"I'm just kind of confused," Seokjin says blankly.
The man in front of him looks up from the scroll he's scribbling on, quill pausing on the paper, eyebrow raised. "About what?"
Seokjin stares at him incredulously. "About why I've been arrested," he says pointedly, struggling a little against where he's tied rather firmly to the chair.
"Ah." The man rolls the scroll up to look at the one underneath, where Seokjin's supposed transgressions are written down. "Knocking over an apple cart—"
"—Which I helped pick up and promised to work at tomorrow to make up for the ruined produce," Seokjin reminds him. The lady hadn’t even been upset about it. She’d laughed and chatted with him as they cleaned up the mess and let him take one of the bruised apples as he left.
The man looks at Seokjin flatly. "Interrupting me," he adds to the bottom of the list.
"That's not fair," Seokjin argues, almost laughing, because what the hell is happening.
"Generally being unpleasant to have a conversation with," the man adds again, and when Seokjin looks down at the paper he sees that he's just written squiggles like a bad signature.
Seokjin makes an indignant noise — he is an excellent conversationalist — but keeps his mouth shut.
"This also says something about stealing a dog?" The man frowns. "Whose dog?"
"I didn't steal any dog," Seokjin tells him. He's starting to lose feelings in his arms so he kind of wants this conversation to be over as soon as possible, preferably with his release. "I opened the door to the bar and the owner's dog got out and got lost."
"Bosco is out there in the wilderness with no one to protect him?" The man clicks his tongue disapprovingly. "I'm afraid I have to put you down for negligence and animal cruelty."
What kind of an organization is this? Seokjin sighs. He'd run his hands over his face but he's a bit tied up at the moment. "Okay, officer—"
"Please, call me Hoseok," he offers cordially. "I'd shake your hand but..."
"Yeah." Seokjin understands. "Hoseok, let's say that you arrest me."
"I've already arrested you," Hoseok points out, which is true. Hoseok and his lackey came across Seokjin at the bar and the other boy threw Seokjin over his shoulder and carried him to the prison. Seokjin has never been arrested before but he doesn't think that's how it's supposed to work.
"Alright, so I'm arrested." Seokjin licks his lips, trying to think. "What happens now?" Seokjin is a wanderer. He's got some wandering to do. He's only in town for the night. He runs a tight schedule. And by that he means he finds the best places to eat and then moves on.
"Well, Seokjin—can I call you Seokjin?" Hoseok asks politely.
"Seokjin." Hoseok threads his fingers together and leans in, resting his chin on his hands. "You've come at a really convenient time for us here in this village."
Seokjin rolls his eyes. "Is that so?" He’s a moment away from tapping his foot impatiently, but who knows how Hoseok would react to that.
"See..." Hoseok digs a book out of his desk. "We have this..." He searches for the word, flopping the book open. Seokjin sees a lot of colored drawings and a dick joke that he's pretty sure wasn't put there by the original author. "Thing."
"A thing," Seokjin repeats. "What kind of thing?"
"A dragon thing," Hoseok tells him casually. Seokjin frowns, confused. "Like, a huge fucking dragon that lives in the mountain and terrorizes townspeople if he's not given a sacrifice." He shrugs. "Like, will destroy the whole town and eat our livestock and send the whole thing up in flames."
Seokjin does not like where this is going. "That doesn’t sound convenient at all," he says slowly.
"And he needs a new sacrifice every, oh, I don't know, right about now?" Hoseok pretends to read something out of the book but Seokjin is sure that passage is about cooking because he can see the ingredients listed.
Seokjin pictures himself roasting over a huge fire and suddenly doesn’t feel quite as confident.
Hoseok flips the page. "But we have a hard time every year because we don't really want to throw one of our own to the mountain, you know?" He shrugs. "So you, a healthy, handsome stranger with an apparent lack of morals—"
"I knocked over an apple cart!" Seokjin shouts, trying to keep himself from stomping his foot like a child. "How is that a lack of morals? It was an accident!"
"And yet, you keep interrupting me." Hoseok clicks his tongue again. "Jungkook?" he calls over his shoulder, and the taller boy with the young face that carried Seokjin all the way here pops his head out of the front room. "Please put Seokjin into a holding cell until it's time for the sacrifice."
"Sacrifice?" Seokjin is going crazy. This isn't happening. "I knocked over an apple cart!" He eyes the way that Jungkook is casually getting out of his seat and wandering over. He’s having a hard time processing, because this is so ridiculous that he’s having problems believing it, but his heart is beating so fast he think he might pass out. "This is cruel and unusual punishment!"
Hoseok shrugs. "We don't have a law against that."
Jungkook grabs ahold of the back of Seokjin's chair and starts dragging him across the room, even as Seokjin struggles in his bonds. "This is..." He can't think of anything to really describe what's happening because he can barely understand it. "This isn't fair!" he settles on, rather repetitively. He cranes back his neck and looks at Jungkook. "Jungkook, friend. You've carried me like a potato sack. We've bonded. You can't do this to me."
Jungkook just turns a little red and says nothing.
"I can't believe this," Seokjin says to no one, confused. "I've been in this town for five hours and now I'm being sacrificed to a dragon. I'm a good person."
"Well." Hoseok comes over and locks the cell door. "They do say only the good die young."
Seokjin isn't sure when this sacrifice is taking place, but he's almost certain that they forgot to untie him from the chair.
"Sorry," Hoseok says, a couple of hours later while Jungkook gets to work sawing away at the ropes tying Seokjin down. "We don't usually have to tie people up."
"I barely resisted." He’s gone through all the phases of grief and has arrived at acceptance. At least as far as the ridiculousness of his situation goes. He’s not sure where he is regarding his looming death, but Hoseok making no sense barely phases him anymore.
Seokjin has always considered himself very adaptable.
Hoseok is clearly trying to think of a way that Seokjin resisted. It takes him a moment. "You stepped on Jungkook's foot."
Jungkook looks at Seokjin awkwardly and doesn't say anything.
"Didn't he step on your foot?" Hoseok prompts.
Jungkook makes a weird, inhuman sound in the back of his throat and nods slightly, not taking his eyes away from his knife as he cuts.
"I was upside down right before that," Seokjin says. "I think I'm allowed to be disoriented."
Hoseok grins slowly. "Please look Jungkook in the face and extremely genuinely apologize."
It's an odd request but it's been an odd day. Seokjin sighs. When he looks over at Jungkook, the other boy is bright red and probably holding his breath. "Jungkook, I'm really sorry," Seokjin says, as genuinely as he can, which is very. Kim Seokjin, master of emotions. "I apologize for stepping on your foot."
Jungkook blinks. Takes a deep breath.
Sets down his knife and leaves the room.
Hoseok snorts, barely batting an eye as Jungkook quietly passes him to exit the cell and walks out into the hallway.
"Is he...okay?" Seokjin asks slowly, watching Jungkook’s back. Did he do something wrong? This town clearly has it’s fair share of weird customs. Maybe he made some sort of error.
"Hmm? Jungkook?" Hoseok comes forward and picks up the knife Jungkook had left, starting where he left off. Seokjin isn’t sure he would trust Hoseok with a weapon, but he holds it deftly, comfortably spinning it in his grip, and for a second, Seokjin is seeing a different person. "Yeah, he’s fine." Hoseok laughs, stepping out of Seokjin’s line of sight, and suddenly he’s nonsensical again. "He’s a mess. He can’t talk to you."
Seokjin blinks. "Is he, like...cursed?" He had a friend who was cursed with mutism once, but honestly it was to everyone’s benefit so no one minded much.
Hoseok pauses in his sawing of the ropes before laughing again. "I guess you could call it a ecurse." He shakes his head. "Poor thing." The ropes snap and fall into Seokjin’s lap.
For a second, Seokjin considers making a run for it through the open door, but he has lost all circulation throughout his upper body and he has a bad feeling that if he tried to stand up his legs would wobble and he’d fall on his face. "So," he says slowly. "What does this...sacrificial business entail?" He’s a smart man. If there’s a way to get out of it, he will.
"You stay here until morning," Hoseok tells him casually, like he’s not condemning Seokjin to death. "They we’ll take you up the mountain to the shrine, tie you to a tree, and leave you there." He smiles. "The procession is really fun. You might enjoy it."
Seokjin stares at him. "Somehow, I don’t think so."
Hoseok shrugs. "If you want to be a buzzkill, fine."
Seokjin is chewing through his options. Either he has to escape tonight, or he waits until the procession leaves him and tries to break his bonds then. He doesn’t have anything to cut rope with. If he escapes then, he won’t be able to get his supplies from Hoseok’s desk, and he’ll become one of those idiots who travels without a fucking map.
He remembers the way to the closest town, but it’s at least a three days walk unless he finds a ride. There are caravans on this road often. He could probably find work on one of them. He can take care of animals or cook or do manual labor. He has options.
Hoseok seems to see his brain working. "Jungkook will be guarding your cell all night."
"All night?" Seokjin asks, eyebrows up. "Doesn’t that get exhausting for one person?"
"He never sleeps," Hoseok dismisses. "If you give him some coffee, he’ll be fine."
"That’s overworking a minor."
"We don’t have laws against that, either." Hoseok grins. "Besides, I would consider it more along the lines of making use of a limited staff. These are difficult times, Kim Seokjin."
"What the fuck are you?" Seokjin asks breathlessly. "How does this town even work?"
"Quite well," Hoseok sniffs. "We do our best."
"Maybe you should try negotiating with your dragon friend?" Seokjin tries. "It’s pretty inconsiderate to ruin a town. I’m sure he can be reasoned with."
"Sacrificing you is the negotiation."
"I’m not sure where murdering a stranger lines up with your apparent morality complex," Seokjin tells him flatly. "Human sacrifice is worse than ruining a few apples."
"Yeah, but we also got your for animal cruelty, so." Hoseok shrugs. "It’s all a scale."
If Seokjin were religious, he’d be praying to his gods for patience.
In the morning, Seokjin would almost welcome death if it meant he’d be able to sleep.
"Good morning, sunshine," Hoseok sings, opening the cell door and tossing Seokjin an apple.
Seokjin doesn’t react fast enough and the apple thuds against his chest before falling into his lap. "Hmmmm?" he asks listlessly, eyes half open.
"Wake up." Hoseok snaps several times in front of Seokjin’s nose. "You look like you barely slept."
Seokjin swats the hand away. "I didn’t," he snips, rolling out a crank in his neck. "I’m on my fucking deathbed, it’s not exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep." Also, Seokjin doesn’t know what the hell Jungkook does in his free time but it might involve explosives because the amount of noise he was making all night was impressive to say the least.
But the "waiting for his death" thing is what really got him.
All night he was trying to think of ways to get out of the cell, but he’s actually not a criminal and doesn’t have much experience in that area. He considers himself to be fairly subtle, but Jungkook is not. Every time Seokjin got close to door, Jungkook’s rattling would stop, and the wary silence in the prison was enough to make Seokjin reconsider.
So he was awake all night for no reason, and now he’s grumpy and about to get eaten by a dragon.
"Do I at least get to write a goodbye letter to my family or something?" Seokjin asks groggily as Hoseok pulls him to his feet. He slaps his own cheeks a couple of times, trying to wake himself up.
Suddenly, Hoseok looks a little worried. "Do you have family?"
"Yes, I have family!" Seokjin says indignantly, looking over his shoulder at Hoseok as the other man ties his hands together. "An old, ailing mother and three young siblings who count on me to send them enough money to live off of." He looks out into the distance. "I guess...without me…" His eyes tears up. "I guess they’ll have to find a way on their own."
Hoseok is unimpressed. "What are their names?"
Seokjin blinks. "What?"
"Your siblings." Hoseok fastens the knot a little too firmly and comes back into Seokjin’s line of sight, crossing his arms. "What are their names?"
"Um." Seokjin thinks. And thinks. And thinks. He carefully rearranges his features into something regretful. "I’ve been on the road for so long, it seems I’ve forgotten."
"Yeah." Hoseok rolls his eyes. "Come on, big brother, time to go."
Seokjin blames his lack of sleep for not being able to make up the names in time. He’s usually much quicker on his feet. Maybe this was Jungkook’s plan all along.
He really does have a family, somewhere, one that he said goodbye to a long time ago, a mother in a grave and a father too poor to take care of a single child. Maybe he should have gone with that story, the Pathetic Orphan. He’s been told it makes him charming and sympathetic. "What if I told you I was an orphan?" he asks Hoseok curiously.
Hoseok smiles cheerfully as he leads Seokjin out of the cell and out into the street. "Then you definitely don’t need to write a goodbye letter."
Jungkook has been waiting outside, falling into step by Hoseok’s side, grabbing ahold of Seokjin’s other arm. Seokjin tries to look at Jungkook to see if he’s struggling to stay awake as well. It’d be easier if Jungkook was willing to look him in the eye, but otherwise he seems fine. His grip on Seokjin’s arm is strong.
Seokjin is starting to hope that whomever ties him up on the mountain ties really shitty knots.
The procession is a happy affair, or it would be, if Seokjin were in the mood to celebrate his own death. There are a ton of people there wearing all sorts of colors, a small child playing the flute and dancing around to the beat of the drum at the front of the line. People are cheering. Someone is waving a banner. Seokjin feels almost festive, except that his hands are tied and he doesn’t feel festive at all.
Not even a little.
"You should try to enjoy it more," Hoseok tells him, nudging Seokjin with his elbow. "It’s in your honor."
"Honor of my death?" Seokjin rolls his eyes. "Forgive me. I’m not really feeling it today."
Jungkook looks at Hoseok nervously, but the other man says nothing, and as the procession continues, Seokjin lets himself fall into something rather numb.
The people sing and dance, and all seems funny in a morbid kind of way. A big party Seokjin wishes he wasn't invited to. He remembers not even two days ago, deciding to take the scenic route through the mountains. He's never been in this area before. Perhaps that was by the grace of whatever gods are important enough to have an effect on Seokjin's life. He should pray more, maybe. Dear god of the mountain, please let me survive this little excursion and I'll love you forever.
If Jungkook is the one tying him up at the shrine, Seokjin isn't sure how much praying is going to do for him. He should be asking for a knife and some good luck instead of deliverance.
The festivities pitter off the further they get from town, people filtering out to return to their houses as the trek stops being fun and becomes more of a hassle. Seokjin wasn't planning on hiking today after sitting in an empty room all night. He can feel his feet dragging behind the beat of the marching drum. Jungkook is almost carrying his weight up the incline at one point, not unkindly, just pushing him gently along as morning warms up into the afternoon and they're still climbing.
"We're almost there," Hoseok says. The drum is the only thing keeping them going. All of the townspeople have left except for one older woman who is carrying a basket full of food for when they reach the top. Her face is stern and her muscles are huge and Seokjin has been told she makes a mean sandwich.
