Chapter 1: the cold
Over the world, the forest looms.
At the start of September, they turn the cows in. Nobody goes to school or work - all hands are on deck, every able body needed, with all the other bodies shouting helpful advice from the sidelines.
Yoongi stands in his squelch-black coat, up to his knees in rainmuck that’s soaking through a hole in his rubber boots, and makes funny whistles in the back of his throat. His brother stands up at the top of the hill, in the dry. It’s the third day of rain, pretty much constant rain, and twenty baleful animals huddle together under a hedge, staring bug-eyed at him as he flaps around, a mud-coloured bat in the mud-coloured land. In the distance, faint over the noise of the rain, is the sound of the kid from the town - Jae - revving the quadbike.
And there’s a dog - of course there’s a dog, a scruffy collie mongrel tossing himself into the mud and the water with glee. His name is Pig, despite Yoongi’s best efforts.
“Holl--aa! Yoongiah!” Shouts his brother, Yoojae, standing at the top of the field, waving his stick in the air, conducting Yoongi without moving himself, “Shift them up!”
Yoongi waves his hands. “Chay,” he says, chay-ey-ay, a sharp little hook of a word that hundreds of years worth of Min cattle have learned to associate with being moved. “Chay. C’mon girls, chaychay.”
Pig barks. Jae, in the far field, revs suddenly - Yoongi hopes the kid hasn’t bogged the quad, although he might have, the wheels chunking the mud into the air.
Slowly, sadly, the cows move up the field towards Yoojae, who’s waiting for them. The rain is a constant, bouncing off Yoongi’s cheap raincoat, off the tin roof of the shed, so that there’s no other noise but the rhythmic drum of it.
The whole land is brown and grey. Yoongi feels bleached - washed clean of colour.
(It’s always a dull, rainy day when the cows come in.)
(Dull, rainy week.)
Yoojae hops the gate to chase them the rest of the way in, complaining at the top of his lungs about the wet, and between the rain and the clank of metal and the mournful hooting of the cows, it’s a cacophony of sad September sounds, the sound of the summer putting itself away for the year.
Jae bogged the quad.
“I didn’t mean to,” he pants, wiping rain and sweat and muck off his face, “It just-”
“It’s a sinkhole down here,” every time Yoongi takes a step, his wellingtons make a massive sucking noise, like they’re being pulled into a black hole. He doesn’t mention that it might be Jae’s own inexperience - the kid probably knows already. “We need it drained.”
The quad is stuck. Wheels churning uselessly, splattering mud up their galoshes, Pig barking excitedly every time Jae tries to rev it out.
“I’ll get the tractor down, once it stops raining. I think… I hope Yoojae got tea for us,” Yoongi stomps around the quad, internally cursing the bogrush and the mud and the rain. His brother can’t always be relied on for food, either -- often, he forgets, and Yoongi has to lead whoever’s been working over to his own house, knocking something hasty together from whatever he has to hand. “We get tea, I’ll hook the chain up to the tractor and drive us down, yeah?”
Jae makes a defeated little huff that could be a yes, but could also be a pout. Pig dribbles onto his wellington, the hot spit steaming in the freezing air.
Yoongi gives it up as a bad job and begins to work his way up the hill, grey-tones and black, up towards the pretty little yellow farmhouse Yoojae and his wife, Minji, live in. Roses grow on a trellis above the door, that sort of thing. After a couple steps, Jae follows, and the dog is off like a rocket, steaming through the rain towards the promise of food.
From inside the cattle shed, the cows hoot gently. There’s muffled sounds as some of them, still in season, awkwardly try to mount the others and are shoved off. Calves whine. A chicken clucks. Yoongi stands in the middle of the field for a second, looking between the animals -- looking for something, maybe. Nobody calls his name. The cows ignore him. Jae is speeding off with the dog, and Yoojae has long since abandoned them for his wife and the warmth.
He sighs and trudges on.
Over them crooks the mountain, and covering the mountain spreads the forest.
Yoongi’s been into the forest. Everyone has, at least once, and he remembers running up the mountain one April afternoon, running up the road past the little country school, past the houses of the slightly odd mountain folk, plunging through the trees.
He’d been running from someone. Someone had yelled at him, maybe, some kids from school, although that didn’t seem to matter as soon as he got through the trunks. Someone had thrown a book at him, and his nose was bleeding. He’d gone to Yoojae, first, Yoojae three classes above him, but Yoojae had told him to man up and pinch his nose, and so Yoongi had gone running, crying and bloody. Everything hurt.
That hadn’t seemed to matter, either.
The forest is quiet. The trees are foreign conifers around the outskirts, planted by forestry companies for cheap lumber, but further in they’re natives, ashes and oaks and sycamores. Birds mute their calls. Yoongi, in his heavy workboots and sensible coat, never remembers feeling as welcome as he did that day, as -- as though he belonged, stopping his nose up with scrumpled dandelion leaves, listening to the forest.
But of course, there are the rumors. The mountain folk, for example, who are all plain odd - their cattle are fat milking cows, constantly crossing roads here and rivers there, black and white friesians without a care in the world, coming at the call of the mountain folk, never having to be beat with sticks from the hedge. The mountain folk have their own school, a little building tucked into the outskirts of the forest - they teach their own. Yoongi talks to the mountain folk only occasionally, when he goes to market (Range Rover, cattle truck, gentle moos from the mixed-breed belgian blues and jerseys and herefords) and they’re there, selling their milk.
Never their cows.
The mountain folk all dress in stiff wax jackets and tight calfhugging leather boots. Some of them are young, with grey hair and jewelery, leading their cows through the shit-strewn ground with nothing more than a touch. Some of them look old, but always seem to be at the front of the audience when a rare breed is being presented.
The mountain folk and the forest.
Stay Well Away, they all said to Yoongi. Stay Well Away.
So he left the forest as quick as he could, left the chirruping warmth of the welcome, and ran back down the hill, his nose stopped up with leaves, and when his grandmother asked what had happened at school that day, he let Yoojae chirrup away about friends and games and girls.
Stay Well Away.
Minji has tea on the boil and a plate of buttered raisin scones on the table. Yoongi doesn’t like raisin scones, never has, but Minji never seems to remember.
The three men take their boots off at the door, Yoojae’s and Yoongi’s and Jae’s, and clip their galoshes off their jeans, shedding them like an extra layer of skin. Minji fusses about the mess they’ll make of the floor; as they troop in, downtrodden and soaked, they fill the house with the sweet smell of cow.
“Good spread,” Jae mumbles appreciatively. “Thanks, Minji-sshi.”
“You like it black,” is Minji’s reply, not really a question at all. She’s a Lee by birth, born in the farmhouse two miles thataway. Since they were children playing in the stream, their families joked about Yoojae and Minji marrying, and with a sort of solemn inevitability, they did. (They used to play family down by the river, and Yoongi was never allowed in. He wanted a turn being the one to get married, but Minji used to throw mud at him and say she’d only marry his brother.) (That was when they were very young, of course.)
(Minji is four months on, the soft curve of her belly barely pressing over her jeans - but it will.)
(Yoongi hates being the younger one, sometimes.)
“Bad year,” Yoojae says, leaning back in the kitchen chair with his legs crossed - he’s taller and broader and harder than Yoongi, with a dour sort of outlook on life, although he doesn’t spend half as much time on the farm as Yoongi does. “Bad year for cattle.”
“Daddy woulda said so, too,” Yoongi agrees just for something to agree to. Actually, it’s a good year, as good years go -- not that Yoojae would know -- but yes. Their father would have called it bad. The patriarch Min always said it was a bad year, even if it was mid-October by the time they turned the cows in.
“Yeah. Yeah, he woulda.”
“Da says the contractors’ll be out of a business next summer,” Jae says importantly, setting to work on one of the buttered scones. “Everyone’s got their own stuff, these days.”
Yoongi takes a scone and begins peeling the raisins out with the tip of his knife, dropping them under the table for Pig to snap up. Minji sighs, but she doesn’t say anything. Yoongi resists the urge to tug hotly at his collar.
“I reckon there’ll be jobs somewhere.”
“We still need ‘em,” Yoongi says. We. Always we.
In the will, Yoojae got the farm and the farmhouse and the herd. He’s the oldest son - he got it all. Yoongi got a little hill of his own, and the tumbledown stickshed house there, and all the money in the bank account. There wasn’t very much. A pittance, maybe - incentive to stay and help his brother. (Help.)
“Yeah. Yeah, we do.” Yoojae sighs heavily. “Too much work for me.” Shiny boots, clean face, pale arms. Yeah, too much work for him.
Minji slides heavy mugs of tea in front of each of them, tea turned orange by the addition of milk. “You’d drive a woman sick with that talk,” she jokes, sitting next to Yoojae with her own mug. “Did they go in easy?”
“Easy enough,” Yoongi shugs, and opens his mouth, but --
“Quad’s bogged, though. I’ll take tractor down and hook her out, when the rain stops,” Yoojae says.
“If it ever does.”
It never does. Around wintertime it’s always raining, and it’ll rain through September and October and November, and then the weather will turn colder and it’ll sleet through December. Back to rain in January.
That day, the rain never clears. Yoojae sits and drinks tea and looks out the window until eventually, Yoongi goes out to the yard, stomping down in the rain and the mud in his cheap raincoat, his holey galoshes. And it’s Yoongi who sits on the tractor, wet soaking through his jeans, Pig sitting at his feet, and reverses down the hill. It’s an old one, a make from the 70s, but its wheels are the only ones light enough not to bog, strong enough to pull a quad out. The hook is wet through when he loops it through the bars at the front of the quad; Jae sits astride it, ready to help drive it out of the mud, but it’s Yoongi and the tractor doing most of the heavy lifting.
“You’re going to mart tomorrow,” Jae huffs.
Yoongi nods, his hands tucked under his armpits. They’re standing at the divide of the road, where one lane leads to Yoongi’s tumbledown heap, and one lane leads to Jae’s gran’s house, where he spends some nights. “Are you?”
Yoongi walks home in the rain, alone - Pig sleeps with Yoojae and Minji - and he tosses his shitty raincoat and galoshes into the pile in the corner, along with the leaky wellingtons, and he slides the kettle onto the boil, and makes himself supper of a kind.
Cheese on bread, the cheese too soft and the bread too hard, and cold chicken nipped off the bone, and dried bacon strips. He drinks his tea.
He goes to bed.
It’s too cold, but he’s got used to that.
Yoongi’s Range Rover used to be his father’s, a jeep twenty years too old to be on the road, the thing kept alive by sheer tenacity more than anything else. Yoojae used to own it, but he sold it to Yoongi around the time he and Minji got a car each. It used to be blue, before the mud flecked it brown for good (and everything is flecked brown down here) and the seats smell of cigarette smoke, butter toffee, and cow.
Everything smells of cow.
They’re selling two heifer calves, demure girls that don’t bray when he leads them by the ear into the cattle truck at the back. Their mothers hoot and honk for them, but the calves are unaware, nuzzling at each other’s necks, touching each other’s soft, short fur.
Yoongi turns on the radio, then turns it off again.
He lights a cigarette, but smokes very little of it, just watching the ash trickle itself down into the little fold-out tray on the jeep. Smoking in winter makes his lungs constrict uncomfortably, the rain and the smoke soaking into each other and filling his body with smog - and it’s not like the market is going to be any easier to breathe in.
It’s the press of people. Press of livestock. The overwhelming scent of musky cow and damp sheep and lazy pig. People, and all of them asking after his brother, asking how the baby’s doing. As though Yoongi has any idea.
The town is a ten-minute drive away.
It’s a market town at the foot of the mountain, close enough to the mountain folk that they can come down, close enough to the foothill people that they can come up. Burrowed next to the river that tosses down the mountain, it’s a bustling little place, although all the inhabitants look itchy, like they’ve been trapped someplace urban by accident. Everyone’s a farmer.
Yoongi parks his jeep as close to the entrance as he can make it, and then sets about unloading the calves. He’s fashioned a halter out of orange twine, and it’s easy enough to loop the pair of them into it - the hard bit is making them walk through the doors, into the bustle, the overwhelming din, of the market day.
“Lot three, down there,” says an organiser, handing Yoongi a yellow slip and patting his shoulder, “Move along.”
Wordlessly, Yoongi does. Rubber boots, raincoat. Calves trying to hide themselves in the backs of his knees, afraid of all the new smells - they’re June babies, born in the fields, and their first experience of anything else would have been yesterday, when they were first put in.
Yoongi feels almost sorry for them. A little part of him, the one that went to university, might say he sees himself in --
Lot three is the heifer calves. Yoongi’s are crossbreeds, bred for beef cattle, so they get shoved in with the random calves - he’s given another slip that matches the inky stamp thumped onto the calves’ backs, and he’s sent on his merry way. All he has to do is be back by four in the evening, to collect whatever the calves will have gone for. The rest of the day is his, to do with as he pleases.
Down the mart, in the parking lot, someone is shouting. Yoongi lights another cigarette, slotting it between his teeth, and leans against the front of his jeep to observe - fights are rare, in the town, but always worth a watch. Not like he has anything else to do.
(He could go back to the farm and do odd jobs, but he feels lethargic, tired, and Yoojae’s technically the one that’s meant to be doing it --)
(Although he’ll kill Yoongi when he finds the jobs undone --)
“... A lamb, a lamb, we’re meant to get a lamb,” yells a tall, scruffy-haired man (boy?), his flailing limbs caught by a broader, smaller boy (man?) than him. “And some goddamn almond milk!”
“Don’t swear at me,” seethes the object of the scruffy-haired one’s ire; a short, fluid sort of a boy, his arms crossed over his chest. “I was going to, I was fucking going to-”
“Don’t swear at me,” the first one mocks.
“Tae,” says the boy holding him, a little desperately. “Tae, please-”
Tae shrugs himself out of the grasp, knocking the boy back a few steps; he staggers against an old grey landrover. Must be theirs. “No, I’m sick of you thinking you can just fuck around with stuff this important-”
Yoongi coughs and drops his cigarette butt on the ground, grinding it under his heel. The three of them whip around and glare.
And then there’s a beat of silence.
“I’ll get the fucking lamb, then,” Tae says. “Come on, Gukkie.” He tugs the conciliatory boy along with him, back into the bustle of the market, leaving the shortest boy to stand in front of the landrover, looking lost. Like a spare part.
Yoongi says nothing. Let kin attract kin, as they say.
Spare parts, flocking together.
Eventually, the boy trudges over to him, looking angry. “Gimme a light.”
Wordlessly, Yoongi holds up his bic lighter, flicking his thumb over the little metallic button. The flame dances precariously in the crisp air of autumn, closing itself out when the boy spends too long fumbling in his pocket.
“Sorry,” he says, red in the face. He holds up a wooden pipe, little teeth marks around the spout, tobacco stains around the basin, and smiles, although it looks like it takes a lot of effort, “Light? Please.”
Yoongi flicks it on again, dipping the lighter into the bowl until something catches fire; purple flame rises for a brief second, and when the boy drapes the pipe from the corner of his mouth, the smoke trailing from between his lips is a pale pea-green colour, like fog on a winter morning.
“Thanks,” the boy says eventually, leaning against the jeep. “Sorry about the scene.”
“It wasn’t much,” Yoongi mumbles awkwardly. He lights another cigarette just for something to do, then watches the white slowly turn to grey down the little speckled stem. “Were they your brothers?”
“Still. Was a scene. They -- they could be, brothers. Fuckin’ idiots, but I gotta love ‘em.” The boy looks at him for a long minute, as though waiting for Yoongi to fill in the gap. “Don’t say much, do you?”
Yoongi shrugs. He often feels - uncomfortable, around things that demand conversation, contribution, and it gives him the overwhelming urge to run away. Yoojae is the personable one. “Don’t usually need to.”
“I feel that.” The boy huffs, and there passes a rare companionable moment, pea-green smoke and the scent of cigarette and another smell, over the market musk, a smell like forest ferns. “I’m Jimin. From up the mountain.”
“Oh.” That explains something. “I’m Yoongi.”
“Hello, Yoongi,” Jimin smiles, (and he doesn’t ask how the baby is doing) thick lips crooking upwards, reminding Yoongi so suddenly and strikingly of a cat that he has to blink a few times to make sure Jimin is still… human.
“I’m… cows,” Yoongi explains, waving his hand at the market. His fingers are twitching. He’s watching, always watching. “I sell.”
“We’re buying a lamb,” Jimin says.
“And some almond milk,” Yoongi mumbles under his breath, gratified at the chuckle he pulls out of Jimin. The smoke from the pipe makes his head turn a little, and while smoking his own would usually ground him, he feels more surreal with every inhalation. The fog in the town has thickened, filling the parking lot with whiteness, and the pea-green from the pipe, and the huffs from Jimin’s mouth, and the spinning in Yoongi’s head. The smell of cows. Always the smell of cows.
“Hyung!” Yells a voice - Gukkie, the third boy - and Jimin pats Yoongi’s shoulder with a tiny paw. Hand. Tiny hand. Warm, and comfortable. And friendly.
“See you around, Yoongi,” he says, and it sounds like a promise.
Yoongi blinks owlishly. “Okay.” The promise -- a promise, or maybe it’s the voice, and he likes the sound of that. Jimin remembered his name, and he said it with sincerity.
He drops his second cigarette, and doesn’t bother grinding the stub down.
He feels odd.
Warm, maybe. Nice.
There is a deer - a red-stained hart, his antlers spreading, a star hung from the tip of each branch, each arch, his head holding up the sky, his hooves planting trees in the ground. His head is bowed regally, his body holding up the world, the sky draped like the most royal of capes along his flank, half-obscuring the fawny bloodstain freckles down his back. His eyes are pure black, the reservoirs that hold the water of the world. Around him lounge animals, as at ease with each other as anything could ever be.
There is a cat, sitting purring at the feet of the hart, pea-green smoke pouring out its ears.
A twitchnose black rabbit.
A grey fox, alert-eyed, playful.
A wolf, as pale as the moon.
An alert owl, fawny white, black speckles and creamy down.
All of them, save the hart, are staring at Yoongi.
And then he’s still in the town, leaning against his jeep. The fog has left - it’s four in the afternoon, near when he can go collect the money from the calves - and his cigarette packet is totally empty. A grey landrover is nowhere to be seen.
He collects his money. Stops at the shop for another packet of cigarettes. Turns the radio on; turns it off, annoyed at how impersonal the hosts are.
Behind him, the cattle truck rattles empty, the two calves sold to two farmers on the back side of the mountain. A few of the mountain folk got into an argument when Yoongi went to collect his money - there they were, all dressed in browns and reds and yellows, wax jackets and hats, snarling at each other over something.
As soon as he parks, it starts to rain, a continuing drizzle that leaks through Yoongi’s skin and permeates the whole place with a wetness. Pig barks a greeting at him over the farmyard, but doesn’t come over - Yoongi probably smells of the town, and of that weird stuff the mountain kid was smoking. Weird drugs? God knows. That’s probably what made him feel so weird --
But he’s back home now, and alone, and he feels normal again. Misplaced, a bit, but on his own, in his own jeep in his own head in his own skin, itchy and twitchy and uncertain. And the rain.
And so September has begun. Rain. Rain, and lots of it.
Yoongi goes home and puts the kettle on.
He left here, once, to go get his degree in the city - he’d been going to make a name for himself, become a writer, run as far away from farming as he could.
But then he lived in the city, and he got his degree, and the mind-numbing drudgery of it all, the oppressive feeling of being only one among many, was so painful that Yoongi had to return. He and Yoojae sold a few of the herd to pay for the student debt, Yoojae complaining all the while about how his cattle had to be sacrificed, and Yoongi set into writing his debut novel, preparing to blast himself out of rural obscurity.
That was two years ago. Now he’s twenty-five, and he’s close to being past it, and his novel sits half-finished, the skeletal bones of something he knows in his heart of hearts will never be any good.
Pig scratches at the door; lets himself in, curling up in front of the tinny radiator. It’s on, but Yoongi still feels cold. The rain sneaks in through the crooked window - Yoongi takes off his boot and throws it, slamming the door shut on impact.
He turns on the radio.
“--today, we prepare the food for our ancestors. Today, we remember the fires that burnt before us, the crackles that we saw, the smells of woodsmoke our families prepared for us. In the future we will renew the fires, extinguish the pains of the old year and embrace the hurt of the new year. All those with bodies able to join the hunt are asked to do so. Arrows sharpened. Minds alight. Today, we prepare the food for our ancestors--”
“The fuck?” He mumbles to himself. The radio display reads today fm but the voice is a gentle country burr, not unlike the voice of the kid Jimin he talked to earlier - and no radio Yoongi’s ever listened to talks about stuff like that. The warm feeling is back in his chest. He doesn’t --
Unfamiliar. Unfamiliar with it.
Pig barks at it. Hesitantly, Yoongi turns it off, his hands twitching on the dial, uncertain of whether to keep it on, but -- no. He crosses the kitchen, plopping a teabag into a mug.
And the radio switches itself back on.
“-- Samhain, advancing across the land. We will burn the fires. We will light the beacons. We will skin the hart and tie the feet of the rabbit with the tail of the fox. We will dance around the fairy trees. Today, we prepare the food for our ancestors--”
“Holy shit!” Yoongi knocks his mug over with his elbow and Pig starts barking even more at the sound of it. The plug is off at the wall. And nothing weird ever happens, ever, ever, ever around here.
