It happens like this—
Yoongi's war balloon plummets in Earth Kingdom skies, hot gas screaming as it escapes from the ragged rip in the balloon's dark red fabric. Expletives pour from Yoongi's mouth as he struggles with the balloon ropes but he hears none of them, his voice sucked away by the wind currently streaking past in a shrill whistle. He thrusts his head into that wind, peering wild-eyed over the edge of the basket. The vast expanse of forest below him is coming up fast too fast oh fuck oh Agni is this how he dies but then inspiration strikes Yoongi like lightning (and he knows lightning, has felt the static and death and greed in his bones).
Yoongi launches himself from his ruined war balloon into the open sky with nothing but the bloodstained clothes on his back and a possibly genius, possibly very fucking stupid idea. Squashing the urge to scream, he clenches his fists and feels the familiar crackle of heat from his blood snap and ignite. Jets of flames burst from his knuckles and propel his falling body against gravity's call.
Yoongi desperately focuses on keeping the fire alive, keeping him alive, but his spontaneous novelty firebending is too unpredictable, and barely a minute passes before his flames sputter out. For half a second, he's weightless. He reigns in his splayed limbs right before he feels his gut jerk and then he's in free fall, the greenery seemingly rising to swallow him whole.
It happens like this—
Yoongi wakes up and immediately screws his eyes shut, a low whine in his parched throat because Agni above it fucking hurts. His muscles spasm and lock and he aches all over, but what's important is that he wakes up, and he'll take the fucking miracle that's yanked him from the Spirit World's front step. But where am I?
He squints and feels at his surroundings as much as he can without aggravating sore muscles and joints. He's lying in a cot, a humble blanket thrown over his heavily bandaged body. His crimson-collared black outfit, probably still stained with blood that isn't his, is nowhere to be seen. Instead, he's dressed in worn greens and browns that are slightly too big for him.
The wooden door opens, and in walks a broad-shouldered man wearing blue and cradling a waterskin. "You're awake," he states, a little surprised, then calls out the door, "Hoseok-ah, he's up!"
There's an excited shout, some scampering outside the room, and—oh. A tanned young man with the most unabashedly bright smile bursts through the door this time, wearing the same earthen tones as Yoongi. He’s covered in a layer of sweat, giving his skin a sheen, and he’s just barely bouncing in place in excitement.
Holy shit, Yoongi thinks, feeling very faint all of a sudden. Holy shit, his woozy mind repeats, very unhelpfully, and Yoongi passes out.
(Later, Seokjin the broad-shouldered waterbender attributes it to his severe blood loss and five broken bones. Yoongi knows better.)
Yoongi starts every morning the first week with his wounds harshly reminding him that they're still there. Seokjin bends glowing, coalesced water across Yoongi's aching body, but mending hurts, and Yoongi digs his nails into his borrowed mattress and hisses in suppressed agony as the bending works its gradual, excruciating magic.
(Stop calling bending ‘magic,’ hyung, Hoseok says. It makes it sound like you have nothing to do with it.
Yes, I know every organ and energy flow of the human body inside and out, but Hoseok-ah, I’m still holding a shining blob of water that literally reattaches bones and seals open wounds, Seokjin deadpans. Magic. )
By noon, both healer and patient are wiped out, and that's when Hoseok, usually bearing fruit or dumplings or bland but soft bread, arrives to wipe down Seokjin's sweaty brow and cheerfully feed Yoongi his first meal of the day. He sustains a one-sided conversation with a tight-lipped Yoongi until Seokjin wakes up from his fatigue nap and complains that Hoseok is working him to the bone here, that he didn't come all the way from the Northern Water Tribe for this, I have other patients too but here I am making a free house call do you know how much I could be making right now if I was charging you Hoseok-ah do you really?
Hoseok and Seokjin bicker and Yoongi waits for both of them, either of them, to cut the amiable caretaker shit already because they’re nice, too nice, and Yoongi’s time in the war strategy room didn’t prepare him for a situation like this. Late at night and alone in his room, he's still waiting, except he also catches himself missing Hoseok, and that can't be right.
Yoongi's never missed anyone in his life.
Yoongi rises with the sun, the pull on his inner flame dragging him out of bed and down the earth stairs of Hoseok’s old but cozy home no matter the weight on his eyelids or tangles in his hair. His injuries still throb underneath the bandages, but it's a dull pain now. His bones have mended and his bruises have largely faded thanks to Seokjin’s frequent care.
Yoongi rises with the sun, but Hoseok is always ahead of the sunrise itself, already out of the house and stretching in the fresh air by the time the first rays stream through the windows. Yoongi takes a seat in front of a steaming bowl of porridge Hoseok's prepared for him and silently spoons himself a mouthful. He’s done most things silently for the last week. Only a fool chatters in enemy territory, he mentally recites out of habit, and hates himself for it.
“You’re new,” someone comments in a sweet voice.
Yoongi glances up from his breakfast, startled to see a lithe young man in a cerulean tunic waving shyly at him from the open window.
“You must be the guy hyung keeps raving about,” continues the stranger, oblivious. “Nice to meet you! I’m Jimin.”
Yoongi glares. Silently.
“Oh. Hyung wasn’t kidding when he said you don’t talk.”
Hoseok’s voice drifts over from further outside, eager and endearing. “Jiminie! Ready?”
“Coming!” Jimin calls over his shoulder, then glances back at Yoongi. “You should come watch us. It’s always nice to have an audience.” He grins knowingly. "I know hyung would like it if you were there."
Yoongi swallows and considers his chances, if this were a trap and a fight were to break out. He’d fare better in the open, for sure. He offers a terse nod.
Yoongi leans forward from his perch on a stone slab, gaze transfixed by the two lean figures twisting and dancing before him in the soft morning light. Jimin bends with ease and grace, his toned muscles fluidly shifting through what Yoongi vaguely recognizes as bending forms. Floating water gently coagulates and splits at Jimin’s will, but the waterbending is only an afterthought to Jimin’s performance. Hoseok, on the other hand, is purely dancing, his limbs and torso twisting with such intensely controlled force that an enraptured Yoongi flinches with every movement, fully expecting towers of earth to roar up from the ground at each jab. The earth remains unmoving, but Hoseok’s gaze is so unearthly and intense as he dances that Yoongi dazedly feels as if the world is trembling beneath him anyway with every ripple that passes through Hoseok’s muscles, every breath that escapes Hoseok’s lips.
Only when the two dancers finish in mutual bows, sweating profusely but grinning at each other all the same, does Yoongi realize he’s lowered his guard, leaving him vulnerable for the entirety of the performance. He can’t bring himself to regret it.
“I told you he would like it, hyung,” Jimin is saying teasingly, prodding Hoseok in the side.
“He hasn’t even said anything yet,” Hoseok protests. He absently tugs at his beige shirt in an attempt to cool down, and Yoongi tries very hard not to glance at his chest.
"He doesn't need to. Look at his face!"
Yoongi realizes his lips are slightly parted in stunned amazement. He hastily snaps his mouth closed.
“I told you,” Jimin continues, grinning, “Who needs bending when you make moves like that?”
“Says the waterbending show-off.” Hoseok rolls his eyes, but he looks flattered nonetheless. “And I was just saying earthbending would look really cool with the choreography!”
Jimin glances at Yoongi and lowers his voice conspiratorially. “He says this every time, you know. It's like he thinks I'll forget he's a nonbender if he doesn't remind me every time we meet.”
Hoseok scowls, but there’s no real malice behind it. “Yeah, yeah. I’m just Hoseok, normal guy extraordinaire; sorry to disappoint.”
You could never disappoint, comes the thought, unbidden, and Yoongi is shaken by how much he means it.
“And I’m Jimin, from the South Pole!” says Jimin cheerily, as if he hasn’t already introduced himself. Before Yoongi can spare thought to the mention of the Southern Water Tribe, which he could swear had birthed no waterbenders in the past three decades, Jimin claps his small hands eagerly. “Your turn, come on.”
“I told you, Jiminie, he’ll tell us when he’s ready—”
Yoongi stills. His name. Agni, he can't even remember the last time he's said his own name, or heard it called aloud, as kept under wraps as it was. Daringly, he lets the imaginary sound of it sit on his tongue. For a miserable second he swears he can hear the attendants hastily shushing him, can feel the disapproving gaze of his mother, frigid on his skin—
—but the moment passes. Yoongi's half a world away, now, away from the towering crimson walls that pressed in on him at every waking moment. These two young men have asked for an introduction, as normal people do, and he—he can be a normal person, too. Yoongi feels the imaginary shackles on his name unravel, the syllables tumbling easily from his lips.
“Yoongi,” he says in a rasp, and as Hoseok's eyes go wide in earnest delight, something in Yoongi's chest flutters. “Call me Yoongi.”
Sometimes Hoseok falls asleep by his bedside, long after Seokjin has gone home for the day. Yoongi brushes a hand across Hoseok’s warm forehead and threads his fingers through his hair, while his other hand wanders to where Hoseok’s arms are resting on the blankets. Yoongi feels for Hoseok’s pulse, beating slow and contentedly in his sleep, and guiltily savors the juxtaposition of Hoseok’s slow tempo with the nervous staccato of his own heartbeat.
Yoongi's just run from one life and is scrabbling for a new one here in the Earth Kingdom, desperate to escape the war training and cruel purpose that’s been pounded into his mind all his life. Hoseok doesn’t know this, doesn’t know Min Yoongi, but stays by his side anyway. And Yoongi—Yoongi watches, and admires, and listens to Hoseok’s soft, steady breathing through the summer night.
It happens like this—
Yoongi is silently padding down a dimly-lit yet festive street at night, the slightly humid summer air settling on him like a blanket. A month ago, he would have shrunk away from the ruckus and feeling of the Earth Kingdom air, but now he wears the heavy heat like a second skin. The hanging lanterns, the rowdy shopkeepers, the chattering passersby, the children playfully bending pebbles at their feet, the sizzling street food—all this fades into the background. Yoongi can’t bring himself to really appreciate the atmosphere, can’t spare much thought to anything, really, because, well.
Hoseok is holding his hand.
Yoongi frowns. His brain feels light, dreamlike from the white noise of the street, and maybe that’s what this is, a dream, because the sentence Hoseok is holding his hand feels like a distant observation rather than something Yoongi himself is experiencing at this very moment. Hypothetically.
Hm. Yoongi needs to think about this.
He dips out of his muddled thoughts to slowly piece the sensations together. One of Yoongi’s hands is very, very warm. He’s always warm, of course. His pale skin might fool others into assuming a cool touch, but his blood is infused with fire. Yet his hand is warm, the kind of warm that sends little bursts of heat through his veins, making his heart beat faster. (Yoongi surreptitiously checks his free hand for sparks, even though he hasn’t unconsciously sparked since he was five.) Hoseok is by his side, waving cheerfully at a pot sticker vendor he must recognize. That’s one of Hoseok’s hands accounted for, but where’s the other? Yoongi’s eyes trace down Hoseok’s tan arm, golden in the lamp glow, past the faded green cloth shirt hanging precariously below Hoseok’s collarbone, down his sleeve and—Yoongi’s eyes stop where Hoseok’s strong and slender fingers tangle with Yoongi’s own, and his mind stalls.
His hand is indeed in Hoseok’s hand. His hand is—
Before Yoongi can succumb to his imminent panic, Hoseok suddenly stops walking. “Stop that,” he says, and for a frightening moment Yoongi thinks he’s been caught.
“Stop what?” Yoongi manages to say. Hoseok is still holding his hand.
“Pouting.” Hoseok offers an example—a poor one as far as impressions go, because his lips turn down in a neat triangle too distinctively Hoseok to look anything remotely like Yoongi. The teasing tone in Hoseok’s voice quickly fades into concern. “Are you not having fun? We can go home if you want, I’ve already got my fill of steamed turkey duck buns.”
“I’m fine.” Yoongi settles his face back into what he hopes is its standard blankness, not betraying his fluttering heart. “We’re almost there, anyway.”
Hoseok beams, dark eyes alight in excitement, as if Yoongi hadn't just given him the most flat, emotionless answer possible. His hand grips Yoongi’s tightly and suddenly Yoongi’s being pulled into a stumbling run, clumsily avoiding the children and other passersby as he strains to keep up with Hoseok’s pace. The winding street scenery blurs, lamp light shadows flying across Hoseok’s face, and soon the only constant in this fast-paced world is Hoseok’s warm fingers wrapped around Yoongi’s hand, resting on his wrist. Yoongi wonders if Hoseok can feel Yoongi’s pulse, fast and nervous against his fingertips.
Just when Yoongi’s starting to feel out of breath—he’s out of practice, he realizes, he’s gotten lax since he arrived in the Earth Kingdom—Hoseok slows to a leisurely jog, and Yoongi matches his tempo gratefully. His breath comes out in short pants. He can feel beaded sweat slowly streak down the back of his neck. Hoseok’s palm, too, is sweaty against his. Yoongi doesn’t even think about shying away.
“We’re here,” Hoseok breathes, and Yoongi looks up from their intertwined hands.
They’ve reached the end of the street, the path giving way to a cobblestone bridge that arches over most of a small pond, shadows of lazily swimming fish passing underneath the surface. A tiny green island lies on the other side of the bridge. Sprouting serenely from the island's center is a willow tree, its drooping leaves and branches adorned with idle fireflies. The reflection of their blinking bulbs joins the moon on the pond's surface, making the whole scene glow faintly.
Hoseok's face glows faintly, too. "Beautiful, right?" he says.
"Yeah," Yoongi breathes. And the scenery too, he supposes.
Hoseok leads him across the bridge, because Hoseok is still holding his hand. He plops down on the grass and pulls Yoongi down with him, and the two of them end up on their backs, one staring at the sky and the other staring at his sun.
"Thanks for coming with me," Hoseok says quietly. "I've wanted to show you this place for a while."
Yoongi stares at how Hoseok's dark hair spreads out on the grass beneath him, only distinguishable through the darkness by the slight difference in the way it absorbs the moonlight. Hoseok's lips are chapped from the heat. Hoseok's cheeks look very soft. Hoseok is still talking.
"A friend of mine—Namjoon, you haven't met him—had this place built a while ago. It's part of his job, but of course he's also a dork and so he has this little bonsai replica of this tree and island with its own little—you know what, I can just bring you next time and introduce you so he can rave about it himself. And you can meet his brother, too. I told them to give you some space while you were still recovering, but I bet Namjoon took that to mean they ought to avoid our place altogether, the dummy."
Yoongi doesn't know why Hoseok is rambling, but he closes his eyes and lets Hoseok's low and gentle voice roll over him. He feels light, very light, as Hoseok tells him about his friends like he wants them to be Yoongi's friends too. Like it's natural and welcome, even, that Yoongi has settled into his life and is there to stay. Our place, Yoongi repeats in his head, hopeful.
"I've been coming out here on my own for a while, but being here with someone else—I mean, with you—is really nice. I know we’ve only known each other for—well, uh, it still makes me really happy. What I'm trying to say is—"
Agni, I think I love you, Yoongi thinks, warmth rushing through his veins.
Hoseok goes silent and Yoongi realizes that he’s said the last five words aloud. The syllables still echo in his throat.
Yoongi snaps his eyes open to see that Hoseok's turned his head and is looking at him with very, very wide eyes. For a moment, neither of them speak. Only the soft splashing of the occasional surfacing fish can be heard. The grass sways in the summer breeze and tickles Yoongi's cheek. All the while, his heart sinks gradually, chafing against his insides in its descent, because while he’s been lying wide awake at night with swirling thoughts of this unfamiliar experience called love , Hoseok likely only knows Yoongi as the stranger he found broken and bloodied in the forest, as the detached subject of his generosity and hospitality, as the evasive young man who’s offered his name and nothing else.
Yoongi knows, painfully, that he’s crossed a line. His throat clenches and his eyes get warm and when did he become so weak?
Then Hoseok says, voice a little strangled, "That’s so unfair. I was getting there." He sounds angry, but he's slightly pink in the moonlight and smiling the smile that turns his eyes into slim crescents and makes his cheeks look like tiny pouches that Yoongi wants to poke so badly. Yoongi squeezes Hoseok's hand tightly as Hoseok slowly whispers, "I think I love you too."
It happens like this—
Yoongi falls from the sky, then falls in love with someone who loves him back.
(And as he and Hoseok lie under the fireflies and the summer heat, Yoongi takes the pervasive thought of you don’t deserve this and pushes it aside, just for this breathless moment.)
“Wow,” says Taehyung, grinning from ear to ear. “I can’t believe we left Hoseokie-hyung alone for a month and he came back with a boyfriend. I can think of a few people who could use the tip.”