It had better be good, honestly. Seokjin hasn't spent his life in pursuit of good food to get something crusty for his final meal.
When the shrine comes into view, Seokjin's first thought is that it doesn't look like a bad place to die.
It's nestled into the trees, dilapidated only enough that it looks welcoming, the cobbled path leading up to the building full of cracked stones and little blooming flowers of pink and blue. A man is sweeping the entrance, dressed in robes of white and red. He stops as he hears them coming.
He turns, straightening up and running a hand through his hair to brush it off of his face. "Is it that time of the year?" he asks pleasantly, smiling too brightly.
"What are your feelings on murder?" Seokjin demands, tiredly pulling at his restraints.
The shrine keeper laughs a little, confused. "Murder?" He tilts his head. "Is there anyone who is actively pro-murder?"
Seokjin looks at Hoseok rather pointedly.
Hoseok shrugs. "A sacrifice is a sacrifice."
The other man's face falls into something like understanding. "Oh." He blinks. "Sacrifice. Right." He tries to school his expression into something a little less friendly. "Murder. Right. That. Because the dragon is going to...eat you." He stifles a laugh.
"It's not funny," Seokjin says incredulously. "What the fuck is with this town? Is my death fun for you?"
The shrine keeper sobers up. "Of course not." He scratches his neck, broom tucked up against his side. "It's...complicated," he says after a moment. "You'll see."
"With my dead eyes?"
The stranger rolls his eyes. "Please."
Hoseok and Jungkook grip Seokjin a little more firmly and drag him over to the large tree off of the path.
Seokjin is honestly too tired to fight back. No sleep and a hike makes it hard for his brain to focus on trying to escape, especially when he still feels like he's missing something. There's no way this is for real. Everyone is laughing this off. He's about to die and they're treating it like it's something trivial. They're feeding him to a dragon. This is fucked up. This is so fucked up.
"I can't believe you're using a holy place as a place to feed a living, breathing human being to a vicious, vengeful reptile," he says sourly.
The shrine keeper, standing aside as Jungkook winds the binds around the tree, laughs.
Seokjin stares at him. "You're awful."
He blushes. "Ah, I'm sorry," he says politely, bowing lowly. "You really will see. It'll be okay."
"I'm going to die!" Seokjin yells. Jungkook is too close to Seokjin's face at that point and jumps a little in alarm as he's tying him up. "Why is no one upset by this?"
Hoseok ties the knot tightly on the other side of the tree, and when Seokjin tries to stretch to test the tension he can barely move anything other than his legs. "I'm sure your sick mother and fake siblings will be very sad," he says with a pat on Seokjin's head. Seokjin wants to bite him. "They might even come looking for you and I’m sure then we’ll meet our retribution."
"Fuck you," Seokjin says sourly, watching Hoseok laugh as he walks back down the cobbled road. Jungkook looks a little sadly over his shoulder as he leaves, even as the woman is handing out sandwiches that, apparently, Seokjin doesn't even get to fucking eat.
"I'm Jimin," the shrine keeper says kindly.
Seokjin sighs. "I'm fucked."
It's well into the afternoon and Seokjin is very hungry and probably needs to go to the bathroom.
"Is it going to screw things up if I die of starvation before the dragon ascends upon me and devours my flesh?" Seokjin asks no one. Jimin is currently inside the shrine and Hoseok and the others left over an hour ago. "Like, are they going to have to sacrifice someone else? I'm willing to eat a sandwich for the sake of this town's wellbeing."
"Do you want this one?"
If Seokjin screams, there's no one out there who could judge him.
Except for the creature holding out a sandwich to him, but his barely bats an eye at the inhuman sound Seokjin makes in response to his fairly innocent question.
"Do you not like beef?" the stranger asks, taking a sniff of the sandwich. "I already ate the other one. I'm sorry." He tilts his head and Seokjin is reminded of a dog, something soft and small and cute. His eyes are big and clear.
There are fox ears on his head.
The boy holds the sandwich out again. "I can probably go ask for another."
Jimin calls from the shrine. "They are too close to the village now, Taehyung, don't go to them."
Taehyung frowns, staring at the sandwich. His ears twitch. Out of the corner of his eye, Seokjin sees a tail sway through the grass, reddish brown and out of place. "You can still have it," he offers.
"Ah, I like beef fine," Seokjin assures him, mildly confused about why a fox spirit is offering him a sandwich. "I can't use my hands right now, though." He's actually starting to lose circulation again and isn't sure he'd be able to use them, tied or not.
Taehyung grins, tail wagging. "I can feed you, if you want."
Seokjin blinks. "Isn't that...a little weird?"
The fox spirit shrugs. "I do it for Jimin all the time."
Jimin laughs. "Tae, that's different."
Taehyung shrugs again, looking at Seokjin. "As long as you don't make it weird, I feel like you deserve a sandwich." He snorts. "Lord knows Namjoon can't cook."
Seokjin blinks slowly. "Who is Namjoon?"
Taehyung blinks again, face going blank. "Who?"
Seokjin frowns. "You said something about a Namjoon."
Taehyung laughs awkwardly. "Did I? I can't remember." He shoves the sandwich in Seokjin's face. "Please eat. No more questions."
Jimin laughs in the background. His voice gets closer, and soon Seokjin sees the smiling face pop out from around the tree. "Tae."
"I forget, okay?" Taehyung whines, still force-feeding Seokjin. "I don't know why Hoseok even does that anymore."
Seokjin has questions — so many questions. Mostly about why Taehyung is so flustered, and the other about what exactly Hoseok is doing, and maybe also about what's in this sandwich because it's honestly really good.
"You know why," Jimin says, a little more seriously than expected, kindly and softly but with weight.
Taehyung is looking over his shoulder at Jimin, so Seokjin can't see his face, but his hand drops a little and Seokjin chases the sandwich with his mouth, whining. "Hey!" he says, through a mouthful of food. "Please come back. This is my last meal. Let me enjoy it."
"Okay, okay," Taehyung laughs. "How did you end up with this lot, anyway? Looked too pretty?"
Seokjin snorts. "I wasn't aware that was a sin," he replies primly, licking food off of his lower lip. "I'm not really sure, but apparently I did something wrong and now I'm a criminal. Something about animal negligence."
"Ahhhh." Taehyung nods with understanding. "So you were the one who let Bosco out."
"I hope his momentary freedom was worth my actual life." Seokjin rolls his eyes. "I'm not at all convinced that Hoseok wasn't just making things up."
"I wonder why..." Jimin hums. He raises an eyebrow suddenly, a moment before squinting at Seokjin. "You have a good voice."
"Um." What. "Thank you?"
"Like...a pleasant tone. Cute." Jimin is much too far into Seokjin’s personal space. "And a nice face, very classically handsome. And fairly tall, if I remember correctly. Not too tall." He looks Seokjin up and down. "Can you read?"
Seokjin sputters. "Yes, I can read." Where did that even come from? What is happening? Seokjin shouldn't be surprised when things take a turn for the weird.
"Do you like to read?"
Seokjin stares at him. "Yes?"
Taehyung stares at Jimin also, for a moment, before turn his head slowly to Seokjin. "Would you consider yourself an intellectual?"
"Is this an interview for a job?" Seokjin asks hotly. "Does it matter? Are you going to take me on a date?"
"Namjoon would like him," Taehyung says absently, eating a bite of Seokjin's sandwich.
"Hoseok wouldn't know that after he just accidentally set that escape artist of a dog loose," Jimin points out. "It's probably just his face. Namjoon will definitely like his face."
"Everyone likes my face," Seokjin says simply. "It's my best quality." He looks at the sandwich in Taehyung's hand. "Please feed me."
Taehyung is nice enough to oblige him.
At least he won't die on an empty stomach.
It's not very long after Taehyung and Jimin go back into the shrine that Seokjin figures out exactly who Namjoon is and why it matters, and all in all it's nothing like Seokjin would have expected.
The sun is too hot. Seokjin can feel it even under the shade of the huge ass tree holding him captive, and he'd complain about it very loudly if he wasn't worried someone would actually come out of the shrine and try to help him because he's in the process of escaping.
Or attempting to.
It's going rather poorly.
There's enough rope tied around his chest to hold back a bull, and every time Seokjin tries to wiggle out of it the rough bark of the tree scrapes into the skin of his back through his shirt and he gets absolutely nowhere. There's not enough slack in the rope for Seokjin to even think of working his way.
He wonders if Taehyung the friendly fox would release him. He fed him. Clearly he's a sympathetic creature.
But if Jimin doesn't even seem inclined to set Seokjin free, then can he ever hope to convince Taehyung?
"This is such a mess," Seokjin mutters under his breath, squirming a little to try and work his arms out of the rope. "I just had to come here, of all places."
Seokjin supposes that, under different circumstances, he would rather like this town. It's small and quaint and friendly and well-kept, somewhat isolated in a way that seems pleasant instead of restrictive. The food was good, what little he got of it. Seokjin is a simple man. He needs very little to be satisfied. Good food and a nice atmosphere and he can sleep soundly.
The sandwich Taehyung gave him was delicious, but the atmosphere is shit, so Seokjin is left here to struggle.
Seokjin can be forgiven for not noticing the figure who walks in through the gates of the shrine, right up the path, leans over slightly, and asks, "Are you alright?"
He cannot, however, forgive himself for the inhuman noise he makes.
The man blinks at him, somewhat startled. "Ah, sorry." He bows his head slightly. "Sorry, I didn't know you would scream." He straightens up, and Seokjin is very low to the ground but this man looks altogether too tall and he doesn't like it at all.
"What did you think would happen, then?" Seokjin demands irritably. "When you sneak up on a stranger who is tied to a tree and desperate to live? It's a stressful time!" Normally he wouldn't be so defensive but today is really just not his day. He's usually much better about controlling himself, but he's hot and tired and hungry and would like to sleep for five years.
"You're right, I'm sorry," the man says, although he looks a strange mixture of apologetic and amused. "Why are you tied to a tree?"
Seokjin sighs, slumping against the trunk, head falling back. "It's a long story," he answers, kind of listlessly. "But apparently a giant, terrifying, vengeful dragon lives somewhere up here and requires the blood of the innocent!" Seokjin screams the last part over his shoulder towards where he knows Jimin and Taehyung are sitting just inside the shrine. He thinks he hears Jimin giggle, but it could just be the fucking wind chimes that have been ringing for the past three hours, mockingly peaceful. He sighs again. "It's got to eat me or else it will like...destroy the town. Or something."
The man blinks, pauses, opens his mouth for a moment like he's going to answer before changing his mind. "Oh," he says instead, after a moment. "That is quite a pickle." He laughs nervously. One hand comes up and runs through his hair. It's a curious color, a dark purple that makes his skin look warm. It's not natural, certainly, unless there's some weird magical species living up here. It's possible, this man could pass for an elf, maybe, with all that leg and all that arm. Like a noodle.
He's cute. At least Seokjin will get some eye candy before he's filleted to death.
"I'm Seokjin," he offers. "I'd shake your hand but..."
"Namjoon," the stranger says. "No handshake necessary."
"Ah." Seokjin nods. "Funny. Jimin and Taehyung mentioned you." He smiles. It's charming. Seokjin knows it's charming because he practiced it in the mirror. "They said you can't cook."
"I...that is true," Namjoon says slowly. His body is still but his fingers are fluttering nervously down at his sides. "Did they say anything else?" The line of his shoulders is tight.
"They said you'd like me," Seokjin replies coyly. He's flirting. He's knows he's flirting, and he knows he's excellent at it. "I'm a great cook you know."
Namjoon looks Seokjin up and down, more analytically than appreciatively, but there is something under the layers of his expression that makes Seokjin think he likes what he sees. "I'm sure you are." His face is only hard to read in that it's so open, five or six emotions flitting across it before Seokjin has the time to properly evaluate their meanings, and if Seokjin had more time, maybe he'd learn what all of them meant.
For now, he's just trying to live to see tomorrow.
Seokjin licks his lips. "If you untie me, I'll make you dinner."
Namjoon makes a strange noise in the back of his throat. "Dinner?" He sounds amused.
"And company." Seokjin looks up at Namjoon through his eyelashes, smiling sweetly. "It's up to you which one you'll enjoy more, but I'll give you a two-for-one deal."
Namjoon is wearing clothes that look too expensive to be worn in the woods, but sturdy, heavy pants and a long tunic tied at the waist that leaves his arms bare. There's a tattoo wrapped around one bicep, dark black and sharp even when Seokjin can't make out it's shape, but it looks out of place when Namjoon is standing there with his fluttery hands and soft, round face and tense shoulders. He pats around his pockets, and it's only then that Seokjin notices he doesn't have a bag. "I don't have anything to cut it with," Namjoon says a little choppily, holding out his empty hands.
"Not a knife?"
He shakes his head.
Seokjin stares at him incredulously. What kind of person travels without a knife? "Were you just depending on nature's good graces to prevent anything from attacking you in these magical, dangerous woods?"
Namjoon shrugs, but there's a pink tinge sitting right on his collar bone. "Nothing really bothers me out here," he answers truthfully.
Seokjin groans, hanging his head. "Can you get something from Jimin? A knife or a sword or something? Hoseok took mine."
The other man scoffs. "It's a shrine, not a smithy." He scratches the back of his neck. "You really don't want me to be that one that frees you, anyway."
"You don't know me," Seokjin snips. "I would love for you to be the one that frees me. I'd love that. Please do that."
Namjoon raises an eyebrow.
"Look," Seokjin says, annoyed. "I'm just trying to get through this shitty experience relatively alive. I'm already dead inside. I would appreciate it if you released me so that I don't get roasted by a giant reptile monster thing that blows fire and consumes worlds or something."
"That's not what dragons are like at all," Namjoon tells him, crossing his arms. "Have you never read a magical history book?"
"Wha—no!" Seokjin frowns. "Those aren't exactly readily available for the general public. But I've seen plenty of paintings."
"Those are done by artists with too much time on their hands and no attachment to reality." Namjoon frowns. "Honestly, the way that artists have so much control over the perceptions of the masses is kind of incredible. I wish they would take more responsibility. Historians do their best but people are more likely to look at a poster and form their opinions on the spot instead of taking the time to do their own research."
"Sorry that posters are easier to get ahold of than archaic texts only printed three times," Seokjin says flatly. "I'll use my freedom to be less ignorant in the future. Please untie me."
Namjoon barely hears him. "Dragons," he's continuing, even as Seokjin is rolling his eyes, "are shifters."
Seokjin squints at him.
"They can be giant reptiles," Namjoon admits. He talks with his hands. His fingers are very long. "But honestly it's exceptionally inconvenient. Feeding and housing something that large? It's a disaster." Namjoon shudders. "And messy. Opposable thumbs are so helpful."
