The shack in the woods wasn't very prepossessing. The roof was covered in vines, the paint was flaking off and faded to a weather-beaten grey, and Namjoon could see at least three windows that were broken and boarded up.
On the other hand, it wasn't like there were an abundance of places to choose from. Namjoon was lost, and although he'd been able to hum himself up a path, even his best magic couldn't make a house exist that just didn't exist.
So this was what he was working with. Fine. He took a deep breath, muttering out a burst of stray tune for courage, and strode up the path to the front door. His brisk knock dislodged some dust from the doorframe, and he stepped back hastily, almost tripping on the edge of the worn stone.
He waited, hands in his pockets, for nearly a minute, before he sighed, pressing his lips together. No answer. Well, it was the middle of the day, the sun was high, and the house was remote, no doubt there was a lot to get done, even if home improvements weren't on that list.
"Hello?" he shouted, hearing the echo ringing through the woods, temporarily halting the birdsong and animal noises around him.
He nearly tripped again when he heard an answering, friendly-sounding shout of "Around back!" but made his way around the side of the house.
As much as he'd been able to form an opinion about it as he went, he'd been expecting an overgrown, unkempt garden to match the uncared-for house, a run-down and ill-tended thatch.
Instead, he saw why the house sat with its wistful air of neglect. The garden was the largest and most lovely one he'd ever seen, and its occupant, a tall young man with his back turned, was pouring sweat over it.
When the young man turned, swiped one dirty hand across his forehead, and smiled cheerfully at Namjoon, it was Namjoon's turn to sweat.
For starters, he wasn't wearing a shirt, and his broad chest shone with sweat, and also, he was the most beautiful man Namjoon had seen in a long time. For a long moment, he just stared, and the young man looked back at him, curious but unconcerned.
"Is there something I could help you with?" he asked, finally, and Namjoon shook himself.
"I'm, uh, I'm lost," he said, loathe to admit it.
The man smiled. "Here you are," he said. "I've found you." His gaze traveled down and back up, taking in Namjoon from head to foot, and Namjoon suddenly felt the weight of it so strongly he nearly staggered. His tone hadn't been flirtatious in the least, but it also hadn't been words to a stranger. It had been almost joyful, like a lost friend had returned to him, even though Namjoon was certain they'd never met.
"Where's here?" Namjoon asked, and blushed. "I mean --"
The man set his tools down carefully where he stood, walking over to Namjoon, bare feet digging into the rich soil with every step. "Here." He extended his hand and Namjoon took it without thinking.
He staggered and nearly fell; without the strong grip of the stranger, he would have been on the ground. Images flooded his mind at the touch, knowledge of the forest around him and the exact path and turnings he would need to make his way back to the city. He felt the woods around him like he knew every tree, and he felt as though he could see every fox's den, every bird's nest, every twig and rock and vine, and he felt simultaneously electrified and nauseated.
Namjoon let his knees collapse and gently folded onto the ground, and the man supported him down and unclasped their hands. As soon as they were no longer touching, the sensations faded, and Namjoon's intense awareness of the world around him went back to a low-level buzz in the back of his mind, though now he knew the way home and felt as though he'd never forget it until he died. "That's interesting," the man said. "Would you like some water?"
"Who are you?" Namjoon asked.
He smiled. “You can call me V, if you like. This is my garden, welcome. Would you like some water?"
"Sure," Namjoon said. He was feeling dizzy, still, reeling from the burst of knowledge he'd received. He waited patiently for the mysterious V to return with a simple clay cup and sipped carefully at the cool water. "It's very nice to know what to call you," he started, "but who are you? What was that?"
V smiled at him. "Those are such good questions," he said. "I'm so glad you're here. Are you feeling better?"
“I guess?” Namjoon said. “I’m still pretty confused about what just happened. Usually people give directions by, you know, landmarks and stuff. Not a direct --” he waved his hand, “mind-meld or whatever.”
V looked fascinated. “Oh, you felt that too? Like the whole forest was singing?”
“No,” Namjoon said slowly. “Singing?”
V’s smile dipped for a moment and he looked at Namjoon carefully, almost sternly, but his calm cheer returned quickly, and Namjoon could almost think that he’d imagined the moment. “Yes. Are you in a hurry to go home now that you know the way?”
Namjoon looked up at V’s face, though his eyes wanted to get stuck for a moment at chest-level, since he still hadn’t bothered to shrug on a shirt, and he was still glistening with sweat in the hot sun, and though before he’d been more than ready to get back home, suddenly there was nowhere else he’d rather be.
“No,” he said. “I’ll stay.”
V’s bright, boxy smile flashed again, and Namjoon was glad he was already on the ground, because that smile made his knees go weak.
