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The Tiger and the Bear

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In the beginning, Hwanung asked his father Hwanin, the supreme deity, if he might leave heaven and live on earth instead. With his father’s consent, Hwanung descended to earth and came to settle on the slopes of Mount Taebaek, bringing with him three seals of authority and thousands of followers. One day, a tiger and a bear wandered into Hwanung’s mountain cave, praying to be transformed into humans. Hwanung agreed, but stipulated that the tiger and the bear must spend one hundred days in the dark, living on nothing but mugwort and garlic. If they could do this, Hwanung would grant them their humanity. The tiger was unable to meet Hwanung’s requirements, but the bear persisted. Hwanung turned the bear into a woman named Ungnyeo, who later gave birth to Hwanung’s son.

She called her son Dangun, and he became the founder of all Korea, the legendary god-ruler of Gojoseon.

Though Dangun was celebrated yearly during Gaecheonjeol, the National Foundation Holiday, he hid too long and too deep within the mountain. He forgot the taste of cool air, the glow of the morning sun, the beating of the human heart. And so he slept beneath the mountain, losing more and more each year his sense of his people, dormant to the wonders of the world.

 

Namjoon would later claim that it was the shadows that got him lost, their dappled luminescence playing off of flowers on either side of the path, calling him to one side and then the other, awestruck, unaware that the others in his group had long since vanished up ahead.

By the time he looked up, calling to Hoseok to look at the brilliant pink azaleas he had just spotted, he was utterly alone. It was only then that he realized how different the woodsy mountain trail looked. Alone, no longer with friends, the trail took on the quality of a dream, stretching before and behind him, unrecognizable even though he had studied and poured over maps of the area before the hike.

He should have brought one of those maps along, like Hoseok suggested, instead of insisting that he had it memorized and didn’t want to carry one more thing. Jeongguk and Jimin were going to tease him when he finally caught up with them, and Yoongi was going to give him that befuddled, verging-on-exasperated look that made Namjoon feel five-years-old instead of twenty-five. At least Seokjin would probably only try to feed him after scolding him.

They had spent months planning this hike. Taebaeksan was a high mountain, but not difficult to climb, smooth as it was with few cliffs. They had practiced on easier trails during the previous summer and fall, and stockpiled equipment they would need during the winter. Spring was the best time to hike the mountain, when the surface was transformed by azalea and rhododendron into a bright pink wonderland.

In the weeks leading up to the hike, Namjoon became so excited he started dreaming about the mountain.

“It’s just a hike, Namjoon-hyung,” Jimin would say when Namjoon regaled them at breakfast with memories of navigating through caves in his sleep.

“Let our flower boy live, Jiminie,” Hoseok would return, reaching up to ruffle Namjoon’s hair.

No amount of teasing about his dreams, however, diminished Namjoon’s excitement for the hike.

Even now, separated from his friends and potentially lost, Namjoon felt a sense of ease, of wonder at the beauty around him, the mountain in springtime. He didn’t want his friends to worry about him. He would catch up with them. And so he strolled leisurely in the direction he knew they had gone, focusing his attention on the flowers and trees and the sounds of wildlife.

So captivated was he, that it took far too long for him to realize that, in fact, he didn’t know where he was going. One moment he was examining a funny pattern in the bark of a tree, and the next he looked up and recognized nothing. The trail seemed to have disappeared entirely, overgrown with grass and flowers. He thought he could hear water nearby, the sound of a burbling creek or stream, and he seemed to be moving up a gentle slope, as if he was emerging from a valley. None of it was familiar, though it was just as beautiful as the rest of the mountain.

He was surprised when he came upon the cave. Namjoon hadn’t expected it. But suddenly there it was, a dark maw in the side of the slope with smooth rock leading up to it.

Later, Namjoon would argue that it was pure curiosity that drove him to fish his flashlight out of his pack and flick it on, wandering slowly just beyond the mouth of the cave. It was dark and quiet inside, and the beam of his flashlight seemed too harsh. Wary that there might be animals sleeping in the cave, Namjoon proceeded cautiously.

A deep, earthy smell surrounded him. The darker it got, the more convinced Namjoon became that he could hear the light patter of animal feet around him. All at once he regretted getting separated from his friends.

“Why,” he mumbled to himself. “Stupid, Namjoon, stupid. Don’t wander off.”

“Don’t get lost,” Seokjin had said to each of them in turn at the start of the hike, his gaze lingering on Namjoon. “Okay?”

“Sorry hyung,” Namjoon murmured now, kicking at some loose gravel and swinging around, intent on returning to the entrance of the cave and finding his friends, even if it meant shouting his way up one side of the mountain and down the other.

He almost didn’t see it, the glint of gold illuminated just briefly by the beam of his flashlight as he marched by. In fact, he walked away from it and back toward the mouth of the cave before he even registered that he had seen something. Namjoon turned again, squinting, aiming his flashlight. Perhaps another hiker had dropped something, an earring or a shiny candy wrapper. Perhaps he had seen nothing, his imagination filling in the gaps of what he couldn’t see inside the dark cave.

Slowly he shuffled forward, searching with the flashlight. For the second time he caught just a glimpse, just a flash of gold, almost missing it. He deliberately angled the flashlight back, and this time there was no mistaking it, despite his brain insisting that his eyes could not be seeing what they were actually seeing.

Because there was no way a man, a very, very naked man, could be shackled to the wall of the cave, right?

Right.

 

“Oh no,” Namjoon hissed, moving away from the man and pulling his pack off his shoulders. With his flashlight between his teeth aiming down, Namjoon fished around until he found the neon glow lights Yoongi had insisted on, despite the others laughing about hiking in broad daylight.

“Thank you, Yoongi-hyung,” Namjoon whispered, after he’d dropped the flashlight and cracked two of the sticks, blinking quickly in the sudden warm glow of light.

There was a man alright. Naked. A naked man. He was turned away from Namjoon, curled slightly in on himself, and very clearly shackled to the wall of the cave with chains that looked to be made out of solid gold.

“Oh my god,” Namjoon said, still half-wondering if he was hallucinating.

He probably hadn’t drunk enough water today. Could dehydration cause hallucinations?

“Don’t be dead, don’t be dead, please please please don’t be dead.”

He tip-toed toward the man, chanting under his breath, and peered down at him just long enough to note that his eyes were closed in what was hopefully sleep, and that he looked remarkably healthy for being chained up inside a cave.

The inside of Namjoon’s head was a mess of conflicting thoughts. What if he’s dead? What do I do if he’s dead? Should I touch him? No. Don’t touch him. What if he’s carrying a disease, or has rabies from a wild animal or something? Do I leave him? Do I go for help? What if he’s alive?

Ever so softly, Namjoon nudged the man’s foot with his shoe and then leaped back, wincing.

The man didn’t move.

“Huh,” said Namjoon, putting his hands on his hips.

He stepped forward and nudged again, a little harder this time, and in response the man let out a long, slow breath.

“Shit,” Namjoon cursed, leaping back again.

He was alive. Namjoon wasn’t sure if that was better or worse.

“Hey,” Namjoon said, louder. “Hey, you. Wake up. Are you okay? Do you need help?”

He flung out one long leg and nudged a third time, in the small of the man’s back.

He got a low, raspy groan in response. The man shifted, rolling onto his back, and Namjoon saw the thick golden cuffs around his wrists.

“What the actual fu—”

“Leave,” the man gasped, voice hoarse with disuse, and Namjoon barely contained a shriek.

“Oh my god, okay, look,” said Namjoon, panicking. “I think you need help. I can get help.”

“No,” the man rasped. His head rolled toward Namjoon but his eyes remained closed. “Leave now. Leave me.”

Namjoon bounced on his toes, hesitant, unable to believe that he was about to argue with a strange possibly-serial-killer man shackled inside a cave.

“Okay,” said Namjoon’s mouth anyway, despite his brain’s insistence that he flee. “I hear you. But I really think you need help. This can’t be safe. How long have you been here?”

Finally the man’s eyes cracked open, just a hair. He turned on his side so that he was facing Namjoon, the chains pulling taut.