"Mountains would be good for that, I imagine." Seokjin's ass is on the ground and he's losing circulation in his legs. This is not a conversation he particularly wants to be having. "All that space. A nice warm cave to hoard their treasure."
Namjoon grimaces. "I wouldn't call caves warm, per se. Magic makes things easier," he admits. "But it takes a lot of work to make a cave livable." He grins. He has dimples. He looks young. "Good thing we have a lot of time, what with immortality and all."
Seokjin has been getting a very bad feeling as this conversation went on, but he managed to push it aside with all the other very bad feelings he's been having in the last couple of days. He stares at Namjoon blankly. "If you're the fucking dragon, I'm going to scream."
Namjoon laughs. "Human form is a lot easier to get around in than as a..." he pauses, thinking, "'giant reptile monster thing that blows fire and consumes worlds.'" He grins.
Seokjin's throat goes dry. "Good memory."
"When you usually live over a thousand ears, a good memory is pretty critical," Namjoon tells him casually, like it's nothing. Like it's not the end of Seokjin's world.
"I'm about to fucking die." Seokjin slumps against the tree as much as he can. The ropes are really starting to chafe. He squints up at Namjoon. "You don't look like a dragon." He's already dead. He can say what he wants.
"I don't look like pictures of dragons," he clarifies. "Have you met many dragons?"
"Yesterday, I would have said no, but today I'm not sure." Seokjin looks Namjoon up and down. "You look as much like a dragon as anyone I've ever seen. Perhaps the old man that shined my shoes two towns over is a dragon, how the fuck would I know?"
"You're not as nice anymore," Namjoon notes.
"Please eat me and end my misery." Seokjin went through the stages of grief pretty quickly.
Namjoon takes a slow breath, looking down at Seokjin, thinking. "I know what Hoseok said, but he's lying."
Seokjin snorts. "About what? The death and destruction? Do I not meet the sacrificial requirements?" He raises an eyebrow. "Do I need to be a virgin?"
Namjoon chokes on his own tongue. "What the hell? No." He rubs his forehead. "I...gods, I'm not going to eat you and I would have never destroyed the village. Hoseok was just talking shit. You're not going to die."
That should make the tension in Seokjin's shoulders ease, but he's having trouble believing it. "If you're not going to eat me, then why the fuck am I tied to this tree?"
"Ah, well." Namjoon sighs, running his hands over his face. "Hoseok is an idiot, and a meddler, and it's an unfortunate combination." Until now, Namjoon has kept a nice distance from Seokjin, but he reaches forward and gently brushes his fingers over the ropes holding Seokjin down. They buzz against his chest slightly, like Seokjin can feel the energy. "That's why you don't want me to be the one to cut the rope."
"What do you mean?" Seokjin asks, out of sheer curiosity.
"This tree is a spirit, connected to the Mountain. And she’s nearly as meddlesome as Hoseok is," Namjoon says, mostly under his breath. "Hoseok offers you to the Tree, the Tree makes a contract between us, and when I cut the ropes, the contract becomes binding. Me releasing you is agreeing to its terms."
"Its terms..." Seokjin mutters, eyebrows knit. "That's not fair? Why does the tree get to decide? It's a tree."
"She’s a spirit, and has more power than you or I ever will." Namjoon bites his lower lip. "If someone else released you, there wouldn't be an issue, but Jimin is also a meddler and Taehyung can't be trusted with sharp objects, and there's no one else for miles."
Seokjin takes a deep breath, thinking. "What are the tree's terms?"
Namjoon blinks in surprise, slowly shifting his touch from the ropes to the tree bark. "A year," he says, rather cryptically.
"A year with the Mountain." Namjoon looks at the tree with sharp, focused eyes. "A year with me." He sighs, withdrawing his hand.
"A year doing what?" The last time Seokjin spent a year anywhere was when he was 15 and the idea of being away from home was still unimaginable.
"Living. Existing here." Namjoon laughs. "What else would you be expected to do?"
It's not a bad deal, probably. Better than death. But the idea of staying anywhere makes Seokjin's skin itch. Being trapped is something Seokjin has always been irrationally afraid of, and a magical contract is everything that's ever made Seokjin wake up at night from fear.
The tree is rough against his back, the ropes tight around his chest, and Seokjin is reminded that he doesn't really have a choice.
Namjoon looks rather normal, perhaps even less intimidating than the average human being, all legs and soft edges and fidgety hands, and Seokjin knows very little about anything, knows even less than he thought he knew an hour ago, and hates that he's at the mercy of that. The mercy of something he doesn't know. Doesn't understand.
But Namjoon is standing there, looking at him worriedly, and maybe being at Namjoon's mercy isn't the worst thing that could happen.
It's better than death. It's better than sitting here, stuck and lost. It's better than waiting.
"So you’re not going to eat me?" Seokjin asks, just to confirm. "I'm mildly irritated that I went through all the trouble of fighting for my life and getting dragged up a mountain for, apparently, no reason."
"That's not my fault." Namjoon rolls his eyes, even though the tightness in the corners of his mouth betrays how uncomfortable he is. "Why would I eat you?"
"Because you’re a dragon," Seokjin says slowly, because it should be obvious, despite Namjoon not looking very dragon-y at all. Not a giant reptile. Not an angry monster. Not a fire breathing anything, as far as Seokjin can see. Just a boy. Soft.
"Excuse you." Namjoon puts a fist on his hip, unimpressed. He runs a hand through his hair, third time, and it sticks up in all sorts of directions. "I may be a dragon, but I’m not an animal." His face softens. "I'd like to let you go, but if I untie you, the Mountain will force you to remain here."
If Seokjin had use of his arms, he'd gesture at the shitty situation he's in. "It's just a year." He takes a deep breath. A year sounds horrible. "A year is nothing."
Namjoon purses his lips. "It's just a year," he repeats. "I'll free you, if you ask me to."
"Namjoon," Seokjin says firmly. "Release me right now."
"What is with this place and hiking?" Seokjin tries to keep one foot in front of the other but he's been tripping over roots for the past hour now. The sun is lowering in the sky and Seokjin wants a bath and a snack and good bed. He's unsure how many of those things he's actually going to get, but his day is on the up-and-up considering a few hours ago he thought he would be dead by now.
"It's...a mountain?" Namjoon throws over his shoulder. "Of course we have to hike up. That's where the cave is."
And that makes sense and everything, but Seokjin doesn't have to be happy about it. "Can we not go so fast?" he begs. "I haven't slept and have been tied up for most of the past two days. My legs aren't working."
Namjoon laughs, deep in his chest even though Seokjin wasn't trying to be funny. "We're almost there."
Seokjin is a seasoned traveler, and he's whining more than usual, but he's starting to get kind of dizzy from all the activity, and as soon as he knew he wasn't going to die all the adrenaline flooded out of him and now he feels like his legs are lead and he's sinking into the mud. He considers actually, genuinely complaining and asking for a rest, but Namjoon is pushing forward so Seokjin is right behind him.
Albeit very, very slowly.
They come to a clearing, all green grass and purple flowers and gentle breeze with towering rock on either side, and it seems a little too calm compared to the rest of Seokjin's day, but no less absurd, because just when Seokjin thinks Namjoon is actually letting them take a break Namjoon says, "Here we are.
Seokjin blinks. "Where is here?"
Namjoon blinks back. "My house."
"This is..." Seokjin looks down at the grassy clearing like maybe there's a carpet and a kitchen. "This is where you live?"
Namjoon laughs. "This is my roof." He frowns. "Part of my roof. It's a big cave," he admits. Briskly, he walks over to the rocky surface. He bites his lip, and Seokjin must have blinked because one moment he's standing there and another moment his hand is on fire."
The black tattoo on his arm is shimmering — moving — and the ink looks less like skin and more like scales. The creature moves across Namjoon's skin, and Seokjin sees a reptilian head snaking down to the base of Namjoon's wrist, jaw unhinged. The fire is purple, wrong. Seokjin has never seen magic this close.
He feels very weak.
Namjoon carefully traces his fingertips over the stone. Seokjin watches with wide eyes as the stone melts like snow in the sun, disappearing into the ground like it never existed in the first place.
Namjoon looks back at him. "Ready?"
"Magic is fucking weird," Seokjin says in awe, but he steps forward anyway, following Namjoon into the hole in the rock.
Namjoon swings his hand around, and the purple flame illuminates the cave, showing stone steps and a carefully carved handrail. "Sorry," Namjoon apologizes as Seokjin steps inside a few feet and the wall behind him rebuilds, swallowing up all the light until all that's left is darkness and Namjoon. "Once we get down the platform the lanterns should come on. It's dangerous setting magic so close to the surface where someone might find it."
"What about the magic you did with the wall?" Seokjin asks curiously, staring at the skin of Namjoon's hand like he's expecting it to burn.
"That wasn't my magic," Namjoon says plainly. "The Mountain has her own magic. She let me in."
"I guess that works really well if you're worried about security," Seokjin replies. "How...let's say that I'm allowed to like, leave the cave—"
"Of course, you're allowed!" Namjoon sounds scandalized. He looks over his shoulder at Seokjin and also falls down the stairs before Seokjin grabs ahold of the back of his shirt and holds him upright. The material is smooth under his hand. "You could even go into town, although it might be better to wait until they've forgotten they've. uh..."
"What?" Seokjin laughs. "Sentenced me to death?"
"Other than Hoseok and Jungkook, none of the townspeople probably even got a super good look at you," Namjoon reasons.
"A shame," Seokjin mutters. "I kind of wish it would haunt them." He frowns. "Hoseok says they sacrifice someone every year...where are the others?"
Namjoon shrugs. "They leave." The floor levels out and Namjoon is waving his hand around (perhaps a little dangerously, seeing as it's on fire). "The tree doesn't always make it a year. Usually, they have to stay a month or two. The longest was six months and the shortest was three days, but...nobody missed that guy." He snorts, and then his eyes light up as he finds a notch in the rock and touches it with his open palm.
The light starts far away, and for a moment Seokjin thinks that someone is running down the hallway with a lantern to meet them, but the closer it gets he sees the light isn't from a lantern — not one, anyway. They’re screwed into the wall, and one by one they roar to life, flickering purple for a moment before settling into something warmer, a natural orange that casts a nice, bizarrely steady glow.
There have been weirder things today, so Seokjin isn't too impressed.
"And you've been fake-sacrificing people for...?" he prompts.
Namjoon shakes the fire out of his hand like one might a match. "About...a hundred years? Give or take." He shrugs. "This way."
Seokjin follows close behind. "Might I ask why?"
"You can ask anything you want?" Namjoon snorts. "That's a question I won't answer."
"Rude." Seokjin sniffs. "What a terrible host."
"Say that once you see your room." Namjoon grins.
Seokjin barely remembers how tired he is.
After a moment, they reach a wooden door. The handles look like real gold. "I apologize for the mess," Namjoon says, genuine, before pushing the door open.
The area behind the door is spacious, well upholstered, carefully decorated, and barely resembles a cave at all. The tapestries on the wall look like the work of masters, and there are vines of gold that look melted into the stone, where silver and crystal flowers bloom. Seokjin takes a step forward, jaw dropped. He reaches out to touch. The metal feels warm.
"It's a plant," Namjoon says helpfully. "Vitis aurumia. I..." He scratches his head. "I modified it slightly so it wouldn't hurt the stone, but it's really beautiful! And the flowers are useful in potions and spells. In certain forms, they can cause hallucinations."
Seokjin is afraid to touch them, they're so beautiful.
But then the awe and glitter fades, and Seokjin gets a good look at the state of the place. He laughs. "You really can't take care of yourself, can you?"
Namjoon's ears turn red.
There are clothes all over the floor despite the apparent lack of anything resembling a wardrobe. A half-eaten sandwich is looking a little green on one of, Seokjin counts, five plates sitting on the reading table. There's a cup sitting on its side on the floor. There are dirty footprints on the rug. It smells like a teenage boy's room.
"I can explain," Namjoon offers.
"I...really am bad at cleaning," he finishes lamely.
"And you can't cook, either?" Seokjin asks incredulously. "How have you lived on your own for this long?" Namjoon opens his mouth. "If you say 'magic,' I'll scream."
Namjoon stays quiet.
Namjoon doesn't bother giving Seokjin a real tour, and Seokjin is thankful. He's starting to feel a little sick, and the room is spinning even after the couple of rooms Namjoon takes the time to show him. The kitchen is huge but so understocked Seokjin couldn't feed a dog, much less himself, but the size of the bath in the bathroom makes up for it.
When Namjoon shows Seokjin his bed, he wants to cry with relief.
"A couple of decades ago, the woman who stayed here was an interior designer," Namjoon notes. "The curtains are imported from—"
"I don't care!" Seokjin sings, flopping on the bed as Namjoon splutters to a stop. "This is the softest mattress I've ever had the pleasure of meeting."
Namjoon smiles. "I'm glad." He bites his lip. "I...ran a little behind and didn't have time to prepare anything for you," he admits. "Can you write?"
Seokjin snorts, face buried in the pillow. "Can I write, he asks." He opens his eyes. "I can forge official signatures and have worked as a scribe. I have excellent penmanship."
"The forging probably comes in pretty handy, but I'm afraid to ask how." Namjoon opens up the drawer of the desk with fluttery fingers. "Before you sleep, try and make a list of all the things you might need. Clothes and amenities and anything in the kitchen...I'll make sure you get them." He frowns. "We might have to borrow some, but...it'll be fine." With a finger, he lights the candle by the desk, and then walks over to beside Seokjin's bed and lights the one there, too. "I'll get you hooked up so that you don't need my fire to, you know, see." He pauses awkwardly. "I can't think of anything else to say."
"That's usually when the conversation is done," Seokjin says with good-humor. "Do I need to put the list anywhere when I'm finished?"
"Just slip it outside your door," Namjoon says after a moment. "I'll get everything started before I go to sleep." The dragon on his arm crawls back up to his shoulder and the ink hardens back into something safe. The lanterns of Seokjin's bedroom fade into nothing and all he's left with is the slow-burning candles. Seokjin doesn't mind.
Namjoon taps his fingers against his thighs absently, foot tapping. Nervous. "I'll see you tomorrow," he says finally.
And then he's gone.
When Seokjin wakes up, he has no idea where he is.
His bed is too comfortable and he's warm and cold at the same time and it's so dark that he has no idea what time it is and also his feet feel like they're about to fall off.
He pries his eyes open, rubbing sleep off his lashes, and drags himself up to sit. It takes just a moment for his eyes to adjust, despite the fact that he's fairly far underground and he should be completely blind forever because the sun is so far away. He remembers Namjoon saying something about curtains, which seems slightly silly in a cave, but he swings his legs out of bed anyway and keeps his hands on the cold stone of the wall until he feels soft silk and pulls it aside.