“--As Emer was turned, so will we be turned. Fleet foot. Sharpen your arrows. La na Marbh is upon us, and to fool the dead we must take our places, make our masks. The hart will not find us this year. Today, we prepare the food for our ancestors--”
Yoongi scrabbles back across the room after he wrenches the plug out of the wall, but the radio just keeps talking --
“--And for all that need to come, defend your houses, fortify your mind. Yoongi, go to the mountain at the sunset. Honour your dead and prepare for the future and care for the pains of the past. Today, we prepare the food for our ancestors--”
Pig whines, covering his snout with his paws.
And oh, god, does Yoongi wish he could do the same. He wants to -- go somewhere, tell someone, but who would he tell?
The radio splutters.
“--Charting today, the newest hit: Where Shall I Put My Heart? What do you think, Fionn? Personally, I liked his older stuff better, but… we’ll let the audience decide! Here’s the chart topping record breaker!--” As the strains of a poppy boppy song begin to trail through the room, Yoongi stares in horror at his radio. Pig is crying in his dog basket.
God. God Almighty.
Yoongi, go to the mountain at the sunset.
Yoongi, go to the mountain -
He thinks of the mountain folk today, Tae and Jimin yelling at each other about getting a very specific lamb, about the pea-soup colour of the smoke pouring out between Jimin’s lips.
He thinks of the way they called each other, little familiarities, the way Gukkie had taken Tae’s arm, the way Jimin’s eyes had crumpled into a smile when he thought of them. Fuckin’ idiots, but I gotta love ‘em. He thinks of the contact, the touching even if it was in anger, and he thinks of the smiles and the nicknames and the little communal shopping list, like they care about what the others are doing.
Like hell is he going up the mountain at all, nevermind at sunset.
Like hell would he ever want to get closer to that.
As the sky blackens and bruises, Yoongi finds himself clambering into the jeep, locking Pig safe in the cottage before he starts it up. His lane is littered with leaves, falling like rain in the twilight. He’s being so stupid. He’s being so stupid.
When he closes his eyes, he doesn’t see black - he sees a deer, a stag, his antlers holding up the world, an array of animals lying at his feet. All looking at Yoongi.
What does Yoongi have to offer? He doesn’t --
His palms are sweaty, slippery around the steering wheel, and it’s with twitching fingers that he lights a cigarette, tipping the ash over his knees in his hurry to get it between his lips. The mountain road is dangerous, potholey and covered in the slip of rain and leaves, the forest already beginning to envelop him in cold red and orange as he begins to drive up the slope. The forest hangs over the world.
Stay Well Away, they told him, and now look at what he’s at. Stay Well Away from the warmness, and the belonging, and the feeling of safety --
He parks near the outskirts of the forest, his rubber boots crunching against the early-fallen leaves strewn along the side of the road. The sun is dipped almost below the horizon, flooding the whole world with violent red, like it’s been stabbed.
Stabbed. Jesus. What would the mountain folk want with a lamb and some almond milk?
He brought a coat, but it doesn’t do much for the warmth; he keeps one hand out of his pockets so he can ferry the cigarette to and from his lips, but shoves the other as deep into his coat as he can, shivering before he plunges between the trees. This is a bad idea.
They tell bad stories about the forest in the autumn time. About how the spirits come out, and where the fires come from, unexplained in the middle of the night. When Yoongi was younger, that was what all the kids scared each other with -
(He remembers Yoojae talking about the mountain ghost, some old woman that died in her cottage because her children neglected her, and how she follows naughty kids around to this day, telling them to be kinder to their parents. Yoojae used to pretend to be the ghost, and try to smother Yoongi in his sleep with his pillow, and then when Yoongi went sobbing to his parents, Yoojae would say it had all been a dream and his parents would be angry with him for waking them up so late.)
Jimin and Tae and Gukkie. His heart hurts, a bit.
And then the hart with his head to the sky, and the animals all looking at him. That cat had been so smug.
And then the radio.
He steps around a puddle. The foreigner forestry trees are slowly giving way to proper ones, the harsh green of the pines and the firs turning into the reds and oranges and fading greens of sycamores and oaks and aspens, trunks thick with age, branches drooping with weight. The occasional thicket gives him trouble, and the streams winding their steady way through the bracken, but for the most part Yoongi just walks forward, the dying sun at his back. Into the forest.
Why’s he doing something so stupid?
(‘Cause you’re fed up--)
He smells woodsmoke. Something in him keeps him from dropping the butt of his cigarette; he shoves the ashy mess into his back pocket instead, a sort of awkward respect for the untamed nature of the forest. Of the mountain. (At night. In autumn.)
He hears, suddenly, the sound of a fiddle. fiddlerol fiddledol fiddledae. The sort of playing that only happens late at night, fingers flying madly over strings with no sense of purpose - only a deep throb of the beat through your feet.
The bloody sunset burns his shoulders, and the fiddle is loud and the woodsmoke is strong.
Yoongi is in the dance before he realises there is one.
It’s a messy, drunk dance, the fiddler next to the bonfire, his face darkened in bloodyred shadow, dust rising from the horsehair bow as though the instrument itself is on fire. There are four others dancing - a skipping run around the bonfire, which burns purple and peasoup green, and they’re dancing and yelling and shouting without a care in the world.
And wearing masks.
“Yoongiyah!” Yells one of the dancers, and with a frozen shiver Yoongi realises who it is. “Yoongiyah!” Jimin, the person from the parking lot, with a crude cat’s mask fixed over his face, dancing around the bonfire. “Yoongiyah!”
Yoongi wants to back away, but tree roots have clambered through the bracken on the forest floor, wrapping around him - when he looks around, there’s a sycamore tree with all its leaves pointed his way. And Jimin remembered his name. Despite himself, despite everything, it makes Yoongi -- happy. Happy, in a way. They remembered his name. But then the tree squeezes tight --
You forget yourself, you’re in the forest at night in the woods in autumn at night --
They turn it into something to sing to, yelling Yoongiyah and Yoongiyah and Yoongi’s kicking against the tree branches, eyes wide with terror, trying to free himself, trying to run --
“I see what you mean,” says the fiddler. His mask is long and pointed, and when he steps into the light Yoongi realises that it’s the other one from the parking lot. Tae, with fluffy grey hair and a pointed grey fox face fixed over his own. His fiddle hangs from his hand, and with a start, Yoongi sees that it’s not a fiddle at all - it’s a tree branch covered in leaves, with a twig in favour of a bow. “He is.”
Jimin holds out his arm, and in the smoke, in the confusion, Yoongi can’t tell whether it ends in a paw or a hand. “Come on,” he says gently, like he’s coaxing a frightened animal, “Join us awhile.”
Yoongi shakes his head.
(This is what we see - pale limbs like frosted twigsnaps, and pooled black eyes full of pretty terror, and hair too long and windswept, and cloven hooves tied to the ground, ready to bolt at a moment’s notice, and the tremblebitten lips, and the fearstung cheeks - this is what we see.)
“Come on,” Jimin repeats. One of the other figures, someone tall and broad with a wolf’s mask over their face, lifts a stick right out of the fire and to their lips; the trembling trills of a flute ring out across the forest clearing. “Come on, Yoongiyah. We don’t bite. We wanna dance with you.”
Someone in a black rabbit mask tosses something else onto the fire, and it explodes in a crackle of smoke, like burning ink.
And then Yoongi is dancing, caught with one hand held by Jimin, the other clasped by an owl-mask; dancing around the fire, the strains of the flute hopping and popping, a crooked finger flying over the holes,
And then he’s laughing, and he’s never felt this happy before,
And then they are sitting, all of them, Yoongi held firm by the wolf-mask, forearms trapping his body to the ground, a pipe being passed around; the wolf-mask holds it to his lips, and when Yoongi puffs, someone begins to scream in overwhelming joy,
And then he’s happy, and he’s never laughed this much before,
And then they are dancing again, although this time nobody is playing music; this time there are six of them, all masked and hooting and screeching like madmen, swaying with the trees and with the fire and Yoongi is swaying with them, and,
and they are all naked, but not in a strange way; just in a way that feels right, yoongi shedding his clothes without a thought, because it feels right, because all around him is the feeling of joy and heat and burning copper wood, and the trees are singing and the music is pervasive everywhere and the beat of the drum,
and the joy in being alive,
and the joy in being alive,
and the joy and the warmth and the friends all around him,
and the heat of the fire, and the heat of the blood, and something bleating pathetically, and someone beginning to sing in a language yoongi doesn’t understand, and,
and then the owl is handing him a wooden bowl of liquid that burns his throat hot and red and orange and he passes the bowl along, both empty and full at the same time, and,
and then yoongi is dancing again, and the singing and the screaming and the music and the beat of the drum, and then,
And then Yoongi blinks.
He’s lying next to the dying embers of a fire. It isn’t cold, and the sun is still setting, although he’s sure it’s been hours since he first arrived in the forest.
He is alone.
With shaking hands, he paws through a pile of unfamiliar clothes next to him, looking for something to drape over his naked frame. There’s nothing that isn’t so holey there’s no point to it, so he stops looking; there’s a tree root looped around his waist, although it slithers back into the ground when he makes moves to stand.
When he stands, he realises how tired he is, and he would be falling -
Yoongi slumps gratefully into the arms of the whoever that caught him. Their hands are warm. The trees whistle; otherwise, the forest is quiet, save for the breaths huffing out of Yoongi and the whoever.
“I apologise for them,” the whoever says, one arm supporting Yoongi’s back as he lowers them both down to the forest floor. The fire bursts back into being, a warm, wholesome red, welcoming and homely. “They carry themselves away, I find.”
Yoongi sighs and shakes his head. “I-” his voice cracks, his throat sore and hoarse, “I didn’t mind.”
He shakes his head again.
“Can I ask your name?”
Yoongi looks up, then.
The whoever is a man. His skin is burnished bronze, freckles spreading from his cheeks down past his neck, and he’s draped in furs and cloths rather than proper clothes; feathers and foxtails and a rabbit’s foot around his neck. His hair is red, the red of autumn leaves. Parting just above his pointed ears spread a pair of antlers, an arm’s width each, moss and leaves hooked over the knobs and crooks and points of them.
And Yoongi skitters like a frightened - not a deer, not a deer, like a frightened - person, out of the man’s arms and into the littered bracken. “I - ah, let me go, let me-” because the tree roots have emerged again, wrapping around his wrists and ankles, pinning him to the ground. “Stop!”
“Stop,” says the man, his eyes full of concern but his voice full of command. He looks down on Yoongi, and Yoongi’s never felt smaller, weaker, than he does now. “Let him go. Here.”
And then he’s stooping, the man, and holding out a coat for Yoongi to slip his arms into; it’s warm, and worn, and slightly too big, and it smells of wax and gun-oil and fresh forest air. “I’m sorry. They-”
Yoongi shivers when the man smooths his hands over Yoongi’s shoulders, familiar and friendly and kind. “Who are you?”
“Didn’t they tell you?”
“Then,” the man is sitting, now, next to Yoongi with his arm around Yoongi’s waist, “Then call me Hoseok, for the time being. And tell me your name.”
“Yoongi,” Yoongi says quietly. His hands are shaking too much to button the jacket - Hoseok pulls at his fingers gently, moves them out of the way, pushing the buttons through their holes from the hollow snug of Yoongi’s throat down to where the jacket ends, mid-knee. Taking care of him without being asked to. It’s the strangest thing yet, even with the masked dance and the antlers -- Hoseok’s attitude. “And what are you doing here, Yoongi?”
“I don’t -- I don’t know,” Yoongi admits. He stares at Hoseok’s hands, at knuckles and muddy thumbs and orange-tinted fingertips. “Someone told me to come.”
“And you did?”
“I don’t… know why, but I did.”
“And here you are,” Hoseok says. He rests his hand at the small of Yoongi’s back. Always touching. “And still alive.”
“Does that surprise you?”
Hoseok hums. It’s a nice hum; it fills the air, and even after he’s stopped humming it continues, a big bloody splotch filling the sky the same way the sunset is. “I think it does. You have lovely eyes.”
And then Hoseok’s standing, pulling Yoongi up, his broad palms gripping Yoongi’s forearms, looping around his wrists. His antlers swing through the air, displacing sound and light, somehow the brightest things in the whole forest. “Let’s run.”
Yoongi nods. He wants to get away, still, but Hoseok says let’s run and it sounds like the most enjoyable thing in the world, and the forest is friendly and Hoseok is smiling at him and he doesn’t quite know why he wants to leave. He thinks he might know why he wants to stay. “Where?”
“Through the trees,” Hoseok says, tossing his head, a strangely equine movement; the branches split and tangle together, knotting in an arch over their heads, creating a long path stretching into the depths of the forest. “Where else?”
Hoseok hops from bare foot to bare foot. “Let’s run.”
So they do.
Yoongi is running, held in Hoseok’s hand, his feet flying through the mud and the bracken and the tree roots, and then it’s his hooves flying through the mud and the bracken and the tree roots, and when he looks to his side there’s a stag instead of Hoseok - a stag glimmering and shining and ruddy bloody red, eyes black, antlers growing with every second. The trees cry out. There’s the sound of the fiddle, the flute, the smell of woodsmoke, and they’re running and running and running and running
and the joy in being alive
and the joy in being alive
And Yoongi stumbles out of the forest, whacking his head hard on the door of his jeep. The sun is beginning to rise.
He is naked, except for a brown wax jacket that’s way too long. The soles of his feet are bleeding. His palms are sticky with woodsmoke, and he tastes orange fire in the back of his throat.
He finds his spare pack of cigarettes in the glovebox of the jeep, and smokes two just sitting there staring at the dawn. Birds are singing, although they’re muted by the closed door. He tips the ash down into the fold-out tray. He turns the radio on, but before it can connect he thuds it off again.
Then, he drives home.
Too cold. Pig isn’t there.
He expected that, though.
It's always cold, down here.
Three days later and they’re putting up the barrier.
(Well - Yoongi is, and he calls in Jae for a favour. Yoojae hasn’t helped with the barrier since their grandfather’s death.)
Silage is grass, a pit full of grass mowed in summer, used for the cows to graze during the winter months. Were the dumb things given a chance, they’d eat it within a week, so the pit barrier has to be built out of corrugated sheets and hollow iron beams, a contraption to ration out the beams.
Yoojae and Minji aren’t at home; they’re at the hospital for a scan of some sort, or maybe they’ve driven to the city to get coffee, or maybe they’ve gone to buy presents -- they’ve gone, anyhow, and left Yoongi to do it, so Yoongi calls Jae and gets him to troop down to the yard. On his way out the door, clicking his tongue for Pig, he puts the brown wax jacket on - his raincoat vanished in the forest - and smooths over the arms, imagining Hoseok’s touch on him.
Imagining Hoseok’s touch on him. The cold chill, perpetual around Yoongi’s whole life (or so it seems sometimes) vanishes for the briefest of seconds.
“Morning, Yoongi,” Jae says. He’s a chatterbox, full of talk about nothing, which suits Yoongi just fine - Yoongi doesn’t talk much at all, and Jae doesn’t really need a listening audience, sometimes. He just likes voicing his mind, all the time.
Their boots splash in the cowshit over the slatboard. Below them is the slurry pit, where six months worth of shit will be collected, effluent gas and all, and sprayed over the grass in June, spreading the sweet smell of summer across the flatlands and the town. Three days work for Yoongi in the tractor, sweating through his t-shirt. Drinking cold water down at the river. Yoojae, asking how soon he can be finished by. Now, the tank’s almost empty, but the smell is just as strong.
“Cold, right? Sometimes I wonder why the fuck winter is even a thing…”
Yoongi lets Jae’s words melt into the background while they pull the iron sheets out of a toolshed. To build it, the cows have to be shoved out of the yard into the little orchard-slash-field next to the cattlecrush, and they’re all packed in their, hooting and tooting and trying to eat from the stripped-clean grass. Dumb creatures. The iron poles are long and awkward, and the sheets even moreso, and Yoongi’s soon splattered with mud and rust, his cheeks red and brown. The coat keeps the heat in nicely, though; he’s almost too hot, which has never happened before. It’s nice. The coat is nice. The memory of smooth hands and running (and the joy of being alive) is nice.
“... And so then I met this guy called, like, fucking Dowoon, and I was like, oh my god, you’re that drummer! and he was like, yeah, shit…”
The silo pit steams faintly, damp grass piled fifteen feet in the air, even after all these months it’s been sitting. There are holes lodged into the concrete wall either side of the silo, which is currently being held in place with a makeshift net; Yoongi unhooks it and lets it fall to the ground. Jae gathers it in his arms.
“... And we somehow ended up playing together, hyung, I don’t even know how, and what are the fucking odds, right? Like, in town…”
As soon as the net’s gone, a few clumps fall to the ground, splattering in the shit and falling through the holes in the slats. The grass is weighed down on top by black plastic sheeting and tyres; the barrier has to be put up soon, before the whole thing collapses.
(Every year, a kid or two suffocates when the silage is being brought in, choking under the weight of so much grass. Yoojae used to pretend to push Yoongi into the pit. Yoongi would burst into tears at the sight of it, until his father told him to stop being so stupid and man up. Yoojae made faces.)
“... And this guy, like… Kang something, but I know he was called Brian really…”
Yoongi lifts one end of the iron pole; Jae lifts the other, slotting it neatly into the wall at knee-height. The second. Yoongi’s breath hangs in the air in front of him - in the early morning, the only thing that’s still is his breath. The cows, shuffling. The grass smells of stagnated freshness, one of the strangest smells in the world.
Yoongi’s hands don’t form calluses, like Yoojae’s have, like even Jae’s have. His skin’s too… something, so whenever he works he just blisters and bleeds and his skin peels off his palms in tattered strips. It’s happening now, as he handles the bars, but he doesn’t want to stop to get his gloves.
The rust is almost the same colour as the little beads of blood.
“... And so next thing I know, we’re, like, behind the grocery shop, making out a little bit, and I’m like woah, what the fuck, man?..”
Yoongi sends Jae home once the struts are in place. The rest of the work is more calming, slower, now that the immediate threat of death-by-grass is gone; he takes a moment to walk Jae off, rambling down the narrow country road, and leans against the shed with a cigarette. He doesn’t even smoke it, just watches the orange burn down to his fingertips, and then he throws the stub away and wipes his palms on his jeans. There’s rust and muck and shit all over him. He’s probably getting blood poisoning from the little scars opening up on his palms, but he doesn’t care. He never really cares.
He doesn’t really care about anything. Not really. He doesn’t feel warm. He feels -- cold.
The corrugated iron sheets have holes drilled in them. They’re old, old, old, because nothing on the farm is replaced until it falls apart (and Yoongi wonders how far he’s gone) but the holes match the nails sticking out of the poles, so the sheets can be hung there. The cows won’t eat what they’re not meant to.
Yoongi hangs the sheets at the top first; that’s how it works. He holds one of them in his hand - and it’s twice as wide as he is and as tall again, and awkward as fuck - and climbs one-handed up the scaffolding until he’s hung the sheet down from the top. It’s a two-man job, but Yoojae never offers to help, and like hell is Yoongi going to ask. Last year, someone on the other side of the mountain fell off doing it on his own, but -- whatever.
Sixteen feet. Broke his back.
At least Yoongi’ll get to sit down, if he breaks his back.
It’s long, hard, menial. An hour into it, ten sheets hung and ten to go, he takes off the brown coat and throws it outside to cool off on the dewy grass. His hands are warm, his back is sweating, but his feet have gone numb in the cold long ago. Back when Yoongi and Yoojae were kids, they used to do it in half an hour, climbing like monkeys up the scaffolding, racing each other, and Yoojae would always end up hitting Yoongi with one of the boards, and Yoongi would pretend it didn’t hurt. Home in time for tea.
Let’s run. Let’s feel alive again.
The forest is a world away from this.
Warm and welcoming and the joy in being alive. There’s none of that here.
Yoongi feels dizzy, a little, when he finishes, but he’s not done yet. He trudges knee-high through wet grass to let out the cows again, back into the yard, and forks out their first ration of silage, locking the iron bars back into place. They coo at him, recognising him more than they’d recognise anyone else. He pats their flanks, rubs their noses, wipes his shitty bloody muddy hands on their shitty bloody muddy skin. (It probably worsens it.)
Then he walks out, puts the brown coat on (not his coat, not his coat, it’s someone else’s coat, he’s just borrowing the feeling of being alive) and goes home.
He wants a bath, but there’s no - no nothing, and he wants a cup of tea, but there’s no milk, and he’s run out of cigarettes. Feeling strange and empty and weird, Yoongi washes most of the dirt off his hands, changes his jeans, and grabs his wallet, slipping it into the pocket of the brown jacket. Pig isn’t here. When Yoojae and Minji leave, the stupid dog spends all his time hanging outside their locked door, whining and sniffing. Like Yoongi doesn’t --
Like Yoongi doesn’t exist. Some days, he feels like --
gone to shops on a sticky note, plastered to his front door. He doubts they’ll be ‘round to check. They haven’t been to his house in three years, by his count.
