.” Ping Yee finally says, turning expectantly at Namjoon.
“Agree.” Namjoon says. That’s a surprise. Namjoon seems so reasonable and kind; a good man. And he’s friends with Yoongi, too. Jungkook clenches his fist.
The entire table goes around like that. Agree. Agree. Disagree. And the rest of the entire table replies with succinct, terse “agrees”. Jungkook’s heart is in his throat. There are eleven calls for war and three vetoes. Taryn Zhu is last. She eyes the table harshly and says, “Agree.”
Twelve calls for war. The Fire Nation Military Board is overwhelmingly in favor of invading Ba Sing Se.
No, Jungkook thinks despairingly. No.
And as he looks across the room to meet Yoongi’s cold, calm gaze, Jungkook finally understands just why Yoongi was in Ba Sing Se for so many months. It wasn’t because of Jungkook.
It was because of this.
After the meeting is adjourned, Jungkook does his best to stand still and wait as the entire entourage of very-important-people walk by him. His hand twitches. There is no earth in this entire room—if only he was closer to stone, he could eliminate the Fire Lord and prevent the entire invasion from happening. But Yoongi. The man had shown Jungkook this for a reason. Would he hate Jungkook for killing all his colleagues? Even looking at Yoongi brought up a complex set of emotions—anger, affection. Now, frustration.
Yoongi hadn’t been the one to kill his parents, but he was complicit in all this.
As the room empties, Jungkook walks anxiously into the giant corridors of the palace. Namjoon shoots Jungkook a knowing glance as he leaves and jerks his head at Yoongi, who slowly saunters out. He’s one of the last to leave; the guards are long gone, trailing behind Fire Lord Ziji and his entourage of frightening military men.
Looking up, Yoongi locks eyes with him. His lips twist into a smile or a grimace— it’s hard to decipher. The hysterics of a loving reunion are stamped down by the brutal militaristic reality of an invasion.
“Yoongi,” Jungkook tugs minutely on Yoongi’s military uniform, “I—what was that? A Ba Sing Se invasion?”
Yoongi curls a hand around Jungkook’s wrist, pulling him into a narrow hallway. Their bodies are closer together here, in this cramped, low-ceiling area. Jungkook can feel the warmth emanating from Yoongi’s shorter frame, all the words left unsaid between them festering into spitfire.
Finally, Yoongi opens a door to an expansive room. The fireplace glows with embers, illuminating velvety cushions on the decorated red couch.
“It’s exactly what you think.” Yoongi says once the door is closed. “Now you understand.”
Jungkook inhales. “No. I don’t understand. Why did you show me this? You’re not a bad person—you—”
“I’m not a pacifist.” Yoongi interjects harshly. “And this isn’t up to me. If it were, I’d have captured the Avatar a long time ago.”
Jungkook stares, eyes huge and open. Many things slot into place at that moment.
“That’s why…” Jungkook whispers, “Taehyung. You were trying to end the war before it began by capturing Taehyung.”
“My mission,” Yoongi says lowly, “Was jointly issued by primary military strategist Kim Namjoon and General Jung from the Council of Five.”
Jungkook murmurs, “Hoseok’s father.”
“We wanted to capture the Avatar as peace reconciliation on behalf of the Council of Five to prevent war. Unfortunately, the rest of the Earth Kingdom Council wasn’t too keen on cooperating with the Fire Nation.” Yoongi's tone is spiteful. “They hate that Omashu is subjugated.”
“But—Namjoon voted agree just now—”
“I failed to capture Taehyung. He had to.” Yoongi’s tone is positively icy.
“Are you angry that I…?” That Jungkook had helped Taehyung and Jimin. That he’d thwarted Yoongi’s attempt to capture his friends—and in the process, hastened the Fire Nation’s war declaration on the Earth Kingdom. It had come to this: sentimentalism versus nationalism, and Jungkook wasn’t sure which would win. He felt unsettled at the thought, as if his bones were all jittery and misplaced.
Yoongi lets out a breath. “No, Jungkook, I’m not… angry. I’m just frustrated.”