It's a goddamn window.
Underground. A window.
Sunlight hits his face and Seokjin yelps with surprise, hiding his eyes with his hand and jerking the curtains closed until he can see something other than sunspots. "What the fuck." He blinks several times until he's not so blind, silk still clenched in his hand.
He opens it again.
Seokjin isn't sure what he's seeing, but it certainly isn't the mountain. It's some kind of shoreline. The sand is pale purple, soft looking, and the waves lap lightly at the shore. The sun is up, too bright. Midday.
"Magic is so weird," Seokjin says to no one.
He takes a moment to look around. His vision has been almost hazy the night before, he was so exhausted, but the room is well furbished. Clean. The sheets are light blue like a rich, old woman's parlor, the canopy bed sheer and overdramatic, just the way Seokjin likes it. There's a desk in the corner, dark wood with gold embellishments, carefully carved and worth more than Seokjin's own life. A quill stands on it's nib, floating just above the surface and ready for use. Seokjin wonders how he missed that last night.
Perhaps he hadn't missed it, and had been too tired to register anything even vaguely similar to shock.
Beside the quill is a set of clothes, a white shirt and dark trousers that both look a little too long. Seokjin assumes they must be Namjoon's, unless Namjoon had managed to provide for him in such a short amount of time. Hell, maybe he had. He doesn't know how any of this works.
He slips the shirt on and runs a hand through his hair. The shirt is, as expected, much too long, and Seokjin's shoulders are a little too broad, but he's not one to complain about a gift freely given, so he only grumbles a little bit.
There's a dresser in the corner, where Seokjin assumes he will be able to put his clothes whenever he gets his hands on them. Sitting atop it is a basin made of some kind of colored stone, a marbled blue and silver bowl full of clear water for Seokjin to wash his face and a mirror for him to see how crazy his hair is.
Considering the week he's had, he could look a lot worse.
He slips on his boots, somehow cleaned in the night, and opens his bedroom door.
There's a note pinned to the outside, in thick paper not unlike whatever Seokjin had used to make his list the night before, but crinkled like it had been shoved into a corner and then used for scrap.
I got as many of the pots and things I could. Most of the food items that you asked for will be in later today, but not until the evening. I should be around when they arrive, but if you feel something like an earthquake, that's Chanyeol with the food. He's very nice.
There were a couple of things that I couldn't get, but try asking Yoongi. He lives on the Mountain. He'll help you. The Mountain will take you there. I don't have your measurements for clothing, and also I...am not good at making clothes, so until we can get that in order, I'll let you borrow mine. The brownies should have put it on your desk — don't worry, I didn't break in.
Seokjin doesn't know what a brownie is but he assumes he should be very thankful. "Thank you, brownies," he says aloud to the room, brain still processing the letter.
The Mountain will lead you there.
"The fuck," Seokjin whispers. Is he just supposed to wander until he stumbles upon...something? What does Yoongi look like? Where does he live? What is Seokjin supposed to be looking for?
He flips the letter over to check for a map but there's nothing but a doodle of a unicorn and a stick figure Seokjin thinks might be Namjoon.
Maybe Namjoon really had used this as scrap paper.
The Mountain must have a terrible sense of direction.
Seokjin has been out walking for a good hour and he has no idea where he is and no idea how to get where he's been and he's honestly not even worried about it because all he wants to do is eat.
"Miss Mountain," he called tiredly, only half-joking. Birds flutter from the trees around him in surprise. "I'm tired and sweaty and hungry. Have mercy."
A small part of Seokjin assumes someone is fucking with him. Either the Mountain, or Namjoon, for making him think that the Mountain is going to take him anywhere other than straight into Hell.
With a groan, Seokjin slumps against a tree.
The tree meows at him.
"That's new," Seokjin says idly, closing his eyes. "I accept it."
The tree meows again.
Something thumps to the ground, and when Seokjin opens his eyes he sees that the tree wasn't meowing at him at all. There was just a cat in the tree.
"That makes more sense," Seokjin admits to himself.
The cat is completely black, with clear green eyes that look like they're too alert and a pink bow wrapped around its neck. It looks unimpressed. It meows again.
"Are you the Mountain?" Seokjin asks drily. "Should I be following you?"
It flicks its tail, annoyed, and only when Seokjin pushes himself up from leaning against the tree does it turn it's back to him and saunter ahead on the path.
"I find this too convenient," Seokjin says to no one, "which means it's probably magic."
Five minutes later, Seokjin sees a small cottage through the trees.
The cat looks smugly over it's shoulder.
"Thank you," Seokjin says politely.
It flicks it's tail again and bounds off into the trees.
Seokjin walks up the cobbled path to the front door. The grass is well trimmed, healthily green. There are rose bushes of white and red nestled up against the house, and a small flowerbed hanging from a window. Inside it looks there a kitchen, but there's no one there, even though a pot is over the fire stirring itself.
This is probably the right place.
The door is dark purple, but it looks more like the wood itself was purple than like regular wood that's been painted. Seokjin trails his fingers over it for a moment before knocking three times.
The man who answers the door is much grumpier than Seokjin would expect of someone who tends rose bushes.
"Yes?" the man asks. He looks Seokjin up and down.
"Yoongi?" Seokjin tries. The man's eyebrows knit together. "Namjoon sent me."
Yoongi's mouth falls into a soft o of understanding, and suddenly he looks much less grumpy. "Are you the new one?" He steps aside. "Come in. I'll help you with whatever."
The inside of the house is rustic and minimalist. The wood is warm and brown, there's nothing hanging on the walls except for a few hanging shelves covered in plants and small bottles full of various liquids. An orchid sways in wind that isn't there and a Bonsai tree melts as Seokjin passes by.
"It's just shy," Yoongi says plainly when Seokjin yelps in surprise, turning to the other man to apologize. "It'll reform when you leave."
"That's..." Seokjin blinks. "Unusual."
Yoongi looks at him for a moment. "All weepers do that?" he says after a moment, like it's normal information. "It'd be weird if it didn't do that. Although I'll admit that one is a little more anxious than most I've seen." He snorts. "Poor guy only trusts me and Jimin. Tae has been trying to get into it's good graces since I got it."
"Jimin?" Seokjin frowns. "The guy at the shrine?" Would that make Tae..."Taehyung? You know them?"
Yoongi's ears go red. "Yeah, I know them. They're little shits." He says it fondly.
"That sounds about right." Jimin had seemed fairly polite and well-mannered but also had probably been laughing at Seokjin the whole time and thus will be shown no mercy. Taehyung was cute, though. "Are they here often?"
Yoongi snorts. "More often than is good for my health." He leads Seokjin into his study, waving his hand toward the kitchen as they pass. The wooden spoon in the pot stirs the other way lazily. "That potion is temperamental," Yoongi tells him. "I should probably be paying more attention to it but the spoon knows what to do. The last time Namjoon tried to make it he would have set himself on fire if he wasn't, you know, fireproof."
Seokjin mouths the words the spoon knows what to do to himself before shaking his thoughts away. "What does the potion do?"
"It eases muscle aches." Yoongi holds the door to the study open. There's a large window behind Yoongi's desk, and the walls are covered in plants on one side and books on the other. Ivy hangs from the ceiling, with huge, obnoxiously pink flowers hanging off the ends, glowing slightly. "I mostly make magical aids for everyday ailments." Yoongi takes a seat and picks up a mortar and pestle on his desk. He sniffs it, frowning. "I forget what this one is. Either hair growth or something for an upset stomach."
"I can't imagine that'd go over well, if you mixed them up."
Yoongi shrugs. "They both taste like shit." He pauses. "Although since the hair growth one is supposed to be applied directly to the area, I wonder if you'd have hairy stomach?"
Seokjin frowns. "Is hairy stomach an actual thing or are you just theorizing?" He stops himself, closing his eyes for a moment and taking the seat across from Yoongi. "Actually, I'm going to pretend it's not an actual thing because it sounds extremely unfortunate."
Just when Yoongi is about to answer, the black cat from earlier jumps up onto Yoongi's desk.
"You fucking cat." Yoongi pushes it off. "She's always walking in my shit and then I can't use it anymore."
The cat meows haughtily from the floor.
Yoongi stares at her.
He picks her up and puts her on his shoulders. "Gloss is high maintenance," he tells Seokjin.
"I see." Seokjin thinks it's more likely that Yoongi spoils her shamelessly and this is the consequence, but he just smiles and keeps his mouth shut.
"So." Yoongi crosses his hands on the table. He'd probably look mildly intimidating if it weren't for the cat adjusting herself to rest comfortably on his shoulders. "What can I help you with?"
Seokjin pulls out his list. "Namjoon said there were a few things he couldn't get and that you would be able to help me?" There are a few things crossed out (presumably because it's taken care of) and Namjoon doesn't seem to know what a Dutch oven even is because he circled it and drew question marks around it.
Yoongi takes the lists and peers at it, his free hand calmly petting Gloss as he reads. "Some of the food items I can't get," he admits, "because I don't have access to most meat."
"Namjoon said something about a man named Chanyeol?" Seokjin remembers. "I wonder if he'll be bringing that stuff?"
Yoongi grunts, crossing stuff off the list. "You can count on him for the big stuff, like the pork and beef...and probably some of the staples." He crosses off flour and milk and sugar. He taps his lip with his pen. "I don't know if he'll bring honey, but I have some, and you can never have too much."
"Agree to agree."
Yoongi squints at the list. "Do you really want a bundt pan?"
"I'm here for a year," Seokjin says primly. "I'd like to be prepared."
"A year?" Yoongi whistles. "The Mountain wants you to stay for that long?"
"My understanding is that it's the Tree's fault," Seokjin clarifies. He pauses. "That's not a sentence I ever thought I'd say."
Yoongi hums. "Usually, it's like, a few months."
"Yeah." Seokjin sighs. "I must have charmed that tree near to death while I was tied to it for four hours."
"Jungkook ties too tight," Yoongi admits.
"You know him?" He'd been vaguely surprised when Namjoon had mentioned him and Hoseok by name, but he supposes it would make sense, if they're the ones doing the sacrificing. As far as Seokjin can tell, Yoongi would have no reason to interact with the townspeople.
"They make a nuisance of themselves," Yoongi replies, but it's just as fond as when he spoke about Jimin and Taehyung, albeit a little more amused.
Seokjin remembers something. "Are you the one who cursed Jungkook?"
Yoongi blinks. "Cursed him? He's cursed?"
"He couldn’t talk to me at all," Seokjin says. "Hoseok seemed to think it was funny."
Abruptly, Yoongi laughs. "He's not cursed, he's just nervous. And a wreck, but he's fine." Yoongi looks back at the list. "I can get you everything else on here in a few days except for the bundt pan." He snorts. "You'll have to wait a few weeks for that."
"If I have a craving, I'll just steal yours."
Yoongi squints. "How do you know I have a bundt pan?"
Seokjin shrugs. "You seem like the sort of person to have a bundt pan."
"That's fair." Yoongi crosses the bundt pan off the list. "You can borrow it." He digs around in one of his drawers. "I might have a transportable light somewhere around here too that you can use until Namjoon remembers to hook you up with the lights. Those caves get dark." He rifles through papers, pulling out weird instruments and setting them on the desk to search some more.
Something hits Seokjin's foot.
It's a ball, made of some kind of purple stone, unnaturally smooth and perfect. It's surprisingly heavy when he picks it up. "You dropped this," he says, placing it gently on Yoongi's desk. It doesn't roll.
Yoongi stares at it. "Oh, that's it." He frowns. "Where did that come from?"
Seokjin shrugs. "It was by my foot."
"Weird." Yoongi shrugs. "It's convenient, so I won't complain. Lord knows how long it would have taken me to find it." He motions for Seokjin to take it. "It's brighter than a lantern when it's dark, and it won't get hot or anything, so you can use it as you please."
Quietly, Seokjin slips it into his pocket.
"Joon is kind of forgetful, so you might have to nag him about the light thing," Yoongi admits.
Seokjin smiles winningly. "I'm an excellent nag."
"And make sure you make him eat," Yoongi tells him. "He forgets and eats dried fruit all the time instead of shit that actual, functional people need." He sighs. "He's a good guy but he can't take care of himself at all."
Seokjin laughs. "A true bachelor."
"He's better at taking care of other people." Yoongi rolls his eyes. "There are several reasons for it, but I think one of the reasons the Mountain makes people stay around is because she's worried about him." He huffs. "He's always been her favorite."
"Well." Seokjin swallows down something mildly acidic. "He'll have me until the next sacrifice is due, so."
Yoongi winces. "Sorry," he says genuinely. "It's a beautiful place, though." His face softens. "Maybe you'll find something worth staying for."
Seokjin makes something for dinner and he has no idea what it is.
Right around the time that the day turned from afternoon into evening, a huge boom reverberated through the entire cave, and Seokjin casually made his way towards the door.
It took him a while, to go all the way up the stairs to where Namjoon had opened the door the day before, but when he arrived he saw their guest waiting patiently.
Chanyeol is an honest-to-God giant, but he smiles like a crazy person and Seokjin couldn't help but smile back.
It took a while for Seokjin to transport all of the food back to the kitchen. Chanyeol regrettably couldn't come into the cave without Namjoon there to make him smaller. He seemed upset that he wasn't able to help, but after three trips all the food was carefully stowed away and Chanyeol had waved goodbye and made his way back down the mountain.
Seokjin's list had been imaginative, but even still, some of these ingredients he's never even seen before.
So he makes stew.
There is beef, and carrots, and the broth is the kind he always makes, but there's this weird orange leaf that he throws in, and a purple flower that tastes kind of savory, and by the time it's ready Seokjin doesn't think anyone would complain about it.
He has no idea where Namjoon is.
"Namjoon!" Seokjin yells from the kitchen. The cave is rather echoey, and there should probably be some sort of magic system for them to communicate because Seokjin hasn't gotten a real tour and is already afraid of getting hopelessly lost in the maze of Namjoon's home. "If I'm making dinner for you, you have to eat it with me. It's only polite!"
It's not ten minutes later when Namjoon pokes his head into the kitchen.
Seokjin isn't surprised. "Would you get the stew?" He holds up his arms, laden with plates and silverware. "It's hot and I figured you were the better choice for that."
"What did you make?" Namjoon asks, peering into the pot.
"I have no idea." Seokjin laughs. "I thought the purple flowers were pretty so I threw them in."
"Chanyeol brought those?" Namjoon hums. "They're my favorite."
"He seems like a good guy." Seokjin follows Namjoon down the hallway. He's not actually certain where the dining room is. He stumbled upon it earlier, and cleaned everything up a little so there weren't cobwebs in the corner. Seokjin is beginning to suspect that Namjoon takes even worse care of himself than expected.
