The ship left Haeju harbour at sunrise, just as the first pale fingers of spring sunlight had begun to slide across the smooth wooden hulls of the Royal fleet, glistening off the painted gold of the Hanja characters lettered on the side of each vessel.
Yoongi, Taehyung, and Namjoon had boarded in the weak predawn light and now stood at the bow of the ship, gazing out, as all around them activity swirled with the crew preparing for their departure.
Their boat stood a little higher than the others - a sleek armada of aggressive looking Kwasons - prompting Yoongi to wonder if they were quite safe out in the open ocean, in the territory of terrifying sea creatures large enough to swallow a ship and nearly as terrifying pirates dead set on stripping all travelers of their valuables and sometimes their limbs.
“Do you think there’s any danger of encountering pirates out there?” Yoongi asked hesitantly, gesturing out towards the wide expanse of sea where sunbeams danced across the frothy crests of the waves.
Namjoon turned to look at him with a wry smile and shook his head slightly. “If we do, we must be extremely unlucky.”
“You know, surprisingly enough, that does little to reassure me.” Yoongi replied dryly.
Taehyung, who had been amusing himself bothering the crew with questions about which line did what and whether the westerly wind was strong enough to manage without the oars, chose this moment to saunter over. He’d taken the opportunity as the ship left port and approached the open sea to free his hair, and it blew in shiny, dark strands against his smooth cheeks.
“Most of the stories you hear are just that: stories.” He said and Yoongi remembered that his childhood friend was often at sea, sailing to distant shores and collecting beautiful things to decorate his home and his skin. “The word is that Taejo Mama is extending the hand of friendship towards not only the Myeong nara, but also towards Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.” He continued.
Yoongi frowned. It was only the first few tender days of the new era and consequently their new King’s rule, but already many changes were getting put into place, including, but not limited to a new name for their land which still rested uneasily in the mouths of those who whispered it - Joseon - branded with the newness and uncertainty of the times.
“Personally I fail to see how an alliance between countries does anything to control marauding bandits, whether they wreak havoc on land or sea, but either way Taehyung is right. It’s rare for an envoy ship to encounter trouble.” Namjoon said confidently.
Yoongi personally didn’t believe it was a given that pirates would have no knowledge of, or interest in the political climate of the countries where they did their raiding, but he believed in the calm, rested features of Namjoon and Taehyung who were both far more seasoned travelers than he himself.
“I suppose no one really wants to tangle with the King.” He said thoughtfully.
“I suppose not.” Taehyung echoed, leaning forward across the bow slightly so that the spray from the ocean coated his face lightly with a fine mist of water.
Yoongi remained at the railing, hands pressed into the smooth wood grain, long after Namjoon and Taehyung had tired of the view. He felt at ease with the gentle rising and falling of the deck under his feet.
“Excuse me Naeuri.” A small voice said at Yoongi’s side. He turned to see a young boy with bare feet standing at his side and looking up with big eyes. “Are you going to save the country?”
“Sorry?” Yoongi didn’t normally like children—their fragility made him nervous—but there was something about this one with his serious expression and smooth suntanned skin that belied hours spent running around on deck, that piqued his curiosity.
“My abanim says that’s what you and the two others are going to do. So that the Mongols don’t invade us and kill everyone.” The little boy replied earnestly, indicating a man who Yoongi supposed must be his father, a rough looking sailor with a bandana who was barking orders at the rest of the crew.
“Is your abanim the captain?” Yoongi asked curiously but the little boy shook his head solemnly.
“No, he’s just the second mate. The captain has to be a naeuri like you.”
Yoongi smiled. He very much doubted that a simple sea captain, even in the royal navy, would be a member of the nobility, but he knew that they were often high ranking military and he understood how a common born little boy would be able to get the two things mixed up.
“Do you want me to tell you a secret?” Yoongi said, leaning in. The little boy nodded fervently. “I’m not a naeuri either. I was raised by that man’s family, but I come from a little village along the coast.” He pointed at Taehyung, who was deep in conversation with Namjoon. Yoongi couldn’t help feeling as though every day Taehyung looked a little less like the goofy little brother he’d grown up with and more like the noble government official he’d been born to be.
The boy’s eyes widened. “Really?” He whispered. Yoongi nodded.
“What’s your name?” He asked.
“Sejun.” The boy said nervously.
“I’ll tell you another secret Sejun-ah.” Yoongi said quietly. “You may hear people calling me Kim Yoongi because I was raised by the Kim family in Namgyeong, but my eomanim named me Min Yoongi.”
“Where is she now?” Sejun asked. “...Naeuri.” He tacked on nervously.
“That’s what I’m trying to find out.” Yoongi said. “The village where I was born doesn’t exist anymore but I got a letter from someone telling me to come find them for information.”
“Sejun-ah!” Called the second mate suddenly. “Come here and help me with this.”
“I hope you find your eomanim.” Sejun said gravely. “I’ll be praying for you.” And then he ran off to help his father coil rope. Yoongi felt suddenly emotional wondering what he’d been like at that age; whether he’d cried for his mother or whether he’d simply accepted that he was Kim Yoongi of the Namgyeong Kims.
“Namjoon has just been to talk with the captain.” Taehyung said, approaching on light feet so that Yoongi almost didn’t hear him coming and jumped slightly. “They said we should reach our destination in a couple days. The shaman sensed no troubles with the weather so you won’t have to experience your first storm.” He laughed gently, no doubt remembering the first time he was subjected the roiling waves of an unhappy sea.
“Are you nervous?” Yoongi asked. Taehyung’s family was very close to the new King and as such his business on the envoy ship was generally accepted in that unspoken way of uncomfortable truths, as that of a hostage, should things go south.
“Not really.” Taehyung replied evenly. “There’s been a fair amount of correspondence. This visit is mostly just a formality so they can pretend to have the upper hand and we can give them our best show of respect.”
“The way you say ‘show of respect’ makes it sound like a sham.” Yoongi pointed out. “I thought Taejo Mama had connections to the Hongwu Emperor.”
Taehyung shrugged easily. “He understands the benefit of an alliance, but what ruler really stops seeing another country as a threat to be controlled?”
Taehyung’s words echoed in Yoongi’s mind long after the younger man had moved on, removing his fancy outerwear and inviting the crew to teach him how to sail. It was in moments like that, watching his adoptive brother laughing and joking with the sailors and playing with Sejun, that Yoongi could truly see the boy in him, the boy he knew and had grown up with who was still hiding under the layers of importance and nobility.
Yoongi did truly understand that in order to survive in the world as an official of the court, like Taehyung was born to be, one had to harden oneself to the suffering of the lower class or else life became unbearable, but too often lately he had perceived Taehyung spending longer and longer hours with his father looking over affairs of state and emerging with less and less love and excitement in his eyes.
Yoongi felt sometimes that he was privileged to be nothing more than a foster son of the family. He had the benefit of their wealth, even without the status, and he was exempt from the world of politics that he so hated. He knew that he had a reputation as ‘cold’ in great contrast with sunny Taehyung who had always been the favourite of the servants, but in reality Yoongi knew that he was too sensitive for the life that Taehyung would soon be forced to live once he passed his 20th birthday.
In absent daydreams as a child, trying to shut out the desperate longing for the family he had never known, Yoongi had imagined himself a true brother of Taehyung. He wondered whether being born into that birthright would have shaped him to be someone with more mental fortitude, or whether he would have ended up being a disappointment to his father.
Taehyung, to an outsider’s eyes, was the model son; an example of perfect poise and nobility, but Yoongi had the benefit of closeness, of having grown up alongside him, and of having been his confidant and he knew that being on this voyage - hostage or not - meant freedom, no matter how short lived. Observing Namjoon, a high ranking government official, and the way that he and Taehyung - who had always been close friends - looked at each other, in the safety of the ship where no eyes watched, Yoongi felt that truly he was better off without status or title.
There were moments when Namjoon visited their home with his wife, and Taehyung found reasons to disappear, that Yoongi truly hated love. He saw the way his foster parents eagerly prepared for Taehyung’s impending marriage and he felt a surge of gratitude that he would never be subjected to it. Whether or not his foster parents considered him their son had no impact on the fact that he was not and never would be nobly born. No respected family would want him as a son in law.
“If there comes a time when a young woman catches your eye, we can arrange things for you.” Taehyung’s father had said to Yoongi a few years previously. “She’ll be able to live in comfort even if we can’t give you a title or your own estate.”
Yoongi had nodded, knowing even then that there would never be a young woman that would capture his interest.
He had discovered his love for geography and drawing early on and his foster parents had seemed almost relieved that there was something they could set him up with, that he didn’t hunger for power or titles he could never have.
Yoongi gazed off into the distance as he stood at the bow of the ship and imagined the thousands of yards of uncharted land that awaited them. With the new alliance between the two countries, Yoongi hoped that a cartographer would be needed to bring back maps of trade routes to Joseon. That was the purpose of his visit. That and to find Kim Seokjin.
“I’m so glad you’re accompanying us.” Taehyung said with a gentle smile, sidling up to where Yoongi stood, observing the frothing of the waves. “It’s almost like old times again.”
Yoongi knew what he meant by that, he heard the unspoken words. It’s almost like old times when we would spend every waking minute together and when we still had illusions that we were equals. Like the times when you took care of me before I started taking care of things for you.
“I’m not accompanying you, brat.” Yoongi said gruffly and was rewarded with a light laugh from Taehyung. The other boy knew how much he resented being a companion and tagging along, which was why he never went with Taehyung to Gaegyeong even when he begged.
“I’m here for my own reasons.” Yoongi reminded him.
“Ah yes, the Goryeo poet!” Taehyung exclaimed. “Do you really think you’ll find him?”
“I have the letter.” Yoongi replied and watched as Taehyung’s brow wrinkled in concern. He knew that his foster brother didn’t necessarily approve of his quest to investigate into his origins, but he couldn’t tell whether it was out of genuine worry for his well-being, or some selfish wish to keep him as an older brother, as though as soon as Yoongi found out where he was really from he would leave and never return.
“And if you do find him, do you really think he’ll have what you’re looking for?” Taehyung asked thoughtfully.
“Well I have to try at least, and it’s a bonus if I get to see history being made in the process.”
“I thought you didn’t care about politics!” Namjoon said, appearing out of nowhere and causing Yoongi to nearly jump out of his skin. He wondered how much of the conversation the other man had heard.
“I don’t.” He said shortly. “But it could be a good chance to get an idea of the terrain in case we’re looking at trade routes in the future.”
“Do you ever think about anything other than maps and land?” Namjoon asked with a teasing smile.
“Literature and poetry.” Yoongi replied quickly. “I’m very well read you know, I just don’t go boasting about it like some people I know.”
“Hey, I got this title specifically so that I could boast about my knowledge without people like you telling me off for it!” Namjoon joked, but then his expression sobered quickly and Yoongi knew that he hadn’t entirely avoided the question.
It was a question he got often these days as the years passed with not a single concubine nor so much as one visit to a gisaeng.
“You know that’s not what I was asking though.” Namjoon said gently. “Taehyung and I worry about you; about whether or not you’re lonely. The gisaengs on the mainland are known to be- well, I want you to enjoy your time a little while Taehyung and I are cooped up in all those boring state meetings.”
“I’m not interested in gisaengs.” Yoongi said, aware of the sharpness in his tone.
“I didn’t mean to offend-” Namjoon began, all wide eyes.
“I don’t want to be like you.” Yoongi said, with a nod to Taehyung to be sure that he was understood. “I don’t want to be always hiding. Solitude suits me.”
“Oh Yoongi,” Taehyung said in a voice thick with emotion. “I always suspected but I just thought- I’m sorry.”
Yoongi inclined his head to them both before exiting in the direction of the cabins. He knew what Taehyung was apologizing for and it wasn’t for overstepping any social boundary. He was apologizing because the life of men like them in the kind of world they lived in, would always be a difficult and lonely one.
The remaining days of the voyage passed smoothly in a haze of pale, watery sunrises and flaming sunsets that reflected in deep orange streaks across the water. Yoongi spent his days with Namjoon and Taehyung, learning the basics of a foreign language and immersing himself in culture and politics, and his nights lying awake and thinking of the answers he hoped to find on the mainland.
The ship finally left behind the roiling seas of the open ocean in favour of sailing up the river towards the capital, Yingtian. A group of officials were waiting on the docks when the ship finally pulled into port and the gangplank was lowered. Yoongi felt as though, walking down towards the sea of waiting eyes, he was being watched like a monkey in a cage. He had never been a foreigner before and he felt slightly overwhelmed by all the sounds that he didn’t understand that surrounded him, weaving together on top of each other to form a cacophony of unfamiliar noise.
“Please come this way.” An important looking man said, stepping out of the crowd and advancing towards them. He bowed formally - a gesture that they all returned - before turning and beginning to walk off purposefully. He led them to a litter that seemed to be made out of a light wood that Yoongi recognized as bamboo, and invited them inside.
The man, an official Yoongi guessed, took the opportunity to speak to Namjoon and Taehyung, his speech flowing too quickly for Yoongi to pick out more than a few words here and there. Instead, Yoongi amused himself by pulling back the curtain slightly to peek at the world outside. From what he could see, Yingtian was the biggest city he’d ever been in. There was activity everywhere and he was amazed at that the men carrying the litter could duck in and out of the human and animal traffic that blocked the way with such speed and agility.
When they reached the Meridian gate Yoongi let the curtain swing shut, the sight of rows and rows of palace guards having put a small, unfamiliar quiver of fear in the pit of his stomach. Mercifully they got through the gates with no trouble, most likely due to the royal seal on the side of the litter.
More officials were waiting for them inside the palace gates, including a man who introduced himself as Li Shanchang with an unexpectedly warm smile.
“Of course it won’t be possible to meet with the Hongwu Emperor himself.” He said politely as he lead them inside. “But I have his utmost confidence with regards to the matters we will be discussing.”
Yoongi and Taehyung followed Namjoon and Li Shanchang - who were already deep in conversation - down a series of hallways and finally into a finely furnished room where they seated themselves comfortably on silk cushions, around a low table. Yoongi became very aware very quickly that most of the things discussed in the room would go straight over his head, his presence, while not intrusive was not necessary, and so he busied himself gazing at the beautiful paintings and maps that graced the walls, his heart rate speeding up and fingers itching for a brush.
He tuned back into the conversation slightly when he heard Namjoon mentioning the pirates and bandits that had been ravaging the shores of their homeland.
“Our country is large and esteemed,” Li Shanchang began with a wide smile that didn’t match the seriousness of his tone. “However in our greatness, we have often overlooked the small ant that causes trouble, wreaking havoc along the borders of Goryeo- or should I say now Joseon. We do deeply apologize for this oversight and thank your king for his mercy in preventing retaliation.”
Yoongi knew that it wasn’t the responsibility of a country to control every marauding group of bandits, but he also knew that countries had gone to war over less.
“Taejo Mama understands, of course, that such groups of bandits are not under the control of the state and thus exercised his best judgement in hopes of preserving good relations between our two countries.” Namjoon responded diplomatically, flashing his dimples briefly. Yoongi couldn’t help but feel, as Taehyung had said on the ship, that this meeting was nothing more than formalities to cement a preexisting agreement that had been made the moment that Yi Seonggye had turned his troops around and headed for the capital instead of to attack as he was ordered.
“Hyung hates men like that,” Taehyung confided to Yoongi later, as they prepared for bed. “All smiles and no sincerity. But the deferential way he spoke to us means that there’s a good chance the offer of alliance has already been accepted.”
And much as he hated politics, Yoongi went to sleep feeling as though he had just watched the world change, maybe for the better.
Their first morning in Yingtian was their first morning of freedom, to fully enjoy themselves in the foreign city. Taehyung and Namjoon immediately left for the market with excitement in their movements and the way they spoke over each other, still managing somehow to understand what the other was saying.
“Didn’t you want to look at the terrain?” Taehyung asked Yoongi as they were leaving the palace walls, with a meaningful glance at the mountain rising up behind the city where Yoongi hoped to find the man he was looking for and the answers he’d been promised in a secret letter.
“Yes I was rather hoping to scope out the land surrounding the city. If I remember correctly it’s been a long time since travelers were welcomed so openly.”
“Would you like me to find a guide?” Namjoon asked with some concern colouring his tone. His gaze followed Yoongi’s towards the mountain. “I know you’re a good traveler but you usually have an entourage.”
“No that’s alright Namjoon I’ll be fine.” Yoongi said with what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “Taehyung and I used to go exploring all the time when we were kids.”
“That’s right!” Taehyung said. Namjoon looked between them a little suspiciously but finally his expression cleared and he shrugged. “Just don’t get caught up there after dark.” He said.
Yoongi had absolutely no intention of doing so. The sun had yet to rise above the barrier of trees that loomed up in front of him as he left the city behind him so he figured that unless the mountain was deceptively tall, he had plenty of time. There was much less traffic on the eastern road out, only the occasional farmer’s cart and a fair amount of people on foot carrying their belongings.
Taehyung hadn’t been lying when he’d said that he and Yoongi used to explore when they were kids, but he had been exaggerating. The most they’d done was escape from the manor where they’d been raised and run amok in the city, barely avoiding getting themselves into serious trouble. What they had never done was hike through uneven terrain, and it wasn’t like Yoongi hadn’t done his fair share of it over the years in order to draw his maps, but he had always been - as Namjoon had said - accompanied and aided by guides and attendants.
Surprisingly however, as he got further and further into the cool, leafy silence of the woods, Yoongi felt increasingly at peace. He wondered about the village he’d been born in. Had it been secluded? Had his parents had to make long journeys through woods such as these to get to a big city?
When Yoongi reached a small clearing, about halfway up the mountain, and saw under the shadow of two large oaks, a small hut, he knew he had made it to the right place. He couldn’t pinpoint the source of his surety but when he saw a man emerge from the trees on the opposite side of the clearing with his arms full of herbs and disappear into the hut, Yoongi felt his certainty solidify. This had to be the man who had sent the letter.
He knocked on the door once, to no response, so he called out a tentative greeting in his native language, figuring that if the occupant of the house was truly a local he wouldn’t understand or respond. Yoongi was about to raise his fist a second time when the door swung open and a surprisingly young man was standing in front of him.
“You had better come inside since you made the long climb up here.” He said with a warm smile. “Not many people have come here speaking my language I’ll confess, it’s refreshing.”
Yoongi followed the man into his home, noticing that the surroundings, while humble, were clean and comfortable. The whole house had a pleasant smell like freshly picked flowers.
“Would you like something to drink?” The man asked. “Tea?”
“Look Kim Seokjin-ssi.” Yoongi said, noting how the other man’s eyes widened at the name, leading him to believe that he had been correct. “I’ll cut to the chase since we sail out in two days at dawn, I’m here for the maps of the village of Balgeungang. I was the recipient of the letter.”
Kim Seokjin’s eyes widened even further and he looked almost nervous for a second before his expression hardened into one of studied indifference. “I’m sorry but I don’t know much about Balgeungang.” He said.
“Didn’t you write this letter?” Yoongi produced it from an inside pocket, fingers trembling as this was the first time eyes other than his had seen it, not even Taehyung’s though his foster brother did know of its existence. The parchment was worn thin from where his fingers had run over it constantly, reading and rereading the words, searching for some small detail he might have missed.
“I did.” Seokjin said uncomfortably. “But that was years ago, when I was still embroiled in the politics of Goryeo. I’ve removed myself from that snakepit, as you can see.” He waved his hand around at the neatly furnished interior of his house. Yoongi wondered what had caused the mysterious poet to go into his self inflicted exile, but thought it might be too rude to ask.
“Please.” He said instead. “Any information you have would help.”
Seokjin sighed heavily before getting up and crossing to a chest made of heavy, dark wood which he unlocked with a key from around his neck. Yoongi’s heart began to beat faster when he saw the small stack of papers that Seokjin held in his hands.
“There are maps of the village here,” Seokjin said, putting the papers in his hands into a leather satchel, small enough to be inconspicuous. “And a couple documents, but if anyone finds out that you have them it could be your head. Don’t trust anyone you hear me? Not even your closest friends. That’s advice I wish someone had told me years ago.”
Yoongi nodded, thinking of Namjoon and his open, trustworthy face and the way that Taehyung loved him. Namjoon who knew nothing of Yoongi’s secret quest but whom he considered almost close as a brother. Yoongi hugged the satchel instinctively closer to his body.
“How did you know to send the letter to me by the way?” He asked curiously.
“I didn’t.” Seokjin said shortly. “I had heard of several foundling children in rich homes in and around Namgyeong so I gave the letter to a former colleague and left it at that.” He paused and took a contemplative sip of his tea. Yoongi wondered how old the man sitting in front of him was. His handsome face was unlined and smooth but his eyes were very wise and very sad.
“I almost hoped that no one would come to find me.” Seokjin continued, almost as though he was speaking to himself. “The whole thing is a lot more trouble than it’s worth.”
“Not to me.” Yoongi said fervently. To me it’s my birthright. He finished in his head.
Seokjin raised his eyes and met Yoongi’s squarely and Yoongi almost shivered with the understanding and empathy he saw there even as Seokjin gave a sad shake of his head.
“So there really are surviving children from that village.” He said and his tone bore a trace of something Yoongi could almost call wonder. “I never knew for sure.”
“As far as I know I’m the only one.” Yoongi said sadly.
Jimin was jolted awake by two things. The first, he realized as he lay panting in his, now ominously swaying hammock, was the uncomfortable rising and sharp falling of the ship on wave swells that were surely increasing. The second thing that woke him was a yell, loud and anxious, from up on deck.
Jimin rolled out of his hammock, hitting the shifting floor of the cabin on all fours which sent a shooting pain through his kneecaps.
“Boy!” First Mate Yang snarled, bursting through the door to the cabin, face alight. “You’re needed above deck.”
“Yessir.” Jimin straightened painfully and hurried after Yang, up the narrow stairs. Just as he’d expected they were in the middle of a raging storm, the sky lit with a sick greenish glow and the deck awash in rainwater. Every wave lifted the bow of their ship above the surface of the ocean so that members of the crew went sliding whenever the boat came crashing down and met the sea once again.
“Here, Jimin catch!” Chanyeol threw a length of rope to Jimin who fastened it securely around his waist, his fingers familiar with the knots after a life at sea. His legs quickly became accustomed to the heaving of the deck under his feet and he was able to cross it quickly, toes gripping the rough, slippery wood, to join Chanyeol at the side.
“See? Just out there.” Chanyeol pointed out through the fog and sheets of rain to where another ship was clearly visible. Jimin’s hair was already plastered to his forehead, falling out of the topknot he had tied it into before going to sleep, and the rain was in his eyes and his mouth but he managed to pull together a hazy image of what he knew was a cargo ship.
“What are they doing this close to the coast?” Jimin asked quietly. As far as he knew, their ship hadn’t been pursuing another ship or even intending to find one. They’d been on their way towards a particular small village where they’d heard tell of a mysterious and ancient relic that could be sold for millions.
“Probably got blown off course.” Kang said gruffly, joining the two boys. “Unlucky for them but very lucky for us.” He grinned exposing dark, rotted teeth with a hint of gold near the back.
“They don’t know these waters like we do.” Hineno, another of the crew members, said in his lilting voice. He climbed to the second rung of the railing, clinging to the rope that tied him to the mast and flashed them a wicked smile. “Better prepare yourselves boys.” He continued. “All the lightest ones are going over.”
Almost against his will Jimin felt a light fluttering in his chest beginning, just below his breastbone at the thought of what awaited them on the other side of the long swing through the air. His hands, currently curled around the roughness of the rope, itched to hold the saingeom at his side, but he knew that they had to wait until they were closer to board the other ship.
Steering through a storm was difficult, but with every pirate strapped in and unable to be tossed overboard, they were a lot more fearless than the other crew and the darkness and ferocious wind whipping rain in the direction of their quarry provided them with the necessary cover they required to get close enough for boarding.
“This is it. Get ready.” Kang called out and then Jimin and Chanyeol were scrambling up the railing to prepare for the jump. Jimin glanced over at his friend and saw fear sitting dark behind his eyes so he reached out and grasped Chanyeol’s cold, and clammy fingers with his own momentarily before returning his hand to the rope.
“Board!” Yelled Hineno, letting himself swing out over the dark, choppy waves with a high pitched whoop of excitement. Jimin and Chanyeol and a half dozen other crew members let themselves go, similarly yelling. They felt as though it was only polite to warn their adversaries that they were coming.
Jimin felt as though the best part of boarding a ship was the look of utter shock that crossed the faces of the crew and then the subsequent terror. Jimin was only nineteen and of small stature, but he knew that, sword in hand, he cut an impressive figure, especially for a boat full of simple merchants and traders who had probably never seen pirates before.
Except that that was not what this ship appeared to be. The shock was there, the terror following shortly on its heels like an excited puppy, but then...silence. One man stammered ‘p-pirates’ and then scurried to hide behind his crewmates who stood like a sullen, solid mass staring down Jimin and the other pirates.
There was a slither of steel as Hineno drew his saingeom and one by one Jimin and the others followed suit, but for some reason, not one member of the other crew made so much as a move towards a weapon. Jimin noticed, somewhat belatedly, that the ship didn’t appear to be a trading ship or a merchant’s ship at all, but rather a part of the royal fleet of Goryeo. The men standing in front of them refusing to draw were soldiers and officials and Jimin felt his stomach sinking as he glanced around him. It was a personal rule of theirs not to attack envoy ships and Jimin wondered if they were about to break that rule.
Jimin was the son of the captain himself so he was technically the highest in rank who was present, but he still looked to Hineno for instruction, trusting the man’s superior knowledge. He was stricken to see that Hineno actually looked afraid.
“Well, pirate.” A tall young man said stepping forward from the group. He was not armed from what Jimin could see but he held himself with an enviable easy confidence that belied nobility. “You’ve caught us.” He continued in a slightly mocking tone. “What would you have us do? Lay down all our valuables?”
Hineno didn’t seem likely to speak, so Jimin found the words tumbling out of his mouth before he could stop them. “We will search the ship.” He said firmly. “Anything we take a liking to, we will take with us when we leave. If anyone has a problem with that, they may find themselves riding beneath our ship.”
Jimin saw a couple men blanch at his words, but the first man to have spoken remained irritatingly calm. “Very well, search away. Not that your eyes can discern worth anyhow.” He said with disdain and Jimin clenched his hand tighter around the pommel of his sword.