By the time the daylight started to fade, hours later, Namjoon felt as though he and V had been friends for years. V had gone back to his gardening, and Namjoon had sprawled nearby, out of the direct sun but within range to casually chat, and he had learned a lot about V’s thoughts on gardening, home maintenance, cooking, astronomy, warm summer rain, and the names of twelve of his closest friends, only ten of whom were forest creatures who rarely talked back.
“That’s part of their charm,” V explained. “If you met Jimin and Jungkook you’d know why I get enough sass and backchat in my life.”
“Are those the ravens?” Namjoon asked, sorting back through the names he could remember.
V laughed. “No, those are the people. Not a lot of people from the city come out here, but they make it here as often as they can, and there’s no mistaking it when they do.” The fondness in his voice is clear.
“And if I wanted to come back out here again?” Namjoon asked. He was lying on his back, not looking at V directly, but he could see him out of the corner of his eye, and so he saw him put down his hoe and look at Namjoon for a long minute before answering.
“Yes,” he said quietly at last. “You’d be welcome.”
“And I’ll never forget the way, that’s for sure,” Namjoon said, trying to joke a little. “That map you gave me feels like it’ll last the rest of my life. I won’t forget the way here for a minute, that’s for sure.”
“What map?” V said, and it sounded innocent on the surface, but Namjoon was starting to get his measure, a little bit, and there was keen interest cloaked in the question.
“What singing?” Namjoon countered instead of answering, and the sudden silence stretched out until V broke it with a laugh.
“You’ve got me there,” he said cheerfully, and started to gather his tools. “Do you want to stay for dinner? It’s nothing fancy and I’m not much of a cook, but it would be nice to have company.”
Namjoon consulted his new mental map back to the city, picturing how long it might take, especially now that it was growing dark, and started pulling himself up and brushing off the dirt. “I’d love to stay,” he said with complete honesty and total disregard for the long trip home. “Can I help with anything?”
“Can you cook?” he asked, and Namjoon made a face. “Then you can set the table, I guess. Here, let’s wash up out here. The water’s a little cold but it’s faster than trying to do it at the sink.”
He motioned to a corner of the yard that had a large barrel next to a three-walled structure. Namjoon had assumed it was a slightly tumble-down shed, but once he drew closer, he could see that it was a very rustic shower.
V was already shirtless, and Namjoon honestly just expected him to sluice water across his chest and call it good. He absolutely didn't expect him to unselfconsciously slide his worn shorts down his hips and fling them across the low bush nearby, and when V knelt to fiddle with the hose mechanism, Namjoon looked away hastily, his ears hot, the image seared across his mind: V, tanned back shining with sweat, the paler skin of his ass on full display.
It was much, much worse when V turned, smiling sunnily. Namjoon couldn't stop looking at him, small glances like trying to stare at the sun, until V had stepped sideways out of view to wash up.
When he emerged, towelling his head and letting the setting sun turn his curves and planes golden, he grinned at Namjoon. "You're probably fine, you didn't get into the mud with me this time, but do you want to rinse anyway? It's nice in the evening, the sun heats it."
"I'm good," Namjoon managed to squeak out, and trailed behind V as he led the way to his back porch. He didn't think it was quite as dilapidated as the front had been, but then, he wasn't paying as close attention to the house as he was trying to keep his eyes off V's -- everything.
It was better and worse once they were inside. V slid on a cotton robe, and his disheveled hair and exposed collarbone made Namjoon think about early mornings and the kind of easy closeness that came after years of intimacy.
He led Namjoon to the kitchen, still chatting idly in his funny oblique way, and invited Namjoon to find dishes with a wave at a set of cabinets. "It's stew today," he said. "Jimin helped me make it yesterday, it's usually even better the day after. The kimchi is from my cabbages," he added, sounding almost shy. "My mom came and made it, she's the best."
He moved a pot forward from the back of the stove, where it had been gently warming, and carried it to the table, which was a sturdy, old, very well-loved family farmhouse table. Everything in the kitchen was exactly as Namjoon would have expected from what he already knew about V -- he loved beautiful things, but not necessarily new ones, or what other people might have called beautiful. But somehow everything together felt lovely and loved and warm, and just being in the kitchen soothed something in Namjoon that he hadn't known was sad.
V was carefully bringing side dishes from the fridge, and unplugging an extremely ancient little rice cooker, and Namjoon just let himself watch. V's last little touch was a ceramic squirrel, which seemed to serve no practical function, but he brought it to the table nonetheless, carefully squaring it with the rest of the dishes he'd brought, and then sat, looking at the table with open satisfaction.
As they ate, quietly, Namjoon studied V -- the way his hair, now mostly dry, fuzzed around his head like a halo; the way he laughed at himself once when he lost a piece of kimchi off his chopsticks; the way he looked up and then down whenever he caught Namjoon looking.