Boyfriend. The back of Yoongi’s hand brushes against a patch of moss thriving on tree bark. He feels just as fuzzy inside.
Taehyung, as Hoseok explains, is the younger brother of the Namjoon guy he had mentioned the previous night. This is a far more useful and welcome introduction than the one Taehyung himself had given: in a move Yoongi would expect more from an airbender than an earthbender, the handsome young man had peered upside-down into Yoongi’s second floor bedroom window, smiled a wide, squarish smile, and announced, Hi! I’m Taehyung!
Yoongi had cursed and almost set him on fire.
"It’s not like I said I had the plague," Hoseok grumbles. "You could've asked if it was fine to drop by!”
"Honestly, I wanted to, but Jin-hyung was all like, ‘the patient needs a stress-free environment!q’ and I didn’t feel like trying my luck.” Taehyung idly bends a few pebbles out of their path with a flick of his finger. “Last time I would’ve been thawing out past sunset if Hoseokie-hyung hadn’t found me.”
“You were being a brat,” Seokjin says cheerfully.
Taehyung turns briefly to pout. Hoseok laughs, high-pitched and teasing, and Yoongi stifles a smile at the sound.
The four of them are en route to Taehyung’s house, as per Hoseok’s insistence that Yoongi meet all his friends, now that he’s mostly recovered. Yoongi is reluctant, because he's only just gotten comfortable with Jimin and Seokjin, but Hoseok can really dish out the puppy eyes and Yoongi might be a little weak, so sue him.
Yoongi’s grateful for the sparse clouds overhead, making the summer heat slightly more bearable as they hike through crowded streets that give way to rows of storefronts that give way to winding alleys. Taehyung leads them along a path made of spaced round stone slabs, now, that weaves deeper into what looks like a small bamboo forest. Yoongi glances, confused, at the occasional otter koi pond and tiger crab statue they pass, because while it isn’t too strange to see sculptures honoring spirits or tiny temples standing in wild forests, these additions look almost like decorations .
Yoongi taps on Hoseok’s shoulder. “I think he’s lost,” he whispers.
“He knows where he’s going, don’t worry, baby,” Hoseok whispers back, and then looks very proud of himself for having managed to say it. Yoongi flushes and falls silent. Out of his periphery, Yoongi sees Seokjin roll his eyes.
“I wouldn’t get lost in my own front yard, who do you take me for?” Taehyung asks, petulant.
Yoongi blinks. “What—?”
Taehyung doesn't let him finish. He ducks around a particularly thick cluster of bamboo and calls, “Joon-hyung, I’m home!”
Hoseok and Seokjin dutifully follow the young earthbender, Yoongi trailing behind in uncertainty. Then he sees the towering tan stone walls, the massive tiger crab statues flanking the end of the stone path, and most importantly, the grand family name carved elegantly into the grand yet light limestone gate Taehyung is casually pushing open.
Yoongi reaches out and clutches at the back of Hoseok's shirt as they walk into the main courtyard. "Tiger crabs," Yoongi hisses into his boyfriend's ear, "I'm a fucking idiot, the family symbol, tiger crabs—Hoseok-ah, you didn't tell me you were friends with the Kim family!"
Hoseok at least has the decency to look apologetic as an unfamiliar young man strides over, his tall form draped in simple laurel green attire. A polished jade necklace hangs loosely around his neck. “What the hell?" the stranger says. "Hoseok, we left you alone for a month and you—”
“Way ahead of you, hyung,” Kim Taehyung says cheekily.
The exasperated young man—Kim Namjoon, apparently—runs a slightly ink-stained hand through his hair. He turns his attention towards Yoongi and squints. "So. You must be Yoongi-ssi."
Yoongi's never heard Namjoon's first name before last night, but he knows the Kim name, and he knows what the people say about the Kim head. This is the man who clawed his way out of the economic disparity of the Earth Kingdom and rose up the ranks of Ba Sing Se's scholar class with a terrifying speed and vivacity. This is the man who earned nobility and the family name to go with it before the age of twenty, only to abruptly leave the Imperial Capital behind for a life of relative obscurity. This is the man whose surname and achievements have spread to even the Fire Nation, where the "upstart Kims" and their inspirational underdog stories are uttered in despairing tones by strategists who've been trying to subtly squash the morale of the Earth Kingdom commoners for decades.
Yoongi's grandfather would be rolling in his urn. Yoongi bows deeply anyway.
Namjoon returns the bow politely. "I'm Namjoon. Jiminie claims you fell from the sky and broke, like, fifteen bones, but you look remarkably, er, unfallen to me."
"Seokjin," Yoongi starts quietly, only to relent when Seokjin shoots him a look, "hyung, did a good job stitching me back up."
Namjoon nods. "Jin-hyung is a talented healer. One of the best." He offers Seokjin a dimpled smile that has Taehyung snickering, for some reason. Namjoon grins at Hoseok. "Well, it's great to finally meet the mystery man who's had Hoseok a gushing mess for the past month."
Hoseok flushes at Yoongi's startled glance. "I told Jiminie everything in confidence," Hoseok whines.
Seokjin hums. "You should've heard what Yoongi-yah would say during our healing sessions. 'Today Hoseok brushed against my shoulder, today Hoseok's shirt flew up during his dance routine, today Hoseok got dust in his eye and kept blinking to get it out but only with his left so it looked like he was crying while furiously winking at me and I don't think my frail heart can—'"
With a screech threatening to tear itself from his throat, Yoongi lunges without thinking, slapping his hands over Seokjin's mouth and refusing to let up until Seokjin has the gall to lick his palm. Yoongi quickly withdraws his hands, still affixing the waterbender with a flustered glare.
Now Hoseok is the one who looks startled. "Did you really?" he says, a flattered smile slowly forming on his face. Yoongi wants to die. If Namjoon had any suspicions as to who Yoongi really is, they’ve probably been long dashed away by now by the incredulity that the rumored Min would ever be reduced to a lovestruck pile of goo.
"Gross," Taehyung declares. “You know, I thought dating meant you got past the nervous crushing part. Like, it’s cute, but could you hurry up and get to the confidence and bickering part already like the rest of us?"
“Tae, you’ve never dated anyone before,” Seokjin says.
Taehyung sticks out his tongue in response, stomping on the ground, which obligingly rockets upwards and launches him into the air. Yoongi watches as Taehyung casually arcs over the small fruit trees and elegant flower beds of his family grounds and lands neatly in front of one of the many buildings arranged in a U-shape around the courtyard. Taehyung offers a jaunty salute before disappearing inside.
Namjoon casually bends the protruding earth back into place and fails to hide a laugh. "Don't mind my brother. Now, our resident Hoseok enthusiast, can I interest you in some tea?"
"I think I'll look for a job," Yoongi muses aloud over his dainty cup. He lightly blows at the tea's surface, watching the leaves at the bottom shift along with the ripples, only to subtly reheat the cup against his skin. It's a calming cycle, cooling and warming lazily somersaulting in his cupped hands. Yoongi inhales the tea-scented steam and relaxes. He watches as Seokjin lifts the ceramic lid of Namjoon’s glazed teapot with one hand and gestures with the other, bending hot water orbs into each of their teacups without so much as a splash.
Hoseok, on the other hand, keeps draining his cup in one go no matter how hot the tea is. He straightens at Yoongi’s words. "What? Why?"
Yoongi rolls his eyes and infuses his cup with more heat from his palms. "Hoseok-ah, I'm not about to freeload off my—" he stumbles over the word, slightly red, but forces it out anyway. "—boyfriend, for fuck's sake."
Hoseok beams at the title, even as he insists, "You really don't have to! I get paid quite a bit for dance, surprisingly." He downs another fresh cup of tea.
Seokjin gives up on repeatedly refilling Hoseok’s cup with a sigh. Namjoon rests his chin in his hands, contemplatively, then says, “That’s not the only reason you want a job, is it.”
Yoongi stays silent. He doesn’t think it’d be wise to tell Namjoon exactly why he’s so desperate to escape his current lazy lifestyle. It was acceptable when he was still recovering, showing more bandages than skin and unable to move across a room without worrying that he’d bite his tongue clean off because of the pain. His weakened bones would strain and his long, jagged cuts, hastily torn into his skin by tree branches as he’d hurtled past that day, would reopen and sting . But now, Yoongi’s able-bodied and spending his days antsy and anxious at home, his idle mind too easily straying to singed cloth wide eyes sizzling blood 'let me go please please I'm begging—'
The thoughts flee when Hoseok comes home, or when Yoongi follows Hoseok to the clearing and watches him practice until the sun sets. Yoongi loves watching Hoseok dance; Hoseok shines and twists and squeezes his sweat and tears out of every second he’s given. But Yoongi’s days spent as a stagnant observer feel achingly void and meaningless in comparison, fueling the haunting fear that he’d have been better off staying complacent, yes, but purposeful, in the Fire Nation.
Seokjin tilts his head. “You've got connections in the city, Joon. You could reach out, maybe?"
"I could. Yoongi-ssi, are you a bender?"
Yoongi is very aware of his inner flame, the way it burns steadily in his chest. "No, I'm not."
Namjoon hums. "That's fine. Give me some time, I'll see what I can find for you."
There’s a full length mirror in Yoongi’s bedroom now, a simple one with sawtooth oak backing and a few scratches on the reflective surface. When Yoongi stares into it, an unfamiliar man stares back. No topknot, no red, no fatigue. If he flattens his bangs, his black hair hangs especially long, hiding the golden glint in his otherwise dark eyes. His cheeks are as pale as ever but seem softer, somehow, and it’s like his dark circles never existed. Instead of pressing together in a tense line, his lips are relaxed, teeth peeking innocently from behind.
The beige tunic and dark green pants no longer look incredibly wrong on him, just—a little strange. Maybe they always will be.
“Ooh, what about this?” Hoseok tugs Yoongi from the fresh fruit stand to a vendor selling accessories, the table covered in colorful rocks embedded in earrings and necklaces and bracelets. Hoseok sifts around the merchandise before pulling out a black ring. “C’mon, hyung, give me your other hand.”
“Um, okay.” Yoongi lets Hoseok slide the ring onto his index finger. It looks like a simple black band at first glance, but when the morning sunlight hits its surface, the black reveals speckles of red and gold, like infinitesimal stars in the night sky.
“It’s made from volcanic rock,” the vendor offers, proud, “three silver pieces.”
Volcanic rock. Yoongi hates how right that feels. He tries not to rip it off and he shakingly places it back in Hoseok’s palm.
“No?” Hoseok’s mouth settles into a tiny pout. “I thought it looked good on you.”
Yoongi shakes his head. “Something else?”
As Hoseok returns his attention to the vendor’s selection, Yoongi lets his eyes wander. The town market is loud and bustling, shoppers jostling shoulders and craning over the crowd to haggle prices and admire the humble merchants’ well-crafted or appetizing goods. Just like the rest of town, the market smells like dust and packed dirt, but contrary to what Yoongi had thought of the Earth Kingdom prior to his arrival, the town is hardly poor or mismanaged (not savages not savages). The public areas are clean, there are lively town squares and maintained gardens dotting the land, and there’s plenty of food to go around, if the raucous street food nightlife is any indication.
The thought of food reminds Yoongi that the two haven’t eaten all day, both too anxious to go on their date to snag even the simplest of breakfasts before they left the house. “Hoseok-ah, you know that seafood place by the fountain?” Yoongi squeezes Hoseok’s hand, feeling a little brave. “Want to make this a lunch date?”
Hoseok perks up, one hand casually stuffed in his pocket, one hand grasped warmly in Yoongi’s own. He bobs his head once, and they’re off through the crowd. It gets quieter the further they get from the marketplace, and soon they’re traversing much emptier streets with long stretches of sandstone wall where there would’ve been cramped stalls kilometers behind them.
Some of the walls have posters plastered loosely to the rough surface—advertisements for a new noodle shop near the market, reminders to keep the streets clean for town beautification, a reward for a lost cat owl responding to the name Kiki, a sizeable bounty for a bandit last seen in a town two days’ walk away.
The posters change tone, closer to the fountain.
DOWN WITH FIRE NATION SAVAGES
ERADICATE THE FIREBENDERS OR THEY’LL MAKE YOU PAY THE PRICE
These spit in zealous strokes, the splattered ink of the characters taking up most of the poster paper. One poster is so poorly pasted to the wall that one side curls off the sandstone altogether, fluttering to face passersby like a warning growl.
Yoongi pulls Hoseok a little faster.
The mouthwatering scent of broiled fish reaches the couple long before the fountain comes into view around the cobbled corner. “Finally, ” Hoseok enthuses just as Yoongi’s stomach rumbles in anticipation. Yoongi is so busy protesting at Hoseok’s ensuing teasing as they duck into the cozy restaurant that it isn’t until they’ve already taken their seats that he registers the face of the boy, bandages around his neck, that had been taking his leave at the same time.
“No,” Yoongi breathes at the realization. He shoots back to his feet and rushes back out the entrance. His gaze darts in every direction—past the fountain, into the nearby shops, in the direction of the adjacent alleyway. There’s no sign of the boy, but he swears—
Someone taps his shoulder. Yoongi swivels around to see a confused and concerned Hoseok, as well as the suspicious glances of the customers. “Hyung?” Hoseok murmurs. “Everything okay?”
There’s no way he’s here. You’re probably being paranoid and shit because of the posters—don’t let them get to you. Yoongi shakes his head, slows his breathing, urges his agitated inner flame to flicker back to normal, forces a smile. “Sorry, just thought I saw—uh, Jiminie. But I was wrong. Don’t worry about it, Hoseok-ah.” Sitting back down at the table, he makes a show of perusing the daily specials scrawled on the board affixed to the restaurant wall. “Mm, the oyster soup looks good.”
Hoseok brightens at the reminder of food. “The steamed catfish here is amazing, too!”
The other customers, now uninterested, turn back to their tender fish and rounded piles of rice. Yoongi fondly watches Hoseok debate, very animatedly, between ordering the catfish or trying the chili jellyfish salad, and pushes the thought of the boy to the back of his mind.
It’s near impossible, after all.
What are the chances they’d end up in the same little Earth Kingdom town, he and the runaway airbender?
When Namjoon had said he’d help Yoongi look for a job, Yoongi had been bracing himself for busboy, or farmhand, or crafts apprentice.
"You want me to be your personal assistant," Yoongi says blankly, seated with his legs crossed on one of the wooden porches in the Kim courtyard. He’s found himself making the trek through bamboo and striding between the twin tiger crab statues more and more often, now. Surrounding himself with all the unfamiliar yet soothing green and brown of the Earth Kingdom grounds him. It’s hard to envision black and gold and red when he’s surrounded by the Kim courtyard’s orchids and lotus ponds, when he’s biting into a juicy peach plucked straight from Namjoon’s favorite fruit trees.
"It's a job, right?" Namjoon says. He’s lounging next to him, long legs idly swinging over the edge. His sandals graze the stone below.
Yoongi stares at him. He’s fucking kidding, right? “You’re fucking kidding, right?”
Namjoon blinks back. "Why would I be?"
The irony, for one. Yoongi refrains from pointing this out. "You barely know me, Namjoon-ssi. Isn't this a pretty high-ranking job to offer a relative stranger?"
The sliding paper doors of the building behind them shhf open, a bed-headed Taehyung popping his head out with a roll of his eyes. "A stranger? Hyung, you're here more often than Jin-hyung."
Yoongi frowns, though his lips threaten to twitch upward at the familiar honorific. "Why does it matter how often Seokjin-hyung's here?"
"Well, you see, Joon-hyung over here likes to find excuses to invite—"
"The point is," Namjoon interrupts, "I'm really not kidding. It's a job that pays well and it's yours, if you want it."
Yoongi rolls his head to the side to face the Kim head. "What would I even be doing?"
“Mostly cultural development, town beautification. Some advising on the side.” Namjoon shrugs. “Or—that’s what I do, anyway. You’d be doing more organizational work. Maybe stand there and let me stress at you once in a while.”
“I’m the designer, if you were wondering,” Taehyung chimes in, “which basically means I get to take anything in town that I find ugly and either destroy it or bend it to look however I want it to look. Also, I get to grow flowers and plant trees. It’s fun.”
Yoongi wonders if Taehyung was the one who designed Hoseok’s house, in which case Yoongi needs to have a few words with the younger Kim brother about the trapezoidal window in the bathroom. (Also, Yoongi is ninety percent sure that Namjoon’s advising on the side is to the Earth King himself.) He considers Namjoon’s offer for three seconds, then thinks oh, what the hell, he might as well add worked for Kim Namjoon on his growing resume of treason. He lets himself fall onto his back, his arms limp on the porch. “You have yourself a deal, Namjoon-ssi.”