“At me.” Jungkook replies flatly.
Yoongi is silent for a long time.
“A little.” He finally admits. “And you—” The man shakes his head, staring at the fireplace off to the side.
Trying to ignore the pain slashing into his chest, Jungkook clenches his hands. He desperately wants to reach out— to make sure Yoongi is real and present and alive in front of him.
Jungkook hadn’t wanted any of this. He’d done what he thought was right and dug himself into this hole, and now Yoongi was… frustrated? Resentful? Disappointed? Jungkook wondered if the man’s feelings were as complex as Jungkook’s own.
“I did what was right.”
“What was right?” Incredulity drips off the question. “Jungkook, come on. You saved me, and I was the enemy. Was that right?”
“Yoongi.” Jungkook says weakly in explanation (can’t help it), and he should really, seriously stop talking— as if it will help stop the war, as if it won’t do anything except complicate matters further, but Jungkook has to say it now, or else he never will, “I saved you because I'm in love you.”
Yoongi reels back, the words a physical injury. His lips part in surprise.
They stare at each other like they’re in stasis or maybe equilibrium. But Jungkook doesn’t feel equal. He feels vulnerable and exposed, a raw wound rubbed with sandpaper. Jungkook is scared, and angry, and hopelessly in love with the horribly complicated man standing stupidly frozen across from him. Indeed, Yoongi is just…standing there. In shock.
Stressed and desperate-feeling, Jungkook surges forwards to press his lips against Yoongi’s.
It’s like kissing a statue. Yoongi’s eyes are wide, and Jungkook squeezes his eyes shut, moving his lips tentatively. It’s awkward, until Yoongi finally reaches up to cup his cheeks. The contact is gentle— there’s barely any pressure behind the kiss.
Jungkook leans back shakily. He’s never felt so unsure of himself. It’s a weird feeling.
Yoongi searches his entire face, eyes wandering and memorizing Jungkook’s features. He moves forwards to kiss the corner of Jungkook’s mouth, lingering for a still moment. It feels like a goodbye.
No. Jungkook won’t allow this to be a goodbye. They’d only recently reunited, and Yoongi’s injuries had just healed. Jungkook wanted answers from him, and besides, the longer he touched Yoongi, the less he wanted to let go. Did Yoongi even understand the extent to which Jungkook cared for him? Probably not. Not if Yoongi was willing to sacrifice himself so easily for Jungkook’s safety, back at the Northern Water Tribe.
Jungkook surges forward to press desperately against Yoongi’s body, heat and flesh melded together as Jungkook wraps his arms around Yoongi’s shoulders. The firebender retracts in surprise, grunting when Jungkook slams into him, hands landing steadily on Jungkook’s biceps.
Yoongi kisses back.
His grip is gentle, but fingers searing. Hands slid down from Jungkook’s arms down to his trim waist, squeezing firmly in affection. The kiss deepens— wet and angled. His body trembles. Jungkook is hyperaware of anywhere Yoongi touches. There was something incredibly comforting about Yoongi’s arms around him, emotionally and physically— as if none of the political ventures outside of the room could penetrate their embrace. They break apart shakily, and Jungkook has to lean down to bump foreheads with Yoongi.
“I thought you were mad at me.” Jungkook murmurs.
For a long moment, Yoongi just stares. He still seems to be in shock.
Yoongi says, “I love you.” Pause. “Wait, I meant— I really love you, so…” He hangs his head in shame. “Forget it.”
Jungkook’s heart thuds. His head feels light.
“You love me?”
“I said what I said.” Yoongi snaps, which is possibly the first time Jungkook has ever seen the man lose his composure.
Yoongi extricates himself from Jungkook’s embrace and seats himself down on the plush cushions, back turned. The tips of his ears are red. That’s alright, because Jungkook’s entire face is flushed. He’s embarrassed, but— happy. Jungkook walks around the couch and crawls shamelessly onto Yoongi’s lap, legs on either side. He cups Yoongi’s face, thumbs caressing his cheeks. The sudden eye contact is startlingly intimate, and Jungkook puffs out shallow, uneven breaths. He really, really wants to kiss Yoongi again.