Without thinking about it, without planning, almost without being able to help it, Namjoon began to hum and then to sing, softly, his wistful happiness winding through him as V watched him with wide eyes.
He reached the end, and looked down, suddenly shy. "That's beautiful," V said. "Does that happen a lot?"
Namjoon looked up. "Yeah," he said. "It's -- I mean, you understand, don't you, that the magic finds a way, right? Mine's music." He laughed. "You should have heard it when I was a teenager, wow."
V rested his hand on his chin, propped at the table and looking at Namjoon in open admiration. "Wow," he echoed. "No wonder the forest sang to me, then. That was you."
"That was me," Namjoon admitted. "And you?"
"Earth," V said succinctly. "The garden, the forest. It comes up through the feet," he said teasingly, touching Namjoon's foot with his under the table.
"If we held hands again," Namjoon started.
"Yes?" V prompted when he paused.
"If we held hands again, would we feel that again? I almost fell, remember."
"Let's find out," V suggested, and extended a big, callused hand across the wooden surface.
Namjoon reached to take it. A fierce curiosity met him this time, a strong force that rushed along his skin and made him sway, again, and made him glad that this time he was already sitting. He let go and sat back, trying not to seem like he was flinching away, but V was looking sadly at him.
"It's a lot," he said quietly. "Especially for someone with magic of his own, it's a lot to feel the earth coming up at you when you're not used to it."
"Can someone get used to it, if they wanted to?" Namjoon asked, leaning forward again.
V hesitated. "I've heard--" he started, then waved his hand. "No, it's just a silly old story," he said dismissively, and got up to clear the table. The pot of stew went back on the stove, and the small side dishes back in the fridge, and the kitchen was almost clear when Namjoon felt like he was able to stand up and start helping.
Once he did, V stopped and watched him, leaning against a wall as Namjoon washed the last of the dishes and dried his hands.
"Do you want to come back?" V asked.
"Will I be able to?" Namjoon countered, and V smiled.
"Maybe," he conceded. "If you want to, you can. Find a way."
And Namjoon found himself on the path back to his home, almost without realizing how he'd gotten there.
When Namjoon woke up the next morning, he thought at first that he'd dreamed the whole thing. Encountering a hot, mysterious stranger in the woods? Very improbable. And yet -- he glanced out of the window while he was brushing his teeth, and saw a little movement, and immediately knew where the squirrel was who'd flicked his tail, and when he closed his eyes, his personal little map of the wildlife surrounding him wavered there, ready for him to acknowledge it.
So -- it happened, then, he figured. And V had given him a quest, of sorts, hadn't he? To come back to him when he could. The path through the woods to his house seemed hazy, somehow, when he pictured it, but it had felt so straightforward all the way home, he was confident he'd be able to make it there.
First, though, was breakfast, and he wanted to run this whole situation past Jin, at least. He thought he could already picture what Yoongi might say: do you know what you're getting yourself into this time, Namjoon-ah? but Jin's advice was less predictable and tended to be either highly insightful or highly hilarious. Either way, Namjoon wanted to know what he thought, since Jin was a great source for magic theory, and he definitely wanted to learn more about why he couldn't touch V without it making his head spin.
It wasn't too much longer before he headed out to Jin's -- he felt strangely motivated by the puzzle, by the challenge, and not least, the memory of V's incredible ass. That, he was crystal clear in his recall.
It was a short walk, and Namjoon used the time to practice how he'd bring up the topic to maximize his chances of Jin taking him seriously and giving a straight answer. It was mostly a lost cause, but he liked to think positively.
His musings were largely in vain, however. He arrived right as Jin was nearly done cooking, and helped as best he could with setting the table and carrying dishes around, much as he'd done at V's, and when they sat down, Jin fixed him with an amused gaze and said, "I hear you had quite an exciting day yesterday."
Namjoon gaped. "You did? From who?"
"A little birdie told me," Jin said, and for once Namjoon was ready to take him at his word. Namjoon wasn't super clear on Jin's actual magical talent, as Jin tended to be cagey at best when the topic came up, deflecting questions back into theoretical channels, but after meeting V, Namjoon was ready to believe anything.
"What did you hear exactly?" Namjoon pressed.
"Why don't you tell hyung what you did," Jin said, and Namjoon quirked the corner of his mouth. A direct hit: Jin was pulling rank. Namjoon wasn't getting any answers there.
"I took a walk in the woods and met a new friend," Namjoon said. "I swooned when we held hands, and he fed me dinner and showed me the way home. Hyung, what can you tell me about Earth magic?"
Jin was still laughing -- he'd cracked up when Namjoon had mimed swooning across the table as he mentioned it -- but he let the joke pass. "Well, it's strong," he said. "What do you want to know exactly?"