All doubts as to whether the two are actually brothers are dashed away by Namjoon’s pout that, while much more subtle than Taehyung’s dramatic pushed lips, gives Namjoon the same look of a puppy that blames itself for being kicked.
Yoongi sighs. “Fine, Namjoon-ah,” he relents, not missing the pleased shift in Namjoon’s expression. “Just give me the fucking contract.”
Usually, when Yoongi watches Hoseok dance, he naturally relaxes and loses himself in the present moment—the sun streaming in through the leaves of the surrounding trees, the sound of Hoseok’s quick footwork softening in the packed dirt, the welcome summer breeze wisping through the clearing.
Today, Yoongi can’t seem to fall into the meditative lull these sensations usually instill in him. Today, as much as he tries to lazily appreciate the natural ambience and admire his boyfriend, something in Yoongi incessantly hisses and bubbles and turns, clouding Yoongi’s thoughts. His view of Hoseok, with his gaze intently focused and his body in perpetual motion, blurs into a haze. What the hell is happening? Yoongi wonders dazedly.
Yoongi leans back on his stone perch and presses his hands against the cool surface until his fingertips turn white and shaking from the applied pressure. He feels the smooth gray surface warm under his agitated touch, which shouldn’t be happening because this is his bending, his fucking fire, and yet it’s disregarding him entirely like a child throwing a tantrum with a butcher knife. Heat seeps from his fingers into the rock in erratic pulses.
(Yoongi wishes the stone would obediently sink under his fingers instead, because if he was an earthbender who belonged and not a lying, fire-breathing coward, then everything would be so, so much easier.)
His head jostles back and forth beyond his control, and Yoongi vaguely realizes that Hoseok is shaking him by the shoulders.
“Hyung!” Hoseok’s frantic visage comes into just enough focus for Yoongi to recognize that his forehead, still glistening with sweat, is scrunched in worry. “Hyung, what’s wrong—are you okay—breathe, c’mon, in and out.”
Suddenly afraid that Hoseok will feel the defiant and damning heat emanating from his body, Yoongi clumsily shrugs off Hoseok’s grip and forces nonchalance. “I‘m fine, Hoseok-ah. Heatstroke, maybe? I can head back home on my own, though; don’t stop practicing on my account.” Before Hoseok can protest, Yoongi is striding out of the clearing as steadily as he can, too aware of Hoseok’s worried gaze on his back as he leaves.
When Yoongi finally stumbles through the front door, he nearly collapses on the floor, if not for a lucky trip sideways that has him hitting his shoulder roughly against the wall. He pants there for a moment, his swimming vision slowly focusing. Dizzy, he stares into the blurry nothingness until the wooden kitchen table comes into view, then one of Hoseok’s stray green shirts thrown over a chair, then the old lit lamps by the entrance—and then Seokjin, wide-eyed with a sesame seed cracker halfway to his mouth from where he’s sitting in Hoseok’s tiny living room.
"Hyung," Yoongi mumbles, and Seokjin is immediately there, lowering the younger gently to the ground with one arm.
"Yoongi-yah, you're not bleeding, where—" Seokjin cuts off his own question as he grasps the end of his waterskin in his teeth and yanks the cap off with an urgent jerk of his head.
"Hyung," Yoongi repeats. "No, don't bother with—hyung!"
"Stop moving so much! Tui and La, you’re burning—"
"I'm not hurt," Yoongi insists. He struggles to sit up, fails to push Seokjin's hands away. "Really, I'm fine.”
Pursing his lips, Seokjin encases his hand in already luminescent water and carefully scans it down Yoongi’s body, despite the younger’s protests. The water glove bubbles and steams at contact. Seokjin pauses when he reaches Yoongi’s chest.
“Your chi,” Seokjin says slowly, knitting his eyebrows. “It—there’s a buildup, right here—” He presses a spot just above Yoongi’s navel, and Yoongi’s breath hitches at the spike of pain. “—your chi feels angry, and it’s twisting in your chi paths and trying to get—out? But you’re not—” Seokjin stills. “Are you…”
“I’m not,” Yoongi grits out, “a bender.”
“But there’s no other reason for this, nonbenders’ chi paths are relatively undisturbed, it’s impossible for theirs to destabilize to this extent—”
“I said I’m fucking not, ” Yoongi says desperately, even as his thoughts go full-blown frantic, trying to salvage the situation. Seokjin is a much more skilled healer than Yoongi had thought, if he can so easily pry into the very energy that attunes a bender to the elements. He can tell Yoongi is a bender through his chi—that much is a lost cause—but can he feel within those pathways, feel the flames pulsing beneath, frenzied?
Still, Seokjin bites his lip. “Okay, fine, you’re not, whatever you say,” he relents, “but if you were , then this buildup would be because you’ve been repressing your element for too long. It’s trying to escape, and if you don’t release it yourself, it’ll do it for you, without any care for your wellbeing. Explosively.”
“Fuck.” Yoongi screws his eyes shut. The sizzling fire under his skin seems even more incensed, now that he’s aware of it. He struggles to get up again, Seokjin helping carry his weight this time. “So I’d just have to release it, right? Hypothetically?”
“Yeah.” Seokjin hesitates. “Though, in the case of chi buildup, there’s only really… one kind, of bending, that would warrant it. So— hypothetically—you would have to be a…”
The realization hits Yoongi, as always, like lightning. Waterbenders don’t feel ice in their breath, earthbenders can’t feel stone beating in their chest. Airbenders may hold the wind in their lungs, but air is playful and gentle and free and comes in and out of their benders’ bodies without a care or repercussion in the world.
Firebenders are different. Firebenders feel cinders in their gut and sparks in their blood; their element is in them, always, and letting their inner flame speak itself into the outside is less of a choice and more of a compromise. Fire doesn’t like to be trapped, and fire has very limited patience.
Yoongi breathes harshly. Fucking shit. “Hyung, you—you can't tell Hoseok about this. Please, promise me you won't tell him."
Seokjin bends the water back into his waterskin and rescues the cap with white-knuckled fingers. "I don't think I even fully understand what this is," he says, words thick.
It hurts a lot, to think that Seokjin might hate him now, but Yoongi can neither blame him for it nor spare the energy to convince the waterbenders otherwise, not when he can feel sparks in his lungs. "Good," Yoongi says bitterly, staggering out the door, "so make sure Hoseok never knows either."
Blindly, Yoongi dashes in the opposite direction of Hoseok's clearing. He winds up in the shadow of a greenery-sparse cliffside, and he spares a single, dazed survey of the area before closing his eyes, lowering his stance, and letting go of his internal inferno. Twisting fire erupts from his rigid hands, spills from his lips as he howls, filling the air with swirling flames, ecstatic to be free. He expends it until he starts to feel drained, and then he cuts off the flow before deeply breathing in, then out. The flames lingering on nearby weeds and flora fizzle out obediently with his exhale, satisfied at last.
Yoongi drops to the ground, vision going black. He wonders, with a sour smile, if he looked every bit the cold-blooded dragon of a crown prince the rumors say he is.
(He wakes up in his cot again. There are no Earth Kingdom authorities here to chain him up, no secret agents from the Earth King's Dai Li here to subdue him and make him a prisoner of the impending war. There's only a sleeping Hoseok, on a chair by his bedside with his head resting on Yoongi's blanket-covered stomach, and Seokjin, staring at him silently from the other side of the room.
You really didn't tell, Yoongi mouths blankly.
You're still our Yoongi, Seokjin mouths back. The light hits his narrowed eyes and makes them look dangerously blue. And it's not my truth to tell.
Yoongi understands what goes unsaid.
Yoongi feels spent but sated the next day. As much as Hoseok protests against it, Yoongi heads straight for the Kim estate for his first day on the job as Kim Namjoon's assistant (which is a particularly strange thought in light of the fact that just yesterday, Yoongi had been breathing fire to the heavens).
Once he walks through the front gate, Yoongi snags an orange from a tree for breakfast and has just finished peeling it when he knocks on Namjoon’s office. “Hey, Namjoon-ah,” he calls around the rind in his teeth, “it’s me.”
There’s a grunt of acknowledgment and Yoongi steps inside. Namjoon doesn’t look up at him or spare a greeting. “What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word birch?” he asks instead, poring over the blueprint of what looks like a housing complex.
“No, don’t tell me what it is—could you go to the library and bring me a book relating to whatever you thought of? Thanks.”
And so Yoongi is left to wander around the complex on his own, because he has no idea where the fuck the library is and Taehyung is nowhere to be found.
Eventually, Yoongi does find the impressively-stocked library, and he brings back a book titled Chops and Sticks: A Guide to Meat Skewers in complete noncompliance with Namjoon’s task, just to test Namjoon’s reaction. To Yoongi’s disappointment, the Kim head takes it without a second thought. Yoongi’s other assigned tasks prove similarly unique, and by the time his lunch break rolls around, he’s critiqued and forged Namjoon’s calligraphy, fed the cat owl that had taken refuge under the porch, and woken up Taehyung exactly as told (with a portable bronze gong and a ladder up to Taehyung’s second-floor window). It’s tedious and strange and calming in its constant busyness.
Lunchtime rolls around, and a sleepy Taehyung goes into town and returns with one small tub of egg-and-tomato soup, one small tub of japchae, and a box of assorted vegetables for the three of them to share by one of the lotus ponds. Namjoon only pays half-attention to the food, still engrossed in a scroll he brought from his office. Yoongi himself is dutifully holding a sheaf of papers that Namjoon had predicted he might need later. Yoongi chomps on a corn cob and watches Taehyung toss peas into the water, the koi clustering to mouth the round morsels.
“You don’t have a chef,” Yoongi observes aloud, “and I haven’t seen anyone else on the grounds.”
“We don’t have hired help, if that’s what you’re asking,” Taehyung says. “Aside from you, I guess.”
“Then what’s with all of—” Yoongi gestures at the large courtyard and the elegant buildings, certainly pleasing to the eye but also too much space for two young men.
“The townspeople insisted, when we first moved here.” Taehyung shrugs. “Hobi-hyung and Jin-hyung and Jiminie make use of the empty rooms whenever they want to crash here for a night or two. Honestly, we’ve been trying to get them to move in for ages now. I think Jiminie might soon; he’s been in and out for the past week.”
“You’re welcome to a room as well, hyung,” Namjoon says absently, and Yoongi ducks his head with a mumbled thanks.
Taehyung grins and nods meaningfully at the courtyard entrance. “Lover boy at 3 o’clock,” he reports, “holding—oh, those lilies better not be from here, I spent so long on those—”
Namjoon glances up from his scroll, then to his side, amused. “Make that two lover boys, Tae.”
Yoongi buries his not-red face in Namjoon’s very important documents. “Shut up,” he whines. He glares, cross-eyed, at the blurry calligraphy half an inch from his face, determined not to steal a glance at his flower-bearing visitor and give the smug Kim brothers the satisfaction of being right.
Hoseok jogs over, waving at the Namjoon and Taehyung before delicately balancing the small bundle of flowers on Yoongi’s stubbornly lowered head. He bends down to peer at Yoongi’s face and beams when he sees him blushing. “Hey, hyung.”
“Hey,” Yoongi mumbles. He petulantly removes the yellow lilies from his head, their sweet fragrance floating down to tickle his nose. “I told you I’d be fine.”
“Good to know, but this isn’t a check-up, it’s a visit,” Hoseok says brightly. “Just your boyfriend bringing you gifts at work.”
Yoongi offers a shy smile despite himself.
Namjoon gets to his feet. “Good timing, Hoseok—I actually wanted to talk to you about something. Come to my office?” He tugs a confused but unresistant Hoseok out of the courtyard and into the main building, the doors sliding shut behind them.
Yoongi doesn’t realize he’s still staring after them minutes later, slurping half-heartedly at his soup portion, until Taehyung sighs and nudges him with his elbow. “You’re curious, aren’t you, hyung?” Taehyung says. He looks almost subdued, but it’s such an unfamiliar expression on him that Yoongi thinks he must be imagining things.
Taehyung pokes at his japchae with his chopsticks. “I think you should go and see what’s so urgent that Joon-hyung needs to steal your boyfriend away in the middle of visiting you.”
Yoongi frowns at the now-undeniable shift in mood. “Taehyung-ah—?”
“Ugh, just go already,” Taehyung whines, actually pushing Yoongi’s back until the older boy stumbles to his feet. He tosses another pea, this time lobbing it so high that it hits the pond’s surface with a resounding splash. The koi scatter with the ripples, leaving the lone pea bobbing, untouched. Taehyung falls backwards onto the grass, pouting. “If Joon-hyung asks you why, tell him I goaded you into it, and that he shouldn’t be mad about secrets if he’s keeping them too.”
“What the actual fuck,” Yoongi says. He heads for the main building.
Behind him, Taehyung begins strategically tossing peas around the koi, corralling them back to the center, where the lonely pea waits.
“—don’t understand why you’re so suspicious of him,” Hoseok is saying when Yoongi reaches the wall of Namjoon’s office. “You literally made him your personal assistant! And don’t feed me that shit about keeping your enemies closer, Namjoon.”
“You’re misunderstanding me, hyung. It’s not that I don’t trust Yoongi-hyung,” Namjoon says. Yoongi stiffens and leans on the wall to hear better. “You trust him, everyone trusts him, and I’d have to be stupid to think you two aren’t legitimately in gross, gushy love.”
“Whipped, the both of you. Yellow lilies—very poetic.”
“Okay! Okay, so you trust him. Then why all the questions?”
“I mean, it’s odd, isn’t it?” Footsteps approach the door, and Yoongi freezes, ready to bolt, until the footsteps retreat again. Namjoon must be pacing back and forth. “He doesn’t tell us anything about his past. He hesitates to even tell you his name at first. He falls from the sky and survives. He gets all withdrawn and—and sad sometimes—don’t tell me you haven’t noticed. And it’s like he’s never seen the Earth Kingdom before.”
“Jin-hyung and Jiminie are Water Tribe.”
“Not the point, Hoseok. I’m worried, okay? He’s definitely hiding something—you can’t deny that. What if he needs our help? We can’t help him if we don’t ask. ”
“Yeah, well, what if just wants to start over, a clean slate? What if he doesn't talk about his life because he desperately wishes it were different?"
Namjoon sighs. "It's not healthy to proje—"
"No, you know I might be right. He’s only just gotten comfortable with us, Namjoon, he seems happier everyday, and I don’t want to ruin it just because I got too nosy for anyone’s own good."
"I love Yoongi the way he is, and if he wants to tell us, it should be on his own terms, not because we corner him!”
“Hoseok, you’re not listening to me—!”
Yoongi slides down the wall and lands on the floor, stunned. He’s never heard Hoseok sound so snappish before—and on account of him, no less. I love Yoongi the way he is. Yoongi rolls the phrase in his head over and over again. Lump in his throat, he slowly hugs his knees closer to his chest. He’s so overwhelmed that he doesn’t flinch when a different set of footsteps approach this time, the door quickly sliding open. Yoongi looks up blankly to see Hoseok’s wide stare.
“Hyung?” The anger visibly drains from Hoseok’s expression as he drops to Yoongi’s level, wiping a thumb across Yoongi’s cheek. Only now does Yoongi notice he’s crying.
Namjoon comes out of the room, too, looking surprised but resigned. He opens his mouth to offer an apology, but Yoongi shakes his head. Namjoon isn’t at fault. There’s nothing to apologize for.
Hoseok squeezes Yoongi’s thigh comfortingly. “What are you doing here, hyung?”
Agni, if mother and father were to see me now, Yoongi thinks, but he finds he doesn’t care, not anymore. “Taehyung,” he manages, voice thick, “says—says to blame him. And that Namjoon shouldn’t fuss over secrets if he has them too.” He swallows and slowly rises, Hoseok helping pull him up. “But I think you’re right to be concerned. If I were in your situation, I might not even have given you the trust you’ve given me.”
Hoseok bites his lip. “Hyung, don’t feel pressured to share.”
“It’s fine.” Yoongi tries to smile. “You’re right that I just want to forget it all, but I know it’s not fair of me to hope you’ll be satisfied with just that. So.” Yoongi walks into Namjoon’s office, rubbing a wet eye with the heel of his palm. He leans against Namjoon’s desk. Papers shift under his fingers. “I can tell you one thing," Yoongi says carefully, "I ran away. From home."
Namjoon crosses his arms, nervous. “Why?”