“Don’t,” said Namjoon immediately, crouching down. “Don’t move. Don’t hurt yourself. I’m going to go get help, okay? You can, uh, wait here.”

If the circumstances hadn’t been so bizarre and potentially dire, Namjoon would’ve hit himself for telling a shackled man not to move.

“Where is here?”

Namjoon blinked. “Uh, excuse me?”

“Here,” the man repeated. His voice was getting stronger each time he spoke. Namjoon’s eyes still couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Shouldn’t this guy be emaciated? Dead?

“A cave,” Namjoon told him. “On Taebaeksan.”

“Taebaeksan,” the man repeated. “The year? What year?”

“I-I-I It’s uh, 2019,” Namjoon mumbled, feeling like he had slipped into some type of weird delirium. Had he sniffed something he shouldn’t have? A weird hallucinogenic plant? Mushroom, maybe?

The man sat up with a grunt, his upper body curving forward, head drooping.

“Woah,” said Namjoon, holding out his hands, still crouching just a short distance away. “I don’t think you should move, okay? You should definitely stay still.”

But the man shook his head. “You shouldn’t have woken me. Even so, I won’t sleep again now.”

It was occurring to Namjoon that the man might be crazy. Easing up out of his crouch, he began a slow shuffle backwards away from the man and toward the mouth of the cave. At his movement, the man looked up and seemed to actually take him in for the first time.

Namjoon froze.

The man’s eyes were lethargic, heavy slits, but his gaze settled on Namjoon with a weighty expectation that made his skin crawl. Namjoon noticed all at once that this man was handsome, beautiful even, with a perfectly proportioned face and a long, lightly muscled body. The realization was jarring, especially since there was no possible way anyone could look this good after being bound in a cave.

“I really must be hallucinating,” Namjoon mumbled, and then winced as the man cocked his head.

“I’m going to break these chains,” the man said, working his legs underneath himself before slowly levering to his feet. “You should close your eyes.”

“I should—” Namjoon began, distracted by the sudden very naked body in front of him. It seemed that more than just his face was well-proportioned. “What? Hey, wait, you probably shouldn’t do that. You should stay still.”

The man was fingering the cuffs at his wrists, but he glanced at Namjoon again, his gaze puzzled. “Close your eyes,” he repeated.

Namjoon didn’t think he was capable of looking away at this point, so he blatantly stared as the man inhaled, his chest expanding, and on his exhale the shackles opened with a soft pop and fell to the ground. Instantly the man seemed to grow, becoming larger, as large as the cave itself, blazing brighter than the sun, alive with light and heat. His hair flowed like fire behind him. His eyes burned amber, liquid, molten.

Namjoon’s eyes slammed shut as a shout worked its way up his throat, emerging soundlessly in the sudden rush of wind that filled the cave, causing dirt and dust motes to swirl through the air.

He should have closed his eyes sooner, before he had a chance to see that this man, whoever he was, whatever he was, couldn’t be fully human. No human Namjoon had ever met glowed like that, so golden it hurt to see it. No human that he knew took up so much space, was that much larger than life, seeming to fill all of the crevices of the cave.

It wasn’t meant to be seen, Namjoon thought. The man had been beautiful before. Without the chains, he was beyond description, ethereal in a way that had tears leaking from Namjoon’s eyes even as he continued to silently scream.

In the face of such beauty, of such light and heat, Namjoon did the only thing his body seemed capable of.

He fainted.

 

The human smelled like wet earth, like dirt newly turned. It was a vital smell, life-giving, the promise of springtime and things to come. He smelled like Jacheongbi, the woman who became Jungsegyeong, the Earthly Farming Goddess. It was a good scent, one he hadn’t smelled in a long, long time, and that was why he did not immediately leave the man behind where he fell.

He did crouch over his prone form, taking him in curiously. It had been many decades since he had seen a human.

He had not meant for the human to see his true form. But he also had not tried very hard to stop it from happening. The man’s awe settled into his skin, coating him, reminding him what it felt like to be worshipped. Even coming from just one human, and not masses, it was a delicious feeling.

The human looked peaceful in sleep, his face smooth and serene. Dangun almost didn’t want to wake him. Almost.

“Wake up,” he said, poking the human’s chest, and the man was pulled from his slumber with a splutter.

“What?” he gasped, sitting up too quickly and clutching his head. “What? Where—? What—?”

“I told you to close your eyes,” Dangun reminded him, once the man’s sight had adjusted.

The man stared at him, his mouth slightly open. He was quite as lovely awake as he was in sleep, his good earthy smell intensifying. Of all the humans who could have awoken him, Dangun was not displeased with this one.

“You’re naked,” the man finally half-yelled, loud and echoing in the otherwise silent cave, and Dangun held in a sigh.

“What do I call you, small human?” he asked, not responding to the man’s remark.

The man blinked, startled by the sudden change of topic. “Kim Namjoon.”

“Namjoon,” Dangun tested, repeating it several times. “Namjoon, I am Dangun, the god-king.”

 

Namjoon normally prided himself on his ability to remain calm in high-stress situations. Exam season? No problem. Just study hard. Miscommunication at work? Nothing a little calming tea and some Xanax couldn’t solve. One too many sleepless nights? Nap time. So hungry you might pass out? He’s heard there’s ramen for that.

Nevertheless, Namjoon had not prepared himself for the eventuality of finding a once-dormant god in a mountain and then adopting him like a stray cat.

“What am I going to tell my friends?” Namjoon whined, not for the first time, as he pulled extra clothes out of his pack and tossed them in Dangun’s (Dangun!) direction.

“I’m guessing by the look on your face that the truth isn’t an option?”

Namjoon dropped the t-shirt he was holding and looked up, shocked.

Dangun was grinning, and it was boxy and cute and looked way more human than Namjoon was expecting, though with each passing minute the god looked less like a golden celestial being and more like, well, more like an average guy, someone Namjoon might hang out with.

(This was partially a lie. Even looking like a human he was way more gorgeous than anyone Namjoon had ever seen. He wasn’t going to fool the mortals. In real life Namjoon would need a pep talk and the promise of ice cream afterwards to approach someone like him.)

“Yeah, the truth isn’t an option,” Namjoon finally muttered, before blinking again and looking away quickly. “Why are you still naked? Please get dressed.”

The clothing that Namjoon had thrown his way rustled, and after a moment Namjoon deemed it safe to look up again. Dangun stood before him with one eyebrow raised, a pair of Namjoon’s pants low on his hips. He was shirtless, and Namjoon tried and failed not to stare as he felt around for the shirt he had dropped. When he found it, he thrust it up toward Dangun, shaking his head quickly.

The god was a little easier to handle when he was dressed, at least, and Namjoon relaxed as he pulled the shirt on, the strain in his shoulders easing infinitesimally.

“You can call me Taehyung,” Dangun finally said, folding into a neat lotus pose across from Namjoon. “And you can introduce me to your friends as such.”

Namjoon wasn’t sure where he’d gotten the name from, if he’d just plucked it out of thin air or taken it from the name of the mountain they were on, but he didn’t question it.

“Okay, Taehyung,” he said, staring hard and telling himself over and over that this was now Taehyung, not Dangun. Not a potentially immortal god-king but Taehyung. “Uh, Taehyung-ssi? Should I be formal? It sort of seems like I should be formal?”

Taehyung smiled again. “No, Taehyung is fine,” he said. “And I will call you Namjoon.”

“Right,” Namjoon agreed.

Logically, Namjoon knew that this could not be real. Legendary god-kings did not sleep under mountains. Namjoon accepted gods as part of Korea’s mythos, but he couldn’t quite wrap his mind around the idea that they were still… well, hanging around.

Illogically, Namjoon had seen enough anime to know that this sort of thing—innocent, clumsy hero inadvertently stumbles upon super powerful slumbering creature—could happen. And absent any other real options at this point, or explanations, he decided to just roll with it.