"Well, I'd love to know why he couldn't touch me," Namjoon said. "For a start."
Jin looked at him and pointedly didn't answer for a long few minutes while they both ate.
"It's not your fault," Jin said finally, as Namjoon was helping him clear the table. "Sometimes people just don't fit. Music and earth, that's a funny combination sometimes. It can take some getting used to before he could," Jin paused and made his here-comes-a-terrible-joke face, "rock your world."
Namjoon groaned through his laugh.
"You've got to find hope," Jin said. "That's all I can say. Now go before you break all my dishes."
"That was one time, hyung," he protested, but he wasn't sorry to get out of dish duty.
When Namjoon left, he knew exactly where he was headed. Jin liked to pretend he was a wise elder with his cryptic advice but Namjoon didn’t know who he thought he was fooling. Besides, Hoseok was one of Namjoon’s closest friends as well as an expert on body-based magic, it really just made sense to talk to him next, even if he didn’t already know Hoseok’s nickname.
Namjoon walked slowly through the quiet mid-morning streets, smiling to himself as he thought about V, digging calmly in the afternoon sun, talking about everything and nothing. Without planning it, he started humming and then composing a verse under his breath and behind his mask as he walked. The deeper he got into it, the more he could picture V, until Namjoon could almost swear he could see his face, looking back at him, startled like when Namjoon had first brought up their connection.
As he neared Hoseok's studio, Namjoon's verses faded back to light humming and his curiously strong memory of V melted away with the song.
A stream of small children rushed past him, properly masked but faces happy and voices loud, when he opened the door to the studio, and he had to step back hastily to keep from being trampled. He smiled at them as they went, not that they noticed, and went to find Hoseok.
He wasn't hard to find -- it was a small studio, and Hoseok was almost never quiet. He was horsing around with one of his older students, the one that didn't like Namjoon much, since he always seemed to clam up around him, but Hoseok zipped over for a hug as soon as Namjoon poked his head around the doorframe. "Joon-ah!" he said delightedly. "What brings you here? Are you finally giving in and taking a class?"
Namjoon returned the hug. "Never," he said solemnly, and smacked a kiss on the top of Hoseok's head. "I am here on business, though, Hope-yah," and Hoseok went still for a quick moment.
"Business! I see!" he said. "Well, come with me." He towed Namjoon behind him as the abandoned student peered at them from under his fringe. Namjoon waved at him as they left, but he didn't react.
Hoseok's office was actually a very cleverly designed closet, but it meant that in order for them to close the door, they had to scrunch in together tightly. Once the door closed, of course, the space expanded around them into a fairly comfortable room, and Namjoon threw himself into the armchair that had been hidden when the room was still just a closet. "I met someone," he announced.
Hoseok perched on his desk and said, "so what's the business? Does he not know about your --" he waved a hand "--talents?"
"No, he knows, but it's complicated. Jin thought you might be able to help." Namjoon cleared his throat and looked away for a second. "What do you know about earth magic?"
"Earth!" Hoseok sounded startled and Namjoon looked back at him, his awkwardness chased away for a moment. "Where did you find someone doing earth magic?"
"In the woods," Namjoon said. "I was out walking yesterday and I kind of --"
"You got lost," Hoseok filled in.
"I got lost," Namjoon admitted. "Anyway, I found a path, and a house, and then I found him. V." He couldn't help smiling, when he said the name, thinking about him. "He was working in the garden and he offered to show me the way with a handshake, and when we touched..."
"Are you okay?" Hoseok said sharply, leaning forward. "Give me your hand, let me see."
"What? I mean, I fell over," Namjoon said, holding out his hand for Hoseok to look at, "but it didn't hurt. But all of a sudden I had this map of the forest in my head, and he said he heard music, and he was kind of weird about it for a minute."
"A map?" said Hoseok, sounding intrigued, looking up from where he was closely inspecting Namjoon's hand, front and back. "Can you still picture it?"
"Sure," Namjoon said. "Except the way back to V's house seems more vague than the rest, and I'm not sure I could find my way now."
Hoseok let Namjoon's hand drop. "That's very interesting," he said. "I might actually ask someone else for advice, if you don't mind. Earth magic doesn't mix well with others, that's not something that usually happens."
"I guess?" Namjoon said. "He said I could come back if I found a way."
"Really." Hoseok looked at him, serious in a way he rarely was, and Namjoon met his gaze for a long moment before Hoseok jumped up and clapped, his more typical cheerful demeanor back in place. "Let's find you a way!" he said, and led the way out of the office. Namjoon got out of the armchair just in time before it vanished under him and the closet wall swooshed back into place as Hoseok opened the door.
