Summer 1867, Italy
The door quivers open and Namjoon walks into the house, boots thumping against the old wood floor, hued cinnamon and rendering a feel of the sturdy tree it once was. In his workday dress, he appears dashing, very much spruce in his cream colored trousers and a shirt of similar hue but lighter tint. His vest hugs his form brilliantly, the color matching with the other two pieces. The stock around his neck is made stiff with a lining of woven horsehair; the bow is permanently tied and it is so much suitable for his ambience that it wouldn’t be a puffery to conclude that it was specially made for him. He is only just taking off his hat made of felt from beaver fur and hanging it upon the peg fixed to the wall when Jimin peeks out of the kitchen and strides towards him, smile vibrant and heartwarming, “You’re home.”
“How I missed you,” Namjoon mutters as he cups Jimin’s cheeks with his gloved hand then wraps his long arms around the smaller man, feeling him chuckle against his neck before returning the embrace, the scent of his pomaded hair teasing his senses.
“You missed me no more than I missed you, love,” Jimin promises the man before heading back into the kitchen. Namjoon betakes himself across their living room before dropping onto a chesterfield, head falling back as he shuts his eyes close. Nothing warms his heart better than returning to this house he’s made a home of with the dearest man in his heart.
The farmhouse has no more than three rooms: the parlor, the bedroom both men share, and the third which is more of a workroom where Namjoon retires to once seeking the companion of silence or to handle certain paperworks for his seminars. The vlush wooden coat-stand by the door gives the illusion of a small man, and with the company of Namjoon’s coat, it looks like a dapper small man.
There is the homey wood-burning fireplace at the side of the room which entertains with its timely cracking of the fire, flames dancing with lives of their own. It is kept company by four accent chairs, two on opposite sides, facing one another and between them is a little wooden coffee table with streaks of lighter colors mixed with darker browns. As the living room is combined with the dining room, the center is occupied by a table of hardwood, sweet brown grains flowing and lined like wrinkles. Surrounding the table is an assortment of cozy chairs, wooden and homestyle. Potted plants line the window pane, constantly fed sprinkles of water by Namjoon at night and rays of sunlight by the sky during the day.
Jimin prepares dinner, the sound of utensils clanking against one another, filling the silence before he asks, “How was it in the city today?”
“As always, hot and noisy,” Namjoon says, then a short pause before adding, “I’m sorry you don’t get to see much of it.”
The sounds from the kitchen halt and when a constrained silence reigns for a few seconds after, Namjoon’s eyes slowly peek open and he sees Jimin standing right in front of him with his arms crossed across his chest. He smiles small and takes a seat on Namjoon’s lap, cradling the older man’s jaw. Jimin places a chaste kiss on the older’s lips then looks into his eyes reassuringly, “I chose this life with you three years ago and I don’t regret it. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”
Namjoon maintains the contact, holding onto the gaze, holding onto Jimin, “And if we get caught?”
Jimin smiles, hands around the collar of Namjoon’s shirt, stroking, “I still wouldn’t regret loving you.”
Namjoon leans forward to kiss Jimin and the latter kisses him back, lips moving over each other, the other’s mouth as familiar as their own. A knock pounds against the door and they’re forced to break off from each other as it opens to a boy who looks no older than eighteen, eyes wide and cheeks suddenly flushed at the position he finds them.
Jeongguk quickly apologizes then announces, “There is a man out on the farm who seeks to be in your company.”
“Me?” Namjoon asks, brows creased then queries, “And what is his name?”
“His name is-” Jeongguk stops, frowning as he tries to remember. Namjoon only stares at the boy then sighs, voice firm and hard, “Go ask his name one more time and what he’s here for. And you best not forget again.”
Jeongguk looks up and nods before bolting off. Jimin chuckles, arm around Namjoon’s neck and voice soothing, “You needn’t be so harsh on the boy.”
“He forgets everything,” Namjoon complains in a low rumble and Jimin watches him with affection then says, “He’s only a child.”
“He will be twenty next spring, Jimin. That’s no child,” Namjoon argues. Jimin kisses the angry pout off his lips and Namjoon is only just kissing him back when the door juts open to Jeongguk whose face appears even more flushed, reaching the tips of his ears to having seen them yet in their present position. Jimin breaks off from Namjoon and the latter sighs, eyes shut in exasperation before turning to Jeongguk. “So did you find out who he is and why he’s here?”
Jeongguk pauses then in a low voice, he questions, “I thought I was only to ask for his name.” Before Namjoon had the chance, Jimin cuts in and smiles at Jeongguk, “Yes, that is fine. Who is he?”
Jeongguk visibly relaxes at his tone, “Kim Taehyung, he calls himself. He says that you are delighted to meet him, and you just do not know it yet.”
Namjoon’s forehead furrows in contemplation but Jimin only blurts, “He’s Korean too. Why don’t you let him in?” Namjoon nods at Jeongguk and tells him to let the mysterious stranger into the house.
As soon as they are left alone, Jimin gets up to his feet but Namjoon pulls him back onto his lap and gives him one last kiss, both smiling against the other before separating. When the sound of a knock resounds through the intimacy of the home, Jimin watches as Namjoon moves towards the door and opens it, the sight of Jeongguk immediately appearing before turning away and leaving in their presence their visitor.
Namjoon looks at the man, waiting for a moment of recognition to fall upon him. But he only waits in vain because it is his first time in the same company as the now beaming man whose lips are twisted in a modest yet somewhat self-confident smile.
“Who are you?” comes Namjoon’s immediate interrogation.
“I was hoping for an invitation,” Kim Taehyung says, brow quirked. Jimin hears murmurs by the door before Namjoon finally moves back into the house, a man walking behind. Jimin takes a look at the man, watches as he hangs his hat by the peg before following Namjoon towards the chairs by the fireplace.
His presence fills the house quickly, not as tall as Namjoon but not too far off either. He is dressed similarly to Namjoon but in black and shades of grey. His gait is accompanied with a portly presence and a surge of heat that threatens to burn and from the bella figura of the man, it wouldn’t be a mere threat. Jimin suddenly feels a film of doubt cling to his sides at the decision of welcoming the man into his home. An act of curiosity could cost him and his lover much more than either bargained for.
Before Namjoon and Taehyung take their seats, the latter stretches out his hand firm and bold, eyes fixed on the other man, a smile taking over his face and a deep tone, rich as the comfort of velvet, “I’m Kim Taehyung.” Namjoon grips the man’s hand with a solid shake, “Kim Namjoon.”
Namjoon directs him to take a seat and just as they’re both settling down, he catches Taehyung’s eyes flint towards the end of the room where another figure can be seen. Namjoon invites him over then turns back to Taehyung, introducing, “He is Park Jimin.” Taehyung nods and with that same charming smile, extends his hand out to the man with his eyes trained stiffly on him. When Jimin shakes him, Taehyung’s palm is rough and hard in contrast to his softer hands and they hold his in a firm grip before he says, “A pleasure, Mr. Park.”
“Likewise, Mr. Kim.”
Taehyung turns to Namjoon and carelessly questions, “And who might he be to you?” The moment of hesitation, although considerably slight, could not be missed by Taehyung and he watches with curiosity as both men echo, “Brother.”
“He’s my brother.”
“I’m his brother.”
Taehyung rests into the mousy chair with ease, thoughtful silence taking over for a moment and under his gaze, Jimin feels like an impostor in his own home, an uneasiness washing over him. Taehyung breaks the silence, voice modulated and careful, “Yet you two share dissimilar last names.”
“We have different mothers,” Namjoon tells him, his lie smooth as silk. Jimin nods in agreement and nearly sighs in relief as Taehyung beams.
“So why are you here and how is it you know me?” Namjoon reverses the questioning and Taehyung grins- he grins like he’s been waiting to be posed with the question.
“I’m here to offer a proposition,” He says, plump and plain, “Your twenty acres of land is in ruins and I am here to deliver you from your misery.”
“My land is not in ruins,” Namjoon opposes, “And how do you know of the number of acres?”
“I’ve been told my guessing skills are nothing short of outstanding,” Taehyung says with satire, “And your farm truly is in ruins. The crops are dead and the ones living perhaps wish they weren’t. I propose to you, Signore, to help not only with your farm but your livestock and you sir will own the healthiest farm Val d’Orcia’s ever seen.”
“You have a perfect Florentine accent,” Jimin speaks up as he takes a seat in the chair right beside Namjoon’s, close enough that their shoulders brush.
“Live with a lame man long enough and you learn to limp,” Taehyung states with a tight-lipped grin. It is in the habit of city dwellers to maintain eye contact and speak boldly, and that just happens to terribly conflict with the reticence of the people of the country. Hence, Jimin shows no intent in keeping the man’s valiant gaze.
“You’re yet to explain how it is you know me,” Namjoon breaks in, gaze suspicious. He’s never trusted the city folks and he’s never had a reason to trust one. Especially the good-looking men. They were serpents cloaked into gracious peacocks.
“I have been to a number of your teachings,” Taehyung tells him with a glint in his eye and Namjoon’s defense breaks immediately, brows cocking up, “You’re one of my pupils?”
“I would not go as far to say that. I do make my way into some of your teachings. You fascinate me, Mr. Kim. Although more times than others, you speak fluent gibberish.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You have great charisma, one I admire. So when you do speak gibberish, it sounds like a beautiful language. Trust me, Signore , it is a compliment.”