No, no no no, please stop, I didn’t mean any harm I swear—
“I couldn’t do—I couldn’t stand being the person my parents had made me become, not anymore,” Yoongi finally says, voice rough. He reaches out a hand, and Hoseok immediately takes it, strong fingers intertwining firmly with his. Yoongi sinks into the reminder of reassurance, of love, and glances up at Namjoon. “Is that enough, for now?”
Mutely, Namjoon nods.
“Then I’ll be back for work tomorrow.”
When Yoongi and Hoseok reemerge in the courtyard, Taehyung has disappeared from the koi pond. The couple troop back home, Hoseok periodically lifting their joined hands and pressing reassuring kisses to the back of Yoongi’s. Yoongi lets himself lean into Hoseok’s side the whole way back, his cheek resting in the crook of Hoseok’s neck. He hums his thanks, and the sound vibrates into his boyfriend’s skin. Hoseok hums back, completing the loop.
That night, Yoongi crawls into Hoseok’s bed and presses his head to his boyfriend’s chest, listening to Hoseok’s heartbeat and feeling his own slowly fall into the same tempo. Hoseok runs a hand through Yoongi’s hair, fingers dragging comfortingly along Yoongi’s scalp, and murmurs soft I love you’s until Yoongi drifts to sleep.
That night, in Hoseok’s arms, Yoongi dreams of the airbender.
Yoongi groans. Firm raps sound from his bedroom doors.
Fighting the temptation to burrow himself in his covers and ignore the shouts of his attendants, Yoongi rolls out of his large four-poster bed and blearily heads for the full-length mirror on the far side of his too-spacious room. The dark splotches under his eyes have gotten worse, he notes, but he ties his hair into its appropriate topknot and adopts a blank stare that makes him look more icily indifferent than outright exhausted. He straightens his back and tips his chin up, holding it for a few seconds for certainty before heading over to the doors and swinging one open.
“What?” Yoongi snaps.
The palace attendants on the other side bow profusely. “Prince Min, I’m terribly sorry,” one says tremulously, “but the Fire Lord requests your immediate presence in the training room. He says it’s urgent.”
Training? Yoongi squints past his attendants. The moon is still high in the midnight sky, mocking him. “I see,” Yoongi says, biting back a curse. “I’ll be there in five.” He slams the door in their faces and shrugs off his silk nightwear.
He arrives at the training room four and a half minutes later, his crimson-collared black training outfit comfortably tight around his form. A few officials and five or so palace guards huddled by a wall are waiting for him there, but the space is otherwise empty.
Yoongi narrows his eyes. “Where is my father?”
One of the officials steps up. Yoongi recognizes him — they’ve sparred more than once, with Yoongi emerging victorious more often than not. “The Fire Lord thought it best if he was absent for this first trial,” the official informs him. “He says that he and your mother will come again tomorrow to see your progress, and would like you to treat tonight as a practice run of sorts.”
Trial? Practice run? Yoongi thinks, perplexed but frustrated. And of course Father would rouse me at two in the fucking morning without deigning to rise from his chambers himself. He fixes the official with a cold stare. “Explain.”
The official nods at the guards behind him, and they dutifully step away from each other while keeping their spear points fixed towards their center comrade. No, Yoongi realizes, squinting, it’s not a guard, it’s a prisoner, shaking between the guards with his arms tied behind his back. He looks young, no less than five years younger than Yoongi himself. His hair is short but untrimmed, as if he’d only just begun growing it out, and he’s wearing a ripped orange cloak over his loose yellow shirt and pants, standing out amongst the dark red and black of the training room and the other occupants.
“An Air Nomad,” Yoongi breathes. What the fuck is an airbender doing outside the temples?
“We found him on the outskirts of the Capital. We have reason to suspect he was trying to infiltrate the palace and bring information back to the Earth Kingdom, in preparation for war.” The official shakes his head. “A pacifistic people? What a lie.”
“N-no,” the airbender protests, “I promise I wasn’t trying to — I just wanted to get to the Earth Kingdom and maybe live there, I don’t mean any harm, please — ”
A guard—holding a wood-and-cloth glider-staff that must belong to the prisoner—slaps the airbender across the face. Tears form in the boy’s wide eyes, and he shuts his mouth, terrified.
The other official tsks. “You see? Earth Kingdom alliance. We planned to throw him in prison for further interrogation, but then the Fire Lady caught wind of the situation and proposed an alternative.” He glances at the motionless Yoongi. “This is a perfect training opportunity for you, isn’t it, Prince Min?”
Yoongi exhales, nods silently. The airbender is admittedly… new, but Yoongi’s job remains the same . He is the heir to the throne, the hidden protector and weapon of the Fire Nation, the infamous Crown Prince known outside the inner court only through breathless rumors and hearsay. The Fire Nation’s Avatar has been missing for decades, so it’s up to Yoongi to protect his people. And, in case of war, he must always, always be prepared for any eventuality. Including airbenders.
The official pauses. “Oh, and Prince Min? Please ensure that he’s in at least a recognizable state for his… audience, with the Fire Lord and Lady tomorrow.”
The airbender’s breath hitches. Yoongi merely bows before turning to the prisoner, because this is his duty. The guards cut the airbender’s binds, one handing him his glider-staff, before scattering to hug the walls, out of the line of fire. Only Yoongi and the kneeling airbender are left in the center of the training room.
“Please,” the airbender whispers, clutching his glider-staff. His eyes are wide, so wide. His face has yet to lose its baby fat. His entire body screams innocence, screams desperation, screams why.
But the airbender is a threat.
I’m sorry, Yoongi thinks.
“Stand up and fight,” Yoongi says. He opens his mouth, and out come the greedy flames.
The airbender, to his credit, puts in some impressive effort for a terrified member of a people renowned for nonviolence. He manages to dodge the brunt of the fire blasts from Yoongi’s punches, frantically somersaulting out of the way but still coming out more singed than not. The airbender races around Yoongi, keeping his distance while sweeping great gusts of wind with his glider-staff at Yoongi that only buffet at first but slowly gain sharpness. The last one Yoongi dodges slices his cheek as it whooshes past, taking flecks of Yoongi’s blood with it.
Sometimes the airbender manages to deflect Yoongi’s flames with a few well-placed air slices, but Yoongi doesn’t flinch in the face of fire. The airbender most assuredly does, and when Yoongi dashes forward to close the distance, fire already streaming from outstretched palms, the boy freezes in terror, and, well—
That pretty much cements the result of the fight.
Now that the more straightforward portion is over, the training and motions drilled into him since childhood kick in, and Yoongi feels himself detach from his awareness to finish the crueler part of the job, so to speak. Yoongi grasps the airbender’s wrists tightly with burning fingers, searing the impressions into the screaming boy’s skin. Weak, Yoongi thinks as he twists the boy around and yanks, roughly flipping the younger onto his back. The glider-staff flies out of the airbender’s grip and is sent spinning to the ground, meters away. Teeth bared, Yoongi follows the momentum of the throw and ends up on top of the airbender, straddling him. The airbender whimpers as Yoongi wraps his still-burning fingers around the boy’s neck and squeezes.
The airbender wails, pupils blown in pure shock as he scrabbles helplessly at Yoongi’s grip, summoning poorly-aimed air blasts that whoosh past Yoongi’s ears. The sound and acrid smell of sizzling flesh fills the room. Yoongi sees more than one guard wince in his periphery, but he remains focused on his task. The airbender manages enough coherency through his hot tears to beg a slurred nopleaseno. Yoongi snarls, pulls a fist back, and slams his knuckles into the boy’s face. His cheek blossoms purple. The boy sobs with wide eyes, tears mixing with his blood, which bubbles under Yoongi’s grip. His body twists and lurches, This time, it earns him a fiery palm to the chest, burning through his clothes and cooking the skin underneath.
Yoongi’s mind goes hazy after that, perhaps out of an instinctive desire to filter out the screams, the sensation of rippling flesh under his hands. He vaguely registers the burning smell turning charred, the loud sobbing fading into hiccuping whimpers, and he only snaps back into full awareness once the official calls, “Prince Min!”
Yoongi straightens and stands, stepping off of the airbender, whose body shudders with silent sobs. The purple bruise on his cheek has turned a vivid violet, and his throat and chest are painted an ugly, angry, charcoal-tinged red. The guards swarm the boy and force him to his feet, though he clearly can barely stand, and drag him out of the training room.
The official cautiously approaches Yoongi, who’s still breathing heavily, feels the adrenaline ebbing in his veins. “A fantastic display, Prince Min,” the official says. He’s a foot taller than Yoongi, but somehow, in Yoongi’s post-fight haze, he seems smaller, insignificant. “The Fire Lord will be pleased to hear about your success. Would you like your attendants to escort you back to your chambers?”
“No,” Yoongi says sharply. “I’ll see myself back.”
“Very well. Good night, Prince Min.”
Yoongi turns on his heel and doesn’t respond. Normally, after practice, he feels nothing, maybe a tinge of satisfaction for task completion’s sake. Tonight, all he feels is sick to his stomach.
The further Yoongi walks from the training room, the less stiff his posture turns, the clearer his mind gets, the sicker he feels. He showers but the charred smell lingers around him, he changes back into his silk pajamas but still feels the airbender’s blood sticking to his skin and his clothes, he lies in bed flat on his back but still feels the airbender’s trembling and sobbing form beneath him.
I don’t mean any harm, Yoongi hears the airbender beg, voice echoing, and he buries his head in his pillows.
In hindsight, the official’s charges against the boy make no sense. An Air Nomad, making no effort to disguise himself, coming to infiltrate the Fire Nation Capital by himself? An Earth Kingdom-Air Temples war-preparatory alliance?
Good job, Prince Min.
You’re defending our nation from the savages.
A perfect opportunity.
Burning flesh and screaming, so much screaming—
Yoongi curls up in his blankets, despair sinking into his bones. What the fuck did he do tonight? Oh, Agni, what has he been doing all his life? How much agony has he dealt to others by blindly following his parents’ orders?
At least a recognizable state for his… audience, with the Fire Lord and Lady tomorrow.
His eyes wet, Yoongi stares up at the top of his four-poster bed and decides, No. I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to do this anymore.
And his parents can’t be allowed to see the airbender tomorrow.
He crawls out of bed, changes back into the bloodstained outfit—the stealthiest clothing he owns—and slips into the night.
The palace’s special prison is easy enough to find—Yoongi’s never been inside himself, but he’s witnessed many a traitor being thrown inside. How many of them were actually traitors? Yoongi wonders as he squares his shoulders, adopts his signature cold expression, and approaches the guards. “I’d like to see the prisoner,” he says, and the guards obediently stand aside, allowing him entrance. Yoongi dips his head in acknowledgment and makes a show of passing the guards before whipping around and squarely landing two succeeding roundhouse kicks. With only strangled sounds of surprise, the guards fall to the floor, unconscious. Yoongi rummages through their pockets, acquires a ring of keys, and enters the prison.
It’s a spacious but largely empty room. It’s also pitch-black. Yoongi holds up a palm and conjures a small flame for light. A muffled whimper echoes through the room, and Yoongi frowns before raising his hand, letting the flame cast a soft glow throughout the room. The airbender is huddled in the far corner of his cell, his orange cloak wrapped protectively around himself. His body is still mottled in angry reds and purples, all in the perfect shape of Yoongi’s fingers.
His terrified gaze darts between Yoongi’s face and the fire flickering in his hand. “No, no more, please,” he blubbers, trying to make himself look smaller.
Yoongi bites the inside of his cheek and glances around the room, spotting a few unlit torches littering the room. There’s also the airbender’s glider-staff, leaning sadly against a wall. He quickly jogs over to each torch to light them, extinguishes his own flame, and latches the glider-staff to his back. “Hey, I’m not here to hurt you,” Yoongi promises awkwardly, raising his empty hands in a show of peace.
Without the flame to distract him, the boy fixes his wide eyes on Yoongi. “I’m not lying,” he whispers. His voice comes out in a crackle. “I didn’t mean to—to go anywhere near your Capital—”
“Why aren't you at one of the Air Temples?” Yoongi asks quietly.
“R-ran away,” the boy stammers, “didn’t want to live like that anymore. Wanted to be—free.” He coughs wetly, then continues, “Sir—P-Prince Min, I’m so sorry, I was only trying to get to the Earth Kingdom to live there, and—and start a new life, I’m not trying to—to start a war, or spy, or anything, please believe me—”
“I believe you, I—” Yoongi swallows. “I should’ve believed you from the beginning. I know you must hate me, but—” He holds up the ring of keys. They clink against one another in a faint metallic jingle. “Let me help you. Please.”
The airbender falls silent.
“I knocked out the guards. I can unlock your cell. Here—” Yoongi inserts the glider-staff through the bars and half-tosses it. It skids across the cell floor, and the airbender hesitates before grabbing it and holding it tight. Yoongi smiles bitterly. “I’m not a healer. I just destroy. But I can let you go, if you’ll—let me.”
“How do I know you’re not lying?” the airbender whispers.
Yoongi ducks his head. “You don’t. And I’ve given you endless reasons to not. But please, please trust me.” He clenches his fists, his nails biting into his palms. “Or you’ll have to meet my mother and father tomorrow. And I think you’ll believe me when I say they’re so, so much fucking worse than I am.”
The airbender delicately raises a hand to his throat, to the ghastly burnt red. “Okay,” he finally says, in a half-sob.
Yoongi slowly inches towards the cell door, wary not to startle the boy. “I’m going to open it now.”
As Yoongi inserts the key, he pretends not to notice the airbender shift onto one knee, tense and ready to whiplash from stillness to activity in half a second. Yoongi takes a deep breath, then turns the key and darts out of the way in one deft motion, and not a moment too soon.
Quickly, the airbender slams the butt of his glider-staff into the cell floor and it springs to life, spreading its wings. Then, like an untrained baby messenger hawk fleeing from its cage at its first chance, the boy swings the open glider-staff onto his back and manages to kick off in a whistling gust of wind. Yoongi shields his eyes as his hair comes undone from his topknot in the wind. All the torch lights are buffeted out into wisps of smoke.
Teeth gritting as his wounds weep, the airbender flies out of the prison and into the night sky. Yoongi rushes out of the prison and watches him soar until he’s only a speck in the distance, orange against the moon.
He exhales. “Living in the Earth Kingdom,” he considers aloud, “to start a new life.” He glances at the palace walls and mentally maps a roughly quick route to the nearest war balloon facility. He’d have to steal one to run away.
The thought has Yoongi reeling for a second. He runs a hand through his now-loose hair. Agni, he’s running away, he’s turning his back on his fucking nation, he—
He can’t stay here any longer, with his memories of sinking burning fingertips into charred flesh and boiling blood.
Yoongi roughly wipes his eyes, turns to the palace walls, and runs.
Yoongi wakes up with a lump in his throat and Hoseok’s hushed voice in his ears. He blinks his wet eyes into the darkness, his frantic senses clinging desperately to the comforting sound. He lets out a quiet sob, and suddenly Hoseok’s arms are wrapped around him, hugging him close and anchoring him to reality, shielding him from the lingering shadows of his nightmares.
“Hyung. Yoongi,” Hoseok says, his voice low and soothing. He rubs small circles in Yoongi’s back. “You’re at home. Our home. We’re spooning in my bed because my blankets are definitely softer than yours—sorry—but my masterplan for you to get in here with me totally worked so you bet I don’t regret putting the inferior blankets in your room.”
A wet giggle escapes Yoongi’s throat before he can stop himself.
“I'm a pretty good big spoon, I think," Hoseok continues softly. "You make it really easy, though. You're so warm and huggable. " He buries his nose in Yoongi's hair. He keeps talking, voice muffled. "Mm. Did you know you smell like sticky rice balls by the fireplace?"
"Shut up," Yoongi hiccups.
"No, really. It fits, too. Soft, mildly sweet, a great personal heater in bed..." Hoseok hums. "I'm here. You're here. Not wherever you go sometimes, in the back of your head. Here."
The lump is in Yoongi's throat again, this time from cascading gratitude. "Love you, Hoseok," he whispers, "so, so much."
"You really have to stop saying that before me," Hoseok sighs. He tightens his embrace and breathes, "Love you too."
Under the blankets, Yoongi curls up against Hoseok’s chest. His fingers clutch at the fabric of the Hoseok’s shirt, slightly dampened from Yoongi’s unbidden tears. He squeezes his wet eyes shut and takes in a slow lungful of Hoseok’s warm, earthy scent. It keeps Yoongi grounded. The smell of burning flesh still lingers, but it no longer chokes him in charred plumes. All that remains is a faint and hazy fragrance, like flickering incense, that lulls Yoongi to dreamless sleep.