“You’re going to crush me.” Yoongi says.
“I won’t. Stop complaining.” Jungkook replies, leaning forwards to kiss down Yoongi’s neck.
Yoongi’s fingers tickle at the arch of his spine. Things aren't perfect; far from it. But with this admission, Jungkook finds the anxious, terrible feeling of heartbreak sated.
Ignoring him, Jungkook trailed his lips up Yoongi’s jaw.
“Jungkook,” Yoongi repeats, “In Ba Sing Se, you said that you knew nothing about me.”
Jungkook stills and leans back, looking Yoongi directly in the eye. The firebender's gaze is unwaveringly firm.
“You said that I had never given a straight answer about what city I was from, or where my combat skills came from, or anything about my family. You said you were completely in the dark.”
Yoongi remembered that? The truth was, Jungkook barely remembered the heated accusations himself— only that he’d been inundated with frustration that day down at Ting’s Hot Pot.
“I can’t believe you remember that.”
“Of course I do.” Yoongi replies sharply. “Hearing you say that hurt, because you were right. I hid so much from you. I thought it would keep you safe.”
“I was never safe.”
“You weren’t.” Yoongi agrees. “And now, even more so.”
“Don’t. I lied to you. I acknowledge it. So, now I’ll give you that straight answer you wanted.” Yoongi pauses, as if to recollect his thoughts. “My name is Min Yoongi. I’m a High General of the Fire Nation Military that used to command the seventeenth legion. Ten months ago, I requested to be taken off active service to capture the Avatar.” Another brief pause. “My family manufactures warships. I thought I’d become a boat trader growing up, but that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more. I wanted to change something.”
“No. Maybe. It’s hard to tell.” Yoongi shakes his head. “I was naive.”
Jungkook quirks a smile. “Anything else?”
“I should be asking you that.”
"You know what, I actually can't seem to think of anything."
Everything seems to catch up to Jungkook all at once, his mind blanking. They stare at each other and, lips twitching, laugh.
Something has irrevocably changed between them. An openness and honesty reserved for close friends (lovers), an articulation of desires—
— the redefinition of a relationship.
Chapter 14: ba sing se
The smell of piss emanated throughout the air. Hoseok squinted blearily, lifting his cup of hard liquor and wincing as the clink of ice rattled inside iron. Hoseok was used to quality silver or glass, not poorly made metal. Then again, he was generally used to better establishments than this one.
“You’re not drinking that?” The barman asked wryly as he poured another drink for some drunken sod bemoaning his lack of trading funds. That was apparently common down in the Lower Ring. Hoseok very subtly shifted his chair an inch away, and the barman stifled a snort.
“I’m waiting for someone. Can’t get drunk too soon, can I?”
Hoseok declines to mention how he’d probably go red in the face after one cup. He can’t hold his liquor at all.
“That you can’t.” The barman barks out a laugh. “What lucky lady has got you here tonight?”
“Ah. She’s late. Well, I’m kind of annoyed about it…”
The barman nodded in an understandable manner. “You look like a decent lad— a bit high-end for this kind of place.” A lull of hesitation, as if the man was debating whether to speak or not. “Lemme give you a warning. The women here can swindle your pockets out before you can blink and say heya. Be careful around here, alright?”
Hoseok’s sip nearly goes down the wrong pipe.
“Thanks! Ha. Ha ha.” Oh, help him.
“Just looking out for you.”
The guy next to Hoseok heaves a little, and then turns green. Then he vomits all over the ground. The barman lets out a large, drawn-out groan and retreats to the back to grab a mop. Clearly this sort of thing happened all the time. Fascinating behavior, really. Hoseok stares with undisguised attention and revilement from afar. The puke looks… reddish? And chunky? Perhaps the poor guy had indulged in a red roast meal before this…
A hand slams down unforgivingly on the table, and Hoseok jumps.
“Lord. Nobleman. That’s you, right?” A female voice drawls from behind him, and Hoseok twists to face her.