Jimin places a hand on Namjoon’s thigh under the table where no eyes could find them; he could tell the words of the man were getting to him. Namjoon stared at Taehyung then asked, “You find the words of philosophy to be gibberish?”
Taehyung smiles, “Depends.”
Namjoon dismisses him, realizing he is hardly worth a thrust and parry. Instead, he asks, “What do you want in exchange for your input on my land?”
Taehyung shrugs, “A roof over my head and food to fill my stomach.”
“That is all you ask?”
Jimin sees as Taehyung’s mood switches for a slight moment and the man’s forehead creases, “Men are starving on the streets of Tuscan, Mr. Kim, children’s arms barely the size of my wrist. I’d rather you be more modest; you shouldn’t take any of what you have for granted, it’s not a very appealing look on you.”
Namjoon feels a flicker of irritation and his words slither out angrily, “You are a very impolite man, Kim Taehyung.”
“Politeness is only a trick, Mr. Kim. An etiquette that all of society has adopted to make meetings like ours more tolerable and so we live in each other’s ways. But in the process-” Taehyung’s voice lowers, “- we only lose respect for ourselves.”
Once Jimin feels Namjoon’s face tear into a smile beside him, he almost rolls his eyes. Namjoon loves this- sharing arguments with men over philosophy. Jimin never had much interest in the topic so he couldn’t fulfill Namjoon’s desires in that aspect- although he excellently makes up for them in other intimate facets.
“I fear I may have misjudged you,” Namjoon tells him then tuts, “Although I still find you a hypocrite.” When Taehyung’s brow tilts up, Namjoon explains, “You call philosophy gibberish yet you so fluently echo Henry David Thoreau’s inference.”
“Ah,” Kim Taehyung’s lips break into a grin, so unfamiliar to Jimin, he almost studies the squared form of it. Taehyung shrugs again, “Perchance the human tongue only knows gibberish.”
“A hypocrite,” Namjoon repeats and Taehyung shakes his head in refutation, saying, “You’re simply mistaken.”
Jimin’s always had a habit. It’s one Namjoon very much loves and calls endearing from time to time. Yet at moments like this, it puts them at such risk, Jimin loathes it. A habit of constantly touching Namjoon. It’s always either been that he strokes the older man’s hair or he brushes their shoulders together or other times, he plays with his fingers. He just never could keep his hands to himself around Namjoon and it isn’t until he sees Taehyung’s gaze briefly skim to his fingers fiddling with Namjoon’s sleeve that Jimin realizes that Taehyung’s stare isn’t simply one of city manners but rather, Taehyung’s figured out that Jimin and Namjoon are - as a matter of fact - not brothers.
Both their eyes are locked for a moment and Jimin’s heart leaps in fear, thoughts travelling on possibilities. He holds his breath as Taehyung turns back to Namjoon and there’s a difference in his eyes now- they no longer hold a hint of amusement, rather they look hard, menacing and even perhaps disgusted. Jimin begins to curl into himself while an oblivious Namjoon still sports an amused smile.
“Get your stableboy to show me to my cottage,” Taehyung says curtly and rises to his feet, hands brushing over the other as he begins walking back towards the door.
“Who says I’ve accepted your proposition?” Namjoon counters as Taehyung grabs his hat and places it back on his head. He turns to glance at Namjoon and Jimin wonders why the man can not notice the change in Taehyung’s mood.
“You already accepted the moment I walked onto your land. You just did not know it yet.” Taehyung opens the door and just before walking out, he adds, “I fear I might have misjudged you as well, Signore . You’re quite the surprise.”
The moment Taehyung takes his leave, Jimin turns to Namjoon, frantic and in a state of desperation, “You’re not indeed letting him stay, are you?”
“I don’t see a reason why not. He proposes to work our farm and seeks nothing exorbitant in return. Forbye, he is a man of sturdy intelligence although with strange peculiarities.”
Jimin’s wariness only rouses even further and he contends, “And do you not find it odd? What man wants so little in exchange for his labor?”
“Perhaps he wants too much.”
Taehyung walks out into the evening breeze and squints his eyes at the landscape. The homestead is situated on a knoll, surrounded by valleys and hills. The house itself is made of checkered bricks, alternatively red and black, holding up a chimney and all with a welcoming feel of a country home. In the expanse of green, Taehyung is very much savvy that there could be more hues if the farm was given proper treatment. The land rolls further to the horizon and beyond the wide variety of tall deciduous trees where the woods separate the fields, the path yonder laden with a world he is yet to see, a world he is yet to discover. He feels euphoric to have escaped the noisy city life to this wilderness where solitude is the most constant companion. Towards the east, Taehyung is definite that there are river meadows somewhere about the woodlands; he can swear he feels the earthy fragrance of the moist meadow tingle his senses. The endless expanse of grass and earth and creation and wonder towards the faraway horizon. The way the sun radiates brilliantly, Taehyung almost lets out a sigh.
“Sir?” A voice cries out and Taehyung isn’t surprised to see the doe-eyed boy from earlier stalk towards him with curiosity clearly depicted in his expressions. “Hello there, lad,” Taehyung greets him. The boy is dressed in a plain white linen shirt with buckskin breeches tucked into top boots, the standard de rigueur for the country boy.
“Will you be staying with us?” The boy asks and it is with a tint of hope laced in his voice that Taehyung chuckles, “Depends on who’s asking.”
“They call me Jeongguk sir! Jeon Jeongguk. I’m Korean too, just like yourself. Aside from my brother and the masters, I haven’t come across any other Koreans. It would be great if you could stay with us.”
Taehyung squints his eyes and smiles slowly at Jeongguk, “You sound even more pleased than I am.”
“O I am, sir! Because we have no neighbors, I never have company besides the horses I look after. If you stay with us, you would be my friend!” Jeongguk rants excitedly but then he notices that Taehyung’s still watching him. He immediately apologizes, eyes widening in worry that he might have offended the older man, “I apologize, sir. It was ill-mannered of me to presume you would want to be friends with a mere stableboy.”
Taehyung laughs, “No more sir. Call me Taehyung, for you’ve got yourself a friend.” Jeongguk brightens up and smiles clear as day just before he begins rambling. Taehyung cuts him off when he asks, “How old are you, boy?”
Taehyung’s brow flies up in mild astonishment and he chortles, “Well pardon me, lad, I guessed you no more than twelve.”
Jeongguk’s face twists and he exclaims, “By all the gods! I am just as tall as yourself. How could you think me twelve?” Taehyung slings his arm around the other boy’s shoulder, patting his arm, “Forgive, forget. Bear with the faults of others as you would have them bear with yours.”
“Are you, peradventure, a scholar?”
There is a constraint in a smile as Taehyung responds firmly, “I am merely a man.”
Jeongguk snorts, hand busying with the hat on his head, “That is needless to say. You have the form of a man, you are of no doubt a man.”
“O but there are persons with the form of a man but not deserving to be called one,” Taehyung notices the look of confusion on Jeongguk’s face and explains, “Take your two masters for example. A man who loves another man the way he should a woman- that is no ordinary man, lad. He is a diseased man.”
Jeongguk frowns and only gets more restless with his hat, “Why should passionate love make a man diseased? It is simply love. It shouldn’t matter who one feels it for.”
Taehyung watches the boy closely and speaks nothing for a moment before pulling him towards the stables. They walk into the large shed of oak planks, welcomed with the smell of sweaty leather, liniment and umber colored straw. They move slowly past each stall, admiring the well groomed horses, stroking behind their ears. “Do you have a favorite?” Taehyung mindlessly asks.
“Aye! It’s her,” Jeongguk leads Taehyung to an elegant horse of a rich-colored chestnut. Her ears prick and she makes a slight movement, leaning closer towards them. Taehyung does see why the boy likes the horse. The air around her is glorious and she exudes warmth. “You must like her very much,” Taehyung says with a low croon.
“I call her Hana, meaning “my favorite” in Korean. I only know that because my brother told me. Hana is kind and friendlier than the other horses. She’s been my best friend, I love her.”
Taehyung hums and strokes behind Hana’s ear, “Perhaps you will marry her?”
Jeongguk turns to him in shock and shrieks, “Your words are outrageous.”
“Have I spoken out of line?” Taehyung asks with a smile, “You said you love her and I only presumed you might want to court her.”
“How could I court Hana?!”
“You just said you love her.”
“I do love her but not in such a way that I would court her.”
“She is a horse!”
“But you said yourself that passionate love is simply love and it matters not who one feels it for.”
Jeongguk huffs, lost for words, “Well yes but she’s an animal.”
“We are animals too, are you not aware of that?”
Jeongguk opens his mouth to argue but comes up with nothing and his face creases with confusion. Taehyung grins and pats the boy on the shoulder, “You have lived with those diseased men for so long that they have infected your poor mind. I will teach you right from wrong, lad. Nothing speaks more for a man than his morality. ”
The toll of a bell goes off in the stable and they both turn at alert to it. Jeongguk begins hurrying out of the stable and Taehyung calmly follows behind. As Jeongguk runs towards the house, he yells, “The master calls for me. I will return soon. Do not move!”
Taehyung lounges around the stable, learning the surroundings and differences between each stallion. One catches his eye. It is a lone stallion definitely, almost appears out of place, both physical qualities and demeanor at a variance. He extends his hand out to it and the horse cowers away, head tilted down as it hooves itself behind in an attempt to avoid Taehyung.
He observes the horse then snickers lowly, “A runt? Now that won’t do.”