He slots a stick of gum in his mouth in favour of a cigarette, just to give himself something to work at, and slides into the jeep, his rubber boots kicked off in favour of tattered converse. He hasn’t bothered changing anything else. Shit and mud and sweat.
He turns the radio on, half-expecting something exciting, something to get his heart racing and his brain ticking and his blood pumping like he craves - today, we prepare the food for our ancestors - run with me, yoongi - but it’s just two hosts talking about how glad they are to be able to give away a free fridge to the seventh caller. Someone three counties away wins it, and they all scream and cheer, and the noise burns Yoongi’s head.
He turns the radio off. Indicates into the town proper.
The town is pretty abandoned, this time of day. There’s only two other cars in the parking lot next to the grocery store - Yoongi parks in the far corner, tucking his muddy jeep away from the silver merc (tourists) and the grey landrover (which looks oddly familiar). Wallet. Keys. Lock the jeep. Like anybody would steal it. Like he has anything to give.
Milk, cigarettes, sense of purpose. The first two will be easy enough to buy - the second, he’ll have to search for. Maybe he’ll find it in the dairy. Or the forest. Or the --
(Or the forest.)
(Don’t fucking think about it.)
He hooks a carton of full-fat milk around his finger, because fuck it, that’s an indulgence. The cigs are behind the counter, stuck in their little lung cancer packets, but now Yoongi’s thinking of an unappealing dinner, of pick-pick olives and hard bread and soft cheese and room-temperature wine, and now his feet are carrying him of his own accord to the butcher’s counter. Treat himself.
“Heya. Half a pound of beef.”
“Mince or chop?”
“Mince.” It’s cheaper. Minji buys chop, every time.
Yoongi watches with uneasy eyes as Sohee - and she was in his year in school, too - puts her gloved hand into a plastic bag, grabbing a fistful of bloody red mincemeat. He hears his shoes squeak rubber against the lino, loud over the musak blasting through the grocery store, and he wants to leave, wants to go somewhere, but he’s not sure where. He feels twitchy. Out of sorts. Cold, and he always feels cold, so why’s it only started to bother him now? Now he knows that somewhere in the world, he can be warm, does the cold not satisfy him anymore --
Sohee knots the bag and weighs it. On the opposite wall, the place where the butcher does his work, there’s a little stain of blood.
Plasters. Yoongi needs plasters, and antiseptic, before he gets blood poisoning and his arms fall off, or something. He wants to be warm again. He wants it --
“No bother. See you soon.”
Down in the medical aisle, two men - mountain folk, instantly recognisable - are studying the products intently.
(It’s easy to tell who lives on the mountain. Their clothes are brighter, and older, and better. They wear brown boots, not wellingtons, and their coats are waxy - Yoongi pulls his own around him - and their hair is shinier, and their cheeks are redder, and they laugh more and look happier and always seem to be touching. They smile, and have nicknames, and they always seem so warm.)
When Yoongi, milk and mince, sad and muddy and quiet, squeaks in the aisle, they both turn around. One of them, the taller, broader one, has his hand in the back pocket of the gangly dimpled one.
“Hey,” Yoongi mumbles.
The tall one (blonde hair, pink cheeks, bright eyes) takes his hand away from the other one to lift a bottle off the shelf, and Yoongi sees his crooked finger, and hears in his head the sound of a flute playing and the dance and the and and and -
He drops the milk and the mince. Gory splatters of raw beef, all over the bottom shelves, cardboard boxes of tampons and nappies and paracetamol, and puddling white in between the blood, and Yoongi is soaked in shit and muck and sweat and milk and blood and that’s the wolf-mask with the flute, and that means it actually happened. Fuck. Fuck.
“You gotta pay for that,” Sohee calls from the counter. “You all good?”
Yoongi is shaking. He knows he is. He’s freezing. He’s so cold, and the wolf was warm.
“Don’t -- fuck, don’t panic,” the wolf-mask-man holds his hands out, and those hands were wrapped around Yoongi, and Yoongi’s fucking disgusting and all he wanted was a cup of goddamn tea, anyway, and -
“Jin, quit,” says the dimply one. His voice is coarse and rough, faintly familiar. The owl-guy? The rabbit-guy? No, the rabbit one was shorter. This one is the owl-mask.
Jin, the wolf-mask, takes a couple steps towards Yoongi. Yoongi matches them in reverse. “Please. PLease don’t freak out, we -- we never meant for you to, but you -- I’m so sorry--”
Yoongi turns around to run, and slips in the puddle of milk and meat, and it’s just. Just, honestly, just his own bloodyfuck luck.
“Oi! Joonah, catch him--!”
Yoongi feels his body falling into the shelving, and he feels the stock falling on top of his head, heavy brown glass bottles full of drugs and whatever, and then he’s faceplanting in a box full of capped diabetic needles and then he’s cursing, and then someone else is cursing, and then there’s a couple of seconds where he feels dizzy. Overwhelmingly so.
He could fight it, and sit up.
He chooses the second option.
He’s cold, anyway. Fuck it. An indulgence.
“They brought you back to me.”
Hoseok is sitting cross-legged in the crook of a tree, cushioned by green moss. The forest is all around them. Hoseok is wearing furs again, and his antlers are a little wider, and his smile is a little brighter, and his hands twitch where they rest on his knees. Yoongi is lying on his side, half-covered by leaves; he’s in the brown coat and nothing else. No milk or meat or blood or sweat or shit - just being clean and warm and welcomed.
Slowly, Yoongi sits up. He feels leaves falling off his head, off his shoulders. His shoulders are light. The cuts on his palms are gone.
“And you look delightful, Yoongiyah.” Hoseok stands up, and holds out his hand; Yoongi grabs it without a second thought. “Exquisite.”
“Thank you.” Yoongi doesn’t have to add that Hoseok does too, as a sort of weird compliment - Hoseok’s skin, what of it that’s parted below the fur and leather, is shining bronze, well-oiled muscles rolling underneath his arms as he helps Yoongi to his feet, his hands, his arms, so warm.
He doesn’t bother asking who they are.
“What do you do, Yoongi?”
“Walking,” Yoongi mumbles. He feels tongue-tied; Hoseok hasn’t let go of his hand. His grip is tight. Yoongi doesn’t want to be the one to pull away. He likes holding hands, although he can’t remember when he last did it. It’s warm. “I walk. On the -- on the farm.”
“Down the mountain? In the other place?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Hoseok is barefoot again. Every time his toes touch the grass, little mossy footprints peel away; the whole forest feels like it’s beating with their hearts. Yoongi never knew he could hear a heartbeat, but Hoseok’s is loud, like a drum, badumbadumbadum in his ear. Under his finger, hooked over Hoseok’s wrist. It’s oddly comforting. Everything about the forest is oddly comforting.
And Yoongi is oddly comforted. He feels warm.
“You don’t mind if we walk again, then, now. The forest is better when you’re -- active inside it.” Hoseok has a funny accent, although it’s nice - less grounded than Yoongi’s, which is as muddy as accents go. The mountain folk speak lyrical, like every word is a potential for song, and Hoseok’s voice is like that but amplified tenfold, smooth and silky and hot as it runs through Yoongi’s mind.
Yoongi shakes his head. “I don’t mind.”
“Good,” Hoseok says, his smile a reward. He strokes his thumb down the length of Yoongi’s wrist, pressing down hard on the vein right where his pulse is; Yoongi feels his heart speeding up, and wishes it didn’t. “Good,” Hoseok says again. “Let’s walk.”
Yoongi feels too warm in the coat. He doesn’t want to mention it, seeing as it’s the only thing he has on at all, but he does all the same. The forest is cool, quiet, but it’s still mid-September, still hot and humid now the rains have started.
“Where are we going?”
“To the heart,” Hoseok replies. He hums for a while, a discordant nonmelody that twists its way through the leaves and the trees and even when he stops, it continues, draping itself over branches and oozing down Yoongi’s spine.
“The heart of the -- of the forest?”
“Would you rather we visited yours?” Hoseok splays the flat of his palm out on his own chest, then on Yoongi’s, and it burns. “Or mine?”
“Yours sounds more exciting,” Yoongi murmurs; with every step he takes into the wood, led by Hoseok, it all feels surreal. More surreal. Distant and murky and misty and foggy and ever-so-clear, ever-so-bright, ever-so-peaceful. Welcome and the joy of being alive --
“Mine is a wild heart, Yoongiyah.”
“Yours is wilder than you think, I think.” Hoseok stops; they’re standing in the middle of a stream, a brook, running clear over pebbles and tinkling. “Do you want to see?”
Yoongi doesn’t know him. Doesn’t care to. And something about Hoseok, burning brown eyes, spreading as wide as any stag, hands caught around Yoongi’s wrists, makes him trust him anyway. “Yeah, I think I do.”
Hoseok kisses him.
Hoseok kisses him. The hum is loud, like a swarm of gentle bees, and the sun is bright and Yoongi is so hot in the coat, burning with Hoseok’s lips on his, that he’s wriggling to get his shoulders out of it, trying to escape from the boiling sweat of a winter coat in the autumntime. Hoseok kisses him, and Yoongi’s skin is on fire.
He tries to kiss back while he’s wriggling and slippering out of the coat, but Hoseok’s got his hands around Yoongi’s wrists and his mouth on Yoongi’s mouth and it’s difficult enough. “Coat--coat,” Yoongi gasps, “Hot -- too hot, help-”
Hoseok chuckles. It sounds like moss, scraped off bark with a stick. “I’ll help. You’re wriggly as a minnow.”
The coat melts away when Hoseok touches it, pulling Yoongi’s shoulders; melts into something fawn-coloured and red, something gossamer-thin draped through Yoongi’s elbows, cascading down his naked frame, into the dip of his legs, hiding most things he’d like hidden, although he feels… bared. “A minnow,” Hoseok repeats, his hands pressed to Yoongi’s chest, where it feels as though his heart is going to beat right out of his body. “A minnow… or a doe… Yoongiyah, your heart…”
Yoongi bolts awake, panting, slick sweat sticking his black hair to his brow. Inventory. Stock-take. Not in the forest - no Hoseok, no gossamer, no cool crunching breeze, no hum. Bed - not his, totally alien to him. Room, also strange, cream-coloured neutrality. Vase of flowers on the windowsill; twigs with dead leaves sellotaped to the end. Smell of cinnamon incense. Three faces peering anxiously at his - all of them familiar, to varying degrees.
His head hurts. He’s wearing his own clothes, though, not naked - and he smells, over the cinnamon, the smell of himself, of shit and muck and blood and sweat and milk.
“Hello,” says Jimin brightly, his knuckles white where they grasp the handle of a mug. It’s steaming.
“Hyung,” murmurs the someone a little behind Jimin - he’s the one that held Tae back, last week in the parking lots. “Hyung?” His face is hidden under long, overlong black hair, and his head is turned towards the ground, his hand looped in the back of Jimin’s t-shirt. “Hyung, Jimin-hyung-”
“Is your head alright!” Trills the third one. Jin. From the grocery shop.
Yoongi grunts at all three of them, his head still stuck somewhere else, kissing Hoseok, a man dressed in furs and the wet soak of the sun and the rustle of leaves and antlers spread like tree roots over his ears. And the welcome, and the belonging, and the joy of being alive and
“Maybe he’s concussed--”
“Drink this,” Jimin yelps, thrusting the mug into Yoongi’s unresisting hands. “Drink it, drink it, oh my god-”
“Is it drugged?”
Jin’s beaming smile only gets more forced. “Why would it be drugged? What? Why?”
Yoongi holds it more for the warmth than anything else, feeling like a rag wrung out after washing sloppy dishes. He cringes under the attention, unused to so much of it. Unused to any of it. “I met you-” he points at Jimin, “And you smoked something and it fucked me up. Then I came up here and -- and saw you,” he points at Jin, “And you played the flute and that fucked me up too, and then today I went to get some fucking milk for… a bloody cup of tea, and now I’m fucked up again.”
“We’re not drugging you!”
“Hyung,” the kid tugs Jimin. “Hyungie…”
“Okay,” Yoongi agrees placidly, the screeching Jin uses beginning to drill through his head. Resistance is futile. Would he really rather be down on the farm on his own, in the cold? Doing a thankless job? Would he really? “Okay.”
“Jin-hyung…” Jimin rubs his hand over his face. His paw. His hand. “Is Joon okay? Do you need me to go?”
“I will,” Jin says, patting the youngest one on the head. “Just… he’ll be confused. I’m sorry.” The last one directed at Yoongi, who shrugs.
The door closes with a little snick when Jin leaves, and Jimin whirls around immediately, letting the kid collapse onto his shoulder. “Oh, Gukkieyah,” he sighs, his eyes focused on the weird arrangement in the vase. “C’mon, lamb, c’mon. I’m sorry.” That last one not directed at Yoongi - instead, Jimin glares at him, eyes flashing green. Paws. Fucking cats.
Yoongi sighs and puts the mug to his lips.
It turns out to be - tea, just tea, a little too strong for Yoongi’s taste, but tea nonetheless. Hot, good tea, the sort that stains the inside of the mug with tannin. Dippin’ biscuit tea, his father used to call it. Dippin’ biscuit tea. Minji always makes it too watery, and Yoongi can’t afford the teabags to make tea this good. “Excuse me?”
“Where am I?” Yoongi feels the tea filling him, pouring down his gullet, warming his insides so nicely after the morning of cold sweats and the afternoon of bloody falls. Warm and welcomed. “And… is he okay?”
Jimin sighs heavily and begins peeling the kid’s fingers away from his t-shirt. “Jeongguk’ll explain. I’m going to check on… on Jin-hyung.” And he leaves too, but his fingers drift on the doorknob, letting it stay crooked open.
Jeongguk, apparently, cringes in on himself. “H--hello,” he whispers quietly, still staring at his feet. Bare. “Are you -- feeling okay?”
“Yeah,” Yoongi downs the rest of the tea and smacks his lips. “Um. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t think you want to know,” Jeongguk, the kid, speaks in a hoarse little whisper, sliding to sit cross-legged on the floor.
Yoongi shrugs. “You might as well tell me.”
“Um. Did you dream? When you -- when you -- when?”
“Did the rabbit die,” Jeongguk blurts out, lifting his face for the first time, big eyes puddling as he stares into Yoongi’s, “Did the rabbit die, did the rabbit die, did you see the rabbit die--” there’s a scar on his cheek, a faint silvery streak from the corner of his jaw to the crook between eye and nose, “Did you see him, did you see him--”
“Hey, relax,” Yoongi mumbles. Seeing Jeongguk panic is making him worry, too, and that’s the last thing he needs to do right now. “I was dreaming?”
“You -- you weren’t, but that’s not -- not important, please, you have to tell me if the rabbit died,” Jeongguk pleads, “What did he do, did he die--”
“I only saw one person,” Yoongi frowns, cupping the empty mug as an anchor. “And he didn’t… he definitely didn’t die. I saw -- I saw, no, no rabbits, no dead ones nor live ones neither--” And he’s trying not to panic, slipping into the odd lilty dialogue that existed between himself and Yoojae, back when they used to talk, “I just saw…”
Jeongguk’s mouth drops open. His bottom lip is bigger than the top, and his scar is glimmering in the light streaming through the window. “You - didn’t? See… what did you see?”
“This and that,” Yoongi says into his empty mug, the phantom heat of Hoseok’s hand on his chest. The joy of being alive. “But I didn’t see any rabbits, I swear. None.”
Jeongguk gapes at him again. “Then… I have to - hold on, hold on, I have to go - I…” He bolts out the door, leaving Yoongi even more lost and confused (and gross) than ever.
They’ve put him in a bed, though. That’s nice. That’s thoughtful.
He swings his legs out of it, the bed, wincing when he sees the reddish-rustbrown stain he’s left on the bedclothes. His head is spinning - he sets the mug down on the dresser and wobbles towards the door. There’s bound to be a bathroom here somewhere, and he needs a someplace, a something.
Outside the door, Jin is sitting with his forehead resting on his knees, and Yoongi almost trips over him; then he squeaks, and his head is spinning and he’s falling over Jin’s lap in a tumble of limbs and panicked yelps.
“I’m sorry,” Yoongi groans into Jin’s shoulder. “I’m--”
“Are you okay?”
Yoongi bites his lip, then shakes his head mutely. He feels too warm. Too -- too many people, all of them, and all of them keep asking him -- and the joy of being alive. Warm, and welcoming. Belonging, They all belong. It turns Yoongi’s stomach, a little.
“Okay. That’s okay. Okay not to be okay. My name’s Seokjin. You’re… Yoonsomething.”
“Yoongi,” Yoongi says. “I feel sick.”
“Okay. That’s okay too.”
“Where are we?”
“We’re in the forest.”
Yoongi nods, slumping forward. “Figures. I feel -- warm. Where’s the bathroom?”
Jin - Seokjin - stands, pulling Yoongi up with him. “Jeongguk might be in it.”
“Can I -- shower. I needah shower.”
“Yeah. Okay. That’s okay.” Seokjin sounds like he’s reassuring himself more than Yoongi. He presses his hand to a doorstop - it’s a heavy rock, with a carving in it that looks like a splinter, or tree roots, or join-the-dots, or antlers. Antlers. “Blessings be upon -- Yoongi.”
“What was that?” Everything’s starting to turn fuzzy at the corners.
“Just a little… a little prayer.”
Seokjin’s smile is tight. “Whoever happens to be listening.”
The rabbit kid, Jeongguk, is in the bathroom, but when Seokjin knocks on the door he bolts out, his cheeks dripping with tears, yelling for Jiminie-hyung. “I told him the rabbit didn’t die,” Yoongi says blearily, “I told him that, so why’s he still sad?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Seokjin hands him a towel, a bar of fresh soap, a crinkly packet of paracetamol. “Don’t pass out in the shower.”
Yoongi shakes his head. He feels loose-tongued and loose-limbed and loose, like all of his joints are separating themselves from each other, like at any moment all of his body parts could fly off in whatever directions they please, and he’s spoken more in the last half-hour than he has in three days. More people have looked at him in the last half-hour than anyone has in three days. The silo barrier feels a world away, and more, and Park Jaehyung’s boy troubles are a little speck of cobweb in the corner of Yoongi’s mind.
As soon as the bathroom door closes, he locks it. Holds the lock between trembling thumb and forefinger, and then plugs the bathtub up and turns the hot tap on as full as it will go. His clothes are disgusting and his skin feels disgusting and he wishes he could just peel it off along with his jeans, but it stays stubbornly stuck, holding his body together.
He runs only a little cold into it. The house is lively and warm, this house in the forest, this shining house in the forest, this house in the forest, and Yoongi isn’t panicking. He doesn’t think much, anyway, not usually, but now -
He wonders why he feels so much better here than he does at home.
Naked and covered in blood and shit and sweat and milk and muck, he slides under the bubbly water, watching the most of the grime float off his skin, forming a filmy surface over the bubbles.
The soap is lavender. Yoongi lathers himself in it until tears prickle his eyes and his skin is pink and sore, and then dunks his head underneath the water and holds it for as long as he possibly can.
He feels a little better when he comes up, but only a little.
And maybe he spends only twenty minutes in the bath, or maybe it’s two hours.
There’s a crack on the ceiling. He stares at it and thinks of stags, antlers supporting the sky, cloven hooves rooting the trees, all the animals around him looking at Yoongi. Rabbit. Owl. Wolf. Cat. Fox.
Somewhere, in the back of his head, Yoongi is building a puzzle out of all the pieces.
He isn’t sure how he feels about the picture he’s presenting to himself.
But at least he’s warm.
“Tonight--” Seokjin’s voice cracks when he looks at Yoongi, but then he continues, steadier, “Tonight we prepare the food for our ancestors,” and it’s a prayer, because everyone else around the table nods and repeats it.
Yoongi tucks himself further into himself. He’s wearing Jeongguk’s clothes, apparently, but they’re too big, bleachy jeans and a white t-shirt and a drowning hoodie, and everyone around the scarred wooden table is looking at him out of the corner of their eye. Jimin. Jeongguk. Seokjin. Tae, from the parking lot, grey hair a halo, eyes wide and red. Joon, from the shop, nibbling on his lip, ladling stew from the pot in the centre of the table out into the empty bowls in front of every person. The food looks good; Yoongi can’t cook properly, and Minji never offers him dinner, so he’s grown to live on tinned beans and bread and the occasional burnt mince-and-potatoes.
There’s a spare bowl at the head of the table. Wordlessly, Joon spoons stew into it, although Yoongi hasn’t seen any other person about the house.
Tae whispers something behind his hand to Jeongguk. Blotchy-cheeked, Jeongguk splutters, and the oppressive silence cracks a little. The warmth floods into the spots unfilled.
“Jeongguk’s not going to have to do it,” he then says, aloud, and Joon drops the ladle.
“Shit -- fuck --”
“Taehyung, why’d you-”
Taehyung. Namjoon. Yoongi adds the names to his mental roster, scooping stew and potatoes into his mouth with his spoon, splitting potatoes with the edge of it, running thick gravy over the flat curve of it.