Taehyung wasn’t hurt and seemed entirely unbothered by the fact that he’d been shackled to the wall of the cave less than an hour ago. If Taehyung wasn’t going to freak out, neither was Namjoon. On principle.

“It’ll be fine,” Taehyung assured him, reaching out and placing a big, warm palm on Namjoon’s shoulder. “I’m easily adaptable. I’m already picking up your speech patterns. Your friends will never know.”

“Speech patterns,” Namjoon repeated blankly. Taehyung’s hand was so, so warm. “Well, that’s comforting.”

Taehyung grinned.

“What were you doing in here anyway?” Namjoon asked after he’d repacked everything and they’d started out of the cave.

“Sleeping,” answered Taehyung, and Namjoon rolled his eyes before it occurred to him that he may not want to do that to a god who’d been around for thousands of years.

“But why were you sleeping?” pressed Namjoon, leading the way out into sunshine that seemed entirely too bright after the darkness of the cave. Namjoon squinted as he walked, shielding his eyes with his hand, and made it several paces before he realized that Taehyung had not followed him.

Taehyung was standing just outside the mouth of the cave, staring up toward the sky. As Namjoon watched he took a deep breath in, filling his lungs, before letting it out slowly.

“Are you okay?” asked Namjoon, jogging back over to him.

Taehyung blinked slowly and looked around, taking in the trees and flowers, the wildlife and vegetation. He smiled curiously. “It has been quite a while since I’ve been out in the fresh air.”

Something about the way he said it, his voice lilting with longing, made a pang of sympathy flare in Namjoon’s stomach.

“How often do you wake up?” he asked gently.

Taehyung glanced at him. “Once a year, in time for Gaecheonjeol.” He started away from the cave, striding confidently, as if he knew exactly where he was going. “But many years have passed since I last woke up.”

“Why?” asked Namjoon, jogging to keep up with him despite his own long legs.

Taehyung shrugged a little. “I am old and tired,” he said. “Waking up is harder each year. And as time passes, there seems to be very little happening in the world that I want to wake up for.”

“Oh,” Namjoon said, his voice small. He followed as Taehyung led them directly back to the path. “I see. But you woke up this time. Gaecheonjeol is months away. Why did you wake up so early?”

“I wasn’t exactly planning on it,” Taehyung told him. “But an annoying hiker kicked me.”

“It was barely a tap!” Namjoon immediately argued. “And anyway I thought you were dead.”

Taehyung turned his face away, but Namjoon caught the edge of a grin. “My apologies for inconveniencing you.”

Taehyung easily navigated them to the end of the trail, walking the mountain as if he’d done it one thousand times (Namjoon had to remind himself that he might have actually done so). Namjoon saw the parking lot come into view first, and then the cluster of welcome buildings to help those wanting to traverse the mountain. Finally, he saw his friends. They were huddled outside one of the buildings talking to several people who appeared to be wearing national park uniforms.

“Looks like they’re getting a search party together,” Namjoon grumbled. Without thinking he reached out and grasped Taehyung’s wrist, pulling him toward his friends. “Come on.”

Yoongi saw him first. He smacked Seokjin, pointing, and then it was like a chain reaction, a chorus of “Yahs!” and then thundering footsteps as his friends ran to meet him, smacking his arms and then burying him in a group hug.

Namjoon was a little surprised at how long it took them to notice Taehyung.

Jeongguk noticed first. He pulled himself up to his full height, staring distrustfully, while simultaneously sliding behind Seokjin and hooking his chin on the elder’s shoulder, which caused Seokjin to glance at Taehyung.

“Who’s your friend?” he asked.

Namjoon let go of Taehyung’s wrist like he’d been scalded. “Oh, right. This is Taehyung. We just met on the mountain when I got lost. He helped me find my way back to the trail.”

That was all technically true, Namjoon thought.

Taehyung smiled disarmingly and waved a little, and Namjoon felt like he could see in his friends’ eyes the exact second they decided Taehyung wasn’t a threat. To them, Taehyung looked cute and pretty and tall but ultimately harmless.

Ugh, Namjoon thought, barely restraining himself from kicking the ground. They hadn’t seen Taehyung naked and golden and glowing, so of course they would think he was cute.

“I bet this one gets lost all the time, huh?” Taehyung said, nudging Namjoon playfully.

Namjoon schooled his features, blinking in semi-frozen bafflement, wondering how Taehyung knew exactly the right thing to say to ingratiate himself to Namjoon’s friends so easily.

So you’re a manipulative god, Namjoon thought, shooting Taehyung a glare while the others were distracted nodding in agreement.

Taehyung caught his look and smiled beatifically, like the purest of angels.

“Anyway, Namjoon is taking me out for a snack, to thank me for rescuing him,” Taehyung informed the others. “Do you want to come?”

Namjoon was fairly certain that his eyebrows were going to permanently vanish into his hairline.

“A snack?” repeated Namjoon quietly, shooting Taehyung another glare.

The god shrugged innocently. “I’ve been asleep,” he whispered, grinning. “I’m starving.”

Somehow they all ended up going out for ice cream, and as Namjoon licked his spoon—it really was good, especially after the warm day and the long hike—he watched his friends watch Taehyung. The longer they were away from the mountain, the more ordinarily human Taehyung seemed. He got a few passing stares, sure. Even for a human, he was more than passably good looking. But aside from the occasional quick flash of amber in his eyes, a slight sheen of gold in his hair, and a gentle glow to his skin that Namjoon caught in exactly the right angle of light, he looked perfectly normal.

It had to be magic of some kind, Namjoon decided, for him to look so normal.

Taehyung ambled toward him. “This is good,” he said, holding up the milkshake drink he’d ordered.

Namjoon smiled. “Have you never had ice cream before?”

Again Taehyung blinked slowly, his eyes going a little distant, as if he was trying to recall. “I’m not sure,” he finally answered. “I don’t remember it.”

The way he said it tugged at Namjoon’s heart. He frowned, tilting his head a little, and Taehyung mirrored him.

“It’s okay,” Taehyung said, between sips. “I’ll remember it this time.”

“Are you sure?”

Taehyung grinned. He leaned forward, opening his mouth, and Namjoon scooped up some of his own ice cream and fed it to him without thinking.

“No. But I’ll try.”

 

It took a little convincing, and more than a few concerned looks from his friends, before Namjoon finally found an opening for them to escape the ice cream shop.

“We have to go back. Taehyung’s car is at the mountain.”

He felt awful about lying to his friends. He wasn’t very good at it. He was positive that they could read the dishonesty on his face.

“Taehyung will take me home. Please don’t worry.”

Taehyung smiled winningly.

Seokjin and Yoongi still seemed reluctant to let Namjoon go off with a stranger, and Hoseok looked concerned and a little distrustful, despite having been laughing with Taehyung just a few minutes prior, but eventually they were able to leave.

“What are you going to do?” asked Namjoon, as he and Taehyung walked toward Namjoon’s apartment.

Taehyung shrugged. “I’m not sure. I guess I’ll stay awake until I get tired enough to fall asleep again.”

Namjoon bit his lip. “I don’t mind if you stay with me for a while, but should we try to find you your own place? Do you have a house? Money?”

They felt like stupid questions, but Taehyung answered them honestly anyway.

“I’ve never needed a house or money,” he replied. “I have temples. And the mountain.”

“Right,” said Namjoon, blinking at him. “So you’ll stay with me. And we’ll just figure out what to tell my friends.”

“I woke up for you for a reason,” Taehyung admitted, glancing at him. Namjoon swallowed. “Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to figure out what that reason is.”

His tone was casual, but it still left Namjoon speechless. He had no idea what to say, had no idea why a dormant god would wake up just for him. He led Taehyung back to his apartment in silence, stopping every once in a while if something caught Taehyung’s eye. From the way that Taehyung looked around in wide-eyed wonderment, Namjoon gathered that it must have been several decades since he last woke up.

“Some things haven’t changed, at least,” Taehyung murmured when they passed a statue of a haechi, the massive, mythological stone lions that guarded the city.

Namjoon felt awkward as hell when he finally opened his apartment door and gestured Taehyung through.