He felt eyes on him and turned his head slightly to catch the gaze of a young man, around the same age as the first speaker, but with a contained way of holding himself that contrasted greatly with the fancy clothes he was wearing. Everything about him bespoke a contradiction and Jimin was intrigued, especially by the dark, intense eyes that burned into his own. The other man’s expression was inscrutable, which bothered him for some reason. Jimin was very good at reading people. He shook off the unfamiliar sensation and turned away.
“Jimin there is a reason that we don’t board envoy ships.” Hineno hissed as they made their way cautiously forward, the crowd parting for them the way waves parted for their ship.
“And why is that?” Jimin snapped back. “Who knows what riches they have for the taking! My father never even bothered to explain to to me, so talk fast before I decide that this ship is ripe for the plundering.”
“Jimin-ah I can’t you know that.” Hineno all but whimpered. “I’d be keelhauled if the captain found out I’d given you information that he’d intentionally withheld.”
“I guess that’s a decision you’re just going to have to make Hineno.” Jimin said coldly. His insides were squirming with discomfort and guilt with how cruel he was being, but he was also burning with rage at all the secrets that had been kept from him over the years. For your own good Jimin-ah. His father was fond of saying.
“You all well know the rule.” The young man with the air of confidence was saying from behind them. “And yet you’d follow a boy.”
Jimin clenched his teeth and continued forward, not wanting to look to see which members of his crew would follow him. Chanyeol he knew would, and he could hear Hineno’s light footsteps and that of maybe three other men.
For a moment upon entering, Jimin thought that the first cabin they had come to was that of the captain, because everything was absolutely covered in maps. If there was one thing Jimin had learned to appreciate - growing up alongside a pirate father who had an unorthodox passion and was just as likely to steal a priceless painting as a gold statue - it was art, and what he saw hanging off of every available surface, was undeniably that.
Upon looking closer, Jimin saw that every map was exquisitely drawn by an artist’s hand, and that there were even some of the coast where they had been headed, every tiny village drawn in minute detail. He heard himself make a small involuntary noise of amazement. “Who made these?” He demanded.
“I did.” Said a soft voice behind him and Jimin turned to meet the same heated, dark stare that he had run away from on deck. The man of contradictions was the same man who had brought an entire country to life under his brush.
“We’re taking this with us.” Jimin said firmly, noting with interest the way that the man’s mask of indifference that he had worn throughout the whole boarding and confrontation, dropped for a second to reveal something akin to grief and loss, before it snapped back into place. “And,” Jimin said, not entirely sure where the words were coming from. “We’re taking him.”
“You’re making a mistake.” The cocky man who had first spoken to them said urgently as the band of pirates moved back towards the edge of the ship with their quarry, his maps neatly rolled and placed into a leather satchel that he wore across his body, long white fingers stroking over it as though it were the most precious artifact. Jimin noted with interest that there was a note of desperation in his tone. Ah, so this was personal then.
“Please.” That was an unfamiliar voice and Jimin turned to see a second man at the side of the first, this one decked out in even more finery with rings on every finger and earrings of jade and gold. Jimin momentarily considered taking the man’s abundant jewelry as a gift to himself for handling his first solo raid, but something in the man’s sad eyes stopped him. Weak hearted. His father’s voice whispered in his ear.
“Please leave my brother alone.” The man continued, tears making his voice thick.
“What use are maps without a guide?” Jimin said, trying to make his voice as soft as he could, but he knew that there was a very real possibility that a fight could break out over this. People got unreasonable when things moved away from business, and this, was clearly a family matter.
“I’m warning you one last time.” The first man said in a tone heavy with dangerous intent. “I don’t know where you people have been hiding yourselves but the winds of change are blowing. Goryeo has fallen; we have a new ruler and believe me when I say he will not rest until scum like you are eradicated.”
“I seriously doubt that the new king will care so much about one man and a few maps.” Jimin said lightly. “Now,” He continued in a softer voice to the cartographer who was standing awkwardly behind him. “Put your arms around my waist we’re going to swing over.”
The man’s eyes widened as he looked at the wide gap between the two ships that was all frothing waves the colour of iron. Jimin had to admit that it was a long way down. He met the other man’s eyes and held out one hand. “Trust me.” He said. “I won’t let you fall.”
Slowly, the cartographer placed his arms around Jimin’s body, just below his ribs, and squeezed. He was cold, soaked to the skin like they all were, and Jimin could feel him trembling slightly. He grabbed onto the rope firmly with one hand, and wound the other tightly around the other man’s shoulders, feeling his body relax slightly at the added reassurance.
“Board.” Hineno yelled, with none of the same enthusiasm as his voice had held earlier, and they all let themselves fly through the air, landing on the opposite ship with a solid thump. The man in Jimin’s arms immediately fell to the deck like a pile of wet clothes and lay there, trembling, but when Jimin went to approach him he sat up and glared with eyes full of fire.
“Don’t touch me.” He spat.
The young pirate was back. It had been three days since Yoongi had been forced to board the other ship, watching over the narrow shoulder of his captor as Taehyung and Namjoon’s faces dwindled in the distance, fading into the sheets of rain still slanting down.
Upon boarding, Yoongi had been given his own room - a luxury not even afforded to most of the crew - and had been left mostly alone, unexpectedly with full possession of his maps. He supposed that they would be taken from him when they reached the mainland and his expertise was needed. He couldn’t be of much help while they were still surrounded by waves.
For the most part, it was a relatively peaceful time for Yoongi. He hadn’t been expressedly told that he wasn’t allowed to leave his room, but there was no reason for him to venture outside amongst the pirates. He spent his days amusing himself by painting landscapes. He had left his coloured inks at home but he had his full set of brushes and slowly, the city of Yingtian, as he remembered it, came to life under Yoongi’s expert hand.
The only disruption to the quiet of Yoongi’s days, was the young pirate boy that had taken him. He proved to be light on his feet and his slight frame hid easily in the shadows of the doorway but whenever Yoongi became aware of his presence - silently watching - it threw off his concentration and made his hands tremble ever so slightly.
On the third day the boy finally spoke.
“You’re going to have to talk to us at some point.” He said in a warm, pleasant voice. Yoongi hated how the soft tone put him immediately at ease. He noted that although the boy had been the only one to show enough interest in Yoongi to actually seek him out, he still said ‘we’ indicating himself as one part of a greater whole.
Yoongi chose to ignore the boy, bending over his parchment as though he were hard at work, though every sense was finely tuned to the pirate standing in the doorway, body swaying slightly with the movement of the ship.
“Look, we’re not going to hurt you.” The pirate continued, a hint of annoyance entering into his voice, making it marginally less sweet. Yoongi suppressed a smile of satisfaction. He wasn’t going to buy the act of innocence that the other boy was putting on. “By all rights this could be a mutually beneficial situation.”
Yoongi snorted slightly to communicate his disbelief.
“Tell me your name at least? I’m Park Jimin.” Yoongi turned around, finally and met Jimin’s eyes. He was surprised how unguarded they appeared to be. The pirate had an air of youthfulness about him, as though he weren’t really a person who robbed and killed for a living, but rather someone masquerading as one.
Yoongi supposed that having a face like Park Jimin’s - soft and pretty - was actually an asset in his line of work, making him appear more trustworthy, but Yoongi wasn’t going to fall for it.
Jimin smiled encouragingly, eyes crinkling endearingly, and Yoongi tucked the corners of his own lips down more firmly. He wasn’t going to be fooled.
“Kim Yoongi.” He said grudgingly. “My name is Kim Yoongi.”
On the fifth day, Yoongi figured that they must be taking some kind of extremely round about route if they hadn’t so much as neared any shore. He raised the question to his silent companion.
Jimin looked surprised when Yoongi spoke to him, eyes going comically wide and mouth rounding out into an o. He had a smudge of ink across one cheekbone from where he’d rubbed his hand across his face, but Yoongi decided not to tell him. He tolerated the younger boy’s presence in his room and had even allowed him to play around with the brushes and ink, but he was still wary.
“We can’t go ashore for another week. Not until the army has moved back to the capital.” Jimin said finally. “It’s like this every year, but we might push the date forward a little this time. Provisions are thin.”
Yoongi noticed that although Jimin seemed to be naturally finely built and small, the way his cheekbones and wrists jutted out from the skin was far from healthy.
“If resources are so tight then why have I been receiving three meals a day?” He asked warily. “I won’t waste away and perish from a little less dried seafood.”
Jimin flushed almost imperceptibly in the soft lighting of the cabin. “I’ve been giving you some of my food. I know you’re used to having more.”
“Stop it. You’re skin and bones. It’s disgusting.” Yoongi snapped, turning back to his maps to hide the mixture of emotions he felt sure were written clearly in the lines of his face. He never was one for concealing his feelings. He couldn’t figure Jimin out and it bothered him.
“Why take me with you?” He burst out finally, spinning in his chair and catching Jimin by surprise for the second time that evening. “Why not just take the maps? It seems to me like a lot more hassle and danger for you.”
“We don’t know much about this particular strip of the coast.” Jimin waved his hand vaguely at the map currently hanging on the wall over Yoongi’s bunk. “It’s beneficial to have a guide.” The way his words spilled out sounded rehearsed and Yoongi narrowed his eyes, wondering how every time he asked a question, he wound up with more.
“And what makes you think I’ll help you?” He said, watching Jimin’s eyes for the moment the jovial facade would snap. “I could just as easily lead you astray.”
Much to Yoongi’s surprise, Jimin just smiled.
“You see Kim Yoongi-ssi,” he said. “You are a smart man. You’re playing dumb right now, but no one unintelligent could have made these maps. And because you’re very smart I trust that you understand the situation you’re in. Help us and you will be treated better than most of the crew, hinder us and you’re of no use and will be swimming with the fishes faster than you can say ‘Taejo’s nipples’.”
“Taejo’s what?” Yoongi asked in amusement. Unconventional explanations aside, he thought a few things finally made sense. Jimin was no pirate gone soft giving Yoongi half his own food, he was only looking out for his own interests. It was, in a sense, bribery. And bribery was something that Yoongi was familiar with.
“Do you see my point?” Jimin asked, an edge of steel entering his voice for the first time.
“Yes.” Yoongi replied. I see my lack of choices.
“So will you help us or not?”
“I will.” Yoongi said. Jimin had been right. For all his very vocal disdain of the world of politics and academia, Yoongi was a smart man and he could see no other way out of his current predicament. He would just have to find a way to go home later on, preferably with both feet on dry land.
“That’s what I like to hear.” Jimin said, edges of his lips curving up in a remarkably calculating smile. Yoongi couldn’t help but think that Jimin was the biggest enigma he had ever encountered and had to fight his natural puzzle solving instinct. It wouldn’t do to develop any sort of interest in a pirate, no matter how young or vulnerable he looked.
“We’ll get along just fine...hyung.” Jimin said, throwing formality to the wind with a cheeky wink before slipping out of the room and closing the door, leaving Yoongi alone with a half finished drawing of a ship and a mind buzzing with questions.
The first time Yoongi ventured up on deck since he had been brought aboard was in the middle of the night. Everything was quiet, with most of the pirates below, fast asleep in their bunks. Yoongi knew that there was always someone at the wheel, even through the night, so he avoided the helm, choosing instead to approach the bow, where he perceived a solitary figure, leaning out over the railing.
Yoongi froze, feeling almost intrusive for having caught the young pirate in such a private setting, but eventually he approached slowly, curiosity getting the best of him. The moon lighting a strip along the water as if it were their very own path of moonlight to follow and the fact that they were the only two souls awake on a sleeping ship gave Yoongi the boldness he needed to lean against the bow next to Jimin.
The other boy made no move to acknowledge him, but Yoongi knew that he was aware of his presence. Sometimes he felt as though Jimin resembled a cat in the way that he was so alert and always approached on silent feet. He caught himself wondering if Jimin also enjoyed napping in the sun, perhaps perched in the crow’s nest and looking out to sea while sunlight turned his hair to black silk and illuminated the gold of his skin.
“We’re going to need to look at those maps soon.” Jimin said softly, without taking his eyes off the ocean. “Probably tomorrow or the day after.”
“I’ll give them to you and you can relay what you learn to the captain, but I don’t want anyone else touching them.” Yoongi replied, not sure where the words were coming from. Something about the way Jimin treated him, made him feel certain that he would afford the same care to the maps.
“Why?” Jimin finally turned his head to look at Yoongi.
Because you know how to be gentle. Yoongi thought to himself.
“You didn’t drop me into the ocean.” He said aloud and turned his face away. Even so, he thought he almost felt Jimin smile.
“Yoongi-ssi I have a question about this part here.” Jimin burst into Yoongi’s cabin, map in hand. “It looks like there should be a village there.”
He placed the map down on the desk so that Yoongi could look at the area he was indicating and Yoongi felt himself go cold when he saw where Jimin’s finger was pointing. From what he’d been able to glean in candlelit perusings of the papers given to him by Kim Seokjin, Yoongi knew that the blank spot was where the village of Balgeungang - his birthplace - had stood.
“It does doesn’t it?” He said lightly, managing to keep his inner turmoil out of his voice.
“I mean it looks like you left it blank on purpose.” Jimin continued suspiciously.
“I can’t draw a village where there is none, can I?” Yoongi snapped.
“So there really isn’t one?” Jimin sounded almost disappointed but Yoongi couldn’t be bothered to ask why. He was too shaken.
“You know, it’s interesting.” He said slowly. “A lot of people have seen those maps but no one has ever asked me about that spot.”
Yoongi saw clearly what Jimin meant when he asked if the spot had been left intentionally blank, but no one else had noticed the same gap in the pattern of villages along the shore, to the point where Yoongi had asked himself if he were crazy or if he was the only person who was in the dark about what had happened. On an old, outdated map he'd seen once, the spot had been oddly coloured as though someone had attempted to erase whatever had existed there.
“Stop talking in circles.” Jimin said petulantly.
Yoongi took a deep breath, unsure what finally made him do it, what about Jimin’s slight pout and questioning eyes made him decide to divulge even a small part of the secret he carried around with him every day.
“There used to be a village there, but it doesn’t exist anymore.” He said finally.
“What do you mean it doesn’t exist anymore?” Jimin said uncertainly, peering at the paper he still held as though it might hold the answers.
“Exactly what I said.” Yoongi said shortly. “Come on Jimin-ssi, you may not be educated but you can’t really be that stupid.” He took momentary vindictive pleasure in the look of hurt that flashed across Jimin’s features. “It existed, people lived there, children were born there. And now it doesn’t.”
“Oh.” Jimin said, a lot of unspoken words seeming to exist inside one very simple one. Then, “will you take me there?”
“What?” Yoongi looked up sharply. Jimin hadn’t moved but there was a flush high on his cheeks and a glint of something Yoongi could almost call excitement in his eyes. “Why should I?”
“I-” Jimin began before pulling his lower lip in between his teeth. “Nevermind.” He said and Yoongi had to restrain himself from pressing further. He didn’t think he really wanted to know.
Mercifully there hadn’t been much argument when Jimin had insisted to be the one that read and relayed the maps. The navigator, a man named Song, had given him a sharp look and had gruffly demanded that he ‘lead him straight’ but the most resistance had come from the Captain, Jimin’s father.
“And how am I supposed to trust this boy?” He’d asked in that terrifyingly level way he had of speaking. “What if he doesn’t want anyone to look at the maps because there’s something wrong with them?”
Jimin had thought of the empty space where once there had been a village and had forced a smile onto his face. “They’re beautiful. I promise I’ll guide us safely. Let me do this for the crew.”
His father’s face had softened slightly and he’d nodded. “This is a good way for you to show your leadership.”
Leadership, Jimin thought to himself. He had never heard his father outright express that he would be his successor and he wasn’t sure why his stomach twisted into knots at the thought of it. Wasn’t this what he should want?
“Where are we?” A voice asked quietly and Jimin whirled around to meet Yoongi’s intense gaze. The sun hadn’t yet sunk over the horizon so usually Yoongi would be holed up in his cabin, but Jimin supposed everyone got a little antsy when they spent too much time indoors.
“Not far off the coast.” He replied. “We’ll be there by first light in two days.”
“And then what?” Yoongi asked dully. Jimin frowned. They both knew what was coming.
“And then we put your skills to good use.” He said.
“Raiding poor villages is your idea of good use?” Yoongi asked and Jimin narrowed his eyes, hating the feeling of guilt that the older boy was able to inspire in him. He wasn’t like any other noble that Jimin had encountered. Arguably he was only helping them to save his own skin, but Jimin could sense something deeper beneath the surface, an unmistakable care for others in the way he spoke of the people in the villages and a sense that maybe instead of saving his own skin, he was really out to save his maps.
“These villages are anything but poor.” Jimin argued. “They rake in profits from overseas trading.”
“And you would take that away from them while nobles sit behind their walls getting richer and watching the poor get poorer.” Yoongi’s eyes burned into Jimin’s, as intense as the first time he’d seen him and Jimin frowned. The way Yoongi spoke of nobles as though he was separate from them while his own brother had been dripping with expensive jewelry and everything about even the way he carried himself bespoke a gracefulness that couldn’t be taught, rubbed Jimin the wrong way.
“You speak of nobility, and yet you have lived your whole life behind those ‘walls’ never wanting for anything.” Jimin said flatly. Yoongi didn’t reply, something about his expression leading Jimin to believe that he had said something he shouldn’t have.
“It’s a cycle.” Jimin continued, not sure why he was so desperate to prove to Yoongi that Jimin and his crew weren’t the evildoers the other man thought they were. “Pirates and bandits have always leeched off others to live. What makes the lives of villagers worth so much more than ours?”
They stood in silence for a moment. Jimin couldn’t tell from Yoongi’s impassive expression whether he had gotten through to him at all and he didn’t even know why he cared. The man was a hostage, under Jimin’s control, and yet he had a way of making him feel so small just with a glance.
The silence between them deepened, each caught in their own thoughts, and Jimin realized that they were alone on deck. He followed Yoongi’s gaze to the saingeom strapped at his hip and smiled slightly. The older boy’s delicate hands looked soft as though they had only ever held brushes, but never a weapon. Jimin drew the sabre with a slithering rasp of steel on steel and saw alarm bloom in Yoongi’s eyes.
“Do you know what this is?” He asked.
“Sword.” Yoongi answered gruffly, attempting to mask his nervousness.
“Do you know how to use one?” Jimin asked, knowing the answer already.
“Will I have to?” Yoongi asked, reluctance clear in every syllable.
“It won’t do to have our guide die on the first raid.”
“What if that’s my big plan?” Yoongi said, mouth twisting to the side in a mockery of a smile.
“If dying was your aim you could have found a million different ways to get yourself thrown overboard by now.” Jimin pointed out. The other boy didn’t respond.
“Take it.” Jimin said finally, holding the saingeom out. Yoongi reached out after a moment’s pause and curled his fingers around the hilt. He held it ridiculously, barely brushing it with his palm as though it were an instrument of writing rather than bloodshed, and yet Jimin couldn’t help thinking for a moment that it was beautiful, the way Yoongi’s wrist curved to accommodate the weight of the blade.
“Hold it straighter.” Jimin commanded. “Fingers like this.” He said, stepping in to correct Yoongi’s grip on the handle. The cartographer’s fingers were trembling ever so slightly, face curled into an expression of disdain, and yet he modified his grip as per Jimin’s instructions. It was an interesting feeling, to have someone doing as he said with such clear aversion. It made him simultaneously proud and a little disgusted.
“Good.” He said when Yoongi corrected his stance, looking almost natural with a sword in his hand. “You have beautiful form.” Yoongi’s shoulders went up slightly at the praise and a strange mixture of emotions crossed his face. Pride followed quickly by anger and then something else that made his pale cheeks flood slightly with colour.
Jimin crossed the deck to the chest where the crew kept spare weapons and pulled out another saingeom. The balance was off and the blade was less finely wrought, but Jimin knew that it would serve for his purposes. “Here, follow what I do.” He said and began going through the basic motions of practice. He was surprised that despite the other man being a lot slower, and the way his arm began shaking before too long, he was in possession of a surprising amount of grace in his movements.
“It’s like a dance.” Jimin explained. “You have to be light on your fight and move quickly. The second you fail to see your opponent's move before they make it, is the second you stop fighting to win and start fighting to survive.”
Jimin slid in to prove his point, jabbing the point of his blade past Yoongi’s ear. He felt the other boy hitch in his breath at the near miss and his eyes, when they met Jimin’s, were wide and dark, irises almost swallowed by the black of his pupils. He looked remarkably unafraid but the stuttering of his breathing told another story. Jimin realized belatedly how close they were and found his eyes tracing the curve of Yoongi’s lip. He stepped back abruptly, pulse racing under his skin. He wasn’t sure what made this moment different from countless other moments of close contact during swordfighting practice, but his breath was short and he couldn’t seem to get a proper amount of air to his lungs.
“I think you’ve got the basics.” Jimin said quickly and retreated below decks. He only realized later, when he woke up to see his sword lying across the low table in the corner, that he’d left without it and felt his cheeks flush when he realized how childish that must have seemed.
“Snap out of it Park Jimin.” He muttered, rubbing at his warm cheeks. “Just act like it never happened.”
Thankfully, Jimin didn’t see Yoongi for the entirety of the next day, and for once he didn’t go seeking him out in his cabin. Instead, he threw himself into all the ship duties that he’d been abandoning in the days since they’d taken Yoongi captive.
“So the little prince has finally decided to work?” Chanyeol said, a little resentfully when Jimin joined him coiling rope after dinner. The sun had fully set so the deck was illuminated by the warm glow of countless lanterns. Jimin couldn’t help but feel a slight thrill as he did every night before they went ashore. It was a different world at sea and although Jimin loved the rolling waves he always felt a sense of comfort when his feet hit the earthy solidity of the shore. It was a feeling that he would never admit to anyone however, so Jimin tried to keep his jitters to himself.
It was very late, and the crew were all sitting around drinking makgeolli and playing cards when Jimin felt eyes on his back. He excused himself from the group and approached the lower deck. “What are you doing over here, lurking in the shadows?” Jimin asked and he heard a soft laugh in response.
“I didn’t think my presence was required here too.” Yoongi replied, indicating the cheerful group of pirates. The words were bitter but his tone was light; he was just teasing.
Then why are you watching us and looking so lonely? Jimin thought to himself wistfully, but his words when he found them were aggressive. “I hate the way you look at us like we’re so beneath you. We’re not.”
“I never said you were.” Yoongi replied, surprise filling his tone.
“But you don’t really act like other nobles.” Jimin continued. “I think we’re both pretending to be things that we’re not.”
A flicker of something - fear? - entered Yoongi’s eyes before it was gone and his voice, when he spoke, was calm. “How so?” He asked.
“I’m not actually the son of the captain.” Jimin admitted, unsure why he was spilling the secret of his birth to a man he barely knew, a man that was likely only listening to him because he had to, because he was their captive. There was nothing about Yoongi that suggested he cared for Jimin in the slightest, and yet Jimin couldn’t help feeling as though there was something trustworthy about the cartographer, as though maybe of all people, he would understand.
“He found me in the ruins of a village when I was about a year old, and rescued me.”
Yoongi raised his eyebrows slightly, the only sign that whatever he’d been expecting, a birth secret hadn’t been it. “Didn’t you ever wonder about the family you lost?” He asked finally. “Or about the place you were born?”
“Of course I did!” Jimin said defensively. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it, but everyone in the crew is forbidden to tell me about it.”
“That’s the real reason you brought me with you isn’t it?” Yoongi said, crossing his arms. “Not because you couldn’t read the maps but because you were hoping that I’d have some secret information that had been hidden from you.”
Jimin opened his mouth to deny that that was true, but then he remembered seeing Yoongi’s maps all hung up in the cabin on the other ship and wondering if maybe there would be a drawing of the place where he was born. He remembered the disappointment of seeing the blank spot the same as it was in every other outdated map, and the surety that Yoongi would be able to explain what had happened there.
“It sounds selfish when you put it that way.” He said finally instead.
“It’s not selfish it’s human.” Yoongi said in a remarkably gentle voice.
“Thank you.” Jimin said softly. Behind them the raucous laughter and clinking of bottles continued, but it was almost as if Jimin and Yoongi were contained within a bubble, everything else fading away slightly.
“I was a foundling baby as well.” Yoongi said abruptly, almost as though he hadn’t meant to speak the words and they had spilled out of their own volition. “I was raised by Taehyung’s family from when I was three years old. So I get it, that need to know.”
Jimin thought of the beautiful man from the other boat and the way tears had streamed down his cheeks as he begged Jimin not to take his older brother, and the twisted look on Yoongi’s face as he turned his back on his family. There had been pain there, yes, but also curiosity and even - if Jimin wasn’t mistaken - a flash of excitement.
“I thought there was something different about you.” Jimin mused. “I guess I was right.”
“Taehyung has only known me as his older brother since the day he was born so I always felt selfish as well whenever I’d wonder what my mother’s face looked like.” Yoongi said with a sad smile.
“Maybe we’ll find them.” Jimin said. “Our families.”
The look on Yoongi’s face was one of quiet disbelief, but he humoured Jimin. “Maybe we will.” He said.
Yoongi had always been solitary by nature. The kind of man who preferred his own company to that of others. There were exceptions of course, people that he loved and times when he enjoyed conversation, but for the most part Yoongi considered himself a lone wolf. However this tendency towards hermitude did not mean that he didn’t posses the same social and observational skills as others. For his part, Yoongi could tell when someone didn’t like him, and the pretty young pirate he’d often seen with Jimin most certainly didn’t like him.
There was something a little off about the way the other pirate’s lip would curl when he saw Yoongi in Jimin’s presence but Yoongi couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He tried his best to avoid interacting with any members of the crew, but for the most part he found them to be quite friendly, albeit rougher than most people he’d met before. But the boy had something else, a quality of cruelty and entitlement that Yoongi had often seen simmering under the surface of many of the noble boys he’d grown up with. He supposed that people were people whether they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths or not.
“Hey, you.” Yoongi, who had been on his way back to his cabin, stiffened and turned around slowly, digging his nails slightly into his palms so as to prevent himself from getting angry.
“Yes?” He kept his voice as polite as possible.
“I know that you’re probably used to people serving you, but here on the ship we all do our part. The deck needs scrubbing.” The young pirate’s face was drawn and stony but it looked like an expression that was alien to his soft features and Yoongi wondered if he was the only one to see this other side of him. He jerked his head at the deck where a brush and bucket had been laid out. Yoongi wondered if he’d prepared for this moment.
“Jimin told me you’re not a real noble.” The other boy said suddenly, standing over Yoongi as he scrubbed at the deck. “Maybe that’s why you’re so good at this. You were born to serve. Do you serve those other nobles on the boat we took you from?”