Hoseok let the way back to the room where he'd been, and the student from before was still there, practicing on his own, but he stopped when he noticed Hoseok and Namjoon's return. "Kook-ah," Hoseok said. "Can you collect your other half and come by Yoongi-hyung's studio in a little bit?"
He nodded, ducking his head and darting another of his quick looks at Namjoon. "Sure, hyung," he said, and Hoseok pulled Namjoon back out, this time toward the front door.
"Are we asking him, or Yoongi-hyung?" Namjoon asked, confused.
"Oh, they have a friend who's an earth witch, I want some perspective, but for now we're going to Yoongi-hyung's studio to see if we can get a better idea about this map you're seeing." Hoseok stopped at the front desk and talked to the receptionist for a brief moment -- Namjoon assumed to tell him where they were going -- before leading the way out.
The production studio wasn't far, and it was another beautiful day, and they chatted idly on the way -- Hoseok's students, Namjoon's latest pieces he was working on, Jin-hyung's spicy social life --- instead of anything more serious.
They passed the doorman at Yoongi's studio with a wave, and easily made their way back through the warren of hallways. Hoseok gave a cursory knock at the door, but keyed the code in almost before the noise faded away. They all knew Yoongi wasn't going to answer the door.
Sure enough, Yoongi was wearing his headphones and frowning at the screen in front of him, and didn't give any indication that he'd noticed their arrival. Hoseok came up behind him and draped his arms around his shoulders in a hug, giving him a smacking kiss on the cheek. "Yoongi-hyung!" he said brightly. Yoongi sighed and hit save, and pulled the headphones off.
"To what do I owe the honor," he said flatly, but Namjoon could see that he had grabbed Hoseok's hands, keeping him in place where he was hugging him.
"We need your help," Hoseok said. "Namjoonie's met an earth witch who gave him a vision, I want to see what's up."
"Oh really," Yoongi said, sounding actually startled. He peered at Namjoon, who couldn't meet his gaze for more than a moment without starting to blush. Yoongi laughed. "Here, pull up a chair," he said, scooting to make room at his table.
Namjoon loved this, honestly, the three of them gathered together to make music. Yoongi's talent for bringing out the best in people, and Hoseok's knack for manipulating his body and the space around himself, and Namjoon's own airy musical magic, when they managed to get together and get a beat going, really made something special, he felt.
But for once, he felt something else at the edge of his mind, an extra presence he didn't want to ignore, and he closed his eyes for a moment while Yoongi quickly opened another file and Hoseok grabbed their headphones from the hooks above them.
They messed around for a few minutes, warming up and tossing around a few friendly jabs, before settling into a song. Yoongi led them off, and Namjoon closed his eyes and bobbed quietly along, feeling the vibe, gathering a few phrases he wanted to highlight, and waited for his turn.
When Yoongi wrapped up and tossed to him, and he started spinning his verse in earnest, eyes closed, V's presence felt closer than before, like a strong memory he was in the middle of, like before when he'd been walking to see Hoseok. But this time, he kept going, his voice strong and the beat thrumming through him, and the memory didn't fade. He felt almost as though he could see V there in front of him, and he savored the look on V's face. V felt almost close enough to touch, and Namjoon smiled to himself, warm and happy.
He brought his verse to an end and instead of taking his turn, Hoseok was looking hard at Yoongi, who was watching Namjoon closely. Namjoon shook off the lingering influence of the music and took his headphones off. "What?" he asked. Had he done something while he was zoned out to his own music?
"Tell me what you were thinking about," Yoongi demanded.
"I--" Namjoon faltered. "I guess I was thinking about V," he said. "I could almost see him."
"Not the forest?" Yoongi pressed. "Not the map? Just the guy?"
"Just him," Namjoon confirmed, and Yoongi sat back in his chair.
"Good," he said.
Yoongi refused to elaborate on his reaction to Namjoon’s answers, and instead made them put their headphones back on and finish the song, fussing at them until they did as he said.
They were just finishing up when the phone flashed. Yoongi answered, listening for a long minute and then just murmuring assent. He hung up and said, “Hoseok, your ducklings are out front, can you go and fetch them?”
Namjoon sat quietly with Yoongi while they waited for Hoseok to return. Yoongi studied him, and Namjoon looked back, talking without words in the way of old friends. "It's going to work out," Yoongi said quietly but firmly, just before Hoseok got back, and Namjoon smiled at him. He knew that tone: Yoongi was speaking something into being through sheer force of will, and he loved him for it.
When Hoseok returned, he had two familiar-looking students in tow, and they were all smiling and shoving at each other in a friendly sort of way as they fell through the door. The younger of them -- the boy who'd been in the studio with Hoseok earlier -- fell quiet when he saw Namjoon sitting there, and his friend laughed and punched his arm for no reason that Namjoon could see.