“Sorry, hyung!” Taehyung, greyhaired halo, foxmask fiddle Taehyung, leaps to his feet - bare feet - and grabs a towel, slung over the rail of the aga-stove. “Shit, sorry--”
“--Don’t worry about it--”
The kitchen is small, cosy, and cluttered. Yellow paint, plantpots on the windowsill, little stickers above them on the window, sink full of mugs and teabags, slippers by the back door, coats in a heap beside the boots, boxy tv on the counter, fridge. Magnets. jimin sux // tae is gr8 // :( i luv jinnin. Red kettle perched on the friendly yellow aga, the sort of kettle that whistles when it’s boiling. A couple half-melted candles. Interactions everywhere, little signs of happiness, of warmth, signs that someone lives here.
A spoon clatters against the edge of a bowl, and Yoongi looks around to see which one of them is making the stupid noise.
At the head of the table, the lone bowl - the spoon, swilling stew around, tinkling gravy and carrots and splitting potatoes the way Yoongi had been doing just a moment ago.
“Your name is Yoongi, right?” Jeongguk whispers over the table to him, and now he looks apologetic, and sniffly, and very young, and he’s not questioning the bowl, so neither is Yoongi. “I’m sorry. I’m -- I -- I’m sorry about earlier.”
“It’s okay,” Yoongi manages. He’s ravenously hungry, he finds, and Jin had given him plasters for his cuts, and everything feels odd. And surreal. “I -- yeah, it’s okay.”
Jeongguk smiles, warm and sweet, while the rest of them fuss over the floor. “Do you feel better?”
“A little. Do… uh, do you?” Yoongi looks resolutely at Jeongguk, not at the bowl. His mouth feels suddenly dry. Cigarettes. That’s what he’d been wanting.
“Do I what?”
“Oh!” Jeongguk’s cheeks colour, and he tugs his hair over his eyes a little. “Um. Yes. I’m really - I thought I had news, and then I thought… you were meant to confirm it. Um. But, but, but you didn’t, and -- and it’s okay, now. I’m okay.”
“That’s good.” Yoongi licks the flat of his spoon. Sneakily, he scans the kitchen, looking for a packet of them somewhere - and he’s not addicted, or anything, he doesn’t crave them, he just likes having something to do with his mouth. Gives his mind an excuse not to think.
Someone taps him on the knee. Taehyung, on the floor, smiling. “Want some?”
“Sure,” Yoongi says, having no idea what he’s being offered until Taehyung unfolds a stick of gum, tucking it tight into Yoongi’s palm. “Uh- um, thanks?”
“Ask out loud next time,” Taehyung hauls himself up, scuttling around to his seat and diving his spoon into the stew. “I might not have gum. None of us smoke.”
“Thank you,” Yoongi mumbles. He folds the gum in half - mulls quietly over the explanation, wondering about the pea-green smoke and the things that happened at the campfire. Maybe they didn’t happen at all.
He ignores the first part of Taehyung’s statement, although he tucks it away for further examination.
At the head of the table, the bowl is clean.
So is Yoongi’s. It’s the nicest meal he’s had in a long while.
And now Yoongi is letting himself out the door.
It’s… late, late at night. A glance at the clock tells him it’s three in the morning, give or take a slice of five minutes, and here’s Yoongi putting someone else’s wellingtons on over thin cotton socks and too-big jeans, sneaking out in the forest at night so he can see someone that may or may not be real. He curses himself.
There’s a wax jacket draped over one of the hobs of the aga that looks like it might fit, so he slips that on, too. The door closes neatly behind him, and now he’s gone and nobody has noticed, and nobody will notice, and that’s the beauty of it all. He’ll be back before they know it, and then gone home to feed the cattle and drink tea and sink to his knees in shit once more, and this will all have been some lovely respite from reality.
The house really is in the forest. Yoongi looks back, once, at a glimmery beacon, a white cottage in the middle of the trees, tucked underneath the curve of an oak tree as though it’s been built into it. He shakes his head. Starts walking up, wherever his feet move up, however his feet can go up, to the top of the mountain almost instinctively.
It’s a couple of minutes by the time he hears the chittering, and by then, of course, he’s hopelessly lost.
Yoongi turns on his heels a few times. He doesn’t call out - only idiots call out - instead, he drops ‘til he’s kneeling in the cold bracken, hoping the brown jacket will do as a substitute for camouflage. The chittering, the chuckling chattering chippering, is coming from up a tree, like a bird. Like no bird Yoongi’s ever heard of. Like a - a something.
A twig snaps, but not under Yoongi’s heel. White hands, white faces, white lines, all goopy and malformed, drip down the tree nearest to him, leering and screaming and chittering out at him. Yoongiyoongiyoongiyoongi, they croon, long white droopy fingers, long white droopy mouths, big black gaping eyes, Yoongiyoongiyoongi, and when a sticky globule lands on the toe of his boot it begins melting through the brown leather.
Yoongi kicks it frantically, beginning to back away.
The goop is coming down from all the trees around him, now, all around him. Stretching melting chittering faces, hands, feet, bodies that curve themselves into breasts before they melt, showing him long hair and short hair, soft breasts and hard cocks, Yoongiyoongiyoongi, dripping down the trees. All of them, reaching towards him.
Yoongi can feel his breath catching in his nose. He turns, desperate, looking for a gap in the trees, but everywhere he looks there’s the sticky people, dripping down from above.
The chittering, the chirping, the moaning, gets louder in his ears ‘til it’s all he hears, a cacophony of painful, clashing anti-melody. He tries to run, but the goop on his boots has swallowed them whole; he’s stuck to the ground.
When the stag comes, it’s almost a relief.
Except for the blood on its antlers, and save for that, Yoongi would be overwhelmed with joy. And something in him is comforted --
It ignores him completely, this great hart dripping with blood and clumps of its own hair, hooves digging deep into the bracken forest floor. Yoongi never imagined a stag as something that would roar, but as it flings its antlers into the trunks of the trees, catching the white goo on its antlers, it lets out a sound Yoongi can only possibly describe as a roar.
An angry roar. Now the white faces are cringing away, all their charms gone, the chittering turned to screams of terror.
An angry roar.
When Yoongi blinks, he’s lying by a lake, the leaves above his head rustling, the sky a bloody orange colour. He’s wearing something like rustish gossamer. Hoseok is waist-high in the lake, his back turned to Yoongi, cupping water in his palm before splashing it over his back. Furs are piled on top of Yoongi. Hoseok’s. Hoseok’s furs.
Yoongi closes his eyes and tries his best to melt into the forest floor.
Did that happen? It was dark, the blackness of total night, the trees hiding even the stars, and dripping white faces tried to grab him, tried to tempt him with his name and with their faces and with breasts and soft skin and cocks, shapeless shapes forming for a second and gone the next.
And then a stag, angry and bloody, swiping them away with a shake of his head.
“Hoseok,” Yoongi calls. His voice cracks. “Hoseok--”
Hoseok turns around. His antlers are brown, like he hasn’t been able to get the stain properly away. Water runs in rivulets down his bare chest, over his brown nipples, through the planes of his stomach, down past his bare waist; he shows no shame in nakedness. “Yoongiyah.”
Yoongi tries lifting himself to his elbows, but, with alarm, finds his balance wobbly, his support weak. “What--”
“Have you ever,” Hoseok walks to the edge of the lake, stepping out, and Yoongi keeps his eyes on Hoseok’s face and not on his - - “Have you ever put sugar and jam in an empty jar during summer?” He kneels by Yoongi’s side, dragging his thumb down Yoongi’s cheek oddly tender before he pulls the loose tunic from on top of Yoongi, forcing it over his head. “Have you?”
“Yeah,” Yoongi says. He gives up and slumps back against the forest floor. “Of course.”
“What does it do?”
“Kills… kills wasps.”
Hoseok nods. “What happens if you don’t put enough sugar in, or if there’s too many wasps?”
Yoongi sighs; everyone does it at least once. Miscalculates. “The jam gets eaten and the wasps get… there’s more of them.”
“Yoongiyah, going into the forest at night, around this time of the year, is like covering yourself in sugar. There are too many wasps. What happens to the jam, no matter what?”
“Gets eaten,” Yoongi rasps. Although Hoseok’s moved the furs off his body, leaving him in the weird gossamer stuff and nothing else, he’s no closer to being able to lift himself up than he was before. “It -- gets eaten.”
Hoseok is still kneeling, his hands moving from his own clothes to Yoongi’s shoulders, warm and comforting and kind. “There are things out there that will do you harm. You’re a fawn, still, little doe, and I know it and so do those things. Why did you--”
“Thought you’d be out here,” Yoongi says in a hoarse whisper. “Why can’t I stand--”
Hoseok lifts him under the arms, as lightly as though Yoongi was a baby or a kitten or - something. “Your feet,” he says. “They got to your feet. The lake helps.”
“My…” Yoongi looks down, Hoseok settling him in his arms. “Fuck!” On his right foot, right on the arch of it, is a black stain, like an inkblot on damp paper. “My - Hoseok, the--”
“We can fix it,” Hoseok murmurs. When he walks into the water, carrying Yoongi above it, the lake whispers and splashes around his ankles-calves-knees, welcoming him back in, and his furs have melted away; he’s naked again, the clothes piled up by the side of the lake.
Yoongi is bone-crushingly tired. The water isn’t cold. It’s nice, like a spring bath.
“We can fix it,” Hoseok says again, soothing, setting Yoongi bodily into the lake; his feet dig into mud and mush, hidden pondweed wrapping around his legs. “Don’t worry. We can fix it.”
Yoongi’s naked too, now, he realises blearily. Hoseok’s hands are on his waist, holding him in the water, and they’re both naked and swaying back and forth to the beat of Hoseok’s hum. Quieter. Higher, lighter, too.
“I met some people in the forest,” Yoongi says, something buzzing through his body. “I met some weird people in the forest.”
“Will you stay with them?”
“I have to -- my cattle, and stuff--”
“I understand,” Hoseok says, ducking his face to tuck himself into Yoongi’s neck, sniffing deep. It doesn’t phase Yoongi, not in the slightest. “I can’t go down there. How does your foot feel?”
“Okay,” although Yoongi can’t really feel it at all, if he’s honest; all he can feel is cold mud and then warm hands, the heat of Hoseok’s presence as strong as the light of the dying sun - it’s a world away from the dead of night, the gaping mouths. A world away from the farm. From the cold nights.
Hoseok slips his hands from Yoongi’s waist to his - his thighs, the backs of his thighs, sudden and casual and clear. “Can you stand on it?”
“Yeah,” Yoongi manages to whisper. He’s been holding Hoseok’s forearms for balance, but now he’s gripping for dear life. “Uhm-”
“Your heart. We never got to see your heart, Yoongiyah,” Hoseok says, cupping flesh in his palms, waist-high in lakewater, his lips pulling upwards, delightfully wide and soft. Shaped a little like a love-heart. “Mind if I try again?”
“Heart.” Hoseok’s lips are on his with an almost… hungry ferocity, his mouth open, his tongue tracing Yoongi’s bottom lip, swallowing Yoongi’s surprised gasp with ease. His arms, his hands, his heat, all on Yoongi and they’re naked, skin-skin-skin, water-water-skin, and everything gets a bit foggy from then out.
Because Yoongi is falling, suddenly, hands at the small of his back like he’s being french-dipped,
and hoseok is kissing him,
and then he is running, sinking his hooves into muddy puddles and feeling alive,
and hoseok is kissing him, thumbing his cheeks, touching his nipples,
and then he is tossing his head and his ears are flapping fawn-red,
and then hoseok is kissing him,
and then the stag that holds up the stars is piercing through his ribcage,
and then hoseok is kissing him,
and antlers are protruding from his chest, bloodred, rustred, dripping,
and then hoseok is kissing him,
and he’s saying something into yoongi’s mouth,
and it sounds so much like i wish it wasn’t this way yoongiyah yoongiyah,
and then hoseok is kissing him.
And Yoongi kisses him back.
<3 comment what you think!
Jimin drives him down the mountain. Yoongi wants to go home.
“Jeongguk is -- I thought you’d see the rabbit die,” Jimin says eventually, five minutes into the trip, the trees whipping by in autumn blurs of orange. “I thought you’d dream the rabbit dead.”
Yoongi shakes his head. “Why do you care so much about the rabbit? I didn’t see one.”
Jimin drives loose, his hands slipping on the wheel, his chair tucked tight to the pedals, his left hand constantly fluttering between steering and the gearstick. “Jeonggukkie -- you know like, dream sequences?”
“Yeah.” The car smells of vanilla air freshener, coming from a tree hung from the mirror.
“Dream sequences. We thought the rabbit was gonna be the one that has to -- uh, on Samhain, but now something’s come up.” Jimin doesn’t slow at a junction; he just speeds through the abandoned roads. “What did you dream of?”
Yoongi digs his fingers into a hole in the seat. “A stag. Deer.” That’s safe enough. Hoseok, strange though he is, is Yoongi’s.
“Is there something wrong about that?”
“No,” Jimin says, his voice strangled. “I’ll… let you off here.”
He lets Yoongi off there.
Yoongi walks home.
The sticky note is still on his door, gone to shops, untouched. Pig’s pawmarks are on the handle, like the stupid dog’s tried to get in to be fed, but Yoojae’s tyre marks are nowhere to be seen. Yoongi still doesn’t have any milk, teabags, mince, cigarettes, or plasters, and he can’t bring himself to care - there’s a tin of beans in the cupboard and he’ll have to drink boiling water dribbled with honey, just for tonight, just until he can bring himself to go out again.
He’s exhausted. The beans congeal on the plate. His bread is bluemould and flies, so he chucks it out the window and eats the whole tin out of the saucepan, mopped up with his fingers, licked clean. It’s not filling in the slightest.
His bed is always cold once the cows go in, like clockwork.
He drags the duvet off, pulls the whole lot thudding down the stairs, curls up on the sofa next to the radiator.
When he wakes up three hours later, the sun is setting, and he gets up and puts on the wax jacket hanging on the door and picks up his keys and gets in the jeep and drives up the mountain again.
he is frightened. his heart is going fastfastfast, but he is still drinking, because he is thirsty. across from him, sitting up the tree, the Owl is watching, cooing softly, telling them all that everything is okay. the Fox lies on his side, lounging in the hot twilight; the Cat is beside him, pedalling his paws through the Fox’s fur. the Wolf is drinking, too, across from him, lapping up water with a hot wet red tongue.
he is frightened, but he is calm, and so he drinks. they are anticipating something. the music is eversoloud, an anxious fiddle, a crescending drum quavering to the crotchet of his heart.
the Rabbit is sitting on his hindquarters, staring into the middle distance, ears pricked up. the Rabbit is even more scared than he is, and he is very frightened.
the Hart comes, and his own heart is thumping. his hooves twitch, and he wants to run away, but the Hart has captivated him; captivated them all.
the Owl does not coo. the Fox and the Cat are frozen. the Cat stares at the Rabbit - everyone does. the Cat, so concerned the cry is in his eyes.
he is frightened. so is the Rabbit, sitting in the Hart’s path, so frightened he can taste it in the air.
the Hart walks right by.
ignores the Rabbit.
the Cat yowls, spell broken, and leaps towards the Rabbit, paws outstretched.
he is in the path of the Hart.
he is in the path of the Hart.
he trembles. the lakewater laps over his delicate hooves.
the Hart bows his nose to his neck, and breathes in deeply. it is a gentle action. it is an action of claim.
he is even more frightened than before. he is the Doe, and there is his Hart, and around him are the congregation, paying silent worship to the --
Next day he goes to the shop again.
“Feeling any better?” Sohee asks sympathetically, scooping mince into a plastic bag. “You looked sick, back then. Did… the mountain people, did they bring you home?”
“Yeah,” Yoongi says. Her digging is hardly the most subtle. “Thanks.”
Sohee’s shoulders deflate. She’d wanted more from him. “Okay. Have a nice day, Yoongi.”
He picks up plasters and teabags and two loaves of bread and milk (all the almond milk is gone) and tinned sardines and a block of cheese and carrots and potatoes and gravy stock. He asks for three packs of cigarettes from behind the counter; uncomplaining, turfs over the money. The fog has descended over the mountain and the town and the foothills.
He sees Jae. Jae waves, yelling at him; Yoongi raises his finger from the wheel of the jeep in acknowledgement.
jae: you could have said HelLO
jae: i put a bale in when you were away
thank you, Yoongi texts one-handed, walking into his cold empty cold empty house with his stock. He puts the kettle on. Changes his socks. Considers yelling for Pig, then realises how stupid that would be. Pig never comes to see him when Yoojae and Minji are at home.
He eats cold sardines out of the tin, washed down with tea, and lights a cigarette on his way across the fields to put a bale in for the cows, to count them and pet them and scrape the yard and tie back the silo and make sure nothing’s stopped working. Do a few little jobs. Split sticks, sort turf.
The cows hoot when they see him. Yoongi uproots docken leaves and grass and lets them lick his hands clean, the lucky few at the front. whitehead. poppy. poppy’s daughter. evil bitch. the-one-with-horns. grannie. poppy’s granddaughter. blackwhitehead. socks. All of them, little private names in his head, all daughters of cows his grandparents named, his own little homegrown herd.
(Yoojae, up in the cottage. Yoojae’s own little homegrown herd.)
“C’mon, pets,” Yoongi sighs, the bucket of meal heavy in his hand - he balances his body with his other arm - “Let’s eat up.”
He is the Doe, and his Hart chose him.
God fucking dammit.
Yoongi sits down, slides down, falls down, on the wall next to the crush, where the herd are crowded around the trough. His cows smell like home, smell so nice and good and friendly, and everything he’s been trying so hard not to think about is coming down on him all at once, invading the friendly goodness with something fresh. Alien. Don’t wash away the musk of centuries.
He is the Doe. Hoseok was kissing him, and Yoongi let him, and Hoseok is sometimes a stag who holds up the sky, and Jeongguk is a bunny twitch-nose, and Jimin is a cat, and they all expected the hart to go to the bunny.
They’d treated it like it was a bad thing.
And the hart went to Yoongi instead.
And the hart is Hoseok.
And Yoongi has never felt warmer, happier, sitting at a table whispering to a boy with big front teeth and a stammer while the stew at the head of the table eats itself.
He lies on the wall of the yard until it starts to rain. Yoojae and Minji are out again; their car isn’t up at the house, and they have friends everywhere in a fifty-mile radius, a dozen people they could be visiting right now. Pig is still up there, though; even the prospect of them is better than the reality of Yoongi.
When it starts to rain, Yoongi lights another cigarette, scratches a cow behind the ear, and trudges home.
Jimin is waiting for him. Jimin, catlike in the dark and mist, smoking that pipe, peagreen fog pouring from the bowl and curling around the ground, filling the world with hidden things and oddness.
Yoongi doesn’t say anything. He just leaves his front door open.
“You saw it,” Jimin says, staying just outside the threshold, his greenslit eyes glimmering. “You saw how scared Jeonggukkie was. You’re the doe.”
Yoongi shrugs. The kettle is empty, when he tries switching it on; the water that comes out of the sink is hissy and dribbly, and it takes an age to fill.
“Everyone saw it, Yoongi.”
Yoongi shrugs again. Everything in his bones is tired; everything in his body, in his mind, in his soul, is tired. He rested well in the forest. Pride, maybe, or fear, keeps him from going back.
“You’re the doe.” Jimin steps into the house at last, wincing. “That was… an open invitation?”
“To let me into the house.”
Jimin’s shoulders slump in something that could be relief. “Come back up with us. It’s nearly Samhain, and you and the hart--”
“And Hoseok--” Jimin puffs the pipe, a huge steadying breath that seems to put him more off-balance than on, “You need to--”
“I need to feed the cows,” Yoongi says. The kettle clicks loudly. “Tea?”
Yoongi makes ritual of it, clanking teabag into kettle, pouring water over the teabag, measuring lashes of milk into two mugs. One has a chicken on it; the other has a sickly-sweet cat with a pink bowtie. He slides that one over to Jimin, who glares at him, but curls his hands around it nevertheless, waiting for the hot black tea Yoongi pours. Solemn silence. He doesn’t have any biscuits. He doubts Jimin will mind.
“We aren’t normal,” Jimin says eventually, looking tight and uncomfortable in the tiny kitchen.
Yoongi just nods. Tea is good and sweet and hot, warming his whole body as he pours it down his throat.
“We--we aren’t,” and Jimin sighs and pulls on the end of his dark hair, “We know some truths, Yoongi, some truths nobody else knows, and Samhain--”
“You prepared the food for your ancestors,” Yoongi half-mocks, waving his mug at his dead radio. “I heard your voice, there. A while back. And you dance around a fire playing music and wearing funny masks. And sometimes I think you’re a cat.”
Jimin drinks silently.
Yoongi shrugs. “It is what it is. Everyone knows there’s funny bastards up the mountain. Who cares if it’s you lot?”
“Because you’re with us, now, too.”
“I came up once.”
“No, you came up three times,” Jimin slams his empty cup down on the table, the simpering cat looking ugly and angry and twisted and feral on the ceramic. “You came up three times, and you managed to save Jeonggukkie’s life and you don’t even know it, and you went out at night and the spirits fuckin’... flocked to you like you a fuckin’ lamp for moths.” And now there’s an accent, strong and angry, “And last night, you came and danced with us and you drank our drink and you sung our song and he chose you. To fend off the spirits of Sam-fucking-hain, he chose you.”