Yoongi didn’t answer, driving the hard bristles of the brush harder into the wooden boards of the deck. He knew that the pirate was trying to rile him up and Yoongi would be damned if it was going to work. He had a calm disposition only by virtue of years of cleaning up after his younger and much more impulsive brother. Taehyung was sunny by nature but when angered he was truly a force to be reckoned with and was wont to get himself into sticky situations.
“Are you a eunuch?” The pirate tried again, the same note of mocking clear in his voice.
“No.” Yoongi said flatly, trying to focus every bit of energy on the task at hand so that he wouldn’t succumb to anger.
“I thought all the soft men who served nobles had their manhood cut off.” The other boy said smugly.
“I’m not a servant.” Yoongi said tightly. His knuckles were white with the strain of gripping his brush so tightly. Suddenly he was being lifted into the air by a firm hand tangled in the collar of his shirt. The other boy was thin and willowy but he was considerably taller and he held Yoongi immobile easily as he slid one hand down his chest.
“There’s only one way to find out.” He said, both hands now at Yoongi’s waist and dipping under his clothing.
Without thinking about it, Yoongi’s free hand fumbled for the knife he carried on him at all times and he pressed the blade lightly to the pirate’s wrist, as a warning. A bead of blood welled up and slid down the boy’s arm and, eyes widening in shock, he released Yoongi with a shove, letting him fall, hard, to the deck.
“Lay another hand on me and you’ll lose it.” Yoongi said warningly, tucking the blade back under his clothing. When Taehyung had first given it to him Yoongi had resisted carrying the weapon but now he was thankful for his brother’s foresight.
“Jimin, control your pet.” Another pirate - the one Yoongi had learned was Japanese - said warningly.
“I belong to no one.” Yoongi said firmly, meeting the other man’s eyes. He remembered Namjoon telling him once that a sign of weakness was being unable to hold eye contact, and that people could sense that easily and would make use of the knowledge.
“Chanyeol, stop it.” Jimin said from somewhere behind, but Yoongi refused to turn around. He saw now that his softening towards Jimin had caused the situation he had found himself in. Jimin was his captor not his friend and Yoongi could have kicked himself for forgetting that fact.
Chanyeol gave Yoongi a long, hard look full of something that Yoongi could almost call jealousy before sneering. “Don’t forget where your loyalties lie, Jimin, that’s all I’m saying. Don’t forget who he is either.” He said before turning on his heel and stalking off in the direction of the cabins.
Yoongi felt more than saw Jimin come to stand next to him. He knew that if he looked at the other boy he would forget that the whole humiliating situation was his fault. There was something about Jimin that Yoongi just hated; the gentle way he smiled like he wasn’t a pirate who killed and robbed to survive, the deference with which he treated both Yoongi and the maps like they were something precious, and most of all the way Yoongi had immediately felt safe in his presence from the moment he had told Yoongi to put his arms around his waist and trust him to get them both safely across the gap between the two ships.
There was something about Jimin that Yoongi just couldn’t hate, and it terrified him.
“I’m sorry.” Jimin said softly.
“What did you tell him?” Yoongi said in a low voice, thinking of the way Chanyeol had thrown his knowledge of Yoongi’s birth in his face and clinging to anger like a raft. What right did Jimin have to spread his secrets around?
“I-I don’t-” Jimin stuttered.
“What did you tell him about me?” Yoongi repeated in a low growl.
“Hey you’re bleeding, let me-” Jimin reached out to try and help Yoongi to his feet but Yoongi didn’t allow him the satisfaction; climbing painfully to stand on his own, wincing as he looked down to see that he was indeed bleeding. The force of his fall had torn the soft cotton of his pants and now blood was soaking through the pale fabric.
“Don’t fool yourself into thinking I’m helping you for any reason other than survival.” Yoongi said, forcing iron into his voice, willing the words to come out cold with none of the uncertainty he felt in his heart. “We are not friends Park Jimin and it would serve you well to remember it.”
The ship was by no means a quiet place, with the crew running back and forth and yelling orders, and the rowdy way that the pirates interacted with one another, but Yoongi had never really realized how silent it could be to to an outsider. It wasn’t as though he had ever really fit in on the ship, but he had felt as though Jimin’s continuous presence had brought a kind of familiarity in its constancy, and once that was gone, Yoongi felt the absence.
For the first time since boarding the ship, Yoongi felt homesick, as though the surrealism of the voyage had faded, leaving him with his cold hard reality, which was that of being a captive aboard a pirate ship.
When the call of ‘land ho’ was sounded and passed around the ship from mouth to mouth, Yoongi reluctantly emerged from his cabin to join the rest of the crew at the bow as Joseon emerged from the fog. It wasn’t, however, a side of Joseon that Yoongi was accustomed to seeing. There was no harbour, no familiar city buildings, there were only trees and rocky shores.
“Is it safe to dock here?” Yoongi asked uncertainly, and immediately wished that he hadn’t. His caution was met with only derisive laughter and accusations of cowardice.
As the ship glided through the increasingly shallow water, Jimin approached looking slightly nervous, hands curled around the sheath of his saingeom. “Here.” He said, shoving the weapon into Yoongi’s hands.
“Isn’t this yours?” Yoongi asked, surprised. Even though he knew little about swords, he could tell that this one was beautiful and crafted specially for Jimin’s hands. Using it was smooth and graceful even for someone like him who had next to no experience.
“It’s not a big deal.” Jimin said quickly. “It’s a good sword for a beginner. Don’t worry about me.” He patted the slightly larger, rougher looking blade at his hip.
“Who’s worrying?” Yoongi snapped, but the words had no real bite to them and Jimin just grinned back, the tense air between them clearing as though it had never existed to begin with.
“Get ready. We’ll be going ashore soon.” Jimin said, tossing him a familiar satchel that Yoongi immediately cradled to his body without meaning to. Jimin’s smile widened.
“I thought you might like to have that back.” He said.
Yoongi didn’t say anything, resenting the gratefulness that spread through him at the way Jimin had somehow understood that by giving back the maps he was taking away a little of the helplessness he'd felt.
He had observed that Jimin was often like that, noticing small things that most people didn’t, even giving Yoongi a weapon when surely no one else would have thought to arm the hostage.
Yoongi wondered if he would continue to be dependant on other people or if maybe someday he would find the means to be strong in his own right.
When the ship ran aground with an ominous sounding crunch of wood meeting gravel, a tall, imposing looking man strode across the deck towards where Yoongi and Jimin still stood. Yoongi could tell immediately that this man was the captain and inclined his head in a reluctant show of respect.
“I need a strategy.” He said shortly. “A way to advance without being seen.”
“I’ll need time once we’re ashore.” Yoongi replied, keeping his voice even. He needed to let this man know that he couldn’t be cowed. “Time to orient myself.” He pulled one of the maps from his bag, unrolling it slightly. “When we traveled along the coast we were always coming from the north, moving parallel to the water.”
“Time is something I can’t give you.” The captain, Jimin’s adoptive father, said tightly. “I need any information you might remember about this village and quickly.” He stabbed his finger towards a point on the map, the village furthest from the city.
Yoongi closed his eyes, trying to summon memories of the long trip he’d made the previous summer along the coast, visiting the villages and mapping out the terrain. He forced away images of the smiling faces of the inhabitants and focused instead on the route they’d taken to get there.
“There’s a cliff.” He said finally. “Well not exactly a cliff but it’s a steep climb and the village walls are unguarded on that side. If we come up from the shore on the south side there’s much less chance of being seen too early. Travelers usually use the road and come in from the northeast.”
“Good man.” The captain said, clapping Yoongi on the shoulder.
Dawn was breaking as they were leaving the ships, the first weak rays of sunlight just peaking out over the tops of the trees. Yoongi thought that it was a bizarre time to attack a village but Jimin had explained to him that bandits usually came in the night so villagers had learned to be prepared for that sort of thing. They were always the least prepared when they were just waking up.
“Even if it seems cowardly to attack them right as they leave their beds, at least we allow them the advantage of daylight.” Jimin had said. “Everyone can see what they’re doing and where they’re going. Mass panic can be dangerous for all involved, especially if it’s dark.”
A hush fell over the group as they approached the cliff face and Yoongi thought for a moment that he may have made a gross understatement when he explained the rough terrain as they all stared up at the seemingly impossible task, but then the pirates were tossing around coils of rope and tying themselves in so they made one long chain.
Yoongi had to hold his breath when Jimin fixed the knots in the rope around his middle so that the other boy wouldn’t see how scared he was. But he thought he must have failed when Jimin whispered a quiet ‘don’t worry’ before turning his attention to the cliff and beginning to climb. Yoongi discovered quite quickly that if he kept his eyes on Jimin’s shoulders above him, and replicated exactly where the young pirate put his hands and feet, he didn’t feel quite so much like he was miles above the ground.
When they finally pulled themselves over the lip of the cliff, Yoongi was pleased to see that he wasn’t the only one sweaty and panting. The pirates recovered quickly however, after passing around some tins of water, and with a few grim smiles and terse words exchanged they were ready to breach the village walls.
“Whatever you think of us, you’re here now, in this moment.” Jimin said, as serious as Yoongi had ever seen him. “To the people inside those walls there is no difference between you and us, so draw your sword.”
And Yoongi did, doing his best not to shudder at the slithering sound the steel made as he pulled it free of the sheath.
It was every bit as horrific as he had feared that it would be. The screams filling the air, the clang of weapons meeting, the women and children running in the streets, but Yoongi felt himself almost as a passive observer. He stayed close to Jimin, finding that he remembered much more of the village then he had thought and using his knowledge to guide the younger boy safely, naively hoping that they could avoid as much of the violence as possible.
He knew that the Park Jimin that he had begun to know, all soft smiles and gentleness and the man who raided villages at swordpoint were one and the same, but it was almost as if unless he saw it in action – saw him in action – Yoongi could forget that fact.
Calamity came in the form of a large man holding a weapon that resembled a scythe and bellowing something incomprehensible. He had emerged from a nearby building without any warning and caught Yoongi completely off guard. His own weapon hung uselessly from his hand as the man bore down and Yoongi saw the end of his own life swinging towards him covered in rust and wielded by a giant of a man.
He didn’t see or hear Jimin approach until the pirate was between Yoongi and his attacker, bringing his sword up to meet the man’s weapon in a horrific screech of metal against metal. Yoongi knew that the younger boy was a formidable fighter, having trained with swords since he was old enough to walk, but there was something off about the way he was holding his saingeom as he met their attacker, strike for strike.
Even to Yoongi’s untrained eye he could see that the balance of the blade was harder for Jimin to master. It wasn’t as good as the weapon strapped to Yoongi’s hip and the adversary was larger and stronger.
Yoongi saw the blow coming before Jimin did and cried out, his voice joining the many pitiful screams that already tore through the air. The rusty end of the scythe came down with more force than Jimin’s sword could handle and continued on, biting into the meat of Jimin’s shoulder. The younger boy’s mouth opened in a silent exclamation of pain, his own weapon slipping through fingers suddenly turned to rubber and when the man jerked his weapon back out, bringing with it a spray of blood, Yoongi felt as though the bottom had dropped right out of his stomach.
Jimin was a pirate but he was also thoughtful and patient and had a smile that could light up a room, and despite everything – despite the fact that he had literally kidnapped Yoongi and torn him away from his family, thrusting him into a world of kill or be killed – Yoongi didn’t want him to die.
He tightened his grip on the saingeom, his palm slippery with sweat, and raised the blade. He poured every ounce of his strength and anger into the upward swing as he met the big man’s downward strike head on and felt the shock of impact send tremors through his arm. He could tell by the other man’s smile that he knew Yoongi’s strength wouldn’t last for long and he exerted a bit more pressure, causing pain to shoot up to Yoongi’s shoulder. He gritted his teeth trying to hang on, knowing that if he didn’t it would mean his death.
Suddenly the other man reared back, dropping his weapon, both hands jumping to his throat where something long and black now sprouted. Yoongi realized belatedly, as the other man choked on his own blood, that it was an arrow, and spun around to find the source, gaze finally settling on the slight, Japanese pirate who dropped from a tree and approached them with concern in his eyes and a name on his lips.
“Jimin, is he-?” Yoongi dropped his gaze to where Jimin was now on the ground, though still mostly upright, kneeling in the dirt with his left hand curled around his right shoulder, blood welling up between the fingers.
“I’m fine Hineno.” Jimin gritted out, though Yoongi could see there were tears of pain beaded in his eyelashes and he’d gone white under his tan.
“Like hell you are.” Hineno snapped and despite his thin frame he had Jimin on his back in a heartbeat. “The captain wants everyone back to the boat, come on.” And with little more than a backwards glance at Yoongi, the pirate was off and moving surprisingly quickly even with the added weight.
The atmosphere on the boat was tense despite the success of the endeavor. Yoongi watched quietly as the ship’s doctor examined Jimin’s shoulder and had to tamp down the worry rising in the back of his throat as he noted the lack of medical supplies.
If he was honest with himself, he supposed a small part of it was guilt. Guilt that Jimin had gotten hurt protecting him with a nearly useless sword. He felt a burning gaze and raised his eyes to meet Chanyeol’s. It’s your fault, those eyes seemed to say, and for once Yoongi agreed.
“He’ll be fine.” The doctor said finally to a collective sigh of relief.
Yoongi hovered while the doctor applied stitches to the deep cut, even as most of the crew lost interest and wandered off. He wondered whether it was morbid curiosity or a misplaced sense of responsibility and tried to ignore the way his stomach clenched when Jimin grabbed tightly to his hand, blunt nails scraping Yoongi’s skin.
The younger boy fainted close to the end of the makeshift operation, a combination of the blood loss and the strong liquor that he’d been plied with to dull the pain. The doctor checked his work once more before suggesting to Yoongi that he bring Jimin to his cabin to recover.
Yoongi had noticed a notable shift in the way that the crew treated him after returning from the first raid. It hadn’t been drastic, there was still plenty of disdain and dark glares, but there was also a relaxation, as though he could be trusted not to do anything crazy like try to kill one of them, namely the captain’s son.
Jimin was small but he was compact and well built and Yoongi almost stumbled twice carrying him to the cabin. It was only once he had laid the younger boy down on the bed, that Yoongi realized the cabin he’d brought them to was his own. He stared down at Jimin’s face, smooth and young looking in repose, before crossing the room to curl himself into the chair. He wasn’t sure what he was waiting for, for Jimin to wake up? And then what?
When the pirate finally came to, it was with a groan of pain and Yoongi was immediately alert. Jimin had been mostly delirious since he’d been wounded so Yoongi had no idea what to expect. Would Jimin be angry with him for putting both their lives in danger?
“Hyung.” Jimin said softly, in a voice gravelly with sleep and Yoongi choked on his own air. Except for one time when he was joking around, Jimin had never dropped formalities with Yoongi before. “Why am I here?”
“You fainted so I brought you to lie down.” Yoongi avoided the question. Why had he brought Jimin to his own cabin? He supposed that he had just gotten to used to the younger boy filling up his space with all his stupid questions.
Jimin groaned again and Yoongi found himself on his feet before he could even form the coherent thought to stand. “Does it hurt?” He asked.
“So embarrassing.” Jimin moaned, rubbing his hands over his face.
“Oh.” Yoongi sat back down, feeling silly.
“I can’t believe I fainted.” Jimin swung his legs over the edge of the bunk, wincing as he jostled his shoulder in the process.
“Does it hurt much?” Yoongi repeated uncertainly.
Jimin shook his head, a little woozily and Yoongi belatedly noticed the glazed shine to his eyes. The younger boy was drunk. “Thank you.” He said emphatically.
“For what?” Yoongi felt as though he couldn’t quite meet Jimin’s eyes, as though they were just too bright and too full of something he couldn’t name.
“Saving my life.” Jimin replied softly.
“I didn’t.” Yoongi said harshly. “It wasn’t me who shot that arrow.”
“If it hadn’t been for you we would have both been dead.” Jimin said resolutely and Yoongi heard the slight creak as he got up off the bed and lurched across the room, unsteadily, as though the ship were still moving. Yoongi still couldn’t look up.
“You have blood on your face.” Jimin all but whispered, running his thumb over Yoongi’s cheek and just barely brushing the edge of his lip. Yoongi remembered the shocked look in the big man’s eyes and the way blood had left his mouth in a fine mist, and he shuddered.
“I’m sorry.” Jimin said and then Yoongi did look up. He looked up and immediately regretted it. Jimin’s eyes were impossibly wide and impossibly dark and his cheeks were flushed with alcohol or something else and he looked like he always had – impossibly and terrifyingly beautiful – it was just that Yoongi hadn’t been paying attention. He’d been ignoring the way that Jimin had swung into his life, and turned all of Yoongi’s preconceived notions on their heads.
“What are you sorry for?” He asked, or maybe he just thought it without saying it aloud. His lips felt thick and heavy and there was an anxious stutter in his head that he needed to get out of the stuffy cabin, away from Jimin’s captivating eyes and get some air but his feet seemed glued to the floor.
“This.” Jimin breathed and then he was leaning over and it took every bit of Yoongi’s self control not to curve up to meet him, to meet his lips as they came crashing down to find Yoongi’s own, soft and slightly damp and bringing with them the bitter taste of alcohol and a slight tang of salt.
Jimin sighed slightly against Yoongi’s lips and his own were gentle and full and all Yoongi wanted to do was open his mouth and taste, to open his mouth and drink Jimin in, but he pulled back.
Jimin was breathing hard and his hair had fallen into his eyes. He looked wanton and needy, tugging his bottom lip in between his own teeth, his fingers still lingering on Yoongi’s cheekbone, and it was all too much.
Yoongi had spent his whole life running from the part of himself that yearned after beautiful boys with beautiful smiles and the way he wasn’t allowed to love them. Yoongi had spent his whole life trying not to think about beautiful boys like Park Jimin but every moment he spent in the pirate’s company was like another brick being ripped out of the wall he’d made around his emotions and Yoongi couldn’t take it.
It was like a dam had broken inside him and he’d realized that kissing Jimin was all he wanted to do. He wanted to wind his fingers into the black silk of his hair and bite down on the full globes of his lips but everything was all wrong because Jimin was drunk and not thinking clearly and Yoongi was only kept alive because he was useful.
Yoongi left Jimin behind in his cabin with his hurt eyes and his swallowed apologies and gulped down fresh air on deck. He was a damn fool and he was in love with a pirate.
The room was dark, curtains drawn closed and lamps extinguished. Taehyung had told everyone that he had a migraine and had retired to his bedroom to nurse his aching skull in privacy. He felt a little guilty for the way he’d snapped at the serving girls to get out, it wasn’t like him and he knew they’d discuss his temper resentfully amongst themselves.
A light knock on the door, the third one in the past hour. Taehyung ignored it as he had them all, but this intruder was a little more persistent.
“Taehyung-ah won’t you at least talk to me?” Namjoon’s voice. Taehyung hated the way his stomach immediately jumped with excited nervousness and forced himself to remain still and silent.
“I’m sorry for bringing you back home but you know your parents would never forgive me if both their sons were lost.”
“Don’t say that.” Taehyung said then winced. There went his plan of pretending to be asleep. “Don’t say ‘lost.’ It makes it sound like he’s never coming back.”
A pause then, “Can I come in?”
Taehyung didn’t answer and after a moment the door slid open and Namjoon stepped inside. He was dressed casually so Taehyung knew that he was just coming to see him, not his father. He tried not to let that information affect his emotions, tried to stay angry, but Namjoon was very good at disarming all Taehyung’s defenses.
“I know you’re upset, but it just wouldn’t have made any sense to go into pursuit of a ship full of pirates.” Namjoon said softly, crossing to sit lightly on the edge of Taehyung’s bed. “We have to think about this logically.”
“And logically speaking now that we let him go, he could be anywhere. We may never find him.” Taehyung said, wincing at the stabbing pain through his skull as he struggled to sit up.
“That’s not entirely true. All pirates have patterns and these ones wanted his maps of the coast.” Namjoon replied, absently reaching a hand out to smooth down the hair at Taehyung’s brow. He seemed to always instinctively sense when Taehyung was hurt or upset and to know the right ways to calm him. “What we don’t know,” he continued. “Is why. ”
“What do you mean ‘ why ’?” Taehyung said irritably. Namjoon had an unintentional habit of making him feel stupid whenever he couldn’t follow his friend’s train of thought. It was as if the older boy had all these complicated webs of ideas in his mind and he forgot to share the crucial links, spitting out random bits of information that other people had to piece together like an incomplete puzzle.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t see his face before they all swung back across.” Namjoon said incredulously and Taehyung was reminded again how differently they saw the world, how blinded Taehyung could often be by his own emotions while Namjoon easily took in all the concrete facts that made up a situation.
“He was excited.” Namjoon said. “He was scared too, but I’ve known him long enough to see when something intrigues him.”
“Don’t say that.” Taehyung said. “He wouldn’t be excited to be taken hostage.”
“Maybe not even consciously, but there’s something about that strip of the coast that interests him and I think that’s our key to finding him.”
“You sound ridiculous, do you know that?” Taehyung could feel a familiar panic building within him because how had he missed something so important? He knew better than anyone what awaited Yoongi in that particular part of Joseon, the answers he had always longed for. “Hyung has been kidnapped. It’s as simple as that.”
“I don’t think so.” Namjoon said thoughtfully, hand still absently playing with Taehyung’s hair. “Taehyung, if you know anything, tell me now because I promise you I will help you find your brother but I need all the information I can get.”
“What is there to tell?” Taehyung asked, thinking of Yoongi’s eyes and the way he hadn’t wanted anyone to see the letter he’d been given.
“What did Yoongi go looking for in Yingtian?” Namjoon asked seriously. “Taehyung, I’m not blind.”
“He went to look for Kim Seokjin.” Taehyung said finally, reluctantly.
“The poet?” Namjoon’s tone was surprised and he drew back slightly, returning his hand to his lap to fiddle with his clothing. “Did he find him?”
Taehyung folded his lips together. He couldn’t help feeling as though divulging his foster brother’s secrets was breaking some kind of code. Their whole lives Yoongi had never once told anyone anything that Taehyung had confided in him, but this was Namjoon , their closest childhood friend, and he wanted to help.
“Taehyung-ah we used to tell each other everything.” Namjoon said. “I want to help you find Yoongi hyung. If we do it your father’s way he’ll send out an army to comb through the woods looking for one small band of pirates and we’ll never find them.”
“Hyung was given information on the village of Balgeungang where he was born. I’ve never seen any of the maps or anything, that’s all I know.” Taehyung said finally.
Namjoon looked shocked. “Yoongi was born in Balgeungang?” He said quietly. Taehyung frowned. He didn’t think that a tiny coastal village was so well known and he couldn’t figure out what was so surprising about the revelation to have caused such a reaction in Namjoon.
“You must have known we weren’t related by blood.” He said incredulously. “I thought everyone did.”
“Of course!” Namjoon exclaimed. “But I never thought…well. That’s a good place to start looking.”
“When do we ride out?” Taehyung asked excitedly, swinging his legs out of bed.
“We don’t.” Namjoon replied. “But I have a good friend who can carry a message.”
By the time Yoongi went back to his cabin Jimin was gone, and he breathed a sigh of relief. The brisk wind on deck had cooled his cheeks but he went to sleep with the taste alcohol in the back of his throat the phantom touch of Jimin’s calloused hand on his cheek.
There was a desperate hope in the back of Yoongi’s mind when he woke up, that it had all been a feverish dream, brought on by the threat of near death. That his lonely mind had invented a twisted fantasy out of lust, but the moment he stepped onto the deck his eyes were drawn to Jimin and Yoongi knew that he hadn’t imagined any of it.
Jimin was facing away from him, dressed all in white against the black of his hair. He was holding tightly to a line, shouting something to one of the crew and Yoongi felt as though he was frozen. He had so often seen the younger boy in situations that were so utterly removed from what must be his everyday life, that to see him suddenly in his element was almost shocking.
As though he felt the eyes on his back, Jimin turned suddenly, and almost let the rope he was holding slip through his hands. His eyes widened exponentially and a blush spread across his cheeks, staining them a dusky pink.
“Careful, Jimin!” Chanyeol called out and Jimin dropped his gaze quickly and turned away from Yoongi to focus his attention back on the task at hand.
“Yoongi-ssi?” Yoongi whirled around to meet the captain’s intense stare. “Might I have a word?”
Yoongi inclined his head and followed Jimin’s adoptive father into a large room close to the hold that he supposed must be the captain’s quarters.
“I’m very pleased with your maps Yoongi-ssi.” The man said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Jimin tells me that they’re beautifully done, and your knowledge of the coastal region is certainly impressive.”
“Thank you.” Yoongi said cautiously. If there was one thing he’d learned growing up in Namgyeong it was that people rarely gave out compliments unless they wanted something in return.
“May I ask why you had requested that only my son be allowed to look at them?” The captain asked and his expression was still friendly but Yoongi heard a note of steel enter his voice.
“I don’t know if you know this, but your son is kind.” Yoongi said, taking care to keep his tone light to match that of the other man.
“I suppose you think that with a life like ours, that’s not a particularly important attribute.” The captain said. His smile seemed to be stretched thin across his face, like rubber liable to snap at any moment. “But don’t forget who raised him.”
“Is that why you don’t want him to know anything about his birth family? So that you can lay claim all his best qualities?” Yoongi said quietly. There was something about this man with his painted smile that seemed inherently dishonest to Yoongi and he wanted to see how far he could push him and how quickly he could get him to reveal his true intentions.
“And what would you know about his birth family?” The captain replied, not seeming particularly surprised that Yoongi knew Jimin wasn’t his true son.
“No more than Jimin of course.” Yoongi said quietly, holding the other man’s eyes.
“Of course.” He replied smoothly. “Now, Yoongi, I didn’t bring you in here to talk about my son.”
“And what do you think I’m going to say?” The captain asked, raising one eyebrow at Yoongi’s straightforward answer.
“I haven’t the slightest idea.” Yoongi said, keeping his expression as bland as he could.
“Oh, I think you do. You see, my son, for all his outstanding qualities, does possess one unfortunate flaw. Do you know what that is?”
“I’m sure you’ll tell me.” Yoongi replied. He had the feeling that he and the captain were engaged in a game of sorts, each pretending to miss the point of the other’s words. It was something Yoongi hadn’t often experienced outside of politics.
“Jimin is far too trusting.” The captain said flatly. “He seems to believe that you’ve given us all that you have.”