"Okay, sit," Hoseok said, and pushed them down onto Yoongi's couch. "This is an interrogation, tell us everything you know about earth magic."
The younger boy -- Namjoon remembered Hoseok had called him Kook that morning -- gulped and looked alarmed, while the other boy, who Namjoon knew he'd met but whose name Namjoon absolutely couldn't remember for the life of him, just raised his eyebrows in challenge. "Why do you want to know?" he asked coolly.
Yoongi rolled his eyes. "We're matchmaking," he said, and he made it sound like sarcasm, despite the literal truth behind the words.
"I met someone yesterday," Namjoon added. "I'd like to go see him again but it's complicated. Hoseokie just thought you might know something about how to manage it."
The boy exchanged a glance with Kook. "If someone with earth magic wants you to come visit, you'll know," he said finally.
Namjoon waited for him to elaborate, but he seemed to be done.
"Is that all?" Hoseok said finally. "Jimin-ah, that's the least helpful thing I've ever heard."
"Wait, what?" Namjoon said, sitting forward. "What's your name again?"
"Jimin," he said, rolling his eyes, but Namjoon ignored the disrespect. "Park Jimin. Namjoon-ssi, we've met like three times, this is embarrassing for you."
Namjoon looked at the other boy. "Are you Jungkook?" Kook, of course he would be Jungkook if this was Jimin. Jungkook just nodded, eyes big.
"He talked about them," Namjoon said, turning to Yoongi and Hoseok. "Their friend is -- that's the guy, that's my guy. He told me about them."
"Wait, what? You met Taehyungie? What did he say about me?" Jimin said, sitting forward, changing in an instant from a stubborn, suspicious brick wall back into the eager, happy guy he'd been when he came in.
"Who's Taehyung?" Namjoon asked. "No, he asked me to call him V, this must be someone else."
"Someone else with earth magic?" Jimin asked dubiously. "Lives all alone in the woods, great garden, lives on one pot of stew for a week, allergic to shoes?"
"That does sound like the same guy," Namjoon conceded. "But why would he give me a fake name?"
"You should go and ask him," Jungkook suddenly piped in, and shrank back a little when they all looked at him, but kept going. "He likes when people try to figure him out. Go and ask."
"Yes but how?" Namjoon asked. "I don't remember the way."
"Do you think that you might be overthinking it?" Jungkook asked, and looked even more startled when Yoongi and Hoseok both started laughing, and Namjoon sat back huffily, crossing his arms.
"Yeah, Namjoon, do you think?" Yoongi wheezed. "That you might, possibly, by some chance, maybe, might be overthinking something?"
"That's really enough, hyung," Namjoon said. Hoseok was actually lying on the floor crying with laughter, and even Jimin and Jungkook had gone from puzzled to amused. "Okay, okay, here I go," he said, stepping over Hoseok's body to a fresh wave of giggles. Jimin was starting to hide a laugh behind his hand.
No time like the present, Namjoon assumed. He dropped back by his place to change -- attire that Jin deemed suitable for brunch was not exactly hiking gear -- and grab some water. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the map of the forest he still vividly remembered, and headed out.
It was another nice day for a gentle hike in the woods, and Namjoon found himself humming and singing off and on as he went. He knew it had taken him a half-hour or less to get home from V's, so he started looking around for landmarks as that time came and went. He checked his mental map and it was no clearer than before, even when he freestyled a few bars to focus in. Instead, he saw V's face, looking amused, and he wanted more than ever to be there.
Suddenly, impulsively, Namjoon sat down next to the path and started taking his shoes and socks off. The magic came up from the earth, he'd said, so it made sense that maybe being barefoot might help. He stuffed the shoes and socks into his pack and went on, slowly and carefully.
"I'm looking for V," he said softly to the forest around him, pressing one hand gently against a tree trunk. "For Taehyung. Does anyone know the way?" He felt a little silly asking, and he didn't expect anything to happen, but a few paces later, a little bunny popped into the path in front of him and stared him down for a long minute, then turned and scampered along to a narrow side path that Namjoon had almost walked right past without noticing. Namjoon studied the soft grass of the new path, and took a deep breath, and followed.
He didn't see the bunny again, but he did notice a crow that seemed to be following him, and possibly laughing at him. He kept seeing glimpses of little forest creatures all along the path, much more than he was used to on a hike, and while he definitely got an amused vibe from almost all of them, they seemed generally happy to help.
The path wasn’t as clear as it had looked originally. It had been grassy at first, and cool against his feet, but he had to stop again and again to free his pants from the brambles. He worked carefully, but soon enough his feet and fingers were scratched and bloody. Each time, just as he felt discouraged or like he might want to retrace his steps and try another path, though, another little creature would peek out at him and he’d take a deep breath and keep on.