Washing clothes is a strange work, Yoongi discovers. He watches studiously as Hoseok demonstrates the process with one of Jimin’s fancier light blue apparel items—a very loose-fitting, draping top that appears slightly transparent in Hoseok’s hands. Hoseok produces an odd mixture of plant ash and crushed clam shells and nonchalantly lathers it on the stains in the periwinkle cloth. Some vigorous yet gentle scrubbing in a bucket full of water, the top is pristinely clean and left to hang and dry in the sun.
“Alright, I have to meet Jiminie now, to get ready for tonight,” Hoseok grins, a small mismatched clothing pile of blues and greens in his arms. He tosses them in the soapy water bucket with a mild splash. “Do you think you handle this?”
To be honest, Yoongi’s never washed clothes before, but Hoseok made it look so easy. “I’m perfectly capable of washing clothes. Go practice,” he says.
Beaming, Hoseok leans in and quickly pecks Yoongi on the cheek. “Thanks! I’ll be back before sunset!” he calls teasingly as a blushing Yoongi shoos him out the door.
Two hours later, Yoongi is still scrubbing at one Agni-forsaken piece of shit discoloration that absolutely refuses to release its worldly attachments to Hoseok’s thin, puffy honeydew green pants. “Fuck you,” Yoongi mutters angrily under his breath, elbow-deep in the bucket water, “if this wasn’t made of the fucking thinnest non-silk fabric available in the Earth Kingdom, I would absolutely destroy you with how fast I scrubbed the seashell-ash-shitty-thing into your smug fucking smear of an existence—”
A tendril of soapy water promptly rises and smacks Yoongi’s forehead, cutting him off before falling back into the bucket. Yoongi stares blankly at the soapy abyss for a second, contemplating whether or not the water has just attacked him on behalf of the cockroach of a stain.
“Yoongi-hyung, were you just yelling at a bucket?” Jiminie calls from where he’s draped over the edge of the open window from the outside. He’s glistening with sweat and clearly exhausted, but he still finds the energy to lazily snap an arm up and cause the soapy water to splash in a sputtering Yoongi’s face.
“Waterbenders,” Yoongi sighs resignedly.
Hoseok appears at the window as well, smile tired but satisfied. “Yoongi,” he whines, “I only saw the top of my outfit hanging outside?”
Yoongi glances down at the soaked green cloth bunched up in his hands. “I’m still washing the rest of it,” he admits in a mumble. “Just—give me a second.”
Jimin attempts to crawl into the house through the window only for his foot to catch on the edge. He tumbles onto the floor with a surprised giggle before “walking” over to Yoongi on his knees, peering into the bucket. “Wow, hyung, you kinda suck at this.”
Yoongi pouts. “Shut it,” he grumbles, but relents when Jimin dunks his own arms into the bucket and takes a much more self-assured try at ridding the pants of the stubborn stain.
Soon enough, Jimin pulls out a dripping yet stain-free clump of light green. “I can do a half-baked job at drying it, since we’re on a time limit,” he offers, handing it to Hoseok. “It won’t be soaked, but it’ll be a little chilly and moist. Sorry, Hobi-hyung.” Jimin settles into a stance and slowly mimes tugging a very long rope. The water is pulled out of the light green cloth in a stream, swirling and funneling straight back into the bucket at Yoongi’s feet.
Hoseok inspects his pants, satisfied. “This should be good—thanks!”
“Mm, no problem.” Jimin reaches out and rubs the thin fabric between two fingers. “Huh, they turned out pretty warm, actually.”
Meanwhile, a slight, familiar chill crawls down Yoongi’s neck. “The sun’s getting low,” he warns without looking.
Jimin glances out the window. “Yikes—we better get changed and head down the fountain quick.” He strides towards the entrance to retrieve his outfit from outside, his shirt already half off as he grins in anticipation. “We gotta give Yoongi-hyung some time to find the others before the festivities really get going.”
It’s Yoongi’s first town festival, and he learns that when the Earth Kingdom parties, it parties hard.
It takes him some time to register the rambunctious celebrations happening all around him, though, because he spends the first half an hour completely entranced by Jimin and Hoseok, who kick off the festival with an unconventional yet heart-pounding dance routine. The music starts, humble musicians launching into a sharp zither-and-drum tune, and Jimin and Hoseok stride onto the elevated earthen stage in front of the fountain, lit up in the night. The two are decked out in their airy, loose-fitting outfits, Hoseok's honeydew green and Jimin's periwinkle almost floating as the dancers weave apart and together again. The effect complements Jimin's choreography, which is more fluid and incorporates Jimin's waterbending (using the fountain water) and accompanying bending stances—a Jimin favorite. Hoseok, on the other hand, juxtaposes the floaty impression with his powerful but controlled jerks, isolated parts of his body pulsing to the beat at his command.
Yoongi's seen them dance countless times since his first breathtaking experience months ago, but this one takes the cake. Jimin is focused and sultry and beautiful, and Hoseok—Hoseok is ethereal. Yoongi is transfixed as Hoseok lunges across the stage, skin glowing golden in the light of the lanterns hanging from the eaves of every surrounding building. At one point, Hoseok spots Yoongi and sends him a wink right before he flips backward and shoots upright in one deft motion, muscles rippling. Yoongi feels the heat rise to his face and desperately wishes he could kiss his boyfriend right now.
Seokjin is the one who snaps him out of it. "Yoongi-yah!" he screeches from behind, and Yoongi jerks, startled, before twisting around. Yoongi had been standing next to Namjoon, Seokjin, and Taehyung before the performance started, yet now they're a sea of cheering festival-goers apart. Yoongi finally processes the clamor pressing on him from all sides, and he sends Hoseok one last adoring glance before pushing through the crowd, away from the fountain and the stage.
"Finally!" Taehyung exclaims once Yoongi reaches them, squeezing past a very enthusiastic couple. "C'mon, let's get to the food before everyone snaps out of it and realizes they're hungry.”
The four spend the next hour exploring the colorful variety of food stalls, odd vendors, and booths full of festival entertainment. Yoongi munches on dumplings, content as Taehyung and Namjoon compete at a game stall to earthbend the most precise outline of themselves in a boulder. (Somehow, Seokjin wins.) The humid summer heat beckons sweat from Yoongi’s pores, the festival-goers press in on him from all sides, and Yoongi looks out over the expanse of cheerful people, swaying lanterns, and humble but eagerly decorated stalls and huts clustered over a spider-web of stone and dirt streets under the night sky, and wonders how he could ever have thought all these people savages, once upon a time.
Eventually, Seokjin rolls his eyes and yanks Namjoon away from his earnest dialogue with an old woman selling square-shaped tropical fruits. He stuffs songpyeon into Namjoon’s mouth and declares, “I don’t care that you’re the head event organizer, you can’t spend the entire festival addressing complaints as they come! Learn to let someone down once in a while!”
Namjoon struggles, but Seokjin’s literally frozen his grip on the collar of his shirt. “Jin-hyung—wait,” Namjoon whines around his mouthful of rice cake. “She’s worried that her produce is gonna lose sale value if they’re in those round baskets, but I know I can find some square trays if you just let me—”
“Nope! Not happening! You’re coming with me and we’re going to eat fried food and play festival games and try to mimic Hoseokie and Jiminie’s choreography and insult each other’s dancing and have fun!”
Yoongi and Taehyung watch, amused, as Seokjin proceeds to tug a miffed Namjoon towards a row of hotteok stands, each proclaiming a different quirky flavor. Seokjin drags Namjoon right past the vendor advertising the strawberry-flavored kind without a second glance, heading straight for the dragonfruit version.
“Joon-hyung is suffering,” Taehyung observes. Indeed, the longer Seokjin keeps his now-thawed hand on Namjoon’s neck, the redder the younger seems to get.
Yoongi snorts. “How long do you think it’ll take for Jin-hyung to notice?”
“Bold of you to assume he ever will,” Taehyung sighs. “Do you know how many times Joon-hyung has come to my room at night to whine about Jin-hyung’s oblivious ass? Like, literally, his ass?” He shakes his head, then stomps a foot down and launches himself onto a nearby roof.
Why does he always fucking do that? Yoongi thinks, then crawls up to join him.
Taehyung already has his back on the roof tiles, arms and legs splayed and a satisfied, squarish smile on his face. Yoongi lets his legs dangle over the edge of the roof, comfortably observing the festivities underneath the full moon overhead. From his vantage point, he sees intermittent lights rise from the forest beyond the lantern-lit streets, the distant trees glowing briefly before going dark. The warm burst of light appears again, a minute later, only to fade once again.
Yoongi frowns. “A part of the forest keeps lighting up. It’s not some resident tree spirit showing their approval for the festival, is it?”
"Nah. Fireworks?" Taehyung guesses. "Some kids having fun in the forest past their curfew?"
Earthbending children underneath them start up a game of rambunctious juggling, with competing children trying to yank the floating stones from other children's bending grasp. A stray rock clatters on top of the roof, bouncing next to Taehyung’s head. Taehyung picks it up and begins idly rotating it in midair. "Seems like a waste to spend festival night out in the woods, though," he muses.
"Mm." Yoongi squints, watches the red and orange light burst from the trees again, this time closer, and then again, even closer.
And then his heart skips a beat, because those don’t look like the playfully sparking colors of fireworks anymore.
“Fucking shit,” Yoongi spits, clambering to his feet and tugging a confused Taehyung along with him. “Quick—you’re a Kim and your voice is much louder than mine, tell everyone who can fight to get ready and everyone else to fucking run.”
There isn’t time for this. Yoongi whips around and reaches for the icy, commanding Crown Prince glare, slipping it on with little difficulty. “Now, Taehyung-ah!”
Taehyung falters, but then another blast appears over the treetops, and he must see what Yoongi sees because his gaze goes steely and serious and he node. He makes a sharp intake of breath, leaning back before shouting over the din, “Attention, everyone!" The raucous crowd becomes just a little quieter, a confused buzz from a few observers spreading through the masses like wildfire. "Under the authority of the Kim family, I’m enacting a state of emergency—”
Those aren’t fireworks. That’s firebending.
“—evacuate, or grab your weapons! Experienced earthbenders in the front! Fire Nation incoming!”
As Taehyung immediately leaps from their roof to the next, heading straight in the direction of the bamboo thicket, presumably to direct evacuees. Yoongi drops back down to ground level and ducks into the festive mask shop underneath to dodge the stampede of panicked townspeople. Fire Nation, Yoongi blankly repeats in his head. It doesn’t seem real. For so long, despite the tensions and possibly impending war between the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom, Yoongi had fooled himself into thinking his two worlds would never collide.
Yoongi wonders if the incoming attackers would even recognize him—his appearance, like his first name, was kept an inner court secret after all, and they could even be rogues unaffiliated with the Fire Nation’s political whims, for all he knows—but he decides it would be better not to risk it. He snatches a mask of a cat owl, forest green paint littered with golden dots, from the rack inside the shop.
He turns to the cowering mask vendor. “Sorry, I’ll be taking this,” he says. He rushes back onto the street and clambers up to the roof again.
The zither-and-drum music stops in the distance—the news must have finally reached the crowd by the fountain and the stage. Hoseok. His boyfriend’s name flashes in his mind like lightning, and Yoongi races across the rooftops in the direction of the fountain, heart racing. The fountain side of town is closest to where the firebending still intermittently rises over the treetops, and while Jimin, with his skill and a reliable source of his element in the fountain, can probably handle himself just fine, Hoseok is much more vulnerable as a nonbender. Fuck fuck please be okay—
There’s a sound of rushing water, and suddenly a wall of ice crackles into life in the street next to Yoongi, the frozen barrier towering over Yoongi even as he stands on a roof. Yoongi nearly drops his mask in surprise. The earth rumbles and a much more evenly-shaped stone wall rises to block a nearby alleyway, knocking lanterns out of place on its way up. Yoongi glances down and sees Seokjin and Namjoon back-to-back at the very back of the fleeing crowd, cutting off routes once they’ve made sure the evacuees have passed a certain point in the road.
“Yoongi-hyung!” Namjoon shouts, catching sight of him. “What are you—fall back! Go with the townspeople to the bamboo forest, it’s too dangerous!”
Yoongi opens his mouth, mind racing for some kind of excuse that would allow an apparent nonbender to be out on the battlefield, but Seokjin beats him to it. “For fuck’s sake, Joon-ah, what did we say about over-delegation,” Seokjin snaps, shooting Yoongi a knowing look. “Focus on getting these guys to safety first! And nonbenders aren’t helpless—I think our scary Yoongi-yah can handle himself while he—uh—”
“While I look for stragglers?” Yoongi offers.
“Yes! That.” Seokjin reaches two hands towards a nearby stall and yanks. Water bursts from the tubs inside and surrounds him and Namjoon in a preparatory protective ring. “He’ll be fine, Joon-ah.”
Namjoon glares at Seokjin. “You’re definitely hiding something from me, but fine,” he grouses. “Let’s go back up the evacuees.”
Seokjin salutes Yoongi before the two run off, rushing water ring and all. Yoongi nods grimly and continues leaping across rooftops towards the fountain.
He hears it before he reaches it—the sound of wrenched earth, of crackling flame, of agonized shouts and battle cries alike already saturate the summer night. He stands tall on the rooftops and desperately scans the area. There are townspeople of all shapes and sizes smashing boulders and extracted ground into scattered yet fearsome rows of firebenders—all dressed in the typical jagged, mismatched crimson outfits of freelance raiders. Shit, that’s smart. The Fire Nation now has plausible deniability, Yoongi thinks sourly. Namjoon-ah’s gonna throw a political fit over this later.
Somehow, among all these combatants, through the flying rock and blasts of fire, Yoongi spots Hoseok by the burning wreckage of a hotteok stand, a shovel in his hands and a wild look in his eyes. His honeydew green outfit is ripped in some places and speckled with dirt, but he's whole and he's moving and he's alive.
“Hoseok,” Yoongi breathes, and he slips on his cat owl mask before leaping to the ground and shoving his way through the fighting. “Hoseok!”
Hoseok grits his teeth and swings the shovel against a raider’s head, the firebender crumpling to the ground. He whips around at the sound of his name and instinctively winds the shovel back before he stops short. “Yoongi? Is that you?” he asks incredulously. “What—why are you wearing that?”
“Ah, um—air ventilation,” Yoongi lies, then shakes his head. “Wait, that’s not important. Hoseok, we have to get out of here, you’re not a bender, you’re going to get fucking hurt—”
“Yeah, well, you’re as much of a bender as I am, and you’re still here,” Hoseok snaps, then warns, “behind you!”
Yoongi swivels and drives his fist into the sneaky raider’s face, ensuring that his knuckles ignite briefly before contact for maximum effect. The raider screeches and goes down, pawing at his face.
“See? I think we nonbenders will be fine. Besides, I don’t think we have much of a choice at this point—we’re kind of in the thick of it already—” Hoseok jabs the end of his shovel into a firebender’s gut. (The firebender’s summoned flame immediately snuffs out. Weak, Yoongi thinks, almost disappointed.) Hoseok glances past Yoongi’s head, then goes wide-eyed. “Shit, Jiminie—!”
Yoongi whirls around again. Jimin is on the elevated stage, glaring up at a lone woman decked in spiked red armor and riding a hulking komodo rhino that elevates her to at least twice Jimin’s height. The self-assured way she holds herself suggests to Yoongi that she’s the leader of the raiders. She sneers at Jimin and says something that Yoongi can’t hear over the din of battle.
Jimin doesn’t say anything back. Instead, he makes concentric circles with his outstretched hands, water from the fountain swirling at his command, and shoves. The water rapidly spins, turning into a raging corkscrew littered with—Yoongi squints—scores of pointed icicles that hurtle towards the komodo rhino rider at top speed. But the komodo rhino simply charges with a roar, its rider confidently unleashing a narrow slice of flame from a snap of her hands that actually slices the water corkscrew in half, diverting its now-boiling sections to either side of her.
Yoongi grits his teeth, already lunging forward. “Shit, we have to help—!”
Hoseok hisses in pain behind him. Thud.
Yoongi feels his blood go cold. It's like all sound of battle has been sucked into a vacuum, leaving only the faltering pulse of Yoongi's heart to fill his ears. He turns around and takes in the scene. Hoseok is on the ground. His shovel is gone. There's a firebender standing over Hoseok, and her blazing foot is halfway through a roundhouse kick headed straight for Hoseok's head.
Yoongi's mind goes blank. The next thing he knows, his fingers are warm and wet. The firebender is at his feet, choking wordlessly as she clutches at her left eye, blood leaking from between her knuckles. Hoseok is saying his name in a rasp.
Yoongi jerks at the sound. "Shit, Hoseok—are you okay?" he asks frantically, hurriedly bending down to inspect his boyfriend. His breath hitches when he sees his bloody fingers and he quickly wipes them on the back of his shirt, kicking the now-immobile firebender out of view.