“Taehyung! Taehyung! Taehyung!”
When Jeongguk reappears in the stable, breath heavy and spasmodic, he wears on his face a singular merriness. “What is it, boy?” Taehyung asks the exceptionally happy young man.
“The master has asked me to show you to your cottage. You will be staying with us. I am indeed glad.”
Taehyung pats the boy’s hat and walks past him towards his steamer trunk. He is just about carrying it when Jeongguk beats him to it and fetches it instead with a grin, “Come on, hurry. I’ll show you.” Taehyung watches Jeongguk scurry forward; if the trunk wasn’t so heavy, there would probably be a skip in the boy’s steps. It is with a fond admiration that Taehyung smiles and follows after him.
Their footfalls are the only sounds to be heard as they walk through the woodland. The myriad of leaves hustle in the wind and the old brown leaves on the ground crumble under the crush of their boots. As they walk, Taehyung notices that there is hardly a path and they invade the shrubbery of the woods as they stomp through. The sun has begun to fall and Taehyung wonders if there is a stream nearby or he’d have to take a long walk.
Finally, they reach a cottage. It is surrounded by grassy embankment and its walls are made of coarse and unevenly sized stones, some browner than others. Hunkered low on the earth, the roof is reasonably large, possibly one of the first things that would get anyone’s attention. The cottage looks very much unlived in and is the only sign of life amid the woods. There is nothing extraordinary about it; simple, plain and just the way Taehyung likes it. The inside itself is just as simple, a tiny stove, some wooden chairs at either sides of a rectangular table at the center of the cottage and a decent-sized bed pressed against the wall at a corner of the room. Fortunately, there is a fireplace to keep his nights warm.
Jeongguk carefully plonks the steamer trunk against the wooden floor of forest browns and the sanded planks. The cottage would no doubt need some dusting. Taehyung thanks Jeongguk and crouches to open his trunk, noting that the boy is yet to leave. Jeongguk watches him with innocent awe as Taehyung brings out book after book, definitely a greater number of them than there are clothes, boots and hats. “I knew you were a scholar,” Jeongguk reiterates and Taehyung shakes his head, “I am merely a man.”
“I envy you,” Jeongguk blurts and Taehyung notices the fall from his previous cheerful tone, “I forget everything and I am not very sharp-witted.”
While Taehyung arranges his books against the walls, his voice fills the room with a dignified timbre, “Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, once said that ‘By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest’ . What it is you’ve shown me is reflection. So I will tell you with no deceitful intent that you, my boy, have taken a step in becoming one of the wisest men the world has seen.”
Jeongguk’s face brightens in a manner that might have the sun covetous. He laughs, “You swear you tell no lies?”
Taehyung turns to him with a smile of his own, “I vow to you my words are true. And since you have reflected to be forgetful, you best write things down so you can return to them each time you forget. Here, I will hand you a book and a dip pen.” Taehyung digs the items out of his trunk and gives them to a goggle-eyed Jeongguk who takes them with excited hands. “An inkwell for your pen too, here.”
Jeongguk is stunned as he stares down at Taehyung’s gift, touched, “I will never be able to thank you enough.”
"Do not thank me. Pay me."
"What?" Jeongguk's grin falters and he clears his throat, "How? I have no money."
"Not with your money, lad," Taehyung’s smile grows and he feels endeared by the boy, “Pay me back by becoming the wisest man all of Italy’s ever seen.”
“Even wiser than you?”
“Even wiser than Confucius.”
Jeongguk’s lips purse and he nods, although fairly in doubt yet still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to become such a man that Taehyung’s mentioned. Taehyung gestures at the door, “Get agoing now, the world has yet to know your name.”
Jeongguk jumps and rushes out the door. Taehyung is just returning to his activity when Jeongguk hurries back in with a sheepish grin, “I got too excited, I forgot to ask if you would like to join me and my brother for dinner. You are yet to meet him.”
Taehyung nods, “Grazie.”
Moments later, possibly after an hour has passed and Taehyung has done a fair amount of cleaning and has lit a fire in the fireplace, there’s a sharp knock on the door and he glances at the direction before walking to open it, the wooden door creaking loudly. On the other side is Park Jimin, face red from the cold of the night and he gestures inside, “May I come in?”
“I’m afraid not,” comes the terse reply. Jimin stares at him in disbelief and shivers as a gust of wind surges and breezes through his simple white shirt and pantaloons. Taehyung watches him and sighs before taking a step away from the door, “Fine.” He walks back into the cottage and returns to his busyness, his crouched back to Jimin and tone insipid, “I do hope you know your presence makes me uncomfortable and I wish you gone instantly. What is it you want?”
“Your words are very ungracious,” Jimin mutters in offense.
“Do trust me, Signore, I could say worse.”
Jimin sighs and stares down in unease, “I have come to plead with you. I- I am aware that you know- that- about me and Namjoon. I beg you not to alert the police. I swear to give you whatever it is that you might desire. Money, trinkets, anything it is you wa-”
"Are you bribing me, Mr Park?"
There is a brief moment of silence where Jimin’s fear heightens. Him being there alone is dangerous. He knows not what kind of a man Kim Taehyung is and if he might decide to kill him here and now. His breath turns uneven, his heart races, and he stutters, "Yes? I mean no- I- Please do not alert the police."
Taehyung speaks blunt and crass, “I hadn’t intended to.”
“What?” Jimin asks, taken by surprise, relieved but surprised nevertheless. When Taehyung doesn’t answer, he adds, “But the laws-”
“I have never been an avid keeper of the law.”
“Oh,” Jimin murmurs, still confused but then he exclaims in sudden realization, “Will you kill us then?!”
Taehyung sighs and finally dumps a book to the ground in what clearly appears to be annoyance, “I am not a killer either.”
Jimin frowns in confusion. The man isn’t reporting them to the police and he doesn’t think they deserve to be killed either. Jimin is almost assuming that Taehyung is probably like them but once he remembers the look of scorn that flashes through his face earlier that evening, Jimin dismisses the thought. He clears his throat, “Can I ask one more thing of you?"
“For someone you do not know, you sure do seem to be asking a lot of me.”
“I apologize,” Jimin says quickly, “But if you insist on working the farm and staying here, could you please not let Namjoon know that you are aware of it? He still has no hint that you know of this.”
Taehyung scoffs and finally gets to his feet, brushing off his hands, “And why should I do that?”
“As he is a man of philosophy and you are too, I’m afraid he has taken a fondness for you already. It would break his heart that you hate him because- you see, he has not many acquaintances that share the same interest as he does.”
“Are you requesting that I be his friend?” Taehyung asks with a sense of ridicule.
“Nay, I am requesting that you save your discourtesy for me alone.”
Taehyung fixes him a look and crosses his arms, “You must think you love him. You really are diseased to believe that you are in love with another man. The truth is humans have no satisfaction, hence they look for measures to fill the void in them. Some men go to extreme measures to excite themselves. So they do abnormal things. For example, they begin to think that they could love another man the way they should only love a woman. Men like yourself are mentally diseased and I can not decide whether to be troubled by you or to feel sorry for you.”
Jimin’s expression falls and contorts to one of offense. The room fills with a thick silence and he speaks with unfeigned irritation, “ Well, I can decide. I feel sorry for you. For a man who appears intelligent, you are very ignorant yourself, Kim Taehyung. All you speak are words from books. You have no experience, no thoughts or opinions of your own. You are a boy who has yet to live and only dwells on the words of men long passed.”
Taehyung’s face hardens and his voice slips with a seething tone, “You do not know me.”
“Neither do you know me.”
With no more words or bids of a good night, Jimin turns away and storms out the cottage, heart beating furiously in anger and fear. The familiar feeling of self-doubt returns so he walks back home, walks back to the assurance of Namjoon’s warm embrace.
Jeongguk and his brother’s cottage is considerably larger than Taehyung’s. Although the interior is not very dissimilar, the size is about twice or thrice of his. There is a hearth attached to a corner of the wall, stoves and an oven clean of fine metal. There are stainless steel pots and kettles perfectly uncluttered. An old table sits at the center with brown hued wrinkles, and four chairs made of rough wood surround it neatly. Hanging down the planked ceiling over the table is a simple lamp which illuminates all of the room. There are various drawings on the walls, most of them silly caricatures, clearly Jeongguk’s work. Every corner of the room has something to signify the occupiers, their traces all over the house. Taehyung beams in interest; it’s homely.
“Taehyung! Taehyung! Taehyung!” Jeongguk’s voice fills all of the cottage as his steps march towards the other man way too excitedly. He had returned to Taehyung’s cottage earlier to show him the directions to his and his brother’s cottage. A part of him had been worried he might not come but seeing the man here causes a cheeriness in Jeongguk.
“Will you do away with all that noise?” An unfamiliar voice follows the creaking of a door which Taehyung hadn’t noticed. A tall elegantly-visaged man with a beautiful face and conspicuous dark hair turns to their direction and his eyes fall on the man that Jeongguk’s been chattering about all evening.
He walks towards Taehyung, a long lean arm outstretched as he introduces himself, “Kim Seokjin. My brother’s been speaking to me all about you.” An excited Jeongguk watches wide-eyed as his brother meets his new friend and vice-versa.
“Only great things, I hope. Kim Taehyung,” He holds the other man’s less rough hands in a hearty grip, eyes fixed on him as has become an habitual manner.