He'd stopped trying to remember the way, or thinking about the map, or even anything except navigating the path with all of his new friends showing him the way, and when he walked out into the clearing, he very nearly didn't realize where he was. It wasn't until V -- Taehyung -- had straightened up from his work in the garden that it hit him that he'd done it, that he was here.
For a minute, he was too startled to actually react. It was V’s huge smile, too big and broad for his face, that jolted him into action, and he stumbled forward, holding his hands out. V met him, clasping their hands together warmly for a moment, then drew him into a full-body embrace, one hand tucked against Namjoon’s head and the other around his shoulders. Namjoon slid his hands low, holding on around V’s waist. He was shirtless again, of course, and there was so much beautiful sun-warmed skin for him to touch.
He had fallen into the hug without worry about the backlash, and he was rewarded for it. The feeling of the magic was so different, and Namjoon marveled at it. Instead of a crashing, overwhelming wave that threatened to drive him to his knees, it was a beautiful, rolling warmth, like the heat coming up from the floor on a cold winter day.
“You’re hurt,” V said, pulling away.
“Scratches,” Namjoon said dismissively. He’d given himself worse and not thought twice about it.
“Still,” V said, and pulled away enough that they could walk to the house together, though he left his arm in place around Namjoon’s shoulder, and Namjoon left his hand on his waist.
V’s first aid kid wasn’t as extensive as Namjoon’s, but he still insisted on washing and bandaging all of Namjoon’s scrapes from his walk. He got Namjoon sitting in the kitchen, jeans rolled up, before Namjoon could find a way to dissuade him.
“You got these scratches for me,” he said when Namjoon tried to protest, and kept working on the ankle he held.
Sitting there, staring at the top of his head where he was crouched, still shirtless, over Namjoon’s feet, Namjoon couldn’t stop himself from asking, “Should I call you V, still?”
Without missing a beat, V asked, “What else would you like to call me?”
“Taehyung?” Namjoon ventured, and V looked up for a moment with a smile.
“You’ve been busy!” he exclaimed. “Nice work, how’d you find that?”
“Jimin and Jungkook are friends of my friend Hoseok, it turns out,” Namjoon said. “We were getting advice from them on how to understand earth magic, and it sure seemed like you were the same person that they were talking about.”
“Taehyung is fine,” he said, finishing up with Namjoon’s other foot and sitting back. “It’s great. I never give my real name to folks just wandering by, that can get you in all kinds of trouble, but then some people feel funny about switching to the real one once we get to know each other better.” He shrugged.
“Trouble?” Namjoon asked, fascinated.
“Oh, you know,” Taehyung said, and didn’t elaborate in the slightest. He picked up one of Namjoon’s hands instead, and focused on carefully wiping, treating, and bandaging each scrape.
The quiet between them felt comfortable, settled, and Namjoon focused on the feeling of Taehyung’s big gentle hands on his. The stinging of the scratches couldn’t distract him from the press of their hands. Taehyung held his hand with one of his while he worked with the other, and it was -- still big, still dizzying, but better today, somehow. He was getting used to the swell of magic that came each time Taehyung adjusted his grip, and it was easier in the quiet.
“Why were you in the woods?” Taehyung asked suddenly, breaking the silence. He looked at Namjoon for a long moment, then back at what he was doing. “When you found me the first time, I mean. Why were you wandering around lost?” His tone was casual but Namjoon still paused for a moment, wanting to give him a real answer.
“I was trying to find inspiration for my music in the woods,” he admitted. “I’ve been feeling a little stale, a little bored, so I’ve been trying new things lately, and nature has been drawing me in.”
“What were you thinking about when you were looking for my house?” Taehyung asked, still not looking up from what he was doing.
Namjoon laughed. “Honestly? I was thinking about how tired I was, and how nice it might be to find someone else out here. I knew I needed help.”
“Interesting,” Taehyung said. “Thank you. And you’re all patched up now,” he added, patting Namjoon on the knee. “Would you like to come back outside with me? I still have a lot of work to do.”
“Sure,” said Namjoon. “I can help if you show me what to do.”
Taehyung smiled again, a big pleased smile, and they went back out to the garden together.
Namjoon truly was not very good at much to do with gardening. He'd tried having houseplants, but they died quickly despite his best efforts, and his kitchen herbs bolted and then withered. But he was determined to do his best, and Taehyung gave him small jobs near his own work so they could talk, and Namjoon couldn't remember ever having been happier.