Finally, the guest of honor has arrived.
Halla is wearing fairly regular clothing— her long hair tied up in a bun and face spotless and youthful. She’s young. Far too young to be running a Rumble series, and no one would suspect her to be a master earthbender. Though from what Hoseok hears, she no longer bends.
“You’re late.” Hoseok grits out.
“Fashionably.” Halla agrees, slamming coin down on the bar and gesturing lazily for a drink. The barman has returned from his cleaning session and shoots Hoseok a look filled with pity. Ugh, misconceptions abound.
She looks him up and down. “You’re just as prissy as you are the first time I met you.”
“That’s a compliment right? Thank you very much.”
Halla blinks wide-eyed like a fish at him for a moment. Then she abruptly turns to down her entire drink.
“Alright.” She inhales deeply, muttering something to herself. “Lead the way.”
“No doubt about it,” Halla says, “Scorch marks. Fire Nation.”
Her fingertips scrape across the stone floor before she stands, squinting at her fingers. She rubs her index and thumb together, sniffing at the black ash. The rising sun casts dark shadows across the film of the window. People are beginning to snuff out the fire from their torches and head back to their homes as the night patrol draws to a close.
Hoseok narrows his eyes at her. “I thought they were only in the Outer Ring. Why were they down here?”
“Fuck if I know. You tell me. Pissing nobles know everything, aight?” Halla snickers.
Coughing at the crudity, Hoseok accidentally chokes. This entire situation is hysterical. Hoseok is apparently mingling with the commoners, now.
The Lower Ring rumbles, creaks, groans with the entirety of an awakening metropolis. How had Yoongi managed to withstand this?
“Well!” Hoseok claps, albeit still feeling disdainful. “Thanks for the tour.”
Halla turns to look at him.
“You’re kidding, right? I’m not leaving until I get an explanation.”
“I don’t have the answers.” Hoseok shrugs. “To be honest, I just needed a confirmation about this letter that Yoongi sent me.”
Halla pursues her lips. Hesitates.
“Yoongi. That’s Jeon’s boyfriend, right?” When Hoseok nods in assent, she says slowly, “Jeon… he hasn’t been by in a few weeks.”
Hoseok doesn’t like where this is going. He nods again. His interactions with Yoongi’s weirdly buff but innocent boyfriend are limited to around three encounters, one of which was a physical battle. Not exactly the best (or accurate) first impression to go by.
“Look, you people haven’t killed him off or something, right? I really like the kid, and this entire situation seems suspicious. Everyone’s been talking about the recent Fire Nation attack on the Outer Ring, but I know there’s something more going on. Something fishy.”
“You’re not wrong.” Hoseok admits, tearing a piece of wood from the wall and flexing strong hands around it. Wood is nice. Not as nice as stone, but his earthbending senses appreciates the material nonetheless. “The Fire Nation attacked. That part is true.”
“So, what’s not true?”
“A lot of information has been omitted.” Hoseok says. “Originally, a Fire Nation elite military squad infiltrated to capture the Avatar. They got found out.”
“The Avatar was here?” Halla asks sharply. “That’s dangerous for us.”
“It was dangerous. And the Dai Li knew about it.”
“We’ve barely held a tentative peace with the Fire Nation, on the condition of neutrality. We aren’t supposed to help the Avatar.” Halla sits down hard. “So that’s why they attacked.”
Hoseok arches an eyebrow, impressed. This is high-division politics. Most people down in the Lower Ring don’t pay attention to peace treaties, or the complexities of maintaining neutrality. Indeed, he’d gotten the impression that neither Jungkook nor Seokjin understood the full political implications of harboring the Avatar, a declared war fugitive. The Avatar was a symbol of rebellion and revolution against the Fire Nation— peace with the Earth Kingdom was dependent on not doing something so stupid as assisting him. Unfortunately, the Dai Li, who were commanded by the Council of Five, were not so insistent on garnering peace. These war plans had clearly been in the works for years, festering under dissatisfaction. And Hoseok’s father was now paying the price.