“Well, firstly, you are younger than I thought you would be. Pray be seated,” Seokjin moves to serve their food while Jeongguk and Taehyung sit side by side at the table.
“My looks deceive you, sir. I should be no younger than you are.”
Seokjin hums and returns with their food, eyes flitting to Taehyung, “And how old are you?”
“I’ve lived twenty-five years.”
“Oh, are you?” Taehyung exclaims, “You have such delicate features, I must confess you look much younger. Pardon my rudeness, Signore.”
Seokjin colors slightly and he snickers once he sits at the table, everyone now digging into their supper, “Do call me Seokjin.”
“Are you perhaps a performer, Seokjin?” Taehyung asks with a full mouth and Seokjin hands him a napkin as he laughs, “I, a performer? What could cause you to think so?”
Taehyung accepts the napkin and wipes his mouth, swallowing quickly, “You look like a man who belongs in the theater.”
“It’s because he has desirable looks!” Jeongguk bursts in with a mouthful of pasta muffling his words. Seokjin is about scolding the boy for talking with his mouth full when Taehyung interjects, “I agree.”
Seokjin stares at Taehyung and he bites back a smile, “I hear that scholars possess a talent of bewitching men with their words. My brother must be right, you really are a scholar.”
“You both are mistaken. I am merely a man.”
Seokjin hums and rests his chin on an open palm, watching Taehyung, “Do tell me more. I fear I am already captivated by your words.”
“I do have a question,” Taehyung mentions, brow cocking up for permission and a simple nod from Seokjin grants it to him. “If you are brothers, how do you two have different surnames?”
Taehyung feels Jeongguk uncomfortably still beside him and a somewhat sad look passes Seokjin’s eyes but he masks it with a smile, “At times, we find family outside of blood, Taehyung.” Seokjin looks at the crestfallen look on Jeongguk’s face and he smiles, “We might not share the same blood but he is still my little brother even so. My precious boy.”
Taehyung hears a sniff and turns to see Jeongguk wiping his tears with the sleeve of his shirt. Currents of regret and worry pass Taehyung as he opens his mouth to apologize but finds no words to say.
Seokjin is at the boy’s side in an instant, hugging Jeongguk to his chest and stroking the boy’s hair, calming him down. When he locks contact with a remorseful Taehyung, he only smiles and shakes his head to express that he is needless to feel blameworthy. And it is at that brief moment both men develop an affinity for the other.
Like every other day, the hour Namjoon leaves for work has arrived. He is a teacher of philosophy. Rich children of aristocrats are sent to specific lessons that would make them dignified in their adult days’ walk of life. And one of the most important lectures is administered by Namjoon himself. To Jimin, it is all a methodical structure of pretense. The poor never have the opportunity to get lectures like those so as to maintain the system that has shaped the country; the rich get richer and the poor remain in penury.
Before Namjoon is able to leave the house, now in his workday dress, Jimin strides out quickly in his long white robe that sweeps on the floor after each step he makes. Namjoon grins at him, a much familiar and welcome dimple pops out of hiding. Jimin pecks it like he always does and Namjoon strokes his cheek, “Did you come out only for that?”
Jimin is all smiles when he snorts, “No. I wished to ask if you could get some inkwell for me in the city. Mine’s all finished.”
Namjoon’s brows wrinkle as he gestures towards his office, “I have some more. You can have part of mine.”
“You know well I don’t favor the ink you use,” Jimin whines, “The Gimborn ink dries much quickly. I’d rather have the Verviers ink.”
Namjoon puts a gentle hand on Jimin’s shoulder, “I’m not travelling through the market route, Jimin. I hear Taehyung’s also heading to the city for some farming necessaries. He should pass through the marketplace. Why don’t you ask him?”
“He wouldn’t know the one I prefer,” Jimin grumbles.
“Then go with him?”
Jimin stares at him, clearly dumbfounded, “Do you trust him that much?”
“He seems to me a man of refined culture.”
Jimin exhales in a patient murmur, “You do not know him, Namjoon.”
“And do you?” Namjoon then holds both of Jimin’s shoulders, stooping a little to be at his eye level, “Rid yourself of the phantoms you have about Taehyung. I know you are anxious and with your guards up, and you do have every reason to be, sweetheart. But did you ever consider how helpful this new company could be for you? You now have someone else to interact with besides myself, Jeongguk and Jin.”
Namjoon kisses his forehead and mutters, “I’m always here. No harm will come to you.”
Jimin sighs in defeat and hugs Namjoon before he leaves. Once he is left alone in the house, he heads to Namjoon’s office. He might as well just use the Gimborn ink.
Seokjin is having his morning cup of tea as the chickens cluck in the fields, a warm breeze through the open windows, accompanying the onset of a new day. The sunlight has begun to glint through the gap under the door.
The morning fades in so quickly sometimes, Seokjin wonders if this is how he’s always watched each day pass by and if this is how he will continue to. His thoughts are a surprise to him as this is no doubt the first time he’s entertained such; ever since he met Taehyung the previous night, he’s begun to think more of different things. He assumes that’s the sort of man Taehyung is. Someone who comes into your life and lives a purpose before he leaves it.
The devil himself peeks into the cottage’s double-hung window right then and Seokjin is startled to see him so early in the morning. He nods when Taehyung gestures at the door. The man’s face disappears and when he reappears, it is through the door, tall and confident in his stride. He looks like he’s just had a wash and when he runs a hand through his hair to push it away from his forehead, he throws a smile at Seokjin.
“Buongiorno, bello,” Taehyung greets and Seokjin beams, nearly rolling his eyes. He answers, “Please, Taehyung. It’s much too early for your flattery.”
He asks for Jeongguk and when Seokjin points to a door, Taehyung heads to it, each step causing a creaking sound against the tired wood. Once he enters through the door, he first notices how the sunbeams gleam through the open curtains and that the room is incredibly personal. Quaint in its own style, not very clean yet not messy. The bed Jeongguk is sprawled on is pushed to the wall which has murals painted over it. There are cupboards and a mirror to the side, some trunks under the bed.
Taehyung jumps onto the bed and he stretches over Jeongguk who wakes up with a groan, more than confused as to why he is being awoken so early in the day and why there is a crushing weight over him. “Wake up, boy. We have a long day ahead of us.”
It is less than an hour after that they leave for the city. Having received Seokjin’s permission to take Jeongguk with him, Taehyung packs some nuts and water before he hurries the less excited boy out of the cottage and they head to the stables. Jeongguk, as might be expected, picks Hana and once he sees the horse Taehyung has chosen, he warns him quickly, “That horse won’t do you any good.”
Taehyung only smiles, “We’ll see.”
As they embark on their journey with both their horses walking side by side against the moorlands, Taehyung rambles on, “We will be heading to Siena. La Lizza market opens at 8:30am, it shall be very busy. We have to head on straight unless you like it busy. Howbeit, keep in mind it closes at 1:30 pm and I shan’t go without having bought everything I need. Are you listening?”
Jeongguk murmurs something under his breath and Taehyung takes it as a yes so he continues, “We shall buy seeds, oh so many of them. I found tools in the warehouse; whilst they do seem effective, I might have to get some more, like the scythe, definitely a flail, a sickle, a cultivator perhaps. Before we grow anything, we will have to compost the soil. The faeces of the horses and cows should do - are you writing them down?”
Jeongguk mumbles under his breath once again and when Taehyung turns to look at him, he sees the boy’s eyes are cast down as something terribly weighs down on his mind, “What is the matter, lad? You don’t seem very much yourself today.”
Jeongguk glances up at Taehyung and the latter sees the boy is teary-eyed so they bring the horses to an halt and Taehyung worries, “Have I said something?”
“Not at all,” Jeongguk shakes his head quickly, “I just- I have terrible memories of the city.”
Taehyung quickly realizes this must have something to do with why the boy had gotten overwhelmed the previous night so he asks, “Yet you agreed to come with me?”
Jeongguk says nothing and Taehyung inhales, “You are incredibly brave, boy, you put all other men to shame.” Jeongguk looks up with glistening eyes and Taehyung says, “I won’t request you tell me what your past is but I will tell you this. What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us. What lives within you, Jeongguk, is great courage. Now, you come with me and let us go make much greater memories of the city.”
Jeongguk nods quickly, sniffing. While the man has continued moving along the path with his horse, Jeongguk quickly takes out the book and writes his new knowledge into it. He tucks it back into the bag strapped to the back of the horse then pulls on Hana’s reins, moving with the horse as she gallops against the earth, striding further to meet Taehyung. So they can go make greater memories of the city.
From the kitchen of Jimin’s home, Seokjin glances out the window. Dusk has fallen and hours have flown by since Taehyung and Jeongguk have been gone. Seokjin’s mind is in distress and worry; he knows Jeongguk has grave memories of the city yet he allowed the boy to revisit the city alone. He doesn’t know Taehyung well enough and he had let Jeongguk leave with him. Fear begins to grip his sides at the possibilities, the situations that Jeongguk could have caught himself up in. He walks out the kitchen once he is finished preparing supper for Jimin and Namjoon, taking off the apron hung around his neck before folding it. Jimin is setting the table when Seokjin informs him, “The pipes under the kitchen sink require some plumbing. I will ask Taehyung to see to it. He did an impressive work with mine this morning before he set out with Jeongguk.”
Jimin’s hands falter with the cutlery and when he looks up at Seokjin, it is with alarm, “Is that really necessary? You’ve been great with it.”
Seokjin snickers, “I’ve been attempting over a year to repair those pipes. That is why they return faulty every few months.”