“My grandmother liked to tell stories about magic,” Taehyung said as he carefully weeded, side by side with Namjoon. “She would tell me about trickster shapeshifters who turned into foxes to steal from lazy nobles, or rich boys who would only eat pumpkins, or a farmer who found a lady transformed into a snail in his field. Have you heard those stories?”
Namjoon laughed. “The snail lady! Ever since I heard that one I can’t pass by a snail without checking to see if it’s going to turn into a person.”
“She told me another one,” Taehyung said, once they'd stopped laughing and gone back to working. “Do you know The Heavenly Maiden and the Woodcutter?”
“Yes,” Namjoon said quietly. “That's a sad one, isn't it?”
“My grandmother told it two ways,” Taehyung said. “One way for everyone else, and one way for me. It’s the story I thought of when you were here before.”
“Will you tell me?” Namjoon asked. He stopped working and watched Taehyung.
“Long ago and far away,” Taehyung obligingly began, “a woodcutter living with his mother in the woods saved a deer from a hunter by letting it hide in his woodstack. In return, the deer told him of a spring where three heavenly maidens bathed during the full moon. The deer told the woodcutter to hide the clothes of the youngest maiden, and she would marry him, but not to return the clothes until they had three children together. The woodcutter agreed, and did as the deer had said. But the maiden was sad, and missed her home, and the woodcutter felt sorry after their second child, and returned the clothes early.” Taehyung paused here.
“I always felt so sorry for her,” Namjoon said. “Stuck here, trapped and alone.”
Taehyung smiled. “You would have given the clothes back right away, I bet.”
“I wouldn’t have hidden them,” Namjoon said. “Do you want me to tell the next part? Is it the same up to the horse?”
“Yeah, that’s the same,” Taehyung said. “Sure, you tell the next part.”
Namjoon cleared his throat. “The maiden took her clothes, then grabbed their children and fled back to the sky. Now it was the woodcutter’s turn to be sorry, and he told the deer of his sadness. The deer told him how to climb into the heavens, when the heavenly maidens would lower a bucket for their water, and the woodcutter was reunited with his wife, and they were both happy again. But the woodcutter could see his mother getting older, and sick, and lonely, and he wanted to visit her. His wife warned him that if he went, he wouldn’t be able to come back, but he insisted. Finally, she lent him a winged horse, warning that if he got off the horse for any reason, he would never be able to return to the sky. He came home to see his mother, and she was overjoyed to see him, and begged him to stay, but he couldn’t dismount. So she brought him some soup, to eat on horseback, but it was too hot, so he spat it out, and when it hit the horse’s neck, it reared and tossed him off.” Taehyung was starting to laugh, so Namjoon stopped for a minute.
“I like that, the soup spitting, that’s funny,” Taehyung said. “I always heard it that he dropped the whole bowl on the horse, that’s why he got tossed.”
“Will you tell the rest?” Namjoon asked. “That’s pretty much the end of mine -- he dies of grief and is turned into a rooster and cries every morning because he wants to go back to the sky, that’s all I have left.”
“Oh, yes,” Taehyung said. “Sure, in the other version my grandmother told me after she found out I was magical, the heavenly maiden came back to the woodcutter after he fell and gave him magic as an apology, so he wouldn’t be lonely, but they couldn’t touch anymore without being burned, because her magic was of the air and his was of the earth. So she went and asked her sisters for help, and the woodcutter’s mother for advice, and then cut herself on the woodcutter’s axe so he could bind her wound with his magic, and then they could be happy together again.”
“Oh,” Namjoon said, “That’s, uh, that’s kind of uncanny, actually.”
“Right?” Taehyung agreed. “I don’t think it’s an exact match, unless you tracked down my mom this morning, and I don’t even have an axe, but I think it fits pretty well otherwise.”
“I asked my hyungs for help, and your friends for advice,” Namjoon agreed. “Even though I didn’t know they were your friends at the time.”
“Oh, Jimin’s full of advice,” Taehyung said. “He’ll give you advice even if you don’t ask for it. And then you asked the woods for help too, that was a nice touch, they liked it.”
Namjoon just took that in for a few moments. “They...liked it?”
“The ravens told me,” Taehyung said. “They thought it was funny that you asked the trees, but they liked it enough to come tell me right away anyway. Ravens are always so ironic about everything but they can’t help but gossip.”
“Did you like it?” Namjoon asked, and Taehyung just bit his lip, looking down. Namjoon moved a step closer, and asked again, his voice rough with meaning. “Did you like it?”
“I liked it,” Taehyung said finally. They were standing close but not touching, the air between them charged.
“Can I kiss you?” Namjoon asked, low and quiet.
“I don’t know,” Taehyung said. “Can you?”
“Let’s find out,” Namjoon said, and leaned in, fitting their lips together. His head swam and his knees felt a little weak, but this time, it wasn’t the magic. It was all Taehyung.