“And you don’t believe that.”
“No, I don’t. I’ve seen the way that you guard that satchel.”
Yoongi was careful to school his features to give away none of his thoughts, something he had a lot of practice doing, but it proved difficult. The captain was a sharper man than Yoongi had given him credit for.
“I was under the impression that I was entitled to a little privacy.” Yoongi said lightly, doing his best not to show how the captain’s words had struck a chord.
The captain just laughed. “Did you start to believe that you were anything more than a hostage because of the way Jimin treats you?” He asked incredulously. “My son has a regretfully soft heart.”
“I thought you valued his kindness.” Yoongi was pleased to see a flash of annoyance cross the other man’s face at his words, as though things weren’t going quite the way he’d expected.
“Kindness yes, but not weakness.” He snapped. “Privacy is a luxury that we can’t afford right now and I’m afraid that if you don’t hand over that bag we will be forced to take it from you.”
Yoongi took a deep shuddering breath, praying that the captain couldn’t see how much the threat affected him. He was not a man who was physically strong. All he had going for him were his brains and the captain was no idiot.
“What are you so afraid of, Captain?” He said impulsively.
“What?” The other man’s face was a mask of shock before he managed to get his poker face back on.
“You’re afraid that I have information that you’ve been trying to keep from Jimin.” Yoongi continued, needling at the weak spot that he’d uncovered.
“What are you talking about.” The captain’s face was slowly turning red and his eyes were rolling from side to side as though searching for an escape.
“What do you think is in that bag? What don’t you want Jimin to see?” Yoongi was well aware that he was playing a dangerous game, that at any moment the captain could decide that he’d had enough and seize the bag. If that happened there was nothing Yoongi could do about it, but he knew people and he had the captain backed into a corner emotionally.
“You nobles and your mind games.” The captain spat, raising his hand as though he were going to strike, curling his fingers into a fist. Yoongi closed his eyes and waited for the impact, but it never came.
“Abanim, what are you doing?” Jimin’s voice. Yoongi forced himself to ignore the way his heart leapt into his throat at the edge of steel in Jimin’s normally sweet tone.
“Get out, Jimin.” The captain said forcefully, but Jimin met his father’s fire with that of his own.
“No.” He said. “I won’t let you strike him. I promised him safety as long as he complied with our demands.”
The captain’s lip curled but he lowered his fist. Yoongi didn’t drop his gaze from the other man’s eyes.
“Nothing to say?” He goaded. “Why don’t you tell Jimin what you think I’m hiding?”
“What do you mean?” Jimin asked, somewhat uncertainly.
“I suggest you think carefully Yoongi-ssi.” Said the captain, having regained his calm. “Before you run out of options.”
Yoongi let the silence deepen until it was almost deafening, determined that Jimin be the one to break it. He didn’t trust himself to speak.
“Are you hiding something?” Jimin asked finally.
“Your father seems to think so.” Yoongi replied shortly.
“Why do you always do that?” Jimin asked, frustration clear in his voice as he ran a hand through his hair, freeing some of it from his braid.
“Do what?” Yoongi replied distractedly, swallowing hard and trying to look anywhere but at Jimin’s face, the soft ends of hair falling all over his face, his golden skin where it showed atop his clothing.
“Answer questions without really answering.” Jimin said. “Is it some naeuri trick?”
“I guess it must be.”
Jimin narrowed his eyes. “There, you’re doing it again.” He said.
“I’m sorry.” Yoongi said sincerely. He didn’t know why he felt the need to apologize so often with Jimin. It was a new experience for him.
“Why are you so cold with me lately?” Jimin asked, a whining note of petulance entering his voice.
“You’re the one who’s been avoiding so much as looking me in the eyes.” Yoongi replied and immediately wished he hadn’t mentioned anything because Jimin immediately and predictably dropped his gaze and was silent. “You seem to forget quite often that we aren’t equals.” He continued softly.
Jimin looked up immediately, all traces of shyness and embarrassment gone. “Isn’t it kind of twisted to look down on me when you were born just as common?” He said fiercely.
Yoongi immediately felt like an idiot because of course Jimin would take his musings as an attack. “I don’t mean that.” He said hurriedly. “I mean that we aren’t friends. I’m your hostage.”
“Oh.” Jimin’s shoulders drooped slightly. “That.”
“I think of you as my friend though.” Jimin muttered, barely audible.
“Well you shouldn’t.” Yoongi said harshly. “Given the opportunity I’d leave in a heartbeat.” He felt an odd twinge in the region of his stomach at the hurt that slid across Jimin’s face. What right did he have to feel upset?
“You asked my aba-the captain what he didn’t want me to see.” Jimin said and Yoongi didn’t miss the way he corrected himself, as though trying to distance himself as much as possible from the man who had raised him.
“I was bluffing.” Yoongi lied easily.
“You weren’t.” Jimin countered, narrowing his eyes slightly.
“How am I supposed to know that I can trust you?” Yoongi asked suspiciously, and really wouldn’t it be just too cliché of him to fall into a trap because of pretty eyes and a pretty smile and a boy that made him feel special.
“Have I given you a reason not to?” Jimin asked bluntly.
Yoongi sighed heavily. “You were right about the maps.” He said finally.
Jimin’s eyes lit up and Yoongi wondered if he’d made a mistake. “They’re incomplete?” The younger boy asked excitedly.
“No.” Yoongi said slowly. “That village really doesn’t exist anymore but something definitely happened there. Something that a lot of people are working very hard to cover up.”
“And why doesn’t the captain want me to know about it?” Jimin asked quietly. Yoongi could see in his eyes that he was starting to have an idea.
“I have a feeling you were born there.” He said.
“And why do you have such an interest in this whole thing? Why keep everything secret? Isn’t that just what everyone else is doing?”
“Because I was born there too.” Yoongi confessed. “And my whole life people have been trying to keep me from finding out anything about where I was born. There has to be a reason.”
Jimin took the news in stride, nodding to himself as though Yoongi’s words were confirming something within, that he already knew. “And what is in these papers that you won't let anyone else see?”
“Unfortunately not much.” Yoongi said ruefully, remembering his disappointment the first time he had sat down and with shaking fingers unrolled the first of the parchments given to him by Kim Seokjin. “Just a map and some letters. I haven't finished looking through them.”
“Can I see?” Jimin asked eagerly, tangling his fingers in Yoongi’s sleeve almost without realizing that he was doing it.
“Can you read well?” Yoongi asked curiously. He knew that Jimin could easily decipher his maps but compared to the spidery script of the letters, Yoongi’s handwriting seemed blocky and childish.
“Yes.” Jimin muttered in a way that really seemed to suggest the opposite.
“I'll read them to you.” Yoongi offered. “I don't want you getting your dirty fingers all over them; they're at least twenty years old.”
Jimin tried to look indignant but mostly just succeeded in looking relieved. Yoongi thought of the captain and wondered how long he would be safe on the ship with or without Jimin’s protection.
Much as he was aching to get his fingers on an honest to God map of the village he’d been born in, Jimin was almost glad that preparing for the next raid didn't leave him with enough free time to get through very many of the papers.
There was something addictive about sitting in Yoongi’s cabin and listening to the sleepy way he drawled his words and made images leap right off the page and into life. Jimin didn't want to get used to it because he knew there would be a moment when it would be gone and he didn't want to let that break him.
He didn't understand how the slim young man with the intense gaze who he'd been immediately both drawn to and incredibly wary of when he’d first seen him on the pirate ship, had become such an unshakeable presence in his life but Jimin felt as though the other boy was like an itch under his skin that he couldn't reach. He would wake up in the middle of the night twisted in sweaty sheets and feel as though Yoongi’s gaze was heating him from the inside, but he was always alone.
It was a relief when the ship emerged from the fog and ground up once more against the coast. Jimin was one of the first off the boat, pulling in lungfuls of fresh, slightly pine scented air and digging his feet into the soft and pliant earth. Behind him he heard the sounds of the rest of the crew preparing to bring their ship on land. The next couple villages were further inland and the band would be forced to make camp in the woods between raids. It was especially risky this year because they hadn't waited for the full army to move south, but they also had an advantage: the maps.
“Jimin?” Yoongi said questioningly, joining him to stare up into the space where the rocky shore melted into the trees.
“This time we wait for darkness.” Jimin said in answer to the older boy’s silent question and out of the corner of his eye he saw Yoongi nod. He wondered when their thoughts had become so in tune, or whether they'd been that way from the first moment they'd laid eyes on one another; when Jimin had seen a man looking for an escape and Yoongi had seen someone he could trust.
When dusk finally fell, sliding down the trunks of the trees to blanket their camp in darkness, the pirates began preparing. Jimin frowned when he hefted his saingeom and felt a shooting pain go through his injured shoulder. The expression didn't go unnoticed by Chanyeol, who gently pried the weapon from Jimin’s recalcitrant fingers to lay it down, pressing a dagger into his hand instead. The lighter weight didn't trouble Jimin’s arm, but he felt useless and weak and had to blink back tears.
“Don't leave my side.” Yoongi said later, holding onto Jimin’s discarded sword, as they hung back, relegated to the tail end of the group. “My mind is your biggest asset right now so I'm trusting you to protect it.”
Jimin nodded solemnly even as his heart twisted in its cavity. He had a feeling that it was Yoongi’s way of trying to make Jimin feel useful even though with his arm in its current state he was about as threatening as a newborn kitten.
Disaster struck as they were leaving the city center and making for the outskirts of the village. Jimin and Yoongi were at the head of the group, eager to reach the relative safety of the woods as the treeline loomed up ahead dark and inviting.
With terrifying subtlety, dark shapes began detaching themselves from the shadows of the trees and from one second to the next the space was suddenly illuminated by at least a dozen lanterns which glanced off the stony faces of at least twice as many members of the royal guard.
Jimin felt the entire group take a collective breath as the reality of their situation hit them head on. They were caught between a village and an army and all parties involved wanted their heads.
In the end there was no way out but forward. There was a slight imperceptible shift in the atmosphere of the gang of pirates, invisible to an outsider, and then they were surging forwards, blood on their swords, fire on their tongues and somewhere in the chaos, Jimin lost Yoongi only to find him again with shocked recognition written into every line of his body.
Jimin followed his gaze to a young general who looked utterly stricken as he took in the sword hanging from Yoongi’s now limp grasp.
“Hoseok-ah?” Surprise echoed in every syllable and Jimin felt his stomach lurch sickeningly at the familiarity. He knew that this meant more trouble for them but his mind seemed to keep bypassing that fact to hover instead on the affection in Yoongi’s tone.
“Hyung.” The general said, sounding slightly lost. Around him his soldiers seemed to be faltering slightly, looking to their general for some kind of direction.
The captain caught Jimin’s eye, a gleam in his own. “Jimin.” He said urgently. “Your knife.”
“What?” Jimin glanced from his father to Yoongi who was now looking at him with unfathomable eyes, a face wiped blank.
“A hostage Jimin, that's what you said to me when you brought this man on board. Get your knife out now .” There was warning in the captain's tone but Jimin felt as though he'd been rooted to the spot.
Around them the fighting still raged and several of the pirates sported injuries but as soon as there was a knife to Yoongi’s jugular, the man who had called ‘hyung’ with such love and worry in his voice, would put a stop to it. All Jimin had to do was reach out and press the blade of his dagger against the pale column of the cartographer’s throat. He willed his hands to move but Yoongi’s eyes were still burning into his and Jimin was immobilized.
“Jimin.” The captain yelled hoarsely, eyes bugging out of his red face in rage.
Suddenly hands - not Jimin’s - were wrapped around Yoongi’s shoulders, and a knife was pressed lightly to the flesh surrounding Yoongi’s adam’s apple. The initial reaction was minimal - the general’s eyes widening in shock - and Jimin was suddenly terrified that his friend would have to carry through. Chanyeol, sweet, timid Chanyeol who had held Jimin’s hair and stroked his back the first time that a man had met death on the end of Jimin’s saingeom, was holding the blade to Yoongi’s neck with an unfamiliarly grim look on his face.
He wouldn't be able to do it. Jimin thought but Chanyeol pressed down harder and Jimin watched a bead of blood roll down the polished silver. Would he?
“Fall back!” The general yelled and the moment passed. The Joseon soldiers began to retreat and Chanyeol’s grip on Yoongi lessened slightly.
“Let us go peacefully and your man lives.” The captain said in a smooth tone that Jimin called his ‘negotiating voice’. It was the voice he used when he was convincing a Japanese merchant that whatever trinket he'd brought to sell was worth far more than it actually was. “The second you come hunting for us in the dead of night we won't hesitate to kill him.”
The general looked thoughtful. “Surely you've gotten what you want from him.” He said slowly. “I will give you a huge sum of gold for his safe return.”
Jimin watched as the captain pretended to consider it before grinning widely. “But then Janggeun, I'd have nothing to bargain with, would I?”
It wasn’t until they’d been walking for a couple hours that the captain rounded on Jimin, his eyes hard and flinty and his mouth drawn into a sharp line.
“What were you thinking?” He snapped. “You could have cost us our lives.”
“I-” Jimin began before closing his mouth firmly and staring at the ground. If he was going to be hit then so be it but he couldn’t tell the captain that the idea of putting a knife to Yoongi’s throat had made his whole body shiver in revulsion. He couldn’t explain that he had kept seeing a wounded look enter Yoongi’s dark eyes and that the thought of it froze his feet where he stood.
“You’d best be glad for Chanyeol’s quick thinking because if the soldiers didn’t kill you I would have done it myself.” The captain was breathing heavily and his hand was on his sword but Jimin wasn’t scared. He knew that his adoptive father’s rage burned brightest when it was first ignited but he was a kindhearted and reasonable man and he could never kill anyone in cold blood. Even so, Jimin had never before been on the receiving end of the captain’s anger.
“Jimin is injured.” Chanyeol said quickly, stepping in to place a protective arm over Jimin’s shoulders. “He can't use his arm properly.”
This was a slight exaggeration, no doubt born of concern, but it had the desired effect. The captain looked slightly abashed and turned away, as members of the crew began setting up camp. It had always been like that, Jimin and Chanyeol standing up for each other and protecting each other but for some reason Jimin felt cold. He couldn't get the image of Chanyeol’s face when he’d been holding the knife to Yoongi’s neck, out of his mind, and he had to fight himself not to shake off his friend’s arm.
“You weren't going to hurt him.” Jimin said quietly, more of an affirmative statement than a question, as though he were trying to convince himself.
Chanyeol’s eyes widened. “Of course not!” But Jimin saw a strange expression, somewhere between anger and fear, cross his face before he turned it away, and he found himself turning, combing through the group with his eyes looking for Yoongi, and not feeling his stomach settle until he could pick out his familiar face. Yoongi raised one eyebrow and Jimin turned away flushing.
That night Jimin couldn’t sleep. He found himself tossing and turning, events running through his mind of their own accord, each one louder and more obnoxiously invasive than the last.
It was on Kang’s watch, the older man nearly dozing off by the embers of their fire, that Jimin heard a twig snap. He rolled out of his bedding and was just able to make out a lithe figure moving through the trees. A few weeks earlier Jimin felt sure he would have called out to someone but something made him hold his tongue and follow instead.
He didn’t have far to go before he saw the figure join another, unfamiliar one. The darkness was oppressive and Jimin dared not get closer so he hid behind a tree, close enough to make out voices but far enough that his breathing was masked by the natural sounds of the forest at night.
“What are you doing this close to camp, Hoseok?” Yoongi’s voice carried well even though he was speaking in a low tone. It was a long moment before another voice answered him, that of the general as Jimin had expected.
“In fact my being here at all isn’t much of a coincidence.” The man, Hoseok, said quietly.
“I had thought as much.” Yoongi replied. “Did Namjoon send you? Why such a roundabout method? I would have thought they’d want to bring me home.”
“They do.” Hoseok said, sounding agitated.
“I’m not sensing the urgency.” Yoongi drawled and Jimin frowned, remembering the faces of the two men from the boat; one stricken and one filled with rage.
“The deuryon-nim is curious about the intentions of these pirates in particular.” Jimin had to suppress a noise of surprise but Yoongi echoed his sentiments a moment later.
“What intentions?” He said flatly. “They’re just like any other group of marauding bandits. I won’t play inside man for the sake of Namjoon’s paranoia. If there’s a way to go home I’ll take it.”
Given the opportunity I’d leave in a heartbeat, Jimin remembered Yoongi saying to him recently with a peculiar look on his face like he was trying to hurt Jimin on purpose, but here he was saying the same thing, thinking he was alone. Jimin swallowed hard, trying to rid his mouth of the bitter taste.
“In that case, I would offer you some advice.” Hoseok said seriously.
“Speaking on behalf of Namjoon or yourself?” Yoongi asked wryly.
“We have known each other a long time, hyung, and I would not see you injured or killed. Taejo mama is cracking down on bandits in this area. I haven’t arrived with a full company so it would be suicide for us to stage an attack, but if you were to find a way to slip away, we’ll be stationed just north of here until two days from now.”
There was a long pause during which Jimin tried to envision Yoongi’s face. Would he be in paroxysms of joy? Would he have a thoughtful expression as though trying to imagine how he could possibly escape?
“You would go against Namjoon’s wishes?” He said finally.
“Your brother longs for nothing more than your safe return.” Hoseok said in a gentle voice and Jimin was brought back to the ship on the day that he’d taken Yoongi and the tearstained face of the beautiful noble, the way he’d twisted his ringed hands together in distress.
“And what makes you think I’d be able to get away without getting your whole company killed?” Yoongi asked.
“That young pirate seems rather attached to you.” The other man replied, an audible smile in his voice and Jimin reeled back. He realized how it must have looked, him frozen in the middle of a melee, but hearing it from a stranger’s mouth still twisted up his insides in knots.
“He’s soft in the heart not in the head.” Yoongi said shortly and Jimin smiled slightly, without meaning to.
“I’ll be waiting, hyung.” Hoseok said and then there was silence for a few moments. Jimin realized belatedly when he heard the crunch of footsteps that he had to beat Yoongi back to the campsite and he was grateful for his bare feet and experience moving quickly and quietly.
He heard Yoongi arrive, a few moments after he’d returned to his blankets, but he stayed very still, even as he felt the other boy approach. Yoongi stood over Jimin’s still form for a moment before speaking. “I know you’re awake.”
Jimin rolled over slowly, lifting his eyes to meet Yoongi’s and finding them uncommonly warm. “I’m surprised to see you.” He said, wincing at the bitterness in his own tone, but Yoongi just smiled.
“What kind of fool would I be to steal away this close to dawn?” He replied, sitting himself down next to Jimin, so close that Jimin could feel the heat from his body. Every inch of him longed to reach out and touch, but he wouldn’t make that mistake twice.
“You wouldn’t make it far.” He said softly.
“Not alone.” Yoongi said and Jimin had the sudden sense that there was something that he was missing. By all rights they shouldn’t be sitting there so calmly discussing Yoongi’s escape. Jimin should be threatening the other boy. He was, after all, nothing more than a hostage, but it was like sliding uncontrollably downhill, the knowledge that it had been a long time since he’d seen Yoongi as simply a hostage; probably longer than he realized.
“What are you saying?” Jimin asked. He felt breathless, though the short run through the woods shouldn’t have winded someone with his stamina.
“You didn’t raise your sword against me when the captain ordered you to.” Yoongi said instead of answering, in that peculiar way he had of steering the conversation exactly where he wanted it to go.
“You’re right, I didn’t.” Jimin replied.
“Why not?” Yoongi asked and it was like every question that Jimin had refused to acknowledge when they had come up in his own voice except now they hung in the air and couldn’t be unsaid and buried.
“I don’t know.” He whispered, staring at the ground.
“I think I do now.” Yoongi said, and his voice was warmer than Jimin had ever heard it, warmer even than when he had said ‘Hoseok-ah’ so fondly.
“What?” Jimin could hear his heart, a staccato beat in his ears, and he wondered if it was loud enough for Yoongi to hear as well.
“Leave with me, Jimin.” Yoongi said urgently, reaching forward and taking one of Jimin’s hands in between his two larger ones. His palms were smooth, a few callouses just starting to form at the base of his fingers from a few days of handling Jimin’s sword.
“Leave where?” Jimin asked, letting himself entertain the idea for just one rose tinged moment in the safety of predawn.
“To the city. The general and his troops are waiting for me to come to them so they can escort me back home. Come with me.” Yoongi’s voice now held a note of excitement as though it was all settled and everything would be fine, like they weren’t surrounded by men who would die to prevent them leaving, like Jimin would fit anywhere into his shiny, expensive life.
“Why are you telling me this? I could go and rouse the captain right now.” Jimin snapped, tugging his hand back into his own lap.
“But you won’t, will you?” Yoongi asked, burning gaze searing holes in Jimin’s skull.
“It would be so easy.” Jimin muttered, almost to himself. “I must be crazy.”
“Is it crazy to want a better life?” Yoongi asked. “This isn’t what you were born to do.”
Jimin felt the first twinge of anger. What did Yoongi know? What did Yoongi who had grown up wearing silk and always having enough to eat, know?
“And what was I born to do?” Jimin said slowly. “We’re both living in webs of lies. I don’t want to trade mine for another. This is my home and my family, the only one I’ve ever known.”
There was a long pause while Jimin watched some of the life and excitement drain from Yoongi’s face. He seemed like someone coming back down to earth after a particularly vivid daydream.
“Are you going to leave?” Jimin asked finally, timidly.
“Will you stop me if I do?” Yoongi asked.
“It would be selfish of me to.” Jimin said automatically. Somewhere in the weeks spent in Yoongi’s company he had dropped the pretense that he cared at all for Yoongi’s status as a hostage of their crew. The truth was that if it came down to the choice between Yoongi’s safety and happiness, and keeping him with them, Jimin knew what he would choose even if it cost him dearly at the hands of his adoptive father.
“You didn’t answer my question.” Yoongi said seriously. When Jimin didn’t answer he reached out and trapped the younger boy’s face between his hands, forcing him to meet his eyes.
“I don’t know.” Jimin replied, lost in the sensation of Yoongi’s palms bracketing his cheeks and the searching way the other boy’s eyes raked across his face. “What if I asked you to stay?” He blurted out suddenly, regret chasing his words immediately at the look of shock that crossed Yoongi’s face.
“Are you?” He asked and his voice seemed to have dropped, becoming husker with some unnamed emotion. “Asking me to stay?”
Jimin bit his lip. “If I was, would you say yes?” He felt as though they were teetering on the edge of something, but he couldn’t figure out what it was, only that it was terrifying.
“Why should I?” Yoongi breathed, but there was no malice in his words.
“Because I need you.” Jimin said simply. “I feel like having you here is like having a fragment of my past returned to me, and thinking about you leaving is like someone reaching into my chest and tearing out a piece of me that I just got back. A piece I never knew I was missing.”
Yoongi’s eyes widened slightly and he drew his thumbs gently across Jimin’s cheekbones, brushing away tears that Jimin hadn’t even known were there.
“I tried so hard to hate you, Jimin.” He said honestly. “But I couldn’t, not from the first moment when you looked into my eyes and told me to trust you.”
“I promise you that I will return you to your family, but let’s find Balgeungang together first.” Jimin said and Yoongi nodded almost imperceptibly, releasing his face and moving away slightly.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget you Jimin, not entirely.” He said.
“Do you think we knew each other when we were babies?” Jimin wondered aloud.
“I don’t know.” Yoongi looked around as though afraid someone would overhear them.
“I feel as though I’ve known you my whole life.” Jimin said, remembering the first days when he would sneak into Yoongi’s cabin, just to be in his presence where he felt inherently more comfortable than anywhere else.
“Go to sleep, Jimin.” Yoongi said and then he leaned forwards and brushed his lips across the corner of Jimin’s mouth in a barely there kiss, so light Jimin wondered if he’d imagined it. “Tomorrow we’ll go home.”
Then Yoongi was gone, in search of his own bedroll, leaving Jimin with his heart hammering in his chest and home like a steady drumbeat in his head as he lay awake and watched the lightening sky.
The next day was a waiting game. Yoongi felt as though, now that he and Jimin had decided to go to Balgeungang together, all the time that lay between them and nightfall was wasted. His limbs felt loose and jittery. It had gone as an unspoken understanding that they would leave under the cover of darkness, but the captain had been present the entire day, silently watching. Yoongi could feel his eyes boring into the back of his head and had to school his features into a blank expression.
He kept anticipating the moment when the captain would demand that Yoongi hand over the maps and secret papers that he kept in his satchel, but it seemed as though the veiled threat to tell Jimin everything, was working well.
The pirates were antsy, clearly not used to being stationary for so long, but the captain was worried about Hoseok and his small, though well trained, group of soldiers and so he had decided they would stay put for at least a day longer.
Thinking about Hoseok brought with it a significant twinge of guilt for Yoongi. Hoseok’s words kept running through his mind. Your brother wishes for nothing more than your safe return. It would have been easy, if asked, for Yoongi to say it was too dangerous for him to try and slip away. ‘Jimin would never let that happen.’ He could say, but when he was alone with his thoughts, Yoongi knew that it went much deeper than that.
He avoided Jimin’s eyes all day, immersing himself in whatever task that was given to him, even going off a few paces into the woods to paint. However, even that proved to be a fruitless endeavor when Yoongi noticed that the ship that had come to life under his brush wasn't empty. There was a tiny figure leaning across the bow, a figure with black hair that seemed almost to shine even in the drawing…
Finally, as the sun grew tired and descended lazily towards the horizon Yoongi allowed himself a glance towards Jimin where he saw a reflection of his own frenetic energy.
“I'll take the first watch.” Jimin said. He was met with shrugs and nods as the pirates turned to their tents and bedrolls.
Yoongi joined the younger boy near the embers of their fire, taking care to keep his voice a whisper in case anyone remained awake. “When?” He asked simply.
“Soon.” Jimin answered softly. “They're going to think we ran away.” He continued, worried wrinkles spreading across his forehead.
“Or that I kidnapped you.” Yoongi said darkly. “How long will we have?”
“A few hours head start? Probably more while they figure out what's going on.” Jimin replied. “How far away is it?”
Yoongi frowned. “Half a day maybe if we hurry? We should get there by early morning.”
Jimin scrunched up his nose in nervousness. “It will be fine, right?” He asked timidly. “We'll go right back and make something up?”
“Right.” Yoongi said. He tried not to think about what awaited them when the pirates woke up to find them gone. Somehow he had a feeling that Jimin knew just as well as he did the risks that accompanied their endeavor, but he read determination in the crease of Jimin’s forehead and in the set of his mouth.