“Well, here we are,” he said, slipping off his shoes, and then proceeded to watch Taehyung revolve slowly around his small studio space.

It wasn’t much to look at. It was mainly one big room, with his bedroom and sitting area separated by a set of print screens he’d found in Japan. He did have built-in bookshelves, though, and they were filled with books and other knickknacks, photos and collectibles, records and movies and several potted plants, including a small bonsai tree that Taehyung stared at for several minutes.

“Are you hungry?” asked Namjoon finally, moving toward the kitchen. He pulled a large pot out of the cupboard and set about boiling water—something even he didn’t mess up that regularly. They had just eaten ice cream, but cooking was better than watching Taehyung in silence, and Namjoon needed to be doing something with his hands. He felt jittery.

Now that they were in his apartment, he felt safe in acknowledging that this was one of the most questionable things he’d ever done, and also the weirdest. He briefly wondered if perhaps his body was passed out in a cave on the mountain somewhere and everything since the hike had been one elaborate hallucination, but Taehyung ruined it by stepping lightly into the kitchen and peering over Namjoon’s shoulder at the pot of water.

“Yes,” he said, and Namjoon nearly jumped out of his own skin.

He turned quickly, blinking at Taehyung’s face mere centimeters away from his own. “Yes…?” he repeated slowly.

Taehyung nodded, as if Namjoon’s clumsy repetition and Namjoon as a human in general made sense. “I’m hungry,” he clarified.

“Of course,” said Namjoon, turning carefully back to the stove. “I can make ramen.”

“Sounds good.”

It became quickly apparent, however, that Taehyung wasn’t entirely sure what to do when handed a bowl of ramen. So Namjoon pulled several side dishes out of the refrigerator and told Taehyung to add whatever looked good to him. When they finally sat down at Namjoon’s small table to eat, Taehyung had covered his ramen in cheese and green onions, and Namjoon stared dubiously until Taehyung took a bite and let out a deep, satisfied groan.

“This is so good,” Taehyung mumbled with his mouth full, and Namjoon smiled.

Later, Namjoon steered Taehyung toward the bathroom for a shower and gave him a pair of pajamas to wear. Taehyung sprung into a defensive crouch when Namjoon turned the water on in the shower, and stayed that way, staring distrustfully, until Namjoon explained what a shower was.

“It’s for cleaning yourself,” Namjoon told him. “Have you never seen one before?”

Taehyung was still squinting at the shower. “When I am awake, I bathe in streams,” he said.

Namjoon sighed. “Of course you do. Come on. Get up.”

Taehyung stood up and stripped out of his clothes without an ounce of shame or hesitation, and Namjoon walked into the wall trying to shield his eyes so that he didn’t ogle the pert swell of Taehyung’s ass.

“I’ll just wait out here,” Namjoon called out from behind the safety of the now closed door.

Another deep moan answered him as Taehyung undoubtedly stepped under the spray. Namjoon sat stiffly on the couch reading his manual on how to care for bonsai trees while an array of happy sounds filtered through the closed bathroom door. Taehyung emerged twenty minutes later in a cloud of steam, naked and glistening, rubbing his hair dry with a towel.

“Taehyung!” Namjoon gasped, leaping to his feet, letting the book fall with a thud.

Taehyung looked up at him, curious, and it took Namjoon an extended minute to look away from the sleek, wet lines of his body.

This was, without a doubt, the most bizarre thing that had ever happened to him.

“Did you not like the pajamas?” asked Namjoon weakly, fighting to keep his gaze away from Taehyung’s body.

“The what?” asked Taehyung, and Namjoon made the mistake of looking at him.

“The… guh,” he trailed off, because Taehyung might be a centuries-old god, but he had the trim, fit body of a man in his early prime, and Namjoon wasn’t blind.

Taehyung seemed entirely too amused by Namjoon’s reaction. He stepped back into the bathroom and came out again seconds later wearing just the pajama pants, which Namjoon decided to count as a win for now.

He found an extra toothbrush in the bathroom cabinet and handed it to Taehyung, who stared at it blankly. The fact that demonstrating how to brush one’s teeth for a grown man wasn’t even the weirdest part of Namjoon’s day was really saying a lot.

“Are you…” began Namjoon hesitantly, after Taehyung had successfully brushed his teeth. “Are you tired? Or maybe not? Since you’ve been sleeping? Do you want to go to bed?”

Namjoon pressed his lips together and thought about simply fading out of existence and into a peaceful oblivion where he didn’t have to deal with Taehyung’s eyes and his face and his body and the soft, gentle smile that he directed Namjoon’s way any time Namjoon said something to him.

“I’ll sleep,” Taehyung told him. “Just not forever.”

Namjoon took that to mean that Taehyung would wake up in the morning. He outfitted the couch with several blankets and a pillow, and debated offering his own bed to Taehyung instead, but then Taehyung flung himself face first onto the sofa, hugging the pillow, and Namjoon retreated to the safety of his bed with a whispered, “Good night.”

Sleep came slowly. Namjoon was hyperaware of Taehyung on the other side of the print screens. He could hear Taehyung breathing faintly, could nearly feel the heat from his body even though they weren’t touching. Bringing home a man who thought he was a legendary god and letting him crash on the couch was probably the stupidest thing he’d ever done, right up there with cutting his own hair and agreeing to let Hoseok give him driving lessons. Taehyung could be a psychopath, for all he knew. He could be a murderer. And Namjoon had invited him in. His mind raced with possibilities, each more horrifying than the last.

Eventually, though, lulled by Taehyung’s soft sleep noises, Namjoon drifted off into slumber.

In what felt like the middle of the night, but was probably only a few hours later, Namjoon was pulled out of sleep by the certainty that someone was standing next to his bed.

This is it, he thought, his eyes slitting open to peer at the dark humanoid shape standing next to him. If I die, Hoseok is going to kill me.

“Are you awake?” whispered Taehyung gruffly, and Namjoon’s fear instantly melted out of him.

There was something just so inherently trustworthy about Taehyung’s voice. Namjoon thought that might be the most dangerous thing about him.

“I am now,” Namjoon croaked, bringing one hand up to rub the sleep from his eyes.

“I feel weird,” said Taehyung lowly. “My body is tingling.”

Namjoon sat up, alarmed. “Was it the ramen?” he asked.

“I think I need to be near you,” was what Taehyung said.

“Oh,” was all Namjoon could think to say in return.

Taehyung waited, but Namjoon’s mind was a vast blank void. He stared at Taehyung silently.

“Can I sleep here?” asked Taehyung finally, pointing to the empty space beside Namjoon.

Namjoon immediately thought of several reasons as to why that was the worst idea ever. He could practically hear Seokjin and Yoongi and Hoseok screaming at him about stranger danger.

“Sure,” said Namjoon’s mouth, without permission from his brain, and then before he could catch up with himself or correct what he’d just said, Taehyung was scrambling up onto the bed and collapsing next to him.

It was, in a way, one of the deepest regrets of Namjoon’s life that he would never be able to tell anyone he had shared his bed with a god.

“Can I ask you a question?” came Taehyung’s voice again, after he had settled beneath the blanket and had turned onto his side, facing Namjoon.

“Sure,” said Namjoon, also rolling onto his side. Taehyung was nothing but a dark shape next to him, but Namjoon could nearly feel his faint golden glow.

“How did you find me in the cave?” asked Taehyung. He shifted a little, brining one hand up under the pillow. “How, exactly?”

“I got lost,” answered Namjoon, before pausing to think. “I was separated from my friends. I was following the trail, stopped to look at some interesting tree bark, and when I started walking again, the trail was gone. Nothing was familiar.”

“Were you afraid?”

Namjoon thought about that too. “No. I remember feeling like everything would be fine. And then I found the cave. And you.”

Taehyung hummed, but didn’t say anything else.

“Why?” wondered Namjoon, trying to see more of Taehyung’s face in the dark. “Is it important?”

“I don’t know,” replied Taehyung. “Maybe.”

“Oh,” said Namjoon.