Jimin gives in and he catches as Seokjin’s eyes trail up to the mantle clock, brows crinkled in unease. “Is anything the matter?” Jimin ventures to ask. Seokjin meets his eyes and the trouble laced in them is immediately masked as he smiles at the man and shakes his head. On his way out, they kiss both sides of the other’s cheek and bid each other goodnight.
The moment he walks outside the house, he catches sight of two silhouettes in the dark, heading two horses to the stable as they carry bags with them. Fear forsakes Seokjin and he is overcome with relief. A deep hollow sigh retreats from him, smiling when he realizes he had been troubled needlessly.
Taehyung and Jeongguk turn out of the stable and with the minimum light rendered by the moon, Jeongguk makes out Seokjin’s form in the dark and he calls out, “Jin!” as he begins to run to him, the bag in his hand slowing his movements.
Seokjin grins and opens up his arms right before Jeongguk jumps into them, encircling the boy tenderly. He hears laughter and Jeongguk immediately resumes his constant twitter, “The city is astounding, Jin. O the sights! The church is incredible, this huge! Taehyung showed me around Siena and I find that he is very famous amongst the city folks, even the women know his name. We bought with us many seeds and these strange-looking tools that Taehyung tells me the names of but because I knew I would forget, I wrote them down in my journal. Oh the most exciting was when we stole bicycles and rode around-”
Taehyung has just reached them when Jeongguk says the last part, and even in the dark, one can see how Seokjin’s eyes bulge and turn to Taehyung accusingly, “You made Jeongguk steal?!”
“Nay, Signore,” Taehyung says, “We only took what was not ours, owned it for finely half an hour then we returned it discreetly.”
“So you stole?”
The laughter that tears out of Seokjin is loud, very sudden that no one expects it, not even himself and he quickly reaches his hand to quieten it. He is still beaming when his hand drops and he is unable to manage a glare at Taehyung even as he states, “You are out of your mind, Kim Taehyung.”
The corner of Taehyung's mouth twitches, “No sound man is of a sound mind.”
“Right,” Seokjin humors him and just before he leaves with Jeongguk, he quickly mentions, “Could you see to the pipes in the masters’ kitchen tomorrow? They’ve been faulty for as long as I can remember.”
Taehyung nods tersely, “Va bene.”
All three of them bid one another goodnight as Jin and Jeongguk disperse to their cottage while Taehyung heads to the river immediately to get a wash. The woods are dark, the sounds of insects filling the silence and he walks down the path, estimates how far away he is and just some steps further, he reaches the river. The river is on the further side of the woods so that it retreats from the green trees and shrubbery that shadow behind it. In the day, the water glistens and flows onward with confidence, moving and speaking beneath the surface. At night, the water turns placid and reflects the moon, its depth greater in the dark and the trees shaded against the deceptive water to appear as disfigured men.
Taehyung throws off his boots, trousers and vest following. His hat is gently placed onto the ground before he sheds off his shirt and peels off his underpants. The cold of the night bites against his skin and he takes a brief instant to absorb the blend of the fragrant leaves and aromatic smell of the water. He settles into the water and a satisfied sigh passes between his lips as he washes away the long day’s tensity.
Several moments after, he rests against the bank of the river, eyes glued to the stars in the sky. Much more dazzling than it is in the city, the lack of streetlights enable the full glow of the stars. Taehyung shuts one eye and he swears the stars are so much closer, close enough that if he reaches his hand far enough, he can pluck one and keep between his books.
A movement in his peripheral vision causes him to snap his eye open and he watches with a squint as the outline of a man stumbles forward through the woods. Not tall enough to be Namjoon or broad enough to be Seokjin, neither is the figure of Jeongguk’s build, leaving one man only.
Taehyung who is at the other end of the widely narrow river observes silently as Jimin reaches the bank of the river, unsuspecting of company and begins to divest himself of his clothes, each piece of clothing coming off after the other. Taehyung does nothing to announce his presence and instead looks away, resting into the water with a hard breath of irritation. He hears the splash of water that indicates the other man has forged into the water, silence ripped away from Taehyung as Jimin swims and swashes around him.
Taehyung tones him out and lets his mind wander to more appealing subjects like the next day’s work. As his mind drones on, his eyes immediately flip open as he hears the sounds of water closer and before he can make known his presence, Jimin is right in front of him.
“I’m going for a swim, love,” Jimin announces as he leaves the house. He walks past the fields and through the woods, watching the ground carefully as the sky has turned dark already. When he reaches the river, this part of the woods is even darker and if not that he is familiar with it, he might fear for hidden dangers. But the woods are part of his home and he knows there is nothing behind the trees or under the waters that are worth being fearful of.
Taking absolutely no time, he undresses himself quickly and sinks into the water, breath turning harsh at the refreshing contact. He swashes water over his face and when he feels relaxed enough in the water, he begins to swim. The utopic feeling he derives from being in the water- he is sure- must feel close to the way birds feel in the sky. He’s told Namjoon so many times that he is certain he was a mermaid in his previous life, each time earning a smile from his lover and a “Sure, darling.” The water moves around his limbs and he feels free, free from everything that binds him and threatens his self-appreciation.
Eyes shut, limbs free and heart calm from the soothing feel of water, he strokes forward and on until his hand hits something hard. Guessing he’s reached the other side of the river, he comes out of the water, sweeps back his hair before wiping water off his face. To his surprise, there is a man before him and to his dismay, the man is Kim Taehyung. He stares and fraught silence exists only for an infinitesimal bit before both men dash away from the other, gasping on air. An apology is just at the tip of Jimin’s tongue as he catches the glare the other man throws him.
“My, my, my,” Jimin stutters and begins moving the opposite way, hands crossed to cover his chest. He cries out, “I’m sorry. I am extremely sorry. Pardon me, I didn’t catch sight of you.” Not waiting to hear Taehyung’s reply, Jimin begins rushing through the water back to the way he came. He flushes, embarrassed and curses himself under his breath, hand still secured over his chest to spare himself some decency. He thanks that the sky is not lit enough to expose his body as he immediately jumps out of the water and hurriedly throws his clothes on, before dashing back home.
Moments after Namjoon has hurried out of the home to work at his regular morning departure time, Jimin is in the bedroom still and he hears sounds from the living room. It is nothing of surprise that Namjoon might return home just a few minutes after leaving the house, having forgotten something.
“What did you forget, love?” Jimin echoes as he walks into the living room in his bathing robes. He discovers that the sounds are from the kitchen and so he strolls into the kitchen, head peeking around to seek the source of the noise. He finds Kim Taehyung huddled under the kitchen sink, working away at the pipes.
“The door was ajar so I let myself in,” Taehyung murmurs, not sparing the other man a glance. Jimin nods and when he says nothing else, he turns out of the kitchen, glad that Taehyung spoke nothing of the previous night or acknowledged anything occurred. Relief fills him as he heads back into his room to get changed and appear more decent.
Not wanting to have any more encounters with him, Jimin remains inside and stares with a sigh at the empty pages of the book left bare by his lack of inspiration. He bites down on his lip and gapes up at the much too familiar ceiling. The sounds from the kitchen stop and silence reigns for moments after. Taehyung is gone, Jimin presumes and he leaps away to check his work. Much to his disappointment, Taehyung is stood in the living room just close to the wall, eyes staring straight with a trace of mirth.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins," Taehyung reads the words on the wall with a near chuckle. His gaze slides to Jimin and he puts a question to him, “Are you aware the writing on your wall is derived from the Bible?”
Guards up in defense, Jimin answers with his voice hard, “And?”
“And are you aware the Bible scorns men like yourself?” Taehyung asks in what is not intended to be malicious but simply perplexity, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both have committed a detestable act; Leviticus 20:13. Are you aware of that line from the Bible? Do you simply quote parts of the Bible that please you and shun the other parts that condemn you?”
“I assume you are a devout Catholic,” Jimin heaves a sigh from his tightened lips, “You know the Bible by heart.”
“The Bible is a book. I read books. I do not care for religion.”
“Yet you criticize me with it?” Jimin asks with a scoff of disbelief, “How hypocritical.”
Taehyung turns back to the words written with fine calligraphy, dark and prominent against the sorrel walls and he speaks with an undertone, “I doubt I’m the hypocrite here, Signore.”
Intensely annoyed by Taehyung, the confrontation, the man constantly getting under his skin, Jimin immediately bids stiffly, “Please leave.” And so Taehyung does, he turns and makes his way out the house.
He has only begun to advance towards the fields, hand reaching his back pocket as he pats to find if he has a cigar on him, when he is obstructed by a marble-faced Jin whose form overlooks the shoulders of enclosing hills at a considerable distance.
“I’d like to speak with you,” Jin mentions curtly before he turns and heads towards his cottage, not bothering to check if Taehyung follows. As they both wend their way to the cottage, Jeongguk sees them from a distance and he is only about running to join them when a disapproving shake of head from Jin stops him in his tracks.
The men are now both inside the small house and silence reigns before Taehyung breaks it, “I believe you called me here to speak with me, Signore.”
“Jeongguk has been speaking about certain things to me,” Seokjin starts calmly, lean fingers enfolded within one another, “He has begun to question the nature of men like Jimin and Namjoon.”
Taehyung nods, finding no wrong with the newly shared information, “As well he might.”