Yoongi drains his mug. “Okay.”
“That’s not what you say!”
“What else am I meant to say?” What else is he meant to say?
“Anything,” Jimin deflates, suddenly. “Anything but that. It’s not… light.”
“You could die.”
“You don’t know who he is.”
“You -- don’t fucking care?”
“No.” He doesn’t, Yoongi realises, quiet and pleased. He doesn’t care.
“You came and took Jeonggukkie’s place,” Jimin murmurs. “He would have died.”
And Yoongi hadn’t known he’d known, ‘til then, when all these facts now seem like the most obvious things in the world.
“So, you’re coming. To dance.”
Jimin stretches over the table in the cold, empty house, curling his paw around Yoongi’s wrist, green smoke pouring in at the windows and the doors and down the chimney and through the cracks in the tiles. “And we’re gonna--”
Jimin drives them up the mountain. He smokes the pipe, peagreen, and Yoongi smokes two cigarettes down to the butt, stubbing them out and throwing them out the window into the dark.
Up the mountain, something howls.
Tonight, they eat mince-and-potatoes. Mincenapertarters, Yoongi’s grandfather used to call it, all one word in his muddy accent. We’re havin minceanperarters tonight. The mince is good, butchers’ mince, got from Sohee at the counter, and there are carrots chopped thin and thick into the mix, and strong cuts of onion, and gravy that the round potatoes can swim in. Beside every plate is another plate, the peeling plate. Everyone is sitting around the table, but not eating - when Jimin walks in, Yoongi behind him, they all relax.
At the head of the table, where there’s an empty seat, the air seems to relax too.
“Tonight, we offer the food for our ancestors,” Seokjin says, a slight variation. In a mumbling repeat. Yoongi, stumbling a beat behind everyone else.
He’s sitting, Jeongguk on one side, Joon - Namjoon - on the other. Jimin is next to Jeongguk, one-handedly eating - the other hand is below the table, and Jeongguk is leaning further towards Jimin, and Yoongi knows without looking that there’s a paw-hand on Jeongguk’s knee, rubbing little comforting circles around skin.
Opposite him: Seokjin, Taehyung. An empty space. The head of the table, where the air is busily peeling potatoes onto the plate.
Yoongi picks one up in his hand, knife, potato, and does the same.
(There’s an art to peeling hot potatoes. They have to be cooked in their jackets so they don’t crumble into your food, but the potatoes they cook aren’t good to eat when they’re coated, jacketed, so it’s nicer to peel them and give the peelings to the dog. Yoongi used to make his grandfather peel his. They’re too hot to hold for very long, so you have to keep turning them, around and around against the blade of your knife, keeping as much potato on the potato as you can, splitting skin from body in a fluid strip of grey. Yoongi used to hack at it, and there’d be more potato with the peelings than anything else. Now, he does what his grandfather does. There’s an art to peeling hot potatoes.)
Jimin is peeling Jeongguk’s for him. Namjoon is cutting them up, skins and all, and scooping little peck-bites of mince and potato into his mouth. Taehyung, potatoes peeled, is mashing the whole thing up with the flat of his fork, eating the mushy result. Seokjin is portioning all the food into forkfuls, patting his mouth with his palm after every bite. Jimin hasn’t started yet - he’s helping Jeongguk.
Yoongi just eats like he hasn’t eaten in years.
So does the air at the head of the table.
The mince is good. The onions are nice, crisp, and the carrots are proper, and the potatoes are nice. The gravy is thick. Yoongi mops it up with chunks of potato. He doesn’t want the meal to end.
“Yoongi-hyung,” Jeongguk says, like they’re close, “Are you going to dance tonight?”
Seokjin freezes. Namjoon sighs. “We can’t pressure him-”
“I am,” Yoongi says placidly. “Who cooked this?”
Taehyung taps Seokjin’s shoulder, beaming, like there’s nothing wrong, like the air didn’t freeze for a brief second. “Jin-hyung did.”
Taehyung kicks someone under the table - Namjoon, probably, because Yoongi feels the woosh of displaced air, and Namjoon, beside him, jolts. “Don’t make it weird, hyungie. Yoongi-hyung is a doe. You looked so pretty!”
Yoongi smiles a little bit, or tries to, and nobody calls him out on it being fake. Taehyung coos; Jeongguk laughs a bit. Jimin is eating, still, a little behind after having helped Jeongguk.
“A doe, hyungie! You’re just jealous.” Taehyung kicks Namjoon again.
“Why’d I be jealous?” Namjoon fires a nervous look at Yoongi. “I mean -- you are pretty, it’s just--”
Yoongi smiles a bit wider, and it feels a little less fake.
“Hyungie’s a boring owl,” Taehyung says, faux-conspiratorial. “Nothing cool, like a fox, or a cat. Or a doe.”
Seokjin clears his throat theatrically.
“Or a wolf.”
“I’m not cool,” Jeongguk says, licking his knife. “I’m a bunny. I’m cute.”
Jimin coos and fluffs his fingers through Jeongguk’s hair. “Yes, you are, honey…”
Yoongi smiles. Still muted, maybe, but it’s a smile. When Seokjin stands to clear the plates, he helps, piling cutlery into the soapsudsy sink, scraping the potato peelings out the kitchen window into the twilight of the forest. The sun is almost set, but the sun has been almost set for an hour, now, and Yoongi gets the feeling that it will be almost set for as long as these mountain folk need it to be.
“Thank you,” says Seokjin quietly, when Yoongi hands him a stack of plates. “You -- might survive. He sometimes… sometimes, they survive, or so we hear. Is he nice to you?”
“Very,” Yoongi thinks of the stag, tossing his head to dispel the white faces; then he thinks of Hoseok, strong arms and bronze skin, carrying him into the lake. “Very.”
“He’s the nicest we could find.” Seokjin tugs the heavy red kettle onto the aga-stove. “...In these woods, there’s lots of them, but so long as we stay here, he helps us. And we can live our lives, and nothing gets out. What you saw… there are worse. Samhain is when they get bad. Proper bad.”
Yoongi leans against the stove, listening. The four left around the table are listening too. The air at the head of the table seems to be sucking for attention.
“But you’ll help him stop them,” Seokjin says, perhaps aware of the audience. His hand, when he grasps Yoongi’s shoulder, is warm and kind and comforting. “You’re a doe. You’ll help him stop them.”
Pudding is apple tart and custard. “Sam tart,” Jimin tells him when he’s handed a bowl.
Jimin shrugs. “Through the time leading up to Samhain, it’s best to have it that way all the time. Best to… best for prayer.”
(Yoongi’s grandmother, every Hallow’s Eve, cooked Sam Tart. That’s what it’s called, although nobody knows why. Sam Tart. An apple tart, baked crisp with apples from the garden orchard, and it was something Yoongi helped with up until the very end. Apple tart, and flour up to his elbows, and his grandfather singing softly in the armchair by the stove, songs in the old language that Yoongi can’t - couldn’t - speak. Sam Tart. At the end, when all that’s left to do is bake it, she pushed him gently out the door, and she’d wrap little coins, silvers, in foil, and stir them into the mix. Bake them in the Sam Tart. Sam Tart, when biting down on something hard meant Yoongi would be able to buy a bag of sweets down the town.)
When the Sam Tart is passed out, Seokjin puts his hands together again. “Money in offer to you,” he says, repeated by the others. Yoongi mouths along.
The chatter is quiet and companionable. Jimin rubs Jeongguk’s head every so often, like Jeongguk is a particularly needy puppy.
“We call it Sam Tart, too,” Yoongi mumbles, slicing a little pastry off with his spoon. Sugar-dusted, pierced with fork tines to let the tart breathe. “I always thought it was named after a Sam.”
“Sam,” Namjoon says, then smiles. His cheeks dimple. “Although… I’m glad you still do it, down there.”
Yoongi keeps talking. He doesn’t know why. “One time, we ate Sam Tart, and my brother pulled out a twenty note. My nan almost had a heart attack. She thought she’d baked it in. He was just pranking.”
“Hyung,” Taehyung moans, while Seokjin chuckles, “You coulda told me that in secret! Then I’d have done that to Jin-hyung.”
“And hyung’d have your head,” Jimin says.
Yoongi smiles softly into his tart. The apple bursts in his mouth, hot and bittersweet and good, and when he bites into a hard coin, he feels like his heart is about to burst with some unfamiliar emotion.
Unfamiliar, or unused, neglected for a long time.
He feels warm, and he smiles into his tart, the taste of apple and the heat of the kitchen and the happiness of company and the smell of pastry, and it’s good. It’s good.
The doe mask is waiting on the bed of the spare room. Eyeless, staring. Yoongi takes off his jacket (leaves his shirt on) and puts on the brown wax jacket instead; it’s hanging on the back of the door, following him wherever he needs it.
When he comes out of the room: Jeongguk. Rabbit-faced. Smaller, twitchy, like a real bunny. Jimin, languid and lax and long as a cat, his paws in Jeongguk’s hair, comforting and a little threatening, and Jeongguk looks like he’s on fire and frozen, relaxed as he can be. On edge as he can be.
Nobody says anything. Yoongi smells woodsmoke and incense. The sun is almost setting.
They set out.
Barefoot. Mud and bracken, worms and earth, dead leaves. Yoongi’s foot, where a blackish stain is fading. They walk towards the smell of woodsmoke. Hot. It’s hot.
Hot hot hot and warm. And the company, silent but comforting in their presence.
Halfway, the wolf reaches out and breaks a twig from a tree. When he raises it to his lips, his crooked finger poised over the knobbly wood, it is a flute, light and bright. Ceilidh music. Hanging in the air like a hum, although the wolf doesn’t stop playing.
The fire is burning when they get to it, piled high. The embers are arranged like the split of a tree root, or the branches of a stag’s antlers.
The cat kisses the rabbit, suddenly, shoving him into the bracken, his arms either side of the rabbit’s head, and the wolf gets louder, playing so fast his fingers are a blur. The owl hops foot-to-foot, something weird and elegant, and peagreen soupsmoke pours from his nostrils and his mouth and his eyes and his ears. The fox reaches into the fire and pulls out a burning branch, tucking it under his chin, raising the phantom of a bow, and the fiddle joins the flute, and the song changes.
and the song changes
has changed, and the song is that
the cat kisses the rabbit shoving him into the bracken his arms either side of the rabbit’s head and the wolf plays so fast his fingers are a blur and the owl hops elegant peagreen soupsmoke from his nostrils and his mouth and his eyes and his ears the fox reaches in pulls out a burning fiddle tucks it under his chin raises the bow and the fiddle joins the flute
and hoseok is kissing him.
his fingers hurt yoongi’s chin. gripping, bruising. he is taller than yoongi. his antlers hold up the sky and his hooves bury the trees in the ground and his skin is rolling bronze and he is holding yoongi by the waist and the jaw and he is kissing him.
his tongue tastes of bittersweet alcohol.
and hoseok is kissing him.
and hoseok is dancing, and they are naked, both of them or maybe all of them or maybe none of them, and sweat and woodsmoke and the sun is almost set. hoseok is kissing him.
hoseok is kissing him, and hoseok is biting him, his tongue laving animalistic down yoongi’s chin and biting hard on his neck, and yoongi is gasping in pain and fear and delight despite it, weightless in hoseok’s arms.
dancing. fiddle and flute and phantom drum. thudathudathud like a rabbit’s heart. the cat and the rabbit, dancing, running one minute, holding the next, the cat with his paws on the rabbit’s chest, the rabbit wailing. dancing.
fiddle and flute and phantom drum. the autumn leaves, like rain on their heads. yoongi is dancing through them. hoseok is aroused against yoongi’s thigh, and he is kissing him.
and hoseok is kissing him fiddle and flute and phantom drum and yoongi is held, tight, he can’t escape, he wouldn’t escape if he wanted to, and fiddle and flute and phantom drum and thudathudathud and the cat, and the blood,
and the smell of woodsmoke, and hoseok is kissing him dancing fiddle flute and phantom drum, and,
this is a fucking ceilidh yells the fox, fiddle burning as he holds it aloft, a fucking dance six of us six of us and he’s here
and he’s here! and they’re dancing and there’s mud and the fire is burning purple and the sun has almost set,
and the smell of woodsmoke and the music is so loud and yoongi is being tossed from person to person, dancing with all of them, dancing with none of them, dancing with hoseok, dancing in the fire on the fire around the fire,
and this is a fucking ceilidh
and hoseok is kissing him.
fiddle. and flute.
hoseok is kissing him.
Yoongi is the first one to wake. Hoseok is sitting in the kitchen, at the head of the table, eating buttered jam and toast. His antlers are big, but he doesn’t look out of sorts in the cluttered forest house. He looks like home.
“You look delightful, Yoongiyah,” Hoseok smiles, hot eyes dragging up and down Yoongi. “Not a patch left.”
Yoongi flushes and hates himself for it. He’d seen himself in the bathroom while he was putting on more of Jeongguk’s clothes, and there are smoking purple red rust bruises all up his neck, his chest, his stomach. One on his chin. Fingerprints on his jaw. “It’s all your fault.”
“You were the one that brought me there,” Hoseok pushes his tea across to the seat next to him, “So you were the one to blame.”
Yoongi takes both the unspoken invitation and the mug of tea. “I didn’t bite you.”
“But you left your mark, sure as,” Hoseok swings his legs out from under the table, displaying a blackish bruise on the arch of his foot. “Slow to heal.”
“The lake took the hurt away, so isn’t it better?” Hoseok says smoothly, ignoring Yoongi’s splutters. “I made too much toast. Share with me.”
“No, you didn’t,” says Yoongi, but he does.
Hoseok’s foot knocks against his underneath the table. Yoongi looks down at the plate, and lets him slide up his calf, along his knee, resting against his inner thigh. “You’re pale, so you blush easy,” Hoseok observes.
“I like it.”
“Mm.” Yoongi sits, long after the tea is cold and the toast is gone, and Hoseok sits with him.
(Seokjin pretends not to be surprised that Hoseok came home with them, but he is, and he’s even more surprised when Yoongi is relaxed, even more surprised when Hoseok smiles, when Yoongi smiles back.)
“Do we call you Cernunnos?” Namjoon asks, sliding to sit at the table. Hoseok is at the head, and as the morning progresses and more of the house awakens, Yoongi has found himself migrating to be sitting almost in Hoseok’s lap, fur-clad arms draped casually across his chest, keeping him close.
Hoseok laughs. “Nothing so… formal. Hoseok. I think it was --”
Yoongi burrows a little into the warmth of knowing Hoseok told him before he told his followers. Worshippers. People.
Taehyung is the one making the tea. Jeongguk is sitting down, his head resting on his forearms, Jimin massaging his neck - slept bad, the poor thing - and Namjoon is talking to Hoseok, and Seokjin is slicing fruitcake into thick chunks, setting it in the centre of the table. “No seat for me?”
“Here’s one,” says Hoseok, pulling Yoongi onto his lap, kicking Yoongi’s chair forward. Smooth. Yoongi yelps, then laughs, then relaxes.
Seokjin laughs too. “Thank you, Yoongi.”
The fruitcake vanishes, replaced with crumbly lemon loaf. In dribs and drabs, they leave - pairs, or ones, out into the woods and back again, joining and rejoining the constant conversation around the kitchen table. Yoongi stays with Hoseok. He feels quiet, and soft. Namjoon, at twelveish noonish, starts talking about Cernunnos and Samhain and the deer, but Hoseok says - in a soft, low voice that rumbles through his chest - that he’s just Hoseok. Just Hoseok, says the man with antlers and furs, holding Yoongi on his knee. Just Hoseok.
It ticks around to one, and Seokjin serves them shin soup.
(Shin soup. Yoongi used to be sent out of the house, into the garden to uproot the leeks, and then he’d have to peel the onion and slice the carrots and measure out fistfuls of salt and pepper and thyme. His grandmother would buy a shinbone of beef - and that’s what it would be, a bone with meat still clinging to it - and she’d peel it off in chunks, dropping it into the pot. Biggest pot they own. Boil it, boil it, boil it for days, and beside it cook a pot of peeled potatoes. Serve the soup when it’s so hot it burns, and into the middle, plop whole potatoes hiding under the surface, just ready to spring out. A nice surprise.)
“I haven’t had this in years,” Yoongi remarks, trying to slide off Hoseok’s lap to sit down. Hoseok lets him, with a kiss on the shoulder and a pinch on the ass, which everyone (hopefully) misses. Yoongi glares.
“‘S my favourite,” says Namjoon, pulling out a chair. Hoseok makes a face at Yoongi; Yoongi tries not to smile.
The lunchtime chatter. Yoongi sits quiet, watching Hoseok eat at the head of the table, displacing the air that was there before. The soup is hot, hot hot hot, boiling hot, but the potatoes cool it down a little. The carrots are good; the shin is better. The company, maybe, is best.
“I’ll drive you down,” Jimin says, setting his spoon on the rim of his empty bowl. “Farm and all.”
“Thanks,” Yoongi mumbles, tripping over himself to stand. “Cows and all. Be back up soon.”
He feels Hoseok watching him leave, hot brown eyes on his back, and he isn’t sure whether to smile or shudder.
He does both.
Yoojae is in the yard when Yoongi gets there. There’s a strange brown cat, tabby stripes and feral eyes, that’s followed Yoongi when he was halfway across the fields, and any time he glares at it, it purrs in a very self-satisfied way.
“You weren’t in this morning,” Yoojae says, hands in his pockets. “I had to put the bale in.” Like he isn’t supposed to. Like it’s a chore.
I haven’t been in all this week, Yoongi imagines himself saying, and doesn’t. “I was down the town. Got caught by Chaeyoung. She was tellin’ me about Jisoo. Y’know, moved to the city?”
They stand, rubber booted up to the ankles in effluent water, watching their cows. Yoojae’s cows.
“Good. She’s good.”
“That’s good.” Yoongi reaches out; the cows look droopy and sad, out in the mizzle drizzle rain, the sort of weather that sogs someone through. “Baby’s okay?”
“All on track.”
Yoojae pats him on the back, slightly too hard to be comfortable. “I’m going back up to the house. You clear to red here up?”
Yoongi watches his brother trudge away, growing ever-distant, and when he turns around, Jimin is lounging on the wall separating cow-yard from not-cow-yard, watching him with his eyebrows raised, stroking the cat. “You ready to go back home?”
(Yoongi thinks of the mountain first, and then of his house, and hates the creeping warmth around his heart.)
“I have to do stuff,” he says instead. “Feel free to go back. I have a car.”
“You don’t have the company.”
“I have the cows.”
“I do!” Yoongi swings his legs over the wall and into the yard, his cows - Yoojae’s cows - crowding around him, snuffling and snorting. “Just… go home, Jimin. I’ll be back up.”
“Jin-hyung’s making toad in the hole tonight. You better be back up.”
Yoongi sighs when Jimin vanishes into the fog, heading back across the fields to where his car is parked. He appreciates Jae, who’s able to prattle mindlessly just to fill the silence, but Jimin is investigative. Yoongi doesn’t want that, not now. He wants to hang out with the cows.
First, he fixes the bale. Yoojae isn’t good at putting them in. It’s been awhile since Yoojae has farmed, properly, what with Minji and the baby and having a social life, so the bale sits at a slant in the round feeder. Yoongi tugs it down properly. They could get their noses stuck, the dumb heifers could, and it’d hurt. So he fixes the bale, then tosses meal in the trough. Oils the hinge on the crush door.
Yard work is nice and repetitive. Cows smell like nothing else smells in the world, and soon he’s covered in shit and sweat and muck again and he’s - not happy, really. He’s content. Yard work is nice and repetitive and the cows appreciate it. They coo at him and snot on him and shit on his boots, and they appreciate it.
Scraping. Get onto the scraping.
The way the yard is arranged is this.
There’s the inside part, where the slats are, above the tank where the shit and effluent and rain goes. That’s where they sleep at night. There’s the outside part, with the trough and the bale wheel and the walls and the little walled-off field that used to be an orchard, and that part of the yard is where they moo their day away.
And the scraping has to be done, to get the shit off the concrete and between the slats. If they didn’t scrape, they’d be up to their knees in it.
“Move, pets,” he murmurs, petting noses and flanks and tails to get to the scraper; a curved piece of iron and rubber at the end of a long stick. “C’mon, pets, move.”
He slots the scraper against the ground, and gets started.
It’s just like a sweeping brush, but more fluid. Plus, it gives him the chance to check if any of them have anything wrong with them; redwater being the main thing. Rust in the scrapings, a scrawny cow, red-water-bloody, and he’ll have to call the vet down. Dose them all. But everything stays normal as he scrapes, scrapes oceans of the stuff between the slats. The scraper makes a nice noise when it runs over the lumpy concrete. The cows crowd around him. The yard gets cleaned.
He ties up the things that need tying. He adjusts the silo barrier; they’ve almost eaten through the grass already. He climbs up, takes some tyres off the top, rolls the black cover sheet off a bit more.
There are a million things he could be doing in the yard.