Taehyung raised his arm and rubbed his palm once up and down Namjoon’s arm. His skin left a streak of heat in its wake. “Good night, Namjoon.”

“Good night,” Namjoon whispered, and then rolled onto his back as Taehyung did the same.

He honestly had no memory of falling back asleep that night. One minute he was wide awake, struck dumb by the dip of Taehyung’s body next to him and his even, deep breathing, and the next it was morning. When he woke, it was to sunlight filtering in through a window and Taehyung’s hair in his mouth.

Sometime during the night, Taehyung had gravitated toward him like a particularly clingy magnet and had proceeded to wrap his not insignificantly long limbs around as much of Namjoon’s body as he could reach, which was pretty much all of it. Taehyung’s arms felt safe and big, strong like they could ward off any danger. Namjoon was too sleepy and warm to be shocked, and he snuggled into Taehyung’s heat for just a minute before his brain woke up enough for him to realize what he was doing.

Taehyung was awake, and his arms tightened around Namjoon briefly when the other tried to put some distance between them.

“Good morning,” Taehyung’s deep voice rumbled.

Namjoon felt like he was on fire. He did not understand how this was his real life.

“I was thinking during the night about why I woke up for you,” Taehyung said, finally allowing Namjoon to put some desperately needed centimeters between them. “In the cave,” he clarified.

“Oh,” said Namjoon, staring at Taehyung from the safe distance of the other side of the bed. Taehyung was reclining on his side, one arm pillowing his head, hair flopping into his eyes. He looked completely relaxed.

Namjoon wished he felt the same.

“It’s been many years since I’ve walked the world of men,” Taehyung told him, and Namjoon nodded like this was a completely normal thing to say. “I normally sleep in the cave. I am very old, you see, and being awake is tiring. The world has changed much since the last time I was in it.”

“Right,” said Namjoon.

“I think I should use this time to rediscover the world,” Taehyung continued, gazing steadily at Namjoon. “I wish to see things as you see them. I am unsure of the duration of my current wakefulness. But I think I need to stay near you. How you found me, it wasn’t an accident. Something about me called out to you, even though I was sleeping. So I think I need to stay with you.”

“Right,” Namjoon repeated. He took Taehyung’s words to mean that the god was just as clueless about the current happenings as Namjoon was, and that he needed a place to stay, and that he preferred that place be with Namjoon.

It was a lot to think about.

“Do you want breakfast?” Namjoon asked, instead of addressing anything Taehyung had said.

Taehyung nodded. “Yes please.”

 

Living with Taehyung was, on the one hand, sort of like having a gorgeous, temperamental cat who knocked things over for fun and didn’t understand the point of clothing, and on the other, an overly affectionate puppy.

He followed Namjoon everywhere. He said he got “tingly” and “uncomfortable” if he didn’t. Namjoon worked in a small bookstore close to his apartment a few days a week, and Taehyung trailed him there, claiming an old, slightly lopsided armchair in one corner as his own and reading book after book with a speed that made Namjoon shake his head in amazement.

“I’m catching up on the times,” Taehyung said, diligently working his way through the Korean history section and then the world history section.

“What are these?” he finally asked after a couple of weeks, holding up a volume of a manga series between thumb and forefinger and peering closely at the cover.

“Cultural studies,” Namjoon answered after a moment, laughing, and watched in increasing delight as Taehyung devoured every single manga series that the bookstore carried.

“Wow,” Namjoon marveled, as Taehyung finished yet another series. “Wait until I introduce you to anime.”

At home Taehyung prowled around wearing as little clothing as possible, usually just a pair of sweatpants, switching to shorts as early summer hit Seoul and the air became hot and humid. Namjoon only blinked a little now when they walked through the front door and the first thing Taehyung did was strip off his shirt.

“I don’t understand the point of it,” Taehyung admitted, the first few times Namjoon spluttered at the sudden removal of clothes.

“The point of your shirt is my sanity,” Namjoon argued, but Taehyung just stared at him uncomprehendingly until Namjoon waved a hand, muttering. “Forget about it. Be shirtless. Be free.”

That made Taehyung grin, and so Namjoon had to live with watching his human-shaped god-king lounging half-naked in the sun and slinking, feline, through the apartment. For the most part, it was okay. Namjoon could handle it. He only mildly panicked the first time Taehyung came up behind him and hooked his chin over Namjoon’s shoulder to see what the elder was doing, pressing so closely to Namjoon’s back that he could feel the heat of Taehyung’s chest through his shirt.

“What are you writing?” asked Taehyung, his breath tickling Namjoon’s neck.

“Grocery list,” replied Namjoon faintly. He cleared his throat but didn’t try to move away. Taehyung was becoming more and more tactile the more time he spent with Namjoon, and Namjoon didn’t dislike it. In fact, he rather liked it. There was also, he had discovered, very little he could do to discourage Taehyung from reaching out for small touches. Namjoon rather thought he was making up for lost time, for all of the years that he had been alone, asleep, forgetting what it felt like to exist inside his own skin and touch someone else.

Namjoon didn’t really mind being the person who could help Taehyung rediscover what that felt like.  

“Want me to add anything?” asked Namjoon to distract himself, turning to show Taehyung the list.

“I’ll just come with you,” Taehyung said, and disappeared to put a shirt on before Namjoon could respond.

Taehyung in the grocery store was something of an idiosyncrasy. He looked conspicuously out of place, even dressed as casually as Namjoon could get him to dress. He was just so unimaginably beautiful that it seemed decidedly odd to watch him muttering about the selection of cereals. They caused a mini pileup in the checkout lane when several other shoppers hovered too close in order to get a better view of Taehyung, who didn’t even seem to notice.

“I want to cook dinner tonight,” Taehyung announced on the walk home, one of Namjoon’s reusable grocery bags swinging from his wrist.

“You do?” asked Namjoon, surprised.

It had been three weeks since the hike, three weeks since finding Taehyung in the cave, three weeks since Namjoon’s life seemed to have changed forever.

“Mmm,” Taehyung hummed, nodding. “Pasta. It’ll be good. Pasta’s easy, right?”

Pasta was not easy, as they both discovered a few hours later. Taehyung ate so many tomatoes while he was cooking that there were barely any left for the sauce, and the noodles were more than a little al dente. But he looked so proud of himself as he dished the pasta out that Namjoon couldn’t help but smile, and they finished all of it that night.

 

Five weeks in to Namjoon’s sudden cohabitation with Taehyung, he could tell that his friends were starting to get suspicious. At first he and Taehyung played it off casually, saying that they’d become friends after Taehyung “rescued” Namjoon on Taebaeksan. That worked for the first couple of weeks, especially since Taehyung was now accompanying Namjoon to Anything Goes Tuesday, the once-weekly get-together that usually involved copious amounts of food, occasional alcohol, and a few heated rounds of Uno. It helped that everyone got along with Taehyung, and that Taehyung was so good at adapting to his surroundings.

But five weeks in it was Namjoon’s turn to host Anything Goes Tuesday, and though he and Taehyung diligently scrubbed the apartment of any trace of Taehyung’s long-term presence there, Namjoon had a pit in his stomach that was telling him he’d forgotten something important, or that he’d missed something his friends were sure to notice.

Jeongguk and Jimin immediately engaged Taehyung in a raucous debate about Card Captor Sakura the second they walked through the door that evening and were thus thoroughly distracted. But Seokjin, Yoongi, and Hoseok strolled in and started looking around like they’d never been in Namjoon’s apartment before, and Namjoon swallowed heavily as he pretended not to be watching them.

It quickly became obvious, however, that the three of them had developed some sort of hive mind that Namjoon couldn’t crack, and he couldn’t keep an eye on all three of them at once. Halfway through Uno, Seokjin came out of the bathroom looking infuriatingly triumphant, and the pit in Namjoon’s stomach grew.

He whispered something to Yoongi, who raised a single eyebrow and made meaningful eye contact with Hoseok, and Namjoon gulped.

“So,” said Yoongi later, in what he probably hoped was a casual tone but did not fool Namjoon. “Care to explain why Taehyung has his own toothbrush in your bathroom?”