The dining room table is dark wood, varnished and sturdy and not quite as grand as some of the other furniture in Namjoon's home. Seokjin is beginning to suspect it's because Namjoon spends very little time here. He wonders where Namjoon has been for all these hours where Seokjin couldn't see.
Namjoon's hands are darkened with ink, or possibly soot considering his propensity to catch fire. Whatever it is smears against the pot Namjoon is holding as he puts it down on the table. Namjoon looks at the marks, pouting. "I...?"
Seokjin looks up idly from setting the table. "You can do the dishes."
After ten minutes and two broken plates, it becomes apparent that Namjoon will not be doing the dishes.
Today is the two month mark and Seokjin hasn't spent this much time in one place since he left home the first time.
Honestly, this cave is by far the nicest place that Seokjin has spent any amount of time. Namjoon isn't the best at interior design, but he cares about making it as comfortable as possible, even in the spaces that he doesn't use often. Namjoon may think he's being subtle, but Seokjin notices the new light fixtures in the kitchen, the vase of flowers on the dining room table, the way one of the chairs used to wobble and doesn't anymore. The desk in his room is stocked with more paper even though Seokjin has no one to write to, and his boots have been replaced by ones that look the same and feel the same but are miraculously resistant to mud, dirt, and rain.
It only took Namjoon two weeks of Seokjin waking up near blind before he told him how to control the lights, but even still, Seokjin often finds it more convenient to use the glow stone that Yoongi had given him on his second day here.
Seokjin counts the days with the Mountain, tally tally tally on a piece of off-white paper.
It's been close to 60 days, not quite, tally tally, and Seokjin wants to pull his own hair out.
He's wandered the cave, the woods outside of the cave, spends his mornings cleaning and exploring and spends his afternoons trekking to either Yoongi's cave or Jimin's shrine and hopes someone is there to receive him. His evenings are spent with Namjoon, cooking and eating and sitting together. Talking.
Namjoon has a strange way of explaining things he's never seen, has a strange way of talking, existing, if Seokjin is being quite honest. He talks all hands and enthusiasm, leans forward in his chair, past the barrier and into Seokjin's space, and it's weird that Seokjin ever thought that Namjoon might harm him.
The tattoo on his arm is wicked but Namjoon is nothing of the sort.
"Where did you get that?" Seokjin asks one day, eyes boring into the ink on Namjoon's arm. There's a spring in the bowels of the mountain, where the water is crystal clear and glowing, water falling from above and making the stone slick under Seokjin's bare feet. This is where they get the water for the kitchen, and there's a bathtub somewhere else but Seokjin prefers bathing here, where it's serene.
Namjoon appears to prefer it here as well.
His hair is wet, sticking to his head in some places and sticking up awkwardly in others, and his chest is bare. The dragon is curled around his shoulder, sleeping or stagnant, Seokjin isn't sure. The outline is sharp, the eye the same color as Namjoon's hair. Seokjin is surprised by its angles, how harsh it is.
Seokjin steps closer, hand reaching out absently. He hasn't seen it completely before. It's hard not to be entranced. "Did someone do it for you?" He grimaces. "Must have taken forever." The ink is so dark.
Namjoon's eyes flicker from his tattoo to Seokjin's nearing fingers and back again. His skin is still damp from his bath. He's glowing like the water. "I came like this," he jokes. "The tattoo is me, as much me as anything else."
As Seokjin watches, the ink breathes. In, out. It raises it's head, curling further up Namjoon's neck, over his chest. The skin is warm, even when Seokjin's hand is a whole inch away.
Just an inch.
Namjoon leaves before Seokjin can touch.
Seokjin looks up from his dinner.
The table is long, made for twenty instead of two, but Namjoon will sit on one side of the corner and Seokjin will sit at the other and it feels less empty.
Namjoon's fork is hesitating over the roast on his plate, his hand absently drooping until the fork rests atop a pile of potatoes, and Namjoon is so busy pretending to focus on his food that he doesn't notice. "Are you feeling restless?"
Seokjin processes that for a moment. "I'm not used to staying in one place," he admits. "I've always considered myself as someone without roots." He grins. "It can be lonely sometimes."
"Roots can be lonely sometimes, too," Namjoon says plainly before shoving a bite of roast into his mouth.
Patiently, Seokjin waits for him to continue. He's not here to psychoanalyze his host.
Although, perhaps, Seokjin should consider this place his home. At least for the time being.
"You travel often?" Namjoon asks. He's never asked before.
"I live on the road." Seokjin flattens out his crinkled napkin on the table. "I don't really go places so much as..."
"Yeah." Seokjin takes a bite of his meal. He added too much of the green stuff. He's not sure what it is but he added too much of it. "I've never had a reason to stay."
"I suppose a magical contract is a good enough reason." Namjoon smiles. It wavers.
"It hasn't been bad," Seokjin says, because Namjoon looks like he needs to hear it but also because it's true. "Of all the places I've ever been, I think I like it here the best." There isn't as many people as Seokjin is used to, living in inns and hostels and the houses of the kind people he meets on the road. But those people that are here are interesting and kind and warm, and there are always new things to be learned and seen, and Namjoon tries his best. He really does.
Namjoon takes a deep breath, pushing his potatoes around on his plate. "If you ever feel kind of...hmm." He pauses. "If you want to see the world, I can offer you something." He grins. "It might be able to occupy some of your free time."
Until now, Seokjin has never set foot in the library.
Not for any reason, really, just that he's spent so long discovering the nooks and crannies of magic that going to a library has seemed rather mundane. Seokjin has been to libraries before. He's never seen underground gardens or the peak of a mountain or a room full of a life-size chess set.
Seokjin really should have known better.
Namjoon takes good care of the things he loves.
The library is the largest room that Seokjin has seen in this place, larger than the dining room and larger than the spring room and larger than the room where Seokjin assumes Namjoon spends his time when he's in his larger form. There's a window at the top, and the ivy with the strange flowers that illuminated Yoongi's study are growing on the walls, the petals giving light beyond that of the sun. The bookshelves are all different. Some are grand, ornately carved, a masterful woodworking, and others are hastily built. Almost as if Namjoon had accumulated so many books so quickly that what he had simply couldn't hold it all.
"Yoongi built those," Namjoon admits, seeing Seokjin's line of sight. "I'm not as good with tools like that and everything I try to make with magic looks like my grandmother threw up on it." He grimaces. "That probably doesn't make a lot of sense since you don't know my grandmother."
"I'm sure her taste in furniture is atrocious," Seokjin assures him with a laugh.
There are tables scattered around, covered in books and papers full of what Seokjin assumes is Namjoon's own handwriting. "Are you writing a book?"
"Sort of." Namjoon frowns. "I started cataloguing all the books here. It's been a good decade and I feel like I'm not getting anywhere." He runs his hands over the papers. "I've catalogued all the good stuff, or what I can find of it. Every once in a while there will be surprises."
Seokjin picks up a book. "The Yeti: Fact or Fiction?" He laughs.
"That one is just funny." Namjoon snorts, picking the book out of Seokjin's hand. "Everyone knows there's a tribe of them in the tundras."
Seokjin's mirth dies a little. "Everyone."
"Oh, ah...sorry." Namjoon puts the book down. "There's a tribe of Yetis in the tundras." He smiles. "They're very kind. They're just shy." He laughs. "Their booze is something wicked."
"Have you been there?"
Namjoon sobers up. "No." He runs a finger of the silver script on the cover of the book. "I can't leave the Mountain. Others will visit." He flips it open to the front page. Thought you might find this funny - Kyungsoo in clean black writing.
Seokjin taps the name. "Who is Kyungsoo?"
"He was..." Namjoon squints, remembering. "Three 'sacrifices' ago? There have been two between you and him — Heeyeon and then that one asshole. I don't remember his name." He laughs. "Kyungsoo still travels, so he comes back with gifts sometimes."
Seokjin hums in understanding. "Do people often return?"
Namjoon pauses. "No." He purses his mouth and closes the book. "They don't."
Watching Namjoon walk away, Seokjin wonders if he maybe said the wrong thing.
"There are a few who do," Namjoon continues, voice light in a way Seokjin's never heard it sound before. Forced. "Kibum sometimes, and he brings that...what's his name." Namjoon snaps his fingers, trying to remember. "Minho? I don't remember. The tall one. A long time ago there was a woman named Sunyoung who would came back every couple of years. She's married now, and settled." He coughs. "She writes."
Namjoon reaches up and picks up a large golden book off of one of the shelves. "People will bring me nice things," he says idly, walking back over to Seokjin and gesturing for him to follow him to a mostly clear table. "I think it might have been Kyungsoo who brought me the Yeti alcohol, but sometimes people bring books and interesting foods and fun mementos." He sets the book down on the table. The sound it makes as it thunks is intimidating. "The most valuable thing they bring, though..." Namjoon grins, opening the book.
Seokjin isn't in the library anymore.
He's in town. He's not sure which town, but he seems to know his way around. He pays a coin or two and picks a rose up off a cart, whistling happily as he watches the old lady carefully shave away the thorns. He smiles at her when he leaves and walks down the path.
Seokjin doesn't walk towards the stables, or the main road leading out of town, but veers left for the water.
There's an ocean not so far away, glittering clear and blue in the midday sun. It's hot but Seokjin is used to it, doesn't mind at all. When his feet hits the sand he kicks off his shoes. The sand gets in between his toes and he feels like he's home.
Someone waits for him on the shore. A woman.
Her hair is long and wet, sticking to her skin. Her tail is iridescent blue-green and she feels like home, too.
Seokjin hands her the rose and when she smiles, he feels like he's glowing from the inside out.
He's never seen her before in his life.
Suddenly, he's back.
Namjoon is grinning at him wolfishly.
It takes a moment for Seokjin to reorient himself. There is Namjoon and there is the table and there is the book and there are his own two feet. "What was that?"
Namjoon shakes his hands like a bad magician at a child's birthday party. "Magic." He grins. "When people come back, if they've been somewhere interesting they'll put copies of their memories in the book." He sighs happily. "You can go anywhere."
Seokjin raises an eyebrow, hand itching to open the book again. "Anywhere?"
"Well." Namjoon scratches his head. "Not anywhere. Only where other people have gone." He sighs, and it's not so happy. "I've always wanted to see the Garden of Glass Flowers." He catches sight of Seokjin's blank look. "It's...hmm. Somewhere in the north. I can show you a map. It's this huge area and everything is made of naturally occurring glass."
Seokjin laughs. "I didn't realize naturally occurring glass existed. It seems like a misnomer."
"It's really rare." Namjoon stretches his back. "And it's tended by trolls, who are very territorial."
"I made friends with a troll once," Seokjin remarks idly.
Namjoon blinks at him. "How."
Seokjin laughs again. "I'm very charming." He grins. "You haven't noticed?"
Namjoon snorts, but his ears are pink. "What's there to notice?"
Seokjin hums. "I'll have to try harder." He wonders if he has any memories worth giving to Namjoon. "If you want to see these glass flowers, why can't you go?" Namjoon had said something earlier about being stuck on the Mountain, but Seokjin can't imagine why.
"I..." Namjoon's expression darkens. "There are things here that I'm responsible for." Delicately, he picks up the book, big hand splayed out on the spine. "One day, though, I'll meet someone who has been there, and that would be just as good."
It's quiet for a moment while Seokjin drinks in the soft look on Namjoon's face.
Seokjin smiles. "One day."
"Hey, Joon?" Seokjin calls into the empty room.
"Yeah?" Namjoon's voice sounds far away. He's probably in his study. Seokjin still isn't sure how communication in this damn cave works but he's not going to question it if he doesn't have to. It's convenient. That's all he needs.
"Do we have any more butter?" Chanyeol hasn't come by in about three weeks and everything is running low. They ran out of flour the other day and Seokjin had to run to Yoongi's house in the late evening to borrow some.
That had been it's own adventure, because both Jimin and Taehyung were there and there had only been one pair of pants between the three of them.
A part of Seokjin wants to say it wasn't worth finishing his recipe, but the other part has so much teasing fodder. He wouldn't trade that for anything.
Namjoon's voice rings out, a little closer. "Did we run out?"
Seokjin scrapes the last of it out of the pot and puts it in the pan. "I just used the last of it."
Namjoon walks into the kitchen and Seokjin tilts the empty pot towards him. Namjoon picks it up and peers at it closely.
"The butter's not hiding." Seokjin laughs, swirling the butter around in the pan as it melts. "How soon can Chanyeol come?"
"Chanyeol is visiting his mother-in-law." Namjoon grimaces. "He won't be back for a few weeks."
Seokjin looks at their mostly barren cupboard. "Well, shit."
Namjoon sets the pot down on the counter and runs a hand over his face, groaning. "I meant to ask him to bring more stuff before he left but I...forgot." He looks at Seokjin nervously, like he's about to be scolded.
"I forgot to remind you," Seokjin says, shrugging. "But now we have the issue of feeding ourselves. I don't think Yoongi isn't going to be particularly inclined to give us his whole pantry. Although." Seokjin laughs again. "I understand why he has so much food, now, since he's cooking for three."
He thinks about the look on Yoongi's face when he walked out of the bedroom and saw that Jimin had answered the door shirtless with Taehyung hanging off of his shoulder. It's gold.
Namjoon laughs. "I should have warned you." He leans against the counter, watching Seokjin as he cooks. "Do you have enough to make yourself lunch?"
Seokjin cracks an egg into the pan and shoots Namjoon a look. "I have enough to make both of us lunch." The egg sizzles pointedly.
"I'm just saying, like, if you only have enough for one," Namjoon protests. "I'll be fine. You don't have to cook for me."
"Well." Seokjin sniffs. "You can't cook for yourself." Not that Seokjin hadn't tried teaching him. After the Onion Debacle he gave up. "What else am I here for?"
"Uh." Namjoon blinks. "Right."
Seokjin doesn't give the awkward silence another thought.
"It's probably been long enough," Namjoon says after a moment, "if you want to go into town to get groceries."
"You mean they've forgotten me already?" Seokjin flutters his eyelashes. "I thought I would have made a better impression." He laughs. "I'm not sure I'd be able to carry all of that up to the peak. It's quite a hike."
Namjoon shrugs. "That depends on how the Mountain feels today." He grins. "And how much she likes you."
"I hope she's not fickle." Seokjin smiles. "I'll do my best to be winsome so she doesn't make my legs fall off."
"She likes you already," Namjoon tells him, even though Seokjin doesn't really know what that means. "I'll give you something to help with the weight. It shouldn't be a problem." He watches Seokjin's hands work for a moment, almost in a trance. "It's important to have food in the house."