“I’m surprised you…”
“That I’m educated enough to have an opinion? Thanks.”
Embarrassed, Hoseok scratches his neck. “Sorry. Most citizens hate the Fire Nation and don’t understand what it really means to achieve peace.”
Halla shrugs. “Most citizens don’t actually want peace. They want revenge. And more than that, they want to feel powerful again. People don’t feel strong or independent or proud of the Earth Kingdom anymore. Come on, Hoseok, when was the last time the Earth Kingdom conquered something? We’re not subjugators anymore. We’re the subjugated.”
This was true. Public consensus was shifting towards one of tense unease. Hundreds of years ago, it had been the Earth Kingdom burgeoning the first placements of civilization and intellectual invention. They’d been a dynasty of power, leveling cities with militaristic strength. But history was temporal, and power shifted, as was typical.
“I might as well be honest.” Hoseok says, with the understanding that Halla is open-minded and reasonable. “The Earth Kingdom is militarizing for a full-scale attack against the Fire Nation. They’re keeping it mostly hidden from the public, saying that they’re merely supplementing defenses.”
“That’s…” Halla mouths wordlessly. “And this wasn’t instigated by the Fire Nation?”
“No way. I have allies in the Fire Nation. General Namjoon and…” Hoseok twists his lips. “General Yoongi.”
“Jeon’s boyfriend is Fire Nation?” The words register and she pales even further. “Wait, he’s a General?”
“Yep. We’ve been working together to prevent military escalation.”
Halla raises a hand in a stop motion. “Wait— wait a second. You’re saying that Jungkook’s boyfriend is a Fire Nation military General? He’s a firebender?”
“And Jungkook is okay with that?” She looks incredulous, eyebrows raised all the way up.
Hoseok hasn’t seen either of them in some time, so he has no idea what she’s going on about. “I have no idea. Last I heard, Yoongi was super hung up over the guy.”
That was very much like Yoongi. When they were barely prepubescent teens, Yoongi had a crush on a noble girl in their cartography class— a fellow firebender. This had been during their stay in Omashu, back when it was popular to send noble kids abroad for their 'education'. Yoongi pined over her for months, until she had away to Ember Island. Yoongi was shyer back then— quieter, too. And then his confidence grew, plumped him up; bloated his ego as he worked harder to prove his worth. This was true for all of them— Namjoon, Hoseok, even sassy little Jieqiong, who Hoseok hadn’t seen in ages.
They dart through the orange light of the rising sun, navigating through shoddy alleyways of the Lower Ring.
Halla is quiet.
“The kid’s parents were killed in a Fire Nation raid.” She says, suddenly. Hoseok tenses. “Jeon wasn't originally from Ba Sing Se, you know. He was from one of those small trading towns.”
How did Yoongi manage to get himself into the shittiest situations possible?
“Yeah.” Halla says. “So, you can see why I’m so surprised.”
“Hey, I’m surprised too.” Hoseok says defensively. “It’s not like Yoongi gives me a play-by-play on his personal life. He’s pretty private.”
“You know, your guy gave Jeon seven gold ingots while peeping in on a Rumble Ring match? This was before they’d even officially met.”
Wow. That is... embarrassing.
“Please tell me that’s a lie.”
“Nope. I remember thinking, holy shit, some rich dude really wants Jeon’s cute ass. But I was hypothesizing along the lines of someone like you. You know, rich, Earth Kingdom nobility type. Not… Fire Nation.”
Hoseok thinks of Jungkook— bright, round eyes and floppy hair. Very defined muscles.
“Sorry, Jungkook isn’t exactly my type.”
Very much Yoongi’s type, though.
Pausing slightly, Halla gives Hoseok a deliberate once over.
“Anyway,” Hoseok coughs loudly, “I’m fairly certain the Earth Kingdom is militarizing. It won’t be long before the Fire Nation retaliates— we don’t have the resources to protect ourselves against such an attack.”
“Can’t your father help?”
“My father was removed from the Council of Five.” Hoseok grimaces. “He still holds authority, of course. My sister would never loosen our hold over Omashu.”