There’s a three-mile walk to the town, and then a mile and a half up the mountain road until you hit the outskirts of the forest.
Yoongi leaps the metal gate and starts walking.
He doesn’t think often.
No, that’s a lie, he thinks all the time. But he doesn’t panic. He knows where he is. He knows how he lives. But he doesn’t -- worry. It might be impossible to worry, when there’s fields and cows and Pig the stupid dog, even with Yoojae and the money and the cows.
But now he’s worried. Hoseok, and all those mountain folk, and the dancing. And Yoongi --
He’s worried about how happy he is. He never used to feel happy. He never felt sad, either. He just felt… nothing, and that was grand, but now he’s happy, and he’s worried. When will the other shoe drop? When will he have to go back to being grand? Hoseok had kissed him. Taehyung had taken a burning branch out of a fire and waved it in the air, and this is a fucking ceilidh. And it makes Yoongi happy.
The country roads are totally abandoned. Yoongi walks in the middle of them, stepping in little piles of sheep leavings. He strokes the nose of the nearest donkey when he passes their field.
It’s just odd. The whole thing is odd.
Yoongi broods, silent in his own head, kicking his way up the road. And Hoseok, looking at him. Sometimes his antlers hold up the sky. All of them in their own bubbleworld, caring about something nobody else seems to. The places in the forest that seem to be the seams of the world; white gaping mouths, trying to eat him up.
He wants the walk to be longer than it is.
The road opens wider when they reach the town, but really all that means is that two cars could comfortably pass each other, instead of having to tuck into the ditch. It’s a ghost town - mid-afternoon, and all the inhabitants are out, farming or shopping or napping in front of their televisions. Yoongi trudges through, feeling stickier and stupider. Why didn’t he go to get the jeep? Why didn’t he go to shower? He sees Jimin’s landrover in the grocery parking lot, and ducks his head, walking faster. He just -
Wanted some time. Time to think.
Time to think.
He’s not doing much thinking.
Yoongi shrugs his shoulders, and does what he always does.
Just keeps going.
The forest is big. It covers the whole mountain like the fog on the foothills, and a house is much smaller than a forest. A needle in a haystack. The sun sets early now that it’s almost October, and it’s almost sunset now, and Yoongi’s breath is freezing in front of his face. He is very cold.
And very stupid. He’s wearing the wax jacket, but it doesn’t hold in the chill of an autumn evening.
Without any ceremony, the sun sets.
And then they come out.
sluagh, they say. Coo. Crow. Formless, almost, but formful, in flocks of ten and twenty, flying down from their perches in the trees. Black and blue and white they come. Sluagh. sluagh. Like spitting. Arms, or wings, faceless faces on melting necks, crowfeet hopping chickenlegs from round, dripping bodies. sluagh.
Yoongi feels his blood run cold despite himself. Slaugh --
(Be careful to say your prayers, or you’ll turn into a sluagh, says his grandmother, but teasingly. Sluagh, the souls of people not good enough to get into heaven, flying in flocks of malevolence across the sky. They try to catch lifts with the swans and the geese when they’re flying away, but they can’t. They travel in flocks, flying sometimes, walking sometimes, and pick up good souls to eat. They’ll nibble away at you--)
sluagh, they say. Crowds of them.
Ten, twenty, a hundred. Sluagh in the deep dark wood.
Yoongi turns around. Trips on a branch; is sent flying, his hooves hooves hooves digging into the bracken. He tosses his head in fear. Wonderment.
And then he’s running.
he’s faster, like this, like a doe, like a doe, and everything smells fresher and damper and his clothes are in an abandoned heap and some of the things are picking over them and some of them are flying over his head and others are chittering,
and there are faces in the trees, faces on the trees, the body of a woman that shifts to the body of a stag when it sees what yoongi is,
and yoongi wants hoseok and he wants to be safe, flying through the undergrowth faster than he thought he ever could, and his hindquarters are burning with the unfamiliar exercise,
and hoseok is a shining beacon ahead.
“what are you doing?” hoseok asks, except he doesn’t ask, he just says it, it just arrives in yoongi’s head,
“i was coming to you,” yoongi says, except he doesn’t say, he just says it, it just arrives in the air,
“you need to stop,” hoseok says, and he shakes his head, and his antlers-that-hold-up-the-sky dispel the spirits like pesky flies,
“samhain is coming,” hoseok digs his nose into yoongi’s flank, nuzzling down his body, a sign of -- of dominance, of ownership, of belonging, of having, “and i am the one they called for, and the spirits want to come through, and i need worship to stop them,”
“that’s my job,” yoongi says, knowing it to be true, shuddering at hoseok’s hot breath, “that’s my --ah--”
“your job,” hoseok, hoseok shining and the sluagh are far away, “your job to worship--”
yoongi melts. “my job to… to worship…”
“Exactly,” Hoseok, arms and chest and body, now, kissing Yoongi’s snout. “Come on to me. Yoongiyah…”
“God,” Yoongi hisses, arms and feet and hands, lying on his back in the bracken, the sluagh spirits vanished now. Hoseok is glowing. His eyes burn. Burn properly, searing Yoongi, his skin his eyes his hands his hair, and then they’re kissing.
Kissing. “Tell me,” Hoseok snarls, bracketing Yoongi’s head between his arms, “Tell me--”
“I, fuck, I worship you,” Yoongi gasps out, reaching up, grasping Hoseok’s shoulders, skin against skin and they’re naked, no clothes, and he’s lost control, and it feels like he’s a doe one moment and a man the next, but nothing changes. Hoseok licks a stripe up his throat. “Oh, god, god,” and he could be cursing, or he could be -- the other thing.
“Such a pretty thing,” Hoseok rolls his hips, grinding down, breathing hot, “Such a pretty thing, sitting on my altar, ready for the picking, ready for the taking… tell me--”
“Yes, yes, I’m fucking… fucking yours-”
“Wait,” Hoseok mumbles against Yoongi’s clavicle, laving over the bite he’s left there, “Wait, we-”
Yoongi pants, groans, tries to prop himself up on his elbows; fails. His head feels light. “I -- Hoseok--”
“We’re in - they’ll take you,” Hoseok says, like his cock isn’t hard, like it isn’t pressing against Yoongi’s, like he isn’t kiss-swollen and sweat-hot. “It has to be someplace. It has to be on Samhain.”
“It’s the only day that’ll work--”
“Hoseok-ah,” Yoongi says, not caring how pathetic he sounds, covered in leaves and bracken and it’s kind of gross, really, “Hoseok-ah, I’ll fucking worship you, whatever the fuck you want, just-”
“You want them to eat you. That what you want?”
“You,” Yoongi tugs Hoseok’s head, tries to pull him back down, “You can’t just start something like this and then leave, that’s such a -- you’re such a --”
“It’s the middle of the night, Yoongiyah. They’ll be worried for you.”
They shower together. Yoongi sways on his feet, inexplicably tired. It’s the middle of the night, but Seokjin’s saved toad in the hole in the warming oven. “We’ll eat after,” Hoseok says, Yoongi half-draped over his arm. “You need --”
“I’m a god,” he says, rubbing soap down Yoongi’s back. Lavender soap. A bar. Yoongi is so tired that the words feel fuzzy, heard from far, far away. “I’m a god. They called me to stop the spirits from coming through on Samhain. Yoongiyah, you know what you are.”
“Apparently, a doe,” Yoongi murmurs into Hoseok’s shoulder. “Why’m I so tired?”
“Because I’m a god.”
“You worship me with yourself,” Hoseok says softly. Yoongi is being towelled, he’s pretty sure, and then scooped into something warm and soft. A robe. “You worship me with yourself and I take it, because it’s a sacrifice. You don’t get something for nothing. You don’t get defence for nothing. I’ll stop the spirits, but… but Yoongiyah, it could cost you your-”
“Stop talking,” Yoongi manages to say. He doesn’t like the - solemnity. Solemnity, in Hoseok’s voice. “Can we sleep?”
“You need to eat.”
“Can we sleep?”
Hoseok sighs. Despite the antlers, he looks nice. Human. Normal.
(Yoongi’s normal has become antlers and animal fur in a disturbingly short amount of time.)
“We have to eat.”
Yoongi sits on Hoseok’s lap, although he’s not sure how he ended up there. The toad in the hole is good, the sausages hot and juicy, and when Yoongi gives up halfway through his portion, fork clattering to the plate, eyes closing, Hoseok feeds him the rest. Yoongi ends up curling his hand around Hoseok’s antlers, the branch closest to his arm, and whispering can we sleep now into his ear.
Yoongi tries to be asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow, but all he can hear is Hoseok’s heavy breathing, evening breath. Hoseok has to sleep flat on his back because of the antlers (it’s kind of funny) and he’s tucked Yoongi into his side, like Yoongi’s some stuffed bear he can’t sleep without. Yoongi tries to be asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow, and he succeeds.
He wonders when life will stop feeling like a perpetual fever dream.
stay tuned til oct 31st!
(@absters2199 and @bleu_capsicum on twt did the most amazingest art and i'm very! very! weak! so you should go look that up right now)
i was gonna call this part potatoes, but decided not to. deerseok is great. and this story might not have the conclusive answers or anything, but it will have an Ending. \O/
September passes. October arrives.
Yoojae still hasn’t realised Yoongi doesn’t really live in his house anymore, and Yoongi isn’t about to tell him that he’s shacked up the mountain with a man that’s a god and has a mere passing relationship with clothes, decency, and the human body. Yoongi still comes down every day or so, driven by Jimin or Seokjin, to check on the cows and tramp the fields and put the bales in. Sometimes Jae is there. Once, he brings another boy with olive eyes and a quiet smile, and tells Yoongi that this is that guy I’ve been talking so much about! and Yoongi hasn’t the heart to tell him he hasn’t been listening.
Yoong never really listened to anything before Hoseok. Now he listens to the wind and the trees and Hoseok, whispering things in his ear, telling him -- everything.
Yoongi spends his days walking the forest with Taehyung. Or Namjoon. Or Jimin. Or Jeongguk, or Seokjin. But mostly Hoseok.
Taehyung tells him about being a fox, about nosing and nustling rustling hustling and eating. About how good it feels, how alive he feels. Namjoon describes flight, and mice, and the peace of the night. Jimin just talks about Jeongguk. Jeongguk just talks about Jimin. Seokjin howls, and then shows Yoongi how to carve a whistle from a tree trunk.
Hoseok shows Yoongi everything else.
September passes. October arrives.
The leaves redden as though they’ve been sent some mass internal memo. Any time Yoongi looks out the window, he sees them raining through the woods. He forgets, sometimes, that he lived anywhere but here.
Jimin and Jeongguk are lying on the floor. Jimin is asleep. Jeongguk is petting his hair. “Morning, Yoongi-hyung.”
“Morning.” Yoongi stopped caring about covering up the red marks a week or two ago, when he realised that the whole point of his living here was to serve that particular purpose. It keeps the wailing faces from their windows, and Hoseok gets revitalised, and so what if it means Yoongi has to sleep more, if he feels faint when they do any more than kiss and dry-hump like teenagers?
(They’re saving it for Samhain. The Big One. The worshipful ceremony.)
“Hyungie says we can make the leaf pile today,” Jeongguk says happily, stroking his fingers through Jimin’s hair. “You wanna help?”
“Sure.” There’s a pot of coffee sitting on the kitchen table, half-full. Hoseok is gone out. Sometimes he goes into the forest for a day or two, and then comes back, smelling of trees and earth and looking strangely fuzzy, like a photo taken with a dirty camera, his edges not-all-there. “When?”
“When everyone wakes up - is, uh, is he in?” Jeongguk - they all - get nervous, saying Hoseok’s actual name. Namjoon doesn’t, really, but Taehyung flat-out refuses to say it, and Jimin mutters Cernunnos under his breath, instead of - of - Hoseok.
“Hoseok?” Yoongi smiles, pouring himself a cup. “Yeah. He was away, but -- yeah, he’s back.”
“We could make the pile, then!”
“Of course.” Yoongi carries his mug to go sit down on the floor next to Jeongguk and Jimin, sliding in at the side of their warmth. “Sleep well?”
“Yeah. You’re - doing a real good job.” Jeongguk looks nervous, for a second. “We… thought, at the start, that I was -- I was gonna, I was gonna be the sacr-- be the. Be the you.”
“That’s why you kept freaking out? And Jimin looked like he was gonna kill me?”
Jeongguk smiles fondly down at the head pillowed in his lap, at Jimin quietly sleeping. “Y-yeah. Jiminie-hyung thought you were lying about not dreaming about me. I’m - I mean, a, a, a bunny. And the doe, you, you might be… more - there’s less chance of you-”
Jeongguk flushes deep and red and uncomfortable. He’s the smallest. Yoongi feels bad for how deeply guilty Jeongguk seems to feel about what’s going to happen on Samhain. “Yeah. Um. Yeah. I - Jiminie-hyung thought I’d be dead for sure.”
“But now it’s me.” Yoongi sips the coffee, then relents when he sees Jeongguk squirm. “None of that. Hoseok is careful about it. He wants to -- for Samhain. Nobody’s trying to kill anybody.”
There’s a moment of companionable silence. Outside, the wind howls, whipping red orange yellow brown gold into the air, miniature tornadoes, whirlwinds of leaves. Rustling. “Where’s everyone else?”
“Uh… Jin-hyung took Joon-hyung to the shop to get more eggs ‘n stuff, and Taehyungie’s still in bed, and -- and, and he’s still in bed too, I think. There’s gonna be… more celebrations, tonight,” Jeongguk nibbles the corner of his thumb, the hand not in Jimin’s hair. “Dancing. And music and stuff.”
“It’ll be fun.” Yoongi drains his mug. “It always seems to be.”
And Jeongguk smiles softly and sweetly. “We do as much work to close the gap as he does, y’know. He does the locking, but it’s us that gives him the energy to. You that gives him the energy to. He knows he’d be stuck without any faith.”
“Faith seems hard to come by,” Yoongi mumbles. He smiles fondly at the pair of them, Jeongguk curled protectively around Jimin.
“That’s what all the… ones in between, that’s what they don’t have,” Jeongguk waves his hand vaguely, “The ones in the night. They’re on the other side. Y’know, of the -- spirit realm sounds cheesy, stupid, but that’s what it is. And they’re stuck, and they wanna get through, ‘cept none of them have any faith, and he does. And he’s different to them. He died and got worshipped, not died and got forgot. And now he’s here, protecting you - us - from them.”
“He does a good job,” Yoongi manages.
“Like Jimin-hyung. He’s a cat.”
“Cats are special.”
They chat a bit more. Jeongguk wants to see the cows; Yoongi wants to show them to him. Jimin wakes up at one point, reaching up to leave a lingering kiss on Jeongguk’s lips, then standing and stretching. Bones pop. “Are we making the leaf pile today?”
“Yeah, if he’s in, and if hyungie wants to when he comes back from the shop,” Jeongguk shoots a nervous look Yoongi’s way, like he’ll judge him for the leaf piling. At least he doesn’t stutter anymore.
“I’ll check.” Yoongi shuffles back, meeting Taehyung in the hallway, smiling a little.
Hoseok is lying in the bed. Their bed? The spare room bed?
Something Yoongi has noticed: when Hoseok is asleep, deeply, deeply asleep, his antlers seem to fuzz out of being, like they’re ghosting through the pillow. When he’s asleep, white spots appear, running down his spine like fawn-flecks. His nose gets a little longer. He smiles less, when he’s asleep. His long fingers curl around Yoongi’s pillow (in lieu of Yoongi) and he looks peaceful, not constantly straining to keep the spirits away from the outskirts of the forest.
It pains Yoongi to shake him awake.
“Hoseokah,” he says, softly, “Seokah, do you want to wake up?”
“No,” Hoseok says. “Do I get the choice?”
“Um… I don’t think so.”
Hoseok throws the pillow down. His antlers have returned, tucked a little further around the back of his head so he can stay curled on his side. “Come lie with me.”
“Okay,” Yoongi agrees easy, his limbs loose and free after prayer last night. Prayer - Hoseok, leaning over his body, nipping at his neck and his shoulders and his collarbones, and Yoongi babbling mindless, worshipful words, calling Hoseok all the praise under the world, telling him how beautiful -- and getting the compliments back in his turn. “Okay. Just ‘til Seokjin and Namjoon get back from the shop. Jeongguk wants to make a leaf pile.”
“That’s important,” Hoseok murmurs, tucking Yoongi next to him, wrapping his forearm against Yoongi’s middle easily. “But it can wait.”
Yoongi stares at the flower arrangement on the windowsill. The autumn leaves, sellotaped to twigs. He stares at it, and thinks about how happy, about how satisfied and happy and here he feels. More grounded than the cows.
Hoseok breathes against his shoulder, and Yoongi knows that he’s happy here.
Seokjin and Namjoon come back from the shop. Bread, milk, eggs, meat, the usual - Jeongguk gets a packet of gum, Yoongi gets an apple. Hoseok rests his chin on Yoongi’s head; Yoongi takes a bite, then passes it up, and they eat it that way, bite between them. Hoseok smells of himself.
“We’re gonna make the leaf pile, today,” Jeongguk says. “Hyung said so.”
“I’ll bring out tea,” Namjoon says, mouth full of bread. “Yeah?”
Building a leaf pile is hours of back-breaking labour. Yoongi used to do it, of course, down with Yoojae back when they talked, filling a little hollow with handfuls of leaves and then sitting in it for ten minutes or so; of course, up here, it’s much more intense. Wheelbarrows and shovels are fetched. Jeongguk vanishes, and a little black rabbit ends up talking a family of badgers into leaving their hole, just for the day, until the leaf pile is done.
Hoseok sits, legs flung over the branch of a tree, surveying. He doesn’t move to help - it feels sacrilegious, Yoongi decides, to even ask. None of them do. Hoseok lounges, at ease, a king overseeing his courtiers.
It’s like the scraping.
Yoongi gets his barrow and goes below a horse chestnut tree, scooping five-frond leaves into the barrow, along with the occasional conker husk. Taehyung is near him, working on the other side of the tree, sweeping up piles of leaves, piling them high in his bucket.
Every so often, Yoongi wheels back to the hollow in the ground. Hoseok, sitting above him, smiles softly and calls to him: Yoongiyah, don’t work too hard, as though they’re doing this for some other reason. The more tired they get, the more energy they spend, the brighter Hoseok becomes - moss, springing up by his fingers. His antlers, glowing.
He is ethereal.
Around noon, Namjoon goes indoors to make tea. Yoongi slumps down where he’s standing, under the chestnut tree; Jeongguk sighs and sits down by Jimin’s feet, his eyes half-closed. Jimin starts petting him, making cooing noises. Seokjin follows Namjoon. Taehyung starts poking holes in the conkers with a pen, then threading his shoelaces through them.
“Are you tired?” Hoseok asks, and Yoongi realises with a start that Hoseok’s swung down from the tree, that Hoseok is sitting beside him.
Hoseok smiles. His lips make a heart, and Yoongi wants to kiss them. “Do you hate it?”
“How you have to keep me.”
“Keep you?” Yoongi leans back against Hoseok’s chest, tucking himself under Hoseok’s arm as he watches Taehyung challenge Jimin to a game of conkers, swinging them around on the end of the shoelaces.
“Keep me. Energy. Do you hate it?”
“You wouldn’t stop even if I did.”
Hoseok shrugs. “I was going to have to take the bunny, months ago. Before you showed up. I felt guilt, but I would still do it. But do you hate it?”
“I work hard anyway,” Yoongi begins, unsure of what answer Hoseok wants from him. He doesn’t hate it. Not really. It makes him feel alive again. “I worked. And - and I don’t, hate it. I used to do this with my brother. I like… like feeling tired.”
“Nobody likes feeling tired.” Hoseok’s face is screwed up, thinking of something different to what he’s saying.
“No, no -- I mean, I like feeling like I’ve done something. At the end of the day. It’s nice to know you’ve spent… spent your energy on something,” Yoongi feels clumsy when he explains, his face growing hot, “It’s just nice. I don’t hate it, Hoseokah.”
“That’s good. I like it. The leaf piles… the senseless labour. Work for the sake of work.” Hoseok inhales deep, eyes closed. “That’s how they worshipped me at the very, very beginning.”
Yoongi watches Taehyung smash Jimin’s conker; laughing, Jeongguk sits up, covered in leaves, snatching the shoelace from Jimin’s hand, asking to beat the champion.
“The very beginning.”
“Yes. Back then. Back then, I’d get everything. All the labour in these woods went to me,” Hoseok drops his head to Yoongi’s neck. Lips press against the skin there, the bruises left the night before. Nothing more than bruises, no matter how much Yoongi wants there to be. Worship, base worship. Praise of the body -- worship of the soul.
Yoongi sighs and leans back. Hoseok is warm. “When was that?”
“I don’t know. I have to show you, soon.”
“Have the rest of them seen?”
Namjoon comes rattling out with a tea tray and a packet of biscuits. Seokjin traipses after him with the tin of fruitcake, smiling - the food is set gently on a tree stump next to the chestnut tree, and the conkers are abandoned.
Hoseok hugs Yoongi tighter, preventing him from moving - he hadn’t been, anyway. “No. They don’t know where it is. Nobody knows where it is, except me.”