But Hoseok's eyes are screwed shut, and he doesn't appear to have seen any of what has just transpired. Yoongi would sigh in relief if he wasn't so focused on the charred cloth over Hoseok's stomach, the scorched flesh underneath the tatters of fabric. "It's worse than it looks," Hoseok says breathily. His dark eyes are hooded, but still he gives Yoongi a strained smile.
Yoongi lets out a strangled sound, because of course Hoseok would try to reassure Yoongi even as the smell of Hoseok's own burnt skin fills the air, of fucking course.
"Get away from him—!" someone shouts, and suddenly Yoongi has the wind knocked out of him by a small boulder. He falls to the ground, gasping, and blearily looks up at his assailant.
Taehyung and Jimin run over, staring at Yoongi with murder in their eyes. Jimin, specifically, has what looks like a swirling lake of water in tow and looks very threatening. For half a second, Yoongi fears they saw him mercilessly take down the firebender and are ready to enact judgment on the monster they now know he is, but then Hoseok yelps, "No, stop, I know how this looks but that's Yoongi—" and Yoongi dazedly remembers that he's still wearing the green-and-gold cat owl mask.
Jimin freezes, water suspended in midair. "Yoongi-hyung?"
"Yeah—it's me," Yoongi wheezes. He unsuccessfully tries to crawl to his feet.
"Shit, hyung, I'm so sorry," Taehyung rambles, helping Yoongi stand up.
Yoongi shakes his head. "—’m fine," he manages to say. "But Hoseok—”
“Shit,” Taehyung says again, finally seeing Hoseok’s wound. “Jiminie—?”
“On it,” Jimin says, squatting. He releases control of most of the water, much of it landing back into the dry fountain with a resounding splatter, but retains a small portion that encases his hands and begins to glow. He delicately lowers his water-gloved hand onto Hoseok’s burn. “Sorry!” he yelps when Hoseok hisses at the contact. “I can stop the bleeding, but I’m really not a healer—we need to get you to Jin-hyung and quick.”
Yoongi remembers, suddenly, that they’re in the middle of an active battlefield. “How are you going to get him through all—” he starts, but pauses when he realizes that, while there’s still plenty of earthbender-firebender conflict happening around them, it’s all very much around them. The closest fights look about a ten meters’ radius away, as if they’re being repelled from where the four boys are huddled by an unseen force.
The summer breeze has picked up, making Yoongi’s long bangs flutter over his mask. It seems to be blowing in only one direction, circling counterclockwise around their epicenter. It’s all very surreal. Yoongi decides the miracle, while welcome, isn’t what requires his attention at the moment.
“Wait,” Hoseok says weakly, as Taehyung carefully hooks his arms under Hoseok’s and begins lifting him up, “what about the komodo rhino rider—"
Jimin, hands still glowing and occupied, gestures behind him with a jerk of his head. The komodo rhino lies on its side on the elevated stage, its bulky flank rising and falling very slowly. The raider leader is struggling on ground level, her limbs trapped in an entanglement of jagged ice and earthen spires. "Taehyungie arrived just in time," Jimin says.
“Thank fuck,” Taehyung agrees. He adjusts Hoseok so that the older is leaning on his shoulder. “I was at the bamboo forest, but Joon-hyung and Jin-hyung came a bit later and took over for me so I could run over here. Jiminie, help?”
“Right!” Jimin’s encased hand stops glowing. He releases his hold on the water and hastens to help support Hoseok’s weight as well. Hoseok’s head lolls forward, eyes now unfocused.
“You guys go ahead. Make sure Jin-hyung fixes Hoseok as soon as possible,” Yoongi says quietly, because as much as he wants to hold Hoseok’s hand the whole way back and witness Hoseok heal with his own two eyes, Yoongi knows he’d just end up getting in the way. But there is something he can do. He scans the area with a cold gaze, taking in the number of townspeople still fighting, the motionless bodies on the ground, the firebenders and other raiders that still have the gall to be standing on their own two feet, alert and moving in all the ways Hoseok isn’t.
Taehyung nods, his expression serious. “Hang in there, Jin-hyung said there might be reinforcements,” he relays. “...and be careful, hyung.”
Trading a look with Jimin, Taehyung slams a foot on the ground—though careful not to jostle Hoseok too much—and the two rise up on an earthen pillar. The earth surges forward and carry the trio safely through and over the battlefield, leaving Yoongi to his own devices.
Yoongi thinks, for a moment, that he sees flashes of orange and yellow amongst the scores of earthbending townspeople, wonders if he's just imagining the extra speed some of the boulders gain mid-flight, as if the wind had picked up to spur them on just a little more. But the thought passes as quickly as it comes, because his blood turns cool and his mind goes blank again, as if Yoongi has stepped aside for Prince Min to take over, and Prince Min doesn't have time to chase phantoms from his haunting memories.
There are enemies infesting this town, and they've overstayed their fucking welcome.
Yoongi exhales, his breath condensing underneath the mask’s hard shell. With all this fire around, none of them will notice some firebending coming from the opposing side, right? he reasons dryly. His fingers go clawed, igniting furious flames, and he launches himself into the fray.
(Hours later, an expressionless Yoongi trudges towards the Kim estate. The darkness makes it difficult for Yoongi to see past the most immediate bamboo stalks, the full moon now obscured by clouds, but he knows he must be tracking blood on the stone path. There must be blood on his mask, too. He can’t bring himself to care. He passes Fire Nation bodies, vaguely noting that some of them appear strangely mangled, their limbs twisted at odd angles, but he doesn’t slow his pace. Hoseok, he thinks dazedly, and keeps walking.
Namjoon and Jimin are waiting for him by the gate. Jimin wordlessly drenches him in water only to just as quickly bend the moisture from his hair and clothes and cat owl mask, ridding Yoongi of most of the blood. Namjoon leads him inside, where a focused Seokjin is leaning over an unconscious Hoseok, water-gloves too bright for the night. Mask still on, Yoongi plops down beside him and blankly watches Hoseok’s face, so impassive in his sleep.
Seokjin tells Yoongi that they were lucky, that it was good that Jimin and Taehyung brought Hoseok to him so quickly because Seokjin has experience dealing with burns, and the older they get, the harder they are to heal. Hoseok got the fastest treatment possible and will still end up with a faded scar patch on his abdomen.
Taehyung arrives with leftover food from the festival. They eat in relative silence, and eventually, most of them call it a night—Jimin and Taehyung, at least. Namjoon heads for his office, where Seokjin predicts he will work past sunrise, desperately trying to decipher the raiders’ motive for coming to their small, secluded town in the first place.
Yoongi stays silent behind green and gold and faintly wonders if they came for him.)
Instead of heading straight home after work, Yoongi develops a routine of taking a detour after emerging from the Kim bamboo forest. He usually arrives at the greenery-sparse cliffside about half an hour before sunset, but he can feel his inner fire stirring long before he even reaches it, as if sensing that it’s about to be let out of its cage once again. Fucking patience, Yoongi growls at it as he strides into the cliff’s shadow, because he’s been heeding Seokjin’s warning well, so his inner flame has no excuse to throw a tantrum. My fire, my rules.
His flame quiets with a pleased rumble, simply excited to be used.
It’s a bitter blessing, how easily Yoongi slips back into his bending stances, his muscles sinking and tensing in all the same ways, as if he’d never left the Fire Nation in the first place. Except that’s a lie, Yoongi thinks with a scowl, leaping into the air and twisting, pulling off three kicks and thus three blasts of fire before he cleanly lands back on the dirt. Because if I was really in the same shape, then I would've been more alert. I would've stopped her before she got to him. I wouldn't have been so fucking weak.
Wide stance. Hands together. Step forward. Fists to chest. Punch. A plume of fire whooshes from his Yoongi’s right fist. Step forward. Swivel hips. Lift foot up. Swing in an arc. Push. Yoongi wills a jet of fire from his foot as he launches a kick up and over his head, sending a fiery half-ring blazing towards the cliffside. Crouch. Lunge from the bottom. Circle arms. Praying mantis. Crane. A rope of fire streams from Yoongi’s right arm and snakes around his arms and shoulders towards his left, then circles in on itself before completing the protective banner around Yoongi’s body, a serpent of fire snaking around his entire being.
Each flame washes over Yoongi in a hot wave of air, each stance joins the summer heat and conjures a new layer of sweat between his skin and his clothes. Yoongi narrows his eyes and pushes at his sore and strained muscles. He refuses to break pace. Dragon stance, he silently recites, fire whip, sun step, sleeping phoenix.
He finishes the set. He starts again.
Wide stance. Hands together—
Yoongi practices until the sun sets. As the darkness creeps into the sky, Yoongi wearily finishes his last set, then slams a fist into an open palm in front of his chest, bows to the sun as it dips below the horizon, and slowly heads home.
Sleeping in Hoseok’s bed has become routine, too.
“Hey,” Hoseok murmurs as Yoongi crawls under the blankets. “You were out late.”
“I like taking the scenic route,” Yoongi replies sleepily. He settles into the pocket of the mattress formed by Hoseok’s body, curled on his side. Yoongi nuzzles into his boyfriend’s chest. Hoseok’s shirt rides up, revealing the raw but faded scar on his skin, a translucent pink splashed over his navel.
Hoseok hums. “Next time, I’ll walk you back home. Then we can go together.”
Warmth blossoms in Yoongi’s chest, and he bobs his head in agreement.
Soon, Hoseok drifts off. Yoongi looks at his boyfriend’s silhouette in the dark and leans in. “I love you,” he says into Hoseok’s neck, feeling his breath fan out over the other’s skin. And I won’t fail you again, he silently vows, closing his eyes, I promise.
Yoongi is leaning next to Hoseok outside a dessert shop, contentedly enjoying his lunch break—his lunch date—when he sees the boy across the plaza, smiling shyly as a noodle shop owner enthusiastically shakes his hand. Yoongi’s spoonful of bingsu abruptly freezes halfway down his throat, in both temperature and motion. The boy’s wearing greens and browns like any other Earth Kingdom citizen, and his hair is long enough that he absently rakes his bangs back with his fingers at least three times since Yoongi’s noticed him, but the glider-staff strapped to his back is unmistakable.
This time, Yoongi knows this is no mirage. There’s no surreality in the boy’s image, no phantom sensation of being just out of sight, just out of reach, just out of mind. Yoongi suddenly remembers to breathe and he promptly chokes, his body finally registering the lodged shaved ice in his pipe. He bends over with watery eyes, coughing hard. He’s here, he thinks blankly, he’s actually here, shit what do I do shit shit—
Hoseok thumps Yoongi’s back. “Someone caught your eye?” he teases.
Yoongi swallows with difficulty. “—what?” he gasps. His mind fumbles between panic and protest, because Hoseok’s words are somewhat accurate yet also so disconcertingly off the mark. “No, that’s—”
Hoseok laughs and digs a spoon back into his wooden bowl of shaved ice. “Should I chase him off?” he suggests playfully. “Call out to him and say something like hey, don’t take my boyfriend’s advances seriously, he’s mine—?”
Flushing in morbid mortification, Yoongi slaps Hoseok’s bicep, but that only makes his boyfriend grin wider. “Hoseok, please, this is the worst time,” he says in a hushed, urgent voice, glancing anxiously over at the airbender, because Hoseok’s laugh is so loud and infectious and beautiful and Yoongi would bask in it if Hoseok was laughing at literally any other time. Yoongi shrinks back, ready to bolt for it. Please don’t hear us, please don’t look over, oh fuck please for both our sake’s just keep shaking noodle guy’s hand. And of course, because the universe hates Yoongi, the airbender turns around.
The boy’s curious gaze first locates Hoseok with his cheerful laughter, waving a spoon piled high with condensed milk and shaved ice, and then the boy’s gaze slides over, eyes widening, to Yoongi.
“Fuck,” Yoongi says aloud. He shoves his leftover bingsu into Hoseok’s hands, rattles off a sorry gotta go back to work haha can’t leave Namjoon waiting thanks for the lunch and dessert and date I love you bye in an impressive two seconds, and bolts out of the plaza.
He runs, alleyways and buildings and greenery blurring past in the misleadingly cheery sunlight. He’s almost reached the entrance of the bamboo forest when a softly howling gale whooshes past and around him, sending Yoongi briefly spinning while the airbender lands in front of him and folds his glider-staff with a snap. Up close, Yoongi sees that the boy is wearing what looks like a wide collar band accessory—no, Yoongi realizes, they’re actually carefully-wrapped bandages wrapped carefully around the boy’s neck. Yoongi, feeling sick, can take a guess at the true nature of the “white shirt” the boy’s wearing underneath his green tunic, too.
“It is you,” the airbender breathes. He looks on the verge of hyperventilating, yet here he is, having chased his tormentor down while Yoongi himself ran like a coward, and Yoongi doesn’t understand why. The sun catches on the top of the bamboo stalks, sending shadow stripes across the boy’s face, and Agni the image of the same boy huddled in that prison cell strikes Yoongi again and he really doesn’t fucking need that right now.
“Why did you follow me?” Yoongi says, trying not to meet the airbender’s eyes. “You—you must hate me.”
“I—I don’t know, I—” The boy looks legitimately confused, and he’s actually shivering now, but still he makes no move to flee. “I was going to run away. I was supposed to run away.” Yoongi can actually see him withdraw into his head, and suddenly it’s as if the boy’s talking to someone else entirely.
“You shouldn’t be anywhere fucking near me,” Yoongi says, swallowing. He glances at the bamboo forest behind the boy’s head and frantically grapples for an escape, any escape, but all solutions come to mind require him to touch or attack the boy in some way and there’s no fucking way he’s doing that. “You’ll only be reminded of—of that night, the longer you stick around. This isn’t good for either of us, so why—?”
“Because you’re here,” the boy exclaims, clutching his glider-staff defensively, “because we’re both here, and that has to mean something, I know it.”
Yoongi blinks, uneasy. “Is this… is this some kind of spiritual Air Nomad thing?”
“No—yes?” The boy shakes his head, hair bouncing with the movement. “It’s complicated? The point is, we’re connected, somehow.”
Yoongi scowls, self-hatred boiling in his gut. “Listen kid, if we’re connected at all, it’s because I scarred you for life, in more ways than one. I’m not kidding when I say you should stay the fuck away from me.”
“You don’t understand,” the boy protests, wide-eyed. “I’ve been trying my best to avoid you, really! But I just keep getting drawn back! At the restaurant, at the fountain—I’m serious, Prince Min, there’s something—”
“Call me Yoongi, not—that,” he mutters, stuffing his hands in his pockets as his mind races. Agni, what the fuck is going on? During his more delirious nightmares, back when he was still bedridden, he’d imagined this very scenario, imagined meeting the airbender again, imagined hatred and terror and righteous retribution screaming his name—yet here Yoongi is, making reluctant conversation with the very kid he’d tortured in that dark crimson room. Why did I give him my name? Why are we just—talking like this? Why is he so insistent when every time I look at him I—
His hands feel uncomfortably hot. Yoongi glances down and is stunned to find that he’s sparking.
The boy looks similarly startled. “Yoongi-ssi, are you…” He stills. “No, you…”
Suddenly, the boy straightens. Yoongi’s never seen the boy drawn to his full height before, but now he blankly notes that the boy has a full inch or so on him, and it’s—disorienting, to say the least. Everything seems wrong, like Yoongi’s been thrown into an inverted world, because the airbender shouldn’t be the brave one here, he should be avoiding confrontation, should be as far away from Yoongi as possible—
“You’re afraid,” the boy says slowly, “of me.”
—and Yoongi shouldn’t be the scared one in this exchange. His heart beats too fast, too quick in his chest and he realizes—yes, he’s fucking terrified, but why? He doesn’t deserve to be the one afraid, not after what he’s done—
Yoongi takes a step back and curses himself for doing it. “No,” he lies.
“You are,” the boy whispers, awed. He looks Yoongi up and down. “You’re wearing Earth Kingdom clothes. You… ran away, too.”
“You… don’t seem surprised.”
“Well, when we—fought,” the boy says, his voice getting stronger. (Fought, Yoongi thinks blankly, how much can you fucking sugarcoat it?) “Your eyes looked so dead, like you weren’t really there. Like it wasn’t you. But when you—came to my cell, that night, you looked so different. And every time I caught a glimpse of you here—it was like watching a gradual transformation. So I wondered…”
Vulnerability coils uncomfortably in Yoongi’s chest. “Don’t talk like you know me,” he snaps, perhaps a little too harshly.