“Omashu.” Halla says wistfully. “I’ve always wanted to go there.”
“Really? It’s not as great as everybody says it is.” Hoseok replies, except Halla has stiffened, staring down at the dilapidated pieces of the building they’d suddenly come across.
The structure has been completely upheaved— collapsed stone and wood, foundations that are torn down and barely standing. A piece of cloth hangs pathetically off the remains of a window. Hoseok didn’t lead them here. He’d been too caught up in conversation to notice Halla’s subtle guidance through the city.
She led them here. Hoseok’s stomach fills with dread.
“Look, it’s really not what it seems—”
“Where,” Halla asks, deathly quiet as she stares at the destroyed tea house, “Is Jungkook’s tea house?”
“The tea house is gone. Perhaps permanently.”
“But,” Halla rasps, “Where’s Seokjin?”
“He’s safe.” Hoseok assures rapidly. “Don’t worry about him. In fact, he’s doing great.”
“Then why does the tea house look like that?” Halla gestures frantically at the lump of stone and wood laying in front of them. “It’s just a pile of rubble!”
“General Wu isn’t very forgiving towards Fire Nation sympathizers.” Hoseok’s voice hardens. “He’d kill his own citizens for a chance to assert nationalistic dominance.”
“Can he do that? Is that legal?”
“We’re a monarchy. Anything is legal.”
“That’s fair.” Halla concedes. “So, where the fuck is Seokjin? The uptight bastard better be alright.”
It makes sense that Halla knows Seokjin— she was close with Jungkook, after all. Hoseok sighs and leads them away from the collapsed building. He walks them towards the southern end of the Lower Ring, to the Monorail.
“I think it’d be better if I just showed you.”
The Monorail is fairly speedy, and they manage to beat the morning rush. The earthbenders working the transit nod respectfully at Hoseok, and Halla twitches in discomfort at the blatant show of acknowledgement. The shifting smoke of the Lower Ring shifts into the absolutely average, but nice scenery of the Middle Ring. The monorail doesn’t stop. It continues past the Middle Ring and into luxurious gardens, flowing water and ponds with lily pads. Marble stone carved into buildings graces the eye; Halla gapes.
“Have you never been in the Upper Ring before?” Hoseok asks.
“Fuck no.” Halla stares outside as the Monorail halts. No one questions her presence— everyone sees Hoseok and automatically backs off. “Born and raised in the Lower Ring.”
A well-dressed woman next to Halla subtly shifts an inch away. Hoseok stifles a snort.
“Lord Jung.” An earthbender states, bowing lowly. “To your left.”
“Thanks.” Hoseok says.
The place where Hoseok leads them is directly to the left of the Monorail exit— an elegant entrance that screams wealthy. The place bustles with barely concealed energy. A man dressed in silk exits casually, holding a cup of steaming tea. A fancy woman with cascading jade steps into the shop, shooting Halla dirty glance.
“What is this place?” Halla asks, staring up at the giant sign. She can barely read it; she was never educated properly in reading calligraphy, but she can make out the word ‘tea’. No way.
Hoseok grins at the dawning realization on her face.
“You guessed it. This is where Seokjin is. It’s a shiny, brand new tea house.”
Maybe it’s pretentious, but the Upper Ring feels like home. Hoseok is at ease amongst the filthy rich, and he’s not ashamed to admit it. His cousins are royalty, after all. His Aunt married into the imperial family, and Hoseok was lucky enough that his lineage was highly educated, related to the current Empress, and militaristically competent in the third generation. Not all nobles could say that, which is why most of them maintained their positions by groveling like dispensable pawns.
There was a reason why, despite his father’s demotion, no one treated Hoseok any differently. He was still Lord Jung Hoseok, commander of the Fourth Brigade, political authority in Omashu.
Ensuring Seokjin’s safety had been easy. With Hoseok’s presence, no one would dare to harm them. Together, they escaped quickly after withdrawing Seokjin’s savings. The physical building of the tea house, however, had been destroyed. No helping that. Wu was insane. Thankfully, there were countless empty properties in the Upper Ring. Even more convenient was that Hoseok’s Aunt owned a number of properties near the Monorail that were difficult to sell; she dabbled in real estate in her free time. And no family wanted to be near loud, grating noises of the Monorail.