The map that Seokjin had given Yoongi was relatively easy to follow. A few landmarks were out of date but using the maps that he himself had drawn the previous year, the two were able to cobble together a solid path to follow.
Yoongi couldn't help but feel as though disappointment was lurking on the horizon. On his journey along the coast, they had passed through where he had assumed the village had been and had found no trace of anything at all and as they grew closer and Jimin’s eyes got brighter and brighter with excitement, Yoongi felt dread settling in his stomach like a stone.
When they entered the same clearing that Yoongi remembered, he felt his heart sink even further. The map showed a fairly large village with outer walls made of stone but there was no trace in the soft soil that any of these foundations had ever existed. Yoongi heard Jimin’s soft exhale of disappointment next to him.
“Where is it?” The younger boy said, a slight whine present in his voice.
“I don’t know I-” Yoongi turned to face Jimin and trailed off when he saw the way the young pirate had one hand pressed down on his shoulder and his face was twisted into a grimace of pain. “What happened?”
“The stitches pulled maybe - ah - maybe an hour ago.” Jimin whimpered, and Yoongi felt cold all over as he pulled Jimin’s hand away to see that his shirt was soaked through with blood. The other boy looked far too pale under his golden tan and was swaying slightly on the spot. Yoongi felt fear spike through him like a punch to the gut. If the bleeding didn’t stop Jimin would be in danger but Yoongi was no doctor and the only method he could think of to stop the bleeding was the last thing he wanted to do to Jimin.
A sound from across the clearing had both Yoongi and Jimin looking up sharply, the fog of pain clearing from Jimin’s face in favour of one of hardened focus. “There’s someone there.” He said.
“Where?” Yoongi feigned ignorance. Whoever it was, if they were hiding they were not an immediate threat and Yoongi was more concerned with getting Jimin somewhere where he could look at his shoulder properly and assess their options.
“Just there beyond that thicket. I saw him move.” Jimin raised his uninjured arm to point towards the opposite end of the clearing.
“That could be anything-” Yoongi began but Jimin cut him off with a sharp glance.
“No. I saw a person.” He said firmly. “I’m injured not blind and helpless so if you’re trying to keep me from getting scared you can stop right now.”
“If there is a person there-” Yoongi tried again only to get cut off once more by Jimin’s excited exclamation.
“-what do you propose we do about it?” Yoongi finished wearily.
Jimin didn’t answer but rather took several purposeful steps towards where the person was presumably concealing themselves. “Hello!” He shouted confidently. Yoongi winced. What Jimin had no shortage of was self assuredness, but he wasn’t exactly in peak condition lest the person be hostile and Yoongi was less than proficient with a saingeom. He clenched his sweaty hand tighter around the hilt.
“Yelling at him is really going to make him feel safe Jimin.” He snapped. “Good job.”
Jimin gave Yoongi a very irritated look. “Come on out!” He called. “We’re not going to hurt you.”
The bush rustled slightly as a boy stepped out of it, maybe a couple years younger than Jimin. He was an odd mixture of fresh faced youth and hardened maturity, all smooth cheeks and smooth hair but tall and carrying a wicked looking knife.
“See, he’s just a boy.” Jimin said to Yoongi, eyes fixed on the other young man who was still quite a few paces away from where they stood.
“A boy with a hunting knife the length of my arm.” Yoongi muttered but Jimin ignored him.
“We’re not going to hurt you-” He began.
“He seems more likely to hurt us.” Yoongi interjected but Jimin barreled on as if he hadn’t heard.
“We’re looking for Balgeungang.” He said. Yoongi sucked in a deep, involuntary lungful of air, close to a gasp because here Jimin was spilling words that Yoongi had kept close to his heart and secret for years, as though they meant nothing.
“No one is looking for Balgeungang.” The boy said indifferently, swinging the knife through the air a couple times almost experimentally.
“We are.” Jimin replied calmly.
“No one is looking for Balgeungang.” The boy repeated in a slightly harsher tone and Yoongi understood that rather than saying that no one had come looking for the lost village, the stranger was uttering a threat. And as he met the boy’s challenging gaze, Yoongi felt whatever courage had been lying buried in the recesses of his soul suddenly stand up straight.
Jimin turned to Yoongi with disappointment in his eyes. “He doesn’t-”
“We are.” Yoongi interrupted, not taking his eyes off the boy or his knife which now hung limply at his side. “We know it used to stand here.”
“And I know that there’s a band of pirates three and a half leagues away.” The stranger countered.
“We’re not with-” Jimin began to say, no doubt about to deny their connection with the pirates. A wasted attempt to Yoongi’s mind. If the other boy knew where the group was situated then he had no doubt also seen them coming.
“I can’t promise that they won’t attack your village, wherever that may be, but we can help you if you help us.” Yoongi said.
“Or I could kill you both right now.” The boy said, his voice cracking slightly and showing his age even as his face remained stony. Yoongi’s heart twisted as he was reminded of Taehyung even a few years earlier with his too long limbs and suddenly deep voice.
“That’s a fierce looking knife but it’s still two against one.” Yoongi pointed out.
“His shoulder is useless and you can barely use a sword.” The boy said flatly and Yoongi had to admit that he had a point but he kept his features schooled blank, trying not to show the slight flicker of fear he felt at the way the other boy had assessed their situation accurately even from quite a distance away.
“That’s as it may be, but it’s a gamble nonetheless.” He said in an even tone.
“So is trusting you.”
“I’m not asking you to trust us.” Yoongi said quickly. He could see from the boy’s face that he was starting to waver.
“You’ll help us if we help you?” He said uncertainly. “Promise?” Tacked on like a childish hope.
“Yes.” Yoongi said firmly, keeping his eyes firmly trained on the other boy so that hopefully he could read the sincerity of his expression.
“I swear we will not harm you.” Jimin said softly and that seemed to break the last of the boy’s resolve. Yoongi didn’t blame him. There was something about Jimin that was inherently trustworthy.
The boy narrowed his eyes slightly before turning on his heel and disappearing into the woods, leaving Yoongi and Jimin to hurry after him.
It was clear after roughly half an hour of walking that Jimin was struggling. His forehead was beaded with sweat and his breathing hitched every so often with small pained gasps that he tried to muffle. With every step Yoongi’s heart got heavier and his fingers itched to reach out to Jimin even though there was nothing that he could do.
“Do you have a doctor in your village?” Yoongi asked tightly.
The boy turned slightly and cast an appraising glance over Jimin. “He’s going to bleed out if he’s left unattended.” He said matter of factly.
Yoongi bit down hard on the angry words that threatened to spill free, aware that they were walking in the presence of an armed stranger. “Is there anything your people can do for him?” He said instead, fighting to keep his tone polite.
“The doctor can treat him if you want to wait or I can fix it now.” The boy began tearing a strip of fabric out of his shirt. Yoongi watched Jimin’s face go even whiter.
“N-no.” He stammered. “I’ll be fine as long as it’s not too much longer.”
The boy shrugged and turned back to the narrow dirt path they were following.
The boy’s village was a significantly smaller one than most that they had seen along the coast, with soft earthen walls and humble buildings but the people in the streets looked friendly and the lines on their faces bespoke lives of kindness.
Jimin looked back in concern once the village gates had shut behind them. “How are we going to get back?” He hissed under his breath, and Yoongi felt his heart tighten slightly. His plan to get the boy to trust them had only involved two things; getting Jimin the treatment he needed, and getting them both information, but he could understand Jimin’s worry so he reached out and tangled his fingers with Jimin’s.
“I’ll take care of it.” He said and saw relief cross Jimin’s pained face.
“Jungkook!” A woman shouted and then the boy was being embraced by people that Yoongi guessed were his parents. “Don’t go off like that again. We were so worried it’s been a whole day.”
Yoongi almost recoiled at the look of concern and fear that crossed the older couple’s faces when they saw him and Jimin.
“Who are these people?” The woman asked.
“They’re travelers.” Jungkook replied softly. “Looking for shelter.”
Yoongi didn’t know yet why the boy had lied but he was very grateful for it. He had half expected to be locked up as hostages for when the pirates attacked.
“Your son told us that you had a doctor. My friend is injured…” Yoongi trailed off worriedly, looking at the way that Jimin was swaying on the spot, looking faintly green.
“My husband is the doctor.” Jungkook’s mother said, gesturing to the man next to Jimin who stepped forward, hovering at Jimin’s side.
“His shoulder?” He asked and Yoongi nodded. Without saying anything else, the man stepped in and threw Jimin’s uninjured arm over his shoulders in order to support him as he lead them all to the modest cabin that Yoongi assumed was their home.
Jimin seemed to be barely conscious as Jungkook’s father stripped off the clothing on the upper half of his body, and his head lolled listlessly against the wall he was leaned against. Yoongi felt as though the air had been robbed of his lungs when he saw the mess that was Jimin’s shoulder. Not only had the stitches been pulled, but they had been messy and badly done to begin with and the whole shoulder had a pinkish tinge as though infection were about to or had already set in.
“We need to cauterize it.” Jungkook’s father said grimly, gently patting Jimin’s shoulder with a wet cloth to try and clean away some of the blood. Even with the light touch Jimin cried out involuntarily, features twisting in pain.
“What will that do to his arm?” Yoongi asked, his voice reflecting none of the turbulent emotions he was feeling. Namely among them, guilt. He kept seeing Jimin’s face in the moment he’d gotten wounded, his full lips pursed and eyebrows drawn together in an expression of agony, and he kept thinking about how it had been ultimately his fault.
“It burns the tissue and stops the bleeding.” Jungkook’s father said gently as he continued wiping up Jimin’s cut. Even as he cleaned, more blood welled up around his fingers and Yoongi felt as though it was an important decision that required more time than they had to make. A decision that, with Jimin barely conscious, fell onto Yoongi’s less than capable shoulders.
“Will he regain use of his arm?” He asked softly and he saw his answer in the doctor’s slight wince.
“Maybe not in the same way.” He admitted and Yoongi felt suddenly close to tears. His mind was full of Jimin hanging off a rope as though danger weren’t a part of his vocabulary, black hair caught up in the wind and glowing in the sun, Jimin lunging forwards, saingeom in hand with more grace than most dancers Yoongi had seen in court, Jimin strong and healthy, Jimin looking at him and smiling so wide that his eyes crinkled up.
“But if I don’t cauterize it, he’ll either lose the arm completely or he’ll die.” Jungkook’s father said in a gentle voice, as though he sensed Yoongi’s inner turmoil, and finally, Yoongi nodded slightly.
He waited outside with Jungkook during the procedure. The younger boy had looked slightly disgruntled at being banned from the room but he quickly immersed himself in a book to Yoongi’s surprise.
“Did your parents teach you to read?” He asked and was met with a terse nod.
“Can many other people in your village read?”
A shake of the head.
Yoongi fought the urge to scream in frustration at the younger boy’s unresponsiveness. He wasn’t good at making people feel comfortable. It wasn’t him that people immediately took to like a duck in water; it was Taehyung, it was Jimin. Yoongi alone didn’t have the ability to charm others.
“Why were you in the clearing where Balgeungang used to be?” Yoongi asked, only to have Jungkook turn dark, unreadable eyes on him. “If I tell you why we were there will you tell me?” He asked. The other boy remained silent once again but there was a spark of something - curiosity? - in his eyes that spurred Yoongi to continue talking.
“My friend Jimin and I were looking for Balgeungang because we were born there.” Yoongi confessed. “We’ve had very different lives but somehow we found each other. All my life I’ve wanted to go home, even though there is no home to return to.”
Jungkook was looking at him in shock, book dropped into his lap and forgotten. “You’re the lost children.” He said softly.
“Lost children?” Yoongi asked in confusion. He remembered the poet Kim Seokjin mentioning other children as well but his whole life Yoongi had never known of any other foundling children in the city where he was raised.
“When Balgeungang was destroyed, there were countless parentless babies.” Jungkook began, the most words that Yoongi had heard him string together all day. “The officials took some and the pirates took some as well. I was lucky that my parents found me when they did.”
The door opened suddenly and Jungkook’s mother stepped out. “It went well, your friend is asleep.” She said with a tired smile.
Yoongi’s heart leapt into his throat at the news and he got up, bowing from the waist to the woman. “Thank you.” He said, embarrassed to find his voice thick with tears.
“You can come inside.” The older woman replied.
“That boy is a pirate isn’t he.” Jungkook’s father said, when they stepped inside the house. Jimin was lying on the bed, still shirtless, with his shoulder tightly bandaged. His face looked peaceful in repose and much younger, the softness of his cheeks and lips very evident.
“He is.” Yoongi said, as calmly as he could, deciding that honesty was the best course of action. There was no hostility in Jungkook’s or his parents’ faces, simply understanding as they nodded.
“He’s one of the lost children.” Jungkook piped up and his mother looked to Yoongi in shock.
“The poor thing.” She said sadly. “He must have taken it hard.”
“Taken what hard?” Yoongi asked slowly, looking from one face to another for what he was clearly missing.
“The news of what happened to Balgeungang.” Jungkook’s mother said as though it was obvious. “Is that not the reason you ran away?”
Yoongi supposed his confusion must have been written across his face as clear as day because Jungkook’s parents exchanged a look between themselves of pity.
“It was pirates that destroyed our village.” Jungkook said finally, breaking the silence. “We don’t know if it’s the same ones that are camped nearby but if they had a foundling child there’s a good chance.”
“Jimin’s father told him he found him in the ruins.” Yoongi said dumbly, trying to make sense of the situation.
“That’s probably technically true. They just didn’t tell him that they created those ruins.”
Yoongi looked over at Jimin’s sleeping form and fought the urge to reach out and touch the fall of dark hair across his cheekbone. He didn’t know what he would tell Jimin when he woke up; that the man he had known as his father had most likely murdered his true parents? That he’d been raised on lies and secrets?
“It’s a lot to take in, I know.” Jungkook’s father said gruffly. “Why don’t you get some sleep; we’ll move into the other room.”
“The pirates won’t be far behind us.” Yoongi said worriedly. “Why are you being so kind to us?”
“They would be coming whether or not you had run away.” Jungkook’s mother said matter of factly. “We’re well prepared. Get some rest.”
Before he knew it Yoongi was alone in the room fighting a sense of rising panic. We’re well prepared. Jungkook’s mother had said but Yoongi had seen villages under attack before and it was like a wave of never ending violence.
Outside dusk was falling and the setting sun was sending fingers of golden light creeping across Jimin’s face, settling in the highlights of gold in his skin and making him look something close to angelic. Yoongi reached out and let his hand rest on Jimin’s cheek and was surprised to find it burning hot under his palm.
Despite the heat, Jimin shivered slightly so Yoongi pulled the blanket up over his legs, settling it against his bare torso before turning to go. He didn’t think they had too long before the pirates reached the village and he was wide awake.
“Don’t go.” Jimin said, in a voice husky with sleep, curling his small fingers around Yoongi’s wrist. “Please don’t leave me.”
The bed was small but Yoongi managed to wedge himself between Jimin and the wall, pulling the younger boy into the hollow of his body. The heat was almost unbearable, with Jimin no doubt feverish from the surgery, but he kept shivering so Yoongi curled one arm over Jimin’s waist and held him closer.
“I’m not going anywhere.” He murmured.
“What’s going to happen when my abanim-” Jimin’s voice broke slightly and he paused before continuing. “I mean the captain. What’s going to happen when the captain gets here?”
“I’ll tell him that I kidnapped you, that it was all my idea, and then you can go home.”
“What about you?” Jimin’s voice was very small, smaller and more timid than Yoongi had ever heard it, and it made his throat tighten. Jimin wasn’t timid. Jimin was a fighter but here, lying in Yoongi’s arms, he felt so fragile.
“I don’t know.” Yoongi admitted quietly. “I can’t tell the future, but I promise I won’t let anyone, the villagers or the pirates, hurt you.”
Yoongi thought bitterly that it was probably an empty promise, because after all, what could he do to defend Jimin? What could he do besides hold him in this moment and pretend that there was a world for them where they could both be happy and together and safe?
“I’m not going back.” Jimin said firmly, voice gaining a modicum of strength. “I’m going to help defend this village.”
“Against your own crew?” Yoongi asked.
“I wasn’t asleep.” Jimin replied softly, shifting so that his hair brushed against Yoongi’s cheek. “I heard what you were talking about. They’re not my crew; they stole me after burning everything to the ground.”
“But they still raised you.” Yoongi countered.
“Do you ever wonder what might have happened if Balgeungang had survived?” Jimin asked suddenly.
“All the time.” Yoongi answered honestly.
“Lately I’ve been wondering if I would have known you sooner.” Jimin said. There was a rasp in his voice as though he was about to cry. “Loved you sooner.”
Yoongi could feel Jimin’s heart racing against his chest, could feel his shuddering breaths throughout his body and he couldn’t help but feel as though they inhabited a moment suspended in time. When the pirates reached the gates, their world would be turned upside down because deep down Yoongi knew they would both stand with the village, consequences be damned, but for the time being a space existed where two men could talk about love in quiet voices.
“Whenever and however we met, I would have loved you.” He said softly, lips pressed against the shell of Jimin’s ear.
“It should be hard for me to give up the only home I’ve ever known.” Jimin said brokenly and Yoongi knew he was thinking of the man he’d always considered a father, thinking of Hineno and Chanyeol and asking himself how he could stand against them. “But I think somewhere along the road without me noticing it, you became my home.”
“I tried to paint the ship this morning.” Yoongi confessed. “And somehow without my permission, you were in the painting too, standing at the bow with arms outstretched.”
I don’t want to see a world without you in it. He thought to himself.
“If we’re still-” Jimin stopped short of the words he wanted to say, words that Yoongi heard thumping through his own bloodstream. If we’re still alive tomorrow.
“If we’re still in this village tomorrow, will you show me?” Jimin said instead.
“Of course.” Yoongi replied, fingers playing over the smoothness of Jimin’s skin. “Now sleep, sunshine.”
He felt Jimin relax slightly against his body as though the nickname had calmed him. And such a fitting moniker. Yoongi thought. The sun caressed Jimin with lover’s fingers, illuminating him in shades of black and gold, and that was how Yoongi always saw him in his mind’s eye, framed in sunlight.
His Jimin. His Sunshine.
Jimin awoke with a light touch to his arm. He was overcome by a momentary surge of panic when he saw that he was alone, but then he saw that Yoongi was the one who had woken him.
“Is it time?” He mumbled, trying to draw his mind fully out of sleep, even as his tongue stumbled over the words. The world outside the window was still dark and silent.
“Jungkook’s parents are asking for any information we might have that could help. I told them everything I know but it's not much...I know it's not fair to ask-”
“I'm up.” Jimin said shortly, interrupting. His mind was roiling. Outside the walls of the village were the people he'd grown up with called his family, and inside were the last survivors of his home, people who had maybe known his parents, people who had maybe held him when he was a baby, and he knew what his choice was. To prevent as much bloodshed as he could.
“Jimin, is it?” Jungkook’s mother asked gently when Yoongi and Jimin entered the other room. “I'm glad you're awake.”
“They attack at first light.” Jimin said, praying that no one could hear the way his voice shook slightly. “And they always come from the direction of the sun so their opponents are blinded.”
Jimin spoke clearly, telling the couple everything that he thought might be useful but the inside of his mind was just one thought repeating like the relentless pounding of a drum; betrayal, betrayal, betrayal.
The pirates attacked at dawn as Jimin had said. He was ordered to stay inside and rest due to the state of his shoulder and the way he looked liable to drop when standing on his feet for too long. He had been told to stay in the cabin and so there he sat, on the bed, doing nothing but listening as hard as he could for a familiar voice, as tortuous as it was.
When he finally heard one, it wasn’t what he expected.
“Where is he?” He heard Chanyeol scream. His voice sounded raw and agonized and against his better judgement, Jimin crept to the door of the cabin to peek outside.
The other boy was standing still in the middle of the street even as movement surged around him. His sword was held loosely at his side and his eyes were wild, rolling in search of something.
“Jimin!” Chanyeol yelled suddenly as though he thought Jimin might materialize if he screamed loudly enough. The sound ripped through Jimin’s body, bringing involuntary tears to his eyes. It was in that moment, for the first time truly, that he felt the full force of what he knew was his own betrayal.
He began to move forward, but suddenly he felt arms around his waist and he was lifted up and pulled back into the house. Just before his vision was obscured, he thought he saw the point of a sword find a home in Chanyeol’s torso and he had to suppress a yell, breath catching in his throat and choking him.
“Jimin-ah.” Yoongi’s voice in his ear. “Jimin, he’s fine. You have to stay here.”
Yoongi’s arms were curved around Jimin’s chest, caging him against the older boy’s body securely. He could feel Yoongi’s heartbeat against his back, racing in terror alongside his own. He struggled to breathe even as Chanyeol’s voice echoed in his ears and the sight of his friend’s body being pierced by the opponent's sword lingered behind his eyes.
Jimin found himself almost wishing that that day on the ship he had torn his gaze away from Yoongi’s captivating dark eyes and taken his crew back across empty handed. He wished that he had stayed ignorant because it had truly been bliss.
“Love.” Yoongi whispered against the back of his neck. “My love. Stay.”
And Jimin felt his body relax ever so slightly. There was something in the desperation with which the villagers were defending their home that was a little more frenzied than any raid that Jimin had experienced and he could tell that the pirates were completely unprepared for the ferocity that they were met with. He wondered if they even knew that these were the same people they had tried to eradicate all those years earlier.
As much as he wanted to, there was nothing Jimin nor Yoongi could to do help, too caught between, to be of use to either side. Not quite connected to town of their birth in the same way that the villagers were and neither loyal to the pirates who had taken them both from the people they loved.
Instead, they remained in a kind of limbo. Close but removed, Yoongi still cradling Jimin gently against his body as they stood behind the closed door of Jungkook’s family home. They weren’t sure what they were waiting for, but it came in the form of Jungkook’s father stumbling through the doorway, blood on his face, to deliver the news of the pirates’ defeat.
“We have the captain.” He said shortly, a slight flicker of remorse on his face the only sign that he remembered who the captain was to Jimin - who he had been.
“Is he alive?” Jimin asked bleakly, trying to keep his voice steady. He saw no judgement in the eyes of the older man, only pity, but he still felt ashamed for how his heart raced when he thought about the man raised him lying cold and unmoving.
Jungkook’s father deigned not to answer, motioning rather for the two boys to follow him, which they did, through the destruction of the village, skirting fallen pirates and villagers alike, trying to ignore the moans of the wounded and the wails of those who had found their dead.
The house that they arrived at, was the largest and most opulent in appearance. It almost seemed as though the fighting hadn’t quite reached the front gate because the street got terribly quiet as Yoongi, Jimin, and Jungkook’s father drew close. There was a somber feeling in everyone they passed, especially the man who Jimin assumed was the owner of the house: a man so tall and thin he seemed as though he’d just been stretched out, with impressive eyebrows drawn firmly down.
“This is the boy?” He asked sharply making an uncomfortable feeling begin churning in the pit of Jimin’s stomach. He’d learned to rely on his senses to inform him of imminent danger and every alarm bell was going off as he stood pinned by the tall man’s gaze, but Yoongi’s palm, which was resting lightly on the small of his back, slid around slightly to cup his hip firmly. The message was clear. He was not to move until danger had been confirmed.
“Yes, this is the boy the pirates stole.” Jungkook’s father said carefully. Yoongi dug his fingers slightly harder into Jimin’s hip and he understood that it was very important for him not to refer to the captain as ‘abanim.’
“How did he come into your possession?” The man asked and Jimin heard Yoongi exhale sharply at the dehumanizing way the stranger was speaking.
“He was searching for his home. It’s his intel that won us this victory.” Jungkook’s father spoke quietly and quickly as though he was afraid they were on thin ice.
“At what cost does a victory cease to be a victory?” Was the enigmatic reply, but the tall man’s face had relaxed slightly and he motioned them to follow him down the hallway. There was a stench that began to wash over them as they approached the room at the end of the corridor. A smell that Jimin was able to identify as blood and it was all he could do not to recoil, not due to any squeamishness, but rather a fear that he wouldn’t be able to hold his adoptive father accountable for all he had done.
Jimin feared opening the door to a corpse, not out of love for the man who had raised him, but because if it was the case he would never know why he had been stripped of his home and family.
Whether the captain lived or died, he was no longer Jimin’s father and he would mourn him, but his heart rose into his throat at the thought of finally getting the answers about his birthplace and the cause of its destruction. It seemed almost ironic that he and Yoongi had escaped the grasp of the pirates searching for answers, only to find that they’d been just out of reach all along.
However, it seemed luck was on their side, and the captain was awake when they entered the room. He was tied to the bedposts with coarse rope and his movements were feeble, but he was clearly alive.
It became apparent only after stepping into the room that the man Jimin had once called his father, was gravely injured. The feathered heads of the arrows he’d been struck with had been snapped off, leaving only the sharp tips buried in his flesh. The bed sheets were stained with blood and the sound of ragged breathing filled the room. The captain, it seemed, was hanging on by a thread.
“I never meant for this to happen.” Jimin said, almost to himself, hearing the sound of his own voice pitched high and breathy in his ears.
The captain’s eyes, bloodshot and watery, focused suddenly on Jimin’s face and he sucked in a long pained inhale before speaking.
“The moment you stood against us, you abandoned your crew and family.” He said simply but there was no anger in his tone. Jimin flinched regardless, hating himself for expecting tearful repentance. He resisted the urge to ask after Chanyeol. Something in the captain’s gaze suggested that he might not like the answer.
“I have no family.” He said instead. “You made sure of it.”
If his words had hurt the captain his face gave no indication. It remained stony as always.
“Jimin,” He began. “I'm dying-”
“No!” The word was ripped from Jimin’s lips without permission though he wasn't sure what exactly it was that he was negating. The loss of the captain meant the loss of the last person who could have explained the tragedy of Balgeungang, but it also meant the loss of the only family Jimin had ever known.
“I'm dying,” the captain repeated calmly. “So could you pretend you don't hate me for a few minutes and indulge an old man’s rambling?”
“Abanim.” Jimin blurted out against his better judgement. Mercifully the room was empty but for Yoongi and the dying man on the bed. Jimin glanced up into Yoongi’s face looking for disapproval and found only sympathy. He knew that the older boy couldn't touch him in front of other people but Jimin felt the sudden need to be enfolded in Yoongi’s arms.
The captain was frowning. “I don't deserve to hear that word from your lips Jimin.” He said and Jimin knew that it was as close to an apology as he was likely to receive.