But the boy doesn’t flinch. In fact, the energy about the airbender suddenly seems—older, somehow, wiser than his years. “Why did you run away, Yoongi-ssi?” this tortured boy says, sympathetic and earnest and honest towards someone who’s probably been his worst nightmare for the past few months, and Yoongi just—caves.
“Because of you,” he says without thinking, and—oh.
The epiphany has him reeling. Yoongi recoils, raising a hand to his forehead in disbelief, because why, indeed, had he only come to his senses after he had this airbender’s boiling blood squelching beneath his fingers? So many people, Yoongi thinks dazedly, so many people suffered at my hand, but once it was him—
“Because after I—after I hurt you, ” Yoongi stammers, “it all felt so wrong, I felt wrong, and I couldn’t take it anymore.”
“And then we both wound up here. Yoongi-ssi,” the boy breathes, slowly beaming, “You see? We’re connected, you and I.” The boy tucks his glider-staff under his arm, hits his palm with his fist in front of his chest, and bows. “Thank you, Min Yoongi-ssi. Take good care of him.”
Yoongi jolts, startled, because first, what the fuck is ‘take care of him’ supposed to mean, and second, the boy’s voice feels so inexplicably ethereal, sending shivers down Yoongi’s spine. But before Yoongi can say anything, the boy straightens from his bow and their eyes meet for the first time since that fateful night—
Their eyes meet, and now Yoongi knows he’s hallucinating, because for a second the boy’s eyes seem to glow pure white, and Yoongi strangely, overwhelmingly, feels forgiven—but then Yoongi blinks and the boy’s eyes are dark and stormy and frightened and the moment dissipates without an echo, like a whisper in the mountains. What the fuck just happened? Yoongi thinks, unsettled.
The boy seems unsettled, too. He jerks back, his hand jerking up to clutch nervously at his other arm.“Shit,” he whispers under his shaky breath, “shit, why did you make me do this, I—”
And maybe it’s an aftereffect of the hallucination, or maybe the Air Nomad spirituality has some actual merit, but Yoongi’s heart wrenches, not from fear or hatred, but from an overwhelming protectiveness. “Hey,” Yoongi says quietly, coming to a decision, “what’s your name, kid?”
The boy shrinks back, the glider-staff back in his tight, white-knuckled grip. “...Jungkook. Of the Southern Air Temple.”
“Jungkook-ssi. If you’ll give your trust to someone like me, just one more time…” Yoongi glances at the bamboo forest. “There’s some people I’d like you to meet. I think you’ll fit right in.” And with that, he turns and heads into the grove.
A few heartbeats later, he hears quiet footsteps start up a distance behind him. Yoongi feels the phantoms of sobs and burnt flesh fade, just a little, and he wonders if this, at least partially, is redemption.
(Taehyung, who they find lounging in a peach tree, limbs draped over its branches as he squints at the scroll in his hands, is so ecstatic to meet the airbender that he nearly falls off his tree. He manages to hold on, his legs finding purchase, and ends up greeting Jungkook upside-down. "Hi! I'm Taehyung!"
Jungkook looks up at him with wide eyes—and Yoongi stifles a laugh, half-seriously wondering if Jungkook looks at this playful earthbender and sees one of his own kind. "Erm—Jungkook. Southern Air Temple," the boy offers shyly, and Yoongi can actually see the moment Taehyung’s heart stops. It’s so endearing that Yoongi can almost understand the fun Taehyung has teasing him and Hoseok.
“I wanted him to meet everyone. Think you can arrange that?” Yoongi asks.
Flustered, Taehyung clutches the bone Yoongi’s thrown him for dear life. His low voice comes out in stutters. “Oh—right—yeah, I can—!”
Namjoon emerges from the library and blinks in confusion as a bright-red Taehyung launches himself over the Kim estate walls, leaving a discarded scroll and a puzzled airbender in his wake.
“Wow,” Jungkook breathes, enraptured as he stares at the earthbender soaring through the sky in the distance, disappearing briefly into the bamboo thicket before hurtling upwards again, hair fluttering in the wind.
Namjoon sends Yoongi an amused glance, as if saying, now you see how it is. An unripe orange promptly nails Namjoon’s forehead.)
Yoongi has never seen this many people in the Kim estate at once, and there’s only seven of them, gathered in the courtyard in the evening summer heat. He dips his feet in the koi pond, shivering when the elegant, curious fish brush against his bare legs, and watches the impromptu dinner party antics with the barest of smiles.
As Yoongi had expected, everyone takes one look at Jungkook, with his shy smile and fluffy hair and clutched glider-staff, and feels their hearts cave, claiming him as one of their own, even when they discover that a playful brattiness lies behind his initial hesitance. Namjoon clearly wants to batter Jungkook with questions about Air Nomad culture and their spiritual take on the struggles of the world and what not, vibrating anxiously where he stands, but he tries his best to hold off until they’ve known each other for at least an hour. Jimin practically glows, equally flustered and pleased, when Jungkook perks up at the sight of him, telling him how much he loved Jimin’s performance and you were beautiful on stage could you please teach me some time? Hoseok receives similar praise, and he happily ruffles Jungkook’s fluffy hair in response—“it took me a while to grow it out, but I’m really happy with it,” Jungkook declares proudly—and makes good on his teasing promise that Yoongi is taken, kid, thank you very much.
(Hoseok presses a kiss to an embarrassed Yoongi’s head in consolation, and Yoongi doesn’t miss the way Jungkook’s eyes widen in amazement, seeing a very pink Crown Prince Min Yoongi whine in protest.)
To everyone’s surprise, Jungkook greets Seokjin with a very fondly aggressive handshake that involves a kick to the behind and more than one mimed punch. “Jin-hyung took me in! I’m living in his cottage by the plaza,” Jungkook reveals, grinning unabashedly as Taehyung and Jimin promptly whined to their eldest about hiding the airbender from them. “It’s so cold in there, though—he treats the living room like a freezer, I swear.”
“You absolute brat, can you blame me for wanting my home to feel like home?” Seokjin exclaims, indignantly spraying water in the airbender’s face.
(Yoongi, meanwhile, hears Seokjin complain I have other patients too Hoseok-ah, hears him quietly tell Yoongi by an unconscious Hoseok’s bedside I have experience dealing with burns Yoongi-yah the older they get the harder they are to heal, and he sidles up to Seokjin after the older shoos Jungkook away.
“Thank you,” Yoongi says lowly, regret and gratitude building up in his throat.
Seokjin blinks, puzzled. “No problem?” he replies.)
Taehyung, while much more composed around their new airbending friend, has also adopted a very puppy-like attitude, unrestrained in his wide smiles whenever Jungkook speaks. On the roof, Jungkook and Taehyung compete to see whether inconvenient breezes or tiny pebbles are more annoying to the idly stretching Jimin in the rock garden. An irate jet of water knocks Taehyung from the roof, pronouncing a winner. Jungkook doesn’t bother buffeting Taehyung’s fall, choosing instead to clap and laugh at the earthbender, actually collapsing on the roof tiles in fits when a drenched Taehyung pops out of the bushes with leaves sprouting from his tangled hair. Taehyung pouts and vengefully pounces on Jimin, and soon the two are rolling about on the stone path, which can’t be too comfortable but has their sounds of amusement filling the air anyway.
Namjoon and Hoseok are a small distance from Yoongi and the koi pond, chatting both about the raider attack ("The reconstruction is going steady, and there were minimal casualties on our side, so that’s good—” “I just don’t understand why they gave us so much warning—” “I guess they really weren’t hiding the fact they were coming, maybe it was a scare tactic, or a message—?” ) and more frivolous things (“I can’t believe you tried that new restaurant Hoseok what the fuck—” “It was delicious—!” “My stance on seafood aside you can’t just come to my home and espouse the flavors of tiger crab that’s messed up—” ). Speaking of food, Seokjin has a makeshift grill going next to the stone path, a cautious distance from the fruit trees and Taehyung’s beloved flowerbeds. Chops and Sticks: A Guide to Meat Skewers is propped open a nearby tiger crab pedestal.
(No one asks about the bandages wrapped protectively around Jungkook’s windpipe, the white layered between his green shirt and his skin.)
The fragrance of herbs, golden vegetables, and juicy meat soon wafts through the courtyard, and Jungkook—who claims to have forsaken his vegetarianism the moment he left his temple—is graciously offered the first pick of skewers. Jungkook nervously insists that Yoongi be next, and the airbender snags extra sheep pig lamb skewers and dutifully jogs over to the koi pond for delivery.
“Thanks,” Yoongi says, and bites into the tender, savory meat with no small satisfaction.
Jungkook hums, then says in a low voice, “I don’t plan on telling them, if you were wondering. That you—” He gestures vaguely at his wrapped neck and chest.
Yoongi slows his chewing, narrowing his eyes in disbelief. Underwater, a koi fish wanders up to his leg and mouths at it, only to swim away in disappointment.
“No, really.” Jungkook licks his lips. “I mean, I won’t lie, I still resent you for it. But I don’t think…” He jerks his head to the side and lets out a frustrated sound. (He does that often, Yoongi notes.) “I don’t think the you you are today deserves any kind of revenge I can offer.”
Yoongi swallows, staring at the koi pond. “How old are you again? Because you—you can be wise as fuck sometimes.”
Letting out an awkward laugh, Jungkook scratches at the bandages on his neck. “Um, really? It’s, uh, probably just the Air Nomad talking.” He shrugs. “But think about it, okay?”
Yoongi doesn’t answer. Jungkook offers a clumsy bow and rejoins Seokjin by the grill, smiling like he already belongs.
(“Did you ever worry, after you first came to the Earth Kingdom, that you’d never fit in?” Yoongi had once asked Seokjin and Jimin, back when he’d still spent most of his day confined to Hoseok’s house, before he’d met Namjoon and Taehyung.
Seokjin and Jimin had shared a look, then shrugged. “Well, yeah,” Jimin had said. “Even now, sometimes, I look at all the green and brown in the streets and think, 'even when I wear their colors, I don't feel like one of them.”
“We never will,” Seokjin agrees. “But that doesn’t matter. Because even if I never belong in the Earth Kingdom, I’ll always belong with Joon, Jiminie, everyone. And maybe you, one day.”)
Hoseok settles next to him on the grass, rolling up his pants to dip his feet in the pond beside Yoongi's. "Coin for your thoughts?"
Yoongi shakes his head and idly kicks Hoseok's leg under the water. The pond ripples, giving the water a slight chill that tickles Yoongi's skin, even as his blood runs hot underneath. He glances at Hoseok's side profile, observes the slight smudge of soy sauce resting in the corner of his lips, the abruptness of his heart-shaped grin and raised eyebrows and delighted laugh when a badgerfrog leaps over his leg and dives into the pond with a splash, the way the summer breeze favors toying with some strands of his dark hair over others.
What do you love about me? Yoongi wonders.
Hoseok places his left hand over Yoongi's right, twisting their fingers together and pressing both their hands into the grass. “You did a good thing,” he says. “Bringing Jungkook here.”
“You think so?”
“Mm.” Hoseok glances at him. “You don’t?”
Yoongi shrugs and wordlessly stares up at the night sky. The smoke from Seokjin’s grill obscures some of the stars in a lavender haze. Chime-like laughter—likely from Jimin—floats over from the flowerbeds, joined by Taehyung and Jungkook’s shouts and the intermittent sound of splashing water, smashed rocks, and whistling wind. Low, indiscernible words from Namjoon and Seokjin’s light conversation buzzes contentedly in the background underneath the droning cicadas. He and Hoseok are silent in comparison, only talking through squeezed hands and underwater nudges.
Taehyung insists that everyone stay overnight and make use of the extra rooms, then promptly drags Jimin and Jungkook into his own, excitedly planning pillow forts and blanket castles. Seokjin jokes that it’s so hot outside he might as well sleep in the courtyard because the heat weighs down like a blanket, but then Namjoon looks at him very seriously and asks, wanna sleep outside tonight then? and before Seokjin can respond Namjoon bends a slightly raised platform in the middle of the fruit trees and strides inside to grab some pillows from his bedroom.
Hoseok and Yoongi, tracking wet footsteps on the front wooden porch, find a decent-sized room with a single cot and very large, very fluffy pillows. Yoongi collapses on the bed with an mmph, facedown in the fabric. His side suddenly rises when Hoseok follows suit beside him, making Yoongi slide down and bump shoulders. They stay like that, huddled in the divot of the cot with their drying legs hanging off the side.
Hoseok, as usual, falls asleep first. His breathing is slow and steady, and as Yoongi drifts off, he finds himself unconsciously matching his tempo, as if Hoseok were breathing for him.
(Yoongi dreams of a wide expanse of hazy white. He raises his hand in front of him but can’t make out his fingers, like they’ve been swallowed up by the pale fog surrounding him, enveloping him.
Min Yoongi, someone whispers—no, many someones, all echoing around him with their distinct tones and pitches that layer on top of one another in a seemingly endless declaration. Min Yoongi.
Yoongi tries to respond, but no sound comes out. He can’t even feel the air moving from his lungs—he’s not breathing, he realizes blankly, and yet he doesn’t feel alarmed, because of course he’s not breathing, not here in the—
Min Yoongi, the voices repeat, louder this time, and suddenly Yoongi is angry because they keep saying his name like a curse or a blessing—he can’t tell which—and he doesn’t have the voice to ask why. Unconsciously, he reaches for his inner flame but finds—nothing, nothing, not even a hint or wisp of smoke and now Yoongi panics (but he can’t hyperventilate because he can’t breathe and the dissonance between his mind his body his spirit sends him reeling) because that’s his flame, his very core, and without it how the fuck he is supposed to be Jungkook’s—
The ground shakes beneath him, except when Yoongi looks down, there’s only the cloudy expanse and his knees give out and he’s falling, falling and flailing and trying to scream but the words just won’t come out.
Min Yoongi, you are—! The urgent voices surge, but their ethereal, multilayered choir sounds so, so distant now, far above him as he hurtles through the fog, but there’s no wind buffeting around him and no fire in his veins but somehow—somehow he frantically senses a flickering flame an eternity away but eternity rushes past him in a second and with tears fleeing up to the heavens—he’s crying, Yoongi realizes, why is he crying—he stretches and strains, but his vision flickers rapidly as his fingertips graze the welcoming flames that feel like home—)
Muffled shouting and the smothering smell of smoke rouse Yoongi from his deep slumber. He's slow to come to consciousness, his mind still grappling at his—dream? Yoongi draws a blank and stops rummaging through his fleeting memory of fog and falling.
“—Hoseok?” he slurs. Blindly, he reaches out a hand, trying to find his boyfriend's warm body, but his fingers only grasp empty, smoky air, and when he gives up, his arm doesn't plop on the soft bed like he'd expected it to. Instead, it hangs, gravity tugging at his fingertips. Actually, his whole upper body feels like it's drooping downwards, and his lower body too, but not in the same way. Yoongi frowns. "Hoseok—?" he tries again, but his tongue feels thick in his mouth.
"Yoongi!" Hoseok's voice comes from behind him, and Yoongi's head lolls when he tries to face him. Hoseok sounds scared, Yoongi notes absently, scared and furious.
But why? Yoongi tries talking again, forms his words slowly and carefully. "Hoseok…?" he mumbles. "What's happening? Is Namjoon-ah—did he try cooking breakfast, is that why it's smells like burning…?"
He blearily opens his eyes, only to see the ground moving beneath him, dark and shadowed in the night. He’s bouncing slightly, he slowly realizes—he’s draped over someone’s shoulder.
“What the fuck,” Yoongi says, the words clumsy but frantic as they slip from his tongue. He twists around, trying to catch sight of Hoseok, but whoever’s carrying him is moving fast, and Yoongi has a feeling of dread that the person he’s draped over isn’t a friend.
“Let go of him, fucking Fire Nation—” That’s Jimin, the waterbender’s sweet voice a snarl. Yoongi hears the unmistakable crackcrack of rapidly freezing ice, but then Yoongi feels himself lurch upward. Icicles fly harmlessly beneath him, embedding themselves in a nearby stalk of bamboo.
He lurches again when his captor lands safely on the stone path, then Yoongi’s being set limply on the ground. His kidnapper—because that’s what’s happening, Yoongi realizes incredulously, he’s being kidnapped—leans down, their face, apart from their eyes, completely obscured by black material. “Don’t worry, Prince Min,” they whisper, and Yoongi’s heart stops, “you’ll be safe in the Capital soon—as soon as I deal with these savages.”
“No—” Yoongi gasps, but his fucking arms won’t move, why can’t I move—? He watches helplessly as Jimin, Hoseok, and Jungkook burst through the thicket, Yoongi’s name on their lips. (The others are nowhere to be seen, Yoongi realizes with a pang, and he fears the worst.)