Seokjin happened to have enough savings to buy one of the properties, and even leftover to buy supplies for the place and keep it running. Hoseok was surprised— was business in the Lower Ring that lucrative? It was only when Seokjin confided that the funds were a generous donation from Yoongi that Hoseok understood. Yoongi was so, so gone for that earthbender kid, it was a little ridiculous.
Within the next few weeks, Hoseok came to understand that Seokjin was a master businessman in his own right. He upped the tea house margins by over a hundred-percent, swindling those snooty nobles out of their coin within the first week.
Seokjin dusts his hands on an apron when he looks up. He visibly lights up at seeing Hoseok, and darkens when he sees Halla.
Halla, on the other hand, is extraordinarily relieved to see him.
“Jin!” She yells as she sprints across the tea house. Someone shushes her, and Hoseok leads them hastily to the back before someone files a complaint.
“Halla.” Seokjin says. “What are you doing here?”
“I saw the tea house. It was—”
“Completely ruined. I know.” Seokjin sighs, rubbing at his temple. “Tea?”
“Nah, I’m good.” Hoseok says.
Halla shakes her head. “Me too.”
“How do you two know each other?” Hoseok interjects. There’s a subtle tension in the air— clearly the two are familiar, but there’s some resentment on Seokjin’s part.
Halla claps Seokjin on the shoulder. “I used to visit this one all the time before he kicked me out. And banned me.”
“He banned you?” Hoseok asks, alarmed. “What the fuck did you do?”
“Oh, not much. Just introduced Jungkook to illegal, underground earthbending rings.”
“I hate you.”
“See! He still hasn’t forgiven me.” Halla says cheerfully, arm slung around Seokjin’s freakishly broad shoulders. Hoseok glances between the two of them. What a confusing dynamic.
“Is there news on Jungkook yet?” Seokjin asks. Hoseok shakes his head.
Seokjin exhales, tension strung through his body. “He could be rotting away in a Fire Nation dungeon, for all we know. If only I knew Yoongi was Fire Nation back then…”
Halla looks between them. “Wait, is Jungkook in danger?”
“Yes!” Seokjin snaps, at the same time Hoseok says, “Maybe.”
They stare at each other.
“Well,” Hoseok tries, “Yoongi wouldn’t let him get hurt.”
“Yoongi was apparently passed out and injured.” Seokjin says furiously. “And really? Do you think I’d trust him? After what he did?”
“He did it to protect you and Jungkook.” Hoseok says, “And yeah, maybe it didn’t work, but his intentions were well-meaning.”
“So? Jungkook is alone on a Fire Nation warship! You heard Jimin—he’s in danger!”
“Okay, even if Yoongi were heavily injured, Namjoon would make sure Jungkook was alright.”
“I trust this ‘Namjoon’ fellow even less considering I've never met him.”
As they argue, Halla slams her fist against the side of the wall. The entire building rumbles. A whole tea set topples off and breaks into pieces on the floor.
“What the fuck?” Seokjin screeches.
“You two need to shut up and explain what’s going on. How do you know Jungkook is in the Fire Nation?” Halla says. "And don't give me that look, Jin. I’ve known the kid for as long as you have. ”
“We don’t know where he is.” Hoseok corrects. “According to Taehyung and Jimin, he gave himself up to the Fire Nation. Oh, also Admiral Zhou is dead.”
“Jimin and Taehyung... those are Jeon’s friends, right? From the Hot Pot place.” Halla asks. Clearly, she’s well-informed of Jungkook’s general social circle. Seokjin and Hoseok exchange glances. She looks between them and sighs. “There’s something you’re not telling me.”
“Well.” Seokjin says. “Taehyung is kind of the Avatar.”
Hoseok is afraid she’s turned to stone. Then, she sits down on the stool behind her.
“I need a moment.” Halla says.