Seokjin coos, ruffling Namjoon’s hair. "Look how far you've come."
Namjoon grins at him and Seokjin tells himself he doesn't feel a thing.
It only takes Seokjin half an hour to get from the top of the Mountain to the bottom, and Seokjin looks back on his first day, hiking up the peak for all those hours and wishes the Mountain liked him back then as much as she likes him now.
Namjoon had given him a lidded wicker basket and Seokjin feels rather domestic, walking through the market on the outside of town. For a while, he waits for someone to recognize him. The old woman who runs the apple cart that started this whole mess smiles at him, but then she offers to sell him fruit. Seokjin isn't sure if she remembers him or if she just has excellent customer service.
He stops and gets a few bottles of milk, another couple of jars of butter, fruit and vegetables that he'll have to wrestle Namjoon into eating, flour for the next couple of weeks and a little extra to pay Yoongi back. His arm should be dead by the time he's done, but the basket feels no different than when he took it from Namjoon in the cave.
"I love magic," he says absently, munching on an apple and looking at a set of fabrics a young man is selling.
There's a blur of brown by his feet and suddenly Seokjin only sees the ground.
He braces for an impact that never comes.
For a moment, Seokjin feels himself floating, and then his feet are underneath him again and his basket is secure on his arm and besides an elevated heart rate and the wide eyes of the vendor beside him there's no sign that he nearly fell at all.
She likes you already, Namjoon had told him.
"I love magic," he tells the vendor emphatically.
"Bosco!" someone calls.
The blur of brown that made Seokjin trip over his own feet was a dog that Seokjin vaguely recognizes as the other reason he was found worthy of sacrifice. It's a bulldog, and it's pissing on the wall of the bookstore.
"Bosco, what the fuck." The voice sounds familiar. Seokjin tries not to scowl when he sees Hoseok round the corner.
"Lost your dog?" Seokjin chirps. "You'd better keep yourself in line, sir, or someone might question your inherent morality."
Hoseok doesn't look surprised at all to see him. "Animal cruelty is a serious offense." He walks over to the dog, grimacing as Bosco finishes his business before tying the end of a rope around his collar. "The difference between you and me is that I caught the dog before anyone gave me shit about it."
Seokjin hefts the basket and rests it on his hip, unimpressed. "If I remember correctly," he drawls, "you had Jungkook lug me over his shoulder not a minute after the dog ran through the door." He snorts.
Hoseok wraps the rope lightly around his fingers. He's tanner than he was when Seokjin saw him last, the hot sun beating into the pavement. He doesn't look embarrassed at all. "I'm an officer of the law," he says, but his smile is sharp and amused. "I have a duty."
"Fuck you and your duty," Seokjin says pleasantly.
The woman passing by covers her child's ears and scurries away.
"Boss!" Seokjin hears a voice behind him. "Did you get Bosco?" He doesn't recognize it, but when he turns to see the speaker he sees it's Jungkook. There's a moment, between when Seokjin waves and Jungkook registers who is in front of him where everything is okay, and then suddenly Jungkook freezes where he stands.
"You can talk!" Seokjin notes loudly, beaming. Charming.
Jungkook makes a strange honking sound and turns over his shoulder to walk away.
"Jungkook, come back." Hoseok looks like he's about to burst out laughing. "The poor guy thinks you're cursed."
Jungkook looks sharply over his shoulder. "The fuck? Why?" His eyes are big. He looks young. Cute.
Seokjin laughs a little, bemused. "Hoseok said you were cursed to be mute?"
"I said that you could call it a curse," Hoseok clarifies, reaching down to scoop Bosco up in his arms. "Jungkookie is a poor man cursed with the inability to—"
Jungkook picks up an apple from a nearby cart and chucks it at Hoseok's head. "I know where you sleep!" He threatens.
Hoseok's grin grows near-evil. "He can't talk to beautiful people."
"That is not—"
Seokjin turns his head to look at Jungkook properly and Jungkook's mouth clamps shut.
"That's amazing," Seokjin says, laughing good-naturedly. Jungkook's whole face turns red. "It makes sense, then, why he can talk to you," he tells Hoseok.
Hoseok rolls his eyes. "I'm beautiful." He holds Bosco up and stares the dog in the face. "Aren't I, Bosco? Aren't I beautiful?"
Bosco wags his tail and licks at Hoseok's nose.
"That settles it," Hoseok says finitely.
"As happy as I am to be reunited with two people who tried to have me sacrificed to a murderous dragon," Seokjin chirps, "I should be getting back."
Jungkook's eyes are overly wide as Seokjin walks past him.
"We knew he wasn't going to eat you," Hoseok calls quietly behind him. "We're some of the only people in the whole town who know Namjoon and what he is and what he does."
"What does he do?" Seokjin asks over his shoulder. "Other than stay alone up there on his mountain because people like you tell everyone he's a monster?" He frowns.
Hoseok and Jungkook both freeze.
"That's not our fault," Hoseok says slowly, frowning. "We're not the ones who force Namjoon to stay up there. Don't blame us for that."
"This whole town thinks he's one step away from murdering them at any point in time." Seokjin scowls. "Even if he has to stay up there, is that kind of thing really necessary?"
Hoseok's whole body softens. "Yeah." He sighs. "You've been up there for nearly five months and he hasn't told you about it?"
Seokjin purses his lips, one hand grabbing the handle of his basket — Namjoon's basket — so tight his knuckles are white. "He doesn't talk about himself much." Namjoon talks a lot about the things that surround himself, the Mountain and Yoongi and Jimin and Taehyung and the people who he's housed over the years. Seokjin knows more about Chanyeol than he knows about Namjoon.
Hoseok takes the few steps to bridge the gap between them and lightly plucks the basket off of Seokjin's arm, setting Bosco down. "Maybe you should ask," he says politely, the rope of the makeshift leash hanging out of his fingers.
Jungkook frowns. "He..." he bites his lip. "He might not tell you."
"Just keep asking," Hoseok assures Seokjin. "I'm a wonderful matchmaker. I know what I'm doing." He grins. "He'll tell you eventually."
It's almost a nice moment until Bosco pees on the fabric stall.
Hoseok grimaces for a moment, before adjusting Seokjin's basket on his arm and tugging on the rope until Bosco starts following him. "If you walk with me to the bar to smuggle the dog back inside, I think Namjoon could use some houseguests."
Seokjin rolls his eyes, gently taking back his basket. "I'll cook for four, then."
Another month passes and Seokjin still hasn't asked.
He's asked other things. Namjoon's favorite color is blue and he was, despite being rooted now, fairly well-traveled in his youth. He likes listening to the stories other people have to tell. He's a would-be philosopher, and sometimes he rambles too much and will bring himself to such a sudden, sputtering stop that Seokjin can't do anything but laugh and tell him he doesn't mind.
"But I want to hear what you think, too," Namjoon will say.
And every time, Seokjin will tell him.
Things continue like that for such a long, long time.
Seokjin is curious to know about Namjoon, sure, but there are other things to occupy his time. Like thinking about Namjoon, and trying to analyze him, and figuring out why he is the way he is.
And also cleaning takes up a lot of his days.
Seokjin writes more than he used to, journaling about his days, tracing maps out of Namjoon's books of places he might want to visit. He remembers Namjoon's story of the glass gardens and asks Namjoon to point him towards where he might find the books that talk about it.
As soon as he asked, there was a clunk two bookshelves over, and when they went to investigate, Namjoon's eyebrows shot up into his hairline. "That would be it," he said, picking up the heavy book that had suspiciously fallen onto the floor. "How convenient."
There's a map inside and Seokjin doesn't think too hard about why he's recording it so clearly in his notebook.
He's been trying to map out the cave, too.
Seokjin is starting to think that the Mountain moves shit around just to fuck with him.
Certain areas are always where they should be. Namjoon's library, Seokjin's room, the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom, the spring room, and the dining room are always just where Seokjin left them. Sometimes, if you take the first left after the dining room and go straight you can get to Namjoon's bedroom, and other times all that's there is a storage closet full of dusty shoes without a pair and some hangers.
He's in the middle of trying to figure what's happening with the cave's layout when he takes the wrong left and a right turn or two and suddenly he's somewhere he's never seen before.
There are no light fixtures on the walls, not even a real door, just a walkway that looks like it was carved straight into the stone and smoothed over by time. Seokjin isn't sure how he got here.
The cavern is huge, bigger than the library, so big that darkness hides its true size. So big that Seokjin feels small.
There's only one thing in here, and that thing makes Seokjin feel small, too.
It's huge. It doesn't take up the whole room and yet it does, this huge shining mass of smoke and something otherworldly. Solid. Seokjin is too hot but goosebumps are bubbling up over his skin. He feels content. Small but safe. He can feel the weight of the magic around him. It soaks into the stone and the air and his bones.
He reaches out to touch.
"This is the Mountain."
Softly, Seokjin turns, hand still extended. Namjoon is standing in the doorway, his hand covered in purple fire to illuminate his walk down the dark hallway. He looks powerful.
Does he feel small, too?
Seokjin has so many things to ask and none of them come out. "The Mountain?" he asks instead.
"This is her power," Namjoon answers, coming closer. "The magic she uses to control the land." Gently, he holds out his hand, and Seokjin watches in awe as the flame is sucked away, becomes one with the smoke and magic, and Namjoon is left standing there, palm up in offering. His head tilts to look at Seokjin. His smile is peaceful. "This is what is keeping you here."
For a moment, Seokjin forgets to breathe. "Usually magic is so convenient," he notes.
Namjoon snorts. "Not always."
The Mountain pulses and the room grows brighter.
"I know," Namjoon tells her.
Another question Seokjin won't ask.
"She likes you more than I thought," Namjoon says after a moment, and it takes a second for Seokjin to register those words are for him. "I don't know if she's ever shown herself to one of the other sacrifices."
"We need to think of a better name for that," Seokjin tells him absently, still staring at the light. "That makes me feel like I'm about to die. Can I just be like, a houseguest or something? Or your friend?"
The room grows warmer.
The glow casts shadows on the wall like they're underwater, and it's dark, and even though the room is so large it feels small. Seokjin feels small. And even with all this space, Namjoon is close enough that Seokjin could reach out and touch him if he wanted to.
"We can be friends," Namjoon says slowly.
The light dims.
"Stop," he scolds the Mountain.
"I didn't realize you two were so friendly," Seokjin jokes, stepping a little closer to Namjoon's side. He feels...not as small there.
Namjoon grins. "I've always been her favorite."
Seokjin can see why.
It's quiet for a moment. "This is..." Namjoon sighs. "This is the reason why you're here."
Seokjin laughs. "Technically it was the Tree's fault but it's okay. I'm over it."
"No, it..." Namjoon pulls at his hair. Seokjin wants to smooth it back down. Namjoon huffs. "Do you realize how much magic this is?"
"We've been over this." Seokjin looks at him flatly. "I really have no frame of reference."
Even still, Seokjin can tell that it's impressive. It presses down on him from above and behind and below, and it's not gentle, like Seokjin has found Namjoon's magic to be, or buzzy like Yoongi's is sometimes when he's stressed and can't contain it as well as usual.
"This is...I used to travel the world, you know? And I read..." Namjoon bites his lip. "I've never seen anything like her."
The entire room hums. Happy.
Namjoon smiles at nobody. "She showed herself like this to me only about a hundred years ago. I was, well. I was shocked. And terrified." He grimaces. "Do you have any idea what it would be like if someone found out about this and came to take it?"
"A disaster, I imagine," Seokjin notes idly. "But you're here. You protect it?"
Namjoon's face hardens. He offers Seokjin his arm. "We should go."
Quietly, Seokjin links their arms together, elbow to elbow, and Namjoon's free hand comes up to light the way again, but Seokjin is already slipping Yoongi's stone out of his pocket, rolling it around in the palm of his hand.
They're still in the dark when Namjoon starts up the conversation again. "When I found the magic," he says, "I...immediately I grew kind of worried. I'm not an aggressive person. I'm powerful but--" He cuts himself off with a sigh. "Armies would come for this power, Seokjin, if they thought that they could."
Something heavy falls into Seokjin's stomach and something else clicks into place. Hoseok's words make more sense. Things make more sense. Seokjin's face is carefully arranged into some happily neutral. "They don't think that, do they?"
"No." Namjoon smiles. "They think I'm a...what did you call me?"
Seokjin blinks. "Uh--"
"'A giant reptile monster thing that blows fire and consumes worlds.'" Namjoon's memory is too good and his face isn't good at hiding things at all. It was harder once, to know what he was thinking. "They would never come here when something like that protects this place." His eyes flicker over to Seokjin, and her eyes flicker almost purple in the light of the stone in Seokjin's hand. "The sacrificial shit wasn't my idea."
"The townspeople were afraid because of the rumor," Seokjin guesses. Namjoon's arm is warm against his, even when it's not the tattooed side. He isn't sure why he's noticing now.
"I made a deal with some of the officials in town to spread the word that I was something to be afraid of." Namjoon shakes his head. "I knew what was coming but I still wasn't...I wasn't prepared. People used to come and visit me and didn't anymore. I couldn't go into town as I pleased, at least until they forgot my face." He squints. "I can't remember the last time I went to town."
Seokjin squeezes Namjoon's forearm. "Next time, we'll go together."
Namjoon coughs. "Yeah."
"The sacrifice thing was...partially a way for the townspeople to feel safer and partially because the mayor at that time was a good friend of mine," Namjoon admits. They're getting into the parts of the cave that Seokjin recognizes more. He waits to see if Namjoon pulls away but he never does. "He seemed to think that I could use the companionship."
He thought I was lonely.
"You could live your whole life up here with just your books and be okay," Seokjin says. "But I don't think you'd ever be happy."
They're in front of Seokjin's bedroom now, stopped, still linked at the elbow.
"I..." Namjoon coughs into his elbow. "I think I should go take a bath before dinner."
Gently, Seokjin slips his arm out of Namjoon's, fingers trailing in the crease of his arm. "Okay."
Namjoon doesn't leave.
Seokjin slips in his room, closes the door behind him, and tries to catch his breath.
Knock knock on the door jamb. "Joon."
Namjoon looks up from his writing. His glasses are kind of crooked on his nose and his hair probably hasn't been brushed all day. "Seokjin." He blinks. He's been staring at the same papers all morning. "Good morning."
"Afternoon," Seokjin corrects. He sets a plate on Namjoon's desk, carefully neatening the papers until there's a clear spot. The papers look like some kind of magical theory. There are pieces of enchanted glass and metal in a tin at the corner of the desk, and Seokjin silently reminds himself to make sure there are still bandages in the room.
Namjoon stares at the sandwich.
"You skipped lunch," Seokjin says flatly.
"Oh." He wipes his hands on his pants and picks up the sandwich. "Thank you."