“Taehyung,” Seokjin’s voice gently slices through again as he momentarily shuts his eyes for patience, “I’ve had Jeongguk raised away from the city and rather here in the country, with the help of Namjoon and Jimin. There is a good cause for which I want Jeongguk away from the city attitudes and toxicity. I do not want a seed of hatred planted in my brother’s heart against the nature of other men.”
“You can not hide the truth from him for so long,” Taehyung cuts in.
Seokjin glances up at Taehyung as if dismayed and his words come to his lips quickly, “I do not want Jeongguk slaving to conventionalities!”
“This is not mere conventionality, Signore,” Feeling and passion alter Taehyung’s voice orotund and stentorian, the man’s hand raises in gesticulation, “That boy has barely had his eye-teeth cut and I’m taking it upon myself to show him right from wrong.”
With a sudden impulse, Seokjin yells, “I beseech you to stop corrupting my brother!”
“You think I’m the one corrupting your brother?” Taehyung points towards the direction of Jimin and Namjoon’s house, “Not the two men he sees living like that?”
“Like what?” Seokjin hisses as his temperament heightens and his tongue loosens, “Who are you, Kim Taehyung, to decide what love is right and which is wrong? There are men out there killing other men, constructing laws that persuade men to kill other men. There are people who can barely survive on the streets of Tuscany, hungry and blind with hope that a passerby would be kind enough to spare the littlest piece of bread. Yet you are troubled about two people who have done no harm except from finding love in each other. Because they are both men? I promise you that there are more worrying things in the world than a man loving another. I believe you are an intelligent man and I only expect you to think as one.”
An eloquent silence takes over the space between the men and Seokjin adds, “In the three days I have known you, I judged you to be a good man. I fear I must have misjudged you.”
A slight pause precedes Taehyung’s caustic remark, “If I am no one to judge what is wrong or right, then who are you, Signore, to determine what makes a good man?”
Seokjin is left alone after the creaking sound of a door shutting close.
Taehyung saunters back thither the fields, his hand finally grabbing the cigar in his pocket. He finds Jeongguk twiddling his thumbs and the boy turns to him, eyes wide and curious. Taehyung gazes down and a line appears between his brows as he tears off the band around his cigar. Jeongguk somehow catches the aura of the man, and he detects that Taehyung doesn’t appear very delighted.
“Did you have a fight with my brother?” Jeongguk asks innocently as he watches Taehyung hold the cigar between his teeth, hand fishing into his pockets before drawing out a cedar match. The man lights it against the cigar, eyes squinted as he watches it heat up until there’s a red glow and the cigar begins to combust.
Taehyung finally peers at Jeongguk and he puffs slightly upon seeing the boy’s naive eyes following his every move and he brings the cigar away from his mouth. He heaves a sigh, “No.”
His gaze skims behind Jeongguk as he notices Jimin walking out the house and heading towards the small garden. Jimin catches his eyes and there is a brief moment of hesitation before walking away. Taehyung leers at the man through the whiff of smoke floating in air, and he turns back to Jeongguk with a calmer look, “Your brother and I only happen to have-” He considers his words carefully then continues, “opposing ideals on certain subjects.”
He returns his cigar to his mouth and smiles warmly at the boy before patting his hat and walking past him to work on the farm.
Sunday suppers are a tradition in the farmhouse. Jimin came up with it a long time ago; every Sunday, they are all to have supper together in the house. Two Sundays have passed since Taehyung walked upon the farmhouse and proposed to work the farm, and the third is fast approaching. Taehyung never dined with them on any of those two days. It had been a disappointment for all the men — save Jimin — on the first Sunday, and it was an even further disappointment for them on the second. With the exception of Jeongguk, none of them had been able to reach Taehyung. He was always working on the fields, taking the cows grazing, and feeding the chicken yet it still seemed as if he was distant from the house.
It is early morning when Namjoon walks out the house for a stroll that he finds Taehyung crouched against the meadows and burying some well-rotted manure onto the soil. His neck cranes to the skies as his arm raises to wipe the sweat off his forehead. He takes off his barn gloves as he gets to his feet, hand grabbing the hat off his head and placing it atop the wooden plank of the outdoor chicken pen. Taehyung wears back his gloves and is returning to his task when Namjoon gets into his sight with a polite smile.
“Up working already? It’s still very early in the morning,” Namjoon points out and Taehyung throws him a fleeting glance before squatting back down onto his heels.
“If it makes you feel any better, I have not worked in the past five days. I work when I work and I do not work when I do not work,” Taehyung’s gloved hands dig into the faeces he gathered from the cattle and he begins working them into the earth. He puffs out his following words with a staccato cadence, “Live your life, do your work- ” He gestures at his hat sitting back at the pen, “-take your hat. ”
Namjoon smiles, no doubt entertained by the man and he nods, watching him as he carries on with his work. He remarks, “I have barely seen you in the two weeks you’ve been here. A person might reckon you were trying to avoid me.”
“O well, that person might not be mistaken.”
Namjoon laughs quietly, not taking Taehyung’s words to heart and instead lets himself be amused by the man’s humor. Namjoon folds his hands behind him and he suggests, “Why not consider joining us for tonight’s supper? It is Sunday, do not dine alone.”
Taehyung sighs and he reaches his head to his forearm once again, wiping off his sweat, “Thank you for the gesture, Namjoon, but I’m afraid I shall have to reject you.”
“I need your advice on a certain quandary I'm tackling. Would that be a plausible cause for you to reconsider?”
Taehyung’s hands halt their movements and Namjoon grins as the man turns to look up at him with narrowed eyes. The dawn has risen and the sun is wholly awoken, hence brightening against Taehyung’s skywards gaze. “Advice on what precisely?”
“You’ll know if you come to dinner tonight,” Namjoon tells him with an amused glint in his eye. Taehyung watches him closely and can not bite down the chuckle that spills before he looks back down at the ground, shaking his head, “Exploiting a man using his curiosity, how civil of you.”
Catching Taehyung’s satiric tone, Namjoon’s mouth curves into a smile as he utters, “Forgive me but you leave me no other choice.”
Taehyung renders a perfunctory nod in the middle of his work. “Fair.”
“You have all afternoon to reconsider,” Namjoon settles and just as he begins to turn away, he comments lastly, “You have a pleasant day.”
“Anche voi, Signore.”
Seokjin is humming away in the kitchen as Jimin and Jeongguk conclude the table preparations for the meal. Only three of them, alongside Namjoon, are present and yet again, Seokjin feels worried about Taehyung’s absence. He fears that his words with the other man might have driven him to his own corner, hence steering clear of them all. Seokjin looks out the window and appreciates how the twilight has begun to deepen, the stars shyly peeking out of the heavens.
“Seokjin,” Jimin calls as his head peeps into the kitchen, “Is that a cry for help I hear?”
Seokjin chuckles and begins to walk out the kitchen towards the other man, hand reaching over his head to take off his apron, “I was only just cleaning up a little.” He folds the apron neatly onto the counter and heads outside the kitchen, towards the dining table where everyone has begun settling down. He is dragging his chair back when a knock strikes against the door.
Everyone turns to the door as it squeaks open and boots precede the entrance of a tall man accompanied with the sweet fragrance of wheatfields. Taehyung closes the door behind him as he takes off his hat and looks to the rest of the men with a lopsided grin, “It would be a shame if I arrived at the end of supper.”
Namjoon grins and Jeongguk jumps off from his chair before Jin can stop him. Taehyung hangs his hat on the rack at the door before walking towards the table. “Taehyung! Taehyung! Taehyung!” Jeongguk calls while pointing to the chair next to him and Taehyung takes the seat but not before patting the young man's hair.
An uncomfortable silence settles at the table and Namjoon’s voice fills the void soon, “I had begun to fear my tactic was to no good.”
“You provoked my curiosity. It is as much my strength as it is my flaw.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Namjoon notes and when he catches Taehyung’s keen look, he laughs, “Do you not know, Taehyung, that to share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable?”
“And to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength, “ Taehyung points out with a half smile before casting his eyes down onto his supper. Namjoon nods with a beam and also digs into his meal. Whilst the two men spoke, Jimin kept his gaze away, not making any form of contact with Taehyung.
Everyone has fallen to quietness while eating and it is Jin who breaks the quiet when he snaps at Jeongguk, “Get that book off the table, boy.”
Jeongguk sulks and he is only complying with the man’s order when Taehyung’s voice stops him, “If the boy believes he will gain something of intelligence and noteworthy at the dining table, then by all means, let him.”
Jeongguk turns to Jin who’s sitting at his other side. The man ventures to nod in approval and Jeongguk drops the book back on the table. Jimin and Namjoon who are seated side by side at the opposite end of the table look between all three with surprise, wondering when Jeongguk began to carry a book with him.
“Signore?” Taehyung asks as he drops his fork and looks up at Namjoon expectantly, obviously for the reason he agreed to join them for dinner. The men at the table also tune in out of curiosity.
“Right,” Namjoon nods and raises his napkin to his lips, clearing his throat, “The day before, I was teaching to my pupils the nature of transcendentalism. Yet no matter how much detail I presented, they were unable to grasp the concept. How would you explain it had it been you?”
Taehyung hums and he folds his fingers on the table, “Get rid of all details.”
“How do I teach without the details?”
“You simplify. The details clog the processing. You simplify.”
Jeongguk has been watching the exchange with a mild frown, brows knitting as he asks with caution, “What is transcen-”
“Transcendentalism,” Taehyung finishes as he turns sideways to him, “Intuition over empiricism. Your subjective over the objective.”