“And yet,” the captain continued. “Given the chance I would do it all over again.”
“You raised me.” Jimin said slowly. “You didn't have to do that.”
“No, I didn't have to.” the captain’s hand curled around the bed sheet and he coughed several times, the sound coming out rattling and wet. “I have been…” He trailed off as though what he were about to say was incredibly difficult to articulate.
“I have been so lucky.” He said finally. “To have raised you Jimin. And I know you don't want to hear it but had we not followed the general’s orders all those years ago my crew and I would have been hunted down and killed. It's like I always said to you Jimin. What makes their lives worth so much more than ours?”
Jimin felt Yoongi stiffen slightly next to him and he knew it was because he was hearing words that Jimin had often said, coming out of someone else’s mouth.
“I'm thankful to you for raising me.” Jimin said, hating the way his voice shook, hating how he could be full of disgust for the old pirate dying on the bed, and still want things to return to the way they had been when he was a treasured son. “I'm thankful, but ever since I learned my true heritage it's like there's a wound right here over my heart and I don't know if it will ever heal.”
Yoongi did touch him then, just a hand lightly touching the back of his neck but Jimin felt himself relax slightly nonetheless.
“Come here.” The captain croaked. Jimin felt as though he was a puppet and the captain, despite it all, still had the strings. He shuffled forwards like a child knowing they're about to be scolded.
When he reached the bedside, it took all he had not to recoil. The scent of blood and piss was stronger here along with something else that he could almost identify as rot. The captain was clinging to life with everything he had.
“I'm so angry Jimin.” He said. His teeth were stained red. “I can feel death approaching on black wings and I don't feel ready to go.”
“I'm angry too.” Jimin whispered. “But I don't want you to die.”
“Well there's nothing you can do about it.” The captain said brusquely, sounding for a moment like the man who Jimin had grown up calling ‘abanim’.
Suddenly the captain began coughing. Jimin grabbed his hand reflexively as a fit wracked his body. Blood bubbled up between the man’s lips, frothy where it mingled with his spit. When he regained his composure, the captain struggled to speak, every breath sounding increasingly laboured.
“I'm glad you found your home after all these years of watching you blindly searching.” He managed to gasp out. “I hope I can at least die as your father rather than as the man who kidnapped you.”
“Abanim.” Jimin breathed. He felt as though his lungs were suddenly too small, his breath coming in short huffs. The captain’s grip around Jimin’s hand was loose, his crimson flecked teeth bared in a grimace, face slack, eyes wide and staring. An awareness began to steal over Jimin that he was holding the hand of a dead man.
“Abanim.” He repeated senselessly. “Abanim. Abanim!” His voice rose to a hoarse yell and then suddenly there were hands on his shoulders holding him down and Yoongi was shushing him.
“Jimin.” He said, crouching next to the bed to wrap his arms around Jimin’s chest from behind. “Jimin, he's gone; I'm so sorry.”
Jimin melted into the embrace, disentangling his grip from the captain’s still slack fingers. “He was an evil man.” He said dully. He felt sick at the realization that a part of him - no matter how small - mourned for the captain. It was something shameful and something that could get both him and Yoongi into trouble if it ever got out so Jimin tried to tamp down his tears.
“He did evil things.” Yoongi replied. The distinction was clear in his voice. It's not your fault. None of this is your fault. Jimin heard the words he didn't say.
“You have every right to hate him.” Jimin said. Yoongi’s arms were still around him and Jimin didn't deserve it. He should shake him off, but his selfish body craved the affection.
“So do you.” Yoongi replied quietly, tightening his grip as though he sensed Jimin’s inner turmoil.
“He raised me.” Jimin said and it was everything he struggled to articulate. That as much as he tried he just couldn't hate the captain.
“He raised you. ” Yoongi repeated, the same words sounding completely different in his mouth. “If nothing else he did one good thing.”
When they left the bedroom with news of the pirate captain’s death, both Jungkook’s father and the tall man who Yoongi assumed was the owner of the house looked slightly deflated.
“Did the pirate offer up any insight?” Jungkook’s father asked somewhat hesitantly. Jimin remained silent, staring at his feet so Yoongi answered for both of them. “Nothing you'd find useful.” He replied shortly.
The tall man’s eyes narrowed suspiciously at that, but mercifully he didn't push the matter. Yoongi would guess that if it weren’t for the conditions of extreme duress, the villagers might be a kind and considerate people.
After leaving the house, Yoongi felt as though everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. The streets were calm, almost as if no tragedy had occurred, but Yoongi knew that the injured and dying had merely been brought behind closed doors, giving an illusion of peace.
“Both of you are welcome to stay as long as you like.” Jungkook’s father said somewhat awkwardly. “I must go and attend to the wounded. Surely there are already many waiting outside my home.”
Yoongi felt a pang of guilt when he realized that the doctor of the village had been with him while people waited in great distress.
Almost as though he had sensed Yoongi’s discomfort, Jungkook’s father smiled slightly. “Jungkook and his mother are very capable, but it's best if I joined them to do what I can.” He said. “There's a stream just north of the village if you boys want to wash up while there's still some daylight left.”
Yoongi realized that both he and Jimin had been wearing the same clothes since they had left the pirates and they were covered in muck and dried blood. They looked at each other for a moment and then began laughing. It had been a while since Yoongi had heard Jimin laugh, but he still thought that it was the most beautiful sound that he had ever heard. There was a smear of dust across Jimin’s cheekbone and his clothes were crusted with blood but he was still radiant.
“I’ll take my leave then.” Jungkook’s father said and walked off, back straight, cutting an impressive figure against the late afternoon sky. Yoongi thought of Jungkook with his broad frame and baby face and the way he spoke with his voice pitched lower to sound older and the way his eyes had taken on a sadness beyond his years when he’d spoken of the tragedy that befell Balgeungang. Yoongi thought of a boy caught between two worlds - one of childhood and one of responsibility - as he watched the quiet man who’d raised him walk away and he thought that Jungkook was going to be just fine. And maybe, so would he and Jimin.
Yoongi and Jimin continued straight on the road that lead past the big house and up through a small grove of trees until they were passing through the town gates and into the cool dampness of the woods. There was a path still, just barely indicated in the form of crushed grass blades and bushes that had had part of one side hacked away. Yoongi took Jimin’s hand as soon as they were out of view of the village and felt the younger boy curl his fingers around his thumb.
There was a silence in the seclusion of the forest that was unfamiliar to both, having never had the luxury of being truly alone. Growing up, Yoongi had always craved solitude, but he found that now he would trade it all for one moment spent in Jimin’s company. The silent moments they spent together, palm to palm, not looking at each other nor speaking to one another, those moments were the ones that Yoongi knew he would store away in case of some eventuality where he was no longer permitted to hold Jimin every day.
They reached the stream after half an hour of walking at a gentle pace through the woods. The forest seemed quiet as though it was empty of all life but Yoongi had seen a few small animals scurrying through the underbrush.
“It’s beautiful.” Jimin said in a hushed voice when they reached the edge of the water. The stream itself was really more of a river; wide and deep and crystalline with a slow moving current and overhanging branches thick with blossoms hanging over the water, trailing across the translucent surface.
“I’ve never seen water so clear.” Yoongi said in response, dropping Jimin’s hand to approach the edge and dip his fingers into the estuary. It was icy cold, but the day was warm and the surrounding forest was humid. Yoongi could feel sweat beading on the back of his neck and thought he might relish the sting of the water.
“It feels wrong.” Jimin said and Yoongi turned to see that he hadn’t moved but was standing a few paces back, eyeing the water with a strange look.
“What does?” Yoongi asked, dread slipping into his stomach to sit there heavy and thick. Was Jimin regretting having told Yoongi he loved him? Did he see how unworthy Yoongi was of receiving that love now that they stood here, unstressed and unhurried?
“That we’re here enjoying this beauty while so many people are dead.” Jimin said, cutting off Yoongi’s worried thoughts. He had both hands curled around his elbows and his shoulders slumped in making him look very small, as though he had just folded in on himself.
Yoongi crossed to him in two steps and wrapped his arms around Jimin’s narrow shoulders, cradling the back of his head. Jimin wasn’t crying but he was trembling slightly and Yoongi had to remind himself that no matter how strong Jimin seemed, he had just watched his adoptive father die.
“Mourn for the dead, love, but don’t let them keep you from living.” Yoongi said softly, feeling some of the tension leave Jimin’s body as he leaned his head into the crook of Yoongi’s neck.
The sun began to sink lower in the sky, burning hot into the back of Yoongi’s and Jimin’s heads as they sat on the strand, dipping bare toes into the icy flow. Yoongi thought that the water probably came straight from the mountains, ice melting gradually as it sluiced down.
“We have to start thinking about where we’ll go from here.” Yoongi said. Jimin’s hand, braced against the bank, was so close that Yoongi could have reached out and taken it but he held back. Something bitter had settled in Jimin since the captain had breathed his last and Yoongi was scared that if he broke the tentative balance, the boy he loved would just break.
“Where can we go?” Jimin muttered.
“Back to Namgyeong.” Yoongi said slowly. It was something he’d been turning over in his head since they had left the pirate camp. He knew that Jimin would be initially opposed to the idea, but he couldn’t think of any better way to keep him safer than he would be behind city walls.
“To my family.” He continued. “You will be treated well there I promise.”
“As what? A servant?” Jimin snapped, eyes flashing. Yoongi recoiled slightly. He had anticipated that it would take some time for Jimin to warm up to the idea but he hadn’t imagined such an impassioned response. Although, Yoongi thought, he should have expected it. Jimin hated to be looked down on.
“In title yes,” Yoongi began slowly. “But only so people won’t ask questions. Think of it, Jimin; we could travel together-”
“And what use would I be?” Jimin cut in. His tone was less angry now and more frantic as though he desperately wanted to see himself in this cloud castle Yoongi was building, but just couldn’t do it. “All I know how to do is sail and fight.” He continued. “You have your family and your maps, but what do I have left? Everything has been taken from me.”
Jimin’s fingers were clenched so tightly that his knuckles were white so Yoongi reached out and took one of his fists, unfolding the fingers one by one and threading them with his own. “You have me, sunshine.” He said softly. “I won't leave you behind.”
Jimin pulled his hand away. “Whenever you talk about the city and your life there, I feel as though you already have.”
With the silence seeping into the very fibres of the surrounding woods and the sun sinking rapidly on the horizon, there was nothing left to do but what they had come there for. Yoongi stripped off his bloodstained and filthy clothes - trying not to think about how much worse they would feel once his body was clean - and plunged into the creek. The water was freezing and the initial shock set Yoongi’s teeth on edge but once his body adjusted it was as though a pleasant alertness settled over his body.
He was working out knots in his hair, combing his fingers through it and wincing when they caught on the tangles, when Yoongi realized that Jimin had yet to join him in the water. The younger boy was standing uncertainly on the riverbank, fingers fidgeting nervously with the ties of his clothes as though he wasn’t sure how to undo them.
“Jimin, the water is beautiful.” Yoongi called out. “Swim with me.”
“I’ll wash later.” Jimin said softly.
“The sun is about to set; soon, we won’t have time.” Yoongi replied. He felt as though the distance between them - Yoongi with his feet gripping the slippery rocks of the riverbed and Jimin, clothed and dry, bathed in a halo of evening sun - was representative of the impasse they’d reached and he longed to have Jimin once more in his arms, to have the feel of his soft skin under his fingertips as they shed the dust and blood and grit of the past few days.
“Come on, Jimin, tell me what this is really about.” Yoongi said.
Jimin’s cheeks flushed slightly and he looked away. “I don’t want you to see it.” He said, so softly that Yoongi almost missed it.
Yoongi was utterly bewildered. “See what?” He asked blankly. “We’re both men here, it’s not like I haven’t-”
“Not that. ” Jimin burst out, cheeks stained a deeper red, eyes bright with unshed tears. “My-my scar.”
Yoongi’s mouth dropped open. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He remembered seeing the wound right after it had been cauterized; pink around the edges but growing orangish grey closer to the centre where the blood and pus had been burned. It had been an angry imperfection in the otherwise blemishless gold of Jimin’s skin, but Yoongi had loved it because it had been proof that Jimin was going to recover.
“Jimin-” He began, reassurances hovering on his tongue, but Jimin cut him off with a choked sob.
“It’s so ugly. ” He said viciously, clutching the fabric of his sleeve closer as though he wanted to weld it to his arm.
Yoongi splashed his way to the shore and pulled himself out of the water. He could feel gooseflesh spreading over his skin but he ignored it, sandwiching Jimin’s face between his palms and planting a tiny kiss on the tip of his nose.
“Jimin, you listen to me.” He said, watching the younger boy’s wide, watery eyes for signs of understanding. Jimin nodded dully, but he was clearly still caught in the throes of self loathing. “There is not one inch of you that could ever be ugly.” Yoongi continued. “Ever since the first moment I first saw you, you were glowing. You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I’m not beautiful.” Jimin said stubbornly. “I’m a cripple. I’m useless.”
“You’ve saved my life many times over, believed in me even when I was lost, and trusted me when I didn’t trust myself. I love you Park Jimin: body, mind and soul.” Yoongi slid to his knees, the grass pillowing his descent. He placed his hands on Jimin’s hips, thumbs rubbing in small circles, fingers dipping under the waistband of Jimin’s pants.
“I- what are you d-doing?” Jimin stuttered as Yoongi slowly slid down the fabric so it puddled around Jimin’s ankles.
“Shh, relax.” Yoongi murmured against the taut skin of Jimin’s abdomen. “Let me make you feel good.”
Jimin inhaled sharply as Yoongi nosed down further and drew his tongue up the side of his cock before sucking the quickly hardening length into his mouth. Jimin’s palm, which had come to rest gently on the top of Yoongi’s head, suddenly clenched tightly shut around a handful of Yoongi’s hair and tugged slightly, a sensation which went straight to Yoongi’s own groin.
He made an involuntary sound deep in his own throat, humming around Jimin’s dick and he heard the younger boy whine in response, thrusting shallowly forward. Yoongi pressed his hands firmly against Jimin’s hipbones as a warning and they stilled, though Jimin’s grip on Yoongi’s hair didn’t lessen and he whimpered again, softer.
Yoongi sincerely doubted that Jimin had ever gotten off with anything other than his own fist before and he could feel that the younger boy was close so he sped up the pace, bobbing up and down on Jimin’s cock, pressing the heel of his palm against his own clothed length to try and get some friction.
“H-hyung I-” Jimin was babbling, trying not to move and holding tightly to Yoongi to keep himself grounded. “I love-” His voice choked as Yoongi took him deeper, gagging slightly as he felt the tip of Jimin’s cock hit the back of his throat. The world was quiet, the forest still. The sounds of the water and the small mewling sounds dropped from Jimin’s parted lips were the only sounds in that stillness.
Yoongi’s whole existence in that moment came down to the silk of Jimin’s skin under the pads of his thumbs and the way he melted under Yoongi’s caress. Jimin’s whole body was fevered to the touch, filling Yoongi up with heat until his eyelids against his closed eyes glowed white and he was all painted in shades of red. The salt taste of Jimin lay heavy on his tongue and Yoongi swallowed him whole, feeling the younger boy’s thighs tremble as he cried out with the force of his orgasm.
Jimin’s face, when Yoongi pulled back to look at him, was soft and slack: lips slightly parted, eyelashes beaded with teardrops. “Hyung.” He sobbed brokenly, bending to press his mouth roughly against Yoongi’s. It wasn’t a kiss, not really, more like Jimin was trying to fuse them together through their lips and Yoongi felt tears collecting behind his own eyes because it felt like the worst kind of goodbye.
Afterwards, there was nothing to do but use the last remaining threads of daylight that fell through the trees to wash up. It was, after all, the reason for their being in the idyllic tranquility of the clearing. Yoongi felt as though he was unable to keep his hands off of Jimin, helping him to wash his hair and clean gently around the still-raw wound on his shoulder. And even though the younger boy was fully capable of going through those same motions himself, Jimin let Yoongi help him, submitting to his ministrations with soft touches and softer sighs.
When they were finished, neither of them really wanted to put on their clothes which smelled of smoke and blood, so they laid on the bank, fingers lightly intertwined as the last rays of sun disappeared.
“I wish this moment would never end.” Jimin said quietly.
“Me too.” Yoongi said wondering how it was possible to feel so happy and so sad all at once.
“But it will have to, won’t it?” Jimin sounded like he might be crying again, but Yoongi didn’t want to look.
“Moments always do.” He said instead. He felt Jimin’s hand slip away from his and he could have kicked himself for always saying the wrong thing. It was so easy to be with Jimin that Yoongi sometimes forgot how much confirmation and validation the younger boy needed. He had never been good with people and emotions, but he would be damned if he wasn’t going to try, here and now, for Jimin.
“I’ll never forget you, Jimin.” He said awkwardly.
Jimin sat up suddenly and turned to look at him. His hair was drying slowly and droplets of water rolled down the side of his nose and collected in the dip above his plush lips. “Forget...me?” He said slowly as though he didn’t understand.
Yoongi took a deep breath and took Jimin’s hands in his just as he had a few nights earlier, taking for granted that Jimin wouldn’t pull away, and would by some miracle, allow Yoongi to touch him. “Wherever you end up in the world, just know that I am somewhere out there as well, loving you.”
“Hyung I-” Jimin began but Yoongi barreled on, not wanting to hear the rejection, needing to get the words out before they crushed his lungs.
“And someday, my love, maybe our paths will cross again.”
Yoongi finally chanced a glance upwards to see, with some confusion, that Jimin was smiling. “You’re going to have to stop calling me that before we get to Namgyeong.” He said softly.
“I-what?” Yoongi felt his mouth drop open and thought he must look pretty silly. “Before we get to…”
“Are there dancers in the city, hyung?” Jimin asked quickly. “I’ve always wanted to dance.”
Yoongi thought of how Jimin had looked, sword in hand, bathed in sunlight as he practiced on the deck of the ship. How graceful he’d seemed, almost ethereal, because how could any mere human move so lightly that it was almost like flying? “You’d put all the other dancers to shame.” He said.
“Your family will have to think of me as nothing more than a servant won’t they?” Jimin asked quietly. He sounded very nearly dejected and Yoongi questioned once more whether it was really a good idea to bring Jimin into the snake pit that was the city.
“We don’t have to stay there.” Yoongi asserted quickly. “We can go anywhere we want! Even on a ship if you’d like.”
“I think I might like that.” Jimin said thoughtfully.
“It’s getting cold.” Yoongi said, noting the gooseflesh that had spread across the both of their bodies. “Should we go back?”
“Yes, I suppose we should.” Jimin said. “We can leave tomorrow?” It came out sounding more like a question than a statement and Yoongi nodded. There was a kind of dread settling over his heart even as he looked forward, excitedly, to seeing his family once more.
It seemed like he was of two minds about everything as of late and he wondered which side of himself to listen to. Looking at Jimin’s shining eyes and having the warmth of their hands joined at his side, Yoongi thought that maybe this time - just like when he’d stood at the edge of the ship in the driving rain with his arms around the waist of a beautiful, wild boy - he could take that leap of faith.
There were so many people in the small house that Jungkook and his family occupied, that Yoongi and Jimin were informed - in a tone of apology - that they would have to sleep outside. Jimin caught Yoongi gazing worriedly at his shoulder and had to voice his understanding and assent very vocally before Yoongi’s overprotectiveness caused him to say something he’d regret.
“I’m not in any pain anyways. It won’t do me any harm to sleep on the ground in this warm weather.” Jimin said cheerfully, giving Yoongi’s hand a quick squeeze behind his back.
“I’m glad.” Jungkook’s mother replied with relief. “If you need anything at all, feel free to tell us. We have more than enough food here courtesy of the relatives of the wounded.”
“We’re going to be leaving in the morning, so any provisions you might be able to spare would be welcome.” Yoongi said respectfully.
“So soon!” Jungkook’s mother exclaimed.
“Not soon enough.” Jungkook said snarkily as he passed by with an armful of clean linens to dress wounds with.
Jimin snorted and, glancing sideways at Yoongi, was surprised to see that the older boy was smiling slightly. Jimin was glad to see him softening slightly. He hadn’t missed the way Yoongi looked at Jungkook sometimes as though he was seeing someone else in the soft rounded cheeks and half-grown discomfort that so often inhabited the bodies of boys straddling the barrier between childhood and the harsher world of adults.
“He reminds you of your brother, doesn’t he?” Jimin asked later as he and Yoongi lay safely pillowed in a hammock behind their host’s home.
“Foster brother.” Yoongi corrected quickly, making Jimin smile.
“You don’t have to make that distinction for my benefit, hyung.” He said softly, running his thumb up and down the side of Yoongi’s hand in what he hoped was a comforting way. “I don’t begrudge you your family just because I lost mine.”
Yoongi sighed deeply, turning onto his side to face Jimin. “Then you’re a better person than me Jimin-ah.” He said.
“No!” Jimin said fiercely. “Don’t say that.” He raised his hand to cup Yoongi’s cheek, finding it cool and soft to the touch. He remembered keenly - though for a time he had wished to forget - the last time he had reached out to the older boy so intimately.
This time however, Jimin’s head was clear and so were the emotions that lay between them. He took a deep breath and leaned in to press his lips to Yoongi’s relaxed pout. He felt the other boy’s lips go slack against his for a moment before he kissed back, moving his mouth against Jimin’s and even nipping slightly at his lower lip - just the barest hint of teeth - eliciting a whine from the back of Jimin’s throat.
Yoongi immediately drew back, a soft blush spread over his high cheekbones. “We can’t do this here.” He said. Then, almost to himself he murmured something that sounded suspiciously like “can’t wait to have you all to myself”.
“W-what?” Jimin stammered. He could feel himself blushing both with the implied meaning and the realization of how much he might enjoy being able to be truly alone with just Yoongi and no watching eyes.
“Nothing!” Yoongi’s eyes widened. “W-well not nothing but I- what I meant was that I have my own chambers at home and you could stay there if you wanted to...with me.” Yoongi’s voice broke slightly on ‘chambers’ and he mumbled the last bit as though he didn’t really want Jimin to hear it.
“I’d like that.” Jimin said, biting his lip hard so as not to recoil from embarrassment.
“We should sleep.” Yoongi said abruptly, tearing his gaze from Jimin’s face and turning away. Jimin smiled slightly and nuzzled in closer to Yoongi’s body, tucking his arm over the other boy’s ribs so that they were pressed firmly together. He heard Yoongi sigh softly, so quiet he could have imagined it.
“Goodnight hyung.” He whispered, but Yoongi was already asleep.
The first time Jimin woke up it was with heavy, lazy lashes and he was able to take in a quickly lightening, dewy world between sleepy blinks. Yoongi’s prone form was still breathing deeply next to him, both hands cradling one of Jimin’s own which lay across Yoongi’s chest.
It was this concrete evidence that Jimin’s hazy mind clung to in the first moments of consciousness. He was real and Yoongi’s touch was also real and therefore everything that he had experienced and would continue to experience was also real.
However, as is the way with being roused before dawn, the things that were real slipped into things that were not and before too long Jimin found himself awaking a second time, alone.
There followed a brief moment of panicked surety that this was it - he'd been abandoned - before he was able to perceive voices nearby joined in gentle conversation. One of them was unfamiliar but the other - a warm, slightly mumbly drawl - sent slight shivers down Jimin’s spine.
He dragged his tired and slightly aching body up from the hammock and approached the front of the house where Yoongi stood deep in conversation with a rough looking man with a dirty cloth tied over one eye.
“This is your companion?” The man rasped, giving Jimin a look up and down that was bordering on businesslike. “He looks fit enough. Can he handle a sword?”
Yoongi didn't answer, merely looked at Jimin pointedly. He raised one eyebrow and Jimin understood that by transferring the question to him, Yoongi was showing both to the man and to Jimin himself that he had implicit faith in him. The realization made a warm feeling settle in Jimin’s stomach.
“I can.” He said confidently. “Provide me with a weapon and I'm able.”
“Good.” The man said approvingly. “We leave now.” And with that he turned on his heel and began walking towards a wooden cart that stood at the edge of the road, packed and ready to go.
Yoongi glanced back at the house and then at Jimin. “The man is called Moon. He's offered to take us to Namgyeong if we can provide him with some assurance of protection. I didn't want to say anything in front of him, but your shoulder…” Yoongi trailed off nervously.
“My shoulder is fine.” Jimin said shortly.
“Do you need anything before we go?” Yoongi asked. Jimin shook his head but he could see from the way the older boy kept glancing over his shoulder that he himself was waiting for something, whether consciously or not Jimin didn't know.
“The sooner we leave, the sooner we'll be with your family again.” Jimin said quietly, encouragingly.
“Do you think we'll come back here?” Yoongi asked suddenly. “Does this feel even a little like home to you?”
“I don't think I know what home is supposed to feel like.” Jimin admitted. “And it's never possible to tell what the future holds in store for us, but I hope we do return someday.”
Yoongi seemed to relax slightly upon hearing those words and he reached out to brush his fingers across Jimin’s cheek briefly. “I'll miss holding you.” He said honestly.
Jimin felt his eyes widen in surprise at the openness of the statement and Yoongi immediately dropped his hand, flushing.
“We'll find a way to be together.” Jimin said. “And if we can't then we'll leave. Right?”
“Right.” Said Yoongi but he sounded uncertain.
“Come on boys, the sun is already high in the sky!” Moon yelled from where he stood next to his horse and cart. Jimin noticed that the man heavily favoured his left leg and wondered if he was really in a position to tell him and Yoongi to hurry up when he would most certainly be slowing them down unless he rode in his cart, which Jimin seriously doubted he would.
“Coming.” Jimin called back but when he had gone a few steps he realized that Yoongi hadn’t followed and rather stood still staring at the door of the house. “Hyung.” He said quietly and Yoongi seemed to shake himself out of a trance and moved to follow.
They had just reached the road when someone called out “Wait!”
They all turned to see Jungkook jogging across the grass towards them. He looked for a moment, as though he was genuinely afraid they’d leave if he didn’t reach them fast enough, but once he was next to them, the barriers slammed back into place and he was once more the sullen teen they’d gotten to know.
“What is it?” Jimin asked curiously, but Jungkook wasn’t looking at him.
“My eomanim said to give you this.” He said, thrusting a small bundle at Yoongi. “It’s not much, but it should sustain you for a few days at least.”
“Thank you.” Yoongi said gruffly and the two stood looking at each other for a few moments. Jimin could have screamed. Was it that hard to say “thank you”? Or “I’m glad I met you”?