"You get so caught up," Seokjin tells him fondly. He walks over and opens up Namjoon's window. There's no image on the other side, just diluted light. No fun. "What will happen when I'm not here to take care of you?"
Namjoon hums, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "I imagine things will go back to the way they've always been."
"That sounds like a quitter’s attitude." Seokjin laughs. "By the end of the year, I will at least have you on a regular eating schedule."
"You're over halfway done now," Namjoon teases, taking a bite and speaking with a full mouth. "How much longer until you give up?"
Seokjin scoffs. "Never." He takes a napkin out of his pocket, crumples it up, and throws it at Namjoon's face.
He tries not to laugh when Namjoon lights it on fire instead of catching it because you're not supposed to encourage bad behavior. Even if Namjoon is grinning at him proudly.
"You're supposed to use it," Seokjin says primly, bonking him lightly on the forehead. "Eat, and then you should get dressed and come on a walk with me." He tugs at the sleeve of Namjoon's shirt like a brat but he's not above whining.
Namjoon frowns and Seokjin already knows what he's going to say. "I'd love to but--"
"Come on." Seokjin pulls uselessly at Namjoon's arm. "It's beautiful outside and you barely ever go out!"
The last time Seokjin went into town for supplies and to see Hoseok and Jungkook, Namjoon tagged along and looked vaguely uncomfortable. He's only gone out with Seokjin maybe three times and Seokjin has lived with him for well over half a year.
They had dinner at Yoongi's twice, once with just the three of them and once when Jimin and Taehyung came over as well, and honestly, both times were an experience.
He hopes he's as grossly in love as they are one day.
Namjoon's ears are a little red. "I'm in the middle of something," he mumbles, taking another bite of his sandwich.
Seokjin pushes gently on Namjoon's shoulder. "Fine. Be that way," he says airily, walking out the door.
"Next time!" Namjoon says hurriedly. "Next time, ask me and I promise I'll come."
With a smile, Seokjin turns to carefully shut the door. "It's a date then."
Seokjin walks out of the cave and tells himself he is not disappointed.
It really is a beautiful day. The air is clear and crisp so high up, and the trees are green and the flowers are blooming reds and purples. Seokjin keeps his knife close and readily accessible, but he remembers what Namjoon had said when they met, about nothing really bothering him out here. At the time, Seokjin had thought that Namjoon was just being reckless, but he can't remember the last time he felt anything other than safe.
Seokjin breathes in the mountain air and sighs, lets it fill him up for a moment or two before pressing forward.
There are very few things that Seokjin doesn't like about living with Namjoon. He likes the magic and the books and the space and the food. And the people. But it's difficult when he can be underground for days and forget what the sun actually feels like.
Every time Seokjin goes out, he always invites Namjoon, and rarely does he take him up on it.
Seokjin keeps asking.
It's easy, Seokjin has found, to think that the entire world is within the walls of that cave. He wonders when was the last time that anyone tried telling Namjoon otherwise.
Seokjin rolls his head on his neck and forcibly changes his line of thought. It's too early in the day to be thinking about such important things.
His feet take him to the shrine.
Or, perhaps the Mountain takes him to the shrine, seeing as she does whatever she wants. Seokjin isn't really sure.
Jimin is there, sweeping the path near the gate. His robe is tied tight around his waist and the fabric is slipping a little off of his shoulders. His feet are bare.
"You look rather unprofessional," Seokjin notes.
Jimin startles a bit before looking at Seokjin with a bright smile. "Only the spirits can judge me," he says cheekily, pulling at the collar of his robe a little to show more skin. His cheeks flush a little red, and he readjusts his clothing after a moment. "I got a little hot."
"But the weather is so nice." Seokjin holds his arms out and soaks in the sun.
Jimin smiles up at the sky. "Yeah." He sighs happily. "It is."
"I tried to force Namjoon to come walking with me," Seokjin tells Jimin, and isn’t embarrassed at all when the words come out in a whine. "But he's holed up in his room with his writings and toys."
"I'm sure he has his reasons," Jimin says fondly, leaning on his broom.
"His reasons are that he's no fun," Seokjin pouts.
Jimin laughs. "You don't mean that."
"Just for the moment, I do." Seokjin crosses his arms. "I came all the way here to complain to you that Namjoon didn't want to come out with me. It's such a shame."
"I have trouble believing he didn't want to come."
Seokjin shakes his head, clicking his tongue. "I know. I'm a delight."
Jimin presses his lips together like he's trying not to laugh, and Seokjin's bearing melts into a smile. "I know you're delightful. Namjoon knows, too." Jimin turns on his heel, motioning for Seokjin to follow him back behind the shrine. His feet leave wet little footprints on the stone path from the dew. "I'm sure he'd have loved to come around."
"He said next time," Seokjin says idly, handing Jimin the towel thrown over a tree branch so that Jimin can clean off his feet before entering his house. "I'll bully him out of his room if I have to."
Jimin wipes off his feet carefully before opening his front door. His house is small, minimalistic, and rather messy for someone who's job is all about keeping the shrine in order. Seokjin thinks he sees a pair of Taehyung's underwear hung over one of the bed posts before Jimin hastily closes the bedroom door. "Would you like something to drink?"
"Please," Seokjin replied politely. "Anything you have will be fine."
Jimin hums, going over to pour them both a glass of lemonade. "I'm surprised Namjoon didn't cave." He looks up as Seokjin with a smirk. "We all know how whiney you can get."
"Gentlemen don't whine," Seokjin says primly.
With a laugh, Jimin sets one of the glasses down in front of Seokjin and taps the bottom of his chin. "Good thing you're not a gentleman."
Seokjin smiles beatifically.
"Namjoon does dote on you," Jimin says, sliding into his chair. He does pull the collar of his robes open a little, now that they're inside. "I think he'd give you anything you asked for."
"I don't know about that," Seokjin admits. "I can't even make him go to bed at a reasonable time."
Jimin snorts. "Not even the Mountain can get that man to sleep at a reasonable time." He shakes his head. "I swear, him and Yoongi are cut from the same cloth."
Seokjin grins. "My condolences."
"Thank you," Jimin says seriously. He laughs to himself. "I have Tae, though. It makes Yoongi easier to handle."
"The Mountain and I are in a constant battle to control Namjoon." Seokjin rubs his shoulder. "He forgot lunch today. Again."
Jimin lifts his drink to his lips. "Good thing he has you to remind him."
"Oh, he'd starve." Seokjin rolls his eyes. "Bless that man. I'm not sure how he gets by when he's on his own."
"How much longer do you have?" Jimin asks curiously.
Seokjin surprises himself by not have the number ready immediately. He pauses. "I..." He hums, thinking. "I think this might be my eighth month?" he says slowly. He stopped keeping tallies after the fourth month. How long ago was that?
When did it stop mattering?
Jimin purses his lips. "Four more months."
"Yeah." Seokjin doesn't know how he feels about that.
"Have you thought about what you want to do after?"
Seokjin opens his mouth. Closes it again. "I guess I'll just go back to wandering," he admits. He hardly ever plots out where he's going ahead of time, but considering how restless he was after a month or two, Seokjin is surprised he hasn't been daydreaming about all the places he wants to go.
His notebook is full of maps to places he never knew existed but he doesn't long to go there as desperately as he feels like he should.
Jimin nods his head. "That always seemed like such an interesting way to live," he notes idly.
"It's a lifestyle I enjoy." Seokjin thinks of all the skills he's gathered and the people he's met and the places he's seen. "There are pros and cons to living on the road but I've never regretted it."
"You've been a traveler for a long time?"
Seokjin laughs. "All my life," he says firmly. "Even as a child I couldn't stand to stay still. I've been on the road since fifteen." His feet tap rhythms into the floor.
"Maybe that town just wasn't the right fit for you," Jimin offers.
Seokjin shrugs. "I've felt that way about every town I've ever been." Some more than others.
Jimin smiles. "Maybe none of them have been right."
Seokjin laughs. "I've been a lot of places."
"It's a big world." Jimin looks at Seokjin softly. "Maybe you're less of a wanderer and more of a searcher."
"What am I searching for?" Seokjin asks with a snort.
Jimin shrugs. "I guess that's up to you."
"Namjoon!" Seokjin calls, taking his shoes off by the door. "I'm back."
Namjoon makes strange noise from somewhere in the cave. "Come to my room!" he calls.
Seokjin groans. "But I smell like outside." The hike back up the Mountain had taken longer than Seokjin expected, and he's starting to sweat through his shirt. He doesn't begrudge the Mountain for more thinking time, but he wishes Namjoon could magic his clothes to be impervious to sweat like his boots are impervious to mud and water.
Namjoon laughs. "I don't care! I could use some outside."
"You had your chance, you fool," Seokjin teases lightly, but he's already making his way towards Namjoon. The cave fools him less and less these days. Namjoon's room has been added to the list of rooms that stays mostly stationary, and a part of Seokjin wonders if that's because Namjoon is more okay with him being in his space.
"I had important business to attend to."
"That important business included neither eating nor joining me, so I'm not sure how I feel about it," Seokjin calls, laughing.
"Well." Seokjin is almost to the room now. "I hope you like it anyway."
Seokjin pushes Namjoon's door open.
The plate that held Namjoon's sandwich is still resting on the desk, which means that he probably hasn't moved since Seokjin left a few hours ago, but the papers are cleared away, carefully collected into a neat stack atop one of Namjoon's magic books.
Namjoon sits stiffly in his chair, facing the doorway. He definitely hasn't moved, because his hair is still unbrushed and he's still wearing his pajamas. He's looking somewhat anxiously at Seokjin, eyebrows drawn. Like he's anticipating something.
There's a music box in his hands.
It's fairly small and round, made of a mixture of silver and gold. The lid is blue glass.
It's one of the most beautiful things Seokjin has ever seen.
"I said before that when I make things with magic they turn out rather ugly." Namjoon frowns down at the box in his hands. "I made this mostly by hand and only a little bit of magic. So I think I'm happy with it."
"It's lovely," Seokjin says genuinely, stepping forward.
Namjoon holds it out to him, cheeks pink. "Yoongi helped a little with the nuts and bolts of it," Namjoon admits. "I wanted it to turn out well."
Carefully, Seokjin lifts the lid.
Inside, the box holds several of the crystal flowers that grow on the gold vines in Namjoon's living room.
"They won't ever die," Namjoon tells him. "They're perfectly preserved."
The music box sings a sweet song. It sounds like the wind.
"It will give people who hear it good dreams." Namjoon's voice is soft.
Seokjin feels at ease, even just listening to it now. "You should be proud of this," he says seriously, handing it back to Namjoon.
Namjoon pushes it back towards Seokjin. "It's yours."
"What?" Seokjin frowns.
"It's yours," Namjoon says again. "I made it for you." He smiles. It's sad, just a little, only in the corners. "So you can take it with you when you leave."
"When I leave," Seokjin repeats. He stares at the beautiful thing he's holding in his hands. "This is the nicest thing I think I've ever touched."
Namjoon laughs. "I'm glad." His voice is so honest. "I worked really hard. I wanted you to like it."
"I love it." Seokjin loves it.
There's a pause, and Seokjin feels the heavy press of something. Not the magic of the Mountain, but something about the moment has weight.
"Good." Namjoon smiles.
Seokjin goes to his room, sets the box down on his desk, and wonders what he should be dreaming about.
The second time that Seokjin stumbles across the heart of the Mountain, he's not alone.
"Hey," Yoongi says casually, sitting on the floor.
There are plants all around him on the ground, including the familiar melting Bonsai tree. "Please excuse me," Seokjin says politely as he tiptoes by. The tree shudders a little but Seokjin is pleased when it doesn't disintegrate into nothing.
"Do you come here often?" Seokjin asks teasingly, but a part of him is rather curious. The Mountain is supposedly something that Namjoon feels the need to protect with not only his life but also his reputation, and here is Yoongi sitting casually beside it like they're about to have a picnic together.
Yoongi pushes a small orchid closer to the light of the Mountain. "Only every four months or so," he answers. "The magic helps the plants grow strong. Healthier and much more potent." He grins wolfishly. "I'm one of the best magical botanists in the world because of her."
"How convenient," Seokjin says, crouching down to sit beside him.
"Not always." Yoongi grins at Seokjin. "Magic has a funny way of doing what it wants. It's only convenient when it's in line with what we want as well."
"I'm here because of a magical contract," Seokjin reminds him. "Trust me, I know."
Yoongi tilts his head. "Is that not what you want?"
Seokjin laughs. "To be stuck?"
"To be here," Yoongi corrects. "You don't seem terribly inconvenienced."
"I could be halfway around the world by now," Seokjin scoffs.
"So could I." Yoongi shrugs.
"The difference," Seokjin says flatly, "is that I would like to be halfway around the world."
Yoongi doesn't seem convinced. "Do you."
"I've traveled my entire life," Seokjin laughs, bemused. "You think I've suddenly changed my mind?"
Yoongi shrugs again, reaching down to stroke the leave of one of his plants. His fingers shimmer. The room sighs happily. "Thing change." He looks at Seokjin. "A year is a long time."
"Yeah," Seokjin says pointedly. "It is. This is the longest I've been anywhere."
"Is it." Yoongi looks up at the Mountain. She swirls above them like a star. "Do you like it here?"
Seokjin thinks for a moment. "I do."
"Well." Yoongi grins. "That's different than before, isn't it?" He leans back on his elbows, head tipped up like he's lounging in the sun as the Mountain pulsates above him. Happy. Safe. "If you felt the same way about everything for your whole life, I think you'd be kind of boring."
"How are you supposed to change if you're in the same place your whole life?" Seokjin laughs. "How long have you been here, Yoongi? How much has changed for you?"
Yoongi hums. "Plenty," he says, stretching. His back cracks and he sighs in relief. Sitting on the hard floor probably isn't the most comfortable. Seokjin is already starting to ache. "I meet new people all the time. I discover new things here." He laughs. "I've got two boyfriends now."
"That would change a lot," Seokjin admits fondly. Yoongi dotes on Taehyung and Jimin, so soft that Seokjin can't even tease him about it (usually). "Especially when it's those two."
"They’re the worst," Yoongi groans. "Those fuckers."
Seokjin snorts. "I think they're cute."
"Yeah." Yoongi sits up again. "Me too." He shrugs. "I guess that sort of thing -- whether your life is boring or whatever -- doesn't that depend more on who you're with than where you are?"
Seokjin purses his lips. "I wouldn't know," he says flatly. "If you're trying to have a deep conversation with me, please keep it to yourself." He flicks Yoongi on the forehead. He ignores Yoongi's grumble of protest. "I know you all want me to stay."
Yoongi is polite enough to look embarrassed.