Namjoon's lips purse with a murmur, “What a simple way to put it.”
“So reality is better judged with experience than books?” Jimin speaks up for the first time at the table, his gaze meaningfully fixed on Taehyung.
Taehyung meets his blazing stare across the table and when he speaks, his voice comes out deep and gravelly, “Not quite.”
He looks away, back down onto his meal and he doesn’t expect when Jimin fires back yet again, his question posed to him still, “I plead you simplify it for me then. If not experience over books, then what?”
Taehyung clarifies, firm and unrelenting, “Morality over laws.”
“What is morality to you then? You appear as a man who would choose laws over morality.”
“Do I?” Taehyung asks, his gaze on Jimin weighty and filled with meaning before tracing his eyes to Namjoon and returning them to Jimin for obvious reasons, “Do I really?”
Jimin presses his lips into a tight line and the table falls into a momentary silence for reasons only understood by Taehyung and Jimin. Namjoon is the one who looks slightly surprised when Jimin prods, “What is your morality then, Taehyung?”
Taehyung drops his fork with a gentle clank and he turns all of his attention to Jimin, stare bold and holding on to the other’s as he tells him, “My morality is that I will not be the cause of a man’s death even by law when he has not wronged me or any other man- regardless of how disgusting I may find him,” There is a miniscule pause where Taehyung does nothing but gapes at Jimin before adding, “No matter if he is diseased. That is my morality.”
The silence that takes over becomes uneasy and an unknowing Namjoon fills it with a quote, “If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.” He catches Jeongguk flipping the page of his book before he begins to write it down, so he informs the boy, “Words of Henry David Thoreau.”
Just when everyone thinks the subject has been dropped and discarded of, another voice speaks up, "Self-reliance over conventionality?"
Taehyung looks across to Seokjin whose eyes do not leave his plate as he takes in another bite, but it is Namjoon who answers, "Indeed!"
The rest of supper is silent, only sounds of dishware and cutlery clattering. When it ends and everyone has done a part in cleaning after themselves, they all wish one another a pleasant night. Taehyung has just reached the door, putting his hat back on when Jimin moves to him cautiously, takes a breath in and speaks, “I am sor-”
“Please do not apologize,” Taehyung chimes in, “For I will feel forced to do the same. And I- in all honesty- have no desire to.”
He presses down on his hat and concludes, “Mi scusi.” He leaves out the door and walks into the delicious summer night with a heavy intake of breath, head turning upwards to the sight of the bright stars amid a pitch-dark sky.
“Tae?” Jeongguk meekly calls and Taehyung’s gaze follows the voice, having not noticed his presence in the shadows of the night.
“Come on, lad,” Taehyung hangs his arm around his shoulders and Jeongguk mirrors his action. They trod the path to Jeongguk’s cottage, their steps meandering as they struggle to walk in each other’s hold. Finally, they reach the cottage with a giggly Jeongguk who begins to bid Taehyung goodnight as he opens the door and enters, throwing the older man a wave. Taehyung nods and sends a wave of his own before he heads towards the direction of the river.
Taehyung turns to the familiar voice and makes out Seokjin’s figure in the dark. He’s unable to catch the man’s expressions but it becomes easier as Seokjin walks further out the cottage until the moon casts a light on his features.
Seokjin inhales and there’s a moment of unbearable hush where he repeatedly darts his tongue over his lips before he speaks at last, “I’d like to apologize if I hurt you by my words or actions that day. I still stand by my word and I do not want you constructing hatred in Jeongguk’s heart against men like Jimin and Namjoon. But I do not think you are a terrible man even with our differences, and I hope you did not take that to heart.”
“No, I did not.”
An unsure quietness takes over and Seokjin nods before clearing his throat, looking back and forth between his cottage and Taehyung. Seokjin asks, “Are we fine now?”
That is when Taehyung smiles, almost mocking, and he hums as his forehead puckers, “I don’t think we’ve ever not been fine, bello.”
Seokjin splutters a laugh before he nods, “Alright. Have a good night.”
A new day has arrived and the skies are void of cumuli which is to no surprise, considering the sun has yet to rise. Taehyung walks into the now very familiar stable and roams past each stall before stopping at his favorite. The horse backs away as it always does and Taehyung only grins before opening the stall and letting it out.
“Come on, Durante. We have a lengthy day ahead.”
The horse nearly grumbles and Taehyung strokes its mane as they stroll out of the stable together. His hand is on the horse’s lead rope and he tugs it forward, crooning, “Go on. Lead me.” The horse only lingers behind instead, preferring Taehyung to lead it.
“You’re a leader, Durante. You lead,” Taehyung murmurs under his breath as they reach the fields, talking to the less interested animal.
Namjoon walks out of the house and into the stable, dressed neat and crisp for the day, not taking too long before reappearing with a confident horse in his hold. He strides towards Taehyung and speaks, “Are you certain that is a good choice, Taehyung? He’s the runt of the team.”
Taehyung hums under his breath as he throws a saddle pad on the horse’s back, “Should he be left alone then? A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition.”
Namjoon nods then watches for a bit before asking, “Are you headed to the city?”
“Aye,” Taehyung grunts as he hoists the saddle onto the horse’s back next, “Some of the chickens need medicine. It appears to me that half the flock might be ill.”
Namjoon hums considerably, then begins to pull out his pouch from his coat, “How much might that cost?”
“I have some coins left over from my last journey to the city. That would be enough.”
Namjoon takes a moment to appreciate the man’s integrity and he nods again, putting his pouch back into his coat as he watches Taehyung go back and forth in saddling his horse. Namjoon clears his throat, “If it’s not too much to ask, do you mind taking Jimin along with you? He needs a specific inkwell and I will not be passing by the marketplace.”
Taehyung comes to a stop in his movements and his back is faced to Namjoon who begins to mount onto his saddled horse. Taehyung turns back to his horse and slings the girth under its belly.
Namjoon watches the man pull the straps of the saddle and feed it into the ring, then he thanks him before riding off with his horse. Taehyung pats against the saddle and takes one last look at Durante before heading towards the farmhouse.
There’s a knock on the house and Jimin quickly figures that it couldn’t be Namjoon. On the other side of the door, he finds Taehyung, stood in an outing attire, his hat firmly pressed against the curls on his head. Jimin stands straight and remains decorous with the man, “Good morning, can I help-”
“Are you set?”
Jimin blinks, not following the man’s words. He slightly shakes his head with a constrained smile, “Set for what, might I ask?”
Stance immobile and without moving a muscle, Taehyung answers strictly, “The city. Signore Kim requested to take you along with me to get some ink. Are you set?”
Jimin takes a cursory glance away, suddenly burdened by this interference caused by Namjoon. He looks back at Taehyung unsurely and the man is forced to ask, “I haven’t all day to await your response. Will you be coming with me or not?”
Jimin opens his mouth to answer but finds that nothing comes out. He shuts it and runs a hand neatly over his hair, feeling extremely uncomfortable. Taehyung watches him, gaze frigid and unmoving. He then nods and turns to leave. He begins walking back to his horse when he hears Jimin cry out.
Not looking back, Taehyung only gestures towards the stable and instructs the man to get himself a horse. Jimin returns nervously with his hold on a lead rope as the horse steers the man.
“Saddle the horse,” Taehyung tells him stiffly and he finally turns to the man when he notices that he hasn’t made any move to do as instructed. Taehyung observes him closely then questions, “You have no knowledge on how you saddle a horse?”
Jimin shakes his head and Taehyung opens his mouth to speak but quickly decides against it. His jaw tightens as he moves to begin saddling the man’s horse and while he does so, he asks, “But you can ride a horse, can you not?”
The response of silence forces Taehyung to turn back to Jimin and firmly reiterate, “Can you not?”
Not holding himself back anymore, Taehyung drops his hands from the horse and huffs, “How ludicrous.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You live in the country,” Taehyung starts with his hands on his hips as he moves a step closer to Jimin who takes a careful step back, “You own horses and yet you can neither saddle one nor ride it. That would not even make for an amusing joke.”
Jimin jumps to defend himself, “I have a fear of heights.”
Taehyung points towards the horse, “That’s not even-” He swallows his words and sighs instead, “You are making things very difficult for me, Signore .”
“Forget it then,” Jimin says quickly, “You may leave. I do not need the ink that desperately.”
“Are you certain that I may leave? Are you very certain that I may leave?”
“What do you want from me?”
Taehyung fixes the man a brief look and turns to leave. Jimin’s voice stops him, “This is not about the horse, is it? You just despise the man that I am.”
Taehyung turns back to him with forced patience and he raises three fingers, “There are three sorts of men in the world. There’s the kind that would have alerted the police the moment he found out what you are. There’s the kind that would have burned your house with you in it. And the third kind of man is yourself and others who think as you do.”
“And you?” Jimin asks silently, eyes not backing down from the other man’s gaze.
“I am a man of my own kind. I fit nowhere.”
“Are you implying that I thank you?”
“I am implying that you understand how fortunate you are that I was the man you invited into your house,” Taehyung takes a step away and moves towards his horse before mounting it.
“Fine,” Jimin says, brows snapping together as his eyes follow the man, “Perhaps I am diseased. Perhaps my indulgences are unnatural and amoral as you call them. Perhaps this is a predicament. But what am I to do when it cannot be overcome? Perhaps my life, my preferences, perhaps they are all a conundrum but what am I to do when it is impossible to quell?! Do I commit self-immolation? Would that satisfy you?”