Taehyung and Jimin showed up two weeks after the Siege of the Northern Water Tribe in the Earth Kingdom only to find the desolate remains of the tea house. Unsure of where to go and what to do, they had come back to Ba Sing Se. At least they knew they had an ally in the Earth Kingdom. They’d wanted to tell Seokjin about Jungkook's surrender— to get help. Anything, really. Unfortunately, there was no one there except for Hoseok.
He’d taken them in as they awkwardly explained to Jin where Jungkook truly was. It hadn’t been pretty.
“He’s, um. Captured as a prisoner. On a Fire Nation warship.” Taehyung had stuttered out.
Yeah. Jin definitely hadn’t taken that one well.
But, Hoseok wasn’t worried so much about Jungkook than for the entire Earth Kingdom itself. Hoseok had unwavering trust in Yoongi and Namjoon— the two wouldn’t let Jungkook get hurt. But even their resourcefulness wouldn’t be able to save the imminent war from happening. The Council of Five had voted already and conscription was practically done. Hoseok knew it was only a matter of time before Fire Lord Ziji convened and held a vote for the Fire Nation to do the same. It was highly likely that he'd already done so.
It was such a shame, about Taehyung. If only Yoongi and Hoseok could have captured him. Perhaps the Fire Nation was evil, but weren’t all powerful nations? The Earth Kingdom was, too, once upon a time. Given resources, Hoseok had no doubt that the Water Tribes would willingly begin their own dominion as well, no matter how Jimin denied it. War atrocities had been committed and lands conquered— but finally, the Four Nations were nearing the apex of Fire Nation expansionism; they had no more room to grow. The last puzzle piece had been slotting Taehyung in as a peace offering between all the nations. That was off the plate now, obviously. Hoseok needed a new plan, now.
He walks down the tea house hallway and into the guest room hallways. A splattering of heated conversation rises from indistinct murmurs to clear speech. Hoseok lingers outside the appropriate door, raising his hand to knock.
“It’s more than just being willing to learn.” Taehyung says, sounding exhausted. “It’s about me, as a person.”
“And I understand that. But Tae, we can’t just settle. If—”
“Can you stop, Jimin? I’m done. This conversation is over.”
“It’s not.” Jimin snarls, frustrated. “Look, you little fucking ass. Our friends didn’t die for you to give up like this. I didn’t murder someone for you to give up like this.”
Stricken, Taehyung jerks back. “Jimin. I—”
Hoseok knocks very loudly and coughs for good measure. That’s enough eavesdropping.
A moment of rustling, and Taehyung opens the door, appearing quite haggard. Jimin stands behind, arms crossed.
“You’re back early.” Jimin remarks. Hoseok shrugs.
“Jin is speaking with Halla right now. You two ready?”
“I’m good to go.”
Taehyung bites his lip. “Me too.”
The thing is, this tea house is a little different. It has a basement. It’s a little dark, damp, and gross, but it fulfills its purpose. It’s hidden. The three traverse through the back of the tea house and Hoseok lifts a rug, revealing a hidden latch. He opens the wooden door and crawls under.
It’s colder down here. However, Jimin and Taehyung appear to be just fine, likely accustomed to the cold. Hoseok shivers in jealousy. They turn to face a spacious room. For a place as dark and dank as this, it's rather comfortable. There are no rats nor roaches, and there's even plumbing in the corner. The air smells distinctly of wine and tea leaves. Humidity is rather low, to reduce molding. Jimin narrows his eyes at the center of the open space.
There is a chair in the middle of the room. Seated and bound in the chair, is a person.
A girl, to be exact.
Jimin walks over and snatches her mouth gag out. Taehyung looks nauseated by the entire thing. Kidnappings probably aren’t in his repertoire.
The minute the gag is removed, the girl starts cursing. Jimin scowls at her, but she only has affronted eyes for one person in the room.
“What the fuck, Uncle Hoseok?” She spits, the nickname coming casually out of her mouth. He's not her real Uncle, but. Well.
“Hi, Jieqiong.” Hoseok says sympathetically. “I need a favor.”