“Well,” Yoongi said awkwardly. “We should probably get going.”
“Ok.” Jungkook said equally stiffly.
“Goodbye, Jungkook-ah.” Jimin said softly. “I hope we'll see you again soon.”
“Maybe under better circumstances.” Jungkook quipped but he was smiling. Jimin thought that it might be the first time he’d seen such an expression cross the other boy’s normally dour visage and he was pleasantly surprised at the transformation it brought about. He had a slight overbite and his big eyes curved into crescents making him look even younger.
They had already begun their slow trek down the village road, in the direction of the city, and had been walking for almost ten minutes, when they heard a shout behind them for the second time.
“I forgot- I wanted-” Jungkook wheezed, hands on knees as he struggled to catch his breath.
“What is it?” Jimin looked curiously at Yoongi who looked equally nonplussed.
“Yoongi hyungnim.” Jungkook said solemnly, peering up at Yoongi from behind sweat soaked bangs. “Please come back to visit and teach me to draw ships.”
Yoongi looked startled, giving one singular bark of disbelieving laughter before reaching out to ruffle Jungkook’s hair. A move which the younger boy, surprisingly, didn’t combat. “Of course. I promise I’ll come back.” He said. “Thank you of taking such good care of Jimin.”
Jungkook puffed up his chest proudly and Jimin had to struggle not to laugh. “Is that it?” He teased.
“Yeah.” Jungkook said casually, pushing his hair back. “See you around.” And with that he turned on his heel and sauntered back through the trees towards his home.
“He takes after his mother.” Moon said, even their hardened guide unable to keep from cracking a smile at the young boy’s antics.
“Did you live in Balgeungang?” Jimin asked curiously.
“My whole life.” The old man said with hints of pride. “Not that I’ve been broadcasting that fact since the kingdom changed hands.”
“What has that got to do with it?” Yoongi asked.
“Our village had a long history with the royal family.” Moon explained. “We were loyal to Gongmin Mama and his descendants and the usurper knew it.”
“The usurper...you mean Taejo Mama?” Yoongi’s voice now held a note of shock at the disrespectful way Moon was referring to the king, even though there was surely no one to overhear.
Moon spat angrily. “Your parents would be rolling in their graves to hear you give him that title.” He said but then his face softened. “You’re a Min aren’t you? You look just like your father.”
Yoongi’s face tightened slightly and for a moment Jimin thought he might cry, but it passed and his expression smoothed out once more.
“Is that...loyalty...to the original royal line the reason why Balgeungang was wiped out?” Jimin asked quietly. He wasn’t sure he really wanted to know the answer. His whole life his father had preached a life of free spiritedness. They pillaged and stole to survive, never taking more than they needed, never hurting more than they had to. And the whole time, Jimin’s father had been loyal to a conqueror and doing his bidding. Things were clicking into place; the reason why they were never supposed to attack a ship from the royal fleet, all the secrets that had been kept from him.
“What other reason could there be?” Moon replied with a wry smile. “But that’s all in the past now.”
Jimin wanted so say something. The words lingered on his tongue so long that the taste of them seeped into the rest of his mouth, bitter and salty and regretful all at once. He wanted to say that it wasn’t his past but rather his present and future; every experience he now lived was tinged by everything he’d never known that was somehow written into the fabric of his soul. He wanted to talk about grief and family and belonging, but he just didn’t have the right words. Maybe if he’d been raised by scholars or poets he would have felt less lost, but Jimin’s language was mostly expressed through his body and he felt that lately, even that had been robbed of him.
Yoongi reached over and in the shade of the cart that shielded them both from the other man’s view, he tangled their fingers together, giving Jimin’s hand a comforting squeeze. Relief flooded him. If there was just one other person in the world who understood the complex emotions that he felt towards the family he’d never known and the family that now lay in the cold ground, then that was enough for Jimin.
Yoongi’s family residence in Namgyeong was in the center of the city and so Yoongi, afraid of being recognized, kept on the straw hat that Moon had given him long after they had passed through the city gates.
“You just want to keep your skin fair.” Jimin had teased, poking Yoongi’s cheek. “You’re like a rice ball.”
But Jimin had fallen quiet as they moved through the city, his eyes becoming almost impossibly round as he turned this way and that trying to see everything that was going on. Even Yoongi found that he had grown unused to the bustle of city streets.
When they stopped at the entrance to Yoongi’s home, Jimin clutched at Yoongi’s sleeve nervously. “This is where you live?” He squeaked.
“Don’t worry.” Yoongi replied, gently disentangling his fingers from Jimin’s as they approached the gate. A guard was standing on duty and Yoongi had no doubt that that was in part what had frightened Jimin. His face looked very stern and he was decked out in weapons, but that was only to expected at the home of a man as well respected and well reputed as Yoongi’s father.
The guard’s face darkened slightly as Yoongi and Jimin approached, no doubt unsure what two poor travelers were doing so close to the Kim family estate but as Yoongi drew the hat off of his head the man’s eyes widened and he loosened his grip on his sword.
“Deuryon-nim?” He said incredulously.
Yoongi smiled slightly. He remembered the man from sunny afternoons watching Taehyung spar with their father’s guards. “Haeseong, it’s good to see you again.” He said cheerfully. “I’d like to see my father.”
“Of course!” Haeseong exclaimed. “Welcome home.”
Yoongi ignored the curious look that the guard slanted at Jimin as the two of them passed through the gilded gates and resisted the urge to place a possessive hand on his arm. Once through, there were many different similar looking buildings all crowded around a central courtyard.
Jimin looked around in wonder, and Yoongi realized, after catching him slipping off between buildings while not watching where was going, that he would have to keep a close eye on him so he wouldn’t get lost. The estate wasn’t large enough that he could get into any real trouble, but Yoongi didn’t want people to ask Jimin difficult questions that would fluster him.
When they approached the main house, Yoongi sensed Jimin once more hanging back slightly.
“Is it really ok for us to go in?” He said softly and while Yoongi’s first instinct was to laugh - not in condescension but rather in adoration of how magical Jimin seemed to find even the most mundane things in Yoongi’s life - but he tamped it down and gave Jimin a reassuring smile instead.
The inside of the house was a cool respite from the summer heat outdoors and the two boys didn’t encounter many people apart from lower level serving girls and eunuchs who were so busy hurrying to and fro that they had barely a glance to spare for the dusty travelers.
In front of his father’s office, Yoongi stopped a eunuch of slightly higher rank as indicated by the shade of of his robes and inquired as to whether his father was inside or not. The man’s eyes widened with recognition, but he didn’t make any comment on Yoongi’s return.
“The master is inside with your brother.” Was all he said before scurrying off again.
“I think he was a little frightened of you.” Jimin said in surprise. “I wonder if he knows how often you drop your sword.” He added teasingly.
“He wasn’t frightened of me. ” Yoongi replied dismissively. “There are probably rumours that I’m dead. He’ll have hurried off to tell his friends.”
“Dead?” Jimin echoed.
“I wonder how many bets are floating around in this household on the subject.” Yoongi mused. “I’d guess upwards of fifty.”
“Well, you certainly think highly of yourself!” Jimin said with a sly grin.
Yoongi ignored him, though he couldn’t stop the corners of his own mouth from lifting into a smile, and knocked lightly on the door.
A familiar deep voice from within called out “enter” so Yoongi slid open the door and stepped inside, motioning Jimin to follow him.
Yoongi’s father, who was sitting cross legged behind his desk, looked up slowly with an expression of studied disinterest that immediately fell off his face when he saw who was standing nervously in the doorway.
“Yoongi?” He said.
The second the word had left his lips, the figure sitting in front of him whirled around and became recognizable as Taehyung.
His brother was thinner than he remembered and dressed simply without any of the many rings and earrings that usually shifted and clinked together when he moved.
“Hyung.” Taehyung said simply, voice cracking slightly on the word. He was holding himself very still as though he longed to cross the room and embrace Yoongi but wasn’t sure how he’d be received. If he recognized Jimin, he gave no sign.
“I’m back, Taehyung-ah.” Yoongi said softly.
“But Hoseok hyung said…” Taehyung’s large, compelling eyes began to fill slowly with tears. “When he came back alone I thought…” He broke off on a choked sob.
“Don’t cry, little brother, I’m home.” Yoongi said gently. He crossed the room to place his hands bracingly on Taehyung’s shoulders. He knew his father would appreciate neither his son’s tears, nor a display of affection such as an embrace. “I’ve come home.”
“And the boy?” Yoongi’s father spoke up from behind them. “Who is he?”
Yoongi glanced back at where Jimin stood nervously in the doorway. He was rolling his shoulders, a nervous habit he’d developed since being wounded that Yoongi didn’t even think he was conscious of. “A companion of mine.” He said. “Another victim of the pirates.”
“A victim or a deserter?” Yoongi’s father asked, and Yoongi knew that his sharp eyes were taking in Jimin’s apparel and the way he held himself as seeing something other than a helpless former hostage. He glanced at Taehyung who shook his head minutely as if to let Yoongi know that he wouldn’t say anything.
“He helped me to escape, abanim.” Yoongi said firmly.
“And that’s all that matters.” Taehyung said.
Yoongi’s father folded his lips into a thin line, but he nodded once. “Yoongi, you can see to it that the boy is fed and clothed until I decide what is to be done with him.”
“Yes, abanim.” Yoongi said because there really was nothing else he could say.
Once outside the office, Taehyung gave Jimin an enigmatic once over before turning to address Yoongi. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I trust you.” He said softly so they wouldn’t be overheard. “You’ve probably already realized that it would be best for him to at least pose as your servant.”
“I have.” Yoongi confirmed.
Taehyung gave Jimin one more long look before turning back to Yoongi. He was smiling slightly but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Why do I feel like you’re going to leave again?” He said.
Yoongi didn’t know how to answer that. He hadn’t come back to his old life with the intention to leave it but the further he stepped inside the walls of his childhood home, the more he felt as though he would suffocate and he was beginning to think that Taehyung had sensed that even quicker than he himself.
“That’s what I thought.” Taehyung said sadly. “It would be best to leave quickly now. He can serve you and sleep in your chambers, but how can we live when the walls have eyes and ears both?”
“Deuryon-nim, I think you have the wrong idea-” Jimin began but Taehyung cut him off with a sharp glance.
“Don’t think I say this out of any concern for your wellbeing, pirate.” He spat. Yoongi recoiled slightly, having never heard Taehyung speak so sharply to anyone, but Jimin remained stoic and dry eyed. There was something in his expression that almost made Yoongi think of pity.
“It would have been easier for everyone had you never come aboard our ship and I wish every day that it hadn’t been so.” Taehyung continued bitterly before turning and stalking off down the corridor.
“I’m sorry. Taehyung has always been so sweet. He doesn’t have a cruel bone in his body. I don’t know why he treated you that way.” Yoongi said later, when they were lying in bed, his back against Jimin’s chest and the younger boy’s face tucked into his neck.
“Mm. I do.” Jimin replied softly.
“What?” Yoongi thought back to the way Jimin had stood so still in the face of Taehyung’s venomous words.
“I understand why your brother said the things he did.” Jimin said softly. “He loves someone very much doesn’t he? Someone he’s not supposed to love?”
Yoongi didn’t reply. Taehyung’s feelings were something he had never discussed with his brother, but rather something that had always existed between them as an unspoken understanding that Yoongi, as his most trusted confidante, would never speak aloud to anyone.
Jimin seemed to understand his silence and continued. “He’s hurt and he’s lonely and he’s scared both to lose you and to see you as unhappy and alone as he is.”
“I shouldn’t have brought you here, Jimin. I’m sorry.” Yoongi said. He could feel the weight of sadness and worry in the room as though it was crushing them. Taehyung’s words of warning hung over him and seeped into every thought.
“I thought the people here would be happy.” Jimin said thoughtfully. “They have everything they could wish for. But I guess it’s just human nature to find misery.”
“I won’t let you be unhappy.” Yoongi said fiercely and he felt Jimin’s lips curve up into a smile against the nape of his neck.
Yoongi didn’t see much of Taehyung after the first day. His father said that he was busy with various state affairs, and preparing for his wedding, but Yoongi knew that if his brother had tried, he could have found time to spend with him. It was hard for Yoongi to recognize Taehyung at times if he saw him in passing. He wondered if he’d always been in possession of such sad eyes and it was just the distance that had allowed Yoongi to see them properly now.
Conversely to Yoongi’s expectations, Jimin seemed to fit well into the household. The male servants took to him right away, though Yoongi was careful not to let his father catch Jimin practicing in the yard with the guards lest he get suspicious of Jimin’s status as his manservant. The female servants also flocked to his company, giggling and touching his arms and telling him stories, until they spotted Yoongi approaching and dispersed quickly. Jimin seemed to enjoy their company, and Yoongi couldn’t help smiling when he discovered Jimin asleep in the grass with flowers braided into his hair.
“Which of your conquests did this?” He said playfully, lifting the braid in one hand and letting his fingers run over the silky strands.
Jimin jerked awake and sad up abruptly. “My w-what?” He stammered. “Hyung I would never- ”
Yoongi laughed. “Don’t worry, Jimin. I was just teasing you.”
“Oh.” Jimin looked confused for a moment before joining in the laughter. “I think I like it here.” He said softly.
“I like it because you’re here.” Yoongi replied, rewarded by the slight flush that sprang to Jimin’s cheeks. He wound his arms around Jimin’s shoulders and tugged him down into the grass so he was lying with his head pillowed on Yoongi’s chest. “Who do I have to thank for the flowers, hmm?” He said.
“Do you like them?” Jimin asked shyly.
“Of course.” Yoongi sighed. He could feel sleep gathering behind his eyelids, the sun warming his face. “You’re the prettiest boy.” He continued. “My pretty boy.”
Jimin hummed contentedly from where he lay curled up at Yoongi’s side. Yoongi knew that it would be unwise to fall asleep just then, in the daylight where anyone could walk by and see them, but exhaustion from too many late nights spent painting pulled him under.
When they woke up, it was dark and there was no one around, but Yoongi felt a chill sliding down his spine and pulled away from Jimin, shaking the other boy awake. “We need to go.” He said and Jimin nodded, pulling himself to his feet and rubbing his eyes as he followed Yoongi to their rooms. They didn’t encounter anyone on their way, but Yoongi couldn’t shake the sense of discomfort.
It wasn’t until a few days later that he was called into his father’s rooms. The man was sitting behind his desk, a familiar view for Yoongi who thought he’d probably seen little of his father outside of his office.
“Come in, Yoongi.” His father said brusquely and Yoongi stepped inside and padded over to sit in front of the polished desk.
“I’ll get straight to the point.” The older man continued. “Son, you’re not fooling anyone into thinking that boy is your servant.”
Yoongi felt as though the bottom had dropped out of his stomach. Aside from falling asleep together in the grass and a handful of other small slip ups, Yoongi had thought he’d been doing a good job of masquerading Jimin as someone insignificant, but his father’s eyes told another story.
“How am I supposed to force him to serve me after all we’ve been through together?” Yoongi asked, trying to keep his voice steady so his father wouldn’t know how scared he was.
“I’m not asking you to force him to serve you; I’m asking you to be a little less obvious how much he means to you.” His father replied sternly.
“For a period of months our survival depended on each other I-” Yoongi began, not sure what good it would do to try and convince his father that what he and Jimin had was nothing more than an unusually strong friendship, but he subsided when the older man began speaking over him.
“Taehyung will marry next month.” He said flatly. “In time he will father children regardless of his... preferences. ”
Yoongi felt cold hearing it stated so baldly by a man who clearly felt such distaste. It felt as though his father was ripping apart the secret worlds that his sons had built to shield themselves from a world that had no love for who they were.
“My heart aches when I see his unhappiness because I know that somehow this unnaturalness that both you and Taehyung possess must be my fault.” Yoongi’s father continued.
“Abanim, I don’t-”
“Let me finish Yoongi.” His father snapped. “I am sorry for Taehyung, but in time he will learn, if not to love, then to appreciate his wife. It is required of him. Nothing, however, is required of you. Nothing save remaining discreet, which I regret to say, you haven’t been.”
“I’m sorry.” Yoongi said softly. His heart was pounding wildly, mind moving at a mile a minute trying to figure out how best to protect Jimin.
“Namjoon has some of his people looking for the boy’s family.” Yoongi’s father said dismissively. “I think it’s best we put all this behind us.”
“He has no family.” Yoongi said quickly. What would Namjoon be able to find? Jimin’s connections to the pirates? Further? Back as far as his connections to Balgeungang? What could that mean for both of them?
“It would be better if he did.” Yoongi’s father said and Yoongi almost thought he detected a note of regret in his voice. “You may leave, Yoongi.”
A horrible possibility suddenly occurred to Yoongi and he set off through the house towards Taehyung’s room. The door was shut firmly and the sad-looking eunuch that Yoongi remembered as one of Taehyung’s favourites shook his head at Yoongi when he neared the door. “He won’t see anyone.” He whispered but Yoongi steeled himself and knocked anyways, three sharp and quick taps that had always been his and Taehyung’s signal when they were growing up.
“You can come in.” Taehyung called faintly from inside so Yoongi slid the door open and stepped inside. Taehyung was lying on the bed with a cloth draped over his eyes, a posture Yoongi remembered from the rare occasions when his younger brother’s headaches got too bad for him to leave his room. Yoongi had been noticing the closed door more often lately, however.
“You didn’t used to get so many headaches.” He said gently, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
“I’ve been quite sick lately.” Taehyung murmured. “Abanim didn’t tell you? He’s most disappointed that my constitution has begun to fail me right as I’m about to be wed.” He sounded as though he’d meant the words to come out with more force but simply didn’t have the energy.
Yoongi felt suddenly, looking at Taehyung’s prone form, that he should have been more attentive and less absorbed with himself. It was almost as though he’d forgotten how to be a good son and brother after spending so much time away from the familial fold. Wasn’t it true, after all, that he was free compared to Taehyung?
“Once you have a son, you’ll never have to touch her again.” He said quietly, laying his hand on top of Taehyung’s.
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” The younger boy snapped but he didn’t pull his hand away.
“I guess I didn’t really expect it to work.” Yoongi replied ruefully.
“I’m sorry.” Taehyung said, pulling the cloth off his face to squint painfully into Yoongi’s face. His eyes were watery and his lips were pursed into a pout. He looked almost like the baby brother that Yoongi remembered toddling around after him on short legs.
“I wasn’t always this bitter, either.” Taehyung said sadly.
Yoongi raised his land to lay it soothingly across Taehyung’s forehead. “I miss my sunny little brother.” He said.
Taehyung smiled for a moment, with a small fraction of his former brilliance. “You shouldn’t have spoiled me so much when we were growing up.” He said. “It was hard to learn how to take care of myself when you left.”
“I didn’t leave on purpose.” Yoongi said softly, smoothing back the tangled strands of Taehyung’s hair.
“You did a little bit.” Taehyung said, but his tone wasn’t resentful. “And I don’t blame you. It would have been selfish to try and keep you from finding who you truly are and where you came from. I’ve always been a bit selfish, I think, without realizing it.”
“We’re all a little selfish. That’s what makes us human.” Yoongi countered, remembering all the times that he’d felt selfish for even searching when he already a family that loved him. His words were for himself as much as they were for Taehyung.
“Do you love him?” Taehyung asked abruptly.
“I do.” Yoongi replied. Any doubt that he’d had in his mind that Taehyung had had something to do with his father finding out, vanished at the expression on the younger boy’s face. There was pain there, yes, but his eyes were full of something else, something hopeful.
“They’re trying to take him away from you.” Taehyung said. “Don’t let them.”
“I thought somehow it would be easier to protect him here.” Yoongi admitted quietly. “But it’s harder.”
Mostly Jimin was happy. The air was calmer within the enclosed space of Yoongi’s home than it had ever been on the ship. Much less free of course, but for the time being, safety trumped freedom and Jimin tried not to think about what would happen when the slight itch under his skin became excruciating, demanding that he be set free from the cage of the city.
Yes, mostly Jimin was happy except for the melancholia that seemed to hang over even the brightest and giggliest serving girl, seeping into every nook and cranny of the houses, infesting groups of people standing together, and sitting like a weight on Yoongi’s shoulders. He could see that the older boy wasn’t glad to be back in the way that he’d been glad whilst talking about returning. There was a sickness that pervaded and Jimin couldn’t figure out what it was or what to do about it.
Yoongi came back late at night and the scent of the night air and something smokey lingered on his skin when he climbed into the bed next to Jimin, who was already half asleep, but stirred awake at the sensation of Yoongi’s body curving around his.
“You went out in the city.” Jimin breathed.
“Mm.” Was the noncommittal response, mumbled into the fabric of Jimin’s shirt.
“You didn't bring me.” Jimin pouted. He knew that Yoongi had a lot on his mind but he couldn't help but feel a little like a pet, kept inside while there was a whole magical world to be explored.
“We’re leaving tomorrow.” Yoongi replied.
“What?” Jimin freed himself from the other boy’s embrace and sat up, bedclothes twisted around his waist.
“People have been spreading rumours. Either we leave tomorrow morning or we risk being separated.” Yoongi said grimly.
“Rumours?” Jimin echoed dumbly. He thought of each and every friendly face he had come to know over the time that he had spent in the Kim household and wondered which one hid malicious intent.
“I should never have brought you here.” Yoongi said, features twisted with guilt. “We should have taken the first ship out of Joseon and not looked back.”
“How could I keep you from your family?” Jimin said softly, cupping the curve of Yoongi’s cheek with his fingers. “It was my choice to come back with you.”
Yoongi’s eyes were wide and full of fear, giving his whole face a childlike quality that twisted Jimin’s heart, nestling there like some bitter snake whispering that it was his fault. His fault for being so in love, his fault for wanting more than he should, his fault for never wanting to be apart.
“And I don't want to be the reason you have to leave again when you just got them back.” Jimin said, trying to hold back tears, cursing his traitorous fingers for not wanting to release their hold on Yoongi’s face.
“Is it selfish of me to not want to watch them tear themselves apart?” Yoongi asked quietly, raising his hand to rest on top of Jimin’s as if he was scared of the younger boy pulling away. “I realize now that before I left I saw everything with a child’s rose-tinged glasses but I see now that my brother is hurting and there's nothing I can do.”
“You came back once; you can always return again when things have settled.” Jimin said but Yoongi was already shaking his head.
“When I leave, my father will doubtless make up some story to cover it up. The second we step through those gates tomorrow morning, I'm dead to this family.”
“We really are orphans, then.” Jimin said with a humourless smile.
“I think a part of me knew that there was a chance that I would never see my family again when you told me to grab hold of you and swing over.” Yoongi said. “But Taehyung was right. There was a part of me that wanted to.”
“Whether or not it's selfish, I'm glad you did.” Jimin said. Yoongi’s eyes were still lost but there was something else there too, something warm that Jimin knew only he got to see. “If before sunrise, you decide that you want to remain here with your family, then you need only say the word and I’ll leave.” He said, willing his voice to remain steady. He knew that even back before they’d left the pirates he’d been trying to cage Yoongi in a place he’d never belonged, simply because he couldn’t face his life alone; but while he had nothing left, Yoongi had a family and a future and a purpose and there was no way he could bring himself to take that away from him.
“You’re crazy, Park Jimin.” Yoongi whispered. “I go where you go.” He raised his hand to capture Jimin’s and pressed a kiss to his palm. “Because I love you. Here.” Another kiss, this time to the sensitive underside of Jimin’s wrist. “And here.” The crook of his elbow. “And here, and here and here.” The curve of his still healing shoulder, dip between his collarbones, just above his navel...
Jimin sucked in a deep lungful of air. Every part of his body that Yoongi had brushed with his lips felt as though it was burning, like those pieces of his skin were permanently imprinted.
Then Yoongi’s mouth was on his and the truth was that Jimin had never given much thought to how it might feel to be consumed alive by flame, every nerve ending igniting with arousal and need but Yoongi’s tongue and lips and teeth were electrifying and he was drowning.
“Can I?” Jimin managed to get out, breathing the words against Yoongi’s mouth, fingers hovering at the buttons of his shirt. Yoongi nodded wordlessly and Jimin thought there was a real danger of tearing the soft cotton in his haste to get it off but it was worth the trouble when Jimin was able to run his hands down the smooth planes of Yoongi’s body. He was pale against the tanned skin of Jimin’s hands and so incredibly soft and Jimin became fascinated with the little shivery whines he was able to coax from his lips by pinching and rolling the bud of a nipple between his fingers, by kissing and nibbling at the sensitive spot at the base of Yoongi’s jaw, by rolling his hips down to grind gently in Yoongi’s lap.
It was almost a sin, Jimin thought, that in all the time sharing a bed they had never done anything like this. Every time he rocked down against Yoongi increased the heat pooling in his abdomen until Jimin forced himself to slow his movements for fear of coming just from the friction. The problem was that he didn’t know where to go from there. Yoongi was looking up at him with half lidded eyes and parted lips and Jimin remembered with sudden clarity a gold tinged afternoon and the way Yoongi had knelt in front of him with that same heavy stare.
Keeping his gaze trained on Yoongi’s face, Jimin bent to brush his lips over the swollen tip of the other boy’s cock. The strangled gasp he received in return and the way Yoongi tugged his bottom lip in between his teeth let Jimin know that he was doing something right. He opened his lips a little wider, taking more of the other boy’s length into his mouth and gagging slightly as he got used to the feeling.
“J-Jimin.” Yoongi panted, tugging slightly at Jimin’s hair. “Stop.”
Jimin pulled back, searching Yoongi’s face for some indication of what he’d done wrong.
“I don’t want to come like that.” Yoongi said finally.
“Then how-” Jimin could feel his cheeks flushing. He knew that there were other things that they could do, but he had hoped not to have to broadcast the extent of his inexperience.
“I want you to make love to me.” Yoongi blurted out, turning his face away quickly. There was a soft blush colouring his high cheekbones to mirror Jimin’s own.
“I’ve never-” Jimin began but Yoongi interrupted him again.
“Me neither. But I’ve prepared.”
“Prepared?” Jimin watched, transfixed, as Yoongi reached across him for something which he poured into his hands. “Oh.” He said and then he said it again - “oh” - with an impossibly dry throat. Then, “can I?”
Yoongi didn't answer him with words, but heat flared in his dark eyes and he coated Jimin’s fingers for him, lips slightly parted, just the hint of a pink tongue.