Namjoon’s instinctual reaction was one of blank confusion, because he was positive that he’d hidden Taehyung’s toothbrush under some tissue in a drawer.

His second reaction was outrage, because if they knew about the toothbrush, then that meant that…

“You went snooping!” Namjoon accused, pointing at Seokjin.

“Ha!” Seokjin half-shouted, pointing right back. “So you admit it?”

“No,” Namjoon denied, backtracking. Already he knew there was no way he was going to be able to talk himself out of this. But that didn’t stop him from trying. “So what? He has a toothbrush. All of you have had toothbrushes here at some point too.”

Everyone was looking at him. Jeongguk was glancing between Namjoon and Taehyung. Jimin’s mouth had fallen slightly open but his eyes were alight with glee at the prospect of drama. Taehyung was watching Namjoon quizzically, head thrust slightly forward like a curious cat.

“Yes,” conceded Hoseok. “But you went to the trouble of hiding Taehyung’s toothbrush from us. You didn’t want us to know. When have we ever kept secrets from each other?”

Namjoon grimaced. “Never,” he said, and then, in a moment of blind panic, he opened his mouth and continued with, “I guess I was just nervous for you guys to find out that we’re dating.”

Jeongguk choked on his soda. Jimin slapped him on the back without looking away from Namjoon. Taehyung frowned in confusion. Yoongi squinted.

“No you’re not,” Yoongi argued, his voice firm. “We would know if you were dating.”

“Not if I kept it a secret,” countered Namjoon, rolling his eyes. “That’s sort of the point, hyung.”

“No, no,” said Seokjin. “I agree with Yoongi. We would know. You are definitely not dating. Where’s all the touching? Where are the lingering looks? I know how you get when you like someone, Joon-ah.” He paused and glanced sideways at Taehyung. “Okay, I’ll admit that you like him, but I know you, Namjoon. We know you.” He gestured around the circle. “It’s easy to tell that whatever this is,” he waved quickly between Namjoon and Taehyung, “it isn’t dating.”

“At least not yet,” added Jimin, smirking.

Namjoon sat quietly, staring at his lap, trying to think of some other excuse he could feed his friends, some other lie, so that they would accept Taehyung’s constant presence in Namjoon’s life.

“You’ve never lied to us before,” said Hoseok quietly, and Namjoon’s chin trembled as he looked up.

“I’m sorry,” he said faintly, failing to find words that would smooth this over.

“It’s not Namjoon’s fault,” said Taehyung suddenly.

Six heads swiveled in his direction. Namjoon’s eyes widened. He shook his head minutely, but Taehyung just smiled.

“It’s my story,” Taehyung said. “I can tell it to whoever I want. And I don’t want anything to come between you and your friends.”

“Taehyung,” said Namjoon, half as a protest, half acceptance. He could do nothing but sit in slightly bewildered silence as the whole story came out.

He watched his friends’ expressions morph from outright disbelief to suspicion to shock. Taehyung didn’t hold back. His voice acquired the deep timbre that wasn’t quite human, and he let himself take up just a bit more space than an average man would. He glowed golden like the sky at dusk, his eyes shone amber, his hair blazed like fire.

Overall, Namjoon thought his friends handled it remarkably well. At least, after they had revived Hoseok and screamed a little and Jimin had thrown a glass of water at Taehyung in his panic.

 

“So let me get this straight,” Yoongi said, for the fifth time. He had been rubbing his forehead for a solid ten minutes. “You stumbled upon a dormant god and then adopted him like a house pet?”

Namjoon pulled a face but shrugged. “I mean, basically, yes.”

“Well, shit,” said Yoongi.

“Yeah,” said Namjoon.

Jeongguk and Seokjin were poking and prodding Taehyung while Hoseok and Jimin huddled on the couch, watching in rapt fascination.

“You should have told us,” said Yoongi.

Namjoon raised an eyebrow. “Right, because that conversation would have gone so well.”

Yoongi fiddled with his sleeves. “Well, it might’ve. We handled it okay now.”

“Hoseok fainted,” Namjoon pointed out.

“That’s fair,” said Yoongi, inclining his head.

“You fainted in the cave,” came Taehyung’s voice, and Namjoon looked over to see Jeongguk braiding his fiery hair while Seokjin watched.

“Taehyung!” Namjoon protested, blushing.

“Nice!” hollered Jimin from the couch, and he and Hoseok high-fived.

Eventually, once midnight had come and gone and Jeongguk was starting to yawn, Namjoon managed to herd his friends out of his apartment. He collapsed bodily against the door and moaned noisily, rubbing the space between his eyes.

“I think that went well,” said Taehyung, and Namjoon looked up to see him gathering takeout boxes and carrying them to the kitchen trash.

“It could have gone worse,” Namjoon admitted. “You didn’t have to tell them. We could have come up with something.”

Taehyung started shaking his head before Namjoon finished speaking. “No. Your friends are important to you. I never should have expected you to lie for me in the first place. And regardless, they’re understanding.”

“Yeah,” said Namjoon, smiling. “They are.”

Later, in bed, just as Namjoon found himself in that half-space between sleep and wakefulness, Taehyung rolled toward him and quietly asked, “Namjoon, what’s dating?”

Namjoon’s eyes snapped open.

“Dating,” said Namjoon slowly, staring up at the ceiling. He could feel Taehyung’s eyes on his face, like his gaze was a physical touch. “Dating is something that people do when they really like each other and they want to spend time together. They go out places, like to dinner or the movies. And they do nice things for each other, to show that they care.”

Taehyung didn’t immediately say anything, and Namjoon held his breath waiting.

“We do nice things for each other,” Taehyung finally said. He shifted closer to Namjoon. “We like each other. But your friends said we’re not dating?”

Namjoon’s heart was pounding in his chest. He felt light-headed. The ceiling went in and out of focus.

“Well, people who are friends do nice things for each other too, and we’re friends,” Namjoon told him. “Dating is usually because you have romantic interest in someone else. There are exceptions, of course. But for me, personally, I would date someone I was romantically interested in. Someone who I wanted to get to know better because I couldn’t imagine living my life without them in it.”

“And you don’t feel that way about your friends?”

“I definitely want my friends in my life forever,” Namjoon said. “I just don’t want to kiss them.”

Taehyung hummed, and for one heart-stopping moment Namjoon thought he might ask about kissing next, but he didn’t.

“Have you ever dated anyone?” was what Taehyung asked instead.

“A few times,” Namjoon responded. He rolled over, toward Taehyung. “It didn’t work out.”

“Why?”

Namjoon pursed his lips. “Different reasons, I guess. I realized that I didn’t like them as much as I thought I did at first. Or they realized the same about me. I just haven’t found the right person yet.”

“Oh,” said Taehyung quietly. “Thank you. For explaining.”

Namjoon wished he could see Taehyung clearly. He wanted to commit to memory the facial expression that went along with the words he’d just spoken. But it was too dark. Still, Namjoon’s heart fluttered. “You’re welcome.”

 

The following week, Taehyung told Namjoon that he wanted to visit the library, and that Namjoon shouldn’t worry about him. They could meet up for dinner.

“Will you be okay?” asked Namjoon anyway. “You know, because of the tingling?”

“I’ll survive,” Taehyung told him, which was true.

So when Namjoon headed off to the bookstore, Taehyung went to the National Library of Korea, ignoring how his blood felt like it was sparking inside him the further away from Namjoon he got. At the library he registered for a library card and then used one of the computers to look up dating, love, and romance.

The results, to put it mildly, were numerous, and Taehyung spent the next several hours sifting through websites, articles, blogs, videos, and chats that all focused on love and romance, mainly trying to figure out how things had changed since his own era.

Some things he understood, of course. Physical intimacy, while discouraged in public, was more openly accepted now than his own time. And sex was sex no matter the century. He browsed several websites that offered information about queer identities, a new term for him, and he found it encouraging that Namjoon had not specified any particular gender as being exclusive to his romantic interests.