Hoseok is at the front of the trio. His hair is a tangled, windswept mess and his eyes are alight in fury. His shirt is riddled with singed holes, exposing his abdomen scar to the night air. He sees the ragdoll Yoongi on the dirt and lets out a choked sound, lunging forward, but the Fire Nation agent clicks their tongue and blocks his approach with a sweeping wall of flames. The bamboo behind them promptly catches fire and crackles like paper thrown in the hearth, casting them all in an ominous, flickering orange light.
“What did you do to him?” Hoseok growls, unfazed by the rapidly spreading fire around them.
The agent responds with a spinning kick, angry fire streaming from their heel.
Yoongi is forced to watch, motionless, as the fight unfolds. (Poison, or some kind of paralyzing agent, a part of his mind helpfully suggests.) Jungkook, tense but determined—and much more skilled than he had been that night—blows the flames away from Hoseok with a cry and a swipe of his glider-staff. The fire flies past Jimin’s face and the waterbender takes full advantage of it, blasting the diverted attack with water and creating a crafty burst of vision-obscuring steam. Annoyed, the agent leaps back for a better angle.
Hoseok, seeing his chance, grits his teeth and dives for Yoongi, managing to bypass the agent's reach and skid right in front of his limp boyfriend. "Hold on, Yoongi," he hisses, slipping his arms underneath Yoongi's body in order to lift him up, "I've got you—" But Hoseok has his back to the agent now, and though Jimin cries out a warning, Yoongi sees the agent bring their hands together in a sweeping circle of flame, thinks my mouth my jaw I can at least move—and his mind goes—blank.
Yoongi inhales deeply, holds the air in his burning lungs for half a second, and breathes, breathes with a great sighing sound that disguises its sheer force and boiling firepower. Swirling fire plumes from his lips over Hoseok's shoulder and slams into the enemy's own. Briefly, the two blasts grapple with one another before they both sizzle out of existence.
Silence falls. Yoongi swallows, soot coating his throat, and feels dread well up in his stomach. Then—
“Prince Min, what—” the agent blurts out, as if astonished that Yoongi would defend himself, defend Hoseok, from his fucking kidnapper, but more importantly—
In the wake of the fire and his damned title, both lingering intangibly in the smoky air, pure shock registers in Jimin’s expression, the waterbender actually taking a step back in growing disbelief. Beside him, Jungkook looks resigned. But Yoongi only has eyes for Hoseok, singed and kind and beautiful Hoseok, yet as the dread in Yoongi’s gut stirs and builds, Hoseok—shuts down, Yoongi can see it in his blank eyes and lax golden skin—and Yoongi feels his heart break in two uneven pieces.
The agent approaches them. (Behind the firebender, Jimin has fallen to his knees, and Jungkook struggles between urging the waterbender to get up hyung what the hell are you doing and summoning great gales of wind at the relatively unbothered agent that both extinguish and spread the bamboo flames nearby.) The firebender stills, gazing at Hoseok. “You,” they say slowly, like they’re reading an epiphany from a gradually unfurling scroll, “you’ve done something to the prince, made him—lose his judgement, lose his way.”
Jungkook clenches his glider-staff and launches himself into the air in a vortex of wind, bearing down on the agent with a swirling gale at his heels. The agent, as if in a daze, merely sidesteps the attack, grabs Jungkook by the arm, and twists. Before the airbender can do more than scream, the agent pulls something from their pocket—a small spray bottle—and spritzes it in Jungkook’s face. The paralytic, Yoongi realizes, and Jungkook goes very, very still.
The agent tosses the airbender aside and keeps walking, coming to a stop right next to Hoseok and looming over Yoongi’s limp form. “You’re the greatest obstruction to my mission,” they say, voice cold. A hiss fills the area, and through the smoky night air, Yoongi can detect the acrid smell of ozone.
Horror seeps into Yoongi’s bones, and he darts his eyes back to Hoseok but he still isn’t fucking responding and Yoongi pushes against own his unmoving body, blinks furiously with wet eyes because Hoseok is about to die and here Yoongi is, watching it all happen with his face in the fucking dirt. He strains and feels his fingers twitch but that isn’t enough. Yoongi’s heart is in pieces and his body isn’t his own but Hoseok can’t die, Hoseok can’t fucking die why can’t I just move—!
Flashes of cold blue light sizzle at the agent’s fingertips. “Goodbye,” they say. They take aim at Hoseok’s motionless back and let go of their lightning.
Please—! Yoongi almost sobs outright in relief when his muscles respond, his legs desperately snapping out to launch him forward, index and middle fingers on both his hands already together and pointed and primed as Yoongi jumps between the agent and Hoseok, catching the lightning strike squarely on his fingertips and—
It fucking hurts.
The lightning courses through Yoongi’s now crackling, flickering body in milliseconds, burning his insides and cooking his chi pathways to a crisp with its cold-blooded fire, angrily zigzagging through his blood. A scream curdling in his throat, Yoongi faintly feels his legs go weak and he falls on his knees, eyes screwed shut as he desperately tries to separate the positive and negative energy in his chi, to redirect the lightning from where it’s currently ricocheting dangerously close to his heart towards his other set of pointed fingertips instead—but it’s one thing to have learned lightning redirection in theory, another to generate the jagged, deadly weapon and use it, and another thing entirely to be barely in your right mind and wresting control of lightning that isn’t yours and knows it.
No, Yoongi thinks, half-conscious, and his inner flame howls at the lightning coursing through his body, no, Hoseok’s not dying here and I’m not dying here and you’re not fucking getting the best of me—! With one last shove, Yoongi forces the lightning down his shuddering arm and out. It bursts from his fingertips and races back into the summer sky, cold light branching over the stars and eventually fizzling out with a hair-raising boom.
Light-headed and spent, Yoongi stares blankly after it, as if searching for the empty vacuum in its place. Then the rest of his body gives in. Bones weak and static still flashing across his blurry vision, he collapses to the ground.
“Yoongi!” Hoseok screams, but his voice sounds muted, like a koi fish trying to speak underwater. “How dare you,” he continues, but he’s not talking to Yoongi anymore, “how fucking dare—”
Yoongi’s heart beats slowly, slower, its decelerating ba-bump, ba-bump echoing in his ears, taunting him. But Hoseok is safe, he thinks faintly. Hoseok… Hoseok is safe.
The last thing he sees before he passes out is Hoseok’s rising silhouette—and Yoongi must be hallucinating, because raging in Hoseok’s two rigid hands are howling, climbing flames, embers as blue as the summer sky.
Yoongi wakes up in the morning with a dull throbbing in his head and fractured aching in his muscles. He’s lying in a cot, a humble blanket thrown over his bandaged body, and for an absolutely terrifying moment he entertains the chilling possibility that he's just had a very long, agonizing, incredibly bittersweet dream.
Then he feels a warm, familiar hand in his. His heart slows, and he opens his eyes.
Hoseok is staring at him, his face uncharacteristically blank, lips drawn in a thin line. "Hey," he says, quiet. "How are you feeling?"
Yoongi stares at him for a moment, and then he thinks oh Agni above it wasn't a dream and he doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, because on one hand Seokjin Jimin Taehyung Namjoon Jungkook Hoseok—Hoseok’s steady heartbeat, warm embrace, beautiful laughter—they’re all real, but Hoseok knows who Yoongi is now, who he really is, a fucking firebending prince known in all four nations not as a person named Yoongi but as a cold-blooded dragon with so much blood on his hands—
Yoongi takes in a deep, shuddering breath and nods a tiny nod. Breathe. He can do that.
Hoseok squeezes Yoongi’s hand, then slowly lets go. “I think we—have a lot to talk about,” he says.
Yoongi nods mutely. He doesn’t trust himself with vocalized words, not yet—not when he has question after question bubbling, with a faint taste of blood and ashes, in his throat. Hoseok seems—off, but normal, and he’s chosen to be here, with Yoongi, despite everything, and that’s a good sign, probably. But Yoongi’s afraid that, if he gives in and expresses his doubts aloud, the mirage will crumble all around him.
But Hoseok, too, doesn’t seem to trust himself to speak. He only sits there by Yoongi’s bedside, partially backlit by the morning sunlight filtering through the bedroom window, and worries his bottom lip with his teeth in silence.
An idea sprouts in Yoongi’s mind. It doesn’t strike like the icy touch of lightning, as his best ideas tend to—no, it settles slowly on his thoughts like a second layer of summer heat on his skin. Like a petulant cat owl that’s finally chosen a sunny place to rest. Like a warm hand and warm fingers intertwining with his. “A candle,” Yoongi says, voice a little hoarse. “Can you find a candle and bring it here?”
Hoseok looks a little startled, but he replies, “I’ll try,” and dutifully heads into the next room to check. Through the wooden walls, Yoongi hears him rummaging through cabinets and drawers. A brief silence passes, and Hoseok returns, a small, stout candle tucked in his palm.
“Here,” Yoongi says, making slight grabby hands for the candle, and Hoseok stifles a fond smile before handing the candle over. Yoongi positions it so that it rests in the center of his two cupped hands, and with the barest coaxing of his inner flame, the candlewick ignites in a gentle, flickering flame. Then Yoongi glances up at Hoseok. “Now—without making my flame go out, add your own to the candle.”
Hoseok hesitates. Yoongi sees it in his eyes, in the way his hands shake, that Hoseok doesn’t quite feel as if his inner flame as his own. Then Hoseok slowly exhales, his fingers flexing, and the fire on the candle swells just the slightest bit, gaining the occasional blue glow, and Yoongi knows that Hoseok and his firebending aren’t one—not yet.
“This is a kind of meditation technique,” Yoongi says quietly. “I read about it, once, but I’ve never done it before, because you need a partner for it to work—a partner willing to be vulnerable and also accept your vulnerability.” He feels the melding flames tug loosely at his chest, and wonders if Hoseok feels it too. Yoongi presses on. “Our inner flames make up our core essence. Our firebending is the extension of that essence to the outside world. But here, our flames are intermingled, and it creates—a link, in feelings. In breath.”
Hoseok stares, entranced by the candlelight. “I don’t…” He shakes his head. “Why are we doing this?”
Yoongi swallows. “Because we’re firebenders,” he says, and oh Agni above, saying it makes it feel so much more real. “We’re firebenders,” he repeats, voice shaking a little, “and I love you, and I want to love all of you. If—you’ll let me.” The candle burns bright and especially hot for a split second, blue sparks landing harmlessly on Yoongi’s skin. Hoseok’s sparks, Yoongi realizes in wonder.
“So we just—” Hoseok gestures at the candle. “And talk?”
“And talk,” Yoongi agrees, eyes fixed on the licks of blue and red flame dancing in his palms. “You go first.”
“Okay, um—” Hoseok exhales, then inhales shudderingly before continuing. “I’m Earth Kingdom, born and raised—that was never a lie. But my mother was Fire Nation, once. I don’t know if she was a firebender, but someone in our family must have been, and it got passed down to me.” He looks at the candle flame, enraptured by the hints of blue, as if uncertain that their origin lies within him. “But you know what they think of Fire Nation and firebending here. So my mother warned me against using it. And I listened. Except—”
“Chi build up,” Yoongi whispers.
“Yeah.” Hoseok breathes in, breathes out. “My parents didn’t make it. I woke up and all that was left of my house… it was just ashes and blue flame.”
On the candle, the red-orange flame wraps protectively around its blue partner. Hoseok falls silent, and Yoongi takes the signal. “I’m… I’m the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation. Min Yoongi,” he says haltingly, the admission leaving a smoky taste on his tongue, but Hoseok doesn't flinch, and so Yoongi forges on, heart in his throat. “The rumors are… substantiated, for the most part. I did whatever my parents told me to do. They said it was for the good of the Fire Nation. They said I was protecting my people.”
Hoseok’s gaze flickers, and the candle does, too. “They call you a secret weapon,” he says. “Out here, I mean.”
Yoongi laughs, a hollow sound. “They weren’t wrong. But one day I—I hurt someone, a prisoner, just like I was supposed to. Just like always. But it felt so wrong, all of a sudden, and then everything else, and—and so I ran.”
“And then you fell from the sky,” Hoseok breathes, “and I found you.”
Yoongi feels something pulse in his chest, and realizes in wonder that his inner flame is matching the pulse of the rapidly shrinking candle, the pulse of—of Hoseok’s inner flame. I can feel it, next to mine. “Resonance,” he whispers in disbelief. The candle goes out, a puddle of wax in Yoongi’s palms, and Hoseok produces a wet towel and wipes his hands clean. Hoseok’s pulsing flame is still there, just out of reach.
“Jin-hyung says,” Hoseok starts, “he says it’ll take a while, but you’ll make a full recovery. Which is—a miracle, thank the spirits, considering you were struck by lightning.” He laughs wetly, and Yoongi is startled to notice that Hoseok’s crying. “Fuck, Yoongi, why would you do that? I thought you were going to die, your body was twitching and you were barely breathing and—”
Yoongi’s mind goes blank (it does that a lot, he realizes, when Hoseok is in the equation). Despite his weeping bones and sore muscles, he throws his arms around Hoseok and tugs him into a tight embrace. Hoseok buries his face in the crook of Yoongi’s neck and cries, a heart-wrenching, stuttering whine rising from his throat. Yoongi lifts one hand up behind Hoseok’s back to thread his fingers through the younger’s hair, scratching at his scalp in what Yoongi hopes is comforting. Wetness tickles Yoongi’s neck, tiny streaks of warmth tracing his pale skin.
“Hey,” Yoongi murmurs, feeling his own eyes grow wet. “Hey, it’s okay. I’m okay.”
“But I didn’t—when I was fighting,” Hoseok says thickly, “all I could think was that you could’ve been dying behind me, could’ve been hanging on the last thread of life, and the last thing on your mind would probably have been that I hated you.”
Yoongi clutches the back of Hoseok’s shirt, the soft fabric peeking out from between his fingers, and feels a lump form in his own throat, because Hoseok doesn’t hate him. “No,” Yoongi says softly, “I… did think you hated me, but in the end—” Because Yoongi, truly, had thought himself a dead man, too. “In the end, I was just glad you were alive.”
Hoseok lets out a surprised laugh, choked but genuine. It rings in the room like a bell, and Yoongi clings to the sound like a lifeline. “Really? You really—” He reaches out with a hand, gently brushes Yoongi’s long bangs back, and leans very, very close, Yoongi’s breath hitching in surprise when they touch foreheads. Hoseok holds the contact, staring deep into Yoongi’s eyes. “Yoongi, you don’t hate me?”
“Of course not.” Yoongi is very aware of Hoseok’s breath, warm against his nose. “And you don’t hate me?”
“Of course not,” Hoseok bursts out, and he laughs and presses soft kisses to Yoongi’s wet eyelashes because now Yoongi’s the one crying, his breath coming out in short, overwhelmingly relieved hiccups. Hoseok kisses his lashes until Yoongi has no tears left to shed, and with a delighted sound Hoseok dips down, tips his head, and presses his lips against Yoongi’s. Hoseok tastes salty at first, Yoongi’s tears coating his lips, but then with an mmph Hoseok pushes and Yoongi lets him in and it’s electrifying, hot and electrifying, the sensation of Hoseok’s tongue on his, around his. Yoongi actually shivers in Hoseok’s grasp, the static running up his spine and making his hair stand on end. Hoseok is the one tangling his hands in Yoongi’s hair now and Yoongi melts, a rumble vibrating in his chest like a dragon curled up, contented, having finally found a den to lovingly call home.
(Somewhere else in the estate, Seokjin collapses against a wall, sweat soaking the back of his blue shirt and his bending spent. Namjoon, Taehyung, and Jungkook lie in a row on the floor, mostly healed and unconscious as the last of the paralytic courses through their bloodstreams. On the roof, Jimin blankly stares up at the sky. Somewhere in the charred clearing of a bamboo forest lies a crumpled corpse, horrifically burnt beyond recognition.
But in this room, Yoongi tips his head back, finding purchase in the crook of Hoseok’s neck. “Things are different now,” Yoongi murmurs into the younger’s ear. “They know I’m here. And I feel like I should be doing something to stop—whatever my parents are planning, but a part of me still wants to say ‘fuck your war, your crown prince doesn’t want a part in it anymore.’”
Hoseok hums, wrapping his arms around Yoongi’s abdomen. His breath tickles Yoongi’s neck, sending a wave of warmth through his body. “You don’t have to decide now,” he says softly. “Right now, it’s just you and me.”
And Yoongi sinks into Hoseok’s reassurance—into his love—just for this breathless moment.)