The slide of the first finger was easy and Yoongi sighed a little, clenching his thighs around Jimin’s waist. The second made Yoongi suck in his breath in a hiss and Jimin opened his mouth to ask if he should stop but Yoongi moved slightly, fucking himself on Jimin’s fingers, and Jimin found it difficult to take his eyes off the place where their bodies met.
Yoongi arched suddenly off the bed, digging his heels into the small of Jimin’s back. “More.” He rasped. “Want more, want you.”
“Are you sure?” Jimin asked tentatively and Yoongi’s answering sigh was almost more exasperated than aroused. He coated his palm in oil before running his hand up and down Jimin’s length.
“There.” He breathed. “Now, Jiminie.” And Jimin pressed forward, sliding into the soft heat of Yoongi and barely holding himself together against the broken moans the other boy fed into his mouth, lips moving in a fevered imitation of a kiss.
It was slow and soft, with Jimin trying to keep the rocking motion of his hips gentle. Every part of their bodies that could reach were pressed together, skin to skin, dampened with sweat and oil.
Jimin tucked his head into the hollow of Yoongi’s shoulder, pressing his lips to the gentle slope of the other boy’s collarbone, feeling his ragged breath through the rapid rising and falling of his chest. He tried to coast the gentle swells of pleasure and draw them out, but when Jimin felt his orgasm approaching, there was little more he could do than to try and draw back, trembling, as he stammered out a nearly soundless prayer of Yoongi’s name.
Yoongi held him tightly throughout his quivering, and Jimin felt suddenly ashamed when he pulled out and saw that Yoongi’s cock was still lying flushed and pink against his abdomen, slick with precome. He bent and took Yoongi into his mouth once more, this time trying to push himself further and take more of Yoongi’s length into his throat. He used his fingers at the base where his lips couldn't quite reach, and it wasn't long before Yoongi’s thighs were shaking and he cried out, the sound slightly muffled as though he'd held his hand over his mouth. The taste was slightly bitter on Jimin’s tongue, but he swallowed hard and then it wasn't so bad.
Afterwards, Jimin curled himself into the hollow of Yoongi’s body. “I don't understand why it's wrong.” He said softly. It wasn't a thought he'd ever voiced aloud, not when he'd been eleven and a man had squeezed his behind on a rare day in market, not when he'd been thirteen and flushed with alcohol for the first time and Chanyeol had clumsily brushed their lips together, and not for one moment with Yoongi.
“We'll find somewhere where it isn't.” Yoongi replied, voice already thick with sleep.
“Does such a place exist?” Jimin asked, his own eyes beginning to feel heavy.
“If if doesn't, we'll make one.” Yoongi mumbled and then he said something else, softly, that might have been ‘I love you’ and Jimin, already half asleep, smiled.
The awareness that he was alone crept up on Yoongi before he was even awake, grasping fingers moving across the covers in search of the soft warmth of Jimin. Finding it absent, he sat up abruptly, only to see that the room was similarly empty.
“Jimin?” Yoongi heard his own voice as it echoed strangely in the space in a way it never had before. For one horrible second, Jimin’s words from the night before flashed through his mind - “you need only say the word and I’ll leave” - but then he saw the clothes strewn across the floor, right where they’d been left the night before and he felt suddenly as though he’d swallowed shards of ice.
The door swung open with a muffled bang-crash and Yoongi looked up hopefully for a moment to see Taehyung spill into the room as though he was moving too quickly for his legs to keep up. When he saw Yoongi standing bewildered in the center of the room he let out a sigh of what appeared to be relief and braced his hands on his knees.
“Don’t ask me.” He panted. “Don’t ask me anything because I will tell you.” He looked up and Yoongi saw that there were tears on his face. The icy feeling was spreading, numbing his body slowly.
“No.” He said. Taehyung’s face was pleading and Yoongi could read him well enough to know that he was probably caught between loyalty to him and loyalty to their father. It was a horrible position to be in and for a moment, Yoongi just wanted to gather him into his arms, but then Taehyung whispered “sorry” in a small voice and another thought, even more horrible, occurred to Yoongi.
“No.” He repeated. “Namjoon wouldn’t do this.”
That was all it took for Taehyung to break down completely in terrible, agonized sobs. “I wish your trust was founded.” He panted. “Then I’d feel like less of a fool.”
Yoongi did hold Taehyung then, pressing his face into his shoulder to muffle his sobs and curling his hands around his back, holding on as much for comfort as for necessity so that neither of them would simply crumple to the ground. Was there really a love that wasn’t foolish? He didn’t think so, but he couldn’t imagine how it felt to know that the person you loved was doing wrong and being powerless to stop them.
“No love is foolish.” Yoongi said firmly. All love is foolish. He thought to himself bitterly. Taehyung looked down at him with tearstained cheeks and a glimmer of hope entering his eyes. Yoongi wondered if Taehyung had thought his admission would make Yoongi angry. “Not mine, not yours.” He continued. “Tae, please tell me where he is.”
“Where everyone goes who proves a threat to the state.” Taehyung replied dully. He released Yoongi and stepped back. “I think they wanted me to tell you that he’d left. Though I don’t know how they expected to hide it when…” He trailed off, looking scared, but he didn’t need to finish his sentence.
When they took him to the capital, there would likely be a procession as there always was when criminals were transferred.
“I just don’t understand how. ” Yoongi gestured around him at the bedroom. “I was here.”
Taehyung took in the state of disarray and flushed slightly. “He left this morning.” He said. “I don’t know what he was doing but I have no doubt that he intended to come back.”
“He’s no threat to the state.” Yoongi said weakly. Taehyung shook his head slightly in response, not because he didn’t agree but because they both knew that that had nothing to do with it. “How can he be?”
“You should have left when I told you to.” Taehyung said softly. “He was born a traitor. His own birthright betrays him, regardless of intention.”
Yoongi felt as though he’d been punched in the stomach. Of course it wouldn’t have been so difficult, if someone was looking for a reason to separate Jimin from him, to have found out about his true heritage. Especially for someone like Namjoon who had spies everywhere. Yoongi had just thought it might take a little longer, that they might have more time. He had underestimated his friend and, though he was loath to admit it even to himself, he had hoped that there was some part of Namjoon that would have wanted to help them.
“By that logic, I’m a traitor too!’ Yoongi burst out and he could have kicked himself when he saw Taehyung wince. None of this was his brother’s fault and yet Yoongi couldn’t seem to stop hurting him. “If blood can be treasonous than mine is as well.”
“Do you think it was an accident that you were raised here?” Taehyung asked bitterly. “Did you think that Father was just a benevolent man who would raise a foundling baby out of the goodness of his heart? Your safety is implicit in your upbringing, proof that even the wildest of rebels can be tamed. You’re living proof of the complete decimation of rebellion in that village.”
“Don’t try and play this off as any more than it is.” Yoongi said harshly.
“And what is that?” Taehyung said.
“A warning, and a punishment.” Yoongi replied coldly. “But Jimin does not deserve to be used as fodder for my mistakes.”
“And who does deserve what they receive in life?” Taehyung asked very quietly. Yoongi thought of Namjoon, who hurt both himself and Taehyung with every righteous action he took, of Taehyung who had been so beaten down by a world that had no respect for all that was beautiful about him, of Jimin who had lost everything he knew, including his own sense of self. No; no one deserved what they got, but that didn’t mean that it was impossible to change things.
“Come with us.” He said suddenly. “Help me get Jimin back and we’ll sail away, the three of us. I couldn’t forgive myself if I knew you were here with Father and all these politicians and nobles. Here with a man who will never tell you that he loves you. ”
“You know I can’t do that.” Taehyung said, calm even as more tears slid down his soft cheeks. Yoongi was reminded again how young he was, not even twenty years old and so fragile.
“Are you so loyal to Namjoon and to Father that you would feed their corruption? Are you so helpless in their thrall?” Yoongi spat, but Taehyung didn’t flinch, merely closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them he was smiling.
“I should have guessed that you could be cruel.” He said gently and it was like the final wall was slamming shut between them and childhood. Yoongi saw recognition in Taehyung’s eyes that he’d never seen there and he felt momentarily, that he would vomit. He realized that he must have been the last person in Taehyung’s life who had seemed truly good. To love someone who was becoming a monster was one thing, to see that same human monstrosity in the person you’d looked up to for your whole life was quite another. “Everyone has depths of cruelty inside themselves. I know I do.” He said, more to himself than to Yoongi.
“Taehyung, please.” Yoongi said, blinking back tears. “They’re killing you.” He heard his voice break but Taehyung’s face remained a mask of calm. “I won’t be able to forgive myself if something happens to you or Jimin.”
“I know that.” Taehyung said. “And I won’t be able to forgive myself either way. I’ll take you to him.”
Jimin wasn’t being kept in the city jail as Yoongi had guessed, but rather on Namjoon’s private estate. Taehyung fidgeted with his sleeves as they approached, tugging them up and down and gnawing on his bottom lip.
“He doesn’t like it when I visit out in the open like this.” He said. “Especially not alone.” Dusk had fallen and Yoongi, clad in a dark cloak was barely visible to passersby,as he walked in the shadows at the side of the road. They had agreed that it was best if he didn’t announce his presence as Namjoon was bound to be suspicious seeing him there so soon after Jimin had been taken from him.
The guards peered at Taehyung when he walked up to the gate and Yoongi could see, even from his hiding place outside the gates, that his brother was nervous. He hoped that it didn’t translate to the soldiers or they were likely to sense that something was amiss.
“What brings you here?” The head guard asked gruffly. Yoongi watched Taehyung’s mouth open and close, but the other boy seemed momentarily unable to speak.
“You’re visiting Namjoon Deuryon-nim, aren’t you?” A second, familiar voice chimed in, as the gates opened and Hoseok stepped out. “Let him in, the Deuryon-nim is probably expecting him.” The guard nodded respectfully at Hoseok and Taehyung slipped inside.
Yoongi watched Hoseok walk away for a moment, cheerfully whistling, before he turned to find the secret back entrance. He hoped that it was still there because they hadn’t used it since they were very young, but he was in luck because the hole in the wall remained, albeit smaller than Yoongi remembered, and he found himself inside the courtyard. The newly frosted grass crunched obnoxiously loud under his feet and the grounds were inconspicuously empty of people, which made Yoongi’s stomach swirl anxiously, but he managed to make it to the front gate unconfronted and concealed himself to wait. He tried not to think about Jimin, locked up somewhere only half dressed and alone and scared. He tried not to think about what might happen if Taehyung were caught stealing the key.
Yoongi’s legs had gone to sleep by the time he could finally make out the figure of Taehyung, descending the steps of the main house. His younger brother walked confidently, back straight and head up and for a moment, Yoongi thought that the mission had been a failure when Taehyung almost walked right by him without stopping, but then something thudded into the dirt next to where Yoongi was hiding and he saw that it was a large brass key. Taehyung kept going, nodding goodnight to the guards as he left and it was all Yoongi could do not to move before the activity had settled and, when he finally emerged, not to sprint across the courtyard in search of the building where he knew Jimin was being held.
The outbuilding was small and inconspicuous and Yoongi might not have known where to look had he, Taehyung, and Namjoon not accidentally locked themselves inside of it with a man that had been caught stealing from Namjoon’s father’s kitchens. The man had comforted the three children and told them stories so that they wouldn’t be scared of the dark and Taehyung had cried when they had been found and the man had been taken away. Yoongi remembered asking what would happen to the man, and a guard had told him that he would have the thieving hand cut off. Taehyung had cried harder, but Namjoon’s eyes had hardened and he had softly said that it was what thieves deserved.
The key slid into the lock like butter and the door swung open with a soft click. Inside was dark and silent, and Yoongi was afraid for a moment that he had the wrong place, that it had all been for nought, but then he heard a very small sniff.
“Jimin?” He called softly. “Jiminie?”
Jimin emerged from the shadows slowly. One of his eyes was almost swollen shut and he had blood down his chin from a split lip and Yoongi’s heart contracted painfully.
“Hyung.” Jimin whispered, almost as though he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “Hyung, I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to leave but I- and then they-” And then his face crumpled into tears.
“Jimin, it’s ok. We’re getting out. We’re leaving like I promised, just a day later than we planned.”
Jimin nodded firmly and scrubbed his hand across his face, sensing that it was not the time for tears. Yoongi took his hand, running his fingers over the familiar callouses and squeezed gently.
“We have to be very quiet.” He said. “Like we’re going to raid a village.”
“I understand.” Said Jimin.
The hole in the wall proved easier to find from outside the manor and Yoongi’s heart was racing in his chest as he and Jimin felt along the smooth brick searching for an inconsistency. The sky was still dark but he could see light in the courtyard from servant’s torches and he was beginning to sense that there might be some sort of commotion. He could only hope that it was unrelated.
“What am I looking for?” Jimin asked, looking up with wide eyes in a panicked face.
“A covered hole it’s…” Yoongi trailed off when he saw, striding amongst the other figures in the yard, a tall man in white. He knew immediately that it was Namjoon and realized that he must have found his key missing. They would have some time while he interrogated the servants. Yoongi knew that Taehyung would not immediately be suspect, but unfortunately, it was an option that Namjoon wouldn’t rule out based on friendship and whatever other bonds they shared.
“Hurry.” Yoongi whispered, realizing what a stupid thing it was to say as he said it. Jimin simply ignored him, running both hands over the wall in studied concentration.
“I think I found it.” He whispered.
There was a yell from the courtyard and a great swath of light spread across the grass in their direction.
“You go first.” Yoongi said hurriedly. Jimin glanced back at the people spreading across the lawn and then at the hole.
“No. You go.” He said stubbornly.
“At this rate, we’ll both die.” Yoongi hissed, shoving Jimin towards the gap. “I’ll be right behind you. Taehyung is waiting outside, just find him.”
Jimin took a deep breath and began crawling through on his elbows. Yoongi waited until he saw the other boy’s feet disappear before he began sliding through but he felt a hand clamp down on his ankle. He struggled and the fingers only bit deeper. Yoongi was not a physically strong man and before he could wiggle further through the hole he found himself being jerked to his feet and stared up into Namjoon’s furious eyes.
“What are you doing here, hyung?” He asked in a low voice. “It’s not as though I want to hurt you, but nor can I let you go in front of my entire household.”
Yoongi glanced surreptitiously down and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw no sign of Jimin.
“The prisoner is likely nearby outside these walls.” Namjoon called to his guards. “I want him back before morning with no watching eyes or there will be hell to pay.”
The guards called out to each other as they jogged away and Namjoon kept his vice like grip around Yoongi’s upper arm as he pulled him towards the courtyard. “I would like to keep you safe as much as I can, hyung, so I’m going to send you home as soon as things have calmed down with a note to your father that we were simply enjoying a night of games and drinking with my household as it’s been too long since we were together.” He whispered into Yoongi’s ear. “This whole matter has gotten far too out of hand. I would advise you to forget it now. There is only so much I can do for you if your father decides that you’ve caused too much trouble.”
They were almost to the steps of Namjoon’s house when Yoongi heard a yell. They both turned to see Taehyung staggering towards them. “Stop.” He repeated hoarsely.
“Taehyung?” Namjoon said, the shock in his voice making him drop his usual calm tone. “What are you doing?”
“This has to stop, hyung.” Taehyung said, dropping to his knees in the dust. Yoongi noticed with horror that the left sleeve of his brother’s shirt was wet with blood, though whether it was his own or not he couldn’t yet tell. “Let them go. Please.”
“Taehyung, think about this rationally.” Namjoon said, but he sounded scared, as though he’d never seen this side of his friend. And maybe he hadn’t, Yoongi thought. Namjoon had a way of overpowering people without even noticing or meaning to.
“There is nothing rational about this.” Taehyung replied. “If you don’t let them go I’ll ruin your life.” He spat. “Sodomy is still a crime no matter how well respected you are.”
“You would sacrifice our lives?” Namjoon said. Yoongi realized that his friend was utterly bewildered. He had nothing to gain and everything to lose, but Taehyung, kneeling in the dirt, and Yoongi, dangling limply from his grip, had given all they’d had.
“What life?” Taehyung asked, and then laughed hollowly.
Namjoon was silent for a long moment. The whole yard seemed to have fallen under a strange spell. No one moved. Not Namjoon, not Yoongi, not Taehyung, not one of the guards who stood with shocked looks on their faces. How many of them had known? Yoongi wondered. How many had let Taehyung in under cover of darkness some night and watched him leave hours later, quiet and tired?
“And what do I tell your father?” Namjoon said finally, sounding defeated. “That I decided my judgment was greater than his? That his son, my lover, begged me to let some boy who should never have lived, go?”
“For once in your life,” Taehyung said, slowly, deliberately. “Be courageous.”
There was silence again and then, “Why?” Namjoon’s voice was suddenly very soft, almost childlike, hurt but not yet broken, as though he couldn't understand what was happening or why, as though he truly had no concept of the depth or reason for Taehyung’s pain.
“Did you think,” Taehyung began, in a voice that sent shivers up Yoongi’s spine. “For one second, that I was happy? Do you even remember what happiness is? Enough to consciously take it away from everyone around you?”
Namjoon looked truly shellshocked. His grip on Yoongi’s arm had slackened considerably. “Taehyung.” He said softly.
“How many more lives will it take, hyung?” Taehyung asked. “Will it take mine?”
The eerie stillness that had gripped the courtyard was broken as one of the guards spotted his returning colleagues and gave a shout. Jimin was being half carried, half dragged between two guards, head down. Yoongi couldn’t tell whether or not he’d been hurt, but he heard himself make a small involuntary noise nonetheless. Namjoon looked down as though seeing Yoongi for the first time.
“Go.” He said quietly, letting go of Yoongi’s arm.
Yoongi stood frozen for a moment, unsure what was happening.
“Go.” Namjoon said again, voice breaking. His eyes were wild and red rimmed. He looked like a broken man. “Everyone, get out!” He screamed, gesticulating wildly. The soldiers looked baffled but they slowly began to disperse. The two guards holding Jimin released him, and he fell in a crumpled heap to the ground.
Taehyung looked up, finally, as though he couldn’t believe what he was hearing and Yoongi felt his heart wrench at the hope in his eyes. Namjoon began striding across the courtyard towards him, and Taehyung got shakily to his feet as though waiting to be embraced. Instead, Namjoon kept going straight, until he disappeared through the gates and into the night. Yoongi realized that until that moment he hadn’t really seen Taehyung break. He was incredibly strong, almost unbelievably so, but as Namjoon brushed past him, the last fragile strands of his composure snapped and his face seemed to almost fold in on itself, not in tears, but into something much worse.
Yoongi felt as though he was in a daze as he descended the steps and approached his brother. “Taehyung.” He said urgently, taking the other boy’s face between his palms. “Taehyung, let’s go.”
Taehyung shook his head dully, freeing himself from Yoongi’s grip. “I’m not going.” He said. “Can you imagine leaving Jimin?”
Yoongi opened his mouth to argue, but Taehyung seemed to sense what he was about to say and stopped him. “Love doesn’t cease to be love if it is unrequited.” He said softly. “Family doesn’t cease to be family if they are cruel. Please go.”
Yoongi tried to force his thoughts to form the words that he most wanted to say: words of comfort, words of love, but they died uselessly in his throat so he reached out and took Taehyung’s hand instead, and felt his brother squeeze back lightly before he pulled away.
From where he lay on the ground, Jimin made a soft sound and before he could think about it, Yoongi was running. He sucked in a breath of air, feeling sick as he looked at Jimin’s face, which was bruised and swollen. He stroked the hair back from Jimin’s forehead as the younger boy groaned in pain and spat blood into the dirt. The way he was cradling his side made Yoongi suspect that he might have several broken ribs.
“Can you stand?” Yoongi asked urgently and Jimin nodded, though he leaned heavily on Yoongi when he finally made it to his feet. “I don’t know how long we have, so we should hurry.”
Yoongi glanced over his shoulder once, when they reached the gate. Taehyung was standing, with his back to them, resolutely looking ahead. Yoongi fixed the image in his mind to keep. He knew that it was very unlikely he would ever see his brother again and he wanted to remember him as he was in that moment, straight back, strong stance, very nearly everything he could have been. When he turned away, Yoongi knew that it was his last goodbye, not only to Taehyung but the entire world of his childhood.
The going was slow, no matter how hard Jimin tried to pull his weight and walk quickly, and Yoongi felt every small whimper of pain as if it were a blow to his own ribs, his own face. He remembered how unsure Jimin had looked in that clearing when they had talked about returning to Yoongi’s family - and how beautiful. Now he was battered and beaten, and it was no one’s fault but Yoongi’s own.
When a figure stepped out into the road, wearing the uniform of the royal guard, Yoongi thought that they were done for. He tightened his grip around Jimin’s shoulders, determined that even if this was the end, he at least wouldn’t let Jimin go again. Then the figure stepped into the half light slanting down from one of the windows of the surrounding houses, and Yoongi saw that it was Hoseok.
“I met a man who says he brought you into the city.” He said calmly, seemingly unfazed by their appearance.
Yoongi thought of the gruff, spirited, one-eyed man that had allowed them to walk alongside his cart, and had guided them safely through the woods and wondered how Hoseok could have possibly encountered him.
“He’s waiting for you just beyond the city walls. If you can make it there, he’ll take you back to wherever you need to go.” And with that Hoseok nodded deeply and respectfully and walked off. Yoongi felt relief flood his body. They weren’t out of the woods yet, but provided that they encountered no one else who would recognize them on their way, it appeared that they would have a chance at safety.
Luck was on their side, as was Yoongi’s intimate knowledge of the city, created through many a moonlit romp with Taehyung when they were young. As they approached the treeline, Jimin stumbling more frequently now, Yoongi saw that Hoseok had been correct, and a figure waited amongst the trees.
“I didn’t expect to see you again.” The one-eyed man said honestly.
“Nor I you.” Yoongi replied.
“I’ve finished my business here.” Moon said with an enigmatic smile. “Let’s get you boys home.”
“Home.” Yoongi whispered to Jimin as the old man settled them comfortably in his cart, amongst fruits and vegetables and bolts of cloth. “We’re going home.”
He pressed a kiss to Jimin’s temple and felt the younger boy sigh softly in contentment.
The village of Yangdong was always the most festive in the spring. In the third year of the new Kingdom of Joseon, the celebrations for Samjinnal were in full swing. That year was especially important because preparations were under way for the wedding of the doctor’s son. The boy, Jungkook, who had just turned eighteen the previous autumn was a mess of nerves and his house was a bustle of activity. He was often caught trying to sneak out to visit his friends, two young men who lived on the edge of the forest, near a stream.
The elder of the couple had been generally accepted since his arrival three years earlier as the village scribe. Hundreds of stories came to life under his masterful brush in a beautiful mixture of words and pictures. It was the worst kept secret that any letter that went between young lovers in the village had been expressed in his beautiful prose.
The younger of the pair was a strapping, healthy, young man with pink cheeks and a hearty laugh. He had a slight bump on his cheekbone and an ever so slightly crooked nose as a result of a vicious beating years earlier that had landed him in the spare bedroom of the doctor’s house for a solid month upon his arrival, but he was generally accepted as the most desired bachelor of the village, both for his almost effeminate beauty and for his extreme proficiency in combat. He had helped defend the village many times and was known to teach young boys sword fighting.
No one quite knew what the circumstances were that had brought the two men to the village together. People were divided in opinion as to whether they were brothers or cousins, but the girls of the village were beginning to despair that neither would ever marry.
Both had left their reclusive cottage on the eve of Jungkook’s wedding and were holed up in the doctor’s house with the couple and their son, drinking dugyeonju.
“Please tell me you aren’t really leaving.” Jungkook suddenly burst out, interrupting the polite conversation that had been occurring. His cheeks were flushed with wine and his eyes were bright.
“We won’t go far.” Yoongi replied gruffly. “No need to cry about it. You’re no longer a child.”
“We’re simply retreating a few miles further into the forest.” Jimin amended softly. “There have been no raids this year, and so many of the young men are so much improved now anyways, they hardly need my help.”
“It’s strange that this spring has been so calm.” The doctor mused. “Usually we’ve had at least two raids by this time.”
“I had some news regarding that from Moon.” Yoongi chimed in. “He just got back from Namgyeong and he said that there’s been a new law passed that requires a heavier military presence in the surrounding woods to protect villages like ours that are more vulnerable.”
“A new law?” Jungkook’s mother gasped. “Has there been a shift in power in the city?”
“The young son of one of the prominent members of the nobility there just gained quite a lot of power with his father’s passing, and he’s doing a lot of good, especially for villagers.”
Only Jimin noticed the note of pride and the sudden huskiness in Yoongi’s voice.
The gentle rocking motion of the cart being pulled through moonlit trees had almost lulled Yoongi off to sleep - would have already in fact, if the image of Taehyung’s still figure didn’t still linger behind his eyelids - when Moon spoke.
“You asked me once before if I knew your father.”
Yoongi remained silent, afraid that if he spoke, the moment would be shattered. Jimin slumbered with his head in Yoongi’s lap, his lacerated face peaceful, still beautiful in repose.
“Simply saying that I knew him wouldn’t do it justice.” Moon continued, his voice sounding remarkably soft. “Your father was one of the greatest men I ever met. He was quiet, unassuming, but he could tell a story in a way that would have everyone crying or laughing in seconds, or both at once. Your mother never stood a chance, she fell in love with him on sight, as did most people.”
“What kind of stories?” Yoongi asked softly.
“Love stories, mostly. Great ones, full of sacrifice and adventure. Though after he met your mother, not one had a sad ending.”
They were silent for a minute. Dawn was just beginning to make an appearance at the very edges of the horizon, staining them a dusty pink.
“You remind me of your father.” Moon said. “You have great stories inside of you.”
Jimin began to stir gently in Yoongi’s lap, and he placed his hand lightly against his forehead to calm him.
“I have at least one.” He said.
Dawn broke slowly over the three travelers with an unhurried gentleness. Somewhere in the heart of a city, a young man picked himself up and resolved to do what he could to make the world a better place. Somewhere else a soldier trained younger boys and hoped that even in the face of war they wouldn’t forget how to do the right thing. In a bedchamber, a young noble cried, and his wife held him, uncomprehending, knowing that there was still some need she couldn’t fulfill. In a tiny village, peopled with the survivors of unspeakable horrors, a boy on the cusp of manhood doodled in the dirt with a stick and dreamed of a pen grasped between his fingers to finally set free the pictures that crowded his mind.
Yoongi and Jimin, on their way to somewhere they tentatively called home, felt as though maybe at least one chapter of their lives was drawing to a close. They allowed themselves to think that they could be happy. And together, they closed their eyes and sailed dream ships into a hopeful future.