Taehyung had no strong memory of love or romance, or how one pursued someone they were romantically interested in. But he decided, sitting there in the library, reading source after source, that Namjoon deserved to be treated well, and that Taehyung wanted to be the one to treat him well. Namjoon cared more for people than anyone Taehyung could ever remember meeting. He loved his friends. He had taken Taehyung in with no questions asked.

He was trusting, giving, thoughtful, and kind.

His dimples made a small corner of Taehyung’s heart, one he’d long thought dead and frozen, thaw with gentle warmth.

He wasn’t sure how much time he had left. But he knew what he wanted to do with it. He wanted to date Namjoon.

 

When Namjoon got home from the bookstore, Taehyung was cooking dinner. There was a vase on the small living room table with a bundle of wildflowers in it, and an envelope with Namjoon’s name propped up against it.

“Hi!” Taehyung called out from the kitchen. “I’m making dinner.”

“It smells great,” Namjoon admitted, padding toward the flowers and scooping up the envelope. He turned toward Taehyung. “Is this for me?”

Taehyung nodded. “Yeah.” He poked his head around the corner. “I bought it with the money you gave me this morning. I hope that’s okay.”

“Of course,” Namjoon replied, but his voice came out weak as he opened the envelope and slid the card out.

There was a watercolor painting of wildflowers on it, all bright pinks and yellows, the same as those in the vase. Inside it simply said, “Thank you for taking care of me.”

Namjoon swallowed convulsively.

“Do you like it?”

Namjoon looked up from the card. Taehyung was right in front of him, smiling.

“Yes,” said Namjoon. He looked down at the card again, hoping to hide the glow he could feel in his cheeks. “I love it.”

“I picked those for you,” said Taehyung, gesturing toward the flowers.

“They’re beautiful,” Namjoon told him, and got a big, boxy grin in return. “What made you do this?”

Taehyung shrugged. “Just felt like it,” he answered. He motioned Namjoon toward the kitchen. “You deserve it.”

Namjoon’s breath caught. He was glad that Taehyung had already turned back to the stove. He cleared his throat. “What are you making?”

“Rice, beef, and kimchi,” answered Taehyung promptly. “Although I think the kimchi needs more time, so we should have it tomorrow. The lady at the market gave me these pickled vegetables, so we can have them instead.”

It all smelled amazing, and Taehyung seemed to have done a much better job this time than he had with the pasta. It looked like he’d pulled up several recipes on Namjoon’s tablet, which was propped against the tea canister.

“Thank you,” said Namjoon quietly, and Taehyung slid into his space on his socked feet and leaned heavily against his side, a line of searing heat.

“You’re welcome,” he said, glancing quickly at Namjoon and then away again.

 

Over the next several weeks, into the heart of midsummer, Namjoon became aware of how closely Taehyung was watching him.

When Taehyung noticed that Namjoon started checking the price tags more carefully at the grocery store, he magicked up an ID card and got a job at a corner flower shop. He refused to listen when Namjoon told him he didn’t need to work.

“It’s done,” Taehyung said, crossing his arms. “As long as I live here, I’m going to contribute. And anyway Mrs. Moon is nice. She knows a lot of stories about the old days.” Taehyung had taken to saying “the old days” when he referred to anything earlier than the sixteenth century.

Namjoon decided not to press the issue. It was a relief to have a second income, and Taehyung brought fresh flowers home for him almost every day. Taehyung had started reading whatever books Namjoon was reading, and in the evenings after dinner, they sat curled up on the couch reading poetry and philosophy out loud to each other while Taehyung braided that day’s flowers into a crown for Namjoon’s head.

“Now you look like the prince you are,” Taehyung would say, fiddling with the crown, and then leaning away to admire his handiwork.

The first time he said it Namjoon couldn’t stop his mouth from falling open, and each iteration that Taehyung spoke thereafter he found equally as shocking.

But it wasn’t just the flowers, or the poetry, or the crowns.

Taehyung noticed things about Namjoon and then acted on them without being told. He sometimes brought Namjoon iced caramel lattes during his work breaks because he remembered Namjoon offhandedly commenting once about how much he enjoyed sweet things. He signed them up to take an information class on bonsai trees together. He coordinated lunch or dinner dates with Namjoon’s friends when he saw that Namjoon was feeling lonely or stressed out and could use the company. He took Namjoon to museums and art shows and music stores and spent a lot of time at the library, reading up on anything that Namjoon mentioned, talked about, or hinted that he liked.

He initiated hugs and couch cuddle sessions because he could tell that Namjoon wanted them but didn’t want to ask for them. He held his arms out like an offer, smiling gently as he waited, and stepping into his arms, feeling the solid heat and weight of them wrap around him, made Namjoon feel utterly safe and secure.

At night Namjoon tried to stay awake longer than Taehyung, just so that he could lie on his side and gaze at his profile and imagine all of the thoughts and dreams occurring inside Taehyung’s mind.

One morning, when Namjoon awoke to find himself once more wrapped up in Taehyung’s clingy embrace, he felt the soft press of Taehyung’s lips against his forehead. His mind ground to a halt, thought falling away, as Taehyung sighed lightly, like he was experiencing pure bliss.

“Good morning,” he whispered, rubbing Namjoon’s nose before extracting himself from Namjoon and rolling out of bed.

“Good morning,” Namjoon breathed, long after Taehyung had disappeared into the bathroom.

After that, Namjoon became hyperaware of each of Taehyung’s sweet touches. A big palm cupping the side of Namjoon’s face just for a moment. Knuckles sweeping down the back of his neck, following the curve of his spine. Fingertips poking his dimples. Hands tickling his sides. More than once he awoke to one finger tracing the outline of his lips, a touch so light he could barely feel it. And the kisses. On his forehead. His cheeks. His eyelids. The tip of his nose.

Namjoon stood stock still in the middle of the living room one day, wondering when Taehyung had transitioned from affectionate but distant to affectionate and close.

He sent a message to Jimin.

I think Taehyung and I are dating.

Jimin’s response came moments later.

Well. Yeah.

When Taehyung came home from the flower shop that afternoon, flower crown already completed and in hand, Namjoon decided to test this new theory.

“Taehyung,” he said slowly, as the other adjusted the crown on Namjoon’s head. “Am I allowed to touch you?”

Taehyung’s eyelashes fluttered as he glanced at Namjoon, and his tongue darted over his lips. Namjoon’s eyes followed the movement involuntarily.

“Of course.”

And so for the first time that he could remember, or for the first time that he was truly aware of, Namjoon reached out to touch Taehyung. He did it with intention, thinking about it, thinking about where he wanted to touch first, what part of Taehyung’s body would be branded into his fingertips forever, imprinted into his sense memory because of this moment.

Taehyung’s hands were still playing with the flower crown, and so Namjoon reached up and lightly, so lightly, circled his wrists, one in each hand, and pulled them down. He allowed himself to feel the delicate skin, the slight jut of Taehyung’s wrist bones, and then he moved his hands to interlace their fingers.

For a moment he just stared down at where their hands connected, marveling that Taehyung’s fingers were longer than Namjoon’s own. And then he looked up, and Taehyung was smiling so beautifully that Namjoon almost looked away again. But he didn’t.

“Is this okay?” he asked.

Taehyung gently squeezed his fingers. “Yes.”

After that, perhaps prompted by Namjoon’s care with asking his permission, Taehyung only touched him after making small inquiring noises, which, in a way, was almost worse. Now each time Taehyung leaned into his space and whispered, “Can I kiss you?”, Namjoon was forced to say yes, was forced to admit aloud that he wanted it.

A few days later, Namjoon finally worked up the nerve to ask Taehyung what he thought was the most important question of all.

“Are we dating?”

One thing he loved about Taehyung, one of many things he loved, was how openly straightforward and honest he was. If Taehyung was feeling something, thinking something, asked something, he always responded with absolute truthfulness.

“Yes,” he answered.

They were sitting on the couch. Taehyung was reading the book that Namjoon had just finished, and now it was Namjoon’s turn to braid flowers into Taehyung’s hair. The blossoms framed his face and made him look truly ethereal. Something about their delicate color transformed Taehyung into more of his god-like persona.