A mutual silence prevails until Taehyung pulls on the reins of the horse, which retreats a whinny from Durante. When Taehyung does speak, it is with a much more calm, “Men will say worse things than I have. Men will do such vile things to you that revolts me to imagine. If your disease is one that cannot be conquered, then the least you can do for yourself is become a fortress.”
With that, Jimin watches Taehyung and the horse gallop away into the distance until there is only a tiny outline of him rendered by the sunshine.
The sun has begun to set and Jimin gazes at the coming dusk through the window of the living room. Seated on the couch, he stares past Namjoon’s potted plants at the orange sun settling onto the horizon. The door opens and Jimin does not look towards the direction. Namjoon silently shuts the door and hangs his hat onto the rack. He glances at Jimin as he peels off his coat, taken aback by the man’s unnatural reaction—or the lack thereof—at his arrival.
“Love. I’ve returned,” Namjoon announces, walking towards Jimin before settling beside him and kissing his temple.
“Namjoon,” Jimin murmurs and his tone makes Namjoon lean back to properly look at him. Jimin appears hurt, his eyes teary as he speaks, “I told you that man does not make me comfortable yet you ask him to take me along to the city? I remember vividly I objected to the proposition yet you suggested it to him. Do my feelings and thoughts not matter to you at all?”
A look of distress crosses Namjoon’s face and he immediately drives Jimin into his embrace with a gentle caress on his head, “O no,” He places a kiss on Jimin’s forehead and immediately tells him, “I swear to you I never intended any harm. I only asked Taehyung for help, I didn’t think it would hurt you so. I’m sorry.”
Jimin sniffs and looks up at Namjoon through his blurry sight, bottom lip pushed forward, “I forgive you.”
Namjoon leans down to kiss him and he smiles against his lips, “I love you.” Jimin cradles the man’s face in his hands and he kisses him just as passionately before hanging his arms around Namjoon’s neck. He pecks him on his lips, he does it again, then does it once more, and they’re both grinning against each other’s lips, foreheads touching. Jimin whispers, “I love you too.”
Further into the night when the little world of theirs is asleep, Jimin is tucked against Namjoon in bed, their legs entwined together and the sheets over their nudity. They are both fast asleep and Jimin is only driven awake when he hears a little noise closely far away. His curiosity getting the better of him drives him to detach himself from Namjoon’s tight hold and he climbs down the bed, immediately reaching for his innerwear, a long loose garment of a rose dye. He heads to the window and pulls the curtains apart just slightly as he peers outside.
In the dark night is Taehyung who’s clearly just arrived from his trip to the city. The horse lingers behind him, hooves restless against the ground. Jeongguk is the cause of the noise; still wide awake, he leaps around the man and appears to be questioning an amused Taehyung who patiently answers him.
Jimin watches as Taehyung brings out a tiny chest out his pockets and hands them to Jeongguk, saying something to him. But then Taehyung gestures towards the house and his eyes flicker to it, instantly falling against the slightly open curtains and discovering a peeping Jimin.
Jimin’s breath hangs and he immediately shuts the curtains close, his back to it at once. Eyes wide, he shudders and begins heading back to bed into Namjoon’s open arms. A knock stops him and at first, he thinks he mishears it so he pauses for the shortest bit before strolling back to bed. A knock raps on the house’s door yet again and Jimin takes a moment to glance at a deeply asleep Namjoon before heading out the bedroom.
He walks into the living room and makes for the door. He reaches for the knob just after he unlocks it then flings it open. An unwary Jeongguk is in sight and the boy grins, “Did I wake you, sir? I’m sorry. I did tell Taehyung you would be asleep but he insisted you were awake and that I give this to you now so I-”
“It’s fine, Jeongguk. What is the matter?” Jimin says with a gentle voice and a fond curve to his lips.
“O yes,” Jeongguk nods and brings forward the chest Jimin had seen earlier, “Taehyung asks that I hand this to you.”
Jimin takes it from him and looks down at the small wooden box with puzzlement. It fits just perfectly in his palms and he gets carried away by the mesmerizing lines of the wooden texture.
“Goodnight sir,” Jeongguk says with a beam and Jimin snaps out of his daze, nodding at him, “Have a lovely night, Jeongguk.”
Jeongguk runs off with a wild stamina and Jimin shuts the door before walking back into the house, immediately heading into Namjoon’s study so he can make use of the table lamp. He quietly opens the door and manages to find the chair in the darkness, taking a seat before reaching for the table lamp. With slight fear, he hesitantly opens the chest and his brows fly up as he sees what lies inside.
An Ink bottle.
Not just any ink but it is exactly the one Jimin uses, the one he wanted.
Jimin drops it onto the table and hurries out the study, silently closing the door before raising his garment so he can rush out more quickly. He opens the door and runs out the house, eyes squinted in the dark to find any sign of Taehyung around. He sees him walking out the stable and towards the direction of his cottage. Before Taehyung can get too far, Jimin darts to him and shouts in a whisper, “Excuse me?”
Taehyung stops and half-turns, his jaw setting when he sees Jimin. Taehyung fully turns to him, “Sì?”
“How did you know?” Jimin asks breathlessly, hands smoothening down his garment, “I never told you I use Verviers ink. How did you get to know?”
The darkness hides off both men’s expressions and they can only rely on the timbres of the other’s voice. “Verviers ink,” Taehyung murmurs, “They call it the Romance Ink. Romance writers favor the Verviers ink because it dries less quickly and holds the meanings behind every stroke for longer.”
Jimin faintly flushes and can only be thankful for the untelling of the darkness. He has never heard it being called the Romance Ink before now. Neither is he a writer; he writes but he isn’t precisely a writer. His writing has only ever been for his eyes alone. He asks, “How did you know I write that genre exactly?”
He sees as Taehyung raises three fingers and the man answers, “There are three sorts of men in the world. There’s the kind of man who writes conventional philosophy and other varieties of knowledgeable nonfiction. There’s the kind of man who writes tales of romances and erotica. And there’s the man who reads them. It wasn’t difficult to assume what kind you are.”
Jimin immediately cuts in, “I do not write erot-”
“Not that that would be any of my concern, Signore.”
Jimin gapes at Taehyung, lost for words as to how a man could be so churlish. He asks, “And what kind are you, sir?”
“I am of my own kind.”
“You do not write?” Jimin asks, not believing that an intellectually aware man like Taehyung would not wield a pen.
Taehyung sighs, inly wondering why he has to be having this discussion with the man. He unfolds his hands and takes off his hat, raking a hand through his hair before placing his hat back on, “I do write but not romance, neither do I write conventional philosophy. I document my learnings and knowledge.”
Jimin nods and he dares himself as he blurts out, “You look down on men who write romance?”
Taehyung holds the man’s gaze and shakes his head, “I do not look down on a man who writes whether or no I am of the same mind as he.”
“And you are not of the same mind as a man who writes romance?” Jimin asks, too distracted by his curiosity to realize he was beginning to batter the man with a plethora of questions.
Still, Taehyung tolerates him. He answers, “I merely have not a romantic heart.”
“You have never fallen in love with another?”
This does amuse Taehyung. His mouth twitches into a half smile although Jimin can barely see it under the sunless skies. Taehyung replies, “There is not a thing more treacherous than falling in love- perhaps slaying a man comes close. Besides that, Signore, love is a blunder.”
“Treacherous?” Jimin asks as he leans against a nearby tree, eyes not leaving Taehyung once.
“People do the most absurd things for the sake of love. I shall not give myself up to vices in the name of an emotion.”
Jimin nods as he begins to understand the man. His voice comes out hushed, “You do not wish to slave to love?”
“But you’d rather slave to your morality?”
For the first time that night- or maybe since the very moment Taehyung stepped foot onto their farm, he has no words to return. He looks at Jimin’s direction wordlessly and he grinds his jaw, forehead puckering, “Goodnight.”
Taehyung turns away and resumes on his route to his cottage, and this is the second time this day Jimin is watching the man’s back until he is a mere silhouette far away and farther till his figure is swallowed by the darkness. Jimin also returns on his way to the farmhouse, momentarily glancing up at the gloomy skies. He takes a breath and enters the house shutting the door behind him. He maunders to bed back in Namjoon’s arms and for much longer, his eyes are wide and thoughts distant.
July 5, 1867
I have come to know two men of grotesque desires. They set their heart on one another as a man should only set his heart on a woman. Diseased with such absurdities.
One of these two men is a man of philosophy who somehow does not differ from other men. I fear being in their company might have begun to poison my mind into thinking he is no much different. Due to his lover’s pleas, I have to keep from the man my knowledge of their amour.
I was tempted to leave immediately not to further entangle myself with their sort. But as I wondered, “What if David Thoreau found something alike to this in his confinement to the wilderness?” If so, I should make more discovery on it, should I not?
I have come to know two other men as well, not like them, yet not like myself either. One is a young youth I have developed a fondness for, I believe one day, he will grow to be the wisest man all of Italy has ever known. His older brother belongs in a theatre, no doubt. The constructs of his face are perfect for a performer. Perhaps, I shall find a way to convince him of my ideas.
“But you’d rather slave to your morality?” He asked me. How ridiculous it is that a man like himself questions my relationship with my morality. I can not tell if it is intentional but he does provoke me very much, even more so than his other.
I am a man who is aware of my morality, abides by it and shan’t let it become corrupted.