"Yesterday, Taehyung very pointedly told me that his family will be coming to visit next spring and he would absolutelylove for me to meet them," Seokjin tells the air. "Chanyeol told me that if I stayed even an extra month he'd give me free honey for the rest of my life."
"If that was from anyone other than Chanyeol I would worry it was a euphemism."
Seokjin might be going crazy but he thinks the Mountain might be laughing.
It’s quiet for a moment as Yoongi collects his thoughts. "We just know that you’re good for him," he says finally, casually, like it’s nothing. It’s not nothing. He squints at Seokjin. "Why do you think the Mountain likes you so much?"
Seokjin shrugs. "I figured it was my winning personality."
Yoongi rolls his eyes. "Maybe." He laughs. "Or it’s because she knows Namjoon likes you." He tips his head in Seokjin’s direction and Seokjin does his best not to make eye contact. "We all want you to stay. Even her. Even Namjoon."
Slowly, Seokjin pulls his legs into his chest, wrapping his arms around his shins and resting his chin on his knees. "It's not that I don't want to stay."
Seokjin isn't really sure where his heart is, but that much he can say with certainty. This place has been the closest to a home that Seokjin has had in years. He loves Yoongi and Taehyung and Jimin. He loves the Mountain.
And there's Namjoon.
He sighs. "This is too much to think about right now."
"You'd better hurry up," Yoongi tells him, pushing a succulent closer to the light with the tip of his toe. "Your time is running out."
Namjoon keeps his promise.
The next time Seokjin asks to go outside, Namjoon comes with him.
"If I'm making lunch," Seokjin tells him primly, "then you have to carry it. Those are the rules."
Namjoon rolls his eyes, carefully picking his way through the undergrowth carrying the wicker basket. "Okay, you make the rules up as you go, so I'm not sure how much they count in the grand scheme of things."
"That's the only way to live." Seokjin holds a tree branch aside for Namjoon because he doesn't trust him to walk safely, protect the food, and clear his own path all at once. "If I don't make the rules, who will?"
"The natural order of things." There's a small ledge. Namjoon puts the basket down for a moment and reaches up to help Seokjin jump down.
"Nature's rules will never be as good as mine," Seokjin sniffs, taking Namjoon's hand and lightly jumping down to meet him. Their chests brush because Seokjin jumps a little too far, but Namjoon is already moving away before Seokjin can revel in the moment. By the color of Namjoon's ears, it was probably a tactical decision to avoid being flustered. Seokjin tries not to laugh.
"I'd like the rules better if they didn't require me to do manual labor," Namjoon notes, picking up the basket again.
"I cook and clean," Seokjin tells him. "The least you can do is the grunt work."
"Hey!" Namjoon pretends to kick him. "I've been trying to clean more!"
"Fair." Namjoon had done all of the dishes last night after dinner and only slightly chipped one glass, so he's making progress by leaps and bounds. "I still do most of it."
"That's because you're picky."
"I'm not picky, I'm neat." Seokjin laughs. "Honestly. You're ridiculous. I found a book in the oven the other day. Do you know how much of a fire hazard that is? Why was it even there?"
"Oh god, is that where it went?" Namjoon groans, running a hand down his face. His skin glows in the sunlight. His arms are bare. Seokjin kind of wants to trace the edges of Namjoon's tattoo but like, in a chill way. Seokjin is chill. "I was trying to figure out how the stove worked so I could make modifications."
"I don't think anything flammable in the over is going to improve it's performance," Seokjin says wryly. "But I appreciate your efforts."
He pushes aside one more branch and sees the spring.
Seokjin had found this clearing not too long ago, a small area of grassy flatland and water bubbling up from the earth. There's a large tree off to the side, large enough that it might be even older than Namjoon, it's shade perfect for a picnic.
He isn't sure why a picnic was his first thought when he found it, because he'd been alone and picnics aren't fun alone, but now that Namjoon is here with him he probably understands.
Namjoon stares around for a moment, walking towards the tree, and Seokjin is about to warn him to watch his step but instead he just kind of laughs when he trips.
"I have the food's life in my hands," Namjoon scolds, waving the basket around wildly. "Be nice to me."
Seokjin prides himself on his incredible self-control, but he's always been a shameless flirt when he sees something he wants.
The only problem is that he doesn't know what he wants.
He likes the way Namjoon stutters over his own tongue when Seokjin presses in a little closer, so for now that will have to do.
Seokjin doesn't think about it too hard as he watches Namjoon set down the blanket while he rifles through the basket to set out the food. Namjoon smiles at him when he's done, carefully tugging the corners of the picnic blanket so it lies flat and even, and Seokjin does not feel warm.
If he does, it's almost certainly because of the sun.
"What did you make for us today, sir?" Namjoon asks, grinning. His dimples are so deep. Seokjin could stick his finger in them.
"Salad and shit," Seokjin says, taking it out of the basket. He laughs. "Fruit. Vegetables I know you hate. I made some chicken."
"I prefer beef," Namjoon says, peering at the food as Seokjin takes it out of the basket.
"I wanted chicken, so I don't care," Seokjin tells him cheerfully, slapping Namjoon's wrist away when he tries to pilfer a strawberry.
"High-maintenance," Namjoon teases.
"I appreciate you facilitating my lifestyle by being so incapable of feeding yourself that I have free reign of the kitchen." Seokjin boops Namjoon's nose and holds out a fork to him. "Now use silverware like civilized people."
"You thought I was going to eat you not too long ago," Namjoon reminds him, taking the fork from his hands, "and now you're chastising me about how I eat my fruit?"
"If you did eat me, I would hope that you used proper table manners," Seokjin tells him. "What a horrible way to go."
"I'm sure I would have eaten all of you while my elbows were on the table."
Seokjin raises his eyebrows. "Salad fork or dinner fork?"
Namjoon scoffs. "Salad fork, for sure."
Seokjin clicks his tongue, holding out the small jar of fruit for Namjoon. "An outrage."
He watches as Namjoon delicately spears a piece of orange on his fork. "Do you expect me to eat a grape with a fork?" he asks, staring into the jar and fruit that Seokjin had cut. "Because I refuse."
Seokjin digs a grape out with his fingers. "You're so impolite," he scolds, popping it into his mouth.
It's the happiest Seokjin has been in a long time.
Seokjin wakes up in the morning and feels light.
Not light in that he's lost weight, or in that he feels emotionally relieved of his burdens, but light in the way that gravity has been pulling on his a little too firmly for so long and he's only noticed when it isn't anymore.
"Namjoon?" he calls, wandering through the house as soon as he can bring himself to leave his warm bed, feet bare. He doesn't bother making himself presentable. Namjoon has seen him in various states and just-woke-up is surely not the worst of them. "Are you awake?"
"I'm awake." His voice isn't coming from his bedroom.
Seokjin follows the sound.
Namjoon is sitting at the small table in the kitchen, a cup of coffee in his hand and a plate of toast in front of him smattered in jam, and Seokjin is bizarrely endeared that this strange, wonderful man has managed to feed himself so early in the morning. He looks up from the book he's reading. His hair is sticking flat to one side of his head. "Good morning."
"Good morning." Seokjin yawns, making his way over to the coffee that Namjoon has made. He sniffs it.
"I did it right," Namjoon pouts. "If there's one thing I can make, it's coffee."
"And toast, apparently," Seokjin chirps, pouring himself a cup. He hums. "Has anything changed today?" he asks idly.
"What do you mean?" Namjoon is still half-absorbed in his book.
"I feel lighter today," Seokjin says, paying more attention to buttering his toast.
Namjoon pauses for so long that Seokjin looks around, half a roll in his mouth. "What do you mean, 'lighter?'"
Seokjin shrugs, tearing through the hard crust of the bread with his teeth and taking a seat at the table beside Namjoon. "Like I've had weights around my ankles for a long time and they're not there anymore."
Slowly, Namjoon puts his book down. "What day is it?"
"Um." Seokjin thinks. "I can't remember. I think it's a Monday."
Namjoon swallows dryly. "How long have you been here?"
Seokjin thinks. And thinks. And thinks. "About a year," he says finally. "I haven't been keeping track."
The mood drops. Namjoon sets his cup down on the table. "I think..." He clears his throat. "I think you're free, today."
"Am I..." Seokjin doesn't believe it. He's not sure it's real. He thinks he should be happier if it really is the day. "Are you sure?"
"The Mountain can't keep you here anymore," Namjoon tells him quietly. "If you feel light, that's because her magic isn't holding you down anymore."
"I..." Seokjin takes a deep breath. Laughs. "I haven't even thought about where I'm going to go."
Namjoon stares at his toast. "You can stay."
It's an offer.
Seokjin smiles. "Oh, Namjoon..."
"Yoongi is trying to get me to be better about...asking for the things that I want," Namjoon admits, taking a slow sip of his coffee. "I'd like it if you stayed."
It's an admission.
"I don't..." Namjoon sighs, squeezing his hands between his knees. "I don't ask people to stay, like ever, and I don't even them to come back but..." He bites his lip. "I've enjoyed having you here."
Seokjin's throat is so dry. "I've enjoyed being here," he says, and it's the truth.
"I feel like we get along well," Namjoon tells him factually. "I think that we understand each other. I like when you take care of me. I like doing things for you." He swallows again. "I'd like you to stay."
It's more than Namjoon has said to him before.
Namjoon looks at Seokjin's face, sees his hesitation, and smiles. "You don't want to stay."
Seokjin frowns. "That's not it at all!" he assures him. "I want to stay. I love it here. I love being with you."
"But you want to go." Namjoon says it heavily. Seokjin feels heavy.
"I have to..." Seokjin shakes his head. "There are things I have to do."
"Wandering, and the like." Namjoon smiles softly. "If I said that I think I might be in love with you, would that change your mind?"
Seokjin stares at Namjoon so softly.
"I think I might be in love with you," Namjoon tells him after a moment.
It's a confession.
Gently, Seokjin pushes Namjoon's hair off of his forehead and kisses the crease between Namjoon's eyes, rubbing his thumb there until it smoothes out. "I think I might be in love with you, too," Seokjin replies. "But it doesn't change my mind."
With a sigh, Namjoon wraps his long fingers around Seokjin's wrist and kisses his palm. "Well, then." He smiles. It's sad. It suits the mood. "Let's get your things in order."
When Seokjin leaves, he only looks back once, and it’s to wave goodbye.
A stranger walks into town, buys an apple, and makes his way up the mountain.
The trees are green and the flowers are yellow and the wind sings. It's happy here. The peak looks so far away, but the hike isn't very long if you can charm the ones who matter.
Seokjin can't shake the earth to give word of his arrival like Chanyeol, but he still knows how to get in.
He walks into the cave and the lamps light up.
It's like he never left.
His bag is heavy on his back and his feet are sore. His skin is buzzy. He's unsure and he doesn't mind. It's been a long time since he's been back here and he's grown more used to being unsure. He's figured out how to keep his balance when the ground shifts. He's been around magic for so long, now.
Things have changed.
"Namjoon?" he calls. Just like he used to.
For a moment, he hears nothing. He drops his bag by the couch, toes off his shoes and rolls his tired feet in the plush carpet. He figures Namjoon won't mind.
"Who is that?" Namjoon calls.
"It's a lot cleaner here than it was when I first got here," Seokjin notes aloud, walking the familiar path. "I suppose that means I was a good influence."
He walks into the kitchen.
Namjoon has half of a chopped onion in his hand and is staring at Seokjin with huge, disbelieving eyes. "What the fuck." It's a statement.
Seokjin smiles. "Aren't you going to welcome me back?"
Namjoon throws the onion on the cutting board unceremoniously and surges forward. His hands grip Seokjin by the shoulder like he's trying to figure out if he's real. Seokjin's nose wrinkles at the smell. "Are you really here? You came back?"
"Are you cooking?" Seokjin asks in awe, peering over Namjoon's shoulder. "Is this character development?"
Namjoon pinches Seokjin's arm. "Brat." He's grinning. Seokjin has missed his dimples. "How long are you here for?" he asks. "It's been, what? A year?"
Seokjin sides dramatically. "Fourteen months," he says, leaning against the table. "I haven't spent longer than a two weeks anywhere since I left."
He can see Namjoon processing this. "I..." Namjoon takes a deep breath. "I hope that you'll stay as long as you like." I'd like it if you stayed.
Some things haven't changed.
Seokjin is glowing from the inside out. "What if I want to stay for a month?"
"I'd be pleased," Namjon admits.
"What if I wanted to stay for a year?" Seokjin grins, pushing himself up from the table and taking a step into Namjoon's space.
Namjoon just squints at him.
"Or two years?" Seokjin hums, thinking. "Or...forever?"
"Then you're cheesy as hell," Namjoon says slowly. Considering. "But I'd let you."
Seokjin straightens out the collar of Namjoon's shirt, smoothes out the wrinkles, runs his hand lightly over Namjoon's arm. "It'd be rude of me, though, if I can here without a gift," he says. He's so close to the pink on Namjoon's cheeks. He wants to kiss them.
Something tells him he'll have plenty of time for the later.
”I'm sure someone raised you much better than that," Namjoon notes idly. His hand finds it's way to Seokjin's waist like he's asking for permission and Seokjin grants it to him happily.
"I like to think I raised myself rather well, thank you," Seokjin tells him with a grin. He digs carefully into his pocket. "And you'll never guess what I brought you."
"Is it Yeti booze?" Namjoon teases. His hand is warm on Seokjin's hip. "Kyungsoo brought me more recently but I'll never say no."
Seokjin laughs. "Well. I guess the first step is to guess where I've been." He shows Namjoon what he has in his hand.
A glass flower.
All of the mirth drops out of Namjoon's face.
Seokjin remembers his very first impression of Namjoon, of his soft edges, of his face that shows so much that it barely shows anything and how he couldn't read what was playing out on his face. There was too much there and too many unknowns.
He can read Namjoon now. He can read Namjoon like a book.
Delicately, Namjoon's long fingers take the stem of the flower from Seokjin's hold and brings it up to the light. It glints speckled colors against the brown walls of the kitchen. Namjoon's eyes are so big.
"I'm sorry it took me so long," Seokjin says softly. "I'm afraid that map is slightly wrong."
Namjoon gently sets the flower on the table, his hand sliding around Seokjin's side and pressing into the small of his back and pulling him closer. "I love you," he says, so earnestly.
Seokjin laughs. "I know."
He throws an arm around Namjoon's neck and brings their lips together, and Namjoon is as warm as Seokjin has always imagined he'd be.
He's also grinning like a fucking idiot. "Do you love me, too?" he asks, pulling away.
Seokjin sticks a finger in Namjoon's dimple and lightly slaps his cheek. "What a stupid question." He pulls Namjoon in by the chin and kisses his mouth. Soft. "Of course, I love you."