Taehyung put the book down and looked at Namjoon. He blinked slowly. “I mean, I want to be dating you. But only if you want it, too.”

And that was sort of the thing about Taehyung. He was the only person who simultaneously made Namjoon feel comfortable and pulled him right out of his comfort zone. Because there was no shame or guilt surrounding emotions for Taehyung, there was no hiding, no panicking, no fleeing. He said what he thought and he thought what he said, and he forced Namjoon to do the same.

“I want to,” Namjoon quietly admitted. “But next time, you can tell me? Or, you can ask me straight away. If we can date.”

Taehyung laughed. He reached out for Namjoon’s hands, pausing with an inquisitive head tilt, and Namjoon closed the distance, twining their fingers.

“I wanted to romance you,” Taehyung said, thumbs rubbing slow circles on the fleshy pad of Namjoon’s palm. “And it obviously worked.”

Namjoon smiled. “Okay, smart guy, well, if we’re dating now, you can kiss me on the lips. You haven’t done that yet.”

He was a little shocked at himself for saying it out loud. Most of the time seeing Taehyung shirtless was still enough to give him a hernia. Waking up wrapped in his arms was starting to cause problems too.

Namjoon was sure that kissing would not help.

Except now he knew that it was allowed.

Taehyung took Namjoon’s words as an invitation and leaned forward, releasing his hands to cup his face. The first press of his lips had almost no pressure, and Namjoon could feel Taehyung waiting, holding himself back, and so Namjoon was the one to press forward more firmly.

He didn’t know how to describe what it was like to kiss Taehyung, even later when Jimin and Seokjin made him try.

For those brief moments that they shared air, that their lips and tongues danced, Namjoon felt as if he was connecting to something as unfathomable and as old as the earth itself.

 

Summer melted into autumn. The neon brights of the season bled into deeper, richer tones. Namjoon and Taehyung went for evening bike rides and hiked Taebaeksan in the early mornings. As October approached, Taehyung grew restless, the mountain calling to him.

It made Namjoon nervous. Gaecheonjeol was near, and Namjoon wondered what was going to happen when the holiday arrived. His smiles were tinged with sadness now anytime Taehyung reached for his hands, anytime they kissed. He knew that Taehyung noticed. But Namjoon had no idea how to talk to him about it.

He felt like Taehyung was disappearing, even though he woke up every morning overwhelmed by his body heat. Even though Taehyung’s touch was just as real and firm as it had always been.

Taehyung had grown so much in the last several months, and Namjoon had watched it happen. It was strange to see him so humanly connected to the earth, but to also feel like he was gradually slipping out of it.

Secretly, Namjoon thought that it was only a matter of time now before Taehyung went back to sleep and didn’t wake up in the morning.

“You can’t know that for sure,” said Yoongi, when Namjoon voiced his fears.

“It’s just a feeling,” Namjoon told him.

Yoongi and the others tried to reassure him, but Namjoon couldn’t help but wonder if it had been a mistake to start something with Taehyung. He couldn’t say he regretted it. These last several months had been the best of his life. He’d never been with anyone before who treated him like he was precious, like he was unique and special in every way. Taehyung made him feel like that simply by smiling at him.

“Are you okay?” asked Taehyung that night when they sat down to dinner.

Namjoon thought about saying yes. He thought about lying. He thought about hiding from this conversation.

But he couldn’t do that to Taehyung. Partly because he knew Taehyung would never do that to him.

“I feel like I’m losing you,” Namjoon said honestly.

Across the table, Taehyung stilled. He set his chopsticks down and stared at Namjoon intensely.

“You aren’t,” he attempted to reassure. “How can I help?”

God, it almost hurt Namjoon to look at him. He was so good. Everything about him was so good.

“I’m not sure you can,” Namjoon said. “I’m afraid you’re going to fall asleep.”

Taehyung’s eyes shuttered. He needed no clarification about what Namjoon meant. He reached across the table for Namjoon’s hands.

“I’ll never willingly leave you,” Taehyung whispered, his voice soft but with an edge of agony.

Namjoon could hear what he wasn’t saying. He could hear the truth between the words. When the time came, Taehyung might not have a choice. He might have to leave, whether it be back to the mountain or back to his shackled slumber.

This was why, Namjoon thought, one should never date a god.

 

On the second day of October, the day before Gaecheonjeol, Taehyung barely spoke. He followed Namjoon around like a lost puppy, clinging to his hand, whining if Namjoon moved too far away.

Namjoon sunk into a resigned sort of sadness. Somehow, he just knew that tomorrow would be their last day.

That night in bed, Taehyung glowed golden like he’d done in the cave, when Namjoon first found him. Over the last week the veneer of humanity that he’d worn all summer had faded. He looked inhumanly beautiful. Namjoon knew he wasn’t doing it on purpose. He knew Taehyung would choose to look completely human forever if he could.

But he couldn’t, and so it was with gold-tinged fingers that he touched Namjoon that night, intensely and intently, like he was trying to memorize the planes of Namjoon’s body, each curve and angle, every spot, freckle, and blemish that he had.

Taehyung wanted all of it.

“You are the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Taehyung told him, his voice quiet and fierce.

To Namjoon, it sounded like goodbye.

 

The festivals and parades of Gaecheonjeol were beautiful. Namjoon loved watching the colors of hanbok join with those of nature, until it felt like people and earth were one.

Taehyung’s eyes were alight with joy as they watched the parades and wandered the festivals. Taehyung seemed awestruck by the number of people celebrating. “They haven’t forgotten me,” he said, and Namjoon couldn’t help but smile.

“No,” he said. “We haven’t.”

In the evening, just as the sky was awash with the brilliant hues of sunset, Taehyung shimmered. Namjoon turned to him, his heart seizing, as Taehyung locked eyes with him.

“Namjoon,” Taehyung said, and then his whole body glittered, like he was covered in fallen bits of radiant sunlight.

One moment he was there. The next he was gone.

Namjoon closed his eyes and felt his heart breaking.

Seokjin and Jimin found him and took him home. They deposited him in the shower where Namjoon proceeded to sob quietly until his throat was hoarse and his eyes were swollen.

Knowing it was coming hadn’t made it any easier.

After his shower Namjoon sat naked in the tub, shivering, trying to compose himself. He could smell food cooking and thought that Seokjin must have started dinner. He wasn’t hungry, but he also knew he shouldn’t spend the night in his tub, or let Seokjin’s efforts go to waste. So he got up, wrapped a towel around his waist, and opened the bathroom door.

He shuddered at the cool rush of air and thought of his pajamas, waiting for him on the other side of the Japanese print screens.

“Namjoon!” gasped Taehyung, and as if he were in a dream, Namjoon looked up in slow motion.

He blinked, but even after his vision cleared Taehyung was still standing there, in the arch between the kitchen and the rest of the apartment, holding a spatula.

“Put a shirt on!” teased Taehyung, joking playfully, pointing at him with the spatula.

Namjoon swallowed. “Are you real?”

Taehyung was in front of him in a moment. “So real,” he said, and wrapped Namjoon in his arms to prove it. They were warm, heavy, and perfect. “I told you. I would never willingly leave you.”

Namjoon still couldn’t believe it. He thought he might be in shock.

“I don’t really know how to describe what happened,” Taehyung told him. He hugged Namjoon close, pressing the length of their bodies together. “One minute I was with you, and the next I was back in the cave, on Taebaeksan.”

Namjoon didn’t know what to say.

“I could feel the mountain and the dark pulling me, wanting me to fall asleep again,” Taehyung continued. He brushed a kiss along Namjoon’s cheekbone.

“Why didn’t you?” asked Namjoon. Finally feeling returned to his body and he brought his own arms up to circle Taehyung’s waist, hesitantly at first, but more firmly once he realized how solid Taehyung was under his hands.

Taehyung smiled. He leaned in, blinking butterfly kisses on Namjoon’s cheeks.

“I’m not tired anymore.”

fin