And, soon, me, Yoongi thinks. Quietly. “Why not?”
“It’s… more than sacred. You’re the doe. Nobody else can see.”
Yoongi squeezes Hoseok’s hand. “I don’t hate it, Seokah. And I’m looking forward to Samhain -- I am, somehow. Let’s drink tea and throw conkers at Jeongguk.”
“You shouldn’t look forward,” Hoseok says, but it’s quiet enough that Yoongi can pretend he hasn’t heard it. He stands, still holding Hoseok’s hand, dragging him along to the tea; Hoseok hits the prong of an antler against the tree trunk, and Seokjin giggles.
They finish the fruitcake and make a dent in the biscuits. The tea is hot and sweet, good, energising. Yoongi is sweaty and sticky and satisfied in a way only brought to him by hard work, the happiness that comes with burning yourself out properly. Hoseok sits down and pulls Yoongi into his lap - Yoongi goes uncomplaining. Everyone is tired and laughing, companionable. Jeongguk keeps pulling Jimin’s hand into his hair every time it leaves; Taehyung is teasing him.
Yoongi couldn’t hate this if he tried.
After a while they pick back up. The leaves are endless, in the forest, no matter how many they sweep up, but there’s already a massive pile of them in the hollow - they’re halfway done, by Yoongi’s guess.
Taehyung starts singing, after a while, a light little song half-understandable, half-in some other language Yoongi doesn’t understand. Jimin picks up above him. Seokjin, underneath. Namjoon, humming. Jeongguk, beaming, singing the tune.
It’s easy to pick up. When the tune rolls back to the start, Yoongi joins in quietly, not missing the smile Hoseok sends him.
The leaf pile grows. Yoongi wheels his barrow further out, to the broad-leaved oaks and sycamores, and starts filling it more, taking more time between trips. Jeongguk changes the song to an old folk one, something Yoongi remembers from years ago, his grandfather singing it in the long nights around the stove - he picks up, stronger.
They work through lunch. Sometimes, they dart out to the nearest brook and wet their faces with the water, but mostly they just work. Hoseok doesn’t call, or shout; his eyes are closed, his hands outstretched, palms up. Everything around him is suffused with a warm orange glow.
Seokjin makes another pot of tea.
“I’m wrecked,” Taehyung sighs, flinging himself down next to the tree stump. he brightens when he sees the ham slices and the bread. “Oo, food.”
Yoongi says nothing. Hoseok doesn’t, either, but it’s a good sort of nothing - Hoseok’s eyes have been closed for a half hour, now, and he’s holding on to Yoongi like a lifeline, but it’s a good sort of hold.
Tea. Hot, good, sweet. Yoongi dips biscuits into it until they threaten to fall off; then he gulps them down. Texts Jae.
jae: wdym ur not here
jae: do u have FRINEds
jae: ill put the bale in dw
jae: are u payin me
jae: thanss sk yoon ily
It’s five in the afternoon, and the sky is darkening, and they’ve worked six hours without much stop. Yoongi could drop down, sleep right here in the leaves, but he feels wrung out and good. Nobody calls, nobody tells them that the pile is done; they just realise it, suddenly, and reconvene with empty barrows and smiling faces and damp shirts. Hoseok opens his eyes.
“Now’s the fun part,” murmurs Jeongguk.
“We offer the sweat from our backs and the fruits of our labours,” says Seokjin formally.
Hoseok bows his head. “And I accept them.”
They’re quiet. The others have bowed their heads, but Yoongi can’t look away from Hoseok; he’s caught in the trap.
Then Taehyung screams, and breaks the silence. “Ya-hoo! Fuck you! I’m in first!”
And he dives into the leaf pile.
“Oi!” Yells Jimin, and then he’s flinging himself in, too, and then Jeongguk is shouting hyungie wait for me and Seokjin is throwing himself in and Namjoon, too, and Hoseok is down from his tree branch, standing beside Yoongi, his hand held out.
“C’mon in, share the fruits of your labour,” he says teasingly.
Yoongi beams. “This is the best bit.”
Leaves, stuffed down his shirt and into his mouth and in his hair. The best part of a leaf pile is the jumping-in, the first moment of it, knees hitting the empty air instead of ground, sitting in leaves up to your waist, feeling on top of the world because you’ve worked all day for nothing and it’s the most wonderful nothing in the world.
Namjoon and Taehyung are wrestling in the leaves. Jimin and Jeongguk are - making out, apparently, which is hardly a surprise anymore. Seokjin keeps tossing chestnut leaves down Namjoon’s shirt, trying to disadvantage him.
“Come on and enjoy yourself, Yoongiyah,” Hoseok says, and then throws a pile of leaves in Yoongi’s face.
Yoongi emerges spluttering bracken, and with a stupid smile dangling from his lips. “Oh, you’re on--”
And then they’re tossing in the leaves, too, laughing, and Hoseok’s grabbing him and Yoongi’s kissing him and they’re all together, laughing and exhausted, a day spent doing useless work.
The leaves - one of the best parts of autumn. Hands-down.
After an hour, an hour and a half, energy wanes. Hoseok’s skin is hot to touch, but it’s cold outside, and Yoongi keeps himself in Hoseok’s embrace, lying with his eyes closed against his chest. Jeongguk has fallen asleep, mostly buried in the leaves. Taehyung is going that way, his head nodding. Jimin seems to be putting himself to sleep, mostly, stroking up and down Jeongguk’s spine, curling around him.
“We spend the night out here, love,” Hoseok says quietly, a whisper in Yoongi’s ear. “To show them that we’re unafraid. Keep the vigil.”
“I never… never,” Yoongi yawns, “Never slept ‘n a pile of leaves ‘fore.”
“They’re going to come for you, and I’m going to show them how strong you are. And that’s the vigil. It’ll hold them off until Samhain.”
“Mm… okay.” The sun has set, fully, now. Yoongi is warm, despite the night, and he figures everyone else must be, too; Hoseok is heating up the whole pile, his skin glowing yellow. Bronze.
Hoseok makes a move to stand. Yoongi panics; his hands clamp around Hoseok’s forearms. “Where--”
“I have to show them,” Hoseok murmurs. Points at them, the crowds of translucent eyes, the mushrooms grown as tall as a man, the drooping blue twigmen, the sluagh cooing and squawking, all tripping and dripping around the forest. “Yoongiyah… love, I have to show them what god you’ve got.”
Yoongi lets go. Maybe Hoseok makes him let go. Either way, he falls back against Seokjin, who’s half-asleep and curled in a ball, and groans to see Hoseok stand. His warmth stay in the pile of leaves, even as he goes.
Everyone is asleep, save the two of them, and the spirits in the night.
Hoseok stands vigil.
Everything is dark, and this is how he stands:
Furs. Fur, and leather, and freckles. His hair, long and curling at the nape of his neck, creeps around the roots of his antlers. His whole body glows, shines, shimmers, orange and yellow and brown, muted colour, strong in its quiet confidence. Barefoot, heels dug into the bracken. The fawn-spots of deerskin up his spine. Antlers, roots and branches and tributaries, sprouting above his ears.
Hoseok stands vigil, just standing, using the fruits of their labour, and they sleep. Yoongi watches him, though, quietly.
Yoongi watches him until the sun rises, and then pretends to wake up with the rest.
(He thinks Hoseok might know, anyway.)
He brings Jeongguk and Jimin down to the yard, one day, very very close to Samhain. “Stay in the car,” and Jeongguk pouts, but complies. Yoongi slides out from the front seat, checking back and forth for Yoojae or Minji.
Their car is gone. Check-up? Shopping trip? Visits with friends? Either way, they’re not here - Yoongi waves his hand at the pair in the jeep, and leaps the gate in amongst the cows.
“Cows, hyungie, cows!”
“Yeah, Gukkie.” Jimin’s voice is quiet and fond.
Yoongi ignores them; they’re leaning over the wall, and his cows (Yoojae’s cows) are snuffling over their hands. He moves through them. No coughing, no sneezing, no dilated eyes, no blood in the shit, no nothing. One of them has a little scabbed tick on her neck; Yoongi pulls it off, pinching the tick between finger and thumb, patting down the raised skin with a soothing little hush. The cow snorts in irritation.
Nothing. Nothing. He scrapes, a bit, while Jimin and Jeongguk are messing about in the stick shed. The slats are smelling properly, now that the cows have been in for a month, musk and effluent and sweetness. It smells nice.
“Are these your cows, hyungie?” Jeongguk asks, blinking as he pats one of them on the flank.
“My brother’s,” Yoongi replies. Jimin is off fiddling with the old tractor.
“Like…” Jeongguk looks around, like he’s expecting Yoojae to be hiding in a hedge, “Like is he gone? Does he live ‘round here?”
“Lives on that house up the hill,” Yoongi points. He’ll have to put a bale in, tonight, and that’ll last them two days if he scatters the meal through the orchard. The cows have fun looking for it in the grass. (The remnants of the grass.)
“If he lives so close, how come you have to keep coming down here?”
Yoongi shrugs. “Just the way we do it.”
“Yeah.” He doesn’t like this conversation, Yoongi decides. “Wanna come help me drive a tractor?”
And at night, Hoseok presses Yoongi against the mattress, kissing him harshly, grinding down on his cock. Yoongi, gasping words of worship into his mouth, his wrists held above his head, his mind spinning light, Hoseok telling him you’re beautiful the best i’ve ever seen --
and at night hoseok and yoongi go out, running, hooves digging through the mud and the dirt, and hoseok pressing his wet nose to yoongi’s hindquarters, rubbing along yoongi’s soft fur while yoongi whines and whimpers,
And at night, Hoseok stopping right before Yoongi might faint - and they can go farther and farther, the further into October it reaches - and taking him to the bathroom, they wash up, and they go to the kitchen, and there’s always someone awake, and Yoongi falls asleep on Hoseok’s lap listening to Hoseok talk - talk to Namjoon, or Jin, or Taehyung, mostly.
and at night yoongi is the doe and hoseok is his hart,
And at night, Yoongi is himself, and Hoseok has his heart.
Yoongi falls into a neat sort of routine.
It’s nice. It’s good. The badgers move back into the hole under the leaf pile, and Hoseok hasn’t had to stand vigil since that night, and every so often they go and split sticks for the fire or climb trees or play conkers, and Hoseok takes that energy too. It’s nice. It’s good. None of the spirits dare to come near - Yoongi leaves them as a bad dream in his memory.
Every day, as Samhain ticks closer, Hoseok gets brighter and stronger and happier. And Yoongi --
gets ever more nervous.
Gets ever more alive.
“Yoongiyah,” a whisper, “Love, wake up,” and Yoongi, groaning and rolling over. “Yoongiyah. I want to show you - someplace. Please.”
“It’s early,” Yoongi croaks, looking at Hoseok through sleep-gummed eyes. It is early. The dawnlight is cracking its way through the curtains, and Yoongi is used to sleeping in during the winter months, no getting up early to count the cows, one of the few treats he allows himself.
“It has to be early. It takes a while to get there. A… a world to get there, you might say.” Hoseok is naked, and smiling. There’s a mole on his top lip Yoongi hasn’t noticed before; he reaches up, brushing his lips lightly over it.
“Better be worth it.”
“I think it will be.”
Yoongi lets himself relax, lets Hoseok pick him up and set him on the edge of the bed, sitting up. “Are we going to where you --?”
“Yes,” Hoseok looks at him. Surveys him, curiously. “Would that disturb you?”
“I don’t… think so,” Yoongi sighs, resting his forehead on Hoseok’s shoulder, “I’m so tired.”
“It’s a lovely morning. And -- it’s important for you to see,” Hoseok says softly. He brushes his thumb against Yoongi’s lip, then kisses his cheek. “Samhain is coming, coming along the way. Let’s go.”
“Okay,” Yoongi stands, slipping his hand into Hoseok’s; curling his fingers around Hoseok’s slender wrist. He doesn’t bother dressing. If he’s taken Hoseok’s meaning the way he thinks he’s meant to, they’ll be - doe and hart, today - they’ll have no need for clothes. And it’s dawn. Nobody in the house will be awake.
(Jimin and Jeongguk are asleep in the living-room, halfway undressed, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary.)
And then they’re out in the forest. Yoongi shivers, the cold air burning goosebumps along his arms. “Seokah--”
It turns strange, fuzzydreamlike, peagreen soupfog, when yoongi finds himself hooved and furred, hoseok standing taller and broader, antlers spread to hold up the sky, i like you like this, hoseok says (doesn’t say but the words appear anyway), i like you like this. a pretty doe, all for me,
yoongi ducks his head, twitchy, long slender legs and long slender neck, and flicks his ears for hoseok to lead, not knowing how to take compliments, never knowing, shut up seokah lets just go,
and hoseok turns and runs through the trees,
yoongi right behind him,
the leaves, the leaves, the leaves, in the dawn, look prettier but far more faded, and everything is bathed baby-pink in the wintertime, yoongi skittering through the little pools and streams that litte the forest floor, happy and at ease and satisfied in the moment,
hoseok smells of hoseok and the forest, but now he smells of yoongi, too, and that makes yoongi happy, and there’s a twigsnap -- it makes yoongi happy, that hoseok smells of himself and of him,
because it shows, shows how hoseok wants to make him know he’s loved,
loved, which is something yoongi never thought about,
and yes, he’s being used as a sacrifice for samhain, but,
but nobody ever held him like hoseok, and nobody ever called his name as softly as hoseok, and nobody ever cared about him like hoseok, and surely that has to mean something, something important about after samhain,
and yoongi is a doe, and that means something too, and he can’t think about it now because he’s running,
and the rising of the sun,
and the rising of the sun, and the sweat glowing on hoseok’s flanks, and
the mud their hooves kick up, and the joy in being alive, and the pools,
and leaves and the joy in being alive,
and hoseok’s antlers hold up the world and his hooves dig roots into the ground and the rising of the sun,
and the pools,
leaves, the joy in being alive,
and the sun ticking its way across the morning sky, dawn-mid-morning, and now they’re running uphill, - well, they always were, but even moreso now, and,
we’re in tir na nog now, hoseok says, running next to yoongi now, slowing his pace, running for hours with no break, we’re in tir na nog so we can get places faster, the whole forest is half in half out, tir na nog where the pixies live,
are you a pixie, yoongi, laughing, teasing, every brush of hoseok’s body against his setting his blood on fire,
i’m a god, hoseok says, and then he’s holding Yoongi by the waist, and then they’re kissing.
“You’re insatiable,” Yoongi murmurs into his mouth, gasping at the change and at the strength of the kiss. Odd, hands and fingers and toes, after hooves and the joy of being alive. “God -- Hoseokah, I--”
“We’re not there yet,” Hoseok says. He cups Yoongi’s jaw, fond. Fond? He’s fond of Yoongi. “But I want to - I want to walk the rest of the way.”
Hoseok holds his hand when they start walking again. He’s got furs draped over his shoulders again; Yoongi is wearing the brown wax jacket. It’s mid-morning; they’ll all be awake, by now, but it’s close enough to the end of October that nobody questions when Hoseok vanishes for a few hours, taking Yoongi with him. They’ve met the spirits in the trees, long-fingered long-haired beings that speak in low rhymes and stare at Yoongi with unabashed curiosity. They’ve met the river gods, little waves that laugh like bubbles and caress their ankles. They vanish all the time.
So they walk the rest of the way.
Yoongi, naked save for the long brown jacket - he’s struck by the silence of the woods, this far up the mountain. They must be near the top, now, the air clearer and cleaner and fresher and quieter and colder. Stiller.
Yoongi shudders, not entirely from the cold. Hoseok tightens his grip on Yoongi’s hand - silent reassurance, the best kind.
“Does it disturb you now?” He asks.
Yoongi doesn’t think he can reply. The woods up here are dead; the leaves have already fallen, leaving skeleton twigs and bones in their wake, the stripped-bare bodies of still trees. Further down the mountain the orange is still ablaze.
Hoseok hums. “I think it’s strange up here. Hasn’t changed a bit.”
“Since I died.”
Yoongi clings tighter. “Oh.”
Further and further up, and the trees get sparse, more earth between each trunk. They’re older, too. Thick, gnarled and knotted, trees that are in it for the long haul. Trees that don’t care about you or I or anyone.
At the top of the mountain, there is a yew tree. Spreading, branches as thick as treetrunks, trunk wider than Yoongi’s ever seen one, a tangled briarbush of wood and fallen leaves, spreading against the sky.
Under the yew tree, there is a pile of rocks.
“That’s my cairn,” Hoseok murmurs.
Yoongi feels chilled to his bones. Hoseok’s body -- bones, Hoseok’s bones, rotted away under that pile of rocks. And nobody has been here, nobody has come. This is a -
“A sacred place,” Hoseok begins walking closer, into the cold cold wind that surrounds them. “They took me up here, and they fed me. And then they sliced me, here to here,” he drags his finger from the top of Yoongi’s chest diagonally across his abdomen, ignoring Yoongi’s shaking, “And they let my blood drip onto the roots of the tree, and they killed a hart with me. The oldest in the herd. They buried us both under the tree. Do you know, I don’t know which god it is that I was sacrificed to?”
“They started to worship me, instead, bit by bit,” Hoseok says sardonically. “Oh. Oh, look, here I come.”
Yoongi holds him so tight he feels Hoseok might break, and they watch the procession coming up the hill.
Two women, three men. One of the men is Hoseok; two of them are not. The women are carrying a jar and a knife, respectively; one of the men is empty handed, and the other is leading a blinded, eyeless hart by a halter. The yew tree stays the same - the woods around them stay exactly the same - but Yoongi feels the shifting shudder of time beneath his blood.
Hoseok - not his Hoseok, but the other one - smiles at them both. Sad.
“I remember seeing you,” Hoseok whispers to Yoongi, holding him tighter, “I remember seeing myself, and seeing you, and knowing that I was doing the right thing.”
Yoongi burrows closer into Hoseok’s embrace, but doesn’t look away. He can’t seem to bring himself to.
And the man that isn’t Hoseok makes Hoseok, the other one, stand in front of him. The woman with the jar hands him it; Hoseok takes a long, deep swig, then wipes the back of his mouth with his hand - when he gives it back to the woman, she upends it over his head, spilling amber liquid down his hair and his naked back. The man that isn’t Hoseok holds his hand out for the knife.
“It’s okay,” Hoseok says, voice strained.
The Hoseok that isn’t his stands quietly under the shade of the yew tree, hands held in front of him, head bowed. The man taps the tip of the knife against his throat; even from a distance, Yoongi can see the blood that beads there. It is sharp. “Seokah…”
The other Hoseok looks up, and he’s smiling wanly at Yoongi when the man slices his chest open.
Hoseok grips Yoongi, suddenly, very tight, and his face is wet and Yoongi is blank and empty, watching the two women drape Hoseok’s body over the base of the yew tree, face-down, the blood watering the roots. The man holding the hart holds up his rope collar; the man with the knife takes it.
Yoongi can’t breathe. Hoseok is crying very quietly into his shoulder, holding Yoongi like a lifeline.
The man with the knife slices the hart as effortlessly as he did Hoseok, and they drape that body over Hoseok’s, and then they leave.
There is a long long second of silence, during which Yoongi can’t seem to wrench his eyes away from the casual nature of it all - the knife, discarded in the grass, the two bodies slung over each other, the dripping flooding flowing of their blood mingling and pouring over the roots of the yew tree, Hoseok, his Hoseok, crying so much so quiet, and the clammy clamping stillness of the wood.
“Who -- Seokah, who builds the cairn,” Yoongi asks, his voice shaking, reaching up to wipe the fat droplets away from the corners of Hoseok’s eyes.
Hoseok doesn’t answer. It’s okay. Yoongi knows what it is, anyway.
They find the rocks on the other side of the tree, hulking grey stones the size of Yoongi’s head. He rips open all the old cuts and blisters while he’s carrying them, but neither of them say anything; they don’t disturb the bodies, the drained-out paleness, the hollowness, the blood. Hoseok places the first rock, right on top of himself, and where before he was shining, now he seems dark. His antlers, his furs. All dimmed.
Yoongi feels sacrilegious, placing the second stone.
They build it in a looping spiral, a base circle, then a loop a little closer and higher, until the bodies are mostly covered. Yoongi gets blood on his hands. He doesn’t know if it belongs to the hart, or to Hoseok, or to himself.
Neither of them speak.
The real job comes in filling in the gaps, heaving the rocks in between the spaces and then in between more spaces and more and more, and more and more and more until the sun is trekking its way down the sky again, until Yoongi is exhausted, but neither of them stop. Hoseok is shaking. Yoongi thinks he might be, too.
And then they’re finished. Hoseok doesn’t tell him. The truth just dawns on them both, as soon as the capstone is placed on the top.
The cairn is built.
Yoongi, piling rocks over the body of his lover, his lover helping him.
“That was the last step,” Hoseok says quietly, taking Yoongi’s hand. He’s almost as bloody as Yoongi himself is; covered up to the forearms, neither of them caring. “To build my own grave. That was the -- the last step.”
“Samhain is close,” Yoongi hears himself say.
“Yeah. Yeah, it is.”
Hoseok cups his cheek, his eyes very very old and very very sad. “I know as much as you. And I think… I think I hope for the same thing.”
“I think so too,” Yoongi whispers.
They walk. Hands entangle.
“Have you ever had to do that before?” Yoongi asks, once they’re out of the top of the mountain, back among the orange autumn trees. Neither of them have let go of the other, and neither of them make moves towards the doe and the hart. Walking is enough.
Hoseok nods. “Once. Once before, but - it was another person, another person I was building the cairn around. I never built myself. I was already built, my burial was already finished, the last time I had to do that.”
“Who did you have to build?”
Hoseok doesn’t answer.
And Yoongi --
Thinks he might know.
But it’s easy to forget the stony silences, when they get back down to the house and the trees and the conkers and the leaves and the squirrels and the badgers and the woods. Jeongguk greets them, climbing a tree while wearing a jacket that Yoongi is almost certain belongs to Jimin. “Hyungs! You missed dinner!”
“We’ll get something,” says Hoseok. With a start, Yoongi realises he hasn’t eaten anything all day, since the dawn beginning. It’s almost sunset, now. “Is there a ceilidh?”
“We’re doing one tonight,” Namjoon says, when they get indoors and wriggle into the kitchen. “We’ll be doing every night for three days, a fire and a dance and the rest of it -- three days, until it reaches Samhain. Want me to cook you something?”
“I won’t be going,” Hoseok says, but his eyes are on Yoongi, who feels… odd. “I won’t be going. And don’t worry about the food - I’ll get us something. I don’t think it’d be right, going to my own dance so close to Samhain.”
Namjoon claps Yoongi on the shoulder as he’s scurrying out of the room. The weird atmosphere, dragged back with them from the top of the mountain, seems to suffuse everywhere - Yoongi balls his fist in the front of Hoseok’s furs. “Seokah…”
“Yes?” The kitchen is clear, now. Hoseok leans back against the aga, opening his arms for Yoongi to fall into. On the open hob, two eggs sizzle in the pan, although Yoongi has no memory of Hoseok ever putting them on the stove. “I’m sorry if today was -- was odd. But there are three days until Samhain. Things that we would rather not do… they have to be done.”
“I know who you had to build the cairn for,” Yoongi says, voice muffled in Hoseok’s chest. “I’m not stupid.”
“I never said I didn’t want you to know.”
“But you didn’t tell me.”
Hoseok sighs; runs his fingers through Yoongi’s hair. “I don’t want it to be real.”
“Maybe it won’t be,” Yoongi offers, quietly, listening to the eggs cook themselves. There’s toast in the rack, gently burning itself.
“That’s what I’m hoping for.”
“And anyway,” Yoongi swallows, “There’s still another three days.” Three days. That can be an eternity, a forever, if you play your cards right.
That night, Yoongi lies awake, listening to the other five. Although they burn the fires in a place far, far, far away from the house, he can still hear the music; the song and dance and yelling. Hoseok’s breathing is even beside him, although Yoongi suspects he’s not asleep either.
His body glows. Glows with the fruits of their labour. They’ve done nothing tonight.
(“Saving you for Samhain,” Taehyung had said, jokingly, and then Jimin had elbowed him hard in the stomach. “What? It’s true…”)
They tell Yoongi not to go down, but he does anyway. Hoseok is the only one of the lot of them that still manages to look at him like a normal person, this close to Samhain; Jeongguk has started avoiding everyone, just in case Hoseok changes his preference and takes him instead, as though that would ever happen. Jimin has started glaring at Yoongi again. Like Yoongi can change anything.
(Like Yoongi would change anything.)
So he takes the jeep and drives down on his own. He tells Hoseok, who tells him not to go, but doesn’t try to stop him.
Yoojae is standing in the yard.
“You’re not living in your house anymore,” he says.
Yoongi shrugs. Watches the cows move around the yard, snuffling at each other, snorting at each other. Everything feels elevated, like nothing is real, like nothing matters anymore but Hoseok, high up the mountain. And Yoojae -
“Minji’s having the baby soon,” says Yoojae.
Yoongi shrugs. “That’s nice.”
“Won’t have any time for the cows, really, for a while.”
“So come back from wherever you went. We own the farm together, you ‘n me.” Yoojae stands up to his knees in the shit that Yoongi’s been scraping, and all Yoongi feels is apathy. They don’t own the farm together.
After a while, Yoojae walks back up towards his house, back towards his wife and his child, and leaves Yoongi in the shit. Yoongi scrapes with a sort of otherworldly quiet, the cows parting like the red sea to let him through. He doesn’t think. Yoojae will have to have time for the cows, after the baby is born. How long will it take Hoseok to build the cairn? When there’s only one of him, not two? Or has he built it already, at the beginning of the world, and wondered at the unfamiliar face he’s burying?
The cows snuffle and sniff. Yoongi starts up the tractor and puts a bale in. He climbs the silo barrier and rolls back the black tarpaulin. He lifts the clunking iron bars away.
Samhain is tomorrow.
Well, that came quick.
Poppy, the oldest of them all, twelve years old and waning, nudges her tongue into the palm of Yoongi’s hand when he’s pouring meal into the trough. She licks his hand, his wrist, cleaning it of the oil and the blood and the shit and the soil, replacing it with cow spit and snot. Yoongi scratches behind her ear; the cows, wary. Even they know something is going on.
Yoongi doesn’t think he knows what to do. No - no, he does know what to do. He doesn’t know what to think about how he knows what to do.
He wants Hoseok, more than anything else. Hoseok, any way Hoseok will have him. And that -
Should be more concerning than it is.
“I’m going away now,” he says when he jumps the gate, and he’s smiling, “And I may be some time.”
The cows appreciate the joke just as much as anyone else would. Yoongi misses them, maybe, more than he misses anything else during the month he’s been staying up the mountain. No - no, he does, he definitely misses them more than anything else.
Yoongi leaves Jimin’s jeep where it is, and troops over the fields towards his house. The mud sucks his boots into the ground, making gaping crackacrack noises any time he sets his foot down. The river looks the same. The trees look the same. None of them will really miss him, except maybe the cows, and Jae can safely take care of them until Yoojae gets his act together.
Maybe that’s really why he came.
His house is flooded with post of the mass-produced variety; bills and catalogs and things, which he steps gingerly over as he lets himself into the house, searching for the little box of paper. His novel. Sitting where it’s been sitting for years, on his bedside cabinet.
He piles them up, the letters and the bills and the catalogs, and sets a fire underneath them, watching the paper crinkle up and brown. Then, leaf by leaf, sheet by sheet, he drops his novel into the fire. Ash flies into the air. Into his hair, into his eyes, but he doesn’t move. Sheet by sheet, burning his life’s work.
Disturbingly easy. Burning it all outside his shutterclosed hush of a house, under the creeping twigpile trees.
It begins to rain.
Yoongi walks back across the fields, feeling strangely whole, at ease. If not happy, then satisfied.
He says goodbye to the cows, and then he gets into Jimin’s jeep, and smooths down the lapels of the brown wax jacket, and drives away, back up the mountain.
And that’s that.
On October thirty-first, after a long day of lying in bed with Hoseok, neither of them talking, neither of them sleeping, Yoongi suffers through the longest meal of his life.
Seokjin cooks a roast. Carrots and parsnips, breaded stuffing, a heavy cut of beef, a thick oniony gravy, soily boiled potatoes. A huge silver pot of something sits bubbling on the aga; nobody looks at it. Nobody says anything at all.
Yoongi sits beside Hoseok. When he meets Jimin’s eye, he’s surprised at the contrition he sees there. Taehyung is trembling, staring at his lap. Jeongguk is clutching Jimin’s hand under the table, it’s obvious to see, and he’s not looking at anyone. Namjoon is chewing his lip. Seokjin looks horrified, like someone’s just shown him a mashed-up streak of roadkill, instead of a trussed-up roast.
“Tonight, the food for our ancestors…” Seokjin falters in the prayer. “The food for our ancestors is accepted.”
Everyone is silent while they eat. Hoseok is glowing steadily, now, even though all he and Yoongi have done is lain beside each other. He glows, glows golden-orange about his cheeks and his antlers and his heavy brown eyes, glowing through his furs and leathers. Underneath the table, Hoseok has his foot hooked around Yoongi’s ankle, and it’s only that warm touch that stops Yoongi from feeling like he’s floating away - like an anchor. This is Samhain.
Jeongguk, down one side, keeps shifting while he eats, and every so often he wipes his eyes with the flat of his palm. Jimin’s hand shifts under the table, moving up and down Jeongguk’s thigh, a mere innocent comfort.
And nobody says a word.
The food is good, good food, thick and heavy and filling where it sits in Yoongi’s stomach. He takes slices of beef from the joint in the centre of the table; pours gravy from the boat all over it; takes spoonfuls of stuffing with steady hands.
Taehyung has no such luck. His hands are shaking too much to peel his potatoes. Wordlessly, Seokjin takes it out of Taehyung’s hands, peeling it gently, the skin falling in an endless earthy spiral onto the clean plate.
Taehyung mouths a thank-you.
Namjoon doesn’t eat much. He picks at his slice of the roast, picks at his stuffing, but mostly he nibbles at the boiled carrots and parsnips, his fork flecked with red from his worry-bloodied lip. He drinks more than he eats, downing glass after glass of water, nervous bobbing in his throat, and there’s wariness in his eyes and his looks and his shoulders, in the slump of them.
Definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, the longest meal of Yoongi’s life.
After everyone has eaten, cutlery set to twenty-five past five, the plates are collected. Everyone save Yoongi and Hoseok stands to put their things away - Jeongguk takes Yoongi’s plate, Namjoon, Hoseok’s.
Then they drink.
The silver pot on the hob turns out to be a repurposed soup tureen, full of mulled spice wine. Seokjin murmurs a blessing over it, then dips mugs in by their handles, chipped and odd. Namjoon passes them out, and has to help Taehyung hold his mug to his lips.
The wine’s taste is hidden by how hot it is, but nobody else is stopping to blow on it, so Yoongi doesn’t either. Hoseok is holding him, foot-to-foot, knee-to-knee, thigh-to-thigh, drinking the wine, they’re all drinking like the world mightn’t end tonight. At the windows, beckoned on by the broadening of the world on Samhain, the spirits and sluagh and walking trees and ghosts all press against the panes of glass, put off only by the stunning glow of Hoseok’s body.
They drink until the tureen is empty. Glass after glass after glass, and the wine never gets any cooler. Yoongi’s head doesn’t get any fuzzier. Everything is seen, everything is felt in the same horrifying clarity.
The doe mask sits on his bed. Hoseok holds his hand while they walk to put it on.
Yoongi doesn’t say that he’s scared. Really, he isn’t. He thought he might be. He isn’t.
Hoseok holds his hand, and they walk out of the room again.
The procession through the spirits is sombre. Hoseok leads, and because Hoseok is holding Yoongi’s hand, that means Yoongi is leading too. The rest of them trail one at a time behind them, masked, through the hissing howling burning freezing terrifying calling of the spirits of Samhain. They’re trying to get in. Trying to get in through the forest, and only Hoseok, glowing, is stopping them. They’re trying to get in.
Yoongi feels his mask slipping, but he doesn’t bring his hand up to adjust it. He’s cold - deathly cold.
The procession winds through the trees, along the side of the mountain, and the forest looms. They all stay limbed and human, clumsy and masked, and silent, quiet, still.
The fire is already burning.
It seems to get closer.
Maybe it is - maybe it’s coming to meet them. Around the edges of the clearing, the spirits are lingering, howling and screaming, forming tempting shapes, sex and blood and deepest darkest desires, trying to get one of them to break, but nobody will. JiminJeonggukNamjoonSeokjinYoongi Hoseok, Hoseok, and none of them give the spirits more than a glance.
The fire is burning. Peagreen soupsmoke pours across the forest clearing, although where it comes from, Yoongi isn’t sure.
Hoseok kisses him, then, in front of the spirits and the fire and the masked watches. Hoseok kisses him like a groom kisses his bride, full of too much happiness for there to be any force behind the kiss, full of too much meaning for the kiss to be anything but a symbol. Yoongi holds Hoseok tighter, closer.
“Wait ‘til midnight, love,” Hoseok tells him, and walks into the centre of the fire.
The fire -
The fire licks up his legs, first, and his head is thrown back in ecstasy, his arms flung wide. The fire licks and kisses up him like a long-lost lover, claiming him whole, and he’s opening his mouth and yelling, and maybe it’s in pain and maybe it’s in joy. For his own sake, Yoongi hopes it’s the latter. His blood boils, running bubbling popping through the veins and pouring out the ends of his fingers, his nose, his eyes, and then his bones are cracking and his antlers are turning black, and they drip and drop and fall into the ashy fire, one-two, and then he’s burning. His body, his skin, turns to ashes.
And then Hoseok is raining down on them all - Hoseok is raining on them all, his skin and his furs and his antlers and his bones, raining, raining. Yoongi holds up his hands and catches a palmful of Hoseok. It’s wet.
(He will later realise that that’s because he’s crying.)
“And now the wake begins,” Namjoon yells, and Yoongi’s kneeling in the bracken and crying, and Jeongguk screams and Taehyung pulls the fiddle out of the fire, and the dance begins.
the Dance --
but not like they’ve done it before --
the dance --
Yoongi, yoongi, Yoongi, yoongi, flashing back and forth between them, the earth spinning beneath his feet. Taehyung, taehyung, playing the fiddle with such intensity that his fingers are on fire. jeongguk and jimin, dancing, jeongguk sobbing, seokjin flinging his arms wide and snatching the flute from out of the flames.
the wake lasts long into the night. he remembers very little of it. in broken snatches, he remembers taehyung hugging him so tight it hurts, and he remembers jeongguk crying into his shoulder, and he remembers jimin apologising over and over and over like a broken record.
he remembers the smell of burning hoseok. it doesn’t smell bad. it smells fresh, of the forest. all around them, while they’re grimly making merry, the ghoulish twisted faces of the spirits gnarl and snarl at them.
he remembers picking himself off the forest floor and counting his limbs. one, two arms. one, two legs. it’s almost a disappointment.
“i may be some time,” he echoes himself into the air, drunk on the music and the time, and he looks up and sees the moon hanging directly overhead.
wait ‘til midnight, love.
well, yoongi’s done his waiting.
the fire doesn’t burn. not that yoongi really expected it to. it’s like a friendly dog, really, licking hot and a little wet up his legs, easily burning away the denim of his jeans and the cotton of his t-shirt. he laughs, lifting up his hands, watching the sparks twirl into the black sky above him.
when his blood boils, it tickles. when his bones crack and break, it stings a little, but in a fresh way, like the brush of skin against nettles in summer. when yoongi sees his skin falling into ashes - when he feels his hair burning away, and when his eyes bubble and boil and pop, he just feels free.
when his blood burns its way out his skin, and feeds the fire, he shouts with happiness. when his fingers melt and his bones drop to the fire, he feels free. when he knows his body is shattering, he feels free.
he lets himself burn and feels no regret - just joy. the joy of being alive.
the joy. just joy.
and then --
“hello, love,” hoseok says softly.
yoongi rushes into his arms, held open for him. hoseok kisses his forehead. neither of them are in any particular hurry to get started, after all, now that they’re here in the timelessness of the open wood. it is samhain, but in tir na nog, (or wherever they are) they have all the time in the world.
“do you know what happens afterwards?”
“i guess i do,” yoongi says. they move, without moving, lying on the forest floor, bracken and leaves sticky on bare skin, but not irritating. “i die.”
“i’ll try to stop it from happening,” hoseok murmurs, leaning up, lingering on a kiss at yoongi’s lips. “i’ll try.”
“you built my cairn,” yoongi says. “i don’t think you can stop it from happening.”
hoseok looks pained. “can we -- can we pretend? i know it’s selfish, but i want to pretend we have the chance. please, yoongiyah.”
“of course,” yoongi says, arching his neck for hoseok to kiss down it, for hoseok to leave his mark in a myriad of bruises and sucked-pink kisses. “of course we can, seokah.”
once hoseok gets the invitation, he’s growling low in his throat and burning, kissing yoongi’s lips, his hands running over yoongi’s body like he wants to map it out before it’s too late. a thigh, in between yoongi’s legs. a hand, thumbing yoongi’s nipple. brown eyes, fascinated by the whimper that draws from between yoongi’s lips. “aren’t you going to worship me?”
“fu-fu-” yoongi fumbles around in the leaves, grasping hoseok’s forearms, “yeah, yeah, of course -- you’re fucking glorious, seokah--”
“better,” hoseok kisses him again, pressing his thigh down on yoongi’s half-hard cock. “slow down -- all the time in the world.”
yoongi sighs, and relaxes, and lets go.
hoseok is glowing glowing bright, sucking bites and marks down yoongi’s body, and almost without his permission, yoongi’s mouth has run away from him, babbling i love you and i worship you and you’re the god of the woods, ranting and raving wildly as hoseok sucks his nipple, as hoseok rubs his fingers in circles along the sensitive skin of yoongi’s inner thigh.
“i’m the god of the woods,” hoseok is working his way down yoongi’s body, ignoring his cock in favour of biting red all over his chest to his stomach to his thighs, revelling in the noises they bring from yoongi’s lips. “as the god of the woods, i deserve the best sacrifice--”
“nngh--” yoongi fights the urge to kick out, to wriggle away from hoseok’s mouth on the hypersensitive juncture between the swell of his ass and his thigh -
“the best,” hoseok sounds like he’s teasing him, licking and sucking and nipping and biting ever-closer to yoongi’s rim, but not touching anything really, “the best. god, yoongiyah, the spirits won’t come near us for a thousand years, a thousand years --”
yoongi arches his hips. “you’re the -- god, god of the woods, touch me, touch me,” and nothing is shameful with hoseok, and when hoseok laughs, yoongi knows it’s because of the golden glow filling his veins.
hoseok’s mouth on his cock is a surprise, but not as surprising as the press of hoseok’s cock against his rim.
oh, god. oh -- god, and it could be a curse, or it could be a prayer. “oh, god--!”
yoongi’s beginning to see double, two hoseoks, and he’s beginning to see himself twice over too, like he’s seeing from hoseok’s eyes. hoseok doesn’t ask if he can take it. hoseok, hoseok moaning and sighing and asking yoongi to praise him. and worship him. and beg.
“please,” yoongi tips his head back to see the sky, purple with the onset of autumn, “please, fuck hoseok please please, please, please fuck me, please -- lemme, i worship you--”
“hush,” hoseok says when he kisses yoongi hot. “hush--”
yoongi whines as hoseok’s hand leaves his cock, the world spinning in his vision, everything almost black but for the glowing orange stag in the centre of the earth. holding up the sky.
hoseok strokes his cheek, tenderly -
and then he’s fucking yoongi. fucking hard and proper and deep, his hands on yoongi’s hips, yoongi himself babbling and pouring out all the praise and worship in the planet, all he can manage --
“god, fuck hoseok--”
“the prettiest doe in the world--”
“please, please --”
“so goddamn -- so fucking lucky--”
yoongi feels the tears trickling down his cheeks, feels the orgasm building in his stomach, feels his whole body going limp, beginning to give up. “hoseok--”
“i think i love you,” yoongi says, and the last thing he feels is the force of hoseok, he and hoseok coming together in the quiet quiet forest, the hot wetness dripping down his thighs, and the sun beginning to rise as samhain comes to an end.
hoseok carries the body up the mountain. yoongi is light in his arms. he feels powerful, buzzing, sensitive - he hasn’t bothered with clothes again.
he leaves yoongi beside his own cairn, and watches himself from a thousand years ago setting stone after stone over the pale skin, the closed eyes, the perfect parted lips.
then he leaves, and goes down to the fire.
it’s still burning, although the worshippers are gone. hoseok sits, cross-legged, eyes closed, and does what he hasn’t done in a hundred centuries.
hours pass. days, maybe. months. hoseok sits where he is.
all the leaves have fallen. when the frost comes, he feels a little cold, although only a little. when the spring comes, and the trees above him turn green with new bloom buds, he smiles at them, but otherwise ignores them completely. when it’s hot, and the sweat forms on his brow, he doesn’t move his hands to wipe it away.
the fire is still burning.
when the leaves start to brown and orange, the fire begins to climb.
when the spirits come to clamour, hoseok hardly uses any of his strength to dispel them.
the ashes spiral.
limbs form first, bones, then layered muscle and fibre and tendon, then boiling blood pouring itself over red bodies, then skin to hold it all in. doe eyes, and fawn-fur ears.
yoongi climbs out of the fire, as graceful and delicate as a newborn fawn. he closes his eyes when hoseok kisses him. “hello, seokah.”
hoseok strokes the ears, the spotted-white freckles, the black hair. “you look much the same.”
“i guess i do.”
and then they’re running.
Over the world, the forest looms, and children are born and cows are sold, and up in the mountain a doe and a hart lead a herd of mismatch animals. As time passes, neither of them seem to get old. As time passes, they just run. Run right into the sunset.
there it is!
two days ago i went for a walk in the woods up the mountain and i found the foundations of an old farmhouse, so who knows. maybe there's a deerseok running around the place still, with a yooniedoe beside him. i hope you enjoyed it and that it wasn't super confusing towards the end.
or comment :D <3